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Getting Started

This is the post excerpt.

My knees never used to hurt.

It all started when I was a child. I’d innocently wondered why grown-ups always bent down to pick things up. “Why bend in the like that?”, they were leaving themselves open to being pushed, or a swift kick in the backside. Little kids like me almost always bent their knees and dropped to a squat. It was easier and just made sense. Maybe there was more ‘slapstick‘ on TV in the 70’s. Maybe I just wanted to kick grownups.

The question idled in the back of my mind when, years later I realised I was doing it too. I was leaning forwards, my arse sticking out as counterbalance, ready for a new generation of kids wanting to kick it.

The reason? It hurt. It hurt to squat, bend down or make sudden moves. My knees hurt, and since I’m on the subject, my legs hurt too. They didn’t feel bouncy anymore. With the exception of my stomach, no part of my body was bouncy. This loss of ‘bounce’ was driven home a few weeks ago. A kid in one of my classes placed his hands down on a desk and casually ‘bounced’ over it with barely any effort or break in stride as he headed his way out the door. I watched him leave with mixed feelings, mostly “Why don’t I move like that?”

I recalled this bouncing exit as I was re-reading Christopher McDougall’s excellent book “Born to Run”. I’d read it years before, not long after it came out and, like many others I became a wannabe. I experimented with a minimalist running shoe, got into yoga and tried paleo and ancestral eating habits. I should be pretty healthy.

Healthy except I’d managed to tear both my knee meniscus showing off in the ski park. Old soccer injuries were lining up to bug me. My feet were beat up and the problems were now creeping up to my calves and knees. I was experiencing increasing pain and discomfort.

Once I’d been far more active teaching 4 or 5 gym classes every day. Now I was stuck in a classroom and exercise was moving between desks. Age, medications, work fatigue and beer had caused me to slowly gain extra weight. Getting out for a morning run or an early workout at the gym was becoming more difficult.

Then a funny thing happened. I was reading Christopher McDougall’s new work “Natural Born Heroes” and a few things clicked into place.

The first ‘click’ was learning about the diet of the Cretan people. The Mediterranean diet has long been considered pretty healthy. It avoids processed carbohydrates and prompts a fat-burning metabolism. It was a dead simple diet I figured I could follow. It reminded me of the ancestral or paleo approach to nutrition, but a whole lot easier prepare.

The second was the work of Phil Maffetone and endurance training. I’d come across his work before but was ready this time. Maffetone teaches endurance athletes to enhance their fat-burning abilities by zone two training. Putting it very simply, and athlete starts with the number 180 and subtracts their age. This new number gives a maximum heart rate. In theory, staying below this number develops our fat-burning mechanisms.

The final piece was rediscovering the work of physical education teacher Georges Hébert, and his “Natural method”. I’d leaned about Hébert many, many years before when studying for my own physical education degree. No, he hadn’t taught me.

I’d been intrigued with his methods and had started ‘working out’, by climbing and messing around on the playground equipment close to the university. I’d was climbing and vaulting over the coastal defences as I ran along the beach. It’s biggest benefit was helping me impress women. I once scaled a 12 ft chain-link fence in just seconds, seriously impressing the girl I was with. Another time I used a “Mantle Shelf” technique to access the roof window of a friend who’d lost her house keys.

Putting it altogether:

  • I’m slowing things down (zone 2 seems to be working for me).
  • The music has been turned off while running. Instead I focus on feel and feedback from my feet and legs.
  • I’m seeking out fun and challenging terrain found in and around the city.

So, I hope you’ll enjoy reading as I share what I learn. Maybe some of you can make use in your own journey to health and fitness.

Enjoy

W

Disclaimer
My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or perhaps impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical facts. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I don’t claim to possess medical insights into the workings of the human body. What I share is based upon the easily available facts, and information I’ve gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents.

Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, please consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy and fit to begin. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions. 

W.

“How much should I run?”

I’d asked Brandon Lann, CEO of Race Roster if there was a rule of thumb for weekly mileage. For context I’d asked how much can you could ‘get by with’ if you were training for a 10k.  He paused “Around 70km a week…”.  My brain idly did the math, “So, that’s around 10k every day to prepare for a 10k race…?” Now to put his answer in context, Brandon completes a marathon in around 2 hours and 30 minutes, faster than many can finish half that distance; clearly Brandon isn’t the “getting by” kind of runner.

This got me thinking, “How much should I run? “. If I assume I’m not being chased, then my answer will be influenced by my running goals. My instincts tell me that running to lose weight or to get fit requires a different approach than running improve a time or compete in a particular event.

The case for running less: It’s tough to lose weight by exercising. If you don’t believe me the check out how people finishing a 10 or 20 km fun look. These guys may be ‘fit’ but I’ll bet you’ll find plenty who are carrying extra fat, especially around the belly. Exercise is an important component of health, but trying to exercise off ‘weight’ is very hard work and is rarely sustainable.

There is also an unfortunate coloration between the more you run and the likelihood of picking up an injury. Running is a repetitive action and doing it for a long time risks some sort of injury, especially if you’ve been sedentary. Professional runners ward off by injuries with strengthening excises, flexibility work and technique. Cold baths may be a brilliant aid to recovery but they only happen for me when I can wade into a lake after a run. I suspect that for most of us, an hour, spent three to four times a week doing some easy running is adequate.

The case to run more: It would seem pretty obvious that the more you run, the better you do. Naturally, some of us do harbour an ambition for excellence. effects-of-mileage

For those I found this graph of marathon times compiled by RunKeeper, which illustrates how increasing weekly distances increases running speed. Interesting as this may be, the majority of us aren’t training to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

 

 

completion-time

It seems that logging more weekly km will make you run faster over distance.  So, if you’re planning on running a distance event, the further you can run each week while staying healthy, the better you stand to do.

Looking at the second table you could predict that running 44 miles or 70 km a week will put you around a 3 hours and 50 minute marathon time. This is a start. However, most of us aren’t planning on running a marathon, and those who do are often more concerned with finishing. Luckily for me I fond this great article by Ed Eyestone on the Runners World website. He’s used experience to suggest a range of distances that are sufficient for different event. Its split into two group, the “Mortals’ is geared towards those simply looking to finish while the ‘elite’ distances are for those looking to fulfill their potential.

I’m going to assume the distances for ‘mortals’ are around on three to four runs each week. That said, it may be possible to achieve the similar results with more frequent runs of shorter duration.

 Event 5K 10K Half Marathon ~21km Marathon

~42km

Elite Runner:   112-128

Km per week
128-160

Km per week
160-177

Km per week
160-225

Km per week
Recreational:    32-40

Km per week
40-50

Km per week
48-64

Km per week
48-80

Km per week

This chart is a good place to start. You may be able to do a 5km to 10 km run with only about 10-15km of weekly training, but you will likely suffer afterwards. Most runners agree that When increasing your weekly distances, to keep it at no than 10% to avoid injury.

There were no easy answers to my question. Athletes like Brandon have very different goals to us recreational runners. Emulating their weekly distances is daunting prospect. Ultimately, how much you decide to run is a personal choice. Consider what your body can take, time available to run and wether you’re enjoying it.

Whatever that number is, I hope you stay healthy.

McG

 

 

Green Smoothie

Its ‘smoothie season’ so here’s my goto recipe for a quick and simple green smoothie.

  • 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds (soak them until they’re gooey)
  • 4 cups of spinach or field green salad
  • 1/3 cup of blueberries
  • 1/2 a banana
  • 1 teaspoon of coco-powder
  • water (you could use ‘tea’ or milk)

My extras, if I want to add some fuel and calories

  • 1/6 cup of whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon MCT (or coconut) oil

I begin with Chia seeds since they are a good source of protein and help to thicken the smoothie. Some people prefer to use protein powder instead of chia seeds, I don’t think it really matters. chiagraphicPut about 1-2 tablespoons in a small bowl with about a third of a cup water to soften them up. While they’re soaking I add the greens into the mixer. Spinach has been on sale recently so I’ve been buying extra bags and storing them in the freezer. img_0917 If I’ve been working out or craving a little sweetness I’ll add half a banana into the mix. If you’re worried about the carbs then skip it but half is about right for me, and really does improve the flavour.

Next I’ll add about a third of a cup of blueberries. Berries are relatively in low carbs and full of antioxidants. Some recipes I’ve seen call for tropical fruits which, like banana’s have a lot of sugar which can promote fat storage.

I’ll sometimes add about 30ml of heavy cream and about 15ml of MCT / coconut oil if I’m looking to get a little more energy. Occasionally I’ll add a dash coco-powder, but not too much since berries and banana don’t add a great deal of sweetness.

By this point the chia seeds should have turned into a wallpaper paste texture and I pour them in. I tend to use filtered water rather than milk or ‘tea’ to make up the rest of the volume of the smoothie. I don’t use fruit juice because of its high sugar content. Occasionally I’ll use milk for the extra minerals and vitamins. I’ll let it stand for a minute or two in the freezer while I clean up.

Thats pretty much it. Some people are adding protein powder or using kale and substituting tea for of water. Figure out what works for you. For me its a great post workout treat.

Enjoy!

Disclaimer
My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or perhaps impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical facts. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I don’t claim to possess medical insights into the workings of the human body. What I share is based upon the easily available facts, and information I’ve gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents.

Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, please consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy and fit to begin. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions. 

Why calories in doesn’t always equal calories out…

Ever gone for a walk or run to “burn off the calories”? It was probably a waste of time.

fat-versus-carbohydratesFor years the idea that our body ‘burns off’ the calories we eat through exercise has been promoted and used to justify selling exercise equipment and VHS aerobics videos. There are whole business models based around dieting, and reducing calories consumed.

Its hard work, and how many of those people regain the weight once they stop their calorie restriction [3]? However, it may be more effective and sustainable to manage our weight by exploiting how the body processes different types of food. One of my favourite Vinnie Tortorich quotes goes like this; “… exercise is a lousy way to lose weight.” [1].

How the body responds after consuming a calorie of carbohydrate (bread, pasta, grapes, oatmeal or soda) is markedly different to the way it processes a calorie of fat.

The body basically views starch or carbohydrates as sugar. When digested, carbohydrate becomes sugar molecules and these enter the blood stream. The body recognizes sugar and the pancreas squirts out the hormone insulin to help transport it into cells. bowl-of-cerealAfter topping off our sugar reserves, a couple of spoonfuls, the body has to deal with the leftover sugar (a bagel contains an average 7g of sugar and a can of carbonated soda about 36g ) [4]. Insulin plays a role in converting this remaining sugar into body fat [1]. Constantly varying levels of insulin can also lead to feelings of hunger, leading us to want to eat again.

Eating a calorie is fat is different. The body uses fat as a fuel, its why we store it in first place. However there isn’t quite the same hormone response. That doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited quantities of fat, (the excess will have to go somewhere) but by avoiding insulin spikes and the repeated instruction to store sugar as fat, I believe it’s easier to maintain a steady weight. I avoid processed fats and oils like canola or margarine as I don’t believe they’re particularly good for you.

the-wild-plate1
Veggies, fats, proteins and carbs

I look for minimally processed, clean ‘healthy’ options such as you’d find from avocados, butter, olive oil, coconut oil and good meat. Personally I’m still eating about the same number of calories each day as I did when the majority of my food was carbohydrate.  Check out the book ‘The wild diet’ by Abel James for ideas on how source calories from fats and vegetables rather than carbohydrates.

There’s always a place for exercise. Its great maintain cardiovascular fitness, develop muscle strength and bone density. I’ve talked before about the benefits of lower intensity of ‘zone two training‘. However, I no longer think of exercise as creating a bank of calories from which I can withdraw by eating whatever I want.

Disclaimer
My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or perhaps impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical facts. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I don’t claim to possess medical insights into the workings of the human body. What I share is based upon the easily available facts, and information I’ve gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents.

Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, please consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy and fit to begin. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions. 

[1] Vinnie Tortorich interviewed on “Becoming superhuman” Ep; 12. 2017

[2] Gary Taubes “Why we get fat, and what to do about it”  Alfred A. Knopf, United States of America 2011

[3] Daily Beast “Most effective diets

[4] Mail Online “Sugar Detox Diet

 

Why you need a heart-rate monitor…

I’d suspect many of us run for weight control and to be ‘fit’. If this sounds like you then you might consider running with a heart rate monitor. Keeping track of your heart rate can help you find your best level of effort to promote fat metabolism (aka fat burning) and improving your stamina.

polar-ft4-heart-rate-monitor
Heavy.com heart-rate monitor review

It’s possible to pick up a good monitor with a chest strap for $20-30. I recommend choosing one with a chest strap since accurate wrist monitors can expensive. I found this one on Amazon.ca recently for under $20.

Knowing how hard your heart is working means you can quickly adjust your effort and get the maximum amount of ‘fat burning’ from your run. Most exercise professionals divide exercise heart rates into 5 zones, each one about 10% harder than the last. I’m going to tell you why for the next little while I think you should focus your attention on running in ‘zone 2’.

running_sports_zones_large1
the5krunner.com

Zone 2 is approximately 60-69% of your maximum heart rate and not too demanding. If you can maintain a conversation while running without a significant effort its a pretty good guess are you are in zone 2. 

running-buddies-800x449
running.competitor.com

To find your maximum ‘zone 2’ heart rate you can simply subtract your age from 180. This trick was discovered by exercise expert Dr. Phill Maffetone and works very well.

E.g. A 35 year old who runs one or twice a week shouldn’t run at a heart rate over 145 beats a minute.

(180 – 35 = 145bpm.)

You can raise or reduce the number by 5 beats a minute if you’re pretty fit or more sedentary. However, many heart rate monitors will automatically calculate your zones and notify you with a ‘buzz’ or ‘beep’ when you shift zones.

Once you know your maximum heart effort for zone 2, immediately begin to walk when you exceed it. Once your heart has slowed by around 15-20 beats a minute you can resume training. At first it may feel frustrating to keep stopping just when you think you’re getting going, (my partner’s frequent complaint!). However, as you train your muscles to ‘burn fat’ you should find you can stay in in the zone for longer and longer periods and your running speed may increase.

Try training three or four times a week in zone 2 for a month or two. You will build a great foundation of ‘fat burning’ and boost your stamina. After a month or so you can begin to run harder a couple of times a week, moving your heart rate into zone 3 (70%-80% effort, see the table). The foundation you’ve built should help your efficiency when running at this higher workload. Keep a few zone 2 runs in your weekly schedule to maintain your foundation and aid recovery after more strenuous efforts.

There are some great resources out there if you’d like more information. To start I’d recommend taking a look at Dr. Maffetone’s website .  Enjoy your running and be safe.

H

Disclaimer
My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or perhaps impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical facts. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I don’t claim to possess medical insights into the workings of the human body. What I share is based upon the easily available facts, and information I’ve gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents.

Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, please consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy and fit to begin. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions. 

 

Its not the shoes

I bought a pair of minimalist running shoes after reading “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Yes, I was that guy.

IMG_5510
In my defence, I’d had problems with my legs and feet for years. I’d torn the cartilage of the right toe joint and it still pained me. After repeated abuse from soccer the joint was visibly bigger than the left and the toe was beginning to turn in. I thought I’d try them. What was the harm? I figured they’d strengthen the muscles in my feet and maybe help straighten out my toes.

Well I loved them from the moment I wiggled them on. I liked the way the hugged my feet and toes. I loved the feeling of lightness and freedom they gave me. I felt more agile and connected to the trail. I loved them, that is right up until I scuffed my toe against a root and came to an abrupt, hopping stop. Muttering a few choice words I walked it off and began a slow jog.

After a kilometre I became aware of a nagging ache in my calf. A dull feeling in the belly of the muscle gradually became an insistent ache. Reluctantly I retraced my steps home. Dallas my dalmatian, and a barefoot enthusiast effortlessly trotted ahead. A couple of days later I set out again only for the pain to return, an ache my calf which threatened serious consequences if I didn’t stop. Naturally I was feeling a little discouraged. I loved running in these new shoes, but constantly flirting with injury had little appeal.

Figuring out what was wrong took time. Honestly, I’m still figuring this stuff out. I’d read the book and thought it was plausible that the human foot had evolved from the hunting practises of our ancestors. Maybe quarter of a million years ago humans could have run after animals until the creature collapsed from heat exhaustion, (aka persistence hunting).

That sort of made sense. On summer days I’d have to carry water in a little collapsible cloth dog bowl so Dallas could take a drink. Generally he easily out lasted me, but it was clear running in the summer was much harder on him. Had the economy of human running, superior breathing and cooling mechanisms allowed us to wear down much faster animals? If humans had once ran many hours over rough terrain, why couldn’t I? In these new shoes I couldn’t go more than a few kilometres without breaking. I was pretty sure my ancestors hadn’t run down a gazelle in Nikes.

The flyer I’d received with the Vibram’s had cautioned me to build up my tolerance. I’d dutifully run shuttles and jogged around the block for almost two weeks before heading out on my first trail run. It had felt like enough, I’d practiced pain free. However, just wearing the shoes clearly wasn’t going to help me run like my ancestors.

Although I’d built up tolerance to the shoes, my running style hadn’t completely adjusted to minimal footwear. There was a lot more to good running form than simply strapping on a pair of ‘toe shoes’. Children naturally develop their running style over many years . It made sense that shoes or no shoes would be a factor.

Some experienced runners’ have such a well developed running style that it is unaffected by wearing modern training shoes. In his book McDougall draws a parallel between the similar running gaits of an elite American ultra-runner in modern shoes with a Mexican runner in sandals. If I was going wear minimal shoes, I needed to figure out how to run properly in them.

My form and the ‘100up’
Its important, really important that the foot connects with the ground correctly. In my old shoes my heal would hit first. Apparently, this isn’t how humans evolved to run.

Put very simply, the middle of the foot should contact the ground under the body. This is quite different to the ‘heal strike’ I did in modern shoes.
The 100up drill…

The 100up drill was invented by W.G. George, an 19 century runner and is a drill to help you place the foot.  I think its a bit like ‘running on the spot’. I focus upon placing my foot under my body while using my arms for coordination and balance.

Here is Christopher McDougall’s explanation of the ‘100up’ technique.

Now I focus on my form as I run. It felt a little strange to run so upright at first and it’s easy to slip back to older learning as I get tired. Occasionally I’ll stop and do a few of these drills if I feel I’m slumping (Find a private spot since its bad enough when they’re just pointing at the shoes). Its sill not perfect but it seems to be working.

My pace:

I think I was running too fast.
From years of training I ran with my heart rate around 75% of my maximum, give or take. Recently I’d begun running at a slower pace to teach my body to use fat as a fuel as opposed to carbohydrate. This ‘Zone two‘ training is a lower intensity aerobic exercise, between 60-69% of a your maximum heart rate.

(There are five zones which covers heart rates from resting to maximum. Check out Phil Maffetone’s website if you are curious or thinking of trying this).
After a couple of slower 7 to 10 km runs it occurred to me that I hadn’t experienced any discomfort, either during running or in the days after a run. My heart rate monitor had vibrated whenever I exceed 123 beats per minute and I’d begun to walk. In the gym on a treadmill it’s straightforward task and I could trot along just below 123 bpm. It’s something of a challenge however, to keep it so low outdoors on an undulating trail though the woods. Trail running is fun and I’d frequently need to suppress the urge to tear ahead.

After some practice I began to recognize when I was about to go over 123 beats a minute. On occasion I’d slow down before my monitor vibrated. I suspect there is a bit of a lag between my lungs and my heart.

So there you have it. It probably wasn’t the shoes causing me problems but the bad habits I’d developed from running in ‘regular’ shoes.  It would seem that for me, safe and healthy running is influenced more by effective form than my choice of footwear.
Let me know what you think or if you’ve had a similar experience. Regardless of what you’re doing to your feet, I hope you’re having fun.

W

Disclaimer


My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical truths. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I do not claim to possess insights into the internals of the human body beyond these easily available facts, and information gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents. Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions. 

W.