Friday 27 June 2014

LCHF Running: How to Get Started

Thanks to Prof Tim Noakes at @AskProfNoakes for this guide for how to get on the road to being a runner who doesn't rely so heavily on carbs for fuel.  I'm surprised I didn't stumble across this podcast before today, but there it is.  I've downloaded the back catalogue and the shows are all very short, so it shouldn't take long to catch up and then be waiting for more.

I've asked a question about the amount of carb he recommends is good for an average runner and what that is based on; hopefully it'll get answered at some point, but I imagine he gets a *lot* of questions!

Thursday 26 June 2014

Fat Adapted Ultra Runner

I have chosen a new label.  It's for when people ask a certain set of questions about sport, what I do in my spare time etc.  I've been rubbish about giving a straight answer in the past, but now I have found a label that I like at the moment, and can explain in 3-4 words or 3-4 hours I'm happy about that.

I've been a high fat/low carb athlete for 18 months.

This is my nutrition profile from yesterday, when I did a 6.5 mile easy run:-

Breakfast: - 2x eggs scrambled with double cream, dollop of cream cheese, 1/2 an avocado
Lunch:- lettuce, baby plum tomatoes, walnuts, leftover roast chicken (with skin), chopped chorizo, olive oil
Dinner:- pan-fried aubergine slices in coconut oil, interleaved with slices of goats cheese, with steamed asparagus and butter; followed by frozen strawberries blended with double cream and vanilla essence

This is a normal day for me.  Though the absolute kcals intake is of little interest, the absolute weight of carb is.  It's artifically low as I don't record the cups of tea with milk I have, but that adds maybe another 5-8g carb in the day - totalling 19-22g carb on a typical day.  The difficult days are when I drink wine as that really ramps up the carbs but I'm OK with that in moderation.  The 7.5 Fruit & Veg is the number of "portions" of fruit and veg for the day.(*)

Though I find it hard to think of myself as an athlete (it's for fun, not my job, and I'm not exceptionally good at it) I have gotten over the fact that actually I am one.  The high fat/low carb bit is something I've followed for 18 months and there were a good few reasons for it (gaining a little weight, stomach issues during an Ironman, technical capabilities of bike handling, not having any appreciable sweet-tooth) and I'm very much comfortable with that having spent a reasonable amount of effort reading and researching around the subject.

Being a fat burner to the extent that I am, mainly through genetics and day-to-day diet, I am in a great position to do endurance sports of a length that even people who do what is socially accepted to be a blimmin' long way (e.g. marathons & Ironmans) think is a long way.  And it appears that my fuel-burning engine is very well suited to going as long as I can practically manage.  The work I have to put in is obviously being strong, controlled and trained enough to be able to run that long without breaking myself fundamentally at the musculoskeletal level.  So that's what I'm focussing on now.

I've already enjoyed a few experiments in Ultra running without using carbohydrates as fuel.  And I have a good set of loose rules that I understand pretty well at the distances I've covered so far to be able to know what effort levels I can cover those distances at and relate in the amount of carbohydrate I'd need to put back in (if any) in order to be able to maintain that effort level from a metabolic energy point of view.

What's really really positive for me right now is that my running coach is bought-in and totally OK with this stuff.  I've handed him the data I got from the two metabolic assessments I had, plus the calculations I did with the data.  He's got first-hand experience of highly-performant ultra runners who don't take in much fuel during a race.  And he's an advocate of real food over "sports nutrition".

Very happy with this indeed.

Now I just need to find a few races to target later this year so I can carry on proving the low-carb point more quickly than I have in the past.

Watch this space!

* - Many anti high-fat diet skeptics believe that a high fat diet means what was popularised with the initial phase of Atkins; bacon, eggs, chops, cheese and low to zero veg.  The point with Atkins was that that was an initial phase only and the end game involved a *lot* of vegetables, just not starchy ones.  I eat a lot of vegetables!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

A New Chapter; or Back To Basics?

I'm going back to where I started in 2009; weight training.  Back then, it was because I was worried I'd lost a lot of muscle when I lost weight and that I was weak on the outside and the inside.  Last time, after around 2 years of doing it, it gave me a phenomenally good base to do sport from.  I realised that after the event.  This time around it's with a purpose, to support sport in a specific way as well as get back to feeling strong again (I miss it!).

I honestly believe that one of the major reasons I managed to bash through so many triathlons, up to and including Ironman and multiple half Ironmans and then 5 ultra marathons, was because I had a really good strength base (on top of which I did a moderate amount of endurance work and a microgram of speed work).  And one of the two main reasons the wheels started falling off (from a physical point of view) the triathlon wagon in 2013 was because I'd done no appreciable strength work for a year at that point, and it only got worse from there.  OK, so my endurance training consistency also got very patchy due to new jobs etc., but half the story I'm sure was the missing strength piece.

Two proper sessions in now, and I'm loving the work that The Athletic Edge do.  I have two "supervised" sessions with them per week and that's perfect for me because it means I go and I do the right things for me, encouraged and tailored as I'm doing it.  I don't have to rely on getting myself to a gym at a relatively arbitrary time, which usually leads to doing it at a sub-optimal time, cutting the session short or simply not doing it at all.  I decided to work with them after seeing the great work they've done with Mr TOTKat and the fact that they really do focus on specific work for your sport and goals, and are very experienced in doing that.  And I've just now engaged with an ultra running coach at Centurion Running to pay more attention to doing something I've been enjoying for a year, with a bit more focus and specific training rather than just bashing at it.  It feels like there is a lower barrier to getting out and running than riding a bike or swimming enough to get good enjoyment from triathlon.  And that is something that will only get easier for me later in the year as it gets colder and wetter, as I actually enjoy running in those conditions!

It's a bit surprising that I've ended up focusing on the discipline within triathlon that I started out weakest at, and in fact really disliking.  But for now, it's fun, satisfying and sort of keeps me out of trouble.  Yes, I know it's fashionable to do ultras now and in many ways "easier" than marathons, for example, but it's making me happy, fit, healthy and strong to do it the way I'm doing it.

Friday 20 June 2014

Building blocks

I feel great.

Like really great.

This morning was my first session with Athletic Edge.  These guys specialise in functional, relevant strength and conditioning work for athletes; from rugby players through triathletes to sprinters etc.

Having seen the work they've done with Mr TOTKat over the last year, how much stronger and more resilient he's got, I decided they were the solution to my feeling weak and soft.  It's hard getting to the gym on your own schedule; if you've committed to a session with someone who's going to really pick over exactly what you need to be doing to move forward then it's far more likely to happen.  Even when that means getting up at 05:45 to do that.

So.  Initial thoughts are that my lower back is a bit over-enthusiastic and, under certain conditions, tries to take the load that my glutes and hamstrings should be taking.  My hamstrings and calves are a bit tight and that's limiting some exercises before we can load them up at all.  And I have good control in the main, which is a good platform to start working on good technique and then progressing the exercises.

Ben put me through some fairly gentle, easy exercises this morning but I know I will have some DOMS tomorrow and Sunday mainly because I was using muscles in ways I've not done in a while.  I look forward to it!  Hello endorphins, I've missed you :o)

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Race report: Blenheim Sprint triathlon 2014

Blenheim is, for me, one of the top ranking races in terms of slickness of organisation.  Over 4500 athletes plus supporters and spectators arriving, racing, cheering, leaving, eating, weeing, drinking, getting injured, passing out etc. on top of the usual visitors to the grounds being around the grounds and race routes; and there’s almost no queueing for anything at any time and, generally, everyone has a good time.  It's an almost flat course, with a beautiful lake and private, traffic-free roads/paths for the bike leg.  Perfect for athletes new to the sport of triathlon.

Who's a chubby, eh? (Still, nice beer :o))
This year was not a year for me to be burning around and setting the route on fire.  Being 5kg heavier than I’m used to racing at, having done little training and falling mostly out of love with training for triathlon, there was also no realistic expectation could be set around that.  I did have a sneaky, in the back of my mind, desire to put in a good bike as I have a nice new bike and sort of the impression that my on-the-flat power is not too bad right now.  My running is clearly back a long way compared with how it has been over the last 18-24 months.

So I wanted to have a reasonable swim, bike as hard as was practical and get around the run.

What actually happened was... I swam pretty hard (only 30s slower than 2012 when I was arguably at peak fitness & speed), got battered all the way around the swim, fought with my wetsuit arms for 4 minutes up through the run to transition.  My legs felt like spaghetti at the start of the bike and it rapidly became fairly clear that unless I yelled a lot, I was going to be stuck behind groups of people drafting and chatting who had clearly either not read the rules or didn’t care.  I couldn’t be bothered with that, especially seeing as it took 1.5 of the 3 laps to warm my legs up anyway.  So the bike was disappointing, but it was never going to be any other way.  The run actually felt quite good; I overtook loads of people and motored on through to the finish line and my promised pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei.  Yum!

7 minutes slower than 2012.  01:39 lost in the swim (12%), 01:28 in the bike (4%) and 02:34 in the run (9%).  My transitions were appalling, by comparison, but I’ve not done a sprint transition since August 2013 and that skill drops off like any other.  I’m actually quite happy with that all things considered.

I really enjoyed the day and it was nice to get around such a pretty course, despite it being a bit far to drive there and back on the day.  It's a great race for novices and for speedy people who feel like shouting on the bike.  I can highly recommend it.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

My favourite race of all; it's Blenheim!

In the journey through the various races I've done while learning about and enjoying triathlon, there are some races I just love.  Blenheim Sprint Triathlon is one of them and probably at the top of the list.

The first time I raced at Blenheim, I'd only done a few sprints before (at Thames Turbo) and this was my first big, commercial race.  And it was amazing!  Even though I DNFed due to an ongoing knee injury I really really enjoyed it.  The grounds are beautiful,  the lake is clear and still, the course is gently undulating on the bike and run and the support is warm.
"For me, the swim was glorious. An utter breeze. It felt easy, smooth and I went a little off course a couple of times but was way ahead of the majority of our wave by the turn buoy. I wasn't entirely sure where the end of them swim was, but carried on feeling fantastic and quick until I finally worked out where the finish was.
Again, still well at the front of the wave, I was helped out onto the pontoon with little trouble and squeaked in surprise as one of the support volunteers unzipped my wetsuit for me when I really wasn't expecting that. Very helpful! Thanking them both and tearing off the arms and top part, I ran up the hideous slope towards transition - really steep! Glancing down at my watch, my heart rate was 184! I rounded the corner at the top of one of the slopes into transition, pulling off my swimming caps (mine plus the race one on top) and goggles, and a huge grin spread across my face as the crowd were clapping and cheering for everyone and as I was still near the front of the wave and the competitors were relatively spread out, it meant that they were cheering for me! Yes, me!"
Looong slope up to transition 

"I got overtaken by a little blonde girl about 750m from the end, which made me kick up two gears and then curse the fact that I'd had those two gears and not used them - and there was plenty left to hold that pace -and- put in a sprint finish. I got overtaken again by two more girls, who I hung on to, hoping they were only on their first lap of the run. When they peeled off left to do their second lap when I was finishing my second, I laughed out loud because I hadn't been racing them, had a huge grin and sprinted to the finish."
I did grin, honest! It was just a bit after this was taken.
I missed it last year due to the bridge problem they had (what a stroppy I was about it too!), but I'm back again for a 3rd time at Blenheim on Sunday this coming weekend and I know it'll be an awfully slow swim compared with the last two, the bike could be excitingly quick and I'll take whatever comes on the run.  I'm extremely rusty on racing sprints, so I'm sure I'll be hilariously slow in the transitions, but it's going to be lovely!

Tuesday 3 June 2014

I have a confession...

I've not been enjoying triathlon at all this year.  Not that I've actually raced any yet, having bashed my knee the day before Mallorca 70.3.  But I'm just not enjoying the training.  It has felt like a dirty secret for a while, but now I've made a choice, it's out now and I feel so much better for it.

Getting to the pool has been getting mentally harder and harder over the last 12 months; partly to do with the current and previous job being nowhere near a pool at all, not even a 17m one (I trained successfully for the bonkers year of Ironman in 2012 in a 17m pool), so I couldn't swim at lunch time.  Part of it is that I've got way out of the habit of swimming (see point 1).  I've also been feeling more and more down about a training plan that I'm not only shuffling around during the week (which is mostly fine to do and I've been doing that for a few years), but I'm missing or short-changing most of the sessions and then feeling bad about that.  And then realising the lack of work put in means that it'd be either very miserable to grind through a hilly 70.3 or perhaps full distance Ironman, or just plain out of the question to complete it.

So I've decided to stop doing triathlons for now.  There's no point in dragging yourself through weekly cycles of rage and blues for something you're supposed to be doing for fun.  I'll see how I feel up until the morning of the UK 70.3 in 2 weeks time; I'll race at Blenheim (it's "only" a sprint and a flat one at that) this weekend, and just train how I feel after that for a while.  But Ironman Wales is off the cards (and I can only get, at most, 25% of the cost of that back now *sigh*)

Commuting by bike and on foot to work is much more accessible now we have lockers and showers at work, so I can get a lot of useful exercise in during the week and really clock up some run miles if I so choose.  And then there's parkrun, the common and the Surrey hills at the weekends where I can just go out and have some fun and even socialise!  I feel a lot better about things now I've made this (fairly temporary) choice and it really opens things up to getting a whole bunch of things more fluidly in the calendar - off-road running races rarely fill up months in advance :o)