For the last 6 weeks I have been doing a bootcamp with Sledge Athletics.
So what is a bootcamp and how can it help a runner?
First some history.
Both my wife, Trisha and my friend Ronda had done the bootcamp with Mark at Sledge Athletics.
Both became what I call "leaner and meaner": increased lean muscle body composition, decreased body fat composition, increased muscle tone and
increased muscle strength. All of these were improvements that I could see had impact on their ability to push and stress their bodies beyond their previous limits during "tests" such as 10 kms, half marathons and ultra marathons. PRs dropped like flies. Without trying too hard Trisha removed 6 minutes from her half marathon best last weekend.
I was convinced this stuff worked so I was really eager to incorporate the training in my next attempt to get under 3 hours for the marathon. I had targeted Surf City as my next attempt after the California International marathon (where I ran a 3:13 with GI issues). Starting the bootcamp 1 week after the marathon ensured I could get in most of the 6 week program before February 1st and Surf City. My amazing wife gave me the bootcamp as an early Christmas present and I was all in.
Mark gave me a fueling plan that at first I was skeptical of how it would work for me. I LOVE to eat and I LOVE to eat A LOT.
A little bragging but I think there are few people who can out eat me :-)
So putting me on a regimented, some would say "strict", fueling plan seemed initially unnatural to me.
I was wrong.
First the unwritten "commandments" of the fueling plan:
no diary (did I mention I LOVE cheese)
no wheat (I added this one myself to reduce/eliminate GI issues when running
no processed food
Like the ten commandments from the Bible, the point is not the listing what you cannot do. It is all about giving you the freedom to choose a lifestyle or diet that will be the most beneficial to you as a person or athelete and allow your training to have the greatest impact on your body.
I have easily adapted to a diet where I consume ~2200 calories a day.
I have been really happy living on 6 meals a day: breakfast, 10 am , noon, 3pm, 6pm, 8pm.
Each meal is ~350 calories with the correct balance of carbs, fat and protein as determined by Mark.
Lean turkey burgers and sausage, salmon, cod, tuna, flank steak, eggs and egg beaters have been providing my "meat".
Yams, Sweet Potatoes and oatmeal have provided the bulk of my carbs.
Peanut butter, peanuts, olive oil the additional fat.
Spinach and broccoli have been my "greens".
Blueberries and bananas are additional treats.
Multivitamins and calcium have supplimented the whole regime.
I look forward to each meal and have become quite the spice master to liven things up. Just because food is fuel does not mean it cannot taste good as well! Almost all of the stuff I bought I could get at good prices in bulk at Costco.
I would prepare enmass on the weekends and bring in LOTS of tupperware containers to the office to parcel out during the week. Pretty quickly I knew how much of this or that equalled the specified amount for the meal. And it became pretty easy to substitute on the fly with a special dinner such as sushi or dim sum.
Unlike Trisha, Ronda and others I have talked to who have worked with Mark, I have had zero issues on consuming all the meals. But on the other hand I have never been "starving". I will say that if I miss a meal or slip the schedule by anything over about 20 minutes, I do crash fast with a lack of energy/calories. But I have always had a tendancy to this even when I was on my old fueling of about 3000 calories per day.
I still use gels etc. during races but in self-supported longer runs I have turkey sliders (lean turkey wrapped around olives or avocado) and sweet potatoes/yams included in my fueling strategy.
On Mark's fueling plan and the workouts, after the first 4 weeks I dropped about 7 pounds while maintaining my lean muscle mass. Body fat from 8.5 to 7.4%. Mark does 2 week checkpoints to access how things are going and make any necessary adjustments based on your progress.
I did not start the bootcamp to lose weight...though I do strongly believe this can only improve your running if you are not sacrificing muscle mass.
My real goal was to improve my core strength and flexibility. I really feel this is a key to strong running.
Mark's program is great in that the majority of the exercises can be done at pretty much any
location with just your body weight or a small set of free weights.
So why would you pay to do a bootcamp then?
I can not tell you how much harder I have pushed with a coach there calling out the duration or reps. By myself I would do one or two reps after it became uncomfortable.
With Mark, half the reps are after you have forgotten the pain and you are just focused on the next breath to complete the motion. Pain is a feeling Mark likes to say...it will pass :-)
Note this is not injury pain but rather the pain your body experiences when it is breaking through its previous fatigue limitations. I lean towards the theory that fatigue is something your brain injects to proactively prevent overdoing it. How else can you explain the finish line sprints of athletes who half a mile previously were "completely" fatigued?
Then there is the accountability of showing up for 1 hour, 3 times a week for 6 weeks. This is beyond what I can or would do myself. Having friends there pushing themselves to new levels is inspiring as well.
There is also the addtional benefit of ensuring you are doing each exercise with the correct form. Let's just say I have real trouble not arching my back :-)
In terms of making me stronger athletically I think my $350 investment in bootcamp is the best
I have ever spent.
Mark partners with his girlfriend Gretchen to include yoga/pilates/stretching into the program as well. For the last 3 sessions I have been working mostly on improving the flexibility of my body. A slight increase in range in motion within a critical running component such as the hamstring or IT band can have great impact on a race of any distance but especially those half marathon or longer.
So consider throwing a bootcamp into your training calendar to push your body to cool new levels of fitness or leading up to a race. I plan to do 2 more 6 week programs throughout 2009 to peak at the appropriate times throughout the season. I feel "peaked" at the moment and I am excited/scared of the possibilities on Sunday.
And, isn't it about time that runners stop being known for their scrawny arms and tight hamstrings ;-)