Wednesday 20 June 2012

Lack of enzymes

Looking down on Glen Nevis from the slope of justice side of Ben Nevis.

Going for a hill run before breakfast has been a fun and not so serious way to get outside on rest days, look at new crags and burn some ‘Jabba’ as they say in Glasgow. However, in order to run on this type of fuel, one needs the right enzymes. Normally it takes a good four or five runs on jelly legs in a cold sweat to build up enough to be able to keep going without liver glycogen eventually getting raided and everything coming crashing to a halt.
But every year I forget that the body needs some time to produce the right biological tools to run without sugar. I didn’t help myself by doing writing work until 4pm either. So I had a sandwich breakfast to ‘prime the pump’ and headed for the slope directly up the side of Ben Nevis above Polldubh. It’s the highest slope in Britain, no path and steep tussocky heather and boulders all the way. So I figured going in a straight line right up it would be a fine way to cancel out a fair number of cakes.
Swimming up through the bracken of the Polldubh crags passed quickly and I go onto the monster slope above, trying to keep a good heart rate. Everything was fine until fairly high on the Ben I got that tell tale all consuming desire to sit down. I’d made another rookie mistake in timing my tunes wrong for dealing with this situation. I was listening to Bridget Kendal’s World of Ideas. Great food for the brain but not exactly listening to push you through the lactic barrier. I should have known that this kind of thing is for dancing along ridge tops, and that thrash was made for 1300 metres height gain at near max heart rate.
It’s quite amazing. Without the enzymes to turn fat into ATP, nothing happens. You can keep trying to go up, but when the glycogen tank is empty and the reserve fuel pump is not connected, legs don’t work, simple as that. And so I turned on my heel and slithered down crags and boulders into the mugginess of the Glen far below. 
Some calories burned at least, if mostly sugar. And the view and the feeling of being actually hungry for your tea is really nice too.

I also wanted to recce this route for a crazy idea I have. And I answered some questions about it! i.e it's not the way to go! As I ran and felt so unfit, while thinking about how unfit I feel on my Steall project. It became clear to me that endurance is really my nemesis. And since endurance is gone before you can say 'bouldering phase', it's a nemesis that keeps coming back.

It would be easier for sure if Scotland had more steep sustained sport routes to keep me going. But that's not really the issue. The problem is that I've had to spend so much time trying to get stronger fingers to be able to do the moves on the routes I want to do, there isn't much time left over to get fitness. For a few brief moments in my climbing career, I've been faintly stamina fit. But most of the time I grunt my way through on sheer tenacity, pumped solid all the way. 

I'm feeling the need to experience that feeling of 'le resistance' again, even if it's only for a a couple of special routes.


  1. Did you ever consider using jump rope training to tackle your Nemesis? Once you learned the technique, its one of the most efficient ways to train!

  2. Anonymous22 June, 2012

    Hi Dave,
    I'm a climber and I also run for keeping fit.
    As a diabetic, a really know what you're talking about when you say you sometimes feel out of fuel to continue running. I have it many times and I've always thought it was simply due to low blood glucose.
    But I haven't heard about those enzymes you need to "turn fat into fuel". (and I suppose that can affect me on top of my diabetes). how does that work and how can you make sure you have them when you need them? can you direct me to any papers that would help me understand this process?

    Many thanks,

    PS- I'm a great fan of your blog and book :)

  3. Hi Dave!

    Yes, second that, what *are* you talking about? Very curious.

    I'm experimenting with cutting out breakfast, morning snack, dinner and evening snack this month, after a year of 5-6 small meals per day. Goal is to reduce fat percentage by 2-3%, down to ~10%.

    Fasted mornings and fasted runs feel really good. I actually didn't really understand what I was doing until I read your Ben Nevis breakfast post, that made it click. This post is very intriguing, could you put in a bit more detail about "needing some time to produce the right biological tools", pretty please?



    PS. Expecting your book to arrive in the mail today. Cha-ching! ;)