Friday, July 23, 2010

Urban Foraging

2 posts in 1 day after a period of laziness.  Does that make me a bad blogger?  Well I wanted to tell this story but I had to explain the whole Going Primal thing first to put everything into context.

Last week I did a cool thing, which I got way too over excited about - perhaps it's an indication of how rock star exciting my life is as I approach my late late 30s..

On a run recently I noticed some cherry trees on Tooting Bec Common.  I've been running there for years and I never noticed the cherry trees.  Anyway they're fruiting and so I thought, hell why not do a bit of urban foraging and get me some cherries - the ones in the shops are way too damned expensive.  So after the run I got a bag and went and collected some.  Now I've done some research and these are bird cherries - they're pretty small and not massively sweet, but hey they're free right?

So that's not the story.  It gets better.  A few days later my lovely coach has set me a hill training session - 60 second reps uphill with a 90 second jog recovery.  There's only really one hill near me I know and I've been there a few times before, so I head on over.  Now after my previous experience I'm hypersensitive to fruiting trees, especially cherry trees (and plum trees).  I'm seeing them all over the place.

I jog down to the bottom of the hill and I see one of my well known bird cherry trees.  No big deal.  And then I see one next to it.  I stop. I stare. Dress me in a Tutu and call me Bernard, now THAT is a goddamn cherry tree!  Huge fat dark cherries hanging off this mother in massive numbers.  My HR goes out of the aerobic zone and I haven't even started my session yet.

I do my session all the time thinking about these cherries.  And I know exactly what to do.  I go to the house of the person whose front garden hosts this amazing find.  At first the old black lady is very suspicious of me, sweaty and panting in my run kit, but when I ask her if I can collect some cherries and give her some and maybe take a few myself, she's all smiles and gives an enthusiastic thumbs up to the plan.

The next day I come back, climb up the tree and get me some cherries.  The old lady gets some, her neighbour gets some and yours truly gets a pretty good batch too.

At home I de-stone most of the cherries as they're very ripe and put them in the freezer. With a few others I make up a cherry smoothie - oh mama! Here's the photos of the full haul so you can compare against the bird cherries:

Those beauties in the freezer made for plenty of desserts with a dollop of yoghurt and the odd smoothie. I think I got so excited not only because I felt like I was getting this cool free stuff that costs a bomb in the supermarket, but also because I connected with a couple of neighbours in my local area, and brightened up their lives a little bit too.  And it's all top Primal food that tastes awesome and is good for you.  Going Primal does not mean having to miss out on great food.

There's opportunity everywhere if we just look around us.

Going Primal

After reading my friend Robby's post on his caveman diet I thought I would put down my own experiences with food recently.  I've been trying to improve my diet for a long time now and despite plenty of positive changes I was still struggling to cut out refined sugar - the fun stuff.

You know cakes, biscuits, ice cream, sweets, chocolate - all that stuff I would happily reward myself with and that I had a serious sweet tooth for.  I could reduce it, but I couldn't kick it and more often than not, after a big weekend I'd be sitting on the couch tucking into half a tub of Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream and telling myself I deserved it.

After IMSG I was looking for areas where I could get improvement and I didn't think I could train more.  I knew I had more or less maxed out on available hours, and had to train smarter and look for other places to gain time.  The 2 key elements that came out of that race were mental preparation and nutrition, both day to day and race day specific.

I knew my diet was sub-optimal but how to make the change?  I needed something simple, easy to follow and also something that made sense - i.e. explained why I should be doing what I needed to do. Another friend Huw (who just went 9:55 in Roth finishing with a blistering 3:23 marathon), put me on to Mark's Daily Apple,  where I found out about his Primal Blueprint, a series of 10 rules on how to be healthy.

I won't go into the specifics here, but essentially it's all about living and eating similar to our early ancestors who adapted to life on the plains over hundreds of thousands of years.  That is what our bodies are adapted to and not the modern western diet, which is mainly based on changes due to the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago.  A time way too short for us to adapt via evolution.

What is a Primal diet? 
Well here are the fundamentals:
  • lots of fruit and vegetables
  • plenty of meat
  • plenty of fish
  • nuts
  • spices
  • some seeds
  • some dairy allowed but don't overdo it
  • treats in moderation include red wine, 70% cocoa dark chocolate, honey
  • coffee allowed but prob just the 1 a day
And you get to eat AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE (except the items in moderation mentioned above).  I like that.  This diet is SO easy to shop for - you basically ignore just about all the aisles in the supermarket except fresh produce, and even better don't go to the supermarket at all (read on for more info).

What is NOT in the diet?
  • wheats and grains
  • no bread, pasta, oats, cereals, rice (except a small amount of wild rice), cous cous, etc
  • processed foods
  • refined sugar
  • beans
  • legumes (like peanuts)
The website is very dense and can take some wading through, so I just bought his book and worked my way through that.  The science really made sense to me and it was so simple I thought I had to give it a try.  Part of the issue is, he's against what he calls Chronic Cardio, so this reduced carb diet can be tough on endurance athletes.  I'm still working on how to be as Primal as possible whilst still fueling my body during and after big sessions.  My current compromise is gels/bars/energy drink during exercise, recovery drink afterwards and then back to being Primal the rest of the time.  Also maybe hit the potatoes and a bit of rice on the big days.

I've been on this diet about 8 weeks now.  Key is first of all getting rid of all the non Primal foods in the house.  Then plan to ensure plenty of Primal foods are available.  This can be tricky as it is strongly recommended to go organic - standard supermarket fare is mostly devoid of the nutrients you're aiming for.  I've setup 2 regular orders - one for organic fruit and veg with and one for organic meat with

Snacks are a big issue for me - I need them!  Here's what I've got going between meals:
  • carrots
  • fruit
  • tomatoes
  • some dried fruit (not too much!), nuts and seeds - tend to make my own mix
  • biltong
  • beef jerky (I order a batch from
  • tinned fish (current fav is smoked pilchards from waitrose).  Must admit I don't often go for this option :)
The other key point is the 80/20 rule.  If you're eating right 80% of the time, it doesn't matter if you go off the rails a bit 20% of the time.  So I don't get stressed if I go to a friend's or a restaurant for dinner - under those circumstances I can cross some boundaries so long as all is well at home.

What have I experienced?
First day I developed a headache in the evening - body is wondering what happened to all those lovely carbs!  For 2 weeks I felt a bit drained and not too energetic.  Then I started to feel normal again.  I lost some weight (man I really don't need to lose weight!).  I'm reckoning the weight lost was the relatively low levels of excess fat I was carrying, and I'm hoping to put weight back on when I start doing weights again and upping my training volume.

Mentally I have found a large difference - I am just much more alert, much better able to think, I am more motivated and have less tired periods during the day.  I always thought my mental sluggishness was training related but perhaps a lot of that was the insulin spike/crash cycle I was constantly in.  My work has improved dramatically and I am finding plenty of positive effects of my new found mental energy.  The last couple of weeks I have seen improvements in my physical performance too.  I'm still way down on fitness from early in the year, but for the first time since May I've started to feel good on the bike or running.

I'm also cooking a lot more and thankfully I love cooking so that's all good.

It's still early days so only time will tell on whether this will have a significant positive impact on my sporting performance.  I'm pretty confident it will.  I'll revisit this in a couple of months time to see where I am then.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

UMIK Bike Course Recce

This Sunday just gone and 2 weeks prior to the race, I arranged to go up to sunny Bolton and check out the bike course.  The plan was to cycle the initial leg and 1 loop of the 3 loop course.  We also wanted to check out the run route too, but were pushed for time and so had to head back to London town.

I hadn't met my fellow IMers before and had been put in touch with them by Harriet, who has just completed an awesome race over in Roth.  Anton and Christian were to be doing their first (and reportedly their last) IM and had been roped into it by a friend who has subsequently pulled out.  With friends like those...

If the 'friend' had not adversely influenced them, they might have been doing Roth with Harriet. I felt truly sorry for these guys and said they had to go to Europe to do at least 1 more IM to experience what it should be like.

OK I'm going to get it out of the way here and then just focus on the task in hand.  IM races are in spectacular locations all over the world, and often the local support and enthusiasm reaches fever pitch on the day.  The UK has many diverse and beautiful landscapes which would make amazing locations for an IM.  I know in this country races must be incredibly hard to put together and organisers no doubt have to battle against almost insurmountable odds, especially for long distance... however - Bolton?  I mean seriously??  The previous location at Sherbourne was 100 times better, but I guess they had to move for good reasons whatever they were.

I could say a lot more, but I won't.  IMUK have been known to ban adverse press bloggers from the race in the past - I kid you not.  Suffice to say you do not come to this race for the scenery.  You come to this race to get a down and dirty tough race.  None of that airy fairy pampering of the athlete's village in Zurich, or the glitz and glamour of Nice, or the distant majesty of the snow topped mountains of Utah. This aint no George Clooney of a race - more like Ray Winstone in Nil by Mouth.

One thing I will say: everyone we met up there was really friendly and very helpful, especially the numerous times we asked for directions.  I may not be a fan of the location, but I can't deny that the people are very hospitable and I recognise that a heck of a lot of effort will have been put into getting this race together.

First thing to note - the road surface out here, as probably for most of the UK is not very good - very rough - neck and lower back will suffer over 180ks.  Also puncture potential is very high with plenty of roadside debris which could be made worse by wet conditions.  I punctured after 1k in our little jaunt.  Thankfully OK for the rest of the day.  Note to self - Gatorskins are the way to go, leave the race tyres at home.

Equipment: tri bike, aero helmet, race wheels - yep go the whole nine yards if you can.  Sure there is 2183m climbing on this course, but there's plenty of flat and downhill too and it's non-technical except maybe the first descent off Sheep House Lane where a little care is required.  I wouldn't go too deep on the rims, 808 max and not a disc - it can get windy out there.  I don't have race wheels for the day and won't be hiring as this is not a key race for me.

The course starts at Pennington Flash, a large lake.  Speaking to one of the groundsmen, apparently the hot weather has increased blue-green algae in the lake which can cause illness and vomiting.  The swim may or may not be canceled. Oh joy, but no point worrying my little head about that one.

The bike course goes from Pennington Flash north, past Bolton and Horwich to Adlington where you start your first loop of three.  This initial section is generally uphill, but at a gentle gradient.  It's pretty quick and guys will be gunning it.  I have The Fear, so I'll be taking it easy.

Once into the loop pretty sharpish you get to the major climb up Sheep House Lane (pic right).  This is not a crazy climb by any stretch, but it's relatively steep, peaking out at maybe 10-12%.  It also looks pretty exposed on the upper sections and with a windy day it could get interesting - we had mild conditions so that was not much of an issue.  The climb is about 2 miles long.  I reckon this will take a fair amount out of the legs, especially by the time loop 3 comes along.  Not a good idea to beast up this one, just an easy effort in the lowest gear.

After Sheep House and another minor bump, you are rewarded with a long non technical and fast descent - woot!  We had a tailwind and I reckon you can get up some speed here.  For me I'll be careful not to push too hard though, try to keep below 180 watts.  There are a number of rollers out there - I'll be trying to get up enough speed to roll over them, but will not be making hard efforts if I can't.

The second half of the loop makes its way steadily back uphill to Adlington.  It doesn't look like much, but this back end of the loop is quite tiring, and then of course at the beginning of the next loop you have Sheep House again.

We struggled to navigate the course as there are numerous twists and turns, but we made it eventually with only getting lost a couple of times when there weren't any road signs.  In summary I think it's going to be a long ride for me, and it's a course that demands respect if you want to have a chance of a reasonable marathon.  It's worth noting that the marathon is hilly too (459m climbing) - I haven't recce'd the course but don't think it's crazy like IMSG, but it won't be easy either.

Sunday 1 Aug is going to be a long day and in truth I wish I hadn't got all excited back in May and entered, but there we are.  Looking back to my reasons, I think I actually thought I might be in with a shout of qualifying, or else why enter this race?  I know better now.  Snow ball's chance in hell of that - 2 slots in AG - HA!  If I get round in 11:30 I'll be pleased with myself and certainly won't beat myself up for a sub 12.  Sub 11 will be rock star for me in my current condition.

Treating this one as a long training day to experiment with pace and nutrition, and also to try and hold up mentally late in the day with the fatigue.  Bit of experience, another medal (I hope!).  My main goal is to get the strategy right to have an OK marathon.  3:45 will be sweet.  Don't watch this space.  Please.