Wednesday, February 26, 2014

PocketFuel Naturals

I really have been trying to get ahold of my nutrition during my runs.  It always has been a challenge for me to get this area nailed down.  What trail races did teach me though is that the traditional way of fueling during a race (Gels, Gummies, and the like) isn’t the only way and that whole foods, like potato chips, salted boiled potatoes, trail mix, and watermelon have their place.  And running the 12 hour endurance run I quickly found even eating a brat or a slice of pizza is just fine.  In fact I was really tempted at the Surf City Marathon to take a couple of slices of crisp bacon from a group that had created a makeshift aid station (really it was a Super Bowl tailgate party, pretending to be an aid station).  But when I get down to it, have had a need to dial in my nutrition.

I have tried a wide assortment of Gels, Blocks, Jelly Belly’s, and Red Vines. I have also gone strictly with Gatorade style electrolyte drinks.   All have had some measure of success; however, I find that once I go down the sugar path I will have some major energy swings.  This occurs even when I am keeping up with my scheduled refueling strategy.  I understand the key problem here, my blood sugar levels /insulin get out of whack and it is really hard to recover. 

Because of this, I have found that I have more success with whole foods.  For example, on many of my marathons I have cut up Clif Builder bars.  I have found the ratio of carb, fat, and protein to work.  To take this concept further, I also tried trail mix on a 50K but found that it didn’t work quite as well.  And the biggest drawback is when you are trying to breathe while you are chewing during a run.  I can’t tell you how many times I started choking on chocolate mint builder spittle.

That said, I recently learned about PocketFuel Naturals on SallyMcCrea’s site as well as GingerRunner.  These are packets of almond or hazelnut butter mixed with other whole foods like coconut, pineapple, cherry, Chia, Goji, and blueberry.  There are two serving per pouch and each serving is about 150 calories which make it easy to use one pouch per hour.  I will also divulge that I purchased all of the different varieties at Sports Basement in Walnut Creek on my own and this review is in no way been paid to promote Pocket Fuel Natural products.
Source PocketFuel Naturals

There are two challenges I have found with these though related to the packaging.  The first is that the pouch is a twist-off which is great for caring the two servings.  However, I do find that there is a little left in the pouch.  Second is that since this is whole foods, you are required to squish and squeeze the contents a bit before you take the first serving to mix the contents.  I actually do not mind this since I normally plan ahead of when I need it, especially if I am at the bottom of a steep climb, and it kind of acts as a mid-race stress ball.

There are a wide arrange of flavors and I liked them all; however, there were a couple of favorites that stood out.  My favorite is the Pineapple Coconut and I have found a lot of success with this flavor.  The other is the Chocolate Espresso which I like just because it has a little bit of bitter espresso beans mixed in with the mixture which is nice especially during a long run.  The one I did not care for was the vanilla hazelnut because it was too sweet for me.  This could have been because I did not properly mix it; however, I got a huge mouthful of overly sweet hazelnut which took me by surprise. 

What I like about these packets is that you get a fair amount of all your macro nutrients.  In the pineapple coconut, for example, there is 12g of fat, 5g of sugar, and 5g of protein.  This combo really balances the sugar and insulin levels.  It also contains 175mg of potassium also.  I will have to say that there is very little sodium (1mg) which does meant you need to take an electrolyte tablet during your runs to get the much needed salt.  I learned the hard way at again at the Surf City Marathon and missed my PR.
Source: Pocketfuel Naturals

What I love the most is that the consistency is just right.  Like I described up above, I hate when you can’t refuel mid-run using a whole food.  However with my Pocket Fuel I can run like I am taking a Gel without gagging.  I will have to say, the Cherry and Blueberries in the Blueberry Banana flavor got stuck in my teeth but this served as a nice distraction as I worked on them off my teeth.

I have definitely seen a change in my need for energy during a race.  I have been training solely with Pocket Fuel now for the last 12 weeks and have not seen the energy drop off or bonking I was suffering from when I used only Gels.  I would recommend if you also decide to move towards this route to definitely work it into your training runs, become more fat adapted so your body is used to tapping into its fat reserves and burning fat for fuel instead of glycogen.

Talking with different Sports Basement cashiers, they seeing these fly off the shelf and it is pretty common to find that the varieties are at times limited because of this.  All that said, I would definitely recommend trying out the Pocket Fuel Naturals!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Running Apps and GPS Phones

I have been complaining about my different running apps for a while now.  Some were more accurate than others; however, at some point I would have to reinstall the program to get it to work.  I always blamed the app for this problem.  However, over the summer I upgraded my phone from a HTC One to the Google LG Nexus 4 and instantly my problems ceased.  Or say most of my problems.
I have learned that all GPS in cell phones are not equal.  Some GPS are cellular based (triangulated by cell towers) and others directly by satellite.  An example of this is when you find you have run more miles than you know you did and there are a lot of squiggly lines instead of one smooth line when reviewing in your favorite app. 
Also, if you are on the trails, the older GPS smartphones will sometimes not work since they cannot pick up a reliable cell signal.  The newer smartphones will be able to track anywhere since they are directly using the satellite.  
  Also, older GPS phones do not clear out the latitude and longitude out of the phone’s cache.  So sometimes the program starts you out from the last recorded run instead of your current location.  I learned about this from Strava which recommended downloading another GPS app, this one which allows you to clear the phone’s cache and reset the location.  The app in itself is great; however, kind of cumbersome when you have to go through multiple steps just to use a simple running app.

The Google Nexus 4 on the other hand has had no such problems.  I have gone on many a run or ride and there has been no data inconsistency.  In fact each run or ride is exactly the same distance ( give or take a small margin for slight route adjustments).  Also, there is very little difference (again give or take a really small margin) between Strava, for example, and my Garmin fenix.
Finally, I found that just trying to find my location in my old phone could take up to three or four minutes before the location was synced up.   My newer Google Nexus 4 takes no more than 10 to 15 seconds.
If all you are interested in is tracking your activity, the newer smartphone’s GPS is as good if not better than most of the lower end GPS watches.
However, there are some things that the GPS in a phone cannot due which still makes a higher end GPS watch better.  
For example, I was noticing that my elevation on my Strava phone app was not matching what my Garmin fenix was showing – sometimes by several thousand feet.  When I queried Strava, the explanation I received was that for the most accurate elevation use a device with a barometric altimeter.  If not Strava would use its algorithms and database knowledge to estimate the elevation gain.  Well this is fine if you are running in flat residential but not so good if you are running trails.

Because of this, I use my Strava Cycling app on my phone when I am commuting on my bike each day; however, I use my Garmin fenix on all of my runs.  
If it is your choice to use a running app and you are finding inaccuracies, your choice is to upgrade your phone or to by a watch.  I really like my Nexus 4 and would recommend it for this purpose.
Now for a review of the different running apps, please check out the product review section of this blog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Perfect GPS Trail Watch - The Garmin fenix

Source: DCRainmaker
Well after running for the last couple of years with my Timex Ironman Global GPS I have switched over to the Garmin fenix.  I have been somewhat happy with my Timex; however, there were some idiosyncrasies with the watch that, at no fault of its own, started to wear on me. 


 I got the Timex as a result to missing my PR at the Long Beach half marathon playing around with my smart phone.  I was using the phone app (RunKeeper) to keep my pace which was fine until my phone started randomly calling people.  After that race, I was waiting for the Garmin 900XT because of its built in pacing alerts, its multiple sports features (it is a tri watch), and its long battery life.  However, I saw on Active a great deal for the Timex, which had most of the features, sans the pacing alerts, as the 900XT and opted for that.

When I got this watch, I was drawn by its ability to track, as any good triathlon watch worth its muster, both my cycling (really just commuting even though it equates to between 30 to 60 miles a week) and training for road running.
However, now I am running more trails than road.  I love climbing hills and mountains and needed something more versatile.  I really needed more of a trail running watch and that is what I have found in the Garmin fenix.

Decision Factors

Garmin fenix center, Timex Ironman Global far right. Source DCRainmaker
One of my frustrations leading up to the purchase of my watch (which was a gift from my father-in-law) was with Strava.  I love this site and it has really helped me in keeping my motivation up.  However, both the phone App and watches without a built-in barometric altimeter in my experience as well as reported by Strava will under-report elevation gain.  So I wanted a watch that could basically land a plane.

Secondly, I ran a 12 hour endurance event during the summer and found as I was getting to the 11th hour the low battery warning coming on.  While I was able to finish the race with the battery level, it died a minute after the race.  I did have my heart rate monitor on for the first 4 hours of the race; however, if I would have kept it on the entire race, the battery would probably die at hour eight.  This is from a watch that was supposed to get 20 hours of life.  So any replacement watch would need to be better than what I have now.

Third, one of my complaints about the Timex watch was that I was required to use Training Peaks to keep track of my training record.  I did find ways later to record the data, such as using Running Ahead and use the .pwx converter to upload to Strava; but this was a bit of a hassle.  So my new watch would need to be flexible with any reporting platform and of course any Garmin device fits the bill.

Why the Garmin fenix

Initially, what alerted me to the Garmin Fenix was the claim of a 50 hour battery life, this intrigued me.  Then I learned that primarily this watch was made for the long haul, such as a hike or an ultra. Now to get 50 hours of battery life does mean that you put it in Ultra mode which means the data points are record in minute durations instead of second durations.  However, when covering long distances, I suppose the detail is not as important as if you are doing intervals or running a 5K.

Doing my research, it met my first need also, the barometric altimeter, and while not initially a go to running watch in early reviews, what I read identified that it was more than sufficient.

Then I took a look at the firmware patches and quickly realized that is a watch that was in a constant state of improvement.  It had addressed some of the running feature misses and has improved upon them.  In fact, in just the short time I have owned the watch (beginning in December)  Garmin has updated the firmware to include a skiing feature, the ability to upload intervals, as well as the ability to check your IPhone messages in the watch.  So basically I have a new device!

What I like about my Garmin fenix

While I liked my Timex, I really had nothing to compare against.  Also, there were features I did not use just because of the complexity of setting up those features. This is much different in the Garmin fenix.  

  •  Virtual Pacer - One of the features I love using is the virtual pacer as well as my maximum and minimum pace.  Even after Long Beach, I still used a phone app to tell me my pace.  Now I have alerts that can both chirp and vibrate in my watch and have found them extremely useful and more reliable than the phone app.

  • Quick GPS Location – I really had problems with my Timex taking sometimes several minutes to triangulate my location.  I am finding however, that the Garmin fenix syncs up its location within seconds even in the cloudiest or remotest locations. 

  • Ability to customize the screen – I really love this feature!   Basically, I can have seven data screens where I can customize with the data metrics I want.  And these can be customized for the activity that you are doing.   For example, for my running screens I have my distance, average pace, and amount of time I have run.  My second screen has all my relevant heart rate monitor data, the third screen has my altimeter and weather information (you can keep track of temperature with this watch!).  And since there are tons of other activities there has to be well over 100 metrics to choose from.


  •  Attractive but rugged – I love that as the different generations of GPS watches are developed the smaller the watches become.    It does not look like the typical bulky GPS primarily due to the decision do increase the depth of the watch instead reducing the amount of space on the wrist.  This is especially great since I have skinny wrists.  And while it was definitely designed for the outdoors in mind, I have gotten complements on the styling of the watch. 

  • Ease of stopping and saving data – originally this was a complaint in early reviews.  However, Garmin took back this feedback and made updating easy.  Basically the moment you turn off the GPS, the watch saves the activity.

  • ANT/Heart Rate - I also love how quickly that this watch identifies and syncs up with the heart rate monitor.  I always had to reset my Timex to find the HR monitor.  The Garmin fenix has no problems in this area.

In summary, if you are looking for a GPS watch made for the trails, this is your choice.  I definitely would recommend this watch and am looking forward to many years of use.  However, just don’t take my word for it.  Check these reviews out to answer more of the information as well as more of the technical side.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Surf City Marathon 2014 Recap

The sign that sums up the experience!

The 2014 Surf City Marathon was my seventh completed marathon.  While I had run the half marathon course twice (with my PR at 1:51), I had had given no thought to it being easier than the other marathons I had run before.  Yes, I wanted to beat my marathon PR of 4:42; however, I also didn’t want to put myself at risk for not running Way Too Cool50K in a month (March 8th).

I love this race venue so much since this is like coming home in sorts.  Huntington Beach is where I used to play as a kid before we moved to Washington State.  I have many fond memories of the area including the first time I ever ran the half marathon distance.  

Savoring the pre race coffee at 5:30.
It was at that race I began my goal of completing the California Dreaming series which at the time meant that I complete either a half or full marathon at both Long Beach and San Francisco.  In both of those races both my wife and I chose to run the marathon distances and this lead to us running Napa twice, San Francisco twice, Fresno/Clovis once (pretty much for the sweatshirt and sundae), not to mention the completion of two ultras.

I am pretty pleased with the run.  It was a cold start with temperatures in the 40’s and it never reached above 58, ideal running weather.  The sunrise was beautiful at race start.  With a quck lapse in memory, I started my GPS watch a minute and 10 seconds after the start (this would come back to get me).

 I locked in at the very beginning with the 4:20 pace group and maintained my 9:47ish pace for the first 18 miles.  I felt good during this time, climbing the small hills and through the park without any problems.  I began my refueling, like my training, at the 1:15 minute mark.  I have been using Pocket Fuel (which is a whole food almond butter mixture) instead of a gel and it worked like a gem.  Every 30 to 40 minutes I would eat half a packet ( there are two servings per packet).  
Beautiful sunrise at the start.

I also had brought a water bottle.  This was more to help get me through the aid stations and to prepare for the longer trail run coming up.  The biggest challenge here was that when I needed to refill the bottle at the aid station, the aid station help really didn’t know what to do.  The would end up pouring Dixie cups into my bottle, which was fine but took a little longer than I would have preferred.

At mile 17 I saw my wife and kids which gave me a wonderful but soon to be short lived pick me up.

An enjoyable run through the park before PCH times two.
One of the challenges with this course, and especially with me having run the half marathon course twice, is that you do two out and back runs along PCH.  While the view of the ocean and Santa Catalina is awesome, mentally having to back out along the bike path after realizing you are one mile from the finish played a psychological trick on me.  So about mile 18 I started to feel my legs burn.  This is more the feeling of extreme achiness, which brought me down to a walk between mile 18 and 19.  

I had hit the abyss.  I started questioning why I was out there, why would I even consider doing the ultra in a month, if I should pull the plug and DNF.  The funny thing with this thought process is that I have run enough marathons to know I can get myself past this point.  I did some squats which seemed to help and made it to the aide station where I began drinking electrolyte.   I was still ahead of the 4:40 group so I briefly thought I could still meet my PR; however, she quickly passed while I tried to keep up.
Coming in strong at the finish.

My pace was slow at this point, with a lot of running as well as walking.  At the turnaround, at about mile 22, I got a burst of energy as I realized I had less than 4 miles to go.  Piece of cake as I told myself, then the 4:50 pacer passed me quickly followed by the 5:00 pacer.  I knew the pacers were running faster so I paid them no attention.  My main struggles at this point were a storm was coming in off shore and was now running with a strong headwind.  My thought process here though was to keep my time under 5 hours.

However, at mile 25 I remembered my 1 minute time delay.  Well I really didn’t know how much a time delay I had on my watch so I knew I would be cutting it close to that 5 hour mark.  It took me 14 minutes to cover that flat 1 mile, and then I really pushed up the pace for the final 0.2 to a 9:30 pace.   I missed the mark and came in at 5:00:56.

Feeling surprisingly good, ready for Way Too Cool 50K.
I have been struggling with what I could have done different to reach my goal.  Psychologically the course got to me, I know that.  However, I am feeling the best I have ever felt after an endurance run. In fact I ran a 4.4 mile / 9:11 per mile pace recovery run three days after the marathon. I have had no DOMS, no Achilles pain, etc., which makes me think that I didn’t leave it all out there (even if I did play it smart with the 50K within a month).  I did not take any electrolyte until after mile 18 which may have contributed to hitting the abyss.  I talked with a couple of endurance athletes and while one swear by drinking electrolyte through the entire race the other (who runs 50 mile and 100 mile distances) only drinks water.  Yet, with all of this I can’t help to be happy that I completed my seventh marathon and that this will be my third best finish time of the bunch.

So now I am looking forward to the next big challenge in a month.  Time to get ready and focused for that one.
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