Tag Archives: quick thoughts

Running Is Easy Again. And Running Is Tough Again

For all of April and May, I ran a grand total of 8 times. And 6 of those times were prior to April 15.

After the first week of April, I shut down all my running and embraced our collective lockdown. I basically went into personal hibernation, focusing on cleaning up and slimming down my diet, my only exercise most days being an occasional walk.

After years of mostly uninterrupted running and active life, I decided to give myself a long break for the first time in a while, and see if extended inactivity would help me physically once I started to train again. So far, so good.

After “beta-testing” a variety of workout approaches over the last couple weeks, I’ve settled on resuming regular running, with a long term goal to train for 5K running, then for 10K, then for the Half Marathon distance, then finally to train for (world events permitting, of course) the 2021 Vancouver Marathon in May 2021.

Part of this is a semi-fortunate change in my work schedule. For the better part of the last two decades, I worked weekdays 8 to 5 in offices like most people. Much of my creative efforts to consistently train were built around this schedule and lifestyle, and to be honest I got a lot out of myself that way.

But now, my job requires I work more of a swing shift, from late morning until the evening. Plus I work on the weekends, with my days off during the week, and since the company’s retail outlets are open all the time, I work on most bank holidays as well (except the big ones: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day).

This doesn’t sound ideal until I point out that my job can be done remotely. Though I do work in the office (now that we’re open, of course) on the weekdays, I work from home on the weekends. This eliminates the commute, allows me a ton of flexibility with meals, plus makes recovery a lot easier since I don’t need to move far for anything that day.

Plus, and this can’t be understated… for the first time in a while, my work schedule allows me to sleep in if needed. I can sleep in even later on the weekends despite having to work those days, because I’m working from home. Before, if I had trouble getting to sleep on a work night, I was likely ruined the next day. Now, it just pushes back when I wake up, and I still usually get 7-8 hours of good sleep that night.

That’s a big improvement on my recovery, because before I frequently ran into short sleep nights that interfered with recovery.

This also gives me more control over my diet. When you’re at the office, your food options are more limited. Working from home allows you to do things like cook for lunch while working. Also, since the workday starts later, this gives you more flexibility with breakfast, not to mention more time to prepare food if desired. Granted, I’ve been intermittent fasting so I’ve usually been skipping breakfast. But it’s great to have the option.

Most of all, instead of having limited morning time to train and thus usually training tired in the evenings… I now have hours in the morning to train as desired BEFORE going to work. I also do so with full energy first thing in the morning. Plus, instead of having to logistically figure out how to get a workout in following work, I have full control over what workouts I can do first thing in the morning.

Plus, with two weekdays off, I don’t have to deal with more crowded pathways and streets on the weekend. Most people are working weekday mornings, so the trails and sidewalks are mostly clear for longer runs.

So those are the benefits I’m experiencing now. After adjusting to the new schedule, I found it suited my training needs a LOT better than my prior lifestyle.


Meanwhile, my biggest struggle right now is the actual workouts themselves. Remember: I hadn’t run much at all since early April, and am just now getting back into regular running. Even though I feel mostly better after the break, any running at all is now a struggle as I work back into shape.

April 4th, 2020 was the last time I ran at least 3 miles. Even now, running 2 miles is a somewhat arduous effort. Only in the last week have I managed multiple runs in a week for the first time since April.

Yes, the dry Las Vegas summer conditions are a factor. Even training in the mornings, temperatures at dawn are already in the low 70’s (Fahrenheit, 21-24°C), and if you wait until the 8am hour the temps are already above 80°F, 26+°C. Even with the desert’s very low humidity (20% in the morning, 5% by afternoon), the runner’s heat index is in the 120°F (49°C) range. Plus, Vegas is almost always sunny. The heat and sunshine get you hot very quickly.

Still, having experienced Chicago’s very different but similarly tough heat, I know the difference between heat wearing you down and just simply lacking aerobic endurance. A lack of running makes it easy to realize it’s probably way more of the latter.

So, while I’m looking forward to 10K morning runs, 10+ mile long runs, and 400-800 meter repeats… right now the first goal is just for 3-5 miles to feel normal again. Until then….

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Reflecting on our COVID Hibernation

two green cactus plants at daytime

Photo by Yigithan Bal on Pexels.com

I have not had a whole lot to say in the past month, because there hasn’t been much to add to what others have told you.

After the COVID-19 outbreak problem took off across the world, and two NBA basketball players were found to be ill with the virus, shutdowns and lockdowns quickly followed. Within a couple of weeks, almost everyone in the Western world was ordered to stay at home and only travel for essential reasons, while most businesses were ordered to shut down. Events, including races, were cancelled.

It will be weeks, possibly months, before we can resume what we previously knew as normal activity. Currently, Nevada and most states are being told that the earliest anything may re-open is May 1, 2020, and even that could be postponed if needed.

Meanwhile, I personally was fortunate enough to keep my job remotely with no change to my compensation. So the biggest change to my life is that I have nowhere I need to go. Yes, Vancouver 2020 was cancelled, as were basically every road race before the summer.

With no need to train before Victoria 2020 marathon training this summer, I decided to shut down non-essential training myself after Vancouver 2020 was cancelled. At first, I ran as little as twice a week, and maybe went on a walk or two. I ran if I felt like it, but that’s it.

Now I’m running a bit more regularly, albeit not terribly far, and certainly not all that hard. I’m following Budd Coates’ basic 14 day training cycles as outlined in Running On Air, which has me currently running 2-3 miles, maybe one longer run, about 4-5 times per week.

While Vegas temperatures are currently still reasonable, I’m going out for 20-30 minute runs (and possibly some extra walking) during the late afternoon following the workday. I take longer walks or runs on neighborhood trails at least once during the weekend. Once the desert heat kicks in for summer, I’ll need to switch to early morning runs.

I’m of course eating lighter and as clean as reasonably possible. Not having a convenient option to go to a restaurant or grab something quick at a store, plus having all day at a home that thankfully is well stocked with cooking supplies, makes cooking and eating at home the most suitable option almost every time.

The flip side is, by staying at home all day, I get far less natural physical activity, meaning fewer calories burned… even if I get myself to exercise or go out for a run. I burn maybe 2300-2400 calories in a day even if I did work out, or made some maniacal effort to stay active like get up and do squats or push ups every hour.

Generally I work around this by:

  • Intermittent fasting, aka skipping breakfast.
  • Eating a lighter lunch
  • Eating only two official meals a day, the lunch and dinner before bed
  • Avoiding snacks

In the past few weeks I have lost about 6 pounds of fat, whereas in previous, busier months I had struggled to lose any fat at all. I had a goal for Vancouver 2020 to get down to 160-165 pounds before May (I weighed as much as 185 this winter). Previously I had stalled around 178-180 lbs at my best, but have since gotten to around 174-175 lbs (and hopefully falling). The irony is that, now that I’m not marathon training, I might actually get to 165 before May.

While most people in the US are getting comfy and eating a lot of junk food during lockdown, I decided to really clean up my diet and eat right as much as possible. Even with a minimum of exercise, it has paid off, plus generally I feel better.

Part of feeling better also is that, as others’ anxiety has gone up… my stress has gone substantially down. As mentioned, I still (remotely) have my day job, meaning I’m not worried about income and paying bills. I realize compared to others that this is currently a luxury.

That said, I have to work weekdays, and my job has pivoted to where I do quite a bit of day to day work and regular web conferencing, plus larger ongoing projects. So there’s a lot to do. However, being at home, not having to commute… it’s had a calming effect on my life.

Plus, (though I still need to eventually sit for the NASM exam) I had just finished a very stressful CPT training program (right before COVID really blew up), and truth be told it was very hard for me to handle plus work plus marathon training plus home and family concerns over the final month. I actually reached my breaking point towards the final two weeks, and though the end of the program was a relief… the lockdown in itself was almost an added level of relief by eliminating work and commute related stress. Today is a total contrast to what my life was like in February. I went from everything hitting me at once to now being practically forced to do as little as possible.

With my basic needs met (my family has done a good job securing needed food and supplies), I actually feel pretty comfortable with life right now. My biggest concern aside from work needs is to make sure I eat healthy and get enough exercise to maintain some fitness and not gain needless weight.

I’m not going to join the train on any public service announcements regarding social distancing or lockdown etiquette. We all know where we’re at and I’m not going to add any new information. We know it’s going to be a while before live races are a possibility.

I for one am not interested in virtual races. That’s fine if it keeps you motivated, but I also feel like this forced hibernation is an opportunity in its own right to relax, regenerate and reflect. I want to use the time accordingly rather than fish for more ways to keep me occupied. We’ll have the chance to run races eventually.

Eventually I may offer some feedback on effective training ideas for runners while in lockdown. But for now, I’m going to make the most of our collective hibernation.

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Vancouver 2020 will not happen

The Vancouver Marathon was officially cancelled Friday night.

I don’t have issues with cancelling the race. Restrictions or not, if people are not comfortable with running it, then it’s best not to do it.

I guess it’s a bummer to train only for no race to happen, but I have other training goals I’d be more than happy to continue with. I was only halfway through my training plan, and while I was progressing I wasn’t quite making the progress I wanted.

My hotel is only lock-rate reserved and can be cancelled with no penalty. I imagine WestJet, who is already relaxing cancellation policies to accommodate travelers during this whole thing, will extend the courtesy to May flights if in fact the Marathon is cancelled and I want a refund. Right now they’re only offering to transfer or cancel March flights, so I have to play the waiting game with them. Worst case scenario, I can pay to defer the airfare and use it for Victoria in October.

VIMS basically had to pocket the 2020 entry fees, only allowing a slight discount on 2021 entries (they’re trying to negotiate something higher than 20%), or allowing you to use your paid entry towards a fall race (none of which are a marathon) if they happen. They’re also doing a ‘virtual race’, which isn’t any real consolation for those traveling.

I guess that’s a bummer, but I’ve thrown away paid entries for other reasons (I DNS’d a half marathon earlier this year, for example) and this would not be a huge deal for me.

So in some ways it works out. I can now work on some fundamental training and then start training for Victoria within a couple months.

 

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A quick review of the Las Vegas and Henderson Planet Fitness locations I have visited

PFGraphicSince returning to Vegas I have worked out at four Planet Fitness locations on my side of town (I have a Black Card membership which allows me to visit any location).

I’m not exactly checking off a bucket list of PF locations, but I realize I’ve visited enough of them to provide a useful contrast and comparison of those locations (plus they’re on a nicer side of town and thus may get more outside visitors). As time goes on and I visit more locations in town, I’ll add to this. But here’s a rundown of the locations I have visited and worked out at:

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Eating is (literally) stressful

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One observation from my Garmin watch is that my stress score goes up after meals. No matter what I eat, how healthy the food I’m eating, my stress levels go up after the meal and stay elevated for at least a couple hours or longer, depending of course on activity and whatever else I’m doing. This is even true if I eat before bed: My stress levels can remain high for up to 2 hours after I drift off to sleep, following a relatively late meal.

My body only shows as resting (meaning a low stress score) in the morning if I have yet to eat breakfast. Despite any hunger pangs, it’s less stressful for me (according to heart rate variability) to be hungry than it is for me to digest a meal after eating. I find I record more restful periods when I intermittent-fast, aka skip breakfast and eat my first meal in the afternoon. Even with the added stimulus of coffee, my stress levels remain in a low resting state.

Garmin’s stress score is a function of heart rate variability, which can indicate activation or rest of your body’s sympathetic nervous system, which activates the body for activity. When the sympathetic nervous system is regularly activated, that indicates your body is under stress. A heart rate that does not vary much is indicative of the sympathetic nervous system being activated.

What does this have to do with eating? The sympathetic nervous system is a component of the autonomic nervous system, which passively operates our organs and hormonal glands. When you eat food, the autonomic/sympathetic nervous system begins diverting blood from other organs to the stomach and other relevant digestive organs to digest your ingested food. This activation of your sympathetic nervous system will continue until your food has been suitably digested and absorbed.

Even if you are laying down and doing absolutely nothing, your sympathetic nervous system during digestion is at work and therefore your heart rate variability at rest is likely small enough to indicate a level of stress to your Garmin. That doesn’t seem fair, but welcome to human biology.

If you live a relatively low-stress existence, eat only 2-3 meals a day, and you’re in good health, this is likely not a big deal. Your heart rate will eventually return to normal variability in a couple hours, and your resting time will read to your tracker as being at rest.

Of course, the vast majority of humanity doesn’t fall into the very thin demographic I just outlined. Most of us deal with some substantial degree of regular stress. Many of us have different meal habits, and many snack or eat enough meals a day that their bodies are digesting food not just throughout the entire day but even after going to sleep. And, of course, most people are not in optimal health.

This never minds people who endurance train, and are already subjecting their bodies to substantial stress through their training. The irony is that, depending on their eating habits, their fueling after workouts may in fact be contributing to their overall (already high) stress levels.

Science incidentally hasn’t laid a hand on this subject in over a decade, so we don’t have a ton of data on why this needs to be a stress reaction let alone if we can change the body’s sympathetic nervous reaction to eating food. So we have to accept that this is reality and work within that.

This incidentally is an underlying reason why intermittent fasting and the old “eat dinner like a pauper” rule* works so well. Fasting by skipping breakfast leads to generally lower stress levels, which improves overall hormonal function. Eating light limits the stress affect on your sleep time, which can improve the quality of that sleep.

Of course, this should not be taken as license to starve yourself and not eat at all. At some points during the day you do need to eventually take in quality nutrition and “take the sack” (so to speak) on the resulting sympathetic stress, because your body needs that nutrition.

This merely points out how the timing of that nutrition can affect your overall sympathetic stress, which in turn can affect your overall health.

Though this was never an intent of the rule, this is one benefit to making sure to eat quality protein/carbs as soon after a hard workout as possible, e.g. the 30 minute and 2 hour windows. Your body undergoes a similar sympathetic stress response after a workout, though the stress ripple effect can last longer than your meals (often, for example, a long run leaves you in a high stress state for the entire rest of the day, even if you spend all day laying down).

Eating as soon as possible and triggering that sympathetic nervous reaction can effectively piggy-back off the other sympathetic nervous reaction recovering from the workout itself. Eating much later could effectively re-start the sympathetic stress reaction, whereas eating right after one has began saves you the trouble of an extra stress reaction, or an extended period of elevated sympathetic stress. You can get back to a normal resting state more quickly, and spend more time in that low-stress rested state than if you had eaten later and had two separate stress-creating episodes for your sympathetic nervous system.

This lends credence to the following ideas:

  • Unless you work out in the morning, or you have health-related reasons not to do so, it’s probably best to intermittent fast by skipping breakfast, nothing but coffee and water.
  • Probably only eat breakfast if doing a morning workout, and probably following that workout.
  • It’s important to consume nutrition within 30 minutes of finishing tougher workouts, and to eat a meal within two hours of finishing those workouts.
  • Regardless of the size of dinner, you want to buffer a couple of hours between the end of dinner and bedtime, to allow digestion and its stress reaction to finish as early in the sleep cycle as possible.
  • Avoid snacking, as it restarts the sympathetic nervous stress reaction. Eat full meals and only full meals, 2-4 times a day.
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My best marathon training cycle

Right now, training and weight wise, I’m not where I want to be. I’m executing most of my scheduled weekly workouts, and made dietary improvements over even my best running days in Chicago. But I’m not creating the results I had during my better training cycle just a couple years ago.

Once again, I looked to the past for answers. Despite hiccups derailing my 2018 Chicago Marathon effort (which I finished with substantial difficulty), that summer had probably been my best marathon training cycle and (until the hiccups struck halfway through) I had run the race fairly well, feeling physically capable of finishing strong… if not for the whole being unable to breathe properly thing.

It was ultimately some stupid decision-making with nutrition that derailed me. I decided to use a thicker protein-based recovery drink for fuel, despite not having trained much with it. My stomach and epiglottis likely flipped me the bird because of its relative nutritional thickness.

Never mind the problems with using thicker nutrition as race fuel. I made the cardinal mistake of doing something in a race that I had not worked on in training. So, it was not the training that derailed the race. In fact, given my condition at mile 13, and even how good my bones and muscles felt in the later miles despite my plight… the training beforehand had been sound. So, what I did during the cycle is worth reviewing.


I took a look at that cycle and noticed several key factors. Sure, I built up to a pretty solid 40-50 weekly mile volume and was running without injury. I was able to hit goal paces in key workouts leading up to the race. But there were some other not as obvious factors that helped me enter that race prepared.

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The Overload Principle: The training value of runners training tired

Human nature leads us to take it easy when we’re sore or tired. Obviously, we don’t feel good, so our nature tells us to rest until we feel better.

Many training plans for runners will ask you to run a high volume of miles, even though often times you are tired from the prior workouts. Many novice runners will make the mistake of skipping or curtailing the easier workouts because they are tired. They don’t realize their being tired is part of the training stimulus for those workouts!

In fitness training we have a concept called the Overload Principle. The principle is that your training stimulus has got to exceed your current capabilities to elicit optimal adaptions from that training.

For a beginning runner who doesn’t run much, the simple act of running in itself kicks in the overload principle. A beginner’s current capability is they aren’t yet comfortable running a lot. So running in itself already exceeds their current capabilities. A simple run will for them elicit those optimal adaptions.

Separately, consider strength training through weight lifting with heavy, challenging weights. Done with a suitable intensity (i.e. sufficient weight, capable but challenging form), lifting weights can exceed anyone’s current capabilities as long as the weight and/or exercise itself is more challenging that the trainee is generally used to. Even if a trainee gets comfortable with a given weight/exercise, adding weight or progressing the exercise into a more challenging form can once again exceed the trainee’s capabilities and elicit those optimal adaptions.

However, if the trainee were to maintain the current intensity as they got comfortable with it, the exercise while still beneficial would produce lesser adaptions and results. This is often why people hit a plateau when training.

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