Friday, October 29, 2010

When Running, It's mind over matter.

When I first started running, I had to overcome the physical limitations of my body. i.e. I was overweight with excess fat, My muscles had wasted away and were unable to push my body, and my weak heart was unable to deliver the required oxygen to continue running.

However, once that was sorted out, I found that any gains that I made in running (whether it was to run longer or to run faster) was more to do with mental preparation rather than physical preparation.

Let me explain.

Before I hit the gym, I make a mental note of how long and how fast I will run (this is based on my current abilities). For example, I may decide that I will run for 1 hour at 12kph. When I start running, I find myself getting comfortable in the beginning of the run. As I start approaching the 1 hour mark, I find that my body starts shutting down. If I try to run more than the planned 1 hour, it becomes extremely difficult. On the other hand, if I plan that I will run at the same speed for 2 hours, I find that I am running at a comfortable pace even after I cross the 1 hour mark. My body starts shutting down only once I start approaching the 2 hour mark.

In both the above examples, the speed was the same but the time was very different. Even though my body is capable of running for 2 hours, it becomes very difficult to actually run that long unless you mentally prepare to run for that duration.

Of course, this does not mean that I can mentally challenge myself to run for 4 hours and just go and start running. Any increase in distance or speed should be gradual. If your current running speed is 12 kph, don't expect to run 14 kph for the same amount of time. Similarly, if the longest you have run is 1 hour, don't expect to jump to 2 hours the very next day. You might do it, but you can easily injure yourself by pushing too hard. Let your body adapt slowly to longer distances or faster speed.

When it comes to running, slow & steady wins the race.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting ready for the RunQ8 event.

Last week, I mentioned about the 10K run event on November 6th 2010. I registered for the run and got my t-shirt and race card.

The race will start at 9:00 AM, and the course will be from Kuwait Scientific Center to the Corniche Club and back. I decided to get ready for the run by trying out the course before hand. I did my first run last week and clocked 57 minutes and 50 seconds. Since I used the Nike+ GPS application to track the run, you can see the replay of the run by clicking here.

I was not very happy with the time - since I wanted to finish in around 50 minutes. Yesterday, I decided to try the same route one more time. The only difference was that I went well-prepared (I had only done light jogging the previous day). I was determined to finish it in less than 55 minutes so I increased my pace a bit and stuck to this pace. At the 2 kilometer mark, I knew I could finish it in a little over 50 minutes.

The final time was 53 minutes and 5 seconds. Much better. You can see the replay of this run by clicking here.

I now firmly believe that I can run the race in under 50 minutes. Here's why.

1. The actual race will be run on the proper road and all traffic will be closed. This means no going up and down the footpath - or stopping to looking behind you when crossing the road.
2. The actual course will be a bit shorter than the one I ran. Since I used the GPS chip, it took me exactly to the 5K mark before turning around. However, the actual turning point appears to be around 400 meters less.
3. Since there will be other (better) runners around, I can try and follow in their pace.
4. The adrenalin of running with a group should give me that extra boost to run a little bit faster.
5. I won't be carrying a bottle in my hand - since drinks stations will be available to keep us hydrated.

My only concern (so far) is the heat. I have never run in the heat before and I wonder what effect that is going to have on the run. My son recommended that I wear a cap & shades - which is an excellent idea. The only problem is that I have never run with cap or shades before, so I am not sure how that will influence my running.

At the end of the day, this is a fun race. There won't be individual timings. The whole objective is to complete the race - which (as one of my friend said), should be a walk in the park for me.

I made a YouTube video of run animation, which shows the exact route that I ran.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Personal Coach: Alberto Salazar

Alberto Salazar.
Having a legend like Alberto Salazar as a personal coach would be pretty awesome.

Alberto Salazar is a winner of 3 consecutive New York City Marathons from 1980 to 1982, and also the winner of Boston Marathon in 1982. He currently works with Nike as a coach to train Olympic-caliber athletes. More information on Alberto can be found on this Wikipedia page.

So why do I consider him as my personal coach? Alberto Salazar has produced a number of running music mixes as part of the Nike+ program. These music mixes are designed to improve your stamina and speed and focus on high-intensity interval running. A directory of all the mixes is available here and can be downloaded using iTunes.

When I start my run, my playlist is always set to Alberto Salazar. He is very passionate about running and this is very evident when he eggs you on with an impassioned appeal to keep running. It's the closest thing to having a personal coach who keeps you on your toes.

Yes. It would be pretty awesome to have Alberto Salazar as my personal coach. For the time being, I will settle for him being my Virtual personal coach.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What about the Six-Pack?

October 2010
When I first started this blog in June 2010, the objective was very simple. Get a Six-Pack by dropping most of the fat through running (since that's what I love to do). It's been 4 months since I started the blog and I have been running ever since.

I also combined my running with a fair bit of resistance training - since resistance training is crucial for building muscle.

And Finally, all these exercises were combined with a sensible diet that combines a good mix of the essential macro-nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats).

In these 4 months, I have learned a lot of things. However, the most important thing I have learned is that I am on the right path. The progress is not dramatic but it is there. Every day, I find that I can run a little bit longer, or a little bit faster, or that I can push weights that are a little bit heavier than what I pushed last week. And ever so slowly, the definition of the abs begins to take shape.

I really don't know how long it will take me to reach my target. Perhaps a year based on my current progress. That's just fine by me. I never had any abs in my life so it is all the more difficult, because the fat that I accumulated over the many years has become ingrained in various organs of my body. Getting rid of all that stubborn fat is not going to be an easy task. But I knew this when I started this challenge.

If someone had asked me 2 years back for my ideal body shape, I would have happily settled for the body that I have today. But that was 2 years back - when I did not know what my body is actually capable of. Now that I have the knowledge, the quest for the perfect body will go on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10K race in Kuwait on November 6th.

A friend on Facebook alerted me of this 10K race organized by FSRI (Fawzia Sultan Rehabilitation Institute). on November 6 2010.

From the looks of it, it appears to be a fun race for charity with a registration fee of KD 5/-.

According to their wesbite, the race day schedule is as follows:

7:30am: Registration at the grounds of the Scientific Center in Salmiya.
8:30am: Warm-up lead by various trainers from the Fawzia Sultan Rehabilitation Institute and Al Corniche Club
9:00am: 10K Run/Walk will start on the Gulf Road outside the Scientific Center, will continue to the Al Corniche Club and loop back to the Scientific Center.

Childrens activities will be provided for the duration of the race on the grounds of the Scientific Center by Fit4Fun.
Runners will not be individually timed but there will be 5 pacemakers running the race at various speeds. Runners will be able to follow them for timing.

Since it is on a Saturday morning (which is my normal day for long distance running), I am looking forward to join this group of runners to make this a successful event and bring more awareness to their cause.

Source: RunQ8 Website.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Meet The Healthiest Member in our Family.

Erika trying skating.
I would like to think that I am the healthiest member in our family - considering all the running and regular workouts that I do - combined with a balanced diet that I follow religiously.

But I have to grudgingly hand over the "Healthiest Member" crown to my 6-year old daughter Erika.

Does this mean that Erika eats only healthy food? Far from it. She enjoys eating Chicken Nuggets and French Fries from McDonalds and she drinks thick milk-shakes.

What about exercises?  Well, she doesn't run any Marathon distances.

So what keeps her healthy? I've been noting down all the things that Erika does, trying to understand what keeps her healthy and I thought I'll list them down so that we can try to incorporate some of her better habits in our day-to-day life.

1. She Sleeps...a Lot. Sleep is the most important thing for Erika. Once she goes to sleep, it is impossible to wake her up until she completes the full sleep cycle. This ensures that her body is well rested and she is full of energy when she gets up.

2. She eats variety of foods. Erika loves to eat different foods. She may love to eat McNuggets, but she eats strawberries and cucumbers with equal relish. This experimentation with different foods automatically results in a sort of a balanced diet plan for her.

3. She is always on her feet. It's very rare to see Erika sitting in one place. Even when she is watching TV, she is usually walking around or dancing or singing along with the characters. This means she is constantly burning calories - and staying fit.

4. She was born healthy. Ok, this is really an unfair advantage that she has over most of us and something we have no control over. When she was born, the first call that I got from my wife was to inform me that Erika just popped out without any trouble - and the very first thing she did was grab her and start sucking away. She came from the hospital the very next day and only visits the hospitals on very rare occasions. When she gets sick, we avoid taking her to the clinic unless it is necessary - because she can usually fight off most diseases on her own.

That's about it. Except for the last part, the key elements of staying healthy remain the same.

- Take plenty of rest.
- Eat variety of foods
- And workout regularly.

There really are no shortcuts in life. You want to stay healthy, you need to work for it.

Our job as parents is to ensure that Erika continues on this path and stays healthy as she grows from a young girl to a teenager (oh man, I am dreading that period), and then to a healthy adult.

After that, she is on her own!.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My First Marathon Run.

My first Marathon Run. What an amazing experience!.
I achieved something today that I was very sure was beyond my capabilities. I ran a full Marathon distance (42.2 kilometers) and I did it without stopping or changing my pace and I completed it in less than 4 hours (considered to be very good).

The thought of running such a brutal distance came to my mind about 2 days back. Due to some problem or the other, I was not able to do any running for 4 days. This meant that my legs were fresh. Since I normally run a half-marathon distance every Saturday (21.1 Km), I thought this would be a good opportunity to push myself from the normal routine and see how far I could go. Could I go for 3 hours? (around 30 kilometers) or could I continue running the full Marathon distance?

I have never run for more than 2 hours straight (which is the time it takes me to complete a half-marathon). So a full Marathon would theoretically take me somewhere in the range of 4 hours. To prepare myself, I did a couple of things:

1. Informed my family that I plan to run for very long so that they would not get worried.
2. Carried a 1-liter bottle of Gatorade (I calculated that this will last me for 4 hours).
3. Paid attention to my previous posts and ensured that I was properly dressed.
4. Ensured that I had a good night sleep.
5. Ate a breakfast full of carbs and protein (cornflakes mixed with low-fat milk) to fuel  the run and drank plenty of water before hitting the gym.
6. Weighed myself on the weighing machine at the gym (I wanted to see how much weight I would lose by running continuously for 4 hours).

I normally run the half-marathon at 11 kph so I decided to set the pace a bit slower at 10.5 kph. This pace is normally slow for me - but it is still enough to complete the Marathon distance in under 4 hours.

I completed the first 2 hours as expected and I was relatively tired. Everything after this was unknown territory for me - even the music. At one point, a fast tempo number which goes something like "I got a blue pill...Viagra..I am going to pump you UP and DOWN, UP and DOWN" started blasting from my playlist. I continued running.

At the 3:00 hour mark (about 31Km), I was very tired. I have heard of many runners hitting "The Wall" - which is another way of saying that you hit a mental block and can go no further. I did not hit such a wall - but my legs were definitely getting heavy.

It is at this stage that I realized that my Gatorade bottle was almost empty and there was no way that I could continue running for another 1 hour unless I replenish the drink. Luckily for me, one of the gym waiters was passing by and he got me a fresh (and refreshingly cold) bottle of Gatorade so I decided to continue running.

At the 3:30 hour mark, my legs were feeling like pieces of wood. I knew that if I stopped now, I won't be able to continue running. I was hoping nobody calls me on the phone because if I stop to answer the phone, my run would be essentially over. Again, luckily for me, nobody called me.

At the 3:45 mark, my legs were turning from wood to lead and each step was proving to be more and more difficult, but I continued at the same pace. The end seemed so near.

The playlist was getting pretty weird by this time. I suddenly got one of the gospel songs called "Victory to our King" and the lyrics go something like "Oh glory unto you...This battle cry we sing...That victory belongs to him...Victory to our king". Normally, I would have quickly hit the "Next" button since it's very difficult to run to gospel songs, but something about the lyrics struck a chord and I got goosebumps all over my body as the lyrics seemed very fitting at this stage. I think the song is what actually rejuvenated me to complete the remaining 15 minutes.

I finally completed the distance in 3 hours 56 minutes and 46 seconds (more than 3 minutes ahead of my goal). I was exhausted and could hardly walk, but I knew that I had to stretch and cool-down to avoid any injuries.

Finally, I checked my weight on the same weighing machine. I had dropped 3.5 Kilos of weight!!. I understand that most of the weight-loss is water loss but keep in mind that I was drinking continuously during the run (I finished 1.6 liters of Gatorade), so there was definitely a significant loss of body fat (and perhaps some muscle loss too).

When I uploaded my run to the Nike website, I was immediately directed to a video by Marathoner Paula Radcliffe, congratulating me on being the 0.1% of the world population that has completed a Marathon distance. You can watch the video by clicking on this link.

I am tired..but happy of this achievement.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hot or Cold Bath for Post-Workout Recovery?

The gym that I go to has a nice jacuzzi room. After a hard workout, I used to go in the jacuzzi and relax for 5-10 minutes - enjoying the hot jets of water massaging and soothing my sore muscles. I would feel pretty refreshed after I came out of the jacuzzi.

I would have probably continued doing this as a post-workout recovery method. But luckily, while researching on post-workout recovery, I discovered that I was not doing my body any favors by jumping into a hot-water jacuzzi.

Here's why it's not a good idea.

After a long run or any tough workout, your joints and muscles are inflamed. If you put heat on them, the blood flow to those areas will increase, which can make them even more inflamed. In addition, you may already be slightly dehydrated post-run, and the heat from the hot tub may dehydrate you even more. - Source.

Your body is basically in overdrive after a hard work-out. What you need to do is shut it down - similar to how you shut off the engine of your car after a long drive. The best way to do this is to have an ice bath which will shut off (or at least slow down) your metabolism and allow your body to recover. 

Since our gym doesn't have ice baths, I guess I will have to go for the next best thing. A cold shower.

But what about that lovely jacuzzi? Perhaps on my non-workout days.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How often should you weigh yourself?

Regular checking of your weight is very important.
Keeping track of your weight is very important for a healthy life-style as it acts as a warning indicator in case you  suddenly start gaining weight (or losing weight for that matter). All you need to do this is a cheap bathroom scale that you find in any super-market.

But how often should you weigh yourself? My recommendation would be to weigh yourself at least once a week (If you can do it daily, then that would be ideal).

By weighing yourself frequently, you will notice if the weight is going up and you can then determine the root cause of the weight-gain - and hopefully, take corrective action to reverse the process.

Keep in mind that your body weight fluctuates during the day by at least 1 to 2 kilos so it is very important that you weigh yourself at similar times. For example, if you noted your weight immediately after getting up, make sure that the next time you compare your weight, you do it at the same time.

Keeping track of your weight itself is of not much use - unless you have a target goal in mind.  Calculate your target weight by using a BMI calculator, and then plan your course of action (exercise, diet or both) to achieve your ideal weight. Keep track of your progress by noting the weight on a notebook. Analyze your progress and adjust your diet/workout accordingly.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Anatomy of a half-marathon.

My half-marathon run on 2nd Oct. 2010.
Few months back, I started doing half-marathon runs (21.09 km) once a week. I usually reserve this run for Saturday morning (which is a non-working day) and I make sure that I don't do any workouts on Friday to ensure that my legs are well rested in preparation for the run.

The half-marathon run is a very interesting run. It is very challenging and requires lots of physical and mental preparation to complete the grueling distance. But at the same time, it is not as energy sapping as the full-marathon. 

When I initially started running the half-marathon distance in March 2010, I would be totally drained of all energy and would need at least 2 days to recover. When I compare that to todays run, I realize just how far I have progressed in my running. After I finished the run today, I did 5 minute stretching and relaxed in the jacuzzi for 15 minutes to unwind, and I was back to my normal self. It is amazing just how much our body (and mind) is capable of doing. We are very good at under-estimating our capabilities, and usually need a good kick in the butt to make us realize our potential.

There are no short-cuts in fitness. Your fitness level is directly proportionate to the amount of effort you put in your daily workouts and your nutrition. If you are not willing to work for your fitness, you will be unfit and suffer from health-related problems. On the other hand, if you work extremely hard, you can be sure of extreme success in fitness. For most people, the balance should be somewhere in the middle.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Coping with Injuries.

Illustration purpose only. I don't walk
around half-naked like this.
Once we start working out (especially heavy resistance workouts), injuries are expected. We try out best to minimize the injuries with:

1. Proper warm-up and cool-down.
2. Proper form.
3. Gradual increase in weights or intensity.

Even when we do all of the above, injuries will still happen. This is because we all have our breaking point - and by increasing the weights or intensity, we are essentially testing our body "breaking point". At one point or the other, you will find the breaking point. Result is Injury.

My resistance workouts (especially the upper body workouts) have come to a complete standstill for the past 2 weeks after I suffered a minor elbow injury. The injury may be minor, but it essentially prevents me from lifting any weights.

Fitness theory suggests that I should work "around" my injury - giving my elbow enough time to recover, while focusing on other parts of the body (legs, abdomen etc.).

That is exactly what I have been doing so far. I've focused more on running (I run almost every day now for an average of around 60 kilometers per week). I also do some ab-workouts. This should help me to reduce some more body fat (hopefully without any muscle-loss).

Once the elbow heals, I will have to start the whole process of slowly training my upper body once again and then increasing the weights till I reach my breaking point.

And the cycle will continue.