2015 in retrospect

TL;DR

My worst year in running was the best thing that could happen to me. I’ve learned so much that it has made me a better runner and helped me prepare to become an ultra runner.

Injured

Quick recap: in november 2014 I got injured. I ended up in a flexcast for 4 weeks.

ouch

By the second half of January 2015 I was doing long runs again. But not for long … I felt a continuous nagging in my (lower) shins. I was diagnosed with overloaded lower legs. Both of them. Apparently I started running long runs too soon after my ankle tendinitis was healed.

During these recovery periods I started doing research in running techniques, workouts, running gait, running economy and nutrition and visited my physiotherapist on a very regularly basis.

In April I was back on track and started logging the miles … and hitting the wall … AGAIN :-( It was end of May, early June when I started to feel a slight nag in my left foot sole. Back to the physio, doing workouts to strengthen my core and logging fewer miles to spare those legs. This continued through summer. I did run 2 races, Festival Trail de Semois and l’Ardennaise, only because kinesiology tape kept me literally on my feet.

Creatief met kiné tape #lopersknie #plantarfascia #trailrunning #revtraining

A photo posted by Gregory Van Looy (@bengie) on

In september the nag was still there so I prescribed myself 4 to 6 weeks of rest. No running at all, only core workouts. No luck, the nag wouldn’t go away. Desperately I started looking for alternatives. These core workouts and physiotherapist threatments weren’t clearly enough to fix my problem. Someone suggested I should visit a chiropractor.

So I did. For my shin splints he didn’t find a cure right away but my left ankle had a mobility issue. He wanted me to do some excercises, stand up more often and no running for 10 days. He would need at least 3 sessions to evaluate and detect my problem. By the third visit he was ready to give me a thorough examination and was determined to find the cause. This was going to be a very long session … until he had an epiphany. While working on my neck muscles he also looked at my jaws and the way my teeth aligned. Apparently they’re a bit misaligned and I had a twinch in my left jaw when I open my mouth. It was clear to him this was the cause. The strain I put on my neck and shoulder muscles, caused by constantly grinding my teeth, spreads through my body into my lower legs and caused inflammations because these are the parts that suffer the must on a runner, so they are more vulnerable.

I had to make an appointment with a specialised dentist. This appointment was originally planned for January 27th, 2016 (that’s 8 weeks !!!!!!) and the chiropractor also said I was prohibited from running until the problem was solved to avoid more injuries. That was a major blow back in my 2016 race preparations and training schedule.

As grinding my teeth was the cause, the cure was pretty obvious to me: ‘no more grinding’. And it turned out to work. If I pay attention to avoid grinding and reduce stress on my jaws I can literally feel the shin splints disappear in an instant. This means I can run again. \o/ So I decided not to wait for the final verdict of the dentist or chiropractor.

I still plan on going to the dentistI got a call yesterday and there was a spot available today. So this saves me 4 weeks. Maybe a simple adjustment to my teeth or a grind guard can help. Fingers crossed.

Core workouts

What they call a resting day for runners #trailrunning #running #core

A photo posted by Gregory Van Looy (@bengie) on

As I mentioned earlier, during my many recovery periods I noticed my core was weak. Weak hips, weak glutes, weak lower back and weak upper body. During running the only part you strengthen are your feet and lower legs. The rest not so much but they are all equally important. You need strong quads and strong upper body to avoid your body from ‘collapsing’ every time you hit the ground when running. Making your entire body stronger will relieve the extra stress from your lower parts and thus making them less vulnerable to injuries. This doesn’t mean you need to become a bodybuilder or hardcore crossfitter but this change in workout will be beneficial for you as a runner.

I do my power workouts on my resting days. Resting days in running are all about giving your feet and lower legs (shins and calves) a break. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do any other workout. Just spare those lower parts. So I do some squats, push ups and planks. I finish up with some foam rolling on my calves, glutes and hamstrings. On other days, days when I did run, I do some light core, yoga or stretching while watching my favorite soap ;-)

Home alome + gorgeous weather = core workout outside #trailrunning #triggerpoint #revtraining

A photo posted by Gregory Van Looy (@bengie) on

Running form

In May 2014 I transitioned from ‘heel stroke’ to ‘forefoot running’. I’m a big fan of the Pose Method, see 1 and 2, and this last year I invested a lot of time and effort in improving my running gait and running efficiency. To improve your gait and efficiency you need core workouts (mentioned above), knowledge of some basic principles as cadence, Vertical Oscillation and Ground Contact Time (GCT) and a good training schedule/philosophy.

Cadence, Ground Contact Time and Vertical Oscillation
Screenshot from my Garmin Fenix 3 data. Green = good, orange = mediocre, red = bad. Cadence = higher is better. VOSC = lower is better. GCT = lower is better

According to many studies the optimal cadence for a runner is around 180BPM. This means your left and right leg combined touch the ground 180 times per minutes. This is something you’ll need to learn. By analysing your data you can see how you improve and on what you need to work. If you analyse the data above you’ll see that the cadence drops in the second half of the run. This was not because I got tired but I was doing a MAF run (more on MAF below). I wasn’t allowed to run above 134bpm heart rate and the second part was with a strong headwind and slightly uphill so I had to lower my pace. Same with the GCT, in the end I started running slower so my feet touch the ground for a longer period. What I learned from this: I need to keep my cadence even when running slower. One way to do this is reducing your stride length. Another way is by keep training this way and over time you will improve.

Maffetone

Earlier this year I experimented with Maffetone method. It’s all about building an aerobic base and teaching your body to become a mean fat burning machine. Since mid-november I’ve committed myself to MAF and have been training regularly according this formula. 4 of my 6 weekly runs are MAF runs. Big advantage: you aren’t beat up by the end of the week when you finally have time to do your long runs. Your legs still feel fresh, you did the miles or required time-on-feet and you’ve burned some excessive fat. When I’m writing this blog post I’m in my sixth week of training. My body still feels fresh although I’ve logged ±240k in these weeks. Most of all: I’m not injured ;-)

MAF or Maffetone is all about building a good aerobic base. This means you need to do a lot of MAF workouts to develop that base. It can take up to 4 to 6 months to have a solid base, but you’ll start seeing benefits a lot sooner. I’m currently in my sixth week and my pace at my MAF rate is already improved compared to what it was 6 weeks ago. You can imamgine what it will be in another 6 weeks ;-) While doing MAF you can still do your speed work, tempo runs and intervals but just less. In a couple of weeks you can adjust that number if you want to. Just be patient, my young padawan.

Nutrition

As you noticed, I like to experiment. Not only with training methods but also with nutrition. In 2014 I did a carbo loading experiment and for my 2015 new year’s resolutions I decided to go sugar free. I was able to keep it up for a month or two.

But now I’m back. When I started the Maffetone method almost six weeks ago I also started with LCHF (Low Carbs, High Fat diet). It’s next level compared to my previous sugarfree experience and it’s totally the opposite of the traditional training principle of carbo loading and high carb diets for athletes. Basically I eat a lot of protein (meat, fish, eggs, …) and fat (full cream yoghurt, butter, avocado, nuts, …) and green, leafy vegetables. No potatoes, no rice, no pasta, no bread and most of all no (refined) sugars. The carbs you need you still get from natural products like fruit.

Why?

According to many studies eating too much carbs is the cause for many injuries (inflammations) on athletes and the main cause for Type 2 Diabetes. Reducing your carbohydrate intake and switching to fat as fuel for your body has nothing but benefits. As I was suffering from a lingering injury I was very willing to try this approach.

Disclaimer: You will need to give your body some time to adapt to this diet and to turn it in a fat-burning machine. It can easily take 6 weeks or longer before your body is fully adapted and you will need a training method that fits fat burning, hence Maffetone.

More info on LCHF:

No more carbs at all?

No, your body still needs carbs. It’s the fuel for your brain but the main objective for LCHF is to get a major part of your energy sources from fat. Let’s say you burn 700 Calories per hour when you run. A carb based runner will get his fuel from burning 700 Calories from the carbs in his body. What you burn, you need to replace (or else you will bonk), so you need to take gels or any other carb resource. Let’s assume a gel contains 100 Calories and you only consume gels, so no hydration or other food. You do the math, that’s 7 gels per hour!!! (after he depleted his available glycogen storage *) That’s a gut disaster waiting to happen although the gel industry would be very happy if you buy that amount of gels for each run you do.

(*) A well-nourished adult can store approximately 500 grams or 2000 kcal (Calories) of carbohydrates. Of this, approximately 400 grams are stored as muscle glycogen, 90-110 grams as liver glycogen, and 25 grams circulate in the blood as glucose. When the body needs more glucose than is available in bloodstream to support energy demands, glycogen stores are used to raise blood glucose levels. However, it is important to note that the glycogen stored in muscle is used directly by that muscle during exercise, it cannot borrow glycogen from other resting muscles. So, while doing your endurance run, you only have access to a fraction of that 2000 Calories you have stored for the entire run.
source: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/content/carbohydrate

Now let’s take that same approach on a fat burning runner. If he’s well adapted he can use 350 Calories per hour from burning fat and 350 Calories from burning carbs. To replenish his carbs he would only need half of the amount of gels (after he depleted his glycogen storage) while his fat storage (as source of energy) is virtually unlimited*. This will be a lot easier for your gut to digest and it will save you a few bucks.

(*) Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrate or protein (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories each per gram). During exercise, stored fat in the body (in the form of triglycerides in adipose or fat tissue) is broken down into fatty acids. These fatty acids are transported through the blood to muscles for fuel. This process occurs relatively slowly as compared with the mobilization of carbohydrate for fuel. Fat is also stored within muscle fibers, where it can be more easily accessed during exercise. Unlike your glycogen stores, which are limited, body fat is a virtually unlimited source of energy for athletes. Even those who are lean and mean have enough fat stored in muscle fibers and fat cells to supply up to 100,000 calories—enough for over 100 hours of marathon running!
source: http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-bodyrsquos-fuel-sources

Now if you’re a smart runner you’ll search for a good source of carbs that is easy on your gut. I can recommend tailwind.

Getting my fuel right for my first run with @tailwindnutrition #trailrunning

A photo posted by Gregory Van Looy (@bengie) on

Tailwind is a powder you mix in your water bottle. For endurance runs they recommend 2 to 3 scoops per 24 oz (700ml) of water. 1 scoop contains 100 Calories (and hydration and electrolytes) . Now do that math again. The 24oz (700ml) almost contains all the calories you need. Or you add another scoop or you take 1 gel or an energy bar if you want something solid to chew. Your gut will thank you.

Racing

The goal for 2015 was to run my first Ultra. Unfortunately I didn’t complete this goal. My schedule looked like this: I would start the year with a few races of ±30k and gradually increase the mileage. In April I wanted to run the Antwerp Marathon as a first benchmark and test. Depending on the results I would start planning my Ultra for the Summer or Fall of 2015.

My first Ultra is now my number 1 priority for 2016 and I already have a couple of races planned for Winter/Spring 2016.

Racing calendar 2016

Depending on the results I’ll start planning my first Ultra for the Summer or Fall.

2016, here I come.