Day Five on Keto

Since last Sunday, I’ve have been on a Ketogenic diet. Typically prescribed for people with various neurological disorders (Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease…), Low Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diets have recently come to the foray for endurance athletes as an alternative to the usual High Carb (HC) diet! As part of my valiant attempt to further sports science, I’ve volunteered myself as a participant in a running study that examines the effect of a LCHF diet on long distance runners!

The change in my diet could not have been greater. Going from fueled from carbohydrates and sugars — then suddenly — to fat and protein, it has not been easy. Today marks my fifth day on Keto, and here’s what I have endured so far:

Day 1 began following a time to exhaustion test (read: a very long run!). Craving for carbs and sugars, I had to abstain. Instead, I ate a large four egg omelette fried in 30g of butter! Later, I had two cups of coffee with 100g of cream and a chicken breast that bathed in the oven in 30g of olive oil. Yikes! As the sun went down, I became drowsy, developed a runny nose and an unshakable headache overcame me. All signs and symptoms of the noctorious Keto Flu.

Day 2. I was at work and I felt dopey, drowsy and easily irritable. Following from yesterday’s ordeal, today was a rest day. Again, I ate nothing but fats and protein. I also had vegetables that were low in carbs and sugars, such as lettuce, mushrooms and asparagus. These were also drowned in either olive oil or full fat mayonnaise (of course!).

Day 3. Although the Keto Flu lingered, it was much less than before. I also felt like my mind was clearer and was able to focus better than before. Although having thought about it, this could have simply been due to the sudden uptake of the coffee with cream. I seldom drink coffee. I decided to go for a short recovery run. Worst 10K run of my life! What should have barely broken a sweat ended up being more torturous than the last 10K of an all out marathon! The run started off at 14km/h ended in 11km/h. My body was aching from head to toe.

Day 4 was similar to the previous day. Again, I went out for a slow run. The first two kilometers felt mostly like a recovery run, but things got progressively harder. I even had to stop, and doubt I could have run much further than the 12 km I did!

Day 5 (today). From the previous days it appeared that the first two kilometers were much easier than the rest. I decide to do a set of intervals. Less than a week ago, I did 6x1200m @ 3:20min/km with 2:15 between each rep. Today, I could only manage 4x1200m and none of the reps were remotely close in speed! What’s more, the last rep was at least 15% slower than any of the ones done last week. I hate to think of how slow the remaining two reps would have been, had I grit my teeth and slogged it out!

I feel that I’m gradually overcoming the Keto flu and becoming fat adapted. Time will tell how this Keto diet turns out over the next 25 days I am on it!

Rotorua Half Marathon

Yesterday I paced the 2018 Rotorua Half Marathon. I was the 1:20 pacer, but came in one minute too slow! Reflections on the course and my pacing are as follows…

Unlike previous Rotorua Half Marathons, this year’s one was off-road and hilly! It starts at the same place as the full marathon, but instead heads south-east towards the forest. The majority of the course is on an old gravel road. You need to watch your step carefully here: there are countless fist sized rocks and foot deep potholes scattered along the trail! There is also a kilometer of running on wet grass trail, which also has a sandy part and a muddy part! Fortunately there were no river crossings!

Part of the course is also shared with the Quarter Marathon. This makes it hard for the faster half marathon runners; in the last 7 kilometers I had to navigate through hundreds of runners coming head on. This is easier said that done as you also need to choose a path free of things that you could roll your ankle on! The elevation gain was 260m.

As part of my preparation for my pacing duties, I studied the course profile. Instead of even pacing I needed to opt for even effort. I devised a program that gave kilometer splits, given the course profile and target time while maintaining an even effort. I followed my prescribed plan during the race. Judging by my heart rate, this plan indeed resulted in an even effort. I suspect it would have been spot on, had I factored in the surfaces I’d be traversing.

Effort-wise, being the 1:20 pacer was suitable and well within my ability, even on a hilly trail course like the new Rotorua Half Marathon. From races in the eight months, my average HR for the 10K, 21.1K and 42.2K events are 180, 176, and 170 respectively. With yesterday’s run, my average HR was below my average HR for a marathon! My max HR was also the same as what I average in a half marathon race. This was a surprise to me, given the steep hills on the new course.

All in all the new Rotorua Half Marathon course is enjoyable and a nice change from road running. However, I’m unsure whether it is a wise idea having off-road courses added into what has been and is a road-running event. If I were pacing for a 1:20 again on the same course, I would aim to run 4% faster on the road surfaces (equating to 3:36 min/km on the six kilometers of road).

Auckland Waterfront Half Marathon

Last Sunday I competed in the 2018 Auckland Waterfront Half Marathon. My official race time was 1:16:43. This was a great result for me: I managed to slash 3 minutes from my previous best (PB) half marathon!

The Auckland Waterfront Half Marathon is a new race that runs along Auckland’s Tamaki Drive. To reach the 21.1km distance a large portion of Tamaki Drive is covered twice. Unfortunately this meant that there was was a lot of other runners to negotiate around on the second loop. This also made it near impossible to pick up a cup of water at the aid stations! As a result, I did not hydrate properly during the race.

There was no wind or sea breeze. Next time I’d consider running with sunglasses, given the orientation of the course and the morning sun. It was between 15C and 18C with 75% relative humidity while I was out running. This gives a wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) between 13.3 and 16.1. According to research this was a challenging environment to achieve a PB, despite the “fast and flat” course!

Notes to self: I was 77.5kg on the day. This is about 1.5kg heavier than I was two weeks ago! I was out of the country for a week a week ago and was on an untypical diet. During the race I actively monitored my heart rate (HR) and tried to keep it below 176bpm. Despite consuming less water that I would have liked, ironically I still felt bloated for most of the second half of the race. The last four kilometers were tough and it showed in my poor posture towards the end of the race.

Auckland Marathon

Today I ate humble pie. Determined to go sub 2:45, I could only manage 2:54:07 on the day. That’s a huge disparity! Let me explain…

The Auckland Marathon starts at 6am. Despite beginning at the crack of dawn, it was unusually warm this morning at 16C. By the time I finished my run it was 18C, making it the hottest marathon I have run. The air was also uncomfortably “sticky” and estimated to be 90% R.H!

Despite a significantly slower pace and easier course profile, my average heart during the first 10km of the marathon was similar to that of a typical 10km tempo!

Ten kilometres into the run and my heart rate is higher than usual. I’m travelling at 3:50 min/km pace and my heart rate is at 170 bpm – 5 bpm higher than I’d like. My bib is also drenched sweat, no doubt from the hot and humid weather! I reach half way at 1:21:34.

It’s now 26km into the race and I approach the first of two drink stations that I’ve left my own water bottle and energy gel. However, the people manning the station offer no help and I’m lost searching in a sea of nondescript water bottles for my own one! After stopping for a frustrating 10 seconds, I forgo a crucial hydration and energy stop.

Kilometre split comparison between 2016 and 2017 Auckland Marathons.

From this point on, I begin to slow down and start paying for going too hard in the first half. I persevere but the “wheels fall off” at 33km as I begin the slow and painful run back home.

It’s now 36km and I’ve arrived at the last special drink station. This time I yell out my bib number and the course volunteer swiftly finds my drink and energy gel and hands it to me. Much better!

It’s been a long slog but I’ve managed to cross the finish line after several agonizing 4:50 min/km kilometers. This is a pedestrian pace compared to the 3:53 min/km I averaged over the first 29 kilometers! The second half split was 1:32:33, giving me a 11 minute positive split. Ouch!

All was not lost. I’ve come away with some valuable lessons:

  1. Adjust expectations based on current conditions. Hot and especially humid conditions can completely change the course difficulty.
  2. When approaching a “special drink station”, yell out your race number well in advance to the course volunteer so they can fetch your drink for you!
  3. There’s a lot of techniques for breathing while running. In today’s high humidity, I would have been better off breathing “through the mouth”.
  4. Peanuts can give laxative-like effects! By the skin of my teeth I avoided a toilet stop during the race. Never again!
  5. I was happy that I achieved the much vaunted 180 steps per minute over the course of the marathon. A high leg turn over is more energy efficient and reduces the likelihood of over-striding / injury.

Some things to work on:

  • Try breathing “through the mouth” as it is apparently better for running. The only time I should be breathing through the nose is when the air is cold and/or dry.
  • More long runs at marathon pace on profiles similar to that of the course.
  • Consider reducing the number of interval sessions I do with tempo runs or long runs as these are more marathon-specific workouts. Trouble is I actually enjoy the interval sessions!
  • Find out how to “reset” the distance my GPS watch thinks I have run during the race. It always overestimates the distance!
An enjoyable 6x1200m interval session!

Notes to self: I was 77kg on the day and had three gels (8km, 17km, 23km). I missed one gel at 29km and did not feel like eating the one I picked up at 36km. I had either water or sports drink at each of the aid stations. I had flat soda for two of the stations following the mishap at station 29km.

Altitude. Heat. Humidity. Pollution!

Over the last three weeks I have been in China. Where in China you might wonder? How about Beijing, Dunhuang, Lanzhou, Xining, Xi’an and Shenzhen? And yes, it was frantic three week trip to visit all of those cities!

The first stop was the capital. Like every Westerner that visits China, I too saw The Great Wall, The Imperial Palace, The Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square! My hotel was in-fact very close to the Forbidden City and I found a nice 5 km loop to go for a run. Running three loops was a good start to the day. However, I tried this run next day after visiting attractions. Big mistake!

The temperature late in the day was almost 30C. The air was also heavily polluted. After my run I coughed and spluttered for 20 minutes… no wonder they call it the “Beijing Cough”! The pollution hit 194 AQI. That’s 21 times worse than what I’m used to!

Fortunately I recovered from the ordeal and went to Dunhuang, a city famous for the Mogao Grottos, Crescent Lake, and The Whistling Sand Dunes! I too saw these attractions. I also went for a run in Dunhuang. This was the first time that I had ran at altitude (1200m) and 25C+ heat! No problems.

We then travelled to Lanzhou to visit some of my father’s friends. Lanzhou is not known for attractions but infamously known for once being China’s most polluted city. Fortunately, Lanzhou has since changed and is no longer as polluted as it once was. Running along the walkway by the Yellow river ended up being a trip highlight! A lot of locals are there too, walking, whip cracking, playing with diablos or just dancing! Oh and Lanzhou is one mile above sea level!

The next two stops involved even greater heights. Although we were not there for long, I was dead set on running at Qinghai Lake. At 3200m above sea level, this is in high altitude training territory. Despite gradually building up to this altitude over several days, I had a slight headache while at Qinghai. But it was now or never! The first kilometer of the run felt odd. The air was noticeably thinner as was the cool temperature. However, each stride became harder and harder. Soon my legs were completely dead and called it quits after a mere 4km!

Humbled by the high altitude experience, we headed back to Xining. At 2200m above sea level, my run in Xining was fine albeit slower than my usual pace. I enjoyed the cool climate and the much cleaner air!

Next we headed to Xi’an, one of the great ancient capitals of China. And just like the other thousands of tourists, I too visited Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army! Another interesting relic of the past is the 15m high, 14km perimeter long city wall! A perfect place for a run? Although the air was not smelly like it was in Beijing it was visibly polluted. I ended up doing two laps of the city wall on a day that was warm (23C), hazy and heavily polluted (174 AQI). I think I also got Bronchitis from this run. Was it worth it? Ask me after I recover from it! Cough splutter cough…

Finally the last city we visited was Shenzhen. Known as the “Sillicon Valley of Hardware”, 90% of the world’s electronics are made in Shenzhen! There are literally five story buildings packed to the rafters that just sell USB cables for iPhones! In order to preserve my lungs from the polluted air I decided to run at night, where it is usually cooler (low 30C!) and less polluted (<100 AQI). One night it was 33C. Suffice to say when I got back from my run, my tshirt was drenched in sweat!

Altitude, heat, and humidity! Whether you are after altitude training (right up to crazy 2+ mile high runs!) or just curious to see if you can handle running in the mid thirties with high humidity, China has a city for all environments.

Runner be warned! Many cities in China are badly polluted, as I’m sure you already know. So caveat emptor, if you’re in one of China’s large, polluted cities, choose another sport!

Pedal Bite, Rest and Recovery

It’s been a long road to recovery but I’m now back and better than ever! Today’s track session consisted of 6x 1200m intervals with an average time of 3:57 (3:55, 3:56, 3:57, 3:59, 3:58, 3:57)! There was a 400m / 3 minute rest between each interval. This is a solid workout for me.

Six weeks ago I tried mountain biking for the first time. What’s the worst that could happen? As my confidence grew on the beginner tracks so did my ego. Sure enough I was now on an intermediate track, hurtling down it with gusto! I approached a sharp right-handed turn with a steep descent. But just before the turn, my right pedal snagged a tree root, putting me off balance. You can guess what happened next!

Life was now played in slow motion. I recall bailing all but my left leg; the bike and all its pointy bits lands on my leg! Embarrassed and brought down to earth, I got back on my bike and gingerly rode the rest of the track.

Aided with the help of my friends I assessed the damage. My leg was covered in blood but had clotted. Unfortunately, the bike’s metal pedal made quite an “impression” on my lower leg! It made a large and deep gouge that would require stitches!

I’ve just received a “Pedal Bite”!

We rode back to the front office and my leg received Steri-Strips and a temporary dressing. We then head back and complete more trails. I even went for a run afterwards!

Late Saturday afternoon. I turn up to the A&E but its full of people. Lesson #1: pick a better time to be injured! The A&E was full of sick infants and people with sports and alcohol related “injuries”.

Shell shocked from the cacophony of whining children, I eventually see a doctor. He numbs the wound, vigorously scrubs it then sews fives stitches. Luckily the lacerations do not expose the dermis and are on an area that only has flesh and bone! I collect my medication (antibiotics and pain relief) and head home.

Sunday and Monday I’m bedridden. Was this my body’s immune system working overtime to mend the wound? Was I experiencing side effects from the antibiotics?

True to the doctor’s orders I skipped a week of running. And just as well. I’d been as sick as a dog with a slight fever and a nasty cough.

I head back to A&E for my fourth dressing change. The nurse took one look at the wound then ordered a swab test. The wound was warm, puffy and was still weeping. It’s infected, she said!

The swab results come back and it was indeed infected with a “heavy growth of Aeromonas species”, also known as flesh eating bacteria!

What’s more unsettling than the Google images of “Aeromonas leg infection” is the knowledge that the bacteria was resistant to the Penicillin-based antibiotics (Flucloxacillin) I had been on for the last two weeks! I’m immediately prescribed Co-Trimoxazole which is effective against the bacteria.

I make regular trips to the A&E to get my dressing changed and request a doctor to monitor the wound. My dressing has now been changed by three different nurses and they all apply completely different types of dressing! Lesson #2: there is no standard way to treat a lower leg wound!

One of the nurses also managed to unsettle me. He states it could take four months for the wound to heal. Four months! That’s because lower leg wounds take a long time to heal, and in some cases, don’t heal! Yikes!

I was three days into the Co-Trimoxazole and the wound already looked markedly better. It was no longer puffy or weeping and was mending well.

Four weeks after the “Pedal Bite” a doctor was concerned that the wound had become “lazy” and was taking too long to heal. He referred me to a plastic surgeon who later scrapped the newly formed skin off my wound to promote faster healing. It bled a bit and felt like a step backwards. Fortunately, the doctor was right. Lesson #3: removing the scab off a wound can help it heal faster!

It’s now six weeks since the ordeal. I no longer require dressings and my wound is a fraction of its original size. It is going to leave a large scar. What I thought was a minor injury turned out to be a major inconvenience. I’ve only regained my fitness in the last week. Two weeks ago I barely could do 3x 1200m intervals (with times of 3:59, 4:03, 4:10).

I suspect most of the damage was not from the “Pedal Bite” but from the nasty cough I caught from the two and a half hour wait at A&E. This cough lasted for about four weeks and from my own diagnosis of the symptoms I had, it could have been a mild form of hospital acquired pneumonia! However, the “Pedal Bite” could have ended up much, much worse. Thank goodness for modern medicine!

Onwards and upwards!

Christchurch Marathon

Today I competed in the 2017 Christchurch Marathon. My official time was 2:49:46. A new personal best!

Despite the poor weather (rainy with cold Southerly winds), I also achieved my most consistent marathon pacing yet. With estimated half splits of 1:23:20 and 1:26:26, I had a positive 3 minute split. I also “hit the wall” much later than usual at this occurred at 38km / 4km from the finish. The flat course definitely helped with this!

Compared to my previous marathon, there was no issue with my nutrition. A colleague of mine recommended that I consume four gels, and that’s what I did!

From the start I took two energy gels with me. One was taken at 10km (GU, 22g CHO, 0mg CAFF) and another at 20km (GU, 22g CHO, 20mg CAFF). My third energy gel (GU, 22g CHO, 20mg CAFF) was attached to a water bottle and was picked up at the 26km aid station. I took my time consuming this gel and ended up finishing it three kilometers later! My last gel (SIS, 22g CHO, 75mg CAFF!) was consumed in a similar fashion to my third one and was picked up at the 36km aid station. However, unlike my previous three energy gels this was an “isotonic gel” and was a lot easier to swallow — especially late in the race! This was the first time I have made use of the “Special Drinks” facility and plan to use it in subsequent marathons.

I also had water or Powerade at each aid station. The night before I had a scrumptious dinner at my Grandparents place consisting of Mac and Cheese, steak casserole, steamed vegetables and an Apple Crumble! The breakfast before the race was porridge and a banana.

Race weight was between 77kg – 78kg. I ran with new running shoes (ASICS GEL Nimbus, 11US) and found the extra half size better for my foot.

Rotorua Marathon

Last weekend I competed in the 2017 Rotorua Marathon. My official time was 2:58:31.

Adamant to improve my personal best on this notoriously tough course, my goal time was 2:50. Things were looking good at the half way mark (1:22:30). With my heart rate below my threshold value (and also below what it was my previous marathon), I was feeling good and had “time in the bank”. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off shortly afterwards at the 28 kilometer mark! With a second half split of 1:36:01 (i.e., a +14 minute split), one could imagine how painful the long slog back to the finish line was!

In hindsight, I was too ambitious on my goals for this race. I have done the Rotorua marathon twice before, and just like this time, I also had a horrible second half (read: greater than 10 minute split)! Ironically, the “wheels” also fell off in a similar fashion to my  2015 Rotorua Marathon):

Although heart rate is a indicator of workload, I suspect a contributing factor to my second half demise was going down the hills too fast. Carelessly racing down hills causes a lot of stress on your knees. Meanwhile going up hills too fast can also strain the body as its easy to go into lactate threshold territory. In this case, lactic acid begins to accumulate faster than the body can convert it back into energy. I’ve felt this on runs before and made sure to take it easy up the hills. Nutrition could have also played a key role, but I had a similar diet before and during the race compared to some of my previous marathons.

Race weight was around 77kg and I took an energy gel at 9.3km and 27.8km. I had a third spare gel which I didn’t use. I also took a drink at each aid station (either water or Powerade).

Back to the drawing board.

Skin folds test #4

Yesterday I had my first skin folds test in three years! I’m now an estimated 7.2% body fat. The detailed results:

Measurement 23-Feb-14 13-April-17 % change
Weight (kg) 81.6 75.0 -8.1
Triceps sf (mm) 5.3 7.0 +32.1
Subscapular sf (mm) 9.5 7.7 -18.8
Biceps sf (mm) 3.0 2.3 -23.3
Iliac crest sf (mm) 20.5 9.8 -52.2
Supraspinale sf (mm) 11.0 7.1 -35.5
Abdominal sf (mm) 15.5 9.7 -37.4
Front thigh sf (mm) 8.3 6.8 -18.1
Medial calf sf (mm) 7.5 5.7 -24.0
Sum of 8 (mm) 80.5 55.9 -30.6
% fat (Yuhasz) 8.6 7.2 -16.3

So what’s happened since my previous skin folds test? I’ve changed my workouts from swim/bike/run to just run. However, I suspect the biggest contributor to my loss of weight (and subsequent loss in body fat) is due to the orthodontic braces I’ve been sporting for last two years!

Wellington Round the Bays

At last! A sub 1:20 half marathon! Yesterday I competed in the 2017 Wellington Round the Bays half marathon. I’d been close to achieving this before, but my previous attempts at Wellington were well off the mark.

Determined to conquer this sub 1:20 milestone, I started out with a pace faster than required. I reached the 5km mark just under 18 minutes (3:36 min/km). The next 5km split was slower at 19 minutes (3:48min/km), but still fast enough to give me a healthy margin. I held onto a similar pace for the rest of the race.

The weather was even conducive for a personal best. Oddly for Wellington, there was no wind! However, the temperature was warm and the air was humid. Never the less, it was almost ideal conditions for running!

I was between 76kg – 77kg on the day, had two sips of water and a sip of sports drink, and took no energy gels.