Thursday, January 20, 2011

2011 Challenge: Becoming Superhuman

Training 200km per week trying to push my fitness to the highest level in order to run an ultramarathon seems like a necessary evil but when injury two weeks from the main event results in a DNS (Did Not Start) it leaves me to wonder what my fitness and life goals are going in to the new year and beyond.

Week after week of high volume run training takes time and a high level of commitment that often leaves a shortfall where other areas of my life are put on hold or attacked with only enough enthusiasm and desire to get them done. The weeks leading up to the big day also become more and more stressful as you doubt everything you have been doing and what needs to be done including training, nutrition, race planning nutrition, sorting out crew teams, accommodation, travel, and the list goes on and on.

Past experience has shown me that injury often results in a change for the greater good which is what I’m hoping for now.

So, leading on to where I am now. Time away from running, allowing my body to heal gave me time to reflect upon what I want to achieve with my fitness, nutrition and body composition. I’ve become very one-dimensional and have made sacrifices in areas of physical performance mainly centred around but not limited to strength, flexibility, mobility and desired body composition. Not only is my fitness/physical training in need of a major revamp but also I need to rethink my nutritional philosophy and become a little more rounded.

Since the inception of this blog I’ve gone full circle from primal (meat based) eating where I started with the successful 30 day primal challenge via a year or two as a raw food vegan and now back to… well I’m not entirely sure yet but over the weeks I’m taking some of the slow carb suggestions in Tim Ferriss' book The Four Hour Body and will mix it up with things I have learnt from the Primal Blueprint, Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution podcast, Paleo Diet for Athletes and other sources.

I reflected back over my diet and training over the last few years and discovered some truth’s. A raw vegan diet provides me with high energy and lower bodyweight but in comparison the paleo diet not only produced the same body weight but I was also noticeably leaner, more muscular and better body composition. I had veins on my stomach, ran a sub 3 hour marathon (a 26 minute PB at the time) and enough endurance to run a course record over 90km without the excessive volume of training that I have been putting in to run ultra events in 2009-2010. I did podium at The North Face 100 in 2009 though as a raw vegan but the year since have also been marked with a number of DNS and DNF’s as I’ve failed to live up to the expectations I had set upon myself after discovering some talent for running the longer distances.

I’ve also had more illnesses over the last few years since going meatless – repetitive sinusitis, flu and even chicken pox to name a few.

I feel like I’ve had my head in the sand trying to convince myself that I could achieve everything I wanted as a plant-food purist but thankfully I’ve awakened from my meatless slumber.

The title heading of this post “Becoming Superhuman” will be my 2011 goal inspired from the book The Four Hour Body. The book is meant to be read as a kind of choose your own adventure where you choose your desired goal – i.e. get faster, leaner, stronger etc and then you choose what chapters to read to take you along that path.

As diet always fascinates me I started with the getting leaner section, before jumping into the ultra endurance chapters and then sunk myself into the Effortless Superhuman chapter. Strangely a lot of what I read in the book came as no surprise but seeing it all laid out together and his style of self-experimentation has excited me to conduct with my own self-experiments to see what the outcomes provide.

First up – Becoming Superhuman

OK some quick tips and modifications I have taken from the book and will modify a little

Slow Carb eating. I’ll follow most of the recommendations from 4HB but I’ll make allowances at times to facilitate my endurance training to include some non-approved foods including fruit. At other times I’ll focus my meals to resemble a more traditional paleo meal approach by excluding legumes and centring the meal around meat and veggies. I also like his thoughts about protein cycling and intermittent fasting which I’m going to try and fit into my weekly schedule.

Binge Day. I’ve never really gone for an assigned binge day (except for a brief stint nearly 20 years ago when I was playing with a Bodyopus inspired Cyclic Ketogenic Diet) but I think it will work well for me as I like to have some non-paleo foods from time to time and this will make it easier to have those food items without ruining things too much. I remember listening to a Ben Greenfield podcast where he recommended a day of higher carbs to replace the muscle glycogen depleted during the week of training. OK either way it sounds good to me!

Ultra Endurance. Tim works with Brian MacKenzie of Crossfit Endurance who advocates limited endurance training to his athletes in order to run 100 mile races. His focus is on strengthening the body and training it to be more fat-fuel efficient and most of his run training recommendations include fast 400 to 800m repeats with a couple of longer runs up to the Half Marathon distance. Here I think he makes some good points but for someone who runs towards the front of the pack I think it is lacking in run volume. While he may get you across the distance with his training methods I believe these is no substitute for ultra specific long runs and course specific sessions including long hills to build other areas of your physiology and more importantly your mental fortitude.

Effortless Superhuman. Getting stronger, lean and faster is definitely something I want and this chapter really stands out in terms of getting the greatest gain with the application of the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) prescription. This chapter along with my wife’s favourite chapter getting Michelle Obama's arms have resulted in the garage being set up as a makeshift gym, the barbells and weights being dusted off and the purchase of my first kettlebell. After completing my third session for the week this morning I think I’m starting to feel Superhuman. Oh and I've already dropped 2kg...

The Four Hour Body is my new go to book and one I would recommend reading for anyone that likes to think outside the box.

Day 2: Early start

After discovering that my wife's bike had been stolen from the bus stop where I had chained it up for my ride home last night meant that...