Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Whole 30, running while changing my diet, and the start to Summer

I've had almost two months to rest and recover since Umstead. Recovery was by far the easiest recovery from any 100 that I've done. I was, of course, all busted up feeling for a few days. I flew out to Wyoming for work on Monday after the race, and getting through the airport was a bit of a challenge. But, after a few days, I was even ready for some easy runs on the trails around Laramie. They were too good to resist.

After a few weeks of running just a bit (25ish mile weeks), I started getting back to normal mileage. With no big races on the calendar, it was easy to just run for fun (which is how I normally roll anyway). Umstead did light a bit of a fire for me though. For the first time, I'm thinking about races as a chance to really push myself to go a little faster and see how fast I can go instead of just finishing. That being said, it's really still all about having the chance to explore cool places with my friends.

As part of my effort to see if I can speed things up, I decided to join Ginger in attempting the Whole 30 diet. Here is a little info about it. Basically, it amounts to cutting sugar, grains, and junk out of your diet. We weren't really eating POORLY, but I was drinking a lot of coke, eating candy, and too much ice cream. I thought it would be a neat experiment, and Ginger really wanted to do it. I really like doing cool stuff with her, and I wanted to be a good teammate, so I signed on.

Here's kind of how it went. 
Week 1:
EATING: Life as I knew it was over. I felt hungover all week. I was tired, and grumpy. Really. Ask Ginger. I'm normally ridiculously positive, but week 1: I. WAS. NOT. A Happy. Camper. At one point I said something like: I've eaten a sandwich for lunch every day of my life. This sucks! Then, our faculty meeting at work was full of Panera sandwiches and cookies. Walking away from that and eating a salad with some chicken on it was no fun at all. But, I didn't want to disappoint Ginger, so I didn't cave. If I'm honest, I have to say that was my only motivation at that point. I hadn't bought into the concept fully. I am incredible skeptical of any kind of fad diet. I also don't like absolutes or any website or book telling what I can or can't do. At that point, it was really just about the team. I was also super stressed that I had a really hard run on tap for Saturday. An all day affair on the AT that would include over 6,000 feet of elevation gain. How in the hell am I going to do that without sugar?

RUNNING: All week, I felt crappy on my runs. In fact, I felt crappy from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. But by Saturday morning, my blood sugar had stabilized, and I felt OK. On the run, all I ate was 3 Vespa packets, 3 Lara Bars, and some bacon that Josh and I cooked up the night before. I felt great all day. It was crazy. No gels. No cookies. No Coke. No added sugar. I normally would have been bone crushing gels and Honey Stinger waffles. That run made a believer out of me. During week 1, I ran 49 miles with over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. So, you CAN run a lot on this diet.

Week 2:
EATING: Things got a whole lot easier. I wasn't craving sugar as much, and I wasn't mourning bread the way I had during week one. During trips to the grocery store, the Reese's Cups were glaring at me like I was some kind of snob, but it wasn't too bad. Again, Ginger deserves the credit here. I have never liked cooking, so she was carrying the load of making sure we had good, healthy food to eat each day. I did lots of dishes, but that's really not much help when you're trying to figure out how to feed two ultra runners who are mourning their old eating habits. She was a rock star. Cooking up Paleo Pad Thai, awesome meatloaf, and a host of amazing dishes. We were also bone crushing scrambled eggs for breakfast every day like we had an army of chickens in our backyard. Trips to the grocery were a constant part of the daily routine. I found that adding salmon to my lunchtime salads (on days when we'd eaten all the leftovers) was a great solution. I'm grateful for all of the research that Ginger did to make sure we had interesting things to eat. Ask her for some recipes, she'll hook you up.

RUNNING: Daily runs during week two got easier. I was no longer worried about how I'd feel without gels or any other kind of sugar. On Sunday, Jordan and a few other VT Ultra folks and I partook in the annual VT Ultra tradition of the "Oldfarathon" which is 9 trips up the Gateway trail out at Pandapas pond. It is a BRUTAL day. Up and down Gateway for 7 hours (much less for everyone else). 7,000 feet of elevation gain. Again, no gels. Just Lara bars, apples, and one Vespa packet. It was HARD. I'm already not looking forward to next year. OK, that's a lie. I'm looking forward to seeing how much faster I can do it next year. During Week 2, I ran 53 miles with almost 10,000 feet of gain. I felt even better during week 2, so this diet works.

Week 3: 
EATING: Now, things are exponentially easier. I've noticing that I'm losing weight. I'm also waking up at 6 am ready to get going. I'm still drinking coffee, but now I'm drinking it because I enjoy it. Not because I HATE mornings. Ginger is rocking things out in the Kitchen and there is always something good to eat for lunch, dinner, and breakfast is getting better and better with Ginger experimenting with frittatas. Still missing bread, but not really missing candy. When I pass by the pastries in the grocery, the pull to grab one is not all that strong.

RUNNING: Running this week was easy. I didn't even think that much about how hungry I felt without a PB&J before a run after work. I was eating a Lara bar before I went out some days. Other days, a handful of almonds was enough. On Saturday morning we went up to the Hat Creek 24 hour relay with Royce, Jordan, Kristen, and Linda. This was a little bit of a challenge. We had to figure out how to fuel for a 24 hour relay without a kitchen. But, we had already figured out the plan of grilling a bunch of chicken to have in reserve all week, so we just grilled some extra and brought it with us. Royce brought a camp stove, and we cooked up eggs and other stuff. Problem solved. I have to say I was really surprised at how easy it was to ignore all the cookies and candy that normally make up aid station fare. We won our division, by the way. We ran 135 miles in 24 hours. The way to the podium for me is to team up with my fast friends in a relay :)

The only real challenge was Sunday afternoon after the race. I was STARVING. We had eaten all of our food, and the race fare didn't have anything for us. I was GRUMPY as we drove through the middle of nowhere looking for somewhere to eat. I was unhappy that finding food was such a challenge. Ginger and Royce were patient, and we found a Panera bread where I got a great salad with chicken. During Week 3, I ran 43 miles and felt great. I also noticed that I was losing a bunch of the fat I was carrying around.

Week 4: 
EATING: During the last week, it was really pretty easy. Ginger had really figured out a system, and we were stocked with good food in the house all the time. I also found that I actually CAN cook. She went out of town on Friday night. I was left at home to figure it out. I saut├ęd some potatoes and grilled some chicken for my salad. I even marinated it using Ginger's recipe. I have to say I was proud of myself. Normally, I would have just gone out to get pizza or made sandwiches all weekend. Now I found out that I can contribute to the cooking. And it's kind of fun. Who would have thought?

RUNNING: Week four was a light running week. I was wrapping up the semester, and with nothing to really focus on, I took it easy. Ran mostly around town with a couple of trail runs for fun. I felt great on most of my runs, but did have some sluggish days where I didn't eat enough. Mostly though, I felt really good. The biggest thing I noticed is that I'm feeling faster and lighter. Week four was 30 miles with about 3,000 feet of gain.

It's not really the end. For me, I think I'm done with the strict, "I can't eat" this or that. But, the results are so good that I will keep going.

Over 4 weeks, I lost 14 pounds. That's significant. I mean, I know I'm not some skinny, fast runner, but I run a lot. I'm not bad shape. To drop 14 pounds is a lot. But, I feel great. So, here's my plan as I get ready for the Eastern Divide 50K in June and beyond:
I'm going to continue to eat good, whole food without ingesting added sugar or eating junk as a regular part of my diet. If I want to have some ice cream, I'll go out to Ben & Jerry's. I won't just have it in the freezer and eat it all the time. I plan to keep eating actual food instead of sandwiches for lunch each day. Sure, If I'm out somewhere and I want a sandwich, I'll get one, But, it'll be thoughtful. I want to see how this new way of eating shakes out over time. I think it can really make me healthier and faster.

My Take-Aways from 30 (now 31) days of Whole 30  eating: 
1. If you think about what you're eating and why, it's a lot easier to make good choices.
2. If you think you're hungry, ask yourself if you would take the time to cook something up. If the answer is yes, you are might really be hungry. If you just want to grab a bowl of Chex Mix, you don't really need to eat.
3. You don't have to eat a bunch of junk to run ultras.
4. For me, eating a lot of meat isn't a bad thing. We ate A LOT of veggies, but more meat than I normally eat. But, I happened to have to go to the Doctor for a normal check up during week 4. The labs results were excellent. Lots of meat and eggs didn't raise my cholesterol. In fact, all my results were the best they've been in years.
4. Sugar is the devil. No seriously, they put it in everything. And you don't need it. Let it be a fun treat, but don't let it rule your life. I didn't think it was ruling mine, but Week 1 was pretty strong proof otherwise.
5. If you're going to do this, partner up with someone you really love. It makes it a lot easier to suffer though the hangover. Misery loves company. Being accountable to someone you don't want to disappoint will help get you to the place where you're actually doing it for yourself. And that's where you have to get to stick with it long term.

This is just my take on it. I'm not a doctor (well, OK I'm a PhD, but not a real, prescription-pad carrying medical-type doctor), and I'm not a nutritionist. This is my experience. If you find it interesting, do your research. Even better ask a nutritionist. My friend Kristen Chang is a bad ass athlete and a RDN. Her blog is a great place to start. She's not a Whole 30 person, but her advice will set you on the path. Whole 30 might not even be for you. But, if you want to be fitter, healthier, or faster, she can help.