Goal Number Two for the New Year: Lowering My 5K PR and Getting Down to My “Racing Weight”

This is picture of me (purple) that my Dad took at the first Frun 10K in November 2011.

This is picture of me (purple) that my Dad took at the first Frun 10K in November 2011.

New Year’s resolutions can be tricky things. I have discovered in the past that it’s often the specific resolution that gets accomplished. “I’m going to get the kitchen ceiling painted” gets done because it’s a specific goal with a readily observable outcome. “I’m going to eat better” often means a complete diet revamp for several weeks followed by what I like to call “mission creep” and a steady erosion of diet goals over the course of the year. I’ve always found it a bit unfair that since my late twenties, running no longer means I can eat as much as I want.  I found this out the hard way one spring when I was accomplishing some great running and noticed that I was gaining weight: “What the…” This was also around the same time that I read about how each pound is worth 1-2 seconds per mile.  “Well, shoot,” I told myself, “this should be an easy way to get faster.”  It might be easier just to tack on some additional mileage and do some more speed work.  “Ideal Racing Weight” is one of those phrases that I believe many (myself included) master runners use to justify nonspecific, wishful thinking regarding race performance: “Well, I’m not where I want to be pace-wise, but I just need to lose some weight and get nearer to my racing weight.”  “In the upcoming year, I want to get faster…” But, how and how much, exactly?

What I am getting at is the necessity of stating specific goals and then pursuing specific actions to achieve those goals. I have done fairly well, recently, about pursuing goals in the abstract: “Hey, I want to get faster.”  Around November, however, during the last several years, I hear a voice in my head that says: “You’ve gone about as far as you can go on this training – it’s time to change it up and it’s time to lose some weight (I know you don’t want to hear this…).”  I promised myself that when I started this running blog, I would put some of my goals out in public. For some reason, I think it might make me more responsible, more answerable.  This past year, one of my goals was getting under 20 minutes for the 5K.  I didn’t have a specific time in mind, and my training wasn’t all that 5K specific, either.  I unexpectedly broke twenty at a small evening 5K in the late spring after having consumed a fried fish sandwich and large strawberry milk shake for lunch.  It was a tough race.  By the end of the summer, I had managed to hit 19:25 and was fairly astonished that I was now closer to nineteen.  So, I am now going to declare a goal of 18:55 for next year. Writing it down looks a bit daunting, I have to admit.  To do this, I am also recognizing that I need to lose some weight.  Instead, however, of some general desire to get down to my “racing weight” whatever that is, I am going to state that my “racing weight” is now a specific number: 155 lbs.  There, I said it. It doesn’t sound difficult, but my body has a special impervious weight plateau at 164.  It looks like the year of ’55.  I am hoping that with some specific time and weight goals, I will be able to be better focused on the things that can allow me to successfully achieve these goals.  How will I accomplish these goals?  The specifics are for some future posts.  Have a happy New Year, everyone.

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Goal Number One for the New Year: More Mileage, Less Intensity

Cross Country in Upstate New York (1985)

Cross Country in Upstate New York (1985)

This is going to be a short blog entry.  This is my first publically-stated goal for the upcoming year.  I’ve been snooping about the internets, reading Michael Sandrock’s Running with the Legends, George Sheehan’s This Running Life, looking over World Publication’s Guide to Distance Running (a classic), and the latest copy of Running Times.  It all confirms what I have been telling myself for about the last year: more, but slower.  I’ve been running my easy runs too quickly (since I was in high school…) and my speed work too slowly (because I’m beat from running everything too quickly).  Therefore, one of my main running goals is to increase my mileage, but reduce the intensity of my easy runs (thereby reducing the chance of injury, hopefully).  This will probably mean that I will have to start running early in the morning – need to find the time somewhere.  Has anyone else out there had a “come to Jesus” moment about their mileage?  Did it help?  I would love to hear some success stories.

The Wall Street Journal Does it Again

Really? I mean who gets their information about the efficacy of exercise from the Wall Street Journal?  People who need some justification for not exercising?  “100 Miles on the Bike? Might as Well Play Golf” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324481204578177563340721582.html) is yet another contentiously titled “article” by Kevin Helliker about the efficacy of endurance exercise.  Again, like his recent “One Running Shoe in the Grave,” the concerns and claims pointed out by the research in no way merit the ridiculous title of the WSJ article.  Stop doing this.  The confidence of the article’s title in no way reflects the rather moderate claims of the scientists on which Helliker’s article is based.  The research used by the article cited by Helliker to support what seems to be a weekly diatribe against exercise is based on a study of the mortality records of 9,889 athletes who competed in the Olympic Games between 1896 and 1936.  Yes, you read that right.  I’m not even sure that more needs to be said.  I am, however, increasingly interested in why the Wall Street Journal feels that it needs to be the point man on weekly reminding readers that exercise is bad for you. Good grief – give it a rest. Finally, what is it about Helliker’s insistence in adding several topically-unrelated paragraphs at the end of his articles? This time he decides to quote a blogger about how extreme exercise induces euphoria.   It’s a mess – keep playing golf WSJ readers.

The Mustard Report and other Topics to Anticipate

Some of my favorites, now obsolete

Some of my favorites, now obsolete

I had many ideas for this blog entry and it was difficult to seize upon one topic.  I was initially excited to try to jump on a recent trend of the last several weeks and name my top five running shoes of all time.  It appears that around the holidays, or maybe this is entirely coincidence, various bloggers decide to make lists of their favorite running shoes.  I started thinking about this and realized that my attitude towards running shoes has changed a lot as I have gotten older.  When I was in high school, I remember being excited about perusing the pages of Runner’s World for the latest shoe releases and religiously (and it was a religion) reading the annual “shoe issue.”  Back then, the idea of buying and wearing the same running shoe model twice was unthinkable.  Now, however, if I find something I like, I dread the inevitable update.  I recently had to scour eBay for a pair of Nike Lunaracers when I realized that Nike was again updating.  Why must they mess with a great pair of shoes?  Nike tried this with the Lunaracers once before and there was so much outcry that they had to re-release them in their original form.  You are now probably aware that the Lunaracers would make my top five list, although I seldom race in it – too heavy and cushy.  It’s a great shoe to rotate into the mix when I feel like I need some additional cushioning on a long run or when my legs feel beat.  Running shoes are definitely on the agenda for some future blog entries.  I have some specific ideas about what makes a good shoe.  I am also increasingly alarmed about the cost of running shoes and I am willing to call companies out when I see shoes that try to justify outlandish prices based on ridiculous technology.

Topics also on the horizon include the efficacy of compression sleeves.  Do they work, or not?  Short answer: I don’t know.  I have, however, become completely dependent on CEP compression calf sleeves.  I have convinced myself that they provided critical support when I was recovering from a tibia stress fracture and I continue to run in them, even when experts tell me that they are only useful during recovery after a run, because they “feel” like they are allowing me to go further, faster.  This, of course, could just be due to the fact that I am getting in better shape, although I do seem to be less sore after my long runs. Who knows? I’ll do some research and report.

Next, I am planning on writing about pre race meals.  Earlier this summer, when I finally went under 20 minutes for a 5K for the first time since high school, I managed to eat at Gene’s Fish Fry about two hours before the race.  I consumed a fried fish sandwich (of course), French fries, and a large strawberry milkshake.  I was not optimistic that this qualified as a responsible pre race meal.  I ended up taking twenty seconds off my PR.  Was it Gene’s, or would I have gotten under 19 minutes if I had not eaten like an idiot?  I know much has been written on what to eat before a race, but I am interested in people’s specific pre race meal routines. I hope that in the near future we can get a useful and entertaining discussion underway regarding what to eat (and what not to eat…).

This brief mention of food brings me back to what I intended to discuss in today’s blog entry.  Remember, that I earlier promised to report on the mustard gambit as a way of preventing leg cramps.  After having agreed to use myself as a guinea pig, I didn’t actually plan to race again for over a month.  This past Sunday was the first race in the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club Winter Series.  I had the choice of 3 miles or 15 K.  I went with 3 miles and that was probably a drawback in figuring out if mustard helps to prevent leg cramps. I have only once had cramps in a 5K race and these occurred at the very end in extremely hot and humid conditions.  Cramps are usually not a problem for me in shorter races.  Remember that one of the theories is that leg cramps can be caused by a deficiency in acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates muscles to work.  Mustard contains acetic acid, which stimulates the body to produce more acetylcholine.

A spoon full of mustard keeps the leg cramps at bay...

A spoon full of mustard keeps the leg cramps at bay…

On Sunday, I woke up about three hours before the race and had a can of coconut water to help hydrate and then about an hour later consumed a banana, a slice of toasted cinnamon-raisin bread spread with Nutella (I couldn’t find the peanut butter, which led to a full-scale refrigerator cleaning later in the afternoon, including replacement of the fridge light!), several cups of coffee, and (wait for it) a spoon of mustard.  I was planning to have a packet of mustard shortly before I ran, but I completely forgot – great scientific method.  It was a good race.  My main issue was being slightly underdressed.  I need to remember that the thermometer on our back porch does not account for the wind on the SUNY-Albany campus where the races are held.  I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt during the race and I really could have gone with long sleeves.  I noticed about a mile into it that I was cold.  Ideally, you shouldn’t notice clothing problems during a race.  I also did a little bit of racing during the last mile, back and forth with a fellow runner, and managed to kick it into the downhill finish in 19:40 and 11th place overall.  I took 15 seconds off last year’s time – always a good sign – but finished just out of the bread.  The top two in each age group are awarded coupons for a free loaf of bread at a local bakery – awesome, but I finished third.

Anyway, I didn’t experience any leg cramps, but I didn’t really expect to.  My next opportunity to try out the mustard (that just sounds weird) will be on January 13, 2013.  I have the option to run a 10K, so I will have the mustard for breakfast and right before I race and then see what happens.  The last time I experienced leg cramps was about four miles into a 10K, so this should provide a good test.  I have to admit, however, that other variables have also been in flux.  I didn’t run in the various Thanksgiving turkey trots because I was concentrating on increasing my mileage.  Some steady training may also be increasing my leg strength and endurance, making me more resistant to cramps, perhaps.  After Sunday’s race, I will again be going for more than a month without racing and I have taken Running Times’  latest recommendation to run your easy runs easier to heart.  I am using the next month to do more mileage less intensely.  Again, this could have an effect on my cramp resistance.

Stay tuned for my upcoming report on mustard therapy, pre race meals, compression socks, and running shoes.  I also plan to write a blog entry on running goals for the upcoming year.  Putting them out in public might provide some additional impetus to realize them.

“Vitamin I” is not Candy: Ibuprofen and Running

I’ve been keeping tabs on running and the use of ibuprofen since hearing a rumor years ago that downing the popular painkiller before a run was hard on the kidneys.  Gretchen Reynolds reported in a New York Times column, “Phys Ed: Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?” (September 1, 2009) (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/phys-ed-does-ibuprofen-help-or-hurt-during-exercise/) that athletes who used ibuprofen shortly before or during strenuous running (the study was done during the Western States Endurance 100 Miler) showed signs of mild kidney impairment and endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.  That development sounded particularly bad, and I largely abstained from ingesting ibuprofen before running.

"Vitamin I"

“Vitamin I”

I imagine that for many runners, the context of the study gave them some necessary leeway to continue taking ibuprofen. These were ultramarathoners, after all; who knows how many ibuprofen they were taking during a 100-mile race?  When you’re running 100 miles in one go there are probably a whole lot of bodily issues – to put it mildly – that might contribute to endotoxemia and kidney impairment.  Ominously, however, Reynolds pointed out in 2009 that enthusiastic ibuprofen use was not limited to ultramarathoners and that it appeared athletes were increasingly using it as a prophylactic.  According to the researchers that Reynolds cited, ibuprofen was not shown to reduce soreness in runners who took it ahead of time and it did nothing to lessen the perception of pain during competition.  Additionally, ibuprofen works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are crucial in creating collagen, the building block of most tissues.  So, those who take ibuprofen before and during a run are actually reducing the training stimulus by undermining the body’s creation of the collagen necessary to repair tissues and strengthen bones.  Remember, that the stress of the training stimulus creates microtears in muscles that when they repair after rest, come back stronger.  It is clear that ibuprofen undermines the relationship between stress, damage, repair, and strengthening.  There are, of course, other training problems that undermine the repair phase of training – namely overtraining and lack of rest (oh, snap).

Is the idea that runners are popping ibuprofen before runs with as little forethought as they might use to lace up their shoes, or that the pills are thought of as candy or “Vitamin I,” an accurate assessment of what is going on in the running world?  I have been at several races where I have witnessed runners passing out numerous ibuprofen pills and joking with each other about how many they needed to consume that morning.  I have a feeling that ibuprofen abuse might be widespread among runners and that we need to start heeding the warnings.

Why am I blogging about this now?  Well, in this morning’s New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds reported on a follow-up study in “For Athletes, Risks From Ibuprofen Use” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/05/for-athletes-risks-from-ibuprofen-use/?smid=fb-share) that provides good evidence that endotoxemia is not limited to ultramarathoners popping ibuprofen like candy and that seventy percent of endurance athletes use ibuprofen in the mistaken belief that it will help them train harder and recover faster – it won’t.  The recent examination of ibuprofen’s effects on endurance athletes used male athletes riding stationary bikes.  Test subjects took 400 milligrams of ibuprofen the night before, as well as the morning of, a one-hour stationary bike ride.  On other days, the same test subjects didn’t take ibuprofen, or they scrapped the bike ride.  When researchers assessed the results, it was clear that when the men rode and ingested ibuprofen, there were much greater signs of intestinal leakage than when they biked without ibuprofen or had ibuprofen without exercising.  Researchers’ concluded that a year of regular ibuprofen use in conjunction with exercise could result in compromised intestinal integrity, and that there were no legitimate reasons to use it before exercise and that there were several good reasons to avoid it.  I really don’t like the sound of endotoxemia.

Keeping an eye on this issue for the last several years, as well as some anecdotal evidence gleaned at various races, convinces me that all runners, not merely masters runners, need to be much more thoughtful when reaching for the painkillers, particularly when using them as a prophylactic.  There’s good evidence that they are doing almost the opposite of what they think they are doing.  I would further argue that soreness is a necessary part of the training stimulus and that ordinary soreness is part of being a runner and that it might actually indicate that your body is rebuilding collagen and is strengthening itself. If you take away the soreness, you are, ultimately, undermining the benefits of the training stimulus.  That’s my take on the issue.  What do you think?

Kinesiology Tape: Panacea or Placebo?

The Tape!

The Tape!

While I was nosing around Runner’s World’s website to find out what they thought about the recent Wall Street Journal article, “One Running Shoe in the Grave: New Studies on Older Endurance Athletes Suggest the Fittest Reap Few Health Benefits” (http://www.runnersworld.com/health/too-much-running-myth-rises-again) – RW’s Alex Hutchinson was, to put it mildly, not impressed – I ran across a recent report on an exposé of kinesiology tape, “Study: Kinesio Taping Doesn’t Improve Blood Flow to Calf,” that questioned the supposed science behind the tape, as well as kinesiology tape’s effectiveness (http://www.runnersworld.com/other-gear/study-kinesio-taping-doesnt-improve-blood-flow-calf).  To be fair, RW writer Scott Douglas was merely reporting on a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, and he pointed out two aspects of the study that strike me as being rather important: the subjects using the tape in the study didn’t have any existing calf problems and calf measurements were taken when the subjects were sedentary.  I would also question the premise of the study itself. The idea, as I understand it, was to study whether the application of kinesiology tape on someone’s calf would increase blood flow and, as a result, lead to improved performance.  From what I’ve read about kinesiology tape, increasing blood flow is not the way it actually works.  Instead, the tape lifts the skin and relieves pressure and strain on the underlying tissues.  It then stimulates lymphatic drainage in the tissues between the skin and fascia.  I’m not a doctor (Actually, I am a doctor, but a doctor of history, not medicine.) so this entire scenario might smack of pseudoscience.  I think it is telling that I have read in various places that no one is quite sure how kinesiology tape works – a bit odd considering that it has been around for forty years.  I also visited the website of the KT Tape company, one of the more popular producers of the tape, and found no mention of how they thought it actually worked, either.

Now, I’m going to tell you that it doesn’t matter how it works.  I have to admit that I’m a fan of KT Tape, and I would argue that this is one of those times where the “experiment-of-one” idea really rings true.  The scientific studies may be tending towards the placebo side of the argument regarding the usefulness of kinesiology tape, but there are also a whole slew of anecdotal accounts of successful injury treatment.  This is a time where I can recommend spending 14-20 dollars for a roll of the stuff and testing it out for yourself.  It’s unlikely that you can do further injury with the tape and the potential positive outcomes are worth the financial cost.  This is not like spending $75,000 on an Alter-G treadmill only to find out that you just aren’t that into it and that it has become a great place to hang your laundry. This is a twenty-dollar roll of (potentially) magic tape.

Tan-colored KT Tape Pro

Tan-colored KT Tape Pro

Around our household, KT Tape is called “the tape.”  My wife owns the best success story.  After she hobbled around for about a year on a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, I used a plantar fasciitis taping schema on her foot suggested in Running Times and it worked.  My wife reported that she felt a tingling sensation when I applied the tape and associated that feeling with it working.  I have also successfully used KT Tape to relieve pain around my right tibia and I can also report feeling a “tingling sensation.” (I think this feeling might be associated with the “good sore” after exercise feeling, but the entire “good sore” versus “bad sore” feeling is worthy of its own blog entry – stay tuned…)  There are similar success stories across the Internet.  There are also, of course, reports from people whose injuries KT Tape did not help cure.  I think it’s likely that kinesiology tape simply works better for some types of injuries than for others and that this might be a good opportunity for readers to report on their experiences – both successful and not – with kinesiology tape.  There are several brands of kinesiology tape out there.  I have had success with KT Tape Pro, which is the latest (I believe) iteration of the tape and successfully addresses some adherence issues that people had with the original KT Tape.  It also has reflective material built into the tape, which might be useful if you are running in the dark, but seems odd when you use the stuff on the bottom of your foot.  The other thing to keep in mind when using KT Tape is that you need to make sure that you have some tension in the tape when you apply it.  As you can imagine, there are websites and YouTube videos that give specific instructions on how to apply the tape – some of the taping schemes can get complicated.  The KT Tape website reassures users that it is not possible to do further injury through an incorrect taping, you might just reduce the tape’s effectiveness.  This also gives us the leeway to develop new, effective taping schemes on our own.  I am looking forward to hearing about your own stories and recommendations about using kinesiology tape.