Sunday, February 6, 2011

Miles, Mountains, and Meatheads

Week of Jan. 31, 2011: 86 miles (6:37 pace)

Big thanks to The North Face for sending me this pair of Single-Tracks.
I'll post a review after I've run in them a few weeks.

Over a week out from Mountain Mist and feeling recovered, it was time to start working hard again.  On Tuesday, with rain falling and temps in the 30s, I decided to hit a local gym for a treadmill workout.  I did 5x1mi w/3min jog recovery starting at 5:30 pace and working it down to 5:18 for the last one.  I was pretty cautious with my pace because I have done very few hard workouts on a treadmill.  It felt like I was running fast, but I wasn't that tired afterward and probably would have gone faster if I were on a track.  On the other hand, my recovery periods on the treadmill never dropped below 7 min pace.  That probably would not have been the case if I had run faster miles on the track.

Following easy days on Wednesday and Thursday, I headed to my favorite hill repeat spot on Friday.  As best I can figure, this road climbs just shy of 300 ft in 3/4 of a mile.  I summited five times and I usually try to keep the pace brisk on the way back down each time.  My last two climbs were the fastest right around 4:45.  I felt a bit stale at first, but loosened up nicely.   I kept a running clock on the entire workout and ran 13.5 miles total in 1:28 (6:49 pace).  I'm pretty happy that I was able to maintain a relatively fast pace for the whole run considering all of the elevation change.

But that's not the "mountain" mentioned in the post title.  On Saturday, Stefanie and I had a chance to check out the Perfect North ski area which is located in Indiana, about 45 min from our house.  This "mountain" boasts 400 ft of vertical and 100 acres of skiable terrain.  We got a great group rate and thought it would be a good warmup for our big Colorado ski trip next month.  Skiing (technically snowboarding in my case) is maybe one of the only activities that I allow to interfere with my running.  It's just one of the few things in life that I enjoy enough to sacrifice my training occasionally.  I was going to run a bit in the morning before skiing, but it was 34 deg and raining when I woke up, so I vetoed that plan.  We skied from 10AM to 5:30PM, drove home, then I ran.  I only went 9 miles, which is pretty short for a run on the weekend, but I actually felt decent.  The legs were tired for sure, but they didn't seem to be running tired.

I thought Sunday's long run might be compromised as well because of sore and tired legs, but the ski trip seemed to have little negative effect.  I tried to start really relaxed and worked into things as I determined the legs felt fine.  I went 22.5 miles in 2:26 and I averaged just under 6 min pace the last two miles.  I am very pleased to have been able to run my long run at that pace considering the hill repeats on Friday and skiing on Saturday.  It was a very good week of running for me.

Meatheads.  I ran Tuesday's workout at a local gym because Stefanie had recently joined and had some free guest passes.  Part of her new membership included a fitness assessment with the head of the gym's personal training department.  When asked about her typical workout, Stefanie told him that she normally did 45 min to an hour of running or spinning.  The trainer then proceeded to tell her that was too much cardio and her body would start to consume her muscles for energy if she did that much aerobic work.  He then asked, "Have you ever seen the body of a marathon runner?"  She was pretty fed up with this guy by now and uncharacteristically came back with the sharp response of, "Actually, my husband is a professional ultramarathon runner."  Obviously surprised, he gathered himself and clumsily continued on explaining the finer points of a marathoner's lack of muscle mass.  "You can see all their ribs."  He of course attributed that fact to my body burning my muscle as energy.

I know it's possible for your body break down muscle protein for use as energy.  But, my understanding is that only occurs in extreme situations.  And I know my muscles are compact as a direct result of my endurance training (and genetics), but I'm fairly certain it's not because my body has used them to serve my energy requirements.  Unfortunately, I've had trouble finding much reputable research on the subject.  Namely, when does your body start to break down your muscles to use as an energy supply?  If anyone out there has the answer to this question or some links to related information, I'd appreciate you sharing.

The trainer also told her that marathoners don't live very long.  True story.

Edit Posted 2/7/11:

Here's a source that confirms what we already knew...from Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, MD:

"Protein is used as an energy source during exercise, and only under extreme conditions, such as complete starvation or prolonged exercise lasting three for more hours (especially under conditions of carbohydrate depletion), does its contribution reach even 10% of the total energy production (P.W.R. Lemon and Mullin 1980)."

"Most elite runners are genetically programmed to have a small muscle bulk, which increases little, if at all, in response to weight training programs.  This most likely reflects a reduced capacity of their muscles to respond  to the muscle-building (anabolic) properties of the male hormone, testosterone."

I think we can officially call this myth busted!  My muscles aren't consuming themselves for energy and you could still see my ribs even if I lifted all the time.


  1. Riddle, great post! Love the blog. Dude was definitely a meathead! For sure protein is the last thing to go, and like you said, it goes in extreme starvation situations (think little kids in Africa with the swollen bellies). Way before that happens, we runners (and everyone else for that matter) burn glucose (circulating and from glycogen stores) and lipids from fat stores. We're so lean because of the type of muscle fibers we have trained our bodies to use most.

    Too much cardio? That's like saying too much chocolate or too much sec such thing! Keep up the blog and the running...

    See you on the roads,
    Andrew Hodges

  2. We actually live longer, more healthier lives.

  3. Guys, check out the additional information that I added today. Pretty much confirms what we already knew.

  4. Agreed...great post.

    Check it out...

    This guy basically ran 183.4 miles/week, and (gasp!) he still has some muscle!