Dr. Neil Barnard and Chris Masterjohn Debate Nutrition

Intelligence Squared hosted a debate between Dr. Neil Barnard and Chris Masterjohn on the topic of nutrition.  The debate is titled Don’t Eat Anything With A Face.  Here is the video, which runs about one hour and 45 minutes.  Don’t Eat Anything With A Face. 


The Low-Carb Fraud

Dr. T. Colin Campbell has just come out with a new e-Book titled, The Low-Carb Fraud.     

Going “low-carb” makes sense if this means replacing Mountain Dew with water and replacing donuts with fruit.  The problem comes when people assume that no moderation is necessary with respect to protein and fat.  Dr. Campbell is very much responsible for me adopting a whole foods plant based diet because it was his first book, The China Study, that persauded me to give his nutrition ideas a try.  Two months later, to my surprise, I was not only enjoying my plant based diet, but I also became a runner.  Thanks Dr. Campbell. 

3rd Time Is The Charm

This morning I ran in my 5th half marathon race in Carmel, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis.

The events are called Carmel Marathon Weekend, which includes an 8 kilometer race, a full marathon, a half marathon and a marathon relay. Many of my running buddies in my running club decided to form a marathon relay team and had a good time. Maybe running “only” an 8 mile leg of a 26.2 mile course is more fun than running the entire 26.2 miles? I wouldn’t know since I have never attempted a full marathon.

About a month ago I had thought that I would jog this race in Carmel and save my energy for the half marathon on May 4th, two weeks from now. But Carmel Marathon weekend and I have a bit of an uneasy history. 2011 was the first year of these running events. I ran in the 8 kilometer race and didn’t do very well, failing to finish in the top half of my age/gender division. In 2012 I ran the half marathon and didn’t do well, again failing to finish in the top half among my contemporaries.

So, about a week ago I decided that it rather than jog this race, I would take off the gloves and do a full effort. I wanted to beat my personal record in the half marathon, my 1 hour and 55-56 minute finish last November.

I remembered the Carmel course from last year as being relatively flat. But because of the flooding in some areas, the race director had to change the course at the last minute and had to get this new course re-certified by USA Track and Field as being 13.0975 miles. This course seemed to have more hills than I remembered. Maybe my memory of the course is distorted by the fact that I hit the wall last year near the end and did a walk/jog for the last 3 or 4 miles? Also, I think in order to get this course certified by USA Track and Field at the last minute, they might have erred on the course being a bit longer than 13.1 miles. My Garmin GPS watch said that I covered 13.27 miles this morning.

I finished in about 1 hour and 54 minutes, a new personal record. During the race, after the first 3 miles, I relied on my heart rate monitor to determine whether I was pushing it too hard or not running hard enough.  In my previous 4 half marathons I didn’t rely on heart rate data at all for pacing help.  I think using heart rate is a good idea.  The only downside is that I might have used my heart rate as an excuse not to push harder than I perhaps could have.  On the other hand, several times during the race the data from the heart rate monitor gave me permission to run harder than I would have if I had relied only on pace from the GPS feature.  

I am happy about the results, even though my Garmin GPS watch was telling me during the race that I was doing better than my 1:54 or so finish as stated in the official results. Garmin can’t be wrong, can it? My Garmin records me as having run a little faster in the second half of the race than in the first half. But the official results say the opposite. This makes me think that the race director did add an extra tenth of a mile in there somewhere at the end. But it was a good time, even though it was about 34 degrees at the start of the race and stayed in the mid-30s for the remainder of the race.  

Perhaps the highlight of the race was during one of the middle miles of the race, perhaps mile 8, when we the course took us through a residential area.  There was a little girl, maybe 7 years old, holding a sign that said, “Run for Boston.”  Yes, the tragedy of Boston last Monday was in the minds of us runners in this race.  We had a moment of silence to honor the victims just prior to the beginning of the race.

This Carmel Marathon Weekend has become a 3 times in a year habit. Maybe I’ll do it again next year.  I admit that running another full effort half marathon two weeks from now sort of goes against my idea of avoiding something called “Extreme Endurance Exercise” and whatever cardiovascular damage that might result from it.  But that’s a topic for another post.

A tough day at the 10K

Ever since I ran a PR in the 5K four weeks ago, I have been anticipating this morning’s 10K race.  My 5K finish time improved by almost a minute, so I have been looking forward to seeing similar improvements at the 10K distance.

Instead of achieving a new PR in the 10K, however, I failed to match not only last December’s PR of 50:47 but also last March’s 10K finish time of 52:49.  I ran a 53:27.

I had set my target pace as 8:02 minutes per mile and I was able to keep this pace for the first 3 miles.  In the middle of mile 4, however, I felt I had no energy and sagged to an 8:30ish pace.  In mile 5 I slowed down to a 9:00ish pace and slowed down to a 9:40ish pace in mile 6.

I checked my heart rate data after the race was over.  Clearly, by the time I had finished up mile 3, I was maxed out on my heart rate.  In fact, in last months 5K, even though I was running faster, my heart rate was a little bit lower than it was this morning.  No wonder I had trouble in the final three miles.

My lesson learned from this is that I am going to use a combination of pace and heart rate in my next race, a half marathon.  If nothing else, using heart rate along with pace as a guide to how fast I run in that race will prevent me from feeling horrible at around mile 10 or mile 11.

I’m not upset about this morning’s result.  I’m a non-injured runner.  And non-injured runners should always be happy runners.

Some pre 10K race thoughts

Based on my own personal race predictor calculator (as discussed in my previous post), I should be able to finish this weekend’s 10K in 49:58, just under the 50 minute barrier.  Most of the online race predictor calculators believe I can do even better than that.

So, do I play it conservative and only focus on breaking 50?  Or do I go for broke and try to do even better, breaking the 8 minutes per mile average pace barrier as well?  This would require running the race at about 49:30 or so.

There isn’t really that much difference between the two strategies, really.  The conservative strategy says I need an average pace of just about 8:02.6 and that’s very close to breaking the 8 minutes per mile barrier already.  In reality, once I am running, how I feel early in the race tends to dictate what I do and this almost always pulls me to the more conservative side in terms of strategy.

Why?  I run almost all of my training in a Maffetone style.  This means almost all of my runs are run at a very easy pace, almost as slow as I can run or jog while still actually running or jogging as opposed to fast walking.  So, when I race, I am running at a pace that is very unfamiliar to me.  This is where perhaps there is some value in doing a little bit of speed work, just to become familiar with how running at race pace feels prior to the race.  

In the 5K that ran last month, I was a little uncomfortable running faster than I had in a long time.  But I got a PR out of it.  I accomplished this with zero speed work in the past 3 months.  So, I have not changed my training in the wake of this accomplishment.

Assuming things go well, and even if they don’t, a full race report should be available sometime this weekend.

Mediterranean Diet isn’t all it’s oiled up to be

Recently The New England Journal of Medicine published a study stating that a Mediterranean diet can reduce ones risk of a heart attack.

To the extent that a Mediterranean diet consists of replacing red meat with fish, replacing high-fat diary products with low-fat dairy products and increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a Mediterranean diet would be expected to show better health outcomes.

The big problem with the reporting of the study is that it makes it appear that the Mediterranean diet beat a low-fat diet in terms of health outcomes. But the low-fat diet wasn’t really low-fat.

Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. McDougall and RD Jeff Novick have commented on this study.

A Mediterranean diet is a step in the right direction for someone eating the standard American diet. But some might accept the mistaken notion that adding more olive oil to ones existing unhealthy diet will make it healthier. Absent additional changes, it probably won’t.

Calculating a realistic target race pace

Runners are often asked before a race, “How fast do you plan to run this race?”  The response might be, “Well, my personal record at the 10 kilometer distance is about 53 minutes.  I’m hoping to beat that record in this race.” 

The injury issue and the aging curve

Sure.  Personal records, at any distance, are very rewarding.  But what if you had to take some time off due to injury and you aren’t quite fit enough to beat your record?  Or what if your personal record was set when you were in your early 20s and you will turn 60 before your next race?  Is there a more precise way to determine how fast you should try to run in a race?

Heart race or pace?

I know some athletes who use their heart rate as the guide to how fast they will run in a race.  A few months ago I asked my uncle, who was attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon, how he would try to pace himself in his marathon.  His response was, “I will try to get into the lower part of my Z3 heart rate zone as soon as I can.  Towards the end of the race I plan to be in the higher part of my Z3 heart rate zone.” 

Racing by heart rate

There are a lot of advantages of using heart rate as a pacing guide in a race rather than relying on pace directly.  To illustrate why, let’s say that you think you can run a marathon at an average 10 minutes per mile pace for the entire 26.2 miles.  Sounds reasonable, but what if miles 5, 6 and 7 of the marathon course are uphill?  Should you stick to your target 10 minute per mile pace?

And what if it’s significantly warmer during the race compared to other races you have run?  Should you slow down from 10 minutes per mile in order to take into account the warmer weather, which makes the body work harder?  How much slower? 

If you use heart rate as your guide, you are relying on how hard your body is working, which is the most important factor in sustaining a pace for the duration of a long distance running event. 

Pace is what it’s about

About a year ago, I began watching videos featuring running coaches Dean Hebert and Joe English.  Hebert and English didn’t place much value on heart rate monitors, either in training or during races.  In one of their videos, Dean Hebert turned to Joe English and asked, “When you crossed the finish line (in your last race) did they measure your heart rate to determine if you would receive an award?”  Well, of course not.  Awards are given to those running at the fastest pace, not those with the lowest or highest heart rates during the race. 

What am I doing?

At some point, I might use heart rate as my guide during races.  But currently, I am using the results of shorter races to calculate my target paces for the longer races. 

Go longer, go slower

There are many different race calculators available online at various running web sites.  You punch in your finish time for a short race, such as a 5 kilometer race, and the web site estimates how long it would take you to finish a 10 kilometer race, a half marathon and a full marathon. 

Built into these race calculators is the assumption that you will run about 4 to 5 percent slower if you double the distance of your race.  So, if you run 10 miles per hour (or 6 minutes per mile) in a 5 kilometer race, a race calculator might predict that you will run 9.6 miles per hour (or 6 minutes and 15 seconds per mile) in a 10 kilometer race.

My own personal race calculator

Last October I ran a 5 mile race in 40 minutes and 49 seconds.  That’s about 7.35 miles per hour or about an 8 minute, 10 second per mile pace.  Four weeks later, in November, I ran a half marathon race in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 33 seconds.  That’s about 6.8 miles per hour or about a 8 minute, 50 second per mile pace.  I ran about 7.4 percent slower in the half marathon than in the 5 mile race. 

Logging the logarithms, base 2

A five mile race and a half marathon aren’t very good math companions when you base your pace calculations on a doubling of the distance.  In order to determine how much a doubling of distance slowed me down, using the 5 mile race and the half marathon race as the raw data, we have to use some logarithms, base 2 logarithms.

2 to the 2.32 power is about 5.  2 to the 3.71 is about 13.1 

This means that the base 2 logarithm of 5 is 2.32 and the base 2 logarithm of 13.1 is 3.71.  The difference between these two base 2 logarithms is about 1.391.  This means that when I jumped from the 5 mile race in October of last year to the half marathon race four weeks later, I doubled my distance 1.391 times.  So, even though I slowed down my average pace by 7.4 percent in the half marathon compared to the 5 miler, I only slowed down my average pace by 5.37 percent for each doubling of distance.  That’s the number I care about going forward.

Why?  It seems, based on those numbers, I slow down a bit more than those online race predictors assume I would.  So, instead of assuming that I will slow down by 4 or 5 percent for each doubling of distance, I will use my personal slow down factor of 5.37 percent. 

A race to predict a race

Next month I will run a 10 kilometer race.  I will likely use the results of this race to determine my target pace for my half marathon in May.  Why not use the 5 kilometer race that I finished about 10 days ago?  After all, it was my fastest time ever at the 5 kilometer distance.  It seems that these slow down factors are more accurate when used with races that are closer in distance.  I don’t think a 5 kilometer race is long enough to be predictive for a half marathon, so I will use the 10 kilometer results instead. 

Despite all of this, once the gun goes off in the half marathon in May, all of this number crunching goes out the window, to some extent.  If the weather is hot, if the large number of participants get in my way, if I am not well rested or if my training didn’t go as well as I had hoped, my prediction might not pan out. 

That’s why you’ve got to execute on race day.  I’ll have potatoes for breakfast that morning, just to make sure my glycogen stores are stuffed full.