Tuesday, January 24, 2017

You've Qualified for the Boston Marathon - What Corral Will You Be In?

You've done the hard part and qualified for Boston...but what wave and corral will you be in? Thanks to folks like Greg Maclin at MyMarathonPace.com who study the numbers religiously, you can get a pretty good idea with his chart.

The times in each cell represent the maximum qualifying time for that corral, and race numbers reflect the corral (#100-1000 in Corral #1, #1001-2000 in Corral #2, etc.). So the slowest runner in Corral #1 last year ran a 2:46:36. That's pretty fast to get a sub-1,000 number, and getting faster each year!

It's fascinating to see how little time separates those in the second and third waves...a minute here or there could be the difference of 1,000 on your number.

For 2017, you'll likely get your official number in early March. Fingers crossed!

- Scott

Monday, January 16, 2017

If You Stop Drinking Alcohol, Does It Make You a Better Runner? My 40-Day Test…

As an athlete who also enjoys an alcoholic beverage from time to time (okay, daily for the most part), I’ve often pondered if my love of a good IPA or classic Manhattan has been holding back my running potential. Formal studies on the effect of alcohol consumption on training and recovery seem fairly inconclusive, yet most coaches I have worked with are quite insistent a 5-10% gain can be realized with sobriety alone.  There’s also the promise of weight loss (six pack abs!), better sleep, smoother skin, cost savings, less offensive breath, and an infinitely smaller likelihood of a DUII or drunk driving accident. Boy, that seems like a lot of pluses!

So why haven’t I taken a break from drinking before? Well, the reality is that alcohol is a big part of my social fabric, as it is for many of us in Western society. I look forward to unwinding at home with a cocktail, enjoy beers with friends after a long run, often fine dine for work, and celebrate every holiday with wines and champagnes alongside my extended family. Nearly always in moderation, but still, regular occasions to lift a glass abound. “Celebrate early and often” is my motto, after all! In truth, I haven’t had a 30-day break from alcohol since I was 15 years old…that’s 32 years now. Whoa…kind of freaky when you think about it that way.

Such a streak begs the obvious and deeper question…do I have a dependency on alcohol? My life is not full of alcoholic-level problems (thank god) but it’s important to take a good look at the psychological part of the question, for my family does have a checkered history in this department. When I reach for a drink, do I want it, or do I really NEED it? Well, if I’m injured and can’t run, had a hard day at work, and come home to a 5-year-old who has already taken down Mommy with a 15-hour tirade of screaming, I will fill that wine glass to the top for sure. But there are also many days it doesn’t even cross my mind to have a drink. I guess I am somewhere on the spectrum.

Profiles of Alcohol Consumption - Where Am I?

Actually, I know exactly where I am on the spectrum relative to other alcohol consumers - I am in the 87th percentile. I got this from a fascinating study of alcohol consumption done by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), and detailed in Philip J. Cook's book "Paying the Tab," If you let me digress for a moment and go a bit deeper on this study, I think you’ll find this fascinating. I promise, we will get back to the question of alcohol and running performance, and what happened when I took 40 days off.

If you take all adults in this study and put them in “deciles”, you can better answer the question “where am I relative to other alcohol consumers” and “how much does the top 10% of alcohol consumers drink”. Here are some highlights on how it breaks down – see if you can find yourself in here:
  • At the 60th percentile (ie, 60% of all adults in the study), the average adult consumes 0.63 drinks/week. That means almost two thirds of all adults have one drink every other week or don’t drink at all. Really? Who are these people?!? I know a few, but two out of three adults is huge. It turns out there are lots of them, for reasons of personal preference, religion, and more.
  • At the 70th percentile, it’s 2.17 drinks/week. This is likely an occasional drinker, such as someone who consumes once on the weekend or when they are out a concert, game, or dining out.
  • At the 80th percentile, it’s 6.25 drinks/week. This is close to your “one glass of wine with dinner” kind of drinker. Some health experts say one glass of red wine per day might actually be healthy for you.
  • At the 90th percentile, it’s 15.28 drinks/week. At first this sounds like a lot, but if you have a daily libation like I do, you’re already pretty close. Consider the size of your pour as well…a tall glass of wine or pint of beer is actually two servings. So you might be closer than you think.
  • To make you feel better, take a look at the top decile, because they come in at 73.85 drinks/week. Think about that number for a second…that’s 10 drinks per day, every day, without stopping, ever. That’s two bottles of wine with dinner or a 12-pack of beer with lunch. It is shocking…and it’s also 1 in 10 adults around you right now. One factoid about this group that I find interesting is that the top 10% consumes enough to drive well over 50% of all alcoholic purchases in nearly every category (wine, beer, spirits, etc.). So they next time you ask yourself “why is this beer commercial so stupid?”, realize they are targeting people who are already drunk every hour of the day. “Butt joke…Horses…Budweiser” could be about all they can retain.  
If you don’t find yourself on the upper end of the alcoholic consumption curve, it could be you have another vice/passion/escapist pursuit that is similar. Other consumption curves have similar distribution patterns that follow a pareto rule, where the top 10-20% end up doing 80% of the consumption. Examples include TV and other passive media (heavy use increases more in eras of fear…thanks President Trump), sports appreciation (especially if you combine live events, TV, fantasy leagues, etc), nicotine consumption (high regular use, but shorter lifetime value), social media (the mother of all addictive habits, and completely unregulated), sugar consumption (a daily Red Bull and bowl of sugar cereal might enough to put you in the top 20%), pornography, and even exercise addiction (honestly, how are we all not in the 90th percentile here?). For things like caffeine, cannabis, or religious studies, the curve is flatter (ie, not as many superusers), but these can still be a dominant pursuit. The human brain likes its dopamine fix, and when it finds easy access, you think about it every 38-55 seconds. And oddly, it appears some of these “vices” double up. If you love sports at the 90th percentile, there’s a good chance your alcohol consumption will be on the high end. Weed loves music. Exercise loves caffeine. Religion loves porn (ha, ha…just kidding…OR NOT!!!). I’ve had data scientists dig into so much of this it would make your head spin. Spin harder, I mean.

Okay, digression complete. But fascinating, no?

The 40-Day Sobriety Test - What Happened

So on October 16th, I took a break from alcohol. Not for any specific purpose or amount of time, but just to see what happens, and a secret hope my athletic performance would get a boost. I focused on making sure I didn’t just swap out one vice for another, but as you’ll see, that took more work than I expected. Here’s how it panned out:

Week 1: It only took a few days for my sugar cravings to go through the roof, part of a persistent increased hunger that was particularly challenging in the evenings. Soon I turned to decaf tea, but it took some effort to not snack all the time. I also noticed my anxiety was higher when I didn’t have an easy outlet to “unwind” on a daily basis. In my social world, I found most people thought it was great I was taking a break, but a few suspected (hoped?) there was a deeper gossip-worthy story behind it.

Week 2: My sleep improved dramatically, although in a weird way. Normally I feel groggy on my way to bed, and wake up once in the night around 2am (usually blaming Ace, the pug who sleeps at my side). Now my brain was more active at bedtime, but suddenly my eyes would close and I would wake up 7-8 hours later. It felt great! Another odd effect was that my poop was amazing. I had thought my somewhat loose morning routine was due to coffee, but apparently alcohol was contributing. I was also three pounds lighter, which is about 2% of my bodyweight. The math doesn’t quite line up on that one, however, given that I only cut about 2,000 calories/week out of my diet by removing alcohol. One friend suggested it could be that I’m not mowing down pretzels/Chex mix/other beer friendly snacks that always seem to accompany a drink.

Week 3: Thanks to the improved sleep, I felt like I was recovering better from harder workouts. It was interesting to me that it took three weeks for this to kick in. On the social side of things, everyone now wanted to meet for coffee instead of beers…one vice replacing another!  I became hyperaware that coffee is a very different social lubricant than alcohol…you can get folks talking, but it’s a bit harder to get to the truth. My checkbook was showing I was saving about $100/week. 

Week 4: This was the first week where I felt I had a “new normal” routine, and wasn't thinking much about alcohol. I stayed with the nightly tea, and the sugar cravings pretty much disappeared. My running felt better, but I wasn’t going any faster. I hadn’t lost any more weight (still the three pounds) but also hadn’t gained it back. My friends and family were getting used to me not drinking, and all the awkwardness that started with this little experiment pretty much ended. Meditation and focus came more easily, which was nice. I also didn’t miss that often-judgmental internal voice that comes with a few beers.

Week 5: On Thanksgiving, I was handed a glass of champagne while toasting and giving thanks for everything that had happened this year. It was a very special year, and I have a lot to be grateful for. In the moment, I decided my sobriety test would come to an end, and I drank that one glass. It tasted magical, like it was made with fairy dust.

Since Thanksgiving, my alcohol consumption has returned to more regular intake, but only to about half the level of what it was previously. It turns out a nice cup of tea can be a great way to relax at home, and I probably wouldn’t have found that without this little experiment. I also enjoy the meditation on a clear head, which feels like a good enough treat to skip drinks the previous night. The weight came back, but honestly I ate enough on Thanksgiving to cover the measly three pounds. I’m still not sure if I’m running faster or adapting to training, but the sobriety test had undeniable benefits to my daily routine.

I hope sharing this was helpful, and perhaps encourages you to put your own consumption in check, alcohol or otherwise. If you have stories of your own, please share!

See you on the trails…

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Planning My 2017 Race Season

January 1st shouldn't be more paramount than any other square on the calendar. Despite its binary pecularity, the day is just another day. The sun rises, the sun sets, and we play, work, and sleep within its comfortable circadian rhythm. But ever since Julius Ceasar put his stamp on the celestial calendar by fine tuning the addition of Januarius and Februarius* (nearly as genius as his anchovy-and-lemon upgrade to the classic dinner salad), it is on 1/1 that we celebrate the new year and contemplate our next trip around the sun. And we do so with promises of future do-goodings and sacrifices to our gods, in the spirit of our goat slaying, pickle dropping, and barley drinking ancestors who have done so for millennia. The stars force us to reflect, and by doing so, recommit us to the passions that run core to our being.

For me, January inevitably becomes a personal ritual to embrace the outdoor endurance adventures that have brought me health, joy, and serenity for over a decade. Trail running, ultras, cycling, triathlons, sky running, hiking, paddle boarding, camping, local 5k's in costume...if it's done outside with like-minded adventurers, it is guaranteed to fuel the fire. Put a race on the calendar and your worldview instantly corrects with required focus, often months before the event occurs. And that focus bleeds into the other parts of your life like ripe fruit desperate to be squeezed. It is ambrosia for the adventurous soul.

As I do every year (see '06'07'08'10'11, '12'13'14'15, '16), I take the day to reflect on the past year and ponder the ever-growing list of races and places that must be experienced (or re-experienced) to exhale deeply when I take my last breath. For 2017, it is a mix of races old and new, plus some challenges well outside of my comfort zone. Ready, self? 'Cause here we go!!!

FOURmidable 50k, 2/18 - I have learned to always pick an "A" race in the first 60 days of the year. It helps me stay committed through the often-slumberous holiday season, and can occasionally bring a new PR. The FOURmidable 50k is a 6,000' vertical monster through the toughest climbs of Auburn, CA, and is the USATF 50k Trail Championships for 2017. I know and love the terrain, but have never tried this level of climbing in a 50k. Perfect!

(Lance and me at the MUC, photo courtesy of Liz Kreutz)
Marin Ultra Challenge, 3/12 - Inside Trail Racing (ITR) has an outstanding 2017 calendar, and my favorite is the annual MUC. I'm not sure if I can get Lance to come this year, but it should still be amazing nonetheless. If the training permits, I'll kick up the 50-mile.

Boston Marathon, 4/17 - The Boston Marathon is my "streak race" (12 finishes so far), and I continue to enjoy it more each year. The whole race weekend, the history, the people, and the memories...I fear I might be in this one for life. My Mom will be joining me for her first visit to Boston this year, so it should be fun!

Avenue of the Giants Marathon, 5/7 - Normally I would bookend Boston with the Big Sur Marathon, but this year I want to change things up and head deep into the forests. The Avenue of the Giants has been on my list for a while, and is an opportune chance to check out the first growth redwoods of Northern California.

The Dipsea Race, 6/12 - I ran this iconic race last year for the first time as a tribute to my late great uncle Ray Morris. In our last conversation before he passed away, he handed me his 17 finisher medals (and two "black shirts" for top 35 finishes) and said "do it". I did, and was fast enough to get an "invitational entry" to take a run at the black shirts in 2017. I think that's what Ray really wanted. All in, Uncle Ray, we are all in.

Cascade Crest 100m, 8/26 - This race looks amazing, challenging, and epic! Hopefully the lottery gods will bless me with an entry. I'm not particularly good at racing hundo's, but they are incredibly fulfilling and unlike any other challenge. This one is a qualifier for everything (Western States, Hardrock, etc.) so I suspect it it's a worthy adversary.

Half Moon Bay Marathon, 9/18 - I won this one last year (much to my surprise), so gotta show up and don the M1 number! It's a wonderful race in a great coastal town and I think the trail runners do particularly well on this mixed course.

Tussey mOUnTAiNBACK 50m, 10/8 - I did this race as a last minute addition in 2013, and had a great time on its runnable and beautiful Fall course. This year I'll go back with a bit more of a plan and see if I can squeeze out a better time for the 2017 USATF 50m Road Championships.

Moab Trail Marathon, 11/4 - I've always wanted to do this mountainous race, but it never lined up on my family calendar until this year. It's the USATF Trail Marathon Championships, but more importantly, it's MOAB! Excited to give it a go.

Figuroa Mountain Gran Fondo, 11/11 - This one is a brand new cycling adventure near the Alisal Ranch that hosts our annual family reunion, so my brother-in-law Brian and I are going to give it a shot. You can't go wrong with a Gran Fondo sponsored by Figuroa Mountain Brewery!

Desert Solstice 24-Hour, 12/7 - Timed track ultras have always fascinated me, but I've never mustered the courage to give one a go. What kind of mental fortitude is required to keep going left over and over and over? I have no idea. Some friends have recently pointed out that my road 50k times are faster than the M45-49 American Record on the track...in theory that means it should be within reach. Then again, that would be 125 laps, and I have no idea what that does to the body and mind. Only one way to find out! And it's worth it just to enter into Strava "(125 x 400 @88 seconds, no rest)".

Phew! I'm already exhausted. There's plenty of room to add/modify as we go forward, but this is what is stirring my soul (and fitting the family calendar) right now. My thanks to inov-8, Injinji, and Inside Trail Racing for their continued sponsorship and incredible products/races. I hope to see you out there!

Happy 2017! I will see you on the trails!

- SD

* Technically, humans have celebrated the start of the celestial calendar for over 4,000 years. But the Gregorian calendar we know today sprung from the Roman calendar of 10 months and 304 days, which was altered by King Romulus when he added Januarius and Februarius. His edits were close but still off by a few days, which they found out when everything got out of whack a few years later. A+ for effort when adding these, King Romulus, but downgraded to B- for attention to detail....our man Julie "I'm On This" Ceasar corrected this in 46 BC. And no, the caesar salad is not named after the great Roman leader, but I always picture him eating it. ;-)

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