Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Turning the Corner: From Base to Strength

Injuries suck. The discomfort I have been feeling in my right knee ebbed and flowed, forcing me to cut back my mileage and spend more time on the stair climber and elliptical trainer. I rode my bike more than I ran last week, which helped my range of motion. I threw in a couple visits to the chiro for some A.R.T., and I feel like I am returning to full strength. 

I volunteered at Inside Trail's Chabot Trail Runs last weekend, helping set up the start/finish festival, manning the first aid station with Inside Trail Racing Team members Chris Wehan and Craig Schmidt, cooking soup for the finishers, and then breaking down the festival area. I enjoyed supporting all of the runners; I don't get the opportunity very often. I think I'll volunteer for more races in the future!

During a lull around lunch time, I was able to squeeze in a run on the half marathon course. My knee felt vulnerable, and I ended up over working my quad and calf muscles to protect it. This was good news; if a niggle moves around, then it is likely not a chronic injury. I'm just happy my knee doesn't seem to have suffered serious damage. As I ramp up the strength building workouts (hill repeats, weight training, long hilly trail runs) I hope to mitigate any further discomfort utilizing the many tools in the kit.

Weight loss continues. I am back to the weight I tackled States at last year. Now if I could just lose another 20 lbs...

Wednesday weigh in, February 25th:
  • Weight: 192.2 (-3.6 lbs)
  • Body fat %: 18.36 (-0.47)
  • Ketone level: 1.2 mm
My adapted ketogenic diet is working pretty well. Keeping my daily carb intake below 50 g while using carbohydrates selectively during and after hard workouts has provided a steady state of energy. My climbing stamina is increasing, and the weight is dropping. As long as I can get my IT band/quad healthy I stand a good chance of returning to my planned volume. Marin Ultra Challenge looms on the horizon. 31.7 miles with 7000' of elevation will be a good measuring stick for my progress. I've finished similar courses in about 6.5 hours. I'm curious if I can improve on that mark by much.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Running and American Heart Health Month

Earlier this year, President Obama declared February "American Heart Month". The declaration reads: “cardiovascular disease — including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure — is responsible for one out of every three deaths. It is the No. 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability.” He goes on to expound the benefits of healthy eating, regular exercise and not smoking. 

Nothing new here, really.

When I quit my 20+ year pack-a-day smoking habit, the cost was a factor. But what made me finally kick the cigarettes was a realization that I was polluting my body. Worse yet, I gained no benefit besides the cessation of the urge to smoke for another half an hour. How could I continue to inhale toxins when my Return on Investment (ROI) was negligible? Once I drew that line in the sand, quitting was easy. Quitting actually WAS easy. To paraphrase Harris Dickson: "Quitting is easy, I've done it a thousand times."

That is not to say I was instantly heart healthy. My diet remained poor and my lifestyle lacked exertion out of principle. As I navigated mid-life, I began to lose a step here and there. I lost my breath skiing, couldn't hike a steep hill without rest, etc. My diet improved tremendously when I met Twirly. She got me off of fast food and into eating whole foods regularly. Yet still my health remained poor.

When she finally convinced me to move my ass off the couch, I chose running. I admit, it scared the hell out of me. Once I began, my ego took hold, and I set off on this journey of self improvement. I know myself well enough to recognize that my eagerness to improve would result in serious injury if left unchecked. Enter the heart rate monitor.

At first, I just wanted to know if I was having a heart attack or it just felt that way. Now, I consider my heart rate monitor my most valuable training resource. I track every workout by zone and time, the product of which is a numerical score which I can use to evaluate my effort. Using this "TRIMP" score allows me to compare a gym workout with a mountain trail workout and ensure that I get enough rest. I also use it to hold myself accountable for the hard workouts. Check out my posts here and here for more information on TRIMP.

A final tool for heart health which I use regularly is the annual physical and blood panel. I play with my diet so much that I am concerned about cholesterol levels and muscle damage. My results remain steady year after year, and my doctor tells me everything looks normal. At Western States last year, I participated in cardiovascular research which included pre and post race ECG's and blood work. So far, the data all indicates I am heart healthy. 

Health is a primary motivator in my running and racing. It is difficult to get a better ROI than aerobic exercise like running. Add to that the fact that it can take so many forms: trail running, road marathons, community 5k's, treadmill workouts, they all provide a different spin on the same activity. I'll be running for as long as my heart and legs will carry me. I'm willing to wager my heart outlasts the wheels.

I was inspired by the American Recall Center to discuss heart health. Below are some tips to jump start your own heart health, and be sure to check out how other bloggers are celebrating their hearts in honor of this month here.

Beer Week is Over, Back to Business


SF Beer Week is not for the timid. Events, almost 800 in total, spanned the Bay Area from February 6th to the 15th. Twirly and I made it to seven. Not even one percent. I met a few hardened souls who were doing two events a day! And that is barely more than two percent. If you like beer, February is the time to visit the Bay!

On the plus side, I feel I have had my fill of suds for the time being. Back to a rigorous ketogenic diet and strength training. The damage done by my birthday celebrations and Beer Week was 'contained' as well as I could have hoped for:

Wednesday weigh in, February 18th:
  • Weight: 195.8 (+0.3 lbs)
  • Body fat %: 18.83 (+0.15)
  • Ketone level: 0.3 mm
I expected more gains, to be honest. Just as training cycles require rest, I suppose weight loss should abate occasionally too. But then again, I can justify anything I put my mind to.

After the American Canyon 25k, I had some discomfort in my right knee. Likely IT-Band syndrome, I got some A.R.T. from my faithful chiro and took it easy. I had the foresight to schedule a rest week. I ended up with 20. Looking back over my logs, I can see that the week following a race is almost always in the 20-30 mile range. My body does a good job of reigning me in, if I listen. So I'll be adjusting my training plan to allow for less mileage in the week following a race. 

Being capable of training through a race without cutting back the mileage so far has been a goal of mine, but I am beginning to realize that these bones will not tolerate that type of load. As long as I keep learning and applying what suits me best, I can handle the truth.

Anyone racing the Inside Trails Chabot 50k this Saturday? I'll be out there holding down the start/finish area. If you see me come say hi. Otherwise, SYOTT.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ketosis be Damned, it's my Birthday!

I've reached the ripe old age of 43. Somewhere along the way, I determined that celebrating another trip round the Sun deserved more than just one day. So I generally set aside the first two weeks of February to get my ya-yas out. It doesn't hurt that San Francisco Beer Week coincides with that window of time.

I have suspended the ketogenic diet for now. It doesn't play well with beer. The weight continues to drop, along with my body fat. I am almost back to a "normal" weight. Less than 195 gets me clear of the overweight category.

Wednesday weigh in, February 11th 2015:
  • Weight 195.4 (-1.5 lbs)
  • Body fat %: 18.67 (-.1%)
  • ketone level: I didn't want to waste a test strip. Call it 0.0 mm

I'd love to tell you more, but I have some partying to do. I'll see you on the other side ;)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Race Report: 2015 American Canyon 25k

The 2015 American Canyon 25k, held on February 7th, was my first race of the season. I love this race; it is always around my birthday. This was the fourth time I have run the event and my second go at the 25k distance. I don't have many return visits to the same race course, and I was curious how I would stack up against my performance from a year ago.

As with last year, the course was muddy and slick. A storm system had rolled over Northern California the day before. Race morning the rain abated, leaving humid and warm conditions. Numerous runners remarked on how it was much warmer than they had anticipated. 

My goal was to finish under three hours, which would be almost a minute per mile faster than 2014. I felt like I was healthier yet heavier on the start line, which was on the opposite side of the Auburn Overlook parking lot from the historical start/finish line. This would actually come into play before the day was through. At 7:00, Race Director Harlan Reymont shooed us out of the parking lot.

25k course profile (out and back)

I like to go out fast at this race. The trail immediately funnels into descending single track, and I like to get near the front of the conga line. Running amongst the front of the pack for the first mile takes a lot out of me though, and as the fire road traverses around Robie Point I usually get swallowed up by the pack. I had my heart rate under control by the time I reached river level, about 3 miles in.

At No Hands Bridge aid station I stuffed a handful of potato chips into a zip lock bag and began the climb to Cool Meadow. I had two bottles of Tailwind, comprising 600 calories. I planned to complement that with whatever looked good at each of the three aid stations. The race marked the cusp between the base-building phase and strength-building phase of my Western States training. As I climbed, I ran as much as I could while keeping my heart rate below 85% max. As a reward, I set PR's on the Strava segments along the climb.

In 2014, the leader of the 25k had passed me on his return through Cool Meadow. I kept my eyes up, scanning for any sign of this year's leader as I approached. I knew if I could get somewhat further along the outbound leg before I saw him that I would be on pace for a sub-three hour effort. Rudy Von Ravensberg, from Reno, came into sight just before I began the descent to Highway 49 aid station and the turnaround. I was on track.

I crossed paths with the rest of the top 7 as I danced down the technical descent. Rocks, roots and mud demanded my focus, and I grunted encouragement to the other runners with out taking my eyes off the trail. I cruised into the aid station, grabbing a handful of potato for my zip lock baggie, and ran back up the hill without breaking stride. I saw a few more friendly faces on my return trip. Those at the very back of the pack were still grinding their way up to the meadow; determination and grit oozing out of each and every one.

Photo by Keith Sutter
The last time I ran down the Western States Trail to No Hands Bridge was in June. My early-season legs chewed up the rocky trail. The sun occasionally peeked through the clouds, and a cool breeze blew. I tried to compare how I felt with my condition at States, but I could not discern a significant difference. Although, I could breath just fine today.

Another lightning fast aid station stop where I filled a bottle with water and grabbed some banana and an orange slice before heading across the bridge. I tossed the orange peel back towards the trash can (missing it completely) and thanked the volunteer who was already moving to retrieve it. I promised myself to keep running the climb to the finish, save for the steep switchbacks and occasional heart rate mandated hiking.

Overall, I was impressed by my aerobic capacity. I found I could run up most grades without flirting with that 85% threshold as long as I kept my cadence up and focused on easy symmetrical breathing. I caught up with the 15k carnage on the home stretch, commiserating about the brutal elevation gain in the final miles. 

I gained the final stretch of single track with 20 minutes to break three hours. One and a half miles with 400 feet of elevation stood between me and my arbitrary goal. I fought off the apathy and kept running. I crested the hill at the Auburn Staging Area (the historical start/finish line) with seconds to spare, but still had to traverse the parking lot to finish in 3:00:55.

I'll take it. A 14 minute PR and an 8th place finish.

In addition to running stronger, I wanted to reduce my time spent in the aid stations. In 2014, my overall time minus moving time was 10 minutes and 49 seconds. This year, it was 1 minute 7 seconds! This is an area where I stand to make huge gains in year over year performances. I leave a lot of time at those buffet tables. No rest for the weary in 2015!

Huge thanks go out to Harlan and the Sierra Pacific Endurance Sports Volunteers. This event always has that grass roots community feel to it. From the low key start to the finish line chili, it never disappoints. Breakfast at Auburn Alehouse doesn't suck either! I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with a return to the American Canyon Trail Races.

The deets:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Breakthrough and a Breakdown

As my weekly volume creeps up through the forties, shades of my previous levels of fitness and comfort peek through the pain. An eight miler on a favorite training trail resulted in numerous Strava segment PR's, although my heart rate was about 6 beats higher than nine months ago. I am feeling strong, but still a bit slow.

February is my birthday month. Last weekend was the annual Tahoe trip, which was the first in 11 years with no snow. I didn't even bother bringing my skis. I did get in a nice long run along Lake Tahoe though. That was a first. The ketogenic diet has been adapted to make room for some beer consumption. Between the birthday dinners and San Francisco Beer Week, it would have been difficult to abstain. So I am eating low carb all day, running on low carbs, and then removing any restrictions for dinner. It isn't shaving off the weight, but my body fat % is still dropping. Hopefully the volume increases will keep everything in check until I get to the other side.

Wednesday weigh in, February 4th:
  • Weight 196.9 (+0.5 lbs)
  • Body fat %: 18.79 (-0.39)
  • Ketone level: 0.3 mm
The low ketone level was not a surprise. I have been experimenting with pre and post exercise ketone levels and found that after an hour or so of running, my levels rise by about 1.5 mm. This phenomenon is well documented, and reinforces the notion that ketosis is easily achieved with exercise. American Canyon 25k, this Saturday, will be an opportunity to experiment with race fueling and actual blood ketone levels. I hope to be in optimal ketosis by race morning, and check my ketone levels during and after the race to see how my selected fuel sources effect my blood chemistry.

All other aspects of training are firing on all cylinders. My MAF pace is improving, and I feel ready to begin the strength building cycle. Hill repeats and longer long runs should get me in race-shape for the Marin Ultra Challenge 50k in March. I will also be volunteering at the Lake Chabot Inside Trails race on February 21st. Say hi if you see me!