Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hitting the Wall, Part 2

In part 1 of this series I shared an example of hitting the wall from the Chicago marathon 2004. My pace slowed down nearly 50% near the end of the 26.2 "race". I ran out of energy, despite my attempts to fuel with Gatorade and Gu during the race, pasta-loading days before the marathon and tapering (reducing mileage) in the last few weeks to conserve fuel. And besides the carbo-loading, I also trained at an aerobic pace to encourage fat metabolism, even though I was consuming all those carbs.

And I repeated this strategy over and over. My last marathon experience in November 2010 was so miserable that Barefoot Josh gifted me a sculpture of "The Scream". Well, the plethora of those Nashville hills and barefeet on rough pavement contributed to my negative outlook, but my pace and energy levels dropped so low...I don't know how I finished really. So you know what they say about the definition of insanity. Try something different. Actually, I've toyed with the idea of giving up marathons.

Until about a month ago, I stopped running completely for several months while waiting for an ab pulled muscle to heal. That was a result of excessive, aggressive crossfit exercise in January. I experienced a few pounds of average weight gain in the first month of inactivity, so I decided to change my nutrition. I discovered Mark Sisson in a chapter of the book "Run for Life" by Roy Wallack. Mark was described as an ex-marathoner/triathlete who endorsed minimal exercise and a paleo approach to nutrition. This photo in the book of Mark's 6-pack motivated me to check out his site Mark's Daily Apple to learn more.

Mark is a prolific writer on the topics of nutrition, exercise and overall wellness of life. Very specifically, though, his posts on chronic cardio really resonated with my recent gloomy view of marathon distance running. One of his chief complaints is that the "mid-high level aerobic work requires large amounts of dietary carbohydrates", which doesn't comply with the primal/ paleo/ low carb-high fat nutrition plan. "Why low carb?" you may ask. Because carbs elevate blood sugar concentration which increases insulin levels which store those carbs as fat. Too many carbs make you fat. So I followed Mark's "Primal Blueprint" starting in March. I tracked my nutrition which consisted on average of calorie basis of approximately:
  • 15% carbs
  • 25% protein
  • 60% fat
I was consuming on average 65 grams of carbs daily and about 2000 calories daily. I lost about 10 pounds in a few months, with only exercise from walking. Now I am starting to run again, though, since the ab muscles has healed after 4 months. Should I continue this nutrition plan as my endurance exercise levels increase? A similar question was asked of Gary Taubes at Authors@Google (author of "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and "Why We Get Fat") when he was asked to address carbo-loading for endurance athletes. He replied that he isn't an expert in this area and referenced Dr. Stephen Phinney's low carb exercise research, who is now an emeritus professor of nutrition at UC-Davis. Gary Taubes said Dr. Phinney disagrees that endurance athletes need to carbo-load.

Dr. Phinney was recently interviewed on Jimmy Moore's "The Livin Low Carb Show", and discussed diet and exercise in combination. He used himself as an example to describe the effect on exercise from switching from a high carb to low carb diet. On a high carb diet and riding his bike for 1.5 hours, he would need to take along a few bananas to fuel up during the ride and after the ride would immediately eat from hunger. On a low carb diet his body is what he calls "keto-adapted". He doesn't eat anything during that 1.5 hour bike ride (drinking only water) and eats less afterwards (less hunger). He said his body has improved fuel flow (generating ketones for fuel, not depleting them). He doesn't experience discomfort (low energy) during the exercise because he is not compromising his body's fuel reserves. Even as a relatively lean person, he has plenty of fat reserves, and his body is habituated to using them.

In Dr. Phinney and Dr. Volek's new book "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living" chapter 6, "Basic Human Energetics and Fuel Partitioning" describes bonking (aka "hitting the wall") and that it can affect even those people who do not do intense exercise, but at a slower process. Their discussion is concluded by the following:
This adaptation to carbohydrate restriction is facilitated by sharply reduced insulin levels and takes a few weeks to be fully implemented. Once keto-adapted, the body can maintain its lean tissue composition on a moderate protein intake and sustain prolonged physical exertion using fat as its predominant energy supply.
In part 3 of this series, I'll take a closer look at Dr. Phinney's research on low carb exercise.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A New PR

One of these people is not like the others
One of these people just doesn't belong
Can you tell which one is not like the others
It's time to play our game

Personal records (PRs) are difficult for me to come by as I age (maybe PRs should have an expiration date), so I'll take em where I can get em. I got a new PR a few weeks ago while vacationing at Madeira Beach, FL. The vacation was a week long, and I spent the entire time barefoot, a new PR. I was barefoot everywhere, restaurants, shopping, grocery stores, hot sandy beaches and as the pic shows, a boardwalk. My son Logan (on the far right) looks less than impressed. I think his exact words were "I can't believe I have to tell my 40-year-old dad to put shoes on to go to a restaurant!" Correction Logan, I'm 41.

Maybe someday I'll move up to the major leagues with Ken Bob Saxton and Cody Lundin.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Running without Shoes is So 2009

I’ve struggled writing a post on barefoot running, or more correctly, running without shoes. It's a good thing I didn't make it the main theme of this blog. So much has been said about it on the internet already. All I can give is my opinion, but that’s what blogs are about, right?

Ok, I think my story was pretty typical (another 12-step program):

1. I had a running injury (my heels hurt really badly) in mid 2009.
2. I read “Born to Run” (thanks to Dan, another barefootist!).
3. I read all the blogs I could find with “barefoot” in the URL.
4. I studied efficient running form.
5. Once I ditched the shoes, I ditched the shoes.
6. I practiced running without shoes, slowly and occasionally.
7. My feet adapted to hard surfaces.
8. I built up mileage adaptability over several months.
9. I ran a marathon with no shoes 9 months after ditching the shoes.
10. I still curse rough surfaces, but hardness and most debris isn’t a problem.
11. My feet still get sensitive after so many miles (in the teens).
12. I’m still running without shoes because I like it.

I should expand on step 1. My injury was a chronic occurrence for 4 years, Achilles tendinitis. I tried several types of well-padded shoes and inserts. Ditching the shoes wasn't something that happened without a lot of thought. Besides all the reading and studying, I also saw a podiatrist and physical therapist. They both recommended that I give barefoot walking a try to strengthen the feet.

During these steps, I started to see shoes as casts that reduce the mobility of the foot and weaken the muscles, etc. Even in the shoe-wearing portion of my day (conformity at work and most shopping trips), I converted to minimalist shoes. Actually, minimalist shoes would be a generous description, as I buy them from the same area of the department store that sells slippers. They don’t come in a box. The engineer in the office next to mine calls me “Slipper Boy”. I suppose they are slippers.

It was around step 6-7 that I started saying to myself, “Man this is fun and liberating. Everybody is going to start doing this.” Ok, I was wrong about that, although I’m not sure why. Not only has the barefoot trend apparently not grown since “Born to Run”, I think it has shrunk. Well, it depends on what you mean by “barefoot”. Minimalist shoes’ popularity has apparently grown by leaps and bounds if judged by the number of new brands reviewed on the internet. If you run in barefoot shoes (as they are called by their manufacturers) are you running barefoot? I think not, and so barefoot running is just about dead as judged by internet chatter.

There is a middle ground where several runners choose to be. Some barefoot runners say shoes are tools, meant for technical or extreme environments. Some shod runners say barefoot running is a tool, meant for occasional sprints in the grass to strengthen the feet. From either of these points of view (same really), barefoot running has always been alive and well as long as it’s a part of the toolbox. From either of these points of view, performance limitations from bare skin on ground are not acceptable.

But I find myself wanting to hold onto my point of view (extreme as it may be) that I learned in 2009 about listening to my body, specifically my feet. I still believe that the immediate feedback that I get from bare skin on ground is a good warning signal, letting me know that something bad could happen if improvements in my running efficiency are not made. I’ll compromise possible performance limitation for this feedback.

I think it will take my lifetime (maybe I’m slow) to master efficient running form, so I think that I will always run without shoes. I recently took 4 months off from running because I pulled an ab muscle from crossfit-style exercise. Now that the muscle has healed and I’m getting back into running, I’ve discovered that distances/paces that were no challenge 6 months ago are now putting blisters on my feet. One could argue that my feet aren’t as tough as before. I don’t agree. I think the blisters were caused by the friction between sliding surfaces. If I can minimize the sliding by not pushing off, then blisters will not occur.

I suppose that I’ve become a barefoot purist, which gets me back to the title. Many folks (including me) jumped on the barefoot running bandwagon when Chris McDougall published "Born to Run" in 2009, but the trend seems to have shifted to minimal running. I’m happy barefoot, but to each their own.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hitting The Wall, Part 1

I'm familiar with hitting the wall in a marathon. In 8 marathons, I've hit the wall 8 times. Below is a graph describing my pace over the course of my fourth marathon.

This graph interests me for two reasons: 1) it's a visual representation of the wall, and 2) the winner also hit the wall, all though his wall was shorter, a little later and oh yea, his pace was shifted down much lower than mine. The winner (a skinny dude from Africa I'm sure) probably had about a 40-50 lb weight advantage on me.

Here's how I understand the typical solution for not hitting the wall:

  • muscles can only store about 20 miles worth of glycogen to fuel them.
  • any body has essentially an unlimited supply of fat to fuel muscles, but the body has to be adapted to burn fat.

  • muscles can be trained to burn fat by running a lot of mileage (glycogen depleted) at a slow aerobic pace (fat metabolism preferred).
Even though I've been aware of this potential solution, I've never really tried to implement it. I have no problem with running at a slow aerobic pace. It's the high mileage that has been a challenge. A typical base building program for me has been 20-30 miles/week over the course of a year, ramping up to 30-40 miles/week 4 months before the marathon, 40-50 miles/week 2 months before the marathon, peaking at about 60 miles/week a month before the marathon and tapering back down to 20-30 miles/week those last few weeks. This mileage hasn't been enough for me to adequately burn fat and not hit the wall.

Another potential solution for not hitting the wall is to carbo-load. I've tried this solution. I've eaten spaghetti the night before the marathon, drank Gatorades and consumed Gu during the marathon. The most positive effect that all these carbs seems to have on me is that they positively make me nauseated.

In Part 2 of this series is an alternative nutritional approach to avoid hitting the wall.

Click here for Part 2.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In The News

I'm a fan of U2, ever since I first heard "In The Name of Love". I'm not alone as U2 has been reported to be the highest paid musicians of 2011 by Forbes magazine. We saw them in concert in Atlanta, GA for the 360° tour with the added bonus that Muse opened the show. The first time we saw them in concert was 22 years earlier for The Joshue Tree tour. Here are some clips from the 360° tour:

Picking a Name

If nothing else, I've resisted writing a blog because I didn't know what to call it. Of course, there are plenty of examples to name a blog, ones that I read regularly.

The one that I read the most is Barefoot Josh. We share the common interest of running with no shoes on our feet. Josh is my internet friend, so I don't know if people call him Barefoot Josh in real life. Do they Josh? Nobody has ever called me Barefoot Kelly, at least not in a serious manner. I've been running mostly barefoot since the summer of 2009, so I think I'll stick with it. It would make sense now to call my blog Barefoot Kelly. But one never knows. Maybe I'll eventually wear the pads off of my feet and come to love shoes. Then I'd have to rename the blog.

I'm also a big fan of Mark's Daily Apple, written by Mark Sisson of "The Primal Blueprint". I have two problems with something like "Kelly's Daily Apple". First, there's no way I'm going to commit to regular or even daily writing on this blog. I may decide I want to take a month off. I also don't want to commit the name to a specific food group. Honestly, I doubt Mark eats apples daily as fruit is a small component of his Paleo-like lifestyle. Even though I'm currently also following a Paleo-like diet, I may give it up for all bananas. Never say never.

Barefoot Running University is already taken by a barefoot dude named Jason, well known for his reviews of minimalist shoes. I suppose a more proper name for his site would be "Minimalist Running University". His life has interestingly taken a new direction with Merrell Shoes, so much so that he left behind his old life. Rather than changing his blog name, he just evolved into a new one. On a side note, the word "barefoot" does seem to drive traffic. Take for example this video that I posted on Youtube a few years ago about barefoot winter running. As of this writing it has about 2500 views. Not bad I guess for a poorly-done video about nothing.

So it seems that the only thing I'm really sure of is that my name will not change, and as this is my blog then I'm saying stuff. "$#*! My Dad Says" was taken too. I'm writing this post with laptop on lap, sitting on the couch when my son Logan walks in. He sits down next to me to ask about getting a new graphics card. He sees the blog title "Kelly Says What" and replies, "Oh my God, I don't even want to know." So there's my first critique. Nice.