Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Quest for "Racing Weight"

Out of the five marathons I have done, only one other has been a spring marathon- my very first at Rock and Roll DC and my goal there was truly just to finish.  After a few fall marathons and my latest feeling super strong coming in at a 3:51, I thought to myself....I am going to try for a Boston Qualifying time.  I need to knock off 11 minutes.  I know it's doable, but will be full of hard work. 

One of things I notice about myself every year is that my body always seems to put on a "winter layer".  Extra body fat all around.  The last two winters I was able to blame it on my vitamin D deficiency and the weight gain that is associated with that, but this year I did not have the vitamin D issue through making sure I was taking my vitamins and getting out in the sun daily and using my sun lamp.  I am not sure what causes my body to go into "survival mode" and add an extra layer of protection each winter but perhaps I am eating more comfort foods than I realize.

For fall marathons, I always had the luxury of being closer to "racing weight" meaning having a lower body fat percentage going in to race day with out really trying.  Late Spring and Summer the extra fat usually disappears- probably from getting out more and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. With this spring marathon, I don't want to leave anything on the table.  I want to have all my bases covered as I am going for that big, scary goal- the BQ.   I was explaining to my husband that carrying around extra body fat is like carrying a dumbbell through the race, weighing you down but not helping you.  Muscle weight helps you and powers you, extra body fat is just extra weight.  Don't get me wrong, body fat is essential to survival and function of your body.  I am not advocating to get rid of all fat (that would be impossible!) but I am saying that you can get into your optimal racing body fat zone. 

I just started reading, Meb for Mortals and in that book he explains that he essentially does the same thing.  Before a major race, he tries to loose any extra body fat that could hinder his performance.  He didn't say how far in advance of the contest he starts cutting back, I am going to ask him that when I meet him tonight! 

I recently had my body fat measured by Composition ID located at MINT gym in Dupont, D.C.  They have a very high tech measurement process in which your entire body is scanned and you get the breakdown of fat concentrations and lean muscle on different parts of your body.  You should check it out, and tell them I sent you!

Anyway, using the data I gathered from my Composition ID, I knew that my body fat percentage was now at 23.5%.  (Yikes, it was at one time 14% which was measured from a skin fold test).  You can gather your body fat percentage via a skin fold test from a personal trainer at your local gym. A body scan such as the one from Composition ID will be more accurate and will give you not only body fat percentage but also your fat mass and lean mass which may differ from the estimates using the Competitor Magazine Calculations.  I will calculate racing weight using only the body fat figure first and then calculate a second time with the additional information I have my Composition ID scan.  

Calculating Racing Weight (process gathered from Competitor Magazine using only body fat %)
Step 1: 116.2 (current weight) x .235 (body fat % as a decimal) = 27.3 lbs (current body fat mass)
Step 2: Lean body mass = 116.2 (current weight) - 27.3 (fat mass).
Step 3: Goal weight = 88.9 (current lean body mass) / .83 (goal lean percentage)
Goal lean percentage is 1.0 minus your goal body fat percentage expressed in decimal form.  For me that was 17% goal body fat so that equates to using .83 as my decimal. 

Goal Lean Percentage Chart

My goal weight for racing: 107 lbs.  That means I have 9 lbs of body fat to loose.  I have some work to do! 

More accurately, the Composition ID measured my body fat mass as being 26.1 lbs and my lean body mass as 85.1 lbs.  I will use these figures to recalculate using the same process. 

Step 1: Body fat mass from Composition ID 26.1 lbs. 
Step 2: Lean body mass from Composition ID 85.1 lbs
Step 3: Goal weight = 85.1 (current lean body mass) / .83 (goal lean percentage)
Goal lean percentage is 1.0 minus your goal body fat percentage expressed in decimal form.  For me that was 17% goal body fat so that equates to using .83 as my decimal.  Using that for my calculations instead leads me to 102.5 as my more optimal racing weight at 17% body fat.  That would mean 13.7 pounds of body fat to loose.....yikes!

In reading Meb for Mortals, he highlighted that even elites struggle with extra weight and work to get down to their optimal racing weight so I guess I don't feel so badly! 

Have you ever worked to get down to a "racing weight" for a big race?  How did that go for you?  Any tips or tricks to share?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

NYC City Half Marathon - Guest Post from my husband

I was lucky enough to get a lottery entry to run the 2016 NYC Half Marathon!

This race was one of those "once in a lifetime" races I'll remember for a long time.  There are many neat aspects of this race, including a unique course through Central Park, Times Square, and lower Manhattan.  But there are also a lot of logistical issues to deal with because it is a big-city race, and you also need a sound race strategy to achieve your goals because of the course layout and elevation profile.  It is a course where one can PR, and I just missed one for me (more on that later!)...

The weather forecast showed a big cold front coming through, with highs in the 30s on race day.  That alone is fine, I can race in the cold weather no problem.  But they were alternating between rain, rain-snow mix, and a snowstorm.  We received email updates from the race organizers about the weather, and luckily the forecast changed the day before. We had a cold and windy, but sunny, race! Whew.

Packet Pickup:

The Packet Pickup was at the Metropolitan Pavilion, a few blocks northwest of  Union Square.  For how big of a race this is, the expo was really small.  They had the official race gear to buy, then one sponsor vendor selling running gear and that was it.  They did have a charity area, and a "running lab" where you can meet the pacers, get pace bracelets, and get your picture taken.  Since United Airlines was the main sponsor of the race, they had an area for photos.  The workers were great, they shouted out each bib number as people got photos taken. They yelled "let's here it for runner 608!!!"  and then reacted "Wow the lowest bib number we've seen yet!"

I joked with them: does that mean I have to run fast tomorrow???  (The bib numbers are by projected finish time, and each thousand series is a corral.  Since I under 1,000, I was in the first corral, which was technically Corral Zero.  That had me a bit nervous haha).

I signed the big wall at the expo, saying that I was running for my wife and daughter, my two most important ladies!

Meanwhile, my daughter made a heart-warming poster to hold up when cheering me on:

You will need to pay attention to the race instructions in the emails, website, and runner guide they give you at packet pickup.  Each of the three waves has about 7 or 8 corrals, and each wave has a different bag drop time, and a different corral entrance location.  They also have strict times about when bag check closes and when the corrals close, and when the race starts.  Each wave has different times for all of these and you need to know where you need to be at what time. Here is a sample from this year:

Race Morning:
This is where the logistics get tough.  For my wave number 1, the corrals closed at 7:10am for the 7:30 wave 1 race start.  But it was a long walk from the bag drop and then the porta potties.  So you have to give yourself enough time to use the bathroom (luckily the lines weren't too long) and get to your corral.  I dropped my bag at 6:25am, which went pretty smoothly.  Then I entered the security check, used the bathroom, and entered the corral about 7:00am and was one of the last to get into the corral!  So, I wasn't late, but I didn't have a lot of extra time before the corrals closed.  They aren't lying when they tell you get there early!   But on a cold morning that means lots of time out in the cold so plan ahead with throw-way clothes to keep you warm. I wore an old hooded sweatshirt and I also wrapped a space blanket from a previous race around my legs to stay warm. (Luckily it wasn't raining or snowing, that would be a miserable way to wait it out!)

(It's important to note that only runners are allowed anywhere near the race start.  Your family and friends will have to say goodbye before you enter security, and they won't be able to see you on the course until well after the start.)

But what a great location to start the race.  As I walked up the hill towards the start, I turned around and took it in.  There, in full view from the top of the hill, was the sun rising over wall of high-rises of the mid-town Manhattan skyline at the edge of Central Park.

I just stared at that view for a good minute or two without moving.  Once in the corral, they announced all the elites, and I got to see them doing warm up sprints.  They had singers perform America the Beautiful and the National Anthem which gave me goosebumps.  All the waiting was almost over, it was time to start!  I should note that I had a last minute decision to make before I left the hotel, would I wear my "Running Nerd" shirt or my Captain America shirt?  My wife suggested Captain America would get more shout-outs.  It was so cold that morning, that I wore a long sleeve under the short sleeve.  Here I was with throw-away clothes tossed, ready to start:

The Race:
My goal was a PR, which is 1:23:18 (or 6:21 per mile).  The race is really two distinct parts...and this is where the race strategy is important!  The first 6 miles you run a winding course around Central Park.  The rest of the race you run the city street grid to the finish downtown.  Here is the course map:

The first half of the race is also a bit hilly throughCentral Park, as you can see in the course profile:

The main strategy is hold back the first 6 miles though the hills of the park, then cruise through the net downhill of the second half.

One thing I had to accept with this race is that it will run long, and longer than most other races.  The course in Central Park is winding, and with the crowds at the start, even up in the first corral, meant you couldn't run the tangents.  I'm a stickler about finding that shortest route and running as close to the race distance as I can, but I knew this one would be tough.  At the end of the first six miles I got almost two tenths of mile behind the mile markers.  But after leaving the park the course goes down straight streets with less runner crowding and I didn't lose any more distance from the course mile markers from that 0.2 mile offset.  The water and Gatorade were every two miles and were well stocked, and had really long tables to avoid crowding.  They have gels at only one water stop (mile 7.5 +/-).

Mile one is uphill, but you won't feel it from all the excitement.

I was telling myself to hold back.  I ran the first mile at 6:22 which was a pretty good start in my mind, I didn't burn out of there!  It was almost right on the goal pace.

Mile two there was a big downhill:

I opened it up to run a 6:00 minute mile just staying with the crowd.  I was feeling good at that point!  If you run this, and want to get some early excitement out, wait until this mile!

Mile three was an out-and-back along the north side of the park with a slight up and down on the out-and-back.  It was neat starting up front since I could see the world-class lead runners coming back on the out-and-back.  Man were they flying! (I later saw they finished in a 4:40 pace, wow!). I ran this mile in 6:05 and even though I felt great in the early going as I hit the 3 mile marker ahead of goal pace, I realized needed to slow down a bit!  The next mile will surely force you to slow down:

Mile four features the toughest hill on the course. As you re-enter the park, you go up a winding half mile hill that shocked my body into realizing this race wasn't going to be a breeze.

I ran this mile at 6:35 and boy was I winded at that point!  I grabbed a cup of Gatorade but had trouble getting it down with all heavy breathing.  This hill is why you want to start slow, because you still have 10 miles to go, and you don't want to use up all your energy just to get up that one hill.  The downhills are coming later in the course so patience here will pay off!  I was pleased that I slowed it down to be below goal pace for that mile.

Miles five and six you run south through the park and I lost track of all the small up and downs, and turns.  There were lots of them!  I was just looking forward to leaving the park and seeing my family cheering my on, and hitting Times Square.  I did mile five at 6:25 and mile six at 6:18.  I was just ahead of goal pace leaving the park for the net downhill second half so I thought I was in good shape.

Mile seven: As you leave the park, you will want to soak this part in!  You have a few blocks of a very slight uphill, but you then start going downhill and head towards Times Square.

After the serene setting of Central Park, you are now smack in the middle of Midtown Manhattan.  What a contrast.  And my wife and 5-year old daughter were at mile 6.5, as we had planned.  It was so great to see them waving and yelling!  Especially since it was cold and windy and my daughter was sick.  For them to come out and cheer me on lifted my spirits for sure!

Then I came into Times Square and loved the excitement of the crowd there.  I heard a lot of yelling at me for Captain America (the shirt choice paid off as my wife suggested it would!).

Then, you run under a camera on a boom over the road and you can watch yourself on the big screen running.  How cool was that!?!?  All of the photos from there we are all looking up at ourselves on the jumbo-tron in Times Square haha:

I ran this mile at 6:18, still in great shape as the excitement carried me though this stretch. By this time, the sun was getting higher and I was starting to sweat through both my shirts.  At this time, I was wishing I had gone with just short sleeves.  If I knew it was going to be sunny instead of cloudy, I probably would have.

Mile eight is a long slight steady downhill from Times Square to the West Side Highway.  I let the hill carry me down at a 6:13 split.
This is the last downhill before the flat stretch to the finish, so I let it open up a bit.  It's also some of the last of the big crowds before you get to the West Side Highway.

Mile nine you start the 3.5 mile flat straight stretch down the West Side Highway towards downtown.  This was a hard stretch.  You can see the World Trade Center tower up ahead for 3 miles straight and it. just. doesn't. get. any. closer.  It is quite a majestic site to see the tallest building in the USA (appropriately designed at 1776 feet tall), but it almost taunts you because you don't seem to ever get closer to it!  There is less crowd support here too.  I did mile nine at 6:22, and was still just ahead of goal pace.  Four miles to go but I was really feeling it after that first mile on the West Side Highway.

Mile ten I gave it my best but ran it in 6:26 which gave some time back. I was still overall exactly on pace but starting to lose it.

Mile eleven was my worst mile. I ran a 6:36 and felt my PR slipping away.  I gave a few bursts to try to get on pace but couldn't hold it.  Even though my race strategy was pretty good, it was just not going to be my day for a PR, even though it would be close.

Mile twelve I finally passed by the World Trade Center with a 6:26 split.  I knew I could probably still hit a time in the high 1:23s but I couldn't find that kick to get me back on PR pace despite trying a few small bursts of speed again that I couldn't hold.  Here I was passing the last water stop before the tunnel:

Final Mile! Wow so much happens here.  You first enter the tunnel under Battery Park.  I think it's about 0.3 or 0.4 miles long, but since it is a gradual curve, you can't see the end until you almost right to it, so it seems much longer.  It took me about 2-3 minutes to get through it.  It's dark, you lose satellite signal and have no idea on your pace.  It was noticeably warmer, and slightly humid in there.  Then, you hit the end of the tunnel and go up a hill out of it. It isn't a big hill but you will feel it!  Adding to that, the headwind was powerful coming out of it.  I later read the women's winner Molly Huddle saying it even seemed to blow her backwards as she ran up it neck and neck with her competitor.  I definitely lost some time there.  Then you weave under the elevated highway and if you have a kick, you need to start it there.  You are only a half mile from the finish but you can't see it since there are two 90-degree turns to go.  I unfortunately didn't have much of a kick left but I gave what I had left in my tank.  I remember seeing a "400 meters to go" sign, then you make a left turn.  You then almost immediately pass the 13 mile marker and a "200 meters to go" sign.  Then a final 90 degree left turn onto Water Street and bam right there is the finish at the intersection of Wall Street.  By the time you actually see the finish line, it is literally just steps away.  I crossed the line at 1:23:47, just 29 seconds off a PR.  I was doubled over for 30 seconds to catch my breath so I know I gave it a hard effort.  In a longer race like a full or half marathon, if you are within a minute of a PR you always think there was somewhere you could have made that up.  I know which miles I lost pace, but don't know how I could have run faster there.  So I was a little disappointed being close on time, but on a "long" course where I couldn't run tangents well, like this one, I was happy with the results.

Finish line area with the medal
Also, I was 411th place out of 20,124 finishers.  As mentioned above, since the bib numbers are assigned to projected finishing, I "beat my bib number" as I joked to my wife, so that was a success right?! :)

Finish area
Right after crossing the line, the race director was there shaking people's hands.  In my delirious state, I told him "great race, thanks!"  You then have what is a half mile finish area for runners only.  So if you plan on having family and friends see you near the finish, they will have a long walk to see you exit the runner area.  Plan ahead to have a meeting spot because cell coverage was spotty with everyone there.  There is no room for a "family meeting zone" like other races have due to the crowded narrow streets of downtown so be sure to take all that into account with your cheering squad!  You can see here, the runner-zone stretches for blocks so make sure to plan ahead for a meeting spot:

The bag claim was very easy, they had lots of volunteers and the bags were all aligned by big so they could retrieve them quickly.  They give each runner a space blanket, but they also have people there to tape it shut on you so it won't fall off or blow off.  Nice touch.  They give each runner a bag with some food, Gatorade, and water, and that's it.  No beer garden or beer tickets. But it is NYC so there are probably just a few (thousand) places around to get a beer right?!

Other Recommendations:

Where to stay
If you are staying out of town, the best place to stay is close to the southern edge of Central Park.  We found a hotel about 3/4 mile from the park and I could walk there.  The subway is on a Sunday schedule and people I talked to said it was crowded.  So I'm glad I was within walking distance.  But the closer you are to 59th Street the better, since that is where you have to drop your bag and enter security.

Spectator Tips
The course is not conducive to having your family and friends see a runner multiple times.  The best way to spectate in my mind (to see somebody more than once) is to watch a runner on 7th Ave between the exit from Central Park and before Times Square (Times Square will be so crowded they may have trouble seeing you in the crowds).  And stand next to a subway stop so as soon as the runner passes you can get right on and head downtown to see them at the finish.  You'll need to move quickly though with the Subway on a Sunday schedule.  One thing to keep in mind is that the east side of 7th Ave is where the Kid's Run is, and the half marathon is on the west side of 7th Ave.  There are a few places to cross from the east side of 7th Ave to the west side by going down into the subway stations and then back up the other side of the street, so scout those locations out if you can.  Then you can see your runner go right by you on that side!

If anyone else ran it or watched the race this year, or previous years, I'm curious on your thoughts on it, so feel free to comment!

Runner's Guide to the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler!


You are headed to DC!   Your months of training are finally coming to an end.  To help out-of-town visitors, I've created the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler Runners Guide to DC!  See you at the finish line and don't forget to enjoy yourself in our beautiful city!  Read my review of the race from last year so you know what to expect (here).

Look for Expo Perks like beer, wine and cheese!
Packet Pick-up will take place over two days at the National Building Museum.
Packet pick-up will take place on the second floor of the Health and Fitness Expo on Friday, April 1 between 3:00 P.M. and 7:45 P.M.) and Saturday, April 2 between 9:00 A.M. and 4:45 P.M. (sharp!) at the spectacular National Building Museum, 401 F St., NW, Washington, DC The National Building Museum is located directly opposite the Judiciary Square Metro stop on the Red Line. Metro use is strongly encouraged; parking is difficult to find and expensive! There is free bike valet parking on the west lawn (4th St. side) of the National Building Museum. There will be wine, beer and Cabot Cheese available at a special reception presented by the 201 bar in the expo hall at 5:00 P.M.on Friday and lasting as long as the beer and wine hold up.

There is no Sunday pick-up at the race site on the Washington Monument Grounds.No exceptions

Check Out Who Will Be Running With Us:  Four-time U.S. Olympian and Olympic Marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic Marathon gold medalist in the inaugural women's Olympic Marathon, will be joining us this year.  You can meet them at the Expo.
3:00 P.M. - 5:00 P.M.Meet Meb Keflezighi: The four-time U.S. Olympian, 2004 Olympic silver medalist, and Boston and New York City Marathon winner will give a short clinic followed by plenty of time for autographs and photographs in the National Building Museum Auditorium. Don't miss Meb's first Washington, DC major race appearance.
11:00 A.M. - 1:00 P.M.Meet Meb Keflezighi: The four-time U.S. Olympian, 2004 Olympic silver medalist, and Boston and New York City Marathon winner will give a short clinic followed by plenty of time for autographs and photographs in the National Building Museum Auditorium. Don't miss Meb's first Washington, DC major race appearance.
2:00 P.M. - 3:00 P.M.Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist in the first-ever women's Olympic Marathon, two-time Boston Marathon winner, and former American record holder in the marathon will speak in the National Building Museum Auditorium. Joan remains one of the top age group runners in the U.S. and will be chasing the U.S. women's age 55-59 10 mile record on Sunday.
3:00 P.M. - 4:00 P.M.Joan Benoit Samuelson will also be signing autographs at the Credit Union booth from 3:00 - 4:00 P.M.
Race time: 7:30 AM 
Start/Finish:  15th Street in front of the Washington Monument.  

Find your corral:  Corrals will be seeded by time.  You will find your corral based on the color on your bib.

Use Metro to Travel to the Race Site: Metro will open at 5AM on race day. The staging area is 1/4 mile from the Smithsonian Metro stop.  However, I've found it's easier to use the Federal Triangle Metro Stop. It's about the same distance from the start as the Smithsonian Metro station, but it's less crowded.

Popular Cheer Points: If your family and friends stick near the monuments they will be able to see you multiple times along the course- Lincoln Memorial would be my go to spot.  Then they could head towards the Washington Monument to see you finish.  

Fuel Up Beforehand: Most hotels will have food out for the runners in the morning, but double check with your front desk just in case.  Otherwise, grab some bagels, granola bars and juice for your room. 

Finish Line:  Try to agree on a place to meet up with your friends and family on the Washington Monument grounds.  With so many people mulling around, cell service could be next to nill.  
Head to Brunch to Refuel!  There are so many great restaurants in DC.  There are a lot within walking distance to the finish, but with so many runners and so many spectators, the lines for the closest restaurants will be LONG!  If you are able to, consider taking the metro away from the crowds and eat closer to your hotel or just completely branch out!   
Some of my personal favorites are:
 Busboys and Poets at 5th and K.  Get off at Judiciary Square metro stop on the red line.  They have amazing sweet potato pancakes, fresh squeezed juice and lots of options for vegans/vegetarians. 
Founding Farmers not far from the finish line and 3 blocks from White House.  This is where we ate last year post race, but the wait was at least an hour. 
You can check out this list from the Washingtonian to see if anything strikes you!   50 great breakfast and brunch spots in Washington

Check out all the great museums and sights!  My favorite museum is the Newseum (it's not one of the free ones unfortunately, but totally worth it!)  All Smithsonian Museums are FREE, including the National Zoo.   I love the beauty of the Reflecting Pool and Memorials, and I love paddle boating in the tidal basin. 

Restaurants while in town: You will need to eat while you prepare to crush 10 miles!  Some of my favorite DC restaurants are:
Meridian Pint which has a to-die for lentil burger and great rotating beer list.  Get off at Columbia Heights Metro stop on the green line.
Pizzeria Paradiso with locations near the Expo in Georgetown and in Dupont Circle this place has authentic wood fire pizza and you even get a bowl of olives to start your meal! 
Dean and Deluca (Felicity Fans anyone?)  This place has a great coffee bar, great bakery and a hot bar to customize your own meal.  It has a great enclosed patio that often has jazz musicians playing.
Matchbox Pizza with locations in Chinatown and Capitol Hill you have two to choose from.  Great brick oven pizza and an awesome (healthy) kids menu! 
SweetGreen has 10 locations through out DC.  This is a great place to go grab lunch or a quick dinner.  Lots of customizable healthy salads, soups, and wraps. 

P.O.V. Lounge to be honest, the food isn't that great, but the view is!  Use this location for happy hour or an after dark drink with your crew for some great views of the Washington Monument and the White House!  We even sat next to Corey Booker once! 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Product Review: Smarty Pants Vitamins

I was recently sent some Smarty Pants Vitamins to try out.  Vitamins are a big part of my life now after being diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency last spring.

 I am very impressed with what they contain!  I might as well get lots of other good stuff while I am loading up on my vitamin D! 

I have been using them as my "running gummies" and taking them as soon as I wake up to give me a bit of energy and flavor before I head out the door for my 5am run.

For every purchase, Smarty Pants makes a one for one matching nutrient grant for a child in need through a partnership with vitamin angels.  That is awesome. 
Try some!  I hope you are as impressed as I am.  I look forward to taking my vitamins!