Saturday, December 4, 2010

Blog<Running> The Perils of Running

The Bad News

So I went for a run today, down by a green belt that has a nice bike/walking path running through it. On my way home, I didn't lift my foot high enough and stubbed my toe and tripped over a raised sidewalk panel. On the way down, I remember making a noise like "WULLLAAG!" I then landed kind of awkwardly on my knee and hand. Here are a few pictures:

(Wounded Knee)

(The Dirt Makes It Look Worse Than It Is)

I ran home the remaining quarter of a mile and didn't notice the knee until I got to my door. The cleaning process was not very fun. Here's a pic after several cycles of running water, soap, and hydrogen peroxide:

(Clean Enough To Eat Off Of. Yum!)

I made a trip to Wal Mart to get giant bandaids and neosporin. Not sure how long this is going to take to heal.

The Good News
The good news is that the preceding 3 miles of my run were pretty awesome. The path I ran on goes through a green belt so there was a lot of interesting stuff to look at. I ran by a bunch of joggers and walkers. I even had a short conversation with a young kid on a bike (with training wheels, so we kept each others pace for a while). By conversation, I mean that he reminded me to watch out for glass for about a minute. I'm pretty sure that his dad said something to him when I ran by them a few minutes earlier.

The other bit of good news is that I've now beaten my distance record by about a third of a mile, up to 3.33 miles. And no pain in my feet or ankles!

A Positive Change
I've been switching up my normal weekly running routine. Before the change, I was trying to run the same distance at about the same pace every day. The problem is that it limited the progress I was making. Running 1.5 - 2 miles every day takes its toll. I wasn't giving my feet time to recover from the previous days' runs before asking them to do it again. I ended up with a bruised tendon on my left foot, and it limited the maximum distance I was able to achieve on any given run to about 2 miles.

After letting the tendon heal (by sitting at home for a week... boo), I decided to make a change that corresponds to my resistance training schedule. Basically, on M-W-F (resistance training days), I run a mile. On T-Th I run between 1.5 and 2 miles. On Saturday or Sunday I go as far as I can before my feet (or any other part of my body) tell me to stop, and on the other day I rest.

After 3 weeks, it's worked out pretty great. During the first week, I managed to get up to 3 miles for my long run. Last week was Thanksgiving, but I still managed to get 4.5 miles in. And this week, despite only running 4 days, I have run almost 8 miles, and 3.3 on my long run.

It's been cold and my weekday runs are at night, so that is another factor in why I made the change to do shorter distances throughout the week. But so far, the cold hasn't prevented me from going barefoot. Although if I hadn't been able to gradually transition into the cold weather, I'm not sure if I would have stuck with it all the way until now.

Despite the minor setbacks, I feel like I'm on the right track. I probably won't reach my goal of 5 miles by the end of the year, but I've already run further than I've ever gone before. And I don't feel like there is anything holding me back to go and faster and longer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Running Log - Tuesday, 10/26/2010

Dist: 2.5 mi
Shoes: barefoot
Had an awesome run tonight! Recently, the big toe and inside ball of each foot have been feeling tender after about 2 miles of running. Because of my flat feet, I tend to overpronate which causes me to use my big toe for stability. The added pressure on that part of my foot is what was causing the tenderness.

I played around with my form a little, trying to minimize the unevenness and I think I may have fixed it. I angled my feet so that if I formed a straight line from my heel to my big toe it would point slightly inward. I believe my feet were pointing outward before, especially on my right foot.

As soon as I made the change I noticed a difference in my form. I could tell that I was landing (and lifting off) more evenly on the entire surface of my feet. And on top of that, it made an immediate improvement in my pace. The loop I run has a slight hill, and on the downward part I felt like I was flying. I have no idea how fast I was going (I don't carry a watch; just shorts and my house key), but it was way quicker than my usual pace. I'm feeling a little muscle soreness, probably from engaging new muscles, but there was no other pain. I ran 2.5 miles, but my feet felt like they could have done more.

I also had an interesting conversation with one of my neighbors. She was walking her dog with her son and she asked me about my bare feet. She seemed skeptical at first, but in the end she seemed fairly open to the idea. It's been pretty neat how interested random strangers have been, and then getting an opportunity to explain it.

Oh, and to top off an already good night, I have now run 50 miles barefoot this year (since late August). Going to shoot for a 3 mile run this weekend, and then maybe sign up for my first ever 5k!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Blog<Running> A Few Barefoot Running Videos

After my last post, I realized it might be helpful to see what barefoot form looks like. Here's a few I watched when I was was in the beginning stages and a couple more that I found more recently. Note: none of these are of me. Maybe I'll get Lauren to record me running sometime, but for now this is what you get:

Intro to barefoot running:

A follow-up video by the same person:

Video of a woman running barefoot:

Long video of a barefoot runner. Kind of crappy sound quality, but his speed is pretty impressive.

And one more (notice the smile on her face at the 1:00 mark)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blog<Running> Beginner's Guide To Barefoot Running

I've had several people ask me about barefoot running over the past few weeks, so I figured I'd compile everything I've learned into a handy guide. Please keep in mind that I've only been doing this for a few months and that I shouldn't be considered an expert.

Why Do You Run Barefoot?
I get asked this question a lot. It's kind of hard to dive into my personal reasons for ditching shoes without sharing a bit of my running history first. Luckily, I've chronicled most of it in a few posts which are way too long for humans to read. But, maybe you're a robot, or some kind of super-intelligent literate cephalopod (we're equal opportunity here at Blog). In that case you can find my first 2 posts about why I started running here and here. And then maybe read a few posts where I started to realize that losing the shoes could be more fun: here and here.

Everyone probably has a different reason for trying barefoot running. For me, I just wanted to learn how to run. Period. I tried running in traditional running shoes and I ended up injured. I tried jumping feet first into the minimalist movement with a cool pair of toe shoes and I ended up injured again.

I tried barefoot running as a last-ditch effort before throwing in the towel for good, and all my previous pain has gone away. For me, barefoot running started as a way to avoid injury, and it turned into something that I find rewarding, freeing, and fun.

Most of the advice I'll be giving later in this post applies to minimal running as well. Not everyone is as dense as I am when it comes to learning proper "natural" running technique, so the minimal shoes might work out better for you than they did for me. But if you get frustrated or injured in your new "barefoot" shoes, remember that you can always take them off. While the soles of your shoes might be thin, the feedback of your bare skin just has no comparison. It made a world of difference for me.

How Pain Teaches Proper Technique
Pain is bad. A repeated painful motion can lead to long-term injuries. Pain from running is caused by 2 things: improper technique, and over-training. The underlying principal of barefoot running aims to solve both of these problems.

Traditional running shoes try as hard as they can to mask pain. That's why they put an inch of padding, rubber, gel, air, etc... between your heel and the pavement. The problem is that they can't tell you when you are running incorrectly. You could be pounding the pavement for miles before you start feeling any pain, and at that point you don't know what specific movement caused it. I used to get shin splint pain anywhere from 1-24 hours after I stopped running. How are you supposed to know which part of your form is incorrect, when you don't get feedback until it's too late?

By taking off the shoes, you remove all that extra stuff that is meant to hide the pain. Now, if you take more than 3 steps with bad technique, you will feel it immediately. If you overstride or push off with your toes, you will feel friction and get blisters, or maybe shin splints. If you don't land with your knees bent, or run with a straight posture you will bruise your feet from the impact. If you don't engage the entire surface area of your foot, you will get pain from over-use. Barefoot running teaches you to avoid this type of pain, and the benefit is that it naturally teaches you proper running technique.

So one of the most important things to remember when starting out is that pain is bad. Do not try to run through pain. Either your technique needs improvement (change your form until it doesn't hurt anymore), or you are doing too much too soon (call it a day).

Okay, enough with the boring stuff, let's move on to the actual advice...

Take It Slow!
If you are a typical Westerner, your feet have been locked up in shoes for most of your life. They have become dependent on all the support, padding, motion control etc... In short, your feet have become incredibly weak. I'm not talking about just your muscles, but also bones, ligaments, tendons, and skin. As you use them more they will get stronger, but for now remember that it's going to be a slow journey.

Your first barefoot run should be no longer than half a mile, but in all likelihood your feet will tell you to stop sooner. Your first time, you will probably end up with blisters, or bruises, or pain in the top of your feet. When you feel this kind of pain, stop and take at least a day off before trying again. You don't want to make the pain worse, as it could lead to injury. While you're resting, read the section about pain avoidance to see what you need to change. Starting off by walking barefoot is another good piece of advice that I wish I would have taken when I started.

Run Gently!
You need to avoid heavy and sudden impact. Without any protection between you and the ground, you can't afford to stomp or plod your way down the road. Fortunately, humans are practically engineered for this type of quick and light movement. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you go out on your first few runs.
  • Land on the front or middle part of your foot. Heel-striking is only possible if you are wearing big clunky shoes with a bunch of padding in the heel. If you run this way barefoot, you will bruise your feet. Instead, focus on landing on the entire surface of your foot. You should land slightly on the front of your foot and then immediately touch down with and heel. The more surface area you use, the more you will benefit from your arch's natural shock absorbency, and the less pressure you will put on any specific area.
  • Run on pavement/cement/asphalt. A smooth hard surface is the best place to learn proper technique. Roads and sidewalks are relatively flat and frictionless, and are hard enough that you must run softly to avoid pain. Save the grass and sand for special occasions. I recommend that you do 90% of your initial learning phase on a hard surface.
  • Take short quick strides. The less time you spend in the air between each stride, the less impact you will feel when you land. You can recover from many small impacts much easier than from a few large impacts. Imagine the difference between a car crash at 40 miles per hour and a few fender-benders at 15 miles per hour. Which one does more damage to your car? To your body?
  • Land with your feet directly under your hips. Over-striding causes a braking motion throughout your legs. When your foot lands in front of you, you nave to expend more energy to push yourself up and over it. This extra energy puts stress on your feet, shins, and calf muscles. It can transfer the impact force all the way through your ankles, knees, hips and into your spine.
  • Bend your knees. Your leg needs to act as a kind of spring. This means bent hips, bent ankles, and bent knees. As you land all of these joints should flex, storing energy to be released when you take to the air again. If you feel your feet plodding or slapping the ground, you probably need to bend your knees more.
  • Straight posture. You do not want to slouch or lean back. Your back, neck, and head should form a straight line. Any lean should be slightly forward and from your hips or ankles, not your back or head. Having a strong core allows you to use your body's center of mass to maintain your momentum.
  • Relax! You are way more likely to run lightly and with minimal impact if you are not tensed up. Remember that it's about staying injury free and having fun. Try smiling. It will freak out all those grimacing joggers to see you having fun while they're repeatedly pounding their feet into the ground.
One good way to think about running is as a controlled falling motion. Lean forward enough and you will start to fall. You will naturally move your foot to land under you before you face-plant. The momentum of this falling motion is what propels your body forward, not any kind of push from your feet or legs. Your legs are just there to make sure you stay somewhat in control and to efficiently store and release the impact of landing. You can easily control the speed of your run by changing the angle of your lean (it doesn't take a big change in your lean to cause a drastic change in speed.)

So What Role Do Your Feet Play?
Your feet are extremely sensitive instruments. They can feel a pebble or a slight change in the grade of your running surface and react instantly. They are like the active traction control system in a luxury sedan. If the ground slants in some weird direction, your foot will land in a way that keeps your leg directly over your center of gravity. If you land on a pebble, your foot will naturally relax around it, allowing you to keep running with only a small discomfort. In short, they allow your body to land in a way that provides maximum stability, support, and traction.

What Role Don't They Play?
Your feet should not contribute to your forward movement. Doing so is the fastest way to an over-use injury. Imagine for a second that you are pushing something heavy with your hands. Do you spend a lot of energy extending your fingers and wrist? If you are like me you only use your hands for placement or grip, and then you use your arms, chest, core, and body mass to move the heavy object. The reason is that your hands do not have the strength because that's not what they are designed for.

Your feet and ankles are built in roughly the same way. So, don't "push off" with them. Instead, allow them to provide your foundation and connection with the ground and then use your legs, core, and center of gravity to actually move your body forward.

I Did What You Said, But I Still Got Hurt
Over the past few months, I've encountered a lot of pain. It's one thing to read about proper form, and it's another to convert that knowledge into the proper movements. If you experience any pain, I've probably felt it before and can give a few pointers.
  • Blisters. Blisters are caused by 3 things. Heat, moisture, and friction. Hot roads might mean you need to cut your run a little short. Moisture from rain or sweat just means you need to be extra careful about how your feet contact the ground. Landing in front of your body can cause your feet to slide. Which brings us to friction. Friction is caused by a few things. Most likely is that you are landing or pushing off on only one part of the foot (usually the ball of the foot). The problem is that it puts most of your body weight on a disproportionately small surface area. Your skin just isn't mean to handle that type of pressure for too long. The solution is to try to shorten your stride so that your foot lands directly under you. This also increases your stride-rate so that your foot physically spends less time on the ground. Try to land on as much of your foot as possible, and then try to lift it straight up without pushing off with your toes. Also, avoid any twisting motion. Once your foot is on the ground, it should stay motionless until it leaves again.
  • Shin Splints. Shin splints are caused by 2 things: over-striding and over-use. The first one can be solved by shortening and speeding up your stride (seeing a common theme?), and the second just means you need to take it a little slower. My shin splints went away naturally when I corrected my stride to avoid blisters.
  • Top of Foot Pain. Top of the foot pain is caused by "pushing off" with the ball of your foot. Your foot muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments are not meant to endure that much stress. You can easily correct this problem by focusing on lifting your foot instead of pushing off with it. Your entire foot should lift off the ground at the same time. It helps to try pulling your toes and ball of the foot up before the heel. You can also try running on gravel or a rough surface. You will immediately know if you are pushing off because it will hurt the ball of your foot.
  • Bruised Soles. Bruising is caused by not running softly. You need to make sure you bend your knees (probably more than you think). Land with relaxed feet and make sure that you land with the entire foot so that you are spreading the impact across more surface area. Again, you can try standing, walking, and eventually running on gravel as a way to make sure you are landing and lifting off with your entire foot. Put more pressure on any one area and it will be very painful.
  • Rocks, glass, dog poop, needles, etc... If you somehow manage to step on glass or dog poop without seeing it, then I recommend that you open your eyes. Seriously. It's easy to avoid 99% of everything on the road just by looking at it and going around. You will find it surprising how little glass and debris is actually on the road. I've never seen a needle in the street. You will on occasion step on a well-disguised rock or twig, and it will hurt for about 3 steps, but if you run gently your foot will naturally roll over it and avoid most of the pain. After a few steps you will have forgotten it was ever there. And if not, it just means you need to run more gently. :)

Well, that was long (big surprise if you have read this blog before), but hopefully it's a good primer on getting started. Just remember to keep it light, and keep it fun. You won't learn perfect technique in a day or a week (or even a month or more), but if you keep at it you will get better. Eventually you'll make it to a mile and then two, and before long you'll be doing a barefoot 5k or further. Maybe you'll eventually be able to do a half or full marathon, or even longer. Happy running!

Other Resources
  • This is basically the original site on running barefoot. A lot of the information in this post is the direct result of reading and trying the tips and advice from this website.
  • A forum at Runner's World, specifically for barefoot/minimal runners. The people there are generally knowledgeable and there's about a 40/60 split between barefoot and minimal running.
  • I haven't spent a lot of time here, but The Barefoot Runner's Society is a site with a lot of information about races/events/meetups. It also has some pretty good forums.
  • There are lots of other resources out there. Just do a search for "barefoot running" and you'll see that it's not such a tiny/crazy movement.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Running Log - Monday, 10/11/2010

Distance: 1 mile
Shoes: barefoot
I haven't updated in a while, but I've been running. I've decided to save the run logs for the days that are especially good (or bad). Or for days where something noteworthy happens.

I'm trying to increase the frequency of my runs, and so I'm backing off the distance a little. I went for a nice and easy 1 mile run tonight after about 30 minutes of strength training at home (push-ups, core exercises, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and military press). I might have found a way to get out of the gym for good. :)

Anyway, the run felt nice and easy. I may have had a revelation with regards to up and down movement. I initially thought that any vertical motion was bad, but after I thought about it, you need a little downward motion for shock absorption and then you need a little upward motion to get back to where you started. I transitioned to a slightly springy step for the second half of the run, and it was surprisingly light and easy. I'll try it again for my run tomorrow night.

Feet felt fine, but then again, it was only a mile.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Running Log - Tuesday, 9/28/2010

Distance: 2 miles
Shoes: barefoot
Tonight kind of sucked. I started my evening off by thinking about changing my route to get out of my neighborhood. There's a green-belt/park with a bike path that is .7 miles away. I figured I would just walk the first .3 miles as a warmup, run rest of the .4 miles until I got to the park and then go another .45 miles along the bike path. Then turn around and run the 1.15 miles home. Totaling 2 miles running and a .3 mile warmup. For whatever reason, I told myself that I needed to do a few runs at this distance before trying a new route, and decided against it. Instead I just ran my normal .5 mile loop 4 times (in reverse because I'm alternating my direction each run).

I increased my pace a little for this run, which ended up being a mistake. The run started off pretty good. I made it about a mile without much trouble. After that first mile, I started feeling some pain under the 2nd metatarsal (the one next to my big toe) on my right foot. It kind of felt like a cut, or like a pebble was stuck to the sole of my foot. I inspected my foot and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, so I kept going.

On my last half mile, the pain in my foot got worse, and by the time I stopped I could feel a slight blister forming. On top of that, the blistered area feels bruised. And after my run, I noticed that my left outer metatarsal feels a little bruised as well. I guess the pain in my right foot was masking it during the run.

I think the issue was caused by 2 things. The first is that I've been forcing myself to run with the "proper" form. I've been trying to make sure I land slightly on the ball of my foot and then let my heel touch, but I think I've been pounding my foot into the ground. The second is that I've been pushing off a little more when I increase my pace. The combination of the 2 is that the ball of my foot gets pounded into the ground once when I land, and again when I lift my foot.

I remember a run from a couple of weeks ago when I just forgot about my form and ran the way my body naturally wanted to. My feet and legs were relaxed and I was basically just swinging my legs underneath me to keep up with the pace of my forward momentum. I think next time I'll try to emulate that feeling. Just clear my head of all the "proper form" junk I've been reading about and do what feels right. Hopefully that will be Thursday, but if my feet haven't healed by then, I might have to wait until the weekend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Running Log - Sunday, 9/26/2010

Distance: 2 miles
Shoes: barefoot
Yesterday was only okay. I got up early out of habit, threw on my shorts and went out the door. The problem is that it was in the 60s and still damp from the rain we got this weekend. My 5 minute warmup walk didn't live up to its name. It took me about a mile of running before my feet felt warmed up and were used to the ground temperature.

On the bright side, I finished 2 miles (PR) without any major problems. I tried to focus on landing more on the front of my foot, but it actually caused a little bit of abrasion on my right foot (no blisters though). I guess I shouldn't have tried to change what was already working.

Next time it's this cold I'll remember to wear a shirt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Running Log - Thursday, 9/23/2010

Distance: 1.75 miles
Shoes: barefoot
I felt drained tonight. My hamstrings, which were sore last time, didn't give me too much trouble tonight, but my hip flexors were sore. The pain is on the inside of my thighs, almost like a pulled/strained groin. I'm assuming it's because the lack of a push from my feet is putting extra strain on my upper legs to get my feet back out under my center of gravity.

I tried to focus on my cadence tonight, but I started feeling tired toward the end, and coupled with the nagging hip flexors, I couldn't sustain the high cadence. I did a long, medium-high intensity elliptical workout last night (1200 calories in 60 minutes), so that probably explains some of the tiredness. I can't wait for the day that I get all of my cardiovascular endurance from running.

Lately I've been feeling tight on the right side of my body, and I think it might be because I always run the same direction on my half mile loop. So, tonight I ran the opposite way and I'm hoping I'll start re-aligning the tension in my body. Some time soon, I'll be taking my runs outside my little neighborhood (so no more loop), but until then, I'm going to try alternating the loop direction.

I'm looking forward to increasing my distance to 2 miles on Sunday!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Running Log - Tuesday, 9/21/2010

Distance: 1.75 miles
Shoes: barefoot
Good: Had a nice slow-paced run. Was able to go the entire 1.75 miles without stopping, despite some nagging hamstring pain (caused by doing some squat-like motions while doing yard work this past weekend). Weather was warm, but not too hot. Feet feel great afterwards, like they could have handled twice the distance.
Bad: I had some sore hamstrings that caused me to run a little slower than I might have otherwise. By trying to avoid the slight pain of the muscle stretching and contracting, I had to change up my form a little, which wasn't quite as smooth. But the slower pace allowed me to run without too much impact.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Running Log - Sunday, 9/19/2010

Distance: 1.75 miles
Shoes: barefoot
Good: The focus on my landing worked really well. I felt really smooth for the whole run. The first mile or so was really fun. I don't think I've ever run midday before due to the heat, and even though it was still pretty hot outside it was a different experience from running at twilight or in the early morning. I've been wearing nothing but some shorts for my runs lately, and the breeze and the sun on my bare skin feels really good. I also broke my previous distance personal record by a quarter of a mile, so that was a bonus.
Bad: Despite the pleasurable experience of running with the sun directly overhead, the heat of the road and sidewalks started to do a number on my feet. I didn't get any blisters, but I don't think I could have gone any further without being in a lot of pain. The heat also made me take a few rests (about 10-20 seconds after each half mile) to cool down and lower my heart rate. I was drenched with sweat by the time I was done.
For Next Time: I found the right pace this time for smooth running. Hopefully on Tuesday I'll be able to run at the same speed and distance.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Running Log - Thursday, 9/16/2010

I realized tonight that I could possibly benefit from a little more introspection on what went right and what went wrong after each of my runs. Barefoot running is great for the feedback it gives you, but I've found that you learn even more, and it sticks in your mind better, if you find a way to articulate what exactly it was that you did. So, this post is hopefully the first of many such small updates.

Distance: 1.5 miles
Style: barefoot
Good: Tonight was my third run at 1.5 miles. I did my warm up barefoot as well, for a total of 1.9 miles. It's starting to feel frictionless, and I think after 3 weeks of no blisters, the tender soles are starting to feel like a distance memory. No ankle or shin pain either.
Bad: After an awesome run Tuesday, I think I might have gone out a little too fast tonight. On Tuesday, there were parts where it felt entirely smooth, like I was floating, whereas tonight felt more plodding. And I can tell because I think I may have bruised the outside metatarsals, just under the balls of both feet (left hurting more).
For Next Time: I want to find a way to get back to running as smoothly as I did Tuesday. Focus on the landing part of my form.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blog<Running> Fun in the Rain

This past Tuesday was the kind of rainy day that makes you want to just stay inside and do nothing. For most of the day, I was your normal middle-class American. Running between building and car, trying to stay dry. Side-stepping puddles to avoid an hour or two of soggy shoes while you sit behind a desk. It's kind of funny how much less you care about getting wet when you know you can take the shoes off.

One benefit of running barefoot is that rain is less of a deterrent than heat. There is a little discomfort while transitioning from dry to damp, but since I'm a pretty heavy sweater* I'm used to working out in wet clothes. Still, I didn't see any of the usual evening runners/joggers. Maybe they didn't want to mess up their shoes? For the unshod, a little water is no obstacle.

So, I was happily running through the rain, coming up on the end of my first half-mile loop, when I saw a guy gardening out in his front yard. Ordinarily I'd think this guy was crazy for doing yard work in the rain, but I suppose if you put our 2 activities in a line-up you'd get just as many people calling me crazy. On the other hand, I looked like I was having fun, and this dude looked like he may have been escaping something worse.

As I got closer to him, he looked up from his spot on the grass and stared for about 10 seconds before finally yelling out "doesn't that hurt!?"

I was at the end of my first half-mile, maybe 20 feet from the spot where I usually stop to verify the quality of my form by examining my feet (sole-searching as I like to call it**). Since I was going to stop anyway, I decided to have a quick conversation with the guy. I explained how it helps your form. I explained the concept of removing the cushioning of shoes to force you to run smoothly. I brought up the fact that thick-heeled, modern running shoes have only been around since the 60's.

The guy didn't seem convinced, as there was still a hint of "you must just have a high pain threshold" in all of his responses. After about a minute of neither of us convincing the other, he told me to "keep it up." I said "thanks," and for my closing argument I yelled back over my sholder "it's more fun than running in shoes." I then proceeded to stomp my way through a 3-inch deep puddle. I may have played it up a little to make sure he knew that, at that moment, I didn't have a care in the world.

I passed the guy 2 more times for a total of 1.5 miles***. A ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary day.

* By pretty heavy sweater, I mean that I perspire a lot. Despite what you might have heard, I am not a fashionable, winter-time, article of clothing.
** I don't actually call it that. I'm so sorry.
*** A new personal best for barefoot running.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blog<Losing Weight> 8 Months Later

Changing It Up

In the last post about my weight loss, I talked a little about my new goals. I had just just lost 60 lbs over the previous 7 and a half months, and I was still in the mindset of measuring success by the number on the scale.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I've finally started to let myself stray from the strict dieting, long cardio, and boring resistance training that got me to this point. That's not to say that I'm not still watching what I eat and exercising, but I'm a little more relaxed about it. I'm starting to ease myself into more of a maintenance mode (with a little bit of weight loss along the way).

For most of the year, I was doing 4 days of elliptical per week (55-70 minutes 3 times and 80-120 minutes on Saturday). And on 2 days, I was lifting weights for about 45-60 minutes. I have to say that I'm happy with the results, but after 7 and a half months you start getting sick of it.

So I started to think about how to minimize my time in the gym.

The first change I made was to replace some of the elliptical days with running. I started off replacing 2 days, but that has recently grown to 3. I still do my 2 weight-lifting days, but I've been trying to switch up the exercises I do from workout to workout. And finally, I replaced the last elliptical workout with a HIIT workout and added another HIIT workout on what was previously my rest day.

Normally I wouldn't recommend 7 workouts in 7 days because it's usually a good idea to have at least one day a week to let your body recover. My take is that life normally intrudes and forces a day (or more) off anyway, so if I can't work out on a given day, so be it. Because of this, I've only actually completed the 7 workouts in 7 days once in the past month.

The new schedule means less time in the gym and no more mindless cardio. The HIIT workouts hurt pretty bad but you can't say they're boring, and they only take 40 minutes each (including warm-up and cool-down). The three running days probably add up to 45-60 minutes total since I'm still a beginner. And, as a bonus, running is actually fun. My weight-lifting days are still a drain on my motivation, and they still take 45-60 minutes each, but they're important with all the potentially-muscle-burning cardio that I'm doing.

As of this morning, I'm down to 198 lbs, which is what I weighed near the end of my freshman year in college. 8 lbs in 6 weeks is significantly less than the 2 lbs per week I was losing before, but the important thing is that I've mostly had fun doing it.

8 lbs also happens to be the half-way point for my end-of-year goal to slim down to 190. I normally don't like counting my chickens before they hatch, but I'm pretty sure this one's in the bag.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blog<?> Running and Game Update


After last week's set of complaints I feel like I'm obligated to talk about the 3 great runs I've had since.

On Tuesday, I ran half a mile shod, and then half a mile barefoot. I thought I would need the Vibrams because it was so hot, but I took them off and had no problem finishing the second half of my run. On Thursday, I decided to go barefoot-only and managed .8 miles (a personal record) before I started to worry about overdoing it. Since I run a 1 mile loop, I walked the last .2 miles back home. And on Sunday (yesterday) I ran the whole 1 mile loop barefoot (new personal record).

I feel like I'm finally starting to get the technique down. I ended up with zero blisters and zero shin pain. The only thing that started to hurt was the outside of my left foot where my sole meets the ground. I think that my foot twists a little when I land because that spot was starting to get "hot" (no blister though). Also of note is that I finished my second week of planned runs. My total barefoot mileage for the week was 2.3 miles.

So what was different?

Well, for starters, it was about 10 degrees cooler than it's been for the past 6 weeks. This meant I got to run in daylight for all 3 runs. I also decided to start forcing myself to walk 5 minutes as a warm-up before every run (.35 miles). I've been doing the warm-up in my VFFs since my barefoot walking is not quite frictionless yet and I want to save my soles for the running. And lastly, the barefoot running is forcing me to make major corrections to my running form. It's kind of amazing how most of my pain went away just by taking even shorter, less springy strides, but I never would have thought to try it if I still had the protection of a few millimeters of rubber under my feet.


I've also been making some strides on the game development side of things. I added a few features to hide the mouse cursor, and keep the cursor centered on the screen. This prevents the mouse from covering anything, and also keeps the user from clicking outside the window (causing it to lose focus). Also, the Esc key now causes the app to exit (although the key/condition is configurable by the application developer).

Those are pretty small features though. I spent most of the past 2 weeks creating a texture manager and a kind of virtual camera to make scene navigation easier. The standard disclaimer about the crappiness of these videos is in full effect. Each of these is running smoothly when not passed through the screen capture software.

Procedural Textures:

By procedural, I mean not loaded from an image. The basic gist is that each pixel value in the texture is chosen based on its distance from the center. The 1D texture looks like a few points that have smooth transitions between them. The 2D texture looks like concentric rings. The 3D texture, if you could see inside it would look like concentric shells. It is being translated (moved) in the depth direction, giving the appearance that it's animating. If you look closely, you can see how the 3D texture is a moving volume that is being projected onto the geometry (cube, sphere, torus) as it passes through it. It's especially evident on the sphere and torus. I'm not sure how many textures I'll need to procedurally generate, but it was a good test of the texturing code without needing to worry about getting the data from actual image files.

Image Textures:

Each of these textures was loaded from an image file. The cubemap texture is actually 6 different images mapped to the 6 faces of a cube (hence "cubemap"), and then the texture coordinates are generated to make it look like the geometry is reflective. The 3D texture was created from 16 cat scan images, stacked one on top of the other. Like the procedural video, it's being translated in the depth direction, giving the appearance that it's animating. Most of the textures in the game are going to be loaded from image files, so this is going to be used all over the place.

Virtual Camera:

I generated some terrain using the diamond-square algorithm (random noise generator). Then, I added some code to move the camera around. The changing checkerboard pattern is just a weird texture-space trick to make the terrain seem less/more detailed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blog<Running> Week 12

The past 4 weeks have been frustrating as far as running goes. Here's a sample of the latest setbacks.

Our Yellow Sun is Destroying Me
Which kinda makes me the exact opposite of Superman. After coming to this revelation, I'm giving serious consideration to a low-carb, high-kryptonite diet (it's basically Atkins, so it's probably safe).

The temperature for the past month has been a consistent 100 degrees. On a few days, it's gotten up to 106. Since I can't do all 3 of my weekly runs on Sunday morning, I've been running on week nights after work. It's either that or endure the sauna that is Dallas between 10AM and 8PM.

The problem with running at night is that it's not any fun. It's dark. It's still 96 degrees despite the fact that the sun is down and it's after 9 PM. Everyone is running their sprinklers (okay fine, running through sprinklers is still as fun as it was at age 6.) Running shirtless is not getting me any tanner. It's way passed the time that I want to do anything strenuous. And the biggest problem is that it's hard to keep track of my form when I'm trying to avoid tree-branches or stumbling over curbs. I find myself stomping whenever I'm unsure of my footing.

Success Breeds Overconfidence
About 3 weeks ago, I had the kind of breakthrough that I was talking about in my previous post. I was running in my VFFs after dark, and I just kind of slipped into a relaxed gait. Next thing I knew, I had run 1.8 miles. So on my next run, I did the same thing. After about half a mile, I got in "the zone" and everything just felt right.

The next day, my shin splints pain was back. I had to skip my weekend run to avoid aggravating it further. The next Tuesday, I felt fine again, so I ran about the same distance. This time I got some minor blistering on the balls of my feet, along with some slight shin pain. I ran on Thursday and only made it about a mile before the shin splints pain made me stop. And I had to skip my weekend run again to let it heal.

A Few Steps Back
This past week I took a hard look at my running form. I tried to make it as smooth as possible. I exaggerated my knee bend, and minimized my up-down motion. As a result, I slowed way down and didn't run as far (about a mile), but my first run on Tuesday felt pretty good. No shin pain and no blisters. My run on Thursday didn't feel quite as smooth, but my shin splints didn't come back.

So this morning, for the first time since I've started running, I completed my 3rd run in a single week. And to top it all off, it was a successful barefoot run. I managed to go 0.7 miles without any blisters (after a .4 mile barefoot walk).

Now, the careful reader probably noticed that my 3 runs this week at 1, 1, and .7 miles is not as much as my 2 runs at 1.8 miles each from a few weeks ago, but I think the fact that I've been injury-free for 3 straight runs outweighs the decrease in distance. Of course there's also a good chance that my injury rate is related to distance.

Some Self-Evaluation
Looking back on the past 12 weeks, the first question that pops into my head is: "why the eff is this so hard?" I see other people running 5 miles at a time. I see C25Kers running 3 miles after training for 10 weeks. Surely a part of it is getting used to the barefoot running style, but there's got to be something else as well. Maybe my body just isn't made of the same stuff everyone else's is

I feel a bit like a fish out of water. Put me in a pool, or a lake, or the ocean, and I can swim circles around almost anyone. Put me on land, where our mammalian ancestors have evolved for millions of years, and I flounder like a beached whale. Maybe it's just going to take a long time. Or maybe I'll never be able to run more than 3 miles at a time.

In the end it doesn't really matter. Despite the setbacks, I still feel like I'm making progress, and throwing in the towel isn't really my style. I'm stubbornly determined to see it through to whatever end is waiting for me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blog<WIP> More Old Blender Stuff

Well, my Blender phase is winding down since the game is picking up my attention again. When I was at the height of it, I made this: a sort of lily thing

I didn't like the way the texture on the petals were repeating, so I re-did it a little.

I also went back through some of my older stuff came across some animations that I thought were interesting.

This is a test animation for a robotic foot:

This is a weird Tube thing in black and white.

And here it is again, with different lighting and texturing.

A test of Blender's ray-tracing

A family logo thing

That's all for this time. I think I'm done with Blender for a little while, but at some point I'll probably start using it to create in-game assets, a much different kind of work.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blog<Game> Now an Open Source Project

In my last post about the game I've been working on, I gave a very high-level overview of what I thought the game would be like. About a week later, I ran into an issue and didn't work on it again until this weekend. I managed to get a lot done, even if some of it was just project management stuff.

Google Code

The most important thing I did this weekend was to move the project over to Google Code. It's Google's open-source project hosting site. The fear of my hard drive suddenly imploding is what precipitated this change, but if anyone is interested in contributing, that is now an actual possibility.

The project page can be found here. There are instructions for setting up your environment here. If you would like to contribute, just let me know (either by commenting on the blog, or through email).

The Other Stuff

The google code thing was important, but quick. I spent most of the weekend working on the following:
  • Integrate JInput for keyboard and mouse support.
  • Clean up project so that it has a modular structure.
  • Fix Maven build files so that the project can integrate nicely with Eclipse, and can be built on a variety of platforms.
Unfortunately, only one of these things has an accompanying video, so here is Keyboard and Mouse Input. Sorry it's not very exciting.

That's it! If you have any questions or comments about the game, feel free to leave me a message in the comments.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blog<Works In Progress>

I started getting back into Blender about a week and a half ago. As I sat around waiting for inspiration to strike, I went back through some of my older stuff and found a bunch of unfinished projects. A timeline of a few spurts of creativity, digitally preserved on my hard drive. I figured I'd share some of them here. Maybe I'll find one that I want to continue working on.

Spider - This was the first picture that I ever made in Blender. A strange-colored spider made of geometric shapes, posed the low-res, low-polygon ground. The background was supposed to look like fire, but it just looks kind of abstract and blurry.

Temple - I found the reflection tools in Blender and tried my hand at making water. The second one is from when they released the ray-tracing renderer.

Drawbridge - I remember spending a lot of time on the door. I also spent a lot of time trying to get the stone wall to look good, but the procedural textures are hard to work with sometimes. This was going to be just a small part of an entire castle.

Alien - I wanted to try my hand at modeling something organic, but I didn't want the pressure of making a human. I finished modeling everything except the hands because hands are hard.

Building - The entrance to some office building. I like it, except for the windows. If you have reflective windows, it helps to have something (behind the camera) to reflect.

Apartment - I tried to make a detailed apartment building. Windows have the same problem as the other one. Also, the brick texture is flat, and there's no dirt/water stains. Texturing is way harder than modeling.

Tree - A weird tree that I modeled from a sketch I found on the internet. I put the apartment build in the background as a placeholder.

There's a bunch of other stuff that I'll save for a future post. Mostly tests or animations. I also have a large-ish project that I started on last week. We'll see if I ever complete it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blog<Running> 2 Months Later

I've been running for about 2 months now, so I figured I'd share another update on the little successes (and failures) I've had along the way.


The distance is coming along slowly. I started with a .5 mile runs, and after about 3 or 4 weeks increased that to 1 mile. Since then, I've generally been trying to stick to the 10% rule (increase distance by no more than 10% every week.) Yesterday, I ran 1.3 miles, so I'm on track to break 2 miles in about a month and a half.

I have to say that the progress at this point is almost unbearably slow, but it's not just the arbitrariness (arbitrarity?) of the 10% rule that I feel is holding me back. Once I reach the 1/2 to 3/4 mile mark I kind of hit a wall where I'm suddenly not having much fun anymore. Part of it is the Dallas summer heat, and part of it is the fact that I'm not a morning person (but I have to get up early to beat the heat). And another part is that I'm just not physically conditioned for running yet. I don't feel in sync when I get to this point, like I can feel all 205 lbs of myself at every step, like some self-conscious, lumbering giant. A giraffe with lead boots. It's a big difference from the stealthy ninja feeling I have at the beginning, and I really have to concentrate to keep it smooth and relaxed.

And now I'm talking about the things I feel for the entire duration of my runs, but I'd rather not be self-conscious the entire time, especially if I ever get the point where I can run for more than 20 minutes. If it's anything like swimming, there's a point where your brain turns off while your body goes through the motions. It's kind of relaxing, almost meditative. If it exists for running, I hope I get there soon.

Barefoot Running

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take off the VFF's and go for a real barefoot run. I mentioned it a couple of posts ago, as a way to help improve your form. Well, I tried my hand (foot?) at it a one more time since then, and it was a total disaster.

First, I made the mistake of trying it after work one day. The temperature outside was about 95 degrees, and the temperature of the sidewalk was probably 10-15 degrees hotter than that. Second, I made the mistake of only running on the sidewalk (which is a way rougher surface than the road, which I had stuck to on my previous barefoot run). And my last mistake was that I naively thought I could run the same distance as before without any problems, despite the difference in my environment.

I ran about .3 miles when I started getting "hot spots" on the balls of my feet. I pushed through it a little bit, which in retrospect should have been my sign to stop. I ran a little further when I noticed the ball of my left foot felt like it had some kind of air pocket stuck to it. I could feel it squishing a little when I landed on it. Actually, forget that. Sure, there was certainly a squishing feeling, but it was accompanied by its good friend, pain, who managed to deliver a much more intense sensation. So I stopped after only making it .4 miles, and hobbled the short distance back to my house.

The heat and friction of the sidewalk had created a blister from my 2nd to 4th metatarsal on the ball of my left foot. It was like the skin on the sole of my foot had separated from the flesh underneath, and the resulting pocket had been filled with some clear fluid. I made the mistake of popping it and then putting hydrogen peroxide on it. The peroxide actually went inside the blister where it created a layer of tiny popping bubbles, which slowly expanded to fill the void. I could have swore my foot was on fire if not for the fact that there was no accompanying seared flesh smell.

It took 3 days to heal to the point where I could walk normally again. Needless to say, I probably won't be going for any more barefoot runs after work.

Maybe in November.

Improved Form

It's crazy to look back to when I first started out with the forefoot style of running and compare my form then and now. Here's a small list of some of the things I've learned:
  • It's okay to let your heel touch the ground. Actually, the sooner it touches the ground the better, as it means you are spreading the impact across the entire surface area of your foot, and you won't put as much strain on your calf and achilles tendon. I would venture a guess that it's probably better to land on the entire foot simultaneously, but it's really hard to do without hitting heel first.
  • Don't spring off the ground with your toes. This causes a lot of stress (pain) on the top of the foot and in the ankle, and introduces an unwanted up and down motion. Instead, lift the toe and heel off the ground simultaneously. This is actually a pretty difficult motion to learn, and the slight pain in the top of my foot means I'm not good enough at it yet.
  • Focus on moving forward, not up and down. Vertical movement wastes energy. Not only that, but it adds extra stress to your foot landing. Normally, when something starts hurting (like my shins) it can be immediately remedied by minimizing my up and down motion. Bent knees help a lot here. Bend them to the point that it feels almost like you're sitting down.
  • Fast cadence with shorter strides is better. 180 steps per minute (or quicker) is recommended. With my long legs, I find this really difficult, but it does seem to keep my form smoother.
  • Don't try to control the natural inward roll of your foot. As someone with flat feet, I tend to over-pronate. For a while, I tried tensing up my foot and ankle muscles to prevent my foot from rolling inward. This just caused horrible ankle and foot pain, and gave me a bruise on the sole where I was landing. By letting my foot land naturally, I quickly ended the pain.
  • Along the lines of the previous point, don't fight through pain. Pain is there to tell you that you are doing something wrong. Continuing to repeat the painful motion will only make it worse and lead to injury. If it feels like something in your joints or bones, or like your muscle is about to give out, then either something is off in your form (you should change it up so the pain goes away), or you are doing more than your body is ready for (you should stop and build up gradually).
  • Running works your abs like crazy. A few weeks ago, I noticed that I had a mild stomach ache after a run. I thought maybe it was just a cramp, or maybe gas. When it persisted after each run, I thought that maybe my body just wasn't made for running and that my stomach was taking some kind of revenge for shrinking it down to a normal size. Well, it turns out that running with good posture and minimal upper body movement means your core has to do some stabilization, and as a result it gets a great workout. On my last run, I pressed a few fingers to my stomach and felt an almost constant low intensity flex, with a stronger flex on each step. Whatever thoughts I had of moving my ab days to coincide with my running days have now been thrown out the window.
What's next?

As I mentioned in the last post, I want to be able to run 5 miles by the end of the year. If I can keep increasing the distance by 10% every week, I'll be doing 5 mile runs in 16 weeks. However, if my recent running experience has taught me anything, progress will probably be a little slower. In any case there are 23 more weeks left this year, which seems like a reasonable time frame. Feeling motivated!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blog<Losing Weight> Goal Achieved!


Last week I talked about how close I was to achieving my weight loss goal. I normally do my official weigh-ins on Sunday morning, but I was so excited at the prospect of finally getting there, that I couldn't wait. My weight this morning was 205.6 lbs. That's a loss of a little over 60 lbs since January! Here are a few fun facts.
  • Total weight lost: 60 lbs
  • Time taken: 6 and a half months
  • Avg. weight lost per week: 2.14 lbs
  • Total calories burned: 210,000
  • Avg. calories burned per week: 7500
  • Change in BMI: 32.38 - 25.07 = 7.31
  • Change in BMR: 2505 - 2131 = 374 cal
Before and After

My reason for trying to lose weight was because I looked in the mirror and didn't like what I saw. In January, after over-eating at Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, all of that Winter-time hibernation-mode eating, piled on top of a few years of not getting enough exercise and eating fast food all the time... after all that, I looked in the mirror and realized I needed to make a change.

Half a year ago, I used to start breathing heavily while walking up stairs. I used to get a rash from my thighs rubbing together. My feet used to get sore after standing for half an hour. I used to get acid reflux at night. The Texas heat used to bother me more. I used to struggle to lift heavy objects. I couldn't run a mile if my life depended on it. I used to depend on caffeine to get me through the day. The only positive thing about being so overweight and out of shape was that my clothes fit better than they do now.

That's not to say that the past 6 months have been peachy. I've suffered nearly every non-serious injury/malady you can think of while exercising and dieting my way into shape: shin splints, dehydration, friction blisters, runner's trots, pulled muscles, exercise-induced nausea, hyper-extended knees, crazy foot/ankle pain, hunger, caffeine-withdrawal headaches, and more sore joints than you can shake a stick at. But despite the setbacks and minor (sometimes major) discomfort, it was all worth it to get to where I am today.

Now I look in the mirror, and I don't cringe. I'm not completely happy with how I look (yet), but I love how I feel.

The Pictures

Before I started my weight loss plan, I decided to take some pictures so that I could compare my old flabby body with my new toned and firm one. It is with great embarrassment that I am now posting these pictures. Hopefully you don't need me to tell you that "old and flabby" is on the left, and "toned and firm" on the right, but I just did... so there.

Body - Front

Body - Side

Face - Front

Face - Side

What's Next?

As I mentioned earlier, I feel great, but I'm still not completely satisfied with how I look. I still have a roll of fat around my belly that I'd like to get rid of, and I'll be damned if I can't melt it off by the end of the year.

For now, the diet and exercise have become such an integral part of my life that I probably won't change much from what I've been doing. I plan on focusing more on running and generally trying to have fun during my workouts so that I can eventually transition into some kind of weight-maintenance mode.

So, my new goals for second half of the year are not quite as extreme as the first half:
  • Get down to 190 lbs (16 lbs over the next 24 weeks should be easy)
  • Be able to run 5 miles

That's it for now. See you next time!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blog<Random> Writing, Weight Loss, and Running Barefoot

Just some stuff I've been thinking about.


I'm a little embarrassed by the story I posted yesterday. There's a kind of self-conscious debilitation that usually prevents me from writing as soon as the idea pops into my head. Like I'm a hack, trying to keep my secret from everyone. It's part of the reason for this post, to push the story down a little, off the front page. At least now people will have to click a link or scroll down to find it.

But, I liked the idea, and if I didn't write it down, it would be rotting in my brain. And if I didn't post it here, it would be rotting on my hard drive. Now it can rot on the internet.

Your welcome, the internet.

Personal embarrassment aside, please fire away with your critiques. I'd like to get better, so don't hold back. After writing this one, I've got a few ideas along the same lines (immortality, fear of dying, existence, etc...), and I'd like to not feel quite as embarrassed the next time.

Weight Loss

I'm a week or two away from my goal. If it weren't for the 4th of July weekend (gained about 3 lbs!), I'd probably be there already. But I knew I'd have to work off all the food before I ate it, so it wasn't really a surprise. Once you get comfortable with your diet and exercise plan, the only thing that really surprises you is when you lose more than you thought you would. There's always an explanation for weight gain.

On the motivation front, the past couple of weeks have been difficult to keep a schedule. The week before the 4th of July, I only got 3 workouts in. Then, we got back from the vacation on Tuesday, so I only had 3 days this past week. On Thursday, I almost skipped my resistance training (I hate weight lifting.) I was halfway to my car before I made myself turn around and go back to the gym.

Hopefully this week I'll get a solid 5 days in (plus a run on Saturday), because I'll be going on vacation again the following week. It would be nice to put this goal to bed by then.

Running Barefoot

Last week, I went for a run in my Vibrams. I could feel some slight shin splints pain almost immediately. I ran for about 1/4 of a mile and decided to start changing up my form to see if it would make a difference.

I bent my knees more (kind of like sitting in a high chair, with your feet hanging down to touch the ground.) I also focused on moving forward instead of springing up and down. I noticed an improvement right away. The shin pain didn't go away, but I could tell that I wasn't making it any worse. I kept up this new form for about another half mile before it started slipping. The remaining 1/4 mile back to the house was a battle of concentration.

The experience of changing my form and feeling relief was pretty exciting. I opened my favorite web browser and found a pretty awesome site about barefoot running. The founder of that site, a caveman-looking dude called Barefoot Ken Bob, has run over 75(!) marathons completely barefoot. He recommends not wearing minimal shoes (like the Vibrams) when you are just starting out because, even though they're thin, the sole keeps your foot from feeling the ground and still allows you to pound a little.

He was right! This morning, I decided to do half of my mile run completely barefoot. I could tell immediately that my form in the Vibrams wasn't as smooth or low-impact as I thought. I know that I've gushed about the feeling you get in the Vibrams before, but it really doesn't compare to actually going barefoot.

I'll probably write more about it next week, but if you are thinking about taking up running in minimal footwear, I highly recommend trying it completely barefoot. Just remember that the goal is not to push through any pain you feel, it's to avoid pain. And you can only avoid pain by improving your form and by slowly building up your endurance. So, don't go further than your feet are ready for. 1/2 a mile was my limit today.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blog<Fiction> ReBorn

Lisa 314 lay in the hospital bed, waiting for what seemed like an eternity.

Of course, Lisa, of all people, knew better than to use words like "eternity." Still, some long-dormant neuron was firing; a thought bubbling up from her subconscious mind. This was taking longer than last time.

Her doctor must have seen her fixating on the clock. "Don't worry, everything is still on track. We always schedule Transfers with an extra long window. Even with all of our experience and fancy machines, nature still finds a way to surprise us."

Her doctor's name was Sophia 121, a ReBorn like Lisa. She seemed to be at home in her scrubs, surrounded by expensive equipment. Lisa wondered how many generations of her Lineage were spent as doctors. Not that experience really mattered these days, she thought, the machines practically run themselves. Maybe the only reason we work anymore is because we still need to feel in control.

She tried to shut off her brain. Think about something else.

There were a few other people in the room. Another ReBorn doctor. A handful of technicians, all Zeros. Lisa felt bad for them. They would live such short, unfulfilled lives. In her younger years, she might have tried to help a few become ReBorn like herself. But that was impossible now, and a good way to get a Death Sentence.

Of course, it had been this way as far back as Lisa could remember. Money and resources were limited, so only a small percentage of the population were able to get the procedure. Now, after generations of savvy investments and compound interest, the ReBorn run everything important; hospitals, politics, the news channels, entertainment, schools, and most importantly, who gets to be ReBorn . If it can be controlled and manipulated, the ReBorn probably have their hands (and money) deep in its machinery.

It's all designed to keep us in charge while the Zeros do the work, Lisa thought. Maybe women don't run things any better than men after all. Hell, maybe men never actually ran anything. It was difficult for her to remember back to a time before Lisa and her sisters were in charge, and she knew better than to depend on her ReBorn history lessons.

But she knew that in the early days things weren't so controlled. Back then, the machines were new, and the kinks and limitations were still being worked out. A lot of women died, or might as well have. The failure rate was an astounding 58% during that first generation.

For Men, it was impossible. In the 500 or so generations since the advent of the Transfer procedure, none have succeeded. It took years of failed attempts before the Surrogate program was finally shutdown and outlawed as cruel to Man, Woman, and Child. An unsolvable mystery. Or maybe just intentionally unsolved.

Today, the Transfer is only available for the ReBorn, but that doesn't keep some Zeros from trying. Just this morning, there was a story about an increase of illegal procedures. Performed by unregistered doctors, using out of commission machines, the chances of success are only slightly better than the early days. Eventually, the odds will catch up to these girls. Their long-term chance of surviving is near-zero.

And they won't be registered anyway, so what's the point?

The only real option is to wait for a ReBorn to die. There's a list, a national registry, similar to the transplant list. Only instead prioritizing based on need, it's about money and connections. But even with all their power and wealth, the chances of getting off the list are small. Last year, there were only 103 new openings. Most of them were from natural causes: accidents, a senseless act of violence, a few Death Sentences; but there are always a few that make the conscious choice to live out the rest of their lives. A self-imposed Death Sentence, a suicide of old age.

Lisa thought about her two daughters. They are somewhere on the list, but Lisa didn't have the money that a lot of women did. They probably won't ever be candidates while their bodies are still viable.

"Only a few more minutes now," Sophia said. "Everything is right on schedule."

Sophia and her team of technicians began positioning a large metal helmet onto Lisa's shaved head. She suddenly felt very alone. Was she making a mistake this time? She thought of a million things that she should have told her family yesterday, when she couldn't find the words. It will be years before she would even remember who they were, or what they meant to her.

Were. Meant. With a pang of regret, she realized she had already let them go. She couldn't remember if it felt this way last time; if it would feel this way every time.

"Okay, we're ready. I need you to push." The doctor's command snapped snapped Lisa out of her self-pity.

She brushed her emotions aside. Chalk it up to the pregnancy, she thought. She knew why she was doing this. She wanted to be young again. She was going to live forever. She thought about her future self, about her perfect clone that she created 9 months ago. She wondered how different her new life might be.

"She's crowning." Lisa felt the doctor put something cold and metallic between her legs, a smaller version of the helmet fastened to her head. Somewhere behind her eyes, she could sense flashes of light. With each flash, she felt more relaxed. Her vision began to fade, along with her sense of smell, her hearing... her touch. She tried to remember something, but it was just out of reach.

For a moment, everything went dark. She was sinking under a vast ocean. A slight sensation of unease, like being in two places at once. Finally, a calm.

Another flash of light. No, this was more brilliant than before.

Before what? This was new. Everything was new.

She blinked and saw a blurry face smiling back at her. She felt something cold on her head. She tried to tell the face how cold it was, to take it away from her. She tried making a noise, but it came out wrong, a shriek.

"Time of death, 10:16 PM," the face said, still smiling. "In a couple of years your memory will return, but for now just try and enjoy that new world smell."

"Welcome back, Lisa 315. "

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blog<Bad Software> Why I hate iTunes

I've decided to take a break from the fitness stuff this week because something else has been on my mind.

Let my start off by saying that I absolutely love my iPhone (3GS), so I'm not just bashing Apple because I'm some Microsoft (or Google, or whoever) fanboy. However, iTunes is one of the worst pieces of software I've ever used. In fact, it might be the thing that pushes me over the edge to a different phone/provider when my AT&T contract expires next year.

Or maybe I'm just doing it wrong.

iPhone and iTunes - Syncing purchases

The iPhone has the ability to run fairly sophisticated software. There is an iTunes app that lets you browse music, podcasts, basically anything that you can buy from the iTunes store. In fact, you have to log into the same account that you use from iTunes on your PC or Mac. All of your account info is stored on Apple's servers so that they can keep track of your purchase history and other information.

The problem is that anything you purchase through your phone has to be synced with your Mac or PC version of iTunes (for some as-of-yet undisclosed reason.) Basically, if you purchase and download an app or song to your phone and then delete it before syncing with iTunes, it's gone forever. If you want it again, you have to buy it again. But why? I mean all of that information is being stored on Apple's servers. They know you bought it, and they know you "owned" it at one point. It would be as easy as confirming your account info and sending you the 3-6 file MB again. The only excuse for this practice is corporate greed. It's anti-consumer and one of the reasons why I rarely buy music through iTunes.

Also, since my account info is online, why am I limited to a single computer for syncing my iPod/iPhone? Why can't my library exist on more than one machine? In the age of the internet, this is a ridiculous requirement.

iPhone and iTunes - Podcasts

Through iTunes, you have the ability to subscribe to a podcast's RSS feed. Every day, iTunes will check for a new episode and automatically download it for you. You would think that since the iPhone can download files from the iTumes store, that it would have a similar feature to subscribe to podcasts.

Instead, you have to either download each new episode manually (by searching the store and determining if it's new or not based on the publish date), or you have to sync your phone to iTunes on your PC or Mac (which is subscribed to the podcast.) To make matters worse, if you do both of these things, iTunes will override what is on your phone with what is on your PC. So, let's say you are away from your computer, but you have a long drive ahead of you and you want something to listen to, so you manually download a podcast. Then later when you sync with iTunes on your computer, it will replace the podcast on your phone with the one in your library. This has the annoying side-effect of resetting the "new" indicator, as well as the current paused position if you weren't done listening to it yet.

iTunes - A Giant Piece of Crap

None of these issues would be so horrible if it not for the fact that iTunes is a pain in the ass to use. As a music purchasing/management application, it's not so bad. Sure, it uses a lot of memory, and it comes with a ton of features that I'll never use, but it's serviceable. I can make playlists and buy music and transfer songs to my portable device. That's about as much functionality as I need.

No, the real problem with iTunes is the update and installation process. It seems like every week there is a new minor update to iTunes. You get a little popup window asking if you want to download the new version and it takes you to Apple's website. Then, when you start the download, you realize that it's pulling down a 90 MB installer file. 90 MB, are you freaking kidding me? All it's doing is managing and playing media files.

For comparison's sake, Blender, a fully-featured 3D modeling and animation suite is only a 10MB download. VLC, a media player that can play virtually any video or audio file known to man, is only 18MB. The main problem here is that Apple want's to put as much of its own software as it can on your computer, even if you have better alternatives. Bonjour? No thanks. Quicktime? Go f*ck yourself.

So once you have downloaded the installer, running it is an adventure in itself. On my 4 year old laptop, it takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes to install. It appears that Apple decided to create about 40 different installers and pack them all into one file because I get to see the same "checking for space", "installing", "verifying installation", "removing installation files", "ruining your experience with Apple software forever" progress bars over and over and over again.

So, why do I bother putting myself through all this?

As I mentioned at the top of this rant, I love my iPhone. If I want the latest OS or bugfix, there's no other way to get it. And not only do I have to have iTunes, but I also have to have the latest version, which always coincides with said OS update or bugfix. All because my phone, which is basically a miniature computer in my pocket, is somehow incapable of running some extremely basic software.

This brings us to the end of our regularly scheduled Two Minutes' Hate. Have a happy 4th of July.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blog<Running> Learning To Walk

In my previous 2 posts about running I talked about taking it slow, listening to my body, maintaining proper form, and not injuring myself. That progress would be slow, but eventually I would be able to run longer distances, pain free. It turns out that progress is even slower than I first thought.

In that last blog post, I outlined my plans for strengthening my flat feet. I would cut back on the running attempts and wear my Vibrams every day at the gym. After my feet got stronger, hopefully my shin splints would be under control, and I would be able to start running for longer and more frequently.

Stumbling Block

Over the week following that post, I started feeling pain in my feet. I'm not talking pain from impact, or general soreness from using the muscles in my feet. This felt more serious. It was like the shin splints moved from my shins down into my ankles and feet. But it was worse than shin splints because instead of only feeling pain when I walked, I also felt it while just standing or sitting too long in the same position. There were two spots on each foot (on the inside and outside, just below the ankle) where it hurt to touch, almost like a bruise.

Looking back on my plans, I'm reminded of the Greek proverb:
Learn to walk before you run.
I think I was asking too much of my feet, too soon. They've been locked up in rigid shoes for my whole life, and I was expecting them to magically get stronger in a few weeks. I didn't want to aggravate them any more (and it hurt to walk around anyway), so I took a week off from working out. Last week, when I started back, I wore my cross-trainers instead of my Vibrams on the elliptical machine. Until this morning, I hadn't run at all in 3 weeks.

Getting Back Up

For the past couple of days, my foot pain has gone away completely (the human body is kind of incredible like that.) So, this morning I attempted a run. I was able to go about 3/4 of a mile without pain, and then I decided to stop before hurting anything. After my run, on my short cool-down walk, I started feeling some pain again in my ankles, so I'm glad I stopped when I did.

If you don't learn from your mistakes, you're doomed to repeat them, so I'm changing gears for what seems like the 5th time. I need to slow down again, and this time test the waters a little before jumping in with both feet.

My plan for this week is to continue wearing my cross-trainers on the elliptical machine, but wear my Vibrams on my 2 weight days. I'm still going barefoot at home and wearing sandals when I have to go out in public. Then, if my feet feel okay next weekend, I'll go for another run. I'll run until I start feeling pain, or until I reach the .8 mile mark.

I'll keep doing this (gradually increasing my run distance if I can) until I can go a full week without foot pain. Then, I'll start replacing my cross-trainers with my Vibrams on some of my elliptical days, and replace at least 1 elliptical day with a run instead. By the end of August I'll hopefully be able to throw away the cross-trainers for good.

I'm sure there are flaws in this new plan as well, but it's good to have a goal to work towards. I'll be keeping this blog up to date as I make progress.

Some Miscellaneous Observations

There are a few things I noticed over the past 3 weeks that didn't really fit into the text above, but I feel like they might be useful to put in writing.

1) The elliptical machine. The strange thing about the elliptical machine is that it's a rigid, defined motion. Your foot moves maybe an inch inside its stirrup (that seems like an apt description of the thing that keeps your feet attached to the machine) over the course of several cycles. It's almost like wearing shoes outside of your shoes. So when I wear the Vibrams instead of my cross-trainers, it doesn't really feel any different. At the same time, my almost-naked foot doesn't really feel "right" in the stirrup. I have more range of motion in my foot because of the Vibrams, but I'm still performing the same movements over and over for 50-60 minutes.

I think it was this repetitive motion that caused me a lot of the pain over the past 3 weeks. Without any variation in terrain, my foot's ligaments and joints were just grinding back and forth, back and forth, over-training very specific muscles, ligaments, and tendons in my feet. Since the pain went away literally days after I switched back to my cross-trainers, I'm pretty confident that this was the case.

The conundrum is that most of my strength training workouts involve sitting or lying down. The only time I'm on my feet is during my elliptical workouts. To improve my foot strength, I need to be doing more, but not so much that I over train and injure myself. The best plan would probably involve stopping partway through my elliptical workout and switching shoes, but who wants to change shoes in the middle of the gym? Sometimes I think to myself that if I get off the machine now, it's not very likely that I'll get back on. So hopefully my plan of mixing in one day of elliptical with the Vibrams will allow me to get there gradually.

#2 Conflicting Goals. I have two fitness-related goals at the moment. For the past 6 months, I've been trying to lose a specific amount of weight. And for the past month and a half, I've been trying to become a runner. The problem is that in order to lose weight at a quick pace, I need to burn a lot of calories during my workouts; and since I'm a newbie runner, I can't use my runs yet to replace a cardio workour. Furthermore, the setbacks I've experienced so far while running have crossed over to the weight-loss side. When I took a week off to let my feet heal up, I had to stop my weight-loss training as well. Fortunately, I'm only a few weeks away from meeting my weight-loss goal (5-6 more lbs) and I can start focusing more on running.

#3 Perseverance. In the past, I would have given up on the running a long time ago. As soon as I felt the shin splints the first time, or the foot pain from the past few weeks, I would have probably thrown in the towel. For whatever reason, I seem to have turned a page mentally. I've been able to stick with the weight loss, I've been able to stick with the running (even though there have been few victories), and after a month of I've also been able to stick to updating this blog at least once a week. Hopefully the feeling decides to stick around for a while.