(the same could be said about your approach to parenting)
Anyways, after our talk, I reviewed my current training plan: running 6 days a week, two-a-days four times, speed work/tempo twice a week, two easy days, one hill day, and 5 days of cross training (boot camp). All in all, it's around 12-15 hours a week of training. Weekly mileage averages between 42-48 miles, with my highest week around 56 miles. For me, that's a lot. That's a serious uptick from my past programs that topped out at 35-42 miles per week. As I sat looking at my plan, I realized I couldn't workout any harder. I mean, I could, but I'd risk injury, illness or burnout. You can only push your body so hard until it pushes back (and as I've learned, the body usually wins. I don't need anymore "Kim-crying-into-her-plate-because-she's-too-tired-to-eat" moments) So if the answer to improvement didn't come in the form of training, where was it?
Enter Brendan Brazier.
Triathlete, vegan, and formulator of the Vega line of products, I first learned of him from the forward he wrote in "No Meat Athlete," one of my favorite vegan cookbooks. I stumbled upon his book "Thrive" almost by accident. But it piqued my interest: it's plant-based nutrition for athletes, particularly endurance athletes. I'm hesitant to refer myself as an "athlete," especially endurance athlete, but I am running a marathon in a few months, so I decided to give the book a whirl. And to my immense happiness, he hit on the area that I had long suspected to be of critical importance, probably the biggest area of training that we non-elite runners tend to overlook: recovery.
Scott Jurek briefly touches on the important of recovery in his book, "Eat and Run," and I even wrote a whole entry about it last summer, right when I was crashing, burning, and crying into many plates. But Brendan lays out exactly what I had been wondering about for years: not only how do you optimize recovery, but why is it so necessary? If the workout is only 2-3 hours of the day, what makes the other 21-22 hours of consequence? His stance: the faster an athlete can recover from their workout, the faster they can get to the next workout. The likelihood of missing critical training sessions goes down substantially. The more solid workouts you can endure, the stronger you will become. I mean, how many of us have started a marathon/half-marathon training program only to start skipping workouts by weeks 7 and 8 because of nagging injuries or just sheer exhaustion? The amount of stress from training you are putting on your body is too great; your body is simply not ready to go again. As a result, the only answer is time off. Brendan postulates, "quick recovery helps conserve the body's resources and energy. The quicker the recovery, the less stress is loaded on the body." To put it in simple terms, if you can get in more and better workouts than your competition because you recover faster, you will out-train - and likely, outrun - them. Easy as that.
Mind = blown.
Okay, so maybe you already knew that. I didn't. It was like a giant light bulb went off over my head. I honestly thought the week 7-to-the-finish struggle was just part of the process. I'm not trying to out-run anyone (well, not really), but I do want to out-run the clock. It's not so much about competition against others is it a competition against time. His ideas mean that we are never not in training. Even when the run is over or boot camp has finished, we are still working - working on recovery. I like this. I recognize there is an slightly obsessive part of my personality (you will never call me flakey), so the more work, the better. Yes! I love going all in. I'm pretty sure I was a plow horse in another life.
Part of the recovery process involves avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine or refined sugars. Give up...coffee? Good lord, no. Coffee is like the drink of choice for runners; we live for the stuff. Stick a fork in me and I'll likely bleed brown. But again, he makes a compelling argument: "you get energy now that you don't actually have, but you pay for it later - when the 'bill' or fatigue hits." Kind of like a credit card: sooner or later, the debt will catch up with you. For many of us, this is a vicious circle. You are tired, so you reach for a cup of java. That burst of energy will sustain you for only so long before the inevitable crash, which causes you to reach for another cuppa. Day after day, we do this. (I do this). My morning coffee bled into afternoon coffee and as-close-to-6pm coffee as I could get. And I was flippin' exhausted. I remember reading something that suggested that if you sat in a quiet, darkened room between the hours of 3pm-5pm and could fall asleep within ten minutes, you were chronically overtired. I read that and thought, "Ten minutes? Try ten seconds! And where is this lovely room?" More disturbing, my cup of liquid heaven was frequently accompanied by some kind of delicious baked good or a handful of pure sugar (Swedish fish, I'm looking at you), simply prolonging this feedback cycle. No wonder I've arrived at the starting line of races feeling like the walking dead more often than not.
Brendan also discusses the extreme need to eat as much nutrient-rich food as possible (exclusively, really), mainly fibrous green veggies, fruit, legumes, seeds, pseudograins, healthy fats, and very sparingly, starchy veggies and whole grains. His approach is meat-, dairy-, soy-, and gluten-free. It should be said, this is essentially AP Veganism. This is not meant for the person who's s like, "I wanna go vegan but can't give up cheese." I mean, three-quarters of the recipes are raw. Raw. That's crazy-town - but the good kind of crazy. I've been practicing veganism for almost three years and this is a seismic shift even for me. I regularly stock really weird stuff in our pantry and have all kinds of odd-colored concoctions in ball jars in the fridge, but this - this is a whole 'nother level.
What can you eat? Bananas, that's all. (kidding) And for some of you out there, I know you are thinking: where's the protein? Rest assured, protein is in there in the form of hemp and pea protein. Not to mention, beans and legumes are staples in the diet. He doesn't count calories or offer portion sizes; it's all based on the belief that by consuming nutrient-rich, high fiber foods, your body will naturally feel full and satiated. He accurately points out that we are essentially a society of "over-fed, undernourished individuals" - overweight, hunger, and always tired. True dat.
He has an entire chapter dedicated to what to eat before, during, and after workouts, again, to speed the recovery process. He even breaks up the workouts into three levels, depending on intensity and duration (love!) Surprisingly, he bucks the commonly-held belief that protein is needed directly after a hard work. Instead, he advocates a 4:1 carb-to-protein recovery snack. But it's not as easy as snarfing down a Picky Bar; he suggests the food be consumed in either liquid or gel-like form. Why? When the body is fatigued, digestion requires additional energy, energy you can't afford to waste. Solids require too much energy. The less your body has to work to break down food, the more energy it can dedicate to muscle repair and restocking energy stores, namely your adrenal glands. The best thing to consume? Pudding.
Hence the title of this blog post.
I've been working on this manner of eating for the past two weeks, and yes, it's found me eating pudding on the side of the road, post-run. Not just any pudding, but "Recovery Pudding" (pg. 126) - a bizarre yet delicious mixture of salt, blueberries, bananas, hemp protein and a bunch of other stuff. Because it needs to be eaten within 45 minutes of finishing a workout, I've had to travel with it, squished in between ice packs in my little blue cooler. It's a little odd, I'll admit, to eat pudding on the side of a road, particularly off the very busy Highway 95, but whatever. I've done weirder things. Besides, the bump in glycogen helps to stave off the post-run fogginess and get me through the long drive home. Plus, did I mention - it's really yummy. An hour to three after the pudding, I'll have a shake with higher protein content (20g or so) with a small amount of healthy fats (flaxseed). Since I've tracked my calories and macros for the past two weeks, I'm averaging between 65-80g of protein per day, 40-50g of (healthy) fats, and around 150g of high-quality carbs. As I learned last summer, too much protein, especially when consumed at the same time, has a detrimental affect on the body. We can only take in so much, around 15-20g at a time, so all the rest is converted to fat if not used. Based on my weight, I really don't need more than 80-85g per day (.65 x body weight = number of protein g per day).
Miraculously, I kicked the caffeine habit in seven days, using his step-down approach and I must admit, I feel amazing. I don't say that lightly. My energy is actually steady through the afternoon now, as the time between 2pm-5pm is usually my hardest. Instead of feeling like death, I feel...pleasant. The headaches were bad in the first three days, but after that...smooth sailing. I miss coffee, not in a craving-way. More like the way you'd miss an old friend. I still have great fondness for him, but...it wasn't a good relationship. Breaking up was my only option. Love you, coffee, but it was time to say good-bye. It's not you, it's me.
As for everything else, how do I feel? Well, consider we had a brutal 14-miler down Mt. Charleston on Sunday (oh my aching quads), I recovered shockingly quickly. As you might remember, the first time I ran that route I had to take three days off - skipped my beloved hill day and everything. This time, I ran four very slow miles the very next day and limped to boot camp. Okay, not great. The proof if this was working would be how I did on Tuesday, as DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) usually peaks 24-48 hours post-workout. I climbed on that treadmill with dread, knowing I had to hit 4x6 min intervals at tempo pace (7:41/mile). I was either going to rock it or fly off the machine backwards (I deliberately went at 4:30am to ensure there would be no audience for my wipe-out). The outcome: killed it. Really. I could not believe my legs. It was like they weren't even a part of my body; they just trotted along happily. No pain, no soreness...they felt strong and ready. I actually glanced in the mirror a few times at myself like, "...is this really happening?" My reflection just shrugged back. Sometimes it's best not to question things.
Maybe it's the addition of flaxseed in my diet or all that yummy coconut oil, but my skin seems to be very happy. I don't even wear foundation during the day. Likewise, my mid-section (where I tend to store weight) seems to be slimming down. The scale moved six pounds almost immediately (yay!) and I feel really well-hydrated. I'd still like to take off a little more weight before the marathon, and I'm so relieved to finally be moving in the right direction. Cravings for sugary stuff? Still there. But each day, I'm working on it. I mindlessly ate a whole handful of Starburst jelly beans (the best kind, in my opinion) while filling eggs for Scotty's school egg hunt, but whatever. We are all human. It's not how many times you fall, it's how fast you can pull yourself back up again.
(I also threw the bag in the back of the cupboard and try not to think about it too often. I'm hoping Brian eats them when I'm not home).
Today at hill day, Reinier ran with us (yaaaaaaaaay!). My goal was to simply keep him within a loop's distance (about 2 minutes ahead). I knew it was very unlikely I could outrun him but I was going to do my best. Fifty-three minutes later, I finished just under 10 seconds behind him (he outkicked me - and surprised me - in the final loop). Maybe he was running easy, but I was still really proud to be able to keep up with our boot camp guru. My legs - my whole body, actually - felt awesome. Endurance, energy, speed...I could have kept going.
So yeah, I'm going to continue this. I was anticipating a marathon meltdown around mid-March, yet things continue to look sunny. The food prep is a lot of work, but I'm really enjoying it. I have my first 20 this weekend and for the first time in just about ever, I'm not freaking out about it. I feel strong. I plan to stock a water bottle with Brendan's homemade ginger Gatorade (coconut water, lemon juice, fresh ginger, sea salt and agave/dates) and stuff my pockets with my Direct Energy bites (dates, coconut oil, lemon zest and sea salt). So if you happen to see me sitting on the side of the road, covered in salty sweat and eating pudding out of a jar, just know I finished my run and am feeling good. :-)