Monthly Archives: October 2018

Thoughts on ultramarathons

I have no visions of trying ultramarathoning anytime in the foreseeable future. But I realize that at some point, once I’ve done enough marathons, that I will at least consider a 50K (31.07 miles) or as much as 100K (62.14 miles). I have running friends who have dabbled in ultra running. In fact, friend and former Fleet Feet Racing Team coach Kyle Larson is (as of this post date) the current reigning back to back champ of the Frozen Gnome 50K.

From what I have learned, ultra running is clearly different in that you really can’t “race” an ultra the way you can race any distance up to the marathon. In theory, any stretched out runner can run 26.2 miles with minimal trouble if they pace themselves slowly enough. It’s racing the distance that poses the ultimate challenge.

However, once you get into ultra distances, you’re really just running at your best easy to moderate pace. And it’s about survival, or finishing the distance within a time window like 12 hours.

Most runners who get into ultra running tend to be sturdier framed, more compact runners who aren’t as speedy in their running but can durably run long distances day after day. These races are often run on trails, so they tend to run a lot more on rugged terrain. They also tend to wear different footwear than conventional competitive runners, since they log such massive training volume. Shoes like Topo Athletic and Skora, known for their trail-friendly durability, are popular with ultra runners. The more conventional footwear often takes a backseat.

I play around with Electric Blues‘ Daniels Tables to get an idea of goal and benchmark paces for training ahead of more conventional, much shorter races. I also use it to judge the general intensity of workouts.

I’ll probably go into more detail on how I use this data in a future post (as it’s 9:20pm CDT now, and to get into it now would keep me up until midnight on a work night as it’s somewhat complex). But I have played around with this to get an idea of the intensity at which a runner can reasonably run an ultra.

A 50K is still within the realm of being race-able, though obviously you’re not going to give it the same effort as a marathon. You’ll probably run it more like a sustained moderate run. In fact, though he didn’t intend his written marathon programs for this, Jeff Galloway’s run/walk training methods are also a great approach to training for a 50K.

It’s once you get into the 50+ mile range that pace is merely a function of how fast you can comfortably go while still running at an easy intensity. A 100K would probably be run at the pace of a gentle recovery run, whereas the real challenge is maintaining that gentle run for 12-16 consecutive hours (while of course working in breaks to use the restroom and to eat, since at that length of time you will need to eat meals of some kind to continue functioning). Once you’re in the 100 mile range, you are basically running for survival, and you do what you have to do to stay upright through the finish.

The key aspect to the slower pacing in an ultra is not just the lengthier race in itself, but that you have to conserve glycogen and rely much more on burning fat. You simply could not take in enough carbohydrates to fuel a normal race-effort at these distances even if you wanted to. Therefore you must master sustained running at a lower intensity.

Thus the fuel for these ultra races tends to be a lot more robust than your typical gels and Gatorade. Runners often swear by bars and other chewy snacks and other whole food. Some will prepare a special bottle as elite runners do for marathons, but these concoctions more resemble protein shakes than eletrolyte solutions in their consistency.

Also, you often have to pack your own food and carry it as you run. These courses are often in remote regions, and you won’t see the robust on-course support that you see at marathons. If there’s an aid station, it’s probably every several miles or so. On a loop course, there might only be one. And what nutrition they might be carrying is fairly limited, more of an emergency supply than something you can rely on. And ideally you want to dictate your fuel intake anyway, so you’re just better off bringing your own gear. Carrying this gear furthers the need to run at a slower pace.

Standard disclaimer: A lot of this can vary from race to race, and many ultra runners have had differing experiences than what’s described above.

Because it’s largely uncharted territory, most experienced ultra runners have their own approach to doing things that works for them. It remains a vast field of potential in terms of the possibilities for training and for race strategy, even as its popularity has improved in recent years.

I didn’t mean for this by any means to be a complete treatment on ultra racing. I’m hardly scratching the surface, and I’ll probably have more to say on it as I do more research. And again, it’s probably going to be a long while before I entertain doing one.

But it’ll be interesting to see if strategies and coaches emerge in the field of ultra running. The possibilities, while not endless, are vast.

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The Yasso 800’s marathon predictor workout: An idea for a simple (and not so simple) improvement on the workout

The Yasso 800’s are a classic marathon predictor workout, where the average/median/whatever of your ten 800 meter reps should correspond to your likely marathon time, e.g. averaging 3:45 per rep indicates you’ll run the marathon in 3 hours 45 minutes. (I’ve previously written some tips and thoughts on handling the workout.)

The workout’s accuracy can depend on a lot of things…

  • How easy the reps are
  • How much rest you’re taking between reps
  • How closely your reps are to your average rep time, whether all your reps are the same or if they’re all over the place
  • Whether you hold steady throughout the workout or get slower as it progresses
  • And of course how adequately trained you are to run the marathon distance

Of course, it’s a bit crude as a predictor. From common sense, how can a series of 800 meter repeats predict how you will run for 42,195 uninterrupted meters, 3-4 weeks later? The workout doesn’t match the race in any way. You certainly won’t run the 800’s at the same pace you plan to run the marathon (BTW if you did, and manage to match your prediction at the marathon… then you certainly could have run the marathon faster). You will likely run the Yasso 800’s at something close to 5K pace, while your marathon pace will be closer to a sustained moderate effort.

But let’s be real: It’s very difficult to predict how your training has prepared you to run your upcoming marathon. There’s no real adequate predictor workout for the distance, because the distance itself is beyond most human capabilities. You can easily run the distance of a 5K in a workout. You can’t reasonably run a 26 mile workout unless it’s a long run, and few will run that far in their longest runs. It’s very hard to do.

Bart Yasso‘s workout is a somewhat reliable approximation of what runners can do. It’s based on his vast experience, and how the relative effort in the 800’s indicates the corresponding pace at which you can run a marathon when adequately trained. His workout came about from finding a clear correlation that proved largely true for most trained marathoners who successfully attempted the workout. It does match up for many, even when for various reasons it doesn’t match up for others.


I think there’s a better, more accurate form of this predictor workout. But it requires more discipline and is of course more difficult… even though the format is a lot simpler:

  • Run an 8K with your best even-paced effort.
  • Divide the time by 10.

That’s the marathon prediction.

The premise: The Yasso 800 workout consists of 10 reps of 800 meters. 10 multiplied by 800 is 8000 meters, aka the exact distance of an 8K.

The key difference in this 8K workout is that you’re removing all of the rest breaks, and running every inch in one uninterrupted go.

The hard part of course is that maintaining a steady pace in an 8K becomes a lot harder. It’s important that, like running a good workout rep, you don’t necessarily race the 8K as you normally would. You focus on maintaining a steady effort that at the finish line you could theoretically continue running for a few more miles.

In effect, it’s like an 8K run at 10K pace. Or, to brutally simplify it, it’s one 8000 meter rep at 10K pace.

The Yassos are broken into 10 more easily manageable reps. It’s a lot easier to maintain your pace for 3-5 minute bursts than to figure out and hold a suitable pace for 30-50 minutes. You have to know how fast you intend to go, start at that pace, and then ensure you hold it until you cross the finish.

But you’re already planning to do that at the marathon, right? Ideally (though many best laid plans get laid to waste on a marathon race day), your plan is to run at your chosen pace for all 26.2 miles. If you can hold a pace for 26.2 miles, why should a slightly faster pace over 4.971 miles be all that tough?

 


I realize 8K pace is substantially tougher than marathon pace, and that’s one reason I suggest running an 8K test at something closer to 10K pace… along with bearing in mind that you may have a tune-up coming up or having just passed, and that you are after all in the final phase of training for a marathon. You don’t want to kill yourself trying to run a baller 8K that’s not your goal race.

I realize a key element to the Yassos is that you get to stop and rest, minimizing the strain of running those 8000 meters at a fast pace. I realize that if you run an 8K, you’re possibly going to run a slower pace than you ideally would for Yasso’s, which typically can be done at 5K pace.

But here’s the key, stated as a rhetorical question: Wouldn’t that make an 8K time divided by 10 a more accurate prediction? Many say that Yassos tend to predict about 5-10 minutes fast. Many say the Yasso prediction tends to be too optimistic. If you are forced to maintain a slightly slower pace for 5 straight miles… won’t that offer a more possible prediction for your race?

Also, even though it’s not a race specific workout to run an 8K at 8K pace… neither is running 10 reps of 800 meters at 5K-10K pace. What does that have to do with finding and sustaining marathon pace? At least an 8K’s uninterrupted effort is more specific to what you need to do in a marathon (run somewhat hard, without stopping).

And in the Yasso’s, with those shorter reps, it falls into the same trap as most interval speedwork: It’s easy to outrun the workout, and run the reps harder than you would run in a longer race. Give yourself enough rest, or take in enough energy, and you could race 10 really good reps that aren’t at all indicative of what you could do in a 5K, let alone predict how you’d run the marathon.

It’s no wonder so many people find Yasso 800 predictions fast.


I would recommend trying an 8K Divided By 10 (8K/10) test in lieu of Yasso 800’s. In fact, I wish I had thought to do it in past training cycles. I definitely will do it next time.

If you’re doing speedwork, an 8K/10 can replace a speed session for that week, which would still allow you to do a tune-up half marathon the week before or after if desired.

8K races are not easy to find, I realize, like 5K’s, 10K’s and Half Marathons. While reasonably popular, it’s a somewhat odd distance. They come and they go.

Those in Chicago running a spring marathon (like Boston!) could use the Shamrock Shuffle for this. Barring that, a late August or early September 8K could work for the peak fall marathon season (some Illinois towns outside of Chicagoland do offer late September 8K’s).

Outside of that, scour Running In The USA and see if any are available nearby within 3-5 weeks of your goal race. If not, I challenge the RAM Racings of the world to put one up if there isn’t one available in a given area.

Of course, the easiest way to make an 8K test happen is the hardest one to find the discipline to do: Map out 5 miles, and run it out yourself… or go find a full size track and knock out 20 laps in one go. I’ll be frank: If you have the discipline to train for and run a marathon, you should be able to find the discipline to make yourself run an 8K on your own at 10Kish pace. If that’s what it takes and you want to try this, I have faith in you.

No matter how you do it if you dare… run at 8K, divide your finish time by 10, and that’s probably as good a prediction of your marathon time as any Yasso 800’s workout could give you.

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An impromptu birthday run, and thoughts on aging (even when others don’t notice)

Most people go on an abbreviated run and hope that it’s long enough to count in their training long.

Me? I go tonight on two short runs, to and from the store to get ice cream, and hope the runs aren’t long enough to count. Here I am trying to stick to my guns on a two weeks hiatus following the marathon, and yet opportunity calls.

See, today is my birthday, and I turn 40 years old. I figure why not treat myself? Ice cream makes sense. A 2 mile round trip run… possibly less so, but I certainly enjoyed it.

A lot of people get to this stage in life and face a mid-life crisis. Their health and figure has declined. They’re fighting father time.

Me? I probably feel and look better than I did at 30. Hell, I feel a lot better than I did at 38 or 39. A combination of all this running with substantial improvements to my lifestyle habits have dramatically improved my energy levels, my physique, my health.

So, I realize the number is a specter given it’s a midlife number. Any notion of youth your age offers is pretty much gone at 40. You’re a man, and you’re pretty much on the “old” side of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, I still get mistaken for being 15 years younger, and I’ve let a lot of twentysomething ladies down when I break to them when I was actually born. You have to look closely for telltale signs of my actual age. My face at point blank range looks just weathered enough to indicate I’m no kid. My hairline has mostly held the line, but the front base of hair has gotten a bit thin at the top of my forehead. People get weirded out and some even laugh when I make any effort at being authoritative, because it looks like a college kid trying to act like an old man.

But otherwise people still think they’re dealing with a twentysomething. Maybe it gives me as many chances I wouldn’t otherwise get, as it takes away chances I otherwise would get. Maybe if I race as a Masters runner people will immediately cry foul and accuse me of lying (especially if I win an age group). If I went to see a doctor about some old man thing like a heart scan or (heaven forbid) a prostate screening or something, he’d probably laugh and wonder why a kid thinks they need something like that.

I’m not crazy enough to think I’ve turned back the clock or I’ll be young forever. I feel the bone-and-joint creakiness of having passed 30 now and then and have for years. I just have gotten in good enough condition that it doesn’t really hold me back. I realize I’ve got to work hard to take care of myself to maintain what I can as I age, as much as grow in any way naturally possible.

I ran to the store and back at an 8:35-8:40 mile pace. I couldn’t have imagined running comfortably that fast back in 2010, and certainly couldn’t have imagined that eight years later I’d be running like that, in better shape than I’ve ever been.

P.S. I couldn’t decide between Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup and Häagen-Dazs Caramel Cone. So of course I got both. The former got crushed just now, and I’ll eat the Caramel Cone some time down the road.

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Want to stay warm in winter?

This occurred to me about halfway through a brutal cardio workout in my otherwise cold apartment (bearing in mind that it isn’t even that cold yet).

There are two very easy ways to warm up during the winter, if you’d rather not blast your heater too much, or it’s so cold your heater isn’t really keeping your home warm.

One, you can cook. Use the oven, use the stove, use whatever generates heat. Cook a full meal. The meal itself can provide some temporary warmth, but a 350-400 degree oven or a hot stove will also provide some warmth. Learn to love cooking again if you need some help dealing with the cold.

Two, you can do serious exercise. The easiest and most direct way is to do an aerobic or circuit exercise program that really kicks your ass, in the not-quite-comfort of your own home. During warmer months, you may sweat enough to need a mop. But in the winter, your overheating may be exactly what your body needs to counteract the cold seeping through your walls into your bones. The added circulation during and after the workout will help keep you warmer than you were before.

Another helpful exercise method is to run outdoors, if you can handle it. I run all winter, and it makes acclimating to the cold easier to spend any extended amount of time active in it. Plus, after about 10-20 minutes of running, you warm up about as much as you do any other time of year. What may overheat you in summer is exactly what you might need in the dead of winter. Once you get inside, it not only will feel warmer than the outdoors, but you’ll be warmer and able to handle the cooler indoor air a lot better.

So, while most people want to curl up under a blanket during the coldest months, your best bet to warm up and stay warm may be to do the opposite. Get busy, and get warm! And probably cook a nice meal as well.

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Circuit training, aka strength and cross training in the interim

So even though I still have a week of no-running left to go, nothing is stopping me from beginning my next phase of training.

So I went ahead and began this program this afternoon:

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I had bought and followed Adam Rosante’s 30 Second Body a while back. The program did help me some, but was at the time challenging to follow.

It’s a full body circuit training program that mixes a variety of compound squats and plank movements (like burpees) done as fast as you can properly do them for 30-60 seconds at a time. None of the movements seem hard at first glance, or even as you begin the intervals. But after a few of them, the relatively untrained body begins to feel tired, and that’s when you realize you still have 15-30 seconds left.

Right now it’s probably a perfect program for me.

  • I want to improve upper body strength, core strength and overall flexibility that may help my running once I get back into training
  • I also want to improve my overall physique, which will never be a 10 out of 10 but could always use some improvement in muscle definition.
  • With marathon training complete, and no imminent goal races on the horizon prior to next spring, I have plenty of time to primarily invest myself in a valuable physical activity other than running.
  • I also am hesitant to re-invest in a gym membership (having let my most recent one expire right before the Chicago Marathon), and am not sure that pushing weight is the best way to improve my overall conditioning right now anyway. Eventually, I want to get back in the gym, but I think I can get more out of something else.
  • Plus, this allows me to develop some overall aerobic and anaerobic conditioning aside from running… which in a lot of ways should help my running.

Would I recommend it over other similar book/video-based programs like Body For Life, or 30 Day Shred?

It was very difficult for me to do, and stick to. Granted, while I wasn’t super active at the time I first tried it… I used to do yoga, Pilates, and perform theatre and dance, so I’m no stranger to intense floor exercise.

I still found the 30 Second Body workouts to be an ass-kicker. I found myself many nights turning to the stop-gap 5 minute workouts listed in the book, simply because after a tough workday I didn’t feel I had it in me to do a full longer workout. Being a lot better trained physically these days, I’ll probably stick to the full workouts every day this time around. But they are very demanding. They will loom large every night I go to do them.

Two things to Rosante’s credit:

  1. My difficulty despite my other experience is proof that the workouts will challenge anyone. Someone in great condition will be challenged by them just as much as someone who doesn’t exercise otherwise.
  2. The workouts don’t prescribe a minimum rep count: If for example it takes everything you have to do 2 of Adam’s designed 3-Point Plankers in 30 seconds, then that is all you need to do for that interval. You only do as many reps as you can physically manage with good form, as fast or as slow as you need to go.

The 30 Second Body still incredibly challenging, but it’s not like an aerobics class or  a racing team workout where you may struggle to keep up with everyone else. You work at your own pace and capability, and that’s all you need to concern yourself with. In that sense, the workout plan can be done by anyone.

… provided you can safely do all the needed movements. Never mind good form (which Rosante doesn helpfully outline up front in the book). Some people can’t brace much of their weight on their hands for a plank movement. Some people’s knees or hips won’t allow for a compound squat exercise. Rosante does offer modification options for all the exercises to be done differently, but the more physical issues you have with key joints, the more likely this plan may not work for you.

I’m fortunate to be in good condition and able to do all of the movements, even if some moves are quite difficult for me. Some people meanwhile have wrist or shoulder or knee problems. Those folks, and even some who are not particularly athletic, may be better off with a more conventional workout plan.

Still, I really like the 30 Second Body program, and athletes looking for a cross training break from their pursuit of choice may get a lot of value from this six week program of intense circuit training. Non-athletes who feel ambitious, and promise to be careful about practicing the program, can also get a lot out of the 30 Second Body. That’s who Rosante originally designed it for, after all! Rosante is an accomplished personal trainer, so he has a pretty good idea of what people in general, let alone his clients, can handle.

As with any new exercise program, see your doctor, eat and rest right, be careful, blah blah blah: We’re adults. I think if you can handle doing a classic squat, push up, and burpee without your limbs exploding, you can get a lot of value out of Adam Rosante’s The 30 Second Body. I’m planning to do so myself this fall, starting about an hour ago.

Also, I need some bananas. My glycogen stores need some help!


The 30 Second Body is available at the link below:

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Training ambitions, and the unexpected prime obstacle to meeting them

Given I currently have some extra time on my hands, I’m reviewing my upcoming schedule in preparation for winter training. I want to work towards 60-70 miles a week this next training cycle, which may sound scary to the uninitiated until I mention that I was topping 50 miles per week without much trouble during Chicago Marathon training.

While I’m open to staying with a training load around 40-50 miles per week, I do want to stretch out and give 60+ a shot by extending my weekday runs, making sure I go 120-150 minutes on Saturday long runs, and mixing in some brief morning or lunchtime weekday runs in addition to my typical postwork runs. If it turns out to be too physically demanding, I can always scale back to a more regular workload, but for all sorts of reasons I’ll get into someday I believe I can now handle the larger workload.

That said, the biggest obstacle to running more miles isn’t whether my body can handle it, or even the wear on my shoes (my budget is tighter than it was a year ago, but I can always buy another 1-2 pairs of training shoes if I need it).

The problem is whether or not I can eat enough to compensate for all the extra calories I would burn.

I’m looking to get my diet super clean going into this next training cycle, as well as make it more affordable and simplified. An optimal diet that served all of the above only fed me about 2400 calories. That is well and good for weight loss, if I’m not running more than a couple miles every day. I would obviously be running much more than a couple miles per day.

Again, every mile I walk or run burns about 125 calories. I have actually been walking more the last few days, and have hit 3000 calories burned the last couple days despite no running. It’s fairly easy for me to burn calories when I’m active, and during my 30ish miles per week training days I would easily burn 3300-3500 calories.

If I’m running closer to 9 miles per day, that’s an extra 600-650 calories per day I’d burn, and even if I make the extra effort to take it easy in the rest of my life, I’ll easily burn 3500-3600 calories per day.

Okay, you may say… you’re looking to cut fat anyway, and this would be a great opportunity to shed some more of it, right? What’s the harm?

One of the reasons you don’t want to run a huge calorie deficit is the risk of muscle wasting. While it’s in general considered a cardio exercise, running requires substantial lower body strength, and along with depleting glycogen stores you break down lower body muscle. Proper nutrition allows you to rebuild those damaged muscles as well as restore your glycogen stores.

You’re already playing with fire when you run a calorie deficit, and being able to do so safely during training requires some mindful planning and execution. Even then, you should not run a deficit of greater than 500 calories a day. If I’m going to burn 3500 calories a day, I need to take in about 3000 calories to prevent myself from burning out or getting hurt.

And I probably should not take in as much fat as I have. I’m not looking to go low-fat with my diet revisions, because again the body absolutely needs dietary fat. But I do want to work on staying within 80-85g of fat per day, which means the answer to my dilemma is not as simple as committing to pounding a frozen pizza every day.

And as much as I’d like to go paleo or similar, I don’t want to compromise my performance or development by avoiding carbs and the needed glycogen.

Okay, so just eat a bunch of carbohydrates, right? Well, easy to say sure, since I’m going to burn them every day.

But there’s only so many carbs I can stomach. Most healthy carb-rich foods can be very dense and contain a lot of insoluble fiber. I found during my “sure, I’ll carb load” diet phases in previous years that the most carbs I could handle in a day is about 400-500g. And I could only hit that mark now and again: On a daily basis I can’t consistently consume more than 350g of carbohydrate.

Right now I’m eating about 300-400 calories of potatoes with dinner. I can probably handle about 3-4 bananas at most, and eating all of the above means taking in an uncomfortably large amount of insoluble fiber. Either way, I don’t think I can stomach much more than that.

Plus, your stomach can only process so many nutrients before just passing the rest or storing the difference as fat. Carbs do get stored as fat once the window closes on your body’s absorption capabilities. So eating a ton of carbs isn’t really an easy solution.


So, looking at my diet, after factoring in the foods I do and can consistently eat… I realized I had a deficit of about 600 calories if I want to train at a higher volume. How to cover it?

One answer is to swap out potatoes (at least on some days) with semolina-based pasta. I mentioned fusilli as a pasta of choice, though organic elbow macaroni is an option as well thanks to its density. Both provide more carbs in a meal (as many as 60g extra, plus some extra protein) than potatoes do overall.

However, potatoes provide a ton of potassium that pasta does not. It can be possible to supplement the traditional way: By making pasta with marinara sauce. I eat my pasta plain with salt, broth and coconut oil for seasoning. But a cup of marinara sauce adds about 800mg of potassium, which would cover most of the gap.

While it’s not totally my cup of tea, I’m not opposed to quickly heating a cup of marinara or similar pasta sauce and dumping that onto the pasta for dinner with my chicken. And, while not as much, pasta sauce also comes with a few extra carbohydrates.

I also find that sometimes at work I need an afternoon snack. If I commit to quick-prep oatmeal, that can provide some extra carbohydrate on key days.


All of these options of course have a common problem: They’re processed foods. And while inexpensive, it gets away from the whole food philosophy I’ve been working to follow and maintain with my diet. I wouldn’t want to eat these items exclusively, let alone every day.

None of this is to say I’ve found the solution. These are mostly just the options I’m considering ahead of 2019. The good news is I don’t have to find an answer now. Go-Time for this plan would be about 2.5 months down the road.

But it does present an interesting dilemma: If you want to train high-mileage, how do you make sure you get enough energy to eat to maintain that workload?

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What do I eat when I eat “junk” or processed food? A long primer on my favorite processed and “junk” food

So I always mention that while I eat clean most of the time, I do eat processed food about 20% of the time, and often I exercise some judgment (as well as obviously taste) in what I eat that 20% of the time.

Selected frozen pizzas

Despite living in arguably the pizza capital of the world, I don’t go or order out for pizza that much. First of all, that can get expensive in a hurry, there are just as many local varieties of frozen Chicago pizza in stores, and you can often get far more pizza for your buck when you buy it frozen at the store.

Usually, I try and get a pie totaling about 1200-1500 calories, something I can eat in one sitting when I need a huge protein/carb/fat boost. Most mainstream store varieties are TOO calorie dense, and taste a little too chemically plasticine for my liking. The one mainstream variety I’m still down with is the relatively light Newman’s Own, though availability is come and go in Chicago.

Here in Chicago, I usually go with Eastside Cafe, whose protein-rich local ingredients and thin crust make it far superior to everything else on the shelf. Whole Foods generally carries it in spades (I usually get cheese or sausage given that’s available on the shelf), though Eastside distributes locally in Warrenville on the far west side of Chicagoland if anyone in town is willing to make a road trip and take their pick. (Someday on a free weekday I’ll make the trip so I can finally try their pepperoni pizza)

Other local Chicago varieties I like are Screamin Sicilian (known for overloading their mid-thick pies with toppings) and Reggios (the latter of which originated as a restaurant that still runs today). Home Run Inn and Connie’s are okay (those two also run local restaurants: A Home Run Inn location is about 15 minutes from my apartment), though HRI is a little plasticine, and Connie’s frozen pizzas have a bunch of random fragments that tend to get everywhere.

The key with picking these pizzas is that they are protein rich, not TOO calorie rich, and made largely with fresh local ingredients (even if they are processed with some variety of manufactured chemicals). When I need a protein bomb on a protein-weak day, or I’m a bit too gassed to cook a meal, they are a solid fallback option.

Fairlife Reduced Fat Lactose Free Chocolate Milk

I’m not totally lactose intolerant, but my body has a shallow stop-loss when it comes to milk consumption. It’s hit and miss whether a decent quantity of milk or ice cream will send me to the crapper like a hockey player serving time in the penalty box for slashing.

This variety of Fairlife’s chocolate milk removes the lactose, eliminating that risk, and allowing me an easy opportunity to pound a taste-friendly 19 grams of protein in a 12 oz glass, or a single serve 11.5 oz bottle.

Sadly, Treasure Island Foods’ demise means I no longer have an easy go-to spot to get this, and I’ll need to find a new place to get it. But it makes for a great post-workout drink, a poor man’s protein shake… as well as a great dessert option, or even an overnight appetite-cover if hunger wakes me up during the night.

I’m not into drinking it everyday since it is flavored, processed milk. But you could do far worse with regards to chocolate milk, and it’s not as expensive as protein shakes.

English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches

I do not discriminate much when it comes to breakfast sandwiches. If you can slap meat, eggs and cheese between two toasted english muffins, I will probably want to eat it for breakfast.

I tend to avoid breakfast these days because I value intermittent fasting, but sometimes I will pound a breakfast sandwich to start the day, often while recovering from a hard workout or when I know I’ve got a tough day ahead and will need the extra nutrition.

Starbucks’ sausage sandwiches tend to be okay but reliable, though they’re more plasticine than most sandwiches. Here in Chicago, I’ve become partial to Mariano’s Vero cafes’ sausage (Buon Giorno) sandwiches lately. Local Eva’s Cafe in Old Town makes a great sandwich, and the nearby Lakeview Rewired cafe in my neighborhood makes a great sandwich on ciabatta-style bread.

Evolve and Orgain protein shakes

When I do spend an excessive amount of money on ready-made protein shakes, my shakes of choice are Evolve and Orgain, both sold at Whole Foods. Orgain is loaded with vitamins and goes down relatively easy. Evolve is more fiber and protein rich, though lighter in calories (which may or may not be a problem depending on my needs that day).

I get the vanilla varieties of either one. But at $3+tax a pop, I don’t drink them regularly.

Epic Sea Salt Pork Rinds

These are also expensive at $4+tax, but each bag of these pork rinds contains about 40g of protein, and they are hearty pork rinds without the annoying thick patches of random hardened skin that most varieties of pork rinds provide you. This is another snack food I’ll pound when I want a protein boost, and the bag is usually done right after I open it.

Kettle Style Potato Chips

I’m a sucker for kettle style potato chips, and I’ll usually try to get varieties cooked in avocado, sunflower, coconut, etc oil rather than vegetable or canola oil. Because if I’m going to eat awful junk food as a snack, it had better at least be cooked in some healthy oil, right?

I’m partial to the salted-no-flavor varieties of Kettle brand chips and Boulder Canyon avocado oil chips.

365 brand veggie chips

If I’m going to delude myself into believing that veggie chips are a better snack for me than potato chips, I’ll get the Whole Foods 365 brand, because those tend to be plainer and cleaner than other varieties, plus the bag is not as big… making the act of housing the whole bag in one sitting slightly less regrettable.

Fresh old fashioned chocolate glazed donuts

They don’t make donuts like they used to. The average hipster donut place makes the bread more like cake, and they put nonsense like bacon on top of it. If I want bacon I’ll just get an actual sit-down breakfast at a diner.

When I want an honest to goodness old fashioned made from scratch chocolate glazed donut, it’s hard to find great places that serve one anywhere. In Chicago, I will vouch for Firecakes in Lincoln Park. The only other place I’ve recently found great old fashioned donuts is Lee’s, a stand in the Granville Island Market in Vancouver BC Canada.

I am also amenable to maple glazed donuts and (when in the right mood) plain sugar glazed donuts. But generally, if I can’t get a chocolate glazed donut I just won’t bother. I don’t do sprinkles or neon colored glaze.

Truffle oil french fries (bonus if cheese sauce is an option)

If you’re a bar that serves a heaping pile of french fries as a dish, I’m generally down if I would like to eat.

The Reservoir in Uptown serves a great version cooked in truffle oil that’s garnished in parmesan. The Res is general is highly recommended if you ever land in Chicago, not just for that but for a vast alcohol selection and some of the nicest people running a bar in Chicago.

The Bar on Buena in Buena Park will serve you a side of home made melted cheese with their fries, which I also like.

But the kings of cheese fries in Chicago are Devil Dawgs, who serve a large bowl-caliber cup of cheese fries done right: They don’t just pour cheese over the top of the fries, but mix in cheese with the fries throughout the cup as they pile them on. When I want a sloppy cup of cheese fries every now and again (with a hot dog, of course!), that’s the place to go for me.

Beef taquitos (rolled tacos)

Why have beef taquitos gone away as a dish? This makes me sad. First of all, Mexican restaurants in Chicago don’t really serve them without charging too much for them. Secondly, stores that used to carry them like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have stopped carrying them.

They’re the best kind of rolled tacos! I’ll eat them plain, though I definitely won’t complain if you top them with cheese and guacamole (but I WILL if you top it with sour cream, which I do not like). Chicken doesn’t cut it, and sorry Trader Joe’s but the bean and cheese variety simply isn’t the same.

Fried chicken

I have always been a mark for fried chicken. Even during my chicken allergy phase I’d gladly break off any boycott to eat it.

I’m not as high on the varieties at supermarkets, or breaded chicken tenders. Chicken nuggets are okay, though it does depend on how they’re made. Places like Church’s or Popeye’s are just okay. KFC has cleaned up a bit over the years and now that I can eat their chicken without suffering dysentery I think they’re alright.

Locally, there’s a lot of “wait 20 minutes” boutique joints in Chicago and many cities with shops that’ll gladly serve you “home cooked” fried chicken. They’re okay, but most are probably not worth the premium price or the wait.

Here in Chicagoland, the king for me remains Evanston Chicken Shack in Evanston. I abhor traveling to Evanston but am always willing to make a stopover if given the chance.

In Seattle, I’ll vouch for Ezell’s like many others, but the founder’s spinoff shop Heaven Sent Fried Chicken in Lake City is honestly the king there. If you live in Seattle and like Ezell’s, I encourage you to go to 145th and Lake City Way and try out the original.

If you’re in Portland OR, go to The Screen Door. It’s a sit down meal, it’s a bit pricier and there probably will be a wait, but you probably won’t regret it.

I generally will mark out for a wide variety of local fried chicken. Again, I don’t like to fry food at home, but am more than happy to pay someone else to do the frying. If you drag me to a fried chicken place I will probably be happy with your decision.

Mission style burritos

I was first introduced to big Mission style burritos not by Chipotle, but by Seattle’s famous burrito shop Gordito’s, known for making burritos as big as newborn babies. Fresh, delicious, and if you don’t arrive starving you will probably have to bring some home with you.

Since then, Chipotle has made the big burrito famous, and America has gradually wised up to the fact that Mexican restaurants have been making these burritos for generations. But I had wised up long before this, and have always loved the big Mission style burrito.

Here in Chicago, I fortunately live about five blocks from what I consider the best place to get a carne asada burrito: El Burrito Mexicano, right under the Addison CTA station near Wrigley Field. It’s cash only and it’ll run you $10-12 after tip for a plate. Plus, obviously, avoid going on a Cubs game day because it’ll be stupid-packed. But the massive burrito is chock full of great steak, refried beans, tomatoes and cheese. It’s a total winner, but given I don’t usually carry a ton of cash it’s only an occasional treat for me.

Does sushi count as processed food?

I mean, I guess it does. Seaweed paper has to be processed. Sushi grade rice is as well, as is soy sauce. Even if all the other ingredients are fresh, there’s a lot of processed sodium-rich stuff in sushi, which is another food I love when the price is right.

I’m a mark for Alaskan (salmon avocado) and other salmon rolls, as well as Negi Hamachi Rolls (yellowtail and scallions), and various creative dragon-style combo rolls rich with salmon. If a sushi restaurant offers fried calamari or salmon bits as a side, I am all over that.

Here in Chicago, I don’t have crazy expectations. I like Gorilla Sushi in Lincoln Park because it’s affordable and their offerings are solid. But Chicago’s got quite a few good spots, especially Lakeview. Rollapalooza and Sumo are good Chicago sushi spots.

Seattle’s rising expense has taken away my favorite kaiten spots, so I don’t know what’s good there anymore. In Vancouver BC Canada, Miku Restaurant is the king, a very pricey and upscale joint that is absolutely worth the cost. But Vancouver has a LOT of great, affordable sushi options too numerous to name or visit.

When my dad takes me to his favorite sushi place in Vegas, Sushi Wa, I will pretty much eat anything he shoves in my direction. They make such a wide variety of sushi I wouldn’t otherwise have any idea about 20% of their best stuff.

Sushi is terrific, and if somehow I ended up filthy rich I’d probably eay it way too often.

Ramen

Don’t even get me started on how much I love ramen. Another pricey but terrific food I have to be careful about eating too often.

I’ve dabbled with and enjoyed spots in Chicago and Las Vegas, but nothing I’d fall over to recommend.

In Seattle, Aloha Ramen was easily the best ramen spot, in no small part thanks to their garlic-rich fried rice.

In Vancouver I LOVED Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, which is famous for their excellent pork gyoza but also makes good ramen and backdrops it with terrific friendly service.

I admit I’m still a mark for cheap generic top ramen out of a package, however. Often, given the option and the craving, I’ll just eat that.


I just wrote far too much about food you and I should not be eating that often. As I do after eating any of the above, I regret none of it.

P.S. I also didn’t mention ice cream, which I don’t do much at all anymore, but I remain partial to Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup, and Häagen-Dazs Caramel Cone.

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Another day of brief post-marathon notes, on a sleepy Thursday evening

I’m honestly ready to start running again, but two weeks off is two weeks off. I had a plan and I’m sticking to it. No running… not even any kind of working out. I’m giving myself a full two weeks to rebuild and recover as much as possible.

I’m going ahead and pigging out a bit on the stuff I like, potato chips and pizza and such. I’m still eating mostly clean, though I’m definitely not logging enough activity to burn off the excess. But this week I’m willing to take on some water.

Occasionally I feel a bit of lower body stiffness here and there, but otherwise I feel good. I can jog across streets with no problem.

The weather in Chicago has taken a turn for the cold, with temps dropping to the 40’s Fahrenheit today, possibly to the low 30’s tonight. I keep all my winter gear packed in a big duffel bag, and it looks like it’s finally time to begin unloading it. Time to acclimate!

I know my run-training plans for January and beyond, and I’ll get into those later. But I’m still hashing out how I’m going to train for the rest of this year. I definitely plan to strength train during November, and will definitely taper any running during the December holidays. But I’m not yet sure how much running I’m going to get back to doing in the short run. I don’t foresee running a race before next year, and this section of training would be lighter and a little less formal.

I got several topics I want to write about this weekend, and one will probably be preferences for when I do eat processed or junk food. Perhaps tomorrow! I don’t just eat any random junk. There are some things I won’t ever touch, and there are some items of preference that can be somewhat healthy and keep you on track. Soon.

That is all. I plan to turn in early and catch up on sleep. Until tomorrow!

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My dietary staples: The food, drink and garnishes I build around

The one thing about serious running that I enjoy the most is how it compelled improvements to every other aspect of my lifestyle: My diet, my sleep habits, my personal habits, life decisions, etc.

Even when I’m not running, those things remain very important in general. In a sense, training never really stops even when you take a break from running. Because your diet is one aspect of your training. Your sleep and resting habits are aspects of your training. Your general activity and life choices are all aspects of your training.

And so when people finish a goal race and take a break, they do one of two things with their lives. They either stop training, or they continue to train.

And I’m not just talking about running: In fact, after running a marathon or longer, you definitely need to stop running for a bit. But in a way: Training is life, and life is training. You’re either training to improve, or you’re not.

Anyway, let’s talk about food.


As I’ve said I eat about 80% clean or better. I’m down for pizza, burgers, fried food, burritos, chips, some alcohol now and then, etc… as much as anyone. There are times where processed stuff might be my best option for a given meal.

But every other time, I eat clean: Baked and boiled food, raw fruit and vegetables, water coffee or tea. I cook using only olive or coconut oil. I season food with garlic salt and maybe 1-2 other garnishes (no sauces). To cover my bases I take a multivitamin and supplement with fish oil, a cal-mag-D3 citrate pill, and Vitamin K2. I rely on simple food items I know I can comfortably consume, and I stick to eating those most of the time.

Some of this food can be classified as processed, though by and large what I consume is a sclose to its original form as is reasonable.

Chicken

I grew up eating a lot of chicken. At some point in my 20’s I suddenly developed a rash whenever I ate it, so I had to stop for a while. At some point in the last decade, I found out I could eat chicken without problems again (perhaps farms were adding some sort of toxic hormone before?), and now it’s once again my top protein staple.

I mostly eat chicken thighs, and occasionally will mix in drumsticks if the store is short on thighs. Wings don’t provide enough meat, and chicken breasts provide too much plus take more time and effort to cook and lack important fat. Thighs fall right in the sweet spot.

I always bake them in the oven at 350-400 degrees, either over coconut oil, or on a bed of potatoes.

Potatoes: Yukon Gold or red

Penn Jillette lost over 100 pounds subsisting on potatoes, and for good reason. They are probably the most potassium rich food you can eat, and are a clean quality starch with loads of other vitamins.

Conventional potatoes are generally super dirty and I ain’t got time to scrub them off nor do I want to lose nutrients by peeling them. So I get the much cleaner gold or red variety, and I eat them cubed with the skin. Reds tend to be dirty from time to time depending on what variety you get, so often I go with the golds.

I either bake 3-4 of them cubed, over olive oil in the oven (a basic recipe my mother showed me a couple years ago), or I boil them in a large pot. They are typically a side dish with meat.

Fusilli pasta

Before I got into potatoes, this was my dinner side dish for a good long while. Of course, it’s not a whole food product (derived from wheat semolina), and it lacks the potassium and vitamins present in potatoes. I definitely noticed the difference health-wise once I switched.

However, a heaping serving does have a bit more protein, and a lot more carbs, plus it’s easier to prepare than the potatoes. I still have it from time to time.

I have tried other brands, but Whole Foods’ 365 still makes the more palatable version of fusilli I’ve had to date.

Coffee

I love coffee. I don’t pound 4+ cups a day like other addicts, but I still have a cup almost every morning. It provides me a strange sort of relaxation with its caffeinated energy.

I’ll drink 8-16 oz, depending on how much I’m in the mood for. I always drink it black and not after 12pm unless it’s decaf (even then I pretty much avoid drinking it at all after noon).

I’m not super picky, even though I often like to go to independent local shops and roasters to hang out over a cup.

I used to brew coffee at home for work, but now rely on whatever’s freely available at work. That could change again if my next long term workplace lacks decent coffee, but if my current work situation sticks then I’m probably sticking with their coffee for the long haul.

I’ve considered giving coffee up for a little while as an experiment (I’ve quit it a few times before with decent results, but I like it too much to stay away forever). It’s not an experiment I’m in a hurry to try.

Coconut oil

I cannot remember the exact source or information that led me to try coconut oil, but once I did I was hooked and now that’s mostly what I cook with.

Coconut oil, along with being a quality saturated fat, along has anti-fungal properties. People even use it as a topical agent for that reason. I don’t really, but I do like to think that if I had a candida issue that it’s long since been crushed.

Because of a low flashpoint, it doesn’t fry well, but all I do is bake with it. You can safely eat it raw as-is with a spoon, though there aren’t many cases where you would want to do so.

I have phases where I put a spoon of it in my coffee as a poor man’s bulletproof coffee. I haven’t done it in a long while but could be swayed to start doing it again.

(TRUE) extra virgin olive oil

I had a come-and-go relationship with olive oil over the years, but after learning more about the difference between bogus mass produced olive oil (which is often mixed with vegetable and canola oils), and true olive oil… I have fallen in with California Olive Ranch’s extra virgin olive oil.

I use it for baking potatoes in my large Pyrex pan, and when the occasional meal out of a box requires a spoon of butter (I use the olive oil instead, with great results).

Garlic Salt

Garlic salt is my at-plate seasoning of choice. I season food to taste with it. I am partial to Frontier Co-Op’s Garlic Salt. Since it’s not as manufactured, it does tend to clump in humid hot conditions if you forget to put the cap back on, but it’s still the best I’ve found.

I don’t drown my food in salt, but I’ll sprinkle it liberally on potatoes and pasta. I may sprinkle some on meat while cooking as the situation calls, but I usually use it at the plate.

Oregano

Oregano’s healing properties more than its flavor are why I garnish baked dishes with it. I can’t imagine a dusting of the stuff works any miracles, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. And it does help the flavor of food.

Others will use it with other seasonings, but I only use it with garlic salt or powder.

Garlic powder, or pure garlic

Speaking of which, I will season meat and potatoes with garlic powder before baking to add some end-game flavor. If I’m in the mood to crush cloves of garlic, I’ll buy some bulbs from the store and get to it. However, it’s easier to just use the powder, so I just go with that.

I hope I don’t reek of garlic. I can’t tell anymore, since I use the stuff so much with my cooking. I avoid mainstream mass-produced brands, but otherwise I don’t have a strong preference with garlic powder.

Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt

It’s getting harder for me to find a store that carries Jane’s fine mix of dried garlic, onion, garnishes and salt. Stores in Seattle (where I discovered it) definitely carry it in spades. But the only place in Chicago I’ve reliably found it recently is Treasure Island Foods, and they are unfortunately closing for good. Instacart claims that Whole Foods carries it but I’ve rarely seen it available there. I’ll need to find another store that has it or I won’t be using it again for a while.

It’s a little too thick to use as an at-plate seasoning, so I generally use it like garlic powder, as pre-cook seasoning for baked dishes.

White or brown rice

Growing up in a Filipino household, we ate white rice with just about everything we had for dinner. It was rare to eat a dinner where the side dish was something else. The family would mix it with butter, but over time I grew to enjoy it plain or with salt.

Living in Seattle I grew an affinity for brown rice, and cooked that a lot more frequently than white rice. I developed a few recipes, and would often carry a batch to work in plasticware to either eat for breakfast, or for lunch. Learning about the presence of arsenic in brown rice, I shied away from it in recent years, but I still do eat it, cooked out of my Aroma automatic rice cooker.

Currently I like to bring seasoned rice with me to work and eat that for lunch with…

Sardines in olive oil

I first dabbled with canned sardines back in Seattle, long after first seeing my dad eat them from time to time. I found them okay, but wasn’t that into them.

That changed during my current work situation, when I wanted to bring a suitable meal to work and eventually discovered that wild-caught sardines were a convenient protein to eat with rice. Getting them with olive oil also helps season the rice a bit more, making lunch a pretty full dish.

Sardines also have the advantage of providing Omega 3, which I get some of via fish oil supplementation and the occasional salmon meal. But it’s great to get it regularly with such an easy, portable lunch dish.

I’m partial to paying a bit more for the King Oscar brand, which I’ve found to taste noticeably better (less “tinny” and more like wild-caught fish). This is pretty much what I eat for lunch every weekday right now.


 

So those are my current food staples. This always evolves, and in a few years some other combination of food may suit my needs better.

But one key to why these foods work for me, along with being minimally processed and/or organic, is that they are affordable and for the most part readily accessible. It’s easy to form habits of eating these foods on a consistent basis.

I’ve definitely noticed the difference with my health and my running performance in the long run from eating this kind of food.

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Ideas for marathon recovery

My only expertise with this, aside from cobbling together ancedotal evidence and glancing at research, is the fact that I’m feeling alarmingly well for two days after a marathon, and based on my experience recovering from other races and hard workouts.

This is aside from the obvious advice to take extended time off and to rest when in doubt.

Eat a lot of protein everyday

Eat more protein than you typically would. Eat as if you just did a hard workout, even though clearly you haven’t worked out today, and shouldn’t.

I’m eating around 150-180g a day. I usually eat closer to 130-150g.

Walk as much as you can get away with

Yes, generally you should rest as much as you can, and I’m not suggesting you go on a massive hike. But generating blood circulation and some (slight) added stress can help kickstart recovery processes in your body. A 10-30 minute walk, even multiple times a day if you can stand it, can help accelerate the rebuilding process.

Take it easy on the caffeine

Maybe you drink coffee or tea. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you used it in training or the race, and maybe you didn’t. Ideally, you took it a bit easy leading up to the race, and probably didn’t have a whole lot on race day.

If you like it, don’t give it up, but stick to your cut-back volume for now, while you’re not planning on being particularly active. It can interfere with sleep if you re-up your intake while your body’s not burning as many calories as usual. And this is a time where sleep is very valuable for you.

The more you’re on your feet, the better your soreness will feel

The worst your soreness will feel is if you’ve been stationary for a while, and then decide to get up. As you’re on your feet for some time, the soreness will not be as present and noticeable. Again, circulation helps. And so does warming up those damaged muscles a bit. Also, the more activity you can manage during the day, the easier it will be to get to sleep, which again is important to recoery.

So make sure to get up and move around with some regularity, soreness or injuries permitting.

Once your 1-2 week rest period has passed, consider another form of fitness training in the short run.

While you could certainly get back to running once you’re ready, and perhaps you even have a race to train for right away… if you’ve got time before your next training cycle has to start, it may be beneficial to switch things up and train in something different, whether it’s weight training, circuit training, yoga or Pilates, a squats or push up challenge, playing a sport, etc…

Giving your body a different kind of workout not only promotes overall fitness and perhaps develops your running ability in different ways, but it also strengthens your core, a valuable asset once you return to training primarily as a runner.


I’m starting to feel better already, and I’m thinking in part it’s from having done a few of the pre-training ideas.

If you’re on the mend following a marathon, some of these ideas may be worth trying. Consider them.

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Some random thoughts the day after my marathon

I am definitely sore. At first yesterday I thought, “Well, this doesn’t feel much worse than after a 20 miler.” But deep down I knew better, and sure enough the soreness stiffened up and felt decidedly worse this morning. I had to work today, so there’s no day off to rest up. Back at it.

When I’m on my feet and moving around, movement gets easier and I almost feel normal. If I sit for extended periods, then getting up feels painfully difficult.

The saving grace of good running form is that, even when you’re very sore, that form can still carry you somewhat comfortably if you have to jog across a street or similar.

Others who ran the Chicago Marathon struggled as well. A few had great days, but many experienced, skilled marathoners I know reported this was one of their harder marathons. They didn’t have ridiculous hiccups as I did, but many slowed quite a bit towards the final 10K… very unusual for people who have run a few of these races. They know about the wall and how to prevent it.

Part of the issue was the sneaky humidity. The cloudy 60 degree weather did obscure for many how much the humidity would be a factor. It hinders sweat evaporation, which became an issue when the wind wasn’t blowing, and when it wasn’t raining.

And of course that occasionally substantial rain was an issue. Never mind getting you all wet. The extra water does weigh your clothes and shoes down and add weight, which slows you by about 2-3 seconds a mile per extra pound. It hit most runners before the halfway mark, and I imagine the long term effect of the watered down gear plus the high humidity contributed to slowing people down late.

I have some theories on what may have caused my hiccups.

  • I drank some protein rich fluid during the 1st half, and it’s possible it sat in my stomach with any water I took in, hindering digestion and backing up traffic in my esophagus, triggering hiccups.
  • I hadn’t practiced fluid intake as much in my training, and while I was skilled enough at it to do so without problems, perhaps the combination of pace running while taking in occasional fluid strained my breathing tract enough to trigger the hiccups. It’s also possible I took in some air at some point and that triggered it… though if that were the culprit that should have cleared up after a bit.
  • Perhaps, despite being in control otherwise, my body was intrinsically freaking out from the combination of long moderate running, nutrition intake, dealing with weird and occasionally wild weather, etc. Perhaps the hiccups were a sign of it beginning to give in, even if my legs and lungs were not.

I think one key adjustment I can make for next time is to not worry about carrying nutrition for the next marathon, certainly not the next time I run Chicago (if/when that happens). It seemed like Gatorade and the bananas or other products provided later on would have been more than enough.

I always run with the mindset that if I don’t bring nutrition for a long run, I am up the creek. This might be true in a race like Vancouver, where their energy drink is something no-calorie like Nuun. But for Gatorade races, that is probably enough.

In fact, I was not prepared for how many people on the South Side had food to offer passing runners. I was shocked. It was a veritable buffet from West Loop all the way to Bronzeville. Had I known there would be so much available I wouldn’t have even carried anything. Between that, on-course bananas and Gatorade that would have been more than enough.

The South Side portion of the course was so much fun, even if I was miserable for much of it and didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have otherwise. The spectators really bring the energy down there on race day. The king bee of it all had to be the marching music played as you enter Chinatown. You have got to see and hear it to believe it… especially if you’re on about mile 20 of a marathon.

I’m on the fence about putting in for Chicago’s lottery for next year, especially since I’m not certain of what my living and job situation will be by next summer. I may end up moving, and if I leave Chicago I’m not going to be too keen on coming back just for a marathon. But I feel like it’s a race I should definitely do again.

That’s all for now on random thoughts. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll have some less random, more evergreen material. Meanwhile, hope you’re doing well, especially if you’re coming off a marathon like I am.

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Hiccups, but the Chicago Marathon is done

I had a bad case of the hiccups at mile 14, and it impacted my breathing while running to where I had to run/walk the rest of the way. But I did finish in a bit under 5:26.

I had never had anything like that happen to me before. I was on pace for 4:10-4:20 and feeling good physically, when suddenly I began hiccuping so badly I couldn’t breathe. I tried holding my breath, tried stopping, drinking water… nothing could stop them. At best, if it seemed  had gotten them to stop, I could resume running for 1-3 minutes. Then they’d come back and I’d have to slow to a walk again.

The resulting run/walk was a miserable slog, and it definitely exacberated any exhaustion I was feeling. If finishing wasn’t so important to me, I’d have possibly dropped out. It was somewhat aggravating knowing in the later miles I was in condition to run at speed, but this was holding me back.

I ran/walked until 40K, where I decided hiccups be damned that I would run the rest of the way, and I did. I even kicked hard like a 10K at the finish.

I feel great about finishing. I don’t feel great about the hiccups derailing my run. I am still sore and tired, and if there’s one saving grace it’s that the forced walking might have made the run less of a beating on my body. We’ll see how I feel over the next few days, but I notice I’m having an easier time walking and taking the stairs than others, even though definitely it’s a struggle.

It does feel good as well knowing I can certainly improve on 5:25ish, that I’m more than capable of 4:00-4:15 and possibly better the next time out. If I can figure out over time what caused the hiccups, I can run the next marathon without any… hiccups.

Now it’s time for two weeks off.

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Do I ever take an offseason?

My final shakeout run is in the books and I feel ready to go for tomorrow’s Chicago Marathon. I definitely feel way better and a lot more physically/mentally ready for tomorrow than I did while ill and sleeping poorly right before Vancouver.

Tomorrow, effective no later than 2pm CDT, I begin an imposed two week minimum hiatus from running. This is a rule created by the Hanson Brothers that bookends their training plans in Hanson Marathon Method. While I don’t necessarily train their way, it is a rule I plan to follow.

Never mind how much damage I’ll have to heal from. From a pure healing standpoint, you could easily begin easy running in as little as the next day, provided the running is easy and brief enough. I can do recovery runs after 20 milers with little problem.

Hal Higdon recommends you take about 3 days off after a marathon before trying any running. Even then he recommends you take it very easy and ease back into a regular schedule.

The real reason to take a break, along with physical recovery, is to take a mental break, free up those hours I’d otherwise devote to running and do some other stuff with my evenings. I definitely have some other projects and work I’m looking forward to doing during the break.

The most obvious time to take an offseason is right after a marathon, where a runner needs the recovery time anyway. The famous Kenyan runners actually will sit around and not run at all for as much as two months before resuming training. Frank Shorter’s famous quote goes, “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.” The offseason is meant for many to re-set the mind before committing to train again.

During an offseason a runner might run some, but nothing resembling training for particular fitness let alone a race. Week One for that can begin down the road.

Once I got serious about running again, I’ve definitely taken breaks. I don’t know if I’d full out call them offseasons, as when I take them fluctuates depending on various factors.

For one, I began serious training in a traditional spring-to-fall schedule, and eventually decided I wanted to run in winter. At that time I took a break in late summer in 2017, then resumed training in the autumn as others were running their marathons and wrapping up their training. I also took another break, after weeks of general training, before beginning training in January for Vancouver this past year.

For there to be an offseason, however, there has to be a defined season to train. And in my case, winter is my favorite time of year to train, but I don’t know if November to May would be considered my “season” just yet.

This time around, obviously, I’m going to take a way more conventional break following the Chicago Marathon, which I suppose you can call an offseason. I not only will take a two week break from running, but I want to focus primarily on other physical training during November and December.

After light strength training during this training cycle, I would like to improve my upper body strength, core strength, overall flexibility and conditioning ahead of resuming training in winter. I’ve got a strength and conditioning program or two that I’ve previously worked with and think will serve me well with two months of daily committed effort. I’ll get more into this once I’m at that point and knee deep into it.


 

Meanwhile, for this training cycle, there’s one more important task remaining at hand. I will talk with you again following the Chicago Marathon.

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Sasha Pachev: A Humble, Prolific Distance Running Legend

You might already know Sasha Pachev, even if you don’t.

Ever hear of the Mormon running family who runs races in Crocs? Remember the teenage kid who crushed a half marathon running in Crocs?

Pachev

Yeah, that’s the Pachev family, led by Sasha Pachev:

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Sasha Pachev, left, gets ready to run the 2017 500-Festival Mini-Marathon with his son Benjamin, right. Benjamin’s the famous teen who crushed this race in Crocs.

One of the first running writers I read a lot after getting into running was Pachev. He hasn’t written any books to my knowledge, but he does keep a website and a forum dedicated to hardcore runners in his neck of the woods in Southern Utah. In fact, the site’s running calculators are largely specific to projecting your times for key Utah races.

Sasha himself is an accomplished marathoner, having broken 2:25 in the marathon, outright winning a few marathons. He has well-beyond BQ’d. He could, outside of the Olympics, probably run whatever marathon he wants.

The man knows his stuff. Though Sasha’s advice isn’t too complex, the basic underlying premise is sound: As your running volume safely increases, your overall speed and ability to maintain that speed at longer distances should improve, or at least be better than if you had run fewer miles. As I’ve learned more about projecting results from previous results, I’ve found the predictions of his somewhat esoteric calculators to still be quite accurate.

PachevShoes

One impressive note is Sasha’s shoe tracking data… not his tracking in itself, which is quite ordinary, but the stats:

Sasha has a small handful currently rotating pairs. All, including his trademark Crocs, have logged several hundred miles beyond what one would consider a shoe’s normal lifespan. One pair has over 1500 miles! The average runner would have exhausted 3-6 pairs at that volume that one pair has taken. Apparently there are no problematic holes or other complications with the shoes, if Sasha’s still running in them to this day.

This indicates Sasha may be doing something that most other runners don’t. Even the most experienced and form-perfect runners seem to wear out a pair of shoes after a few hundred miles at most. I’m sure the Crocs themselves are durable (even if technically they’re not running shoes). Perhaps (despite an admitted hitch in his running form) his running form is sound to where he does not wear shoes out the same way others do.

However, that’s admittedly pure conjecture. I have no idea. But the life he gets out of shoes is as prolific as his running volume and accomplishments.

It’s also quite Mormon, and I mean that with all due respect, as the LDS culture is known for (among other things) getting a lot of life and mileage out of basic equipment and supplies.


I’m not big on “XYZ person is an inspiration”, but Sasha Pachev is a shining example of how anyone can train themselves into being a great marathoner, no matter what footwear they’re wearing.

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Losing fat while training as a runner: The healthy middle ground

Fitness guru Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes recommends that if you’re overweight, or “skinny-fat” (not overweight but lacking muscle tone) and want to change for the better, your first primary focus aside from training should be to diet down to 10% bodyfat.

While somewhat extreme, here’s the idea: Most who begin to weight train build muscle beneath existing layers of fat, burdening themselves with the extra weight and complicating the step of eventually burning off extra fat. Burning the fat off up front eliminates the need to carry extra baggage, making all of your life a lot physically easier, and muscle built will show up a lot quicker.

WeightLoss

A Fitbit chart of my weight over time since December 2016, beginning some time after I began running. At this point, now well below my previous high of 193 and more normal… I let my weight fluctuate a bit more, depending on training cycles and goals.

On a different note, running obviously helped me shed a lot of fat, though before I seriously got into running I had already lost about 15 pounds, much of it fat. Running keyed some of my weight loss, but diet habits were what mattered most.

The thing with a running diet is that, regardless of any weight loss goals, its primary objective is to fuel your recovery from workouts. If you run a simple calorie deficit while training regularly, you’re just going to get injured. You won’t have enough protein to effectively rebuild your damaged muscles, and you won’t get enough quality carbohydrates to effectively replenish your glycogen stores. You’ll operate in a state of constant fatigue, which eventually becomes burnout.


Is there a middle ground if you’re trying to shed fat while endurance training? Absolutely.

First of all, if you make cleaner dietary changes as you begin training, you’re going to experience initial rapid weight loss. However, this is not fat melting off your body. It’s usually water weight:

  • You’re sweating more, so of course that liquid is getting displaced from your body.
  • If you’re hydrating more, your body will “decide” to retain less water over time. Extra water will get flushed.
  • As your diet improves, inflammation in your body subsides. Often your body retains fluid around inflamed parts as a sort of protection. As your inflammation decreases, the need to retain that fluid dissipates, and the fluid is flushed.
  • Many of your fat cells are actually just full of water. If you have fat cells that have lost their fat, they often re-fill with water in lieu of re-adding fat. As you burn those fat stores, these water-laden cells get “burned” and in turn release their water instead of releasing fat energy. Whoosh!

This is why when people begin a diet they lose several pounds right off the bat, before the weight loss slows to a relative crawl. The relative crawl is closer to the actual rate of fat loss. The earlier accelerated weight loss was a bunch of water weight flushing away.

Secondly, that water weight loss is actually good! You want to shed any unnecessary extra weight, and if you can eliminate the need for your body to surround organs and load fat cells with water, it’s in your best interests to eliminate the extra baggage.

But don’t you need to be hydrated? Sure, though you certainly don’t need to retain water to maintain hydration. Remember that the human body is more than 70% water. You are already fundamentally full of water. While you don’t want to dehydrate yourself, staying hydrated doesn’t require you retain extra water. Drink a decent amount of water every day, eat clean whole foods (that themselves contain a fundamental amount of water), drink hydrating fluids as needed during exercise, and you’ll be sufficiently hydrated.

Aside from that, your biggest concern is ensuring your body can effectively recover from training. The biggest challenge that trying to lose fat while training offers is that decreasing your nutrition intake, key to losing weight, risks compromising your recovery by denying the body needed nutrition.


The common fallacy people fall into when balancing training with weight loss is that they cut out the difference in dietary fat.

First of all, counterintuitively, your body needs dietary fat in a lot of ways. Without getting into the science, many hormonal and brain processes require the intake and digestion of nutrients from dietary fat. You’re starving yourself just as badly by taking in minimal fat as you would be if you stopped consuming protein.

If you weren’t a distance runner, it can be argued that you don’t really need carbohydrates. If your only exercise is weight training or walking, you could get by on a hardcore keto/paleo-style diet where as few carbs as consumed as possible.

However, if you regularly run harder than a jog for more than a few moments at a time, or you regularly run 3+ miles more than twice a week (low-carb dieters who swear by high intensity interval running do neither), you absolutely do need non-fiber carbs to maintain your glycogen stores.

And of course you absolutely need protein, no matter how active you are. Protein is the body’s rebuilding blocks, and without it your muscles and organs atrophy and break down. Most humans don’t get enough protein. Many athletes certainly don’t, even if they’re trying. Without getting into that discussion, you need protein, period.


So, can you still cut sufficient calories to spur weight loss, while still eating a healthy quantity of macronutrients to keep your body fueled for race training? Is it possible to practice a restrictive protocol like intermittent fasting and still be able to build/rebuild needed muscle, effectively restore glycogen stores, and still burn off fat and water weight at a noticeable rate?

To all this I say… absolutely. Build the right habits, and it’s not even that hard.


  1. First of all, if you already follow a solid maintenance diet, if you already know how many calories you need to eat each day to maintain your current weight… then cutting a few calories each day won’t be too hard. A 250 calorie deficit per day is pretty simple.
  2. Secondly, while intermittent fasting is effective, the risk is that it can potentially, unduly deplete needed glycogen stores over time, while potentially exacerbating exercise-related damage during the fasting period. However, that can be mitigated in many circumstances, and it can be possible to practice it during easier periods while just avoiding the protocol during other key periods.
  3. Thirdly, the key to a successful fat-burning diet is not to cut everything across the board, but to maintain the intake of key nutrients while curbing others.

You can burn fat while endurance training without burning out. There is a huge, fertile middle ground between hardcore dieting and training-friendly gluttony.

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Enough text-jawing about theory. If you’re going to try and lose weight while steady-state endurance training (i.e. running, also stuff like cycling, triahtlons, playing team sports like football/basketball, etc), here’s some actionable tips.

DON’T EVER SHORT PROTEIN

Your daily maintenance level protein needs are roughly around 1 gram for every pound of lean body mass (LBM), or 1 gram for every kilogram equal to 180% of your bodyweight.

Make sure you ALWAYS get at least this much protein. Other macros are going to get cut, but this one will do no less than stay constant.

You can even take in more protein than this on some days. There’s conflicting data on how much compulsive overdosing on protein can hurt your body, but going over some of the time isn’t so bad. Just don’t ever go below this benchmark.

THE EASIEST WAY TO RUN A HEALTHY DEFICIT: INTERMITTENT FASTING

There are various intermittent fasting protocols, and the easiest to maintain simply requires that you skip breakfast and eat your first food of the day at lunch. This ensures a 12-14 hour minimum fasting window and allows for most of the hormone-resetting and fat-burning benefits to kick in for at least a couple hours.

But most of all, it becomes very hard to overeat on calories for the day when you skip breakfast. Even if you overdo lunch or dinner, even if you slip another mid-afternoon or early evening meal between them, you’ll often fall short of your maintenance calorie level by a few hundred calories. Your stomach can only handle so much food in a given time span.

On my longest training days, where I burn in excess of 5000 calories, there’s no way I can take in 5000 calories. Even when I’m up for a Thanksgiving-sized meal, I can get about 2000 calories in, and hours later I might be able to get in 1000-1500 more. Your stomach has a limit as to how much food it can process over time. The best I’ve been able to do is a bit over 4000 calories, still about 1000 calories short on a 5000 calorie effort day.

Similarly, you can pig out for that first meal after breaking an intermittent fast. But unless you ate some seriously ghrelin-inducing processed garbage for lunch, your stomach’s not going to be ready for another massive meal for several more hours. It might be ready to eat again, but likely more on the level of a few hundred calories. Usually, for me, I break a fast around noon with a sizable but not absurd 600-1000 calorie lunch, and feel the need for another big meal around 6pm.

If I do eat a massive meal right after work (1000-1500 calories) I probably won’t want to eat again before bed, or I might eat a 200-400 calorie something before 10pm. Usually I do the latter, because otherwise (unless I am super exhausted enough to stay passed out the entire night) I wake up hungry during the night.

If I skip the big meal at 6pm and cook a full dinner closer to 8pm, this is usually 800-1000 calories. I can stomach up to 1500.

But that’s an absolute ceiling of about 2900 calories. On a typical day I burn in excess of 3000 calories, usually closer to 3300-3500. When I fast, I can’t help but lose weight, even if the fast itself produced no real benefits.

AVOID INTERMITTENT FASTING ON A TOUGH TRAINING DAY (AND MAYBE ALSO THE DAY AFTER)

If you have a long run or a tough speedwork session scheduled on a given day, go ahead and eat breakfast. You’re gonna need all the nutritional help you can get, and any complications from fasting that day could carry over into and compromise the workout. Go ahead and eat breakfast.

If you abhor breakfast, then just eat something light and protein rich, like a couple of eggs or even just a protein shake.

I’d also suggest, if you feel really worn out or beat up after the workout, avoiding a fast the following day as well, especially if you feel real tired or beat up the next morning or at the very least rather hungry (which you might be the morning after a hard workout). Make recovery a priority.

Not only will you minimize the chance of injury and burnout, but also of any derailing cravings that could get you off your otherwise sound diet.

WHEN IN DOUBT, SHORT CARBS

If I won’t fast (which, now that I know how to safely do so during training, isn’t likely), then the next easiest answer is to reduce but not eliminate the carbs I consume.

Since one of the most nutrient-important foods I consume is potatoes, I obviously plan to take in some carbs even if not training at all. A typical dinner serving of potatoes for me contains about 60-90g of carbohydrate.

There are some recovery days where I will go full no-carb and just eat meat, avocados, etc, but if coming off a workout or expecting to do a hard workout soon, carbs are important and will get included.

If taking a day off or only planning to do a short recovery run, that’s a great day to take it easy on your normalized carb intake. Build that day’s diet around healthy fat and protein. If you eat some carbs, that’s fine. But don’t carb load.

Your body is constantly burning fat for fuel. We just are conditioned to store any spare nutrition as fat, and that’s why we have a surplus. But glycogen from carbs is only burned during intense, extended exercise. So if you know you’re exercising less than usual, eat fewer carbs than usual.

But, what you can do instead is not worry about carb loading. Many runners eat a ton of carbs, possibly more than they need. You certainly ought to eat a lot if you’re running a lot, but getting into the 500+ gram mark is usually overkill. You’ll know if you need that much: If you’re eating 400-490g of carbs a day, running 60+ miles a week, and struggling to bounce back from your regular workouts not because of soreness but because your lower body muscles feel dead or tapped.

I talked previously about how pre-marathon carb loading doesn’t work as well as people think. I also think even the most advanced runners overdose on carbs. Your typical working class runner almost certainly does.

If you’re running more than 30 miles a week, you could certainly use 300-400 grams of carbohydrate a day. But most of your running should be easy, more of your energy should be coming from fat, and you probably don’t NEED that much.

Do not cut carbs completely if endurance training. But if you want to lose fat then consider experimenting with eating 50-100 fewer grams of carbohydrate a day. Maintain a normal fat intake, definitely maintain your protein intake, and just cut carbs a bit. Do it during a series of regular workouts, and see how your body reacts.

You may be surprised at how not-bad you feel. And it may help you cut fat without damaging yourself.

GO FOR A WALK AFTER EVERY MEAL

Walking should be very natural and easy for any distance runner. It burns calories but almost doesn’t seem like it qualifies as exercise.

An easy way to knock off an extra few hundred calories per day is to take a 15-30 minute walk immediately after eating a meal. You kick-start the digestion of the food you just ate, while sneaking in some extra fat burning not just during the walk, but thereafter. You also decrease the amount of your meal that could be stored as fat, since some of it will now be used for energy and muscle restoration.

If you’ve been very active that day and know you’ve already burned a ton of calories, there’s no need to take a walk if not desired. Otherwise, get outside and get some air.

… OR GO FOR A QUICK WORKOUT RIGHT BEFORE EATING

Maybe you’d rather not walk after a meal. Maybe your neighborhood’s not so safe at night. Maybe you’ve got to wash and put away a lot of dishes.

You can get similar benefits from getting in a quick walk or run while dinner bakes or otherwise cooks. If you know you can eat within moments after finishing a workout, go do a full workout, and then come inside to eat.

Because nutrient absorption is optimally high within 30 minutes of activity, you will have quickly primed your body to absorb nutrients from the meal you’re about to eat, which means less of that meal will be stored as fat… on top of burning a few extra fat calories, and kicking in a heart-rate-elevated afterburn that will burn a few more.

AT THE END OF AN INTERMITTENT FASTING SESSION, EAT A PROTEIN AND CARB RICH MEAL

In a sense, your first post-fast meal is similar to a post-workout meal. Your body is now in an accelerated-processing state and primed to better utilize the food you eat off that fast.

Maximize this opportunity by eating the cleanest, nutrient-richest meal you can manage in that moment. This is not the time to eat a burger or a pizza. This is the time to pound that baked or broiled chicken, that mass of rice or potatoes, those green vegetables and fruit, etc.

Your body will use much more of this food to rebuild and store as glycogen. Less of it will get stored as fat. More of those vitamins and other valuable nutrients in the food will get absorbed and used.

If the food you eat in this spot lacks nutrients, you won’t die or anything, but you’re blowing a golden opportunity. Maximize the opportunity and minimize the fat storage.


 

If in doubt, if you’re endurance training but also want to lose weight… you’re better off focusing on maintaining your training volume and intensity by getting your nutrients and your rest.

I’ve certainly lost weight (aside from water weight) without trying to lose weight, focusing on a healthy maintenance diet and then somehow losing a few pounds while maintaining lean body mass anyway. Sometimes amidst many days of breaking even in calories burned vs eaten… you burn more calories than expected while eating the amount you expected. Do that for long enough, and pounds go away.

But if you want to take a stab at seriously losing weight while still training to run a race, it can be possible. I wouldn’t advertise incredible results, but I’ve dropped a few pounds between week one and race day enough times to know you can do it without compromising your race goals.

Intermittent fasting can make it easier, but it’s also possible to cut carbs in your regular diet and find a 300-500 calorie daily deficit. Do either way consistently, sustainably, over time, and you’re going to lose fat while maintaining needed running muscle.

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The ideal running temperature vs most people’s ideal temperature

One thing I find annoying is right before a relatively warm race when the obnoxious race emcee says, “It’s a perfect day outside for a race!” You can clearly tell from such a statement that the guy never runs, ever.

Because while 60-70 degrees feels amazing if you’re out for an easy walk, or laying out in the sun… that temperature enters the somewhat-warm zone for distance runners in a race, who are moving a lot faster than a walk and producing a lot of body heat throughout their run. Add in substantial humidity, which interferes with the evaporation of sweat, and now it begins to feel really hot.

Jonathan Savage created a ‘perceived heat index for runners’ calculator to accurately show what a runner’s “heat index” is for a given pace at their height and weight, depending on the temperature and humidity.

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As you can see, 65 degrees at even a mild 40% humidity can feel like 101 degrees Fahrenheit for a runner my size (5’10”, 160 lbs) running at a 9:05/mile pace.

To be fair, that’s mild compared to how most of the summer has felt for me, running in 80-95 degree afternoons with 60-75% humidity. Even running at slower paces, my heat indices have been in the 130-145 degree range. Needless to say, that has prepared me fairly well for the worst heat this Sunday’s Chicago Marathon could offer me.

Thankfully, the forecast indicates it won’t get that bad. Projected temperatures are slated around 60-65 degrees for the race, with overcast and 80-90% humidity due to a sizable rainstorm slated to hit Saturday (and BTW Chicago runners, might want to get that shakeout run in early during the brief moments it’s not raining).

The heat index for race day could be anywhere from 100-115 degrees depending on what the temperature is, but it’s still milder than I’ve experienced all summer, plus it will be pretty much overcast so the sun won’t be adding to the heat that much.

In any case, I’m not big on clapbacks or “educating” people, but the next time someone attempts to point out that 60+ degree weather is perfect running weather, you may want to throw some knowledge at them about how running changes everything.

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