Monday, 30 January 2012

Long Distance Training

After a couple of hard weeks effort, I'm beginning to feel the benefits of the intense training that I'm putting myself through for Barcelona 2012. When you take on the effort of a full marathon you make a pact with yourself on how you're going to approach training. This can change as 'life gets in the way' during the training cycle. 

If I look back at the 4 marathons I completed over the past 4 years, I can identify those where I was fully prepared, and those where I could have done more. In hindsight, I don't think I was anywhere near ready for two of them, and they are (unsurprisingly) the 2 races where I've been less satisfied with my time and performance.

I'd go so far to say that I've known from the beginning of training the races where I knew I'd have a good performance. Almost as if doing well was pre-ordained. In 2010 I was determined to improve significantly on the previous years marathon, where I felt I'd sold myself short. As was, I shaved off 25 minutes from my finish time and felt great at the end. Last year, training started really well, but I had to move city for work half way through training, and the change disrupted my training schedule, so that I was doing less, and didn't fulfil my potential come the end of the race. I was too distracted.

Sr Casarrubios & me in Llangollen
This year I've buddied up with my friend Enrique who is based in London (I live in Manchester) and we're training 'together' -  doing the same schedule at least, with the occasional run in person! After my spring marathon last year, I opted for the first time to really push on and keep my fitness up by conditioning my half marathon skills over the summer. I was caught out by the heat in last years London marathon (it was unseasonably warm) and having trained only in cold weather/not pushed myself, I got found out come race day. 

I can't do much about the winter weather, but having trained a lot with Enrique over summer, I know that both he and I are of similar ability. We ran two handicap races with our club, Victoria Park Harriers. Both times he was only a matter of seconds behind me. Come September, we both ran a half marathon - he the Royal parks, me Bristol. Results wise there was only 15 seconds difference! 

With a bit of cajoling I persuaded him to upgrade from the half marathon distance to full marathon. I've known Enrique for 5 years and know his character well enough to know he'd apply himself fully to getting ready for his first marathon. I promised that I'd help with a training plan, tips and would follow whatever training he would do so that come race day we are equally prepared. Of course I'm aware that two people can do exactly the same training but due to different biology, end up with different times. But having been running equal times for the past year, we're both confident we can match each other toe to toe come the marathon at the end of March. At the very least we'll give it a good go!

Training wise we're both nerds updating our stats from the end of each run and so far times are mirroring each other. This weekend we had a training camp up here in the North. Some hard running was done - a hill session and a long 18 miler. Pleased to say we both felt great and pushed each other on. 

Having said our goodbyes he's back to London to train with VPH, me with Salford Harriers, until we do it again and I return to the capital in a fortnight to see how we're getting on! As Simon Freeman put in his post on training with others it really does keep the motivation up, whether its in a group or just with one other person - theres no slacking off (I don't want him to see blank spaces on my schedule where I should have run!). Its a healthy rivalry, even if its just egging each other on. Come race day we'll put ourselves in the best position possible having done this training. I've not felt fitter/as prepared for a race as I do this time, Enrique says the same. Here's hoping our little experiment pays off and we can cross the line together. It'd cap a great training cycle and effort put in together. Buena suerte tio!!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Fuelling to the finish

It’s been a while since I wrote but I’ve been busy getting my head down for work and my feet pounding for racing, getting the mileage up for the Barcelona marathon in 10 weeks time. It’s been so long since training started that I can’t remember life before ‘marathon training’

As the miles go up I find myself getting up indecently early on the weekend to shovel (healthy) fuel to ease digestion a few hours prior to going out and tackling the next big distance on the plan. I’m eating & downing the morning cuppa before heading back to bed to catch a precious few more minutes sleep and put off the wintry elements in the North.

So why is a trainee sport psych (admittedly a marathon nut) writing about nutrition? Where’s the relevance? Well, without doubt, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. If you’re not properly prepared before a race, whether physically, or mentally, then its my belief this will impact your thinking and mental performance in the race. Come race day, you want to be in the best frame of mind to tackle the gruelling challenge ahead. And I also think the kind of food you put in you has an impact on how you perform. You could put the cheapo petrol from the supermarket in your finely tuned vehicle, but its not going to do give your car the best performance, so its worth valuing the high grade fuel in your tank, enjoy it and feel good for race day.

Last year, my friend Monica completed a great post on what are the best foodstuffs for runners to help them cope with the long slow Sunday runs, for when you’re getting over half marathon distance in training.

For breakfasts, she suggested the usual suspects of oats, wholemeal toast and egg based recipes.  I put it out to my running community of friends on Twitter (@stuholliday) to see what people ate and most actually seemed to go for toast with honey as this was cited as being easier to digest than porridge. As ever bananas were popular (a great superfood), along with tea or coffee and maybe a bit of juice.

I always find breakfast is a tricky one (as does @nickersan) before a race, as the nerves can suppress your appetite. So your body says ‘don’t feed me’ but you really have to, to ensure you don’t suffer late on in the run. Coffee can be a blessing or a curse. It’s enema like properties may be wanted to dislodge nerves, or not risked at all!

Fundamentally, I’d say that whatever dietary habits you get into for fuelling before your long runs in training, keep when it comes to race day.

When I’ve run best I’ve done this. Eating the same breakfasts, at the same time, and following the same routine, so my body can know what to expect. Similarly, for taking on carbohydrate gels, get into the habit of trying them out early in your training so that if a brand disagrees with you, it happens on a training run when it doesn’t matter, rather than in a race situation. I think my slowing down during a run this Sunday was in part caused by a new gel that was as thick as treacle and put me off my stride. Go with what you know!

Which leads me to the big meals in the days leading up to your long runs. Monica’s post has loads of different delicious dishes. Paul Martelletti (@marders) makes the point that your big meal the day before a race should be eaten at lunch to allow digestion, and best avoid red meat. My straw poll of followers gave their favourites:

I was surprised to see so many opting for brown rice! Stephen Hitchcock (@egreenfitness), Linda Byrne (@alphabetbyrne) and me all swear by the stuff. When I suggested to Charlie Dark (@rundemcrew) that brown rice was a super food last year, I initially got a bit of grief, but making him try it with green broccoli actually got a positive reaction! The most common food that people reported having though was pasta and chicken the night before a race. A good mix of protein and carbs, though a few people said that they ate white pasta. Unless I’ve read all the wrong research, I’m 99% certain that us runners should keep it strictly brown to get the carbohydrate benefit. Bleached white pasta, from what I’ve seen is criticized heavily from having little nutritional value. I know I don’t want to come a cropper at 20 miles, so I always go with the brown stuff.

I like to make a tomato-based sauce to have with my pasta. According to Science Daily, “tomatoes are the biggest source of dietary lycopene; a powerful antioxidant that, unlike nutrients in most fresh fruits and vegetables, has even greater bioavailability after cooking and processing. Tomatoes also contain other protective mechanisms, such as antithrombotic and anti-inflammatory functions.” I also like how a good tomato pasta sauce tastes!

However, according to @mrtstephens he cooks spaghetti with pesto, a chicken breast and pine nuts, after seeing it recommended by Michel Roux Jr. For me, Michel is a hero, both in terms of his cooking, mentoring and running. The Masterchef star has run over 17 marathons in his life, as well as a Michelin starred restaurant. Naturally I recommend whole-wheat pasta for his recipe.

As a rule of thumb for portions I’ve always been told that you should use (roughly) a quarter of your plate for proteins, a quarter for carbs and half for veg. Though as your carbo loading increases with your weekly mileage, more carbs should also be added. The rule of thumb is to allow between about 8 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight.

Most recently I’ve started working with a personal trainer who is getting me into the habit of adding whey protein into my morning smoothie – this also helps me manage to also digest my morning banana more easily, along with healthy berries, a dollop of honey, and a few oats that help with slow energy release. I’ve never previously topped up on protein shakes but my PT is quite vehement I should, as well as having a recovery drink after training to top up carbs and proteins that get taken out through hard work. I’ve only just started this regime, but I’m finding I’m less sluggish after my runs, though I’m keeping a watching brief as this is all new to me.

As well as that I also take a couple of gels with me for the long runs, some water and an electrolyte drink as I sweat out so much salt during exercise.

All of this is specific to me, but its worth thinking about or talking with the staff in your local running store who can better advise on different kinds of supplements, gels, etc. better than I can here. The watchword is to keep things to routine, and ensure that everything you’ve tried has been tested prior to the big day, and don't forget that you should keep well hydrated with plenty of water throughout your training. Good luck in your fuelling. Feel free to add your favourite meals for keeping body and mind together in your training and races, and advise if any of the points in here need amending.