Friday, July 26, 2013

Eat Early, Eat Often, But Don't Eat A Lot

All endurance athletes are aware of, and to some degree fear, the dreaded bonk. This bonk is often attributed to your body not being able to access our stores of fuel in our body and turn them into energy. Our muscle contract by continually utilizing ATP which requires glucose(ahhhhh... the Kreb's cycle). The body likes doing the minimal amount of work possible so it prefers to use the readily available glucose in our blood streams which we get from carbohydrates(gels, sports drinks etc). The thought is that when our body's run out of carbohydrates(glucose), it has to slow itself down in order to turn fat cells into energy. Great for weight loss, not so good for race performance.

As Amber has mentioned before, the bonk can also occur because of the central-governer, which is your brain slowing you down to prevent tissue damage. It anticipates disaster and slows you down to avoid it! There have been several studies that show that peripheral fatigue(i.e. your muscles) occurs due to decreased stimulus from the central nervous system and this can be overridden with volitional activity. The governer has also been famously discovered to cause bonks by anticipating a carbohydrate depletion(before it even occurs) and thus proactively slows you down. It would be like your car turning itself off before it ran out of fuel!  This is different than the mental bonk which isn't your body shutting down all at once but rather slowly turning off. There have been studies looking at dopamine release in our brains and there has been correlations made with those feelings of lethargy and loss of motivation(like I get during ultras) and an increased level of serotonin to dopamine.

Okay so peripheral fatigue is caused by our bodies' inability to store enough glucose to convert to energy to fuel us. Central fatigue can be a protective mechanism to avoid tissue damage or it can be a shift in our neurotransmitters in our brain that causes a slow decline in motivation and energy.

What to do? First, let's train the brain. A study looking at central fatigue, and the central governer in particular, found that cyclists time trial performance would decline as the intervals were performed(as expected right? we get tired and slow down), however, the very last interval were actually one of the fastest! Now these intervals weren't at 90% effort where they were holding back a little for the last one(at least they weren't supposed to), but rather 100% effort. So why did this occur? And this did consistently occur. No matter how many intervals. You guessed it. The central governer was slowing them down and when the mind was able to override it by saying "look I'm almost there, I can do this" the cyclists were able to speed up. Just by doing interval training and speed work you can train your brain into increasing its exercise tolerance before it shuts you down!

Okay so you're not limited by the governah, so is it your brain's neurotransmitter ratio shifting or glucose/glycogen depletion? Well they may not actually be separate entities. Actual glucose depletion and anticipated glucose depletion can both be remedied by ingesting carbs. In fact, all you need to do to trick the brain into thinking it has enough carbs is to swish it around in your mouth and then spit it out(see the article here). You don't need all that much carbs to keep going but a nearly constant stream of the energy will not only help you stay fueled but will also help keep your dopamine levels at a level to avoid the lethergy of a mental bonk. Interestingly, glucose ingestion during exercise has also been implicated in the cytokine production. IL-6 is a classic inflammatory cytokine produced by muscle contraction and ingesting glucose during exercise can inhibit its release allowing for a decrease in the inflammatory response.

So train your brain and ingest carbs. Ease enough and most marathoners do this with speed work during their training and with gels, bars potatoes etc during the race. And yet, without fail a portion of the racers will bonk. Why? Once you've ruled out dehydration, the likely culprit is probably the fueling method. I would make the argument that consuming a gel every 6 miles(about 40 minutes) all at once is not the best strategy. Rather, try taking that same gel and savoring it over 3-4 miles starting from the start of the race, every quarter mile or so taking a small nip. This will keep your brain thinking it has plenty of carbs, your body's fuel source staying steady and helps break down the distance to more manageable goals. Plus you're far less likely to get GI issues(your GI system isn't a high priority for your circulation system(see parasympathetic vs sympathetic nervous system) during races so reducing the demands on it by smaller doses of glucose may be helpful). (Sorry for the parenthetical explanation within another parenthetical explanation-poor form I know). (I further apologize for use of parenthetical explanations to apologize for my poor use of parenthetical explanations). (Ad infinitum...)


So next time you're running a marathon(or better still try this in a long run first), try to eat your gel as early and slowly as possible. You most likely won't have blood sugar spikes, GI issues and hopefully no bonks:) Try it tomorrow at Bear Brook Trail Marathon. I will be.

Up Next: Besides a likely ill-advised last minute decision by Danny to do the Bear Brook marathon, only a few more weeks until Amber starts up her second half of the tri season with Timberman 70.3!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ironman Frankfurt, 70.3 Championships and hiking some peaks!

The last few weeks have been busy! We traveled to Frankfurt am Main(Frankfurt on the Main as opposed to the other Frankfurt which is on the Oder[Frankfurt an der Oder]) Germany for the European Ironman Championships. You can find Amber's full race report on her blog.

We arrived after a Red Eye flight early in the morning and instead of going to bed we pushed through the day exploring the city. We quickly found some beer gardens right on the river which made for a very enjoyable and relaxing evening.
Danny happier than a pig in...

The next morning while Amber's bike assembled at Cucuma by Marco who happens to also be from Portugal(and lived in the Algarve close to where my family stayed), we explored the town of Darmstadt. Although more of a modern town it did have a really nice city center. After having a cup of coffee with him we headed down A5 in our rented Audi 3 to Heidelberg. You know you're in Germany when you're going well over 100mph and being passed on both sides.

Our stomachs prevented us from going directly to Heidelberg and we stopped in Weinhiem which turned out to be a city with not one but two castles and a very cute town center. We had another espresso and some sandwiches and continued on our way.
The Rat House(actually Rathaus means town hall) in Weinhiem
We finally made it to Heidelberg which has an amazing castle overlooking a rather large city. We spend quite a bit of time exploring the castle and then found our way to another place for food. That is definitely the most fun part of Europe, all the great little nooks and crannies with great food and drink in cute towns.

A view up to the Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg Aldstadt(old town)
The next day we headed to Baden Baden which Bill Clinton said was so nice they had to name it twice. Baden Baden was originally a resort town for ancient Romans and to this day they still use biothermal heat for their bathhouses. After having lunch and, of course, more coffee at a little cafe in the center of town where we met three German women on vacation. Come to find out that one of them did a study abroad in the US something like fifty years ago and was familiar with New England. After getting their email addresses(if we ever go to Berlin we are invited to stay with them), we headed to the bathhouses. Here we parted with our modesty and clothes and spent the rest of the day luxuriating in saunas, steam rooms, baths and even getting a scrub and rub down. A fun and very relaxing day but since this is a PG blog, there are no pictures available.
Amber at another beer garden

Upon awaking refreshed and rejuvenated, Amber and I headed into Frankfurt for a day of triathlon related stuff(drug testing, pro meeting) but we were able to get to sneak out to the lake where Amber would be swimming in the race. I dropped her off and drove to park. I then run through some pretty awesome wooded trails to get back to the lake. Another nice thing about Germany is the apparent lack of underbrush. While there are lots of trees there seems to be considerably less amounts of brush that usually would take me out if I tried bounded through an unmarked forest.

A few years back I raced the Mills City Relay with Frank Philofer who at the time raced for Gate City Striders with me. He moved back to Germany a few years ago so I hadn't seen him but he noticed that I was coming to Frankfurt and contacted me to meet up. On the Saturday before the race we drove out to his house where his girlfriend, Ruth, treated us to a great breakfast with German-style pancakes on which I put Nutella(great idea!) instead of maple syrup.
In the throes of eating
Definitely just what the doctor ordered. We couldn't stay too long because we had to drop off Amber's bike at T1 but it was nice to catch up and practice our horrible German.
Frank, Danny, Amber and Ruth

After dealing with the bikes, we tried sneaking back to our hotel to catch a quick nap but heard our phone go off. Amber's sister Genny , her husband Brandon and their two friends, Kyle and Greg were in our hotel. They had been traveling across Europe and made a special side trip to Frankfurt to cheer Amber on during the Ironman.

We took them to the beer gardens for dinner(of course!) before going to bed for the big race.
Genny, Danny, Amber and Brandon

I dropped Amber off at the race shuttle at 4am, then parked my car by the race finish(so we could get Amber's bike back in immediately after the race) and then walked the two miles back to my hotel. We had already walked this route multiple times but always in the daytime. Let me tell you: very different at night. I must have been wearing Axe cologne or something because I have never been solicited by so many women on a walk before. Ha! Made it hope for a quick run and breakfast and then headed back downtown to see Amber on the bike. But alas! She was too fast. I missed her on the first lap because I had underestimated how fast she would swim(52 minutes!) and bike 24mph! at that point of the course.

Luckily it was a two loop bike course, so by the time Genny and Brandon met up with me we were able to see her go by.

Danny cheering on Amber on the bike

Then we settled in for the long-haul. We positioned ourselves at a beer garden on the run course right by the bridge. This way by simply walking across the bridge we could see Amber two times on every lap. And it was a four lap marathon course so Genny and I saw Amber 8 times and then at the finish! Probably the best spectator friendly marathon course that I have been to.
Amber running with Charisa Wernick
I was able to catch Amber on video a couple times. The quality is poor and the narration worse but...

   After she finished and rehydrated with an IV, we all headed to this restaurant off the beaten path that Kyle had found supposedly with the best pig's knuckle of all Frankfurt. Apparently I was the only one who had worked up much of an appetite and was able to sample everyone's meals. While the pig's knuckle was pretty good, the pork schnitzel(cutlet) was the best. Especially when washed down with Frankfurt's speciality drink, apple wine(think apple cider without the carbonation).

We then parted ways with the crew, who was next headed to Munich and we fell restfully asleep.


What we were doing during the race: The Czech version of Budweiser

We spent the next day exploring Frankfurt and found it to truly be far more interesting than at first glance. A lot of historic old building mixed in with skyscrapers. All in all a great end to a fun trip.

Amber rehydrating

This was the finish line of the Ironman run course

Old and new

The botanical gardens

More old and new

One of many parks right in the city

We arrived home for a couple days of work then got right back into some active recovery with a little old hike in the Whites. This little hike was part of Michael Wade's epic summer plan of hiking all 48 4,000 footers in 7 days. On the day we joined him, we had 8 peaks to summit. That's not counting Mt Guyot or the ones we'd have to summit multiple times because of the out and back nature of the day's hike.

Michael was staying at Zealand Hut after having hiked something like 35 miles the day before so Amber and I had to meet him there. As usual, we didn't give ourselves enough time to drive to the trailhead and hike the 3 miles into the hut so we found ourselves running those miles panicked that he would leave without us. Not to fear we apparently arrived at the same time as breakfast. This gave us time to take in Zealand Falls and prepare ourselves for the day ahead.

Soon after we took off. To make up for how pretty Zealand Falls is, Zealand's summit is a waste. A pile of rocks in the woods. However there are some nice views along the way to the Summit. We hit the summit, sipped our water and continued on to the Bonds. We hiked West Bond first as an out and back then continued on to Bond and Bondcliff making for a beautiful ridge line second out and back. Lots of views and laughs made the time fly by.
Amber and Danny taking a much needed break
After summiting South Twin, I had totally ran out of water and Amber had run out of gas. She decided to forgo North Twin and head out for the Galehead Hut. Michael and I made quick business of North Twin which I was glad to have finally summited after having had been turned back twice this winter. Climbing down the back side of South Twin, I knew that that's all I had left though. Amber and I hung out at the hut while Michael saw the beautiful views atop Galehead(there actually is a nice view a 1/4 mile from the hut but the summit is covered with view blocking trees). Then we parted ways, Michael to continue on to Garfield along the PUDs that is Garfield Ridge trail. I don't at all mind climbing but climbing just to go back down over and over again are just pointless up and downs and I have no patience for that. Amber and I went down Gale River Trail, grabbed Michael's car, ate all of his beef jerky and met him at the Garfield trail head. Considering that he went 2.5 miles longer than we did, he finished up pretty close to us time-wise. AND the crazy man, did the presidential traverse the next day!

Michael at the finish
 We did not. We did however, rent mountain bikes at Franconia Bike Sport and went "mudding". Or at least that's what it felt like. I am a terrible mountain biker. And while Amber's not great herself, what she lacks in skill she makes up for in endurance, cranking on the uphills.

And totally wiping me out and making me beg from rest, we soaked in the waters by the Basin and headed home. Once home we got the good news that Amber did, in fact, qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in Lake Las Vegas this September!!! A great way to end a great couple weeks.

Up Next: Likely more "recovery", the Top Notch Triathlon the first weekend in August.