Friday, October 28, 2011

My Breakfast - 1000 calories

Here is a typical breakfast for me:

  • Two eggs (large, fried with olive oil)
  • Sunflower seeds (mixed with the eggs)
  • Hard cheese (usually Parmesan) melted between the eggs
  • Two cups of green vegetables
  • Some broccoli, carrots, etc, added to the salad
  • Two tablespoons of oil and some vinegar
  • Cottage cheese (quarter to half cup)
  • Bacon (two slices)
  • Almonds (I usually eat these while I prepare breakfast)
Total calories: 1000

Composition (thanks to
  • Fat: 75g (70%)
  • Carbs: 24g (10%)
  • Protein: 50g (20%)
Perfect ratios! :)

Sometimes immediately after this, or for midmorning snack. I make a cup or two of hot chocolate. I mix unsweetened cocoa (one tablespoon) with some brown sugar, heavy cream, cinnamon, and maybe a bit of vanilla and/or orange extract. Plus, I have half a cup of Fage 2% yogurt. Total of 500 calories.

So, by 12 noon I have consumed 1500 calories.  Then another 1000 calories for lunch.  And about 500 calories for dinner, 3000 calories total.

I eat something similar (eggs and salad) before every race, including my last two marathons.  Seems to be working well.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Towpath Marathon 2011 - Race Report

Towpath Marathon (Oct. 9, 2011)

The Towpath 5K was my first race in 2002. I have run an event in this race since then:

- 2002: 5K (my first race ever!) - 21:27
- 2003: Marathon Relay
- 2004: My first marathon! (3:55)
- 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008: Marathons (3:36 best time in 2006)
- 2009, 2010: Half Marathon (I ran the Athens Marathon that was close)

My goal this year was to improve my 3:36 best course time.

Yesterday I carbo-loaded by taking my wife out for dinner. My total carbs for the day amounted to 150 g (nutrition experts recommend 600 g before a race). The morning of the race (today) I had what could be called "a nutritional nightmare" before a marathon: eggs with bacon, cheese, olive oil, nuts. Total of 680 calories, 67% fat, 8% carbs (15g – vs. 400 g recommended by the experts). Yikes!

I laced my New Balance Minimus shoes and decided to run without jacket & gloves (at 52F), but held my bottle (with home-made orange juice) and my 3d camera. Here are a couple of pictures that I took before the race started.

Right away I found myself running at 7:30 pace. First 6 miles: 7:33, 7:33, 7:46, 7:50, 7:45, 7:39. This pace felt comfortable. I found myself running with some guys that I knew could not keep up this pace.

My next 10 miles were in extremely even pace. I was running like a well-oiled machine :) averaging 7:45 min/mile: 7:40, 7:42, 7:44, 7:46, 7:47, 7:48, 7:41, 7:42, 7:42, 7:40.

I passed the half mark at 1:41:15. A quick calculation convinced me that I had the 3:35 in the bag, so to speak, and maybe I have a shot for 3:30 if I didn’t slow down a lot.

At mile 17 my legs started feeling tired. My pace slowed from 7:40 to 8:00 min/mile: 7:49, 7:54, 8:03, 7:58, 8:02, 7:57, 8:03, 8:05. It took a lot of determination to maintain this pace. But everyone else was slowing too, as the temperature rose to 70F. I was passing runner after runner, those who had passed me earlier.

As I am approaching Red Lock, with only 2 miles left, I was trying to figure out if I had a chance to finish at 3:25. This would be a -5 BQ. I made an effort to speed up. Mile 25 is 7:57. Mile 26 is 7:26, which is the fastest mile so far in the race.

My Garmin watch shows that after mile 26, I had 0.4 miles to go, instead of 0.1 (it was running slow). At this point I was flying. I am always running faster when I get closer to the end of a long race, but now I was trying to achieve a goal of 3:23

My time at this last 0.4 mile was 6:43!!

I crossed the line at 3:25:08 according to the race clock. My chip time was 3:25:02.

Wow! What a great effort! I beat my previous course record by 11 minutes and ran faster than the Akron marathon 2 weeks ago, by 10 minutes. As a matter of fact, this is the 3rd fastest marathon out of 17 (the other two are 3:19 and 3:22 in Cleveland 2010 and 2009). Next year, I am definitely going for a PR in Cleveland (my favorite course)! Here is a picture of me at the finish, and a picture of my wife who finished the Half Marathon at 2:06, a good time for her.

After the race we went home, cleaned and changed and then went back for the awards. No awards for us this year. I finished 7th/49 in my age group. It is interesting that if I were I the next age group, I would have finished first. We then went to Bob Evans for some real food.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Runners: Is Low-Carb for you?

Answer these two questions:

  1. Are you satisfied with your current weight or would you like to lose 5-10 lbs?
  2. Are you satisfied with your running? Does it feel strong? Are you enjoying it or does it feel like a drag (especially the long runs)?
If you answered “yes” to both questions then you are fine. Whatever you are doing is working. Keep it up. If you answered “no” to both questions, then you should consider a low-carb diet and see how it works for you. I know that this is going against everything that you've read in the mainstream running books and web sites, but how do these “experts” know what is good for you personally?

Jan, in the running list said something about not having time to read a book on low-carb or something about a low-carb cookbook. The beauty of low-carb nutrition for me is that you do not need to read anything, or cook in any special way. All you need to do is eliminate high carb foods: Bread, wheat & flour, pasta, rice, sugar & sweets, potatoes. Eat fruits, nuts, dairy, in moderation. Eat lots of eggs, meat/fish, oil, vegetables. Drink plenty of water.

Most people on a low-carb nutrition typically start the day eating eggs for breakfast (no bread, milk, cereal). I make a two egg omelet cooked with olive oil (or butter) and eat some cheese and vegetables. I might add bacon or sausage. For lunch, try a large salad (with lots of olive oil) and a 4-6 oz piece of meat or fish (tuna, salmon). Again, no bread, crackers, etc. Same for dinner. For snacks you can have nuts (almonds are better than peanuts), cheese, yogurt (regular, not low-fat or no-fat), a piece of fruit.

Avoid processed foods. Avoid foods labeled "low fat". Check the ingredients on anything with a label and avoid foods that are high in carbs, or with sugar and derivatives (high fructose syrup, etc.) listed as ingredients. For fun, or education, keep a log of what you eat to see how you are doing. I have been entering my food in, but there are other sites too. Standard low-carb diet advice is to only monitor your grams of carbs and keep them under 20 (very strict), under 50 (strict, that's how I think I started) or under 100 (more liberal, this is where I am about now). Experts recommend to subtract fiber from carbs to get net carbs, which is what really counts.

Allow yourself two weeks to adjust to this. If you lower your carbs drastically, the first week or two your running will suffer a bit as you deplete your glycogen reserves. Be prepared for a large weight drop the first two weeks, mostly water, from losing the stored glycogen and getting rid of salt stored in the kidneys. Then your body will learn to burn fat (hopefully your stored fat) and synthesize glycogen from fat. It took my body 2 weeks to adjust. My wife suggests to wait a month before deciding if this works for you or not.

My wife started dieting the same time I started eating low-carb. While I never saw this as a diet, she clearly did and kept a detailed food log, aiming at restricting calories. She ate about 1000 calories/day, working on a caloric deficit. She did not consciously try to eat less carbs, but I influenced her and she dropped bread and sugar. While my ratios are 60/15/25 (fat/carbs/protein), her ratios are something like 30/30/30 (but she is eating about as many grams of carbs as I do, because she is eating less calories overall). At first, she struggled a bit with running. It took her a month to start running strong (note: she was not running strong before the diet either.) Now she has lost a total of 14 lbs (started at 145 and she is now 131). She continues to eat the same way, just a bit more food, about 1200 calories, but she does not feel like she is on a diet now. One thing she keeps repeating is that it is liberating not to be afraid of fat. While she continues to eat 0% fat yogurt and skim milk, she is not afraid of meat, bacon, olive oil, eggs, mayonnaise, or other high fat foods.

I have lost about 15 lbs (from 172 down to 157) and my running is better than ever. I can run 10 miles first thing in the morning, without breakfast, maybe only eating a couple of almonds. I do not “bonk” any more. I enjoy running more and I have increased my weekly mileage. My races are going well. I start a bit slower, but gradually accelerate and tend to run the 2nd half of the race faster than the first. It is nice to pass exhausted runners, knowing that you are going to finish strong.

What is the explanation for this? I think my body has learned to burn fat more efficiently. While our glycogen reserves are limited, our fat reserves are not, plus there is more energy in a gram of fat than glycogen. While I do drink Gatorade during a race (and I enjoyed the banana on mile 21 of the Akron Marathon) I do not try to carbo-load and I eat a low carb breakfast before the race (I just eat my regular breakfast of eggs and half an orange). I also do not make any attempt to “replenish” my glycogen reserves after a race. (Standard advice is to eat carbs 30 minutes after a run/race – I ignore this advice because I do not think I need to replenish anything.) As a matter of fact, I usually crave fat after a race, not sugar/garbs. After Akron, my wife and I went to Bob Evans for a cheese omelet and sausage/bacon. It looks like this will be our after-marathon tradition from now on.

If you like to discuss low-carb nutrition with other runners, please consider joining my email discussion list:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Twinkies, Bacon or Pasta? – What’s a Runner to Eat?

Twinkies, Bacon or Pasta? – What’s a Runner to Eat?

In our running email discussion list, someone posted a link to a professor of nutrition who, as an experiment, went on a diet of mostly twinkies and junk food and lost 27 pounts in 2 months:

The trick is that he kept his total calorie intake to 1,800 calories/day, while calculators show that he needed 2,600 calories/day to maintain weight. The conclusion, for many people, is that caloric deficit will lead to weight loss, no matter what you eat.

Personally, I think that it is a bit more complicated than that, since some foods can affect your metabolism (the 2,600 calories that he needed to maintain weight) plus some foods affect your hunger more than others, which makes it difficult to maintain the diet, unless, as in the case of this professor, if you have something to prove. And it is an open question how this diet will affect your running (the professor had to stop running while in this experiment).

But even if we assume that ANY diet with a caloric deficit will lead to weight loss, the question then is what kind of diet/nutrition is easier to follow for weight control, while maintaining your running strength and is healthy for you in the long run?

Here are the observations of this experiment of one:

This morning I was 157.5 pounds. That's the lowest weight I ever remember being in my adult life. I have lost 14.5 lbs in 7 weeks and I am not even on a diet. I eat plenty of good food until I am not hungry, and maybe a bit more. I do not crave anything I do not eat. I have plenty of energy, as manifested by my recent races, like the Akron marathon. This weekend was a good example: On Saturday I went out running alone while drizzling. I did not have a preset time/distance in mind, so I kept running (and thinking). I went for 11 miles like that, enjoying my run. On Sunday I ran with my wife, 15.5 miles, no problem. I ran up some steep hills (pre-low-carb I would have walked these.) Having fun while running for hours, now that’s what I call “the joy of running”.

Last week I used and logged everything that I ate. I ate an average of 2450 calories/day, with these ratios: Protein: 21%, Carbs: 17% (102g), Fat: 62%

2,500 calories is a lot of food. But since I am losing about a pound a week, that means that I am operating at 500 caloric deficit a day. I should eat 3,000 calories/day to maintain weight, if the calories in/calories out balance theory is correct. But I do not feel hungry to eat more.

So, the answer for me to the question of what to eat to lose weight is to forget the conventional running wisdom and eat more fat and less carbs. Eating excessive carbs made me hungry, and I gained weight, no matter how much I ran. I also did not enjoy running as much. Now, I am losing weight without being hungry and I am running strong and enjoying running more than ever. I also believe that I am doing the right thing for my body on the long run. Now some people will dispute this, claiming that a high fat, high cholesterol diet is bad for you. From what I have read, I am convinced that a low-carb diet is a healthy diet. But no one can dispute the effect that this diet has on my body and running.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Science for Smart People

Science for Smart People:

I found this video, from a presentation by comedian Tom Naughton, on the 4th Annual Low-Carb Cruise:

Tom is the writer/director of the movie FatHead (which I just got in the mail and watched it last night, highly recommended!)

This is a long (45 minutes) but entertaining presentation, which for me could be a lecture in a university on observational and clinical studies.  Many of our beliefs about the effect of cholesterol, fat, salt, etc., comes from news titles which, in tern, are inspired from actual observational and clinical studies. Tom explains what this means. What are observational studies and what are clinical studies? How to critically look at these studies and draw your own conclusions, instead of depending on reporters to summarize the conclusions of the study with a catchy title like "Eating eggs will make you fat" etc. There are a couple of sections where running is mentioned. A lot of the running recommendations on what to eat/drink etc., also come from similar studies, so the information is appropriate.

I am sure you will enjoy this presentation and become a bit more skeptical about what conventional medical science says we should be doing, knowing how this advice was derived. And you will be inspired to read the original studies, instead of relying on summaries.

PS, Tom’s web site is:

His motto: You’ve been fed a load of balogna

Akron Marathon – Sept 24 2011

Akron Marathon – Sept 24 2011

I had a fantastic marathon race: 3:34 & negative splits!
My wife Liz, met her half-marathon goal A: 2:09

Last night we went to the expo, bought a few things (found the newer NB Minimus shoes for only $55!) and then we went out for dinner. Several restaurants were very busy so we ended up close to home at 8:30 pm. I had a hamburger, ate half the bun, some fries and a lite beer (my calories for the day 2,750, including 170 g of carbs, so this was "carbo-loading" for me).

Saturday morning we got up at 5:00 am, stepped at the scale, 160 lbs, good. I ate two eggs with cheese, no bread.  Now, that's a marathon race day breakfast!  Then I made my own version of sports drink by squeezing two oranges, adding tangerine tea, a bit of salt, and some ice cubs. I peeled an orange and ate half of it in the way to Akron. I also took some nuts in case I need them during the race, but ate them before the race started.

Here are pictures we took at the stadium before the race:

The race started at 7:00 exactly. It was still dark. The temperature was 54F and it stayed constant and cloudy for about 2 1/2 hours and then the sun came out and warmed up to 65F. Overall, a very nice day for running.

My goal for the day was 3:45 or about 8:30/mile pace. I decided to follow the 3:40 pacer, which is a friend of mine. At first, we had a hard time running at the required 8:20 pace because of all the slow runners ahead of us! When are these people going to learn and start at their expected pace???

My number had my nickname DrT, but it was written DRT, so some people called me DRY, or DIRT (go Dirt!) Only a few got it right.

I followed the pacer for the first 3 miles: 8:25, 8:19, 823.

Then I pulled ahead a bit, and soon found myself running a bit faster. My Garmin only shows the average pace and every time I looked at it, it was faster, going from 8:20 to 8:10. Miles 4-12 are in roads of Akron: 8:07, 8:11, 8:12, 8:12, 8:18, 7:54 (downhill, going through the University of Akron), 8:08, 8:12, 7:47 (downhill, right before entering the Towpath).

Miles 13-15 are in the Towpath (crashed limestone mostly): 8:11, 8:11, 8:20

Then we entered the Park, an area with rolling hills, going mostly up. This is considered a hard part of the course. Miles 16-19: 8:33, 8:21, 8:33, 8:16

Then we are back running in Akron neighborhoods, one of the hardest parts of the course for me, cumulating in an uphill that leads to the Stan Hywet Museum and Gardens. Miles 20-22: 8:13, 8:14, 8:25.

Up to this point I was drinking water and Gatorade in most aid stations, only occasionally sipping through my orange juice bottle, saving it for the last part of the race. Around mile 21.5 someone was handing out bananas. I took one, and it was huge. I was going to have a bite or two, but didn't know what to do with the rest, so I ate the entire thing. Felt good!

We toured through the Stan Hywet Museum and then exited, for the rest of the course, which is mostly downhill (yeah). You can tell from my first mile, how excited I was: 7:47, 8:03. We then arrived at Market Street, which is definitely downhill: 7:20, 7:34 (I was flying :))

Finally, we turned at Main street for a bit less than a mile, to finish at the baseball stadium. My Garmin showed that after mile 26 there was 0.37 miles and my pace was 6:40!!! I was excited because I realized that I can "break" 3:35 if I hurried a bit, so this is what I did.

My wife was standing on line to take a picture of me, while I was speeding up to turn to the Stadium. It turned out OK:

I knew I had managed to beat 3:35 and was pleased! Banking effort instead of time (as the coach recommends) and running negative splits is uplifting! I passed people who had tags in their backs with 3:35 aim time and I knew they had no chance of meeting their time. I saw tired, demoralized runners. And I passed them running strong. Nothing better!

The race director shook my hand at the finish (as everyone else's) It looks like they were 1,300 marathon runners, 3,200 half marathon runners and a lot of relay runners! I think there were 10 relay runners for every marathon runner, so there were always people around me, going at different paces, some slower, most faster (because they were fresh, running smaller distances like 5 miles), which is a bit irritating because when you get passed on a marathon you are conditioned to question your pace.

My final time: 3:34:40 (8:12 pace). I finished 210/1342 overall and 15/112 in my age group.

I am very pleased with my time, 5-10 minutes faster than expected, my negative splits and lots of strength at the end (even though my legs were hurting after mile 20). My last marathon was New Orleans in January, where I started faster (running well under 8 min miles for the first 17) and then "crashed" (relatively speaking) to finish at 3:36. Then I got injured and had to drop Boston. Now I am slowly coming back.

I picked up my metal, posed for picture, then my bag of goodies. Then went up the stadium steps to pick up my two free beers, met my wife and went home. At home I was very hungry for sausage and cheese and eggs (craving fat) but there was nothing to eat, so we got dressed and went to Bob Evans for a nice omelet with sausage and bacon. Aaahhhh...

My wife's A goal was under 2:10 for the half marathon. She achieved this with 2:09:03. We have another marathon/half marathon in 2 weeks. I think her goal should be 2:05 (her PR is 2:04).

Overall, a great day for both of us!

Standard Dietary Advice for Runners (makes my hair stand up!)

Hi Guys,

I was looking around running web sites for some inspiration for my Akron marathon tomorrow, and found the following nutritional advice for runners in

“For athletes in periods of heavy training, a good rule of thumb is to consume three to five grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day. A competitive, 170-pound runner might range between 500 and 700 grams daily."

"Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrate-rich foods that also contain a great deal of other nutrients, and it is widely known that you should eat them in plentiful amounts. But don't cut potatoes, bread and pasta from your diet."

"Ideally, four hours before exercise, you would consume two grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight.... A 120-pound runner would not be able to consume 17 slices of rye bread with four hours to go before a long run. Since this has much to do with the sheer bulk of such a meal, remember that sports beverages and juices offer a concentrated dose of carbohydrate before a race, while filling the stomach far less."

Makes my hair stand up! :)

And this, regarding pre-race eating:

“Every meal is important, but no meal is more important than the one before a race. The main purpose of the pre-race meal is to fill your liver with glycogen. At least 80 percent of the calories you consume in your pre-race meal should come from carbohydrates. Keep your protein, and especially your fat and fiber consumption low. These nutrients take up space that are better utilized by carbohydrate.

I am curious how my pre-race meal of two eggs (no bread) will work out... Oh, I forgot the orange!

I will report tomorrow.

Carboload or not? This is the question!

A friend wrote the following in our local running email discussion list:
> I have been doing some heavy eating the past few months and the extra
> weight has really helped me lower my time. I have done a lot of research
> and the extra weight converted to muscle is a huge factor in increasing
> speed. I have a little cold and lost a few pounds thus week but am hoping
> to put the pounds back on today and tomorrow by excessive carbo- loading.

My reply:
Ha, ha, ha! I cannot tell if you are serious or not. Because what you are saying can go both ways. I agree and I disagree at the same time.

Yes, being heavy and extra carbo-loaded will make you race stronger, especially shorter distances. Been there, done that.

But at the same time, I felt like crap most of the time, my clothes wouldn't fit, I'd get hot and sweat easily, I'd take naps, not sleep well at night, bonked often in training runs and would not enjoy training too much, but I'd run a fast race.

After dropping 10 lbs going low-carb, I have more energy during the day, my clothes fit, I enjoy running more, and run stronger the second half of a race. But my racing times are bit slower, I admit it. I trust this will change soon though, as a result of training and adjusting to a low-carb nutrition. I set my PRs in half, full marathon, and Buckeye 50K when I was my lowest weight ever.

And since I am more interested in very long races (I signed up for Burning River) I am not sure if I need more weight and more speed or less weight and more endurance.

Youngstown 25K – Sept 17, 2011

Youngstown 25K – Sept 17, 2011

I just came back from running the 7th Annual Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic 50K & 25K. This is a new race for me (first time) and decided to run the 25K since I am only one week away from the Akron Marathon. I heard good things about the course and wanted to see it.

I might have upped my carbs a bit last week, with a few more fruits and some bites of chocolate! :) The scale showed up 2 lbs the morning of the race (could be the salty nuts too). The morning of the race I ate a 2 egg omelet with some cheese and nuts and vegetables, plus half an orange. No bread. This is the first race I did not have any carbs for breakfast!

Temperature this morning was 51F, predicted sunny. I asked a guy if I should wear a short or long-sleeve T-shirt and he said "short, of course!" which is what I did. I was a bit cold at first but OK later.

I was planning to wear sturdy shoes but last week I injured my little toe and all shoes hurt, except for the New Balance Minimus. This was not a good choice because the course was full of rocks and roots. But, I had no choice...

The race started at 8 am. Everyone was running fast, but I decided to start slow. Very quickly we hit a narrow long staircase. I was stuck walking it, behind everyone else. Then we entered a single lane trail. NOW I know why everyone was running fast! They were trying to position themselves ahead of the slower runners!

So, I passed quite a few runners in the first miles. Between mile 3 and 3.5 I passed several runners in tricky one lane paths, and I am sure I irritated them, trying to pass at downhills (I like to run fast at downhills). I could not pass the last guy until we hit an open area. Then he moved to the side and said "You can pass me now... Thank you for being patient." I am sure he was thinking "Get lost you jerk!"

I reached the first aid station (4 miles) and grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I then started running in a scenic path around a lake (4 miles long). At around 1/2 mile in this trail, I saw little pink flags leading out of the trail.

Now, the trail was marked both with pink ribbons hanging from trees and pink flags in the ground, plus white arrows. I turned out of the trail, following the pink flags. I crossed a road, then entered a strange area without any trail marked. I was jumping trees and going through wild vegetation. I thought "Hmmm, they decided to make this challenging". But I was following pink flags. I went through people's properties, very close to their houses. I started thinking "How do they let runners run so close to people houses? These people must be annoyed". After a while, I said to myself "This cannot be right". I bent and inspected the pink flags I was following. They were markings for gas lines!!! I had taken a wrong turn, following flags marking gas lines!!! Duhhh!! I turned around, and back into the trail.

I started running fast trying to cover the lost ground and out of frustration... I passed people who I had passed before mile 1 and now I was in mile 5. How much time did I lose? Around 8 minutes I estimated. (Unfortunately, I accidentally stopped my watch so I cannot be sure).

I completed the loop and reached the aid station, now mile 8. We had to repeat this 4 mile loop. I made sure I stayed at the course this time! I passed two more guys, while completing the loop. Now I am at mile 12 and have 4 more miles to go. In these 4 miles I passed 2-3 people that I remember passing at mile 3.5. Then I saw the guy who said "Thank you for being patient" ahead of me. I tried to catch him but he finished 20 yards ahead of me. I zeroed my watch and I know I did the 2nd half of the course in 1:06.

The results are out. I am in 6th place and my official time is 2:26. This means that my time for each half is:
  • 1st half: 1:20
  • 2nd half: 1:06
 Quite a difference. Either the detour lasted more than 8 minutes, or I ran an impressive negative split (probably both). I felt very strong towards the end. This would have been the trail race to break 5 hours in a 50K. At the finish, I was not tired at all. I felt I could have gone the entire 50K without a problem. My feet were not hurting from all the rocks and roots, but I was very careful where I was stepping, which slowed me down. On another day, with better shoes and without getting lost, I think I can do a lot better!

 So, it is clear that my running has improved and I am getting stronger and stronger. Running a faster 2nd half in a long race is something that not many people can do. The low carb nutrition is working for me!

 Overall, I am very pleased and have good memories of the race. Next year I will either do the 25K going for a better time, or I will do the 50K.

River Run Half Marathon Sept 11, 2011

River Run Half Marathon Sept 11, 2011

Bottom Line: 1:35:25 (7:15 pace) – with great effort!

This morning I was 159 lbs. I ate a few bites of almond butter (no bread) and half an orange and left (with my wife) for the race. The weather was OK, 65-70F, high humidity, cloudy. The course is on roads at a local parkway.   Here is a picture of us before the race:

This is the course where I have my half marathon PR from last year, 1:30:07, but I knew that this year I was not in shape to get anywhere close to this so I aimed for 1:35 and that’s what I got.

I made an effort to start slower, so I avoided the temptation to start with my running friends (who are fast). My mile splits: 7:13 7:08 7:00 7:02 7:10 7:17 7:01 7:35 7:00 7:30 7:34 7:26 7:33 6:23

I am happy with the even pace (7-7:30). Towards the end my legs were getting tired. Mile 13 was a torture. I see I managed to maintain my pace, even though I felt I was going slower. Of course, I sprinted to the finish :) (6:23 is for the last 0.1).

I did not bring my water bottle and I think this hurt me. I was looking forward to the water stations every 2 miles. Towards the end I was drinking two cups of water in every station. I used to be able to run the entire half with no or very little water, when I was carbo-loading, but now it seems that I need more water, so I will remember to carry my bottle with me from now on.

My wife, Liz, had a PW, 2:20. This is 12 minutes slower than her slowest half (this was her 9th). She too has lost some weight (8 lbs) but feels a bit weak and her mileage is lower this year than last year.  Here are two pictures, one at the last mile and one after the finish (she did not feel very well afterwards).

End of 3rd Low-Carb Week: Where does my energy come from?

I posted this email in the “Joy of Running” email discussion list at the end of the 3rd week of low-carb nutrition. The title was “Where Does My Energy Come From?”

Hi Guys, So...

I started a low carb nutrition 3 weeks ago. I eat eggs, bacon/sausage, cheese, nuts, fresh vegetables for breakfast. A large mixed salad with olive oil and vinegar, plus cheese, nuts for lunch. Some serving of meat and vegetables for dinner. At least two fruits. Some cottage cheese or yogurt (both full fat, not low fat) for dairy. I do not NOT eat sugar, flour, bread, pasta, grains. I do not feel hungry. I eat as much as I feel I need. I do not hold back on calories, only carbs. I do not have any cravings for anything I do not eat.

While most runners want to lose 5 lbs, I have lost 11.5 lbs in 3 weeks. For the interest of science, here are my weight measurements every day since my new nutrition:

Week zero (pre-low-carb) : 171 lbs
Week 1: 171, 167, 167, 166, 164, 163, 165 (avg: 166)
Week 2: 163, 163, 164, 162, 162, 162, 161 (avg: 162)
Week 3: 161, 162, 163, 161, 161, 160 (avg: 161)

This morning I was 159.5 lbs, so 11.5 lbs down since 3 weeks ago.

The first two weeks I had good and bad runs. Bad runs were on hot & humid weather where I sweated a lot and end up aborting the run (happened twice). The third week (this one) I felt better, ran easier, stop sweating (sweating less than normal, for the same effort.)

Every morning this week, Tue, Wed, Thu, I went for a 10 mile run in the morning. The first day I ate a few nuts, being afraid to run without eating anything. The other two days I ate nothing and felt fine. Yesterday (Friday) was normally my rest day. I had an afternoon snack and then joined my wife for an easy 5 mile run at 10 min/mile pace. Back at home I was NOT hungry so I did not eat anything.

This morning I got up and went out at 6:30 am for a group run. I did not eat anything. Now, you would expect that being on a low carb diet and having run 5 mile last night without eating dinner, I would have completely exhausted my glycogen reserves so it would not be possible to run 10 miles this morning without some high carb breakfast or at least some Gatorade. I only had a few sips of water before I left home.

Well, I ran 10 miles at 8:10 average pace (mile 4 was 7:42) I felt that my running was effortless. I did not feel tired, or out of energy. I actually held myself back because tomorrow I am running the River Run half marathon.

So, where does the energy come from? Am I really burning (mostly) fat instead of (mostly) glycogen?

I feel I have more strength than ever. I am up to running 60 miles/week (average each of the last 3 weeks). I am really perplexed. It appears that without carbs I am running better. It goes against everything we have been told about runners needing to eat lots of carbs because they are energy and without carbs we will hit the wall.

I see myself as running a science experiment on myself. So far the results are very encouraging :)

Leave No Trace Half Marathon, Sept 3 2011

Leave No Trace Half Marathon, Sept 3 2011
Saturday morning I stepped on the scale, pleased with the 161 lbs reading (down from 172 not long ago), got dressed and left to run the "Leave No Trace Trail Half Marathon" at local trails. I ran this race last year (inaugural) and enjoyed it, so here I was again.

The course description reads: "Technical, mostly single track trail run... good climbs and descents..." which is correct. The course was dry and the weather was hot and humid 70F at 6 am).

Mile splits in trail races are meaningless because of the irregular course, but here are my splits anyway: 8:49, 8:53, 9:04, 9:16, 9:35, 9:04, 9:16, 9:35, 9:09, 9:10, 9:04, 9:06, 9:12, 8:58, 9:28, 9:05, 8:53.

I started too fast and I knew it. I was trying to position myself a bit in the front so I am not stuck behind slow runners on a single-track trail, but everyone was running fast, as if they were in a panic, so I got carried away. I see names of people who I passed after the first mile and their average pace is 10 min/mile. What are they doing running sub-9 min first mile? I have to remember from now on to slow down! Running a fast first mile is counter-productive. It is always better to have negative splits and pass lots of people instead of slowing down and getting passed later in the race.

The first couple of miles I felt I was running fast and sweating a lot, burning whatever little glycogen I have in my body. I then stabilized running at a comfortable pace with little sweating. On a hot day like this I put my water bottle in the freezer overnight. Then as the ice starts melting, I can use the cold water to wash my face and cool my head, or drink it. Cold water feels so much better on a hot day! At the first aid station I filled the half-empty bottle with Gatorade. Sweating started again as it was getting hotter and harder with time. I made the mistake to take ½ water 1/2 Gatorade at the 2nd and last aid station while I only really needed water, so I started getting sick of the Gatorade.

Throughout the race I passed quite a few runners and only remember being passed by one, Laurie Schroeder, who finished 2nd Female overall. She came from behind a bit late in the race (mile 4?) and slowly but surely passed every one behind me, then passed me, then the runners ahead of me, one at a time, and disappeared into the trail. I thought I'd never see her again, but I caught up with her with only 0.2 miles to go and passed her as I was sprinting to the finish line, and finished ahead of her by 21 seconds. Seeing the finish line is such a relief that I have to sprint from sheer joy, no matter how tired I am.

Finish time: 2:03 (9:05 pace) finished top 3 in age group (50-59)
(Last year there were 78 finishers, this year 143)
Here is a picture of me after the finish:

I was very pleased with my strong finish and time (2:03), until I later saw that last year my time was 1:57! But, looking closer at the results I see that Kyle Bowman who won the race both years, also finished 6 minutes slower this year. It seems that the heat had affected everyone.

After the race we were offered bananas, oatmeal bars and various bags with chips, etc. Normally, I would have taken several pieces of everything home (my wife accuses me of going grocery-shopping after races). Or, I would have eaten stuff at the spot (hey, free food!) After the 5 mile Twilight Trail race a couple of weeks ago I had Gatorade (a couple of cups), watermelon (3-4 slices), three glasses of beer and about 12 pieces of pizza. But that was then (pre low-carb nutrition). Now, I just had water and took a banana home (to eat it during the week, one bite a day :) :))

Overall, a fine race, one to do year after year!

PS. Sunday I went for a recovery run with my wife and managed to run 15 miles at 9 min/mile pace, a bit surprised since it felt slower and very comfortable.

Low-Carb Eating & Running – First 2 Weeks

On Saturday August 20, a day before my epiphany, and at 171 lbs, I went for a 20 mile group run in Hinckely. I was a bit tired, walked a bit, but finished the 20 miles at a pace of 8:54.

On Sunday August 21 I started eating low carb. On Tuesday I ran to the Rec Center and back through the trails, a total of 13 miles and felt good. On Wednesday my wife and I normally do our 5 mile tempo run at the towpath. Instead of going in the morning, we went in the afternoon. It was a hot day (70F +) Something weird happened: I warmed up one mile, then tried to run fast but I could not go too fast. By mile 3 I had to stop and walk. I was soaked in sweat. And the sweat was salty. And I was thirsty. I was definitely sweating more than it can be explained by the temperature or anything else. What is going on?

Books on running (like “The Lore of Running”) tell us that when we run, we burn a mixture of glycogen and fat. More glycogen at first, or the faster we go. Glycogen is tied to water in a ratio of 1:4. Every gram of glycogen burned releases 4 grams of water. This kind of sweat in my experience does not carry a lot of salt, plus it does not make me thirsty. So something more was happening here to explain that the sweat was salty and I was thirsty. Books on low-carb running say that the initial weight loss on a low carb diet is due to the release of salt and the associated water. Salt is stored in our bodies (liver) and it is being released. I think this is what I was experiencing.  I experienced this one more time on week 2 and then it was gone.  Definitely a transient phenomenon.

By the end of the first week I had dropped 7 lbs but I was worried about the weekend because I had two major running events:
  • Saturday: I had a 20 mile training run along the blue line, in preparation for the Akron marathon
  • Sunday: I was running the Buckeye Half Marathon.

Friday night I decided to eat a bit more carbs so I ate a bowl of brown rice and had an extra fruit. On Saturday and Sunday morning I ate carbs for breakfast, a bit of oatmeal with chocolate, honey, some peanut butter and yogurt. I took plenty of water and had Gatorade during the runs.

I was surprised to find out that everything went fine! My 20 mile training run was strong, I was not to thirsty, and my pace was 8:30 and finished strong (compare this to the previous 20 miler, a week ago, pre-carb, 8:54 pace and walking). The half marathon race on Sunday also went well. My pace was 7:40, a bit on the slower side (compare with 6:53 in the 10 miler, two weeks ago) but I felt strong overall (especially considering that the previous day I had run 20 miles)

After two weeks of eating low-carb, my running was strong, so I felt I had nothing to worry about.  But the real test would be in the next 4 races:
  • Leave no Trace Half Marathon Trail Run
  • River Run Half Marathon
  • Youngstown 25K
  • Akron Marathon
Reports on these races follow next. Just a clue to increase your interest: Things got even better!

My Low-Carb Epiphany

On August 21, 2011, Sunday morning, I was checking my email and saw a newsletter from Dr. Macrola. I rarely read his newsletters but something got my attention. Something about calories that count or don’t count. I clicked at the newsletter and read an interview with Gary Taubes, author of the books “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat and What to Do about it”.

He basically said is that calories that come from carbohydrates are bad, they make you fat, while calories that come from fat are good, they help you burn your fat.

Now, this is something that always puzzled me. Despite my scientific training, I was always skeptical of the “Calories In, Calories Out” idea that says: If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less calories that you burn, you will lose weight. It is all about calorie balance. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more, to tip this balance. If you cut your calories by 500 a day, you will lose a pound a week. If you switch from a can of regular pop (100 calories) to diet pop, you will lose 11 lbs in a year, assuming that everything else stays the same.

I always found this last statement ridiculous. “Assuming that everything else stays the same,” but how can it stay the same? For one thing, drinking diet pop makes me hungry so I eat my 100 calories (and much more) from something else. Our bodies are not machines! They are much more complicated than that. Clearly, the body tries to preserve its weight. If that was not the case, as Gary Taubes says, if you ate just 30 calories more a day (that’s only a bite) then in 10 years you would gain 31 pounds, but clearly this is not happening.

Tim Noakes, in his book “Lore of Running” (3rd edition, not 4th, for some reason this part has been removed) discusses exactly this topic and mentions actual cases of people eating 5000 calories a day and not gaining weight and people eating 1000 calories and gaining weight. I have been through some periods in my life where I was eating more than 4000 calories a day and I was not gaining weight, so something more complicating is happening and a calorie balance is not obvious. I was thinking that maybe my body was not extracting all the caloric content of the foods I ate.

What was new to me was the idea that calories from carbs will make you fat. Up to this point, I thought that food is food, and, even though I did not buy the caloric balance theory of gaining weight, I did not have any explanation for why some people gain weight and others do not, even if they are eating and exercising in a similar way.

So here was my epiphany: I am struggling with my weight because I am eating too many carbs!!!

My whole life flashed before my eyes. How in Greece I was eating loads of fat and was slim. How in the USA, replacing fat for sugar I gained weight. How in Arizona I lost 5 lbs despite eating lots of fat. How I crave fat after very long runs. How I have tried to cut fat to lose weight and ended up going crazy. How I carbo load before every race and almost every day.

I thought about what I was eating, and I was definitely eating too many carbs! In general, I am not a big pasta or bread eater. But I ate bread, cereal, cookies (lots of sweet foods), pizza, potatoes, and fruits. LOTS of FRUITS! On an average day I would eat 3 bananas, two apples, an orange and maybe other fruits. My wife goes grocery shopping on Saturday and by Wednesday we are out of fruit and she is not eating any. Many times she said to me “how much fruit are you eating?” not believing in her eyes that all the fruit was gone! I ate fruits as a snack between meals, as a desert after a meal, when I was thirsty, or when I had nothing better to do. Go to the kitchen, grab an apple. That’s the story of my life. Everyone says that fruit is good, so no problem. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” so I would eat 3 apples for extra insurance. Even Weight Watchers dropped the points for fruits so people can eat fruit without any guilt or worries “We know that it is not eating fruit that brought you here.” Yeah, sure….

I read reviews in Amazon, ordered Taubes’ book “Why We Get Fat and What to Do about it”, and, while waiting for the book to arrive, I went low-carb cold turkey.

I stopped eating the following: Sugar (in all forms and in all foods that contain sugar, except for an occasional fruit), bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. I would eat: Eggs, meat/fish, lots of vegetables/salad with olive oil, nuts, dairy (lots of cheese, some yogurt). I did this without reading or counting anything. My estimate is that I cut my carbs from 300-600 grams a day to under 50g.   So for breakfast I would eat eggs (no bread) with some cheese and green vegetables. For lunch a large salad with meat or fish, and same for dinner. For snacks I would eat nuts or cheese.

A number of interesting things happened the first two weeks:

1. My appetite was gone. I would eat breakfast at 8 am and then I would have to force myself to eat lunch, because I was not hungry! Now, that’s unheard of. Usually, I would be hungry two hours after breakfast, but this was not happening now.

2. In two weeks I lost 10 lbs. I went from 171 lbs to 161 lbs. Of course, I had no illusions. This rapid weight loss is due to water loss (see discussion in next blog). But it was water that I did not need, so I was happy to get rid of it. And I lost two inches size in the waist.

3. I had more energy, did not need a nap midday any more, and was very happy and cheerful. I would sleep soundly through the night.

There were also a couple of weird transitional effects: I had a bit of indigestion, as if the fat was hard to digest. For a while I had too much energy/hyperactivity, moving around, talking a lot. I felt as if I was intoxicated. I would not stop talking, forgetting names or words not coming to my mouth, my mind was racing, I was happy. I believe that these effects can happen when the body enters a stage of ketosis. This happens when, in the absence of carbohydrates, the body converts fat to glucose (sugar.) As a result, ketones are produced and these can have the effects described here. This stage is not dangerous but it feels weird. In any case, I was out of it as soon as I increased my carbs a bit by eating more fruit.

All this time, I had one worry: How about running? It seems that 11 out of 10 runners believe that carbs are necessary to run. A low-carb diet seems to be incompatible with running, according to 99% of the information in the internet and the running literature. In the next blog I will describe how this low-carb nutrition affected my running the first two weeks.

Struggling with Weight Control 2002-2011

I outlined in the previous blog how I got into running to lose weight and how I fell in love with running in the process. But now my priorities had changed. Now I wanted to lose weight so I can run better. And here is the problem: My company closed in 2002 and I started working at home where I had access to the kitchen and eating any time I felt hungry, but also bored, anxious or just procrastinating. This caused some weight gain. My weight fluctuated between 175-180 lbs for a few years. Here I am, at the 2006 River Run half marathon and the 2007 Towpath marathon, around170 lbs:

I gradually fell into this pattern: I would gain weight during Fall/Winter. I have noticed that the cold weather makes me hungry, as if my body wants to pack fat for the cold days of the winter. I would then try to drop the weight in the Spring. I tried a variety of ways to lose weight:

Fasting. Even as a teenager, I would occasionally fast (after eating a lot during the weekend, I would not eat on Monday). I had no problem with that. I know that traditional medical science does not look at fasting favorably, but I see nothing wrong with it, if done occasionally (and some people think it is actually good for you, even for a long period of time). It is a good way to stop weight gain and jump-start a diet of more restrained eating. I only fasted more than one day once: On March 2010 I fasted for 2 ½ days. I started at 170 lbs and exited at 163 lbs. The reason I stopped (on Friday) is that I had a race coming up on Saturday (St. Malachi 5 miles).

Detox Diet: This was my wife’s idea. It is a 10 day diet. You start by “preparing” for 6 days by eating a diet that is similar to a low-carb diet. No bread. Eggs for breakfast. A salad with a piece of meat or fish (4 oz) for lunch and dinner. Some things we were allowed to eat (yogurt, fruits) some things were not allowed to eat (sugar/sweets, bread, cheese) and some things we had to eat. What I liked about this diet is that, except for breakfast, my wife would prepare all the meals so I did not have to think about anything, just ate what my wife served me. Between meals, I cheated a bit, eating some cheese and nuts. I never felt hungry, yet the weight was dropping fast. The 7th day we went on a one-day fast. This was followed by 3 more days of diet, to “seal the deal”. I entered the diet at 175 lbs and exited at 168. There was a weekend with a long run in the middle, where I could not run too fast or too far, but right after the diet was over, I ran the Hermes 10 miler with a very good time (1:11, 7:07 pace) and felt very strong. After my first Detox diet, I dropped at least 5 lbs and kept it off.

While my wife was a true believer in the Detox diet, I was never convinced that there was anything magic behind it. I thought I lost weight because I ate less than nromal and did not eat any sugar. At this point, I believed that food was food. You eat less (of food, not particular foods), you lose weight, you eat more, you gain weight.

After the original success, we tried the diet several times at different times. I cheated even more, eating many “forbidden” foods. Even though we lost a bit of weight, we got all the weight back. After a couple of tries, the weight would come as quickly as the weekend after the diet ended. I remember asking my wife towards the end of the diet “why can’t we continue eating like this every day?” In other words, why don’t we make this a way of eating for life, instead of going back to our previous ways of eating? But, this did not happen. We were back to eating lots of carbs, and the weight came back.

3 pm Diet: I wrote about this diet earlier in my blog. The concept is simple: Stop eating after 3 pm. I would normally eat 3-4 meals until 3 pm and then stop. Somehow I managed not to have an appetite after 3 pm, even on days where I ran to the fitness center, exercised, and then ran back again. This worked great for me. I reached my lowest weight ever, 158-160 lbs in the summer of 2009, when I followed this diet. I also had a PR in all major distances in this period:
  • 5K: 19:19 – still stands
  • Half Marathon: 1:30:07 (stills stands)
  • Marathon: 3:22 (I was not at my lowest weight, and I improved to 3:19 next year)
  • Buckeye 50K: 5:04 (I was in pace to break 5 hours and then hit the wall, 2 miles before the finish, but the record still stands).
I developed the theory that if you go to bed relatively hungry, you will never gain weight. Somehow, during the night, fat is being burned. It is eating late at night and going to bed with a full stomach that will make you fat. During the night, fat will be deposited.

I tried to repeat the 3pm diet next year, but it was impossible. I was unable not to eat after exercise in the evening.

In July 2011 I was up to 170 lbs, a worrisome sign because we were in the middle of the summer and I should have been 160-165 lbs. Something interesting happened then: We went to Colorado for a conference and vacation. We had free breakfast and happy hour at the hotel. Since the food was free, I ate a lot. I started my morning with a run from 3 to 5 miles. Then I had a large breakfast with eggs and sausage/bacon, a yogurt and orange juice. I would then skip lunch, being stuffed from breakfast. During the day I moved a lot going to tours and attending the conference.

At 4pm, I went to the happy hour. I ate a lot of cheese. I mean, a lot! Some crackers, nuts, and drank a beer or two. Overall, I did not eat much sugar. I also ran less than normal, but walked a lot in tours, etc. Given the amount of fat that I ate, I was expecting to have gained weight, so I was surprised to see that I lost 5 lbs (165). I attributed this weight drop to the fact that I was moving a lot. It did not occur to me that my diet (high fat, low carb) had anything to do with it, on the contrary, I thought that this diet was terrible.

Two weeks later, after returning to my previous eating habits, I hit an all time high of 172 lbs. This was a bit of a shock. “It is August and I am 172 lbs. What is going to happen in the Fall or Winter?”

In addition to the extra weight, I was struggling with my running. My long runs were a drag. I was constantly hungry. I needed a nap every day, despite getting plenty of sleep at night. I remember one day I was running from home to the rec center and at around mile 2 I called my wife and asked her to bring some food because I was feeling weak! It is interesting that my racing was good (I ran the Perfect 10 Miler on August 14, 2011, with the excellent time of 1:08:64, 6:53 mile/pace). It was my overall training that did not feel good.

And then came the “Epiphany”….

How I got Into Running and lost 50 lbs in 2001

By the end of 2000 I had ballooned to 220 lbs. Here is how I looked at 210 lbs at Grand Canyon AZ (this picture is really shocking to me and everyone who sees it now – my family claims that they do not remember me being that big ever):

I remember after a company lunch at Angie’s pizza in December 2001, I stepped up the scale at work and I was 230 lbs (108 kg). Despite this weight, I continued to play competitive basketball 3 times a week at lunch time, and also rode my bike, walked and played racquetball. I had some pain in my knees and I could not really run fast, but basketball involves some sprinting and a lot of walking, not continuous running, so I was doing OK.

It was January of 2001 when Ken Mondak, a coworker who was 10 years older (I was 40, he was 50) told me that he was running 3 miles every single day. I was stunned! “That’s not possible”, I thought. And then “If he can do it, I can do it to!” So I started going to the Brecksville Rec Center, every day after work, running 3 miles in the track (5k, 50 rounds, about 30-35 minutes). At the same time, I monitored my weight. I would weigh myself every day, and then average the reading for the week (a habit that I have kept ever since). I would then plot my weight as a function of time. Here is how the graph looked after a year of running:

It is an interesting graph.  There were times when my weight stayed constant for as long as 4 weeks, sometimes it went up for a while, and then boing, drops.

Bottom line: In 2001 dropped 50 lbs going from 225 to 175 lbs (from about 100 kg to 80 kg). By early 2002 I had dropped under 170 lbs. My life was transformed. My basketball and racquetball improved, my energy increased, my knee pain disappeared. I felt better than ever.

I should note that I lost the weight without any attempt to change my eating, just by the excitement of running, working full time in an office and playing basketball or running during lunch.  On a typical day, I would start my day by eating a banana (I was not a big breakfast eater) then pack a small lunch (tuna, vegetables, an apple) which I would sometimes eat before lunch. I would either play basketball or run during lunch at work. After work, I’d go to the rec center to run 3 miles. Then at home, I would not have much appetite and there is so much I could eat in one meal. By Friday afternoon I would be at the lowest weight of the week. I would then make up lost calories by eating during the weekend, but my weight would drop with time as you see in the graph (interestingly, weight drop usually comes in steps, not gradually).

In the process of running to lose weight, I fell in love with running.

I entered my first 5K in 2002 (Towpath) and finished at 21:27, good for 3rd place in my age group. I was ecstatic!   In 2003 I ran my first 10K and my first Half Marathon.  In 2004 I ran my first marathon (Towpath Marathon) under 4 hours (3:55).  As time went on, my times improved.  Most of my Personal Records right now are from 2009-2010: 19.19 for 5K, 1:30 for half marathon, 3:19 at the 2010 Cleveland Marathon.

A highlight for me was running the Athens Marathon in 2009 (report here) and then again in 2010, a historic occasion, celebrating 2,500 years from the battle of Marathon. 

In 2005 I overheard that one of my Saturday running friends would not be coming on Saturday because he wanted to run trails on Sunday, training for the Buckeye 50K. I had never run trails, but decided to join the training group on Sundays. I did all training runs and the last minute I signed up for the race. I did great, finishing at 5:14. Then I fell in love with trail running and ultra marathon running. So, in the course of a year I alternate trail and road running. I think this keeps me injury-free.  The Buckeye 50K remains my favorite race.  We live cloes to the Buckeye trail and regularly run in it, going from home to the rec center in Brecksville.

My goal now is to run a 100 mile race (Burning River) next summer under 24 hours!  My longest run so far has been the Mohican 50 mile (80 km) race (see report here).  My ultimage goal is to one day run the Spartathlon, 250 km (~150 miles) from Athens to Sparta, that needs to be finished under 40 hours.

A couple of years ago, my wife, Liz, starting running.  So now we go to races together.  She has run several half-marathons and many 5K and 10K (she ran the 10K in Athens in 2010, faster than the Prime Minster of Greece, George Papandreou!)  Our daughter Lea runs on and off, joining us in some races.  Our son Tony so far is not interested in running, only basketball.

In the Beginning - The first 40 years of my life


I have decided to change the focus of my running blog, to emphasize my new interest in low-carb nutrition. On August 21, 2011, I had an “Epiphany”. I came to realize that I was (like many fellow runners) eating too many carbs, and decided to embark in a low-carb nutrition for life. I will explain what happened in the next few blogs. So, from now on, in addition to race reports, there will be some talk about nutrition and other health issues. In this blog I would like summarize the first 40 years of my life with emphasis on exercise and weight.

I was born in Athens, Greece, on July 17, 1959. My house was only 10 minutes walking distance from Acropolis and my Elementary school was even closer “By the Shadow of the Parthenon”. At 4th grade I was accepted in Athens College, a prestigious private high school with ties to the USA. My parents could not afford to pay the tuition so my mother’s father (George, whose name I carry) helped with that.

As a kid I was a bit chubby, but not overweight. My body frame was a bit heavier than my classmates and especially my thighs were larger. I was also taller and stronger than the average kid in Elementary school. In sports I was first in “baseball throwing” (there was no baseball game in Greece, but in elementary school track & field, throwing a baseball ball was the only sport that involved throwing something – we were too young for shot put etc). I was also a great goalkeeper in soccer, due to my fast reflexes.

Here is a picture of my 5th Grade class. I was one of the taller kids, but, when I hit puberty, I did not grow up much, ending up being of average height (5’10”, 1.75m).

In middle and high school I switched from soccer to basketball and won 2nd place in discus throwing two years in a row. I then dropped track & field, and concentrated on playing basketball (I was the team captain for a while in high school, I was fast with good reflexes and outside shot). I was not a good student academically (until my Sophomore year) but I always liked sports. I was good in most sports, except for sprinting. I liked long distance running and I think I could have done well, but running for fitness was unknown at the time, and my high school coaches never paid any attention to me. In one timed run of 1K my time was equivalent to a 20 minute 5K. I enjoyed running “uneven road”, an equivalent to cross country. I remember doing some crazy things, like walking from Athens to Glyphada (at least 5-6 hours walking), riding my bike long distances, but it never occurred to me to run long distances.

Regarding nutrition, back in Greece in the 60s and 70s, low-fat was unknown. My yogurt boasted right on the label “10% fat”. We used plenty of olive oil in salads or to cook with, we ate chicken with skin (we also preferred dark pieces – men usually picked the dark pieces, leaving the inferior lean white pieces for the women), but also bread, potatoes and pasta. We did not eat sweets (or pop) except for special occasions. Yes, there is the famous Greek baklava, but they do not eat it regularly. Every Sunday with my family we would go out for dinner and then, at home, my father will send me to the store to buy a bar of chocolate, one bar for everyone. This was our special treat. There was no chocolate in the house during the week.

I also smoked since I was 14 years old. Here is a historic family picture: The summer after I graduated from high school, my father (right) is openly acknowledging the fact that I am smoking (he knew it, but it was supposed to be a secret) by lighting my cigarette under the supervision and clear approval of our family doctor and personal friend! I quit smoking after the 2nd year in the University. I was too interested in sports to keep smoking. My father and mother smoked, and my brother and sister are still smoking today.

After graduating from high school, I was accepted at the Athens Technical University (ΕΜΠ) to study Mining & Metallurgical Engineering. I specialized in Physical Metallurgy. I loved learning and did well, graduating with honors. Thirsty for knowledge, I wanted to continue my studies in the USA. I had my heart set to going to Columbia in New York, because one of the Metallurgy professors had my (not common) last name, Nick Themelis. But Northwestern University, in Evanston IL (near Chicago) gave me a great scholarship so in 1984, I left Greece for graduate studies in Material Science & Engineering.

Here is a family picture taken on September 4th 1984, just before we left for the airport. I am 25 years old and I look about 180 lbs. My father was overweight all his life (he does not look too bad in this picture) and so was his sister. My brother is now about 300 lbs.

In the USA I met my wife, Liz, right away. We lived in Evanston IL from 1984 to 1990. There we played intramural basketball, I walked a lot, rode my bike, and was generally thin. I look around 170 lbs in these pictures, taken around 1984-1985:

Regarding eating, I had a bit of a dietary shock. While cooking, my wife would carefully remove all the fat from the meat, and eat low-fat or no-fat dairy products. I immediately felt that something was missing from my diet, and now I know that this was fat. After dinner, I felt that I was filled but not satisfied. I gradually learned to replace fat with sugar. I tried to stick to my guns regarding milk and yogurt. I always liked chocolate milk but my wife refused to buy “whole milk” for me. Only skim milk at home. And, at best 2% yougart. “You do not need the fat” was her standard response. This seemed a bit funny to me, because after drinking skim milk, she would eat ice cream, so something did not quite add up.

We got married on May 2, 1987. Again, I look around 170 lbs in this wedding picture:

In 1990 we moved to Cleveland OH, where I got my first job. I rarely stepped up in the scale. My guess is that in 1990 I was about 180 lbs but started gaining a few pounds every year. For a long time I was round 190+ pounds. I was generally hiding my weight. Here are some pictures from 1994 to 1998. I must be around 190 lbs in these pictures.

By 2000 I was over 200 lbs, at the age of 40. Here is a family picture taken around this time (my wife had also gained weight - she eventually lost the extra weight, just like I did):

I remember in the summer of 2000 we went to Arizona.  We stopped at a restaurant and I ordered some kind of salad. It came in a huge plate. That was A LOT of food, but I managed to eat the entire plate. The waitress said that she did not remember anyone finishing this salad before. And that was one of my problems. I would not only eat everything in my plate, but I would also eat everything in my wife’s and children’s plates too! No wonder I gained so much weight.  Here is how I looked in this trip by the Grand Canyon. I estimate my weight to be around 210 lbs.

Oh my Gawd!  What have I done to myself???!!! (to be continued)