Sunday, October 6, 2013

Perfect Day at the Lakefront Marathon and Tips for Performance Improvement

To follow up my half-marathon PR last week, I shattered my previous marathon PR today at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. Oh, and I finally got to check off an official Wisconsin marathon on my list, since Green Bay in 2012 got canceled on me. Today was the consummation of my most intensive training cycle to date, and it proved the effectiveness of some lifestyle strategies I've picked up along the way.

Even I was surprised by my performance today. If a marathon could ever be called "easy," it'd be the one I ran today. I put in a solid effort (though there was a hint of "I don't belong way up here" along the way), but I kept smiling and never had to breathe hard. More surprisingly, I never even took a walking break. My form never slipped. I didn't even feel like I was tired until after mile 23, and by then I was already unstoppable. I didn't cramp up like I had out of the blue in other marathons. It was, by many measures, perfect. The only problem was that my dad missed seeing me because I zoomed through the course too fast.

On race day I woke up around 4:30 and had a Bulletproof Coffee, along with half a pancake, a bunch of salt and a Raw Revolution bar. An hour before the race started, I took a Vespa CV-25. Later I took a Vespa Ultra-Concentrate around mile 12 and most of a Clif Mojo bar shortly afterward (it was hard as a rock and tasted like garbage so I didn't feel like finishing it). Then I had half a gel around mile 20. Throughout the race I drank 20 ounces of water, which I had in a handheld water bottle. I didn't eat anything else, and I didn't stop at any aid stations (though I did grab a cup of water once, from which I took a gulp without stopping). I felt great the entire time, except for a brief bout of stomach cramping around mile 22.

To give numbers, I finished today in 3 hours and 45 minutes. That's 28 minutes faster than my previous PR, 59 minutes faster than my previous marathon in April, and 1 hour and 18 minutes, faster than my first marathon. And here I had been wondering if I'd ever manage to break 4 hours...

Obviously such an improvement in performance begs the question: How'd I get here?

It's been a long journey. Over the past year, I've adjusted to eating a high-fat diet, so my body is now used to metabolizing fat as fuel during endurance exercise. But that didn't help me much in my April marathon, because there was something else: I'd gotten injured in November and again in January, and I didn't run sufficiently for several months. My training needed help.

I turned to Zach Bitter for coaching, and it's been fantastic. He's had me running more miles than ever before—I got up to 54 miles during my peak week—and he smartly incorporates speed workouts, long runs, easy runs and recovery runs. My training has been intense on paper, but I've looked forward to hitting the trails or pavement each day—it's continued to be hugely enjoyable. Not only that, but this is the first training cycle that I haven't gotten injured in. Not even a little bit. No need for ice, no need for ibuprofen—it's been wonderful.

With my training sorted out, I incorporated some other secrets that I'll share with you:
  • Nightly ZMA supplementation. The magnesium helps with recovery (and sleep!) and the zinc shores up my testosterone level (important for performance in all aspects of life). It also gives me really fun dreams. 
  • Magnesium oil self-massage after tough workouts. Same idea as epsom salt baths, but way better. For more information, see this post on Ben Greenfield's site.
  • Lots of Omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed butter, high-quality meat, fish oil capsules, actual fish and chia seeds are all great sources of omega-3's. 
  • Breathing practice. Normally when running I take 4 steps with each inhalation and 4 steps with each exhalation. I typically only breathe through my nose (it took a lot of practice to achieve this). I've found I can modulate perceived effort through my breath: If I breath slower and through my nose, my heart rate slows and the run feels easier. When I want to really fly, I take fewer steps per breath and/or begin exhaling (and later inhaling) through my mouth. I first started thinking about my breath after reading this post on No Meat Athlete.
  • Fasted training runs. I do several of my runs each week in a fasted state—long runs too. This way, when I actually fuel up before a run, it's like I'm overclocking my body. It's incredible.
  • Mobility work. A few months ago I purchased Kelly Starrett's book Becoming a Supple Leopard, and I've been incorporating mobility work in my daily routine. I've been sitting on the ground as much as possible and using a standing desk to work every now and then. 
  • Meditation. I started learning about Zen (the Victoria Zen Center offers a free online introductory course) and practicing seated Zen meditation every day (as well as working to be more present in all I do), and I believe this mental strengthening has contributed to me as a runner. For a complementary, but different, form of meditation, I've also been reading the acclaimed Running with the Mind of Meditation and incorporating some of these exercises into my running. Most recently I've started doing Vishen Lakhiani's brilliant 6-phase meditation each morning.
  • Grounding. If you haven't read much about grounding (also called "earthing"), it probably sounds ridiculous, but I'm convinced it works. The most irrefutable proof, in my opinion, is its ability to erase jet lag in minutes. Grounding is a natural anti-inflammatory, and it's also an indispensable part of my life as an athlete. I sleep grounded every night, and I take care to spend as much time grounded throughout the day as possible. Read more about grounding here.
  • Other supplements I take regularly (some I take every day, some I cycle every now and then):
I'm really excited about how things are going, and I can't wait for my next marathon... in Washington, D.C., in three weeks: the Marine Corps Marathon!

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