Sunday, July 14, 2013

10 tips for running with children

A lot of people ask me about running with my son Charlie (now 7). Running with children is somewhat contentious and so, I thought I'd write a post about my experience. I have found it to be a really positive thing to do and I encourage others to think about doing it too. It's a personal choice based on you, your level of comfort and your child's interest. Like most things, it's not going to work for everyone.

Before I dive into the tips, let me tell you about Charlie's first 5K. We signed up for the Humboldt Park Dream Run this June. It was a perfect first race for him because it wasn't one of the huge Chicago races and it was in Humboldt Park, the place he learned to run. I thought the familiar territory would be a bonus. Getting the packet for a race is usually an inconvenience but Charlie was super excited about it and I had to hide the bib because he wanted to wear it immediately. The day of the race, we got up early and ate some oatmeal. The next couple of hours was hard for him because he was very excited. Here's a picture of him just before we headed out.

Charlie wearing a bandana just like dad

My wife and the girls drove us to the race and headed off to find parking and to work-out where they wanted to stand to cheer us on. We checked-in and then warmed up a little bit. He was actually quite excited to see that it was mostly adults. When it was time to line-up for the start of the race, I got behind the 10+ minute a mile line. Charlie said "Why are we back here? We'll never win from back here!" That's when I realized that he thought he was actually going to win the whole thing. I explained to him how fast some people run a 5K and changed the topic to how people would go out way too fast and we would overtake them later. I also reminded him that no matter what pace he ran or how many breaks he needed, it wouldn't change how proud I am of him and how happy I was to be there with him. The gun went off and we started. He wanted to go out fast like everyone else but I reminded him to keep his cool. Within a half a mile, we were already overtaking a lot of people and that's when Charlie got really motivated. I told him to lead the way at a pace that he was comfortable with but sometimes I prompted him to slow down because he was running at a pace that was a 1.5 to 2 minutes faster a mile than we usually run. I knew that he wasn't pushing too hard because we talked a lot during the race. About half way through, he said "Dad, if you want to stop, you can but, I'm going to run all the way." I proudly followed him as he focused and reeled in person after person. It's not fun to be beaten by a child half your size, so he got some comments like "Oh hell no. Shorty just overtook me!" Most people smiled and shouted some encouragement as he went by. I kept reminding him to slow down so that he had some gas left in the tank. On the last half mile, he wanted to reel in one last man, a big muscular 6 footer with tattoos. Once we had done that, he said "Dad, can we do a sprint finish?" I told him we could but he needed to wait until a certain point. Once I gave him the go-ahead, we let loose.

The sprint finish.
The man on the microphone said "Give it up people! This kid is only 7 years old!" When Charlie heard that and heard the crowd screaming for him, I could tell that he was floating. I let him cross the line first in an official time of 30:42.04. That's 9:54 pace. In fact, he finished the race so quickly that my wife and daughter were not prepared with cameras and missed the photo opportunity. I found the sprint photo on Facebook.

At the finish line. Charlie looks fresh.

The next week, I traveled to Austin for work and I got a call in the hotel room from the race director of the Dream Run. She said "Could you give me an email address for Charlie?" I explained to her that he did not have an email because he was 7. Her response was "What? 7? He just won 3rd in the under 19's division!" She thought we were a couple of teens that ran the race together. That made me laugh. I couldn't wait to tell him. He was already proud of himself for racing but the medal made it even better and he showed it to everyone that he could. He keeps asking me if I have it safe.

His medal and bib.

So, this was Charlie's first 5K and I can tell you that it was a memory that I will never forget. I hope we will get to do it together again and would love to do it with him as an adult. Over the last couple of years running with Charlie, I have learned a lot about children and running so, here are some basic tips. Remember that their natural ability and interest is going to vary greatly.

Tip #1 : Make sure your motives are pure

If you are teaching a child to run because you want them to become the next Prefontain, you are in real danger of becoming "that parent." Charlie was 5 when we started and I was very clear about my reasons for starting. There were many but here were my primary reasons:
  1. His interest - He asked to run. It wasn't just me pushing him into it.
  2. 1 on 1 time - We were not getting along at the time and we needed the quality time
  3. Positive experience - I wanted to make positive memories with him
  4. Health and fitness - I wanted to instill the importance of a healthy lifestyle
Tip #2: Ignore the haters

Some parents will say things like "It's bad for their growth" or "It's bad for their joints" and the only advice I can give you is to ignore them. They are speaking from fear - not from fact. The truth is that children in Western countries run a heck of a lot less than children in other parts of the world. No evidence exists that running long has a bad impact on children (even extreme ones who run marathons). Charlie and I don't run that often. I don't think we need to. He gets most of his training from being a child. When we do run, we usually go 2 to 3 miles and that's after a couple of years of easing into it. If he is still running with me when he is older, maybe we will run more often and maybe we will run longer. For now, why push it? We are having fun and it's great for him. If you have some anxieties about it, here's a starting point. It's an article on Runners World about children and running.

Tip #3: Get them kitted out

You don't want to go overboard but if you intend running with your child fairly regularly, you should give their equipment the same consideration that you would give your own. Lightweight and moisture wicking socks, shorts and t-shirt. Also remember that most children's shoes (even from well known running shoe brands) are horrible for them to run in. They look like adult shoes and have the same level of padding making them like stiff house bricks. Pick a pair that has enough padding to protect but is super flexible so that they can move naturally. Remember, children are much lighter, so the padding doesn't have to be as much. Watch them run barefoot. They should be able to run with the same form in their running shoes. Charlie runs in Merrell Flux Gloves and runs very naturally in them. New Balance also makes very lightweight childrens shoes and if you are looking for more padding, Skechers GOrun and Nike Free Run may be an option. Pete Larsen at Runblogger talks about children's shoes here.

Charlie's natural running form.

Merrell Flux Glove

Tip #4: Start with walk/run/walk

If you started running as an adult, you know how hard it was to run at first. Most young children are lighter and fitter than most adults but the same principles apply. You don't go and run 3 miles the first time out. Charlie and I started with a mile and did walk/run/walk intervals. First of all, I let his recovery dictate the length and eventually we did it by time. Then, once we had done a mile, we started to run a little further each time. Like adults, each child is going to be different, so you should stick with what is working for them rather than a set plan. This phase is also a good time to teach them a little bit about form. I didn't push this too hard because I didn't want to take away from the fun. Some of the instruction sticks - some doesn't. It's OK.

Tip #5: Don't assume they understand the concept

Most young children know nothing about pacing themselves for distance running. They run hard and then stop to rest just like the family dog. Conserving energy is a bit of a foreign concept that comes with time and experience. At first, they question why you are running so slowly but one day, it clicks. They feel the fatigue hit them later in the run and realize the value of the technique. All I can say is that the concept will come - just remind them to run slow and steady.

Tip #6: Remember that it is a shared run, not your run

If you confuse your mileage (for you personal training) with the miles you run with your child, it will lead to frustration. If they don't feel like running 3 miles and you needed to run 3, it's not a warm and fuzzy moment. I try to make my runs with Charlie fall outside of my training plan, so that I can be present with him and focus on our time together - not logging my own miles on Dailymile. BTW, if you aren't a friend with me on DM already, please connect with me.

Tip #7: Forget the pace

If you have a GPS watch, ignore it or leave it at home. The reason I take mine is because Charlie likes to know exactly how far we went. When we run, we typically run in the 11 minute miles - close to 12. When he did his first 5K, I didn't know that he could run in the 9's and after seeing him do that, I can see him doing a 5K in under 30 minutes quite easily. But, the truth is, I don't care. I don't push the pace on our runs because I don't view it as training, it's our time together. When I do races with him, I just want him to enjoy the experience - not focus on how fast he ran it. PR's are fun but not the primary focus for us. If he is interested in competitive running in future, that's great. For now, I want him to enjoy running.

Tip #8: Run with friends and family

When children see another child running, they want to do it too. As much as I enjoy the experience of 1 on 1 time with Charlie, sometimes it's nice to have company. One day, I did a 1 mile run with Charlie, his sister Maggie and the two girls from next door (ages 7, 8, 7 and 6). Charlie was so happy to be giving them advice. I laughed when he ignored one of the girls running ahead because he knew that she would not be able to sustain the effort. All he said was "I wouldn't do that if I were you." At the end, Charlie wanted to prove his mettle by sprinting to the finish. The mom's waited at the end and cheered everyone home. It was such a fun experience and really made a change from the usual runs. Now one of the girls next door keeps asking about running and it's fun to think that we inspired her a little.

Tip #9: Be super flexible

Charlie is super inconsistent. We will go months without running. When we do go, sometimes he can run far without breaks and sometimes he wants to stop many times. Sometimes he claims that he can't go far at all. I try to be patient and flexible. I am trying to instill the love of the sport - not create a rigid calendar. It's worked out for us. He knows I am not going to push him aggressively but he knows I expect him to do his best. The only time I lay down the law is if he asks to go running and then changes his mind when we are out there. I let him know that if he commits to doing something, he has to follow through and try his best. He's 7 and the inconsistency is getting better as he gets older but I am not going to allow that to be something that gets in the way of our fun together.

Tip #10: Turn it into a game

A lot of running is all in the mind. When runners are tired, they tend to focus on their body and that makes things hard. Many adults count, sing and do all sorts of things to change their focus to a healthy state of mind. It's the same thing for children but I have found they need help to switch focus. The best way to do that is to insert some fun into the experience. Here are a few ways I have stimulated Charlie to run:
  • We ran 4 miles once in New Hampshire. The reason we did was because I was chasing him through trees and over streams in the woods. It was a game and it was fun. The last thing on his mind was how we ran.
  • One game Charlie likes to play is having mini races during long runs. He defines the start and end point and tries to beat me. Inevitably, he shouts "Go" after he has already started and he thinks is very amusing. It's like a fun way to do intervals and I let him win of course.
  • In Cleveland, Charlie ran out of steam half way into our 3 mile run. We took a break and on the way back, I started a conversation about how silly it would be to beat other runners in a race by tricking them. Once he started to come-up with ideas like gluing runners to the ground when they were getting drinks at aid stations, he started belly laughing and forgot all about how hard the run was and ran home much faster.
One day Charlie said "Dad, I can see why you like to run. It's fun." Once I heard that, I knew I was on the right path with him. Good luck to any of you who decide to give it a shot with your children. I hope this post is of some help and encouragement to you.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Finding Ultra

Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.
Rejecting middle age, becoming one of the World's fittest men and discovering myself.

OK, now that the blog is back, I'm catching up on the books I have read. I got this one a while ago and didn't get to it until recently. Crown Publishing Group sent it to me for free. No money exchanged hands and I never agreed to write a favorable post but I did enjoy the book.

Rich Roll is an entertainment lawyer, father of 4 and an ultra-endurance athlete. He was a top finisher at the 2008 and 2009 Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii. It's an invitation only race. Day 1 is a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90 mile cross-country cycle race. Day 2 is a 170 mile cycling race. Day 3 ends with an easy 52 mile double marathon. If that's not enough for you, he and a friend completed something they nicknamed the Epic 5 Challenge. It was 5 ironman-distance triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26 mile run) on 5 islands of Hawaii in under a week.

The book ends with the Rich Roll I just introduced but doesn't start that way. Rich is a kid who comes from a loving home but was completely uncomfortable in his introverted, nerdy skin. In fact, he was bullied and tormented by other kids. He found a window of peace when he discovered that he was a talented swimmer. This talent got him into a top university and he just managed to graduate and become a lawyer before his ghosts caught-up with him and he plummeted into terrible addiction. He hit bottom (eventually), got clean, started a new life with a new partner and one day began to drastically change. He became a vegan and transformed his overweight and out of conditioned 40 year old self into a triathlete.

This book is not a piece of prose. In fact, the writing sometimes stumbles over itself. But it's not the writing skill that made this an interesting read for me. It was the humility and honesty. I read Eat and Run and that was honest but private. Finding Ultra gives you a much deeper and real taste of Rich's pain, fears, shame, etc. He doesn't lay it on too thick but when he talks excitedly about his climb back and his eventual transformation (like only a recovering addict can), you know where that "born again" feeling comes from and you are more inclined to celebrate it with him than criticize him for it. He credits his wife with a lot but it's very clear from reading the book that she is a pretty amazing woman who is incredibly supportive and unselfish. His knowledge of vegan whole foods stems from her and I found that side of the book interesting too. Eating whole foods is one thing. Eating to sustain a body for insane endurance is another. Personally speaking, it was so nice to read a book about the physical transformation of a man in his 40's not 20's or 30's. But, I have to admit, there were times when I was like "Rich... dude... you swam with Olympic hopefuls. You were an athlete before you became a slob! You didn't go from 0 to 10. You went from 6 to 0 to 10." I'm not trying to take anything away from his achievements, it's just that most people who do start from 0 can't have the same aspirations. And that's OK. The book is inspiring enough – even before Rich competes in his first race. Having said that, it was fun to read the details of his events. At that point, you really want him to succeed. And like the rest of the book, when he documents the details of something like the Epic 5, it's well rounded - not just romanticized. I love that he can one minute talk about something spiritual or some inner strength that fuels endurance but then admit to being horrible to one of the support team and feeling terribly remorseful. He seems like a well rounded man.

A before and after of Rich
My conclusion. If you are interested in endurance sports at all, I'd definitely recommend reading this book. Like Eat and Run (a book I just posted about), you don't have to be a vegetarian or vegan to be inspired by it. It kept me interested and when I was done, I couldn't help but feel thankful to Rich for sharing so openly and respect him for his accomplishments. And when I say accomplishments, I tend to feel more strongly about him finding himself and family than finding ultra. Sadly, not everyone gets a result like this but man... it feels good to hear that some do. Good luck to you Rich!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Eat & Run

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman.

“Sometimes you just do things!” - Scott Jurek (and his dad)

I read the book at a wedding in Puerto Rico and had plenty of time to enjoy it without the kids being around. It kept me interested all the way through and I was sad when it ended. I guess that's the mark of a satisfying read.

If you've read Born to Run or if you are at least semi-interested in ultra-running, you know Scott Jurek. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a book release event in Chicago. Christopher McDougal was MCing the event and we all got to go on a fun run with them. Some of you may remember my post about it. Well, this was the book that I got signed at that event by both men and here are my thoughts without going into any major spoilers.

Scott Jurek is a rockstar among ultra-runners. As you can read in Wikipedia, he has won many of the sport's most prestigious races multiple times, including the Hardrock Hundred (2007), the Badwater Ultramarathon (2005, 2006), the Spartathlon (2006, 2007, 2008), and the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (1999-2005). In 2010, at the 24-Hour World Championships in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, Jurek won a silver medal and set a new US record for distance run in 24 hours with 165.7 miles. He is now 40 and still going.

As well as his great wins, Scott Jurek has a great brand. He comes across as the boy next door. He seems kind and humble. He is known for waiting at finish lines to congratulate people. But, that is never the whole picture of a person and I like that Scott lets you have a little glimpse into his pain, his ghosts and his darker sides in the book. He doesn't expose everything but you walk away feeling that you got a taste of something more than the Scott Jurek in the media. Even with some of these warts, he is still a very likable person.

The theme that goes all through the book is diet. For me, it wasn't a huge ah ha because I eat a very similar diet. For others who know nothing about being a vegan, it's probably more educational. The term vegan isn't actually accurate. Scott's diet is more about whole foods (not the store). Let's face it, some vegan food can be unhealthy too. Over the years, Scott has gone into diet in great detail and has become knowledgeable. He approaches the subject in a way that I think even steadfast meat eaters can respect. I didn't find him to be that preachy but he is excited about what his diet has done for him. The recipes that are sprinkled in with the storytelling are good and I have tried some of them. My only complaint is that they aren't removable to keep in the kitchen after you have finished the book.

The book gives you a sense of Scott growing up in the countryside near Proctor, Minnesota (not far from Duluth). You learn about Scott's struggle to understand his father and his "sometimes you just do things" philosophy and you feel his heartbreak with the on-set of his mothers debilitating disease. You learn about the fun characters that shape his life, especially his best friend Dusty Olsen who helped him discover distance running as training for their competitive nordic skiing. Scott is honest about how he has used running to deal with issues (not necessarily hide or run away from them). One dark moment in his life is when his wife leaves him for a friend (I believe it was Barefoot Ted but I haven't seen that confirmed anywhere). He shares some interesting behind the scenes stories about his races and you even get to hear about the new love in his life. All of these topics are touched upon but the book is too short to go into them in detail. I would love to have gone deeper but maybe this is what Scott was comfortable with. The area he gets into most is his relationship with Dusty. For many years, Dusty gave up on his own hopes and dreams to help Scott win races through his pacing and his friendship. Who else could say "get up Jerker" when Scott was face down on the ground at Badwater? Scott needed him and asked too much of him. Remember, there are no huge monetary awards for ultra, so Dusty didn't get anything out of it other than the satisfaction of helping someone he loves. In this article on, you get a sense of Dusty's complaints. It's clear that their bond is beyond friendship. They are brothers, so they cross boundaries with each other. In the book, you see the relationship struggle and you find yourself wishing Scott would just make things right again. Dusty is an amazing character. You could write a book on Dusty.

If you are curious about how the gentlemen signed my book, I'm happy to share. Scott said "Simon, be somebody." This is very Jurek. It's not about status. It's more about goals and achievements - doing things that matter to you, to others or to the world. Chris signed it with "Simon - Run Wild" which is strategically vague I think.

I'd definitely recommend this book. It's an interesting read for anyone who is fascinated by ultra-running. It's worth reading even if you aren't interested in the diet aspect of it. Jurek is a pretty amazing runner and it's worth hearing about some of the feelings, events and people who shape him. I was really surprised to see the confidence, ego and drive that are inherent in a fierce competitor and winner. I feel like this side of Scott Jurek is often hidden in the media but you instinctively know it has to be there. You can buy Eat and Run here:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Running with the Mind of Meditation

"Movement is good for the body; stillness is good for the mind." – Sakyong Mipham

I actually started writing this post a while back but never finished it. For the sake of transparency, I want to let you know that I was contacted by Crown Publishing Group who asked if I would read a new book by Sakyong Mipham. It's called Running with the Mind of meditation: Lessons for training body and mind. Sakyong is an author of a national bestseller called Turning the mind into an ally. He is also the author of the prize winning Ruling your World.  Crown mailed me the book for free and asked me to read it and blog about it if I felt that I wanted to share it with my readers. I agreed to read it because if you have read posts of mine like... Rain running is rejuvenating or Running toward my problems, you'll already know that I have a connection to running that goes much deeper than exercise. I have never really meditated in the crossed legged stereotypical way but I know I use running for meditation purposes. When I run, I connect, I center, I think, I process, I heal, etc.

Just to give myself a sense of Sakyong's perspective, I found some factoids on him. He is a Tibetan Lama and the leader of of Shambhala, a "global community of meditation and retreat centers." He is from a very strong Tibetan lineage and has studied with some of the most enlightened meditation masters of Tibet. He is also uniquely connected to the West because his father wanted him to be educated in Europe and North America. He is a speaker, teacher, poet, artist and obviously a writer. He is a runner and has completed 9 marathons to raise money for Tibet. He is clearly a family man because this book is a dedicated to his wife and daughter. Did I mention that his wife is a Tibetan Princess? If that's not enough for you, he has been called "one of the 30 global visionaries of our time." He teaches and preaches about the wisdom, compassion and courage of all beings. He sees his role as "Earth protector." Phew! I need to step up my life!
Sakyong Mipham
There's a lovely little moment in this book where Sakyong talks about running with some other young monks near their temple and the danger of wild animals in the jungle. It created such vivid images for me and I wish he had gone into spaces like this a little more throughout. I feel like he has experienced running in a way that I have not and I'm always fascinated by that.

The book gets pretty deep into meditation. I think I found it a little difficult to take it in easily because although I am open to the concepts, I knew nothing about meditation before reading this book. Sakyong really is a master and it can get very deep and intelectual in places. For those who are either in the process of learning meditation or have meditated for many years, I think you'll find it very interesting. The connection with meditation and running is definitely a fascinating subject.

Maybe Sakyong should connect with Budd Coates. Recently, I have been trying out some of the breathing techniques that are recommended by Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter, by Budd Coates, M.S., and Claire Kowalchik (Rodale, 2013). You can read about it at Runners World here. I love the way the 3/2 technique encourages you to breath on alternate foot strikes and I'm starting to see some performance benefits. I have noticed that practicing this breathing technique is hypnotic because of the reoccurring pattern. I could quite easily see it be combined with some form of meditation.

For anyone who connects with running on another level (like most of us do) and is curious about the connection of running and meditation, I'd definitely consider giving this a read. But remember, it's not a story, it's instruction and insight from a master. Just setting your expectations. The book can be purchased here:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I'm back!

OK, it's been a while but here is The Fool in full effect. Life got super busy there for a while and it just wasn't practical to be blogging. Life is still pretty busy but I have promised myself that as long as I keep things pretty short form, I can keep doing this. You'll notice that my logo changed to an homage of the Skechers Performance logo. It's been NB and Adidas in the past. More on why Skechers in a bit...

What's new with me? Well... let's see...

I had a stress fracture in my tibia, gained a little weight and recovered. I am now leaner than I was before the injury and running 30 miles a week and feeling really good. I haven't gained my pace back but for right now, I'll take the consistency, the recovery and general love of running.

I signed up for a Half Marathon. I'll be running the Chicago Half in September. I'm really looking forward to that. Officially, I want to just get a baseline run in under 2 hours. Unofficially, I want to shoot for 1:50. I'm honestly not sure where my fitness will be by then but we'll see how it goes. I want to enjoy running it - that's the over-riding objective.

I read a couple of books that I wanted to share with folks. I read Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I read the Hanson's Marathon Method by Luke Humphrey and the Hanson's which influenced me running a half based on their training philosophies. I just finished Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. Maybe I'll do a brief post on each to share a few thoughts.

Charlie (7) just ran his first 5K with me at the Humboldt Park Dream Run and somehow managed to win 3rd in the under 19's division. I'll definitely make a post about that specifically.

I started volunteering at the Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle as a starting line coordinator. A friend of mine is the Operations Director for those races. It was a little nerve racking at first but it's a great experience and quite rewarding.

You may remember that I hadn't got that far making connections with the running industry. I got a free shoe from Mizuno and Adidas sent me some samples to check-out. Finally, I made a connection with Skechers. I am now testing shoes for them and loving the experience and the shoes. I'll definitely talk more about that but I have to be careful because I'm under an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). I'll ask them about the process of releasing information in a controlled and sanctioned way. I know Pete Larson (Runblogger) tests and releases info before shoes hit the stores.

That's about it as a first post but I just want to say that it's good to be back and I am as passionate about running as I was when I left off - maybe more so.

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