Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Low-Carb, No-Carb Long Run

If you're reading the title of this post and cringing or narrowing your eyes at the screen in skeptical bewilderment, you are not alone.  In fact, doing this run took quite a bit of personal convincing, especially around mile 14.  Don't get me wrong, I love carbs.  I need carbs.  I crave carbs.  The overflowing pasta I ate two helpings worth of for dinner, on top of french toast (and other various breakfast staples) for breakfast this morning is exhibit A.

I scoffed at the no-carb diets and knew, in every fiber of my being, that I could never do something like that.  Of course, I wouldn't really call anything I do a diet.  My wife calls me "gaunt" and a co-worker calls me "man-orexic."  But then they watch me eat.  And eat.  And eat and eat and eat.  So my only "diet" is to essentially run enough to burn the massive amounts of calories my body tells me I need.  Sorry if I can scarf down the leftovers of others and not think twice about it, because I know the upcoming *insert workout here* will make whatever was left on that plate slide right off my bones.  But I digress.

In my current training program, there are essentially two types of long runs: 1.  the Long Slow Distance (LSD) and 2. Some sort of long run with a speed workout plugged into the middle or end of it.  Number one is all about time on your feet, pounding on the road for a 105 minutes and beyond, basically pushing your body to the point where it starts to run out of carbs to burn.  The second is to get you comfortable picking up the pace when you should be getting tired.  Neither one is easy.

Here's a quick article explaining more in-depth the purpose of each workout.  But essentially, when running the LSD, McMillan prescribes not carbo-loading the night before or the morning of this long run.  Doing so teaches your body to burn other resources (i.e. fat) more efficiently so when those vital resources begin depleting in the marathon, it can regulate itself by burning alternate energy sources. Your body essentially burns fuel more efficiently.  McMillan goes as far to say that you should just bring electrolytes with rather than say gatorade because of the sugar/carb jolt you get on the run.  This is apparently a pretty controversial method to do your long run, which he's received both praise and flack for.  I felt I had to give a try.

I drove out to Belle Haven park just outside of Old Town Alexandria, where I parked and hopped right on to the Mt. Vernon trail.  It was a sunny day, upper 30s/lower 40s.  Pretty ideal.  My plan was an eight mile out and back that would take me along the Potomac and up to Mt. Vernon.  I've always used this route as a test run because I find the rolling steep hills (both going up and coming back down) to be demanding on my legs and lungs.  Finishing it is always a good confidence boost that things are headed in the right direction.

The trail also provides a tranquil run, offering serene views of the river, the giant homes that line the parkway, and Mt. Vernon itself.  When the going gets tough, it's easy to distract yourself by the surroundings.  Outside of a few crowded spots, the trail can be desolate without a lot of extra foot and bike traffic.

I started out at a more brisk pace than I had planned, which I thought might spell trouble later.  As I climbed for the first three miles, I kept telling myself that I'd be thankful for taking on these hills now rather than at the end.  At around mile 5, the hunger started to creep in.  Granted, I had gone to bed hungry and woke up only to eat an english muffin.  I took a swig of diluted gatorade and focused on the placid and glass-like Potomac.  "What hungry?" I asked myself.

There's a steep ascent to the turn around point that I kept in the back of my head. As it approached, I felt my legs begin to turnover faster and I conquered that hill as if it were a slight rise in the road.  My hopes buoyed at this point and confidence soared. 

My, how things can change.  From 10-14, I had to take each mile one at a time, live in the moment, and not think about anything beyond the next mile marker.  The tank had emptied.  I felt a touch lightheaded and the amount of sugar in my already diluted gatorade had no effect.  I made a brief stop at the water fountain around mile 13, refilled, and plugged along.  Once I hit 14, I had to stop.  I ransacked my body for energy.  Anything to burn, even a cranny of that english muffin.  Nothing.  Frustration started to set in.  I walked for a minute, feeling nearly back to normal the second I stopped, then continued on at a slow jaunt for about a half mile, then had to walk again.  The cycle repeated.  I made it back the final two miles, descending those hills I hoped would be easy at the end, somewhat dejected, totally depleted, and wholly starving.  I had some gatorade in the car waiting for me that I sucked down and felt life almost instantly restore. 

On my drive home, I had visions of black bean and salsa wraps, tortilla chips, peanut butter sandwiches, yogurt, pizza from Matchbox, and a (few) tall glass of beer...all of which I would have before the day was over.  Then the dreamless sleep of the exhausted runner.

So, a final assessment:  McMillan warns that this is a brutal brutal run the first couple times you do it until your body adjusts.  It was.  But, while it was tough, I don't think I helped matters by having not eaten enough period the night before, let alone too many carbs.  I purchased some Nuun to drop into my waterbottle for this week that is all electrolyte and no sugar added.  Yes, it was tough, but yes, I think I can do my plan is to head back out for the same route for my next 16-miler, just six days from now.  It's all about taking the good and bad from each run and applying it, right?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some fig newtons calling my name.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...