5K Win in LA

Want to know how to win a 5K race? Easy: Enter a really tiny, non-competitive one. 

Race Goals:
1) Finish top 3 ()
2) Win ()
3) Run sub-20 (X)

It was a beautiful 51 degrees at 7am this morning when the race began in Long Beach. Jason and John joined in on the 5K magic while Larry showed up to cheer us on. So great to see some Becketites on the West Coast.  

This small event is put on every week by a cool organization – Charlie Alewine Racing. They’re out there every weekend putting on small events – from 5Ks to marathons – running strong (pun intended) for over nine years. 

The Race:
This was an odd one… no music (I forgot my headphone charger), no crowd-induced adrenaline, no rabbits. I started off pretty quickly, aiming for a 6:30ish first mile.

At the mile mark, my watch read 6:32 and there was nobody within at least 50 meters. Despite my Run Gum, I wasn’t feeling great and decided I would maintain this current pace until the turnaround at 1.55 miles.

Heading back to the finish line, it was clear I had a solid lead and my focus shifted away from running a sub-20 time to ensuring that I walked away with the win (and walked away at all, for that matter). 

The second mile was much slower – 6:49 – and didn’t feel as good as it should have. Still, I managed to cruise a 6:42 last mile and hold onto the lead for a win in the alarmingly-slow winning time of 20:47. 

Luckily, I caught my breath quickly. I still had more in the tank, even though I wasn’t feeling great. 

It’s probably an indicator that my overall 5K fitness isn’t much better than the 19:57 I ran last weekend on a tough course thanks to my two rabbits. 

Still, if you pay to race, a W is a W, and now I can (somewhat) confidently say that I accomplished one of my 30@30 goals: winning a race. Finishing first is fun – even if its only out of 22 runners. 

Most importantly, I want to thank Jason, John, and Larry for coming out and supporting me and this campaign. It meant a lot to me that they would come out and share this experience. 

Next up: 1 mile indoors at the Armory in NYC on Thursday, March 1. The shortest race of the Campaign! 

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Fitness Testing: Part 2

If you missed Part 1…. too bad! Kidding. Click here to read.

Day 2: VO2 max testing.

First off… What is VO2 max?
Runner’s World offers a pretty digestible description: “VO2 max is a measure of your maximal aerobic capacity. In general, as your aerobic fitness increases, your VO2 max increases. In specific terms, VO2 max is the highest rate at which you can transport oxygen (via blood) to your muscles so that your muscles can produce energy aerobically.”

It’s a very useful measure of athletic performance in aerobic activities. Like, you know, distance running.

A few cool facts:

  • A VO2 max score typically ranges from the teens – in little children and very out of shape adults – up to the 80s for elite athletes. (Aside: Henry Wynne tells me his VO2 max in high school was 82. Hate that guy.)
  • The highest recorded V02 max scores (90s) are from cross-country skiers.
  • Elite women typically have higher VO2 max levels than men.
  • VO2 max has a notable genetic influence, but it can be improved with training.
  • There is some variation in from one source to another, but this is a fairly good breakdown of the scoring norms across age distributions:

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So what’s the VO2 max “test”?
The test can be conducted on a treadmill or bike hooked up to a special computer. Wearing a mask that captures each breath, you basically run/bike at increasing levels of difficulty until you can go no further. 

Obviously, I elected to test on the treadmill. 

In general, there are two treadmill testing protocols. One is on a flat treadmill (0% incline) that increases in speed every few minutes (until you can take no more). The other is on a treadmill that starts at a high incline (10% grade) and increases in both incline and speed until you have to stop. 

The machine at the GW Weight and Human Performance Lab is the latter.

What Went Down (and up, I guess):
Mike and Todd were already preparing the computer when I arrived. I did a mile on the treadmill to warm up my legs and then did some dynamic stretches that I often do before running.

Then I hopped on the machine while Todd explained the protocol. It was simple. I’d go until I couldn’t while he kept watch to make sure that I – you know – didn’t drop dead on the treadmill. Todd told me that I should last 10 minutes… making it to 13 minutes would be pretty solid.

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Then… showtime!

The machine started at a slow walk at 10% incline grade. 10% is pretty steep. For reference, when I do those brutal treadmill hill sprint workouts I have the treadmill at a 6% grade.

Every few minutes the machine would increase in incline and velocity. We never got going too fast… it’s the incline that wrecks you.

My goal was to get to at least 14 minutes. Mind you, I formulated this goal having no idea how hard that actually would be. Maybe Todd totally overestimated me and I’d be lucky to scratch double-digits?

If you want to see the full video of my test, you can watch it here on Facebook.

The Results:
I lasted a little over 15 minutes and had a VO2 max score just over 54 (one breath even reached 59!). Not bad, not great. Pretty good for your average 30 year old… not great for a competitive amateur runner.

I sat down and reviewed the results with Todd and Steph. The main takeaway is that my excess body weight is currently the biggest impediment to my VO2 max. If I can get down to the mid 150 lb. range my VO2 max should shoot above 60. That’s the goal.

After some work on my diet and more exercise, I am going to go back in and test again.

Thoughts:
Accessing this data is remarkably cool.

I do wonder if I could have performed better on a flat treadmill test, as I am used to pushing myself while moving fast (and not just when running uphill). Either way, I love that I have a specific goal number to improve on.

*If you’re going to be in the DC area and this is something you’re interested in doing, let me know, I might be able to hook you up….

Fitness Testing: Part 1

This week I had the privilege of undergoing incredibly advanced fitness testing at the GW Weight Management and Human Performance Lab. When they heard about the 30@30 campaign they volunteered their time, equipment, and expertise to help me capture a precise and complete picture of my current fitness and develop a customized nutrition plan to coincide with my training from Coach Matt. 

The Cast:
Mike: The lab manager, Kevin Love look-alike, and someone who will end up an easy finalist for the Genuinely Nicest Person I’ve Met in 2018 Award (no cash value, sorry Mike). 

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Steph: The really sharp dietician with a contagious enthusiasm for nutrition and a fun, natural coaching cadence to her approach. 

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Todd: The accomplished professor behind the renowned Miller Method with enviable biceps. Todd is one of those guys that perennially looks 35 but could easily be 60. Damn you, Todd.

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Day One:
I arrived at the facility and immediately felt excited to get my lab-rat on.

Mike began by calibrating the first machine that would measure my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Breathing into a tube connected to the computer, this machine captures how many calories my body burns at rest. That is, how many calories my body would naturally burn if I laid in bed all day/imitated my dog for a day.

You know how you see “based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet” on nutrition labels? Well, that’s of course a general estimate. This machine identifies my natural state down to the calorie. This gives a precise input to Stephanie as she creates a nutrition plan based on my on my goals and my physiology. 

Cool Aside #1: I learned that Steph and Todd do a ton of work with remote clients. So they’ll work with someone in New York, Boston, China, or in the International Space Station (note to prospective astronaut clients: your email transmission may be slightly delayed due to distance…) find a convenient place to get tested (if they’re not in the DC area) and then create nutrition and fitness plans and work remotely via Skype. 

The RMR test is super easy… you just need to be fasted for a few hours prior, so I scheduled mine first thing in the morning and ate afterwards. You just sit there in a chair, maxin’ (maskin’?) and relaxin’, and let the computer do its thing. 

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The results were pretty neat: I burn 1974 calories per day just by existing! Way over my age-predicted score of 1838. The last time my score was that much higher than a predicted score I was playing golf….

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After this brief 15 minute test, we headed into the other room to complete a DXA scan.

The DXA scan is the most scientific way to understand your body composition. As Mike explained and Todd elaborated, the DXA scan works by shooting a very tiny amount of X-rays through your body to reveal what is bone, muscle, tissue, fat, etc. It’s often used in hospital settings to look at bone density, but this lab and a few others have access to a DXA for fitness and weight management.

It’s like a low-key, non-invasive open MRI machine – you just kick off your shoes and lay on your back. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.

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Cool Aside #2: As I lay there, I was thinking about the generations of incredible athletes who didn’t have access to this technology. Imagine what Jim Thorpe or Wilt Chamberlain could have done with data from a DXA scan? It also got me thinking about what it will be like for athletes in the future… one day, you’ll be able to get this data by waving your smartphone (or futuristic equivalent) around your body. Crazy. Until then… this is the best thing out there. 

The results are instantaneous and very cool. 

Basically, Green = good (muscle). Yellow = less good. Red = not good (excess fat). 

My results…. not bad! A decent amount of torso muscle (for a guy) and very little fat lining my organs (a bad indicator for heart disease, etc.). 

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With the RMR and DXA results in hand, Stephanie and Todd went to work. Based on my fitness goals as an endurance runner, they had a couple key findings and suggestions:

– I am in terrible shape for an endurance athlete, currently carrying as much as 27 lbs. of excess fat that hampers every step I take. 
– I have really strong bones. Best bones Todd has ever seen. Ever. He said that. (Insert Arrested Development Narrator Voice: “He didn’t”). 
– I actually have a decent amount of muscle. The strength training that Coach Matt has me doing is clearly effective. 

Based on this data and our discussion, Steph and Todd devised a nutrition plan designed primarily to lose fat (while maintaining muscle). This should yield a significant improvement in my race times, as every pound that isn’t necessary is slowing me down. The goal is to knock off about 20 lbs., putting me around 155 lbs. High school weight. 

Aside #3: Over this past year, as I’ve learned more about the impact of weight on distance running, it has become so clear how easy it is for someone to become obsessed with eating and weight-loss in an unhealthy, unproductive way. The line between thoughtful weight control and disordered eating can be thin and blurry in a sport where every unnecessary ounce is working against you. That’s why it’s so important to educate children about nutrition and to teach all athletes – especially young runners – how to care for their weight and body in a useful way and to be mindful of the societal and personal pressures that drive unhealthy habits. So if you’re thinking about restructuring your diet, whether its because you want to run a marathon or just feel better, consulting professionals like Steph and Todd is so, so helpful.
(UPDATE: Jess shared a great writeup about discussing weight and running on the running blog Salty Running). 

My nutrition plan actually involves slightly upping the amount of total calories that I’m currently eating on average and significantly increasing the proportion of protein. I’m going to aim for 2100 calories/day…. with about 180 grams of protein/day (and about 240g/carbs and 47g/fat to round out the other macronutrients). That’s a lot of protein. 

Now, importantly, as Coach Matt was smart to remind me, there is decent evidence that excessive protein intake can have a negative effect on endurance athletes (read here and here). So if you’re a super-fit distance runner, this is probably not the diet for you. However, since my largest, most immediate gains will come from shedding excess weight, this high-protein diet is the way to go.

I certainly won’t be hungry. 

This means I have to find some new ways to up my protein intake… if any of you know of high-protein foods (that are also lower in fat… sorry, peanut butter) that you recommend please let me know!

Luckily, before I even got home, Stephanie had emailed me a detailed nutrition plan that included sample meals, snacks, and options for travel, etc. She uses a great, free app that I can use as a diary that she can access on the back end. 

Day one was really, really cool. But the big test – the VO2 Max test on the treadmill – that would come on day two….

Sub 20 5K: Slightly Disappointing (?!) Goal Accomplishment

My last 5K was mid-December. On a very challenging course in cold conditions, I ran a strong race for a series best 5K in 20:41* (see: Race Recap), averaging about 6:40/mile. Since then, I focused on a good amount of longer-distance running in preparation for my mid-January half-marathon. That was a big success too.

Coming off these races and a decent few months of training, I had high hopes for this race. In the end, I achieved my race goals thanks to a few rabbits, but I walked away feeling a bit underwhelmed.

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Race Goals:
1) Break 20min ()
2) Run the first mile hard (sub 6:20) ()

Pre-Race:
Not a great start to the day.

I woke up early and felt groggy. Russell, my pup, buried his head under his blanket when I turned on the light, reminding me that it was too early. I had a light breakfast, walked the pup to investigate the rain (which wasn’t too bad at the time), and stretched a bit while watching some Olympic biathlon.

At this point I wasn’t feeling very confident, but I figured I could snap out of it.

I picked up one of my rabbits. Enter: Lindsay. We drove out to the race where we met rabbit #2: Murat. I would be in good hands today.

We jogged a bit to warm-up but I still felt sluggish. It had been raining for about 24 hours so the roads were slick, but the rain wasn’t too bad at this point and the temperature was a pleasant low 50s. No wind; fair conditions overall.

Murat convinced me to ditch my undershirt for just my 30@30 racing singlet and arm sleeves. A bold move to make a relatively-unplanned uniform change two minutes before the race. But hey… if this goes poorly, now I’ve created another excuse!

Lindsay and I each change out of our wet socks into fresh pairs and throw on racing shoes. I opt to rock the Brooks Launch 4s after my success with them in the half-marathon.

Four minutes to race time. I pop in a Run Gum and try to do a few strides. I don’t feel ready, but hey, here we go. I just need to stick with my rabbits.

Race:
The plan was to take advantage of the net-downhill first mile. With Murat and Lindsay keeping time and pace for me, I hoped to break 6:20 for the first mile knowing that it should feel like a 6:25 (goal pace). I asked Murat not to tell me our split after the first mile, just to tell me whether or not we were ahead of 6:20.

One mile down. Murat gives me the thumbs up and Lindsay echoes. We’re at least at 6:20 pace. Feeling okay. Not great, but not terrible.

One interesting aside that I notice: a handful of runners are passing us. I don’t normally start near the front of the pack, instead opting to start close to the middle and pass runners while attempting negative splits. Here, some of the faster runners have employed that same strategy, only this time I am their victim.

Now the plan is to cruise around a 6:25 pace for mile two. A few smooth and slow hills. About halfway through the race, my right hamstring feels a bit tight. My breathing is actually decent, but my legs don’t feel very powerful. I bite down on my Run Gum to squeeze out every possible ounce of caffeine. I can probably hold this pace… but will it be fast enough? I have no clue how fast I’m going. It feels faster than 6:30, but my sense of timing doesn’t feel very precise.

After dancing around a few runners, we hit the second mile mark. As was our race plan, Murat and Lindsay would let me know the second mile split, but not out overall time.

Both GPS watches bark out 6:26 for the second mile. I know we’re technically ahead of the overall sub-20 goal pace given our quicker first mile. I also know that I am beginning to tire and that the final mile is the hardest of the three. The rain is also picking up.

Murat points out a runner ahead of our group to chase down (look out, struggling white-shirt guy) and I try to focus on running sharp tangents as we hit the final hill.

I am generally out of sorts. I don’t know how much firepower I have left and my leg turnover doesn’t feel too strong. I can probably maintain a decent overall pace but I need to pick it up on these hills.

I’m good at hills. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy them, but I’m confident about my ability to economically power my way up hills. Hills are one of my running strengths. 

We charge up the final hill – the biggest on the course – and I feel relieved knowing that the final section of the race is downhill/flat. At the three mile mark, with just 0.1 to go, Murat says “it’s gonna be close”.

It’s that last 1/10th of a mile that is always longer than I expect.

I’m very tired and my internal clock tells me that we are suited to dip well-under the 20min barrier. I have a hunch that Murat is just saying “it’s gonna to be close” just to motivate me to pick it up in the final stretch.

We must be close to 19:40-19:45 pace.

We round the final corner and Murat (who has been jogging the entire race, by the way) looks ahead at the finish line – about 75 meters away – and says “the clock says 19:41 right now.”

“Time to go, Jake!” instructs Lindsay.

Oh, shoot.

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I open up a pretty serious sprint finish kick while I stare down the clock. I really need to pick it up and am in an all-out sprint for the last 40 meters.

I glance up at the clock and remind myself to run all the way through the tape.

19:57.

I managed to do just enough. Phew.

Goal accomplished!

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Post-Race:
Okay! I wanted to break 20 minutes and I did! So why do I feel somewhat disappointed?

I am pretty wiped and take two minutes to catch my breath. It doesn’t help that Murat and Lindsay basically aren’t breathing.

I’m relieved but confused. That effort felt like a 19:40 pace.

If that’s what was required to hit 19:57, I have a ways to go before achieving one of my chief 30@30 goals of breaking 19min.

There were plenty of reasons for this race to go south: Slick roads and rain. A course that I’ve struggled on in the past (aside: I think I race better when the first half of the race is more challenging; this course is just the opposite). Racing without music. A morning where I’m just not feeling sharp. All things considered, it’s good that my general fitness could carry me to a sub-20 despite the non-ideal conditions.

Still, I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. I’ve got to train harder and smarter.

Thank goodness Murat and Lindsay were there or I would have packed it in early and ran a really poor race.

That said, I crossed off a major milestone and feel really hungry to improve my speed. My 19:57 (6:26/mile) was good for 19th overall* out of 291 (14th overall men; 4th age group).

*This considering that Murat and Lindsay were both jogging and let me beat them down the final stretch.

This week should be a fun one, too! I’m working with my new sponsor – the GW Weight Management & Human Performance Lab – on some elite fitness testing and nutrition planning. Then, I head to Southern California where I’ll run a 5K this Saturday morning. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you’d better join me!

Pre-Race Tuneup Workout with* an Olympic Gold Medalist

*near. 

So this morning I set out to do an easy three miles plus some strides to prep for tomorrow morning’s 5K. I decided to finish up my miles on the track, as I normally do when I need to end a workout with hard strides, when I see Olympic 1500 Gold Medalist, Matt Centrowitz, and his friends cooling down after their morning workout. 

Obviously, they were WELL aware of the 30@30 campaign and huge fans… so I agreed to take a photo with them. Luckily, they had enough poise not ask me to sign anything. Maybe I’ll let them be on the 30@30 All-Stars Relay B-Team.

Jokes aside – they’re incredibly nice guys. Very motivating to workout near top talent. Hope to see them on the W&L track again soon.

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New Sponsor: GW Weight Management and Human Performance Lab!

The team at the GW Weight Management and Human Performance Lab are on board! They’re going to help out by putting me through a comprehensive set of performance tests and recommend a customized nutrition plan along with the test results to help me maximize my performance during the rest of the campaign.

I am SO pumped to have their help! Their suite of performance tests (VO2 Max, DXA scanning, etc.) will offer an incredible amount of useful data that I can fold into my daily eating and workout plans with Coach Matt

I head in for testing next week and will have lots of video, photos, and write-ups to catalogue the experience!

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