ad astra per alia porci


a change in running philosophy, and gear

The sad death of my first ever pair of real running shoes (Asics 2120) provided me with a chance to get another pair of running shoes. The old battered 2120 has had its day, after miles on the road, many gym sessions and 300 workouts, and it is time to retire it as its sole has dropped off. I have 2 pair of shoes, one is kept in school while the other is kept at home. The one that died is kept in school, and is used for both gym work and running the Botanic Gardens. The one at home is an Asics Foundation 8, probably the most supportive and comfortable (though chunky) running shoe I have ever used.

Hence the question for me was whether I should stick with the tried and safe, or try something new. The safe choice would be another pair of Asics; Asics never fails to provide a shoe with fantastic support and comfort. Yet after reading much propaganda and books about the perks and advantages of barefoot (or at least, simulated barefoot) running, I want to try out something new that may help and improve my running and the whole running experience. My experience of running so far has been painful at times, with shin splints the most prevalent problem. I reckon that this might have something to do with my running form, and books and research told me that proper form requires one to land and lift off on the forefoot instead of striking the heels. Apparently, wearing shoes with thinner soles will help train one to use the forefeet. I was curious to know if an almost flat-footer like me can develop a “proper” running form and land on my forefeet.

Hence I decided to look for a shoe that has a thinner sole and better feel of the ground, and will train me to run in a more efficient manner by making me run on my forefoot instead of striking my heels. I already have a pair of ultra supportive running shoes, so just in case the new purchase did not turn out well, I can always relegate it to a gym shoe and get another pair, or just use my current Asics Foundation 8 for distance work. It’s time to try a shoe that is less chunky and liberates my feet.

So I popped into Running Lab in Novena to shop for my next shoe. My eventual answer, after trying out and deciding between the Zoot Advantage, Nike Lunarglide and Newton Motus, is the Newton Motus (http://www.newtonrunning.com/newton-products/the-shoes/mens-shoes/men-trainers/men-stability-trainer).

It was a tough choice. The Zoot Advantage had a thinner sole, which fitted my requirement of a shoe with a thinner sole, and it was an absolutely fantastic fit. It hugs the feet perfectly, and the lacing system was no frills and effective without the need to fumble over tying knots. One can run in it barefeet without socks; just slip it on and off one goes.

Yet I chose the Newton Motus instead. With all this gushing, one might expect me to end up with a pair of Zoots. As I mentioned, it was a tough decision. The Newton was not half as comfortable as the Zoot, and the lacing system is as normal as it can get. The colour scheme is a garish yellow/orange blend (a note to manufacturers: please use nicer colours).

What won me over was the feel of the shoe, not in terms of comfort, but rather its attention to correcting and perhaps forcing the runner to adopt a midfoot running style. The lugs in the middle of the shoe protrude out of the sole and makes it irresistible for the runner to land on the lugs. On the treadmill at Running Lab, I began to notice a change in my running style; instead of heavy wide strides, my legs closed up in narrower strides that landed closer to the bottom of my body.

The true test of any shoe is whether it performs in a normal run. I took mine for a light run after coming back from school.

Landing on my mid/fore foot was a novel experience. I felt like a toddler, unsteadily tiptoeing along and I felt like falling over. However the lugs absorbed the shock well and my feet adapted to the need to be more steady as the shoe had significantly less support and cover than my Asics.

After the initial baby steps and uncertainty, I was running faster than I did on my Asics. The Newton is light, in fact very light. The contrast was quite massive; the Newton with its thin and breathable mesh outer was very light, in comparison to the chunky Asics I have.

And it was not just the lack of weight that made me go faster. My running form changed. My legs lift higher, and they land below the axis of my body. I take more steps, but my stride cycle is faster. My arms are tucked backwards, and my spine erect, with my legs propelling me forward. Is this the fabled “optimal running form”? Or ChiRunning? Or POSE? Or whatever you call it. Whatever it is, it feels different, and good.

Back home from the 40 minute run, my calves are sore. They are very tight, and various hitherto unseen and unknown small muscles ache. I envision myself having some trouble walking tomorrow. There was no pain, which is always a good sign.

I hope that it is not just the placebo effect of getting a pair of new shoes. I will find out whether the improvements are real in the next few weeks. I am optimistic that this pair of shoes will open up opportunities and bring my running to another dimension.



its the attitude, stupid (ok the shoes too, but less so)

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love—everything we sentimentally call our “passions” and “desires”—it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.

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If school was not in the way,  I would have finished Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run in a single sitting. I have never been so thoroughly gripped by a book since Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

Exhilarating and attention-grabbing from start to finish, Born To Run reads exactly same way as its subject matter: the excitement, joy and secrets of running. McDougall leads the reader on a scintillating journey (or rather, run) to discover the running secrets of the Tarahumara and the enlightened few who in their own ways found their own secret philosophy of running, like Conrad’s Marlowe on steroids, only with much more optimism and genuine curiosity. Characters from nerdy sports science researchers to the colourful Tarahumara Indian runners, and of course, the crazed and eccentric Caballo Blanco, flit in and out of McDougall’s narrative. McDougall meshes adventure story and a sociologist’s diary with fitness science investigative drama and snippets from the History Channel, and the result is one rocking oddball of a read that serves to inspire even the non-runner.

The one recurring message this book constantly expresses is heart. Running used to be done for its own sake, as a reflection of innocent love and joy, as well as necessity. Unfortunately modern attitudes to running has sharply deviated from its original purpose and goal. Today most of us run because we have ancillary motives, like a desire to avoid an early death or obtain a good figure or to put an end to persistent nagging by others.

And this is what makes running so painful and hard to do for modern men. The “get it over and done” attitude translates to a whole sports industry that focuses on relieving and minimising the runner’s pain and coddling runners from the effects of running. It demeans the activity and the sports goods industry has milked it for all its worth. Sport shoes are designed and repackaged all the time, for no apparently good reason other than to make more profit from consumers who want “the best” for themselves. Ironically this has the effect of making us weaker runners and propagating a whole host of running injuries that were almost never heard of in the context of our primitive ancestors.

A larger observation can be made of human activities in general. Just as how running ceases to be meaningful and joyful once ancillary motives take the place of its intrinsic value, the same can be said of almost anything we do. Is it any wonder why most people hate their jobs? Or why hobbies cease to be pleasurable once one converts it into a career?

It is interesting to see how running and sport in general can be a larger analogy of life. Our own perspectives on our chosen (or rejected) sport is itself a larger reflection on our larger point of view on life. I agree with McDougall when he opined that runners are the happiest and most beautiful people in the world. It is no coincidence that athletes require little makeup to look really good and city people are more depressed than the rural folk. What we do has a curious ability to in turn affect our world view, and vice versa.

Sadly this is not so when it comes to modern attitudes on running. Once an intrinsic element of human life, running has been relegated to merely an optional activity which only “hardcore” workout people or those with time on their hands can engage in. To most, it is a needless pain. Physical prowess is often seen as a secondary and less desirable trait in comparison to mental competency and social skills in our society, and this probably affects social perception of running and other valuable physical activities.

It is a shame. I believe that there is something pure and tangible in running that we cannot derive from other things in life. A run has an end and finishing line, and if you fail to meet the timing, you fail to meet the timing. Things are obvious, innocent and clear. Unlike the tiring and shifting world of human relations and emotions where one never knows what till happen and has to deal with the unsavoury aspects of human character, running is pure and simple.

As a law student, running has a special attraction to me. One standing trend of anything I study in law is the defeasibility of any argument and principle. One can argue for a position, but one must realise that this position is almost always defeasible, either by the opponent’s argument, the teacher’s criticisms or the judge’s final opinion. There is simple no certainty at all.

To this, add the myriad of characters that filter in and out of your life. I am a poor reader of character and I tend to trust people too much. Sometimes this trust results in disappointment. You never know who to trust and who will turn out not to be a friend in the end.

Running is a welcome relief and escape from this uncertain world of smokes and mirrors. Through running, I metaphorically and spiritually run away from my problems. Running helps me sort out my thoughts. Running grounds my life with some certainty; there is no doubt that ten kilometres is ten kilometres and the watch does not lie. If I had a good workout, I had a good workout. If I did not, I simply did not.

That said, I am not the best runner at all, whether in terms of speed, endurance or even heart. I have my off days and sometimes I lose the motivation to even put on my shoes and go for a really short jog.

Which explains why this book has such a hold on me. It provides me with glimpses into the attitudes of others, which I can strive to emulate and learn from. And for this, I am deeply grateful to McDougall for penning such a life-affirming book.



Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
September 12, 2009, 8:24 am
Filed under: alcohol | Tags: , ,

In uncertain and trying times, one has a tendency to revert back to tried and true personal favourites as sources of familiar comfort. Some would call dessert wines the lighter weight and more “childish” members of the wine family, but I love port for its sweetness and, when done well, its complexity and maturity.

So I opened my Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny. A typical brownish red, although clearer and fairer then most other port I have tried, which includes the Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port. It is more direct and less subtle than its equivalent. Its brighter colour belies its sharper, edgier taste in comparison to the Graham’s version I had before, which is the best port I had so far, period.

This port is a strong contender to the Graham’s. Despite being more direct and less subtle, it retains its mature character, and the aftertaste lingers in my palate. The sense of fruit and jam remains for a while after initial tasting, which combines nicely with a nuttiness that characterises mature ports. Overall, it is coherent and the real draw is in the finishing, which hints of oak and apricot. This will go down very well with dark chocolates.

The port should change subtlely over the next 3 weeks. I am quite excited and looking forward to experiencing surprises.



malbec!
September 6, 2009, 2:24 pm
Filed under: alcohol

So I am back from my first ever winetasting session. It was certainly an eyeopening and tipsy experience as T and I made rounds tasting a dizzying array of wines. Some were bad, and those that were really good made the trip worth it. Here are some notes on the best wines I had:

Dona Paula Bodega de Seleccion Malbec 2005

A tight package with a strong hint of mystery, this wine exudes a careless playfulness that seems intentionally engineered. The wine seems very small when in the mouth, but is very full-bodied. It is hard to get a grasp on this wine; it invites more sips.

Elderton Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Satisfying, robust and rich with staying power. This wine has structure and made sense from start to finish, from the nose to the palate. The majesty of this is in the finishing: it lasts for a very long time, so much so that it actually affected my tasting of the Elderton Estate Merlot 2006 after that. This will go down very well with a slab of roasted beef.

Santenay Demeocq 2007

Probably the most cheeky and unexpected of the lot I have tasted. Most of the whites tasted pretty sour and bad, so I did not expect much from this wine. The starting was as expected, sour and thin, but the middle and end was thicker and reminiscent of a red. Question marks go through my head after the first sip.

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I think winetasting is as much about finding out what different varieties and blends taste like as discovering what particular tastes and qualities one subjectively prefers in wine.

After much tasting, I realised that I prefer the following types of wines and qualities in wine:

  • Red wine and dessert wines
  • Intensity
  • Coherent structure
  • A strong and lasting finish