Motivation Strategies Gone Awry

I forgot to tell everyone about the insane (in retrospect, as I will explain) thing that I did in the middle of January. Merely as a method of motivation, I decided that I would forgo beer until I reached my racing weight goal of 155 lbs. I didn’t have any illusions that the calories saved through beer’s avoidance would be enough to take off the pounds. It was a rule implemented solely to provide some focus and discipline. Now, I’m not one of those runners whose main reason for running is so that they can drink large quantities of beer. There are, of course, running clubs that appear to have done exactly that through the successful merging of running and beer and there is, in fact, a documentary film on the horizon that examines one of the most famous of these clubs, The Fishtown Beer Runners from Philadelphia (http://www.runnersworld.com/general-interest/upcoming-documentary-about-running-and-beer). I’m a firm believer that Guinness is one of the best recovery beverages and that there is nothing better than sitting out on the back porch with a Newcastle Brown after a hard summer run. I thought that the threat of losing my recovery beverage would help to keep me on track for cutting those last few pounds before the spring racing season. I also have to admit that I had just upped my mileage, had immediately and easily lost two pounds, and assumed that the rest would quickly follow. That’s just not the way that diet works, is it? I should have known better. I lost a bit of weight and then I stabilized. I can only assume that the mileage increase also had the effect of improving my running efficiency. So, for the last several months I haven’t had a beer (I know, this is pretty much the definition of a first world problem…) and my weight has stabilized despite the increased distance. All, however, is not lost. I did manage to take slightly more than a minute off of my 4 mile personal best, so something seems to have worked. I really hope, however, that there’s not a true correlation between abstention and running performance.

If you race long enough, you'll pick up a lot of these. What to fill them with?

If you race long enough, you’ll pick up a lot of these. What to fill them with?

While I’m on the topic of diet and exercise, it looks like our friend Kevin Helliker from The Wall Street Journal has come out with another one of his fitness anxiety pieces, “Why Runners Can’t Eat Whatever They Want: Studies Show There Are Heart Risks to Devil-May-Care Diets – No Matter How Much You Run” (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303949704579461381883678174?mod=e2fb). Although Helliker once again cites his favorite cardiologist, James O’Keefe (who you may remember insists that a moderate twenty miles a week is all the running you should be doing) and strings together a slew of half-related studies and anecdotal evidence to almost construct a valid argument, I have to admit that the main point of Helliker’s article does bear (I almost wrote “beer” there) some thinking about, particularly for the masters runner. I first became cognizant of the fact that I couldn’t eat anything I wanted to, even if I was running a lot, when, more than a decade ago, I had upped my mileage and was still gaining weight. How was this possible, I asked myself? Well, I soon realized (OK, maybe not soon enough) that there was a straightforward calculus of calories consumed and calories expended of which one needed to be aware. There really is no way around this simple fact. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that what you eat – how is this surprising – also contributes to your overall health.  This might be the crux of the problem for the long-distance runner. When you are doing high mileage, moderate eating can be difficult – a scoop of ice cream turns into a really big bowl, a slice of bread becomes a loaf – you get the idea. You’re hungry – you need to fuel. Well, now it looks like we need to be careful about what we’re fueling with – less ice cream, diary, cheese, and cake (and…uh…cupcakes). Eat more fruit, beans, and vegetables and keep serving sizes modest. I think that most masters runners are probably already aware of the moderation mantra – we just need to be mindful of it.

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Spring Resolutions: More Mileage

It’s the first day of spring and a week after my birthday, so I thought to myself, “What a great day to recommit to my blog.”  My few followers may have noticed that I haven’t actually posted anything since the end of November – urk. This is probably not the best way to gain a following. I realized during the last several days that my blogs often become completely unwieldy and as a result they get delayed in the editing process and remain unpublished. So, I am going to try to write briefly and frequently. I have to admit that graduate school is probably to blame. I always feel that I need several citations – at least – to support my opinions and I start writing like I need to fulfill the demands of outside readers. My inner critic and editor make it almost impossible to write at times. I am really trying to kick the critic to the curb; because, in the final analysis this is supposed to be fun.

Although my writing has been just about nonexistent for the last several months, my running has actually been going well.  Many runners appear to visit my site for updates on the mystery of leg cramps, so I will – yet again – offer an update. My last post indicated that it would be the final word on the topic, but I can’t resist an update. I got back from Christmas vacation and decided that I would run in the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club’s January first Hangover Half Marathon. I felt that I had enough long runs in during the previous several weeks, and my training had been going fairly well. On the day of the race I woke up feeling good. The temperature was in the low 20s with a ten mile-per-hour wind. I seem to recall that it was sunny. For a winter race in the New York Capital Region the conditions were excellent. I told myself that I was going to take it fairly easy at the start and see what happened.  Of course, I got drawn into a very fast early pace, felt good, and about five miles in noticed that I was well-under personal-record pace for the half marathon distance and I was feeling good. I really wasn’t expecting to be in this position, so I started pressing. At nine miles the wheels fell off – I started cramping like I have never cramped before – not just calves, but hamstrings, as well. I slowed down quite a bit, but was still able to continue running between the leg spasms. The final four miles were not fun, although I did finish up several minutes better than last year’s time.  Still, I was a bit disappointed that I had missed an opportunity to get under 1:30 for the half. The leg cramping was also a surprise. I had convinced myself that I was now running enough and had acclimatized enough to longer distances that the cramps were a thing of the past – not so much.

I still believed, however, that muscle weakness was the problem, so I upped my mileage during the winter – something I was planning on doing anyway. For the last two months, I have consistently run over fifty miles a week, topping out at sixty-nine during the middle of February. Much of this was done on a treadmill.  Yes, I will write a post about treadmill training in the near future. Here’s the good news: the increase in mileage has had great results. Several weeks after the half, I ran in the HMRRC’s winter series 10 miler and managed to take more than a minute and a half off of my 10-mile PR with not even a hint of leg cramps.  The benefits of increased mileage also appear to have continued with a minute PR for four miles at last weekend’s unofficial start of the spring racing season – The Runnin’ of the Green. This is a race I have always had trouble with and it was great to finally run a time that I thought I was capable of: 25:46.  So, after an initial cramping incident at the beginning of the year, I haven’t had any cramping problems and the one change that I made was upping my mileage. I am hoping that this might be the final word – from me, at least – on the mystery of leg cramps during the later stages of a race. The solution seems to be running more – something I can get behind.

That’s where I’m going to end it for today. I also received an awesome pair of Nike Lunarspider R4 racing flats for Christmas, which I will review in the near future. They’re a pair of shoes that you don’t wear in inclement weather conditions, so I have only managed to wear them twice, so far. Both runs were memorably fast.