Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nutrition Thoughts, and Running is Bad for You?? What??

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a Physical Therapist and Board Certified Nutritionist as part of a series of talks that my company sponsors and offers to employees. The gist of the talk was mostly on myths of diet, exercise, nutrition and weight loss.

I seem to be doing a lot of research on this based on my interest in the practicality of knowing a little more about nutrition to help stay properly fueled during longer endurance races. I also feel like my personal weight loss has sort of plateaued and I am trying to diagnose why and where I can improve. I won't delve too deeply into this, but one thing struck me last night when I was trying to decide what to have for dinner: We are flooded with all types of food in the United States, yet we are starving ourselves. Not starving in the traditional sense, but starving for basic, unprocessed foods. Not even to the degree of adopting a raw diet, but looking at the labels of most of the stuff I had at my fingertips, I was hard pressed to find anything that didn't have some form of hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup, which, even before I started to become a student of nutrition, knew were bad news. Surprisingly, Breakfast cereals - as simple as they seem - are really quite horrible. Even touted 'heart smart' Cheerios don't really get a pass - maybe compared to Lucky Charms - but I digress.

The other rather synchronistic element is that I have been working on a project the last couple of months reviewing major companies and it is no surprise that Kraft Foods is among one of the largest companies in the U.S. Sure, they employ a lot of people, but they are also one of the major offenders of the processed food push, and let face it, they are not going to give up billions in revenue because they are making people fat and unhealthy.

The bottom line is that I realize that the best diet is no diet, and simplicity is key. Fruits, veggies, good kinds of fats - these are all that are really necessary to live well. Forget major the fads, just making good choices is the key, at least from a very basic level, way before personal choices or beliefs.

The second element in this seminar that made me think was the promotion and supporting research for resistance and interval training. The speaker would not come out and totally dismiss the benefits of running - because it does provide a valuable form of exercise - but from a basic 'results' perspective, it appears resistance and interval training are superior to running.

Where I saw the logic, I also saw a major flaw in the perspective. First, yes, from a weight loss perspective one must be careful with walking and running. If one is carrying too much of a load when they walk or run the body will not respond well. Additionally, if one has bad running form, on top of carrying more of a load, they will break down far quicker. When I was a runner in college I had some biomechanical issues for sure, but I was also 150 pounds and didn't have nearly as many injuries because I wasn't carrying the weight I carry now. I can't find a formula online to calculate the added pressure/force extra weight adds to joints, but if you think about carrying 25 pounds of bricks on your back, versus carrying 5 pounds, you get the idea.

Resistance and Interval training might get me to a better place as a runner, but these cannot replace some of the added benefits of running, especially endurance running.

First, I really enjoy running. When I am healthy and fit, I find it so liberating to be cruising down a trail in relative silence and peace, save my soft footsteps, the whirl and crack of the wind through tree branches, and the ambient noise of the local wildlife. You can not find this in gym where people are grunting and the soundtrack is always some cheesy, pseudo-hard band like Drowning Pool or Stained blasting through cheap speakers.

I also believe the challenge of running 20 miles or completing a run on a technical trail really provides a more tangible accomplishment. Of course, like any exercise or workout, the accomplishment really only has intrinsic meaning or value to the community that abides by the standard (try explaining to a co-worker how you ran the Presidential Traverse over the weekend, and see what kind of reaction you get).

I also feel like the interpersonal and spiritual connection that can be made on the run is unique to the sport, especially in trail running. I have found that some of the best friendships are forged on those countless miles on trail training runs. Typically there is no arrogance or judgement when it comes to a group run. Additionally, no matter what faith or believe system one might have there seems to be a shared sense of heightened connection. All of my experiences in the gym seem to run contrary to these.

Above all, I totally believe that camaraderie and accomplishment are community based and both can be found in just about any element of our individual lives - exercise, career or otherwise. I know that the speaker's comments about running are based on scientific research, but it also made me consider why I run in the first place. If it is just to stay healthy, then there are obviously other routes that take far less time and are probably more beneficial to my body. Of course, the path of wellness and accomplishment I am on right now seem to provide the benefit of mountain tops, beautiful forests, and seashores, among so many other landscapes and vistas.

So running probably isn't the most efficient workout program out there, but it is certainly one that seems to work for me, and I guess that is all that matters!

Happy Trails.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bogging Around in Carver - Edaville Rail Race Report

Edaville was an interesting race from the standpoint that I grew up in the next town over from where Edaville is located, and I have always had this thing about running a race in an amusement park. I think I am one of the few people that goes to Six Flags (NJ or MA) or Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire and thinks about how it would be just great to run a race past the rides, attractions, and food stands. Edaville was a microcosm of that dream, as I have often been riding the train that takes passengers around the property, mostly during the winter months, for the famed Christmas Train Ride. During the ride we'd cross dirt roads and I'd dream about running these roads, mostly around the surrounding cranberry bogs, in a race one day.

My dream was almost delayed because we had trouble dealing with the roads and weather to get down to Carver, and I hoped out of the car at 9:30 for a 10:00 start... yikes. Having felt weak from a week of fighting some sort of respiratory cold, I didn't have too many expectations, so getting there late wasn't as bad, since a warm up wasn't really in the card due to the pseudo-bronchitis and the terrible weather.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida made the race a windy and soggy mess, which, of course, made me much more of a happy camper, because this is the South Shore of MA in November, which should only have two settings: Blue sky and brilliant foliage, and Nor'Easter Nastiness. Hmm... sounds like some sort of seasonal flavor or scent - Yankee Candle can contact me if they so desire.

So after the RD figured out how to set off the bull horn siren (it took a moment or two) we were sent off:

The course itself was 5 miles of dirt roads with a couple really, REALLY short hills. The mud and puddles seemed to neutralize the absolute flatness of the course, and it is scary to think what kind of times this course could produce when the real hard core roadies show up for a little off road fun!

I basically settled in with no real goals in mind. Based on my training and sickness I was thinking Mid to low 40's for a finish time, with a realistic goal of 42:30. I wanted to challenge breaking 8:00/mile pace, but wasn't sure if my body would cooperated, plus my training hasn't been all that consistent to warrant that, or so I thought.

The first mile was a typical shakeout and shuffle of runners, I tried to find a seam where I could think about my form and just running easy. We reached the mile split in 7:46, which piqued my interest, but I knew any gains would most certainly be consumed in the latter miles. The pace felt good, though, and I moved up comfortably passing runners. At about 1 1/2 miles I met another trail runner from Greater Framingham RC, who happened to be Jeff Hattem, a name I knew from various ENETRS events, and we chatted about Rich Busa and couple other things, and we hit the two mile split at 16 minutes flat. Having felt like I slowed down to chat I was a little inspired that I was still on 8 pace. I told Jeff I was going to pick up the pace and see if I could gain a little time, and off I went!

The third mile was more laborious and less friendly, as I seemed to be doing an Indian Run with the same group of runners, but something must have been clicking, as I arrived at 3 miles in 23:32. The fourth mile I was waiting for that lactic acid death knell in my quads, but stayed mentally tough, getting to mile 4 as the volunteer was calling out "31!". Befuddled that all I had to do was run a 9 for the last mile, I just tried to hold on as best I could and not wimp out for any short walking breaks. This was tough when we were sent into the teeth of the gusting Northeasterly wind, but an old tip from my college XC coach years ago resounded in my head. It is interesting how when I encounter different 'tough' elements in training or a race, those old, seemingly insignificant lessons we gain in some random workout years earlier seem to stick.

My form was sufficiently in the toilet, see photographic evidence below, and I could hear the RD at the finish cheering us in. That's the crappy part about having low vision, knowing where the finish line is can be essentially to gauging what you can and cannot expend on a finishing kick, and I had hoped the flatness of the course would result in a clear sight line to the finish.

It was hillarious, though, as I came to the finish, a woman I passed yelled at me, and in my finishing delirium I slowed to acknowledge her. She wanted to know all about my Vibram FiveFinger KSOs, and how they handled the course, and I politely answered and excused myself to cover the last 250 yards of the race:

My official finishing time: 39:11! I was pumped. Yes, it was a flat course, and amid to other personal PRs I have from my younger days, 39:11 for 5 miles would be considered a horrendous training run where I had projectile vomit for half the run and had to stop 4 or 5 miles. In fact, back in college, my 'easy' training pace was 6:30 a mile for run 5 to 10 miles... oh how fortunes change!

Nevertheless, in my new world of midpacking and trying to lose weight and increase fitness to gain an iota of those old feats, this was unexpected and very sweet. In fact, my Garmin had the course being over 5 miles, and my 5 mile split per the Garmin was 38:38.

The post race festivities were great with lots of opportunity to mingle and chat with other runners. Lots of food and drink, and some live music.

Overall Nate Cristofori was the winner in 28:20, with NETT's Dave Hannon grabbing the second spot, and Jon Chesto of South Boston coming in third. Jill Strathdee of South Weymouth was the Women's winner in a time of 34:16, outpacing Eleanor Brennan-Hall, the women's runner up by nearly two minutes.

The race was not without some of the regulars on the trail circuit. As mentioned above, Dave Hannon and Jeff Hattem were in attendance, as well as Paul Young, Art Magni, and Linda Solomon. Marshall Randolph and John Burke were also there, adding to their overall dominance in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series.

I just continue to chug along on the journey:

One note on the Vibrams. I really believe that they helped me run faster. The lightweight, as well as the light foot placement really helped me stay vigilant about good form and staying on my toes. It really is the same effect that one gets from wearing track spikes or Cross Country flats. The only downside was that the seam between the fabric upper and rubber sole really does not forgive the rawness of one's foot when they get wet. Sure, the traction remains great on the feet, but the insides of my feet that contacted the seams got cut up pretty bad. Even with a pair of Injinji toe socks, I am afraid that this would have been the case, and I just would have had bloody socks.

Ultimately, I think I will still experiment with the Vibrams, but I might go back to an idea of finding a lighter responsive trail shoe to get a little more protection, but also have the benefits of a lighter, simpler ride. Any suggestions?

Until the next adventure, Happy Trails!

Friday, November 13, 2009

PREVIEW: Edaville Rail Run... More Running in Nor'Easter Fun.

So here's to hoping the RD of the Edaville Rail Race is as hardy and fun-loving as the RD for Ravenswood. The day before Ravenswood we were all told it was happening, come hell or high water, or both. But that was for a REAL trail race, on a REAL trail running course, attracting mostly the diehards of the trail community.

Edaville is arranged by the Colonial Road Runners, a great local club here in Massachusetts, and they regularly offer 'roadie friendly' trail races. I enjoy these events because they are inclusive of both the trail and road folks, but occasionally some of the bad habits of the roads bleed over into the normally festival like atmosphere of a true trail race. This being said, I expect it will be a good time, and the rollicking joy of trail runners eager to ply their trade in the wind and weather will cancel out the bitching of delicate road types. :-)

As things would have it, this race will be one of the last remaining opportunities to score some points in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series. With Edaville, Lil Rhody Runaround, and Middlesex Fells being the tentative last three races on the ENETRS calendar. For up to date standings and results, please visit:

After a week of respiratory sickness and a really bad cold, I am not expecting anything too fancy. Plus my first purposeful ultra training run last night just proved that my lower abdominals are still in sad shape, and I need to scale back, and build. Bummer.

The course itself is a single 5 mile loop of pavement and dirt roads. Proper Vibram country I imagine, so I am thinking of barefooting for the race. Having been to the Edaville location a few times in my life, I know it will be a very open course, with little cover from the elements, which should also make for some very interesting experiences! It won't be a quarter as challenging as I know to expect when I attempt to complete the Skyline circuit in a few weeks at the Middlesex Fells, but it will be off-road.

Mostly I run Saturday as a tribute to all of the Veterans out there. A friend of mine, retired from serving as an Army Ranger, gave me a bandana when we moved back east, telling me it was a tradition among his unit to pass along a bandana when someone was headed home. I have been reluctant to wear the bandana because I feel sorry that I haven't been able to serve my country like the last three generations of men in my family, on account of my eye condition, but after all that has transpired these last few months - a fellow Plymouthean dying in Afghanistan, my cousin prepping to head over to Afghanistan, and a general feeling that America is forgetting about the Men and Women that serve this country, I realize that sometimes showing support is a little way to serve.

Happy Trails!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Getting Spooky in Saugus at the Breakheart Reservation!

This weekend I decided it was time to head out and do some 'serious' trail running, and as opportunity has a keen sense of rearing its head around the corner every now and again, I was fortunate that the family was headed south to visit 'Nana' and do some trick or treating. Since Nana lives in Saugus and I was really looking for some great trails, it was not hard to ask the wife if there was any way she could drop me off in the woods for a little R&R. I know, us trail running types are an odd bunch!

I was also fairly interested in what I could do on some more technical trails with the Vibram FiveFingers, and since I really only wore the Vibrams in my other run of the week - a night time mile time trial on the roads, where my Garmin blinked out - GRRRR, I didn't think the 'barefooting' would be a problem.

So Vibrams snuggly on toes I headed out to the trail that Breakheart Dan and I had regularly started on the 2 or 3 times we have met for a jaunt on his stomping grounds.

Initially, I started on the Lodge Trail, which links with the Saugus River Trail, and found that the comfy pine-needle covered trail quickly transitioned to a little more rooty and rocky terrain. I headed over the Saugus River Bridge toward Camp Nihan, but the lack of marked trails and multitude of cut paths really inspired me to get back over the river and on to the Saugus River Trail.

One thing I both like and dislike about the Saugus River Trail is the terrain. It can be a labyrinth of twisty, turny pine-needle goodness, or it can be a nasty collection of narrow single track with lots of roots and rocks, and especially along the river bank it is along a slope, making an already tricky section that much more difficult. With that said, I don't look at difficult terrain as a detraction, it is just another part of the adventure of running on trails!

Away from the Saugus River Trail I headed over to Pearce Lake, looking very seasonal with the Autumn colors:

After taking some time to take a couple pictures I headed off toward Eagle Rock, which was actually one of the trails I was really looking forward to running.

Finding the trailhead, I was given one last chance to back out, but the vista beckoned...

(decisions, decisions...)

(Up, up, and away!)

(Bird's Eye View)

I stood atop Eagle Rock for a while, just looking at the panoramic view of the landscape in transition from Summer vitality to Winter dormancy. It really is one of the greatest times to be a New England Runner. Coming down off of Eagle Rock I was really amazed by the increased level of traction that the Vibrams were providing. Where my trail shoes leave me a little tentative on rocky descents, the lack of shoe and near Spider Man like grip on the rocks were really a bonus!

I realized I was getting short on time, as I promised the wife I'd only be about an hour, and on Halloween you should never make two kids wait to get all dressed up for a night of taking candy from strangers!

Per past runs with Breakheart Dan, I followed the Pearce Lake trail, but quickly realized the folly of my choice of escape route. The Pearce Lake Trail is actually very technical and my 'run' quickly turned into a speed hike along the shores of the Lake. I also tweeted my arch on a few too many roots and serious bruised the bottom of my right foot.

Eventually I made it back out of the trails and on to the paved path for cyclists, road runners, and elderly women :-), and decided it was the quickest way back to the parking lot. As I cruised over the path, seemingly toward the parking lot, I spied the 'Ridge Link Trail', which sounded vaguely familiar from runs with Dan, so I took it. Wrong Answer! More solid rock and irritation of an already tender right foot! The irritation inspired a sudden desire to work on my road running skills and I headed back out on the road.

The good news is that if I had continued on the Ridge Link Trail I actually would have been headed in the wrong direction altogether. The bad news is that when I emerged on the paved path, instead of going South, I headed North on the road. I didn't realize this until I found myself at the north gate of the Reservation in Wakefield.

I quickly consulted the trail map and decided that I could have in much worse shape if I was making bad decisions on actual trails, but the good thing about Breakheart is that if you stick the road, it basically loops you back to where you started. Unfortunately, I was looking at the possibility of an angry wife and two kids because here I was at the other side of the park, in an entirely different town, and just a shade off of an hour on my Garmin!

I eventually made it back to the Saugus entrance, but paid my pennance by intermittently stepping on acorns fallen from the trees shedding foliage, which wouldn't have been so bad if I had something a little more substantial guarding my bruised arch. I had hoped this would have been the smooth ride home, but alas it was just plain nuts!

I must admit my adventure in Breakheart was totally worth the bumps and the bruises. Breakheart really is a hidden jewel of the network of open spaces and hiking trails in Eastern Massachusetts. It offers all types of terrain, and is definitely an option if you want to work on some technical trail running.

The Vibrams did a decent job on the rocks, preserving traction much more than I have with my trail shoes, and the barefoot feeling is great when a sure step or quick step is needed to get over or around an obstacle. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of protection when you do catch a root or protruding rock. The experiment continues, but today was a day I would have appreciated a rock plate!

I overheard a rep from Inov8 talking about a more responsive trail shoe, which might be a nice happy medium for me on the trails, but with funds being low, I'll just have to go with the gear I have!