Saturday, January 24, 2015

Western States 100 - Crew and Pace Strategy

Information here is based on the following page from Western States Official Site. Information also taken from the aid station page on Western States site.

The first half of the course is somewhat remote and rugged and difficult for crews to get to all the allowed aid stations. WS100 recommends that you either have a single crew ("A") or two crews ("A" and "B"). Steve and I are considering a plan where we split crews the first half of the race to minimize the time without seeing crew. Should we decide not to go with this strategy, then my crew will only be at the aid stations marked for crew "A". (The other possibility is to see crew "A" at Robinson Flat, Michigan Bluff, and Forrest Hill.) Notice that crew "A" and "B" are only necessary until Forrest Hill.  From that point, only one crew is necessary.

Course Profile - borrowed from

Course Map - borrowed from
Crew A - Chuck and Heather
Crew B - Kara and Thomas

Destination Mile 24-Hr 30-Hr Cut Off Time of Day* Crew Drive Time
Duncan Canyon 23.8 4:50 6:05 12:00 PM9:50 AMB3.5 Hours
Robinson Flat 29.7 6:20 7:55 1:50 PM11:20 AM A - Shuttle2.5 Hours
Dusty Corners 38 7:55 10:15 4:10 PM12:55 PMB3 Hours
Michigan Bluff 55 12:20 15:50 9:45 PM5:20 PMA1.5 Hours
Bath Rd 60.6 13:30 12:30 ---6:30 PM A* - Chuck-
Forrest Hill 62 13:45 17:45 11:45 PM6:45 PMA - Heather 20 Mins
Rucky Chucky (far) 78 17:40 23:00 5:00 AM10:40 PMA** - Heather 45 Mins
Green Gate  79.8 18:20 23:55 5:40 AM11:20 PMA*** - Foot -
Hwy 49 93.5 22:10 28:00 9:20 AM3:10 AMA - Shuttle 1 Hour
No Hands Bridge 96.8 23:10 28:55 11:00 AM4:10 AMA -
Robbie Point 99 23:40 29:35 11:00 AM4:40 AMA - Heather-
Finish 100.2 23:59 29:59 11:00 AM4:59 AM
30 mins

* - Walk in from Forrest Hill - 1.0 miles
** - Walk in from Green Gate - 3.25 miles
*** - Green Gate is 1.25 mile walk-in from designate parking area

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Training Update

I have not decided if I am going to stay with the weekly training update or go to infrequent, general updates for 2015. For now, I'll do the latter.

At the end of 2014, I felt pretty run down and wasn't really enjoying running much. Frankly, I think most of this had to do with not having a goal that got me motivated; I was never fully into Bear 100. I wrote several blog posts about motivation and trying to get myself excited. But, I just never managed to find my groove and trained pretty poorly in July and August due to an ankle injury and "life". Taming a hundred miles is so much harder than any other distance I have run. I cannot fully explain to people that have done another distance of ultra how much harder the 100 mile distance is. It weighed on my mind big time ahead of Bear 100.

I also have been dealing with an injury since before the North Fork 50. This is not an injury I have discussed here and may not be much of an injury at all, more of a compensation thing. Basically, I have had general knee pain -- and occasional shin pain -- since June. I finally decided to see my PT at the start of 2015 so it didn't linger into Western States. The good news is that isn't anything major and quite curable. The better news is that I can run through it (smartly, of course). We think it started with a pulled hamstring that occurred in March of 2014. When I attempted to run through it, I developed a compensation pattern that has me rotating my knee inward and sort of hyper-extending it backward. And, my hamstring remains quite tight and knotted from the injury. All of that is fixable with time, but it really played with my head for a long time. Being "injured" sucks and is highly demotivating to training.

Finally, being and obsessive and an ultra guy, I think overdid things a bit, particularly in the areas of vertical gain and long-long runs. Every year I have a tendency to slip into logging mileage and long-long runs during ultra season, foregoing the consistency and structured training that I like to do. I ran 6 runs of longer than 30 miles in 2014 and 10 longer than a marathon. When it was all said and done, I had one of the bigger stats years of my "running career", accumulating nearly 300K of vertical gain and nearly 400 hours of running -- not including, on average, 1.5 XT sessions a week.

Put it all together, and I just needed time. So, for the last few months of 2014 I tried to just run by feel and for fun. Then, I got a jolt when I got into WS100 that carried me for a few weeks. However, that quickly turned to angst as I obsessed about my knee before I finally got into see the PT.

Ah, finally, I have a plan and I am moving forward. Running is fun and I am going with the flow. Some days I sleep in and run at lunch. Other days, I run in the morning. I've even had a few days where I ran after work. I just fit it in where motivation and time allows. And, I am slowly starting to stop obsessing about cross-training. When you are injured, it is easy to convince yourself that adding more cross-training is what you need, possibly even considering alternative ways to train like CrossFit. And, like everything, I can overdo that too! The last thing that I have done is to stop fighting Winter. I haven't really attempted to run trails since New Years Day (a tradition) because the conditions just aren't enjoyable to me. So, I am running lots of hilly roads and lots of structure, things I enjoy. I am working a lot on raw speed -- short intervals and strides. The nice thing is that I suddenly feel like I am holding back, where two months ago every run felt like labor. I can -- and want to -- run more. But, I am intentionally trying to slowly build momentum towards March and April when real training will begin. I plan to peak once only this year -- June 27th. I have no plans for June 29th and beyond... yet anyway.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

LCHF in Practice

I have had quite a few people ask me about low carb high fat (LCHF) recently and I decided detailed post was in order! One thing I need to mention upfront is that you will often hear that this journey is an experiment of one (n=1). The reason is that we all have different physiological profiles that we bring to the table and we all have something why are trying to accomplish as well as certain tastes and preferences. However, the core idea of reading labels to understand what we are eating, avoiding cheap, processes foods, and allowing our bodies to adapt to a more natural metabolic state remains the same. Once you learn the foods that are good, bad, and in moderation (or green, red, and yellow according to Noakes), then you can develop a routine that works for you. Understand that you are fundamentally changing the way your body processes and maintains energy each day. This is not a small undertaking, usually requiring 1-3 months at a minimum and possibly up to a year to see full benefits. This post contains a ton of information and is best used as a reference. The easiest way to get started is just to track what you eat and eat more fat and less carbs, particularly those from grains and sugars. A book is another good place to start. And, I highly recommend tracking your diet -- calories and macro-nutrient breakout -- before you start so you have a means to compare.

Why I went LCHF?

I have been experimenting with low carb living for more than 10 years now. After my daughter was born and I weighed almost 250 pounds, I went on the Atkins diet and it started there. It has been a bumpy ride because I got caught up in believing the products "nutrition companies" like GU started selling me when I became an endurance athlete. And, I believed in calorie math. If I burned 2500 calories on a training run, then I could eat 2500 calories of whatever I wanted and be even, right?  (I no longer believe in calorie math, at least not in an absolute state.)  While I have believed for a long time that low carb is a healthy way of life, I just had a hard time reconciling that with the demands of training to be an endurance athlete.

As I have taken my running to greater time and distances, eating (and energy) has become a common source of problems. If you are carb addicted, you need to eat an almost endless supply of carbohydrates to keep your energy level constant. But that is tough to do. Your body can only process something like 250 calories an hour -- it varies person to person -- and you are burning like 800. The math doesn't work. Making the problem worse, many of the products we eat are from sources that, given enough time and quantity, will make us sick -- either GI distress or nausea. And, much of what we drink comes in the form of a sugary beverage which can lead to hydration issues from consuming too much liquid. When I first read that Jason Schlarb ran a 100 mile race (and won!) on 1700 calories, I decided to investigate this topic more. (I probably ate something like 10,000 calories in my first 100 mile race.)

What are the results I have seen?

I have seen almost all the benefits that Phinney and Volek predicted in their books -- leaner physique, more constant energy, quicker recovery from races and hard training sessions, stable weight, and solid gut (no more runner's trots!), and more.... I had two of my best race ever in 2014 and I fueled pretty much with one gel every 45 minutes and water, about 150 kcals an hour. My energy level was constant and I was surging past runners after 7 hours. I set a personal best on a segment of the North Fork 50 course after running 43 miles. The best part is that I rarely think about calories I am eating -- unless I am trying to eat more! I eat until I am full.

What are the challenges I have encountered?

The main challenges I encountered were early on and part of the adaption phase. I attempted to go extreme low carb (20-50g a day) while training 55+ miles per week and I was groggy all the time. I hated running. Some of this was due to adaption phase and should be expected to take time. Some of this was due to the extreme nature of trying to go so low so quickly. (These days I typically eat 50-150g a day, though I rarely count anymore.) And some was due to the amount water weight I shed. This is referred to as the "Atkins flu" and is cured by drinking some beef broth to get sodium in your system.

The other thing that has remained with me and been somewhat elusive is a bit of a "fog" that comes over me once in a while. I think the difficulty here is with the central nervous system (brain), which requires lots of energy, mostly from carbohydrates. You need to keep the brain energized and alert. In races I started using amino acid pills to aid in keeping my central nervous system from being overcome by fatigue. As the central governor to your entire body, once your brain fatigues, it will shut everything down. The pills were expensive and kind of a hassle. Lately I have been experimenting with an amino acid supplement (called Biosteele). I use it before and during workouts and even as an energy supplement during the day. It contains no sugar and no caffeine.

*UPDATE* I have recently started using VESPA before and during my long runs, particularly my long races. The product is crazy expensive, but it works. It has really helped with my mental clarity and keeping my energy stable. I was genuinely amazed at how stable my energy was for all 23+ hours at Western States 100.

What do I actually eat?

Day to day, I eat lots of things and won't waste (much) space here. Google LCHF or Paleo and you'll find lots of ideas. The books I recommend below also have example recipes. I tend to eat lots of salad, soups based with broth and/or heavy whipping cream, red meat, pork, eggs, coconut oil, cheese, high fat dairy, etc... I try to buy organic fruits and veggies and grass fed meat, but I am not super strict about that. I never eat legumes or grains and I rarely eat fruit (typically just berries or organic apple sauce). My beer drinking has been cut significantly down. But, I still have cheat days -- usually pizza and beer. I don't try to be perfect all the time. I think that is a misconception of this diet. My cheat days are fewer (maybe every 2-3 weeks) when training hard. After Bear 100, I went off the diet for several days and ate like a pig.

Eating on the run is a bit of a moving target. Fat adaption does not mean that I do not eat sugar during runs. It means that my body is quite happy to burn fat. In fact, it burns fat as the primary energy source. However, for shorter distance races (up to 50 miles), I find the convenience of gels hard to pass up. They are easier to pack, cheap to buy, and convenient to eat. I just eat fewer of them. For North Fork 50, I ate Hammer Bars and drank Skratch Labs for the first 25 miles, then I switched to gels and plain water in the second half of the race. Pretty simple.

Beyond 50 miles is the point when all that sugar starts to take a toll on the GI system. And, running 100 miles takes a serious toll! Your body goes through a lot, including missing multiple meals and being awake for up to 48 hours. Having only tried twice, I have not yet perfected a 100 mile diet, but I think it will require more real food (Epic Bars, Nut Butters) and supplements (like Generation Ucan and pure MCT oil) as well as gels. During my recent Bear 100, conditions were miserable (hot early, then pouring rain) and I lost patience with my nutrition plan early. I also think I was attempting to eat too many calories, nearly double what I was eating in shorter races all summer.

I see lots of advantages in a product like Generation Ucan and have attempted to use it -- and will continue to try -- as an in-race fuel source. It is great pre-run. But, it is extremely inconvenient on-the-run. Not only is it expensive, it is difficult to mix, grainy in the mouth, and does not provide an instant energy source when you get low. I am considering just drinking it at aid stations where I see crew. I think my 2015 strategy will be fewer calories between aid stations (some Skratch Labs and Vfuel gels) and then real food at aid stations -- Epic Bars, Ucan, Nut Butters. And, don't forget the amino acids!

*UPDATE* At Western States this year, I had a Coconut Lara Bar every 2 hours, VESPA every 2-3 hours, and a serving of Skratch Labs about every hour. That's it. About 150-175 Kcals an hour and I had stable energy, no GI distress, and no nausea for 24 hours.

Please note that I have no sponsors. Every product I mention above I pay for with my own money. Therefore, I have no allegiance to them an no incentive to push products on you. Most products I choose are either because I believe in them -- usually they are wholesome food with clean labels -- or because they are convenient (cost, taste, easy to carry on the run).

More Resources

If you undertake this process, I highly recommend reading as much of the following as you can. Remember this is a major life change that impacts your long-term health. I am not a doctor, but many of the of the following folks are.

Previous Blog Posts of Mine

Links and Authors I recommend
Peter Attia Blog
Zach Bitter Blog
Timothy Olson Blog
Endurance Planet
Ben Greenfield
Phil Maffetone

Tim Noakes

Books I recommend