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!