Tag Archives: marathon fueling

Primal Endurance: An approach to making low carb endurance running work

Image result for primal blueprintBack in 2011, famous Primal Blueprint guru Mark Sisson wrote a post about how he’d train for a marathon. Mark’s no novice when it comes to distance running: He is in fact a former marathoner! His conversion to the lower-carb, paleo-style Primal approach to eating and lifestyle is in no small part a byproduct of his experience training to race the longest run.

Sisson of course generally discourages any sort of endurance training, prefering a more biologically natural sprint-and-saunter approach to outdoor activity akin to our prehistorical ancestors. Like many paleo-minded humans he’s more into occasional high intensity low duration activity surrounded by lots of regular but very low intensity activity.

This level of activity is of course a better fit for a lower carb Primal style diet, as endurance training traditionally requires a very high carb intake… intake that Sisson’s experience and research taught him can be damaging to your long term health.

However, a lack of carbohydrates can compromise the quality of your endurance workouts, let alone your race performances, since your body typically utilizes glycogen for extended endurance activity.

Sisson historically has preferred to avoid endurance training entirely and focus instead on what he’s found to be a more long-term sustainable lifestyle. His 2011 piece was more of a hypothetical, ‘If I had to train as a Primal disciple to run a marathon this is how I would approach it.’ Sisson’s piece definitely hinted that he had far more intel behind it, and that there was probably a book in him on the subject.

Image result for primal enduranceWell, eventually he did write that book. Primal Endurance by he and Brad Kearns spelled out the ideal combination of the Primal diet and lifestyle with the ideal training approach to maximize your performance in a marathon without the usage of carbohydrates and their glycogen.

I’ve given the book a gradual read over time, and while a lot of it reads like sales-letter filler for the Primal Blueprint (which seems superfluous since you probably aren’t reading the book unless you already own, have read and believe in the Primal Blueprint), what remains after filtering through it is a compelling and well-written approach to training as a Primal endurance athlete.

Sisson of course is hardly the only believer that endurance athletes can succeed with a lower-carb approach. Many ultra-runners have sworn by training low-carb to train their bodies to maximize fat usage in their excessively long races. Other non-ultra runners have sworn by training low-carb as well (I even know a few!).

I’ve long since argued (as many do) that accepting this lifestyle and swearing off most carbohydrates does to some degree limit your capability as a distance runner. In principle, I still find that to be true.

But there’s no denying that long term the endurance diet and lifestyle does take a toll on your hormones and to an accordant degree your health. I recall half marathon champ Ryan Hall being forced to retire in his early 30’s due to wanting to start a family and his training lifestyle compromising his body’s ability to do so.

I do think there’s a middle ground, mostly that you train in cycles and that you take breaks from training and the diet it demands. However, Sisson and Kearns argue that their recommended lifestyle can be practiced year round, in and out of training, without damaging your race performance.

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Too much gas, too soon

I finally figured out what caused the hiccups at the Chicago Marathon.

It turns out that a full stomach can put pressure on the diaphragm, and the competing pressures on said diaphragm during a long moderately intense run like the marathon can finally cause the relevant muscles and organs to effectively cramp, spasm and whatever else organs do once they finally run out of gas.

It turns out I fueled *too* well during the early portion of the race. I had taken in over 16 oz of protein and carbohydrate within the first hour. Combined with with the natural slowing of digestion as you get into a longer run of any substantial intensity, I had suddenly maxed out the tank before reaching the halfway point. The pressure on my diaphragm finally caused it to give up around miles 12-14, and there wasn’t much I could do from there.

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Preventing that next time around is fairly easy: Just make sure not to take in so much fuel.

Of course, that presents another, more common marathon problem: If I don’t take in enough overall, I bonk during the final 10K. And of course your stomach’s digestion slows either way as you proceed. So rationing harder only means fuel taken in later doesn’t get digested in time to be used. It was a key reason I was working hard to fuel in the early stages of Chicago.

I don’t have a firm answer yet, beyond going unpleasantly slow and letting fat-burn catch up enough to fuel the entire race. Ultrarunners succesffully find a middle ground, and I imagine the answer lies somewhere within how they fuel for their much-longer races.

This is a research project that will fit into the rest of my training.

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Learning race pace with an accessible mixed-tempo long run

In light of my previous thoughts on tempo running… here’s an idea for a long run workout. Basically, it’s like a long, stretched out low key speed workout.

  • Warm up with easy running for about 1 mile.
  • Run 10 minutes at your desired marathon /half/15K/whatever tempo, or (if conditions won’t allow it) at a similar relative intensity
  • Then run easy for 5 minutes.
  • After that, again, run 10 minutes at tempo.
  • Then, again, run easy for 5 minutes.
  • Repeat until finished.

It’s pretty simple in structure, even if in practice it’s not so easy.

  • This is basically an interval workout built into a long run.
  • You can practice race pace or intensity within the challenge of a long run, without having to hold that pace for the entire run or build the entire workout around it.
  • Later tempo reps in the workout help simulate the fatigue of later miles in an injury-safer controlled setting.
  • You challenge yourself for a few minutes at a time, then catch your breath and recover with easier running.
  • And throughout all of this, you’re also getting the important aerobic development of a long run.
  • This workout is a fine middle ground for intermediate runners training for a 10K or longer race, who want to improve their race times or hit a goal time.
  • It may be more productive and efficient than doing a hard midweek speedwork session, and then a separate long slow run on the weekend.
  • Even if you fail in some way at running your desired pace… you still get all the benefits of a speedwork session AND a long run, without unduly taxing yourself.

In fact, if you don’t have a ton of training time during the week, doing this on the weekend as your only non-easy workout might work best for you. It can be your one key workout, while you can mix in whatever easy running you can do through the rest of the week. It takes a lot of pressure off of training, while ensuring you still do quality training that can prepare you for race day.

Another great aspect about this approach is, for most mid-pack marathoners, the tempo segments usually line up perfectly with the amount of time it takes to run between water/aid stations. You can carry hydration or other fuel, and practice fueling/drinking every time you hit a rest interval.

Sure, the easy run intervals are much longer than it would take you to get through an aid station. But this is not a full practice for a race, and you don’t want to subject your body to a full race during a workout anyway.

The easy running not only pads this into a true long run, but gives you ample time for your body to recover for the next bout of tempo.

If you want to seriously practice race fueling during this workout, you can take a swig of water/fuel right at the end of an easy segment, and make sure to hit a full dose once the tempo segment ends.

Or, if you plan to keep running hard while drinking/fueling at aid stations, it may be best to fuel in the middle of a tempo segment, to practice doing so at full speed.

 

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The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.


Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.

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On how the body uses energy during a race, why runners hit the wall in a marathon, and what can be done about it

A key fundamental issue with the marathon is that the distance is farther than the human body can capably race in one go without consuming fuel during the race.

Long story short, aka I’m about to paraphrase a ton of science without citing any sources:

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