Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We are voted best of Western Washington!

We have been voted as the Best Of Western Washington in the Running Gear Category.

We are forever grateful for your kind comments and appreciation. This has been an exciting couple of years (and a half)!

Congratulations to Run26 and Running in Motion as well. We are glad to see small locally owned businesses in the first 3 spots.

Thank you all!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Happy Feet

The NYT has an article on sports related foot injuries.

Here are a few excerpts that will sound familiar if you have shopped at our store:

"Many foot injuries are, in fact, the result of wearing the wrong shoes or the wrong shoe size. Studies have suggested that Americans too often wear shoes that don’t fit, and athletes are no exception."

"Some of these [injuries] are caused by innate deficiencies in a person’s gait..."

"The best way to prevent and treat early-stage plantar fasciitis [or other common injuries] is simple and cheap: Stretch, stretch, stretch."

"The majority of sports-related foot injuries are preventable...if people would just start paying attention."

In summary:

Right shoe + gait improvements + stretching + listening to your body = happy feet!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Way to go kiddo!

This Saturday Gregor completed his first triathlon. He raced the Kirkland Kid's Triathlon with 150 other kids, ages 5 through 12. What an experience for kids and parents alike!

Gregor was nervous the night before, but we assured him this was a good sign. After a bowl of Cheerios and getting his transition gear organized, we drove down to the starting line with plenty of time to review the course and the transition process.

Twenty minutes before the start he wanted to play tag, so we did. I guessed this was his way of dealing with prerace anxiety, just like adults like to jog back and forth just before a marathon.

We knew the swim would be the trickiest part of him, so we suggested to take it easy. He felt better when we told him he could always stand up if needed.

Once the race started, Eric and I had to sprint from one place to the next to cheer him. He always had a smile when he saw us, but when he didn't see us, he was deep in concentration.

He sprinted to the finish line, and for us, his finish was more exciting than our own finishes at races. He smiled when he received his finisher's medal and said "My first gold medal!!!".

When Eric took a picture of us, my hand rested on hist chest. His small heart was still racing, ten minutes after crossing the finish line.

Many more races await him in life, and we will always be the eager spectators watching him overcome his own obstacles.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cle Elum 50K

This year, two balanced athletes joined Eric and me to run the Cle Elum Ridge 50K ultra-marathon. Marty and Rob ran their first ultra distance, and they both had a blast (which they didn't realize until they had their second beer at the finish line :-)

Eric felt good, except he could not charge the up hill as he usually does. These days he is more of a road runner than a trail runner. Of course, he still managed to run a fast race.

I discovered a new mental trick to run the last 10 miles faster. I was impressed at how well it worked. It consisted on making my watch beep every 10 minutes, and I calculated that it would only take about 10 beeps to be done. All I did was wait for that beep, which allowed me to concentrate on one mile at a time. I caught up with three of the top women.

Beautiful day, views of Mt Rainier, and brownies at the end. What else can one ask for in life?

Thanks to Glenn Tachiyama for taking pictures

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Human Race

About 55 runners, walkers, and dogs met at 8:00 AM at Russell Road Ball fields today to take part in the human race. We covered 10K in perfect weather. Many balanced athletes participated in the race, and others volunteered at the aid station and finish line. Road Runner sports helped us with finish line goodies and shirts. This event was a great example of the dream and the vision that got the store started 2 years ago. Thank you all for your smiles and enthusiasm, and remember that every day is an opportunity to partake in the great human race.

Photos of the race are available here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is technique important?

Anyone who has talked to Eric or me about running, knows that we emphasize the importance of running technique to prevent injuries and improve efficiency.

When we watched the men's and women's Olympic marathon, we observed the wide range of styles that these elite runners have. Some of them heel strike, others run on their toes, some have a head-bob, others swing their arms laterally, others have very long strides, etc. However, they are all very accomplished and incredibly fast. Does this mean that technique doesn't matter?

Well, I think that the answer is, like for many other things in life, somewhere in the middle. In my view, concentrating on technique is important, but, we should also recognize that our biomechanics determine to a large extent how we move. Additionally, I think that while working on technique may not significantly improve speed, it does reduce the risk of injury.

However, it is telling that generally speaking, the smoother, more graceful runners lead the pack.

The NYT has an interesting article about this.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cultural immersion through exercising abroad

It has been a while since my last post. We were on vacation for two weeks in Mexico, and then getting up to speed at work and home after our vacation.

We only ran three times while we were in Mexico. One of the runs was an early, 87 degree, sticky morning in Mazatlan. We ran with the locals along the beach. Many of them wore track suits and carried dumbbells. We didn't fit in, to say the least. Maybe it was the water bottles we carried. Many of the older gentlemen that passed us looked like very tough runners. We imagined they probably ran the Mazatlan marathon earlier in the year.

It is very hard to be a vegetarian in Mexico. I mostly ate mango, coconut, and avocado (I know, how awful is that?). In Mexico, like in many other places, fish is not classified as meat, so I often got offered fish dishes as a vegetarian option. It was so hot and humid that I was not very hungry, so this was not a big problem.

We also ventured into my aunt Martha's gym one morning. We did a spinning class, which was a heart exploding experience. The instructor kept yelling at us "Arriba!!!." At some point, I was so out of breath that I stopped translating for Eric, who by now figured that whenever the instructor yelled something, it meant "Go faster."

The winner was the 'Zumba' class we took at the same gym. I had never heard of Zumba before. It is similar to an aerobics class, except that it mostly consists of dancing fast paced Latin music. The teacher seemed to be possessed by the devil, judging by her convulsions at the beat of the latest Latin hits. Eric looked bewildered. Talking about cultural immersion. He later told me: "You know you owe me, right?." At least he had the excuse of being, ahem, white. But me? What could I say? I have been away for 12 years?

Talking about being away. While shopping in Mazatlan, the store owner told me "You have pretty good Spanish for being an American." That about did it for me. I can't rapidly gyrate my hips anymore, I don't eat meat (not even fish!), and apparently, I have an American accent.

Well, at least I can still eat hot chiles, like these ones...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Seafair Marathon: Niki!

Legend has it that Pheidippides screamed "Niki!" (victory), then collapsed and died.

I am referring to the Greek soldier who ran 24.85 miles from the battle field to Athens to announce victory against the Persians.

No one in their right mind tried to repeat the feat in two millennia. I mean, the guy died, who would think "that looks like fun, lets make it a sport!" (maybe the Romans, but long distance running, while gory, is not exactly the kind of spectator "sport" they preferred).

Today, in this modern and civilized times, about 5000 runners gathered at the starting line at Husky stadium for the Seafair Marathon and Half-marathon. When Eric and I crossed the finish line, there were no major news to deliver, other than the obvious: "it's hot" and "it was hilly."

Other balanced athletes, who were much wiser, ran the half marathon. There were a total of eight store runners, sun burned, thirsty, and loving the wonderfully organized event. Luscious slices of crispy watermelon taste and feel like pure heaven when even the soles of your feet are burning with the heat.

The volunteers and the spectators along the course were our angels. They took out their hoses and sprayed us, and for only a few seconds, you were as happy as you could be. And then the sun would quickly evaporate the mist off your skin, and only the gritty salt would remain.

All in all, what an experience. The Seafair Marathon is a great event, and we highly recommend it (just make sure you bring a hat and use lots of sunscreen).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Brain Health and Moving

Some time ago, I forgot where I parked my car. After walking aimlessly around the parking garage for a while, I realized I had carpooled to work that day. I felt silly, and attributed my mistake to habituation (unfortunately, I can't carpool very often).

However, if this same incident would have happened to an older person, they would likely become worried about their brain health. According to the New York Times, there is a growing "brain fitness" industry (link to story). There is commercial "neurosoftware" that trains your brain with memory and math problems, and there are monthly-fee websites that offer tailored brain exercises.

Today, as Eric and I were driving to meet the Sunday group run, we were listening to a radio interview on the matter (it is funny how sometimes you receive information about a topic in clusters). John Medina, a researcher at Seattle Pacific University, studies the brain. He wrote a book ("Brain Rules") describing 12 principles for "surviving and thriving at work, home, and school."

The first rule is "Exercise boosts brain power". His theory is that the brain evolved while humans were in almost constant motion (our ancestors probably walked 15-20 miles a day). Thanks to this research, there is a new trend of having a treadmill at the office, and walk while you work on your computer (see this story).

If you want to learn more about this interesting topic, visit http://www.brainrules.net/. You can find the rest of the rules there.

So, now you know, exercise is not only about improving your physical performance, moving helps you upstairs too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

There is always another run

My life has been more stressful than usual these last few weeks. The classes I am taking this quarter are more time consuming than previous classes, and work is as hectic as ever. I have to be very organized so that I can also spend time with my family. And of course, there is running.

The Seattle Times had a well-timed article this week, "Stressed out workers skip gym...", which reminded me that it is exactly in times like this when I must keep running. It is tempting to skip my early morning run when there is so much more to do. Sometimes it seems selfish to go out for a run when I haven't spent quality time with Eric in a given day. But truth be told, Eric almost pushes me out the door in the morning. We have found that my running is an investment in our relationship.

The article mentions something that I completely agree with. In times of stress, sometimes you need to feel that there is something that you can control. As my day progresses, and every-day annoyances and problems pile up weighing down my shoulders more and more, I envision myself floating down the trail the next day. In the solitude of the sleeping neighborhood, with the company of the birds and squirrels, a comforting thought emerges, no matter what happens today, there is always the next morning run.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why we run

I have been reading excerpts of an excelent running book: Lore of running, by Tim Noakes.

Yesterday night, I read the introduction. It beautifully described the reasons why the author loves running. I was amazed at how well and clearly he expressed what I feel about the sport. Up until now, I have had a hard time describing it to people who don't run. So here it goes, adapted from Tim Noakes.

1. Self-discovery. Running provies complete solitude, which allows us to draw back into ourselves, "into those secluded parts of our souls that we discover only under times of duress and from which we emerge with a clearer perspective of the people we truly are."

2. Awareness of our body. Running makes us aware of our physical bodies, and our responsability to take care of them. We learn to admire the incredible, almost perfect machine that our bodies are. We also learn not to take our body for granted.

3. Confidence. Successful completion of running challenges teaches us that with hard work and self-discipline, we can reach our goals in life, whatever they may be. I personally think that children can benefit from running programs, because running in many ways is a metaphore of our struggles in life.

4. Self-criticism and self-expectation. It is never possible to reach one's absolute best. Once you reach one peak, there is always a higher peak. In my view, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics of what makes us human.

5. Humility. Running makes us realize our limitations and accept them with pride, without envy of those who have the physical (intelectual, or any other) gifts that we lack.

6. Failure leads to growth. To achieve success in running, or in any other activity, we must be afraid of failure. It is this fear that balances our self-confidence, and prevents us from becoming arrogant. If we do fail (and we will), we still win: we grow.

7. Honesty. There is no luck in running. The effort you put into your training shows on race day. Just like most things in life: you can't fake it. And there is no one to blame but ourselves if things don't go the way we expected them to.

8. Life is a competition with oneself. This is one of my favorite things about running. I don't race against others, I race against myself. I race against that little voice in my head telling me to stop. I race against my self-doubts, and against any other obstacles, be them self-imposed, or external.

9.Relaxation and creativity. Running is playing, and when we play, our minds open up to creative thinking. Sometimes I am amazed at the intricate stories and ideas I come up with during my long runs. I also find that after a run, I am at ease and relaxed. Running is my reset button.

10. Spirituality. Running teaches us about what makes us uniquely human: our desire to keep moving forward, regardless of the obstacles and problems that life puts on our way.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Stretching

Those of you who join us for our Sunday runs know that we do a group stretching session afterwards. We stretch for about 15-20 minutes before we head to Wild Wheat for breakfast.

Many of the people who stretch with us mention how much better they feel afterwards. So I decided to talk about a stretching routine for runners.

Here are some guidelines:

1. ALWAYS stretch AFTER running. Try to stretch for at least 10 minutes after your run. Plan your run so that you have enough time to include stretching. If you only have 40 minutes to run, go out for 30 minutes, and stretch for 10. Some people like to warm up and stretch before they continue their run. This is also beneficial, as long as the muscles are warmed up, you can stretch.

2. Select stretch exercises that focus on the major running muscles (hamstrings, quads, calves) but also pay attention to less obvious running muscles: hip flexors, hip joints, IT bands, feet muscles, lower back and shoulders. If you are not sure which stretches to choose, join us for a Sunday post-run stretch session, or take a few introductory yoga classes. It is important that you have good form when stretching, so we don't recommend do it-yourself stretching when you are starting.

3. Practice gentle stretching whenever you have the opportunity. For example, I stretch my hip joints when watching TV or seating through a long meeting at work.

4. Replace one run of the week by a yoga class. So if you run 4 times a week, run 3 times a week and take a yoga class instead of a 4th run. This yoga session will increase the quality of your 3 weekly runs, will help you stay injury free, increase your core strength, and balance. Start with a basic introduction to yoga class. Talk to the instructor before class to make her aware of your running, and of any pain or aches you currently have. She will then customize the class to the students needs.

Just like in most other things in life, the hardest step is the first one. Just start, and everything else will take care of itself.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

February News: Fatigue

1. Low-intensity exercise boosts energy and relieves fatigue.
The NYT has a story on a new study showing what many of us already know. If I feel sleepy at work, I sometimes get out for a 15 minute brisk walk, and voila! I am back in the game. The explanation the researchers give is that "...exercise acts directly on the central nervous system to increase energy and reduce fatigue."
Link to story

2. Muscle fatigue explained: calcium leaks.
The NYT nicely summarizes a study that elucidates why our muscles get tired. For many years, the theory was that the release of lactic acid causes muscle fatigue. However, this theory was discredited a long time ago (see this story), and the mystery remained. Scientists studying congestive heart failure found that muscles get tired because muscle cells leak calcium. These scientists developed a drug that blocks calcium leaks, and they tested it in mice. The little guys were able to run and swim 10-20% longer. The drug is intended to prevent heart failure, but the article mentions that some athletes may be tempted to use it to increase endurance.
Link to story

3. Signs of fatigue due to overtraining.
Another NYT article lists the signs of overtraining, and says that the simple (and obvious) cure is to rest. One of the interesting facts I learned from this article is the reason why our legs feel heavy when we are overtrained: our blood viscosity increases, and thus it weighs more.
Link to story

Finally, while looking for these month's news, I found a couple of interesting sites:
AIMS: Guidelines for fluid replacement.
Science of Sport blog

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Running is not viewed by most people as an artistic form of expression, like ballet or figure skating. But I contend that running is a graceful form of movement, and when you see it in this new light, running can be experienced very differently.

This is something that I have been thinking about lately. Once more, I am influenced by my yoga teacher. She tells us to practice with gracefulness, not with "power." We are so used to "powering" through things in our life, using "brute force" to get it done (whatever "it" is). But when we concentrate on gracefulness, when we focus on executing a task as beautifully as we can, we live in the moment, and we usually perform much better.

I know this sounds very abstract, but let me give you an example. I used to approach my yoga practice in the same way I used to approach my running. With a watch on my wrist, and with the intention of getting a good workout. I would lift my leg as high as I could, I would force my body to do the splits, and my arms would tremble when doing sun salutations.

I noticed that I was one of two or three people who were sweating profusely in the room (this is not hot-yoga by the way). I could not understand why the more experienced practitioners (who are hard-core yogis) looked so fresh and calm. My teacher kept telling me to be graceful, and to not force it.

Little by little I started understanding what she meant. I started focusing on the movements of my hands and my fingers as we flowed from one position to the next. Instead of lifting my leg with a fast and powerful jerk, I would take my time, almost in slow motion, to get my leg high behind me. And I took off my watch.

I stopped sweating, and, I got much better. I started getting into positions I never thought I would be able to get into. And the best part of this new approach was that my focus of attention shifted to another place inside myself. Sometimes I feel like I am in that room by myself, time does not exist anymore, and my mind quiets down. I have never practiced meditation, but this sure feels like it.

So I thought of applying this new approach to my running. I started thinking of how my limbs moved with respect to one another, how straight my spine was, how relaxed my shoulders and neck were, how effortlessly I stepped. I tried to "float." I tried to quiet my mind, and feel how my body in movement integrated to my surroundings.

All I have to say is that it takes practice, but sometimes, some very precious times, early in the morning, I look at the salmon colored sky, I can see my own breath, and I listen to the birds' chirp, and I know this is how life is meant to be lived. Gracefully.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

May your DNA stay nice and long...

In the month of January there were several studies published linking exercise to slower aging.

The BBC (link to story), reports a study that shows that physically active people can be 10 years 'biologically' younger than their sedentary counterparts. How did they know?

One of the reasons why we age is that our DNA gets shorter at the ends. Each cell in our body has a copy of our DNA (which contains our genes). You can think of your DNA as a long, long, long book with letters in it. This book determines to a large extent your appearance, health, and even personality traits. As time goes by, some letters at the beginning and the end of the book drop, so we age.

Well, inactive people seem to drop more letters than active people. This has been actually measured, and it therefore provides hard-evidence of what up to now has been mostly anecdotal evidence (active people do look younger!).

A second story, also reported by the BBC (link to story), talks about a second study that shows that small changes in your lifestyle can add several high quality years to your life. These changes need not be extreme. Simple things like walking half an hour every day, eating fruits and vegetables, drinking with moderation, and not smoking make a difference.

And lastly, the New York Times has an article about aging and performance (link to story). It turns out that as we age, if we stay active, we don't slow down as much as it is commonly believed. More over, even if you start being active later in life, you can make huge leaps. The article gives examples of people who started running in their 60s, and then ran their first marathon. An interesting idea proposed in this report is that one of the reasons why we slow down as we age is lower motivation, not physical decline. Again, that mind-body connection plays a role, something that I deeply believe in (which I am sure you have gathered after reading a few of my blogs).

One of my dreams is to one day be a running granny, with bright yellow shoes, plenty of DNA in my body, and cheering grandkids at the finish line. Maybe I'll be able to beat Eric then (we have a bet going).

Sunday run report: Soo-Hui is redeemed on Super Bowl Sunday

For the record: Soo-Hui ran with the group today, he ran the hill twice, and he finished his omelet :-)
If you are confused, refer to my previous blog.

We had 11 runners on Super Bowl Sunday. We ran about 11 miles, with a one mile hill repeat in the middle (we did it twice). I am very proud of how far some of the runners have come! Some of you could only run 2-3 miles when you started, and now you are easily running half marathons, and you are asking for more. I have to admit that we have created monsters...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday run report: Runners on Ice

Every once in a while, our Sunday morning run stands out from all the others. In such occasions, I will blog it so that those who couldn't make it see how much fun they missed :-)

If you ever want to work on improving your running form, try running on ice. After falling a couple of times, you learn that shorter steps, landing on your mid foot, and a straight posture is the way to go.

These are the lessons that some of us learned during our Sunday morning run today. All in all, we did pretty well. Only one person fell: me (quite gracefully though, I was trying to 'demonstrate' the correct way to fall).

Dennis ran into us (literally) at about mile 7. He told us how he slipped on his driveway when he left his house for a run. Being the hard-headed person he is (aren't we all?), he decided to run/skate our usual route to meet the group.

After the sun came out, the ice started melting, and we ran the second half of our 13 miler on less slippery conditions, and at a faster pace (faster than 10 minute miles, that is).

Once we were back in the store, we performed our ritual torture session (stretching). Soo-Hui, one of our weekday run regulars, skipped the run and joined us for breakfast. He was the only person who couldn't finish his 3-egg mushroom omelet. I am not sure if he was just not that hungry, or if our accusatory stares and indirect comments finally got to him...(we are a friendly group, really).

Well, this run will remain in our memories, along with the one when we almost got attacked by an unleashed Doberman (he later turned out to be such a sweet puppy!)...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cold weather and exercising: no problem

According to the weather service, a cold mass of artic air is coming our way, and it will stay here for a while. This means we are going to have temperatures in the low 20's to mid 30's for the next 3 days.

This also means that there is a good excuse for not stepping out the door for a run or a walk. Well, after reading this, you won't be able to use this excuse anymore :-)

The problem is that we are afraid of the cold. A friend once asked me if it was safe for my lungs to run outside in freezing conditions. By the time the air reaches our lungs it is warm. There are lots of myths when it comes to exercising in cold weather.

Another myth is that you are more likely to get injured when it is cold, and that you should move slower. While it is true that you may slip if the road is icy, the cold itself is not going to cause injuries.

There are things that can go wrong in cold weather (frostbite, hypothermia); however, a few simple tricks will make it as safe as running in warm weather. The key is to keep our head, ears, and hands warm, and to not overdress the rest of our body.

- Body heat escapes at greater proportions from our head. Wear a hat.

- If the temperature is below freezing, we need to protect our ears from frostbite. Make sure your hat covers your ears, or wear a headband over your ears.

- Once your hands get cold, it is hard to feel warm again. Wear mittens or gloves.

- Most people overdress, and as a result overheat and sweat too much. If you are running, dress as if it was 20 degrees warmer. If you are walking at a quick pace, dress as if is was 15 degrees warmer. Expect to be uncomfortably cool the first few minutes of your run or walk.

- If you cannot stand being cold the first few minutes, warm up indoors first (jump in place, do push ups, etc), and then go out. The cold will be more bearable.

- Trick your mind: tell yourself that you are only going to run or walk for 15 minutes. If it is too cold and unbearable, come back in. After 15 minutes, you will be warm and enjoying yourself.

- Jump in place at stop lights. As soon as you stop moving, your temperature drops.

- If it is raining, try to keep dry as much as you can. Cold and wet is not a good combination. Wear a light rain jacket, water proof gloves, and a hat that keeps your head dry. Get some tights that have a top layer that repels water.

- To prevent dry skin, put some Vaseline on your face before going out.

- Get into dry clothes as soon as you are done. Even better, have a warm shower, and have some hot chocolate.

There you go. No more excuses. Running in 30 degree weather is safe. Just watch out for icy conditions, and you will be fine!