Category Archives: fitness

Primal Diet and Fitness

This blog post is about 2 related topics that are important to me: diet and fitness.  I am writing about this to document my own journey and share some of what I have learned with friends who may be interested. It’s not intended to be a judgement or critical of anyone else’s lifestyle or choices.  This is something that has helped me and I want to share it.  

I want to emphasize that I think the diet portion of this topic is valuable to everyone, regardless of your interest in human endurance sports or fitness. I would encourage anyone who has struggled with weight, or who would even like to be just a little lighter, to read “Primal Blueprint”.  That book, and the companion “Primal Endurance” were introduced to me by a friend.  Both are written by Mark Sisson who was a professional marathoner and triathlete.  Even if you ignore the fitness portion, the diet insights are powerful and significant. If you haven’t read “Wheat Belly” put that on your list too.  

I don’t claim to be an expert on these topics.  These are simply my thoughts from my research and experience.  The numbers provided are my numbers.  They are simply provided as my numbers, not for comparison/ranking/etc.

In March, I decided that I would run my first marathon in October (the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC).  While I have run 5 half marathons, I have never moved up to longer distances.  Anyone who knows me, knows I research topics a lot before making a decision (cars, saddles for horses, etc).  In this case, the subject of study is training regimes for marathons.  The first thing I knew was I wanted to drop some weight during my training.  

I like data (I am an engineer after all).  I have used MyFitnessPal to track calories and nutrition for a long time.  I don’t track every single meal every day, but rather do short periods of analysis such as 7-10 days at a time.  This allows me to understand the source of my calories and composition (carbs, protein, fat).  Over the past 8 years of working on my fitness, I have learned I can lose weight if I significantly increase my training.  For the past few years, my weight has been hovering around the 185lb mark.  My goal was to drop to 170 lbs by mid summer and hold that through the marathon.  

In late March, I switched to a LCHF (low carb high fat) diet.  I have lost 11 lbs in 8 weeks, including 2.5 weeks with 0 workouts due to a back injury. Am I bragging?  Sure, a little.  I am already almost at my original goal of 170 lbs and I haven’t even really started training for the marathon.  I no longer have a weight goal; I have just decided to see where I end up.  

On a typical day, I consume less than 100g of carbohydrates.  Anna read “Primal Blueprint” too and our entire family shifted to the LCHF mindset. Is it easy?  Not at first.  It takes discipline to stick with the program and a lot more planning for meals.  We don’t strive for perfection.  We try to stick to the plan 80% of the time.  The biggest change is moving away from the breads and grains.  Once you get past that, everything is easier.  

So what do we actually eat?  For breakfast I eat 2 eggs and usually some ham steak or bacon.  Lunch may be a small bag of Krave jerky and a banana.  For snacks throughout the day, I keep a container of Planters Wholesome Nuts (Almonds, Cashews, Macadamia) and eat 2-3 oz throughout the day.  Dinner may be something like fresh salmon, asparagus, and tossed salad, The point is less processed food, less grains, and minimal dairy products.

Shifting over to the fitness subject, I will say I have not made up my mind on the “Primal Endurance” method of training, but I’m going to stick with it for a while to see how it goes.  Also, this particular portion is specifically from the “Primal Endurance” book.  “Primal Blueprint” has similar fundamentals, but it is targeting to a more basic approach.  The fundamental basis of Primal Endurance is MAF or Maximum Aerobic Function.  MAF is a heart rate calculated in the simplest form by taking 180 and subtracting your age.  So for me, MAF is 140bpm.  Again, boiling down to the barest of fundamentals, you train to maintain heart rate below MAF.  Over time, this results in the body becoming adapted to relying on fat as a fuel instead of relying on carbohydrates.  To be clear, MAF and Zone training are not the same.  They have different goals and different calculations.  There are lots of blog posts and articles by people with a lot more knowledge on this than mine which explain some of the differences.  MAF training is about building a significant aerobic base.  There are also periods of high intensity strength and speed work.  

I was on travel a lot in March/April, so my training was on treadmills and stationary bikes. I limited my HR to 140, although I typically run on hilly courses, so I wasn’t sure about the comparison of my pace using MAF.

Yesterday, I ran a hilly course that is 4.3 miles, limiting to 140 bpm (avg was 139 bpm). At the end of the run, my average pace was 12:51 min/mile. Today, I repeated the same course, again limiting to 140 bpm and averaged 12:55 min/mile.  I have 40 comparison points for that exact same course within the past 9 months. I know from my data that by running an avg pace of 9:45 (~3:00/mile faster), my avg HR is 153 bpm. 153 bpm also correlates to ~87% of LT using previous data. This definitely includes periods of HR up to ~175 on hills. Clearly, I am not staying completely aerobic during the faster run with a 153 bpm HR.  

I ran a hilly half marathon in February with an average heart rate of 165 bpm (max of 190 bpm during that run) and a pace of 8:55 min/mile. It was my 5th time on that particular course.

So what?  MAF is slower, that’s what.  I found a very insightful comment on a post in one of the Primal Endurance groups:
“If there is one thing we know about this method, it is that it is a long game. Adaptation takes time. None of these short-term studies are going to cut it. That said, it is true that LCHF + aerobic work alone isn’t the best way to develop top end speed or power for short, highly glycolytic events. It’s still, IMO, the best way for athletes of any sport to take care of their health and longevity.”

 

Right now, to stay below 140 bpm, I walk if there is any incline.  I shuffle along on flat ground, and I run if going downhill.  One observation is I don’t get the “runner’s high” after running at only 140 bpm.  I also don’t get sore or really even tired.  After running today (for 55 min) I ate a banana for lunch and was satisfied.  I do feel there is more impact on my knees from the slow pace and shuffling motion, so I need to work on my form to fix that.  

There is a disconnect between having time/speed goals for training and the MAF approach.  You will get faster over time with MAF, but it will be measured in months and years, not weeks.  This isn’t the approach to meet a certain speed at an event in the near term.  Instead, this is a methodology to build lifetime fitness and endurance potential.  Again, I haven’t decided if I will stay aligned with the MAF approach.  I simply wanted to share some of what I have found with friends who may be interested.  

I would love to hear feedback on any of this.  Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.  Here are some links to other sites to read more on these topics:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/

https://philmaffetone.com/

 

Proud to Du It – Youth Duathlon

This past weekend, all three kids did their first multi-sport competition.  A short while back, Alex and Vicki joined the Nutmeg Youth Triathlon Team (NYTT).  A Griswold branch of the team was started by the mom of some of the kids in our 4-H Club. They have been doing weekly practices for biking and running (it’s a little cold for open water swimming), while continuing twice a week swim lessons at the YMCA.  Amanda joins in for some biking and running as she can while doing swimming lessons once a week.  Amanda worked very hard to learn to ride without her training wheels to get ready for the first race.

For their first race, the kids participated in the New London Proud to Du It, Youth Duathlon.  Amanda was in the 5-6 yo age group and had to run 1/2 mile, bike 1 mile, run 1/2 mile.  Alex and Vicki were in the 11-13 yo age group and ran 1 mile, biked 4 miles, ran 1 mile.  The starts were staggered by age group and by gender.  All three kids finished and all three had a good time.

It’s all Run and Games

This morning I (Rob) did my 5th half marathon at the Colchester half (all 5 have been there).  In very uncharacteristic weather, it was 60F when we started at 10:00.  I completed the 13.1 miles and 881′ of elevation in 1:58 (9:00 min/mile pace).  Nothing like burning 1800 calories before lunch.

Just finished the Colchester Half Marathon

After a quick shower and bite to eat, I met Anna and the kids an hour and a half after I finished the race.   They had a trailer load of horses and it was time for Pony Club mounted games practice.  I rode Mojo, Anna rode Dakota, and Amanda rode Huey for the first session.  Then Alex rode Dakota and Vicki rode Devil.  Everyone had a great time, but if this weather continues we will need to body clip some ponies! By the time we got home and unloaded the trailer, everyone was ready for some dinner and a movie.

 

Distance riding attire from a male point of view

Having spent a fair amount of time in the saddle, I decided to document what does, and does not, work for me.  Disclaimer – I am still only riding LDs, so I can’t ensure what works for me now will still work as I move up to longer distances.  But I am sure if it doesn’t work for 25 miles, it won’t work for 50!
Since getting into endurance last year, I have constantly been trying to figure out what is the most comfortable riding attire for me. Let’s start with I am an English rider. I ride in a Bates all-purpose saddle. I do put Easy Ride stirrups on for rides over about 10 miles and ride with Ariat Terrains and half chaps. I’m not thrilled with the Terrains because they have stretched out (like every other pair of Ariats I own).  Eventually, I will replace them with Merrell or some other high-end hiking boot with a smooth sole.  As for the half chaps, I have the Ariat Terrain Half Chaps. They are fine for now.  I won’t  spend the money to replace them until they are damaged or worn out, but I will likely try a different brand that has some ventilation for the outside of my leg.  
Having spent plenty of time in standard breeches, I knew those were not what I wanted to wear for long periods of time. Last year, I bought a pair of Rackers tights. I also do some triathlons, so I decided to wear my triathlon shorts under the Rackers in order to eliminate cotton underwear.  I like the little cell phone pocket on the leg of the tights.  They fit nicely and have belt loops which makes it easy to tuck in a shirt and keep it there.  However, the tri shorts underneath doesn’t really work.  The bottom edge of the shorts ends up right where my thigh contacts the saddle and rubs about a couple of hours of riding.  
I finally ordered a pair of Saddlebums Racing Tights and today was my first ride in them.  We went 16 miles and I was in the saddle for 3 hours.  My first impression was the material is very similar between the Rackers and Saddlebums.  The Saddlebums do not have belt loops and the cut of the waist made me feel like I would have plumber’s crack every time I bent over and probably in the saddle too.  With the Rackers, I had tried riding in a cycling jersey, but it was uncomfortable with the belt on.  So before heading out this morning, I changed out of my shirt and into a cycling jersey.  Since the cycling jersey has an elastic waist and comes down lower in the back, it solved my problem!  The Saddlebums also have an integrated chamois pad, so they are designed to wear without underwear.  As a guy who has spent time in bike shorts and tri shorts, it feels quite normal to me.  I put the amount of padding much closer to tri shorts than bike shorts.  The optional pocket on the Saddlebums is much larger than the Rackers and actually has a velcro top (which I like).
Overall, I give the nod to Saddlebums for distance riding and will likely be ordering a second pair.  That said, I think my Rackers will become my go-to schooling attire for jumping.
I have found that cycling/triathlon tops make great crossover for endurance riding.  I have a Pearl Izumi cycling jacket that is my go-to rain top for horses.  It is very compact and fits in my cantel bag with all my other stuff.  If you are looking for solutions for men’s attire, check out a local bike shop!
Mojo
Riding Mojo (aka Money Shot) at the 2016 NEATO LD

Tri Again – Mystic YMCA Sprint Triathlon 2016

This morning I finally returned to a triathlon after 3 seasons of no races.  I chose the Mystic YMCA Sprint for my return since that is where I did my first Tri in 2010.  The weather predictions for today were rain and storms, so I almost decided yesterday not to go.  However, Anna said “you paid for the entry, you better get up and do the race.”

When I got up at 5 this morning, the weather looked like we would have a nice clearing in the rain.  In fact, there was only a 10% chance of rain during the racing time frame.  When I last did the race in 2012, there were 169 people at the race.  Not large, but the venue is small so it can get crowded and parking is tight.   When I arrived just after 6, it was definitely not crowded.

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Transition area at about 6:15

I got a great surprise this morning that my friend Natalie Edwards decided that she would come and race as well.  Natalie and I used to do a lot of cycling together and ran tris together in the past.  Yesterday, Natalie did an Olympic distance race at the Rev3 Quassy and placed 11/46 in her age group.  That race had 799 racers.

Natalie surprised me by deciding to join the race this morning!
Natalie surprised me by deciding to join the race this morning!

The water was calm and probably in the mid 60s.

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My entire goal for the day was to complete the race.  I knew I was not nearly as fit as in years past, but I was sure I could complete the 867m swim, 14 mile bike, and 3 mile run.  It did start to lightly rain during the swim and continued through  the bike, but with air temperature in the upper 60s, it was a great morning to race.  In the end, the much smaller field of only 106 competitors meant my overall time of 1:34 was sufficient for 3rd place in my age group and I got a gift certificate to Mystic Cycle Center.

3rd place in my age group
3rd place in my age group

I am really glad that I signed up for the race and I am looking forward to spending more time on my bike this summer (my weakest performance of the three phases today).  Natalie ended up finishing as the 5th overall female and 2nd in her age group!

tri1

Family Fitness

This afternoon, we headed to the Mystic YMCA for some swimming time.  All the kids did lessons over the winter, but with our summer horse schedule, we decided not to do lessons right now.  Instead, we will do 1 or 2 evenings a week at the pool as a family and I will coach the kids.  The kids have an event coming up in June that we are specifically training for, so stay tuned.

After plenty of lap work, we headed out and stopped in Mystic Cycle Center so I could replace me helmet (the padding was worn out from age, not damage from an accident).  On the outside rack, there was a used bike in awesome condition that was a good size for Alex.  Just a hair large, but he will fit it great in a month or two.  Alex had seriously outgrown his previous bike and the price was unbelievable based on the condition, so we decided to get it.  By the time we were done, everyone was hungry and we didn’t have anything planned for at home.  Five Guys was on the way home.  We all worked out.  Five Guys uses real potatoes for their fries, so it’s healthier than McDonald’s.  We love Five Guys and to quote Amanda “Five Guys has THE BEST hot dogs.”

We finally got home and it wasn’t dark.  What do you do when you bring home a new bike?  That’s right.  Alex, Vicki, and I went out for a short ride while Anna fed the horses and Amanda watched a show (swimming was enough for her).  I meant to do a short loop.  I underestimated the length of the short loop and how long it would take with Vicki on a small bike.  I missed a turn, realizing it as we cruised by the turn.  The kids were doing fine, so the “short loop” got a little longer than planned.  However, light was fading fast, as in, the sun was well below the horizon.  We made it back to the house just before dark.  The limiting factor on the ride was definitely the bike Vicki was riding.  She was working at least twice as hard as Alex.  So now we are watching for a used bike upgrade for Vicki.  In the end, we rode 7.7 miles in 55 minutes.  They should sleep well tonight.

Along the way, I spent time teaching the kids about safety when riding along the road.  We talked about safety in a bike group, marking hazards for other riders, maintaining your line when cars pass, announcing passes, etc.  We did have 1 scare when a large SUV decided to fly around us on a curve, into a blind hill, with a guard rail on our side and high bank on the other side.  As the SUV came around, a car crested the hill and discovered the SUV in his lane.  Now, the car appeared to be speeding as well (common on our road) and instead of hitting the brakes, he swerved to the side and hit a large rock on the embankment.  The sound of the loud pop was his tire blowing out.  Of course, he was well over 1/4 mile down the road by the time he was able to slow enough to stop and check the damage.

The incident highlighted for the kids the fact that you can never trust drivers to do the safe thing and you have to be vigilant on the roads.

 

Colchester Half Marathon 2016

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For the first time in 4 years, I returned to Colchester for the half marathon.  It is a hilly course with over 800′ of elevation change. The temps were in the mid – upper 30s and the wind wasn’t too bad this year.  My “minimalist training plan” showed with my slowest time on this course of the 4 times I have run it. I ran a 2:06:31 and that’s fine with me. I’m happy to be back in the groove and look forward to more races this year.
It was great to see my fitness friends. The picture is with my co-worker and friend Hank Brightman. The “tree pose” is a yoga pose that is his trademark after a race. A special shout out goes to my friend Chris Calhoun, who isn’t a runner, but came out anyways. With a 1:56 debut for a half marathon,  I think we might have to upgrade him to runner status. Now it’s on to a weekend full of horse activities.  Maybe right after I stop for a cup of coffee.

Balance

For the past few months, after a long day of trimming I was noticing my right hip would be quite sore.  In some cases, I was able to slip on my running shoes and go for an easy jog to straighten everything out.  In others, heat, ice and Motrin were required.  Over the Christmas holidays, I went a week and a half without trimming any horses, and I didn’t have any hip pain.  When I returned, I trimmed only 3 horses in one day and the pain had returned.

As a hoof trimmer, I frequently see horses that have a twist in their leg, an abnormality in their gait, or are not able to stand with their feet square.  In some cases, you can look at the hoof from above and see that the horse is wearing the toe unevenly or the hoof has an asymmetrical flare.  In other cases, everything looks fine from above, but an inspection of the hoof from below reveals uneven heel height and/or length.  All of these issues are due to a lack of Balance in the hoof.  Sometimes, I am able to restore Balance to the hoof and correct the problems.  Sometimes, the horse has lived with the imbalance for so long, restoring Balance actually causes pain because the horse has adapted to the imbalance and relies on it.

Initially, I believed the pain in my hip had something to do with my stance while working on horses.  But then it occurred to me, that my body was simply out of Balance.  Furthermore, the boots I wore to trim in sat idle during my vacation.  A quick inspection of my boots revealed that the soles and heels in particular are worn unevenly on the boots I wear when trimming.  To further determine if this was the source of my pain, I wore a new pair of hunting boots when trimming 12 horses on Saturday.  I came home without any hip pain.

Balance is important in our lives.  Imbalances in our body lead to pain.  If you live with the imbalance long enough, your body will compensate with a limp, uneven shoulder height, twist in your seat, or some other mechanism.  An imbalance in our body leads to an imbalance in the saddle, and negatively affects our horse.  Balance is also important in our relationships, finances, and mental health.  As we start the new year, many people are making resolutions, but frequently do so without Balance, which is not healthy.

This year, I will strive for Balance.

balance

My struggle with fitness

Anna thinks I have hobby ADHD.  She is right.  I also tend to get obsessed/addicted to the current focus.  I definitely have a problem wavering back and forth when I don’t have a clear goal.  I am a goal oriented person, and without a goal, I get despondent and lazy.  There are always reasons excuses.  2 years ago I suffered what turned out to be a rather severe concussion.  I’m not sure I will ever be completely the same again (note I didn’t say NORMAL).  However, in the last 2 years, I have gained about 15 lbs and I’m really starting to notice the effects of my reduced fitness.  In particular, in my trimming career, I don’t hold up to a day of trimming as well as before.

My blood work numbers have been creeping up, and I really want to avoid all the bad that comes with that.  I would much rather do it working out than with meds.  It is time for my obsession to take a health focus again, like it did from 2009-2011.

Therefore, I have set some tentative goals for this year with regards to my fitness.

1. Get back to 175 lbs or less (Jan 1 weight 183 for accountability).  I want this to be a reasonable and achievable goal.  I found 175 to be a good maintenance weight for me.  Racing weight is under 170.

2. Ride at least a metric century (100 km) bike ride this summer.  This may be a training ride instead of an event.  Maybe CHUCK CURTIS will join with me on this goal!  In 2010 I rode the 100 km Tour de Cure for Diabetes.  I MIGHT do that again this June.

3.  I have a specific event in September that I want to do.  But I need to tri some working out for a little while before I commit.  I have found forking over $$ to be a good motivator for goals, so stayed tuned for the final goal.

 

Alex’s first 5k

Today was the inaugural Colonel Classic 5k in Ledyard.  Alex and I signed up and this was his first ever 5k.  The course wasn’t exactly flat and it was about 42F when we started.  Amanda came along for a ride in the stroller.  Alex still needs to grasp the concept of pacing, because he tended to sprint for a few seconds, then walk.  Eventually (around the 2 mile point), I gave up on convincing him to run a steady pace and we fell into a run/walk routine.  1:00 run, 30 sec walk.  That worked well for keeping him moving.  I also threatened that if he gave up, we would eat okra soup for lunch, but if he kept the 1:00/:30 routine, I would let him have Subway.  About 1/4 mile from the finish, his friend Jack (who was watching his Dad run) met us along the route and ran back to the finish with Alex.

Alex’s first 5k was a time of 42:14, which equates to a 13:37/mile pace.  Not too bad considering the hills.  Best of all, he said he actually had fun!