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Entries in things i have learned (123)

Thursday
Dec292011

Becoming More Flexible Means Moving Differently

A few weeks ago, my friend Judd sent me an article about Kelly Starrett, a Crossfit trainer in San Francisco who is very serious about injury prevention and recovery. He’s made a name for himself as the Mobility Guy. That’s his word; most people would call it stretching, but it’s clear that to him it’s more than that, and his approach fascinates me. Another article Judd sent me has links to double handful of YouTube videos of his mobility workouts that are especially useful to runner, and in one of the last ones, he lays out his priorities, in decreasing order of importance: joint positioning, motor control, muscle stiffness, and then overall length. When most people talk about stretching to prevent injury, they’re really only thinking about the last one. Kelly’s strategy eventually gets around to that, but it’s much more about breaking down the muscle tissues that lock you into the limited-range-of-motion movements that will cause you injury.

That notion of breaking things down and building them back up has been following me around lately. I realized at some point this fall that the reason the running workout schedule I’ve been following has three consecutive days of running in the middle of the week is to force my muscles gently beyond the breakdown point on the third day, so that my body builds them back up stronger, faster, better. Reading Born To Run got me thinking about the whole barefoot running thing. Some of the arguments in that book about how modern running shoes actually keep people from learning how to run in a way that prevents injury are pretty compelling. As Christopher McDougall puts it in an article on his website “[U]ltimately, the debate isn’t about Bare Soles vs. Shoes. It’s about learning to run gently. Master that, and you can wear — or not wear — anything you please.” That evntually lead me to look at the Vibram FiveFingers website, where I found their guide to how to transition to running in their minimalist shoes.

What all of these these stress is the importance of proceeding slowly and listening to your body as you learn how to move (and be) better. That’s been a major theme of 2011 for me. I know that I’ve done a lot of things wrong for a while, and I know I’ve needed to make changes. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got Yoda leaning over my shoulder, whispering “You must unlearn what you have learned.” But I’ve come to realize that as long as I’m mindful of the feedback my body is giving me, I can unlearn a lot.

Saturday
Dec242011

It's Not Always Easy... And That's Ok

Today contained at least two reminders that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

I’m in between running training programs right now. I’ve got about five weeks to bridge before the training cycle for the next race begins. I can’t just take that whole time off, because I need to be running fifteen to twenty miles a week when I start that next set of workouts. The problem is that I always have a hard time going out for a long run when it’s not part of a training program for a particular race. When I’m in a program, I know that there could be consequences for not getting out there. When I’m not, I’m a lot more casual about it. That’s one thing that made going for a run today harder.

The other thing that made it harder was that I felt like crap. I was really low-energy, because of a number of things — not sleeping well last night, going for a fast run last time out, doing my long run on one day of rest instead of two, and not going for a long run last weekend (among others). As a result, it was an eight-mile slog. Fortunately, I’ve developed enough grit that I can keep running through that, partly by fooling myself and saying I won’t walk yet but I will walk later, partly by telling myself that I shouldn’t be afraid of hard work. That how I got through this morning’s run.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered it was actually faster than the last long training run I’d done before the race. The one I felt great on. Yeah.

As I said when I got back, I’m not developing the ability to feel great on all my runs. I’m developing the ability to go faster while not feeling any worse. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

(The other reminder of that was writing this post, which I took three running leaps at before I was finally able to figure out what I was trying to say. And like that run, it may not have been great, but it’s what I needed to do.)

Tuesday
Dec202011

Ignorance is No Defense

You’re not allowed to buy things for yourself between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m amazed at the number of people I’ve encountered recently who aren’t aware of this rule.

To clarify, this isn’t some overly-restrictive law that says you can’t purchase anything that you’re going to use. You can still buy gas and go to the grocery store for yourself. If it’s something you regularly consume, you’re allowed to continue getting it. It’s those special things, those one-time purchases, those things that could conceivably be bought by someone else as a gift for you that you are forbidden from buying for yourself during this period. If you find yourself thinking about getting something like this between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, stop yourself and instead casually mention within earshot of a spouse/significant other/relative/close friend/other person who might be trying figure out what they could possibly get you for Christmas what it is that you’re thinking about getting yourself, but do not buy it. This may require a bit of patience and some restraint, so resolve to be strong. Under no circumstances should you buy this thing until after whatever gift-exchanging rituals you observe are concluded.

On behalf of tormented would-be gift-buyers everywhere, thank you for following the rules.

Thursday
Dec082011

9 Things, Part 10

So that’s my reflections on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently. In some ways, the nine things could be boiled down to three:

  1. Figure out exactly what you want and how you will know when you’ve gotten it. (Get specific.)
  2. Actively do those things that will help you get there. (Use if-then plans, measure work remaining, be a realistic optimist, believe you can improve, and build your willpower muscle.)
  3. Actively avoid those things that will prevent you from getting there. (Focus on getting better instead of being good, don’t tempt fate, and focus on what you will do instead of what you won’t.)

And that makes sense.

I love the book because of how concentrated it is. It’s just enough theory balanced with the right amount of advice to be useful. At some point I’ll probably read Succeed, particularly because I’m interested in learning more about the research behind these ideas. (I’ve elided much of the research in 9 Things in these summaries, but it’s fascinating to me.) For now though, I’m happy with what I’ve gotten out of half an hour of reading.

Wednesday
Dec072011

9 Things, Part 9

This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.

Thing #9: Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do

It should come as no surprise that thought suppression doesn’t work. Just try not thinking about dancing wheels of cheese. Every time you encounter something that reminds you of the concept you’re trying not to think about — in this case, dairy products, round objects, or moving rhythmically to music — it’s going to come back. The harder you try not to think about it, the more you can’t escape it. And the more you think about something you’re not supposed to do, the more likely you are to succumb. (This is another good reason to plan your way around sources of temptation.)

So, given that willpower can be worn down over time, and you can’t always avoid problematic situations, what’s the best way to keep from giving in? Remember those “if-then” plans we talked about back in Thing #2? You use them, with one trick: You can’t suppress your thoughts, but you can replace them. Figure out whatever it is you’re supposed to avoid doing, and come up with something to do instead of it whenever you’re tempted to do it. Things like “If I get excited about a project at a convention, I will think about it for at least a week instead of committing to it right away” or “If I read an email that makes me angry, I will wait for five minutes instead of replying right away.”

My biggest success with eating healthier came by focusing on what I would eat, instead of what I wouldn’t. I’ve got a list of things I need to have every day: fruit, nuts, whole grains, leafy greens, brightly colored vegetables, and green tea. When I look at a menu, I’m trying to find things that will help me tick boxes off my checklist. I hardly notice the things I’m not supposed to have. Once I’ve gotten my daily quota of each of things I’m trying to eat, I’m generally full enough that I’m not really interested in anything else. There is a list of things that I’m supposed to avoid, but because I’ve been consciously replacing those things with healthier alternatives, I rarely crave them anymore. And I hardly ever think of dancing wheels of cheese.