I’ve settled on my fuel plan for New York. I’ve been training with this product called Infinit Nutrition, trying out a couple of their sport drink blends on my longer runs (which are now consistently up in the high twenties for distance.) My completely unscientific assessment is that (a) I’m feeling better between runs (recovery) than I remember feeling between runs last time and (b) they don’t give me the gurgles in my tum-tum. On that anecdotal evidence alone, I ordered a customized formula from their website, tweaking the mix to what I think I need to balance out the last few nagging doubts in my training for the home stretch, and bring it home to the NYC finish line in November. The only thing that’s got me worried now is what kind of documentation I might need to carry a small bag of white powder across the border later this year. It’s sports drink. No… really.
Or, five tasty things I drink to escape the cool, refreshing icy-death grip that soda has on my life.
I fight to drink enough water.
I have great intentions and I know the benefits, but as a guy who –up until about five years ago– got most of his fluids from sugary beverages, switching to simple water has been one of the most challenging aspects of this fitness journey. Soda, pop, cola, fountain drinks… whatever you call them, they may not be the general pariah that drugs or smoking or numerous other addictions have been so labelled. Yet prying them out of your diet fully, completely & forever seems –to me, at least– to be a daily and conscious effort.
Thus, I’ve been experimenting with finding a satisfying substitute for a cold glass of pop.
And that’s the key really: satisfying. Because while it may seem like a first-world problem and a trivial factor, there are folks like me who understand that while rationally accepting water as the ideal replacement for soda is fine, there are moments of weakness when rationality is toppled to the ground by the raw, insatiable need for something nostalgic and emotional. Sweetness triggers the emotional side of quenching thirst. It invigorates memories of youth and fun and innocence. Plus, pop is conveniently sold around every corner of my life, in the vending machine a few dozens steps from my desk, and every time I go to buy lunch someone asks if I’d like a can of something with that. I say no thanks, but drinking fewer calories suddenly, abruptly, painfully becomes a real effort. In other words, addiction is a helluva-thing.
And to top it off, water is swell, but it doesn’t have that emotional kick to replace the big soda-shaped hole in my life.
I’ve been working with a few options to keep myself hydrated despite my irrational snobbery of plain old H20…
Eating more fruits and veg may seem like a no-brainer, but when you work in an office building and the nearest grocery store is eight blocks away, fresh produce is either rare or something that is expensively purchased piece-by-piece from a convenience store.
a snack and some fluid wrapped into one
Actually, there is a little fresh lunch market that’s about a five minute walk from my desk, and occasionally I’ll wander over there and buy what should be called The Most Expensive Fruit Cup in the World® which ends up costing me about four dollars for a little plastic beaker of chopped fruit, which I squirrel back to my chair and munch on. It’s a snack and some subtle hydration wrapped into one.
I’ve heard mixed analysis of this: y’know, that anything with caffeine is a diuretic… that it makes you pee more and so negates the hydration effect of what you’re aiming for by drinking it in the first place. But then I’ve also read that you need to make that tea pretty strong to create a real reverse drag on your hydration with caffeine, so… shrug.
as weak as thirty-year old computer nerd
The thing is that I’m a morning coffee drinker, so once I get through my morning Joe, I’m much more apt to turn to tea to get me through the rest of the day. My wife is a tea drinker, and having spent almost two decades with her I’ve learned to drink tea in her style: as weak as thirty-year old computer nerd. Actually, it’s a bit stronger than I’m implying, but it’s hardly the stand-up strong of English-style tea. In effect, it’s hot flavoured water.
3. Diluted Sports Drinks
a lightly flavoured watery brew
We’ve all heard that sports drinks are pretty much salty, sweat-flavoured soda, so I will eagerly admit that drinking these is not an ideal replacement for water. However, as I’ve learned with much experimentation, there is a sweet-spot (so to speak) in the mix-your-own powdered variety. This is the point to where you can dilute it to about one-tenth to one-fifth the recommended concentration (I just eyeball it so I can’t provide a more accurate measure) and the result is a lightly flavoured watery brew that (for soda junkies like me) is more palatable that plain water but only has about 25-50 calories per litre.
Mathematically speaking, it’s cheaper and probably fewer calories than a convenience store banana, at least.
4. Electrolyte Tabs
I’ve recently discovered a new favourite product to assist with this effort (so you just know I’m waiting to find the website that tells me these things are evil somehow!) I’m not trying to endorse anything here, but I’ve been using NUUN tabs for a few months at the rate of about 5 per week. These are unsweetened, very low calorie electrolyte tablets that dissolve in plain water and –all other electrolyte-positive health claims aside– give the water a nice mild flavour that it’s sweet but which has been encouraging me to drink a lot more fluid.
they sell three flavours in the sports store in the mall
The problem with these is more to do with availability and price. They sell just three flavours in the sports store in the mall near my office, and I’m getting pretty bored of them. Plus, the price works out to about sixty cents per tab, which is not quite coffee-expensive, but it can still really start to add up.
5. Lots of Ice
If all else fails, I’ve found the thing that almost —almost— makes boring old water palatable for me: ice. Lots and lots and lots of ice. Really, almost more ice than water, and often with a few drops of lemon juice from one of those little plastic yellow lemon juice shooters.
almost more ice than water
Icy cold water has a distinctly refreshing feel that I will tolerate long enough to get through the better part of a big glass. Not cold. Icy, dripping condensation from the glass, freeze your tongue icy. The problem is more one of convenience then, really, because I don’t really have easy access to lots of ice at work — or when out and about — or when travelling — or when running… unless, of course, I stick my face in a snowbank.
The Emotional Side of Quenching
I get that after reading this many of you are shrugging it off and thinking “just drink water, man!”
But that’s the thing. There is an emotional component to many things: I don’t dislike water, I just have a mild addiction to flavoured drinks because they trigger a flush of good feelings in my brain. I know water is the preferable choice, and I also know I need to keep myself hydrated… but that soda jerk on my back doesn’t care.
Is it possible to be fit while being completely out of shape? Perhaps that is a contradiction in definition, but lately I’ve been feeling that way.
Random aches and pains.
Localized malfunctions during runs.
Struggles with getting my hydration and electrolyte balance just right.
I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard along this running fitness path for a few solid years and it’s netted some amazing things, but the other side of that lucky coin has been some pretty hard core damage to other bits and pieces of my body.
As we plan for a winter beach vacation and I look down the barrel of age forty, now just a year and a bit away, I’ve been contemplating how to balance out the super-endurance, super-fit awesomeness of running with the increasingly frequent breakdowns of this aging organic shell.
It’s more than food. More than eating. More than tweaking. It’s a lifestyle change… yet again.
And summer seems like a great time to contemplate hacking the process yet again. Simple hacks. Realistic hacks. Hacks to the way I think about living that have compound results that can last a lifetime if implemented properly. It’s not magic: it’s behavior adaptation towards the positive.
Part 1: Target Acquired
Right now, I want to start thinking about three different, but interconnected body hacks, each of them tough, but I think with some simple mental reprogramming that I can go a long way with each.
Flexibility – Improving my muscle function and elasticity through improving my flexibility. I’m going to need to do a lot more reading in the coming weeks. I’m not even sure how to evaluate improvements in this.
Nutrition – Eating and drinking a lot better. I need to balance my diet, reduce my caffeine intake, manage all those sapping micronutrients, and –y’know– generally eat like a grown up with more veggies and less simple sugars. Oh, and definitely more liquids. All that good stuff: we’ve been here before.
And then the big one:
Strength – What has me worried is that a lot of these aches and pains are due to me neglecting basic strength over the last couple years. I’m not talking about getting buff, but simply that core strength and general muscle mass balance ties to all sorts of the little things that have hobbled me in the past year. I’m thinking of setting up a basic program to follow. And it’s probably going to hurt a bit at first.
The SMART goals — simple, measurable achievable, realistic, and time-linked — will follow in coming articles. Stay tuned.
It’s funny how you can be very happy with a result and simultaneously kicking yourself over the same thing.
Despite (and against) a number of factors, I scored a personal record in this morning’s half marathon. A PR for my best half marathon ever. KA-POW!
According to the official chip tracking posted on the website and forever immortalized on the Edmonton Police Foundation Half Marathon webpage my time was a respectable two hours and fourty-eight seconds. That’s right: 2:00:48… blasting through my previous best time of 2:03:45 set back in 2012 by nearly three whole minutes.
As a side note: according to my watch, my time was 2:01:45. This is technically wrong, only because after crossing the line I noted that my distance (which varies by the accuracy of the GPS on any given day, was at 21.03 klicks. Strava, which I use to track everything these days, doesn’t give you credit for a half marathon, and thus a record for the half, unless you hit that 21.1 klick mark. No mulligans. No editing or adjusting after. I’ve missed credit on February and March because my watch came up short and with this record I wasn’t missing this one. I think that’s a bug, but whatever. So I walked for about a minute after crossing the line to make sure I got the full 21.1 km — knowing the chip would record my verified race time.
It doesn’t sound like much but in a half marathon, three minutes is a heavy chunk of time. Three minutes is months of hard, fast, painful training pushed out in rain, or snow or at five in the morning when I’d rather be sleeping. That three minutes, for me at least, was hard won.
Back in 2012 I had just trained crazy hard all summer. It was in that few months that a monumental shift occurred in my effort and attitude towards this crazy sport and I’ve yet to look back. Even so, I’ve yet to even come within five minutes of that time since. Two-tens, two-twelves, and even a two-oh-eight once, but always the elusive two-hour mark was far, far away.
Now, a roughly two hour time is not amazing, I admit, and it’s definitely not going to put me into contention for elite status or win me any fame and glory anywhere besides my own head, but for a guy who sometimes (read: often) questions the sanity of this whole running thing, it’s nice to know I still can find room to improve. So all in all you’d think I’d be over the moon right now.
The thing is… I choked. I could see the last stretch and I just couldn’t for every yelling, screaming, berating pep-talk I was giving myself inside my brain, bring it home. With two klicks left to run my legs were not cooperating with my brain: the wall had officially been hit, and…
But let’s back up a bit, shall we?
The weather was chilly, right around freezing and threatening to only warm up a little bit. I got to the race just in the knick of time, traffic and parking being unexpectedly insane and literally jogged the klick from my car to the start to catch the gun. In this moment of haste, I had to decide between the gear I’d brought along, parsing out a few of the options based on weather and weight. I went for the slim belt, no jacket, cap and gloves. I left my hydration fuel belt in the car –dum, dum, dumb– along with my nutrition.
I ran the whole race only stopping at about half the water stations and never taking any extra calories. This seemed fine, at least for the first nineteen klicks. Then it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I even had a few seconds of head-spinny dizziness and walked it off, but it passed. But the effort was lost and the seconds were squandered.
I mentioned in the open that I was kicking myself over a great time.
The fuel is why: I checked my math at 10.5 klicks along and holding my pace I would have hit 1:57. I checked my math at 16 klicks, and with five klicks to go I was still on track for about a 1:58. Ditto at seventeen. Ditto at eighteen. Ditto even as I entered the home stretch at nineteen. A few jelly beans or gummy bears or a couple swigs of Gatorade and I’d probably be rocking a blog post about my first sub-two right now.
Runner meet the wall.
But all that aside, half marathon number four of 2015 was otherwise awesome, and a great run. The route was challenging but amazing. The event was really well organized. And I’m still standing to write about it a few hours later.
And I guess I have a goal for Calgary in a few weeks. Sub-2?
What posts in June? Oh, thooooose thirty posts in June… again. It seems that for the fourth year in a row I’ve climbed aboard the daily blogging train and continued that monumental, multi-year writing effort to string a topic or idea across the vast reaches of years. Each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be:
June 5th // Something You Have Eaten
Ok. An exaggeration, perhaps. It’s probably more like nine-hundred thousand….
But since taking up that whole marathon training thing, a big part of the preparation work has little to do with actually running. You find yourself practising things like the best pair of shorts that don’t chafe after thirty kilometers, what brand of peanut butter tastes good but won’t give you a gut ache in the middle of a long run, and yes, what kind of sugar-based candy will avoid annoying you after a million of them and yet still gives you enough quick energy to keep your body from collapsing on the trail.
There are as many schools of thought on trail-based nutrition as there are runners. But I’ve found that the gummi bears have kept me moving… though, admittedly, as much as I love them I’m starting to get a bit weary of the colourful little guys.
#100happydays #dailyhappy (1/100) …an unexpectedly-awesome discussion about on-run nutrition with eight eager runners at my thursday clinic night.
With the big race just a short time away, regular readers who’ve been following along with me over the last ten months as I write about the trials and tribulations of training for a 4-day, 78 km run may be wondering what some of the things going through my mind are…
… y’know, like right now. (Besides scoring all those cool medals!)
I’ve never been what you might call a “details person” but taking on such a big challenge has left me in full-on over-thinking mode, sometimes in a good way, and other times not so much. I’d like to think, however, that by considering all the things that might go wrong BEFORE I get to the start line, at least I’ll have (a) considered them and (b) possibly spent some GPU (Grey-Matter Processing Units) on out-thinking the potentially associated FAIL that goes with.
Nutrition & Hydration
aka. No one actually eats properly on vacation.
“Uggh…” you groan. “I went on vacation and gained like ten pounds!” It’s the lament of the modern vacationer, right? But when you’re off to run a race, not only can’t you over-eat (a tough prospect at a theme park on a good day) you also need to make sure you eating good, nutritious food, with proper fibre, and stick-to-your-ribs goodness. Top that off with a strategic effort of a full-on hydration regimen, and that’s a recipe that is even fairly tough to follow when you are at home and focused on it. Good luck, eh?
Go mild or go home. I figure that I’ll be focussing on sandwiches and salads for my restaurant meals leading into the race. I’ve found that standard clubhouse is a good bet –not too crazy, balanced, and full of potential not-too-bland but not-too-strange goodness — on whole wheat with nice light side salads and unsweetened iced tea on the side. The other option will be to look for mild pastas or dishes with eggs and complex carbs. This will be assisted by the “Pasta in the Park” adventure on the evening before the second race: a pasta buffet where the trick will be to settle in for a nice meal that will act as the fuel for the upcoming couple of races and build a good foundation for the marathon, but not to over-do it and end up with a “Pasta on the Shoes” barfing adventure the next morning. Also, a fixed beverage menu pre-races: water, tea, coffee, and maybe a sports drink here and there. And, it almost goes without saying, but I’ll be the guy carrying the water bottle around with me everywhere — EVERYWHERE — too.
Sea-level sounds great, but is it?
aka. Sea-level sounds great, but is it?
According to my GPS watch I live at approximately 670m of elevation. That’s right: about two-thirds of a kilometre above sea level. This isn’t huge, I know, but according the the air pressure calculator at altitude.org I’ve been training and running for most of my days what is described as follows: “At 670m, the standard barometric pressure is 94 kPa (705 mmHg). This means that there is 93% of the oxygen available at sea level.” So, having roughly 7.5% more oxygen available is a good thing, right? Humidity factors aside, I would argue that any time you throw more than say 5% of environmental variability into your run you need to consider it somehow. For sake of that comparison, look at the elevation of Banff, Alberta — about 1460m above sea level — which according the same calculator has “85% of the oxygen available at sea level.” I ran a half marathon there in September and it kicked my ass… so, yeah… just saying. Hopefully the change is in my favour this time, but I’m not taking anything for granted.
Spend the ‘altitude-credits’ for a recovery-boost rather than speed-boost. I’m hoping it works in my favour, but I’m going to ignore as much of the benefit and any associated feel-goodery that emerges from it as I’m running and rather, if the lower altitudes give me any boost at all, I’ll keep running my normal pace and use the extra O2 as a recovery benefit rather than a race benefit. Does that make sense?
aka. Unfamiliar surroundings complicate matters.
For a runner, home-base is nearly as important as any other factor. It’s where you sleep. It’s where you dress. It’s where you prepare your mind, body and soul for the experience of running the insane distances. And, on a travel run, that home is an unfamiliar hotel room, with all the quirks, strange noises, lumpy pillows, tiny blinking lights, rude neighbours, and finicky coffee makers you’d expect.
Settle in. Unpack. Claim a “race zone” for gear and set-up. Bring headphones to help get to sleep, an extra alarm clock to avoid the uncertainty of the one provided, and make it “feel like home” as much as possible. The night before any race, make the plan clear and set up for race morning: coffee ready to brew, clothes ready to toss on, and a plan of morning attack fully formed in your head.
aka. I’m relying on a bus to an unfamiliar place.
No car. Just a bus from the hotel to the start line each morning. It should all work out for the best, right, but even the remotest possibility of a transportation panic attack on the morning of any of the races cannot be under-stated.
Avoid if possible. Get up with time to spare. Chart and time the foot route a days before and have a Plan-B on stand-by. If all else fails, call a cab or hitch-hike. Pride is over-rated, anyhow.
aka. What’s a 40 degree Celsius differential between friends?
If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme on many of my running posts. It goes something like this: COOOOOOOOOOOLD! SNOOOOW! IIIIIIIIIICE! Yeah, it’s been about as bad as it could have been for marathon training these last couple months. The mercury (or whatever they use in thermometers these days) seemed to hang out in the sub-zero teens for many of the last nine weeks. That would have been fine and I could have dealt with that, but it seemed to alternate between a dangerously cold wind-chill factor and dangerously-trip-inducing fresh snow or icy patches. I got most of my distance in –most– but having trained at the extreme cold end of my preferred climate, it is now looking like the race is going to be warm… as in the other end of that training spectrum: the warm end, that I don’t tend to like too much.
What’s a 40 degree Celsius differential between friends?
Dress for success and eyes off the sun. I’ll be wearing shorts and tees, of course. Clothing is half the battle. But the other side of that is going to be paying solid attention to (a) my pace so I don’t overdo it in the heat, (b) my hydration, because that could bite me in the backside and (c) my gaze, because watching the inevitable variety of (hopefully cute, hopefully Disney-princess) butts on the road ahead of me is better than the seductive snare and brain-numbing light of the Florida sun… no, really.
aka. Two hours of jet lag sucks even without a marathon.
Did I mention that the races start at 5:30 in the morning? Did I mention that 5:30 in the morning is 3:30 back home? And did I also mention it is advised by both race officials and good practice to arrive about an hour ahead of the race which, factoring in preparation and travel time in the morning, means I need to get up around 4 am… or what I would now consider 2 am back home? May as well not even go to bed! That’s a helluva jet lag to contend with before a multi-day race, huh?
Pre-travel time-travel. Or, if that isn’t possible, I’ll just be switching to Florida time a few days early. In fact, starting after New Years I’ve begun progressively shifting my bed-time and wake-up by half an hour earlier each day. Sure, by Sunday night I’ll be in bed by 8:30 and on Monday morning I’ll be crawling out of bed at 3:30 am local, but do you REALIZE how much you can get done for two hours before everyone else gets up? By Thursday morning I’ll be waking up at the same time as the alligators… or at least with plenty of time and sleep to have a good race.