Thursday, September 14, 2017

Run Rabbit Run 100 ...Tale of a Tortoise Win

~  Guest Post by Chuck Radford 
“Tortoises are not very fast, as everyone knows, but they make up for their slow speed by being very determined. And if you turn your back on a tortoise, thinking they will just hang around like a lazy cat, you are in for a surprise.” ~William Herring 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” ...that can sum up the past year for me regarding my running career and my Run Rabbit Run 100 (RRR) race in a nutshell (or is it turtle shell? Hmmmm).

Setup:

Since my race last year at RRR, it’s been a frustrating year full of injuries, uncertainty and what felt like many failed attempts at a healthy return. I’ve known for some time of a desperate need to “fix” issues that I put off for way too long (i.e. knee tendonosis, hamstring tendonosis, Achilles, general imbalances and weakness in strength, etc...). That has only been exacerbated by getting older which in return delays the healing process. In many attempts to “right the ship”, I took months of full rest from running, headed to the gym for strength training, did aggressive physical therapy and sports massage, did mobility and yoga and even some prolotherapy. As the months progressed and I thought I was ready to rebound, I would incur further injuries as I started running (i.e. a tibial stress fracture in March and some kind of ligament tear/strain in my back in June both causing further shut down). Enough of the sob-story ...the most unfortunate and/or challenging issue facing me was how to stay Western States (the "Boston Marathon" of the ultra scene) qualified at this point? With almost ¾ of a year gone, I still needed to run another 100 mile race in order to keep my bid in the Western States lottery leaving me hallow on time left to train. I decided early that I would run an “easy” 100 mile race (as “easy” as a 100 mile race go) and was planning to head to Arizona for the Javelina Jundred in late October. That would give me a good 3 to 4 months to train adequately. Fine and dandy right? Wrong. I found out I had a work commitment that landed on the weekend of the Javelina race. What now?

The Decision:

As I mulled over my quandary with my good friend AJ Wellman, I noticed that there were 4 spots left open for this years RRR race. I threw that out there and he immediately challenged me with “Go for it”. I thought he was joking, but as we ran through it in more detail, it had some merit: 1) Local; 2) Fun; 3) More time to recover after the race (end my season 2 months earlier). To a greater level it had a lot of lunacy to it: 1) I was no where NEAR prepared to run 100 miles; 2) I was not fully healed (or so I thought) from all my issues; 3) I’d have to scramble to throw it all together in 3 weeks. In the end, AJ didn’t pressure me, but simply said “What will make you happy”. As I struggled over that statement, I finally decided staying local, getting in and out, punching my ticket for Western States and being done with the season early was going to make me happy. Decision made ...now what? Freak out, lament, stress, doubt.

Signing up as a tortoise was a no-brainer as I was not in league with the Hares like I was last year. I won’t go into the nuances of the Tortoise/Hare divisions and their particular rules and restrictions as you can find that on their website RRR100.


Preparation:

Where do you start when you feel like you are at ground zero? A race strategy and plan. I grabbed my statistics from last year (if you don’t know already, it was an interesting year last year as I dealt with blind running for about 30 miles 2016~RRR) and I started trying to determine what I was capable of. I made it easy and took RRR’s already formulated 24 hour plan, which seemed ludicrous considering I had no business running in 24 hours untrained. Ehhhh, good enough. I backwards planned for food, hydration, gear and pacing. AJ and I have been through every 100 mile race together and have been through some amazing battles and adventures, so he was on board for a long section of  pacing. Much to my surprise and pleasure, my good buddy Jon Ahern (I paced Jon at the Leadville 100 this summer) offered to make the trek up to Steamboat Springs to also pace me a big section of the race. Everything was coming together …except the cold I came down with 10 days before the race. I have a history of not recovering from colds for up to 4 weeks …and this would be the case again heading into the race unfortunately.

Pre-race

AJ and I headed up to Steamboat to get settled the night before the race and Jon joined us just before bed. I hit the race meeting with my other good friends John (also racing) and Nicole Witcher. I picked up my bib, took my obligatory picture, went home and chilled with AJ and Jon. We talked race specifics and they tried to lift me up with confidence of which I had little. I had no idea what to expect and felt like 30 hours was a stretch let alone 24 hours. We’d find out soon enough. Bed time.


Is that skiing Cowboy taking a dump on my head???
~John Witcher
Race

Start ~ Long Lake (mile 12)

The Witchers and my crew all walked to the start together and talked about nerves. I was just ready to get this crap-show started (the sooner we started, the sooner it’d be over). I didn’t have the best attitude, but I was tired of lamenting over it. We lined up and were off.

This course has three major climbs and the first one is a 3500 foot climb right out of the gate straight up the ski mountain in the first 5 miles. This is a brutal way to start the race pushing you straight into zone 5 heart rate. I immediately tried to get to the front and when the others started walking, I kept running up, up, up. After feeling like I was going to bust a lung, I finally made it to the top of Mt. Werner (in the lead) where I could open it up and start running, which felt great.

It was an easy cruise down into the Long Lake aid station where I immediately saw a beautiful moose standing in the lake. We exchanged glances as I entered the aid station where I made it a quick stop to drop some gear off, apply sunscreen and grab a hat. Down to Fish Creek Falls (in 1st place).

~Paul Nelson Photography
~Paul Nelson Photography
Uhhhhh, no tiny task ahead!!!


Long Lake ~ Olympian (mile 22)

Fish Creek Falls is a beautiful single-track trail from top to bottom with some serious technical trail in the middle. Flying down the trail only made me think about having to come back up that trail later (which you’ll learn later was almost the end of my race). After running into many casual hikers out to see the falls and many greetings, it was right through the official aid station and then down the asphalt road/concrete all the way into the Olympian aid station (one of my least favorite sections of the race). As I came in, I looked at my watch and noticed I was an hour ahead of my plan and worried not only that my crew wouldn’t be there, but even if they were, they’d be mad about my lack of discipline the first 20 miles into the race to stick to the plan. As I came in, both AJ and Jon were there and I said “why do I make a plan? I NEVER stick to it!”. They both smiled, helped me get new drinks, food, sunscreen and change of shoes and I was out of there. Getting through aid stations fast all day was part of a winning strategy, I am sure!

Olympian ~ Olympian (mile 43)

The next 20 miles take you around the beautiful, but under-ratedly hard Emerald Mountain. Right out of the gate, it’s back up a 1500 foot climb in 2 ½ miles. This is where my race started to take a turn. I started losing steam and energy on these two miles and became frustrated with the 5 false summits. When I finally reached the top, I regained my focus to get into the Cow Creek aid station. When I got there, I regrouped with the guys, said “Hi” to my friends Nicole Witcher and Mike and Heidi Mizones who were waiting for John. Jon and AJ got me two fresh bottles, some food and I headed out a little worried about the next 12 miles with only 40 ounces of water, as this is the hottest section and the longest.

As I headed up the road and onto the Beall trail, I noticed my “Fight” was waning a bit and my ability to run longer got more and more labored. I put it into power hiking mode when I couldn’t run and ran when I could. On one of the short downhill sections, I tripped and popped the top off my water bottle expelling everything inside and thus guaranteeing dehydration the rest of the section. I fought the rest of the way, but finally lost my 1st place position to a STRONG runner who ran by me like I was standing still. I tried not to let it bother me too much, but knew he would likely not be the only runner to pass me as I continued to struggle. I ran back into Olympian and immediately asked for water. I changed shoes, complained of dizziness and nausea while Jon geared up to start his next 30+ mile pacing section.

Olympian ~ Long Lake (mile 53)

Jon, geared up, excited and ready to rock was unfortunately subjected to a sluggish, out of breath and declining racer (me). Jon was one of my key pacers in my 4th place Leadville 100 finish and I believe was hoping for a repeat performance today. Sadly, this was the start of perhaps my biggest blow up in ANY of my 100 mile races and Jon would have to endure it and pull me out of the depths of hell. My stomach was a total mess, I was dehydrated, suffering from my cold, overheated and my breathing was worsening and worsening. With every push up to Fish Creek Falls, I would have to stop with a heaving chest and was faced with what felt like asthma and anxiety with not being able to breath. This turned out to be the case for the next 3300 foot climb back to the top of Long Lake. As I took 50 steps (if I was lucky), I would tell Jon I needed to stop to catch my breath, as I sat on a rock or was bent over with hands on knees. I got darker and darker with my thoughts and let the dreaded thoughts of “not finishing” enter heavily. I kept telling Jon I wasn’t sure how I was going to run the next 60 miles in this condition. In a proper and concerned response, Jon asked if I felt my breathing was a potential health risk. I told him I didn’t think so. I’m not sure why I knew that, but I truly thought it wasn’t life threatening, which in the end may have given me the answer to whether I should continue or not. Jon texted AJ with the hard situation we were faced with and then we just continued with the death march up, up, up. Two more runners passed me, putting me in 4th, but at the time, I was in survival mode and didn’t care if I was in LAST place. After hours of struggle, we made it to Long Lake, I sat down, ate some broth, drank ginger ale, put a jacket on and tried to put that hardship behind me as I knew I needed to keep going.

Long Lake ~ Dry Lake (mile 67)

Feeling mildly better now with the sun setting, a brief rain shower, the heat subsiding and some very needed downhill (or flat) road ahead, Jon and I set out to the Summit aid station at dusk. We immediately started running as I promised Jon I would be able to do on the down-hills as the cardiovascular effect would be drastically different than going up hill. I didn’t remember much about this section from last years race, so we just alternated between running and “hiking with a purpose” (our theme for much of the remainder of the race). As we got closer and closer to Summit, I was incrementally feeling better, chatting more and becoming more and more positive.

As we entered Summit, it was more broth, ginger ale and a short in and out of the aid station. The next 7+ miles were almost all downhill road, which I knew was a great opportunity to continue running, recovering and turning the corner back to a “good” race. Jon also knew this was a good opportunity to make up for time lost at Fish Creek and we both ran strong 7-9 minute miles all the way down to Dry Lake and eventually caught back up with the 3rd place runner. With each step, I felt better and better, stronger and stronger and the problems of the past where just that …the past.

Dry Lake ~ Dry Lake (mile 77)

As I entered the Dry Lake aid station, we were happy to see AJ there (we didn’t expect to see him until the return trip up). Another quick in and out of the aid station and it was a beautiful night run down the Spring Creek trail section. As I ran, I let gravity take its course and I just ran without brakes all the way to the bottom. I eventually caught the 2nd place runner and we ran into the Spring Creek aid station together chatting and telling our stories. The aid station had no prepared food and thus there was no reason to stay long. I topped off my water, grabbed a pickle and headed back out now in 2nd place.

I somehow gathered the strength and energy to run UP hill now and pushed this section back to Dry Lake as much as I could. I wish I could have run more, but I eventually heard that I gained 40 minutes on the lead runner and in AJ’s words “won the race on this section”. This was finally "Rally time" and I literally came back from from the depth of an all time low!!

Dry Lake ~ Summit (mile 84)

As I got back to Dry Lake, I was again greeted by AJ and Jon and found out that the lead runner was still there and sitting in a chair. AJ geared up for his pacing section (Dry Lake to the finish). I found myself getting very warm, which was contradictory to the cold that everyone said we would face. I still loaded my vest with warm clothes, gave Jon a “thank you” hug for his efforts and then AJ and I headed back up the 7+ mile, 2500 foot climb to Summit.

AJ and I ran very little of this climb, but we “hiked with a purpose” from the bottom to the top with ZERO stops. We knew that if we couldn’t run, it was unlikely others would be able to either and the difference we were making was a consistent and steady, hard effort. Having a new pacer and friend at my side lead to much conversation, laughs and talk of strategy now that we were in the lead. Even though we ALL said we were only focused on finishing, we KNEW we were all on board with trying to finish in first place.

Summit ~ Long Lake (mile 92)

Once again back at Summit, I ate a little, filled water bottles and departed with the goal of maintaining a lead (not knowing how big the gap was). We headed out on the Wyoming trail for the next 8 miles and I immediately began losing energy (I had not been eating for hours and miles due to continued stomach issues) and the desire to push the uphills after that last long road. AJ tried to contact Jon to find out the gap of our lead, but we ran into service issues on the trail. In the meantime, AJ took the lead and tried to set a good pace for me to keep, which I did pretty well until I tripped twice, both times avoiding any damage, even though I was on my backside or back. AJ helped me up in all cases as I tried to put the fatigue out of mind.  I began letting negative remarks escape on this section (one thing AJ, Jon and I talk about a lot is pushing negative thoughts out and staying positive, but 80 miles into a race makes that a real challenge).

I continued to push myself and AJ continued to praise me for giving everything I could. But the inescapable thoughts of being caught by another runner started to hit hard. AJ finally got confirmation that we had about a 30 minute lead on the 2nd place runner. I don’t know if this was good or bad news because I seemed to “settle” and hiked a lot leaving me to wonder in hindsight if I could have given more. We pushed all the way into the Long Lake aid station and were just passed by the 1st and 2nd place "Hare" runners (not in my division, so no loss of placement).

Long Lake ~ Finish (mile 106)

We took a little more time at the Long Lake station to regroup for the final push to the finish. Unbeknownst to AJ, I informed him the next station back to Mt. Werner was more uphill than it looked on the profile. That was unfortunately VERY obvious as we started back up on this endless section. AJ continued to try to keep track on the lead gap as we pushed on. Somewhere in this section, I am convinced that I was running and sleeping at the same time (about 22 hours of straight racing). I would come back from some unknown place regaining consciousness and then fade back into sleep again (unlikely what truly happened, but it sure seemed like it did). The fatigue was hitting HARD and I was hurting. Out of nowhere, I caught a toe on something and found myself face down on the trail (my hands were nowhere to be found to help break the fall). My headlamp pushed hard into my glasses, breaking the nose piece off and pushing the glass down and cutting my nose. AJ asked if I was ok and told him “MY FACE HURTS”, which makes me giggle now in a school-boy, immature way. He knew I had very little left to give, so we “hiked with a purpose” all the way back to Mt. Werner.

We had just finished running 100 miles and only had 6 miles to go down the road to the finish so we went straight through the Werner aid station. I didn’t have the same energy on this road section as I had earlier descending from Summit, but I knew I had to try to run as much as possible. AJ and I worked in a run for ¾ of a mile and would walk ¼ mile from the top to the final mile. We ran past all the 50 mile starters on their way up and we received lots of claps and praise which was uplifting. As we got down to the cutoff to the final mile trail to the finish I started to find energy for a final push hitting a sub-8 mile. I rounded the corner and ran right through the finishing arches for a WIN and into a big hug from Brady (the official “designated hugger”). I was welcomed by Jon and gave Jon and AJ hugs in appreciation for their ability to push me through to a 1st place finish and for dealing with my “diva-ness”.

 Finish line hug
 Happy to be DONE!!
 Podium Picture
Buckle, awards, bib and shirt

Thoughts

Many asked the question “why weren’t you running as a hare?”. The simple answer is that I had no business running as a Hare let alone running a 100 mile race on no official training or preparation. This performance really comes down to not quitting, giving what I could WHEN I could, keeping my head up and moving forward at all costs. You have that overwhelming thought that “this will NEVER end” numerous times in a 100 mile race, but it does end and the glory is always worth it whether it’s a win or a finish. You must dig deep inside yourself and find strength that isn’t always readily available. You have to find a spark to relight your fire when it’s burning out and you have to negotiate with yourself and convince yourself that you just can’t stop when stopping is all you want. The pain, negativity, fatigue and constant struggle are all part of the adventure/story and you have to decide if that’s a fight you want to pick. I don’t have answers for every scenario someone could face in a 100 mile race. I just know what I need to do when I hit those adverse conditions (i.e. blindness, lung depletion, etc…) and that’s to mitigate it and press forward until I simply can’t press forward any longer. Running 100 miles is not always fun, but it sure is “living”.

I can't thank AJ and Jon enough for being in my corner all day (and all season as we train together) and for being such great friends and supporters in my race efforts. A special thank you to John and Nicole Witcher for spending time with me and lifting me up before and after the race. More thanks to Mike and Heidi Mizones for their continued friendship and support and a special thanks to Jenn Coker for taking pictures and a celebratory hug at the finish (she's a great ambassador for our sport). And in no way would I ever skip the biggest thanks to my family for their love, support and for putting up with this crazy "thing" that I do in an attempt to be a better person for them and a role model for my kids.

A special shout out to my sponsors Fuel 100 for their continued support in so many ways especially this year as I struggled. You guys rock Andrea and Michelle!

* More photos slowly trickling in from the race photographer, which will be posted as they come in.

* Strava Data (106 miles, not 103 as stated on the website): RRR 100 2017

* Athlete Results: Chuck Radford

*And finally just for fun: Looney Tunes

Monday, February 20, 2017

Random Weekly Update - 2/20


Here's a random snapshot of what I did last week. As you can see, I've been keeping after the weights pretty seriously and balanced in "enough" running. Saturday at Deer Creek was quite enjoyable, my first visit there in many months (July?). Mobility and stretching work can take many months to achieve results, but I feel like things are inching toward positivity. I hope I can keep with this routine for at least 6 months and then I'll re-evaluate where I want to go with things after that.



Monday, January 16, 2017

The Basics

I started this journey in October and have accumulated more than 50 sessions of strength and mobility. The first thing I am learning is that it is going to take a long time to get the basics right. My mobility and flexibility are terrible right now (the difference is flexibility is passive, mobility requires strength through a range of motion). For example, I cannot squat down without lifting my heels off the ground, which means I cannot do an ass to grass squat without compromising form. So, I have to get the basics done first. This is very disheartening because it takes a long time for connective tissue to adapt -- many months. But, it only strengthens my resolve to do this right. The last thing I need is a back injury from squatting with bad form.

Interestingly, my bench press is better than my squat right now. I would assume that has a lot to do with mobility related issues in my legs, likely also contributing to my overuse injuries running.  As I work on mobility, I think I'll dial back the strength component and work in lower weight so I can work on form and a complete range of motion. For a day-to-day structure, I that covers all the different movements, I really like Coach Dos' book Men's Health Power Training.

Here are a few mobility things I like to do:







Friday, January 13, 2017

A New Way: High Intensity and Strength

I have only been blogging intermittently lately because I am somewhat lost. This has been coming for a while now, maybe as much as two years in the making. Some combination of burn out, higher/changing priorities, "settling", and injury has led me to start to consistently wonder if I want to keep training this way. In short, I've optimized almost exclusively to nearly just one way of training (one way of "health") for five years now. It worked. In fact, I'd argue that I've seen results as good as anyone in my community of runners. My results have been good within my age group, a few with high placement, and most importantly, they have been consistent and improving.

So why change? First of all, I am injured. I've been dealing with a nagging groin injury since training for Colorado Marathon last Spring. It has reached a "chronic" state and needs a lot of therapy. It is also "chronic" in the sense that it continues to underscore the lack of balance in my body and my training. If you want to believe that I am just injured and bummed out and that's all that there is to this story, then go ahead and move on with your day and stop reading now, but there is way more to this.

As I eluded to in my intro, I have been fighting this mentality for a while now. In my self-reflecting moments, I have suspected for a while that change was needed. Being injured has allowed me to step away and gain some clarity. I started this journey as a way toward health and became pretty good at it -- addicted to chasing the next race, the next workout, the self-congratulations that came with success. I am finally seeing this as not healthy, but more of an obsession: too much repetitive motion without cross training, too much of a time commitment, too much juggling of regular life and racing.

A few years back a friend told me about Tim Ferris' book the 4 Hour Body. In the book, Ferris details CrossFit Endurance as a way to perform in running (yes, even ultra running!). The book promises to run minimal mileage and get maximal results. I was highly skeptical and still am. I do think that typical long, slow distance (LSD) "80/20" training is the way to go for maximum performance. However, I think I've detailed all the reasons why I don't think that is sustainable for a working/family person. That type of training maybe more suited long-term for someone younger and someone who trains like a full time athlete -- with time to cross train, with professional looking after them to stay healthy and recover properly. It may also be more appropriate for someone less obsessive and with the foresight to take time off during the year. Another fitness expert I trust very much, Ben Greenfield, has written some great content on the how to get fit and gain endurance and compared the two philosophies. The short story is that there is more to endurance than big volume and LSD and more than way to achieve many of the physiological adaptions.

Is this post an announcement that I am going to be doing CrossFit Endurance? Not quite. I thought about going to pure CrossFit Endurance and I was presented with several problems. As I mentioned early, I don't buy into the idea that you can run so little and be a good runner. Another problem, I don't have access to a CrossFit gym and don't want to pay to gain access. Finally, most importantly, the more I read about it, the more worried I became that I'd be trading one obsession for another and possibly induce new problems. Nonetheless, there is a sound philosophy behind the concept: prioritize strength training and intensity training to strengthen the body and "hack" fitness. Broadening the picture, there are other ways to "hack" fitness as well, like sauna training, fasting, slow/low carb dieting. Honestly, I think low-carb has had as much to do with my success the past 3 years as training. I believe that to my core.

What am I getting at? I have about 3 months to the Boston Marathon. I want to get healthy and run that race. And, I have other races that I'd like to run in 2017. I need a new way to go about things. This is honestly a new journey that I plan to take slow, literally a day at a time. Strength and mobility will be my biggest priorities. I am losing both and want to improve that before heading into the Summer. Strength will primarily be typical Olympic movements with high weight and low reps. (This is one area where I find CrossFit scary, using Olympic lifts to exhaustion.)  Next, I will be easing my way back into running as my things improve. But, my tolerance for pain/discomfort are going to be close to zero. No more compromising just to get another workout in. Finally, I will use CrossFit and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to help bridge the fitness gap. For now, my plan is to approach training like the following*:

Monday: Strength + 30-45 mins of easy running
Tuesday: Strength + 30 mins HIIT run workout
Wednesday: Strength + 45-60 mins HIIT run workout
Thursday: Strength + 30-45 mins of easy running
Friday: Injury prevention** or rest
Saturday: 60-120 mins running likely with structure/specificity
Sunday: 60-90 mins of running easy

* Mobility is something I will work on daily, so I didn't highlight it
**Injury prevention would be other types of cross training or other movements not covered on my strength days


The one thing I am learning on this is that I have a lot to learn. I've done strength training all my life and thought I knew what I was talking about. It turns out I was wrong! I need to work a lot on technique and mobility to get good at these things and not injure myself. Olympic style lifts require good technique and should not be taken lightly. It is going to be a long road, but I've got time. The goal is to be a stronger, more complete athlete and I don't plan to rush it.

I want to reiterate that I have no timeline on this. My primary goals are to get injury free, strong, and with improved range of motion. As things progress, I will adapt. Honestly, my current weekly workouts look more like CrossFit because I am doing so little running and using HIIT to keep active. I hope to adapt to the above in the next 3-4 weeks as my injury heals and then go almost week-to-week from there. If the results are good enough, I may stay with this all year. I don't know. Boston will not be an A-race, which isn't a problem because I never hoped it would be. It is more of a celebration of the long road to get here. Here is a peek at my last two weeks in Training Peaks.



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Responding to LCHF Criticism

I read an article today by Carmichael Training System on the use of Ketosis for athletes and felt compelled to respond. The article is not entirely off base, but I think that the decision to consider any diet is an individual one. The athletes that come to CTS aren't necessarily indicative of the general population. Diets are lighting rod conversations and I am not trying to suggest this diet is superior for everyone, just presenting an opposing view based on experience.

Before responding to the points in their article, a quick bit about me. I am a former football player turned adventure junky (runner). There is nothing spectacular about me as a runner. My best mile time is basically 6:00 flat. I weigh about 195 pounds at a relatively lean 13% body fat, hardly an endurance build. I am a relatively large, aging athlete with a family history of high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. Yet, I am a self-coached athlete that has managed to go sub-24 hours at Western States and qualified for Boston (3:09:55). Having tried to train and race for both health and performance and both using high-carbs and high-fat, I think I have an educated opinion on this topic. I have read the research and walked the walk. That said, I don't believe this diet for everyone. Individual factors -- age, body composition, etc... -- may sway someone to consider this diet or leave it.

After years of experimenting with many diets, including Atkins, I converted to LCHF in February of 2014. I was coming off knee surgery and unsure of what to expect once I returned to racing. Somewhat unexpectedly, my racing took off and I have had an incredible run of races the past three years, without changing much about the way I train. I have found that I need far less fuel on the run and that I recover much better from races on LCHF. What's more, I am not obsessed with eating during ultras and my energy levels are more consistent, though I still have highs and lows. Perhaps the best thing for me is that my blood pressure has dropped significantly (20 pts) and my blood markers are impeccable (particularly my triglycerides and HDL).

KETOSIS DOESN’T IMPROVE ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE
I have to say I disagree with this point. This might true if you look at lab results of indicators that we use to approximate performance, but in the field I don't know that this is true. My best races have all come since I converted to LCHF, everything from marathons to 100 mile races. I attribute this success to eating less during training and races: not being consumed mentally by a nutrition plan, no GI distress, more constant energy, less muscle wasting. Low carb by itself did not improve my V02 max, but it sure makes racing ultras simpler.

A good friend of mine -- a much more typical endurance (build) runner -- ran the Leadville 100 two years in a row. The first year he suffered horribly from a rotten gut and nausea. A year later, without training appreciably different, he ran two hours faster and finished 4th overall (18:43). He attributes nearly all this success to a paleo/LCHF diet which freed him from having to eat so much. Athletes such as Zach Bitter, Tim Olson, Jeff Browning, and Jason Schlarb have all used similar approaches with great success.  (Jason Schlarb's post-RRR interview in 2013 was the "aha" moment for me.)

KETOSIS MAY PREVENT GASTRIC DISTRESS
Chris Carmichael was listing this as a positive, and I agree. This really gets at the heart of what I was saying above. Jason Koop, whom I respect very much, thinks the gut can be trained. I agree with this to an extent. Athletes have limited opportunities to train the GI system for a race that is likely more than double the length of their training runs. And, each day and each race offers something different whether it be altitude, heat, etc... There is no limit to the amount of "specifity" to train your gut for: taking a gel on a big climb, having certain products after 12 hours without real food, etc... I ran the Leadville 100 as my first 100 as a high carb athlete, eating an impressive 10,000+ Kcals (nearly 400/hr). Overall my experience was positive, but I definitely had issues with diarrhea in the second half. Converting to LCHF, I now eat more like 5000 Kcals in a race and my gut thanks me. My nutrition plan is quite simple and I can typically carry 5-6 hours of my preferred products with me at a given time.

Also, at a certain point, you have to ask if this is the right idea. Endurance sports are demanding and there are lots of questions marks about long term health on the heart as well as just the physical wear and tear. So we are all paying a bit of an unknown price. That said, is eating these products all day to train and race the best thing?  The Boston Marathon race director has heart disease.

WEIGHT LOSS FROM DIETARY KETOSIS IS PRIMARILY FROM CALORIC RESTRICTION
This shouldn't be the case if done properly. I eat the same, or more even, on LCHF. Each gram of fat has more than twice as many calories as gram of carbohydrates. Eating half the volume would yield an equivalent amount of calories in one's diet. Perhaps the issue is that the athlete finds the diet too limiting (more on that later) and just eats too little involuntarily. It can be a chore to eat enough fat to keep your macronutrient ratio at 75+%. I regularly eat oils to keep my ratio high enough. The majority of the weight loss should come initially from water as the athlete's muscles dump glycogen (and the associated water) and later from fat burn. One difficulty here is the body composition of the athlete -- leaner athletes may struggle to convert their fat stores to energy.

One last thing, there is a difference between nutritional ketosis and fasting/starving ketosis. Unless you a purposely fasting, athletes should be trying to stay in nutritional ketosis. As for me, I was only in ketosis for a few months and switched to LCHF instead, allowing myself "strategic" carbs. I get plenty of benefits from the higher fat burning overall improved gut.

COMPLIANCE IS A MAJOR BARRIER TO SUSTAINING KETOSIS
This point I very much agree with. Ketosis is black and white and therefore very difficult to maintain in our western culture. That is the reason I consider myself "LCHF" and not in ketosis. A typical training day for me consists of fewer than 75g of carbs -- often strategically planned around hard or long workouts -- and I occasionally cheat. However, the closer I say to ketosis recommendations, the better I feel. More importantly, when I am keeping strictly with the diet, my blood suggests my body is in superior health.

KETOSIS IS A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE
While I understand the author's point, I disagree. While exercising, the body is more tolerant of carbohydrates without bumping you out of ketosis and it actually makes you more flexible. And, you could easily take the opposite side of this point of view -- what if you need carbohydrates and get lost?  What if your crew gets lost and the aid stations don't have high-carb products you've trained your gut with to avoid GI distress? As a low carb athlete, I regularly go hours without eating with zero fear of a "bonk". When I ate carbs regularly, I was obsessed with my next feeding interval and hitting that 300-400 Kcal/hr mark.

My experience with LCHF has been very positive and I encourage all athletes, particularly larger ones or those with family history of diabetes, to try it out. People in the LCHF community often say each of us is an experiment of one. There are likely aspects of this diet that can help anyone. The points in the CTS article are all worth considering, but I hope I have given a point of view from someone that has used the approach successfully.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Year In Review

I wasn't going to do a year in review for 2016 for many of the reasons that will follow. But, it has become tradition and I enjoy looking back on my blog for personal reflection. There is a good chance that 2016 will be viewed as my climactic year in running. I hit several big goals: I ran a Boston qualifying marathon and ran probably my best 100 miler at Wasatch 100. However, I spent a good chunk of the year dealing with nagging injuries and losing motivation. How many years can I continue to focus this much on running? And, what do I really know about training? Running 2500 miles a year is pretty extreme, a fact we often lose sight of when we surround ourselves by like-minded runners. Is it necessary? I doubt it. I truly believe LCHF transformed my ultra running more than any training cycle did.

Perhaps my greatest day in 2016 was October 28th, my fortieth birthday. Knowing we'd had a mild few months, I asked my wife to climb Grays Peak with me to watch the sunrise. It required that we get up at 3:30 am and be at the trail about 5 am. It was the first time I've been the first one in the parking lot at a 14er! It was quite invigorating to be out on that trail in the pitch black (and with traction) and sharing the experience with my wife. She's not an ultra runner, so it definitely qualifies as one of the craziest things she's done in fitness. It was a blessed day and I am lucky to have a spouse fit enough and crazy enough to do something like that.
We didn't quite summit before sunrise, but this view was pretty awesome.
So cool to ascend to over 13,000 feet and look back at the valley we traversed in the dark.

Two pretty good views in that photo. Had it not been so cold, I would have stayed up there hours.
A fun collage from the day.


As for my races, it is really hard to pick my favorite. They were all great. In fact, I've been on an incredible run since knee surgery in 2013. A fortunate and blessed streak of great years. I would give a slight edge to Wasatch 100 as my favorite for two reasons. First, I was joined by some great friends and my sister. I love the team/social aspect to those events. I cherish the memories I make with my friends. Words cannot describe how deep my sister got me to dig those last 8 miles. It is something I'll remember forever. I cried. I prayed. I hurt all over.  It was worth it. Second, I think it was my latest evolution in really getting what it means to compete in one of these events. Western States was the first time I demonstrated the grit and mental toughness to run a good one hundred. But this year was the first time I added to that the gratitude to truly enjoy it and share it with others. And, I believe gratitude allowed me to run to my best.

My big sister, crew member and pacer extraordinaire

The memories, the friends.  Those are the things that last, races come and go.

In terms of achievements, Colorado Marathon may have been my biggest conquest in 2016. Having not run a marathon in four years, and doing very little pace work along the way, I wasn't sure I could do it. I trained my heart out, literally leaving everything I had out there. In fact, I spent the rest of the year feeling the impact. Once again, it was worth it. I exhibited faith in myself and just went after it. I caught the perfect day to run and made it count. My splits were near perfect the whole way. There were a few moments of doubt, but I conquered them all. As a bonus, I had my good friend Chuck running along side me the whole way. I have nothing left to give the marathon distance. But I am going to Boston to celebrate.

It is really hard to count North Fork 50k as a "throw in" -- I did finish 4th overall -- but that is kind of the way it worked out. I signed up as a "training run" and to fill the big void between Colorado Marathon and Wasatch 100. On race day, I decided to get after it and it also went perfectly. I love that race and may one day go back.

This is just running! There are so many countless awesome things that happened in 2016... family vacations to Utah for Christmas, Puerto Vallarta for summer break, I bought a smoker, I climbed 10 mountains, I started really reading again, the Broncos won the Super Bowl, and countless amazing conversations with family and friends. What a year!






As I eluded to in previous posts, I am starting to see a different focus as I approach my next decade of life. Somewhere along the line I decided my 30s was the decade to get physically fit. I think my 40s is a time to get spiritually fit. Running is a huge part of who I am and has taken me amazing places. I still plan to run and compete (hopefully well), but it feels like time to pursue a life bigger than running.


Friday, December 23, 2016

2017 Rambling....

I am more than 3 months post Wasatch and I feel like I am barely running, about 25 miles per week. That is something, but no where near my usual routines. There are some remaining niggles and my confidence and motivation to run are quite low. I am officially registered for the Boston Marathon and in the Leadville 100 lottery. But, I have zero idea how I'll get to the start of either race; in what kind of shape, I mean.

On the plus side, I've been enjoying having my life back. More time at home. Less obsession about training, diet, and shoes. More time cross training. All pretty good things. I've started reading more and trying to find ways to grow and thrive in my fifth decade on earth.

As part of my reading, I've begun to read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. I enjoy Tim's passion for finding better ways to live and the schedules/patterns/rituals of successful people. There are some amazing tips and tricks in the book, more than one person can process in one read of the book. I plan to tinker with some of the fitness ideas in the book as I continue to refine my approach to training and a balanced life. I've already begun experimentation with cryotherapy and plan to experiment more with sauna work and fasting. Sauna work and diet (including some fasting) were a huge part of my successes the past few years. It is my belief that an individual with a focus on total life health -- diet, sleep, supplements, etc... -- can be a successful endurance athlete without putting mileage as the singular focus as a measure of "fitness". It'll be a fun challenge.