San Diego Marathon Training, Gear, and Race Nutrition

This Sunday is the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon and the first marathon I’ve ran since 2005. Even though my training hasn’t been on point with a few disaster weeks thrown into the mix, I’m excited! This is my first “A” race of the year and my first endurance performance test in a long time. The following is an overview of my training, gear, and race nutrition plan:

Training:

I’ve been following the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Method training philosophy.  I gravitated towards the MAF Method because it is a holistic approach in which performance, health, and lifestyle are all intertwined. Fitness and health are NOT the same thing. Ryan Hall is a recent example of an elite endurance runner that announced a surprising early retirement this year due to health concerns. I have no interest in sacrificing health for athletic performance.

The basic theory behind MAF training is most workouts should be done at, or below, the maximum aerobic heart rate, which is estimated to be 180 minus your age (in my case that is 147). As soon as my heart rate exceeds my aerobic max, I need to slow down/walk until it falls back below. With training, the body should get faster and more efficient at an aerobic heart rate. There are athletes that can run 6-ish min miles at a comfortable aerobic heart rate.

The magic of improving the aerobic system is that the body primarily burns fat for energy in an aerobic state. Fat burning is metabolically healthier and provides many other health benefits (more on that another time) than relying on glucose (i.e., carbs and sugar). This also means I don’t need to ingest as many carbs in a race to maintain performance. Besides…nobody really likes gels anyway.

The biggest drawbacks to the MAF method is that it requires patience and is very individualistic. You won’t be able to find a 16 week MAF training plan template online. Additionally, lifestyle factors (e.g., stress and diet) can inhibit training improvements. Therefore, if you aren’t seeing improvements in your pace at maximum aerobic heart rate, it may be caused by other health factors outside of training. There are a lot of nuances with this approach (e.g., when is OK to exceed maximum aerobic heart rate) and is the main reason why I’ve been consulting with Coach Tawnee (she is a MAF Method expert). So…if you are looking for quick performance results or just want a standard 16 week training plan..this method won’t be for you. However, if you want to be a lifelong athlete with good health…this approach is the way to go!

My typical PLANNED weekly training schedule over the last 6-8 weeks is below. Now…PLANNED is much different than ACTUAL. With our home renovation, move and work schedule…a perfect week of training was rare:

Run frequency of 4-5x per week:

  • 2 x 45-75 minutes runs at MAF heart rate in a fasted state (no eating beforehand)
  • 1 x intense run session with intervals ranging from 20 seconds to ½ mile or a moderate tempo session
  • 1 x long run at MAF heart rate with a goal of three 20 milers before the marathon. These can include fast finishes and should be used to practice race nutrition

Additionally, for some cross training, recovery, and to ease into triathlon training, 2-3 bike sessions and a few weekly swim sessions should be thrown into the mix as well. Mobility work should also continue to be a daily practice.

Check out my last training post if you want to see my build-up to the above.

Gear:

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Shoes: I’m a believer in minimalist footwear and allowing the foot to work as designed without interfering with too much support or cushion. I love Skora shoes and I’m currently using their Tempo model.

Socks: Nearly as important as shoes for long distance running in my mind. For the marathon and long runs I wear Wrightsocks. I use the Running II model which are double layered and are basically blister proof. They aren’t ideal on hot days because of the thickness but otherwise they are amazing.

Shirt & Shorts: I’m not too particular about either. I’m fine with a basic light weight tech t-shirt that wicks and I prefer running shorts that have a built in lining. I seem to mostly have C9 and Lululemon apparel though.

Sunglasses: I had enough eye problems as a kid that I don’t want to muck with contacts and putting stuff in my eye. Therefore, I need prescription sunglasses that allow for a fairly strong prescription. Rudy Project sunglasses have prescription inserts that do just that. The outer, non-prescription lens on the pair I have changes based on the brightness so I can also use them like straight-up glasses in low light.

Water Bottle: I like to carry some of my own hydration and I prefer a handheld water bottle to a belt. Running with a belt that is bouncing (no matter how well it fits) drives me crazy. I use this 16oz model from Amphipod. It is really comfortable, doesn’t leak, and has a pocket to carry additional nutrition (or cellphone, keys, ID, etc.) Speaking of nutrition….

Race Nutrition:

I try to avoid the franken-sugary gels and sports drinks that are on the course. Since I’ve been training my body to run more efficiently on stored body fat, I’m not planning to take in a ton of exogenous calories.

Sports Drink: I’m going to use a homemade sports drink consisting of coconut water, chia seeds, honey, and some sea salt. I’ll use about 1 to 1.5 Tbsp of chia seeds per 16oz of water and about a 3:1 ratio of chia seeds to honey. The chia seeds turn into little gummy balls and it looks gross….but is actually delicious!

Gel Alternative: Instead of gels, I’ll take in one pouch of Vespa immediately before the race and then one per hour during the race. Vespa has a peptide that supposedly helps the body use fat for fuel. Sounds a bit hokey and woo-woo but I actually noticed a difference on my training runs. Since each pouch is only 18 calories, the boost definitely wasn’t coming from the calories.

The weather forecast for Sunday is looking perfect so it should be a good time! If anyone has any interest in tracking me you can do so HERE. Wish me luck!

Race Recap: Koz Spring Sprint

May 1st was the Koz Spring Sprint triathlon, my first race of the 2016 season and my first triathlon in a couple of years. It reminded me why and how much I love this sport! It was a sprint distance (1/4 mile swim, 10 mile bike, and 3 mile run) at San Diego’s Mission Bay so a perfect way to ease back into racing…and also a good thing because my swim and bike training has been non-existent with my upcoming marathon. Since it was a sprint distance, I was approaching it more like an intensity workout session for the week and an opportunity to experiment with a new wetsuit. Therefore, I mostly maintained my weekly training schedule but took two rest days prior to race day.

Race Morning:

The transition area opened at 5:40am and closed at 6:45am so I planned to leave our house a little before 6:00am because the race site was only 20 minutes away. I was up at 5:15am, made myself a fatty coffee with butter and coconut oil, grabbed my pre-packed gear bag, loaded my bike in the car, and was on the road jamming out to my pre-race playlist on schedule to be at the race site just after 6…

…and then I hit the race traffic. I expected we could use the parking lot at the race site but that turned out to be closed for the event so everyone was getting detoured to park on a side road. So what I thought was going to be a short walk to the transition area with ample time to check-in and setup turned out to be a short bike ride and a stressful and hurried check-in and setup before the transition area closed. Not how I wanted my pre-race to go. Lessons learned:

  1. Pay close attention to race morning logistics
  2. Always get to the event early
  3. Bring a sharpie to do my own body marking

Race Start:

I got out of the transition area with about 5 minutes to spare and headed to the swim start. I quickly realized I hadn’t considered that my vision has gotten a bit worse since my last race and I had to leave my glasses in transition. I was able to manage but…duly noted…time to look into getting a pair of prescription goggles.

As I was floating in the water waiting for my wave to start all the chaos from the morning washed away and I was getting stoked. It was Go Time!

Swim:

I love swimming but I will always dread triathlon swim starts. When everyone goes from vertically treading water to horizontal it becomes chaos and full-contact swimming. My swim was pretty disastrous. My goggles fogged up and leaked, I expended a ton of energy finding a position in the pack, and I was fighting against my wetsuit sleeves the entire time. This was the first time I’ve swam with a full arm wetsuit and it felt like I was pulling against elastic bands with each stroke. I got tired pretty quickly with next to no swim training leading up to this race. I never found a good rhythm and just couldn’t wait until I got back to shore.

Bike:

The bike course was two loops with three 180 degree turnarounds on each loop, which was a bit annoying, but the terrain was slightly rolling, which I absolutely loved. I went down to my aero bars, found a rhythm, and just tried to hammer. These SoCal athletes don’t mess around with their equipment. My circa 2004 tri bike felt like a knife at a gun fight against some of the machines that were on the course. I had more than a few moments of bike envy. Despite not having done much biking to date, I thought I had a pretty solid performance. My run fitness definitely carried over to my bike but I know I have a lot more potential in this event.

137289-148-005h

Run:

A two lap course that was pretty flat. Running after biking normally feels awkward but I didn’t notice it so much this time. Unfortunately, marathon training did not translate well to the run leg of a sprint triathlon. Most of my runs have been at a MAF heart-rate with the intent of building aerobic speed over a long distance. However, the run portion of a sprint triathlon is an anaerobic pain cave that I hadn’t prepared for. Either way, I was determined to chase down a guy that had passed me right at the end of the bike so I just tried to turn my mind off and get after him (I did manage to catch him about halfway through the 2nd loop). I actually wished the run was a bit longer because by the time I started to loosen up and turn up the pace the run was nearly over.

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Overall, I was pretty pleased with my result because I know there is still a ton of room for improvement.

30-34 Division Place: 12/55

EventTime
Total Time1:10:47
Swim10:55
T101:46
Bike33:44
T201:02
Run23:22

Bouncing Back from Disaster Weeks

It happens to all of us…we get in a good routine and are super motivated for a handful of weeks…and then we have a disaster week. Life gets stressful and workouts are infrequent (or not at all), healthy eating takes a back seat to convenience, we get less sleep (or lower quality sleep), and it all starts to spiral into a negative feedback loop.

That happened to me the other week. Work got crazy, home renovation issues galore, workers were at our house from 7am to 7pm nearly every day, we were living out of boxes, we couldn’t leave our dogs at home without one of us sitting in a room with the door shut… There was no respite from the chaos. Stress at work and stress at home with no place to retreat became a bad combo. My wife and I had short fuses, stress eating empty carbs happened more than a few times (often accompanied by a beer…or two), I stayed up too late trying to get caught up, key workout sessions were missed. Not exactly living the “Tri Balanced Life” that I’m after.

When a disaster week strikes, I do my best to just focus on the basics, which are my core foundational principles (Sleep, Diet, Low-Level Activity, Productivity, and Relationships). Everything extracurricular gets put on hold…including training sessions. Disaster weeks are stressful and the body doesn’t differentiate between work stress and workout stress. Skipping a workout could actually be for the greater good if the body is already run down from life stress. Therefore, I’ll listen to my body and take an extra rest day if I need it. Sometimes the best workout session is extra sleep after all.

Even when I focus on just my core foundational principles during disaster weeks, some days I might only muster enough self-discipline for one healthy meal and I strike-out on everything else. The important thing is to NOT stress about the perceived slip-ups and imperfections. In fact…imperfections might actually be exactly what I need sometimes. Sitting all afternoon might make me a little more productive than standing. Sharing a gluten-filled pizza and a local craft beer on a date night with my wife could be the perfect way to hit the chaos pause button and relax. I try to be intuitive (within reason). On the most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days I’ll just go to bed early and get after it the next day.

Eventually…the disaster week passes and normalcy resumes. By staying focused on my core foundational principles I can pick up right where I left off without too much regression in my health and fitness level.

The Life Changing Magic of Moving

We are finally getting out of our apartment and moving into a house! Thanks to our good friends and realtors Todd and Luke of House333, we found the perfect fixer upper in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood for a great price. The location is absolutely perfect! We are three blocks from Balboa Park (a runner’s paradise), a short bike to a lap pool, and walking distance to organic markets and great restaurants.

Over the past four months we have been doing a complete renovation of the property. Thanks again to Luke and Todd of House333 for connecting us with the best contractors we have ever worked with! My wife is an absolute amazing designer…and I gotta say….this is her best work yet! Not even joking…there is not one person from HGTV that I would rather have design our house over my wife.

The Life Changing Magic of Getting Rid of My $h!t

Normally I despise moving and wouldn’t wish it upon on my enemies but I’m actually really looking forward to this move. A good friend recommended a book (thanks Tara!!!) called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. The basic premise of the book is that you should get rid of every possession that does not immediately “spark joy” through the application of the “KonMari” method, which is a systematic process of going through your belongings.

Some of my favorite tidbits from the book are:

  • Organizing just creates an illusion that clutter isn’t a problem.
  • Excess is caused by our ignorance of how much we actually own.
  • We should be choosing the things we want to keep and not what we want to get rid of.
  • We are surrounded by too many things we don’t need “just because” we might need them in the future.

The main point is that a cluttered space equals a cluttered mind and by freeing ourselves of the excess, joyless stuff it frees us to pursue whatever it is that makes us happy. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment since my very first post was trying to get at the same thing in a less articulate manner. I really believe in the idea that all the things I own should truly add value to my life and not feel like a burden. Just imagine if every possession we had brought us joy…I know…a little “woo woo” but kinda mind-blowing.

KonMari Method in Four Sentences

Marie advocates that tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Discarding should be done all at once, intensely, and completely. We shouldn’t even consider putting things away until we have finished discarding. When it is time to put things away, all items of the same type should be stored in the same place.

Since moving literally requires touching everything I own before putting it away in our new house, it provides the perfect opportunity to undertake her method for simplifying, organizing, and storing. Therefore, I’m actually kinda looking forward to something that is mostly pretty terrible.

My Favorite Gut Friendly Foods to be a Good Bacteria Host

In my opinion, there are two primary things linked to gut health:

  1. Proper digestion
  2. Gut bacteria / microbiota

In my last post I covered how digestion is linked to gut health and what I have been doing to optimize my digestion. The other key component to a healthy gut is the trillion+ gut bacteria that we have a symbiotic relationship with. If you’ve been paying attention to health & wellness and/or food trends lately, you’ve probably heard something about probiotics and gut bacteria. If you need a refresher on why gut bacteria are important to gut health, make sure to go back and check out this post.

In addition to improving my digestion, the other thing I’ve been doing to improve my gut health is trying to be an ideal host to all my good bacteria friends. There are four different diet strategies I’ve been using to be a model bacteria host. Just like any good party host knows, you need to invite the right people, keep the guest list interesting, provide adequate food and drink for the guests, and make sure the cops don’t shut it down. #PartyPlanningBasics

Don’t know how to be a bacteria party host via your diet? Let me explain:

  • Invite a lot of the right people by eating plenty of fermented foods and/or taking a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha contain beneficial probiotic bacteria. Consuming these foods supplies the gut with more good bacteria (just like inviting good friends to a party). Keep in mind though, your gut has trillions of bacteria so this is like dumping a cup of water into a swimming pool so the key is consistency and eating a little every day with every meal. Some of my favorite fermented foods at the moment are:Fage Yogurt

Fage Total Greet Yogurt – Instead of ice cream for dessert, I’ll eat full fat plain greek yogurt with berries, chia seeds, and coconut flakes.

Farmhouse-Culture-KrautFarmhouse Culture kraut and kimchi – the key to kraut/kimchi is getting the refrigerated stuff that isn’t pasteurized (which kills the bacteria). I really like the different flavor varieties that Farmhouse Culture offers.Synergy Kombucha

GT’s Enlightened Kombucha – This is basically fermented tea and is becoming much trendier. There are lots of different brand options and places popping up that offer “Kombucha on tap”. I’m starting to substitute Kombucha for my afternoon coffee.

primal-probioticsPrimal Probiotics – If you don’t like fermented foods or can’t eat them frequently, probiotic supplementation is another good option. The tricky part is that quality and potency can be all over the board with these so beware of just buying whatever is on the shelf of mass retailers. Good supplements offer a diversity of bacteria strains with capsules that can make it through the stomach to decrease the amount of bacteria killed by stomach acid.

  • Keep the guest list interesting and diverse by switching up the types/brands of fermented foods you eat and supplements you take. The best hosts bring together different people, that otherwise may not mingle, to create great new relationships. Therefore, I make it a point to change-up the probiotic supplements I take and the types of fermented foods I eat. This also helps prevent flavor fatigue.
  • Eat plenty of prebiotic fiber so your bacteria friends always have enough food. Great parties never seem to run out of food or drinks so you gotta make sure you keep your bacteria guests fed. Bacteria eat prebiotics, which is essentially fiber (carbohydrates that can’t be digested by our body) that is abundant in vegetables. My favorites are:Leafy Greens

Lots of green vegetables (especially leafy greens) – I probably eat 1-2 of the large plastic containers of organic leafy greens each week. I put a few giant handfuls in my morning green smoothie, saute them with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and add them to scrambled eggs. I love my leafy greens.

Garden of Life Greens Formula

Garden of Life Perfect Food Super Green Formula – This is a super concentrated dose of leafy green vegetables that I’ll add to my morning green smoothie. It even has probiotics!

 

  • Never let the cops break up a good party so avoid taking “just-in-case” broad spectrum antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria. There continues to be more and more evidence about how important gut bacteria are to our health. Broad spectrum antibiotics don’t discriminate amongst bacteria and will kill even the good ones. This reminds me of a classic high school movie party scene. So…I avoid taking broad spectrum antibiotics unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.

little-girl-running-from-police

One caveat…I’m far from a medical professional and some of the things I mention above may actually be counterproductive depending on individual issues. The severity of gut issues may dramatically change the things necessary to bring everything back into balance.

 

Optimizing Digestion for Better Gut Health

As I explained in my last post, gut health is vital for immunity, reducing inflammation, and nutrient absorption, all of which are important for athletes and just general overall health and wellness. In my opinion, there are two primary things necessary for gut health:

  1. Proper digestion
  2. Gut bacteria / microbiota

Therefore, those are the two main things I’m focusing on to improve the health of my gut. Gut bacteria have been getting most of the attention on the health scene lately but something that I think should be equally considered in the gut health equation is optimizing the digestive process. Before we all start ordering probiotic supplements and devouring fermented foods we should all take a moment to understand how digestion works.

The sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems are the two parts the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system responsible for controlling bodily functions like breathing, heartbeat, and digestive processes. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are like yin and yang. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, heart rate increases, muscles contract, saliva production is reduced, and the stomach stops many of the digestive functions (one of the reasons we get stomach cramps if we eat before a hard training session). Correspondingly, when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, muscles relax, heart rate drops, saliva production increases and digestive enzymes are released.

It important that our parasympathetic nervous system is active when we eat because proper digestion requires saliva and the release of various digestive enzymes in addition to the acid in the stomach to properly breakdown food. Problems can start to occur pretty quickly if food isn’t properly digested when it is released from the stomach into the small intestine. Undigested food molecules can compromise the lining of the gut and lead to leaky gut. If these undigested molecules pass through the gut lining into the blood stream, our immune system is called into action and it creates inflammation. Undigested food particles that make it all the way to the large intestine can even disrupt the gut flora and cause various other issues. Let’s be real…angering the large intestine is ill-advised. Nobody wants to be the third stall bandit.

bathroom-stall-7

Now that we know how proper digestion and gut health are connected, these are some of the things I have been doing to optimize my digestion:

  • Eating in a more relaxed state to activate my parasympathetic nervous system. I’ve been trying to sit down to enjoy my meals vs. devouring food on the go or shoveling food in my mouth between meetings. Essentially just trying to get my body into the rest-and-digest mode when I’m eating.
  • Thoroughly chewing food so it is can mix with the enzymes in saliva and is broken down enough for the stomach to do its thing more effectively.
  • Taking a digestive enzyme supplement prior to big meals because the body may not be able to produce adequate enzymes to break down meals that are high in fat and protein. Therefore, I take one to two capsules of this digestive enzyme supplement prior to my biggest meals to give my digestive system a little extra help.
  • Not drinking a lot of water before, during, or after meals because it may dilute stomach acid. Pepsin is the enzyme that breaks down protein and is more effective with a lower pH level (higher acidity) in the stomach. Drinking a lot of water before, during, or immediately after meals has the potential to slightly dilute stomach acid and raise the pH environment in the stomach that may inhibit the breakdown of harder to digest proteins. I try to limit water intake ~20 minutes before and up to an hour after a meal.
  • Not snacking unless I’m truly hungry. For one, there really isn’t any evidence that snacking throughout the day increases metabolism beyond what is required to digest food. For two, the gut needs some downtime to take care of housekeeping activities like repairing the gut lining. If it is constantly digesting food…these activities can’t occur.
  • Not eating too close to bedtime because laying down isn’t exactly an optimal position to digest a meal. I try to avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Letting it all hang out and not sucking in my stomach. Over the years I’ve developed a habit of holding in my stomach. This may help me look better in a swimsuit photo but it is not good for promoting proper digestion. Sucking in the stomach doesn’t provide the digestive system with the space it needs to function properly and interferes with the wave like motion of the intestines, causing a delay in digestion. Contrary to popular belief, sucking in the stomach doesn’t activate the abs.
  • Limiting and avoiding foods that could promote leaky gut like excessive sugar, grains, and dairy. Gliadin is a protein molecule that is found in most gluten containing foods (wheat and processed foods being the biggest culprit) that can cause an inflammatory reaction in the gut. Gliadin tolerance can vary from full-blown celiac to total tolerance. As we know, inflammation in the gut can increase gut permeability (leaky gut) and nutrient malabsorption. Here is the deal…I’m not saying gluten is the root of all food evil like it often gets made out to be because everyone tolerates it differently. All I’m saying is that, because of the potential implications to gut health, I would prefer to make other food choices that are more gut friendly.

I’ve been doing the things above for a few weeks now and I’ve definitely started to notice a an improvement in my digestion. One of the most surprising things I’ve noticed is that my food and sugar cravings have gone way down and I actually feel like I don’t need to eat as much. #Boom

Based on my experience, I’m starting to be a big believer in this whole gut health movement.

The Importance of Gut Health and Why It’s My Focus Area

Gut health and the microbiome are the next health frontier. In the past, the only time I would have thought about my gut is when it was in pain and holding me back from peak performance. Even though I don’t have major digestive or autoimmune issues, I have come to realize there are still some compelling reasons why the gut needs a little more love and attention.

The digestive system is pretty hard to love after all. It is essentially a giant mucus lined tube that is home to over 500 hundred species and three pounds of bacteria. And why should we care about giving TLC to something like that? Oh…I’ll tell you why:

Over 70% of our immune system is in the digestive tract. Our digestive system is one of the main ways nasties from the external environment get into our bodies. Think about the all things that can hitch a ride on the food we eat, the chemicals that are in processed food, or the mouthful of pool/lake/ocean water that inadvertently gets swallowed once in awhile. One of the greatest challenges for the digestive tract and surrounding immune system is differentiating between the good stuff we ingest (nutrients, good bacteria, etc.) and the bad stuff (toxins, parasites, bad bacteria, etc.). We rely on this system to let all the good stuff in and keep all the bad stuff out.

The good bacteria in our gut help train the immune system to identify what is good and what is bad. They even attack foreign invaders. Therefore, the health of our gut and our immune system are vitally linked. When one is in balance, the other is usually in balance as well.

Our bodies are protected from the toxic environment in our digestive system by a layer that is only one cell thick. We basically have a tube of toxins and sewage running through us that is lined by a single layer of epithelial cells whose cell membranes fuse together to form protein complexes called tight junctions. These junctions have the final say on what gets into our bodies and what doesn’t. The nerd in me can’t help but think of a bunch of Gandalfs…

You-shall-not-pass1

Unfortunately, these junctions can be comprised by things like a poor diet, chronic stress, medications, low stomach acid, overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, parasites, and excessive environmental toxins. When these junctions are compromised they can allow un-screened molecules to flow directly into the bloodstream (aka, leaky gut). Our immune system attacks these foreign molecules and this creates inflammation. If leaky gut is left unchecked it can cause systemic inflammation. Systemic gut inflammation is correlated to food intolerances, eczema, celiac disease, and other autoimmune diseases. Of course, these correlations could just be coincidental but a leaky gut definitely isn’t helping the matter.

The good bacteria in our gut help play defense by taking up space and providing an additional layer between the bad stuff and the tight junctions. They also help prevent bad bacteria and parasite overgrowth by using up all the necessary resources so the bad guys don’t have any resources to utilize for themselves. Good bacteria even secrete chemicals that influence the integrity of the intestinal lining.

A comprised gut may not effectively absorb nutrients. Gut inflammation impacts the gut’s ability to effectively absorb nutrients. All that money spent on the highest quality food and supplements and time preparing nutritious meals won’t be as beneficial if you can’t effectively absorb all the goodness.

As noted above, good gut bacteria help prevent the causes of gut inflammation. Additionally, gut bacteria help synthesize vitamins and breakdown carbohydrates, that would normally be indigestible, into short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids not only provide a major source of energy and nutrients but also help with the absorption of certain minerals and lipids.

Since I want to be as productive as possible at all times (not getting sick), minimize inflammation except the good, self-inflicted kind from training, and optimize my nutrient absorption to take full advantage of all the high-quality foods I eat, paying attention to and improving my gut health is a no-brainer and is currently a key focus area of mine.

So…what am I doing to improve my gut health? Stay tuned…

My First Coaching Consultation and Adding Training Volume

The 2016 race season is approaching so it is time to start focusing on increasing my fitness and training volume. In the past, I always got by with self-coaching and building my own training plan using the principles in Joe Friel’s book The Triathlete Training Bible. However, since my ultimate dream goal is a Kona Qualification, which will require significant performance improvement, it is time to admit that I need help from an expert. A good coach should provide an objective viewpoint that a self-coached athlete would never get and help across all aspects of racing (race planning, training, nutrition, technique, gear, etc.).

Additionally, I wanted to get a Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Having the ability to go through a full range of movement and the stability to control that movement is paramount to avoiding injury. A FMS is basically a series of seven movements to identify limitations and asymmetries in movement patterns. A score of zero to three is given for each movement. This score is then used to identify the best corrective exercises to restore optimal movement patterns. As I noted in a previous post, I don’t exactly have the best mobility (being tall and lanky isn’t so helpful in this area) so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any major mobility issues before ramping up training volume. I’m in this for the long game and don’t want to be suffering overuse injuries in the future.

I knew straight away who I wanted as a coach, Tawnee Prazak, endurance coach extraordinaire and host of my favorite podcast, Endurance Planet. She also has a great blog at tritawn.com. I love her holistic approach and focus on overall health vs. just athletic performance. She is based in SoCal so when we moved to San Diego I had to see if she would be willing to meet with me. I couldn’t believe it when she responded to my email and agreed to a consult because she is essentially a celebrity trainer in the endurance world.

It was about an hour drive to the Laguna Beach area where her gym is located. I was actually pretty nervous to meet her, which didn’t turn out to be a problem because she was super welcoming and we got straight down to business. We discussed my goals, why I raced, my previous training history and results, why now was a good time to get back into racing, and lifestyle factors that went way beyond just training and racing (family, diet, stress, career, etc.). It was an amazing conversation that lasted nearly an hour but felt more like 5 minutes. After our conversation she took me through a FMS which taught me a lot about my body. For an added bonus, I got to meet her mom on the way out!

About a week later Tawnee sent me the result of my FMS. I scored a 12, not great but better than I expected. A “passing” score is 15 or greater with no scoring imbalances between the right and left side and no scores of 1 on a movement. I had imbalances in my shoulder mobility (lingering high school football injury) and got a 1 on the deep squat and inline lunge.

She also sent me a list of corrective exercises, where to focus my training, and a suggested weekly training schedule. One thing I like about Tawnee’s coaching philosophy is that she won’t just build someone a training plan for the season to blindly follow. She is either going to be your full-time coach or just help provide direction through a consult, which is what I did. I still like to think I know enough about training and nutrition that I don’t need a full-time coach (yet).

The following are some of the key takeaways and things she told me to work on:

  1. Relationships need to come first
  2. Training volume needs to be at least 10 hours per week (this can include walking).
  3. Increasing running volume is the primary objective (especially with my upcoming marathon) with a focus on aerobic training by keeping my heart rate below MAF (essentially 180 minus your age). No intensity until I feel stronger and fitter.
    • At least three run sessions per week with a key long run session that should progressively build to three hours (not including a walking warm-up and cool-down)
    • Some weeks should include Triple Runs (30-60 min morning run, 30-60 min evening run, and another 30-60 min morning run)
  4. Mobility work should be done everyday using a list of exercises she gave me based on my FMS results.
  5. Two days a week of cross training: strength training, swimming, biking, or weighted hiking. I’ve primarily been doing strength training with a focus on stability exercises using another list of exercises based on my FMS results.
  6. Two days a week are open and should focus on active recovery and fun: yoga, focused mobility, easy swimming/cycling, paddle boarding, etc.

I’ve been following this program for about two weeks now and I feel phenomenal! I haven’t been tracking my workout results because I’m just trying to focus on workout consistency to start but I can already feel improvement. I don’t have a heart rate monitor yet so I’ve been relying on perceived exertion on my runs vs. my actual heart rate. That is soon going to change because I just ordered a Timex heart rate monitor for less than $50. A heart rate monitor will also open the door to fitness testing to track training effectiveness and results.

i gotta say…this coaching consult was well worth the investment! I’ll definitely be scheduling another one soon.

Happy training!

The Overlooked Secret to Health and Longevity

Probably the most important and most overlooked aspect of health and endurance training is the impact of relationships. It is so easy to get caught up focusing on optimizing our diet and planning the perfect workout schedule that we don’t consider how our relationships factor into the overall health equation.

This TED Talk summarizes the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development that tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years. The takeaway from the study was “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

To summarize: The presentation had three main takeaways:

  1. Social connections are really good for us and loneliness is toxic: It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family and friends are happier and live longer than people who are less well-connected. People who feel isolated are less happy and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.
  2. Quality over quantity: The benefits of relationships wasn’t about number of friends the study participants had or if they were in a committed relationship, but the quality of those relationships. Essentially, those that were the healthiest at age 80 were also the ones that had the strongest relationships at age 50.
  3. Relationships protect our body and our brains: The people in strong relationships experienced less physical pain and stayed mentally sharp longer as they aged.

And that makes so much sense! If your home life is stressful it is going to elevate cortisol and impact sleep which can cascade into a whole host of other unhealthy repercussions. The thing is, “improving your relationships” is hard so it easier to turn to things like kale and exercise to improve health. Relationships are complex and not always logical but they are also the most fulfilling things we have in our life. And let’s be honest…when our relationships are good life is GREAT and when they aren’t it can SUCK.

My wife and I have really gotten into watching the HGTV show Fixer Upper with Joanna and Chip Gaines. Normally I consider home improvement shows to be beyond boring but this one is different. The dynamic between the husband and wife team is hilarious and inspiring. This is a couple that has four kids, a farm, a TV show, a retail business, a real estate company, they remodel houses, and an upcoming book. I’m just so captivated by how they can work through all of that together and have so much fun doing it when a schedule like that would probably bury most families. They handle it so well because of how strong their relationship is.

I did a consult with Tawnee Prazaak, star endurance coach and host of the Endurance Planet podcast, a few months ago to talk about getting back into long course triathlon and how I should get started (more on that in a future post). One of things she asked that really stuck with me was whether your wife was supportive of your race endeavors. And the fact that I paused and I couldn’t answer with a resounding yes made me think I was starting to get too far ahead of myself.

When my wife and I first started dating I was in the midst of training for an Ironman. During that time I was putting in 20ish hours of training a week so that is what she associates with Ironman training volume. Back then I was in my last semester of college (pretty much a part-time student) and just had a part-time job so I could fit in that type of volume. Now…we have a house, two dogs, and pretty demanding jobs so the idea of me layering in 15-20 hours of training volume on top of our current schedule probably comes off as pretty selfish. And one way to NOT recover well from a long workout is to come home to an annoyed spouse.

Relationships should always come before any training plan. As I start to focus on increasing my training volume it will always be scheduled around family time. For one, I don’t need, or desire, to do as much training volume as I did during my first Ironman.  Lastly, training will always come at the expense of my own endeavors vs. time with my family.

Where I’m going with all of this is that if we want to do epic stuff and live a long and happy life, it would appear that the best thing we can do is spend more time leaning into our relationships and a little less time finding the perfect locally sourced organic kale and squeezing in another workout.

My Favorite Food(s) of the Moment: Green Smoothie

One question that I occasionally get asked is what I’m eating these days. Well…it is usually more like “What IS that?!?!” When it comes to food, my philosophy is to try and maximize the amount of nutrients I get from each calorie I eat. I also like to experiment and try new foods, recipes, and concoctions all the time so I figured I’ll start sharing what my new favorite foods of the moment are.

My favorite food of the moment is my morning green smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to pack in a ton of nutrients but they can also be loaded with sugar if you aren’t careful. Fruit smoothies can end up being just massive sugar bombs. My fruit-free green smoothie has evolved quite a bit over the past few months and currently consists of the following:

  • ½ can Coconut Milk – I switched to canned vs. the carton because canned coconut milk has about three ingredients compared to the laundry list that is on most carton varieties (many of which include carrageenan…not good).
  •  ~1/2 to 1 tsp Maca Powder – Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable that tastes a bit like butterscotch. It is rich in vitamins and may help improve energy, stamina, and endurance. It is also an adaptogen with the potential to help balance hormones.
  • ~1 tsp of Matcha Powder – Matcha is ground up green tea leaves so you get more antioxidants, fiber, and nutrition than just drinking steeped green tea.
  • 1 scoop Greens Powder – Leafy greens are one of the healthiest things you can possibly eat and green food supplementation is a way to get a ton of leafy greens into your diet. The brand I use also has probiotics.
  • ½ Avocado – Excellent source of healthy fat
  • ~1 Tbsp Almond Butter – Even more healthy fat
  • 1 scoop Protein Powder – Make sure to check for added sugar or nasty artificial sweeteners.
  • 1 scoop Collagen Peptides – Similar to gelatin but dissolves instantly into hot or cold liquids. Gelatin is the same protein found in cartilage, joints, bones, skin, hair (not that I have any left to support), and nails. This pretty much runs the gamut on all things anti-aging.
  • 2-3 giant handfuls of fresh Organic Spinach – More leafy greens…no brainer
  • Juice from 1 Lemon – There are two reasons I add lemon juice 1) lemon helps support digestive hydrochloric acid in the stomach to aid digestion and 2) it helps prevent oxidation of all the goodness I noted above when you pummel everything in the blender.

All of the above items go into my blender and I use the pulse setting to blend just enough to get everything combined. You don’t want to pulverize and damage your food…it’s sensitive. I also like my smoothie super thick to the point that I eat it with a spoon. If I need more blending liquid I use a bit of coconut water.

After I’ve blended everything and poured it into my giant travel mug. I mix in two more items for additional texture and even more added nutrition:

  • 2-3 Tbsp Cacao Nibs – Raw chocolate that adds a nice crunch. Cacao nibs are also packed with antioxidants and are a good source of magnesium. Magnesium is essential for energy production (pretty important for endurance athletes) and tends to be insufficient in many U.S. diets.
  • ~3 chopped Brazil Nuts – More crunchy texture with a dose of selenium. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, which works as an antioxidant.

Since I like my smoothie super thick and with the added texture from the cacao nibs and Brazil nuts, it requires a little chewing, which also helps activate the digestive enzymes in saliva.

I try and make this smoothie for breakfast almost every morning during the week. Not only is it delicious, packed with nutrition, and filling but it is also portable so I can bring it to work and eat it later since I usually don’t get hungry until mid-morning.

Enjoy! …just make sure you don’t have any greens stuck your teeth when you’re done.