Category Archives: nutrition

My favorite cooking supplies

I’ve always been a creature of habit. For the most part, I do many of the same things the same way every day, every week.

Related: Some people have cabinets full of cookware and flatware. While I also have cookware (thanks Mom!), I find I pretty much use the same few pieces of cookware. I currently have two plates, one spoon, one fork and one knife. This is in part due to living in a tiny apartment and not having much storage space. I deal with this mostly by washing my dishes every day. If any of them broke or disappeared I’d just go buy another. If my situation ever changed to where I needed more than that, I’d go buy what’s needed (plates and flatware aren’t at all expensive). But I don’t need more than that so that’s all I have.


Cooking supplies are a similar deal. I don’t own cookware unless I use it (because that’s why I bought it), or it was gifted to me. I find myself using the same handful of supplies on a regular basis.

Pyrex baking dishes. I used to bake in tin/metal dishes, lined with aluminim foil. But as I discovered research indicating that aluminum leeches into your food and deposits in your brain long-term, I decided to stop that and directly cook food on baking dishes that are easy to clean and don’t rust.

Enter Pyrex. I bought a simple 3-set of Pyrex dishes, all of which I use. The small dish can bake a fish fillet or a pair of chicken thighs. The medium dish can bake 3 chicken thighs (which I tend to prepare most often). The large dish can handle the baked potatoes dish that I often make. All are easy to clean afterward following a soak. No leeching metals into my food!

Large stainless steel cooking pot. This was a gift (thanks Mom!), and as I discovered I preferred boiling dishes like pasta and cut potatoes I found myself using it far more often. I pretty much just use it to boil stuff, but I find myself boiling stuff frequently. Since I almost always boil in water, cleaning it is very easy.

Stainless steel colander. Since I boil stuff a lot, I usually need to drain it. I put this in the sink and dump my boiled food in, since I prefer my side dishes to not be watery. Easy to use, easy to keep clean, and can strain a variety of boiled side dishes without too much trouble.

 

Aroma automated rice cooker. I bought this years ago and it’s one of the best cooking appliance purchases I’ve ever made.

What makes this cooker super useful is how I can set the delay timer to cook rice for the following day, or in the morning for dinner later than evening. Rice is ready when I plan to eat it, with no hassle. It also has different settings for brown rice vs white rice, and both types come out exactly the way you’d like. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes to eat rice on the regular. It can also sautee, steam vegetables, and slow cool various foods (though I don’t use those features).


I also have frying pans, a saucepan and skillets, but I use those much less frequently since I don’t fry food at home (I bake and boil everything). I also have a garlic crusher which I used a lot when I was on more of a garlic kick, but now it’s in the cabinet as a “there when I need it” kind of thing.

At some point I’ll talk about the kinds of food I eat most often, as well as desired seasonings. Until then….

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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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Does running make your butt smaller?

People are asking some funny questions these days.

Obviously, how your running affects your butt size depends on various factors.

  • The original composition of your butt (muscle vs fat)
  • Your entire body’s composition (muscle vs fat)
  • The amount of running you do
  • The intensity of the running you do
  • Your diet
  • What other exercise you do, and with what body parts

Unlike the calories per mile question, this is not a question with a clear consistent answer that can be cross applied.

Generally, however, if you carry a lot of fat, and a lot of fat is in that butt… running a lot more than before could make your butt smaller, sure. You’ll burn more fat over time and that can reduce the cushion around your… tushion.

However, that also depends on what you eat, and how you eat differently once you’re running more. Are you eating a lot more food now that you’re running? Are you cleaning up your diet? Are you eating the same, but now running a calorie deficit every day due to all that running?

Generally, if you eat more than you burn, you’re not going to lose weight, and thus will probably not lose butt. If you eat the same as before but exercise more, you will probably lose weight, and thus probably lose butt as well.

Of course, the flip side is that using your lower body muscles more will make them stronger, and possibly bigger. Proper form does utilize the glutes. It’s entirely possible your butt muscles get bigger. But this probably isn’t going to make your butt bigger overall, unless you:

  • Eat more to compensate for your extra running and thus maintain your rear-located fat storage
  • Take anabolic steroids or other performance enhancing drugs that help produce substantial muscle gain after heavy training and diet

There’s also the converse, that if you eat too little and allow your muscle tissue to break down… this could in kind lead to an overall lean-down of your body, which in turn would lead to your butt also getting a little leaner. But it’s very hard to train a lot for an extended period with this sort of nutrition depletion, without suffering burn-out and having to abandon training.

And, finally, there’s genetic predisposition. Basically, some people are genetically inclined to have a big butt, and even when they clean up their diet and exercise their… butts off… their butt is still going to remain big. It’s like Pacific Islanders who tend to have naturally huge calves. They can slim down and change their habits all they want, but even if they lean out they’re still going to have large calves. Such is life with such genetics.

You may still see results (especially if you were overweight), but there may be only so much you can do to reduce the size of particular parts, including the posterior. But (butt?), on average, running a little (like, a couple times a week) probably won’t reduce the size of your butt all that much. Running a lot, however (like, almost every day), possibly will. Either way, if you eat a lot, and eat even more when you’re running more, it’s more likely you don’t see results.

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My keys to a successful running diet

I’ve gotten pretty good at consistently eating a solid diet that successfully augments my training, and I’d like to share some of my keys to success with you.

The standard disclaimers:

This is based on my experience, a truckload of trial and error over years and years, on habits that have consistently produced positive results for me.

Who am I to say any of this works? Well, I am an experienced distance runner…

  • who wasn’t an experienced runner 4 years ago
  • who has lost 30 lbs in those 4 years to achieve an average healthy weight (5’10”, 164 lbs and falling)
  • who (while no Adonis or Achilles) is in decent shape and good health at what is soon to be age 40
  • who runs 30-50 miles a week during training
  • who pretty much doesn’t get injured or burn out anymore
  • who runs basically every day, with my typical run being about 4-6 miles.

Your mileage may vary:

The more experienced you are, and the more volume of training that you do than I do, the more fruitfully you can dismiss and blow off any of this advice.

The less experienced you are and the less you work out, the more likely this advice (however imperfect) can help you.

Take or dismiss it at your own leisure or risk. I am fairly sure none of this general advice will hurt you if you generally follow it… any more than anyone else’s general advice.

Blah blah blah see a doctor before beginning any training program or making any changes blah blah blah. We’re adults.

My keys to a successful running diet:

Aim to eat a maintenance amount of calories during training.

Even if you could afford to lose a few pounds, you’re better off trying to finish even (calories eaten close to or equal to calories burned) than to run a calorie deficit during a training cycle.

Unlike most sedentary people or strength trainers, you actually need those calories. You burn way more calories on a run than people do in the gym. You actually do have a use for carbohydrates, not to mention fat, as your body utilizes that energy on runs. And with all that work, you need all the protein you can get afterward to help rebuild your damaged muscles.

It’s okay to fall short on calories some days, especially if you’re trying to cut fat. If you’re not training for a race, you’re free to run a healthy deficit (500-1000 calories max below your burn per day). But ALWAYS get enough protein. Always make sure you get your needed vitamins and nutrients. Everything else can fall short.

It’s okay to eat at a surplus some days. If possible, try to do so before or during long and intense workout days.

Eat more protein than you think you need.

Eat protein like an entry level bodybuilder: Consume each day at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of total lean body mass (2.2g per kilogram), when actively training.

If not training for an events, a good benchmark is 1 gram of protein for every pound (or 2.2g/kg) equal to 75% of your bodyweight.

There are conflicting opinions on the recommended amount, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass falls in the middle of most modern recommendations, and makes sense for an endurance athlete who obviously isn’t trying to get swole (extra muscle mass slows you down!), but does need to maintain muscle tissue during training. This is the level at which I’ve found the most consistent, sustainable satisfaction and results.

It’s definitely okay to go over that protein benchmark during and after intense training. The myth that excess protein damages your kidneys has long since been proven false.

Try to get all of your protein from whole food (e.g. meat, legumes). Avoid leaning on protein shakes, unless you find it very hard to prepare or port protein-rich meals during a typical day… or you are vegetarian/vegan. Even then, stick to a max of one protein shake per day. One item that is not a myth is that protein shakes not only lack various key nutrients present in protein rich whole foods…. but excess protein shakes can cause gas and other intestinal problems.

Eat more carbohydrates when needed. Otherwise take it easy on them.

Carbs are best ingested en masse before hard workouts, and immediately after the hardest workouts. Having them in your bloodstream helps you during workouts, and the glycogen lost from hard workouts can be more quickly replenished during meals eaten within 2 hours of a workout.

Eating a bunch of carbs the day or two before a monster workout or a marathon can be helpful for topping off your glycogen stores, but the classic pasta binge before a marathon is a bit overrated. If you’ve tapered your training and been eating a solid diet leading up to the race, you’re probably fine: The decreased exercise combined with your normal diet has probably topped off your glycogen tank for you.

How much? I generally don’t try too hard to count, but adding enough to get within 500 calories of your daily burn has been a fine general benchmark.

Meanwhile, on rest days you should eat far fewer carbs and more natural fat. If I wasn’t training for a marathon I might even do a keto or primal style low-carb diet. Granted, that’s extreme, and just sticking to green vegetables and fruit for carbs on such a day is probably fine.

Eat Clean fat:

I’m talking about fat naturally occurring in whole foods (meat, avocados, some nuts). I only cook with virgin coconut oil or pure olive oil.

Fat is necessary for effective organ function. Also, providing fat for your body during busy days discourages your body from storing fat or converting carbohydrates to fat. Recommendation: Whatever fat comes with your daily whole-food-based protein is probably enough. That’s probably more than the RDA, but it’s not something crazy like 200g either. Typically I’ll finish a 3000 calorie day having consumed about 90-120g of fat.

Eat a minimum of processed food.

This has been preached to death. But I even add in “healthy” processed food like protein bars, or anything in a box really. The extra sodium and other additives lead to water retention, making your heavier and slowing you down.

I’m not opposed to some pizza or a bag of chips here and there. But it’s always bookended by clean, whole food.

Drink water, 100% juice, and milk.

Coffee and tea are fine (but if you add sugar you better be planning to run that day).

Don’t even touch a sports drink unless you’re actively in a long run or a speedwork session.

Gatorade is specifically engineered for use during exercise. You’re not supposed to drink it otherwise. It literally is sugar and salt water.

Eat potassium rich foods and make sure you get enough potassium almost every day.

Your heart and your muscles need potassium to function. Yet most people don’t get close to enough (typically 4000-4500 mg per day). A lack of potassium undermines intense activity, and can be dangerous in some situations.

Bananas. Avocados. Potatoes. Natural cuts of meat. Fruit and vegetables. 4500mg is the RDA benchmark for a reason. Most people fall well short of this.

Don’t supplement: Seek to eat foods that provide it. MUCH better this way, plus you get other needed nutrients.

Take a suitable multivitamin.

You can get all your needed vitamins with a perfect diet, but your best effort will probably come nowhere close to getting them all. Take a multivitamin. Even if you piss a lot of it out, your body will utilize much of it and cover whatever gaps your diet has left.

Recommended: Get a reliable brand that recommends taking 3 pills a day, and just take one with a meal. This way on a tough day you can take 2-3, but you minimize the risk of overdose.

My mother was a mark for Source of Life, a brand specializing in whole food based multivitamins. They’re fine but they’re pricey. Don’t sink to getting a flaky mainstream brand like Centrum, but I’ve found 365’s multis at Whole Foods to be reliable and affordable.

That said, there are some key vitamins a multi tends not to provide that you should supplement separately.

Take a Calcium Magnesium citrate combo supplement, as well as the MK 7 form of Vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps you sleep (which itself is super important for training) and regulates various hormone functions. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. A lack of it can facilitate burnout. Most multivitamins don’t include magnesium in their blends. Take it after dinner.

Calcium is more well known for fortifying bones, and while milk/cheese can be a reliable source of calcium, I don’t consume a ton of either so I make sure to supplement. Since calcium and magnesium go well together they are often sold as a combo vitamin. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than the more common calcium carbonate, and magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide. So a Cal-Mag Citrate supplement is the way to go.

But! Calcium can be harmfully absorbed by the arteries instead of your bones… without the presence of Vitamin K. Most multis provide it but don’t readily supply in an absorbent form. So if available I’d recommend taking a Vitamin K2 supplement in the MK 7 form.

Take a Fish oil supplement, if you aren’t eating wild caught salmon.

Omega 3’s in fish oil reduces overall inflammation and promotes good heart health. If you eat farmed salmon it won’t have as much omega 3 as wild caught salmon.

Salmon is pricey and I find it easier to just take a supplement. Whole Foods sometimes has salmon oil, which I prefer to take. But honestly you can take just about any fish oil supplement and as long as it doesn’t contain soy products you’re probably good.

Most brands ask you take 3-6 pills a day. Just take one after dinner.

If you’re frequently under stress and it’s not easily within your control, take ashwagandha or SAMe.

Ashwagandha is an herb that has all sorts of alleged health benefits, but the one known benefit I’ve experienced is that it helps buffer you against stress. I find a bit of the edge comes off the day when I’m taking it.

My mother was big on SAMe, a supplement originally used to help treat joint pain and similar issues but was later found to have positive effects on depression and stress. You cna call it a super version of ashwagandha if you’d like, as I’ve found it does have even stronger stress-relieving effects on my mental state than ashwagandha. And it also does have a positive effect on joint health and relieving inflammation. SAMe however is a lot more expensive than ashwagandha.

Recommendation: Whichever one you decide to take, just take one pill per day max. And cycle your usage: 8 weeks on max, then 4 weeks off.

A good time to take it is during the latter stages of training for a goal race, and then to stop using it for a while once the race is done. This controls cortisol, helps manage mood, and like magnesium helps you sleep better.

If you’re going to eat junk food, eat protein rich junk food.

I’m not against pizza or hamburgers or any of that.

Surround those meals with super clean meals or intermittent fasting, plus plenty of water. Definitely work out those days, and/or the following day, to ensure you burn those junk calories ASAP.

The Andy Morgan Night Out Rule For Drinking:

Andy Morgan is this guy. He’s a bodybuilder who has perfected a combination of training, intermittent fasting, and proper nutrition into an approach he calls Ripped Body.

The rule: If you’re going to go out and have a night of drinking alcohol, get in all your needed protein for the day BEFORE you head out for the night.

Consider anything good you eat during the night to be a bonus, though if you do eat during a night out you’re probably going to eat junk.

Yes, you’ll probably overeat for the day. This is not a big deal. Make a point to go for a run and eat perfectly clean the next day if it bothers you.

Also (this is not his rule, but mine): Before you go to bed that night, drink 16 oz of water. And you should be drinking water throughout the night of drinking as well.

Should you let yourself go after a race?

The only races after which it’s okay to let your good eating habits completely go for a little while are marathons or longer, where you plan to take some time off. But get back on the wagon no later than a week later. Any race that’s shorter, and you really should just treat it as a hard workout: Keep eating well, keep training.

In conclusion:

This approach has worked very well for me, and I think it can work well for others. I realize the advice scratches the surface, and I invite you the reader to do research on any of this if you so desire.

But I follow this approach 80-99% of the time (sure, I deviate and go off the wagon like anyone… but these are also strong habits that make it easy to go back to and stick to them). It has helped me maintain a high volume of running and to stay healthy, without the use of any sort of artificially performance enhancing substances.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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I didn’t quit drinking, except I basically have, and here is why

I don’t really drink that much anymore… (said the guy who went and had a pilsner yesterday afternoon in Uptown after a long walk).

Seriously, though, while I was never much of a drinker compared to others (especially in highly-alcoholic Chicago, where discarded beer cans are the City Flower)… I have since become a rare drinker. I say that rather than “quit drinking” out of respect to friends who have for their reasons seriously cut all alcohol and take pride in it.

I might have a beer or two, maybe a well drink, once or twice a month at most. Yesterday was the first time I went out of my way to have a drink in months: All the other ABV beverages I’ve had were either as part of events or with family.

I’m still open to having alcohol, but I rarely go out of my way to have any. I may have drinks more often during Loyola basketball season when I’m in reach of Ireland’s Pub 10 before and after games. But otherwise I could go weeks between a drink without thinking much of it.

This could be due to separation from people who habitually drink every weekend (and whenever possible on the weekdays). But being in Wrigleyville, there’s no shortage of opportunity. In fact, I have an unopened bottle of North Shore Aquavit that has sat in my fridge unopened for over two years. If I wanted alcohol it’s basically right there, all the time. But I hardly want it.

Sure, being a runner who trains daily might be a factor. But plenty of runners enjoy a beer on the regular, and other than monthly pint night events or races I still don’t really drink. And of course, because I’m burning thousands of extra calories a week it’s not like I couldn’t get away with a drink every few days, or even every day if I wanted.

So what steers me away from drinking? There are actually more fundamental factors, and none of them have to do with pious morality.

Snoring.

My family’s had a history of snoring problems, and I’m no exception. Laying in some positions, it can become a problem. Well, when you drink your muscles relax, and that includes the tissues in your throat. This gives your ENT airways more flappy tissue to make snoring noise with, so you snore more. Snoring indicates your airway is obstructed, and this can interfere with sleep… not to mention the noise can interfere with other people’s sleep. So, since I want to avoid snoring, I want to avoid things that cause snoring… like alcohol.

Alcohol disrupts my sleep.

Even if you’re tired enough to quickly drift off to sleep after a night of drinks, alcohol interferes enough with your circadian rhythms to prevent you from logging substantial periods of deep and REM sleep, the key portions of sleep to rejuvenating your body. Often, you’ll wake up during the night or otherwise prematurely. I usually don’t sleep well after having even one drink most of the time, no matter how good I felt from the moment I drank it until the end of the day. It has a ripple effect on the entire next day, like any day where I don’t get enough sleep. So, since I usually don’t want my sleep disrupted, I avoid drinking.

I have a lot of stuff I want to do the next morning.

I have a life, and I’m a big time morning person. I like to get up early and go have coffee, work on writing, walk through the hood and other things in the morning. Waking up feeling like garbage from drinking or from not sleeping well due to the drinking interferes with that. Most who drink want to sleep in and not bother with the morning. But I like getting up the next morning and doing stuff more than I like drinking.

Alcohol hurts my mood the next day.

Never mind that alcohol is a known depressant (a key reason I never under any circumstances drink if I’m in a foul mood or am dealing with trouble). I’ve found without fail that, regardless of how I physically feel the next day, my mood and outlook by the following afternoon has subtlely, mysteriously slid. I feel a bit sad for no clear reason and as most people do my mind starts fumbling for reasons why. But in all likelihood it’s the after-effects of the alcohol filtering through my body, and in turn my brain. I have the sense now to remind myself of that and notice when it’s happening so I can not take any negative emotions to heart. But generally I find it better to avoid the situation, and drinking in general, entirely.

It’s only enjoyable if you’re in a good mood and with people you like.

A key reason I drink mostly at runner pint nights or before Loyola basketball games is because I’m around good people and in a situation I enjoy. I’m not into drinking for the sake of drinking, for the sake of drowning sorrows or salving a tough day or week (whether or not I joke about needing a drink during a difficult day). It’s harder than we think to find those situations, and most of the time I’m not in good company or in high spirits. Drinking isn’t going to add a ton of value then, so why do it?

It costs money.

Oh, and of course, alcohol is not free (even drinking from alcohol in your home is drinking alcohol you paid for, and accelerates the need to buy more alcohol later). Go to a bar and buying a single drink is going to cost $5-10. That’s money I can definitely put to better use in just about every way, and I’m not in the economic bracket where throwing that much money down a hole is negligible in the long run. There’s got to be a good reason for me to spend that kind of money.


 

Again, all this runs the risk of seeming like I have some sort of moral piety against drinking. I like drinking when I do it, but the situations where I like doing it are fewer and farther between than for most.

If anything, I probably take issue with people building their lifestyle and sense of culture around doing it frequently, as a habit and for its own sake. This is of course very prevalent in Chicago. While it would be great if people made better use of their money and time, everyone should get to live their own life as long as they’re not hurting anyone or otherwise unduly impeding anyone else’s ability to live their life.

If for some reason I had to never take a drink again, I don’t think I’d be that upset about it. That said, I like drinking. I just don’t like it doing it all that often.

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My observed pros and cons of different kinds of running fuel on long runs

In many of my long training runs I have not only experimented with fueling during runs (as training for doing so in races), but have also done so because given the scope of the run I needed to. I have tried a wide range of fueling options, as recommended by various sources, and have found that all have their particular advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately, in a long distance race I prefer to utilize Gatorade if they have it on course. Barring that (e.g. if they use a no-calorie sports drink like Nuun), I’ll bring Clif Shot Bloks. For anything shorter than 10 miles I’ll often just tough it out and drink water… maybe whatever sports drink they have if I feel like it.

But again, for workouts I’ve tried a variety of different fueling sources, and here’s my observed advantages and disadvantages for each:

Bringing small snacks (e.g.a protein bar or granola bar)

Advantages: Something like a protein or granola bar feels a lot more satisfying than other fuel sources while running. It’s usually closer to actual food! They often contain protein and fat, which are more satiating.

Disadvantages: Small snacks can make a mess, or worse yet fall out of my hands on the ground more easily. Because they must be eaten, they can pose a choking risk, or to lesser extent make it hard to breathe when I try to eat them while running. De-packaging them can be more of a pain than the quicker consumption afforded by drinks and gels.

Verdict: While I’m never against bringing a snack with me, it’s something I won’t go out of my way to do. I definitely won’t turn down a protein bar for the road before a run, however.

Syrups

I have experimented with different kinds of syrups, such as honey and raw agave, mostly going with raw agave due to its viscosity making it easier to pour from a gel flask. I would consume these intermittently throughout the run.

Advantages: They are a dense form of quickly digested sugar carbohydrate, which provides much-needed glycogen during a long run. A single ounce can contain about 100 calories (25g) of pure sugar. This buys muscles time and distance before exhausting  glycogen stores.

Disadvantages: These sugars are simple and the body may only use this fuel to maintain bodily functions rather than fuel your lower body muscles. Both are sticky and can create a mess even if you do not spill. Honey in particular is very viscous and may flow too slowly from a container during a run to be useful. Practically, you need a container to dispense these syrups such as a gel flask, and these typically only hold 5-6 oz. For very long runs, this might not be enough fuel.

Verdict: I did raw agave for a while, but I’m probably done with using it as a long run fuel source. Thankfully I’ve built up the endurance to finish 15-20 milers without fuel, so it’s no longer necessary like before.

Gels

The most commonly used form of fuel in long distance races. These are typically sold in single use disposable 100 calorie packs.

Advantages: Unlike syrups and other sugars, gels are specifically engineered to quickly provide glycogen for your muscles rather than just general function. Gels typically come in single use packets and are more easily portable.

Disadvantages: Gels taste nasty (don’t @ me about the flavors having gotten better, runners. A better tasting version of motor oil still tastes like motor oil). Though portable, the gels are still messy, possibly more so than syrups. They’re even more viscous, making it harder to extract and consume. I typically need to wash it down with a lot of water. You also have to find a way to dispose of the used packets. In races runners tend to do the worst: Dropping used packets on the ground behind them, for other runners to slip on. This alone turns me off of them, but the other stuff doesn’t help either.

Verdict: Hell no. As I say to people when Papa John’s pizza arrives, how the hell do you people eat this crap?

Gatorade

The classic sugar and electrolyte solution in a bottle or mixed in a container of varying size. You drink it while working out and it replenishes you.

Advantages: Drinking Gatorade kills two birds with one stone, hydrating you with an electrolyte-packed drink that also provides glycogen-rich calories. When running races, most provide it free of charge just as they do water. It’s also a lot more widely available at stores, and usually at a cheap price. If you’re lucky they sell bottles out of a refrigerated case, making it doubly refreshing!

Disadvantages: It’s liquid, meaning it has more weight and takes up more volume than other fueling options. A typical bottle of Gatorade can weigh anywhere from 1-2 pounds, which slows me down during running until I drink it and it’s in me.

Also, it can only carry so many calories: A 32 oz bottle only has about 240ish calories, and if you need 500+ calories in fuel for something like a marathon, that’s not going to cut it. You simply can’t carry that much Gatorade.

If it’s mixed in person instead of bought factory-made (Hint: The Gatorade served at races is often mixed on-site), there’s a chance it may not be mixed correctly, and you may not get the full caloric benefit… defeating a key purpose of drinking it. Also, if it’s hot outside, liquid warms… and Gatorade tastes like a nasty sugar soup when it’s warm.

Verdict: I find Gatorade terrific and if it was healthy to do so I’d drink a ton of it after workouts (Hint: you’re supposed to drink it while working out, not after; it’s literally sugar water). If carrying it wasn’t too much of a burden I’d carry a bottle with me on every long or intense workout. But if I want it for a long run I’ll have to find a way to get some during the run, then house it before continuing. Or pay someone to carry it behind me while riding a bike. (Hint: I’m currently NOT accepting applications for this role)

Chews

Clif Shot Bloks. Honey Stingers. These are gummy like things you chew before or during a workout to provide the same sort of sugar-loaded energy as gels or Gatorade. A typical small pack will contain 150-200 calories, and some versions contain caffeine.

Advantages: Like gels and Gatorade, chews are engineered to digest quickly for use as muscular glycogen, and are a perfect fuel for races and key runs. A typical package provides 150-200 calories of workout-friendly sugars in an easily chewable pack. The packs are esaily portable, and in my experience they do charge up your workout quickly once ingested… even the non-caffeinated versions.

Disadvantages: Compared to other fuel options these are not cheap: a typical pack of 6 chews can cost $2.50-3.00. Like with other food, eating it during a run can make it hard to breathe.

Also, if I need more than one 200 calorie pack (which I certainly do in marathons and other similar long runs), they take up considerable space once you’re carrying more than 2-3 of them. When I attempted Vancouver I had to wear two fanny packs, with one holding just my Bloks for the race.

Also, because they’re a solid (albeit soft) food, they can be a choking hazard if you consume while running. They don’t always go down easy and I sometimes need to chase some with water. I abhor stopping a race completely just to eat them.

Eating a small meal ahead of time

Whenever I have time, on the morning of a race or a long run I try to have a quick breakfast sandwich with a shot of espresso before heading to the race site.

Advantages: This not only sates me but effectively pre-loads my bloodstream with some ready-to-use fat and glycogen, boosting my capabilities, saving the glycogen in my muscles to some extent. A bonk becomes quite unlikely when I eat right before a run.

Disadvantages: I don’t always have the time, space or means to prepare/eat a small meal before a run. In some cases, I may need to take a crap shortly after a meal… not ideal during a run! There’s some prep (that I won’t get into) the day prior I can do to avoid the possibility of this, but it’s still an unwelcome possibility.

Verdict: I always, always try to eat a meal a couple hours before a race. On occasion if there’s time and space I’ll try and eat breakfast before a morning long run. I’ll definitely make sure to eat 3ish hours beforehand if a hard/long workout takes place in the afternoon. But I just did my last 18+ miler early in the morning with no food in me and none taken during the run. So outside of races it’s certainly not necessary.

Breaking the run in half and then eating at halftime

I’ve done this more recently. Basically, I go on a long run, but at some point past the halfway mark I stop for a bit to eat and something to drink, chill out a bit, then resume shortly after finishing the meal.

Advantages: This can help ease the hard work of a long run, by breaking the run into two shorter runs. The fuel from a meal definitely feels welcome after several miles, and comes in handy for those last miles. It can help get a head start on recovery from the initial part of the run. Also, I get to take a rest.

Disadvantages: As mentioned before, my bowels may act up with food in the tank, especially if I resume running right after eating. It’s also possible that I cool down to the point where I need to once again warm up or ease into the 2nd half of the run. I’ve typically felt better after stopping (I tend to handle working out right after eating fairly well), but sometimes I do come out of the meal creaky.

Verdict: If I’m training for a longer race, especially if I’m late in the training cycle… breaking up the long run might compromise the value of that long run. I mitigate this by only stopping after having run for 2.0-2.5 hours, which is the back wall recommended for most long runs anyway. Extending the run after that isn’t a problem with a break. Otherwise, I have no problem breaking up a long run with a halftime meal.

In fact, I did so twice over the last few months! My first crack at 20 miles (which sadly only went 19.45 due to a miscalc) had a halftime where I stopped in Edgewater for food and drink at Whole Foods. And last month I stopped at a hot dog stand near Navy Pier during the back end a 17 miler, treating myself to a hot dog and some Powerade. Hit the spot.

Not eating at all

This is what I do most often! This is what most people do for most runs. You don’t worry about fuel, and just do the damn run. For most runs this is totally fine. Even for most longer runs this is totally fine. To do the longest runs this way can be challenging, and can also be rewarding training depending on goals for the run (e.g. running to deplete your glycogen stores to practice running in that state).

Advantages: Not worrying about fuel makes long workouts a lot simpler. I won’t have to worry about timing fuel intake or other distractions. I also train my body to handle glycogen depletion on longer runs, which better prepares me to handle key late points in races such as the marathon.

Disadvantages: If I’m training for a marathon, practicing fueling is valuable and this could be a lost opportunity to either practice or experiment with fueling in-race. Based on the length of the run, I could bonk during the run, perhaps increase the likelihood of injury, illness or some other setback. Not fueling could also compromise performance on some longer runs (maybe I want to practice some tempo segments), which depending on my goals could be an issue.

Verdict: If it’s not a race or a dangerously long distance, running without fuel is the way to go. If it’s very long or I need to practice marathon fueling, then I really should bring some fuel.

In Conclusion….

I’m hungry.

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Cleaning up my lifestyle (further)

With a career change came a shift in my lifestyle. I had also re-gained about 5-10 of the pounds I had previously lost during the last few months at my old job, despite a high volume of regular running. The resulting self-reflection led me to make wholesale improvements to my lifestyle.

Granted, my habits weren’t terrible to begin with: My diet and lifestyle at the start of 2018 was dramatically improved over 2015, let alone 2010-2014, let alone further back etc. But you don’t gain weight randomly. Even though I logged my food and found I was about even with my estimated calorie burn, I apparently was storing more than I could use. Along with my career situation, something clearly wasn’t right.


 

I cleaned up my diet in varying stages over the years, but over the past few months have really simplified it. At this point I’m challenging myself to eat as much whole food (cuts of whole meat, raw fruit, vegetables, rice) as possible. There are a lot of reasons for this.

  • It’s easier to track whole food items in Fitbit, and a lot harder when you eat something complex/processed, especially from a restaurant where you’re not privy to the ingredients let alone.
  • Processed food typically costs more per serving than its whole food counterparts. You’re paying for, among other things, satiety combined with immediacy. Sometimes I need that for whatever reason (it’s convenient at the end of a tiring day with few prior meals to house an Eastside Cafe frozen pizza and immediately get that 80-95 grams of protein, plus a bunch of calcium etc from all that fatty cheese). But usually I can find the space to prepare a fulfilling meal from whole food myself at home.
  • Processed food lacks key nutrients… especially dietary fiber, protein, and the underrated potassium. Plus, there’s far too much inflammatory and water-retaining sodium in processed food, and in many cases far too much fat. Since I run every day and am active in general, I need all the nutrients and as little garbage I can get.
  • You have no idea what 90% of processed food’s ingredients are, what they come from, what it does to your body long-term, etc etc. To get into the nuances of this would probably send us both into seizures, so let’s leave it at that.
  • Processed food is engineered to generate cravings to eat more food, which defeats a key reason to eat food (satiety i.e. not feeling the need to eat more food).
  • Hormonal balance and healthy hormone production is predicated largely on getting enough nutrients. Processed food is nutrient poor and disruptive. Whole foods closest to their natural state are nutrient rich.
  • I’ve found more ways to efficiently prepare and port whole, natural foods. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with canned sardines, and now that I’ve found I can combine them with white rice prepared at home, they’ve become a lunch staple at work.

One problem that emerged at my prior job is that I started buying lunch more often. Previously I had brought food and eaten that every day, but even eating that food I was also sneaking out for hot bar meals. Granted, as I ran at a higher volume leading up to Vancouver I needed the extra nutrition. But that nutrition was also highly processed and was probably a key factor in my weight gain… not just for insidious extra calories, but the processed food probably wreaked havoc on my biology with inflammation and compromised hormonal function.

Changing careers coupled with a break from marathon training allowed me space to experiment with my eating habits, with different food choices (which granted were limited based on what I was doing for work and when: you have more freedom in some work situations than others).

Currently I’m on work assignment in an area close to two supermarkets with hot bars. Of course, hot bar food is not only partially processed, but expensive.


 

I wasn’t getting as much sleep as before. I woke up more during the night, woke up earlier, went to bed no earlier. I had plenty of time to sleep, yet my sleep was being disrupted.

This is something I still work on, granted. It’s a matter of forming the needed habits to eliminate the habits and sources compromising my sleep:

  • Remember to shut off all electronics, as well as disconnect power sources to those electronics, before bed. When I shut down my mobile and turn off the power to the modem and router (my laptop is already shut completely down at the end of every night), I find I sleep better. And while the evidence is disputed, there is evidence that electronics do interfere with sleep even when they’re off.
  • Call it a night during the 10pm hour. If I let my attention span drift and keep me awake through 11pm, that’s when sleep becomes a problem. Not only does it limit the hours I can sleep but it means more blue light later in the night, which is known to interfere with sleep.
  • Eating a satisfying meal within a couple hours of bed that doesn’t leave me wanting once I do lay down to sleep, since I know that hunger keeps me awake and can wake me up during the night.
  • Using my window A/C to keep the room reasonably cool during the night, as summer warmth does interfere with my sleep.
  • Making sure I get in solid exercise, usually at least a run, because I notice that on days I don’t exercise much I also tend not to sleep well.

 

Even though I avoided it because I run and need plenty of calories, I started intermittent fasting again. Basically, I skip breakfast and my first meal of the day is lunch, usually around 12:00 noon or 1:00pm. Along with the obvious tendency to eat less since I’m eating one fewer meal a day, going 12-16 hours between dinner and this 1st meal also improves fat burning during that time while helping to reset hormonal function. I definitely feel a difference, more so than hunger pangs. I’ll have black coffee and water in the morning at work, and that’s usually it.

This also improves the digestion and utilization of that 1st lunch meal, since your body is primed to get after whatever food you finally give it. At my current work assignment, it sets the metabolic table well for that 5pm run home from work. And that sets the table well for effective digestion of dinner later than evening. I definitely eat fewer calories, but I don’t feel at all broken down as I worried I would before if I ever went back to fasting. Quite the opposite.

There’s more I can say about Intermittent Fasting but I’ll save that for another time. Basically, I’m now at a place where it works well for me.


 

Since getting my act further together, my weight has gone back down to about 163-164 lbs, about 5 pounds down from where it had re-peaked during the end of my last career. My body fat has receded from 17-18% to a better 15-16%.

More to come on that front, but it’s looking good for now.

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A marathon dress rehearsal run, and discussing in-race fueling options

Yesterday’s 6 mile run wasn’t so much about training, because at this point of the taper I’m pretty much as trained as I’m going to get.

The goal of the run was to practice marathon fueling. Never minding that the Vancouver Marathon uses low-calorie Nuun as their electrolyte hydration at aid stations (which isn’t effective like Gatorade because Nuun is low calorie and the calories in Gatorade are important to avoid late-rate bonking)… even if they used a better solution, race mixed drinks are typically mixed on-site, often poorly so and leaving your cup short on the actual electrolyte solution.

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If I haven’t effectively implied it, one of my primary race goals is to avoid hitting The Wall, the moment of 100% glycogen depletion when you bonk and just have nothing left in energy. I’m obviously not a marathon expert by any means, but anyone who says it’s unavoidable is wrong.

For those wondering why they hit the wall late in a race… pretty much every resource points to a lack of effective in-race fueling. Your body burns mostly carbs when running at any pace beyond a recovery jog, and the faster/harder you’re running the more proportionally you burn carbs. At my size I burn about 120 calories per mile run, and at over 26 miles, that’s over 3200 calories burned.

Despite my weight loss and fitness, I still carry a good portion of fat. But fat burns glacially in exercise compared to carbs. While you can train your body to proportionally burn more fat, your fat will never burn anywhere close to as fast as carbs will during a run. Carbs become glycogen, which is your body’s primary fuel during a run. No matter how much fat you have… as soon as you tap out your available glycogen, you bonk. You’re running on auxiliary power and your body acts like it. So I have to make sure I get enough carb fuel to offer a chance of avoiding the wall in the final miles.

(Yes, your pacing and general hydration are also factors, but those are far easier to control. And all of this never minds that no matter what I’m absolutely going to be very sore and tired in the later miles. I accept that.)

According to the Hansons’ fueling formulas, my lower body stores around 1200 calories of glycogen, and should burn about 1000-1200 calories of fat throughout the race. If I properly pace myself I need about 600-750 calories in pure carbs to finish the marathon without hitting the wall. I also should ideally do it frequently in smaller portions rather than every half hour or when I pass the aid stations.

Even if courses provide nutrition, your best bet is to carry this nutrition yourself and consume it regularly throughout the marathon (which adds the benefit of allowing you to pick nutrition that works best for you). Plus, I still need to be able to physically get myself to a food resource and then back to the hotel, so I’m better off overkilling a little bit on what I carry and consume since my effort doesn’t end at the finish line.

Since I’m not Eliud Kipchoge with custom engineered drink bottles waiting for me every 5K, and point to point van service for transport… I’ve needed to figure out what to carry with me. I only have so much space in a belt pack, and carrying a 32oz bottle of Gatorade will obviously slow me down more than it’s worth, as every extra pound you carry adds 3-5 seconds to your mile time. What I use has to work effectively, and be portable.

Over the last few months I’ve worked on in-race fueling on various runs. I’ve experimented with gels (one packet is 100 calories), chews (one 6-chew packet is 200 calories), honey (a full 6oz flask is 568 calories), and for a while made a go with the minimally viscuous raw agave in a gel flask (6oz = 485 calories).

The agave is portable and easily consumable, but its simple sugars only replenish certain glycogen stores (albeit important ones for the body, like in the liver) and aren’t fully utilized by the body to run. I still found myself fading or even bonking late in 2.5+ hour runs despite consuming it every 10-15 minutes in-run… whereas the more engineered electrolyte sugars of Gatorade and similar drinks did keep me going.

I have found Clif Shot Bloks useful, but there’s an obvious problem: Trying to chew and swallow something while actively running at a decent pace makes it a little hard to breathe, which in turn makes it hard to effectively run until you’ve swallowed (and hopefully washed down) a given blok.

And, as I’ve found out the hard way, you definitely need to chase anything you consume with water or the issue will become much more difficult. In a race that will already be very taxing, those little aggravations could more quickly exhaust my energy stores before the end of the race… which defeats the purpose of fueling in the first place.

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So anyway, I sampled the shot bloks once again yesterday while carrying 20oz of water. Perhaps active water use after consumption would help. Perhaps practice would help. They are the easiest and least messy of my fueling options, and if I can make them work it’s a better solution than gel, which is not only really messy and tastes like flavored motor oil but doesn’t feel good in digestion. I took one blok every 10 minutes and washed it down after swallowing.

The good news is despite attacking Cricket Hill (up and down) three times during the run, I felt energized after the run as compared to tired (as I often am when I take a similar run after work). The issue remains that, even with water, the moments between the blok entering my mouth and when it finally goes down remain difficult for my breathing and in turn my running. My heart rate did spike the first 3 times I fueled but stayed level the subsequent times… but my pace wasn’t great relative to my active heart rate, and I suspect repeating this process 8-24 times could slow me down and further complicate an already complicated marathon situation.

Now, I could just do it anyway, which I think is not a bad Plan A given this is already going to be a difficult race, and having usable fuel for the haul that works is better than not having such fuel. I think no matter what I’m going to bring Shot Bloks for the race, and if no better method presents itself I will just suck it up and pop one every 10-15 minutes until I cross the finish line.

I can also consider loading up a gel flask with agave and carrying it as well, saving the Shot Bloks for every 30-60 minutes or so, and just taking the agave on the regular. Both sources are palatable and digest reasonably well, and (though I will want to attempt using them together at home or in training to make sure nothing happens) I think having an adequate supply of both will cover my fueling bases.

The race has an interesting (possibly Canadian?) wrinkle, supplying bananas to runners at an aid station around mile 19. Aside from the concern of runners recreating a Mario Kart course with discarded banana peels, I think taking and eating one at the opportunity would also help. Bananas are my most common post-run carb-replenish fuel, so digestion is no problem.

And of course I plan to stick to a pre-race ritual: Eating a breakfast sandwich and chasing it with a shot of espresso a couple hours before the race. The nutrition from this must be important: Every time I’ve done this, I’ve raced well.

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Admittedly, a lot of the above is talk-it-through thought process on my part. I’ve given this a lot of thought, because being able to finish the race with dignity regardless of finishing time is a high priority for me, and I know fueling in-race is vital to that happening.

Random things I learned over my time running, with no explanation

The harder your feet hit the ground, the quicker you’ll get tired and the more you will hurt.

You’ve got to eat like a bodybuilder: A whole food minimally processed diet anchored by lots of clean protein.

Sleeping well matters a LOT more.

The quicker your feet can step during a run, the easier keeping a faster pace will be.

In cold weather you will warm up after 20 minutes of running.

To race great you have to go out slower than everyone else wants to, and resist keeping up with them.

If you take advantage, life will give you lots of opportunity to practice running in little bursts.

If you can comfortably run in them, lighter and less-cushioned shoes feel better.

If your body can handle it, walking and weight training will not only make you stronger but help you heal between workouts.

You’ll know by feel when you shouldn’t use a pair of shoes for training anymore.

Perfect temperatures can actually be too hot for running.

Most people don’t understand the importance of fueling during long runs.

Most people over-fuel on shorter regular runs.

Big races are overrated, and consistent high-volume training is underrated.

Most people do their easy/regular/recovery running way too fast and hard.

If someone runs or bikes close to you on an empty path, they’re intentionally harrassing you.

Beginning runners try to do too much right away.

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