Wednesday, September 17, 2014

11 Things To Do/Not To Do at Leadville 2015

Here are some mental notes for next year's Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. If I get into Western States, I'll be skipping the 2015 Leadville and will instead crew/pace/volunteer. But if I don't get into States, then I fully expect to be back at Leadville next August, once again believing I can finally figure out this perplexing race. What can I say? I refuse to give up!

1) Don't tell yourself that living at 6,200 feet here in Colorado will get you ready for the altitude in and around Leadville. There is a huge difference between 6K and 10K-12K. Training can't just be at places like Roxborough State Park, Deer Creek Canyon and Mount Falcon, though those places are conveniently close by and certainly offer great trails and beneficial terrain. You need to get higher! You need reps on the Incline and other steep trails to get ready for the backside of Hope Pass. There's also that hidden steep-ass trail at Deer Creek Canyon that AJ and Chuck showed you in the early spring; do it! But, whatever you do, you need more runs above 9K.

2) Keep work stress at bay. In July, you let work stress (getting an ad campaign launched) totally undo your ability to taper effectively in August. Granted, you had a lot going on over the summer and did your best.

3) Take First Endurance Optygen starting on May 1. It'll probably help with the altitude.

4) Don't miss Brandon's night run again!

5) Get a follow-up metabolic efficiency test a few weeks before Leadville so you know what your caloric needs are going to be at the race.

6) Get in at least one 100-mile week, preferably right before the taper begins. Your body thrives on such volume. For you, volume is king. Remember what your ultrarunning mentor, Tim Clement (former multiple-times national champ), told you eight years ago: "Training for a successful 100-miler is about volume, volume, volume." Big volume works for you.

7) Don't worry about getting in tons of quality. Just do some tempo runs and fartleks, along with steep hill repeats, every so often and you'll be fine. What benefits you most in prepping for 100s is volume. You're a volume guy--you used to be able to run 450 miles a month and get away with it. It's what you need. Do most of it at MAF and you'll be fine. MAF is your friend.

8) Eat a balanced breakfast the "morning" of the race, in an effort to "turn on" fat-burning. This might include some scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil, along with some Greek yogurt. Don't eat your usual oatmeal; that'll just make your body crash later on and crave carbs as fuel.

9) Wear Hokas the whole way during the race, except for maybe the Hope Pass section. Your legs need those Hokas! Investigate and try lower-profile Hokas such as the Huakas for the more technical stretches.

10) Don't worry about taking any calories through Mayqueen outbound (mile 13.5). Just run and maybe sip some water.

11) Take Pepto and sit down for at least 20 minutes the second your stomach goes bad, though hopefully that won't happen. By sitting down, you're letting your stomach "catch up" and get some oxygen. Oh yeah, and also keep the S!Caps coming!

Bonus: Listen to Anne when it comes to getting ready for the altitude. She keeps getting on you about that one thing. It's time to do it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Too Many Calories, Too Many Carbs at Leadville

If there’s one theme in race reports I’ve noticed over the years, it’s stomach distress. The longer we go and the more extreme the terrain is, the greater the chance of GI distress.

As I continue to look carefully at my own race day diet, I don’t like what I see. Gels and energy drinks are full of sugar and sugar tends to make me sick.

As previously mentioned on here, my metabolic efficiency test a few weeks ago revealed that I need between 62-187 calories and between 9-27 grams of carbohydrate an hour in a 100-mile race. Over the weekend, I started reading labels of products I used at this year’s Leadville 100—and boy was it painful. It was one of those “I wish I could go back in time and do things differently” moments.

Let’s start with Carbo-Pro, a source of calories I’ve used in multiple Leadvilles (all of which featured puke fests, but nothing quite like this year). A serving of Carbo-Pro, which I used from miles 24-50 this year, has 200 calories and a whopping 50 grams of carbs. Most of those calories come from pretty much pure sugar. So, when you look at Carb-Pro and my test results, can you see that a serving has a few too many calories for my needs—and almost double the carb grams per hour I can handle. Plus, I wasn’t taking Carbo-Pro by itself; I was also taking it with VFuel gels. That means, per hour, I was taking in about 300 calories and almost 80 grams of carbs.

It’s no wonder by mile 50 I was doubled over vomiting. I had put in my stomach way more than it could handle, and the vomiting was its way of saying, “enough, please.”

We are told that 100-milers are eating contests with some running mixed in. The more you can eat, the better, it’s said. But as I’m coming to learn, it’s not a game of jamming as many calories in your body as possible. Success comes down to giving your body what it needs, and what you need and what I need can be two totally different things.

After reading those labels, it started to make sense to me why in training runs over the summer my gut stayed happy but at Leadville it went south. The reason was that in training runs I tended to stay within my limits as far as calories and carbs per hour. I would take a VFuel gel about every 90 minutes or so, usually not starting until the second hour, and all would go well. Yet at Leadville this year I told myself that I needed up to 300 calories an hour, so I forced stuff down my throat that my stomach ultimately couldn’t handle.

The key, I believe, is finding out your nutritional ranges and staying within those ranges. Admittedly, I'm still trying to figure myself out. But at least now I have some data to use.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Leadville Post-Morten; Becoming More Fat-Adapted

A lot has happened since my Leadville 100 race report.

Simply put, it was a rather traumatic experience from the standpoint that I feel like I trained hard and was ready mentally and physically and yet my stomach once again came unglued--worse than ever before. I have said this before and I'll say it again: It is amazing to me that I finished Leadville, especially after literally passing out/fainting at Twin Lakes. Few times have I ever dug so deep and, when you do go that far into the well, it takes a lot out of you. But, despite it all, I resolved to finish--I'd been to the depths before and knew I could get it done. And I did. So, from that standpoint, I couldn't be more proud.

In the wake of the race, I sought the advice of a professional nutritionist, specifically Abby McQueeney Penamonte, who was the top woman in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 2013. Long story short: What we've found is that my body likes to burn carbs, not fat, while I run--not good for ultrarunners. We also found that I've been consuming too many calories at Leadville. I don't need 250-300 calories an hour, as I've tried to do over the past years (more is better, right? Wrong!). What I need is between 62-187 calories an hour. What that means is that I can get by on just 62 calories an hour (not ideal but doable), but my max caloric intake per hour is 187. As far as carbs, my current numbers have it that I need to keep my hourly carb consumption during races to between 9-36 grams.

What I've learned is that, even if I keep my calories under that 187 threshold, my stomach will still go to hell in a hand cart if I'm taking in too many carbs. A-ha!

In case you're wondering how we got those numbers, allow me to explain. Basically, I got on a treadmill and ran at 9:22 pace (a super easy pace I would run for much of Leadville, minus the big climbs) with an oxygen mask covering my mouth. It was an easy pace; my heart rate never got above 103 beats per minute. Meanwhile, Abby was measuring the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which produced the above data.

Do I think this data is 100% accurate? On the whole, yes. The data tell me what I need and do not need and where I need to go next with my training and diet. After years of struggling in Leadville, I feel like I finally have some answers.

Which brings me to fat-adaption.

I have always thought of myself as fairly fat-adapted. Every morning, except weekends, I go for my runs with zero calories in me. I can run for over three hours on nothing. Plus, I pretty much ran (and walked) the last 50 miles of Leadville this year on nothing but body fat since I couldn't keep anything down. Contrary to all of that, what the data show is that my body likes to use carbs over fat. Of the 623 calories I burn per hour while running, 360 are from carbs and and 263 are from fat. I need to more-than-reverse those numbers.


At any given time, you have between 1,500-2,000 calories in glycogen stores (sugar/carbs) you can burn. When you run out of glycogen, you slow up considerably and "hit the wall." Meanwhile, even the leanest athlete has tens of thousands of calories in fat they can burn. The key is teaching your body how to use those fat stores efficiently. That's where diet comes into play. If you eat too many carbs, your body gets addicted to carbs and they become the preferred fuel source. But if you eat fewer carbs and more healthy fats, along with proteins, veggies and fruits, your body will learn to use fat as its primary fuel.

What that means is that, if you are a good fat-burner, you need fewer and fewer calories during races, even 100-milers, meaning there's less of a strain on your stomach because it's not constantly getting bombarded with gels, sugary concoctions, etc. I know a fat-adapted athlete who ran a 2:50 at Boston on nothing--he took in not one calorie. That is incredible to me.

For reasons I wish not to go into on here, it will be impossible for me to adopt a truly fat-adapted diet across all meals of the day. Nor do I wish to do so--drinking spoons of oil and adding bacon to everything doesn't appeal to me. However, I believe I can become more fat-adapted through better training practices, more of an emphasis on MAF training (you know me; I'm a MAF disciple), and more careful planning around my breakfast and lunch (two meals every day that I have full control of). There are some things I can do during dinner, but ultimately I am unable and unwilling to impose this way of eating on my family. We like spaghetti and I'm not going to give that up. But there are other things I can do, and much of it I'm now starting to do.

All that aside, in looking back at Leadville, I believe pre-race stress was a major factor. All summer long, I worked my tail off directing an ad campaign, which launched the Monday before the race--as in five days before the big event. My cortisol was probably quite high. That might explain why my taper for Leadville was hideous--I had simply reached the point where I couldn't recover adequately and adapt from the hard training I'd been putting in all summer. I didn't share this with anyone at the time, but I also experienced a few bouts of vertigo the day before the race, including a horrible dizzy spell during the pre-race briefing. The altitude was kicking my ass from the second we arrived in Leadville. It was just one of those years. If I return in 2015, there are a few things I'll do to be ready for the altitude.

I am letting go of the sub-20-hour dream at Leadville. While I am confident I could still clock a fast 100 on a flat course, Leadville continues to vex me. At this point, Western States is my race of choice in 2015. If I don't get into Western, then I'll of course heavily consider a return to Leadville. Whatever happens, I'll be more fat-adapted and I'll be taking in the right number of calories--that's for sure!

Final word: Running ultras is important to me. But over the years I've learned not to take it too seriously. I don't get paid for this (thank God), and there are several other things in life that come before ultras. So, with that, I do want to improve and learn, but ultimately I'm trying not to take this stuff too seriously.