Sunday, January 24, 2016

Eating high-carb vegan food for energy, recovery and health

I've been building up to this change of diet for a while and have been following it for just over a week. It's a radical change for me as it means finding new 'favourite foods' to replace eggs, cheeses, cakes (made with milk & eggs) and of course, Mum's roast lamb. Tough, but so far, so good. My reasons for trying a high-carb vegan diet are primarily the promises of increased energy, faster recovery after training and improved health. It means plant-based eating — the full nutritional requirements for good health can be obtained from a vegan diet, even vitamin B12.

The majority of food in a regular supermarket is vegan but that doesn't mean that eating 'vegan' equates to good health. A diet consisting solely of coca-cola, chips and bread spread with peanut butter isn't going to be healthy! Many processed (canned) vegetables have large amounts of sodium, so I'll spend most of my time in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket as reading the tiny nutrition information print on processed food is a pain in the proverbial. I'll let you know how I'm feeling about my change of diet in a month or so.

There are many impressive vegan athletes in the world, most notably (for runners), champion ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, author of Eat & Run. The two that have left an impression with me are cyclist Christine Varderos (see her talk on Youtube) and Rich Roll, author (with his wife, Julie Piatt) of The Plantpower Way and a memoir, Finding Ultra. Rich is a great speaker and in the following off-the-cuff interview, he talks about his life and vegan diet (beginning at 6:15).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fresh running legs for a fresh year

Bring on 2016! Firstly though, a summary of my running for 2015. I feel a little like 'You Had One Job' on Twitter (in that I had one goal for 2015 and missed it by 'that much'). My goal was to run 5k in 21:59 or faster and as the year ends, my best time remains the 22:31 I ran at the Tuggeranong Parkrun back in April. Despite this failure, I'm ignoring the pleas from my friends to find a new job. My goal for 2016 remains the same: break 22 minutes for 5 bloody k!

I'm excited about my prospects for achieving this singular goal and I'm about to tell you the reasons for my enthusiasm. Two things really. Firstly, a revelation from my holiday in the good old U S of A. During those six weeks I did minimal running (and no cycling) and as if by magic my legs recalled a feeling from long ago: freshness, youthfulness and springiness. I wrote a blog post back in 2011 about the undeniable value of having springy muscles. If you have springy muscles and tendons you travel further with each stride (a free ride if you will, that all young runners enjoy). Towards the end of the US trip my legs were feeling youthful again, even though my lungs began to feel old due to declining aerobic fitness. The second thing is a chat I had recently with a bloke in my age-group (55-59) who runs the Parkrun in the mid-18s (and is surely on his way to breaking 18). Paul told me he thought I had the ability to run 20 minutes for 5k and was very confident I'd easily break 22. He then told me about the minimal running he does; how he combines it with cycling and how he always races with 100% effort on fresh legs.

The deliciously exciting conundrum I'm now faced with is to figure out how to arrange my cycling and running training so as to always be racing with 100% effort on fresh legs. I've been reading The Time-Crunched Cyclist and wondering how to combine that type of cycling training (high intensity, low volume) with my running training. I'm unsure at the moment how to do this and can foresee some experimentation in the early part of next year. The temptation I'll be trying to resist will be to do more volume, as the other exciting news I have for you is my decision to continue my Professional Runner's Lifestyle experiment indefinitely! I'm retiring permanently from wage slavery on the 8th of January, 2016. I apologise to Mark and others for being a total prick in the jealousy-inducing stakes. The low stress and ample recovery time available to the professional runner IS all it's cracked up to be. It's been a very long time indeed since I've felt this relaxed.

I'd like to wish my readers all the best for 2016. May your running goals be challenging and achievable. I'll let you know how my training plan evolves in future posts. Now, back to my rest day!

Cycling beside the Murrumbidgee River at Wagga over Christmas

Monday, December 07, 2015

Successfully avoiding the excesses of an American diet

I've been back in Australia since Thursday afternoon and feeling recovered enough now to get back into the running routine. We enjoyed a wonderful holiday (just short of six weeks), but man, the typical American food on offer was hard work. So much meat; so much cheese; so sweet and salty; so big! Possessing a sweet tooth, I also enjoyed more than my fair share of desserts, including the wonderful key lime pies of the south. I'm also taking a while to catch up on blog reading (computer time was limited in the U.S.), so please excuse my slackness in that area.

So, what is my physical state after such a long holiday with minimal running (and no cycling)? Not too bad is the short answer, but the actual statistics reveal the brutal truth: race fitness does decline, if ever so slowly, when one cuts back on training. The legs may feel fresh and your body energetic, but you run slower. 'Use it or lose it' is a true adage when it comes to running and a good bank of aerobic fitness only lasts so long.

What exercise did I do? Well, over 41 days I ran on 22 occasions — an average of 23k per week (supplemented by lots of easy walking). Prior to the holiday my 'normal' training routine was around 50k per week of running and 160 to 200k per week of cycling. Leading up to my good 10k in Melbourne I raced the Tuggeranong Parkrun in 22:41 at an average heart rate of 144, feeling pretty happy with my race. On Saturday 5 December I raced the same course (similar conditions) in 24:12 at an average heart rate of 148 (maximum of 158 — very close to my actual maximum of 162). Ouch! My legs felt good and fresh but I was huffing and puffing like the Chattanooga Choo Choo pulling out of Baltimore Station.

As the year draws to an end, I hope the few readers of this blog are doing well. Enjoy your running and don't over indulge in key lime pies! See ya'all in 2016.
Unusually mild (14C) for my run in Central Park on 26 November. Way too hot for ice skating!
Central Park NYC as the sun sets. Love it!
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge the previous afternoon. Beautiful!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Melbourne Marathon 10k: A good race, but not perfect

Of all the active running blogs that I read, Bob's, Geoff's, Joe's and Liz's would be the only ones that could answer the following question: Did you run to your absolute physical potential when you ran your PB time for a certain race distance? My own answer to that question would be "No" for most lifetime PBs that I've run. All of the other blogs that I read are written by runners who can still run faster. My PB that came closest to 'as good as it gets' was the 9:56.3 I ran for 3000 metres at age 34 (which happens to be the speed one needs to run to finish a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes). After finishing that race I remember thinking that given perfect training and weather conditions, it wouldn't be long before I'd run 3k in 9:45.

In Melbourne on 18 October I raced a good 10k, but not perfect. My time was 47:39 (a minute slower than the time I ran in 2008). My legs felt good during the race but not totally energised and fresh. My pacing was pretty much spot-on — the effort felt even (the course is undulating, so dead-even splits aren't going to happen) and I finished strongly over the last 2k with a sprint for the final 200 metres. Executing a perfect race would have seen 47:00 on the finishing clock in the M.C.G.

I enjoyed Melbourne, in spite of not having run the perfect race. Lunch with Liz, Bev and Al on Friday had been fun, so too the pre-race dinner on Saturday evening. I was pretty satisfied with the whole long weekend. But still (as a competitive runner) I wasn't super-satisfied or ecstatic with my race performance. I guess this whole post is a roundabout way of saying that one never knows at the time it happens, that a PB will never be improved upon. One always has optimistic expectations to run faster. Because the perfect race is a very rare thing indeed. If you happen to be in the perfect race (and have the awareness to realise this as it's happening), then give it everything you've got. Everything.
I'm behind in reading blogs (and running) as I've been holidaying in the U.S. Here I am practising my discus technique. Everything is big in America.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Lots of racing, mostly good

I like racing. Especially the one-on-one kind of racing, rather than the 'run fast in a big field trying for a good time' kind of racing. This post is a catch-up on what I've been up to over the past month.

1. The ACT Duathlon Championships (10k run, 40k bike, 5k run)
Held on the September 27 — prior to the event I felt daunted by the prospect of racing hard for such a long time (over two and a half hours). My pre-race plan was to spread out my effort/energy over this amount of time and the plan worked well. For the first 10k run I allowed the fast-starting Bron to get away then gradually pegged her back, not quite catching her before transition. 46:14 for the run (yes, it was around 400 metres short). Passed Bron early on the bike leg, riding hard with the aim of time-trialing to a good time. 1:24:51 for the ride (around 28 kph). My legs felt awful for the first 500 metres of the 5k run, but gradually came good — 26:23 and very happy to see the finish arch. Final place was 72nd out of 96 in 2:39:28, around 9 minutes ahead of Bron. A fast bike makes a big difference!

2. Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k
Held on October 3. For once, I arrived in time to do a proper warm-up including 5 strides. During the run my legs felt really good! Caught Pieta just before 1k, before running with/behind Scott until 4k before moving ahead. Bron had made her usual fast start and ran a 'New PB!' of 22:24. I was pretty happy with 22:41, only 10 secs off my Parkrun PB. My splits had been 4:33, 4:29, 4:33, 4:36 and 4:30.

3. Greater Goulburn 10k Fun Run
Held the next day, October 4. Drove up early in the morning with my mate Jim. We enjoyed a really friendly, well-organised country fun run. The course had two hills, one gnarly trail climb with steps and a shorter steep trail hill. I ran with the aim of having a good hard training run and trying to beat Jim if possible. He started fast; I gradually made ground on the first climb before overtaking on the steep road descent to the start of the second climb. Ended up finishing comfortably ahead — 53:59 to 55:51. Good average heart rate too — 130. Woohoo! The race was won by Marty Dent (32:31) and young Steph Torley (43:07).

4. Run with the Wind 10k
Held on October 11. Fantastic event! Beautiful views and a challenging (hilly) course with the magnificent wind turbines looking over us. Drove up with Jim, Maria, Suzanne and Fran. Once again I wanted a hard training run (got that!) and ran with the aim of finishing ahead of Jim. The course was held on the excellent gravel access roads of the Windlawn Wind Farm. We started down a long gentle hill — Jim got away even though my first (easy feeling) k split had been 4:43. I caught him on the return run as we climbed 84 metres to the first turbine. Then it was one hill after another and windy! Funny, that. I had to make an effort to run down one hill such was the wind. I could see Liz's running skirt in the distance but it never got any closer. Finally we were at the last turbine and the downhill run for home (10th k in 4:32). Liz ran 53:34 to win the 50-59 age-group. My time was 54:34, with Jim finishing 4th 60-69 in 59:43. My friend Rachel finished 3rd female and described the race as 'the hilliest 10k ever!' — she ran 45:04 and is a 2:49 marathoner. Hubby Joel placed 3rd in the earlier 5k in 19:35 and thanks to Joel's description of the 'brutal' course, I got my pacing effort pretty spot-on.

My next race is the Melbourne 10k on Sunday — not sure whether I'll continue to race well or be all worn out from all that racing. Anyway, it's all good fun. Looking forward to it!

 5k race start (thanks John Harding for the photos)
 This young girl won the 5k in 21:18. Amazing!
 Running with the wind and against the wind. Did I tell you it was windy?!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Harbour Bridge run, Sprint Duathlon and a 5k

Last Sunday I competed in the Blackmores' Sydney Harbour Bridge run and the Sunday before, the Stromlo ACT Sprint Duathlon. The duathlon was lot of fun — I think the result is further proof that these days my running and cycling are equally strong. Interesting, as when I was dabbling in triathlons in the mid-1990s, the run was by far my strongest leg, followed some way back by the bike with the swim a 'finally we can pack up the swim course' third. This race was a 5k run, 20k road ride, 2.5k run duathlon and my places for all three legs were similar — 61st, 57th and 58th. My place for the race was 55th (out of 83 finishers) and 2nd in the 55-59 age-group.

My plan for the Sydney Harbour Bridge run was to enjoy myself, not bust a gut, and recover quickly to resume my normal training. In the end, all went to plan and I actually ran a 20 second course PB. Very surprised at that! I started mid-pack in the A-group and as per usual, spent the first kilometre up onto the bridge weaving around people who started too fast. Luckily the bridge is nice and wide, providing plenty of overtaking room. I'd forgotten to pack my Garmin so used my trusty Casio to record splits for later analysis. I ran at a steady (hard tempo) pace for the first 5k, then got motoring, smiling inwardly as I overtook people for the next 4.23k. I was running this section pretty much all out, but there were times when it was simply impossible to run as fast as one would like, due to the crowded nature of the out/back section down to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. My final time was 45:03 (4:53 per km), for 790th place out of 11,481 finishers.

The 5k race was the Customs Handicap lunch run on the Friday before Sydney. The 'Floriade' course is a flat double out/back with only the two U-turns (and wandering tourists) slowing things down. I ran with my mate Jim for the first kilometre, feeling very easy. I then accelerated, pushing quite hard with a rough goal of breaking 23 minutes. Only just made it! 22:58, with my average heart-rate being 144. Kilometre splits had been 4:38, 4:29, 4:32, 4:45 and 4:34. I was most happy with how I felt during the run which gives me confidence that averaging under 4:30 per k for a 5k race isn't far off. This coming Sunday I'm racing the in ACT Duathlon Championships (10k/40k/5k), with no goals besides enjoyment and not crashing.

Helmet on after the first run leg (had a good race with the lady in purple), and there are still bikes in the transition area! Thanks Ruth for the photos.

Balance test, putting on my cycling shoes. Not sitting down!

Finally out on my trusty 14-speed 'Aluminum' racer, chasing down cyclists for 20k :)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Perfect running form, and other thoughts about cycling

I used to run with a bloke who, when he ran, reminded me of Henry Rono. My friend ran with beautiful form that made me, a marathon shuffler, extremely jealous. The funny thing is, my friend wasn't that fast — he ran around 20 minutes for 5k when I'd run 19 (this was a long time ago!). I suspect my friend's exquisite form was part natural and part emulation. He had a high heel-lift and loped along with ease — his cadence was slow, in the manner of Mo Farah, but with a stride quite a bit shorter than Mo's two-plus metres. Lovely running form isn't everything, but I still wish I could run like my friend.

There are many reasons why I like cycling, one being there doesn't seem to be such a thing as 'perfect cycling form' — no high heel kick, hip and knee drive, elastic (Paula Radcliffe-like) recoil off the ground of the perfect runner. My feet are attached to the pedals just the same as Chris Froome and my legs go round and round and round. I can even spin at the high cadence of Froome — in fact if I were to ride next to the great man (at a speed I was capable of, say 30 kph), no spectator would think 'that man's form is terrible, yet he's keeping up with an elite athlete.'

As a professional runner, I think I'm close to zeroing in on my ideal training day. In previous posts I've mentioned Jack Farrell's article: 'Re-Thinking The Hard-Easy Myth' where he explains why too much rest has just as negative an impact on development as over-training, by violating the principle of balance. Jack's runners train at the same intensity level every day, with no really hard days, but also no easy or rest days. Variety is achieved by running on different courses. "The goal of this training is to lower the comfort zone, that is the pace at which an athlete can run gradually longer distances at a steadily decreasing pace." I think my ideal training day is 50 to 60 minutes of running in the (late) morning or at lunch time, followed by 90 minutes to 2 hours of cycling in the late afternoon. This is something I can repeat day after day, week after week... Cycling in the morning and running in the afternoon doesn't work! I've tried it and my runs have been ordinary to terrible on those days.

Just recently, with all this volume of aerobic exercise, my running has started to feel really good — today 5:10 per k pace was only producing a heart rate of 132, slightly above my MAF heart-rate. So the legs have been strong and the heart has been cruising. On Sunday for a slight change from day-after-day training, I'm competing in a duathlon out at Stromlo — 5k run, 20k bike, 2.5k run. Should be fun!

Shuffling along with less than perfect form at the Tuggeranong Parkrun

Testing the old Aluminum bike at Lake Tuggeranong this arvo

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Professional running is not all beer and skittles

Just as I'm starting out on my professional running career, an unexpected speed-bump appears on the smooth Mondo road to success. Yes, an injury — embarrassingly self-inflicted, but now, a week after the fact, feeling like it's almost not worth writing about. However, I will.

I visited my old home town of Wagga Wagga on the 14th of August to race the 'Trail Marathon 10k' the following day. The race went better than expected — I felt strong and reasonably speedy, finishing 17th (from 71 finishers) in 48:01. For a trail race, it was a fast course (the marathon on the other hand, is tough!), perhaps only a minute slower than a fast 10k road course. I was happy with my time. The following day I rode my mountain bike in the 'Mountain Bike Marathon', getting beaten up a bit by the hills, finishing 41st in 2:35:42. It was good fun though! Beautiful trails and river-side single tracks.

I recovered well and enjoyed some good training in Wagga over the next few days. On Thursday I took my scooter (Xootr) out for some x-training. I was rolling down the footpath having a great time — until I moved to the left to give an oncoming old pedestrian elbow room. My front wheel sunk in the grass and I fell heavily (and embarrassingly) on my left side. Ouch! Only a little skin off one finger, but I'd wrenched my lower back. The following day I jogged 10k with the shortest stride ever, 6:10 per km pace, the right hamstring also feeling tight and uncomfortable. Since then I've been easing back into training — short runs of 3 to 4k and long bike rides. The injury, today, feels like it's about 90% right. I hope to resume 'normal' training this weekend, with the Blackmores Sydney Harbour Bridge 9k on September 20 my next major race. No scooter cross-training has been penciled in to the training schedule.

Very cool 'rusty crow' trophies (Wagga Wagga means place of many crows)
Lovely trail beside the Murrumbidgee River used for the Marathon, Half and MTB Marathon races