Who the hell is Stu Mittleman?
It seems everyone knows about Dean Karnazes. To many people, Karnazes is the ultramarathon runner, thanks to his “50 marathons in 50 days” campaign that got so much publicity on radio, television, and even in a book by Karnazes himself.
But look a little closer at the sport of ultrarunning, and it becomes clear that there are lots of athletes like Karnazes, some far more accomplished. In Born to Run, some resentment of Dean’s popularity is even expressed by other ultrarunners. Karnazes, it seems, while a very good ultrarunner, is a brilliant self-promoter.
Stu Mittleman is quite the opposite — incredible runner, lousy publicist. At one time, Stu held the 1,000 mile world record, running the distance in less than 12 days, and his American record of 577 miles in six days still stands. And in Stu’s version of “50 in 50,” he didn’t run a marathon a day for 50 days like Dean Karnazes. No, on his cross-country journey from San Diego to New York, Mittleman averaged 52 miles — almost two marathons — for 55 days.
Yet Stu Mittleman’s accomplishments are buried in relative obscurity. It is only through his affiliation with peak performance coach Tony Robbins that I found out about Stu (I’m an admitted Tony Robbins geek). I got a chance to see Stu speak to an audience of about 40 people, probably only a dozen of whom were runners. Think any of Dean Karnazes’ speaking engagements draw only 12 runners?
The talk was interesting enough that I ordered a copy of Mittleman’s book, Slow Burn: Burn Fat Faster by Exercising Slower (which, as Stu sadly told me, is out of print, despite having been published less than 10 years ago). And I enthusiatically read it, thinking that just maybe the book might contain all the secrets of Stu’s success that could revolutionize ultrarunning, if only they were known.
Instead, I learned why Stu Mittleman is speaking (for free) to small handfuls of people.
The basic tenet of his teachings is that we should train our bodies to tap into our nearly limitless supplies of stored fat for fuel, rather than relying on fast-burning sugar, our short supplies of which run out after an hour or two of running. How? Spend a lot of time running very slowly, eat lots of healthy fats, and don’t eat sugar or starchy carbohydrates — even while running.
Fine. This is so different from the pasta-partying, Gatorade-gulping, and gel-sucking that most marathoners do as part of their training routines, but I can see the logic in burning fat rather than carbohydrate. It’s the rest of Stu’s ideas that make him seem more snake-oil salesman than running coach.
Stu advocates muscle testing, a technique from applied kinesiology that has zero scientific basis. Want to know if a food is good for your particular body? Just hold it in one hand, put your other arm out to the side, and have your friend lightly try to press your arm down. If you can hold your arm up, your body wants the food. If your muscle weakens and you can’t hold your arm up, it’s because your body senses that the food is bad. Really.
Though muscle testing is the wackiest of Mittleman’s ideas, he has some other strange ones. Example: buy shoes a few sizes bigger than what the running store fits you in. Not half a size, a few sizes, so that your foot has room to slide around.
Having just finished Slow Burn, I’m left perplexed. I mean, this guy ran 1,000 miles in 12 days! He doesn’t seem to have an agenda or many products to push, so I think he really believes what he teaches. But I’m not going to trade in my size 9’s for size 12’s, and I’m certainly not going to stop in the middle of a race to do a quick muscle test to see if my body “wants” the energy gel I’m craving (Stu tells a story of actually doing this during a client’s first marathon).
For now, I’ve decided to hang onto the stuff about learning to burn fat instead of sugar. This idea makes a lot of sense and it has gained some traction recently with other running coaches, like Greg McMillan. As for the rest, forget it. And I think if Stu would do the same, or at least not talk about it, a lot more people would be willing to listen to what this incredible runner has to say.
-By Matt Frazier