over the weekend, i helped out with the atlanta track club's coaches clinic that they held for georgia's high school coaches. it was a series of talks on various subjects from shoe selection to nutrition to running form. i was able to listen to a few of the talks, and i was also able to sit in on a conversation with a sports nutritionist who is helping my OTQ teammates figure out their fueling needs for their upcoming marathon.
in the evening, a sports nutritionist (krista austin) gave another talk to the elite team. the focus of the talk was less about eating well (which for the most part is common sense), and more about nutrient timing and the macronutirent composition for various meals (post-workout, pre-race, etc).
ultimately what all of this provided me was a wake-up call on all of the little things that i need to adjust in order to perform better. it's not just about doing my daily running and hitting my workouts. that is only going to get me so far. sleep, recovery, nutrition, stretching, core, balance, strength work -- these are all elements that directly affect training and performance. all of these things help you become a better athlete in general, and it takes a strong, balanced body to be able to handle the training loads and stresses necessary to reach peak performance.
for me, the little things are often neglected due to time constriants, but it's also just my general relaxation on good habits that i have slowly let go of over the years (for one reason or another -- mostly it's just because i'm a sad lazy sucker).
so, the three biggest keys that i took away from this and intend to work on going forward:
1) more lean protein. i was a fairly strict vegetarian from age 18-24 (and for awhile i was vegan!). i've slowly started incorporating meat and more dairy back into my diet over the last few years, but i still eat a vegetarian diet most days of the week just by default on what i do/don't like to eat. analyzing my diet over a week's time, i'm severely lacking in the protein department. those calories are usually made up by consuming more grains. in general, these are good, whole grains: brown rice, whole wheat cous-cous, quinoa, etc. but here's where i really fail -- i love carby snacks like pretzels and granola. this isn't doing me any favors when it comes to body composition, so i'm committed to breaking my snacky habits and replacing more of my calories from grains with lean sources of protein. krista said this will absolutley make a difference in body composition, which in turn will help improve running performance. all of this came just a day after i read an interesting study that jake posted on twitter, so the timing was nice to bring it all together and really convince me that i should at least experiment with some changes.
when i was running my very best times back in 2013, i was also the leanest that i have been over the past 4 years or so, and i don't think that was a coincidence. this is not to say that getting super skinny is the key to becoming faster, because it's not, and this was stressed in the talk. it's not about losing weight, it's about shifting body composition. fat --> lean muscle mass. losing too much while trying to keep up hard training is a recipe for injury and general tanking, even if times improve in the short-term. i have been there and i don't want to repeat that mistake. it's more just about cleaning up the things that i know i need to clean up. for example, i changed my breakfast to two hard boiled eggs and half an avocado as opposed to a bowl of oatmeal and a banana. i actually feel more satiated consuming the former, and i'm getting a lot more protein and fat instead of just straight carbs. it's just a matter of shifting around my percentages of macronutrients. i intend to continue to consume plenty of calories. :)
2) timing of nutrients. i am the worst at this. i don't eat lunch, ever, because of my work schedule. i will usually eat a fairly big breakfast and then i don't eat again until the evening when i get home from work. i'm always ravenously hungry at this point and i end up consuming most of my daily calories in one meal to try and make up for the deficit from earlier in the day. krista called this "calorie backloading" and said it is not a good idea (i know this, i just never made an effort to fix it).
so, i am trying to focus on getting a more steady supply of calories throughout the day (this week i have been snacking on things like almonds and blueberries -- my bus snacks!). krista also mentioned the importance of eating something before a hard workout or long run, and greatly stressed the importance of fluids and electrolyte consumption during the marathon (again, i'm the worst at this). she has worked with many athletes who were unable to consume fluids or calories on the run because it was too hard on their gut. over time, she trained them to be able to handle it by forcing them to practice it on every run. it really just comes down to being committed to it. i can train my body to take in more during long runs and races, but i have to be willing to put in the effort to practice it, and so far i haven't been interested.
3) "you have to get faster before you can go long" -- this is an ongoing project and an extreme exercise in patience for me, as i would run a marathon next week if i could. my coach has no plans for me to run the marathon until i'm truly running to my potential at shorter distances. that means getting back to the 17:30 range (and hopefully faster) for 5k, and breaking that ridiculous 1:20 barrier in the half. until i'm there, and consistenly running at that level, my marathons will be the same as they have always been (2:53-55 on a good day, and sub-2:50 on a great day). i want to go into my next marathon cycle with solid confidence in myself that 2:45 or better is obtainable. i think i can do that, but it's going to take more work in other areas first.
i have said this before, but i'll repeat it here -- running with the altanta track club is a unique opportunity that i probably will never come across again. WhatTheWhat, my coach has run in the olympics. she has trained and raced with some of the best in the world. she has seen it all. she knows sacrifice, hard work, dedication, etc. she could easily scoff at any of our various excuses about why things aren't going our way, but she doesn't. she just gently reminds us that our results are going to reflect our effort. we will get out of it what we put into it. she and andrew are two of the most committed and hard-working individuals i have ever met. they genuinely want all of their runners to succeed, but they can only do so much.
i really want to be good at running. i really want to reach my potential in the sport. but just wanting it isn't getting me anywhere. i need to start showing it by upping my committment level and truly working on all of the little things beyond just getting my runs in. i'm at an age where i think i have some of my best years ahead of me. the next 3-5 years are potentially the opportune time to really see what i can do. i've brushed up against what i think is my running potential, and i want to get back there and maybe push the limit just a little further. then i'll retire and start my paninis4cash business.