Friday, 10 October 2014

Chester Marathon 2014 & how I managed to go sub 3:30

Last Sunday I ran in the 2014 Chester Marathon. Having failed to go sub 3:30 at Milton Keynes (weather and lack of training) and Berlin (packed field in the early part of the race) in 2013, I was determined to hit my goal at the third time of asking.

I had heard good things about Chester and it did not disappoint. The organisation was excellent, there was plenty of space at the start / finish area of Chester Racecourse. The course was not flat but not hilly by any means. There was plenty of support as you passed through the various villages on the route and the crowds in the last couple of miles provided us with a real boost. I can see why it has been voted the UK's favourite marathon by Runners World readers. The conditions on the day were nigh on perfect and I was feeling confident at the start.

My training for Berlin last year had gone well and I believe that if it were not for the aforementioned crowded field, I would have gone under 3:30 there. I chose to go with the same 3:30 marathon training plan which is created by an American trainer by the name of Jeff Gaudette and is free on the Runkeeper app.

My training on the whole went well. I had a much better base of fitness than prior to my training for Berlin and save for missing the odd session (largely down to holidays), it went without a hitch. Due to the High Peak 40, which was 2 weeks before Chester, my last long run (22 miles @ marathon pace) was 4 weeks before race day. Ideally this session would have been run 3 weeks out but otherwise I don't think I would have changed much.

The main difference between my training and racing at Berlin and my training and racing at Chester was my nutrition. I had felt for a long time that nutrition was one of my weaker areas and somewhere I could target for performance gains. Back in April, I started eating a 'paleo style' diet. My motivation for this was that I had heard about people running relatively fast marathon times and doing so without the need for traditional fuel, both prior to and during the race. This was something that appealed to me and so I set about a radical overhaul to my diet. More on which to can read about here.

I believe that the changes I made to my diet back in April and the adaptations that have occurred within my body over the last 6 months are the key difference in me achieving a sub 3:30 marathon at the third time of asking. On my way to Chester, I have lost over a stone in weight and am keeping it off, despite having relaxed my diet a bit recently, I scored big PB's for the 5k and 10k on the way to a 6 minute PB in the marathon at Chester. I am also able to run for 3+ hours without the need for energy gels/drinks etc.

At the High Peak 40 I ran for 8 hours and burned over 5000 calories. Yet I only had a smoothie for breakfast and consumed less than 600 calories on the run. At Chester, I ran in a fasted state, having only had a coffee and cream for breakfast. On the run, I only consumed water until mile 25. Having run up the final hill (and admittedly feeling pretty spent), I grabbed a gel from a marshal. I am sure the benefit of that gel was purely psychological as I doubt it would have been digested by the time I finished the race.

When I began this journey back in April I had hit a plateau and I knew I had to change something in order to kick on. I had no idea whether 'going paleo' was going to work for me, let alone effect my performance in a positive way. 6 months down the line, I am really pleased to be able to say that it has done both. Day-to-day I feel much better, with more energy and no sugar crashes. My performances this year speak for themselves. I have arguably done slightly less training, yet because I have been able to shed a bit of weight, I have been quicker. Plus it has saved me a fortune in pre-race, race and post-race nutrition!

I would love to hear from others that have gone through similar changes to their diet and am more than happy to answer any questions from anyone who is considering switching to a paleo or low carb / high fat diet.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

I am now a fat burning beast!

Back in April of this year, I made a change to my diet and started eating a paleo / or primal style diet. If you missed my original post about what that entails, you can read it here.

Part of my motivation for overhauling my diet was because I believed it would improve my running performance and allow me to use  primarily stored body fat, rather than sugar as fuel. I wrote about my quest to become a fat burning beast back in May. You can read the post here.

I have to admit, despite what I had read and heard about going paleo and what it might be able to do for my running, I had my doubts. Having been a sugar burner all my life, I didn't see how it would be possible to run for 3 hours plus, in a fasted state and not chugging down loads of gels and energy drinks before, during and after the run.

But on Sunday, that's exactly what I did. As part of my training for the Chester Marathon, I ran 22 miles at an average of 7:59 minute miles. That's just under 3 hours of running. What did I fuel myself on? Well, I got up, had a coffee with cream and that's it. On the run, I consumed 750ml of water and nothing else. The statto's can see my Strava activity here.

I'm not going to say it was easy. After all, I was running at PB pace. But I felt stronger as the run went on. I never had any sugar crashes or came close to hitting the wall. Not only that but I recovered really quickly after the run. I didn't get back and feel like I had to eat all of the food in the house and was still able to commit to the list of chores Mrs M had lined up for me!

Without even training for speed, I have PB'd in the 5k and 10k since going paleo. Losing a stone in weight will do that for you. Plus, I am saving a fortune in 'nutritional products' as I am not having to buy gels, energy drinks and recovery shakes.

Obviously the big test will be Chester. Not forgetting the small matter of the High Peak 40 ultra marathon a few weeks beforehand but after eating paleo for 5 months, I do now feel like I can call myself a fat burning beast!

Monday, 4 August 2014

A quick update on how eating paleo is affecting my running

21 miles, 3 hours 50 mins, 2,439 foot of ascent and 2,726 calories burned. Fuelled by a couple of handfuls of nuts and seeds and 4 dates.

On Sunday I ran the second half of the High Peak 40 route with Mike, Al and David. The plan was to have some fun in the Peak District and recce the second half of the route. Having switched to eating paleo in April, it was also going to be my longest run on this diet and the first real test of how this change of nutrition would affect me on a longer run.

Before I get into that though, I want to thank Mike for organising the run and navigating the route, Al for giving me a lift and David for picking up the navigation when Mikes recollection of the route let him down! As always it was great to run with them and a beautiful day in the Peak District.

A great group to share an excellent day of running with

Overall, I have been sticking quite closely to the paleo style of eating. I relaxed this whilst I was on holiday, allowing myself more alcohol, desserts and ice cream! That little diversion aside, I am really enjoying what I am eating and don't really see myself changing from this lifestyle.

When I woke on Sunday, I didn't feel hungry but conscious of the day ahead, I thought I better eat something. My breakfast consisted of home made nut muesli with a couple of blueberries and some almond milk. I also had a Nespresso coffee with full fat cream. This would have been about 7:45am. We started running at about 11am and my plan was to just eat when I became hungry. I didn't actually need to eat anything until 2 hours 20 mins into the run, even then I wasn't that hungry or facing any sort of crash. I just had a handful of nuts and seeds.

Plenty of natural obstacles to negotiate!

Over the next hour and a half, I consumed another couple of handfuls of nuts and ate 4 dates. At the end of the race, I drank a home made smoothie consisting of frozen berries, almond milk, Greek yoghurt, peanut butter and honey, and ate a Trek bar. This would have been about 3pm.

We travelled home and I didn't eat anything until about 7:30pm when I had a normal sized meal of home made beef burgers, basmati rice and a salad. About an hour later I had a coffee with cream.

Yesterday was an amazing day of running with great people in a beautiful setting but it also served as a really good experiment and test of how my long run / race nutrition is adapting to the paleo diet. I have to say, I was really pleased with how it went. I never felt like I was going to bonk and whilst I wouldn't say that I had endless energy, I was really pleased with how my body responded both during and after the race. I would usually want to eat all of the food in the house on returning from a 20 mile run!

Some of the beautiful Peak District scenery

I am hoping that as a I train for Chester, I will be able to encourage my body to become more fat adapted. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The importance of a quality running sock

Being a seasoned runner I've come to take for granted how important it is to choose a good sock for running. I was reminded of this recently when my sister took up running. She is completely new to the sport and has been running a 2 mile loop from her house. She dropped me a line the other day complaining of blisters. I said that I've run 50k's and not suffered with blisters and told her to invest in some good quality running socks.

A good running sock is important because it is the only thing that puts you in touch with your running shoe and, ultimately, the ground. If you are running a lot of miles (or even if you are not, in the case of my sister), it is vital that you find a sock that fits well, offers you some extra cushioning and vitally, assists with wicking sweat away from your feet.

I was recently lucky enough to be sent a couple of pairs of running socks by the guys at the Sock Mine. You can check them out here. They sent me one pair of their cool runner socks and one pair of their cool runner anklet. I really like the fit of these socks and they provide support and extra cushioning where you need it (see picture below).

What has impressed me most though about the socks from Sock Mine is their quality. Some running socks will lose their shape or their cushioning after a few wash / wear cycles but these feel as good after several runs and washes as they did when they were brand new.

So, if you are new to running, invest in some good quality running socks. For a small investment you will find your runs will become far more comfortable. After all, as runners, it is important we look after our feet. We may be asking them to run a lot of miles!

 You can follow the Sock Mine on Twitter: @TheSockMine

 Happy feet = happy running!

Friday, 13 June 2014

A brief observation on GI distress

Prior to going paleo just over 2 months ago, if had you asked me if I suffered from any sort of GI distress or digestive problems, I would have said no. I was always regular, maybe a little too regular sometimes. Certainly 6 movements a day was not unheard of! Far from being an issue, I saw this as a sign of a healthy constitution.

After going paleo, I noticed that my movements were less frequent but other than that I didn't really give it too much thought. Last night we celebrated my mother-in-law's 68th birthday. Naturally, we had some champagne and a few glasses of red wine. The meal was paleo (homemade lamb tagine)  save for 2 spoonful's of couscous but I did follow it up with a slice of pecan roulade and a slice of tarte aux citron (both of which were shop bought).

Fast forward to this morning and did I feel rough?! As I mentioned above, I had a couple of drinks but nothing close to making me feel that bad. My stomach was lurching and I had to take an emergency pit stop halfway through my run! Then I realised, prior to going paleo, I used to feel like this most mornings. I was a big proponent of Tony Audenshaw's "2 poo strategy" (listeners to Marathon Talk will know what I mean). In fact, mine was often a 3 poo strategy.

I appreciate that this is not the most pleasant of topics to write about (or indeed have to read!) but I wanted to highlight the fact that in my pre-paleo days, I felt that my GI health was good and perfectly normal. It is only now that I have made these nutritional changes that I am able to look back and see that what I experienced this morning was anything but normal!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A quick update on my quest to become a fat burning beast!

So, I have been eating a paleo / primal diet for just over 2 months now.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have found the transition to a low carb diet really easy and I am someone who has always eaten a lot of carbs and sugary snacks.

Mark Sisson says that a good way to test if you have become a fat burner (also known as fat adapted), it whether you can skip a meal without feeling feint, ratty or any other symptoms you would usually associate with missing a meal. Previously, I would have struggled going even a few hours without a meal or a snack and my wife could always tell when I was heading for a sugar low because I would become really short and snappy! I am now at a point where I can comfortably go for 6 hours without feeling the need to eat. Often, that window will have included some exercise.

When I adopted this way of living I felt that the challenge was always going to come when I wanted to teach my body to burn fat (rather than carbs / sugar) during my long runs. I feel I am well on my way to becoming fat adapted and I have been able to run for over an hour and a half without any fuel (and even in a fasted state). This is running at my sub-aerobic threshold of less than 135 BPM (or 75% of my max heat rate). The trouble is, currently this equates to roughly 9:30 minute miles. My target mile pace for Chester Marathon is 8:00 minutes per mile. As you can see, I have some work to do in order to be at 75% of my max HR whilst running at 8:00 minute pace!

Having run an easy 10k on Saturday, I tried for a fasted 9 mile effort at marathon pace on Sunday. I don't mind admitting that I found this harder than expected and simply wasn't able to hold the pace in the final few miles. It is all well and good being able to go for 6 hours without needing to eat but I need to ensure that I have enough fuel for my runs, so this was a good lesson in this regard.

I have faith in my training plan (which starts on 17th June). I used the same plan for Berlin last year and I remember how my fitness improved on those longer, marathon paced efforts. Of course, I was a sugar burner last year, so it will be interesting to see how my body copes with those longer training runs this time around. Watch this space!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Getting started on the Paleo Diet

As someone who is new to this lifestyle and way of eating, I thought it might be useful to tell you about some of the resources I have found useful.

In my last blog on going paleo and becoming fat adapted, I referenced Mark Sission's Daily Apple website. I strongly recommend signing up to his free newsletter as the information provided will give you a basic understanding and blueprint for going primal.

The other resource I have found really useful are the Run Paleo podcasts, hosted by Aaron Olsen. I have been listening to these from the very beginning and have learned a huge amount about nutrition and the paleo lifestyle. He has some excellent guests that provide a broad range of ideas, theories and information from you to draw on.

I also follow Professor Tim Noakes on Twitter. He regularly posts interesting (and some might say, slightly controversial) articles. He is well worth a follow.

Finally, I have been using the Paleo Primer cookbook for the majority of my meal ideas. The book provides you with an easy to understand introduction to going primal, the basic framework and the theory behind it. Most importantly, the book contains 100's of fantastic recipe's, many of which can be prepared and cooked in less than 20 - 30 mins. This is essential for me because if an evening meal  (or breakfast) is going to take hours to prepare and cook, then its just not going to be practical for me and I am unlikely to be able to stick to it. The book was originally released as 'Fitter Food - A lifelong recipe for Health and Fat Loss', before being rebranded as the 'Paleo Primer', I think largely to target an American Audience.

Fitter Food - A Lifelong Recipe For Health & Fat Loss 2nd Edition.
The team behind the book are called Fitter London. You can visit their website, which has some great recipes and to find out more about the book here.
Anyway, these are the main resources I have found helpful in adopting a paleo / primal way of eating and hopefully they can help you to. Of course, you are welcome to drop me a line on the blog if you have any queries.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

My quest to become a 'fat adapted' runner

Disclaimer: The following is purely a personal account of my experience of trying to become fat adapted. Please do not take any of the following as nutritional or exercise recommendations.

I have been aware of the paleo or primal diet for some time now. I didn't give it much attention as I believed that, as an endurance athlete (in the loosest sense of the term!), I required a lot of carbs to fuel my training and races. This is a common understanding/misconception. I didn't really see any reason to change and, let's face it, I like cake!

The thing that really changed my thinking on this was an interview with nutritionist Barry Murray on the Marathon Talk podcast. During the interview Barry speaks about the benefits of eating a higher fat / low carbohydrate diet and, in particular, how this way of eating can be beneficial to an endurance athlete. I won't go into the science of it here but if you are interested in the concept of the paleo way of eating and, in particular, how you can become 'fat adapted', I recommend having a listen to the podcast here.

This interview with Barry and also Tom's (one of the Marathon Talk presenters) account of his experience of becoming fat adapted and his subsequent performance at the Manchester Marathon was a complete revelation to me. The timing of this information coincided with my wife (who is not a runner) wanting to lose some weight. We both thought that 'eating paleo' seemed to make a lot of sense, if only for cutting out the processed foods and the amount of sugar we were eating. So, in early April 2014 we started eating paleo. I don't plan to go into what that involves here as there are people that are far more knowledgeable and better able to educate you on the subject. I would recommend visiting the superb Mark's Daily Apple by Mark Sisson as a great resource for everything paleo / primal.

I didn't make these changes to my diet as a means of losing weight (although I was probably a few pounds over what I believed to be a 'good weight' for me). At the beginning of April, I was pretty much bang on 11 stone and my body fat percentage was around 16%, so not exactly heavy for someone of 5' 10" and 39 years old. What appealed to me, was adopting a way of eating that would have long term health benefits and at the same time, allow my body to become more efficient at burning fat as a primary source of fuel during marathon and ultra marathon races.

Inside of 4 weeks my wife and I noticed an increase in energy levels and felt much better generally. I lost about 6 lbs, my wife (who is sedentary) almost a stone. The other thing to remark on was that I was (and still am) really enjoying what I am eating. The food is really tasty and satisfying. I have had a few 'treats' since and haven't stuck too rigidly to the paleo way of eating if I am at a function or having a meal out. I guess I am eating paleo on a 80/20 basis. Interestingly, things like a take-away curry or a chocolate dessert that I used to covert as a treat, really don't hold the same appeal to me anymore and I am someone who has always had a really sweet tooth! As such, I really don't miss the things that I thought I would struggle to give up.

In the last week or so, I have noticed that I am becoming more 'fat adapted'. I am no longer ravenous when I wake up and I am able to go 6 hours quite comfortably without eating. At the weekend, I only had 2 meals each day and I ran 8 miles each day (one run in a fasted state) and played golf once. My total weight loss, since starting in April is 10lbs (current weight: 10 stone 4 lbs) and my body fat is down to 13/14%. I am eating more fat and losing fat /weight. I wouldn't have believed it possible 2 months ago!

Now, I am not in training for any marathon's at present, although I did run the Dukeries Ultra recently. I wasn't sure about my level of fat adaptation at that stage and didn't feel confident enough to completely go low carb/no carb during the race, instead opting for a more 'natural carb' approach to my nutrition. You can read about my experience here.

I will begin training for the Chester Marathon in June. I am hoping by that stage, I will be more fat adapted and better able to tackle the longer training runs on less carbs. Watch this space to find out how I fair in my mission to become a fat burning machine!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Dukeries Ultramarathon 2014 - The perfect entry level ultra

In my view the Dukeries Ultra offers runners a perfect introduction to ultra marathon races. It is friendly, scenic and not too hilly. Here is what the official website says about the race:

The route follows a 30 or 40 mile loop taking in some of the most beautiful and undiscovered sandstone villages and historical sites in England. Starting in the heart of Sherwood Forest and keeping mostly to forest trails and footpaths, the route passes charming lodges, through Cresswell Crags and skirts the Welbeck Estate. It crosses Clumber Park and through peaceful farm land before looping back to pass by the Thoresby Estate before returning to Sherwood Forest.

 I had this race on my wish list after the positive feedback I received from +Mike Wells who ran it in 2013. The race provides you with a choice of a 30 mile option and a 40 mile option (as well as a relay team option for the 40 miler). Having only done one ultra previously (the White Rose Ultra in Oct 2013), I opted for the 30 miler.

This proved to be a good decision as Mike had managed to talk several of his #runchclub colleagues into doing their first ultra. This would mean there would be a good group of us, which as well as Mike (@mikew30) would include Ian, Alex (@alexloach) and Chris (@NikeAi2). Also running with us would be Conrad (@conwild), who had travelled up from St Albans. Conrad was one of those people who I 'knew' via Twitter but we hadn't met until that day. We also met up with Steve (@seesteverun) who was doing the 40 mile race.

Conrad and Mike (in tutu) take in the race briefing

I must admit to being a bit blasé about my race 'preparations'. I'd opted not to do a spring marathon, instead focusing on trying to improve my speed over 5k and 10k (more on that another time!). The upshot being I hadn't run more than about 15 miles for about 6 months. As I neared race day this fact began to loom large. That said, I felt pretty relaxed on the day. Meeting all the guys beforehand definitely helped to put me at ease and I do like that more relaxed vibe that seems to surround ultra events. It became apparent that I had seriously overestimated how much kit I would need. Looking around the hall, I had the largest rucksack by a long way!

The 40 mile runners set off under dark clouds
I got to the race HQ at Walesby, Nottinghamshire early as I wanted to see the 40 milers go off. They were starting at 8am and the 30's at 9am. The race HQ was a sports and social club. There was plenty of parking on site, and plenty of room inside to accommodate the runners. They had even invited an ultra runner store to open a small stall in case anyone needed to make any last-minute purchases. There was plenty of room to get changed and for once, the toilet facilities were more than adequate! The race briefings were helpful and succinct and the registration was a breeze. We saw Steve and the other 40 mile runners off and before we knew it, it was our turn!

By the time we set off, the rain had largely cleared and it was pretty mild. There was a bit of a breeze but the weather was much improved on when I had woken that day at 5am. So, I set off in a group which included Mike, Conrad, Alex, Chris and Ian. We were chipping along quite nicely, averaging about 8:30m/m until the first checkpoint at around 6.5 miles. I should say now that although the race was advertised as 30 miles, It was likely to run to just over 32 miles, due to a diversion around Clumber Park. We fell in with other little groups along the way. I enjoyed talking to Baz, a doctor from Sheffield who, despite his relaxed demeanour and fancy dress outfit (some sort of fleecy skeleton onesie!) was actually using the race as a training run for Comrades! This is another thing I like about ultras. You can end up spending quite a lot of time with a complete stranger and because of the pace, actually hold a meaningful conversation with them.

I didn't really have any time target going into the race, so when Mike said they wanted to go through 13 miles on about 2 hours, with a view to finishing around 5hrs 25mins, I was happy to tag along. Most of us made it through 13 miles bang on target time. Ian had begun to slow, so he and Alex were a little further back. At this point were still well under sub nine minute miles. By about 16 miles it was clear that my lack of long run preparation meant I was going to struggle to keep this pace up. Mike and Chris were already starting to pull away. Around this time Conrad started to have some problems with his ITB. His pace had also dropped and he needed to stop to massage the problem area. I was quite happy to stay with Conrad. Honestly, the walk breaks were quite welcome. That said, I was staring to find a comfortable pace and, at that stage, I felt that finishing in under five and a half hours was still realistic (little did I know!)

                                               Conrad works his way through a rapeseed
                                                              field under blue skies

I have to say that some of the scenery on the run was fantastic. Cresswell Craggs and the Welbeck Estate being two real highlights for me.

Conrad's ITB issue was really starting to slow him down and he was urging me to push on. I now had a bit of a dilemma. I really didn't fancy running half of the race on my own and I rather foolishly was relying on others to take the lead on navigation. Don't get me wrong, I had a map and the route details, I'm just not very good at navigating! Conrad and I had caught up with a lady called Tracy (who ended up as 2nd female finisher) and there was another small group a little way ahead. I decided to push on and had some fairly tough solo miles going through Clumber Park in the pouring rain. I eventually caught up with a lady called Lucy (who ended up as 3rd female, coming in at the same time as Tracy). I discovered that she was training for the Outlaw Triathlon and managed to juggle all of her training around having 5 children!

                                                 Conrad climbs through a sandstone ravine

After a short time we were joined by Tracy and we settled into a good pace. For some reason, I was nominated as the navigator (little did they know!) and for a long time this worked ok. My luck ran out when I went the wrong way after crossing the River Poulter. This resulted in us getting slightly lost in some woods. Thankfully we were not the only ones who had made this mistake. Before long we were joined by two other guys and between us (and with some help from our phones) we were free from the woods and back on track. I reckon this little diversion cost us about 20 mins. So much for being the navigator!

Thankfully we were about 29 miles in by this stage but extra time and distance (about a mile) this little diversion had added seemed particularly cruel, so late in the race. I have to say that I didn't particularly enjoy the last few miles of the race. This had everything to do with how I was feeling and nothing to do with the race or the company at this stage. In fact, running with Lucy and Tracy helped to keep me focused and probably meant that I ran more than had I been solo.

                                       Unknown runner works his way through a field under
                                                                      ominous skies!

The closer we got to the finish, the more we were picking up other runners. Both from the 30 mile and 40 mile groups. Those final few miles seemed to take an absolute age but as we came back into Walesby my spirits were lifted. There were a few supporters around and we even managed a little 'sprint' finish. My time was 6 hours, 1 minute and 49 seconds. About 25 minutes quicker than my last 30 mile race (and this one was closer to 33 miles!)

Again the social club provided us with enough space and shelter at the finish and we were given a choice of pie with mushy peas. I went for steak and wolfed it down! There were also showers on site which were most welcome. In all it was a great day out. I ran with friends, met some new and interesting people, saw some beautiful countryside and had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

A quick note on nutrition. Having adopted a paleo way of eating about 6 week prior, I used this race as a test for eating natural food, rather than relying on my tried and tested method of consuming gels at regular intervals. I had a high fat/low carb breakfast and just ate dates, Nakd bars and 9 Bars during the race. It worked really well and at no point did I struggle for energy or 'bonk'. I plan to blog about how my transition to a paleo runner is going in more detail, probably when I have begun my training for the Chester Marathon.