Monday, November 4, 2013

Lessons Learned - Maximizing Recovery

Something I've discovered since I started running marathons is that I learn something new either during the training cycle or from the race itself. Each one presents challenges I have to figure out how to overcome, and over time I've built up a mental dossier of things that work well for me. Why did I cramp at mile 19 and how can I prevent it from happening again the next race? What can I eat that won't make my stomach queasy? How often should I drink water? The list goes on and on.

This last time around while training for Chicago I was running more than ever. Most weeks Will and I were turning in 65+ miles, and a couple topped out in the low 70s. It was a slow ramp up that allowed my body to adapt to the new demands being placed on it, but still it was very taxing. Although I wasn't in any real pain, I was continuously sore and fatigued. Just part of the deal, I told myself. You're supposed to feel like this!

One day I happened to come across a site called RunnersConnect that I initially thought sold coaching services and training plans. After spending a few minutes poking around, however, I found a number of informative articles about training, nutrition and injury prevention. I wondered if they had anything about training recovery and eventually came across this article, What Runners Can Learn From Bodybuilders. I found it to be an extremely informative post that both explained what takes place in our bodies after a hard workout, and what could be done to promote quicker recovery.

I won't go into much depth about the article because I really think you should read it. That said, the author, Jeff Gaudette, offered two pieces of advice that basically revolve around the repairing of muscle fibers (anabolism) and delaying the break down of muscle tissue (catabolism). So, how can we do this like a bodybuilder does?

To promote anabolism Jeff advocated consuming whey protein in the form of a protein powder drink as soon as you wake up in the morning. I tried this for a few weeks and, honestly, didn't think it did a lot for me. I'm sure in the overall scheme of things it was helping my muscles, but I didn't experience any drastic changes in the way I felt. Further, I run first thing in the mornings, and putting this into my stomach didn't really agree with me. So, given these two things and the expense of the product he recommended, I came to the conclusion it wasn't worth continuing.

While the whey protein came up short, Jeff's other advice on how to conquer catabolism I found to be invaluable. He suggested consuming casein, a slow-digesting protein chock full o' amino acids, just before bedtime each night. The point of this he says is to feed your body with muscle building goodness and prolong the cannibalization process that would otherwise occur while you're sleeping and fasting. Whatever voodoo magic is taking place overnight, I can say with enthusiasm that this stuff really works! The mornings after I started doing this I woke up feeling significantly more recovered than I was before. I didn't creak near as much getting out of bed, and I was able to better execute each day's workout.

Incidentally, I feel it warrants comment that whey and casein protein should be considered only one aspect of your overall nutrition plan. If you're not eating right in the first place I suspect these supplements won't do a lot for you. So, minimize your alcohol and sweets and stock up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. It'll do your body good.

So, will this work for you? If you decide to try it I'd be interested in your feedback. The product Jeff specifically recommends is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein. Apparently, it's what you want because it has a high concentration of protein isolate, and that's what makes it more effective. You can mix it with milk or water, and comes in a quite a few flavors. The chocolate supreme is what I got, which was great because it also satisfied my chocoholic tendencies. Sweet!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chicago Marathon Race Report

After a year off from racing I targeted this year's Chicago Marathon as my next Boston qualifying event. As luck would have it, shortly after moving to Tennessee I met another guy, Will, who was also going and we began training together. Wanting to get a jump on the 18-week, 55-70 mile per week Pfitzinger plan, we began training on May 5th, adding a full 6 weeks to the schedule. It didn't take long to realize my new training partner - who was shooting for a sub-3 hour marathon - was going to either break me or make me a better athlete.

Over the course of the relatively mild summer months we picked up company here and there. Chris Getman joined us early on, and Andy Johnson, Chris Blaylock, Josh Bolin and David Gibson made the occasional appearance. But over the long haul it was Jonathan Thatcher that trained with us regularly. Between his dry British humor and Will's cerebral wit we never had a dull run. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have met all these guys, because let me tell you, if you don't have some good people around you 18 weeks can feel like 18 months. It's a grind that goes much easier with good company

Pre-Race

I flew up to Chicago on Friday night, which initially I thought I'd regret because of the cost. Hotel rooms don't come cheap, especially around marathon time inside The Loop. But in the end I was very happy I got there early and didn't have to worry about making the trip on Saturday. That, and I was also excited to reunite with my good friends Tim and Amanda, who'd flow up earlier in the day themselves.

Saturday morning the three of us got up and walked a couple miles across town to meet at Fleet Feet for a shake out run with Bart Yasso. A couple of hundred others did the same, and we all took a slow jog across town to run along the Lakefront Trail. It was a beautiful morning with great views across the bay, but if I were a native I'd probably avoid it on the weekends because of tourists like us that couldn't help but stop and take photos.

After the run we had a leisurely breakfast and then headed back to the hotel and got cleaned up. Will got into town shortly after noon and we took the shuttle over to the expo. It was at this point it became clear that we were getting what we paid for, which was a lot. Everything about the expo, from the transportation to the packet pick up was seamless and well organized. This experience would extend to the race itself, where everything - and I do mean everything - went off without a hitch. If something went wrong with this race neither I nor anyone I was with knew anything about it.

We wrapped up the day by going out to Pizano's on Adams Street downtown. If every race has its glitch, this was ours. In a really bad way. Knowing there would be hordes of runners looking for a last-minute carb fix on Saturday night, we made plans to get to the restaurant at 5pm. When we arrived we were told it would be about a 20-30 minute wait for a table. Fine by us, and when it actually took until 5:45 to be seated we didn't mind.

We each promptly placed our order and were told by our waiter it could take 20-30 minutes. Again, no big deal. Before we knew it, though, it was 7:15 and our patience was wearing thin. I called over the manager and asked why we'd been kept waiting for an hour and a half. She apologized, saying it was like this every year on marathon weekend. What? How could they allow this to happen every year? Anyway, she assured us our orders were currently cooking and that she'd knock 25% off the bill. So, we hunkered down.

Long story short, another half hour passed and we still hadn't received our food. Again we called over the manager, who insisted we should stay and that she would comp our entire meal. The food came about five minutes later, at which point we wolfed it down, tipped our waiter and then got out of there. Free food is not worth the stress and tension we experienced that night, so I'd advise you try elsewhere if you're looking for pasta the night before the race.

Race Day

Despite the events the evening before, I got a good night's sleep and woke up at 4:30. Following through on my by-the-book carb loading I downed a couple packets of oatmeal I brought along and was ready to head out on time at 6:15. Will and I headed downstairs where we ran across Tim and Amanda acting as photogs for the dozens of runners hanging around in the lobby. Since they were scheduled to start 30 minutes later than us, they stayed behind a bit longer.

Will and I walked down to Grant Park, cleared security, which consisted of bib checks and cursory exams of our clear plastic gear bags, and made our way to the gear check. Will, who was wound like a top, was more than ready to get into race mode, so we wished each other luck and parted ways. I stopped by the port-o-lets and then high-tailed it to corral B, managing to walk through the gate at exactly 7:20 when it was supposed to close. Everyone around me was talkative and in good spirits, and a few minutes before the start excess clothing started flying from left to right over the fence where volunteers were waiting to collect it for charitable organizations.

Unlike other large races I've been to where corrals are released every X minutes, this one just let everyone in wave 1 trickle out onto the course. It was immediately evident that the organizers had done a good job of positioning runners according to ability, as there was no need to weave around slower participants. The only people I questioned being so close to the front were one guy who was juggling three balls and another that was dribbling two basketballs. I mean, c'mon! Now you're just mocking how hard it is to run a marathon! ;)

Quite honestly, almost the entire race was a blur. There were so many people along the course cheering that it made everything go by very quickly. Even though it winds through 29 different neighborhoods, with few exceptions could I tell you where I ran. Ones that do stand out, however, included The Loop where people were 5-6 deep on the sidewalks, Chinatown, Lincoln Park, and Little Italy. It was truly amazing that there was maybe only one section of less than a mile where it got somewhat quite. Otherwise it was a huge street party the entire way.

For me personally I felt great and my confidence was soaring. I started out trailing the 3:25 pace group the first 5-6 miles and then slowly pulled ahead because I felt so good. Through 19 miles I did exactly what I wanted to do, which was to hit splits between 7:35-7:45/mile. In the middle of my 20th mile, though, I began to feel twinges in my left hamstring that I knew signaled cramping. As if on cue, it started to charlie horse right as I came upon a first aid station. I hobbled over to it and pleaded for the volunteer for give me some salt. She casually walked to the other side of the tent while I had a mini freak out. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but she thought I was there seeking serious medical attention. Of course, it probably only took a few seconds, but she finally gave me what looked like an S! cap and a large cup of water. I downed it and jumped back on the course. The cramp passed and I was able to make up for some lost time, but still I sacrificed 25 seconds.

The next few miles were text book again - 7:40, 7:32 and 7:36. I had great energy and even entertained thoughts of finishing a couple of minutes under my goal. But then at mile 25 my other hamstring started to cramp without warning. I stopped and tried desperately to stretch it out, but it wasn't loosening. Someone asked if I was ok, and when I replied I needed some salt she pointed across the street at another first aid tent. Again I did a controlled stagger and pleaded with the aid worker that was on duty. She gave me another pill but had no water, so I had to slowly jog to the next aid stop. I'm sure it had more to do with stopping for a minute than taking a salt pill, but whatever the case my cramp relaxed again and I was able to push on.

Miles 25-26 I lost another minute combined. Still, I thought I had a chance and tried to pick up the pace. All of a sudden I saw a sign that said 800m to go. I glanced down at my watch and saw that it registered somewhere around 3 hours 22 minutes. Holy crap! I only have 3 minutes to run 800m minutes at the end of a marathon! I started running with everything I had left, being escorted the entire way by a woman who was doing the same thing while panting like Monica Seles. I kept waiting for my legs to cramp again, but they didn't. I was able to push all the way to the finish, running a 6:55/mile over that distance. I crossed the line and stopped my watch. 3:25:04 it read.

I wasn't sure what my (un)official time was until after I'd cleared the finish chute and collected my bag at the gear check. I stopped by the information booth, where the volunteer informed me my time was 3:25:03. Yes, I missed qualifying for Boston by 3 seconds. :p

Post Race

Despite missing my goal I still feel pretty good about my race. It's a 2-minute PR, and if it hadn't been for the cramping I'm pretty sure I could have finished around 3:23. That alone is enough to give me confidence I can succeed next time around.

Major kudos to those that went with me and did great things at Chicago.

. Will, who broke three hours with an outstanding 2:59:25.
.. Allison, who passed me near the end and finished in 3:23:25.
... Jenny, who I ran with briefly run up until I cramped the second time. She killed it with a 3:24:48.
.... David, who ran in memory of his brother, Daniel, and in the process blew away his previous best with a 3:26:43.
.... Amanda, who not only had a great time of 3:54:36, but also had a great race experience.

..... And last but not least, Tim, who finished his first marathon in 5:27:06. Above all others he impressed me with his dedication and transformation into a marathoner. You talk about determination, this guy's got it in spades.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Intel: Running with music?

Q: What do you think about running with music?

A: Like most things, my opinion on this has evolved over the years. When I first started running regularly back in 2007 I went to great lengths to have something to listen to while I ran. I had a 1st generation iPod Nano, an arm band, and an assortment of different headphones that were quite a production to assemble and strap on to myself. I would also spend a considerable amount of time preparing playlists and searching for just the right music to take along (check out PodRunner for free, downloadable BPM tracks). It was quite an ordeal, but it served me well.

At some point - maybe when I started running more often with others - I stopped listening to music while I ran. Over time I came to realize that being inside my own head wasn't such a bad thing, and I went a long time without giving it a second thought. Well, that's not entirely true. I'd see other people out running with their ear buds plugged in and judge them a tiny bit. Don't they realize how much about the running experience they're giving up by tuning out, I thought? And don't they realize how unsafe it is to block out the sounds of cars, cyclists, and unleashed dogs? No, I'm not proud of myself, but it's the truth.

For years I rarely listened to music while I ran. Exceptions were made a couple of times per year. Sometimes I'd do it when I had no choice but to run inside on a treadmill, while other times I'd do it as an experiment. That's right, I'd sometimes pull out all the things and take them for a trial run, to see if anything had changed. It hadn't. I didn't hate it, but the next day I felt no compulsion to do it again.

Enter marathon training, summer of 2013. This is where the loop closes and I start occasionally listening to music on my runs. Going into the training cycle I knew there would be a lot of long, solitary runs to get through. Yes, I've had the good fortune to train with a number of people, but the reality is when you're ramping up the mileage it's inevitable you'll find yourself alone in the dark for two hours on a Wednesday morning.

Once I made my decision I did some research. Most importantly, I wanted some headphones that 1) allowed me to hear outside noises, 2) wouldn't fall out of my sweaty ears, and 3) sound half way decent. I found all that in the yurbuds Inspire Pro and haven't regretted my decision to get them for one second. They live up to the hype, fo sho. I also knew I wanted an MP3 player that didn't make me feel like my blood pressure was being taken while I ran. I chose the iPod Shuffle, which clips onto my waist band and allows me to easily change tracks or the volume. It, too, has been a solid performer.

So, where does all of this leave me now? Well, for starters I think listening to music on a run is a personal decision. One that needs to be carefully considered, especially for safety reasons. If you can remain alert in your environment and listen to music at the same time, go for it. That said, I do think there are some other things that should be considered if you decide to flip the switch around other people.

1. Use headphones or at the very least make sure  those you're with don't mind listening along. I've run with people that played music through their phone without headphones, oblivious to the fact that others might not want to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd or Miley Cyrus. If you're all on the same page, great. Otherwise, don't be a DJ.

2. If you're using headphones - even if it's on a closed race course - you should keep the volume to a reasonable level. It can be very distracting and irritating to someone passing by or being passed. Further, you should know where your fellow runners are, so as not to step in front of them. I can't count many times I've been cut off because someone listening to music didn't realize I was there.

What do you think? Listen to music or the voice in your head? Can you think of other supporting arguments for either side of the issue? And have I missed any other caveats for when people elect to run with music? Sound off in the comments.

This post is one in series that addresses comments and questions I routinely hear from both new and non-runners. This series - posts will be tagged with the "Intel" label - is not intended to delve deep into running subjects, but simply to provide informative, concise responses that sometimes entertain. I am not an anatomy professorparticularly accomplished runner or legend of the sport. I'm just a guy that runs often, races frequently and enjoys sharing what he's learned. You can contribute topics by emailing me using the link on my Google+ Profile or by posting in the comments below.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Franklin Half Marathon Report

I took part in the inaugural Franklin Half Marathon this morning, which was put on by Run Franklin and Start 2 Finish Event Management. There's a movement going on with the participants to rename this one the Hot and Hilly Half, which would be fitting. The first half of the race there were a lot of rolling hills and climbing, and the second half when things flattened out a bit the heat got cranked up. Definitely not a PR race, and one of the tougher ones I've completed. That said, it was a beautiful course that started in downtown historic Leiper's Fork, and I could see myself training on in it the future. Maybe when the leaves are turning.

For me this was always going to be a training run. This week's schedule called for 16 miles with 8 at marathon pace. I ran a little before the start of the race to get some of it taken care of up front, and then intended to execute a 5/8 plan. The first 5 miles, which were supposed to be easy, were difficult to keep under control. The aforementioned hills made settling in to a groove near impossible, and overall I went faster than I'd planned.

The remaining 8 miles didn't go much better. I accelerated at the split and tried to find the right pace, but the first 2 miles contained about 200' of climbing. Even though I didn't think it was all that steep, my legs were sapped. The peak was welcome, but the 1-mile descent into the valley that normally would have been great was a quad punisher. Once I finally got into the valley though, I managed to grind out a couple of miles right on target.

Realizing I was on the edge of overheating I changed up the run to a 5/5/3, and coasted in the last few miles. To be honest, I was really shocked to turn in this time today. I didn't pay much attention to my overall pace, and wouldn't have been surprised had I come in 10 minutes slower.

I really enjoyed getting to run with Josh, and was very impressed with how well Michelle managed her race. When I last saw her at the 5-mile mark it was clear she was struggling with the heat. So, when I saw her finishing only a few minutes after me I was amazed. She must've done something right to hold it together so well the rest of the race.

Mega kudos to the event organizers. There were a couple of snags, which are to be expected with any inaugural race, but overall they put on a solid event and got the important things right. Would I race it in the future? Not likely, but I'd definitely consider running it again. :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Intel: How Many Miles is The Boston Marathon?

Q: How many miles are there in The Boston Marathon?

A: The Boston Marathon is 26.2 miles long. In fact, all "marathons" are 26.2 miles. That 5K being held at your local high school this weekend? Not a marathon. No, it's a 5K, which is 3.1 miles. Oh, and "marathons" are not to be confused with ultra marathons, which are races at distances longer than 26.2 miles. Confused? Here's a chart for your reference.

5K 3.1 Miles
10 K 6.2 Miles
15 K 9.3 Miles
Half Marathon 13.1 Miles
Marathon 26.2 Miles
Ultra Marathons >  26.2 Miles

Now, if you ask a runner this question on the third Monday in April you may get an impatient, snarky response. That's because on this day - the day The Boston Marathon is held every year - it's our Super Bowl. Our World Cup. Our Whatever-The-Heck-Is-Your-Sport's-Biggest-Event. And we're likely irritable because our big thing doesn't get as much respect as yours'. It's not even on television. We have to watch it on the Internet. So, when you ask what we consider to be a trivial question about how long it is, it reminds us how niche our sport is in the greater scheme of things. And we kind of wish everyone realized just how big of a deal it is.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Intel: I Don't Want To Slow You Down


. Hey, do you want to go for a run sometime?
.. Ah...no, thanks. You're fast and I don't want to slow you down.

This might be one of the more frustrating conversations I have with new runners. They're just starting out, think that running is all about how fast or how far one goes, and completely lose sight of the fact that it can be a fun, social activity.

I think one of the main reasons people don't stick with running is because they isolate themselves and think of it as a solitary endeavor. This is unfortunate, because running is one of those sports best shared, where accountability can make or break your sticktoitiveness. Don't feel like getting out of bed for your run? Odds are you will if you know someone else is standing around waiting for you.

This is not to say that you have to run with others all the time. Me personally, I run alone most weekdays and meet up with a group on the weekend. Some of my workouts are best completed alone so I can focus, while others, like longer runs, are far more enjoyable shared.

Here are a couple of points that will hopefully change your mind about running with others.

Number 1: If a person you perceive to be a seasoned runner asks you to join them, odds are they already know you're not at their skill or endurance level. They're asking because they want to spend time with you and help you enjoy something they're passionate about. They know you may need to run slower, and they're also aware you might need to - *gasp* - stop and walk for a bit. It's ok. It really is. They wouldn't ask you if they didn't want to do this.

Number 2: You're not as slow as you think you are. Yes, you. You the walker, wogger or jogger. There are tons of people out there that you're very compatible with when it comes to speed and distance. In fact, the vast majority of runners are probably not as fast as you think they are. That person you think is too good for you to run with might fall into the same category as you.

Keep these things in mind the next time someone asks you to go running with them. It's ok if you've tried running with others and just prefer to go it alone. But don't dismiss an offer for company out of hand just because you think you're too slow. That's just selling yourself short and possibly depriving yourself of the one thing that makes running something you love.

This post is one in series that addresses comments and questions I routinely hear from both new and non-runners. This series - posts will be tagged with the "Intel" label - is not intended to delve deep into running subjects, but simply to provide informative, concise responses that sometimes entertain. I am not an anatomy professorparticularly accomplished runner or legend of the sport. I'm just a guy that runs often, races frequently and enjoys sharing what he's learned. You can contribute topics by emailing me using the link on my Google+ Profile or by posting in the comments below.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Intel: How Should I Breathe When I Run?

Q: How should I breathe when I run?

A: Someone once told me about a friend that told her when running she should only breathe in and out of her nose. "It'll help you get that runner's high," she said.

Whoa! Stop! Don't do that! Whoa!

Ok, now that we've established that you should not do that, here's my take. Just breathe. Open your mouth and let as much oxygen as your body demands be inhaled. Do not constrict your breathing in any way. In, out, repeat.

If you're a relatively new runner your breathing will most likely be labored. That's because your aerobic capacity needs to be trained as much as your legs. Don't be discouraged. It will become less work the more you run.

You will no doubt hear from others that the proper way to breathe is to inhale deeply all the way down to your stomach. Or you may be advised to inhale X breaths for every X steps you take. Again, don't stress over this. These methods certainly work for some, but I don't recommend you get hung up on it.

Keeping this simple, my advice to new runners is to try keep your breathing manageable. You should be able to carry out a conversation. If you're panting so hard you can't, slow down. In time you may want to run faster. When that day comes it will be time to reassess. Until then, slow down and just enjoy the run.

This post is one in series that addresses comments and questions I routinely hear from both new and non-runners. This series - posts will be tagged with the "Intel" label - is not intended to delve deep into running subjects, but simply to provide informative, concise responses that sometimes entertain. I am not an anatomy professorparticularly accomplished runner or legend of the sport. I'm just a guy that runs often, races frequently and enjoys sharing what he's learned. You can contribute topics by emailing me using the link on my Google+ Profile or by posting in the comments below.