Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “research”

The Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth

At any given time, the last 20 weeks or so either feel like they have blown by quicker than I could blink or crawled by at a pace that would make a 3-toed sloth laugh. This weekend, I tackled a sub-zero marathon on Saturday, and then slogged through a snow-covered follow-up run on Sunday. Each had their highs and lows, but they were good training runs and I’m feeling strong. More importantly, this weekend marked my last long back-to-back weekend, which means I now have the long-awaited joy of tapering! Did I say joy? Maybe I meant disdain. You see, the psychological and physical aches and pains that tapering, combined with a long and intense training season, bring, seem to have grown to proportions I haven’t experienced before. This obviously led me to wonder if there might be more to my extended tapering pains. The result is a theory that will no doubt win me accolades the world over, so I guess y’all should feel honored that I’m sharing it with you first!

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Aside from the vehicle-induced aches and pains I recently incurred, I’ve noticed that the phantom wandering pains that typically arrive during my taper period came much earlier this time around. I probably started feeling various issues about 5 weeks ago, and they’ve been flowing through my body ever since. My right Achilles was acting up, and then it was my left forefoot, along with both of my knees at various points, and my groin before that. I’ve monitored all of these issues, and they’ve gradually dissipated and then disappeared altogether. However, they seemed to begin around the time I really started to look forward to my upcoming trip to Arizona and Across the Years. I’ve written before about battling the injury gremlin, and this most recent ongoing battle led me to wonder if the fact that everything was happening earlier had anything to do with the increased distance I was running. I mean, I will be attempting to run longer than I’ve ever run before, and the entire race experience will be brand new. I’ll be stepping into uncharted territory, much like all of my other running firsts. Perhaps my body knows this, and it began making me hyper-aware of every ache and pain that much earlier as a result.

I think winter is finally here.

I think winter is finally here.

Over the last two years, I’ve pushed myself harder and further than ever before, and my endurance has certainly increased. My recovery time has also decreased, which has been a welcome development, especially considering my consistent back-to-back long runs on the weekends. As a result, my outlook on various distances has changed along with my goals, which is to be expected, I suppose. This has led me to contemplate the recent exponential growth of my tapering conundrum. It would seem as if the more I increase my race distance, the earlier my taper gremlin emerges to start whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In general, you can think about this Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth like this:

Taper Graph 2.1

Now I should be clear that my sample (methodology) is one of convenience (me) and these results may be limited to my own well-being (limitations). However, it seems fairly clear at this point that the longer the race, the longer the tapering aches and pains. This wouldn’t be horrible, except for that fact that I’m still only tapering for the next three weeks, which means I have been left to deal with the drawbacks of a taper, while still logging long distances. This hardly seems fair! If a graphical representation hasn’t made this new, highly scientific discussion clear, I will also include a more detailed explanation (discussion). Ultimately, I think I can work through the following race distance stages.

Stage 1 (Half-Marathon): I’m ready and feeling good- let’s go!

Stage 2 (Marathon): I could sure use a massage, but let’s knock this out!

Stage 3 (50K): I think my knees could definitely use the rest.

Stage 4 (50 miles): My back, knees, and shins are definitely feeling the training, but I’m ready.

Stage 5 (100K): Thoughts of seeing a PT or podiatrist creep in a few times a week.

Stage 6 (100 miles/ 24 hours): Those thoughts are happening daily. Can I just taper in the hospital to be safe?

After what can definitely be called an exhausting training period and academic semester, I’m definitely ready for my taper, as well as a bit of rest before January hits. Ultimately, I know the various aches and pains come with the territory, and I’ve put my body through a lot lately, so it has earned a more relaxed schedule. My endurance is up, and I’m as ready as I’m gong to be for this race, so focusing on the planning, organization, and nutrition will gladly fill my thoughts for the next three weeks. In my free time, perhaps I can shop this “law” around to various scientific journals. This publication showing up on my vita would definitely turn some heads!

Gear Review: Patagonia Houdini

Once again, I have pored over countless reviews and investigated the various attributes of multiple running products before settling on a purchase that I wished to add to my running gear bag. This time, the focus was a water-resistant windbreaker for trail running, hiking, and early morning runs. In searching for the perfect product, I considered multiple areas.

The Houdini has an athletic fit and doesn't constrict my movements, even mid-race!

The Houdini has an athletic fit and doesn’t constrict my movements, even mid-race!

  1. Cost- I knew I could spend hundreds of dollars but couldn’t justify the cost, so I needed a good value!
  2. Fit- windbreakers seem to end up fitting like garbage bags on me, and if I wanted that sort of fit, I’d just wear a garbage bag. I wanted to find something that was more form-fitting and wouldn’t get in my way.
  3. Lightweight and Packable- I don’t mind wearing heaving running apparel when it’s cold and snowy outside, but wanted something that would provide the protection I was looking for, and at the same time, not even alert me to its presence on my body. Fools errand?
  4. Water-Resistant and Breathable- I was aware that a fully waterproof running jacket was going to be much heavier and not necessarily breath as well, so I was quite content with a level of resistance for a light shower or cool mist. I am also well aware that I sweat profusely, so I need a jacket that isn’t going to drown me in my own sweat.
I'd say this qualifies as lightweight and packable!

I’d say this qualifies as lightweight and packable!

With these four characteristics in mind, I set out on my quest. I read reviews and watched video reviews for a number of jackets, ranging from the Stoic Wraith shell to the North Face Better Than Naked Jacket, as well as the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer jacket. Eventually, I was won over by the Patagonia Houdini. On paper, and from the reviews of fellow-runners, it seemed to have everything I was looking for, and wasn’t going to break the bank. I pulled the trigger.

The hood fits well, and zips up high without the need for elastic.

The hood fits well, and zips up high without the need for elastic.

I couldn’t be more happy with my decision! The Houdini has met and exceeded my expectations in every area. I purchased the medium, and opened it with a bit of trepidation, hoping it would fit like I wanted. Nothing drives me nuts more than the hassle of returning online purchases (ok, many things irritate me far more, but most of them aren’t running related!). I slipped it on, and it immediately felt great. The length was perfect, it was form-fitting, but allowed me a full range of motion, the sleeves wrapped around my wrists but allowed some stretch via a ½ elastic band design, and the hood fit well and tightened up nicely. I was eager to take this new third skin for a spin 🙂

The 1/2 elastic wristband fits wonderfully.

The 1/2 elastic wristband fits wonderfully.

After several runs ranging in length from 5K to 50K, I’m extremely pleased with my decision. The Houdini seems to flow with me while I run, without me really noticing that I’m wearing it. Whether I’m wearing a pack, or simply carrying handhelds, the jacket performs quite well. It breathes like a champ, and doesn’t end up sticking to my skin when the sweat begins to roll off of me. It has held up nicely during light rain, and I’ve been able to visibly see the water wicking off courtesy of the water-resistant coating.

The single zipper on the chest provides access to the pocket for packing up this lightweight marvel.

The single zipper on the chest provides access to the pocket for packing up this lightweight marvel.

When I’m done, it dries very quickly, and packs down into its own pocket to easily fit in your hand for storage in a pack. It will even fit into my Ultraspire waist pack if I’m running extra light. Some folks may wish for a few more pockets, but the lack of more pockets actually appeals to me. They end up just adding weight, and I’m not going to be storing anything in the pockets of a jacket while I’m running anyway so I’m happy Patagonia decided to go without them. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive (for the quality product you are receiving) and high-performance, lightweight running jacket, then I’d definitely suggest giving the Patagonia Houdini a try!

It’s not about the sticker…but if it was, so what?”

Many within the running community are all a flutter over a recent op-ed piece by Chad Stafko in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. He leveled some fairly hefty criticism of runners. More specifically, he begins his discussion by questioning the rationale for displaying 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and stating that their sole purpose is to draw attention to the person displaying it. He goes on to offer additional critiques, seemingly positioning most runners as attention-seeking individuals eager to make sure the world knows just how hard they work. I’ve spent some time thinking about his claims, trying to be as objective as possible, and would like to offer my thoughts. You may agree, and you may not. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

First, a few initial reactions:

–       When you are out driving, and you spot me running, you don’t know if I’ve been running for 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 miles, or 50 miles. More to the point, there are far easier ways to draw attention to myself than to run 50 miles.

–       You may judge my body in it’s current state, but you don’t know my history, and haven’t lived my life. It’s human nature to make snap judgments based on our initial encounters with individuals. That doesn’t mean we need to extrapolate out a life history from that appearance and context.

–       We post “family” stickers and don’t question them- why are you flaunting your reproduction and (typically) heteronormativity?

At least have some fun with it, right?

At least have some fun with it, right?

–       We post religious icon stickers- why are you flaunting your God and/or beliefs?

How often do we see this symbol when we are stuck in traffic?

How often do we see this symbol when we are stuck in traffic?

–       We add alma mater license plate covers- why are you flaunting your education?

–       We add sports team decals and license plate covers- why don’t you behave like a “normal” fan and scream at the TV like everyone else?

–       This is possibly the most expensive “t-shirt” I own…don’t critique my race shirt and I won’t  critique your Armani Exchange shirt or sunglasses.

I don’t know if you are a runner or not, whether you have family members that run, and I don’t even know what you look like, whether or not you have body image issues, or if you have ever suffered from depression or addiction. However, you’ve no doubt gone through something significant in your life and found yourself looking for support, and searching for a coping mechanism. Is it so hard to fathom that perhaps some runners don’t actually care what others think?

It's only fair, right?

It’s only fair, right?

We are indeed an individualistic society, and we have encouraged our most recent generation to expect instant praise and gratification for simply participating. There are blue ribbons for everyone, and no keeping score! This sense of individualism isn’t limited to running and athletics though. This individualism is directly linked to many other facets of our society. Heck, it’s the reason writers like yourself have jobs in the first place. You have the luxury of offering your opinion and sharing with on a global scale with others.

We may also be a culture obsessed with quick fixes. We want our education system to turn around in a year or we scrap the policy and elect someone else. We want the perfect job immediately after graduating from college. We EXPECT to go to college instead of viewing it as a privilege and an opportunity that many won’t get. Clearly, there are some entitlement issues in our society that need to be worked out. Perhaps a nice solitary run could help? Maybe we might all do some of our best thinking when we lace up a pair of shoes. It seems to work for presidents, heads of state, social justice leaders, prominent educators, outspoken activists, and countless everyday heroes we know nothing about. The last time I checked, Air Force One has never flaunted a 26.2 sticker, but perhaps those pictures were simply redacted.

We are also a society with a myriad of health and nutrition issues, which are clearly linked to economic, racial, and sexual identity concerns. Heck, we are well aware that we need to address the disparity in participation in organized running events of any kind. Right now, it’s middle and upper-class White folks buying those shoes, adding those stickers to their vehicles, and posting their post-race selfies. Running may not be the solution to those health and nutrition issues, but I’d venture to guess it’s doing more good than op-ed columns critiquing folks to make healthy lifestyle decisions.

So, nobody is questioning whether or not there are issues that need to be addressed. Nobody is questioning that our society, AS A WHOLE, has entitlement issues and continues to struggle in search of an individual and collective identity. However, in the grand scheme of things, the sport of running isn’t really worthy of the scorn you seem intent on bestowing upon it. There are a lot of really significant issues going on in the world, and right here at home that mainstream media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal, fail to report on daily. Perhaps you should be taking a harder look at those issues, and not worry so much about a group of people eager to celebrate healthy, positive accomplishments and milestones of human achievement they never thought themselves capable. There are folks in every group destined to attract undue attention to themselves, but for each of those obnoxious folks, there are 100 others out there running for the thrill, the joy of experiencing what the human body is capable of when you push it, the adrenaline that running provides, the release and reflection it provides. Furthermore, many of us are doing it long before your alarm goes off (don’t worry, we’ll stick to the sidewalks and wear lights), so you never have to see us on the street and wonder. And, in case you are wondering, I keep my sticker in my office. I don’t like adding adhesives to my car- it lowers the resale value and is impossible to remove 😉

Gear Review: It’s all in…or on your head!

The last month seems like a whirlwind of races and high mileage weeks! This is clear from the topics of my most recent posts. For the new few months, my schedule calls for my peak mileage weeks, some very long training runs, and then the uncomfortable taper leading up to December 28th and Across the Years. Now that I’m back into a routine of sorts, I can return to sharing some new information and thoughts that have been collecting in my mind. Over the past few months, I’ve added a variety of running-gear items to my training arsenal, and they have proven quite useful in various ways. Two such items find their home on my head, and have proven useful in a variety of circumstances.

Petzl Nao Headlamp

The first, and perhaps most significant running-related acquisition was that of a new headlamp. My running distances and durations have continued to increase, which inevitably means running in the dark. Additionally, I have aspirations of running a number of longer trail races that require quality lighting in order to navigate the technical terrain. Thus, I was rather focused on finding a quality headlamp I could rely on. After a great deal of research, and the utilization of several gift cards I was hold onto, I purchased the Petzl Nao headlamp. This torch is billed as the first “smart headlamp” and it truly lives up to its billing. The “reactive lighting” technology built into the torch adjust brightness according to where it is being focused. Thus, when I am looking straight ahead, it projects into the distance, and when I am looking down at my hands, the becomes dimmer to give me the light I need. The result is increased battery life, which is much appreciated.

You can see the sensor at the top and the LED lamps below.

You can see the sensor at the top and the LED lamps below.

The battery itself is actually rechargeable via USB, which is quite handy. When I opened the Nao after receiving it in the mail, I was skeptical of the size and weight of the battery itself. At first glance, it looks to be quite heavy and uncomfortable. However, the elastic band, coupled with the flexible upper portion which stretches over the top of your head, makes for a rather snug and secure fit. It can be a bit tricky to get the Nao fitted correctly to your head, but once you do, it isn’t going anywhere. The headlamp has stayed secure through a bevy of terrains, and I have not noticed any distinguishable movement that would cause irritation or rubbing. I did begin to notice the compression of the Nao after about 6 hours of continuous wear. However, I was able to take it off for a bit and return it to my head later. Although there was some minor discomfort, I don’t consider it significant enough to warrant a negative assessment. The cord that runs from the battery to the lamp may seem a bit cumbersome as well, but I didn’t notice any significant movement. There is an optional belt clip for the battery as well if you’d rather wear it around your waist to distribute the weight differently or keep the lithium-ion battery warm during the winter months.

The battery seems a bit big at first glance...give it a shot.

The battery seems a bit big at first glance…give it a shot.

The adjustment knob on the side allows you to shift between varying levels of reactive lighting and consistent lighting depending on your surrounding. The lamp portion itself is adjustable so you can position it more towards the ground for better night vision. The only downside to the reactive lighting technology emerged when I was behind another running with reflective clothing. The sensor in the Nao picks up on the reflection from the light hitting the garment, and dims as a result. In essence, the reflective patches on the vest of the runner in front of me was fooling the lamp into thinking I was closer than I was, and thus didn’t need as much light. In reality, this scenario is going to be pretty rare for most runners. Additionally, simply switching to constant lighting would have solved this problem. I just didn’t think about it in the middle of a race in the dark through a city I wasn’t familiar with and a route I didn’t quite know!

The Zephyr headband creates a secure fit.

The Zephyr headband creates a secure fit.

On top of everything else, the Petzl Nao also interacts with the Petzl OS, which allows you to set up customized lighting profiles for the headlamp and save them to the lamp itself. This can increase battery life, or accommodate various unique circumstances that you might anticipate while using the Nao. In reality, the OS might be a bit over the top for a headlamp, but it is a unique feature that some may enjoy for a bit of added control. Overall, I have been very pleased with the performance of the Nao and am looking forward to it being my go-to headlamp for longer nighttime runs and hikes in the future. The price tag may be a bit steep for some, but it is certainly worth the investment!

Halo Headband

I now move on to a much more simple piece of head-mounted running gear after discussing a rather technical and complicated item. I must first be very clear that I’m fairly certain I sweat more than most people. It seems to emerge from my body like an invading Cylon battle fleet descending on an unsuspecting Earth. I wear a hat, visor, or winter cap consistently while running in order to mitigate some of this moisture. My sunglasses help as well. However, especially in the summer months, I still find myself stopping to wipe the sweat from my eyes and mitigate the burning that eventually ensues. As a result of these circumstances, I was excited to give the Halo headband a try. The product seemed simple enough, with a unique sweatband built into the headband itself to direct sweat away from the eyes. I was skeptical of its effectiveness but willing to give it a try. I’m quite happy that I did! This headband just plain works. I’ve worn it under a beanie and under a running hat, and it has performed admirable. It fits very snugly to my head, and is fitted enough that I can fit my other hats over it without issue. I purchased this headband late in the season, as the temperatures were beginning to cool off. Despite this, I am confident that it will be my go-to piece of headgear for the blazing summer months, as well as a trusted accessory during the impending winter months.

Simple and effective.

Simple and effective.

My only critique, like the Nao, was that it seemed a bit overly snug after several hours of wear. Perhaps I just have a big head?! Either way, I would certainly suggest you give both of these products a look!

“Hey fag, nice spandex”: Homophobia, Sexism, and Athletics

“Hey fag, nice spandex”…I had just taken a drink of water, and hit the cross walk button at the intersection when  I heard them yelling. At first, it didn’t even occur to me that they were yelling at me, until I turned around and saw a group of teenage boys yelling out the window and pointing at me. By the time I realized what was happening, the light had turned green and they were heading down the road and back out of my life. I started running again, and didn’t think too much of it at first. I’ve crafted a career around addressing issues of oppression and ignorance, and I read and study the subject on a daily basis. I engage others in discussion, and challenge long-held beliefs in the hope that I can help students think more critically about the world they live in. In other words, it is second nature to me to encounter this type of ignorance. However, rarely am I the target of homophobia, sexism, or any other form of oppression for that matter. My White, heterosexual male privilege means I am most often in a place to examine these societal ills from the outside looking in. This time, it was different. This time, I was the target.

As I ran further down the road, and began to think more about what happened, a variety of thoughts passed through my head. I can’t say in what order they came in, or where they came from, but I will say that they felt more a gut reaction than a logical train of thought. What would I have said to those boys if I had been given the chance? Would I have responded as an educator? Would I have felt the need to correct their misguided assumption about my sexual identity? Would I calmly point out their ignorance, or respond more angrily? Perhaps I would simply educate them on the benefits of compression wear in endurance sports. Well, that was probably the last thought on my mind, but I wished it had been further up the list. Ultimately, I was angry. I was angry at their ignorance, angry at a society that allows their brand of ignorance, angry at their parents for failing to educate them (an assumption on my part, of course), and angry at the thought of them repeating their actions with their peers, or others in the community. I may have the educational background and confidence, along with my privilege, to not internalize their comments. I might have the luxury to recognize their homophobic slurs for the ignorance they represent. However, many young people do not. How would a comment like that impact one of their peers, whether he was questioning his sexuality or not? Would it change his mind about running, or any other athletic activity?

In the past few years, there have been quite a few groundbreaking moments in (major league) athletics with regard to homophobia, sexism, and the comfort of athletics. More and more athletes have elected to disclose sexual orientation, both as a means of releasing themselves from the burden they carried, and as a means of supporting equity and equality in professional sports. Other athletes have become outspoken allies. For the most part, these decisions  have been met with support, although there have been those that sought to criticize their lifestyle. I suppose bigots are equal-opportunity oppressors, right? It’s also a lot easier to spew homophobic remarks at someone online than it is to do so in person. The plethora of ignorant blogs and webpages maintained under the guise of free speech is proof positive of that.

jason-collins-openly-gay-athlete-570x758

This particular incident hit closer to home for me, though, and got me thinking more about how far we have actually come. Despite more and more professional athletes feeling comfortable coming out, athletics as a whole is still filled with homophobia, sexism, and gender stereotypes. For the most part, we may be comfortable with a professional basketball/football/baseball player coming out, as long as he still fits the gender stereotypes ascribed to professional male athletes. However, once you look past mainstream professional sports, the waters get a bit more murky. Are amateur athletes (think Olympic sports) given the same consideration when they come out? Does society respond as positively  or with as much support? Do women feel as comfortable coming out as men in athletics? I would say no to all three questions.

Clearly, the intersections of race, sex, class, and capitalism are hard at work here. There is a clear hierarchy in sports. Professional sports, mainly (American) football, baseball, basketball, and hockey occupy a different space than amateur sports such as gymnastics, track and field, distance running, figure skating, swimming and soccer. Those athletes, with few exceptions, are men. Title IX is now 40 years old, and has done a great deal for leveling the playing field, but capitalism has determined the size of the stadium and the number of tickets sold. These four main professional sports bring in the highest revenue, have the highest players salaries, and offer the most prestige. Not coincidently, mainstream society seems more able to overlook a player coming out of the closet, as long as he is still performing on the court. This doesn’t mean our society is somehow more tolerance or less homophobic. It simply means the business of professional sports is wealthy enough to overshadow the ignorance. So where does that leave amateur athletes without multi-million dollar contracts? Where does that leave athletes preparing for the Olympics in Russia, where they are given the double message that their ability is welcome, but their identity is not?

Yep...it really took this long.

Yep…it really took this long.

My mind was processing things at a rapid pace during the last few miles of my run. On top of all of this, I also found myself thinking about the choices young people make about which sports to become involved in. This is where those nasty gender stereotypes emerge even more completely. We begin sorting children into sports at an early age. Football, baseball, basketball, and hockey offer the clearest path to masculinity for young boys, and parents are eager to help their child punch that ticket. Now, please don’t misplace my critique for a disapproval of children playing sports. I think physical activity is key to a healthy lifestyle (clearly), and we should be doing even more to encourage activity as a means of curbing the out-of-control obesity rates in this country. Additionally, you’re not doubt thinking that young girls play all of these sports at an early age as well, and many of them continue their involvement through high school and even college. You’re quite right. However, the numbers most certainly don’t balance out, and retention provides an even more telling story. The media may love the story about the little girl who loves football and plays with the boys, and the NFL may pick it up and hold her up as a shining example of who knows what. Will she still be playing in ten years? How much media coverage is given to non-mainstream sports? Ultimately, in U.S. schools, athletics are central to masculinity, whereas they offer an optional identity for young girls (who of course need to be careful not to appear too masculine).

At this point, I’m guessing you are wondering when I’m going to get back to spandex, right? Well, here’s my full-circle moment. It’s not enough to be active or be athletic in the U.S. You still need to be the “right” kind of active and look the “right” way while you are doing it (see how capitalism sneaks back in?). If I had been wearing baggy shorts and a t-shirt, along with a pair of Nike shoes, those young boys wouldn’t have given me a second look. However, I didn’t fit their image of an athlete (plus they no doubt were unfamiliar with distance running), so I was targeted. Tight-fitting clothing is reserved for girls and women, unless of course its Nike or UnderArmor, and then capitalism trumps gender stereotypes.

Wrapped up in this discussion is the question of whether high school athletics should continue in their current stat at all. Young people spend a great deal of time on athletics, which is time they are not furthering their academic success as the U.S. struggles to keep pace with the rest of the world. More close to home, more and more parents are refusing to let their sons play football, especially, as the risks of head injury gain more and more attention. That, however, is a topic for another post.

When I headed out for my afternoon run, I had no idea that I’d end up contemplating the intersection of homophobia, sexism, and athletics. This discussion is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to interrogate with regard to my own positionality, my athletic history, and my privilege. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to have that conversation with those young men sometime in the future as well. Consider the invitation extended. What do you think? Let’s keep the conversation going!

My Gluten Elimination Experience

On August 3rd, I embarked on a short-term journey. I have mildly struggled with digestive issues, both while running and in general, for quite a while now. I had played around with my fluid intake, adjusted my nutrition, cut out processed sugar, and monitored my diet in the days prior to long runs. All of these steps provided me with limited success and increased comfort, but many of the issues remained. Those ugly “runner’s trots” still emerged, undeterred by my attempts to vanquish them. I had to be missing something. There was clearly more I could do to adjust my daily habits.

For more than a year, our household has been mostly gluten-free and dairy free (we still cheat a bit on the dairy, but we are both suckers for really good cheese…can you blame us?). However, there is no cheating on the gluten for the beautiful epicurean. I’ve still managed to consume limited amounts of gluten, mostly in the form of whole grain breads, cereals, and my ever-expanding taste for quality micro-brews! It’s been interesting to watch the change in our lifestyle as we adjust our shopping and cooking habits. Foods that had been tried and true staples for us went by the wayside, and were replaced with ingredients neither of us had much experience with, whether it be cooking or eating. Luckily, the epicurean has a culinary gift (as if the name wasn’t a giveaway), so she has poured herself into the task of learning how to craft amazing gluten-free meals, and embrace the anti-inflammatory that keeps most of her Sjogren’s-related pains at bay.

gluten-free

As a side-note, I should point out that our choice to eliminate gluten and dairy had nothing to do with the variety of fad diets that seem to be the rage right now. Especially within healthy-living circles, gluten-free has somehow become a trend and people with no actual need to eliminate gluten are doing so in hopes that it will make them stronger or healthier. There are definitely health benefits to eating gluten-free, and research to demonstrate those benefits. There are also health benefits to eating a natural, unprocessed diet that includes whole grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. If either of us had to choose, we would be including those whole grains in our diet. Alas, this is not a choice motivated by trendy media hype or experimentation. At times, it is frustrating to see people make that assumption when you explain your dietary restrictions, when in reality, eating gluten causes every joint in the epicurean’s body to become inflamed and feel as though her body was attaching her with burning needles. There is nothing hip about that. That is physiology and biology. *Ok, I’ll step off my soapbox now.*

As I was saying, our home has been free of most gluten and dairy, but I always consumed just enough on my own to never really know if it was impacting me. Since I still had no solution for my GI troubles, I decided to go on a gluten-elimination diet to see if that was indeed causing my issues, as gluten intolerance manifests itself in similar ways quite regularly. Ok, so I didn’t so much “decide” to attempt this elimination diet as the epicurean strongly suggested it over the course of a few months, and I finally, begrudgingly, gave in. I suppose it was a testament to my commitment to running that I was willing to give up bread and beer, right?

Prior to my dietary experiment, I thought I had a pretty good sense of the struggle that the epicurean and others forced to eliminate gluten go through. I had been with her for every meal, watched the early despair as realization after realization emerged with regard to foods she could no longer eat. I watched her strength as she adapted to a new way of life and adjusted her passion for cooking to accommodate her new restrictions. I was wrong. At the end of every day during that period, I went to bed still being able to eat that sandwich, muffin, or pastry. I could still select new beers to try. When I was alone, I could still walk into just about any restaurant and find something on the menu to eat.

gluten_free_running

I’m not naive enough to think that the last 5 weeks of gluten-free living provide me with a full understanding of a lifetime of avoidance. However, being in a position to need to make those choices for myself has given me a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the experience as a whole. My transition could have been much more difficult, but I luckily have a supportive partner who understands both gluten-free living, and my commitment to running and my health. However, this dietary elimination experiment still reared it’s head at the most random times. It would catch me off-guard when I would be out with friends have realize at the last second that I couldn’t eat something or drink something. I spent even more time at the grocery store reading labels, searching for substitutes to my staples, and putting items back on the shelf after I realized I couldn’t eat them anymore. I ended up craving meals that I rarely thought about before. I am much more aware of choice than I was before.

After 5 weeks, my system had been cleared of gluten for the most part, and it was time to test my body. A few days prior to my planned gluten splurge, I inadvertently ate a malted-milk ball, not even thinking about the fact that it had gluten in it (malt)! I did, however, figure it out when my stomach quickly started churning, and I started sweating and feeling nauseous. This was not a good sign! However, I was going to stick to my plan and not jump to any conclusions. On the Sunday following my birthday (with Monday being a rest day), I cracked open a delicious bottle of small batch Sam Adams that I had been saving. Not only did I enjoy that beer more than I had any beer in quite a while, but I was keenly aware of that fact that it may be the last beer I ever have (yes, there are gluten-free beers, but they are a work in progress, to be sure!). After a few hours, I didn’t feel any different. The next day, I was still feeling fine. Perhaps gluten is not the culprit after all?

If it was going to be my last, it was going to be good!

If it was going to be my last, it was going to be good!

I’ve had gluten only one other time since that beer, again with no reaction. However, I’m still not entirely convinced that it doesn’t have something to do with my bodily concerns. I haven’t felt overwhelmingly different, but there has been a slight increase in my “comfort” on long runs. I’ve also recently noticed that Gatorade, even in small amounts (when given by others), is too much sugar for my stomach to comfortably handle in addition to my honey stinger chews. I shall indeed stick to water and electrolyte tabs. So, at the end of this interesting experiment, I may not have a concrete solution to the questions I sought out to answer. I’ll keep experimenting. What I do have is an even better appreciation for the effort and energy my partner puts into her diet and the food we eat. Her strength, commitment, and adaptability inspire me on a daily basis, and I’m happy to know that we signed up for this endurance event together!

Introducing My Newest Running Companion, Looper!

I dropped the hint earlier, but can now officially announce the newest addition to our family, and my newest running companion, Looper! We’ve had her a little over a week now, and she is well on her way to being a faithful endurance athlete at my side for even my longest training runs. A little training, plenty of treats, and some positive reinforcement and she’ll be able to pull me along for 25 and 30 mile runs with no problem.

Introducing Looper!

Introducing Looper!

Shortly after I began running, I began thinking about how nice it would be to have a dog I could run with around town. I watched as numerous friends brought their faithful companions to our group runs, and loved the energy the dogs added to the run. I’m always amazed at how effortless they make it look while the person they are dragging along is probably running a good 20 to 30 seconds faster than they would otherwise. Now, I love our puggle, Baxter, like no other, but puggles really aren’t built for running. He’s a wonderful lap dog, and he will cuddle you until you can’t take it anymore, but running is not among his many talents.

I remember reading several years ago in an issue of Runner’s World about the best dogs for running. Even then, vizslas struck me as beautiful, intelligent dogs who could go the distance. They are capable of great distance, fast pace, running on technical trails, and they are incredibly trainable. As it turns out, the beautiful epicurean had long wanted a Vizsla as well for their trainability and energy.

Running is hard work.

Running is hard work.

Sometimes, fate truly does deal you a strong hand. I happen to have a running friend who breeds and trains vizslas for hunting competitions, and I had mentioned my love of the breed when we had first met. About a month ago, she sent me a message to see if we would be interested in a two-year old female. She had been training for competition and had been doing pretty well, but her love of humans seemed to outweigh her desire to track down birds, and she was a bit gun-shy as well. However, she was a strong runner, and a very happy and loving dog. She happens to come from a line of amazing champion dogs as well.

"Getting along" with her new brother!

“Getting along” with her new brother!

There is definitely plenty of training in our future, both around the house and as she runs on a leash (she’s accustomed to running off-leash out in the country), and she hasn’t fully settled into her new life, partially because she happens to be in heat at the moment. We’ve already been hitting the road though, and it’s been such a different experience having her along for the ride. I can already tell that it will be a new challenge to continue to pay attention to my own form while paying attention to her at the same time. However, in time, I’m hoping we’ll end up in sync, stride for stride, and it will be no different from anyone else running next to me.

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