Wednesday, November 27

Happy Thanksgiving!

We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Feeling incredibly blessed. We hope you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving! 

Monday, November 25

Calories In, Calories Out

Last week I gave a speech at LUV Toastmasters, a public speaking organization at Southwest Airlines. The topic was on calories and the concept of "energy balance": calories in, calories out. I stay pretty high-level, but hopefully get the point across that the calorie equation doesn't do much for us in terms of explaining weight-gain (or loss).

Mark Sisson does a fantastic job of debunking myths about this faulty equation. Read his post here.

Thursday, November 21

Houston Marathon: Week 7

Week 7 Primary Focus:           Speed, Strength, Checkpoint
Longest Run To-Date:             10mi

This was a tough week. As you can see, I ran five different times for a grand total of just over 23mi -- the most mileage I've put in since starting the training seven weeks ago. The individual runs weren't long (longest run was just over 7mi), but the sum total over the seven days added up. The intensity of the workouts also increased as my focus shifted to more speed.

You've heard me mention both 'volume' and 'intensity' throughout this series, so I wanted to take some time to briefly cover each topic and the difference between the two.

Volume & Intensity

Volume is the quantity of mileage or the duration of time. When people talk about volume they're sometimes referring to longer endurance runs; but most the time people speak about volume in terms of a sum total of mileage over a given period of time. As an example, a 'high-volume' week would typically include longer runs that add up to a good amount of mileage.

Intensity refers more to the level of effort put forth during individual workouts. Yasso 800s, hill repeats and other interval/speed workouts are prime examples of high-intensity. Most of them all end up being shorter runs (3.5-4mi) but at a very fast pace or hard effort where the heart rate is elevated.

Volume and intensity are both two different levers we can pull to achieve a certain workload. It's the aggregate of that workload (with incorporated recovery & nutrition) during a training program that makes the athlete stronger and faster.

Volume x Intensity = Workload

Many traditional marathon training programs rely too heavily on the volume lever, encouraging runners to put in ridiculous amounts of mileage which beats up the body and increases the odds of injury. This mentality of "more is better" is becoming a philosophy of the past as more and more research indicates less volume and higher intensity is a safer and more effective way to train.

I want to expand on this concept of workload just a little further. My Coach and I use an online software program called Training Peaks to communicate back and forth regarding my training. He submits my schedule for the week and I'm able to view it in a calendar format. I then upload my workout files (gathered by my Garmin sports watch) so that he's able to analyze and determine my progress. Training Peaks has a measurement that they call a "Training Stress Score." Essentially, it's a number that takes into account both volume and intensity to approximate "the overall training load and physiological stress created."

Just so you can get a gauge on the different scores, consider the following workouts and their respective TSS:

45min Zone 2 Run: 26.7
This week's Yasso 800: 54.4
Newport Marathon: 347.8

November 17, 2013: Yasso 800s (#3)

Yasso 800 #3 was a bit of a mess. My legs were not fresh as this was at the end of a tough week. Furthermore, it was 82 degrees outside! Not sure why I was surprised by this, as it's a pretty common thing for November in Dallas. Regardless, for the past several weeks the hottest it had been was in the upper-60s, so this increase in temperature threw me off a bit as my body wasn't used to it. Having said all of this, my willpower muscle kicked in and I was able to match Yasso 800 #2 back in Week 5 by completing 5 sets. I suppose you can call this 'progress' all things considered.

Back to the Houston Marathon home page.

Southern Shrimp and Cauliflower Grits

Prep Time: 1-4 hour (for marinating)
Cook Time: 40 min
Serves: 2-3
Tools: Food processor or immersion blender


Shrimp Marinade:
·         Zest from 1 lemon
·         2 cloves garlic, minced
·         3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
·         1 tsp dried oregano
·         1 lbs raw shrimp, shelled and de-veined

Cauliflower Mash:
·         1 head of cauliflower, cut into large florets
·         6 cloves garlic, peeled
·         extra-virgin olive oil
·         Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
·         2 tbs Kerry Gold butter (grass-fed) (or, Ghee for Whole30'ers)
·         ¼ cup of coconut milk

Lemon Garlic Shrimp:
·         Marinated shrimp (from above)
·         4 cloves garlic, minced
·         3 slices bacon
·         1 tbs Kerry Gold butter (grass-fed) (or, Ghee for Whole30'ers)
·         3 tbs of white wine vinegar
·         ½ sweet onion, diced
·         ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
·         1 tsp of dried oregano
·         juice of one lemon
·         Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
·         Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)


  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a seal-able bag: lemon zest, 2 garlic cloves, olive oil, oregano. Add shrimp and mix well. Let it marinade in the refrigerator for 1-4 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F.  Place the cauliflower and 6 garlic cloves in a shallow roasting pan.  Toss with enough olive oil to coat the pan and the vegetables.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the cauliflower and garlic loosely with foil, and roast for 15 minutes.
  4. While the cauliflower is roasting for these first 15 min, prepare the onion and garlic for cooking the shrimp. Dice the onion and mince the 4 garlic cloves.
  5. After 15 min, remove the foil on the cauliflower, and shake to mix up the vegetables for more even browning.  Roast uncovered for 15 more minutes or until cauliflower and garlic is soft and lightly browned.  Remove from oven.
  6. While the cauliflower is roasting for another 15 min, cook the bacon strips in a heavy sauté pan until crispy. When done, save the bacon drippings for cooking the lemon garlic shrimp, and set aside the bacon pieces on paper towels. Chop the bacon pieces into small piece when cool, and save to sprinkle on top of your finished dish.
  7. When the cauliflower is done, add 2 tbs of butter and ¼ cup of coconut milk to a food processor or immersion blender. Then add the cauliflower and garlic. Puree until smooth or desired texture is reached. Ideally, you want the cauliflower to have the consistency of grits. Add more coconut milk if the cauliflower is too dense. Add salt and pepper to taste and place in a heat-proof bowl to keep warm.
  8. Add 1 tbs of butter to the bacon drippings in the pan, and heat until melted over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano, and sauté for about a minute, stirring frequently.  Stir in white wine vinegar and cook until liquid is reduced by half (will only take a few minutes).
  9. Add the shrimp, stirring frequently and turning the shrimp until it’s pink and opaque on both sides.  This should only take 3 or 4 minutes; do not overcook the shrimp or they will be rubbery!
  10. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from heat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve the shrimp and sauce over the mashed cauliflower.  Garnish with chopped bacon and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  12. Enjoy!

Monday, November 18

Houston Marathon: Week 6

Week 6 Primary Focus:           Strength & Endurance, Speed
Longest Run To-Date:             10mi

This week's focus was slightly different in that we're beginning to incorporate speed on a regular basis. The beginning of the week started off with two off-days back-to-back. One was planned, and the other was an adjustment.


I've mentioned this in previous posts (herehere), but I'm a firm believer in having a coach if you can afford one. A customized training plan can add a ton of benefit to achieving your goals, regardless of how aggressive or modest they may be. One of the reasons coaches are so important is because they tailor your training program in real-time. As an example, if you complete a workout and the coach noticed certain aspects of that workout (pace, heart rate, other feedback) that would indicate fatigue, he or she may be likely to scale back your workload for the coming days to allow for proper recovery.

Another reason for adjustments include injury-related incidents. A coach will not continue to prescribe runs if the athlete's foot is messed up. Instead, the coach may try to incorporate low-impact aerobic exercise like cycling and swimming, supplemented with some specific weight training.

The most common reason my workout schedule is adjusted is because sometimes life gets in the way. We all live busy lives and as critical as it is to have a plan, sometimes those plans get interrupted by unforeseen events. To be able to shoot my coach a text or e-mail saying "Hey Mike, I'm not able to get my run in this evening as I'm working late" is a luxury I'm more than willing to pay for. Without hesitation, he rearranges some workouts in my schedule and tweaks a few things about some workouts. The training program is designed with intent. Just because you miss one run doesn't mean you should just double-up the following day.

More on why coaches are a good idea in a later post.

Onward and upward!

Picture provided by @HoustonMarathon

Back to the Houston Marathon home page.

Thursday, November 14

Coconutty Pancakes

Prep Time: 15 min.
Cook Time: 15-20 min.
Serves: 4-6
Tools: Food processor

3 eggs
3 tbs melted Kerry Gold butter or coconut oil
1/4 c plus 2 tbs coconut milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp honey (optional)
1/2 c coconut flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 c chopped coconut flakes
1/4 c chopped almonds
1/2 c of water (approximately)
Optional toppings: berries, syrup, butter, cashew butter

1. Whisk together eggs, butter, coconut milk, honey, almond extract and vanilla extract.
2. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg, and then add the wet ingredients, stirring until smooth.
3. Place the coconut flakes and almonds in a food processor to make sure they're chopped up well. Gently stir in the chopped coconut flakes and almonds into the batter.
4. As the water to thin the batter until it reaches your desired consistency. In a well-buttered pan or griddle, cook the pancakes until browned on both sides (about 3 min a side).
5. Smaller pancakes are easier to flip than larger ones as the pancakes will fall apart if they are too big.
6. Enjoy with syrup, butter, berries or cashew butter!

Wednesday, November 13

A Prayer for Comfort

Below is a prayer Jessie and I have shared with scores of people over the years. Often times we look at it when we're feeling down. Regardless of your religious beliefs, we hope these words speak to you.

We love your kingdom, O God, with its promise of justice, its feeling of compassion, its dimensions of joy and hope, its sense of eternity. In our times of darkest despair, it encourages us. In our moments of deepest exhaustion with life it bids us stand and go forward. Therefore we pray for those this morning who have come here tired and discouraged for any reason, that they may remember that your kingdom is both now and forever, and that the seeds of belief and trust may be reawakened in their lives, to bring them once more to a harvest of love and excitement in living. Help us to voice to you our most intimate thoughts, and, having done so, to find healing and support for our entire existence. Amen.

Tuesday, November 12

The Importance of Breakfast

Houston Marathon: Week 5

Week 5 Primary Focus:           Strength & Endurance, Checkpoint
Longest Run To-Date:             9.3mi

The primary focus remained the same this week as I continued to do workouts that are making me stronger, as well as increasing my endurance. As a reminder, it's this phase of training that's providing me the foundation to run 26.2mi. Think about it this way: theoretically, once this 'stage' of training is complete, and assuming I'm recovered and rested, I'd be able to go out and run a marathon. Notice, however, that I didn't specify how fast. It's later in the training that the primary focus will shift from strength/endurance to more speed and pacing.

A run is a run is a run

When I first started taking endurance sports seriously I had a habit of getting way too pumped up about successful workouts. Conversely, I'd get way too down on myself when my workout wasn't to up to par. I can vividly remember finishing some runs throughout my training for the 2011 Chicago Marathon and thinking: "I'm ready! I'm going to rock this!" And on the flip side I can remember almost panicking after finishing a training run because of how poorly it went. In other words, my high's were too high and my low's were too low. 

Those dramatic swings in emotions from workout to workout can take a mental toll and expedite burnout. It creates unnecessary anxiety throughout training which is nothing more than an energy drain. I remember a few years ago I did a training run that was awful. I felt lethargic, my legs were heavy, my pace was slow and it was overall just a bad run. Afterwards, I analyzed the heck out of it and felt extremely depressed about my progress (or lack thereof). I sent a long write-up to my coach at the time who simply responded with: "Sometimes, Brian, a run is a run is a run. We got the completion. Let's move on."

It's taken me a while to to truly 'get it', but now that I do, it's helped the mental aspect of my training, and by extension the physical aspect has also yielded benefits. In training, a lot of times you have to realize that a run is a run. Don't get too elated after a good workout, because a bad one is likely to follow. And don't get too put out by a crummy workout, because you'll nail one around the corner. I'm not saying don't celebrate the wins throughout your training, but what I am saying is that keeping an even keel is critical.

November 3, 2013: Yasso 800s (#2)

Back in Part II: Baseline, I described Yasso 800s as a training mechanism and a way to measure progress. As a reminder, the goal is to complete 10 sets (or 800s). Back at the end of September I completed three. On November 3rd of this week I completed five. Nothing to jump for joy about, nor to get worried about. It's progress, but I've still got work to do. After all, a run is a run is a run.

Back to the Houston Marathon home page.

Monday, November 11

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

The other night I needed a quick and healthy meal as I finished my run after work a little late and had volunteering at my church in less than an hour. I had the perfect ingredients to put together paleo-friendly Asian chicken wraps and I'm excited to share my newest recipe with you! 

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 10 min
Serves: 4
Tools: Heavy sauce pan with lid

8-10 chicken tenders
1/4 cup coconut aminos
1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 red bell pepper
4 scallions
1 8oz can water chestnuts
1 tbs freshly ground ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1/4 cup water
1 head buttercup lettuce


1. Heat large sauce pan and begin to cook chicken in coconut aminos and water
2. Slice the scallions and chop up the red pepper. 
3. After the chicken has begun to brown, add the scallions, red pepper, water chestnuts, freshly ground ginger, garlic powder and sesame oil.
4. Stir ingredients together, cover and let cook for 10-15 min stirring periodically until the chicken is cooked through. 
5. Wash butter cup lettuce and lay lettuce pieces out on a plate. Place the asian chicken in the lettuce cups. Wrap up and enjoy!

Friday, November 8

Houston Marathon: Week 4

Week 4 Primary Focus:           Strength & Endurance, Training Race
Longest Run To-Date:             9.3mi

Two of the three runs this week were my longest runs to-date. The first was a 75min zone 2 run, and the second was a 15K (9.3mi) training race. Compared to the previous weeks, I really increased my volume (mileage). At the end of the week I knew I had made substantial progress since documenting my baseline almost a month ago, but that I've still got a ways to go.

Training Races

I'm a major proponent of training races, which are nothing more than prescribed workouts within organized events. Put another way, it's an actual race you register for and run, it's just not the exact one you're training for. Training races are great to practice pre-race rituals such as sleep, nutrition and warm-up. It's also a good run-through of race-day logistics such as bib pick-up, parking, etc. Essentially, training races mimic your actual "A" race (which is the Houston Marathon for me) without the same type of pressure to perform. 

Halloween Hustle 15K

My first training race, or "Houston dress rehearsal" if you will, was the Halloween Hustle 15K in a Dallas suburb called McKinney. It was a very small race, a couple of hundred people at most.

The day before the race I made sure to stay off my feet as much as possible. I continued my Paleo way of eating, but scaled my carbohydrates up. This simply means I consumed a higher proportion of carbohydrate than normal by eating more sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruit. (For the reason why, see "The Chicago Bonk" section in this post.) I also made sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water and electrolytes [by way of an occasional Nuun tablet]. I was in bed at an early hour to ensure ample amount of sleep.

My alarm went off at 5:45a on race morning. The race started at 8:00a and I needed to be sure to eat my pre-race meal exactly two hours prior. This gives my body ample time to digest. I had a fruit smoothie that contained two raw eggs (mostly carbohydrates with some protein and a little fat). 20min prior to the race I started warming up. I did some light jogging with a few bursts of speed, along with some run drills to get loose and practice form.

At 8:00a the gun went off and the race started. My strategy was to run the first 5K at an 8:00min/mi, the second at 7:30min/mi and the last at a 7:00min/mi. This is what many refer to as "negative splits" or "building"; this simply means to increase the pace as time goes on. Like most runners, I started off too fast. Adrenaline and excitement got the best of me. I acknowledged it, however, and made the correction. After the first 5K I sped up to what was supposed to be a 7:30min/mi. Instead, I averaged about a 7:13min/mi. The last 5K I sped up again to what was supposed to be a 7:00min/mi. Instead, I averaged a 6:39min/mi. 

For the full 15K (9.3mi) I ended up averaging a 7:10min/mi, which was too fast. The good news was that I was able to negative split the 5K's, but the bad news is that I really need to work on my pacing. I was able to get away with running too fast for 9mi, but virtually tripling that distance for a marathon (26.2mi) I won't be so lucky.

Back to the Houston Marathon home page.

Monday, November 4

Pumpkin Muffins

Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Makes: 8-10 muffins

½ cup coconut flour, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½  teaspoon baking soda
½ cup cooked pureed pumpkin
6 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons coconut oil (or unsalted Kerry Gold butter), gently melted
¼ cup pure maple syrup, preferably Grade A or honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Grease muffin pan(s) very well or use aluminum disposable muffin liners (these muffins will stick to paper muffin liners). Using aluminum foil muffin liners instead of paper liners also allows the muffins to sit unsupported on a sheet pan without a muffin tin. A double batch baked in aluminum liners will fit on a large sheet pan for easier and faster baking of larger quantities.
3. Mix coconut flour, baking soda, and spices into a small bowl. Stir to blend well and set aside.
4. Place pumpkin puree in a medium mixing bowl. One by one, crack the eggs into the bowl, mixing well with the pumpkin puree after each egg is added.
5. Add melted coconut oil or butter, maple syrup, and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.
6. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and blend well with a whisk until most of the floury lumps have disappeared, but don’t stir more than necessary to blend. Gently fold in nuts, if using.
7. Spoon into greased muffin pan or cup liners to two-thirds full. Bake for 18–20 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top and toothpick inserted into center of muffin is “clean” when removed.
8. Turn out and cool on wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature.
9. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 3

Houston Marathon: Week 3

Week 3 Primary Focus:           Strength & Endurance, Recovery
Longest Run To-Date:             6.9mi

Although this phase of my training is still focused on building strength and endurance, this week was a little different in that the 'sub-focus' was on recovery. Most of this was planned around the fact that I was out of town and unable to train. It actually worked out nicely though, as I was beginning to feel the compounded effects of the work I had put in the past few weeks. Or plainly put: I was starting to feel tired.

Rest & Recovery

Rest and recovery in regards to endurance sports is without a doubt deserving of its own post. But for the intent of this Houston Marathon series, I'm going to remain at a higher level. 

This topic is one of my absolute favorites. Probably because it's a widely misunderstood key component of training that often goes ignored.* I see it first hand with fellow triathletes and runners in my own community. Folks who don't give recovery the same attention to detail they give their workouts isn't without peril. They either injure themselves, or get slower -- not faster. And as a believer in the Paleo mentality: chronic cardio is already an unhealthy activity, so to not mitigate the effects by resting isn't doing the body a whole lot of good.

*It is important to note that some argue there's a distinction between rest, and recovery. I'd agree, there is a difference. But for the purpose of this post I'm consolidating the two concepts into one.

Running injuries are abundant, in part, due to overtraining and not enough recovery time. As one article from the Wall Street Journal so eloquently put it: "In marathon running, defeat is broadly defined as failure to reach the finish line. But more often it is a failure to reach the start.

My first coach, Coach David, used to always say: "I'd rather you show up to the starting line 50% undertrained than 1% overtrained." Very funny, I thought. No chance you're going to let this competitive, Type A personality not train his butt off. It wasn't until I got injured that I realized the message he was trying to convey: you can only train as much as your body can recover from. In other words, your body has a threshold to sustain and undergo stress. To oscillate around that threshold is okay, if done correctly. It's part of the coach's job to constantly toe that line: to know when it's alright to push someone harder, and conversely, when it's time to back off. This consistent push & back-off, workout & recover can actually move that aforementioned threshold, making one stronger and faster.


In the last post I mentioned that working out actually makes you weaker. It's the rest/recovery which allows your muscles to repair themselves that make you stronger. The technical term for this is called "supercompensation." Sounds fancy, but is pretty simple. At its most basic form, here's how it works.

When you workout, you're breaking down muscle fibers and becoming weaker/slower (the "training" section in the graph below). As you recover, your body compensates for the breakdown in muscle fibers by rebuilding them back to your initial baseline level. Over an extended period of training and recovery, your body not only compensates, but "supercompensates." That is to say your body anticipates the workload that's coming and overcompensates by making you stronger/faster.


I won't go into detail here, but I wanted to at least mention some recovery tactics I utilize during training.
  • Active Recovery: this involves exercise at a very low intensity to loosen up the legs. It also requires minimal impact on the joints (swimming, cycling, yoga, etc.).
  • Foam Rolling: read more here.
  • Stretching: some good videos at TriDaily here
  • Massage: I'm a big believer in massage therapy during training if it's in your budget.
  • Sleep: sleep is critical for optimal recovery; your body produces hormones while you sleep that help facilitate the repair of muscle tissue (thus making you stronger/faster).
  • Nutrition: eating a diet we outline on our blog reduces inflammation and expedites recovery. Browse the "Better Nutrition" tab or more specifically, read this post.
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