Wonderful time pacing a group at Baystate Marathon this morning

There is nothing quite so gratifying as helping to guide people to a PR or some other personal running success. I think I actually like this better than racing these days!

A Few Good Runs In Manchester, New Hampshire

So a question popped up on Twitter recently – could anyone recommend a few good, safe runs in Manchester, NH – 3-6 miles, hills okay. Having spent the last seven years running endless miles around my adopted home city, I’ve got favorites at all distances, and a true booster’s spirit for mill city running.

So here are a just a couple of options.

(I run a lot at night, but some of these might not be totally, 100%, in keeping with your request for safe after dark, depending on your tolerance level for safe. In the morning, daylight these should be totally great. My wife runs them and concurs, see her notes below.)

1. Fisher Cats Stadium to bike path, over pedestrian bridge to the West Side.

If you are new to the city, this is a great one. If you are staying downtown, let’s make the Radisson at Elm and Granite Streets the reference point. (Across from the Verizon Wireless Arena) Run down Granite Street and take a left on South Commercial, which will bring you to the Fisher Cats baseball stadium. Behind this runs a paved recreation path along the Merrimack.

Run the path for a quarter mile and hook a left up a steep curvy paved path, which will bring you past a bronze statue of a bull and onto a wooden footbridge over the Merrimack. Here you’ll get beautiful views of the river and the Millyard to your north. Across the bridge you can keep running on the paved path, crossing one busy road, and then on along the Piscatquog River. The path ends on on Electric Street on the West Side.

At this point you will have run about 2.5 miles. You can either turn around and run back, getting in a nice, pretty flat 5 miles, or keep going.

2. Run one extended with West Side and Millyard Additions.

From that point you can turn right and run up Bremer Street – which will definitely put your hill running skills to work. (This is not the most immediate, steepest right, which is a path, it’s the next right, a sidewalk along a quiet street.)

Run up Bremer Street and down the other side. Take a right on Coolidge Avenue and then instead of following Coolidge down the hill, continue straight on Notre Dame.

You’ll know you’re on the right path because you can follow the steeple of Ste. Marie Parish – a basilica style French Canadian Catholic Church that dominates the West Side skyline. You’ll run right past (peek inside for a look at a really beautiful interior, including a spectacular altar and stained glass windows).

From here, take a left on Putnam Street, just past Catholic Medical Center, fly down the steep hill there, and hang another left to follow McGregor Street past the front of the Medical Center and toward Bridge Street. Take a right onto Bridge Street and cross the Merrimack again, getting another awesome view of the Millyard.

Take a right onto Elm Street. But don’t call yourself done. Hang a right on Spring Street and dive down into the heart of the Millyard. Take a left on Commercial Street and find yourself amid the Amoskeag mills that were the largest textile manufacturers in the world in the 19th century. Run Commercial all the way back to Granite Street, turn left and run back up the hill you started on, and back to the Radisson on Elm.

Six miles even.

There are so many more, let me know if you’d like different ideas.

PS – My wife notes that any time you are on the recreation paths, you may encounter a “shady” character. or two, but usually they’re just loitering. (or maybe smoking pot under one of the bridges.)  She’s never had a problem and runs these all the time, as do I (I run them day and often at night) and if you go in the morning, daylight, there will be plenty of other men and women, families, kids, dog walkers, etc. at the same time.

My wife also notes that running on Elm Street early on a Sunday morning is a real pleasure, iconic main street, and you get it all to yourself. And she really likes running in the stately North End. Just head north on Elm Street.

Here’s the map, below – enjoy!

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRun

Do You Need Carbs To Run Fast? Concluding The Experiment, Sort Of

Common wisdom says you need copious amounts of carbohydrate to run your best, but who doesn’t love challenging common wisdom once in a while? After reading the Art & Science  of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Volek and Phinney last year, and following the work of Dr. Timothy Noakes, who was kind enough to give me some advice during the process, and other low carb athletics advocates, as well as no-sugar-no-grain advocate, trainer, author and gifted podcast raconteur Vinnie Tortorich, I put it to the test. I started eating high-fat-low-carb Nov. 2, 2013 and stayed either in ketosis or just on the edge of it for the next nine months. (*Reasons, expanded on?)

Conclusion? 

On no running, or lower weekly mileage (say under 30 miles), I am really happy eating extremely low carb – staying in ketosis even. My brain feels sharp and my sleep is rock solid, a real boon given a lifetime of nagging insomnia. I don’t feel hungry all the time the way I did on a high-carb-low-fat diet, and I can keep weight off  even if I’m not running or exercising at all. It’s a fantastic lifestyle to combat the many negative effects of the ridiculously high-sugar, processed food culture we live in (and which is at the heart of the obesity issues Americans are facing).

But – and this is the big but – I simply couldn’t hit the performance levels I’d been achieving prior to going low carb. This played itself out first in my prep for Boston this spring. I’d been rehabbing an injury, so didn’t run from Nov. 2013 through Jan. 2014, and when I finally started again, I really had a short cycle to back into shape for Boston.

I blamed the too-short training cycle and the two months with no running for my inability to get back into three-hour marathon shape, but likely  it was those two factors combined with the ultra-low-carb diet. Starting in March, I experimented with adding strategic carbs before and after especially tough workouts, and carb reload days, but I was still dragging, and felt like I was stressing my system as well.

Further, most disturbing, I really wasn’t enjoying running, especially long runs, which had been my escape, my mental health time, and often, deeply spiritual. Now I was just grinding through them.

I ran Boston more to participate in the event than to race as hard as I could, and ran a very enjoyable 3:12, which didn’t leave me too beat up. Even so, I took time off after, contemplated what to run next, and decided, nothing. I’d put nothing on the calendar and just run short stuff. I ran one 10K in June, and bailed on the idea of racing it after only a few miles, dropping back to run it with my wife instead. I just didn’t have the juice in my legs to do what I wanted to do – what I’d been able to do just one year before. It was as if, after only two fast miles, the glycogen stores were completely empty. A bonk. Yet not a bonk, since at the slower pace, I could have run all day. It was a top-end-speed bonk only. Frustrating.

Fat Adapted? Yes, But Not Enough For Tempo Running, Racing

They say adapting to low-carb is a long process involving significant physiological changes. I think I made quite a bit of progress – I managed to get back into the 40-mile-a-week range, felt pretty good on short speed work staying very low carb, but still couldn’t manage the long tempo runs. Even just running marathon pace (6:49) felt like a struggle after a few miles, even though I could feel other markers improving, including capability in longer interval workouts.

Despite having said I wasn’t going to run a long race in the fall, I started training in earnest in July and signed up for Manchester a month later. I missed the discipline of the training calendar. And I was seeing improvements, yes, but still, where was that tempo endurance? And why were the long runs still so dang plodding?

Like Flipping A Switch

So a few weeks ago I finally acknowledged that if this was to really be an experiment, I needed to test the other side of the coin and try training higher carb again.

Could I have have gotten even more fat adapted if I’d given it a year, or two years? Perhaps so. Likely so. But I’m in my mid-40s, and I don’t have that many years left to try to improve my marathon times. Or just to enjoy the cruising sensation of a long run, fully glycogen loaded.

Still, I didn’t want to give up all of the benefits I’d been getting  in other areas of my life from low-carb eating. I figured maybe increasing carbs but sticking in general to lower glycemic foods like beans, squash, etc., might keep my blood sugar more steady and maintain some of the happy aspects of low carb living, while allowing me to repack muscles with glycogen consistently throughout the week, not just in bursts.

It was like flipping a switch. My pace on longer runs dropped (9-18 miles) between 15-30 seconds a minute per mile or more, on any given day, with no additional perceived effort. I allowed myself one or two Hammer gels (carbs but very little sugar) on runs over sixteen miles. I increased my mileage back into the mid 50s and felt as strong at the end of the week as I did at the start. And finally, near the end of a 60 mile week this week, I ran a treadmill 9 miler with 5 tempo miles in the middle. Now I mentioned I’d been having to work very hard with a 6-mile marathon pace (6:49) run, even on the treadmill. After a three-mile warmup, the next five tempo miles flew by, with the first four miles at 6:35 pace and the last at 6:31. I could have gone farther or faster. Maybe both. I felt like a different runner. Or more accurately, like the runner I had been.

Now I get it, there are so many factors in play here, mileage, place in training cycle, sleep, it’s hard to control for any one thing perfectly, but the change was too abrupt and notable to be coincidence, and not just on speed days, but on about every run of the week for three weeks in row.

So what now?

So now I stick to the good, clean, whole foods mostly no-sugar-no-grain eating (excerpt for the grain in a good IPA now and again), but with many more carbs in the mix. I’ll make sure I’m still getting plenty of healthy fat. And instead of counting carbs or calories, I’ll keep an eyeball on the glycemic load of the foods I’m eating, though not too close of an eye. As long as the performance continues to improve, and the gnawing hunger or poor sleep doesn’t return, I’ll figure I’ve found a happy medium. Between race cycles, or when my knee finally fails or some other injury sidelines me for good, and I’m no longer burning 7,600 calories a week (this week’s output), I’ll switch back to very strict low carb living and enjoy that.

I continue to both advocate a low-carb diet for the many modern humans struggling with weight and metabolic disorders, as well as for any athlete who’s having luck with it and will benefit more from weight loss and appetite control they might by accessing their top end speed, whatever that might be. And if you don’t go completely low-carb, at least play around with no sugar no grains and see how you feel. I think Vinnie’s onto something easy to follow with that simple, straightforward formula.

In the meantime, someone pass the sweet potatoes.  Today was long run day.

###

* Note my full reasoning for going low-carb isn’t necessarily clear from the intro above. Those who follow the blog know there are two primary drivers – a lifelong struggle with weight, hunger and adverse reaction to sugar when not running a high-mileage training schedule, as well as a desire to see if increased fat adaptation (burning fat in a larger proportion during exercise) would improve my abilities in marathon-distance running.  

Case for Multilingualism In Business

For those of us who work internationally, sure we know that most everywhere you go English ends up being the common language of groups with disparate native tongues. But does that mean there’s no point to learning a second language? Not at all, according to Robert Kaplan, who makes the case for developing multilingual talent in Harvard Business Review.

It’s All About My Race, Not The Race: Do Runners Care Who Wins?

Distance running is wonderful sport in part because the races are so egalitarian: the back-of-the-packers are literally competing in the same event as the world champions. You pay your fee, enter the race and run – albeit usually far, far behind – the elite runners. But it’s worth chewing over the idea that with the exception of huge marquee races like the Boston Marathon, nobody cares who wins, what records were set, what the best course times are, etc.

We care instead whether we ran a PR (personal record) or PB (personal best) for my friends from the UK.

In one sense, it’s a pleasant notion – I enter these races to compete against myself, in a community of people doing the same thing. It’s all about being a self-motivated individual in community; and who can dislike that? Except this is a race, man. Look left, look right – those people are your competitors. Let’s have a bit of both, community and competition.

By adding some of the depth of context involved in being not just a participant in a race, but a fan of running, the sport – and our own race experiences – can be enhanced. Win win.

Which brings me to the main thing that struck me at the last race I ran – the Market Square 10K in Portsmouth last month.  My friend John Stanzel won the second place age group award (50-59) for his 39:21 run through Portsmouth. Great run. My wife Kristen and I stuck around for the awards.

Take a minute and watch the video.

Why the laughs? It’s just funny that despite what I’d heard was a record turnout for this race, the awards ceremony is … umm… intimate.

One thousand eight hundred and ninety eight people finished the race and the only a dozen or so people cared enough to see the awards ceremony. I’m not pointing fingers here – I wouldn’t have stuck around if John hadn’t been collecting an award. And I have to be honest, I didn’t recall the name of the guy who won.

But I think I would have appreciated the whole event more if I knew some of the details of the top-end competition. And in an era where mega races sell out as soon as they are announced, where it seems like almost everyone is a “runner” – why aren’t the champions among us – those folks who win the races we all enter and run together so communally, local celebrities?

We bring our kids to get autographs of minor league baseball players after a game; what would the winners make of it if we had the family hang around at the end of the next race we run, and we asked them to sign our race numbers?

(By the way –  Andrew Huebner won the race. He’s 26 years old, from Portsmouth. His time was 30:31. Holy smokes. You guys know what that means? He was averaging 4:55 per mile for 6.2 miles on a course with its share of climbs – not a fast flat one, that’s for sure. Now maybe this doesn’t quite put him in striking distance of  the 26:17.53 Olympic record set by Kenenisa Bekele in 2005, but it’s damn fast nevertheless. To put it in perspective, next time you’re at a workout with the local track club, try and hit 4:55 pace – just for a quarter mile. That means get yourself around the track in 1:13. You may be able to – it’s not outrageous. But then think about doing it 25 times or so. Yeah, Andrew’s pretty fast. And didn’t that little dip into the stats add some cool context to your own 10K experience?)

Meb’s Boston Training Schedule – 9-Day Cycles Make Sense for Older Runners

I was thrilled to arrive at the finish line at Boston this year to hear that Meb Keflezighi had won. It was a great cap to an emotional day. This piece for Runner’s World highlights aspects of his training plan, well worth reading, in particular the training cycle, which I think would be useful for older marathoners.

At 43, four years older than Meb, I count myself in that “older marathoner” camp. And while I’m no elite runner, I do like to train hard and race hard. I have to balance that training and racing with my advancing years and the accompanying slower recovery powers. It’s easy to overdo it, and easier to get injured.

In this interview, Meb describes his training cycle in terms of nine-day training periods, rather than the traditional week. This makes a tremendous sense to me. A good marathon plan includes a at least one quality tempo or speed workout a week, one medium long run, and one long run, along with plenty of aerobic base. If you arrange those over nine days, versus seven, you can give yourself the recovery time you need (as an “older” runner) between the hard workouts.

Worth a try next time around.

Boston Marathon Recap, Diet and Injury Notes, Next Steps

It’s been a few weeks since Boston, and after whacking the race video footage I shot with my friend Bob’s Google Glass into a 15-minute course video, I’ve been working, traveling, taking the kids to track practice, and otherwise not thinking much about running – other than when taking some nice easy paced runs. So these notes are bit after-the-fact, which is just fine since there’s not much dramatic to report beyond the beauty of the day itself, the runners, the crowd and the wonderful reboot after last year’s sorrows.

Pace and Training

I confess, I did not push to 100% capacity during this race. I’d say I was at 85-90 percent. I knew I hand’t done enough training to run a PR or compete with my own better race times. But I had a good run for the training miles I got in.

To recap, I was injured from Nov. 2013 through Jan. 3, 2014. I ran a total of two runs, 15 miles, during that entire two-month stretch.

The following week, on Jan. 4, I ran 5 miles, then 25 miles, then 26 the week after that. That brought me to 12 weeks until Boston. I wrote this training plan: Here’s the plan as planned. And here’s the plan as executed.

You can see looking at the two spreadsheets, these are miles apart. I wasn’t even close to fit enough when I started to run the first weeks of this plan. Simply fell apart trying.

I was overly optimistic about how quickly I could ramp up. I managed 10 weeks over 40 miles, one week over 50, but I never got the 60 mile weeks I’d hoped for. By March 2, I felt so beaten up from trying to make this comeback so fast, and likely from not having my nutrition dialed in, that I was ready to bag the whole thing. I moaned about that “Forrest Gump moment” here and contemplated quitting running entirely, or at least quitting running marathons. I was serious. My wife, Kristen, likely predicted at the time it was just the fatigue talking.

Instead of quitting, I reset my expectations, stayed patient during a second set of minor injuries (calf strain and Achilles tendinitis flareup), and ran the race for the joy of the event and experience, with no hard and fast time goal in mind.  I thought I might be able to run a 3:08, but really wasn’t sure.

I finished in 3:12:17, avg. pace 7:21, 4,616th finisher, and 788th in my division, and was I happy. I was pretty consistent through mile 16, then slowed down a bit as I hit the hills and afterward, but I wasn’t walking – or bonking. I just didn’t have the training mileage in my legs to maintain the quicker pace in the last miles. Fastest mile was 6:59, slowest mile was Heartbreak Hill at 7:56. I managed to pick it back up a good bit after that, but I was definitely slowing again by the final miles. It was great to be shooting video; an excuse for all that lollygagging!

Diet

As I’d noted at the beginning of the training cycle, my goal was to try and do this whole thing on an extremely low-carbohydrate diet, become ever more fat adapted, and see if I could run the race without a carb-loading phase and sugary sports drinks and gels. As you know if you follow the blog, I did not manage that. I discovered that in order to run the second half of training weeks strongly, I needed to carb up after hard workouts. I experimented with full carb reload days, and starting with the Thursday before the race (with the exception of fasting on Good Friday), ate high carb meals up through race day, including pancakes and a bagel morning of, Hammer Gels and Gatorade during, and French Fries afterward.

The training had shown me that either: a.) Running at intense efforts day after day week after week requires extra carbs, even for someone well adapted to life in ketosis, which would be the common wisdom, or b.) I was not long enough adapted to ketosis.

I’m back in ketosis now – I resumed very low-carb eating the day after the race – and I’m going to continue this experiment, as I remain convinced of the health benefits of low-carb eating, and the endurance athletics benefits of fat adaptation.

Injuries

The left knee injury that sidelined me all winter held off; it aches sometimes and I think it always will, but I did a lot of hip and glute exercises to keep it at bay – thanks Physical Therapist Brian!

I strained my left calf about halfway through, and that migrated to my Achilles. The same leg I’d had the knee problem with. Wondered right up until week of if I was going to be able to run on it. Then, day of the race? No issues. You can see on the training plan how much I’d rested it. My taper was pretty much a full rest. And it worked.

The other injury, which had plagued me since before Boston last year, was the Morton’s Neuroma. That, I am happy to report, is very nearly gone! After seven injections of alcohol directly into the nerve, the neuroma has shrunk to the point where my podiatrist has said no need to return unless it does!

Summary

And that’s that. I’m not going to strain for a piece of writing here that sums up the emotion of the day, tries to get at the history of what this particular running of the Boston Marathon made. Perhaps I ran it out, or talked it out with the folks there after, or in the days and weeks after. Or maybe I’m not ready, or just don’t understand any of it well enough to put it into prose. So instead I’ll leave you with the video I shot that day.

How grass-fed beef can be affordable for a big family

20140425-082009.jpg

Last night after work, I went out to my friend Ken’s farm in Candia, New Hampshire. It is a beautiful and bucolic place. Kris and I had invested in half a cow – which will supply the family with grass-fed, chemical-and-drug-free, locally raised beef for the next 9-12 months. After research, I had realized that, with the right planning, strategizing, and budgeting, (six month’s worth) this was a way our large family could do grass-fed affordably. Now it was time to pick up hundreds of pounds of steaks, roasts, ground beef, stew beef, oxtail, liver, etc.

Ken and I visited about life and running and sore muscles (we ran Boston together a few days ago), and we went down to look at the cows. They came up to the fence, licked our hands looking for a treat. They are beautiful animals, and you feel affection and compassion for them as you look into their eyes, scratch their ears. I understand why vegetarians would wish to be vegetarians. And while I continue to be a strong advocate of meat in a healthy diet, I also wrestle with the ethical and environmental complexities of meat eating and meat production. I think it’s important to do so. And important every once in a while to look into the eyes of an animal that will someday be dinner, and make that a part of the thinking. That’s by no means a bourgeoise critique of folks who can’t work the logistics to buy a cow from a friend – we’re very, very lucky. And we will still eat some supermarket meat too. But it’s more to note I am grateful for the opportunity to have known the good life these cows have had, the good man who raised them, and the good, wild New Hampshire grass and sunshine that grew them.

For anyone interested in the logistics, I’m going to write a longer blog post on these in the next month or so as time permits.

boston2014impression

Boston Marathon 2014 in 15 Minutes – A Google Glass First-Person View

Almost 36,000 people ran the Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014, a year after the infamous bombings at the finish line. Here’s a first-person perspective from one of those 36,000 folks, captured using Google Glass. What a gift it was to be able to run again this year. It wasn’t my fastest marathon, or my slowest, but being with these amazing friends, amidst these runners, the awesome crowds, this great city, made it certainly one of the most meaningful. #BostonStrong

Running, diet & fitness, productivity, faith, and other survival tips for 21st century humans