Archive | November 2015

Why I prayed for Paris

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I put up an image that said “Pray for Paris” on my Facebook page yesterday. A few people took exception, saying that religion was the problem, and prayer was inappropriate.

In my various posts on social media I don’t mention God, religion, church, faith or prayers that often, so I wanted to take some time and explain why I put up that image, and also respond to those who call for an end to religion.

1) I love Paris – hardly an original sentiment! I love the restaurants, museums, shops, and the streetscapes. But another important part of MY VIEW of the city is defined by its churches: Notre Dame, St. Germain, and St. Sulpice are wonderful – but my favourite is St. Eustache, just north of Les Halles, and often called the church of the people of Paris. See the picture at top! On a sunny day, I cannot help but go inside each time I pass, and I always take a pew. Do I bow my head? Do I even kneel? Am I praying?

Yes to all three. But I don’t expect an omnipotent being to hear me, nor do I expect my prayers to influence a Jungian collective consciousness and somehow reach other people. Instead, I pray because I know that mindful meditation (setting an intention, and focussing on it while visualizing the desired path) really does work. I believe that the only ears that hear my prayer are mine, and the only mind it affects is my own, but the same technique that works for athletes and artists also works for regular people too. Thinking about kindness, sympathy, empathy and compassion makes us kinder, more sympathetic, more empathic and more compassionate. All good things, in my book.

In that way I genuinely believe that “praying for Paris” is a reasonable thing to ask people to do after a tragedy like yesterday’s.

2) #Endreligion. Nice hashtag…but how exactly would this be accomplished? There are lots of historical examples of trying to “get rid of religion” and: they never work, they violate civil rights at the least, and they always do more harm than good.

3) North America and Western Europe are the targets of radical Islamic terrorists. In that fight, who are our most important allies? I would argue the millions of our fellow citizens who are horrified by the acts in Paris last night – and who are also Muslim. Many of them are devout, true believers. And telling them that we want to “end religion” is not only against everything Western democracies believe in, it is a BAD STRATEGY, and pushes them into the arms of extremism.

4) Let’s ignore #2 and #3 above, and invent a magic wand that does end religion: no more churches, no more prayers. Wave that wand, and terrorism and war will go away? Maybe it would help a bit, I don’t know. But I look at the last century, and while religious reasons have accounted for some percentage of the terrorist acts, so have issues of language, race, ethnicity, politics, class, economics, power, and (especially) nationalism. Depending on the period and the place, they often have been far more harmful than religion.

I can’t prove it, but I am depressingly sure we could literally make all religion vanish – and we would just move on and find other ‘reasons’ to kill each other in terrorist attacks.

Instead of being depressed by that, I am going to remember the sunlit nave of St. Eustache, and focus on some positive and loving thoughts. Because I don’t think the alternative to that will make things better.

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14 tips on how to run for as long as you want.

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“How are you able to go for three hour runs whenever you feel like it? What does it take to do that?” So asked a young friend of mine just getting into running. She was still working her way up to doing 10 kilometers at a time, but was interested in how Barbara and I, without seeming to do any actual “training,” were able to fly into a new city and just go out for a 2-3 hour run any time we wanted to.

Although we have both run full marathons (42.2 km or 26.1 miles, taking about 3.5 hours) in the past, we don’t do that anymore and don’t really want to. Been there, done that, and it’s just too long for our fifty-something bodies. I am sure we COULD do it, but we know we wouldn’t enjoy it. Plus there are too many people, and the actual courses are usually not that pretty, what with the crowds and running on paved roads.

Instead, we run 20-30 km routes by ourselves up mountains, along rivers and canals, or through deserts: probably 10-15 times per year. How?

  1. “If you want to be the kind of person who will always be able to take the stairs…you have to always take the stairs!” There is no better to way to train for something than actually doing it. I don’t have any single specific way of training for 30 km runs. Instead, I do two things:
    1. I run a lot. When the weather is at least ok (March to December in Toronto) I run 30-80 km per week. Total weekly running distance helps builds cardio, muscles, and endurance.
    2. At least some of those runs are longer times and distances close to my eventual goal. More than two hours, and more than 20 km, and on a regular basis (2-8 times per month).
  2. No winter hibernation. In the past, I used to run a ton in summer, but really dialled it back in winter since I hate the cold. (Only doing 10-15 km per week, with maybe 8 km as my long runs.) That meant that I wasn’t in peak shape if I happened to be in Tel Aviv or Singapore in early March, so there was no way I could do 30 km. It also meant that every year I had to “get back into shape” which often ended up in my getting injured. Even though I am 20 years older now, I seem to get injured much less often by always being in (close to) peak shape and not letting things slide.
  3. I never run through pain. Injuries do happen, and as soon as something hurts even slightly (but in a serious way, if you know what I mean?), I stop. That is literal: a few hundred meters into a run I will stop, turn around and walk back to the house, and not run again for two weeks. No joking here: it means real time off, and running injuries do not heal just because you try running slowly, or “only” 3 km. And if I had kept running when I felt that first twinge? That usually means 4-8 weeks off. So pulling the trigger on an injury time out ‘early’ is much (much MUCH) better than being ‘late.’
  4. I cross train. I have done a lot of running the last few days in Zurich. I could probably run today…but why not do a hike instead? If I were in Toronto, how about a nice bike ride? I love running, but it can be tough on the body, so having a day of exercise where you still get the heart rate up, still get the blood flowing and the muscles working…but DIFFERENTLY…is a big help. Some weeks I may only run once or twice, and hike or cycle the other days. Important to note: I try to cross train at similar levels of effort and intensity. A 5 km bike ride or 30 minute gentle stroll doesn’t count as training in my book. The bike ride needs to be at least 2 hours long and at good tempo, and the hike needs to be at least 3 hours long, preferably up a mountain, and at a solid 5-6 km/h.
  5. Once every 7-10 days, take a day off. By which I mean no exercise at all. No weights, no swimming, no ashtanga yoga, no whatever. Studies show your body does better with regular days off. But please note it is once a week or so, not once every other day!
  6. 15 push-ups. Yup, push-ups. On all my runs, hikes and bike rides, I try to do at least one set of 15 “perfect push-ups” at the mid-point. Get someone to watch you and correct your form until you get it 100% right: utterly flat body, all the way to the ground…it is MUCH more difficult than you think. Doing 15 perfect push-ups is 10x harder than doing 50 sloppy ones. Why do I do upper body work in the middle of my aerobic exercise?
    1. It gets the heart rate up in a different way, and keeps your body working even while your legs take a breather.
    2. “You run on your legs, but you run with your arms.” Look at all good runners in the Olympics. The sprinters have huge upper bodies, but even distance runners have incredibly well defined arms and shoulders. Upper body strength contributes hugely to leg turnover, speed, and going up and down hills.
    3. And perfect push-ups work your core muscles in the stomach and back. I find that after about 1-2 hours of running or whatever, it is easy to get tired and a bit sloppy. Maybe I start slumping a bit? Doing those push-ups reminds me which muscles I need to be engaging while I am running, cycling or hiking. A strong core makes me run faster, easier, and less likely to be injured.
  7. Run quiet. If you pass people…and they scream in surprise? You’re doing it right! 🙂 Be aware of how much noise your running makes: too loud means you are probably heel striking or making some other ergonomic mistake. I weigh 90 kg, and nobody ever hears me coming. Not only does that mean I can run easy, it also means I am less likely to get injured. Running should never be about pounding the ground.
  8. Weigh the right amount. I have been struggling with my weight on and off for 30 years now, and running has helped me lose weight from time to time. But for the 2-3 hour runs I find I need to be in my sweet spot: under 210 pounds. If I am too heavy, I can run 10-15 km at most as a long run. Otherwise the extra weight almost always will translate into plantar fasciitis or shin splints or ITB. The longer distances are great AFTER you lose weight, but less good for actually losing it.
  9. Eat. Then again, once I am in the right zone in terms of weight, I find that I need to eat a lot to provide the right energy. Barbara and I eat almost no starches (no pasta, bread, potatoes, rice), overdose on fruits and vegetables, and also overdo protein. It could be lentils and soy, but it isn’t: we both eat 500 g EACH (or more than a pound) of salmon, chicken, pork, beef or lamb at almost every dinner. We also eat chocolate, butter, cream, avocado, olive oil, and so on more or less at will. Our weight seldom fluctuates by more than a pound either way, and I believe that our diet gives us the right fuel for our runs, but also helps us recover from our longer distances.
  10. Always change your shoes; never change your shoes. That sound weird, but both are true.
    1. If you look at my weekly distances, I do over 500 km every ten weeks. Towards the end of that period, I can always start feeling the longer runs in my heels, hips, Achilles or other. That first twinge is 100% reliable warning that the shoes are ready to be changed, so I buy a new pair ASAP, and throw the old ones out. I never keep them around “just in case”: running on old shoes even ONCE has injured me several times. That does add up – I spend about $1,000 a year on shoes. Then again, that’s a couple of rounds of golf or a few months of a gym membership. Cheap at twice the price.
    2. On the other hand (or foot) I try to always stick with the same brand and model of shoes. I have been running on Brooks Beast since 1989. A few times I couldn’t find that model, or thought about trying out a cheaper shoe. In each case, I was injured within a week! Back to the tried and true…
  11. Hydrate or die. There are runners who swear by gels and sports drinks like Gatorade. I used to do the same, but find that even on my longest runs I don’t actually need the extra calories or electrolytes: if I am properly nourished at the start of a run, 20-30 km of running doesn’t empty my tank. But I always run with water, and for the longer runs it is usually a backpack device with a hose, like a Camelbak. Most people know that you have to drink lots of water when it is hot out, but I find that the longer runs always dehydrate me, no matter what the temperature. It isn’t that you get heat stroke, or die of thirst. But if I am drinking enough, I feel better on the run, recover more quickly and am less likely to get injured. My rule of thumb? On any run over two hours, if I don’t have to pop behind a tree at least once, I am not hydrated enough.:)
  12. Stop watching the stop watch. I still have a Timex Ironman watch. I remember the good old days: doing intervals, watching my splits, trying to shave 10 seconds off my time for a particular run. All of that did help me reach a personal best (PB) in races…but it also made running less fun, made me more likely to be injured, and fed into my overall OCD mentality of measuring everything. These days I run with a normal watch, or even do away with it entirely and just look at the clock on the stove to see roughly how long a run took me. I don’t care about PBs any more…as far as I am concerned; EVERY run I finish is a personal best!
  13. Run for your wife! I don’t want to offend anyone who is currently single. But a bunch of the most romantic couples I know run together, and for long distances. If I had to spend 10 hours a week running or cross training and all that time had to be apart from Barbara? That would be a non-starter. Instead, we almost always run together. It brings us closer, aligns our moods (and appetites) and helps make long runs even more fun. Plus, we hold hands some of the time…see photo below of us finishing the Brussels Half Marathon. ❤
  14. Run with joy. There is scientific evidence that human beings evolved as long distance runners. Running isn’t something to do so you can eat more, so you can lose weight, get fit, or wear certain clothes. Instead, it is this incredible thing that almost all of us are capable of, and capable of being pretty good at AND HAVING FUN AT THE TIME. I don’t mean a certain pace, or winning some half marathon. But I believe we are all able to reach that same joyful point.

We can get off that plane, pull on our shoes, head up the mountain, and run for as long as we want. Happy trails, bonne route.

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To be clear, everything above is just what seems to work for me. It isn’t designed to win races.

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