Monday, February 8, 2016

How I broke my Diet Coke addiction

I started drinking diet sodas way back in high school during a beach trip -- one of my travel buddies would often raid our rental's refrigerator and eat and drink anything that wasn't his. But he would always spare the diet drinks.

It grew into a true fondness for Diet Coke -- I still remember the days before the liquid carry-on ban on airplanes -- on the few times I've been to Europe I would bring a six-pack of Diet Coke in plastic bottles because I hated the way Coke Light -- a version of Diet Coke in Europe and Asia -- would taste.

One of my favorite things of the 11 times I've run in the July 4th Peachtree Road Race was being able to crack open an ice cold Diet Coke that was offered with all the other postrace goodies after the finish line. For a long, long time, the drink has been like water for me.

Anyway, there's a running related reason why I don't drink Diet Cokes anymore. Late last year, I read an article about exercise apps for your smartphone. All last year I'd been doing basic exercises like crunches, push ups and planks on my own to improve my running speed and endurance. I didn't think I did it very consistently.

The article mentioned FitStar was the best of the apps, and it was free, so I tried it out. What I liked about it was that there were various sessions you could do and it took very little time to do them -- some of the workouts are only seven minutes long.

There are even workouts for runners to improve core and body strength, sponsored by Strava and the San Francisco Marathon. Many times when I've clicked on articles in Runners World detailing great workouts to help improve running form, I find I've already been doing them via the app.

To make it even more interesting, the workouts are narrated by former Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. He's always had a reputation as a health nut and it's a natural fit to have him give you encouragement and even demonstrate various exercises.

So I finished December with two workouts. When January started, they had a campaign to try to do 20 workouts in the month to be placed in a drawing for a prize. Only thing was this was impossible to do in free mode, as you only get three free workouts a week. So I decided to pay the $39 subscription fee for the year and completed 22 workouts in January.

Sometime last month, after doing workout upon workout (in addition to my daily running streak), I noticed something funny when I would sip a Diet Coke. I would still get the same pleasurable hit of carbonation and caffeine but could not drink it. I started to brew tea in bottles and chill it in the refrigerator.

I'm not sure why this happened. It could all be coincidence. I wonder if it has to do with the extra core workouts and my body trying to discourage me from consuming extra sugar or artificial sweeteners. But I like the fact that I'll save money on not buying diet sodas and that I've possibly made a change for the better.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Day 3,324: A cake and a medal (Tartan Trot 10K)

DUNWOODY, Ga. -- I'd heard of the Tartan Trot from a fellow geocacher and thought it might be a great way to get my feet wet in advance of the Feb. 28 Charles Harris 10K.

The $25 entry fee also helped sway me. For whatever reason, I also thought this course would be relatively flat and would be a shoo-in to try to break my PR of 46:29 that I set in the Charles Harris race in 2011.

I also wanted to test my clothing choices for the next race. It was somewhere between 33 degrees and 36 degrees at race start and I decided to wear shorts and two long-sleeved technical T-shirts. This actually worked out pretty well, although next time I will go with previous blog posts and wear a long -and a short-sleeved technical shirt.

At the start, the 5K race also joins the 10K for a little more than the first mile, so it was hard to tell how many people were at the front of the pack. I decided to go for a steady 7:20/mile pace that would definitely put me on pace for a PR.

I kept my pace, even up the first large hill of 110' elevation rise right at Mile 2, through the third mile of the race. But somewhere around Mile 3.5 the second hill came and at a 128' elevation rise it was one of the largest elevation changes I've seen in a while. Two runners were walking up it (although they resumed running near the crest and passed me) -- and it really took me out of the race. My pace dipped as slow as 9:35/mile before I got to the top of it.

And it affected the rest of my running -- I ran 8:07, 8:02 and 8:02 mile splits the rest of the way. I got passed by two more runners, a guy who looked like he was in his 40's and a woman of about the same age (who ultimately I finished the race four seconds behind and was the female Masters winner).

Near the end of the race I saw one of the guys who was walking up the hill and felt like I would be looking at fourth place for my age group. But on the final turn he was not accelerating and I decided to put everything into it, including an experimental kick on a descending turn basically throwing my entire weight through my calves, to get me to the finish line in 47:48. (The time qualifies me for Group A of the Peachtree Road Race, although I will probably submit my 21:18 5K time from the Vinings Downhill 5K last year).

I stuck around for the awards, since last year I knew 2nd and 3rd place in my age group ran 47-something to place. I was relieved when I saw the second guy (not the one I passed) who was walking up the steep hill get an award in a different age group. My 3rd place award is the first time I've received an age group award for a 10K race since the Salmon Creek (Washington) 10K I ran in 1999.

They had been awarding cakes/pies of choice for age group winners and overall winners. But at the end of the awards they had too many left over, so they opened it up for award winners -- and that's how I won a cake!

This was a great community race. I think next time I will opt to run in the 5K since the 1-2 combo of hills was brutal. It gives me a lot of data on what I need to work on and what I can continue doing leading up to the four 10Ks I'm currently signed up for through the Peachtree Road Race.

Time: 8:30 a.m.
Temp: 33-36 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long x2 (Locomotive Half 2010, Williams Walk 5K), shorts, Brooks Pure Connect 3.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Hot Chocolate weekend

As early (late?) as the Jeff Galloway 13.1 in December, I'd thought about signing up for the Hot Chocolate 15K as a warm-up for the Publix Georgia Half Marathon in March. But after I set a new PR in the Red Nose Half Marathon a few weeks ago, I decided that a few weeks of rest were in good order.

So I decided to see if the wife would be interested in a last-minute entry to the race, as she also is training to run in the Publix half marathon. It also seemed like good timing on her schedule, as her longest run was 7 miles a few weeks before. (The 15K was her longest run since running more than 8 miles with me in Battersea Park in London in December 2011 when she was five months pregnant!)

Although we thought we were going to go to the expo on Saturday, we decided to go on Friday after she got home from work since it seemed at the time possible that the roads might be messy Saturday morning.

The roads were clear and the expo was a great treat, especially when local races that require packet pick-up increasingly have shied away from expos and instead have runners pick up their bibs from specialty running stores.

Lots around the Georgia World Congress Center were charging as much as $15 (!), we parked in the Yellow/Gold deck that is in between the center's Building C and the Georgia Dome. It only cost us $3 for the time we were there.

Almost as expected, the hot chocolate expo had plenty of hot chocolate. They had chocolate-dipped marshmallows and the little guy particularly loved drinking hot chocolate. We were able to pick up some race-day items at the Big Peach booth and I was able to sign up for the Big Peach Sizzler 10K on site instead of registering online.

The little guy loved his hot chocolate!
Saturday I went on a run in 27-28 degree weather to fix a few geocaches and thought I was only going to run 6-7 miles but ended up running a full 10 miles. For the most part the sidewalks and paths were ok although there were a few spots on the Freedom Park PATH trail that were icy.

It was a good test of my winter gear -- I wore two long-sleeved technical T-shirts and a windbreaker and my Brooks Spartan pants. My hat came off around Mile 8 and while I wore gloves the entire time, they were two different kinds -- my index finger of my left hand was really cold wearing a fancier North Face pair while my right hand was very warm in a pair of simple cotton gloves The Weather Channel gave out at the end of the 2008 Thanksgiving Half-Marathon.

Race day worked well. I drove on Boulevard down to Atlanta Avenue and drove up Hank Aaron Drive from the south as far as I could go to avoid race day road closures and dropped off the wife. The race's text alerts worked perfectly and although my wife has only had time to run about 12 miles a week, she ran the first 5K and 10K portions of the race at an 8:20/mile pace and finished at an 8:31/mile pace!

Definitely sounded like a very well-put together race. It was nice to not be racing and I could just enjoy things like the expo without worrying about how I was going to do the next day during the race.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Big Peach Sizzler for $28!

Starting today through Sunday, if you register for the Big Peach Sizzler 10K, the price is $28 with the discount code SIZZLERHC20 on

What I'm not sure is whether this deal will be available registering in person at the Big Peach Sizzler booth at the expo for this Sunday's Hot Chocolate 15K/5K (the email I received says you can get a free shirt if you sign up at the expo). I'll make an update if I see this deal there tomorrow.

The race is held on Labor Day, which is Sept. 5 this year. It's a pretty fast race with some rolling hills from right outside the Chamblee MARTA station to Buckhead. I ran in it last year and in 2009, on my 1000th consecutive day of running.

UPDATE: We went to the expo this afternoon since we weren't sure how the roads would be tomorrow. I was able to sign up for the Sizzler for $28 there, so I wouldn't have to have fees. Plus they threw in a T-shirt from last year's race!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Day 3,296: Red Nose Half Marathon (PR), or "heck, yeah, I'm going to run on a USATF-certified course for free"

Half marathon PRs: Vancouver Lake Half (1998), left, Red Nose Half (2016).
COLUMBUS, Ga. -- For a while now I've had a running streak nearly twice as long as my nine-year consecutive day streak -- an almost 18-year drought in being able to best the very first half marathon I ever ran in.

Over the course of the next 27 half marathons, in places like Oregon, Las Vegas and Chicago, my initial race time of 1:46:30 was out of reach. One year, at the Run the Reagan Half Marathon in Snellville in 2011, I came within 30 seconds of the mark.

But finally today, after my 29th half marathon, I was able to get that monkey off my back. I made my second PR for that distance by finishing the Red Nose Half Marathon in 1:44:50.

There's a lot of symmetry between the two races -- both are more or less low key affairs put on by the area running club. Both courses are flat and the weather was great. I also drove at least two hours from where I lived to the starting line.

My first half marathon (Vancouver Lake in Vancouver, Wash.) became my long-lasting PR because of what I didn't know about running those races. Basically, as a 27-year-old, my strategy was to take it easy the first three miles and then make my move. I passed all kinds of people the next seven miles, until I hit the wall.

After that, the last three miles were misery. I inched along, watching all the people I passed pass me. Yet when I crossed the finish line, I received a time that stuck for years. Once burned by running too fast, I took it easy in subsequent races. I've only learned about proper pacing in the last few years.

I found out about the Red Nose Half late last month when I was looking at upcoming race listings. For some reason I clicked on the link and found out that it was a free USATF-certified half marathon on a flat course!

I signed up for it thinking this might be my chance to finally set a new PR. I'd come close last year with two 1:47 halfs on hilly courses, in the Aug. 23 Hotlanta Half and the Dec. 13 Jeff Galloway 13.1.

This year race organizers had to made changes to their traditional course because all the recent rain in the area caused flooding of the Columbus Riverwalk. The course still primarily was on the riverwalk but also was muddy in some areas (I saw one runner who looked like he had made snow angels in the mud as he had huge mud spots from a fall on his shorts, singlet and along the entire length of his right arm).

My thought was to run as close to an 8:07/mile pace as I could to make a PR. But it was extremely difficult to run at the right pace -- sometimes I was running faster than an 8 minute mile and other times it seemed like I was creeping up to 8:30/mile. I waited until Mile 6 to eat my first GU gel (I'd planned to do so at Mile 5) and consumed the other one at Mile 11 when I wanted a boost for the finish.

It turned out I was running pretty consistently. At Mile 9 I thought I was only 15 seconds ahead of PR pace and I felt like I was slowing down (I actually was 45 seconds ahead of PR pace). But when we made the final turnaround at 10.5 miles, I felt a huge psychological boost as we were almost finished!

By Mile 12 I believed I could run a 10-minute mile and still make a PR (this was close; my data shows that I could run a 9:30/mile and still do it). I continued to run pretty steadily and the race's end involved two short hills, one to get from the Riverwalk to street level and another one a slightly evil hill just a few hundred feet from the finish.

I was going to take it easy but decided to scramble up the hill and kick after I passed a wiry guy who I thought was going to climb the hill strong but seemed to struggle. On the final flat when I kicked, I could feel two twinges in each of my calf muscles as I made my way to the finish.

I finished in 1:44:50, which was way better than I thought I could do. The result is more on line with what race prediction charts say I could do. Finally, a huge running goal was accomplished.

I think in the end, the flat course really helped me. In Atlanta races I could feel myself slowing down up big hills and then not being able to gain speed back even on flatter surfaces. I also paid attention to Mile 12, since in the JG 13.1 that mile was inexplicably slow even though it was through one of the areas of Piedmont Park I run the most.

We lucked out with the weather for this race; it was about 55 degrees the entire way and not rainy or cold. I'd love to do this race again in the future -- what a great thing for the community to throw a race for free in an age when these races easily cost $80 or so.

Time: 8:08 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Honolulu Marathon), Brooks Grit shorts, cep compression socks, Brooks Pure Connect 3.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Day 3,287: The Nine-Year Run

This morning's run in Piedmont Park closed out 2015 and nine years for the streak.
I was able to get a short run in to Piedmont Park this morning before taking my parents to the airport, marking nine consecutive years of daily running.

The streak (now 3,287 days for 12,338.53 miles) has always been more of a trick for me to keep me active. I found in the years that predated it all the way to when I was 16 that if I didn't run continuously I would find ways to not run and then months would go by before the next time I put on shoes.

In the earlier years I used to use it as an excuse to not try to run fast and injure myself. I don't think I really knew much about training then. It's only been in the last few years with the influence of the Hanson's Marathon (and Half Marathon) Method that things have sunk in.

I still remember ending last year and not knowing what direction my running would take for 2015. And then I ran my first sub-7 minute mile in nearly two decades in the Hawks Fast Break 5K in February and was completely hooked. It led to PRs in the 5K, 4-miler and 10-mile distances. I also picked up a bunch of age group awards and my first ever Master's overall award in smaller races.

So for next year I plan to keep it going, with goals to hopefully finally break my half-marathon PR that's lasted since the first time I ever tried one, nearly 18 years ago. It would be great to PR in the 10K as well.

I'll have extra time from kiddo duties in the fall and I hope to possibly train for another marathon, maybe for early 2017.

Who knows, though? I should know by now that I just make up my plans as I go along.

Time: 8:05 a.m.
Temp: 54 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long (Atlanta 10-Miler 2013), shorts, Saucony Iso Zealot.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Day 3,276: Out of the Box: Skechers Go Run Ride 4

A brand-new pair of Skechers Go Run Ride 4s.
This year has been one of the crazier ones when it comes to running shoes for me. I have no less than five active pairs, not counting my racing flats, although three of them are nearing the end of their lifespan.

I have a pair of Nike Air Zoom Pegasus+ 31s, they are the oldest with 404.39 miles on them and I mainly use them when I run with a stroller. I still have my Saucony Iso Zealots (382.93 miles), an old pair of Skechers Go Run 3s (375.86 miles) and my Brooks Pure Connect 3 shoes, which have 58.31 miles. I bascially retire them when they hit 500 miles, so if the three oldest shoes are still in my rotation, it will be a while before any of them gets retired.

The other day my in-laws gave me a gift card to Dick's Sporting Goods and I found a great deal there -- a pair of Skechers Go Run Ride 4s for about $60, which is my eternal sweet spot for running shoe purchases.

Today I got to try them out on a 6-mile run in 35-degree weather. They felt light but they also were cushioned properly (my old complaint with Skechers Go Run 2s and the Go Run 3s were that they were light but I could feel it if I stepped on a rock on the sidewalk).

Comparing tread: The new Skechers Go Run Ride 4 (left); Go Run 3 (right).
I opted to use the additional inserts that came with the shoes (the yellow items with the shoes in the picture above). I don't know if that increases the drop from 4mm to 8 mm or more but it felt well worth it during my run to Atlantic Station and back.

The last two days have finally been cold (what a difference a week makes!) -- it was 33 degrees yesterday and I wore a little more layers than I should have but today I think I wore the right things. I thought I was going to run 10 miles today but my legs thought better of it, just a week after running in the Jeff Galloway half marathon.

Time: 7:39 a.m.
Temp: 35 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long (Triple Peach '13), technical mock turtleneck (Marine Corps Marathon '14), Brooks Spartan running pants, gloves, Skechers Go Run Ride 4.