My Minimalist Running Shoe Saga

You might have noticed that I’ve been quiet around here over the past week or so.

No, it’s not that I’ve fallen into groupie-dom on the Backstreet Boys / New Kids on the Block tour, despite any Facebook rumors you may have heard.

The real reason is that I’ve been busting my tail to put together some really good free stuff for you that’ll finally be available this week.

Tomorrow I’ll be publishing a 16-page special PDF report that’s all about the crucial mistakes people make when they try to train for their first half marathon, mistakes that often leave them injured, discouraged or both.

And of course, the report explains what you need to do to avoid those missteps.  It’s something you’ll find extremely useful if you’re just starting to think about a half marathon and wondering about what it might take for you to do it, or if you’ve tried in the past but struggled with it.

But that’s for tomorrow.  Today it’s Memorial Day, so since the audience is probably a little thin, I’ve got something different than usual.  A little story, if you will.  It’s the answer to the question — which I get ALL the time — “Matt, how come you don’t run in Vibram Five Fingers anymore?”

It all started as a Boston-qualifying present.

Vibram Five Fingers Mens KSO 04 300x199Like so many other runners, maybe even you, I was led to Vibram Five Fingers when I read Born to Run. I had been curious about the shoes-with-toes for a while, but in a show of restraint that was completely uncharacteristic, I delayed buying a pair until my marathon was finished, the marathon for which I was training so hard to qualify for Boston.

“Not worth the risk,” I said.

The risk, of course, was of getting injured.  Of forcing all those small muscles in my feet, which had so long been neglected in modern running shoes, to do some work. And perhaps they would not be up to the task.

But as soon as I did run that marathon (and did qualify), I bought a pair of Vibrams as my reward for qualifying.

Vibram Five Fingers

Although I enjoyed the novelty of my Five Fingers, I pretty quickly noticed three unsettling things:

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The Anti-Diet Success Story

Post written by Susan Lacke.

You won’t read this post and discover how a vegetarian “diet” will help you drop weight.

iStock 000010507412XSmallYou won’t learn how many miles you need to run every day to lose weight, gain muscle, or otherwise alter your body. There will be no shocking before and after photo, nor will you unlock the secrets of dropping ten pounds in one week.

I can tell you I used to be a lot heavier than I currently am, but I couldn’t tell you how much of a difference there is between now and then — I haven’t stepped on a scale in months.

I spent most of my college years trying to find a balance between my desire to be a size zero, my “need” to drink beer and eat pizza, and my lacking motivation to drag my hungover ass to the gym on a regular basis. Since I wasn’t willing to give up the booze, junk food, and sedentary lifestyle, I resorted to other measures:

  • A week on a diet that consisted solely of diet coke and apples.
  • Laxatives.
  • Phases of 500 calories of food per day and 1000 calories of beer at night.
  • Diet pills.
  • A relationship with cigarettes that began when one of my (very thin) friends told me smoking burns calories.

Listen, I said I was in college, not that I was smart.

These poor choices affected me not only physically, but mentally. When I found one thing wrong with my body, the floodgates opened to criticize other parts. I was tired. I was hungry. I was frustrated. I was fat.

I was a lot of things — but happy wasn’t really one of them. By defining myself by the shape of my body, I had been cursed with a serious case of the “not enoughs:” I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough.

Enough of ‘not enough’

I’m not really sure what caused my shift in thinking, but one day I decided I was tired of “not enough.” It was time to make a change. Even though I wasn’t sure I was capable of running three miles without stopping, I signed up for my first 5K race and started training.

I ran. It was hard.

I ran some more. It got easier.

I did a 5K, then a half-marathon, a marathon, and an Ironman triathlon…and with each race, my body changed.

But this isn’t a diet success story.

I didn’t sign up for my first race because I wanted to lose weight — I signed up because I wanted to cross a finish line. By being “enough” to accomplish one goal, I was “enough” to accomplish others. There’s a certain sense of empowerment that grows with each mile run and each finish line crossed.

The weight loss was a happy byproduct of this process. Though I’m thinner now, running and triathlon didn’t give me a waif-like, model-thin body, or even a ripped, muscular one.  I have a little cupcake belly, not a six-pack.  You won’t see me on the cover of Competitor Magazine, unless my editor decides it would be a hysterical April Fools’ joke.

But — and this is a big but (not butt) — I’m happy.

Running helped me see my body in a different light. I no longer get frustrated with my body for how it looks, but instead am in awe of what it can do. My little cupcake belly is the fuel tank that gets me through training and racing. My legs, which TV tells me can never be quite small enough, are what I trust to keep powering me up hills when they have every reason to quit.

My body may not be as chiseled as most of the athletes I race with, but it has the power to cover the exact same course as they can. And though I’m not cover-model material, I don’t really care. For the first time in my life, I’m happy with who I am and confident in what I can do. I finally feel like I’m enough.

This isn’t a diet success story. Stop looking for one.

When a person stops focusing on how the body looks and starts truly appreciating what it can do, it becomes obvious how those thoughts of “not enough” have limited the release of so much potential, in so many ways. It’s as simple as using the body you have to accomplish what you think it can’t. Exercise can change how the body looks, sure, but the effects on the mind, self-concept, and confidence can be so much more powerful.

There is no magic pill. There is no secret diet. There is no miracle that will get you to a perfect body.

There’s just you and what you’re capable of doing.

And that’s more than enough.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In addition to serving as No Meat Athlete’s Resident Triathlete, Susan Lacke writes a monthly column in Competitor Magazine and a new blog post every Thursday on Competitor.com. She likes carrots…especially those found in carrot cupcakes. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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Could Your Long Runs Be Doing More Harm than Good?

Everyone knows that the cornerstone of any marathon training program, and especially any ultramarathon plan, is the long run.

Well, guess what?  It turns out everyone might be wrong.

Eliminating the sacred long run

no lsd image 300x300Brian Mackenzie and the people at CrossFit Endurance are training their athletes to run 100-mile ultramarathons on less than 30 miles per week.  Even more incredible is that they do this without running more than a half marathon in training.

How?

The idea, as detailed on the CrossFit Endurance FAQ page but explained in more depth in Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body, is based on the distinction between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

For those who somehow avoided the lesson on the two systems in gym class, here’s the two-line version: 

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Forks Over Knives Review

The title says it all.  That is, if you get it.

I didn’t at first.  I figured “Forks Over Knives” was simply a reference to vegetarians’ choice not to kill animals for food.

forks over knivesBut an image on the film’s webpage leaves no doubt as to what the title really means.

In the upper left of the page, there’s fork with a tomato on it.  At the bottom of the page, there’s the knife.

Only, it isn’t a knife like you’d use to eat.  Instead, it’s an image that evokes far more emotion — it’s a scalpel.

The knife, here, is medicine and surgery. The fork is food.

Food over medicine

If the argument against a plant-based diet is that it’s extreme, then what do you call 500,000 people each year having their chest opened up on an operating table, and having a vein from their leg sewn onto their heart?

That’s one of many, many points raised by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who, along with Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Cornell University professor and author of The China Study, presents evidence in favor of a plant-based diet for health.

Esselstyn and Campbell both grew up on farms believing that animal protein was essential to our well-being, but have since changed their beliefs in the face of mounting data pointing in one direction — that a whole foods, plant-based diet could be the answer to our country’s obesity epidemic and health crisis.

That evidence, and the theory which it supports, is the main subject of Forks Over Knives.  Among the evidence are several damning studies of the cancer-causing effects of casein, the protein which makes up 80% of the protein in cow’s milk.

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Before You Go Vegetarian, Think About This

Note: This is a guest post from Emily Levenson, who writes {Custom Made} Life.

You wouldn’t sign up for a marathon and run it the next day, would you?

Of course not.  Instead, you’d select your goal, plan your training, and work your way up to the big day.  That way when race day comes, you’re ready, and you own those 26.2 miles.

You should treat going vegetarian the same way.

Why do you want to go vegetarian?

iStock 000012945279XSmall 300x199Of course the obvious reasons of why you’re making the switch are important:

  • For the environment
  • For your health
  • For the animals
  • For your family
  • For the challenge

Whatever your reasons are, they are your own. The longer you stick with a plant-based diet, the more those reasons will evolve.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have this patience.

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You Have All the Time You Need: How to Find an Extra Hour and Start Something Awesome Today

In a million years, I wouldn’t have thought Comcast would be the one to finally get me to cancel my cable.

Freeing myself from the grips of the idiot box was something I had wanted to do for years.  People I respect had convinced me that cancelling my cable could change my life, even add 8.2 years to it and save me $133,369.

iStock 000014505558XSmall 300x225But I liked ESPN.  And reruns of The Office. And even a helping of Top Chef once in a while.  So I did the easiest thing, which was to do nothing.

How Comcast helped me finally quit cable

I actually did call to cancel my cable one time.  And in typical fashion, the person who was supposed to come unplug us didn’t show up. But when our bill came the next month, we noticed we weren’t paying for cable anymore.

Sweet.

Not entirely satisfied but happy to be paying less, I again did nothing, and kept on watching TV.  Not a lot, but enough.

Until Comcast benevolently stepped in and weened me off of it.  One day, several months of mindless half hours later, I turned on the TV to find about half the cable channels gone.  Replaced by a message, about something digital box something something.

I almost called to get a box.  But I still had ESPN, and doing nothing was pretty easy, so again, that’s what I did.

And then one day a few weeks ago, everything was gone.  Something digital box something something.

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The Best Stuff I Read Last Week — ‘Failure’ Edition

It makes me a little sad to report that I’m not going to be running 100 miles on June 4th.  But I’m okay with that.

The reason?  No excuses or blaming external circumstances.  I honestly just haven’t found the discipline recently to get out there for 20, 30, and 50 mile training runs.   It’s not anyone’s fault but my own, and I can handle that.

One ultrarunner friend of mine encouraged me to go down to Virginia and run it anyway.  “You just ran a marathon,” he said.  “Given that and the fact that you’ve done a few 50’s, you can make it through a hundred.”

Hmm.  Crazy as that sounds, it’s how these ultrarunners think, and maybe he’s right.   But that’s not how I want to do it.  I’ve run a few races without being prepared, and it’s not fun.  Not just because it hurts so bad, but because it makes it impossible to really look forward to the race and enjoy all that goes along with it.

Does that make this a failure?

Sure.  For now.  But it ultimately won’t be.

When I do run my first hundred, which I have zero doubt that I will someday (I still hope to do it within the next year), this will just be the first step I took on the way to doing it.  Not a step I’ll be especially proud of, but I’ll be able to say that it got the process started.

Isn’t that the only way to look at failure?

A new training experiment

Some good has come from this, and that’s a renewed interest in running fast.  Since I qualified for Boston a year and a half ago, almost all my running has been of the long, slow variety, usually in preparation for 50K’s or 50-milers.  But running the Boston Marathon helped me realize that I do want to run fast again to get back there, and that’s been key for my motivation.

So I’ve been hitting the track again, and loving running like I haven’t in a long time.  And though the next few races on my schedule are ultras (the Vermont 50 again, for one), I want to see what happens if I do mostly short, fast training — lots of track workouts and tempo runs, under eight miles or so, with just a few longish runs sprinkled in to keep the aerobic system in shape.

So yeah, I could dwell on failure.  But instead, I’ll be excited that running is fun again, and to be trying something new.  That’s what I’m taking from this.

New Balance winner!

Alright, we have a winner for the New Balance 890’s giveaway.  It’s…

“Kim in MD,” who said:

Thanks for a chance to win!As my 60 year-old father has run 50+ marathons & ultras and he refuses to go anywhere near the minimalist running, I’m in the cushioned camp. But I am always interested to hear how others feel about this issue. It’s a pretty big commitment to transition over, if you’re unsure.

The conspiracy theorists will note that Kim is from my home state of Maryland, but I can assure you I don’t know Kim and that the drawing was random.  Thanks to everyone who entered and left interesting comments about the minimalist footwear debate, as well as to New Balance for doing the giveaway.

And finally, the links

Here they are, the most interesting articles (well, one’s a video) I found last week.  Enjoy.

How to Run a Marathon with (Almost) No Training — Location 180

I didn’t think I was going to like this post.  As I alluded to above, so much is missing from the whole race experience when you’re not prepared for the distance, even if you can manage to drag yourself across the finish line.

But as I kept reading, I recognized that the things that kept Sean going (when the furthest he had run in “training” was eight miles) are the same things that keep everyone going when they’re running farther than they ever have before.

Anyway, it’s an interesting read, and that message isn’t “why bother training?”  Instead, it’s “you’re capable of way more than you realize,” and I like that.

Splenda — Made from Sugar, but is Closer to DDT — Mercola

If you’re still consuming artificial sweeteners, this one’s for you.  The hype-y DDT headline is intriguing, but that comparison doesn’t seem too meaningful to me (how about you, chemists?).  Still, I’m glad this stuff is making news.

Yes, sugar is probably at the heart of the obesity epidemic, but artificial sweeteners are no “solution.”  And that is a really, really bad chemistry joke.

Forks Over Knives

It’s in a few theaters now, with lots more being added in the coming weeks.  There’s a ton of buzz around this film, and I believe it’s going to do a lot to change the way people eat.

As you know if you’re a regular No Meat Athlete reader, I don’t write much about ethical issues here.  I think they’re important and interesting, but I’m not comfortable preaching about what’s right and wrong.  I like writing about running and about feeling great and having the energy to do awesome stuff, and I personally know I can do a lot more good that way than I could with another, guilt-driven approach.

Forks Over Knives appears to take the same tack, focusing on how this diet can improve our health as the reason to go vegan (it doesn’t really even mention veganism in the marketing).  So that’s why I’m excited about it.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I think they’re going to send me a screener, so look for a review here soon.

Get Started — from Overweight to Healthy — Zen Habits

A lot of times I think about where you possibly start when you are significantly overweight, and how hard it must be to make drastic changes to your eating habits or to start exercising.  Especially when exercise itself is so miserable, precisely because the fact that you’re overweight makes it hard to actually do the activity that’s required to change that.

So I suppose you take it on in the same way you take on any overwhelming task, which is by breaking it down and taking some action, no matter how small.  That’s the approach here, and it seemed worth sharing to me.  I’d love to hear what you think about it, if you’ve dealt with weight issues, either successfully or unsuccessfully.

Alright, that’s all for today.  I’m heading into my last week of school, so I’m hoping to be able to write a lot more posts in the coming weeks and months.  See you soon!

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Being Vegan is Easy

No pizza.  At least, not the real thing.

One — if you’re lucky — choice on most restaurant menus, and even then it’s usually something lame, like a veggie wrap.

The feeling that, even when friends are nice enough to cook vegan food for you, you’re kind of being a pain in the ass.

Given all of this not-so-great stuff that comes with the choice not to eat animal products, it’s probably hard for people to understand how I can say, when my friends ask me how veganism is going, that it has been easy.

Incredibly, remarkably, astoundingly easy.

“Don’t you miss cheese?”

No.  The reason I went vegan after two years of being vegetarian is that cheese stopped appealing to me, for the most part.  I still ate it out of laziness and convenience (pizza, most often), but once I made the decision not to do that anymore, it’s been easy.

Twice I’ve ordered pizza without cheese.  It’s not as good as it was with cheese, but it’s still good and it still fills me up.  Does that count as “missing” cheese?  I don’t think so.  It’s not like I go through the day longingly wishing to have cheese back in my life.

The trick was phasing it out.  After each of my previous vegan trials, I lost a little bit of the taste for dairy, and when I finally made this decision, dairy represented only a tiny portion of my diet.

“Isn’t it hard to get protein?”

If you’re looking for 40 grams of protein at each meal, then yes.   But if you’re shooting for only 10-15% of your calories to come from protein, like I am, then it’s really not hard at all.

The fact is, most of the best vegetarian protein sources are vegan.  So getting protein as a vegan isn’t so different from getting protein as a vegetarian; you’ve just got to replace the dairy and eggs with other forms of protein.

I’m lucky in that I didn’t eat eggs to begin with (they always smelled like gym socks to me).  And as I mentioned above, I had mostly phased out dairy by the time I decided to go vegan.  So getting enough protein didn’t pose any new challenges.

One thing I will admit is that as a vegan, I need to pay more attention than before to make sure I consume enough calories throughout the day, not necessarily protein.  To help with this, I’ve added a whole wheat bagel with homemade raw almond butter and a touch of maple syrup to my morning routine, which packs in close to 600 calories on top of my breakfast smoothie.

“What do you do when you go out to eat?”

Eating dinner out used to be a big deal for me and my wife.  We loved it.  To spend a few hours and $200 at an Italian restaurant, with appetizers, main courses, desserts, a bottle of wine, and a cup of coffee or glass of port to top it all off was about as perfect a date as we could imagine.

We don’t have that any more, but for those exceedingly rare occasions when we travel to a city that has vegan options.  And even then, the grandiosity of the meal is never the same.

And you know what?  I’m glad about that.  Consuming so many calories and so much wine that I can’t sleep, blowing that kind of money on a meal, and even making food the focus of our time together are things Erin and I happily do without now.

You know how monks and minimalists find satisfaction in giving up material things and earthly desires?  Without trying to sound holier-than-thou, that’s the best way I can describe it.

A few more things people are curious about

  • Not being able to eat honey is one of the more annoying parts of this.  It’s in a surprising amount of foods (no barbecue potato chips for me at poker last night), and as much as I care about animals, I don’t feel too badly about taking honey from bees.  But for now, I’m going along with the no-honey rule because it’s the vegan thing to do.
  • Our one year-old son is not vegan.  I’d like to write more about this someday, but for now you can check out this post to get a feel for our philosophy about raising him as a vegetarian.  Example: The other day when we were in Philadelphia for the Broad Street Run, we stopped at an ice cream truck with our friends.  I realized at this point that if my son were old enough to want an ice cream cone, it would break my heart to tell him he couldn’t ever have it because of a rule Mom and Dad made for him that he couldn’t really understand.
  • Only once so far have I knowingly eaten something that wasn’t vegan (tzatsiki sauce on falafel).  When I went vegan, I made the rule that I wouldn’t waste food that someone served to me that wasn’t vegan, and that’s what happened here.  (For the record, I think the waiter who told me there was no dairy in the dish was high.  No joke.)
  • I eat bread and drink beers sometimes without checking if they’re vegan, if it’s not easy to check.  If I know they aren’t vegan (like Guinness, for example), I don’t eat or drink them.
  • I feel stronger physically than I did when I was vegetarian.  But although I ran the Boston Marathon a few weeks ago, I haven’t put my body through any intense training recently.  I’ve just started running hard again, for the first time in over a year, so a lot will be revealed in the next few weeks and months.

As you can see, I’m not yet a perfect vegan, if there is such a thing.  But I’m thrilled with how it’s gone so far, and based on how I feel (both physically and emotionally), I have no doubts that this was absolutely the right decision for me at this point.  I have a sense of satisfaction with my food choices that I honestly didn’t expect to feel, and that’s been awesome.

If you’re on the fence between vegetarian and vegan, then I hope this helps you just a bit.  And of course, if you’ve got any questions about making the switch, just ask. icon smile

P.S. New Balance 890’s winner announcement coming this weekend!

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