Sunday, March 11, 2012

March (Run) to Your Own Beat

I went for a four hour run with my longtime friend Neil about 11 weeks ago, in December 2011.  A problem arose quickly:  I couldn’t run for four hours.  I ended up walking much of the “run,” which didn’t last four hours for that matter.  I was a tad deflated, but not too bad, because I figured the passage of time -- I turn 50 this year -- and life’s demands cause “_ _ it” to happen sometimes. 

I was wrong.  Things have changed in the last 11 weeks.   With about the same amount of training -- averaging 2-4 runs a week -- I was able to complete a 50 mile race called the Old Pueblo 50, taking 9th place in a time of (  In the buildup for the race I had no lackluster sessions like the one I had with Neil.  What happened?  I went against the grain in two fundamental areas:  I stopped doing all hard running -- no speed work -- and started eating Paleo. 

In stopping all hard running and by only running aerobically, I adopted the philosophy of Dr. Philip Maffetone, who developed and coined “The Maffetone Method” of training.  The method is counterintuitive:  run easy, at a relatively low heart rate, to achieve the highest level of health and fitness (  The triathlon great Mark Allen adopted this approach in much of his training; this led to multiple world championships.  However, Maffetone’s method is generally eschewed and ignored by the mainstream, which touts speed work and hard running as the fastest and best way to fitness.  I disagree.

I employed the Maffetone Method based on past knowledge of it.  However, my adoption of the so-called “Paleo diet” was pure luck and serendipity.  In December, we were having dinner with friends Thad and Missy Reeves.  Both were Division I athletes -- Thad in baseball and Missy in gymnastics.  With the built-in respect that I give anyone who played at the top level of college sports, I listened carefully when Missy mentioned to me that “you might like the Paleo diet.”  After asking a few questions, and after our dinner guests left, I hit Google to find out more about “Paleo.”  I found  There I found an intelligent, world-class athlete who had adopted the Paleo lifestyle and could articulate its benefits and, in a dignified and professional manner, refute its critics.  I was hooked on figuring out whether it would work for me.

The Paleo diet incorporates meat, vegetables, and fruits as its core foods (  Fat is not feared when one eats Paleo; it is embraced.  Philosophically, Paleo diet followers generally believe that “man” ate this way as he/she evolved over the past two million years.  It was only approximately ten thousand years ago that man cultivated grains on a regular basis, and grains are largely worthless, even anti-nutrition, agents (  Paleo followers believe that grains and/or low fat diets are causing many health problems, and that those who promote grains and the like are wrong and misguided (for a scholarly debate on the topic, go to (for an excellent discussion of how Americans came to eat a high grain diet, read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Taubes).

Within days of starting the Paleo diet my body shed fat and inflammation.  I became stronger and fitter.  Recovery time from training sessions was significantly reduced.  I was hooked.  In 11 weeks I dropped 14 pounds and was able to run a 50 mile race I could not have even finished in December… in just over 9 hours.  Thanks, Missy, Mark Sisson, and two million years of evolution.

For most Americans, going against the grain -- literally -- is against everything they have been told.  Whether running, eating, or anything you do or think, question what you have been told.  This ex-vegetarian does.