Category Archives: Running

Death To Cardio

So long, Stairmaster!

After racing the NYC Triathlon last week, I’ve decided that I’m never doing cardio again.

In fact, I actually stopped doing cardio workouts a long time ago.

You may have seen me running, swimming and biking in this recent video clip, but that wasn’t cardio training – it was skill practice.

In the context of my overall training schedule, I don’t even see the race itself as cardio. It was a one-off endurance challenge, and really more mental than physical.

Trading Cardio
The difference between seeing your workout as “cardio” vs. seeing it as “practice” may be a subtle distinction, but I believe it is an extremely important one. People who “do cardio” tend to have one objective in mind: weight loss. As I’ve discussed before, exercise alone is not a very effective way to lose weight (you have to eat less crap in order to do that!), but the mindset you bring to any activity can greatly impact your experience.

Swimming for sure!

Rather than forcing yourself to simulate movement on a piece of machinery for a set amount of time, a better way to approach your training might be to work on skill improvement. While there are certainly benefits to “gym cardio” (improved circulation, increased cardiac output, higher oxygen uptake/utilization efficiency), part of what makes exercise worth doing is the activity itself. I personally never met anyone who genuinely enjoys an hour alone on the stationary bike, but it’s fun and exciting to do something like a triathlon – and all of us have that potential.

Skill Power
You can become a perfectly good runner without ever worrying about how many calories you burned, what your target heart rate is or even knowing exactly how much distance you’ve covered. And you’ll probably enjoy the process a whole lot more without wasting mental space on trivialities. Treat your workout as skill practice and the shift in perspective turns any health benefits into an added bonus. You might even forget you’re working out and start having some old-fashioned fun!

Don’t get me wrong – exercise isn’t always gummy bears and double rainbows, but it shouldn’t be torturous either. There are plenty of times when I feel challenged during a workout, but pushing through those uncomfortable moments leads to a better understanding of my body – as well as personal growth.

I firmly believe that any “fit” person ought to be able to run a few miles or swim to shore should they find themselves in such a predicament (in addition to being able to do some pull-ups, of course!). Besides, if you focus on improving at physical skills, you’re inevitably going to get in better shape along the way. Having a good body is nice, but being physically capable is empowering.

2012 NYC Triathlon Race Report

Ever since running the NYC Marathon back in 2009, racing the NYC Triathlon has been next on my fitness bucket-list. Well after last Sunday, I can now scratch that one off too!

The tri was a great experience, and finishing is an accomplishment that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. However, I went through many different feelings and emotions throughout the race. As the famous Dickens quote goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The Swim
The hardest part of the whole race was dealing with the anxiety in the morning. From the moment I woke up I had butterflies in my stomach; I didn’t really settle into my groove until a few minutes after I got in the water. As someone who never really swam as a kid, jumping feet first into the Hudson was the part that I was most anxious about. (Only the pros dive in head first, thankfully!) Once I settled in, however, the swim went very well.

Though it has a bad reputation, the water in the Hudson was no more disgusting than the water at Coney Island where I did most of my open-water triathlon training. There was some seaweed to contend with and I bumped into a log once, but it was pretty minor compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other triathletes (though I did catch an elbow in the face near the start of the swim).

The downstream current in the Hudson definitely helped with my time, though I found myself getting pulled to the left as well. I spent a good deal of the swim trying to steer myself back to the middle. Though I couldn’t see or hear much in the water, I was reminded very loudly by some of the crew who were following along in canoes to “STAY TO THE RIGHT!”

As the visibility in the water was virtually nonexistent, I didn’t realize I was close to the end until I was within about 100 meters. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to see it when I did!

The Bike
After the swim there’s a barefoot run (on pavement!) into the transition area, which is just a field with a bunch of bike racks on it. I took my time in the first transition since I wanted to carefully remove my wetsuit, clean my feet, have a snack, drink some water, pee, etc. I also wanted to check that all my things were okay (they were). Since getting a good night’s sleep was a priority for me, I had left all my stuff there the night before. (Many participants forgo some sleep to bring their gear to the transition the morning of the race).

The bike ride was longer and more challenging than I had anticipated. Between the July heat and the steep hills, the ride dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. Since I was in one of the later start waves, the pack had thinned out quite a bit and there weren’t many other cyclists around. There were times when I didn’t see anyone else on the road at all. As I was alone for much of the ride, it didn’t feel like much of a “race” at all – I took it slow on most of the hills and eventually I made it to the end.

The Run
Once the bike ride was over, there was a huge sense of relief. So many things are out of your control during the swim and the bike (someone crashing into you, a flat tire, etc), but once I was onto the run, I knew it was all up to me. Nothing could take it away at that point.

I took the first couple of miles slow and easy and eventually started to find my legs in mile three. I kept it at a steady pace, splashing cups of water on my face every time I passed the aid tables (I managed to get some water down my throat as well.) The last mile of the run I kicked it up a notch, triumphantly crossing the finish line with a net time of 3:36:13.

After the race, I picked up my bike from the transition area and rode five more miles back to my apartment, rewarding myself with one of my favorite indulgences: pizza!

I didn’t look at a clock once during the race, which I think helped me pace myself and enjoy the journey without getting caught up in any of the ego stuff. I just listened to my body and tried to stay at a moderate level of exertion for most of the race. The only time I turned up the juice was near the end of the run.

In retrospect, I know I could have done the whole thing faster if I pushed a bit harder, but I have no regrets about my performance. With all the things that could potentially go wrong during a triathlon, I am just glad I made it across the finish line in one piece.


Swim: 28:22

T1: 13:01

Bike: 1:49:46

T2: 3:34

Run: 1:01:31

Total: 3:36:13

Watch the video below to see a photo montage of pictures from the event.
(Photos by Colleen Leung.)

Beginning Running

As a kid, I got into working out because I wanted to put on muscle. Running had absolutely no appeal to me; runners were skinny guys and I wanted to get diesel. And besides, running sucks! Who the hell would just want to run around for hours for no reason? I was going to lift weights, do pull-ups and get jacked.

Ironically, most people who begin running are drawn to it for the exact reason that I was turned off – they want to be skinny!

Turns out we’re both wrong.

In the Running
Running has seen a boom in recent years, but along with that explosion there has also been a backlash. Distance running has been called “chronic cardio” by members of the primal community and has been blamed for countless ailments and injuries. A lot of the backlash against running is aimed at those who are motivated primarily by a desire to lose weight (and those in the industry who pander to them). Truth is, while running can burn lots of calories, unless you change your eating habits, you’re unlikely to see any significant weight loss from beginning a running program. In spite of this, I believe that everyone should give running a shot as part of their fitness program. Especially those of you who hate it.

For the Love of Running
When most people (even fit people) begin running, there is an adaptation period that can be unpleasant and frustrating. Once you cross that threshold, however, the improvement that you will feel in your day to day life is significant. The increased aerobic capacity and cardiovascular function is just the beginning. You’ll also develop leg endurance that can carry over into walking, stair climbing and other everyday activities.

Of course, the best motivation to run is simply that it feels great (once you get accustomed to it). Simple pleasures make life worth living and few things rank higher on my list than a good run. Running can be an acquired taste, but just like riding a bike, once you get the mechanics down and start to build some endurance, it becomes a whole different experience.

Designing a Running Program
In the beginning, start out with run/walk intervals. You don’t need to follow a strict protocol, just run at a steady pace for as long as you can (which might be anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes). When you need to, take a break and walk until you catch your breath. Repeat this process for 20 or 30 minutes, then stretch out and call it a day. In time, your walk breaks will get shorter and shorter until you can eventually go for 30 minutes without a break. Once you can do that, you can try alternating between jogging and sprinting for your interval training.

LSD Running
Anyone who’d want to run a Marathon must be tripping, right?

Seriously though, if you’re crazy enough to want to do a Marathon or Half-Marathon, be smart about it – you’re going to need to run at a substantially slower pace and gradually build up your mileage. This type of running is usually referred to as long slow distance or “LSD” running.

LSD running is slow enough that you can maintain a conversation while running, so feel free to invite a workout partner. Take your time on LSD runs, it should feel almost like how walking feels to a non-runner.

Running is Fun-ctional
For those of you who still think strength training is all you need, keep in mind that in the wild, you’re either quick or you’re dead. For that reason, running is the most functional bodyweight exercise out there. I don’t care how strong you are, if you can’t run, you’re not fit. But perhaps more importantly, you’re missing out on a lot of fun!

Related Articles:
Forefoot Running
Exercise vs. Skill
Barefoot Running

Barefoot Running Technique

By now, most people have heard of the barefoot running movement. You probably even know some wacko at your office whose got a pair of “the feet gloves” or better yet, those Born to Run style huaraches. Maybe you’re even thinking of trying it for yourself. Here are some things to consider before you jump on the barefoot bandwagon.

To Shoe or Not to Shoe
Barefoot running is appealing not only because it taps into our primal caveman instincts, but more importantly, because it encourages forefoot running, which is generally considered the safest, most efficient running technique. Forefoot running lessens joint impact and facilitates a higher stride frequency, which is often correlated with faster race times.

Will Barefoot Running Make You Faster?
Maybe, but probably not. However, barefoot running will help you learn how to run with less impact, which will reduce the likelihood of pain and injuries – at least in the long run (pun intended).

Transitioning to Forefoot Running
While running barefoot or with minimal footwear is a great way to learn the forefoot technique, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Even though I like to run in my Invisible Shoes, I haven’t thrown out all the New Balance and Asics sneakers that I bought during my first few years of running. You can learn to run on your forefoot in any comfortable sneaker (I still like to run in Vans, too).

When making the transition to forefoot running, it is common to experience severe soreness in your calves. This doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. It just means you’re using muscles that you aren’t used to using. In time, those muscles will become stronger and the soreness following a run will subside.

Keep your knees and ankles bent.

The Technique
Other than the obvious, there are a few key differences between the forefoot running technique and the heel-to-toe technique.

First, in forefoot running, your foot lands right under your hips instead of in front of your center of gravity. This does not mean that you’re up on the tips of your toes the whole time, but rather that your foot will land almost totally flat, with the heel just barely making contact with the ground. Maintaining good posture while bending your knees and leaning forward from your ankles will help facilitate this.

Kick out the back, Jack!

Forefoot running technique is more about using your hamstrings and glutes to kick out behind you, as opposed to using your quads to reach out in front. Don’t think about lifting your knees, instead just think about picking your foot up off the ground. The rest should take care of itself.

Another difference with barefoot running technique is that you aim to keep your foot in contact with the ground as briefly as possible. Rather than leaving your foot down there while you roll from heel to toe, in forefoot running, you strike down quickly and move into the next stride immediately.

Whether you choose to wear shoes or not, relax, focus on proper posture and listen to your body to avoid pain. Ease in slowly and gradually, allowing yourself time to adapt.

Watching the 2010 NYC Marathon

The NYC marathon always attracts a crowd and this year was no different. In addition to the 37,000 entrants, there were millions of friends, family and fans lined up to cheer on the racers, giving the entire city Marathon fever!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since I ran the NYC marathon, but time flies when you’re having fun. And hey – it’s been a good year!

This time around, I was excited to be a spectator. Being part of the crowd is almost as much fun as being in the race itself! It was a beautiful day and the positive energy was overwhelming.

The popularity of distance running is undeniable and everyone is welcome to participate. With entrants from all ages, nationalities and body types represented, it proved to me that anyone who sets their mind to it can run a Marathon.

Check out the photos below for more:

Age is just a number. So is 26.2.

Go Frank!

Viva Italia!


Heel striking in Vibrams? Oh and he's in a funny costume, too.

Photos by Colleen Leung

NYC Summer Streets 2010

For the third year in a row, the NYC Dept. of Transit will be presenting the Summer Streets program this month, shutting down automobile traffic on Park Ave. from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park in order to let people walk, run and ride their bikes.

Summer Streets will take place on three consecutive Saturdays this month (August 7th, 14th, and 21st) from 7am to 1pm. Millions of people will participate – don’t miss out on the fun!

I was grateful for summer streets last year while I was training for the NYC Marathon. Running those distances was so much more fun without having to inhale car emissions, plus the energy of my fellow New Yorkers running and riding along side made those 18 and 20 mile training runs go (relatively) quickly.

If you’re looking to do a long bike ride or run, take advantage of Central Park; where the Summer Streets path ends, you can still do several additional miles in the park (which you can do anytime of year!). At the other end of Summer Streets is the Brooklyn Bridge, which will also give you a few extra miles to run or bike.

Whether you live in the city or are just visiting NYC, it’s a rare treat to get to run in the streets without any cars! Summer Streets is a wonderful, free activity that can be enjoyed with friends and family or in solitude. I’m hoping to participate more than once this summer – maybe I’ll see you there!

Check out the official Summer Streets website for more info.

Finding Your Target Heart Rate

I got an email recently from a runner (let’s call him Jim) who had just started wearing a heart rate monitor during his training. Jim was concerned because at 56 years of age, his maximal heart rate was “supposed to be” 164 beats per minute (bpm), yet during his threshold run he managed to get his heart rate all the way up to 172 bpm.

Was Jim putting himself in danger by exerting himself too hard?

Of course not! Theory is for science; practice is for living.

What do I mean by that? Simple, Jim’s theoretical maximum heart rate is 164, but in reality he got all the way up to 172 (which for the record is definitely not the fastest his heart could beat.) Instead of assuming that something is wrong with Jim, maybe something is wrong with the chart that told him he couldn’t get beyond 164. Don’t be afraid to question things, people!

Don’t Trust the Chart

Bogus Heart Rate Chart

The heart rate charts that appear in many fitness books and manuals that come with heart rate monitors are antiquated and based upon the fallacy that as you get older, your heart gets weaker. This might be true if you spend your entire life sitting at a desk, but if you are an active person, there is no reason why your heart can’t be just as strong at 56 as it was at 26. The other major problem with the chart (and with all charts of its nature) is that it assumes all people are identical! There is no one thing that is best for everybody and heart rate ranges are no exception.

Finding Your True Max Heart Rate

So how do you find your target heart rate? I have a very simple test. If you have a heart rate monitor it will help, but you can do this test as long as you have two fingers and a pulse.

First, warm up with one or two miles of easy running, then step up your pace a little bit for another mile. Once you have a good sweat going and your heart is pumping, sprint as hard as you can for as long as you can! Then check your heart rate. Add 5 to that number, and that’s your max heart rate.

Oh and don’t be foolish. If you have a heart condition or if you’ve never run more than a mile, don’t try this test just yet.

Running the Williamsburg Bridge

Running hills has long been a cornerstone of serious running programs. Whether you’re doing threshold training or running intervals, running uphill is a great way to “ramp up” your cardio session. For city dwellers, running over a bridge can offer a nice variation on the classic hill run.

If you are in the NYC area, I recommend running the Williamsburg Bridge as it’s generally less prone to foot traffic from tourists as compared to the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge.

The Williamsburg Bridge runs from Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood into Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Wikipedia, the Williamsburg Bridge is 7308 feet (don’t worry, I did the math and it comes to about 1.38 miles.)

When you’re crossing the bridge from Manhattan into Brooklyn, the pedestrian crossing splits into two sections. Staying to the right is steeper on the last downhill portion so I generally prefer to stay to the left; very steep downhills take practice. (It’s still pretty steep on the left.)

I brought my invisible shoes (and my camera!) with me on a recent running excursion into my native Brooklyn.

Watch the video below to see how it went:

Running Accessories: FuelBelt

I’m not into having a bunch of fancy, high-tech running accessories these days; however, I am into staying hydrated. With the mercury rising as summer approaches, training runs that last over an hour can be dangerous if you aren’t taking in fluids along the way. That’s why I decided to try wearing a FuelBelt during some of my training runs for the Brooklyn half marathon.

The first time I tried the FuelBelt, it felt a bit awkward and cumbersome around my waist. After some experimentation though, I concluded that wearing it lower down around my hips was a more comfortable fit for me. A few miles in, I practically forgot I had it on at all. That is, until my thirst grew stronger–then I was sure glad to have it with me!

Part of why I like the FuelBelt brand is that the CEO of the company, Vinu Malik, is a serious triathlete himself, with 30 Ironmans under his (fuel) belt. Vinu’s ability to run his company and still compete as a triathlete should be an inspiration to anyone who thinks that there isn’t time for exercise.

The model I recommend for runners has two small bottles, one on each side of the belt, which helps keep it balanced. I found it helpful to alternate which bottle I drank from so that the weight stayed the same on both sides of the belt. They also make a four-bottle version that has two more bottles on the back.

The bottles themselves conform nicely to the shape of your hands and the squeeze top allows you drink without choking or spilling water all over yourself. The belt also features a small zipper compartment for holding keys, energy gels and other items. FuelBelts come in many styles and are great for long hikes and bike rides as well.

Trainer Tip:

Remember that you lose more than water when you sweat. Be sure to replenish your electrolytes during long cardio sessions.

Related links:

Heart Rate Monitors
Minimalist Running
Cross Training

Running the Brooklyn Half Marathon 2010

The morning of the race. The sun was just starting to come up as I got ready in my apartment.

You don’t need fancy sneakers to run long distance. This past Saturday I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon in my beat up, old Vans and it was a great experience. Finishing the race with a time of 1:53:33 (8:40 per mile) felt pretty good, too.

I started my day before the sun came up, making my way to Prospect Park just in time to line up for the 7am start. After running two loops of the park, we hit the streets of Brooklyn, going down Ocean Parkway all the way to Coney Island, finishing on its famous boardwalk.

When you run a distance this long, there are inevitably moments when you just want to stop. I usually have music with me to help with those times, but without my ipod, I had to rely on my own intrinsic motivation to keep pushing forward.

I used safety pins to affix the D-tag to my shoelace-free Vans.

Wait…You Ran the Half in What?
It doesn’t matter if you have $200 sneakers or $20 ones, as long as you have comfortable footwear and a good understanding of proper running mechanics, you can train your body to take care of the rest.

With the popularity of barefoot and minimalist running starting to spread to the mainstream, I expected to see a lot of minimalist runners out there. Instead it was the usual sea of Nikes. With the exception of one friend who raced in Vibrams (and a few people I saw in Nike Free’s), everyone else was running in the conventional stuff.

There were a lot of ups and downs during the race, but the best part about the Brooklyn Half Marathon was that I’d already expended a full day’s worth of calories by 9am. I had a lot of fun making up that deficit!