Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Becoming A Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett

In a recent blog, I mentioned the discovery of a website called The Art of Manliness that was developed by a guy named Brett McKay. I discovered the website when looking online for exercises to undo the damage caused to our bodies by sitting. While on Brett's site, I read a post on seven exercises focused on undoing the effects of sitting. Within the post, Brett gave a strong review and recommendation for Becoming A Supple Leopard. I decided to investigate further.

After reading a few reviews and learning a little more about the author, Kelly Starrett, and his methodology, I decided to take the plunge and buy the book. The book isn't exactly a simple book on fitness, but it seems like it is highly popular in the CrossFit community. I have seen a few copies in gyms and my sister even has a copy. The book is written as a more academic treatment of mobility and injury prevention. I could see a text like this making its way into a variety of Physical Therapy and Exercise Physiology programs.

The book is huge (like a textbook or coffee table book) and it is filled with page after page of mobility exercises to help improve range of motion, resolve pain, and optimize performance. Dr. Starrett strongly encourages readers to make their way through the book before jumping into the exercises so one can understand the principles that the mobilities are built upon. I heeded his instruction and found myself reading from cover to cover.

The book is extremely helpful for thinking through functional movement and strength, and for equipping people with tools to do self-maintenance to reduce incidence of injury. Starrett explains that the human body is highly adaptive, and he believes that the leading cause of joint pain and injury is poor mobility which the body then adapts to, and subsequently becomes injured through weaknesses and instabilities created by the adaptation.

Fundamentally, I found myself nodding yes throughout the book as I learned more about Starrett's background and framework for addressing preventive care. The thought that our bodies become injured through a lack of mobility and strength in different muscle groups just made sense to me, and the idea of doing self-maintenance to reduce or prevent injury just seemed like a smart thing to do.

Since reading the book on July 5, I've attempted to cultivate a daily habit of 10-15 minutes of mobility exercises and I can tell a marked difference in my mobility as well as my resilience after workouts. I highly recommend Dr. Starrett's book, and I also recommend reading the whole way through to think through the why of his book, and the why of the mobility exercises contained within. What I love the most about the framework is that it gives a sensible and practical pathway for improving mobility, functional strength, and injury prevention. Having been sidelined by injuries in the past, any tools I can use to reduce my risk of injury are tools I want to deploy with consistency.

May we all become supple leopards, always ready for whatever physical challenges come our way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: Ready To Run by Kelly Starrett

A couple of months ago, I discovered a new author by the name of Kelly Starrett. He had written a book a little over a year ago called Becoming A Supple Leopard and had earned a solid reputation in the fitness, crossfit, and athletic performance world through the book and his trainings on mobility. I discovered Dr. Starrett's books through a blog I found called The Art Of Manliness when looking up exercises to counteract the damage of sitting.

This post isn't about either Supple Leopards or The Art of Manliness, but I highly recommend you check out both. I'll probably end of writing about each at some later point, but for now I want to focus  on Ready To Run.

This book is an incredibly helpful text for runners at all levels. Here's a brief outline of why.

1) Starrett identifies some great strengths of runners (task completion, discipline, goal oriented lifestyle).

2) Starrett also identifies some great challenges for runners (poor mechanics, willingness to push through pain, and subsequent tendency toward running related injuries).

3) The book is divided into 12 performance standards that will help runners at all levels improve their performance and significantly reduce their risk of injury.

4) The author shares an array of mobility exercises that can restore function and range of motion to muscles used most while running.

Here's the basic facts. If you are a runner, chances are you have encountered injuries (plantar fascia, achilles tendon, knee and hip pain, etc.). Most of us, when we get injured, we don't take time to rehabilitate or correct what got us injured in the first place. Instead, we tend to run until we hurt ourselves worse, or, when forced by the degree of our injuries, we take time out, and aggressively work to get back on the road. What we fail to do is consistently discipline ourselves to working on mobility, strength, and addressing root causes of our injuries.

What Kelly does in his book is pretty straightforward. He equips runners with an array of tools to address alignment, mobility, and strength issues, and charts a path forward for runners to move toward running injury free. What I love most about his philosophy is that rather than recommending a quick fix (via shoes or orthotics) he encourages runners to address the underlying weaknesses and mobility issues that lead to injury in the first place. I've actually recommended it to a few folks this summer who were planning to run the 40th Marine Corps Marathon for Nuru, but injury has sidelined them and they are now planning to run the Marine Corps 10K instead.

If you love to run, I highly recommend Kelly's book. If you are currently an injured runner, or have been injured in the past, I recommend it even more highly. Why not start charting your path toward becoming a stronger runner on a firm foundation by working to increase your functional strength and range of motion as you recover?

The hardest part isn't buying or reading his book though. The hardest part is developing the discipline  to apply the strategies listed in the book to become a better runner. From mobility exercises to warm-ups and cool-downs, these tools take time to implement, but they are well worth it. Over the last couple of months I have noticed an improved foundation to my running by taking time to implement a mobility routine into my day.

May you also read, implement, and become more fully Ready To Run.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Second Annual uRUN for Nuru 5K in Kingwood WV August 22 2015

Saturday August 22, 2015 at 10AM, runners and walkers from around the region will gather in Kingwood WV for the Second Annual uRUN for Nuru 5K and will run 3.1 miles along a mostly flat course near the home town of Nuru International's founder, Jake Harriman. Will you be among the runners and walkers?

Last year, Jamie and I were incredibly thrilled to be able to participate in the inaugural version of this 5K race. The race was started when a a fellow West Virginian and Preston County native, Katie Plum, heard about Nuru's work, that someone from her local community had started Nuru, and was trying to think of a way to help support Nuru's mission of ending extreme poverty in remote, rural areas.

Katie decided to organize a 5K race near where she grew up. She enlisted the help of others who had more experience coordinating the details of the race and place the race on the site of active.com where you can register in advance for the race. The race last year was a huge success, and enabled Katie to raise more than $2,000 to further Nuru's work. That money helps Nuru enable families to lift themselves out of extreme poverty in Kenya and Ethiopia and begin to live their lives with choices and opportunities.

This year, Katie has been working to expand the race, get more runners and walkers involved, and build from the solid base created in 2014. The race starts a little later in the day than most 5K races, so that means that if you like to sleep in on the weekends, you can still do so, and make the race.

As the final few days before the race are upon us, I wanted to ask for your help. Will you join us in running or walking the race? You can register through active or show up and pay at the event. Kingwood is an absolutely beautiful little town, and if you have never visited, Saturday is a perfect time. Also, will you help spread the word about the race? You can share this blog, or simply share the website so people can get the event details.

One last thing, maybe you or someone you know would be interested in organizing a uRUN for Nuru 5K in your town and among your running and walking community. Interested? Let me know, and I can place you in contact with Katie. Or, you can show up and run this race, and meet her in person. Regardless, let's all keep taking ground and doing our part to see the end of extreme poverty in our lifetime!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reflection: A Whirlwind Couple Of Weeks And Maintaining Focus On Goals

Like the photo above, the last couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur. I have almost constantly on the move. To give some idea, I have been in five countries, four different time zones, and in 20 different towns including four national capitals. Much of this time I was in areas with poor internet connections, and when I did have good connection it was very limited in duration. In spite of best intentions to keep up the practice of blogging, I have fallen a bit behind in my goal, but the goal is still there. And that's exactly what I'd like to write about today--keeping focused on goals. Although the past couple of weeks have been quite full, it doesn't change the fact that I want to write more consistently. It just changes the rhythm of that writing a bit. In fact, it changes the rhythm of a few aspects of life, from fitness and faith to sleep and and diet.

I believe in the modern era, it is quite easy to be distracted and deterred from goals. Maybe it has always been that way, but I can only reflect on what I have witnessed in my lifetime. I have watched as television increased from 13 channels to hundreds of channels of highly specialized entertainment. I have witnessed the computer emerge from a tool for basic word processing and electronic mail to millions of websites and and endless array of media from the written word to photo, music, and video. In addition, there seems to always be something happening--sometimes it is a really good thing and sometimes it is a tragedy, but regardless, the changes disrupt rhythm.

This kind of disruption and distraction requires something of us if we ever want to get anything done. All of us, were created for a purpose, and I believe we have an incredible contribution to make to this world. But to accomplish that purpose, we need to develop some muscles that distraction can either work to weaken or it can be the very training ground needed to see our goals through. Here's how I see it. Distraction gives us the opportunity to develop our resolve, to refine our intentions, and to hone our will.

I don't think it is incredibly difficult to come up with goals. Many people set goals each year at New Year's and at other times, but we don't necessarily stick with those goals. Sometimes our circumstances become overwhelming or our goals are unrealistic. But in my experience, most of the time, when folks don't attain their goals, there is a lack of while or intentionality to blame. Sleeping an extra hour is much easier than working out. Driving is much easier than walking or riding a bike. And then there are the little distractions that emerge. Every week, we all receive various communications that require mental energy for processing and responding (emails, phone calls, videos, links, texts, bills to pay, etc.) and have various forms of entertainment vying for our attention (games, movies, sporting events, etc.). At the same time we have our goals to accomplish.

What I have found to be helpful is to carve out some time during each week to rest, reflect, and reset. In the Bible, this time is called sabbath. According to the Torah, observing a sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. In our modern world, it seems like the only one we feel a freedom to ignore. If we choose to completely ignore. If we choose to ignore the commandment about stealing or murder, we run the risk of going to prison. If we choose to ignore the commandment about sabbath, we run the risk of wearing ourselves out. Sabbath does not protect us from distractions and sabbath does not help us stay disciplined with regard to our goals. It is quite easy to spend a time of sabbath distracted as well as any other day.

But, in my experience, what sabbath has helped me do is create a moment during the irregular rhythms of the week to reset. But even sabbath requires a degree of intentionality. If I am not resolved to spend a period of time to rest and refresh myself, I will allow distractions to saturate and deter me from my goals. I even try to instill a little mini-Sabbath into each day. If I don't do this, I find myself constantly in a state of reacting, and it seems much like I'm swimming upstream against strong currents making little progress.

Separate from this foundational practice of rest and refreshment, I strive to make time each day to review short-term goals, and each week or month to review longer term goals. This practice of review helps me to keep focus, see where there may be challenging patches, and keep moving forward toward goals. But, even with these practices in place, without resolve, determination, and discipline, goals are not realized--but these practices help to strengthen that resolve and determination. If we are disciplined in these basic goals, it helps us to increase our capacity for realizing other goals.

As each of us enters a new week, we know the distractions will be coming. We know there will be crises to encounter, hiccups in our schedules, and other disruptions to overcome. May we each work to strengthen our life rhythms, our resolve, and our intentions so that when the distractions come, we will be ready, we will be focused, and we will continue to move forward taking ground toward our goals.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Reflection: Enjoying A Layover In London

A few days ago, as I began the journey from West Virginia to Kenya, I hit a minor snag. My first flight was canceled, and because of tight layovers on subsequent flights, it meant that I would miss the entirety of my original itinerary. Thankfully, United was able to book me on an alternate itinerary that had me arriving twelve hours later than originally anticipated, but it also had me spending about ten of those hours in London.

So, with a ten hour layover, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore a city to which I have never traveled, and began the process of adjusting to a new time zone by walking around in the daylight in a new city. 

It was actually much easier to navigate than I had anticipated. Once I started to shake off the sleep deprivation and get my bearings, I was able to check my backpack at a left luggage counter, and the purchase a one-day pass for the train. Within an hour, I was in downtown London and looking directly at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (and yes, I had flashes of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's European Vacation). 

It was a beautiful day, and, as per usual when traveling in a larger city, I was pretty amazed at how easy it was to navigate the city and how close things were. Within minutes I was able to see the two aforementioned sights along with Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. I made my way through Green Park and onward to Piccadilly Circus, and decided to make a side trip to 221B Baker Street, the home of one Sherlock Holmes. There was actually a line at the famed home of Holmes with about 150-200 people waiting to tour the space. 

The people were friendly but the streets were crowded. People were out and about enjoying the sunshine and the weekend. And beyond this, folks were playing, picnicking, and conversing in the many parks I either walked through or passed by. Walking through those parks, I was reminded of many times my family (including aunts, uncles, and cousins) would spend an afternoon in a park, bring some food, and just enjoy some leisure time together. When I visit parks back in the US these days, I just don't see as many people using them. I don't see as many people out and active. Seems like folks back home just don't have the time for spending an afternoon in our parks. Now don't get me wrong, there are some exceptions, but more and more we just find our schedules a little too crowded to enjoy some relaxation. Maybe what we need to do is adjust some priorities and get outside.

May we each carve out time to explore and enjoy our communities, our parks, and the world around us, and may we enjoy these places in the company of friends and family!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Relfections On An Image Sent By Derek Roberts

So my buddy Derek sent me this photo on Wednesday August 5 with a note attached that said, "The Beginning." And it got me thinking, a lot, about the last seven years. Back in 2008, when the above photo was taken, Nuru International was an idea. My friends Jake Harriman, John Hancox, Andy Cogar, Trey Dunham, and I had been in conversations for about a year while Jake was at grad school at Stanford working on the concept of Nuru with about 30 of his classmates and a half dozen professors.

At the time of this photo we were in a coffee house in Morgantown West Virginia called so.zo, and we were meeting and dreaming about changing lives in a place called Kuria, Kenya. We had not placed our first team on the ground yet. And seven years later, thanks to the help of many of you who read this blog, more than 80,000 people in Kenya and Ethiopia have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty for good!

And as I write and reflect on that day seven years ago when Jake and I met with a passionate group of volunteers in Morgantown who helped us spread the word about this idea in its nascent state, I am filled with gratitude for the way this idea has spread and grown. It has grown because people like you have chosen to do something instead of choosing to do nothing. Either one is truly a choice. And because you chose to do something, thousands of our global neighbors are lifting themselves out of extreme poverty for good.

It's kind of wild to be reflecting on these last seven years, because as I write this, I'm sitting in the Pittsburgh airport en route to meet up with Jake and witness first hand just what has happened over the last seven years. I'll be in both Kenya and Ethiopia, and I'll have an opportunity to meet some of the brave Kenyan and Ethiopian men and women who are leading their communities out of extreme poverty together with Nuru. I'm excited and a bit emotional as I think about what the next few days may have in store.

My heart is overflowing with gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to serve. Gratitude for the transformation I've been able to be part of, together with you. Gratitude for an opportunity to reflect with Jake on the last seven years. And gratitude for an opportunity to continue to dream, together with you, about seeing the end of extreme poverty in our lifetime. At the same time, I feel a longing. I long to see more lives changed, I long for more of my friends to join in this fight, I long for more people in our world to have hope, choices, and opportunities. May we, as a global community, not rest until it is so.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Climbing Mount Bierstadt In Colorado

Well, last week was a banner week to say the least. I met the President of the United States, I had an opportunity to share Nuru with more than seven hundred top-tier software developers, and then, Saturday morning, Jamie and I woke up at 5AM and began preparations to leave our hotel to journey with my old roommate and incredible friend, Derek Roberts, on an epic adventure. We set off with Derek at 6AM for Mount Bierstadt, and arrived around 730AM at the parking lot. Jamie and I were supposed to have a seventeen mile run that day, but I think three hours of hiking upward at altitude (made the summit by 1030AM) were probably a pretty decent substitute workout.
Mount Bierstadt was named for the artist Albert Beirstadt who was attributed with the first ascent in the 1860s. Bierstadt was part of the Hudson River School of artists (founded by Thomas Cole—one of my favorite American artists), and painted hundreds of scenes of the American West.

As we hiked from the parking lot onward and upward it was not uncommon to see people stopping to rest (we did it a few times ourselves), and we also saw some people get discouraged along the way and decide that they would stop and turn back, or just stay in one place and rest and enjoy the sun, but we kept moving, albeit sometimes more slowly than others.

We also were drinking a lot of water. I believe we went through about 1.5 liters on the ascent, and we probably could have used more. The temperature peaked at 68 degrees back at our car, but it felt much warmer. We had definitely exerted ourselves heavily on this trek. By the time evening rolled around we were all three more than ready for sleep. I think we were each in bed by 10PM which may have been our earliest sleeping time during our visit to Colorado.

Along the hike I had a few thoughts stick out to me. That while the lessons came from the ascent, I feel like these can hold true for other areas of life as well.

The adventure is always better with friends. As we made our way up the slope, each of us offered encouragement and shared our food with one another, and we were able to celebrate together at the summit too!

When the going gets tough, persevere. Every time we encountered a steep portion of the trail, we would notice several groups convening to decide if they were going to keep going or not. It’s easy to let doubts creep in during those times, and almost any reason to turn around feels justifiable, but you really need to keep track of your internal compass and intention during those times.  Don’t let your self-talk derail your focus. Don’t quit.

Prepare ahead of time.  Our culture values spontaneity, but without proper prior planning we could have run out of water really quickly (and we did run low on the descent).  The weather was incredibly cold as we started, but the temperature warmed quickly (especially as our blood was pumping) as we journeyed upward. Be prepared. Think thru details ahead of time. Good counsel for almost every scenario. Also, in spite of the ascent being considered an “easier” seven mile round trip, I don’t think it would have been wise to attempt if we were not already in decent cardiovascular conditions.

Enjoy the journey. It is really easy to get so focused on the goal (being focused is a good thing) that you miss out on the view along the way. Every time we paused to drink some water, we were intentional about looking around us. The view was ever changing. As we increased altitude, we saw summits that were previously hidden. We discovered valleys that were spread for miles, and we enjoyed a sky that was steadily changing as the day progressed. Part of the journey in any arena is taking the time to enjoy the beauty all around you.

It’s worth it to keep going. Similar to my comment on perseverance, when we arrived at the summit, it was a massive celebration. We ate some snacks that tasted even better with the knowledge that we worked through all of the mental and physical challenges along the way. Those were some of the best snacks and bars I think we have ever had. We shared laughs, and even celebrated the moment with one of Jamie’s #starjumps. The view was incredible, and we had the privilege of knowing that we were among a select few who have made it far enough to enjoy that 14,060 ft view.

Stay focused after you attain your goal. Climbing down from the summit presented a different array of challenges. We were already tired, and gravity tempted us to take faster steps than our tired body could handle. If we were careless, we slipped, we stumbled, and we fell. In the beginning we thought the goal was the summit, after the summit, we had a new goal was to arrive safely back to our car.

Encourage others on the path. As we climbed and as we descended, I couldn’t help myself from saying words of encouragement as I saw the struggle on the faces of strangers. On the ascent I spoke as a fellow-sojourner. On the descent I shared as a successful rookie explorer. No matter where we are on the journey we can take time to encourage others and spur them onward.

Now, I don’t think I’m going to become a “summit bagger” or anything like that in the near future. Who knows, I may never climb one of the 50+ “14ers” ever again. But I hope I have the discipline to apply the lessons of this journey to my life daily. And regardless the locale, I look forward to the next adventure, the next journey, and the next goal as Jamie and I continue to explore this world and seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Creator in sweet community.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Wonderful Experience Of Hospitality To End ÜberConf Experience

Last Friday, Jamie and I had a wonderful week in Colorado at ÜberConf. The week was full of good conversation, laughter, and an opportunity to meet some pretty amazing individuals. Among those individuals was a speaker and developer named Venkat Subramaniam. Venkat has bit of a legendary status in the conference space, and spends a large amount of time teaching and sharing at conferences, and also keeps a blog here for folks interested in learning more from him, a great place to start is his blog, “AgileDeveloper”.

What made the end of this week especially sweet was that Venkat invited a number of the presenters along with Jamie and myself into his home. Venkat had invited us for the last three years, but this was the first time we were able to accept his offer of hospitality. Not only did we have an amazing time connecting with many of the No Fluff Just Stuff speakers, many of which have become good friends of ours over the years. But we also had the privilege of meeting Venkat’s parents as well.

In my experience, one of the kindest gestures of care and welcome from a person is an invitation into one’s home. Venkat and his family made me and Jamie feel like family. We felt a very welcome part of this gathering of software developers in spite of the fact that we know very little about the space (particularly when in the presence of some of the top speakers/consultants/writers on the subject).

Venkat’s family had prepared a wide array of Indian food (including dessert), and they ensured that no one would leave their home hungry. Words can not fully express the depth of my gratitude to Venkat and his family for opening their home and sharing a meal with me and Jamie.

And this gesture has not been unique to Venkat. Jamie and I have had the privilege of sharing our home with many friends and family members, and we have also been frequent beneficiaries of the hospitality of others during our travels.

There is something truly special about sharing a meal with friends in a home and this kind of hospitality is quickly becoming a lost art. May we all take time to break bread in the homes of our friends, and may we have an open door and invitation to friends near and far as we exercise the practice of hospitality in a world that often seems to busy to slow down for this kind of camaraderie.