I did manage to make it out of bed to go to TRX Bootcamp at FAU’s Rec Center on Saturday and ohmygosh, I am still feeling the pain. Here’s how I described it to my coworker today: I feel like I have been beaten with a bag full of baseballs. The worst part is I still feel like that two days later. Two full days of protein-packed foods, lots of being lazy, and a ton of stretching. And here I thought I was (somewhat) in shape! Of course, me feeling so terrible is my fault since I went HAM during the whole session, sadly on an empty stomach. I should have known to quit when we were only thirty minutes in and I was on the verge of puking up whatever was left in my stomach and I realized we still had thirty more minutes to go. Every muscle in my body hurts, so I have been a fat lazy bum since Saturday afternoon. I think I stretched for two hours last night, pulling every stretch for a few minutes at a time.

I am pretty sure the last time I hurt like this was in 7th or 8th grade when I was just beginning weight training, I know I never had muscle soreness this badly in high school or the years afterward when I was still a gym rat. Even after having a whole summer off from football or wrestling training did not make me feel this way, although I do know I had days like this after football when I was fighting my way up the bench for a linebacker position. But the upside is that my IT band no longer hurts, I think. It may still hurt but everything else feels worse, so we will see what the chiropractor says on Wednesday when I go. Hopefully he can give me some more stretches to do in case this happens again, it is too expensive to go on a routine basis.

I may or may not go back on Saturday, it beat me like a drum. But since I have only logged four runs this month, I need to do something, I am getting very antsy. I just hope that once the spring semester starts, the Rec Center will continue to offer TRX classes. I just need to remember that I am not as young and fit as I once was. I think in forty-five seconds, I did three or four atomic push-ups, I was totally blown out. After that thirty minute mark, I pretty much struggled with all the exercises except for crunches and stretching at the end. Overall, it was the best workout I have done since I stopped training nearly a decade ago. Since TRX kicked my ass so much, I probably will not be able to make any Strong Owl practices before the competition on 5 Oct 2011. That stinks but I know they will be doing it again next year and hopefully I can compete then.

I am totally blitzed so I think I will be heading off to sleep.

There has been a recent furor in the paleontology and anthropology circles this month, which was really started last spring. In the latest edition of Science (behind a paywall, sorry! Students you can probably access it via your school’s library), five reports have been published on fossil remains discovered last April in South Africa that purport to be humanity’s current “missing link”. I emphasize current for a reason which I will return to later, it is a prescient point. But let us discover this new ancestor!

New data has been published (2011) about (2011) Australopithecus sediba (2010). These two new fossils of a female and a juvenile australopith have now pushed back the ape-human common ancestor by about one to two million years. This is simply fantastic news because it gives us a better look at and understanding of just how we humans evolved from quadrupeds to bipeds with radically different-but-similar morphologies and what that really means historically. The remains are described as having extremely well understood Australopithecine skeletal types while somehow having radically “modern” features in bone formation. Both skulls are very much ape-like but also contain evolving plates and structures to support changing musculature and organs; the brows are very prominent like those of other australopithecines and early Homo species, the orbits (eye sockets) are still very large, the zygomatic process (cheek bones where mandibular muscles and ligaments attach) lies closer to the supraorbital ridge (brow), more convex maxilla (upper jaw plates), low sloping frontal plate, while the parietal (top) and occipital (rear) skull plates are clearly becoming enlarged to support a growing brain case and weight. The foot of Au. sediba is described by Lee Berger, discoverer of the remains, as “a heel bone that’s as primitive as a chimpanzee, attached to the ankle bone that’s as evolved as ours is.” Just taking the evolved ankle and skull plates as evidence, the fossils clearly demonstrate an evolution in typical ape locomotion from quadrupedal 99% of the time to splitting movement between upright and knuckle-walking. I remember reading about the discovery of Au. sediba last year and was utterly entranced by what was purported to be found: a better missing link than Lucy! There is little doubt that in the next few years, our ancestral tree will undergo another rewriting to add this newest member and hundreds of thousands of words will be used to elucidate us as to how these australopithecines lived. I am very anxious to get my hands on those newly published papers, this stuff is absolutely fascinating.

But this all leads to one problem, the issue of the newly termed current missing link. Before I even begin to rant, I will preface it all with this:

I understand the sole usage of terminology such as missing link. It is needed to garner enough attention to this information, both in academia and the general public at large, it serves no other purpose than to generate headlines. What’s more interesting to read, “newly discovered ape-human ancestor” or “newly discovered remains may be missing link to apes”? Yeah, it is not the first choice.

The phrase “missing link” itself is a Victorian holdover when the theory of evolution was new and fresh and barely fleshed out. Everyone, self-respecting scientist or not, figured there were definitive intermediate functionary forms for everything: fish, plants, humans, horses, whales, you name it. Whenever something was found to resemble one species and another, it was deemed to be the “missing link” between species A and species B since it would contain shared morphologies. The etymology of the phrase itself is worthy of a book, but suffice it to say it is simply a linguistic shortcut to mean “new discovery that fills in the gaps between A and B”. You can look at any biological niche and find claims of missing links being discovered every so often and this is where science has to take a backseat to public interest. Good paleontologists and anthropologists know that there is no such thing as a missing link but the public at large, being uneducated and not a scientist, does not understand this concept for the most part. Thanks to less-than-adequate education on evolution and how it occurs is the main contributor to this, sprinkle in social mores about how being a scientist (of nearly any kind) is simply “uncool”.

There are two camps in social science about using the phrase “missing link” in regards to evolution: nothing is missing, we just have not found it yet, and everything is a missing link because of evolution. The great thing is both say the exact same thing with different words, but the perception of what is said is the most important thing. Let’s tackle each one.

Nothing is missing, it just has not been found yet

Most of the anthropologists that I know and follow fall into this camp and it is the one I most identify with because, to me, it makes the most logical sense. However, it is also the viewpoint that can attract the most negative commentary because of fallibility and the unknown. If we haven’t found it, how do we know it is not missing? And this is where understanding evolution comes into play as we as scientists can see and express changes that occurred over hundreds of generations and thousands of years to take an organism from point A to point B. In the case of human evolution, scientists have constructed a cogent ancestral history dating back to 7 million years ago starting with S. tchadensis all the way through H. sapiens sapiens (us!). This history shows the gradual development from mainly quadrupedal locomotion to solely bipedal locomotion and relocation of the foramen magnum from the rear quarter of the skull to its current position under the medial base of the skull, and all the changes in between. This is all demonstrable through biological morphology comparisons of structures. Hell, we can even illustrate the similarities of the whale wrist — did you know whales even had wrists?! — and the human wrist, it’s incredible.

Thanks to evolution, everything is a missing link!

By looking at each human ancestor as a single entity between apes and modern humans, we can identify each one as a missing link. This is because scientists can point to various changes that began to emerge via evolution in ancestors as peak or emergence events. For example, fossils show the evolution of locomotion by pointing to the foramen magnum. As we began to walk upright more and more, the foramen magnum proceeded to move from a distal position to its current medial position. This can be seen as the link between how humans can habitually move around bipedally with the ability to go on all fours, whereas our ape cousins ably do the reverse; this would be a peak event. When you view changes in terms of strict comparison, everything is missing since it’s being purposefully left out but the change from species A to species B can be observed on a one-to-one comparison basis.

The discovery and subsequent analysis of A. sediba is amazing, the more insight on how we evolved gives us a clearer vision of who we are as a species. Now that the first studies of the remains have been published, it will get even more exciting once more anthropologists get their (gloved) hands on the bones or bone molds to conduct things like modality studies and physiological reconstructions. Since one set of remains was what seems to be an adult female, it would be an interesting study to explore sexual dimorphism to hypothesize what an adult male A. sediba would look like! While it is just being called a missing link, these fossils are an important branch of the human family tree that only serves to enrich science’s understanding of ourselves and vertebrates at large.

Two days ago, I finished my first three month weight loss/control experiment where I measured some body metrics everyday:

    Waist size
    Hip measurement
    Thigh diameter

I’ve touched on my weight loss before as becoming healthier has become my main focus for 2011 and I am totally succeeding! I made it a point to weigh and measure everyday, to the point where I made sure it was an inconvenience to myself to do so I would get it out of the way. I started on 20 June and ended on 20 September and I have very good news for myself to report.

    Starting weight: 207lbs
    Ending weight: 190.5lbs
    Starting waist size: 38.5 inches
    Ending waist size: 34.5 inches (I did drop to 34 a few times)
    Starting hips size: 39 inches
    Ending hips size: 37 inches
    Starting thigh size (right and left): 26 inches and 25.5 inches
    Ending thigh size (right and left): 23.25 inches and 23 inches

So in three months to the day, I lost 16.5 pounds and melted off a total of 11.25 inches in the places where it matters. I feel pretty awesome everyday and I have so much more energy than before. My mid-morning energy slump, hunger headaches, wildly varying blood sugar, and grouchiness have all but disappeared. Now when I wake up, an hour later I am peppy and ready to go all day with lots of free energy; if I get sleepy, it’s usually because I did not get enough sleep the night before. If I miss a meal, it’s no big deal because my body no longer crashes to the point where I am on the verge of passing out from what I believe is hypoglycemia, my body instead feeds on the foods I give it or it goes into a ketogenic stage and feeds on body fat. I routinely eat only once or twice all day now, whereas before I had to make sure I ate at least two meals full of complex carbs just to keep going.

How did I do it? The short answer is by adopting an entirely primal diet, on an 80/20 basis (six days strict, one day binge to eat whatever I want). I also made myself accountable for my eating by photographing everything I eat although I do miss meals sometimes. That way, if I feel extra crappy the next day or my weight shoots up, I can look back and see what I ate to pin point what may have caused it. The long answer is something for another post entirely involving how I made the switch, why I chose primal over other diets, how I learned to stop counting calories, and why I generally ignore everything your doctor, nutritionist, personal trainer, celebrity, and health organizations tell you about what is “healthy”, “unhealthy”, “guaranteed/proven to work”, and what foods to absolutely avoid. The changes have not always been easy or convenient but the results speak for themselves: I can fit into every pair of pants and shorts I own and nearly every shirt fits again.

I owe my results entirely to determination, Angelo Coppola, Robb Wolf, Richard Nikoley, Tim Ferriss, Paul Jaminet, and so many others who have written countless blog posts, journal articles, books, and produced podcasts about paleo and primal eating, evolutionary biology, functional fitness, why conventional wisdom is wrong and so many other topics. Thank you all for your tireless devotion to proving that, as Angelo Coppola says, humans are not broken.

My next three month experiment will involve tracking the same metrics however, I will now be introducing various types of cross training. I am going to start off with TRX suspension training since it is offered at FAU for free during this semester. Once that is done, I will move on to something else, perhaps even the extremely-poor-form-inducing CrossFit that I have until now sworn off, but we will see. I will continue to run and participate in races while trying to bump up my mileage, I intend to run a marathon or ultra-marathon next year, and will compete in some mud and endurance races such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, just to test my training and mettle.

After three months, I feel like a champion. Hopefully in three more months, I can say I feel like a Spartan.

Aside from some foot pains related to barefoot running, I have now suffered my first real running injury: strained IT band. It started on Sunday night after the Freedom 5k, I took a nap and woke up with a sore left hip. I thought nothing of it even though I had not properly stretched and knew I should have. For the next day or so, it was still sore but then it cleared up…until Thursday. Yesterday, I went for my first run around FAU’s Boca campus between classes and most of the run felt great. I noticed some slight pain and tightness in my left hip but either it subsided or I was simply more worried about the terrible state of the concrete sidewalks at FAU. All of my classes are on the “old” part of the campus where buildings have stood for the better part of 30 years or more, whereas the sidewalks on the newer side of campus — where the fabulous new Rec Center and football stadium are located — are absolutely delightful. They are smooth, flat, single pour concrete, incredible to run on. But those sidewalks on my side of campus? Like running on gravel. Gravel with no give. I was hoping to pull a 5k run but was cut short due to time but I am glad I did not run further because I was in some serious pain after I was done. Besides my feet throbbing from the battered concrete, thanks tree roots!, my pelvic girdle was screaming at me. In hindsight, I simply should have run in the grass or on the road as the sidewalk made me seriously alter my form to heavily overpronate and roll my feet on each fall. Looks like I may be running in my huaraches at school rather than barefoot.

That’s where it all went downhill and it only got worse as the night went on. As I walked to the campus Starbucks, I truly realized how much my hip was hurting and how badly my lower back/girdle was starting to hurt. Eventually, simply taking a step or two sent pain down my pelvis thanks to poor form during my run. Just sitting in class was painful so I ended up leaving and coming home to stretch and I jammed through my typical stretching routine while adding in Mobility WOD’s couch stretch (FYI: it hurts like hell, try the super couch if you like pain). When I woke up this morning, it was even worse and I hobbled to my office to work. Throughout the day I was so uncomfortable that I would go outside frequently to stretch out my IT band. I must have done ten different stretches and it took finally getting off work and onto my couch for the pain to subside. For the most part, mobility has been restored and pain is gone but it is still a tad sore, which stinks because I was going to go to Strong Owl training but may default to TRX Bootcamp if I can get over to campus before sign-up closes.

My running this week was already way down but now thanks to my terrible upkeep and a dumb IT band injury I could have avoided, next week’s training is compromised too. I was hoping to start ramping up mileage to start working on a 10k distance but that looks like it will be put on hold until this band stretches out but at least I can get some free cross-training in since I am pushing off any more races until next month. Plus, I really miss running with my running buddy, I have had to forgo running with him for something like two weeks in a row and it makes me feel terrible. I feel like the worst running partner because of my own stupidity.

Hopefully things will improve next week.

Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago, the World Trade Center towers fell and America has never been the same since nor will we ever be, especially the people of my generation and those after mine. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters were ripped from this world. 343 valiant firefighters heroes, 60 unwavering police officers heroes, and 2753 people are forever memorialized. Over two million brave service men and women heroes have been deployed in the fruitless aftermath of a decade’s long war that will drag on another decade, I thank each and every one of them I encounter whenever I see them. I thank my nephew, who even as an officer candidate and has never been deployed, for his future service to my country. I wish my mother a happy birthday with a smile on this day every year. Ten years ago today, my generation’s Peal Harbor occurred and we will never forget it. I was only 19, just a few weeks from turning 20. Now, here I am 29 and soon to be 30. I cannot recall a day that has gone by where I have not thought about that fateful day.

But today was different. I got up this morning at 6am to run the Operation Homefront Freedom Walk & Run 5k. When I got to the course, I was greeted by over 800 runners, at least 100 volunteers, and dozens of public service men, Marines, and members of the Army. I thanked all of them that I saw, each of them with smiles on their faces and it made me feel so incredibly inconsequential. It was a sad day to be sure but you would not know it from all the laughter and smiles, it was infectious. I ran alone today as my girlfriend could not make it to the event and truthfully, I am grateful for that as it gave me time to reflect on what this meant to me personally. I ended up PR’ing the race with an official time of 31:22, although my Garmin said 29:55. Physically I felt great, I only cramped up mildly about halfway through and the gravel-based concrete was hell on the soles of my feet, but I was never winded, exhausted, or really felt like I was overexerting myself. I did run rather slowly for about half a mile when my feet were really feeling it, I noticed my heart rate dropped significantly, to about 88 BPM down from the 160s. But once the street transitioned to smooth blacktop I immediately picked up pace and finished very strong, pulling fast (for me) 10 minute miles. Out of the 800+ runners, I was again the only one running barefoot with some Vibram runners intermixed into the crowd. It is amazing how much you stand out by simply not wearing shoes.

I spent the entire race thinking of only two things: how much the concrete was hurting my feet and of the service members in my life. I thought about my girlfriend’s father and step-mother, both retired from the Army and Air Force respectively, and of my step-father, a retired Army captain, helicopter and test aircraft pilot who passed away this year. I ran this race in his memory as he inspired and molded me into the adult I am today as much as my biological parents did. He taught me an incalculable number of things about life and what was really most important at the end of the day. I do not think there is any man on this planet that affected my life more than my step-father, even as we fought, argued, and did not speak for months at a time, his hard-nosed attitude effected me greatly. Thank you Chuck, I will never forget you. I miss you and love you.

Ten years ago today, ten years in the future. Never forget, never forgotten.