Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unity Miles

I may be an amateur athlete, and I may absolutely love the bike, but I don't always want to work out. Life is busy and presents many reasons not to on a regular basis.

Yesterday morning told myself I would run when I got home that evening. Round efficiently. Get home and get it done. On my calendar, check.

Day turned long, at the hospital until after 7. Still work to do that night. Hungry. Needed sleep. Many reasons not to run.

Calculated the time in my head. It was still possible.

But still, possible to catch up another day, to recover. What the mind and heart agreed on in the morning the mind was now starting to fade.

Then it happened again.

Unity Miles.

I thought of those who have been walking, riding, running and overcoming obstacles in the Race of Our Lives with our team. I thought of Janet and Diane, Kathleen, and PH Peddler Josh. I thought about the many people organizing their own challenges and literally taking this path along with us.

And I thought about "PHriends" living with pulmonary hypertension. Some fortunate, responding to medicines, living a limitless life. Others have days when I am sure their heart and mind live in different places. Yet although easier not to take on that day's challenge - whether it be work, taking kids to school, going to the store, or exercise (Unity event or daily life), they do. People living with - but certainly not overcome by - PH.

Unity Miles.
Together we are all reaching out into our communities.
Raising awareness.
Raising a blue and yellow banner from our hearts that most certainly says "We will not give up."

Yeah, so it happened again. Remembering those in the Race of Our Lives rejoined my mind and heart. I laced up my running shoes and stepped out into the crisp 32-degree night.

On my run I noticed the bright moon in its huge sky and realized the vastness of that space, the beauty of that moment, and the smallness of my being within it.

It's not just about the bike. It's not even about the race. It is much much bigger than that.

Unity Miles.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, November 11, 2013

Athletes are from Mars… On the mindset of an athlete (part 1)

If you could shift your diet to potentially alleviate health problems, lose weight and feel better, potentially give up medications, would you do it? What if it did not involve counting calories, but just making healthy food choices, and eschewing unhealthy ones? Even just try it for one month? Would it be worth a shot? Ironically, in talking to some people with years of chronic medical conditions, the answer is "no." People will readily accept a pill or even try an herbal remedy, but shift eating habits? Even for a short-term trial? Give up beer or bread? For many, the answer is no way. Why is that? 

In a conversation the other day I was talking to another physician friend about the impact of lifestyle on our health. We were discussing this very question, and as he has been there through my own lifestyle changes that have produced myriad benefits, I asked him why someone would not try to do this? He said, "You're different that most. You readily adapt, and are willing to try something outside the comfort zone. For many people, they would rather eat and remain in their comfort zone - even if it means continuing to be sick - rather than try something new. Even if it meant giving up pills. They choose that lifestyle and choose to remain sick. It's comfortable." He had a point, and I realized that my perspective comes from the mindset of an athlete.

The mindset of an athlete is to train and get stronger and seek for ways to continually improve. We reach for new workouts from coaches or trainers, we push ourselves out of our comfort zone to feel the ache of muscle growth the next day. We ride for 20 minutes at a level that takes our breath away when it is more comfortable to ride at a lower level. We do this to seek our body's adaptation, strength. We also look at the fuel we put in our bodies. You can tune up your car all you want, wash, wax and change the oil regularly, but if you put in the lowest quality gasoline you can find, that car won't hum like it is supposed to. Likewise, if you train hard but fuel on junk food, you almost defeat yourself before you begin. So an athlete will look for the best way to fuel. Our bodies are a gift, so we cherish them in how we treat them.

This mindset led me down a completely new path this summer.

There is a lifestyle now that goes against the diet industry grain, but has been shown to greatly benefit people in terms of weight loss in those seeking to lose weight as well as endurance performance in athletes. This does not involve counting calories (which has led to success in some, but in most, the ultimate regain of weight when people ease up on the strict caloric restrictions). It turns out a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. Calories in does not equal calories out. And what we eat is just as important (if not more) as how much we consume.

In seeking ultra this summer, pushing my limits on the bike in terms of time and distance, I found that my traditional means of fueling (the standard: carbohydrate gel every 30min, electrolyte drinks with sugar, eating pancakes before the long ride/run) just did not seem to work like it used to. I had the most challenging ride of my life in the Diabolical Double, and felt the "bonk" and the need to get sugar as often as I could find it - aid stations did not come soon enough. I finished but was wrecked.

Seeking to improve my own diet this summer, I looked to my teammates who had adopted a new way of nutrition called "No Sugar No Grains" or "NSNG" for short. They dramatically cut carbohydrates from their diets and had the best results ever in their athletic events, achieving personal bests and feeling great on the bike or on their runs. And everyone lost weight as well. The reason they went NSNG was to become more efficient at burning fat stores, not be sugar-dependent on long rides or runs, and it worked.

So I figured I needed to do this as well, and in July I changed my lifestyle dramatically. Breakfasts shifted from a diet fat yogurt, fruit and a latte with 1% milk to eggs, bacon, and coffee with heavy whipping cream. Lunch shifted from chipotle burrito bol with beans, no rice, to a burrito bol with no beans or rice or perhaps a cheeseburger with bacon and egg (no bun). Dinners shifted from Thai food takeout to pan seared scallops and broccoli and bacon. Sweet treats shifted from popcorn to a few squares of super dark chocolate.

I did not do this blindly. Along with the advice of my teammates, this summer I delved into the recent literature over low carb, high fat diet and the positive impact on lifestyle, and read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes as well as Vinnie Tortorich's Fitness Confidential. I also read Phinney's and Volek's Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. I poured over Dr. Peter Attia's website (one of the best online resources for how and why to get started) and have read the recent literature from PubMed on low carb diets and fat adaptation in athletes, and enjoy Vinnie's America's Angriest Trainer Podcasts. I had a phone consult with Vinnie Tortorich to get pointers on how to succeed in a 25-mile time trial on this new fueling strategy. And I continue to delve when free time allows into this literature.

And what happened as a result? I felt super strong on a series of century+ gran fondos, went on rides without eating sugar every 20 minutes, lost my sugar cravings (and trust me, as a recovering sugar addict, this was not easy, and I am still tempted to indulge in carbs and sugar from time to time). And I tolerated a mileage jump of 135 miles to 200 miles, finishing my first 200-mile ultra endurance race in 2nd place overall, setting a new course record in RAAM Challenge Ohio, and feeling absolutely great - and not starving - afterward. As a side effect, I lost weight (approximately 7 pounds), and felt great! Even mentally as I was more focused in my work than ever, slept better than ever, and had more energy during the day without peaks and valleys one has when one eats sugar.

What are the principles of this diet/lifestyle? It is all in the title: No Sugars, No grains. First I gave up added sugars (and as I said, being a sugar addict this was not easy). This meant no sugar or sweetener in the coffee, no popcorn with peanut butter and chocolate (it is my guilty pleasure). Second it meant giving up grains. As a celiac I had already given up wheat long ago, so this now meant that in addition: no rice, pasta, or gluten-free bread products. No gluten-free pancakes. Misery, you say? At first, especially the first 2 weeks, yes - because if you've eaten an American diet all your life, you're likely carb-addicted. BUT it isn't about just giving stuff up. It is about replacing it with foods and drink that sustain you. This means fat. Fat has gotten a bad name (heck, it's called fat), and the low-fat diet craze drove the food industry to produce more higher carb, sugar/sweetened foods. And with that shift, you find the rise of the obesity epidemic in the US. But the truth is, fat in our diet is key, and recent studies are starting to bring this to light. So I don't eat pancakes anymore, but I eat scrambled eggs with the yolks (and even an extra yolk), avocado or bacon, and salad with olive oil and vinegar, scallops sautéed in butter or coconut oil, beef with some fat in it. And I'm sustained. Sometimes I forget about lunch until 2 or 3PM. No sugar lows in the afternoon after a sweet treat.

You could even make it simpler and just cut carbohydrates. Reading food labels will soon educate you on what has a lot of carbs per serving (and it is net carbs that is important = total carbs minus carbs from fiber). The way this is most easily done is by eliminating wheat wherever possible from the diet, cutting grains (rice, pasta, bread and including beer and wine), and replacing it with other sources to sustain you. Cheese, meat, salads, berries, nuts.

Does this mean no birthday cake on your grandma's 80th birthday? No champagne when you're celebrating someone's wedding? No. You have to sometimes indulge in special occasions. That's living. But you just don't do it everyday. And this lifestyle does not let you eat anything with impunity, as Vinnie says. You can overdo nuts, cheese, heavy cream. But you adjust. And continue on your journey. And that's it. It's that simple.

I have known many people who have done this recently, lost weight and felt great - whether they are athletes who seek improved performance (including yours truly) or people who do not train but seek to improve their health and their lives. They embrace the same athlete's mindset of seeking greater health, improved performance in their own bodies even if not training for a century, marathon or whatever event.

In another blog post I will talk more about recent studies and literature containing science backing up this diet. But I leave you with this challenge: If you do not consider yourself and athlete, but there is an area of your life that you have wished were different, how could you adopt an athlete's mindset and adapt, put in the work to improve it? If it's a struggle with weight, or weight-related illnesses, why not start reading (links above), why not try something just for a month (if you are type 2 diabetic on medications definitely discuss with your physician as cutting carbs may require adjusting medications) and see how you feel? Worst thing is it is a month's experiment that didn't work for you. And the only thing you have to lose is weight...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The ups and downs of bike riding

I love riding my bike. There is no doubt about that. And almost every opportunity I get I'm grateful for the chance to take a ride on two wheels. You know a lot of times we blog about, or Facebook about, or tweet about an incredible ride. How stoked we are. How great we feel. At least that's what some of us in the cycling community do. Heck, I certainly have had my share of endorphin-laden tweets. But the truth of the matter is you have good days and bad days. Cycling is like life in many many ways. So this past weekend in the matter of one ride I experienced the highs and the lows or the lows and the highs. And the following day a different outcome altogether. No races, no grinding for glory, just bike rides outside around Pittsburgh. Just training.

It is good to be humbled.

On Saturday I started the day with a delightful breakfast with my friend, Birk. In hindsight I probably overdid it on the delicious eggs with bacon, but it was delightful to enjoy good food and company at the Square Café. A few hours later we met up for a "long steady distance ride." His teammate was leading it, and on the way to the meetup point with the guys I soon realized that the steady distance was likely to be at a pace a little bit faster than I had planned. I started to get that feeling of "oh my goodness, I am going to slow these guys down when they want to hammer over the countryside." As we almost made it to the meeting point I looked down and realized that I was riding at my threshold, while these guys were probably riding at a pace that was relatively easy for them. Out matched and now anxious about the coming three hours, where I didn't necessarily bring the right nutrition, legs, or - most importantly - mindset and certainly didn't feel ready for a grind.

I also kept anxiously thinking about the next day's plans to climb the steeps. If I destroyed my legs today, what would happen when I rode with a group tomorrow? A little ways into the ride I pulled up to the guys and said I don't want to hold you back, I should just ride on my own. But Chris encouraged me to stick with the group a little while longer. And you know what? I'm glad I did. For the rest of the ride certainly I was the lantern rouge, but there was one point when I finally decided to let go of thinking about tomorrow - release those anxieties and take my mental governor off - and just stay in the present ride, present moment, peddle today. That moment on that ride changed my whole mindset. I rode harder, at least in my mind, and felt better, more positive.

Certainly by the end of the three hour ride felt humbled. Beaten back by headwinds, hills, and fast dudes, and I certainly did not go into it mentally prepared, but sometimes you just got to grind it out. And be thankful for the people you're riding with. My buddy Birk was awesome to hang back with me and I certainly enjoyed the conversation and company. And you know, it turned out to be a great day. And sometimes you just have to let yourself be humbled.

Climbing the steeps-am I ready for this?

So I was excited for Sunday. Quads still ached from recent resistance work and yesterday's ride, but this would be my chance to see if with legs that had some miles and then I could get up most of the steeps in Pittsburgh. I set out to meet up with the group over in the Waterworks. Gene was going to test out his livestream broadcast, and a new group of riders was forming for this day. Excited to make new friends and meet new people, I eagerly joined this group.

As we rolled out of the parking lot the three guys and I rolled up to Center Avenue, the first hill of the Dirty Dozen. As we approached I had thoughts about yesterday's ride, wondering if my nutritional strategy was going to work, wondering if I had it in me to make it up all the clients today. We would soon see.

As we climbed hill after hill, I realized that the legs actually felt much better on the bike and they had off of it. And they felt better as we went along. We even through in Rialto Street, a question for this years ride, and the first time that I climbed this hill. It was a fun one.

As we strung together hill after hill, I realized that my nutritional strategy was working just fine. I was doing the same thing I did in my endurance races. Water with salt tablet and nd my mixture of UCAN starch, whey protein, and coconut oil. I brought along some individual Lifesavers for sugar prior to cover climbs, and had two individual packets of Justin's almond butter and hazelnut spread in my back pocket for times when people stopped at length to refuel. Never hungry on the ride, my energy was good. And steep after steep we strung together the hills of the infamous Dirty Dozen. This week it took two tries to get up to Canton Avenue, with a spectacular slow-motion wipeout on the first. And then Ken and I decided to do all of the hills. We decided to just keep going. As he refueled on soda and Redbull, I had my second Justin's - almond butter. Not because I was hungry or feeling badly, but just to get some sugar, protein and fat for the final climbs.

We climbed up Boustead and headed for the last three steeps. Boustead hurt. It can break pne's spirit, but getting up that built some confidence. By now my triceps were so sore, that I figured these would be the limiting factor in my strength output today.

Time to head to a few I had not seen in 2 years: Welsh Way, check. Barry-Holt-Eleanor, ouch, check. Just one left. I had climbed Tesla many times but never put 12 hills in my legs before that climb.

By now, the legs were fine, triceps were feeling it and felt like I had a solo sarcomere left on each side. Up over the pedal, down-up, down-up, torque the handlebars against each pedal stroke, push left-push right... and... Done. Success. As Ken said, it wasn't pretty but we got it done. A first for me - riding the course that epitomizes Pittsburgh. And that was super cool. Can't wait to ride it with Pittsburgh on race day.

The highs and lows of cycling. Sometimes within one weekend or even within one ride. You overcome challenges, whether they be strength, fitness, or mental obstacles. But overcoming them is exhilarating. That's part of why I love it so.

Many thanks to Birk and friends on Saturday and Gene, Mike, Doug and Ken on Sunday for a great weekend.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Join me as I ride my bike for a friend on June 22

Please click on the logo
and donate now!
This summer I am in this phase of riding my bike... a lot. Working hard to train with Team PHenomenal Hope, it has been my plan to sign up for races and rides that would test my physicial and mental toughness limits on the bike (i.e., meaning how far can I ride and still want to get back in the saddle the next day)? And probably my main goal has been to just ride in events that sounded fun. And so far so good, in fact I'm loving being on the bike and racing again.

I decided one of my big events this summer would be the Diabolical Double, a double metric century in Deep Creek, Maryland. And I registered a few months back, feeling excited to do this ride. It was just a training ride after all.

That was until I found out that my good friend, Tom, has recurrent malignant melanoma. You see, Tom is this brilliant guy who has this way of lighting up a room. When you talk to him, he truly is engaged in what you say, cares what you think, and man can he tell great stories. Tom and his wife are also two of the first people I met when I moved to Pittsburgh (and two of my favorite people), and we have been friends ever since. And now he's fighting and it feels like there is nothing I can do.

Except, for whatever it's worth, I can ride my bike, and I can spread the word about the bike ride's charity sponsor, the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation, and their "skin in the game" campaign. And so I am dedicating my 125 miles on the bike to Tom on June 22.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the incidence has been increasing for the last 30 years. The current lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 50. The Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation is working to raise awareness, improve prevention and leverage funds for research.

Melanoma has hit my family. My grandfather died from it, my uncle survived it, and now my friend is bravely fighting this disease.

So this ride on June 22 just got personal. Will you join me on this ride by donating to this campaign? To donate please go to my fundraising page and together we will work hard to "win the fight."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And then one day...

After a major life event - whether it be related to one's health, one's job, or one's family - I would bet is is not uncommon to seek to return to one's old self. In fact, for weeks, months, even a year plus a person can work at it and work at it, see themselves as 80%, 90%, 95% there. Everyone has their last hump, their final climb, that pitch in the road where you just gotta get your bike over the crest to where it levels out, where you can move quickly again.

Along the way you work to convince yourself you're back. You're at that crest. It's behind you. You are 100%. You become a revisionist in your own living history, a survival technique of the optimist.
But then, one day, a switch flips. And it may not be one thing that does it but a series of small events, or prayers and positive thoughts from yourself and those closest to you, or inexplicably it just may be time for the old eschar to finally fall off revealing healed skin below, and that day you start to realize that you're not back to the way you were before the event. No. You realize you are stronger, that life is changed and even better than it once was. The stuff that rattled you and got under your nerves doesn't have that hold as much anymore. Every bike race has a new meaning. Every training ride has a new sense of satisfaction. Every moment with family and friends really means something. And work brings a new passion, a new curiosity, and new sense of urgency to contribute to the world around you.

There may be stresses and struggles and certainly difficult days, but it is true that somehow with time life becomes different and even better than it once was in the past.

So there is hope in that. When you go though something really challenging - e.g., a brain-rattling experience (whether literally or figuratively) - it may make no sense why or what for at the time. It may seem unbearable. But difficult times have the capacity to bring you to a new place, a better place, a solid place. And suddenly gratitude truly overflows.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The non-ride report: vacation

It is often easy to confuse living a full life that with filling every minute of every day. To the best of your ability you balance things: you balance work, working out, and a life outside of work. Figuring out ways to fit more in, get more done, contribute more, be productive, just do it all. Every minute seems to get filled. It just happens.
Somewhere in the midst of all this usual craziness and then some, last month my mom invited, "Do you want to take a long weekend and unwind in Sanibel with your dad and me?" After (maybe a little too) much deliberation, I said yeah, you know what? This opportunity is a gift. One long weekend. I can make this happen. You only live once, so the chance to spend time with my folks in a beautiful place, well that's really a no-brainer. Sign me up.
So this has not been a trip of work or for training, but it has been a trip of rest and restoration. Listening to the beach, watching the shore bird drama, seeing dolphin swim by the shore, and turtles and gators inland, looking for seashells. It has been a perfect trip.
Saturday night in Captiva
Dinner at the The Mucky Duck, enjoying wine outside while watching the sunset

Sunday - Resting, sleeping, swimming, and a sunset cruise.
Awoke to a familiar and favorite view, and we spent the day at the beach, I swam in the Gulf for the first time in years, and rested. At night we went on a nature cruise of Tarpon Bay, starting with a touch tank of the creatures below the surface and then watched Osprey, brown pelican (& their babies), cormorant, and shore birds coming home to roost for the night. Sunset over the bay was beautiful.

Monday - Scrabble Tournament with appropriate smack talk, baseball, and evening shell walk - In the morning I woke up and went down to the beach to greet my family. We played some major scrabble on the porch, and my dad and I played catch on the beach. Had wanted to do this for a looooong time. After a delicious dinner (by a key lime tree where you could see the limes at the tips of every branch!), we went for a beach walk at low tide, enjoying the shore birds, fascinated with the coquina, and picking up seashell talismans of our trip. Mom brought chocolate raspberry balsamic vinegar and deliciously drizzled it over locally made vanilla ice cream. Scrabble tournament standings at the end of the day: Mom 1, PG 1, Dad 1

Tuesday - Relaxing and napping with the folks, riding bikes in the Refuge, reading by the ocean (sipping Pinot - appropriately named - while totally absorbed by Born to Run - stay tuned, because that will be a future blog post). Finished the day at Mucky Duck, then a walk on the beach under the stars. They are so bright & beautiful here. For the first time in a long time I did not check email all day. Disconnected. Vacation.

Wednesday - Woke up to see the sunrise, breakfast on the porch, and then a walk on the beach followed by a barefoot run on the beach. Pretty sweet way to start one's day. Wish I could stay longer, but thankful for this chance to relax, recharge the batteries and head back to life in Pittsburgh.
Concluding thoughts - Yeah, you lonely live once. Sometimes making the most out of everyday sometimes means doing very little other than enjoying every single day, the present moment. These past few days were all about that. Thankful for each unstructured minute of everyday.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad