“Refining” How I Look At Sugar – Training and Loading

It’s hard to describe my relationship with sugar as anything but. We’ve been through a lot of phases in life together.

First, my parents restricted you. Back then, I didn’t appreciate them trying to keep us away from each other, but I do now. After I moved away from home, we hung out – no commitment, no consequences. That was my 20s. As my 30s waxed, it seemed like we were seeing more of each other (and more of me). Now, in my 40s, we’ve been trying to work out our issues. We broke up for a brief period, but then I decided I couldn’t live without you. People keep telling me you’re toxic. I try to stay away, only to return with regret.

I watched “Sugar Coated” last week (can you tell?). It’s a very interesting documentary, although I am not going to review it here per se. There are intelligent, rational people who believe that sugar is causing a public health crisis. My personal experience doesn’t disprove that. One of the scarier things the film scared me about in the scary way it went about scaring its audience was this: while obesity is skyrocketing, even normal weight people who are achieving normal weight with the aid of exercise but maintaining a sugar-packed diet often have the same metabolic profile as the obese. To illustrate this point, they rolled some footage of runners in the Toronto marathon. Then, they followed that up with an interview of an uber-fit Scandinavian dude who had pre-diabetic A1C counts despite his fitness level.

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So, I’ve rededicated myself to cutting down on my refined sugar consumption. I was able to maintain total abstinence (from all carbs, actually) for about 2 months a couple of years ago, but it decreased my quality of life too much. I find I am happiest and feel the best on a modified Paleo diet (I tolerate dairy, so I add it). I have tended to let myself cheat on that with refined sugar, and I go through cycles where I am justifying cheating more and more (I’m sick. I ran a lot today. Etc.). Having a clear goal and a reward helps me in other areas, so I’m going to apply it here. The current plan is: no refined sugar whatsoever until Friday night, then I’ll permit myself a reasonable dessert with refined sugar. I froze some blueberry pie, so that’s tomorrow! Sunday through Thursday have gone fine, although the cookies that came with Firm Lunch Day yesterday were pretty hard to resist. I eat a serving or so of fruit at every meal, so this is not a zero-carb plan.

As far as training goes, as I said this is not a zero-carb plan, although I expect cutting down on the refined sugar will get me where I’d prefer to be weight-wise (closer to 160 than 170). I’ll continue my routine of mostly fasted runs. I always run before eating in the morning. My current plan has some evening running (two-a-days) a couple of times each week, but I don’t do well eating a bigger meal like dinner and then running an hour or two later.

I have put some thought into pre-race carbo-loading as a result of this new commitment. In the past I have always loaded with a dextrose or sucrose solution, as described in detail here. However, the weird (wired?) feeling I have during that day of loading is something I assume is due to the wild blood sugar spikes I’m sure that throws at my body. So, I decided to look for something with a lower glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food turns into blood sugar. On a scale of 0 to 100, foods at 0 contain no carbohydrates. 100 is glucose/dextrose, a pure simple sugar. A high GI is 55 and above. So, I thought, perhaps something with a lower GI might take the edge off my blood sugar spikes. At first, I investigated UCAN, the so-called “superstarch,” a complex carb. The first deterrent is that it’s insanely expensive. A tub is $60, and I’d use up all of that trying to load with it. Since I’m cheap, I wondered if there was anything roughly equivalent to substitute for it. In the course of doing that, I ran across this intriguing blog post. UCAN is corn starch + marketing. What??? Also, it seemed to me like maltodextrin was a straw man, given its GI of 95. Corn starch has a GI of 95 too! That kind of surprised me – I thought a complex carb like a starch would have a lower GI. What’s UCAN’s GI? While I confess I haven’t thoroughly researched it, UCAN and its advocates could make it easier to find this information. I searched through a lot of gobbledygook in this blog post, only to find a claim of “low acute glycemic index” but no number. I did find a 10% off code, #objectivity. Just kidding. There is a code though if you want it.

Despite being willing to choke down UCAN or even corn starch (blech) I’m not sure it’d be worth the suffering. Again, my carbo-loading requirements are low GI, zero fiber. That rules out a lot of carb-rich foods. I considered honey and maple syrup (both between 50 and 60, depending on who’s counting) – both far lower than dextrose at 100 and lower than table sugar (sucrose) which wasn’t as high as I thought it would be at 63.

Enter fructose: GI 25. It seems too good to be true. Mind you, I am not talking about HFCS, I’m talking about this stuff. I’m thinking about modifying my recipe to use fructose to carbo-load. I need 810 g of carbs. Fructose has 4 g per tsp. So I’d need 202.5 tsp. over that day. At 48 tsp/cup, that’s rounded up to 4 1/4 cups of fructose into solution. The only thing I am nervous about is that it’s supposed to taste twice as sweet as table sugar. My recipe is already sickly sweet. I’ll have to do a dry run with some of this stuff so I don’t ruin my fall marathon, but as of now, this is the loading plan!

EDIT/UPDATE: As the old adage goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I initially hoped there might be some difference between HFCS and crystalline fructose, but as far as the liver is concerned, there really isn’t. The low GI of fructose isn’t a function of it being “better” than sucrose or glucose, it’s just that it is metabolized in a dramatically different way. And “different” isn’t better. While the sugar in fruits is fructose, there’s enough fiber etc. in relation to the sugar that you’re not getting the huge hit like you do with processed foods containing HFCS, which is why they’re so bad for you! I’m back to the drawing board – maybe my dextrose (glucose) recipe is still the way to go. Or perhaps I’ll try to figure out a way to make a corn or potato starch palatable without adding fiber. Stay tuned!

I’ll close with this statistical truth (easy, Mark Twain): the average American today weighs 30 pounds more than his/her counterpart of 50 years ago. Yikes. Before running and some diet changes, that almost exactly describes the two mes – 30 pounds apart.

Hospital Hill Run Race Reports (2!)

Cole and I both ran a Hospital Hill Run a couple of weekends ago. I had a good race, he had a great one, and they were both hot!

Cole went first on Friday night, in the UMKC School Of Medicine 5K. It’s a hilly course, with quite a bit of elevation gain in a loop. This was his first 5K, and he ran great. He’d come on some runs with me towards the end of soccer season, which had already given him a good fitness level. Plus being 12. I warmed him up with a lunge matrix and a slow jogged mile. Then I ran back to the top of the first hill on Gillham. He was running well, definitely in the first 50 or so, so I just hoped he would keep giving good effort and not fade. I had warned him not to worry about slowing on the first hill – just slow his effort to comfortably hard so he wouldn’t max out. Then I ran back to the finish and waited. He came in 49th overall with a 22:06, good for 4th in his 10-14 AG (another 12 y.o., and a 13 and 14 y.o. ran faster). It was hot and hilly – a sub 20:00 put you in the top ten!

Here’s a few of him flying along in his Skora Phase-X’s:

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Great race, Cole!

It was my turn on Saturday morning – a race that always challenges me, the Hospital Hill Half. My motto for this race has always been “sub 1:30 or bust,” and it’s always been “…or bust.” (See previous race reports involving beets, etc.). This year was no exception. I had raced a 5K and done a 10K time trial in the weeks leading up to HHR, so I had a pretty good idea of where my fitness was at. The race predictors said I could run a half in 1:32. But not necessarily this half… I’ve posted before on the wonky subject of adjusting times for course elevation and temperature and temperature (the main adjustments). I hadn’t bothered to “correct” my 5K but my 10K was on a track on a fairly cool morning – no excuses (or corrections) there. So, 1:32 was a reasonable target. It was warm (7:00am race start, 67F) so if you correct my result of 1:34:00 to take temperature out of the calculation, you get 1:32:44.7. The calculator assumes anything 60F or below is temperature-neutral, but like most people I prefer at least 50F or below for distance racing – that’s why most marathons are held in April and October. I could “correct” HHR’s hills out of the equation as well, but like I’ve said before, you can’t correct your way to a PR – I’m just making the point that my race predictors were pretty accurate to my adjusted time.

Despite knowing of the hills and the heat I’d be facing, I went out with the 1:30 pace group. When we got to the turn south to go down Oak just before mile 1, I felt like going out ahead of the 1:30 group to catch the 1:25 group. I knew this wouldn’t be sustainable, but Nelson had ditched the 1:30 group a couple of years ago and I wished I’d gone with him. After heading up Hospital Hill, I let the 1:25 group go.

The race’s theme this year was “Be A Hospital Hill Run Superhero!” so I threw on a cotton Flash shirt. Turns out tech fabric is only marginally less miserable than cotton when consistently wet. A little more thought went into selecting my black Skora Tempos, the lightest and most breathable shoe they make.

Still smiling:

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For much of the first half of the race, I managed to stay ahead of the 1:30 pace group and ran pretty much by myself. Apparently there were a few people behind me:

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As I made the turn off onto Meyer, headed west for that short stretch, my pace was starting to slow. I think the lead pacer of the 1:30 group got ahead of me on Meyer. I managed to stay ahead of the tail pacer for the 1:30 group almost all the way to the Plaza. He had 2 or 3 runners with him, including the lead female. I heard him remark to the group “this guy went out with the 1:25 group” (ok, that is true, but only for a short stretch). I turned around and joked about it, and found out they were right on 1:32 pace. I ran with them through the Plaza and starting up the Broadway hill – somewhere on that hill I let them go. It was full sun – the first half of the course is pretty shaded – and getting really warm at this point. I was suffering and slowing my pace a bit, but I do like hills more than most, so I actually caught a few people on Broadway, which I think is the hardest part of the race. I did get passed by the second female, but I managed to keep her in sight most of the rest of the way. A kind and cheery race volunteer shouted some encouragement to me as I came up the hill – “You look great!” I replied, “Liar!” She immediately fired back a more accurate description of my perceived appearance, but this is a PG blog, so write your own punch line.

It got a little better after slogging up Trinity Hill – I was able to run pretty hard to the finish.

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Given our human propensity to think in base 10 even when it’s not base 10 (time) it was kind of a bummer to see that I wasn’t going to come in under 1:34, but as it turns out:

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Smiling again…finished!

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I’ll get you next year HHR!

Race Week! #HHR2016

It’s taper time! I’m resting today and wishing I was running, although I just might cheat and give my son Cole a tour of the Hospital Hill 5K course he’s going to run on Friday. He’s been running with me lately, adding to his soccer fitness. Here we are at the track warming up for an interval workout last week:

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He’s wearing the Skora PHASE-X, which he also wore for cross-country in the fall and track this spring. I’m in FIT, my favorite all-purpose running shoe.

I’ve been using heart rate zones with my Fenix 3 and Mio Link to regulate effort during this training cycle and I’m really pleased with the plan on Garmin Connect. I love how it loads the workout to my watch, then the details are automatic through the run. It’s especially great with intervals – automatic laps – no losing count or cheating on rest time! Here’s a shot from earlier this spring – an Easy Run:

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It’s easy to check if you’re in the zone – I like to put this screen in the rotation – numbers plus a color range:

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If you fall below or exceed the zone, the watch buzzes at you and displays a screen to let you know you’re out of it:

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Orange says I’m above zone 2. I had my zones set pretty conservatively back in the spring – I’ve now put them back to a baseline Max HR of 179 based on my age. The watch will readjust based on your measured Max HR. It can also use your HR data to calculate a Lactate Threshold pace – very cool!

Last interval workout before Hospital Hill!

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You vs. the Clock – solo tune-up “races” #HHR2016

My training plan for Hospital Hill specified “race a 10K” this past Saturday. A tune-up race is a great way to assess your fitness level and adjust your pacing for your goal race. What should you be doing in a tune-up race?

  • Giving good effort but not max effort. Save it for your “A” race.
  • Using it as a dress rehearsal – time of day, practice your hydration and nutrition. Wear what you’re going to wear. Nothing new on race day – now’s your chance!
  • Setting a goal for your tune-up race. If you don’t have a goal, you’re guaranteed a meh performance.
  • Racing, if possible. Duh. However…

I didn’t have time for a 10K this Saturday morning – the day was booked, starting at 9am. So, I went out to my local track (my kids’ jr. high has a nice one) and “raced” against the clock. This is the first time I’ve tried to adopt a race mentality for a training run. Those training runs on your calendar that specify a race are encouraging you to kick it up a notch, so I tried to do that. I’m a believer in competition pushing your limits. This effect can be as simple as realizing that the runner who was 5 yards ahead of you is now 10 yards ahead. Pick it up!

Before I set out for the track, I used my most recent race effort to calculate a target pace. I use a simple race times predictor that grades out an effort at one distance to predict what you can do at another distance.

Since I ran a 20:29 5K just a few weeks ago, the predictor said I ought to be able to do a 10K in 42:42. So, I backed that out using a pace calculator, which yielded a 6:52 pace. Going below that was my tune-up race goal.

The morning was very cool, sunny, with a brisk north wind. I dressed out in some sweet new black Skora Tempos right out of the box along with my usual hodgepodge of apparel. I quaffed a double espresso and a glass of water at home, did my lunge matrix, and hopped in the car for the short trip to the track. Once there, I warmed up with a half-mile jog (if you prefer, EZ pace warm-up run). After that, I toed the starting line and took off. I rabbited the first lap while getting my pace settled down. I could tell pretty quickly that I’d be able to keep it under 6:50 if I just kept my effort consistent. It can be hard to strike a balance between excessive and insufficient watch checking, but I checked my overall pace about twice a lap. I was hovering around 6:45 or so, and while my overall pace drifted up over time, I kicked it in during the last few laps to bring it back down to an overall 6:45 pace and a 42:00 flat 10K. That’s less than a minute over my 10K PR (ok, I’ve only ever really raced one 10K before, but it was a pretty good effort).

Now that I’ve put up that 42:00 10K, I’m reassessing Hospital Hill yet again. I ran a little better than my 5K race. Thus, the predictor says I can do a half marathon in 1:32:40 based on my 10K effort. I’m not making excuses in advance, but that 10K was on a flat track and Hospital Hill is anything but. On the other hand, my 10K wasn’t against competition, and wasn’t max effort – I guess we’ll see how those factors even out in a couple of weeks! I can’t wait!

(There weren’t any race photographers at my personal 10K, but I finally discovered the photos from my May 1st 5K, so here’s one:)

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Couch to 5k – Runvangelism #HHR2016

Just when you think you’re going to coin a new term, Google reassures you that you haven’t. Recently I’ve had a couple of people ask me about my running and dietary habits. I warned them that they might regret getting me started on that subject! I love running, and I love encouraging others to get into running. I think that makes me a runvangelist (running evangelist). I doubt the term will achieve the fame of say, Roger Clemens’ “misremembered” (surprisingly, actually having a word origin and usage dating back several centuries). Like most enthusiastic runners, I like to talk about running, but I’d really like to talk about YOU running.

If you don’t think of yourself as a runner at all, or you’d like to start running on a more regular basis for fun or fitness, here’s a few of my basic tips for success:

  • Set goals. A training plan helps. What are you training for? Having a goal out in the future, like a 5K in 3 or 4 months, can help you stick with running once you start. I circled the Hospital Hill Half marathon on my calendar when I started running again in mid-February, and I picked a training plan designed to take me back up to that distance.
  • Don’t overdo it. Not running regularly? Not running at all? Have no fear – pick a run-walk plan. There are some people (Dean Karnazes comes to mind, who famously got off his bar stool and ran 30 miles on his 30th birthday) who can dive right in, but that’s a recipe for injury and discouragement. The maxim “if a little is good, a lot must be better” does not hold here!
  • Make yourself accountable. Log your runs. Pick a day and time you’re going to run with a friend. Annoy your friends on social media.
  • Be mindful of your diet. There is no single solution to eating better. It’s lots of little things. For me, it started with giving up HFC soda, and over time I’ve tried to add more greens and other vegetables and avoid “junk carbs” (e.g. bread). I drink water with meals now, for the most part. Don’t beat yourself up when you backslide. Personally, a weekly cheat day helps me with that. Mmm…donuts.
  • Have fun! Mix it up. Go to a trail. Run hills. Hit the track. Avoid monotony.

Happy running!

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Why should you race? #HHR2016

With just over a month to go before this year’s Hospital Hill run, a 5K I ran yesterday (the LAKC 5K) reminded me what my personal answer to this question is: you should race to push yourself beyond your expectations.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been a runner that punches above my weight class when it comes to racing. What does that mixed metaphor mean, you ask? It means that I always seem to do a bit better on race day than my training times would predict. Why is that? A race is a competition, and competition brings out your best. The group dynamic of having others around you who are striving for the same thing is a powerful mental stimulus. As much as we tell ourselves, “I’m going to run my own race,” we cannot help but get caught up in the excitement of catching or not getting caught by those around us in a race. It doesn’t matter if they’re older, younger, etc. If they’re running around you, they’re the competition!

I ran a 5K yesterday as a tuneup race for Hospital Hill. Pro racers circle “A” races and “B” races on their calendar. A “B” race is a tuneup – a harder effort than a hard individual training run, but not all-out effort like a goal “A” race. Hospital Hill is the only “A” race I have on my calendar right now. As I return from injury (running well since February!) I have often questioned the state of my aerobic fitness. The only way to really find out is to go out and race a short distance, comparing it to past efforts. Then, you can use the results of that effort to predict a reasonable pace range for your goal race. There are many excellent race predictor calculators that will translate a shorter distance like a mile or a 5K into a predicted finish time for the gamut of race distances.

I didn’t go into this tuneup race completely blind – I took a look at some of my recent training runs and used a 25:00 tempo segment as a benchmark for my 5K pace. Based on that, I was hoping I’d get under 21:30 for the 5K, which is pretty far from my 5K PR. I don’t run a lot of 5Ks, and they are usually tuneup races rather than goal races, but I have done enough of them to have a frame of reference.

The competition effect was strong in this race. I found myself clustered in a group of three for most of the early part of the race, including someone I knew. That really helped keep the pace up during mile 2. Of the three of us, I was the midpoint of mile 3 – one guy dropped back and I stopped hearing footsteps behind me. The other guy pushed out ahead of me, giving me a rabbit to chase. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have pushed as hard as I did without these two being close most of the race. The rabbit put in a kick – before I did, so I followed suit – knowing I wouldn’t catch him but not wanting to be caught by anyone else!

Afterwards, the guy who dropped back said he had noticed my Skora Phases and complimented my ability to run well in them. When people comment on my shoes, I reply that form follows function – I didn’t learn to run well in minimalist shoes. The shoes are designed for the purpose of running well, and their form is designed to that purpose. All I have to do is run naturally in them.

The end result was a minute faster than my goal: 20:29 (7th overall, 1st 45-49 AG). I’m really pleased with that in my first race back from injury and going into Hospital Hill. I’m sure I’m not in sub 1:30 shape (my ultimate half marathon goal, never yet achieved) but this 5K test is a clear indicator that I should try to go under 1:35 rather than 1:40, which was my original goal for the June race.

So, racing has pushed me beyond my expectations! Challenge yourself with a race!

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Have A Heart! (rate training plan) #HHR2016

I recently discovered “Training Plans” in Garmin Connect, and I’m using one to train for Hospital Hill. I selected a Heart Rate based training plan to avoid re-injury as I entered my first training cycle after returning to running earlier this year. Also, I already had a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) that syncs with my watch, and I wanted to put its real-time data to use as a training tool.

Finding a training plan that is geared to your current fitness levels and goals is a key to success for a race at any distance. Hospital Hill offers free, downloadable training plans for all of its race distances, at multiple levels. You can find them here.

I’ve always used some sort of training plan, and at times a coach (Coach Kyle, highly recommended) when I’ve had a goal race on the calendar. Presently, I’m coming back to running after a “break” to recuperate from an acute injury I suffered last fall. My goals were to ease back into running and find a plan that would rein me in while simultaneously increasing fitness. I knew it would be difficult for my body to tell my brain “no.” In other words, I knew I would have to resist the urge to jump back in at the paces I was attaining last fall. Heart rate training is a reliable (but not perfect) way to measure exercise intensity, so I elected to keep an eye on my training intensity with my HRM. I have the chest strap that came with my Garmin Fenix as well as a wrist-based Mio Link. There are pros and cons to each.

Chiefly, I have a hard time keeping any chest strap reliably or comfortably in place, and it also gives me the sensation of constricting my breathing, although I don’t believe it’s actually doing that. Its positives are that it produces fabulous data you can spend hours pouring over, like ground contact time and vertical oscillation, because it also houses an accelerometer. It also measures cadence, but my Fenix has that built into the watch, so Department of Redundancy Department.

My Mio Link uses LEDs to measure HR through the wrist – no straps. Cons? You do have to wear it kind of tight for it to work reliably, but I have learned to live with it. I won’t fault it for not having an accelerometer. Surely that would be useless on a swinging wrist – it needs to be on the torso with the chest strap. Both HRMs link to my Garmin with ANT+ wireless technology. The Mio also supports a Bluetooth connection to your phone with an app that displays data if you don’t have a running watch. Not sure about the chest strap and Bluetooth – I don’t think so but it’s designed to link to your Garmin which you presumably have if you have a chest strap.

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Yes, that’s an LED you see there – but it’s your feedback, not what measures your HR. Those LEDs are underneath. Even if you don’t have a connection to a watch with a display, this LED changes color to let you know which of the 5 HR zones you’re in.

The Runners Connect podcast had Phil Maffetone on a while back, and that’s part of what convinced me to try a HR based training plan. Dr. Maffetone developed the 180 Formula as a means of finding the optimal aerobic training level. It’s really pretty simple, age-based with certain adjustments, but he’s the doctor, so go to the source. I also believe in his philsophy of training the body to burn fat, rather than relying so extensively on carbs during endurance events. Incidentally, there is no direct connection between the Garmin HRM training plan and Dr. Maffetone that I am aware of. Also, the Garmin plan has a lot of the slower paced “Zone 2” running I was looking for as I continue to mend. This keeps me comfortably out of the anaerobic “Zone 4” most of the time. Anaerobic (aka tempo or threshold) has its place in training, but it does produce stress and increased risk of injury. My plan does have some Zone 4 running, but not a lot. I find myself running a lot of the “Easy” runs near the top of zone 2, which is actually only about 5 BPM lower than my current MAF number of 130 (I had to subtract 5 due to my injury layoff, otherwise my number would be 135).

I’ve been easing back into running with a return to my minimalist roots. I love the feedback of Skora’s Core and Phase models, and I’m using them to stay off my heel(s). These are my oldest Cores, still going strong!

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My podiatrist actually told me that my running form and shoe selection has helped me get over my acute injury. Even after a month of running, he palpated my bursa sac at my second (and hopefully final) appointment and told me it was much better and he wouldn’t recommend the cortisone shot based on my improvement. That’s a relief!

I’m a big Garmin fan, currently using a Fenix 3. The Fenix 3 is the Swiss Army knife of running watches. It’s a smart watch that links to your phone for alerts and myriad other uses. It’s an activity monitory, counting steps and prompting you to get up and move around during the day. It’s a full-featured independent GPS running watch (take that, Apple Watch). I like it so well that it’s displaced my everyday watch – I used to just wear my GPS watch for running. I find that I can’t take the Fenix 3 off. It’s also got a cool feature where you can load different Garmin and user-created watch faces onto it. There are literally hundreds. Just the other day, somebody asked me “is that an Omega?” (A pricey diver’s watch). This is a replica face of the Omega Bond wore in “Spectre”:

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In my next post, we’ll go for a run, and I’ll show you some of the cool new ways that Garmin lets you push your Training Calendar onto your watch for detailed workout instructions and feedback (teaser: “whoa, there – slow down!” and no more “what number interval am I on?”). Sure, we can all count, but can we run and count at the same time?:)