Smart Marathon Training by Jeff Horowitz

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 224 pages.
Read from May 15 to 29, 2014.

I’ve been running now for about 3 years and I’ve read, browsed and skimmed a variety of articles, magazines and books on different running techniques and training programs. What I found with so many of them is the excessive amount of exercise that are contained within the recommend training schedules, even ones for the absolutely beginners. I always felt that a 6-day-week training program that mixes 4 or 5 days of running with a variety of different cross training and weights is way too much for a beginner. To me, that spells burn-out and injuries. The first year I started running and training for a marathon I ran 3 days a week and I was utterly exhausted managing just that! The average person has a busy life juggling work and family, which is tiring enough in and of itself, just finding a solid running base before beginning any sort of training is challenging enough. Whether a beginner or not, every runner wants to be successful, injury-free and find a balance with everything in their life and this book finally confirmed everything that I was already feeling about training: less is more.

Jeff Horowitz challenged the idea of running back to back races without injury and has successfully run over 150 marathons and has applied this knowledge in his career as a coach and in this book. The traditional marathon training plans which can have runners clocking in over 80+ kilometers in a week (50+ miles). The premise behind these traditional plans is that in order to better at running you need run and do a lot of it. Horowitz argues that this isn’t the case and that you can run a better marathon by running less and making your workouts more efficient. His system focuses making your training dynamic in that each of your training runs have a concise goal and effort scale. For example, The long run: is to expand your endurance and work slow twitch muscles. This is run with the a 60-70% effort while the tempo runs are shorter runs in which you are running near your race pace or a bit quicker and you should be exerting about 80 to 85% effort. He emphasizes how important hills and speed work are to build strength, reduce injuries and work your fast twitch muscles which, will give you the speed to beat your personal best.

I had to flip the notion that “more is better”…devised a plan that includes three runs a week, totaling no more than 35 miles, consisting of speed and hill work, a tempo run and a long endurance run; core strengthening, strength training, running drills and balance work two to three times a week; and aggressive crosstraining…at least twice per week.”

What makes his program unique is that the emphasis isn’t on the amount of kilometers you’re making each week and he suggests running no more than 3-4 times a week while following quick and easy weight and strength training exercises, cross training (biking is his highest recommendation as it compliments running the most) as well as core and flexibility. He emphasizes just how important and beneficial these exercises are to running. Having a strong core and legs will ensure you will encounter less injuries and will improve your speed while cross training works out different muscles to keep your body from reaching exhaustion but at the same time you’re still adding to your overall training. Exercising while exhausted is not only hard, but not wise. You risk injury and you’re not doing your body and favors but pushing yourself that hard. Horowitz helps runner’s recognize when they’re doing too much and to pay attention to their bodies and intuition, which so many training programs ignore.

This book is by far one of the best marathon training programs and it has affirmed that my own ideas about marathon training are good ones. I would highly recommend this read for anyone embarking on a marathon, whether they are beginner or just looking to change up their training scheme.

Beginner Gardening for Canada by A.H. Jackson.

I am an absolute noob when it comes to anything green. I can keep my cats alive but I’m notorious for killing indoor plants and up until recently I’ve never had a yard to attempt anything other than that. I now have a yard that requires my maintenance and I am afraid. My Dad was the gardener in my family and was such a Nazi about his yard that the one time I mowed the lawn for him as a teenager,  he went out and did it again as I had the pattern all wrong and it really wasn’t done to his standards. However, my Dad did have a passion for gardening and I always loved eating fresh vegetables or seeing our own flowers grow so perhaps his green-thumb will transfer to me?

To give myself some confidence I picked up a book at the library called Beginner Gardening for Canada by A.H. Jackson. The book is easy to read and has a decent amount of pictures. There were times I felt that the author was a tad pretentious and condescending towards non-gardeners like myself and particularly about the direction that many people have taken in terms of outdoor decorating and the environments we thrive in everyday. With that being said, his passion did rub off on me and he made some very valid points in terms of how humans have fallen out with nature and the benefits of reconnecting with it. The author is also extremely experienced and knowledgeable and I learned a few things! So here are few things that I’m going to retain when I tackle my yard in the coming spring weeks:

1) Map your yard. It’s a good idea to map out the sunny and shady areas in your yard as well as the water drainage areas.

2) Rhubarb leaves are toxic to both humans and to insects. Put the leaves into boiling water and it soak for 24-hours, filter and add a few drops of dish detergent and you have a very natural and effective insecticide for mites and aphids.

3) Know your soil. Analyze samples of your soil by gathering some from various spots and places and put it a large jar with water. Screw the lid on tight, give the jar a good shake and let it sit for 24 hours. The soil will settle into laters: sand on the bottom, then layers of silt, clay, water and floating organic matter. If the sand, silt and clay settle in almost equal layers you have well-balanced soil.  If there is little organic material it indicates that your soil needs compost, peat moss, rotted manure or all three. If you have a lot of clay, that will need to be remedied.  Clay is the bane of any gardener’s existence as it provides very poor drainage. To counter clay, build raised beds with quality top soil.

4) Soil testing is important. Especially if you’re planning on starting a vegetable garden. Homes and soil have been subjected to a lot of different things over the years and you want to ensure that your soil is free of toxins as those toxins will make their into your grown foodKnowing what’s in your soil will also give you an idea what kind of plants will thrive in your yard.

5) Ditch the deck. According to the author, decks are the “insidious 1960’s-era inventions of lumber dealers wanting to horn in on the rising popularity of the flagstone patio”.  The author argues that decks turn landscape into an afterthought and that they raise homeowners above their gardens making them “nature voyeurs”. He insists that we should be one with nature and that a patio is by far a better option.

6) Rookies should avoid bramble bushes. Jams are delicious but brambles are needy. They require a lot of attention and grow like weeds. They can easily become overwhelming for a new gardener.

7) Wear garden gloves. I always figured that gloves were just to prevent scraps and bruises while messing around in the dirt but there is actually a lot more to it than that. Soil is full of bacteria, mold and nematodes. C. tetani, lives everywhere, to the air with breathe, our beds, skin and food but for the most part they call their home in the earth.  Many people get this bacteria by stepping on a nail in an outdoor or dirty environment, it’s because this bacteria needs a deep wound void of oxygen in order to survive. If you get deep wound while out gardening always get a booster shot as this bacteria can develop into tetanus which, causes painful muscular spasms that can lead to respiratory failure and, in up to 40% of cases, death. Nematodes, or more commonly known as the Roundworm, lay their eggs and larvae in soil and are everywhere you dig. If they get on your hands and then you touch your mouth you will have some new friends living in your intestine. Wearing gloves will protect you from these microscopic dangers.

8) Shrubs and hedges are great for beginning Canadian gardeners. Shrubs are a result of climate rather than an actual botanical category. They are trees that have evolved to adapt and recover from storms and unfavorable weather. Almost any tree can become a shrub or a hedge with pruning. They can also be a lot of fun to work with as you can get creative with your shrub or hedge shapes.

9) Keep your mower blades sharp. Dull mower blades will rip your grass instead of cutting it causing damage your grass.

10) Weeding. Know your enemy. Careful that you’re not pulling up what you’ve worked hard to plant. Avoid weeds in a vegetable garden by using a rototiller prior to planting and use mulch in flower beds. Mulch prevents sunlight from reaching weed seeds and slows water evaporation. It’s also organic so it will eventually breakdown and add nutrients to your soil.

Splintered by A.G. Howard

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 371 pages.
Read from April 24 to May 07, 2014.

I was torn between giving this novel two or three stars but I decided to go with three because the real fault with this book is that it just isn’t written for someone my age.

Splintered is a gothic and modern rendition of Alice and Wonderland. The protagonist, Alyssa Gardener, is a teenage girl who, from the time she hit puberty, is able to talk with insects and plants. All of the women in her family are inflicted with this ‘curse’ and her mother and grandmother have been institutionalized for these abilities. This curse, along with the abilities, is long rumored within Alyssa’s family to be in relation to the story of Alice in Wonderland, as Alice is apparently one of her great grandmothers.

Alyssa is keeping her abilities a secret from everyone but especially her institutionalized mother who hasn’t been home for most of her life. Between the stress of her family, tensions rising with her crush Jeb who is overprotective and the uncontrollable chatter of the critters around her, Alyssa is faced with a choice to end the curse that has plagued her family and save her mother. She takes the leap down the rabbit hole with some unexpected company and memories to a world that’s very different from the tale Alice depicted.

This Wonderland is a scary place, almost vicious, like that of a horror. The White Rabbit is actually rabid and missing some it’s skin due some inflicted punishment from the one of the Queens. The Mad Hatter doesn’t have a face but rather its head is literally a hat making mechanism. The Cheshire cat had its head cut off and half of his body has been eaten by a large and terrifying creature. The Walrus is some awful octopus hybrid called the octobenus and has an insatiable and cruel appetite. These horror-twisted characters are truly awesome and the reader can envision them perfectly with the author’s descriptions. It was a world, I wish I could have explored more. Instead, so much of the book’s focus was the weird romantic tension between Alyssa, Jeb and the netherling, Morpheus. I can’t ever recall as a teenage girl ever craving cheesy romance in my books but if this is what girls are into these days when it comes to novels then maybe I need to stop reading young-adult books.

This book had such amazing potential with its innovative setting but I felt it was ruined with lame-ass teenage romance. In my opinion, if this book had been written for adults and it ended up focusing more on the setting and Alyssa’s adventures instead of her love interests, it could have a been a really solid book! With that all being said, I didn’t dislike the book. I just wish it could have been formed differently.