Thursday, June 23, 2016

May 2 though June 23, 2016: Eating Clean, Running Fast (for me) and Climbing Mountains, #RebuildingTheCar and #CreatingMomentum!

I have been busy. I usually write race reports after each event, but over the last month I just have not had the time. I am now officially on “summer break” (until July 18th) from my Kinesiology/Sports Psych MS program, so I thought I would summarize the exciting things that have been going on for me since running 80 miles at the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. 

Cleaning Up Nutrition

The first thing I wanted to do as soon as the 24 hour race was over was clean up my diet. I have wanted to change my nutrition for a while, but I did not want to make any drastic changes until after the 24 hour race. Starting May 2, I began logging everything I ate while focusing on high protein, high fat, and low carb nutrition. I had stumbled across some research that demonstrated how 30 days of eating this way can help athletes burn excess body fat while sparing muscle. Nothing I have read from peer-reviewed sources available in the the databases provided by my medical school library convinced me that I should expect to perform my best on a low carb plan in a race situation. Despite the massive amount of "soft-science" that report the miracles high protein offers (like personal blogs or non-peer reviewed articles or those with conflicts of interest available on the internet), the unbiased industry leaders in sports nutrition still report that carbs are the way to go for fast energy and the best way to fuel endurance endeavors. While some time eating low carb can be very helpful for someone like me who would like to become leaner, I have found no research that has directly convinced me that I should attempt to race long races without eating carbs and still expect to do my best. I have always run my fastest using fast simple sugar as fuel and that is still how I fuel fast racing for me, even after changing my nutrition. Others, I am very sure, have different methods that work equally well for them.

My nutrition plan was not to target any specific macro percentages, but rather to cutting out empty calories first and see what macros work best for me. I opted to get my carbs from mostly veggies, some fruit, nuts, and dairy. I decided that for 30 days, I would stop eating bakery items, flour-based food, potatoes, corn, and rice. I would build each meal around a lean protein source first, with lots of veggies or maybe some fruit (in the case of breakfast) and finally add nuts and other healthy fats. If I craved carbs I would eat something small to see if that helped and that usually did. I found right away that by eating lean protein, veggies, and healthy fats, I did not crave sweets or breads like I used to. I never felt deprived as I could eat as much protein, veggies, and healthy fats as I felt I needed to feel satiated. I still eat dark chocolate almost every night so I get something sweet. I simply learned how to use carbs to fuel training needs and to not to eat away my gains.  Eating this way works very well for me. Everyone is different.

The first thing that happened when I changed by eating habits, was that I lost about 6 lbs in 2 weeks. After a year of back pain, I had gained 8 lbs over the year. This happened mostly due to me running less because of the back pain but still eating in a way I felt was mostly healthy. My metabolism seemed to slow over the year as I sat more than I moved. I started to gain weight and it was hard to lose it the way I was eating. I generally eat healthy and my nutrition was alway in line with a moderate carb, low fat, moderate protein plan. However, when run not running 65-100 miles per week, this was just not working for me any more.

During the first two weeks of cutting back carbs to about 30%, training was hard. I felt like every run was as hard as the last 10k of a marathon. I had no energy. Kim and I trained together and we both planned for May to be our “rest month”. Thank goodness. We were patient and just logged a lot of slow miles. I remember hitting 6 miles and needing to walk I was so tired. It was comical.  But each day I felt better. As I lost some weight, my back started to hurt less too. The reward of having less back pain was motivation enough for me to continue on. (It will always hurt me, but less is good!)

Run for the Red

On May 15th I ran Run for the Red. My goal was to get a BQ by 5 minutes. I had struggled for a year and had run two BQ’s by 2 minutes, which we all know is not enough to ensure I earned a bib. In the past I had always BQ’d by over 20 minutes and it was a little bit of a shock for me to realize this might be the first year I don't get to Boston. I carb-loaded the night before and I used gels and sports drink the day of the marathon. On a course with downhill in the first half and hills at the end, I ran an even split and finished in 3:33… over a 10 minute BQ and my fastest marathon in a long time. I took a gel at the start and two during the race. I didn't hit the wall. I felt strong the entire race. My back was a little stiff for the first 10 miles but it loosened up in the second half. It felt amazing to NOT fade. I felt strong and healthy for the first time in a year! (I also got to meet and run a lot of miles with Renee, who was just an amazing person to share some miles with).

After Run for the Red, I immediately went back to low carb and it was not hard for me at all.  I love to cook and I enjoyed the food I was making. I also love data so weighing food and logging is entertaining to me.  I love this stuff.  I continued to find it easier and easier to eat this new way. 

I was finally able to fit back into my favorite running clothes. At the Boston Marathon Expo I decided to purchase some items that were in a larger size than what I owned.  I was feeling like my current running clothes were just a tad too snug and I was tired of feeling uncomfortable. Of course now those clothes don't fit at all (which is great as it means I am healthier now, but it was a big waste of money.)

During the next two weeks, I lost about another 3-4 lbs mostly body fat.  Still Kim and I just kept on running slow and easy. We did no actual “workouts.” We either ran short (3-4 Miles), medium (6-8 Miles) or longish (10-14 miles). We did not run hills workouts or speed workouts, but we did choose hilly routes.  We did not care about pace and just ran slow. We took longish breaks as we were in no rush.  We did not fuel on these runs, but only drank water. They were not very long runs.  We accepted and embraced the Bonk when it came. We watched the Bonk come later and later each time we ran. It was interesting to watch how we acclimated.

The Ridgewood Double

On May 30th, I decide to run the Ridgewood 5k/10k double. I went out with Sidney the night before and had a great dinner with bread, carbs, and we even shared two desserts (a strawberry bread pudding with rosemary almond ice cream which were both amazing). 

My last 10k was the Cherry Blossom 10k where I ran a 7:22 pace. I was hoping to beat that 7:22 for the 10k (first event of the day) and then see what I had for the second race. In the past, every single time I have run a 5k/10k double (4 times now), I had an uncanny ability to run both races at the exact same pace. This race was no different! In exceptionally humid conditions on rolling courses, I managed a 7:09 pace in both races. I felt like I had won at the Olympics. Both races were slow starts with negative splits. Both had low 6 minute kicks. Both races were text book pacing. I was really pleased with my work!

Right after those races I went right back to low carb nutrition. I bring protein shakes with me now to races and long training run.  I make sure I get right back on track immediately after any time I decided to carb-load for a specifically reason (race or LR). 

Heart and Sole 5k 
Photo by Kimberly Schwartz

Kim and I decided to run the Ocean Medical Center Heart and Sole 5k as our first "check in" race before marathon training officially started. It was warm, humid, and we did not know the course. I had hoped to be faster than 7:09 pace, since I ran that for the two races at Ridgewood. I carbed up the day before and morning of the race. I was ready to see what I could do.

This race was phenomenal. I started strong, a little faster than I should (sub 6:30). I don't have my watch anymore for the splits, but I faded a little each mile until I dug for a kick at the very end. I wasn't able to catch the lead female, but I happily took 2nd place with an official time of 20:00. I have only broken 20 for the 5k 3 times (it is not my best event). This race had no start mat and I was not toeing the line. My watch had me just sub-20:00 which really made me feel great. This was our “check in” race and I was only seconds slower than my lifetime 5k PR after a year of suffering. I 100% contribute this success to nutrition changes, subsequent weight loss, and some cross training for strength building.

Kim started our first week of Marathon Training on June 6th. We ended up crushing some hills repeats and then ending the week with a fantastic 14 mile negative split long run on a hilly course with super fast finish! It was the best long run I have ever run with Kim and the best long run I have had in almost 2 years. 

Bryce 100M (or 51.5M in my case)

All this progress was helping me to feel more confident about my decision to go out to Utah to run the Bryce Canyon 100M with Dave. We both knew Bryce was going to be ridiculously tough for us. We had not been able to train specifically for it any way. I spent the last month changing my nutrition and running short and slow. He ran a flat 3 Day race that got him over 200 miles, but there was no altitude or hill climbing happening for either of us.

Bryce started at 7700 ft and climbed to just under 9500 ft. This type of altitude is tough for people who live at 106 ft. The race had about a 60% DNF rate and we only met 1 other person from sea level attempting it and she dropped out. We decided to spend the day running slow, taking as many photos as possible, and seeing how far we could get. The limiting factor for us was not the terrain, but rather the lack of oxygen. On the steep climbs over 9000 ft, I needed more rests than I thought I would. My body felt great, mostly. My back did not hurt for even a seconds. My calves did burn on some of the climbs making me wish I had prepared them better.

photo by SuperDave Letteri

We got to 51.5 miles and decided at that Aid Station that we had had enough. We saw the entire course. We reached the summit at sunset and it was the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my life. The birch trees were humongous at 9400ft. The air was clean and the views were vast and humbling. 

This was the most challenging and the most beautiful course I have ever run and reaching the summit at sunset was the best reward I could get for my work. 

photo by SuperDave Letteri
Sidney was back in our hotel room and he had an 11 am check out. We knew we would not likely finish before 6 pm the next night. We decided to call it at 51.5 at 11:00 pm, so we could sleep and then continue on with our vacation. We wanted to see Zion. We wanted to go to Las Vegas. We just did not need to repeat the entire course we just run in the cover of darkness.  If finish was important we could have but I wanted to spend some of my days off from work relaxing.  It was a good decision for us. We had a great time seeing parts of Utah and Nevada I would otherwise not likely get to see. 

So now it is a week later and I have no residual soreness from climbing that mountain. Kim and I jumped back into training without missing a beat. We did 20 x 200 on the track on Tues. We ran 10 x .2 mile (each way) hill reps today. I have added more calories to my diet as training volume and intensity is increasing, but my body fat keep dropping without me trying right now. I am sure that will slow down.

I feel great. My back pain stills comes and goes, but it is not as prevalent or debilitating. It will likely never go away completely, but it is no longer stopping me from doing what I love to do! I am running fast (for me) again. I am running ultras again. I am climbing mountains.

I feel like I have found my way home. 

photo by SuperDave Letteri

(#RebuildingTheCar, #CreatingMomentum!)

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