Category Archives: Running

On the Perils of Padded Shoes

I’m a believer in Phil Maffetone‘s approach to aerobic training, which is basically that you should do most training at no more than 75% of your max heart rate.

This doesn’t mean I don’t ever do anaerobic work, or speedwork, or anything else that elevates your heart rate past that. I just default my aerobic training to that lowered maximum. It’s also similar to the 80/20 approach that Matt Fitzgerald vouches for.

Maffetone is also in that esoteric ‘do everything barefoot’ camp, and it’s a key reason the Primal Blueprint’s Mark Sisson aligned with his beliefs in writing Primal Endurance. I don’t subscribe to that mostly because I live in cities where soft ground is often littered with hidden sharp objects, many of which can be very dangerous. I’ll trade the benefits of barefoot running for the needed safety of wearing shoes during exercise, thanks.

But I bring up Maffetone to talk about this piece on shoes that I’ve long since had loaded on a browser tab for discussion. Much like how Sisson wrote his “I hate endurance training BUT if I were to train for a marathon…” piece, Maffetone is anti-shoes but here he writes a piece on what kind of shoes you should get if you need them.

I’m always a supporter of the “not my thing but here’s a good way to do it if you must” perspective. I like being open minded to different approaches, even when I have convincing reasons not to follow them. I know others will follow them, and long as no one’s getting hurt or killed in doing so we’re typically better off helping each other maximize those efforts.

But, as I do, I digress. Maffetone raises a good point about what I call “The Hoka One One Problem”: We like padded shoes, but they’re not good for us.

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A training schedule I built around my current work schedule

Right now I’m basically exercising three times a day. No, these are not all hard workouts. I would have dropped dead by now if so. Or be incredibly ripped. Who knows.

For example, on weekends:

Morning – Take a 2-3 mile run, or a long walk of probably a couple miles. Either option gives sun exposure in reasonable temperatures, and some light to decent calorie burning exercise. If I have any step goals, this gets me a good way there. Any extended walking would last about 45 minutes, and is a thin substitute for the everyday walking in Chicago. Since I’m not seriously training for races right now, I play this by feel. I run that day if running feels good, and walk that day if it probably doesn’t.

Afternoon – In the blazing hot Vegas sun, probably during a brief work-from-home break, go for a brief run around the neighborhood. This is only a few blocks, and less than a mile, all pretty close to my home just in case I absolutely have to stop for some reason. I run about 3/4 of a mile, and come back inside. it takes about 7-8 minutes. That’s pretty much all you can reasonably do in 100 degrees Fahrenheit without hurting yourself. This is more of an anti-cold-shower mid-day pick me up than serious training. But it augments your training volume.

Evening – Towards the end of the day, around 7pm, I go to the gym and get some swolework. Do my 20 minute workout. Head home.

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Eat A Big Dinner Before Bed

This won’t be long or in depth. I just understand that many people struggle with sleep, despite knowing much of the general advice every other person and website gives. I want to offer a key actionable tip that works for me and MIGHT help you.

Eat a big meal a couple hours before bed. I don’t subscribe to the “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper” mindset, in some part because I usually intermittent fast, skip breakfast, and when I do eat lunch it’s lighter largely out of necessity: I’m usually working, and a big lunch will only tank my energy level, which I obviously don’t need.

So lunch should be light. Dinner has to be big.

The big reason you want to eat a big dinner before bed is that hunger can keep you awake. If you eat a light dinner, then you will probably be hungry when you go to bed. Hunger will rev up your hormones and keep you awake when you want to not be awake.

And no, a snack before bed is not the answer. You typically shouldn’t be snacking either way.

A subsequent and useful reason for a big dinner is that digestion can cause fatigue. Blood flows to your digestive tract, taking away resources and emphasis on the rest of your body. This causes the general fatigue you often feel after a big meal, and certainly on workdays after lunch.

Yes, your food choice also matters, and certain foods can make you more sluggish than others. I notice if I eat a light lunch with, say, tuna and produce, I feel mostly good afterward. If I eat a lunch with something processed/fried or a lot of carbs, my energy level tanks and I physically feel heavy. That’s not totally because I ate a large lunch, so much as because the quality of the food required my body to inflame plus required more energy to digest.

However, if you eat a bulkier meal before bed, then that sluggish effect is exactly what you want. You want to go to sleep. Feeling tired and sluggish is going to get you there.

If you’re worried about indigestion, then you probably need to clean up your diet some. I’ve had foods that cause acid reflux. I also never eat those foods for dinner. The whole food protein, vegetables, clean carbs that I do eat are much better for digestion. If you’re having heartburn or reflux problems when you eat a big dinner before bed, it’s probably the quality of your food rather than the fact that you ate before bed.

It honestly helps if you practice some sort of intermittent fasting or limited intake during the day. But I recognize if you have your reasons not to do so. Just recognize that you need to burn at least as many calories as you take in, lest you gain weight.

Yet you don’t want to get to dinner having to calorie-count that meal and heavily limit your intake. At least get to dinner with enough calories left to consume that you can comfortably have a big dinner.

This points to your smart move being to eat light or not at all during the work/school day. If you don’t skip breakfast, have a light, protein rich breakfast. Definitely have a light, protein rich lunch. Don’t eat anything out of a package unless that anything is as close to its original form as possible (like a bag of nuts, not like a bag of potato chips… like a can of tuna, not like a TV dinner).

Drink coffee or tea. Learn to love it without cream and sugar. Drink water. But now I’m digressing into a separate subject.

Anyway, never minding things like dimming lights and screens, sleep hygiene, etc… the most important element to sleep that’s never addressed is how satisfied your appetite is when you go to bed. Err on the side of making sure you don’t go to bed hungry, even if it means going somewhat hungry during the day to allow for a larger dinner.

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A Truth About Coaching and Personal Training

Where most people really need to work on themselves is in:

  • The Kitchen. The oft cited, never sourced adage is that 80% of your body comp depends on your diet, and abs are made in the kitchen. Debate the stats all you want but this is the truth. You can’t outwork a sub-optimal diet.
  • The Bedroom. (I don’t mean hanky panky either.) People need to get better sleep. Even well-trained athletes struggle to get consistent, high quality sleep. A lack of high quality sleep produces a snowball effect of stress, hormonal deprivation, and general fatigue that follows you wherever you go.
  • Their own minds. We all have our motivations, insecurities, anxieties, that drive us or hold us back. For many people, whatever they think they’re going to find in the gym or in therapy/medication is something they need to reconcile within themselves. It can be a general insecurity, something bad from the past, etc.

This is a fundamental issue I discovered with the use of personal training, even as I was studying to become a CPT. For the vast majority of people I could end up working with, I could only address the at-best ancillary concern of developing a workout program. I could not address let alone solve the underlying problems behind why they felt they needed it. And I cannot reconcile the salesman’s mindset to take their money because those underlying problems ultimately don’t matter as much as the need to train.

This is not totally the industry’s fault by any means. Trainers are just trying to earn a living. You paying for personal training pays their bills. Don’t take this as a fundamental indictment of personal trainers. Hell, all trainers are battling the exact same challenges I just listed. These needs and challenges are just as true for CPTs.

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Thinking about the Wim Hof Method of breathing

https://www.ratemds.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Feature-Foto-Blog-Wim-Hof.jpeg
Here is Wim Hof relaxing in some ice cold weather while wearing almost nothing, thanks to the positive warming effects of his signature breathing technique

A Dutchman named Wim Hof has created a unique breathing method that effectively supercharges your body.

I first learned about the breathing technique years ago from this 2016 Men’s Journal post from Scott Carney. Carney was posting an excerpt from a book he was releasing, but I was more drawn to the idea of a breathing method not only warming you up in Chicago (where I lived and ran during the deadest of winters), but also hyper-oxygenating your blood and better equipping yourself to perform athletic feats.

The Wim Hof Method is basically this:

  • You forcefully breathe in, out, and again, for 30 repetitions where each inhale and exhale only lasts a second.
  • After the 30th exhale, you then hold your “breath”, or in this case lack thereof, for as long as you reasonably can.
  • Finally, when you need to breathe, inhale only halfway, then hold this breath for 15 seconds.
  • Exhale, then take a normal deep breath. Breathe normally.

Ideally, you do this whole sequence about three times. The idea is that your blood oxygen kicks up to the max during the 30 strong breaths. Then the lack of oxygen as you hold your exhale drops your blood oxygen so rapidly that stress hormones kick in and this provides a ton of benefits. Plus, once you’re breathing again, your body becomes a lot more efficient at absorbing and utilizing the oxygen drawn for a short while after.

Carney mentioned being able to perform dozens of push ups beyond his typical means after doing the Method. Personally, while intrigued at that, I was also intrigued at the accounts of being warm while shirtless in ice cold weather. I didn’t plan on shedding any clothes during winter workouts, but I liked the idea of being warmer.

At first, I tested the breathing warm-up before Racing Team workouts on Wednesdays in the summer and fall. While I’m not totally sure how much it helped my performance, I certainly performed well in those speed workouts. I liked going out to the meeting point early on workout days, and this was a good warm-up to do while waiting for everyone else to straggle over.

I’ve used it periodically since. It was never something I adopted religiously. Often I did it when I felt I needed to improve my energy before a tough workout: I always did these after work, and energy levels generally aren’t the highest on a weekday at 6pm. If it was going to help improve oxygen intake and usage, then why not try it.

I’ve definitely used it before winter races or post-work runs, when temperatures were below freezing and I simply was not warm. I think it helped a good portion of the time, though so did starting to run and getting 15-30 minutes into said run. Still, if at a start line and it was going to be a while before we could go, I definitely practiced the method, and I do think it helped some.

I’m not looking to draw any sort of study or conclusion from the Wim Hof Breathing Method. I think, regardless of what conditions you run in, it’s worth a shot… provided you’re careful about how long you hold that exhale after the 30 breaths. You obviously don’t want to pass out or suffocate by accident.

I’ll recommend you do what I did when I first started: Pick a pre-determined amount of time to hold that exhale that you know you can handle, and start with that. I would start by trying for 30 seconds (and obviously, nothing wrong with chickening out at 15-20 if you find it’s getting rather tough). Over time, you can gradually increase the time held as you get comfortable or begin to find holding that exhale too easy.

Obviously, in Las Vegas, I have no need to get warmer. And right now I’m not running a whole lot.

However, I noticed my sleeping oximeter levels (91-93%) are lower in Las Vegas than they were in the Midwest (though my waking oxygen levels are well above 95% like they should be). Some of that is the high altitude and dry air, sure, but it’s a concern. I am also mindful of the lung and breathing risks that could come with Coronavirus.

I wouldn’t mind practicing the Method just to improve my general oxygen availability, not to mention recalibrate my body to maximize any potential benefits from a shortage of oxygen. Re-reading writing about Hof’s method does tip me off that maybe my periodic lower levels during sleep are also suppressing inflammation in the body and promoting healing. They tend to drop lower during deep sleep periods, per my tracker. Can this “practice” with the Method help enhance that effect or provide it during waking time?

In any case, the Method is worth a try, especially now with me focusing on strength training and less on running for now.

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How I Built A Training Schedule Around A Different Work Schedule

To preface all this, I have a weird work schedule now. Not that the schedule isn’t normal for me personally (I am working it every week, after all!), but it’s not a schedule most people work.

It’s an office job where I work from about 10-11am until about 8-9pm, an early swing or 2nd shift, and I work Thursday through Monday. That itself is no big deal.

What’s weird is that some days are worked in the office, and some days are worked remotely at home. Because most of the office works a traditional Monday through Friday schedule with office closed weekends and some holidays, there’s no practical reason for me to come to the office on weekends and holidays… though the stores I interface with are open weekends and holidays.

So I work remotely at home on Saturdays, Sundays, and business-open holidays, while going to the office (when open) on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. (Of course, with the current Coronavirus risk, this can always change and I could end up working remotely everyday if that situation gets suitably dangerous again.)

Getting back to more relevant material, this adds several wrinkles to training. I’ve mentioned before that my schedule now allows me to train comfortably every morning, without having to wake up early. I can also sleep in as needed, and the reduced sleep deprivation improves my long term recovery.

However, once I get off work around 8-9pm, it’s highly impractical to train at all being so close to bedtime. So on work days I need to train during the morning, unless lunch and work circumstances allow me to sneak out and get a quick workout in during a late afternoon lunch break.

On the flip side, having to work out early in the day means spending my work day sitting, which really helps with recovery. There’s no afternoon commute or stress to complicate recovery… especially if I’m working from home that day: There is no commute!

With all of these opportunities and advantages, I have slowly carved out a template for a weekly all-around training schedule.

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Running Is Easy Again. And Running Is Tough Again

For all of April and May, I ran a grand total of 8 times. And 6 of those times were prior to April 15.

After the first week of April, I shut down all my running and embraced our collective lockdown. I basically went into personal hibernation, focusing on cleaning up and slimming down my diet, my only exercise most days being an occasional walk.

After years of mostly uninterrupted running and active life, I decided to give myself a long break for the first time in a while, and see if extended inactivity would help me physically once I started to train again. So far, so good.

After “beta-testing” a variety of workout approaches over the last couple weeks, I’ve settled on resuming regular running, with a long term goal to train for 5K running, then for 10K, then for the Half Marathon distance, then finally to train for (world events permitting, of course) the 2021 Vancouver Marathon in May 2021.

Part of this is a semi-fortunate change in my work schedule. For the better part of the last two decades, I worked weekdays 8 to 5 in offices like most people. Much of my creative efforts to consistently train were built around this schedule and lifestyle, and to be honest I got a lot out of myself that way.

But now, my job requires I work more of a swing shift, from late morning until the evening. Plus I work on the weekends, with my days off during the week, and since the company’s retail outlets are open all the time, I work on most bank holidays as well (except the big ones: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day).

This doesn’t sound ideal until I point out that my job can be done remotely. Though I do work in the office (now that we’re open, of course) on the weekdays, I work from home on the weekends. This eliminates the commute, allows me a ton of flexibility with meals, plus makes recovery a lot easier since I don’t need to move far for anything that day.

Plus, and this can’t be understated… for the first time in a while, my work schedule allows me to sleep in if needed. I can sleep in even later on the weekends despite having to work those days, because I’m working from home. Before, if I had trouble getting to sleep on a work night, I was likely ruined the next day. Now, it just pushes back when I wake up, and I still usually get 7-8 hours of good sleep that night.

That’s a big improvement on my recovery, because before I frequently ran into short sleep nights that interfered with recovery.

This also gives me more control over my diet. When you’re at the office, your food options are more limited. Working from home allows you to do things like cook for lunch while working. Also, since the workday starts later, this gives you more flexibility with breakfast, not to mention more time to prepare food if desired. Granted, I’ve been intermittent fasting so I’ve usually been skipping breakfast. But it’s great to have the option.

Most of all, instead of having limited morning time to train and thus usually training tired in the evenings… I now have hours in the morning to train as desired BEFORE going to work. I also do so with full energy first thing in the morning. Plus, instead of having to logistically figure out how to get a workout in following work, I have full control over what workouts I can do first thing in the morning.

Plus, with two weekdays off, I don’t have to deal with more crowded pathways and streets on the weekend. Most people are working weekday mornings, so the trails and sidewalks are mostly clear for longer runs.

So those are the benefits I’m experiencing now. After adjusting to the new schedule, I found it suited my training needs a LOT better than my prior lifestyle.


Meanwhile, my biggest struggle right now is the actual workouts themselves. Remember: I hadn’t run much at all since early April, and am just now getting back into regular running. Even though I feel mostly better after the break, any running at all is now a struggle as I work back into shape.

April 4th, 2020 was the last time I ran at least 3 miles. Even now, running 2 miles is a somewhat arduous effort. Only in the last week have I managed multiple runs in a week for the first time since April.

Yes, the dry Las Vegas summer conditions are a factor. Even training in the mornings, temperatures at dawn are already in the low 70’s (Fahrenheit, 21-24°C), and if you wait until the 8am hour the temps are already above 80°F, 26+°C. Even with the desert’s very low humidity (20% in the morning, 5% by afternoon), the runner’s heat index is in the 120°F (49°C) range. Plus, Vegas is almost always sunny. The heat and sunshine get you hot very quickly.

Still, having experienced Chicago’s very different but similarly tough heat, I know the difference between heat wearing you down and just simply lacking aerobic endurance. A lack of running makes it easy to realize it’s probably way more of the latter.

So, while I’m looking forward to 10K morning runs, 10+ mile long runs, and 400-800 meter repeats… right now the first goal is just for 3-5 miles to feel normal again. Until then….

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