One Man's Fitness Fitness Adventures and Musings

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

December-thon 2008, Day 1

Even though it is still technically November, today I kicked off December-thon 2008. I have decided to run every day until the end of the year. Given the toll this might put on me I have also decided that the occasional indoor run on a elliptical machine is ok. That said, I won't be making that the core but rather the exception. I am doing this to fight injury.

Today, as I am only two days removed from a half marathon, I decided that the great indoors sounded reasonable. I worry about joints immediately after long runs and this seemed a prudent course of action. It was an exciting run with lots of forest animals running around and a nice cool breeze; moreover, it was a time to commune with nature and to feel at one with the universe. NOT REALLY!!! I was inside on an elliptical machine, so it was boring, mindless and annoying. I did 3 miles and called it a day. (I am making 3 miles the minimum run distance for this December-thon).

After my machine time, I thought some chest and arm weight exercises might be nice to do. 30 minutes later I was out the door with day one finished. Huzzah!

As you can tell I won't be looking forward to the elliptical portions of this event.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Philadelphia Marathon Post Race

On Sunday, I was able to run the half marathon variant of the Philadelphia Marathon. It was a nice race. I do like this one better than the Philadelphia Distance Run that is put on in September, I think it is the course I like better.

I woke up that morning at 4:50 am, which was about 20 minutes before the alarm. So I got up and got myself ready. It was nice to be up a little earlier as I was able to relax a bit and avoid the tension of rushing to get down to center city. I left the house about 5:45 and drove to center city to find parking. I drove to a parking garage about 4 blocks from the start line, I had to pay $11.00, I know there was some free parking but this garage was closer.

The chill hit me when I left the garage. Wow! the lack of sunlight seemed to make it seem colder. Probably not true but it felt true. So as Stephen Cobert would say it had some "truthiness" to it. I did my best to stay warm at pre race and Bart Yasso was there on the loud speaker, I thought that was nice. I learned that the Philadelphia Marathon is put on by the city which they said is unique. O.K. Go Philly.

There was a staggered start so I had to wait a bit for the start of the race. I tried to set my Garmin. Trouble. The think kicked out. I had been having trouble with the LCD washing out so I couldn't read it and sometimes it would just turn off with no warning (it was always fully charged). So now before my half marathon it died on me. So I would have no way to gauge my pace beyond the course time markers. I didn't like this very much, but what can you do. Roll with adversity, not much else is available.

I managed to get across the start line about 11 minutes after the official start. Not too bad considering that there were 18,000 folks running at the same time. That is not too bad for a big city marathon but given that some of the streets used for the course are not overly wide it seemed like a lot.

The course for the run was better, I thought than the Philadelphia Distance Run. The course for this race seemed to cover more of the city. You get to see not only the Art Museum at the start and by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell area but also got you up to the University of Pennsylvania, Fairmount Park and Boat House Row. I liked the course. There are more hills in Philadelphia than I thought before, running up 34th Street past the Zoo and further was a bit trying.

How did I do with no clock to gauge myself. Well not as well as I would have liked but not terrible. My total time was 2:29:28. This is a minute slower than my PR at my last half marathon. Not being able to accurately gauge my time was a major hindrance but we have to make due. I did have a good time and would definitely run this race again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November/ December-athon

I have a half marathon coming up for this coming Sunday. I have a tendency to look ahead a bit and I am thinking what is next. So I looked at my goal of 1000 miles for the year and that looks like it is not going to happen. Admitting defeat is tough for me, especially on personal goals. Failure gets me down. So to do my absolute best to get there, I am planning the November - December-athon. After I have recovered from my half marathon this weekend, I will engage in a run a day everyday for the rest of the year.

I have read other blogs where folks have done a run a day for 30 days. I am just adding an extra week. I am not sure if I will get to my 1000 miles but I am going to fight for it and at least try and make it close. My plan is 3 miles a day. I will take my recovery days at a very slow pace instead of an actual day off. I know that this will be very trying on my body but nothing like the early winter to set a challenge to keep yourself off the couch.

Wish me luck on this one.


It seems this is at the core of everything that I do in terms of my exercise. The human condition seems to be programmed to seek comfort whenever possible. It seems to be nature putting its hooks into me. I know that when the late fall comes around I will subconsciously eat more as if I was trying to put on fat to help ward off the trials of winter. Hard wiring, we all have it. We all have our ways with dealing with this hard wiring.

I know that since I started martial arts, and more recently running, I have noticed that I often times have to overcome the natural inclination to take a nap or do something less unpleasant than exercising. This is strange because I do like running and martial arts but it seems that there is a mental hurdle that I have to actually get over to get into exercise. This is not aways the true but it does get in my way at times. This is what takes discipline.

I spent time in the military so I do know how to use some cues on how to get by in these winter days.

  1. Lie to Myself -- I know I am telling the lie but if I tell myself these lies to get going it seems I get everything in. "I will do 1 mile and if I don't feel right then I will stop." "I will do ten minutes of kata and if I don't feel like doing more I will stop" When I do this technique once I get going I am usually fine and the transparent lie seems to do the trick.
  2. Negative Motivation -- I spent time in the military and berating one's character can often times lead to greater motivation to accomplish the task at hand. I find this is useful when trying to get through something difficult once I started it. For example, I am looking at a big hill and lose a little heart looking at the task at hand. So a little negative motivation comes in handy, "What type of runner are you, you see one hill and lose your nerve" "It is only a hill, you have done bigger ones before" "What's wrong can't handle a little pain" Well that is the idea, get down on yourself about the type of weakness being exhibited and this will make you a bit angry and push you through the difficult moments.
  3. Carrot and Stick -- I do like this one because of the carrot, mmm carrots. I make deals with myself to do exercise on occasion. I use this for milestones. I usually say things like, when I log 500 miles I will get myself a new running shirt or if I make all my scheduled classes for three months I will get a new uniform for my martial arts. I can be motivated by the earned present. Personally, when I come up with such a plan and don't make it I would feel guilty buying the present.
  4. Hurt vs. Injured -- Sometimes I get hurt, actually I get hurt a decent amount. That said, I am rarely injured. I have learned that small nagging injuries are part and parcel of a regular exercise program. Last night, I twisted an ankle not a big deal but it is a hurt not an injury. An injury would be a broken bone or an ACL tear. I can sometimes lose motivation when hurt. It seems a good excuse, I can't run because my ankle hurts a bit. I am all for being smart but it doesn't necessarily mean a day off is in order. Managing the hurt is key, if I really can't do one thing I need to think about what I can do. This is a big discipline thing as it is so easy to take a break during these times.
  5. Excuses -- I was told by one of my first martial arts instructors "If you look for an excuse long enough you will find one you like." I really believe this is true. Excuses lurk around every corner and demands pull one in every direction. It is easy to get distracted and let yourself be drawn off course. I have found that taking a hard line in regard to exercise is the key. I know I have to do x, y, and z but should that mean that I have to miss out on exercise? I say no. It does not matter when you get it in as long as you get it in. If I have to get up early or go to be late I know I can't allow an excuse to get in the way. That would be poor discipline. It is about taking responsibility for one's actions and everyone else might understand why you couldn't do this or that. In the end I won't understand because I know deep down that I could have manufactured a little time to get something in. That's a fact.

Discipline is a big deal to me. I have always tried to keep on track with the things that I place importance in. The down side to this is that I sometimes can go through periods where my motivation is not 100%. There are lots of reasons for this that all sound like excuses but family and work are more demanding today than they were 10 years ago. Making time for yourself is important but difficult to accomplish, but you have to. My hope is that my list might be of assistance to some in getting through some lapses in discipline.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Martial Arts: Public Service Announcement

I was talking to my wife last night and she was telling me some things about her Tae Kwon Do school that have been troubling her. To be truthful they would trouble me as well. It seems that they are pushing her toward her next belt test. This in itself is not such a big deal. One of the things a good instructor will do is push you to achieve. Sometimes this pace will exceed your comfort level and that is just part of the experience. We have to reach faster and further than we might not otherwise think we are capable of. That said, this was not the case in the case of this Tae Kwon Do school. It seems that this school has used this belt test to attempt to sell my wife on a series of private lessons to get ready for the test.

I am a fan of the private lesson, I think you can learn a good deal from one on one time. That said, I think this should be something that is up to the student to decide if they need or not. I think this is especially true when there is a big charge for it. The hard sell is on at my wife's school in a big way, I find the test fees to be quite inflated and they want to nickel and dime their students for all sorts of little things throughout the year. The yearly training fee is small but they operate their business in such an aggressive format to make more money on top of the training fees that it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.

With this example on my mind, I thought it might be a decent time to give you some general information on the financial side of martial arts schools and what makes a good and bad school.

1. Contracts: It seems that most schools operate on some sort of contract and this is not all bad. From the school's point of view this is done for financial security. If they have a guarantee of x number of students then the school can be more financially secure to deliver lessons to their students. It can actually be a positive and at a professional school I wouldn't balk at it. That said there can be an ugly side to contracts. I would say never sign a contract that is more than a year long.

Life changes and signing multiple year contracts is generally not in your favor. Most schools won't ask you to as there is a body of law out there that suggests that they are not truly free to sell you lessons beyond your ability to take them. Anyone who is interested can e-mail me and I can give them more information on this, of course this is general and differs from state to state. I would shy away from things like "black belt clubs" or "black belt programs". These are usually designed to get alot of money out of the student at once. I would not enter into this type of thing at any school until I had been at a school for more than a year. The danger that exists in this is two fold.

First, a school might take your money and then forget about you. The quality of your training might actually diminish after you enter into such a program. I would say please take a year to learn the ins and outs of the school and the instructor before entering into such a program. Second, there is a conflict of interest that occurs with these types of programs. The deal is you don't have to pay again until you receive your black belt. Wow! what a great deal, all my training is taken care of until then. This puts the integrity of the instructor into play. Will you be pushed to reach a goal before you are ready. In disreputable schools you might just be pushed to black belt in a year or two without actually having the knowledge and competence necessary for the rank. Additionally, the financial motivation of the instructor makes it so that the instructor is has a vested interest in your success and as such can't be an impartial evaluator. There is always an argument that when you pay for lessons at all this is the case. I feel it becomes more exaggerated with these types of programs where there is a pay once situation and there are no future payments until an arbitrary line is passed by the student that should be based on merit.

In short, I would watch the contract length and would not sign a contract based on arbitrary demarcation lines, like black belt. I also would not sign any extended contracts beyond one year before I was completely comfortable with the school and the instructor.

2. Fees

Miscellaneous fees sometimes get added onto students that are sometimes just a fee for the sake of charging a fee. I have always found this infuriating. If you want more money for lessons just raise the tuition and be honest about it. My wife's school falls into this type of school which wants to sell you dvds, patches, books, manuals and so forth that might be helpful but not necessary to your training. They pitch this stuff ad nauseum until the student capitulates. This is generally not expensive but it all adds to the cost of training, $20 here and $30 there it all adds up. Then test fees get added on top of it along with mandatory tournament participation and seminars. It becomes mind boggling.

This is really a second reason for not signing a long term contract at the beginning of your training. If the atmosphere in a school is a hard sell you won't know that right away. You will need to time to determine if this is the case or not. It is not a problem for a school to promote itself through tournaments and seminars but they really should not be mandatory. Your training should be complete without them and they are not they you are not getting what you are paying for with your tuition. I will cast my school in a juxtaposition from my wife's. I have never heard my Sensei require anyone to buy anything beyond a uniform and a cup. He will announce seminars but there is no hard sell in anyway shape or form. Finally, the tests are no charge, free that is. I like this. I feel that this allows the instructor to be fair with you on a test and if you are not up to speed then you deserve to fail.

So this is my public service announcement. Please examine the financial side of your martial arts training to the same degree you would the type of training itself. The instructor might me a great teacher but if the professionalism of the school is suspect you might lose out.

The short list:
  • Watch the contracts for length
  • Be careful about signing a contract for more than one year
  • Know your instructor before signing any long term deal
  • Be mindful of schools that engage in the hard sell
  • Watch for the nickel and dime fees
  • Enjoy your training, that is the point after all

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weights and Running

When I was a bit younger I had lifted weights a decent amount. I did this primarily to make my martial arts better. Adding speed and power are decent motivators for picking up weights. Over the last few weeks I have been back to lifting weights again, this time to help my running. I have found over the past few weeks that the torso core and leg exercises have done wonders for my running. Mostly my legs feel lighter and my back has greater stamina. The chest and arm exercises I do are probably nice to do as well but for running I think the benefits are being paid on the back and leg exercises.

As with most professionals, I have a lot of things to occupy my day and it can be difficult to get everything in. Weight training has been a casualty of my schedule. I have made a concerted effort to add it back in, it has only been a couple of days a week but it has been enough for me to see the difference.

Here is what I do:

Leg Extensions: This is just a simple machine exercise that is familiar to everyone. I do one warm up set at a lower weight at 25 reps and then follow with 3 heavier sets of 8 to 15 reps. I like the higher reps for endurance purposes.
Calf Raises: I don't do weight on this I just find a stair and knock out two sets of 50 to 75 reps.
Hamstring Extensions: Also a simple machine exercise I follow the same 4 set routine with 25 reps at a light weight and then three sets of 8 to 12 at a heavier weight. Often times I will make the last set a negative set. This is where I resist the weight more coming down as opposed to focusing on the push. I do this at a higher weight.
Lunges: I also do this with out weight and do two sets of 25 lunges each.

Lat Pull downs: These are great for the back and I do this on a machine. This is 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Shoulder Shrugs: I use dumbbells for this and find this really hits the traps in the upper back. I do a bit heavier on this one and focus on doing three to four sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Back Extensions: This is a simple roman chair exercise that is nice for back development. I do two to three sets of 15 reps right now. This is a hard one. I am getting better but it takes work to get better.
Dead Lifts: The old standby overall back exercise. I try for reps on this one as well 4 sets of 15 repetitions each.

This is just a snapshot of what I do. I am sure there are lots of ways to get to the same place. I know I have used different techniques myself over the years. I do work other parts of the body, but for running these are the exercises that seem to be making the difference.

Happy running.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Fine Finish

I had been fighting a flu most of last week. I know I didn't help myself any when I stayed up late to watch the election on Tuesday or any of the preceding three days looking at polls and opinion on the race. I am a political junkie, it is part of my make up. So I was sick and it seemed to linger. Then as I posted on Friday I finally went for a run, a short one but a run.

Saturday was a better day. I went out and slogged out 4 miles although I could still feel the over all fatigue that goes with getting over being sick. Sunday was the crown jewel of the week: 11 miles. I knew that I wasn't 100% so I had to account for this otherwise I knew that my chances of finishing were not strong. So I decided to do a test run of my half marathon strategy. I have a tendency to start out too fast and get tired and then slow as a result. My plan is to closely monitor my start and keep a short leash on my speed for the first two miles and then let out the slack for the middle miles. I used this plan on Sunday. I kept myself and check and intending to go slow I did first couple of miles at about 11:25. I wanted to be around 11:30, slow and steady is the order of the day. I kept about the same pace for the first 9 miles each mile was between 11:15 and 11:35. I felt fine with no indication of break down, which I thought was a danger due to the recent illness. With two miles to go I kicked it up a bit and finished with 10:15 and 10:00 for the last two miles. I think this worked out well. Controlling energy is a weakness of mine and I have to be more disciplined in my run strategy. That is my plan for two weeks from now.

I have thought about the race and think that 2 miles at a slower pace, then kick this up for the next 8 miles at my race pace. This will leave the last 3 and I plan to consider how I am feeling here. If I feel good I will try to kick it up another notch and if not I want to soldier on at my normal pace. I will use the ten mile mark as a check point of sorts.

Hope everyone else had a good weekend.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Post Sick Run

I have been sick. It seems that the laying of plans usually involves some sort of curse on my soul. I had no sooner said that I planned to run another ten miles this weekend with two or three smaller runs for the week than I go sick. So after a few days of hacking and fever monitoring I feel better. I don't feel great, I don't even feel good. I feel better.

So in keeping with my feeling better I went out for a short run. This was a 2.5 mile run. I set out to do 2.5 miles, which is absurdly short but given my post sick "feeling better" it was all I could reasonably commit to. It started out like a train leaving the station. That is there was lots of grinding and noise but not a lot of fast movement. To be truthful fast movement is still something of a mystery to me. That said, I did in fact get my body moving in what can loosely be called running and did in fact keep running for 2.5 miles. It wasn't pretty but I ended with a 10:30 pace at the end. I did feel run down a bit so I am not completely well. But I felt better at the end than the beginning and that is nice.

I have been reading these days about heart failure and running. With Ryan Shays dying at the Olympic trials last year and a few other deaths I was curious. So with Runners World latest issue exploring the issue, I was psyched. It seems that exercise is the key to prevention. The deaths on the courses are usually the result of other issues (clogged arteries or genetic defects) so that is good to know. But it does seem that I should aim to exercise 5 days a week. I think I knew that but I haven't been keeping up with it. I will make a more dedicated effort to get my work in. It is only an hour a day, I think I can do that. What is more important than your health. I would pick up and read the latest Runners World if only for the above mentioned analysis, its worth the cover price.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Stuff

I usually shy away from posting anything political. I have said a word or two here and there so anyone who reads knows that I was supporting Barack Obama. Personally I can described as being somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I have usually tended to be conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues. With the far right social movement of the Republican Party I have ended up voting the Democrats over the past 12 years.

I was moved the other night during Barack Obama's post result speech. This was not the first time that I have felt this way during his speeches. The first time that this happened was during his DNC speech in 2004. I have been a fan of his ever since. I am happy to see him elected and hope that his actions can come close to living up to his rhetoric. It is nice to feel proud of our president and glad that he acknowledges that he is the President for the entire nation and not just those that voted for him. There are no words of left mandate like G.W. Bush spouted when he was reelected in '04. I only hope that he will govern more from the center than the left.

National pride is a funny thing and it can move you. The speech on Tuesday night made me remember a different time. I had just come back from a year in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. I was a Reconnaissance Sergeant and had spent extra time in Saudi Arabia loading ships after my unit went back to Texas. When I arrived back in Texas many months later with a handful of other stragglers I was tired. Tired to the bone. I had a total of 3 or 4 days off in a year and had just added a 20 hour flight to the overall fatigue I felt.

I was riding the bus from the airport to the base and along the side of rode were hundreds of people waving flags and cheering. I can't remember being more moved. I didn't know these people from Adam but they turned out to show their support for a handful of soldiers returning from the Middle East. I was deeply moved and that moment remains a pivotal point in my life. The speech by Barack Obama on Tuesday had the same effect on me. I am hopeful for the next 4 years.

I promise to return to running and other fitness related issues, now. Have a great day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

10 Miles, check

I had planned to run ten miles this last weekend. I was not that hopeful as most of plans these days seem to fly out the window. I feel like I have been making more excuses than accomplishments as of late. So, I am happy to say that I did manage to get my 10 miles in on Sunday and the pace was decent as well.

I woke up thinking it was an hour later and was worried about getting my run in. (I did not remember about setting the clock back until about 2:00 pm on Sunday). So I hurried and got out the door at 8:30 (actually 7:30 - I was a bit of tool on this one). I had the route sketched in my head of what would be about 10 miles and I was pretty much dead on. I was happy to keep a 10:40 pace through the entire run. I thought that was nice.

I am scheduled to do the half marathon at the Philadelphia Marathon in late November and I want to get a PR. That would make up for a rather disappointing Summer and Fall. It seems I am right on track for breaking my half marathon pace. This is not that daunting a pace (11:19) to beat. Keep your goals modest I always say.

This weekend I hope to do the same 10 to 11 miles for my long run with two or three shorter runs during the week. Well that is the plan.