My cooking principles

This past weekend I experimented with an old childhood staple: Hamburger Helper. I cooked the Cheeseburger Macaroni blend, using a pound of ground beef and whole milk. I housed the whole thing and eating it felt equal parts good and disgusting. It was a great way to get a bunch of beef in me quickly, but I don’t think I’m going out of my way to do that again.

Part of that is I don’t eat as much processed food as I used to, let alone not nearly as much as most people. So my system doesn’t agree with a lot of it as much as the next gut.

On average I eat clean from food that’s whole and/or prepared at home at least 80% of the time. While I’m not opposed to delicious processed food like pizza, hamburgers, donuts, chips, etc, I mostly cook whole food from scratch, or eat food that’s lightly processed… like a can of sardines in oil or frozen meat in a bag (i.e. the food had to be cut and then processed into the can, but it’s basically in its native form rather than blended with 75 chemicals).

I have cleaned up my diet gradually over the last few years. Even now I can say there’s room for improvement, and if I want to move into that room I’ll give it a shot. I have a set of rules that I settled into following over the last few years: Whether or not I set out to follow them on day one, I found over time that they suited me well as habits, and so they became rules to live by.

I bake and boil everything that’s cooked. No frying.

Ask my parents: I LOVE fried food. It’s a blessing I haven’t had daily ready-access to it because I’d probably be 500 pounds or dead right now from addiction to it.

I still love it. I just don’t eat it that often. I’ll have it now and then as a treat, or when I’m back in Vegas visiting my family. And, most of all, I don’t fry anything at home.

This isn’t necessarily some health-kick rule that I elected to follow. I actually have two practical reasons why I don’t fry food at home.

  1. It’s messy. Fried oil splatters everywhere during cooking, even with a splatter screen. You leave yourself a mess of oil and other debris that you have to clean up. I don’t have time or patience for that.
  2. The only oils I cook with don’t fry well, and the only oils that do are bad oils I won’t eat. I’ll get into the oils I cook with in a bit, but neither of them have high flash points, meaning they can be dangerous to fry with. A lot of conventional cooking oils are bad for your health, and go figure all of them are recommended frying oils. No, thank you.

So, to cook food the way I like, I resort mainly to two methods. I bake and boil nearly all of my cooked food. Now and then I’ll simmer food in a saucepan or skillet, or heat it in the microwave. I also use a rice cooker for rice. But generally speaking my main cooking resources are hot water and the oven (and I guess the rice cooker is a form of boiling, if you think about it).

No fancy anything. Simple food cooked, in oil when applicable, with simple seasoning.

For someone who cooks a lot, I don’t have much of a personal cookbook. If I wrote one consisting of every useful recipe I knew, it would be a pamphlet that would be too offensively brief and basic to charge money for.

I bake food in oil until it’s palatably cooked. I boil food until it’s softened up enough to palatably eat. I season food to taste with garlic salt. The only garnish I put in a baking dish is oregano and garlic powder, maybe turmeric. The fanciest I ever get is a baked cut potato dish my mother taught me a couple years ago, and if in the mood I can garnish brown rice with some pretty good side items.

But I don’t get too crazy with cooking. It probably seems boring to an otuside eye, but I like the way I cook, and it keeps the food in a healthy, easy to quantify state.

That last point is important: I log every meal I eat, and knowing how much of what ingredient I used is important. Keeping cooking simple, or eating whole fruit, vegetables and other foods, makes tracking macros and calories easy.

It’s when you make some weirdo casserole with 20 ingredients, let alone going out to eat at a restaurant, that tracking your calories becomes difficult.

I only cook with expelled pressed coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Most other cooking oils present a variety of long term health concerns, while to this day extra virgin olive oil remains an antioxidant-rich recommendation.

However, most olive oils are fake olive oil, mixed with canola and vegetable oil by manufacturers and even many boutique olive producers to save money. There is a thin but sizable list of brands that have been verified as actual honest-to-goodness olive oil. I’ll join a growing bandwagon and recommend California Olive Ranch, which is a bit pricey but I’ve definitely noticed the difference. You actually notice the olives in this oil, unlike other brands.

As for coconut oil, it not only contains various healthy lipids etc, but is also a known antifungal. People even use it as a body cream! People who suspect they have candida or other similar gut issues, as well as any fungal-related infections, would do themselves good to incorporate coconut oil into their diets.

The less processed, the better. The best form is expeller pressed (not refined) virgin coconut oil, and it can be found at most organic-focused stores including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Look at the bottom of any jar and make sure there’s no distinct yellow deposit at the bottom (this indicates it’s been contaminated) before you buy.

I’ve been cooking with expelled pressed virgin coconut oil for years, and it’s my go-to cooking oil for most dishes. Sometimes I’ll even do faux-bulletproof coffee, and pour a tablespoon into a cup of black coffee. Granted, this is a come-and-go habit, and depends on what I’m doing for work at the time. But it can be used similar to how cream and butter is used.

I cook enough for one meal and eat exactly that. No leftovers.

I don’t do leftovers. Don’t get me wrong: If I end up with leftovers, I’m happy to eat them later. What I mean is I don’t cook more than I end up eating.

I know exactly how much I can and should eat for a given meal, and that’s what I prepare for dinner. I’d probably be a terrible cook for two: I know how much I can eat, but how much would the other person eat? Will I end up making too much or too little?

I do prepare big meals… and I eat the whole thing. I don’t worry about plate sizes or portioning or anything, because I plan that ahead of time. If I don’t clean the plate, something’s wrong.

Anyone can do this, though it takes trial and error (or preparing enough for leftovers!) to figure out exactly how much food you can typically expect to put down in a meal.

Dishes must take no more than one hour to prepare.

I’ve got enough other stuff I want to do (like write this post!). I don’t want to spend hours fumbling at the kitchenette over a complicated recipe or assembly of food. I also don’t want to wait forever for a meal to be ready once I’ve decided to cook a meal.

From the moment I fire up the oven until the moment I put a plate full of prepared food on the table shouldn’t take longer than 60 minutes. No recipe I’ve attempted has survived without taking less than a hour to cook. Not to stand over and physically prepare, but to go from nothing to finished product. This includes oven time.

If nothing else, once I’ve decided I need to eat a full meal I need to get to eating as quickly as reasonably possible.

  • I often eat after workouts, and you have a limited window for maximum nutrient absorption.
  • Going too long between getting hungry and finally eating does mess with me physically in a variety of ways.
  • And again, I’ve got finite time to do various things, so I want to get to eating as efficiently as possible.

Thus nothing I prepare takes more than a hour. Most of my typical meals take about 50-60 minutes to cook.

Bonus Tip: Does your stovetop get hot when you use the oven? Do you plan to boil a dish along with your baked dish? Get a head start on boiling water by filling your pot with water and sitting it on the unlit stovetop after you’ve put your other dish in the oven. The heat from the oven will conduct into the water pot, giving you a bit of a head start on warming the water before you turn the stove on to boil.

Bonus Tip #2: If you’re going to boil water, fill the pot with HOT water rather than cold water. It saves time on heating the water to a boil. I find it amusing how often I see people pour cold or even chilled water into a pot for heating or boiling, given the objective.

I’m always washing dishes.

I have two plates, one set of flatware, one bowl and one of each pan. I don’t own a dishwasher (and after decades of hand-washing dishes I’m not sure I could ever handle living with one).

You’re either going to wash dishes after cooking or wash dishes before you need to cook again.

Bonus factoid: Did you know that you’re technically supposed to replace your dishwashing sponge once a week? That probably seems excessive to almost everybody. Even now I maybe swap mine out once a month. I haven’t died yet doing so, obviously, so that’s probably okay. I don’t mind using mass produced brands but I’m partial to Twist.


So that’s my approach to cooking. I may share dishes some time down the road, but again I’m not a particularly creative cook and chances are good you’d find my recipes boring compared to what you’re used to.

However, I feel like the principles above may be worth considering and giving a shot. Some of them may help you improve your diet and allow you to more consistently cook healthy, easy to prepare meals.

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Why could I not get to sleep last night?

Not a super evergreen topic this evening, but last night I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I had that wired feeling where you almost can feel your muscles churning in place.

I did eventually get to sleep sometime after midnight following some water and an old stand-by: My ice pack. I wasn’t hurting or anything, but being a bit warm I felt that adding in some quite-cold stimulus would normalize me a bit quicker. It did, and I was out soon after introducing it.

I didn’t have more than a cup of coffee in the morning or any other sort of stimulant. I had eaten well, so I don’t think I was hungry. And I wasn’t drowning myself in blue light like others do.

But I can see in hindsight a few other factors that led to a restless night.

Yesterday was an active one:

  • I walked several miles on an errand excursion to Bucktown and back home through Lincoln Park.
  • Later towards sunset I went on a planned 45 minute circuit run that ended with a hard 8K-effort finish. It felt great at the time, but revving the motor that hard around 6:30pm might have left me too wired to drift off comfortably at 10-11 pm.

So basically it wasn’t exactly taper madness. In fact, I probably was a lot more active than I ought to have been, after having run over 12 miles the day before. Physically I felt okay, a tad sore but definitely up for all that effort. Even today (now well into more of a taper-like workload, after a day of sitting at a desk) I don’t feel too bad.

Soon after dinner I will probably sleep more soundly, but sometimes despite your best efforts you can’t quite get to sleep.

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Marathon Emergency Power, aka The Galloway Method

Even when first training seriously and comparing different marathon training books, I never gave Jeff Galloway’s Marathon book a second look. And even now I haven’t really given his method much more than a cursory glance.

So personally I can’t necessarily recommend it, even though his approach is probably a great one for a lot of new marathon runners.

Basically, Galloway advocates run/walking the entire marathon. You find a running pace you can maintain for 2-5 minutes at a time, and for all of your training as well as the entire race you run for 2-5 minutes, then stop for a 1-2 minute walking break, then repeat until after a few eternities you finally finish.

His approach clearly works, because to some extent thousands of novice marathoners end up using his approach… whether they want to or not. Once many runners hit the wall around miles 13-20, they have no choice but to run/walk the rest of the way.


But, even if you’re a more serious runner who takes pride in running out all your training runs and races… what if in a marathon you could use his approach consciously, in advance of a worst case scenario of hitting the wall hard, as a back-pocket emergency approach?

For example: Instead of hitting the wall in mile 18 and being forced to drag yourself over the final 8.2 miles… you initially feel yourself struggling badly in mile 16. You decide right then and there to run 3 minutes and walk 1, then repeat… from that 16 mile point forward, feeling like you have a little bit in the tank.

You take food and drink from every available aid station, and only if you feel you’ve found a 2nd wind do you resume a normal uninterrupted run as normal. And while it’s possible you end up run/walking the whole rest of the race, you at least are able to handle those last 10 miles with some sense of dignity and not feeling like death. Perhaps you could even run out that last whole 1.2 miles as your “kick”.


I now realize that, when I stepped to the line in Vancouver this May feeling ill and overheated… I possibly could have finished the race, had I committed to running the entire race easy and using something like Galloway’s method. It would have taken 5 fairly grueling hours, but instead of feeling unwell at mile 3, I could have slowly navigated the race mile by mile, at an easy pace, possibly felt good enough to high five all the old men and women shuffling alongside me, and gradually made my way to the finish line.

Of course, at the time I had no idea I could use an approach like I described above. And for all I know my ego would not have allowed it anyway after having trained as hard as I had to run the whole race. This is little more than 20/20 hindsight, and the humbling experience of a DNF was probably necessary for me to even entertain the notion today.

Galloway’s book has runners going as far as 25-30 miles in training using his simpler run/walk method. And, to some extent, some of my experienced (faster) runner friends have knocked out 30+ miles in a day through a similar approach… running 5-7 miles at a time, stopping to rest for a while or eat, and then continuing.

So say what you want about stopping or walking: For finishing a marathon, it absolutely works.

In fact, this is how a lot of ultramarathon running is done. Since many of these races require 12-24 hours to complete, even the winners are expected to stop and rest for extended periods.


I practiced a variation of this after work on Friday, running at a threshold-level pace for 2-4 minutes, then walking for a minute, with the clock running the entire time. And it was doubly useful since I wasn’t feeling well at the time. I managed to polish off a couple miles at about a minute faster per mile than usual.

I would have gone the rest of the way home. But again, I wasn’t feeling well, and though I could have finished I decided to cut the run short.

Still, along with the rest of my race-day gear, I will have an emergency plan in my back pocket, thanks to the wise words of a man whose book I haven’t really read. “You can do it!”, indeed.

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Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

Lack of sleep:

The most obvious one. If you’re not sleeping well in general, let alone haven’t slept well the night before, you’re probably going to flatline at some point in the day.

A good general rule is that, for every 1 hour of sleep, you get 2 hours of not wanting to fall asleep. If you get 8 hours of sleep, you should be able to get through the other 16 hours of the day reasonably alert before heading to bed.

But… if you only get 4 hours sleep, then you may be okay until about 8 hours after you awake. For example: If you stay up until 3 am, then wake up at 7 am… even if you seem okay to go to work that morning… things will probably feel manageable until about 3pm, at which point you should crash hard enough that no energy stimulant can really save you. Get home and get to bed ASAP.

I’ve noticed this is pretty much what happens to me after a night of short sleep, to the hour. And of course, even before that crash moment, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling worse for wear even after a cup of morning coffee.

Sleep is not overrated! It is in fact very underrated, especially as you get older.

Lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet:

In the past, whenever I felt like garbage, I often looked back at what I had recently eaten and notice a lot of crappy processed food: Pizza, instant meals, fried foods, etc. I clean up and eat healthier for the next meal… and I feel better over the next few days. In some cases, I may even feel better as soon as the next nutritious meal.

You are definitely what you eat, and I would suspect a lot of people who feel down and lethargic all the time, let alone get sick a lot, probably don’t eat good food in its whole natural form. They probably ate nothing but stuff out of packaging.

Lack of water:

It’s more than a song by The Why Store. It’s more than a detriment to exercise. It’s often a key reason people feel lethargic.

And it’s one of my basic initial tests, not to mention one of my quickest remedies, when I suddenly find myself low on energy. If I drink a few ounces of water and suddenly feel more alert and ready to go, I know my low energy was due to slight dehydration. I’m surprised at how often this is the cure to low energy.

People tend to fall into two polarized camps with water. There are the people who carry a water bottle and drink water religiously throughout the day. And there are people who don’t really think about water at all and only drink when it occurs to them.

Many of the latter probably drink a lot of processed drinks and even alcohol instead. I imagine they feel terrible a lot (except when they first get drunk).

Your blood viscosity increases when you’re dehydrated, and slower blood means slower energy production for your body. Of course you’re going to feel tired.

Water also helps flush waste byproducts from your body, as well as bacteria, viruses and whatever else. When your blood is thicker and dehydrated, those byproducts sit in your system and induce some degree of response from your body. And then you feel like crap, at best. Sometimes, you begin to feel sick. It’s possible you could exercise and sweat it out, but either way you could use some more water.

Of course, what kind of water you drink matters too. If your tap water quality is garbage, maybe use a good filter or even get distilled water. Vegas tap water was awful, and may have also caused my kidney stone in high school. I have my suspicions about the effects of Chicago tap water on the psychology of the locals, and thus I make sure to drink distilled water as much as possible.

But that’s icing on the cake of the main point: You probably could use more water. Drinking any water typically is better than drinking little to none.

Lack of outdoor activity:

Rampant depression in Seattle is often blamed on the weather. The fallacy goes that cloudy weather equals sadness.

As someone who enjoyed cloudy weather, I don’t get that at all. Or actually, now I do:

People in Seattle use the rainy weather as an excuse to not go out and do anything. They sit at home a lot like hermits, let it be a mental barrier to their engaging the world, and then wonder why they’re depressed.

Meanwhile, I went outside and did something every single day, rain or shine, whether or not I had to work that day. I never let the weather stop me from going outside.

Believe it or not, the clouds do not stop the Sun’s UV rays from reaching Earth. Clouds do filter some of it, but you still get Vitamin D from the sun if you walk outside during cloudy weather. People are depriving themselves of Vitamin D as well as fresh air and exercise… just because it’s not sunny.

(Also, given the weather is such a factor for them, I wonder why many of these people didn’t just move south, where cloudy weather isn’t as present)

Now, some depression has a deeper root cause, some of it more within our control than others, and we can get into that some other time.

But for many people who claim seasonal depression, they probably live their lives with a forced habitual inertia. And they’d probably be surprised at how much better they felt if they got outside and took a long walk every day, no matter what the weather was like.

If they’re up for more than a walk, they may also be surprised at what running, sports, etc., can do for their outlook and their general energy… not to mention their overall health.

There’s plenty of time to indulge in indoor hobbies and other activities. Make some time to get outside, especially if you feel tired and/or emotionally down, and you might find you have more energy than before.


Okay, that last bit got a bit preachy. I have heard the “I’m tired” song and dance a few too many times, from people that probably could have put the above ideas to use.

But seriously I find that whenever I feel tired, even over a long stretch, it often comes down to deficiencies in one or more of those four things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Food quality
  3. Water
  4. Outdoor activity

I’m not claiming any of this will cure cancer or anything like that (… though, if it does, drop me a line and let me know where to pick up my upcoming Nobel Prize).

But you might be surprised at what it does to your chronic fatigue syndrome, or to a lesser extent your overall low-energy.

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Shoes I prefer, and why

I never got into running thinking I would become a devoted New Balance wearer (or really loyal to any one brand), but suddenly New Balance became my shoe of choice.

Much like a path worn through the grass, preferring New Balance was a product of practicality and function.

  • I have a 2E wide foot, and many shoe brands don’t make a wide version of any sizes. New Balance sells a 2E size for most of their varieties, giving me a much better selection to choose from.
  • New Balance shoes tend to be lighter in weight than other shoes, which usually weigh around 10-13 oz. Many NB’s tend to weigh around 8-9 oz. Lighter shoes tend to have less cushion and support, but also weigh your feet down less and you do run a bit freer and more quickly with a lighter shoe.
  • Speaking of cushion, I like to have more solid contact with the ground, and most models have a lot more cushion and material between my foot and the ground than I’d like. I’m not interested in barefoot-style shoes like Vibrams: I do want to have a solid sole between my foot and the ground. But I want my foot to contour naturally, which it can’t do over a thick layer of cushioning.
  • Other shoes also tend to have a sizable drop of over 8mm. You do notice the difference walking on flat feet vs walking in most shoes… when you wear a shoe with a zero drop or a lower drop than 8mm. New Balances tend to have a medium drop of about 8mm, whereas most other models exceed 10-12mm.

And on that note, I come to Topo Athletic. Topos are not that popular in the United States, but I was turned onto them by British ultramarathon runner Steve Speirs, who swears by them in both his extensive training and his arduous ultramarathons. I finally gave Topos a try over the last few months, and I am hooked.

I still like my NB’s and fully intend to continue buying and wearing those, but Topos have a ton of unique advantages.

  • Topos are very durable for running shoes. I’ve logged over 300 miles on my Hydroventures and have noticed no dropoff in quality or appearance. Speirs and Topo reps themselves have vouched that such durability is typical, and most pairs last well over 500 miles of heavy-duty use before warranting replacement.
  • Topos are closer to zero drop, giving you more of a feel for contacting the ground similar to how you do in bare feet… without the lack of sole protection that comes with barefoot running. This more natural contact with the ground leads to a more natural stride. Yes, it does feel a bit weird and cumbersome at first when you’re used to more conventional higher-drop shoes. But as you get used to it the effect on your stride and running is a bit surprising.
  • The toe box of a Topo is naturally wide. Topo only sells their standard size models, and I was advised when I first shopped them I wouldn’t need to worry about having wider feet due to their spacious toebox. They were right! I find the standard Topos very roomy in the toe box, and they fit very well in a conventional size.
  • Topos are constructed very well as they tend to be used on longer trail runs and ultra-distance races. Only the lightest models tend to noticeably wear out after a while. Speirs himself often replaces most pairs once his toes finally begin to show through the front of the shoe, and that only tends to happen with the tempo-friendly lighter weight models after 500+ miles.

So there you have it. As I got serious about running I also got serious about what brands of shoes I prefer, and why. At some point down the road I’ll share my shoe collection and the role each shoe plays in my training.

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On foot pronation, and why I (mostly) don’t worry about foot support

When I decided to get serious about running a couple years ago, I went to a Roadrunner Sports store to get a good pair of shoes. I didn’t know nearly as much as I do now, but I knew the cheap worn out Avias I had run in for years were due for replacement.

I decided I would blow a good chunk of change on a legit pair of shoes. Knowing I didn’t know much I decided to get upsold: Sometimes I’ll let a salesperson take control of the transaction and sell me, knowing that if at any point I smell a rat I can quickly extract myself and leave.

And Roadrunner definitely tries to sell (it’s actually a key reason I avoid going to one these days; it’s like the Best Buy of running shoe stores). They have a stride test they do in part to upsell you some pricey insoles, and I went ahead and did it. They discovered that, while my left foot landed just fine, my right foot had a tendency to pronate (collapse inward) quite a bit.

I didn’t tell them this, but I knew that was in part to a bad right ankle injury I suffered in 2008. I’m fairly sure I didn’t break it because I was able to walk on it (albeit with great difficulty after it happened), but there had been lingering pain for years afterward, and I imagine that the excess pronation was compensation I had built it while recovering from it.

They offered to make me a set of $70 insoles that would address the issue, and knowing little at the time I took them up on it.

They brought out a trio of standard issue shoes and I settled on what felt the most comfortable to run in: The Saucony Ride 9’s. I still have those shoes and while they’ve piled up over 300 miles I do run in them from time to time.

The insoles felt better to run in at first. But when I developed come-and-go knee issues a few months later, I arbitrarily ditched them and tried running with just my shoes’ standard insoles. That ended up feeling better, and I’ve never worn insoles since.

——–

Over time I improved my running form, often in response to my recurring pain and injury issues. I suspect that played a role in why that pair of insoles, which helped me feel better when I originally used to, became a source of discomfort over time. They were designed to address a problem that I gradually shed over time.

That said, virtually everyone’s feet pronates in some way, and my right foot does still pronate to some degree. Since fixing my form I have had no problems regardless of what footwear I’ve used… with two notable exceptions. And they led me to retire two pairs of shoes I bought. Both were New Balance Fresh Foam model shoes.

A few months after that Roadrunner visit, I mail-ordered several pairs of New Balance shoes to suit varying running needs. Most of them I still run in today, but one of those pairs were a set of Fresh Foam Zantes. I not only noticed discomfort running in the Zantes that I didn’t experience in other shoes, insoles or not (I hadn’t yet ditched the insoles), but eventually I saw that my right foot naturally collapsed inward while walking or running in them. The shoes provided no side support, to the point where they formed around your stepping pattern.

I quickly retired the Zantes after less than 100 miles, and experienced no problems with the other shoes going forward.

Somewhat more recently, I purchased an inexpensive pair of New Balance Fresh Foam Cruzs after having read some good reviews, and seeing how stylishly the all-black shoes fit with work attire. They felt soft and okay to run in at first, but after a few runs I felt my right foot rolling inward more often than any of my other shoes. Soon after I began to notice the shoe’s form giving in the direction my foot was rolling, just like the Zantes.

Even though I still have the Cruzs, they’ve essentially been de-commissioned: I don’t do any serious running in them anymore. They may get used for an easy run here or there, or be worn with the right clothes in a non-running setting.

Basically, the New Balance Fresh Foam model clearly exacerbates any issues with my right foot, and could pose a great risk for injury. So it’s best for me to not wear them on runs.

——

A lot of runners, shoe salespeople, doctors, etc., fixate on pronation and how to fix it, even though everyone walks and runs with some sort of natural pronation. It’s a natural flexibility built into our feet, and it’s similar to common illnesses like colds: While in some cases it may become a problem to where you need to treat it… most of the time it doesn’t require treatment, and many actually tend to overtreat it.

The body moves as a system, and any issues one may think a product of pronation may be a collective product of other fundamental issues: Running stride, lack of core mobility, overreliance on leg muscles like the hamstrings and quads, a lacking usage of the glutes, a lack of upper body and overall balance, etc., not to mention dynamic issues like overstriding, pushing harder than is necessary on runs, etc.

My pronation issue was, unbeknownst to me, a byproduct of other fundamental issues up the chain, with my stride, my muscle usage, my overall balance and so on. Fixing those helped fix any problems that contributed to any pronation problems… even if my right foot still tends to naturally give inward.

I don’t concern myself with foot support in shoes, because I realize the important thing is to improve how your body moves. The way you move can contribute to problems up and down your body, and supports are little more than a bandage or a pain medication for a greater problem. Insoles and supportive shoes would not eliminate the problem leading to my excessive pronation or ankle/knee pain. Improving my stride, however, would fix the problem while eliminating the need for the bells and whistles.

The last couple years in fact are the first time since my 2008 injury that I’ve felt no random or occasional pain in that right ankle. I imagine that lingering pain was in part due to form problems that once I ran seriously I worked on fixing. By fixing the stride issues, it eliminated the key contributing factor to that recurring problem… much like figuring out the source of an insect problem in your home and eliminating the source.

Now that I compared human kinesthetics to pest control, I will break this post off and move along.

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My favorite cooking supplies

I’ve always been a creature of habit. For the most part, I do many of the same things the same way every day, every week.

Related: Some people have cabinets full of cookware and flatware. While I also have cookware (thanks Mom!), I find I pretty much use the same few pieces of cookware. I currently have two plates, one spoon, one fork and one knife. This is in part due to living in a tiny apartment and not having much storage space. I deal with this mostly by washing my dishes every day. If any of them broke or disappeared I’d just go buy another. If my situation ever changed to where I needed more than that, I’d go buy what’s needed (plates and flatware aren’t at all expensive). But I don’t need more than that so that’s all I have.


Cooking supplies are a similar deal. I don’t own cookware unless I use it (because that’s why I bought it), or it was gifted to me. I find myself using the same handful of supplies on a regular basis.

Pyrex baking dishes. I used to bake in tin/metal dishes, lined with aluminim foil. But as I discovered research indicating that aluminum leeches into your food and deposits in your brain long-term, I decided to stop that and directly cook food on baking dishes that are easy to clean and don’t rust.

Enter Pyrex. I bought a simple 3-set of Pyrex dishes, all of which I use. The small dish can bake a fish fillet or a pair of chicken thighs. The medium dish can bake 3 chicken thighs (which I tend to prepare most often). The large dish can handle the baked potatoes dish that I often make. All are easy to clean afterward following a soak. No leeching metals into my food!

Large stainless steel cooking pot. This was a gift (thanks Mom!), and as I discovered I preferred boiling dishes like pasta and cut potatoes I found myself using it far more often. I pretty much just use it to boil stuff, but I find myself boiling stuff frequently. Since I almost always boil in water, cleaning it is very easy.

Stainless steel colander. Since I boil stuff a lot, I usually need to drain it. I put this in the sink and dump my boiled food in, since I prefer my side dishes to not be watery. Easy to use, easy to keep clean, and can strain a variety of boiled side dishes without too much trouble.

 

Aroma automated rice cooker. I bought this years ago and it’s one of the best cooking appliance purchases I’ve ever made.

What makes this cooker super useful is how I can set the delay timer to cook rice for the following day, or in the morning for dinner later than evening. Rice is ready when I plan to eat it, with no hassle. It also has different settings for brown rice vs white rice, and both types come out exactly the way you’d like. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes to eat rice on the regular. It can also sautee, steam vegetables, and slow cool various foods (though I don’t use those features).


I also have frying pans, a saucepan and skillets, but I use those much less frequently since I don’t fry food at home (I bake and boil everything). I also have a garlic crusher which I used a lot when I was on more of a garlic kick, but now it’s in the cabinet as a “there when I need it” kind of thing.

At some point I’ll talk about the kinds of food I eat most often, as well as desired seasonings. Until then….

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Running outdoors in winter: Gear and Training Basics

As someone who has run throughout the dead of some winters in Chicago (aka Chiberia), I think I understand what cold weather running gear and training approaches are useful, let alone necessary.

A key point: When it comes to gear and layers, people forget that regardless of the outdoor temperature you do warm up as you run. So what seems like acceptably thick attire the moment you step out the door may be 20 degrees too much within a mile of running. You actually want to dress about a layer too thin when you go out for a freezing run, or else you’ll find yourself either a) ironically overheated or b) looking for somewhere to hold those extra layers once you take them off during the run.

Plus there’s a threshold at which, provided you can maintain an uninterrupted run, you will warm up to a comfortable level almost regardless of how low the temperature gets. I find that the warmness I feel at mile 2 of a 0 degree Fahrenheit run isn’t all that different than how warm I feel 2 miles into a 20 degree or 30 degree run.

That said, however, you should still layer appropriately for the temperature and conditions. After all, you will eventually stop, and once you stop your body soon goes back to a normal sense of temperature. When that happens, bitterly cold once again feels bitterly cold.

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So, what is my threshold for cold weather gear vs going out in more “normal” attire? At what point do I need to:

Wear a jacket? For me this threshold is 42-43 degrees Fahrenheit (5-6 degrees Celsius). Again, you warm up during a run to where your personal heat index feels about 20 degrees warmer (12’C). Ideal running temperature is in the 40-60 (4-16’C) degree range, and even when just walking I find myself avoiding long sleeves and coats until the 45-50’F degree range (let’s say 6-10’C). So only when the temperature reaches the 30’s (below 0’C) do I reach for the windbreaker.

Add a 2nd top layer? However, as we go from autumn to winter, I’ll add a long sleeve top at 30 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The goal is to not need to take that off once I warm up (though I don’t mind removing a jacket and tying it around me during a run once I get warmer). Once I’m acclimated to the winter, I may stick with just the coat into the high 20’s, or maybe even forego the coat for just a sweatshirt if I know I’m getting inside for good after the run… but beyond that I will definitely wear a long sleeve as a 2nd layer.

Below 20 degrees, I will wear all three top layers: A regular t-shirt, a long sleeve top, and a jacket. Unless acclimated for cold weather, I will add another layer of thermal legs and a 2nd layer of socks at this stage. I also will cover my hands, and wear my fleece Carhartt 2-in-1 cap.

The key to handwear is not to wear gloves, but some sort of mitten-style cover. As you run, air quickly passes over the surface of any gear you wear. With gloves, freezing air can pass between all your fingers, which can quickly make them cold and defeat the point of wearing the gloves. With mittens there’s no path for the freezing air to pass between your fingers, better allowing your covered hands to stay warm.

I actually will wear a clean pair of old wool (or similar fabric) socks over my hands, rather than any gloves or a formal pair of mittens. I have mittens, but find carrying and wearing socks less of a pain, plus the fabric does a better job of keeping my hands warm.

My mother made me some fleece scarves years ago, and they work wonders as fleece does the best job of retaining heat in freezing weather. While I wear them more frequently when just walking, I may wear them while running once the temperatures drop to the single digits Fahrenheit and below, and when windchills drop into the negatives… conditions where leaving any part of your body uncovered can be dangerous.

If I’m running from work in winter, I will wear thermal legwear underneath my slacks below 30 degrees since my outer layer isn’t compressive. I will also keep my dress shirt on as the 2nd layer, and wear a sweatshirt/coat over it. While having these work layers can be a bit of a pain in the hotter summer, they’re a welcome thicker layer in the dead of winter.

As for footwear… in clear conditions, I will do all I can to continue to wear the same shoes I run in during summer. If conditions are going to be wet, I will try and wear my somewhat-waterproof Topo Hydroventures, which also have added tread (typically for trail conditions).

I do have a pair of winter-specific New Balance MW1400’s, a high top shoe that pretty much doubles as a pair of winter boots. They insulate well, and if needed you can certainly run in them (in fact I’ve put about 80 miles of running on them since getting my current pair two years ago). But usually I wear those when expecting to navigate substantial snowfall and other mush, since they insulate from those conditions. If I am wearing the 1400’s, I typically don’t expect to run before I return home.


Aside from the Carhartt cap, which has a specific and useful design, and the footwear I mentioned above… I won’t recommend any specific brands. Most of them provide the same benefit, and what matters more is that you have the needed gear for the needed conditions. Buy whatever brand you like, or whatever brand is conveniently, affordably available.

As for navigating snow and ice, and avoiding slips… I’m so well versed in navigating icy conditions that years ago I wrote a piece about how to do so. I can comfortably navigate icy conditions, avoid bad spots, and rarely have I slipped and fell during a walk let alone a run.

I realize others are not as used to handling those conditions. If you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to handle ice during a run and are pretty sure you won’t be… then definitely stick to the treadmill when conditions warrant.

If you want to give running in the ice cold a shot, I start with one (hopefully obvious) piece of advice: TAKE IT SLOW.

Run as slowly as you can get away with while getting used to working around or navigating ice patches. Not only is it entirely possible to run comfortably over icy conditions, many in Chicago (myself included) do it all winter every winter.

Another key, which is easy for most since many consider the winter their offseason, is to curb your mileage and quality workout expectations for the season. I pretty much go full Lydiard during the winter and do nothing but longer, easy running. I back off on pace and focus on just completing my runs safely.

The only thing resembling speedwork I may attempt outdoors in the coldest of winter are hill sprints, which aren’t so much done for pace but as a low-key extra strength workout. And I wouldn’t even call them sprints, so much as “brief runs up an incline at a somewhat higher intensity than usual”. Obviously I only do them if the conditions on the given path are suitably free of dangerous ice. Any tempo work I feel compelled to do either requires dry conditions or a treadmill inside somewhere.

And yes, if, say:

  • I look down the road and see sheets of ice everywhere
  • I’m slipping far more often than I can comfortably handle
  • The lights are out and I can’t see anything at all
  • I step in what turns out to be a puddle in icy weather and now my feet are wet
  • Suddenly the wind is gusting and the windchill turns negative
  • Suddenly an assload of snow starts falling

I’m not averse to turning back or even full-out stopping the run. I may want to train during winter, but I’m not crazy.


So WHY do I bother running in the dead of winter? Couldn’t I just take a hint from Chiberia and take the winter off like most other runners do?

  • I like running and want to keep doing it
  • I can handle being out in cold conditions
  • I actually do better with extreme cold than I do with extreme heat
  • In terms of not being harassed by other people on the trails, winter is actually the best time to run. Few people want to go outside, let alone train. You don’t have the trails totally to yourself, but there’s rarely anyone messing with you
  • My favorite races take place in late winter or spring, meaning I need to train during winter
  • Getting outside and staying active means I stay healthy. A key reason many people get depressed and out of shape during winter is they stop going outside once it gets cold.
  • I like eating but I don’t like getting fat because I eat more than I burn.

Alright, so do I ever take a offseason?

Sure, but that’s another post for another time. Until then….

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My take on running apps

Virtually all reasonable running apps track the same essential information free of charge:

  • Run distance
  • Run time
  • Pace
  • An estimate of calories burned
  • Net elevation increase
  • A weekly total of all of the above
  • A map of the route you took, whether manually mapped or tracked via your watch/phone’s GPS
  • Functionality to post viewable data from your runs on social media

All seek to upsell you more features to get you to pay for an advanced version of their free service… which usually offers more detailed reporting on tracked data, and access to specific training programs.

Strava is the Beyonce of running apps: It has a large, somewhat manufactured and evangelical fanbase, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best app to use. One free feature Strava does provide that other apps don’t is a Foursquare-like geocached comparison of your performance along a given route versus other runners who have taken that same route. This can turn running a particular route into a competition with other runners… if that’s your thing.

Many other running apps are perfectly suitable for tracking your runs. MapMyRun, Runkeeper, Nike+, TrainingPeaks and so on allow you to suitably track this information.

While I use a Fitbit, its run tracking leaves a lot to be desired. While it does monitor run time and hear rate in conjunction with your tracker, you’re not able to map runs manually, leaving you completely at the mercy of your enabled GPS tracking to map any runs.

As I’ve said before, GPS is often inaccurate as a run tracker due to location-drift, regardless of your location. You’re tracked by a satellite in space periodically pinging your device. Even if a GPS tracker doesn’t screw up your tracked route, the tracked route often drifts off-path into buildings and other surrounding terrain, screwing up your tracked mileage by as much as half a mile on a 60 minute run. This can make tracked stats like pace per mile a completely inaccurate number, much like trying to use an abacus on a wobble board.

Thus any stats based off of my Fitbit, like pacing, mileage or stride length stats, are too inaccurate to be useful. I have noticed that other people’s mapped data from other trackers like Garmin have similar issues.

I still use my tracker to time runs and get heart rate data plus step count, but I map runs manually elsewhere to get the remaining stats.

Screenshot (Sep 18, 2018 7_59_10 PM)

Personally, I track all my runs on Runkeeper and have since I seriously got back into running years ago. I wouldn’t call it the *best* app, but it’s suited my tracking needs just fine. I have yet to discover through research any app that will allow me to port my historical data without losing valuable information (this always seems to be met with a subjective counterargument that said information isn’t valuable).

One free feature on Runkeeper I find useful is the ability to track mileage on your different pairs of running shoes. I like to know how many miles I’ve put on every pair of shoes and where they are in their respective lifespans. Other apps likely do this, but I appreciate that Runkeeper has the feature.


All this said, I still utilize a Google Doc (pictured below) on top of this to track my runs as well as my planned training schedule. The doc easily allows me to view my training progress over longer-term periods, as well as see how future training may impact my development. And one key value over Excel is that by being stored in the cloud, I can access it anywhere regardless of device.

RunLikeHell-2018-09-18

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The key to finding a useful app for anyone is to figure out what data you want to accurately track, and then utilize a combination of tools that will allow you to accurately track that data.

Some just want to know approximately how many miles they run. If you have a Garmin GPS tracker, then that tracker’s app is probably fine by itself, even if the results are a bit inaccurate. Some couldn’t care less if they ran 4.15 miles and the app only says they went 4.00. As long as they know that weekly total of, say, 35 miles is pretty close to what they did, that’s enough for them.

To a lesser extent, this is true of Fitbit, though I will say a built-in GPS will be much more useful than GPS tracking that relies on your phone. The transmission between devices can lead to highly inaccurate results. Ditto simply using an app and your phone. I will note that at first I used Runkeeper’s GPS tracking, but at times I would get wildly inaccurate maps that ended up useless. I finally just decided to enter runs manually afterward and that’s worked better for me.

Some may want to track their pace, and most won’t want to put in the amount of effort I do to verify that pace. If you can accept some degree of inaccuracy from your tracker, and the tracker tends to be mostly consistent in how it tracks (and how inaccurate it is with) your route, then you may be fine with the GPS tracking.

Just don’t take the pace readings as gospel: If it says you ran an 8:00 mile, and it’s important to you that you know that you ran exactly an 8:00 mile or better, you may want to double check your distance on a map of your route, and calculate it out.

If you can see that your tracker tends to be consistently inaccurate (say, it always measures your pace about 10 seconds fast), then that can make your readings useful provided you know to make that adjustment afterward.

For speedwork, it’s often a lot easier, especially if on a track. If you know exactly how far an interval is, your measured time is enough data to figure out your pace with a calculator. I would go off charts and the math rather than your tracker’s pace reading. Your tracker may give you a pace that’s inaccurate, but 400 meters is always 400 meters.

In any case, the best app for running honestly depends more on your needs and equipment, more than on the quality of the app itself.

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Habits are your true running “motivation”

Yesterday I snuck out and ran a couple of recovery miles, which even the day after a 20 miler is not a terribly big deal to most runners, even if they think you should take a full day off after your longest run.

The run, however, extended a streak: I have run every day since July 30, a streak of 49 days and counting.

I keep a Google Doc log of every run I do, on top of more detailed run logs in Runkeeper. (I’ll soon go into more detail on what the Google log looks like, but I digress)

Every single day since 7/30/18 I’ve gone out for a run of at least one mile (my personal minimum for that day’s running to count). No run has been shorter than 1.44 miles, and my average run length has been 5.76 miles. Obviously the longest run was over 20 miles.

Do I feel burned out? Am I nursing any injuries? Have I felt burned out throughout this 49 day run streak? No, no, and no.

Previously, I would run 3-6 days a week, taking complete days off after particularly hard workouts, to varying effect. But I later found that if I just go for a short, easy run of 20-30 minutes on a particularly beat-up day following a hard workout or a series of heavy runs… I found it actually speeds up my recovery. By the next day or the day after I feel recovered and normal again.

Yeah, I’m generally a bit weary, and I do feel a tinge of lingering soreness over several days. But I don’t feel that soreness much when running and it actually passes after a few days, even given I’ve run every single one of those days (including some higher mileage runs or speedwork).

If anything, I think the daily practice of running has strengthened me over time, even if the length of many of these runs wasn’t particularly long. It’s helped carry me through tougher, longer workouts.


I understand the plight of people trying to find their motivation for workouts, because I’ve been there as often as anyone else. In fact, there are a lot of days (including during this streak) where I didn’t really feel like going out and running. But then I went out and ran away, and it was done.

It helps that I’m willing to run in street clothes right after work, that I always wear running shoes that facilitate a run, and thus don’t need to laboriously change into running gear to run like most people. Needing to change clothes to run is definitely a habitual hurdle, and by eliminating it I’ve greased the groove (as Pavel Tsatsouline would say) to more easily keep the habit going every day.

But my biggest step was developing the habit of walking out the door at work and running home (or as reasonably far towards home as I can). It’s not even a big deal anymore. It’s actually become quite easy to log 20-30 miles a week, and all I need to concern myself with is adding mileage here and there.

It’s actually a bigger deal, and in some ways a shock to my body, if I don’t run that day. The hardest part of Chicago Marathon recovery, honestly, may be not running at all for a couple weeks during a mandatory healing period (so yes, my plan is to forcibly end my run streak at 70, the day after the Chicago Marathon).

Every decent book on writing will tell you this: You’re honestly not going to find motivation most of the time, and the key to doing something more often is to build the habit of doing it every day into your daily life.

You don’t have to run out the door at work in your street clothes and run home (though it would certainly help!).

  • You could force yourself out of bed in the morning and run a few times around the block.
  • You could change clothes at work during lunch time, take a few loops around the complex, and change back before pounding a quick lunch.
  • You could join several free fun run groups and run with them every week.
  • You could force yourself to come home from work, immediately change into your gear and go out for a run (this in fact is what I did for the first year or so after I began running seriously again).

In fact, my recent blog posts are admittedly me working on a new desired habit: To write seriously every day about topics I care about, with information I believe can help other people. I used to write a ton, and then stopped for a while. I wanted to seriously write again, so here I am.

Habits, above all else, are how we change our behaviors for the better. We replace old, counterproductive habits with new, productive ones. If you’re looking for motivation, you’re better served looking instead to form new habits that get you to do the things you’re seeking motivation for.

I’ll conclude by pointing you to two excellent resources on the subject of habit forming:

  • Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called The Power Of Habit. The book is full of fascinating case studies on how habit formation has shaped all human behavior. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand any of it either. Duhigg’s writing style is very down to Earth and tells a lot of real-life stories.
  • As for more direct understanding and application of good habits I cannot recommend enough the writing of James Clear. His articles are a timeless resource for the subject of self improvement as well as understanding human behavior. Plus, he has just released a new book entitled Atomic Habits. I highly encourage you to at least read through some of his writing, if you haven’t yet. If you like the writing on his site, you’ll almost certainly like his new book.
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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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The treadmill as a tempo training tool

Yesterday I got on the dreaded treadmill. I generally will not train on one, but during my last training cycle I discovered that it has one very good use: You can work on running at a specific tempo, since treadmills are set to move at a given tempo!

I finished Wednesday’s Yasso 800’s with an average interval of 3:59… indicating that I can potentially run a marathon in 3 hours 59 minutes. I did some basic math and found this would take a pace of 9:07 per mile, about 6.6 mph.

So, still in my work clothes and thus carrying about 6 extra pounds, I set the treadmill to 6.6 mph and ran that for 30 minutes. I had no trouble physically maintaining pace, but by about 7 minutes in I was (true to form) already losing patience with the treadmill, and by 10 minutes I considered cutting it short at 20, while wanting to stick to the plan and push out 30 minutes.

The key to staying focused and getting 30 minutes done: I imagined being at mile 25 of the marathon, knowing at that point I would be in some pain but definitely very tired and wanting to stop, and knowing that at that point there was no other way to the finish line but to tough it out and run that last 10-12 or so minutes. It would probably feel worse than this moment on the treadmill, and if I couldn’t handle 30 minutes of this crap in a gym then how could I expect to handle 4+ hours and those final miles on race day?

I kept my cadence and ground out the minutes, getting to 30:00 and being able to cool down and shut the machine off.

Despite the lack of outdoor air resistance, I felt like that 30 minutes on the treadmill was harder than running that pace would be outdoors on race day.

  • First of all, I was tired after a long workday.
  • I was wearing my slacks (with stuff in my pockets), my sweaty t-shirt I couldn’t take off in the gym, and my dress shirt tied around my waist. That’s 6 pounds I won’t carry on race day. Plus the wet shirt and the slightly warm indoor conditions prevented sweat evaporation.
  • I’m running in place, with no scenery passing by me to help guide me visually. My only frame of reference is the clock.
  • Because the treadmill moves at a set pace, I cannot slow down or speed up as needed to maintain comfort. I didn’t change the dreadmill’s tempo during the run.

So I felt good about the workout, even if I didn’t feel good doing it. The tempo is one I could definitely maintain, and if I can handle it in contained, uncomfortable circumstances, I get the feeling I can handle it on race day.

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Does running make your butt smaller?

People are asking some funny questions these days.

Obviously, how your running affects your butt size depends on various factors.

  • The original composition of your butt (muscle vs fat)
  • Your entire body’s composition (muscle vs fat)
  • The amount of running you do
  • The intensity of the running you do
  • Your diet
  • What other exercise you do, and with what body parts

Unlike the calories per mile question, this is not a question with a clear consistent answer that can be cross applied.

Generally, however, if you carry a lot of fat, and a lot of fat is in that butt… running a lot more than before could make your butt smaller, sure. You’ll burn more fat over time and that can reduce the cushion around your… tushion.

However, that also depends on what you eat, and how you eat differently once you’re running more. Are you eating a lot more food now that you’re running? Are you cleaning up your diet? Are you eating the same, but now running a calorie deficit every day due to all that running?

Generally, if you eat more than you burn, you’re not going to lose weight, and thus will probably not lose butt. If you eat the same as before but exercise more, you will probably lose weight, and thus probably lose butt as well.

Of course, the flip side is that using your lower body muscles more will make them stronger, and possibly bigger. Proper form does utilize the glutes. It’s entirely possible your butt muscles get bigger. But this probably isn’t going to make your butt bigger overall, unless you:

  • Eat more to compensate for your extra running and thus maintain your rear-located fat storage
  • Take anabolic steroids or other performance enhancing drugs that help produce substantial muscle gain after heavy training and diet

There’s also the converse, that if you eat too little and allow your muscle tissue to break down… this could in kind lead to an overall lean-down of your body, which in turn would lead to your butt also getting a little leaner. But it’s very hard to train a lot for an extended period with this sort of nutrition depletion, without suffering burn-out and having to abandon training.

And, finally, there’s genetic predisposition. Basically, some people are genetically inclined to have a big butt, and even when they clean up their diet and exercise their… butts off… their butt is still going to remain big. It’s like Pacific Islanders who tend to have naturally huge calves. They can slim down and change their habits all they want, but even if they lean out they’re still going to have large calves. Such is life with such genetics.

You may still see results (especially if you were overweight), but there may be only so much you can do to reduce the size of particular parts, including the posterior. But (butt?), on average, running a little (like, a couple times a week) probably won’t reduce the size of your butt all that much. Running a lot, however (like, almost every day), possibly will. Either way, if you eat a lot, and eat even more when you’re running more, it’s more likely you don’t see results.

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How many calories do you burn while running a mile?

I’ve suddenly seen this question get asked a lot both online and out in the world, and as an experienced runner who’s done more research than he should on subjects like this I think I can provide a quick, reliable answer.

How many calories you burn while running generally depends on several factors:

  • Your weight.
  • Your distance traveled.
  • How experienced and comfortable with running at the given intensity you’re running.
  • (of course) how fast and intense you’re running
  • The conditions in which you’re running

But, for real, how many calories do you burn running a mile?

With little deviation… on average, for every mile you run, you’ll burn a number of calories equal to 75% of your weight in pounds.

This can vary slightly, and I mean by a couple of calories per mile one way or another, based on a variety of factors. But on average you’ll burn a number of calories equal to 75% of your weight in pounds (or 166% of your weight in kilograms).

For example, I weigh 163 pounds. Over a mile, I will burn roughly 122-123 calories.

You can consult a slightly more scientific online calculator, like this one, to get a more specific estimate. But you’ll likely find that your results are around the same place.

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The home run trot: How learning to run easy finally got me into serious running

When I got into running years ago in Seattle (and this was a couple years before I got more serious about it), I did some research on training since I wanted to do more than just go out, run and see what happened. At the time, all of my running was either of the “chase after that bus that’s about to take off” variety, of playing pickup sports with friends.

I had (what I didn’t yet know was called) anaerobic speed, but I had little aerobic endurance. Growing up presumably with asthma, I grew up thinking I just didn’t have the lung capacity of others and thus I probably just wasn’t built to run too far (attempt to run track be damned).

However, having not had anything resembling an asthma attack in decades, and having proven since then that I could run a few city blocks without stopping, I had an intuitive suspicion that I could run a couple miles without stopping. And though I couldn’t really run more than a few blocks without doing so at the time, I felt I could find a way to bridge the gap.

I had previously dabbled with the classic Couch to 5K program, and could see the logic in the stop and go approach. But I wasn’t too fond of it, I still had a hard time running more than a few blocks without stopping, and so I went looking for perhaps something a little more directly applicable.

I stumbled upon the training pages of Hal Higdon, and (though his basic 5K program doesn’t include this language anymore, the 8K program does) I was drawn to his 8-week Novice 5K program. It included these simple instructions:

Run: Put one foot in front of the other and run. It sounds pretty simple, and it is. Don’t worry about how fast you run; just cover the distance–or approximately the distance suggested. Ideally, you should be able to run at a pace that allows you to converse comfortably while you do so. This isn’t always easy for beginners, so don’t push too hard or too fast.

I had a revelation. In race walking there are very specific rules for what constitutes a walk versus a run, how your feet must leave and strike the ground and so on. I realized I could follow those rules in reverse. It didn’t matter how slow I was going. As long as the way my feet moved technically constituted a run, I was technically running.

Most people intuitively believe that to run your legs must extend a certain length, you must expend a certain amount of effort, to be a true run. I felt the same way, and like most I ran with more of a bounding, lunging cadence as my regular motion. But what if I stepped as lightly, as quickly and as easily as possible in what could be defined as a run?


I gave it a shot. One evening in Seattle’s hilly Queen Anne I stepped to the end of the block, having mapped out a 1.5 mile route that matched the distance Higdon recommended in the Novice 5K plan’s first workout, and like the instructions said put one foot in front of the other.

My plan was to go as far as I could before I needed to stop. I was to go no faster than I comfortably could, to step forward no farther than I comfortably could. I didn’t stop at all until I reached the end of my 1.5 mile loop.

I was thrilled. I, having never been able to comfortably run a mile in my life, just ran 1.5 miles without needing to stop for the first time ever. I never even felt all that distressed. I didn’t have a stop watch at the time, and I’m sure the time was very slow. But that didn’t matter at all.

Part 2 is a long story short: From there I just went out every other evening and ran the prescribed workouts the exact same way. I never had to stop before the end of the workout in any of them, and by the last week I was finishing 2.5-3.0 milers in as much time as it originally took me to finish that first 1.5 mile run.

I had no goal race in mind or anything. The only final goal I had was to run 3 miles without stopping. And at the end I did.

And then… I just stopped. Thing is, I was practicing theatre at the time, and around that time (welcome) projects and classes (which involved clown and theatre movement, both very physically demanding practices) began competing more heavily for my time and energy. So running took a back seat. It wasn’t until years later, as I began detaching from the arts scene in Seattle, that I began running more. And once I got to Chicago my running practice really… uh… picked up the pace.


All this is to say that the magic key that allowed me to break through from “fast guy who can’t run far at all” to “experienced runner who can go and go and go” was to shorten up my stride to something easier and consistently attainable.

In fact, I’d say the crux of most developing runners’ struggles can be tied to the continued belief that a regular run must utilize this aggressive, lunging stride people consider a running step, in order to count as a run. I see most runners out on their “easy” runs pushing hard, still struggling to carry on conversations and breathe at the same time, even though they should be running easy enough to converse normally.

What runners do is of course their business as long as they don’t physically impede on anyone else’s. But I say if most runners shortened up their stride until running didn’t require more than a slightly deeper breathing rhythm than usual, they’d probably:

  • Avoid most injuries
  • Be able to run a lot farther and a lot more often than they currently can
  • Ironically might in the long run be able to run faster.

Despite my current typically plodding 11ish minute mile pace on easy runs, and despite approaching age 40, I’m still breaking PRs and it’s become more and more comfortable to run interval paces that even a year ago I struggled to hit. While I certainly could run a few miles in a 9-10 minute per mile pace instead, I’d also get a lot more tired a lot more quickly, and it’d limit my ability to run on subsequent days.

Why do that if it’s not necessary?

If I could provide a physical example of what this easy running style should feel or look like, the one example I come back to is a baseball player trotting around the bases after a home run. That’s what it feels like, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what it looks like when I do it.

So, if you find yourself struggling to run too far, if you keep getting hurt or always feel too burned out to run more than 2-3 times a week, or anything similar… shortening up your stride and doing your run as this sort of “home run trot” might be worth a shot. It certainly worked for me, to say the least. It’s probably the biggest contributing factor to my growth and development into what I can do today.

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