Sunday, July 31, 2016

August Sugar Challenge

<Image Credit>

There's already plenty (too much) information on the internet about nutrition. The best I can say is to follow the advice of two of my favorite authors:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Michael Pollan, " In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto"

"Balance your energy sources... if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Matt Fitzgerald, Runner's World Performance Nutrition for Runners

I'll write more about this later in the post, but first I want to post a challenge: cut down on sugar intake. How and how much is up to you, but here are my suggestions, using an Olympic theme in honor of the upcoming games:

  • Pick one sugary food or drink to eliminate from your diet for the month of August. 
If you drink sugared soda iced coffee, or even a sugary sports drink, I'd go for that. Sure, the sugar will give you some energy, but why waste precious sugar calories on a drink? I'd prefer some sort of a dessert to a soda, but to each their own.

  • Limit yourself to one sweet a day, week, every other day, or whatever. 
I've done this a number of times, and it works pretty well. When there are sweets in the staff room at work, I usually grab one. If I'm limiting my sweets, I have to ask myself, "do I really want to use my one sweet today (or this week, or whatever) on cupcakes from Target?"

  • "Eliminate" processed sugar from your diet.

This one's tricky, as everything from ketchup to whole grain cereal has processed sugar. You can decide to go all out and eat only whole foods and/or cereals and processed foods with no added sugar, but that's a tall order.

What I'd recommend it set a limit on how much sugar can be in something for you to be "allowed" to eat it. Kashi Dark Cocoa Karma Wheat Biscuit Cereal has 9g of added sugar--I'd say that's a decent baseline.

You can set whatever limit you want and then be reasonable about your food choices. Make sure to check serving sizes, but don't go nuts--it's not worth driving yourself crazy. Does one piece of dark chocolate count as a sweet? It's up to you.

"Cheating" or, "Succumbing to temptation"

Don't beat yourself up--it happens. If you want to try the August Sugar Challenge but are worried you can't do it, try it anyway. And if you "cheat," keep going. Olympic athletes compete for the gold medal, but even when they know it's out of reach, they usually finish anyway. Watch any Olympic event, especially the marathon, for confirmation of this fact.

If you'd like to try this challenge, I'd love to hear from you. Comment on Facebook, Twitter, or on this post and let us know you're trying the challenge. 

I'm going to start my August sugar challenge by going for gold. I'm setting my sugar limit to 9g so I can finish my box of Kashi Dark Cocoa Karma Wheat Biscuit Cereal (which is awesome).

I could expound on nutrition for runners, but this post is meant to be all-inclusive. There are countless iterations of diets out there from paleo to vegan, but the most sage advice involves a balanced diet of mostly plants (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and grains), and mostly whole foods. 

Balancing your energy sources means getting enough calories through carbohydrates, fat, and protein. It doesn't mean eliminating entire food groups--don't do that. But eliminating processed sugar? I don't see a problem with that.  

Run well, and leave me a comment on Facebook, Twitter, or below the post!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pace Yourself Part 5: Wind

This is part four of specific conditions to consider when pacing yourself during races or training runs. To skip to the specific tips, head to the end of this post. Here are previous posts on pace:

Source and interesting analysis of 2011 Boston wind
I've done many training runs where wind played a significant factor. The most vivid of which occurred back in 2002. On a run with two other steeplechasers, wind gusts had to be close to 40 mph on the fairly treeless landscape surrounding Seward, Neb.

The route we'd chosen was not ideal for the conditions. We ran in a lot of open space, and at one point we were running into the wind on a dirt road. After what couldn't have been more than a mile, our faces getting pounded with farmland dirt and dust, we decided to turn around--it was a much shorter maintenance run than the coach had called for.

Factoring wind into training runs and races is not easy.

I love the title of the Runner's World Article, "The Science (and guesswork) of Race Equivalent Predictors." In he article, author Matt McCue mentions the Jack Daniels calculations on wind's effect on pace.

To sum up, Daniels data shows an 18 minute 5k run into a 10 mph headwind is equivalent to running a 17:05. An 18 minute 5k run with the aid of a 10 mph tailwind? It's only worth a 19:38.

To factor in a specific time, check out this Running Calculator from Runworks. One of the variations it allows is for headwind and tailwind.

Of all the factors in pacing, wind is the most difficult to nail down. Rarely will you run straight into a headwind or tailwind for an entire race--even point-to-point courses are not straight, and wind directions often shift during the course of a race.

Two races I've run run where wind has played a significant factor include the 2011 Boston Marathon (see race report), and this year's Ron Daws 25k (see race report).

At the 2011 Boston Marathon
In the case of the 2011 Boston Marathon, wind aided my performance. The calculation given by the Runworks calculator indicates my time was improved by a few minutes. However, the temperature at that race was warmer than ideal, and the elevation profile was quite a bit different from the training I'd done--mostly indoors on a treadmill with little downhill running due to near record snowfall in the twin cities.

A tailwind also reduces the cooling effect of wind--a headwind or crosswind can increase that cooling affect, while the cooling effect of a tailwind is nonexistent or negligible--again, the factor wind plays is difficult to nail down.

At this years Ron Daws 25k, wind significantly hindered my performance. Several times it felt like I was running in place due to a massive headwind. And, due to very cold temperatures, the cooling effect of the headwinds and crosswinds made no difference.

With the myriad of factors to consider for wind's effect on pace (not to mention the other factors like temperature and hills), how do you go about adjusting your pace? Here's some tips:

  • Wind calculations are more useful after a race. Use them to see what you may have run with different wind conditions.
  • During runs, don't be married to the pace on your GPS. Plan to slow down due to a strong headwind, and factor in the cooling effect of wind on a hot day.
  • Wind, along with all factors, can be summed up by the following: run by feel. This takes experience but:
    • Easy runs should feel easy--don't push it just to keep a specific pace.
    • When external factors are significant, be OK that your tempo runs and intervals will be slower (or faster given ideal conditions).

There are things you can do to mitigate wind's effect on pace. In a race or when running with training partners, run in a group and draft off each other. Be nice about it and offer to take a turn running into the wind (see my race report on the 2012 Securian Half Marathon).

On training runs, find routes sheltered by trees--in the twin cities there are several trails in county and regional parks, along with the Big River Regional Trail and the Gateway Trail.

These trails offer some protection on Windy Days. Search for parks and trails, ask other runners, or consult running store employees to find some routes that may offer some shelter from the wind.

Run well.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Runner’s Plate Guest Post: Pre-Marathon Nutrition

Hey, Twin Cities Runner readers!

I'm Michelle from The Runner's Plate, and Nate has asked me to write a guest post for you guys. Nate mentioned that he thought it would be great if I shared what I eat prior to running a marathon. I just completed my 8th marathon--Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN. My race didn't go as planned (It was very warm for racing a marathon.), but I still managed a 3:12 finish time, which is my second fastest marathon.

Fifteen or so years ago, it seemed as though carb-loading was the thing to do--partaking in large amounts of carbohydrates several days out from a race.  (Or maybe I just thought it was trendy because we always had pasta parties the night before our meets in high school.) More recently it seems like people continue to eat what they normally do on a day-to-day basis and don't try to do anything special with their diet prior to a big race.

As an endurance athlete I've tried both, and I wanted to share my experiences about each approach and the pros and cons of them.

My regular diet consists of whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, ample fruits and vegetables, and a little bit of dairy. I don't eat a ton of meat, but I am not a vegetarian. I don't dabble in fad diets but instead aim to eat a wide variety of foods and make 95% healthy choices.

For my first seven marathons—and any half-marathon, 10K, 5K, or any other race I've run, I have continued to eat the type of foods listed above. I might consume a few extra carbs two days before a marathon, but other than that I haven’t eaten a sky-high plate of spaghetti noodles the night before the race. I have had spaghetti the night before, but I always made sure to balance it out with a meat sauce, salad, and some fruit.

The biggest pro of sticking with what you know works for your body is that you won't risk having any stomach discomfort or GI distress come race day. It is safe. There are too many other factors to worry about on race day and your nutrition isn't something you want to toy with on such an important day.

I think this is definitely a good approach for new runners and those who are embarking on the marathon distance for the first time. The one drawback might be that you may not be filling the glycogen stores to the max. The more carbohydrates available for your body to tap into, the more energy your body will have on race day. This is the reason people carb-load: they try to max out their glycogen stores so that during competition their body will have ample energy to fuel their long distance race.

For my most recent marathon (Grandma's Marathon), I tried a carb-deplete followed by a period of carb-loading. Six days out from the marathon, I depleted my glycogen stores by eating only fats and proteins for three days and then ate a high portion of carbohydrates for the next three days. The idea is to deplete the glycogen stores and then trick your body into thinking it needs to replenish the glycogen stores with a higher percentage than it normally carries.

During the carb-deplete, 90% of my calories came from protein and fats. Here are some things I ate:
  • eggs
  • avocados
  • bacon
  • pork sausage
  • tuna + mashed avocado
  • chicken breast
  • mahi-mahi
  • protein powder mixed with water (milk has carbs)
  • almond milk
  • almonds, cashews, peanuts
  • peanut butter

After three days of eating only protein and fats, I then consumed a large amount of carbs to restock those glycogen stores. I aimed to consumed 350 - 400 grams of carbohydrates each day, which still allowed me to eat some fats and proteins in my diet. Examples of what I ate:
  • bagel with jam
  • pasta with butter and salt and pepper
  • muffins
  • graham crackers
  • cereal
  • pretty much all the carbs I often feel like I usually can’t justify eating

When it came to my race day, the conditions weren't ideal for racing (too hot and too humid), so unfortunately my body wasn't able to respond in the right way to see if the carb-deplete/carb-load worked properly. I plan to try this diet again for my next marathon, so I will be interested to see if I feel different.

I would only suggest this carb-deplete/carb-load diet for an experienced runner and someone who has run a handful of marathons already. I didn't experience any negative effects from this diet, but I have heard of some people feeling bloated from the extra carbohydrates. It is very important to drink plenty of water during the carb-load stage as your body can only absorb carbohydrates with enough water.

All in all, you should ultimately do what works for you and your body. You know your body the best and are the one who can determine if something does or does not work.

Best of luck to all of you racing this summer. If you need guidance on a running plan, I do offer individualized running programs for people of all abilities. Check out my blog for more information:

Olympic Hopeful Heather Kampf

Photo from:

Heather Kampf, of Team USA Minnesota, is ready. Kampf will be competing in  U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track and Field in Eugene, Oregon. This year, she’s feeling good about her chance at making the team in the 1500m run.

On a Saturday morning, I joined Heather and her husband Ben on a run around Minneapolis. Kampf gained online notoriety following her fall and recovery in the 600m run at the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Track Championships (this video gives me goosebumps every time).

“Do you get tired of talking about that race?” I asked.

“I’m OK with it,” she said. “If I’m going to be known as a gritty fighter who never gives up--that’s fine with me.”

“[That race] is something anyone can relate to,” said Ben. “A businessman, he could say, ‘She didn’t give up.’ They could be inspired by that.”

Kampf will bring her 600m speed to the US Olympic trials on July 7. “Runner’s World” lists Shannon Rowburry and Jenny Simpson as the two favorites, and gives a nod to Shelby Houlihan, Morgan Uceny, and Brenda Martinez fighting for the third spot on the team.

As we ran toward Lake Nokomis, Heather talked about her chances of making the Olympic team. “I think I’ve had season that’s been just enough under the radar,” she said, “that people aren’t thinking about me. It’s fun to go into this race without the pre-race publicity and pressure.”

Kampf is currently ranked twelfth among 1500m qualifiers, although she finished fourth at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in March of this year. Kampf doesn’t focus too much on the competition. “You can only control yourself,” says Kampf. “You can choose how you affect the race, rather than letting the race happen to you.”

At the 2012 Olympic trials, Kampf finished 7th in the 800m run. “In the past,” said Kampf, “I’d tell people I had an outside chance of making the team. Now, just based on my workouts, fitness, where my head's at, and what I believe in my heart...I would be sincerely disappointed if I didn't make the team.”

Kampf is no stranger to winning. She has won high school state championships in both the 800m and 400m. In college, she was a finalist in the 800m in every NCAA indoor and outdoor championship, and finished first, second, or third six times. She is also a four time winner of the U.S. road mile title (read about it on Runner’s World).

Track wasn’t always Kampf’s favorite sport. “In a former life I was a gymnast. I loved watching gymnastics at the Olympics and I dreamed of what it would be like to compete there,” she said. “I started running track my freshman year of high school, and though I had the kind of initial success to expect a future in the sport… I don't think I really considered shooting for the Olympic level of running until I was in college.”

Kampf enjoys the camaraderie of Team USA Minnesota. “Our coach, Dennis Barker, takes the time to write a program that is tailor-made for each of us,” says Kampf, “but it's great to be able to show up to the track and have warm-up and cool-down buddies.”

Coach Barker has high expectations for Kampf:

Heather is unique in that she has the fastest 400m speed of any woman we have had on the team. So we have worked to keep that speed while improving her endurance to give her more tools to use in the 1500 meters. She took a big step this winter by running her first 3,000 meter race ever in 8:58. Early in the outdoor season she ran 4:04 for 1500 meters, then last week she ran one of her fastest 800 meter races 2:00.55. So we feel she is well-prepared for the Olympic Trials, where there will be a prelim, semi-final and final within a four day period.

When she’s not training with the team, Kampf keeps busy with her two dogs, speaking, and running with her husband, Ben. The first round of the women’s 1500m run takes place on July 7, and the finals take place on July 10.

You can see a full schedule on the USATF Website. For a TV and streaming schedule, go to the NBC Olympics Website.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The U.S. Olympic Trials

If you follow track and field at all, you know that the United States is in the midst of the Olympic Track and Field Trials. Top three finishers in their events will be punching their tickets to Rio to compete in this summer's Olympic Games.

Events are underway, and some drama has already unfolded in the women's 800m race. Read the story and watch videos of the race over at

Martinez stumbles as Montano hits the ground
Photo from LetsRun article
I follow the middle distance and distance races--the 800m, 1500m, 5k, and 10k. After Brenda Martinez got tripped up in the 800m, I can't help but route for her in the 1500m, though I'll mainly be cheering for Minnesota's own, Heather Kampf.

One story line that seems to have disappeared is the Alberto Salazar doping scandal. Salazar was accused of providing his athletes with performance enhancing drugs and skirting doping rules by some big names in running. Kara Goucher, Steve Magness (another Nike Oregon Project coach), and others all have come out against Salazar (read about it here, and here, and here).

You can read my take from last year, but it seems the story has mostly gone away. However, Sports Illustrated recently ran a story mentioning the scandal (read here). I tend to think Salazar will be found to be guilty of some sort of wrongdoing, but who knows.

In the meantime, I'll be following the results of the trials and trying to watch some of the races live. Check out the schedule over at NBC Sports.

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