With my recent decision to start training full time, I inquired to an ex-pro triathlete friend of mine, for some advice.
My concern was on what to do while not running. How much cross training, yoga, strength work, drills, mobility, etc do I do in relation to the amount of actual running I am doing.
His response was quite simple.
Your goal should be to run so much, that you don’t have the energy, want, or desire to go to yoga, lift weights, etc.
1 hour of EZ running > 1 hour of yoga, an hour of strength work, etc.
Of course I do a 10-15 minute warm up and cool down before and after every run, and this includes plyometrics, drills, strength, etc. My question was about going and doing extra work aside from the work that immediately surrounds running. So not all GSM will stop, but “extra curricular” work will.
Completely coincidentally, the day after I we talked, the answer to my question was on the very first page I read that day in Running with the Kenyans.
The author, Adharanand Finn, says how most athletes are jobless, because they are too tired. One he talks to had to quit working at a cafe because it made him too tired. Many rely solely on the donations and support of friends and family to support them. Really, all they need is money for food and maybe rent. They have no debt, no electricity, and no running water.
Finn also mentioned he once asked the British athletes in Iten what they perceived to be the most striking difference between the Kenyans and their own training. All of them said rest!
“In England when we’re not running, we go shopping, cook food, meet up with friends. Here they just rest.”
I realized I’m quite lucky. My job is on the computer, so I’m not doing manual labor, stressing over something I dislike, having to be to work at 9am. My hours are my own. I can sleep in if I feel the need. I can sit around at a cafe for a few hours and work, or sit around on the couch and work. I do perform the majority of the housework because Desi leaves the house for school at 7am and does not return until 4:30 at the very earliest, however this cooking, doing dishes and laundry is about the extend of my non-running physical work. I’m in a perfect position to rest as much as I need to.
So now, the next step is to slowly and safely get back up to higher mileage!
I’ve always experimented with diet. Since I began my weight loss journey I’ve done everything from a simple “eat real food diet”, to vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, vegetarian, and low carb.
Most recently I’ve spent a few months eating low (sub 100g) carb diet. Immediately prior to this I was on a diet similar to that of the East Africans. I switched to the low carb diet to experiment.
With the low carb diet, I was hoping to notice something with my training and wellbeing, but I honestly did not. Nothing positive or negative. I’ve been doing fasted AM runs for years, and my current 4th fastest half marathon was during a fasted morning training run. I did run two PR’s during my low carb months, but I don’t think the diet had anything to do with them.
Here is a brief rundown of why I’m no longer low carb. Feel free to comment below with any specific thoughts:
1) I don’t think I have an issue with carbs
Tim Noakes has stated that if you do not have an issue with carbohydrate metabolism, low carb may not be the best choice for you. While I’ve never done any blood tests, I have done my own blood glucose testing. From these, I am quite certain that I have no issues dealing with carbohydrate metabolism.
2) Or a problem with gluten.
Never had I experienced issues with digestion, really ever. My first meal after a 3 week raw vegan diet was pasta, no problem at all. No GI distress ever. No problem. I actually wish I had a problem with something, so I’d have something telling me “NO!”
3) A main problem I had with the low carb diet is it was very difficult to do it with minimal animal intake.
As an ethical plant based athlete, my main issue with eating lower carb was that I introduced a great deal of eggs and dairy into my diet. I do not enjoy supporting these industries and am glad to be eating less animal products again.
4) Higher carb meals are more simple
I love simplicity. For breakfast give me a bowl of oatmeal with some nutritional yeast and cut up fruit. Just boil a cup of water and pour that into the bowl. Boom, done. Often for lunch I’ll throw some rice and frozen veggies into the rice cooker and go run for a half hour while it boils. Throw some beans and peanut sauce on there, good to go. Yeah I could just cook up some eggs and throw some cheese on top, but that brings me to my next point.
5) Meal clean-up
I’ve found that animal based meals are messy and more work to clean up afterwards.
6) Less material waste
With the loads of eggs, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, etc it seems the amount of plastic food storage I was going through was huge. My staple food with high carb is oats, which come in paper or cardboard and is much easier to recycle. Rice and beans also come in thin plastic bags.
7) Lack of low carb science
This was a major issue I had. There’s simply a lack of good science that supports the low carb lifestyle. This includes both for athletics and general health. On the flip side, there is an extremely large amount of research behind high carb low fat diets. Here is a good video showing both sides of the issue.
8) For athletics, it may not be ideal for me.
The biggest bonus low carbers claim for the diet and athletics is that it turns you into a fat burning machine. And our bodies indeed have an enormous amount of fat, even for the leanest athletes. However I do have some issues with this. First, low carbers generally have lower glycogen in storage than higher carb athletes, and at higher intensities such as half marathon or shorter, starting with half of the glycogen available could be an issue.
9) Blue Zones
These are areas of the world where the most long lived people live. They all eat high carb and low fat.
10) East Africans
The best runners in the world eat a diet of 70% carbohydrates.
11) High carb is cheaper
I’m a cheap guy. Oats, quinoa, rice, dry beans, etc. All super cheap.
12) I snack less
Strange enough, but I do indeed snack a lot less on a high carb diet than I do with the low carb option.
13) Desi has no interest in being low carb.
It was indeed a challenge, eating out and eating dinner with Desi while I was on a low carb diet protocol.
When I turned pro during the 2nd half of 2013 a change in my mindset also took place.
Like a research subject performs better when they are wearing a “doctors lab coat” instead of a “painters coat”, perhaps I too will act more professional by simply giving myself such a title. A new sense of purpose, dedication, and self confidence.
Ryan Hall said about the East Africans, after spending some time there:
“My last thought about Kenya and what makes the runners here so special is their incredible self-belief. I have never met a group of runners so confident in their abilities, even if they are unproven. For example, you cannot tell the difference between a 2:04 marathon runner and a 2:20 marathon runner in Kenya; they exude the same confidence and self-belief. “
Aside from their confidence, the East Africans have other training elements that I have begun to implement into my life and workouts:
Update: Here is a great article on “The Professional State of Mind”!
Today I woke up tired.
I drove to the rec center and felt tired.
When I arrived, I sat in my car for about 5 minutes trying to convince myself to go home and sleep.
I told myself I’d just do a half hour of flexibility, strength, and drill work. After that I could go home and go back to bed, do the run later in the day.
When I finished up all that gym work, I walked on the treadmill for a few minutes, and told myself to just do an easy thirty minutes and do the second half of the prescribed hour later in the day.
Finally I finished the slow half hour workout and realized I felt pretty good! I decided to pick up the pace a bit and do some 2 minute accelerations every 3 minutes. I even cranked the treadmill’s incline down to do downhill hill repeats.
Boom! Training done for the day!
Lying to myself is something I’ve done frequently, when lacking motivation.
Never judge a run by how you feel before or during the first mile. Always go into them with an open mind, they’ll almost always feel better after than when you started!