Monday, February 27, 2012

We're Going Streaking...

I am a creature of habit.

True of many aspects of my life, but especially true of exercising.

I’m best about working out and training, and most effective, once I get into a groove where it feels wrong not getting something done.  A groove where I no longer try to figure out how I’m going to fit in a workout, but take it as a given that I will workout and I start revising the rest of my day accordingly.  There’s always the risk of taking this to extremes and getting the dreaded overuse injury, but when managed properly this type of routine is where I find myself most centered, both physically and mentally.  It’s even better when I don’t really realize it has happened.

When I went to pull my data off my Garmin after yesterday’s 20-mile run, I took a close look back through my recent training for the first time in several weeks.  In the middle of January the whole family made our pilgrimage to Orlando for some Disney/Universal goodness, complete with lots of calories and little exercise, with the exception of 6,000 laps around the parks and competitive line-standing.  It was a much-needed break from real-life, personally and professionally.  Immediately after returning from that trip I signed up for a 50k in May, and realized that my cross-training based workout routine needed to shift towards the running side of the scale, and I needed to ramp up the mileage if I wasn’t going to be left for dead somewhere on the beaches of North Carolina mid-50k.
It started innocently with a 5-mile run on January 19.  Since that point, including this morning’s trip to the gym, I’ve gone 40 straight days of either running, cycling, swimming, lifting, or the occasional day of doing some combination of these activities.  I don’t have the data to substantiate it, but I’m about 99% certain that’s the longest streak of exercise/training I’ve done in close to 20 years.  The best part about it is I didn’t even realize I had been that consistent until my friend Excel let me know.  Here are the actual stats from the last 40 days:

Running:  21 runs, 169.31 miles
Cycling: 5 rides, 97.92 miles
Swimming: 4 swims, 4750 meters
Lifting:  12 trips to the gym

Mixing in activities other than just running has been the key to this steady progress.  Nothing feels repetitive right now, and (knock on wood until my knuckles bleed) I feel pretty healthy.  I have a half-marathon coming up in 3 weeks, which will be my first official half-marathon ever.  I’m running it with my best friend who paced me through the last 8 miles of the MCM back in November, so we’re just planning to have a good time and I’m not looking to ‘race’ it.  Regardless of what I do, assuming I finish, it will be a PR.  My plan is to do nothing the day before the race, so that will definitely mark the end of this streak, if it doesn’t already end before then.

I’m happy with this consistency, but would like to be getting to the pool more often.  I’m also doing some comparison shopping between trainers for my bike, so I can get some more miles on the bike without being dependent on getting out for a full-blown ride.  However, like all things cycling, this represents a pretty serious dollar investment, so it may have to wait a while.

On top of this, I’m trying to drop about 7 pounds to get down to what I think is my ideal race weight before the 50k in May, but that’s a story for another blog post.  My experience has been that it’s hard to drop weight while in the middle of a training cycle, and this time is proving to be no exception.  We’ll see how it goes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Unexpected Blog Reader

When I launch my mindless chatter into blogger-world with a simple click of the ‘publish’ button, I don’t often give much thought to who might stumble upon it.  I assume it will mostly be folks like myself, with a shared interest in running and fitness, and a shared sense of purpose around self-improvement while avoiding injury.  Perhaps someone will find my words amusing …. maybe informative … hopefully not annoying.  I often entertain myself …. perhaps more than I do others …. definitely more than I entertain my wife.  For some odd reason she sticks around, for which I am eternally grateful.

Recently I posted a review of PureFit nutrition bars, where I tried to give a useful assessment of the bars without getting bogged down in the details.  In this review I mentioned my experience eating Balance Bars around the 10-mile mark of my long runs throughout training for my first marathon.  In the review I wrote the following “Worked great for a while, but after enough long runs I got to the point where I couldn’t stand the sight of Balance Bars.”  This was much less a commentary on Balance Bars than a case of too-much-of-a-good-thing, where even something you like can get tired after too much repetition.  Probably more of a Pavlovian response where my brain started equating balance bars with the medieval beating I was putting on my legs.  Regardless, these words were launched into the cyber world and I didn’t give them much more thought.

However, last Monday I received an unexpected email from the woman who handles PR for Balance Bar who had read my post.  It was a very nice email expressing her disappointment that I had grown weary of Balance Bars, but pointing to several new product lines and flavors that they had launched that I might find more appealing based on my use of the bars as a mid-run fueling option.  She also offered to send me some samples to try, asking if I had any preferences for lines/flavors, and asked that I provide some feedback.  After Igot over the initial shock that she had found the post and taken the time to write, the whole thing left me with a huge grin on my face.  I’ve gotten on my customer-service soapbox many times on this blog, and I’m someone that values the customer experience extremely highly, so the fact that she was reaching out when I hadn’t ever attempted any contact or provided any direct feedback to Balance Bar was just too cool.  Maybe not my most eloquent way to describe the experience, but for lack of a better word I’m sticking with ‘too cool’.  As an aside, it also made me realize what a massive PR headache the rise of social media must be.  So many venues for sharing unfiltered opinions – fair or not.  Trying to monitor and address all the chatter must be maddening.

I wrote her back letting her know I’d love to give them another try and would happily share my thoughts via the blog.  I gave her a couple flavors that sounded good and looked forward to receiving a few bars in the mail.  Two days later the following showed up at my door:

36 Balance Bars in 18 different flavors/types.  Awesome.

I’ll be giving the full collection a test-drive over the course of the next few months of training.  This past weekend I tried the Balance Bar Bare – Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter bar at mile 20 of a 30 mile bike ride.  It was very, very tasty.  In fact, it was tasty enough that I’d have one of these as a snack pretty much any time – workout or not.  It was, however, pretty tough/crunchy and pretty dry, so I don’t know if I’d recommend it as an eat-as-you-run option in the middle of a long run.  It was great, however, for a short water/snack break in the middle of a long ride.  If this first bar is any indication, I may be rekindling my prior relationship with Balance Bars and training.  Reunited and it feels so good.

I’ll keep sprinkling in reviews as I work through the various flavors in ‘Project Balance Bar’.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sherry Arnold - Rest In Peace

The details of my workout today are unimportant. The reason for them, and the shared sense of purpose driving them today is what really matters:

I ran today because she no longer can.  After having overcome cancer she deserves the freedom of running far more than I do.

I hope that Sherry has found peace, and I wish peace for all those coping with the injustice of her absence.

Friday, February 10, 2012

PureFit Nutrition Bar Review - Healthapalooza

I am not a health-focused eater.  I am health-conscious, but not health-focused.

Feels good to get that off my chest.  The truth shall set you free.

That’s not to say that I don’t try to stick to healthy options when they’re presented, but if I’m choosing between a bowl of oatmeal and sneaking a bowl of my kids’ sugar cereal in the morning, then the Froot Loops better be nervous.

Also, I’ve never really subscribed to any particular style of diet like vegan, or gluten-free, or vegetarian.  Always like to keep my bacon options open.

I am, however, constantly searching for new or better ways to fuel for training.  Long runs, long rides, etc.  I used to bring along a Balance Bar for any run of at least 14 miles, and would eat the bar around mile 10.  Worked great for a while, but after enough long runs I got to the point where I couldn’t stand the sight of Balance Bars.  They never messed with my stomach, but I just couldn't bear trying to force another one down my throat.  Since then I’ve gone through a variety of options, most recently settling on Marathon bars.

I don’t typically struggle with any stomach issues when training, which is ironic since my stomach can be very touchy any time I’m doing anything but training, but my stomach trainwreck during my last marathon has left me a bit gun-shy when it comes to fueling.  When the good folks at PureFit offered to let me try out their nutrition bars I figured I’d give it a shot.  Perhaps they were the magic fuel for which I had been searching.

They sent along 5 flavors to try, all of which sounded promising:  Chocolate Brownie, Almond Crunch, Berry Almond Crunch, Granola Crunch, and Peanut Butter Crunch.  Whole lotta crunchin’ going on.

When they say all-natural they aren’t kidding.  These things are gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, vegan, and kosher.  Basically all the things that I am not.  I was mildly afraid that my body might freeze-up completely from the shock of so much healthy.  Perhaps these bars could finally erase the recent nutritional armageddon commonly referred to as the Christmas holiday season.

I started with the Peanut Butter Crunch flavor, eating half a bar about 30 minutes before a morning 6-mile run.  Half to say it was actually pretty good – admittedly much better than I expected.  With all the ‘free’ labels it wasn’t exactly packed with flavor, but for someone looking for a seriously healthy fueling option, this is not a bad way to go.  I had no stomach issues on the run, and ate the other half once I finished running before moving back to my regularly scheduled questionable eating habits the rest of the day.  Each bar packs 18g of Protein, so it’s a nice recovery option as well as a fueling option.  Here’s the full nutrition info for the Almond Crunch flavor:

Over the course of the next couple weeks I went through all the bars, highlighted by eating one at the 15-mile mark of a 30-mile bike ride, and eating another at the 10-mile mark of a 14-mile run.  I didn’t find any of them to have a great deal of flavor, but that wasn’t a big consideration for me, as long as they didn’t taste like I was eating my shoe.  If I had to pick a favorite I’d go with Almond Crunch.  My least favorite, in terms of expectations based on the named flavor would be Chocolate Brownie.  It didn’t taste bad, but I’ve known a lot of Chocolate Brownies in my day, and there wasn’t a lot of Chocolate or Brownie going on with that bar.  Admittedly I ate that one at mile 15 of the 30-mile ride, and not even Willy Wonka could have picked out something that would have made me happy at that particular moment.  I’ve got a long way to go before anyone will confuse me with a cyclist.

Bottom line - these seem like a highly healthy and stomach-friendly option for fueling before, during, or after training.  One thing to consider is that they are all pretty dry, so it's a good idea to have some water along to wash them down if you're eating while training.  I find that to be true of most any of the nutrition bars I've tried while running, so that's not unique to PureFit.  Hopefully my body hasn't gotten too used to this healthy-eating.  May need to give it a shock to snap it back to reality.  Is that Taco Bell I smell?