Heath vs Fitness

About a month and a half ago, after reading The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Philip Maffetone and beginning to make a daily habit of reading Mark’s Daily Apple blog, I’ve started to focus primarily on my overall health and well-being, rather than fitness – primarily measured by running times.  Implementing many of the ideas and core principles of Dr. Maffetone’s book and Mark Sisson’s blog over the past six weeks has been an enlightening experience.

To put everything in a nutshell, basically it comes down to not running so hard by using a heart rate monitor and staying under a certain maximum threshold; eating real food and avoiding sugars and grains; getting a good night sleep; diversifying my training; moving more frequently; obtaining a moderate amount of sun exposure; hydrating well; minimizing stress; and adequately recovering.  There is a lot more to it, but in general, the focus are in these areas.  But the goal, in terms of running, is to be able to teach the body to burn fat instead of glycogen.

The philosophies laid out by Dr. Maffetone and Mark Sisson have yet to result in any improvement in my running times, but I feel a whole lot better.  My prior training plans included a lot of speed work and fast long runs, which was contributing to a lack of motivation and burnout.  Since I’ve adjusted my diet and severely cut down on my speed work, my energy throughout the day is relatively high, without the peaks and valleys that I would normally experience during the day.  I’ve been sleeping much better and seem to be much better able to handle and respond to stressful situations.  Also, my blood pressure, morning pulse, body weight, fat percentage and daily mood have never been better.

Because I am no longer hammering almost every run workout, I actually look forward to exercising and training when I wake up in the morning, whereas before, it was a drag to wake up in the morning.  The heart rate training has also resulted in less stress on the body since I let my body tell me how fast I need to be running rather than overriding this instinct to hit some arbitrary pace I set for the day.  The more holistic approach to health, I believe, will translate to better long-term fitness and just as fast, if not faster, running times.  It may have already happened, but my recent traveling and knee injury have set me back and I’ll need to build the fitness back up over the next few months.

Given how well I feel over the past several weeks, I plan to continue to focus primarily on improving my overall health and let the level of my running fitness be a secondary consideration.  It doesn’t mean I won’t continue to train hard, it just means the amount and intensity of training should not compromise my health.  Although related to some degree, I’ve come to realize that being “fit” does not mean you are healthy!

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