So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad* Training Specialist. Runner. Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) Certified Official, Category 2. RRCA Representative, Florida (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Runner's "Diet"

I had a conversation with my wife's sister the other week on the subject of weight loss. She feels the need to drop a few pounds in the coming months, and described a particular diet plan she was going to try. Naturally, when I hear the term diet immediately followed by the specific food item or items the potential dieter will be denying themselves I cannot help but put on my "coach" hat. The dietary needs of a person trying to lose weight isn't much different than that of an endurance athlete...at least not at the surface.

Since my wife's sister hasn't been around me all that long, I realized I'd have to be genteel in my recommendation; no use applying tough love until the recipient realizes I have their best interest at heart, right?

So I told her, "Sis, there are a number of factors I think are necessary when it comes to losing weight. First, you have to be active on a near-daily basis. The activity at first doesn't have to be intense, but you have to develop the positive habit of doing something where you're moving forward continuously."

"Second, when we're talking about food, you need to think about portion control. I love eating at Chinese buffet restaurants every so often, but I'd be able to retire if I had a dollar for every diner I've seen in the restaurant who was ample in the midsection and had a plate weighed down with enough food to feed an entire family."

"Third, which goes hand-in-hand with the second point, you need to eat a variety of food. It's useless to deny yourself from a particular type of food or group of foods. While it doesn't mean you have a license to pig out on everything, it's easier to back off and eat a much smaller portion - or just a taste - of a less-than-healthy food, or dessert, than to try to deny yourself, eventually fall into temptation, splurge and feel guilty about a perceived dietary failure."

"Last, set small, achievable goals. Thinking about how tough it's going to be to lose twenty or thirty pounds is enough to make you want to not start in the first place. Maybe you can look at the short term; doing an activity every day which burns 100 more calories - a mile of walking, more or less than you used to burn is 3100 calories - a pound - a month.

All this seemed to make perfect sense. And then, at the tail end of a Sunday morning run with my wife, I began to consider the parallels to what I would tell runners about their diet; diet being defined here as matter of living, what a person regularly does or takes in as part of their life:

Active on a Near-Daily Basis - rest and recovery cannot be over-emphasized, especially when talking about more-seasoned runners. Contrary to semi-popular belief, "easy" runs are not easy on the musculoskeletal system; the joints, tendons and muscles get beat up just as much by slow-paced running as it does at faster efforts. Walking, swimming, elliptical trainer, bicycling - all good stuff for the heart (at the right intensity level) without beating the limbs. And rest should not be considered a four-letter word.

Portion Control - new runners are more likely going to succumb to this problem, readily fixed by judicious use of the "ten-percent rule"; no increase in training distance or volume by more than ten percent. The problem of "too-much" or "too-soon" is often more a problem for the new runner, but I've seen bad decisions on distance and overall training volume, especially in the earliest part of training cycles, made by more-experienced runners. I'm not necessarily opposed to a two-hour long run as part of a marathon training cycle, but I wouldn't recommend it or schedule it four weeks into a twenty-week training plan...and definitely not in the middle of August.

Variety - every experienced runner has their favorite workout, and quite often their least favorite ones. I try hard when laying out a track workout to vary distances and the intensities, which comes clearly to mind when I observe other training groups going through their paces; they do the same distance at the same pace, week after week. I've had friends ask me what exactly I was doing during track workouts, with the comment of, "gee, perhaps I should come do your workouts - they appear to be easier than what I'm doing."

Every experienced runner should have a variety of workouts in their weekly training schedule:
- A long run of at least an hour, run at a pace which is conversational. It definitely helps to have one or more companions around to keep the conversation going and the pace relaxed.
- One or two speed workouts, with efforts which last anywhere from one to twenty minutes. Naturally, the longer efforts are going to be at a slightly lower intensity than the shorter ones. Recovery periods may be as little as 30 seconds or as long as needed to completely recover, depending on the intensity.
- Three-to-four runs of moderate intensity lasting anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour.

The specific distances and paces have much to do with the individual runner's goal event, baseline fitness level, time available per week to train without adversely affecting the rest of their life, and the ability to adapt from individual workouts.

Bon Appetit!

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