Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sports Nutrition 4: What I Learned About (Re-)Fueling

(Say it with me now: I am not a nutritionist or dietician or really any kind of expert at this stuff, and all of this is based on what ONE sports nutritionist explained to me about MY particular situation and needs. I'm happy to entertain questions if people have them--just know that I may not know the answer, and if I try to guess based on what I *think* I understand, I may get it wrong. But, I hope this helps provide some insight about sports nutrition to people who are interested!)

If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I am a complete and total data/numbers geek. I taught high school math for 8 years & now do research/analysis work in math & science education in my day job. Quantitative modeling = totally my jam.

So when Dr. C. & I came to the point of discussing when/how/how much to refuel after exercise, we kind of had this moment where he was basically like, "Do you actually want to know how the sausage is made, or do you just want me to, like, tell you what to do?," I was like, "ALL THE TECHNICAL DETAILS, PLZTHNX," and we went from there.

(I guess what I'm saying is, if you are allergic to numbers & calculations, hang in there--It's really not that bad & I promise I will summarize at the end.)

I mentioned some of this in the breakfast post regarding refueling from my morning strength workouts. The thing is, people--even athletes--have all kind of messed up, completely inaccurate mental models about what and when and how they should eat after a workout. Things I have believed or heard from others at various points in my life include:

  • "If you're trying to drop weight, it's better not to eat after a workout because you don't want to cancel out any of the calories you just burned."
  • "If you just burned 800 calories, you're fine as long as you don't eat more than 800 calories."
  • "You don't want to replace ALL the calories you burned, so if you burned 800, you should only eat like 400."
  • "I just burned 800 calories which means I can eat 400 calories' worth of ice cream & it'll be the same as if I burned 400 calories & ate nothing!"
  • "It's important to refuel but be sure to use 'good' carbs like fruits, vegetables, etc., not 'bad' ones like bread/sugar/etc., which will just make you fat because they process too quickly & spike your blood sugar."

I am not going to go through & debunk all that, because hopefully, after I've shared what I learned from Dr. C., you will completely understand why none of those statements have any basis in reality.

To Refuel or Not To Refuel?
We started by listing out my weekly workouts in broad categories (from most to least exhausting: long run, speed workouts, tempo/threshold runs, karate, short easy runs, and strength workouts). Then, based on my description of each, he estimated how many calories I was burning per hour and what percent of it was carbs versus fats, then used that to calculate (about) how many carb calories I burn in each type of workout. (Higher effort = higher percentage of energy coming from carbs. See this post for the details regarding why.)

(In Dr. C's spirit of keeping things simple, there's a lot of rounding to nice, easy numbers.)

Long Run Speed Work Tempo/Threshold Karate Easy Run Strength
per Hour
600 700 650 300 600 300
Duration 2-3.5 hours 1-1.5 hours 1-1.5 hours 1.5 hours 1-1.5 hours 45 minutes
Total Cals
1200-2000 700-1000 650-1000 300-450 600-900 220
%Carbs 65% 80% 70% 80% 65% 80%
Total Carb
Cals Burned
780-1300 560-800 450-700 250-350 400-580 170

Those carbs come first from blood sugar (glucose) and then from glycogen stores (first from muscles and then your liver). This means that after the workout, your blood sugar has dropped, which triggers your body to start cannibalizing muscle tissue in order to bring it back up to normal. (Breaking down muscle tissue releases amino acids which the liver can convert to glucose.) If you are an athlete, losing muscle tissue = bad news.

Also, some people who would like to lose weight mistakenly think, "If I don't eat post-workout, then I'll have that much larger of a calorie deficit, so my body will burn off more fat!" No. Your body cannot replenish blood sugar from fat. If you don't give your body carbs immediately after a workout, it has no choice but to cannibalize existing muscle. And since more muscle = more fat burning, this is really just shooting yourself in the foot. So that's the first reason that you *definitely* want to give your body some carbs right after your workout.

The second reason is that you need that glycogen replaced to fuel your future workouts (as well as life in general). If you don't replace it and just eat normally, the way you would if you hadn't done the workout, your muscles and liver will be underfed & carb-starved, making future workouts & other activities that much tougher (making it less likely that you'll get the full benefit of the workout). This is the second reason why you definitely want to eat carbs post-workout!

When To Refuel:
If you recall from the earlier posts, our bodies can generally turn carbs into glycogen (good) at a rate of about 1 gram per minute. Give your body carbs faster than that, and anything beyond that 1 g/mt just gets stored as fat you don't need instead of fueling muscles that do need it.

BUT, during exercise, our body's ability to process carbs & convert them to glycogen increases. It stays elevated for brief period after the workout ends, then quickly drops off (dropping by half every ten minutes, reaching baseline again after about half an hour). So, the best thing to do in terms of refueling your muscles and liver as effectively as possible is to take advantage of those first golden ten minutes post workout to refuel.

What To Refuel With:
Ten minutes is not a lot of time, which means you want to be rather choosy about what you eat. For example, in the past I had sometimes been refueling with fruit or a fruit/yogurt smoothie. The trouble with this is that a) fruit is just not that calorie dense and b) its carbs are only half glucose, which (long story short) means it's going to take the other half (sucrose) a lot longer to get to your muscles because of the way your body processes it. The result was that my liver & muscles were chronically under-fueled.

So. For the purposes of post-workout refueling, you want something a) calorie-dense that is b) mostly carbs and c) mostly glucose, for example, bread or crackers (the whiter the better) or a grain-based granola bar (little or no nuts/dried fruit). It could even, said Dr. C., be your favorite pastry! Sure, there may be a little sucrose & fat in there, but not enough to make much of a difference. Plus, the joy of having a favorite treat post-workout rather than, say, 2 slices of bread might make you more likely to have it consistently within that golden ten-minute window, which is the more important part. Apparently this is what he personally does. (I have personally been enjoying a slice of yellow cake with chocolate frosting this past week after my runs, leftover from Don's birthday. Don is not a fan of this new strategy of mine & thinks I need to get my own cake.)

Screw kale. THIS is literally the world's most perfect food.

I know this will challenge many people's existing beliefs of what qualifies as "healthy" eating and refueling. There is a lot of propaganda about how simple carbs/simple sugars/refined grains/etc. are "bad" and we should be "eating clean" and fueling with "good" carbs like fruits & vegetables. Many of us have internalized that propaganda so deeply that it's incredibly difficult to think about things in any other way. However, like most propaganda, those types of claims oversimplify the facts in the service of a snappy one-liner that looks good on a Pinterest board.

When you look at the science, it becomes clear that those are overgeneralizations. The fact is that no foods are always, categorically good or bad for you in every situation (barring medical conditions, obviously); it turns out that what is best for you to eat depends on the purpose you need that food to serve. (But again....that doesn't make *nearly* as pithy a sound bite as "EAT CLEAN TRAIN MEAN GET LEAN!!") When it comes to refueling, the purpose is to get a lot of glucose from your mouth to your muscles as soon as possible. A handful of crackers (or a piece of cake!) will serve that purpose. An apple will not.

How Much To Refuel:
This is where I think it differs a little from person-to-person. While I definitely don't believe I'm overweight by any stretch of the imagination, I do know that I raced better when I was a few body fat percent points lower, so Dr. C. has me shooting to replenish about 2/3 of the carbs I use during my workouts. If I were already at my perfect performance weight and wanted to stay at my exact body fat percent, then we'd probably instead be shooting to replenish all of it (since we'd be trying to protect that perfect amount of body fat & not risk falling below it).


Long Run Speed Work Tempo/Threshold Karate Easy Run Strength
per Hour
600 700 650 300 600 300
Duration 2-3.5 hours 1-1.5 hours 1-1.5 hours 1.5 hours 1-1.5 hours 45 minutes
Total Cals
1200-2000 700-1000 650-1000 300-450 600-900 220
%Carbs 65% 80% 70% 80% 65% 80%
Total Carb
Cals Burned
780-1300 560-800 450-700 250-350 400-580 170
Replace 500-850 350-500 300-450 150-200 250-400 100

(Again, rounding to nice numbers to keep things simple, generally downward since I'm above my best performance weight.)

No But Seriously, When:
If you look at the numbers that are here, and you think about that whole golden ten-minute goal, you may notice that there's a distinct problem in some cases. Have a little 100 calorie granola bar post-strength work? Fine. A handful of crackers and a nice slice of cake after a tempo run? Great.

But 850 calories' worth of bread/cake/granola bars in 10 minutes after a long run? If this seems insane to you, it's probably because you're a reasonably healthy, non-bingey eater.

I mean I certainly can't wolf down the better part of a loaf of bread in ten minutes, especially right after a long run. (Although, to be fair, I have known people who have no problem whatever devouring the entire kitchen the second they get back from a long run, soooo there's also that.) And even if I could, even with my body's elevated ability to process carbs into glycogen post-workout, 850 calories in 10 minutes is *still* going to be more than it can deal with & result in carbs I need for refueling going to unneeded fat instead.

So yes, start with the usual ~200 calories of fast-digesting carbs in those first ten minutes. Then, have an extra serving or two of carbs with your next meal (usually dinner for me), remembering to do 2x volume in crunchy veggies so you actually get those carbs. Finally, if you're still not there, add another small snack sometime later in the day (remembering that your carb-processing abilities will be back at baseline, so 100-150 calories' worth is about all your body will be able to do anything with unless you pull the crunchy vegetable trick).

Because he's all about the simplicity, Dr. C. made this handy chart for me:

Long Run Speed Work Tempo/Threshold Karate Easy Run Strength
First 10 Minutes 200 200 200 150-200 200 100
Add to Next Meal 300-400 150-300 100-150 N/A 50-200 N/A
Additional Snack 0-125 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2nd Snack (or
add to next meal)
0-125 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total Carb Cals
500-850 350-500 300-450 150-200 250-400 100

(Note: "Add to next meal" means **in addition** to the normal ~50-100 cals or so of starches you'd have even if you'd done no exercise that day.)

So you can see that it's long run refueling that requires maybe the most thought and attention. The refueling is easier if you do the long run earlier in the day, because you can spread out the carb calories appropriately in order to ensure they get stored as glycogen and not fat. (From a refueling standpoint, you can see that it's significantly easier if you do the run before lunch, because then you have two meals left in the day where you can add good chunks of carb & veggies; I almost always do my long run after lunch, so if I do a particularly long run, I need to do two snacks spread evenly between dinner & bed. This is why doing long runs particularly late in the day is problematic in terms of making sure you get fully refueled.)

Another question I had for him, "What if I have my 200 carb calories snack right after, but I'm still reeeeaaallly rungry?" Answer: Either have your next meal right then (with the requisite veggies), or have another carbolicious snack, BUT that one has to be with 2x crunchy veggies. Basically he was like, sure, you can wolf down 8 granola bars if you want; just realize that without a bunch of fiber to slow digestion, most of those calories will get stored as fat.

For me, the next critical step was getting in my head what 100 calories of carb looks like, because there is no way I'm reading nutrition panels every time I need to eat something. So here are some specific examples he gave me, based on stuff I like to eat:

  • 100 calories: 1 slice bread (half sandwich); 10 Triscuits; 1/4 cup granola; 1/2 larger granola bar or 1 smaller one [the ones I get are I think ~120 calories]
  • 200 calories: 2 slices bread (a sandwich); 20 Triscuits; 1/2 cup granola; 1-2 granola bars, depending on size
  • 300 calories: slightly over 1 cup (cooked) of rice, potato, yam, pasta, couscous, quinoa, etc; 3 slices bread (remember to add 2x the volume in veggies to slow digestion)
  • 400 calories: see above, plus 1/3 cup extra (again, remembering to add the right amount of veggies)

So there you go. Refueling!

Next up: Okay, this is all very nice in theory, but how is it working out for me in real life?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Race Report: Bay To Breakers 12K

For those who don't know Bay to Breakers, here are the most important points:
  • 12K across the city, from San Francisco Bay to Ocean Beach ("Breakers")
  • 2nd oldest road race in the country (started in 1912)
  • Attracts somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 participants,
  • Most of whom wear a costume or at least dress up in some way, and
  • Sometimes the costume is going naked.
  • The vast majority don't actually run (and nearly half don't even finish)
  • The race begins at 8:00 with elites from all over the world, but
  • Over the course of several hours inevitably degenerates into a drunken hellscape of garbage/costume pieces, public urination, uncoordinated fisticuffs, & a handful of arrests.

The real, actual Bay To Breakers starting line.

Elsewhere on the course:

Like most other road races Bay to Breakers does have aid stations, but it also has several sobering stations for people who in the course of their 7.5 stumble across the city need to lie down until the world stops spinning or they fall asleep. Another common race strategy is to hoof it over the Hayes Street Hill to the Panhandle, then find a bar in the Haight & call it good. Basically, it's a 7.5 mile party. (Or, y'know. However many miles you make it.)

Bay to Breakers has always been one of those local color things that I've never bothered making it a point to do (sort of like Alcatraz or Beach Blanket Babylon), because I always figure, "Eh, I can do it whenever." This year, though, there was a one-day super low price sale back in October where you could register for $39 (compared to the $80+ regular price).

So I figured, what the heck? After seven years, I should really take part in this uniquely San Francisco experience at least once. However, since my core competencies lean more towards running than walking for 3 hours or drinking before noon, I decided to forgo the shall we say more "authentic" experience. Courtney & Alyssawere both running, & I was excited to get to run with them since I don't get to much anymore. Courtney wanted to try for a sub-1 hour so Alyssa & I took up the challenge.

I needed to run 16-17 miles that day, so my plan was to jog from my house to the start (about 3.2 miles) & then back home from the finish (6-7ish), which I knew would put me more or less in that range. The downside was that I basically didn't sleep the night before, so I was not feeling super great as I made my way to the start.

Jogging down Market Street toward the start at Howard & Main.
Apparently, I was not the only one with this idea.

After a lot of texting, frantic jumping up & down, & clumsily vaulting over corral barriers, the three of us managed to find each other in Corral A (theoretically the 7-8 minute pace corral, just behind the elites/seeded/sub-seeded). Sadly, Courtney had tweaked her ankle the day before & didn't want to push it too hard, so we decided to just take it easy. (And given my lack of sleep, I have to admit I was a little relieved.)

Corral A/Starting Line

We find each other!

Courtney & her November Project peeps

The weather was PERFECT race weather, ie uncomfortably cold at the start (but at least no wind!), & we huddled together for warmth until the horn sounded and Corral A began marching towards the start mat.

The first leg of the race is through sort of downtown/SoMa, & there were LOTS of people out cheering. Also lots of police on hand. We cruised along at ~9:00 pace, chatting & weaving through the crowd (though, I was pleased to find that it actually wasn't that crowded). I also saw my first naked guy at ~1.66. I did not look back when we passed him.

At mile 2, we turned on to Hayes Street & steeled ourselves for the infamous Hayes Street Hill:

This picture came from Google, not our race, but you get the idea.

Even though we weren't running all that fast, it was still a lot of work, and as always I was quite excited to see its crest come in to view. After we got back down the hill, my right foot started to go numb. I ignored it for a while, hoping it would go away on its own. When it didn't, I made us pull over for a minute so I could take my shoe off & slap some sense back into it. (This hasn't happened since Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in May 2013....Perhaps some nerve in my foot has an issue with races using the naming scheme "_______ 2/To ________"?)

We clocked our third mile through the Panhandle in ~8:35ish (slightly uphill), then entered the Park. From there, I think we gradually sped up all the way to the end (though I made us pull over twice more to deal with my numb foot, which sucked....BOOO). By the time we hit the second half of the Park, we were definitely running sub-8's, and there were even a few times when I saw 7:15-20 on my watch. Once we hit the mile 7 marker we could hear the finish line.

I didn't realize we got a medal for this race, so that was kind of a neat bonus. In general I'm not much of a medal horse, but B2B is kind of a unique, special race, so I like the idea of having a memento from it.


At this point the finish line was still pretty chill and sane. We got our box o' water (still don't get it), & then Alyssa & I took off on the rest of our respective long runs.

(For more Bay to Breakers pics, please enjoy this post from SFist.)

    Official: 1:05:05 / 7.46 miles/ 8:44 pace
    Garmin: 1:02:58 / 7.55 miles/ 8:20 pace

I know part of the reason for the huge discrepancy between these two (besides the fact that we were weaving around people all over the place & paying absolutely no attention to tangents) was the fact that I made us stop three times to deal with my stupid foot, and out of sheer habit I'm pretty sure I stopped my watch every time. So, 8:20 would be probably our average pace for the time we were actually moving.

(Of course, then, if you think about it, since we ran the Hayes Street Hill at ~9:30 pace, which is about half a mile, that means our average pace for the rest of the race (when we weren't stopped) was more like 8:15. So really, for all that we were "taking it easy," we were clearly still moving at a good clip!)

If you're curious:

    Overall: 2699 out of 29970
    Women: 567 out of 16076
    A/G: 141 out of 2759

I was also the 1884th fastest person up the Hayes Street Hill, & 75th in my A/G group!

I don't know if Bay to Breakers will ever be an every-year sort of thing for me, but I had a good time doing it this year casually with friends. I think at some point it might be fun to try to do it for speed, though the idea of actually training for that hill kind of gives me hives.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date: Third Sunday in May (May 17, 2015 this year)

Prices: I got a super early bird special deal & signed up last fall for $39, which is a heck of a deal when you consider that registration tops out on the $80s. As of May 5, it was $64 for adults & $32 for kids.

Field Size: I believe they said there were ~50,000 people registered, probably at least half of them were walking/shambling rather than actually running. Looks like there were just under 30,000 finishers.

Deadlines/sellout factor: I'd always been under the impression that this race sold out, but there was still registration at the expo so go figure. & speaking of the expo...

Expo: OMG STAY AWAY!!! It's (generally) at Fort Mason, which means:

  • It's hard to get there if you don't live close-by (ie, I can drive there in 20 minutes but public transit takes an hour), and
  • Traffic will suck so even if you DO drive it will take twice as long, and when you finally do,
  • Parking will suck, so it will take you *another* half hour to park (there are lots, but they are generally badly managed and/or perpetually full), and when you finally DO find parking,
  • It will probably be close to a mile away (but you will still take it & feel lucky).

Also, I'm sorry, but Fort Mason sucks. It's gross and nasty and basically just a big warehouse on a pier. This is why they have lots of big drinking events here, because people vomiting all over it can't really make it much worse. Yes, there are 60/40 kinda okay views of the bay, but you're going inside for an expo. If you want to look at the bay, there are definitely MUCH more picturesque spots to visit.

Finally, the expo itself, much like SFM, is a total shit show. You have to wait in a line to get in.

I would say the line was about a quarter mile long when I arrived.
(Though to be fair my friends who went at 9am when it opened said
there was no one there, so maybe that's the secret.)

Super crowded. Super loud. Pushy brand reps yammering at you to try this or come look at that or here's a free sample. I got very luck with my bib. There was one line for every number under 10,000, and I only had to wait behind I think two people. The rest of the tables (of which there were, I dunno, 6? 8? 10?) all had lines that stretched around the room.


It was the same when I went to get my shirt. For some reason the 'regular small' table had literally no one waiting, while most of the rest of the lines probably had 40-50 people in them.

I could not get out of there fast enough. When you register, there is an option to pay more ($10? $15? $20? Don't remember) to get your bib mailed to you. At the time it will seem like an exorbitant amount, but trust me. I definitely would have paid $20 to get my 2.5 hours & my sanity back.

Staging: This is by far the largest "race" race I've ever run, & definitely the first with a map showing you where to go based on your corral.

    - Seeded: Sub 6 minutes per mile pace
    - Sub-Seeded: 6 – 7 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral A: 7 – 8 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral B: 8 – 9 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral C: 9 – 10 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral D: 10 – 11 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral E: 11-12 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral F: 12+ minutes per mile pace
    - Corral G: Walkers
    - Corral H: Family corral

To get into the seeded or sub-seeded category, you have to have met a qualifying time in the last 12 months & submit a link so it can be verified. (They used to have them listed somewhere but now I can't find it. At least in the past, specific qualifying times have been listed for each distance & A/G group.) The rest of the corrals are assigned based on the projected finish time you enter when you register.

The Course:

It's like it says in the name: Start at the Bay, & run to the breakers.

The most notable feature of the Bay to Breakers course is the Hayes Street Hill at mile 2.

As counted by the race organizers, it's .69 miles with 201 ft of climbing for a 5.5% average grade, but in my opinion the first two blocks they count (so about .2 miles) are essentially flat. So the way I see it, it's about half a mile with ~200 ft climbing, which makes it more like 7.5% average grade. It gradually gets steeper as you go up, with the steepest part being the last block between Fillmore and Steiner streets (11.15% grade.) This is just how much of San Francisco is. Maybe you can see now why I've run several races where I've been warned about the hills and afterward been like, "Hills? What hills?"

(For a comparison of Hayes Street with other well-known hills in the road racing world, you can check out this article from Runner's World.)

The downhill on the other side is steep but mercifully short (about two blocks); when I run this hill, I like to use it as a recovery to catch my breath. After that there is a mild, just-noticeable uphill climb through the Panhandle (.75 miles?). The first half of the park is gently rolling, and the second half is a speed-friendly, gentle downhill to the ocean. (It was through this stretch that we occasionally found ourselves clocking 7:20-7:30s).

Otherwise, the the biggest issue with the course is just the nature of the event. If you're up at the front, it probably won't seem that much different than a regular road race besides a few people in costume, and if you're just walking it for the experience, you're probably not all that concerned with the course anyway.

Parking: Lololololol.

No but really. Take public transport (BART & Muni will get you pretty darn close), or get someone to drop you off semi-close to the start. (Just be sure to check road closures.)

Schwag: A reasonably cool-looking tech shirt in your choice of gray or black, and also regular cut or lady-cut:

Also, I didn't realize there was a medal until the end of the race! Generally in the past there haven't been medals. I knew they'd done one in 2012 for the 100th anniversary, but I didn't realize it had become a routine thing now.

Overall Assessment: This is definitely a fun one to do just for the experience, especially if you're a local. I don't know that I would have paid $60-$80 for it, but for $39, it was totally worth it. You just have to know that there are going to be a bunch of naked people (mostly older men) & if that bothers you, then perhaps this race is not for you.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

SRM WEEK 6 OF 20: I Survive Bay 2 Breakers + Alllll the Race Discounts

What's that you say? You're looking for a reasonably priced half marathon in California sometime between June and December?


These discount codes are because all of these races are part of the Cal Half Series. Cal Half Series is also good if you are really into medals, because they give extra ones at the end of the year if you've run I think three or more of the races. I don't know if the discount codes work for the fulls, 10Ks, or 5Ks, but you can give it a shot!

In other news, I ran my first Bay to Breakers on Sunday with Alyssa & Courtney, & did not collapse & die on the Hayes Street Hill.

These ladies. I ran my first marathon with them back in 2011,
so it was super fun to get to do my first Bay to Breakers with them as well.

Post-race. The medal was an unexpected bonus!

Our original goal was to run the race around 8:00 pace for a sub-1 hour finish, but there were various questionable joints among us so instead we decided to just take it easy & run it at a comfortable pace (which....turned into sub-8:00's anyway by the time we reached the gentle downhill grade of the Park.) That was more than fine with me, since I basically didn't sleep Saturday night & was already feeling pretty sluggish during my 3-mile jog to the start.

Since it was a long run day & I wasn't planning on actually racing, I was able to solve two problems at once (getting in 17 miles & getting home from Ocean Beach after the race). At 6:30am, I jogged from my house to the start (~3.2 miles), ran the race (~7.55 miles by my watch), & then ran back home (~6.25 miles).

Really, the trip home was farther than that, but since I *definitely* didn't want to run more than 17 miles total and had also just run 7.5 MUCH faster than normal (including one wicked-ass hill), I decided to take brief walk breaks at each mile as I head back east through the park. That whole stretch is about 3 miles of steady, gradual uphill, and after the race I was anticipating kind of a slog.

Weirdly, though, that part actually felt kind of easy. Or not easy, exactly, but requiring a lot less effort than I expected it would. I just kind of jogged along, ticking off mile after mile and never feeling like I was working all that hard.

When I got back to the Panhandle where I could see the course again, I couldn't resist stopping to take a few pictures:



Coit Tower [historic SF landmark]

Downhill is really the worst on my bad leg, so once I was back in my own neighborhood I walked down some particularly steep-ish ones I didn't want to run, and hit 17 miles with less than a block left to go to my house, feeling, actually surprisingly good!

Er...except for that whole not sleeping thing. That, I don't recommend. I was basically a zombie for the rest of the day.

I don't have a whole ton else to say about the race, but I'll write up some kind of race report later this week. :)

~*~*~SRM WEEK 6 OF 20~*~*~

Anticipating I'd be running a good bit faster than usual on Sunday this week (plus the hill), I didn't do any hard workouts and also traded my morning strength sessions for extra sleep.

Grand Total: 38 miles

    * 30.45 easy
    * 7.55 race

Monday: afternoon 6 easy / p.m. karate. I was feeling sluggish after three days off and my leg was feeling a little better, so I decided to try a few easy miles & see how it felt. It was a bit achey, but never actually started hurting. Winning!

Tuesday: 6.5 easy, but with a GIANT mothereffing hill in the middle. I figured if I was going to try to run Bay to Breakers in under an hour, I'd better get out there & remind myself what it feels like to run up the Hayes Street Hill (.69 miles with 201 ft of climbing). Oof. I'd been hoping to use my watch to see what kind of pace I could do it at without dying, but forgot to plug it back in the day before.

Wednesday: Karate.

Thursday: 6.2 easy. Same route as Tuesday, more or less, but this time with my watch. It also just happened to work out this time that I got all green lights going up Hayes Street Hill, which in one sense sucked, but at least let me finish the thing feeling like I had a reasonably accurate assessment of what pace I could do the thing at with no breaks. (Um, also, the rest of this run was at my same usual super easy effort level, but was BY FAR faster than any easy run I've done since starting this whole low heart rate/base training business.)

Friday: Rest.

Saturday: 2.3 easy. Just a couple of easy shakeout miles.

Sunday: 3.2 easy / 7.55 race / 6.25 easy = 17 long.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sports Nutrition Part 3: Tweaking Lunch & Dinner

(Again, I really hope it goes without saying that I am not a nutritionist or dietician or really any kind of expert at this stuff, and all of this is based on what ONE sports nutritionist explained to me about MY particular situation and needs. I'm happy to entertain questions if people have them--just know that I may not know the answer, and if I try to guess based on what I *think* I understand, I may get it wrong. But, I hope this helps provide some insight about sports nutrition to people who are interested!)

So originally I said this part would be about lunch/snacking, but honestly I think it probably just makes more sense to talk about the whole rest of the day because there were fewer changes to that stuff than to pre-lunch eating & the biggest change was the same for both.

Relevant bits from the first two posts include the facts that my body needs 2.5 g protein and 2.5 g CHO (carbohydrate) every hour just to stay alive and not feel hungry, and that when we eat carbs under normal circumstances (ie, not first thing in the morning or right after exercise), our bodies can only convert the carbs we eat into glycogen (muscle or liver storage, where we want it) at a rate of about 1 gram per minute.

Re: breakfast, my assignment was to have a glass of water (16ish oz), a little milk (4-6 oz), and a piece of fruit when I get up at 6, a granola bar (~100 calories from CHO) after finishing strength work around 7:45, and a slice of bread with sunflower seed butter & chia seeds and another glass of milk when I get to work around 8:30. (I can split the water up into half when I get up & half over the course of my drive to the gym, because my stomach was struggling with the volume.) In theory, this was supposed to meet all my nutritional needs at the right times, and if we got it right, I wouldn't be hungry again until lunch. (Though, if I found myself getting hungry, my instructions were to eat & report back so we could adjust, not stick to the plan and be hungry as hunger = low blood sugar = muscles tissue eating itself).

On to the rest of the day!


At work, my lunch is almost always the same--a can of chicken breast, half a can of black beans, half a can of diced tomatoes (I get the spicy ones with green chilis for extra flavor), and half an avocado. Mix it together in a bowl & microwave for a few minutes, & it's basically like eating burrito innards (and I luuuuvs me some burrito). Sometimes, though, if I haven't done my grocery shopping or run out of my normal lunch supplies at work, I'll end up going out to the local deli for a chicken or turkey sandwich. Then I usually have a snack right before I leave work so that I'm not heading out the door for a run or karate & suddenly starving. I also drink loose-leaf tea out of a press pot pretty much all day.

On karate days, dinner is almost always whatever we can get at 9:30 at night--pizza, burritos, Indian food, Thai food, Chinese food, burgers, shawarma, etc.--or maybe leftovers. On non-karate days, we might have leftovers, or go out to/get takeout from one of the 51,467 restaurants within walking distance of our house, or if we don't have evening plans and I'm feeling enthusiastic & not exhausted, I might cook something (usually chicken or fish with vegetables/salad and a starch). Honestly, I prefer to cook, but our weeks tend to be difficult to plan ahead, so it just depends on what we have or if I have the energy to walk the half-mile and back to our local market. (Boo hoo hoo. My life is sooooo hard. Not. This paragraph is practically dripping with food privilege & I hope we all know it. I just hate shopping & sometimes get sort of tired & lazy after a run.)


Thankfully, my usual lunch got the Dr. C seal of approval. There is plenty of protein from the chicken and beans, healthy fats from the avocado, plenty of carbs from the tomatoes and beans, and because beans are so fiber-rich, they will slow down the digestion of all those carbs so that I get a steady stream in that safe ~1 g/mt range over the course of the afternoon (meaning the CHO will get stored in my muscles & liver as glycogen, rather than as unneeded fat).

Re: sandwiches, I'd always figured that since I got wheat bread with spinach and sprouts and avocado (in addition to meat & cheese), this was a perfectly fine lunch for an athlete. Dr. C. said that it wasn't bad necessarily, but if the goal is to optimize for endurance performance, it could be improved. The issue is the carb content--not the amount, but the fact that bread digests quickly (whole grains only slow it down by ~10%, which is negligible), and a whole deli sandwich worth will very quickly take the rate your body is getting glucose well above the 1 g/mt safe zone and cause a bunch of it to get stored as fat rather than muscle/liver glycogen.

I mentioned before that I was sort of cringing at the thought of what he would say about my dinner habits, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Contrary to how it might sound, even our quick post-karate dinners are not all THAT terribly unhealthy. When we get pizza, we get the Mediterranean Chicken (grilled chicken, artichokes, red peppers, olives, and roasted garlic). When we get burritos, we get stewed or grilled chicken or pork with black beans and avocado on a whole wheat tortilla (no cheese, sour cream, etc.). Shawarmas are roasted chicken with eggplant, hummus, and cucumber yogurt sauce. Overwhelmingly, we tend to eat lean-ish meat and aren't too much with the less healthy condiments.

This post needs more pictures:

Chili verde chicken burrito with black beans & avocado on a whole wheat tortilla

Deep Dish Mediterranean Chicken Pizza

Chicken shawerma with extra eggplant

My main concern was that I was overdoing the carbs at dinner, particularly white flour-based carbs, at least more often than not. I was bracing for him to say, "Less white grains, less flour all around, actually, oh and also you should cook at home more because DUH, everyone knows that's better."

But this is not what happened. One of Dr. C.'s main tenets seems to be that people gonna eat what they love and it is the exceedingly rare human being who can change their eating habits that dramatically for more than a brief period of time. And change your cooking habits? Forget about it. Not most people. Not in the long term.

("Will power is utter bullshit," he said. Okay, I am paraphrasing, but that was the basic gist: People do not change their eating habits with will power, and anyone who says differently is selling something. The stuff is finite, and by evening it's more or less gone anyway.)

The problem with most of my dinners, he said, was NOT too much white flour naan and white flour pizza crust and white rice and white flat bread and whatever. The problem was--say it with me, now--the rate at which those particular carbs digest relative to how fast my body can process them at that point. Immediately after exercise? Not really a problem. 45 minutes to an hour later, though, and you get only some of it getting sent to your muscles & liver (which need those carbs) while the rest gets stored as fat you probably don't need.

Also, I wasn't particularly drinking water with dinner, which can be problematic since your body needs it for digestion, particularly if your meal is higher in salt (ie, pizza, burrito, Chinese food, etc.). Luckily my tea counts as the water I need for digestion during the day. (Dr. C. says you need about 1 liter of water per day per 1,000 calories, plus whatever you drink during exercise. More than that won't hurt you, but also doesn't accomplish anything. Clear pee doesn't make you extra-virtuous; really it just means you're wasting water.)


Thankfully, there was only really one significant change here, which applies to both my deli sandwich and my dinner habits, and it does NOT involve cutting down on my white flour/bread consumption. Again, my body needs those carbs! My muscles work hard and they need to be fed, and my liver is about to spend 8-12 hours single-handedly supporting my entire body almost solely on glycogen (read: stored carbs). But eating an entire naan and a serving of rice does me no good if half of it gets stored as unnecessary fat. So what to do?

The issue is that we have to slow down the digestion of all those carbs to within that 1 gram per minute "safe" zone, and the easiest way to do that is to take whatever volume of bread/noodles/pizza crust/rice/etc. I'm going to eat, and have double that in crunchy vegetables (or 3-4x if it's greens, since a lot of the volume in salad or whatever is empty space). He made a point of saying that 2-4x the bread volume is more than people think, and I have found that to be true. Even when I'd normally cook at home & have salad and/or veggies with my protein & starch, I probably was not eating that much.

Now, you may often hear people say, "Oh, eat a bunch of vegetables with your dinner and it'll make you full because of all the fiber and water content, so you'll eat less and feel fuller." According to Dr. C, this might happen, but just feeling full is NOT the primarily mechanism by which this practice helps people become leaner and metabolically healthier.

What happens is this: Because crunchy vegetables contain a lot of plant fiber and digest slowly as a result, having them before or with all the fast-digesting carbs will slow down everything. That way, instead of getting a bunch of CHO all at once, your body gets a slow, steady stream over the course of many hours, which means 1) more CHO sent to muscles & liver as fuel (glycogen), 2) less CHO stored as unnecessary fat, & 3) a longer period of time before you start to feel hungry again. Doing this at dinner also keeps blood sugar more stable over night.

There are some added bonuses here as well, some obvious & some maybe less obvious:

  • Crunchy vegetables and greens contain a lot of nutrition you can't get from the other food groups, and most of us already don't eat enough of them.
  • Because plant leaves don't want things to eat them, they contain mild toxins (phytonutrients) that kill off many bacteria, fungi, etc., which is another part of how vegetables boost our immune systems & generally make us healthier.
  • That whole free radicals thing. (It's science-y and complicated, but if you're interested you can read more about it here. Also some notes about why athletes in particular should care maybe more than non-athletes.)

So that was the biggest take-away for me in terms of how I can use my lunch & dinner to better support my running goals.

There were a few other smaller notes about my lunch/dinner/snacking situation, like:

  • My pre-run snack of Triscuits & yogurt/cereal & milk/fruit & milk/etc. were all fine as long as I pay attention not to eat more than I need. (Again, the carb issue, because although I do actually enjoy vegetables, I really don't want to have to eat a giant salad before running.) He said to make sure to always have protein (milk or yogurt, for example) with the carbs.
  • Drink another ~16 ounces or so of water with dinner. I'm getting around 2,000 calories a day, give or take, so ~16 ounces in the morning + a liter of tea over the course of the day + ~16 ounces night (plus whatever I drink during exercise) basically covers it.

So that's about it for lunch and dinner. Again, the point is not "EVERYONE SHOULD EAT THIS WAY!" or even "ALL RUNNERS SHOULD EAT THIS WAY!" It's just about how you may be able to tweak things a little to get the most out of your nutrition IF you want to and IF optimizing your performance for a particular time period or event is particularly interesting to you.

Next time, I'll discuss what we talked about re: fueling/re-fueling.

Monday, May 11, 2015

SRM WEEK 5 OF 20: DFL > DNF > DNS & Other Lies

We have, of course, talked before about how pithy motivational sayings are sometimes big, fat lies that might inspire you to work harder but also might inspire you to make really dumb decisions that do more harm than good.

Case in point:

I don't know about you but this one is up there with "Pain is
temporary, pride is forever" on my eye-roll-o-meter.

As with all the pithy motivational memes, I understand the point people are trying to make. We're trying to remind people that finishing is an accomplishment, and you should be proud of it even if you're DFL, because lots of people DON'T finish. And, if it turns out you don't finish for some reason, then, hey, at least you put in the effort to start and give it a try, because the vast majority of people don't.

I get that. I do. But can we also agree that there are many, many circumstances where it's just not true? Because *man* I am regretting running that half marathon last Saturday. I regret getting up at 4 a.m. on a Saturday. I regret losing the sleep. I regret spending five hours in my car & using 200 miles worth of gas.

Now, all of that would have been worth it if I'd been able to do what I'd planned (13 comfortable miles at marathon pace). But the weather didn't cooperate, and in a desperate attempt to get *something* out of it, I ended running a lot harder than I'd planned, and that's thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into my plans this week.

Having finished my 4 weeks of hill prep, I was supposed to start the 4 weeks of speed prep on Tuesday, but it turns out that I ran too hard on Saturday for that to really be an option. I've felt like poop all week and my always-questionable, injury-prone right leg has been nagging me non-stop. I got in two short, easy runs, but even that, I think, was probably too much. Also, I'm planning to run Bay to Breakers 12K & pace a friend to a sub-one-hour finish this next Sunday, and the fact that I'm still limping a little is making me kind of nervous about that.

Ohhhhh so very, very false.

So yeah; in all honesty, I wish I hadn't even gone, and barring that, I wish in mile 3 once I realized how miserable things were going to be that I had just called it a day. It's not like just finishing a half is any sort of real accomplishment for me at this point, and I certainly didn't need another medal.

You know those internet campaigns where people tweet-o-gram or insta-face or whatever pictures or descriptions of them doing "uncool" or taboo things, like not wearing make-up or telling their salary history, and there's some sort of clever hash tag? Part of me kind of wants to do this for DNF-ing / DNS-ing races. BREAK THE SILENCE!! RAISE AWARENESS!! DESTROY THE STIGMA!! #yesallquitters #talkdnf

Because, really. There are good reasons to push through discomfort in races and keep going, but there are also many very good reasons to quit, and if I had a nickel for everyone I ever met or talked to who pushed through the pain and didn't quit and ended up injured or sacrificing a bunch of recovery time for lackluster results or just plain feeling blah about the experience and like it wasn't really worth it, I'd at least be able to, like, I dunno, buy some ice cream or something.

(On a related note, I ran across this post the other day. Clearly the author is my people. :) )

~*~*~SRM WEEK 5 OF 20~*~*~

Grand Total: 10 miles, all easy + 3 strength workouts

Monday: a.m. strength / p.m. karate

Tuesday: 4 easy.

    Originally scheduled for this day was an 8 mile progression run finishing in the 7:30 range, but I could tell as soon as I started running that nothing faster than ~9:30 miles was even remotely on the table. I felt completely worn out after two miles so decided not to push it any further.

Wednesday: a.m. strength / p.m. karate.

    Soooo thanks to some hideous Bay Area traffic and an attempt at running some errands on the way home to save time, it took me 3 hours to get home from work. Don came home feeling sick & so decided not to go to class, and there was just. No. Way. I was getting back in a car during rush hour. So instead we went to get Indian food.

Thursday: a.m. strength / 6 easy.

    The original plan called for 8 miles with 12-15 x 1:00/1:00. I suspected I probably would not be up for the full 8 miles yet but hoped I'd at least be able to give some of the fartleks a shot. But, running still felt tough even at easy paces, and when I started having pain in my right hip/hamstring/adductor (the sketchy one), I knew it was a bad idea. I should have turned around at 2 miles but then decided I should "tough it out" one more mile (so really two), and regretted it as soon as I got home because I putting weight on my right leg was incredibly painful. I tried rolling it out some, but since rollers can't magically repair damaged tissue, that ship had pretty much sailed.

Friday: Rest. I hoped if I gave my leg a day to heal I could do a short run on Saturday & a long run as scheduled on Sunday.

Saturday: Rest. Still limping & wanted to see if one more day off would save the long run.

Sunday: Rest. It still hurt enough that I knew running on it for any amount of time would make it worse, and I actually think I made it worse by doing a lot of standing & not moving at a birthday party & then a concert.

At first I was thinking "Meh, last week will just end up being a recovery week, I'll start the speed stuff this week." But, I kind of don't want to push my leg too hard this week and also want to make sure I'm fresher than usual for Bay 2 Breakers, so I think I'll probably just take it easy this week & try to get in some solid, pain-free miles rather than get overly ambitious with the speed work.

The week wasn't all bad, though! We had a lovely dinner party with friends Saturday night (not running gave me time to clean my house), met another at our local Beer Garden for birthday drinks Sunday afternoon, & then saw They Might Be Giants at the Fillmore on Sunday!

As Don put it, Nerd Rock FTW.

Every sold out show in The Fillmore's nearly 100 year history has its own poster hanging on the walls, and they give out the posters for free after the show.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sports Nutrition Part 2: Tweaking My Breakfast Situation

(I really hope it goes without saying that I am not a nutritionist or dietician or really any kind of expert at this stuff, and all of this is based on what ONE sports nutritionist explained to me about MY particular situation and needs. I'm happy to entertain questions if people have them--just know that I may not know the answer, and if I try to guess based on what I *think* I understand, I may get it wrong. But, I hope this helps provide some insight about sports nutrition to people who are interested!)

This is the follow-up post to this one (wherein I visit a sports nutritionist), so you might want to be sure & read that one first or this one won't make much sense.

Before my meeting with Dr. C, he had me fill out a giant questionnaire about what & when I eat on a typical day & why, what foods I like best/don't like or don't eat, etc. After some education on the science (see the previous post), we got to work looking at my typical day & making some changes.

As I mentioned in the last post, my major takeaway from the first meeting was that aside from getting all your vitamins & minerals, eating well as an athlete in particular is mostly about managing your blood chemistry. I felt like there were three different parts to this:

    1) Get enough protein. I don't know if there is variation based on size, activity level, etc., but my plan says I need 10 calories (2.5g) protein every hour in order to protect my existing muscle tissue. Otherwise, the body releases cortisol to break down muscle tissue in order to provide missing protein to the rest of the body.

    2) Get enough carbs. Again, I don't know what the variability is from person to person, but I need 10 calories (also 2.5g) CHO every hour in order to keep my blood sugar in the right place. Low blood sugar also triggers cortisol to break down muscle tissue, this time for amino acids which the liver can break down into glucose (blood sugar).

    3) Not TOO many carbs, and not too quickly. This is the bit I mentioned before about the rate at which the body can take glucose out of blood and transform it into glycogen to store in our muscles and liver (where we want it). 1 gram per minute or less, if you recall, and basically all of it is getting stored as glycogen. Faster than that, though, and the rest just gets stored as unneeded fat, because your body just can't keep up. (Yes, it would be GREAT if it could go back to that fat later & be like, "Okay, all caught up, turn back into carbs now, plzthnx!," but that's just not how it works. Which is why you can eat the right number of carbs and STILL end up with under-fueled muscles & extra unneeded fat.)

So, here's how we applied those three principles to my breakfast situation.


My old morning eating habits depended on whether I was going to the gym for strength work before work or not. If so, I would get up at 6 and have a big glass of milk with a big scoop of protein powder. Because, y'know, muscle stuff, so protein. But it's not like strength work is THAT intense, so it didn't seem like I needed a ton of carbs. This was usually enough to stave off the hunger pangs until I got to work around 8-8:30 & had real breakfast (PB & J).

If I wasn't going to the gym, then I'd usually get up at 7 & not bother eating until the PB & J at work, mainly because I'm rarely starving when I first wake up & mostly just saw preparing & eating food at home in the morning as a waste of time. (The later I leave, the longer my 30 mile commute takes. Thanks, Bay Area traffic.) I didn't eat anything after strength work, because again, it just didn't seem intense enough to require refueling.


1) Not drinking water first thing in the morning is apparently problematic. This is because your body basically dehydrates itself during the night while processing food/waste & stops when it inevitably runs out. Having a glass in the morning refills the tanks & gets all the digestion processes going again so they can finish up. (You know you've had enough if you have to pee again within an hour or two of getting up.)

2) My glass of milk & protein powder was all wrong for a pre-workout, first-thing-in-the-morning mini-meal. First, it contained no significant carbs. Since blood sugar is super low when we first wake up and cortisol is rising (part of what wakes you up), your body immediately goes to work tearing down muscle for glucose unless you give it something else. So basically, on gym days I was giving my body 2.5 hours on average of cannibalizing itself before eating any significant carbs (ironically, at the same time that I was trying to trying to build more muscle). Second, since milk already has a lot of protein, tripling it with protein powder basically meant I was getting ~3x as much as I needed, and since it was all liquid protein, just peeing out the extra. This wasn't harmful, just wasteful.

3) Even though strength work isn't all that intense of a workout, it still burns enough carbs to drop my blood sugar, which, again, means that by not eating some carbs immediately afterward, I was basically forcing my body to eat itself for 45 MORE minutes. Not exactly the goal after a strength-building session! Also, even though I don't burn tons & tons of carbs with these workouts, I still need to replace them while my body is processing glucose really quickly and *can* potentially replace them all, as opposed to 45 minutes later when it will only be able to process glucose slowly.

4) By 45 minutes post-gym, my glucose-processing abilities have returned to the super-slow 1g/mt baseline, which means that a good chunk of my super carb-heavy PB&J was getting stored as fat even though I'd been low blood sugar for 2.5 hours and just drained a bunch of carbs from my muscles with exercise. (Oh, also, it turns out that peanut butter is just not really enough protein in the quantities people typically eat it to really count. Thankfully I usually eat high-protein bread, so I was at least okay on that front.)

Obviously, some major changes were in order.


1) A big glass of water first thing in the morning. Easy!

2) A piece of fruit (an apple, banana, 10 strawberries, etc.) & a few ounces of milk after the water, regardless of if it's a gym day. 100 calories of CHO from the fruit shuts down the low blood sugar alarms & milk provides the protein protection. Almost zero prep, so all I have to do is remember to buy milk & fruit once a week.

3) A small granola bar RIGHT after finishing at the gym, the goal being ~120ish calories of CHO. I actually found the math involved in calculating how much to eat after different workouts really interesting (but then, mathematician/numbers geek). For example, during a typical strength workout (based on my describing to him what I do), he estimated that I'm using about 300 calories per hour, with 80% coming from carbs & 20% from fat. So a 45:00 strength workout uses ~225 calories, 180 of which come from carbs. Because I am above my best performance weight, we're shooting for replenishing ~2/3 of that rather than all. (If you're, say, Ryan Hall with 4% body fat, you probably shoot for replacing all of it.)

Sure, the math may seem a bit onerous, but the beauty of it is that you figure it out once & then you're good forever. Basically I just bought a box of reasonably non-processed granola bars that were about the right amounts of CHO & emptied it into my gym bag. BOOM. Not bad at all.

4) Re: the PB & J, I had to do something about that anyway once I found out about my nut allergy. I took Layla's suggestion & gave sunflower seed butter a try, which has been a great replacement! Now, instead of a PB & J, I have one slice of bread (~100 calories CHO) with sunflower seed butter & chia seeds (for Omega 3's), plus some fruit & a glass of milk with optional protein powder. (I've been adding the powder since it's easy and there's no real down side.)

Apparently this was before I bought the chia seeds.

I have never had chia seeds before but I am LOVING them. They're super easy to add to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, etc. & add just a little extra texture.

It's worth mentioning that I didn't have to give up the entire PB&J sandwich. But, it's so carb-heavy that continuing to eat it would mean I'd have to add a bunch of roughage in the form of crunchy vegetables in order to slow down the digestion of the carbs to the 1g/mt my body can handle at that point. Since you need 2-4x the volume of CHO in crunchy vegetables to pull this off, though (Ryan Hall apparently does a stack of pancakes with giant plate of celery), I decided to opt for one slice & no jam. And since I've been eating first thing in the morning and also a little right after the gym as well (plus adding the fruit & the protein from the milk/powder), this has been working out pretty well.

***(Quick note about omega 3's. I used to take the fish oil capsules but HATE them because they smell/taste like fish, plus fish burps. Dr. C says this means they are probably oxidized, a common problem with the gel tabs. The liquid stuff is more reliable, and if the omega 3 in it is still good, should not smell or taste like fish. I am opposed to fish oil in general, though, so he said I can instead just add chia seeds to stuff, maybe a tablespoon or so a day. BUT, they must be kept in the freezer; otherwise the omega 3's will oxidize in a few weeks/months. There is a ton of additional info about this on the internet if you look at reliable sources.)***

SO, that's breakfast! What I love about it is that it's all either built on top of my existing routine, or involves very little extra effort, which means I'm more likely to stick with it.

Next time, I'll tell you about lunch and/or snacking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Race Report: American River Parkway Half Marathon

At 4am this past Saturday, I got up and drove to Carmichael (Sacramento, basically) for the American River Parkway Half. Initially I signed up for this race because I kind of just wanted to race a half marathon after NVM & see what I could do. After talking to Coaches Tom & Ashley, though, I decided not to try to race. They felt that 9 weeks wasn't really enough time post-marathon to put up a strong enough half to make it worth sacrificing time for taper/recovery. So for a while I kept going back and forth about what I wanted to use the race for, and finally decided on trying to run goal marathon pace (8:00 miles) & seeing how it felt.

I would like to preface this race report by saying that this race was one of my most deeply unpleasant & miserable race experiences in recent memory (short of ones where I did serious injury to myself, which, spoiler, thankfully did NOT happen!). I mean it was so absurdly miserable at some points that in retrospect it's actually kind of funny. Still, if you are really into cheery, heart-warming race reports involving a lot of talk about personal mantras & believing in oneself & non-ironic uses of the word 'gratitude', you may be disappointed.

(If, on the other hand, you're into snarky gifs, I humbly submit it may be right up your alley!)

If I had a personal mantra throughout this race, it
was definitely "F#@$ All Y'all." Bonus points for anyone who
can get it for me on one of those cute little Kara Goucher necklaces.

My first observation upon getting out of the car at 6:30: It was not cold. I knew right then that my original race plan was in trouble.

The race website had listed historical weather conditions/averages (51° by 7:00 am, 53° by 8:00, 60 by 10:00, 64° by 11:00), so I'd done the mental math & figured, well, I'll be done by 9:30ish, so I should be running in 50-something temps the whole time, which is totally reasonable.

The day before, I checked the forecast, which called for slightly warmer temps (~65ish by 9:30 or thereabouts, I think), but also full sun. Now, despite the fact that I've run a number of races in the mid-to-upper 60s on black top in full sun, I always really, really want to believe that this will be perfectly fine, slightly-warm-but-perfectly-reasonable running weather, and not at all like running in the ninth circle of hell. Every time, I swear it will be the last time I let myself be fooled. For whatever reason, though, that lesson has yet to sink in.

(Also, I just can't not mention the ridiculously high percentage of runners/walkers decked out in tights and long sleeve shirts. Just looking at them made me sweaty. I even overheard one woman telling another, "I had no idea it would be so cold! I'm shivering," and her friend reply, "I know, I'm sooo glad I wore layers." Part of me wanted to shake them and yell, "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU??? IT'S 6:30 AND ALREADY NEARLY 60 DEGREES!!! DO YOU HAVE ANY *IDEA* HOW MISERABLE IT'S GOING TO BE OUT THERE? DO YOU?!?!?11?"

On the other hand, at least race organization was quite smooth, & the little tent city erected by the start/finish was easy to navigate. The first bit of staging I encountered was a beautiful line of port-a-potties with almost no lines. Then I went in search of the bib table, where again, I only had to wait behind one person (and only because her last name fell in the same range of letters as mine; the other volunteers passing out bibs had no line at all). I also walked right up & got my shirt.

Now that it was 6:45, I found myself with some time to kill. My loose plan was to do all my race prep (sunscreen, BodyGlide, hair, FlipBelt, bib, etc.), watch the walkers' race start at 7:15, then jog 2 easy miles before the runners' start at 7:45. (I thought it was cool that there were not only two separate starts for the runners and walkers but also two completely separate courses, both out-and-backs that headed in two different directions.)

The walkers' start

I am a weenie about cold and most of the time wait until the last possible moment to ditch my warm-ups, but this time I didn't even bother putting them back on after slathering up, and was already sweating after one easy warm-up mile in one of my thinnest, lightest tops. Not a good sign.

At 7:40 I lined up at the 8:00 min/mile sign, the Folsom High School jazz choir sang the National Anthem (OMG *SUCH* a huge improvement over the amateurish solo performances most races get), the horn sounded, and we were off.

Runners' start. For the record, the 23-year-old baddass in the yellow
top is Olivia Mickle, who a) has a blog and b) went on to win this thing in 1:17:34.

As with Foster City Ten Miler, my biggest issue in the first few miles was overriding the "RACE!!!!" reflex and trying not to go out too fast. My legs really wanted to run more like a 7:30-7:40ish pace and I spent a lot of time looking at my watch and trying to slow my breathing and relax, particularly since the sun was already getting hot and I suspected that if I was really going to try to hold an 8:00 pace, this race could end up being a lot harder later on than I'd anticipated. My first mile was 7:59 and I knew that was still too fast this early if I was trying to average eights.

The first couple of miles weren't too bad because there was more shade, but by the time we hit mile 3 there was less and less of it and more and more time fully exposed to direct sun. By the end of that mile I could tell I was working way harder than I should be to stay in the 8:00-8:10 range, which was a big blow to my morale because the whole point had been to practice marathon pace and I didn't really have a plan B. Should I try to hold the pace anyway, knowing it would be harder in the heat, and treat it as practice running the inevitably tougher second half of a marathon? Forget about pace & just try to run at marathon effort? Give up on marathon practice altogether & just get the long run miles in? Eventually I decided I'd just hold 8:00 pace as long as I could, and if I needed to run the last few miles at an easier pace, that was fine.

    Mile 1 - 7:59
    Mile 2 - 8:03
    Mile 3 - 8:02

Through mile 4 I really struggled to stay positive because I could already tell how much the rest of this race was going to hurt. We'd run through a shaded section and I'd think, "This isn't so bad! I can totally hold this pace for 9 more miles, no problem. I can totally do this." Then the shade would end and immediately I'd be like, "NOPE! Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope," and the idea that there were still over eight more left to go would become utterly depressing.

Then we hit mile 5, which comprised a) a terrifyingly brief and steep downhill to go under a bridge, followed by b) a brief and barely runnable uphill, and c) a looooong, gradual uphill on gravel with absolutely zero shade.

My first thought upon hitting the gravel:

I actually don't think I have the capability to express to you how much I HATE running on gravel. Add to that an ENTIRE MILE of uphill in direct sun with nary a tree or aid station in sight?


Just no.

I'm pretty sure I made it through that stretch purely on spite and the knowledge that if I collapsed and died now I would be unable to murder anyone for this god-forsaken stretch of hell's asshole after the race.

Mile 6 included another sharp downhill/back uphill to go under another bridge, and another long, fully exposed stretch toward the turnaround.

At this point I was way slowing down at aid stations, grabbing a cup of Gatorade to drink plus as many cups of water as I could carry to pour all over myself. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that for the entire rest of the race there was no period of time during which I was not desperately thirsty.

    Mile 4 - 8:12
    Mile 5 - 8:07
    Mile 6 - 8:00

This picture is here so you can notice how my top is so completely,
100% soaked that it's sticking to me. I even had blisters from wet socks.

My inner optimist (not dead yet!) was super excited to reach the turnaround, but was then almost immediately deflated by the thought that I still had over six miles of this business left to go, which felt just impossible. (I mean not *actually* impossible, but completely and utterly pointless and miserable. I just had absolutely zero desire to run the rest of this race except that that seemed like probably the fastest way of getting back to civilization, given the lack of surface streets.)

I had hoped that because the first half of the race had felt mostly like a gradual but relentless climb, the second half would be a pleasant, subtle downhill. The problem with that logic was that the way out followed the American River Parkway bike trail, and at the turnaround you went down yet another brief yet super-steep downhill onto the levee trail. So, we got to spend the return trip on the lower trail gradually working our way back up to Parkway level.

I was holding my pace, more or less, but it was so hard, and people were getting more and more spread out, so you could spend fairly long periods of time running nearly entirely by yourself in the blistering sun. In tough races, I feel like the energy of people around me and the trappings that remind you you're actually running a race are a big part of what help me stay strong, but at this point there was just NOTHING for fairly long stretches. I might as well have been just out for a run on my own, which made all the misery start to seem like not really worth it.

(Also, while I certainly appreciate the musicians who volunteered to play on the course, I kept suffering crushing disappointment from spotting their tents on the horizon & mistaking them for aid stations. It kind of made me want to cry every time.)

I have a strategy for getting through the last 20-25% of a really hard race, which is to start counting backwards from 400 at each mile marker with three steps per count. (I think it's effective because it gives me something else to focus on and always helps me feel like I'm making some kind of progress when every tenth of a mile seems like an age unto itself.) So, I knew it was a bad sign when I found myself resorting to that mid-way through mile 7. My pace was definitely starting to slow, but I didn't really care; at that point I was just trying to run as fast as I could manage given the number of miles left, not because I thought I might salvage a kinda-sorta not-awful time but because I was so freaking miserable and couldn't bear the thought of staying out here any longer than I absolutely had to.

    Mile 7 - 8:08
    Mile 8 - 8:09
    Mile 9 - 8:12

Weirdly, I found my pace picking up a little in the last 2 miles, probably because my mind and/or body decided that was a fairly manageable distance and it probably wouldn't kill me to run 0:10/mile faster. It was still hard and I felt like I might hit a wall at any moment, but at least it seemed like the folks around me were suffering at least as much or worse because, in spite of making zero effort to do so (see above), I found myself passing runner after runner as early as mile 9.

At that point the optimist poked its head up a little and I found myself thinking, "Okay, I don't really have speed right now, but what I DO have is a marathoner's strength and ability to endure a reasonably high level of discomfort for long periods of time." Yes, it sucked and I wished it were over, but physically, there was no doubt in my mind that I did actually have the ability get through it without the wheels coming off (which, to be honest, was also kind of depressing, because it kind of would've been a relief to just have my body quit *for* me).

I mean I literally don't think my brain would have let me slow down or walk even if I'd wanted to, because every part of me was just *so* opposed to anything that would delay the cessation of this wretched experience by even a moment.

I also had that weird experience that I kind of think I need to work on where with two miles to go, my body was 100% certain it absolutely, positively could not run even a tiny bit faster, and then HEY LOOK IT'S THE FINISH LINE, BETTER SPRINT THIS ONE IN AT 5K PACE BECAUSE WHY NOT.

    Mile 10 - 8:13
    Mile 11 - 8:15
    Mile 12 - 8:08
    Mile 13 - 7:57
    13.1(7) - 6:39 pace

I would like it noted that I was so pissed at the end of this race that I actually went out of my way to take an ironically happy finish photo:

#blessed #yolo #gratitude #f&@$allyall

So, yeah. Final score:

    Official: 1:46:29/13.1 miles/8:08 pace
    Garmin: 1:46:31/13.17 miles/8:05 pace

    Overall: 106 out of 1248
    Women: 27 out of 791
    A/G: 5 out of 15

Okay, WTF 30-34 women?? Where you at??

I'm trying to figure out what my takeaways are for this race, and here's what I've got so far:

  • Even once it felt hard (read: mile 3), I hung on to within spitting distance of my goal pace for a good long while in spite of how completely miserable I felt. In fact, I think I was kind of using my anger and misery as fuel. Life skills!
  • I had a rough few miles in the 9-10-11 range, but I managed to come back after that and finish strong even though I basically wanted to die, and I think that says something about the strength I've been building up even though I'm not fast (for me) right now.
  • The runners who were ahead of me for most of the race were running sub-8:00 pace, and that period in miles 9-11 when my pace dropped off by 10-15 seconds was *still* when I passed the most people.
  • I was never passed by a woman I didn't eventually pass back.
  • Part of me keeps trying to be like, "Oh, look, your half marathon is worse than it was in 2010 when you barely trained. GOOD JOB YOU!" And so I have to keep beating that voice back by reminding myself that I've done zero LT training and almost zero speed training in nearly a year, and also instead of tapering for this race I ran a long, tough hill interval workout in 80° heat on Thursday (since I wasn't willing to skip a key workout).
  • In a way, I feel like I kind of unintentionally did end up practicing the back half because things got just so hard so early. Then again, it's hard to say that anything ever really accurately tests your ability to run the second half of a marathon at pace except the second half of a marathon.

So, yeah. If nothing else, it was definitely good practice if not with embracing the suck, then at least with managing & pushing through it (er, sort of), which I apparently do via violent mental rage & imagery.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Sacramento, CA

Date: First Saturday in May (May 2, 2015 this year)

The Deal: This race is a fundraiser for the American River Parkway & is entirely volunteer-run.

Prices: $50 by 2/18; $65 by 4/28 (online deadline); $80 if registered at bib pickup (4/30 or 5/1) or on race morning.

Field Size: 1248 finishers in the runners' half marathon (I want to say they said the cap is 2000), 382 in the walkers' half marathon, & 224 in the 5K. There was also a half marathon walk relay and a half marathon wheel chair division.

Deadlines/sellout factor: There was race day registration, so you probably don't have to worry about rushing to sign up.


The race was staged at William S. Pond Park on the banks of the American River. There were two start/finish lines (one for walkers that headed north & one for runners that headed south), lots of little tents for bib pickup/registration/gear check/local running groups/other organizations, a post-race food & drink area, and the obligatory giant line of port-a-potties.

The one thing that made me sad about the staging area was that there was almost NO natural shade, so the only areas where you could get out of the sun were the small tents, most of which were over grass. There were some picnic tables on concrete platforms, but these were not shaded. (Also there just weren't that many of them.)

The Course: From the website description of the runners' course: "For the runners, we start and travel along the scenic river-level trail until the turning point. From there, we turn and briefly travel back along the levee trail before crossing Sacramento's most famous footbridge known as the Little Golden Gate bridge - a classic suspension bridge that looks just like the most famous bridge in the world! Once you've crossed the river, you follow the Parkway's 'Lost Trail' for several miles taking in scenic views and running through forests on a path less traveled. Then, another crossing of the river over Sacramento's newest bridge, which returns you to the final three miles on your way to the finish line."

Part of me is wondering if maybe the course got changed between the time this was written and race day, because we definitely didn't cross any bridges (though we did run under the Little Golden Gate). Also, race directors....We have to have a little talk. This word 'scenic.' I do not think it means what you think it means. The only scenery on this course were trees. And not like particularly interesting or unique trees--just the regular kind. And there's nothing wrong with that! But don't call it scenic.

There were little music ensembles playing every mile or so, maybe, which was a lovely gesture, though I felt bad for them because, especially if they were past the first few miles, it must have been boring as hell a lot of the time. In the back half of the course when runners got really spread out, sometimes they would literally strike up a few chords as they saw me coming and then stop once I was gone (which I don't blame them for at all, even if course entertainment was my bag, which it's not). Speaking as a musician, I personally I am not a good enough person to volunteer for a gig like this.

Another thing to be aware of is that, because there isn't a lot of easy access to the Parkway, there's almost zero crowd support. There were a few knots of people here & there (also some surprisingly good signs, and I notoriously hate 'witty' race signs), but mostly you're just kind of out there on the open road. I don't usually miss crowd support but because this race was just so much straight, flat, nothing, it did get really mind-numbing at times and I just wanted *some* kind of stimulation to reassure me that, yes, I was actually making progress.

Something I thought they did a good job with was having volunteers out at spots to call your attention to things, like when we ran by this construction site & there was a big sort of speed bumb protecting a bunch of power cords running across the path to the site. They had two volunteers out there with big red flags being like, "Speed bump!! Don't trip!!"

Also, like I mentioned above, not much shade and a mile-long uphill stretch of gravel.


This year different bib numbers were assigned different parking "zones" in the area surrounding the start at William B. Pond Park, with different arrival times. The race email had specified that my assigned parking zone should arrive between 6:00 & 6:30 in order to get parked and take the shuttle to the start. This was confusing to me because on the map it looked like the parking area (a residential area by the park) was pretty close to the start/finish area, but since the email included warnings like "If unforeseen circumstances interfere [with your arriving in the time window specified in the email], we will have bus service after your assigned arrival time, but we cannot guarantee on-time delivery," I decided to get there around 6:15ish.

Thankfully there was no traffic and thanks to the many signs it was easy to find and park in my designated zone (though, despite email warnings to the contrary, it did not seem like anyone was enforcing it.) I started walking towards the spot on the map with the little shuttle icon, but after maybe five minutes of walking towards the park I could see the start/finish, having never encountered a shuttle bus. (Later I did see a bunch of school buses driving around with runners getting on & off, but I never did figure out what the deal was with this since the parking was literally a 5-10 minute walk from the start. It would have been like a two-minute bus ride, max. It makes me wonder if some of the parking areas were significantly further away.)


Logo tech tee, nice medal, & I think the best post-race food I've ever had at any race. It was actually catered with different types of BIG wrap sandwiches (turkey, ham, veggie, etc.). I was actually really sad that in my post-race brain dead state I managed to douse mine in water. (I still ate almost half of it anyway.)

Overall Assessment:

I think this is a race some people will love and some people should never do again. It's a nice "big-small" race with a local feel, everything was well-organized and ran quite smoothly and overall they did a nice job with it. That said, it's unlikely that I personally will run it again, particularly given that it's almost 2 hours to get there and nearly 3 to get back (courtesy of west/SF bound Bay Area weekend traffic). It was maybe a little warmer than usual this weekend, but temps were really not much higher than historical averages and full sun in spring in the Central Valley is not rare, and I know from experience that I just do NOT run well in those conditions. Also, for me, personally, the course was mind-numbingly dull, and there is my intense, firey hatred for gravel to consider. But, if you live nearby and those things don't bother you, this could be a good choice for an excellent price if you're looking for a smallish, spring half.