Find your own way

True or false?  I have a slight obsession with diet/fitness podcasts.

Ummm that would be true.  Very true.  Yep, that and country music are pretty much all you find me listening to these days.

And, most of these podcasts are produced by proponents of the paleo diet, or some other form of lower carbohydrate diet, most from an endurance training-based perspective.  Lets just say that most of them propose alternative ideas for nutrition than those traditionally adopted by endurance athletes.  Some propose a paleo and/or low carb diet for optimal endurance performance.  Some propose the idea of “minimalist” training, where individuals may do much lower volume and higher intensity when training for very long endurance events than what is often prescribed.  But all of these challenge traditional approaches to health and fitness, and all proclaim huge changes in these variables by adopting these alternative approaches.

So, whats a girl to think?  We know that performing high volume training to prepare for endurance training works.  But, what if (at least for some people), this “minimalist” approach works better?  Research demonstrates that carbohydrate supplementation helps with endurance performance.  But, what if (at least for some people), paleo or low carb or something in between works better?

This is what I DO know.  I train much differently than I used to.  I used to try to put as many miles in on my bike, running shoes and in the pool as I could.  What was the result?  I was 25-30 lbs heavier, and a heck of a lot slower.  My legs constantly felt like crap.  Not really sore, but just completely and totally dead.  Now if you are training a lot this happens…but I think I spent about 4 years of my life like this.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best way to train for me.  I was definitely sacrificing quality for quantity.  And to be fast, you need some quality.

I stopped doing traithlons and other endurance activities and spent about two years just working out like the “average” American…30-40 minutes of cardio most days of the week.  I drastically changed my diet, decreasing carbohydrate intake and counting calories.  I lost weight, along with fitness.

But then in 2011 I decided to try to run again.  And this time I approached it from a different perspective.  Instead of the traditional plan where you increase your long run each week for 2-3 weeks in a row, then take a “recovery” week, I decided to only increase my long run every OTHER week.  And on runs in between I actually did some hard, high quality workouts.  This was vastly different to my previous training plans.

And wouldn’t you know it, I got faster.  Ok, I know the weight loss had a lot to do with it.  But when I ran the Pittsburgh half marathon that year I broke my previous PR by about 25 minutes.  For those of you not familiar with half marathon times I will break it down….thats a hell of a lot of time to take off.  And Im sure my training and diet had a lot to do with it.

I remember talking to a man after a 10k I ran that year.  We were discussing what runners typically discuss…running!  We were chatting about our race and our times and then training, and somehow it came up that I was only running three times per week.  His mouth gaped open in disgust and he said “you only run three times a week.  Thats not enough!”  I just smiled and nodded and muttered something about cross training and recovery…but all I could think was “well, I just kicked your ass by 5 minutes.”  Not sure he had much room to talk about my training plan.

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Now Im back to training again, and minus some IT band issues (which is a whole different topic) things are going better.  Im still focusing on lower volume and higher intensity during the week, and a longer run on the weekend.  In terms of diet, Im experimenting with a lower carb approach.  Im not counting carbs, but trying to limit grains (1-2 servings per day at the most) and avoiding wheat and added sugar.  Therefore, my carb intake is naturally decreasing.  Not sure what the end result will be, but for now Im just my own personal science experiment.

I think this post and random stream-of-consciousness on training can be summed up by a quote I heard from Dean Karnazes on a episode of “The Paleo Runner” that I was listening to last week:

“Listen to everyone…follow no one.”

Thats what Im trying to do.  Listen to what works for lots of people, pick and choose what I want, and figure out what works for me.  Again, not sure what the end result will be.  But Im crossing my fingers that it means breaking my PR in the half marathon in a few weeks!!!

So my advice to everyone is just to follow what Dean said.  Pave your own path, listen to your own body, and find your own way.

Happy training! 🙂

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