I Run the Night

In most neighborhoods, when you leave for work in the morning, you will see them by the dozens. women and men running or walking through the locals paths or streets, huffing and puffing, bundled to the necks in cold weather gear, getting that morning run in to start their day.

You will not see me though.

Despite the fact that I have to be at work by 7, so that would meaning running at 4:30-5, because a run for me takes longer than a normal human being, running, or any workout for that matter, in the morning has never been my “thing”. I don’t like getting up and exercising right away. I am too crickety for that right now. This is odd because I spent ten years in the military where morning workouts were the norm. What is boot camp without the reveille call at 5:00 AM to go out to the grinder for a quick 2 mile run followed by endless push-ups and sit-ups and marching drills? The difference was I HAD to do it then. There was no choice in the matter. I don’t have to do it now.

I have been thinking about this recently, after it was brought up by my co-host on the Back of Pack Endurance podcast. He had noticed that I do all of my running and workouts at night after work. We will be discussing this further on the show of course, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down on “paper”.

I have always felt better at night. My body seems more attuned to moving and performing after it has had a few hours to warm up. I am not sure if this is just a me thing or if it is something that can be shown scientifically. At least I didn’t know until I started doing some research into it to see if there was anything concrete to show if there was anything to the feeling.

There was indeed a study conducted in Texas and report in the Journal of Sports Medicine that took 20 healthy young men and put them through a battery of VO2 testing.  The aim was to investigate the effect of time of day on 4 variables that are related to sport performance. They were asked to perform exhaustive severe-intensity cycle ergometer tests at 278 ± 35 Watts in the morning (between 0630 h and 0930 h) and in the evening (between 1700 h and 2000 h). Performance in the evening was associated with a 4% higher maximal oxygen uptake and a 7% higher anaerobic capacity. In addition, oxygen uptake was faster in the evening, resulting in slower utilization of the anaerobic reserves. It concluded that modest morning–evening differences in maximal oxygen uptake, anaerobic capacity, and oxygen uptake kinetics conflate to produce a markedly longer performance in the evening than in the morning. Time of day must be considered for exercise testing and perhaps for exercise training (edited from the paper abstract).

So, I thought, maybe there is more to this than just the “feeling” I have at night? My current coach is on me recently to forego “metrics” and pay more attention to how I feel during training. The consensus is that I let the numbers on my watch dictate how I feel instead of letting my own brain tell me how I feel. I agree with this premise to a point. It is obviously important to a person training to be in tuned to their body so that we can react accordingly, but where I stray is that I like to have … validation. I don’t let the numbers dictate, unlike what many think I do. I use the numbers to validate what I feel at that moment. I am not staring at my Garmin every step of a run. In fact, I rarely look at it. When I do look it is normally because I feel like I am pushing too hard and I will see what my pace is, or my heart rate.

I also think evening work vs. morning work is one of those “old thinking” issues that some refuse to let go of. You know what I mean right? When I was playing football in the late 70’s we were made to take salt pills after every practice and were not allowed water during the entire 2 hour practice. That stayed in my head for a long time, and is still there to some degree, which is why I have to set my watch (See? The watch again!) to beep every ten minutes to let me know to drink. If I didn’t have that reminder I’d never drink. We were also taught “No Pain No Gain” as a mantra, which is still used in boxes and gyms everywhere and something most intelligent athletes know to be totally untrue and dangerous. Many coaches, including my beloved Team in Training coaches, still plan pasta “carb loading” dinners the night before events (which have been shown to not only not work but can actually hinder performance) and advise ice baths after running (see this article HERE for reasons why this does not work). But you know why these issues are still clung to? Because, taking the ice bath for an example, even the people reporting on them contradict themselves. Go to Triathlon.com right now and read the article I linked, then do a search for Ice Baths inside that magazine. You will find articles saying that they are good just a year ago. This is what leads to the inevitable “article wars” on boards and social media site. I cite a source saying one thing, then someone cites a source saying the opposite, then another cites a source saying both of us are wrong. Cue the inevitable name calling and the fight is on.

The point is this. I have arthritis, and to be blunt, I am in my 50’s and my body can only take so much. Getting up at 5 AM for an 8 mile run is not working for me. It doesn’t fit my schedule nor my inner rhythms. By the time I get through the day I am warmed up and loose, and although mentally tired, a run or swim or bike does wonders for me. Another article I read on training yesterday gave 10 reason why training in the morning is best, 5 of which go against what the study I mentioned states, but the one that stood out to me was #8, that is “clears the mind”. Aren’t most minds clearest in the morning? It would seem that if clearing the mind and de-stressing was the main reason, it would be best to do that at night when your mind is clogged with a days worth of mess. Right?

And I know some reading this have families, especially young children, so it just makes sense to train in the morning and I totally get that. Of all the reasons to train in the morning that makes the most sense to me. Mom’s and Dad’s getting up at 5 and running a quick 3 miles before the craziness of getting kids up and ready for school. More power to you. I no longer have that issue (hell, I am lucky to see my son out of bed before 3 PM). I just don’t get the insistence of training groups, not just TNT but most social groups, to schedule runs at the break of dawn. Why can’t the ride start at 9 instead of 6? The reasoning given where I am the most often is the heat, especially during the summer, is easier to handle. But I prefer training in the heat. Maybe that’s just because I am a native Floridian and used to it after 51 years? Who knows?

So, as with most things, it really comes down to what works for you, both physically and mentally. All the science in the world telling you that training at night is better than in the morning won’t matter if you feel better in the morning, so that the net net.

Just don’t tell me Ice Baths work and Sugar is required.

Sharing is Caring

I did not grow up as open to sharing my thoughts and feelings as I am now. To the contrary, I was often closed off and to myself most of the time, so when I started writing this blog back in 2010 the intention of it was to give me a medium in which to express what I was going through as I started trying to regain control of my life, both in health and in mind. This has not always been welcomed, especially by the few people I know that are really close to me (i.e. family, exes, etc.). Most of the people who read this blog don’t know me in person, and if they know me now it was through this blog. So all they know is John the Fat Slow Triathlete. They’ve never known John the Timid Child, nor John the Angst Ridden Teenager, nor John the Football Player, nor John the Bassist for Spectre, or even John the Squid. These are persona’s I have worked through as I have walked these 51 years of life, and they are all still a part of me. The only difference is, as I grow older, I am less inclined to hold my opinion about subjects, and that includes myself.

At times, and I fully admit this, I have shared things that probably should not have been shared, because they upset people, and that was never my intent. I never write something with the thought in mind to hurt someone. In fact, when I think it will hurt someone I take strides to make it as anonymous as possible while still conveying the message, but still … someone will see it posted, either here or on the many pages it posts to, and make it a priority to inform whomever they feel I was talking about. I have written about this before, so not to reiterate, or beat a dead horse too much, if I did not use a name it means I am not attacking, or specifically talking about, you. I may use an example that a specific person wrote, or did, or commented on, which brought a subject to mind, but if a name is not used that normally means it’s something I have seen from a number of people.

Sharing feelings or thoughts is a touchy area. For one, it is not my normal operating procedure to write things down for the world, so I have to force myself to do it most of the time. Sharing your inner thoughts, especially when it comes to fears and doubts, and ESPECIALLY as a man, leaves yourself open to many comments and ridicule. The internet has given voice to the great unwashed of the world; a platform for which they can attack anyone or anything from the relative safety of their home. For those of us that can remember, think back to when you were growing up and someone said something you did not agree with. How many of us would have looked that person in the eye and said “you’re just a freaking idiot”? Not many, and if you did you stood a better than average chance of getting the crap knocked out of you (not shot, because when I grew up people actually fought … with fists … you know … like MEN … and not cowards hiding behind weapons).

As a triathlete this can be even more concerning, and as a triathlete that is not a normal Type A personality as most are in the sport, admitting to a weakness is tantamount to wearing a dress (if you’re a guy that is, not that there’s anything wrong with that.). Most will be supportive, for sure, at least to your face, but more than that will jump on you with comments like “harden your fat ass up”. If you don’t believe me go peruse SlowTwitch or the sub-reddit for triathlon. Read the comments. I was told on one of them to shut my fat ass up just today. I have no idea who that person is, nor do I care, but I bet a dollar they (he or she) would never make that comment if I was standing in front of them.

In any case, most of the input I get from sharing these thoughts have been positive. More often than not they outweigh the few assclowns who feel the need to attack what I write. It is especially gratifying to hear when someone reads something I have written about a fear and sends me a message saying “thank God I am not alone in this”. It is that reason I write about what I write about, and will continue to do so. Writing things out in the blog helps me work through thoughts I have floating in my head. Most of the time when I sit down to write a post I have no idea where it is heading. It is a data dump of thoughts and feelings onto paper (or at least virtual paper). I rarely edit these thoughts, and quite a few times have written things that prove, after being skewered, not true (at least as far as science … feelings are always true) and I will correct them in another post or on the comments page where they showed up. I don’t mind being corrected, as long as it’s in a positive way. One of my intentions for 2015 is to not get into social media wars about “feelings” or “thoughts”, especially into what I call “article wars” where people say “I believe this” and posts an article that supports their view-point. My feeling is that for every article someone posts there’s another article showing the exact opposite. And then the war is on. They post one. I post one. They post another. I post another. and it never ends. For the most part, people are going to believe what they want to believe and no article is going to way them. There are numerous studies now that show carb loading the night prior to a race doesn’t work and actually can hinder performance, but if someone has always done it, never had an issue, and believe in it, no article I post is going to sway them. No article is going to change a Democrat into a Republican, or vice versa. None. So why go through that exercise. It’s time wasted on a no win situation.

This post is an example of my needing to get thoughts out of my head.

You’re welcome.

Running Naked: Why I Analyze Data

I am sure the title of this post got your attention, mostly because the thought of a 250 pound Clydesdale running naked is just too … intriguing to pass up. It’s like a car crash video. You don’t WANT to look. You HAVE to look.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a data analyst by profession, so using numbers to validate reality (or to not validate it) is what I do for a living. It is what I am comfortable with in my life. I have a hard time taking things at Face Value. I am also pretty sure this drives people around me crazy. My normal response to most things is to question them, especially if it appears that the majority is very one sided. For example, last night I heard on the radio while driving home an ad for an insurance company. The commercial’s main point was that “92% of our customers intend to stay with us for life”. Pretty impressive, but my mind immediately goes to why the other 8% don’t want to stay with them for life. What happened to them that makes them not want to stay, and is so far removed from 92% of the other customers? In various groups I am involved in through Facebook this manifests itself when people start citing and or publishing studies showing their point of view is the correct point of view (especially regarding nutrition). My response is usually “OK, so Doctor A states that this is true, but your Doctor B says the opposite is true. Explain to me why Doctor B should be believed and not Doctor A.”

This is more often than not taken as an attack, as it was last night, but the fact is I really want to know the answer. Why should I believe one doctor saying that wheat (for example) is good for you, and not Gary Taubes in “Wheat Belly” stating the opposite?

So I say that to say this, even though I love numbers and tracking, it does not determine, nor effect how I feel, either bad or good. I am not that weak minded (believe it or not).

I have been put on lock down this week by my coach at ZenduranceNow as far as measuring and tracking is concerned. I am under orders to lose the watch and just go by how I feel. I understand what she is trying to do, and doing my best to comply. I find that I measure things without even know I am doing it (i.e. last night I was taking my pulse with my finger to validate how I was feeling).

I have been thinking on this and I want to clarify something, which I think many people believe about me because I do post numbers a lot. I do not, at ALL, let numbers dictate how I feel. If I do an HRV test, like I did yesterday, it’s not going to affect what I planned on doing that day (i.e. if my results say my HRV has dropped and I should take it easy, but I have a workout planned, I am still doing the workout). I use numbers more to validate how I feel. People get the impression that I am a “slave” to my watch and results, and it is not true. I like numbers, but I use them to figure out where I was having trouble and what may have been happening at that time. If I feel “out of breath” early in a run, or feel “tired” one day, the numbers (either HR or HRV) can validate that feeling I am having (or not). If I feel especially beat up after a long bike ride, I can look at the course upload and see if there were spots of elevation I was not aware of before setting out, or maybe I hit a wall around mile 35 because I ran out of hydration, etc. This was evident when Jennifer and I did the Century ride in Hartwell, Georgia last year. That ride beat the hell out of us, and we were confused why it felt so hard. When the data was uploaded we saw that there were portions that seemed like a flat to us, but was actually an incline for almost ten miles. It validated why we thought it was harder than what it seemed like. Last night was another example. Doing the warm up I felt like I was working hard. I would have put my RPE about halfway through at an 8, which happened very quickly in my eyes. So I used my finger and found my HR to be 148-ish, so it validated that RPE, and I backed off. Truth be known, if it wasn’t for numbers I’d back off WAY more than I normally do.

It also holds true to my diet, which is something that gets on the nerves of most people I know. I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am not hungry anymore. Even though I meticulously log all my food, I really pay no attention to the total calorie count (I do, though, pay attention to the macro-nutrients percentages). This leads to a lot of people telling me “you are not eating enough”, but as is my point, the total calorie count I have eaten that day does not dictate how much I am going to eat. If I have eaten only 1300 for a day, and I am not hungry, I am not going to force another 800 calories in me just to get to that 2000 mark. It’s an example of, although I do track, it does not dictate my actions.

Do I track too much? Possibly. My watch uploads to Garmin, which in turn feeds Strava (for bike and run data) and Swim.com for swimming metrics. I log my food into My Fitness Pal, which posts to Facebook. My watch (920XT) tracks my walking through the day as well as my sleep patterns at night, which can be very helpful when having a rundown feeling all day, because I can look at the previous night’s sleep patterns and see if I was overly restless (which is normally the case).

I guess, to bring it back full circle, I am a true data analyst. I believe, fully, that decisions should always be data driven. It is not enough to “feel” like we do a good job here at Children and Youth Services, we have to be able to show, with hard data, that we do a good job. In Jennifer’s work, they cannot “think” they are on the right course in a new cancer trial, they have to show, with data, that the treatment protocol works. I look at training the same way. Staying on top of data helps us improve. We learn what works, and what doesn’t, by tracking workouts. We know by uploading data when a new training plan is having the effect we hoped it would, or if it is having an adverse effect that, without the data, we may never have figured out. Having hard data helped me figure out that even 60g of carbs makes me have inflammation, and that staying under 50g seems to be OK. If I did not track this I would have had no idea.

Intentions: The Power of Three

As I have stated recently in my posts, I am not a fan of resolutions or goals each year. For one, they are based on some arbitrary date which I don’t understand, but mostly because they present a problem if they are not met. For example, I did write down goals last year and I did not meet any of them, so … does that mean I failed in 2014? No, but there in lies the problem right? If you write something down or tell people of a goal, and do not make that goal, it is seen as a failure to do so (regardless of what people say to your face).

I read another post the other day that listed theirs as “intentions”, which makes a lot more sense to me. I INTEND to do these things. Sounds right, so here I go with what I intend to do in 2015.

I INTEND to run a sub 3′ half marathon

I INTEND to run a sub 90″ Sprint Triathlon

I INTEND to be 220 pounds by December 31, 2015

So there you go .. my intentions.

Wait … only three??

Yes … only three, and there is a reason behind that.

Yesterday I was bored and started searching through YouTube for interesting things to watch or listen to. I happened upon an interview between Jack White and Conan O’Brien.I am a big fan of Jack White as far as his guitar playing goes, so I clicked on it to listen to some insight, and found some other words of wisdom instead. He was talking about the minimal approach the White Stripes employed (it was only two people, him and his then wife Meg) and how that came about. He was an apprentice upholsterer when he was 15 and he went on to describe a piece of furniture he was working on that was very old and very expensive. What he noticed most was that the staples behind this massive piece of furniture that held the upholstery tight numbered only three. When he asked about this, his boss explained that it only took three to keep it in place, so nothing more was needed. Two would not have done the job, and anything more than three was unnecessary. He has applied this concept to all of his work ever since, basically, to only do what was necessary to complete the piece and then stop.

I started pondering this … this “power of three”, and it started making sense to me. Why do more than what is needed to do the job, or task, well? More is not always better. Actually more is rarely better. And this number “3” seems to hold sway in so many things, right? It is the least amount of legs needed to make a table or stool stand on its own. It makes an unstable bike into a stable trike. The triangle is the strongest structure.

It also appears in other areas of culture.

In movies and literature (Three Men and a Baby, Three Musketeers, Three Amigos, Three Stooges, Goldilocks and the Three Bears) and most GOOD books are trilogy based (Lord of the Rings).

In sports (Three medal levels of gold, silver, and bronze).

In religion and spirituality (Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, Three Wise Men).

In Superstition (celebrities die in three’s).

Hell, even a triathlon is three disciplines right??

So can this strange power of three be invoked to help with training?

Yes … I think it can … let’s give it a shot …

I have been re-reading Sheehan and a few newer books (Unbreakable Runner for one example) in regards to training and in most are debunking the notion that in order to run far you have to train far, something I have come to believe for no other reason than it is easier on my body and allows me to be better prepared physically for the event for which I am training. As I have read through these plans I am noticing the Power of Three coming through. Now, I am not sure the authors intended this to be the case, but nonetheless it is there.

All training plans in two of the books, even those for long distance triathlon and ultra runs, are based on 12 weeks … or THREE months.


The long run for the marathon training is capped at 20 miles, which is 3/4 of the full distance.


So the basic premise, as I personally read it, is if you can run 3/4 of the total distance, then you should be able to complete the full distance, and at the same time not overload your body during training which could lead to injury and a sub par race result.

So, let’s apply that shall we?

For running the following would be the most miles for any training run (rounded to the next half mile):

Marathon: 19-20 miles
Half Marathon: 10 miles
10k: 5 miles
5k: 2.5 miles

And for triathlon:

Sprint (based on 400m/10/3.1): Swim 300m Bike 7.5 miles Run 2.5 miles
Olympic: Swim .7 miles (1,125m) Bike 19 miles Run 5 miles
70.3: Swim 1,450m, Bike 42 miles Run 10 miles
140.6: Swim 2,900m Bike 84 miles Run 19-20

No, I KNOW there are going to be die hard’s out there reading this that will hate this post, disagree with it, and throw it aside as hogwash. Usually these are the people still touting carb loading the night before a race and using sugar bombs every 30 minutes during a race. All I am saying is this .. as with all things find what works for you and do it, without regards to the conventional wisdom. People will cling to ideas they grew up with like their lives depended on it without the willingness to invest some time researching and developing new ideas that may allow others to join into a sport or activity. Yes, there will always be people who can do back to back 20 mile training runs, but that does not mean you have to do the same. Bolt can beat Meb in a sprint, but Meb could be Bolt in a marathon. Find your own niche, what works for you, and stick to it. The idea is to train in order to prepare for events, not train to the point you spend half the time injured and go into an event unprepared. Trust me on this … I have done this more often than I care to admit to, and I am still learning lessons (albeit stubbornly at points, as coaches, friends, and training partners can attest to).

The bottom line is to get your ass off the couch and move, whatever that means to you.

I Am Not Impressed

dejectedThe good, and bad thing, about the start of a new year is that the arbitrary date of January 1 gives us a start off point for self reflection. While this is good in the sense that it provides us that chance of looking inward and trying to better ourselves, it is bad in that it makes us doubt things that might really be OK in our lives but are, at that moment in time, challenging.

One of the things I pride myself in is that I am open with how I feel and how I think. While that may lead to some hurt feelings, especially to some participating in multi-level marketing, an issue that just rests on a nerve for me for some reason, it also provides a chance for some that read this blog or listen to the the Back of Pack Endurance podcast a chance to identify with something I am writing about that they may not be comfortable with sharing. My ability, or inner need, to express thoughts, fears, and weaknesses has been off putting to some, especially family, but I have received much more positive feedback than negative, so I feel alright with continuing to do so. It is cathartic for me to write these things out. It helps me think them through, and also gives me a measuring stick for the future John.

I have written quite a bit about how challenging 2014 was for me. A lot of things happened that made me question a lot of things. I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, I was transferred to a new group at work at the request of a new team lead, who then promptly went on medical leave and eventually left the job, leaving me rudderless since no one else quite knew what her intention for me was, a close relationship decided they no longer needed nor wanted me around and I did not really know why (though that has reversed itself but not without some damage because my stupid brain doesn’t let things go), the three year battle to save my house after my bankruptcy in 2011 ended with me losing my house, so while that winds its way through the system I feel like the Sword of Damocles is hanging over my head (cue Rocky Horror song here for those who know the movie) and at any time I can get the notice to vacate, which I cannot do until then because that would constitute “abandonment” of the property. On and on and on and on and on.

So I start out 2015 in this state of … limbo … or at least that is how it feels. I have my fiend back, I have a new coach/guidance, my health feels like it’s bouncing back, and I started a new position with Children & Youth Services (though still in the county) which gives me a longer commute in the morning but puts me close to the pool and to the area I ride and run in after work. But still, when I look at myself, I cannot help but feel … unimpressed.

And yes, I know there are things I have done in my life that can be classified as impressive. I know. I served my country for ten years, then put myself through college starting at age 27. I have earned two masters degrees. I survived cancer.

But still I can feel the sword dangling.

Maybe it is something that is just preprogrammed into our heads? In the book “You are a Badass” the author writes about how our belief systems are hardwired at a very early age by our parents, and while it is cliche to “blame your parents” for everything that is wrong in our lives, I think it holds merit. We learn how to take on the world by watching them. It is rare for someone to break the cycle. This that are abused abuse. Those that are poor stay poor. Those that have overweight parents become overweight themselves. Overcoming this subconscious is hard, and rare, but can be done. We have all read or known about people who have done it. But my question is does that inner drive to be different than our parents change, or go away, or does it lie dormant in us forever? It’s also hard to explain this to people who did not have the same type of upbringing. Trying to explain how it felt to have to hide in a bedroom with my Mom and siblings when Mr. Fashion came to collect the mortgage because we did not have the money to pay him is lost on those that never had that happen (and it says something that I can remember his name after 40 years). So when I try to explain how losing this house feels to someone who sees it as “not a big deal” frustrates me. I have worked hard to not be my parents, and this to me is becoming my parents. It does not feel good.

I was recently questioned about my feeling for my family. I guess the vibe I put out in here and in person is that I do not care about them at all. It is not the case, so let me clear this up right now. I envy families that show love for each other and like being together … it’s just not how my family works … and I am not sure when that happened. I grew up with Sunday dinners at my grandmothers house where everyone showed up, even my grandfather and his second wife. We always were together on holidays, weekends. Then something happened, and I am not sure when, but it just stopped. I think it may have been when Pops died? I know it was before my grandmother passed, but we just stopped. The effort to get together is just not there anymore. To be crystal here, I love my family. I may not show it like others do, but I care about every one of them deeply and want them to succeed and be happy. My sister cares for all of us. She may not come over when I am in town at my Mom’s, but she cares. I know she does. My brother is still 21 in his head and heart, and part of me envy’s that about him, but another part is glad I am not the same way. My mother is my mother. She is the same now as she was when I was growing up, but I harbor some hurt inside me that I have never been fully able to let go of, and I think that is the wedge I feel. It is not something I will write about here, and least not now, and maybe ever, but I acknowledge it.

My faults are numerous. I have a hard time forgiving betrayal, even though I try. I may continue a friendship afterwards but I think after having it so often I build a little bit more of the wall (cue Pink Floyd music here) and it becomes a barrier. I know I have betrayed people as well, and have been very hurtful, so thank God everyone is NOT like me or I’d have NO friends at all, but I never forget my own betrayals, and I dwell on them. To the point of distraction. Above all things I want to be able to TRUST you and to receive RESPECT in return. When that is not done, at least in my eyes, in work or in my personal life, I have a hard time getting around it. Actually, in thinking about now, it really is all about respect for me. Lying to me is disrespecting me. Hmm. More to ponder. I need to make a list.

I received an email the other day from a listener to the Angriest Trainer podcast by Vinnie Tortorich and Anna Vocino. They had listened to the episode I was in (#333) and felt compelled to contact me. Now, know this, I have no idea who this person is, but their insight from just that one appearance took me aback a bit. Especially one statement. They wrote:

….You didn’t strike me as being especially happy, and that actually made me feel rather sad on your behalf.

First off, I don’t like anyone feeling sad for me, but it seems like this came from a good place so I wasn’t put off by that, but what struck me more was how did I come across in that show that made this listener feel that way? Do I present myself as unhappy?? Did Anna and Vinnie get the same impression?? Cripes.

I feel like 2015 is going to be a big year for change. In advance, forgive me if there seems to be more of these kind of posts throughout the year, but I am tagging them all as “Mind and Body” so feel free to skip them when they pop up. I do that for your benefit. :-)

Try Again Tomorrow: The Disney Marathon Race Report

Fat Slow Triathlete - Try Again TomorrowI am struggling with how exactly to write this post and pseudo race report. I wanted to let it sit for a few days to see if how I felt changed at all, and like I thought, it certainly has changed.

If you did not already know, I had my first DNF at the Disney Marathon last Sunday. I went into the race knowing that with my injury issues and training as a result that it was a distinct possibility, but there was always that slight hope that once race day came I would be able to gut through it. In the days leading up to the race I felt pretty good. I had no soreness in the calves or feet, so towing the line was never in doubt. Even that morning when I woke at 2 AM for the 3 AM bus ride I felt pretty good. The weather had warmed up a little (it was in the 40’s just days prior) so when we left it was 55 degrees with a forecast of hitting 78 by noon. I was feeling pretty confident that I would be OK.

I have never had a race go south as quick as this one did. My plan was to go out VERY easy, and I did that, holding myself back on the run portions to try to hit the 16:00 pace mark on the nose. Mile 1 was at 16:15 so I was close to that, with the further plan on starting to go a bit faster after mile 3.

Ah, Mile 3. What had started out as a good feeling and strong legs quickly became sore feet. I run 3 miles with a local running group twice a week and never have this happen, so when the pain started coming on at the 5k mark I was surprised. I thought to myself “well, maybe it’s just an anomaly and it will pass” so I kept the 16:00 plan in place a little longer and adjusted the push until after the Magic Kingdom, which was Miles 5-7.  Thinking back on it now I realize that I had been on my feet more or less since 3 AM, so I am sure that was a factor.

But the pain did not go away. It got worse. I adjusted my stride to almost a shuffle which felt better for a little bit but starting getting bad once more. I had done an 8k just two weekends prior and had no issues, so this was very frustrating for me. I hooked up with another Team in Training runner from Ontario who was having similar issues and we tried to gut it out as far as we could. I knew there was a sweep spot coming at mile 8, and I had resisted looking back to see if the “balloon ladies” (note: this is the Disney version of sweepers. They start with the last corral and maintain a 16:00 pace and as long as you stay in front of them you are OK. They tie balloons to themselves so you can see them coming.) had come into view. At mile 7.5 I looked and sure enough, there they were, about 500 yards behind me, and right in front of them was Jennifer, who was having her own issues.

Having run Disney before I knew what was immediately ahead of us after the Kingdom. A long stretch of highway, about 5 miles, leading to Animal Kingdom, and I knew I was not going to make that distance, so I walked back to Jennifer and told her I was pulling out at the buses, and thought she probably should too (she didn’t, as is her style, but also dropped about 4 miles later, but that’s her story to tell).

Allowing myself to get on the bus wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I knew it was the right call, and as I sat there with the others who had been pulled I felt OK with it. I was not surrounded by other large people. All body types and levels of fitness were represented. The story holds true that on race day anything can and will happen. I was OK with the decision.

I was OK with the decision.

I WAS ok with the decision.

If I had written this right after the race the ongoing theme would have been those 6 words, but the more I thought on it, and the longer it set in, the more I realize that I am not OK with it by any stretch. It pisses me off. And yes, I know I had underlying issues that led to this, and I probably should not have even attempted it, but DNF’ing sucks, I don’t like it, and it will not happen to me again.

I am working now with Meghan Collins Fanning of Zendurance Now (www.zenduranceNow.com) with the hopes that we can figure out a way to not let this happen again. She is already looking at my current status and guiding me to “start over”. As hard as that is, I know she is right. Many of the issues I have are related to my weight and trying to push myself to events that I am not quite ready for yet. I have never had a DNF until this weekend, but although I had finished every race up to then, I never was as strong as I should or could have been. I did just enough to get to the finish line. And “Just Enough” is no longer good enough. She wants me back in the weight room, which I love (as a side note), and working on form and strength. I think she is what I need at this point as a guide, and what Jennifer needs as well.

I have also come to the notion that perhaps, because of my size and health issues, longer races like 140.6 or marathons may just be too much for me, at least at this point of my training. I was chatting with the other Meaghan (notice the spelling is different) and she threw some very good knowledge at me (I told her I was stealing what she said, so no plagiarism is going on here). We had been thinking about the marathon and how running and the marathon can be like nutrition and veganism. So many people think vegetables are good, so veganism must be the pinnacle of nutrition. Running is good for you, so I need to do a marathon do get the most benefit from running. When really both are on a bell curve, which looks different for everyone, but going all the way to veganism, or all the way to the marathon, isn’t ideal for most people’s health. There are outliers, people who thrive as a vegan, people who can do marathons and ultra marathons without harming their bodies, but for most of us there’s a spot on that bell curve that falls well short of no animal products and a spot on the running curve than falls well short of a marathon. She pointed out how good I have been doing at shorter runs recently (the 3 milers, the 8k, etc.) so what if I adjusted my goals to PR at a 5k this year? Or get a PR at a Sprint Triathlon or at St. Anthony’s? Maybe a 5k under 36 minutes? Or under 30 minutes??

As I sit here, my first full day in my new position within the county, having no computer connection to the network so having way too much time to ponder these things, I am looking at the motivational pictures they hung in my office prior to my arrival. The one to my left is called “Believe and Succeed” and the saying under it states:

Well …. tomorrow is here.

Let’s try again …

Tick Tock, Disney. Tick Tock.

DisneyAs I type this it is 8:45 PM on Sunday, January 4th. In one weeks time the marathon will be over, and I will either have two under my belt or have my first DNF. I have written and spoken a lot about this, about how challenging this year, well last year, has been, so it should be sitting well at this point. But it’s not. No matter how much you have thought these things through, the prospect of failing at an event looms large.

I know I will give it everything I have though, and they will have to make me get on that bus if it comes to that, but I cannot imagine how that will feel if it happens. I ran an 8k yesterday to see how it felt, with the intent on going at marathon pace (which I am planning on being between 14 and 15 minute) and I actually felt pretty good. It wasn’t so hard on my joints that I was in pain afterwards, and I could handle the pace using a relatively easy 30/45 run/walk split. The end result for the 5 miles was an overall pace of 14:22. And here’s the thing with that result … if I could hold that for the entire 26.2 miles my marathon result would be a personal best by about 25 minutes.

Shows how sad my first one was right?

I am looking forward to the trip more than the race to be honest. It’s not just the Disney thing (growing up in Central Florida kind of whups the Disney out of ya by the time you’re 20), but it’s 5 days with people I like being around with out work or life being involved. At the same time, though, trips and races fill me with anxiety. I have been a ball of nerves all day today for some reason. These anxiety issues arise now and then, not as bad as they have been in the past, but they are never fun. Those of you reading this know what I speak of I am sure. It is hard to explain to those that have never experienced it, but it can be almost paralyzing, and is more often than not inexplicable.

I am rethinking my whole approach to training in 2015, which I will write about here often, probably to the point that you will be very sick of it. We have hired Meghan Fanning to help us though it, and I plan on involving every resource I have at my disposal…from the great guys and gals at St. Pete Running Company (Cody and Chris, this means YOU guys) to more well known people like Vinnie Tortorich.

Side Note: I will be on Vinnie and Anna’s show, “The Angriest Trainer”, on January 16th. Make sure to take a moment to listen in. Be warned though. Vinnie’s show is explicit and very unlike Back of Pack Endurance.

I hope you stay with me this year and offer your input, support, as I work through these issues.

A Different 2015

FAT SLOW TRIATHLETESo here it is … the start of a new year. 2015. And as is imperative with the start of a new year, and in keeping with the bloggers credo so as not to go against the by-laws and be kicked out of the bloggers union (they are very demanding) I am sitting down to write my “New Year’s Resolution” blog post.

I do not like doing this, so let me begin with that. I think resolutions as a whole are a set up for failure. Just think back through your own life and how many times you have resolved to do something for the new year and ended up bagging it by January 30th? Occasionally you do succeed, but mostly we stop because the resolution we swore we would maintain was too hard (I will stop being so self-deprecating), or depended on other resources (I will find a new job). We resolve, as most do, to be “healthier”, to “work out more”, to “run 1,000 miles”, only to have “life” intervene, as it often does, derailing any progress we have made to that point, and send us once more spiraling out of control and back to our own old habits. Our comfort zones.

I know this sounds pessimistic. I am aware. But I like to think of it as being realistic. Every one reading this that is shaking their heads over how much of a bummer John is … take a moment, because we all have moments, and go to your local gym today (January 2nd) and count the people there … then go back on February 1st and do another count. I am willing to bet a month’s salary that number will be lower.

It’s not that we make these resolutions intending to fail. Far from it. We WANT to succeed. No one, and I mean NO ONE, wakes up in the morning and decided they are going to be a fat slob the rest of there lives. We all want to be healthy. We all want to live clean and healthy lives, so we all wait for that magical day, January 1st, to make a change … to be BETTER. The problem arises because being better is hard. Being better means we might have to give up something we really like and don’t see that it is hurting us. This can be food, it can be a job, it can be a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. Things that hurt us, that make us “less than”, become comfortable and we are unwilling or unable to rid ourselves of these things because it would hurt. These are the people with IBS that continue to down sugar laden crap as if their body will magically adapt one morning and Lucky Charms cereal will be shown to be a magical health food that makes you lose weight. It is those of us that get stuck in a crappy job for crappy money but cannot leave because we have obligations (self-imposed obligations at that) that we cannot seem to work ourselves away from. It is the people with symptoms of adrenal fatigue that continue to run 50 mile weeks and wonder why they are getting slower, or those of us still clinging to conventional wisdom of pasta dinners the night before races because we have to CARB LOAD and downing Herbalife and Isagenix as if this will be “the one thing” that will make us faster.

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to have John Bingham on the Back of Pack Endurance show and during the discussion I had made a comment that I wanted to get better. He interrupted me and told me, basically, that having a goal of getting better was a recipe for failure, because of the other issues that can come into play. The goal, John stated, was to go out each day and be “different”. Decide each morning that something you do that day, some interaction, will make you a different person than you were the day before. My goal in life, my most inner desire so to speak, is to have affected someone’s life for the better when I leave this plane of existence. It reminds me of a video I saw recently on Facebook from Thai Life Insurance called “Unsung Hero”. I am placing it below:

The message in this one ad is what we should all be striving for … not making resolutions to help ourselves, but to make decision to help those around us who need help. I know it is not the most popular thing recently. The social media take over has created animosity that is unbelievable to see and witness, and with the upcoming election in 2016 I can only believe it is going to become worse. And it makes me sad.

So, instead of creating a list of resolutions, I will make some decisions. I will try to make these decisions for 2015 as actions that are not for my own well-being, but also for the well being of others. Some may seem self-serving upon first reading, but take a moment to think them through and hopefully you will understand the under lying purpose.

I Will Write More

The one thing I hear the most from those I know is that the blog, and the podcast, have helped them. I will do my best to write them more often.

I Will Read More

Education makes us better people, and the way to education is through reading.

I Will Remove/Unfriend/Ignore Anyone on my various pages Spouting Hate Speech or Showing Disrespect Towards Others, ESPECIALLY our ELECTED Leaders.

I am just OVER this stuff. I have been sucked into it way too often as well, so I invite anyone that sees me do it to remove me as well. It will not hurt my feelings. If you stop seeing my updates, etc., you will now know why. In a perfect world we could have an educated conversation about our differences, but this has been shown to be impossible in today’s world.

See? Short, sweet, and doable.

Fat Adaption and the Tanker

TankerOne of the hardest things since starting to eat in my current manner is getting others to understand not just the science that backs it up, but also to put it in a way that makes sense. It is not because people are not intelligent enough to “get it”, but it’s a constant battle against the conventional wisdom that pervades the consciousness of athletes. What is constantly amazing to me is how some take it as a personal attack when you make a statement that goes against conventional wisdom. The argument against sugar is the most common. There are those that, no matter what evidence you show them, will refuse to believe that sugar harms you in the way that numerous studies show that it does. There is a lot of science behind it, but the bottom line is this: if the food you are eating causes a spike in your insulin, it’s sole purpose is to create and store fat. That’s insulin’s job. So, if you eat sugar, it spikes insulin production to lower your blood sugar to a normal level, and shuttles the fat into your fat cells for storage.

The issue is the 20% of the population that can successfully handle eating sugar. This percentage is stated in a number of sources, most notably the books “Wheat Belly” and “Fat Chance”. So, for example, you have a trainer that tells you to take one GU every thirty minutes, or to use Gatorade when working out. This is based on the fact that THEY may be part of the 20%, and it works for them, so they assume you are also one of the 20%. You follow their guidelines, and boom, you cannot lose weight, or you actually gain weight (like I do). This is when the trainer usually states something along the lines of “well, you must be cheating”. That might be the case of course, but it probably is a better chance that you are part of the 80%.

This happened recently when I questioned a trainer’s email someone sent me that recommended to them to “make sure you drink Gatorade”. I commented that I couldn’t believe they recommended Gatorade (basically sugar water … fruit punch will give you the same ingredients). The response from them was to send me a picture of the trainer (magnificent shape). Obviously, one of the 20%, but of course the underlying belief here is “see, it works for them, so it must be OK”.

As a side note on this, though, I suspect that this person is also one of the 20% peeps, and the workout was outstanding, since it used the “super set” method which I believe in.

We all know these people. They go on 50 mile bike rides and consume bars, and GU’s, and Gatorade, and kill the training. But when you mimic them you bonk at mile 12. It’s not always because your training failed. It is much more likely that you cannot handle the same type of fueling the other person does. Actually, if you’re in a group of 20 riders, 16 of them are predictably more likely to NOT be able to handle it. Yet you see it all the time on the trainer rides don’t you. Flocks of 30 riders flying around with the back of their jersey’s stuffed with bars and GU’s.

I fell into this trap in my second year of triathlon. The whole first year, because I was new, I saw massive improvements race to race. I was eating low carb at that time because it was something from my past that I knew worked on me. Entering my second season it got in my head, as did some fellow athletes, that I was now a “triathlete” and should follow what other triathletes did for training. I stocked up on GU’s and Gels, loaded my water bottles with sugar laden drinks, and stuffed my bento box with Clif Bar’s. Each race got worse and worse. Slower and slower. On top of that, after going from 303 pounds to 235 pounds in year 1 I shot back up to 263 pounds by the end of the season. I was definitely one of the 80%.

It was a main goal in season three and four to get this under control. I am now at 260 pounds but feel much better, more energy, times not getting better race to race but feeling better afterwards and recovering faster. My target is to get to 210 pounds in 2015 and stay there. I am also hitting the reset button in 2015, seeking the help of another coach (Meghan Collins Fanning of ZenduranceNow), and returning to sprint triathlons until I get to the point where I can finish strong. The way I need to do this is to be come “fat adapted”. A few people have done this recently, testing this method. Vinnie Tortorich is a big proponent of this method, using it during a 508 mile bike race. Ben Greenfield also tested it during a recent Ironman and plans to use it at Kona this weekend (note: I am not a huge fan of Ben’s methods, most notably his penchant for “biohacking”). It works. I read an article today that had an analogy that perfectly describes why you would want to race this way. My “go to” description had always been the campfire story. If you want to build a fire you can use pine needles or logs. Both will burn, but if you use pine needles you have to keep putting pine needles onto the flame to keep it burning. But, if you use a log, it will burn long and hot and needs very little refueling. Sugar, in this example, is a pine needle. Fat is the log. Your body can only hold about 2,000 kcals worth of carbs at one time, so when training or racing you have to keep refueling. Your body can hold in excess of 20-30,000 kcals of fat. Doesn’t it make sense to use these kcals for energy and not have to worry about replenishing? You need to teach your body how to access this energy store. The new analogy goes like this:

A high carb, low fat diet is like a tanker truck. It can only go so many miles. Once it runs out of gas, even though it has a tank of gas it is pulling, it will be on the side of the road because it has no way to access all the fuel it is carrying.

A low carb, high fat diet is the same tanker truck that has access to the same, almost unlimited supply, of fuel and can go for miles further without stopping to refuel.

20% of you reading this will feel the opposite, and because it flies in the face of common practice there are many reading this shaking their heads. I know. I can feel it. There are people out there believing that you should eat 80-10-10 (up to 1100 kcals of carbs a day). It might work for some, but for the MAJORITY it will not.

Still, all in all, it still comes down to finding what works for you. The science is the science, but there are always going to be people that fall on the tail of the bell curve.

Heavy Running

HomerWriting a blog is at the same time both exciting and fearful. Returning readers are used to your ramblings, your sense of humor (such as it is), your hot buttons, and your propensity to ramble and shoot off topic from time to time. Readers of other blogs, however, are not accustomed to you, so you have to both get your personal message out but at the same time tread carefully on established ideas and beliefs. I will attempt to do so without ruffling too many feathers.

But let’s be honest, challenging the status quo and ruffling feathers can be fun….

Each part of the triathlon has been an issue for me at one point or the other. While I have managed to get some other control, most notably the bike and swim portions, others still cause trouble, i.e. The Run. As the title of my blog insinuates, I am a big guy, once tipping the scales over 300 pounds (303 to be exact). I have since lost over 50 of those, but running still has been an issue, mostly due to my girth and the pounding my knees and feet take over a long course, but also due to psoriatic arthritis and degeneration in hands, knees, ankles and lower back. Running is painful the majority of the time for me. I have never had a long course race, marathon, half marathon, or 70.3, that did not end with me having sore feet and sore hips. I can only imagine the pain waiting for me in two weeks after the Disney Marathon.

I have done extensive shoe research, spending entirely too much to end up wearing them for 100 miles and ditching because they never “feel right”. Along with the shoes, I do a lot of reading. This is a normal thing for me when I get interested in something. An interest causes a direct correlation to my Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook library increases. I will buy a book just for a specific article or chapter. This, along with talking to fellow runners and triathletes, offers numerous ideas on how to combat this issue.

“Get a gait analysis at a Running Store” 

Done more than once …. not sure I buy into its usefulness 100% because it usually leads to the comment of ….

“Get insoles”

Again, tried, but actually hurt more when I used them. And don’t even talk to me about compression socks, especially in the beginning. I have tried them again recently with none of the issue I had before, so may be revisiting this one.

“Try shoes with more cushioning”

This actually seems to have helped. At the recommendation of my coach and a local running store manager I picked up a pair of Hoka OneOne’s. They are big, but weigh about 9.5 ounces. I have had no pain since trying them. I have been going back and forth recently with other shoes and finding the year I have spent in the Hoka brand seems to have helped me even with other shoes. I also have a feeling that the Chi Running/POSE method is playing a role in this. I am still not fast, but I competed a triathlon in the beginning of the year with no foot pain, and that is a minor miracle in of itself. Recently I have also tried the Altra brand and finding the same success, but with a bigger toe box. Bonus!

“Lose weight”

Really? Never thought of that.

Usually it is well-meaning, but the problem with talking to MOST coaches (you know, those that cling to the “carb loading” ideal even though study after study show it does not work, or worse yet … push chocolate milk as a recovery drink?) and fellow runners is that they have never been heavy. They do not understand the pain and issues associated, so their advice and plans, while well-intentioned, do not work as well for those of us running heavy. Running heavy causes many issues, from torn Achilles, to shin splints, to rolled ankles, to torn meniscus and strained ligaments. It’s a never-ending search for the “perfect run”, the one that you can finish with no pain (yes, I know that all races have some pain associated, but not this kind of pain). The irritating part is that, aerobically, I feel in good condition. I am never out of breath and usually feel I could keep running, but the pain in the balls of my feel is so bad I can barely hobble to the car.

Until then I run on. I swim on. I bike on. I deal with the pain as it comes. I train through what I can and rest when I feel I can’t (let’s be honest though, I train even when I shouldn’t). I am being chased by the spectre of the 300 pound man who stared back at me in May 2010. He is relentless and insistent. My own Mr. Hyde.

And he will NOT win …

I have completed over 20 Sprint Triathlons, 3 Half Ironman’s, 6 Half Marathons, and 1 Marathon, proudly finishing last in his age group in every single one, but never having a DNF. I hope to continue that streak in 2015.