21 Days Without Sugar Experiment: that was hard! (part 1)

running-advice-bugThere seems to be tremendous interest right now in the health effects of sugar in our diets. Many people say that it is sugar, rather than fat, that is leading people to be overweight. Documentaries like “Fed Up” talk about both the addictive nature of sugar and how the idea of “eating better and exercising more” makes little sense when the environment makes it practically impossible to eliminate sugar additives from your diet in the first place. No matter how hard you try, the deck is simply stacked against you, so the thinking goes.

SugarSo 21 days ago I set out to see if it was possible: could I eliminate sugars from my diet and what would be the impact on my behavior and general sense of well-being? I didn’t go into this trying to fix some specific problem or to lose weight. Rather in the end I learned a lot about how it felt and really how hard it was to do it.

The ground rules of my test
First things first, what did this experiment mean to me? I planned to eliminate foods containing sugar or sugar additives as ingredients in food. That would include anything appearing on a label such as sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, malto-dextrine and many other items. This was not intended to be a test of one type of sugar against another or their respective nutritional values. As an athlete I wanted to keep some carbohydrate in my diet so I kept WHOLE fruit (not fruit juice) and some carbohydrate (such as rice or pasta) so long as those foods didn’t include sugar additives. Most bread, for example, includes various types of sugars (depending on the recipe) so most bread was out. I also kept some cheese in my diet, which includes lactose (sugar from milk) but I would not have eaten something like sweetened yogurt or even sweetened almond or soy milk because of the added sugar in those products. Why keep cheese, you ask? Because I have been trained to have desert after a meal and a little cheese and fresh fruit was about my only choice.

In the beginning I thought, “this will be easy” (seriously I did!) because I cook at home a lot. I figured that so long as I was cooking, I simply wouldn’t add sugar to what I was cooking and I would live on meats, nuts, vegetables and whole fruit. But it only took about one meal to figure out just how hard this was going to be. Even cooking at home, nearly every condiment and sauce in my pantry for preparing foods had sugar in it. To my astonishment, this included most of your basic condiments such as mayonaise, ketchup, bar-b-que sauces and the like. The first cook-at-home meal, was pretty plain until I got out to the store to buy new versions of pretty much everything in the fridge. It didn’t stop with condiments either. I was floored to see sugar in places that I thought I could most definitely eat — like bacon (MEAT!), beef jerky (ALSO MEAT!), potato chips, and bread.

I replaced many things with alternatives, most of which tended to be locally made or small-batch products. I found mayo, fresh garlic sauce, hot dogs, and peanut butter, all without sugar, but it certainly took some doing. The first lesson of this is that if you look at the labels, you may be surprised at where you find sugar as an ingredient.
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Run Time: The John Bingham Interview (Part I) — Episode 5

running-advice-bugThis week on Run Time we kick-off a four-part series of interviews with John “The Penguin” Bingham. John was a Runner’s World and Competitor columnist and humorist who became the voice of the “Back of the Pack” during what’s called the Second Running Boom. On part one of the interview, John tells me how he got started as the Penguin and how his voice resonated with a whole generation of runners.

This is part 1 of 4 parts.

Run Time is the talk show for runners, featuring interviews, discussions, quick tips and more. Run Time is hosted by Coach Joe English. You can follow Joe on Twitter as @coachjoeenglish

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Why do we run anyway? #running #marathon

running-advice-bugI used to always ask runners why they run. I don’t ask that question anymore, because most people can’t really articulate the answer. Now I ask almost every runner I meet this question: “do you run because you love it or because you have a talent for it?” I find the answers quite profound.

Photo: Joe English, Futurist Media

Photo: Joe English, Futurist Media

What I’ve heard from runners is both as surprising and varied as the runners themselves. I’ve heard people say that they run because they it helps them sleep. I’ve heard people say that they run because it allows them to eat whatever they like or drink more beer. I’ve heard people say that they do it to be with their friends. Some have told me that running gives them purpose in their life or they are doing it as a remembrance for someone. I’ve heard people say that it gives them direction and goals in their lives. I’ve heard people say they do it for the guys (or the girls). I’ve even heard at least one person say that she runs because she actually likes portable toilets, but she may have been pulling my leg.

But rarely do I hear people say straight-out: “I do it because I’m good at it.” And this seems to be true even among very fast runners.

I was thinking about this the other morning before a race. I wasn’t feeling very well. I was kind of tired and cranky. My legs were bothering me and my bike wasn’t working correctly. It all felt kind of like a big hassle that day. I asked myself the question that I ask so many other people: “Joe, do you do this because you love it or because you’re good at it?” Of course, on the one hand, I’m good at it. I’ve been doing it all of my life and have enjoyed great success as a runner. But as I thought through my answer I found myself thinking that there must be more than that. I know that If all we have is talent, then it makes it very hard to overcome the hassles, the struggles, the pain that we’re going to inevitably feel as we run. If we don’t have something more driving us, it seems to me, that it becomes very hard to overcome these barriers.

It’s the joy part of the equation that keeps us coming back for more.

Even if we don’t love running every single day, we must at least like it a little. Without the “like”, without the joy, without those many other things that it brings to us then we probably would just find excuses not to do it.

My psychologist friend likes to use the analogy of a tree, imagining that you are the tree. She says that the roots of the tree are what hold it up and keep it sturdy when the wind blows against it. Those roots need to include certain things: friendship, pleasure, exercise, spirituality, and love. The strong the roots, the stronger the tree when it gets stormy. The first time we talked about this, I said “well, my running is my exercise.” She didn’t like that answer much. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked. ‘Is it your exercise, or your spirituality, or your source of friendships?” I think I ultimately concluded that it was a mixture of many of the roots of my tree. Running brings a lot to my life, including the ability to help others, a time to meditate, and a time to ponder things more deeply than I can when I’m bombarded by everything going on in my life. Run strengthens me physically, but it also strengthens me in many other ways.

So even on a bad day, when running may feel like a hassle, there’s more to it than that. It’s more than just talent and more than just exercise. It’s also more than just joy. Running may be one of the very roots that holds our tree up when the wind starts blowing hard. And I suppose for that, I can say that I love it.

Coach Joe English @coachjoeenglish, Portland, Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News @runningadvice
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Five Key Stretches for Runners (in just 4 minutes) [Run Time Episode 4] #running

running-advice-bugOn this special “Quick Tips” episode of Run Time, Coach Joe English shows you runners five key stretches that every runner should be doing every day. These stretches are easy, relaxing and we’ll teach you about them in just a few short minutes.

Run Time is the talk show for runners. We feature interviews and advice for runners of all skill levels. Find more episodes on our web-site at running-advice.com. Follow Coach Joe English @coachjoeenglish

Future episodes will dive into running topics, including mental strategies, picking the best races, dealing with injuries, eating, book reviews and much more. Stay tuned. running-advice.com.

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Why is the Boston Marathon a Big Deal? (in Two Minutes) #bostonmarathon #bostonstrong #marathon

running-advice-bugOn this special “Quick Tips” episode of Run Time, Coach Joe English answers the question: Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal to runners? And he answers it in just two quick minutes. If you’ve been asked what’s so special about the Boston Marathon, then we’ve got the answer for you.

Run Time is the talk show for runners. We feature interviews and advice for runners of all skill levels. Find more episodes on our web-site at running-advice.com. Follow Coach Joe English @coachjoeenglish

Future episodes will dive into running topics, including mental strategies, picking the best races, dealing with injuries, eating, book reviews and much more. Stay tuned. running-advice.com.

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Starting Over or Starting Up– Don’t Be a Hater #running #marathon #fitness

running-advice-bugIt’s springtime and that means that us runners are starting to train a little harder. The winter may have left you a little out of shape. It could be that you had such terrible weather that you couldn’t get outside much (that’s you on the East Coast) or it could be that you needed a break between racing seasons. Either way, it just could be that you’re hitting the pavement again and you might be feeling pretty pokey. My advice: don’t be a hater, be a lover.

Tired LegsOf course, I’m talking about self-love and hatred in this sense. On the one hand, it’s very easy to “hate” ourselves for “getting so out of shape” or “not being as fast as I was last season.” But you have every reason to love yourself right now.

First, you’re back out there doing it. That in itself is progress. Compared to those that are still watching March Madness in the sports bar, you’re doing something positive. Sometimes starting is the hardest part, they say. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on taking those first steps.

Second, it’s normal for it to feel hard when you start again. You will have lost some fitness, maybe put on a few pounds, or just generally forgotten what it feels like to run. Whatever the case, it won’t feel all magical and happy when you start back at the beginning of the season. The good news here is that you will spring back quickly. In a matter of weeks, you’ll be feeling much more positive that you started again and feeling much better to boot.
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Run Time — Episode 2 — Running and Travel with RunWestin Concierge Chris Heuisler

running-advice-bugIt’s time for the next episode in our new video series: Run Time, The Discussion Place for Runners. That’s right, we’re producing a new talk show just for you runners. We plan to have all kinds of cool people on the show: coaches, doctors, industry insiders, authors and lots of runners!

On this episode, Coach Joe talks with RunWestin running concierge Chris Heuisler (@RunWestin) of Westin Hotels about what a running concierge does, what kind of support runners are looking for when they travel and some of the upcoming races that he’s excited about this spring and summer.

Future episodes will dive into running topics, including mental strategies, picking the best races, dealing with injuries, eating, book reviews and much more. Stay tuned. running-advice.com.

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Run Time — Four Mental Barriers Runners Face & Overcoming #running #marathon

running-advice-bugWe are so excited to announce our new video series: Run Time, The Discussion Place for Runners. That’s right, we’re producing a new talk show just for you runners. We plan to have all kinds of cool people on the show: coaches, doctors, industry insiders, authors and lots of runners!

We’re kicking off the series today with a conversation with my friend, Mental Games Specialist Coach Dean Hebert. On this episode, I talk with Coach Dean about the four mental barriers that runners face in their training and how to overcome them. This includes dealing with discomfort, pushing ourselves, and why it is important to do these things in training rather than on race day.

Future episodes will dive into running topics, including mental strategies, picking the best races, dealing with injuries, eating, book reviews and much more. Stay tuned. running-advice.com.

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Movie Review — McFarland USA #running #moviereviews

running-advice-bugIt isn’t very often that a good movie about running comes along. McFarland USA is indeed a movie about running and it’s a very good all around movie too. I think you runners will enjoy it.

Disney's McFarland USA

Disney’s McFarland USA

McFarland is the underdog story of underdog stories, as a newly formed team of high school cross-country runners from an impoverished farming community face pretentious rivals in the first-ever California State Cross-country meet. Set in 1987 in the rural town of McFarland, California, we go along for a ride with a bunch of young runners that are long on natural talent and work ethic, even while they are not taken seriously by their rivals. The story is about forming a team, working hard and winning against all odds.

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As with all sports movies, there’s more to McFarland than running. In truth, this story is maybe half about running. The other half of the movie is a story about cultural integration, family dynamics and understanding. This story is where we build our relationship with both the running coach and his students and that’s where this film really shines. McFarland is a picture with a lot of heart and its from that heart that we develop a deep affection for the runners and really pull for them as they try to win. We care about the team by the end of the film, because we care about the characters and really want them to succeed. This is the level on which McFarland succeeds as a movie as well.

McFarland features a somewhat typical fish-out-of-water premise to begin with: a teacher and coach moving to a small, rural town in which he and his family are pretty close to the only non-Hispanic residents. He’s blessed, in true “couldn’t have been written better if it were fiction” style with the last name “White” which quickly gets him the nickname “Blanco.” While the first act of the movie unfolds a little slowly, it’s nice to see that the outsider is not riding in on a white horse of infallibility. Quite the contrary, he’s the bud of many jokes and makes some big mistakes early on. This really is a story of learning that works both ways. By the end of the second act, this movie is hitting on all cylinders and we are invested and pulling for the team.
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Does masturbation impact running performance? #running

running-advice-bugEvery once in a while I get a letter or email from a reader that I just can’t set aside. I mean I love answering email, but there are questions and then there are questions and I’ve got a good one for you today. Now this question has to do with masturbation and running; I should start by saying, even before providing the question, that I have no “hands-on” knowledge or experience with masturbation myself. But then coaches many times have to provide advice about “gripping” subjects with which they themselves have not had to “wrestle.”

[NOTE: Sadly, there’s not much serious information out there on this topic, because most people that have written about it tend to want to only joke about it. I’ve already made my tongue-in-cheek comments and for the rest of this article I will try to actually answer the question.]

3D man near red question markThe question came from a young reader in another country and I will paraphrase:

“My question is how does masturbation affect my running. My legs tend to be sore after doing it. About 2K into my runs I start to feel better, but it does affect my times. I mostly try to refrain from doing this, but we all have those moments. Also, after masturbating, I have this uncontrollable urge to work out. I just want to do the right thing.”

So first of all, I think that I can start by saying that there is no direct impact between running fitness and masturbation. Fitness for running is developed through a mixture of cardio-vascular capacity and the muscular strength in the legs and other major muscle groups that power the body forward. We could start by saying that masturbation doesn’t really “tax” any of the major muscle groups used by runners, depending I suppose how you do it. Masturbation is mostly a hand-arm thing and running is mostly a leg-stomach thing. Perhaps excessive masturbation might give you carpal-tunnel syndrome in your wrist, but it’s not going to fatigue your legs much. Masturbation may in fact leave you feeling fatigued, but this has no impact on your running fitness. On other side of the coin, masturbation is said to relieve stress for many people, so it might actually help some people before a race, but then let’s not see anyone trying this in public.
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