Thursday, September 24, 2009

Superb Stuff #2: Kashi

This is the second installment of the Superb Stuff series. Read the introduction here.

Right now I am sitting over my laptop, the way I do every morning, with a delicious bowl of cereal. Full disclosure: my name is Erin and I am a cereal-aholic. My dad works for Kellogg's and I grew up in the "Cereal City" Battle Creek, Michigan (I just found a link with a comedian making fun of it, pretty funny). Anyway, it is in the complete spirit of uncensored bias that I present Kashi as one of my favorite companies.

As a kid I was pretty much raised on Kellogg's cereals like Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and my personal favorite Froot Loops. I still enjoy Special K and other Kellogg's cereals (although not the Froot Loops so much) but as I have gotten older and more health conscious, my tastes have changed. It seemed appropriate that as I was learning more about nutrition and getting into yoga that my dad introduced me to a small Californian health food company called Kashi.

Kashi cereals are high in protein, fiber and their signature blend of whole grains. Their signature phrase is, "7 whole grains on a mission." Here is a section of their mission, or "Mantra" as they call it, that stands out to me:

Health isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. Every little step we take creates a healthier path forward. We believe that when we eat well, we feel well, and do well for ourselves, our families, our coworkers, our communities, and the world. This philosophy builds on our deep roots in natural foods since 1984 and remains our daily guiding light.

They go on to highlight all the ways that they are active in community building and environmental sustainability.

Sure, a lot of companies take on this image because it is fashionable to be health conscious and environmentally friendly these days. Still, more companies don't even bother. As consumers if we are serious about good health and corporate environmental practices we should support companies who make it a serious priority. It is built into the DNA of Kashi and I hope they stay that way. Plus Kashi Go Lean is really yummy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chris Hoban Memorial 5-Mile Run: Race Report

Yesterday was the first time I ran a race through the Prospect Park Track Club. It was called the Chris Hoban Memorial 5-Mile Run and took place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Most of the events I've done this year have been through the New York Road Runner's Club (NYRR) which at about 40,000 members has to be one of the largest running clubs in existence. There were notable differences in the experience of doing a smaller race.

First of all, I didn't have to get up at 4 am to make it up to Central Park using weekend subway trains (notorious for their service changes and unreliability.) The race itself didn't start until 10:30. The start line was about 3 miles from my house so I left at a leisurely 9 am and walked/jogged as a warm up. I also gave myself ample time to get my race number and use the restroom before the 10 am opening ceremony. At a half an hour the ceremony was a bit long and tough to stand still through. Chris Hoban was a New York police officer who was killed in an undercover drug buy 21 years ago. I had a young uncle who was killed that same year and I remember what a painful shock that was to my family; it still stings a little to think about. So, I had a lot of respect for what they were doing and the fact that they used the event to do good for their community. At the end of the ceremony an NYPD helicopter did a low dive over the crowd which frankly, completely freaked me out.

Then we lined up behind the starting line. This was so much different than NYRR. There were no corrals. It did not take me ten minutes just to get to the start line. My race number was so small at a mere 3 digits. The run itself was beautiful route. It took us down the Shore Road Promenade which is a great running and bike path with a view of the New York Bay complete with Lower Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, and Verrazano Bridge. Then it looped up 3rd Ave (parallel to 4th Ave, the first leg of the New York marathon) and back to the start at Xaverian High School.

My goal for races 10K and under is usually to try to burst the average pace of 9 minutes per mile. I have yet to do it in a scored New York Road Runners race. This annoys me to no end because the quicker your pace per mile the closer your corral is to the start line (and the less time spent standing around after the gun goes off.) I did run a 5 mile in New Jersey last year where I was a few seconds under the 45 min total time so I know it is possible.

The first leg of the race was pretty crowded so there was a lot of jockeying for position. I tried to stay pretty conservative but not easy. I focused on short quick strides like I had been practicing. I did not have my music because I wanted to be completely present in what people were doing around me but I did try to channel some of my songs mentally to keep the rhythm in my arms and legs.

At the halfway point I was right on pace but the idea of maintaining the pace for another 2 and a half miles seemed like a tall order. The mile markers weren't that clear with volunteers shouting split times as you ran by. As a result I got a bit disoriented about how far I was and how much was left in the fourth mile. At one point I remember thinking I would have had to run a 5 and a half minute mile in the last mile to make it under 45 minutes so I had to let go of my goal. Still, I managed to maintain my intensity and was psyched to look around and see that I was mostly running with guys. I could see a few ladies ahead of me but I was definitely ahead of the big crowd and up with the above average runners. There was a big hill right before the finish line which sucked but the downhill into the finish made for a nice final kick. To my surprise the clock read 44:17.48! So I made my goal with a 8:52 per mile pace afterall.

I just downloaded the pdf with the race results and I've been pouring over it. Unlike NYRR race results it doesn't calculate my age and gender place so I actually went through and counted all the 20-29 year old females who placed ahead of me. The first 5 in each age/gender group got trophies. I was very pleased to find that my score placed me as #12 among the women in their 20s. My overall place was 227 out of 612 finishers. That definitely beats my usual NYRR placement which is something in the thousands.

It was definitely a nice change to do a more local race and I will definitely try to do more. Maybe next time I'll memorize some mile mark landmarks in advance so I don't have to worry about the high school aged volunteers shouting confusing numbers at me in my runner's fog. Although the focus of this race report has been on the numbers I still think of it as a by-product of my training. I am most proud of the fact that I could run in a way that I felt strong. I was challenging myself with the pace all the way through but I never lost form or felt that I was risking injury in order to achieve my result. My goal is to continue to improve gradually with an emphasis on good practice.

Random side note: as I was walking past the ambulance parked at the finish line, the runner sitting on the stretcher getting his knee iced and taped was none other that the guy I blogged about drafting off me in my blog last week. I swear I'm not making that up. The path we were running was part of the race route but it was still weird to him in there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meditation in Motion: Zone Mind, Zone Body

On my run yesterday I got to thinking about results versus process. Posting the picture from the Brooklyn Half the other day had me thinking back to my rant about how much I hated worrying about my times. Yet, at the same time I really like obsessing about form. It comes down my suspicion that if your main goal is winning or at least setting your personal best time you will cut any corner you have to and miss out on the pleasure of getting there. This means pushing through tension, pain, and feeling generally miserable. It also means losing a sense of flow, gracefulness and efficient breathing that comes with proper running technique.

Now, I am not saying running is supposed to be easy and that you should always run at a pace that is comfortable. I just think that the most important skill to acquire is the ability to be aware; to constantly check in with what your body is doing and where everything is in the moment. It is important to keep challenging yourself and pushing your limits is going to be uncomfortable at first. So, in those moments of discomfort rather than thinking, "I've just got to push through this toward the finish," you are thinking: "How can I adjust my breathing? Are my feet hitting the road too hard? Is my head still up? Can I relax my shoulders more?" As you work on these tiny adjustments you learn a lot more about what you can do. Then, when you find yourself on top of the challenges you get a real sense of freedom. Speed becomes the by-product.

Actually, when I was thinking about this yesterday it seemed like a semi original thought. Now that I have written it down I realize that it's essentially the main point of a book I read earlier this summer called, "Zone Mind, Zone Body: How to break through to new levels of fitness and performance - by doing less!" by Roy Palmer. Palmer is a runner, martial artist and teacher of the Alexander Technique. As some one interested in running and the zone, it definitely piqued my interest. It was a pretty easy read and I found it enjoyable. He gives a few Alexander-type exercises to help you recognize some of your bad movement habits. For example, putting tension in your neck in order to stand up, think about it, the neck muscles are not going to do much for you in this situation. The main thing that the book drives at is that if you can really focus, be in the moment and not put in unnecessary effort you can reach your optimum ability level and be in the zone. He breaks it down to make it easier for people to reach the zone more often.

This is why I love running and how it crosses over into a way to live and understand life. The same goes for music. So much of it is about listening. When things get muddy and difficult it means you must listen more deeply and start working on the things you can fix. It means practicing, tweaking the techniques and waiting until it come out right. There is a lot of patience involved. This all applies to running, music and life. Experiencing the improvements in running and music make the struggles of life feel more bearable. That is why I choose to love the process and the journey of trying to do things the right way rather than focusing only on the quantifiable results. I will work as long as it takes to get something right because the pursuit is the reward.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Superb Stuff Series

Introducing the "Superb Stuff Series." Basically, it's an excuse for me to highlight a bunch of brands and companies that I think are cool. First, a disclaimer: none of the companies I mention in this series are sponsoring me or giving me anything to spotlight them. I may have some inside knowledge of the company but that is probably what makes me think they are awesome.

Generally, I am not someone who gets caught up in designer labels or fashion for the sake of being trendy. However, in an age where it seems we are ruled by corporate America it is tough not to be affected by the constant din of marketing. Our main source of power in this relationship is the ability distinguish between what's quality and what's crap and throw our money and support in the direction of the quality stuff. If I see someone or an organization succeeding in a worthy mission (or trying to) I have to give them a shout out.

Don't be surprised if several of the companies presented are geared towards young-ish, female, fitness-minded, creative types. If you are reading this you probably share at least some of those traits or have someone in your life who does. I tend to like stuff that serves a function and is also a little funky.

The first example is SkirtSports. It was founded by pro triathlete, Nicole DeBoom. The idea was the result of her dissatisfaction with typical athletic attire that "had no sass or femininity." So, she set out to create "a line of fun edgy, sexy, women's fitness apparel."

The reason I'm starting with SkirtSports is that this month is the five year anniversary of DeBoom winning Ironman Wisconsin wearing a hand-sewn prototype that she designed. As a result they are doing Five Weeks of Giveaways to celebrate the landmark. Check out the SkirtSports site and the giveaways including: gift certificates, great training accessories and deluxe entries into a SkirtChaser event.

Why I like them:

I have heard people question the idea of a running skirt and say it makes you look like a less serious athlete. I couldn't disagree more. The skirt is one of the most comfortable and most graceful articles of clothing. Seriously, I feel sorry for guys missing out on them! The fact that SkirtSports is headed by a hardcore female athlete makes them feel downright empowering.

I love my electric blue "Sweetest Thing Tatoo" capri-skirt combo. It's light, flatters my figure and there are some well placed pockets. The picture left is of me running on the Coney Island boardwalk in the last leg of the Brooklyn Half Marathon.

SkirtSports products are not cheap. As some one who is not rolling in cash I wouldn't be able to fill my running wardrobe with them, but a piece or two is well worth the price because they are quality. Sure you can find cheaper running skirts but back to my original point that sometimes it's worth paying a little more for some innovative vision.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to School Someone with Good Running Form

During my 10 mile run today I was surprised to have a guy pacing off of me for nearly two miles. I was simultaneously flattered and a little annoyed. He was clearly a pretty experienced competitor and I do not presume to say that I am faster; he definitely would have beaten me in a race. It could be that he was trying to be conservative with his pace on the way out.

Although, it was annoying because he tended to stay on the edge of my peripheral vision. I would have preferred it if he stayed behind so I wouldn't have been conscious of him. Every once in awhile he would pull forward. That was worse because watching his form just tired me out. It was like he was muscling himself forward with his upper body strength. Maybe he was a triathlete? His stride was long, slow and loping. As soon as he pushed ahead it was a matter of moments before I would easily pass him again. Eventually he left me behind when I took my GU break.

I felt comfortably quick while he looked like he was really working hard. His gait was so laborious, I couldn't help but think how much of a happier time he would have if he tweaked his form. Judging by his knee brace his body likely felt the same way.

Somewhere along the road I became completely obsessed with form. Perhaps it was the dance training when I was a youngster or time I spent as a personal trainer, but the importance of form is always paramount in my mind for good performance. I can't help but constantly check in with it.

This is what I tend to think about when I'm running; it's taken from so many sources I can't site them all but if you've read ChiRunning you'll recognize some things:

First, the upper body should be relatively relaxed like it's sitting on a conveyor belt enjoying the ride. The head is lightly balanced on top, no tension in the neck. Eyes straight ahead, focusing on the horizon. The swing of the arms can be largely propelled by natural momentum. They can define your tempo because what your arms do your legs will follow. So I think of light quick taps with my elbows behind me like there is a boxing instructor back there with pads. Arms at 90 degrees with the hands lightly clasped.

I imagine my core is hard like a classic marble statue with a six pack. It has to be strong because that's where the fire is that is propelling me forward. Everything is alignment from my ears to my shoulders to my hips to my knees to my ankles.

The legs are like shock absorbers on cars. They take in the movement of the road, but with control so it's a smooth ride. In fact the impact of the feet against the road should be soft, quick and light. I try to imagine leaving flat foot prints in the sand so that there isn't more pressure on either the heels or the toes. Also, the feet should land directly below the center of gravity.

Of course, I don't succeed in the perfect form all of the time. I have many race photos clearly showing me landing on my heals. I can feel definite improvement the more I practice.

Still, with all of that in mind, my real secret weapon is 180 beats per minute. When I am training I make sure all of my running music mixes are at that tempo. It forces you to keep a short quick stride. The short stride makes it easier to stay in alignment and not bouncing up and down too much. Then as you get stronger you can open up that stride with a bigger kick back that doesn't disrupt your upper body. I really wanted to lean over and tell that to the guy pacing with me today. With the beat to hold onto, I knew I could stay consistent what seemed like way too easily.