Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review - The Endurance Diet

I have read several books by prolific writer Matt Fitzgerald before. That’s not surprising – if you’re a runner who reads a lot about running you are basically guaranteed to have come across one or more of his books before. I find him a terrific writer – he has the ability to make complicated subjects sound simple. On the other hand, I do have doubts about the content of at least some of his older books. When I bought “Brain Training For Runners” I was initially very keen but eventually changed my mind – and from what I’ve heard, so has Matt.
Never mind, the previous book he wrote about nutrition, “Racing Weight”, is very good and I do recommend it. You can tell his background as a professional nutritionist is helping him remain on solid ground, so I was immediately intrigued when I heard that he had published another book about nutrition:  “The Endurance Diet”. I was even more intrigued when I was offered a free copy for a review, and since they immediately agreed that I would be able to post a review even if I didn’t like it, I accepted.
Matt has spent a considerable amount of time interviewing, and living in close proximity to, several elite endurance athletes, ranging from runners and cross country skiers to cyclists and rowers and several other disciplines as well. He says he has identified 5 core habits that their nutrition has in common, which form the basis of the book:


1.      Eat Everything
2.      Eat Quality
3.      Eat Carb-Centered
4.      Eat Enough
5.      Eat Individually


Eat Everything means they eat a varied diet, including items from each of 6 different categories: vegetables; fruits; nuts, seeds and healthy oils; unprocessed meat (includes eggs) and seafood; whole grains; dairy.


Eat Quality speaks for itself. However, it is worth pointing out that even elite athletes do allow themselves small amounts of less healthy treats every now and again, which helps to remain on message for the majority of time. Note that “small amounts” is the operative phrase here.


Eat Carb-Centered very much goes against the recent wave of low-carb diets that seem to become increasingly popular. He points out that the Kenyans, possibly the most successful group of endurance athletes in history, are on a diet that is extremely high in carbs, and would laugh in the face of anyone arguing that carbs aren’t good for them.


Eat Enough is concerned about the amount of calories required to sustain the training that is necessary to perform at elite level. Of course this dismisses every single calorie-restrictive diet ever, and he also speaks out against calorie counting. On the other hand, according to Matt elites seem to know when they have had enough and often leave food on the plate, untouched, when they are saturated. Apparently they have a very finely tuned appetite that lets them know when they have eaten the exactly right amount of food.


Eat Individually goes somewhat against the grain of all other habits listed, in that elite athletes all vary their diets individually to their own needs and tastes, be it to wrap breakfast vegetables in meat (seriously!) or just their own version of otherwise standard dishes.


The chapters describing these habits are all very clear and very accessible. Much of it is common sense, which all too often is very much absent in dieting books, so that definitely speaks for Matt and his understanding of the subject matter.


I have to admit being slightly dubious about some of his points, though. I do know some athletes that perform at a very, very high level on low-carb diets, and I simply do not believe his assertion that this is only possible in disciplines like ultrarunning where the standard is not as high just yet, so elites can get away with a sub-optimal diet. In fact, I know a professional cyclist whose low-carb diet did not stop him from winning several medals in world championships.


There are also a few elite vegan athletes that are able to perform just fine, despite clearly not “eating everything”.


And I do get the feeling that the “Eat Individually” chapter is a bit of a cop-out; after going on about how elite athletes all eat extremely similarly he suddenly comes up with a fifth habit that seems to state the opposite, at least up to a point.


The last few chapters are a bit of a mix. I enjoyed the chapters with recipe suggestions and “Endurance superfoods” (after helpfully pointing out that “superfood” is nothing but a marketing term) but found the chapter about endurance training a bit pointless – it’s too short to provide much meaningful information and just doesn’t belong into a book primarily about nutrition in my view


His strongest point, I think, is the way in which his “diet” can be introduced in small steps, not requiring massive changes all at once, which greatly increases the chance of this approach actually working and sticking until it becomes a habit, unlike many fad diets. Nothing is restricted entirely and the odd unhealthy treat is positively encouraged, as a reward or a way to ensure that you remain on track for the rest of time – a very refreshing approach.


There is a lot of interesting information in this book and it is very well written. While I clearly do have reservations about some of the content (maybe it’s just the Doubting Thomas in me), the basic message I got from the book was to eat a diverse range of high quality food and not restrict calorie intake. Also, don't try to follow the latest fad or food hyped for alleged “endurance gains”; instead you should always opt for natural, unprocessed, healthy food and the potential endurance gains will be far greater. To support this approach, Matt also has a mobile app called “DQS” that can be used to track his “Diet Quality Score” (an idea introduced in “Racing Weight” and explained in detail in this new book as well), a simple way to track the quality of your diet, and certainly superior to calorie counting.

All in all I do think this a book you should read; read it with an open mind but remain sceptical at the same time - or is that just my own approach to just about everything?

---

For anyone interested in this book, I have been offered one copy to give away to one reader. Leave a comment stating your interest or contact me on twitter @tfbubendorfer until 7 May and I'll pick one winner at random.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I'm back! I'm back!

Let's start with a confession: I would not have gone to Longford if I had picked my own race. I would have gone to Connemara instead, a race very close to my heart. But I guess the coach preferred a race 6 miles shorter, thus requiring less recovery time. To be honest, it seems a lot more sensible. In the last 6 months I have done exactly one run of 17 miles and that's it for long runs. It seems extraordinary to even attempt an ultra on so little endurance training, even a (relatively) short one. Nevertheless, that's what I was in for.

Longford is a long way from Kerry. This better be worthwhile! To be honest, I didn't sleep well the night before. I was too nervous.

The plan was very simple, start out at 8-minute pace, or whatever felt easy and natural, and stick with it for as long as I reasonably can and then suffer until I'm done. I would re-assess at miles 15 and 23 how I felt and adjust accordingly, but that seemed a long way off at the start.

Aidan Hogan was there, which was great because it meant I would never have to worry about potentially winning this race, leaving me to run this as a training run, just as planned (I would have gotten into serious trouble with the coach had I raced a training run). He asked me what my plan was and didn't look too pleased. I guess he had hoped for some company but my pace was too slow for him to even consider.

Anyway, at 8:30 in the morning (ok, a bit later) we were off, together with the early marathon starters. Aidan and another runner stormed off at the front and I was left in third place, at first pursued by a few others but they slowed after a while and I knew I would have to run on my own for a long time. Two marathon runners passed me after a bit, one of them usually finishes closer to 4 hours so I have no idea why he felt the need to start at 7:30 pace, the other one slightly more sensible but I caught him later on as well, close to the half marathon mark.

The course consisted of 10 laps along the Royal Canal, each lap being about 5.2k, plus about 1k extra at the start. The run along the canal was very flat but there were three bumps along the way past some bridges, which I knew would grow with each lap. About 2k were tarmac, 1k was smooth but narrow single track and the rest double track, which was rather uneven and stony, which I didn't particularly like to be honest. On each lap I was looking forward to the tarmac section, and while the single track was nice and smooth, it did make overtaking bit tricky, and there would be a lot of overtaking today.

At various stages we were joined today by a 10k, a half-marathon and a full marathon, 700 runners in all apparently (that's amazing on the same weekend as Connemara and London!), and while the better runners of those races were obviously moving faster than me, most did not and I have no idea how many times I went past another runner but it could have been over 1000 times, all on a rather narrow course. On the plus side, it ensured I never felt lonely and there was always someone to chase - a welcome change to most other ultras. I do like the company of other runners!

Anyway, the pace I settled in was a bit faster than 8-minute pace, which initially worried me a bit. I did slow down a few times but every time I checked the watch I found I had unwittingly accelerated again, and soon enough I stopped looking at the watch and just ran by feel alone.

I did expect to suffer. I hoped I would get to halfway feeling good, which would still leave plenty of scope for suffering, and I hoped to be done in roughly 4:30. I also worried about cramping - surely running twice as far as your single longest training run, at pretty much the same pace, was almost guaranteed to bring on some cramps, going by past experience. On the other hand, a bit of suffering might be character-building, or at least I keep telling myself.

There was one minor incident after 3 laps when the 10k runners were assembling at their start line. Since the course is so narrow, it really required everyone to be careful with everyone else, especially when one large groups assembles on the path while other runners are already in the middle of their race. Actually, the other runners were all great, for all races. My problem came when one of the marshalls stepped out, right into my path. "Excuse me" - still stepping out. "Excuse Me!" - still stepping, and now he's getting uncomfortably close. "EXCUSE ME!" and bang, I bumped into him. I could not step aside because there was absolutely no room to do so, and I hadn't slowed down because I really had not expected him to fully block my path, especially with me shouting 3 warnings. Anyway, no harm done, though I did wonder how he possibly could not have seen or heard me!

That was as exciting as it got, really. I did notice 2 runners running less than 30 seconds behind me for over 20 miles, but when they accelerated and finally overtook me they turned out to be marathon runners from the early start, so I didn't lose my place in the ultra field.

At mile 15 I re-assessed and decided that I felt surprisingly good but accelerating was most likely a bad idea with so much race still left and I just kept going at the same pace.

I did the same at mile 24 or 25, a little bit later than planned but the miles were still ticking by so fast I had missed my cue. At that point my hamstrings were definitely tired and my hip flexors were starting to complain as well, but overall I was feeling a lot better than expected; before the race I had expected to be in a world of pain by that point. Instead my running form seemed still solid (as far as I could tell at least) and I was still moving at the same pace. I decided to try and keep going as I was, but without increasing the effort past a certain threshold, which realistically meant I would slow down a tad. That's ok. Aidan lapped me, moving at the same pace as the faster half-marathon runners, which was very impressive to say the least. He still looked totally comfortable going considerably faster than 7-minute pace well past the marathon distance. Afterwards he told me he finished with a sub-6 mile. Blimey!

Anyway, my own pace did drop just below 8-minute pace but I was well ahead of schedule and, most importantly, feeling so much better than expected I could hardly believe it. I passed the marathon mark in about 3:24, still very comfortable though at that point I definitely started tiring and it got a bit harder from here on. But with the finish in sight that wasn't much of an issue.

Right at the end of my last lap the microphone guy announced an ultra runner just finishing, which I obviously took to be me, until he said "number 7", which was not my number, and it was only then that I realised that I had almost completely caught up to the second runner who had headed off fast at the start, but finished maybe 2 or 3 seconds behind him. Honestly, had I known that I would have run just a tiny bit faster, not that it mattered. Both of us were so far behind Aidan that he had time to shower, change and eat, and he could probably have finished reading a book or paint a landscape to pass the time waiting for us.

So, I finished in third place (at least as far as I know, not having seen any official result), 32.85miles on the watch, in 4:16:40, which translates to 7:48 pace, a bit faster than expected, but feeling so much better than I thought I would. I was really pleased, not with the time, I didn't care about that, but with how well this had gone. I had no business to believe this would go so well, with my reduced training the last few months, but apparently I don't have to run 100 miles a week to get into some decent shape. Maybe it's muscle memory.

Anyway, now there's some time for recovery. But my confidence level has increased by an enormous amount, which is the main thing I take away from Longford.

Lap paces: 7:46, 7:45, 7:49, 7:42, 7:43, 7:33, 7:46, 7:56, 8:03, 8:03. I'm very happy with those numbers and how well they held up.

I'm an ultra runner again!

21 Apr
4 miles, 32:52, 8:13 pace, HR 135
22 Apr
Longford Royal Canal Ultra, 53k
4:16:40, 7:48 pace, HR 154
23 Apr
4 miles, 33:57, 8:29 pace, HR 141

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Plateau

In the early stages of the week I couldn't make up my mind if I was recovering properly from the mountain or not. The legs sure felt a lot better on Monday than they had on Sunday but for some reason the HR was a little bit higher even though the effort had felt easier. But the difference was so
small I didn't think any more about it - these things can be affected by all kinds of external factors and we're talking about very minor blips here.

Tuesday was similar, the legs felt pretty much fully recovered but the HR was just a tad higher than I would have wanted.

At that point I decided I was overthinking the whole thing. A HR difference of one single beat is nothing, that's a rounding error. I might have hit a bit of a plateau at the moment but this happens. I'm taking it a bit easier right now anyway.

I did feel up to another trip up the Windy Gap. I have a rather long run on schedule for Saturday, so one climb would have to do. The legs felt a bit funny starting out but once I hit the steep slopes I pushed the effort a bit and they responded immediately. The weather was quite nice again, I had a good view towards the Reeks and my new mate Carrauntoohil, and Windy Gap just being Gap, really.

And on Thursday it was back on the road again. There was no trace of fatigue in the legs but I made sure to take it very, very easy anyway, with my eyes firmly fixed on Saturday.
17 Apr
7 miles, 54:16, 7:45 pace, HR 144
18 Apr
7 miles, 54:10, 7:44 pace, HR 143
19 Apr
10.7 miles, 1:31:12, 8:31 pace, HR 148
   Windy Gap
20 Apr
7 miles, 54:55, 7:51 pace, HR 141

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carauntoohil

I shouldn't have said that the curve is always pointing upwards I guess, because it did get a kink on Friday. Looks like I jinxed myself. Not that 7 miles at 7:06 pace is a particularly bad workout but with the HR stuck at 159 it wasn't quite what I wanted to see.

It had all started so well with me ticking off 6:50 miles while feeling exceptionally relaxed, until I turned sharply left twice and now had that wind right in my face! To make matters worse, the way the loop was shaped meant I had the wind at my back for about 2 miles and against my face closer to 4, which didn't do the average much good. Once I turned into the wind I found it next to impossible to get the HR down. I felt like I was crawling and I still had the HR alarm beeping relentlessly. I was doing about 7:20, which wasn't all that slow into a headwind but after the 6:50 miles it felt like almost standing still.

Ah well, so the numbers are worse than last week. How much that is due to the wind and how much to latent fatigue from the weekend or the Windy Gap I'm not entirely sure. What I do know is that I did something COMPLETELY different on Saturday.

You see, I have been living here for 13 year and I can see Carauntoohil right from my front door. However, to my eternal shame, I have never climbed it. I must have said something to Niamh because she bought me a voucher for a guided tour, which meant now I had to quit talking about it and go and do it instead. I guess that was the main reason why I had never gone up there before: having grown up in the mountains (different mountains altogether) I have way too much respect for them to go up there on my own on a first attempt, so it was always going to be a guided tour and it took Niamh to break the inertia and just go ahead and book something.

Originally I was planning on going on Friday but one look at the weather forecast earlier this week made me change it to Saturday. That made it worse for Niamh as she had to taxi the kids on a busy day all on her own but it was definitely the right choice. Friday was a miserable wet day without any views and Saturday turned out much better than I could have hoped for. We had some non-athletes in our group, so we took our sweet time. It meant 7 hours on my legs, which should actually be surprisingly good ultra training - a way of training that is definitely under-utilised, not just by me but most runners. Last year I spent a weekend in Wicklow soaking up Barry Murray's wisdom and I know he would have enthusiastically recommended it. MC was all for it as well. Anyway, the clouds all lifted when we got to the top and the views are just to die for (Caher, btw, looking by far the best) and I even had a good view at our house but just couldn't see them waving back.

It's definitely something I can warmly recommend and going with an extremely knowledgeable tour guide was great too. Not only did he point out all kinds of landmarks that I would have missed otherwise, he also told us plenty of stories from the mountains and we got a lot of education about how to treat the mountain with respect and how to minimise our impact, all delivered by a man who lives and breaths the mountains.

Anyway, Sunday's easy run was rather mundane in comparison, yet another easy 7 miler like I have done so many times before. The legs were definitely feeling the mountain and I would have sworn I was plodding ahead at a very slow pace. The numbers on the watch did surprise me when I got back home.

13 Apr
7 miles, 55:52, 7:59 pace, HR 136
14 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:08, 7:18 pace, HR 154
   incl 7 @ 7:06 (HR 159)
15 Apr
Carauntoohil, 7:30, 9.5 miles
16 Apr
7 miles, 53:48, 7:41 pace, HR 143
















Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Up

Ah well, I guess the form curve can't always point steeply upwards when you're in training ...

Actually, scratch that. Looks like it can.

Cian playing at a concert last Sunday
Alright, I've had a few days of rather heavy legs after the weekend but by now they have bounced back and the numbers are getting higher once again and so far there seems to be no ceiling in sight, unless I just jinxed myself with that last sentence.

It got a little bit better with every passing day, and after three easy days I felt sufficiently recovered to head back up Windy Gap once more this morning, this time carrying on over the pass itself and dropping down towards Glenbeigh before turning around for a second climb. It certainly lived up to its name today; the ascent from the Caragh lake side was one of my slowest and the one from Glenbeigh close to my personal best without even trying, but that one felt assisted by a magic hand relentlessly pushing me up. A little bit of wind is part of all the fun of course but I appreciated it being a dry morning. I bought new trail running shoes after my old ones had more or less fallen apart in Aherlow last September, a pair of Asics Tambora, the main draw being that they seem to be okay for both road and trail, but which probably comes with the drawback that they won't excel in slippery wet conditions. I guess I'll find out eventually.

Getting the right pair of shoes for trail running seems to be much trickier than for road running. I have worn dozens of different shoes from all kinds of brands on the road and was comfortable with almost all of them but neither of the 2 off-road shoes I've used so far (Inov-8 Talon and Inov-8 Terrafly) have been quite what I have been looking for. Let's see how the new ones work out, so far so good.

10 Apr
7 miles, 57:05, 8:09 pace, HR 135
11 Apr
7 miles, 55:34, 7:56 pace, HR 136
12 Apr
12+ miles, 1:50:07, 9:08 pace, HR 145
   Windy Gap

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Finally A Long Run

The good news is that my back gradually got better with each passing day, to the extent that it is only just about noticeable by Sunday. That's definitely a big bonus - a painful back can be downright debilitating, even if it never stopped me from running (and, in fact, running seemed beneficial).

I also got some good training runs under the belt. Gradually this is starting to feel like actual training rather than just jogging around at easy effort.

Thursday was an easy run but very good in as far as the legs didn't feel any tiredness following the mountain run the previous day. I was also pleased by the fact that I ran at a very easy effort and still was well under 8-minute pace. A couple of months ago that pace would have felt like a tempo run, now it's a recovery effort.

Speaking of tempo runs, that was in store on  Fast Friday. Things have gone up a notch again, with 7 miles at the higher effort (not quite at what would usually be a regarded a tempo run, though). I checked the watch just once or twice at the start and then ran entirely by feel. What came out the end was 7:07 pace at HR 153 - very, very nice numbers. Not so long ago I did an evaluation where I ran 7:11 at HR 161, now I'm running faster than that at a substantially lower heart rate. I'm actually amazed at these numbers - I thought I'd never see the likes again! That's as good a set of numbers as I've ever seen, comparable to 4 years ago when I ran a 2:55 marathon on a very hilly course. And I'm getting closer and closer to 50 - maybe age really is just a number!

Saturday was a return to my old hunting grounds, a loop around Caragh lake. Despite the lake itself being as flat as any other accumulation of  water, this is a very hilly loop with over 500 feet climbing on one hill alone and over 1500 feet along the entire loop. To be honest, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, not having done a long run for months, and with slightly pre-fatigued legs to boot. However the only way to do it is to - just go and do it. It actually went better than expected. The legs gradually got tired over the second half but were still in reasonably good shape by the time I got back home. I was rather tired for the rest of the day, though, and I could feel the legs all day.

Sunday was probably the most difficult run, this time really on tired legs. I took it as easy as I could and got it done. Running on tired legs is supposed to be good training for an ultra, so chalk up 7 miles on that particular board.
6 Apr
7 miles, 54:38, 7:48 pace, HR 138
7 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:48, 7:11 pace, HR 149
   incl. 7 miles @ 7:07, HR 153
8 Apr
17 miles, 2:13:05, 7:49 pace, HR 147
9 Apr
7 miles, 56:41, 7:05 pace, HR 138

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

And It's The Back Again

On Monday morning I got up at the usual time and got ready for my run. Things were progressing like they do every other morning, me mostly on autopilot, until the point where I put on my socks (which happens just before going out, I do potter around bare feet before that). Just as I was balancing on my left leg to put on my right sock, just like I have done hundreds of times before, I felt like being stabbed in my lower back and for an instant a massive pain wave shot through my body.

This has happened before. In fact, this one wasn't the worst. Once it had hurt so badly I basically blacked out from sheer pain for a split second, so this was a mild one in comparison. I still manged to somewhat bend over, carefully, and put the sock on, and managed the shoes as well.

Running doesn't aggravate my lower back, so I went out for the run just like normal. In fact, it helped. Once the endorphins kicked in, the back was much more bearable.

In the office later that day I was uncomfortable rather than in pain. I managed to go to Yoga as well, and apart from the back no feeling quiet right when attempting a handstand (against the wall, don't get excited!) it was just fine. It was a bit better on Tuesday and another bit better on Wednesday, so I guess this will go away once more soon enough, but I know that there is some weakness somewhere and it does manifest itself in my lower back far more often than I would like.

The view from Windy Gap - not today, though
Anyway, like I said, I kept on running as if nothing had happened. Easy runs on Monday and Tuesday felt good and the legs seem to have gotten over Saturday's overenthusiastic pace very quickly, so I dared to head for the trails on Wednesday morning and went up Windy Gap for the first time this year. I didn't push the effort and running up to the Gap itself was challenging enough but I got through it in once piece and was actually quite pleased by how well it had gone. The light was still quite low. the overcast sky not helping, in the so there was not much of a view to be had, but that's not why I had gone up there anyway.

Running mountain trails has proven to be a very effective training tool in the past, even when preparing for a totally flat race, so I'll keep doing that. The Gap hasn't seen the last of me.
3 Apr
7+ miles, 57:01, 8:05 pace, HR 138
4 Apr
7 miles, 54:26, 7:46 pace, HR 142
5 Apr
10.7 miles, 1:35:38, 8:56 pace, HR 145
   Windy Gap