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June 13, 2014

Week 2

SecondGuess

The theme of this week has been all about second-guessing.  It started on Monday when I decided to reread the cross-training section of RLRF in the hopes of figuring out how hard I was supposed to be doing those sessions.  I soon realized that I own the first edition of the book, and the app is apparently based on a more recent edition.  The book advocates mostly hour-long, lower-intensity aerobic workouts.  The app, on the other hand, has me doing 20 or 30-minute workouts with frequent, short bursts of high intensity.  I’ve read the studies on the effectiveness of this type of training, so I’m fine with the theory behind the change.  My concern, however, was that at the intensity I was doing the cross-training, my poor undertrained non-running muscles were going to end up chronically sore or injured.  Since the book was no help, I then searched for “Run Less Run Faster cross train intensity,” thinking that Google would surely know what to do.  What I found was a number of articles and blog posts dissecting the ways in which the RLRF cross-training approach is flawed, and advising runners to use the program as I had been all year–substituting easy runs for the XT days.

That, of course, had me at hello.  The only thing keeping me from swearing off the spin bike in perpetuity is that my SI joint had started to ache after last week’s long run, and I’m worried that I could be starting down the path to another IT band injury.  In any case, I now had competing theories that 1) Cross-training prevents injury caused by excessive running mileage and allows greater aerobic training volume overall, or 2) Cross-training causes injury by replacing necessary ‘time on the legs’ with sessions that overwork under-developed muscles.  I ran my best season ever this year by going with door #2, but I do need to seriously consider the risk of injury if I increase my mileage.  It was quite the quandary.  Luckily, I didn’t have to figure it out until Wednesday.

Tuesday I did the 4×800 intervals at pace and was happy that they were way less difficult than the 16’s last week.  My SI joint continued to ache a bit after the speedwork, though, which was how it had all started last time as well.  I’ve been doing a strength training routine that’s supposed to prevent IT-band injuries every day since the Brooklyn Half, but since the problem seems to be rooted in my SI joint, I decided to research exercises for SI-joint stability as well.  I found what seems to be a solid routine here, which I’ll now be alternating with the IT-band days.  My hope is that strengthening the area will take care of the problem altogether, but I don’t want to exacerbate things before I’m able to build strength. On Wednesday morning I was still unsure whether to run or cross train when I left for the gym.  In the end I decided to run easy until I felt any sort of twinge, which took about 3 miles.  At that point I switched to the bike and did the 20 post-warm-up minutes of the XT workout.  (Either best or worst of both worlds, depending on how you look at it.)

Thursday’s tempo went well, particularly since the paces are much slower than I was used to in the half marathon training.  After 7 miles, though, my SI joint was definitely aching and a few hours later my glute on that side felt sore and a bit tender.  I decided that this morning’s session would definitely be on the rowing machine, which would hopefully give me fresher legs for Sunday’s long run and also give the SI a break.  (Oddly, as sore as it was yesterday, it felt 100% fine today, which is strange, but somewhat encouraging.)

I’m still not completely sure what to do about the cross-training.  I’m leaning toward eliminating one day of it in favor of an easy run, or I may just keep it flexible, and just decide based on how I’m feeling.  I’m also thinking that since it seems to be the speedwork intervals that particularly set off the SI, I may rework the schedule a bit to compensate.  I’ll need to really look at the tables to judge, but the marathon plan seems to preference faster interval sessions and slower tempos that run closer to race pace.  I’ve always found faster tempos to be hugely beneficial, so I may change it up so that those are more in line with half marathon paces, and then take the intervals down to a less punishing level.  On the up side, next week the Caveboy and I are running the Queens 10K, so I’ve made the weekday training essentially a repeat of this week, with the race instead of a long run.  That gives me the option for a break after the 15 miler this weekend if I need it, and I’m going to book a massage right now.

-ModC

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May 22, 2014

26.2

I love laying out a new training plan.  There’s something incredibly satisfying in looking ahead to the next big goal lurking out there in the mist, and then breaking it down into an actual executable plan of action.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been using the Run Less, Run Faster plan all season, with solid results.  I bought a used copy of the book, which is by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss years ago.  My copy happens to be signed by Scott Murr to the previous owner with an inscription that reads something like, “To Tom, stick with it for the long run,” which Tom obviously didn’t.  

The story goes that the idea behind their training plan came during a stint when the authors switched from running to training for a triathlon.  They reduced their running mileage significantly to accommodate their swimming and biking, keeping the overall training volume about the same, but found their their running times actually improved.  After doing some studies on other athletes with similar results, they concluded that by alternating focused, quality runs with (non weight-bearing) cardio cross training, the body was better able to recover between running workouts.  (You can hear an interview with Scott Murr discussing RLRF on a recent Paleo Runner podcast here.)

The plan is somewhat unique in that you start by selecting your goal race time (with some guidance on how to choose something reasonably attainable), and work backwards from there.  Each week of training includes an interval run, a tempo run, and a long run.  Add in your two cross training workouts and that’s it.  The specific workouts to be executed are hyper-detailed with distances and paces for every day, all specifically attuned to get you to the goal race pace.  The book itself is largely a collection of these tables that map out paces at various distances.  Happily, RLRF is now an app, and by plugging in a recent finish time it will generate a personalized training plan pretty much instantly.

The approach appeals to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I almost feel like I have a coach when I’m following it.  I also appreciate that at 6AM, I don’t have to make decisions about what I’m trying to accomplish with my workout.  I can easily tell if I’m on track for my goal or not, and by the time I get to race day, I know what I can expect from myself.  I’ve also been able to break through mental barriers that I never thought possible.  Tempo runs in the 7’s?  I would never have even thought to attempt it, except that my google calendar told me to.  The only real complaint I have about the system is that I hate cross training.  Up until now in fact, I have been doing more of a RMRF plan.  Every time it said cross train, I did an easy run.  I know. I really tried to do it properly a few years ago, but I found that I really missed the easy days.  When you’re only putting in “quality” workouts, you don’t get the chance to space out and watch the scenery go by.

I am now, however, trying to craft a bulletproof plan to get me to the finish line of the Baltimore Marathon in October, and I’m willing to consider desperate measures.  Like cross training.  In my first and only previous attempt at 26.2 (for which I also tried a Run More, Run Faster plan), I ended up too injured and overtrained to race.  I know my biggest challenge in facing the marathon is getting myself to the start, strong physically both and mentally.  I feel like I’m ready, and that this is my year.  I know that in order to do this, I’m going to have to train holistically.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what a mind-body training approach might look like.  It’s got to help me continue to get mentally strong, but without pushing myself to the breaking point.  I think it may involve some regular massage.  And maybe I can even make friends with a spin bike in the process…

-ModC

May 14, 2014

Smoked Trout Power Salad

I really don’t have a grand plan for race week nutrition and I generally use it as an opportunity to experiment a bit.  This time around, I’m focusing on quality fats and proteins for most of the week and plan to ramp up the starches and fruit a bit in the last days before the race. 

 
For lunch, I usually bring a mess of fixin’s for my salads to work on Monday, and then combine as mood dictates.  Today’s creation turned out particularly well, and I thought I’d share.
 
Smoked Trout Power Salad
 
4 oz. tin of oil-packed smoked trout
2 small roasted beets, sliced
1/3 cup (or more) roasted butternut squash
3 cups greens of choice
1/8 cup crumbled blue cheese (optional)
2 tbsp. olive oil or dressing of choice
 
It’s a nice pre-race combo, as it covers the bases for quality fats, protein, and starches, with bonus points for some beet loading. For the greens, I had a half-and-half mix of baby lettuce and spinach, but I think this would also be fantastic on a bed of warm kale. Walnuts would also make a nice addition.   
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May 8, 2014

Does Your Iced Coffee Have Hidden Sugar?

New York City requires chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, and when I was in Starbucks this week I noticed that their tall (12 oz) iced coffee is listed at 60 calories.  A tall brewed coffee has 10, and I was curious where those 50 extra calories came from.  According to Starbucks’ website, their regular iced coffee is “slightly sweetened,” to the tune of 15g of sugar.  As an alternative, one can order an iced Americano, which is not pre-sweetened, though it will cost you a bit more.  (Interestingly, both Dunkin Donuts and Seattle’s Best do not sweeten their regular brewed iced coffee, although SB does serve something called a “Frozen Birthday Cake Latte.”)

If you prefer to DIY, you can brew your own super-fabulous cold-brew iced coffee, and it couldn’t be easier.  I use a French press, but you can also use a jar and several layers of cheese cloth.  There is a batch of this in my refrigerator pretty much all summer long:

45g high quality coffee, fresh ground if possible

30 oz. cold water aerated water 

Put your ground coffee into the French press (or bundle in cheesecloth), pour in the water, and stir with a wooden spoon until all the coffee is submerged.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  In the morning, press (or remove the cheese cloth).  If you’re using a French press, I like to pour the coffee off of the grounds and into another container if I’m not going to be using all of it right away.  

Cold brew coffee has much less acid than it’s hot counterpart, the cold process allows the more delicate notes of a good bean to come through.  For an added energy boost, skip the iced latte and instead soften a tablespoon of butter (pastured, please!), a little coconut oil, and blend it on high with a cup of iced coffee. You can add a little half and half or heavy cream if you want a creamier blend, and few dashes of cinnamon or cardamom is always a nice touch.  Throw in a few ice cubes if you want to capture that iced-blended coffee experience, and enjoy all those medium chain triglycerides.  I’ve been drinking a cup of butter coffee before my runs and I definitely feel like I’m getting a nice energy boost without the crash.  

ModC

May 6, 2014

Finding My Way

Tuesday: Intervals – 5x1K @ 7:21 pace

Wednesday: Easy

Thursday: Tempo – 2 mi easy, 3 mi @ 8:04 pace, 1 mi easy

Saturday: Easy

Sunday: Long – 8 mi @ 8:48 pace

 

Somewhere around mile 8 of my long run on Sunday it occurred to me that I actually respect myself as a runner now.  I wasn’t really sure at the time what that meant exactly, but I knew something had shifted.  It isn’t easy to pin down.  It isn’t about finally being able to run a particular pace, although it has everything to do with the progress I’ve been able to make this year.  It’s not really about dedication and hard work, because I’ve always been committed.  It has a lot to do with PR’s and getting out of my comfort zone this season, but what I would consider the turning point came in a race where I didn’t PR.  What I realized Sunday was not that I had improved my self-image as a runner, but that I had one at all.

I should, of course, know better.  I’ve read a number of sports psychology books over the years, and the model is pretty much the same: We all put perceived limitations on ourselves and it is very difficult, both physically and mentally, to break through those barriers.  The stress response arises when we encounter a situation which requires more than we believe we can deliver.  The cascade of physiological fight or flight responses then ensue, all of which can further interfere with our ability to perform.  For many people (myself included), the realization that this is happening creates further stress and then you’re off on a vicious cycle of stress -> physical symptoms -> poor performance -> additional stress…

The hard part, of course, is breaking the cycle.  I’ve tried visualization, meditation, relaxation, and my old stand-by—reading a ton of books on the subject.  While they were all very pleasant activities, I never felt like I was fundamentally changing the way I thought about things, or what I believed about my abilities.  Self-talk cheerleading is not something I’ve been able to pull off, and I suspect that, like actual cheerleading, the activity only brings out my general sarcasm.
 
I’ve been trying over the past few days to deconstruct what finally clicked for me, and I think it really comes down to finding something I could actually believe in.  For me, that was the way I was training.  The thing I really love about RLRF (and I promise I’ll do a post soon exclusively on this topic) is that it very clearly maps out each workout to get you to your goal time.  If there’s one thing I do trust, it’s empirical data.  Once I could see my training run paces improving, I could buy into the system, and ultimately, trust myself to deliver.   Basically, if I can do the training runs at the proscribed paces, I have no reason to think that I can’t run the predicted finish time for the race.  
 
I still have the occasional bad workout, and when I do, they still stick with me longer than I would like.  I continue to worry that if I take too much recovery time between races that I’ll lose my speed and my confidence with it.  I worry that that tendency will lead to injury.  I’m sure that I’ll always be dealing with my confidence and nerves to some extent.  But I do feel like I’m able to enjoy running in a way that I never have before, and I’m actually kind of proud of myself.
 
-ModC
October 22, 2012

Harvest Smoothie (Or What to do with Leftover Pumpkin Puree)

It’s been overcast for the past few days here in LA, which means that I get to pretend that it’s fall.  In that spirit, I made these wonderful pumpkin bars from Elana’s Pantry yesterday, and as is usual with pumpkin-based baking projects, I now find myself with leftover pumpkin puree in the fridge.  Luckily, I have the perfect solution for the problem—pumpkin smoothies. 

Pumpkin is fairly low in calories and carbs and packs a healthy dose of iron and vitamins A and C, which makes this a great post-workout snack.

 Image

Ingredients:

½ cup pumpkin puree

1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder

6 oz. coconut milk

3 drops liquid vanilla stevia

¼ cup yogurt

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

Pinch of cloves

¼ tsp. fresh ginger

Add all items to blender and pulse until combined.

 

Substitutions and variations: I’ve made this with a teaspoon or two of honey instead of stevia if I need to replenish more carbs.  I’ve also used a couple of frozen peach slices to sweeten it up a bit without affecting the pumpkin flavor much.  The fresh ginger really gives it a great warmth if you have it on hand.  If not, powdered ginger will do the trick.

September 11, 2012

Scrambling

I promise to write a more substantial update soon; at the moment I’m neck-deep in a deadline at work.  I’m living the Paleo dream… Today I left the house at 7 something having packed my lunch, dinner, pre- and post-workout snacks, my running clothes, clothes to change into, and all my shower stuff.  I managed to squeeze in 5 miles while the rest of the team was eating dinner, shower, and get back to the office at a respectable hour.  I’m trying to keep up a decent mileage this week, and (assuming I can find time to pack between the deadline Saturday and my flight early Sunday), I’ll be off to the East Coast for a week of family time and hopefully some cooler runs. 

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June 6, 2012

The Starting Line

ImageIt’s National Running Day, and I’m hopeful that this entry will mark my triumphant return to actually blogging about running again.  I’ve signed up for my first race since the SI joint injury last year.  I’ve continued to run throughout that time, but I cut my mileage back significantly, added strength training, and have been doing a lot more hill-walking in an effort to take the stress off the joint and allow it to heal.  I’ve been mostly pain-free for a couple of months now, but I’m still getting some lingering achiness.  I suspect that this may be as good as it gets, though, and I’m anxious to start a training plan again.  The race is just a 5K on the Fourth of July, but it will be great to pin a race bib on again. 

5K’s have never been my forte, and given my months of easy pacing, I’m not out for a PR this time.  I do want to run this race with intention, though.  In the time I’ve spent working through tis injury, I’ve reflected a lot on my approach to training, both mentally and physically.  One of the most surprising things I learned during the down time was that despite my drastically reduced training load, I maintained a higher level of fitness and endurance than I ever would have expected.  Despite the fact that I had replaced my nightly 5-mile runs with a walk one, run three, walk one regimen, I could still bang out the occasional five or six-miler with little difficulty.  I always had a looming fear that if I dropped my mileage for even a week, I’d instantly lose the endurance.  Recovery weeks seemed, while not exactly pointless, like a frustrating stall in the pursuit of constant improvement.  I hate to embody a cliché, but we all know where that got me. 

The other unexpected benefit to the changes I’ve had to make in my training has been finally finding and sticking to a strength-training routine.  I picked up Jillian Michael’s 30-Day Shred used on Amazon a few months ago, and was shocked at how it destroyed my quads the first few times I did the workouts.  I was a runner after all.  A runner with strong, slightly unladylike quads.  That my legs were somehow unequal to a workout DVD on Level 1 was unthinkable.  I was also unprepared for how much harder the cardio was when it was alternated with strength training.  I kept at the workouts twice a week, though, and was delighted to see (and feel) the results after only about a month.  Aside from curing my runner’s knee (which is in no way insignificant), all the weight training I had ever done at the gym had never produced visible results.  I was floored when after only a few weeks, my massage therapist took one look at my back and asked if I’d started swimming.  I feel stronger than I ever have, even at the peak of my marathon training.  

Suffice it to say, given what I’ve learned in the last few months, I’m rethinking my mileage junky approach to training.  I know that for longer races I’m still going to need the training volume.  I always see a sharp improvement in my fitness when I hit the 40-mile-a-week mark.  Still, I can clearly afford to give up the recovery week paranoia.  I think the real lesson in all of this has been that I haven’t really missed racing at all, but I’ve very much missed the focused training.  I’m religious in my training, and as a result I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to perform in races.  If I didn’t, I felt like I had let myself down (which may be true), but more than that, I had wasted all the time I spent preparing.  The realization that the preparation is really the fun part for me takes a lot of that pressure off.  My goal this time around is to relish the things I love about training, and to embrace the race for what it is—simply a deadline that lends structure to my running calendar, and an excuse for brunch with cocktails. 

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March 9, 2012

30-Day Brain Cleanse: Updates and Insights

Thanks to a deadline at work last week I’ve gotten way behind on my posts.  The good news, I suppose, is that I’ve accumulated a few weeks’ worth of  recipe ideas that I’m planning to work on, and hopefully post this weekend.  On the meditation front, I’ve lost track of what week of the cleanse, but that’s actually a positive development.  The reason I stopped paying attention was that I found I was actually craving longer sessions, and as a result I’ve been doing 15 or 20ish minutes for the last several weeks, mostly as dictated by my mood.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m still quite bad at it, at least by the standards of “good” meditation that I envisioned.  (Honestly, I think my version of a successful meditation session involve a trance-like state in which I am not aware of time passing.  I’m not even sure if that’s what’s supposed to happen, insofar as anything is supposed to happen, but there you go.)  I do think I’ve achieved some insight into how my brain works, however, and that’s definitely worth something. 

 Last week I was lying there, waiting for the enlightment to descend and becoming increasingly frustrated with my body for not being able to calm down sufficiently.  As one might imagine, frustration does not help that process, and so I was by that point engaged in a vicious cycle of increasing annoyance and arousal.  In the midst of this frustration I suddenly had a picture in my mind of a scared rabbit hiding under a bush, and me with my hand extended, trying to coax it out.  I realized that the relaxation I’m seeking is, both metaphorically and physically, like a scared rabbit that needs to learn to trust me.  As I wrote last week, after a few minutes of starting to relax my brain usually starts producing a barrage of worries.  It seems that my reptile brain (or scared mammal brain, in this case) can only tolerate so much relaxation before it starts to freak out that no one’s on guard duty.  That would be useful if there really were tigers prowling around outside the Modernist Cave, but as it’s usually only car alarms that wake me during the night, the hyper-arousal is rather a detriment.  Like the rabbit, I need to trust that I am in a safe place where it’s okay to relax.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to treat that part of my brain like an animal, and to accept that it will probably take a while to develop that trust.  Once that happens, the physical response should follow more easily.  In the meantime, I just have to sit still and try not to scare it off.      

 

February 20, 2012

Kale Two Ways: Paleo Nachos & Warm Kale Salad with Deconstructed Guacamole

Paleo Nachos

Warm Kale Salad

I finally got around to trying kale chips this weekend, and as soon as I tasted the first batch, I thought “kale nachos!”  I threw together a test batch, and it was then that it occurred to me that the same ingredients would make a great salad as well.  The ingredients are the same for both versions, and I encourage you to give each a try.  Enjoy!

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale

2 ripe haas avacados

1 jalapeno pepper (only used for the nacho version)

1 small bunch cilantro

1 roma tomato

1 shallot (or 1/4 red onion)

1 clove garlic

juice of 1/2 lime

pinch sea salt

chili powder

cumin

garlic powder

oil of choice

pepper jack cheese (optional)

salsa

Preparation for the Nachos

Preheat oven to 350.  Wash and dry the kale completely, and remove stems and large veins.  You want leaf pieces about 2″x2,” though uniformity isn’t critical.  Drizzle kale with oil and sprinkle with chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, and salt.  Distribute evenly in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 12 minutes, making sure not to burn.  The kale should be crisp when done.

While the kale is baking, make the guacamole.  Chop the jalapeno, shallot, cilantro, and garlic finely.  Remove the seeds from the tomato and chop.  Skin and pit avocados and combine with previous ingredients.  Add the lime juice.  If you like your guacamole chunky, you can just stir everything with a large spoon.  For a smoother consistency, mash the avocados a bit with a fork as you combine everything.  Taste and add salt as required.

When the kale is done, pile leaves on a plate and sprinkle with cheese, if using.  Pop back in the oven for 2-3 minutes to melt cheese.  Add guacamole and salsa.  You could also add pickled jalapenos, a little browned ground beef, sour cream, etc, depending on your pantry and paleo preferences.

Preparation for Salad

Heat two teaspoons of oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Wash and dry kale, removing larger stems.  Chop garlic and shallots finely and add only the shallots to pan.  When shallots are translucent, add kale and saute for about 5 minutes, until bright green.  Sprinkle the kale with chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder.  While the kale warms, slice avocado and chop tomato and cilantro.  Add the garlic and saute a few more minutes, until it begins browning and kale starts to wilt.  Plate the kale and dress with avocado and tomato, sprinkling with a pinch of salt and drizzling with a little more oil if desired.  A little cheese melted over this salad is great as well–do your own experimenting!