Monday, December 31, 2012

Are Trail Runners Really Runners?

We have been having an ongoing discussion with some of our friend around running versus walking hills on trails. On one side (including my wife and I) is the group that does trail runs on a regular basis and will walk most hills.  The reasoning is that, from an endurance standpoint, you want to conserve the additional energy that you would expend running up a hill for the flats and downhill.  On the other side, is the group who do a lot of road races, and run every run like it is a flat marathon - all out (a very anaerobic style).

900 Elevation within the first mile at Brazen's Wildcat 5K, 10K, and Half-Marathon
What makes runs interesting is when these two worlds collide.  I recently received a text from my road running buddy who has just started running trails wanting to get the phone number of my buddy who runs ultras.  After the first run, my road running buddy was amazed at how "slow" my ultra friend was.  Keep in mind, my road running buddy's marathon PR is under 4 hours.  My ultra friend mentioned, however, that about mile 7 on a 13 mile trail run the road running buddy started to really slow down.

It is the same with the road running buddy's wife.  She has been running with my wife for a few years now.  My wife loves the trails, especially since our son has begun kindergarten.  They have a standing running date every Thursday and they rotate which week on who picks the running course.  The Beast (my wife's nickname for her since she runs so fast) typically wants to run flat trails, like the Iron Horse Trail here in Walnut Creek.  She typically leaves my wife in the dust.  The interesting thing is that the Beast is hurt on a regular basis.

Half Marathon with 3,800 Elevation gain....hmmm.
It is so interesting that the running or walking hills (or mountains) and the speed of a trail runner can be a polarizing discussion.  In fact just this past week, Trail Runner Nation had a Podcast that discussed whether someone should call a 100 mile run should actually be called a run if you are walking anywhere from 50% to 90% of the race.  What was even more interesting to me was how an East Coast person (which is used to a lot of flat 100-milers) looks at 100 mile Ultras verses someone from the mountain states or West Coast.

Clearly a trail runner looks at a run more strategically than a regular road run.  There is elevation gain, how technical the terrain, the length of the run, when to refuel (an aid station every 4 to 10 miles isn't very forgiving), etc. for a trail runner takes more precedence than the time it takes.  

You can compare the both types of runs to NASCAR and Formula One Races.  Both are races; one is just faster than the other.  But when to change the tires, fuel up, as well as the speed the course will allow are different between the two.

So are trail runners really runners?  Of course we are, we just know when to conserve our energy to go the distance.  Is a road runner foolish for running hills?  They can if they want...but that is typically why there aren't many road race ultras. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Storming, Forming, and Norming...Training and Nutrition

For the past two and a half years, I have been going through some major changes.  It began in August, 2010 with the loss of my grandfather followed by close workmates (folks I worked with for over 10 years) being laid off.  The following year meant changes in the way the company I worked for operated as well as me being laid off.  I did get a job relatively quickly; however, with it being a poor fit, I found myself out of work for a month until I found my current position.  

Even once the job situation was settled, I still had to learn a new industry, new policy and procedures, and unlearn my old job.  You see, I had been very good at what I did in the industry that I was in.  It allowed me to be both a financial consultant as well as a business consultant.  I was very good at developing meaningful financial and business metrics as well as creating incentive programs to support organizational change.

Family outing - Nov. 2012
The new change meant a lot of stress, challenges to overcome, and re-engineering who I was.  Through this process, though, old habits crept back in.  While I continued to run, the focus has been more on other parts of my life instead of health. 

It goes back to the idea storming, forming, and norming.  Basically, life is like an ant hill.  Things are going to happen, either minor or major that will cause us to react as if our ant hill has been knocked down. This is storming. We then find ourselves scurrying around like little ants to rebuild what was lost.  As time goes by, with an occasional setback, the ant hill, or our lives, begins to take form into its new configuration.  We may not like this new configuration in the beginning because it requires us to adapt, but once the ant hill is complete, we begin the norming phase.  Things seem to click, and more balance is achieved. Everyone goes through this process. 


So looking at 2013,  now that we have officially reached the forming phase.  So my wife and I are making our race schedule for next year.  This will most likely contain at least one marathon, perhaps a 50k, and several half-marathon and 10K’s thrown in.  What this means to me is to create a training and nutrition plan that will help us achieve those goals.

To do this, I went back and compared my nutrition and training back in 2008 to 2010 to where we are now.  Being the analytical person that I am, I tend to over-analyze everything.  So during that time, I tracked everything I ate and my activities on  It is probably the best website out there for tracking with a lot of free tools for analysis. The surprising thing is that, while my training has fallen off, my calories are about the same as then, and about 300 calories lower than when I was training for a marathon.

What worked for me then was that having the right macro-nutrient level ratio helped keep me lean. For me, that is 45.4% carbs, 24.1% fat, and 30.5% protein.  This is where everyone is different, and to be perfectly frank, was more serendipitous for me than anything else.  Why this ratio worked though, is it helped keep the proper amount of carbs in my system while providing the right amount of protein to balance out the workout intensity as well as build lean muscle.  Keeping the right amount of fat helped my metabolism remain balanced as well as prevent sugar binges.  So this meant that I was eating on average 257 grams of carbs, 60 grams of fat, and 173 grams of protein a day. This equates to 2,261 calories. Please keep in mind I am 6’ 1”, and 43 years old.  

The final component was to average about 40 grams of fiber per day in my diet.  This helped keep my blood sugar regulated as well as help with the digestion of the increased amount of protein.

So that is my nutrition regimen.   I won’t go into much of what I ate, since what matters most is that you are eating lean protein (boneless skinless chicken, lean beef and pork, and fish), quality carbs (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), and quality fats (olive and canola oil, avocados, nuts, etc.).  When I am on mark, I am staying away from starches and refined sugar items.  I also try to eat throughout the day, between 5 to 6 times a day, averaging between 150 to 500 calories. 

My exercise schedule focuses on more running than I have been doing.  I do have a perfect cross train schedule from the standpoint that I ride my bicycle to work and back each day.  This equates to 16.2 miles a day, or between 65 to 81 miles a week.  To achieve a base fitness level though, I also need to put in a minimum of 27 miles running.  This means that I run an average of 20 miles at lunch during the week and a minimum of 7 miles on the weekend. In comparison, right now I am averaging 32 miles to 48 miles a week on the bike and about 12 to 20 of miles of running during the week without running on the weekend.


If I can do all of the above, I will bring my net caloric intake to 1300.  Since my BMR (basal metabolism rate) is about 1760, which means my body will be using 460 calories than I am replacing them with. I calculated my BMR  here. This should mean a 1.5 pound decrease in fat, while replacing it with lean body mass. 

First marathon - Long Beach Nov. 2009
So my target goal weight is back to 177.  This is a weight that I feel is at my optimum fitness level.  From a nutrition standpoint, I am staying healthy but not getting hurt because I am too lean.  It also means that I can go back and run a sustained 7 to 8 minute mile at a half marathon distance instead of the 9:30 minute mile I am currently running at.  It also means that my joints won’t be taking the punishment the extra 30 pounds is bringing to bear. Finally, it realigns my body mechanics back to being a more efficient runner than.

So I am definitely still in the forming stage. Nothing is completely normal!! And there will be periods where I fall back into the storming stage.  That said, I am looking forward to being fit and trim again in 2013.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Miss This.....

So, as I have stated in past posts, my wife and I got into running in 2008 primarily for the health benefits.  We were both very overweight and realized that if we didn't do something about it our bodies were going to see some irreversible effects.  We started off small, maybe a 1/4 mile at first, then a mile, then 2.8.  By the end of 2008, we had run our first race together, the 7 mile John Muir Beach run that was organized at that time by PCTR.  Since then we have completed 6 marathons together as well as attempted (and received our well earned first DNF) a 50K.  We have done countless runs together. 

So it has been different since my work schedule has changed.  I used to work in the town I lived, and even before that, I would get home from work earlier so we could do a run as a family.  However, now I am running at lunch in the San Francisco, and she is on the trails between the drop-off and pickup of our kindergartener.  So I really cherish  any run I can with my wife. 

So this past Monday, I had the day off and we hit the trails out of Castle Rock.  The plan was to run up Stage Road, cut up Dusty Trail to Wall Road, then find another trail to take us to Barbeque Terrace and back to Stage Road.  It was a beautiful sunny day, with the creeks running.  The recent rains had washed the leaves off the trail; however, it wasn't muddy.

Stage Road was fun.  I don't know how many creeks we crossed; however, we attacked them with full abandon.  In fact, we came across a couple of hikers that scolded me for getting my feet wet. "All you would have to do is slow down a couple of seconds," they counseled.  A few yards to the next creek crossing and they too would have to get their feet wet, unless they turned around.
About a couple miles in we had to run across the edge of a pond that had overflowed its banks.  What I am think were either willows or cattails had been knocked down by the weight of the current.  About another 1/4 mile up, the trail became a creek!  That was really fun.  It kind of reminded me of the old westerns when someone was trying to get away from a posse or the calvery and would use the riverbed to hide their tracks.

Once we got up Dusty Trail to Wall Road, we settled in with the beautiful vistas of Pine Valley and Mt. Diablo on one side and Alamo and Danville on the other.  Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of climbing here. But the nice thing about this trail is that it is wide and basically paved with sandstone.  This trail, if we would have continued on, would have taken us to Rock City.  

About a 1 mile before Rock City, we took Secret Trail.  I am not sure how much of a secret this trail is since it is shown on any map.   It is a 0.6 mile single track trail that links Wall Road with Barbeque Terrace.  This trail, in it present condition, is definitely an ankle breaker, so it was definitely
 meant we had to slow down.  While it is pretty, and about 0.35 shorter than if we had just turned around at the trail crossing, I think the reverse course returning back on Wall Road is probably quicker and much more scenic.

Once we got to Barbeque Terrace, it was a quick downhill run back to Stage Road.  The Secret Trail connects about 2/3rds down and therefore you do not face as much of the steep parts of Barbeque Trail.  I was surprised though how much the rain had washed the topsoil.  Back in August, when I ran this trail last, it was pretty much boring fire road.   Now, it has become technical in places, with a lot of rocks and ruts showing.  Back on Stage Road, we hit the same creeks as before and then we were back.

Like I said at the onset, I miss and cherish these kinds of runs with my wife.  We are partners in everything we do, so she is my best running partner a husband could ever ask for.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Runner Refueling Part 2: Timing of Nutrition

This post will is focus on timing of your nutrition on a run. Like the last post, I will start by saying that what I describe in this post works for me.  Every person is different, and therefore you should identify what works for you and stick to it. That said, the timing of pre-workout / race meals, refueling during long runs, and recovery meals directly after is very important. You might also like to find out what I eat here.


What would you eat on this half marathon?
If it is race day or I am going to take a long run in the morning, I typically have either oatmeal and blueberries and a protein shake or just my Oatmeal Berry Shake.  Either is about 570 calories, which is less than the typical bagel and banana before.  There is typically 30 to 40 grams of protein; however, typically I have this about 2 to 3 hours before the activity for it to digest.  In recent studies, it has even been suggested to eat this way 3 to 4 hours before theactivity for the full benefit during the race.  Eating this way also has limited my need to use the bathroom race day.  Also, I am using the protein to regulate the digestion of  the carbs which plays into when I begin refueling during the run.
If we are away from home, I will typically eat a Cilf Builder bar (mint) followed by a bagel and maybe a banana.  Again, I am using the protein to regulate the digestion of the carbs.

During the Run

The timing of refueling during the run is pretty much a balancing act.  For example, for most, you pretty much don’t need to refuel during a race if you are running under an hour.  Unless it is a hot day, I also subscribe to this rule for hydration.  If it is a road race, after the first hour, I will start off with a piece of Builder Bar, followed by 3 or 4 gummy bears, and chased by water.  I do this about every 15 minutes to 20 minutes until the end of the race.  

For a trail run, it is more dependent on what I just covered (aid station at the top of a hill) or will be facing (an aid station before a long climb).  Since I lose more salt on a trail run, the salted potatoes, potato chips, or salted pretzels, come in handy and of course gummy bears.  Since aid stations are paced further apart on a trail race (between 3 to 10 miles in some cases) I also take with me some gummy bears or something else to tie me over between stations.  I have recently tried FrontierBites.  It is made by local Bay Area start-up and are pretty tasty.  I will write a complete review soon.

After the Run

I strongly believe in eating protein directly after a longrun is extremely important for recovery.  So I either have a Clif Builder Bar and some sort of chocolate milk right after the run.  If I am going directly home, I may eat cottage cheese and or fat free yogurt with some sort of berry.  I always find it a challenge at road races to find what I need post-race; however, trail races always seem to have what I need.

Other nutrition items

Carb-loading the night before.  Simply said, unless you want to spend a few minutes in the Porta-Potty and miss a PR, eat smart and sensible.  Think more about what you are eating to store up your glycogen during the week instead of trying to load it up all  at once.

On race day, as said here and elsewhere so many times, don’t introduce a new type of fuel unless you have tried it on your training runs. If you do it will catch up with you at some point during the race.

Finally, if it is a trail run, don’t overeat at the aid station!  Remember, all you are trying to do is replenish your muscles and get you to the next aid station.  What you don’t want to happen is your body switch the blood supply and effort from running to digestion.

Again, as I stated at the beginning of the post, this is what works for me.  Everyone is different and you will have to find out what works best for you.
submit to reddit