I’m a Fraud!!

Can you see the resemblance to Washington?

Can you see the resemblance to Washington?

The way my wife and I’s schedule works out, two days a week I can get into the schools and substitute. I was a teacher before the kids were born and I plan on going back when they get a bit older; subbing allows me to keep my resume from being completely stale. I sub fairly frequently at one of the local schools, and I was in this past Tuesday. It is a small school and all the teachers know each other, even the subs.

We started the day with an assembly in which we did one of those team building exercises where you form groups based on your favorite sport, but without talking. (You act it out…) I noticed some kids pretending to knock a soccer ball about and moseyed myself over to the back of their group. A little while later, a couple of teachers and another student came to stand by me. As the principal stood on stage and asked what groups where which activity, he automatically assumed that my group was the running group. (It is a fairly well known fact I am a runner.) While it did not surprise me that people assumed running would be my activity of choice, it did make me think.

I run. I run remotely fast. I run remotely far. I train. I train hard. I go to the track and run laps. I puke between those laps. I run more laps. I write about running. I read about running. I am an ambassador for Orange Mud, a company that specializes in ultra running gear. I am trying to be an ambassador for a minimalist shoe company – Skora Running. My life, at this point, is taken up a great deal by running.

Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy running, but it is more for what it allows me. I love running twenty miles because it allows me access to places I would otherwise miss. I love running because it made me get healthy again. I love running because I do not need anyone else. I step out the door, and I go. There is no team, no fees, no pandering about trails or roads or shoes or fuel. I am the king of my castle; the master of my domain.

But I am a soccer player. If I could get on a pitch everyday and play I would. If I could sit and analyze games all day, I would. But I cannot. Instead, I have come back to running.

Running is my cheap mistress. When I can not have my love, I will take her every day.

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Skunktopia

I love spring, and I love these spring thaws that we have had recently. (I do wish they would last longer than three days and not be followed up by single digits, but…). Spring, as we all know, brings a lot of things, baby animals, Canada geese, flowers, and in my town, skunks.

The local thought is that it has to do with our proximity to the river – it is one of our borders – but there are a multitude of towns across the country based on and around rivers and I do not hear anyone else screaming foul. Now, I understand skunks are not a vicious species. They will not bite me, or carry my children off to live in a cave, but they do not need to; they stink and if my kids ever did get sprayed, I might make them live in a cave. It is this stink that leaves me fearing when I go for runs. I think I would rather run five miles gushing blood from a savage opossum attack and face a rabies shot than run five miles not being able to breath.

Cue last Friday. It was another night run that saw me leave the house around eight. It had been a warm day in the low-forties and it was still just above freezing when I headed out. Mostly because I am afraid of the dark (running through woods on untrafficked back roads at night scares me real good…) I keep to the main road and take a couple side loops to add mileage. One such loop is through an industrial complex of sorts that has a long, winding, uphill exit. No one really takes the exit, but it is plowed to fit one car. I was moving along at a decent clip up the hill when I thought I saw something skittering ahead of me. It was dark and shadowy and around a bit of a bend so I was not sure what it was. I threw on my flashlight and there it was, a skunk scared something awful of the idiotic man chasing it down the road. And there I was, scared something awful of the stink bomb in front of me, no doubt planning when best to strike.  It was a long workout and I was feeling good and was not about to let a varmit ruin it for me, so we started  racing. While skunks are not known for their speed, it is amazing how fast they can run when they need to. The pursuit lasted for maybe five seconds before I overcame it. But five seconds behind a frightened skunk is an eternity. Once I had comfortably left the skunk behind, and the fear turned to relief that I did not get sprayed, I began laughing marvelously when I thought about how scared I was and how scared poor senor skunk must have been.

On the way home, I ran past a skunk, though this one had been torn asunder my a fast moving auto and spilled it’s stank all over the road. I also passed another that had sprayed but apparently left the scene. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before my dog gets it, again (she killed one last year, you can guess how good she smelled). I just hope the skunk who decided to use the first lane during one of my track workouts last year is not back.

HydraQuiver Review

This post has been a long time coming, and for that, I apologize, but a stellar product deserves a stellar review. So here it is.

While back, I mentioned that I do not run with much in the way of ‘gear.’ I have a $20 watch from Wal-mart and a pair of Phases from Skora. However, delving into the ultra world, I quickly realized that I would need some sort of hydration system which I was not pleased about. A couple of years ago my father-in-law got me some hydration belt. It vaguley resembled a fanny pack which was something of a false start, but I decided to give it a go all the same. The results were awful. It rode up, it chaffed, it was impossible to get the bottles back in without a huge slow down. I threw it in the back of the closet and gave up on hydration on the go.

Cue tri-athlete friend sporting a HydraQuiver. I kept complaining about hydration packs and could not contain my disbelief that h

Wide shoulder straps.

Wide shoulder straps.

e had found something that was comfortable and actually worked. He let me borrow it, and I was hooked.

Since there are so many quality things about the HydraQuiver, I will start with what works for me: comfort. I do not care how well a product works, if it is uncomfortable and causes any sort of chaffing, I am out. With the HydraQuiver, this is a non-issue. It goes on like a small back pack and rides between the shoulder blades in a naturally created pocket. The straps over the shoulders are wider, slightly padded and because it is so lightweight, it is barley noticeable when it is on. I was a little concerned about the straps going under the armpit, but because of the angle in which the meet the bottom of the pack, the straps want to go away from the body and end up not getting nestled in the armpit ripping you to shreds. On top of all this, the bottle holder is set in a perfectly reachable space at the top of the back/bottom of the neck, kind of like a quiver full of arrows (get it?). Try it out. Pretend you have something on your back and reach to get it. Easy to get, and just as easy to get the bottle back in. The bottle holder is wider than the bottle at the top and funnels the bottle into the holder. The bottle holder also has a Velcro strap that allows you to change the depth of the holder – have a bigger bottle, lower the

Longer bottle, deeper hole.

Longer bottle, deeper hole.

bottom, have short arms, raise the bottom up. It is pretty fool proof and essentially a one-size-fits-all solution.

For me, that is all I need in a pack, but there is so much more to the HydraQuiver, and not telling you would be an injustice. Let  us start with another piece of the comfort picture. Where it sits on your back there are two, big pieces of foam with a massive channel between the two. This helps to allow for maximum air flow and breathability. There is no overheating, and normal sweating that does occur has someplace to go.

Easy access pockets.

Another big plus for a lot of people is the amazing storage space in this little pack. It is as if Orange Mud figured out how to make black holes and put them inside all their HydraQuivers. Firstly, there are two packs on the shoulder straps for quick access. They are made of some stretchy elastic type material that will hold any number of gels or Gu-s or homemade sweet potato mix. In case you needed more space there is zipper access to the space between the back pads and the bottle holder. The Orange Mud website says that there is 54 cubic inches of cargo space. What is 54 inches of cargo space, well, if you needed to use it all, you would not be running, maybe packing your bags and getting out of town?

For me, the only question is: HydraQuiver or Double Barrel. So go on and get yourself one. And if this review did not sell you, these are designed and made right here in the USA, it is your patriotic duty to get one. Seriously folks, check them out. Lots of good, quality products for runners and they are ever expanding.

The Myth of the Perfect Form

With the shift from the relatively new, heeled-shoes to low-stack-height, zero drop shoes in the last decade, there has been much discussion on ‘healthy’ running, and often in those discussions, this idea of ‘perfect form’ get’s bandied about as some sort of panacea to all running woes. More likely than not, someone has told you that bringing your cadence up to 180 is the easiest way to start sorting your form, or maybe it had something to do with your footfall. Unfortunately, there is probably a pretty good chance that if you force yourself to have ‘perfect form,’ you are going to get injured.

Firstly, what is perfect form and who has it? The answer to the first part is a bit long, but as to who has perfect form, the answer is almost no one. Perfect form is rather hard to come by, as it usually means someone has no biomechanical abnormalities, and let us face it, we are all slightly abnormal. If you want a fairly good idea of perfect form, go watch some world class sprinters (granted they are up on their toes a bit much for perfection but…). They drive their knees with a quick cadence and rapid footfall. Their arms are like an old locomotive chuffing forward, pumping up and down in a plane perpendicular to the ground. Their backs are straight with a slight lean forward. All of their energy is put into moving forward; nothing is wasted going side to side. You can do this too, and I suggest you do. It is a great opportunity to feel what ‘should’ be going on. Go to a track and do some sprinting. Just 100 meter sprints down the straights as fast as you can. You might be able to keep this up for 200, maybe even 400 meters, but eventually as your muscles start to tire, your form will also start to deteriorate. It is hard to keep that perfect form for long, and it probably is not exactly the best form for you. It might be the most efficient, but efficiency is not always best; though you can, and should, take parts of that perfect form and keep them in mind when you run.

There are a number of different ways your form may stray from perfect, and to be honest, there are not many absolute no-noes. The only one I can really think of is a massive heel strike due to overstriding. I will try to come back to some of these form differences another time, but I think it is important to remember the old addage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you have a weird tick to your form, and you do not get injured, your body is probably compensating for some biomechanical abnormality; leave it alone. If you have a weird tick to your form and you do get injured, then it might be time to reevaluate what you are doing.

Why Does It Always Snow On Me?

The last two runs I have gone on, it has snowed. Not just some flurries, but inches-per-hour kind of stuff. To be honest, I do not mind the snow. I hate how much it slows me down, and how much harder it makes keeping decent form, but overall, it is just kind of, eh. That said, I am done.

It has reached the point that I hope we have no more snow, because I can not really shovel my driveway anymore. No, I did not throw out my back, the banks of snow are so high it is damn near impossible to throw the snow over the banks. No joke, the banks are three to five feet high.

But back to running. My run on Tuesday was supposed to be my long run, but with the weather folks telling me we had a storm coming in, I opted to just go for eight miles as the weather for Wednesday was supposed to be much warmer (35) and sunny. Well, Wednesday rolled around, and it was cold – like 20 degrees cold – and slightly overcast. My wife and I decided to wait until the afternoon to do our exercise stuff and use the morning to get some housework done. Bad idea. Unbeknown to me, the weather folks were predicting another 3-4 inches of snow that afternoon. (I check the weather constantly so how I missed this is beyond me…).

Noon rolled around and I laced up my Skoras, threw on my HydraQuiver and headed out for my long run. Not a mile in, and it started to snow. This was not a little snow, but a lot of snow. A whole lot of snow, and it was not letting up. I decided to keep on going and continued on my route that saw me climb to a high point nearly 1500 feet higher than where I started. Another awesomely bad idea. See on top of the knolls, the weather gets worse, and it gets colder. There were times I was running blind. My eyelashes collected so much ice I could not keep my eyes open. I had to stop and pick the ice gently off my eyelashes. My sleeves melted the snow as it landed, but the wind froze it so my arms were housed in frozen casts. It sucked.

I know the snow makes for some cool frozen-face selfies, but the novelty has long since worn off. This dude is ready for clean roads and spring.

Man or Yeti?

Man or Yeti?

Staying Ahead of the Curve

I know I carry on a bit about listening, and logging, and I apologize for that, but here is something interesting, at least for me. And a perfect example of why listening and logging are important.

Over the past few years, I have had the occasional calf knot. The first time, I felt it mid-run and kept going, I ended up having to cut the run short and hobble home. Not a good idea. The knot has never fully gone away and from time to time, I still notice that my calf will get a little tight and I can feel the knot tightening. At first, I could not pinpoint the why. All I knew was that there was no method to this knot. The shoes were different, the workouts and intensities were different. The best method I learned was to jog it home and take the next days easy and just do light mileage until the knots were gone. I would roll, and it would hurt, but it would usually take a week before I could get back to full bore training.

Meanwhile, I had noticed that my right toe would get numb on occasion. Yes the first time was winter, and at first I figured it was running through snow that did it, but the numbness lasted for a week or two – obviously it had nothing to do with temperature. The numbness would go away randomly – or so it seemed – and come back randomly. Some have suggested it is tarsal tunnel, but I have my doubts.

By about the fourth or fifth time my calf knotted up, I got a little pissed and went scouring through my logs. I could not figure it out. And then, something sort of clicked. About two weeks before my calf would knot up enough for me to notice and retard my training, my toe would go numb. Now I have no idea why this is happening – not yet anyway – but I have learned that when my toe gets numb, I need to roll the hell out of my calf and get that knot gone as best I can. Since I have started doing it this way, I have not had a problem with calf cramping. If I did not keep notes on the tiny cues my body gives, I would still be battling random weeks of minimal training.

Running Too Much?

You have seen it before, the cute Hallmark Card with the four-year-old on the front, flopping around in their father’s over sized wingtip shoes, with a unbuttoned dress shirt dragging behind them while their father’s tie is draped around their shoulders. As a father, it is a flattering form of mimicry; a symbol of inexpressible love from your child (no really).

The other day, my son gave me the same respect, albeit it was not work clothes. I was making dinner when my son grabbed my long sleeve running shirt that was drying in the window and somehow managed to snake himself into it. He donned my Orange Mud HydraQuiver, stuffed his feet into my Skora Phase and proceeded to shuffle around the kitchen. He then told me that he would not be back for a while because he was going for his “long run.”

I guess he could be picking up worse habits.

Taxes Are For What?

Glad I pay taxes.

Glad I pay taxes.

Not only did the town neglect to plow my road for at least four hours, they also decided to plow my road in, so even if you could drive through the 18 inches of snow on the road, you would have to crash through 24 inches of frozen snow to get on the main road. It is Friday after all, and some people need to get to work.

Good News!!

This is the fourth of Noakes’ Ten Laws of Running Injuries. “Most Injuries are Curable”

Chances are, your running injury, it is curable – and you do not need any strange holy water, bizarre cacti, or rare metallic based salve to make things better. When you consider that most running injuries are due to intrinsic forces, it would make sense that we – the runner – are capable of fixing these problems. Noakes says, “Only a small fraction of true running injuries are not entirely curable by simple techniques, and surgery is only required in very exceptional cases” (Noakes 753). If you walk into the doctors office and they offer to cut you up without trying a whole bunch of other stuff, hobble on out and find someone else.

Unfortunately, there are a few occasions in which simple is not the answer. Firstly, Noakes points out that people with severe biomechanical abnormalities might be at risk,  but in his experience, “only a small number of runners have such severe mechanical abnormalities” (Noakes 753). So chances are, you probably are not that biomechanically abnormal it is not fixable. I would even go so far to say that with minimal running, and some long term form work/rehabilitation, there is a good chance your biomechanical abnormality will stop causing injury.

Secondly, Noakes mentions severe degeneartion of important tissues – in particular the Achilles tendon (AT) – can cause damning injury. No one really likes their AT. Tendons are hard to stretch and are lower on the blood flow list, consequently, when they do get minor tears, they take longer to heal. The AT is such a vital part of running, that repeated damage that is not allowed to heal correctly can tank your running career. Noakes also notes that “the prospects of a complete cure without recurrence are rather small” (Noakes 753). Take care of your AT, and do not ice it. It is already low on blood, massage it with a warm compress.

The last type of injury not easily curable is for those “who start running on abnormal joints.” Again this is not a lot of us as most of these abnormal joints became abnormal through some contact type sport (rugby, football, soccer). Often when big joints (knee, hip, ankle) get mangled they seldom fully recover; even for the stars with million dollar doctors looking after them.

Noakes ends this law with some information that I think every runner should heed when confronted with an injury:

An imporant corollary to this fourth law is that if you are not completely cured of your running injury by the experts with whom you consult, it is time to look elsewhere. But treat even the advice of runners with some caution, and do not accept it unconditionally without seeking a professional assessment from someone knowledgeable about running and sympathetic to runners (Noakes 753).

That quote is pretty gnarly, and incredibly important. If you are not cured, go somewhere else. Do not trust runners. Sure we give each other advice, and chances are, it is probably pretty good advice based on experience, but get a professional opinion, too. And see a doctor who knows a thing or two about running. In college the head of our medical staff was on the medical crew for the Islanders back in the 80s when they were winning Stanley Cups all over the place. (He would liked to wear his rings and would rotate through them despite the fact he probably just ordered tape…). He despised running and runners.  He had no problem telling runners who checked in that they should not be running, that getting injured was to be expected if you were a runner. Do not go to someone like that, they will not help you.