Did I Go Too Far? Did I Sabotage My Racing This Year?

Training Tips

Last week, I was sent Lauren Fleshman and Rosin McGettigan-Dumas new Believe Journals….well, actually, they are called COMPETE Training Journal and BELIEVE logbook.

I had always wanted one of these, and it gave me good reason to sit down and think about what I want out of my running, and how I am going to get there.

Compete Training Journal

As you can expect, the Compete one is all about really going for your goals. It gives great advice on things you need to reach your goals, and how to go about your vision, planning, and even has a gut check.

You know I loved that part!

But that obviously brought up some reflective thoughts about competing and racing over the past few months.

How did I manage to flunk so many of my races?

I am a racer! I am the money in the bank! I have Evie!

That is usually where I excel, so what happened?

It still bothers me, but after having this emotional recharge, I have been able to let it go, and I can honestly say my mind is in a good place right now. I am going into this marathon season for CIM with a  focus on just enjoying the ride, I just want to make the most of the opportunity to try.

That being said, this reflection gave me time to consider something else that played a part. Something I did not consider before; my diet changes.

When I talked about Falmouth, and how much I struggled, one of my friends made a suggestion, that maybe my disappointing performances were not entirely because of emotional exhaustion.

That maybe, just maybe, the high fat, high protein diet had played a role.

My initial reaction was to scoff; HA, whatever!

But within a few seconds, I let it sink in……it seemed to make sense……fat and protein are fantastic for building a fat burning machine. I felt great (honestly), I looked more toned, yet healthy, and I actually really enjoy eating the way I do.

I get to shovel spoonfuls of coconut manna into my mouth, eat handfuls of nuts at a time, enjoy avocados galore, and can choose the fattier cuts of meat without feeling guilty.

Let’s just say this diet was definitely satiating, and even though I can tell I am bigger and heavier now than I was for the London marathon (I have no idea actually, we hid our scale about 6 months ago, I just can tell by the way clothes fit and how I look), but I feel fantastic.

Confident in my body, full of energy, and not starving all the time. And as Nancy Clark would say it is better to focus on being balanced and not just being healthy.

But if I can’t race well…….something needs to change.

Like I said last week, my health is my priority, and it still is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make some tweaks to help my body go to that next level on race day.

After all, I am always telling people, you don’t need to feel good in training, it’s the race that matters.

So what did I do wrong?

Well, I think I went too far with the high fat, high protein.

Without meaning to, I ended up low carb.

I felt so much better without the heavy, stodgy foods.

I know some of you will be reading this in horror when I said that I didn’t miss the bread, I had no desire to eat pasta, I didn’t even really crave cereal anymore.

As I look back, I see that yes, I was eating a LOT of sweet potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, regular potatoes, and other vegetables, but as we got more into this, and we felt better and better, not only did we have the vegetables, fat and protein during the day, but our evening meals went from pretty close to normal; pizza, quinoa, salmon risotto to Flatizza pizzas, zucchini noodles, and salmon frittatas.

Don’t get me wrong, the caloric intake did not change, the portions were obviously bigger……and actually, I would argue over the past few months I was eating MORE calories than I was before, as I could not see the scale to check up on myself, and I have always been in the camp that I would rather overeat than undereat.

If you do not believe me that I eat enough, go back and listen to when Tawnee interviewed me on Endurance Planet.

I was eating plenty, and Steve and I both felt full.

Of course we still kept the sweets every day. Either through ice cream, sweets, or cookies, that was one area that didn’t really change….other than I wasnt eating the sweets during the day, which is still a good thing.

But one thing that strikes me as I look back, is that without meaning to, I had pretty much ended up at a low carb diet.

Which Tawnee definitely did NOT recommend for me with the miles I was running.

I was able to keep up with my 80-90 miles a week, because most of the running I do is slow enough where my body runs on fat and protein. I even believe I have become efficient enough that 6:00 pace can be maintained mostly on fat, which is why I raced so well at London.

But anything below about 5:50 per mile was a struggle.

Sure, my workouts went well, but that was my legs remembering what they used to do, and attempting to get back there, and besides, the distance wasnt long enough for me to run out of carbs. It is also difficult to tell that you are struggling in the faster stuff when it just feels awkward in general as you are used to the slower running.

Tina track workout

But when it came to the half marathon or even Falmouth as a 7 mile. I believe I just lacked the carbs in my diet to be able to use that speed, and pretty much ended up bonking in my races…..but rather than it being a specific moment where I “hit the wall”, it meant that when I got to my usual 2/3 of the way through a race where I would ROLL people down, I had used up my carb supply, and literally could not get my legs moving fast enough to make up any distance.

So yes.

I messed up.

I went too far, and this was the price my body paid.

I essentially had robbed my legs of their fuel to go fast, and no amount of screaming at my body was going to help it.

I should have done an ultra this season, I could have killed it 😉

So what does this mean moving forward?

Well, I am changing our eating structure to add more traditional carbs back in.

Even though I was having PLENTY of starchy vegetables, they are just not enough for the mileage I will be doing.

Although I still believe I could keep going the way I am and do well in the marathon this fall, as my body can run efficiently on fats, the sub 6:00 pace I am hoping to run the marathon is dangerously close to the area where my body started to struggle, so it is just not worth the risk.

Especially as my confidence and belief in my ability is at stake her, as is my enjoyment of my favorite part of training.

I am not abandoning my diet changes. I am still going to be sticking to this Whole 30 ish style of eating for the most part, but I am going to go back to the way I was eating during the transition period (in the building for the World Half Marathon Championships and London Marathon); eating mostly foods from the ground during the day, and then stocking up on carbs in the evening.

We are not planning on giving up our 8 egg omelettes ;)

We are not planning on giving up our 8 egg omelettes 😉

I do need your suggestions for this actually, I really have no desire to eat pasta anymore, not in the traditional sense anyway. The few times I had it, it upset my stomach.

Suggestions of gluten free pasta or less stodgy carb options?

I want to apologize, to anyone who has made changes to their own diet because of what I recommended.

As I said, I still believe this worked. I believe this is a huge part of the reason I did run so well at the first part of this year, and as far as I know, I did not share with you just how far I had gone with the high fat, high protein side of things.

I also think if you are training for longer distances, this would still work very well for you.

If you are not running high mileage (or even a runner at all), not training for some big goal that will push your body to its max, OR not fussed about how you race in the shorter stuff, I do believe this is by far the best way to fuel your body.

I noticed a SIGNIFICANT difference in the way I felt day-to-day. How full of energy I was in life and training, how much better I slept, how I was more confident in the way I looked, and how I could eating a high protein, high fat meal, and it would keep me full for a long time….rather than being hungry again a few hours later.

I am still a believer in this.

Just not to the extreme I took it, especially if you are in hard training.

I am going back to the way I ate before the London marathon. I have repaired my mind these past few weeks, now its time to repair my body.

[bctt tweet=”Even elite runners make mistakes. @tinamuir made diet changes that sabotaged her racing” via=”no”]

Suggestions for meal options? Did you notice this correlation (but did not want to offend me?)

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43 Comments. Leave new

  • I inadvertently did this as well when I met with a nutritionist. He was ALL about metabolic efficiency and I tried his recommendations last year. I immediately hated (and my body hated) having less carbs and I decided, after about 3 months, that it wasn’t for me. I still think I eat LESS carbs but my body works much better WITH them. SO glad you figured this out and seriously, why does this have to be so complicated??? 🙂

  • It’s interesting to hear you reflect about all of this. I hope you are able to figure out exactly what is going on. Why does nutrition have to be so darn complicated? I’m proud of you Tina for everything you’re working through.

  • I really like the brown rice pasta from Trader Joe’s! It’s the same amount of carbs and all as regular pasta, but gluten free (I believe) and sits a little lighter in your stomach. Glad your figuring things out and working on tweaking your diet so you can get back to better racing! In some way or another, we’ve all been here before — it’s all about trial and error, right?

  • Runningwithallergies
    September 19, 2016 7:50 am

    Way to figure out and begin finding a solution, Tina! I started battling with nutrition a year ago, simply due to allergies and my body not dealing with things well. I have come far, but I am still not where I need to be. Kudos to you for recognizing the issue and I am sure you will be back to feeling great in races soon!

  • Hey Tina,
    instead of pasta I would suggest to look at some whole grains such as sorghum, farro, barley, spelt, bulgur or quinoa. You can use them just like rice or couscous and if you need some inspiration look into middle eastern/mediterranean cuisine (http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/recipes/grain-recipes). Lots of salad options (e.g. tabbouleh) or just as a side dish, I can recommend shakshuka with feta and quinoa.
    Perhaps you could also think about baking your own bread. I have seen what sometimes get’s called “bread” in the states and (being German) it is appalling. There are so many options using whole grains, adding nuts for sweet and savory breads. Take a look for example at the King Arthur Flour website and especially Joy the Baker (http://joythebaker.com/ fair warning: lots of cake and pies there ?) for recipes. Good luck with your fall season and have fun trying new foods!

    • Thanks so much for the suggestion, I used to bake my own bread all the time, and I LOVED it, just maybe make some tweaks. Steve and I were eating a lot of those ancient grains before (he wasnt a huge fan haha), but they are great ideas, and yes, definitely should try. Thanks for the suggestion,…..I am very aware of Joy….LOVVVEE her, but didnt know I could find non dessert recipes too 😉 Thanks so much Florian!

  • Dani Steinbacher
    September 19, 2016 8:07 am

    TBH this was my gut feeling after you talked about experimenting with shifting to fat vs. carb, but I was afraid to suggest it. Even though it sounds like such a good theory to teach your body to burn fat, every time they do a study on it the conclusion is the same: yes, your body adapts to burning fat, BUT- it performs harder/faster with carbs.
    Thus, if your goal is to run faster, lift heavier, etc. you’re better off with carbs.
    With the HFLC trend in the U.S. right now it is often a major difference between the diet of elite runners [keeping high carbs] vs. recreational/fitness runners [trending higher protein/fat].

    That said, you shouldn’t apologize for trying it out! Sometimes you have to give everything a chance to figure out what works for yourself. It’s the balance of studying and experience.
The trick is keeping it in check so you can learn without totally self destructing– but it doesn’t sound like you’ve gone that far. ;-)

    As for suggestions for carb alternatives to pasta: rice makes a great alternative to anything- spaghetti, mac & cheese, soups, etc. Obviously potatoes are another great staple- baked, boiled, roasted wedges, even overcooked and blended into smoothies. Whole wheat is one of your best sources since it is richer in B vitamins and prebiotic than most gluten free alternatives, so you can always make some great toast, sandwiches, etc. for easy but wholesome meals that aren’t pasta dishes. You can even use your newfound fat favorites to supplement a carb based diet: toast buttered with coconut oil, ww crackers dipped in nut butter, etc.

  • I’ve had a similar year of figuring out what works for me nutrition-wise (although my motivation stemmed from a gut issue). I’ve always had celiac but experimenting with more fat/protein has given me more energy in my daily life. I used to need naps (and would fall asleep in class) but now have a “normal” sleep system. It’s a process (and it seems like a never-ending one) but I’m glad you are getting a grasp of what works best for you! Also, there is a brand that makes a grain-free pasta. I haven’t tried it so I can’t vouch for the taste! “Cappellos pasta”

  • It’s all trial and error and I am convinced it is different for every individual. I hope you’ve found the perfect nutritional fit for you!

  • RICE RICE RICE RICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Think of all the risotto!

    I struggled with this myself as a triathlete – I was advised to go low carb for medical reasons (PCOS) and while I could go all day, I had no speed. I worked with a sports RD to balance my medical and athletic needs and time my carb intake, and it’s made a huge difference.

    • Actually yes! Rice is the one starch that I definitely do trust. I had rice the night before my marathon and halves this year, and I felt confident that it was settling well in my stomach, and ooooh risotto is soooooo good! Thanks Victoria!

  • I can definitely relate to this! Over the last year I’ve been doing more protein and fat as well, and by default, less carbs. Like you, I feel amazing! But I think this is also part of why my body refused to hold onto my paces in my half yesterday- combined with mild heat exhaustion. It was perfect timing for me to read this and remember to pay attention to the carb intake as I get closer to marathon day. Thanks, as always, for your honesty!

  • I agree with Florian…NOTHING beats a really good bread. I’ve been enjoying sourdough lately. Perfect for avocado toast or with some really nice cheese if that is something you enjoy. I love a variety of grains too…a little goes a long way and you can use it as a base for so many meals.
    Another thing that has really helped me as I ramp up mileage and speed is UCan. Just a few sips before a hard workout gives me the sustained energy I need. I don’t use it all the time, so I feel like it works for me when I really need it.
    Good luck getting this figured out! I know you will let us know what works for you 🙂

  • Hi Tina

    Let me first say thank you for your posts. I’m reading them all and find it so so helpful. Thank you for sharing your journey, your experiments, your ups and down as a (crazy) elite runner. These are great lessons.

    I completely agree that the low carb approach works wonders for (very) long distances. I follow a medical doctor who won ultras and prestigious ironmen on it (Dr Ulrich Strunz). However, I deviate from it especially when I go for a PB (running on my limit, up to marathon distance). The day and morning before the race, pasta and simple wholegrain toast bread (with bee honey) works best for me (-> fast energy without being a burden in my stomach).
    I think it’s legitimate to distinguish between (i) long-term diet and (ii) short-term boosts, in the interest of my running performance.

    As for my non-race diet, let me share some links which I like. I try to stay away from refined SUGAR (although I have a very sweet tooth too and could have cake for each and any of my meals (I do not 🙂 ).
    Industry sugar (usually combined with highly processed and unhealthy fats) are just empty calories without nutrition and (what is worse) impedes proper digestion (so the gut cannot absorb the minerals and vitamins I make so much effort to get into my body).
    There are so many other, super delicious options that come on high nutritional valus. Especially DATES.
    There was a tennis match a few months ago (think it was Australian Open) between Andy Murray and Novac Djokovic, pretty much head-to-head. During a break, Murray had his Lucozade, Djokovic ate his dates. It was the latter who took home the (surprising) win at that match 🙂

    Here some real-food(!) links you might want to look at

    1. http://thebigmansworld.com/
    2. http://www.straightupfood.com/blog/category/desserts/
    (a friend of Chef AJ, whom I bumped into due to one of your recent Runners Connect actually.
    It was with Matt Frazier. His wife Erin was coached by Chef AJ when changing her diet.)
    3. http://jjvirgin.com/recipes/?category=&cuisine=&cooking_method=&sort=date_desc&content-search=
    JJ is super famous with her bestseller “The Sugar Impact Diet”, which helped many people around the world.
    She also has a book full of real-food recipies
    ( https://jjvirginstore.com/collections/books/products/the-virgin-diet-cookbook )

    Watching a lot of their youtubes also helps me to programme my mindset into “healthier cravings” and to re-define treats for me.

    Wish you all the best of luck with identifying your individual winner’s strategies and with achieving the running goals you deserve!

  • Nutrition is such an ongoing experiment of one, isn’t it? If you’re looking for bread recipes, homemade sourdough (with a starter) is good because the fermentation process makes it easy to digest. Michael Pollen says it’s the best way to eat bread, especially if you don’t want heavy carbs. But honestly like find that rice (brown or wild), quinoa, and potatoes (sweet and russet) work so well instead of pasta – no stomach upset. My stomach doesn’t like pasta much (except for an ancient grains pasta with quinoa that I buy), so these work well for me in training and before a race. Everyone is different, though, so that’s just my 2 cents (and I just love to talk about food).
    I’m glad that you’re listening to your body and making the changes that you need.

  • This is SO timely (and a bit eerie!). I also had become a bit too perfect in going against the grains. JUST this past weekend, after sticking to plantains and yuca for the past few months, I bought cereal!! The past 3 mornings I’ve incorporated a bit back into my breakfast and I’m pretty darn happy 🙂 I was feeling exactly as you described and now I honestly feel like I’ve been injected with energy.

  • Nutrition can be tricky dang it! All I wanna do is eat and not think. However, when you’re training seriously hard you must seriously evaluate your nutrition intake. I tried the less carb thing for a bit but my body bonked. I have however been able to run off fat for my shorter less intense runs which I firmly believe has helped me in the long run. It’s all one big balancing act. I try not to go extreme either way. Of course, pizza is my favorite food. And lasagna…and spaghetti….;-) I’m a bit of a pasta junkie! Thank you for your honesty as always.

  • I didn’t necessarily make the correlation between the diet and poor performance (there are so many factors involved!), but I remember when you said you were switching to high fat high protein, I thought, “That’s awesome that she can do that, but I just can’t.” Suggestions… I don’t eat a ton of pasta or potatoes but breakfast is usually oatmeal or an Ezekiel English muffin with avocado. Lunch frequently involves pita bread and barley soup, and dinner almost always includes brown rice. I rarely make carbs the star of the meal, but they’re for sure in every single meal I eat. I agree with the other people – rice, quinoa, etc, and I know it’s not for everyone, but I eat whole wheat EVERYTHING :). Good luck with the speediness, Tina! You’ll be flying fast for the October 5K!

  • Only you will be able to figure the optimum way to fuel yourself. The basics are great to rely on; but after that there is you the individual. I think that running 80-90mpw requires that you be eating junk food to supplement the caloric requirement. Besides, you like it: Ice cream, sweets, cookies, just like b4. Starchy vegetables will only provide so much, even pasta or rice.
    I’m in California, I’ll be watching you at CIM. Yes, run an Ultra!

  • That is awesome you reflected and found the part that was hurting your performance! Can’t wait to see what next season holds after tweaking your diet!

  • You might have been low carb but you weren’t keto with so much fiber and protein! Try fueling yourself with loads of fats and only a moderate amount of protein to really get into the ketone fuel source. That works well with ultra distance:)

    • I dont want to be fully ketogenic, thats what I was saying in this post, I want to add more carbs, not less 🙂 I have enough fat and protein in my diet. But thank you for sharing what works for you, keep it up if it helps you 🙂

      • I’m really sorry if I came off as pushy! Thanks so much for your kind reply, regardless. I know you say you bonked out at the race eating high protein high fat, and so I just wanted to make some suggestions to you because I know that eating too much protein will not help with running and will cause you to bonk out. People tend to either thrive running with carbs, or on ketones–not inbetween which tends to happen with high protein.

  • Aw, Tina. Sometimes what is most apparent to others is not at all apparent to us. Good that you had this realization. Life is a constant experiment. At least you can change up and see how you feel.

    Carbs are so important for runners. I just had my first-ever (and hopefully last) DNF yesterday 🙁 And while I was a tad overtrained and that was the main culprit, your post made me also realize I had been eating (albeit plant-based) more protein and fat and fewer carbs than I had been in the past.

    And I LOVE pasta. (After reading this, I made myself a bowl of pasta for dinner 😉

    As for healthy carby options, I love “Buddha bowls” because of the infinite variety. You can mix and match to your heart’s content – adding carbs, protein and veggies and even using up leftovers.

  • I think you are correct in your reflection. Sometimes I feel so good on a new way of eating (I tried going raw for a month and loved it…until I noticed I was pooping 8x per day) you don’t notice the downsides. You might also look at the amount of meat you now eat. You said you upped that as well and meat and animal products are extremely inflammatory to the body. Just food for thought (literally haha)

  • Hi Tina

    Let me first say thank you for your posts. I’m reading them all and find it so so helpful. Thank you for sharing your journey, your experiments, your ups and down as a (crazy) elite runner. These are great lessons.

    I completely agree that the low carb approach works wonders for (very) long distances. I follow a medical doctor who won ultras and prestigious ironmen on it (Dr Ulrich Strunz). However, I deviate from it especially when I go for a PB (running on my limit, up to marathon distance). What works best for me pre-race the day before and the morning before the race:

    – pasta (rice doesn’t do the job as well as eg wholewheat pasta does for me; the sauce should not be fatty as fat slows down the digestion) and

    – simple wholegrain toast bread (no butter on it, just with bee honey; Thrive Market, that is also recommended by you, has one of my favourite honeys: https://thrivemarket.com/reall

    (-> fast energy without being a burden in my stomach).

    I think it’s legitimate to distinguish between (i) long-term diet and (ii) short-term boosts, in the interest of my running performance.

    As for my non-race diet, let me share some links which I like. I try to stay away from refined SUGAR (although I have a very sweet tooth too and could have cake for each and any of my meals (I do not 🙂 ).

    Industry sugar (usually combined with highly processed and unhealthy fats) are just empty calories without nutrition and (what is worse) impedes proper digestion (so the gut cannot absorb the minerals and vitamins I make so much effort to get into my body). You might want to watch Dr. Robert Lustig “Sugar, The Bitter Truth”. Long-term, sugar also feeds mutating/cancer cells (which is scary).

    There are so many other, super delicious options that come on high nutritional valus. Especially DATES.

    There was a tennis match a few months ago (think it was Australian Open) between Andy Murray and Novac Djokovic, pretty much head-to-head. During the break, Murray had his Lucozade, Djokovic ate his dates. It was the latter who took home the (surprising) win at that match 🙂

    Here some real-food(!) links you might want to look into

    1. http://thebigmansworld.com/

    2. http://www.straightupfood.com/

    (a friend of Chef AJ, whom I bumped into due to one of your recent Runners Connect actually.

    It was with Matt Frazier. His wife Erin was coached by Chef AJ when changing her diet.)

    3. http://jjvirgin.com/recipes/?c

    JJ (who was a cake-lover like no other) is super famous with her bestseller “The Sugar Impact Diet”, which helped many people around the world.

    She often uses brown rice, and also has a book full of real-food recipies, including desserts :)))

    ( https://jjvirginstore.com/coll… )

    Watching a lot of their youtubes also helps me to programme my mindset into “healthier cravings” and to re-define treats for me. Veggies should always get a lot of attention in the usual diet. Huge amounts of veggies delivered to olympic villages tell it all 🙂

    (I just keep it out of the way on the day before racing).

    Wish you all the best of luck with identifying your individual winner’s strategy & with achieving the running goals you deserve!

    • AMAZING! Thank you so much Anna, this is great!!!! I did actually hear about Djokovic and how he loves his change in diet. I am not going to swing the other way, dont worry 🙂 Just think I need some tweaks. Have seen lots of Arman’s recipes, which is good, and Chef AJ sounds amazing, will check that out, and also JJ, thanks so much for those. Thanks so much for all your feedback, you are so helpful, and I will let you know how I get on 🙂

      • You are most welcome, Tina!

        Feel the love with so many personal comments on your post? 🙂

        You do so much for the (esp. female) running community, so you very much deserve to get to your full potential. Thanks a million for all the work and thoughts you put into your fantastic and inspirational blog! xxx

  • Hi Tina, I was thinking about switching to this diet, and have been eating much more fat (and sweets) to try getting my period back from years of athletic amenorrhea. It’s personal, but if you eventually feel comfortable, could you please talk about whether your cycle has been affected by the changes?

    • Fair point. Think this is quite common with ambitious runners (and I’m not even an elite, just doing 2 marathons a year).

    • Hi Sar, thanks for reaching out, and I think this is something for an email for the time being. I would love to help you, and my email is at the bottom of the page 🙂

  • I absolutely love this post. You are so in tune with your body, what it wants, and how it performs on certain foods and macronutrients. The bonking sucks but the diet experimentation is only helping you further fine tune your diet so you can get it spot on. I highly recommend the Trader Joe’s Black Bean Pasta. It’s fantastic! http://www.traderjoes.com/digin/post/organic-black-bean-rotini

  • I definitely noticed the correlation, but I know people are very sensitive about the topic! I’m glad you are making the change and adding some carbs back in.

  • Sometimes the best laid plans, the best intentions lead us to a place that is just as great, but in the wrong direction. Perhaps if you might think of the work that you did earlier this year as base building–getting you to a stronger, more neutral zone with your health–and now you are doing the speed work with your dietary changes?

  • Everybody’s body reacts to different eating styles differently

  • One alternative you may like are the Banza Chickpeas Pasta. They are gluten free, high in protein and in my opinion, quite tasty!

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