Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sometimes you run the race...

Sometimes the race runs you. OK, that made no sense.

I'm not feeling great about my speed right now (Frozen Half was somewhat of a disappointment), but that's OK. As Kirk pointed out, we've got almost 3 months until Boston. I've got the base mileage I want, and I suppose now is when I should start hammering on speed.

In other news, besides the Frozen Half, St. Paul is also hosting the Winter Carnival. It's somewhat scaled down, but no less fun. I like the downtown Rice Park venue better than Harriet Island last year. It's worth a trip to see the ice sculptures. And the Hot Dish Tent was as good as advertised. Tater tot hot dish, yum!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Coke Challenge

I'm reading Omnivore's Dilemma right now, which is a great book that explores the culture of corn. According to this book, corn's triumph over our food industry became complete in the early 80s when Coke switched to corn syrup from pure cane sugar. I wonder if people could tell the difference?

Well, since I can't answer that question without a trip to Brazil, I thought I'd find an answer to a more local question. While I was at Target a while back, I saw boxes of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Diet Coke with Splenda all sitting next to each other. It looked a little ridiculous as these products are supposed to taste pretty much the same. And since the 12-packs were running $2.50, I had an idea, I could buy these and host a taste test! So that's what I did.

The scene: Barr Engineering Lunch room
The food: Eben's delicious homemade pizza
The participants: Fellow engineers (and one HR rep)

I poured the sodas into lettered cups so that no one knew which soda was which. Then I had everyone guess which Coke each cup contained. Pretty simple concept.

2 people out of 8 guessed all of them correctly (kudos to Jenny and Bethany). Only 2 people guessed Coke itself incorrectly. Everyone else got Coke and Diet Coke, but messed up on the Zero and the Splenda. That's understandable as the sweetener makeup of Zero and Splenda is nearly the same.

So what about taste? Well, everyone agreed that Coke was the sweetest. Diet drinkers found it too sweet, non-diet drinkers liked it best. Nearly everyone thought Diet Coke was just plain nasty in direct comparison. I drink a lot of Diet Coke, and after having sips of the others, I found straight Diet Coke to be a waste of taste buds. Seriously nasty. No thanks, but I'll get my caffeine another way.

While Coke Zero and Diet Coke with Splenda tasted similar, there were subtle differences in the TYPE of sweetness. There was no clear winner there, but I'd say for me that Zero came out slightly ahead in taste. HOWEVER (and this is weird), Coke Zero fizzed twice as much as the other 3 sodas, and the fizz had a weird color to it. It just seemed more suspect, as if it were really just a hair overprocessed! (we're all just basically drinking petroleum anyway).

I did not compare Diet Coke Plus as that has a weird chalkiness nor did I want to introduce caffeine-free as that tossed in too many variables. This was just a comparison of sweeteners. And a successful experiment too I might add! Next time I'm going to Brazil to get cane sugar Coke, purely science-based reasons.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Best Post on the Internets!

By someone I know, at least. You have to read this post by fellow SoMpls blogger (and truly blogger extraordinaire), The Deets (Ed). It's an interesting and maddening post, then suddenly gets frickin hilarious...well, just read it and see for yourself! Target beware, the Deets is on your case!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My 3 Cents on Running/Cross Training

I made the promise on this blog to limit my running blogging, and for the most part I've kept running topics to a minimum, however, I have some thoughts on running mileage and cross training, so here goes my second post on running within 2 weeks (probably a record for me).

There's been some discussion on Chad's blog (Chad, why doesn't your blog allow perma-links?) about running and cross training. A lot of people have weighed in during the last week (including me) about their opinions on how much running is necessary for the weekend warrior runner. The answer seems to boil down to, "Whatever works best for you." Well, that's obvious, so what works for me? (and of course what works for me may not work for you!)

By almost every count, 2007 was a great running year for me. I had several PRs (although not at the marathon distance, but blame a Nor'easter on my narrow miss of a PR at that one!) I improved at every other distance and overall felt very healthy. That was a big change from 2006 where I crashed in the fall and had 3 months where I physically felt awful, and had corresponding slow race times.

So what was the difference between '06 and '07? I actually ran a little more in '07, and biked a LOT more, so it wasn't a decrease in workouts that helped me. But I was smarter in WHEN I did them. I gave respect to cross training as an actual workout, and made sure that I didn't do too much activity each week. The cross training (biking, x-c skiing) was meant to assist with recovery, which allowed my runs to be more focused and occasionally, more intense. This helped greatly with speed.

Personally, I know I'd get burned out only running, and while that's the activity where I try to maximize my performance, running cannot take the place of the efficiency of a long bike ride, or the satisfaction of commuting by bike, or the quiet peace of an early morning ski. So I can use those other activities to pad my "base mileage". I may run "only" 50 miles/week, but with the additional output of easy bike rides, it's as if I'm adding a couple hours a week of easy runs, easily putting me into the 70-90 mpw zone.

To avoid the overtrain that tanked me in 2006, I keep track of all my mileage, and I make sure that my "equivalent running miles" never or at least rarely exceeds 80 mpw. I convert bike mileage at a 4:1 ratio. For example, if I bike 100 miles and run 50, that works out to be equivalent running mileage of 75 (50+100/4=75). Any more than that and my body will tell me to slow down. (X-C skiing I convert at 10 minutes of classic or 8 minutes of skate = 1 mile).

Obviously, this is very individual and everyone needs to find their own place that feels comfortable/safe/healthy. This is what I've found through trial and error. Could I push myself a little harder? Probably. But I haven't had a major running injury in years, and I haven't run my immune system down and been sick in over a year. And honestly, any more mileage and I'd be making compromises with the other, more important parts of my life: my family, my friends, my church, my work, and my other leisure pursuits. Running is great and I hope to make real improvements in 2008, but in order to balance running with my health (mental and physical), and my job (which is NOT subsidized by winning races), this is the strategy I employ. And cross-training is essential to that for me. I can see that it would be possible to only run and make these same improvements, but this is what works for me. And again, what works for me may not work for you!

I hope we all find what works for us! Best wishes to all on physical and emotional health in 2008!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Food Rocks

This photo from the Nook says it all.

So what looks more delicious? My fish n chips or Mike's Juicy Lucy? Trick question. The correct answer is my Summit Winter Ale. Hands down the best beer going right now. Less hoppy with 3 times the caramel. It's like drinking a Caramelo. Dang, I wish it weren't only 8am. I can't drink a Summit Winter this early in the day, and at work. Or can I.....?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy Winter Days!

Since I sort of missed a Christmas post, I'd like to wish you all a season's greetings, the season being winter! It's been a great winter so far with all sorts of snow to enjoy, and with more snow in the forecast to replenish our ski trails, I'm a happy man!

It's also the season for sugar cookies. Check out this delicious dish pan cookie that I frosted, Jackson Pollack-style. I ate it a couple days ago, it was quite tasty!

My holiday party for work is this weekend. I've been helping plan it for over a year now. We're going to be at the Central Library in downtown. It's a gorgeous building with a beautiful atrium. Should be a good time! (click here for a great photo)

So, Season's Greetings and happy skiing to you all!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

There's a NEW Mexico?

No one said it better than Homer Simpson.

My trip last week to New Mexico was interesting. Very productive from a work perspective, but also a lot of fun from a personal side as well. I took a day to travel around and see parts of the state I'd never seen. Here are some highlights (with photos):

So you think steers come big in Texas? Well, I don't know if they come any bigger than this. 81 inches! This was from a ranch near my job site.

On my way to White Sands, I had to make a little Wal-Mart stop for green chili and the Boss. Those things should always go together: Dusty desert towns, Wal-Mart, green chili and Springsteen. I love it!

I wish I had had something to mail. I wonder if the postmark would have been a mushroom cloud. What do you think?

Random lava field from 5,000 years ago called Malpais. Very stark and beautiful. Reminded me of my trip to the Big Island last year.

On my way to White Sands, I came within a whisker of getting stranded in the desert. Very dumb.

I visited the New Mexico Space Museum in Alamogordo. Pretty neat place. Worth a visit for a space or military freak/geek.

The best and most ironic billboard I've ever seen. "Friendliest place on Earth"? Probably the people that are getting bombed by those fighter jets would disagree.

And the reason for the trip: White Sands National Monument. All I can say is wow. It was 65 degrees, that's not snow; it's white gypsum sand.

And lastly, no photo for this, but on the way back to Albuquerque I was pulled over by border patrol and asked if I was a US citizen. Yikes!

OK, one more photo. I LOVE New Mexican food, especially green chili and sopapillas! Yum!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How do you measure a year in the life?

5,250,600....miles? Well, not quite, but it sure felt close! This year I logged 2,400 running miles exactly, which is 100 miles more than I logged last year. Not only that, my biking mileage (due to increased bike commuting and a couple long bike trips) doubled to over 2,500 miles.

Wow, that's a lot of miles. That works out to about 46 miles per week. Doesn't sound like a lot to many of you fellow runners? Well, I took 3 weeks off for biking trips, and about 3 weeks off due to a hand surgery which made running difficult. That's 52 miles/week on the weeks I ran. Still not sound like a lot? Well, fine, it's not elite, but I'm not winning any races and I'm just trying to have fun. And I can say all of those 2,400 miles were a great time! So here are the stats on the year:

2,513 - miles biked
2,400 - miles ran
250 - estimated number of beers consumed over year (shouldn't that be closer to my miles logged)
80 - commutes to and from work by bike or running, instead of by car
6 pairs of shoes
3 new PRs - 17:49 5K (TC5K), 63:15 Trail 10-Miler (Backyard Burn - Wakefield, VA), 1:22:45 Half (New Prague)
1 Boston Marathon finish! (2:59)

And what about goals for this year? If I had to toss numbers out there, I'd say that I'd like to run:
  • sub 17:30 5K
  • sub 1:21 Half
  • sub 2:58 Boston Marathon! (a PR)
  • 2,600 total miles run
  • another long trail run
  • run in more cities around the US
(non running athletic goals)
  • Complete a long distance bike tour (Alaska perhaps)
  • Cross country ski race of some sort
I'm already partway on my goals. I just ran my first run of the year, a run up the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was amazing trail running, and I spent half the run navigating above the snow line. Good times, if you're ever in ABQ for a day, I would highly recommend running/biking or hiking the Sandias.

So that's the running recap on '07 and a preview of '08.

To return to the cheesy "Rent" song, however, the way I measure my year is not in miles logged or races run, it's the friendships I have. Or, as the song says, "measured in love". I feel very blessed to have so many wonderful friends and family. 2007 was a great year, with some wonderful experiences across the country and right at home in Minnesota. I have a feeling that 2008 will be even better!

Happy New Year friends!