Fat Adapted

If you’ve clicked through to here because you need a reinforced toilet, a chair lift and a mobility scooter then I think you might be in the wrong place but read on in case you need a laugh.

In my frantic search to latch onto any and every snake oil solution to making ultra marathons less of a physically demeaning day out and more of a positive experience I am currently investigating the LCHF approach to nutrition. Before I launch into explaining how my hobby is decoupling me from normal life I’ll give you a bit of  man-in-the-pub science:

If you cut out the sugar you will have to use fat to get by. If you eat fat you will force you body to burn the fat as fuel. You will become fat adapted.

Note: the words FORCE, BURN  and FUEL should be signal enough to you that this theory is both ill understood by me and the sort of faddish thing that you’d likely find in a fashion magazine.  i.e. prepare to add a large pinch of salt to everything you’re about to read.

You will hear this approach being touted around the internet, health magazines, fashion magazines and what ever you’re having yourself as the paleo diet (named after the paleolithic era where we all wore fur underpants and went ugg, ugg) or LCHF (low carb high fat) diet which is more or less the same: Stop shoving bread, pasta, cereal and sweets into your gob.

Even if a low carb diet does nothing else it can help prevent hanger – hanger is the special human condition that exists where the blood-sugar drop after an insulin spike and turns you into an irrational psychopath (hanger = hungry & angry). I know lots of people with this condition – I’m sure you do too. I see that the manufacturers of Snickers bars have actually used it in their latest marketing campaign – You’re not you when you’re hungry.

From a running (long distances) point of view the idea is that if you can exercise in ketosis (the science name for “fat burning”) you can tap a much greater reservoir of energy within your body (fats). One of the notable exponents of this approach (mainly to bring about a reduction in type II diabetes in over weight people) is Tim Noakes (if you’ve been into running for a while and like to read on the toilet then you’ll have read his book  the lore of running several time).

So what do you have to do to ascend to this level of higher conciousness? Eat butter by the spoonful? – close.

I’m not really a big eater of sweets anyway so I though I’d try out some medium to long distance runs on fat.

I rooted out a recipe for what is known as “bulletproof” coffee on the internet. Its not actually bulletproof but I think it sounds better than “fat coffee” which might be overlapping on some of the lattes on offer at my local coffee shop.

Brew some coffee, add it to a blender with a knob of butter and a spoon of coconut oil (I’ll be honest – it looks like lard). Blend the whole lot and drink. Despite what you might think it actually tastes fine – like a coffee with cream in it.

I tried this a few weeks ago on an 20 morning mile run. I had no breakfast but I did bring some chocolate bars with me in case this magic coffee thing was just another sign I was going mad and I would actually need some energy to get home.  I made it to 13 miles before I started to feel tired and stopped at 16 miles for a chocolate bar so I could make it home with my dignity in tact.

The following week I had a 10 mile mid-week run on magic coffee that went off without a problem.

Over the next few weeks I went through a few more big runs on magic coffee and replaced the chocolate bars with cheese and some water and have made it to 22 miles with no ill effects. Pace doesn’t drop off, there’s no bonk, recovery is fine.

I must admit I’m quite impressed with results – having a normal evening meal at 7pm, a full nights sleep and then a 35k+ run at 10am on a mug of coffee and a square of cheese (500 cals max) is something that I think would be something a lot of runners would like to be able to do. High energy refined sugars that runners normally use tend to lead to stomach problems over long distances.

Are there problems with living on magic coffee? I suppose that depends on whether you like food, think nutrients are essential or whether you need to lose any weight. It does suppress your appetite pretty spectacularly so if you have a nice frock you need to fit into in two weeks then email me and I’ll get you started.

 

The Float

The past is a different country.

Out of frame

Out of frame

 

I am one of 6 children and this is what we looked like in 1981.

I’m the one in the home-knit yellow jumper proudly holding the cake. Why I’m off to the edge and the pillar is getting a higher billing than me is something I am not too sure of. This was my 10th Birthday and we had been brought to a local McDonalds rip-off called Mandys. The self same Mandys is now one of the many McDonalds we have here but back in 1981 the expansion of Ronald’s empire was but a lusty thought.

In the olden days a trip to a fast food restaurant for your birthday, some paper hats, a polaroid and a Coca Cola bottle radio was the equivalent of iPads and a trip to Euro Disney for the whole family.

We were simple then………..(I’m tempted to extrapolate here.)

All 6 of us are still together although geography does tend to interfere with things but the advent of social media helps to mitigate that sort of thing. We each have our own lives and there are 15  grandchildren to replace us now.

The reason a photo like this is evocative is because of how it compresses memory timelines making the distant past seem so recent (that’s the purpose of family photos – they make the instantaneous moment ever enduring). I could write a long post on each of the 6 of us but that’s not the purpose of this blog so you can make up your own stories.

Onto the running bit: I had an 18 mile run yesterday in the late afternoon that brought with it one of the ever so rare moments you always dream of – the float –

The disconnection between effort, time, distance and mental focus. To set the scene, I had had a slow morning with a dog walk and then a blue moon moment where I decided to make an effort to help with the ironing. Helping with the ironing is one of the domestic responsibilities that men should do more of, like stacking the dishwasher or cleaning the toilet. The problem with embarking on this sort of helping is that what invariably happens is that your significant other realises that she is married to a corner cutter. Someone for whom 70% right is a first class honour whereas she approaches these jobs with the obsessive eye for detail that only a grand master would be able to bring to the task. Anyway, my half assed approach to ironing was eventually accepted by the grand master as her fanatical attention to detail meant that there was a mountain of un-ironed underwear and tee-shirts (I told you she was fanatical) that would not suffer too much from my weak efforts.

After this bout of domesticity I struck off for the run more out of obligation that any sort of enthusiasm as I was still testing my head cold. The miles clicked by without much trouble and then, somewhere between mile 11 and 12, it happened. That magical moment where everything clicks together – your legs tick over with a metronomic hypnotic regularity, your sense of spatial awareness evaporates and you become a passenger within your own body. There is no effort. It’s somebody else’s breathing, someone else’s legs, someone else’s eyes. You are only viewing the monitor.

This feeling of effortless running that is disconnected from normal perceptions of time and space is known as the float.  Running isn’t the only place you’ll experience this sort of thing; most intense and convergent activities can deliver the same feeling – sitting an exam that’s going well, playing a piece of music, developing a project at work. You get the gist, you don’t believe it’s you as it all seems too easy and that doesn’t match your normal script for these events.

Anyway, it didn’t last; by about mile 16 or 17 I had to start doing some metal arithmetic on how far to run to make it exactly 18 miles to my front door. This is what’s know as the OCD element of the run.  Runners will never tire from telling you how much they seek the float and the peace that running brings them but they’ll never tell you about running up and down outside their house until the GPS eventually indicates a round number and they are set free.  Nobody can run 9.8 miles.

 

 

Head cold

All is well on the running front.

The Hokas are settling in with some toe blistering and some anxiety around their longevity (alarming wear on the mid-foot of the shoe). I think the toe blister is down to the socks and the mid-foot sole wear can be fixed with something called shoe-goo which is an insider secret I was completely unaware of.

You live and learn.

The most disconcerting thing about the Hokas is that they tend to change the internal balance of your running systems. I don’t mean inner ear balance but rather the larger systems.

Let me explain: In normal circumstances your systems (aerobic system, bio-mechanical system, digestive system, mental governor) have a hierarchy that can be linked to your innate natural attributes and how much training adaptation they have undergone. So, for me, in a marathon for which I had done no training the first thing to cause problems would be my legs as they would need more adaptation than the rest of the systems – I’ve run marathons before so I wouldn’t have any psychological concerns about it, I have a decent aerobic base and  could probably eat enough to get around the course. For someone else this balance would be different depending on previous experiences (lets call that training) and their natural ability.

The high level of cushioning that the Hokas provide means that muscle pain and joint stiffness either during the latter stages of a long training run or in the hours or day after the run are greatly reduced. This gradual build up of joint and muscle discomfort has always been a good indicator for me of training limits and adaptation progress. without it (not a bad thing per se) I am unsure what to use as an indicator of training load.

Part of me is tempted to spaz out and do an Augustus Gloop out on the running and hit some never before dreamt weekly target.  Longer term goals are just about stopping me from taking this option at this point.

As the blog post would indicate I have become a bit of a snot factory over the last couple of days. My work desk has all the makings of a hypochondriac’s medicine cabinet with vitamins and hot lemon drinks mixing with my stash of hotel biros.  Like most people with a running addiction I have used this head cold to test what it feels like to run with a head cold.

In running circles we use the word test to justify doing something that is either highly irrational or stupid (often both and the same). So we might test running in a snow storm in a vest and shorts, or test running 20 miles with no water, or test running in the dark with no head torch or test crapping in a hedge in suburbia……I think you get the picture.

Hopefully it will clear up soon so I can stop testing what it feels like to run with a head cold (not great is the answer).

 

Laters

 

Shoe up-date

With a blog title like that you’re either a runner or Imelda Marcos/Jimmy Choo.

Read on!

In the last year I’ve migrated from regular running shoes (designed for loooong distances but look ok with a pair of denims once they’re retired from front line service) to racing flats (the emperor’s new clothes of shoes) which has brought about a marked decline in injury but fairly sore limbs beyond 2 hours of running.

So, in order to keep up the injury free runs and to start going into longer runs  I took delivery of a pair of Hoka Clifton shoes a few weeks ago. These have the design ethos of the racing flats but somebody let a 10 year old design the soles. Imagine a racing flat but with about 3 sets of soles glued to the base.

After 2 runs this week in them my overall impression of them is more or less  a cautious positive.

Why a cautious positive?  Well, last year during my training I developed a calf pain that ruined my final race performance. This pain seemed to be linked to the highly cushioned shoes I  was running in at the time.

The first run was a 14 miler around Brussels on Monday night.  The shoes fit my foot fine (I bought a size larger than I normally take – but I’ve been doing this for years for running shoes so it wasn’t an exception for the Hokas) but you do feel a bit sea sick on them at the start.

Running in (or should it be on?) them was a revelation. Trampolines on your feet.  I was a bit worried that all that cushioning would deliver another set of problems – namely that the cushioning would cause muscle fatigue at the price of saving your joints. It didn’t seem to do that from my first experience.

I had my usual sugar free run hypoglycaemic bonk at mile 4 and then once I was switched over to burning body fat I got going in earnest. I think I could have gone much further but a combination of freezing ears and fingers and trying to maintain some sort of training plan made me stop at mile 14 (and the fact that it coincided with the front door of my hotel.)

The big difference was the next morning when the legs felt completely fresh again. This gives me some early confidence that they do what it says on the tin.

I took them out again for a short pre-work run this morning but it was only a maintenance run slotted into a busy schedule so it doesn’t tell me much.

So, a qualified positive for the Hokas.  If the calf problem does rear it’s head again I can’t blame the Hokas but it will mean that ultras in racing flats may be in my future.

I would say that they take running fashion (or lack there of) to a new limit and if you feel that the current trend towards coordinated shoes, shorts and vest just isn’t you then you could do worse than invest in a pair of these babies.

Jigsaw pieces

My commitment to keep the blog up to date (i.e. more or less weekly) with the output of my over active synapses seem to have fallen at the first fence. It’s not from lack of content but is more a by product of having too many plates to keep spinning and as the kids story telling, dog walking and sitting at my desk looking intelligent earn me my place in society they get looked after first.

On the running front things are ticking over nicely with long runs reaching close to 2.5 hours and everything being injury free so far. The trick is to make sure none of the various pegs (fitness, mental commitment, leg strength, nutrition) gets pushed out too far from the others and that they all develop at the same rate.

To manage the fear (a risk more than a fear) of injury I’ve invested in a set of brothel creepers (Hoka One One shoes) that are know as minimax shoes in the world of running – minimal shoe, maximum cushioning. I think it might be a contradiction but I’m not going to waste too much time deciding what religion I subscribe to as long as it does the job.

More on these in a later post.

On the overall strength issue I’ve decided to address the asymmetrical nature of my training over the last 10 years. I’ve finally decided that doing nothing but running might be, like teenage self abuse, very enjoyable but eventually if you do it too much something will fall off. So I’ve set about mixing in other simple and practical strength and endurance work.

I’ve embarked on a dog walking regime that sees the dog dragged around the neighbourhood twice a day as I listen to various podcasts about history or movies. Regime is a bit of an overstatement but it is, like the dog’s bowel, regular. This exercise is low impact and with the dog as my moral concious I don’t mind getting up off the couch at 10 pm. I suspect that this is one of those activities that after 4 or 5 months you start to realise is of tremendous benefit in helping you with your “time on your feet” during the latter stages of an ultra marathon.

The other non-running element of my training is tackling the upper body strength issue. Falling twice last autumn/winter and listening you your ribs go “crunch” has left me with a funny shaped bump where the ribs didn’t heal properly and a realisation that some muscles above your hips might be useful.

Now I’m of an age where fancy gym memberships and new kit are not going to do a whole lot for me apart from empty my pocket. Wandering around the weights room in spandex wiping sweat of torture racks is of little interest to me.

Instead I’ve gone for the mid-life crisis upper body strength routine. Press-ups. You can keep your fancy pec deck and leg curl machines. My target demographics for impressing the non-running community are small boys and MILFs. What they want  is someone who can do 100 press-ups.  Non-stop.

That’s not me. Yet.

I started from a low base (collapsed on the floor after 3 press-ups) but I’m now mid-way through week 4 of a 6 week plan at the moment and I’m up to 40 press-ups. This is the test to exhaustion that comes at the end of a 140 press-up set.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to reach the pub-boasting 100 press-ups but 50 non-stop press-ups every other day would be useful to be able to achieve.

Even if it does nothing for my running and overall fitness it’ll impress my target audience of small boys and MILFs.

 

Slowly

In my mental review of what I did and didn’t do last year for the ultra marathon in May I never remember consciously registering for it nor  completing anything like my version of a training plan (which makes half arsed seem to at least one arse cheek too many). I know I was deeply committed to the race for a long while before this but that had the effect of me sleep walking into the event. I ended up at the starting line like a man who had gone along with things and was now in over his head. The shambolic last third of the race was a testament to the somnambulism.

This year I’m more committed to the completion of the whole thing with some of my dignity in tact. That means paying a bit more attention and not relying on it being al-right on the night.

So far I’ve ordered a new pair of ultra shoes which I suspect will be fine in the cushioning department but will be as narrow as a pair of adidas shoes – they only fit if you’ve come through several years of foot binding. If these do fit in the width department then some steep hill descents should be on the cards and this in turn should help with the 48 – 65km down hill that shredded me last year.

I’ve also actually entered the race.

I missed the early bird offer but the race more than passes the €1.00/km test at the normal price so it’s not a big hardship. You also get fed like a lord (if lords like bread and nutella) and you get a shiny medal, a finisher’s tee, a cert for the office wall and 3 bottles of grog.

The running is going fine with 2 hour runs now the norm.

I’ll build this slowly over the next few months with the twin objectives of injury prevention and steady nutrition being more important than pace.

Now I just need to think about running gear, some upper body core strength, hydration equipment (that’s what we call a water bottle in the world of running), getting there, renting a car, accommodation and getting back.

 

Easy peasy!

Black bread

I’ve spent the last 4 days in meetings around Europe. Not dynamic “making deals” meetings that you see in adverts for aftershave and luggage in Time magazine but meetings where you wondering if this is some sort of punishment for transgressions in a past life.

You learn to look in an intelligent manner: a slight tilt of the head as if you’re working so hard to comprehend you’ve lost basic motor control; a gentle almost imperceptible nod of the head which both conveys intellectual convergence and the possibility of a nervous disorder.

You spend most of your time fighting the urge to pull a Reggie Perrin on the processes.

The only skill I think I have developed is that you do, over time, learn to filter out the fluff from the meat of the discussions you have to sit through.  As Reggie might have said: I didn’t get where I am today by listening………….

I have had the chance to get in a few runs. I had a nice crisp run around Grunwald in Berlin  and a run up and down the waterfront in Copenhagen. On these runs (apart from the basic activity of running) you try to mediate your basic impression of a place with what and who you meet along the way.

My one line conclusions of suburban German forest running is they like to walk their dogs.

Hunting Lodge

Hunting Lodge

 

 

 

My conclusion from my Copenhagen run is that a diet of black bread, cold air, cycling and expensive beer seems to be the recipe for a slim body and good looks (them not me).

 

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You'll catch your death of cold!

You’ll catch your death of cold!

I would say that the very cold (by Irish standards) weather does make the running much more pleasant. The cold air enforces a higher tempo of running which is a welcome change from some of the slower plodding required for a broad aerobic base you need for ultra running stuff.

The running is now settling into a nice steady routine that should help prevent  my ambitions floating away from my physical limitations. Hopefully this will develop over the next 4 to 5 weeks and then some serious long running – 20+ miles can develop. That will be the time to start deciding/experimenting on food types.

Back home tonight and the routine of dogs, children and spinning too many plates starts again!

Like Clonakilty but colder

Like Clonakilty but colder