Monday, April 25, 2016

Some Weekend

Svein and Barry
When, a few weeks ago, I stumbled over an open invitation by nutritionist and ultra runner Barry Murray for a weekend “seminar” I was immediately excited by the prospect. Barry has serious credentials as a runner (numerous wins, including last year’s 200k Kerry Way ultra) as well as a nutritionist (e.g. with the BMC cycling racing team), and he was very highly recommended by the likes of Eoin Keith and Paul Tierney. That’s not all, though. His partner for the seminar was Svein Tuft, a professional cyclist with an enormous list of accolades to his name (wearer of the maglia rosa at the Giro, stage wins at the Giro and the Tour de France, Olympian, World championship medals, never mind his national titles and even more!). In short, once I got accepted to the (free!!!) seminar I knew I would be tutored by two of the most knowledgeable endurance athletes on the planet.

The one tiny downside was the long drive from Kerry to Wicklow, and I’m mightily sick of that road by now, though at least in this particular case I knew it would be well worth it. The very first thing I noticed when I got out of the car and was greeted by Barry was that he was in his bare feet, as was Svein, which came as no big surprise. The attendees of the workshop (still not sure what exactly I should call it) were cyclists, mountain biker, triathletes and me as the ultra runner, and the one thing Barry had asked us to bring along was an open mind. I could do that.

We started out in the garden where they lectured us about getting grounded (basically, standing in your bare feet on the grass), doing fundamental exercises (squats most of all) and making use of sunshine. Reading that now makes it sound like a hippy camp but it wasn’t, honestly. We then walked down to the beach, crawled of some boulders, did some exercises with big stones (throwing, catching, squats) and took a dip in the sea (ok, admittedly I refused to do that one. The last time I took a dip in the ice cold Irish Sea without a wetsuit was 20 years ago to impress a girl, and once she agreed to marry me I never saw the need to repeat that). Back home there was more training talk followed by a drive to Glendalough and a hike of several hours up and down Camaderry Mountain.

The mountain hike was very interesting. Barry talked at length about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Basically, athletes in training are always stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, neglecting the parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) one. The hike was low impact enough to stimulate the parasympathetic system but it was still a serious endurance workout, which had me sleep like a baby that night.

On Sunday we were back in the garden, and by now most of us joined the 2 main men in sitting there in our bare feet. Sunday’s talk was mostly confined to nutrition. I knew that Barry was a high fat low carb guy and was very surprised that he actually recommends carbs at the right times, basically post work-out (“you have to earn your carbs”). There was less surprise in the rest of the talk (natural food, no sugars, no supplements and so on, too much to go into specific details here).

Now back home in Kerry I need to think what I can implement immediately and what I want to consider for the future. Funnily enough I had implemented one of the most fundamental steps almost 10 years ago already, namely to train in the morning on an empty stomach, and I’ve already given up carb breakfast (porridge in my case) about half a year ago (yes, I manged to work those things out by myself). For the rest I’ll start doing it in small steps. On Monday morning I got up 10 minutes earlier than I would have otherwise and did my squats and lunges and used the kettlebell in my bare feet outside in the garden. I had my coffee with coconut fat and had a decent carbs meal for lunch.

Getting rid of carbs for dinner might be tricky. The kids love pasta, Niamh loves rice, and organ meat for dinner simply is not going to happen in a family where half are vegetarians.

Also, Barry lined out a week of training that saw heavy use of hikes and such instead of “proper” training. With the 24 hours race in Belfast only 2 months away I’m simply not prepared to jump into that kind of training while sacrificing half (or more) of my training miles. I do think that the biggest physical obstacle in 24 hours racing is muscle breakdown in the legs and can’t get my mind around the idea of dropping mileage right now. Once Belfast is out of the way I will reconsider. I do think that Barry’s approach might be extremely beneficial for post-race recovery, and right now the plan is to get to the race on “standard” training and try out more radical changes afterwards.

As for further seminars/workshops, one entire week with those guys sounds like a dream come true. If that ever came to fruition it would take a lot to keep me away.

Oh, and even though I suspect Barry wouldn’t approve I’m still listing out my daily training mileage:
23 Apr
4 miles, 30:51, 7:43 pace, HR 130
24 Apr
5 miles, 38:52, 7:46 pace, HR 143
25 Apr
10 miles, 1:19:50, 7:59 pace, HR 141


  1. Can I ask, Thomas, what do you have instead of porridge for breakfast? I'd like to cut porridge out too but quick, practical breakfasts that don't include high sugar, high salt cereals, or else CARBS are difficult to think of!

    Good luck with the training for Belfast, I hope it goes smoothly and to plan. I'm enjoying the blog as always.

    1. Hi Roisin, I usually have 2 boiled eggs for breakfast. No toast to go with it!

      Barry's approach is much more radical, namely no breakfast at all, just coffee. As it happens I tried that out first time toady and felt surprisingly good, no hunger pains.

    2. Thanks Thomas.

      I often have two boiled eggs for lunch! Hmm.

      No breakfast wouldn't work for me - I'm hypoglycemic which technically means that I'm very likely to bite your head off (or faint) if I'm not fed regularly.

      I'll try to get a new alternative for lunch. Carb free!


  2. Sounds interesting. They wouldn't be going barefoot around here, with all the bloody thorns - I've had 5 punctures this week! Interesting about 'carbs at the right time' - I know the pro cyclists are always feeding/taking gels etc during long stage races. Looking forward to hearing more about the fine details of the program.

  3. Sounds like a great weekend with important information about the parasympathetic system! My experience reflect their understanding and I will be adapting their principles in the next training cycle.