Project X: The lacrosse ball

Workout

Five squats, four push-ups, three jump squats, two tricep dips, one burpee, hold plank until the next minute begins. Twelve minutes, one set per minute.

***

During my first week of Project X, I’ve learned many things – almost all of them involving suffering of one kind or another.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned:

Three minutes and two seconds stretches into eternity when you’re running full-tilt up an 800-metre hill.

On the fifth hill repeat, eternity becomes infinite.

Thirty minutes is much, much longer than three minutes. Go figure.

During a 30-minute time trial I have lots of opportunity to ponder the meaning of the word, “trial.”

A lacrosse ball is capable of drawing out the most exquisite pain – and that’s just from rolling it under your glute. The IT band is unspeakable.

A green lacrosse ball now triggers a Pavlovian response in me whereby if I see one it automatically elicits a whimper.

But Project X isn’t all hard work. On Friday, I ran an hour in heart rate Zone 2 on the treadmill…while extremely tired from everything leading up to that run.  Er…wait, that was tough as well.

Of course Sunday I ran an easy 100 minutes in Zone 2…only to arrive home and discover that I’d been running well below my true Zone 2. Yup. I was taking it too easy. My coach sent me my heart rate zones, which I’d been estimating up to that point. So much for that “easy” run.

Actually, this is part of the point of the training: if I do my run properly in the right zone, it should still feel relatively relaxed – unless of course, it’s two times 15 minutes in Zone 4, a workout I can look forward to this week.

Regular followers of this blog know that I’m currently experimenting with a heart rate training program through Halifax’s Kinesio Sports Lab.

Pretty much all the workouts have consisted of activities or runs that I wouldn’t normally do. Monday night’s repetitions of push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, tri-dips and more are exercises I’ve long been out of the habit of performing.

In fact,  just finished a hellish 13 minutes of squats, push-ups, jump squats, dips, burpees and planks. It’s amazing I can even type this sentence.

So far the training effects I’ve noticed are a desire to eat everything in sight and when I lay down for the night, I’m out immediately. And I’m start to feel like a…er, cross-fitter instead of a runner.

Certainly, people have a lot of interest in the program. When I mention I’m testing out heart rate training, people either are curious or talk about their own experience doing it. The latter has been universally positive so far.

Beyond that, it’s early days yet. I’m only starting the second week. Just don’t show me any green lacrosse balls; you’ll make a grown man cry.

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Project X

Day 1

Distance: 13 km

Heart rate: Zone two

Weather: Minus 3, no wind

Course: Downhill to the half, sharp climb up and then gradual climb back.

So it begins: Project X.

In the north end of Halifax exists a secret laboratory where a lone scientist uses his knowledge to train his charges.

Some call them mutants because they have long sharp talonslaser vision that can melt objects, can run moderately fast.

Away from the prying eyes of the public, Professor Charles Xavier Jeffery Zahavich is training a new breed of…runner.

Zahavich approached me several months ago, and recognizing in me the dormant, untapped ability to run like the human Flash jog slightly faster than an injured turtle, proposed that he help me realize that amazing, turtle-like potential.

Zahavich owns and operates Kinesio Sport Lab, where he offers a combination of personal training and group programs, all of it science-based and providing blood lactate testing, heart rate training, strength and mobility classes and nutrition education. This combination is aimed at athletes of any level who wish to improve and, as several individuals would testify, Zahavich has helped a number of people achieve personal bests.

We’d talked about doing a “Project X” for some time now.

Well, Project X finally arrived today. Zahavich is running a 16-week half-marathon training program incorporating all of the above components and I signed on to test his methods,  push myself to train in a methodical and guided way and report back on the results.

If I stick to the plan, will I shatter my PB? I’ve run for seven years now, as a vegetarian am relatively clean about my nutrition, and do some stretching and strength training. That said, I’ve never used heart rate training and am interested to see if it would make much of a difference. Also new this time around is the idea of training by time instead of distance; I’ll run for an hour instead of being told to do “X” distance, for example.

About 10 runners are signed up for the half-marathon program. We gathered at Kinesio this morning to run varying distances in small groups. I found myself with a 23-year-old who runs a 16 minute, five-km and a 39-year-old who hopes to do a 3:10 marathon.

Another individual in the program is preparing to run one of the Disney events in February.

Today was an easy “zone two” run meant to burn fat and build aerobics. We burnt a little more fat than we meant to when we inadvertently set out in the wrong direction (this was not my fault for once, honest!).

I quickly discovered two basic truths about running on a Sunday morning: One, it is good to eat something other than a gel beforehand; two, a good sleep the night before is not a bad idea.

My suffering was Biblical in proportions. I’m talking unimaginable pain. You hear people talking about “gutting it out” in a race. Half-way through this marathon of endurance (think about that: it’s not just a marathon, but a marthon of endurance!), I summoned up every iota of my physical and mental strength – placing a lot of strain on that single cell – and gutted through that six kilometre mark.

Running that six kilometres was the longest eight hours of my life.

But when I reached Kinesio, the torment wasn’t over – far from it. “We’re going to do some ‘mobility,'” Zahavich said.

Ha. Mobility. That’s what torture is called these days.

“It’s okay to cry,” Zahavich told us as we sank our weight and glutes down on rubber balls and rolled out our quads and IT bands with foam sticks.

But I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of a single tear.

Better luck next time, scientist, I sneered.

Over the next week, I’ll be completing my heart rate testing (my blood lactate test showed an odd result – should this shock anyone? – so we need to do a bit of extra testing to nail down my results. And I’ll be getting more details on the program itself as well as beginning the first full week.

Watch for a full report next week.

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Stay tuned….

Altra Instinct 1.5

Do you like these shoes? Well stay tuned, because Sub-three is going to be giving away a pair of them in the weeks ahead.

They’re the Altra Instincts 1.5 and the company generously offered Sub-three a pair to give out.

They weigh 8.9 oz, have a zero drop platform, and a very wide toe box. A full review will be forthcoming in a few weeks followed by a contest to give away a new pair.

The blog is also coming back after a bit of a break. Look for a number of gear reviews, tales from the track, and more in the weeks to come.

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Read it, run it (and bike too): The Riverport Duathlon

The race: Riverport Duathlon

The location: Riverport, Nova Scotia

When: Early October

Distances: 2 X 4 km runs and 28 km bike, or 2 X 1 km run and 14 km bike

Why do it: To experience the natural beauty of the race locale

Swag: Tech shirt and draw prizes

Having already run my slowest marathon ever this year, followed by one of my worst half-marathons, I naturally gravitated toward the Riverport Duathlon.

Hey, I thought to myself, here’s my chance to do two sports at once equally poorly.

Besides the distances were short: two, four-kilometre runs with a 28-km bike loop sandwiched in the middle. How hard could that be? Of course, shorter equates more intensity and the intensity somehow causes time to slow down, turning that four-km run into something that begins to approximate the pain of the marathon.

If you’re new to the sport, the event also offers a Do-a-Du with a two, one-km runs and a 14-km bike loop. The Bridgewater Triathlon Club hosts the overall event every year.

I was game for the classic race. But I had questions. How should I dress, for example? Did I wear bike shorts and jersey or running clothes? I couldn’t feature running with puffy bike shorts, so settled on lycra running shorts, which felt sufficiently geeky enough, and a singlet with arm warmers.

I tried to fashion an aero helmet by modifying my road bike helmet with tin foil, but that didn’t work out so well, so I abandoned that plan.

And my bike, well it was what it was: next to the gleaming Treks and Cervelos, the Schwinn looked pretty plain, but it’s served me well. Anyway, ultimately, it’s not about the…I won’t say it.

As it was, I lucked out. The day of the race turned out to be sunny with a mild wind. Traditionally, the duathlon has experienced torrential rains with winds of just slightly less power than that of Hurricane Juan.

It’s a testament that despite the weather the event sells out almost instantly now. Only 80 spots are up for grabs for the “classic” du, and those sold out within a single evening online this year in advance of the race.

In a series of nearly idyllic communities, Riverport may be the most idyllic of them all along Nova Scotia’s South Shore. It’s twisting roads follow the LaHave River and on a fall day when the trees are burning with colour, it’s hard to imagine a better spot.

Nor is it easy to find a flatter run. The two, four-kilometre runs lead you out along the Lower Lahave Road before turning onto the Kraut Point Road, both overlooking the water the entire way.

Following the first run, you jump onto your bike – or if you’re me, you fumble around for a good five minutes with your gear in the transition zone – and then set out in the opposite direction. Crossing the bridge, you head toward Bridgewater on the 322.

In a car, the road looks flat. It’s not. They’re not big rollers, but the hills, with the mild head wind, pick away at you as you head toward the Grimm Road. At least that’s my excuse for watching 10 people in aero helmets zip by me like I was the Wicked Witch of the North on her bicycle, pedaling backyard in the tornado.

They don’t call it the Grimm Road for nothing. As soon as you turn the corner, the climb begins and then never stops. You climb, reach a false flat and then climb. Then you reach a false flat, and then you climb again. And then – oh, look! – it’s a climb. Then – guess what? – you’re climbing.

For all this climbing, you’re rewarded with a downhill that somehow seems to be less one-third of all the climbing you did.

The back end of the ride back seems every bit as hilly.

Back in the transition zone, where I agreeably let another half-dozen people leave before me, I wondered at my wobbly legs. Gamely, I set out feeling like the jello man out for his daily squishy stroll. My legs would not cooperate for another two kilometres. I enjoyed the stunning scenery instead.

Finally, it’s all over. You’re handed a bottle of water coming across the line and then it’s into the hall for some chili and comradeship.

The only criticism I have is the shape of the local roads on the bike. You must pay attention at all times as the pavement is badly broken and littered with potholes and cracks that could easily catch a wheel and spill a rider. It would be nice to see some of the more prominent holes marked.

That said, this event earns it’s designation as a classic race. It’s very well run with lots of friendly volunteers and is unpretentious with very little frills. If you enjoy an old-style event where the racers take pride in their grit on the course and their friendships off, then Riverport is the race for you.

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Yurbuds: music to my ears

It sounds like something someone in a Yarmouth bar might slur to you around two in the morning: “Hey, where are yurbuds?”

In this instance, though, they’d be inquiring not after your drinking buddies, but rather after the super-cool pair of ear buds you wore into the bar so many beers ago.

Like the meme goes, I don’t always run to music, but when I do, I wear Yurbuds.

yurbuds

It wasn’t always that way. I, too, used to be a poor schumuck, running along, my earbuds popping out of my ears every 500 metres or so.  That became one of the things I enjoyed about winter running: my cap kept the earphones in place.

I finally got a chance to test some Yurbuds this summer and I have to say that they live up to their reputation.

Here I provide the usual disclaimer: I was sent a test pair for review from the Canadian distributor.

I received a pair of the “Performance Fit Inspire Sport,” and these were actually sized for me. Before they arrived, I sent a photo of a quarter next to my ear, presumably so the distributor could decide what size would best fit.

Either that, or the guys at the distributors had a great time: “Look. We got another one to put the quarter next to his ear. How hilarious is that! Now we should email him and tell him he needs to put a couple of dimes up his nose so we can calibrate the acoustic qualities of the earphones.”

Er…no, that didn’t happen. Honest. Anyway(said in a bright tone of voice)….

The Inspire Duo is billed as an earphone “designed with the athlete in mind.”

inspire_blue_1

The box they arrive in promises the Inspire Sport: “won’t fall out – guaranteed.”

I began to envision some crazy tests, base-jumping in a cork-screw pattern off of a bridge; hang-gliding up to 1,000 metres and then leaping off in my bat-wing suit; setting a new speed record on the Daytona salt flats.

But I decided running in them would be sufficient. All the other earphones fell out, so I wanted to see how these did.

That, after all, over and above everything else, is the premise of the Yubuds: they will stay in your ear no matter what.

Yurbud founder Seth Burgett, a triathlete, writes in a back-of-the-box testimonial that nearly every athlete suffers from the same problem, their earphones hurt and fall out. He decided to do something about it, inventing a flexible silicone compound that fits over any earphone and slides into your ear canal for a snug fit.

Yurbuds also promise “ambient noise awareness,” and “exceptional sound quality.”

The headphones deliver on every count.

At first, I found them a little uncomfortable, a bit intrusive, when I put them in my ear. Those suckers are practically rooting around in there, but it didn’t take long to get used to the more, uh, intimate fit.

That said, I think it might be a good idea to take your music down a couple of notches. The same ergonomic fit that keeps them in place may also funnel your tunes more efficiently and you do want to be able to hear for longer than, say, the next two years.

What?! Damn. Speak up…just kidding around….

The next thing that caught me by surprise was the wind. I could hear it howling as I ran. This is a function of the ambient noise awareness, which is actually a pretty cool safety feature. It was a little disconcerting though until I got the wind behind me.

All nice and fine, but how do they sound? Unbelievable. These headphones are clear, rich and deep. Their range is much greater than your basic iPod earbuds, which typically are set for 5HZ and 21KHZ. In comparison, Yurbuds offer a range of 20 HZ to 20 KHZ; in other words, pretty much the spectrum of what the human ear is capable of hearing.

My pair is fairly basic, but pleasing. However, if you want the heavy-duty bling, you can invest in pairs like the Inspire Limited Edition, which will give you some serious bass (not that that’s lacking in the Sport model), a tangle-free Kevlar cord, and a three-button microphone for controlling your iPods, iPhones and the like.

I have to say the packaging is pretty swank as well. They come neatly encased in foam in the box boasting all the benefits with the aforementioned founder’s testimonial on the back. They have their own little zip bag to keep them in, a “quick start” guide – technology, even earphones, can be confusing, you know – and a couple of little cards with motivational tales on one side and a man and woman with the words “focus” and “inspire” painted across their faces on the other.

yurbuds2

They are, of course, wearing Yurbuds.

Having tried them myself now, I can appreciate why. Like I say, I don’t often run with music, but when I find myself in Yarmouth at two in the morning….

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Running into trouble: challenges face the annual Terry Fox Run

This Sunday is the annual Terry Fox run – except, shockingly, a number of communities this year won’t be holding one.

Why?

Too much competition, run organizers say.

Several municipalities in Nova Scotia and Ontario are foregoing the run, an annual event since 1981 and first held just two months after Fox’s death from cancer.

Sherri Malov, the woman who’s organized Truro’s Terry Fox run for five years, told CBC News that she was unable to find volunteers to assist with the event. More troubling still is the run faced steep competition: three other runs were scheduled on the same day last year.

It’s appalling that the Fox event is running into trouble. Fox was the original crusader against cancer, out on the roads raising money and awareness with his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope long before other charities recognized the power of running.

fox run

In 1980, Fox set out from St. John’s, Newfoundland, with the goal of raising one dollar from each of Canada’s 24-million citizens. Bobbing from side to side on his artificial leg through often horrendous weather, Fox transfixed Canadians as he ground out the miles.

By the time the spread of his cancer forced him off the roads, Fox had become a national hero, running for 143 days, covering 5,373 kilometres.

According to the Wikipedia entry on Fox, the annual Terry Fox Run has since become the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research, with over $500-million raised.

Since Fox first set out in 1980, our attitude towards running has dramatically changed. As a recreational activity, running has boomed and with it the rise in events catering to runners. On any given weekend in, say, Nova Scotia, runners can choose from two, three, even four races.

Factor in triathlons and other events, and suddenly event organizers are facing a lot of pressure.

How sustainable this is, time will tell. But it’s unlikely that every race will be able to find the volunteers it needs or sustain the critical mass of runners to survive.

I would suggest the first races to vanish off the schedule will be those that smaller charities naively organize in the belief that they will raise a lot of money. Often put together by volunteer race directors with little experience, these races soon discover that hosting a race is much more involved than inviting people on Facebook and letting them run a course.

Poor planning, little promotion and weak execution has led some of these races to attract fewer than 20 runners.

At the same time, the entrance of large franchises into the market, such as Spartan Races, Muddy Buddys and so forth have grabbed a massive amount of the market share. People, of course, only have so much money and time to spend on races, which means some are bound to suffer.

Along with that comes the huge rise in charity runners. All of them advocate for admirable causes, but also compete for the same fixed pot of money. It’s bound to lead to donor fatigue. And where the Terry Fox Run only rolls around for one day once a year, it’s not as continually pushed as some of the others.

For the price of one dollar – although you can contribute more if you wish – the Terry Fox Run is a bargain. More than that, it’s a tradition and a tribute to a Canadian icon.  It’s a chance for you to run with your neighbors, free of race bibs and with no tangible rewards such as T-shirts and medals – except for the feeling that comes with knowing you’ve done a good thing.

We can let the Terry Fox Runs fade away, but everyone would be that much poorer.

Keep the legacy alive.

Show up. Lend a hand. Run. Give. These are all things that we are good at as Canadians.

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The future of running shoes?

One day in the foreseeable future, you will walk into a running store and the staff will ask to see your stride signature.

Based on that, the footwear staff will fit you with the ideal running shoe for the very individual way in which you run.

That’s how Brooks sees it.

The running shoe company has just released a white paper on the subject. “The goal of the Stride Signature is to create a new holistic approach to designing and fitting running shoes that starts with the runner to optimize efficiency, reduce injury and enhance comfort,” Brooks writes in the introduction to its paper.

The company has invested in and studied a lot of research to arrive at this point. Iain Hunter, a professor of biomechanics at Utah’s Brigham Young University, used a high-speed video camera at the side of the track during the 2012 Olympic trials for the 10,000 metres finals.

The camera caught the individual foot-strikes of the 32 elite athletes in the race. Those foot-strikes ranged from the expected fore-foot and mid-foot strikers to more than half the runners heel striking.

Some of the runners landed on the outer edge of their feet, while others rotated their feet inward.

Brooks said it was struck with how dissimilar the foot-strikes were, and how each carried its own signature that didn’t just stop at the foot’s connection with the ground. Each runner then displayed different nuances at the ankle joint, the knee joint, the hip joint and so on.

“It is this principle of individuality – and not some elusive ‘perfect form’ – that we believe will shift our sport’s thinking about training and coaching, and set us on a new trajectory for how we build running shoes,” Brooks contends.

Whoa. That’s a pretty loaded statement.

In Brooks’ paradigm, it’s the shoe, not the form, that makes the runner.

The company has been following the same questions as everyone else. “What is the right way to run? Should everyone run barefoot, or in shoes? How should your foot strike the ground… Should we all run like the Kenyans? Do the Kenyans themselves all run the same….Is “overpronation” really a bad word…Is cushioning evil?”

Based on its research, Brooks proposes a shift away from trying to come up with a single right way to run to better understanding your unique way to run; from matching the runner to the shoe, but rather matching the shoe to the runner.

Brooks argues a runner’s stride signature will become the baseline to defining a runner’s form and alignment. “Our research leads us to believe that the answer to reducing injuries, enhancing comfort and improving performance is not to change or fix a runner’s ‘flaws,’ but to work with the natural and highly individual motion paths of the joints.”

Running shoe technologies such as shoe geometry, midsole firmness or excessive posting can disrupt runners’ preferred motion path, Brooks contends. Instead, the company proposes a shoe technology called Guiderails that would help maintain habitual motion patterns.

Brooks says Guiderails will help runners optimize muscle activity and joint motion, reducing the onset of fatigue and form breakdown.

Brooks uses the theory of Natural Habitual Joint Motion as the basis for its research. Simply put, this is the idea that everyone has their own, unique way of running that is natural and subconcious.

To put the theory to the test, Brooks enlisted the help of two specialists in biomechanics, who between them have authored more than 300 studies on the subject. For Brooks, they’ve been researching such things as how people run, and how the body adapts to its environment as it runs.

The full white paper and its research may be read here: http://bit.ly/18ShANC

The end result is Brooks hopes its Stride Signature will take the guess-work out of buying shoes; rather, you will walk into a store and purchase a pair of runners based on your natural habitual joint motion pattern and the dozens of parametres that make up your stride signature.

The company acknowledges it’s not at the point where this is reality yet, but certainly this marks the direction Brooks intends to take its shoes. It will be interesting to see if any other shoe manufacturers, as well as retailers, physios, coaches, athletes, runners and others will follow them.

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