Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Low-carbing it

Last fall I was able to get my weight down to around 180, a figure I haven't seen in over 20 years. But the weight didn't stay off long — after Rocket City Marathon in December I took a vacation and didn't run for 10 days, gaining about 10 pounds. Since January 1 I've been trying to lose that weight back, but it's been very tough. My wife Greta also gained a little weight on our vacation so we decided we'd try a different approach and see if we could lose weight together.

Greta is a psychologist, so she knows that most diet plans are overhyped and under-perform, but one thing is clear: Almost anything that changes your eating routine can help you lose weight. You could try a diet banning all foods starting with letters in the first half of the alphabet, and if you stuck to it, you'd probably lose weight. Just the fact that you have to find a substitute for all those apples and bananas you've been eating will probably lead to weight loss.

That said, some recent diets have shown enough success to suggest that they really may work. The one that looked to us like it would eliminate some of our problem foods while still allowing us to eat some tasty foods was a low-carb diet.

So, starting yesterday, I've changed my eating routine to eliminate as many high-carb foods as possible. Here's what I ate in a typical day previously:

High-carb diet

Bowl of cereal / milk

Morning snacks
Yogurt with fruit on bottom
Granola bar

Taco Salad

Afternoon snacks
Toast w/peanut butter and jelly

Some kind of meat, vegetable, and carb -- maybe steak, salad, and bread; or chicken, couscous, and asparagus; or fish, broccoli, and rice; or roast beef sandwiches with green beans. You get the idea.
A couple glasses of wine

It's actually not a super-high carb diet, but the carbs add up, especially those snacks! A typical day would involve 300 grams of carbs, including over 150 from snacks alone. Now compare that to what I had yesterday:

Low-carb diet

Bowl of low-carb cereal (Bear Naked high protein granola)
Light Soy Milk

Morning snacks
Handful of mixed nuts
Celery sticks with peanut butter

Taco Salad

Afternoon snacks
Carrot sticks with hummus
Handful of mixed nuts
Vanilla tea soy latte

Roast pork tenderloin with olive tapenade
Roast asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper
A couple glasses of wine

Once again, this is not an extreme low-carb diet. A true Atkins Diet fanatic would scoff at this meal plan. But it involves considerably less carbs than what I had been eating before: about 130, with just 67 coming from snacks. The "low-carb" cereal I had for breakfast actually has more carbs than you're supposed to have in an entire day on the Atkins plan. But given that I'm also running 40-70 miles a week, I think it's still likely that I'll lose weight on this plan. That's the hope anyways. I'll keep you updated.

One other note: I do plan on consuming carbs in the form of GU for my longer training runs. This is just to (partially) replenish fuel burnt over the course of the run, and I don't think it will affect my weight-loss plans adversely.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Race Recap: Myrtle Beach Half Marathon

As the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon approached, everything seemed to be converging to make this a special day. The weather looked to be a perfect 43 degrees with very light winds. Myrtle Beach is a flat, fast course. I finally seemed to be recovering my speed after taking some time off in December. While I had been waffling on whether I would be able to attain my ambitious goal of a 1:25 half-marathon, which would qualify me for guaranteed entry into the New York Marathon, with everything looking like this was going to be a fast day, I had to give it a shot.

Let's put this into perspective. A 1:25 half requires an average pace of 6:28 per mile. My previous half-marathon PR was 1:31, just over a year ago in Mississippi. That's a pace of 6:57 per mile, almost a half-minute per mile slower. I've only barely done better than a 6:28 pace for a 10K. While I'm in better shape than I was a month ago, I'm still not quite as fit as I was last fall, when I weighed 8 pounds less and was coming off a summer working out at high elevation in Colorado.

But still, I was committed to giving this a shot, and so I decided to keep my splits at 6:28 or below for as long as I could. While the weather was perfect, there was one small hitch in our routine. As Bobby Aswell and I drove to the starting line at 6 a.m., we were stopped by police, who had already blocked off the roads in anticipation of a 6:30 start. We quickly parked on a side-street, but now instead of leaving our gear in the car, we'd have to carry it with us and check it in at the start line.

We arrived at the start at about 6:10, and headed straight for the bathroom lines. After a nervous wait, I finished at 6:18, and then headed to check my backpack, and was again confronted by a long line. As the clock ticked later and later, I thought about just leaving my backpack, with my wallet and a $500 phone in it, but finally at about 6:23 they took my bag and I was off to find a place at the start. I tried to be nice as I pushed my way through the crowd to get closer to the line. I ended up stopping about 30 rows back.

At the start gun, I weaved my way through the traffic looking for clear space. I looked at my watch and was already running below my planned pace, just 7:00 per mile. Finally things opened up a bit and I was able to start picking things up, just in time to hear fellow DARTer Ashley Naelon yell "That's some 6:30 pace, Munger!" She estimated my pace at that point at 6:15, and that sounds about right, but by the end of Mile 1, I clocked in at 6:26, right where I needed to be.

In Mile 2, I caught up with Adam Mayes, who I had talked with before the race. He was running the full marathon and shooting for a 2:50, which meshed nicely with my plans to run a 1:25 half. We didn't have much of a chance to talk during the race though, because at this pace, I'm not really able to put more than two or three words together.

The next 3 miles went well, and I was able to maintain a sub-6:30 pace without much difficulty:

Mile 2: 6:23
Mile 3: 6:28
Mile 4: 6:25

But on Mile 5, despite my watch reading a 6:27 pace, the Garmin measured it at 1.04 miles, so my total time for the mile was 6:41! This was, naturally, rather frustrating, and between that and having to eat a GU over the next mile, my Garmin pace ended up slowing to a 6:34 pace for that mile. Fortunately this one was a bit short, so I completed it in 6:25. Here I am with Adam around Mile 6:

Adam is so fast he's blurry! (Peter Asciutto photo)

During Mile 6 and 7, the course loops back on itself in a sort of lollipop, so at the start of Mile 7, you are running opposite the other runners who are still heading out. I saw Roberta Villneff, Stefanie Rodsater, and Rebecca Roquemore Bocker, all of whom were on their way to great performances. Roberta ended up with a 1:41 PR, good for second in her age group!

This cheered me up and I picked up the pace. Before I knew it I was running a 6:15 pace. I decided to dial it back but ended up dialing back a bit too much:

Mile 7: 6:33
Mile 8: 6:33
Mile 9: 6:35

Up until now I had been able to keep fairly close to Adam. We weren't running side by side, but I had always been within 10 yards or so of him. Now he started to pull away, and there wasn't much I could do about it. We were heading north on Ocean Boulevard, a block from the beach, and a chill wind was hitting us head-on. It wasn't enough wind to slow us down, but it was definitely making me cold. I could feel each vibration in my legs down to the icy bones as I tried to keep the pace up. But it wasn't to be:

Mile 10: 6:51
Mile 11: 6:47
Mile 12: 6:56

Three slow miles in a row meant there was no no chance of breaking 1:25. But I still was set to get a decent PR, as long as I could hold on for a little more than a mile. I tried to pick it up for Mile 13. Soon I could see the baseball stadium near the finish line. We were turning off the road and into the entrance to the stadium parking area. I saw a mile marker and hit my "lap" button, but oddly, someone said "just .2 miles left." Uh, wouldn't it only be .1 miles? Then I saw the 13-mile marker ahead. What's up with that? It wasn't until later that I realized I had seen the 26-mile marker for the marathoners. Oops.

I completed mile 13-ish (actually .91 miles) in a 6:43 pace, and the last 0.22 miles at a 5:58 pace, for a final finishing time of...


Although I didn't qualify for New York, I did manage to take 4 minutes and 23 seconds off my PR for a half, and averaged a 6:36 pace for the race.

As a bonus, I chalked up a victory in my friendly rivalry with Chas Willimon. Each time one of us beats the other's PR in an event, the runner whose record was just eclipsed has to buy a beer. I beat his PR in the half by exactly ONE second!

[update: Corrected to reflect the fact that both me and Chas had our times wrong. Fortunately for me, we were both wrong in the same direction, and I still have his PR beat by one second]

As it now stands, he's got me in the 8K, 10K, and full marathon, while I have him in the 5K and half. Quite a rivalry! I'll be looking forward to that beer!

Here I am at the end of the race:


And, in case I haven't given you enough numbers in this post, below is my GPS record of the race.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Getting ready for the Myrtle Beach Half

The Myrtle Beach Half Marathon is just three days away. It's not exactly a target race for me -- my primary training goal right now is getting ready for the Boston Marathon in two months. But training for a half isn't much different from training for a full, so I feel like I'm in good enough shape that I can PR in this race.

The weather, for once, looks to be cooperating as well. Forecast overnight low on Friday is 45 degrees, and with a race start at 6:30 a.m., it won't warm up much between then and when I finish (hopefully before 8 a.m.). Wind can be a factor at this race, but the winds are currently predicted at just 8 miles per hour, so that shouldn't be much of a factor either. Three-day forecasts are usually pretty accurate around here, so I don't think this forecast will change much between now and race day.

I've been feeling much better over the past few weeks than I had in January, so I really do think I have a chance at a solid race. That said, I still think it would be a bit of a stretch for me to hit a NY marathon qualifying time in this race. That would require a 1:25 half-marathon, averaging 6:28 per mile, and PRing by 6 minutes. On the other hand, conditions look to be nearly perfect, and the course is pancake-flat, so if I have a shot at qualifying, there's nothing about this event that should slow me down.

Even better, I have a friend who's running the full marathon at a similar pace to my half, so for the first 11 miles, if everything goes well, I should have someone to run with.

The only real negative I see right now is my weight. I had hoped last year to get down to a racing weight of 175, but got sidetracked dealing with a skin cancer scare (I'm happy to say that the skin cancer looks to be completely cured). I was down to about 180 in the fall but gained some weight over the holidays and I currently weigh in at 188. That's actually not too different from when I ran my Boston qualifier, but the extra 8 pounds compared to last fall, by some rules of thumb, should add about 16 seconds per mile to my pace. That would still be a PR, but wouldn't get me that coveted guaranteed entry to New York.

But given that there is no larger stake in this race, I still think I'm going to try to keep my pace under 6:30. Even if I can't hold that pace for the whole race, I think it's worth it to try--I don't have anything to lose.

This week I'm doing a bit of a taper, cutting my Sunday long run down to just 10 miles, and running 4 miles or less for the last three days of the week. Given the lower mileage, I'm trying to reduce my caloric intake as well and so far I haven't gained any weight. I'm not planning on doing a lot of pre-race carbo-loading but I do plan on eating well the day before the race.

Other than that, all I can do is show up ready to race on Saturday morning. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pacing isn't easy

My goal for the Cupid's Cup 5K on Sunday was simple: Run it in as close to 21 minutes and 22 seconds as possible without going over.

I was pacing my friend Roberta Vilneff in a dry-run attempt at the North Carolina record for a 5K by a woman age 60-65.

A 21:22 works out to a 6:52 per mile pace. But of course, when you're running the race, you're not exactly sure whether your Garmin is going to match the official mileage of the race. To be sure, we decided that I'd be running a 6:45 pace. The plan was for me to stay as close to that pace as possible while fellow DARTer Chad Randolph stayed with Roberta.

The course starts uphill, so we expected that I would pull ahead of them, but hopefully they'd reel me in on the downhill finish.

I started up the hill, and as is often the case for me, I ended up running a bit fast. At about .75 miles, my average pace for the first mile was 6:37. Then the course headed downhill, and I had to really hold back as several runners passed me. I passed the 1-mile marker while my watch still read 0.98 miles. I clicked "lap" on my watch and saw that I had completed the first mile in 6:33. Oops.

The next mile started out flat, then headed up a steep little hill. I had to force myself to put out a little extra effort to maintain my pace. But I also wanted to slow down a bit to try to get my average pace back up to 6:45. I decided that I needed to keep a 6:48 pace for the rest of the race.

As the course flattened out I was able to keep my watch at 6:48. But then I noticed that I was at 2.1 miles -- I hadn't seen the 2-mile marker, so I didn't know whether I was behind or ahead relative to the official measurement. As the course headed downhill I had to consciously put on the brakes again. Now lots of runners were passing me as I ran what felt like a very comfortable pace down the hill. I wasn't even really breathing hard. But my watch was stuck on 6:48, just as I planned.

I tried to look over my shoulder every once in a while to see if Roberta and Chad were there, but I couldn't spot them. I kept my steady pace all the way through the finish, and I ended up at 20:50 for the race -- about 30 seconds too fast.

I cross the line (Bobby Aswell Photo)

But that meant Roberta still had a shot at the record, so I ran back past the starting line to see if I could spot her. Roberta and Chad came across at 21:56 -- close to a PR for Roberta, and just 34 seconds off the record.

Roberta and Chad in perfect sync (Richard Hefner Photo)

I felt bad because I had taken off too fast, and had finished 30 seconds faster than I needed too. Maybe if I had started off at a true 6:45 pace, Roberta would have kept me in sight and picked it up enough to get the record. That said, my Garmin measured the course a touch short -- at 3.09 miles, and my average pace for that distance was indeed 6:45, so I got fairly close to what I had been shooting for.

At least we can take solace in the fact that this race wouldn't have counted anyways. It was actually fairly hilly, so I think with another month or so of speed work and a truly flat course, Roberta has a great shot at the record.

My Garmin record of the race is below.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Helping Roberta Rock

The first time I ran with Roberta Vilneff was last spring. I was planning a fairly hard tempo run and it was a warm day. Roberta showed up along with a couple of familiar faces. She looked to be in good shape but seemed to be a lot older than the others in the group. I told everyone about my plans and wondered whether Roberta would be able to keep up. I later found out that she was 60 years old.

In fact, Roberta held her own that day. After that, I started looking her up in race results. She was easily winning her age group, and even getting overall wins for women. This fall, she put up times in the low 22's for a 5K. It wasn't long ago that I couldn't do that myself. Now I'm quite a bit faster than that, but I've been actively training and doing speed work for the past several years. Roberta tells me that she's done practically no speed work.

After one particularly good showing, Richard Hefner told Roberta on Facebook that she was extremely close to the North Carolina record for her age group. Her PR (on a net-downhill course) is 21:38, and the state record is 21:22. All this with no speed work!

So I suggested that I could help her reach her goal. We'd do speed work together once a week, then pick a couple flat, certified courses to try for the record this spring. Since a 21:22 is a fairly easy 5K pace for me, I can run a nice steady record-breaking pace, and all Roberta will have to do is keep up.

So far we've met three times for track work, and Roberta has improved each time. She's not only fast for a 60-year-old, she's fast for *any* age. This week we're going to do a dry run attempt at the record at the Cupid's Cup 5K, which has a reputation for being a fast, fair course. Unfortunately it's not a certified course, so if she breaks the record there it won't count.

Yesterday we did a mini-taper workout, just 2*800, 2*400, and 2*200, but Roberta was flying on each of the intervals, hitting the 800s at a 6:48 mile pace, the 400s at a 6:19 pace, and the 200s at a blistering 5:45 pace. All she needs to break the record is a 6:52 pace, so I think she can do it.

Just to give you a sense of the level at which she is competing, she easily rates as an All-American in her age group for the 5000 meter distance. All that is necessary is a 26:00 time, and she has run a 21:38 on a non-certified course and in the low 22s on certified courses. Compare that to my best 5K: 18:03, still over a minute short of the 16:45 I'd need to be an All-American in my age group. Roberta's best times actually qualify for All-American status in the 50-54 age group!

I'm really looking forward to Saturday's race with Roberta. If she's close to the record, we'll have to find a certified course so she can go for it for real.

Details of my own workout this morning are below.