Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Today is the last day of the year so a good day to talk about resolutions. I've been thinking about change a lot recently and something I realized is how set we can become on even the most trivial things. For example, if you always eat cereal for breakfast it can feel heretical to do anything else; however, upon further reflection you may realize that there is no compelling reason to only eat cereal.

Or there is a compelling reason, rather: habit. Compelling, maybe, but not justified. And I think this propensity comes from the structure of the brain, because as you do a certain task over and over, your brain builds new neural pathways that enable you to continue to do that same activity. So changing those pathways, rebuilding, renewing them takes deliberate, focused effort.

But we all have things about ourselves and our lives that we'd like to retool, big and small. But if change is so hard what is the biggest chance of success?

Change in the smallest possible way

If you want to start lifting weights but are afraid of the effort or pain, then decide to do the simplest, shortest set of exercises that are still meaningful, and decide to do them once a week.

"But where is your sense of adventure?" you might be thinking. Such meager goals can seem a little cowardly, unless they are taken in the right context. That small step can be the first of a long series of goals that will eventually lead to greatness. Running three miles every day can lead to five which can lead to 10 and then 20. This in turn can be part of a plan to finish your first marathon, which in and of itself can be a preparation to a triathlon that is helping you get to an ultra-marathon in the mountains of Peru (I don't know if such a race exists but I hope it does. If not then maybe someday I can start it.)

Do you see how small decisions can form the foundations of grand, sweeping, majestic life plans? This is how they balance, the mundane and the magnificent. So that's my hope for each of you, that your life means something to you, that you are each pursing something important, something that matters.

Maybe someday?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Health Triangle

I know this looks like something from an old 7th grade text book, but I definitely made this myself.

I'm just finishing the semester and as usual I'm finding myself starting to fray at the edges-too much work, stress, not enough of everything else. Sometimes you have to purposely allow things to get out of balance to finish something really important, but it takes a toll on your body. So it made me think about the relationship between rest, diet, and activity and how closely tied they are because each piece affects the other two.

Sleeping-> Exercise

When you don't get enough sleep it saps your energy and dulls your reflexes. Not only are you going to be less motivated to work out, it makes moving around unpleasant and even harmful if you constantly push your body without letting it get the recovering you need from sleep.

Sleeping-> Eating

I've been working late nights and so I'm always hungry when I get home from work at 2 AM but don't have time to make a good dinner, so I often just stop at McDonalds (I love the mal-beouf but it's easy to over-do it.)

Eating-> Exercise

If you don't eat enough or eat the wrong kinds of foods you feel heavy and lethargic when you head out for a run.

Eating-> Sleeping

I can't fall asleep at night if I am hungry-better to have a late night snack and get the z's you need.

Exercise-> Eating

When you recognize that the purpose of eating is to fuel your body instead of to cure boredom or deal with stress or to please your senses then it changes how and when you eat. I can't tell you how many times I've rethought my lunch because I knew that I had a really important workout later in the afternoon.

Exercise-> Sleeping

If you wear yourself out during the day falling asleep at night will be as easy as laying your head on the pillow (I think that the sedentary upper-middle class lifestyle is the cause of our cultural dependence on sleeping pills.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Running News: "new" girl wins marathon

As you might have seen on Flotrack Becky Wade just won the California International Marathon with a time of 2:30, which is apparently the 5th fastest time this year by an American woman. You can see an interview with her about it here:

I had never heard about her so I decided to do some research: she ran Track and XC for Rice, she competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the steeplechase, and she just returned from a year long study of running cultures around the world.

Yeah, that last one caught my attention too. Apparently it's called the Watson Fellowship, and it's an award where you can construct your own research project where you can go wherever you feel like and do whatever you want. Great gig, right?

As a blogger I thought, "Man, that would be a killer adventure to blog about" and sure enough I found Becky Runs Away, where she started last July and wrote about her entire experience. She went to 22 different countries so I can't wait to see what she experienced. Usually the post-college world trip always comes across as aimless and self-indulgent, but hers had a focused, academic purpose so this seems like something substantial.

It's especially interesting because if her purpose was to learn how to become a championship runner her win at the CIM is a good indication that it was a success. A lot of athletes get burned out in college so maybe the time away from the high-level competition allowed her to recharge and come back with renewed energy. Or maybe she found something special on her odyssey. I'm going to start her blog from the beginning and try to see for myself.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A long time runner and student, but finally a fan

I've been following the collegiate cross country season for the first time which has slowly drawn me in to it's tangled web of competitive drama.  I kept up with the local running news in high school because I was part of a team, but when I came to BYU I wasn't fast enough to compete for the school so running became more of an individual pursuit.  But I signed up for Flotrack Pro and found that they live stream a lot of major races, so my Saturdays have been sleeping in, wearing sweatpants for way too much of the day, and binging on races and interviews.

What I found was that my own school was one of the strongest: the BYU men won the Roy Griak Invitational and placed highly in a bunch of other tough races. Unfortunately XC is so poorly advertised that even while going to classes with these guys I still didn't know how competitive they were.  The one runner I knew about was Jared Ward, because I had seen him pace Miles Batty at an indoor meet last year and was impressed by how strong and smooth his stride was, but I didn't see him at any of the races this season so I figured he must have graduated.

Jared Ward

It turns out he didn't graduate- he was yet another victim of the capricious whims of the NCAA, and had lost his eligibility for his final year at BYU because of an unsanctioned fun run he did a couple of years ago (if you Google Jared Ward you can read all about it, it's pretty unfair.)  Meanwhile he had been training for the Chicago Marathon and and ran his first 26.2 in 2 hours 16 minutes. (That is wicked fast.  To put that into perspective, the fastest American at the recent NYC marathon ran only four minutes better.)

So the other day I had some rare time to kill before my next class so I skimmed the running sites and found Jared Ward popping up everywhere I looked.  It turns out the NCAA had reinstated his eligibility the day before the Mountain West Conference Regional Qualifier!  He jumped on the bus with his estranged team and was their number one runner, placing 4th in the conference.  Apparently whatever magic he had last season was still in him.  In fact, in an interview his coach Ed Eyestone mentioned that Jared could still run fast even without going all out, slyly implying that he had even more in the tank.

I did some quick math and realized that BYU was already ranked 5th in the nation without Ward, so if they replaced their 5th scorer with their 1st scorer, that could put them within arm's reach of the national title.  The race was starting at 9:55 AM the following Saturday and even though I had to be at work until after 1 AM the night before, I would set a rare weekend alarm for this.

Going into the Championships Colorado and Oklahoma were the clear favorites, but BYU, an already strong team, just had the fastest returning runner from last year miraculously reappear on their squad.  They had never won a national title so this good fortune seemed like their best shot at ultimate victory.  As the runners milled around the start line it was clear that the conditions were brutal: it had rained on the course for the last several days so it was mud and water everywhere.  Add to that temperatures in the mid thirties and a gusts of wind pushing 30 miles an hour and this college cross country meet started to look more like the opening scene from Gladiator.  The top men like Andrew Colley and Kennedy Kithuka had been talking big in the week leading up to the race, but I have to imagine that as they looked at the course in front of them they felt just a little bit smaller.

The gun sounded and the herd thundered across the weather-scarred field.  The cameras stayed mostly on the individual leaders but as the the splits came in at 3,000 meters Brigham Young was narrowly in first in the team category.  My hope swelled.  Gradually the times and places of the top 50 runners scrolled across the bottom of the screen and at one point Jared Ward and his teammate Tyler Thatcher were in 18th and 19th place- strong positions for their first two runners.  If their next three weren't too far behind maybe they could hold on.  The men fought on and at 7,000 meters BYU fell to second- still a great position and still with with a lot of race left to go.  "Could this be it?  Could this finally be our year?"  The feed indicated that Ward had pulled ahead but Thatcher had fallen back a few places, so maybe now that the full brunt of the race and the season and the weather was bearing down on them their weaker runners were starting to falter.

Soon the race was over and when everyone had finished their 10,000 meters it was impossible to tell the exact team places.  Ward came in 17th but where the rest?  The commentators nervously speculated as the officials tabulated the team scores.  "Probably not" I said to myself.  "But maybe.  Just maybe."

After what seemed like an unusually long wait the results came through:  Colorado, Northern Arizona, Oklahoma State, BYU. "Oh well, I guess this wasn't our year."  I was a little disappointed but I'm glad I had gotten my hopes up, because the great thing about sports is that even if the final score doesn't turn out in your favor you still get all the same thrills along the way- the maybes, the what-ifs, the couldn't-it-happens.  As long as the odds against you may be, that inherent uncertainty keeps the possibility of greatness always in front of you just waiting for you to chase after it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A long run after a long week

I realized this week that working two jobs, going to school, and running, and yoga, and lifting, and swimming, and not getting enough sleep probably wasn't the best idea.  So I took three days off from my training to get caught up on some school work and let my body recover and even that short of a break made a huge difference.

So after sleeping in today and having a big breakfast I felt like I had some extra nervous energy to burn so I went for a genuine long run which I hadn't done in a while.  It was one of those golden autumn days when the sun is warm but the air is just barely crisp and a smooth nine miles in the rolling Provo foothills was exactly what I needed.

P.S.  A great thing about having a Garmin is the notifications it gives you at the end of the run; today was both the longest distance I've logged since I got the watch (9.1 miles) and the fastest 10k (51:37).

P.P.S.  My magazine cover is finally up on the Utah Running website.  Check it out!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Magazine Cover!

Here it is!  My friend Derrick was asked to shoot the cover of Run Utah magazine at the same time we had started working together on my blog, so this just sort of happened.  We went to some trails up in American Fork Canyon about a month ago right as the fall colors were starting to show up and got some great pics including this one.  The experience was really fun because I got to see the pictures on his camera as we took them so I could see the shoot develop.  When I posted this on Facebook I got some pretty great reactions-most people who know me know that I run, but I guess they weren't aware of my extracurricular activities.

Utah Running is an online magazine that highlights the local running community and is a pretty interesting read for anyone who is from the area.  This must be an advanced copy because the latest issue hasn't shown up on the site yet, but keep an eye out it and it should post any day now.

Monday, October 14, 2013


This is the only vegetarian dish I've found that is filling enough to eat after a hard run.  Ratatouille is a traditional French vegetable stew, but this one is topped with eggs and Parmesan cheese which helps fill it out.

The recipe is by Eric Ripert (in my opinion the world's greatest chef) and can be found here.  His other dishes are great too: simple, elegant, hearty food.  Perfect for athletes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Product Review: Skora Core

I spent the last week running in a new pair of Skora Core shoes and it's been a fun ride.  They are a classic minimalist style with a strip of thick rubber as the sole and a piece of goatskin leather as the upper.  No cushioning, no arch-support.  They fit a little loose side-to-side but that is probably to allow the foot to splay out as you land.

They have a handsome design- I wore them one day to a friends house and everyone was saying "hey Colin, cool shoes!"  I like simple so the grey-scale really appeals to me (sorry, Newton, your gear looks like a party-store vomited on them.)  They don't tighten very much when you cinch up the laces but the upper is well shaped so as long as you get the right size they should hang on to your foot.

One comment on size: I run in an 8.5 with New Balance but these were a size 7.5, so you probably want to aim small.  If you order them online they include a FedEx return shipping sticker so you can mail them back for no cost to get a new size or color.

I ran on trails, roads, and grass so I got a good cross-section of how the Core handles on various terrain.  They don't have deep tread so when I pulled them out of the box I was wary about how well they would grip the trails, but in practice they did a great job.  The sole feels more like one solid piece than that of the New Balance Minimus (those ones are broken up into separate hexagonal pods) so you don't get quite the flexibility and surface feel of that model.  But the Core feel a little sturdier so they protected my feet better against sharp rocks.


Overall the Skora Core is a great shoe: comfortable, light, stylish, effective.  My only complaint is that after a few runs I noticed my second toe pushing against the front of the upper more than I would like.  At first I thought it meant I needed a slightly larger pair, but the half-size larger was too loose in the heel and would have left me sliding around.  I have that weird quirk where my second toe is larger than my 'big' toe, so people with a more statistically average foot shape probably wouldn't have the same problem.  Here is the link where you can read more from Skora and place orders (it looks like they are on sale right now!)

Derrick Lytle shot these pictures for me up in American Fork Canyon (I think technically the park was closed because of the government shut down, but I like to live dangerously.)  To see more of Derrick's work click here:

This is my favorite pic from the day:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New 5k season best

I just finished what started out as a tempo run but turned into a 5k time trial.  When it was over I ran it down in 24:12, which was more than three minutes faster than anything I've run this summer!  I started the season running 5k in about 29 minutes, which was kind of a let down (you always think you are in better shape than you actually are.)  I got a late start to training because of illness and injuries during the spring, and with such a slow start my plans of getting a PR this season went out the window.

But after only six weeks of serious training I've already knocked five minutes off and with my best 5k in High School being around 19 minutes, I only need to trim off another five!  Winter is coming fast in Utah so I don't know if I can get it done before the big freeze, but it's definitely possible.  The race is on.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Praise of my physique from unorthodox strangers

I've had a couple of funny experiences lately out running.  It's been wicked hot so I run in short-shorts and no shirt, which feels good but gets a little attention.  A couple of weeks ago I was running through a neighborhood and this little Mexican boy said, "Sexy bodyyyyyy" and sort of danced back and forth as he said it.  It was so goofy I totally started laughing.

Story two was last Saturday I was out for a long run on the Provo River Trail, and I passed by a guy that can best be described as being like the old sea captain from The Simpsons only scarier:

As I went past him he exclaimed, "You're in GREAT shape, bro!"  There was nothing creepy in his tone of voice, it was as if he had never seen someone athletic and was genuinely astonished.  I told my friends about it at dinner later that night and they all thought it was pretty dang funny.

Now I'd be lying if I said I didn't want people to be impressed as they see me running by, but 10-year old latino's and old homeless guys isn't really the demo I'm going for.  Maybe the girls are impressed too and they are just being coy...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Alberto Salazar immediately after London

This is a link to the most interesting interview with Alberto Salazar I've ever seen:


This is the legendary coach a few days after the London Olympics and he talks about Mo, Galen, and the Nike Oregon project.  He even confirmed what many had speculated, that after the 2016 Olympics Galen will move up to the marathon.

Salazar is always a fount of athletic wisdom, but this interviewer asked perfect questions that solicited honest and insightful answers.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 21, 2013


I just finished my first full week of training for the season.  A piriformis injury and then bronchitis kept me running only on and off through the spring and first part of the summer.  But it feels so great to dust out the cobwebs and really go hard.  Here is the breakdown:

Monday: Strength training, Nike Training Club, 30 minutes medium difficulty.

Tuesday: 20 minute easy run.

Wednesday: 30 minute easy run.

Thursday: Yoga.

Friday: 20 minute easy run.

Saturday: 3 x 1000m hard.
I was planning on doing five sets on that interval workout, but it was 97 degrees at the time of the run so I had to cut it short.  It has been wicked hot here in Utah and I'm still trying to get used to the heat.

Thanks to my new Garmin Forerunner 10 I know exactly how far I ran this week (9.05 miles.)  I feel like this is a good place to start my training.  I'm moderately strong, have decent aerobic capabilities, and basic flexibility, so I can use the next few months to build off of that and develop some speed.

The heat has made me realize that I'm not really going to be setting any PR's until we get a decently cool day (I know race starts are early, but it's still like 80 degrees when I wake up so that's not gonna help much.)  So my plan is train hard for the next two months, then in the fall when the temperature starts to drop get in some races and see what I can pull off.  I really want to do a cross country race (not a road or trail race) like we did in high school, but I don't know how many of those are open to the general public, so I'll need to do some sleuthing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to transition to minimalist running

What is fore foot striking?

Transitioning from a heel strike to a fore foot strike is a huge change in your running mechanics.  Having done both they feel as different as running is to walking.  When you land on the heel your knee is the only joint that can flex to soften the landing. Then as the foot pulls through you flex your ankle joint and push off of the fore foot.  The pattern of movement for each step would be heel-toe.  This is demonstrated in the top picture below (you can ignore the graphs, I just wanted to use this picture to illustrate the foot motions.)
The other way to run is to touch down first with the ball of the foot (usually on the outside edge if your foot pronates) then you settle into the heel.  This is illustrated in the second image above.  Then as your foot pulls through you again flex the heel to toe off.  This rhythm would be heel-toe-heel.

Notice the extra motion in the latter case: you have another ankle flexion, this time on the landing in addition to the liftoff.  This is why it is a completely different form of locomotion.  I'm not going to get into the science of loading forces because the data on that is contradictory and inconclusive.  But I can speak from experience that it feels more fluid and powerful than landing on the heel, which is why I decided to make the switch.

What do you need to run this way?

You might be surprised to learn that minimalist running isn't new at all- only the name "minimalist".  Elite runners in the 70's and 80's always used racing flats and landed far forward on the foot.  The reason is that it is a much more aggressive, faster style.  You can't run 4-minute miles landing far back on the heel, it is much too sluggish.

The reason that these men had no problem running this way was because they were professionals so they were built right: thin, long bones, low body fat, and highly muscled.  This is what it took to run fast back then and this is what it still takes today.  The degree to which you can become built like a professional runner will be the degree to which you can run easily while landing on the fore foot.

Another thing you need is improved coordination.  Bending at the ankle as well as the knee as you hit the ground takes practice.  Also your cadence tends to be higher when you run this way, so your nervous system needs to be able to go faster to process all of this new movement.

Shoes also make a big difference.  It is uncomfortable to land on the heel without extra cushioning, so wearing a thin shoe will automatically encourage you to land on the fore foot so that you can utilize that extra ankle bend I discussed earlier.

How do I make the change?

It takes time to develop the strength and coordination that I described above, but the new shoes is a quick fix.  Go to a running store and try on different pairs until you find one that fits your feet well.  You want something with little cushioning and little support and a small if any heel-to-toe drop.  If you can easily twist the shoe in your hand it is the right kind; if it feels stiff and thick like a two-by-four that won't help you make this switch.

You have to start slowly with this new form because it uses such different muscles (it is much more demanding on the lower leg, ankle, and feet.)  I was sore after just one minute of running with my new shoes.  I did that for two weeks then switched to two minutes, four minutes, and so on until I could run a couple of miles at a time.  All in all I'd say it took me six months to get to where I could easily run for twenty minutes and not have sore calves the next day.

You will develop a lot of muscle just from the new shoes but I would also recommend strength training as well.  Running uses all of the muscles in your body, from you feet to yours hips to your shoulders.  I like Nike Training Club as an over-all weight-lifting program, but there are exercises more tailored to mimic the runners stride (check out these workouts.  I've seen videos of Galen Rupp doing these exact motions, and they seem to be working out pretty well for him.)

Coordination just comes from practice.  Focus on keeping your cadence high, be cognizant as you move through the running motion, and do drills that practice proper form.  It's easier to run with a long, slow stride or a short, fast stride, but to run fast you need to have a long, fast stride, and it takes time to develop the ability to move your legs that swiftly.

Commitment and Growth

As you can see this requires a major life-style change.  You need to commit to the new form, and although the commitment needs to be significant (at least several months) it doesn't have to be permanent.  If you give this a genuine effort and your body never seems to adapt, then for your particular body landing farther back on the heel might be better and you could always go back to the way you used to run.

No one can prove that this is categorically better for every person, but I can only describe my own experience and imagine that other people will experience something similar.  I noticed distinct, discontinuous changes in my running form and over-all strength as I moved in this new direction.  I had one such moment last night: after taking a break from running to fix a piriformis injury my first run back I felt more like a flight than a run.  Rather than trying to feel out exactly how long of a stride to take and how deep to bend into the knees, one specific motion felt like obviously the most comfortable way to move.  And I went faster than I've gone in months. Minimalist running is a huge investment but the payoff is equally dramatic.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shoe Review: New Balance Minimus MT10

I bought my first pair of MT10's last spring and after running in them through the summer, fall, and winter I feel qualified to write a formal review.

These shoes are spectacular!  Finding the right pair is entirely a matter of fit, and the moment I slipped these on the shape seemed to match my feet perfectly.  They are light (only 7.5 oz), flexible, breathable, so comfortable in fact that at first I forgot I was wearing them.  Officially they are a trail shoe and as such they have decent traction, but they work just as well on the roads.

I wore them on the roads without socks for a couple of months but on my first trail run my feet got the nastiest blisters I've ever seen.  Running on even terrain the forces are almost entirely unidirectional, but on rocky, technical trails your shoe slides around a little in every direction so you need some protection.  Now I wear thin "Aspire Swiftwick" socks and I haven't had any problems.

The MT10's are fairly loose in the toe-box which apparently is part of the design; the intent is that your feet have a chance to splay out as you hit the ground.  Rather than gripping your foot from the sides they feel like they stay on from the top like a sandal.

They are comfortable through a remarkable range of temperatures: when it is hot they breath easily from a mesh upper, and when it is cold they felt pretty much the same.  This winter was monstrous in Utah, and even when I was out in 18 degree night runs my feet never felt chilly.  As the above picture indicates I wore them in an Xterra triathlon and they handled fine even when wet.  The only terrain where they struggled was on ice...but to be fair the only shoes that can really grip that have spikes.

I've logged about 300 miles so far and the sole is almost worn out so I have started looking into my next pair.  I'll take a look at some other brands just to be thorough, but running in these have been such a dream that I've all but made up my mind.  Apparently New Balance makes a black-on-black version which look totally badass...


These shoes have minimal cushioning, only 4mm of heel-to-toe drop, and no arch support, so they are a truly minimalist shoe.  Only buy these if you are already accustomed to landing on the forefoot or are ready to make a big life change.  I will talk more about the transition in my next post.

P.S.  This guy wears 'em too:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The anatomy of an injury

I've spent a lot of time reading about piriformis problems, watching videos, studying anatomy diagrams and experimenting with different treatment techniques and I think I've finally sleuthed out the problem I've been having with my hips.  It's a long and painful story:

Part 1: Bad Biomechanics

I was watching the Nike Cross Nationals and noticed that the leaders were all bending much deeper into the knees than I was.  Because they were high school students and less experienced their cadence was slower, which made it easier to see than in the videos of elites that I had been watching.  My shallow knee-flexion probably came from when I broke my knee cap: to avoid knee pain I learned to walk with mostly straight legs, and even after the pain went away this habit persisted.  This flaw in my running form led to...

Part 2: Injured Piriformis

The piriformis muscle is a small structure in your butt that rotates your leg from side to side (imagine opening and closing your legs while you are sitting.)  With shallow knee-bend I was inadvertently using this small stabilizing muscle to pull my leg through instead the larger glutes and hamstrings.  Because the piriformis wasn't made for this kind of heavy lifting it became tight from overuse.  I finally learned how to stretch and massage it in late December from a video on Runnersworld.com. (I would link directly to it but their video player doesn't allow it; just scroll through their videos until you find it.)  This did wonders by finally loosening up the muscle.  But unfortunately this caused...

Part 3: Inflamed Tendon

Because this was my first time seriously stretching this muscle it put a terrific strain on the tendon which connects the piriformis to the greater trochanter (hip bone.)  This is where things got sticky: I stopped running and stretched and massaged the piriformis, but tendons are avascular, which means that blood doesn't flow directly to them.  So they take much longer to heal than muscles.  The key at this point was...

Part 4: Ice

I didn't think I was neglecting this part of the recovery because I ice my legs often by sitting in a tub of cold water.  The problem is that because I am completely submerged the water isn't very cold, which is fine for general soreness but not good enough for a real injury.  I needed something more targeted.  So I filled quart-sized ziploc bags with ice cubes, connected them together at the top with an over sized paper-clip, and lie down on my stomach with the ice bags slung over my backside.  Connecting the two bags was the key because the ice really needed to be suspended on the outside edge of my hip, and the easiest way to do that was to counter-balance it with the other bag.  Another important thing about ice is that it needs to be done as often as possibly, every medical website says several times a day.  This means every couple of hours.  Realistically I can get in one in the morning and one at night.  Which finally brings us to...

Part 5: Recovery

My pain isn't completely gone yet, but some days I don't feel anything and the sore days are getting farther and farther apart.  I've also been slowly increasing my running frequency up to every day but keeping it light to avoid aggravating the piriformis.  I've felt like Dr. House trying to put all of this together, and like House I'm confident in my theory because it explains all of the symptoms.  Mostly I'm just relieved to feel like I've figured it out.  The worst part about being injured is not knowing whats going on.  After a couple of weeks of playing it safe and lots of ice I should be all better and ready to start training for the 2013 season!  Just in time because the weather in Provo is getting nice:

Sunday, March 3, 2013


There is something very purifying about ice baths.  I woke up with too many different things my mind and when I sat down in the cold water I noticed how everything seemed to come into focus.  I think there are two reasons: one, the sensation is so intense that it makes it hard to think about anything else.  When you first slide in there is that jolt from the sudden cold, then after a few minutes you feel your body slowing down as the temperature really starts to settle in.  Finally there is that burning sensation from the blood rushing back into your legs when you finish.

The second reason ice baths can help focus you is because the genuine discomfort forces you to ask yourself why you are doing it.  Kant called this acting against inclination, which he thought was the only situation in which you can be sure that you are doing something because you believe it is the right thing to do.  The only reason you would voluntarily dip your legs in freezing water is because you wanted to speed recovery, heal and become a better runner.  That thought process naturally leads your mind forward, to the goal, the purpose, the reward.

I've said before that ice baths were the only cure-all.  I was speaking about helping with muscle soreness, but in my experience it even has a restorative effect on the psyche.  It'is like restarting a computer, clearing the memory and beginning from scratch.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Desires: inborn or learned?

A while back I realized that unless I ate some kind of sugar during a meal, I didn't feel full afterward.  Most often it was fruit, which seemed ok because the old food pyramid suggested 2-3 servings per day.  But I felt wary about the need to do it, the compulsion.  At the same time my brother Wade was on a diet that required cutting out all sugar, so I wondered if it was healthy for me to be eating it as often as I was.

I decided to start leaving sugar out of every other meal just to see how it felt.  Under-eating is a risky business for me because I get migraines if I'm hungry for too long, so at first I was little nervous.  What I immediately found was how hard it was to abstain.  Even though I was eating a large, full meal with plenty of complex carbohydrates, that desire for something sweet was strong and I had to fight it off.  But I didn't get any headaches so I felt it was worth pursuing.

After a couple of weeks I found myself wanting sugar less.  It still tasted good and I still ate plenty of fruit and the occasional dessert, but the expectation of having it be part of every eating experience had subsided.  What surprised me about this was that I had always thought that this specific desire was inherent, somehow coded into my DNA and a normal part of being a human.  Clearly it wasn't: it was buttressed up, inflated by my behavior.

Every desire fits into one of those two categories: inborn or learned.  And I think that more of them are learned.  But it can be so easy to think something has always been a part of you if your behavior has always enforced it.  Take the need for sugar; I'm sure that many of us have eaten sugar constantly almost since birth.  If the first thing in your toddler-age sippy-cup was juice, then you wouldn't be able to remember a time without that sweet substance coursing through your bloodstream.  With no sugar-free period as a comparison, how can you tell that the desire was inborn instead of learned?  Using the scientist parlance, there was no control group in that experiment.

We all have things about ourselves that we wish were different.  A negative thought process, a bad habit, an addiction.  But many people give up on trying to change with the defense, "it's just who I am."  Sometimes I'm sure that's true.  Genes are a powerful force in determining who we are.  But I think most of our desires come from the constant stream of small, simple choices that we make usually without thought.  The only way to tell the difference is to change your behavior long enough until it forms a habit and see how you feel.  I think we will all be surprised by how much is within our control.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Winter Break

I finally found the source of the lingering hip pain: it was my piriformis muscle.  This is a small muscle in your butt that is responsible for the lateral movement of the leg.  While I was cruising videos on Runnersworld.com I found a way to self-massage the piriformis by sitting on the ground and pulling the foot up toward your face while rocking back, and as soon as I did it I felt the most awesome muscle pain ever.  But it was a good kind of pain, because I could feel the knotted muscle slowly unwind.

But after cutting my running back to a couple days a week and doing lots of stretching, I still couldn't quite shake the soreness.  I decided I just needed to do a full stop and halt any running or stretching to aggravate the piriformis.  Thinking back on the year I realized that I had been training hard for about eight months without taking any serious time off, so a long winter break was due.

I've been keeping up my fitness by swimming, yoga, and weight lifting, basically anything that doesn't use my afflicted backside.  And after two weeks I'm starting to feel great.  With each day the pain in my hip recedes, and my energy is starting to peak.  After all of the success I had in the fall I thought I would be really missing my runs, but I don't.  I think it's because all of the other little things I do to stay in shape that are part of the running lifestyle: cross training, weight-lifting, stretching, diet, rest.  What I mean to say is that even though I haven't laced up in almost two weeks, I still feel like a runner.

This is a big change.  When I was forced to take time off before I would feel this terrible sense of loss, this emptiness.  Maybe my perspective has changed a little and I see the big picture more clearly now.  Anyway, I'm going to keep resting for another week, maybe two.  Based on how my body has reacted to rest in the past this can only be good for me.

P.S.  The weather in Provo has been wild lately, so perhaps this is why I don't mind taking a break (notice Monday, -13 degrees!  What?!)