Archive for March, 2011


Counting Calories, Loosing Weight, and Marathons

A quick search around the web reveals hundreds of different diet plans: diets that let you eat almost anything, diets that eliminate entire food groups, diets that are loosely based on the science of how the body processes calories, and more. Unless you’re one of those people naturally gifted with the extremely high metabolism at some point in your life you’re going to need to watch your intake.

I’m not going to go into full details but about eight years I concluded I needed to loose 50lbs. Over the course of the next two years I lost about 55lbs and felt good. Then I started to vascillate up to around 200lbs. When I started running in May 2008 I wanted to know how many calories I burned, so I started tracking my weight. This got me to wondering, how does my own weight affect my running ability.

Let’s start out with something very basic, as a 32 year old, 6’2″ male, if I were to loose 30lbs and go from 195 to 165, my caloric expenditures in a marathon would drop by 631 calories. In more realistic terms, if I were to bonk at 22 miles weighing 195lbs, I could make it through the whole marathon without bonking at 165lbs. Plus, there’s the ancillary benefit of less wear and tear on your joints. Wondering about how many calories your next marathon will take? Here’s a little table I made with the help of Wolfram Alpha. It assumes a flat course and is set up for a 32 year old 6’2″ male. Someone remarkably similar to yours truly.

The key to loosing weight so you can further on the same amount of energy is simply understanding that you need to burn more calories than you take in. In other words, count calories. I’m a scientist (yes, a real scientist with the Dr. title and all) and spend most of my day recording and analyzing data. I’m also busy, so I can’t waste time creating two exact duplicate meals and burning one in a calorimeter to determine the exact number of calories in a meal. Instead, I cheat and estimate my meals using an online food tracker.

My tool of choice is FatSecret. Using FatSecret I can easily track both my weight and food intake. It’s not perfect — I can’t track other measurements such as body fat, running pace, my sleep — but it gets the job done. FatSecret also can give me a report of my food for the week including the nutrients and caloric breakdown (fats vs protein vs carbs). Although I’m not a finely tuned machine where these matter a ton, it does help me understand what is going into my body.

People find it strange when I tell them that even now I’m counting calories and trying to lose weight. I have a healthy BMI and look much skinnier than my BMI indicates. However, for me, I consider this to be an essential part of training, at if it means not bonking during a marathon, or even delaying the bonk a few miles, I’m willing to put up with indignity and hassle of counting calories. After all, many runners swap shoes because of mere ounces of weight difference — I’m talking about 30lbs. That’s not only swapping shoes, but also cutting off most of a leg. It seems a little crazy, but when I cross that finish line it will be entirely worth it.

Do you count calories while training? Any hints for people starting on the journey?


Race Report: 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

Looking for the 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile race results? Check them out at I’m posting this because in the last hour about 80 people have come across this entry looking for the results.

Last month I might have come off a bit harsh on the Twin Cities in Motion after running the Valentine’s Day 5k. They’re a growing organization and it’s a new thing that they’re doing races other than the Twin Cities Marathon and the Medtronic TC 1 Mile. I just need to keep reminding myself that things will get better. The New York Road Runners can put on consistently well managed races week after week because they’ve been doing it for years. Twin Cities in Motions will get there. It also helps out that Mary Wittenberg announced at Coogan’s 5k last week that Twin Cities in Motion is getting an injection of NYRR awesomeness (I think the new race director or something like that was moving from NYRR to TCiM). Of course, I’m probably the only person on the planet who gets to experience both organizations on a regular basis. I’m not certain if that makes me lucky or stupid for flying back and forth all the time (n.b. wouldn’t it be awesome if Delta Airlines decided to start sponsoring me for this? I only had 79 flights last year, 78 of which were with Delta, and 1 was with China Eastern on a route Delta can’t fly. I could be the Delta Airlines New York/Minneapolis Ambassador person. Seriously Delta, call me.).

Anyway, on to the Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile. I was slow in signing up for this because I really didn’t know if I wanted to run it. Partially because a week out the weather didn’t look great and partially because, well, I just didn’t feel like it. I’ve had a race or something else incredibly physical for six straight weekends, my body is getting quite sore from this level of repeated stupidity. ,My awesome wife, however, convinced me to sign up at the beginning of the week. I was committed. I’ve never pulled out of a race because of weather, so unless I got injured or was sick I was running this race. As luck would have it, I was sick during the middle of this week. I also started to feel better late in the week and whipped off a great training run yesterday. I figured I was good to go. It was great weather yesterday, mid-40’s, light wind.

Of course, this is Minnesota and last night the weather certainly changed. A brutal wind started to come from the northwest. Average wind was up around 25-30mph with gusts around 40. Did I mention it started to snow too? This wasn’t enough snow to cause huge problems on the roadway, but when I looked out my apartment window in Downtown Minneapolis this morning I could tell it was going to be a fun time. This was confirmed when we arrived on the east side of Lake Calhoun just as they were closing the roads. Crap. That meant parking by Calhoun and walking around the south end of Calhoun to the north end of Lake Harriet and the bandshell. At an NYRR race this would be no problem as I would have worn some heavier clothing and just checked it. But, there is no bag check at these races. I was walking in my running gear; my tights, shorts, compression shirt, long sleeve 2009 NYC Marathon tech shirt, thin running gloves, and headband. In a word, the walk around the lake was RI-GOD-DAMN-DICULOUS.

I knew it Calhoun was going be to cold. Even in good weather running around Calhoun is cold because it’s flat with few trees. This allows the wind to whip across the lake and smack you upside the head with cold air jackhammer on the east side of the lake. The wind was whipping up snow and carrying it across the lake. My fingers soon went numb. If my wife wasn’t with me I would have just run to the start, instead I walked, and was shivering after the 20 minute walk to the start. Did I mention it was cold? However, this gave me a crucial advantage, I knew that miles 3-5 of the race would be brutal. I also had a chance to scout out the course. No footing at all. Snow everywhere. Patches of ice. It was going to be brutal. “No one will finish this course in under an hour,” I said to my wife. She seemed shocked that anyone could finish a 10 miler in under an hour until I explained that champion half marathoners can finish 13.1 in right about an hour. In an NYRR race someone would finish in under an hour. The smaller field, brutal wind and cold, and poor conditions meant that it was not going to be a good day to set a PR.

Starting line for 2011 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile race.

The starting line for the 2011 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile race. I'm about half way back. This was taken literally seconds before the Twin Cities in Motion's patented "Sneak Attack Start".

Luckily, the long walk meant that we didn’t have to stand around forever before the start. Just enough time to use the portapotties (thank you for making sure there were plenty of them) and wolf down a packet of GU before the race. I heard an announcement for 10 minutes before the start and I said goodbye to my wife who was running in the 5k, which started 15 minutes later, and walked over to the starting area. Like the Valentine’s Day 5k the starting area was a bit chaotic, but there were far fewer runners than in the 5k. With no seeding of any sort, everyone just gathered and made the usual small talk. Some guys behind me were talking about they thought they might need to shed their windbreakers after the lap around Harriet. “Bad idea dude. Calhoun is brutal.” I probably scared them more than I wanted to, but hey, better that then have a frozen runner, right? Of course, they looked at my lack of a windbreaker and must’ve thought I was crazy. I noticed a lot of people looking at me like that. “I’ll be fine.”

Then, all of the sudden, the Twin Cities in Motion launched their patented “Sneak Attack Start”. Here’s how it works, tell all the runners they’ve got 10 minutes to get to the starting line. Then at some delta point in the future, just blow a horn to start the race and watch as all the runners look confused and say “Wait? We’re starting?”. It became obvious from the start that the course was going to be treacherous. Ice, snow, lots of slush, and a little bit of water covered the entire course. It was literally like running on sand. Fortunately, the course bottlenecks so much right after the start that you get a chance to secure your footing before blasting off. It became pretty easy to tell the treadmill runners from the outdoor runners. It wasn’t pleasant for the outdoor group, but they seemed better at picking routes with more traction, often times this meant going up on snow. Around mile 1.5 on the first trek around Lake Harriet a volunteer warned runners about a particularly slick spot on a downhill. Everyone slowed down and made it through without incident. Shortly after this, around mile 2 I saw my first group of runners bite it as three runners fell after one slipped and took down two others.

Despite the snow and complete lack of traction, the path around Lake Harriet wasn’t horrible. The wind was present, but only really bad for a brief section around mile 2 where we lacked trees to protect us. Berry Parkway between the lakes was in pretty good shape and heavily protected. The big potholes were well marked on the course and the huge amount of snow on the road meant that we didn’t have to worry about a layer of ice as we approached the lone water stop on the race at mile 3.3/6.7. Mmm, I love it when my Gatorade has ice cubes in it.

Turning off Berry Parkway and onto the trip around Calhoun hit all the runners. HARD. It appeared that the wind had let up, but it was still cold. Huge props to the one fan shouting everyone on right at the intersection. That made an enormous difference. Not only did we have wind coming from the side, but it had blown snow across the road. Footing was extremely difficult, but hey, that’s running in Minnesota in winter. As a surprise, I wasn’t freezing during this part. We rounded the east side of Calhoun and turned down Lake Street, right into the wind. By this point, about mile 4.8, the race had spread out some. I noticed there were people following really closely behind me. I moved to the side to let them pass and they dutifully followed right behind me. They were drafting behind me. Ughh. Good on them, bad on me. The west side of Calhoun was a pleasant respite from the wind with a handful of fans cheering us on. I noticed that my miles were pretty consistent around 8:10/mi, within my range of 8-9 minute miles. The course had spread out, it was actually pretty pleasant here. We rounded the corner back to Berry Parkway, passed the superfan shouting again, and made our way back to Lake Harriet.

This was going to be the most difficult part of the race. The 5k people had started 15 minutes behind us, I was going to hit mile 6.9, also the 5k finish line, at about 56:00. Assuming that they had a slow start this meant we were going to run right into the back of the pack. Sure enough, we did. There were only a few 10 milers coming through and in theory the 5kers should have stayed to the left if they were running tangents, but whatever. It made for some interesting mental stimulation as I plotted my course through them and through to the 6.9 mile marker. I was hurting some. I actually debated stopping, but hey, I’ve never pulled out of a race and I wasn’t going to do it here.

The second loop around Harriet was peaceful. The runners were well spread out and most of the fans had left. The course was better in some respects (less ice) and worse in others (more of that annoying sand like slush). I had been pacing the same group of people since mile 4 and we generally stayed in the same formation as we completed our last 5k and into the finish line. Official time: 1:21:24, 8:09/mi. A good day in miserable conditions.

Official Results for 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

Official Results for 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

RunKeeper Pace and Elevation for 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

RunKeeper Pace and Elevation for 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

After the race I took a quick glance at my splits for each mile. For the most part they were pretty consistent. It’s clear I was dragging some near the end. I’m running Grandma’s Marathon with a friend in three months and we’re going to do a 4 hour pace, so 10 miles at a minute per mile pace faster isn’t a bad day, but my endurance can use some help. Ignore the last mile as it takes me some time after the end of a race to grab my phone, unlock it, and stop RunKeeper.

Mile Splits for 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

Mile Splits for 2011 Twin Cities in Motion 100% Irish for a Day 10 Mile

One of the things I was hard on Twin Cities in Motion for after the Valentine’s Day 5k is that they didn’t provide any chip times. The chip times were a nice little addition and I actually really liked the MTEC results web site, although it took me a bit of time to find them and navigate them. Silly Road Runners ingraining a single way for me to check results. One thing in particular that I liked is that it provides information on how many runners you passed and passed you during the periods between timings. As you can see below, I probably started a bit too far back in the pack as evidenced by how many people I passed. Also, the fact that I passed 0 people and was passed by 9 people in the final 5k indicates that I was certainly lagging and having problems. Must work on endurance more.

2011 Irish for a Day - How Many People I Passed and Was Passed By

Overall I was very pleased with the race. The smaller field of the 10 mile race on the narrow course was much appreciated. The chip timing was good. The water stop was nice too, although it might have been helpful to have another stop around mile 4.5. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, while Twin Cities in Motion was taking steps in the right direction, post-race I was taking some steps in the wrong direction. Shortly after getting home I started to see auras, a certain sign of an impending migraine. I popped down four Excedrin and laid down praying that the migraine wouldn’t come. It came. It’s been a while since I got a migraine — they’re often triggered by two things: dehydration from exercise and cigarette smoke. I really wish dude from down the hall would quit smoking.


Race Report: 2011 NYRR Coogan’s Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K

What’s this? A New York Road Runners race that isn’t in a park? Surely it must be something like a half marathon, right? Wait, it’s a 5k? The Road Runners almost never do 5Ks. Where is it? Fort Washington? Where the heck is that? Wait, Manhattan goes up that far? Wow.

Thus was my thought process for Coogan’s. It’s been a long time since I ran a timed 5k race. I also realized it’s been a long time since I ran a race this big. I had no idea what to expect. Even the weather forecast wasn’t cooperating. Would it be warm or cold? What about rain? Ughh. Too many decisions. In the end I made the decision to do shorts and long sleeve tech shirt. Wasn’t a bad choice, but it was so warm I could have easily done with a short sleeve shirt.

I arrived at The New Balance Armory to pick up my number around 8am after leaving at 7am. This was a pleasant change from the Al Gordon 4M last week when I had to catch the 5:11am train. It hadn’t started to rain yet, but you could tell it would soon. You could also tell the race was going to be big. Much bigger than I expected. I told myself this because I had been half demoted to a yellow bib instead of my normal red. People were lounging all over the place inside of the armory and on the streets outside killing time before the race which helped restore some of my confidence.

Keeping me humble: I'm not used to this many heads in front of me.

While doing some quick runs for a warmup it started to rain. Not really hard, but certainly enough to be annoying. I think this might have led them to start the race a few minutes early. The course was a pretty simple route along Fort Washington Ave: up a medium hill, down a small hill, up a small hill, down a big hill, around The Cloisters, up the big hill, down a small hill, up a small hill, down a medium hill. This wasn’t a course that was built for speed. The road surface also had potholes. Did I also mention there were more than 5300 people on the course along a two lane road? Elbowtastic.

It took me about 50 seconds to cross the starting line. Slower than last week in Prospect Park. The first mile felt slow. I think it was somewhere around 8:40 when I hit the marker, for a 7:50mile. It was cramped and people were making due. I got bumped a few times, but nothing big. It’s expected in large races. As we approached the split the lead runners came around. I looked at them and half thought “They don’t look so fast”, then I thought some more and realized, yes, they’re very fast. The loop around the Cloisters was beautiful as usual, then back to the chaos of runners in both directions.

I hit mile 2 and estimated my time at about 7:30/mile. I wasn’t really going for super speed. Just to have a good time, but man, these hills were dragging on me. The last mile was kinda a blur. I remember thinking it smelled under the GW, but that’s about it. I crossed the line and knew that I was under 24:00 for total. Final time: 23:00 even. Much better than expected.

Official Results: 23:00. Not too bad. Officially 1:58 off my 5k PR. Unofficially, I hadn't run a time 5k in a few years.

My RunKeeper results turned out to be pretty accurate this time. I don’t doubt that I ran an extra 0.1 miles during the race. Lots of weaving in and out of people and taking some curves very wide to avoid folks running 2-3 abreast. No biggie. I managed to pull off negative splits (ignore the 1st mile, there’s a GPS jitter there that had me leaping around), which made me feel good. In short, everything was much better than expected.

Whee! Look at those Hills and that magically steady pace I ran. Okay, I lied, I slowed down some on the uphill.

After the race I headed down to Chinatown to meet some friends for vegetarian dim sum at Buddha Bodai. It’s nice when you go to a vegetarian place and don’t realize the food it vegetarian. However, the real highlight was checking out the Nutropolitan Museum of Art after. If there’s one thing that fuels runners like nothing else, it’s peanut butter. Interesting Peanut Butter art, make your own sandwiches, plus freebies. Oh yeah, and an awesome photo of me with a monkey.

What's there to explain? It's me in an apron and chef's hat hugging a monkey who is trying to sell me peanut butter. It's not that complicated.

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log