Let’s start with a very important disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not advocating any diet changes for anyone. This is just a little account about how a (odd? actually, most definitely yes, odd!) change in my eating habits led me to multiple marathon successes. You should see your doctor before making any diet changes. But I didn’t. Oh well.
For all of you who hung onto my every word from part 1 of this blog series (Twinkies, Steaks, and Marathon PRs), I ask for your patience as I re-hash bits of it. Below is a graph of my marathon times, with highlights of my major successes (see steaks).
There’s a blog entry to be written about the first steak marker in 2010, but I’ll focus on the two most recent marathons (sequential personal records).
Over a period of a few years (2010-2013), my marathon times hit a plateau. My fastest was around 3 hours and 15 minutes, and I could do no better. I did what had led to earlier success: I did my speed work and I dominated my long runs. I truly thought I was getting stronger and faster, yet with each new marathon, I simply couldn’t break through. It was frustrating, and I was about to accept that I did what I could do in marathoning.
At the beginning of 2014, I came back from a South American trip with some awesome memories, cool souvenirs, and … a few pounds tucked into my midsection (damn you, empanadas, damn you). So I figured I’d try some diet to trim up, and decided to dust off this book, The Four Hour Body, I had sitting around. It’s a diet / lifestyle “guidebook” written by Tim Ferriss, the man who brought us The Four Hour Workweek. I’m a huge fan of his work, although many complain he’s a self-absorbed douchebag.
In the book, there’s a diet plan that can be summed up as “Atkins (kinda) with a cheat day”. Six days a week, you eat nothing but protein, vegetables, and legumes (lots of black beans). On day seven, aka Cheat Day (aka heaven?), you go ape-$#iT. Dozen donuts? Sure. Whole pizza? Game on. Pint of ice cream? Just stick it into my vein. I’ll spare you the nuances, but I can say that I would eat lots of red meat (which is allowed) on non-cheat days. There was a streak where I ate 30 steaks in 30 days. And yes, I documented this on Facebook and developed a mass of steak followers. The diet (now my lifestyle) worked. I lost 15 pounds, felt great, and I even lowered my cholesterol.
And what does this have to do with running? I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even taking running seriously at the time. I started the diet in January and had a race in May. I kinda went through the motions and my mid-week runs were *awful*. Having limited carbohydrates during the week was tough on my runs, and they often were well above 8 minutes per mile (I usually did these in the mid to lower 7’s).
But something happened on my long runs.
I timed these runs after my cheat (high carbohydrate) days. And my body responded really, really well. While I couldn’t really run quickly mid-week, my long runs were the exact opposite: extremely fast. Armed with boat-loads of sugar from the day before, I felt like a god out there. I tore up my long runs (faster than I had ever run them before), and set personal records in my next two races (went from 3:15, to 3:11, to 3:07).
This isn’t science. It’s my n = 1 data point. But I can say being lighter helped me tremendously. Having a diet that facilitated this was key. I also believe the carbohydrate depletion effect helped as well — and there are many that will back up this theory.
All of this typing has made me hungry. Gonna fire up myself a juicy ribeye.
Happy running (and eating!).
[Many steaks were eaten in the course of this writing. Please eat responsibly. But not birds. Thank you, the management.]