Monday 30 December 2013

Weight Loss: There Is A Better Way

If you've been following my "weight loss" series (Why bother? and Why is it so hard?), I've now got to the point where I'm going to be even more blunt and opinionated.
When it comes to the matter of body weight/fat there are two types of people; people who have a metabolic/endocrine problem and people who don't.  I previously thought the former group was vanishingly small, but I've been reading and learning a lot and I've changed my mind.  People with genetic, pre-existing endocrine problems -are- rare; people with acquired metabolic problems are pretty common and it's usually varying degrees of insulin sensitivity from the sensitive to bordering on type II diabetes and mainly due to battering the body with high levels of (refined) carbohydrates until it starts to give up.  Some bodies are more susceptible than others to running into problems with this.  Some take a long time to show any effects.  Some never have a problem at all.

Gary Taubes, Tim Noakes, Steven Phinney, Jeff Volek, Peter Attia, Aseem Malhotra, Yoni Freedhoff and many others have researched, thought, read, and digested (pun intended) on the topic and have come to the conclusion that the modern obesity pandemic is caused by cheap, freely available, highly processed, large amounts of carbohydrates in the human diet.  Not just Western society; but increasingly across the whole of the world and as the availability of cheap, highly processed carbs increases, any given country will see an increase in obesity, diabetes and a number of other chronic diseases.

If you put on weight quite easily, are slowly gaining weight as you get older, have a high waist-to-hip ratio, struggle to lose weight or maintain healthy weight, crave foods, get hungry a lot of the time, think about food a lot (in terms of when/where is your next meal coming, or how you can justify eating X or Y, not in terms of a recipe you'd like to try 'cause it looks interesting or it's your job etc.) you are probably along the path to insulin insensitivity/resistance.  If that is the case, you would probably benefit from a low carbohydrate diet for general health reasons and a side-effect of a low carbohydrate diet could well be weight loss.  When I say "diet" here, I do not mean it in the sense of "going on a...", I mean it in the sense of what you eat for now and forever.

If you don't put on weight easily, have a relatively healthy waist-to-hip ratio, don't vary much in body weight with time, have no problem losing a few pounds (maybe for the racing season?), don't get food cravings, don't have "intrusive thoughts of food", then you're probably towards the "no problem" end of the insulin sensitivity scale.  You're quite lucky.  Also, a low carbohydrate diet will probably have little effect on your weight.  That said, there are a good few reasons why you might want to move to a higher fat (and, logically, lower carb) diet (have a read of Why We Get Fat and what to do about it and/or The Great Cholesterol Con).  I don't mean to the extent of this...

...but golly-gosh there are a lot of good things in some of them thar fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, beef fat (grass fed), salmon (wild), mackerel, herring, butter and milk (grass fed), eggs (free range, organic), macadamia nuts, brazil nuts etc.

So if you are away from the lucky end of the insulin sensitivity scale and want to change, take a look at your diet.  See how much white flour, potatoes, sugar, white rice etc. you eat, or even how much brown rice, brown flour, brown pasta, bananas, fruit juices etc. if it's more than 200g or so per day.  If you are struggling to lose weight, suffer unpleasant hunger/cravings, can't make it work on a calorie counting diet (usually low fat), CHANGE THE STRATEGY.  Swap low fat for low carb.  Eat real butter, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fish and feel less hunger.  If you go low enough carb for a few days you'll stop getting cravings, stop the constant thinking about food, stop the horrible hunger sensations.  You'll enjoy what you're eating!  You'll start to find that things like strawberries are insanely sweet-tasting without adding sugar because you can actually taste them properly.  You'll start to find that you don't need a huge plate piled high with pasta, rice, potatoes, bread etc. to feel satisfied after a meal.

And if you think it's all too much like hard work, there are so many quick and easy things you can make/cook/grab on the go.  And if you think low carb is too restrictive and all you'll be eating is bacon and eggs... well, there's a lot of help and ideas and once you get going it's really really easy.

And it's a change for life.

Sunday 29 December 2013

So. Boring.

This up and down feeling gets really very tedious.  So goes the cycle:-

  • Yay! Enthusiasm for a training programme!
  • Following it quite well under controlled circumstances.
  • YAY! Feeling really good about it all!
  • Following it quite well under controlled circumstances.
  • Being convinced you're slower and less fit than $time_period_of_choice.  Boo!
  • Feeling really down because you thought you were doing well, but you're not (well, you probably are, but are choosing the wrong metrics at the wrong time). Booo!
  • Circumstances changing outside your control.
  • Failing to follow the training plan very well. BOO!
  • Feeling devastated as everything is clearly doomed. BOOO!
  • Shuffling the plan to fit better with new circumstances.
  • Feeling a bit better about it all. Yay!
  • Failing to follow the modified plan.
  • Feeling devastated and convinced everything will be disastrous. Boo!
  • Being 2 weeks out from a serious undertaking.
  • Frantically trying to find ways to recover any fitness/speed. Booo!
  • Knowing it's far too late for that. BOO!
  • Feeling like a total failure. BOOO!

...and back to the start again.

I'm at the final two points on the last 13 days into Country to Capital.



It's *such* a *tedious* cycle and it gets *so* *boring*.

2012 weekly training hours
It wasn't like this last year right up until I smashed up my collar bone.  I was averaging 11 hours a week from December 2011 to September 2012.  Since then, I've averaged 5-6 hours a week and it's mostly down to new job in March, then not cycling much in the last few months (which hammers my base fitness something rotten, plus chips away at my cycling handling and hill climbing/descending capability) and being in an awkward and unfamiliar location.  Depressing.  And it'd be nice to say it's on the mend in a week's time when we're properly back home again, but I can't do a whole lot that week as it'll only knacker me out for said Country to Capital and that wouldn't help the state of my brain.  And then I need a good few days easing very gently back into things as I will have toasted my leg muscles and engine a bit.  So it's more like 2-3 weeks before I can really get back into things.

2013 weekly training hours
And there's another new job.  But there could be a great up-side to that in the possibility of commuting by bike opens up (thanks also to Vulpine's marvellous merino and nice, smart clothing for cycling in).  And there's a few months before the first proper triathlon of the season... 130 days to Mallorca 70.3

Mallorca 70.3 bike route & profile

We'll see.

For now, I fight the positivity battle to get me to 11th January and through Country to Capital inside the cut-off time. (which really should be possible, given my Rotherham time for a longer, lumpier course)

Sunday 22 December 2013

Looking ahead to the New Year

I'm looking ahead to next year and it's looking quite dry after Country to Capital at the start.  In fact, there's nothing in the calendar until the spring triathlon training camp in March.  It's probably a good thing as it means I'll actually get some proper blimmin' training in rather than just poncing about between races that just smash up my body so I do nothing in between the races.

Moving back home will make a huge difference.  At the moment, the barrier to getting out on a bike for a decent ride is too high, so there's none of that going on.  And that means I'm missing out on a lot of technical handling maintenance but also on fitness that's not from running.  Running fitness comes at a higher damage cost for sure and the little turbo sessions in the gym, while then proved incredibly good for increasing FTP and sorting out cadence etc. last year, they're not all that great in isolation.  Also, I have a bike that I really want to get out on and get used to and enjoy.

So, between now and moving back home, there's a bit of running and potentially a couple of turbo sessions and then we get to get back into the proper swing of things.  And maybe my currently quite low love for triathlon will start to come back with some quality time out on the bike.  And maybe I'll get to commute by bike to my new job (yay for somewhere safe to keep my bike during the work day!).  I just need to be patient and not stress over taking things easy for a couple more weeks.  I coped with worse last year after my crash and subsequent training restrictions :o)

Monday 16 December 2013

This Ultra stuff is addictive

Yep. I've signed up for another one.  And it's on 11th January.

Country to Capital is the first UK race of the year where I can have a bit of Ultra fun; and what's better is that it's £8.80 on the train to the start and you run from there to next door to a tube station that takes me straight home in half an hour.  How cool is that?

Plus, it's practically flat:-

Thursday 12 December 2013

Still hurts

5 days on and my legs still hurt.

Post-race, days 1-3, stairs and any downwards slope however slight were "excruciatingly painful to impossible".

Day 2, I had to get myself to work via public transport.  That was "fun".  Sitting at a desk all day meant that my legs stiffened up and when I went to get up, it took a while to loosen up to be able to walk.

Day 3, I had to travel to Suffolk for work, and stay overnight on the first floor in a B&B.  That was also "fun".

Day 4, I could just about clump down stairs one at a time and I had a recovery spin on the gym bike.

Day 5, slightly better clumping down stairs now that I've had a really painful sports massage this morning.

Saturday, 7 days on, I will have a very very gentle jog around parkrun.

There are lessons in this and most of them are pre-race; training, specific skills, specific sessions.  I also need to be lighter.


Sunday 8 December 2013

Race report: CTS Dorset 2013

I really really wanted to get 2 UTMB(TM) qualifying points before the end of the 2014 qualifying period (ends 31st December 2013).  I'd wanted that since the moment I finished Rowbotham's Round Rotherham, which gave me that first precious point in the qualifying period.  I had my eye on CCC(TM) - a teensy little 100km race through the mountains from Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley in Italy and ending in Chamonix.  With, as the course organisation calls it, the "Major Difficulties" being  "Ascension of the TĂȘte de la Tronche (2584m) then Grand col Ferret (2537m) during the first third of the race. The second part leads to 3 heavy ascensions : Bovine, Tseppes and La TĂȘte au vents.".

So I decided to sign up for one of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series races that had a qualifying point  available before the end of the qualifying period.

This being the Dorset race starting in Lulworth Cove.  Marked as "extreme" and with the logo for the UTMB(TM) qualifying point, it seemed it would do the job.

The thing is, it was never going to be pretty, this race.  I wasn't particularly fit, I'd not done much running (or anything) since Rotherham, and I'd certainly not run any hills since Rotherham either.  I'd not put in the kind of work you really ought to put in for this sort of race if you were giving it the respect it really does need.  With a rating of "extreme", a potential UTMB(TM) qualifying point, and a reported 6085 feet of ascent over 33.6 miles, I actually had no concept of how hard that actually is.

Turns out it's really f'ing hard.

And it turned out that fitness and fuelling wasn't the problem at all,  despite the pain I was in by the end of the marathon distance, but the fact that I'm too slow on the ups from not doing any hill work to speak of.  And I'm too slow on the downs because they're insanely steep and sometimes they're crazy concrete-edged steps of varying height from "normal" to "you have to be 9 feet tall to have legs that make sense for these steps".

If you look at the course profile above (for the marathon distance), there's an awful of those sorts of hills over the route and you need to be able to get up them with the minimum of fuss and grunting.  Unlike how I got up them.  The first few made me feel extremely demoralised; I feared the entire route would be like this and there was no way that I could keep that up for almost 34 miles.

The first hill out of the town (photo above, the paved path on the left) is a nice little intro and stops people from haring off quite so insanely.  The thing is, there's another one real soon after that and it's steep; really really steep.

Within the first 2km, there's almost 200m of climbing.  Within the first 9 km, there is just under 600m of climbing.

 It's simply relentless.

But then things ease off and there's a very runnable section which is still tough, but not insane and then you come back down into the town where you started, via the steep path here.

Following that are are some hilarious hills that it was simply not possible to do anything but hike up really slowly and carefully; basically with a wall of grassy ground in front of your face with the occasional muddy step ground into it from years of feet passing this way.  Sometimes they're in a pretty fish-scale type pattern.

I learned some new techniques, including using both hands on each leg to push down to get up each step on the up (when they're the stupid really high ones) and pointing my feet slightly sideways to get down when my quads were so fried that I was squeaking (with pain) with every step.  I also learned that there are some really nice runners out there; very supportive and friendly.  And there are some really really quick up/downhill runners too.

The really low point - stopping at the 3rd water station to find... there was no water left.  I kinda stood there and stared for a while.  I really wanted to stop at that point as I felt awful anyway, really quite sick, I didn't see the point in finishing and I couldn't do the maths to work out whether I'd make the cutoffs on my current pace (actually, I was doing OK at that point and would have been fine).  It took a while to realise that where that water station was, there wasn't a sensible way to withdraw.  No road, not support staff, just one guy and a trestle table with biscuits and no water.  So, I followed the sign and carried on up the hill to the promised next check-point (and water). 6.5 miles never felt so long.

From there to the end there was another nice runnable section and a couple of pretty mean hills;  this little fella (above) with more of those delightful steps in it, then another hill after that.

I got cold as the sun dipped behind a big cloud and was unlikely to show again before the next morning.  Then came a precipitously difficult downhill to a tight turn where you could hear the cheers at the finish line, yet the route took you away from it.  I almost lost it at that point as I thought it was familiar and I'd already run that section and I must be going wrong.  I couldn't see anyone in front or behind me so I went a little bit nuts.  It was in a wooded section, and I had no mobile coverage so I couldn't call to find out if I'd ballsed-it up and had to go back up the hill again.  Soon I saw someone behind so got it together and carried on down, down the track, down some steps and to the bottom of the road where the B&B was!  I -had- run that section before, but in reverse!

Walking down the road towards me was Mr TOTKat, who confirmed I'd missed the cut-off to continue on to the Ultra.  The Ultra course runners run the marathon course, followed by the 10km course and if you get to the end of the marathon later than 3pm, you are not allowed to continue on to the 10km course mostly because it'll get dark and dangerous.  Cutoff for carrying on to the Ultra distance well and truly missed by about 25 minutes, I was ready to stop.  Mr TOTKat jogged up the road (yes, uphill again) and we chatted a bit for the final few tens of meters until someone overtook us, at which point I simply sprinted for the line as I wasn't having being overtaken right at the end.   If I hadn't missed the cut off I would have carried on, put on my arm guards and buff again to beat the cold and just slogged through it for that delicious UTMB(TM) point.  But it was not to be.

I scored myself a medal as I'd finished the "marathon" (28 miles or so!) distance course and two Builders Bars (nom!).

Now I'm making plans for how I get 2 points in 2014.

Edit (9th Dec, results are out): Official finish time for the marathon route was 07:08:36.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Never ever ever...

Never try something new on race day.

That's one of the biggest pieces of advice that athletes are given.  And it's a good one.  So, I'll likely be ignoring it spectacularly on Saturday.  Never mind this race could take 8 hours if I have a bad time of the hills so if something is not right, it's going to be a long day of not right to get through.

I'll be at the very least wearing new shoes, new socks and a new attempt to avoid the chafing I got on my back at the last long one.  I got that same chafing again on my last longish run home from work and I think I may have hit on why it's happened.  I've only ever run twice in that exact rucksack; the original one was a 2013 early model and was very tightly adjusted, this one is a late 2013 model and I think quite a bit looser when I used it.  So, I'll adjust it to be much more tight AND I'll use this magic anti-chafe lotion impregnated towelette on my back before putting on my clothes and rucksack.  Fingers crossed that will help, cause the chafing from that bag really burns quite badly and causes sharp, acute pain in multiple places across my back.

I'm undecided on the shoes at the moment and I have a bit too much choice on that front, but I have ruled out a bunch immediately and there's a short-list of 4 left.  I won't get to change them during the race so it is quite a key choice.  The socks I can carry a spare pair with me, but the plan is either thick merino Smartwool ones or the brand new Drymax ones I just bought which claim to keep wetness to a minimum compared with many others.

Everything else is tried and tested and should be fine - especially hydration which I think I have nailed now.

No parkrun for me on Saturday as my race starts at 08:15, but I'll be thinking of all those thousands of parkrunners at 9am and maybe one of them will be thinking of me.