Saturday, February 14, 2015

Training update PLUS new gadgets and tools for training

Since I have fallen behind in updating all of you, I am giving you one monster update with lots of exciting new information on some of the things I'm trying out right now to help with my training and recovery. I'm not even going to try to be brief because I am pretty excited about how I am feeling and don't want to skimp on the details. So, grab a beer, cup of joe or some kombucha and enjoy the ride!

Jed Smith 30k 1st female!
1. Training update. The most important news is that I am still on track to run the Napa Marathon on 1 March. This is huge for me given the fits and starts I've had training for marathons and not running them over the last 12 months. The heavy lifting of my marathon training is now behind me, and I have a taper ahead. I have done the biggest workouts of my life in this training cycle (think 10 mile tempo runs within 22 milers and 15+ miles at marathon pace) and they have gone well for the most part. I have raced twice this cycle. The first was a half marathon at the beginning of February where I had a disappointing performance. I was really hoping for a good race, but my body was not cooperating. I had that feeling of breathing easily while my legs were stuck in thick mud. The following weekend, I ran a local 30k quasi-trail race as a workout and that went really well. I started out around 7:00-7:30 pace for the first couple of miles, cruised the middle 14 miles at ~6:20-6:30 pace and cooled down the last 1-2 miles. I won the women's race, set a 30k PR and the course record by 4 minutes.  

The best part of this training cycle is that I feel great. I recovered from my surgery in December and am finally back to excellent health. Though I have had a bad race and a couple of off workouts, for the most part I feel amazing. I actually feel somewhat undertrained to be honest. I don't have the typical total body fatigue that I generally associate with marathon training. My mileage peaked at 80 mpw about 2 weeks ago and I've averaged around 70 for the last 12 weeks. I have also been doing around 3-6 hours of strength and core training each week. I should be tired, but I am not. I have been smart about taking rest when I need it--sometimes delaying workouts when I am feeling really off or even skipping them (did that twice this cycle).

On a fashion note: If you see me flying around in cute running shorts and brightly colored tops (as in the picture above), I am most likely wearing clothes from a company called Janji. I appreciate this company because they have found a way to combine two things I really love: running and environmental protection. They make super cute, high quality running clothes and give back to society by funding individual projects that provide clean water to people around the world. Their colorful clothing and beautiful designs represent the various countries where they are funding projects. I love the idea that some of the money I spend on running clothes (and it is a lot!) doesn't just go to making big companies richer but that it goes to a cause that I can really stand behind.        

2. EnduroPacks. This product or rather supplement regimen may be part of the reason I am feeling so good. I read about it on another runner's blog and began looking into it. I was bothered by the fact that the only reviews of the product I could find were all reviews from people who had been given the product free to try in exchange for a review. All of the reviews were so good, that I was very skeptical. As a coach I am always searching for new products to recommend to my athletes but not until I have tested them myself. So, I ordered a 60 day supply and have been following the regimen the last 2 months. This isn't a single supplement but an actual regimen you have to use every day. It includes taking a liquid multi-vitamin, which is actually really tasty. There's an electrolyte spray that you put in your water during workouts, though I do it after. There's an amino acid patch that you put on your skin right after your workout and finally glutamine capsules that you take every night before bed. This is a  commitment, to be sure, but I have been really good about following it. Most of the reviews I read mentioned the quicker recovery time that they experienced when they started on the regimen. As I said, I have been feeling amazing and obviously recovering really well from some very tough workouts including a lot of extra strength and mobility work. I feel strongly enough about this product that I will continue to take it after Napa despite the somewhat hefty price tag. If it is contributing to how good I feel, it is absolutely worth the cost and extra effort.      

3. Fitbit Surge. I love my Garmin 620 for tracking my running workouts, but I wanted something that would track my non-running activities: enter, the Fitbit Surge. This device has an optical HR monitor that tracks your HR at your wrist so no chest strap is required! I have worn both a chest strap and the Surge and the readings are almost identical. I wear the Surge all day and night to track everything I do, including running, strength work, hot pilates, hot yoga, and even my sleep habits. There are so many things I like about having this information. I have become acutely aware of just how few calories I burn in a day. This was a bit of a surprise to me. I had always used standard activity trackers to estimate calorie burn, but I am finding they are way off. For example, I am consistently finding that I burn about 60-70 calories per mile when I run depending on my HR. I used to think it was 80-90. That's an overestimate of 400 calories burned for a 20 mile run. I was most disappointed with how few calories I burn in strength training classes. In an hour of hot pilates, I burn 175 calories. I burn 400 calories in 90 minutes of bikram yoga. I burn about 150 calories in a kettlebells class. I wanted to believe that this was an underestimate at first because these values were so low. However, it actually makes sense given how low my HR is in these classes. Anytime I lay down, regardless of what I am doing, my HR plunges below 90 and stays there. The point of taking these classes is to gain strength and not necessarily to burn calories of course, so it is somewhat of a geeky novelty to know the numbers. I wanted to believe that the numbers were artificially low for some reason, but the next paragraph explains why I don't think that's true any longer.

The fitbit app and website make it really easy to track my food intake and the device measures my calorie burn via the HR monitor coupled with some equation that includes my height, weight and age. While calorie tracking is wholly inaccurate, I have found that I am able to maintain my weight by taking in roughly the same amount of calories as the Fitbit says I am burning each day. It's kind of crazy how well it works.

One last note about the Fitbit: it has GPS and I have found it to be very accurate, so I often wear it instead of my Garmin on my non-workout running days. A feature that I wasn't sure I would like is text and phone call notifications. I actually really do like it. If my phone is nearby, the watch shows incoming calls and will display text messages. I can also control the music on my iphone from the watch when I have it with me.

4. Racing Weight. Long time readers know that this is a subject I have blogged about before. Getting down to my ideal racing weight is always a struggle for me and I have the disadvantage of being larger than the average quasi-elite endurance athlete, as I outweigh most of the elite men's field at any given marathon. I had my body fat tested today. I like to calibrate my home scale which uses bioimpedance and, while inaccurate, is precise enough for me to track trends over time. I went to a place called Weightless here in Sacramento because they have a BodPod. I've done hydrostatic testing before, but why get dunked in a tank of water and feel like you're drowning when you can sit in an egg and stay comfortable and dry? The accuracy of the two are comparable and the price was too ($50). My body fat is 10%. While that seems low for a lady, it's actually pretty normal for me just before a marathon. What it tells me is that I have done a good job reducing my body fat but that it's about as low as I can go. I only have 13 lbs of it, after all. I have definitely gained muscle mass with the strength training I'm doing and, while I probably have more upper body muscle than I really need, muscle is what counts for a marathoner. It stores glycogen and will carry me to the finish line. Fat is just dead weight. So, I am very happy with my body composition going into this race. I am slightly heavier but as lean as I was heading into my PR marathon in 2010.

I have worked really hard these last couple of months to achieve this leanness. I always run slightly lean, but I know from my home scale that I have lost about 2% body fat over that time period. In case anyone cares, I have a Tanita Ironman Innerscan scale (model BC-554) at home. It read 14% body fat this morning, so that shows the difference in accuracy. Again, for me it does a nice job of showing change over time and that's what matters. While I am doing more strength training than I have in the past, I find leanness begins and ends in the kitchen, or so they say. I cut out all alcohol over two months ago. I have tried to limit my sweets, though that is a constant struggle for me. I pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch, every single day and then I have been trying out some different options for dinner to try to keep it healthy. In tracking my food intake, I find that I consume about 60-65% of my daily calories in carbs. My protein intake is around 15% and my fat intake around 20-25%.

I subscribed to something called the Fresh20 which is a meal planning website that posts a dinner plan each week. It includes 5 meals that feed a family of 4, a grocery shopping list of the 20 fresh (get it?) ingredients that you'll use in those recipes and then fairly simple instructions on how to prepare each meal. We have liked almost every meal we've made and I really like that we rarely throw food out now because we are planning everything in advance. I realized that one of the main reasons I wasn't eating a healthy dinner was due to a failure to plan. With this, I have everything planned for me. I just buy the ingredients on Sunday and then do a little prep each night. The meals generally take 30 minutes to prepare, with a few taking less and more. This has absolutely improved my eating habits and I think I paid $24 for a year's subscription. Cheap.

5. Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV monitoring is a relatively new training tool I've added to my arsenal, so I still consider it to be in the testing phase. However, it has already proven to be really useful to my training. HRV is designed to assess the effects of stress on your body. It is measured as the time gap between your heart beats that varies during respiration. In general, high HRV levels mean you are in good health and have a high level of fitness while decreased levels indicate higher levels of stress, fatigue and burnout. This is a simple thing to measure from a users' perspective. I slip on a bluetooth HR strap (Polar) first thing after I get up in the morning and open up an app that takes my HRV reading from 1 to 3 minutes. Simple. The app then interprets the data and gives me a reading. A single reading is not that useful because you need a baseline so that your readings can be compared to one another over time. The key to getting good data is to be consistent: take a daily reading at the exact same time (not clock time but as soon as you wake).

I have been taking my HRV reading using 3 different apps: a major pain but for the sake of Science! I have found ithlete to be the best. There are two reasons I like this app/web-based program. First, it is the easiest to use. The app always recognizes my HR strap within seconds of opening it and only needs a 60-second reading. The other apps (Sweetbeats and EliteHRV) require a 3 minute reading. Sweetbeats never reads my HR strap on the first try, which is a pain. The other reason I like ithlete is for the user interface, especially the web-based tools. They have created a chart that uses Z-scoring to plot a value that incorporates your activation levels (think of it as energy levels) and recovery levels over time. The more readings you have, the better your baseline and the more useful the information will be. They have shaded quadrants on this chart that indicate where you are in terms of readiness to train.

There are so many cool things to say about this that I may devote an entire post to it once I have more readings and have played with it for a while. The usefulness of it is only as good as the amount of information you put in. You can use the chart to help guide your training in terms of knowing what days you are best suited to the most difficult workouts. You can use the information to help figure out what types of training (strength, yoga, intervals, endurance runs) tend to require more or less recovery. But, perhaps the most useful aspect is in better understanding how other aspects of your life such as stress from work and personal relationships or even stress reduction via meditation or relaxation change your recovery/activation profile. I see this as the biggest issue facing non-pro athletes: they often think they can partition their stress into bins of work/family/training. But, stress is stress to the body. We like to think of exercise as being good for us but it is absolutely a stress on the body. The good part comes when we allow enough rest to recovery and let the body adapt and get stronger. If we can't get that rest and relaxation because we are stressing our systems in all aspects of our lives, then we have to rethink our approach to training and living in order to achieve our athletic goals.

My HRV chart from the ithlete Pro website
This chart shows my HRV readings for about 2 weeks. There are a cluster of readings up in the left hand quadrant of the chart indicating that I was stressed out and had lower recovery. This was around the time I ran that half marathon. I was also preparing for a really important presentation and was not getting enough sleep. So, the HRV readings during that time just confirmed what my body told me during the race. Since then, my readings have all been in the normal to exceptional range and my workouts have been stellar. I have been sleeping a lot more, cutting back on the heavy strength training and meditating. This is not a free app, but I have found it worth the price so far. I believe the iPhone app cost me $10 and I pay a $5/month fee to use the website (first few weeks were free).                

6. Meditation. Back in 2010, I was really struggling with the mental side of my running and found some wonderful tools on the interwebs to help me. I downloaded a few mp3 tracks of what I was calling hypnosis but now know is actually guided meditation. I posted about the first exciting experience I had using guided mediation in my marathon training here. That was truly extraordinary. Meditation has made its way back into my life through the wonderful studio I am part of called P2O Hot Pilates. They offer a guided meditation class each week and then daily open meditation times first thing in the morning a few days per week. After taking my first class with Nick Anicich, I knew this practice would help me in my running. I started one-on-one coaching with Nick a few weeks ago and it is definitely helping my running. I am learning to focus on my breathing, refocus my thoughts quickly when monkey brain sets in and generally lessen the stress of my life so I can recover. The added bonus is that this practice is spilling over into other parts of my life too. I am such a novice at this point, but I know I will get better at it with time, just like so many other things.

7. Carb depletion and loading. So, my coach Jack Daniels recommended I try a carbohydrate depletion and loading regime for Napa. I know other marathoners who swear by this approach to carb loading and have had some fantastic performances after employing it. To be honest, it freaks me out. Here's how it goes. You do a carb depleting workout on the Sunday before your marathon and then start eating 90% of your daily calories as fat and protein on Monday. You do this through Wednesday and then on Thursday switch to eating 90% carbs through Saturday. The idea is that your body becomes highly glycogen depleted by Wednesday and then supercompensates the next 3 days when you add carbs back to the diet. Because glycogen depletion is one of the main reasons marathoners slow at the end of the race, I am told this particular regimen is only effective at this distance. There are risks to doing this including bloating, feeling like complete dog poop by Wedensday and increased potential for sickness in the week before the marathon. Jack's final words on this were, "at least you can blame me if it doesn't work." I will need every advantage possible in this race, so I am going for it. I will try to keep track of what I eat and how I feel so I can report back to all of you.      

Okay, I believe that is enough for now. Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment or ask questions!