Movnat Workshop Thoughts

On Saturday I’ll be participating in a one-day Movnat workshop. I’ve been attending the NYC Movnat meetups for about a year, but this is my first official session. I’m ridiculously excited.

Despite exploring the ideas and emulating the practice of Movnat for the past year, I still find it difficult to talk about. But there will apparently be news media covering the session, so I thought I should figure out something to say, quick.

I first learned about Movnat through Erwan Le Corre’s original videos a few years ago. They seemed slightly preposterous at first, but something about them got stuck in the back of my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. When I was a child pretending to be an adult, this was everything I imagined an adult should be able do.

Several of my interests converged here. I’ve been running barefoot and following a paleo-ancestral diet for a couple of years. There’s a philosophical thread that runs through these: People are exceptionally capable, adaptable, amazing creatures. When we choose to be. The idea of recognizing our inherent human capacity and reclaiming those abilities as our common birthright fascinates me. I’ve heard this described as both rehabilitation and prehabilitation.

The fitness aspect seems almost secondary. One of Erwan’s original inspirations for Movnat, Georges Hébert, said “Être fort pour être utile” (“Being strong to be useful”). This works both ways, strength comes from use as much as use requires strength.

It’s also just plain fun. I sometimes joke that the weekend Meetups are my “grown-up playgroup”. My daughters think I’m crazy but they love that I’m always up for climbing trees and rocks with them.

Watching Movnat’s influence spread over the past few years has been great. I’m looking forward to seeing how the formal principles of Movnat fit together with my own evolving philosophy.

I’ll be sure to post a followup after the workshop.

You don’t stop because you get old…

This is Ruth Frith, in August she’ll be 102 years old. In 2009, at the age of 100, she competed in the World Masters Games and set six world records for her age group.

A year later in October 2010, at 101 years old, she bested her own record in the hammer throw. 11.3 meters (just over 37 feet). The hammer weighs 2kg (4.4 lbs).

She currently holds 8 WMA records for shot put, hammer throw, discus throw, javelin throw, weight throw, long jump and triple jump. Those last two have stood for 15 years.

80 year old runner O Santa Claus (he legally changed his name from Elvis Kipman) ran the 10k and 100m races…barefoot.

He wasn’t alone. Osmo Millridge took home a silver medal for the 2000m Steeplechase and a bronze medal for the 300m Long Hurdles in the 75-79 age group. Also barefoot.

The title is a reference to a quote by the late Jack Kirk, aka the Dipsea Demon,

You don’t stop running because you get old,
you get old because you stop running.

Photo credits: Ruth Frith (1, 2) and O Santa Claus (1): Mark Nolan (Getty Images AsiaPac). Osmo Millridge: Phil Hillyard (Daily Telegraph 2009-10-19, via Southside Masters)

Running Technique

“Everyone thinks they know how to run, but it’s just as nuanced as any other activity.” Eric [Orton] told me. “Ask most people and they’ll say, ‘People just run the way they run.’ That’s ridiculous. Does everyone just swim the way they swim?” For every other sport, lessons are fundamental; you don’t go out and start slashing away with a golf club or sliding down a mountain on skis until someone takes you through the steps and teaches you proper form. If not, inefficiency is guaranteed and injury is inevitable.

“Running is the same way.” Eric explained. “Learn it wrong, and you’ll never know how good it can feel.” (page 202-3)

Since reading Born To Run and following up with additional research, I’m running farther, faster and more comfortably than ever. Previously, my best month’s milage was 45 miles. Since March I’ve averaged over 85 miles per month with July topping 100 for the first time. Last year I ran 375 miles. Physically, I’m sure I could go farther, but nothing in the book helps find more hours in the day. I’ve also shaved about a minute off my average mile without really thinking about speed.

I don’t have a coach and haven’t looked at video myself running (yet), but I have become highly focused on improving my mechanics and efficiency. These are some of the ideas I try to keep in my head while running:

  • shorter stride
  • Faster leg turnover
  • soft, quiet landings
  • pull the feet up off the ground
  • pull legs back with the butt
  • feet should be moving backwards before they touch the ground
  • straight back
  • “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard”
  • Do I need to eat or drink?
  • midfoot strike (land on the outside front of the foot, roll towards the big toe)
  • “release the springs” (try to use the tendon’s natural, zero-cost springiness)
  • Relax your hands and arms (don’t waste energy)
  • smile

Also, perhaps especially, Caballo Blanco’s mantra from page 111:

“Think Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that for so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

It’s still awkward, but I think I’ve felt it a couple times, usually somewhere past 4-6 miles into a run. My pace is faster than I’d have expected, but there it is; a grace and feeling of self-sustained movement and a sort of weightlessness and motion that feels like it could go on forever. Barefoot Ted described it well: “Like a fish slipping into water.”

A big part of adjusting my technique simply had to do with changing shoes. Despite having been previously diagnosed as a heavy over-pronator and clamped into motion-control shoes, it didn’t take long to become a minimal footwear convert. Less shoe gave me a better feel for the ground and increased flexibility across my feet. Read the whole story here: From Asics Kayanos to Nike Frees to Vibram FiveFingers and beyond

Getting past awkward

Ken Mierke is the exercise physiologist Chris trained with in chapter 27 and the creator of the efficiency-focused Evolution Running system.

“When I teach this technique and ask someone how it feels, if they say ‘Great!,’ I go ‘Damn!” That means they didn’t change a thing. The change should be awkward. You should go through a period where you’re no longer good at doing it wrong and not yet good at doing it right. You’re not only adapting your skills, but your tissues; you’re activating muscles that have been dormant most of your life. — Ken Mierke, page 206

The introduction to Ken’s instructional videos are online and are among the most helpful things I’ve found:
Part 1 (5:29), Part 2 (4:59), Part 3 (5:02), Part 4 (4:38) and Part 5 (4:23)

The third video especially talks about the zero-cost elastic recoil of the springlike Achilles tendons in our lower legs and how to benefit from it.

Two other articles by Ken, Creating Efficient Horizontal Propulsion and Maintaining High Turnover When Running Slowly (both on one page) talk about improving running efficiency by using leg muscles to reduce bouncing and increasing endurance with faster leg turnover. I’ve found bouncing to be a serious waste of energy and very hard on the joints.

On page 205, Ken makes the case for faster cadence to 62-year-old triathlete Alan Melvin:

“Kenyans have superquick foot turnover,” Ken said. “Quick, light leg contractions are more economical than big, forceful ones.”

“I don’t get it,” Alan said. “Don’t I want a longer stride, not a shorter one?”

“Let me ask you this,” Ken replied. “You ever see one of those barefoot guys in a 10k race?”

“Yeah. It’s like they’re running on hot coals.”

“You ever beat one of those barefoot guys?”

Alan reflected. “Good point.”

Upping my cadence might be the most challenging aspect of working on my form. Fast turnover, coupled with trying to pull my feet up off the ground and reducing ground-contact time has definitely affected how far I’m able to run. I’m going faster but my endurance hasn’t come close to catching up yet. When it works it feels great, but I tend to get winded quickly and am having a lot of trouble sustaining the faster cadence across any respectable distance.

Gordon Pirie is never mentioned in Born to Run, but his freely available book, “Running Fast and Injury Free” is worth reading, especially chapter 3, “Injuries, Technique and Shoes.” Gordon Pirie was outspoken with the confidence that he had lived and proven the ideas and techniques wrote about.

Pete Larson at RunBlogger (who also teaches Biology, Physiology and Biomechanics at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire) has posted dozens of excellent slow-motion videos showing various foot-strikes, both barefoot and in assorted footwear.

There are TONS of other running technique videos online, some of which are just patently awful. (“strike with your heel then roll off?! Gah!!) As an alternate or supplement to the ideas in the Evolution Running videos, I found Pose Running to have more of a direct approach to efficient mechanics which I prefer over the more holistic and metaphysical Chi Running.

It can seem at times while researching all of this, that everyone must know about it by now. Every running-focused blogger read the book months before I did and online community discussions about the book are all well established. But looking around the last race or anytime I run when other people are out, it’s clear that not enough people do know about this. So many people are bouncing along, pounding the ground in enormous shoes and grimacing in pain — the ideas behind more efficient, natural running and minimal footwear obviously have a ways to go.

Born to Run

Everyone is built for running.” — Eric Orton, page 203.

What a fantastic book. The night I first picked it up intending to read a couple chapters Ohio addiction centers ended with me forcing myself to stop and go to bed after tearing through half the book. Months later, I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. There’s plenty here even if you have no interest in running, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading it.

My first introduction to Born to Run and the nascent (now ascendent) barefoot running movement was this October, 2009 New York Times video and blog entry, The Roving Runner Goes Barefoot. A few months later, after repeatedly seeing the book mentioned around the web, I finally decided I might as well read it too.

This was towards the beginning of the year when, after about three years of running regularly, I decided to start taking running a little more seriously. In addition to reading the book, I also joined New York Road Runners, applied for the 2010 NY Marathon (didn’t get in) and have more than doubled my average weekly miles.

Like many others, I found the book to be profoundly inspirational, bordering on life-changing, and I ended up with a lot to say. This post is sort of the introduction to a series of posts directly or indirectly inspired by Born to Run. As they’re finished I’ll be linking them here.

The book is filled with quotable passages, but this from chapter 27 (page 213) really stuck with me because it mirrors my own experience:

“Because I was eating lighter and hadn’t been laid up once by injury, I was able to run more; because I was running more, I was sleeping great, feeling relaxed, and watching my resting heart rate drop. My personality had even changed: The grouchiness and temper I’d considered part of my Irish-Italian DNA had ebbed so much that my wife remarked, “Hey if this comes from ultrarunning, I’ll tie your shoes for you.” I knew that aerobic exercise was a powerful antidepressant, but I hadn’t realized it could be so profoundly mood stabilizing and–I had to use the word–meditative.” (page 212)

The ideas and stories in Born to Run have inspired me to run farther and much more often. As a result, I’m feeling great, physically and emotionally and genuinely enjoying all of it.

US obesity rates, soft drinks and high-fructose corn syrup

This flash US obesity infographic was mentioned to me as part of an ongoing discussion about information graphics. The original source data likely came from the PPT presentation linked on the CDC’s Overweight and Obesity page. The CDC maps present annual data from 1985-2005, CNN only chose to show six incongruous years to remove edge-case fluctuation. I threw together a quick animation showing the complete dataset:

United States Obesity Map, 1985-2005

Michelle observed that the bar for information graphics was set “very, very low.” People are accustomed to lousy graphics, default-styled PowerPoint charts, plain Excel tables and raw scatter plots. Even the slightest attention to design becomes automatically exceptional.

I think that map chart would work better as a line plot, but then I’m most curious about whether or not there was a tipping point after which the population started gaining weight. Personally, I believe things turned for the worse between 1985 and 1988.

Mid-80s transition

In 1985, amidst the New Coke fiasco, Coca-Cola and other soft drinks switched from cane and beet sugar to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Two main factors figured into that decision: Significantly increased potency and effectiveness of HFCS vs conventional sugars, and cost savings due US government corn subsidies and manipulation of domestic sugar prices. Bottom line was that soda got much cheaper to produce, thereby making “free refills” and oversized portions an economically sound loss-leader.

Three years later in 1988, Taco Bell introduced unlimited free drink refills and 7-Eleven started selling the 64-ounce Double Gulp, “biggest soft drink on the market.” I couldn’t find a source, but that was doubtlessly a response to escalating portions and unlimited refills among competitors. This was also about the time the soda manufacturers started experimenting with 16 ounce cans, 20 ounce bottles and other larger portions.

The following chart illustrates domestic per capita consumption of soft drinks from 1970-1995. Note the spike between 1987-1988:
Soft drink vs. candy consumption, 1970-1995

Soda got cheaper, so people drank more soda. Snack foods also got cheaper as they also switched from sugar to HFCS, so people ate more snacks. More soda + more snacks = more obesity. This isn’t rocket science.