Mental scripts related to eating

I’d been thinking about these a lot recently, and a recent comment to the blog finally incented me to get these out of my head and onto some sort of virtual paper.

Mental scripts are a big part of my life.  It’s almost like they’re a soundtrack that’s constantly playing in the back of my head.

For me right now, especially with eating habits, most of my mental scripts are negative.  And I know when I really think them through, they don’t stand up to the test of reason.  Yet these days they seem to be sufficient to enable me to continue with bad eating habits. 

I hope this doesn’t come across as some sort of self-immolation.  It’s actually kind of refreshing for me to get these out into the open.  Now the next step is to bring these to light before I make a bad food choice.

Here follows a list of the negative/false mental scripts that I conjure up when thinking about eating.

1.)  “I’ve already screwed this day up, might as well hit rock bottom.”

Why it’s false:   Multiple reasons.  First, there is no rock bottom.  You can keep going down.  As long as you keep doing negative things, you will keep going down.  Second, going any amount “down” doesn’t help me achieve any of my goals.  It’s the opposite of what I want.  I think this is partially my desire to create a bigger “turnaround” story.  The idea that I made this huge comeback.  But that makes no sense.  I think I read it on Gym Jones website or twitter account…bad eating decisions are like loans, to get back to even you need to pay interest.

  2.)  “I’ll just finish this bag (box, sleeve, carton, etc.) then there won’t be any more”

Why it’s false:  There will always be another one, or another opportunity to buy one, or another thing like it.  Is it realistic for me to think that if I finish a bag of chocolate chips, that there won’t be another one in the house, ever?

3.)  “This is the last time I’ll eat X (Y, or Z).  I won’t eat it again after this.”

Why it’s false:  It’s too drastic.  It might work for a few days, but once I break down the flood gates open and I can’t control it.  Or I just find an alternative that’s still bad, just maybe not as bad.  If I really was done, I should probably have stopped already.

4.)  “I’ll start clean tomorrow”

Why it’s false:  Experience says that while I might start tomorrow, I’ll probably stop the next day.  “I’ll start tomorrow” is another way of saying “I won’t start now.”

5.)  “I need the food, I’m hungry or tired”

Why it’s false:  I usually say this when I’m about to eat some junk food.  I don’t really ever say it before I eat a can of sardines.  And we actually need very little food, less than most of us think.  In my case, I think about 1500 calories a day could suffice, if they were the right kind of calories.  That’s fact.  Plus, hunger doesn’t have anything to do with energy.

That’s enough for now.  I think the key to this whole thing is for me to just raise my awareness “in the moment.”  That’s a good first step, then I need to be strong enough to imply some rational thought and hopefully that will get me to a better place.

This podcast has a lot of good info on mental scripts.  I think by just naming these I am actually moving forward in addressing them.  Hopefully I can bring them to the surface more often when I’m “in the moment,” actually making the decision on my eating habits, and potentially it will help.


Building fitness while traveling / in a hotel

Woo hoo!!!  I’m officially in to the Pikes Peak double.  Both of my entries were verified over the past day or so.  I wasn’t overly concerned, but there was always that off chance that I fat-fingered one of my qualification links or something…but luckily all is good.  No turning back now!

I’ve spent the first few days of this week in a hotel outside Philadelphia.  Actually really close to where I grew up.

Since I started this new job, I’ve been on the road for at least a couple days during 3 of the first 4 weeks.  It’s become really important for me to figure out how to build, not just maintain, fitness while I’m traveling.

After a few weeks of experimenting, I’m slowly getting the hang of it.  That’s not to say I’ve got it figured out, but I definitely have a good sense of what I should do when traveling.

Here are some things that I found to be helpful thus far…

1.)  Bring some key food items, supplement with a grocery store.

Depending on how long I will be in a place, I’ve found it very useful (and much less expensive) to actually buy a small handful of groceries while I’m in a hotel.  This is much easier if you have a fridge in the room.  But just buying a few groceries really helps keep things on track.  It prevents the room service mentality as well as the inevitable junk food.

I’ve really been bringing only one “key food item” — sardines.  Yeah, sardines.  They’re almost perfect from a nutrition standpoint, and they’re really portable.  The only problem is that it’s really not fair to eat these in close proximity to others (like on an airplane).  I guess you I might also consider fish oil pills as another key item.

Grocery-wise, I’ve focused on greek yogurt, a few pieces fruit and (if I need dinner) some salad makings.  All of that stuff is easy to find and not too hard to manage.

For this most recent trip, I spent less than $20 on enough to give me 4 meals.

2.)  Use the treadmill and hotel stairs.

Especially when I have to get out for an early meeting and it’s dark outside, the treadmill can be a friend.  When I’m in a hotel, I try to be off the treadmill by 5:30 am or so…that’s when it starts to get crowded.

This trip, the hotel treadmill kicked me off after an hour of running.  I could have hopped on another treadmill I guess, but I had to shut the workout down anyway because I was running late.

Hotel stairs would also be a good idea.  Oddly, when I asked the front desk where the stairs were, they claimed that there “weren’t any.”  Hmmm.  Kind of impossible…there have to be stairs in case of fire.  I just moved on.

3.)  Create a strength workout that’s possible in your room, the fitness center or outside the hotel

My strength workout is coming into form.  This week, it consisted of the following:

This workout was about 1 hr, 20 minutes end to end, including time trying to find a good place to do my leg strength stuff.  I hoped to use the fitness center but it was too small.  Eventually I think this workout could take about an hour total.  That’s a nice short amount of time.

The jumprope is awesome.  It’s not much to bring and can contribute to both a strength workout or a warmup/cooldown.  Today’s jump rope session was 5 x (50-both feet / 20 right / 20 left / 50-both feet).  Total I got 500 jumps with both feet and 100 one legged with each foot.  Not bad.

My strength workout today was with body weight only.  Still a bit conservative…trying to avoid injury.

Also had a weird experience yesterday.  It’s hot in Philly.  I got a quick afternoon run in and was pretty warm.  I was looking forward to a nice cool shower.  I turned on the shower and got nothing but hot water–it went from warm to hot.  That was the fastest shower I’ve ever taken, and I ended up having to sit in front of the air conditioner for about 15 minutes to make sure I cooled down afterwards.  The front desk had no clue what was going on.  My suspicion is that the water tank is on top of the hotel, so as the day heats up the water gets really hot.  I was on a high floor, so I’m guessing it just didn’t cool off as it came into my room.

I realized when I took my job that I’d have to travel.  It’s not ideal, but if I’m going to do it, I’ve got to make the best of it.  When I’m on the road, I try to do nothing but work, work out and sleep.  If I can do that, I feel like I can maximize the time I spend away from my family.  Then I can spend more time with family when I get home.  It ain’t perfect, but it can be made to work.  Actually it can work pretty well.

Recap: week of March 5-12, 2012

Another episode of the weekly installment…how did my week go?

The week in full detail is below.  The summary is this:

Workouts:  Pretty solid week, with one excusable zero and one unexcusable zero.  Overall 4 runs, 59 miles, just over 8.5 hours running and 1 ride, 45 miles, over 2.5 hours riding.  Most of it was MAF intensity.  The big learning for the week was that I need to run MAF differently.  It’s not just an easy paced run.  Late last week I started treating my MAF runs as though I was trying to run as fast as possible with HR 145 as my governor.  That was very different from “an easy run.”  I found myself trying different ways to run faster (e.g., hips forward, shoulders back, relax) with as little effort as possible.  I think this will eventually pay off.  I was really pissed at myself for the zero on Saturday, but I was glad to avoid a string of zeros by getting out Sunday.

Eating:  What can I say?  I ate great for about 3 days, then the wheels came off big time.  On Sunday I tried to get the wheels back on but couldn’t make it through the day.  Although I’m disappointed, I think I have some tricks to help me use this as a launching point to get to a better place.

My sleep was badly compromised this week.  I averaged 4.5 hrs of sleep per night, but that might be low because I didn’t count the snoozing I did on planes (which was probably about 5-6 hours total.  The sleep was hard because of all the travel and still wanting to get my workouts in.  Clearly I’ve got work to do here though.

My alma mater made it into the NCAA basketball tournament.  Go Lehigh Mountain Hawks!  I don’t think we have a shot to move on though, as we play Duke in the first round.  Either way, it’s kinda cool.

I am 25% of the way through The Fountainhead.  Quite awesome, better than the first time I read it.  More stuff is resonating with me, which I expected.  The one that probably resonated me the most…this paragraph:

Sometimes, not often, he sat up and did not move for a long time; then he smiled, the slow smile of an executioner watching a victim.  He thought of his days going by, of the buildings he could have been doing, should have been doing and, perhaps, never would be doing again.  He watched the pain’s unsummoned appearance with a cold, detached curiosity; he said to himself:  Well, here it is again.  He waited to see how long it would last.  It gave him a strange, hard pleasure to watch his fight against it, and he could forget that it was his own suffering; he could smile in contempt, not realizing that he smiled at his own agony.  Such moments were rare.  But when they came, he felt as he did in the quarry:  that he had to drill through granite, that he had to drive a wedge and blast the thing within him which persisted in calling to his pity.”

Looking ahead to next week, Thursday (15th) is a big day.  Pikes Peak registration opens.  Will I be there Thursday morning?

Monday (March 5)

Got up late today … late night last night plus poor eating makes for a bad morning.  Was eager to ride.  Lately I’ve been trying not to focus too much on how fast I go, but today I was chasing a fast time.  A few reasons for that…I was looking for a sign that my training was paying off.  Sometimes it’s not easy to see it.  Improving times are good affirmations that training is helping.  Also, I was constrained for time with a flight in the afternoon.  Finally, I just wanted to start the week with a hard workout.  This week has the potential to be a bit crazy, so starting it out well was important.

I was debating between a 54 mile ride and a 45 mile ride.  I almost always choose the longer one, but today I opted for the shorter ride (a bit nervous about missing my flight) and put some intensity into the mix.  2 hrs, 39 minutes.  Solid ride.

Very happy with my eating today:

  • 11 am:  Pulled pork with home made BBQ sauce, Salad (romaine lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, radishes, OO & Lime juice dressing)
  • 5 pm:  sardines, banana, apple
  • 10 pm (pacific):  protein bar, 2 chocolate chip cookies

That last meal was pretty much all I could muster.  After about 10 hours of traveling I was wiped out and ready to just eat whatever I could find at the hotel.

Tuesday (March 6)

Awoke in Los Angeles and was eager to get moving.  The best way for me to reset my body clock is to run.  I was staying in El Segundo (“recommended” by my company’s travel website), so I decided to hit the beach.  I ended up running on the “strand” from El Segundo through Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach. It was a very different experience for me.  I’m used to seeing almost nobody on my runs.  Here there were tons of people.  It was also interesting to see the houses on the beach…right on top of each other.  Not sure I’d like that.

Mostly flat MAF run—14 miles, avg HR 145, 1:56.

Another good eating day, but not as good as yesterday:

  • 9 am:  Veggie omelette, fruit salad
  • noon:  Grilled Salmon, asparagus, mango, rice
  • afternoon:  salt water taffy
  • 7 pm:  Spinach salad, peppers, grilled chicken, 1 glass of red wine, lots of bread with olive oil

Bread with olive oil is a major temptation for me.  That dinner could have been worse.  It was with a customer at an italian restaurant.  I can live with the bread since I didn’t have dessert and I avoided the tempting (but bad for me) pasta dishes.

Wednesday (March 7)

This morning was a big weird as our travel plans were changing at the last minute.  I didn’t want to go out for a run then find out that I was supposed to be at the airport in 10 minutes.  Ended up doing some strength work in my hotel room.  This is something I need to develop.  In this new job I’m going to find myself in hotels more often.  I need to have a 45-60 minute hotel room (or fitness center) workout that I can be happy with.  I think it includes the Jay Johnson strength exercises (Myrtl, lunge matrix, maybe others), core work, and other strength work like squats, push-ups etc.  I’m starting to like this site for some of the strength workouts.  So while this specific workout wasn’t great, I’m starting to get the idea.  I would guess that I’m about a month away from a decent strength workout that I can do in a hotel.

Eating was good today.

  • 10 am:  Sardines, fruit salad (honeydew, pineapple, berries)
  • noon:  Yogurt (plain), Apple
  • Midnight (eastern time):  Salad with steak

This was another day where my eating was good despite a weird schedule.  Flew back across the country from LA to NY.  Didn’t get into the hotel in NY until about 11 pm, and opted for a salad instead of a protein bar.  It was great.  I’m finally at the point where I’m willing to spend money on an overpriced room service salad so that I can eat well.

Thursday (March 8)

Up shortly after 3 am so I could get my workout in.  I had to be back by 7 am, so this was one of those time boxed workouts—I was going to run for as long as I could before I hit 7 am.  I chose an unfortunate route—a busy road.  Since it was my first time running in the area, I wanted something where I couldn’t get lost.   We were staying in Tarrytown, NY so I ran through Sleepy Hollow, Briarcliff Manor and into Ossining, then I turned around and came back.  No, I did not meet the headless horseman or Ichabod Crane.

The run overall wasn’t very good.  I felt sluggish and off.  Could be for a lot of different reasons—the travel, low fuel (my eating has been good, but my body isn’t adjusted to a lower carbohydrate intake), very little sleep.  But the best part was that I got up and out.  I had plenty of built in excuses for not running today, but I got out.  That’s encouraging.  MAF run—14 miles, 2 hrs, Average Hr 145.

Today my eating habits started to slide:

  • 8 am:  Orange, banana, protein bar
  • 3 pm:  protein bar, pepsi (basically what was in my car as I drove home)
  • 7 pm:  Baked chicken, salad, veggies
  • 9 pm:  nuts, M&Ms, sugar cereal, girl scout cookies, klondike bar/sandwich, ice cream, chocolate chips

Friday (March 9)

Back home finally.  I was thinking of riding today but had the itch to run.  A flat front tire on my bike cinched it for me.  I was going running.    Ended up really happy with the decision and the workout.  Went down the mountain and onto a flat trail.  I was running much faster than I expected—finally dipping under 8 mins/mile with my HR still averaging 145.  Comparing that to the previous few weeks, it’s much faster.  Not entirely sure why I was going faster.  Could have been the extra carbs from my bad night last night, or maybe I’m just getting more fit.  Either way I’ll take it.  MAF run—21 miles, 3 hrs, 10 minutes.

My eating habits went off the cliff today:

  • noon:  half a grapefruit, 2 cupcakes, 2 Dairy Queen blizzards
  • 1 pm:  Sun Chips, coke
  • 4 pm:  pretzels, iced tea
  • 6 pm:  fish, salad, veggies
  • 9 pm:  a bunch of crap (M&Ms, ice cream, cookies, sugar cereal, klondike bar/sandwich, girl scout cookies, nuts)

Saturday (March 10)

This was disappointing.  Got up late this morning, using the excuse that I had a long week.  Mostly though it was stupidity and lack of discipline on my part (see eating habits from yesterday).  Anyway, with a long day planned with the kids (Crayola Factory!) I decided to take a zero today.

Eating is still bad…think I’m on a downslide.  Have to stop the bleeding:

  • 8 am:  Beef vegetable soup, orange
  • 1 pm:  Dairy Queen cheeseburger, fries, coke, blizzard
  • 6 pm:  Steak, veggies
  • 8 pm:  M&Ms, girl scout cookies, ice cream, chocolate chips

Sunday (March 11)

I was glad to get out the door early today.  I had to get my run in early before the day went POOF!  Today was 10 miles in Schooley’s Mountain Park.  For a little spice, I added 12 hill sprints towards the end, each sprint being about 10 seconds.  My foot was feeling good and I think it’s the right time to increase the intensity.  Overall I was pleased with the effort.  The first 2/3 of the run was at MAF intensity (HR 142-145), then the hill sprints and a bit of a cool down.  All tolled:  1 hr, 33 minutes.  The maximum HR I got on the hill sprints was 161, and that was actually while I was walking down.  Not surprising I suppose, as it takes time for the heart to catch up.

This is going to sound silly unless you know me.  After owning my heart rate monitor for over 10 years now, I finally decided to figure out how to use more than just one feature.  I figured out how to set HR zones for a workout.  I wanted these today because I didn’t want to be looking at my watch every 10 seconds…on a rocky trail in partial darkness that would have been a recipe for disaster.  So I set an upper bound HR of about 148, and when my watch started beeping at me I knew I had to cut the intensity (until the hill sprints, that is).

Long day after the run though.  Had the girls to the pool and multiple playgrounds with lunch in between.  We left the house at 9 am and got back at 4.  I was drifting (sleepy) a bit in the car, which was pretty scary.

Eating wise, once again I had a good thing going before I fell off the rails.

  • 8 am:  Yogurt with protein powder, grapes, banana
  • 1 pm:  baked chicken leftovers, carrot/red pepper sticks, orange
  • 4:30 pm:  M&Ms, sugar cereal, animal crackers, chocolate chips, a couple spoons of ice cream, 6 recovery bars
  • 6 pm:  turkey chili with lots of veggies, carrot salad

There is no question that I’m capable of eating well for periods of time.  I actually eat really well for half the day.  The trick is sustaining it for a day, then another day, then another.  It seems like when I crash, I crash hard.  I have some ideas on this though.

Revisiting a monthly nutrition experiment

I can remember two specific races that I wasn’t well prepared to run.

The first race was the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon.  It was my first marathon.  I didn’t know much about marathon training back then, so I didn’t train well.  Leading up to the race, my longest training run was 16 or 17 miles.   I didn’t do speed work or tempo work.  I just ran 10-12 miles every other day and 16-17 on the weekend.  I also didn’t know much about race strategy.  I knew I had to start slow, but I wasn’t aware of the concept of pacing.

Some of my worst physical experiences ever came during the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon.  I specifically remember the worst part of the race—crossing the Key Bridge at mile 23.  The Key Bridge has an elevation of about 30 feet, but at the time it seemed like I was going up a mountain.  The only thing I could do was shuffle forward, putting one foot in front of the other.  But there was no way I was stopping at mile 23.  After the Key Bridge, things got a bit easier and I made it to the finish line.

Finishing that race was one of my best experiences ever.

The second race that I wasn’t well prepared to run was the 2011 Post Oak Challenge.  It was my first 50K.  I didn’t plan to run a 50K in February 2011.  It came up at the last minute after I postponed a planned marathon.  Since I was trained for a marathon, I figured a 50K couldn’t be so bad.  I ran a 30 mile training run a few weeks before the race and concluded that I was ready to go.

Any time the name of a race has a 50 in it, it’s a long distance.  Even for an experienced marathon runner.

Using my marathon experience, I developed a strategy for handling the longer distance.  I’d break it up into 10 chunks of 5K each.  I’d take it one 5K at a time, and I wouldn’t think about the whole 50K (31 miles) until I finished.

That strategy worked well until I hit the 42K mark.  At that point I thought “holy crap, I’m about to run farther than I ever ran in a race before.”  That thought, combined with fatigue from running too fast during the first 42K and some steep hills, reduced me to a walk at some points.

But I wasn’t about to stop or quit.  I would have crawled, rolled, done whatever it took to finish the race.

And the last 8K wasn’t all bad.  There were downhills, sections of the course that were easier.  I found myself running as hard as possible when I could and gutting through the difficult periods.  I finished the race.  In the afterglow of finishing, I remember being especially happy with my mental and emotional fortitude during the final 8K.

Monthly (or 30 day) challenges are trendy these days.  The “in” thing, fashionable.  Those familiar with the Primal/Paleo movement may recall the recently completed 30-day Primal Blueprint Challenge.

I don’t typically engage in trendy things.  Not because they’re trendy—I’m usually not aware of the trends until after they’ve gone out of fashion.  That’s when I get involved.  My wife loves that!

But this monthly challenge thing is different.  I think short experiments are useful.  I think they offer opportunities to try something you’ve never done before.  I think they can lead to bigger and better things.  I’m more than halfway through a monthly challenge on this blog—trying to post something every day during October.

During the past few months, I’ve tried monthly eating challenges several times and failed miserably.  I’ve only made it a few days before resorting to eating junk food.  And my eating habits seem to get worse after I try one of these eating challenges.  I rubber-band back to a worse state than before I started.

I’m not exactly sure why I keep failing.  I actually eat pretty well during these things.  It gets tough when I stop to think that I’ve got a full month of not eating junk food.  I also seem to experience at least one rough patch per day.  I haven’t been able to handle those few points during the day when it gets really rough.

This morning I woke up wondering what would happen if I treated the monthly eating challenge like the 50K.  What if I broke it up into smaller segments instead of thinking about the whole thing?  What if I summoned the same kind of commitment during the eating challenge that I did during the 50K, where I was willing to do whatever it took to get through the rough moments?

I never really thought of it that way—treating a monthly nutrition challenge like a race.

Sure, there would be differences.  In the nutrition challenge, the hardest parts would be towards the beginning not at the end as they are in racing.  (I’m told that eating challenges get easier after the first few weeks.  I’ve never made it far enough to find out.)

To accomplish one of these monthly eating challenges, I’d need the same level of motivation that I have during a race.  I’d need something to help me muster the wherewithal to get through the rough patches.  During the races I described above, I remember a feeling of desperation—I had to finish.  Abandoning wasn’t an option.  I’ve never felt that same level of desperation with these eating challenges.  It’s been easy, too easy, to abandon.

When I mention trying one of these monthly eating challenges to someone, I typically get a puzzled reaction:

  • Why would you want to do that?
  • When you restrict yourself completely, aren’t you more likely to want to eat more?
  • Why can’t you just have a little of what you like?

Oddly enough, these questions end up influencing me.  They percolate in the back of my brain until I hit a rough patch.  Then I bring them up as convenient excuses to abandon my eating challenge.

I get the same kinds of comments when I tell people I like to run long distances.  They either try to convince me it doesn’t make sense or question my sanity.

When it comes to running long distances, however, I brush these comments off like dust.  They go away immediately and never return.

So, once and for all, here’s why I want to do one of these monthly nutrition challenges.

  • I want to see whether I can do it, to test myself
  • I want to learn something about myself
  • I want to improve my habits
  • I want to get more fit
  • I like doing things that are difficult
  • I want to take my whole life to a new level, and I think this can help me do it

Hmmm.  These sound like the same reasons why I run, the same responses I give to people who question why I run long distance races.

Maybe that’s the motivation I was looking for.  I need to do this eating challenge the same way I need to finish a 50K.

So I’m going for it again.  Another attempt at a monthly eating challenge.  I’m avoiding these things for a month:  cookies, candy, cake/brownies, ice cream, sugar cereal, soda, chips.

This time, I’ll approach it the same I way I approach a race.  The 50K (31 mile) analogy is especially valuable here, since I can treat each day like a mile.  I’ve got 10 segments to conquer, each of them 3 days long.  Then I have the final day.  The biggest “hill” on this “course” will be Halloween.  Who can’t resist grabbing candy from the huge bags the kids bring home?  I’ve got to make it over that hill.  I’ll take it one day at a time.  I expect to hit rough patches every day.  I’ll do whatever it takes to get past them, knowing the course will get easier again—just like in the marathon and the 50K.

I’m not really well trained to do this.  But I wasn’t well trained to do the Marine Corps Marathon and the Post Oak Challenge.  I got through them somehow.

There is no reason I can’t do this.

The gun just went off.  Mile 1 is under way.

Examining wild swings in training performance

Over the past few months, I’ve observed that my training workout performance has been wildly inconsistent.

Like most runners, I track my time in a training log.  I repeat the same runs every few weeks, which allows me to see whether I’m improving, staying the same or getting worse.

During most training programs, improvements come incrementally in small steps.  Conversely, when I stop training, degradation in all those areas comes more dramatically in larger steps.  In my case, I had dramatic improvement followed by dramatic degradation.  All in the span of a month (while I was still training).

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

23 miler:  20 minute swings from August to September to October
August 11—3:26.01
August 25—3:29.57
September 21—3:09.25
October 17—3:28.00

17 miler:  9-13 minute swings from August to September to October
August 9—2:21.39
August 22—2:12.01
September 12—2:09.19
October 11—2:22.46

The explanation cannot be that my level of fitness is deteriorating.  I’ve got speedwork numbers that indicate a less dramatic, but still steady, improvement in my performance.

The wild swings I show above are not typical for me.  The most common scenario that emerges when I review my training log is steady, small improvements.  Occasionally my performance will be about the same, but over the course of months the improvement (even if it’s small) is there.

So what’s going on here?

One obvious place to look could be the weather.  Where I live, August is the worst month to run.  Heat and humidity are high no matter when you run.  It’s common to see larger improvements in performance as August shifts into September and especially October.  That didn’t happen here.  My performance from August to September was better, but September to October goes backwards.  There has to be something going on within my body.

Improvements in running performance typically come from a few different areas:

  • Muscular system development (strength and power)
  • Energy system development (aerobic system, anaerobic system)
  • Neuromuscular coordination (brain to muscle connections)

I’m sure there are other areas that one could examine for performance improvement, but these are sufficient for now.

It would be very difficult for my performance to swing as wildly as it did if the issue was with strength or neuromuscular coordination.  Those two areas don’t change that quickly.

I’ve got to believe the wild swings are related to my energy system.  I’ve been fiddling around with my diet and sleep habits, and I’m guessing that fiddling is what caused such dramatic swings.  I’m not changing much during my runs; I’ve been experimenting more with my nutrition outside of the window when I’m running.

The other clue might come from how I actually felt during those runs.  My log is pretty consistent here—when I’ve had the bad performances, I’ve felt awful.  Like I had no “juice.”  I can only believe that my glycogen stores were depleted…I didn’t have the right fuel going into the run.

I guess there are two major points coming out of all these mental machinations…

First, it’s really hard to figure out my level of fitness when my performance is changing this dramatically from run to run.  I don’t know whether I’m in good shape or not in good shape.  I need to get more consistency before I start developing a strategy for my upcoming race.

Second, I’ve got to get consistent nutrition and sleep.  I can’t keep swinging back and forth on this pendulum.

I’ve got too many variables right now.

Hopefully I’ll stop experimenting with nutrition in the next few weeks so I can start getting consistent again.


Rationalization, Acceptance and Awareness of the Full Price

I’ve written here before about my challenges with my eating habits.

I need to strike a balance in discussing my eating habits.  I don’t want to claim that I’m addicted to sugar—that could blow my situation out of proportion and demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to the serious addictions that afflict some people.  At the same time, I don’t want to dismiss my eating challenges as something that I can completely control, something that I can rectify at the snap of a finger.

In fact, dismissing my eating challenges as something that I can completely control is one of the many ways that I rationalize my bad eating habits.  My thought process goes something like…“As soon as I want to make a change, I can do it.  Therefore, I don’t have to worry about it.”  Then I grab another handful of chocolate chips or dish myself another bowl of ice cream.

Given my fascination with the mind-body connection, I’ve been paying close attention to my thoughts and emotions as I engage in these regular sugar eating episodes.  Recently, I’ve noticed a change in my thoughts.

My thoughts are shifting from rationalizing the bad eating behavior to simply accepting it.    Instead of concocting some elaborate explanation for why I’m eating crap food, I’m telling myself that I just want to eat it.  I like the taste, it makes me feel good.  Sometimes I simply acknowledge that I’m compelled to eat the sugar for an unknown reason.  I’m no longer inventing some rationale to justify the behavior.

I think that’s a positive step for me.  I’m just accepting things as they are.

I suppose there is a deeper level that I could try to bring to the surface—what is the underlying need that eating this sugar is meeting?  Are there other ways I could get that underlying need met?  That concept is explored frequently in this podcast series.  It’s a great and very logical question.  But it requires some introspection, maybe more than I want to do at this point.

For now, I’m comfortable just sitting with the idea that I’m eating poorly.  But I’m also starting to see another element of acceptance—recognizing and accepting the full impact of my behavior.  In my case, the full impact includes lack of energy, poor running performance, potentially even missing some of my racing goals.  If I’m going to accept these bad eating habits, I need to accept all of the implications.  It’s not just that I’m eating poorly; that poor eating affects other aspects of my life.

Now that I’ve accepted my eating habits and recognized the full impact, the strangest thing is starting to happen.

I don’t want the crap food as much.

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t stopped eating the sugar yet.  But I’m finding it easier to stop eating it now.  I’m not eating as much.  Things are heading in the right direction.  My only explanation is that I’m finally realizing the price I’m paying, and I’m unwilling to pay it.  I’m unwilling to have less energy, run badly and generally feel awful.  So I’m gradually getting my eating habits in check.

This whole post has been about eating habits, but I think the logic applies to other challenges.  Perhaps you’re not getting out to run consistently, or you’re cutting your runs short, or you’re intensity is low, or you’re not doing the strength work you need.

Are you rationalizing that stuff?  What if you acknowledged the full impact of what you’re doing and then just accepted it?  Could that help?

It’s worth a thought.

Brain and Body Journal—October 10, 2011

I think I’ve written about this before…I’ve been trying to give up 5 Cs—candy, cake (including brownies), ice cream, cookies, sugar cereal.  Beyond just giving up the 5 Cs, I’ve been trying to move to a Paleo style diet.  I’m trying to lose the grains, dairy and processed foods, replacing it with fish, more fruit/vegetables and lean meats.  It’s been extremely difficult.  The longest I’ve gone is 4 days before I’ve relapsed into my old eating habits.  Typically I have 1 good day followed by 5 bad days.

A lot of people write online for accountability.  The logic is that you make it more difficult to go off track if you publicly declare your intentions and write about your actions.  Social motivation.

I’m not writing this journal for accountability.  I’m viewing accountability as more of a side effect benefit.

For me, this is just about documenting the experience.  The last few months I’ve become fascinated with human behavior and psychology.  I’ve lost a job, tried a few different careers, ran tons of miles and eaten bags of chocolate chips and gallons of ice cream.  Figuring out what makes people do what they do is extremely interesting to me.  And if I could unlock the secrets to my own behavior, I’d be much better for it.  So that’s what this is all about.  I’m trying to figure out what makes me do what I do.

I hope it is interesting and enjoyable.  I wonder if it will resonate with anyone.

6:32 am
Wake to the sound of my 2-year-old daughter rattling the gate that occupies her bedroom doorway.  We confine her to her room at night so she doesn’t wander too much and get hurt.

Hit “Wakeup” on my sleep log iPad app.  It registers 9.48 hours of sleep last night.  I don’t need to get up early, so I’ve been sleeping until I wake up.  It’s been a good way to get a decent amount of sleep, even when I stay up late.  Recently I’ve stayed up late watching baseball.  Without baseball, I went to bed last night at 9 pm after three straight post-midnight bedtimes.

Wow, I got a lot of sleep last night.  Why am I still feeling tired?  I know I’ve lacked sufficient sleep for years now, but 9+ hours is a lot of sleep.  Perhaps I’ll feel better once I start moving around.

7:25 am
Take the dog out to get him some exercise in the back yard.  If Quincy doesn’t run hard a couple times a day, his natural energy makes him difficult in the house.  Already thinking about sugar.  Have a 10 am meeting with someone who is helping me figure out my job/career situation.

What should I eat for breakfast?  I may not have time to sit down for breakfast, so I’ll need to bring something with me.  How about a protein bar?  I need protein.  Protein bars have a lot of sugar though.  Yes, but this bar specifically is low glycemic (at least that’s what the wrapper says).  On the other hand, whenever I eat this protein bar I usually get sugar cravings.  Or is it that I always get sugar cravings, no matter what I eat?

8:45 am
As I get into the shower, I’m thinking of a big challenge for me with my 10 am meeting.

The route to/from my morning meeting takes me past a great ice cream store.  Should I just stop in for some ice cream?  If I’m going to give up the 5 Cs, I might as well have ice cream as my last sugar experience.  Yeah, that sounds good.  I’ll have the protein bar on the way to the meeting and some ice cream on the way home.

That doesn’t make any sense though.  Why wouldn’t I just give up the 5 Cs starting today, not tomorrow?  If I say that I’m giving up the 5 Cs tomorrow, it opens me up to having more crap food this afternoon.  It’s a short step from “just a little ice cream” to “if I’m giving up the 5 Cs, I might as well make my last day a really crazy cheat day.”

11 am
Leaving my job/career meeting.  I brought the protein bar but still haven’t eaten it.

Can I make it home without eating the protein bar?  I’m not very hungry right now.  I’ll have a lot more good, healthy options if I can get home without eating.  That’s the plan.  Drive home without eating the protein bar, then have a good lunch.

I plan to stop on the way home to pick up some free firewood that my wife saw yesterday.  With the winter coming, I can never have enough firewood (especially if it’s free).

12:30 pm
Made it home with no firewood and no ice cream.  I stopped for firewood but it was pine (not good in the wood stove); I didn’t stop for ice cream.

Hungry for lunch.  I’m trying to implement Paleo style eating, so the great peanut butter debate begins.

I need to get rid of those cut veggies in the fridge before they spoil.  I’d really like to have some carrots with salsa and celery with peanut butter today.  But peanut butter is not on the Paleo menu.  Forget it, I’m having some peanut butter.  The 5 Cs is enough to give up in one stretch.  If I eat some peanut butter, so be it.  It’s better than trying to avoid it and end up eating junk food.  Once I’m over the 5 Cs, I can tackle peanut butter.

Lunch was carrots with salsa, celery with peanut butter and a tasty white bean-free chili.  Instead of beans it had lots of veggies including eggplant and cauliflower.

1:25 pm
Feeling good mentally and emotionally.  Had a good lunch, resisted the 5 Cs even though I’ve been thinking about them for most of the day.  Checking email for the first time today.


Not exactly sure why I’d be sleepy right now considering the day I’ve had.  But it’s a recurring problem.  Ordinarily I’d try to power through this sleepiness, but I’ll try something different today.  Dropping into my favorite Morris chair for a nap.

3:00 pm
Nap over.  Grab some raisins, cantaloupe and orange slices as I’m hungry.

Just one handful of chocolate chips would be really nice right about now.

5:00 pm
Spent most of the last 2 hours away from the kitchen, either outside with the dog or upstairs playing with the 2-year-old.  Dinner is approaching.  I whip up a quick salad and start roasting the brussels sprouts.

Need something to snack on.  Something outside the 5 Cs…yet tasty and interesting…settle on pistachios and more celery/carrots with peanut butter.

7:00 pm
Dinner over.  I’m trying to drink more green tea…it’s apparently healthy.  I enjoyed it much more when I added sweetener and honey.  It’s a bit more difficult to handle plain.  The only thing left today is after-dinner cleanup and getting ready for bed.  Oh, and finishing my blog post.

Get out of this kitchen asap!  Chocolate is calling.

Reading with the girls is one of my favorite activities.

8:24 pm
Not too much longer now.  Just finish the post and get to bed without opening the pantry door…