Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fremont Fat Ass 50K run report (or running while injured)

I have been suffering from an injury of late that is threatening to derail any short term race plans I have. The injury is hard to pinpoint but is loosely in the gluts/ piriformis/ ilio-psoas areas. See GetBodySmart for a great site the shows anatomy and physiology in a way that you can clearly see what each muscle does and where it attaches.

It’s not clear exactly what the problem is, or why it showed up suddenly. I can’t tell if the problem is from a change in training to more street/track/tempo running (less steep hills, more consistent running) or the difficult trails we did two weeks ago. It would be ridiculous to be out of shape for trail running because of doing predominantly street running for a few weeks, but that is the possible root of the problem. David of course is immune from injury—at least it seems so most of the time. I blame it on the testosterone (keeps his muscles strong even when he doesn’t exercise! Men have it sooo easy!)

After recurrences of pain in the last couple weeks, mostly on the downhills when I would attempt to stretch out my stride and enjoy the ride, I decided I needed to nip this in the bud and not wait another few weeks to see if it would get better on its own like I did last summer. I went to see a physical therapist last Thursday, who gave me a whole bunch of exercises to do (toe and heel walking and core strengthening exercises).

Of course I hadn’t had much time to do the exercises or change anything by the run on Saturday, so it was with some concern that we showed up for the run on Saturday AM. I wasn’t sure I’d get all that far before having to call it quits. I was well anesthetized with Aleve, but was forced to further supplement with ibuprofen eventually in order to finish. Not so good really.

As for the run, I took it very easy and ran much of the first half with Mountain Man Steve who is successfully recovering from a calf injury and preparing for Coyote Two Moons, and Jim Winne who was deliberately keeping his heart rate down to accommodate his heart problems. As expected, after about 5 miles, the pain began, despite keeping the pace down. The course was quite easy, with clear dirt or paved trails, 90% flat or very gradual hills, perfect weather. Every time I tried to get the pace up though, I had to back off or was forced to walk. Ten minute miles (preferably 10:30 to 11) were about as fast as I could go without more serious warnings, and pushing it into 9:30 pace did some damage. Average heart rate for the run was only 137! That’s pretty slow and easy.

The weather was cooperative (cool and overcast with only a little drizzle). There was even an aid station! I met more great runners: the famous ultrarunners Chihping Fu
(thanks for the aid station!), Barbara Elia and Linda McFadden. There were lots of other great folks out there but I couldn’t spend much time talking with everyone due to pace differences and didn’t get everyone’s names. (Apologies to those I am neglecting to mention!) It was also nice to talk with the faster folks at the finish (Mike Palmer and Catra , the co-RDs, thanks for the pizza and beer, Ron!). Catra was recovering nicely from her IT band problems from HURT and seemed ready for more! Everyone was having fun and taking it easy, just a fun run on a Saturday (see participants and finishing times)!

I stayed reasonably well fueled I think despite skimping on breakfast (coffee and a Trio bar), and ate half a turkey sandwich, a Mountain Dew, and a whey protein energy bar. That’s not a lot of food, but I ate every time I felt I needed to. David again did the distance on near-zero carbs: coconut milk and whey protein (and not that much of either) as his major calorie sources.

Since I was forced to keep to a very slow pace by the pain in my butt and thigh, it was an interesting test of purely aerobic exercise vs. my usual sort of 50K race performance (as much lactic acid as I can stand). The funny thing is that on the day after this easy run, I saw the usual 2 lb weight gain again. I thought that maybe the post-race weight gain was due to the stress of hard running and wouldn’t happen after an easy run. Now I’m wondering if it’s just due to overindulging afterwards in carbs (new glycogen stores add water weight) from the post-run and dinner refueling: pizza, beer, sushi, sweet potato, cherries and bread. That’s a lot more carbs than I usually eat in a day, so maybe I carb-loaded after the run (now that’s just silly).

The aftermath of the 50K wasn’t too bad in terms of muscle pain and stiffness on Sunday. I felt a lot worse after going to the track last night and trying to get the pace up again for a short tempo run. Something’s definitely not right, and I will probably have to back off from anything faster for a while (including races) and concentrate on core exercises and going slow, if at all. So frustrating!

Friday, January 16, 2009

We Were Selected in the Miwok Lottery! YIKES!

We found out on Saturday that we made it into Miwok 100K, and I am excited and a bit terrified. Our first 50 miler was Firetrails 50 last October, after a series of pitiful 50K trail run times (at least for me), and was a purely spontaneous desire for adventure and experience. We made it well enough within the cutoff times, though not at all speedily, and I ended up thinking that I could have gone further if necessary (though I was almost too tired to eat at the end! For me, that’s pretty tired!) So, in principle, this 100K shouldn’t be such a scary ordeal. I think part of the scariness is the fact that I’ve seen these hills up there in the Headlands, and they are not to be trifled with. The other aspect is that this isn’t just spontaneous, we’ve signed up 5 months in advance. That’s 5 months to plan, worry and fret! (oh yeah, and prepare!)

It also brings up the question of what other races to include in the 2009 schedule, and how to train for these events. I’d really like to do a regular street marathon (in a time that doesn’t embarrass me too much) and am considering Napa Valley Marathon on March 1st. But is training for a street marathon compatible with training for Miwok? Inquiring minds want to know (at least this inquiring mind does!) Training for a street marathon, as I understand it, involves training to increase running efficiency and maximize fat burning while flirting with your lactate threshold (a little too fast and you pay a painful price, a little too slow and you, well, take a little longer). Training for Miwok though—that’s trails and hills and trails and hills, ad finitum, well up to about 16 hours worth if you’re near the back of the pack as I suspect I will be, figuring out what gear to use and training your feet and everything else for the challenge. They seem like incompatible objectives. Please feel free to jump in here with advice, though probably at this point it’s too late to make much of a difference anyway…

Another race I’d like to include is the Diablo 50 miler, about two weeks before Miwok. Maybe that’s cutting it too close, I don’t know. I think it depends on how aggressive we are about that race—after Firetrails, I had swollen ankles and legs and was up 3 lbs of fluid for most of a week. But it’s possible we are adapting somewhat because the ankle swelling/weight gain seems to have diminished (no excessive weight gain or ankle swelling after last weekend’s 20 miles through El Corte de Madera and Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserves—and I wore myself out on those hills and have been sore all week).

In addition to training, running and more running, and oh yeah hills, we are motivated to get back onto a weight loss trend, instead of just holding steady like we have since August. I really don’t want to have to lug an extra ten or twenty pounds for the whole 100K distance. And who knows, we might even get faster too! So this is a good motivator to be more disciplined about our diet. The good news is that there was no appreciable weight gain over the holidays because we were able to mostly stick to low carb eating, even for desserts (yummy truffles and pecan pie heavy on the pecans and light on the sugary filling). I am not disciplined about food, and have enjoyed the low carb/paleo diet because I do not have to be disciplined (unless someone is waving carbs in front of my face). I cannot stand being hungry and feeling deprived. Still, something’s gotta give. David is really getting frustrated—he was down to 185 lbs briefly in the summer, but went back up over 190 after we started ultrarunning (now on a downtrend again). And running more only seemed to make the weight go up a little more. Since our last 50K on December 13th we’ve been taking it easier, taking more rest days and putting in easier distances mostly, shallower hills, moderate heart rate training. But that hasn’t done anything to help get the weight loss going again either. So now we’re going to try to be more cognizant at least of total calories and cheats and see if the weight won’t come off again. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

USDA Food Pyramid Update

The USDA will be updating its food pyramid again next year. At present there is little or no representation from the low-carb community on the panel charged with creating the update. Dr. Michael Eades is soliciting comments to be passed on to the panel on his Protein Power blog. If you are interested in contributing, go to his website and provide a comment. I have reproduced below a comment that I posted there.

Let’s see… populations that have found low-carb diets to have significant health and performance benefits: overweight and obese, diabetic, epileptic, persons at high risk for heart disease, models, actors, endurance athletes (have I missed any?); populations that have problems with low-carb diets: none (unless maybe you count those whose problems are in the form of poor acceptance by family, friends, and coworkers…) But it’s “unproven,” isn’t it? Well, we’d all like to see more extensive data on larger populations. But surely, the obvious failure of current dietary recommendations which HAVE been tested extensively and shown to be seriously flawed, suggests that we need a new approach. Low-carb diets which have shown such clear benefits for so many populations are so clearly superior to the current food pyramid, that we are due for some class-action lawsuits (against the USDA, individual panelists, other medical societies, food industry lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies?) for so blatantly putting self-interests above public health!

My personal story: mid-50s, low-carb for one year after a lifetime of high-carb diets. Used to tolerate high-carb diet well and be able to eat large meals without gaining weight. Weight crept up over time, then started rising faster. Gradual appearance of symptoms of metabolic syndrome (fasting glucose up, blood pressure up, weight up, etc.) Low-carb diet rapidly reversed problems: lost 30 pounds without calorie restriction, blood pressure and fasting glucose down, improved general health and athletic performance (I took up running ultramarathons and now do so on little or no carbohydrates and feel good during and after the events [and I now comfortably run hilly distances of up to about 20 miles/4 hours on no supplemental food at all]). And no, the high level of exercise did not result in my weight loss and health improvement; rather the health improvement and weight loss ENABLED me to increase my level of exercise. If anything, the weight loss has plateaued and reversed slightly with increasing exercise.

It is clear that there are populations that can tolerate and even thrive on high-carbohydrate diets for a lifetime. But my best estimates from data I’ve seen is that these are a minority—probably well under 20% of the general population, and they probably represent predominantly people with either limited access to food and/or people with a high level of daily physical activity.

My recommended changes to general dietary guidelines: start with a baseline of about 20% carbs, 65% fat, 15% protein. Increase carbs only if weight GAIN is needed. Decrease carbs further for weight loss or other specific health conditions such as diabetes. Increase protein if needed for muscle building/repair (athletes). For most people, this sort of diet is best achieved with a lot of meat, fish, nuts, and vegetables, though details can vary widely depending on availability and any religious, cultural, or specific health/allergy issues. Sugars and simple starches should be used sparingly if at all. These include nutritive sweeteners, most wheat, rice, corn, and other grain products. Fruits should also be limited: most are nutritionally predominantly sugar water. Dairy is more controversial. Personally, I do not limit dairy consumption, although some people find it desirable to limit or cut dairy entirely. Legumes and legume products (such as soy products) should probably be consumed in moderation, and may be left out by personal preference. Within these general guidelines, try to eat a wide variety of food.

I think it is most important to focus first and foremost on getting these macronutrient guidelines established and understood. Micronutrients are clearly also important, and since fat is to be recommended as the major source of calories, it is probably also important to recommend emphasizing or avoiding particular types of fat, but these kinds of recommendations should be given a secondary status to the macronutrient recommendations. The “wide variety of food” recommendation should take care of most micronutrient needs for most people.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Training do’s and don’ts

Just for fun, not that we are any kind of expert runners (ha!), we decided to put in our two cents in the TIaRT forum on training do’s and don’ts (I know it’s Friday already!). Some of these thoughts are pretty empirical and based on practical experience over the years, but similar advice is given on the endurancecorner.com training website.


  • Do eat high quality nutrition—limit simple carbs, especially if you are trying to keep the weight off (in contrast to the previous conventional wisdom, you don’t need to replace all 400 to 500 g of glycogen stores everyday in an ordinary training day! We keep our intake to probably <100g, but the absolute amount is up to you and perhaps governed by the intensity of your training). Get plenty of vitamins and omega -3 fats and sufficient protein using fresh veggies and meats/fish/cheese/nuts, including vitamin supplements if necessary.
  • Do get sufficient rest–get enough Z’s, take a day off once in a while or just take a walk instead of feeling like you have to run everyday
  • Do alternate hard days with easier days and hard weeks with easier weeks
  • Do experiment with hill work, tempo training, track intervals, etc. to see how you’re doing under different conditions, and race once in a while just for the feedback and fun
  • Do try crosstraining and/or weight lifting to work on specific muscle and core muscle strengthening
  • Do make sure you throw in plenty of Goldilocks days (not too hard, not too easy, just the right amount of effort)
  • Do evaluate yourself critically and welcome feedback from others, then work on your deficiencies (don’t just gloat about your strengths)
  • Do pay attention to what your muscles and joints are telling you. Sore or tired muscles may need to be warmed up more slowly or rested. Extensive stretching before exercise may be losing favor as a routine practice, but if you have a muscle that is tight or tending to cramp, or other problem areas, do stretch it carefully before and after your run.
  • Do start slowly. We often find that we don’t “reach our stride” until about 45 minutes or more into a run. Even under race conditions, be careful not to push too hard too early. Do be patient and consistent
  • Do use a plan if you’re into it, but I’ve had success (some years ago anyway) just winging it and doing what it seemed needed doing (long runs some days, easy on others, track work to speed up a bit, crosstraining on the bike)


  • Don’t overtrain (back off to really easy once in a while–you’ll know when you need it when your legs are just beat or you start to resent your workouts)
  • Don’t push through pain all the time—sometimes it goes away if you’re patient, but sometimes it means you need to lay off the hard/long stuff for a while, maybe do some cross training for a week or two or more
  • Don’t get discouraged—as the Tao Te Ching says “sometimes things are easy and sometimes things are hard…”. You can be sure that what is hard today will someday be easier, and then again, what is easy today will be hard someday when you’re injured or sick.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think— sure you may look like a dork sometimes, we all do, but you can’t try to look great all the time if it means you’re running a pace far too fast to sustain just to impress others. It can mean the difference between a merely respectable time (ok maybe even a poor time) and not even finishing a race.
  • Don’t be afraid of a challenge. If you’re not really ready for the challenge, so what? You’ll know what your baseline novice level is and be able to do better next time. Every race, every challenge, will teach you something different about preparation, psychology and equipment that will come in handy later.

One final thought—from reading other contributions on this topic, it’s clear that there is a wide variety of approaches, from those wanting every training detail spelled out to those (like us) just feeling our way along. We haven’t even figured out what races we’re doing this year yet, so it’s hard to begin a training plan! Right now I’m toying with the idea of a road marathon (Napa Valley? Probably haven’t a prayer of a respectable time [i.e., close to finishing times from my distant past], but we may decide to run it anyway just for a baseline number), and we’re waiting to hear about the lottery for Miwok 100K (what the F--- was I thinking?), and of course there’s Diablo 50-miler and some other killer ultra trail events coming up… We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, we’re putting in some easier mileage and watching to see if the heart rate drops with mostly aerobic training as it supposed to do when you’re improving (it does seem to be happening, if slowly). We’re also putting in some tempo runs and track workouts to train for a faster pace that is sub lactate threshold (LT2, as best I can tell where that is—seems to be about 8:30 pace right now for me and maybe 7:30 pace for David) but this is a pace that neither of us can sustain indefinitely. Running on a track is very different from running on trails, especially hilly ones, so we will probably end up incorporating a lot more hills eventually (sure would have helped at Muir Beach!).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Consumer Reports “Secrets of Thin People”

The February 2009 issue of Consumer Reports features an article called “Dieting on a budget, plus the secrets of thin people, based on our survey of 21,000 readers.” The feature includes some equipment reviews, plus articles on “healthful eating on a budget” and their analysis of their reader survey results.

I often find that I disagree with articles and reviews in Consumer Reports, more so whenever I actually have strong personal knowledge of a product or subject area. Their articles are not, of course, peer-reviewed scientific reports. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that they carefully avoid accepting commercial advertising and sponsorship, they typically conform to current industry norms, assuming, I guess, that their readers are responding to the advertising and product offerings they are exposed to and are merely wanting to choose which of the available highly-promoted products to buy. The same can be said of their financial and medical advice in that their advisors (and authors??) seem to be drawn from the mainstream establishment.

There was a time, a few decades ago, when product reviews often used a home-made recipe or similar non-commercial product as a reference for comparison. Quite often, the commercial products did not compete favorably with the non-commercial version. Such comparisons are very rare nowadays. I suppose it, at least partly, reflects the fact that fewer and fewer people are inclined to make their own anything, even when the results are superior. (Though I will admit that there are at least some real examples where modern manufacturing methods make commercial products that are superior…)

Anyway, I digress. In typical fashion, the results of the survey are presented in a way that contains almost no real data and certainly no statistical analysis. Here's what I think are the real “data”:

Survey date: 2007; 21,632 respondents; 66% “overweight” including 22% “obese”
  • 16% “never overweight”
  • 15% “successful losers” (defined as weighing at least 10% less than at their heaviest and keeping the weight off for at least 3 years)
  • 42% “failed dieters”
  • 27% other
“more than half” of successful losers did so without the aid of a commercial diet program (defined as a particular medical treatment, book, or pills)

The data get pretty thin after that! The report claims that “through statistical analyses [not presented], we were able to identify six key behaviors that correlated most strongly with having a healthy body mass index.” The standard threshold of 25 is used for defining “overweight,” even though such arbitrary BMI thresholds are well-known to be misleading due to variability in skeletal frame size and muscle development.

The basic conclusion of the study was that successful losers generally embraced the allegedly good behaviors naturally practiced by the always-thin, typically slightly more so, and “significantly” more so than did the failed dieters. Therefore, the authors conclude, all you need to do to be a successful loser is to “quite literally, live like a thin person.”

The six behaviors (“secrets of the slim”) recommended turn out to be current mainstream party-line recommendations:

 Succ. losersAlways thinfailed dieters
watch portions62%57%42%
limit fat534735
eat fruits and vegetables494938
eat whole grains“consistently opted for”?
eat at homeweight correlated with number of meals out
“exercise, exercise, exercise”*323123

*while the authors suggested that vigorous exercise that increased breathing and heart rate for 30 minutes or longer was strongly linked to lower BMI, the survey numbers are for strength training at least once per week

The authors note that going low carb is conspicuously absent from the list and that limiting carbohydrates correlated with higher BMI in the survey, though they did note that such a correlation could be an artifact of the fact that those with higher starting BMI are more likely to try a low carb diet. Despite this admission, they still claim that “the findings do suggest that cutting carbs alone, without other healthful behaviors such as exercise and portion control, might not lead to great results.”

They also reported that three other strategies did not show significant effects: eating small meals, never eating between meals. and including lean protein with most meals.

Surveys like this are notoriously unreliable for establishing any true cause-and-effect relationships. It is easy to bias the questions to support the conclusion you want to reach. The conclusion about the ineffectiveness of low carb diets is a good example. If only a small percentage of the survey population had even tried it, then, of course, such a diet would show low significance overall, and therefore no conclusion whatsoever can really be drawn as to the effectiveness of a low carb diet.

Another aspect of the report is the definition of “successful” dieters as those who’ve achieved a 10% weight loss (and kept it off for at least 3 years). For the 22% of respondents characterized as “obese,” 10% is barely a good starting point. At the end of the article, the authors, in a section labeled “Realistic goals are one key to weight loss,” state, “A 10 percent loss might not sound like much, but it can significantly improve overall health and reduce risk of disease.” True perhaps, but pretty discouraging from a public health point of view, if that’s the best we can hope for! And we clearly now know better. There are countless examples of people who have successfully lost much more weight and kept it off (for example, by carbohydrate restriction for those who have demonstrated sensitivity to carbohydrate consumption), and they’ve done it without resorting to extreme methods such as bariatric surgery or starvation diets.

At best, one can use survey data like this to construct hypotheses that might be worth testing. To base public health recommendations on the results is ridiculous!

I look at the data and draw a rather different set of conclusions:
  1. We have a serious weight problem if 5 out of 6 people cannot be identified as always thin!
  2. Current recommendations don’t work!
  3. Even those mainstream recommendations that maybe seem to help don’t help very much.

And I would tend to characterize most of the six “secrets of the slim” as not secrets at all, but just things that are sometimes associated with the habits of people who successfully control weight, and not things that can fix it. Clearly, you can do all six “right” and not lose weight. Yes, overeating (oversized portions, eating out a lot) can make you fat, but it’s much more important what you eat and how you manage what you eat: control of portion size is realistically about controlling hunger and satiety and not about counting calories.

The reported survey benefits of lower fat, higher fruits, vegetables, and whole grains probably just correlate with respondents who are generally attempting to pursue healthful habits, a population who are more likely to exercise self control at earlier signs of a weight problem anyway. Also, the statistics presented do not make a very convincing case that these particular food choices are significantly beneficial; only about half of each survey group practiced any particular allegedly beneficial choice anyway. Hard evidence of benefits of such dietary recommendations are actually thin to non-existent. Exercise is good for overall health, but it's a poor strategy for weight control. Being completely sedentary is correlated with obesity, but it is not a cause. If anything, it’s the other way around: obesity causes people to lead a sedentary lifestyle.

And indeed, one could make a similar argument about causation with respect to the whole survey: always-thin people tend to eat less and exercise more because their body condition makes them so inclined. They are sated with less food and find exercise easier and more enjoyable. Trying to emulate the effect (eating less and exercising more) to achieve the cause (weighing less) doesn't work very well! The authors’ conclusion that all you need to do to be a successful loser is to “quite literally, live like a thin person” gets cause and effect backwards.