Couples that exercise together…

Training, Exercising, Couples

…stay together.

We’ve all heard the rumours about marriages being destroyed by Ironman(TM) training. I’m sure there is some truth to them, considering the kind of commitment such pursuits demand, even though my personal experience cannot be blamed on that.

What I have witnessed first hand, however, is how difficult relationships can be when one partner exercises a lot and the other one doesn’t at all. That has certainly lead to divorce. Let’s face it, such differences in lifestyle and outlook on health are hard to reconcile, although not impossible.

What is less obvious is that even if two life partners do exercise regularly, even intensely, training together as a couple can still put a lot of strain on the relationship.

Yet there are few greater joys in life than being able to train as a couple. I am convinced it makes for a stronger relationship. So let me provide a few tips, based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence, on how to overcome the main pitfalls of exercising with your significant other.

Pitfall 1: One of the two is a lot faster than the other.

This is typically the case with running and cycling, and never applies to yoga (about which there is still a pitfall). Let’s face it, very few couples are evenly matched when it comes to speed.

But you can always do your long training sessions together, at the slower person’s speed. Yes, this is good for the faster person, too. Actually, the faster person might develop more endurance than previously enjoyed. Try it.

You can’t do tempo work as a speed-mismatched couple, but intervals are great opportunities. I’m a big fan of running slow together, then going fast for a while and coming back together during recovery. For additional kicks, go slow together, then fast for a time at the slower person’s fast speed, and then separately for a time at the faster person’s fast speed while the slower just jogs along. Then join again for recovery at a slow speed. Call it “interval ladders”; it’s very intense, especially if you do long intervals.

The pool is also a good place to train together, but careful of the slippery slope to yoga-like situations…

Pitfall 2: One of the two does a lot more exercise/training than the other.

This is where understanding is key. Understanding on the part of the person training less: a large amount of exercise often fulfills a need for personal achievement that has nothing to do with the couple. But also understanding on the part of the person training more: you still need to pull your weight around the house, buddy, even if you are tired. And you need to take your partner out on a date once in a while, even if it is beyond your bed time!

As I said, the key is understanding.

Pitfall 3: Both want to do an Ironman.

Exercise, Couples

Find things you can do together.

This one is more about sharing. Imagine you are both keeners, and intense on the training. You already have a great advantage in that you are sharing a commitment to a sport and philosophy of life. Perhaps you can both do the same event; I’ve seen folks get engaged at the finish lines of some races. Good for you!

But perhaps you need a different kind of sharing. For instance, while you can talk about the feelings of the preparation and racing, it is important that you let each other feel things differently as well, to each have a personal experience. Furthermore, the needs of each athlete, especially for such long events, are different, so one size does not fit all, and you each need some alone training.

So, by all means, do train together for long runs and long bike rides (see Pitfall 1), but also train on your own, because you need it. I strongly recommend the “alternate years” approach whereby each of you takes turn doing an Ironman. This also helps with Pitfall 2, and becomes mandatory with Pitfall 4.

Pitfall 4: Children

This is all about sharing. Sharing the load, sharing the responsibility, sharing the lack of sleep when the kids are young. But it is also about sharing your passion for exercise with the kids.

Nowadays, there are so many good strollers and buggies you can take the kids in while out on a run or bike ride. Careful with swimming though. But the point is: get equipped, and share!

However, you’ll likely need to tone it down; go for shorter outings, not go as fast, etc. And perhaps get a less competitive bike on which you can install the additional gear. But it is all worth it. And you could probably use a bit of a break from being an endurance nut.

The best advice here is: enjoy it! They grow up so fast. And then, use the “alternate year” approach and even the “alternate days” to give each other a break from chores by going out on your own for a more intense session. Or just a nap.

Pitfall 5: Bitching

It is bound to happen at some point: when the going gets tough, the toughs get going, but sometimes there is bitching involved as well.

This is where communication is key. The bitching part of the couple must remember to say that the bitching is not directed at the significant other, and the significant other must not respond too much; simply nod and otherwise show compassion. It helps to sprinkle some “I love you” in there as well. For instance, while running or cycling (not applicable to swimming, somehow):
“I really hate this f$&@ing rain. Are we there yet? And I love you!”

To which the other replies, carefully:
“I know how you feel, and I love you too.” (After a pause, smiling gently.) “It is all the fault of the meteorologists, but it could happen during the race we are training for. And I love you!”

In case you have not caught on yet, always use “and” before “I love you.” Trust me. And deflecting responsibility does not hurt, either.

This, by the way, is also valid advice for traffic jams and standing in a crowd for last-minute X-mas shopping. Always find a way to blame meteorologists; they are used to it.

Pitfall 6: Yoga

This is probably the most dangerous pitfall of them all. The way it typically goes is: one person is into yoga, the other is into endurance sports. And then you try to meet somewhere in the middle.

While yoga is good for you as an endurance nut, and yoga nuts could use more cardio in their lives, there is a big problem that is bound to lead to arguments: the outfits. In particular, people striking all sorts of interesting poses and sweating in skimpy outfits. One of the two is bound to stare a little too much, and/or make a comment, and then the next thing you know you are having an argument.

It is not worth it. Just stay away. Let the person doing yoga have yoga, and the endurance nut have endurance.

Pitfall 7: Snooze and Snuggle

This is the most tricky, in my experience. You are so comfortable in bed that getting up and training becomes difficult. So you snooze and snuggle together. And don’t train as much as you are supposed to.

Keep in mind that recovery is important when you train hard. But you still need to get up and train. Thus the conflict.

I have no solution for this one, so if you do, I’d like to hear from you…

 

Recovery, Exercise, Training, Couples

Down time is also needed.

Pictures from Pixabay.

The correct way to run

Running, Technique, Shoes

Shoes matter, but so does technique…

*** Modified post. I’ve been able to get a hold of the original paper about transitioning to Vibram FiveFingers. So read on, or read again, for some slight changes to the text. ***

There’s been noise lately about a settlement that Vibram, the maker of the famous (or infamous, according to some) FiveFingers “shoes”, has agreed to pay to their customers.

The issue is over false claims, or so the class action lawsuit alleged, that FiveFingers prevent injuries and make muscles and tendons stronger.

A quick search on the subject will surely reveal quite a bit, but I’ve sprinkled a few links in this post, to provide more details. First, the oldest reference to the lawsuit I could find, from July 2012.

Blog item from ABC

The most recent article, in a Canadian magazine, appears to provide the conclusion of the process. Note that Vibram has agreed to pay; I’m no lawyer (I’m a scientist), so I would be willing to bet that the issue revolves around what would constitute a solid enough proof of the statements made by Vibram. I’m pretty sure no scientist would be willing to proclaim the statements are proven beyond a doubt. That’s just the way science works…

Blog in Canadian Running

But what fascinates me about this is the tone of some of the articles. Some “reporters” and bloggers clearly showed their stripes and did not hesitate to bash Vibram, minimalist shoes, and the whole barefoot running movement. It felt like a deep, quasi-religious, fighting line has been drawn. I won’t bother you with those articles; the ones in reputable running magazines were far more neutral, and carefully written, as they should be.

Some, however, did something very clumsy, unlike the main magazines: They linked the lawsuit to a piece of research pertaining to indicate that wearing FiveFingers leads a high percentage of runners to foot bone injuries. You can read the news about the report there:

Report on study in Runner’s World

Note that the study, and the lawsuit, are in no way related. But it sure is convenient as a coincidence. Especially for the makers of conventional running shoes.

Before going any further, allow me to state a few key points, just to be clear:

  1. In my experience as runner and coach, it is possible to run correctly in almost any pair of shoes, be they “conventional running shoes” or “minimalist”.
  2. I do not believe there is a conspiracy by running shoe manufacturers to cause harm to runners by making shoes that they know will cause injury. Even though by some accounts 70% of runners using “conventional running shoes” will get hurt at some point.
  3. What I do believe is this: there is a natural tendency to want to protect your business and market share. That’s called having a vested interest in a certain situation. There is no need for any kind of conspiracy when the incentives are aligned. Companies will do what is in their best interest.
  4. There is a correct way of running, and it is easily demonstrated. No matter what anyone in the running shoe industry says about each of us being different. They only try to muddle the issues, and it is very sad.
  5. What has probably happened with the minimalist and barefoot movement is not an indication that the safety and benefits of those shoes have been overstated, but rather that the weakening of our bones, muscles, and tendons over the years of walking, and especially running, in shoes designed to “protect us”, has been grossly under-estimated.

Now, perhaps the lawsuit was brought about by someone “strongly encouraged” to do so by the big shoe manufacturers. And maybe the study referred to in Runner’s World was also similarly sponsored. (There are some issues about that research, so please see at the end of this post for my notes. But the main problem I’ve encountered is that the second-hand source all seem bent on using it to point nasty fingers towards Vibram and minimalist and barefoot running, whereas the research paper was pretty much simply stating that transitioning must be done slowly, and carefully.)

But, ultimately who cares? The lawsuit was settled, so let’s move on. Preferably, by continuing to run.

Full disclosure: I currently own 3 pairs of FiveFingers, and a fourth one I used to own recently “died” after a long and satisfying life. Like some of the commentators on the blog posts and articles I’ve read, if I get a refund from Vibram, I will use the money to get an extra pair of FiveFingers, and I’ll keep using them for running. I even got married in a pair of FiveFingers. I hesitate to call them shoes as to me they are more like gloves for feet. I also own Ecco’s Biom Project shoes, and Asics runners (2 pairs), which I still use at times, when running marathons and ultras, and when racing triathlons. So there.

Now allow me to finish with the main point, before I forget: The correct way to run.

It is my contention that there is such a correct way, as already stated, and that it can be done in any pair of shoes. How do I know?

Not from understanding physics (which I do) and its application to bio-mechanics, or coaching a lot of runners (which I have), or transitioning myself late in life from a heel striker to a forefoot runner (which I have, over a period of 2 years). The answer is actually much easier to understand.

Consider the animals that we are. Remove us from this modern society we’ve built, and in which, by and large, we are no longer fit in an evolutionary sense. Let’s travel to the Land Before Shoes. How did we run then? Not on our heels, that’s for sure!

Test it for yourself. Take your shoes off, and try to run, even if for just a few steps.

You’ll immediately, instinctively, switch to a forefoot striking gait, and that striking will be absorbed in large part by the arches and ankles of your feet, and the tendons and muscles of your legs. Because that’s what they have evolved to do! (Normally, I urge people to do this test on soft grass, but it is possible to heel strike on very soft ground, so be cautious, and do it on a hard but clean surface, for full effect.)

Watch young children run barefoot. You’ll immediately notice that when not taught otherwise, we all run with a forefoot striking gait.

That is the correct way to run.

It’s just that over years of under-use, over-protection, we have not developed the needed sturdiness to run that way as adults.

It takes time, much more than a few weeks, to compensate. And it can be painful. And you risk injury if you try to do too much, too soon. So it should probably only be attempted with the help of a good coach.

Yet the conclusion is inescapable: There is a correct way of running.

It just may not be the way everyone can run in this day and age. For having run too long in conventional shoes, or lacking the patience to rebuild their bodies…

Running, Shoes, Technique, Coaching

In case of doubt, wear shoes, and make a run for it!

Photos by Sacha Veillette.

Notes on the original research paper by Sarah T. Ridge et al.

For those interested, and because I am a scientist first and foremost…

In terms of methodology, the design of the research was sound, as far as it went. However, I have concerns over the following items, some of which may invalidate the conclusions:

  1. While selection of FiveFingers users was random (among each group of men and women, so that’s good), all runners were experienced runners. Which means they were all used to running in conventional shoes, and had not been injured (or said so) in recent past. So far, so good. Except for a bit of psychology of running: Although the runners were given instructions on how to transition, most runners who are used to running a certain distance per week have a tendency to think they know what they are doing. In a word: they feel they can do it, no matter what. The odds of the FiveFingers group actually having followed the transition plan are slim, in my estimation. And my estimation is supported by the reported fact that FiveFingers users peaked their training volume in week 4 of the study, way too early! Simply put: they probably tried to run more with the FiveFingers than they should have, got hurt, then scaled it back down, but it was too late.
  2. Regarding the MRI results, which I’m told were taken with a somewhat low quality machine, the convention of what constitutes remodeling of the bones and injury is arbitrary. And perhaps a bit conservative. Being slightly less conservative, by only one level on the scale used, might change the conclusion. Interesting fact also reported in the article: the results are comparable to having sedentary people start running and doing it for 7 days straight. No one should go from 0 to seven straight days of running, but you would expect major work to begin in the bodies of those who do, and yes, some injuries to result from the abrupt change. Duh!
  3. There were initially 43 participants recruited for the study. They were divided roughly equally between the FiveFingers, and the control. Which means there should have been 21 and 22 participants in each group. 19 completed the study in the FiveFingers group, so a drop of 2 or 3, whereas 17 completed in the control (a drop of 5 or 4, depending on the exact split between the groups). The numbers and specific reasons for the drops were not disclosed on a per-group basis, but we know 3 participants did not show up at the end for the MRI, 2 got injured for “unrelated reasons” during the training, 2 never returned calls (so probably did not even train, or perhaps trained and got hurt right away). Hiding what exactly happened to those participants is one way to bias results. What if there were 5 drops from the control group, and it was all because they got injured, and not at all for “unrelated reasons”? For instance, for reasons related to the conventional shoes, but not in the feet, like knees and hip problems? The picture would look very different, and actually quite comparable between the two groups.
  4. Leaving aside the possibility of manipulation of the results, which I’m pretty sure the authors were not trying to do, it is worth noting what their own conclusion really said: Far from an indictment of running in FiveFingers, they indicated that transition should be done very slowly, and more slowly than prescribed at the time by the folks at Vibram. (Those guidelines, we are told in the paper, had been changed between the start of the work and the publication of the paper, by the way.) I would go even further: taking a bunch of experienced runners, who in my experience are notoriously bad at following coaches’ advice, is a recipe for disaster. When you transition to minimalist shoes, you should take a lot of time, and ideally start as if you were starting to run from scratch. Very few experienced runners are willing to hold themselves back to that extent, and that is why we get hurt. Yes, I count myself in that lot, even though it took me a long time, my adaptation is not complete yet, and I had some major pains bordering on injury.
  5. The only way to get a definitive answer on this question would be to take two groups of newbie runners through a strictly controlled regimen of training. One group in each type of shoes. That would take time, but it would be better science. Of course, if you change the way you run, you will have major adaptation and risk of injury. But let’s see who, of the two groups, would actually get hurt less, and what their feet, legs, knees, and hips would look like at the end of the program. That would be interesting. Anyone has some funding available?

Would you rise to the challenge?

Endurance, Fitness, Triathlon, Ironman

The author and his significant other, with Tom Knoll. The 81-year old is the guy in the middle, just to be clear.

A week ago I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of one of the original Iron Men.

Yes, I really mean one of the few who participated in the very first, the “inaugural” Iron Man Triathlon. In 1978. Before it was called Ironman; before it was a commercial brand. Well before you had to register a year in advance to participate.

Tom Knoll was at an even called Tri Mania being held at MIT in Cambridge (MA). It is a kind of traveling fitness expo dedicated to triathlon, visiting many cities over many weekends.

He was there to promote a triathlon race taking place in Atlantic City, and to sell his book, a kind of memoir of that very first Ironman distance triathlon.

There would be a lot to say about how that particular first event came to be, and I don’t want to undercut the sales of his book, but one thing struck me in particular, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

(By the way, the book is a quick read, and only $15, so if you get a chance, buy it. It is what books ought to be: a personal account of events, with a clear perspective and personality, not a manufactured product with an embellished story designed to captivate. Reality is captivating enough…)

Anyway, back to my point.

Tom Knoll was already a runner, and a career military man, when the event took place. A guy floated the idea of putting the event together, and started registering people. The date of the event was chosen in order for it to happen before two of the would-be participants had to ship out of Hawaii (more military folks, as you might guess).

So participants had a couple of months to train.

Yes, you read that right. A COUPLE of MONTHS. Not years, not many months. Two. (2).

And yet they rose to the challenge.

Not to win, not to compete against each other; just to see if it could be done.

Granted, these guys were fairly fit. They knew each other, for the most part, from running events in Hawaii. Some were swimmers with long distance credentials. Some had bikes already (some didn’t, or had not been riding much, or at all, since childhood).

Bottom line: The thought of attempting such a thing (which, just to be clear, had never been done at such distances, but already existed as a sport) was considered a little crazy, but a fun challenge. All they wanted to do was finish.

12 of them finished. Out of 15 who started.

Tom Knoll, although dead last out of the water (apparently, being in the Navy is no guarantee of strong swimming skills), came in 6th overall. He is “Ironman #6”. Only 5 before him ever completed an Ironman distance triathlon.

Here’s the kicker:

He was 46 at the time. The oldest of the bunch. Yet he rose to the challenge.

Not to win, not for recognition, not to go as fast as he could. But because it was a fun challenge.

Nowadays, we are too keen on competing, on going fast, on “being as good as we can be”, and we forget that we should be doing races because they are good for us. We should challenge ourselves not to be fast, but to go beyond our limits. (In a reasonable way, of course, so don’t go jumping into an Ironman race this summer because you read this. But do consider signing up for some race…)

Tom Knoll never participated again, but he continued to run. He has crossed the United States in both directions running. He has raised over a million dollars for charity with his running. He has remained active and fit throughout his life.

He is now 81, and still going strong.

What’s keeping you from rising to the challenge?

Thinking you are too old to begin? Too busy? Not fast enough to compete? Etc.?

Reconsider, please. And just do it because it is fun, and the right thing to do…

 

Photo credit: Some guy promoting the Atlantic City Challenge, using the author’s significant other’s iPhone.

Aim to be an Everyday Athlete

The timing for this blog could hardly be better, what with the Olympic Games in full swing…

For a while now, I had been meaning to write about a principle I firmly believe in:

We should all aim to be athletes.

But a particular kind of athlete: an Everyday Athlete!

This idea is an important part of why I created No-brainer Fitness, and why I started blogging about fitness. Simply put: every single one of us has the potential to be very active everyday. This is biological fact, due to our animal nature. We’ve just forgotten it.

To be sure, most of us cannot hope to achieve the levels of performance of the men and women currently competing in Sochi. Or of top Ironman finishers and elite marathoners. Or to become as muscular as Arnie in his prime.

Yet despite radically different amounts of training and undeniable differences in base talent and potential between, say, an Olympian and the next person you meet on the street, in fact we all have tremendous potential for physical activity. The differences are big enough to justify having only a small minority of “athletes” and a large population of “spectators”.

If all of us were more active, we would surely uncover a lot more exceptional athletes, and thus have even more exciting sporting events. But that’s not the intention. Instead, we should all be more active in general, seek more opportunities to move (walk, run, bike, swim, push stuff, pull stuff, lift stuff, throw stuff, you get the idea, just be careful where or at whom you throw stuff…); basically, spend less time watching, and more time doing.

I have seen enough couch potatoes become runners and triathletes already in my short career as a running and triathlon coach to confirm this to be the truth. I already felt it in my bones; I am now completely, positively, absolutely certain of it.

As evidence, I offer the immense popularity of running races, cycling events, and triathlons. Participation in marathons has never been more popular, and it has become a sport in its own right to register for most Ironman races because of the demand (many races sell out in an hour, a year before the actual race is scheduled to take place).

Some of the runners at the 2013 ING New York Marathon

Some of the runners at the 2013 ING New York Marathon

Don’t for a moment imagine that all those runners and triathletes are elite competitors. The vast majority of those participants are NOT trying to win. They are doing it for themselves. More and more people are realizing that “competing” in such events is really more about improving their own fitness level, being more healthy, and going beyond their perceived limits. (Also, you get cool t-shirts and finishers’ medals, but I digress.)

Yet their achievements are showing the way forward, and are worthy of praise. At those races, typically, there are no prouder finishers than those who finish last, because they have typically come a really long way to get there.

I am not saying everyone should run marathons. By all means, run if you like to run! More importantly, and to the point: do what activities you enjoy, frequently.  In general, use your body as much as possible every day. Because that’s what your body needs, and deserves.

An Everyday Athlete is a person who thinks of his or her body as the body of an athlete, and gives it what an athlete’s body needs: a lot of physical activity, good food, good rest, repeated every day…

So aim higher, faster, longer, because ’tis the season for it, and instead of watching the games, aim to be an Everyday Athlete.

Photo by Sacha Veillette (taken at the 2013 ING New York Marathon)