Lighter but no faster

Running route or AT-AT?

Today’s run (street): 4.5 miles
Yesterday’s run (treadmill): 3.2 miles

Yesterday morning’s rain forced me onto the dreaded treadmill, but there was nothing to dread. We’ve been having an issue with the treadmill tread bed being stuck on incline. Even when set on a decline, the angle was elevated. My wife uses the treadmill daily and has not enjoyed running uphill her entire workout. I played with the controls and somehow got it unstuck.  

I know my evangelizing about minimizing sugar is getting tiresome, but I can point to it as the reason for a string of good runs. My last treadmill experience had been at the fitness center in our hotel in Boston. I ran very well that day, partly because I’d been off of processed sugar for a week and partly because I  fitness center treadmills. Despite using our far less exotic Free Motion machine, I felt rock solid on Friday, without the fatigue (some of it mental) that I usually experience when I run on it.

I got out early enough this morning to avoid direct sun. I decided to change up my route and followed Jericho Turnpike down to SOB Road so I could check out the newly paved path from beginning to end. Although the heat was moderate, the humidity was rising. Those conditions would normally be enough for me to consider cutting my run short. I didn’t cross my mind and, in fact, I ended up adding another half mile to my four mile target.

I’m not sure how much of my running improvement has come from the physical response to a change in diet. I’m sure some of this is due to being six pounds lighter since I started paying attention to sugar and simple carbs. Despite all that good stuff, I’m still as slow as ever. I did try to focus on speed a number of times but I couldn’t sustain it for more than a couple of minutes. Once I’m confident that I can tap into my newfound energy, I’ll pick up the pace.

Around the track without a buzz

Hey, you, get offa my track!

Today’s run (track): 4.1 miles

I did my best to get out early today and I made it to the track by 6:30 AM. The sun was still low in the sky and the temperature (73°) and humidity (69%) made for decent running weather. As I made my way down the drive toward the track, I looked over and  saw there was a runner making his way around. I was disappointed because I really hoped to have the place to myself. I’m not a misanthrope, and I love to run with my friends, but I do enjoy the solitude of the empty track. Oh well.

I started out easy, but I didn’t feel the energy I’ve come to expect since reducing my sugar intake. I worried that the lift I’ve been getting was a short term gain, and that my body has since adapted to the change. I did feel stronger as I ran, but still had some residual fatigue. I got through my intended laps without a problem, but stopped short of finishing the workout with a set of intervals.

Could this be less obvious?

When I got home, I grabbed a K cup from the same box I’d used for my morning coffee. I noticed that I’d mistakenly made decaf. So this morning’s track run was done with neither carb loading nor caffeine. Knowing that made me feel better about my run. Especially at the end, when I poured it on for the last 200 meters and had plenty left in the tank.

I suppose I could also consider reducing my caffeine intake at some point, but I’ve read that caffeine is actually health positive in moderate doses. I’ll stick with managing complex carbs and sugar for now.

Bethpage’s hills didn’t scare me today

Where bike trail meets dirt trail

Today’s run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.3 miles

I’m discovering that my new approach to eating has yielded some improvement. As I mentioned yesterday, a measurable reduction in processed sugar intake and longer breaks between meals has given me more clarity and energy. Although it has been less than two weeks, I’m noticing positive changes, physically and mentally. It’s too early to know if these changes are producing real results or if the improvements are more of a placebo effect. It may be a little of both.

I got out to Bethpage this morning and parked at Runsketeer HQ off of Haypath. I usually run north to Washington Ave., but today I decided to go south toward Bethpage State Park. Like yesterday, I felt great from the start to the end of my run and I truly believe it has to do with reducing refined sugar and minimizing insulin response. While this change is exciting, my performance hasn’t improved.

Great run despite 88% humidity

Today’s pace was fairly typical compared to what I’d normally run for four miles. The difference is that maintaining that pace is now far easier. I normally grit my teeth to get through my runs and focus on the end result: finishing. There was none of that today, even though I took on some challenging hills between Haypath Road and my turnaround point on Picnic Polo Road.

So what about performance? If I continue to feel the way I did on my last two runs, I can start focusing on speed. That’s something that I haven’t done in a long time. Either way, I’m enjoying, rather than enduring the experience in way I haven’t in quite a few years.

How Dr. Phil (not that one) is helping my running

I’m sweet enough already

Today’s run (street): 4.25 miles
Yesterday’s workout (Treadmill and elliptical): 40 minutes
Tuesday’s run (street): 3.5 miles

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so bad for you. I recently read Christopher McDougal’s newest book, “Natural Born Heros” that at one point focused on Dr. Phil Maffetone whose methods have helped many elite athletes increase performance. The key takeaway for me is that most assumptions about fueling athletes are incorrect.

Two examples of this both relate to hydration. One, that runners are at much higher risk of dying from water intoxication than from dehydration. The point being that humans are made to endure long periods without water and that’s why we are successful hunters. The other example is that hydration drinks like Gatorade, that contain large amounts of sugar, provide little benefit compared to the damage they do. High sugar drinks will spike both glucose levels and insulin response and can contribute to disease, inflammation, depression and increased body fat.

A lot has been written about how processed foods, especially those with refined sugar, are quickly stored in the body and become very difficult to burn. I started thinking about my own diet, which is pretty good compared to many, but it’s higher in sugar and simple carbs than it should be. I decided to address this in a logical way that doesn’t require a big change. I believe this has already yielded benefits.

I currently eat a vegetable-rich diet and that won’t change. I get protein from high quality sources (mostly chicken, turkey, nuts or tofu) and that won’t change either. But I am reducing the amount of refined carbs I ingest (far fewer) and sugars of any type that have anything more than a low (value of 10 or less) glycemic load.  An important aspect of these changes is that I am increasing the amount of time I wait between any meal and any snack that follows it. This is to prevent insulin spikes that promote the conversion of glucose to stored fat.

It’s been about 10 days since I made these changes and I believe there’s something to it. I haven’t sacrificed much except cutting a few hundred sugar-heavy calories from my daily intake. I’ve lost a couple of pounds and my energy level is noticeably higher, while my crankiness level is lower (Mrs. ER debates this but I know better). Work pressure is high right now, but I’m feeling far less stress than I usually would.

That’s all well and good, but here’s the best part. Today I had my best run of the year. It wasn’t my fastest, and it certainly wasn’t effortless, but not once did I wish for the run to end. I felt like I did back in 2011, when my running was at its peak. I took a few opportunities to throw in speed during the run and snapped back without feeling overtaxed when I resumed my natural pace. I felt great in both mind and body.

Will I feel the same tomorrow when I run? I hope so, but I know that every run is different and I’ve had bad runs follow good ones. I may not achieve today’s level of energy and spirit, but I think these practical changes have yielded real results. It’s hard to believe such a simple change could provide so much improvement. It will be interesting to see if I feel this way in a couple of weeks.

Dealing with the white stuff — snow and sugar

Backyard trekking

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.1 miles + snowshoe
Yesterday’s run (treadmill): 3.1 miles

I had lunch this week with a work colleague who told me he’d given up added sugar just before the holidays. He looked like he lost at least 20 pounds. I asked him if he misses sugar. He said if he wants something sweet he’s happy to have a piece of fruit. I often think about the amount of sugar I consume and I know I often exceed the recommended limit of 50 grams per day.

I know that if I try to quit sugar cold turkey I’ll fail. However, if I pay more attention, I can probably step down my sugar intake over time. I started watching sugar content on Thursday and substituted sugar laden stuff for more savory options whenever possible. I estimate that I cut back about 50% through Friday and through most of today, but our post-dinner ice cream was a setback.

I worked from home on Friday and managed to get in a few miles on the treadmill. I usually start my work-from-home days around 6:00 AM which is when I typically start my commute. Once my wife finished her workout, I jumped on the treadmill. While I find the treadmill mind numbingly boring, I appreciate that it’s a better indoor workout than the elliptical. Still, my patience can only handle about thirty treadmill minutes at a time. Once I hit 5K I was done.

My schedule was tight this morning so I got on the treadmill early. I wasn’t feeling very motivated and would probably have stalled another hour if I didn’t have such a tight window. It was tough going at the start, partly because I set my speed about 5% faster than on Friday. I eventually adapted and felt far better through the second half of the run.

Later in the afternoon, I pulled out my snowshoes and spent 40 minutes going around my backyard. The snow was better than the first time I tried this during last week’s storm. The temperature had risen and fallen over the freezing point over the past week. That resulted in a nice firm crust that kept me from from sinking in too deep. After a while the snow shoe-ing motion began to feel very natural and the drifts in my backyard created some mogul-like challenges. My friend FS said she likes that snow shoes allow her to get up and over rock faces. In my case this afternoon, that was my back deck.

Exploring new horizons around the deck and swing set

After I’d finished my snow shoe workout, my wife put them on and did her rounds in the back, followed by my daughter. I may go over to the adjacent middle school tomorrow and try them out on the athletic fields. I would be fun to to see what it’s like to trek more than a quarter mile without having to make any turns. I’ll probably end up on the treadmill in the morning, but I’ll be thinking about snow shoe-ing and low sugar snacking to distract me from that tedium.