While at home for Christmas, I ran into an old friend, Chris.
Chris told me his “Paleo and Fastest Marathon to date” story.
We are pre-programmed to think that the only way to run long distances and train hard is through the use of extra sugars, a lot of carbs, gu gels, energy bars and more.
I ran my fastest half marathon without any of those. I continue to train very hard to this day without any of those.
Chris’ story blows mine out of the water, and yet it’s so similar. I hope you enjoy it!
(The background: I decided to make a major lifestyle change about a year ago now, which focused primarily on my diet. I didn’t have any major concerns about my weight or health, but I became more aware of the fact that what I consumed was a direct investment into my well being. This new perspective allowed me to look at food as energy/nutrients instead of just something that I had to eat to survive. Furthermore, it enabled me to better control my cravings to indulge in comfort foods and desserts because I was aware that they were not providing me the energy/nutrition my body needed. With that being said, this mindset did not settle in overnight but rather through a series of baby steps.)
I decided to take up marathon running about 4 years ago now, which was not by choice but rather a bet that I desperately wanted to win. A colleague of mine had heard me talking about qualifying for the Boston Marathon and challenged the idea that I could actually do it. My overly competitive nature kicked in and I decided to take her up on the challenge. However, to make it more interesting I suggested that we both get some “skin in the game” and make a bet. We both agreed and decided if I lost and didn’t qualify for the Boston Marathon that year I would have to shave my head, which was a big deal considering I won “best hair in the state” the year before (or at least I thought I should have). If she lost and I did qualify for the Boston Marathon that year she would have to run a half marathon, which was more like a ultra marathon considering her running experience.
With the stakes in place I started training for my first marathon, which would be at the beginning of June. I trained for about 3 months before the day I would actually “toe the line” and set off for my first 26.2 mile journey. At the start of the race it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit and rose to 92 by mid-race. To say it was hot that day would be an extreme understatement. However, conditions aside I was still on pace to run a 3-hour marathon (that was until I hit mile 24.7). This is the time when I hit the infamous “runners wall.” I literally started to hallucinate as my body wanted to shut down on me. Luckily a few spectators could see that I was about to crash and burn so they grabbed me and helped me to the ground. A paramedic came rushing to the scene and made me drink 7 bottles of water before he would let me finish the last 1.5 miles of the race (I was there for more than an hour but finished the race). It was a humbling experience and really provided me the motivation and focus I needed to train for my next marathon in the fall. I ran the Twin Cities marathon that October and finished in 2 hours and 47 minutes, which was well under the 3 hour and 15 minute target I needed to qualify for Boston.
I’ve now completed 7 full marathons and 15 half marathons. However, during the first 3 years of running I didn’t see any significant breakthroughs in my times, even though I was increasing my intensity and distance. It wasn’t until I decided to change my diet that I started to experience real results. I was the typically carbo-loading runner, which consisted of eating bread, pasta, rice, etc. I figured the more carbs the merrier since I was running 50+ miles a week. My body craved carbs and for that matter so did my taste buds at the time. Looking back at my diet you could have probably fed a small village with the massive amounts of carbs I was consuming on a weekly basis.
Then I was introduced to the idea of the Paleo Diet. The principle of it was pretty straight forward; eat what was available/accessible to our hunter and gatherer ancestors back 10,000 years ago before the development of agriculture. It made sense to me that if God created us, then He more than likely created all the energy sources we need to not only live but thrive on this earth. This simple but powerful insight provided me a springboard to cut processed foods out of my diet including most carbs (bread, pasta, rice).
I would be lying if I said this was easy. I was craving carbs for the first 3-4 weeks, but after a while my body started regulating itself. That’s when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and I started experiencing more energy throughout the day, a sharper mind at work, and better sleep at night. The results were astounding to me because I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy individual. Ultimately this has helped me become open to the simple fact that “we don’t know what we don’t know.”
It’s been a year now since I’ve started this new lifestyle and I’ve never felt better. I ran the Chicago Marathon in October and felt amazing the entire race. My last 6 miles were all sub 5-minute and 45 seconds, which was way under my 6-minute per mile target. I noticed that since I wasn’t training with carbs that my body had to find a new energy source, which was stored fat. As most runners already know, the body has to work harder to burn fat than it does to used stored carbs (glycogen). Therefore, when you train without carb-loading your body has to work a little harder and learns to burn fat more efficiently. On the other hand, when you decide to carbo-load (typically a week before the marathon), your body doesn’t need to work as hard during the race because it can use the stored glycogen versus the stored fat for its energy source.
Following this practice equated to a PR (2 hour and 36 minute) and the ability to hurdle the so called “runner’s wall” at the end of the marathon. To be honest, this might be my last marathon considering the potential long-term health effects but I’d rather go out on top anyway. Additionally, I am more focused on maintaining a healthy, happy and more fulfilling life as this diet continues to positively impact every aspect of my life. I believe that “You are what you eat,” and I like to think of myself as someone who has an infinite amount of nutritional value (Well, at least God thinks so anyway)!
SKH Note: Ladies, yes, I did feature a man here – for the first time ever. Since I experienced something so similar, I had to share (and by “similar” of course I mean I could never run like that). The point is that cutting all the processed crap seems like an unnecessary thing when you train so hard and so much. It really seems unnecessary for the first few weeks when you can barely make it through your workouts. And then, like magic, things begin to change. It’s at this very moment when I pray you have your own “you don’t know what you don’t know” moment.
Love your guts,