How to Choose the Right Gadget for the Runner on Your Gift List

running-advice-bugIf you’ve got an electronically-inclined runner on your holiday shopping list, you may be wondering how to pick the best running gadget for him or her this year. Loads of electronics out there promise to improve health, track information and even calculate arcane pieces of information such as your VO2 max and “ground contact time.” But, by homing in on what really matters for runners, you can simplify the shopping process. Here’s what to know about the various options before you start your spree:

1. Fitness and Activity Trackers

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Fitbit and FuelBand makers of the world would have you wear a device on your wrist that gives you a panacea of health-related information. Most of such fitness trackers use a pedometer to count your steps and integrate with a software application that can display information such as the number of calories you burn each day and how much sleep you’re getting.

While activity trackers are good for general information, many runners find them less useful than purpose-built sports watches. The information from a pedometer is typically based on counting steps, so it’s hard for many of these devices to differentiate between walking, jogging or running – each of which burn progressively more calories. Fitness trackers also won’t work well for tracking information about sports such as swimming or CrossFit, where the feet aren’t moving around that much.

Grade for runners: C

2. Smartwatches

The news this year has been all about the smartwatch, from the Apple Watch to the Samsung Gear to the Moto 360. Most of these devices include fitness-monitoring features, such as heart rate monitoring and step counting.

The primary drawbacks of these gadgets for many runners are twofold. First, to take advantage of the watch’s features, you may have to carry your phone along with you on your run. Many runners don’t want to carry an expensive, potentially large, device with them. Second, some of the devices may not appreciate getting doused in sweat or rain on a daily basis. My own experience with the Moto 360 taught me that wearing a smartwatch with a leather band leads to a very grimy, yucky-looking band in no time flat.

Grade for runners: B-
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21-days Without Sugar: Five Things I Learned (series part II)

running-advice-bugThey say that once something is raised to your awareness it is hard to let it slip back into the unconscious. Once you know something you can’t un-know it. After my 21-day experiment to eliminate added sugars from my diet, I was left feeling overwhelmed by the experience. Not only do I now look for sugar on the ingredients of everything I eat, I’m starting to fully internalize how difficult it would be to purge hidden sugar from your life on a more permanent basis. It would certainly mean a different approach to eating at home, but the prospect of eating when traveling or eating out at restaurants is daunting.

5 tips for dealing with hidden sugar in your diet

5 tips for dealing with hidden sugar in your diet

Hidden sugar is systemic: it’s a way to make foods more cheaply and therefore those making food have an incentive to use a lot it. Until we reach a tipping point that the general public considers sugar something that makes food “toxic” it won’t be purged out of the food. People, for one thing, like the taste of foods with sugars in them and collectively we don’t make good choices when it comes to choosing things that are good for us. But if we take something like gluten or MSG as an example, there have been at their respective times a point when people started to be on the lookout for these items and over time we’ve seen more and more gluten-free products — and MSG is generally no longer used in fast-food cooking. We’ve seen something akin to this recently with high-fructose corn syrup; people are on the lookout for it. But sadly, I think food manufacturers are simply replacing high-fructose corn-syrup with other added sugars that haven’t been branded as “bad.”

Let’s not forget why this is important. There are three reasons: 1) sugar is likely addictive or at least seems to shape our behavior in that we want to eat more of it; 2) sugar packs more calories into smaller amounts of food, which leads us to eat more mass to fill our stomachs; and 3) sugar is quickly absorbed into our system, but doesn’t have a long-lasting effect, meaning we want to eat again sooner than we should. Just think of those tiny pastries at the Starbucks counter. Their sweet and sticky and pack 500 calories in a little square. They taste good going down, but you’ll be hungry again in an hour after eating them. This is what I would call the “snack trap.” You’ve “snacked” rather than eaten a meal. You likely didn’t get what you needed and you’ll be hungry again in an hour. Boo!

This feels like one of those things that could make you throw up your hands and say, ‘there’s just no way.’ But there are some things that we can do to keep this in our conscious awareness and hopefully make a dent into the sugars that are hiding in our food. I can at least offer five things I learned that we could all practice in our shopping and food choices.

1) Read the ingredients and ignore the marketing — There’s so much distraction happening on food packaging that is can be hard to spot the healthy foods from the pretenders. I was browsing the bread aisle and I picked up one of the healthiest looking breads last week. It said “100% Whole Wheat” on the front and then in big read letters said, “No High-Fructose Corn Syrup!” The second ingredient in the bread was sugar and it had the most sugar of any that I looked at that day. While the marketing claim was true, the statement was misleading in that it implies that the product has less sugar in it. In fact, it had more sugar than most of the breads, they just didn’t use high-fructose corn syrup. Turn the package around and make your choice from the ingredients list.
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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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Suggested Alternatives for High Intensity Interval Training #running #triathlon

running-advice-bugA reader named Karen writes to us this week asking about alternatives to get in her higher intensity workouts (speed or quality work) while reducing the impact on the lower body. It’s true that high-speed running does place a great deal of stress on the muscles and joints of the lower-legs. The benefits gained in strength and fitness from these workouts generally outweigh the risks, but as Karen’s question points out there are instances when it makes sense to avoid too much pounding on a particular part of the body. Here’s her question:

Spinning: great alternative for low-impact, high intensity training

Spinning: great alternative for low-impact, high intensity training


I was the first kid on the block to have a joint replaced- I got the joint below the big toe replaced when I was 38 (years of 4″ heels followed by a botched bunionectomy.) I’ve been told by a good orthopedic surgeon that people can only get one toe joint replacement – when this one goes, you can’t get another. After the replacement goes, all they can do is pin the joint in a slightly bent position so as to do as little damage as possible to the knee, hip and back.

The best way to avoid wearing out the replaced joint is to avoid unnecessary pounding – so basically, no running. Are there other ways to achieve HIIT goals that don’t involve sprints?

That big toe sure is important in running, especially when running fast. Push-off and balance comes starts with the big toe and when people’s big toes don’t flex right, we can see all kinds of issues, including lower-back problems. The body is a chain of connected parts that pull against a lever and when there isn’t enough flexion in the toes, the whole chain upward toward the lever can have problems.

So first, keep in mind that maintaining good flexibility through the legs and feet will really reduce the impact on your joints. The stiffer your muscles are, the more pounding that you’ll put onto your feet, toes and heels. Or said another way, the more flexible you are the more fluid and resilient your body parts are, which puts less pressure and impact on them. You want to be springy, not stiff, to run.

The good news is that there are plenty of other ways to get high intensity training in without running. My favorite are spin classes on a spin bike. Spin is very effective in doing intervals, getting the heart rate way up, and burning a lot of calories in the process. When I’m really training hard, I aim to do 2 or even 3 spin workouts per week, because my body can’t handle working out on the track more than 2-3 times a week. This lets me do additional high intensity work without the pounding and potential for injuries.
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Commentary — Ironman Now Lives in the Realm of the Possible

running-advice-bugI remember when the Marathon was something that seamed somewhat daunting and unattainable. People were running them of course, but they held the distance in a sort of reverence. It was something that was still a lofty goal. You didn’t take the Marathon distance lightly. It was, in fact, common when I first started coaching to have to sort through the length of time between Marathons and measure that calculation in months. That was back when the Marathon lived outside of the Realm of the Possible.

IRONMANnow livesin the REALMof the POSSIBLESomewhere, I’m going to say between five and ten years ago, the Marathon just suddenly moved into the Realm of the Possible. The conversation became less about how difficult the Marathon was and rather focused on how fast, how quickly could one qualify for Boston (in their first, second, third Marathon maybe?), how many could be run in one year, how to run one in all fifty states, and so on. I now routinely talk to people that are running multiple marathons on back-to-back days. I talked to several people this Fourth of July that were doing four marathons over that holiday weekend. A friend of mine this week, at a play date with our kids, casually responded to a “what are you doing tomorrow?” with a “I’ve got a Marathon” as if it were a coffee date.

While the Marathon may still be daunting for many, especially first timers, it has simply moved into the Realm of the Possible. It is something that people can do. This I realized some time ago. But the Ironman Triathlon (140.6 miles combined distances), in my mind, lay quite secure in its place in the Kingdom of Painfully Difficult. It lay far beyond the secure borders of the Realm of the Possible. There was a measure sort of awe in the faces of those that asked if I had “ever done an Ironman?” It was a shock for me when, this month, I had to re-look at my map and move the Ironman into the Realm of the Possible. There it now lies.

The signs were there for awhile. I read a note that a certain Ironman was now considered a “bucket list” race, one that “every triathlete should put on their list.” I heard a spin instructor tell our class that he was doing his fifth Ironman OF THE YEAR that weekend. An e-mailer yesterday casually told me that he “really wanted to break nine hours in the Ironman” this year, formerly something only the Pros could do. People are doing them old and young. People do six or more a year. People are collecting the set, so to speak, of whatever geographic list of Ironmans they are working on.
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Mental Games — No Risk, No Reward

running-advice-bugThere have been a number of runners over the course of my career that I have wanted to call cowards. I’ve only actually done it once and it didn’t have the result that I’d hoped. It ended up with the runner crying hysterical tears and that isn’t a good thing. But there are times that I hear runners saying, “I can’t do that coach” or “I don’t know if I can” that I want to get in their faces and tell them that they are just being a wus. “Get in the game or go the fuck home,” as my dad used to tell me.

Why do we want to push people? Because in training, as in life, you will only get to new places by taking risks. There is an expression that I hate, which I know that you’ve heard: “no pain, no gain.” There is a bit of truth in that phrase. Trying new things is indeed painful. But the important phrase to unpack here is “no risk, no reward.”

Typically when I have a runner that is getting close to the coward zone, they are thinking about something that a) I know they can do and 2) they think that they can’t. It’s in those moments that we want to explain that unless we take chances, we don’t know how far we can go. We will never know the future. We don’t know what things are going to feel like until we do them. But unless we try, then we will never know. We are, in fact, safe when we don’t take risks. Because we can hide behind the safety of our self-imposed walls. Nothing can hurt you when you hunker down behind those walls. But you won’t get anywhere either.

The ugly side of risk is two-fold. First, there is the fear of the future that is inherent in risk. We don’t KNOW what is going to happen. The fear is that we anticipate the negative, the bad, or the harm that may come to us. What will it feel like when you fail? It will feel icky. But what if you succeed? The risk is in taking the chance that we will succeed or fail. We can’t know which one will happen ahead of time, so that’s where the fear comes in. As someone very important to me once wrote on a piece of paper that is now stuck to my computer, we can write F.E.A.R as an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.
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Training — How Three Pairs of Gloves and a $2 Hat Saved My Ride

running-advice-bugThis is the story of nine dollars worth of gloves and a two dollar hat — and how they saved my ride yesterday. But it really isn’t about those things. This is really a story about making decisions and taking action when you’re in the midst of a workout or a race. What I hope you take away from this story is that you need to keep focused on making it to your goal and do something about it when something doesn’t go as you planned.

Three pairs of $3 gloves.

Three pairs of $3 gloves.

Yesterday I had set out to ride 100 miles in preparation for an upcoming Ironman distance triathlon. I prepared all of my gear, including a backback full of full or food, spare tubes, money and the like. I was fully loaded to spend several hours out there on the road. The weather called for a dry day. There was supposed to be no chance of rain. It was over 40 degrees (F) out, so it would be perfect weather. I dressed accordingly, wearing what I would consider more than enough clothing for the weather. Multiple layers on top and bottom and — this important — wind-stopping gloves and outwear.

This is a critical detail. There’s a difference, as I was reminded, between wind-stopping and water-proof clothing. I was plenty warm as I set out and for the first 20 miles things were going great.

Then the rain started to fall. The skies darkened. It started to pour. I could see that this was no passing shower. Indeed, for the next three hours the rain pummeled me seemingly from everything direction. My gear was completely soaked. I could feel the water pooling up in my cycling shoes, even despite having neoprene booties over them.

So now I’m almost 50 miles from home and completely freezing and soaked. This where the advice comes in. I had to take an inventory of my options and you need to do when things go awry. My fingers were number and starting to tingle in that way that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use my hands much longer.
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Commentary — Lance Armstrong was not the Problem

running-advice-bugI have a Lance Armstrong signed cycling jersey hanging on my wall and I’m not planning on taking it down any time soon. The story unfolding around him annoys me to no end and I’d like to tell you why today.

I just wrote about drug use in sports in my column last week. I took that opportunity to work through some of the technical reasons that I thought targeting the athletes after-the-fact for the problems of professional cycling in the early 2000s was a mistake. I’d like to be a little bit more blunt about it now.

First, the point of anti-doping controls are to keep the playing field fair between the athletes in the competition. But what happens when the entire field is juiced as it would appear to be the case in this time period? When everyone is using, when the culture of the entire sport is about using, then the playing field is already unfair and even more it becomes unfair to those that are trying to adhere to the rules. Is this a shity situation? Yes. Is this unethical and unfair? Yes. But when the entire sport turns a blind eye to what’s going on, you have a big ugly mess on your hands and lots of unfair choices.

Second, these races happened. The big moments, the drama, the stories. They all unfolded just as we saw them unfold. Remember when Lance Armstrong got his bike hooked on that kid’s bag and he fell down and then jumped back on the bike only to fall again onto his top tube and then continue racing up the side of a mountain? Yes, you probably do. And the fact that Lance Armstrong might have been using EPO didn’t allow him to continue riding when he crushed his ball on his bike in the middle of a climb in the Tour de France. We can’t now say that all of those incredible moments of racing and tactics and skill suddenly have been altered by what was going on throughout the sport.
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Tips — #8 — Cheating is stupid. Doing drugs is cheating. Don’t be stupid.

running-advice-bugIn my last column I listed out 15 pieces of advice and it occurred to me that each of those items could use a little more explaining. So today, I’m going to start a series of pieces giving more background and color to each.

To read the original article click here.

Tip #8 — Cheating is stupid. Doing drugs is cheating. Don’t be stupid.

I’ve always maintained that drug use by athletes constitutes cheating. I don’t waver from that statement now. Using banned performance-enhancing substances is against the rules of competition and is therefore cheating. Those failing drug tests for taking banned substances should be disciplined up to and including bans from competition. It is stupid to cheat and you shouldn’t be stupid.

So why write about drug use in sports now? The Lance Armstrong story has brought drug use in professional cycling front and center again and I wanted to spend some time considering the very complicated issues that it presents to us. There was an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal’s October 11th, 2012 issue that can provide more details about the Armstrong investigation and I’ll pull a few quotes from that article below. (Drug Case Against Armstrong Detailed)

I’ve always felt that there were some grey areas that surround banned substance use in sports. One of them is that tests have to be designed with human variations in mind. The chemistry inside the human body is not identical from person to person. If you were to test a person for their level of cholesterol, for example, you’d see that the level ranges all over the board depending on genetics, diet and overall health. Most of us “know” generally our cholesterol level and some of us even monitor that level pretty closely. If it needs to be lowered we can take drugs to lower the amount of cholesterol in our blood. Keep this in mind.
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Commentary — Olympic Fever Baby, I’ve Got it Bad!

running-advice-bugOMG people I have Olympic Fever. I have it bad. I’ve been so excited about the Olympic Games that I can barely sleep at night. Right about now the Olympic athletes are about to walk into the Olympic Stadium in London for the opening ceremonies and I bet they won’t sleep tonight either.

A few days ago Olympian Shalane Flanagan posted on her Facebook wall a simple statement: “My Olympic uniform came in the mail today.” It kind of gave me the chills. I recall getting my own world’s uniforms last year with that American flag on the chest and the letters “USA” emblazoned across it. Putting that uniform on was one of my proudest moments and that was nothing compared to what these athletes are going through right now. There really couldn’t be much more that would be more exciting than walking out into the Olympic stadium among the best athletes in the world, being watching by what like a billion people world-wide. Heck, even if you were an Olympic synchronized pottery-spinner, it would be frickin’ amazing. Now imagine that you were one of the leaders in one of the most watched sports (think swimming right now). It would be a frenzy.

My five year-old son and I were talking a few weeks ago at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials. It was his first sporting event EVER. After watching the long jump competition he said, “Dad, I want to go to the Olympics. It will take a lot of work, but I want to go to the Olympics.” This is a kid that he so far shown no interest in sports and even he’s got the fever. I love it.

So why am I all lathered up about the Olympics. For a couple of reasons, I guess. First, the Olympics represent the ultimate display of dedication to sport. You don’t get to go just by being good or great at your sport. You have to be so good that you win against the best people in your sport. This was on display at the US Olympic Trials when they made the point a couple of times that winning the event wasn’t enough. The athletes had to win in a specific time or meet a specific mark. And those benchmark times are really, really hard to meet. No one is there that just kind of backed into it. Like the Marines, you need to be the best of the best of the best. And I love that.
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