Running in Boxer Briefs: My First 5k Race

On Sunday morning around 7:45am PST, I participated in the SF Marathon’s 5k. Thanks to my discovery of Vibrams Five Fingers and a strong personal desire to push myself physically, I’ve taken a liking to running, (which I used to hate) and enrolled in a 5k. Outside of a few minor setbacks, my training has gone well and my knee has not really bothered me, thanks to the forefoot running style I employ with the Vibrams.

It was my first athletic competition in over 2 years (since retiring as a national championship winning collegiate gymnast) and I had a lot of fun. I also ran it in just a t-shirt and boxer briefs. Here’s how it went down.

Final Days of Training

After my last hard training run on Monday (Runkeeper), my ankles were pretty sore (I’ve discovered I overpronate) so I took it easy – icing my ankles a lot and taking ibuprofen to manage inflammation. I did a short, easy run on Thursday just to keep my cardio fitness up – it was pretty warm and my pace was both slow and yet difficult (Runkeeper). Not a great start but it would have to do.

I find running with music really helps me push when I’m tired so I put together a special mix that was around 26 minutes – plenty of time to get past the finish line. See mix in the footnotes. I spent some time in the days before imagining the path I would run, visualizing runners along side me and my staying focused on my own pace and pushing through the hard points toward the end. Remember kids – visualization helps you master skills.

Rest & Diet

I knew I needed to get more rest and move my sleep schedule closer to race conditions. The race was around 7:45am and I’ve typically been sleeping around 2:30am and waking around 9:30 – 10am. I ended up getting decent sleep on Friday but Saturday I went to bed at midnight and woke at 6:20am – so not great.

I drank a lot of water and tried to avoid heavy foods the week of the race. Nothing like the need to perform at optimal physical conditions to cause you to eat healthier. I avoided beer and desserts and tried to eat more fruit. Avoided coffee and soda too, so that the Red Bull would have a stronger kick (see Race Day)

Race Day

Just arrived. The starting line hasn't crowded up yet

I normally run in a pair of board shorts that have pockets so I can stash my iPhone to listen to music while I run, but I recently picked up a nifty little thing called the SPIbelt, a super low profile iPod-holding belt so I could wear a lighter pair of shorts. It was cold the day of the race so I wore sweatpants, an extra shirt, regular shoes with socks and a bag to change into my race gear at the event.

Ate oatmeal for breakfast, drank more water + a couple Advils, tried to move my bowels in the morning (to get lighter and offset “runner’s diarrhea”) but no luck. Drank most of a Red Bull on the way to the subway because studies have shown that caffeine and taurine can increase physical performance and endurance. Continue reading…

I’m Running a 5k

I never liked running as a kid.

I remember running the mile at gym one time and taking over 11 minutes. My dad made fun of me – “You let a bunch of girls beat you!” – and I was embarrassed. Luckily, as a gymnast, my job was to operate at 95% of my max energy for about 20-90 seconds and then rest. Sustained physical exertion wasn’t really part of my vocabulary. Wen I got to college we’d run a few miles once in a while  and I would hate my life. Panting, cramps, headaches, exhaustion. How anyone could enjoy running was beyond me.

(I bet you know where this is going)

In the last few months, running has become a really exciting and fun endeavor for me. I’m not running very far or very fast, but I’m really enjoying it. So much that it’s lead me to participate in my first athletic competition in over two years[1]:

On July 31st, I’ll be running in the SF Marathon’s 5k race [2].

What happened? How did I go from hating running to loving it? Three things: a desire to push myself, a pair of Vibrams Five-Fingers and RunKeeper.

A Desire to Push Myself

Since a bit before starting my startup, I decided to drop my gym membership. I was mostly working out at work, in quick, 15 minute break periods, and I didn’t want to pay the monthly fee. Unfortunately, this limited the kinds of exercises I could do – mostly bodyweight stuff like pushups, situps and pullups.

I have to say this – it’s a lot easier to push yourself when you’re working out at the gym than when you’re working out at home or in the office. I did do the 100 pushup challenge with my coworker Jordan which was fun, but doing a lot of pushups get kind of boring. I was looking for a new challenge.

Vibrams Five Fingers

These shoes and the barefoot running movement has stirred up a lot of controversy. A quick quote from a New York Times article on the subject:

Recent research suggests that for all their high-tech features, modern running shoes may not actually do much to improve a runner’s performance or prevent injuries. Some runners are convinced that they are better off with shoes that are little more than thin gloves for the feet — or with no shoes at all.

Plenty of medical experts disagree with this notion. The result has been a raging debate in running circles, pitting a quirky band of barefoot runners and researchers against the running-shoe and sports-medicine establishments.

After reading some of Born to Run, a book about a running buff who always got injured until he studied a tribe of indigenous people in Mexico, modeled their running style (barefoot) and emerged an injury-free runner, I wanted to check it out.

As many of you know, I blew out my knee doing gymnastics about 4 years ago and running seemed like it’d be out of the picture. But proponents of the barefoot running movement argue, and some scientific research suggests, that running barefoot puts much less strain on your knees and other joints because you are absorbing most of the impact through your calf rather than having the shock hit your heel and travel all the way up your leg.

I’ve also seen folks running Vibrams, which are very thin rubber shoes that are more like gloves for your feet – including individual slots for each toe. I thought they looked kind of quirky and cool, and decided in May to buy a pair and give the whole bare foot running thing a shot.

It was awesome.

Running in Vibrams feels great. It made me feel light and bouncy – like a kid. As a gymnast we generally train with no shoes or socks, so I really appreciate having sensation in my toes and the ability to grip the ground with each step. This was a turning point for me. I think I ran 4 or 5 days that week – just a mile loop near my house. It was almost fun. I even wrote down my times for the first couple runs – (which were terrible)- but for the sake of transparency I’ll share them:

  • 11:47 (yes, that is barely 5 MPH!)
  • 11:32
  • 10:59
  • 10:21
  • 10:07

I started off miserably slow, but it’s amazing how fast the numbers start dropping once I kept working at it. But the final piece to the puzzle here is some technology:

The RunKeeper iPhone App

I first encountered this app in my Facebook news feed like 6 months ago, but re-remembered it after I started thinking about how I was going to track my progress when I didn’t know how far or fast I was running at any given time.

Cue RunKeeper. This is one powerful little app. It tracks where I’m going, how fast I’m going and gives me audio coaching on how I’m keeping up with my target pace. I get map of where I went, elevation metrics and an easy way to let my friends know I’ve been putting miles in.

In general I’m not a huge “data freak” who tracks everything they do, but RunKeeper makes it easy and useful, which is just a huge plus. It’s free too so if you’re a runner, I definitely recommend you check it out.

——-

To tie this all together: my desire to push myself is what caused me to give running a shot, the Vibrams have made running fun and interesting and RunKeeper has allowed me to track and measure my progress, which gets me interested in running farther and faster.

I’m really glad I’ve found a way to enjoy running. As I said earlier, I’m not running very fast or very far, but I love being able to push myself physically in a new way. I end most runs tired but not exhausted (once in a while, I’ll really push myself) and I feel great for the rest of the day.

One minor cavate to this positive story though is that I did sort of strain my calf recently. It makes sense – all that impact is getting absorbed by the muscle in the calf – it’s a lot to handle and I ramped up my miles pretty quickly. I was careful though and took a full week off from running and now I’m back in the game. Yay!

I’ll let you know how the race goes as well. My expectation is that I’ll run it in under 25 mins (you can see that I did 3.14 miles in 27:39) but my stretch goal is to do a sub 20min. I have a feeling I’ll be pretty juiced up at the starting line and the adrenaline boost might take some minutes off my pace. We’ll see.

Thanks for making it all the way to the end of the post. Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your experiences with running or your feedback in the comments!


FOOTNOTES [1] I’m still somewhat skeptical about whether or not running is a sport. It’s physical effort, that’s for sure. But is splitting wood a sport? How about endurance dancing? I guess if it requires physical ability, can be competitively measured and enough people do it, it’s a sport. [2] The SF Marathon has an interesting “Progressive Marathon” concept where you run 23 miles, tracking it on a workout sheet, before doing the 5k and “completing the marathon”. [3] I actually strained my calf recently and took a week off to recover, so it’s true that somethings my enthusiasm and “push through s you can probably see in July I’ve only run once, due to a strain in my calf, but

Running is a Fundamental Part of the Human Experience [video]

Can’t see the video below? Click through to the blog post.

I used to hate running. As a gymnast, the 90 feet down the vault runway was the farthest I had to go – except once in a while on Saturdays where we’d go out running and I’d breathlessly stumble my way through a mile or two.

I’m now running a couple times a week and loving it.

I’ll write more about this new found love soon – but this old Nike commercial just reminded me how integral running is to the human experience. Definitely gets me pumped for tomorrow morning’s run.

How Working Out Makes Us Better Entrepreneurs

I co-wrote a post with the awesome Derek Flanzraich which first appeared here: Protip: How Working Out Makes Us Better Entrepreneurs – got a fair amount of attention on Hacker News too. Hope you enjoy it! We’ve got another related post coming up so make sure to keep checking Derek’s site as it’ll post there first. (photo credit “Pumping Iron” by Midiman on Flickr)

We’re entrepreneurs. We pour unbelievable amounts of time, hustle, and blood into our companies, making sure the product is amazing, the users are delighted, the team is inspired, and the investors are excited about the future.

There’s a lot to do and we’ve got to have the energy and the stamina to last through some very full days. It’s not easy, but we’ve been pulling it off. What’s our secret weapon in this battle against crushing work loads? It’s not an app. It’s not a pill. It’s not a version of GTD. It’s just a simple thing we call working out.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Working out isn’t just about looking sexier, but about getting more out of your mind and body. Most entrepreneurs who get regular physical activity find that there are many other (more practical) reasons for heading to the gym/bike trail/yoga mat. Here’s why we do it:

ENERGY.

Perhaps it’s strange to think that expending energy provides more of it, but a 2008 study found that regular low-intensity exercise increased energy by 20% and reduced fatigue by 65% for sedentary people. Work days are tough, big deadlines are stressful, and there are always so many things to do– but we’ve found just an hour in the gym can give us the extra juice we need to power through the day. And on the really busy days when we don’t have an hour to spare, we’ll usually still end up taking 20-25 minutes for a short run, brisk walk, or a set of pushups & situps. We blow off steam and then return happier and more energized.

FOCUS & DECISION-MAKING.

Working out also helps us get mentally sharper. When you’re constantly juggling different tasks and keeping a variety of perspectives in mind, you’ve got to find ways to bring it in. Sometimes that means clearing your mind completely. Trust us- when doing that third set of squats or pushing for the final mile on that run, you aren’t going to be worried about your user growth or the bazillion things you want to change about your website. Clearing your head can help you be more productive when you dive back into the issues.

Additionally, physical activity directly improves your ability to think and make the right calls. By improving your circulation, your body can pump blood and deliver nutients and oxygen to your key organ (like your brain) more effectively. Physical activity does a killer job of delivering nutrients and oxygen to your tissues. One study, for example, used neuroimaging to demonstrate that older adults saw measurable increases in focus and decision making after engaging in a 6 month fitness regimen. Another study in 2010 found moderate exercise resulted in a short-term 5-10% improvement in executive function. So working out can help you be sharper and avoid making blunders that you’ll regret after.

BETTER IDEAS.

What does Brad Feld, founder of Tech Stars do when he wants to think about an idea? Hegoes for a run. Bob Iger, President & CEO of The Walt Disney Company, works out at 4:30am every morning with a personal trainer. OnSwipe’s CEO, Jason Baptiste, just raised a $5M Series Awesome– but he’s been working out for more than 10 years and constantly tweets about being at Crunch late into the night. We’re constantly surprised by how many important insights come from things that are totally unrelated to work. One of us, for example, swears by taking long showers. Another on taking long car rides without any set destination. It makes sense right? How many breakthroughs happen while staring for hours into a computer screen?

Again, the evidence isn’t just anecdotal: one study showed that participants that engaged in moderate cardio exercise showed more creativity immediately following the exercise, with the boost continuing at least 2 hours later. In the longer term, another study found the brains of people who exercise regularly have higher levels of brain derived neurotropic factor, a “factor” that ultimately increases capacity for knowledge. Working out just gives you better ideas.

REST.

Sleep? What’s sleep? Unfortunately, there’s pretty definitive proof a good night’s sleep can improve your concentration, productivity and mood. And, worse, lack of sleep isstrongly correlated to weight gain. But the good news is regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep, too- as long as you don’t work out to close to bedtime. And by the way, the good night’s sleep is pretty non-negotiable. A recent New York Times article reported a study that showed people who slept 6 hours a night for two weeks had the cognitive equivalent of being drunk. You don’t drink (a lot) on the job do you? Then get more rest.

Long story short, not only will working out make you healthier and look better (with other unintended, but awesome side effects like, say, improved confidence), but also it will improve your energy, focus, efficiency, inspiration, and rest. At least that’s what we’ve found.

Give it a shot – we promise you won’t regret it. And if you need help making it work, stay tuned. The next part of this series will give some practical pointers on how to get more exercise into your schedule.

How does working out make you a better entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments!


Jason Shen is the cofounder of an early stage tech startup in San Francisco. He’s a former NCAA gymnastics national champion, can do 100 consecutive pushups and helps people make things happen at his blog: The Art of Ass-Kicking. You can reach him at jasonyshen [at] gmail [dot] com or @jasonshen.

Derek Flanzraich is ceo & founder of Greatist, a high-quality health & fitness media startup working to inform and inspire people to make one healthier choice per week. He loves any exercise that’s named after superheroes. You can reach him at derek [dot] flanzraich [at] gmail.com or @thederek.

Want to read other stuff by us? Check out Winning Isn’t Normal by Jason and Build Empires, Not Businesses by Derek.