Sugoi RS Jacket
I’ve become one of those people who gets excited about new athletic gear and advanced technical fabrics. My advocacy for the benefits of compression gear is easily the best example.
A couple of weeks ago I picked up Sugoi’s RS Zero jacket. In a year where Sugoi’s Versa jacket is receiving much deserved attention for it’s innovation and design not to mention the Versa’s element of “cool”, the RS jacket is a welcome addition to any athlete’s cold weather training and racing arsenal.
Intended to be a cycling jacket I’ve only worn it once for cycling out of the 10+ times I’ve worn the RS Zero. I’ve worn it on multiple cold weather runs, snowshoeing and even snowboarding. Jackets designed for cycling are great because of the three back pockets that allow you to easily carry or store items while training. What really makes the RS Zero such a great cold weather training garment is the technology that goes into it’s design.
The RS Zero uses Sugoi’s custom designed Firewall 220 fabric concentrating on providing the highest levels of weather protection and insulation enabling ultimate performance. The outer surface is a 3 layer laminate of a high gauge knit rather than being woven. The outer layer also comes with a durable water repellent finish directing water off of the jacket as opposed to being absorbed.
The inside layer employs an advanced wicking fabric so that liquid will be wicked and move out through the fabric; making the inside layer a moisture management layer. (It’s also pretty soft.)
The middle layer is a durable monolithic film delivering a very waterproof and windproof garment that keeps you warm and also breathes well.
If you live in a climate where you’ll be training in cold, inclement weather or are interested in increasing your participation in winter / cold weather sports you’ll be very happy adding the RS Zero jacket to your collection.
Invincible Immunity – Eric Cressey
A couple of weeks ago I got sick for the first time in about 8 years. Now not only did I get sick but I rocked a fever of 38C or approximately 104F. (I had no idea how high that actually was until friends started to react with shocked looks on their faces.) To help put this context for people like myself who have no concept of how high a fever that is, I generally and comfortably sleep 6 hours a night; upon getting the fever that doubled.
Two concerns immediately came to mind.
I’d just started a new job and wanted to be putting my best foot forward and getting sick at the start of week three wasn’t exactly in the plan. And then of course, how was this going to affect my training?
A friend of mine sent me a great article by Eric Cressey. Cressey mentions getting a flu shot each Fall. To each their own. I haven’t had a flu shot in at least 15 years. For the past 8 years I’ve been a big believer of Innerlight’s SuperGreen’s and believe that this is largely why I have been able to fight off being sick. That being said, the Cressey article is great and anyone, athlete or not, can take something from it to help recover faster.
by Eric Cressey
Of all the lousy things that can happen, this has to be one of the worst. Imagine…You’ve just completed the most successful bulking cycle of your life, adding twenty pounds of mass; you’re on top of the world. Now, all you have to do is train properly and eat plentifully in order to solidify your gains. With your knowledge of diet and training, it should be a snap. Then everything hits the fan…
Your girlfriend is so proud of you for making such great gains and transforming your physique that she can’t keep her hands off of you. The day before, she had shared a soda with a friend who had just come from the gym. That friend had taken a sip from the water fountain at the gym and accidentally touched her lips to the spout. Ten minutes earlier, that skanky “human sweat gland” guy who spends five hours on the elliptical cross trainer each day had just made out with that same water fountain. That morning, he had kissed his wife goodbye before leaving for his job at the DMV. That wife is the teacher of a kindergarten class. Incidentally, that class happened to be riddled with the flu, and some kid had blown chunks all over her nice new blouse the day before. Sure she cleaned it up, but she still wound up with the flu. Thanks to this incredibly unlikely downward spiral, you are now home sick from work, pitying yourself as you watch the same episode of Sportscenter eight times in a row. All the while, you’re thinking about how you would much rather be deadlifting like a madman and showing off your gains at the gym!
Unfortunately, you cannot go back in time to prevent yourself from coming down with the flu. Although it may be beneficial to look back and figure out if there was anything you could have done to strengthen your immune system (avoiding overtraining, paying attention to post-workout nutrition, taking certain supplements, getting plenty of sleep, etc.), you need to focus on the task at hand: beating the flu! You see, bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other athletes have to take into account how sickness affects performance and physical appearance, whereas normal folks just worry about “getting rid of their sniffles.”
Before we get to the specifics, though, I should mention that the term “flu” that we so often use is short for influenza. Influenza (also known as Grippe or Grip) is really only one of several common kinds of viral respiratory infections. Also including on this list are the common cold (upper respiratory infection or acute coryza), pharyngitis, laryngitis, tracheobronchitis, and viral pneumonia (1). Regardless of the clear differences in the nuts and bolts of each infection, they are generally all lumped together and called the flu by the general public. While this oversimplification is erroneous, the human immune system must be strong to prevent and in many cases overcome any type of infection. And, if you’re anything like me, you detest the idea of getting loaded up on medications, sugary cough syrups, and lozenges just because your nose is running faster than a sprinter with a rocket up his butt. All that being said, let’s get to work on finding a universal approach to maintaining your gains and getting back to optimal health as soon as possible.
Proper diet seems like a no-brainer, right? One would think so, but I’m constantly amazed at how people vehemently adhere to this primitive urge that tells them to stuff themselves full of crap foods just because they feel like crap! These crap foods are usually “comfort” foods: Mom’s cookies, white toast with cinnamon, sugar, and butter, hot chocolate, a whole gallon of ice cream?. These foods may have made you feel better as a kid when they were used to take your mind off the “boo-boo” on your knee, but they’ll only make thing worse when you are a sick adult. They might make you feel all warm and toasty on the inside, but they’ll quickly make you soft and fluffy on the outside if you overindulge.
So what should you eat and what should you avoid? For starters, remember that total calories are of foremost importance. Don’t fall into the trap of dropping calories too low out of fear of gaining fat while “on the shelf.” Instead, it’s important to assume the mindset of maintaining the status quo physique-wise while bringing the immune system up to par. If you gain a little fat, don’t sweat it. Remember, it’s a lot easier to shed a little fat than it is to regain a few pounds of lost muscle. In reaching your daily caloric goal, as usual, spread your intake out over six smaller meals. Maintenance caloric intake is highly variable, so rather than multiplying your body weight by a certain number to find your target, base your intake on slightly below (100-150 calories) what you would take in on a normal rest day. This decrease should account for the extra time spent on the couch or in bed.
Specific macronutrient recommendations are also of little value in this instance due to individual variations in terms of carb tolerance. As such, adhere to your typical macronutrient ratios with the only exception being a slight reduction in carb intake to compensate for the diminutive calorie reduction and reduced training effect. Furthermore, make sure that you keep protein high (1-1.5g/lb lean body mass) in order to remain in positive nitrogen balance and stop muscle protein catabolism in its tracks. From all our cutting cycles, we’re all well aware that protein needs increase during times of stress, and sickness is certainly one of those times. In a study of critically ill children in hypermetabolic and catabolic states, researchers found that a higher protein intake was associated with positive nitrogen balance, whereas a low intake (with total calories held constant) led to a continued state of negative nitrogen balance and muscle protein catabolism (2). A big steak probably won’t sound too appealing when you’re sick, though, so low carb protein powders (such as Xtreme Ultra Peptide), cottage cheese, omelets, and other “easy to get down” protein sources might turn out to be your best friends.
Next, only consume low-glycemic carbs. When you’re sick, your body isn’t primed for sucking up simple sugars like it is when you’ve just completed a training session. So, the typical bodybuilding “no-no” foods should be even more off-limits than usual. Your best bet is to focus carb intake early in the day when muscle cells are most receptive to storing glycogen.
Keep fats (especially healthy fats) up as well – possibly at the expense of carbohydrates. In the aforementioned study of critically ill children, fat was used preferentially for oxidation. Meanwhile, a high carbohydrate intake was associated with lipogenesis (fat formation) and decreased fat oxidation (2). Thirty percent of total calories is a good figure in order to support endogenous testosterone and overall energy levels (as fat is the primary source of energy at rest). Your body will be forming plenty of new immune cells as you fight off sickness, and fatty acids constitute an important component of each new cell membrane. Therefore, in order to give the body the best raw materials available, make sure that you’re getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
However, don’t fall into the trap of overdoing the omega-3s or fat in general; very high fat diets are associated with impaired lymphocyte (one of the five kinds of leukocytes, or white blood cells) function (3). Furthermore, while fish oil has proven effective in enhancing immune function in certain clinical situations (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis) and in animals, studies of healthy humans are yet to yield consistently favorable results to substantiate the claim that omega-3s enhance immunity (4). As such, there does not appear to be any greater benefit (at least not yet) to increasing omega-3 PUFA intake during times of sickness. Simply stick to your normal intake levels, relying on healthy sources such as fish oil and flaxseed oil for your supplemental fat intake.
The last dietary concern that warrants mention is water intake. You might think that because you aren’t training, you don’t need to worry much about pushing the H2O- big mistake. The body loses a significant amount of fluids each day independent of training. We’re constantly losing water as we dissipate heat through our skin and in our breathing without even knowing it. Factor in increased mucus production, the sweating that may be associated with a fever, the fact that your body is constantly constructing new cells (especially during sickness), not to mention your higher protein intake, and you can begin to realize the importance of really emphasizing water intake. Shoot for at least one gallon (preferably more) of water daily.
All these considerations in mind, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Precision Nutritionfrom Dr. John Berardi. His information is fantastic, highly effective, and presented in a user-friendly format.
First and foremost, be sure to get a flu shot each fall. The optimal time to do so is mid-September through November, as it takes at least a week for the shot to really kick into protective-mode. If you need proof that the influenza vaccine is worth the fee (if you even have to pay for it), look no further than a study conducted on a Brazilian airline company’s employees. As I’m sure you can imagine, flight attendants and those in related roles are a population segment that is extremely susceptible to the flu due to their interactions with so many customers (often in confined spaces). Prior to flu season, each of 813 employees received either an influenza vaccination or a placebo. Seven months later, the employees who had received the vaccines showed 39.5% fewer episodes of flu-like illness than the placebo. Additionally, the vaccine group was absent from work due to sickness 26% less often than the placebo group (5). From a weight-training standpoint, that 26% corresponds to a lot of missed training sessions. In addition to the flu shot and your regular multivitamin, you should definitely include the following:
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is the first immune-booster that comes to mind. A vital component of every cell in the human body, ascorbic acid is perhaps most notably found in high concentrations in leukocytes (white blood cells). The leukocytes are constantly being produced in the bone marrow as safeguards against bad stuff like cottage cheese gone sour, reruns of those obnoxious Subway commercials with Jared, curling in the squat rack, and, oh yeah, infections. During infection, in order to prevent oxidative damage, the vitamin C within the leukocytes is used up faster than a post-training shaker bottle full of Relentless (4)! Thus, it should come as no surprise that reduced leukocyte vitamin C levels are associated with less than optimal immune function. (6) In the worst vitamin C deficit scenario, scurvy, the immune response is entirely inadequate (and sometimes nonexistent) in each of the many components of the immune system. In fact, overall vitamin C status is often measured via an assessment of levels in the leukocytes (4).
In terms of preventative supplementation, a true consensus has not yet been met regarding the efficacy of vitamin C in reducing the occurrence of common colds. Several respected studies have found that Vitamin C supplementation is of little value in preventing the common cold (7), whereas others have reported decreased incidences of reported common cold infection among individuals who received large doses of a vitamin C supplement (8,9). However, other studies have verified the assertions that supplementation with vitamin C improves several aspects of the human immune response, effecting positive changes in proliferation and/or function of in three of the five types of leukocytes: lymphocytes, neutrophils, and monocytes (10-16).
Adequate vitamin C status is often defined as “a circulating pool of 1500mg” (7). Due to the fact that water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C are not stored by the body as well as fat-soluble vitamins, ascorbic acid must be continuously replenished through diet and supplementation. Doses of up to 10g per day have been used in numerous studies without serious toxicity symptoms. The side effects of such high consumption may include diarrhea and, in serious cases, kidney stones or urate crystals (due to increased uric acid release in the urine). Antonio and Stout state that these risks have “been greatly overstated” (7). Based on the available literature, I recommend 2-2.5g of supplemental vitamin C daily during normal training conditions and 4-5g daily during flu-like symptoms and times increased of training stress. Also, be sure to spread your intake throughout the day in 500mg doses. Dosages of 500mg are proven to increase cellular ascorbic acid absorption by up to 40%, whereas dosages greater do not increase this absorption (17).
Perhaps as important as vitamin C is Vitamin E, which works synergistically with selenium in tissues to reduce lipid membrane damage by reactive oxygen species (ROS) during infections (4). Vitamin E has proven effective in improving various parameters of the immune function, including enhanced lymphocyte production, improved antibody response to vaccine, reduced pulmonary viral titers (a measure of virus prevalence in respiratory infections), and “preventing an influenza-mediated decrease in food intake and weight loss” (18-20). No decrease in food intake? Maybe that steak won’t sound so bad after all!
All that being said, even the slightest deficiency in vitamin E can easily compromise one’s immune response. And, the current RDA of 30 IU is barely adequate in preventing deficiency in sedentary, normally healthy individuals, let alone in athletes, the elderly, and the sick and diseased. Granted, one may derive a considerable amount of vitamin E from diet alone, but in order to receive sufficient vitamin E to attain an enhanced immune benefit, one must supplement in excess of the RDA (especially on low-fat diets). Vitamin E is recognized as one of the least toxic vitamins, although one may experience some minor symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, muscle weakness) with very high dosages (7,21). As such, 800-1200 IU throughout the year (regardless of whether you’re sick or healthy) is an optimal approach.
Glutamine is well known as the most abundant amino acid in the human body (including both the plasma and tissue pool). In fact, the intramuscular free amino acid pool is more than 60% glutamine, and the glutamine in skeletal muscle accounts for about 90% of the body’s total glutamine pool. Although over 40% of the body’s glutamine is devoted to fueling the GI tract, this amino acid also plays a role in the functioning of many other parts of the body, including the liver, brain, muscles (duh!), hair follicles, kidneys, and – you guessed it – the immune system (7,22-24). Adequate levels of glutamine are necessary to ensure optimal proliferation and function of lymphocytes, macrophages, and neutrophils (25,26).
Traditionally, because the body can synthesize glutamine endogenously (mostly in the muscle tissue), it has been classified as a nonessential amino acid. However, this classification is made under the assumption that the body is not enduring a stressful physiologic trauma such as sickness (23). Many researchers have now begun to classify glutamine as a conditionally essential amino acid during times of sickness, infection, and malnutrition. Because glutamine is a crucial substrate for a variety of metabolic processes, it is only logical that the body requires increased amounts of the amino acid during infection in order to “bolster” the immune system while maintaining normal physiological functioning (24,26).
Unfortunately, as you can see in many cancer patients, the body’s response to infection, injury, and stress is protein catabolism. Initially, plasma glutamine levels are depleted. Next, in order to sustain its metabolic processes and replenish plasma glutamine levels, the body takes glutamine from skeletal muscle. Normally, this isn’t a problem, as skeletal muscle glutamine synthesis matches glutamine release. However, during times of stress, there is a problem: numerous organs, including the liver and bowel, show marked increases in glutamine uptake during infection. These increases, in combination with the needs of the immune system, GI tract, and the regular metabolic processes, cause glutamine release from skeletal muscle to exceed glutamine synthesis. In fact, skeletal muscle glutamine release may double during infection (23,27). In summary, during infection:
1. Glutamine use increases
2. Glutamine supply decreases
3. A concentration gradient across the muscle cell membrane cannot be reached (23)
4. Your beloved quad sweep becomes fuel for your GI tract and, essentially, your body’s lunch.
Think about it for a second: when you’re sick, is your body going to care more about ensuring appropriate internal organ functioning or maintaining sleeve-splitting biceps? Luckily, numerous studies have proven that exogenous glutamine can help to: maintain positive nitrogen balance (and glutamine levels in skeletal muscle), increase plasma glutamine levels, prevent decreases in ribosomal concentrations, improve muscle protein synthesis rates, and enhance immune function (through such mechanisms as encouraged lymphocyte proliferation) (7, 28-32). Also, let’s not forget that glutamine?s “immunoenhancing” effects make it an effective year-round, recovery-promoting supplement (albeit in smaller doses) for hard training athletes who are more susceptible to infection, especially during and shortly after periods of intensive training (7,33,34). Glutamine supplementation is also associated with increased plasma GH concentration, which may also assist in immunity (7,35). During illness, shoot for 0.35-0.4g glutamine per kg body weight, and spread your intake out throughout the day in 3-5g doses. Based on the published clinical studies and for absorbability reasons, I recommend glutamine peptides. L-glutamine (free form), however, tastes better, generally costs less, and will also yield favorable results. Personally, I’ll stick with peptides, but it’s your call; just make sure to get it in you in some form!
Although most people primarily associate zinc with growth and development, this trace mineral also plays a crucial role in proper immune function. A deficiency of zinc relates to diminished immune response, including low T- and B-cell (the two broad categories of lymphocytes) counts in bone marrow due to decreased proliferation, and reduced antibody production (just to name a few). In some mice, only thirty days of inadequate zinc intake caused an 80% reduction in immune capacity. As such, it should come as no surprise that zinc deficiencies are prevalent in numerous immune system-stressing chronic illnesses, including HIV, renal disease, and alcoholism (4,36).
While the complications of zinc deficiency are well established, studies on the benefits of zinc supplementation in enhancing immune function have yielded mixed, but mostly favorable results. Numerous studies have found that zinc supplementation initiated upon the onset of a cold or upper respiratory tract infection decreases the sickness’ duration and severity (7,37-39). In a study of twenty burn victims, fewer pulmonary infection rates and shorter hospital stays were observed in patients who received a trace mineral supplement that included zinc (40). Meanwhile, zinc supplementation in long distance runners prevented the typical increase in reactive oxidative species normally seen with endurance activity (41).
In terms of preventative supplementation, researchers found that of 609 school children that were given either a zinc supplement or a placebo, those who supplemented with zinc had 45% fewer acute lower respiratory infections over the 120-day study (42). If you take nothing else from all these studies, at least walk away from this article cognizant of how important sufficient intake is, especially for athletes (who are more likely to be deficient than the general population). While high-dose supplementation can actually lead to immunosuppression, moderate supplementation throughout the year with slightly increased dosages beginning at the onset of flu- or cold-like symptoms is an effective and safe supplementation approach (7). During sickness, take at least 25mg zinc (but not more than 100mg) per day. An optimal approach would be to get this supplemental intake in the form of a ZMA supplement, as it will enable you to meet your zinc needs while increasing anabolic hormone levels, improving recovery, and promoting deep, restful sleep.
Miscellaneous: the other stuff
Here are a few other supplements that are often thrown into the immunity discussion, but will probably not be worthwhile additions to your immune effort:
Vitamin A (preformed vitamin A is known as beta-carotene): Although vitamin A is of unquestionable importance to proper immune functioning, there is no definitive evidence to suggest that supplemental vitamin A offers additional benefits over normal dietary intake, especially in those with already adequate status. Excessive vitamin A intakes have been associated with suppression of T- and B-cell function, thus causing a greater susceptibility to infection. Toxicity can also become an issue with higher intakes. Vitamin A deficiency is very uncommon in wealthier nations. As such, if you feel that you need to get more beta-carotene than you diet alone provides, make sure to select a multivitamin with at least 5000 micrograms (4,7).
Echinacea: Although a few studies have emerged that show slightly (and relatively insignificantly) shorter respiratory tract infection durations in patients treated with echinacea, most have demonstrated that the herbal product has little or no effect on preventing and treating sickness. This uncertainty is complicated by the fact that there are nine species of the plant, different parts (leaves, stem, roots, flowers) of the plant can be used, and different forms are available (e.g. powder, liquid extract, capsule). Essentially, even if echinacea was definitively proven effective, an argument would still exist over which species, form, and delivery produces the best results. At this point, there is not enough evidence to recommend echinacea as a worthy supplement (7,43-45).
Arginine: This nonessential amino acid has shown promise in improving immune response and wound healing via improved lymphocyte production in individuals with compromised health status. Other studies, however, have shown that arginine supplementation is of no benefit in attempting to enhance the immune response, especially in healthy individuals (7). Given that some clinical trials use upwards of 20g L-arginine per day (mostly without appreciable immunity-related results), forty capsules per day seems like far too risky an investment even if you enjoy being a human guinea pig. Then again, even if you do decide to give arginine a try, be careful; excessive intakes can actually blunt the immune response (46).
An adequate amount of sleep during sickness is of the utmost importance. The old “8-hours at night” recommendation still holds true…as a minimum. You should also be shooting for a nap or two during the day. It seems like a no-brainer to say that you shouldn’t be training when you’re sick, but I’m constantly amazed at how many people still go the gym in spite of their wheezing, sore throats, and aches. Before you stumble off the couch and over to your local gym, ask yourself if your body could really recover from a heavy training session if it hasn’t even recovered from the flu. The answer should be a resounding “NO!” If it isn’t, maybe it will help to think about how your decision to go train will impact others; you’ll probably make half the people in the gym sick just like the “human sweat gland” did to you. Stay home, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of everyone else who enjoys his or her health and visits to the gym. Get over the flu and then get back to the gym!
There you have it: a comprehensive approach to getting back to the gym as soon as possible. To recap:
1. No comfort foods
2. Maintenance calories (factoring in reduced activity level)
3. Normal protein intake
4. Slightly reduced carb intake, consisting of low GI carbs only
5. Normal healthy fat intake
6. Regular Multivitamin
7. 4-5g vitamin C in 500mg doses throughout the day
8. 800-1200 IU vitamin E in 400 IU doses throughout the day
9. 0.35-0.4g glutamine peptides/kg body weight in 3-5g doses throughout the day
10. ZMA supplement (or zinc equivalent providing 25-100mg/day)
11. No training until symptoms are gone
It might not sound as appetizing or heart-warming as a bowl of chicken soup, but it beats Nyquil…
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26. Ziegler, TR. Glutamine supplementation in cancer patients receiving bone marrow transplantation and high dose chemotherapy.
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28. Wilmore, DW. The effect of glutamine supplementation in patients following elective surgery and accidental injury. J Nutr. 2001 Sep;131(9 Suppl):2543S-9S; discussion 2550S-1S. Review.
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Where Athletic Frontiers Begin
Think, for a moment, about something in your life that gives you a rush. Something that exhilarates you. Now imagine being able to amplify that rush and exhilaration for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
A simple pleasure of mine that delivers that rush consistently is standing at the peak after a long hike. A break from the ordinary, amazing views in every direction, perspective of how small we are in this world, a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Summer or Winter you’ll find me wanting, weekend warrioring, to tackle some local peak to connect me with all of those feelings.
October 2010, I came across Racing The Planet / 4 Deserts and I knew I found something special.
Trekking across Nepal.
Ascending to 10,500 feet with Everest’s peak reaching another 18,500 feet above you.
Covering 250km in 7 days.
All on foot.
Imagine crossing suspension bridges as long as 820 feet and 490 feet above the valley below.
Now let’s up the ante.
It’s a race. 230 competitors from over 30 countries.
6 stages over those 7 days making one of those stages long enough to be an overnight stage.
Let’s up the ante again.
You are 99% self-supported carrying a minimum of 2,000 calories per day remaining, electrolytes, energy gels and any other form of sustenance. Carrying your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, head lamp, solar panels (to charge camera batteries), blister kit, another blister kit, and water / hydration reservoirs.
Drinking water and cooking water are provided in the morning and evening.
Tents and tea houses are where you sleep.
No assistance can be accepted from or given to a fellow competitor (without penalty).
Imagine the thought of all of this being so incredibly exciting that when you found out you got into Racing The Planet you started calling people at 5:30am on Christmas Eve.
I am also very excited to be participating on behalf of MenCap, the United Kingdom’s leading voice for learning disability whose specialist services enable people with a learning disability to develop the skills they need to lead fulfilling lives.
Racing The Planet: Nepal 2011 will take place in November 2011 and there will be numerous updates on training, fundraising efforts, gear, and all sorts of misadventures along the way.
The Vancouver Sun Run has become the world’s single largest 10km race and has raised over $1.1 million for various charities since 1985. In 1997, $1 from each Sun Run registration has been donated to Raise-a-Reader - a national literacy campaign in Canada.
The current Sun Run route starts in downtown Vancouver on Georgia Street, briefly cuts into Stanley Park and then passes along the seawall past English Bay. Crossing over the Burrard Street Bridge the route passes by Granville Island through Fairview and back over the Cambie Street Bridge finishing on Pacific Boulevard next to BC Place.
The Sun Run has grown to include over 60,000 participants from a wide variety of fitness levels. I have consistently avoided participating in this race because it’s size; wanting to avoid injury for another race for which I was training. While the race is seeded by finish time few participants know their finish time so unless you’re one of the elite runners in the very first group or at the front of the second wave the course is crowded and you are basically dodging people the entire way along.
I tried to go wide and run along the outside of the route and find a cadence that would get on “race pace”. I found my pace a couple of times but what I actually found was that I was playing the world’s single largest game of Frogger. This actually made the race a bit more fun than it otherwise may have been. That being said, the risk of injury is extremely high so if you’re shooting for a sub 40′ race make sure you’re in the Elite wave. If you’re not running a sub 40′ just go out and have some fun as there are too many people to try for a personal best over 40′.
BMO Vancouver 1/2 Marathon
I’ve always wanted to run a local area race with lots of friends on course both as runners and in support of the thousands of people participating in the race. Leading up to the BMO Vancouver Marathon & Half Marathon I started to seriously consider registering, however, I was very hesitant as I am currently training for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. It’s tough when you are training for a specific race and other events come up that you want to participate in and you know that you shouldn’t because you risk injury.
Long story short and much to the chagrin of my coach I registered for the half marathon while visiting the expo on the Friday before the race. My triathlon training had me peaking at 15km the weekend before BMO so in order to avoid injury I was going to need to pace myself carefully.
For those who don’t know me, pacing is not my specialty. Steve Prefontaine said it best
“The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”
This is why my coach was nervous. We agreed on a target finish time of 1:45. The BMO Vancouver Half Marathon quickly became an exercise in control.
I’ve got to admit that I loved running this race. The route through downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour, Stanley Park, English Bay and finishing in False Creek North is a terrific route for a local area runner or visitor.
To control my pace I found the 1:45 pace groups and decided to match their pace. The difference for me from a normal race that I run is that the pace groups were running 10 and 1′s. (Run 10 minutes then walk for 1 minute.) I stuck with the pace group and would drift ahead a little at water stations (I run with a MEC Kinetic Race Hydration Pack) but was steadfast determined to not get more than a few strides ahead of the pace group. If and when I did, I would walk until the pace group had caught up.
At the 14km mark the half marathon is in Stanley Park and starts to climb Prospect Point – approximately 1km in distance at a hill grade of 6%. Before the race even began I had decided that I would attack this hill and then settle back into race pace. The majority of the rest of the course is either downhill or flat so I knew there would be time to recover and relax.
Over the final 6km I saw a several close friends who were enthusiastically cheering for everyone and anyone. My final chip time was 1:43:11 and most importantly without injury.
Favourite Part of the Race
Out of all the races in which I have participated I would have to say that the volunteers on course at aid stations, water stations, directing traffic, directing runners or cheering people on were well above any set of volunteers of any race in which I have participated. It seemed as though every single volunteer was smiling and excited to be there. Many volunteers are on course hours before the race starts and for several hours after the first runner crosses the finish line. Races such as BMO Vancouver cannot be held without a large group of dedicated volunteers. The race experience with such an enthusiastic and cheerful group of volunteers was unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.
Most Disappointing Part of the Race
In brief – race photos; or really the lack thereof. Race photos are a great souvenir of any event and it is extremely disappointing that no race photos for the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon are available. This is especially perplexing because race photos are available for participants in the full marathon.
What is even more frustrating is that inquiries to race organizers about whether or not half marathon photos will become available have gone completely unanswered. I know many people who ran this half marathon as their first half marathon and having professional photo memories of that experience can be priceless. It is very disappointing that for whatever reason the BMO Vancouver event organizers decided to not feature race photos for half marathon participants. As a result I cannot recommend the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon as a race marathon for someone looking to complete their first half marathon.
I AM SPARTAN!!
5km. 13 obstacles. 1 incredibly good time.
The Spartan Race is a growing phenomenon of a new one day mixed-sport adventure race that will be held in over 30 cities and 3 countries in 2011. The idea is present athletes from mixed backgrounds and disciplines with their most difficult challenge.
The inaugural Vancouver event was held this past weekend and it was great to participate with the Elevate Me team. Obstacles included: fire jumping, frigid creek running, inflating a balloon while running stairs, hoisting a cinder block up 40′, carrying 2 paint buckets full of rocks up and down a 50m hill, crawling through a tarped tunnel, zigzag balance board, scaling a 10′ wall, crawling through mud under barbed wire, scaling a cargo net, javelin, bouldering across a wall, and racing past two gladiators one of whom is carrying a joust.
Oh and if you mess up in one of the obstacles you receive a penalty to the tune of 25 burpees!
The Spartan Race attracts participants from all walks of life with varied physical abilities. While on the surface it may not seem like it but the event fosters a great deal of teamwork and comraderie amongst participants.
Highlight? Going back through the course for action shots. Oh – and the guy who ran in a gorilla suit!!
Lowlight? Washing off in frigid creek water but I suppose Spartans never complained about something like so I really shouldn’t either.
If you’re interested in a day full of fun and don’t mind getting a little dirty you should definitely check out when the next Spartan Race is near you. As these types of races gain more and more popularity not only will you see more of them but they’ll also become more difficult to get into.
Run Safely – Road ID
Most of us leave the house for a run, cycle, hike or any other activity and remember to bring our sunglasses, mp3 players, watches, heart rate monitors, GPS watches, pace calculators, etcetera. Unfortunately countless people go outside without any form of identification. The majority of us don’t expect to encounter health problems or an accident while exercising outdoors.
But what if we do? What if we picked an early morning where there aren’t many other people out and we slip or trip and become unconscious? What if we are on of those few people who suddenly and most unexpectedly develop exercise-induced anaphylaxis? What if we skid out while cycling on a rainy morning? Take on too much water while swimming? What if we are found unconscious, without identification, we need assistance and the responders have no knowledge of our medical history or emergency contact?
You might be right. This may never happen to you. In fact, it probably won’t but that’s not the point.
Every year approximately 450,000 people are taking to hospital without any identification.
You’ve got car, home, property, health, earthquake, fire, flood and other forms insurance. Even your dog has identification. What insurance / assurance do you have if you happen to be or that you won’t be one of those 450,000 people?
Remember to bring your photo identification and health care provider card with you every time you exercise outdoors.
Road ID was created by a couple of guys who wondered what would happen if the unexpected happened.
“Road ID is a durable, rugged, athletic, fashionable line of identification gear. Currently, they offer 6 different forms of ID: the FIXX ID, the Shoe ID, the Ankle ID, the Wrist ID Sport, the Wrist ID Elite, and the Shoe Pouch ID. They provide various forms of ID to allow a person to decide where they want to wear their vital Identification. They encourage active people who participate in outdoor activities to wear ID and not take the chance of being unidentified in the event of an accident. It is far better to wear ID and never need it than to need ID and not have it.”
Road ID has evolved over time to offer an Interactive Emergency Response Profile. The ERP enables you update your personal information, address, health insurance provider, emergency contact, SIN / SSN, photo, pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, current medications, and more. Your Interactive Road ID provides a toll-free number and website through which your information can be accessed by responders, doctors and other health care providers.
If you’re not sold on the simple idea of Road ID, read some testimonials. I think you’ll change your mind.
Other tips to exercise outdoors safely:
- I.C.E. your phone = In Case of Emergency. Paramedics are now trained to check an individual’s mobile phone for contacts that are preceded by the acronym ICE. I recommend having multiple ICE contacts in your phone and make them people who will always answer your call when they see it’s you
- Notify someone before and after you exercise. I have recently started open water swimming and it was suggested to me that I notify the Coast Guard of when and where I was swimming and that I would check in afterwards. Road ID or not – this is great idea. The Coast Guard will know where to start looking for you in that unexpected situation.
- Exercise with a friend or in a group. Most running groups have sign in / sign out sheets.
First With the Head, Then With the Heart.
2011 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon Race Report – 2.4km swim, 1km run, 29km cycle, 13km run
Spontaneously in mid-October 2010 I entered the lottery for the 2011 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. January 28th, 2011 I received the confirmation e-mail that I was one of the lucky 2000 participants. June 5th, 2011 I stood on the deck of the San Francisco Belle waiting for the guy who had just jumped off the deck to reappear above the surface for my own turn to launch myself into the icy, 9 degree Celsius brackish waters to which great white and mako sharks call home.
Swim for the Chocolate
In it’s 29 year history no prisoner ever recognizably escaped from Alcatraz. Few prisons offer inmates the privilege of hot showers. Alcatraz, however, did. The powers that be didn’t want prisoners to acclimatize to freezing cold water so that prisoners could feel more confident in attempting escape. For the past 31 years triathletes from all walks of life have been jumping at the opportunity to tackle the challenge of swimming from Alcatraz across the bay.
The currents in the bay are quite strong and the waters can be rather rough. Siting is incredibly important. Race organizers tell you to look for two 1970′s era apartment buildings as your first landmark. Myself? I’d rather focus on the building next door – the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.
I mean seriously. You’ve been up since 3:30am, you racked your bike in the pitch black at 4:30am, shuffled groggily onto a shuttle bus around 5:00am, nervously trudged around 6:00am onto the boat that becomes the start line, suffered through the tension of over 2,000 wet-suited triathletes, watched waves crash violently upon the rocks of Alcatraz Island, felt the boat list as the doors opened for the start at 7:30am, witnessed hundreds of swimmers thrashing madly in snow-melt-infused chilled waters knowing it was only 3 more seconds until you joined them. As the water hits your face and the temperature shock makes you hyperventilate do you really want your first thought to be “where are those ugly buildings” or do you want it to be “rich dark chocolate cocooning smooth caramel”?
I swam for the chocolate.
There are three other easy landmarks as you swim on a bit of a hockey stick curve from swim start to finish. 15 minutes of hard swimming, bumping and clambering over other swimmers, cutting through rising swells and suddenly you feel the current turn.
The San Francisco Bay flows like a river so at some point you get a nice 8km per hour push on your back. Even still there’s about 10 minutes that follow where no discernible landmark is visible. Just make sure there are more swimmers on your right than your left. The swimmers on the right are going to overshoot the swim exit and loathe every second of it as they battle back against that 8kph current.
32 minutes after jumping into the Bay I had completed the 2.4km swim and was making my way to the bike transition.
The swim is certainly the most nerve racking deterrent for participants and onlookers, however, the rest of the triathlon should not be underestimated. The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon is a little unique in that as you exit the water there is an optional mini-transition to shed your wetsuit and throw on running shoes as your bike is still racked 1000m away.
The 29km bike course rolls through the Presidio Hills of San Francisco. Long, steep uphill climbs coupled with nightmarishly fast downhills featuring hairpin and 90 degree turns are signature elements of the bike course. Confident (read death-defying) cyclists hit speeds upwards of 85kph on pieces of machinery that weigh less than a few pounds. One small mistake and much more than the race is over.
With approximately 1.5km left in the bike course I heard some friends cheer me on. About 1 second later I felt a bump on my rear tire and looked down to pfffffffftt… My rear tire had blown. Because I could see the transition area I decided to gear down and ride in on the rim while any air remaining in the back tire flowed out rather than changing the tire. Just over 63′ after beginning the bike leg I rolled in on my flat gearing up for the run.
Running on Empty
Throughout my entire training I was sure that the run was going to be where I could make my move. Starting strong I began passing people on my way out towards the Golden Gate Bridge on the 13km run. Completing the first stair climb I continued to build momentum. Running down the chip trails towards the beach I kept passing people.
Each leg of the triathlon delivers its own challenges. The run sends you across loose sand for several hundred metres and then returns you along the tide line to a 400 step sand ladder: railway tie stairs covered in sand. Most participants walk this section. My coach had prepared me to run it. I was losing energy but I was still passing people so I felt confident.
Descending that first staircase you have to avoid runners coming up towards you. Technical descents only build my confidence. Feet flat on asphalt with 4km to go I suddenly started to cramp and dramatically slow down. I tried to slow my breathing and flush out the cramps but my body only kept begging me to stop. People I had passed much earlier in the run were now flying past me. I had no desire to eat anything but I finally decided to force some electrolyte chews into my system. Two minutes later I was off to the races.
Nutrition and fuel on course are integral parts of an endurance sport event. You need to give your body fuel before it asks for it; whether you feel like it or not. If I had remembered this my energy levels probably wouldn’t have fallen at such a critical part of the race where normally I’d be mentally getting myself ready for my final push.
A little bit of fuel made a big difference and as I passed the smiling faces of supporters along the final 1.5km my energy levels built. Crossing the finish line in a clock time of 2’59’24 and an official time of 2’58’01 I had achieved my goal of escaping Alcatraz in under 3 hours.
This is a great event and while I had a goal time it is not a race that is done for time or even performance (just don’t tell Andy Potts who won for the 4th time). The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon is an experience to be taken in. Amazing scenery are the backdrops for the challenges the course lays down in front of you. It is a unique and challenging event that encourages camaraderie amongst participants. Few displayed that better than a friend of mine who did not know how to swim in mid-February of this year and didn’t own a bike until April. To learn more and how you can register for 2012 check out the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon website.
WTF is a TFL?
Lately, whether it be in yoga class, casual conversation or brunch with my running group, I’ve been hearing a number of people using the acronym TFL in relation to an injury or some part of their body. I figured that since it was coming up so often I should take some time to find out what it meant and how it could impact my training.
The Hip Bone’s Connected to the Leg Bone
TFL stands for Tensor Fascia Lata and it is one of our hip flexor muscles. For everyday people and athletes alike it’s an important part of our body because it abducts and flexes the thigh; i.e. it takes the knee up, moves the thigh laterally away, and turns the thigh in. The TFL muscle ties into the Iliotibial Tract (ITB) which runs down outside of our legs.
When these muscles and tendons get tight they can cause lateral knee pain and result in other tendons or muscles to try to compensate, which in turn makes these other areas tight and generate other injuries.
The goal is to keep this muscle as flexible as possible as this will decrease the pull it places on the ITB and help to prevent injury.
The TFL is actually fairly easy to stretch. It is recommended that you stretch it 2 – 3 times per day and that each stretch is held for 30 – 45 seconds.
Two TFL stretches are shown in the following video.
Another simple TFL stretch is the yoga pose known as “Thread the Needle” and it is great as a gentle hip opener. In this pose you start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Gently cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Next you reach your hands to your left hamstring. The image below shows a deeper variation where you place your hands on the left shin. The deeper variation should only be down if you can keep your shoulders rooted on the ground.
More Info / References:
It Takes A Village
Thirty days from now I will be departing for Racing the Planet Nepal - 250km in six back to back stages and 99% self-supported. I will be participating on behalf of Mencap - a UK based charity to benefit those with learning disabilities.
Racing the Planet Nepal is my first ever multi-day event and true to form I didn’t exactly bite off something simple. The approximate distance by stage is: 40km, 40km, 40km, 42km, 75km, 15km. The lowest elevation on course is 700m and we climb as high as 3,200m. Total elevation change is 18,700m or twice the height of Mt. Everest. Suspension bridges are also common on the course with the one spanning 250m and hanging 150m above the valley floor.
Training began in early July after taking some time off from the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Certainly this has been the most physically ambitious endeavour I have ever taken on and while it may be my legs that will cover the actual terrain there is a whole team of people who will have been instrumental in the preparations and training for this event. I do not know how other competitors do it but for me without any of these people the ability to mentally and physically prepare for an event like this simply would not be possible.
Steve Nairn – Sitka Physio & Wellness - Steve has been my physiotherapist since I had shoulder surgery in 2008. My shoulder was ultimately rehabilitated beyond where doctors had advised me I’d be able to get it, gaining greater rotation and strength. As a endurance sport enthusiast I have encountered some other injuries and body stresses over the past few years. Each time I get reliable and professional treatment at Sitka. Oh – I also love their online booking because between training, work, fundraising and general life it becomes pretty easy to miss making that appointment phone call.
Stella Seto – Stellar Health - Stella is a Naturopathic Doctor and has been a god-send in helping prevent and recover from injury. Katherine Moore directed me to Stella for IMS treatment. Intramuscular stimulation is a form of acupuncture that focuses on the release of trigger points. For those that have had IMS, there is a special relationship between patient and practitioner; Stella is someone who I highly trust. In addition to IMS treatment I’ve received homeopathic treatments and invaluable advice on supplements and nutrition. I also love that she practices out of YYoga’s Flow Wellness location so I can follow up treatments with an infrared sauna session on some yin yoga.
Teammates – Running Amok ”Yes I understand. You devote hours and hours to competing in races you’ll never win, you want to build up muscles that your office job will never require… I get it, and I’ll help you.” (Peter Sagal) My running group is largely made up of current and past Team in Training participants. There are few things a running partner doesn’t know about you and there is no measure for the capacity to support or the ability to absorb your mid-run irrational rants because over 30km just about everyone gets in a pretty foul mood. And everything gets forgiven by post-run breakfast. Other runners provide a sense of understanding and motivation that is unparalleled.
Friends & Family Training for an endurance event means a lot of sacrifice: diet, nights out, missed social events because time on the track or foot steps on the pavement needed to be squeezed in. Extra physio sessions, yoga classes, afternoon naps, frustrated moods tied to injury or a bad training session. The demand for understanding that an endurance athlete puts on their friends and family is completely ridiculous. Seriously. Few people really appreciate that you’ve got to leave the social event of the year at 9:00pm on a Saturday night because you need to be in bed in half an hour so you can get up and run at 7:00am. Oh – and instead of that glass of wine or beer you brought your own organic coconut water or the other latest and greatest health drink.
Fundraising Supporters Sports philanthropy is probably one of the single greatest growing trends that I am seeing today: Mencap, Team in Training, Ride to Conquer Cancer, Team Diabetes, Climb for Change – the list goes on. I continue to be amazed by the support and donations that people provide with or without connection to the athlete’s cause. When you “hit that wall” during training or on race day there is no single greater motivator than thinking of the cause and the people you are participating for and the number of motivational messages that supporters have sent your way to keep on foot in front of the other. Since 2007 I have used Minor Meyers Jr’s quote as the tagline for fundraising campaigns and it still rings loudly today.
“Go into the world and do well, but more importantly, go into the world and do good.”