I get a lot of questions over in the Running Lean Community Facebook Group about fat-adaptation. What does it really mean to be a fat-adapted runner? How do I go about becoming …
My name is Patrick McGilvray. And I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve learned that running more and eating less does not work for weight loss, and that there’s a better way. Now I help runners like you to get leaner and get stronger, so you can run faster and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 54 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, the weight loss coach for runners. And today I’m going to be talking about the benefits of becoming a fat-adapted runner. So I get a lot of questions about this over in the Running Lean community Facebook group. What does it mean to become fat-adapted? How do I go about becoming fat-adapted? What are the benefits of being fat-adapted? How do I know if I’m fat-adapted?
Lots and lots of questions like that. And they’re all great questions. So today on the podcast, what I want to do is take a deep dive into this topic of becoming fat adapted. So I’m going to answer all those questions and more. My goal here is that by the end of this episode, you have a solid understanding of what it means to become fat adapted. Why is it such a powerful tool to help you improve, not just your running, but to help you improve your overall health and fitness? So that is all coming up momentarily.
But first, I wanted to mention that the Running Lean monthly coaching group is now open for enrollment. This is my monthly coaching program, where you get access to all of my online courses, including my flagship program called the weight loss training course for runners. And these programs will show you exactly what you need to do so that you can transform yourself into that fat-adapted running machine.
You also get live group coaching calls with me and your fellow runners, where you’re going to get the encouragement, support, and the accountability of the group so that you can stay on track and hit all your goals for 2021. I mean, the accountability factor alone is completely worth it. And in January, we’re doing this Powerful Goal Setting workshop called achieving the impossible, where we’re going to set impossible or seemingly impossible goals for ourselves.
And then I’m going to go about showing you exactly how to make those things happen. I want you to make 2021 your year of transformation, I want you to make this the year that you become that lean, fat-adapted running machine. Just go to runningleanpodcast.com/join to learn more and enroll now. But you’re going to have to act quickly. Because enrollment closes Sunday, January 10, at 1159 pm, go to runningleanpodcast.com/join.
Also, if you’re not already part of the Running Lean community on Facebook, come and join us over there. Right now we’re doing the January journal challenge. So here’s the challenge to get you to start journaling every day. But really, it’s about thinking differently about yourself. People are discovering things about themselves that they never really thought about before.
Journaling is a great way to clear your mind of all the head trash to help you stay focused and move towards your goals. To create awareness of your thoughts and feelings. It is so important, especially during these very challenging times. So join us over the in the Facebook group and get your journaling on. Remember, we are all in this together. Cool.
All right, so let’s get into this topic, the benefits of becoming a fat-adapted runner. So first of all, what does it mean to be fat-adapted? I think there’s a lot of confusion about this. And so here’s what it means to be fat adapted. When you are fat-adapted. You have trained your body to be very efficient at using your stored body fat as a source of fuel. You’ve become adapted to using your body fat as your primary fuel source.
Okay, that’s all that this means. Right? It doesn’t have to get much more complicated than that. We have all this stored body fat for a reason, right? We have all of us have even the leanest of us have stored body fat. It’s there for a reason, but we never really access it. We never really use it so we just keep storing more and more and more.
The reason we have stored body fat is so we can use it for fuel later. And this is like from an evolutionary standpoint. You know, this helped us to get through long winters when sources of food are a little scarcer. You know, when we were going through long periods where maybe we couldn’t get, you know, sources of plant-based sources like carbohydrates and things like that were no longer really available for us.
Or even as hunters, you know, we most likely weren’t eating three square meals a day, you know, we may have gone out on these long hunts for days at a time. And that stored body fat would have been a great source of fuel to keep us going strong on these long hunts and stuff. Okay.
So we’re actually made to use our own stored body fat for fuel, we just don’t do it very well. And so really, this isn’t a crazy concept I’m I’m proposing here become fat-adapted, what I’m saying is, let’s go back to being an efficient fat burner. Like the way we’re designed like we used to be, we’ve just gotten so far away from that. And really, because of the massive changes in our diet, because of the, you know, sugar-laden foods that we eat was just keep packing more fat on us, because of the highly palatable foods, we eat all the processed foods that we eat, stuff like that. Okay.
So what does it mean to be fat-adapted? It just means you’re good at using your own stored body fat as a source of fuel. And so why would we want to do this? Like, why is fat, a good source of fuel? Or why is it a better source of fuel than some other fuel like sugar, glycogen, whatever you want to call it. So here’s the thing, our body can really only use one type of fuel at a time.
Most of the time, our body is using some form of stored carbohydrate, so carbohydrate gets converted into glucose. And some of that glucose can be freely available to us, some of that glucose gets stored in our muscles as glycogen. And we can use that as a primary fuel source our bodies and our brains are good at using this if it’s available, okay.
And, you know, if you’re a runner, and you’ve been doing the high carbohydrate thing, and you take all these gels while you’re running, that, they give you a little burst of energy, right, it’s very accessible you eat the carb-laden gel, and you have a little burst of energy because you have that glucose in your system. And you have all this stored glycogen, okay, so that’s kind of what happens when we are using sugar as our primary fuel source. Okay.
You can, you can kind of get to your fat stores after a while, but you have to burn through all of that glucose and glycogen first, so your body has to use up all the primary sources of fuel to get to the fat stores. And the problem with this is most people just never get to that point right there. Just, you know, if you’ve ever run a marathon or some long-distance event, and you’ve hit the wall, you kind of know what I’m talking about here.
So you’ve kind of burned through all your available energy. And then your body is just like boom shuts down because it doesn’t have any other source of fuel it does, it has fat that it can use for fuel, but you’ve just not trained yourself to use it. Okay? But here’s the thing, the more carbohydrate sources of fuel are available, the more your body will just burn that. And at the same time, what it does is it shuts down access to your fat stores.
Right, so we want to train our bodies to get better at accessing the fat stores and using that fat for fuel. Why? Well, one of the reasons is that fat actually gives you more energy than sugar does. Fat gives you nine calories of energy per gram. carbs and protein each only give you four calories of energy per gram. So you actually get like more than twice the amount of energy from fat than you do from you know, sugar-based sources of fuel. Okay, so that is one of the main reasons why it’s so important to become fat-adapted because it actually gives you more energy.
Another thing reason why fat is kind of a better source of fuel. or is that, you know, you have this like unlimited supply of fat on your body. At any given time, even the leanest of us have an enormous amount of stored body fat, you know, we have it all around our bodies, you know, and this is the way we’re designed as humans, we all have fat, and it’s okay. But you probably have like 40 to 100,000 calories of energy or fat stored in your body at any given time. Whereas you can only store about 1500 to 2000 calories of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen in your body.
So when it comes to sugar as your primary source of fuel, you can store maybe 2000 calories. So this would be enough fuel for, you know, a few hours, maybe, you know, four to six hours of running or something like that. But really what if you’re talking about your own body fat, even the leanest runners would have days and days worth of fuel onboard. Okay, so those are some of the reasons why we want to become better at burning fat because we get more energy from it, we have this unlimited supply, why not just use what we have? We’re carrying around our own fuel, why not use it?
So what does it mean to become fat-adapted? Like, what does this get you what are the benefits as a runner of becoming fat adapted. So as you can gather by what I just said, you have more energy, you know, so you have this better source of energy, fat will give you actually more energy than sugar will. And so you actually have more energies up feels amazing, you know.
Another benefit is that you don’t feel hungry all the time. Because your body is no longer, you know, your blood sugar isn’t spiking and dropping. Because you’re not eating all the high carbohydrate, high sugar foods, you’re going to feel less hungry, you’re going to feel more satisfied when you eat, and you’re going to feel more full for longer.
And just because your body has this constant source of fuel in the form of fat, you’re just not going to feel as hungry. This is one of the things that my clients talk about all the time is how they’re like, I just don’t feel hungry. Is that okay? Is that a problem? I’m like, No, it’s not a problem. It’s such a great feeling to not be like starving all the time.
You know, so you don’t need to eat every couple of hours. Like when you’re eating a diet high in carbohydrates, you have to eat every few hours, or else your blood sugar drops and you just feel like you’re gonna die. You’re like I gotta eat something right now. Whereas you could go 810 1216 18 hours without eating anything.
If you’re fat-adapted, because your hormones are all balanced, your satiety, hormones, your hunger hormones are all working the way they’re supposed to. And you just don’t have to eat all the time, and it feels amazing. Another benefit is that you don’t need to bring fuel on long runs with you, right, you don’t have to keep sucking down goos every 30 to 45 minutes on your long runs. Because you have the fuel you need with you.
Now you still need to drink water, you need to take electrolytes. Taking electrolytes is very important. You know you don’t want to get your electrolyte balance out of whack, for sure. But you don’t need all the gurus and stuff to run. You really just don’t. You know, I use this example a lot of Mike McKnight he’s a guy who is an ultra runner. He kind of specializes it like the 200-mile distance that’s his kind of go-to distance.
And I think it was last year he did 100 miles on zero calories and he did it just to you know, show that it’s possible. And I’ve done this I did recently 50k on zero calories. I did a marathon on zero calories. I’m using my own body fat for fuel. I didn’t have to bring any fuel with me. Feels pretty amazing honestly.
Another benefit of becoming fat adapted is that you don’t have this gi distress a lot of people get a lot of GI distress when they are ingesting all the super-concentrated carbohydrates during runs. That stuff can really mess with your gut and causes a lot of people to bonk you because they’re like puking on the side of the road or have to hit the portal a bunch of times, but like it causes a lot of people to like not to reach their goals.
So GI distress is a real problem. When you’re not ingesting all the carbs during your run, it’s really not, you don’t have to worry about that. You just don’t have that at all. And I would get a lot of Gi problems when I was doing a lot of the sugary gels and stuff like that during Ultras during marathons, and I remember doing my 100 miler, and I got to a point in there, where I just couldn’t eat anything. I mean, I was eating so much of the sugary carby things that I got to a point where I was just like, my stomach was really hurting.
And this went on for a long time. I think it started hurting around mile like 60 or something like that. And so we’re talking like, running for like 40 miles with real bad stomach pains. Like that’s no fun. That is no fun. All right, I mentioned, you know, you have this limitless supply of fuel onboard. So one of the big benefits is that you kind of become bonk proof, you know, you can kind of go forever.
And this is like one of the most amazing things that I can’t even believe this works. But it does. You know, like I talked about Mike McKnight he ran 100 miles and didn’t need any calories at all. You know, I did this with my 50k recently, you know, I don’t need any calories at all. And you basically don’t have to worry about bonking. Because you’re you’ve got all the fuel that you need onboard.
Recently, there was a couple Meredith Loring and Sammy Innokin. And they were a couple who are into like distance rowing. And they rode from California to Hawaii. And they broke the world record for how long it took them to do this. And they did it in 45 days. So they weren’t just like taking their time they were pushing it, they were going at it hard, right? They did it on zero sugar, and zero carbs, they follow a low carb, high fat kind of diet.
And they were able to do that and break this world record without having to rely on any other sources of sugary carbs. So they were using fat as fuel for this, this is just amazing. I think another benefit of becoming a fat-adapted runner is that you get this improved body composition. Now body composition is one of those things that we all want to write is like one of the main reasons why a lot of people want to lose weight, you know, they want to build muscle and get rid of the fat. I think we all want that, you know.
So when you’re fat-adapted, it helps you to preserve lean muscle mass. So you can you know, build new muscle and keep the muscle that you have, which helps you to increase your power to weight ratio. And as a runner, this makes you a more powerful runner. Okay, so that would be another benefit, right? So you get the improved body composition. But you also improve your power to weight ratio, which makes you a stronger, faster runner.
Another benefit is decreasing the accumulation of lactate in your muscle. So you can actually train harder for longer, you know, lactate builds up, and it, you know, really shuts down the whole function of your muscle and you the longer you can prolong that, you know, the longer you can stave that off, the harder you can train, the longer you can go. And when you’re fat-adapted, it actually slows down that process which is awesome.
Obviously, you got improved prolonged endurance performance. And then here’s the other thing is just running becomes more enjoyable. If you’re a long-distance runner and running is hard for you. It will become easier, it will become more fun, more enjoyable. So those are a bunch of benefits of becoming a fat-adapted runner. Oh, and there’s another one that I really haven’t talked about yet. And that is that there’s this cool side benefit this cool side thing that happens when you become an efficient fat burner. You lose weight.
You know I think we’d all agree that if you want to lose weight, you have to burn fat I think we all know that right you want to burn the fat. But most of us, what we do is we just store fat. We’re just always storing the fat. And like I said, storing fat is good, this is natural. This is what we’ve been designed to do. We’re good at storing some of our energy as fat and that’s okay. But when you’re eating a diet that’s super high in sugar, super high, unrefined carbs, that means you’re just always storing fat, your body is always in this fat storage mode.
So you never give yourself a chance for your body to burn the fat. Just keep putting more and more away. Here’s the thing. There was a study recently that looked at Americans in general. And they’ve kind of determined that around 88% of Americans are considered metabolically unhealthy. 88% of Americans are considered metabolically unhealthy, meaning overweight, obese, or they have some sort of chronic metabolic diseases like heart disease, type two diabetes, hypertension, and insulin resistance 88% is over 290 million people in the US. That is crazy.
That means that only 12% of people in the US are considered metabolically healthy. Honestly, this is a crazy epidemic. It’s crazy. And one of the most, one of the most simplest and most effective things you can do for your health, is to just stop eating sugar, get off of the refined carbohydrates, this one thing will actually turn off that fat storage mode that’s happening in your body and help you to get into the fat-burning mode. Like if you just did this one thing, you would start seeing more fat burning happening in your body. It’s a very simple thing to do.
Stop eating sugar. I know it’s not easy. This is why I have a successful coaching practice. And that’s why I’m talking to you here today. This is why I help people. This is why I do what I do. I help people get through all the tough stuff that comes up when they make these big changes in their diet.
So when they work with me, they get the knowledge support the accountability, to make these kinds of changes to their health. And if you’re the kind of person that can do all this on your own, like just take this information and run with it, do that, please. But if you want a little bit of help join us over in the monthly coaching group. It’s a great way to get all that knowledge, support the accountability, and have fun doing it. We have fun over there, for sure. Check us out.
So yeah, weight loss happens when you burn fat, right. But it only happens if you burn fat. If you’re not burning the fat. If you can’t get to the fat, you can’t lose the weight. So becoming fat-adapted means you are now a highly efficient fat-burning machine. Okay, so it’s great for running. It’s great for fat loss. It’s great for all kinds of things. So how do you do it? How do you become fat-adapted?
Well, I kind of alluded to that just now is like stop eating the sugar and the carbs. Keep running. embrace the discomfort though, because I gotta tell you something. This is the part that most people, this is why most people don’t do this because it will be kind of sucky for a little while running gets hard. While you’re going through this process when you eliminate your body’s primary source of fuel stored carbohydrate in the form of glycogen.
It will take a few weeks for your body to get used to, to adapt to using fat for fuel. Making this transition takes anywhere from two to six weeks. For some people, it may take longer. For other people it’s a week or two on average, I’d probably say like two, three weeks, something like that. You have to you know, transition to it slowly, it takes a little bit of time.
You definitely don’t want to start doing this. Like if you’ve got a big event coming up. Try to do this in the offseason. That’s why now, January is a good time to start doing this because a lot of people aren’t really into their training season just yet. So even if it’s like the very beginning of your training season, it’s not a bad time to start something like this. So you have to like really embrace the discomfort that’s going to happen and a lot of people just can’t do it.
They’re like, well, running just got hard. You know, I stopped eating sugar and I didn’t have the energy. I felt sluggish. Running was hard. So I just quit. But I gotta tell you something if you can get through that tough period that few weeks, what’s on the other side of that is amazing, all the stuff I’ve been talking about, you get all of that, but you got to get through that hard part.
And you got to slow down, you have to like, just know that you’re going to run slower, and it’s okay, just slow it down, listen to your body, make adjustments. And another thing I’ll tell you that I learned the hard way is that the greater the reduction in carbohydrate intake during your transition period, the faster it will go, the faster you will become fully fat-adapted as a runner.
So keep the carbs super low, just during this, you know, first few weeks. And that period will be hard, but you’ll get through it faster. I did it the hard way I was, you know, really eating a lot of carbs. And because it was it was uncomfortable for me that period. And so I was like, Well, maybe if I just add some more carbs in here, but it just made it go a lot longer.
For me, it took me like eight weeks to get fat adapted. And I gotta tell you, that was not a fun eight weeks, two months of, you know, tough running. But I did it the right way I did it in the offseason, I did it during a period where I knew I could just run slow, you know, I dropped my mileage down a little bit and I just ran slower and it was fine.
But eventually what happened is I got through it and then I stopped, I learned and I lowered the carb intake and I got through it and then running started to get easier. And then I started becoming faster. And I’ve actually become quite a bit faster as a fat-adapted runner, and not having to use the carbohydrates as a crutch or anything like that. Okay. So that is how you become fat adapted.
And then another question a lot of people ask, and this was like one of the most asked questions that I get is How do you know if you’re fat-adapted? This is such a good question. So there isn’t really a test you can take. I mean, some people talk about ketosis.
Now I just want to make this clear distinction here. Being in ketosis is where your body is producing ketones. So you’re like super low carb, like less than 20 grams of carbs a day. And your body is producing ketone bodies, which is a source of fuel that your body can use.
And we’re not talking about ketosis here, okay. But you know, fat adaptation and ketosis are similar, and you can be fat-adapted and be in ketosis, or you can be fat-adapted and not be in ketosis. Okay, I just want you to kind of make that distinction. I don’t want to get into the whole ketosis thing here. But how to know if you’re fat-adapted?
Well, you’ll have more sustained energy throughout the day, you won’t have these spikes, and crashes in your energy levels. I know for me, I wake up in the morning, I feel energized. And I stay that way, all day long. This is like one of the best feelings in the world, in my opinion, is just to have this sustained energy where you feel like you don’t have to, like drink coffee in the afternoon just to get through the next few hours of work or whatever. Like I just feel like I have this amazing sustained energy.
So you’ll have sustained energy. Number two, your food cravings will subside greatly, you’re not going to feel hungry all the time. This is another amazing benefit. But also this is how you know that you’ve become fat-adapted because you’re not going to be creating food all the time. Okay, you won’t be hungry all the time.
Another way to tell if you’re fat-adapted is that you’ll have improved focus and concentration, and you’ll be able to think more clearly. This is awesome. Who doesn’t want to think more clearly, I’m actually more productive, I get more done each day because I can think clearer, and I can focus on what I’m doing. I can concentrate on something, get my get I get more work done, I’m more productive.
Another way to tell if you’re fat-adapted is your endurance improves. So you’ll be able to run for longer periods, longer distances, without bonking without hitting the wall. So you’ll know like your running endurance is going to improve greatly. Also, you’ll start running faster so you’ll kind of get back to that normal running pace.
So running may be tough for a while, but then as you become fat-adapted, you’ll get back to your normal running pace without having to add the sugar back into your diet. you’ll know that you’re fat adapted. And then really the other telltale sign that you’re fat-adapted is that you lose weight. If you’re burning fat, you should see some weight loss happening. Now, weight loss is very subjective.
You know, some people, you know, they start working out, and maybe they’re lifting weights. And so they’re gaining some muscle, but they’re burning fat. And their weight loss doesn’t fluctuate much. And they think, oh, it’s not working. So it’s very subjective. It’s not the whole picture. That’s why I mentioned the sustained energy, the food cravings subsiding, improved focus and concentration, endurance improvements, running faster, and weight loss, those are all signs that you are fat-adapted. Now, you may not have all of those, but if you have a bunch of those, like, you know, it’s working for you.
Another question that came up recently was, can you lose your fat adaptation? Like, can you get out of being fat-adapted? And I want you to remember that what we’re talking about here is a lifestyle. Right? It’s not a diet, it’s not a short-term thing. It’s not something you do. Here and there. It’s something you, you become like you, it’s who you are. Okay, so if you focus on this is just like, this is the way I eat now, this is who I am, this is what I do, you’ll be fine, you don’t have to really worry about it.
If you eat some sugar here and there, this may temporarily slow down your ability to burn fat, right? But it’s temporary, it’s not going to set you back to square one, you’re not going to lose your fat adaptation, and you’ll still have it. But it may slow down until you burn through that glucose that glycogen. If however, you go back to eating a high carb diet, you’re eating all these highly palatable foods for weeks on end, you’re basically training your body to use sugar as its primary source of fuel again.
And then that’s going to take some time for you to get back to being fat adapted. So if you’re, if you retrain your body to use glycogen for fuel, then it’s going to take some time for you to get back. You know, it may be kind of like, maybe not exactly like starting over from scratch, but it may take you a few weeks.
And something to keep in mind is that there’s a cool thing that a lot of pro athletes do on purpose. And that is that they train very low carb, and then they race high carb or higher carb. Okay, Zach Bitter is a great example of this. He is the current world record holder for the 100-mile distance.
And he does a totally low carb, high-fat diet. He trains very low carb. And he’s very well fat adapted. And then when he’s getting ready to do a big event, you know, a race that he’s trying to win. He’s trying to win these ultra marathons, these 100-mile races, he’ll do some carbs the days leading up to the race, and then during the race, he’ll add some carbs in as well. And this gives him a little bit of a higher gear, so to speak.
Like he can run faster for longer periods. And, and he goes right back to doing the low carb high fat thing the next day. Right. The goal here is that you can use carbohydrates, you can use glycogen, glucose, whatever, as a source of fuel, every now and then. Like the goal here is not to eliminate carbs from our lives altogether, right?
We’re not trying to become a fat burner only. What we want to do instead is to create a state in our bodies of metabolic flexibility. You want to train your body to adapt to using primarily fat as fuel, but different fuels for different times. Glucose, sometimes glycogen Yeah, ketones if you’re into that, sure, stored body fat, using these different fuels at different times, you know, gives you metabolic flexibility.
Because there are different situations we’ll call for different types of fuel. If you want to run your fastest 5k You’re probably going to want to do some carbs to help you smash that goal. But if you just want to go out there and run a 50k and you want to do it in a way that’s like, you know, pretty chill. I mean, this is me anyway. I’m not trying to win anything.
I just want to go out there and prove to myself that I can do something and I love long-distance running. I love being out there in the world. love running that 50k distance is like my favorite distance. And I love just being fat-adapted and being able to go out there and be able to run all day, and not feel like I’m gonna crash not feel like I’m gonna bonk.
And so you can, you can definitely lose your fat adaptation. But I think if you focus on this as a lifestyle, and then you incorporate some carbs every now and then you can become very flexible with all of this, okay, we don’t want to be dogmatic about anything we want to, you know, be fluid.
So, to me being fat-adapted is life-changing, I have this amazing amount of sustained energy throughout the day, I have better concentration, mental clarity, I don’t have this brain fog that I used to have, you know, our brains need fat to work properly to function optimally, our brains need fat as fuel.
And so when you’re, when you’re giving it, the fat that it requires and loves, oh, feels good. I don’t feel obsessed about food all the time, my hunger and satiety signals are working properly. I’m not addicted to sugar anymore, I don’t have to eat sugar and carbs all the time. To just maintain, you know, a level of, of existence.
I can have those things every now and then. But I don’t feel like I need them. Right, there’s a big difference between enjoying some carbs here and there and, and having to have them like, like, I’m no longer chained to the carbs, okay. And I’ve lost weight, I gave my body a chance to get back to my natural weight by getting rid of by making myself a more efficient fat burner and getting rid of the sugar from my body.
Honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I say this is so life-changing is because I have optimized my overall health, my overall fitness and I’m, and I feel so good about myself. I’m happier because of this. So I think there are amazing, amazing benefits of becoming a fat-adapted runner.
And if you want to know exactly how to do this, and you want the support to do this, then come join us in the Running Lean monthly coaching group. You’re gonna get all the support and encouragement from this group. And we’re going to help you achieve those big goals that you want for yourself. But you got to make a decision soon because enrollment closes at 11:59 pm. Sunday, January 10.
Make 2021 the year you transform yourself into a lean, fat-adapted running machine. Just go to runninglreanpodcast.com/join. Alright, you guys, go out there and become a fat-adapted runner. It is amazing. You will love it. You’ve totally got this. As always, lots and lots of love to each and every one of you keep on Running Lean, and I’ll talk to you soon.
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