Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Race review: Dunes 100

My First 100 Mile Race: The Dunes 100

Running my first 100-mile race has been a long time coming; I completed my first 50k in 2010, my first (and only) 50 miler in 2015 and my first (and only) 100K in February 2016. I’d given myself the goal of completing a 100-mile race before I turned 40 (October, 2017) and after pouring over the Florida ultra-marathon calendar I settled on the inaugural Dunes 100.

Although the goal was set in my mind, I kept putting off the actual registration. Why? I was scared! I know, I know: goals are important and the first step of goal-setting theory is to actually accept the goal, and yet I procrastinated. BTW, this is exactly how goals don’t get met! The excuses kept coming: “I’ll register after running next weekend.” I was running the Celebration Marathon on January 29th so “I’ll register after the Celebration Marathon if I’m still feeling good.” “I’ll register after logging another 50k training run.” On and on it went until, two weeks out, my wife helped me recognize my lack of commitment and suggested I should register if I was doing the race. Two minutes later:

Thanks for the push, Harmony! You know exactly what I need!
A little backstory on my support network, I met my wife the day of my first half-marathon (January 21st, 2007). Since that day, she has inspired me to run more and to run farther and she always supports my ever-enlarging fitness goals. BTW, she has a 3:00 marathon PR so that obviously provided a little jump in my competitive drive too! I cannot emphasize enough that she has made me what I am! Her support has been integral to my success, not just as a runner, but in life. Thank you, Harmony!

For weeks before the race I poured over ultra-marathon race reviews, mental tips, fueling strategies, etc. I wanted to be as prepared as possible and if I weren’t, it wouldn’t be because I hadn’t read enough on the subject. It was all consuming. I had made a packing list with each item I was bringing and which items were going into which drop bags. A week before the race, everything was laid out on the floor of my office.

The Dunes 100 was held at the Jonathan Dickerson State Park in Hobe Sound, FL and because I had never been there prior to the race, course reconnaissance was part Google Earth, part trolling other runners’ photos taken at the park. The course is a 25.286 mile out-and-back, completed four times for the 100 mile event, with approximately 45 miles of sugar sand, including the “Dunes of Heaven” and “Dunes of Hell.”

Race weekend: I drove to Jonathan Dickerson State Park for the first time on Friday afternoon to attend the pre-race briefing. It was then I saw the Dunes of Hell for the first time as I drove along U.S. 1. Wow! They were definitely steeper than the photos I’d seen showed. I should mention that the descriptive name, Dunes of Heaven, is only appropriate when juxtaposed with the Dunes of Hell; true, they are not as bad as the Dunes of Hell but they’re still small rolling hills of deep sugar sand. They’re far from the ideal running surface and definitely not heavenly!

The Dunes of Heaven east bound

The Dunes of Heaven west bound

The race briefing was laid-back and it was fun meeting the other runners and race organizers. There were a lot of first-timers running the 100 miler and as well as meeting new friends, I got to meet several friends I had only known from Strava. Pre-race photos were taken and introductions to all 100-mile runners were made (something fun and not possible at larger events).

Race morning arrived and I got to the start area about 30 minutes early. A few more pre-race photos were taken before we filed into the starting corral.

Taken just minutes before the start.

For each 25 mile leg of the race there were 6 aid stations (AS): AS1 (5.9 miles), AS2 (7.7 miles) and AS3 (12.5 miles/turnaround), AS2 (17.4 miles), AS1 (19.2 miles), and start/finish/turnaround (25 miles). The aid stations were well-stocked with typical ultra food: water, Gatorade, soda, bananas, oranges, pickles, pretzels, Rice Crispy treats, M&Ms, quesadillas, broth, potatoes, PB&Js, etc. The list is longer but you get the picture, right? There was more than enough variety and quantity of food for even the pickiest eaters. The adage made popular in Chris McDougal”s Born to Run that ultras are “eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in" was not disproved at this race! Eating, specifically foods I don’t usually eat (chips and soda), are, for me, one of the many draws of ultra-running.

So what did I eat? I didn’t want to only rely on aid station food so I made 8 PB&J sandwiches that were cut into quarters. I calculated each sandwich was about 450 calories and I ate one sandwich on each 12.5-mile section (one quarter every 3 miles or so). I kept the sandwiches in my drop bags and would grab one on my way through and stuff it in my pack before heading back out on the course. My PB&Js were just supplemental; as mentioned above, I ate potato chips (crisps), potatoes with salt, pickles, and what seemed like gallons of Mt. Dew at each aid station. When out on the course I only drank water but due to the heat (it reached 86°F/30°C) I was literally drinking gallons. My pack’s bladder held 1.5 liters and while the sun was up I was refilling it with ice and water at every aid station. I also carried a soft flask on the front of my pack with extra water.

Aid station 2
On to the race itself: I used time-tested ultra advice to ensure I finished. "Start slow and taper off from there." Wise words, indeed! Although my first lap was a little fast, it was in my plan. I wanted to get as many miles in before the sun came up and the temperature soared. The first 12.5 miles were awesome; the park was especially beautiful as sun rose and the fog slowly burned off.

Sunrise through the fog at Jonathan Dickerson State Park
Almost immediately after beginning the second lap, my watch reset and I could not turn it back on. This was an early mental setback as I contemplated running the next (possible) 20 hours without knowing my pace or distance. Luckily, the watch started working again and I only missed a few miles of data. After completing the first lap, my original plan for laps two and three was to run 20 minutes and walk for 5 minutes. I ended up using a 10/1 split which was much better. For the whole race I planned to walk up any incline (this was imperative!). Even though I had a plan I was fortunate that, around mile 26, I began running with Eddy Souza. It was Eddy’s first 100-miler too and it was fun chatting as the miles passed. 

Eddy and I on the most runnable part of the course
The Dunes 100 allows runners to use pacers after the first 50 miles and Eddy had arranged for four friends to pace him for each 12.5-mile section of the final 50 miles. Without a doubt, Eddy was a HUGE part of my success, but the pacers, Sebastian Rovira, Nick Stump, Nathan Gehring, and Tom Walters, were definitely the glue that held the race together for both Eddy and me. My race plan for lap four was to simply get through it and just keep moving and the pacers ensured the relentless forward progress that was needed. No one ever completed an ultra by standing still, right?!

L to R: Tom Walters, Nick Stump, Eddy Souza, & Nathan Gehring

Running into AS4 (mile 62.5) and picking up pacer, Nick Stump.
I read so much about the devastating lows runners can experience when running ultras. It’s understandable; the distances seem insurmountable and the only way is to break it up into bite-sized chunks. I attribute my good mood for most of the race to having company, however, it wasn’t all cake and ice cream. At around mile 70 I was getting a little overwhelmed by the thought of running another 5 miles only to turn around for another 25 mile lap. Moreover, this last loop could quite possibly take us 7 hours. Getting started again at mile 75 was tough, but again, having a pacer saved the day and encouraged Eddy and me to run several minutes before taking another walk break (repeated over and over). The last miles were a slog. We walked as fast as we could for the last few miles, without running a step, until we were about 200 meters from the finish line! You can’t walk across the finish line, can you?
Crossing the finish line with Eddy was the sweetest finish I have ever experienced. It was a unforgettable journey resulting in personal achievement. It was a unforgettable journey resulting in team achievement. Eddy and I both completed our first 100-mile race in 21 hours, 40 minutes and 55 seconds. We tied for first place!

And of course, what 100 mile race would be complete without the buckle! It's gorgeous and most definitely hard-earned!

I have to give a huge thank you to all the volunteers who donated their time to help me meet my goal! You are all incredible and I'm not exaggerating when I say the volunteers at Dunes 100 were the best I've seen at any race!

To everyone at Down to Run, you guys seriously know how to put on an event! Thank you for your commitment to our sport and help making goals (dreams?) come true! 

Did I miss anything in this review you want to know about? Write a comment and ask!

Miscellaneous information:
GPS Watch: Garmin Fenix 3
Headlamps: Nathan Halo Fire and Black Diamond Spot
Hat: FUR flap hat

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Race Review: Iron Horse 100K

Friday February 5th, 2016: I finished work at noon in order to get home, pack, and drive the 3+ hours to Florahome, FL; the race briefing was at 1730 at the start line. I say I had to pack but I was already well prepared, having had everything set aside for the last week. It seemed like I was bringing enough food to feed an army. I was not going to go without exactly what I wanted to eat before or after the race but especially after the race; my plan was to drive home immediately after I finished and eat the whole way home; my wife was racing her third half marathon in as many weeks the next morning.
Like every runner leading up to a goal race, I had been religiously checking the weather every ten minutes or so for the past week. Earlier in the week the forecast had indicated it would be raining all day but by the night before, there was only a 15% chance of rain beginning around 1700. Perfect, I thought; if the rain held off for a bit longer I may avoid it altogether. No such luck. 

Chris Rodatz, the race director, conducted the race briefing and told us of a few changes. Mainly, aid station 2 (AS2) had been moved due to heavy rain in the days leading up to the race and the aid station volunteers were unable to get to the originally planned location. This turned out for the best; AS2 turned out to be in the perfect location that we (in the 100K) would pass 8 times, making it a great way to break up the race into manageable sections. Chris also mentioned there was water on the course and it was likely we’d be getting our feet wet. Ugh! 
Below is a selfie at the race briefing. What you can't see is an abundance of beards and trucker hats. It was great!

Course description (100K): The course amounted 25 miles. The 100K would run it 2 ½ times. We began running west on the paved Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail for 1.75 miles before turning around and coming back to the start line. We continued east on the paved trail for about two miles before joining a sandy access road along a power line easement, entering the Etoniah Creek State Forest. On the map below, AS2 was at the 7.5 mile mark. Once at AS2, runners headed in a northeast direction for a loop along East-V road before returning to AS2 and heading north for a loop along West-V road. After returning to AS2 again, we ran back to the Start/Finish to complete the course. After doing that twice, we then ran to a turnaround point a little past AS2 before returning to finish.
Saturday February 6th, 2016: A great part of this race was the parking. Runners were able to park their cars next to the start/finish area, parallel to the course. This allowed us to use our cars as an aid station and not waste any time, as may happen if you had to park further than 5 feet from the course! It was a cold start to the day and I wore 2 long-sleeve t-shirts, a fleece jacket, hat and gloves for the first 3.5 miles. 

After we ran back through the start area, I was able to pop the trunk as I ran up to the car and throw my excess clothing in. I probably lost 10-15 seconds with my costume change. 10 seconds means everything when you plan on running for 10-12 hours, right?! Ha ha! Ok, that is more of a 5k mentality but after only 3.5 miles, I was full of energy and wanted to go!

So, the race began and I took off. I knew I had to run easy and also knew I never run easy enough. My first mile was way too fast (8:05) but I soon settled in to a somewhat easy and controlled pace. I knew I would be slowing down as the race progressed and the hours ticked by but my heart rate was low and I felt I could maintain the pace for ages. At about mile 4 I began running with Shawn Greenhill. He was also running the 100K and, after talking to him, realized we had the same goal of <10 hours. Well, that was my ‘A’ goal. I had been having pre-race doubts and was thinking I’d be more like 11 hours. Oh well, if I had company, I may as well go for it. You never know, right! 

With company, the miles began to melt by easily. I was stopping at every aid station and eating potatoes (dipped in salt) and bananas. I was carrying a hand held bottle and Powerbar Double Latte gels. Before I knew it, we were running through the start/finish and completing the first lap. Shawn and I were talking quite a bit for the first 35 miles or so but as fatigue set in, the conversation became limited. 
The photo below shows my 50K split: 4:35:08.

The course was great for seeing other runners; it was basically three out and backs from AS2 repeated again and again. There were a lot of “good jobs” and “looking goods” going around and it was fun seeing the same people throughout the day. The aid stations were well stocked with water, Heed, bananas, oranges, M&Ms, cakes, muffins, and other miscellaneous ultra-type food. I heard there was going to be shrimp gumbo at some point but I didn’t see it. During the second lap, on the East-V road loop, I forgot to fill my water bottle at AS2 and, with a couple miles until I’d be back there, I was getting pretty thirsty. When I finally arrived I drank several cups of Coke and when I say nothing has ever tasted so good, I mean the Coke was soul-nourishingly good, no, more like trade your first born for a cup good. Ordinarily I don’t like Coke but today it was the nectar of the gods!
There were a few gradual inclines on West-V road and, during the first lap, we talked about how much steeper they would be when we saw them again. During the second lap (mile 40ish), Shawn and I decided to walk up two of them. Although we walked for about 5 minutes total, it was a well-needed break and stopped my heart rate from spiking. After completing the second lap (50 miles) we talked about how we only had 12 miles to go and broke up the 12 miles into sections: by the time we went out and back to the start line, there would only be 9 miles to go. Then it was another +/-2 miles before we met the trail, +/-2 miles before AS2, another short section and a then we would be heading home! During this final 9 miles, the weather turned. It had been overcast in the mid 50s for most of the day (perfect weather) but slowly it began to rain. It rained hard for the final 5 miles. Although there are a lot of negatives to running in the rain when it’s cold out, the rain today enhanced my sense of achievement. It also made me think about all the people still out on the course, especially those running the 100 mile race; some of them would be out all night! I was in awe of them but not envious!

About a mile from the finish, Shawn and I talked about running across the line together, effectively tying for second place. Oh, I haven’t mentioned we were in second place! We were! I was ecstatic about that!
We had passed several people throughout the day but the guy leading our race was WAY ahead. The winner was going to get a $100 Altra gift certificate that, had we been leading, we would have raced to the finish for. Shawn, I’m really glad it didn’t come down to that! According to my watch, we crossed the finish line in 9:50:50 and 62.76 miles after we started. Yes, I measured the course a bit long but if I consider the long distance and not taking the tangents, the course was extremely accurate.

This was a fan-bloody-tastic event. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to try their first ultra distance race. It was a runnable course with, seemingly, constant access to aid stations!
So, what did I learn running my first 100K. Well, when I ran my first 50 miler last year (Everglades), I went out way too fast. I paid dearly for that mistake during the last 10 miles. For this race I started easier and maintained a somewhat consistent pace. Also, my nutrition was dialed in. I ate all the time (which is half the fun)! I was constantly drinking too, which I know helped immensely! 
Thank you to race director, Chris Rodatz, and all who helped organize the day. Huge thanks to the many aid station volunteers who were always offering to fill bottles and get food for us as we approached them. Thank you to Shawn Greenhill for almost 10 hours of company and motivation to keep running at a good clip. I owe my sub 10 time to you, my friend! 

 Here is a very short video I made about the race. It's basically a very limited race report!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Race Review: Bulow Woods Trail Run

The 2nd annual Bulow Woods Trail Run took place on Saturday December 12th. Three distances were offered: 50k, half marathon, and a 4 mile (ish). 
Before I talk about the race itself I must let everyone know that the whole (race) weekend was a huge deal for my family and me. I was graduating from university with a B.A. in psychology the following day. My daughters and parents had flown in for the occasion and my wife, Harmony, had organized the whole weekend down to the last detail. As a runner, I really wanted to race this weekend; I knew it would add to the excitement and create memories. It didn't disappoint! Harmony, who earned both her B.A. and M.S. as an adult, and my girls, both of whom have their B.A.s, were running the half marathon and I was running the 50k. I mention their education to show how they were a huge part of the motivation for me to complete my degree! Thank you, my beautiful family, for your support!

On to the race! Very simply, the half marathon was a single loop of the out and back course and the 50k was two loops, obviously with a couple extra miles tacked on! The course was wonderful! It was flat and runable with a nice mix of trails through the trees, double track, and rooty/muddy sections that made me feel like the hard-core trail runner I am (in my mind).
The organization was fantastic, especially considering this is only the second running of this race. The race was held in the Bulow Woods StatePark and parking was a couple miles away in the Tomoka State Park. This was not as inconvenient as it sounds; shuttles were constantly bringing people back and forth. I must have waited for the shuttle for a total of 5 minutes! Easy! There were three aid stations but because of the course, runners were never more than 3 or so miles from the next one, and often closer. The food was great with lots of the perfect foods runners enjoy: fruit, candy, chocolate, Fig Newtons, water, Heed, etc. (and rum runners in a souvenir jar at the finish!).

I'd estimate 95% of the course was shady! 
 It was lovely! I brought sunglasses but ended up carrying them for the first half before dropping them off at the half way point!

Milling around the start of an ultra is always fun an exciting. There is a lot less stress in the air than at a road race (and exponentially less than at the start of a triathlon) and seeing all the equipment and clothing is fun! Before the gun (or the race director saying "go"), everyone was hanging out near the line and chatting about what runners chat about: running! No one was standing on the line ready to bound out of the gate for an immediate lead! It was very laid back and chill!

 ***Pro tip*** Don't judge a runner and/or change your race plan because of their equipment or body hair!

I found myself gazing at two guys that looked like every ultimate ultra-runner depicted by Trail Runner magazine! They were trim, wearing hydration vests, and had beards! Beards!! I thought to myself, these guys must really mean business; they have beards! Should I try and hang on to them at the beginning? Ugh! This was supposed to be a fun run and now these beards are goading me into running faster than I'd planned, and we haven't even started! For a few minutes I was cursing my clean-shaven face for hindering my performance! (Ha ha, I jest! Well, sort of!) Anyway, as in any race, once it begins, all pre-race jitters melt away as I did what I came to do: run as well as I could on the day!

I started with the front couple of runners at a fairly easy pace (8:15ish) and enjoyed chatting to a few guys for the first couple miles. (I'm #4 in the photo below! I'm guessing I didn't see the camera!)

The flat and shady course soon whispered that it was ok if I picked up the pace. I listened! I took the lead somewhere between miles two and three, not with the sole intention of running away (pun intended!) but more to look for the trail and make sure we stayed on track. On trails it is often easier to be behind someone and have them keep an eye out for the trail markers. This wasn’t really a problem at this race because the course was extremely well marked. It would be very difficult to get lost (this is coming from someone who has got lost several times on supposedly “well-marked” courses). 
 The course was relatively easy and very flat until the last three miles before the turn around. That’s about 6 miles per loop (12 miles total for the 50k) where we really needed to watch our footing over roots and through twisting trails. There were a few sections where the trail got muddy. As I was the first one through the first time, the mud wasn’t too bad but after all the runners had gone through, it got pretty sloppy (and fun). It wasn’t muddy with standing water but the mud was shoe-sucking soft (I heard one runner got their shoe sucked off their foot!). The first time through this techy section was fun and easy(ish). The second time through, fatigue was making it more difficult to pick my feet up as high as I needed. Although I didn’t go down completely, I did trip several times (This is the first trail run I can remember that I haven’t fallen!). At the second turn around with about 7.5 miles to go, I was wondering how far back the person in second places was. When I passed him, I timed it at 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Ugh! Not enough of a buffer to stop and rest, especially if he was feeling good and picking up the pace. In the last quarter of a race, it is not often I am feeling my best and freshest. Today was no exception! I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, determined not to stop. I knew I wouldn’t mind not winning if I had given everything. My determination paid off and I crossed the line in first place in 4:12:14. Needless to say I was VERY happy. What made it even better was my daughter, Michelle, running the last ¼ mile with me. She had wandered down the trail looking for me and made me dig deep to turn my legs over faster to finish strong! My wife and daughter, Libby, and Ryan (Michelle’s boyfriend) were all cheering as I crossed the line! In looking at the results, I can see I increased my lead over the last 7.5 miles, finishing 13 minutes and 17 seconds in front of the second place finisher. I guess the lesson is to just keep pushing on; you never know what you can achieve until you try! 

This race offers something for everyone! For those looking to tackle their first ultra distance race, this would be an ideal choice! The course does not add so much difficulty (terrain wise) that it makes the distance seem even more challenging! Let me be clear, running 50k is no easy feat, however, don't be put off by the course itself; it is welcoming and provides enough challenging terrain that makes you look forward to the flatter and open parts of the course! It was great having the other distance races too; there were always people to cheer and give high fives too! I received a lot of kudos from other runners on the course! It really helped me, especially during the last hour of the race! Support means everything and the running community knows all about this! Thank you!

My wife, amazing runner that she is, finished 3rd in the half marathon and won the Masters division! My daughters ran the half marathon together and came 2nd/3rd in their age group! What a great day of racing! Thank you to my wonderful family for making it extra special and memorable! 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Heed the call (of your body)

I want to recognize what many runners often find themselves dealing with, or not dealing with: pain/discomfort/injury. I, like many of my running peers, think we know what to do when it comes to training and injury prevention. We read countless articles, books, and scientific studies on the subject. To say listening to your body is important is a massive understatement. We know we ought to take a rest day (or several) when needed. Although empirical evidence supports we only lose a negligible amount of fitness after a two-week hiatus and that fitness is quickly regained, we often fret if we can't meet our subjective running goals. Why this willful ignorance when it comes to our own fitness and/or running? Why doesn't this blindness apply when we're talking to others about their goals and training structure. When talking about our sport with others, we truly want what's best for them and will err on the side of caution to help them avoid any unnecessary hardships and barriers to their training. With others, we use scientifically supported training principals which can be (inconveniently) forgotten/ignored in our own training. When questioning if I ought to do something (training or otherwise), my wife will sometimes ask if I would advise my daughter to do the same thing. This question helps reframe the situation. If I decide the answer is no and still go ahead and take the questionable action (e.g. double run day when the I'm overly fatigued) then I'm a hypocrite and ought not be surprised with a negative reaction. Furthermore, I may find myself in a state of cognitive dissonance which is not a comfortable psychological state to be in. Avoid it by taking actions that align with what you know and hold to be correct.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, if you follow me on Twitter or Strava you may know that I've been having some pain in my butt/groin/hip. Back story: in 2014 I broke my hip (stress fracture) while running the Boston marathon. It happened towards the end (near the Citgo sign) and I managed to finish the race. After stopping, I could barely walk! Below, the first MRI has an arrow showing the location of my 2014 stress fracture. The second MRI is zoomed in a little closer so you can see the fracture.

After about 6 months of low/no impact training I was able to resume running. I knew I needed to be more careful with my training and one of my 2015 goals was to avoid injury. Fast forward to today, the summer of 2015, and I'm training for a summer ultra marathon, The Pinellas Trail Challenge. Obviously, the heat has made it difficult to run but I've adopted running considerable slower than I used to. My easy runs are easy, rather than the moderate effort I used to run most miles at. I've enjoyed running more and my volume increased quite rapidly. Too rapidly for me. I know my orthopedic threshold is lower than I'd like but I've been ignoring that fact; I needed (wanted!) to train for my upcoming race!
Unlike my 2014 stress fracture that occurred suddenly with acute pain, my injury now feels relatively minor. I hope it’s not another one! However, the feeling is disturbingly similar to my 2014 stress fracture. When I first felt it last week, I took two days off then, on the third day, ran an easy 11 (see the video I made on that run below).

The discomfort was still there. Ugh! WHY IS IT SO HARD TO JUST STOP? Well, I've stopped now and it's not pleasant but I'm happy; I know I need it! I'm writing this during a two hour sesh on the elliptical. I am taking a whole week off from running before I reassess. Saturday August 8th will be the soonest I run. I have to identify a date in here because it, and my readers (all three of you (LOL)) will hold me accountable. If there is any pain I will hold off for longer and, if necessary, cancel my race (I REALLY don't want to do that!).

So...something to take away...hmmm. Although I am self coached, I see incredible value in getting one. She will give you structure to your training and workouts tailored to your individual abilities/needs. If you adhere to the plan, I think you'll be less likely to become injured. I also see incredible value in the running community, especially online; you can communicate with thousands of people and see what they're doing. Moreover, the running community provides support when you're doubting your own training. Although we think we know best, sometimes it helps hammer home an idea when you hear about and see others doing what you know to be best. 

Many thanks to my wife and running peeps for what you do. You don’t know how much I value what you provide!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lesson learned: Pace yourself to meet your goal

You know how it can take an extreme example to prove a point? This is what happened to me with the point that going out too fast in a race is not the most effective way to run a race. Going out too fast in a race is a rookie mistake. It is a rookie mistake that even after running for 10 years, I still make. When racing, I often find myself running faster than planned during the early miles; I’ll think about banking time knowing (when I say “knowing” I mean “incorrectly assuming”) fatigue in the latter miles will force me to slow down. My reasoning for banking time is that during the latter miles, I will be able to cash in the banked time and still meet my goal. While I can tell myself this strategy is successful because I meet my subjective goal, it is clearly an anecdotal fallacy; there is a ton of evidence supporting the claim that running a positive split (running the first half of the race faster than the second) is not the most effective way to meet your racing potential.
I’m not going to go into the data supporting negative splits but if you’re interested, this link provides a great analysis of some race times and allows you to draw your own conclusions about successful pacing strategies. If you typically run a positive split in your races, don’t feel bad; you’re in good company (and the massive majority). Why? It’s really hard to run a negative split!
Check out this Runner's World article: What World Records Teach About Marathon Pacing
My unintentional experiment came on a day I had planned to run 13 miles. I have recently been trying to slow my roll, to run the majority of my runs easy, rather than at the medium pace that I would usually fall into. 

Running slowly is like a breath of fresh air; it’s fun (and easy). I like the idea of the 80/20 running plan (80% of your mileage is an easy effort, 20% is a medium to hard effort), and especially the data and scientific support behind it. FYI, It’s likely I have been encouraged by Matt Fitzgerald’s book, 80/20Running, which I am currently reading. 

Although running slow is fun and easy, I still need to do some hard work to harness my full potential (I cringed at writing that but I’m leaving it in!). That was my thought as I set out to keep my heart rate (HR) below 140bpm (70% MHR) except for the 5 X 0.75 mile intervals I wanted to do. By the way, this run started at 10am with a temperature of 89F (31C). It was HOT! I warmed up for three miles before starting the intervals. I noticed my HR was not going under 140bpm during my recovery (0.25 miles) but I wasn’t worried; I had several miles to run after the intervals in which I would run in the easy zone 2. However, much to my surprise, my HR was extremely hard to get into zone two after the intervals were done. I really slowed down too! It want’s until I slowed to a walk that I could get my HR into the mid 130s. A lot of runners don’t like to walk (I am one of them), even if their goals would be better served by doing so but I think that comes down to ego (fodder for another post). Anyway, after my short walk, a very slow trot kept my HR in the range I wanted but it was several miles before I had recovered enough where I could speed up without putting my HR through the roof. Below is a graph of my pace and HR.

So, what did I learn from this workout? Well, nothing I didn’t already know but rather, something I chose to ignore. Recovering from a hard effort take longer than I thought! If I were racing a long distance, I would have jeopardized my race, or at least my race time, by burning through my glycogen stores so quickly. Then there is cardiac drift which is the normal phenomenon where your HR increases throughout your run (exercise session) although your speed remains the same. Even if you don’t increase your effort, your HR increases. If you raise your HR too early it has nowhere to go. Your effort will, obviously, be unsustainable. Although my interval workout and racing are not exactly the same, the lesson I learned is if you want to meet a certain goal (time, HR), correct pacing is the key to success! Deviating from your race/workout plan can lead to goals not being achieved.
Run hard when you have to, run easy when you don’t.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gluten-Free? Me? No way! (Or so I thought!)

It’s quite fashionable and trendy to eat a gluten-free (GF) diet these days. Fashionable, trendy, and EASY. Wifey and I went on a cruise a few weeks ago and there was an entire section of the buffet labeled “Gluten-Free.” Granted, most of the items on the buffet were obviously and naturally free of gluten like meats and potato and they also had some kind of bread but the point is, even a major cruise line is jumping on the GF bandwagon. And why wouldn’t they? Almost 1/3 of Americans report being GF! If the United States has 320 million people, 106.667 million of them report eating GF even though CeliacCentral.org estimates 1/133 people have celiac disease (CD), which equates to 1,418,671 people who need to eat GF. 

And need to they do; CD is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. 

CD can lead to a number of other disorders including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers, and other autoimmune diseases. Ugh! So clearly it is imperative that some people eat GF, but I found myself rolling my eyes at everyone else who was eating this way just to be trendy.

I choose to be vegan for a plethora of reasons. However, as time goes by, I see that the ethics of a plant-based diet is my primary motivator. I don’t eat animals because I don’t want to contribute to their suffering. I’ve always been an environmentalist and science clearly shows a plant-based diet is better for our planet. Yes, I realize I’m talking about the trendiness of a GF diet when it is clear veganism is also, thankfully, trending now. 

This is my blog so I guess I can overtly favor one thing (diet) over another, right? My point is to show that I have made a decision to eat a certain way and have my reasons yet I found myself wondering about the sense behind the GF movement. After all, eating GF doesn’t benefit other sentient beings or the planet.
Is GF a marketing gimmick used to sell us certain foods at a higher price? The economic factor is definitely part of the puzzle but so are cognitive biases which power the economic machine: the availability heuristic, the availability cascade, the social desirability bias, and the bandwagon effect (I am clearly experiencing the bias blind spot effect so no need to comment about that. Ha ha). As I first stated, it is first and foremost a social trend. It is cool to be, or at least claim to be, GF.

If you didn’t know by the name of my blog, I like to run. As a population, runners are notorious for having higher rates of anemia than the average Joe. I am no exception. My blood work often shows me flirting on the edge of anemic red blood cell count. Recently, I also displayed markers indicating possible CD. I discounted this possibility, mainly due to my disdain at the thought of having to join the hoards of those eating GF and also because I was not experiencing any symptoms (symptoms include: bloating or gas, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, itchy skin rash, tingling/numbness, pale mouth sores, joint pain, delayed growth, poor weight gain, thin bones, infertility, headaches, depression, irritability, and discolored teeth).
I visited with a gastroenterologist and scheduled an endoscopy to take a gander at, and biopsy, my duodenum. 

To make a long story short, results showed I have asymptomatic CD! Whaaaat??? Ugh! What now? Now I have to make drastic changes to my diet as limiting food containing gluten and derivatives is not enough; even the smallest amount can damage the villi in the intestine. To be honest, the diet is easy. Finding options that are both vegan and GF can be a little trickier but there are still a ton of delicious, nutritious, and satisfying foods I can eat and enjoy. The main struggle I have is being “that guy” who asks about GF options. But if worrying about other people’s opinions of me is my biggest challenge, I’d say I’ll be just fine.
On the bright side, I’ve found GF products that I would not have taken a look at before my diagnosis. 

GF Chex cereal is amazing (and rightly falls into the vegan junk food category) and is a perfect dessert! The only big changes I’ve made are with grains. Although oatmeal is technically GF, it is a rotation crop therefore can be contaminated with wheat, etc. There are certified GF oat options but the recommendation is generally to steer clear of oats for the first year after diagnosis, introducing them again only after giving your intestine time to heal. Oh boy! I used to eat a lot of oatmeal! With this in mind, I wanted to replace it with something. That something is quinoa; it is the perfect replacement even though the consistency is quite different! Change is good, right? “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” ~ George Bernard Shaw.

I’ve not only changed my eating habits, I've also changed my perspective. I’m now a plant-based GF foodie and I accept my GF brethren for whatever reason they choose to live GF. Do what makes you happy and healthy, peeps.