Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 Kettle 100 Adventure, My Nutrition (3 of 3)

Following a disappointing Kettle 100 DNF on June 1, I was left wondering; what went wrong, and how I might apply my learnings to the next attempt? (See post)

One thing that did not go wrong was the nutritional aspect of my training leading up to, and during the race.  In order to put the raceday nutrition into context, I’ll need to start 5 months ago, during a typical frigid Wisconsin January.  With lots of snow.  And it was cold.  I'm just saying.

I started a new nutritional strategy based on a modified Atkins diet, adjusted for athletes, whose plan is laid out very succinctly in The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, by Jeffery Volek and Stephen Phinney.  This plan shows how an athlete can transition from relying mainly on carbs for fuel, to running on fats.  Now, for an ultra-runner, as you might think, this plan can be advantageous.  Work with me here for a bit:

Our bodies can provide a reserve store of, at most, 2,000-3,000 calories in carbs.  Burning 800-1000 calories/hr, this can equate to about 3 hrs during a tough trail run.  We can take on, at most, 200-250 calories per hour of carbohydrates.  So adding the stored carbs with the calories taken on during that time, I get at most 4 hrs of running before my glycogen tank runs dry.  Kaput.  What happens then?  I bonk, that’s what happens.  My brain is now competing with my muscles for whatever fuel it can get.  I become a zombie, pure and simple.  The slow kind.

Now consider fat as a primary fuel source.  Even with a low body fat %, I have enough on-board energy to run 100’s of miles.

Starting out on this diet, my body was trained to burn carbohydrates.  I was stuck dealing with the bonk in EVERY long race; and running out of fuel really sucks.  But of course, my body is also burning fat, which allows me to continue, though in a less-effective, zomboid fashion.

Everyone knows there are two types of zombies, ...mainly (no, not girls and boys).  The slow ones and the fast ones of course.  Think of carb-fueled me late in a race.  Slow zombie, all the way.  Drooling and whimpering and stumbling along.  As a fat burner?  Think fast zombie (or at least faster).  Drooling and whimpering, but moving at a good clip.  Brains!
Enter a new way of eating, one in which I eat less than 50g of carbs per day.  This new nutritional strategy allowed me to train my body to burn primarily fats; to become keto-adapted.  The results have been amazing.
  • My racing weight dropped from 160 lbs, to 135 lbs on Kettle 100 race day.
  • Because of that weight loss, hills have come less of a challenge.
  • I experienced no central fatigue (no bonking) at all during the 63 miles and 12+ hrs of running.
I did supplement during the race with a product called UCAN.  This is a super-starch carbohydrate powder that, when mixed with water, provided a steady drip of carbohydrates during the run; but not enough to trip the insulin response (important).  I took on these carbs because my brain runs on the fuel created from them.  I also think my body needs carbs to burn the fats.  I needed the carbs, even if I was keto-adapted.  The result?  My energy level was steady throughout.

But the best part about this diet was the recovery.  Oh my goodness.  I felt like I could run the following day.  In fact I did go on a 3-miler two days following the race, and my legs felt no more fatigued than during usual training.  After a week, I was training as hard as I did leading up to the race.  After running 63 miles, this was truly mind-blowing for me.

I attribute this fantastic recovery to the diet.  My theory goes something like this: because I was burning primarily fats, I did not run out of fuel, ergo, vis-a-vis my muscles were not called on to provide the alternate fuel source; i.e. protein; or the muscles themselves.  Ouch.

One interesting result of this diet, which relates to the lack of central fatigue (zombification), is that I can feel leg fatigue more acutely.  I am completely aware of the pain in my body now.  Believe me, I'm not complaining, having tired legs is preferable to central fatigue.  I can push through tired legs, so much so that cramping has become an issue.  I am pushing harder now later in races then I ever have.  Hopefully, good training will alleviate this, and I'll become one of the fast zombies.

I’ll be running the Afton Trail Run 50k in a few weeks, which is a much shorter race distance than the 63 miles I ran at Kettle.  During a recent 4.5 hr run at Afton State Park, I was able to hammer the hills at end of the run.  I am mildly optimistic to see what my new legs can accomplish!

In finishing this post, I want to tell a story that gives me a lot of inspiration.  Ultra god and two-time Western States winner, Hal Koerner, ran one of the greatest races I have ever known in France at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.  In 2011, he took 38 hrs to round that mountain (the winner, Killian Jornet,  took 20 hrs).  He was passed by most everyone.  He got lost.  He was chafing in all the wrong places (the worst!).  But he did not quit.  After he finished, he was asked 'why he did not DNF.'  His answer was, that he 'dropped out of the race the last time he attempted it (in 2007).'  He waited 4 years for some retribution.  Read his blog post on the subject, it is amazing.

This is what I will be taking into the Kettle 100 next year.  No mountains, no crazy elevation, just some serious baggage to release.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 Kettle 100 Adventure, Race Report (2 of 3)

This is the second of three posts on this subject, with the final entry to focus on my nutrition.

At some point last year, it became apparent that “it was time.”  I had put this off long enough.  50 miles no longer felt “far.”  I needed to challenge myself, and maybe feel the bite of failure again.  It was time to sign up for my first 100 mile trail race.  Enough of the short-course shenanigans, it was time to step up with the big boys.

When it came time to selecting that race, there was no real decision to make; it would be the Kettle 100 in the Southern Wisconsin portion of the Kettle Moraine.  This race is held mainly on some of the greatest singletrack in the Midwest, on the 1000-mile long Ice Age Trail (IAT).  This race includes about 8,000 ft of elevation change, which makes it a relatively flat 100 miler, so I thought this might help me to ease into the distance.  The only downside seemed to be its spring scheduling; I've never had to train through winter.  Training went fine though, as I learned to tromp through snow and ice.  In fact, I thought spring would never come.

But come it did, and soon enough it was time to lace up my shoes and try something that would again push my limits.  Several friends and family members requested to follow my progress through text updates by my wife and crew, Beth.  I found this very touching; I was really humbled by the interest.  Thanks.  I hope you found the drama interesting.

The Kettle 100 is a double out-and-back course.  Starting at the Nordic Station in La Grange, WI, the first section starts on 7 miles of ski trails, and then travels 25 miles north on the IAT to Scuppernong, for an out-and-back total of 63 miles (or almost 100k).  The second section starts on the same 7 miles of ski trail, but then turns south for 12 miles to the Rice Lake turnaround, providing a total course length of about 101 miles.

There are four races held on the course.  The first three start simultaneously: 100 mile solo, 100 mile relay, and 100k.  The final 38 mile “fun run” starts some time after 6:00 pm, and helps to keep the 100 milers company on some lonely stretches of trail.  My goal was an average 12 min/mi pace for a 20 hour finish time.

We picked up our race packets the night before, so all we had Saturday morning were the usual victuals and expendables.  This was a very low-key start line, rife with nervous energy.  I met a few great people here, but none seemed able to focus on much of a conversation.  We had all prepared hard to get to this point.  Let’s get this thing going!

And, soon enough, it was “ready, set, go.”

I started out at 10.5 min/mi, a pace a bit faster than I had planned, but his was the pace of the crowd and I went with it.  The first 7 miles of ski trails were not fun.  They were wide and boring and very hilly.  Not much elevation, but full of Pointless Ups and Downs (PUDs).  Our first aid station, Tamarack, came in about 5 miles.  I don’t really remember much other than filling my water bottle, grabbing a gel, and hugging my sister who was volunteering here.  Have some stinky sweat Sis!

The first crew-access aid station was only 2.5 miles further at “Bluff”.  Here Beth handed me my first bottle of UCAN, and a gel.  We’ve gotten good at the pit row aid station method: Beth and I swap bottles, she hands me what else I might need, I tell her what I might need ready at the next station, and I’m off.

The next 8 miles were fairly hilly singletrack.  Very pretty and just a little technical.  I kept my 10.5 min/mi pace going comfortably, and the miles ticked off.  After an unmanned water stop at Horse Riders, I was at the first out-and-back half way point; Emma Carlin.  This was one fantastic aid station.  Tons of people!  I loved it.  But soon enough, I was out of there with another bottle of UCAN and some gels.

This section of the course was my favorite.  Everything was fresh in the spring morning, including my legs.  A decent-sized group of us formed a Zen-like conga line though the forested singletrack, effortlessly zooming through the stony ups and downs, feet knowing, without thought, just where to plant.  A grove of flowers unexpectedly appeared at this point, wrapping the moist air in a blanket of sweet fragrance.  I wish I could bottle up this emotion and uncork it whenever someone questions running such distances.  I could not image being anywhere else.

Then, of course, I fell flat on my face.  No blood though, and I quickly caught back up with my friends.

The next section had a fair bit of open prairie and was relatively flat.  As the heat of the day had yet to set in, the 10.5 min/mi pace continued easily.  I knew this section had a reputation for being hot, so I was prepared to slow it down some on the return leg; but not yet.  I did get a chance to meet a guy with an Aussie accent.  He was searching for his wife’s iPod, which he had dropped on the trail.  A few of us searched in vain, but then it was time to skedaddle; Hwy 67 came soon enough.  Through this part there were many sections of unavoidable mud and muck.  These can suck, and I tried to ignore them, plowing right through and trying to maintain my balance.

After Hwy 67 we got another good dose of hills, but at least this area was fairly wooded, so there were really no heat issues.  I had other, more pressing issues to contend with at this point though.

Having run this section of the IAT a kajillion times, I thought I knew exactly where the Hwy ZZ aid station was located; at the same location as the North Face Hwy ZZ aid station of course.  So, instead of following the well-marked course, I made a bee-line to (what turned out to be) my imaginary aid station.  After coming down a hill, and not seeing an aid station where I thought one should be, I continued until I saw one across the street.  Whew!  I thought I had gone off course.

Funny, Beth wasn't there; the first crew-access aid station she’d missed.  I know my pace was still 10.5, so I must be too far ahead of schedule.  I’ll see her at the next station, the Scuppernong turn-around, for sure.  So I refueled and took off down the trail.

Funny, there are a lot of very fit looking people running towards me on the trail.  Well, either I was moving pretty fast, or I was where I shouldn't have been.  Sure enough, I had missed a turnoff and bounded confidently into the Scuppernong aid station, skipping Highway ZZ.  Bummer.  But I had a plan.  Since the Hwy ZZ to Scuppernong was an out-and-back, the section is run twice.  So after Hwy ZZ, all I needed to do was double-back to Scuppernong, plead my case, and run this section again.

Of course, Beth thought she had lost me.  She was speaking with the course monitors trying to figure out where I had last checked out.  I met her again on my second trip to Scuppernong.  She was relieved, but worried that I would be DQ’ed.  That would have sucked.  Bet the RD, who felt that if I was not top-3, I could continue, as long as I travelled the same distance, albeit a bit in the wrong direction.  Thank you.

It was weird to be at about 30 miles in a 100 mile race, feeling fantastic, and keeping pace.  There was no “central fatigue” with which to deal, and no tired legs.  I felt like a million bucks.  This thing will be a snap.  Ha ha.

Returning to Hwy ZZ, there are sections of switchback singletrack.  Since this was an out-and-back section, I met quite a few runners.  They were very courteous, yielding to the out-of-control downhill runners.  These downhills were a blast.

In and out of Hwy ZZ with a fresh UCAN, I ran with relative ease to Hwy 67.  The sun had finally shown its face, and as it had been raining quite a bit the week approaching the race, the humidity would become an issue.  But not yet.  I was still on a 10.5 min pace and feeling comfortable, with a bit of leg fatigue.  At Hwy 67, I took a lot of ice with my UCAN, and wrapped an ice-filled bandanna around my neck in preparation for the open prairie section.  This did the trick.  It was hot and humid, but the cool bandanna and ice kept me cool.

I slowed my pace significantly through the prairie towards Emma Carlin.  I knew the hills that were to come, and running at the faster pace in the heat would not have been prudent.  Still, I felt pretty good coming into Emma Carlin.  So with a quick refuel and kick in the butt, I was out of there and back into the cooler (so I thought) forested section back to Bluff.

Funny thing, but the humidity seemed to be trapped under the forest foliage.  I sure was feeling it here, both mentally and physically.  The PUD hills and humidity were wearing me down.  My legs were not tired, but everything else became a burden.  I found myself slouching, with very sore shoulders and back.  The miles, which ticked off so easily before, now seemed to double in length.  And the UCAN, which was giving me a steady drip of energy throughout, started making my stomach feel bloated, like I had just eaten 500 pretzels.  Coming into Bluff, I was in a sorry state.  Beth wrung sponges of ice water on my back, which helped a lot.  Food looked worse than the UCAN so I continued with the same fueling schedule.  I vowed to revive my negative attitude into Nordic.

To counteract those negative feelings, Beth and I planned on a sock change at Nordic.  A pick me up.

And then I was out of Bluff and headed back to the Nordic start-finish to start my second out-and-back.  I lost a bit of my sanity on that 7 mile stretch.  What once felt totally doable now seemed unfathomable.  My brain was wreaking havoc, and I was unprepared for the lengths my it was willing to go to get me to stop.  My legs were fine, yet I couldn't imagine running a measly 38 more miles.  After what seemed like hours, I came into Nordic in a terrible mental state.

I was miserable, my stomach felt worse, my back and shoulders were killing me, and I sat down to change my socks.  Big mistake.  Terrible mistake.  Fatal mistake.  I should have changed my stupid socks at Bluff!  I wanted to quit in the worse way.  I started to shiver, and nausea was wracking my body.  What I needed to do was get back moving again; to get the leg-heart system back in gear.  Walk to the next station if need be, and quit there if I still felt so compelled.

And then the heavens opened, sealing my mental fate.

I told Beth that “I don’t want to do this anymore.”  I turned in my timing chip and left, feeling dejected.

I really had no reason to be so morose.  I had just run 63 miles, by far my longest single distance to date.  My legs held out fine and could have continued.  But I quit, and I wished I hadn't.  I learned a TON though (see previous post), whose lessons I plan on applying to next year’s race.

I ran the race using a single waist-pack water bottle, usually filled with UCAN.  My shoes were my trusty Inov8 F-lite 230's.  I've been using this model for the last 5 years, and they are still my favorites for hard-packed singletrack.

Thank you all to the fantastic RD, wonderful aid station volunteers, everyone who was following my progress, and of course my wife and crew, Beth.  It was a fantastic experience, and even though I failed to finish, I am aware of the wonderful gifts God has provided.  We’ll get ‘er done next year!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Kettle 100 Adventure, Lessons Learned (1 of 3)

This is the first of three posts on this subject, with the next two to focus on the race report and my nutrition.

The thing I like about writing this blog is that it allows me to relive and share some very good races and wonderful experiences, while conversely providing me the vehicle for putting some unsuccessful experiences behind me.  Get it out on paper (or pixels in this case), and then shift focus on what’s next.

I DNF’ed at mile 63 of the Kettle 100 mile race, my first attempt at this distance.  Surprisingly, I am not as devastated by this result as I might have expected.  I learned a ton just getting to that point in the race, all of which I plan on applying to my next attempt at this distance; probably in the same race next year.  So without a further waste of pixels, here’s what I learned.

1.    Running 100 miles is friggin’ INSANE!  I had no clue.  Everything I experienced in this race, I've read about previously; there were no real surprises.  But to experience it is to know it I guess.  The mental aspect of racing this distance is one for which I was not prepared.  My body did not fail, but my mind was left reeling.  This aspect is one for which I must be better prepared.  I have a whole new level of respect for those who can finish at this distance.  Mary, you rock!

2.    Steve Quick warned me!  Beware the chair at mile 63.  I had the great idea that changing my socks at this point in the race might be a great pick-me-up.  But I need to sit for that to happen.  Big mistake.  I was too close to the car, to a George Webb’s burger (which WAS delicious), to warmth and comfort and family, and anything other than running.  Why did I sit down?  Once I made that decision, it might as well have been the Kettle 1000.

3.    I need to have a plan.  Prepare for the lure of the chair!  If I am dead set on quitting, then quit at the next aid station.  Maybe caffeine might give me the boost I need.  Or music.  Or maybe a cattle prod.

4.    Running 100 miles on hill and trail was hard on my whole body.  Afterwards I felt like I had been rolled in an alley by some thugs; big ones with bats.  And tattoos.  In the months of training leading up to the race, I focused almost entirely on leg strength and endurance.  That part of my training worked.  I still was able to run the uphills and downhills relatively comfortably late in the race.  My back and shoulders were very fatigued.  I can get away without push-ups and planks for races less than 50 miles it seems; but not at this distance.

5.    Screw the goal time, just finish my first 100 miler.  I had set a goal time of 20 hours.  I know I can run that time, and I will some day.  But this was my first attempt at this crazy distance.  Setting a goal this aggressive applied too much mental pressure.  Next time, just finish the darned thing.

6.    With that said, I still need to plan a pace.  I set out at a 10.5 min pace for the first 40 or so miles, and I don’t think that hindered me at all; I don’t think I started out too fast.  I was comfortable at that pace, allowing me to slow it up when the heat became more of a factor.  I have a feeling that once the coolness of the evening set in, I could have returned to at least an 11 min pace.

7.    At locations late in the race in which DNF'ing is uniquely convenient (i.e. the 63 mile turnaround at the Kettle 100), plan on a u-turn.  Do not linger and allow naughty thoughts to develop.

In conclusion, for those who are considering this insanity, I hope this helps.  For those who are already nuts and have completed this distance, I would love to hear your input and guidance.  The bottom line is: I could have continued.  I did not.  I wish I would have.

The actor Peter Ustinov once said, “The point of … being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come.”  Well, I'm understating the obvious when I say that trying this again will be foolish.  Here’s to what’s yet to come!