Tuesday, August 25, 2015

One Year With No Diet Sodas

By Mark | One year ago today I stopped drinking diet sodas for the rest of my life.

I am not here to preach to anyone who drinks diet sodas. I swore that when I traded smoking for running on Dec. 1, 2006, I would not be one of those pushy people who think he knows it all. Others can do as they please as none of us are going to live more than 100-and-change anyway.

This is a report of my own findings over a year of new beverage consumption. It has been tough at times, actually harder for me than quitting smoking. It is easy to avoid smoking; it is harder to avoid diet sodas because they are omnipresent, thanks to institutionalized soft-drink companies.

Before August 25, 2014, a typical day at the office for me would include a few trips to one of three beverage machines in our cafeteria, where my go-to was a Diet Coke, Diet Dr Pepper or Diet Pepsi. The far-right machine was bottled water only, and I would work those in as often as I could force myself to. My diet soda habit also encouraged fast-food drive-thru trips and bad food, all part of the package.

As I am writing this, I am in a car dealership service department, waiting for the dangling rear-view mirror on my Jeep to be fixed. I just went to the drink machine in the waiting room pictured here and looked over the choices: Monster Energy, Vitaminwater Fruit Punch, Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, Fuze Iced Tea, Seagram’s Ginger Ale, Coke Zero, Seagram’s Sparkling Seltzer Water Original and Fanta Grape.

That is fairly representative of what I find these days. If you swear off diet soda and you are a runner trying to keep sugar to a minimum, then what you see in an example like this is pretty disappointing. Again not judging others, but the world is going to have to catch up pretty soon to a lot of people, I think. That is where I will start the list of beverage lessons that I have learned in the last year:

1. I love seltzer. This was my choice in the beverage machine shown here. I was never a seltzer guy. Ohmygod was I not a seltzer guy. But I needed to replace that “fizz” with something else, and especially if I am eating something at the same time. I can’t do regular bottled water with food, just can’t. Seltzer, yes, and feel free to mix a small amount of lemonade or other flavoring as you wish (I do).

2. Iced tea rocks. My favorite is a large unsweetened iced tea from Art Café, an establishment in my neck of the woods in Nyack, NY. If you can make your own and throw a mint leaf in it, enjoy. They infuse it with mint and it is pure goodness and refreshment – especially after a run. As for iced-tea commodities, I often turn to Teas Tea, Gold Peak, any that are unsweetened and calorie-free. "Mint is an antispasmodic, so it can relax muscles, which combats stiffness and aches," says Susan Lark, MD, author of The Chemistry of Success (Bay Books, 1999). It aids in digestion by promoting the movement of food through the digestive tract, according to Fitness Magazine.

3. I love Zevia. There is not a consensus on how good these drinks are for you, but they don’t contain aspertame, which is the main reason I stopped drinking diet sodas. They do contain Stevia, a sugar substitute that is still up for debate as to its goodness. They come in various flavors, and to me they are the best substitute for the drinks I used to love. I’d like to see these in our work cafeteria!

4. Honest Tea needs to be more honest. You started as a go-to but soon your high-sugar versions became as omnipresent to me as name-brand diet sodas, at every market and highway stop. I did not give up diet sodas to turn to rich, unhealthy, sugar-loaded iced teas. Thus after a year’s findings I cannot include this beverage, at least not until calorie-free products are stocked on common USA shelves. Similarly, I just bought that Fuse Iced Tea Lemon out of the above drink machine, just to see what’s on the label and how it tastes; it is 70 calories and has 18 grams of sugar, so I would avoid that.

5. Do we really need this much energy? As you can see from the first choice in that drink machine and looking at every cashier counter in America, energy drinks dominate everything. I know I don’t have any use for this. I like coffee, and I’ll go to Starbucks for an iced coffee in the afternoon if needed. If I really need a pick-me-up, Starbucks Refreshers are pretty healthy as an alternative. But all the others, again I don’t want to judge anyone else, but I really hope no one harms themselves with these things. I was just surprised to learn the past year just how overbearingly omnipresent they are.

6. Coconut water is good but I lost interest. I was often mixing these in with diet sodas until a year ago, so it was fairly common to find a bottle of Zico on my desk or after a run. But in the process of quitting diet sodas, I completely lost my taste for coconut water. I can’t explain it, just saying that is what I found. Maybe all of that is related, maybe not. I don’t want coconut water.

7. I still drink bottled water, usually Poland Spring. I try not to drink the ones that prop up the diet soda business, but others can do whatever they want. Some days I chug water in mass quantities, some days I completely forget. If a marathon or half is coming up, a bottle of water is an extension of my hand. Obviously this is the No. 1 healthy beverage of all-time and for the future, as all the experts agree. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the Institute of Medicine has set an adequate intake of 125 ounces (about 15 cups) for men and 91 ounces (about 11 cups) for women. In most people, about 80 percent of this water volume comes from beverages; the rest comes from food.

8. Gatorade is great . . . on race day. I still drink it a little too often, and my goal is to limit it to ultimate races/workouts, where it is more useful as a regenerator of electrolytes, carbs and fluid. For most people, it is just another way to get extra sugar and calories.

9. Juices and smoothies. Yum. I still mix these in just as I did before I stopped drinking diet sodas, so nothing changes here but they still help fill that gap. Love our Nutriblasts.

10. It is always wine o'clock.
 Red wine. Italian wine. Red wine from the Puglia region of Italy. Yes, this has plentiful sugar as well, but hello it is wine o’clock and there are healthy benefits. Talk to me.

So, he are after a whole freaking year of avoiding diet sodas. Happy Asperversary to me.

My weight is about the same, as I have run only one marathon since then and have devoted much of my spare time in 2015 to personal projects. Being diet-soda-free once I pick up my training will mean welcomed weight loss. It isn't easy, but it feels good and I highly recommend it to anyone else who wants to try it. The alternatives are not as abundant as you will wish, but it is possible to keep it going, just as I proved when I traded a box of KOOLS for a box of ASICS and ran about 120 races.

What do you drink?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Extreme Heat or Extreme Cold?

By Mark | After doing this @Marathoner stuff for nearly a decade, I decided to list as many pros as I could for running in the most extreme heat and the most extreme cold. I like to run in both, and I know Rachel tackles them both as well. Every time I run -- such as today's brutally hot 4-miler on a trail along the Hudson River -- I come up with additions to this. Here's what I've got, with "Hot" leading just slightly (it has a calendar advantage right now). Please add your pros in the comments!


The freedom of lightweight clothing and speed.

Gels (in my case GU) keep their viscosity.

Safe footing that you can see, so no risk of falls and lower-leg injuries.

You look sexy, as opposed to the cold category.

Central Park water fountains are turned on so you can run hands-free then.

Always other runners around so you are inspired with company.

More road side surface to run on, as snowplowed shoulders deter cold runs.

Training for a marathon or half is just easier with steady scheduling.

Precipitation in summer (rain) is easier to run in than precip in winter (snow/ice).

There is more sun and everyone loves more sunshine.

No temptation to use the dreadmill.

You get to run through sprinklers, just like a kid. Can’t do that in the snow.

You can run on the beach. The ocean is there. It is paradise.

No bag check at that hottest race of the year! That means more sleep.

Trails are shaded so it keeps you cool.  No leaves in the winter.

The “Summer Wind” that Sinatra sang about is easier to handle. Not wind chill.

You know when a snot rocket has properly cleared your nose. No idea in January.

Much more variety of courses, as cold routes are more limited.

Stretching is easier, again because less constrictive clothing.

Cold muscles can’t perform at the same level as a muscle that is warm.

Summer Olympics have running events, not Winter Olympics. Inspiration there.


No Air Quality Alert advisories on your app. Pollen zero.

Wear whatever colors you want. Can’t wear dark colors on that hottest day.

No swarms of gnats to inhale in on your trail, and no bugs at all.

Hands-free without carrying water.

Run any time of day, as opposed to 4 or 5 am wakeups to beat the heat.

You don’t have to slow down as often.

You are so #beastmode tough out there by yourself. And no Instagram competition.

You can post one of those awesome pics of icicles forming on facial hair.

You’re not ready to pass out from heat stroke. Dehydration never a real concern.

You get to wear cool gear like ASICS Storm Shelter, including stuff that holds your mobile phone.

Yaktrax and Thorlos.

No heat cramps caused by fluid and electrolyte loss.

I wear Breathe-Right strips when I run, and super-hot humidity runs make them peel off.

Running while the snow is falling is a beautiful silence and serenity.

It's more fun to do gear reviews. There is more to write about!

A post-run bath or shower feels better than it does after running in the hottest weather.

The best food of the year is offset by a great run during the holidays.

Earbuds are less squishy with less ear sweat and water dumped over your head. You hear holiday music.

Please add your own hot-or-cold pros to the list in the comments! Yes, most probably would say it's better to run in spring or fall, but this is strictly about extreme hot or cold.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Did you think you could stop the future? Meet QUANTUM-MAN!

"This is your chance...to become the hero."

"The suit has power."

"Did you think you could stop the future?"

"I need you to be...the QUANTUM-MAN!"

By Mark
| Thanks to ASICS for sending me a pair of the brand-new GEL-Quantum 360 running shoes to review. At first, I had to "marvel" at their appearance. They are part of an action-hero costume, with thick individual gel "teeth" that offer spring for bouncing up to the top of our New York City buildings, and a secret power that shall be revealed below.

I brought them to work with me today for a training run in Lower Manhattan, beside the new World Trade Center tower or Central Park, so look for possible superhero tweets.

"You have superhuman strength." A glimpse of the secret power...

I saw this and my tongue started wagging . . .

"The suit has power."

ASICS superhero shoe creators engineered these for "a high octane ride with 360 degrees of GEL Cushioning technology." SECRET POWER REVEALED: "The discrete construction of the full length Trusstic System delivers support and a spring-loaded ride to power through each workout."

See what I mean? "Spring-loaded" is the operative phrase. Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads. . . .

The advanced FluidFit upper is constructed to provide strategic support so "the only thing runners will notice is how great their feet feel while running in the GEL-Quantum 360."

"It's not about saving our world...it's about saving theirs."

"Don't let anyone tell you that you have nothing to offer."

As usual, King Bingley has to see what's going on. His immediate reaction was, of course: "Does this mean walky-walk???" I'm like, have no fear little English Bulldog. I am QUANTUM-MAN."

The GEL-Quantum 360 is a neutral, so it fits within my current shoe rotation. I am coming off the most cushiony 15 miles I have ever done around Central Park in the last nine years, this past weekend's TCS New York City Marathon Long Training Run #1. I did the full 6 mile loop followed by two 5-mile loops, so all the requisite hills and pounding on the regular paved running path rather than my preferred soft interior bridle path. That was done with my ASICS GEL-Nimbus 17s. My friends at ASICS HQ sent me those to test, as well as ASICS GEL-Kayano 21s. My go-to race shoe right now is the Nimbus, and it possibly is my best shoe for life (what's yours?), but in nine years of running I have found it good to mix a rotation as long as it's in your shoe type (neutral).

Here is the rotation I will be using mainly to train in coming months for shorter and marathon distances, up to and including next spring's Rome Marathan and, I hope, London Marathon. My fellow ASICS LA Marathon Blogger Challenge alum Ryan posted a good entry on how he is incorporating these shoes into his training routine. I unfortunately had to withdraw from the NYC Marathon this November because it conflicts with my World Series work schedule in some National League city to be determined, but it will be replaced with a 16th marathon somewhere, and honestly you don't even have to worry when you are QUANTUM-MAN wearing Superhero Specials.



ASICS GEL-Nimbus 17

How they looked after Saturday's 15-miler...

How they looked last week on a trail...

How they look at the ASICS NYC Meatpacking District Store...

ASICS GEL-Kayano 21

How they looked during a run down the Financial District...

How they look at ASICS NYC Meatpacking District Store...

And I thought women would like to see how they look for you all, too...

On a side note, my wife Lisa has assured me that I am taking up enough space in our hallway shoe/coat closet, and that it is time to make another shoe donation. She is right. This will be happening soon, so if anyone has a good suggestion on the best place to donate shoes these days, I will follow up. Here is my blog post about donating shoes back in 2011, and times may have changed. I know the Brooklyn Half Pre-Party in May was one place to donate, so if there is something like that again or a better route, just let me know!

Monday, July 20, 2015

NYC Marathon Long Training Runs

My 2014 #LongTrainingRun #1 used bib
Update: I ran 15 miles in 3:05:37 on 7/25/15.

By Mark 
@marathoner | I have been a member of New York Road Runners since December 2006, and one of my go-to events on their calendar is a race that is not technically scored. It is the New York City Marathon #LongTrainingRun #1 coming this Saturday at Central Park, followed a month later by New York City Marathon Long Training Run #2. Even in years when I have not run the NYCM, I have entered one or both of these events because they are such awesome preparation for any races on your schedule. Such is the case this time, as I am entered in the NYCM but will not be able to run due to work obligations. We are starting the World Series later than usual this year, so Game 4 is Marathon Eve and I'll be immersed in the national pastime.

My 2012 #LongTrainingRun #1 bib.
I thought other runners might appreciate seeing with graphics how the LTRs are conducted, and you can see why these always sell out. Below are four versions of the Central Park map. The park's running path is 6 miles around. As you can see on the NYRR event page, LTR1 is listed as "6 to 20 miles." It is entirely up to the individual runner, based on his or her training progress. Pace teams are provided from 7 minutes to 11 minutes. I have no expectations for this one, since I am in reboot mode following All-Star work and a personal life project in recent months.

There is no timing tag, although there will be clocks on the course, pace groups, volunteers and fluid stations, plus gels. Here's how it works:

FIRST LOOP: 6 miles

On each map, a blue "S" denotes the starting point and we always go in counter-clockwise direction, which is the normal direction at Central Park, anyway. At 7 a.m., we begin the day confronting the toughest hill at the park, the big north hill at the very top. That mile exists only in the first loop, so we will run the entire path for the first six miles. After that, the top section will be shaved off. We finish in the middle of the 102nd Street Transverse, and you can take a gel break, refresh yourself, and then the NYRR crew will gradually announce pace teams as they depart again for the second loop.

SECOND LOOP: 5 miles (11 total)

So we do not run up the biggest hill from here on out, but we do have the "roller coaster" of 3 or 4 gentle hills on the West Drive, and every lap we have to go up Cat Hill, the second largest incline on the course. You can find it on the map from the Boat House past Metropolitan Museum of Art, on East Drive in the 70s and 80s. By this point, the park is starting to fill with visitors on a beautiful summer Saturday. Again, we stop in the middle of the 102nd Street Transverse, collect ourselves, and then join the same or a new pace group.

THIRD LOOP: 5 miles (16 total)

This is identical to the previous map, but guess what? By the time you pass Strawberry Fields on the West Drive next to The Lake, you have just run a half-marathon. Pat yourself on the back. Then keep running. Follow around the south end of the park, then enjoy running beside all the tourists on board the horse-drawn carriages. (A tradition that bears discussion for another day.) Once again, run up Cat Hill, reach the 102nd Street Transverse, and then you're at 16 miles.

FOURTH LOOP: 4 miles (20 total)

For the warriors who are at this stage, it is just the "interior loop" of the park. The bottom section is shaved off, so it's a four-mile lap, and it reminds me that I once ran this lap NINE TIMES in finishing the 2008 Knickerbocker 60K ultra. Packs of runners in their pace groups will take this one on, and finish against on the top transverse. Day over.

What I love most about these races is the shared spirit as runners chill and sit on the bank next to the ballfields at the top transverse, between and after the loops. It is informal but it is also structured, just enough that you know you are all together, and you aren't there just for fun. For me, it is a training run that really forces me to push myself, to see where I am at.

Like here, at the start of the 2011 #LongTrainingRun #1, where we grouped by pacers:

In 2007, it was at this race that I realized I had plantar fasciitis, hitting me hard at mile 14, and surfacing a problem I would fix the next spring. In 2012, I toughed through a really humid day on my way to a NYC Marathon that never happened (I ran Harrisburg instead).

Long Training Run #2 is on August 16 and also is listed as "6 to 20 miles" and really the third in the prep series is the NYC Marathon Tuneup 18M on September 20. That one is near-capacity as of this writing, so hurry and get in if you have a chance. That one is three full 6-mile loops around, and once you have dealt with that north hill three times in a row, you're pretty much ready.

Follow me on Twitter @marathoner
See my Finisher tumblr

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Meet my new friend.

Thanks to my brother-in-law Joe for hooking me up with one of his trusty rides, a Schwinn Circuit. It has everything I need and I just need to do a tape job on the handlebars. The benefit for me is going to be big, a way not only to cross-train heading toward upcoming marathons, but also just to keep it fresh as I zoom toward my 10th runnerversary in 2016. You gotta mix things up.

Sweet ride, nice to meet you. It's been a long time since I actually rode a bike, believe it or not. Here we go! Follow me @Marathoner on Twitter and @Marath0ner on Instagram.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sports Medicine PT Stefanie Bourassa #runHMF Chat Transcript

The Hartford Marathon Foundation just ran a helpful #askHMF Twitter chat at @RunHMF with senior sports med physical therapist Stefanie Bourassa. Learn about Stefanie and her team at Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network on their blog.

Idiots rock