Running a "Sub 3" - The Minimalist Route

The only sporting goal I set myself this year.

Go under 3 hours in the London Marathon.

I have only run one marathon before and that was as part of Ironman UK - a day so full of emotion and joy that the pain of those last miles has been mooted. 

For those of you who just want to skip to the ‘how i did it part’ take a peak at my Strava profile - although this allows no reading between the lines.

Just over one year since giving birth; my priorities, my perspectives and my expectations have gone through a progressive shift as described in my previous blog. 


I knew when I fell pregnant that I would never return to racing as a professional athlete. I knew the toll it takes on the body and mind and increasingly i was yearning to return to medical practice and learn more about a functional medicine approach to health and healing. 

In pregnancy - not ‘training’ felt natural for me. Replete with pregnancy hormones designed to relax and nourish the body, I exercised daily but didn’t push myself and rested as much as I could. I had another soul to think about. 

Often training becomes an aim within itself - and we do not feel ‘normal’ without our daily fix. 

Some go even further and exercise/training becomes a form of self-harm - of distraction - of cross-addiction - preventing us dealing with whatever we would have to deal with if constrained in four white walls with no way out. 

Post partum - its just your head and your body again.. and hormones levels drop off precipitously and that desire to move, to run, to get a glimpse of your previous fitness, comes rushing back. Despite facing chronic sleep deprivation, warped food cravings, emotional shifts and the fact you now have a whole small human to love and care for. 

To start with i did as much as i could within the confines of the above. Think about how you feel after acing a race - matching or exceeding your expectations - you are already entering your next race the same night - and eager to get going with training again - often foregoing the fact you need to reflect and absorb the race you just aced. 


But then real life kicks in. I went through a round of career interviews just 2 weeks after Sophia was born whilst she was still in the ITU - as I was due to return to the NHS to finish my training to consultancy. I started working as a locum when she was 8 weeks old (2-3 days a week) and all the time working on my business baby in the background. I will forever be grateful to my mum who travelled from Devon to London most weeks and stayed overnight so i could rest. Sophia woke every few hours in the night until she was 10months old.  I feel like i aged alot in this time!

Running is simple. Put appropriate - or sometimes not so appropriate - clothing on and get out the door. One foot in front of the other. 

I entered a half marathon 5 months post partum and used it as a goal to get myself running regularly. I ignored advice to wait for the 6 week checkup from your doctor. Pelvic floor exercises and core stability were essential but I started running easy at 2 weeks post partum. My legs felt like they do in the last 10k of a marathon from the outset. But slowly it improves. And the power of running to change your mood, emotional energy and clarity of thought is immense. Studies now show that it triggers neurogenesis - the growth of new brain cells (through BDNF production)- some stick around (esp. if you nourish them with healthy fats and anti-oxidant rich foods - some don't - esp. if you don’t sleep and drink wine like its 1999)

I had no training plan.

I just ran and listened to my body - sometimes a plod. Sometimes i hit a 6 min/mile.

I averaged around 40k a week over a 6 month period.

First 1/2 mara in Richmond I ran 1.23 which is pretty much the same time as I had ran a half marathon prior to pregnancy when I was training a huge amount more - but in three disciplines.

2 months later I ran Bournemouth 1/2 marathon in 1.22 and somehow managed to win the race. 

tamsin lewis run bournemouth

The next small challenge was the Endurance Life Coastal run - 16 miles of crazy terrain along the Dorset coast line. Anyone who has completed these races will know just how brutal they can be - not just in their geometry/elevation but how commonly one faces strong opposition from howling winds and rain. It took around 2hr 20 to cover that distance but I managed to win by a fair margin - although at the time - it felt more about survival in the face of gail force winds… which i often feel are a metaphor for life. You just keep on pushing and eventually you get there.

I finished strong on this day and it gave me hope that my years of endurance training were still buried in my physiology - despite not actually doing much in the way of long sessions at all at the current time.

After this Dorset trial race there was a bit of a hiatus until next towed the line approximately 4 months later at The Bath Half Marathon. I caught yet another nursery bug in the lead into this race and was without voice and snuffly on the start line.. but it was a chance to catch up with two of my favourite people and athletes Claire and Dunc Shea Simmonds - a good incentive. 

tamsin lewis pitchatpalace

Stunning race - wonderful support and even Chrissie Wellington showed up in her first 1/2 mara post baby (3 months?). I felt pretty blah throughout the whole thing.. it just passed in a blur and i just let my legs do the running, not actually breaking 155 heart rate. I managed a couple of near 6 min miles coming to the end, so clearly I hadn’t pushed as hard as i could, so it was reassuring to see the clock at 1.21 when i crossed the line, ahead of some super speedy girls - Vicky Gill being one. Chrissie ran a 1.25 smiling as she does most the way round. I was most impressed that she prioritised breast feeding her little one just minutes before the start. 

In the early months of 2016 I had been focusing on some career networking/business development for Curoseven and studying a mix of functional medicine, endocrinology and bio-identical hormones in my evenings when Sophia had gone to sleep

I was running 3-4 times a week with 1 or two strength sessions thrown in - of which i would count climbing stairs and superman flies with Sophia as part :)

My previous coach Tom Bennett of T2 coaching always said i could run a sub 3 so that rang in my mind when out running, as did the words of my other former, and perhaps more infamous coach Brett Sutton that women didn’t need to run long regularly in order to run long well as we were naturally better at endurance. Funny how selectively biased the brain can be - esp. as 1 i didn't have the time or 2. the inclination to run high mileage.

I periodically googled “how to run a sub 3”, I even downloaded the ASICS run sub 3 plan and would give it cursory glances now and then choosing a couple of the sessions, but ignoring the fact it told you to run every day pretty much and the 15mile plus runs every Sunday. I did 3 runs over 22km in the entire 8 month lead in.

As most of you children know - the first few years after they start nursery - they pick up every bug going and largely smear it all over you when home. I use one of those nasal suction devices to remove the snot from Sophia’s nose so she can breathe better. They work but its a messy process. She only attends nursery twice a week, my long suffering mum looking after her on the other days I work.. a choice made easier by the fact that almost every week she would bring home some foul virus of sorts (i watched a program where they looked at the bugs grow from hands of children in nursery - millions of virulent organisms) .. and almost every week my immune system was being challenged again. I do as much as I can from a nutrition/supplements stance to give my immune system a chance. I follow a high healthy fat diet, with periodic carbs (predominant pm as it helps bring down night cortisol and enhance tryptophan production and hence sleep) and lots of veggies. I largely avoid gluten, but do have a small amount of full fat dairy as tolerate it well and good source of calcium. When asked why i avoid gluten - i do not have coeliac disease, although have tested positive for blood antibodies to Gluten in 2010 - I only found out about this retrospectively when requesting my historical blood tests from my NHS GP - it was not mentioned to me. They reverted to normal when i worked on my stress and gut function/diet as my knowledge working through curoseven evolved. Who knew Sultana Bran with skimmed milk wasn't a healthy breakfast ;)

Go to supps when affected by a bug are :

but stress is a potent immune-suppressant and if you’re not sleeping well - working or multi-tasking like a mo-fo it will take its toll. HRV Monitoring through an app like HRV4TRaining can help manage this and if you heed its warnings - adapt your exercise accordingly. 

I often question now when athletes comment on their 'fitness' being lacking. Often this is based on perceived effort for a given pace/wattage. However if you are deficient in X nutrient or running too high or too low on cortisol or testosterone or other hormones are out of whack then perceived will feel infintely higher. Additional if life stress is high and then you stress yourself further by a high intensity session - reprimanding yourself when you dont hit your numbers - it becomes a recipe for poor health long term. A bit more on this here.


In the month leading into London did two of my biggest ever running weeks 70/80km. I know for runners out there this does not sound like much - but it was all quality and a lot of race pace and above race pace work. Race pace started to feel super comfortable. But the only long run i did of 30k 3 weeks out - reminded me of what happened at Ironman UK in 2014. Around the 15mile mark something starts to ache - whether the hip, the toe or just generally legs slow down - despite CV system feeling ok and not feeling low on fuel. This I have come to realise is just what happens when you are not used to running big miles. I have the endurance from years of triathlon, but not the mileage in the legs. I have however, remained injury free for the first time in years despite running consistently for a year. I put this down to the addition of some strength work - adding a heel wedge to my left shoe which has helped a chronic RIGHT high hamstring tendinopathy - and eating a higher fat, more nutrient dense diet.. and generally training less!

tamsin marathon training

London Marathon - The Race will be published as next blog shortly!



Thai Adventure - Part 1.

This is my 3rd year returning to Laguna Phuket in the South of Thailand, and each year the trip unveils new and exciting experiences.

Thailand is one of my favorite places in the world. The oppressive yet relaxing humidity, the warmth of the locals, the cacophony of food flavours..

My triathlon 'career' started here in 2010 when Brett Sutton invited me to trial for TeamTBB - I wrote a little blog about this here - (re-reading it causes me much amusement!)

Thanyapura triathlon phuket

Racing in early December when you've been racing since March, is a little ambitious, but on discussion with my coach Tom Bennett, I knew I couldn't miss out on the first year that the Laguna Phuket Triathlon became the Challenge Laguna Phuket Tri-Fest

I arrived in Thailand 2.5kg over race weight (its cold in the UK this time of year and I always put on a bit of fat insulation in the winter ;) and far from the cardiovascular shape that i had earlier in the season. I have been focusing on setting up my new business CuroSeven as well as working a few locum shifts to pay the bills. Training was quality but half my 'normal' training volume. I was unsure how I would fair in the races, but i had faith in Tom that I would be 'just fine' come race day. The bonus was - I arrived 8 days before the first race so time for some acclimation. Plus having raced in these conditions (Heat: 33C & 90-98% humidity) before, the body remembers and re-acclimation is improved. 

The organisation is superb for this event (Thanks Roman Flosser!) and as the event is sponsored by Laguna Phuket  holiday resort, some of the returning Pro's are treated to 5 star luxury hotels.

Its the reason Multiple World Champ Melissa Hauschildt returns year on year too, and being an Aussie its a quick hop over the ocean. Unlike many other top Pro's who race this event year in year out, Mel is always in good shape. (Has she ever even had a bad race?) Ironman World Champ Pete Jacobs toed the start line this year, along with a very out of shape Macca (I actually thought I might chick him ;).

I started my stay in Thanyapura which is an incredible facility about 20 minutes from the race location. I have stayed here each year and seen its growth and development over this time. I was very excited to hear that Chris McCormack was appointed CEO in recent days which will serve to develop the facility and its use as an international training ground over the coming months/years. Macca is also keen to set up an International Professional Racing Team - watch this space! Former Pro Triathlete Jurgen Zack famous for his uber strong biking has been based out in Thanyapura for years and is credited for the growth of the triathlon scene in Asia. 

As a team doc to the MaccaX Triathlon Community I work closely with Chris and am passionate about the growth of the triathlon community. Macca's influence on the growth of the sport of triathlon internationally is remarkable. Personality he is. 

kids triathlon practice transition

In week 1 I helped out with Ben Greenfield's camp which was based at Thanyapura. 
I have known Ben for a while, and I admit, initially I was a little skeptical of his 'credentials' and marketing hype. However after talking to him in person and listening to his podcasts, it became obvious that he is extremely well read/educated and a complete perfectionist in many aspects of his life. For someone in his early 30's, he is incredibly successful and 'self-made' - heading up a number of his own businesses, whilst competing as a top-level amateur triathlete (Kona x 4) and home-schooling his two adorable twins. Worth listening to a podcast with him interviewed by Rich Roll . Ben has a religious following and some of this 'biohacking' tips and tricks are addictive!

The camp was superb - busy - with a big focus on technical skills and interactive talks. 

See some of the pics from the camp here.

Thanyapura also offers physiological and blood testing so I was able to use my CuroSeven skills and put some of the camp attendees through testing. Many were surprised at their results. Ben himself regularly gets tested and blogs about his blood test reports and what you can learn from them.  See here. - as WellnessFX is only available in the US, we set up a similar (albeit much more niche service) in the UK so that anyone interested in taking a proactive stance on their health can benefit.



Tamsin Lewis Felt Bicycle Triathlon

In the week leading into race 1 - LPT 1.8k swim/55k hilly bike/12k run - I got hit with some form of GI (gastro-intestinal) bug. I could barely eat anything without feeling or being sick and I had to make sure i was never far from a toilet. The Thursday before the race, I stayed in a dark room, sipped coconut water (osmolarity very similar to human blood plasma, hence highly functionally hydrating)... and prayed it would pass. At this point i was one of the only ones who was unwell, but by this time next week, there were nearly 50 people who reported varying symptoms. Two people were hospitalised with severe dehydration and intractable vomiting. 

It is difficult to know what caused this high rate of illness. It was not 'food poisoning' as many thought, in my opinion as onset of symptoms were delayed and people were affected in different hotels, eating different meals. 

Turns out that heavy rainfall/flooding - as often happens in Thailand this time of year - and certainly did this year - facilitates water borne and vector borne infectious illnesses. So even small amounts of water ingested can cause gastro-intestinal (gut) infection as the water - sea and laguna/lake water - can be highly contaminated.

Ben Greenfield became very unwell and has vowed to be more prepared next time. He writes about his experiences here - "Poop-Emergency"

Laguna Phuket Triathlon Tamsin Lewis View

Add this to the fact that many athletes have weakened immune systems, especially when training hard AND the heat which increases the 'leakiness' of the gut - allowing more toxins/nasties that would otherwise be contained within the bowel into the blood stream and causing illness.  Read more about 'leaky gut' here. and through Ben's podcast here.

See this article  for a longitudinal study on incidence of infections as related to heavy rainfall in Taiwan.

AND a recent study highly relevant to triathletes! - Gastrointestinal Illness among Triathletes Swimming in Non-Polluted versus Polluted Seawater Affected by Heavy Rainfall, Denmark, 2010-2011




Lessons of this story are:

* Keep your mouth shut as much as possible.

* Carry antibacterial hand wash or wipes with you everywhere.

* Keep your hands out of your mouth

* Reduce your gut 'leakiness' by taking glutamine high dose and colostrum, e.g Neovite, prior to travel and continue at this increased dose whilst in high risk areas and in the heat. 

* Probiotics - a quality multi-strain probiotic can work wonders for reducing risk of infection and also improving many other aspects of your health.

(If you are prescribed antibiotics - and yes sometimes they most definitely are warranted - here's how to limit the damage.  - written by someone who got very very unwell during this trip!)

Well thats a wrap for Part 1 .....

                                                       Stay Tuned for Part 2 and 3!

Enforced coconut drinking! Its good for you Rasmus Petraeus. (eventual winner of Race 2)

Enforced coconut drinking! Its good for you Rasmus Petraeus. (eventual winner of Race 2)