This “0” is Royal: 3:09! – “seeking the uncomfortable” in Chicago @skorarunning

The 3:09:33 I ran at Chicago last weekend just might be the running accomplishment I’m most proud of. I ran my first marathon in 2011, and for it and each of the nine subsequent marathons I’ve run, I’ve been chasing the “0.” The “0,” as in Three-o-nine. The Royal reference is to Jeremy Guthrie’s t-shirt! You could also say the “o” is a Skora “o”! Like this: skora_fw14_fit_m07_mens_quarter_views_1 I went out with the 3:10 pace group at my very first marathon. It wasn’t realistic, but I wanted to BQ in my debut, and there was no 3:15 pace group. I failed. Pace group or no, 3:10 has been the goal in every race since. I’ve come close in a couple – a 3:11 and a 3:12, but each time I found myself going out at or above pace, then slowing towards the end and holding on for dear life. What was the difference this time? I was really ready, and I really wanted it. The key to how both of those things happened was what I call “seeking the uncomfortable.” That’s my way of describing how you have to find that place where you’re uncomfortable while you’re running – both in training and on race day. Once you reach a certain fitness level, it’s not too difficult to go out there and put up miles. However, most schools of thought about training alternate hard days with easy days. A common mistake we all make is running the hard days too easy and the easy days too hard. It’s that middle ground of “comfortable” that some people call junk miles. They might not be totally worthless, but you get the idea. When you’re training, running several consecutive miles at your goal pace is uncomfortable. Intervals above your goal pace are uncomfortable. If you’re not seeking that uncomfortable during training, you’ll never find it on race day, and you certainly won’t hit your goal pace. I joke about being nauseous during the marathon . It sounds like something Pre would say: “If you don’t feel like you’re about to barf, you’re not trying hard enough.” Seriously though, nausea is your body’s way of telling you that you have reached the edge. I’ve felt it when going out too fast. I’ve felt it when trying to maintain a pace above what I have trained to. I was really mindful of seeking the uncomfortable during the training cycle leading up to Edmonton and Chicago. Knowing that Coach Kyle  would be looking at my paces helped me to push harder during training. How many times have you slacked off during a hard training run because you knew no one would ever see your Garmin data? Running with talented friends (Nelson, John, Jeremy, thanks!) can also help you seek the uncomfortable. As a result of all that “uncomfortable” I was hitting target paces more often than not in training. I also threw down my highest mileage month ever in September – 191.36. I boldly tweeted before the race that I was ready to cash that check. I was more relaxed than usual for this race, knowing my preparation was so good. My travel plans threw a small wrench into the works – I couldn’t follow my typical carb-loading regimen because I was flying to Chicago the day before the race with the RHSW. That meant no gels or liquids through security, so I improvised. I decided I was going to load with candy. Smarties are good, but I decided on something a bit more seasonal. That’s right, candy corn! I took some inspiration from a very amusing twitter war . 20141011_115608 The details: 1 package of S’mores flavor (yum); 1 package of carmel apple (meh); about half a bag of “traditional” (yum). Twenty-four doses of 19 candy corns, spaced at half hour intervals. Locked and (carb)loaded. I also sprinkled in a few low residue/low fiber items throughout the day. I couldn’t resist a small piece of steak that my friend Spencer grilled up for us. I can’t say no to USDA Prime. We had great race support – my friend’s wife picked us up from the race expo after we took the train from Midway and a taxi to the expo. Planes, trains, and automobiles – check! In the morning, my friend’s wife and the RHSW dropped me off at a Starbucks just to the west of the course start in Grant Park. I hung out there to stay warm for about a 15 minutes before walking into the park, a runners-only restricted area. This part of the race was pretty well organized in terms of letting me know what I needed to do to get into my start corral (A!) and hit the porta-potties before. If you don’t think an empty colon is essential to race day success, you didn’t run behind the guy I caught up to around mile 17 or 18. Let’s just say white shorts were not a good wardrobe choice for him that day. Anyhow, I got to my corral with plenty of time to spare, and only a few runners clustered around the 3:10 pacers, a great group of guys who paced the whole race (!) – no halfway switch for these guys! Kenny, one of the pacers, had come in from St. Joseph, MO answering a last minute call. I became his “Mizzou buddy” thanks to my sweatshirt. I had plenty of time to warm up – so much so that I hit my Garmin too early and it timed out before the start, so a few aggravating minutes stripping my glove and getting it going during the first mile. I have been in some crowded races before, but nothing like this. I know they try to handle the volume with two waves and corrals, but there was still a crush of runners far past any mile marker I’ve ever perceived it at before. The first few miles were the worst of course, but it just never seemed to thin out – kind of like Boston. I witnessed two runners go down hard after getting their legs cut on corners. I also had a guy go down in front of me trying to get through an aid station. From his exclamation, I’m pretty sure he thought it was the other guy’s fault. The other guy really took off – perhaps fearing a confrontation, but who has the time or energy to throw down during a marathon? The pacers were talking about yet a fourth runner in the closing miles of the race who we caught up to – a girl with some serious road rash on her elbow and knee. I’m not saying I could design a better course, and I love the way this one comes through so many distinct neighborhoods. However, it has a lot of turns, and taking a few of those out in the first few miles might help. My perception of crowding was heightened by running with the pace group. I never really got a count, but I’d say they carried at least 20-30 people through the halfway point. Usually when I run with one everybody sorts out where they are going to slot into position. The pacers did their best, spreading themselves out a bit, but there was just far too much jockeying for position. I don’t want to worry about people throwing elbows when I’m at goal pace. The course is fun, coming through 29 neighborhoods. I won’t try to describe the whole thing – just a few highlights with pictures supplied by my chase team. The RHSW took the first set of shots from one of the many bridges over the river. However, I never saw the RHSW along the course. The crowd wasn’t as bonkers as Boston, but they were loud enough that she wasn’t ever able to get my attention. I’m fairly certain that these are on the Franklin Street Bridge, just past mile 12 coming out of the River North area into the Loop, just before the course turns west into Near West side coming over the Chicago River again. Even before this point, I had decided to get in front of the pace group because I was wasting energy with all the extra shuffling around. DSC_2489 - Copy DSC_2498 - Copy DSC_2499 - Copy DSC_2500 - Copy DSC_2501 - Copy DSC_2502 - Copy DSC_2503 - Copy DSC_2509 - Copy The course comes through Greek Town just past the halfway point. I wish I had worn a Greek soccer jersey to feel the love from my people. Instead, I ran through anonymously Greek, a little intimidated that if I self-identified, someone would speak Greek to me and I would be unable to respond! As to my other people, sadly, the course comes near — but not through — Polish Downtown near the Polish Triangle. Skora is a Polish word that means “skin” or “leather.” As long as we’re talking Skoras, I have to mention that my Skora FITs performed great at this distance once again. There is no shoe I’d rather run a road marathon in. I prefer their slightly thicker outsole and insole to the PHASE and CORE at this distance for two main reasons. First, big city marathons mean big city roads, which aren’t exactly virgin asphalt, i.e., they’re torn up! Second, although I am a forefoot/midfoot striker, there are times at the end of a marathon when I mix in a bit of heel striking, especially if there is a slight downhill. I found myself doing this unintentionally in this race, but I came back out of it when my energy picked back up and I could re-focus my form. I’ve also done it intentionally before to ease calf cramps, but I didn’t have any muscle cramping whatsoever on this course – calf or quad – which I attribute to the flat course and good training. It  wasn’t too hard to identify the location of the second set of on-course photos, taken just before mile 20 on 18th Street in Pilsen, Chicago’s largest Latino community. You can see the Dia De Los Tamales storefront! DSC_2521 - Copy DSC_2522 - Copy DSC_2523 - Copy DSC_2524 - Copy DSC_2525 - Copy DSC_2526 - Copy DSC_2527 - Copy DSC_2528 - Copy DSC_2529 - Copy DSC_2530 - Copy DSC_2531 - Copy DSC_2532 - Copy DSC_2533 - Copy DSC_2534 - Copy DSC_2535 - Copy Btw, Dia De Los Tamales has a pretty cool logo: Dia De Los Tamales Almost home. From here the course comes into Chinatown. At this point the pace group had caught back up to me, and I needed them. I was in mile 22, one of those final 6.2 hard miles that makes the marathon different than anything else. It was great to see a dancing dragon at the turn! I held on to the pace group as we came through miles 22 and 23 and finally made the turn on to Michigan Avenue. This long straightaway heads north for a little more than two miles. At mile 24 I decided I was going for it and dropped the pace group to make sure I hit my target. It worked, and I stayed in front of them through the finish, but around mile 25 or so I had a wave of nausea that had me wondering how long I was going to have to stop to barf, or if I could manage to barf and keep running at the same time. Thankfully, backing off for about 30 seconds cured it, and I was able to start running hard again. I just kept concentrating on what I had been doing the whole race when I wasn’t running with the pace group: picking off and passing runners in front of me. If you’ve never run Chicago before, and you’re like me and didn’t study the course map in too much detail, you should know that the course has one evil trick left up its sleeve for the finish. As I came down Michigan Avenue I kept wondering when I was going to see the finish line, especially since there was a “1 mile to go/25.2” sign on the straight. Cruelly, though, the course makes a sharp right turn on to Roosevelt Rd. just before you hit mile 26. Mile 26 is on a hill! Wait, I thought this course was flat! Well, it’s really just as bridge or overpass, but at that point in the race it might as well be Everest. They even have a huge sign (I think it said 500m or 600m) so you won’t get discouraged and collapse. That turn to the east is a short uphill stretch before you turn left and come north for the real final straight on Columbus Drive. I managed to run that stretch hard, but not anywhere near my usual kick, for fear of barfing again. I could see the clock in the 3:10’s, so I knew I had PR’d, but it took a pacer coming up behind me to reassure me that I’d broken 3:10 on chip time. The RHSW confirmed with a “you did it!” when I got through the finish chute to the reunite area. DSC_2538 - Copy DSC_2539 - Copy DSC_2540 - Copy DSC_2541 - Copy DSC_2542 - Copy DSC_2543 - Copy At this point I picked up a funny look on my face – I heard the RHSW call my name, but I couldn’t locate her! Of course she stopped shooting and let me off the hook, but you can’t see that moment here – I saw her face, not the camera lens! DSC_2544 - Copy DSC_2545 - Copy DSC_2546 - Copy DSC_2547 - Copy DSC_2548 - Copy Here’s a few of the skyline – facing north: DSC_2549 - Copy DSC_2550 - Copy DSC_2551 - Copy DSC_2552 - Copy DSC_2553 - Copy I was satisfied that I had spent most of the race seeking the uncomfortable. There were a few times when I let myself relax and just run with the pace group. However, once I left them the first time I spent the second half of the race pushing, trying to pass and not be passed. I think that this process of continuing to seek the uncomfortable is what led to my first ever marathon negative split – on my tenth try! Simply put, a negative split means you’ve run the second half of the marathon faster than the first half. It’s hard to do, as I can attest. I have a personal nickname for our Great Dane, Ellie: “negative split.” It’s because whenever I take her on a run, it seems like she’s always so eager to get back home that she runs faster on the way back after the turnaround. (“Running, my favorite thing!” “Home, my favorite thing!”) Anyway, the implication of a negative split is that you have trained appropriately to your goal pace, which you’ll be able to hit by running a negative split. Really, mine wasn’t much of a negative split – thanks to the flat course it was almost an even split – both were 1:34 and change. I’ll take it though. It’s a great feeling to know that I can still improve after running marathons for 3 years. I love the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius. It’s Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” If I keep repeating it and seeking the uncomfortable, I’ll get that sub-3:00 yet. Now that I’ve got the “0,” I’d like to get rid of it!

Review: Bearded Brothers Bars – yummy energy, no chemistry degree required! @beardedbros

I got my hands on a sampler pack of Bearded Brother Bars  (hereinafter “BBBs”) recently. After trying my first one, it was all I could do to not go Cookie Monster on the lot. I’ve always been into fueling naturally, but I have also tried a lot of the mainstream bars out there. Typically, my reaction has been “Blech! How am I going to choke the rest of this thing down?” Not so with BBBs.

A few disclaimers – I was provided these samples basically for the cost of shipping them too me. If you think that clouds my objectivity, you don’t know how cheap I am. I’m not a nutritionist, or even a supertaster (although my wife is). So, this isn’t going to read like some pretentious Wine Spectator review. I typically train “fasting,” but I do eat at other times. I will take in some calories before a hard and/or long run (18+ or lots of goal pace miles or both).

I am not going to make any outrageous claims about the performance-enhancing benefits of these bars. I’m kind of a “one carb is as good as the next” kind of guy, although that’s not an entirely accurate description of how I fuel. Do BBBs work? You bet. Each bar gave me about 200-250 calories. So why BBB? Simply put, they’re yummy. You can’t say that about very many energy bars. If you can’t gag it down, you’re not fueling.

What’s in ‘em: dried fruits and seeds generally. Some varieties have nuts, some are nut free (because sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t … feel like going into anaphylactic shock).

Here’s a representative nut-free flavor, “Radical Raspberry Lemon”:

20140804_160133 20140804_160140

What ain’t in ‘em: non-organic ingredients, GMOs, soy, animals and animal products (things that vegans don’t eat), gluten, un-raw things (that have all their goodness cooked out of them), unnatural stuff – no unpronounceable names here – no chemistry degree required!

How did I use them? Like I said, I typically train in a fasting state. That’s a fancy way of saying that I don’t eat anything before I go for my morning run. Given that most training runs are less than 15 miles, you are never going to run out of glycogen at those distances. Thus, all the fuss about fueling is usually much ado about nothing. I tend to scoff at people who are headed out for a 5 mile run while carrying a half gallon of Gatorade and 5 GUs (umm, net gain?). On the other hand, replacing glycogen stores after training is a good thing – I usually take in some carbs as part of my post-training meal, usually in the form of fruit. However these BBBs are a delicious and convenient alternative. That’s when I ate most of them – right after getting back from a run. Mmm-mmm good.

The most challenging test for any “fuel” is how your body will tolerate it when it’s in your gut during a run. I put both the “Mighty Maca Chocolate” and “Bodacious Blueberry Vanilla” BBBs to this test. I ate one bar right before each of two different challenging long runs and I’m happy to report that my tummy didn’t complain a bit. If anything, it said “thanks!” Each BBB was joined by a double espresso with heavy whipping cream and a glass of water pre-run. I felt great on both runs.

Oh yeah, what’s maca, you ask?

20140804_160037

Maca powder is claimed to have certain *ahem* benefits as a supplement, although the BBB folks aren’t making that claim on their packaging, so don’t misunderstand me or them. Nevertheless, being the curious sort, when my copy of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology came in the mail recently (kidding!) I noticed a article titled: “A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen.” Here’s a link to an abstract. Male cyclists completed a before-and-after 40km time trial, and also a sexual desire inventory. Supplementation improved both. Since it’s a natural and somewhat obscure supplement, the mechanisms of action are as of yet unknown. Your results may vary.

Anyhow, if you’re not into that, this is the only flavor that has the powder, if I’m not mistaken. It was my favorite though, with blueberry nearly tied for the top spot.

I also quite enjoyed the “Colossal Coconut” and “Fabulous Ginger Peach” (probably the most flavorful – I love ginger!). I even liked the “Outrageous Orange Kale” but it doesn’t seem to be available at the moment. Maybe it’s not kale season in TX right now.

Apparently, I liked them so much that I forgot to take a picture of one of them before consuming them all. I’ve just got wrappers. However, the sense they appeal to is not sight.

How much did I like these?

  • I wanted to consume all of them at once.
  • I wanted to ration them out so they would last longer (yep, I’m an enigma).
  • I didn’t share.
  • After they were gone, I found myself checking my pantry to see if perhaps I missed one.

I’m going to have to get some more!

If you’re going to print up t-shirts… Edmonton Marathon race report #runreal

My neighbor, John, and I  both ran the Boston Marathon this spring. He surprised me with some cool t-shirts for me and my family. Of course, I had nothing for him. Sigh. So, when we decided to take one last shot at a BQ before the window closed (with registration opening September 8th) by heading up to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for their marathon, I thought I would return the favor:

20140821_213726-1

Yep. “Kohler-Kardis International BQ Project.” If you’re going to print up t-shirts, you’d better deliver. It’s not going to make a top ten list of victory guarantees … but for comparison, here’s a few famous ones, both successful and unsuccessful.

  • “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.” – Joe Namath (FTW)
  • “One hundred-percent, sterling silver victory. The Lombardi Trophy” – Ryan Kalil (FAIL)
  • “We want the ball, and we’re going to score!” – Matt Hasselbeck (FAIL)
  •  “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round.” – Muhammad Ali (FTW)

So, I wore my shirt on the plane to remind myself what I was going there for. My training had been going well and I felt like I had been progressing as Coach Kyle helped me to push harder during my hard workouts. Knowing someone is looking over your shoulder at your stats after you’re done with a workout is very motivating. Also, props to John and Nelson for doing several of my hard workouts with me – it’s easier to go fast when you have someone else pushing you. It was great having the RHSW along for support (all kinds!) and photography. When we got off the plane in Edmonton and made it through customs (I declared my foodstuffs – energy gel) there were two baggage carousels in the international part of the terminal – one decorated with life-size Edmonton Oilers (NHL, duh) mannequins, the other with an Edmonton Eskimos theme (CFL, a bit more obscure – fun fact, their uniforms are pretty much the same as the Green Bay Packers).

I went for a nice shakeout run through downtown as soon as we got to our hotel, since I’d been up since 4am. Four easy miles, with occasional nice views of the Saskatchewan River. Edmonton reminded both me and the RHSW of Kansas City a bit – river town, similar population and geography. Mosquitos.

We ate at a great restaurant that evening with John & his wife, Katie. “Woodwork.” John and I have similar “tastes” and we had both picked it out independently before travelling up there after reading reviews of Edmonton restaurants. Ok, it was also RIGHT across the street from our hotel. Unfortunately, we neglected to get a shot of us walking out the front door so I could caption it “coming out of the Woodwork.” Use your imagination. Perhaps I was harboring some latent resentment for a little GI distress that I was attributing to my meal there. It happens. Signs point to whatever John and I both ate and the ladies didn’t.

The day before the race I did my carb-loading workout and started loading right after. I felt great on the run. Slight modification to the magic elixir – I purchased sucrose in Edmonton (table sugar) because I didn’t want to put dextrose in my checked bag (it’s more powdery than sucrose, if you know what I mean). I also mixed it with grape juice instead of lime juice. The result was extremely sweet. I felt pretty blah most of the day thanks to the GI distress the night before.

We did have a wonderful breakfast at De Dutch. I was almost tempted to try the Pannekoeken but stuck to my Paleo guns. There was a GF version, but sometimes that stuff bothers me almost as much as wheat. I had a nice omelette with Edam (think swiss) and DeBakon (Dutch bacon, a pork product). Then we took a bus to the West Edmonton Mall – which really gives the Mall of the America a run for its money – if not surpassing it.

Here’s a description from their website:

The Mall’s stores, attractions, and services combine to form the most comprehensive retail, hospitality and entertainment complex on Earth. … West Edmonton Mall’s concept is inspired by the traditional urban bazaars of Persia, where shopping and entertainment were plentiful and operated in tandem, fulfilling a variety of consumer needs all in one place.

Man, I wish I could write copy like that.

A quick snapshot for comparison:

Stores:

  • WEM 800
  • MOA 400

Attractions (all indoor, of course):

  • WEM (amusement park “world’s largest”; water park with wave pool “world’s largest”; bowling; aquarium with amphitheater for sea-lion and penguin performances; full size hockey ice rink (duh, Canada); two 18 hole miniature golf courses; life-size replica of the Santa Maria)
  • MOA (nickelodeon-themed amusement park; aquarium; American Girl; Lego store; flight simulator; miniature golf; mirror maze; Barbie Dreamhouse; Star Trek and Beatles exhibits)

You be the judge. So of course, with all that set out before us, all we actually went there for was the Roots store. Seriously. The only store we walked into. Mission accomplished. From WEM, we decided to check out the “Fringe Festival,” billed as “an 11-day event … showcasing a variety of independent theatre performances from more than 1,200 local, national and international artists.” It was a bit underwhelming. I did see some jugglers, and we didn’t stay long enough for our bus transfer to expire, so there was that.

I was still a bit green and watched everyone else eat dinner. After we got back to the hotel I got my courage up and headed downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant for an omelette and some ice cream. I tolerated it. Our friendly British (!) waiter chatted us up about my race. Like several other people we had talked to around town, when I told them I was in town for the marathon, they all assumed I was in town for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, since teams had started to arrive for that. Apparently several were staying at our hotel – there were posters. It’s a good thing I wasn’t full of hubris. “No, I’m just doing the marathon.” I’ve never been a “just a half” or “just a 5K” guy, and it’s a good thing because I would have been put in my place several times! There are people who excel at some distance or event but not others.

On race morning I awoke feeling MUCH better. Whew. Do I look relieved? New blue/silver Skora FITs are ready to roll!

002

 

The race setup was really convenient. Huge conference center right at the start/finish line, so I ditched my sweats and we waited inside before the start. Here’s John and I right before we headed out:

008

 

At the start line, they asked us to raise our hands if there was anyone from outside of Canada. That’s us! (and 10 more from the US – mostly Texas, for some reason)

016

 

Then they asked, is there anybody that came farther than Bangalore, Indonesia?

017

Nope, can’t top that.

 

This was my first race where “O, Canada” was played before the start:

013

That lady is not honoring Canada like I am.

 

009

Do I look nervous?

 

025

And we’re off! Perfect conditions for most of the race. Temp at start was 52F and was supposed to drop before heading up. Nice and cool, overcast skies (good!) for most of the race with only a peek of sun for a few minutes. Virtually no wind at the start, a bit of a breeze by the end.

The course is an out and back and out and back. First we headed northeast out of downtown past some apartment high rises, then into a residential neighborhood with kind of a Brookside feel. I knew I wasn’t going to be keeping pace with John (running about 25s a mile faster than me) so I settled in with several runners who seemed like they were competent enough to keep a steady pace. Mind you, there were no pace groups, and I wasn’t pacing off them in the truest sense of the word. However, after you get several miles into the race you’ve weeded out anyone who has absolutely no idea what they’ve gotten into. Actually, there were two of those guys – one of which I have my doubts as to whether he was a legitimate finisher. *cough* Rosie Ruiz *cough*

The course is marked in kilometers, of course. It was funny hearing everyone’s watches beeping off the kms. Hardly any milers out there. I was tempted to switch my Garmin over, but resisted since I think in miles and it’s important to me to know how far above or below mile pace I am. I could have easily figured my km pace, but since a km is shorter than a mile, I was concerned I’d deviate too much by thinking I was closer to on pace than I really was. My Garmin had the last laugh – when I pulled up my data at home, all my lap and pace data was in km. Weird. It’s back to normal now.

The course was nice and flat. The first half featured a dip (barely noticeable) and an actual hill down into and then coming back out of the residential area. There was a checkpoint and a turnaround at the 1/4 mark (halfway through the out and back half). That was the last time I saw John until he was waiting for me at the finish! Flat is really nice for hitting a pace. This is by far the flattest course I’ve ever run. My splits for the first half were all within a few seconds of goal pace, 7:15. I went out a little hot, but not sub-7 or anything. I was 44 seconds ahead of pace at the halfway mark (well, not exactly – at the 13 mile mark). I still felt great at this point coming through the start/finish line headed west for another out and back:

050055057058059

I love educated race fans, and Edmonton had them! Not that I don’t enjoy “yay” and “way to go” or “you can do it” but it’s nice to hear something a bit more specific. Now I didn’t for a minute think that these compliments were carefully crafted just for me, but they are the kind of thing a runner loves to hear:

  • “You look strong!”
  • “Great pace!”
  • “Here comes a marathoner!” and “Way to go marathoner!” (as you are passing the slower pace half-marathoners at the end)
  • “Nice form!”
  • “He makes it look easy!”
  • “Your flow is awesome!” (not exactly sure what that mean, but I enjoyed it.

There was definitely a mental hurdle to jump coming through that start/finish line at the halfway point. It was momentarily thrilling to see the RHSW and hear the crowd, but the course definitely had a “back to work” feel after getting through the downtown area. It was cool to see some blazing 5K or 10K elites come at me through this section.

I waited until halfway to start hitting my extra calories. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d start that sooner, maybe at mile 6. I have done this differently at different races. It’s hard to say what works best for me. I didn’t feel nauseous at the start like I have sometimes.  I don’t think I even made it halfway through my 400 calorie flask. I like the stuff and had tried it out before a couple of times, but it’s really hard to put anything in my gut at that point in the race.

There was a nice crowd gathered at a pinch point about 3 miles after halfway – I think it was at a college campus – we were ever so briefly on kind of a trail/sidewalk before coming back out onto the road. Not quite Wellesley but pretty good volume! The first 3 miles after halfway were pretty good, but I noticed I was starting to slow a bit around mile 17. I was about 5-10 second off pace until mile 23 – and that’s where the suffering began. I don’t want to overstate it, but it’s something you go through at the end of a race. Thanks to the cool weather, I had done pretty well, but I did have a pretty good sweat going. I didn’t really feel like I was taking in enough fluid. I wouldn’t say there weren’t enough aid stations, but the cups were tiny – and I don’t take time to stop and take several. As a result I was probably only getting a swallow of fluid every other mile. I was running for a while with a guy who had a CamelBak – maybe that was a clue. I can’t say this is a legitimate criticism as opposed to personal preference. Not everything on course is going to be tailored to your needs.

Back to the suffering. I had a really painful stitch in my side for the last 3 miles – easing up a little in the final half mile. I gritted my teeth and just tried not to let the wheels fall off. I’m not great at running math, but I know that I had enough of a buffer against 3:15 that I’d be ok for a secure BQ as long as I didn’t start letting it creep up over 8. I was 30s slow on miles 23 and 24, then my worst split was mile 25 at a 7:56. I got a boost from the mile 25 completed beep on my Garmin, and an even bigger one from 26. I then found I had a kick for the last several hundred yards. There is nothing like seeing that clock and knowing you’re going to bring it in on time! Here’s the joyful expression on John’s face as he meets his goal:

074

I didn’t put up his “angry face” picture. It’s pure adrenaline. I’ll show you mine in a minute. Here’s the kick, such as it is:

080 086088

…and the finish:

097098099100101102103

I acted a little goofy at the finish, but the lady handing out medals was the catalyst. I run through the finish line, not to the finish line. She was only a few steps beyond trying to put a medal round my neck, and I certainly wasn’t going to put the engines in full reverse to stop for her so I ducked my head and ran into it. We both had a laugh about that, but I hope she backed up a bit after me.

It was great to have the RHSW as well as John and Katie at the finish line. I’m still in the moment here:

108

But then I started to get (1) cold; (2) nauseous. I thought I was going to barf, but managed to keep it in.

110 111

I’m not holding up two fingers for “two” or “peace out” – I was about to put them up to my mouth to feign the puffed cheeks of someone about to blow. I guess the worst was past. Then we went inside the convention center for a full breakfast. I was shivering at this point and got my sweats back on and drank two cups of herbal tea, which got me back to normal. Then some fruit, ham, juice, coffee and I was back to normal. We stayed for the awards after seeing that John placed second in his age group!

117

John’s in the ORFB hoodie. “Indiana Football” guy is not from Indiana – John and I were the second and third Americans, and this is his age group podium, all faster than me. The race winner hailed from Chicago, although he’s Latvian. Does anything about this quote make you want to root for him? Not me:

“(Sunday) was sort of a training run for me, I’m getting ready for the Frankfurt marathon,” [he] said. “It was a good effort to practice and run close to – about five minutes off – of what I’m trying to do in Frankfurt, so it was OK. I think it was right about 22K. We were all running together, and then I felt like the pace was slowing down a little bit, so I picked it up a little and I just kind of cruised the whole way. I was in full control. If somebody was to come up, I could respond if I had to, but there was no need, I just wanted to enjoy the training run.”

Humility is a way better PR move.

Here are my final stats and splits. I don’t see a 21.1 (km) split, which is the one I would have liked to see the most. That was the start/finish line – maybe they didn’t have it set up because of the other races coming back from the other direction. Who knows.

My average pace was 7:20.5 min/mile (or 4:33.7 min/km to continue the metric theme). Just another 5.5s per mile and I’m at 3:10! I was thrilled with the time – a pretty safe BQ-2:39. Not as much buffer as I had for last year, but well above the BQ-1:38 last year that was the toughest cutoff in Boston history.

If you’re going to print up t-shirts… that talk about a BQ you’d better hit it! So glad John and I both did.

A final note on gear before the numbers. I can’t say enough good things about the Skora FIT. Just my favorite road distance shoe. Light, zero drop, and just enough cushioning to take the edge off of the crummy uneven pavement that’s inevitable on any road course.

Thanks Edmonton! On to Chicago!

Place Name Residence Bib # Time Chip Pace Category Cat. Place Gender Place 10 km 21.1 km 35 km
36
Theodore Kardis Olathe, KA, USA
323
3:12:24
3:12:21
4:34
Male 40-49
7/66
34/322
44:23 2:37:49

What (Not) To Eat Before A Marathon

I’m running the Edmonton Marathon this weekend. As the day approaches, I find myself going to the usual multiple locations to review my pre-race regimen. Then I thought to myself, “Self, you have a blog! Why not post it all in one place?” Unsurprisingly, I think that’s a great idea, so here it is.

I’ve used the so-called “Western Australian” carb-loading regimen for all but one of my eight marathons (the lone exception was my ketogenic marathon – check out my blog posts from last fall if you’re curious). Having never tried the traditional pasta-binge method, I don’t have a baseline, but I believe it accomplishes the two purposes which I consider the whole point of doing something different: (1) feeling fueled for the race; and (2) zero porta-potty stops during the race.

So first, what is it? It’s a method of carb-loading that aims to max out your glycogen stores in the minimum amount of time. Why? Well, when you’re tapering, if you up your carb intake for several days, your body is just going to turn those unburned carbs into fat. How do you do it? Basically, you do a short, near-max effort workout 24 hours before your race. This primes your body to start producing glycogen when you feed it carbs. So, then you cram down a bunch of carbs beginning right after you finish the workout. Here’s a link to an abstract of the study:

Fairchild et al.

I’m not a cyclist (that’s not out of context if you clicked the link) but many have applied this to marathon carb-loading. So here’s what I do:

The workout:

Ideally, 24 hours pre-race. Start with a brief warmup (I usually do about a ½ mile); then 2 ½ minutes at hard effort (roughly your 1-mile pace); then a 30 second all out sprint. That’s it. Commence carb loading. Coach Kyle  suggested a slightly longer warmup of 1-2 easy miles; and a 1-2 mile cooldown. I’ll probably look to stay on the 1 mile side of both of those.

The carbs:

The general formula for how many carbs you need for your body weight is “Consume 12 grams of carbs for every kilo of lean body mass spread over the next 24 hours.” That’s actually more complicated than it sounds. “Lean body mass” isn’t just your mass (what most of us call “weight”) it’s your mass  that isn’t fat. So… what you need to do is figure out your percent body fat and subtract that percentage from your total mass to get your lean body mass. For example, if you have 10% body fat, your lean body mass is 90% of your total body mass. Figuring out your body fat % is beyond the scope of this blog post, but there are ways to estimate it (pinching yourself, calipers, electrical currents) as well as accurately measure it (submersion in water is involved). Using myself as a simple example, if I weigh 165 pounds with 10% body fat, I weigh 75 kilos, of which 67.5 kilos is lean body mass. So, I need 810 g of carbs in the 24 hours before the race. It’s actually pretty hard to cram that many carbs down. Here’s how I do it.

Marathon carb-loading drink recipe

This recipe is based on Gatorade G Series Pro 01 Prime Carb Energy Drink; 82g carbs, 330 cal. per 12 oz.   However, the G doesn’t supply potassium. I added that. Their newer Endurance formula does, but it’s an on course formulation, not a pre-load. I have my own recipe for that in a previous post (here: MEFF72) but in order to achieve the higher concentration of sugar, you’d have to use the powdered formula and add more scoops than it calls for. Sounds salty, which you don’t really need when you’re pre-loading. Anyhow, for the same level of carbs/calories as the Carb Energy Drink, you need 20.5 tsp of dextrose or sucrose for each 12 oz. serving. Feel free to check my math. I’m not a chemistry teacher but my dad is. No, we never had a meth lab in the basement.

Example for 8 servings (96 total oz. of fluid) – supplies 672 carbs

  • 3 ½ cups dextrose (aka corn sugar)
  • 2 cups lime juice
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 tsp. sea salt (sodium chloride)
  • 1/2 tsp. NuSalt or NoSalt (potassium chloride)

Tip: Sugar goes into solution easier if you use hot water from the tap. Then chill. Unless you like things that are warm and sickly sweet.

Dextrose (sold as corn sugar) and sucrose are very similar chemically. Dextrose is as simple as it gets. One sugar molecule, it’s the same as glucose – blood sugar. Don’t let that gross you out though, it’s plant-based, usually made from corn. However, it’s not simply extracted, it has to be produced from a starch, usually corn – by an enzymatic process. Sucrose (what you get when you buy table sugar at the store) is a glucose molecule connected to a fructose molecule, but still considered a simple sugar. It’s also plant-based, usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, via a more natural process.

I’ve still got some dextrose left over from the last time I did this:

20140819_184252

As you can see, homebrew folks are the main consumers for this. I bought it at a local homebrew store. Of course you can easily find it on the interwebs as well, but typically you’re not going to find it in your local grocery store.

It takes the body a bit longer to metabolize sucrose, which I suppose is why I settled on dextrose. However, this time around I think I am going to experiment with sucrose, to try to slightly even out the blood sugar spikes. I’m also going to try to drink smaller amounts more frequently instead of pounding 12 oz. every hour or hour and a half or so. For future reference though, I think the use of dextrose on course is probably the way to go. By the way, Smarties candies are almost 100% dextrose, ok, a little food coloring and citric acid. Probably the fastest sugar hit you can get.

As to salt, as I said I toss in some potassium chloride. You can buy this stuff anywhere – it’s marketed as a salt substitute for people on a low or no sodium diet.

20140819_184530

Bananas sold separately. I think “No Salt” is a stupid name, since potassium chloride is “a” salt. It’s just not “the” salt – sodium chloride.

Finally, there’s really no performance reason to throw in lime juice, I just do it for taste. It makes it taste a little better. You could use lemon juice. If you decide to leave it out, just remember to replace the fluid with water, or your solution will be even more concentrated. You could add in some of those water flavoring packets I suppose, but that stuff is nasty. I prefer the more natural taste of lime juice, specifically key lime juice – this is the best:

20140819_184628

Photobomb courtesy of my son, Cole.

I know this recipe isn’t going to be featured on the Food Network any time soon, but it gets the job done. As you know realize, this is 8 servings worth and it still doesn’t get me all the way to my target of 810 grams of carbs, so you’re drinking a lot during the day.

What else do I eat during the 24 hours prior?

I follow a low-residue aka low-fiber diet during the last 24 hours. The purpose of that is to make sure my GI tract is as empty as possible when the gun goes off. If you haven’t run across the pictures of people who don’t do this, I don’t recommend you go looking for them. Eww. I think this is the way to go. Don’t even think about an enema, I don’t speak from personal experience but I’ve read they are dehydrating, which is not really the direction you want to go a couple of hours before your race.

My typical race day diet is 3 eggs at each meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner. Usually with cheese, for a little fat. Meat is pretty low-residue but not totally devoid of fiber, so I stay away. Full fat Greek yogurt if available, with honey. Some ice cream for dessert at dinner, topped with maple syrup. Certainly no fruits, vegetables, grains.

The morning of a race I will eat three more eggs just to have something on my stomach. Then I’ll put down one more serving of the carb-loading drink, about 300 calories worth, two hours before the gun, if possible, to avoid the blood sugar spike. If you can’t do that, just really nurse it. Once you get into the ten minute window before the gun, you can do a gel if you can stomach it. I’m going to use a product Coach Kyle recommended for my on course fueling – again, I’m going to nurse it instead of trying to gag it all down at once. I practiced this on a long run recently and it’s pretty tasty as far as I’m concerned. going slow is also a good reason because the really high sugar concentration in gels and the like is a little hard to get down without coughing unless you take it easy.

Here’s the magic potion for this race, in a nice little bottle that fits your palm pretty well:

20140819_184329

Mmm! Kona Coffee!

Here goes! Off to the Great White North in less than 24 hours!

 

 

 

 

Running away from home

I love a good double entendre. I spent much of the last few weeks running (away from home), not running away (from home). Running (away from home) is the subject of this post, and it presents both challenges and opportunities for a runner on a marathon training schedule.

The first departure from my usual stomping grounds came in the form of a family trip out west. Over a week and a half, we tent-camped (mostly) our way through the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, to Seattle and back. While I would have loved to do some trail running while on this trip, there were two factors that kept me pounding the pavement: (1) elevation; (2) bears. Elevation was the primary issue – in two ways. First, I was above 5000 feet most of our trip, and I live at 1000 feet, so I was working harder even if I picked level routes. Second, finding a trail without much elevation gain on my trip would have been difficult although not impossible. For instance, one fantastic hike we did as a family (Beaver Pond trail at Mammoth, Yellowstone) involved about 1 mile up a mountainside to get to a 5 mile loop. I love hills, but footing was tricky even at a walking pace. Conversely, another hike (Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons) lakeside loop led to a hike up a rocky cliff. It was a “don’t look down” trail.

rocky trail

At the time of that trip, I was 7-8 weeks out from the Edmonton Marathon. My quads thanked me for staying on the level. Also, because bears.

I’m not really an over-cautious person when it comes to hiking or running (although I am when it comes to amusement parks, long story). I trail run and day hike solo. Sometimes in places without cell service! Sometimes without a cell phone! Standard advice for bear country is hike in groups of 3 or more, carry bear spray, and make lots of noise. We had bear spray with us, and I can make a lot of noise, but I didn’t have 2 friends of similar fitness level and training goals along with me. You don’t want to be gliding along the trail solo and find this guy taking his afternoon nap:

bear

So I stuck to the roads. Still with a bear bell. In the Tetons and Yellowstone, the roads still meant a pretty good degree of solitude. When you’re out there in the early morning, there’s not a lot of competition. Just me and a bald eagle one time. In fact, the only time I saw other runners was coming in and out of our campsite at the Tetons. At Yellowstone, I got some friendly honks and waves from folks in cars (at least I am pretty sure the gestures were friendly).

So that’s the where. Another challenge is the when: finding the time to run in the midst of all the other activities you’ve got planned for the day – and the energy to do all of it! My solution for this was the same as at home: get up so early that no one protests the fact that you’re going on a run. I’m only kidding – I am really fortunate to have a wife and family that support me in this! On one day, I got up and did a short 3 mile regen run at Mammoth – up the big hill from the campsite to the lodge. The morning activity was horseback riding:

horseback

(note the off-label use of my Skora Forms, which, as long as we’re talking about off-label use, make an excellent hiking shoe. No boots for me!)

Then, in the afternoon, it was down the Yellowstone:

rafting

(No Skoras here. Neoprene booties. Snowmelt = cold!)

I couldn’t have planned that better. I was glad I didn’t have a “hard” day on my training schedule, and for the most part my runs fit well into the day. I got lucky for a Saturday long run in Spokane – although my luck was at the expense of my wife and daughter, who had gotten a virus along the way and were sleeping it off while I ran a beautiful rail-to-trail route south of downtown.

After we got back from our trip west, I had a few days home, and then it was off again to back-to-back camps. Webelos with my son Cole – which was local. Fortunately the Cub Scouts don’t set too aggressive of a schedule and with lights out at 10, I was able to get up and get my miles in well before breakfast. Then it was straight to a summer camp my wife and I volunteered at as counselors. That was a little more grueling – but only because we were staying up late with as bunch of energetic and enthusiastic kids. I found a nice core of brave souls who also wanted to get up early and run at camp. As always, the accountability of group runs is one of the best ways to get out of bed when you might have hit the snooze.

I’m now less than 4 weeks out from Edmonton and starting to get excited. My training schedule is peaking with higher miles and more speed. I hit the track yesterday with an old friend – the Skora PHASE. I’ve been running in FIT so much I’d almost forgotten what the lighter and more responsive PHASE has to offer. Just a great track or race shoe, although some prefer it for general training. For me, that’s the FIT – click through the banner to the right of this post to learn more about the FIT and the rest of the lineup, or read my reviews on this blog!

 

Run. Hill. Repeat. @HospitalHillRun #RunReal

I ran the Hospital Hill Run Re-Run this past weekend. I raced a 5K on Friday night, then did the Half Marathon as a progression run on Saturday morning.

My current goal race is a marathon in late August. Coach Kyle (http://kylekranz.com/coaching/) suggested I use this 5K to assess fitness at this point in my training, but not race the half the next day. It was really hard to not race a race!

I warmed up for the 5K with a full lunge matrix and two miles of easy running. That was a first for me as well – I haven’t raced a lot of 5Ks, but for my first one I didn’t warm up much at all; for the second one I did do about a mile of easy running. I thought the extended warmup was pretty valuable, and it certainly didn’t wear me out.

I ran a 21:13, pretty far off my PR of 19:59, but that came on a much flatter course. There are calculators you can use to figure out what you would have run on a flat course, if that makes you feel better, or you’re trying to compare apples to apples with a prior race. I used this one:( http://www.runworks.com/calculator.php) which yielded an adjusted time of 20:42. Credit to Tim Noakes, whose book “Lore of Running” is the basis of these calculations. You can also use these calculators to predict your time at other distances using your established fitness level from a recent race. Another fascinating adjustment is altitude – I train at 1000 ft. here in Kansas City. My August marathon is at 2000 ft., so it looks like I’ll give up about 2 minutes for that. However, I’m excited to be running a virtually flat race course, which I’ve never really done before.

You can go crazy with these calculators. I considered the elevation change the most significant factor. If you adjust for temperature (anything over 60F pushes your time up) my already adjusted time goes down to 20:12. If you further adjust that 20:12 down to sea level, it drops to 20:07. My advice: don’t talk yourself into a PR with these calculators! Most of us train and race in the same geographic area.

Here’s some photos from the 5K (not all of them (edit: none?) flattering…)

race_0.4840576640295149 race_0.2905805843757938 race_0.01913102413119938 race_0.87568097043379 race_0.27316335498027733 race_0.18247102165559637 race_0.15426024736673916 race_0.9356280750818401 race_0.08260291949352239 race_0.8134790365424225 race_0.07752350852548417 race_0.7731134774497626

 

As a forefoot/midfoot striker, I’m happiest running uphill, flat, or very gradual downhill. Even at this short distance, I was doing tortoise and the hare with some heel strikers – I’d motor past them on the uphills, then they’d come pounding past me on the downhills. I didn’t get caught on any flats – including the finish stretch. I won my age group!

The next day, I ran the half as a progression run. Or swim. The skies opened about 4:20 am, and it rained all through the race, even delaying the start a half hour due to concerns about heavy rain and lightning. It was a good call by the race director, and we still got to run. The rain backed off for the race start, poured about a half hour in, then came down pretty steady the rest of the time I was out there. Hard rain but no lightning. I tried to run the first 7 at an easy pace – my target was 9:00, but pride, excitement, or just feeling good that morning had me pushing down into the 8’s before long. I ran miles 8-10 in the 7:30 range. The last three were supposed to be at a FAST effort – but it was hard to gauge if I was achieving that based on numbers only. The Broadway hill starts around mile 10, and it’s a long up. That pushed my pace down a bit until the final short but steep Trinity Hill just past mile 12. I cranked it down to close to around 7:00 for the final mile, with a 6:00 pace sprint for the final 0.2.

I suppose I’d prefer rain to sun and heat, but to tell the truth I don’t look all that happy in these race photos:

race_0.48921824434310557 race_0.32891216679252644 race_0.18021356941165934 race_0.6262376786915558 race_0.2115854752985148 race_0.900814615583786

As you can see, I wore my Skora FIT for both races. It’s just such a great all-purpose shoe it’s hard to take it off! If the course had been flatter I might have gone with the lighter CORE or PHASE, which I’ve raced in before, but this wasn’t a goal race so I went with the increased cushioning of the FIT.

Final thought: the air temp was 70F and I was passing people running in disposable ponchos virtually the whole race. Maybe they were on their way to a weigh-in. If not, I hope they were hydrating! I’m sure they weren’t that much drier than I was at the finish!

 

Why are you running? @HospitalHillRun

What’s your motivation? What is going to get you moving and keep you moving through the finish line at Hospital Hill? I recently finalized a decision about my purpose in running Hospital Hill. You may have made yours a long time ago! A movie I watched recently (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – from the 60s, but now a Broadway play) made me think how running needs a purpose, and you need to internalize that purpose, even if it didn’t originate in you. It doesn’t have to be specific, or even terribly significant. However, if you aren’t running with a purpose, you might not keep moving!

Here’s a brainstormed list of 10 reasons why you might be running – add yours!

  1. To share the experience with my friends or family (or family who are friends, etc.).
  2. I’m in it to win it.
  3. In memory of a loved one who loved running.
  4. I want to PR.
  5. For a charitable cause.
  6. I have a time goal I want to break.
  7. Just for fun – I love to run with others.
  8. To reward myself for the training miles I’ve put in with some nice swag.
  9. As a tune-up for another race.
  10. To jump-start a commitment to fitness.

I’m going to do the new “Re-Run,” and I have a different purpose for each race. I’m going to use the 5k as a time trial to see where I’m at right now with my fitness level. The next day, I’m not going to “race” the half; instead I am going to run it as a progression run – cranking up the pace as I go. I’m going to have fun too – see you out there!