Saturday, December 28, 2013

Books + Can A Girl Catch A Break Or What

Boy, if it's not one thing, it's something else.

You guys, I can barely put weight on my left leg. I don't know what I did to it, but it has not gotten better since I tweaked it at the track last week. It had seemed like it was getting better, so I tried an easy 4 miles on it here in Spokane on Tuesday. Apparently that was kind of the last straw; by the time I got out of the shower I could only put a little weight on it, and ever since then I've been limping around & waking up in ridiculous amounts of pain at 4am. (For some reason that seems to be when it's the worst.)

The pain starts in my left ankle (which has been incredibly stiff & kind of chronically swollen for years) & runs up the outside of the bone & then up into the lateral part of my calf muscle. Dr. Google MD has convinced me that it's either a moderate calf strain or a fibular stress reaction / fracture. Since my mileage has stayed pretty low for the past few months & the pain came on fairly suddenly, I'm hoping that it really is just a strain & with a few days of no running it'll be back to normal.

I'm forcing myself not to think too hard or worry about whether it's a stress fracture or what the implications will be until I can actually *do* something about it, so in the mean time, let us talk about something that I can do, which is plow through books.

In the grand tradition of setting overly vague, essentially meaningless goals, one of mine for this past year was to "read more," which was not hard since apparently I read exactly 12 books in 2012. I may have failed to run even 1200 miles this year (thanks mostly to tearing my stupid hip flexor), but damned if I didn't finish 59 books--37 audiobooks, and 22 in hard copy.

(It turns out you can knock out a lot of audiobooks when you spend 2 hours a day in the car. I also listen to them when I'm out running, or doing stuff at work that doesn't require reading/writing/listening to people. So if you'd like to read more but don't have much time for reading books made out of paper, I can highly recommend getting an subscription & trading out some radio/music time for that.)

Here are my top pics:

For The Athlete:

Becoming a Supple Leopard, by Kelly Starrett. Are you tired of being told that your aches / paints / injuries / etc. will go away if you "just do more yoga / strength work / stretch more"? Do you feel like you're just cobbling together a mix of common sense & pseudo-science & hoping for the best without any clear idea of what is *actually* causing your problems and what is *actually* likely to fix things? If so, you might at the very least find this book interesting. Starrett's philosophy is that “All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves,” & that we shouldn't be at the mercy of doctors & PTs & trainers & whatnot to diagnose & fix every little ache & pain that comes up.

The New Rules of Marathon & Half-Marathon Nutrition, by Matt Fitzgerald. Probably the most useful & straightforward book I've ever read about nutrition specific to runners. Also, lots of great information that I hadn't seen before. Best of all, everything is based on current scientific evidence, not folk wisdom or outdated facts "everybody knows" from fifteen years ago. I doubt I will ever be even remotely perfect about my nutrition, but now I at least feel like I have a logical framework on which to hang my pitiful attempts.

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, by Matt Fitzgerald. I first ran across this book a couple of years ago when I was looking for a solid, research-based, user-friendly primer on nutrition for endurance athletes, but dismissed it as probably too numbers-on-the-scale-focused for me. After reading The New Rules, though, I decided to give it a fair shot. Instead of telling you what weight to shoot for, he recommends first determining your body composition (% body fat), then setting an individualized goal. The rest of the book is chock full of science about how the bodies of endurance athletes process various nutrients, & tools for determining & improving the quality of your diet one step at a time.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein. Is extraordinary athletic performance a question of nature or nurture? Epstein assures us early in the book that it's 100% both. But how? Over sixteen chapters, he delves into a wide range of issues related to athletic performance and genetics, including the role of practice, sex & hormone differences, "trainability", body type, geography, ancestry, injury & disease, pain tolerance, and will power. (The chapter on breeding champion sled dogs for work ethic instead of speed was particularly interesting.) The upshot: there is no simple answer, but the topic is utterly fascination.


The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern. Without giving away too much plot, this book struck me as Ray Bradbury-meets-Catherynne M. Valente -- beautifully poetic writing, descriptions that appeal to all of the senses, & nostalgic imagery, with a plot that is a sort of modern (well; late 19th century) fairy tale. The characters are carefully crafted and their relationships & interactions are believable and convincing while also subverting your expectations just enough to feel original & refreshing. It's so rare that a love story doesn't make me want to throw up a little, & Celia maybe the best written heroine I have read in a long, long time. I almost couldn't put this book down & that almost never happens to me.

The MaddAddam Trilogy, by Margaret Atwood. (Okay, I am cheating a little because this is actually three books.) Wow. Wow, wow, wow (one for each book--Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam). If you are a Margaret Atwood fan, get thee to a library / bookstore / kindle / whatever post haste--this is probably her best work yet. If you are not a Margaret Atwood fan, how are you not a Margaret Atwood fan???? I don't often do post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but if someone was going to spin a completely original and unique yarn in that genre full of dynamic and interesting characters and masterful writing and straight-up nail it first time out of the gate, I'm not surprised it was her. Fantastic. Could not put it down.

The City and the City, by China MiƩville. This book definitely gets props for one of the most unique and interesting premises I can remember. Imagine two cities which occupy the same physical space--ie, some geographical areas are part of one city, others are part of the other, some areas are sort of "cross-hashed" over each other, and some areas exist in both. Also imagine that interacting with or even acknowledging something or someone who is in the other city--even if they are standing right next to you--is the worst crime that exists. Now imagine trying to carry out a murder investigation in one of those cities. A gripping and completely unpredictable story, thanks to the mind-blowing premise & fantastic writing.

Glasshouse, by Charles Stross. It took me a couple of chapters to get into "Glasshouse", but once the main story got going, it was interesting, creative, full of dynamic & believable characters, and actually really funny at times. In order to hide from whoever is trying to kill him, Robin agrees to be part of a sociology experiment where people agree to be put into "ancient"--late 20th century--bodies & live "as the ancients" for a few years so that researchers can see how social interactions & relationships worked. Before the serious stuff goes down, this made for much hilarity without seeming like a gag. Perfect if you want a bit of fun, engaging, interesting, well-written, not-too-creepy-&-weird sci-fi without a serious commitment.


Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen.For all that I've generally been aware that US history as it gets taught in school is pretty sterilized and white-washed, until I read this book, I didn't realize the extent to which it was patently falsified (including falsification by selective omission). I lost track of the times over the course of reading this book where I found myself going, "Wait, what????" & backtracking to be sure that I'd actually read what I thought I'd just read. All the inaccuracies & omissions Loewen discusses are backed by primary sources & fully documented, and he invites you to delve deeper & do your own research if you feel disinclined to take him & his sources at their word.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean. You might like this book if you 1) enjoy amusing stories about science told with a historical/human interest angle (RadioLab fans, I'm looking at you); 2) knew your chemistry at some point & would kind of like a refresher of the basics, but hate textbooks; 3) are curious about chemistry/particle physics but find terms like "covalence electrons" and "ionic bonds" kind of intimidating; 4) are a young person who has not yet studied chemistry formally (I could totally see this book turning a "fuzzy" on to science); 5) enjoy unconventional histories various & sundry. Entertaining & well-written!

The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future, by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita In this book, the author--a political scientist--discusses how he's spent the last thirty-some-odd years harnessing the power of math & logic (in the form of game theory) to make spookily accurate predictions about business, politics, legal battles, & all kinds of other situations that involve human beings negotiating and scheming for the best possible outcome. And these aren't fields in which he has special expertise or privileged information--as he reminds us over and over and over again, humans who want things are predictable, which means their behavior can be modeled mathematically. Impossible, you say? That must be why Bueno De Mesquita's predictions have something like a 90% success rate.

Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match, by Amy Webb. After months of truly horrific online dating & feeling pressured by her mother's terminal illness to find a life partner as soon as possible, newly 30 Amy Webb threw herself into "hacking" J-date using an awe-inspiring level of math, science, and color-coded spreadsheets. The topic may sound superficial, but if you are at all a mathy-codey-hacky-data-loving type of person, you very well may find a lot of her story fascinating. Absolutely, online daters will probably find it even more interesting (and informative), but I enjoyed it purely based on its existence at the weird intersection of statistics & sociology.

If you want to get more book recommendations from me, follow me on GoodReads! I rate & review just about everything I read.

Read any amazing books this year? What else must I not miss??

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter Hols + Fueling Practice

Happy whatever-it-is-that-you-celebrate!! (Not working, making delicious treats, drinking a lot, and/or sitting alone in the dark enjoying the silence totally counts.) Don & I are hanging out with his folks in Washington state this week, which is delicious, quiet, & generally awesome. I am ready for it.


Even though 12.6 miles still doesn't really feel (in my mind) like an actual long run, I decided it was time to start putting all the fueling tips I've been reading about into practice & see how they work for me. My long run assignment this past Sunday was 95-105 minutes, which I'd originally been planning to push to 14 miles, but given that I was still having some not-insignificant pain in my left calf (see below) I decided to just stick to the hour forty-five.

Recently I ordered a box of key lime Accel Gel from Amazon:

Accel Gel because it's the only other one besides 2nd Surge that I know of that contains protein. (They are actually made by the same company; I think 2nd Surge is basically just Accel Gel with a bit of the protein traded out for caffeine. This would explain why 2nd Surge only comes in chocolate & espresso.) Key lime because it was on sale.

(BTW, if you use this link when you shop at Amazon, 0.5% of what you spend goes to a charity through their Smile program. They have a few you can pick from, or you can enter your own. Pretty sweet, no?)

I had one gel before I started, then another every 30 minutes, which amounts to 40g of carbohydrate per hour. (You might recall from this post that 30g / hour is the smallest effective dose in terms of improving performance, and the more you can tolerate per hour, the better.) This isn't surprising considering it's not all that much different from what I've done in marathons in the past; the real test, I think, will be figuring out how much I can tolerate at half marathon race pace. (Y'know....once I can run that pace again for 13 whole miles.)

The other thing I need to figure out is how I'm going to carry all these gels I'm supposed to be gulping down. For marathons I wear shorts and a top with zipper pockets, but for a half I'd rather wear lighter, less bulky things if possible. I do have one pair of booty shorts / boy shorts / whatever with a zipper pocket in the back, so those might work.

* * *

This wasn't the training week I'd planned on, but at the very least, I can say that I did as much as I could as well as I could without seriously injuring myself. Which is kind of the best you can ever do, I think.

Grand Total: 25.6 miles

    * 11.5 easy
    * 1.5 speed
    * 12.6 long


Karate + light strength.


5 track. 1.5 warm up, 2 [3 x (300m @ 5:40 pace / 100m jog), 300m jog], 2 cool down. My legs still felt beaten up from my Sunday long run, so I was not super excited about this run. I don't know what I did, but by the time I finished my cool down, my right hip flexor (the one I tore) and the outside of my left calf were killing me. Much stretching & rolling ensued.


a.m. strength work. My left calf felt *extremely* painful as soon as I got up. I was not confident at first that I'd be able to handle squats & the like on my busted leg, but it ended up okay. I did not relish the thought of running on it the next day, though.

We were supposed to go to karate in the evening, but Don got home late, traffic from SF to Berkeley was terrible, & neither of us were feeling great, so we decided to skip it. Usually if I skip karate I try to get in a short run, but there was no way that was happening.


3 easy Rest busted leg. I don't know why I had such a short workout on my schedule during a normal training week, but it was just as well considering that I could barely put weight on my left leg. Don's company holiday party was Thursday evening so originally I'd planned to get up early & do this run before work, but with as terrible as my left leg felt when I woke up, that was clearly out of the question.

But hey, the party was good!

We clean up alright. ;)


1.5 warm up, 4 x (1600m @ LT / 1:00 jog), 1.5 cool down) 4 easy. My calf still hurt on Friday, but I was determined to see if I could get any running in at all, even if I couldn't do the tempo run. It was miserable, and my calf throbbed horrifically any time I stopped at a traffic light, but I got in four miles which is more than zero. I thought I probably could have forced myself through more, but I didn't want to risk doing more damage to my leg and jeopardizing my Saturday or (especially) Sunday runs. On the plus side, it actually did feel better after the run than before, and with the exception of the pain in my leg, I felt really good & wished I'd felt confident about going farther.


4 easy. What a huge, huge relief to find that although my calf still hurt, and walking was not incredibly comfortable, it still felt better than it had the night before and the short run I'd done on it hadn't made it worse. Also you can only complain so much about a day that ends with wine & bonfire.

Happy solstice!


12.6 long. Again, the leg felt better in the morning than it had the night before, which was encouraging.

Between my still-anemic endurance and achey calf, this run was tough. Like, last-10K-of-a-marathon tough. Something about the pain in my calf transferred itself up into my left hamstring, so that felt tight & painful as well & stopping periodically to try to stretch it out & loosen it up didn't accomplish much. Several times it occurred to me that it wouldn't be terribly unreasonable to call it good after an hour or an hour fifteen or an hour and a half, but if I was honest, the pain in my leg wasn't that bad--it was achey more than sharp and throbby the way it had been on Wednesday and Thursday, and it wasn't affecting my stride--and the whole point of marathon training is habituating yourself to mentally and physically pushing through that exact feeling.

(But GOD, was I still glad when this run was over. So, so incredibly glad. I am really looking forward to the point where long runs stop making me want to shoot myself.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Shoe

(Or, the one where I solicit recommendations.)

Remember the days when you didn't know that much about running shoes, and didn't run all that many miles anyway, & weren't yet convinced that some shoes were actually trying to hurt you?

I remember those days. I remember my uncle taking me & my sisters to the Reebok outlet the week before cross country practice started, & telling the saleswoman, "I am a cross country runner, please give me the BEST shoes for running!" and she was like, "No problem!" And she'd give me a pair, which did indeed look just like a stock photo of running shoes (see left). I'd jog around the store in them or a few minutes & then be like, "Sure do feel like running shoes!"

When there wasn't money for new shoes, I remember happily accepting & running in used shoes of dubious origins without giving it a second thought. (One year my next-door-neighbor was like, "Hey, I found these in my mom's pile of stuff from the seventies she didn't want. They look like they might be your size. They are called 'New Balance,' which I hear is the new hotness. Want 'em?" So for one season I ran in a pair of 20-year-old New Balance something-or-rathers.)

WOW, have things gotten complicated since then. In the last ten years or so I've been through heavy shoes and light shoes and thick-soled shoes and thin-soled shoes and shoes with stability posts and external actuator lugs and shoes with lots of cushioning or no cushioning, 12mm drop or 0mm drop, generic orthotics, semi-custom orthotics, prescription orthotics, and God. Dammit. Sometimes I really understand why people are like, "Just go barefoot already!"

I have it easier than most people. For the most part I'm able to run in just about whatever shoe I want, and it's pretty rare that something is so terrible that I can't wear it long enough to at least get my money's worth. (The 1st version of the PureConnect was the exception--those really were so narrow it hurt.) But "Eh, I can in run in this" is different than finding a shoe you really, really adore & just want to run every mile in. That's what I still haven't found. Many have come close--I have several pairs that I'm quite happy running in--but I'm still looking for my "forever" shoe.

What's Come Close?

Brooks Launch. This is the shoe I ran my last two marathons in. It's definitely the most traditional of the shoes I run in regularly, as well as the bulkiest & heaviest. That said, it really isn't particularly bulky & heavy as more traditional shoes go. Brooks markets it as a performance shoe suitable for races & tempo runs, & indeed, it's the lightest of their good ol' trainer, non-PureProject offerings.

I like it for marathons & long runs because for all that I am not a fan of extra cushioning, sometimes going on hour three of pounding pavement it's nice to have a little more of it. The 9.5mm drop also made the Launch a good choice for me when I was just moving away from shoes with more of a 12mm drop & didn't yet have the calf/Achilles flexibility to do longer runs in 4mm shoes. They aren't super responsive (I wouldn't run a 5K in them or anything), but past the 15 mile mark, that isn't much of a concern for me. I also like to run in these shoes when my feet hurt.

Saucony Kinvara. Right now this is kind of my "work horse" shoe. I have an older pair that I use for shorter runs and a newer pair that I've been wearing for medium/longer runs, and they work admirably for both. The Kinvaras are a little lighter and more responsive than the Launches, and also have a 4mm drop. (Saucony markets them as a "transitional" performance shoe.) Plus, they fit my foot super well.

Kinvara 3

Kinvara 4

I haven't run a marathon in this shoe, but I've worked up to being able to do longer runs comfortably with the 4mm drop, so I think at this point I'm sure I totally could--they certainly have plenty of cushioning. On the other hand, the one thing I don't love about these shoes is the stack height. For a performance shoe, they sure do have a LOT of midsole going on there.

This is also why I'm not a fan of the Altras & Hokas all the kids are wearing now: Too. Much. Foam. (The stack height on the Hokas in particular terrifies me. They are like the platform stripper heels of running shoes. I put a pair on once and seriously felt like I was going to tip over.)

For all that the Kinvaras are more responsive than the Launches, I really, really wish they had maybe *half* the stack height & cushioning & a bit more ground feel. Still, there are a lot of things I love about this shoe, and until I find something that fits & rides as well but has a lower profile, Kinvaras will probably still be my shoe of choice for most of my everyday runs & half marathons.

Mizuno Wave Musha. Sadly, this was the pair that got stolen with my duffel bag. Which is a real bummer because the Musha probably came the closest to perfect of any shoe I have. I liked them because they were light, 4mm drop, and *incredibly* responsive--there was no shoe better for a 5K/10K. I never got brave enough to wear them for a half, but I'm sure they would have worked fine.

Also, they are being discontinued. :(

My only complaints about the Musha were that it was on the heavy side for a mid-distance performance shoe, and that the sole was a bit hard & inflexible, so I'm interested in trying out some of Mizuno's other low-profile offerings to see if any of them might be a suitable replacement.

Mizuno Wave Universe. On the track, I love this shoe SO. MUCH. I usually warm up in whatever road shoe I'm wearing, then put on the Universes for my intervals; after that, putting the road shoes back on just feels weird & wrong. My dream is to someday have the foot strength to wear a shoe like this for all my runs because it's just so incredibly comfortable, but alas I fear that day is a long way off yet.

Can you beat a shoe you can pretty much wad up in a ball? No; not really.

Newton Distance. Originally my Newton of choice was the Motion/"Motus", but once I was told I didn't need to wear stability shoes anymore I switched to the Distance. Both are comfortable and reasonably light, and have the lower 4mm drop I prefer.

To be honest, though, I think I am getting close to done with Newtons at this point. They went through a period of being the hot new thing where everybody seemed to love them so much that I figured I'd give them a shot, plus I really liked the fact that the company adheres to ILO conventions in the manufacturing of the shoes, and uses some green manufacturing practices (100% recycled yarn shoe laces, webbing, insole topcover, 10% recycled outersole rubber, making boxes on-site from green materials). But given that they cost *at least* 50% more than my other favorite shoes (I have only ever bought them on sale & *still* never paid less than $120) and certainly don't provide me with 50% more value (I've yet to have a pair last past 250 miles), it's hard to see why I would continue to buy them.

If I really felt like they were my *perfect* shoe, I might be willing to continue ponying up. But they're not. Like the Kinvara, they suffer from the too-much-cushioning disease. For all that they're marketed as promoting a 'natural' running style, they are awfully hard and inflexible. Also, the website claims that "Newtons allow your foot to feel the ground as if you were running barefoot." No. Not even close. What Newtons allow your foot to feel are the giant slabs of rubber between your foot and the ground.

I know there is the argument about how the lugs help you land on your midfoot, but since that's not a problem I have (and these days I am scrutinized on the treadmill just about monthly), I can't see why I should pay extra for it. Also, if you were wearing truly "natural" shoes without an inch of foam under your foot to begin with, believe me, you would have no problem finding your midfoot. The toughening-up process might not be as pleasant, but there is nothing magical about the lugs. You just can't argue that running in Newtons lets you feel the ground as if you were running barefoot. In these bad boys, the ground is a distant dream.

What Now?

Like I said, I'm happy enough with all of these shoes that I'll most likely finish out the pairs I have. But I'm also curious to try a few new things. I was super excited about Altras until I realized how thick & cushy the soles were--the wide toe box with lots of splaying room seemed promising. (Toe box width is another thing I don't love about any of the shoes I'm currently running in.) Thinking about what I don't like in a running shoe has helped me codify better what I'm actually looking for:

  • Needs to last *at least* 300 miles (preferably 400+), unless it's built like a racing flat; in that case, I can deal with a shorter lifespan as long as it's priced accordingly.
  • Under 7.5 ounces (preferably under 7)
  • Wide toe box for foot-splaying
  • Low drop (say, 6mm or less)
  • Responsive, not too cushy
  • Reasonably flexible
  • Low stack height (I don't have an exact number in mind here, but half an inch of visible foam or less would be a good start).
  • Some little bit of cushioning (I feel like there is a sweet spot somewhere in between the Musha & Kinvara).

With that in mind, here are a few shoes that seem to pop up again & again in terms of recommendations & strong reviews:

Newton MV3. If I get another pair of Newtons, it will probably be this one. The MV3 is marketed as a racing flat, but at 5+ oz, it sounds a bit heavy to me for that. BUT, perhaps that will make it a really nice road shoe for me. I'm encouraged by all the positive reviews; on the other hand, the racing flat build makes me wonder about the longevity of the shoe, and while $125 is peanuts for a pair of Newtons, it's kind of pricey for something that's only going to last ~200 miles. I would totally try them if I could get a discount or find them on a good sale, though.

Mizuno Wave Ekiden. Another racing flat-esque shoe whose rave reviews seem promising. From the Runner's World Review: "Our testers said it brought them back to when shoes were 'just what you needed and nothing you don't, for a fast, lightly cushioned ride that gently wraps your foot. Feels like 1980 again!' All the testers found it especially accessible for such a light racing flat and said they used it for more than track work and racing. They did shorter training runs and even half marathons in it." Sold!

Mizuno Hitogami. The Hitogami is the shoe with which Mizuno is replacing both the Musha & Ronin, & slots in between the two in terms of weight & heel drop. (So in terms of weight/support, the Mizuno lightweight family will go Universe, Ekiden, Hitogami.) It's supposed to be available on Jan. 4; I'll be curious to compare the Ekiden & Hitogami & see which one feels closer to what I'm looking for.

Saucony Type A5. This shoe has piqued my interest because of all the reviews that a) rave about it & b) describe it as fairly similar to the Kinvara in terms of fit. Like some of these others, it's billed as a racing flat, but many runners seem to like it just as well for training runs & describe it as totally practical for even a half marathon.

What am I missing? What other neutral, lightweight, thin-soled options are out there that I should try?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Short Intervals: Terrifying As Shit

I'm pretty sure short-interval speed workouts are God's way of reminding me that I am not a sprinter. I was once, sort of; in high school I was fairly decent in the 400m & 800m, & even raced the 200m a couple of times. But these days anything shorter than 400m is just kind of scary, because I always feel like I'm one wrong step from complete & utter disaster.

Any time I do short, fast intervals, it is pretty much like this.

Tuesday's assignment:

    1.5 warm-up / drills / strides
    3 x (300m @ 6:11 / 100m jog)
    300m jog
    3 x (300m @ 6:11 / 100m jog)
    2 cool down

The other thing about 300m intervals is that I am just plain not good at them. 6:11 is not a pace I find myself running all that often (shocking), so I don't have a good sense of how it feels, compared to say 5:50 or 6:30. Mentally anything faster than 5K pace just falls under "stupid fast." Also, if I go out too fast or slow, even if I can manage to glance at my watch without running into someone/something & killing us all, there's not much time to adjust.

And so things like this happen:

On each interval I kept telling myself to slow down juuuuuust a hair, which apparently my body interprets as GIVE 'ER MOAR JUICE, CAP'N!! (I kind of wonder if this has to do with needing more time to get warmed up for running this fast.)

Because I am a total numbers / data geek, I get a lot of enjoyment out of recording & tracking my workouts over months & years. I'm not OCD enough to record splits for everything, but I generally do record them for track workouts, so it can be cool to compare a given speed session with the same workout from a while back. According to RunningAhead the last time I ran this workout was in late January, just a few weeks back into running after taking December 2012 off to deal with a foot injury. Behold:

On the blog, I apparently whined a lot after that workout about how out-of-shape I was & how 6:11 was basically just a hair away from all-out sprinting. Which is encouraging, considering that I am once again in a place of constantly whining about how out-of-shape I am, but also now running 300m's in the 5:30-5:40 range with no problem while actively trying to slow myself down.

So yeah; I may not have marathon endurance again yet, but I've apparently got some decent speed in the legs. And that's progress.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Long" Runs I Want to Stab In The Face (NVM T Minus 11 Weeks)

On Sunday I ran 11 miles for my "long" run. I say "long" because mentally I tend to put 11 miles into that sort of medium-long bucket, long enough that I can't shoe-horn it in just anywhere, but not so long that it requires a lot of special planning and carrying gels and scheduled stops by the car for re-application of sunscreen and BodyGlide.

This got me thinking about how I categorize different distances; here's the break down, in case you're curious:

  • Less than 4 miles - micro-run (shake-out / recovery runs, illness / injury, etc.)
  • 4-6 miles - short but solid
  • 7-10 miles - hearty mid-length run
  • 11-14 miles - moderately long run
  • 15+ miles - proper long run

(Curious to hear if people have different opinions about this--I'd expect it, actually--& hear your reasoning.)

So it was a little disorienting and disheartening that those 11 miles--much like the 10 I ran last Sunday--felt really and truly long. I spent most of it watching tenths of miles tick off my watch at a rate that almost made treadmill running seem preferable. (Almost.) Nothing hurt, but my legs felt exhausted, and every time I looked at my watch I felt completely demoralized by the number of miles that were left. This wasn't one of those refreshing, reinvigorating, good-to-get-some-fresh-air-&-move-the-body type of runs. Nope; this one was all work. I did it because it was on the calendar and I was absolutely not interested in running a step further.

In part, I think this has to do with the whole running-in-December thing. It gets dark early, so if you start a long-ish run at three, it starts to feel sort of lonely & pathetic as you reach those last miles with the sun setting & everyone around you hurrying home. Plus, clothes are hard. Pre-run, a tank top seemed crazy & I was still uncomfortably chilly in longleeves; half an hour later I was uncomfortably hot & started back towards the car to change back into the tank; by the time I got there the sun was going down & I was so sweaty that even running, I was shivering again.

I also have to keep reminding myself that I've still only got four double-digit runs under my belt post-injury (with 11 miles in fact the second longest one). Right now, 11 miles is long for me. In general I'm incredibly happy with the progress I've made since I've been able to run again, but six months without a double digit run isn't nothing, and the endurance is not going to come back over night.

Lastly, this has been my highest post-injury mileage week, another thing I had to keep reminding myself every time I'd start to feel completely baffled about why my legs felt so beat up & that 11 miler felt so exhausting when I've "only" run 32 miles this week. Granted, in terms of marathon training, that isn't much, but it's still only the second time I've hit 30+ miles in six months.

If nothing else, I managed negative splits with a fairly constant level of effort, so for all that it was horrifically unpleasant mentally, I think I still have to put it in the win column.

* * *

Grand Total: 32 miles

    * 17 easy
    * 4 speed
    * 11 long


Karate + light strength.


6 track. 1.25 warm up, 4 x (1200m @ 5K pace / 3:00 jog), .75 cool down.


Karate + light strength.


6 easy. I don't know what happened to me Wednesday night, but I didn't sleep well & woke up Thursday morning feeling like I'd been hit by a freight train. Sinus congestion, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, body aches, name it. Instead of going to work I stayed home to sleep, but by the afternoon I felt good enough that I wanted to at least try getting my run in. It felt terrible at first but things gradually improved, and by the end I was feeling much better and glad that I'd decided to run. Also good because this was happening:

Unless you're a programmer, don't bother trying to get a normal reservation through the site. Just call or email to reserve the 8-person table & recruit friends as needed. :) (No other pictures; too busy eating / acting like a normal person.)


a.m. strength work / p.m. 6 easy + eat steak. Friday was a yet another chance to appreciate my quick recovery from whatever it was knocked me on my ass Thursday morning, as that evening was meeting #5 of SF Steak Club.

As you can see, 5A5 was just awful and no one should ever go there.


3 easy. Just an easy pre-long run day.

Ugh, thank GOD the cold snap passed & we're finally back to *normal* December-in-San-Francisco weather...

Also, time for a new pair of these (which, incidentally, might be the last ones I buy. More to come on that).


11 long; foam roll like the dickens.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Carbohydrate Math (Or, Why Low-Calorie Sports Drinks Are Useless)

F*** you, Gatorade "G2". You had one job.
Fair warning--this whole post is about sports drinks & their carbohydrate contents & some things that really really piss me off about some road races. So if you don't want to read a whole post just about that, you might want to come back later. Just putting that out there.

If you read regularly you may recall this race report in which I did a spot of quick bitching about the aid stations. Not the logistics or the volunteers; all that was wonderful. My complaint was about the low/no-calorie sports drink.

Before I got into road racing, I spent many years running long distances without eating or drinking anything unless I was going more than 10-15 miles or it was particularly hot, and even then, I only drank water. That was back in the days when I could not have told you how far a marathon was or what pace I was running and had never heard of Gu or Garmins or tempo runs or $12 socks. When I would just throw on a cotton T-shirt & a $6 pair of shorts from Target & run until, I dunno, it seemed like a good idea to stop. In all that time I never had any problems with dehydration, heatstroke, hyponatremia, "bonking," etc. Sure, I'd usually start to feel thirsty at some point, but water fountains were scarce, and putting up with a little discomfort seemed infinitely preferable at the time to the annoyance to carrying a bottle large enough to be of any use.

Apparently, this does not make me a freak of nature. In The New Rules of Marathon & Half-Marathon Nutrition, Matt Fitzgerald opens the chapter on race nutrition thusly:

    The human body is not designed to absorb food or drink while running...When we start to run our body shunts blood flow away from the digestive organs to the muscles, impeding the breakdown & absorption of food...Together, these factors add up to a simple message from our body to our conscious faculties: Do not eat or drink while running. We can disregard this message to some degree without suffering ill effects. But drinking or eating more than a modest amount while running is almost certain to cause debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms.


On the other hand...

    Drinking (and perhaps also eating) a tolerable amount of the right stuff enhances performance in marathons and half marathons. To eat and drink nothing therefore is to needlessly limit one's performance

Which, okay, is a truth I accepted once I got a Garmin & some $12 socks & started entering half marathons & trying to get faster. But even then, I never used gels, only sports drink, and then only in races. I'd read over & over again that our bodies typically store ~2000 Kcalories worth of glycogen, and I needed < 1300 to get through a half (since some of it comes from fat), so really, what was the point? Gu shmu. I carried a little watered-down Gatorade for the electrolytes, but that was all.

I started experimenting with gels when I signed up for my first full, because I can do basic math (26.2 miles => ~2600 Kcal > ~2000 Kcal => even though fat will contribute some calories, more carbs will likely be needed). Based on a few back-of-envelope calculations, I decided on carrying the same 24 oz 50/50 bottle of Gatorade/water as in a half, & then also doing gels at miles 6, 11, 15, 19, & 23, which I think came to around 700-800 Kcal of CHO (that is fancy chemistry-speak for carbohydrate) in all. (2000 + 750 > 2600. Math! :D ) I'd never looked at ingredients lists and my selection criteria was generally limited to whichever brand is the thinnest / most runny (read: easier to swallow), in whichever flavors didn't make me gag.

These were the first gels I ever bought, circa
September 2011. Memories!

Until recently, I had not thought any harder about race hydration / nutrition than that, so getting to those chapters in "The New Rules" was an eye-opener. I still whole-heartedly recommend the whole book (it's pretty short) to anyone actively working on improving their times, but here are a few factoids that I found particularly interesting:

  • We all have different "carb tolerances"--ie, how much CHO can you put in your stomach how quickly without wrecking it. In lab studies most people running at a moderate pace can tolerate 40-50g per hour, although some can tolerate 60g/hour or more, and some rare birds can even tolerate up to 90g/hour. (These tend to be your high-end ultra-runners.) On the other hand, some people have considerably lower tolerances, and some people are really unable to consume anything at all without feeling ill.
  • Generally, as you run faster, your tolerance decreases. (Ie, you probably can't consume CHO as quickly at half marathon pace as you can at marathon or long run pace.)
  • Generally, thinner / more liquidy carbs are tolerated better than thicker ones at faster paces, with sports drink tolerated best. (Ie, the thicker gels that sit just fine in your stomach during a marathon may make you queasy at half marathon pace, & if you struggle with gels, you may do fine with sports drink.)
  • In races shorter than 75 minutes, extra carbs are unlikely to do anything. (This is true whether you're an elite half-marathoner or a newbie walk/jogging a 10K.)
  • In races longer than 75 minutes, 30g of CHO per hour is the smallest "effective dose." (Ie, in studies where runners of similar ability were matched, those who consumed 30g/hour or more consistently outperformed those who consumed less than that, and there was no difference between those who consumed under 30g/hour and those who consumed no carbs at all.)
  • Above 30g/hour, consuming CHO faster seems to predict better performance--if your stomach can tolerate it. (The good news is that many runners find that they can improve their carb tolerance through practice.)
  • There is evidence that a small amount of protein enhances the effect of consuming carbs during an endurance event.

Well. At that point I decided it was maybe time to revisit the subject. I mean if there's some easy fix I could make, I didn't see any reason not to try.

First, clearly my original assumption that extra carbs don't do anything in races shorter than 20 miles was out the window. But according to Fitz, how much CHO should I be shooting for in, say, a half marathon?

I am desperately hoping (fingers crossed) that I'll be back in sub-1:40 shape for Kaiser Half in February, so let's estimate that I'll be out there running for ~1.65 hours (around 1:39). According to Fitzgerald, that means that in order to see any benefit from extra carbs whatsoever, I should aim for 1.65 * 30g = 49.5 (so round to 50g).

When I run with a bottle, I usually fill it with 12 oz water & 12 oz Gatorade. Gatorade contains ~1.7g CHO per oz, so I get 12 oz * 1.7g/oz = 20.4g over the course of the race.Ie, less than half of the minimum effective amount. Occasionally, if it's warm, I might finish the bottle before the end of the race & grab an additional cup or two from an aid station, but that's only maybe 10g more at best.

Without a bottle, I usually grab one or two cups from each aid station. The benefit there is that carrying a bottle obviously sucks. The down sides are 1) you aren't in control of when you get to drink, 2) you never know how much sports drink will be in the cup, and 3) you don't necessarily know what will be in the cup.

Which brings me back to Berkeley a few weeks back. I'd been hoping to try some of this stuff out, including not carrying a bottle (which Fitz suggests entirely cancels out any extra benefit you get from the carbs), so I went to the website to find out what sports drink they were pouring. Under "Water and Aid Stations" the page read only "More information coming soon!" As that was the night before the race, I did not have a lot of hope that that was the case.

(I totally get that this was partly my fault. I should have checked earlier & emailed someone.)

My concern wasn't because of some diva-ish preference for this sports drink over that one or some miniscule difference in the amount of carbs in Gatorade vs Cytomax vs whatever. My concern was that I've been to several races lately where the sports drink on the course doesn't contain any carbs at all--just electrolytes. And if that was the case, I was just going to carry my bottle of pure Gatorade and a gel & see how I did with that amount of CHO.

I asked a volunteer at the info booth but all she could tell me was the flavor ("berry," if you're curious). A few minutes later I heard the announcer mention the name of the sports drink sponsor but didn't quite catch it, so I went up to him with my most sheepish, I-know-I'm-a-big-dork look & was all like, "This is probably a really weird question, but..."

He said it was something called Vega, which I had never heard of. At that point I guessed he already thought I was probably the weirdest person there so it couldn't hurt to get even nerdier about the whole thing.

"What I'm really trying to figure out is if it has calories in it. Like, y'know. Carbs. Like, for running."

He gave me kind of a duh look. "Oh, I'm sure it does," he nodded. "I mean it's like Gatorade, you know? Sugar and electrolytes and stuff. It must, right?"

Confidence = not inspired. But thanks for trying, announcer man.

"I think there are some samples over there." He gestured toward one of the info booths. I did not find any samples, but I thought, Surely he's right? Surely a real, actual race run by an experienced group like SFM will not be using a low/no calorie sports drink in a half marathon?

So I left my bottle in the car. And I knew the second I took a swig at the first aid station that I had been betrayed, that there were no calories here to be had, at least not enough to be of any use. (Also the weird fake-sugar flavor was nauseating.)

Out of curiosity, I looked it up after the race. Sure enough: "A natural, alkaline-forming drink mix, free from sugar and artificial sweeteners, Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator is formulated with all the essential electrolytes your body needs to stay hydrated during workouts.* With zero calories per serving, Electrolyte Hydrator tastes great, so you can sip it not just during your workout, but throughout the day.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration."


No carbs = not appropriate for supporting endurance athletes through an endurance event. Period.

So yeah. Lately it seems that relying on aid stations means you may not get any liquid carbs at all. Which is NBD I guess if you're just out to have fun or do a social event with friends. But if Fitzgerald is right, it does seem to mean that you can't expect to have your best possible race, particularly at a half marathon where the pace is faster & thicker, denser carb sources like gels may not be tolerated as well (or at all) for a lot of people.

I don't know yet what the sports drink will be at Kaiser, but I'm hoping it will be something with calories so I can experiment with getting the right amount of carbs while also not carrying a bottle. If that's the case, I think I may try something like the following & see how it goes:

    Pre-race: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 4: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 6.2: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g

    ***1 hour mark = 41g***

    Mile 8: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 8.4: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 11.1: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g

    ***Total = 69g hehehehe***

This will be massively, MASSIVELY many more carbs than I've ever consumed during a half marathon, but still on the conservative side in terms of what Fitzgerald says most runners can tolerate. Between now and then, I need to use some of my long runs to try to figure out just how my tolerance stacks up.

So my, real, actual questions for you (ie not fake/obvious ones designed to generate more blog traffic, eff that noise, I am so sick of it) are:

1) Are you this nit-picky about how many carbs you consume and when and how fast, or do you just, y'know, knock back a gel or two when it feels right? How has that worked out for you?

2) Thoughts re: carb tolerance? I've never felt sick from gels / sports drink while running, but as noted, my intake is apparently pretty anemic by Fitzgerald's standards.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Scene of the Crime

Tuesday was my first night back at Kezar Track after my duffel bag (and phone, and car keys, and some other stuff) was stolen there four weeks back. I haven't been avoiding it, necessarily; one Tuesday we had an early concert, the next was right after Berkeley Half, and the one after that was the night we flew back (rather late) from Texas. But I did have this weird sense of foreboding as I parked my car fairly close to the spot it had been towed from (since the keys in the bag had been my only set). I don't have a new duffel bag yet, but even so, there was no way I was carrying *anything* in except what I absolutely needed.

Nothing says "Seriously; nothing in here you want" like a clear plastic bag.

Still, I parked that shit on the opposite side of the track from the scene of the crime. (Because the north side is obviously where all the robbers hang out, duh.)

As we approach the darkest night of the year, I feel more and more grateful that I have the flexibility to leave work early enough so that it's only just getting pitch-black as I'm finishing up at the track (ie, ~6pm). This is the first December that I've actually trained through in three years, so the lack of light is a little disorienting.

Not to mention the cold. Oh, I know, rest-of-the-country, you have all your ice and snow and Yaktrax and full days of sub-freezing temps, but whatever; I lived in Northern Ohio for five years & that shit is why I moved to coastal California. I didn't sign up for wearing tights & long sleeves & gloves & running 1200m repeats and STILL listening to my teeth chatter like a pair of castanets.

Also, I just don't breathe cold air well. 90% of the asthma problems I have when I'm running seem to be related to that.

* * *

After a month away from the track and struggling to get much mileage in thanks to all the traveling, I had a harder time than usual psyching myself up for it on Tuesday. All I could think about was how long a 1200 is, and how hard 5K effort is, and what the temperature would be when I finally got out there.

But get out there I did, and though I admittedly dawdled just a little bit between my warm-up & that first interval, a few minutes in something clicked & the part of my brain that had been fretting & worrying went, "Eh, this isn't so bad." In fact, by the last one, I actually felt like I could have handled another.

I mean yes. It was harder than what I'm used to right now, and required a bunch of, like, effort and stuff. But all in all the whole thing was over before I knew it, with my legs still feeling pretty good. (Which is still one of the great mysteries of running for me, how 6 miles on the track always feels so much easier on my body than an "easy" 6 miler on the roads.)

When I'm doing these regularly, I can usually hit them all within a second
or two of exactly five minutes. Still a bit out of practice. :P

Right now I'm very happy to even be doing speed work, full speed workouts, & averaging pretty close to a 5:00 1200m, four times in a row, at honest 5K effort. But I'll be happier when I can do 5-6 & consistently hit them all below 5:00.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Brilliant Feats of Athleticism: Year-End Edition (NVM T Minus 12 Weeks)

Let me tell you, there's nothing like watching a bunch of your friends & fellow bloggers set *huge*-slash-jaw-dropping marathon PRs in sub-freezing temperatures to make you feel like a total slacker. (And by "watching," I mean perusing my Twitter & Facebook feeds while sipping chai from the comfort of my bed at 10am. Part of me wished I'd gone up to spectate, but my company holiday party the night before & the cold I've been staving off since Friday evening made that kind of a tricky-slash-moderately unwise proposition.)

To me, anyone who even shows up & finishes in sub-thirty temps is a trooper. But 7 minute PR? 12 minute PR? 15 minute PR? 26 MINUTE PR???

Seriously. Beasts.

Which only topped off an already amazing weekend sport-and-athletics-wise, since the night before we'd watched Stanford kick some Sun Devil booty at the PAC 12 Championship & secure a spot in the 100th Rose Bowl.

Needless to say, we're making travel plans.

At the 2013 Rose Bowl. There's something kind of cool
about starting & ending the year at the same event.

I'm pretty psyched.


Running lately has been rather touch-and-go. I was doing fairly well, & then we went to Hawaii for a week. I did pretty well once we came back & even had a fairly not-too-terrible "race" race, & then we went to Texas for a week for Thanksgiving, where my choices were basically a) get some running in, or b) sleep adequately & don't alienate any of the 50 or so relatives that I only ever see once a year. Given that many of those relatives are over 80 or under 10, I went with option b), and came back sleep-deprived as it is.

I don't regret that choice--family trumps running now, always, & forever--but the timing of our vacation & the holidays has certainly made things harder for me as I start burning through NVM training time at kind of a terrifying rate. (12 weeks left, if anyone is counting.) This past week was not the training jump-start I would have chosen, but I did manage to salvage something from it, both mentally & physically.

Wednesday: 3 easy a.m. / karate + light strength p.m. This was my first day back from Texas, and after waaaaay too many near-sedentary days & five full Thanksgiving dinners (ah, the joys of large blended families), I was feeling desperate for some exercise. I got up early to hit the gym for a few treadmill miles, & while I'd vaguely planned on maybe four, the sharp painful place in my right tibia that's been bothering me ever since Berkeley started acting up around 2.5, which was just as well since one I hit three, I was not sure I could've gone another step. (See: sleep deprivation / general travel fatigue.) I was feeling a little better by the time karate rolled around, & it felt good to work hard & sweat for 90 minutes or so.

Thursday: Strength work a.m. / 6 easy p.m. Feeling energized (and rather delinquent in the strength department), I got up early to get in some push-ups / clamshells / squats / weird (and deceptively challenging) ball-sitting exercise that my PT has put me onto for the one rogue left glute muscle that doesn't seem to be firing quite right with all the rest. The run was not particularly fast but felt surprisingly good. (See: fresh legs)

Friday: Friday was when the wheels came off. I'm guessing I just tried to do a little too much too quickly after doing almost nothing since Berkeley, because WOW, were my adductors sore. Clearly no running was going to happen, since frankly walking from my office to the kitchen at work was barely happening. Which was just as well anyway, since later that evening I started feeling like I was trying to catch a cold.

Saturday: Still sore + still borderline sick = more rest, lots of tea, & a mildly amusing, alcohol-free (for me) company holiday party, in which I encountered this for the first time:

My 65-year-old boss requested this song special & was shocked & appalled to learn that most of the 20- & 30-somethings in the crowd didn't know it (though Don did, apparently). Afterward I had many questions, like, is my boss cooler than me? Is this what counts as 'cool' now? Have I avoided pop music for so long that I've lost the ability to understand it? And what the hell is going on in Norway?

Sunday: 10 easy. After spending the evening stalking Facebook & Twitter for CIM results, I decided I was feeling good enough to try to get in some double-digits (bringing my post-injury double-digit run total to three). It was only once I was done that I realized the plan had actually only called for 8-9 , which means I am a winner (as long as you ignore then two eight-milers I skipped on Friday & Saturday).

Ocean Beach windmill at the west end of Golden Gate Park.
Lots of rolling hills = great NVM training!

Things I pondered on this run:

  • The longer the run, the faster my average pace, even with the same level of effort. (3-4 miles = 8:35-40 pace; 10-11 miles = 8:15-20 pace) I suspect that this is a combination of a) having more time to get warmed up & b) the 2.5 pedestrian-and-traffic light-infested miles I have to slog through to get to the Panhandle / Golden Gate Park.
  • I'm in pretty decent shape in that 8:00-8:15 feels comfortable once I get going; I'm in rather shitty shape in that *nothing* feels easy once I hit double digits.
  • I really, really suck at breathing cold air. Yet another reason why not being able to run CIM this year was a blessing in disguise.
  • I most definitely do not feel like I'm 12 weeks away from marathon shape. Finishing a marathon shape? Not embarrassing myself marathon shape? Fine. Really good, worth-all-the-time-and-money, PR / BQ / sub-3:30 shape? Not so much. (On the other hand, if I stick to the plan, I will have more and longer long runs going into this race than I have with any other marathon I've run, so maybe that'll prove me wrong.)

So I finished this week with 19 miles, which is pretty piss-poor in general but not totally abysmal for being out of town for two days & under the weather / too sore to walk for two more. Next week's goal is 30-33ish, which I think should be very do-able with a little advance planning.