The Three Days Before: I had two goals the days leading to the race: stay busy and eat well. For the past two months, I had been experimenting with a low carb, high fat diet to help lose weight and get into better running shape. While this was helped to drop my weight down about 15lb, it had an initially worrying impact on my legs. Your body stores energy, in the form of glycogen, in your muscles. For every gram your body is storing, there is another three grams of water being stockpiled away. When you cut carbohydrates down to about 30 to 50 grams per day, those energy stores (and water supply) start dwindling and your body has to become “fat adapted” – switching to stored fat for energy. This is not a process your body does willingly
Our brains have three main goals in life – keep you alive, conserve energy and make the world make sense. The first goal is simple. Our brains want to keep us alive as long as it can. The second goal, conserving energy, is an extension of that primary function. If we don’t conserve energy effectively, we run the risk of running out to catastrophic ends. What would happen if you were driving to work and your energy stores suddenly hit zero? What if you were crossing the street, or lifting weights, and suddenly the fuel tank unexpectedly went empty. This function makes our brains resource misers and remarkably lazy. The third function, making sense, speaks to your brain’s need for things to be predictable. The more we can predict what will happen, the better we can prepare (and conserve) and the more likely we are to live.
It is this second function that was causing problems. Burning carbohydrates (and, more specifically, sugar, in the form of glycogen) is fast and easy. Our bodies like it because it takes little effort. Our body likes it so much that it tends to become a hoarder of excess glycogen in the form of “triglycerides” in our body fat. As chronic hoarders, our bodies don’t like to get rid of its fat both because glycogen in our liver and muscles are easier to burn and because it likes to store the extra in case of emergencies. Cutting carbohydrates down to a very low level forces your body to start tapping into its reserves. As stored energy in your muscles and liver start to dwindle, the body reluctantly starts to burn fat for energy (thus, helping you lose both fat weight as well as the water weight that comes with stored glycogen). While this helped me lose weight, it also left my legs feeling chronically heavy and tired. I tried to rationalize the cause of this and look to the long-term benefits being lighter would have on my running. Still, this was a mental struggle over the last month of my training or so.
Three days prior to the race, I started to slowly introduce more carb-heavy foods into my diet. My first bread-based carb was the bun of a burger from Evos (t-3 days from race morning) and it was fairly anticlimactic. I expected my world to explode with the reintroduction of my previously coveted bread. Instead, I found my stomach feeling upset and slightly bloated after the burger (and fries). The next day (t-2 days until the race) I tried again with a sandwich and fries after landing in Utica. This time, it sat better in my stomach. By the end of the day, I had another round of carbs – pita and hummus. That night, I felt a lingering, chronic full feeling that assured me I would likely shift back to my previous eating habits post-race.
The next morning (t-1 day) I decided to focus strictly on complex carbs and healthier grains. For breakfast I stuck to eggs, bacon and a whole wheat English muffin. To the surprise of everyone, Utica just opened a chain-style fresh salad restaurant. Diana, my parents and I went there for lunch. I had a kale and grilled chicken salad with rainbow quinoa. I started feeling better as my diet shifted back to plant-based carbs (as well as more complex things like quinoa). For the rest of the day, we drove up to the Adirondacks to walk around in the fresh mountain air. This helped to relax the body, keep my legs loose and fill the time that would otherwise be spent at home on the couch eating or going on an unnecessary (and anxiety-driven) run. Prior to our drive back, we stopped into a bar to watch the thrilling conclusion of the Russia-Croatia World Cup game. I broke my 2-month long beer-fast by absentmindedly finishing off Diana’s half-finished beer while fixed on the drama of the PK shootout.
The Night Before: I wanted to keep dinner light – a salad with deli ham and turkey and an oil-based dressing. I also had a couple wedges of pita less out of a desire for carbs and more because they were delicious. After dinner, I sat and read while Diana worked on lectures. About an hour before bed I slathered my legs in Tiger Balm and ate a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter along with a glass of benifiber. My worry, along with the worry of every runner in the world, is that the will of my spirit would not match with the intentions of my body and I wouldn’t be able to properly drop weight the morning of the race. Taking a fiber drink the night before a race was risk (although, less risky than some of the more aggressive options) but one I was willing to take if it meant preventing any undesired bowel discomfort during the race. That night slept very lightly.
5:50am – Wake up
6:10am – Drank my first cup of black coffee
6:30am – My first trip to the bathroom (Results of the benfiber experiment: Success)
7:15am – My second trip to the bathroom (Results of the benfiber experiment: Almost too successful).
7:25am – Got dressed in the following gear (from head to toe)
- White nike run hat
- White temple tape headband
- A pair of powerbeats3 clipped in the back to the headband
- Tifosi Swank Sunglasses
- Neon orange tank top that read RUN FLORIDA
- One pair of Nip Guards
- One electric blue wrist sweat band on my right wrist
- My apple watch on my left wrist
- A SPI running belt with two goo packets. Also, in the pouch of the belt was a commemorative Boilermaker medal I bought for Diana and planned to give to her as she finished her longest run ever
- Run Happy running shorts
- Nike socks
- 361 running sneakers
7:35am – Prepared a bottle of water with one Nuun electrolyte tab. Left for the race.
7:45am – Diana and I got dropped off at the race. We took a couple of quick pictures of ourselves and then split up to go to our corals.
7:50am – I got into the white bib coral and ate my first packet of goo (Espresso flavored) and finish the water.
8:00am – The gun goes off, Time to Run by Lord Huron starts.
Notes from …
The first 5k:
- Mile 1: 7’53/mi
- Mile 2: 7’31/mi
- Mile 3: 7’25/mi
If there was a starting gun, I did not hear it. The crowd slowly started to walk towards the starting line, then past the line and kept going. The race had started and I didn’t realize! Fortunately, not realizing I was racing helped to prevent me from going out too fast. Rounding out the first mile, I felt great just as the throng of runners started to spread out.
Around me, people started to dart and weave to get a more advanced position. I resisted the urge to match that pace and intensity. I repeated to myself, you’ll catch them.
Going into mile three there is a turn onto the parkway of Utica and a long, gentle and almost completely shaded downhill. The moment the grade changed, Suffer for Fashion came on and, all according to plan, I picked up my pace. Like a predator on the hunt, I began picking off runner after runner as we made our way towards the entrance of the golf course and the longest, most brutal climb of the race.
The middle 5k:
- Mile 4: 7’41/mi
- Mile 5: 7’27/mi
- Mile 6: 7’29/mi
The first third was behind me and I was feeling great. The course turns off the parkway and begins to make its way up to the golf course and, unfortunately, the highest point in Utica. Right after making the turn, I saw one of the elite runners sitting in the grass looking defeated. I looked up ahead at the long, winding climb and back at the Elite (deemed so due to his double-digit race number and his overtly Ethiopian name). Well, the thought crossed my mind, there’s one person I’m beating today. In a brief moment of meta-cognition, I realized that not only were my newly carbed up legs feeling great but my mind was also in the right place.
The Flaming Lips started cheering me on as the grade of the road began to creep up steeper and steeper. Winding our way up the golf course, Edward Sharp took over my music. There is a brief section where the once relentless hill levels off and there is a clear view of all of Utica and the surrounding towns. I didn’t have long to wax poetic on my journey to this point before the path cut back towards the woods and continued on the upward climb.
Mercifully, the crest of the hill comes towards the later part of mile 4 and is replaced by a long, steady decline back to the parkway. My pace dropped by 14 seconds – a small amount on paper but in practice I felt invincible.
Now back on the parkway, there were gentle rolling hills that favored the decline. The Broken Social Scene let me know we were halfway there. Unfortunately, they were slightly late. With a low to mid 7:00 pace, far faster than I anticipated, I passed the 10k mark right as the song hit its crescendo.
The final 5k
- Mile 7: 7’40/mi
- Mile 8: 7’17/mi
- Mile 9: 7’00/mi
Catastrophe hit at mile seven. Nearing the old baseball field where my father and I used to watch Utica Blue Sox games (before Cal Ripken bought the team and moved them to Maryland), I started to feel a faint pain in my right hip. I took a moment and checked in with myself – my gait seemed good, my body was relaxed and there were no other aches or pains. I didn’t feel thirsty (despite only grabbing one cup of water up to this point) and I still had a goo strapped to my belt. I ignored the twinge of pain – this isn’t really happening. I pulled out the chocolate goo, bit the top off and top the smallest nip from it. My mouth turned to paste. The pain in my hip started to get a little louder. I took more goo in and tried to focus on the last three miles. If I eat now, I tried to think louder than the pain, I should start to feel it in about 5 minutes. I’ll be nearing the last climb at that point and then it is home free. Running up Burstone Rd., it is a long, gradual climb before it turns into one last, steep push and then a gentle return to the Utica Brewery. The moment the grade increased, the pain in my hip shot electricity all the way up to my ears. With the electricity came anger. I shortened my gait and tried to find a stride that minimized the pain. As soon as one pattern worked, the pain caught up and I was left hunting again. Like a painfully sober white man at a wedding, my rhythm was embarrassingly non-existent. I slowed my pace and the pain quieted down some. My focus went from speed to finishing and I had thoughts of walking. I turned my music up louder and tried to drown out those thoughts. I began to distract myself by looking to the people on the streets – I read signs, scanned faces, counted children. As the grade of the road leveled off and the tides turned, I tried to let gravity pull me down the hill. As my pace struggled to quicken, my hip did everything in its power to hold me back. I had images in my mind of the bone in my hip crumbling, bone fragments cutting the ligaments keeping me leg on. I pictured red hot pokers stabbing deep into my glute and twisting. After a prolonged spell of cock-stepped, limp-running my right knee starting to click and my left leg started to cramp. Damn you, hip, you are invading the rest of my body.
Mile eight hit and I began the bargaining phase with myself. If I can continue running, I will be gentle with myself over my time. I promise to stretch better. I will lift weights. I will even go to an actual doctor and get an actual physical (something I have not done for over a decade). Bargaining turned to brief despair. Then, like the rising of the phoenix, I felt strength returning to my legs as Jack White, my sweet dear Jack White, led his Dead Weather into “I Feel Love (every million miles).” I started to pick up my pace and add bounce to my steps. I leaned into the pain, not cradling or caving to it but running with it and bouncing around it. Just as I felt myself slipping, Arcade Fire’s metronome-like beat helped me to set the pace. No thinking, no strategy – just step on the beat.
The pain was there and slowly growing. Clearly not happy about my resurgence, my hip was doing all it could to knock me out of the race. Back in the real world, I had a difficult time determining where I was on the course or what was left to the run. My apple watch’s GPS had been gradually becoming less and less accurate and was not about ¾ of a mile off. I knew I had Miike Snow left and, if needed, Freddie Mercury could come down and save me.
And then, like a mirage or a miracle – I could see the top of the finishers arch peaking over the peak of a house. As quickly as it appeared, it vanished behind the canopy of a maple tree. I took a gamble and began to step faster. As the song turned and Miike Snow took over, I turned the corner and could see all the race had left for me. There was only 400 yards or so of flat road between where I stood and the finish line. I had hit my moment of acceptance.
I ran hard with my eyes fixed on the digital clock hanging from the finisher’s arch. I watched the seconds tick by as I passed runner after runner. With one…final…push, I crossed the line with the clock reading 1’06”15 (official chip time, I learned later, was 1’05”49). I felt proud. I was finished but not defeated. My hip finished the race roughly 45 seconds later and, unaware that the race was done, crippled me in the runners cool-down area as I reached for a bottle of water.
Results and future considerations:
- Benifiber the night before = Success
- Going low carb (under 30g a day) and then increasing (up to 200g a day) three days prior to the race led to a significant increase in how strong/light/energetic my legs felt. There was, however, also some bloating leading up to the race that had a psychological effect going into the race. Overall, my legs felt strong on the hills and I was able to carry the pace late into the race (even with pain in my hip). This experiment was a success
- The Nip Guards were immediately forgotten about after putting them on and did exactly what they were supposed to do. The only ill effect was the flash of worry when, post run, I thought both of my nipples had gone numb before realizing/remembering the guards were still on.
- This was my first/longest run without a phone. My pace was kept with my Nike Run app on my watch, which also streamed my play list. This left me feeling lighter but I forgot to tighten my race belt to accommodate for less bulk.
- I need to drop “Regulator” from my playlist and find something better. Warren G experiment = failure
- Future considerations:
- Practicing drinking out of cups while running
- Lifting and stretching exercises for my hips
- Find a speedwork program
- Can I beat 1’00” next year/