Light vs. Lean and Other Findings

Back in February, I had a chance to go through a series of tests at the GW Weight Management and Human Performance Lab. Based on a series of test results, Todd and Steph at the lab put together a customized nutrition plan designed to help me shed unhelpful weight without compromising my endurance training. 

Six weeks later, it was time to head back to the lab to see how I was doing. 

I was quite curious what the DXA body scan would find… I felt like I’ve been doing a pretty good – not phenomenal – job of adhering to my new nutrition (newtrition?) plan.

The first few weeks were rough. My metabolism was basically saying WHAT IS HAPPENING – I even felt like I was gaining weight as I tried to figure out the new diet. Eventually, my body began to settle in, but I wasn’t sure what the results would find. 

Todd said: “Losing weight is easy… losing fat is much harder.” True that. So… the results…?

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Progress! 

Since my original set of tests, I’ve lost five pounds of unhelpful fat AND gained nearly a pound of muscle in the process!

A few key takeaways so far:

1) It takes a few weeks. Your body takes around six weeks to adjust to a massive dietary change and far too many people abandon new dietary plans far too quickly (Steph noted that this is true of women much more so than men). 

After a few weeks of not seeing the results, I was tempted to quit, but I stuck with it and turned the corner quickly. 

2) It is helpful to be light as a runner – but the real goal is to be lean – building useful muscle to help defy gravity with each stride. Not only did this new plan help me burn off some unwanted fat, but I also gained muscle in the process. This diet plan isn’t about weight loss – it’s about fat loss. 

3) I wasn’t perfect with my dieting – I wanted to incorporate this new plan but still enjoy foods and eating. But I didn’t need to be perfect to see results. 

If this kind of stuff interests you… good news! There are a few Groupons available to get these measurement tests – DXA scan, RMR test, VO2 Max test – at a serious discount. 

“Say 4 Miles Up”: Age Group Win – 4th Place Overall – 24:56!

My brother and father joined me for race #21 of the campaign: A four-mile trek through the streets of Scarsdale, NY, (pronounced “Scaaarhzzzz-daaaaaale” – be sure to adjust an imaginary necktie while you draw out the pronunciation). 

Clear skies and temperatures in the low 30s made for decent – albeit brisk – racing conditions. After a week of tough workouts, I had low-moderate expectations for my race… further proof that I still have minimal understanding of my readiness.

Race Goals:
1) Break 26min (6:30/mile pace) ✓✓✓
2) Increase the pace at the midway point ✓✓✓
3) Finish top 10 overall ✓✓✓
4) Stretch goal: Break 25:30 (6:22/mile pace) !

Pre-Race
Why was I nervous? Because this would be another good fitness test. I should be able to run four miles at a 6:30/mile pace… but could I? I’d be running without my rabbits, on an unknown course, and coming off a challenging week. 

Either way, I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t fall back asleep. Oh well. I paced around anxiously until we headed off to the race. 

After arriving at Scarsdale High School nice and early to register and get in a good warmup, I snuck up to the second floor and conducted my dynamic stretching routine in a dark, quiet hallway. There was something oddly comforting about the beige/red/green square tile patterns on the floor – just like the ones that used to line the corridors of my own nearby high school.

Next, I jogged part of the course for about 1.5 miles… at least, I thought I did. I couldn’t find the start line – I expected to see a large setup – but there was nothing. More on that later…

Feeling warmer but a bit stiff, I headed over to the track to stretch for a bit longer and do some drills. After applying some arnica to my sore legs, I ran a bit farther and made sure to do some strides at race pace. My legs felt tired… I was beginning to doubt myself. It’s a a common, unsophisticated psychological trick I play on myself: I lower my expectations to alleviate the self-made pressure. It really doesn’t work. 

With five minutes to go, I changed out of my Vomeros into my Hyperions and popped two pieces of fruit Run Gum. I was considering leaving a piece for mid-race… but running in tights, I had no pockets! 

The Race
Why couldn’t I find the start line earlier? Because it was faintly painted on an inconspicuous part of the road.

Our racing bibs had chips, so I expected an RFID-laden start line. Nope. Just a narrow stripe of blue spray paint. That meant a gun-to-chip race: our final times would be based on the when the gun sounded – not when our bib crossed the start line – I had to start as close to the front as possible. 

A handful of competitors wearing athletic gear that screams “I’m not really a runner” have bunched up at the front of the pack. I wiggle through a few folks who stare angrily at me for asserting myself. I shoot back at them a look that says “I can either pass you now or pass you in 20ft., your call.”

The Mayor of Scaaarhzzzz-daaaaaale sounds an air-horn. I start my watch. Off we go. 

I was eager to keep an honest pace of 6:30 through the first mile, which featured a series of ups and downs but had an overall gain in elevation. I wanted to cruise the flat sections and not lose speed on the hills. I was setting myself up to have energy during the second mile when the big hills hit and I could try to muster the strength to pass nearby runners. 

A handful of folks ran out in front and after a quarter-mile, I counted nine people in front of me. Okay, don’t let anyone pass me and that top-10 goal is locked up. 

We hit the mile mark in exactly 6:30 and I feel good. I chew down on my Run Gum as if I’m trying to squeeze out every last drop of caffeine before the big hill. I decide that’s where I’m going to try and pick up the pace. 

Check out the course map and elevation profile:

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We hit the big hill and I hit it hard, leaving a pair of runners behind. I move well but this section of the course is still challenging. I am feeling pretty strong, but annoyed when I hit the halfway point and see that I ran 6:46 for the second mile. 

Damn. 

But I feel pretty good. Okay, here come the easy parts. Pick it up on the downhills and sub-26 is no problem. You got this. 

With a handful of runners chasing the lead car about quarter-mile ahead and nobody close behind, I am alone.

However, I am now re-running part of the course and there are plenty of runners still heading out. A few of them cheer me on as I pass them in the other direction which gives me a nice boost. 

I cruise through the third mile and my watch beeps at the mile three marker: 6:09 for that third mile. Some quick math (that even I can do) tells me that I’m back under 6:30/mile average. I feel really strong and I know I can attack the easier, final mile and get under 26 minutes. 

Early into the last mile I reach what I know must be the final uphill section and I go for it. I mean, really go for it. I know I can catch my breath a bit on the downhill slope.

I have about a half-mile to go and feel great. I look at my watch and it says just over 22 minutes. I am going to break 26 minutes – it’s just a question of by how much?

25:30 is in play, I tell myself. 

I take a quick look backwards and nobody is in sight. I spit out my gum. Game on. 

I am running strong and smooth as I turn into the high school parking lot with about a quarter-mile to go. The race finishes on the high school track – after entering through the parking lot, we have about 250 meters around the track to the finish line. 

I step onto the springy rubber track and look at my watch: it says about 24:11. Knowing that I couldn’t catch anyone else and nobody was going to catch me, I had planned to maintain my speed and cruise to a strong finish… but a thought occurs to me…

If I really open it up, I can break 25.

I’m going for it. 

I break into an accelerated stride and feel like I’m bouncing nicely with the wind at my back. Thank goodness the wind is at my back. With 100 meters to go, I peek at my watch – I think it says 24:38. 

I think to myself: “You have more in the tank. If you miss sub-25 by a few seconds, you’re going to be so angry.” 

I lean into the turn and I am in a full sprint. I imagine myself running the final turn of a tough 400m race – I’ve been here before. I drive my arms and make a every effort to bounce forward off of my toes with every step. Don’t let your heels touch the ground.

I hit the line: 24:56!

My last mile: 5:31.

For a moment I am tired, but I am so thrilled that I recover quickly.

An older guy comes over to me and says: “You’re the first finisher over the age of 17!” 

“How many were ahead of me?”

“Just three kids.”

One off the overall podium! Damn. But that’s a massive Age Group victory and a surprisingly good time!

Post-Race
I feel great. I feel like I could run another race. 

I head over toward the parking lot/track entrance to wait for Savi and Steve to come through. Savi has been pacing my dad and decides to take off and sprint the track section, blowing by a half-dozen runners on the back-stretch in a strong finish. My dad follows right behind and I join him on the track for the final 250 meters.

Both finished top five in their age groups! 

We head back to the school cafeteria to grab bagels and pose for a photo. 

I am astonished by how strong and smooth I felt late in the race. Very pleased and surprised. Coach Matt worked me hard this week and I thought my body wasn’t ready to sustain this speed. 

My time of 24:56 (6:14/mile) was good for 4th place overall (165 total, 97 men) and first in my Age Group of 30-39! Definitely one my best races so far.

Next up: My bachelor party 5K. Let’s just say I don’t expect to be running a PR….

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20/30 Races Complete… $20/$30K Pledged!

Two-thirds complete in more ways than one!

Here’s how am I doing against some of my racing goals:

1) Complete my 30 race challenge (10 to go!) by July 25th – On Track
2) Run at least three races of new lengths (non-5/10K races) – On Track (literally)
3) Set a lifetime best at 10K (currently a measly 44:21) – Complete 
4) Break 20min for the 5K – Complete 
5) Win a race (relays count!) – Complete 
6) Break 19min for the 5K – On Track (Best 19:06)
7) Break 40min for the 10K – On track (Maybe)
8) Accomplish my Super Secret Goals (not telling anyone!) (TBD!)

More importantly, can you help us surpass our $30K goal for camperships?

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Workout Recap: Winter Woes

Critical Threshold Workout Plan:
1 mile Easy

6 miles @ 7:11/mile pace
1 mile Easy

Alas, the snow foiled my plans for a nice outdoor run on the bike path. Instead, I had to pound some Run Gum (cinnamon) and slog it out on the dreadmill.

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Pretty brutal but got it done!

Another 0.2 miles at this pace and it would have been a lifetime best 10K.
That’s how slow I am at distance races.

Next time, I’ll try to take it outdoors….


Back on Road: Season’s Best 5K (19:06)!

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I would have said “back on track”, but given the racing context it would have been misleading. This was a road race. A solid race with encouraging results thanks to my rabbits.

Race Goals:
1) Break 19:44
2) Run a composed first mile slower than the final 2.1 

Pre-race
Routines generally benefit athletes. In my case, my pre-race morning routine just serves to make me nervous. Laying my clothing out the night before and packing my bag stirs up pre-race nerves. Early in the morning, gearing up and stretching did the same. Maybe I’d perform better if I were accidentally running late?

I didn’t know what to expect… my last 5K was about one month ago where I ran a 19:57 that felt like an underperformance. My recent indoor mile (5:28) should translate to a much better 5K… but maybe I’m not very well-suited for the 5K distance? I felt like there was a lot at stake today. Today would be a good test of whether or not I was still improving or had hit a plateau.

I arrived at the race an hour early to grab my bib, warm up, and sneak into the nice bathrooms at the nearby hotel. General life tip: If you’re in public and looking for a decent bathroom, find a hotel, there is almost always a public bathroom in the lobby and they’re usually unlocked.

I found Murat and Brendan and we ran a solid warmup loop. I was very intentional about logging a few spurts at race pace just to get my heart rate up and my body used to moving that speed in the cold. 

With a few minutes left, we changed into our racing outfits, I popped two Run Gums (Fruit was the flavor of choice today) and we headed off to the starting line.

The Race
Another strategic move: Starting back off the start line. Last race, we started up near the front and I think this had a negative psychological impact during the race. We probably went out a little too hard with the pack leaders in the first quarter-mile and I was disheartened when I was passed by other strategic runners about one mile into the race. 

You. Shall. Not. Pass. (Me). 

This time, I opted to start a few seconds off the front of the pack, though not too far behind so as to have to dart around many runners. This effectively turned my competitors into a group of Marcus Morris’ (Boston Celtics no-passing joke, sorry). This wouldn’t effect my overall placement, as the race is chip-to-chip timed, meaning that your time is calculated based on whenever you cross the start and finish line.

The plan worked.

Easing through the first mile, we avoided most slower runners and still had a nice group of runners to chase after. With Brendan and Murat flanking either side, I decided that I would try to run hard on the uphill sections so as not to lose any seconds off my target pace, and open my stride and cruise the downhills. 

We reached the first mile marker right around pace: 6:22. I had hoped to cruise between 6:20-6:30 for the first mile to target a sub-6:20 overall pace. 

The second mile was fun. A significant net-downhill, we opened it up, engulfing runners through the tangents and picking up the pace. Mile 2: 5:55. 

I knew that if I could simply run a decent last 1.1 miles that my time would be strong. 

My core strength was starting to give, however. The final third was almost entirely a slow, uphill climb. Murat decided to take off and run a hard last mile (as planned) while I tried my best to mimic Brendan’s smooth stride as we rounded a few turns and tried to chase down a few remaining runners. 

The last mile didn’t feel very good – but it went pretty well. Bolstered by a hard final 200m, I averaged about a 6:08 pace for the last 1.1 miles for a final time of 19:06! The 6:09/mile pace average was way beyond my goals for the day and good for a decent 19 place overall finish out of 913 runners (4th age group, 18th overall men)! 

Murat wound up winning our age group thanks to a strong last mile and Brendan was right with me up to the tape!

I still felt like I should be going much faster, but I’m not there just yet. 

Overall, this was a strong showing. 19:06 for 5K is more on-par with my mile time and proved to me that I could run this distance decently and my last 5K had simply been a one-off bad race. Importantly, this was my first time running this course, and I really enjoyed it – I will definitely be doing more PR Races here. 

Next up is a low-key four mile race in Westchester, NY, on next Sunday the 25th. Join me!

Turning the Dreadmill into the TreadThrill

Today’s hard workout: hills. 
Today’s forecast: rain. 

You know what that means….. treadmill time. I’ve run a hill sprint workout on the treadmill once or twice before and it was really challenging. 

Today should have been even worse: 1.5 mile warmup + 10x(1min at 10mph on 6% incline + 2min recovery jog) + 1.5 mile cooldown. 

After a carb-heavy breakfast (whole wheat toast, peanut butter, banana, protein water) and some strategic Run Gum intake (one piece right before intervals, one piece half-way through), the workout went really well. 

The workout was challenging, but I felt strong throughout. The first half of the workout – where I usually struggle psychologically – went well. To what should I attribute this?

Importantly, I think that the pace felt tolerable after last week’s one-mile race. Racing at a comparable mental effort for much longer than one minute boosted my self-efficacy.I even picked up the pace during the second half of the workout, jacking up the speed a bit on the final sprints! 

I also changed into my new Brooks Hyperions for the intervals – which have quickly become my go-to shoe for speed work. Switching back into my Nike Free Distance RNs for the cooldown really accentuated the lightness of the Hyperions. 

I also ran on a different treadmill. Which brings me to today’s question… what makes for a friendly treadmill?

Well, it depends on your workout. 

If you’re walking, you might care more about the entertainment console. If you’re logging serious miles, cushioning and spacing is probably most important. If you’re doing serious training, functionality and measurement are key. 

So how to choose? Well… if you’re looking to learn more about treadmills, I recommend this sharp article from the Reviews.com team. It breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of a series of models based on they’re use-case. I dig it. 

Personally, I prefer a treadmill with minimal entertainment bells and whistles, mainly because our own devices are so advanced. I get much more out of my phone than any preprogrammed treadmill console.

Treadmills with diverse functionality are awesome.

Why doesn’t every single treadmill allow you to program your own workouts? For example, I’d like to be able to pre-program a treadmill to do today’s workout without having to lift a finger after getting started. Ideally, the treadmill would automatically adjust the pace and incline based on information I input before kicking off a workout. This seems like 101 for treadmills, but it’s apparently not.

While I can’t say I enjoy a hard workout on the treadmill, I definitely enjoy being able to get in a workout more than being sidelined by weather.

Next tough workout: 30-20-10 repeats on Friday. Hopefully, I’ll be able to hit the track for these… but I may have to do them indoors on a Curve treadmill. Stay tuned!

Worlds Collide! Great Running Podcast

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I dig podcasts. I really dig friends. By the transitive (? – I was never good at maths) property of digging, I really, really dig it when friends are together on podcasts. 

One cool perk of my recent journey into running is that I’ve reconnected with one of my former college teammates, Jason Fitzgerald (no relation to Coach Matt Fitzgerald, as far as we know…). Jason is the founder of Strength Running and among the variety of great stuff he puts out is a really enjoyable podcast. I remember admiring Jason’s thoughtfulness and eloquence when we were teammates – they both show through over the airwaves. 

In the latest episode of the Strength Running podcast, Jason interviews none other than my dude, current pro-runner and former Camp Becket camper, Henry Wynne. Since I’m largely (about 97% I’d guess) responsible for Henry’s talent as a runner and general success so far in life (prob closer to 98% for that one…) it was really fun to hear what he has to say about training for the mile…

Kind of made me want to train for the Navy Mile in October here in DC……

Download it on itunes for today’s commute!