running

checking in on my fitness plan

I've been challenging myself to the same weekly goal since mid-September (you can read the challenge here). Now, 3 months later, seems like a good time to reflect on what I've learned:

Success
  • Big success will come when you have enough little successes to keep it company. Running a couple miles in the morning doesn't feel like anything Earth-shattering; heck, it's not even worth sharing on social media. But the results add up:
  • I had previously only run 50 miles in a month once before; I've now done it two months IN A ROW! (and I'm getting close to the mark for this month too!)
  • On a weekly basis, I had clocked 10 miles only 20 times, with the last one being 67 weeks previously. I have now run 10 miles 9 weeks in a row and 12 of the last 13!
  • You can't short-cut success, anymore than you can wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon. But a short run, everyday, adds up to a lot of miles.


Running in the Cold
  • Is Hard - my very first post on this blog was titled "Running in the cold is hard", and I still think that's true. But I've learned a few things this winter which have made it easier:
  • Gear Matters - As the morning lows have dropped from the 60's through the 50's and 40's and down into the 30's, I've been able to wear the right gear - which makes the cold a little more bearable.
    • Ear Band - a simple, inexpensive fleece headband to cover my ears has made a world of difference. I can't explain why I've never used one of these before.
    • Layers - base layer long sleeve, short sleeve t-shirt, long sleeve microfiber running sweatshirt, long sleeve baggy cotton t-shirt, and I'm out the door! When the temperature is mid-30's or less, I'll skip the last cotton t-shirt and replace it with a heavier cotton sweatshirt. For bottoms, I've been fine with track pants all the way down to 32 degrees. (my coldest run so far.)
    • Gloves - warm hands are a big deal (almost as much as warm ears), but I didn't like wearing gloves. Luckily my long sleeve microfiber running shirt has really long sleeves, so I've been pulling the sleeves down over my hands, and it works great.
    • Feet / Socks - I generally run in Luna Sandals (more on that here), and I rode the cold weather all the way down to 32 in my Lunas. However, that last week of 36, 35, 32 sucked, and my toes were numb after 10 minutes of running each day. I've since decided that anything lower than 38 degrees deserves socks and "typical" shoes.
  • Patience, and Savor your Victories - when it's really cold outside (or wet, or windy), I know before I even start that I'm not going to break a speed record that day. So I give myself permission to run at whatever pace my body wants to run. The victory comes from taming the "lazy beast", keeping the streak alive, and adding miles to my body's fitness, and from doing something all my friends think is crazy. (Maybe I am crazy, but I get a bit of pleasure from knowing I'm the only one out there getting it done.)


Consistency Wins
  • Before the Run - Sometimes I don't want to get out of bed in the morning. Simply rolling my feet over the side of the bed is a huge victory. However,
  • After the Run - I have not once, repeat - not one time, finished the run and thought I would have been better off with another half hour's sleep. I might wish I had gone to bed earlier the night before, but I've never felt like the run was a bad idea.
  • Pace - it's difficult to explain how much better I am at running today than I was 3-4 months ago. My fastest times are faster than they were, which is to be expected. But what's unexpected is just how much easier running has become. My "slow" runs today, where I'm just cruising along at a fairly easy pace without breathing too heavy or exerting myself too much, are at about the same pace as my "fast" runs used to be.
  • Endurance - My 2.25 mile baseline course around the neighborhood - it used to feel like a workout and today feels like a warm-up.

Conclusion
  • It's been 13 weeks - that's a long time compared to one week, but it's a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. That being said, it's a great start.
  • I'm not a marathoner, and I'm not even very fast compared to the "real" runners out there. But I feel a lot more comfortable running than I used to, and I'm getting faster.
  • Add to all this running that I'm able to do more push-ups and pull-ups than I could 3 months ago, and I'm more flexible than I was, and that my weight has remained constant while at the same time I've been able to increase my meal portions - and it feels like a win-win-win.

I think I'm going to stick with this program for awhile longer - maybe I'll revisit this post in the spring..

- Chris Butterworth

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200 posts ago: links I like 07-03-12


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running for dinner - or running from dinner

RunKeeper tells me I ran approximately 12 miles last week and burned about 1,400 calories.

I'm not saying whether that's good or bad, a lot or a little, and I didn't run all 12 miles at once. I ran 1-3 miles at a time over the course of 6 different runs. There was nothing particularly notable or astonishing about any of these runs individually, but the fact I was able to consistently get myself out of bed (when it's still dark outside) to get my day started with a run... That's an accomplishment which took some dedication and perseverance, even if only for a week.

This weekend was hectic around our house (even more so than normal), and we were getting into Saturday evening without a dinner plan. At one point while we were in the car I considered stopping at the local Applebees, just so we could take a break and let somebody else prepare dinner for us.



If we had eaten there, I would have ordered the boneless wings (810 calories) with classic buffalo sauce (200 calories) and french fries (440 calories) - that's 1,450 calories for dinner, and that's if I'm able to stick with water to drink!

Turns out waking up early and motivating myself to get out the door for a run 6 days a week is exactly what it takes to offset one dinner at a restaurant (1). Just think how much I would have to run if we ate out more often..!

Luckily for me our last event of the evening was behind schedule, and we decided it was too late to stop off for a long sit-down dinner.

- Chris Butterworth

(1) - I've written many times that it's possible to order small at a restaurant and be ok on your eating plan. But for me, hungry at the end of a long, hectic day, I would have ordered a "regular" sized portion that night, and I would have cleaned my plate!

200 posts ago: FDA approves new weight loss pill - just what we need

100 posts ago: goals and resolutions - an 8-point primer

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my fitness plan 092015

You're only in shape for whatever it is you're in shape for. These days I'm trying to stay generally fit - I don't have a big race on the horizon, and I'm not hiking the canyon anytime soon - I just want to stay healthy and fit.

So what's my current workout plan, and why?

Running
  • 10 miles per week, or more.
  • at least 5 runs per week (and preferably 6).
    • Mon - 2 miles fast
    • Tues - 2 miles slow
    • Wed - 1 mile fast
    • Thurs - 3 miles slow
    • Fri - 18 minutes of 1-minute intervals (one minute running fast; one minute recovering at a slow jog; repeat)
    • Sat or Sun - 2 or 3 miles slow, or a nice trail run.
  • I typically run early in the morning, first thing, before eating or drinking anything. I just get out of bed and go.
  • Stretching - I'm enjoying some stretching while cooling down after running on most mornings. This is a big change for someone as non-flexible as me - maybe one day I'll be almost flexible...


  • 3 times per week, do one or the other (alternate exercises each time)
  • 3-4 sets at a time, in rapid succession, of as many as I can do.
  • Add in some extra core work if I have anything left in the tank.
    • For pull-ups, this means knee lifts or leg raises.
    • For push-ups, I can do planks or dozens of other variations.
  • I generally do these in the evening after work.


Why this Plan?
  • The running / push-ups / pull-ups combination gives me a good mix of cardio and strength training.
  • I did this workout a lot over the summer and really enjoyed it.
  • I like how I feel when I'm in "running shape", and I like how I look when I'm in "pull-up shape".


Why these distances / reps?
  • A goal should be attainable, but not easy.
  • I've used RunKeeper to track all my runs since 1/1/2011, and the data shows I've run 10 miles in a week 20 times since then (out of 247 weeks.) I haven't run 10 miles in a week yet in 2015, and I only did it 5 weeks in all of 2014 - with the last one being in May 2014 (approx 67 weeks ago.)
    • This goal is doable, since I've done it many times in the past.
    • But it won't be easy, since I haven't been able to do it very often. Getting 10 miles in on a consistent basis will be challenging, and hopefully rewarding.
  • As for the reps on push-ups and pull-ups - I want to feel sore enough to know I worked out, but not too sore to be comfortable the next day. I also want to get stronger over time, but I don't need to look like a body builder to feel successful. Enough is enough - no need to overdo it.
  • I wrote about the optimal amount of exercise a few months ago - this should be more than enough to stay fit and healthy, without being excessive.
  • I'm thinking this might be a worthwhile plan for the next year, but I'm going to commit myself to it for the next 10 weeks, and re-assess from there.


Eating is King

As always, diet has a larger impact on weight than exercise, unless you're working out for several hours a day. So I'll want to continue to eat a reasonable amount of real foods (or as close to real as practical) to maintain my target weight. Running several days in a row does not give one free license to eat unlimited amounts of fast food!

So there you have it.

Simple, but not easy. Attainable, but not without consistent dedication. And rewarding - I should be in "fit and healthy" shape when my 10 weeks are up (the week after Thanksgiving, coincidentally, and speaking of eating reasonable amounts...)


- Chris Butterworth

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200 Posts ago: Fit-20 Workout 06-27-12


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getting great results on days you don't want to workout

Some days you just don't want to work out, and there are dozens of reasons why:

  • You're too tired.
    • You went to bed too late.
    • You didn't sleep well.
    • You got up too early.
  • You don't have time.
    • You're too busy at work.
    • You woke up too late.
  • You'd rather go to bed early.
  • You're too sore from yesterday's workout.
  • You don't feel well.
  • You just can't get motivated.
  • You're battery is almost dead, and you can't workout without your music.
  • The weather's no good.
    • It's too hot outside.
    • It's too cold outside.
    • It's raining / snowing / windy outside.


These are all legitimate, yet none of them should be enough to stop you. Sometimes the very best workouts are the ones you didn't want to do.

When you can motivate yourself to get a workout in on the days that you don't want to - even if it's not one of your best workouts, you get very powerful results:

  1. Physically, you get a workout in. From a fitness standpoint, this beats the heck out of sitting on the couch or laying in bed.
  2. Mentally, you get a huge victory over that lazy devil sitting on your shoulder - you get to prove to yourself that you're more awesome than you thought you were.
  3. Surprise yourself. Sometimes once you get started, you end up having a great workout. I've broken a few PRs on days I didn't really feel like running when I started out.
  4. Illness remedy. Sometimes when I'm not feeling 100%, getting a good sweat on helps shake off whatever's been bothering me. On the other hand, if you're really sick, with a high fever and all those other bad symptoms - maybe that's a good day to skip the workout and stay in bed...
  5. Muscle stretcher. When you're really sore from a previous workout, doing a light workout can help stretch out your muscles and ease their recovery.


Missing a workout once in awhile isn't going to change your life. But getting into the habit of not workout unless conditions are ideal will - it'll rob you of your fitness. Let's face it - conditions are rarely ideal, and once you start giving yourself permission to skip workouts, it gets easier and easier to do.

Tell that lazy devil on your shoulder to shut up, then get up and get moving. (before you change your mind!)

- Chris Butterworth

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the optimal amount of exercise

We finally have the truth.

If you've read my writing for any length of time, you'll see a few recurring themes about how much to exercise:

  • Generally speaking, it's important to get up and move around - being healthy assumes at least a little bit of fitness.
  • Diet is more important than exercise - it takes an almost un-doable amount of exercise to out-run you're poor eating choices. For example, running for an hour burns about 900 calories (give or take), while a single chicken burrito from Chipotle can cost you over 1,000 calories!
  • There's not a perfect amount of exercise - some is better than none, and consistent is better than inconsistent, but don't get caught up in the arms race of "most fittest". Breaking a sweat for 15-20 minutes a couple-few times a week goes a long way towards being healthy.
  • Fit and healthy doesn't guaranty longevity, but being overweight virtually guarantees you won't get there. (I've never found evidence of an obese centenarian.)


Interestingly, I read an article last week on FiveThirtyEight (a stats-nerd's dream website - those of you not familiar with it should check it out.) where they looked at the statistical differences among people who walk-jog-run different distances and at different speeds.

It's a long, deep, intensive article (and still worth reading!), but here's FiveThirtyEight's conclusion (emphasis mine):

"If we take this research at face value, we learn a few things. First, some exercise reduces your risk of death. Second, the optimal walking/jogging exercise is light to moderate jogging. The optimal speed is between 5 and 7 mph, and if you do 25 minutes about three times a week, you're all set. Nothing in the data suggests that running more - farther, or faster - will do more to lower your risk of death."

Wow! Statistical evidence, compiled by people far smarter than myself, who agree that exercise is connected to longevity, and that the arms race to most fittest isn't necessary. That's great news all the way around.

Eat a moderate amount of real food and get a moderate amount of exercise, and you'll have the statistical advantage of being healthy in your favor!

- Chris Butterworth

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facing monsters on the trail

This post could alternatively be titled, "more reasons exercising outside is better."

So this weekend, Easter Sunday morning, I'm running along, minding my own business, when this "little" guy scampered over a couple rocks before eyeing me suspiciously.

chuckwalla lizard in thunderbird conservation park - glendale az

Wow! A Gila Monster?! (The only poisonous reptile in the United States!) Seeing him move that fast was enough to make me jump to the side of the trail (and out of my skin a little bit!) But I've never heard of a gila monster with solid markings, so I had to look him up later..

Turns out he's a Chuckwalla - a big lizard none-the-less, but completely harmless to humans.

Oh well, that was still pretty cool. Here's a picture zoomed out, so you can see the scale/size more clearly:

chuckwalla lizard in thunderbird conservation park - glendale az


Then it was back to the trail.

I ran Thunderbird Conservation Park, in what turned out to be my longest mountain-trail run ever. (not long by most runners' standards, but it was my PR.) I parked by the amphitheater and started east along the Coach Whip trail (which runs along 59th Ave), then I crossed the bridge and jogged up H2 (Arrowhead Point). After descending H2, I crossed back over the bridge and ran the H3 Summit (Cholla Loop), which took me around the mountain and brought me back to my car.

The views from both peaks are outstanding - panoramic views of the Valley. Either trail makes for a worthwhile hike (or run), but doing them on the same trek felt great.

Thunderbird Park - H2 Peak taken from H3 Peak
a view of Arrowhead Point and the H2 trail, taken from the top of the H3 Summit.

Arrowhead, Glendale, and Phoenix, all the way to the Estrella Mountains, from the top of H3 Summit.

When it was all said and done, I spent an hour and change enjoying the blue skies and warm sun. I saw a chuckwalla up close, soaked in some terrific views, met a few other hikers and runners (and a mountain biker), and felt good about what I had done.

My RunKeeper app says I climbed 1,159 vertical feet over the course of 4.79 miles, at an average pace of 13:55 per mile. (that includes stopping to take pictures and chat a little bit.) Overall, that was a great trail run - one I expect I'll come back to many more times.

What's the coolest &/or scariest thing you've ever encountered while out in nature?

-Chris Butterworth

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finding the right path

There are so many different types of exercise available, how do you know which is the right one?

Weight lifting? Aerobic exercise? Cross training?

Long workouts, where you have to pace yourself? Or shorter, more intense workouts? And what about frequency - is everyday too much? Is once a week enough?

I've always been a jack of all workouts, master of none. I played every sport growing up, and I've cycled through various workouts as an adult. I never found the one that I loved, and I always felt like I was missing out on something when I focused on something else. I was a good short-distance runner when I was younger (I once ran a 5:04 mile when I was 14), but I always hated running.

Earlier this spring I ran a charity 5k race, where I bumped into an old friend. We ended up running together, at a fairly slow pace, and had a great time. I don't remember ever having enjoyed a run quite that much. The whole experience left me wanting more - I wanted to run more, and to enjoy running more - and I think a slower pace was the key.

Once I decided running was a path I wanted to follow, I began building up my mileage. At first I could only run a couple miles at a time, but over the course of the spring I increased it, a little bit each week, until I was able to run 6 miles without too much difficulty. (still at a slow pace, but also still enjoyable.)

The next question was, "Where?" Literally, what path should I run? And then I found it. Imagine waking up to this desert scenery:

Running through the desert preserve north of Loop 101 and east of Cave Creek Rd in Phoenix, at dawn.



The desert ends at a large soccer complex (Reach 11), with beautiful green fields.



My lone footprints across fresh dew on the fields.



Running back through the desert I'm treated to an awesome sunrise.



Yeah, choosing the right path of fitness can be the difference between success and failure. And choosing the right path for your fitness can lead to even more enjoyment.

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why trail running is better than regular running

why trail running is better than regular running


There's a desert wash near my house. It's about a quarter-mile wide, and runs for miles in either direction. These natural washes criss-cross the city, and carry water run-off (usually in the form of a flood) on those rare occasions when we see water falling from the sky for more than an hour or two.

desert wash in peoria az


Due to the size and use of these natural, dry riverbeds, it's very expensive for a city to develop them; they typically remain native desert, with minor enhancements for the structural safety of nearby homes and businesses. Instead, the cities use these natural corridors to build an awesome network of bicycle and walking paths. (at the top of the riverbank, obviously.)

I've been on these paths thousands of times over the years for running, biking, walking, skateboarding, riding scooters - basically anything and everything, exercise alone and recreation with my family. But a couple days ago I had a crazy idea:

What would happen if I actually ran IN the wash?

desert wash running through a neighborhood in peoria az

rocky riverbed in a desert wash in peoria az

a desert washes passes under deer valley road in peoria az

After running the wash for about 45 minutes, it was easy to make favorable observations comparing it to running on the regular sidewalk:

1.) Harder Work - easier pace. I found myself less worried about my pace and timing splits, and instead just enjoying my run. My pace was significantly slower than usual, but I could tell I was getting a good workout by how much I was sweating!

2.) Full Body Engagement. I had to adjust and plan for each step, using balance, dexterity, my core, and different muscles in my legs. (mostly to make sure I didn't break an ankle!) This was a significant departure from the repetitive, piston-like motion of legs pounding on smooth pavement. By the end of the run I felt rejuvenated and exhausted at the same time.

3.) Better Form. Small steps, feet underneath you. Easy, light, smooth, and fast - I could feel exactly what Caballo Blanco meant when he said "if you think you need 2 steps, take 3," while teaching Christopher McDougall how to run trails in the book Born to Run. "Easy. Light. Smooth. and Fast. You get the first three, and you won't have to worry about being fast." (I'm quoting from memory, so even if the quote isn't exact, I'm still giving credit with quotations.)

4.) Intense Focus makes time and distance pass quickly. I found myself focusing on the ground in front of me for a few minutes at a time. Then, I'd look up and see I had suddenly run for 5 minutes and had covered quite a bit of distance. That was so much better than the sidewalk, where I usually look ahead at the same streetlight for what seems like forever and wondering why I'm not getting anywhere.

5.) Changing Terrain. This is sort of a combination of the first 3, but the fact is every step is different. In 20 minutes' time, I ran over big river rocks, small river rocks, gravel, dirt, and sand as thick as a luxurious beach. Each surface required different muscles, and a different pace. And the surfaces changed every few minutes.

6.) Better Scenery. Short and sweet - trail running can get you further into nature, to places the rest of the joggers don't get to see.

7.) More Calories Burned per minute. The chart below is part of a much larger chart I found on the MyCaloriesBurned website. I'm not sure if I believe everything on the chart (ie: swimming laps and kick boxing burn less than cycling..?), but at least it's an objective 3rd party saying trail running burns more than regular running.

calories burned per hour for various exercises


So get out there and give trail running a try. Then come back here and let me know what you think..

-Chris Butterworth

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why the Boston Marathon?

why the Boston Marathon?


I had a post queued up for yesterday's Boston Marathon. I wanted to write a tribute to the Hoyts - the most inspirational father-son combo I've ever heard of. I wanted to write a more detailed follow-up story to the post I wrote about them 5 years ago ("Get Over It".)

bombs explode at the finish line of the Boston Marathon


But I can't; not today. Instead I'm left to wade through my emotions over yesterday's senseless bombings.

Why would someone do such a thing?

A marathon is a race, sure. But there are only a handful of people in the world who have a chance of winning. For everybody else, especially those taking longer than 4 hours to finish (when the bombs went off), the race is about achievement - personal triumph, overcoming challenges, celebration of loved ones. Why would someone choose to punish this group of people?

I'm shocked by it.

The images and video are shocking. The image in my mind is even worse. The instant change from triumphant joy to tragic pain is beyond unfair. Have you ever seen a child playing - running and laughing, when they suddenly fall down or run into something, and you can see their whole body and face change from joy to pain? This is like that, times ten thousand. Or ten million.

I'm not surprised.

I've wondered about something like this for years, ever since the Twin Towers on 9/11. Anytime I'm at a sporting event - Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Coyotes, Spring Training baseball - or a crowded office building, or even a jam-packed shopping mall at Christmas-time, I wonder if this is the time some douchebag terrorist is going to take advantage of a large group of innocent people.

Times have changed.

Crowded places become potential target zones. Random schools are outlets for troubled teens' wrath. It's no longer safe to let your kids play outside by themselves..

This is bullshit. My heart and thoughts go out to the victims in yesterdays bombing attack. But my anger is going much further. I want justice, and I want vengeance. I want punishment - swift and severe - for people who do bad things to others.

Sure I'm going down a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? Rapists? Hang 'em! Armed robbery? Put 'em away! Burglary? White collar crime? DUI?

I don't have the answers - not today. Mostly I have anger, sorrow, and frustration. I'm going to spend some time today thinking about yesterday's events and the people involved. And I'm going to make a concerted effort to enjoy my own life, and my family, that much more, because.. You never know...

-Chris Butterworth

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my 5 favorite workouts

my 5 favorite workouts


Let's keep a couple points in mind when talking about workouts:

A) Weight Loss - working out will help with weight loss, but your success depends on your diet more than your workout, and by a large margin! For 99% of the population (those who aren't professional athletes or first responders), a calorie is a calorie, and it's all about eating fewer calories than your burn.

B) Workouts can vary greatly in their intensity and duration - so much so that the same set of exercises can be easy in one scenario and impossible in another. Jog 3 miles at a leisurely pace, and you'll have jogged 3 miles. Run 3 miles at a 6:30/mile pace, and you'll probably collapse in a heap before the end of mile 1. Perform 3 miles' worth of 100-yard Sprint Intervals, and you'll find you've worked muscles you didn't even know you had!

So, with those caveats out of the way, here are my 5 favorite workouts:

1.) Kettlebell

  • very portable, takes little space - easy to do a KB workout anywhere, anytime
  • full-body workout - most of the KB exercises work multiple muscle groups, so a routine of 3-4 exercises will hit your entire body.
  • gain lots of strength, lots of definition, and a little size. KBs might not be your primary tool for body building or bulking up, but they're great for just about everything else.
  • workouts (and KB weight) can be modified to focus on strength, cardio-endurance, or a balance between the two.
  • 10 minutes is enough for a good workout. 15-20 minutes is exhausting. a 30-minute kettlebell routine is downright hard!
  • here is a really simple routine I did a few months ago where I incorporated a kettlebell.
  • low-stress workout - using good form and letting gravity help swing the kettlebell allow this workout to keep stress off my joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.
  • the downside - at approximately $2 per pound, they aren't cheap. Although you only need one, many people end up buying one a little lighter to start with, and then wanting a heavier one later. Or they'll want a 2nd KB to do some 2-KB exercises..


2.) Swimming

  • there's something meditative about swimming. It's just me and the water - even if I swim with a friend-partner, it's still just me and the water. And when I get a good rhythm going, there isn't another exercise out there that feels as refreshing to my mind, body and soul.
  • full-body workout, with the ability to change stroke, styles, and intensity depending on what I want to accomplish.
  • low-impact workout.
  • develops my lungs like nothing else.
  • intervals work great in the pool!
  • the downside - swimming takes a bigger resource commitment than just about anything else I do. I don't have a pool at my house, so I need to drive to the gym. (I have to pay my gym membership first.) Sometimes I can swim right away; other times I need to wait for a lane to open up. Once I'm swimming, since I've already committed a block of time to working out, I'm less likely to do a short, 12-minute session. (that's good and bad - longer workouts are better, right?) Then, when I'm finished, I need to shower, change, and get back to work. And finally, once I get home, I need to deal with my stuff - equipment, damp clothes and towel, etc. All in, it's probably a 90-minute commitment.


3.) Cross-Fit / Fit-20

  • the fastest way to burn the most calories, period.
  • can be done just about anywhere, with little or no equipment required.
  • can mix and match exercises depending on my mood or a specific body area I want to target.
  • the most mentally challenging workout I do. When working out at a high intensity, my mind and body will scream, begging me to quit about half-way through. Taming that beast is hugely rewarding.
  • can vary the challenge, even with the exact same routine. "how many sets can I do in 15 minutes?" "how fast can I do 75 of each?" "how fast can I do a ladder of 10-1?"
  • I see more muscle gain (size) with these than with any other workouts I do, which makes these great exercises for the spring - heading into the pool/beach season!
  • the downside - motivation. These workouts are physically and mentally challenging. It's not a problem when I'm after a specific goal, such as losing weight or gaining size/shape. But when I'm in pure maintenance mode, it's hard to get psyched up for these guys week after week.


4.) Versaclimber

  • if you're going to buy one piece of equipment for your home gym, make it a Versaclimber. My wife & I bought one in 2006, and we've been using it every week since then.
  • I know I'm working out. 2 minutes in I get that gut-check feeling - here we go. At the 6-minute mark I break a sweat, big time.
  • works my upper and lower body.
  • can vary the workout by changing my grip, stride length, body position, and pace.
  • small footprint - it only needs about 3 feet by 3 feet, which means I can put it just about anywhere in the house (or patio, yard, garage, etc.)
  • the downside(s) - cost (it's not cheap), mobility (it's not easy to move), and location-specific (you can only do a versaclimber workout where you have a versaclimber!)


5.) Running

  • as portable as anything - just go.
  • least expensive exercise known to man. (expensive shoes not required.)
  • can adjust time, distance, pace, intervals, sprinting.. based on time available and workout goals.
  • can use a known route or make up a new route on the fly.
  • hills and off-road trails add variety and different challenges.
  • some of my best and most creative thinking has happened while running. Anytime I get into a good groove - fast enough to make me work but not so fast that I exhaust myself quickly, where I can just Go for 30 minutes or so.. my mind gets to a place that's difficult to find anywhere else.
  • impact-wise - running doesn't take a lot of recovery time (extra-long and extra-fast runs not withstanding), so I could run moderately every day. Maybe it's related to my form, but I don't get sore or injured from running. If you do get sore/injured, I would look into working on your running form.
  • the downside - running isn't the best exercise for maximizing "calories burned per minute of exercise", nor is it going to shape / sculpt / build your body as well as the other exercises.


Honorable Mention - Shadow Boxing / Kick Boxing.

  • Ultra high-intensity!
  • another one of those where you'll be sore in places you didn't even know you had muscles.
  • can be really fun with a partner or group.


Not On the List

  • Cycling / Spinning. Uuugh. Boring. Takes too long to get a good workout. Focuses primarily on legs / calves and almost nothing on upper body. Try being 10 miles from anywhere and getting a flat tire..
  • Yoga. Sorry to you yogis out there - I find it slow and boring. (and I'm not very stretchy.)
  • Competitive Sports. I hate to admit it, guys, but your body doesn't work the same once you get to your 40's. Competitive attitude - check. Will to win - check. Ability to cut, bang, accelerate, jump, and recover - gone. I'll still goof around with the kids and the other parents, but as for playing full speed; this is an injury waiting to happen!
  • Weight Lifting. My days of spending over an hour in the gym, chest & tri one day, back & bi the next, legs the day after that - those days are long past. I've lost the desire for those results over the years, and I've increased my strength and results by doing cross-fit instead.
  • Anything else that's either expensive, complicated, cold-weather related, or extreme. 

That's my list. I wish I had more time to spend becoming an expert in all of them, but I'll have to settle for staying in pretty good shape instead.

What's on your list?

-Chris Butterworth

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weekend motivation - triathlon video

weekend motivation - triathlon video


Looking for a little motivation to get out there and make it happen this weekend?

Here's a video showing highlights from the Ironman World Championship (Triathlon) in Hawaii:



Here's the link, as videos don't always come through in feed readers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgVr6xgyaCI

Awesome stuff - when I watch this video my adrenaline starts pumping and I'm ready to take on any workout!

swimming in hawaii
image clipped from video

Have a healthy weekend!

-Chris Butterworth

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healthy from history - the Tarahumara

healthy from history - the Tarahumara


photo of tarahumara

The Tarahumara are a small tribe of Native North Americans, most famous for their central role in Christopher McDougall's best selling book "Born to Run". They live in an isolated labyrinth of mountains and canyons in northern Mexico (the Copper Canyons), where their lifestyle has remained virtually unchanged for the last 500 years. (Until the last decade, but that's a different story for a different time.) They've watched from the sidelines as the rest of the West was impacted by the Spanish Conquistadors, the founding of America, the Spanish-American War, the Industrial Revolution, the Gold Rush, the Wild West, and the Modern Era.

Why they're considered healthy

The Tarahumara tend to live into old age, with no instances of our modern diseases, and their geriatric population is able to climb mountains and run great distances with the rest of the tribe.

Diet

Their diet consists of 3 primary foods.
  • Corn - either as pinole (where it's ground and mixed with water) or as a beer. (grain, carbohydrate)
  • Chia Seeds (protein, antioxidant)
  • Mice (protein, fat)
  • * Deer, Gazelle (protein, fat) * I can't determine if the present-day Tarahumara hunt these anymore. If so, this would be a 4th primary food.

Exercise

They spend virtually their entire lives exercising, either as passive or active exercise.
  • Working their fields
  • Village Communication - their closest neighbors live further away than you can see, so just walking next door is a long walk. The next closest village might be 30 or 60 miles away.
  • Running for transportation - they run from village to village. Communication, socialization, competitions, collaborations, warnings of danger. Whatever the reason, they don't think twice about setting out for a 60 mile, 2-day run.
  • Running for sport - their pastime, unlike our slow-moving baseball and our rest-between-plays football, is a game where they divide into teams, then take turns kicking a small ball down the road or path. Except they don't get to a goal at 100 yards; they kick this ball (and run after it) for 24 hours straight, and sometimes longer. Yep - you read that right. They get two villages together, throw a big party, and then play a running-kicking game for 24 full hours.
  • Persistence Hunting - they can run all day long, chasing a deer or gazelle, until it overheats and dies.

What they DON'T do

Sometimes it helps to see another community's traits by what it is they don't do, rather than by what they do. The Tarahumara don't:
  • Eat pre-packaged food
  • Eat fast food
  • Eat foods with any added nutrients, chemicals, dyes, sugars or sugar substitutes
  • Over eat, eat to indulge
  • Watch TV
  • Sit at a desk
  • Sit on a couch
  • Use a computer
  • Target specific ratios of proteins, carbs, and fat
  • Drink sports drinks or power gels while running ultra marathon distances
  • Wear heat gear, moisture-wicking fibers, or modern running shoes
  • Taper before a big game/race. (They'll often run 60 miles to get to the village that's hosting the 24-hour game/race!)
  • Retire
  • Get cancer, diabetes, vascular disease, or any of the rest of the top 10 health risks facing American men

Supporting Documentation

I've cobbled my information together from a number of sources. See the links and videos below for further reading.

Best-selling Book - Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall

Video - 15 minutes - Christopher McDougall speaking at TED.



Quote from above video: "If you read folklore and mythology, any kind of myths, any kind of tall tales, running is always associated with freedom and vitality and youthfulness and eternal vigor. It's only in our lifetime that running has become associated with fear and pain."

Forbes article discussing they have low blood sugar levels (with no prostate or breast cancer), despite eating 80% of their calories from carbs. This means it is possible to metabolize carbs and your body's fat efficiently. 

Men's Health magazine, quoting from Born to Run: "When it comes to the top 10 health risks facing American men, the Tarahumara are practically immortal: Their incidence rate is at or near zero in just about every category, including diabetes, vascular disease, and colorectal cancer."

Wikipedia entry for Tarahumara People

Video - 10 minutes - National Geographic discusses their extraordinary endurance


Tarahumara Recipes - recipes including pinole and chia

Bottom Line

The Tarahumara don't have any of our modern "nutrition", "wisdom", or medicine, and yet they live into old age being active and free from modern diseases. They're a great example of an "eat less, move more" society - proof that you don't need anything fancy, even a program with a fancy name, to be healthy.

To your health,

-Chris Butterworth

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video - Norseman Extreme Triathlon

video - Norseman Extreme Triathlon


(video below)

Welcome to the hardest Ironman-length triathlon I've ever heard about.

Ironman, not to be confused with Iron Man, is a LONG triathlon race. The distances are standardized, and races are held around the world, with the most famous being the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
  • 2.4 mile Swim
  • 112 mile Bike
  • 26.2 mile Run
  • 140.6 Total Miles - when you see a 140.6 sticker on somebody's car, it means they've done more in 12 hours than most of us have done in 12 months!


The Norseman Extreme Triathlon makes a regular Ironman look pedestrian. In fact, I'd pick these Norsemen (and women) against Iron Man..! Check out this video:



These guys are Viking Warriors - absolutely amazing! Mentally and physically tough as nails.

Couple of thoughts
  1. Health and Fitness - let's not confuse good health with a crazy desire to get hypothermia and/or run up a mountain. Eat right, exercise, focus on general health. If you want to set your sights on something bigger, there are plenty of shorter length triathlons to get you started - google "sprint triathlons" in your area for more information.
  2. Motivation - remember this video as motivation for days when you're not feeling 100%. Just move forward, get through that fjord, climb that mountain.. You'll feel great once you're workout is over and you know you conquered it!

Thanks to Roman Mica at everymantri.com for sharing this.

Train Hard,

-Chris Butterworth

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running for time or distance

running for time or distance


You can run for time, as in "How fast can I run 3 miles?"

You can run for distance, as in "How far can I run in 30 minutes?"

Or you can run for both, as in "I'm going running."

3 different strategies, with each needing its own mind set, goals, planning, and execution.

Running for Time

My fastest pace times come when I'm running for time. It's as if my mind & body are willing to sacrifice some pain, knowing the reward is I get to the finish line sooner; more pain = shorter pain. This is true whether I'm doing shorter runs (ie: 1 mile) or middle distance runs (3-4 miles). The mind set is that I'm going to push hard, I know my lungs are going to burn, and I'll watch the clock/gps to check my pace - knowing I'm going to push even harder if I fall behind. I use this method when I'm working towards a goal of trying to set a personal record for X miles.

Running for Distance

I struggle to push myself as hard when I run for distance. Unlike running for time, pushing myself early in the run only makes me more tired by the end of the run. Consequently, I end up pacing myself a little slower, and then kicking like heck at the end, when I know I don't have to save anything for later in the run. This means I don't always leave everything I have on the road, which also means my pace times aren't quite as fast. I use this method when I'm training for a shorter triathlon - knowing I will have already swum and biked, and figuring the run will take me approximately X minutes, I need to know I can run for X minutes regardless of how tired my legs are or how fast I go.

Just Running

Running for both is another completely different mindset. I like to clear my calendar, give myself to permission to not think about the daily stress of emails, projects, etc., and just go running with a clear mind. I'll run for 60-90 minutes (no, I'm definitely not a marathoner!) without a care in the world. I get completely in tune with my body - my lungs breathing, my heart beating, my stride, my feet touching the ground. I feel the sun on my skin, and I hear the sounds of the surroundings - whether I'm in the neighborhood or out in the desert. I let my body go as fast as it wants to, which will change depending on the terrain. My average pace will be a bit slower, but my enjoyment of the run is significantly higher. I used this method to run two 10K's per week (one of them after biking for 90 minutes) earlier this spring while training for an olympic length triathlon.

Each method is very different. But all three methods are valid. I've said before, and I'll say again - you're only in shape for whatever it is you're in shape for. You can't be a great marathoner and a great sprinter (and a cross-fit expert, kick-boxer, swimmer, and rock-climber!) They all require different mental and physical training. And it doesn't matter which one you choose to work on. Just get out there and do it.

-Chris Butterworth

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8 points on barefoot running

8 points on barefoot running


Talk about fitness long enough, and the question will invariably come up: "What do you think about this whole barefoot / minimalist running thing?"

That's a very loaded question in these circles, and one which can easily be discussed and debated all day long - much like religion, politics, and education. I could write up my answer as a 10,000 word manifesto, but I doubt anyone would spend the time to read it. So let's see if I can boil my thoughts down to a few bullet points.

1.) What shoes do I wear when I run?

My current favorite is a pair of Luna Sandals - a thin sole of leather top & rubber bottom with a single strap of leather for the strap. (I upgraded to the elasticized leather for quicker and easier fitting.) I ran 9 different 10K's in these during April and May of this year, and I had a couple days in there where I ran multiple runs totaling 9 and 10 miles in a single day.

From March 2010 through March 2012, I ran exclusively in Vibram Five Fingers. My longest run was a 10 miler on Thanksgiving Day, 2011.

Sprinkled in throughout the last couple years I've run a couple dozen miles in bare feet, but I've done these in mostly short doses of a mile or so at a time.

Yes, it's safe to say I've embraced the minimalist movement.





2.) Am I fast?

I don't generally run for speed; I run either to prepare myself for one leg of a longer triathlon, or I run for the enjoyment of running. But on the occasions I do push myself, I'm about average.

On my 10 mile race last November, I crossed the 6 mile mark at a 7:40 pace, and I finished the race at an 8:12 pace.

On one particular training run in early 2011, I ran 2 miles in 13:59.

Maybe one of these years I'll put a speed goal onto my fitness goals list and give my pace some intense focus, but I haven't done that yet.

3.) Why did I switch to minimal shoes?

First of all, I don't love shoes, so the thought of less shoe doesn't put me off.

In January and February 2010, as I was getting off the couch and back into shape while training for my first triathlon, I noticed that my knee would start hurting badly at about the 2 mile mark. Anytime I ran more than 2 miles, it became excruciating. I figured I would be able to muscle through it on race day, but my hopes of beating my friends & training partners were quickly being dashed. I assumed my knees were just getting old - 40 years of athletics had worn them down, and I was headed for knee replacement surgery at some point. Oh well, wathca gonna do?

One day I saw a guy wearing VFFs, and the way they looked just made sense to me. I started researching them online, and I bought my first pair a couple weeks later. My research had turned up several anecdotal stories of people getting "healed" after running in these, so I was cautiously optimistic about trying them out.

Now, keep in mind I've spent most of my life in flip-flops or bare feet on the weekends, at least for the summers, so my feet weren't completely atrophied. I probably got a little lucky here.


Anyway, I put them on and gingerly ran my first mile. Hmmm, I thought, different, but not bad. I kept running. By the end of the first week my knee paid had disappeared completely. By the end of the 2nd week I was routinely running 4 pain-free miles at a time, and I was hooked.

I bought another pair, and wore them almost exclusively for the next year and a half.

4.) The simple (over simplified) case FOR minimalist.


Our bodies have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, without shoes. We didn't start wearing shoes at all until the last few thousand years.



We didn't start wearing big cushioned, thick padding running shoes until Nike invented them in the early 1970's. This was the first time in human history that people could run by landing on their bony heel first, rather than the padded area of their mid-sole.



Many of the modern running injuries did not exist before Nike's new running shoes, and the number / percentage of running injuries has not declined at all. In fact, the big-brand running shoe companies cannot produce a single study showing the use of their shoes prevents injuries. Also, all of the major running shoe companies have begun marketing their own versions of minimalist shoes, showing they're more concerned about market trends than they are about proving their traditional running shoes prevent injuries.



As a running society, we have become slower at distance running since the 1970's.



In countries where they don't wear shoes until much later (ie: teenagers), they have fewer injuries and they run faster marathons.

5.) The simple (over simplified) case AGAINST minimalist.

There are a growing number of people talking about how they made the switch to barefoot or minimalist running and then they got injured.

Keep in mind, however, that the human foot is an amazing part of the body, where dozens of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles all work together to propel us forward.

The foot muscles are just like any other muscle, and will atrophy if they aren't used. Imagine if you haven't used your arms for a couple decades, then you suddenly start throwing your body weight around, for a few hundred reps. Think you might pull something, or end up at the doctor's office for an arm injury?

6.) Supporting documentation online.

I mentioned being over simplified above because there are too many articles on this subject to even read - there's probably enough information for a doctoral thesis, and there's new research and articles being published daily. If you want to spend some time getting a little more well versed in the topic, I'd start with these:

BirthdayShoes.com - a website dedicated to the minimalist shoe movement, with an active forum, scores of well-written articles, and more links out than you can count.

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall - the best-selling non-fiction book that started it all. 1 part anthropology and history lesson; 1 part science and research; and 1 part riveting story line with great character development. It's difficult to have an intelligent discussion with somebody who hasn't read this book, because you can't even begin a discussion without first being at the same starting point, and this book provides the starting point.

Vibram Five Fingers - the toe-shoe maker's website has a trove of information on the subject; I'd start here.

7.) Some conversations I've had.

Compare the messages, and the messengers, below:

My doctor made a comment when I wore VFFs to an appointment. She said she had been a runner most of her life, and had never been injured, until she decided to run a marathon and started wearing really expensive running shoes to train in. She asked about my vibrams, and said she had been researching them and was likely to buy a pair.

One day last month, while running in my huaraches sandals, I passed an elderly man riding his bicycle. He became agitated with me, saying (loudly) that I can't run in those things, and he should know because he was a podiatrist for 50 years! I didn't want to argue, so I kept running, but the whole episode was ironically funny.

8.) Final thoughts.

It's not the shoes; it's your form. Some of the greatest distance runners in the history of mankind wear modern running shoes. But if you examine their form, they look exactly like the greatest distance runners who don't wear modern shoes. Bash your heel into the ground, thousands of times in a row, and you're body isn't going to like that - regardless of what you wear. Let your foot perform the way it was designed to do, and you'll enjoy running a whole lot more - regardless of what you wear.

If you go out in your driveway and try to run barefoot, you'll quickly change your stride to accommodate for not having any padding; otherwise it hurts really bad. Keep that barefoot stride, and you can wear whatever you want.

Personally, I can't imagine ever wearing thickly padded Nikes again.

-Chris Butterworth

running lines - suicide drill

running lines - suicide drill


This one should bring back memories from all you former high school athletes out there. And the beauty of high school athletics - when kids are old enough to be pushed like professional athletes, but young enough to have the recovery time of a kid...

The drill helps build speed, agility, explosiveness, and endurance.

Running Lines (Suicide Drill)

1.) Step off 25 yards (or use large steps), placing a marker at each 5 yard increment. (5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, etc.) 
2.) Start at the beginning of your 25-yard stretch.
3.) Sprint to the 5-yard marker, bending down to touch it with your hand.
4.) Sprint back to the beginning, and touch the end-line with your hand.
5.) Repeat for each marker.

Variations

Football, Soccer, Basketball - each sport uses the existing lines on the field. (I've heard of some high school football coaches using every 5-yard line from end zone to end zone!)

Distances - OK to add length between markers, additional markers, and/or overall length to the course.

Obstacles - OK to add hurdles, box jumps, ropes/tires, or other stations for quick bursts of push-ups, sit-ups, etc.


Legal Disclaimer (don't blame me).

Warning - I am NOT a licensed physical trainer, therapist, nutritionist, or a doctor.  I am a regular guy who just happens to love exercise and fitness.

Exercise can be dangerous if done incorrectly or in excess.  I can't see you, and you can't see me, to know if you're doing an exercise incorrectly, which could lead to injury.


Please Please Please seek help / advice / counsel from a local professional before starting a new program, or before doing an exercise you're unfamiliar with.  This information is intended as a guide to point you in the right direction.  If you aren't familiar with the exercises described herein, I highly recommend seeking professional advice before trying them.

running around the world

running around the world


I thought this was funny, and sad.



originally posted at FailBlog.

It's cute - stereotypes can be funny, if taken tongue in cheek and not meaning to insult. The fact that they're stereotypes at all indicates either A) there's some truth involved, and/or B) the perception of the masses out there is that there's some truth involved.

So what does this say about Americans? We're depicted as chasing a gigantic cheeseburger, and our stick-figures are fatter than everybody else's.

Come on, guys.  Moderate. Cut portion sizes. Slow down the excesses.

I'm tired of the fat country stereotype.

-Chris Butterworth

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major goal accomplished - I ran an Olympic length triathlon!

3:04:24. 3 hours, 4 minutes, 24 seconds.

1,500 meters swum; 24.8 miles ridden; 6.2 miles run.

Saturday I accomplished a goal which was 2 years in the making, and I have to say how satisfying it felt.

In January, 2010, some friends of mine challenged me (over beers) to do a triathlon with them, and my response was something along the lines of "bring it on, sissies." They had already picked out a race for that May - a sprint triathlon covering a 1,000 meter open-water swim, followed by a 14-mile bike ride and a 3.6-mile run over a grueling mountainous trail. I hadn't been doing much exercise the last few years, so I thought this would be challenging but doable.

I went out the next morning to run a couple miles, just to get a baseline of where I was starting from. I ran as fast as I could - 2.4 miles in 25 minutes. Then I almost puked my brains out. Uh oh, this might not be such a cake walk..

By March I had worked my way up to a 3.5 mile run without feeling the need to vomit, so it was time to get in the pool.  I swam 3 laps before I ran out of air, hyperventilated, would have drowned if the pool wasn't only 4 feet deep, and wondered in despair how I was going to swim the equivalent of 20 laps in deep lake-water.

Somehow I managed to finish the race that May. After the race I leaned that this particular race was one of the hardest "sprint" triathlons in the country - most of them only swim 400 meters, and most of them are on flat ground. I remember feeling cheated, being so proud of what I had accomplished, but when I told people it was a sprint triathlon they would give that look of "oh, that's not a big deal - I thought you meant an ironman."  That always left a bad taste in my mouth.

The next spring my friends and I decided to do the same race again, with a goal of bettering our times. But once that was over, we decided to up the ante, and do a longer triathlon - one that couldn't be watered down and confused with something smaller. We settled on the Olympic length race last Thanksgiving, and training began in earnest this February.

15 weeks of training, each week going a little further &/or faster than the week before. Waking up each Tuesday earlier and earlier (4:00 am the last 3 weeks) so I would have time to ride for 90 minutes and then run for 60 minutes before going to work. (Tuesday was my long workout morning - I swam every Monday, and I ran every Friday, eventually running a 10K each Friday morning.)

It feels good to be in this good of shape. It feels good to have accomplished something that was unfathomable 2 years ago. It also feels good to know I get to take a week off from working out, and that when I come back I don't have to do anymore ultra-length workouts. at least for awhile..

-Chris Butterworth

sprints

Sprinting is different from endurance running.  Very different.  In fact, take a look a sprinter and a marathoner next to each other.  Sprinters are powerful - big, strong, sculpted.  Watch a sprinter run; you'll see their arms pumping, generating extra power, right along with their legs.  Contrast that to a marathoner, whose hands glide gently out in front, trying not to waste energy better used by the legs.

Here's a picture of marathoner Deriba Merga (Ethiopia) snapping the tape to win the 2009 Boston Marathon.



Here's a picture of sprinter Usain Bolt (Jamaca), shirt ripped off in frustration after a false start.



He is a strong, powerful, fast man; muscled, chiseled, and without an ounce of fat.

Now let's watch him run.  Here's a video of Bolt setting a world record in 100 Meters back in 2009.




Imagine running like Usain Bolt.  Arms pumping furiously with every step.  Legs pounding the ground one after the other.  10-15 seconds of all-out exertion, leaving nothing in the tank.  That's how you should be sprinting - leave everything you've got at the end of each sprint.

Legal Disclaimer (don't blame me):

Warning - I am NOT a licensed physical trainer, therapist, nutritionist, or a doctor.  I am a regular guy who just happens to love exercise and fitness.

Exercise can be dangerous if done incorrectly or in excess.  I can't see you, and you can't see me, to know if you're doing an exercise incorrectly, which could lead to injury.

Please Please Please seek help / advice / counsel from a local professional before starting a new program, or before doing an exercise you're unfamiliar with.  This information is intended as a guide to point you in the right direction.  If you aren't familiar with the exercises described herein, I highly recommend seeking professional advice before trying them.

bandit racing - so that's the name for it

The race I've been writing about for the last couple months is right around the corner - scheduled for May 13th.  But there's a problem with that.  A couple problems, actually.

First of all, that's Mother's Day.  Few things say Happy Mother's Day to my beautiful wife (and mother of my 2 boys) less, than to say "have a great day Honey; I'll see you sometime after lunch!"

Next up is the logistics.  This is an early race - the horn blasts at 6:30 am.  For me personally, that means waking up sometime around 4:00am to get up, get my wits about me, have a decent breakfast, and drive across the city.  Then I can deal with parking, getting my gear set up, and getting into the water with 900 other racers.

And finally there's the fee.  I get to pay $135 for the privilege of wrecking Mother's Day and waking up that early for a 3+ hour race.  Hmmm.

On the flip side, I've trained hard, and I want to accomplish my goal of running a race at this distance.  So my training partners and I came up with an alternate plan - let's run our own race!

We're going to set up a small transition area at the gym, with our bikes locked up & ready to ride, and our food/drinks/nourishment easily accessible.  We'll swim in the gym's pool, hop onto our bikes and ride a predetermined course, then lock up our bikes and run like the wind.  No entrance fees, t-shirts, or messed up holidays.  I'm actually excited about it.

According to Men's Health magazine, this is called a bandit race.  Cool - now I know the name for it.

-Chris Butterworth