Friday, July 30, 2010

Weighing In

Fuzzy scale available here.
I've seen a flurry of blog posts and comments whizzing around the internets these past couple of weeks on the subject of running and weight. Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while know that I am not shy about discussing this issue and definitely buy into the lighter=faster hypothesis (acknowledging notable outliers like Chris Solinsky and Erin Donahue).  So, it has been interesting to see what others have to say on the subject.

Girl in Motion has been candidly blogging about her plans for becoming a lighter runner and has provided useful tips for other runners looking to shed some pounds.  She links to this healthy conversation about weight loss, and, in this post, she makes the important distinction between weight and racing weight.  I want to follow that thread just a little further.

Racing Weight

I like that GIM called out racing weight versus, say, your everyday, off-season weight.  This is a modest but important distinction.  When I discuss my plans for weight loss, I recognize that the weight I get myself down to before an important event is likely not a weight that I can (or want to) sustain for long beyond that goal race.  I have to work, and work very carefully, to get myself down below 125 and 10-11% body fat.  The pounds don't fly off simply by ramping up my mileage during marathon training, though sometimes I wish they would.  Higher mileage means I have to eat more to sustain the volume and intensity of my training.  Skimp on nutrition, and I'm on the road to injury.

With a big marathon only 10 1/2 weeks off, my weight and body fat levels have been on my mind.  Even though I was doing some pretty intense cross training (or perhaps because I was), my weight peaked at about 128 during the 6 weeks I took off from running back in February, March and April.  That figure is about 3 lbs. heavier than what I weighed right before the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2009.  Slowly, and I mean slowly, the pounds have been coming off.  That's not a bad thing because it means that my weight loss has been smart.  But, as I mentioned above, it has taken much discipline in my eating and training.


Part of this discipline amounts to carefully recording everything I eat and evaluating its nutritional value.  I try to maintain a certain ratio of carbs-protein-fat based on where I am in my training, loosely following Chris Carmichael's program in his book Food for Fitness.  What I have found from doing this for a couple of years is that I am designing my own program based on my own data.  This is immensely geeky but really useful.  I can look back at my records for the months leading up to Twin Cities last year and analyze what I ate, how many calories I took in and at what ratio of carbs-protein-fat.  I also know that I was losing weight (in a healthy way) but also becoming fitter resulting in a 2:46 marathon.

When I looked at the numbers recently, I found the total number of calories I was consuming stunning mainly because it was about 25% lower than any of the calorie calculators said I needed to take in to maintain my weight.  I recognize that the calculators may be accurate and that the way I calculate my caloric intake may be off by 25%.  Regardless, if I recorded the number of calories these calculators said I needed, I would be sporting an extra 5-10 pounds each year.  Knowing how much I can eat (using my method of calculation) for a given amount of weight loss/gain is priceless.   Bottom line: I highly recommend getting to know your body better by keeping track of the foods you eat and doing your own mini-experiments.  You'll be surprised at how much you can learn over time.     

For the last few days, I have weighed in just under 125.  I have steadily lost about a pound per month since April.  There have been some ups and downs as I've battled GI issues and bloat, but I finally feel normal again.  My body fat is still up around 11%, and I'd like it to get back down to 10% before the race.  While I don't have a specific weight goal, I can see myself getting into the low 120s and feeling good about that especially with a concomitant body fat measurement around 10%.  The best news is that my energy level has never been higher, and I haven't been falling victim to the 3 p.m. energy trough that I had begun to appreciate as a normal part of my daily life.

To My Health

Ultimately, my intense interest (that some might read as obsession) with food and weight issues has made me a much healthier human being.  This became clear to me the other day when I was buying groceries at my favorite store, Trader Joe's.  The checker was scanning my food items and said, "hey, you should really think about cutting out all of this junk food."  He was being completely sarcastic, of course.  He smiled and then said, "You don't have a single bad item in this cart."  Wow, I thought.  Five, no, even two years ago the cart would have been loaded with sugary snacks, processed crap food and fatty dairy products.  This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of becoming a runner: a relationship with food where I view it as fuel for my body rather than a vice.  I smile when I think that I could be eating all of those foods and not getting fat, but I really don't want to anymore.  That is a true life change.


While people typically associate weight loss with looking better, I have to say that I don't like the way I look when my body fat is low.  As a 43-year old who has spent some time frolicking in the sun, every single line and wrinkle seems a lot more visible when my body fat drops.  There's just less fluff underneath to plump up my skin, I guess.  Well, I may look like I'm 50, but this old lady will smoke your ass in the next marathon!  

Happy scales, everyone!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Master Nats: the 1500m

What a great experience this track meet has been.  It had been so long since I had spent this much time at a meet, I had forgotten about all of the excitement and emotion that is involved.  There's just something so cool about watching a fast 30-something speedster burning it up around the track at the same time a 75-year-old pole vaulter takes to the air and soars over the bar.  I had forgotten how emotional these events can be too.  There's nothing like that spontaneous welling up of tears that overcomes you when watching a particularly gutsy performance.  My hat's off to all of the athletes that competed this week in the track and field events.  And, a big thank you to all of the meet officials, volunteers and staff that made this meet possible.  It was a fantastic experience.

Today, I ran a race that is completely out of my comfort zone: the 1500m.  I was racing (and I use that term loosely) against a world record holder in the 2000m steeplechase (set two weeks ago and then broken this week), an Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon (aka t-meat) and several others with impressive qualifying marks.  I had a really strong sense that this would be a tactical race given the favorite had run and won the 2000m steeple and the 800m over the last few days.  She has a big kick and therefore no reason to go out fast.

To set the stage a little, I didn't have the feeling of dread or resignation that I did before the 5000m race on Thursday.  Instead, I was excited, verging on nonchalance about this race.  It is so far out of my normal realm of racing that it just seemed like it couldn't be anything but fun.  When planning last night's pre-race meal, I recalled an interview with Bernard Lagat after a big 1500m win where he said he liked to eat a big steak the night before a 1500m race.  So, I decided that sounded like a smart thing to do and had a flank steak, mashed potatoes and green beans for dinner.  I washed it down with red wine, hung out with some friends for a bit and had a nice piece of leftover gluten-free chocolate birthday cake at home.  Luckily, this pre-race meal sat very well in me, and I think it might be a keeper for shorter distance races.

I was even more excited this morning warming up and watching my friends running their 1500m races.  It was fun watching the different tactics that were being used out there, though most of the races were pretty wide open within the first couple of laps.  I had a good warm up, changed into my spikes and headed out to the starting area for some strides.  As I darted around, I heard an overwhelming number of good luck wishes.  Thank you so much to everyone who cheered for me.  It was kind of humbling, actually.  Just before we lined up, I told myself, "Today, you are not a marathoner.  Today, you are a miler."

The gun goes off, and I start to close in on lane one from my position in lane 8.  T-meat is on my left and we immediately hear her coach yell, "Midori, do not take the lead."  As soon as that was said, there was a noticeable slowing of the pace as everyone bunched up into a tight pack.  I actually let out a little chuckle at that point.  I knew I was in trouble right away, because the pace felt so relaxed, just like the pacing of the mile race I ran in Davis a couple of weeks ago.  It was there that I learned that a tactical race does not favor my strengths.

The tactical race pack (photo credits: Maria Glickman) 
I had a fantastic split taker (thanks Carla!!!) who yelled out "79, 80" as we came back to the start marking our first 400m split.  Damn. That was so slow.  I was in 3rd place at this point on the shoulder of the leaders and there were 4 of us bunched up into a tight little pack all in lane 1.  This was actually unnerving to me.  I was so worried about stepping on someone or being stepped on.  As we came around for the 800m split, Carla yelled out "80, 81."  We had actually slowed!  Ouch.  I knew what was coming, I just didn't know when.

In a gutsy move, t-meat makes the pace honest.
From the looks of my Garmin output, the pace picked up with about 600-700m left to go, and boy, did it pick up.  I held my own through most of the third lap, struggling to maintain contact with the lead pack.  I was stunned when Carla gave me my splits after the race on a slip of paper showing a 73 for my third lap.  I think the lead pack must have done more like a 71-72.  Of course, I sustained that pace for about another 100m before my legs became cement and I began going backwards in a big way.  My last 300m split was a whopping 61 seconds.  I came in 5th in my race with a final time of 4:54, which is a big PR.  My goal was to break 4:48, but today's race was not a race for time.  I am more than happy to let the time goal go in favor of having given my best during the race and having remained a contender for at least 1200m against the talent that was there today.

As one of my Impala teammates said after the race: "you were in the race of the day."  It was that.
At the watering hole after the race with Hover K, one of my training partners, who ran a smokin' race today!

After the race, the winner (by 3 seconds!), Lisa Valle, came up to me and asked my name.  She was so impressed that t-meat and I, a couple of marathoners, were out there racing.  She congratulated me on a good race.  I think I may have genuflected slightly when I told her how impressed I was with her performances.   To that she said, "No, you guys are impressive.  I train for this every day, so I should be fast.  You guys probably have to go out and run another 20 miles today, right?"  "Ten." I said, with a smile.  She said she had another mile to run and she was done.

I was telling The Genius on our cool down run that I love these kinds of experiences.  You don't perform as well as you hope, but you know you can do better with more training and experience.  I developed a thirst for this speed stuff over the last couple of months and I find the prospect of dedicating a chunk of my life to getting faster at the short distances very exciting.  I also realized that is what it takes.  You can't expect a huge pay off from 4-6 weeks of speed training.  You need months, even years.  I am hoping that I can get my marathon qualifier out of the way this fall so I can do this speed training some justice in preparation for the Masters World Championships which will also be held here in Sacramento next summer.  How cool is that?          

It's now time to shift gears for me.  I only have 11 weeks left before my big marathon in Chicago.  That doesn't seem like a whole lot of time to me.  But, I am ready to get back to what I know best: lots of miles and long, hard workouts.
Happy as a clam!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Master Nats: the 5000

Today was day one of the Masters' National Track and Field Championships here in Sacramento, and one of my dogs is already wearing a silver medal. While I placed well in the 5000m race, it was not one that I will spend too much time reflecting on.

First off, I spent way too much time worrying about the weather, which was just as nasty hot as all of the weather apps on my iPad predicted. My original goal was to run 17:30, and I believe that I am in 17:30 shape. However, I thought the race would be run at 8 a.m., when the temperatures would be cooler. We ran at 11:12 today. I think the temperatures were in the high 70s, but the weather channels showed a "feels like" of 86F. Not 5k friendly.

I was advised by Coach Nicole and our Impalas Track Coach to abandon my time goal based on the weather forecast and just race the race. What was very clear, was their advice to definitely not go out too fast. I was advised to shoot for 86-88 seconds per lap for the first 1600 and see how that felt.

Given this strategy, I was not interested in keeping track of my time. I decided I would not look at my splits except to ensure I wasn't going out too fast for the first lap. I wore my Garmin, but never looked at it. Our race was scheduled for 10:50, but we were delayed by 20+ minutes. So, we stood around baking in the sun on the track for 20 minutes while another 5k race finished up.
Draft Master J in the Master Nats 5k (thanks for the photo, Maria and Jim!).

From the gun, I was in the lead pack and went through the first 200 with this group in about 42 seconds.  That was a little fast, but not awful.  The eventual winner (who is in the 35-39 age group), took off after that first 200 and led the rest of the race.  I was with two other 40-44 year old runners at this point.  We got to the 400m mark and we had slowed some.  I think our split was 87, though I can't be sure.  T-meat's coach called out to her that she was going too slow, so she immediately picked it up.  I had another competitor to draft off of, so I stayed put and decided to go with my plan of staying slow through 1600.  My pacer at this point was slowing faster than I realized, and I think we had a couple of 89-90s in that first mile.  So, I passed her just before the 1600m split and saw 5:52-5:53 on the clock.  By this time, my main competition, t-meat, had a good 50m lead on me.
And then, I was all alone.  For the rest of the race...
At this point, I was by myself, 10-15 seconds behind my age group competition, 10-15 seconds ahead of the next competitor.  There was no point in doing anything but staying strong and sticking to my plan.  So, I ran the second 1600 in about 5:49, the last in 5:54 and a 40 second last 200m.  While slow, this may have been one of the most even 5k races I've ever run.  It was a negative split for sure.

My final time was 18:17, which isn't horrible given the conditions.  As I reflect, oh so briefly, on this race, I realize that I ran the smartest possible race I could have.  While I would have loved to have let it all hang out today (which, based on the pictures I've seen surface may have happened with the shorts I was wearing--yikes!) that wasn't an option for me.  I simply have too much at stake.  The chances of overheating and being laid up from training for many days or even a week were too high for me to chance.  I am fine with my decision to be tactical, which doesn't always mean running fast.  I ran as fast as I needed to to place where I wanted, and I know I will have no problem jumping into an 82-mile week next week in prep for my marathon.

The bottom line is that I have been working on my speed for a couple of months now, and it has improved.  That training, not this race, was the goal.  I have no doubt that all of this work will pay off for me in my upcoming marathons and other races.

That being said, I do have a 1500m race coming up on Sunday.  I am really looking forward to this one because the heat will not be a factor, and I feel like the race is short enough that I can run hard and not compromise my future training.  I also feel like I have a better sense of how to pace that race given the mile race I ran a couple of weeks ago.  And, there are plenty of clocks on this track!  Look for more on Sunday after the race!

Good job to everyone who raced out there today, especially my little Genius who apparently is an alien, unaffected by heat.  He ran a 10 second PR in a perfectly-paced race, 20 minutes AFTER my race was over.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The war on gluten and lactose

As I ended my cleanse this weekend, I was feeling somewhat better, but not completely.  I decided to turn my attention to the foods that I eat on a daily basis to see whether I could relieve some of the symptoms by cutting them out.  My coach had sent me some good information about food sensitivity and I was getting other good information from a number of others about how diet changes helped relieve similar issues (Thanks, Joanna, for your comment on my house cleaning post).

I targeted gluten and lactose because these seem to be the two most common items that people are sensitive to.  Plus, the change in diet is relatively easy to implement.  I don't believe that I have celiac disease, so there isn't a need to completely eliminate all gluten from my diet.  My goal is to reduce it enough to see whether it makes a difference.  At first I thought this would be a serious chore, but it turns out there are lots of alternatives available, particularly since I don't have to stick to a purely gluten-free diet.  Some items are not labeled as gluten free because they may be prepared on equipment that had gluten-containing products on them.

So, another trip to Whole Paycheck on Sunday lightened my wallet a lot but bought me brown rice loaf, brown rice bagels, brown rice pasta…  You get the picture.  I'll be eating a lot of brown rice-based products.  I also found many gluten-free items at Trader Joe's, which is a relief.  They have rice-based bread, tortillas and pasta.  So, at least this change in diet won't break the bank.

As for the lactose, there's a somewhat simpler solution.  Lactaid makes many products that are lactose free.  In fact, I'm drinking a lactose-free non fat latte right now!  Soy milk is another alternative, of course.  And, I can also take lactaid pills before I eat dairy products to give my gut a little boost of lactase to help digest the diary product of my choice.

I ran 20 miles Sunday morning, biked 8 miles to breakfast with The Genius, walked the dogs and then did a weight circuit at the gym later that day.  I needed a lot of calories, but I felt like I needed one last forbidden meal before making my change.  I asked The Genius what would be the worst thing I could eat if in fact I was sensitive to lactose and gluten.  We agreed it would be pizza.  So, we went to one of our favorite restaurants, Tuli Bistro, and asked them to make their special smoky goat pizza with chorizo, jalapenos, mozzarella and goat cheese on a wheat flour crust.  It was delightful, but my gut paid the price.

Monday, I was still paying for the goat pizza, but today, something miraculous happened.  I woke up without feeling like I ate a brick the night before.  And, when I drank my morning latte, I didn't feel like I was hosting a bubble fiesta in my belly.  I am hopeful that this change will help with my tummy issues.  Once I am back to feeling normal, I'll try adding some things back to my diet to see whether or not I truly am sensitive to them.  I think it should be pretty obvious to find the troublemakers then.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Senior Games

I was running late for the track meet and barely had time to scarf down a bagel with peanut butter, cream cheese, a poached egg and ham.  Parking was a nightmare.  We had to park 2 miles from the track and I only had 20 minutes before my race started.  I was sprinting with my spike bag under my right arm, my special tea elixir in my left hand, dressed in my street clothes, hoping I would get to the stadium in time.  I had to climb a tree to get into the stands, but I also needed to find a place to change out of my street clothes.  I decided I didn't have enough time, so I dropped my pants right there and started flinging clothes everywhere.  I had 5 minutes before the race when I noticed that my bra was laying in the dirt at the base of the tree I had climbed.  Damn it.  I needed to retrieve that.  I couldn't leave it there for the world to see!  So, I climbed down the tree and grabbed it.  I stuffed it in my bag and tried to run to the starting line, but my legs were chained together and there was a lock.  This was really unfortunate. How was I going to get the chain off in time for my race?  Then, I heard a dog belch in the offing.  I opened my eyes and saw my dog Sadie staring at me.

When I have anxiety dreams like that one before a race, I know I'm in trouble.  From the moment I woke up this morning, I was filled with dread about this mile race.  And, you can see why with a terrible dream like that.  I have been training for shorter distance events for a little over a month, and my training has been going well.  What I really need is practice racing at these distances, and today's race was to be that for me.  Practice.  Just practice.  So why was I so anxious?  I have no idea.

What really happened before the race was completely boring.  My water retention issues have eased mostly, but not completely thanks (maybe) to the poopy cat barf cleanse I've been on (tomorrow's the last day!).   So, physically, all systems were a go, but mentally I was overheating.  I had a little time to jog for about 10 minutes before they called us to the starting line early.  I still managed to get my spikes on and do a couple of strides before we lined up for the last time and got our final instructions.  The faces in the crowd were familiar--there were some fast masters women in this race, which was great!  

The gun went off and I found myself tucked in behind t-meat.  I knew that she would be running faster than me today, but I wanted to try to stick with her for as long as I could.  The pace felt leisurely for the first lap, and I was grateful that I hadn't gone out in the lead.  I would have definitely taken us out too fast.  I was wearing my Garmin (which I now understand is illegal), but I did not look at it at all in the race.  This was a mistake because the split timing was off, and for some reason, the clock was displaying our time at the finish line mark in the wrong direction.  (UPDATE: After viewing pictures of the finish, I now realize there was no clock).  So, our only feedback was coming from the person yelling the splits (Woo, Woo!), but I'm not sure what splits these were.  After our first lap (+9 meters), we heard 79, I think.  That was good, I thought.  I was still on t-meat's tail for the 2nd lap and we heard 2:30 as we completed our second lap.  This gave me a little pause since I didn't feel like I was running @ 5:00 pace.  Then, the leader kicked it into gear, and I did too--but not for long.  I was a few seconds back by the end of the 3rd lap and lost a few more seconds to the leader on the last lap.  Hard Coordt came around my 3 o'clock with 200m to go, and I just watched as she pulled away.  There was no fire in my belly to go along.

Love this picture of the three masters: t-meat, Effin' J and Hard Coordt.  Thanks, D-Murr!

My finishing time was 5:17.  You may recall that I was hoping to be under 5:10, so I didn't meet my goal.  I did set a PR.  My (road) mile PR is 5:32 set in 2006.  I've never run a track mile before.  When I got home, I downloaded my Garmin data and was able to approximate my splits:
  1. 82 (400m+9M) 
  2. 80
  3. 77
  4. 78
So, I actually may have unwittingly negative split that race.  No wonder the supposed 5:00 pace after the first 800 felt so easy.  While my time goal was not met, I was very proud of myself for getting my butt to the starting line and doing the race even though it was the last thing on earth I wanted to be doing.  This is always a challenge and makes me appreciate the days where I am super charged about a race. 

I did a nice cool down with some of the other runners participating in what we learned were called the "Sacramento Senior Games", and then started the rest of my workout:
  • 5 x 50m sprints
  • full recovery
  • 2 sets of 3 x 300m cutdowns (3k, 1500m, 800m effort) w/1 minute recovery between repeats and 2 minutes between sets.
As I was running the sprints on the track, I heard an announcement for the 400m runners to get to the starting line.  I thought, hmmm.  I have to do some 300s anyway, maybe I should do the 400?  So, I ran over to the registration desk to see if it was too late to sign up, and I was given the thumbs up.  The Genius went to the car to retrieve my spikes and a ten spot to pay for my race entry while I waited in my lane for him to return.  With seconds to spare, he returned with the goods, I laced up my spikes and got into my crouching tiger position for the gun.  I have run the 400m distance a couple of times before and my PR was 67.52.  That's right: was.  I ran 67.26 today and won the race!  
Sprinting down the final 100m of the 400m race. Thanks to Jimmy G for the photo.

I was impressed with my change in attitude from how I was feeling about the mile race to being willing to jump into the 400m race 7 minutes before it started.  It always feels good to me to run all out like that.  So, I just kept going.  I did my 6 x 300s and was surprised at how much pep my legs still had on that track as it heated up in the late morning sun.  I was totally going by feel and managed to pull off a true cut down from 60, to 57, to 54 for both sets.  

Tonight, I have 5 miles with 20 minutes at half marathon to marathon effort.  Tomorrow, I'm back to my slogging ways with an easy 20 miler.  

Thanks to all of the folks that made the track meet happen today and congratulations to everyone who competed.  Well done!  

After the meet, at the awards ceremony. Buddy and Sadie receive their medals.  (The real rewards are in the camera person's hands.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cleaning house

I alluded to nondescript belly issues in my last post that were making me feel crappy during my workouts.  This has been going on for a month.  A solid month.  The symptoms: feeling full when I wake up in the morning, water retention (3-4 lbs worth!), sloshy stomach while running, etc.  I kept waiting for the "cycle" to break, assuming it was somehow related to the hormonal party that my body must be having at this time in my life, but this was starting to seem more like a continuum than a cycle.

I realize that these symptoms could be indicative of a larger medical problem, but I feel it necessary to exhaust some home remedy options before attempting to navigate the labyrinth of HMO care.  So far, I have tried watching my salt intake, eliminating all alcohol consumption (gulp), and taking over-the-counter diuretics to relieve the water retention.  None of these have reduced the feeling of having a built-in CamelBak around my midriff.

I found myself at Whole Paycheck over the weekend in the herbal remedy aisle and decided to take drastic action.  I pretty much did an eeny, meeny, miny, mo on the "herbal cleanse" shelf and found a 7-day raw food cleanse that promised results.  It was hard to tell exactly what results I might expect, but I thought it was worth a shot.  I think I'm probably supposed to be changing my eating habits to correspond with the spiritual intent of this product, but that's not practical for me given my training load.

I started the cleanse Monday, so I am in the 3rd day.  What I found out after I dropped the $30 on this product is that it is baby-shit-mixed-with-cat-vomit flavor.  It was not clearly labeled as such, but internet reviews of the product confirmed it.  I have managed to choke down the various treatments daily, hoping that I'll wake up feeling miraculous the next day.

I began questioning this plan last night when I felt like absolute crap during my workout.  I had 12 miles (in the 90-degree heat, of course) that included 10 minutes at tempo (5:56 pace), then a 4 x 1000 breakdown (600m @ 5k goal pace, 200m @ 1500m goal pace, 200m @ 5k goal pace) w/2 minute jog rest.   I barely managed to hold my paces and had to extend the rest between the 3rd and 4th repeats to do so.  It all felt much harder than I wanted.  I hydrated like the dickens after the run and was pleased that my body did not hold the liquid hostage.  Perhaps coincidentally, I was back to my normal weight (-3 lbs. of water weight) this morning and had lost the CamelBak. 

When I initially woke up this morning, I felt like I had been hit by a bus.  Luckily, this feeling passed after I lingered in bed a bit longer.  I have felt even better as the day's progressed.  I normally don't buy into all of the homeopathic garbage about cleanses releasing toxins from your system, blah, blah, blah.  However, I really want to believe that this is what's happening.  I want to believe that the shit-barf-flavored sludge I consume before bed is cleaning me out and that the toxins are being incinerated inside my body, playing ring-around-the-rosy for a couple of days, before being banished for good.           

Luckily, I don't have any brutal workouts scheduled for the next few days so I can keep letting those toxins loose before I ask my legs to run 4 laps fast around the track on Saturday.