Monday, January 17, 2011

nugget #19

I know I took up running Back in the Day so I could eat and drink all I wanted.

Neanderthal Carbo-loading
by Bill Donnelly

            I recently attended a presentation at the Runner’s Roost by Jennifer Hulme of “Quivering Lips” fame.  Her topic of course was nutrition and the modern runner.  Well, being a runner firmly stuck Back in the Day, I thought it would be interesting to compare what I remember about how we ate and practiced good nutrition back then to her silly thoughts about how athletes should conduct themselves now.  So I went with a totally open mind to hear her talk.  Yeah. RIGHT!
            Boy, I was so glad I ran Back in the Day when we could run and eat and drink in ignorance of what was good nutrition and moderation.  I mean, we practiced to the best of our ability good nutrition, but most now would call it simple excess.  Well, maybe not simple excess, rather humongous excess!  But at least we can say we didn’t know better, and boy, did we have fun.  We also ran pretty darn well.
            Let’s start by comparing why we took up running Back in the Day as compared to why folks take it up today.  I’ve heard it said that runners in the 1970’s were class “A” type people, those who are very competitive at whatever they do, and since we were running, we pushed that endeavor to the limit.  Runners today, the theory goes, get into running for the healthy lifestyle it helps provide.  This would explain why so many runners were at Jennifer’s presentation, although I looked around and noticed quite a few male runners were there just to see if her lips really would quiver if she got nervous.  Guys, she’s a professional, and the “QLs”, as Fred Lew calls them, only happen when she’s had too much coffee and is late in getting to the starting line of a big race.
            Anyway, back to the theory.  This idea is put forth to explain why the original running boom created so many good runners while the bigger running boom of today does not produce the same results.  As a quick example, in the1975 Boston Marathon, a time of 2 hours and 30 minutes was good for 115th place out of 2000 runners.  The same clock time this year, with 22,000 runners and ideal conditions, as they were in 1975, was good for 38th place, and there were no Kenyans running in 1975.  So maybe this hypothesis is on the money, although I think it is a bit too simplistic to explain it completely. 
            One problem with this premise is that it does not take into account why any of us took up running Back in the Day.  Yeah, I know, of the 2000 runners in the 1975 Boston, there were probably 2000 different reasons they took up running.  But I do think that if you take the little idiosyncrasies of each individual out of the equation, the reasons come down to one idea.  And that was so we could eat and drink whatever we wanted without getting fat!
            Why else would we be out there, rain or shine, hot or cold, whatever Mother-Buffalo-Nature threw at us, running 80 to 100+ miles per weeks, week after week.  Personally I had been a three sport athlete at Riverside, cross-country, swimming, and track, and I did learn to eat well during those years.  I ran some in college, and then my running days were over in 1970.  Unfortunately, my eating habits from high school were not over, and so from 1970 till 1973 I put on a pound or two.  Well, to be honest, my skinny high school competitor self was trapped inside some sumo wrestler from Japan, and brother, did the skinny-me want to get out.  Problem was, he didn’t want to change his eating habits one iota.  What to do?
            And then Frank Shorter won the Marathon in the 1972 Olympics, and all became clear.  After the race, as this skinny guy is being interviewed on national TV, they alluded to the barely-malt beverage he was drinking from a plastic cub, without saying exactly what it was, but Frank made sure we knew.  This was an epiphany for me.  Here was a guy drinking my favorite beverage, who probably got to eat whatever he wanted, and he weighed in at the weight of a wet mango.  He was doing something right.  My hero!
            Well, I was driving taxi at the time in Buffalo (putting that masters degree to good use), which requires driving 12 hours per day, six days a week.  No running for me.  I only lasted six weeks at this endeavor, during which I gained another three chins, and then it was winter.  I waited for April 1, 1973, for my road-racing career to begin.
            Since my cardiovascular system was in great shape from my previous life as an athlete (and spending my kidhood riding everywhere on my bike), it didn’t take long to start building up the miles.  Lo and behold, the pounds started to disappear despite no changes to my intake of food and drink.  What a wonderful thing.  Who cared the Kentucky Fried Chicken, followed by a couple Big Macs and a Whopper, were not nutritionally sound.  I burned it off, and that’s all that mattered.  I’ll drink to that, and I did.
            Six months later I ran my first marathon in New York City, even though my longest run was only 16 miles.  It hurt, so I upped my mileage, and kept on eating, drinking, running, and racing.  Skinny-me was back and feeling groovy, as we cool types used to say.
            My idea of the food group pyramid was: five pounds of deep-fried red meat on the bottom of the pyramid, with four pounds of pasta on the next level, followed by three pounds of vegetables, preferably French fries and potato chips, with two pounds of ice-cream on top of that, and topped with one pound of whipped cream with a cherry.  And this would be all on one plate. And this is just lunch.  Followed by a tankard or two of root beer to wash it down with.  And for dessert a brisk 16 mile run so everything I ate could settle so I would have room for dinner.
            OK, so maybe I exaggerate just a bit, but eating a lot was important since we needed the fuel for all that running.  We just didn’t know or want to know that there were healthy foods out there we should have been eating, and in moderation.
            Now, what we ate for meals before a big race (which was usually a marathon – we did nothing special if the run were under 19.1 miles) were pretty loopy, a smorgasbord of foods based on ideas from the past and what we wanted.
            My dad was a top miler and cross-country runner at Notre Dame in the late 1930s, and training meals for these athletes the night before a big race was steak, and plenty of it.  By the time I was running in high school and college, this thinking hadn’t changed much, and it was still around when I started road racing.  Of course, all the coaches from the time of the first Olympics also preached no you-know-what for the athletes (preferably during the whole season).  If you don’t know what you-know-what is, I’ll give you a hint.  It starts with “S” and rhymes with “rex”. 
            I of course always followed Coach’s advice, mostly because I like red meat, and I was an excruciatingly shy guy who never had a girl friend, so “rex” was out of the question anyway.  Even when I was with Eleanor (of Belle Watling Beaver Pin Award fame) I was just too shy to suggest we try “rex”.  What a numbskullhead I was.
            The idea of pasta as a pre-race meal eventually did start to enter into our thinking and onto our dinner plates the night before a big race.  Loading up with carbohydrates made sense, and I was all for that since my all time favorite food has always been spaghetti, and plenty of it. 
            Now that reminds me, when Jennifer Hulme gave her presentation at the Roost, she had these great visuals.  I walked in and thought, oh neat, she has Hors d’oeuvres for us to eat, she was just missing the toothpicks.  Then, horror of horrors, the food turned out to be plastic, no treats for us.  And then horrorer of even more horrors, these bite size morsels each represented a total portion one should eat at a meal of said food.
            BAH! I say!  Where’s the sense of it all, where is the justice, why, where is the humanity, not to mention the piles of yummy food?  Why, that charlatan lip-twitching imposter quack of a registered dietitian, who happens to be a babe, would have us starve just so she could laugh at us as she runs over our skeleton-like bodies littering race courses across Erie County on her way to more ill-gotten race medals.  Cripes, that representation of a single portion of spaghetti looked about the size of an Egg McMuffin, only without the McMuffin, or the McCheese for that matter.  One twirl of the fork and I have that much spaghetti ready for eating.  I tell you people, eat before she destroys us all!
            But back to what we used to eat.  For breakfast before the big race, why it was a tall stack or two of pancakes with all the fixins, which for me would include eggs and plenty of sausage and homefries.  Some shied away from the fixins, but I always had a cast-iron stomach, and I could literally run a marathon an hour after such a meal.
            Back to the Roost.  Someone asked Ms. Hulme about the carbo-loading diet one could do before a marathon.  Now that I knew about, since we were doing it back in the seventies.  But after she described how to do it, I realized what we did was a good deal different.  The way we learned to do it was thus:  If the marathon you were running was on a Sunday, on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before you would do the depletion.  This meant basically going on what is today called the Adkins Diet, but what we in the early seventies called the meat and water diet.
            I had done this diet a few times before I started running, and would usually last two weeks of eating nothing but meat, cheese and eggs with plenty of water.  I would lose more than a pound a day, but I would soon be dreaming of bread and pizza.  As soon as I went off the diet, I just had to satisfy my need for carbs, and would put the weight right back on in, oh, about three hours.
            With the carbo-loading training diet, during the depletion stage, we would keep running regular miles (we never tapered before a marathon) and do a final depletion run of about sixteen miles Wednesday night.  You can imagine how hard that was, what with no carbs left in our system.  Talk about depletion!  Then came the fun part.  No more running till the marathon, and one would just lock himself in the kitchen/bathroom with mounds and piles and mountains of carbohydrate-laden food surrounding one with the mission of making it all disappear before the race.  Piece of cake.
            First time I did this training diet, I had a pretty good marathon, but not my best.  Next time I tried it, by the third day of depletion I developed a terrible cold from being so worn down.  Never did it again.  Seems like the way Jennifer described how it should be done makes more sense then what we were doing.  But what did we know. 
            Hmmm, maybe this Hulme dame aint such a fraud after all.  I sure could stand to lose a pound or two.  I’ll have to talk to her next time I see her at a race, that is, if she hasn’t had too much coffee and is late getting to the start.  Quivering lips make me nervous.            

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