Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Triathlon Man Update

Earlier this month, I featured a posting about Nathan Hangen, a soldier from NC currently stationed in Afghanistan who is managing to fit in his training for a triathlon while overseas. The tri he's preparing for is the Revolution3 Triathlon , taking place this June. Nathan earned a charity slot for the race and is looking to raise $1000 for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. The V Foundaton was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina Sate basketball coach and ESPN commentator. Since 1993, The Foundation has raised more than $80 million to fund cancer research grants nationwide. Nathan and his family have been touched by cancer several times. His grandfather died from cancer, his step-mother just beat cancer, and his younger brother beat a stage-3 diagnosis a few years back. If you're interested in helping Nathan reach his fundraising goal, please go to his V-Foundation Fundraising Page. I'm sure he'll appreciate any contribution.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Which Shoe's Right for You?

Who'd a thunk that something that goes on your feet could be so technical and have become such a huge industry—about $4 billion a year in America. Buying new running shoes can be fun, exciting, frustrating, and expensive—especially for newcomers. Once you start looking for a pair, you quickly get bombarded with terms like, overpronator, supinator, motion-control, neutral, semi-curved last, curved last, midsole, yada, yada, yada. So how do you know which shoe is right for you?

First, let's take a look at the anatomy of a running shoe. We've come a long way since the high-top Chuck Taylors I wore in elementary school. Runner's World breaks the shoe down into the following 12 parts:
1. Colar: the inside back portion of the shoe that provides comfort around the ankle
2. Dual-Density Midsole: a mechanism, most often a firmer wedge of foam, on the inner side of the shoe, used to correct excessive pronation
3. Eyelets: the holes that the shoelaces run through
4. Heel Counter: an internal support feature in the rear of the shoe that conforms to the shape of your heel
5. Heel Tab: the part of the shoe that surrounds the Achilles tendon and helps lock the shoe around the heel
6. Midsole: the material (usually EVA or polyurethane foam) that sits below the upper and above the outsole, providing protection from the impact forces and oftentimes encasing nonfoam technologies, such as GEL or air, to increase durability and protection
7. Outsole: the durable part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground, providing traction
8. Overlays: reinforcing strips at key stress points that help give the shoe structure
9. Quarter Panel: the material that makes up the sides of the shoe
10. Sock Liner: a removable insert that sits just below the foot and helps the shoe better fit the foot
11. Tongue: soft elongated flap that fits overtop of the foot to protect the tendons and blood vessels from pressure caused by the laces
12. Upper: the part of the shoe that encases the foot

Okay, so now we know the parts of a running shoe, but it really doesn't help in buying the right shoe for you. In order to do that you need to know a little about your foot type. There's a really simple test you can do to determine this. All you need is a brown paper grocery bag, a cotton ball, and some cooking oil. No really. Lay the bag flat on the floor. Using a cotton ball, spread a thin layer of cooking oil on the bottom of both feet (bare). Next, carefully step onto the bag to make a set of footprints. Now examine your prints and compare them to the illustration. If you have a solid print, you're what is known as an overpronator. If you have a slight curve to the center of your prints, you're referred to as neutral. And, if you have a large curve to the center of your print, almost separating it into a top and bottom half, you're an underpronator (or a supinator). Basically, underpronators have high arches, neutral runners have normal arches, and overpronators have flat feet (see chart).

Okay, so now you know about the parts of a running shoe and what type of foot you have but this still doesn't help you pick out a shoe. These general rules-of-thumb may help. Overpronators should typically choose a shoe with a straight shape that provides some type of motion control. Underpronators should choose a shoe with a curved shape and that provides some cushioning; and runners with neutral feel should choose a shoe with a semi-curved shape that is neutral and/or provides some stability.

Now having said all of that, not everyone fits perfectly into a category. For example, I have a neutral gate, but because I have hardly any natural cushioning in my heels, I have to find neutral shoes (I don't need the stability) that have some cushioning. These are hard to find, so I usually replace the original insole with a cushioned insole. Voila! A neutral shoe with cushioning. Many local running stores as well as sports medicine doctors can examine your gate and help you determine the best running shoe for you.

Once you've determined your specific needs and you're ready to try on some shoes, be sure you do it in the afternoon, after you've been on your feet all day. You'd be surprised how much difference there is in your feet from the beginning of the day to the end. If you buy shoes in the morning you may be surprised that they feel too tight when you go for your afternoon run the next day. Also, make sure your shoes fit snugly in the heel and give you enough room in the toe box. Buying a shoe is often a lot of trial and error, but hopefully this information will help you get the shoe just right for you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Who Said Running Was Dull?

The world of running had some interesting events in 2008. Oddly enough it seems that women running in stilettos is all the rage in Europe. Women flock to these events to wear their highest heels and run. I'm thinking it's the big shopping spree for the winner that's the big draw, not for the health benefits. Makes my feet hurt just thinking about it. Not that I would know what it's like to wear heels or anything.

Then there's runners like the actor Steve Guttenberg who like to run, well, um, just take a look.

And what about the work of English artist, Martin Creed? His recent work of art consisted of a runner running at break-neck-speed down the center of the Duveen gallery. This was followed by another runner and another and another. This continued every hour the museum was open for 4 1/2 months! Bet that museum had a gym-like smell after 4 1/2 months!

Then there was the runner who was attacked and bitten by a rabid fox. This brave and amazing woman continued to run a mile uphill with the fox still clamped to her arm. She managed to get the fox in her trunk and drive herself and the fox to the hospital!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good to the Last Drop!

A buddy of mine swears the cup-a-Joe he downs before running helps his performance. I too am a coffee aficionado and you probably wouldn't want to be around me before I've had my morning cup. So I did a little digging into coffee and running. Turns out my buddy, Gary, is a pretty smart dude.

I came across a Running Times article that shares a couple different theories on the subject. Some experts believe that caffeine improves endurance by increasing the enzyme activity for fat metabolism. By using more fat, a long-distance runner's glycogen stores last longer allowing him/her to run farther. But caffeine also seems to help runners of shorter distances. So what's the deal? Other experts credit the enhanced performance on caffeine's stimulation of the central nervous system, which increases alertness and concentration. Some cool studies have shown that stimulation of the central nervous system can effect the perception of effort, so drinking that cup of coffee may make a given pace seem easier than a on day you didn't have your java infusion.
But coffee is a diuretic, right? So should we be concerned about dehydration? Caffeine can cause dehydration, but guess what? Research shows that caffeine is less of a diuretic in people who drink caffeinated beverages on a regular basis. Wee Doggie!!

The experts do warn, however that you should only consider using caffeine if you're already in good shape, eat a good diet, and don't have any medical problems such as high blood pressure.

My digging also opened my eyes to the world of coffee-house running groups. My running group, the BlueLiners, tops-off its weekly long run by meeting for bagels and coffee and evidently other groups all over the country do too. The Joe Coffee Running Team , the Washington Running Club, the Mebane Running Club, and the Tucson Grinders, are just a few of the many groups across the country that begin or end their group runs at a coffee house.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Encounters With Nature

My "Safety on the Run" posting conjured up some funny running memories. However, they really weren't all that funny at the time. No amount of safety gear can prepare you (or spare you) from certain encounters, say for example, a goose attack.

A few years back, I got the great idea to run after work from my office building down to the local college and back. It's about a 5-mile run. It was winter at the time, and darkness came pretty early. I thought running right after work, from work, would help me beat nightfall.

All was good as I headed out of the building and up the hill through the parking lot of the building next door. A Canadian goose sitting on one of the parking-lot islands caught my eye. I thought nothing of it, since Greensboro seems to be the new winter vacationing spot for Canadian geese. As I turned my head back around from looking at the goose, what did I see ahead, but another goose in flight coming straight for me! It appeared to be a bit angry.

Suddenly dawned on me that the first goose I spotted was Mama and this dude headed straight at me was Papa! She was nesting and I guess I was too close for comfort. So, I turned around and decided to loop the parking lot to avoid a confrontation. Papa goose had different plans. Before I knew it, I felt the hardest wham on my back I've ever felt. Yep, Papa goose had slammed me in the back, head-on, in flight! I sped up and the dang bird did it again, this time making me stumble and almost fall. At this point, I had had it, so in what probably looked like a spastic fit, I yelled and flailed my arms around in hysteria. It worked. The goose left me alone.

Never did finish that run. Had a huge bruise on my back for several days. The worst part was never really knowing how many people worked late that night and caught the show from their office windows.

Since then, I've had several more encounters with nature, like the time a bee flew in my mouth and stung me, sending me to the urgent care. Then there was the time a coyote crossed my path (later to find out the coyote was rabid). And, I'll never forget the time I looked up and saw a huge bull on the loose. Luckily, he stayed put as I ran by. I'm sure I'm not the only one with these experiences. What have you encountered?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Safety on the Run

No matter what your experience level, all runners should take some time to think about their safety while running. In general, running is pretty safe, but depending on the time of day you're running, the time of year, and your location a variety of safety concerns may need to be addressed. It's the runner's responsibility to make himself/herself visible especially when it's dark.

Running in the early morning or in the evening can be especially hazardous. If at all possible, try to run in well lit areas. If that's not possible or you have intermittent areas of darkness, try wearing a headlamp. With the dawn of more powerful batteries and LED bulbs, these handy contraptions are very effective and affordable. The price range varies greatly, but I actually purchased mine for around $25 at Target and have used it for the past two years with great results. Also, wear reflective clothing and/or a reflective vest. Eastbay currently has a Running Safety Set from Nike for $6.99 (reg. $21.99). The set includes a pullover reflective vest and an armband light that can be set to flash or steady beam.

The best case senerio is to never run alone. Not only is it safer, it's usually more fun. But, running with a buddy is not always realistic. So, if you're running solo, there are a few precautions to take. Just like a pilot submitting a flight plan, runners should let others know where they'll be running. I have several different routes I run. Some are in my neighborhood, some are at the local park, and my longer runs take me down a nearby greenway. Each time I run, I make sure someone in the family is aware of where I'm running. I also try to tell them approximately how long I'll be gone. This way if I don't show back up at home by a certain time, they'll know something may have gone wrong as well as where to start looking for me.

A company called RoadID makes a variety of running identification products that provide your name, address, and other vital information. The IDs are sold in a variety of formats—Wrist ID, Ankle ID, Necklace ID, Shoe ID, Shoe Pouch ID. In the event of an accident, if you can't speak for yourself, the RoadID will. They also have a new version of the product called RoadID Interactive which allows you to build a fully updateable, secure Emergency Response Profile (ERP) that is available to first responders 24 hours a day 365 days a year. To check out all of RoadID's products, just click on the RoadID icon on the right-hand side of the blog.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Smooth Move

Smoothies are a very versatile drink. They can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make them. The most important thing is that they are nutritious and filling. One simple smoothie in the morning for breakfast can give you all the stuff you need for a great start to your day. And, all you need is a blender and a few ingredients!

Beware, not all smoothies are created equal. If you frequent the local smoothie shop, make sure you've checked out what's going into your favorite drink. Just because it's a smoothie doesn't mean it's good for you. Some are packed with extra sugar, calories, and acids. If you're making them at home, you have more control over the ingredients and you can customize them to your specific nutritional and/or training needs.

I've tried several different smoothie recipes and the recipe below is the result of playing around with different ingredients until I found the right combination of protein and flavor that works for me. I usually have this smoothie two or three times a week for breakfast. Because of the amount of protein, it also makes a great recovery drink after a hard workout or long run. The Greek yogurt alone has 20 grams of protein!

The great thing about this recipe is that anything goes. Don't like Greek yogurt or want less protein? Try a more traditional variety of yogurt. Want more protein? Add some vanilla-flavored whey protein powder. Prefer the texture of a slushy? Use frozen fruit. Don't like orange juice? Use pineapple. Try it out and let me know what you think.

For more smoothie recipes, go to

Protien Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen fruit


Place the yogurt and juice in a blender and puree until smooth. Keep the blender on puree while adding the fruit. Increase the blender speed to blend until all the ingredients are smooth and frothy.

• If you like a sweeter smoothie, add Splenda to taste.
• Try a combination of fruit such as bananas and strawberries or blueberries and bananas
• Add a scoop of vanilla-flavored whey protein powder for an extra dose of protein

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Runner and A Soldier

A fellow Athlinks member, Nathan Hangen, recently responded to an email about the blog that I sent to some North Carolina Athlinks members. In his email, he mentioned maybe seeing me at an NC race when he returned. Wasn’t sure what he meant by “when he returned.” I saw on his Athlinks profile that he too had a blog, The Triathlon Man. So, I checked it out and realized that he was in the Army and is currently stationed in Afghanistan. Wow! The internet is amazing. One email and I’ve got a reader halfway across the world. While helping to keep our country secure, Nathan has managed to continue if not further his running. Nathan’s story is so motivating that I asked if he would mind sharing it with you.

My name is Nathan Hangen and unfortunately I just turned 30 years old, which scares me to death. Long ago I had watched the Ironman Championships on TV and promised myself that someday I would give triathlons a shot. Years later, I had found myself caught in the daily grind and was out of shape and overweight. Even though I joined the army in 2006, I still hadn’t really found any purpose in life and was living without any of the passion or desire that I was so proud of as a teenager. Once I turned 29, I hit a low point in my life and realized that I’d let so many of my goals and dreams go down the drain without so much as a fight to keep them alive. During some Army training, I met a friend that was a great track athlete and he convinced me to start running with him.

Within a few weeks, I had gone from doing interval workouts once a week, to running 3-4 miles at a time several times per week. There was something about running on the open road that re-invigorated me with purpose and I started changing more than one thing in my life. I stopped drinking so much, I started working out, and I stopped wasting time on trivial things and working on my own business. Although running became my newest addiction, there was a primal instinct activated in the process that fueled everything else in my life.

With the encouragement of my friend, Gabe, I signed up for a 5k on St. Patty’s Day in 2008 and trained my butt of for it. I only ran a 23:02, but at the time it was the fastest I’d ever run and I was hooked on races. I started doing a 10k every other weekend and as my times improved, I started to feel the calling towards that triathlon I promised myself so long ago. I signed up for the Woodlake Triathlon and had the best time of my life.

I deployed to Afghanistan in August of 2008, which put an abrupt halt to my triathlon and 10k training until I realized that I’d have an excellent opportunity for some great high altitude training that I couldn’t get in NC. I started hitting the weights 3-4 times a week and as I adjusted to the altitude my runs moved from 2 miles, to 8 miles. I worked up to about 20 miles per week outside and on the treadmill while continuing to work in 3,000-4,000 yards in the pool and about 75 miles on the bike per week. Right now, I’m using between 10-14 sessions to achieve 20-30 miles per week on the treadmill, 100-150 miles per week on the bike, and 3-4 weight training sessions. The pool is closed for the winter, but I’ll be ready to hit it when it re-opens.

My typical runs are between 4-8 miles and I rotate between 1 mile intervals, tempo runs, and distance runs. On the bike, I spend most of my time at a fast pace over long distances trying to get my speed and stamina up at the same time. In the pool, I was alternating distance workouts with slower form sessions mixed in with interval sessions. As far as the weights go, I’ve always been a huge bodybuilding fan and I still go with the Chest/Tri’s, Shoulders/Bi’s, Back, Legs method. I’m the strongest and fastest I’ve ever been.

I’m currently maintaining the same schedule, but working on speed as I try to get ready for the North Carolina Triathlon Series. I’ll be returning in April 2010 and looking forward to see how the high altitude training has paid off. I’ve been able to achieve the same times here that I had in the US, so I expect to be able to shave minutes off of my running times and probably 20-40 seconds off of last year’s sprint times.

I don’t plan on stopping at the local level either. In fact, I plan on moving on to 70.3 HIM’s starting with the Augusta HIM in Fall 09 and eventually going to the full Ironman in 2010. My goal is to prove that anyone can become a professional Ironman as long as they are dedicated and willing to bust their ass. My friends here in Afghanistan are more than supportive and I’ve almost convinced them to join me during the race season…almost. To be honest, I’m so ready to race that I’ll drag them on my back if I have to. I just can’t wait.

Thanks Nathan, for sharing your story. I look forward to running a race with you in 2010!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh Nuts!

I used to think a running buddy of mine was a little crazy because he was so rigid about his diet. He ate 13 almonds a day, drank protein drinks religiously, and rarely ate any meat. When my running group would go to the local bagel shop after our Saturday long runs, he’d get a fruit cup instead of a bagel. He took a lot of ribbing from the group about his eating habits.

My buddy is my age and whatever he was doing was working. His running endurance and speed keeps getting better and better and he’s in great physical shape. This made me curious about his eating habits and if there was anything to it. So I investigated nuts. Come to find out, nuts in general are high in protein and monounsaturated fat (the good kind that helps clear your arteries). Almonds, however, rule! David Zinczenko, author of The Abs Diet, says that “almonds are like Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest—They’re the king of the nuts.” He further explains that almonds provide about 50% of the vitamin E, 8% of the calcium, and 19% of the magnesium needed each day. Magnesium is important for muscle building. Nuts also help fight obesity, heart disease, muscle loss, wrinkles, cancer, and high blood pressure.

Eating a handful of almonds each day not only provides you with important nutrients it also helps fight obesity by making you feel fuller longer. It’s best to wash them down with a glass of water which helps the fiber in the nuts expand making you feel fuller.

Zinczenko warns to be careful though. The smoked and/or salted varieties don’t make the cut due to their high sodium content. Also be careful not to select other varieties of nuts that have been cooked in oil. If you like the roasted-butter taste, he suggests spraying a handful of almonds with nonstick cooking spray and bake at 400° for 5–10 minutes, remove them from the oven and sprinkle them with either brown sugar and cinnamon or cayenne pepper and thyme. For more recipes using almonds go to

I must come clean and admit that I’ve been eating a handful of almonds each day for the past 2 years. Thanks, Paul, for being a good role model!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Running Resolutions

If you’re like me, sometimes you need a goal or just an old fashioned kick-in-the-butt to get you motivated. Whether you’re a long-time runner or a newbie, make yourself some running resolutions for the New Year. In honor of 2009 here are 9 resolutions to think about. Pick one or use them all! Happy New Year!

  1. Keep a running log. Keeping up with your daily, weekly, monthly progress, can help you see trends in your running. Handwritten, an Excel spreadsheet, or an online running log like, it doesn't matter, just log-it!

  2. Get a running buddy. You’re more likely to keep to a regular routine if you know a buddy is waiting for you. Plus, the time usually goes by faster when you run with someone else.

  3. Join a running group or club. Many running groups host group long runs. It's a great way to meet and socialize with other runners. Might even find that running buddy you're looking for. It may even be good for your brain to run with a group. Scientists think that the generation of new neurons (neurogenesis) is increased in the brain when you exercise in a group.

  4. Set a goal for yourself. Could be anything….running your first 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, or an ultra marathon. Or maybe it’s logging 1000 miles or more in 2009. If you’re a road runner, maybe your goal is to hit the trails. Whatever your goal, if you have one, it helps keep you motivated throughout the year.

  5. Update your running gear. Trade in those tube socks and that holey cotton T-shirt for some more advanced technical clothing. Treat yourself to that cool pair of racing shorts or running shoes you’ve been wanting. Save up and buy that Garmin GPS thingie you’ve been looking at.

  6. Eat better. Be more conscious of that you’re putting in your body. Add more whole grains and protein to your diet. Start cooking more at home or taking your lunch to work to ensure you’re putting quality food into your body. Treat yourself to the “junk” every now and then, but use it as just that…a “treat.”

  7. Cross Train. Running ever day can sometimes lead to injury if you’re logging a lot of miles. Mix-up your routine with a few low-impact days to give your joints a break. Try walking (outside or on the treadmill), the elliptical or step machine, or swimming.

  8. Build a strong core. Your core is the source of all your energy needed for running. Build a strong core and you’ll see better running results.
  9. Think quality over quantity. Unless your goal is to be a streaker (never missing a day of running), quantity shouldn’t be your goal. Each run should be a quality run witha specific purpose. If you run the same miles the same way each day, every week, every month, every year, you probably won’t see any improvement in your endurance level or any increased speed. Mix up your weekly runs with a long run, runs with fartleks mixed in (periodically increasing your speed during a run for a predetermined distance and then slowing back down again, then repeat), short speedy runs, tempo runs (running just under race-pace), and easy runs.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Fuel Up!

Have you ever notice that you’re hungrier after a winter workout than a summer workout? I ran 9 miles today with my running group and the temp was around 25°. Took a while for my body to warm up, but when it did, I was quite toasty until after the run when I quickly got chilled again.

When your body temperature drops, your appetite is stimulated. This happens because food provides the fuel needed to warm the body. Because of this, runners need to “feed the fire” before a winter workout and after. But you don’t want to put just anything in your body. Make sure your feeding that fire with quality food such as whole grains and protein-rich foods. Because whole grains are high in insoluble fiber, they stay with you longer. Ever get a hunger pang during a run? Not a good feeling. Protein-rich foods also provide you with energy, help you feel full longer, and help your muscles recover quicker after your workout.

So what should you eat before a run? This will vary from runner to runner. Some of my running friends eat a big breakfast before a long run while others eat just a slice of dry toast. Before my Saturday morning long runs, I usually eat a sliced and toasted whole wheat English muffin topped with peanut butter and some strawberry preserves. This gives me the energy I need for the run without feeling overstuffed. Sometimes I’ll eat a bowl of Quaker’s Weight Control Instant Oatmeal. Don’t let the name fool you. The reason it’s called “Weight Control” is because it contains 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber which is more than their regular oatmeal. This helps fill you up and keep you that way longer so you won’t feel like snacking. If you prepare it with skim milk you add even more protein. I also like to add some walnuts or almonds. If you’re training for a marathon or working out a lot, you may want to try “The Ultimate Power Breakfast” (Men’s Health Abs Guide; Rodale, Inc.; 2008). Probably not a good idea to eat right before a morning long run, but if you’re running or working out a little later in the day, eat up!

The Ultimate Power Breakfast
1 egg
1 cup low-fat milk
¾ cup oatmeal
½ cup mixed berries
1 Tbsp chopped pecans or almonds
1 tsp vanilla whey-protein powder
1 tsp ground flaxseed
½ banana, sliced
1 Tbsp plain yogurt

In a microwavable bowl, beat the egg well, then add the milk, oatmeal, berries, pecans, whey powder, and flaxseed and nuke it for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the microwave and let the mixture cool for a minute or two. Top with the sliced banana and yogurt.
Makes 1 serving: 590 calories, 30 g protein, 80 g carb, 12 g fiber, 17g fat, 4 g sat fat, 193 mg sodium

Not into the whey-protein powder? Leave it out; you’ll still have a protein-rich breakfast. Want to decrease the fat a little? Try using nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt. FAGE and Oikos are two brands available at my local grocer and they are very tasty. They are thicker than regular yogurt and have more protein.