How & why I became a runner.

Through the years, I was never too fond of traditional cardio. Science and theory has shown that resistance training complimented with cardio and a healthy diet must be performed routinely to reap the maximal perks of exercise. I hated cardio days early on in my fitness career. In fact, I dreaded them so much I would find excuses not to go. It just doesn’t have the same thrill as bench pressing, deadlifting, shoulder pressing and doing  biceps curl. There’s something more mentally challenging and exhausting about running on a treadmill, cycling on a bike and pedaling on the elliptical than doing strength training exercises. I could spend over an hour lifting weights but 20 minutes of cardio and I’m ready to kill myself! Despite my dislike for traditional cardio, I never stopped doing them.

Then something happened one Sunday morning in the summer of 2014.

The weather was picture perfect. Warm and breezy but not too humid. It was too nice of a day to stay in so I decided to go running at a nearby park that had an outdoor track. I ran 3 miles that day and I remember feeling like I just conquered something big. My endurance wasn’t very good, my lungs got really heavy after mile 1 and I panted heavily. But I still enjoyed the process of finishing. I didn’t think I would do it again but the following Sunday morning, there I was at the same park running again. After a couple of weeks, I increased my mileage to 4. I started to enjoy the feeling of having a goal in mind and going after it. Circling around the park track a number of times began to get boring so a couple of months later, I took my run to the FDR pathway along the East River.

Fastforward to 2015 and I recently competed and participated in the Airbnb Brooklyn half marathon, my first half marathon.

image1With my brother and sister at the finish of the Airbnb Brooklyn Half  Marathon.

Having participated in several races over the last calendar year and many more to come, I now consider myself an avid runner. Strength training will always be near and dear to my heart and my number one passion. But running has become a competitive source of joy for me and I plan to exploit it for as long as I can. There’s a unique challenge that running presents that isn’t quite like that of attempting a Deadlift 1RM or squatting for reps. The latter requires all-out, maximal exertion and power which last for about 90 seconds followed by an extended rest period. With running, there is no rest and there’s no use of force and power. The ability to get from the start to the finish without stopping is a mental challenge unlike no other. Being able to pace yourself so you can finish 4 miles without getting too tired after 2 miles is a unique challenge that many recreational activities don’t have. Basketball and football are our country’s two biggest sports and I happen to a be a big fan of both. The athletes who play those sports are highly conditioned and some of the best in the world. Yet I’d argue that many of them will struggle in a long-distance run.

Though I’ve only been a distance runner for a year, I’ve learned a whole lot. Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • You can muscle your way through a strength training working set but not through running. The ability to maintain a certain pace on a distance run without getting too tired requires mental, intestinal fortitude.
  • The beauty of running a long distance is knowing that there’s a short-term goal in mind : the finish line. This provides more of an incentive to embrace the challenge of the journey.
  • Many runners will stop periodically to catch their breath before going again. The urge not to stop at all is the key. This is the part of running that I personally find most enjoyable and a challenge I gladly embrace.
  • For first time runners, gradually increase your mileage ever week and month. For example, run 2 miles for 2 to 4 weeks before adding another 1 or 2 miles. I made the mistake of increasing my mileage too quickly early on and ended up with some minor aches and pain. As a general rule of thumb for beginners, add no more than a mile or 2 every month but always listen to your body and know when to take a step back if need be.
  • Good, running shoes are a big deal! Sneakers with high, durable heel cushion support are generally the best, though some seasoned runners run with flat sole sneakers. I battled with shin splints and other ankle aches and pain early on and still do today. In some cases you may need insoles or orthotics especially if you pronate. Again, pay attention to your body and see how your running shoes make you feel. As a rule of thumb, replace running shoes every 300 to 500 miles.
  • Stretching and strengthening the muscles of the glutes, calves, hamstrings and quads are very important for efficient running. Those are the muscles that are chiefly responsible for moving the lower limbs during a run. Soft tissue work like foam rolling and using a massage stick on the aforementioned muscles is recommended also.
  • Rest, diet and recovery are just as important as stretching and strengthening. The body must be feed with sufficient complex carbs and energy drinks to supply stored fuel during a run. Longer distance runs (above 6 miles) require more disciplined attention to detail because of the amount of stress the body will have to endure. Sufficient sleep and food the night before, pre-race meal and during-race energy gels/fluids will impact a runner’s performance. The days I’ve had my bad runs were usually preeeded by nights and days when I didn’t get enough sleep or eat enough of the right nutrients.
  • Aches, pain and injuries inevitably comes with the territory. Every runner has had their share of them. The repetitive stress the ankle, knee and hip joints have to endure will eventually cause some discomfort. As far as muscles, the hamstring is the most common site of injury. However the body adapts over time and becomes better equipped to handle the stress going forward. In the event of a running-related injury, take your time to heal fully and don’t risk returning too quickly.
  • Schedule days for cross-training (swimming, elliptical, soul cycle, rowing, etc). This allows the joints and muscles of your legs to recover while still being used at a low-to-moderate intensity.

Some people will never fully embrace running and I can’t say that I blame them. But then again, I used to be one of those people who hated running. Meanwhile I’m planning on running the 2016 NYC marathon.

A year ago, no way would I have ever imagined myself running a half marathon.

Once you control your mind, you can conquer your body.

Anything is possible.

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R.I.C.E vs. M.E.A.T

For many years, the R.I.C.E protocol has been the benchmark for nursing musculoskeletal sprains and strains (Quick reminder : muscles get strained and ligaments get sprained). It involves Resting the injured area immediately and embarking on treatment. This prevents reuse of the affected area and minimizes the risk of further injury. A big part of the treatment is Icing the affected area several times a day, usually no more than 20 minutes. Compression of the area is the next step and involves keeping the injured muscle or joint as immobilized as possible via bandages and compression garments (sleeves and stockings). The primary objective of icing and compression is to reduce swelling. The final step is Elevation of the injured area to promote and restore blood flow. R.I.C.E has proven to be an effective method for a number of years and is still utilized today by many physical therapists, strength coaches and personal trainers on their clients.

In recent years, a new alternative called M.E.A.T (Movement, Exercise, Analgesic, Treatment) has emerged and is threatening to replace R.I.C.E. Many of the current research and finding on M.E.A.T conclude that it is a more effective method for treating musculoskeletal injuries and here’s why:

Movement: Upon injuring a muscle, our natural instincts is to limit movement as much as possible. The M.E.A.T protocol suggests otherwise. Movement promotes fluid distribution towards and away from the affected area. Tissues of muscles must contract in order for this to happen. For example, an individual nursing a knee sprain can focus on the eccentric phase of the leg extension machine while a runner with an ankle sprain can use calf raises to circulate fluid to the muscles around their knees and ankles. Movements also prevents adhesion (when fascia sticks together and becomes wound up) which is common in musculoskeletal injuries. The bottom line is an injured muscle or joint can still move.

Exercise: This is a piggyback of Movement. Strengthening the muscles of and around an injured area sends fluid and blood to the surrounding muscles. Exercise selection is paramount and must be approached carefully. Because the affected area won’t be 100 percent, modifications and regression of strength training exercises should be called upon if required. This is basically the rehabilitation phase.

Analgesic: This requires the use of over-the-counter and prescription medications to relieve pain associated with an injury. Acute pain can initially make the healing and recovery process more challenging. NSAIDs like Tylenol and Aleve can be used in the early stages but should be discontinued down the stretch. Though they reduce inflammation, too much reduction isn’t good because inflammation is a vital process injured muscles and joints must go through in order to be healed. Keep in mind that too much consumption of NSAIDs can harm the liver so keep the dosage at a minimum. Other analgesic methods include acupuncture and the use of topical agents.

Treatment: This final phase includes lean tissue functional training and balance work to restore strength, mobility and stability in the injured area. It can also include the use of both cold and heat in the early stages of the injury. Keep in mind that cold reduces swelling while heat restores and promote blood flow. Both are crucial in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries.

In application of both R.I.C.E and M.E.A.T, consider the following:

  • R.I.C.E still has a place in pain management but it should mostly be utilized during the early phase of the injury when the pain is acute.
  • M.E.A.T should ultimately make up the majority of the recovery.
  • New research shows icing may not be as impactful on joints as thought to be. Ligaments have no blood vessels to transport nutrients to surrounding cells and since cooling slows down metabolism and blood flow, it can actually delay recovery of the tissue. As a rule of thumb, apply ice only to a swollen joint no more than 20 minutes, no more than three times a day for no more than 2 days.
  • In some rare cases, inflammation can actually speak up recovery because it is the body’s natural defensive mechanism against injury. The marines have a saying that “pain is weakness leaving the body” which is basically the point here. Some individuals have to go go through and feel the pain during the early part of an injury in order for it to heal.
  • To prevent frostbites, never apply ice directly on the skin. Instead use towels and protective insulating materials to wrap the ice around the injured area. Many health stores like Rite Aid and Duane Reade sell insulated icing wraps.
  • If you’re still in doubt which method to use, talk to your doctor or a licensed fitness professional.