Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Run, Part 2

The Shoe Search

As a preliminary step to really starting to train, I started with some shoe research.

I found websites that said that all fat people have flat feet that pronate (roll inward) as part of their gate. Personally, I have really high arches and tend more towards supination (roll outwards). So much for generalizations.  I found websites that said I should go for a lot of cushioning. My feet say I should be barefoot and the cushioning felt like I was trying to run on balloons. Plus, my weight would break down the cushioning more quickly than usual, resulting in either wearing out the shoes or throwing off my stride with an uneven base.

The stupidest thing I saw was at Payless, who were selling shoes advertised to help lose weight by "creating pockets of instability" that made it harder to walk and supposedly burned more calories. Seriously? Pockets of instability are the LAST thing you want under your feet when exercising. That's how injuries HAPPEN. I'm still raging over that one. It's tough to exercise in a leg cast, so how do they expect to sell more shoes? Idiots.   Oh, and that "weight loss shoe" with the toe higher than the heel!?  Can anyone say Plantar Fasciitis and strained muscles?  But I digress...

Your first step is to go to a store specifically catering to runners, and try on shoes. Don't order them on the web even if every running site on the web say they're the bee's pajamas and the cat's knees. There is no such thing as a shoe that fits every foot and gait.

This is a scary prospect because I'm sure super-elitest stores exist out there that will treat a fat person coming through their doors like crap. Even if they don't, I always feel "exposed" in an athletic shop. I am a fat nerd in the jock's natural habitat. Every instinct instilled during junior high and high school screams that at any moment they'll notice me and the mocking will commence. All I can say is, if someone treats you rudely or condescendingly because of your weight, walk out and notify the manager that his employee lost a customer. On the other hand, if you're too keyed up expecting bad treatment, it will make you defensive and your non-verbal communication will come across as hostile. Your hostility will make the other person defensive, creating a self-fulfilling expectation.  Not getting treated like a human being ready to secure them a sales commission should definitely be the exception to the rule, so at least give them a chance to help you.

I went to a place downtown with a fair amount of success. The clerk was very nice, had me try on about 10 different shoes and watched me walk in them to check my gait. You're looking for shoes that hug your feet without squeezing them. If they're a little too tight at first they'll stretch with use, but they shouldn't cause discomfort. Most people have one foot larger than the other, so it's tricky to find the right pair. It should feel supportive and slightly springy underneath, and should not interfere with your natural gait. It should, in no case, feel unstable or wobbly.

Once you've tried on a bunch, you will hopefully discover a pair you really like. At this point you have a choice. There really isn't any reason for a beginner to pay more than $125 for running shoes. If you pay more, you may be buying too much shoe (where the advantage to a marathon runner would be lost on a beginner) or you may be paying for branding (i.e. slap on $60+ just for the little Nike logo on the side). One solution to sticker shock is to ask about last year's shoes. Like cars, shoes come out with new models every year and the previous year's may be on clearance. Another solution is to find a shoe you like, then go to a big box store and try to find shoes that feel the same way. If you're just starting out there's really not a lot of advantage to buying sleek, professional gear. If it fits well (snug but not squeezing) and has good support, a pair of off-brand sneakers at Wal-mart can do just fine for the first six months. If you're still running after that, then upgrade. I know someone who's been running for twenty years in the Dr. Scholl's brand sneakers from Meijer's, for $30 to $50 depending on sales. He only bought fancy running shoes when he needed better arch support.

Just starting out, I went for traditional, neutral balanced low-cushioned runners with a slightly flexible sole. I have a pair of Adidas for home. For my work runners (I wanted a second pair so I didn't have to lug them back and forth) I got a cast-off but almost new pair of Nike's that JD bought and discovered too late they were the wrong size.

I really, really want a pair of barefoot shoes. Even when I was a kid it was hard to keep shoes on me, and I still go barefoot unless required otherwise. Barefoot runners require special training to condition the body to that style.  As appealing as the idea is, I want to save that until I can run any reasonable distance. It would be trying to fly when I'm at the crawling stage.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Run, Part 1

Summer is here and hiking season is fast approaching. Last year we went to the Hocking Hills and Smokey Mountain National Park. Both times I found I was able to put in four to seven miles the first day, then could barely bend my legs on the second. This year the goal is to be able to put in a few miles every day without so much pain that it spoils the rest of our trip.

Because our schedules are so packed, I'm pretty much limited to my lunch hour and a few hours on weekends for any kind of dedicated exercise time. Luckily I have the Kal-Haven trail (a 33 mile railroad bed turned into a hike and bike path) a few minutes from my office. Before the ice cover was entirely off the trails I was out on my lunch hour every day for a half-hour walk.

The time limitations mean that I can't really train for distance. After all, the best training for an eight mile hike is an eight mile hike. When I can't increase my time, I can build endurance to some extent by increasing my intensity.

Despite recent studies showing that running isn't so hard on the joints as often assumed (in fact it can IMPROVE joints by building cartilage and bone density over time), the health mythology of exceptions for fat people continues to linger. I love the catch-22. Fat people should exercise, but fat people shouldn't exercise. Somehow what's good for the joints of a thin person is terrible for mine, in a grand example of "I reject your reality and substitute my own" (quoting Adam from Mythbusters).

What's bad for ANYONE's joints, regardless of weight, is over-exertion and injury. If your frame and joints are small or weak for your body mass, you may need to be more careful to avoid injury. That doesn't mean you can't run. It just means you (along with everyone else) needs to build up a pace gradually, listening carefully to your body to know how to adjust. It means you start slow and add small increments of increased activity.

I started off dedicating half an hour of my lunch break. At first I walked, and the ice hazards meant I went less than a mile in that 30 minutes. As March advanced and the trail thawed, I was able to go faster in clear areas, until I was doing a 20-25 minute mile (approx 3mph). That's what they generally mean when they say "moderate walking speed".

When I could walk for 30 minutes at that pace without huffing and puffing and without pain or tiredness afterwards, I started to incorporate running.

When I say running, of course, I mean a rather slow jog. I also mean for about 30 second intervals. I would do three 30 second intervals in the course of the walk, with about 5 minutes of walking in between. Every other day I would walk only, and do the running intervals on the off days.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but that's what slow and steady means. By starting out slow and being honest about my body's capabilities, I can avoid injuries to my foot, legs, tendons, etc. that would force me to stop altogether for weeks and start again at the beginning.

As my body adapts to the routine, I've increased each interval, so that I'm now at one 30 second interval followed by two 1 minute intervals with five minute walking gaps between. Once I'm at three 1 minute intervals, I'll work on shortening the time in between. I've already noticed that I recover from each "run" interval more quickly every day, meaning that my heart rate and breathing return to normal a little faster.

Once I'm doing alternative 1 minute walk/run intervals, I may add more. Once I'm up to 7 or so, I'll start stringing them together into extended runs. Or I may switch that routine around and keep adding 30 seconds to each interval until I have extended runs.

Regardless, while it may make a marathon runner snigger a bit, this is the pace my body has set. There's really no reason why a heavy body is any more or less incapable of any physical activity. Mine just takes a bit of a run-up to get there.

Pun intended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Product Reviews

The Gluten-Free household is ongoing!

I'm still going to try and focus on brands available at one of the major grocery chains in my area (Wal-Mart, Meijers) because I think it'll do more good than focusing on very specialized items only available online or through independent health stores.  The point is to try and do this with what's available, not what we can necessarily ferret out of far corners. 

Envirokids Peanut Butter Panda Puffs Cereal

So with the handy excuse of finding gluten-free cereal that JD's super-picky kid would eat when he visited, I picked up a box.  They're fantastic, and almost an exact taste match for Peanut Butter Crunch.  I might keep a box around even if we're not expecting a visit, because a handful of these is a pretty tasty crunchy snack.  A bonus is that a percentage of each box goes to endangered species preservation and has fun endangered species info on the box for those kids who find the box more entertaining than the cereal.  Pricey as cereal (10.5 oz for $4.00-$4.50) but relatively cheap as snacking material. 

Blue Diamond Nut Thins

After a few initial bad experiences with gluten-free crackers that had the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts, this was a win.  These are rice-based, but the nut meal gives it body, flavor and crunch that holds its own against any regular commercial cracker.  I tried the Almond ones specifically, and they're diabolically good either on their own or with cheese.  I'm also guessing they would make a good crouton substitute on a salad.  Relatively pricey (4.25 oz for $2.50-$3.00) but then those tasty nut meals are expensive ingredients!  They're filling (lots of protein) so they may go further than regular gluten crackers as snacks. 

San-J Tamari Soy Sauce

This has been unofficially designated "soy crack" in our house, and would recommend it to anyone regardless of gluten tolerance!  At first I thought (wrongly) that tamari and miso were fish-based, and avoided them because I particularly hate anything that smells or tastes of fish. I think this mistake dates back to when a visiting exchange student made miso soup in our house and the seaweed stink drove me right out on a long hike until it cleared.  I did a bit of research, and found that both tamari and shoyu (what we in america think of as soy sauce) are essentially fermented soybeans.  Shoyu is a combination of toasted wheat, soybeans, salt and a specific mold spore, fermented much like wine or beer.  Tamari used to be the fermented sludge at the bottom of a cask of miso (somewhat like vegemite) and highly prized, but the kind Americans find on store shelves is probably just a blend of soybeans, salt and spores (no wheat) slow-fermented over a longer period of time for a stronger and more complex flavor.  Read your labels carefully, because apparently there are a few brands sold as tamari that are really shoyu and contain wheat.  San-J is labeled gluten-free.  The flavor is very strong so a little goes a long way, but it's oh-so-good in sauces. I've also heard Eden brand tamari highly recommended, but it was not available in the major grocery chains near me.   Apparently Shoyu and Tamari have the same variety of taste and quality as fine alcohols, but what we get on chain grocery shelves in Michigan is the equivelent of boxed rose' wine coolers.  A specialty Asian market might have more varieties of authentic tamari if you're a foodie looking for a new area to explore.

Mrs. Leeper's Macaroni and Cheese

This is so far from a win that I can't invent a category low enough.  Have you ever had the REALLY off-brand dollar store mac and cheese with pasty noodles and a day-glo orange sauce containing real cheese-flavored product that tastes like salt-dough?  Yeah.  It's that bad.  I know that the traditional "substitute" foods for special diets are supposed to look vaguely and taste nothing like the real thing so that you're not only grossed out but frustrated at the bait and switch.  I think we can safely be past that now.  Companies are stepping up and going the distance to actually make cookies taste like cookies.  They have the demand and the competition to do so.  Mrs. Leeper's is old school in the worst way. 

Which leads me naturally to...

 Annie's Homegrown Mac and Cheese

This is the absolute closest thing to the Kraft mac and cheese I have found.  It's exactly what I'm  talking about when I say companies are stepping up and realizing that substitutes have to actually taste like what they're substituting for.  Annie's uses a heavier weight noodle that cooks up firmer and doesn't shed starch.  It's also more forgiving of cook time so you can actually get al dente.  The cheese sauce is real cheese and actually tastes like it.  Personally, I like to augment it with a few slices of american cheese, but I did that with Kraft as well.   Its sticker shock, however (approx $4/box) means it's a "sometimes treat" when I really need comfort food.

Gluten Free Bisquick

This is, to all intent and purpose, exactly like regular Bisquick as far as behavior, texture, and taste.  That makes it a win!  Especially when JD makes pancakes with a little honey, raisins and diced apple chunks.  Like all gluten-free ready-made products, it costs more.  But if you simply HAVE to have the occasional biscuit, pancake or strawberry shortcake, this is a win.