Thursday, February 28, 2008

Making Progress...

My training is going great this week. Today is Thursday and I have already logged 64 miles since Monday. I'm on target to hit 115 miles this week. Recently, I have been trying very hard to go over 100 miles, but I have never been able to do so. This week, I've been doing two runs a day at 7-8 miles each, and have done three hill runs so far. And I feel great, not worn out or tired at all; and I'm going up those hills fast. Friday will be my easy runs, and then Saturday and Sunday will be long runs. Needless to say, I can feel that a breakthrough is coming, and I'm very pleased. But, inquisitive as I am, I'm asking myself, "what's making the difference?".

It could be that last week was a very low mileage week and that I'm well rested. But, I have had rest weeks before, and I still get tired later in the week during a heavy training week like this. It could be that my higher power-to-weight ratio is making running easier. Yes, this could be it; but I have kept my perceived exertion the same. And, I'm also doing more hills than before. Or, it could be that my new nutrition plan is making a difference. I think this is it. I'm recovering faster, I don't feel as tired from run to run. The cumulative effects of fatigue has been lessened. 

It has been three weeks since I started this new food regiment. Each day I determine specifically what I will be eating for each meal. The meals are designed to meet all the mineral requirements and provide enough proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the proper ratio. The timing of the meals also coincides with when I do my workouts. So far, I have been satisfied and have no hunger or cravings at any time. I eat a very light meal 30 minutes before exercise and then eat again within 15 minutes after exercise with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. I'm also diligently replacing lost minerals during exercise and hydrating better. 

Proper nutrition does not make you run faster. To run faster, you have to train faster. Proper nutrition allows you to recover better so that you can train faster and longer; and that makes you run faster.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Weekend Tidbits

This rainy weather has really got me frustrated. Sitting here in my living room with my laptop, with the rain pounding down outside, I'm feeling like a caged bird...    The nutritional plan is going well. I'm sticking to my list of foods to eat...      My next race is the Montaña de Oro 50k near beautiful Morro Bay, Ca on March 16. It really looks like a beautiful course with spectacular views of the ocean...

This rainy weather has really got me frustrated. Sitting here in my living room with my laptop, with the rain pounding down outside, I'm feeling like a caged bird. I haven't been able to get up to the mountains this weekend, and the whole week has been rainy and cold. Looks like I'm only able to put in 35 miles this week. However, I did put in more time on my time-trial bike, mounted on a stationary trainer, while watching the Tour of California on live webcast. All in all, about 100 miles on my bike. I hope to one day do the Death Valley Cup, which is the combined scoring of the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 mile foot race), and the Furnace Creek 508 (508 mile bike race). I haven't done serious bike riding for a while, so I'm just doing light spinning at around 85 rpm and 115 watts average. I'm trying to get back my cycling legs. On the other hand, this "forced" rest is probably good for me coming off the Sequoia 50k race last weekend. One of the advantages of living in So. Cal. is that we don't have to train in bad weather, as there will be plenty of good days to train in. Why risk getting sick in the wet and cold conditions when you don't have to?

The nutritional plan is going well. I'm sticking to my list of foods to eat. It is still too early to tell if it is making any difference. I did feel great on the few run I did do this week; but, I don't know if it was because of the nutrition or the extra rest. Time will tell as I tweak up the mileage to 100-120 miles per week these next few weeks going into my next race, the Montaña de Oro 50k. I'm down to 130 pounds now and leaner than ever; and, I think I can get even leaner without compromising my muscular strength. The nutritional plan I designed meets all the recommended allowances for minerals and vitamins (RDA), and I added allowances for extra losses the endurance athlete experiences. I'm using a 1500 calorie daily limit. I know that sounds little, but, believe it or not, I'm getting the proper protein intake (1.2 g/kg of body weight). And it seems to be working as far as improving my power-to-weight ratio. I'm taking in about 60% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, and 10% fats (most of the fat is non-animal fat). What really surprised me is the amount of sodium I needed to take in on a daily basis to compensate for losses in sweat.

My next race is the Montaña de Oro 50k near beautiful Morro Bay, Ca on March 16. It really looks like a beautiful course with spectacular views of the ocean. As my time improved from Calico to Sequoia, I'm hoping to improve further even when the course will include more climbing. I will again use this as a training run; and will test out more nutritional and hydration strategies. This time I'm thinking about carrying two hand bottles, as aid stations are 7-8 miles apart; and using an all liquid food source. Although I have never had stomach issues on a run before, I have read that liquid foods digest much faster and absorb quicker than solid food. I will give it a try.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sequoia 50K 2008 - Race Report

In the two or three days leading up to the Sequoia 50K, I felt strong and confident and just knew that I would have a good race. I had started doing some hill training, and have improved my power-to-weight ratio; so, I was expecting a faster time than Calico even with a more difficult course.

Oh, about the course...  It was in the Oakland hills. In the same general area as the Firetrails 50 mile race I did in Oct. 2006. It was lusciously green and mostly shaded and very scenic; the surface was well groomed and most of it were covered with fallen leaves. It was like running on carpet. There were a few short and steep sections, but most other parts were very runnable. It was such a treat compared with the steep, rocky, dusty, and brown trails that we have in Southern California.

Jason, what an awesome guy, decided to accompany me on the trip at the last minute. He signed up for the 20k race; however, he decided to switch to the 50k on race day morning. He had not been running hills and the longest run he has done recently is 18 miles. He's been having some knee problems; I told him that the soft trail will ease his knee pain. Since the 50k course came back to the start/finish line at the 30k mark, he could bail out if his knee started to hurt. He went out a little too fast and faded at the end, plus he took a wrong turn and did an extra two miles. But, he finished! Congratulations to him for finishing his first 50k ultra.

Jason and I at the parking lot before the start

On race day morning, we slept in and woke up at 6:00 am. The race started at 8:30 am; so, it was a relatively later start than what we were used to. Jason brought his car GPS, so we drove to the start without fussing with finding our way. This was great; another point of stress removed. When we got to the park where the start/finish was at 7:30 am, it was 42 degrees; so, I was not sure about wearing shorts and a short sleeve jersey, as we had planned. Good thing I brought tights and arm warmers just in case. However, the temperature rose quickly. By 8:15 am, it was a very nice 52 degrees. There was not a cloud in the sky, we were going to have a perfect day for a run in some very nice hills.

I was looking for my San Francisco friend, Gundy, at the starting line; but, didn't see him. I knew he signed up for the 50k as well. I saw him later out on the course, he had been caught in morning traffic on the Bay Bridge and started 30 minutes late. Since the 30k and 50k started together, and the 10k and 20k 30 minutes later; we didn't see much of the 10k and 20k people. 

I told myself that this was going to be a training run. So, we started leisurely in the back. The course immediately narrowed to a single track. The runners were all bunched up and we were forced to walk. Once we came to a short steep climb, I picked my way around a bunch of people and got in front of them. Now, I have some running room. I picked a nice pace and slowly reeled in more people. 

By the first aid station, I was just behind the front group. I was using this race to test new hydration and nutrition strategies. I had packed all of my own nutrition and was not going to rely on aid station food; and planned to use NUNN pills and just stop for water. So, my a/s stops were relatively quick. 

I kept running at a comfortable pace over some gently rolling hills and gradual climbs. Then I really turned on the speed on the descent to the second a/s. It was about 7 miles away and I ran out of hydration. I think the next race I'm gonna use two bottles for anything longer than 5 miles in between a/s. The second a/s was located at the end of an out-and-back spur; so I was able to see the 50k leaders coming back. I started counting and knew that I was in about 17th place.

Coming out of the second aid, I saw Jason; his stride looked labored and had a tired looking smile. I just hoped that he would be okay. Soon after I saw Jason, I saw Gundy. He had started 30 minutes late. We stopped and chatted for just a little bit. I never saw him again, not even at the finish. He had not finished before we left. Something must have happened to him. At about two miles out from the third a/s, I caught up to this guy and we started running together. His name is Mike. I didn't know it at the time, but Mike and I would run the whole second loop together, passing each other back and forth, and finishing almost together.

Now, we were back at the start/finish line, we had finished the 30k loop. I was feeling good, keeping a very comfortable pace. For the second, 20k, loop, it was mentally easier because I knew what was coming up; but the body is a bit more tired. We kept going at our pace and soon caught up to another guy, Harris. I got a shot of adrenaline and bolted forward on the steep climbs. Looking back, this was perhaps the only mistake I made; and would pay for this later on. I guess I wanted to see what Mike and Harris had left in their tanks. I quickly dropped Mike, but Harris kept on my tail. After the short steep climbs, Harris and I settled into a nice rhythm for a few miles and chatted about the races we've done. Boy, that really helped to pass the time. It was really nice to have someone to talk to. Mike caught up to us at about the 22 mile mark, then the three of us ran together for a while. Then, Harris took off and I was getting a little tired, probably from my ill-decided burst of speed up the steep climbs, and decided to not match his pace. Mike and I then went back and forth, passing each other.

I held true to my decision to treat this race as a training run. I didn't want to get totally wasted and thus not be able to train for the week after the race. Harris ended up about 7 minutes in front at the finish. I slowed a bit to conserve my strength on the gradual climbs up to the final aid station, and was planning to charge down the descent from there all the way to the finish line. 

Coming in to the last a/s, my Garmin read 28.5 miles. It was 5 hours and 5 minutes into the race; since I had 2.5 miles to go, I though it would be close to break 5 1/2 hours. But the aid station captain said I had 1.8 miles to the finish. That was good news, it meant I would easily break 5 1/2 hours. Apparently, my Garmin's readings were off due to the heavy tree cover.

Now, it was all downhill. I was flying down and having fun. I saw Jason again, he was heading out to do the second loop. That was good new, it meant that his knee held up and he didn't have to bail after the 30k loop. I was happy for him. I knew that if he started the second loop, he would finish the race. I cruised to the finish line, ending up at 5:25:42 in 16th place, out of 66 who started the race. There were some very fast people, the top six broke the previous course record. The top guy shattered the record by 50 minutes. Results

Mike and I at the finish line

Jason and I at the finish line

They had hot chili and chicken soup at the finish line, those really hit the spot. The ultra crowd is just really the nicest and friendliest people. Wendell and Sarah, the couple who put on about 30 of these races yearly; do a great job and totally does it for the love of the sport. I hung out at the finish line to wait for Jason to come in. The 10k, 20k, and 30k people had already finished and gone, it was too bad that I didn't get to meet some of them. 

It was a great race, I had so much fun. The only thing that would have made it even better was if more of our ATBer's had made the trip together. Yes, trail running is fun; but hanging out with good friends is even more fun. 

Happy trails!

UPDATE: I found out what happened to Gundy. He got to the race late and switched from the 50k, which he originally signed up for, to the 30k. He finished and had gone before I finished; so, I never saw him.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dark Stool

I'm sitting in my hotel room, just hours before the Sequoia 50k. So, this would be a short post.

Jason is with me, he will try the 50K as well. I just went to the restroom. Making comments on this subject is kind of funny for me. May be it is too much information :).

However, after two days of following my new nutritional regiment, my stool's color has become much lighter.  It got dark when I was sick with the flu about three weeks ago, and have continued to be dark until just now. This is a good sign. Your stool's color is a sign of your body's health condition.

I guess my nutritional plan is working :)   More reports coming!


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

This past Saturday, I was hanging out at a party with a bunch of ultra runners.  Many of those who were there have years of ultra experience and have done numerous 100 mile races. At one point, the conversation turned to nutrition. As I'm still pretty new at this ultra running thing, I just listened. People were saying that it is really important what you put into your body; one of them even said that running a hundred miles is all about nutrition and hydration. And people were talking about what works for them - their system. I know that Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes both are very careful about what they eat. At some point during the party, it dawned on me that I have not been doing all I can with my nutrition. 

Yes, I know about calorie intake and expenditure. I know about when to eat carbs and proteins and when not to. But, beyond that, I'm clueless. I have no system. I know I can do better with putting only the best foods into my body. "You are what you eat." Beyond weight control and body fat percentage, there is a lot more to proper nutrition than I know.

Ultra running pushes the body to its limits, as automotive sport pushes the car to its limits. As the speed of the car increases, the engine requires the best grade of fuel to keep functioning properly. In the same way, running a hundred miles necessitates the body to need the best fuel it can get. When you only run a few miles a week, you can get good results even with sub-optimal nutrition. But, when you run several hundred miles a week, you need the absolute best nutrition. Putting it another way, sub-optimal nutrition really shows up when you demand more and more from your body. You must give your body the best fuels if you expect it to perform up to the increasing requirements of ultra running.

To be sure, to get faster and more fit, there is no substitute for following a well structured training regime with strict discipline. Discipline is not a problem for me. I have the mental will and the time for training. I'll train 8 hours a day if my body can handle it. 

Here's what has been happening to me. I am looking forward to a great 2008 season. I got back to training last December after my AC100 in September, and have been slowly increasing my weekly mileage. I am up to about 90 miles and have been unable to go beyond 100 miles. It seems that I'm hitting a wall in terms of fatigue and recovery. My body is just not up to it. Yet, I know people older than me who easily runs more than 100 miles a week, some even up to 120 to 140 miles. Two years ago, some one I know ran a 100 mile race every weekend for 4 consecutive weeks. How do they do it? I needed 2 months to recover from just one 100 miler.

It made good sense to me that my nutrition was standing in the way of my performance. So, I said, "that's it, I'm gonna eat the best foods I can." So, immediately, I went on to the Internet to search for information on sports nutrition for endurance athletes. After about 12 hours of research, I learned a whole lot about what are good foods and what the endurance athlete's body needs for optimum performance. I proceeded to compiled a list of foods that I eat on a regular basis and what minerals and nutrients they contained. 

I knew that I didn't eat very badly. I ate a lot of fresh fruits, bagels, brown rice, fish, poultry, lean meats, soy sauce, and some vegetables. There's no need for change here. But, I never paid attention to things like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, glutamate, vitamin E, and antioxidants. According to my research, these nutrient and mineral deficiencies are detrimental to performance each in its own way. I also learned about new foods that are good for the body. So, to this list I added foods like, skim milk, soy milk, lentils and other beans, brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, tofu, almonds, walnuts, whole wheat pastas and breads, and quinoa.

From my complied list, I immediately noticed that from the foods which I have been eating, in the quantities which provided enough calories, I lacked protein and many of the minerals. This could explain why I was hitting a wall in terms of fatigue and recovery. So, immediately, I took my new food list and constructed a well balanced menu. And, even from this new food list, I could not get enough magnesium and zinc in the amount of calories I wanted. So, I'm adding supplements to my diet. Generally, I rather get what my body needs from natural foods than from dietary supplements.  

I've already gone grocery shopping and bought things I've never eaten much before. Today was the first day I've followed the new menu. I'm sure that more adjustments to my nutrition will take place in the near future. And that I will learn more about it and discover more food that are good for me and that I like to eat. It makes me feel good that I'm putting good quality and quantity of "fuel" into my "tank". 

This is sort of an ongoing experiment, if things, good or bad, happen.  I'll report back.

Happy trails!


Monday, February 11, 2008

Top of Lake to Echo Mt. Run

This past Sunday morning the ATBer's ran from the top of Lake Ave. in Pasadena to Echo Mt. and then went another mile up Sam Merrill Trail. It was really warm and most of us were wearing shorts and short sleeves. I was able to run the whole way up to Echo, about 2.5 miles, which I have not done in recent memory. I was happy that I was able to do that.  I think my recent weight lost helped in making it easier to haul my body up the climbs.

We saw a group of Sierra Club hikers, and Lisa.  She was helping with guiding the group.  She knows Cheri and has run with the Pasadena Pacers.  It seemed that everyone was out.  There were endless small groups of hikers, dogs, and even some mountain bikers. Several of the ATBer's fell while running down. Let's be careful out there.

It was an enjoyable run.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chantry Flats to Henninger Flats Run

Spring is in the air!  Can you feel it?

Compared to last weekend, this weekend is night and day different. I started solo at 6:30 am from Chantry Flats for my Saturday long run. It was 57 degrees! Can you believe it? The sun was just coming up. The sky was crystal clear and blue, and there was not a cloud as far as you can see. It was going to be a gorgeous day in the mountains.

I knew it might get warm, but I thought that I should better be prepared than sorry. I wore my tights and long sleeve, and packed gloves, a wind jacket, and a beanie hat.  You never know what the weather was going to be like at the higher elevations - especially during seasonal transitions as we are going through now. I also carried extra water because I was not absolutely sure that water was flowing at Henninger Flats - I had not been there since last summer. I drank 20 oz right before I started and wore a 60 oz hydration vest and carried a 22 oz hand bottle. So, in case there was no water at Henninger, I would barely make it.

Some guy approached me at the parking lot and introduced himself.  He said, "hi, my name is todd and I'm training for the AC100." I said, "cool, I'm training for the AC100 as well."  I don't know what it is, but I guess people who do these 100 milers stand out from the crowd.

I started running and pretty soon settled into a run/walk up the steep climb leading up to the Toll road. It was a nice pace, not too fast, because I knew that I had a long day. It was getting hot as I ascended and I knew that I had definitely over dressed. It was probably in the 70's. As I came to the places that were covered with snow last weekend, there was almost nothing left. A lot of the snow has melted, and I think the rest of it would melt after this weekend. Spring is coming!

I got up to the Toll Road and started running down towards Henninger at about 7:30 to 8:00 minute pace.  About 1/2 miles down, I saw two runners coming up, as I got closer I recognized them.  It was Carmela and Ben, both of them are seasoned ultra runners and did the AC100 with me last year. We stopped and had a nice chat. It was good seeing some familiar faces as I was doing a solo run.

I got down to Henninger and the water was flowing. Great!  I drank a whole bunch and filled up my vest. My Garmin said 10 miles. Time to head back. It was going to be about a 5 mile climb up some pretty steep fireroads.

On the return climb, I kept to my run/walk routine, going about a 16 1/2 minute pace.  About half way up, I was going through some mental low points. So, I quickly concentrated on thinking positive thoughts and I was able to kept my spirits up and kept on pace for the remainder of the climb.  The view, from a distance, of snow covered Mt. Baldy was breath taking; the white peaks really popped out from a background of blue and beautifully clear skies. What a gorgeous day this turned out to be. I wouldn't miss this for anything.

Upon seeing the Winter Creek Trail, I knew it was all downhill from there. I felt good and flew down the single tracks. There were a whole bunch of hikers. They probably thought I was crazy wearing so much clothing. 

It was a great day to be in the mountains. The run took me 4 hours and 55 minutes, including all the stops.  Not too bad for 20 miles and about six thousand feet of climbing. Driving home, the temperature dial in my car said 79 degrees. 

Yes, spring is here!


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Mt. Wilson Snow Run

We went out on a long training run this morning.  We were supposed to run from the Chantry Flats parking lot, up to the Trinkle Bench, then up to the Toll Road.  Continuing to Mt. Wilson Skyline Park, then down the Rim Trail to Newcomb's Saddle, then back down to Chantry. The climb from Chantry up to the Toll Road is part of the AC100 course, and then from Newcomb's Saddle back to Chantry is also a part of the AC100 course.

For one reason or another, part of the group, well, actually all of the group except for me turned around at the Trinkle Bench. As I continued on my planned course past the benches, the trail quickly turned into frozen snow. Before I hit the Toll Road, the snow was about ankle deep.  It was getting more difficult to find good footing, as the frozen snow was sometimes hard and sometimes crumbly. We had seen some patches of snow going up to the benches, but they were pretty scattered and spotty. It was nothing like this.  By the way, we saw some spectacular cloud formations hugging around the mountain sides.  It looked like something out of the high mountains of the Himalayas. It was really gorgeous.

Once I hit the Toll Road, the snow was plowed to the sides.  That was good. I can tell that they had a lot of snow in this area very recently. Then, after about a few hundred yards, the plowing stopped; and I was left with the option of trudging through shin deep frozen snow or turning back. The frozen snow was unpredictable, it would sometimes support my weight; but it would also break through in some softer spots. Following previous tracks was not any better; as there has not been a lot of people through that area.  Well, at least not enough people to leave a nice flat single track. At best, I would be reduced to walking the remaining miles up to Skyline Park. 

And once I got to Skyline Park, the trails going down the North side of Mt. Wilson would probably have more snow. Also, the water source at Skyline Park would probably be frozen. I was planning on a water resupply at Skyline Park; so, if it was frozen, then, I really didn't have enough drinking water to make it back to Chantry. And, even If I did have enough water for the run down, the first few miles would probably be walking through the snow, not running. Thus taking more time to get back down.

Plus, it was getting much colder due to the elevation gain and wind chill.  It was about 40 degrees at Chantry where we started.  By this elevation, I would guess the temperature had gotten down to the 30's.  If you add the wind chill factor, it was even colder.  Even with gloves, my fingers were beginning to get cold; and I could only barely keep my body warm while running. I was not wearing enough clothing.  I would freeze if reduced to a walk.

Considering all these factors, I turned around. Looking back, I'm glad I did.  Next week, I plan to attack Mt. Wilson again; but this time more prepared. 

It was not a bad run, I did most of the climbing I wanted to do; and it only got shortened by about 4 miles. The trail and snow would still be there; but I get to live another day for another adventure. Cheers to trail running.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Massive Weight Lost - Calorie Shifting?

On Wednesday after the Calico race, I got sick.  I was coughing, had a fever, my body ached, I tried to vomit, and my head felt like it was going to explode.  I caught the flu that's been going around, complete with the "works" of symptoms. Needless to say, I couldn't run for a few days. More exactly, about 5 days. So, since I couldn't run or do any exercise, I figure that I should cut back on my food intake. This was not hard to do at all, since I was sick and had not much of an appetite. I was eating sparingly but I didn't exactly starve myself. At no time did I feel hunger pains. I ate the same way I was eating, but just reduced the intake by about 70%. However, I did start to eat chicken noodle soup, which I normally don't eat at all.

Now, this is going to sound unbelievable. And, I know people are going to say that it is impossible or even unhealthy, or that there is something wrong with me medically. But it is really what has been happening to me. Since last Wednesday, I've lost 6.4 pounds in the span of 8 days. That's 0.8 pounds per day; and that's amazing. I know that losing a lot of weight very quickly is not necessarily good, so I tried to see if the weight I have lost is muscle or fat. I figure that if I can run like I did before and still feel strong, then it must not be muscle; and, therefore, it must be fat. Well, so I started running again and doing my core routines for about three days now. The first few miles on the first run after 5 days not running - I felt a little stiff in the legs. Then the muscles came back on line. I now feel as strong as ever on my runs; and I feel like I'm running even faster because I have lost some weight. And doing the core routines feel great too. I'm doing the same reps and sets as before and I'm not tired afterwards. I have to conclude that I have lost fat and have dropped my body fat percentage a few clicks. I now have better power-to-weight ratio.

You may ask: how much and what kind of foods exactly are you eating the last few days?  So, here's a typical day:  I start at 5:00 am with a cup of coffee, then I eat a scone at about 8:00 am, just before my first run.  Then, I come back from my run, and eat my breakfast at about 9:30 am.  I have been eating salads and chicken noodle soup, and sometimes some pita bread, spaghetti, fruit sorbet, or some red meats. The breakfast is not big, but light at about 400-500 calories. Then I eat a late lunch at about 2:30 pm, usually the same fare as my breakfast.  Also, at about 400-500 calories. Then I eat another scone just before my second run at around 7:00 pm.  After the run, if I feel hungry, I eat another 200-250 calories; if I don't feel hungry then I don't eat until the next morning.  The runs have been from 5-7 miles, and my total calorie intake per day is about 1500.  This is the same routine that I have been using for the last few months.  I have never lost this much weight this quickly, not that I'm complaining :). The most weight I have lost was probably 1-2 pounds per month. 

I really have no idea what has been happening. I have some conjectures. First, the flu somehow made my metabolism speed up.  Second, calorie shifting. I did some looking around on the Internet for cases involving sudden massive weight lost and I learned about something called "calorie shifting". What it means is that you purposely change the kind of foods you eat periodically to avoid metabolic slow-down when eating low calorie diets. Of these two theories, the second one is more likely; but I don't really believe any one of them have full merit.  In any case, the weight lost happened when I got sick, or when I had a sudden change in my routine. Go figure.

If you have some ideas about what has been happening to me, please post comments...