Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Product Reviews- Hammer Nutrition's Montana Huckleberry Gel and Chocolate Pro Whey

As I prep for my first Olympic distance triathlon of the season on April 17, I wanted to test some new nutrition products on a tough workout. I had been training for run distance and now I'm looking for speed so Yasso 800s were in order- a good combination of speed and distance work. But it's a tough workout so I needed nutrition and thought this was a perfect way to test out some new products- Montana Huckleberry flavored Hammer Gel before the workout and some Chocolate Pro Whey after for recovery.

I do most of my workouts in the morning and until recently had been going out sans-nutrition; just wake up and go. However, as my workouts are getting both longer and more intense this wasn't going to cut it anymore. Dinner (and, since it's me, dessert) had long since passed through the system and I can't go on empty. So I've started taking nutrition products before I leave to give the body a kickstart. Today was Hammer Gel.

Montana Huckleberry is a new flavor introduced this year. Hammer Nutrition is based out of Whitefish, Montana where huckleberries are the favorite local fruit. We've seen an increase in berry flavored products so this fits right in with the latest fad. But Hammer Gel isn't a fad- it's a great product for sustained endurance and performance. Although this flavor has no caffeine for a quick hit, it has plenty of easily digestible yet long-lasting carbs (Maltrodextrin) with just a touch of sugar. Yet this flavor is quite sweet, much more so than Gu's new Jet Blackberry. It almost has a blueberry-like taste. I'll admit my ignorance to what a huckleberry tastes like so I can't tell if this product is true to the flavor or not, but I liked it. The consistency was easy to get down and I felt it sustained my run and never let me crash ($14.55 for a 12 pack at

Post-workout, I decided to pass on my usual recovery drink and try a Hammer Pro Whey Protein drink instead. I've never been into protein shakes since I thought they were only for body builders, but I was wrong. They are great for anyone who's destroying muscles during their workouts (ahem runners, cyclists, swimmers, rowers) and wants to build them up for faster recovery and greater performance. I think they are especially appropriate after really grueling workouts like the one I did. But it wasn't too long of a long workout so I didn't get dehydrated and didn't need any special electrolytes afterword. Just some protein for my screaming legs. Enter Pro Whey. I tried the new Chocolate flavor and mixed it with 12 ounces of skim milk. This is like a high-powered chocolate milk. The taste was much better than I had hoped- I was expecting chalky bits in my drink. Instead it was smooth and surprisingly tasty; just a tad less sweet than Nesquick or Yahoo. The calories in this lasted me for a few hours until lunch and I will find out tomorrow whether my muscles are able to perform again (I have a hard bike workout scheduled) but this was a great first try of Pro Whey protein. For tough workouts that aren't overly long and dehydrating, this is my new recovery drink of choice. ($36.95 for 24 servings at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Recovery Drinks- what to take?

I am a religious taker of recovery drinks, when appropriate. I say that because even I know not to take them after a 3 mile recovery run or in the winter when I'm just doing base training and following nutrition periodization (more on that here). But for runs and rides over an hour, or of extreme intensity, I always follow up with a recovery drink right afterwords. I'm not a nutritionist or a scientist, but here's why I think they work for me:
  1. It's ideal to get some good calories, carbs, and protein in your system as soon as possible after a workout. The exact ratios and timing differ by study, but the premise is pretty well proven. When I return after a long, hard workout, the last thing I want to do is make a sandwich, shake, and salad. I'm too tired for that! Recovery drinks are simple to make (mix with water!) and I can start recovering immediately.
  2. I can't take solids while working out or immediately after. This may be unique to me as others have no problem having a ham sandwich and a banana in the middle of their rides, but I can't. It sits there like a rock. I also can't eat solids for about an hour after I stop working out, after my systems calm down. But I'm starving and my body needs recovery fuels. This is why the drinks are perfect for me- they go down easily when other foods won't
  3. They help me feel better the next day and for the next workout. Period. My training intensities and distances have increased and I've been mostly injury free in the last 2 years when I became serious about my sports and started on a sports nutrition regimen. Whether they meet all of their advertised claims I don't know, but they work for me.
Now the question is, what to take? I've taken 4- here is my assessment (a more scientific and comprehensive analysis by Sports Bistro's team coach can be found here).

Endurox R4- This was my first foray into recovery products. The taste is very easy for first-timers (it won our Sports Bistro taste test at the New York Cycle Club's Escape New York ride festival), but the downside is that there is a lot of sugar in it. But it has the 4:1 carb to protein ratio so I know it's got good stuff in it. It really helped in my recovery and I like the Fruit Punch and Lemon Lime flavors the best.

Fluid- A bad name for a great product. I first was introduced to this product when I won a tub of it at a local bike race. It has less sugar but I still like the taste just fine. I love the story that this product came out of an academic thesis, and although it's only been around since 2006 a lot of serious athletes swear by it.

Gu Recovery Brew- This is my newest favorite. I am taking the Orange Pineapple flavor and have to say it is the best tasting of them all. It doesn't have much sugar and has good glutamine, but it has less protein than the others. Perhaps better for a medium workout.

Recoverite- By Hammer Nutrition, this is the gold standard. Although it has a love it or hate taste (it grew on me, but I must admit it took awhile and some can't take more than a sip), it has very low sugar and virtually no additives or things you don't need. You can buy it in giant 60 serving tubs so it can be cost-effective.

If you have another favorite I'd love to hear about it! I'm also looking forward to trying Gatorade's new foray into recovery drinks as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Another Shamrock Shuffle 8k Race Report

This report starts off on Saturday morning. I wake up to snow and freezing rain. By midday it’s starting to look like a blizzard and there seem to be no signs of stopping. I tell my friends that if this keeps up I may not race tomorrow. I don't mind being cold and miserable but I'm not going to run in slush because that's what got me injured last year.

Fast forward to a cloudy Sunday morning. No snow/slush accumulation on the ground and barely any rain! Woohoo!! It's on!! I downed a banana, did a series of dynamic stretches, drank some water and took a long, hot shower. By the time I was all done my muscles were nice and supple. My legs felt a bit off for some reason, but I wasn’t concerned- I was sure I'd get them back by racetime. I met up with Chris at the train and had a Gu on the way down, spilling a bunch on my jacket (dammit!).

We got to our corral with about 15 minutes to spare. Even though it was a bit chilly, our jog from the Redline warmed me up a bit. I was starting to feel pretty good. The roads weren't that slippery and the wind wasn't bad at all.

The gun went off and about 30 seconds later, we passed the starting mat. The race was on! The crowd started off at a decent pace. My plan was to go right under the pain threshold until the last half a mile. This pace happened to be just slightly faster than the group around us, but not by much. I didn't have to do much weaving, but I was slowly passing people. As I hit the first mile mark I looked down at my watch. 6:34. Perfect. Then I hear a voice to my side "What’s the time??". I turn around and was surprised to see Chris. I'll be honest, I didn't think he was up for this pace. I yell back "six thirty!!!"

From then on, I would notice Chris popping up on my shoulder ever so often. Unlike the 5k race in 2007, I didn't surge or try to drop him :) The plan here was to keep an even pace until the end. I felt that I had the right pace locked down from the start and any deviation (i.e. going faster) would result in me blowing up before the finish.

Mile Two: 13:20... did quick math in my head... around 6:40. Cool beans. I missed mile three, but caught the 5k mark- about 20:30. My previous 5k PR was 20:38, so I was pleased to see that I beat that time as a split in my 8k run. The next milestone for me was the 4 mile mark. I know that the Sports Bistro guys in New York have done a lot of 4 mile races, so I wanted to see how my time compared. Last year Mike had a statement 4 miler - 26:46. That was the number I had in mind as I approached the 4 mile mark. I hit it on 26:28. Take that, Mike! :)

I was starting to feel good with less than a mile to go. I had broken my 5k PR and the Sports Bistro NYC 4-mile PR with just splits in this race, the only thing left to do was hold Chris off.

Heading into the last mile, I had no idea where Chris was but I had the feeling that he was probably still stalking me (what a creep). I saved up my energy for the Roosevelt bridge and managed to storm past a bunch of people on the uphill run. At that point my legs were starting to burn. I turned into the final straightaway and I see 32:14 on my watch. I had a shot at breaking 33 minutes!! I put on the nitro, pushed down the bile, locked away the pain and went for it.

A painful 40 seconds later I crossed the finishing mat in 32:54. A 1 min 45 second PR for the 8k (34:39 was my old PR).

Shamrock Shuffle race report

The Shamrock Shuffle's an interesting race, which I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. It's the first real running race of the season in Chicago, so it always has a huge turnout. On the other hand, it's always in the middle of March, so the weather is wildly unpredictable. For instance, last year it was 32 degrees and we had 6 inches of slushy accumulation on the roads through the entire course. It was easily the worst race I've ever done. I've also injured myself at this race repeatedly by not preparing well enough for it, so I'm always a little nervous.

On top of all that, the last 4 weeks have been up and down with a strain in my right Soleus muscle (yes, Mike, it was confirmed to be my Soleus this morning by a physical therapist). I've been training for my first marathon for the last 12 weeks and got a bit of an overuse injury from the jump in mileage. I was finally able to do some runs over the past week, though, and have been feeling more confident. On the other hand I haven't been doing ANY speed work this year, only long runs for the marathon. I've always read that increasing your mileage will translate to faster short races, but I really didn't know what to expect.

All this anxiety for an 8k!

2009 time: 36:00
2009 place overall: 804/13,399
This year's goal: 34:30

I decided to go for my 10 mile run the day before, knowing that it may hurt my race time a bit. I got 3.5 miles into that run when I hit an open area of the lakefront path that was going to extend for a while. I met 18 mph winds blowing sleet into my eyes, and I immediately turned around and went home. turned out to be only a 7 mile run, but now I was afraid that if the weather stayed bad I wouldn't be able to hit my goals.

I woke up on Sunday morning to find a nicer day, no accumulation, and best of all no more sleet! Did some stretching and rolling, ate some toast for breakfast, and then met Joe on the train. Ate some Cliff Shot Bloks on the way down there (much less messy :) and drank some water.
We got to the race in plenty of time and waited around for the race to start, stretching out some more and trying to stay warm.

Once we crossed the start line, I decided to pace the first mile to Joe and see how I felt. I hadn't been able to find my Garmin that morning, so I was completely guessing on my pace and going by feel. At the 1 mile marker I called out to Joe for time and could tell he was a bit surprised to find me right on his elbow. 6:30 for the first mile (turned out this was a little slow, which threw off my times for the rest of the race).
I was feeling pretty good at this point and knew I could keep up with Joe for a while. I paced with him for mile two, which we did in around 6:45. During the third mile I was starting to lose track of my times, but still held onto him. I'm always amazed at how well other people keep track of their splits and compare to other races/racers, because my brain starts to get fuzzy and I just focus on holding on.
Mile 4 is always my toughest mile, and knew that if Joe was going to beat me it was going to be here. Sure enough, I lost about 20 seconds off my time and did the fourth mile in 7:05. I slowly lost sight of him, but ended up right behind a guy running in shorts, a tank top, and Vibram FiveFinger shoes. I couldn't let this guy drop me, so I picked the pace back up the last mile and did it in around 6:30.

Finish time: 33:21
Overall Place: 665/25,559

I couldn't have been happier with my results here. I beat my goal by over a minute and last year's time by 2:39. It also reaffirmed that I was on track for my marathon goals and showed me I can improve my short races by doing long runs.

Now...I just have to make sure I don't get injured over the next 6 weeks. Illinois Marathon, here I come!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New York City Half Marathon - PR!

Today was as a good a day as I could have hoped for.  The weather at the start of the race was 55 and sunny with little wind.  I was not expecting to be able to run in my Sports Bistro tri top and shorts for a March race!  I had a one mile warm up on the jog over to the race start on Central Park's East Drive with Ton.  Felt good, no pains or cramps or residual soreness from the week.

Got into the corral at 7:10, race started at 7:35.  I hate waiting around for so long, but I tried to move around and stay limber.  Downed a Blueberry Pomegranate Gu Roctane about 10 minutes before the start, hoping the caffeine would kick-start my race. The gun went off and so were we.  First mile came in about 7:45, which I was pleased with for what felt like an easy effort, plus the usual congestion at the beginning of the race.  For the first loop of Central Park (6 miles) I maintained that pace, never deviating from 7:40-50/mile, even on the Harlem Hills.  I actually felt pretty good, but wanted to hold back a little from my target pace of 7:30 because I was afraid of going out too fast and knew I could open it up on the flats and downhills of the last 6 miles.  I took another Gu Roctane, Pineapple this time, at mile 7.  I was also sipping water and Gatorade Endurance formula at every other aid station.  At mile 7 I catch up to Andy and pass him at mile 8.

Once we rounded the park and got onto Broadway, I was starting to feel a bit tired but knew the terrain would help me.  I think my favorite part of any course I've done is the 2 miles down Broadway and onto 42nd St.  Even though the crowds aren't as big, for me this rivals going up 1st Ave in the NYC Marathon.  I feel that this is my city and I can own this course.  Pace picks up accordingly and I enjoy it.

But coming off 42nd St around mile 10 I am really starting to feel tired.  HR is high and my legs are starting to hurt.  I know I have to maintain the 7:20-30 pace I have been keeping in order to meet my goal of a sub 1:40 (ideas of crushing that time are out the window).  I figure it's just 3.1 miles (only a Turkey Trot!) left so let's get this over with.  It's flat and fast at this point so no excuses.  But my lack of recent training (last long run was 11 miles 3 weeks ago) shows itself and those last 3 miles are getting more and more painful.  I muscle through them and am proud that my pace didn't really drop, but man they hurt.  If this were a 14 mile race I would have been in trouble.

But it wasn't and I finished in 1:39:30, significantly better than my 1:47:57 previous PR (which I knew I could beat).  I know I still have time to shave off this, but it's a good start to the season.  Alas I was not the Team Sports Bistro winner as Ton finished about a minute ahead but I am happy with the results.

Next up:  ???  I was going to do the Boston Marathon but my training has been so sub-par and it's only 4 weeks away that I am considering bailing and doing USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals the same weekend.  Decisions, decisions!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Getting race ready

My first race of the season is next weekend!  I, along with others from Team Sports Bistro, are running in the NYC Half Marathon on Sunday, March 21.  I am using this as a tune-up for the Boston Marathon in April and it will be a great time to test out the race gear for the season.  Since I'd like to PR the race (not all that hard since my previous 2 attempts at this distance are well below my capabilities, in my opinion), I will be racing it and so it is a crucial day for me.

Nutrition-wise, I plan on taking my staple, Gu Roctane (one packet 15 minutes before the race, another one 30 min in around mile 4 and a final one at 1:15 or approximately the 9 mile mark).  Since this isn't a hot and humid race I don't anticipate needing any salt tablets and should be fine with the sports drink and water on the course.  And I'll take a free Powerbar gel at mile 9 too (for later).  I will also put a water bottle with Gu Recovery Brew powder in my bag so I can just add water and have a great recovery drink waiting for me at the end.

The bigger question I have for the race is what to wear.  As of now, the weather looks to be around 50 with a 60% chance of showers.  Not bad for a March race, but not great either.  Running while wet can make me cold and my socks and shoes soggy and heavy.  I don't have racing flats (yet) so there's not much I can do to prevent that.  This is where triathlon-specific shoes might come in handy!  I'd like to wear a jacket for the rain but fear I'll overheat.  But a singlet will be too cold.  Hmmm, any suggestions for this?  If the rain clears out this will be perfect weather for a long-sleeved tech t-shirt and running shorts. 

Finally, perhaps the most important aspect is my pacing.  I've only done a handful of long runs and embarrassingly few speed workouts, so this could be my biggest problem.  I'd like to hit around 7:30 miles once the crowds clear (for a 1:40 finish time) and I think that is within the realm of possibility, but by no means guaranteed.  I'd like to be cautious for the first 4 miles, which are the only real hilly ones of the course and then open it up from miles 7 onward.  I do all of my long runs on the path alongside the West Side Hwy where the course is so it will be familiar and I like having a sense of ownership over a course, the same way I feel with the NYC Triathlon run course in Central Park.  These are my training grounds, so let's do it!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The cyclists' achilles heel

If you could collect as much data as you needed on every club or competitive cyclist, analyze it and determine what everyone's weakness is, what do you think it would be for most?

My hypothesis: "mid-range power". As I see it, most folks with little cycling background can easily ride for hours (think charity century rides). This is what we call endurance and is on the low-range of the power band. Most riders (especially those under 30) with some experience can accelerate to and maintain a high speed for a short time period. This is top end power which is achieved anaerobically. But that middle range where you need to sustain a hard effort for 60 minutes (CP60) to up to 3 hours (CP180) remains elusive for many. This power range is important even if you're doing 4+ hour rides as this is what will allow you to comfortably respond to changes in pace and incline.

Part of the problem may be mental -- you can feel it's hard but maybe you're not aware that you can actually sustain this for much longer than you think. As a result I think many people don't train at this level and don't develop the underlying physiological adaptations to make themselves stronger in this power band. It becomes a feedback loop which further reinforces the weakness. The other potential cause of this weakness is nutrition -- within the CP60 to CP180 power band you're burning a mix of carbohydrates and fat. The metabolically efficient will obtain a higher percentage of their energy from burning fat, while the inefficient will rapidly burn through their glycogen stores and then "hit the wall". If any of this sounds like you I'm going to give you a few suggestions on how to begin to address both sides of this.

Workouts are intentionally simple and designed for folks without heart rate monitors and/or power meters. One could make these more quantifiable if you had one or both.

Workout A:
After a thorough warmup, ride for 20 minutes at a comfortably hard intensity. Effort level similar to what you might do if you were pulling the group (except you maintain for 20 minutes). Recover and cooldown afterwards at an easy pace for another 20 minutes.

Workout B:
After a thorough warmup, attempt three 6-8 minute intervals at a slightly higher intensity than in workout A. Imagine you had to bridge the gap with another group of cyclists a half mile away but didn't want to go all out. Recover for 3 minutes in between. Can be done on a flat course or a slight incline. Recover and cooldown like in workout A.

What not to do:
I would generally recommend against max-effort hill repeats on a short/steep incline. I see too many folks doing this without having done multiple workouts similar to the ones above.

Nutrition Suggestions:
  • A simple fix is to make sure you're taking in enough carbs during your rides. A mix of energy gels (one every 45 minutes) plus sports drinks (20 - 40 oz per hour) should keep you going strong for miles and mile and miles. If you sweat more than the average rider and/or have issues with leg cramps, make sure to also supplement with extra electrolytes too.
  • The other solution is to become more metabolically efficient. It's a pretty advanced topic so I'll just give you a simple recipe to "try at home." Attempt a few 1.5-2 hr rides (on the trainer) with no carbs and at pace enough to cause a "bonk". Continue to hydrate with electrolytes and drink plenty of water. Don't experiment on a group ride as the last thing you want is to end up bonked and stranded 20 miles out. After a few of these rides, you'll notice that you'll be able to a) go longer b) at a higher intensity and c) without the bonk effect. At this point, reintroduce carbs and watch the magic. It would be akin to adding a high octane fuel to a sports car that has been running on regular -- immediately noticeable power increase.
Address both aspects (training and nutrition) and after a few weeks you'll find that you have more mid-range power and can easily hang on to the group/peloton even through the various surges and changes in incline. The key is to have enough excess power to comfortably respond to those surges aerobically rather than relying on fatigue inducing, top-end anaerobic power.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Uncertain Season

I must admit, I'm feeling a bit anxious about this upcoming season.  For better or for worse, triathlon races can fill up very quickly and thus I always feel the need to set my schedule a year in advance, especially if I want to do any high-profile races.  But this year, I only have the NYC Half Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and the NYC Marathon on my schedule.  Not one race from May-October, and not one cycling or triathlon event.  Sheesh.

Needless to say I've been focusing on my running for the upcoming events, but I am itching to get back on the bike (once the weather finally turns).  I haven't swum since the Timberman 70.3 Half-Ironman triathlon and with no triathlons on the horizon it's hard to force myself into the pool.  I need something to light a fire in this belly!

One of the reasons my season is so up in the air is that I am back in school and my finances, time-off, and even location for the summer were unknown for so long.  I just decided that I will be spending the summer in Seattle so that at least allows me to start making some decisions.  Do I stick around an extra weekend and try for Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens?  Travel with the rest of Team Sports Bistro to attempt the Rev 3 Half-Distance race at Cedar Point (Sandusky, OH) in mid-Sept (once school starts again, ouch)?  Or do I just do some local Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons in and around Seattle?  It's very hard to train when there are no races or goals on mind, so now I need to come up with a schedule.  I'm watching my teammates formulate their season, training and racing plans, and set some goals and engage in friendly smacktalk.  I want that!

If there are any suggestions for good races in the Pacific Northwest, I'm open to them!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

3:10 or bust for NYC Marathon

There I said it. Publicly.

As an added twist, within team Sports Bistro we're having a little friendly competition on who can run the fastest marathon in 2010. I can't predict whether I'll win this fun little game, but I can predict what a reasonable finish time for me is.

So you might be wondering how I came up with 3:10. During my experience as both a competitor and coach, I've come up with a number of ways to predict and validate run performances. I'm going to share some of these methods and assumptions with you and use myself as an example as I walk you through the steps. It requires some physiology background, but if you get the science behind it you can then use a similar set of steps to make your own prediction.

#1 Do the training appropriate for the distance and the goal time. Sorry no way out of this one. I can easily write myself a training program that gets me there. The hard part is finding the time to actually execute it! Big assumption -- but I think I can pull it off.

#2 Use a run race predictor to predict the result of a future race based on a previous one. You can find many of these online with some simple searching. The more similar the two races, the better the validity. I'm going to use my PR on a hilly 4 miler (26:46) which predicts a ~3:20 for me. Admittedly, a 4 miler is not close to marathon, but the underlying fitness potential is still there. I also very recently ran this 4 miler in a time of 29:19 at a comfortable (non-race) pace. Cutting 2.5 minutes would not have been hard if I went all out. 3:20 is a good starting point but it's not 3:10 so...

#3 Factor in some improvement from your starting point. (otherwise what's the point of training?) 10% is a good amount. My belief that an athlete should be able to improve by about 10% if he/she follows a well structured training plan for the course of ~26 weeks. This assumes that the athlete is not already near the limits of human performance or the absolute limits of his/her own ability... otherwise you might be lucky to get 0.5% better. One can estimate absolute performance ceilings through a VO2 max. A 3:10 (on a flat course) roughly equates to someone with a Vo2 max of 50 ml/min/kg. With a personal V02 max of 60+, I have enough headroom to know I'm not nearing those limits. Since my lactate threshold is also quite high, I have to assume that mechanical efficiency is my limiting factor. 3:10 is also well within 10% of the 3:20 predicted time (see above). It's actually only 5%.

#4 Cross check this goal time with your zones. I use Joe Friel's system predominantly. A 3:10 marathon (7:15 pace) is roughly mid-zone 3 effort. I can check my heart rate at goal pace and see if it lines up in the middle of zone 3. Today that ~7:15 pace I need is more of a zone 4 effort. Hopefully with some improvement I can drive it down to zone 3. I will need to continuously monitor the relationship between my paces and zones as training progresses and see if this goal is still realistic.

#5 Fuel efficiency? What percentage of your energy comes from carbs vs fat at any given intensity level. If you're a carb burner you're very likely to run out of fuel and bonk mid race even if you choose an appropriate zone/pace/intensity. This is a problem I know have -- I've been tested on the metabolic cart and can see how I switch to carb burning mode at even moderate intensity levels. While I could circumvent this problem on race day via carbo-loading the day before and taking sufficient gels and sports drink I probably wouldn't survive the training plan that gets me there; I'd be constantly tired and exhausted. This constant tiredness has absolutely plagued me in the past. I recently started following Bob Seebohar's nutrition periodization protocols in hopes of making myself more fuel-efficient. I will try to get myself retested on the metabolic cart and see how well it worked!

OK - that's A LOT of assumptions! But none of them are that far fetched. I'll post some regular updates and let you know how it's going.