I have been surprised (and a little amused) by how difficult the first exercise in the Born to Run training guide is. It’s really just a combination of two exercises that I do all the time already, so I figured it would be pretty easy. But no.

Basically, it’s just single-leg standing with the heel raised. There are three versions with minor differences in what you do with the non-standing leg, to challenge your standing leg in different ways.

I have done single-leg standing for years as part of my tai chi practice. I also do calf-raises nearly every day, including some single-leg calf-raises. And yet. Put them together and things get dramatically harder.

With the single-leg standing exercises I do as part of my tai chi practice, I have my heel down—which makes standing on that foot much, much easier.

With the single-leg calf-raises, I’m only balancing on the standing leg for a few seconds, which turns out to also make a difference.

Standing on one foot with the heel off the ground, and then staying that way for tens of seconds, turns out to be much harder than I’d expected. But it’s harder in ways that I can already tell will mean practicing those exercises will quickly produce improvement not just in those exercises, but also in my running, and in my general foot strength and foot health.

In particular, I keep trying to jab the tip of my left index toe into the ground, when I should be using the pad of the toe. (Probably a left-over from decades of sometimes wearing too-small shoes. My index toes are longer than my big toes, which is not something that shoe salesmen in the 1960s thought about. Also my left foot seems to be a fraction of an inch longer than my right foot, so shoes that fit my right foot perfectly slightly constrained my left index toe.)

My Oura ring prepared an annual summary of the data it has gathered. One interesting bit shows the dramatic change in my activity since getting Ashley

This shows my activity levels across the day, averaging the whole year together:

A graph of my low, moderate, and hard activity levels for all of 2022, showing a distinct peak of hard activity in late morning through 1:00 PM.

The white area shows when I was engaging in “hard” activity—basically running, high-intensity interval training, and (if I was really going at it) lifting weights. I did quite a bit of those things for most of the year, and the Oura ring is interested to observe that it was largely between about 10:00 AM and noon.

That graph averages the whole year together. This graph shows the same thing, but just for the month of November (we got Ashley on November 2nd):

A graph of my low, moderate, and hard activity levels in November, showing a few moderate peaks, and very little high activity.

I had only a modest amount of hard activity, mostly early in the morning and then again at mid-day. (I assume those are bits where Ashley wanted to run and I tried to keep up with her, something that I quit doing after tripping, falling, and splitting the skin across my knee.) Basically, I replaced nearly all my hard activity with lots and lots more medium activity.

Just as an aside: My 4:00 PM cocktail hour really shows up on these graphs, with modest spikes in activity that I think have gotten larger now that I get the dog out for pre- and post- cocktail hour walks.

One other tidbit that changed with the dog has been my “restorative time,” periods of low activity where the heart rate falls quite a bit. You can see the difference between the first ten months of the year and the last two here:

I used to get at least some most days, but since I got the dog my restorative time has really dropped off. I think that’s partially just because my periods of low activity are shorter (because pretty soon I have to take the dog out again), and maybe also because, since I have less hard activity, I don’t feel the same impulse to really slow down when I get a chance to do so.

Do I need a new running training routine? Probably not? I’ve had pretty good success with running for several years now—I’ve maintained my aerobic fitness, boosted the distance I can run, and suffered almost no injuries. But what if I could reduce not only my injuries, but also my risk of injuries? What if I could run much faster?

I’ve never been a fast runner, and I was okay with that. I never wanted to win races. I just wanted to be fit and healthy. And yet….

Over the past couple of weeks I read Christopher McDougall and Eric Orton’s new book Born to Run 2: The Ultimate Training Guide, which draws on the vast material that McDougall wrote about in the original Born to Run, and in Natural Born Heroes, but offers a detailed 90-day training program, rather than requiring that you read between the lines of the narratives in those books. It’s a regularized version of the training Eric Orton provided while McDougall was writing Born to Run—training that took him from a frequently injured recreational running to someone who routinely runs ultramarathons.

It sounded good enough to me that I was going to give it a try. In fact, I was going to start with day one this past Monday. Then I read the first day’s activities and observed that before day one (on day zero, I suppose), you’re supposed to time yourself running one mile as fast as you can. The book then goes on to use that time to give you target paces for all the upcoming runs.

There was too much ice and snow to get my one-mile time until yesterday, when I did go out and run one mile fast. I mean, not very fast, because, as I said at the start, I’m not a very fast runner. But I did run 1 mile in 10:04, which is very nearly as fast as I’ve ever measured myself running (click for a few measurements from 2003 and 2004).

Looking up a multi-use path past a solar farm, under a stormy sky
New multi-use path from Curtis Road to Windsor Road, where I ran my timed mile

Not only does that mean that my running speed has scarcely declined in the past 20 years, it also challenges one of my fundamental beliefs. Back in the day I used to be able to average 12-minute miles, which meant that I’d have to run three times as fast to be competitive in a race. (And the past few years, as I was focusing on MAF training, I’ve done a lot of my runs even slower than that—averaging 14 or 15 minutes per mile.) But if I can run a 10-minute mile, then I’d only have to run twice as fast in order to be running with the non-elite front-of-the-pack runners.

Of course, McDougall makes no promises that his 90-day program will double my running speed, but even if I run only a little faster, with only a slightly lower chance of injury, it seems like it would be well worth giving it a try.

I’ve got my day-zero measurement, so maybe I could start in on day one of the program. Except, we’re still right at the start of winter, and I’m not at all sure that I’ll be able to follow the schedule, as far as the outdoor runs are concerned. But I don’t want to wait.

I think I’ll try to split the difference this way: I’ll start in on the various exercises in the program, many of which are indoor exercises anyway. They look like the sort of thing that need some practice anyway, so I’ll focus on learning them and on watching the weather. As soon as it looks like I’ll have a reasonable shot at getting the runs in, with only minor adjustments to the scheduled days, I’ll jump in.

I’ll keep you posted.

One of the first things my Oura ring helped me figure out when I got it 4 years ago, was that if I eat a meal in the 4 hours before bedtime it interferes with my sleep. The effect was dramatic enough that Jackie and I switched to eating just two meals a day: breakfast an hour or two after we get up, and then our main meal of the day around 2:00 PM. Since that change, I’ve slept much better.

Sometimes though… life intervenes. Yesterday was one of those days. My local Esperanto group had its annual Zamenfest, and I brought pizza and cookies to the meeting, and ate a lot of both. (In fact, I not only ate several of the ginger sparkles I bought, I also ate some green star-shaped sugar cookies and some peanut butter cookies brought by other members of the group. It was a real cookie fest, as well as a Zamenfest.)

Unsurprisingly, I saw a repeat of the various issues that showed up 4 years ago, as can be seeing from looking at my Readiness metrics from my Oura ring:

Screen capture from the Oura Ring software showing a resting heart rate of 53, an elevated body temperature, and a poor recovery index.

The “Recovery index” basically means that my heart rate remained elevated until shortly before I woke up. That’s on top of the fact that it only got down to 53, which is rather high for me. My body temperature was 1.1℉ above baseline, which is probably just that my body was very active digesting food, rather than being a fever due to an infection or something.

A single day of this is no problem. Today I’ll eat on my usual schedule, and I expect I’ll sleep very well tonight. But I thought it was an interesting example of the sort of thing that the Oura ring is good at alerting the user to.

I didn’t get a picture of yesterday’s cookies, but here’s some from a prior year’s batch:

Ginger sparkle cookies

One metric that the Oura ring tracks is inactivity time: basically, the amount of time spent just sitting. It is here that I perhaps see the biggest dog-related change.

I have always spent a lot of time just sitting: I sit to work, I sit to read, I sit to watch TV, I sit to play a video game, I sit to write a blog post, I sit to eat. I sit in the morning while I drink my coffee, and I sit in the evening before getting ready for bed.

The Oura ring folks rather emphasize this particular metric, suggesting that “Keeping your daily inactive time below 8 hours works wonders for your body and mind.” I didn’t doubt this, but I did a pretty poor job of actually doing it. I had the occasional individual day when my inactivity was below 8 hours, but it was usually somewhat over. In fact, my average daily inactive time for the year before we got a dog was 9h 2min.

Since getting the dog, I’ve been way, way more active. I mentioned a few days ago that I was sleeping lot better, and listed a few metrics that had changed that seemed to be related—in particular, walking a lot more, but I hadn’t thought to check how my inactive time had changed, and the results are significant. My average daily inactive time over the 5 weeks since we got the dog has fallen to 6h 38min.

The shift is pretty obvious in a graph of my inactive time starting one year before I got the dog and continuing through yesterday:

Graph of my Oura ring "inactive" time data, showing a long stable period followed by a sharp drop off
Graph of my inactive time from November 2, 2021 through December 10, 2022

The change was dramatic enough that just 5 weeks of post-dog data pulled the overall average down by almost 15 minutes per day. (It’s actually kind of interesting how variable the individual data points are in the first year, and yet how absolutely flat the average is, until Dog Day.)

Well, I have been sitting for rather longer than I probably should to get this post written. I’ll go ahead and post it, and then carry on with the activities of the day.