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Doing the sensible thing, for once
This newsletter was first published on Patreon on 17 January 2022
I don’t always do the sensible thing, but sometimes you’re left with no other option. I’ve decided to postpone my attempt at the Self-Transcendence 3100 until 2023.
September 2022 still feels like enough time to possibly be ready, but the real issue is the fact that to qualify I have to run a six-day race, and there aren’t many of those around. The one I found that left me enough time to recover for the 3100 was going to be in March. That’s in around six weeks. And they want me to churn out close to 450 miles in those six days. That's some serious long-distance running. And right now I’m struggling to run two miles with my bad back. As they say in America: you do the math.
It’s a huge relief, to be honest. Even without the bad back, it was all hurtling towards me at breakneck speed. It’s easy to say I’ll just run 20 miles a day to get in shape, but the reality of getting the mind and body ready for something like this, without constantly breaking down along the way, is a much, much harder.
I told the race organiser my plan, and this was his response: “I understand your feeling unprepared or just not ready to run the 3,100 just yet. You have to feel confident in doing the race, at least in terms of getting to do some multi-day races and check all the boxes in preparation.”
Yes, I now have time to do a few more races, to build up my sense of what it is to run all day, day after day. I’m also putting together a crack support team to help me get my body into a state able to withstand what’s coming. I alluded to my injury on Twitter a few weeks ago and someone replied: “Didn't realise you'd had an injury. At least you know all the best people to help fix it.”
I guess I do know a few brilliant movement people. As well as Joe Kelly, who I’ve talked about and who continues to tinker with my biomechanics to try to get me working again, I’ve been in touch with Jae Gruenke, aka The Balanced Runner. Jae is a Feldenkrais practitioner who has tailored the treatment specifically to runners. She lives in California and works with some of the very best elite US distance runners.
I was already doing her Online Training Camp, but she has agreed to look at me on a one-to-one basis to see if she can shift this back problem. My lessons with her start today, so I’m hopeful. In any case, I feel that between Joe and Jae I couldn’t be in better hands, not just to iron out the present kink in my system, but to leave my body moving better, and more prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.
So I’m afraid this whole 3,100 saga is going to be drawn out for a bit longer. I hope you all stay with me for the journey.
Energy to Burn
Of course, there is more going on in the world besides my injury saga, so I’ll try to talk less about my back in future Musings. I’ll end today's posting with some observations on the book I’ve just read, which is called Burn: The Misunderstood Science of Metabolism by Herman Pontzer.
The crunch message from this scientifically rigorous book is that you don’t burn more energy if you exercise more. That your body isn’t a simple machine in which food is the fuel and exercise is the output. And as a result, you can’t lose weight by exercising.
Wait, what? Doesn't that go against everything we've ever been told about how the body works?
I heard Pontzer on the radio and I kept telling people what he had said, but when they grilled me on how this was possible, I couldn’t properly answer, so I bought the book. Summarising it won’t be easy, but basically your body's daily energy expenditure is fairly fixed, regardless of what you do in a day. Even if you just sit down all day, your body burns energy regulating your temperature, pumping blood around your body, firing the brain, digesting food and a million other cellular activities. If you get up and start running around (a block, say), it just redistributes energy expenditure away from other stuff and into fuelling the exercise.
Now, this doesn’t mean that exercise is unimportant. Your body is designed to move, so when you don’t move around, the body burns the excess energy in unhealthy ways, such as excess stress and inflammation - which is why lack of exercise can lead to chronic stress and chronic inflammation. But in terms of pure weight gain, if you eat a healthy diet and don’t exercise, you won’t put on weight.
Conversely, if you overeat, you will put on weight whether you exercise or not.
In terms of running, the implications aren’t huge, and the main takeaway isn’t as radical as it first sounded: basically, don’t overeat.
That's sound advice, of course, but how do you avoid overeating? How much is too much? Well, apart from being disciplined or having an iron will, his best advice is again far from radical: buy natural, unprocessed foods. The reason is that when your body eats simple, natural foods, it will tell you when you’ve had enough - you know, that feeling when you’re full and no longer hungry, that’s your body telling you you’ve met your energy needs for the moment. When you get hungry, that's it telling you you're falling short.
The problem with processed foods (or one of them, anyway) is that they’re actually designed - by scientists - to override this messaging from the brain, and to make you think that you haven’t had enough, that you should have one more, oh go on then, another one. Oh, just one more. They basically scramble your brain and you end up over-eating.
So there you have it: you can’t outrun a bad diet. I think we knew that already, but if you want the scientific explanation behind it - and he does a great job at making it readable and enjoyable even for the layman like me - then check out Burn.
Go slightly older US women!
Finally, there were some sizzling performances at the Houston marathon and half marathon yesterday, with the US women’s records in both races falling to Keira D’Amato and Sara Hall, women aged 37 and 38 respectively. For those of us past our prime, it’s always inspiring when others also supposedly past their best years do something extraordinary like this.
A slight gripe, however, was the almost complete blanket non-coverage of the actual winner of the half marathon, Vicoty Chepngeno of Kenya, who ran the fastest women’s time ever on American soil. Who? A Kenyan? Whatever.
This clip from the local broadcast sums it up. As she crosses the line in first place, at the end of the race, the commentators are stunned into silence. They hadn’t noticed she was even in the race up until that moment, and you can hear them scrabbling around looking at their notes to try to work out who she is and where she has just appeared from.
It's almost as bad as the worst commentary ever, which I won’t go into again, but which not surprisingly also centred around completely missing a superlative performance by a Kenyan woman. Cathal Denny elegantly dissected and despaired over that one here: I Loved Watching the Recent Half Marathon World Record. But the Commentary Was Frustrating