Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Runners are often told that the leaner they are, the faster they’ll go, but what do you do if you’re more Monroe than Mo, more Jane Russell than Paula Radcliffe?

I’m now officially out of my post marathon recovery, and spending a few weeks on speedwork before the training programme for the next one begins in July. I’ve found it a bit of a struggle to get back to my pre-marathon times for shorter distances like 5 and 10k. This may be partly to do with the insanely high humidity we’re having, but I think there’s a more weighty issue at play than a very British excuse about the weather.

The fact is that if you continue to eat like you’re training for a marathon when you are not, in fact, training for a marathon, then you will gain weight. If your diet consists largely of white carbs and you use cheese as your main source of protein, then most of this weight will consist of fat. I gained about 5lbs after Rome and was heavier than my pre-marathon training self.

Generally, I’ve never had any major issues with my weight. I’ve yo-yoed over the years like everyone does but always within a healthy BMI, and in the main I don’t really carry what any normal person would term ‘excess fat’. However we are not normal people, we are runners. And as all runners know, if you want to get your pace down for racing, then lean is the body type du jour.

According to certain sources (notably Matt Fitzgerald at www.racingweight.com), a runner can expect to add 1 minute to their time for every 1lb they are ‘overweight’. Let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about overweight in medical terms, or how you feel in January when you’ve hit the Quality Street and cheese and stuffing sandwiches a bit hard. Overweight in this instance means every pound above your ideal racing weight.

1 minute a pound is a lot. I am hoping to go just under 4:30 at New York. Based on my 20 miler times before Rome, I was capable of 4:40 on the day in April. So if I lose 10lbs (which I can do without detriment to my health) then if this theory is true then that should help me to achieve my goal time. I’m not saying that’s the only thing I’ll need to do to get faster, just that it really can’t hurt and I can see the sense in the idea that having less to cart around the course should lead to a faster end result.

However, I am decidedly not lean. As I’ve said, I’m not exactly fat, but I’ve always kept my curves, whatever size they might have gone up or down to. So what do you do if you need to get lean but you’re natural shape is more Monroe than Mo, more Jane Russell than Paula Radcliffe? How do you turn that hourglass bum into a set of powerful glutes?

According to Mr. Fitzgerald’s online calculator, my racing weight is 9st dead and just over 19% body fat. That seems like a challenging target, but one that should be achievable. It would mean slimming to the lowest body fat percentage I’ve ever had, but it’s still well within healthy limits for my height and body type.

So how to go about this. There is a lot of advice and information out there about runner’s nutrition and what we should be eating; carb load, don’t carb load, how much you should carb load down to the gram, use fat for fuel instead, don’t eat fruit, superfoods, protein at every meal – it goes on and on and on. It can be quite hard to cut through it all and find what works for you. You can’t possibly try every suggestion all at once, and let’s face it most of us are not exactly Olympians and we really don’t need to eat as though we are!

Having spotted it on display at a work book sale, I have been using one of Joe Wicks’ cookbooks from his Lean in 15 programme, with some modifications. The recipes in the book are set out based on whether they are pre-or post-workout suitable (ie if they are post workout they have more carbs for replenishing your glycogen), they are pretty much always a combination of lean protein and veg, and they incorporate other forms of carbs than starchy rice and pasta, like pulses and alternative grains. All of this is advice I’ve been trying to follow for a while but failing to do on my own. Joe’s book is helpful because the recipes genuinely are quick and easy, and they taste pretty good! I have been cheating a bit with it; it’s not designed for runners specifically, so we do need a bit of pre-workout carb action as well as post, and I’ve been letting myself have Saturday as a white carbs and cheese day if I want. I also haven’t actually been doing the HIIT exercises in the back at all – I run four times a week and do two sets of strength training, what more do you want from me Joe?!

Overall though, I’ve been following the book and feeling a lot better for it. The first few days were a bit difficult, which I’m putting down to the immediate reduction in sugar consumption which accompanies eating more veg and less processed carbs. I’ve only been having cheese on my Saturday cheat day (which bizarrely hasn’t been an issue at all for someone who is basically an anthropomorphic mouse), and I’ve decided to restrict my beloved skinny cappuccinos to Saturdays too.

Back to that strength training – at the same time as trying to slide down the BMI chart I am working to regain the strength I had during marathon training. There was a point in early February where I felt like I was in the best shape of my life and was stronger than I had ever been, and it would be amazing to feel that way again.

Some of our club coaches have been giving a joint training session once a week which starts with a 45 minute strength training session using the book Quick Strength for Runners by Jeff Horowitz. Quite a few of us have bought our own copies so we can practice at home. It’s quite tough in places – I would never have believed stretches and small dynamic movements on a yoga mat would cause me to get a bit out of breath – but presumably that just means it’s working. It’s easy enough to follow, especially if you’ve ever done pilates or something similar, and it takes you through an 8 week programme focusing on a different muscle group or type of running movement per workout.

These two programmes combined are therefore going to be the basis of my approach to getting leaner and stronger over the coming weeks. 10 days in and I’m down about 5lbs and have lost 1.2% of my body fat, and I genuinely feel like my figure is starting to look more ‘runnery’ (at least in the half-dark reflection I caught of myself in the French windows yesterday anyway). Hopefully between them they will be key elements in getting me to the right condition to shave some precious minutes off my times.

And, you know, also to help me look a bit more athletic in my running kit…!

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