Friday, October 28, 2011

Walls come tumbling down

I checked out a really bad VHS rip of Jericho Mile circa 1979. It's a Michael Mann film that won an Emmy. To say that this post is a spoiler would be a little rediculous. Most people could guess the plot of the movie within the first 10 minutes. That's not to say it isn't worth seeking out. I enjoyed it.

There are a few recognizable cast members. Peter Strauss as Larry Murphy. Roger E. Mosley as Cotton Crown (he is best know for being T.C., the chopper pilot on Magnum). Brian Dennehy as Doctor D. Is there a movie of this period that Brian Dennehy isn't in? Geoffrey Lewis as Dr. Bill Janowski. Ed Lauter as Coach Jerry Belouit. Again, Ed Lauter seems to have been in so many movies of this period.

Murphy hauling ass around the prison yard

I have to say. Nothing perks my interest like a ripped shirtless man, running in 70's short shorts to Sympathy For The Devil by The Stones. Add some tatted-up prison yard onlookers and you have my complete attention.

The predictable plot goes a little like this... Larry Murphy is a naturally talented runner who is in prison for killing his father. He feels like he deserves to be there but would do it all over again because he saved his step-sister from constant brutality. Running the Folsom prison yard is a release for him. Everyday Murphy runs around trash cans in a ad-hock track. R. C. Styles is his prison buddy. Styles is black. The mixed race relationship is in contrast to the gang segmentation in the prison. Cotton Crown runs the black gang who are obsessed with physical fitness. Doctor D runs the hateful drug dealing white gang. A character I can't remember runs the hispanic crew who owns most of the contraband. Styles and Murphy run together and although Styles is nowhere near Murphy's capability, he fancies himself as Murphy's unofficial coach. Murphy is very cool toward Styles. You get the feeling like he is trying to do his time without getting in trouble and without getting too close to anyone. It is only until Styles gets himself into hot water with Doctor D's gang that Murphy starts to show his true feelings for him. Styles wants a conjugal visit from his wife and tries to use Doctor D's contacts to make it happen. They turn the tables on him and replace his wife with a mule who smuggles in drugs. Styles is so upset, he makes a stink and the mule gets busted. Murphy wants to get Styles to safety but Doctor D's crew lock his cell and murder Styles. Meanwhile, Murphy's prison psychologist has become aware of Murphy's speed and gets the warden excited. Murphy makes a deal to run by being allowed to go through Doctor D's gang lockers. He finds drug money and burns it in the yard putting himself on Doctor D's death list. The warden contacts a coach from Sacramento State hoping that they could get some great P.R. from Murphy and make something positive happen in the prison. The coach brings some of his guys with him and instructs them to "smoke" Murphy on the last lap. Murphy wins of course. The coach starts working with him and they hope to get him a shot at Olympic trials. The only way to do it is to host a race at the prison. Doctor D stops all the prisoners from helping. He also tells Cotton Crown that Murphy is the reason Styles is dead. Cotton Crown kicks Murphy's ass but in the process discovers just how much Murphy actually loved Styles. Cotton Crown then becomes a huge advocate of Murphy and makes a pact with the Hispanic gang to break the white blockade. The prison comes together to help make the track for Murphy's race. Murphy wins the race but is then told by the committee that he can not run in the trials because they do not want to have the reputation of the committee tarnished by a murderer. In the last scene, Murphy walks in to the prison after doing some running. He overhears that Davies, the Olympic trial winner had a time of 3:50:06. Murphy goes to his cell, gets his running spikes and comes back out to the running track. He holds a stopwatch in his hand and takes off like Dam Busters to Sympathy For The Devil. All the prisoners drop what they are doing and come to watch. When he finishes the mile, a prisoner checks the watch and says "he beat Davies." Murphy throws the watch and we see it smash on the ground.

Styles gives-up but screams at Murphy to kick

This movie is plastered with cheesy 70's stuff. Even Murphy's nickname Lickedy Split is rediculous. There is jive talk galore and it all made me laugh. There is something about Brian Dennehy jive talking that is ludicrous. As a side note, Dennehy has skinny little legs in this movie but has his familiar big belly. He looks a bit like a bull frog. Here are some of the best pieces of jive talk I can remember:
  • "The man"
  • "Daddy oh"
  • "Right on"
  • "Ain't no big thang"
  • "Dig it?"
  • "My man"
  • "Don't jive me"
  • "Righteous"
It is also so full of stereotypical prison movie stuff. Here are some classics:
  • There are plenty of shots of cops in birds nests with rifles but there never seem to be guards around when it really matters.
  • Everyone is carrying a shiv at all times
  • The classic outdoor weight area
  • The usual scene where the prisoner doesn't want to talk about his crime

Classic prison yard weight area
The name of the movie comes from an inscription on the stopwatch that the psychologist gives to Murphy as a gift. It says The Jericho Mile. When Murphy asks the coach what it means, he says "maybe it's got to do with the walls coming tumbling down."

Here are some of the scenes that stuck with me. 
  • The opening scene and closing scene of course. It's worth seeing it just for that.
  • The scene where the committee are telling Murphy they don't want him to run. It's just another example of this type of committee using their power to block a natural talent. If you have read any earlier posts, you'll see it in real life with Prefontaine and The Ghost Runner. 
  • There is a scene where the coach is talking to Murphy about what it is like when he is firing on all cylinders. Murphy says that he feels like he is floating. I do love that he is portrayed as a runner with heart and guts – not a technical runner. 
  • There is a touching scene after the African American gang get the prison behind building the track for Murphy. The prisoners come by his table in the cafeteria and give him food they think will help him get stronger. Murphy is moved to tears. Remember, this is a man that has gone out of his way to not be close to anyone.
  • There are a couple of running porn scenes. The one below is in slow motion and Murphy is in the zone running outside the prison. The coach is amazed by how many miles he wants to put in.
Murphy is allowed to train outside the prison

It's a fine "made for TV" movie of it's era. Fun to watch. Here's the last scene for you to enjoy:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


You probably haven't noticed but I am bald. I started losing my hair at the end of college and I feel good about doing the right thing and buzzing it all off instead of some inhuman cover-up. These days, I actually go a step further and shave my head clean. I like it. I don't have a bad shaped head. Just a slight dent where I suspect that my parents dropped me and conveniently forgot to 'fess up to it. That would account for a lot of my in idiosyncrasies.

It's because of the bald head that I care so much about head gear. The winter is easy. A good running skull cap does the job. The summer is trickier. It's horrible having sweat run down into your eyes. There are plenty of things that I can't use. Visors and headband type things are good for sweat but I would be in the hospital with 3rd degree burns from my exposed cranium. I have that horribly white British skin. It's a shame because there are some interesting things on the market.
There are Bondi Bands. Wide fabric hair bands among other offerings:
There is the Sweat GUTR. A plastic band that diverts sweat away from the eyes. Even Bob Dillan seems to enjoy this product.

Needless to say, I have tried a whole bunch of hats. When the sun is very bright, there is no substitute for a brim. I hate wearing glasses when I run. Not all hats are created equal though. Some are uncomfortable, some are too heavy and most do a terrible job at stopping sweat over a long distance. Other hats are just too much and just not my style. This one by Halo Headband for example, pretends to be a bandana and tries too hard to be hiphop. As awesome as I am, I'm not "street" and no amount of head gear is going to get me there.

Halo Protex Bandana

The hat I have right now, following some research and some bad purchase decisions is a simple REI running hat. It is a good product. It is light, it's cool and it has an extra long brim, etc. Even with this hat, on a very long run in heat, there is only so much the a hat band can do to stop sweat.

My preferred running head gear is the good old bandana. It's super light, it does a great job of absorbing sweat and it protects me from direct sun on the scalp. It also looks pretty badass. If it's good enough for the Hulkster, it's good enough for me. Total Americana. What the bandana doesn't do is wick moisture away fast enough. I don't mind a damp bandana on the head in warm weather but in cooler weather, it can get cold. The bandana also doesn't protect me from harmful UV rays. My REI hat does.

Hulkster with Bandana
If you feel that I have already over-thought this bandana thing a bit too much, you don't really know me do you? My logical next step was to think about how I may have stumbled into an untapped area. I thought it could be my head version of the Joggings [see my post about compression tight fashion]. I stopped myself though because I knew there must be more "technical" bandanas out there. It's such a part of the culture, it must have seen some innovation. I turned to the Interwebs for a spot of research. At first, I found some interesting bandana innovations but not quite what I was looking for. For example, the REI has insect repelling bandanas. Under Armour has a "technical" bandana that wicks moisture but it is made for winter.

Finally, after what seemed like minutes, I found what I was looking for. Planet Buff! This is not a pretty website but the product is like some sort of ΓΌber bandana forged in Krypton. It's rediculous. It has everything I could have dreamed of and more. For example, here are the specs for the UV Buff:
  • It's a bandana tube that can be worn 12+ different ways.
  • It is made from Coolmax Extreme® a special 4 channel fibre... pulls moisture away from your skin... then dries that moisture faster than any other fabric and thermoregulates your bodies temperature.
  • It stretches only sideways to fit your head, so that it never loses it's shape.
  • Special seeming that avoids iritation or chaffing.
  • One size fits all - no sizing to worry about.
  • Has Poygiene® that is an anti bacterial and anti odor technology. It can not be washed out and has been dermatologically tested.
  • The fabric breaths.
  • It protects from 95% of the sun's harmful UV rays.
I was so impressed, I emailed the company and told them that they should sponsor me too. If they put some love into this fool, maybe that will light a fire under New Balance's ass. They even make custom Buff's, so New Balance could have some NB ones made for me. Check out this amazing product here:

As I was researching bandanas, I came across this little article called "My Bandana" by Nancy Shura. It's in the Ultra Ladies Stories section of Trail Run Events website. I love that she has an intimate relationship with her bandana and I love all the uses she has documented from her many experiences. Fun.

I'll keep you posted about any contact from Buff. I told them that they didn't have to give me free product for me to blog about them. I intend buying one. I may even get a winter one. I fancy some of that Merino wool on my noggin. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Run with dreams in your heart

“A runner must run with dreams in his heart, not money in his pocket” – Emil Zatopek

A sideline story in Born to Run was Emil Zatopek. This character really appealed to me and I wanted to know a little more about him. Many of you probably know his story. Indulge me here...

What I love about this man is that he is imperfect (only as far as technique and form is concerned). His running was described as a man who had been stabbed in the heart or was like a man wrestling with an octopus on a conveyor belt. One coach said that he did everything wrong except for win. Zatopek was well aware of how unorthodox his style was. When he was asked why he ran with a tortured expression, he said “It is not gymnastics or ice skating you know.” It wasn’t the technique or even his great strength that made Zatopek great. He was a runner in the mold of Liddel and Prefontaine. He ran with sheer guts but had a joyous heart. He was brave and loved for his accomplishments. This photo of him is fantastic. It shows the spirit of the man.

Zatopek jumping a bench courtesy of Corbis.

The full story behind the Born to Run snippet goes like this… Zatopek was in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. He had already won gold medals in the 5K and 10K. His wife had won the javelin. He had become an Olympic darling. His Czech team was a bit light, so he had the choice of running any race he wanted. He decided he’d like to try the marathon, even though he had never run the race before. When it came time to race, Zatopek asked to be pointed to England’s Jim Peters. He introduced himself and asked if he could run with him. The reason he did this was because he was so inexperienced, he had no idea how to pace himself. Just to put Peters in perspective, his record time was 5 minute faster than any of his rivals had ever run. Peters was the clear favorite. When the race started, Peters went out at a very aggressive pace and Zatopek admitted to being really tired. It was 10 minutes faster than Peters’ own World record at the 10 mile mark. Peters had hoped to wear Zatopek down in the hot weather. Zatopek asked Jim Peters if the pace was fast. Jim Peters lied and told him it was slow (probably being sarcastic). Zatopek believed him and accelerated. The heat got to Peters and he was unable to finish the race. Zatopek came into the stadium a few minutes before the pack to take another gold and an Olympic marathon record. The crowds chanted “Za-to-PEK! Za-to-PEK!” Amazingly, these three hard races and gold medals were won in only 8 days. When Zatopek described his marathon win, he said “I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known.” I don’t believe that Zatopek loved the marathon like his other distances but he did give the distance tribute by saying that if you want to win a race you should run the 100 meters but, if you want to experience a race, you run a marathon. Here’s a video of Zatopek winning the marathon. Peters looks like a mess. It would have taken a lot to break a man of that caliber. 

Zatopek winning the '52 Olympic 10K courtesy of Corbis

Zatopek’s accomplishments are pretty impressive:
  • He invented interval training. He said that people had called the technique stupid until he started winning and then they called him a genius.
  • 4 Olympic gold medals, one silver. His 1952 5K, 10K and Marathon has never been repeated.
  • 18 World records. First to run 10K under 29 minutes. First to run 20K in one hour
  • He loved to run. In the 40’s he raced nearly every week for three years and never lost 69 races. He averaged 165 miles a week in training.
  • He Dominated distance running from 1948 to 1954 winning 38 consecutive 10,000 meters races, 11 in 1949 alone.

In 1968 when he condemned the Soviet Union for the invasion of his country, he was stripped of his stature and sent 500 miles from his home to work in a uranium mine. It wasn’t until 1990 that he was rehabilitated by the Czech president. He died in 2000 at the age of 78. The president of the International Olympic Committee resided over his funeral and told the Czech people that he was the embodiment of the Olympic spirit. He remains a national hero and he is still regarded by many as being the finest distance runner in history.

I had never seen this Adidas commercial before now. The Adidas training shoe made me laugh. It’s almost as ridiculous as running in an army boot.
This Czech Miller Ad cracks me up too
Zatopek's 1952 Olympic racing shoe

Slip into a pair of Joggings?

There are a couple of trends happening right now that I'm amazed have not merged somehow. They seem compatible to me. It can't be just me. I'm pretty convinced that after I post this, someone will show me that it already happened. Unique concepts are few and far between these days. The two trends I speak of are running compression tights and jeggins. They are both absolutely frickin' ridiculous in their own way. Why not embrace that and take it to it's extreme? Here's my rationale:

Running is becoming fashion aggressive
Sports clothes have always been a little more loud and colorful than the average street clothes but you can't deny that running gear these days is taking things to the next level. I am a man who doesn't wear particularly loud clothing but my running clothing has become progressively more funky. My New Balance MT10's are pretty out there (in a good way) and my Pearl Izumi running vest looks a little too influenced by science fiction. Just look at the Saucony Hattori's for crying out loud. Can you get more in your face than those things?

Jenn Shelton sporting funky sleeves.

The arm sleeve craze is getting particularly interesting. Here's Jenn Shelton (of Born to Run fame) wearing some cool Moeben sleeves. These sleeves were useful for ultra runners but are now becoming mainstream because of fashion. Don't get me wrong, I am all for this loud expression of running pride. I think it adds fun and personality to the sport.

Wicked Skins semi-glove sleeve
Wicked Skins

Compression gear is becoming mainstream
I don't have to research this stuff in-depth to know that there are probably benefits associated with compression clothing. Elite runners like to look cool and the majority of compression gear looks a little silly. If it didn't provide tangible benefits, I doubt these hardened athletes would continue to humiliate themselves en masse. I am going to come clean at this point and admit that I want to try them too. I have always felt really great running in winter tights and I am more than willing to look foolish in order to gain running benefits. 

I don't know about this look.
Compression stockings have been used to treat people with circulation issues or blood clots forever. Clearly there are circulatory benefits. I know there has been some basic running research done too and I hear that evidence points to performance improvements. It's possible that reduction of muscle oscillation (that's a technical term for jiggling) and improved blood circulation back to the heart may help to delay muscle fatigue and help you to go further by using less energy, etc. If you want to geek-out on it, check out this Runners World article as a starting point.
If you want to read some honest thoughts about the value of compression tights to someone who has tried them, take a look at Scott Dunlap's A Trail Runner's Blog.
Based on all of this, I can't see running compression clothing going away any time soon.

You can not have missed this trend. Female celebs have been all over the magazines with them. I thought they were dead but no, they seem to be hanging on. I would like to meet the person who came up with this idea. What a twisted mind. They are leggings that look like jeans. Classy stuff as you can see from our good friend Conan modeling them on his show.

So, let's take the aggressive fashion trends in running, add the compression tight trend and add Jeggings. What do we have? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you JOGGINGS! Why not? Wouldn't it be fun to run in jeans? Some fashion designers have been trying to get men into Jeggings. That's a big fat fail but if those were Joggings, they'd have a fighting chance.
Fashion show introduces man Jeggings

I think it's a winner. Funky looking pants that make you look bad ass (or slightly insane depending on your viewpoint) and provide the health and performance benefits of compression? Come one! Ultra runners love to stand out. Once there are a couple of elite's running well known races in these things, everyone is going to be wearing them. I guess you could go beyond jeans. Fur, scales, tattoos and other patterns could be fun too. Why limit the options? The spirit of Joggings is self expression. Let the imagination run free! 

Just to be clear, if someone decides to do this. I expect a cut of the profits.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wait! I'm not too old to run?

Haile Gebrselassie. 38 and giving 2012 Olympics a last hurrah.
Two of my kids go to an awesome little Waldorf school in the Southside Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen. The school always has fun events and the harvest festival was no exception. One of the nice things about the events is the fact that you can lose your kids for long periods of time without panicking. As I walked around without my wife and kids, I bumped into a guy named John. I know his wife and this was the first time we had exchanged more than pleasantries. The conversation kicked off around Born to Run. I think my wife had told him that I had read it. We talked about all aspects of the book. Nothing new there. People who have read it can talk about it endlessly. He had once owned a house in Colorado and said that he felt that he had missed out because he had never seen the ultra-marathon runners. The conversation then somehow got to the fact that I was at the tail end of recovering from stress fractures. I threw out some flippant comment like "I guess I'm getting too old for this shit" and John quickly responded with "No way. You are peak age for an ultra distance runner." I didn't want to appear foolish, so I just nodded. My cool exterior did not reflect the reaction I was having inside which was more like... SAY WHAT!!??

When I got home, I jumped on the computer to turn to the Interwebs for the straight dope (honest truth). There are lots of arguments out there about peak age. There is no doubt that physical peak comes in the 20's but race maturity can add to physical prowess well into the 30's. After the 20's, the body starts to decline but scientists claim that it is not as dramatic as you would think for the average person. The change in performance is very significant for elite runners. Think of the way Haile Gebrselassie was in tears realizing that he had lost his edge last year. A small change in aerobic capacity or muscle can mean a loss of seconds and the loss of a winning career to an elite athlete. Most of us (thankfully) will never feel that because our margin of success isn't that fine. The good news is that there are elite's peaking late. Gebrselassie is one example and another is Constantina Tomescu-Dita, a Romanian mother who won the Beijing Olympic Marathon. I didn't find evidence that ultra folks peak later but there are lots of accounts of people claiming that age added confidence, strategy, efficiency and pain resistance. I could see how all of that could help win an ultra. There are clearly plenty of older folks out there. Marshall Ulrich is 60 and going strong. He said "I'm 20% slower, don't recover as quickly and am more susceptible to injuries -- but greater mental strength offsets it. I'm as tough as I've ever been, maybe tougher. I can manipulate and shift my mind in different ways". State of mind seems to be a big part of an ultra, so maybe John was right. Sometimes with these ultra races, it can come down to some very basic things. I love the story of Cliff Young, a 61 year old man who turned up to a 543.7 mile race from Sydney to Melbourne in overalls and work boots. He beat all the young elite runners with a simple strategy which was no sleep and guts. A few things to love about Cliff:
  • He honed his long distance running skills as a young man hearding sheep on foot because they couldn't afford horses or a tractor.
  • When he won the $10,000 prize, he gave it away to other runners. He said that he didn't know there was a prize. He did it for the challenge and love of running.
  • At age 76, he attempted to raise money for charity by running around Australia. After 6,520K, he pulled out because his one and only crew member fell ill.
The late, great Cliff Young

Cliff died in 2003 age 81. God bless you Cliff! Read a few more details here:

Here's a YouTube video about ultra-marathoners in their 60's:

This post came from a conversation about Born to Run, so I'll bring it full circle. I'll never forget a part of the book where Christpher McDougall quotes Caballo Blanco (Micah True) as saying something about how elderly Raramuri (the running tribe from the Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre, Mexico) hike over huge elevations because nobody told them that they can't. Their society witnesses super human running accomplishments on a daily basis. It's easy to forget how much of running is all in the mind. As long as I don't plan on winning any major races, I am going to be very happy with my future runs. I have plenty of good years ahead of me. In fact, I am all the better for just starting because I haven't yet hit my personal best. Most people who have been running since they were kids have seen their best times already. I like the quote from Jason Karp, Ph.D., a coach in San Diego. "Runners who decide to get serious about the marathon at age 40 can easily continue setting PR's for years because they have so much room for improvement". Maybe I'll plan on an ultra in future. Who knows?

I just listened to a TED talk that Christopher McDougall was giving. He talked about research that shows that runners progress from a starting pace at age 19 to a peak pace at age 27. That's 8 years to progress to peak. The interesting thing is that when the body gets past peak, it takes 45 years to go back down to that pace. 64 year olds are running at the pace they ran when they were 19. That's pretty awesome! Check it out here:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On multiple counts... WHY?

Don't I look exasperated?
So one of the things that really pisses me off about having taken 7 weeks off of running is that it may have been unnecessary or at least I feel it could have been lessened. As soon as I started to get pain on top of my foot, I did research and identified a metatarsal fracture as one of the possibilities. Don't you love how darned smart the web has made us? I went to a very qualified Orthopod at Rush in Chicago. He didn't think I had a fracture and said that I may have a pinched nerve. He gave me some topical cream and sent me on my way. So, what did I do? I took his word for it, kept running on it and ignored the pain until it got unbearable. I can guarantee that was the point when I went from one to two stress fractures. Why no MRI? I just don't get it. Doctors are usually like drugged-up youngsters at a strip club when it comes to spending your insurance money. For some reason, they draw the line at MRI's? There are now three occasions where I have paid the price for this precious MRI behavior. The first was when I had a tear in my shoulder that was misdiagnosed because they didn't do an MRI initially. The second was when I was hospitalized for pneumonia when a student doctor accidentally ordered me an MRI. Even when it showed something that made them hospitalize me, the attending was annoyed! My foot is number three! I am not an advocate for exposing the human body to an MRI ever five minutes but I think there is something really wrong here. If this is my margin of error, what is the general margin because of the reluctance to MRI?

Minimalist Shoes—Why?
So, there is a hot debate going on about minimalist shoes. Experts can't agree. Runners can't agree. What one person claims is barefoot is minimal. What another says is minimal isn't actually minimal. It's a bit of a mess. There is also a lot of finger pointing going on too. Why the confusion? Why the hate? Normally, I would stay away from a ridiculous goat rodeo like this but, so many people have given me shit about minimalist shoes since I got stress fractures that I feel like I have to say something. Let's be clear. This is just my personal POV on how I see it and what works for me.

  • I know that humans were designed to be barefoot. 
  • I know that human feet were designed to be zero-drop (flat and not raised at the heal). 
  • I know that human feet were designed to have natural movement and not be supported or restricted. 
  • There is no such thing as a barefoot shoe or a barefoot-like shoe. That is just marketing nonsense. You are either barefoot or you are wearing shoes. Silliness!
  • Minimalist to me means shoes that are so minimal, they provide basic shoe protection while allowing feet to move freely/naturally and offer runners the best possible ground-feel. I think it would be fair for people to claim that they are barefoot inspired.
  • I believe that modern long distance running is an extreme behavior that is above and beyond the basic human design and therefore, foot protection makes sense. Even the Raramuri (Mexican running tribe made famous by the book Born to Run) wear sandals.
  • I believe that everyone's body tolerates the stresses of long distance running in a unique way (some better than others).
  • I believe that some people may require a level of foot support but I also believe that some people could benefit from no support in order to gain foot strength and improve foot or gait issues.
  • I believe that transitioning to barefoot or minimalist will get you injured if you are not very careful. Bodies become reliant on supportive shoes.
OK, so what has been my personal experience or journey?
  • Wearing minimalist shoes changed the way I run and stopped me from having constant injuries through heal striking. It took me months to transition.
  • I haven't run barefoot but would do it to help strengthen my feet. I'd have to do it on a beach or on a soft track. I have no interest in running barefoot on rough trails or dirty city streets.
  • Wearing minimalist shoes with no arch support has given me a higher arch. I know it sounds unbelievable but it is true. My shoe size is smaller because of it.
  • I like to buy shoes that are zero-drop or close to zero-drop because that is the way feet are meant to relate to the ground. Why would you run on a wedge unless you are a heal striker?
  • I like shoes that allow my feet to move naturally, so that means no support and plenty of room for my toes to splay, etc. I like to wear shoes for protection—not to change my mechanics.
  • I actually like the minimal ground feel and lightness of my New Balance MT10's but I feel like for distance on roads, I need padding to help me lessen the impact on my feet.
I think New Balance are pretty well aligned with the way I think about things.

I discovered something that makes no sense when it comes to running and diet. This is what I would have assumed before I started running:
  • Running takes up a lot of energy and therefore, you feel more hungry after a long run.
  • Running burns off so many calories that you feel entitled to indulge. You should be able to eat more.
  • Running gives you permission to cheat with bad foods once in a while because you know that you are going to burn it off quickly.
For me, the truth is that when I run, I tend to eat less and eat healthier. The healthy part makes sense. You are committed to training, so the eating component compliments the physical commitment that you are making. Why would I feel generally less hungry though? It makes no sense. I have yet to find anything that explains this and it seems to go against most people's experience.

I know that I still have to gain more readers in order to get more comments but if you want to chime in, I'd be interested in your opinions on the three issues at hand:
  • Why are doctors so slow to do MRI's when they do many other things that are potentially harmful to their patients?
  • Why does the minimalist craze create so much tension?
  • Why do I feel less hungry when I run?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Great Chariots of Fire!

As a part of my quest to become less foolish on the topic of running, I decided to catch-up on a classic running film. I just watched Charliots of Fire and I have one important piece of advice for anyone who is considering taking up running. Run first. Love to run. Then, watch running movies. It's like eating chocolate stoned (so I have been told). You have much more appreciation for the emotions involved when you have connected with running in a relatable way. Connecting with running like that does not mean you have to be an expert runner.
Opening scene from Chariots of Fire
I don't think I have seen this movie since I was a kid. Holy cow. That theme music is like Eye of the Tiger for runners. Is there a piece of music that makes you want to put on running shoes and haul ass like that theme does? It's powerful stuff. What a way to start a movie. The England track team are all running down the beach in those ridiculous white running clothes that look like underwear. The coastline reminds me of my home. I believe it is on West Sands at St. Andrews in Scotland. I wish I had been a runner when I was younger. The beaches I had access to in Wales were flat and long. Sir Malcolm Campbell did land speed records just down the coast from where I grew up. Perfect for running. Notice that they are all running barefoot. That was a little nod the minimalists among you. It's actually pretty practical on a wet beach.

You can see the Welsh coastline over the top of my mother's family farm

I'll admit it right now. I am not a movie critic. You won't find me giving my opinions on advanced directing style here. This is more of a trip down memory lane for me.

I was amazed by how much I remembered and how much I had forgotten. If you haven't seen it, the storyline is simple. It follows the English track team to the 1924 Paris Olympics. The focus is on two runners, Liddell and Abrahams.Their paths to the Olympics are very different. It's the individual struggles of those two men that makes up the guts of the film. There are some great cast members. Nigel Havers, Ben Cross, Sir Ian Holm, Sr. John Gielgud, Nigel Davenport. There are also some powerful themes going on too:

Heart Vs Drive. Eric Liddell is a pure talent who runs with his heart for God. H. M. Abrahams (Harold) is a talented runner who has an amazing amount of drive to succeed because of his insecurities and life's unfairness.
Christian and Jewish. The faiths of the two men are not at odds in this movie. Eric's Christianity plays a critical role in the storyline. Harold is sensitive about how Jews are viewed in 1920's England and is determined to leave his mark on his college and country.
Upper Class Vs Middle to Lower Class. It is so strange to see the amount of ownership that the upper class had over the sport and how anyone who was not from that class appears like an outsider, even when they are someone as talented as Eric Liddell.
Old School Vs New School. H.M. Abrahams is at odds with the Dean of his house at Cambridge because he employs a coach to help him improve technique. The Dean believes that talent should remain natural and to do otherwise is to act professionally.

The focal point of the movie is an unthinkable decision that Eric Lidell's makes based on his religious convictions. Initially, he is torn between running and missionary work with his family in China. He finally decides to give running one shot for God's glory but even then, he will not compromise on his principles. Even though he knows that the 1924 Paris Olympics will be his last, he decides that he can not run the 100 meters (which he may well have won) because the heats are being held on a Sabbath.

1924 Olympics. Liddell takes the 400 meter World record in 47.6

My favorite scenes
  • The intro scene of course. A classic. 
  • Running the college quad was a scene I remembered well. Abrahams and Lord Lindsey race in the courtyard to beat the chimes of the college clock. Apparently they reenacted it with Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe at some point. At the reenactment, the current Dean expressed regret that the college had not collaborated with the film at the time it was made. 
  • Lord Andrew Lindsay gets his butler to put glasses of Champaign on the hurdles in his garden, so that he can practice. So ridiculous in the way it plays to the stereotype but you can't help loving that character, especially for what he does for Eric. 
  • I love the scene where Eric Liddell is pushed and falls in a race. He gets up, puts his head back in his weird running style and just blows everyone's mind by how much heart he has to make an impossible comeback. 
  • Sam Mussabili, H.M Abrahams’ personal coach can't attend the Olympics because of the controversy around amateurs not having professional level coaching. Sam punches his fist through his hat when he hears God Save The Queen playing because he knows Harold has won. Sam doesn't get much back story in this movie but in real life he helped secure eleven Olympic medals over five Olympics. Not too shabby. 
  • When Eric is making a stand about not running in the Olympics, the aristocracy that is basically the British athletics committee apply pressure. It's a system setup for abuses. The Duke of Southerland, Lord Birkenhead, Lord Cadogan and even the Prince of Wales are all there telling Eric to run. Lord Andrew Lindsey saves the day by pushing his way into the meeting and offering his spot in the 400 meters. He had already taken a silver in the 400 meter hurdles. 
  • There is a touching scene where Jackson Scholz, an American runner who had just won gold in the 200 meters slips Eric Liddell a note. It says "He that honors me, I will honor". It was a note of solidarity for Eric giving up the 100 meter race for religious reasons. 
  • The church hymn at Harold's funeral is really stirring. As a Welshman, I am meant to give the English a hard time but I do love hymns and Jersalem gets me every time. I love the part that goes “and we will build Jerusalem, on England’s green and pleasant land.” That hymn also contains the words “bring me my chariot of fire.” If you are confused by a Jewish man having a Christian funeral, so was I. Apparently he converted to Christianity at some point in his life. This would have complicated the film storyline for sure.
1924 Olympics. Abrahams (far right) wins the 100 meters in 10.4

Some minor annoyances.
  • The upper class of this era in Britain are always depicted as complete moronic pompous fools. I think there is more than an element of truth in that ridiculous playboy persona but I think it is definitely a stereotype just like the perfect 1950's American family stereotype. 
  • H.M. Abrahams’ love interest is so annoying. It’s either terrible acting or terrible directing. I'll let you be the judge. 
  • They decided to bend the truth quite a bit in this film. Harold's girlfriend (eventually wife) was a minor soprano, not a star. Aubrey Montague, who is portrayed as the emotional base of the team was actually called by his first name Evelyn (EEV-lin) and attended Oxford, not Cambridge. The American runner Scholz is referred to as Schulz. Lord David Bughley (Lord Lindsay in the film) was the first man to do the Great Court Run, not Harold Abrahams. I know there were some legal reasons why names were changed but why change some of the facts? When there is a story as powerful as this, just let it shine. 
  • Eric's sister is a pain in the ass. I know she is trying to get him to join the mission with the family but for crying out loud girl, you have to stop! 
  • Poor Henry Stallard is not featured much in the film. Maybe scenes were cut. I don't know. 
There is a tie-in to another post of mine. Ironically, H. M. Abrahams became important in British sports and even though he was a part of the reason John Tarrant (The Ghost Runner) got to run in Britain, he was also a part of the establishment that blocked him from ever competing internationally. Shame that his experiences feeling like an outsider weren’t enough to make him a true champion for other outsiders. Such is life. See my post about John Tarrant here:

So, what did I take-away from my revisit to Chariots of Fire? Well, I'd definitely like to go running with the theme music on my iPod. Even though I don't run with music, I would really love to try it. I don't know why it hasn't occurred to me before now. I was impressed with Abrahams' drive but I was more taken with Lidell's heart. I love the purity of his running. He seems like he would have been a great role model for Prefontaine. When he broke the record at the Olympics, he ran the first 200 in 22.2. They regarded that half time split as suicide. He amazed them all when he kept on going, his face to the sky running for God. In the movie he is quoted as saying “When I run, I feel his [God's] pleasure”. Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, it's an amazing feeling to be a simple human, running and feeling that something greater than you has pleasure in that simple act. I really do believe in the spiritual nature of running. It's something we are made to do and very primal connections are made. I touch on this in my post about running in the rain. Check it out here.

Watch Chariots of Fire again. It really is a very good film.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What's Steve Jobs gotz to do with it?

I didn't want to jump on the Steve Jobs bandwagon right after he died but I knew I had to say something about the man. First of all, you have to understand something about me. I work in the space of digital interaction design. I am definitely part nerd. New Balance close your ears. Nerds are probably not on the top 10 for sponsorship. I have been an Apple fan since my college days and I still have these awesome items in my house. My wife wishes we didn't.
Apple Newton, 1984 Apple Mac & Apple eMate

There is no doubt that Steve was a visionary and that he did that magical thing in business which is to actually show people what they need and then shape new behaviors. A very cool man. My thoughts go out to his family. I didn't know Steve had a connection to New Balance. All the times I have seen him roll-out new products and I didn't once identify a pair of 991's on his feet. I'm not sure if Steve did any running in his life. I couldn't find any evidence of that.

Steve Jobs wearing New Balance 991's
After making this timely connection between Steve, running and New Balance, I started to think about some of the stuff that Steve said. A good reference point is the Stanford Commencement Speech. You have probably seen it but if you haven't, you should. It is definitely inspirational. The key themes to his quotes that talk about life in general are:
  • You have to take leaps of faith.
  • You have to go after what you want and not settle for less.
  • You have to trust that there is a path even though you can't see it at the time.
  • You have to persevere. Great losses can lead to even bigger breakthroughs.
  • You have to love what you do in order to sustain your passion for it.
  • You have to live life and not worry about the rules and expectations of others.
  • You have to live life like every day is your last and not be concerned with pride or embarrassment or other things that will hold you back.
  • You have to be able to go to the grave and say "I did something wonderful."
Most people would agree with all of this in principle. The trouble is, it's so bloody hard to do. Steve was a kid who had nothing when he dropped out of college. He wasn't a 42 year old with 3 kids and the primary bread winner for his family. Even when he was fired he was filthy rich. That's a cynical view of it. The spirit of what Steve is talking about is totally valid. My wife and I like our life. I like my job. Even so, I have talked to her about hating life's rules and routines. I tell her that I want life to be an adventure and I want to instill a sense of adventure in the kids. One of the adventures that I have pitched quite a bit is New Zealand. If it wasn't so far away from family, I would move there tomorrow. If life is short, why wouldn't we live in the most beautiful place on the planet? If I lived there, I would want a simpler, less complicated life. When I was a kid, my parents almost moved to New Zealand. We sold our house in Wales and we were ready to go. I was robbed of the experience when there was some union issue. I feel like there is a New Zealand Simon out there. He's probably just as foolish as me but I so desperately want to meet him. Maybe I need to think bigger in life. Maybe I need to pull the things I am passionate about together into a master plan. Something truly aspirational. New Balance... how about this:

A New Balance in New Zealand
An unremarkable man runs in a remarkable place wearing New Balance shoes. It would basically be a multi-episode experience in New Zealand (and maybe beyond New Zealand) that talks about the semi-religious experience of running. It would be beautifully and artistically shot. It would be truly emotional and uplifting. There would be jaw dropping runs that are run by me. A regular person. Moments like that should not be for elites. They should be accessible to everyone. How better to emphasize the "Love" component of "The New Balance?" We could even do a partnership with the New Zealand Tourism Board. They have a lot of passion selling their country.

I love the sound of this idea. I'd give up my job to go do that in a second. Who wouldn't? Thanks for the inspiration Steve. You gave me my first pitch idea for New Balance. New Balance what do you think?

Goodbye Steve. Your life was remarkable. You went to the grave being able to say that you did something wonderful. You've also made me believe that maybe I can have a taste of the same. Thanks for the many gifts you have given me. I won't be alone in missing you. You helped to make life an adventure.

If you want to check out Steve's Stanford speech, here it is: 

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