Tag Archives: nutrition

Lifestyle Makeover, Part 2: What Goes In

While my wife is at home for several weeks recovering from abdominal surgery, we’re making some overdue upgrades to our house and our lifestyles. In this series of posts I’m sharing these changes with my readers.

Two weeks after her surgery, my wife surprised me by uttering a phrase I never thought I’d hear from her:

“It’s so nice to be able to eat salad again.”

For about the first twenty years of our marriage, our eating habits followed what is these days dubbed the Standard American Diet. Yes, it’s “SAD” for good reasons. It tends to be heavy on processed foods, highly refined flour, sugar, and saturated fat. (Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich and Frosty, anyone?)

To think I used to love these things. So did my cats.

We had our excuses. As young upcoming professionals (does anyone remember the term “Yuppies”?) we didn’t have time to cook for ourselves. Nor the inclination. As software engineers we spent our mental energy slinging code, not hash. And when we got home all we wanted to do was stuff something in our faces and go to bed. (Or stay up and watch Doctor Who, but I digress.)

Our upbringing didn’t help with this attitude. Both of us grew up in a standard suburban setting, with meals home-cooked by our moms. Unfortunately, it was an era of well-done everything, especially vegetables, which were often cooked to mush. For years I thought spinach only came in bricks doused with vinegar.

It comes in leaves? Awesome!

Salad? That was iceberg lettuce with carrots, radishes (yuck), and other raw stuff which needed to be bathed with thick, fat-filled dressing to be even palatable. Pass the steak and tater tots, please.

I’m not complaining; it’s the way it was, and we didn’t expect any different. But as adults free to eat as we pleased, we did exactly that.

Then things began to change. Having kids was one motivator. Finding ways to get them to eat their veggies required creativity, like incorporating them into pasta sauces and making stir-fries. We switched to whole-wheat bread and reduced-fat milk. We began watching cooking shows and picking up ideas. Still, we relied on convenience (i.e. tasty but not very nutritious) much of the time.

We also gradually became aware of the damage the SAD could do to our bodies. My wife struggled with her weight. I was physically active even back then, but I too was starting to notice some thickness around the waist. So we responded the way a couple of highly intelligent, problem-solving engineers would:

FAD DIET!!!!!!

We tried South Beach for starters, then another variant of low-carb. I remember one week in particular where I decided to give up bread and sugar, substituting lettuce wraps and unsweetened cocoa in milk. After three days all I could think about was when I was going to eat next. As a long-term solution, the fads were hopeless.

Our diet direction was positive, however, Through gradual adaptation and some trial and error, we exchanged our poor eating habits for better ones. More fresh vegetables and fruit. Whole grains. Reduced fat in baked goods. And we began to choose organic food over conventional.

And salads? Who knew they could taste good?

A salad I threw together at Whole Foods. A little of everything – just the way I like it!

By this year, our sordid food past was well behind us. My wife began consulting with a nutritionist to analyze her eating habits and make suggestions on further improvements. I signed up too, figuring that improving my nutrition could help make me a better runner.

And then, routine medical screenings discovered two types of cancer in her. Surgery was required. The good news was her improved eating habits and physical training prepared her well for the ordeal, and have contributed to a so far smooth recovery.

The “bad” part? Guess what her diet had to be for the first few weeks afterward? Yes. Easy to digest stuff. That meant white bread and white rice, vegetables and fruit cooked to death, and other refined products. Except for no fried food, it was the SAD! I felt guilty just shopping for it.

There’s a significant difference between now and back then, however. Neither of us longs for the bad old days any more. We’ve lost our taste for the SAD, and my wife couldn’t wait to start her “new normal” eating again. And thus her quote when she was once again able to eat a salad.

Tonight’s dinner: beef and bell pepper stir-fry with arborio race. Thanks, Joyce!

Coming up: What did the consultation with the nutritionist reveal? I’ll share the data with you all.

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Running On: Lessons from My Ultra DNF

Runners are funny people. They encourage the efforts of others, and when someone crashes and burns, they always know the right thing to say. Except when it comes to their own performance – then that stuff goes right out the window.

So it came as no surprise to me that everyone – 100% – of people who knew about my DNF at Run Woodstock supported my decision to stop. Some were even grateful. And everyone had something encouraging to say. So how did that make me feel? I think the meme below expresses how runners I know feel about such things.

Meme-FailingNotFailure

That out of the way, I feel better now. And besides, there’s another ultra this Saturday – the Dances with Dirt 50K in Hell, which, being its 20th anniversary, promises to be a lulu (check out the course description here). So instead of moping, I’ve been looking at what went wrong and what I can learn from it. And I’ll want to try the 100K again someday, too.

After some self-analysis, discussions with Coach Marie and a bit of WAGging (*) I’ve identified three main areas for improvement. If any ultrarunners are reading this, you’re welcome to chime in with your own stories and lessons learned. And if any readers are considering an ultra, I hope what’s written here won’t scare you away. An ultra is a blast. Really. I mean it.

So here we are:

The Physical – Aye, There’s the Rub

The biggest contributor to my early exit was the heat exhaustion. I’ve since read that even minor dehydration can play havoc with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. I was drinking a lot of fluids, but also sweating so much in that wet heat that it may not have been enough.

I bought two things for my next effort. First, a forehead thermometer. I can carry it in my pocket or running backpack so if I feel that way again, I can check to see if my core temperature is safe or too high. The other is some chemical cold packs to bring down my temperature if ice is not available, or I’m between aid stations.

Thermometer and Cold Packs

Chafing is another regular problem I have during ultras. Despite applying Body Glide and Vaseline, by my third loop my thighs were raw where my soaked, sweaty shorts rubbed on them. There were also a couple of “hot spots” in my underwear, and I don’t mean the good kind.

Gold Bond Friction DefenseMy coach told me about Gold Bond Friction Defense, a Body Glide-like product that also contains aloe for soothing the skin. I’m going to try it on Saturday.

Finally, there was blistering. From my other ultras I know where the trouble spots on my feet are, and I made sure to tape them carefully. That worked, but blisters are apparently more clever than I thought, and I got a couple where I didn’t tape. On the other hand, rubbing Body Glide all over my feet each loop helped keep them dry and comfortable. With mud and river crossings on the Saturday course, I will be continuing that practice.

Mental Lessons – Lord, Give me Patience – NOW

It’s fairly indisputable that any run of 30-plus miles qualifies as a long run. A 100K (62 miles) might even qualify as a very long run. Not surprisingly, long runs take a long time to complete. Any successful ultraunner, therefore, possesses at least a modicum of patience and mental discipline. But the longer the run, the more is needed, and at some point, most people hit a limit. I think I hit mine.

My plan for mentally managing the 100K was to break it up into manageable segments, like with last year’s 50-miler. Each loop had four, marked by the aid stations, all about four miles apart. But while similar in distance, they were very different in feel. The first leg and third segments were okay, but for some reason the second and fourth legs seemed to stretch on and on.

View from my headlamp during Run Woodstock 2012.

View from my headlamp during Run Woodstock 2012. The bright spot is the next trail marking flag. Or a ghost. I forget which.

On a trail in the dark, distances stretch and the inner clock I’ve relied on to estimate my pace and distance simply doesn’t work. Even known landmarks and milestones seem to take longer to reach. I began to get frustrated and began to tell myself how much worse it would be the next time around. That part of me was quite relieved when I quit.

The key to solving this, I think, is some formal mental training. My coach suggested restoration-style yoga, which includes a focus on meditation. I’m looking into this and will keep you posted.

Attitude – A Different Animal

Perhaps my biggest miscalculation was treating a 100K race like an extended 50K, instead of the very different type of race it is. Setting aside the maxim that for a long ultra, “if you think you’re starting too slowly, go slower still,” I ran at what seemed to be a comfortable pace – my 50K pace. No doubt that plus the heat caught up with me.

Pace too fast 2

Yum, yum!

Yum, yum!

I had the same “50K” attitude toward nutrition – being sure to drink and have salt at the aid stations, but otherwise winging it. For a 100K, I think I’ll have to approach it more systematically, to know more exactly what I need at what time. There are some general guidelines to apply on replenishing electrolytes and how many calories I should replace, what percentage should be simple sugars vs. complex carbs, how much protein, and how much water is needed to process it all. More to come there, too.

So for Saturday’s race, I can apply some lessons already. And I won’t have to worry about heat issues – it’s a morning race and will be much cooler. Should be a good time!

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(*) WAG = Wild-Ass Guess. Not to be confused with SWAG – Scientific Wild-Ass Guess – for which, as I understand, you need a Ph.D.

Fueling Around

My first long race of the year – the Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K – is just two weeks away, and I can hardly wait. Not only is it my first-ever spring ultra, it’s in Florida, where I hear the weather is actually above freezing.

What caused these mysterious tracks? Answer at the end of this post.

Winter riddle: What caused these mysterious tracks? Answer at the end of this post.

I’m currently running around 30 miles per week, Saturday’s group run being about half that, with shorter runs and speedwork mixed in. This is actually a bit light; many in our group are running 40-50 miles or more per week training for Boston. But with snow shoveling, Aikido, and my twice-weekly torture sessions added, I think I’m in good shape.

But physical fitness is just part of preparing for a race. There’s also how I plan to eat and drink before, during, and after – what the running world refers to as fueling. And boy, is there a science to it. Food becomes reduced to its constituent elements – protein, fats, and carbohydrates – presented as pills, powders, gels, and bars, while liquid intake is concerned with electrolyte balance and hydration. And, naturally, there are several wonderful companies that have exactly the right products for you to run your next race like Superman.

So good...and so good for you!

So good…and so good for you!

I got some insights at a recent nutrition clinic hosted by the Ann Arbor Triathlon Club. An ultramarathon, like a triathlon, is an endurance event, and the rules for getting the right stuff into your body at the right time are basically the same. So I signed up and drove through a snowstorm to learn all I could. I’ll save the gory details for another time, but here’s some highlights.

  • Don’t try to replace the calories you burn during a race, or even all the water you lose. The human body is designed to operate without food while running, and eating or drinking too much can make you sick. Look to replace no more than 240-280 calories per hour, and drink to your thirst.
  • Don’t overdo the sugar. Glucose is what the body uses for fuel, but the stomach can’t handle too much simple sugars at once. Complex carbs are much easier to handle, and tossing in a little protein helps even more.
  • The first hour after the race is a key time for recovery to begin, so don’t neglect replenishing food and water. I ignored this rule after last year’s 50-miler at Run Woodstock because, well, I wasn’t hungry, and paid the price with a period of nausea and light-headedness. (Salted potatoes and lemonade brought me round.)
Chicago Marathon recovery = cold beer and cold wet towel. Both felt really good!

Chicago Marathon recovery = cold beer and cold wet towel. Both were great!

Just as important as how much to eat and drink is finding out what you can and cannot comfortably consume. So I’ve been experimenting with different foods and amounts during my long training runs. One interesting finding: eating breakfast before the run doesn’t seem to make much difference, as long as I eat properly during it. My marathon nutrition book says a quick bite just before the start can help, and that seems to work okay for me too.

For my two road marathons I subsisted mainly on Gu gels and Gatorade, and by mile 20 I couldn’t stand the sight of either of them. For the trail ultras and long training runs, I’ve had more substantial food with no digestive issues. Bonk Breaker bars and Gu Chomps (not the gels) seem to work particularly well. At 15 degrees it’s challenging to gnaw my way through them, but I get there.

Next up: Florida in March…what will I wear to the race? The short answer is “prepare for anything” but I only have so much space in my luggage.

The culprit - the elusive recyclables bin!

The culprit – the elusive recyclables bin! Yep, the wind was that strong on Saturday.