Pulse Check: Timed mile on a track

img_20161119_082645334_hdrAfter writing my recent posts about my progress and about my performance in the recent 8K I was really wondering how my mile time was coming along. So I made some time this past weekend and made it out to the track!!

It was a little chilly, but overall it was quite a nice morning for a run. I was a little nervous since I had run the preceding Thursday and then did a leg workout on the Friday. When I was warming up and stretching things were definitely sore and tight. Despite all that I was out there and I was going to do what I set out to do!

The first lap went pretty well. I was feeling fairly strong and confident. My breathing was in check and my form was pretty good. I definitely felt I was off to a good start. My fatigue started catching up to me during lap 2. I still felt I was moving at a good pace but it was a little harder to maintain. Laps 3 and 4 both went better than lap 2. I know I’m improving because I was able to sprint at the end of this one! If you watched my sluggish performance in my initial Evaluation video you can see I didn’t really pick up any speed in that last 100 meters. I was just dead and couldn’t summon the strength to move any faster; that was not the case this time. I was running at full steam and it felt really good!! It felt even better when I looked down and saw my time: 8:44!! When I started this journey my mile time was 9:45, which means I’ve chopped off over a minute from my previous time!! I am pretty pleased with the result! I kept track of my lap times for both runs, they are as follows:

8/14/16
Lap 1 – 2:15
Lap 2 – 4:43
Lap 3 – 7:17
Finish – 9:45:50

11/19/16
Lap 1 – 2:10
Lap 2 – 4:30
Lap 3 – 6:47
Finish – 8:44

If you’ve been following this blog you may remember me saying that I have a really hard time pacing a run and that I usually go out too hard in the beginning and struggle at the end. I think the splits for my first mile are evidence of that: my first lap was 2:15 and the next 3 splits range from 2:28 – 2:34. Since I’ve switched to doing timed runs, rather than for distance, my splits for this second mile changed dramatically. The first lap was 2:10. As I mentioned, the second lap was a little tougher so that one came in 2:20 later. But amazingly the splits for laps 3 and 4 were 2:17 and 1:57 respectively!! This is very exciting because I have never been known as someone who can pull off negative splits! I still did slow from my first lap, but overall there is only a 23 second deviation from my fastest to slowest lap and my first three laps were within 10 seconds of each other. I am very excited by this progress!

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday and some other family related issues I haven’t done any running since, but I have been keeping up with my regular workouts. Also, a few too many ‘allowances’ in my diet has made my weight loss has stall. I haven’t worked this hard to let it all get away from me though, and I am excited double down my focus starting tomorrow and get myself back on track! (Pun intended!)

Timed Runs, Pacing, Form, Progress

So, race season is officially over for me. I don’t have anything else lined up until April 1st 2017 when I will complete the famous Monument 10k. I have been meaning to make it back to a track to test myself and see where my mile time is. I know it’s not where I would have wanted it to be at this point, but I am pretty often unrealistic and overly ambitious with my goals. Despite not having anything official to gauge myself on I can say that I am at least improving. In addition to my regular strength training workouts, I have started running a couple of times a week. I have a problem though with always wanting to overdo things; the thought that more/harder is always better, which is often not the case. To help with this I have been limiting my runs to twenty minutes. Whatever distance I cover in that time is the distance I run for that day. This prevents me from pushing myself too hard on days where I am not feeling 100%. Previously I would always want to beat or match my distance from the run before. I still want to push myself to go a little further in that time frame, but twenty minutes of running is twenty minutes of running; there is only but so much damage I can do in that amount of time. I find that this also helps me with my pacing. I tend to always go out too hard in the beginning and I’m dying by the end of the run. I’ve been trying to run out for ten minutes and then run back in ten minutes. The only ‘pushing’ I do is to try to make it back to the starting point within the twenty minutes. This way, even though I am tired, I am forced to maintain the pace of the first ten minutes. It’s been going really well. I have had some up days and down days, but overall I am trending faster and that is a good feeling.

I’ve been using the runs as a way to improve my running. I am really trying to focus on my breathing. I am definitely a mouth breather and that has always been a big problem. A dry mouth, sore throat, and a side stitch are never helpful to a runner. I’ve been trying to breathe only through my nose and to keep my breaths deep and steady. I’m also focusing on doing more diaphragmatic breathing rather than my usual shallow chest breathing. It’s hard to fix this though, especially since my respiratory system has always been my problem. I’ve also been focusing on form. My biggest problems right now are probably lack of core engagement and foot strike. I don’t think I am the worst heel striker around, but I do notice that I do it way more often than I’d like to. I recently got a set of ShoeCue inserts. Since I am in need of a new pair of running shoes anyway I am going to wait until I get the shoes until I start using them, but I am excited about eliminating the heel strike! As for the core engagement, that’s another tough one. My core collapsing happens so naturally and it’s difficult for me to focus on it when I am focusing on everything else. I need to do more core work on my strength training days but finding time for everything is proving to be difficult. The less egregious form mistakes are keeping my shoulders down and preventing my arms from crossing my midsection. I don’t find them to be as critical so I am mostly focused on the other ones for now, but I try to be mindful of them as much as I can.

I am pretty pleased with my progress though. Not only are the runs starting to feel a little easier, but they feel easier while I am covering a longer distance. I have been noticeably less sore recently than when I first started. So I am moving faster, covering a longer distance and am less and less sore. That’s exciting progress!! I really think that being in ketosis is helping out with this a great deal. There have been two runs that I’ve done on days after having a higher carb day and they both were pretty miserable. It’s remarkable how much of a difference it makes. Those days were the much more familiar heavy breathing, suffering, twisting and jerking runs than the strong confident runs that I have had while in ketosis.  So just how much progress does this all amount to?  My first run, which was just about a month ago, I had an average pace of 11:17 per mile. My most recent run I had an average pace of 9:54 per mile! That means that I officially ran two miles in under twenty minutes which is thrilling!! To put it into better perspective, in my Evaluation post I ran my first timed mile at 9:45 and now I am running two miles at a 9:54 pace! Also keep in mind that these runs are not on a flat surface. Overall there isn’t much elevation change but the hills that are present are definitely slowing me down. I am excited to get back to a track and see what I can actually do now. I don’t want to be too ambitious, but if I can pace two miles at 9:54 I think I am can do one in pretty close to 9 minutes flat. That’s the goal at least. Then there is only a measly 4 more minutes to chop off, too easy!!

Ketosis: My Ketogenic Experiment

So I have made a few references to it in the previous race posts, but I didn’t want to go into too much detail without first writing this post. I have been experimenting with a Ketogenic diet for the past two months and I wanted to talk about what my experience has been thus far.

Part of me trying to take control of my life and health has exposed me to a lot of new ideas. The Ketogenic diet is the most intriguing one I have come across so far. For those who aren’t familiar with the diet it is a low-carb, medium-protein, high-fat diet.  When I first heard about it I thought it was quite strange. I have known for some time that sugar is awful and that it is the cause of a lot of the chronic health problems so many people suffer with everyday. Not only is it implicated in obesity and diabetes but also cancer and even heart disease. Knowing this it would seem like reducing sugar is a no-brainer. The problem with reducing sugar is that it is our body’s go-to energy source. Anyone ever suffering from a ‘low blood sugar’ moment knows how awful eliminating sugar can be. You get tired, you can get dizzy, you get cranky, it’s not a fun state to be in. This would be especially true if you were trying to be active. A single workout can wipe you out, so how are you supposed to get through the rest of the day with no energy?! I have been interested in health and nutrition for some time and while I may not have always lived the right way I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of most of the body’s major functions. For example, I knew that sugar in your body was converted into glycogen. Glycogen stored in your muscles for quick and easy access. If I went out for a quick jog, I knew that my body would be burning off that glycogen and that when that glycogen was gone I would get tired. I also knew that your muscles can only hold a certain amount of glycogen and when emptied it needs to be refilled. Eating too much sugar is bad though because once your body has filled your muscles you start converting that extra energy into fat for use later. So, if you eat a bunch of sugar on a regular basis and aren’t doing enough to burn it off you’ll end up with an ever expanding waistline. Pretty simple, huh?

If only I knew how naive I was!! It’s so interesting to me that I knew that there were two main energy sources we used: sugars and fats.Despite knowing this I never really stopped to consider where fat comes into this equation at all. In the overly simplified description above there is no mention of fat in the energy chain at all. And also, when someone does lose fat, how does that happen? How does the body use it? Is it just changed into glycogen for your muscles to use? So many unanswered questions that I never even considered! Well, the answer isn’t too complicated. The above information is still true, the body does use glycogen pretty readily for energy but that isn’t the body’s only pathway. In a stroke of evolutionary brilliance we have developed another metabolic pathway to also use fat as energy when sugars might not be available (well actually there is even a third, the phosphogenic pathway, but that’s for another blog post). When you do not have enough glycogen around to keep yourself moving your body will oxidize fatty acids for energy. Your liver breaks down these fatty acids into something called a ketone body. Your body can use these ketone bodies, or ketones, for fuel as effectively as it can glycogen. In fact, research has shown that the brain actually functions better on ketones  than it does on glycogen. When your body is making ketones for fuel you are said to be in  a state of Ketosis. Once I learned this I finally understood why the body would store fat and how it uses that fat for energy. Understanding this can make a huge difference in your approach to losing excess body fat.

A ketogenic diet then tries to play off of this natural adaptation we have to optimize our bodies. While most people immediately jump to it being a ‘low-carb’ diet (because that’s a term they are familiar with it) is actually more of a high-fat diet. What you want to do is to get your body used to burning fat for fuel rather than sugars. As the liver is critical in both glycogen and ketone synthesis you can’t have both fat and sugar in your diet at the same time. Eating sugar will inhibit your ability to produce ketones, so you need to keep your sugar intake low. I have read a lot of different things about what the magic number of carbs is, but the truth of the matter is that is different for every individual. One thing everyone agrees on is to keep it under 100 grams per day. Most people agree that it should be under 50 grams and it’s even better under 30 grams. Many people have had great success at 10 grams or less! It is important to remember that while ketones are used for energy there are some body functions that rely on glycogen so it’s important to get enough to keep everything running smoothly. The point here is to become healthier, not to make yourself sick because you want to look better in a swimsuit. You also want to watch your protein intake, and this is one area that the Atkin’s diet does not address. This is also a topic for another blog post, but if you have excess protein in your system your body will actually convert that protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. You should focus on eating the healthy fats found in foods like Olive oil, Avocados, and butter. Stay away from the bad fats like trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and vegetable oils.

I could go on and on about what the ketogenic diet is, but the purpose here is to identify it and give a point of reference for my future posts. I tried to keep it simple so I apologize for anything I missed or oversimplified. I also apologize if there are any errors above but I am still learning. Also, I am not a medical professional, so while I am happy to help answer questions please consult with your physician and/or do your own research before attempting a ketogenic diet. Moving on!

So far my results have been fantastic! At the time of writing I have lost around 22 pounds (around 10kg) and of that over 18 pounds (over 8kg) is solely from fat! I have been weighing myself almost every day on my Fitbit Aria scale to get my weight, body fat %, and lean mass. I wanted to be sure that the weight loss could actually be attributed to fat and not muscle or water weight so I made a spreadsheet that is tracking all of that. I will post an image of it when I am through my first three months. My energy level has improved a great deal and my brain fog is gone! When I am at work I am able to focus better and my production has increased. My hunger has decreased, I no longer get ‘hangry’ and I no longer get my low blood sugar headaches. I have been keeping up with my workouts and I have noticed no decrease in performance and I’m even finding I’m increasing reps and weight for some of the exercises. I have found my running has improved as well, which I will address in detail in an upcoming blog post. Overall, I can’t say enough about how much changing my diet has improved my day to day. It does get a little hard to maintain it sometimes in social situation or when planning dinners with my wife, who is not on the diet. Despite these challenges though I think this is something that I will likely maintain for the rest of my life, it’s that powerful! As this post was a bit more focused on what the ketogenic diet actually is I will, in future posts, explain more how it has been affecting my athletic performance.

I have included a couple of screenshots from my FitBit data to show just how dramatically things have been changing. Can you make a guess at which point in the graph I started the ketogenic diet?? 🙂

VCU Health 8K – Richmond, VA (2016)

The VCU Health 8K was my final race of the 2016 season. It was not a Spartan Race or any other obstacle race, it was just a regular road race.I have completed this race 2 times before and I was really excited to try it again this year. I was hoping to use this run as a way of gauging how much improvement I have made since I started all of this. Being that it isn’t an obstacle race it is a much better indication of how my running is progressing. Also, this course is quite flat. With the exception of the last mile of the race there is very little elevation change, which I also thought would help me do well in the race. I have also been doing some training runs which have been getting better and better. Overall, I was very excited to run this race. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned.

Now I don’t want what follows to be taken as a list of complaints or excuses, because they are not. I realize that most of what I am about to say is my fault so I only have myself to blame. Even still, the events that transpired resulted in a disappointing finish.

First and foremost I got another sinus infection just before the race. If you recall I had this problem with the Virginia Super Spartan. I have been told by a doctor that these sinus infections appears to be allergy related, but I have been too lazy to get any tests done to determine the cause. Due to family obligations I didn’t get to sleep until around 11:30pm the night before the race. The race started at 7am and I wanted to leave my house around 5:45 so that I could get some light breakfast, find parking, and make it to the start line with time to warm up/stretch. To accomplish this I had to get up at 5am. While I got a few hours of good sleep I woke up tired and was moving very slowly and confusedly while getting ready for the race. When I was finally ready I was already 15 minutes late, so no breakfast. I left my house and drove to the event. About 500 feet from the exit I was going to take I had a dreadful realization: I forgot my bib (which has the timing chip)!! Needless to say this was discouraging. I immediately turned around and raced back home. I ended up getting home around 6:30am, the time I wanted to be approaching the start line. I grabbed my bib and hit the road again. With a small amount of mildly aggressive driving I made it back to the exit around 6:45am, 15 minutes to start. This is a big event, with a lot of participants and as I got closer to the event it was clear parking wasn’t going to be easy. I drove around for what seemed like forever until I finally found a spot. This spot was about 8 blocks from the start line. Time check: 6:55am! From here I had to run to the start line, weaving between all of the responsible people who showed for their races early. About halfway to the start line I realize something else, I forgot my phone! So no app tracking of my performance and no music. Not too big of a deal, but they are things that help to make the experience a little more fun. As I am running to the start line the race starts and I am now running in the opposite direction of the first wave runners. Luckily there were plenty of people still in corral and they were still walking to the the gate when I got there so I just blended right into the back of the pack and tried to catch my breath.

Very soon after the race started it was clear I wasn’t in the condition I wanted to be in. I managed to run the entire first mile, but it was a struggle. I checked my watch and my first mile was around 12 minutes, 2 minutes slower than my normal morning runs. I shook it off and walked a bit to try to calm down. Over the next mile and a half it was a bit of running and walking. I also had to stop to use the bathroom. Around 2.5 miles in I was walking and breathing hard; I had to have a serious talk with myself. I tried to put everything into perspective and to get all of the mornings issues out of my mind. I reminded myself that I have been training for this. I felt the only reason I was performing so badly is because I was too in my own head, so I got my mindset right and decided to try again. With my mind calm and breathing in check I started running and much to my surprise things went really well from here on. Not only did I keep running but I actually was able to make it the next two and a half miles without stopping to walk at all. Not only that but I actually made up a lot of time. The first two miles took me just over 30 minutes to complete. The remaining (almost) 3 miles only took me 27 minutes to complete. I can’t deny a big part of that is the massive downhill section that is the last half mile of the race, but still I was pretty proud of it. 

I didn’t finish in the time that I wanted to (50 minutes or below) but all things considered I think I did well and I learned some valuable lessons. Any race is a stepping stone to where I want to be. I can still be proud that I completed it and that I never gave up. It is a fun race but I’m not sure I’ll do it again next year, if I get to where I want to be I might step it up and move up to the half marathon!

One last thing I’d like to mention. I had said the last bit of the race is downhill. It’s a pretty steep decline and you are able to get up a good amount of speed. Being that I was trying to make up time I really opened up and took full advantage of the speed boost. I have to say, it felt amazing! It was so nice to run like I used to. To feel the air moving past me, to feel my feet moving quickly beneath me, to be zipping past all of the other racers. It really brought me back to my ‘glory days’ and really reminded me what I am doing all of this for. If nothing else I am very happy to have run this race just to have experienced that!

Spartan Race – Carolina Beast at Carolina Adventure World

First of all I want to apologize for how late this post is. Things have been a little busier than normal for me and it’s been hard to find the time to sit down and write. Regardless, here is the post!

 

Wow! This was a great race.

I’m not even really sure where to start off with this one… Oh well, why not the weather. The weather for this race was absolutely perfect. It was a nice cool morning, but not so cold that anyone needed to keep warm. The temperature rose steadily through the day capping off around a nice and warm 80 degrees. The sun was out but it did not feel oppressive. It was a great low-humidity day. It was some of the best racing weather I’ve ever had the pleasure  of experiencing.

I arrived early enough this year to not know if the parking situation was as much of a mess as it was last year, but I suspect it was at least somewhat better. The event was sold out though and as I was leaving I noticed that they did a very good job putting  a car anywhere they could. This is a very popular race. I actually arrived early enough to walk around and check everything out and get ready slowly and with adequate time to stretch. I always mean to arrive with enough time for that, but lately it just hasn’t been working out. I will have to make sure to get there with enough time going forward. With the exception of the bag check being placed on the opposite end of the festival area as the showers/changing area I thought the festival area was very spacious and well laid out. There was a good view of quite a few obstacles including the Z-Wall, Monkey Bars, Herc Hoist, Barbwire Crawl, Dunk Wall, Rope Climb, Inverted Wall and the Slip Wall.

The festival area was not the only thing that was well organized. The race itself was extremely well thought out. The first few miles were mostly flat trails that you could easily run/jog. It was great scenery and was really enjoyable. Around mile 6 things started to get much more steep and much more technical. It was here that I really had to slow down a bit. I’m not in good enough shape to run up hill yet and the downhills were a little too steep for my knees. This was a welcome change this year though. The past two years this course was almost completely flat. These elevation changes really added a different element to the race and I am glad they included it this year. Apparently the course designer from last year was insulted that people were claiming his race was easy, and he definitely stepped it up this year! At around mile 9 the course changed again and it sent you through a good amount of shallow water and sand. After you cleared that the course gave way to quite a bit of thick, slick mud. It was nice to get dirty again, I feel like Spartan has really moved away from the term ‘mud run’ and it was great to see it return to it’s roots. Around mile 11 you came back closer to the festival area and while there were still a good amount of hills it also had some more flats. Overall it was great having the race flow the way it did; it always kept you guessing and was never boring.

As for my performance I have to say I am very pleased. Of course, it’s not where will want to be, but all things considered I did quite well! I handled the first 6 miles with no problem. I wasn’t trying to kill myself but I was trying to move a little quicker than I have been in my recent races. I didn’t feel like I needed any fuel for the first 6 miles and was feeling pretty strong. At the mile 6 water station I decided to have a Quest bar. I wasn’t feeling super fatigued yet, but per the advice I got from a fellow racer on this blog I took it early, before I bonked. I am glad I did too. Without it the hills over the next few miles would have killed me. Also, there wasn’t any water between mile 8 and 11. While the hills did slow me down I was still moving at a good pace. That is until mile 9. I try to be as polite as possible on the course and if I hear a fellow racer coming up behind me I try to step aside and let them by. I did this during mile 9, but wasn’t watching my footing carefully enough. I stepped off to the side of a downhill slope and stepped in a nice patch of slick pine needles: I fell. Not hard, but hard enough. As soon as I got up I knew there was something wrong with my knee. I’ve hurt this part of my knee before so I was familiar with it. It wasn’t a bad pain, but it was still there. It was just enough that I wasn’t really able to run the rest of the race. I was able though to power walk a bit without pain. I did try to jog a little here and there, but I could tell I had a limp and figured it was best not to push the issue. It’s a shame because I know I would have finished with a better time, but at the end of the day it’s more important to have a good time than it is to seriously injure yourself. Despite the injury everything was going fine and I was moving at a good pace. With the exception of the Atlas Carry I did no burpees until around mile 11 at the Tyro Traverse. Now that they have made the rope more slack and made the traverse an incline I can’t get more than half way before I fall off. It’s definitely something to work toward. After that things started getting bad for me. They packed all of the burpee obstacles into the very end of the race and I was already feeling pretty gassed at that point. I really slowed down those last few miles. I was proud of myself though, the only times I stopped moving was to prepare for an obstacle. And even when I did I took far less time than I usually do. I also did my burpee sets much faster than usual. Lately I have been needing to do them in sets of 5, but I busted out a few sets of 10 and the recovery time between each was greatly diminished from previous races. All of the racers agreed that Spartan lied about those last 2 miles though. It was WAY longer than 2 miles. It was almost even comically so. It’s about the only thing people were talking about for the duration of the race. I even heard a phone conversation as I was leaving where one of the top elite finishers was telling someone about it. I can’t really complain though, the point of these things is to be difficult and challenging. I finished the race with my standard 120 burpees. It’s funny because as I get better and overcome one obstacle they change/add/improve another one so that I fail. I love the constant push to always be better and stronger. It is really quite motivating for me.

Everything considered this was a really great race. I hope next year is something similar. I also can’t wait to come back in better shape and slash my finishing time. Things have been rough, but they are getting better every day and I am getting super pumped about what the future holds. I’ve already signed up for almost all of my races for next year and I can’t wait for race season to begin!!

I snagged a picture of the course for this year, check it out!

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Until next time!