Secret Ingredient

Before you read on,  if you’ve any interest in food, exercise and stopping yourself from eating all the cookies then the BBC food program on BBC radio 4 has just up-loaded two podcasts on running and food. It talks about the fat -v- carbs debate and the performance effects of both.

I thought the two programs were very interesting but they fall into the old trap of  studying the elites and then hoping to transfer their findings to the plodders. Kenyan elites or Scott Jurek are not even close to my baseline.

If you haven’t the time nor patience to listen to the two podcasts then the whole thing can be summed up by the following (to paraphrase Chris McDougall): Eat whole foods, mainly vegetables and not too much.

Anyway, onto my secret ingredient.

The thing that separates the boys from the men in the world of long distance running isn’t your ability to wee in the woods or to consume sugar like a 7 year old at a birthday party. No, it’s your ability to climb out of your warm, warm bed in the dark cold mornings of winter and slam the front door behind yourself and start running for a few hours. I was in London last week for work and went out the door of the hotel at 06:50 hrs for a 10k run and felt like a teenager at midday. Moody, sluggish, wishing I was under the duvet. I am a boy and not a man!

No matter how hard I’ve tried I just prefer a warm duvet to the world of running. When I enter a long race I am more stressed out by the 07:00 hrs start gun than by the 50 miles of running in front of me. Duvets were given to us by God to prevent us having to leave our caves in winter. By this logic early morning running is the work of the devil.

So, as I got under way yesterday for my long run at 10:00 hrs I was met by a stream of people coming back from their long runs. Every one from the amateur elites knocking out a 19 mile maintenance run to the stumble-drunk novices amazed they’ve made it to 10 miles with all their limbs still attached.

My normal long runs are what might be called “semi-structured” which is a management speak sort of way of saying they are made up as I go along. I will usually settle into an 8:10 – 8:50 min/mile pace so that I have some brain power in reserve to start but not finish solving all the problems of the world. If I’m heading out faster than this I have to pay a lot more attention to my form (a running term for putting one foot in front of the other while breathing and trying not to fall over).

My run yesterday was a 17 miler made up of an out and back 10 miles from my house to the top of Rochestown and then a 7 mile loop around the Mahon amenity walk and railway line (disused for those of you not familiar with Cork Geography).

The technical term for the run was a progression run which just means that I finished faster than I started. Mile 17 ended up being a 7:08 min/mile which is an achievement for someone with as little tempo work done as I have. (tempo just means running fast).

As I basked in the warm glow of mile 17 being 7:08 and not 9:08 I had to wonder what had happened. I’m the same runner I was the previous Sunday.

The only difference was that I had gone to bed for the previous 4 nights before 23:00 hrs and had had at least 8 hours of sleep every night (and some very strange dreams – a blog post for another time).

So, my duvet theory was right all the time. Sleep really is the secret ingredient.

Now, if only I could introduce the siesta at work…….



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