Thursday, 11 June 2015

New habits to improve my core

All new habits start with the first time you do something.

Two factors are important if I am to make a new habit stick. The first is - obviously - to repeat the actions in the new habit. How many days an action needs to be repeated is still under heavy debate (check this article), but the habit must become part of a routine. The second factor is that it needs to be only a small deviation from the stuff I normally do. The greater the deviation from my existing habits, the smaller the chances that the new habit will stick. Today, I started forming a new habit.

The reason for my doing this, is that in my preparations for doing a whole marathon in 2016, I need to work on three things. I specified these in an earlier post. These things are Food, Core Strength and Sleep. Food and sleep are subject for a different post.


Improving core strength is a well-documented process on the Internet and many blogposts and Pinterest pins deal with the way to work on a six-pack. All this documentation shows the great number of ways to strengthen a runner's core. The most obvious way would be to use body-weight exercises (such as sit-ups).  Because I am not a very strong swimmer, I decided to spend more time in the swimmingpool and work on my core, while improving my swimming skills.

This started last Wednesday. Instead of doing my long-ish (12K) steady distance run, I ran to the local swimming pool (3,5K) and incorporated a 16 minute swim in my morning-routine. After the swim, I ran another 5,5K on my way back home. I loved the experience and doing a relatively early swim (I was in the water by 8:40) allowed me the space of a near empty pool.

There were just two points of improvement. For one, I did my run to and from the pool with my towel in my hand (yes, I do realize that it is important to at all times know where your towel is, but running while holding it is hardly relaxing). The second point is the fact that I lacked swimming goggles while trying to do freestyle swimming. As the trick of this stroke is to keep the body level with the water, it helps to be able to see under water.

To remedy these two minor points, I visited the local all-sports-shop and invested in two items. A pair of swimming goggles and a running pack to help me carry the stuff I need for the swimmingpool and allow me to do a medium-length run. Though there are many excellent and very expensive options for both products, I decided to go for cheaper versions first to see how well I like them.

Once I was in the pool, I was amazed at how good the swim felt. The first thing I need to work on is my freestyle stroke. The laps I did were in breast-stroke and though this works well, I assume (and need to figure this out) that freestyle swimming has greater corestrength benefits.

Obviously, adding a different leg to my workout regime offers excellent new stats. My Garmin impressed me by automagically determining the laps I did (with an error-margin of two, because I altered my stroke at two moments). After sixteen 25M laps, I left the pool to continue with my run. The fact that my legs were somewhat heavy from the swim and my body was tired added something to the run and I enjoyed it more than I usually enjoy my morning runs.

Coming wednesday, I will be trying out my goggles, to see how hard freestyle stroke swimming is. To be continued.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Five years in barefoot shoes and some new gear

Going the distance
Nine years ago, I picked up running in an effort to get a little fitter than I was. My weight was not too healthy and it would be good to loose some of the belly-fat I had accumulated over the years. Though I had tried to get into the habit of running years earlier, I had never found the right method to make it easier. That was until the Couch 2 5K programs hit the internet. Doing one of those programs, I went from 0 to 5K in about 13 weeks.

It was in the first two to three years of running, that I started to read increasing numbers of blogposts on barefoot shoes. Many were sparked by the McDougall book Born to Run. Obviously, I had to read the book - reading opinions is good, and it is even better to know the material that these opinions are based on - and I found it an excellent and inspiring read (watch the TEDx talk by the author here). It inspired me to such an extent, that I visited both my physiotherapist and a doctor specializing in feet to see if there was any reason why I should not give minimalist running a try.

In the summer of 2010, visiting London with the Missus and the young Padawan (peacefully sleeping in his pram), I bought my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers (KSO). Over the next nine months, I steadily built up the number of K's in those shoes, resulting in my throwing out my no longer comfortably overpadded Asics Kayano 15 shoes. While doing this, I realized that migrating back to 'regular' running shoes would take the same amount of time as it did getting used to running with only a thin layer of rubber below my feet.

This May marked the 5-year aniversary of my barefoot running habit. Looking back, I am amazed at the fact that I have been running for 9 years of my life. I am amazed even more, that it has been five years since I went through this major change in running habits and that I have been running 'barefoot' longer than I have been running in regular shoes. Gradually, running without padding has shifted from this novelty that I used to read about in blogs to a 4-runs per week habit. I never expected to, but I seem to be able to stick to the habit and go the distance in barefoot shoes.

New gear

Some time ago, my age came to stand for the answer to life, the universe and everything. In this year I am going to train for the same distance as my age in K's and this has serious consequences for my running gear. It is always good to buy new gear and over the last couple of weeks, I have bought several pieces.

The main bit of kit I bought are my shoes. My previous shoes, a pair of Bikila's that I have retired upon completing my last half in the beginning of March, lasted approximately 1600 K's. In the three months that I have been running in my new Bikila's, I have done approximately one third of that distance.

Today, I received the my two pairs of VFF Komodo Sport in the mail. Among other things, they enable me to alternate between pairs of shoes when required - e.g. in situations where they have not yet completely dried because of the upcoming warm weather.

In an effort to better my ways in three areas of life (food, core strength and sleep), I have been taking several (mini)steps. One of these is the effort to get a better idea of how much (or little) I currently sleep. To get a better view on this, I decided to invest in an activity tracker. Though there are many options in this respect, I went for the Garmin Vivofit 2. This type and brand nicely integrates with the Garmin Connect webapp I use to track my runs with my - eternally great - Garmin Fenix 3.

Looking at the trend of the previous four weeks, I realise the need for more sleep and this has led me to attempt two things. Though I do not always have the possibility, I try to go to bed earlier. In addition, wherever possible, I try to take the opportunity to take naps. These count for the total sleep-time in a day.

Finally, as increasing the number of K's per week is an essential part of marathon training, I found that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the balance between running the K's and recovering from them between runs. Though their effectiveness is still under debate, and - more importantly - though the Missus seriously refuses to walk anywhere near me when I am wearing them, I have invested in a pair of compression socks. As soon as I have experimented with these a bit, I will post my experiences. Possibly, I am overdoing things by subconsciously limiting my ideal of minimalist running to the thickness of my with soles, rather than taking things simple and going running with just my shoes and my Garmin.