"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Puzzle, part 3

In part one, I explained the problem I've had in falling apart in marathons. In part two, I discussed how part of the problem might be "not having enough fuel in the tank." The next thing to consider is how to run faster, using less glycogen... if possible.

Let's say that I fall apart at 17 miles at marathon pace. One way to deal with that is to run that in training and then do another mile or two at whatever pace I can manage. The next time out, I might be able to run a little further at that pace. The problem with this is that it is so close to racing for me that it takes weeks to recover and I can't do just one hard run every few weeks and hope to improve.

Two other ideas have become common. One is to run long and then add miles at marathon pace just at the end, to get a feel for being able to run that pace when tired. Another is to alternate miles at half-marathon pace with miles at marathon pace; the faster miles should produce fatigue and then marathon pace would feel like a recovery pace. Neither of these work well for me.

One way to increase the per centage of fat being burned is to do long runs first thing in the morning, without fueling. Not having any liver glycogen (which happens early in such runs) has been shown to force the body to adapt to running more on fat. I've always done this - it's a comfort thing for me - but it obviously hasn't been enough.

A completely different approach

There's been a number of runners having success running on extremely low carb diets and this can circumvent the whole running-out-of-glycogen problem. If you don't eat any carbs, for about three days your body converts proteins into glucose (and ketone bodies), to supply fuel to cells that absolutely require glucose, such as red blood cells. After that, to spare muscle losses, the body starts to convert fats into ketone bodies and the brain slowly switches from using solely glucose to using about 65% ketone bodies after six weeks. If you're training during this, there's no glucose to form glycogen in the muscles, so they have to run on fat.

It's easy enough to come up with a 1600-1700 calorie diet that's healthy and matches these requirements, but it gets progressively harder with the more one ingests. If you're eating 3000 calories, you end up having to eat bizarre things that I don't recognize as food (or you end up with way too much of some minerals, which can have serious consequences over time).

The loophole

I'd assumed that, because there were measurable adaptations to a low carb diet still happening at six weeks, that this diet had to be maintained indefinitely. However, a paper from Tim Noakes' lab (Goedeke, Christie, et. al. [rats, I lost the reference]) showed that runners increased the per centage of fat burned after only 5 days of a very low carb diet. Muscle adaptations happen at a different rate than others; I hadn't thought of that. Also, the improvement appears to be "robust" - it doesn't just go away.

So it should be possible to divide a standard healthy balanced diet into low carb and high carb foods and eat twice as much of the low carb foods for a week, then spend a week eating twice as much of the high carb foods. This might be enough to get enough of the effect to last for a marathon or 50K (though maybe not longer races).


But... it should be possible not to alter one's diet at all and get the same effect, as well. If one simply depletes muscles of glycogen, then run hard enough to continue depleting them for five days, it should be the same as not eating carbs; either way, the muscles can't store glycogen over that time. This is an approach called "crash training," which I covered on this blog before. After five hard days, one would need extensive recovery, which would allow the muscles to restock glycogen, just like in carbohydrate-loading.

One can't take that much time off, though, without losing some fitness, so it would be necessary to supplement training with low-intensity running or with cross-training.
This is an interesting possibility, one I may have to try.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Read This!

When a guy you usually think of as funny gets serious, you pay attention.


Donate: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/24-hour-relay-for-aaron/270922

I'm considering running all 24 hours, if someone wants to donate for that.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Puzzle, Part 2

I just felt the need to post something on this blog (the bad movie blog already has 500 posts in one year).

Two posts back, I detailed the problem I'd had with hitting the wall in marathons. If I ran slowly enough to not hit the wall, I was running at my standard training pace. The solution was obvious: store more glycogen and use it more efficiently. I'll try to cover the storage issue this time.

In 1967, carbohydrate loading was first described in the medical literature and within two years, it had become ingrained in marathoning lore. Doing a depletion run, then not eating carbs for three days, then eating a lot of carbs for three days, could increase muscle glycogen content by as much as 200%. This did not work for me, as it took me more than a week to recover from a depletion run. Looking at the original data, glycogen levels were still increasing seven days after loading began (they stopped measuring at that point); then I remembered David Costill having noted that it took him as much as 10 days to return to normal after a depletion run.

One of the great lessons of sport: Any new idea works extremely well for just a few people (and they're the ones you hear from), works well for some, works okay for some, doesn't work for some and actually makes things worse for a few.

Perhaps I needed to start my dietary taper earlier than I'd thought. 

The other possibility was to "top off the tank" during the race. In longer ultramarathons, eating during the run is necessary and it makes sense that, if you supply muscles with exogenous carbohydrate, they may spare what they've been storing.

This brings in another lesson: never do anything in a race you haven't had success with during training runs.

If I eat before a run, I tire very quickly. I thought this was an insulin thing - rising blood glucose causes an insulin spike, which drops glucose, which makes you feel tired. Now I've seen reports that consuming carbohydrates before a marathon or early during it (perhaps for the first hour) causes the muscles to burn a higher percentage of glycogen and less fat, which would cause an earlier exhaustion. I don't usually take in calories in runs under 4-5 hours, but would figure I needed "the extra" in the race because I was running faster for along time - this might be why I crashed as early as 8 miles in one marathon.

So... the way for me might be to try to carbohydrate load for a week or more and not eat the morning of a marathon or for the first hour of it.

But what about training to burn more fat and less glycogen at a faster rate of running? That'll be part 3.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I learned from being a woman

[That title should get some interest...]

When I joined Twitter, the only thing I could think of that changed frequently and for which I didn't have decent information sources was fashion and then I thought that I might get treated differently as a man than I would be as a woman. So, I decided to take on a female identity and I needed a photo that wasn't of any actual person and I just happened to have one from face research I'd done.

I thought it would be interesting to see if I'd be treated any differently if people thought I was female. I never misrepresented myself, never acted any differently, just used the photo of a pretty girl. I wondered if I'd get insight as to why women on social media always seem to be a mutual admiration society for pointless accomplishments. Honestly, this is what it sounds like to me sometimes:
"I was the 37th left-handed woman to finish the marathon!"
"That's amazing! I shaved off one of my eyebrows!"
"Wow. I Wish I could do that."

[Feel free to comment with what men sound like.]

What I discovered was that, at least on Twitter, women follow people who give them something (which sounds mercenary, but is practical), whereas men tend to follow with the hope that something will come from it and "unfollow" frequently. Everything else I learned was about men (including myself) and how they act around women!

There's a guy I ignored because he wasn't interesting and then he said something amusing, so I responded... and I was DELUGED with comments from him. Whoa, dude!, back off - and I know I've been that guy, thinking to make the most of an opportunity and just completely overdoing it, misreading the situation.

There's the young guy who said "You're hot!" and my thought was "AND???????" Really, does that approach ever work (it didn't the one time I can recall doing something similar, when I was maybe 17)? I ignored him and wondered, very briefly, if he thought "stuck-up bitch!" and then forgot about him until I started writing this.

There's the guy who hired a woman who looks a bit like the photo I used just before he retired. I think he just likes feeling connected to some people and enjoys seeing their faces pop up his screen each day. Because of something written in my profile and some political stuff I've commented on, he has complete deniability: if anyone ever questioned why he was following me, he could explain it away without anyone (read: his wife) being able to say he was chasing after pretty girls. Yeah, I've been that guy, too.

So, in my experience, the question of "Is life easier for attractive women?" gets answered: yes, but just barely. Not enough to matter.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Puzzle, part 1

Thirty years ago, when I was running my best, I never ran a great marathon and why that was has always been a puzzle. I hate unsolved puzzles.

While training for a marathon, I ran a 32 minute 10K and a 1:10 1/2-marathon, so I was pretty sure I could break 2:30 in the marathon. I ran an even 5:30 pace, died at 15 miles and struggled in in the low 2:40's. Perhaps I wasn't in that kind of shape, so I ran 6's - and died at 17 miles, finishing in the 2:40's. The pace I needed to run to not hit the wall was about 7:10 (about 3:10 finish time), which was about my training pace at the time.

There was obviously something wrong with my training, so I got every training schedule ever devised and the one thing they had in common was that I couldn't do ANY of the workouts. If I scaled them back to where I could do them, they came out to 3:10 marathons. Either I was already the world's greatest overachiever (though the 32 minute 10K said not), or there was something very weird happening.

I assumed I just wasn't meant to run marathons and stopped doing them for 20 years. Top marathoners have about 90-95% slow-twitch muscle fibers and I have about half that, so I had a ready excuse - except I shouldn't be able to run a fast 1/2-marathon, yet I had.

When I turned 40, I decided to try to break 3 hours again and used all the information I had learned over the years. Knowing hat I could run far and run fast, but not run fast very far, I concentrated on long runs at marathon pace. Anything 25K or beyond at that pace was so close to a race for me that it would take 2-3 weeks to recover, but I found 1/2-marathons every other week and ran them in a comfortable 1:27-1:28 (one in a too-fast 1:24), but was worried that perhaps I wasn't in the shape I thought and was actually racing the half's, so I ran a 10K race in 36:54 and knew I had plenty left. I tapered for two weeks, did standard carbohydrate-loading and when race day came... I died at 8 miles.

There were a dozen reasons that could've happened, including lack of sleep from race anxiety, but the puzzle remained. For about the 30th time, I think I might have the answer.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Very short update

I've been having some medical issues and haven't been able to run. I have an interesting idea about training that I'm investigating and, if it pans out, there'll be a long post with lots of biochemistry to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

For the low-carb, fat-adapted crowd

Here's a diet of 2000 calories, 88g protein, 117 g carbohydrate (55g of which is fiber), 134 g fat, meeting all vitamin and mineral requirements, which a registered dietician wouldn't freak out if you tried it, though it's still high in saturated fat. It's almost all nuts and seeds, unlike the steak, eggs and cheese of most diets of this type.

4 oz. pink salmon (canned)
1 oz peanuts
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds
2 tsp whole flax seeds (ground)
1 oz almonds
1.5 c. cooked asparagus
1 c. crimini (portobello) mushrooms
1 medium green  bell pepper
1 oz. pumpkin seeds
3 cloves garlic
2 oz. dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa solids)
5 oz. red wine
1 avocado
1 c. chopped broccoli
1 oz. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. spinach
1/2 c. collard greens
1/2 c. bok choy
1/4 tsp. iodized salt
1 stalk celery
5 leaves fresh basil
2 c. coffee
2 c. green tea