Confession of a runner

The primal approach, reversing engineering MAF method, addiction and endorphin cravings, adrenal fatigue, nutrition strategies, some other secrets and the comeback of the Warrior.

It's no secret that in the last year I did a good bit of experiment and bio-hacking.

Year 2017 - the metamorphosis

Standard Chartered Marathon 2017 was the starting point of my running transformation when I decided to experiment Keto and cross train (swimming+cycling) in order to heal my Achilles.

As a natural consequence, I started doing Triathlon and as another natural consequence to make it a bit more fun, I hanged at my toilet mirror the Kona sticker promising myself to get there.

The result of the year 2017, indeed first year in Tri: Three 70.3 Ironman (including a World Championship), 1 full Ironman (Kona) and a combined 5 marathons - all of these pretty much following a strict "primal if-not-even Keto approach".

In 2017, I ran a 2.31 in HK being the first HK man - I did it with a keto-approach and series of fasted training and intermitting fasting - the result was pretty much extraordinary. I kept the same routine and applied to triathlon achieving all of the above.

The routine

My training routine - it's easy:

  • I am self-trained and I do listen very much to my mood for training not to relying on HRV or forcing myself into workouts that I don't feel like doing;

  • I train rather slow at constant aerobic zone with max 1 intense workout every 2 weeks;

  • I would alternate cycling (in or out 90min to 4 hours) with a subsequent run ranging from 4Km to 10Km;

  • I kept a strict pescatarian-paleo diet for at least 2 days per week of ketogenic carb intake (sub 50gr);

This was my staple training and nutrition along the year picking up volume 2 months before Kona (where I did my first 6-hour ride followed by 15-21Km run repeating 3 times in the month prior to IM Kona).

Results, racing and preliminary pondering:

• 70.3 Worlds went well, Ironman Worlds in Kona went superbly - never a sign of bonking and managed to ran the fastest marathon time of the AG and third fastest in history of Kona;

• I was able to run 3 stand alone marathons sub 2.35 with no carb intake during the run and plant-based (200-300gr carbs consisting of yams and taro) in the 24 hours prior to race;

• In every race, I had negative splits or strong finish as if my body would start to work better in the late part of the race

• The utmost sign of physical control was deployed in the last 3km at the marathon in Kona where I averaged 3.30pace - PLEASE NOTE: I fueled the bike with primarily almond butter and chocolate, drank load of coconut milk mixed with honey and had 2 bottles of Gatorade (yes, shamefully)

• My Achilles tendinitis was pretty much gone

• My marathon time (standalone) was pretty much unaltered despite my running mileage was reduced to less than 80%

All in all, I would say it was an amazing year.

Sign of changes and the after-effects:

In the weeks prior to Kona (during my taper), I started having some peculiar signs:

  • increased belly fat

  • irritability

  • slightly inflamed Achilles and overall feeling of apathy

I thought that was a reaction to the big event which as above, I did in a very respectable way. I only then realised that these symptoms would not just ease but be increased and augmented with:

  • tiredness

  • slight depression

  • exhaustion

  • flared Achilles and hamstring

  • no mood at all for training

  • let's be honest - I was feeling like crap and even running 1km was becoming a struggle

  • the days before and following Fukuoka marathon were the hardest - my mood and body were out of control with even signs of paranoia

This whole thing lasted from October 18th-ish (less than a week after Kona and I decided to take a break) until the first of December (right after Fukuoka marathon that I ran with virtually zero running training in a very "depressed" state still managing 2h34min probably because of the fitness from the IM.

I suddenly realized one CRUCIAL POINT: I started having all these symptoms because I stopped listening to my body pushed beyond the body-mind tolerance to get to the KONA Ironman and run back to back Fukuoka Marathon (a very selecting qualification only race) and keep up with my work schedule - in essence: no more mindful training, it was me vs my busy competitive calendar with my mindful self out of the equation.

Back from Japan looked to dig a bit deeper and consulted a friend and Doctor, founder of Biorna (a Bio-Markers startup introduced by my friend Ali). Justin and Ken, now good friends, helped me to run test etc and the result was: a complicated condition at gut level (I spare the details) and spiking level of cortisol (here why my belly was bloated!).

To define my situation: ADRENAL FATIGUE! Boooooooooom!!! At least, I know what I was up against!

The most incredible sign of my disease, believe it or not, was during a local charity race (in my neighborhood) where I dragged myself to the start and I ran 10Km within 33 mins- the first couple of kilometers covered was ache and pain and progressively entering a subtle feeling of painful pleasure that left me an amazing after effect. How is it possible? Could all my symptoms disappear under extreme efforts? Well...yes, apparently the only way to feel good it's to stress your body and awaken all the endorfines and other hormones that otherwise would stay silent due to a very stressed and non-responsive adrenal glandes.

Two days after I was down again.

My combat strategy

I am a fighter and I can't just wait and see so I started with some changes, primarily with the goal:

  • stop the long aerobic training

  • stop caffeine

  • reduce alcohol intake

  • take it a bit more easy at work (hard to do but trying hard)

  • focus on HIT sessions and testosterone releasing workouts and 60-90 minutes

  • Primal moving with my friend and Osteo Aaron (you should see us doing the "crab" or "the rabbit" around the buildings of my neighbourhood)

  • yoga, mindfulness and any other good practice to stretch my body and silence my ever-talking mind

  • Vitamin D, adaptogenic plants

  • limiting the 24 hours fasting to once per week and having 3 meals per day (2 small 1 primary at night) incrementing amount of carbs of mostly veggies to 150-200gr per day

  • having a new goal: SPARTAN WORLDS!

Standard Chartered Marathon 2018 - one year later, the first Keto marathon and 2 months

Around the end of the year, I started feeling slightly better and gosh, I realised that our Hong Kong Marathon was on January 21st. Would I really let it go? Would I skip my favourite race, my home run, my trampoline to be a marathon runner, the setting of the book that my wife wrote to my kids?


So, here my protocol to run a marathon right in the middle or at the tail of adrenal fatigue:

  • run a tiny bit just to taste the feeling (5-7km per day)

  • blending in with Spartan circuits

  • weight training and few sprints

  • more animal moves with Aaron

  • more vitamin D!

  • more yoga

  • more happiness!

Standard Chartered 2018 - The race and 1 year later

Few days before the race, I started wondering if running my beloved Standard Chartered Marathon would be a good idea or not, I started thinking that people would judge me, 2017 Champion for being so slow and even with a big chance of not being able to finish the race (my average mileage is 20-30km per week versus 140km of a usual marathon). Then the day before the race, I decided to go giving myself the following (maybe a bit silly) explanations:

  • we are 6 billion people on the planet, thousands of solar systems and galaxy - who the hell would care about me

  • i will join the race and do a nice long run and have a nice dinner and wine with my friends Lawrence and Beryl

  • i will bring a participation medal to my kids

  • i will prove myself that I practice what I preach: sport should be healthy and make you feel good and not a crazy obsession (those that I have seen in Kona)

Nutrition and strategy for the race

  • I kept all the same as a normal day and added an extra dose of taro, bananas, dark chocolate and yams for dinner and breakfast

  • race nutrition strategy: none. Just water along the way


As always, the first 5-10km feeling of "why did I do this" and then progressively entering that subtle pleasure of suffering up to a climax of real suffering when my poorly trained muscles would start contracting. I tried to keep a 3.45 pace with a minor focus on my friend Lai, in my same age group who was few hundred meters in front of me.

From the 10th Km to the 35th Km, I just enjoyed my painful pleasure and I was kind of smiling and thinking of how sick I am to find my happy moments during such an excruciating activity whereas I sometimes even have trouble getting out of bed. The truth is: I was feeling awesome and I could have pushed my heart at least 20BPM higher (I was at 145) if my legs would have followed.

From 35th to 42nd Km - it was pretty painful, feet going numb, posture altering, quads contracting but still I had good feelings (not like in Fukuoka where I was close to harakiri).

Best part of the story: 200mt from the finish line (at that point Lai was basically next to me) guess who showed up? That little devil of my wife with my mom, son and daughter!

Oh legs lifted again. I did what I think was the most uncoordinated sprint, while crying like a baby, to pass my friend to honor the presence of my family. What a scene.

End of the story and aftermath:

  • I don't know if I fixed my adrenal fatigue but I did enjoy this marathon, facing it with no pressure and a new, even happier, regime

  • Yesterday, I felt so good and in such a good mood that I had virtually no pain

  • I had as planned an amazing dinner and busted wife and mom's balls (not literally) listening to Italian music till late night

  • I realised and had the ultimate evidence of the immense, scary power of endurance sport, the addiction, the beauty and the risk of it

  • Hey, I can run a 2.39marathon with no running training and doing "animals" around Discovery Bay with my buddy Aaron and Spartan training with my running fellas

  • I can still get emotional (some hormones are definitely coming back!)

  • I signed up for Wuxi marathon at the end of March. In the next Challenge, I will stop being self-coached and Roberto, my running mentor and older-brother-that-I-never-had will coach me again after 10 years.

  • I stuck the Spartan Worlds paper on my toilet mirror!

This was a pretty interesting year and I learned a lot - probably because it was the year of the rooster or probably because I understand how dangerous yet rewarding it is to challenge the assumption and shaking the status quo. One thing for sure, is that I don't want this to be an aesthetic exercise and I want it to be useful to help and support people and to bring my experience at the Kapuhala project, attracting customers' interest, to help sport people and contribute to the big feedback loop of supporting the environment, unfortunate children and anyone who has troubles.

By Stefano Passarello

CEO, P&P - always on the road between his nine offices

The Kapuhala Project Founder

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