Distance Running: How to Prepare for and Run 50 miles (with relative ease)
HOW TO RUN 50 MILES (RELATIVELY) EASILY!
Co-founder Jeff is here to give an inspiring insight into what it took for him to finish 11th out of 100 contenders in his first ever 50-mile race! And no, that’s not a typo – we said 50 miles! A keen runner – but no superhuman – Jeff is passionate about the power of a healthy lifestyle to achieve the full potential of the human body’s amazing endurance capabilities. Read on to discover how Jeff was able to adapt his diet and movement to optimise his health and achieve this amazing accomplishment!
Jeff shares co-founder Amy’s passion for the great outdoors and enjoys nothing more than an afternoon walk or cross-country run. He personally saw a huge change in his overall wellbeing when he adopted the principles of eating Real Food, Sleeping Well, Moving His Body More and Switching Off From Social Media. The physical and psychological benefits as a result of an improved lifestyle have allowed him to push the boundaries of his own fitness and undertake ambitious challenges way beyond his former preconceived comfort zone and limit!
The Run Up to the Race
Jeff has been a keen runner since 2012 but had to take a hiatus from performance-oriented running to direct his focus into starting Hunter and Gather. Juggling endurance sport and the start of a real food revolution turned out to be a mammoth challenge in itself!
Determined to continue his running repertoire, Jeff began to explore lower intensity exercise. He turned his attention to walking and running for longer periods of time – not for speed or distance but instead for solitude and mental clarity.
Discovering another element of running, Jeff pursued longer duration events that were lower in intensity and external demand but required great mental fortitude. He soon fell in love with the focus and sense of control that could be gained from moving for longer periods of time over greater distances.
A patron of the Paleo/Ancestral lifestyle, he recognised that travelling in such a way was not too dissimilar to what our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have done; our bodies are designed to traverse long distances due to our upright position, strong glutes and ability to sweat very efficiently. Keeping faith in the concept that humans are Born to Run(Jeff credits these evolutionary adaptations for being able to find the 50 mile race “pretty darn easy!” This sounds absurd and somewhat ignorant at first, but there’s good reason why he believes this is so. Let’s explore…
5 Reasons Why Jeff Found the 50 Mile Race (Relatively) Easy
“With all due respect, I am not under any illusions and consider myself a very mediocre runner at best and will never be a world beater (or even county level). But it isn’t about comparing yourself to others. It’s about what is within you, a journey of purpose and developing what is between your ears (your mindset of course)”
Just for the record, Jeff does not consider himself the natural athlete whatsoever. He developed severe asthma as an 18-month-old which plagued his early years through to his late teens. It led to several visits to the doctors and hospital with several asthma pumps and rounds of antibiotics over the years. This inhibited any innate athletic ability that may have existed and since his early 20’s, he has been working hard to develop his aerobic efficiency (more on this below).
Enabling and adapting your biology to be the best it can be (otherwise known as biohacking) can deliver next-level results when it comes to training and overall wellness. Self-awareness and informed adaptations to nutrition, exercise methodology and mindfulness all helped Jeff to become the best version of himself and smash his running goals out the park.
As they say, genes loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger!
Here are just some aspects of Jeff’s lifestyle he holds accountable for his increased wellness, fitness and endurance capacity.
1. Adapting Aerobic Efficiency
Ever the one to challenge convention and experiment, it was only when Jeff started reading this book that his understanding of training slower to race faster blossomed. It became apparent that the vast majority of new runners have it all wrong when they begin training, and that the idea of high intensity training as a necessity for increased endurance is simply flawed and incorrect!Following a childhood of being poorly and suffering with severe asthma, Jeff’s running journey began as a sort of trial and error exercise – not knowing how limited he would be by his poor chest health. He began training – but nothing too serious – in 2012. It was becoming apparent that most fledging runners followed a mantra of “no pain, no gain” and adopted a perception that all elite athletes must train to a high intensity to be successful.
Using this knowledge, Jeff set out on a mission to revolutionise his training regime. He switched his focus from intensity and performance to maximising his own aerobic efficiency. For over 4 years now this has been a priority for Jeff, following a prescribed running regime aimed at maximising aerobic function. Using this tailored method allows Jeff to increase his capacity to go further for longer – using the power of the body itself rather than powders, potions and sports supplements!
He is also a huge proponent of the 5 Lydiard principles having completed the Lydiard Level 1 and 2 course in running coaching which focusses on developing Aerobic efficiency as the foundation to enable faster paces to follow - without overtraining and becoming injured!
2. Sleep is Your Superpower
Ditching all things processed and focusing on a diet of Real Food – free from grains, sugars and harmful oils – Jeff used to think that the way he ate made him bulletproof (no pun intended!) However, with research and self-education it became apparent that no eating strategy is the panacea for the world’s issues! For beginners and veterans alike, the be all and end all of fitness is often encompassed within the realms of what we eat (our diet) and how we move (exercise). But for Jeff, recognising the significant benefits that sleep brought to the party turned this fitness duo into a Holy Trinity that elevated progression to unimaginable levels!
Jeff was fortunate enough to get his hands on an Oura Ring back in November 2018 – a sophisticated ring-sized sleep and movement tracker designed to improve sleep quality through feedback and accountability. Having learned that we sleep on average 26 years of our lives, it became apparent to Jeff that sleep is an extremely important aspect of our lifestyles. He began to realise that being chronically under-slept would dramatically negatively impact many aspects of physical and psychological functions including his aerobic performance (it is thought that if you’re getting 6 hours of sleep or less, your time to physical exhaustion drops by up to 30 minutes!). Using the Oura ring to track his own sleep cycles has been invaluable in staying well rested, recovering post-exercise and knowing when enough is enough!
To this day Jeff remains fascinated by all things sleep and is constantly researching and revising his own sleep patterns to optimise his overall wellbeing. Informed by the pioneering works of Matthew Walker (and enlightening Podcasts from other experts), sleep is no longer a necessity but a priority for Jeff!
3. Being Fat Adapted
By switching from a relatively 'high-carb/conventional' eating strategy to a Real Food lifestyle Jeff has essentially enabled his body to mobilise and utilise fat for fuel at both low and higher intensity of activity meaning his finite fuel source of glycogen is preserved for as long as possible and the (nearly) infinite fuel source of stored fat is mobilised as utilised as fuel. You can read some more in-depth stuff on things like respiratory quotient and how to influence and optimise fat burning here.
Influenced by Keto and Paleo movements (keto for many months and even years at a time to initiate a reset in metabolism), Jeff has switched out sugar, grains and harmful fats for a diet rich in healthy fats, quality protein and nutritious fruit and veggies.
Following a diet consistently rich in healthy fats and lower in carbs means Jeff can now endogenously (internally) fuel himself with his own body stores of fat, rather than needing an endless stream of exogenous (external) fuel sources. The holy grail is a high amount of fat oxidation at a reasonably low intensity of activity – meaning you do not need a constant stream of gels and sports drinks which contrary to conventional (industry) belief!
In practice, becoming fat adapted saw a switch from eating every 2-3 hours (including 5 x Weetabix laced with sugar and banana each morning!) to now often going 18 hours plus without even thinking about food. This is something which Jeff attributes a surreal level of mental clarity and cognition to; something which he says Hunter & Gather would not exist without – “My mental acuity would have been far too low to even comprehend creating something!”
To this day Jeff follows a Real Food lifestyle, based on a template of Cyclical Keto and Paleo principles – as well as periods of intermittent fasting (with a more flexible approach that involves long periods of no food followed by conscious eating of nutrient dense foods). He believes that this has allowed him to efficiently utilise fuel as and when it is needed, relying on the body’s own amazing mechanisms of energy provision – namely through the mechanism of ketosis and gluconeogenesis. By optimising the body’s natural selection process of fuel substrates, Jeff believes you remove the need for artificial and often very sugary and inflammatory fuel sources that often disrupt our gut health and microbiome.
He has also learned to dial into the feedback from his body, allowing him to know when he needs nutrition, hydration and rest.
4. Moving Slowly and Often (And Sometimes Fast!)
Moving more is at the epicentre of Jeff’s running journey and something he is incredibly passionate about. Simply put, we are not designed to sit down all day and lead the sedentary lifestyles that society is currently geared towards. Experts believe that our ancestors would have covered vastly longer distances than we do - anywhere in the region of 14 miles per day, with modern day tribes walking around 7 miles per day - vastly lower than what we do (duvet day(s) sound familiar?!)
Jeff’s ancestral approach to health and wellbeing takes a pragmatic approach to movement. He believes that just as we are not designed to be sitting down all day, we equally aren’t going to thrive by smashing out a gruelling 60-minute gym session at 9pm or 6am the following morning! He realised that moving slowly and more often is often just as effective as moving fast and so began to practice the art of ‘movement snacks’ or ‘incidental movement’ – terms coined by luminary, movement thought leader, TEDx speaker and good friend Darryl Edwards.
Breaking up periods of sitting and standing ensures Jeff’s mind stays fresh and that his body has a good range of movement. Not to mention these exercises are more practical, functional, useful and far more accessible to the vast majority of us who do not wish to pay substantial sums for a gym membership!
Jeff is also a huge fan of the Primal Play method which utilises play theory, stimulates social interaction and leads to your workout becoming a playout with fun and enjoyment at it’s core!
“I often stand at my stand-up desk, deep squat for 20 minutes at a time, stand on one leg, crawl and all sorts. My motto is the best position to be in is the next position - keep moving!”
5. Letting Feet Be Feet; Mother Nature’s Running Springs!
Just as Jeff believes the human body is the best tool for fuelling a run, he also believes that it is the best equipment for running the run…That’s why he wears minimalist shoes ALL of the time, for a running experience that’s as close to barefoot as possible! Allowing his own foot structure to remain robust and naturally respond to feedback from the ground is an amazing adaptation that literally puts a spring in his step!
As with every aspect of his run (and life) training, Jeff has informed his decisions with some expertly curated principles for barefoot running.
The Run Down
With a questioning mindset, a desire to learn, planning, preparation and by following a health-optimising Real Food lifestyle we can all achieve far beyond what we currently think is possible.We hope that this insight into Jeff’s accomplishment has inspired you to revisit your own boundaries and explore and question your currently held paradigms and beliefs and move beyond your comfort zone…
Remember, like many things in life, finishing a race of this extremity involves a great deal of trial, error, learning and adapting (arguably homo sapiens greatest asset).
It’s for that reason that we think Jeff isn’t superhuman at all, but in fact just a straight up super human!
Race: The OX 50 mile– A 50 mile, multi-terrain race through the Rushmore Estate – completed by running 8 x laps of the course and entailing greater than 7000ft of elevation gain.
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