Monthly Archives: May 2012

If You Fall Off the Wagon, Flag the Next One



The scale does not lie. But it can bend the truth a little, with water weight. I am not at racing weight, and since the overall trend is up, I can’t blame that on water weight. But I can blame myself. I have four weeks  until my first A priority race this season, and another four until the next A priority race, probably the most important race of the season. I think that I have ten pounds of useless fat I can lose to be at a good racing weight. Avergaed over eight weeks that equates to 1.25 pounds per week. Most weight loss experts recommend losing no more than 1-2 pounds per week, so I’m right in there. Dr. Fuhrman suggests that if you’re truly doing his program and have weight to lose, that 1% of your weight should come off per week, which would be a little more.

Where did that wagon go?

I fell off. I have been eating out. I have had too much wine and beer, and those liquid calories add up. I have been eating emotionally to deal with the streess that increases dramatically at the end of the school year. I have been making too many exceptions and “treating” myself. I haven’t planned out my meals well enough ahead of time, leading me into dangerous hunger

It wasn’t a hard fall…

To my credit, I have done far worse in the past. I do keep trying. My steady fitness gains and improving heart rate variability score show real progress. So I will pat myself on the back briefly.

But it was a fall nevertheless…

I am still not satisfied. I know I can do better, be better. I want that racing weight, and want real progress in racing this summer. I don’t want summer to end by blogging along the lines of “Well, it went really well, but if I had been a few pounds lighter…”

Where’s the next wagon?

So what will I do? Recommit myself to the Rules. The rules I will follow are the principles of McDougall’s Maximum Weight Loss Program, MWL for short.

How long will I ride?

Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits suggests making changes in small steps. For instance, one habit at a time, starting at five minutes a day. Then build. So I will commit to five days in a row. Starting today, that will be Monday through Friday. Then I can reevaluate. I can decide to take a day off, or try to build more momentum going forward. It’s always fair to get off the wagon by choice at a scheduled stop.

Today’s MWL Wagon Ride:

Cuban Black Beans and Rice from The New McDougall Cookbook I substituted red pepper for one of the green peppers, so it will be slightly less authentic.

Asian stir fry veggies. An old stand by. No tofu or noodles this time, I’m playing by the rules.

I flagged down the next wagon, and I’m climbing on right now. Lunch time, MWL style.


The Cuban Black Beans and Rice came out well, except for the slightly overcooked rice because I chose to blog about cooking instead of cooking!  I measured out 1.25 lbs of food out of curiosity, which resulted in a sizable bowl. Using Jeff Novick’s Calorie Density guide, that’s about 600-650 calories, so I will have to eat more!


Waiting for Rich Roll

I decided to be a good neighbor and pre-order Rich Roll’s new book, Finding Ultra. I didn’t realize until he reminded everybody that pre-orders on Amazon mean a lot to authors. And since I’m a big fan and love his plant powered message, I complied. Now I’m waiting, and I can’t stand it!

I’ve listened to two great podcast interviews with him in recent months:

Both interviews are really inspiring since Roll comes across as very approachable, regular guy. His story of resisting middle age is one many can relate to. He has the usual encumbrances of a demanding job and kids, yet he found a way out of it. Hearing how down to earth he is is contrasts a bit with his uber athlete photos! I liked in particular his response to dealing with time issues on a plant based diet. He really makes it sound much simpler and easier than many people think. It often seems to me that most people think we spend all day in the kitchen chopping vegetables. Not really. Maybe half a day.

I’ve skimmed the free excerpts of the book since I don’t want to spoil it competely for myself, but now I’m really hungry for more. Thwe world needs more plant based, athletic heroes and their stories. Now we have Rip Esselstyn, Rich Roll, and soon Scott Jurek.

C’mon Amazon, give me my Rich Roll!

Always Look on the Bright Side of . . . Life

With echoes of Monty Python running through my head I read through the second chapter of the Heath brothers’ Switch fascinated by an idea that was so obvious and clear as to be routinely ignored: find what works and do more of it.

*plants palm firmly in center of forehead making a distinct slapping sound*

Of course. Why focus on problems if solutions are right next to you? The subtitle of this book is “How to Change When Change is Hard”, and this first lesson hits you like, “Why didn’t I think about that?”

To back up, the Heaths explain that our behavior is governed by two independent forces that are complementary, but not always complimentary. That is, they complete each other, but don’t always cooperate. These forces are our executive function or logical thinking, and our emotional motivation. Without our reasoning brain to solve a problem and find the path, our emotional energy will flail around. Without the motivation and drive of our emotions, our executive function will spin its wheels and never get started. The Heaths borrow a metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant represents the tremendous power of our emotional motivation, but it needs direction from the rider. The rider knows where to go, but needs the elephant’s power to get there. The first section of the book explores how to get the Rider to most efficiently create a winning plan. This is a plan that is reasonable, rational, but most importantly, accessible to the Elephant.

The first technique is to find what already works and copy it. They call it finding the bright spots, and give some great examples of it in action. My favorite came from a children’s malnutrition project. Plenty of expert “Riders” had already assessed the situation and found it too difficult to solve. The malnutrition came from insurmountable structural problems: poverty, lack of sanitation, no clean water, etc. These problems would not go away overnight because they were large in scale and complicated. A new team went to one particular village to investigate. They asked a simple question, “Is this problem universal, affecting everyone equally, or are some people able to get around it and raise healthy children despite the odds?” What they found was that some families in the same circumstances did have healthy children. With the same resources, they were getting better results. The investigators had found a “bright spot”. They followed them around to see what they did differently. Instead of two meals a day like the adults, these families fed their kids more often. And they used a couple of ingredients not usually thought of as appropriate for kids, some leafy greens and shrimp. These few ingredient changes increased both the calorie density and nutrient density of the food and resulted in healthy children. Once this strategy was shared, other families got the same results.

Amazing, isn’t it? The reasoning brain would get stuck at the big problems, but by showing it a practical solution, it can focus on the details. Seeing that success is possible, the emotional side is motivated by the good feelings that success creates. In these villages, Elephants and Riders worked together to improve the health of the children.

So the take home message is to find the bright spots. What has worked in the past? Why did it work? Can we do more of that? Right now I’m tempted to try anaerobic workouts again. I’ve been building my aerobic base for awhile, and I want to get faster. But my bright spot is the Maffetone method, not anaerobic running or cycling. What I need now is better climbing, so I will combine the methods. I will find some hills to climb and climb more and more, but I will keep it aerobic. This way I practice what needs improving, climbing, in a similar way to traditional interval training. But I will keep the intensity aerobic. My thinking is that this way I can build strength in my aerobic slow twitch muscle fibers to climb faster, and do it without the added recovery demands and increased overtraining risk from anaerobic training. At least for one more month. In June I may need to find a new bright spot.

It’s OK to Walk

“Most endurance athletes think of walking as something that’s done during a bad race. But walking is a powerful tool that can … help build even more aerobic function. Walking can trigger the use of many small aerobic muscle fibers that are not used during training- turning these muscles on increases fat burning and additional circulation.”

Philip Maffetone The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing p. 104

While I was recovering from pneumonia, I had to walk. It was the only activity that kept my heart rate within my aerobic zone. Gradually I was able to intersperse slow jogs, and eventually run. I was reminded of this passage and dug it to remind myself that it is OK to walk. In fact, as I recovered, I added a longer warmup and cool down than I used to for my runs, and kept it to purely walking. As my fitness has improved I can feel the benefit that just plain low intensity walking has on my aerobic function. Some days I even add a walk to whatever other workouts I’m doing. Maffetone recounts that he even used walks as cross training for elite athletes. They were surprised to find (as I was) that they actually had a little muscle soreness just from the added walks! Turns out those small aerobic muscle fibers were underused, as he explains above. So I changed my mind about the minutes spent walking as “not part of the workout”.

So don’t be afraid to walk. In the game of maximizing aerobic function, walking is a very important move to make. The cardiovascular system doesn’t care if you’re walking or running, swimming or cycling. As long as it’s aerobic, you’re getting benefits. So long walking warmups and cool downs, as well as interspersing walks throughout the week can add to training volume, increase aerobic fitness an do it very safely. So go ahead, turn off the stop watch and enjoy a nice half hour walk.

MAF Test #4

While my informal MAF tests have been showing progress in developing an aerobic base, it’s been awhile since I did a formal test on the track to get my maximum aerobic pace for running. So off I went even though the test anxiety discovered numerous excuses: too hot, too windy, legs a little sore and heavy, etc. As I began to warmup on the track my dead legs almost made me quit. So I negotiated. All I had to do was run the first mile and see. If I wasn’t significantly faster than my last average, I would give in to my excuses and bag it. My first mile was the second fastest I’ve run in a MAF test, and way faster than last time! By now I was not only warmed up but motivated by a little success. As expected, my times slowed down, but when I crunched the numbers I netted a 25 second improvement.

MAF Test Average Pace: 11:06

This is only 3 seconds off my best result last year at the beginning of October.

Encouraging results, and further proof that in order to get faster, slow down and really develop that aerobic engine. I’m feeling good about this summer’s big races, even though there is still a lot of work to do.

The Value of Informal MAF Tests

I’m lagging behind. I seriously need to do another MAF test on the track. Like any test in school, they make me a little nervous even though there is no real failure. But the real reason is that I have been informally testing myself once a week and seeing progress, so I’m a little unmotivated to go to the track and hassle with timing individual miles. I always thought while reading Maffetone that if you only do a MAF test once a month, and that is the main way to see if your training or health is off track, that it wasn’t often enough to catch a problem in time. But Maffetone explains that if you use the same route regularly, you can see if you’re progressing or regressing by keeping track of some combination of speed/pace, distance, time and heart rate.

So I turned my most common running route into a fitness test. I start and stop my heart monitor in exactly the same place. I cover my warm-up and cool-down exactly the same way. I use the same route and heart rate range. While a difference of just a few seconds might not mean much, it will show a trend. My informal running MAF test shows almost three minutes of improvement in the last month or so, from 52 min to 49 min.

My cycling routes haven’t shown the same improvement. I suspect that the differing conditions of traffic, stop lights, and wind make day to day comparisons less useful. But a recent mountain bike ride shows me that I have made significant progress there too.

So I will keep one run a week reserved for my informal MAF test, take another run and stretch it out to an hour, and keep pushing my long run a little longer.

Race Behind Bars: Race Report

Ah, life at the back of the pack. Or in this case, the Beginner category for mountain bike racing. I’d like to upgrade to Sport, but a fourth out of ten in my age group puts me right in the middle of the pack. So I’ll stay for now. After endless Maffetone style aerobic workouts and only one race, it felt good to get out and go hard. The race was billed as the Race Behind Bars because part of the course ran on Folsom State Prison grounds. I expected something dramatic, like prison walls, or at least an armed guard or two. Nothing. I never saw anything connected to the prison. What I got was a fun course that had some challenges in it. No real big climbs, but enough rollers to disrupt your rhythm. There were some tricky sections of tight, twisty singletrack that forced you to pay attention. And one set of 4’x4′ stairs with a steep ride around that I’m proud to say I powered up and cleaned on both laps. Oh yeah, there were two laps. Pay attention! I was used to beginner courses doing only one lap, until I rode through the start/finish and was reminded by the racer behind me. Oops. Back out on the course. But the second time I got to see some scenery as we rode right above the river. Never saw it on the first lap. Fun race, I’ll be back at the end of the month for the last in the series and see if I can turn in faster lap times.


I thought I would be going faster considering my aerobic progress this spring. But when I cranked up to 175 bpm for race intensity, my average speed wasn’t that great. It makes me want to reconsider Maffetone style aerobic training. I feel I need to add some intensity, but I don’t want to hurt my aerobic development, especially since this year’s main goals are long distance events. Decisions, decisions… Another thing odd was the crazy adrenalin, endorphin high I felt afterwards. It was fun, but I really had a hard time winding down afterwards. I need to find some kind of post race routine to calm down and relax. I felt like my anaerobic engine was still cranking, even after grocery shopping and a cold micro-brew at Whole Foods. Hmm… meditation? Visualization? Some kind of biofeedback or brain wave synchronicity? For these shorter races I need something. I will have to pick a method and try it at the next race… which is-

The Chick Chaser!

My triathlon club is hosting the Chick Chaser 5K. Girls get a 3 min. head start and then the boys get to go. Should be fun.

Week of 5/7: Weekly Plan

Been lagging on the blogging lately. Missed out on the great opportunity with the recent California Mad Cow. All I can say is, where there is smoke, there’s usually fire. Does the USDA inspire confidence in you? Me neither.


I’ve been adding some volume, so I’ll maintain that. Instead of an informal MAF test, I really need to do a formal MAF test on the track this week. I get three bike commute days this week, so I’ll do two on the MTB and one on the road bike. For one run I want to go about an hour, so I need to modify my usual route. And swim! I’ve been lagging at the pool. It’s so darn inconvenient. And a little racing at the Chick Chaser 5K next weekend!


Bike commute, MTB 90 min


Run, MAF test

Swim 30 min


Bike Commute, Road bike 2 hrs


Run 1 hr

Swim 30 min


Bike Commute MTB 90 min


AM: 2 hr road ride, recover

PM: Race 5K


AM Swim 30 min

PM Run 90 min

Meals and Nutrition:

Race weight is slipping away. I need to get more focused on the McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss and the principles of calorie density. Too much beer. Don’t drink your calories, Vegpedlr! Except after the race. Three miles of chasing chicks requires beer. It’s only fair.

So back to rice, beans, and greens. And little potatoes for snacks instead of things made with flour. Black eye peas are already cooked, chili in the crockpot for tonight, and the black beans are soaking cooking.


Spanish Red Lentil and Garbanzo Soup with Chard, large green salad


Happy Herbivore’s Maryland Kale, Black Eye Peas and Rice..


Black Beans and Mangoes, Caribbean Style. (if mangoes aren’t on sale, Cuban Black Beans and Rice.)


Stir Fry: Bok choy, zuchini, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli with noodles or rice.





The farmer’s market has a lot of great stuff right now, but we’re still kinda between seasons, so a lot of random stuff. Plus, I hate May. The school year is winding down, and I’m tired and cranky. I want summer: ride the mountain bike for two hours, then ride the hammock for two hours. Repeat daily until September.

Mountain Biking on Maffetone

More success thanks to the Maffetone Method. I went on a beautiful spring mountain bike ride on a route I haven’t ridden since September. I did a similar route two weeks ago that came shorter than I wanted, so I added another couple of trails to make a bigger loop. I wanted about two or two and a half hours, and I got just short of two. As I rode, it dawned on me that this ride took me more like 2h15 in the fall. When I double checked my training log from last season, sho ’nuff, I was almost 20 min faster than I was near the end of last season. This Maffetone stuff really works! The best part was when I attacked a climb that last fall I could not ride aerobically, within my MAF. This time I rode the whole steep fire road at MAF in the granny gear. It is true that I have added five beats per minute to my MAF, and I did briefly stop twice to allow my heart rate to recover a bit. But in September there was no chance. I was pushing.

Maffetone Method Advantages:

Lower stress overall and workouts that feel good

Maffetone writes that you should feel good after training, good enough that you would do it again. This gentle approach is what is necessary to fully develop the aerobic system. I find this to be true. My workouts help me deal with life stress, rather than add to it.

More training consistency

Because I don’t get so beat up training, I train every day. Once every 7-10 days I take a recovery day. I feel a bit worn down, and that one day off feels really good. The day after, I’m rarin’ to go. I think that during the school year I will have to all, or almost all of my training aerobically. It appears to be the only way I can train consistently, and consistency trumps everything.

I get faster by going slower!

It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. Week by week I get faster, and I don’t have to try very hard. Although I still haven’t raced enough to see how that translates into performance at race intensity, indications are that I should race faster too.

So while I’m beginning to fidget a little and wanting to try some anaerobic workouts to get faster, I think I’ll put those off till summer. I’ll just focus on putting together some of the missing pieces, like more swimming and strength training.

Finding the proper aerobic/anaerobic balance is a tricky thing. For me it appears that very little anaerobic work is right. I feel good, so I’m having more fun this way. When I mentioned this to triathlon coach Muddy Waters, he just smiled and said, “You just said the magic words!”

So go outside and play today, just to feel good.