Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My nutrition - what works for me

I have been thinking of posting about nutrition and what works for me and recently on Twitter I was asked that very question, so here goes.
NB: This is what works for me, it is a work in progress, but it is working and I am seeing big improvements.

I ran a marathon in April 2011 (link here). Beforehand I had a lot of people telling me not to set a time goal and "just enjoy it". To that end I ran 5 days a week and also did S&C too. The night before I was at the "pasta party" and filled up on all things carbs. The big day came along and I set off with a few hundred others. The first half I took it pretty easy, at a pace slightly slower than usual. Then when I got to around the 32k mark the wheels fell off. Despite taking on gels every 45mins from the start I had zero energy and had to do a walk, jog, walk to the finish line, even on the downhills. I was having stomach issues towards the end too, as I was trying to catch up with the rate I was using glycogen, which is not going to happen while you are still exercising.
I knew there was something I needed to work on in the magical realm of nutrition. One question that kept coming back to me was, "So how many grams of carbs do I need for the race/workout?".
In November 2011 I happened to be in a local pharmacy and saw that they were advertising for food intolerance tests. They took a blood sample, sent it off and two weeks later told me I was/am yeast intolerant (full details in this blog post). As a result, I had to cut out anything that contained any form of yeast. So I decided that gluten free was a good fit and started making my own GF bread and using GF pasta (it tasted horrible!). Then, after three months completely off yeast, I tried going back on "normal" food, but I started having stomach issues, feeling bloated, blocked sinuses etc. That prompted me to go back to yeast free/GF. This time I decided to go completely off bread and pasta though, as it just wasn't worth the hassle!
By this time the question came back - just how many grams of carbs do I need?
I can't remember how, but I ended up finding the excellent, albeit short, book "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance". On the evening I finished the book I decided to give low carb/high fat a go. For the next two full weeks I felt like crap. It was like a cross between a head cold and a hangover, for two weeks solid, every minute of each day. I wasn't aware at the time, but I was going through withdrawal symptoms and changing from being mainly carb fueled to fat fueled. After the two weeks, I started feeling better. My training did take a performance hit, but after another couple of weeks this improved again and was at least back to normal.
I had started to move away from only running races and into cycling and short adventure races, up to around 6 hours. I initially didn't know what kind of food to bring on these longer races and fir the first one I brought a low carb protein bar, along with a bag of almonds & walnuts. Looking back I'm pretty sure that all they did was give me confidence, I didn't need them for anything else. That race lasted 5hrs 30mins, give or take. The next race I only took the almonds and walnuts, but had very few, less that a handful. That race took me 6 hrs 30mins and apart from the nuts I only had water.
So then I decided I wanted to run a marathon, as you do. I trained for and ran the Tralee marathon in March 2014. I had no time expectations, but was *interested* in beating my previous time. Details of the lead up and how it went are on this post, but suffice to say that even though I had to limp the last 5k I still got a 16min PB, with NO carbs and only drinking water for the race.
This year I ran the Dingle AR (link here) and despite inconsistent training and a tough mountain hike I felt great on only water again. That was in June, and four weeks later I cycled the Ring of Kerry 170k charity cycle, the details are here.
I'm not trying to tell you that I'm amazing or anything, because I'm very much a "middle of the pack" runner/cyclist.
I have middle to long term plans, that I'm planning to do next year and it's caused me to take a detailed view of my nutrition once again. On that basis I'm working with a Nutritionist, none other than the excellent Emily Maguire of LowCarbGenesis, and discussed my plans and am now working on reducing my carbs to a maximum of 10% per day. So essentially I will be in nutritional ketosis (NK).
It's not easy. I don't eat any sugars or grains and little fruit etc, only a small amount of berries. If your liver has sugar going to it, it doesn't know if it came from pineapple, bananas or candy floss. The result is the same, an elevated blood sugar level.
I also find that I'm recovering faster. I do still get DOMS of course, but they don't hold me back from training nearly as much. For instance, At the start of July I took the Friday off work and went to an early morning CrossFit session, then drove to Killarney. The next morning I cycled the Ring of Kerry. On Sunday I drove home and went for a run. No issues, no lack of energy. I just didn't feel like cycling for a few days!

Let me know if you have any questions. Link to my Twitter on the side bar.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Ring of Kerry charity cycle 2015

When I checked in at the hotel the night before (after a four hour drive) I was told they only have cereal and continental breakfast from 5-7:30am and hot food after that. As I was planning on starting at 6 that shot my plans a bit - I don't eat any grains and minimal carbs. I ended up buying cheese, nuts and fruit in a local shop.
I got to the Friday afternoon registration just when it opened, only to find a few hundred others had the same idea. Good to get it done early though. That evening I had dinner, with no carbs. After that I made sure the bike and my clothes were good to go for the morning and got to bed early. Of course I didn't get a lot of sleep, to be expected.
I really felt undertrained going into this a 180k cycle. I was lucky to get out on the bike more than once a few weeks this year and only once got over 90k in a day (that was another charity cycle). 

I got up at 5:30, had some cheese, nuts and a coffee with double cream and got going, getting to the start line around 6:10 or so. No grand send off, just lots of cyclists hanging around for friends and a good few cycling straight through the start, which I did too. There was a misty rain/drizzle for the first 50k on and off, but there was a good atmosphere. I stopped at the 65k mark or so and got coffee and water. At this point I decided to pop some electrolyte tabs in my water bottles. I find that water can get pretty bland when going for hours on end, so if for no other reason these are a good investment. Stopped again at 80k and had a couple of bananas and coffee after the first big climb. It was about 4-5k long, but only 3%, so it was just something you had to keep pushing away at. The downhill on the other side was excellent though!
By the time I got to Kenmare (140k), my rear end was getting a bit tender and I took to standing on the pedals on downhills a couple of times. I took a short break here (my last actual stop) and had another coffee, two more bananas and refilled the water bottles again. The roads had been open up to now, but from Kenmare they got pretty narrow, so they were closed for most of the journey back to Killarney to all but the cyclists. 
Straight out of the food stop was the last big climb - Mol's Gap. I had seen online a lot of people saying how steep it was, how hard it was etc. Gotta say, it was about the same as the earlier hill - about 5k climb and 3% incline. Other than that it was fine. I got to the top (almost got thrown off by another cyclist not looking) and wondered where the hard part was! From there it was another excellent downhill almost all the way back to Killarney. The last 2k were tough, partly because you knew you didn't have much longer to go so you could start relaxing a bit I think. 
Going over the finish line was great, but as it wasn't officially timed it felt a bit anti-climactic. Great feeling to finish though. My longest cycle in one day ever. There was a stall selling not too cheap beer at the finish, I got one, but after having about half of it I threw it away - remembering why I don't like beer! There was another stall giving away free fruit on skewers, which I devoured, until I started thinking I was hogging it a bit too much...
 I was happy to get around in 7 hours 38 minutes (cycling time). Not sure I'd do it again, as there were a few too many on the road for my liking. Apart from the crowds, I really enjoyed the event.
Big thanks to all the volunteers and marshals!
At each food stop there was piles of sandwiches, biscuits, cereal bars and cake, but I don't consider them real food as they are full of grains and/or sugar. So the only real food available were bananas.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Dingle AR

My training leading up to this hadn't been great. Cycling was reasonable, and strength/core work was pretty good, but running wasn't as good as I was hoping. If I wanted to, I'm sure I could find excuses...
One of the decisions I had to make pre-race, was what to do with my runners. Stage 1 was a hilly cycle and then the rest was on foot or on the water. Closer to race day it was raining, so the off road would be wet and muddy, so I would be using trail runners anyway. As I wanted to maximise my cycling power I would be using cycling shoes and cleats and then switching into the runners. That left the question of how to carry the runners. As I would be bringing my Camelbak, I didn't see why I'd need to use the bike's bottle mounts, so that's where I put the runners.

I managed to find two of the shortest bungees ever to hold them in place too.
The night before the race involved settling into the hotel (after a 5 hour drive to Dingle), getting all my race things ready and going out for dinner. The food itself was almost no carbs, lots of healthy fats and some protein (no alcohol too).
I used a phone app to monitor how much sleep I got - 5 hours, no much, but ok.
Breakfast was bacon, eggs and tea. No bread or fruit juice, i.e. no carbs/sugar.
Before too long, it was just after 8AM and the race started at 9, so time to get moving. It was only a 5min cycle to the starting area though. There was a high wind, gusting up to 50kph so we were advised that the kayak section may not go ahead for the full distance and was cancelled for the Sport and Mini distances. As I was doing the full, we were told that a decision would be made by 11AM and we would be informed at a checkpoint during the race. Not much else anyone could do.
At the start I was wearing a technical, long sleeve base layer, a technical cycling t-shirt, fingerless cycling gloves, a buff around my neck, tri shorts and a cycling helmet...and I was still cold, thanks to the wind.
Before long we got the rolling start going with a police escourt out of Dingle and heading for the hills/mountains.

The pic above shows the spot where the escourt left us and we started racing on up to Conor Pass.
Pretty soon the field had spread out and we were on the main part of the climb. With all/most of us in first gear, some people had to walk this section with their bikes. Towards the top I got chatting to another cyclist and passed the time.
Once over the top of the pass the downhill was nicely intense! The road is cut out of the rock on the right and big drop offs on the left as you are careering down the narrow road - fantastic! No time for looking at the sights though.
When we got to the bottom of that part we were on the opposite side of the Dingle Peninsula, so the course goes left, along the coast. Unfortunately this also meant a strong headwind for 6-7k, but you just had to keep pushing the legs and keep moving.
Before long we got to T1 and dropped the bikes. Switching into the trail runners took a minute or so and I left the cycling shoes and helmet on the bike, taking everything else with me. I started running straight away and was surprised how fresh my legs felt. In no time at all we were going uphill on single track trails and over rocks and mud. Very few places to overtake. So began the long uphill to the top of Brandon Mountain, over 920m of vertical covering about 7km. The last 1k of it was tough and steep going. Once we got to the ridge the wind hit us and almost immediately turned the beads of sweat on your face to what felt like drops of ice. We were in the clouds now and visibility was down to 4-5m. The directions were spot on though and lots of signage. I was behind a guy in shorts and a t-shirt and he walked straight by the checkpoint at the summit - he was that tired and cold. The race marshall called him back though.
Once we had checked in it was back to jogging/running but this time we had gravity to help/contend with. One guy overtook me on the trail and only a minute or so later I was stopping to help him after he had twisted his ankle.
The downhill was about 4k long, so it went by pretty quick and the second half was on grass. When we got to the checkpoint at the bottom we were told that due to the high winds the kayak section was cancelled, so we were to run all the way to Dingle - 11k.
By this time, the weather at sea level had improved, although it was still windy. I started running and taking on water and felt fine. The road was lined with other racers running back to the finish, although none of us going too fast. A few of us had been going through the race at roughly the same pace, and it was good to see the same people again. Conversation was flowing and it was good to be able to laugh to take your mind off the distance. Again, before long we were nearing the finish and I picked up the pace for the last 2k including a sprint over the line.

The finish line was great - a free locally brewed beer, fruit and water. I had to hang around along with a few others until our bikes were shipped back, so a hot drink would have been good, as it was cold once you weren't moving. All in all a great, but tough day in the country. I'll most likely do it again, but hopefully the weather is better so the kayak stage is on.

During the 4 plus hours of the race, I didn't eat anything and only drank water. Energy levels were very good and I was never hungry. Once I got back to the hotel I had a protein drink and slept for an hour before dinner. Again the food was all low carb, high fat and moderate protein, although this time I added a glass of wine :-)


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Less is different

As I wrote in the previous post, I'm running a bit less right now. This is due to a few reasons:
  • Not entering many races
  • Having a family, full time job and college
  • Not being concerned with my run times as much
A side effect of all of this is that I'm enjoying my running more. I may only get to run 2-3 times a week (I didn't even run once last weekend!), but I'm really enjoying it. That's what it's about for me. 

A couple of years ago I was running 5-6 times a week and doing conditioning in a gym 3 times a week also. I ran 18 races that year and got a PB in all but two of them. But, I didn't enjoy the running, it was just something that had to be done to work towards a goal. The goal was another race, or a faster time. And that took the fun out of it. 

With other training I do, there is an element of "practice this to be able to do something new and different". As I also do Martial Arts and recently started CrossFit, you can see what I mean in relation to them. But with running it's more like repetition and more repetition gets you a goal and the goal is...more running...?

As you may have guessed, I'm starting to find long distance running (and cycling) a bit boring. I used to half joke that running was my "therapy", a way of loosening the shackles of work etc and getting outdoors for a while. Well, maybe I don't need as much recently (which I think is a good sign).

I have a race coming up this Sunday, in Dunboyne. Previously I was aiming for under 30mins, but this year I'm a bit more relaxed about it. I didn't run over the weekend, and whereas I could have run during lunch today, I got other stuff done around the house. Hoping to get a run in later though and possibly a track session tomorrow. Will let you know how I get on, but regardless, I think I'll enjoy it.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Defining myself

I have had times recently when I was unable to run, due to injury or illness. Other times, I've been unable to cycle for various reasons (like not having a bike!). At these times, you start to think, "How can I call myself a runner/cyclist if I can't run/cycle?".
But I started to ask myself, does it matter what label I put on my exercise habits and preferences?
 When I started down that path, it got me thinking, why do I run races?
Cycling for me is different - I don't do cycle races, only sportives and adventure races. So the cycling as a separate sport is not competitive for me.
 But why do I run races?
If I just want to run a certain distance, like a marathon, I can do that locally, in my own time. That would save me the race entrance fee, travel, possibly hotel costs etc.
 Is it for the PB? If I just want to get a PB, I'd be quite fussy about the races I choose, only going for flat, or net downhill elevations.
 So if I'm not doing races to run a certain distance or time, or a combination of both...why do I race?
For the challenge I think. But I must admit, I'm increasingly finding road running a bit boring!
There aren't any trails or mountains or parks near us, just roads and paths.
Also, its not safe to use headphones while running/cycling around our area. A lot of the roads have no paths, no hard shoulders and no street lights, so you really need your wits about you.
 So with all that in mind, I'm pretty sure I'll be doing less road races in the coming year, but the ones I will be doing will either be with friends or the race will be a personal challenge - like adventure racing or duathlons.
 Keep running,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Episode 22.3 of the podcast, woohoo!

Running, again

"And as if by magic, he started running again..." No, that's not a quote I borrowed, I just made it up. Seems apt for me right now though. Wednesday before last I rocked up to my physio at 07:45 dressed in my running gear...which took me a while to find, not having been able to run since April. We went straight onto the treadmill. I was apprehensive. Would I forget how to run? I'm serious!
So I jumped on and was told to run at 60% intensity while I was videoed. After just a couple of minutes, I was stopped and had a look at the playback. From the side I looked ok, good even. Form hadn't taken a beating at all. From behind was a bit different. When I landed on my right foot everything was fine, but when on my left foot my pelvis dropped down on the right. Indicating a weakness on my left. So we went over my current rehab and then onto extra exercises. Along with the exercises, to be done six days a week, I have been told/allowed to run intervals every second day. So they gave me a specific running program, which has me doing a warmup, drills, then a multiple of 400m intervals, with the intensity increasing every session, and then a cool down.
That evening I couldn't wait and headed to the track to complete my 6 x 400m at 50% - well it was my first time running in six months. If you ever want to know which muscles are used for running, take six months off and then do intervals (possibly faster than you are supposed to...). The next couple of days my walking was interesting, ha ha.
Since then I've been running as prescribed until the weather decided to flood the area, including our grass track. So I took a chance and ran an easy 5.5k around the village. Towards the end I felt like going further, but didn't. Softly, softly and all that.
this morning (Wednesday) I was back early to the physio and on the treadmill. In only two weeks, after working on the rehab, the pelvis issue is totally gone. The physio was impressed with my dedication, but I really just wanted to get back to running as soon as I can. So I have to keep up the exercises twice a week for "maintenance" but should be good to go from here. Happy to say I will now cancel my appointment to get my ankle injected and resume running!

Keep running!