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.

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