Category Archives: Recovery

Walking as a habit for sneaky aerobic exercise and weight loss

Starting shortly after my Vancouver Marathon trip, I began leaving for work earlier in the mornings to walk 5K to work instead of taking the bus.

I already run-commute in part to save money on bus fare (it’s long since been cheaper to pay per use than to get a monthly pass since I don’t ride as much), not to mention get my training in during the week.

Admittedly, part of my motivation for walking to work in the morning was to further save on the cost of bus fare. If using the bus once per work day was cheaper, then not using it at all is even cheaper.

And of course living 5K from work makes walking to work feasible. If I lived farther away (my last job was 9 miles from home), running that commute would be more difficult, and walking that commute would be unworkable. I would have a need to take transit.

All that said, there’s a variety of health benefits to taking long walks to work that I’m trying to take advantage of.

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An extended recovery, and the flip side of antibiotics

I extended my recovery period after Vancouver a bit, in part due to the effects of the antibiotics I had to take for my elbow.

On the plus side, the clindamycin I was prescribed did work. The redness immediately ceased, the swelling and some of the pain went down, and three days into the 10 day RX the heat around my elbow began to fade. It still hurts to lean on the elbow sometimes because (infection or not) I still have bursitis in that elbow and from experience that hangs around a while. I can still push and pull and use my right arm fine for the most part. At least now I can actually put pressure on the elbow (probably will stick to straight-arm planks for now, though).

However. The minus side is that antibiotics mess with your entire body, and it certainly has messed with mine. Yes, I’ve taken probiotics to counter the mass murder of gut bacteria from the antibiotics, and eaten a mild diet to minimize any c.diff problems.

But the clindamycin still wreaked havoc on my overall organ function and my overall energy. Even with good sleep and diet I’ve felt tired every day (when the infection started, my energy levels and running were okay, so it wasn’t that). I have sizable bags under my eyes, indicating havoc on my kidneys. My sweat smelled like the medication this last few days. I took the last of the RX last night and I’m glad that’s done.

And of course, the pills affected the energy I have to run. Sure, it got fairly hot for Chicago this past week (87 degrees Fahrenheit, 30+ celsius), to the point where I had to cut my last run very short. But even prior easy runs took more effort than usual. The medication certainly dried me out some, and even with plenty of hydration it often felt like I was a bit dried out before and during runs.

Yes, having run a marathon almost certainly is a key factor to this as well. Again, the elbow problem developed a week after the marathon. My body being heavily compromised probably made it a lot easier for bacteria to take hold in my elbow, as well as easier for the subsequent medication to do a number on my still-recovering body. Add in returning to easy running a bit early, and it appears I just need a bit more rest.

Fortunately, I don’t need to begin training officially for the Chicago Marathon in October until mid-June. I will want to be running regularly by then, of course, but it’s not crucial that I be out there training every day right now. My last run Thursday in fact capped 5 straight days of running, so I’m certainly not starting from zero if I take the weekend off and resume on Monday.

I probably need the rest not just coming off the medication, and to acclimate to the incoming summer heat, but also still recovering from the marathon. Two weeks is a standard, and some do more (Kenyans famously take a couple months off after marathons!). Taking three easy weeks is totally fine.

I’m going to drown myself in fruit and fiber this weekend to get the medication out of me and get back to normal, so I can get back to normal running.

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The Hidden Benefits of Antibiotic Treatment

Yesterday, I had to go on antibiotics for the first time in decades thanks to what apparently is cellulitis in my elbow. As usually happens with these sorts of infections, a weird chain of circumstances likely caused the condition.

A slight cut near my elbow in Vancouver wasn’t totally covered up. Though I cleaned it off regularly, I didn’t bandage it due to its awkward position (band aid style bandages would just fall off), not realizing until after the fact that a knuckle style bandage would have held on fine.

However, that little nick healed after a few days and there were no issues.

Saturday I was doing a bodyweight strength workout that at some point called for a standard elbow plank. I go to the floor and I felt like I leaned on a nerve in my right elbow. It didn’t feel good, but I adjusted and finish that + the workout with no issues.

The tip of my elbow was a bit sore a little later that night, like bursitis (which I’ve had before; that just goes away after you stop doing whatever’s causing it), which I didn’t pay much mind.

But then Sunday morning the elbow was real sore. I already knew then it wasn’t normal bursitis, further confirmed that night when my elbow felt rather warm to the touch… a telltale sign of infection. Knowing I cut that elbow last week, I suspected that bacteria got in and, after bumping it on the elbow plank, managed to work its magic.

I took a mild dose of NSAIDs and waited a couple days hoping maybe my decent immune system would maybe work things out on its own. But by the following night, even though the pain had subsided, the elbow was still warm to the touch, the redness was beginning to spread a bit and I realized I needed medical intervention.

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Fitness Debriefing After Vancouver 2019

VancouverMedalSitting down and beaten up from the longest run is a great time to take stock of where I’m at with fitness and what I ought to do for next time, even if next time isn’t going to get here for a little while.

I worked hard to prepare for and run Vancouver, and while I improved my endurance and strength in a variety of ways, there’s a number of things that even before the race I knew I wanted and needed to improve.

There’s a lot of goals I have regarding how fast I want to run races, how fast I know I’m capable of running races, and there remains a substantial gap between what I can do and what I want to be able to do… a gap I believe I can substantially close starting even before the beginning of my next training cycle….

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When Runners Get Sick

I just spent the last week sick with what might have been the H3N2 variant of the Swine Flu. The office had been fairly sick for a while, and it finally got me last weekend.

I hardly ever get sick anymore. I don’t even get the digestive ailments that used to get me from time to time over the previous years.

I want to call it a testament to my healthy eating and my improved commitment to recovery. But then again, I got sick like everyone else last week, so never mind that.


Coughing up my lungs on Tuesday, I had no idea how long it would take for me to get anywhere near back to normal. The good news on Saturday is my cough subsided substantially and, other than recurring sickness-related digestive issues, and being a little rusty on runs (of course, I broke off training for a few days while sick), I don’t feel bad at all. A couple of colleagues mentioned their flu passed rather quickly, even if the cough loosely hung around for a while. So perhaps it’s the nature of the current illness going around.

In any case, I’d like to think the following approaches helped me quickly unload an unwanted flu, and can help you as well:

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Training volume is about more than mileage

One runner does a 12 mile run on the weekend. The only other run he does is a 6 mile run on Wednesday night.

One runner runs 3 miles every day, except for a rest day on Sunday.

One runner does a 5 mile run Tuesday and Thursday, then she does a longer 8 mile run on Saturday.

A sprinter practices 3200 meters of reps plus 2 miles of warmup and cooldown jogging on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday she does an easy 3 mile run. She takes the weekend off.

All of these runners run the exact same mileage every week (18 miles). Would you consider their training equal? Do you think they’ll all develop their running ability the same way?

More importantly, is it accurate to cast a firm judgment on the quality of their training largely based on the fact that they run 18 miles a week?

I would say not. And yet that’s the pedestal on which so many runners and coaches put weekly mileage.

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Long Walks as Recovery Day training hedges

To save money, I’ve been walking home from work on days where I don’t haul run or drive home (yes, even in cold Chicago winter weather; when it’s not -16 degrees outside the conditions aren’t that bad). I have the luxury of living about 5K from where I work, and this while time consuming isn’t all that bad.

One great feature of Ventra Chicago’s web platform is it shows you your historical usage of your transit card. Thus I saw about a month ago that even though I was paying $105 a month, I wasn’t using $105 worth of transit (based on a value of $2.50 per trip) each month.

So I stopped my pass autoload and set up a cash autoload. This now saves me about $30-40 a month.

Since every use now costs actual money, I take fewer incidental trips and now have incentive to find other ways to and from work… especially since (being 5K away) I have several commuting options.

While I could just haul-run home every weekday… I’m also undertaking a training plan with built in rest days, and at this stage I’d rather not beat myself up with carrying 10-15 extra pounds several miles while running (for various reasons I have to carry stuff to work) at the end of every workday, while dodging vehicles, other commuters and incidental harassment.

Thus I’ve been walking home from work, and while this can take over an hour it’s a relaxing low-intensity form of aerobic exercise. Incidental walking shorter than 30 uninterrupted minutes isn’t really exercise, but anything beyond that starts to require extra aerobic effort.

Without wearing and tearing your body you get a little extra aerobic benefit from a long walk. You also get the fat burning benefit from walking several miles, though this is a tangential benefit. Walking is such a beneficial low-key exercise that most brolifters swear by walking as a key cardio component, and Hal Higdon considers it a form of beneficial cross training.

So if I’m not planning to run on a given day, or if I’m not feeling well enough to run a few miles… I’ll opt to take a long walk instead. It’s not that stressful, it helps get your circulation going, and provides a bit of aerobic benefit.

Long walks are a fine hedge for physical activity on a recovery day. And even if I’m not running home from work, at least I’m walking home instead. Ditching my transit pass didn’t just save me money, but also helped me add some extra training.

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Feast or Famine Winter Training: A blessing in disguise?

Chicago’s freezing weather has forced me to hibernate for days at a time. Last week’s brutal -50°F windchills knocked out a couple days, and this week a combination of sub-10°F temperatures with stiff 20-30 mph winds have compelled me to flex in a couple of days off.

This has led me into a feast/famine schedule, where I’ll run 4-5 days in a row, then run very little for a few days, then repeat. If Chicago’s weather can stabilize into something consistently tolerable, I’ll resume a more normal training schedule.

But I realized this schedule is very similar to one that emergency workers (hospital medical staff, firefighters, law enforcement) follow, along with to some extent expo workers.

They work long hours for several days in a row, then they get several days off in a row. In the case of emergency staff, working a regular 8 hour shift is often impractical when attending to real-time emergencies. In the case of expo staff, they work when convention services are needed, and those periods often come in peak-season blocks rather than everyday on a 40 hour schedule.

Obviously, there are drawbacks to life with such a schedule. No one ever argued this was an optimal schedule. However, not only do workers put in entire careers on such a schedule, but (taking a bit of a logical leap here) it’s entirely possible that runners could to some extent do fine on the same schedule.

In fact, runners kind of do. We train hard for goal races in 8-24 week cycles… then we take longer breaks before resuming training for the next goal. Even the famous elite Kenyan runners take weeks or months off following their marathons.

We couldn’t train as hard as we do unless we took breaks at some point. Sometimes, injuries or life force those breaks. But many end up taking them by choice or other willing circumstance. It’s during these breaks that the body and mind rebuild, allowing us to train hard the next time around. You don’t grow stronger during training, but during the recovery between bouts of training.

So back to this strange-to-many feast or famine schedule: Imagine 4-5 days straight of moderate running, with a long run at some point, perhaps a speedwork session early on… then 3-4 days of no training, or perhaps a short run or two during that period… before another 4-5 days straight of moderate/long running.

That moderate period might really beat you up, but then you get that long subsequent period to heal up from all that work. You’re possibly almost chomping at the bit to get back at it two days before you resume training. By the time you get back to longer runs, you’re physically and psychologically fresh.

The latter situation is actually the idea behind a marathon taper. You spend months grinding yourself to get ready for the race. Then you scale back your training to too-little-running, so that your body and mind can heal up and running can become fresh again once it’s time to run the actual race.

I won’t go as far as to say everyone should do this. If I had it my way, I’d have trained normally over this past month, instead of having to stall training for 2-3 days due to severe weather.

But in a way the severe weather was an opportunity to rest up and recover. So long as I maximize the time to train while the weather is good, the time off could maximize the recovery and growth from that training.

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The Hidden Benefits of Hibernating, or Why I Did Nothing During the 2019 Polar Vortex

I run through winter, but I have my limits.

My drop dead low temperature for running is -5°F. Beyond that, any amount of wind creates a sub-30-minute frostbite risk. I don’t want to take any chances by running outside for any length of time, since given icy conditions I will likely have to travel some distance on foot to find a suitable running path.

My drop dead low temperature for any kind of outdoor anything is -10°F. Even if covered up, even with no wind, the temperature by itself begins to pose a frostbite and hypothermia risk, regardless of how well you’re bundled up.

(Much respect to my Canadian, Maritime, Dakotan, Montanan, New English, Mongolian, Siberian, Antarctican, et ceteran readers who regularly experience temps far colder. You also have the benefit of generations of biology that we southerners lack. I have grown to handle extreme cold but despite my best efforts I still have physical limits.)

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Can Low-Carb Diets Be Good For Runners?

A lot of fitness enthusiasts support eating low-carb lifestyle diets adapted from the traditional Atkins diet… typically with labels like Keto and Paleo, as well as carb-limited variants like the Bulletproof, Carnivore or Primal diets.

The obvious problem for runners interested in these diets is that running is the one form of exercise that demands a LOT of quick-burning glycogen, which can only be properly supplied by a diet rich in carbohydrates. Running minds like Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald outright recommend avoiding low-carb diets and to build your diet around 60+% carbohydrates. Fitzgerald in fact found in his research for his book The Endurance Diet that pretty much every elite coach and endurance athlete he consulted with subsisted on a diet rich in carbohydrates.

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Orange Theory: Who and what it’s good for

OrangeTheory

Got a few friends, both runners and non-runners, who are really into working out at Orange Theory, a chain of gyms built around a somewhat interactive, competitive series of high intensity aerobic circuit training workout classes.

Long story short, participants aerobically work out hard for about an hour between numerous stations, and the establishment keeps score of your vitals on a big monitor, along with esoteric stats like “splats” (a metric measuring how long you hit their key orange heart-rate level).

As with such gyms, pricing is a bit of an investment for most working class individuals. While OT gyms offer free introductory classes, taking any more after that at a given location requires a membership. They want you to make a commitment up-front, though if you buy a membership you are free to use it at any OT gym available.

Tiered memberships cost from around $60 for 4 classes a month to $150-175 for unlimited classes. The heart rate monitors require an additional $5-10 to rent (and you can outright buy them for around $75-100). Additional classes on limited plans can be purchased for around $20-30 each.

This pricing isn’t relatively outrageous considering yoga, Pilates and other workout studios ask generally the same amount. However, someone looking into a new gym habit probably will be somewhat averse to forking out $60-200 a month just to work out. Of course, while they can either join a gym for $15-50 a month, or go run and do bodyweight exercises on their own for free… the direction of a coach or teacher is a key reason people look to fitness classes in the first place.

… I guess that was a little long to be a long story short. Whoops!


I’m a supporter of group fitness classes. A lot of people could use better fitness, could use some coaching, and these classes provide valuable direction in both. Whether people prefer this, yoga, Pilates, dance technique classes, chic dance variants like Pure Barre, etc…. if you enjoy these group classes, can consistently do it safely, and it gets you to actually work out when you otherwise wouldn’t, then yes: DO IT.

There are certain people who benefit more from it than others, of course. And in the case of runners, it can absolutely benefit some of them. I’ve seen it benefit several I personally know. Likewise, I wouldn’t outright say to certain runners that they should stay away, but there are also some cases where it doesn’t work as well.

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The Hike-Run: A commuter’s easy hedge between recovery days and missed training runs

On Thursday I had a morning run scheduled but didn’t manage to get it in.

I work late Thursdays, and taking a normal run after work closer to bedtime wasn’t a practical solution. In my experience, running too close to the end of the day revs me too far up to be able to get to or stay asleep. A shorter run might be okay, but I didn’t want to basically toss out Thursday as an off day with a very short run.

Carrying my backpack at 7pm, not being particularly interested in taking the train or bus, with the sidewalks still being a bit icy from previous snow, and having nothing to lose… I impulsively decided to experiment with what I’m now calling The Hike-Run. It ended up working out so well over 5K that I have decided to implement it as an easy training practice.

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The Hike-Run is an easy run done while carrying weight, whether in a backpack or while wearing heavy gear… basically, the weight of gear you’d be carrying during a hike in the wilderness (even though clearly the north side of Chicago is not the wilderness). Typically, you’ll find opportunities to do Hike-Runs before or after work, while out and about wearing a heavy coat or boots… or while commuting on foot while carrying a bag of stuff.

You typically can do the Hike-Run when you’ve got somewhere to go, and you’re not willing to do a full run with the gear, but need to get some training mileage in and know you probably won’t have much of a chance to do so otherwise.

You start your timer and start at a jog, a very easy sustainable running pace. At any point, if you want to slow to a walk or stop, you not only can, but you don’t need to stop the timer (runners often will stop their timers when they need to stop the run). You’re timing the hike, not a full run. It’s just a comfortable run where you have full permission to slow or stop as much as you please. And of course, you could just not time the Hike-Run at all. You log the mileage covered, and that’s that.

I’ll use my tracker to time the Hike Run as a hike rather than a run, so that the time result isn’t any sort of big deal or factored into any metrics. The only thing I track is the miles (more or less) ran.

The key is just to run most of the way. The Hike Run gives you permission to slow, but is not intended to be a full hike where you run occasionally. If you just want to walk, then just walk and don’t worry about timing it or running.

Ideally you do regular training runs or recovery days most of the week, and the Hike-Run is just a convenient hedge between a full rest day and getting your mileage in. Or, as I did this past Thursday, you use it to supplant planned running that you otherwise can’t get in.

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Ensure your running fitness by building a Running Floor

Finding it hard to keep up with mileage demands? Finding yourself taking days off and skipping workouts?

If you want or need to run, but find much of your workout schedule daunting or find you don’t have the time you want/need to run… the key is to do a little bit of running rather than no running at all.

For example:

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The Control Rest Day Baseline, and using it to successfully carb cycle

Yesterday with the day off I did nothing, in terms of training. No running, no strength work, nothing particularly strenuous. I actually drove to get coffee, since I had vehicle-related errands to run that day. I did a minimum of walking… not easy to do in Chicago when you live in Wrigleyville and you do most of your business on foot.

Okay, big deal, just a rest day, right? Well….

… it had been a while since I’ve taken stock of my working basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the rate at which you would burn calories in a day if you did nothing but lay or sit there. For men my size and age, this is somewhere around 1650-1700 calories.

You do more than sit around all day, so to find your baseline calorie burn you multiply that BMR by a standard multiplier.

  • Sedentary people who drive everywhere and never exercise can use 1.2 as their multiplier. You multiply your basic BMR by 1.2 to get your actual basal metabolic rate.
  • If you get any exercise once or twice a week, or you walk to get around everyday, your multiplier may be closer to 1.3.
  • If you work out every day it may be as low as 1.5 or as high as 2.0, depending on what you do for workouts.

Of course, I can’t just set my baseline at 1700 calories multiplied by a standard multiplier. My daily activity can vary widely, as a Chicago local who gets around on foot and runs a lot. Even if I don’t run, I may walk anywhere from 20ish minutes a day to several miles, and there’s no rhyme or reason relative to my training as to how much walking I do. Plus, this completely ignores strength training and any other physical activity.

I’ve had days where, with identical training (or lack thereof), I’ve burned anywhere from 2100 calories to over 4000. So, plugging my estimated general activity into a BMR tool and spitting out a number isn’t necessarily going to help me.


I still want to get enough to eat, while not overeating. I still do have tracker data that shows an average weekly calorie burn, which is around 3000 calories per day during training. But there’s more to it than that:

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Volume: The key to base training

Most training plans, whether or not they map it out, follow at least three general phases.

  1. There is a base training phase, where you establish the volume and habits you will generally follow throughout the training cycle.
  2. There is a fundamental phase, where you develop speed and aerobic endurance.
  3. And then there is the final sharpening phase, where you work more specifically on preparing for your goal race as well as taper to heal up in the days/weeks before that race.

(Some split that 2nd phase into separate development phases, one where the 1st part is speedwork-centered, and the 2nd is built around tempo and endurance with that tempo.)

Most people follow a pre-written training plan, which usually starts with a minimal weekly mileage that gradually builds throughout the plan. The base training may establish an initial pattern of speed/tempo workouts, but the volume typically is low and increases during the life of the training plan.

I do think we get it backwards.

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The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

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