… Well, besides the mental aspect of a total abandonment of what’s been my daily routine for the last two years.
First things first, this was certainly not a “by choice” type of experiment. In mid March, my fitness was at a place it’s never been before. I was crushing 18 and 20 mile runs at a 7:30 pace and feeling reaaaallly good about it, and knocked 82 seconds off of my half marathon PR and ran a 1:27 in literally the worst conditions I’ve ever run in, besides maybe that one day last winter where it was -20 degrees. Everything was going just as planned. I did a blood test with InsideTracker 10 days prior to my half marathon because I wanted to see what was working so well. My testosterone was high, indicating I was recovering quickly, along with a good vitamin D level, and my ferritin was on the low end of optimal, and the downwards trend had been reversed, meaning the changes I was making were working.
There were no signs of overtraining from mental, physical or a biochemical standpoint. I was feeling strong, energized and ready for two marathons in the next five weeks. So what happened?
In between the Shamrock Half and the following Sunday, I ran 60 miles… My highest mileage week, ever. If we had done a blood test that week, it probably would have indicated overreaching, but not overtraining. My coach and I intentionally decided to push it a bit, as I was going to shoot for a more relaxed effort of 3:15-3:19 at Boston, and then go for the PR and BQ at Vermont City. With a PR of 3:27 (Boston, last year), I had a lot of work to do, and stood to benefit from a little fatigue training. On Saturday, 6 days after Shamrock, I ran 20 miles from Hopkinton into Boston, in a race simulation with thousands of other runners. I ran that at a 3:16 marathon pace, which I considered a (very very fun) relaxed effort, and exactly how I was hoping to run a couple of weeks later.
Well, pair that with having some foot strike/push-off issues on top of bad form and a total avoidance of any sort of core work outside of squats and deadlifts, I ran myself into a stress reaction. From looking at the bottoms of my shoes, I spend a lot more time on the outside of my foot than the inside, which looks totally new on both shoes. I tried to run through it, ended up taking a couple of days off until the soreness went away, then ran, and then it came back. Long story short, it was time for a little break with running.
Conveniently, I had tested with InsideTracker’s Ultimate panel just a couple of weeks before I stopped running, so I can compare the second most recent set of results to my test from last week, which was after about 3 weeks of limited/no running (I haven’t run since April 13, and only 5 times total in April, pretty much all at the beginning).
So what changed? Most notably, about a 15% drop (97-82) in glucose over a 7 week period, which as shown below has been a serious issue for me over the last 18 months of monitoring. Why the drop? Our Chief Science Officer Dr. Gil Blander says it’s most likely due to how much I run in the (early) morning and my body adapting to be able to wake up and go, almost immediately. He suggested that I shift some of my runs to the evening and sleep in/cross-train more. The cross-training lines up with what the podiatrist who looked at my foot said, as my calves are way too tight for the mileage that I’m trying to run. I didn’t make any major changes to nutrition that would have an impact on glucose, except maybe more consistently eating oatmeal, which always includes chia and psyllium husk.
As seen by the upward trend in glucose, this was one that I really needed to get under control. It will be very interesting to see what happens when I get back to running and if I’m able to keep it closer to optimal. On the plus side, for now my InnerAge is better than my actual age, since the other 4 markers that make up that calculation (vitamin D, testosterone, ALT and hsCRP) are all optimal!
Glucose has the biggest influence on longevity of all the markers, so a large drop in this contributed to a significant drop in InnerAge, which is good. It was particularly significant compared to the trend of my last tests as well, where glucose has consistently been an issue. The idea here isn’t to say you’re going to live ### years longer/shorter, but aims to highlight a trend – are you heading in the right direction, or is it time to make some changes?
Also interesting was how ferritin continued to climb, but not enough to call a win just yet. Ferritin (the stored form of iron) is one of the markers that takes much longer to improve, so it’s good to see some of the nutritional changes working, at least marginally and heading in the right direction. Hopefully that (and hemoglobin) continue to rise. As seen below, almost half of the InsideTracker users do not have optimal ferritin. What does this mean for athletes? Fatigue. And a doctor most likely saying “you’re normal, this is not a problem” if you were to ask to be tested again, or for guidance. (Note: generally… this commentary is strictly based on the volume of people that come to us, unsatisfied with the assistance they’re getting through their doctor). A great read on this disconnect between a doctor and runner and why it’s so important to be proactive about your data can be found here.
Besides for that, the other notable change was cortisol continuing to drop dramatically, as expected with a decrease in running. Cortisol hasn’t been one of the areas I’ve paid much attention to, and after reading (and sharing) this blog so many times, I think it’s time to start focusing on it a bit more.
What did I learn from this? My body needs more cross-training and potentially more evening sessions vs. morning. I’ll retest again in two months and see the impact when I’m running consistently. It just goes to show how unique all of us really are, and following an ultra personalized approach is where you can really improve, vs the one-size-fits-all which doesn’t help anyone looking for an edge.
As running coach and Runners World writer Jenny Hadfield shared on her blog:
“I’ve seen runners shatter their personal best times by making simple changes to their diets. Like training, it’s more than just following a standard generalized program. As a runner trains, they begin to identify how their body reacts to various workouts and plans and it allows them to refocus their training based on what works for them.
The same is true for nutrition. What works for one runner may not be the best for another. I coach one runner who is very low in iron, and another that runs too high in iron. If they followed the general recommendation to eat more iron-rich foods, it would help one and might hurt the other. The key is to take steps towards identifying the foods that nourish your body and begin to develop your personal nutrition.”
Our bodies are so different, and there’s no better way to improve than to figure out what works for you, and do more of that.
My coworker joked that I should stop running altogether. As that’s just not an option, I’m excited to see what happens when I start running again, especially with all of this new information and the changes I’ll be making. For now, more shellfish, oatmeal, swimming, biking and some running. Hopefully very soon. I want that BQ.
“Today I don’t have to run. I get to.”
A DNS would have been easy, rolling over in bed would have been the safe (and sane) choice. At 5am Sunday, it was pouring rain with 30+ mph wind and even stronger gusts. Despite this being the actual worst weather (not involving snow or bitter cold) that I’ve ever run in, I’m glad it happened. I’m thankful for a couple winters worth of #weatherproof training in any and all elements which has made me not just a stronger runner, but a stronger person.
— Jonathan Levitt (@JWLevitt) March 19, 2016
Just a little wind around that final turn on Saturday’s shakeout…
This year’s Shamrock Half was an interesting race. The weather went back and forth many times in the week prior, from 40 and partly cloudy, cold and rainy, warm and rainy, and sun… And everything in between. Arriving at the start of the race, it was pouring rain and about 42 degrees. These were the conditions (maybe a little cooler) at Boston last year, so I was somewhat prepared, if not for the wind. Shamrock takes place right on the ocean, so we had some real nasty headwinds and crosswinds. I had a little bit of oatmeal and Generation UCAN as soon as I woke up, and then a serving of BeetBoost and a PickyBar (because I was a little hungry) about 30 minutes pre race. After that, and some coffee, I jogged over to the race wearing a couple of shirts and a trash bag for the rain.
We lined up, and I found a couple friends I had planned on running with. We got started, and I tossed the trash bag within a mile or so. Then came the first and second shirt, and then the singlet. Running shirtless in the rain is absolutely the best way to deal with it. The wind was a little tough in some parts, but I was much happier to not be wearing a soggy shirt.
The first three miles were into a brutal headwind, yet I managed to run roughly the splits I was shooting for. My friend Chris started dropping 6:20’s right around the first 5k and I wasn’t interested in that pace in those conditions. He took off, and I didn’t see him again until I finished. I hung with Mary and one of her friends as best I could, talking about whatever we could to avoid thinking about the wind. The two of them pulled away right around the 10k mark and I couldn’t seem to catch them. They stayed about 100 feet ahead for the rest of the race, which ended up being a good pacing target since they both are much more experienced runners than I am. My coach didn’t want me looking at my watch due to the conditions, so I ran the race more based on feel.
I raced past spots where I had some dark memories from Shamrock Marathon 2015… I had the chills while running past places that I remember throwing up at (miles 3-6 of the half cover mile ~15-18 of the full) or where I questioned if I had the mental strength to finish the race, when everything seemed to be falling apart. That point in the full last year was the most pain I had ever been in. Last year I maintained nearly a 3:05 pace through about mile 17, then it all fell apart. It felt incredible to fly past those spots and into Fort Story (a military base with no tree/wind coverage) at the 10k, which had some of the worst wind that whole day. At this point last year it was very much so run/walk and 10-12 minute mile stretches, compared to the first half which I ran at roughly 7:00. This time around I cruised into the head/crosswind, while also craving the tailwind I knew would be welcoming us ahead on the out and back course.
I’ve been experimenting with Honey Stinger caffeinated chews on longer long runs, and ate a half serving at mile 7. I had also put a loose Nuun tablet in my pocket, which started to dissolve because my shorts were soaked, so I decided to just eat it. From there on out, I negative split the rest of the race. Mile 8 seemed to be the hardest, as it was in that super windy section. I remember that mile in particular from last year being the worst of the entire day. It’s in a lonely stretch in Fort Story, and I was hurting… bad. This time, I was in between two groups of runners, stuck trying to decide if it was worth the energy to speed up and catch the pack ahead, or continue to work into the wind on my own. I ultimately stuck with the latter.
Coming out of Fort Story I caught up with a runner who I had been slowly closing on. He sped up as soon as I caught him, and we started talking. He said he lives down the road, and runs this race every year. This year, he had dropped 10 pounds and got serious about training and nutrition, and was gunning for a PR to beat his 1:30 from last year. I told him “we’re not there yet, but keep this up and you’ll have yourself a big one.” He asked what my PR was and I told him. His response? “You look like a 1:20 guy.” Thanks, I guess. He told me he was going to try and mimic my cadence, which he said would be easier for him to do since he was about 8 inches taller. I looked at my watch briefly after mile 9 and after seeing a solid 6:3x, I turned my watch over, knowing as long as I hang with this guy, I could maintain the pace I was at without needing to mind the numbers.
About a mile down the road came the most incredible feeling… A tailwind. I may have picked it up a bit early, but I was feeling good and knew the wind was in my favor. The inevitable cheers of “you’re almost there” started showing up around mile 11.5, which is the best/worst thing to hear at any time other than when you can see the finish line.
The random Virginia Beach dude said “don’t let me hold you back – go do work” to which I responded “this is work. I can’t go much faster… But just wait until we kick it on the boardwalk.” He said he couldn’t wait to see if he could hang on.
We turned off the main road towards the boardwalk and ran straight at the ocean for about 10 seconds. This part actually felt like we weren’t moving, the wind was so strong. Rounding the corner, knowing we had .4 miles to go I started to kick.
The last stretch at Shamrock is the most deceptive finish I’ve ever experienced. You can see the finish line, but it’s almost a half mile away. I surged a bit early, slowed down, then let it rip through the finish line, picking off 4 other runners in the last quarter mile.
I crossed the line in 1:27:09, good for an 81 second PR from 2015’s BAA Half in October. It wasn’t the sub 1:26 that I shared as my goal and that I know I’m fit enough for, but I was still proud of my effort on a brutal day.
Training has been going really well lately, and it’s definitely due to some changes I’ve been making related to nutrition. I’ve been eating more shellfish, more fiber and more coffee (yes, this was a real recommendation) and despite a decent increase in training volume as compared to my last three tests, my ferritin level has been trending in the right direction. The 3rd most recent test was after 5 days of total rest, and was one of the lowest values I’ve seen. Since then, it’s trended in the right direction due to some nutritional tweaks. The InsideTracker platform noticed my non optimal glucose and cholesterol and since I reported eating meat 3+ times a week and shellfish 0x/week, it suggested I switch a couple of those servings around.
InsideTracker has listened to the endurance community and created a panel designed specifically with endurance, energy, and recovery in mind. It doesn’t require fasting, and is half the cost of our most comprehensive plan. I plan on using this on a more regular basis as a way to figure out what changes have been working, and what else can be done to improve. Check it out at insidetracker.com/high-performance if you’re interested.
It’s been fun playing around trying new/different foods and lifestyle tweaks to see what has a positive impact on how I feel and what the data shows, along with the race results. Outside of the training benefits, the biggest improvement I’ve seen is that I’m no longer totally exhausted at the end of the day. Things seem to be clicking from a fitness and endurance standpoint. I’m excited to see what happens in the Boston Marathon in another fun day (not 100% effort, goal will be to enjoy it, not get hurt and run 3:16-3:20) and then again at Vermont City where it’ll be an all out attack on under 3:03.
It’s now been two solid months since I started back up with the 5k training with the goal of hitting sub 17. My current PR is from last November, at a 17:42 (5:42/mile). My coach has me running 7 days a week, hovering between 45 and 55+ miles, mixing in a couple of races for a harder effort weekend run.
I ran a new 13.1 PR at the BAA Half Marathon, of 1:28:28. This is a 17 second improvement from exactly 1 year prior, when I was much further along in my season of 5k training while still maintaining fitness through much more cycling. I took much of this summer off from hard training after the two marathons in the spring. This time around for BAA I was more in a base building phase, which showed an improvement in both fitness and nutrition. The following weekend I ran an 18:37 5k (AG win, 9th overall) which was uphill for the entire last half mile, while at UMass’ Homecoming (read: poor sleep the night before and other non-ideal race situations).
I’m feeling fitter than I’ve ever felt, running more miles than I’ve ever run (last week’s peak week brought me to 58) and recovering faster than ever before while my coach puts me through monster workouts (tomorrow’s is called “Big Boy” and I’m terrified). He promised me yesterday’s workout “would hurt,” which it did… More on that later. I’m leaner than I’ve been since high school and ready to throw down some speed in November. How did I get to this point? Looking inside.
Enter InsideTracker, the company I’ve now been at for a year. Health analytics at your fingertips. A way to get a gauge on the impact of how you’re training and recovering, as well as what you’re eating and how your body is absorbing nutrients. I’ve now tested 5 times with the Ultimate plan (the most popular) and the results I received this morning are the best I’ve seen so far.
I’ve been working on improving energy and endurance for the last few months since my test in January by adding more meat, more fiber and more coffee/green tea into my routine (caffeine helps reduce glucose, up to 2-3 servings of coffee per day, but you have to be careful because it can reduce iron absorption too), as well as continuing to make quality sleep a major priority and increasing calories, mainly from protein. I’ve been eating 1-2 Oatmega bars every day, which are high in fiber as well as protein, a good source of vitamin C, and decent source of omega-3. I’ve been trying to eat more fish as well, specifically wild salmon and herring, which are quick and easy to cook or eat from a can.
Pretty much everything I focused on improving got better, with the exception of glucose (still only +3) which may be related to an increase in training intensity, or the 2-3 additional servings of meat per week which have dramatically improved the iron markers, so it’s a good trade-off. Either way, it’s close to the optimized zone and I’m not worried about it.
I’ve been playing around with our newest feature, which allows you to pick a couple of goals based on the areas that aren’t optimized, and the program puts together a list of the top 5 things to help you improve, rather than needing to prioritize on your own. It’ll also send a daily reminder via text/email to take your supplements, eat your “Focus Foods,” etc.
I can’t wait to put this new information to the test with a couple of races scheduled in November. I’ll continue with the changes I made from my last test, while stepping the training intensity up a bit more. I just got a new program from my coach (and passed the two year mark of working with him) which was perfect timing. He’s having some fun throwing in ridiculous track + Harvard Stadium + track workouts lately, which has led to some very slow Thursday morning recovery runs. Yesterday’s included 500’s, which I hadn’t done in a while. After going +12 on my 2nd to last rep, every excuse possible as to why I should stop passed through my mind. It’s workouts like those that build the type of mental strength that can’t be optimized through a blood test or programmed for on a schedule. They absolutely suck, but are so key to success – probably even more important than nailing every goal split of a track workout.
If you’re curious about InsideTracker and how it can help your own training, check out our free Demo, or definitely reach out!!
This past weekend was November Project’s annual “Summit” where racers from all across the US and Canada (in the 26 cities NP exists in, plus a few others) meet for a weekend of craziness. We started with a pop up workout in Salt Lake City on Friday morning, with about 400 people. Everybody except the Denver tribe was gassed within the first 30 seconds of the workout due to the elevation. We did a 20 minute circuit workout around the state capitol building, finishing with a “burnout” where all the girls raced each other first, and then the guys raced. Basically an all out sprint of 10 burpees, then a race up the stairs to the Capitol’s door, then back down to the bottom.
We took some (many) photos, then went to breakfast and began exploring Salt Lake City and then made our way back to Park City. The drive back was incredible – we’d made the mountain ridge filled trip from SLC to Park City the night before, and then from Park City to SLC in the morning, but it was dark both times. The views from the highway of the nearby mountains were incredible.
I did a little shakeout run after we got back to hit a time goal for the day, which helped get used to the elevation change a bit more, as we were now at nearly 7000 ft. I started out about 2 minutes slower than normal to maintain the same easy effort… My first thought was that if an 8:30 mile on the road was that difficult, the race should be an absolute treat.
We had incredibly delicious (local) bison burgers for lunch (highly recommended at 501 on Main St, Park City) and then wandered around the downtown area, stopping every so often to laugh at the fact that we were tired from just walking up hill. Friday night consisted of the usual pre race dinner: salmon, sweet potato and steamed vegetables.
Saturday brought a deceptively cool morning. I was planning on running the 4th leg of the marathon relay (4 legs total) so I wouldn’t be starting for another 5 or so hours, when it would be hot.
Our first 3 teammates ran their legs in between 47-51 minutes, putting us in 5th place when it came time for me to run. The first 2.5 miles were entirely uphill, which I ended up taking a couple of brief walk breaks during. I tried to hang on with the guy who was in 4th place, as he started the leg about a minute before me, and I could see him for the first quarter of the race or so, until he ended up pulling away. The next 1.5 miles or so were somewhat rolling hills as we continued to climb a bit more. There was an aid station at mile 4 (meant more for the marathon, 50k and 50 mile distances), and I knew it was totally downhill after that. Those next 2 miles consisted of some razor sharp switchbacks, finishing in an all out sprint to a downhill finishing shoot, which was awesome. I ran straight through the finish line and couldn’t stop until I ran straight into a fence about 30 feet beyond the finish.
There were many times during the race where I wanted to stop or slow down (even more than the pace chart indicates…). The best part of the marathon relay is that you know your teammates are counting on you to push it. Knowing that we had a chance to be top 5 based on the first 3 legs kept me going stronger than had it been an individual race. The North Face puts on an absolutely incredible race series in Park City, UT, Washington DC, Bear Mountain in NY, the Blue Mountains in Ontario, Madison WI and San Francisco, CA. If you haven’t had a chance to go to one of the events yet, I definitely recommend it – especially the marathon relay which is a blast. November Project brings a big crew to all of the races, and I guarantee it’ll be the weirdest but most awesome pre race warmup you’ll ever experience.
After the majority of the other teams had finished, there was an awards ceremony hosted by Dean Karnazes. November Project teams swept the podium for the relay as we’ve done at most of The North Face Endurance Challenge races in the last year or two. The winning team was made up of the two November Project San Francisco leaders, and one of them ran 3 of the 4 legs (including the first two) with negative splits. They ran something close to a sub 3:05 marathon, with 4000+ ft of climbing in total, while starting at 7000 feet. Pretty damn impressive. After the Marathon Relay winners were announced, they brought up the marathon, 50k and 50 mile male and female winners, all of whom ended up getting crowd surfed. Totally normal.
To quote Emily from Monday’s NP Boston blog on “world takeover” via November Project: The power of this movement comes from epic, EPIC weekends like we just had in Utah–because there’s a large size and scale to the togetherness and energy that makes us pay attention and get freaking pumped up about how good this shit is. There’s a surge of momentum from so many people being together, and the hype going into it, and the social media buzz about it for days, (FOMO included for those not there). All that is really good. AND (note, I didn’t say “but”…really, I mean and) the power of this movement comes from the very same togetherness and energy that we create every single time we have workouts. The “little” workout here in Boston on Friday, and this morning are no less important, hype-worthy, and impactful than #NPSUMMIT in Utah. The goodness of this shit is that we’re different when we come together to crawl in the dirt, sweat, and move our bodies–because we’re not doing it alone. The important thing is that we are taking over the world with positivity, weirdness, and kindness with our fierce, fun, weekly workouts.
There’s really no other way to describe it than that. November Project now exists in 26 cities in the US and Canada, and if it’s not close to you yet, stay tuned. Or better yet, look into starting your own.
On Sunday we did a group run with people from Boston, New York and San Francisco, and started out on the road until we found a little path leading up a pretty steep incline. We walked up the path which brought us to the top of a large hill which turned into the most perfect trail and exactly what we were hoping to find. We took a few photos overlooking where we raced the day before and headed back down the mountain for breakfast. Sunday afternoon brought us even further up in the mountains, where the views were even more incredible and breathtaking… as in, can barely breathe.
Utah and NP Summit was an incredible experience and hopefully somehow I’ll be able to spend some more time training at altitude and exploring those mountains.
The last few weeks have been brutally hot in Boston, which has made running feel even more difficult lately, especially as I get back into training. It’s extremely humbling to be struggling to maintain a pace that used to be close to an easy effort just a few months ago. I’ve been on a very loose program with my coach since the Boston Marathon, basically with the goal of maintaining some level of fitness, while also hitting Harvard Stadium stairs hard every week, as well as the other two weekly November Project workouts.
This past week has seem to have focused on pushing past what you think are your limits. Do crazy shit – forget “normal.” Monday’s workout included something we’ve done before: the “Sebastian” aka 7 minutes of burpees, all out. But then we did something we’d never done before… A second Sebastian. 14 minutes of all out burpees. Evan (one of the co-leaders) shared that the idea with this is to show people they’re capable of much more than they thought possible.
On Wednesday, we raced Harvard Stadium in a way that we’ve never done before – as a relay. We switched off every 5 sections, for essentially 2.5-4 minutes of work, with equal rest if you had a partner of similar speed. This was the 2nd hardest, if not hardest workout I’ve ever done at the stadium, again with the goal of getting outside your comfort zone. After (catching your breath) a workout like that, you feel pretty damn good. What’s one new/crazy thing you plan on doing in the next week? I want to hear about it!
As the training has been picking back up, I’ve refocused my nutrition on a couple of new areas. I’ve been spending a lot more time on the phone with athletes alongside our dietitian who often goes through the results of the pro athletes we work with. Time and time again she emphasizes adding more fiber into their routines through oatmeal and some other sources to help with glucose as well as other markers. After all these conversations and my 4th InsideTracker test
showed consistently elevated glucose, I finally decided to pay attention to it. What I’ve noticed is that my energy levels have increased, especially in the afternoons as well as by Friday evening after a long week of work and training. Another unexpected perk is that I’m the leanest I’ve been since high school, which has come as the result of nutritional tweaks, as my training has remained somewhat constant over the last 2 years.
This has happened alongside an increase in calories, in particular from protein, as a result of a high SHBG result (read more about why SHBG is important and how it’s linked to testosterone/recovery/performance here). I’ve added more quality sources of protein including much more fish, some beef and chicken, as well as a couple high protein and real food based bars. After speaking with Kimber Mattox, a pro runner who is one of the athletes InsideTracker is working with, I learned about Oatmega Bars. I had been asking Kimber about her progress after her second test and how she was able to make such great progress. The bars were one of the things she had added into her routine, which are made from grass-fed whey and a lot of other great, real ingredients. As someone with a dairy intolerance, I was very happy about not having any digestion issues with their bars. They’re high in protein and fiber, and low in sugar, while also containing a solid amount of healthy fats from fish, which is an interesting addition to a protein bar to say the least. Bonus: their chocolate mint chip flavor tastes identical to Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies.
I’ll be retesting again in the next two weeks, and am finally optimistic I’ll be able to get my InnerAge a bit closer to where it should be.
Ouch. That’s the best way to describe The North Face Endurance Challenge’s Ontario race. Backing up a couple of days – we (about 15 of us from Boston) arrived in Toronto Thursday evening for a pop up November Project workout at 6:30 Friday morning. November Project is currently in 21 cities in the US and Canada, and we’re hoping Toronto is one of the next to join. With about 50 people there, the vibe was awesome. Just the right mix of people there for a good workout and to socialize, as well as to race hard. I spent much of the workout balancing racing hard and trying to remember we had a tough trail race the next morning. The warmup was an easy jog around a dirt track, then an all out 400. I couldn’t help myself, and accidentally dropped a 4:37/mile paced lap, 2nd to Sam, the leader of the November Project pledge group from Toronto. Oops. (#raceeverything) After promising myself that was the hardest I’d work for the rest of the morning, I found myself “racing” a girl next to me who seemed almost exactly my speed. I say “racing” because neither of us said a word about it – unspoken racing is the best. Another reason to love NP (or running groups in general)… There’s always someone to help you push harder.
We ended the workout, enjoyed some breakfast and headed about 2.5 hours north to Collingwood / Blue Mountain Ontario. We stayed in an incredible condo community and I’d absolutely recommend it if you happen to be looking for a vacation in northern Ontario.
Race morning: We walked over to the start of the race – another perk of the place we were staying at. It was hot and extremely humid, and my leg didn’t start until noon. The first leg started at 10am, and the first two racers returned about 70 minutes later, one of them being my teammate. The second leg was similarly paced, and I went out at almost exactly the same time as the leading team. The first half mile was a good warmup, and then it got steep. It started out with switchbacks as we climbed up the mountain. Once we got to the top, there were a couple of drops, followed by some more gradual climbs.
I finally settled in around mile 3 or so, and got into a groove and pace that I was comfortably uncomfortable at. My teammate that went out first told me to be sure to walk a few of the climbs and I’d know which ones he meant when I saw them. As seen on the elevation map above, there were quite a few walk breaks, especially on the 3 large climbs in the 3rd quarter of the race. I liked and hated these nasty climbs all at once, especially since the 50k and other longer racers were out on the same course at the same time. It was both motivating and humbling to feel the need to walk alongside them up some of the steeper hills, knowing that some of them were doing 10x the distance, but at a much slower speed. As soon as those monster hills ended, the route took us back into the wooded part. The last half mile or so was a very slow decent on wet rocks and steep trail that required walking and even some crab walking down some of the steeper parts. It was challenging, and all I could think about was how brutal but awesome it would be to race the opposite route.
I had walked the first half mile of the course prior to my leg, so I knew that after I popped out of the woods, it was a clear shot to the finish. I found a gear I didn’t think I’d have and sprinted the final half mile or so to the finish, and then collapsed after I passed off the timing chip to my partner, who took off, with us now in 1st place.
A while later, Dean Karnazes welcomed and congratulated us on the podium. That was pretty cool – he also asked if we were staying in the same place as last year along the lake, so I half jokingly (although I was totally serious) invited him over for dinner. He probably had another dozen miles to run, so he wasn’t able to make it.
We celebrated that night, and it was cool to learn a bit more about why November Project partnered with The North Face and their races, after being approached by every big brand. As Bojan described it, North Face promotes all the cool stuff its athletes are doing (their hashtag is #NeverStopExploring which is awesome to search on Instagram) rather than pushing their latest product. For a group based on community, fitness and racing your butt off, the human element was what did it for BG and Bojan. Awesome choice.
What’s next? I’m finally getting back onto a hard training plan. After following a loose plan from my coach ever since Shamrock Marathon in March (and then a very short program prior to the Boston Marathon) I’ve basically been in maintenance/offseason mode after training hard for 3 marathons in 13 months, 5 months of that spent focusing on the fast 5k. What I learned was that I like the hurt of a 5k much better than a marathon, so I’ll be getting back to that with the goal of a sub 17 5k later this fall.
I plan on testing again with InsideTracker’s InnerAge plan in the next week or two, as noted in the last blog post. I’ve been working on a couple specific interventions with the goal of dropping glucose, maintaining testosterone level, and improving vitamin D a bit. We’ll see what happens. I’m also trying to improve some of my iron related markers, which will help with endurance. I’ll post an update on that soon, and if you’re curious about how you can improve yourself, head over to InsideTracker.com – we have a live chat feature, and if “Jonathan” pops up, I’d be happy to help with any questions.
Next up: #NPSUMMIT and ECS Utah. Join us – everyone’s invited! I’m excited to sign up for that one as a two person team, rather than four. That’ll mean a half marathon at altitude. Should be fun!
What big crazy goals do you have for yourself this year? I’d love to hear them.
After my 4th test with InsideTracker, most of my performance related data has improved (cortisol, iron, muscle health related markers) but InnerAge, our metric that is the best indicator of longevity is still not even close to where it should be. Glucose has been consistently elevated over 4 tests. I’ve decided to come up with a little experiment, and there’s something in it for anyone reading this as well. More on that later.
As I wrote about in my last post, “82% of the American population is compromising their longevity by not looking carefully/maintaining their glucose.” -Dr Gil Blander. It’s finally time to pay a bit more attention to this.
InnerAge is a direct reflection of the decisions you make every day. How you eat, what you drink, how you move, and quality of your recovery and sleep all play a factor. 4 of the 5 markers are optimized or nearly optimized, but the one that’s hardest (for me) to improve is way out of range for best results.
Sleep and exercise have been right on track – I’m still technically in base building phase after coming off 3 marathons in 14 months, and the next goal will be attacking a sub 17 5k. I’ve been enjoying racing my butt off every day at November Project, most recently placing top 3 in a race to the top of Summit Ave (almost a half mile climb) on July 4th, that later ended with a slip ‘n slide on the grassy area. Because, America.
I’ve been spending more time training on trails lately, and this weekend I’ll be racing up at Blue Mountain in Ontario with the big goal of bringing home a shiny belt buckle from winning the marathon relay. As Shalane Flanagan says… aim high, and share your (crazy) goals.
I’m hoping that this greater focus on nutrition lately will translate into increased performance as I get back to the 5k training. It certainly helped with the marathon training, and we could all stand to gain a little more energy throughout the day as well.
As a relatively easy starting point and based on the 5 biomarkers (women see DHEAS instead of testosterone) that make up InnerAge, InsideTracker recommends a group of the foods that will have the biggest impact on improving the overall number. Mine are mostly related to glucose, so I’ll also be incorporating more nuts and fiber into my diet.Our dietitian just blogged about incorporating berberine and garlic as a way to help drop glucose (as well as improving cholesterol) so I will be doing that as well. Psyllium husk is another food that I’ve been adding to smoothies as a (very) dense source of fiber, while also helping with digestion.
A bit about the other biomarkers… most of us know about vitamin D, which is an important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium to maintain bone strength and health.
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that is essential to overall health, sexual function, and athletic performance. Optimal levels are important to athletic performance; as it builds muscle, improves strength, and increases the body’s capacity to use oxygen during exercise.
hsCRP is a marker of inflammation in the body. Optimal hsCRP levels appear to be an effective predictor of healthy heart, circulatory system, blood pressure, and blood glucose.
ALT is an enzyme primarily found in the liver, that helps chemical reactions occur. It plays a role in changing stored glucose into usable energy.
More info on why InsideTracker selected these biomarkers as the best combined indicator of longevity can be found here.
My challenge to you… Test your own InnerAge (described by CNN as “the best blood test you’ll ever take”) and find out where you stand! See the impact of your training, nutrition and sleep, and then more importantly, what you can do to improve.
If you’re able to drop your own InnerAge by 5 or more years, your third test is on me. Ask me for more details!
Managing What You Measure
“82% of the American population is compromising their longevity by not looking carefully/maintaining their glucose.” -Dr Gil Blander (From an interview here: http://buff.ly/1xfBlZx)
As Dr. Gil Blander explains, glucose is a marker that most Americans have elevated levels of, especially athletes who consume a lot of simple carbs (most of us).
My own glucose level was trending in the right direction, as it dropped 1 point between my first 2 tests. After my 3rd test, it was elevated along with cortisol (a birthday party on the Saturday night prior may have had a slight impact as well, leading to a lack of quality sleep). Either way, all 3 readings are still not optimized, so it’s something to work on.
In addition to following InsideTracker‘s guidance for glucose (more nuts, moderate alcohol, more chia and avocado, etc) I’m going to be having a serving or two of Generation UCAN’s Superstarch on a daily basis. UCAN was founded to help a child with a rare form of diabetes, and has evolved into a sports nutrition product that promotes endurance as well as regulating blood sugar / glucose levels. For more info on the science behind GenUCAN, click here.
I’ve used UCAN to fuel me through 3 marathons, as well as a half dozen or so long runs of 15+ miles. I’ll use it for any workout longer than 90 minutes. It doesn’t contain any complex ingredients, and there’s no rush or crash from it. I do recommend consuming it at least 30 minutes prior to exercise. It doesn’t have the greatest taste but it isn’t bad, and the science behind it is very solid, to say the least.
Going forward, I’ll use UCAN on a daily basis, and will retest with InsideTracker in 2-3 months to monitor the impact of doing so.
Optimized glucose means better energy levels, increased fat loss, improved blood pressure, improved overall health and longevity.
With improved sleep and a focus on recovery comes a spike in testosterone. Optimized testosterone (important for both men and women) means better ability to increase and retain muscle mass, as well as improving your ability to use oxygen during exercise. My coworker tells me I need to hit the gym more to make the most of a level like this.
I’ve been using ithlete, a Heart Rate Variability app to monitor recovery (or lack of). HRV is a measure of how recovered your body is, so I’ve been able to see the direct impact of sleep and quality nutrition on a daily basis. I recommend checking them out, especially if you aren’t working off of a personalized training program through a coach. It helps determine which days to go hard and when you should have an easier recovery day. My coach wrote up a review on using HRV here. The goal is to see an overall lower HRV during higher training weeks and after a hard race effort, and a higher average HRV during recovery weeks.
As with just about everyone, endurance athletes in particular, I need to continue to pay attention to cortisol, the stress hormone. This may have also been elevated slightly by a lack of quality sleep a couple of days prior to the test, but it’s still important to monitor especially since I’m 0/3 on well optimized readings. The screenshot below shows the importance of cortisol. High cortisol for athletes can lead to less than ideal training progress.
More training is not always better. This brings us to Free Testosterone:Cortisol ratio, developed by InsideTracker. “A high FT:C score shows your body is getting enough sleep and recovery time to increase muscle mass and strength.” <— The ultimate goal of training. This metric is a direct reflection on how successful your training is, or if you could stand to make some changes (more or less volume/intensity) for improved results.InnerAge:
InnerAge is a direct reflection of lifestyle. It’s a metric we’ve developed based on the age of your body compared to your actual age. It’s calculated by using the 5 biomarkers that have the biggest impact on aging and longevity. These biomarkers reflect decisions you make every day related to nutrition, sleep, recovery and alcohol consumption. My InnerAge improved slightly, though the increased glucose had a very negative impact.
The feedback I get most often from our users after learning their InnerAge is that it is “incredibly eye opening.” Sometimes it pisses people off and they get angry enough (“I’m not ### age!!!”) to take action to change it the next time around. That’s what we love to see. My coworker just blogged about how she used to think she was doing everything perfectly – eating well, training well, sleeping enough, etc. The data showed that she wasn’t. She was overstressed, not sleeping enough and had a few nutrition tweaks to make to get better. That’s the beauty of it. There’s no arguing with data; you’re either optimized, or you’re not. If you’re not, there are very specific actions you can take to improve, which is the goal of InsideTracker… To help you make more informed and efficient decisions.
If anyone reading this is curious about where they stand and monitoring your own potential for improvement, please feel free to reach out with any questions on InsideTracker or ithlete. Knowledge is power, and #BloodDontLie.
An InsideTracker and training update
After the Boston Marathon, I took a few weeks off from heavy training, as I had been going hard for about a year straight on a 6-7 day program with only a couple of weeks off after harder race efforts. I saw a lot of progress, and my 5k time dropped by over 6 minutes, and I ran 3 marathons in that time. Only towards the 2nd half of the year did I start to get real serious about nutrition, sleep and recovery and the impact it has on training.
I joined the InsideTracker team in November, and the PR’s haven’t stopped since. I dropped a full minute from 18:42 to 17:42 in the 5k in the month of November. My training volume didn’t change – I could just train harder, as my body was primed to recover faster due to some nutrition and lifestyle changes I was making.
January brought on marathon training again, and despite adding volume (2 days of strength training + occasional yoga, at InsideTracker’s recommendation for creatine kinase) and intensity to a 7 day program, my recovery continued to improve, and I noticed I was sleeping better and had more energy overall. It seemed like magic at this point.
So I retested during a peak week in February. Most of the data continued to improve, which I was thrilled about. Testosterone dipped a bit, as expected with increased training load, but remained in the middle of the optimized zone. With my third test, after more sleep and decreased intensity, it went back up again. My coworker says I need to start throwing around some heavy weights in the gym, as a T level like that makes it very easy to pack on muscle. Good to know.
Free Testosterone:Cortisol ratio also improved, which is good, because if it hadn’t it would have indicated that I had not appropriately recovered from the two recent marathons.
Many of the athletes we work with use this (and the T:C ratio) as a way to measure training load, and if you’re overreaching/overtraining, at a good spot, or have room to add more volume or intensity to your training. My coworker, an Ironman triathlete has been experiencing similar (if not even more impressive!) results!
Electrolytes: now that it’s finally warm again in Boston (although many of us were sure that never would be the case again), electrolytes have become an issue for me. Water doesn’t seem to be enough, even though I’m not training for more than 60-75 minutes at a time these days. I’m going to start using Skratch Labs (a real food based electrolyte mix)
After my potassium level was elevated (and even higher on 2nd test) I seem to have almost stopped eating bananas entirely. Looks like it’s time to have a few more every week now. I changed my magnesium nutrient timing to consuming it on an empty stomach rather than with other foods, which definitely made a difference. Thank you dark chocolate.
Hemoglobin, key for endurance athletes (learn about our findings with GU in our blog here) has come back up as well, and this is one that will be critical going forward, as the miles start to increase again.
Overall, I’m excited with the progress, and am looking forward to eating more sushi, drinking more red wine (a glass a day helps with glucose!) and training harder. Next up in terms of racing is The North Face Endurance Challenge’s marathon relay in Ontario, where we’re gunning for a podium spot. After that, I’ll be racing that same event in Utah in September. I’ve added in a new pre-workout fuel lately to my normal routine of spirulina algae: Beet Boost. It’s beet and cherry juice powder, which supposedly helps with oxygen production and fueling your muscles. I use it prior to every hard workout.
Next crazy scary goal: sub 17 5k, and 1:20 half. As Shalane Flanagan says: pick goals that scare you, share them as well as your journey, and help everyone get better along the way.
Exactly two weeks ago, a friend asked if I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. I almost didn’t take the bib, because I made such a big deal of the BQ attempt and then deciding (temporarily) I didn’t like (the hurt of) marathons, not to mention all the hard work that the charity runners do that I had not done. Then I realized it’s been my goal to run Boston all along, ever since I got into running. I would never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t take this opportunity. So I did. 11 days prior to Marathon Monday.
The Friday prior to the marathon, Christopher McDougall came to November Project. This was perfect, because his book Born to Run got me thinking about, and then hooked on running. To be able to spend time with him at November Project and then again after his talk at the Old South Church was the start to a perfect couple of days.
I spent the entire weekend with November Project friends around the expo and Copley Square, and on Sunday afternoon ran into Shalane Flanagan at the finish line.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Shalane is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. I’ve met her a couple of times now, and she’s amazing. She puts it all out on the line, and isn’t afraid of big scary goals. While my time goals are way different compared to hers, I was still taking on a second marathon in less than a month, after a very hard effort (and poor race day execution). I was in race shape, but my longest run prior to Boston and after Shamrock would be 90 minutes.
Fortunately, that 90 minute run gave me confidence going into Boston, as I dropped my fastest long run kicks ever, all sub 6 for the 3 minutes following a 7 minute tempo effort.
Back to Boston… A November Project friend of mine coordinated a bus of us that were all headed out around the same wave, and it was called the #FuckYeahExpress. Since we only made up a small number of the people on the bus, we kept the conversation on the way out to Hopkinton light, mostly related to lube, poop and other bodily functions. You know, regular runner stuff.
We bundled up into our trash bags to stay dry at the start of the race and off we went. Or, off we tried to go. It was very slow moving, as we had 30,000 people ahead of us on the course. After I dropped a 9:20 minute mile and then a mid 8 for my first two, I learned later that my friends were worried I got injured at the start of the race, with a 27:50 first 5k. Nope, that was just as fast as it was safe to go without doing too much weaving.
The first 10 or so miles were relatively uneventful, and the pace picked up. Somewhere in Natick, after polling a few other shirtless runners, I decided it’d be smarter to not wear a shirt, especially since I was already drenched and a little cold. I warmed up immediately after taking off my soggy shirt, and held on for the wild ride into Wellesley.
I could hear the screams from the Wellesley College girls before I could see them… Let’s just say that stretch of the course lived up to the hype. After a few brief stops, I carried on, knowing my parents would be up ahead excited to see me. I hugged them both, and knew that as soon as I started again, they’d be racing me to the finish line.
I carried on through Wellesley and into Newton, knowing I had some more downhills ahead, I eased up on the pace a bit more, trying to prepare my quads. Mile 15 ticked off, then 16, 17… then I realized November Project’s cheer station was coming up soon. I picked up the pace a bit with excitement.
As I came up on the Mile 18 cheer station, I went absolutely nuts. Like, jumping up and down in the middle of running a marathon nuts. I screamed at all my friends, and don’t remember seeing a single person.
I carried on, beginning Newton’s rolling hills. I started high fiving the crowd at this point as I cruised up the hills, passing quite a few people. Clearly riding the surge of NP’s energy, I found a new, extra kick of energy to cruise up the Newton hills. I caught myself thinking “this isn’t so bad” right before Heartbreak Hill, and I roared up the hill high fiving spectators all along the way, and really confusing the hell out of the runners around me. I was having a freaking party out there. Strava’s segment tells me I covered just over the 5k worth of Newton’s hills (the turn onto Comm all the way to BC) faster than my overall race average. Clearly I was riding the NP high and the buzz of the crowds at this point.
I got a little carried away on the downhill coming down after BC, and saw my fastest mile here come in at 7:15.
I carried on towards Brookline and as I made my turn onto Beacon Street, I started to have even more fun. I ran back and forth between the sides of the street jumping up and down and screaming my brains out. I saw a friend of mine right before Coolidge Corner who doesn’t like to hear about anything running related at all scream louder than anyone I had seen all day, and then drop into a dead sprint with his go pro, actually moving faster than I was, giving me even more motivation to run faster.
I saw a few more friends just past Coolidge Corner at mile 24 and they took this video. My friend tweeted the video with “this is my friend at mile 24 of a marathon. If that doesn’t get you fired up, you don’t have a pulse.” Love it.
I had some surges here with extended stretches sub 6:30, as a result of sprinting along with the crowd and jumping around and shouting. By this point, I knew I was far enough in that I wasn’t going to bonk, so it was time to have a little fun. I would sprint along, jump and shout for as long as I could before totally losing my breath, jog it out, and repeat. The crowds were loving it, and all the runners I kept passing probably thought I just jumped on the course to run to the finish with all this energy.
Then the Citgo sign. I got even rowdier. As I passed over the Mass Pike and came down into Kenmore Square, you get sort of dumped out into the middle of the intersection. I found myself there without many other runners, so I decided to go absolutely wild and jumped around as the crowd roared, so much so that I almost fell over as I lost my breath from being so excited.
It was finally catching up to me, and I saw a friend right after the 1 mile left mark and could barely acknowledge him I was so wiped. I labored along to Hereford and clearly screaming the entire way down Beacon Street was catching up to me. I climbed “Mt Hereford” as Kara Goucher calls it, and made that turn onto Boylston Street.
I’ve made this turn so many times before, so I had a feeling where I could start my kick. I saw two of my friends who shouted at me, and totally missed my parents standing next to them. I screamed and picked up the pace… WAY TOO EARLY. It took every last drop of strength to maintain what was a 6:20 pace for the last quarter mile. I crossed the finish line and immediately another runner came up to me and said he loved watching me “dance down Beacon St” as he called it, getting the crowd all riled up, which helped him too.
I finished with a 3:27:26, good for a 9 second PR from Shamrock, where I crashed and burned at mile 18. The PR was icing on the cake, on a day that I will remember as one of my greatest memories as long as I live.
I ran straight through the finish line to mile 26.3, where Drew of Boston Bodyworker took absolutely incredible care of us runners with a massage and hot towels. Major thank you to Drew for that, especially as I was freezing and without a shirt or warm clothes to change into.
Running Boston rekindled my desire to BQ and run Boston again.
Necessary but shameless plug for InsideTracker and my coach here – the nutritional guidance from InsideTracker and the seemingly hourly guidance from my coach helped my body recover as fast as possible, and then maintain/ramp up quickly for a second marathon in less than 30 days.