Sunday, December 3, 2017

My biggest ultra running experiment to date?

No, I didn't run an ultra this weekend, I didn't push the physical limits like other did for instance at the 24-hour World Championships or the California International Marathon. Actually I didn't run at all since my fast, albeit 0.1-mile short, Turkey Trot 10K. While stopping running for a few weeks is an experiment in itself for me every year, that's not new, I've followed this precept from Scott Jurek for more than 10 years now.

So what is it then? It had been in my mind for several years, I wanted to add to this running break something else which has to see with nutrition: follow a detox program to attempt an even bigger reset of my body. First, Agnès had told me about a 1-week detox program from a local yogi, based on drinking a lot of hot water for instance. Then it became the Whole30 which several of her friends have enjoyed recently. As the name implies, this is a 30-day program.No sugars, no grains, no dairy, repeat for 30 days!

I was about to go for it but I also took the opportunity to check another of these ideas which tormented since I discovered Vespa Power more than 5 years ago and heard about the great success stories of elite runners adoption the whole OFM approach. While Vespa helped me tremendously in races by allowing me to slash calorie intake, I didn't want to change my diet for this, I was so comfortable with my habits of 50 years. I love bread, I love pastas, I love dairy, great start! Besides, I travel so much that I took it as an excuse to not get on a strict diet. Last but not least, I did adopt this easy excuse for running when people ask "but why are you running ultras?": as Scott Dunlap once said, "so I can eat everything and anything!"

Change, so hard to do for most of us... The New York Time actually has an article on this exact topic this weekend, a quick and worth read for all (although I don't find the article so well written --unless the 7 yet in the text have the purpose of really making a point-- but the author is a Harvard Professor, and I not, so what can I say... ;-): Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do, by Sendhil Mullainathan.

Since I was going to go for a radical change anyway, I reached out to Peter Defty and he immediately accepted to coach me if I wanted to go OFM. OFM? Optimized Fat Metabolism, a state in which your body gets its energy mostly from fat, which we all have plenty of in our body, much more calories than our muscles can store of glycogen.

To be more explicit, you are teaching your body what it used to be great at: live a full and active live on less than 15% of carb. While fattier dairy is ok (cream, hard cheese) to do a faster reset I even cut on all dairy. Not a single fruit either, except avocados and nuts. The rest is meat, fish, eggs, liver, paté, and lots of vegetables. And no chocolate, yikes!

So, here am I, this is the end of day 10 and I'm proud to report that I'm holding on, I can still function, phew! First, I have to thank Peter for his guidance and motivation tips but also Agnès who got on board, is following the same diet and does a lot of the extra cooking needed to eat healthier. Not that we were eating much junk food but cutting all processed food is another level. And the hardest of all is to no be able to get a dessert, forgive the expression, that sucks... In France, a meal isn't over without something sweet, not to mention some cheese. To make up for them, we indulge a half cup of assorted non-salted nuts, but even that isn't too much to Peter's liking. Tough discipline.

As I said, I'm not exercising so it's hard to tell the effects so far. Besides, it typically takes the body to fully get adapted to this new mode of energy source, patience is required. To be honest, I would have hoped that cutting on gluten and dairy would already have more positive impacts, but this is certainly not the time to turn back, this is at least a 6-month experiment to be conclusive.

Overall, I'm learning a lot about nutrition, it was about time! And this was a big eye open on how bad the society has become about eating habits and the overwhelming presence of processed food everywhere. Also, I didn't realize how much I enjoyed eating certain things, not necessarily for their nutritional value or quality, but for the taste and pleasure I was taking. A very different philosophy of eating, which requires to rewire your mind and senses. And that takes quite some drive and will power... And some organization as well: for instance I did travel with my lunch and dinner today in order to stay on track...

That's it, no running pictures, I'll share more on the experiment, the biggest and hardest change I've experienced so far, with so many doubts popping in my mind since I don't have super strong drivers and compelling action to change. But I had been intrigued about OFM for a while, and was ready to give it more than a try, apparently. We'll see if it also helps on the race performance side, but I'm more interested in the health benefits such as the management of cholesterol levels and the reduction of sugars in the body, which represent the main fuel for cancer cells.

Overall, like we say about ultra running, this is a huge experiment and leap of faith because, although the approach is backed up by science and success stories, or even proven by the Inuits for instance, each body is different and we still need to rely on mind and guts feelings to adjust, without a full lab instrumentation. Let then see where it leads...

In the meantime, enjoy the time of Advent and the spirit of the Holidays. But please don't send me pictures of your Christmas cookies, ok? Thank you! ;-)


Peter said...

Hi Jean!
Wow! Thanks for posting your journey! I am being extra careful right now because I have said I want you to be able to go back to some dessert and be able to slam carbs during races so they will be more effective than ever, using less...for this we need a super good reset. As you start to train we'll start to bring carbs back in and more than you think but certainly a lot less than before. Looking forward to the journey!



Unknown said...

Great comment about using Vespa to cut the caloric intake!