5 Hidden Features in Your Garmin #beatyesterday

Ok, “hidden” is a bit clickbaity, but I discover cool new things about my Fenix 3 all the time, even past the 1 year mark. Here’s my 5 favorite things I didn’t know about until I took a deeper dive into the owners’ manual and submenus on the watch:

  1. Auto backlight. Who runs in the dark? Everyone! Who wants to push a button to see their watch face? No one! This setting turns your backlight on when you raise and turn your arm to look at your watch. Genius.
  2. Alerts. There are many to choose from, but my favorite obscure one is min/max cadence. I’m a 180 bpm guy – high cadence due to my forefoot/midfoot strike. I don’t set a max, but setting the min to 180 keeps me from slogging on longer runs.
  3. Stopwatch. I always thought it was goofy that my Forerunner didn’t have one. It didn’t bother me too badly since I never wore it unless I was running. But, now that I wear my Fenix 3 all the time, it’s handy for things like grilling (do you smell something burning?). Garmin throws in a timer, alarm, etc. now too. So your Garmin can now do everything your 80s digital watch could! Unless you had one of those sweet calculator ones.
  4. The ability to push training plans and workouts to your watch with Garmin connect and Express. No more counting intervals. Plus, with available effort alerts like heart rate and pace, it’s almost like having your coach there shouting at you. Almost. I’ve got a heart-rate based plan on my watch right now for KCM (22 days!), but I am looking forward to loading an Advanced Marathoning training plan onto my calendar for my spring 2017 marathon (Boston!). It’s really easy to enter workouts, and you can drag and drop if it’s the same one again (like a 4 mi recovery run, e.g.).
  5. Face-it. This one doesn’t really help me #beatyesterday, but it’s fun. This phone app lets you take a photo or pretty much any image and turn it into a watch face, like so:

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What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path Garmin feature?

Wake me up, I’m dreaming!

Friday night, I had a dream that I was running a race in my home town (Creve Coeur) and went off course. By the time I got back on track, the race was almost over, and I was trying to decide what to do about it!

Some psychologists have tried to establish the existence of precognitive dreams, in which a dream has a similarity to a future event. I don’t believe in precognition, except to the extent that our brains tend to see patterns of familiarity, after which we retroactively convince ourselves of the precision of the match. Or perhaps we never even had the dream, and the deja vu phenomenon is tricking us into believing we “remember” a past dream of a future event.

Of course, our dreams often simply reflect our fears (or concerns, if fear is too strong a word for anything as trivial as a race). Saturday morning, I raced a half marathon in a town I’d never been too, on a course I’d never traveled. You see where this is going…my dream became reality! I ran off course for several minutes (I estimate 5+) and blew my “official” time. I know I didn’t deja vu the dream, because I actually mentioned it to a couple I was chatting with while warming up before the race. It didn’t seem quite so funny after it actually happened!

I’m not going to say what race it was, or what town I was in – I am not trying to generate bad publicity for the town, or badmouth the race director, or any of the well-intentioned volunteers that helped put on the event. The race director already acknowledged the issue at the finish line, and apologized to all on the race web site – encouraging suggestions or concerns.

I have three suggestions:

  • Re-mark the course with spray paint on the street in a bold color every year. I saw some markings on the street, but they were in faded white paint – perhaps from a previous year. Especially at key intersections, it would be reassuring to see something like “HALF” or “RACE.” Or, get creative with a stencil. Anything that tells runners that we are looking at something other than some faded utility markings for a gas or water line.
  • Better signage and more of it. It can be better even on a shoestring budget. If you’ve taken the time to place a sign, make sure we know it’s associated with the race. I don’t think I ever got fooled by any garage sale signs, but I did see a few arrows that I was sure didn’t have anything to do with the race, and they looked the same as the race signs. Just add “HALF” or “RACE” to your sign, and we’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling that we’re going the right way.
  • Take just a few minutes with your volunteers to make sure they know the vicinity of course where they will be stationed. At one point close to where I ran off course, there was a lady at an aid station. I could see an intersection not far from where she was standing, so I asked “Which way?” She said, “I don’t know.” I replied, “somebody should!” She agreed. I don’t expect you to have enough volunteers to have somebody standing at every intersection – just that you take advantage of what you do have.

I’ll admit that this post is part constructive criticism, part venting. I know it’s not easy to put on a race and have everything come together perfectly. Even big city races with lots of resources get it wrong sometimes – shorting the course, poor directions, unanticipated interference, etc. I also acknowledge that the primary mission of the race I ran was charitable. I didn’t ask for and wouldn’t have wanted a refund of my modest entry fee given that. However, I did travel a significant distance to run the race in part because it was a USTAF certified course. In my mind, that conveys a certain standard of precision and organization beyond a fun run. My expectations were: (1) a clearly marked course; (2) a timed result, accurate for the stated distance; (3) enough competition (hopefully) to keep me motivated and running hard during the race.

I was using the race as a benchmark in my marathon training – my plan said “race a half marathon or run a time trial.” I’ve done a 10K time trial solo before, but I didn’t trust myself to run a half, hard, all by myself. My gut told me that I’ve made a return to peak fitness after a summer of hard training. After injury, the winter running layoff and no spring marathon took a toll, but I think I’m back.

The race was a shotgun start. There was another guy – older than me, but obviously fit(ter!) who asked me what my goal was. I told him I was hoping for something close to 1:30. He replied that he was shooting for the same. He was the second person (after the aforementioned couple) who mentioned something about the course being not all that well-marked. I joked that I would probably just follow him then. I wish I’d been able to – he finished in under 1:30. We stuck together through the first 4 miles or so, but he was pulling away significantly by the time we reached the part of the course where we passed the start/finish line on our way to the second, longer out-and-back. There was a third guy in the lead pack – younger than me, one of those effortless tall guys who probably ran middle distance and cross-country in college. He was running the relay though, and wasn’t giving max effort as far as I could tell. Unfortunately, I lost sight of the only guy ahead of me not too long before I got off course. That moment when I realized I was definitely off was a frustrating one. Crossing some railroad tracks and running into a T-intersection for a road with no sidewalks or race markings was a big clue. It was very difficult not to shut it down and start walking at that point. However, I resolved to try to get back on course and run angry. I was disappointed in myself for missing any markings that would have kept me on track. Who knows if I did or not! I probably slowed a bit while trying to find my way back to the course, but a few minutes later I saw another runner and latched on. Back on course, I ran hard to the end.

At the finish line, a couple of people were on the other side clapping and ready to give me my participation medal. I could tell from the clock that I had run longer than 13.1 based on my pace. In fact, I’m now sure I ran all of the course, plus some bonus mileage. I stopped short of the mat and took off my timing bracelet, placed it outside the finish line, then walked across the finish. I didn’t want my time to count – I wasn’t sure I ran the course, but I was sure I’d run too far! My watch said 13.92.

I was curious to see what I might have done if I had run only the 13.1 distance. The day had a PR feel to it, even with the handicap of feeling discombobulated and slowed for about 10 minutes. I was eager to look at my splits, do the math, and see what might have been. However, my phone didn’t have a data connection so I had to drive back home for a while until I found a place with Wi-fi to stop for lunch. Roughly, it looked good. Later, Garmin Connect rewarded my efforts with this consolation prize:

Half PR

I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to break 1:30 (a long-standing personal goal) but I probably would have went for it if I had been close and running confidently. However, I ran almost the entire second half of the race knowing it wasn’t going to “count” regardless.

I was a little bummed out that I was running in second when I got lost. I’m sure I wouldn’t have caught the first place guy. It REALLY would have been frustrating if I had been leading the race when I got lost! As it turns out, the only other time better than my 1:37 was the aforementioned relay pair. I ended up second for the solo distance anyway.

The Kansas City Marathon is just 39 days away! I’m gunning for a PR!

“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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