Sunday, July 31, 2011

North Shore Swim Series: Chun's Reef To Waimea Race Report

Distance- 1.6mi (map here)
Time- 47:46

Cap-wearing simulation
I should be disappointed by this time. Just over a month ago, in what felt like much more difficult conditions, I managed a 41:06 over the same distance. The difference though, and the reason I'm not all that disappointed, is I'm out of shape. I've been in the water, not counting yesterday, three times since my last race, the dopely-swum Firecracker Triathlon. This does not a good time make.
I tried to think about this race as merely a prep swim for the longer North Shore Challenge, a 2.3 mile swim in the other direction down the coastline in two weeks. I mention the direction because I think that will have an impact on my time. I'm all about swimming by feel, but I don't have a lot of feel right now. I heard many of the swimmers talking about the Chun's race as having plenty of current against us. I didn't notice too much except for one part, but I think that has less to do with me being a He-Fish and more to do with my touch not being where it should be. But, since the North Shore Challenge flows in the other direction, maybe the currents will be kinder. On to the race report!
"Stretching" aka "I will not smack the girl behind me"
The race organizers collected, body marked, and chipped swimmers at Waimea Bay, put us on buses, and ferried us the 1.6mi down the road to the beach we were starting from. It was that or let 600 people wander down narrow North Shore roads. My bus was so crowded I stood in the aisle. Don't try this during a field trip, kids! Once at Chun's we milled around, meeting other swimmers and talking, fidgiting, and waving our arms around (what swimmers call "stretching", but its flailing, see 1:16 in this link for proof). I ran into an older couple I met at the Firecracker Tri who embody the "We Only Do This For Fun" philosophy to the hilt. They are a relay team who calls themselves Team Bloody Mary. Only the husband was doing today's race; the wife runs, and their neighbor rides. And they have been known to greet their transitioning teammates while smelling of, you guessed it, Bloody Marys. Really nice, funny people. (The husband was bummed when he looked at the results post race, "Aww, someone in my age group finished after me! I try to finish last so no one feels bad.")
After brief announcements, "Be nice, don't kick each other, if you feel lost sight on the church tower, watch out for Dirtbag, he's super-fast and good-looking*," we were sent out to the start. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Check out the name of the starting point again. Chun's Reef. Now imagine 600 swimmers gingerly picking their way across a shallow, pointy, underwater playground of ouch and damnit. It was a water start, we had to get out between the buoys and tread water until everyone was ready. So I took my time skulling over the reef. No reason to hurry like some of the Type-A's out there and have to tread for ten minutes. Do-de-doo. Finally everyone was out and ready.
See me?
I never heard to start. Again. But I don't think anyone did. Suddenly the front line was horizontal and splashing instead of vertical and talking. So we followed suit. Ummmm, READYGO!
There are worse places to do an open water swim than Hawaii. Like nearly everywhere on the planet. The water is clean and clear and warm, the reefs are pretty, there are fishes aplenty, and when you pop your head up to sight, its still great to look at. I set a strong-but-sustainable pace and got to work. An open water swim, even one of this size, spreads the field out quickly. Some people go closer to the shore, some go further out, some are fast, some are slow. It is possible feel very alone for a while if you don't take the time to look around. This brings us to a new feature of Dirtbag Fitness-
Things You Think While Open Water Racing:
- "Oh! Fishes!"
- The same line to one song over and over and over and over
- "Is that an old anchor down there?"
- "Where is everyone?"
- "Seriously, am I somehow lost? Am I headed to Molokai?"
- "More fishes!"
- "I wish I could get this song out of my head."
- "ROCK! Must swim around. Where the hell did that come from?"
- "I should be thinking about swimming this race and not about how my blog will read when I write it."
- "You know, I think I've only seen one of the three guiding buoys so far. Am I lost, or just oblivious?" (Answer- Oblivious and way to the right of two of them.)
- "Hey! Swim caps. I'll just catch that group then." (that was my swim ego)

Dog + SUP= bored wife photo-op
Eventually the crowd bunched back up as we swam between two rocks signifying the entry to the bay. For a few hundred yards before that I had been having a race in my own head with some guy in a white swim cap who ended up near me. We both got yelled at by a lifeguard going in to the rock area because we were too far shoreward and would have made rockfall in moments. Back out to the sea! I think he eventually pulled ahead of me, but it was nice to have a friend to race with for a while. Thanks you Mystery Asian Guy.
Up and across the line!
Then I joined another group, slipping into a draft position right off two pairs of feet for the final push towards the two buoys marking the water exit. Drafting helped a lot. I tried a few time to really go for it and race the final 500 yards, but it wasn't happening for as long as I wanted it to. I could push for a few minutes, but then have to dial it back down. Being out of shape will do that. So my new goal was to beat the two pairs of feet in front of me out of the water. We had a little race, and I did win right at the end. I'm not sure if the other two swimmers knew we were racing, but I beat them anyway. Nah nah nah! And across the line! Where a small child for some reason handed me a chocolate. Some races give finisher medals, this race said, "You know what a swimmer wants after 47 minutes? Dark chocolate!" Probably a good motivator. And I got a nice t-shirt and fancy red cap.
So my final time was over six minutes slower than the last time I did this distance, but I'm ok with that. I set out to make it a training race, a workout, and that's what it was. I came in fourteenth in my age group and would have only placed in the top three of Men 25-29 if I could have shaved time off my PR. Meh, I'm ok. Looking forward to the next swim. Much thanks to Background Profiles for their support. Speaking of support, Super Awesome Wife has decided to take a sign to th next race reading, "Spousal Support Team, brought to you by Dirtbag Fitness. We have snacks. Sponsored by Background Profiles." She'll have a cooler with drinks and snacks and welcomes all non-participants waiting a the finish.
Oh yeah, after I finished and was waiting for the rest of the swimmers, Super Awesome Wife and I watched some spinner dolphins playing a few hundred yards off shore. Which means now you get gratuitous pictures of dolphins!

*I made one of those up, can you tell which one?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Macca's Unusual Training Ideas (that I love)

This comes from Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack's blog on his website:

" I say go out and try to get in touch with your perceived exertion and your body rhythm at least a few times a week in all the disciplines of our sport. Most of the time in training, especially when I go to a new town, I often test myself by doing the following.
I leave the hotel room for a run and check the clock before I leave. I then say to myself, okay, I am going to go and run for 1 hour. When I come back I try and see how close to that hour I actually was. I take no watch with me nor do I set any preconceived pace. I run freely and try and feel my way to understanding just how long I have been running by my surroundings and my pace and effort. Funnily enough, the fitter I get the better I am at getting very close to the hour. Early in the season I have gone for what I thought was an hour run and been only 45 minutes. Its crazy how skewed your perceived effort and time can be without the use of tools sometimes. Now I feel very confident I can nail a 10 mile run on feeling without relying on a Garmin to tell me and I could run 90 minutes pretty close to the minute without relying on a watch. It is something I enjoy testing myself with weekly and the more you do it, the greater you will start to feel this freedom of exercise and this tune that you have never paid attention to before. It is this understanding sometimes that will be your biggest strength in a race."

This is such an interesting idea and it meshes nicely with how I'm feeling after reading Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel (see my review here).  I really need to think on it more before I have too much to say, but I think taking the advice of a two-time world champion might be a good way to go when approaching the next cycle of my own training. Macca better watch out. I just bought his book and soon I'll know all his secrets and then he'd still beat me if I was allowed a motor on my bike and roller skates on the run.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Simple Ride

Bike Day
time - 53 minutes
distance- 19mi

One week of training in the bag. Today's ride was a good measure of how things are coming along. Even though it was no faster than last week's ride, which was exactly the same distance and course, it felt better. My legs weren't trembling when I got off the bike and my heart wasn't BA-BOOM BA-BOOMing for much of it. There was little pushing or racing, I'm still getting back in to the rhythm of things, but I felt stronger. Which is an important first step.
I also spent much of the ride with a major stitch in my ribs all up and down the right side. Quite the pain. I stretched and sat as upright as I could trying to work it out and though it would fade it never went away. I'm counting that as a suffer-training session and a mental toughness workout. Albeit a small one, but still. Progress is progress. Get some, go again.
Friday I shall rest, and Saturday I shall spent 40-50 minutes trying to remember I'm not racing, I'm only getting some open water practice in...that I paid for...with a bunch of other people.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Staying Present

Swim Day
1 x 150- Warm-up
4 x 200
5 x 100- 5, 7, 9
1 x 500
1 x 100- 50- fingertip drag/50- sideline kick*
1 x 100- Cool down
total- 2150yards

*this was supposed to be another 5 x 100 set, but tonight was Open House at school and I got the swim in between setting up my classroom all day and being there for the parents to meet. Time was growing short near the end of the swim and something had to be cut.

I think the biggest struggle for me as a swimmer right now is staying present in my body during workouts. Right now I'm not fit enough to dive into sets and blast them out, staying on top of my body, pushing and driving and focusing. I'm early in the base building process which means lots of laps, back and forth, getting those yards back into my arms, shoulders, legs, and core so that in a month or so I can start really exploding through workouts. Now is the time when my mind drifts. Its dangerous.
Not dangerous like if it was happening on the bike. I'm still a new enough cyclist that I need to be fairly focused to not drift into the street and, you know, get crushed by a small Asian woman in an Urban Assault Vehicle. The threat of SQUISH does wonders for keeping your mind on the task at hand. But dangerous as in, "Wait...what lap am I on? Why is my hand doing that when it goes past my hip? Am I about to flip turn into an old person?" I hate drifting away like that. Swimming is still my favorite discipline of the three triathlon events, but you have to be there to enjoy it. And sometimes that black line just seems to monotonous.
The major problem with letting my attention slip during this rebuilding section of my training is small stroke issues spring up easily. I don't finish past my hip. My head drops. My hands enter the water in a less than streamlined manner. My flip turns and streamline glides get lazy. My kick rhythm becomes spastic. And then I tune back in and need to run a full stroke diagnostic. As a swimmer, that isn't ok. I hate this cliche, but perfect practice makes perfect. And the longer I can maintain a strong, pretty stroke during a workout, then longer I can maintain it in a race situation, especially the end when I'm fatiguing. Gotta stay present in my head and in the set. That way I can get some and go again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting Back in Step

Run Day (Sunday)
Distance- slip going up steps, bang the crap out of left knee, limp around for fifteen minutes waiting for it to stop hurting, not cry like a little girl
time- 15 minutes

Swim Day (Monday)
1 x 150- Warm-up
5 x 100- 1:30
3 x 50- Sideline kick
1 x 500
1 x 400
1 x 300
1 x 200
1 x 100- Cool down
total- 2300 yards

Run Day (Tuesday)
time- 31 minutes
distance- approx. 3.5mi

I am not, as of yet, trying terribly hard. I'm at the very beginning of rebuilding my base fitness. I wish very much that I could be working harder, especially in the water. But the fact is, and I promise to stop harping on this soon, the month off took a toll on my fitness level. So there are not man gears for me to go to right now. Frustrating, but I understand it. At least there should be plenty of growth in the coming month. That's always one of the more fun parts of a training cycle.
As an experiment, inspired by both the Super Awesome Wife and by The Fit Life, we have decided to go 90% vegetarian. I have been wanting to try this for a while now, and the wanting was brought on months ago by The Fit Life's own vegetarian journey. Also, because of triathlon my weight is something I've been thinking about. I know I'm not over-weight and I'm not going to say anything that's going to make you, my dear readers, roll your eyes. But looking around that the guys taking the podium and the guys ripping by me...they have a different body type. They are skinny dudes. I know my body, I'm not built to be skinny. But I could be lighter. And lighter, on the bike and on the run, will be faster.
We also want to be healthier, and going 90% vegetarian will go a long way towards that. Not that we weren't being healthy, the Super Awesome Wife is great at healthy food. But we decided we could be more healthy. And she wanted to try out eating like this too.
Now, there is no way we would go all the way vegetarian. For two reasons: 1) Meat is yummy and we don't feel like being super-intense about a specialized diet and 2) Bacon. Go ahead, tell my wife she can't have bacon any more. I dare you.
I probably won't be doing too much documenting of what we are eating, but she will. So if you're interested in checking out the vegetarian (and nearly, mostly, pretty much vegetarian) meals being whipped up at Dirtbag Manor, link on over to Angela's Teeny Tiny Kitchen and read away. On my end I'll probably bring it up every once in a while, especially if I'm feeling energy changes or effects to my workouts.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I Watched Le Tour

Ride Day (Saturday)
time- 2:05
distance- 28mi

There were two choice for the blog about this workout. The one I went with and "Oh God, I'm So Slow And Climbing Hurts So Much." I tried to skew more positive.
Let this be said about my ride on Saturday, and then we will move on. It hurt. It was slow. I went down the mountain to Haleiwa, around, and back up Pineapple Hill. This is a ride I do nearly every weekend, and it was getting, while not easy, much less hard before I went to the mainland for three weeks.
That seems to have fallen away. It hurt, it was slow, I wanted to stop at least once during the climb, but I didn't. I kept Strength Through Suffering squarely in mind and fought through it. Next time will be a little easier.
Anyway, on to le Tour.
You may wonder why I watched a month long tv show about guys riding bicycles endlessly through France. Simple, I want to be a faster cyclist. Get it? No? I shall elaborate.
I believe in the Learn From the Best school of athletic thought. And who is better at riding a bicycle than the guys in Le Tour?I wanted to see what it is they do that I don't do. How do they ride? Can I see what is going on in their heads, in their legs, in their hearts? I think I can. Watch the face of a Tour de France rider as he attacks the Alps. There is a level of brutal suffering there that you rarely see anywhere else. This shit hurts. The whole time. There are probably points where it hurts less, but like a tattoo on your ribs, "hurts less" is relative to what your current definition of "hurts" is.
Contador and Schleck define "Suffering"
There is learning to be had in that. How do you force yourself to suffer that much? If I can learn that, I can get faster. So I watch.
I'm not watching for technique. I don't know nearly enough about cycling to be able to watch Schleck or Cav or Contador and think, "Oh, ok so he's in this gear when attacking and his knees are pointing at this angle when blah blah blah." No, not so much. But I am watching body positioning and trying to compare it to how my body feels when I'm riding full out or struggling up my own personal Alpe d’Huez. I'm watching the best and trying to absorb through my television (or through my in-law's television- *aside* The best way to make your in-laws think you are strange is to turn Le Tour on, sit down, and watch it. They will come in to the room, "Watcha watching?" "The Tour." "...oh." Then will stand for a minute looking at the TV wondering what you could possibly be seeing, make a noise, and leave. *end aside*) something of what makes them so good. I want that determination. It's the same reason I watch Mike Phelps destroy other swimmers. I want to have his fish-babies.
Also, if you a re a fan of cycling, as I seem to have become, Le Tour is good fun, good sport, and good TV. And can be as brutally unpredictable as any great NFL game. I submit the following:

And you finished? Seriously?
Yeah, that car just swerved to avoid a tree, hit Juan Antonio Flecha, sending him down into the path of Johnny Hoogerland, who flew (flew!) into a barded wire fence. James Harrison can only dream about doing that much damage. This happened during Stage 9. The amazing thing? Hoogerland finished the stage. He got up, dusted himself off, and got back on a new bike. Le Tour sent a doctor on the back of a motorcycle to him, who leaned off the back of the bike and taped his leg up while they were both moving.
Also fun to watch is just about every finish, especially the sprints. How, after 195km, can there still be a sprint in the last 500m? Doesn't that blow your mind? A race that takes three hours should not still be exciting in the final 20 seconds. But because of team work and strategy it still happens. Watch the Manx Missile get launched by his teammates and tell me cycling isn't a team sport. (Honestly, I wanted to provide a video link to this, but after 15 frustrating minutes on the YourTubes and Googles I gave up. I'm sure you can find one.)
I loved watching this year's Tour, I feel like I learned and was inspired. And that's what it's all about. Congrats to this year's winner, Cadel Evans. The first Australian Tour winner ever.
For more on Le Tour, this link and this link lead to good write-ups by professionals.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mind the First Step

Bike Day (Thursday)
time- 53 minutes
distance- 19 miles

Swim (Friday)
1 x 150 -Warm-up
5 x 100- 1:30
5 x 100- 1, 2, 3, Swim
1 x 100- Cool down
total- 1250yds

Note to Self (and all Dirtbag Readers): Taking three or four weeks off means that those first few workouts are going to suuuuuck. Remember how 20 miles on the bike would be an unsatisfactorily short amount of time? Remember talking a big game about how you were going to drop your 100m workout pace to 1:25? You
The Beatings Will Continue!
should put those things on the back burner for a few weeks until your base comes back.
The ride Thursday hurt more than I expected it to. It was an easy, mostly downhill or flat ride that had my heart pounding at the end of every climb. I even set out with the express purpose of "an easy ride, just to get my legs back." And I still got to where I was going pretty worn out.
On top of that, I think I must have forgotten how humid it is here. Damn, I felt hot and sweaty by the time I was done. The hot/sweaty feeling may have been exacerbated by my new jersey, which I just had to wear as soon as I got back.
I have the same tattoo that shoulder
It looks cool, but I think the breathablilty of this particular jersey may be lower than what I'm used to. Or it was really humid and I'm going to have to wait until I re-adjust. One of the two. Oh, or I'm a big baby now. One of the three.
Anyway, the ride felt harder than it should have, but I wasn't too sore the next day. I'll be hitting the road for 35 miles today.
As for the swim, I know that looks like ridiculously short yardage, especially if you've been following this blog at all. Especially especially if you take in to account that a week from now I'm doing a 1.6 mile open water swim. What the hell am I doing knocking out a mere 1250 yards? Two things- Important Thing One) easing back in to it. There is no way to possibly truly prepare for that long of a swim in one week after a month off. Not going to happen. So my choices are to either burn myself up trying to prepare or focus on getting my feel back, hence the 1, 2, 3, swim drill, and treat next Saturday as a long workout instead of a race. Less Important Thing Two) We had tickets to go see Captain America
Go See This Movie.
yesterday and due to less-than-stellar timing on my part I didn't have as much time in the pool as I planned. So my swim got cut short. Still, it felt ok, if not terribly fast. I could not feel the water, which doesn't mean anything to you if you aren't a swimmer but means everything if you are. Swimming, unlike running or cycling, has to be pretty. A general rule is, if your stroke looks nice, then it probably is fast. A corollary to that is, swimming is much more form-dependent than running or cycling. You will see more fast ugly runners than you will see fast ugly swimmers. Running is more forgiving like that. Also, the range of "ugly form" in running is bigger and up for more of a debate. (So much so that I just went to the YouTubes looking for an amusing video of awful running form and couldn't find one because I feel bad making fun of someone's form now. Instead, imagine a guy in massively heavy shoes who looks like he's fighting an invisible demon which is only vulnerable to flailing arms and knees. Him, he ain't fast. But he's still faster than the swimmer with an equally ugly stroke.) But not being able to feel the water makes it harder to assess what my stroke looks like as I'm swimming. It also means my catch-pull-finish under the water is less effective because I'm not finding the proper place to anchor my hand or the most effective path for my stroke to take beneath me. The drill helped, and I'll be back in the water Monday to keep working on it.Today, as I said, will be a 35 mile ride. Weather looks nice. Should be a good time to get some. Probably ought to eat a little more first.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Registration Frenzy!!!

After a brief stint on the mainland (not working out), Dirtbag Fitness is back on the island and gearing up for our (my) second year of competition.
First, I'm taking on the third and fourth races in the North Shore Swim Series (NSSS). I would have liked to do all four races but the first went off the day we left for the mainland and the second happened while we were gone. Which means, no complete series for me. Too bad, I think I could have done well. Well, my swim ego, The Tattooed Wake, thinks I could have done well. (What? You don't have an event-specific nickname for your nickname?)
Which means in nine days I'll be taking on the 1.6 mile Chun's to Waimea swim. To clarify, I haven't worked out in any significant manner at all since my Firecracker Sprint on June 26th. This is an example of what is called Possibly Misplaced Faith in My Ability to Retain Endurance Swimming Fitness (PMFMARESF...the name may need work). I know I can swim 1.6 miles right now. I am fit enough for that. My stroke is strong and smooth and can get me through. How fast I can finish, that's a different story. There will be modified goal setting going on.
The second event I'm signed up for is NSSS race four, the North Shore Challenge. This 2.3 miles swim is sure to hurt, even if I was completely prepared, which I probably won't be, even by August 13th. I'll be in better shape than I will be for Chun's, but who knows how much better. I'll be prepared, I'll make it hurt, I'll succeed in enhancing my suffering threshold for maximum speed. Get some, go again.
The third event I'm in for is one I'm most excited about. It is the Ko'Olina Sprint Triathlon. If that sounds familiar that means you are one of the few, the proud, the followers who have been with Dirtbag Fitness since the beginning. This was my very first race and the reason I continue to spend money I should be saving doing things early Sunday's most people think is silly. It will be very cool to compare that time to this on and see just how far I've come. I think the bike is the same distance, though I'm not sure. Looking back at my race report I didn't record distances. This year's is reported to be 26k, which will make it one of my longer bike portions. Good thing I'm Dirtbag Fit. Also, I plan on doing a century in September, so 16 miles should be even more of a spin around the block than it is now.
So Dirtbag Fitness hits the ground running for the new school year. Huh, nine days to race time. I need to get in the pool!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dirtbag Fitness Book Review: Run- The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel

Run Beautifully:
a review of Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel
by Matt Fitzgerald

“Luke, trust your feelings.” -Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master

“90% of baseball is mental. The other half is physical” -Yogi Berra

Have you ever read a book and four paragraphs in to it you discover yourself nodding at everything you read? Then, as you progress through the book, you never stop nodding? That's what it was like reading Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel. Thoughts that I had about endurance sport but had never been able to verbalize were appearing before my eyes. Matt Fitzgerald had been in my head! He was writing what I had long suspected, had sometimes written about regarding my own workouts, and had occasionally spoken about with other athletes. The importance of the role of the mind in physical achievement and how trusting your body can lead to great gains.
Now, let's be honest. Many times the point of reading is to discover new ways of thinking and viewpoints to which you have never been exposed. This happens all the time, both with fiction and with non-fiction. Born to Run leaps to mind. But, to be even more honest, it is really nice to read something which completely validates your own personal feelings about something. Feelings and thoughts which were come by naturally and without outside influence. Hence all the Post-Its. Here is a book, I thought, where the author is putting to words all those things I knew I was right about. I must keep notes.
The main thrust of the book, in case the title isn't clear enough, is the idea that your body knows how to run, and how to run fast, better than anything else. It knows better than your coach, though a coach can learn to listen to his runner's bodies. It knows better than a training guide, though those are useful tools for building familiarity and structure. And it knows better than any expensive piece of equipment you can buy, though...actually Fitzgerald doesn't sound much impressed with expensive gear. In fact, in an increasingly modern running world, Fitzgerald advocates for an intensely minimalist approach to running. He suggests that, while heart rate monitors and VO2Max levels may have their place, they can be more of a hindrance than a help in a runner's quest for speed. After all, if you feel strong but your heart rate monitor is saying that you have reached the target heart rate for this run are you going to listen to your body push a little harder, increase your perceived effort a little more? Or will you accept what the machine and The Plan for the day is telling you? Is that choice the best choice?
Now, if you are reading this the chances are very high you are a minimalist or barefoot runner. While only mentioning barefoot running explicitly one or two times many of the concepts of running the author espouses dovetail nicely with the barefoot running philosophy. For example, look at this quote: “Mind-body running is a coherent approach to running based on the simple idea that your perceptions tell you everything you really need to know to succeed in the sport.” If I had to choose one sentence in the 250+ page book which sums up everything he wants the reader to know that would be it. And that same sentiment makes up the underpinning of the barefoot running lifestyle. You take off your shoes and a whole new world of sensations opens up under your toes. The ground comes alive and your feet tell you things about stride, foot strike, and pacing that you never knew before. In the chapter called “Run Beautifully,” the author puts forth the idea that there is no Perfect Stride to which all runners should aspire. That each runner's stride is a little bit different and the only reason to teach technique is to sell more books and DVDs. “Indeed,” he says, “I believe that if all runners ran barefoot, the various running techniques would not exist.” Now, I think we will never see Fitzgerald advocating a barefoot-only style of running on TV, but that might not be as much due to him being a mainstream voice in the running community as it is due to his belief, as it reads in this book, that there is no One True Way to running happiness.
In Run, Fitzgerald preaches listening to your body to such a detailed extent that specific workouts are planned, not days or weeks in advance, but nearly on the fly. Runs should be developed and adapted based on how the runner feels that day while following the most basic of plans, (i.e. interval day, distance day, hill day, rest day) which can also be flexible if absolutely necessary. The body knows when it needs to rest, when an injury is on the horizon, and when it is ready to truly suffer through a day at the track. So he shies away from giving specific training plans, which seems to be a departure from many of the author's other books. He mentions that in the past he has written running books which he admits contain ideas contradictory to those found in Run. I like that. I think it shows an ability to learn from experience and an openness to new ideas, both touchstones of the minimal and barefoot philosophy.
Instead of strict by-the-book planning, a trial-and-error process predicated on an individual runner's experience with running is suggested. There is an appendix at the end, but it contains very simple, skeletal frames on which the runner can hang a plan. This idea of building runs as they come up is, for me, quite intimidating. The author seems to understand this and provides scaffolding to increase every runners chances of success, recognizing that it might not work for everyone. Nothing does. Which is kind of the point of the book.
Barefoot runners place a great deal of emphasis on intuition and listening to all the information constantly flowing in during a naked run. One example you see cropping up all the time on various barefoot running message boards is the “hot spot” issue. A post might say something like, “I was having a great run, but felt a hot spot developing on the outside of my foot and decided it was time to walk/put on the minimalist shoes I brought just in case.” A later post from the same runner might go on to say that their hot spot problem has gone away. Fitzgerald would say that this runner used their intuition to protect themselves from further injury, something that would have been impossible in traditional shoes. The runner addressed the weakness in a proper way on the fly, and made adjustments later. Why did the hot spot go away? Did the runner's feet toughen up? Or did running by feel allow the runner's body, with or without her knowledge, to make minute stride adjustments, thereby fixing the problem?
He also cites a study done by Irene Davis, founder of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Delaware regarding impact levels in runners and how that relates to injury. I think we can all guess what her findings are. It is basic common sense. The higher the impact the greater the chance of injury. And this discovery lead Fitzgerald and Davis to suggest that the easiest way to develop a lower-impact stride is to try to run quieter. At this point in the review I will wait while all of you nod your heads and think about how you have probably noticed how much quieter you run without shoes. Again, given five seconds you can probably find a post on a barefoot or minimalist running forum like the Barefoot Runners Society where a runner remarks on how they snuck up on other runners while out for their daily sweatfest. Running quieter was not a conscious choice, but an example of the mind-body connection of running by feel. Your body sent specific feedback to your brain, which instinctively interpreted that information and made the changes required to prevent injury and sustain pace. And you became a running ninja.
Fitzgerald also deals with the emotional factors of running. The second chapter of the book is called “Run Happy,” which is a philosophy preached by many members of the BRS. He suggests that a happy runner is a fast runner because a happy runner enjoys her training, and enjoyment of training leads to more training, which leads to being a better runner. And being a better runner makes running more fun, which leads to a happier runner, which means...well, you can see where this is going. Conversely, there is a section later in the book about racing angry, and this section too lead to much nodding and note scribbling on my part. Short version- Racing angry can be good for you. Example from triathlon- Chris McCormack, two-time Kona Ironman Champion, often creates adversity in his head which he then uses as fuel during competition. Micheal Jordan famously did the same for his entire career.
As a triathlete, the things I wanted to take away from this book more than anything else were about gaining speed. How do I get faster? Did I find that? Yes, but not in the way I expected. At no point does the author say, “Do A and B will happen and your PRs shall fall like rain!” In fact, he suggests that experimentation and personalization are key factors in speed and training. Another quote which meshes quite nicely with the barefoot thought process comes during Chapter Three: Finding a Magic Formula. He says, “Don't blindly train the way you are taught to train as a runner...Each runner is genetically unique, and the only way to find optimal training is through mindful, ongoing experimentation.” What was taking off our shoes in the first place if not an initial step away from what we have been taught as runners and towards “mindful, ongoing experimentation?” Does that make me a faster triathlete? In itself, no. But the idea can lead to speed.
Another idea which will make me faster, and which I've internalized but had never been able to externalize, the that suffering and enjoyment are not mutually exclusive. To wit, the hurt of training does not mean that the training isn't fun. Running happy, which I've mentioned is the theme of Chapter Two, and suffering while running can and often do happen at the same time. This concept seems crazy to a non-runner. To someone not in shape, exercise hurts and hurting sucks. But to a fit person, burning lungs and jelly legs mean strength is coming. And that it took slightly longer today than yesterday for the lungs to burn and the legs to wobble means that the previous sufferfest worked. As an athlete, few things feel better than knowing all that work leads to a real, tangible result. And, because of the depth of the suffering, my mind-body connection will kick in during a race, telling me that I've suffered this much before, this isn't new, and this can be broken through, and I can catch that guy in boat anchors in front of me.
Honestly, there is so much in this book I loved. I could go on forever. I'm resisting the urge to give a full-on summary of every time a light bulb went off and a blow-by-blow account of every “Ah ha!” moment. But you don't have the time for that and neither do I. We'd rather be running.
Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel, is a book primarily concerned with racing. If you are interested in becoming a faster runner and are open to new and different ideas about how to get there, I think this book will help you in that quest. However, if you have no interest in racing and never plan on entering even a local 5K or Turkey Trot, I still think reading this book will do wonders for your running, your enjoyment of running, and your outlook whenever you pull on your shorts, put on (or take off) your shoes, and hit the road. And, to the barefoot and minimalist runners reading this, I hope I've supported my argument that this thesis of this book, running by feel, is a major part of the barefoot running ideal and that it would be a valuable addition to any runner's library.
As for myself, I can't wait to go back through my dozens of Post-It notes and refresh his ideas in my memory. I plan on using many of the theories I found, not only in my run training, but I think they will also translate nicely into my cycling and swim training and in my approach to racing (Example: Pre-race fear is good. It brings clarity, focus, and adrenaline. Embrace the Fear.). If you are anything like me, you may have even reached conclusions very similar to the author's on your own. And how good it feels to be validated in such a scientific, well-written manner. It makes for inspiring reading.
Run fast. Run happy. Run with feeling.

Verdict- 5/5 RDRU (Random Dirtbag Rating Units)

*This review was written for and originally appeared at the Barefoot Runners Society. It can be found here.