It’s been a while since I posted something to my running/nutrition blog, but while I ran hills this morning I thought it would be worth sharing a bit of the last year or so of training failures and successes.
I’m totally in for a 50 miler this spring. After two weeks of hard training things are looking good – my knees are holding their own. This has placed me in a very good state of mind lately and it’s mainly due to the energy I have been deriving from harder training. This has not always been the case. I’ve spent the last year somewhat sidelined due to nagging injuries while trying to maintain a healthy aerobic base and enough supplementary strength work to rehabilitate/preserve/restore those injuries.
As a relentless self-experimenter, halfway through my training for my first 50k, I started to experiment with becoming a better “fat-burner” after reading about Zach Bitter and some lower carbohydrate using endurance athletes. I don’t know whether or not this improved my ability to use fat as energy. It must have because I was not using carbohydrates and something was getting me through the long runs. But, in retrospect, I feel like I was not running my best. I have a sneaking suspicion that my performance took a turn for the worse close to the end of my 50k training schedule. When you self-experiment, you have to learn from your mistakes and adapt or adjust.
There are studies now showing certain positive aspects to adapting your body to use more fat for energy (i.e. develop a strong aerobic base) especially for endurance athletes. However, if you train in one modality, I feel it will limit your potential. In my experience, after 8+ months of aerobic threshold training and lower-carbohydrate eating, I found my speed diminishing considerably. Despite strength workouts, my hill running became non-existent because my heart rate monitor would demand a slower pace. Doing this without fuel was perhaps a mistake but there is so much literature and “experts” out there encouraging the train low race high without addressing common pitfalls. What is worth noting, too, is that my enthusiasm for running started fading and energy for other endeavors also started wavering.
I recently re-reread Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight, and Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. I also started to read and watch lectures by clinical nutritionists (and members of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and Physicians for Responsible Medicine) who go through the evidence to support dietary decisions. It prompted me to embrace whole grains and a plant-centered diet revolving around whole foods. I also start fueling again during most training runs and guess what? My performance is getting better by the second. Literally. I’m faster, my workouts are more intense, I’m more positive, I have more energy post-workout, and my endorphins are on the rise. I will still do some fasted workouts but I will be more strategic about it. So, the takeaway points, for me in this training cycle are what might seem like back to basics for most experienced runners but they are worth noting:
- Vary the modalities of your training: long, tempo, hill sprints, solely aerobic (heart rate), cross-training, strength, etc…You can try to cram two or three modalities into one week but do low-intensity between hard days (long, hills, tempo). Don’t be afraid to walk.
- For god’s sake, eat real food (lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, tubers, nuts and seeds) or as mobility and CrossFit guru, Kelly Starrett, says, “Don’t eat like an asshole!” If you are putting in the miles, eat a lot of carbohydrates before (2+ hours) and fuel with carbohydrates and protein (brown bananas, mangos, spinach, and vegan protein smoothie work for me!) afterwards to recover quickly.
- You will become a better fat burner if you wait 2-3 hours after a meal to do your workout. It’s a-ok to fuel while you run if you are doing a hard workout. You may burn more glycogen but your metabolism will make up for it post-workout by utilizing more fat while you recover. My favorites intra-workout fuels right now are: Tailwind and Skratch.
- Sleep more.