Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stress, Happiness, Hormones, and the Thyroid

Everyone I know that has had a thyroid problem, has been struggling with stress of some sort at the same time. It's anecdotal, this is not the result of a scientific study. Yet, everyone I know who has had thyroid issues has had stress. In short, they were not happy people.

Our bodies are amazing, and no one understands them. For example, our hormones react to stress by rebuilding our body, influencing a myriad of functions. Hormones are excreted by our endocrine system. When someone runs hard, your adrenal glands excretes adrenaline into your body, and then people end up calling you an "adrenaline junkie". However, you can only excrete so much adrenaline before you have to let your body rest, by not excreting adrenaline. Where exactly the thyroid fits in, I can't say for sure. But, when someone has problems with the thyroid, he or she runs slow.

The logic is, when a person has stress, because of work, life, family, you ran too much and didn't take the time for your endocrine system to recover, or whatever, you are far more likely to have thyroid problems, and if you have thyroid problems, you will probably run a lot slower. Additionally, iron and B12 play a role in a healthy throid, although how they do, I do not know. All I can say is, take some vitamins to make sure you get enough of both, and more importantly eat a diversity of foods.

What is the cure? Be happy! Seriously, that's it.

Okay, since it's not that easy to "be happy" what concrete steps might one take to increase happiness and endocrine system recovery so that it is possible to perform as well as possible when the day or hour comes? For starters, get your sleep. The hardest (best) rest I know of it sleep. Second, cut out the things, if possible, that create the most stress for you. This is hard for me to give an example because I am pretty content. I suppose, coaching was something that was causing me stress because it was such a large time commitment, and I felt it was actually taking away from my own running and sleeping, and thus happiness, so I quit. Another person I know had thyroid problems, while she was unemployed. Another person I know had thyroid problems while he was counseling way too many people on a weekly basis. Not sure how reversible thyroid problems are. Many biological processes are reversible, when they go poor, a little recovery can lead to them healing, like the average paper cut, or the glycogen depletion after a long run, but more complicated things like a finger, they don't grow back.

It's an old coaching saying, "a happy runner is a fast runner" and it's true. Obviously, this is a huge simplification of endocrinology, but sometimes we make things more complicated than they have to be.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tremendous North Coast 24 Recovery

Recovery and rest matter. They matter more than the training. Seriously. The difference between full time runners, and those of us working 40-50 hours a week is that we just don't have the time to sleep as much or lay around in a state of mental half engagement. For me to run twice a day it means waking up at 5, or at least 5:30, putting in some miles, going to work for 8-9+ hours, then putting in more miles after work, eating a big dinner, and going to sleep at 9, or even earlier sometimes. There is not much rest during the day, aside from sitting in my expensive chair at my desk at work. In short, I think that working a full time job makes it harder for me to recover than not working a full time job.

However, I realize that my personality is such that I will never be a full time runner or mountaineer or athlete of any kind. Mentally, the challenge is just not enough. I need some sort of mental stimulation, and a few puzzles does not cut it, we're talking a couple dozen hours a week of a long term project, minimum. The mental challenge gives me a balance to the physical challenge. So it's a balance. I'm not sure where the perfect balance is. At 40 hours a week of work, life is great! At 50 hours a week, I start to slide in my motivation and engagement. I've never really done less than 40 hours a week so I can't say what 30 hours a week or 20 hours a week would do for me. That's kind of getting off topic, the point is, how much I work has an impact on my running.

This post is about celebrating how amazing my recovery from my first ultra marathon has gone! Simply stunning!

North Coast 24 Recovery Mileage
Look at those numbers the last month! A 20 mile run! A 28:08 8k with 350 feet of up and down?! A set of 4x mile intervals at 5:40 pace less than two weeks post race?! I took four days completely off, a three mile run and then another day off, then I was basically back into it with a 49 mile week and an 82 mile week.

I read tests about VO2Max, running efficiency, fat/carbohydrate mix, foot strikes, and all sorts of running related studies, and I have only twice been studied, both were for an undergraduate class way back in 2009. I look at this graph, and I have to wonder, how much of an anomaly am I? I mean, this is crazy! I have recovered so fast. If anyone wants to test me, please let me know. Speaking of which, between setting my 5k and 10k PRs back in 2012, I had a hematocrit of 42, which basically means, I probably stand to have a huge improvement living at altitude if I ever had that opportunity. Kind of a minor detail, but I was not drug tested after the NC24 and honestly I was hoping for a blood test because it would really cool if I was considered good enough to get a biological passport. I think I have a lot to gain my monitoring my blood, such as understanding when I need to take more iron or eat more protein. That's the scientific part of my speaking, the vast majority of what I do is based on feel. Pushing hard, but not too hard. 

In summary, Thank You God for giving me these gifts that I don't fully understand! I am not sure if I am really an anomaly, or I am an average guy with a crazy brain, whatever the case, I am blessed, and I don't want to take any recovery for granted, because I just don't know if this may be the last one I ever have.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 174

My life is awesome! I hope yours is too! I have struggled. For so long I put so much energy into Everest, and when it didn't go as planned, well, I came back and my plan was just to run as much as I could and go back to work. I knew that therapy like that would help. Of course, there was a lot of talking with friends, not even about Everest, or running, or work, and those conversations certainly helped too. Somehow or other, I ended up where I am. I just had supper with my parents who drove their new Prius C down to look at the leaves, and drop off the last of the garden food. As we were talking, and I mentioned an upcoming blog article, I couldn't help but convey how happy I am.

Work is going quite well. Oh, there are issues, but working through them has been, fun, really. It's funny, updating blue prints, also known as drawings, is generally considered tedious work that is often sent to lower paid employees. Well, I've been doing a fair amount of it lately, and I like it. It makes me more familiar with the part or assembly. I get to make decisions about tolerances and such that could have an impact on parts always fitting together or being acceptable for a decade or two to come.

Running is going well, 65 miles for the week with a day off and only one double. Only one night sweat, but that's because of running a hilly 7 minute pace 12 miler in 58F rain two days after a decently hard 20 miler. So, I'll take that to mean I'm better. I think my hormones and micronutrients were messed up after the 24 hour race. I'll blog about that shortly. Wednesday I did a little fartlek with one minute hard and one minute easy, and for the 10 minutes of hard running I averaged 4:54 pace! Friday I ran a cross country college race and ran a very nice 28:08 8k on a course with 350 feet of up and down over nine hills. I came in 27th out of 81. I like racing with the college kids, because I may be the 2014 24 hour USATF national champion, but I was solidly beat by a third of the 18-22 year olds in a corner of Iowa at a small cross country meet. It keeps me honest. My goal for the race was only sub 28:30, so to come in that much faster, was very satisfying.

I went out Friday and Saturday nights to socialize. At least going out in my mind means one glass of wine Friday, and left by 9:15 PM, and going out Saturday meant board games at a friends' house and left by 9:30 PM. A little socializing is a good thing. Plus, getting in bed before 10 PM both nights, having one glass of wine, that's my kind of socializing.

Life is good.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Better Late Than Never

I aim to blog every weekday. Sometimes that means Friday night, minutes before I go to bed. The message is simple, consistency, showing up, attendance, matters. No, no one will ever be 100% all the time, and it is doing the work when it is inconvenient that differentiates and adds value. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Better 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained. As with anything, better to work less hours, than work a ton, burn out, get divorced, and have a heart attack in your 50s. 

Life is a long term thing. It's not about a given three month period. It is not about some metric you can push higher today with a demanding extra hour of work. For me, life is about relationships. That includes the relationship I have with myself. I know, I can push myself over the healthy limit. In a way it is satisfying. Yet, ultimately it can be harmful if used inappropriately. So I rest.

Rest is not given the respect it deserves. Sometimes I sleep ten hours on a work night. We can't burn the candle at both ends, we might run out. This lesson of resting more, or as I like to think of it, 'resting hard', is something that I have learned in the last few years and I am very happy I have. I go to sleep around 9 PM most nights. That is about the earliest of anyone I know. Often I sleep until 6 AM. Our bodies and our minds, regardless of the job or hobby, work best when we have had rest. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Curiosity of My Body

What is possible? Isn't that a great question? At dinner Monday night after a 12 mile run with a group of people that are all faster than me (at least at 10k and shorter) we discussed the recent marathon world record, the three minute downhill mile, and then the theoretical limit to marathon performance, about 78 minutes. I mean, if people, a fair number of people can run a 45 second or faster 400, well, that's a three minute mile, or a 78-79 minute marathon. Runner's World has a nice new website about the two hour marathon.

That's ridiculous of course, no one is going to go out and run a 1:18 marathon in the next 100 years. Yet a two hour marathon? The five of us sat around the table discussing how it could get done, in the next few years. For starters 10 pacers, to block the wind all the way to 20 or even 23 miles. Then you need three guys, more or less could work, with 58 and 59 minute half marathon PRs to grind out the last 5k or 10k against each other. You need 400 meter splits, so that there aren't any too quick miles. You need perfect weather 38-45 degrees Fahrenheit, and no wind.

The point being, our bodies are amazing! While I will not be running any sub 2 hour marathon, ever, why can't I set a world record in a running event? We flip the switches on our body to train this way, eat this way, rest this way, and what is the result? I don't know! Isn't it interesting? These night sweats I've been having the last three weeks off and on, probably because of hormone changes due to a raised metabolism post 24 hour run. I would not say it's a problem, as thyroid issues can be problems for people, because I'm having some great workouts. In short, I'm certainly not in a great place, I would prefer to be more recovered, endocrine system wise, than I am. Fortunately, this issue is minor, still it is a curiosity.

The point being, our bodies are capable of far more than we typically, if ever, allow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Joe Vigil's Marathon Training Program Explained

For several years one graph has confounded me. It made utterly no sense to me. I read Joe Vigil's book, and it still made no sense to me… until this summer.

From this article on Deena Kastor winning the bronze marathon medal at the Athens 2004 Olympics, is the following graph. It's in Joe Vigil's book too, which I lent to a friend, and he never returned...

Deena Kastor's Approximate Mileage Before Athens 2004
It makes no sense. Nowhere else in running have I seen such variation in mileage. Most authors and coaches prescribe two or three weeks of higher mileage and then a down week, and only maybe 80% or 85% of the high mileage weeks. These, 40 mile jumps, going up 40% or down 30% in one week? It makes no sense. I can hear every running "expert" saying this is a sure recipe to get injured. Although, I don't have a coach because of the half dozen coaches in the world I respect enough to work with, none have returned my emails, or I haven't emailed them. It's arrogant, I know, but there is no "Joe Vigil Marathon Training Program Explained" article on the Internet I can find. I mean who advocates for such huge and regular mileage variation? I guarantee thousands have seen that same graph of mileage, and like me, not understood it, and probably not tried it.
Weekly Mileage Post-Chicago Marathon 2013 to Now
This is my weekly mileage over the last year. Check out my July and August 2014. I get it! (Ignore the 148 mile week, that includes the first 101.5 miles of my 24 hour run. Plus, I don't want to discuss my poor recovery from Chicago last year and build up to Everest this year.)

Here's the thing, 140 miles per week is 20 miles per day. Running 100 miles, in six days means running 16.7 miles per day. 20 miles per day, versus 16.7 miles per day on average is almost insignificant, and can be the difference between doing one 30 mile day versus one just 10 mile day. Plus, that doesn't take into account any workouts, which may make that 10 mile day harder than the 30 mile day. Workouts and actual daily running is beyond the scope of this article.

The point being, it's because the athlete, Deena, myself, whoever, takes a day off, and alternates pushing yourself just a little (15%) harder on a daily basis (even if it's just a longer 8 minute mile pace cool down a few times or six days of doubles instead of four days of double runs) on the hard week, and taking it just a little easier on the day off week. It's brilliant. I used to take one day off per month. That worked for many personal records, but it wasn't the best. It has been awhile since I took one day off per week. Frankly, that's a lot of days off. I'm not sure you can develop the same amount of carbohydrate storage, or fat metabolism, or tease the body into learning to recover faster. Oh I'm sure you can get close, but the leap to running seven days a week is a big one, with the benefits mentioned above.

Super-compensation is the principle that one "embarrasses" a body system, and the body rebuilds itself stronger than before. I've known about super-compensation for years, but I've always thought about it in terms of 30 mile days, or two weeks in a training cycle, like the 140 mile weeks above. However, the above graph has super mileage weeks at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, and compensation weeks at 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. It's genius. Work a little hard, recover well, even take a day off, work a little harder, recover well again, repeat.

I can't believe it really took me until this summer to understand it and finally try it. It is simple. Unintentionally, I even did this high week then low week then repeat back in the fall of 2011 when I ran my PR half marathon and marathon. I just failed to put it all together until this summer. Now, instead of that weekly mileage graph confounding me, it's a comfort. That graph says to me, "work hard, take a day off, relax a little, work hard, and I mean quite hard, then relax again." Joe Vigil, I know you are retired, and you will probably never read this, and I'll probably never email you, but well done sir.