Monday, January 7, 2013

Food for the Long Run

Many times in conversation, my dad, a former steeplechaser at the University of Florida, and I will steer the conversation toward running. And on more than one occasion, he’ll say, “I wonder what we could have done had we known then what we know now about nutrition.”

It was with this in mind that I sat in our basement yesterday afternoon watching the Redskins, a Sam Adams chocolate bock (my second) in one hand, and a slice of asiago peppercorn bread (my fourth) in the other. The sweet potato pancakes I’d ordered earlier in the day at brunch had largely disappeared by then, but the never ending hunger from yesterday’s 16 miler had not.

I don’t normally sit down and go to work on a loaf of bread, but yesterday was not normal. It was effectively my farewell tour to processed carbs for the next eight weeks. No bread. No pizza dough. No rice. No *gasp* pasta. No pancakes (wipes away tear).

Let me explain.

Back in August, I downloaded Scott Jurek’s book, “Eat and Run” about his journey as both an ultra-runner and a vegan. I tore through it like an herbivore grinding up a fresh batch of kale. I was by no means prepared to give up meat, but I did take pause and begin to incorporate some of the book’s principles, namely taking on a plant-based diet. So, my meals centered on fresh vegetables rather than meat, and, in fact, I only ate meat at dinner these days.

I noticed that I grew leaner, felt more alert, and recovered more quickly from workouts.

Then the holidays hit, not quite as bad as last year, but still. Then, I discovered what I can only describe as a food hangover. Over indulge the day / night before – and BAM! – wakeup the next morning hit by a bus. Same symptoms: bloated, headache, grogginess, self-loathing. I won’t even get into what’s going on in the bathroom.

Finally, that brings us to this past Saturday. Mrs. Onthebusrunning is an avid cross-fitter in addition to a runner, and her gym (or box?) held a seminar / kickoff for its New Year’s nutrition kickoff. In the past, this has been billed as a “Paleo Challenge,” i.e., the eat like a caveman diet, or no processed foods (including all our favorite running carby foods and beverages – see chocolate bock above) or sugars. The program predicates itself on eating whole foods: fresh vegetables, fruit (for now), meat, oils. This one, however, is a “nutrition plan” based on the book “It Starts with Food.”

In the past, I took the same cafeteria approach to this plan that I did the Scott Jurek one: "I like this, I’ll pass on that…." Namely, as a runner, I want my quinoa and pasta, my Kashi blueberry clusters, my yogurt.

Well, Mrs. OTBR wanted to try it and asked if I’d go with and both see what it’s all about and also know about the guidelines so as to help her with the process.

So I went.

And the more I listened, the more intrigued I became until finally, I was in too. Here’s what got me:
This isn’t a paleo diet, per se. It’s a reset of your body. They called it healing. A purging of all the western diet ills that plague us. The fact that there’s added sugar in everything. That’s all well and good but, it also teaches your body to burn energy more efficiently. Your body learns to burn fat first and leave the glycogen in your muscles for later. That means no more wall, or at least prolonging it.

Then Mrs. OTBR asked my question: “What impact will this have on a long distance runner, whose diet is based on the things you’re taking away?"

The answer: there are tenets of every sport that everyone holds to be true; a huge one for runners is that we need processed carbs for fuel. Once and a while, someone comes along and challenges those tenets and it gets scoffed at because it’s not the norm. See minimalist running.

So, I was in. I wanted to be the guinea pig. Even though I was in a room with cross-fitters, I tapped into a Loop friend, Healthy Gumbo, who is an ultra-runner and logs many many more miles than I do for her advice and support and who has taken the paleo template and modified it to suit her needs.

And the beauty of these next eight weeks is not to deprive myself for the rest of my life of these things, it’s to reintroduce things after the reset to see how they’ll affect my body and performance. Even if it reacts badly and I still want it, at least I know the consequences.

Really, in the end, can eating whole foods really be that bad of an idea to try?

Part of our plan is to log the food that we eat at each meal. Check out my Tumblr, “Food for the Long Run” to see what I’m eating and just how this "whole" plan is going.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fairfax Four Miler Redux

In the waning hours of 2012, my good friend Bill and I alternated doing strides on a blocked off side street in Old Town Fairfax. Christmas lights still glowed from town hall and other racers began to reluctantly make their way toward the cold and windy starting line. Bill and I slipped in among those in the first few rows and exchanged a nervous fist bump.

I love the Fairfax Four Miler because the gun goes off just six hours from the New Year. It seems the perfect punctuation mark to the closing of yet another training log, and also the perfect prelude to some New Year’s indulgence later.

As we stood on that line bouncing from foot to foot in the adrenaline-charged air, I thought about the 364.5 days prior and reflected on where 2012’s miles had taken me. I notched, not just the first win of my racing-life, but two more to follow, including taking top prize at the Backyard Burn Trail Series. I bettered my 10K PR and agonizingly improved my marathon PR. I sort of, accidentally, how did this happen, set a new PR for the Half Marathon as well. I covered Cape Cod on foot and in a van with 11 other crazy beavers in the Ragnar Relay. I ran with the sunrise in the Badlands and tackled one of the Shenandoah’s most challenging trails twice in one, err, sitting. I became a run coach with Lifetime Fitness and a Ragnar Relay ambassador to give back to the community that has given so much to me.

It seemed only fitting then that I would end what had become a year of PRs with one final raising of the bar. But the Fairfax Four has been somewhat of a kryptonite race for me. The last two runnings saw me hampered by injury, while the third brought me just two seconds away from achieving my goal of running sub-24.

This year seemed as though the stars may not be aligned once again. I recently suffered a nasty sinus infection and a nagging flare up of an IT band injury that both set back not just my running but my training for Boston as well.

So, it was with lowered expectations that I lurched forward when the gun went off, hoping simply to slide through the darkness with a good rhythm and a fair effort.

The course, a lollipop shape that circles the George Mason University Campus, rose and fell along the stick. The pace felt light and easy as the wind snapped at my face. I easily reeled in the too-aggressive starters by my steady pace alone and settled in with a pack of four. We came through the first mile in 5:46 and I would have given a slight smile except that my face felt like I’d had a Novocain injection.

After a quick out and back down a side street from the circle, I overlapped with Bill as we gave a short acknowledgement to one another. The course pitched fiercely and I fought to keep my legs under me while I thundered down and around the curve. “I’m going to pay for this later, I bet,” I thought.

Sure enough, as the two mile marker appeared, the rode began to rise steadily and so did my heart rate. I hoped the 5:36 second mile was enough time in the bank to ride out the uphill mile I’d have to pay back.

Fluffs of spit shot from mouth and my nose leaked while I took gasping breaths. The road mercifully bent to the left marking the end of the circle where the road leveled off. I turned in a 6:04 and concentrated on keeping my form neat and riding out the return trip to the finish.

Townhall’s spire shone in the distance and a series of stop lights guided me to the line. With one more hill to climb, I surged to hold off the ragged breathing I heard behind me and shot down the backside to the finish in a whirlwind of churning legs and pumping arms. I clicked my watch and took a deep cleansing breath. The time read 23:23.

An exclamation point to send 2012 out on.
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