Review: The Big Book of Endurance Racing and Training

Over the past week, I read Dr. Phil Maffetone’s book, The Big Book of Endurance Racing and Training. I’ve kind of tried doing MAF/heart rate training in the past, but in a half-cocked manner. After finishing the book (well, most of it), I can’t say that I’m going to change too much about my approach, but I have some new things to consider.

TL;DR review: Training section good, nutrition section iffy.

There were whole sections of the book that I skipped for now, but will refer to when they become more relevant. I skipped the racing part because I won’t be racing until April. I skipped the injury part because I’m not currently injured, knock on wood. I looked askance at some of the pain and injury suggestions. I can’t just take it on faith that cleaning up my diet will reduce injury. You better believe when I have menstrual cramps, I’ll be reaching for the NSAIDs, Dr. Maffetone.

I had to laugh when he shared some anecdotes from runners who couldn’t believe they had to run so slow under his guidance. OMG an 8 min pace! So slow! Like crawling on hands and knees! How horrible for these poor people. I suppose part of the reason this training appeals to me is because I’m already slow.

I definitely wanted to run right out and do the MAF test to get started! The MAF test involves a very specific warm-up, followed by a 5 mile run at max aerobic heart rate (mine is 142), and then a specific cool-down. The paces for each mile should slow with each progressive mile, and over time, the overall paces should increase as aerobic fitness improves. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work for me, since Duluth is so hilly, but I can do the test on Park Point. Then I remembered I don’t have a heart rate monitor at the moment (Suunto is sending me a replacement since the first one went kaput about 6 months into use) so the test is on hold.

I’m a little concerned about putting the training into practice in the winter. Dr. Maffetone mentions that weather can impact the heart rate significantly, especially a combination of cold and wind. I live in Duluth, and it’s winter. It’s cold and windy. I know last winter I tried and kind of gave up, because I was having a tough time staying warm. I’m going to give it another shot, but I might also have to give it a rest until spring.

I found the training aspects of the book very helpful. The gist of it is online and available for free, but I appreciate the depth of the book, as well as the readiness of the information. I don’t want to click around a bunch of articles and blog posts to find the information piecemeal.

While I’m sold on the training aspects of the book, I’m on the fence about the nutritional aspects. I know I need to make changes to my diet to improve my overall health. I am not sure I am willing to make the changes suggested in the book.

The book clearly was not written for someone like me, i.e. someone who is overweight and actively trying to lose weight. It’s more addressed to someone who is already at a decent weight. Or, at least, that’s what it seemed. I really can’t stand when people say counting calories doesn’t work. I believe counting calories is a necessary step for most people who are trying to lose weight. Counting calories without making any other changes in lifestyle, diet, or attitude is what does not work, at least in my opinion. Counting calories was an eye-opener to me, as far as how much I was actually eating. It’s a useful tool, but I am not slavish to it, I’m not trying to eat as few calories as possible, and it’s not the only thing I’m doing to try to lose weight.

I’m just not interested in giving up carbohydrates entirely. I’m not even ready to give them up for the duration of the “Two Week Test,” which determines carbohydrate intolerance. Which is… ugh, that term. It just seems so silly. If I’m eating too much sugar or too many refined carbs, I’m eating too much junk. That doesn’t mean I should never eat rice or beans again because I’m “intolerant” of carbohydrates. I probably experience more “symptoms” from leafy greens, which Dr. Maffetone sings the praises of, than I do from a baguette.

Part of me is tempted to do the two-week test because apparently weight just drops off people magically despite not counting calories (and possibly increasing caloric intake) because of the awesome powers of fat burning. Apparently he’s seen people drop 20 pounds in 2 weeks! Which isn’t unhealthy at all!

I will probably have to do some additional reviews of certain sections of the book as they become applicable. I was planning to transition to a more minimal shoe with my next shoe purchase, and I will use the racing, MAF test, and nutrition sections as they become relevant or as I make changes to training and nutrition. I am glad to have read the book, but some aspects seem a bit extreme for me, especially since I’m not an elite, overly-dedicated runner, and because I like to eat dessert sometimes.

A Walk in the Woods and #SJAT15

Several years ago for either his birthday or Father’s Day (they’re only a few weeks apart), I got my dad A Walk in the Woods, a book Bill Bryson wrote about hiking the Appalachian Trail with his friend. It’s now a movie coming out this fall, starring Robert Redford, which I find odd because is only 63 and he wrote A Walk in the Woods when he was in his 40s (it was published in 1998).

I bought the book for my dad because he was born in New Hampshire and spent summers there as a kid, and he has hiked the Presidential range. And I have hiked down Mount Washington, so congratulations to me. On my far-off list of dream races, I’ve penciled in the Mount Washington Road Race.

A few months ago he finally started reading it. Actually, he got through one chapter, reading the funny parts aloud to me the way he used to do with Patrick McManus books when I was a kid. Then after he went to bed I read half the book in one night and he let me take it back home with me to finish.

The book starts off funny, with a sort of British puzzlement at the trappings of an outdoorsman, and then some parts with Katz are hilarious because he’s a crazy crank. Then once Katz departs (this is not a spoiler), the book becomes a little plodding and preachy. Katz comes back, the book improves, and I felt very much like plunging into the woods on some long trek.

While I was reading this, Scott Jurek was on the beginning of his quest to set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine on the summit of Mount Katahdin. Scott Jurek was kind of my intro into ultrarunning. I was following it a bit because I started reading more running blogs, but I really got into it when I was driving through Proctor and a digital sign proclaimed “Proctor, home of ultramarathoner Scott Jurek.” And then I got really interested in ultrarunning.

Spoiler alert, Jurek captured the FKT (supported), finishing in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes, beating the previous record by 3 hours and 12 minutes. (The fastest unsupported record is 58 days, 9 hours, and 38 minutes, which is insane.) The final day, I followed along on Twitter and waited for the official time to come across. It was pretty exciting.

I am of two minds about this achievement. It is a fantastic feat, and Jurek is an unbelievable athlete. Scott is a fantastic and gracious ambassador for the sport. He’s a veganvangelist, that’s for sure (the main reason I haven’t bought his book, as I don’t plan on changing to a plant-based diet), but it works for him, and he was able to make it work while on the trail, which was an achievement of its own.

It was nice though, that the previous FKT holder was a woman (Jennifer Pharr Davis). I liked that a woman held the record for an athletic achievement that both men and women can compete in equally. I also think Jurek took “supported” to a new level, since he was sponsored by Clif. According to Clif’s site, he ate about 30 of their products a day. Probably all free. It was a little different than Pharr Davis’s record-setting hike. Running is his job.

It does show just how amazing her accomplishment was, considering that even with the extraordinary level of support Jurek received, he “only” beat it by 3:12. (He was planning to do it in 42 days, which was a smart idea, because it gave him some wiggle room.)

I hate to give caveats to such an important and difficult (understatement of the year!) achievement, so I won’t harp on those thoughts. Scott overcame injury, illness, hot and rainy weather, and self-doubt to set the FKT for the Appalachian Trail, and I think that’s pretty amazing.

Blog Recommendation: It’s a Dog Lick Baby World

My training is exceedingly dull right now. Monday rest day, Tuesday 2 miles, Wednesday 3 miles. Push-ups and sit-ups. Zzzzz.

I’m not just a writer of blogs, I’m also a reader of blogs and other websites, both running-related and not. I don’t participate in “link-ups” or link trading, but I do want to share things I read and find interesting.

It’s a Dog Lick Baby World is a daily read for me. (Update 9/4/16: Kara no longer blogs, and the archives are no longer up.) It’s not strictly a running blog, as she posts a lot about her daughters, her life, and her thoughts on various topics. She also is on an indefinite hiatus from racing due to rather serious back problems, so there aren’t too many new racing posts, but she has lots of excellent race recaps (everything from 5Ks to ultras) in her archives, plus she serves as the race director for a 50k put on by her local running club (in MD).

This blog will appeal to folks who like running recaps, sarcasm, GIFs, and snark about blogging and other various Internet phenomena. It won’t appeal to those who don’t like kids (although it’s not a typical mommy blog, it does have a lot of kid talk, especially since her kids have had some health issues), Zumba, swearing, or unapologetic statements of opinion. I don’t always agree with Kara, and sometimes I feel like a loser because I am not as motivated as she is and I am pretty sure I’d be the type of person at a race who annoyed her by being slow and awkward, but the blog is funny and I hate a lot of clichéd blogger habits, so I read it and even occasionally click through from my reader, which is high praise!

I also read her friend Alyssa’s blog, Chocolate is MY LIFE. Alyssa is also an ultrarunner, but she recently had a baby and rarely posts (understandable, as she also works full-time!), and mentioned she might not be running ultras anymore. Her archives are full of fun race recaps, so they’re still worth a read, and I will keep her in my feed just in case she gets back into ultrarunning. (Update 9/4/16: this appears to be full-on mommy blog at this point.)

I hope I have some interesting running to report at some point this week. I keep looking at the 10-day forecast and hoping to see some high 30s or low 40s in the forecast, but nope. My expectations are too high!