Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Run to Overcome" by Meb Keflezighi

I enjoyed reading Meb Keflizghi's biography Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion's Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream. Since getting a Kindlefor Christmas I have been reading up a storm, but I didn't have a Kindle version of this book, I had a hardcover copy so I had to put down the kindle and start turning pages again. This book is written in a pretty straightforward way and you feel as if Meb is talking to you as you read. I was caught up in finishing the story and it took just two nights of reading. While I am familiar with Meb as a runner, this book tells you more about his heart.

It is takes you through his life: born in war torn Eritrea, through his father making his way to Italy so his family could later follow. Then the trip to California where Meb and his siblings excelled in school and sports through hard work and determination. I knew all about his running accomplishments, but it was good to read about the people and circumstances that helped make him a champion. The book covers a lot of ground, but there were few surprises or dramatic narratives as the story winds its ways through Meb's life and running career. It does highlight his relationship with Ryan Shay, the American marathoner who died in the first miles of the American Olympic Marathon trials and Meb's major hip problems and recovery after that race.

It is a positive story that leaves you uplifted about how family, values, faith, and hard work can pull people to the pinnacle of success and then to the very top. I would have wished to learn more of his life in Eritrea. Meb puts a positive spin on many things and I don't feel like the hardships were portrayed fully. I think my favorite chapter was the one chronicling the courtship of Meb and his wife. Meb is a pretty steadfast guy and if his courtship seems old-school and outdated then I think it should be assigned reading to young people if they want to find the key elements of what makes a successful marriage relationship. The chapter reminded me about the section in the wonderful Disney biopic Endurancewhere Haile Gebrsellasie goes on his first date with his future wife (both are acting as themselves in the movie) and they hardly know how to start talking with each other, but they are obviously in awe over the other person.

Meb proves in his book, life, and running that his is a person of strong character and convictions. I met Meb at the Falmouth Road Race this year and appreciated the short conversation I had with him. I admired the fact that he willingly shared and let fans touch his Olympic silver medal as well as his gold medal for the 2009 New York City Marathon. I was surprised at the race (Meb did not run due to illness) when after finished, a friendly face appeared at the finish line with extended hand offering congratulations. Meb was greeting the runners as soon as they finished.

Meb's website is called Run to Overcome. You can find more information on Meb and his book and there is still a chance that you can daily win an autographed copy of his book on the site (until Feb. 11). That is how I got my copy!

Meb. The Champion

Meb in the Athens 2004 Olympic Marathon, where he won the silver medal. This is exciting even if in Italian. Stefano Baldini of Italy finished first, Meb was second, and Venderlei de Lima of Brazil was a triumphant third after being attacked and tackled by a crazy fan on the course.

Friday, January 21, 2011

TRX Workout for Snowshoe Racers

After getting beat up at the Feel Good Farm Snowshoe race last week, I realized that there is more to snowshoe racing than just basic conditioning. I was vastly out of condition to even attempt that race, but there was something else still missing if I wanted to put my best effort into racing. The downhills were a bit scary due to lack of balance and stability and there is a different kind of strength needed when running over snow than is needed for road or easy trail running. I was happy to find this TRX Snow Sports Fourplex Workout. It may not be necessarily geared for snowshoe racers, but it certainly seems to fit the bill. The TRX is a pretty cool and useful fitness tool with unending possibilities. Douglass Burke, the director of athlete conditioning at Sugar Bowl Ski Academy leads you through the moves which are explained further here.

Here is a video on how the best racing snowshoes, Dion Showshoes, are made.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wimp Race: The Feels Good Farm 1/2 Snowshoe Race

Wimp Race? WIMP RACE? Mike Amarello of 3C Race Productions had a sinister grin on his face as he gave the final instructions for the 3rd annual Feels Good Farm Snowshoe Race. It was there because he knew the torture he was about to inflict on the large crowd of snowshoe racers. He can grin away because everyone signed up for this bit of snowshoe Hell. You got that right, Snowshoe Hell! At one point in the race, a snowshoer behind me exclaimed, "What's next some red hot lava to run over?" I think he was having his own vision of Hell as he was racing through the woods of Lyndeborough, New Hampshire. Mike had cooked up his own version of an "icy Hell on Snow".

However for those of us who only did 1/2 the race and only suffered 1/2 half the torture, he dares call our little race a Wimp Race? Let me tell you, that has to be the toughest Wimp Race in existence! It may have only been half the race, but "Wimp Race"? I am sure he was grinning again as he typed in "Wimp Race" and sent the results off to Coolrunning to officially and publicly name all 1/2 racers as Wimps. What will people think when they now Google "wimp" and my name comes up in the results?

I haven't been able to do much running since the end of the summer. I have probably only done about 50 miles total since mid November with the longest run being 3.5 miles, but I was feeling the need to race and I really wanted to race on my snowshoes. I got up to 12 miles total of running  last week and things were looking up. This week however my SI joint was painful when trying to run on Monday, so my total mileage Monday through Friday was just that little one miler.

Fortunately, I had another PT appointment Friday which got things put back in order and also on Friday Amazon delivered a something called a Serola Sacroiliac Belt. It is a belt someone recommended to my on Letsrun so I decided to give it a try. It holds your SI Joints in place and allows your muscles to work properly. Rather than inhibiting movement, it is supposed to allow your hip and leg muscles to function properly. I decided to give it a shot and it is supposed to work for athletes.

All week I had been thinking about doing the Feels Good Farm snowshoe race again even if I hadn't able to even run that far on the roads lately. I did it two years ago and told myself never again. I forgot that promise. The Feels Good Farm race is misnamed. Nothing about this race feels good. It is a two lap race up Moose Hill and down then up and down again for about 1500 feet of ups and 1500 feet of downs. Then you get to repeat the whole thing again for the second lap. The uphills will burst your lungs and fry your muscles and the downhills will test your courage as it can be a treacherous plunge down the slopes. Did I really run down the hill out of control and do a two handed arm stop against a tree crossing the path at about 4 feet high before ducking under? I didn't see any blood on the tree so I assume everyone else was nimble enough to run and duck or try a stopping maneuver like I did! That was nuts!

I knew my fitness level was pretty much shot with so much inactivity and who knew if the belt would even work for me. Maybe I wouldn't even get to 100 yards., but I had to try. I did a few strides before the race and seeded myself about 3/4ths back from the start and hoped I could at least make the short loop around the parking lot without pain. Yeah, fortunately  it felt OK after the gun sent the racers on their way. The road was flat, the snow was packed down, and never in my life had I seen so many snowshoers running ahead of me. I felt good and decided to indeed go for the first loop. I was thinking that the day would be a huge success if I could make just one loop of the race and was happy to hear that there was an open invitation to drop out after one lap if you needed to. What was there to worry about?

Well, we hit the trails and the hill started. Everything was single track and  with a crowd of over 80 racers everyone started single filing it in a long paceline.I fit in behind Keith O'Brien and up we started to go. Pretty soon my breathing got very heavy and my heart rate started shooting up. If someone started slowing they stepped aside and  a whole bunch of racers would go by. At one point I tripped and looked back to see a 3 thick branch covered by snow was lying across the path in wait to trap a snowshoe. It caught mine.  I kept looking up and the race kept going up. At one point I passed Steve Wolfe as he was fiddling with his snowshoes. His race for a top spot was over even if he could get his snowshoes untangled and fixed. He would never be able to pass so many racers on the trails ahead.

Did I say the trails kept going up? Well they did. I passed a few people who couldn't keep with the steady pace and a few times I asked the person behind me if they wanted to go ahead. They never did! Pretty soon people started walking. I am glad they did, because I needed to also. It seemed to take forever before we hit the top and started hurtling down. I was very leery of going too fast downhill. While my SI joint wasn't hurting my left leg was hard to control. I would veer from one side of the course to the other. The snow was also deep and slushy feeling underfoot, or at least my foot was sliding a few inches or more forward each time they hit the ground.

My untrained muscles were tightening up and I was really pushing the limits of heart rate and breathing. I let a few people go by here and there and passed a few too. And then we had to go up the hill again. Now I was stumbling on the uphills. Near the top I stopped and let two racers go by. From there it was downhill again, but I was shot. I even had to stop and walk a few times going downhill! I knew I was nearing the end of the first lap and you couldn't pay me a million dollars to do another lap. I am not sure if I could have made my muscles respond if I tried to go up those hills again. Now my calves started getting cramps a bit as my toes were pointed going down the hills. I was thoroughly gutted and completely tapped out and happily stopped after that first lap.

And I felt great. Now that I was done, my muscles were trashed, my chest was heaving, blood was pumping, and I was simply elated to have been able to do even half of this race. If you are going to start a comeback, you might as well start with the toughest race you can find. I had missed racing and pushing extremes for so many months that being able to compete was such a thrill even if I was in such poor shape.  But then I saw the results and they called the "short version of the race "The Wimp Race"! I gotta tell you I have never been so happy to be called wimpy in my life before! I watched and cheered on the "real racers" as they finished the second lap and it is true that anyone who completed the Feels Good Farm Snowshoe Race deserves to be called an  aerobic beast. Congratulations to all, because this race is no walk in the park. I have done over a thousand races in my 35+ years of competing and that includes marathons, triathlons-including 5 Ironman distance ones, cross-country races, track races, and bike races and nothing compares to the" in your face intensity" of this race. It takes strength and fitness to get up the climbs and nimbleness and courage to get back down. There is nowhere to take a breather. If you want to push your limits in the shortest amount of time possible, this race will do it!

How do I know it is tough. I can run up Mt. Washington without walking one step. I had to walk some downhills here. I have cycled downhill at up to 62 mph but at least I had brakes and a clear view of the road ahead. Each step going down Moose Hill you didn't know if you might hit a rock or get your tip caught under a branch or even run into a tree crossing your path. There are points in triathlons, marathons, and bike races when you get a chance to catch your breath a bit. This race doesn't give you that chance. And finally, I think I am going to lose a toenail after doing this race. That  only happens in a marathon.

The really good news? The belt seems to work. Oh I had some sore muscles after my half a race, but it wasn't the typical one sided messed up joint pain I usually have. I felt fine all night and was even able to do a few hundred kettlebell swings at night. Today, I took out my snowshoes again and went down to Mine Falls with my son Andrew and I got another couple of miles in. It felt so much better running on the flats for a change! I look forward to seeing how this belt works when I run. If this can help me train while my back and hips learn to heal, I will be very very happy indeed!

Scott Mason has a set of fantastic picture of all the snowshoe champions here.

Here are the results of the full race.

Here are the results of the Wimp Run. I have never been so proud to be called 2nd Wimp!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mobility Workout of the Day: Tight IT Band and Hip Flexor Fix for Runners

Kelly Starrett of has a blog called MobilityWod (Mobility Workout of the Day). I was checking it out last summer and lost track of it (it is now listed on my blog list to the left). Today I was browsing through the Competitor network and saw an article by T. J. Murphy: Burning Runner: The Road to Injury Free Running Starts Now that referenced the blog and checked it out again. It is worth a good look and might be something to add to your daily practice.

I particularly liked the January 11 Mobility exercise. It was just what I needed. It is the tight IT Band- Hip flexor Fix for Runners seen here:

The only interesting thing the previous PT (not where I am going now at Athletes Treating Athletes) I saw  was the traditional hip flexor stretch with a twist. He had me angle my leg out into internal rotation so as to stretch the hip flexor. This video show a similar stretch, but with more background information and a longer stretch with props.

He uses this to clean up the junk and tightness around the hip capsule, just where I have been tight all week (which has been a minor disappointment). It feels good to do this one!

Physical Therapy had been going great. I have been in 5 times now.  Last week, I finally got into double digits for running mileage for the first time since mid November. I know 12 miles is not much, but I am being conservative. My left leg is straightening out and a lot of my muscle pain and tightness is disappearing. I even got out on the roads for two 3.5 mile runs on Friday and Saturday. While my leg pains are disappearing, it is very clear that my SI joint is now flaring up (or the source of all this non-sense). I could have run further on those two days, except that I could feel that SI joint every step. The good news was that my muscles and other pains did not return after both runs. I thought things were going good, but after PT on Monday, I tried running on the treadmill and the SI joint forced me to stop at one mile. I have had my old imbalances back since them and haven't run since.

So the goal is to find out what is up with the SI joint. The interesting thing is this is the same place I started having my back problems with, back in the 1980's, so maybe as I fix everything else the source of all the pain is returning. Today I had a checkup with the physiatrist and  he suggests getting a cortizone shot in the SI joint and then having someone do joint manipulations on that joint. So that will be the next step in the process. Hopefully I get fixed up at PT tomorrow, because I am itching to return to the Feels Good Farm Snowshoe race I did two years ago.  It was quite a challenge back then plus my hips were very off in that race. If my hips are fine I plan to run it this year even though it is 5 miles (in the snow-up and down hills) and the longest I have run since mid November is 3.5 miles. It could be a good birthday challenge. If I don't feel good I will give myself a present of not running it, but I hope to be there at this years race.

Besides the PT,  I feel really good about two other things I am doing. I continue with the slow-carb diet (almost at three weeks now). Each day is easy and I am basically eating the same things. I start the day with 2-3 eggs and a bowl of spinach ( I know, yumm!!). Lunch is some grilled chicken, spinach, lentils, and mixed veggies (broccoli and cauliflower in particular). Dinner is a nice piece of steak, beans, and more veggies. I am full all day long and not eating any sugar, bread, pasta, rice, or ice cream and cookies. Saturdays are my day to eat whatever I want, but there was hardly any good junk left in the house last week to eat!

The physical therapy has left my left hip joint working so much better. In the past, if I tried 25 kettlebell swings, I might be sore the next day. I started about 10 days ago trying them again. I started with 75 and felt good as my hip doesn't' jam up after and am constantly increasing the amount I do. Now I do sets of 100. I did 400 swings a couple days ago. I think I need to get a heavier bell. I am using a 35 pounder and would like to get a 50 pounder.

Kelly Starrett's new book: