Twinkies and Marathons. And more Twinkies.

On November 21, 2012, I thought the world was nearing its end.  A tragedy so catastrophic occurred, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my overwhelming grief.

Twinkies, “The Golden Spongecake With Creamy Filling,” had stopped production due to manufacturer bankruptcy.  It hurts to my core to even type this.

Yes, I did immediately drop whatever I was doing to head to the store to fight off other dedicated souls and nab what boxes were left on shelves.  Yes, I did freeze a box and planned to have it indefinitely; it gave me comfort to look at it every time I cracked open the freezer.  And yes, I did lose my S##T when I heard that Twinkies made a comeback (appropriately dubbed “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever”) a few months later.

If it’s not clear yet, I do appreciate my Twinkies.

And I’ve managed to fold the epic Twinkie into my running.  It’s been a tradition since my first marathon nearly a decade ago to consume an entire box of them post-race.  I can’t think of a better way to truly celebrate slogging through 26.2 miles.  They go down easy, their taste unmatched, and probably provide a few critical grams of protein (maybe 1 per Twinkie) that aid recovery.

You want proof?  Boom, here’s a slideshow of a few pics of me and Twinkies.

On a more semi-serious note, we’ve all got our reasons to train and race.  And it’s kinda cool to have a tradition or two to celebrate.  Whether it’s getting a massage, enjoying a cold one, or eating a fine cut of red meat, we’ve gotta celebrate the hard work put in.  Regardless of the result, you had the courage to start your race.  And finish it.

So cheers to celebrating our racing triumphs.  And here’s to Twinkies, the greatest snack cake known to mankind.

 

Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center: Please God, Let This Happen

Near the end of last year, I found myself browsing bikes at Roaring Mouse Cycles, a small but well-loved independent bike shop on Crissy Field’s west end.

Roaring Mouse Cycles
Roaring Mouse Cycles

While gazing at a gorgeous $6,000 Specialized Shiv I had no business looking at much less buying, I was approached by a shop employee who probably noticed the drool falling from the sides of my mouth. We got to talking, and I learned she was a triathlete, too, newly hired to expand Roaring Mouse’s burgeoning triathlon business. After talking about our favorite California races, she asked me if I’d heard about the new triathlon center opening up next door. I certainly had not, and told her that if she was joking, I’d need a bottle’s worth of anti-depressants to cure my disappointment.

Thankfully she wasn’t joking. There are indeed plans to open a 24,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art swimming and fitness facility in the former airplane hangars next door to Roaring Mouse. The facility, to be developed by the Presidio Trust in partnership with an anonymous donor, will be eponymously named the “Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center.” Even more newsworthy to you Rare Birds, the Center’s anchor business will be the “California Triathlon Center,” San Francisco’s first triathlon-specific training facility for professional and amateur triathletes. Matt Dixon and his purplepatch fitness company will manage the CTC.

If Matt’s name doesn’t ring a bell, the long list of professional triathletes that he coaches might be more familiar. That list includes San Francisco’s own Meredith Kessler, Ironman Arizona’s defending champion and four-time winner of Ironman New Zealand; Tim Reed, winner of this year’s Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship; and Jesse Thomas, the four-time defending champion of Wildflower’s famous long course. Matt’s also helped dozens of amateur age-group triathletes snag coveted Kona slots for the Ironman World Championships. So it’s by no means hyperbole to say that Matt’s one of the leading triathlon coaches in the world.

 

The planned accoutrements for the Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center should be tantalizing to every triathlete. I know of no single facility in the Bay Area that can match them. According to Presidio Trust documents, the Center’s features will include:

  • a pool with enough 25-meter swim lanes to run two training programs at once, and that will have access to the outdoors to allow triathletes to practice their transitions between the swim, bike, and run segments of a triathlon race;
  • a flume, or water tank, that will allow Matt and his team to analyze individual triathlete’s swimming technique;
  • a cycling studio large enough to accommodate 30 people, and that will include up to 25 computer-controlled power trainers;
  • a strength-and-conditioning gym and yoga studio, with accompanying amenities like lockers, showers, a sauna, and steam and massage rooms;
  • bike storage for up to 50 bikes and additional space for bike fittings; and
  • a running studio with an AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill for training and rehabilitation work, a force-plate treadmill for run gait assessments, and space for sports medicine practitioners.

While the Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center might not be the triathlon mecca in the works near Wilmington, North Carolina – whose plans include a 25-acre lake specifically for open water swimming, a permanent transition area with individual stations, and a 14-mile paved bike loop closed to cars – the Center sounds like the dream home for any Bay Area triathlete.

TriHabitat Facility Plans

The only bad news is that there’s been no news about the Center’s progress since last summer, even though the Presidio Trust has said that they intend for the Center to be open by 2016. If anyone out there knows more about the Center’s status, please fill us in on the details in the comment section below. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to praying with my grandmother’s rosary for the Center’s completion. If and when it opens, I plan to live there, like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” or that Texas teenager who secretly moved into a Walmart. I hope to see all of you Rare Birds there.

30 days. 30 steaks. Multiple PRs.

Let’s start with a very important disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not advocating any diet changes for anyone. This is just a little account about how a (odd? actually, most definitely yes, odd!) change in my eating habits led me to multiple marathon successes. You should see your doctor before making any diet changes. But I didn’t. Oh well.

For all of you who hung onto my every word from part 1 of this blog series (Twinkies, Steaks, and Marathon PRs), I ask for your patience as I re-hash bits of it. Below is a graph of my marathon times, with highlights of my major successes (see steaks).

 

graph

There’s a blog entry to be written about the first steak marker in 2010, but I’ll focus on the two most recent marathons (sequential personal records).

 

Over a period of a few years (2010-2013), my marathon times hit a plateau.  My fastest was around 3 hours and 15 minutes, and I could do no better.  I did what had led to earlier success: I did my speed work and I dominated my long runs.  I truly thought I was getting stronger and faster, yet with each new marathon, I simply couldn’t break through.  It was frustrating, and I was about to accept that I did what I could do in marathoning.

At the beginning of 2014, I came back from a South American trip with some awesome memories, cool souvenirs, and … a few pounds tucked into my midsection (damn you, empanadas, damn you).  So I figured I’d try some diet to trim up, and decided to dust off this book, The Four Hour Body, I had sitting around.  It’s a diet / lifestyle “guidebook” written by Tim Ferriss, the man who brought us The Four Hour Workweek.  I’m a huge fan of his work, although many complain he’s a self-absorbed douchebag.

4hourbody

In the book, there’s a diet plan that can be summed up as “Atkins (kinda) with a cheat day”.  Six days a week, you eat nothing but protein, vegetables, and legumes (lots of black beans).  On day seven, aka Cheat Day (aka heaven?), you go ape-$#iT.  Dozen donuts?  Sure.  Whole pizza?  Game on.  Pint of ice cream?  Just stick it into my vein.  I’ll spare you the nuances, but I can say that I would eat lots of red meat (which is allowed) on non-cheat days.  There was a streak where I ate 30 steaks in 30 days.  And yes, I documented this on Facebook and developed a mass of steak followers.  The diet (now my lifestyle) worked.  I lost 15 pounds, felt great, and I even lowered my cholesterol.

health

And what does this have to do with running?  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even taking running seriously at the time.  I started the diet in January and had a race in May.  I kinda went through the motions and my mid-week runs were *awful*.  Having limited carbohydrates during the week was tough on my runs, and they often were well above 8 minutes per mile (I usually did these in the mid to lower 7’s).

But something happened on my long runs. 

I timed these runs after my cheat (high carbohydrate) days.  And my body responded really, really well.  While I couldn’t really run quickly mid-week, my long runs were the exact opposite: extremely fast.  Armed with boat-loads of sugar from the day before, I felt like a god out there.  I tore up my long runs (faster than I had ever run them before), and set personal records in my next two races (went from 3:15, to 3:11, to 3:07).

This isn’t science.  It’s my n = 1 data point.  But I can say being lighter helped me tremendously.  Having a diet that facilitated this was key.  I also believe the carbohydrate depletion effect helped as well — and there are many that will back up this theory.

All of this typing has made me hungry.  Gonna fire up myself a juicy ribeye.

Happy running (and eating!).

steak

[Many steaks were eaten in the course of this writing. Please eat responsibly. But not birds. Thank you, the management.]

GET INTO IT

Last night I went swimming at the UCSF rooftop pool, which is as two faced as Regina George. I ‘walk shivered’ onto the pool deck, as not-so-distant memories of ‘swim tanning’ under the clear blue sky seemed like a past never to be relived again. The wind asserted its’ authority and whipped helpless lane line flags around…and I considered ditching. I heard my childhood swim coach’s voice tell me to ‘shut up and swim’. I walk over to the lane and stare down at the water, almost at the point of no return. In my head I hear AJ saying, “C’mon dood it’s not that bad.” 
 
Ugh, fine. You’re right. I’ll do it. 
 
After the feeling of cold left my body (it was no where NEAR as cold as the Bay…I was really just being a baby) I was able to settle into a rhythm and become aware of the good things the cold air provided: a lane. all. to. my.self. 
 
For the first time in a long time, I did sprints. I timed myself. I did breaststroke drills, which meant I was going really really really slow. I concentrated on technique, speed, power, breathing. I was fast, slow, smooth, and ugly. 
 
I was free to be in my own head, and not worry about kicking someone or sideswiping an unsuspecting pool patron. It was totally worth it, and the ‘pain’ was actually only a few seconds. I don’t know why I try to fight it, I don’t know why I dread it, but I do. Regardless, pushing through is SO worth it. Every time. 
 
So, thanks to Ed Nessel for telling me to ‘shut up and swim’, to AJ for inspiring me to be better every single day, to this guy for making me want to live 24/7 in beast mode, and to Kimmy Schmidt, for telling me to hang in there. 
 

What do you tell yourself when your mind is acting a fool? How do you get amped? Inspired? In the zone? Share your secrets, I promise I’ll tell everyone.

 

Kezar Track – OPEN. Reinvigorating the love of track running for real world athletes.

Kezar track is FINALLY reopening after extensive renovations. It’s been a long wait since last summer to get back to one of the most popular (and only) tracks in San Francisco.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s great to be back at the track closest to Kezar Pub (ask for our favorite server, Sinead).

I happened to be listening to a Freakonomics podcast, “What’s the ‘Best’ Exercise,” when I heard the official news that Kezar track was back in business. As is my wont (whether it be The Simpsons, South Park, Game of Thrones, or whatever else I get into), I intertwined my thinking between the two, and started making conclusions for one based on the other. (BTW, all problems in life can be solved by closely watching King of the Hill).

oneyMqo

I must admit, I love track. So I’m biased. But the podcast really highlighted several things about why I love track. The host interviewed a doctor who is often asked what is the best exercise that can get the most for the least effort. He said that he responds to this question by asking people what they really want. He listed a bunch of real-life reasons that he often hears:

  • Run my first marathon or triathlon
  • Take my game to the highest level
  • Get a little better
  • Look better in a bathing suit
  • To not get tired when playing with my kids

Real-life reasons are exactly why we started Rare Birds — Athletics for the rest of us. For the vast majority, real-life reasons do not include gold medals, sponsorship, and the glamour life — some of us, yes.  But all of us CAN define a “highest level” that fits ourselves, whatever goal that may be.

The podcast summarizes the expert feedback into the “Three I’s”, which really connects to my own track philosophy.

  • Intensity – Work very hard for a brief period of time. Take a break. Go hard again. Many studies have shown that high intensity interval training can get the same physiological benefits as long, consistent endurance training. … Many run experts are adopting this quality-over-quantity run philosophy as a core of training; see, Run Less, Run Faster. It’s a perfect fit for real-life athletes.
  • Individualization – Know what you like. You need to pick what suits you. … Track gives lots of opportunities to fit a workout to you. You are only ever at most 400 meters from your coach and teammates. Easy to check in and socialize as needed. Easy to control your pace and run as hard as you like (or not, as the case may be).
  • I like to do it – The best exercise is the one that you will do. … You can have more fun at track with different workouts than anywhere else. Beautiful scenic views are awesome out on the trail or open road, but for a sheer playground of run fun, you can’t beat a track.

COME JOIN US AT KEZAR TRACK!!! (Usually Wed night 6:45p – Ask for Asics Joe.)

Twinkies, Steaks, and Marathon PRs


I started running in 2002, a year before I went to college.  I signed up for the Chicago Marathon, my hometown race.  As a graduation gift, my brother gave me the book “4 months to a 4 Hour Marathon.”  I opened up the first page and it read:

Oprah Winfrey ran her first marathon in under four hours, without stopping.

Damn.

I did break 4 hours, and I’ve been running ever since.  And here’s a graph to prove it.

graph

I’m not your prototypical runner.  I’m built like a fire hydrant.  My body fat percentage is probably in the upper teens (on a good day).  But I’ve become a better runner with experience.

The graph above shows all of my marathon times.  While showing this to girls at bars hasn’t resulted in any phone numbers, there is something telling about it.  I’ve highlighted 3 races in particular, where I made pretty significant strides in a short period of time.

How?

Twinkies and Steaks.  Of course.

steak

Mmm. I’ll elaborate more, next time…

My New “A” Race is The Tough Dodger

Like millions of other Americans whose favorite team failed to make the Super Bowl last night, I was as interested in the commercials as the outcome of the game.  This commercial from Subway was the best one of the night.  Triathlon combined with dodgeball?  Hell yes.  Sign me up for the Tough Dodger today.  (Or maybe sign me up as a volunteer dodgeball thrower.  Coming out of the water, there’s usually one or two people who I wish I could crush with a dodgeball.  And yes, I’m thinking of you “Watch it!  No one touch me!” Guy at the Oakland Triathlon Festival.)

P.S.  Here’s a free training tip for the Tough Dodger:  every now and then, practice dodging wrenches instead of dodgeballs.  In the famous words of Patches O’Houlihan, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”