Results tagged “Fueling”

Big Fat Theory

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Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the ratio of fat and carbohydrate expenditure while running at varying paces.

Drs. Jeff Volek and Steve Phinney are currently working on a study through the University of Connecticut Department of Kinesiology (dubbed the FASTER Study), which is comparing the rate of fat and carbohydrate metabolization at various paces in ultramarathon runners. One of my coaching clients, Kevin Grabowski, just returned from the study. Kevin is incredibly fat-adapted. The man consumes 3+ quarts of heavy whipping cream a week! I won't spill the beans on his results, but it's safe to say he burns pure fat at his "easy pace," which is often the same as race pace on longer distance ultras. This knowledge has a lot of implications for racing something like a 24-hour event.

I am up to participate in the FASTER Study in March, so until then I can only speculate. However, this doesn't mean I can't experiment.

My theory is that I metabolize fat exclusively beginning around 7:10-7:40/mi (on flat terrain, that is). If this is true, it means I could deplete my carbs and still expect to maintain 7:20/mi pace without trouble. I set out on a run Saturday morning to test this out. My goal was to try to deplete my glycogen stores with an aggressive, fasted workout so that I could then, during the cool-down, identify what pace I could still maintain comfortably without the help of glycogen. Here's the protocol I followed:
  • Overnight fast
  • Pre-workout nutrition (coffee, Vespa Ultra Concentrate)
  • 11 miles at 6:40-6:50/mi
  • 5 mile progression (5:51, 5:46, 5:42, 5:29, 5:35)
  • 4 miles at what felt comfortable (average about 7:30/mi)
Anecdotally I am pretty certain that the workout depleted my carbohydrate stores: When I finished the progression run, I was drained. I went into the 4 mile cool-down without a break. I quickly noticed that I could push my pace down close to 7:00/mi with a bit of effort, but if I just ran to comfort—my "run forever" speed—it was closer to 7:30/mi. Assuming I was successful at depleting my carbohydrate stores, I believe this was a good indicator of what pace I can currently maintain, while burning fat as my sole fuel source. (Again, terrain and other conditions play a role.)

My performance at my past few ultra races seems to support this. In my recent 50 milers (Tussey Mountainback and the Chicago Lakefront 50), my pace was well under 7:00/mi. According to my little experiment, I would have required some carbohydrate intake to maintain those speeds; my fueling of roughly 1,000 calories during each of those events makes sense.

One might argue, however, that I should still have had enough glycogen stored up to adequately meet the demand placed on me even at the quicker pace. With that thought in mind, I would argue that I did not do a "carb load" in any traditional sense leading into each of those efforts. Maybe this is something to play around with in the future. Ultimately, I think it will come down to whether I would rather take in a few more carbs during the race, or would it be easier to stock up a bit the 1-2 days prior to racing. 

Speed and Recovery

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Here in Wisconsin we have gotten hit by yet another super cold spell. I am fortunate enough to live near a 200-meter indoor track, so I look at cold days (recently we've had a few that dropped below -30F with windchill) as opportunities to log some fast miles on the track. As I add more speedwork, I become even more conscious about what I eat in order to optimally recover.

Here is an example of one of my speed/strength sessions and what I ate before and after it.

Pre-Workout Fuel

Since I follow an OFM (optimized fat metabolization) protocol, I don't eat much before workouts. My body is trained to burn fat efficiently most of the time, reserving stored glycogen for quicker pace stuff. Before this workout, I had a Vespa Ultra Concentrate, a cup of coffee and a concoction containing almond milk, raw honey, 2 Tbsp organic butter, coconut flakes, chia seeds, cocoa nibs and Himalayan sea salt. Just before I started the progression run, I had a Vespa Junior.


I warmed up outside by running to the track. It was interesting, given that we had about 4 inches of really powdery snow that had not been shoveled yet. The warm-up was five miles in all.

This stands for sprint straights, jog corners, and it's a workout I learned at Stevens Point running track and field. It is a really good way to get some turnover in your legs before getting into the real workout. 

Progression Run
I did a short progression run of three miles. I kept it short so I would have something left in my legs for some 200-meter repeats afterward. My progressive mile times were: 5:30, 5:22 and 5:09.

Active Recovery
I wanted to get enough of the lactic acid out of my legs before starting the 200-meter repeats, but without standing around, which would cause my legs to tighten up. I did a two-mile recovery jog. 

My goal here was simply to get some over-speed training. This trains me to maintain proper form at high speeds, making it less likely that my form will break down during a long ultra. Sometime I do this type of workout in the form of a 20/40s (20 second sprints, 40 second jogs). Today, it was 200-meter repeats. I didn't need to do a ton of them, so my plan was to keep going until I couldn't do a low 35. Each 200 was separated by an easy 200-meter jog around the track. I ended up with seven repetitions (35, 34, 34, 33, 34, 34 and 35 high).

I still had leg strength training to do, so I ran another 1/2 mile just to let my legs catch back up.

Strength Training (Legs)
This isn't what I do every time I do leg work, but it is a sample of one of the circuits I use when doing leg strength.

  • Walking Lunges with two 10 lb plates for 1/8 mile
  • Squat (machine) 3 x 15
  • Hamstring plank 2 x 20 both legs; 2 x 10 single leg (each leg)
  • Russian-Dead-Lift 3 x 15
  • Box Steps 2 x 10 (each leg)

I did a 3-mile jog outside back home

Post-Workout Fuel

After the workout, It is all about recovery. Since I did quite a bit of intensity between the running and strength training, I strategically included some carbohydrates in my post-workout meal. However, it was still much less than what most people would have after a workout.

  • 4 oz fresh calf liver
  • 4 strips of thick bacon
  • 2 oz wild caught Alaskan salmon
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 sweet potato
  • 2 cups kale
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 3 Tbsp of sour cream
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan sea salt

Burning River 93 for Me

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This was definitely an adventure for me. Weather patterns, race day strategies, jostling around the leader board, conversations on the trail, and my eventual disqualification at the Burning River 100 (BR100) brought many emotions and lessons by Saturday evening.

The weather outlook on race day was definitely not typical for late in July Midwest racing. Instead of the hot, humid weather that normally occupies this time of year, it was overcast, muggy at times, and rainy for the majority of the day. It rained almost consistently from mile 10 through 60. This left the trails of Cuyahoga Falls quite sloppy. In level spots the trails were often high ankle-deep in muck and water, and the ups and downs were slick.

My pre-race strategy was to start the race at or around an 8 -minute mile pace. I was prepared to hold firm to this pace regardless of how everyone else chose to approach the day. My thoughts were that I could expect to slow a bit as the race progressed, but 8-minute pace was both conservative and aggressive enough to put me into position at the end of the race. I was fortunate in that Michael Owens had a very similar approach, which meant I had great company for the majority of the first 50 miles of the race.

As the race progressed, it became apparent that a handful of runners were looking to be more aggressive at the start of the race. By mile 41, Michael and I found ourselves 18 minutes behind the leader, Peter Hoggs. I can't say I was overly concerned at this point, as I was quite aware there were 59 miles left, and that the well below 8-minute pace the lead pack was cruising at would unlikely hold up (at this point Michael and I were in 6th and 7th place).

It was after the mile 41 aid station that things started to get really crazy for me. As the course became more and more saturated, the sloppiness really increased. I was really struggling to get any advantage from the downhill portions of the trail. Miles 41 through 60 proved to be the sloppiest parts of the race, and they had the most slick descents (between miles 41 and 60 I fell at least 10 times trying to make it down hills). At the time, I assumed everyone was struggling as much as I was on the slick descents. Post-race conversation showed otherwise. It appeared that runners who switched to a trail shoe with a bigger lug were able to run down the slippery descents, while those with a lower profile tread were on ice skates. I wore the Skora Form, which is a shoe I really like, and on a dry day I feel that this would be the perfect shoe for this course. In retrospect, I should have brought along a pair of crampons (not the super big toothed ones, but a really low profile crampon like this) to throw onto the Skora Forms for the slick declines. My reasoning for this is that the Forms dealt great with the wetness of the course, and I wouldn't want to sacrifice the ease with which they repelled the water and drained post river/stream crossings.

With all this noted, as I worked into the mile 50 aid station, at almost exactly 7 hours, I was feeling really good. Better than I had anticipated feeling at that stage. I think a lot of this was due to having to walk down lots of the slick hills. I believe I was about 29 minutes behind the leader at this point. My mindset was that if the last half of the course was more runnable I would be able to make a big push, since my legs had been spared from much of the downhill running.

As I mentioned above, the conditions continued through about mile 60, but I tried to really be aggressive in the areas that were runnable because I knew the descents would be slow. I thought if I was conserving energy by not running down the hills, I could afford to really attack the flatter areas. This seemed to work pretty well, and after mile 60 the slippery downhills were much fewer.

Things in the middle third of the race began to look promising as I moved up the field. Runners began to drop and slow down. Here I found myself in third place.

As I went through mile 80, the volunteers were telling me I was within minutes of the leader. At this point I assumed Shaun Pope was running with Peter and that I was within minutes of both of them. I tried to move through the aid station quickly so as not to waste any time. I maintained a slower, but decent, pace until arriving at the mile 87 aid station, which as mentioned above is when I started to learn a lot. When I entered, they asked me if I had missed an aid station. "No idea," I said. I'd never been on the course before, and I didn't know where the aid stations were (other than that they were pretty regular throughout the course). The volunteers told me that there was an aid station at mile 70 that didn't have me checked in. Could I have missed it?

I wasn't paying particularly close attention to the mile markers at most of the aid stations—I just wanted to get to them, fuel up and get out quick (I was using aid stations primarily for fuel). I wound up spending about 10 minutes at that aid station trying to figure out with the volunteers what exactly happened. Knowing that if I had cut the course—or gone off the course at some point—I would be disqualified, I wanted to know what had happened before I continued on. The volunteers and I were both confused because my description of where I had gone seemed to follow the course exactly.

Rather than wasting more time at the aid station, we decided that they would figure out what happened as I continued to the next aid station (mile 93). This way, if it was ruled that I had not gone off course, I could finish the race—otherwise I would be disqualified there.

It was a very interesting six-mile stretch. It was tough to get my legs loose again after standing at the aid station for so long. Besides that, I couldn't help but think that I was about to be disqualified. BR100 is a USATF event, meaning that they would have cut-and-dry regulations: If I had not checked into an aid station, they would have no choice but to disqualify me. Before I left the aid station, they told me I was in second place. Apparently Shaun Pope, who I had thought was in second, had gone off course, got back on, and was struggling as he continued onward.

I definitely wasn't moving quickly towards the next section. With the knowledge that I was quite a bit ahead of third place, it was pretty clear that I was either going to finish second or be disqualified. I tried to enjoy this stretch of the course rather than focus entirely on what would happen at the end. As I approached the mile 93 aid station, one of the volunteers stopped me with the news that since I had not checked into the aid station at mile 70 I had two choices: go back to mile 70 and correct my mistake, or be disqualified. In order to correct my mistake and register a finishing time, I would have had to run a total of 147 miles (BR100 is actually 101 miles, and then there would be the 46-mile trip to the mile 70 aid station and back). With this news, I chose not to correct my mistake, instead taking the disqualification. It was a tough pill to swallow, but a good learning experience nonetheless.

It was interesting trying to find out exactly where I went wrong on the course. And since it was my first time on the course, I may never really know. The race staff seemed to think I had gone around the aid station on a different trail that just happens to reconnect with the course route after a bit; this would explain why I never went through a long stretch without seeing course markers. It was great to see how proactive the staff was at finding out where possible improvements in course markings could be made. It really showed that they are genuinely motivated to provide the best possible experience for those competing. Despite my misfortunes, I do think the course was very well-marked, staffed and supported by the BR100 crew. It's a beautiful course that has so much differentiation in its route that you never feel like a specific terrain is dragging on forever—a tall order for a 100-mile course.

A big congratulations to Peter Hogg for setting a new course record, and to the rest of the BR100 competitors. The positive atmosphere made what could easily have been a frustrating weekend into a really fun time overall. I look forward to returning in the future to take another run at it, and hopefully check out some other events put on by Western Reserve Racing.

Race Day Fuel

  • Vespa Power Products
    • 7 Ultra Concentrate
    • 3 Junior
    • 2 CV-25
  • XEndurance (review)
    • Extreme
    • Omega
    • Joint
    • Immune
  • NOW Foods
    • Kelp
    • Fruit and Green Phytofoods Powder
    • Spirulina powder
  • Products from aid station tables
    • Hammer gels
    • Hammer electrolyte capsules
    • Hammer Heed
    • Trader Joe's organic banana chips
    • Fruit
    • Water

Race Day Gear

Ice Age Trail 50 Mile Race Recap

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Last year when I reflected my races and training from 2012, I emphasized how much I had learned about the importance of race-specific training. I considered my Western States 100 experience one of the most eye-opening experiences in terms of truly understanding how important it is to cater your training to a specific course if you really want to nail it. This year at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile (IA50) I learned even more about course specificity training and what I need to do as a runner to maximize my potential with various types of running terrain.
Because I've run IA50 twice now, I have had the ability to compare both my experiences to learn new lessons, which I discuss below. I thought this would be more informative and interesting than writing a straightforward recap of this year's race.

I identified two areas of weakness and one area of strength in my training leading up to IA50. The two areas of weakness were: lacking ultra-style long runs and little uphill running. The area of strength was downhill running. Throughout the race, I either led or was in second place, at least for 49.25 miles. Based on my experience from last year, aid station reports, visual contact with other runners, and a sense of pace; I felt like I really glided on the downhill portions of the course, but I gave up time on the uphill segments in the final 10k compared to last year. This ultimately resulted in a third place finish with a time of 6:08:17. My time last year was 6:05:45. The weather was slightly better this year with cooler temperatures throughout the morning.

Ultra-style Long Runs

Last year, I did multiple 30-plus-mile long runs leading up to IA50. Included was the John Dick Memorial 50k and the Mad City 50k, which were long and decently hard efforts. While reflecting and analyzing this year’s performance, I noticed my running log was much lighter on these longer efforts. My most notable long training run was the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon at the Pettit Center in Milwaukee back in January. Part of this was due to an extended taper, which was the result of switching races last minute, and some of it was avoiding races early in the season in hopes of preserving myself for the end of 2013.

The reason I believe this was a factor in my performance at IA50 is because last year I felt I got stronger the last 9 miles on the return from Emma Carlin. This year, minus the first 5k of the return, I felt like the end of the race really caught up with me. At the turnaround I was 4:30-5 minutes behind the leader, David Riddle. With Matt Flaherty and Brian Condon nipping at my heels (45-60 seconds back) I thought it would be unlikely that I would catch David but quite likely I would get caught by either Flaherty or Condon—or both! Naturally this sparked some adrenaline. I sped up quite a bit for the next 5k into the Horseman's/Young aid station (about 10k to go). I was told there that I was about 3 minutes back from David. I am not sure if this was accurate or not, but for a moment I thought maybe I was closing in on him. Those hopes were exciting but quickly fizzled as struggles began to mount. By the aid station at mile 47.6 I was about 11 minutes behind David. Surely some of that was due to David’s consistent effort and, in my opinion, strong finish. Regardless, I believe part of my struggles was the lack of ultra-style long runs through training and racing.

Hill Climbing

To put it simply, I got owned on the uphills this year at IA50. Last year, I did weekly hill repeats in training. I did this because the Ice Age Trail is basically continuous roll of ups and downs. Nothing big enough to really kill you on any single hill, but enough to wear you down over time. David Riddle, this year's winner, described it as “death by a thousand paper cuts,” which I thought was a spot-on description.

The difference between this year and last year, was that last year I callused myself enough with hill repeats that the paper cuts were less detrimental. To put it in perspective; Last year I power hiked one hill (mainly because the staircase set up made it much more efficient in my opinion). This year I had to power hike 3 or 4 different times in areas that I had no problem grinding up last year. Most of my struggles with the climbs occurred in that last 10k stretch of the course.

Downhill Running

Though the uphills were rough for me this year, the downhills were a piece of cake. If it weren’t for how strong I felt going downhill, I have no doubt Matt Flaherty would have passed me in the late stages of the race, just as Brian Condon ultimately did. I attribute this to the amount of speedwork I did in training. This winter I based my training on speed in preparation for the Mad City 100k, which is a paved course that is relatively flat when compared to IA50. I felt way more comfortable bombing down the hills this year than last year. I think the quicker snap in my legs from the speedwork allowed me to ramp up the cadence on the downhill segments, resulting in much less instability (more efficient foot strike means less time on the ground), and less eccentric damage from braking on the downhills to maintain stability. Although my downhill training was brief, I think my efficiency allowed for lesser muscle damage in these potentially quad busting segments.


Next time I race IA50 or a similar course, I plan to focus my training on regular ultra-style long runs, weekly hill repeats, and road speedwork. With this I hope to maintain the strengths I had on the downhills while improving my uphill running and end-of-race endurance.

A huge congratulations to David Riddle for taking the win and third fastest time ever at the Historic Ice Age 50 Mile. An inspiring performance by Brian Condor in his 50-mile debut was exciting to see, to say the least. Great dialog with Joshua Brimhall for good portions of the first half of the race was a rewarding experience. Getting the chance to compete with support from members of my family and my girlfriend Krista made things much more comfortable. All of this, coupled with the excellent post-race festivities that seem to be the hallmark of every ultramarathon, big or small, resulted in a great way to spend a spring weekend morning.

Race Day Products

Pictures courtesy of Krista Satori

Pictures courtesy of Krista Satori

All Things Race Prep

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As my taper winds down for the Ice Age 50 Mile this weekend; I want to explain a bit about how I plan for a race. I received a few questions regarding race day nutrition, rest, etc., so I will outline what I am doing, or in some cases will do, this week as I ready myself for IA50.

Rest is always important in endurance training, but it becomes increasingly important within the last week before a race. I am no stranger to the two-a-day training schedule, but when it comes to the week before a race, I will not sacrifice a single minute of sleep for an early morning workout. I set my alarm to give me just enough time to be ready for work. I only think about running in the morning if I naturally wake up before my alarm. Any running done within a week of a race is only meant to keep my legs familiar with running; there is no added fitness benefit of training in the final week. Mileage is all relative, but as a general rule of thumb, the final week is about one-third of the mileage of the peak week. Five days before the race, I typically include one speed workout, which consists of some form of short strides/sprints to run my legs through all the gears, but this is only to keep everything running smooth.

Race-day nutrition is something I have been striving to improve. I would like to be more prepared in terms of having it all laid out well in advance so I can relax the last two days rather than scramble to get everything set. For IA this year, I get all my bottles and fuel set three days in advance.

My race-day fueling strategy is something I acclimate my body to months in advance of the race. One of the reasons I eat a high-fat diet, for example, is so that, come race day, my insulin sensitivity is really high. If you constantly bombard your system with simple carbohydrates during training; you likely will be taking away from how efficiently your body absorbs simple carbohydrates on race day (at least this is what I have observed in my own training and racing). I have talked about this in-depth in the past (here and here), so in this post I will focus on issues that come up specifically in the final week before a race.

When I am one week out, I keep carbohydrates down to approximately 20 percent or less of my total caloric intake for the first 3 to 4 days of the week. Three days out, I begin to introduce more carbohydrates into my diet, peaking at approximately 50 percent of my caloric intake. This gives my muscle glycogen a chance to build up going into the race. Personally I do this by eating potatoes and sweet potatoes or yams, still avoiding grains and especially gluten.

On race day, I start out the morning low-carb. I want to begin the race burning fat so I don’t deplete my glycogen stores in the early stages of the race. Coconut milk is something I’ve found works great, as it doesn’t leave me feeling overly full at the starting line. I also start taking Vespa before the race starts. Usually this is a Vespa Ultra Concentrate 90 minutes before the start, and maybe a Vespa Junior at the starting line. This really helps my body stay in a fat metabolizing state.

Once the race starts, I wait about 30-45 minutes before I begin to fuel. At this point, I switch to nearly exclusively carbs, Vespa, and water, this year I am going to try coconut water in some of my bottles. In terms of numbers of calories, I take in between 200 and 300 calories per hour during the race.

I try not to take in all my calories as liquid simply because the temperature greatly impacts how much liquid I consume, meaning if all my calories come in as liquid, I won't be getting enough. In practice, I get about half my calories from gels, and half from sports/energy drinks.

I take a Vespa Ultra Concentrate or Vespa Junior every 90 minutes. The Vespa helps keep me in a fat burning state, and reserve the glycogen for mental focus and unpredictable surges that will take place during the race.

I do not shy away from caffeine during the race, but I do monitor how much I take in at once. If I take a gel with 35 mg of caffeine in it, I don’t worry. I am a coffee drinker, so my body is not unfamiliar with caffeine. I strongly believe you need to experiment with this in training before trying it on race day, as caffeine can cause digestive issues if your body is not accustomed to it.

Are You Waterlogged?

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Water is a hot topic in endurance sports today. It is something I have certainly had on my mind since listening to a podcastwith Dr. Tim Noakes. In his latest book, Waterlogged,Dr. Noakes refutes the claims of many juggernaut hydration companies that our bodies require an effort of continued hydration throughout activity in hopes of maintaining pre-race body weight. This is simply not the case. Dr. Noakes goes into extreme depth in his book, and there is no shortage of reviews and interviews that discuss Dr. Noakes' claims, so I will just give you the quick version of what Dr. Noakes is saying. If you desire a more in-depth explanation, follow the links at the end of this post.

Dr. Noakes asserts that the human body has an incredible ability to survive in what we might consider quite dire situations. He has calculated that, unless participating in multi-day endurance activities, our body stores enough sodium to make supplementation during a race unnecessary (assuming the athlete's diet is adequate in sodium). 

Granted, it has also been shown that taking sodium tablets can have a placebo effect on performance if you are convinced they are going to improve your performance. So don’t throw away your S-Caps quite yet! As long as you aren’t taking in so much sodium that your body is swelling up and carrying extra water, there really is no harm in continuing your typical sodium fueling routine.

The main problem Dr. Noakes addresses is hyponatremia, a condition that arises when the sodium concentration in the blood is too low. 
Symptoms often include vomiting, headache and—in extreme cases—even death. Popular wisdom says this is a result of a sodium deficiency, but Dr. Noakes demonstrates that athletes often suffer hyponatremia because they have taken in so much water (or sports drink) that the sodium in the body becomes so diluted that the body thinks there's a deficiency. Athletes sometimes mistake the symptoms of hyponatremia for dehydration and subsequently take in more water, making the condition even worse (sometimes at the urging of aid station volunteers, who also read the symptoms as signs of dehydration!).

What to do? Well, don’t freak out about this and refuse to drink any water during your next endurance event. Dr. Noakes emphasizes that you still need to drink, just not in excess. So what is the ideal amount? The body is amazing: It will tell you when it is thirsty. Drinking to thirst is adequate in endurance athletics. Just listen to your body’s signals along the way. 

Also note that many athletes finish endurance races under pre-race weight. One study Dr. Noakes did was testing the rates of weight lost throughout endurance activities. He found it interesting that many of the top finishers were the ones who lost the highest percentage of body weight through fluid loss (see the study on Runner’s World about elite marathoners losing lots of water). A particular interesting example was Haile Gebrselassie’s Berlin Marathon in 2008, where he broke 2:04. He was reported to have lost up to 10 percent of his body weight over the course of the race. Obviously, he spent the rest of the day balancing that back out, but this information is interesting to see in a time when we are being encouraged to drink so much that our weight doesn’t change during races. 

One must keep in mind that weight lost during an endurance activity is not directly associated with just water. For every gram of carbohydrate your body stores as glycogen, nearly 3 grams of water are stored with it. This means if you rifle through your glycogen stores and finish depleted, you will have lost weight simply because your body has less glycogen on board. This will also rebalance as you refuel post-race.

I would love to hear personal experiences, opinions, or wonderments on this topic. Please post how you feel about this.

Please check out my coaching site if you or someone you know is interested in one-on-one coaching services.

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More Than Just Going Long

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Ultrarunners love to push their limits. “Let’s see how far my body can take me!” Sound familiar? With this mindset, and ultra registration fees, this can leave many of us trying to fill the gaps between one ultra and the next. A great way to do this, which I’m sure many of you already do, is to sign up for a few of the 5k/10k events that seem to come up just about every weekend. These events not only fill the gaps, but they can actually improve ultra-running, as well as serve as gauges for how your ultra fitness is coming along.

If this interests you, then let me explain how I used the Bellin 10k as a way to get in a quality ultra workout, and measure my fitness. As much as I would have liked to go into the Bellin 10k with a little more rest in my legs, I knew I had to take advantage of this week. This week was the third week out from Western States 100. My training philosophy with ultras is that the third week out is the last chance you have for the work you put in to be physically beneficial for your race performance. I set myself up with 121 miles in the six days leading up to Bellin, including three intense runs (two hill sessions and one pick-up session). On the morning of the race I woke up at 5 a.m. (three hours before the start) to do a shakeout run of 1.5 miles (really easy). This served two purposes: First, to get my body up and running, and second, to let me gauge how tired my legs were. Typically, if I would have tapered, my legs would have felt extremely light, and I would have wanted to start the race right after the shakeout run. But in this situation I was looking for a bit of tightness as evidence that I had worked hard the previous six days and was not at 100 percent. I was a little tight on my shakeout run, so I was right where I expected to be. This way the race and cool-down would mimic the worn-down feeling at the end of an ultra race. Second, it gave me a chance to work on the mental aspect of ultrarunning.

The next step was the warm-up. I typically do a 3-mile warm-up for races less than a full marathon. Warm-ups are more or less personal preference when it comes to length. If you have a big base of mileage, you can usually afford to go a little further in your warm-up. For me, the warm-up served two purposes: First, it allowed me to loosen up my muscles before the intensity of race pace. Second, it added miles to the daily total, which is a big part of getting your body ready for an ultramarathon.

Once you toe the starting line you can approach the race just like you would if you came in at 100 percent. The hard part is keeping in mind that you are not likely to PR, but nevertheless to keep pushing yourself in order to get the training benefits from the added speed. At Bellin it was easy to not expect a PR as it was hot, humid, and we had a nice wind to start the first two miles.

The main thing I was looking for from the actual race was an elevated heart rate. If you push your heart rate too high for too long it becomes extremely hard to bring it back down. This is mainly because your body starts to try to compensate for oxygen debt. I spoke about this a bit in my race report for Ice Age 50 Mile (the higher your heart rate, the higher the ratio of carbs to fats you will burn). In an ultramarathon, you want to spare the carbs as much as possible. The reason I was looking for an elevated heart rate during this race was experimental: to see how difficult it would be for me to bring it back down and develop a steady pace for the miles I'd run after the race.

For me the exciting part of the day was the 10 miles I ran after the race. If I had felt run-down, started looking for excuses to cut the run short, or just felt like time had ground to a halt, I would have known I was having difficulty bringing down my heart rate. If I felt really good, like I could keep running even when I finished the extended cool-down, I would know I was in good position to be able to put more surges into my next ultra race plan. Fortunately for me I felt the latter.


Ice Age 50 Mile Race Recap

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The Ice Age 50 Mile (IA50) 2012 was an amazing experience. The race drew a group of runners gunning for various objectives: a bid to the Western States 100 in June, Montrail Ultra Cup points, an IA50 course record... or simply to test their might against a competitive field. I am extremely humbled and excited to have come out of this experience as the overall winner. There was a bit of confusion about finishing times, but when the dust settled, it turned out as follows:

As for me, I entered the race when heard the list of talented runners coming to Wisconsin. I knew I could not pass up a chance to compete with them so close to home. Those who follow my blog will know that I specified my training for the IA50 course. For example, I did lots of short hill repeats. The course was relentless in this respect. I can think of maybe two areas on the course that were not rolling hills, and these areas were extremely short in duration and left little room to make big surges. And the rolling hills were not smooth: They were speckled with rocks, roots, and winding turns. This course was definitely the hardest trail course I have raced—a real quad thrasher.

I got an early start to the day. Well, let me rephrase that: I got an extremely early start to the day. I went to bed at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, and woke up at 11:20 p.m. and never fell back to sleep. I laid restless in bed until about 2:00 a.m., when I finally got up. It was crazy, but I didn't notice any additional fatigue from the lack of sleep.

The race began as I had expected. A group of five or six guys went out fast. We averaged about a 6:40/mi for the first six miles. I kept with the lead pack for the most part but fell back occasionally on the uphill climbs. My strategy going into IA50 was to be cautious on the ascents, aggressive on the descents, and aggressive on the very limited flats. The reason for caution on the ascents was to keep my heart rate down. If you drive up your heart rate early in a race, you can quickly turn your body to glycogen burning mode, and it is really difficult to go back once your body decides to prioritize glycogen. In a 50-mile race, you really need to use your glycogen stores wisely. My goal was to use fat as fuel, as much as possible.

Near the end of the first 9-mile loop was one of the sparse flat stretches. I made a move into the lead as we approached the mile 9 aid station. In transition, Tim Olson blasted right past me and gained a solid 15-second gap on me. We were both pretty aggressive through the next stretch. Once I had closed the gap, we ran together for a few miles. At about mile 16 I took the lead, with Tim following closely behind. When I reached the mile 17.5 aid station, I had a short lead on Tim, and at the time I was unaware of where the rest of the field was. The next section until the mile 21 turnaround was very technical. I did my best to maintain a reasonable pace without using too much of my late-stage energy.

I was really anxious to reach the mile 21 turnaround so I could gauge where everyone else was. The course is basically a 9-mile loop with two out-and-backs connected to it. The two out-and-back turnarounds serve as a nice way to see how far other runners are from you. At the mile 21 turnaround, my lead was slim on all accounts. I was maybe 20 seconds ahead of second place, and 40 seconds ahead of third and fourth place. If nothing else, it kept me urgent to continue to push myself.

It is worth noting that throughout the race I fell three times. Fortunately, I did not land on a rock or root, because a tumble in the wrong place on IA50 could have ended my day. All three times I bounced back up and continued onward, just with a little extra dirt.

I managed to increase my lead slightly on the way back from the Rice Lake out-and-back. At about mile 31, I was told I had about a 1:45 lead on second and third place, who were running together. This was encouraging in that I knew I had been making gains, but still alarming in that I was one bad mile away from being run down. My slim lead became even slimmer when I stopped for about 30 seconds to use the bathroom. Mentally I proceeded assuming my lead was about a minute. Soon after, I ran into a lower point in the race. I had felt very smooth up until about mile 36. Most of the previous miles I had actually felt I could be going much faster had I been more skillful on the technical descents, but during miles 36 through about 38 I started to break down a bit mentally. It was a little after mile 38 that I managed to convince myself that my mind was trying to make me feel worse than I actually was in attempt to stop me from beating up my body. This outlook helped a lot! I snapped out if it and was reassured by reminding myself I only had a bit more than 10 miles left.

Much like the mile 21 turnaround, I anxiously awaited the mile 40 turnaround so I could gauge my lead. This time I discovered that I had about a 2:20 lead on second place, and about 4 minutes on third. This made me very optimistic, because it meant I had managed to increase my lead during a stretch that included a bathroom break and my only low of the race. I started feeling that as long as I stayed upright, it was my race to lose.

Picture taken by: Tom Held of Active Pursuit

With less than 10 miles to go, I started getting really energetic. I strongly believe that my high-fat diet and Vespa fueling had much to do with this late-race energy surge. I had trained my body to prioritize fat for fuel, allowing me to reserve most of my carb stores for the back end of the race. Every rest stop I went through from miles 40 to 50 I was told my lead was growing. By mile 48.5, I had a six-minute lead. I crossed the finish line with a lead of about 9 minutes, 10 seconds.

My fueling was strategic for the most part. I waited until about 45 minutes into the race before I took in any carbs, because I wanted to make sure my body was primed to burn fat first. I also optimized my fat utilization by eating breakfast three hours before the start of the race, and nothing else between breakfast and the start other than water and Vespa. The idea was to keep my body out of carb burning mode at the race's start, something that can be easily wrecked by ingesting too many carbs close to the start. I listed my fuel intake below.

Fuel During the Race

  • 80 ounces of sports drink
  • 4 gels
  • 2 Vespa Juniors
  • 1 Vespa Ultra Concentrate
  • 12 ounces of coke (aid station)
  • 70 ounces of water
  • 1 small handful of M&Ms
  • Total of Approximately 1,300-1,500 calories

Gear Used on the Course

Post-race was a familiar affair for ultramarathons. All the competitors and spectators joined together to share their experiences—both today and in the past—and enjoy one another's company. The atmosphere at these events would be enough by themselves to draw someone to run an ultra.

One runner to keep your eyes on is Michael Owen. Many people claim that I am young for ultrarunning, but Michael is younger yet. He has some impressive finishes, including third at the Burning River 100 last season. He seems to be one of those runners who can succeed at all distances. (Dare I say a young Michael Wardian?) I know I will be following him, and hopefully competing with him many times in the future.
One final note. A huge thanks to my mom, dad, grandma, and my girlfriend Krista for crewing for me. It was a big help, especially with the higher-than-expected humidity.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Fuel Belt's 2012 line and Revolution Natural Running.

Promise To Keep 135 and 189.5 Mile Week!

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This week was far from mundane: I logged my highest weekly mileage to date and participated in a great cause! For those of you who read my blog last week, you will remember I was talking about the Promises to Keep 135, an opportunity I had to help out some friends and support a great cause. Promises to Keep 135 was an event supported by My Team Triumph WI that honored soldiers from Wisconsin who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brian Gruender and Roy Pirrung ran the entire 137 miles, and I was privileged to join them for 68 miles along the way. I was reminded of some important logistical elements of ultrarunning during this event. I was actually planning on joining Roy and Brian for 73 miles (I had met up with them around mile 64). However, my blood sugar levels and blood pressure had other plans. With 30 miles to go, I blacked out when we stopped for a bathroom break. I ate three granola bars, drank some water and took in some sodium, and I felt completely rejuvenated. After missing about 2 miles, I rejoined the group. I felt fine the rest of the way until we only had 3 miles to go, when I started feeling lightheaded again. This time I grabbed someone for help in attempt to avoid taking another dirt nap. The team was great and had me refueling within seconds. Once again, as soon as I got some more fuel in me, it was like a light switch went on. I sat out the next couple of miles as a precaution, and then rejoined the group for the finish.

So, what did I learn? You have to fuel based on time, not mileage. Fueling based on mileage was a problem because Brian and Roy had already run 64 miles when I met up with them, so naturally our pace was slower than what I was used to running. Consequently, I probably was not taking in the necessary amount of nutrients. A valuable lesson learned indeed. I also was able to meet some amazing service members who joined in for segments of the run, all of whom were amazing people who I will never forget.

My other workouts this week were focused on trail and hills. I tried to attack as many trails and hills as I could, and I managed to log trail miles on a number of great running spots in Wisconsin. I started with Door County, WI. Here I was able to access some of the rolling hills of Peninsula State Park. During the middle days of the week I was able to maneuver about some tight-turning, single-track trails in the Ice Age Trail circuit. I was thrilled, as always, to join the Lapham Peak Trail Runners (LPTR) on Wednesday night for a solid bout with the challenging terrain the “Black Loop” at Lapham Peak. The end of the week provided some flatter trails in the Milwaukee and Oshkosh areas before I logged the 68 miler Saturday.

In the coming weeks I am going to work on incorporating more hill work, as well as lunges in attempt to target eccentric muscle contraction. I will be looking to benefit from the uphill climbs of the hill workouts too, but my main focus will be the descents. I really want to start training my muscles to remain strong throughout eccentric muscle contraction demands that are found most notably running downhill.

If you would like to see this week's miles broken down, please see below.

Sunday17 mile long run
MondayAM: 18 mile long run
PM: 5 mile hill repeats
Tuesday19.5 mile long run
WednesdayAM: 10 mile easy run
PM: 15 mile hills (Lapham Peak)
Thursday17 mile long run
Friday20 mile long run
Saturday68 mile long run (Promise to Keep 135)
Total189.5 miles

March 2012 Training

Training Recap: Dec. 4-10

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Back in full swing! It feels like an eternity since I posted a new blog. Partially because I have been getting back into full training mode, but now I will start posting on a more weekly basis to show a consistent training build-up.

I was not sure how fast I would try to come back after JFK 50 for a couple of reasons: First, as a novice ultrarunner, I had asked quite a bit from my body by doing three ultras in nine weeks. Second, I am still working out a concrete 2012 race schedule, and unlike the past two months, I won't have to rush back to peak training. Nevertheless, high mileage and hill workouts have found their way back into my weekly routine. For the most part my legs have felt really good. I did notice more fatigue than usual on Saturday during a 28-miler at Lapham Peak. The relative difficulty didn't concern me for a few reasons: It was the furthest run since JFK 50, I logged some pretty tough hill workouts during the week, and I made a point of attacking the more technical parts of Lapham Peak and Ice Age.

One change I have made for my upcoming training plan is hydration. I used to, for the most part, neglect “on-the-run hydration,” primarily out of lack of motivation to plan ahead. However, I have noticed a spike in the quality of the final few miles—and my desire to go a little further—since I started focusing on staying hydrated. Personally, I like FuelBelt's product line for hydration purposes because its carrying mechanisms do not intrude on my running stride and their bottles don't leak while drinking on the run.

Below is a closer look at what my training week looked like.

Sunday20 miles
- 25x City Park Hill
- 3x City Park Loop (rolling hills)
- 25x City Park Hill
- 3x City Park Loop (rolling hills)
MondayAM: 10 miles
PM: 13 miles
TuesdayAM: 10 miles
PM: 10 miles
WednesdayAM: 10 miles
PM: 13 miles
ThursdayAM: 17 miles
- 25x City Park Hill
- 3x City Park Loop (rolling hills)
- 25x City Park Hill
- 3x City Park Loop (rolling hills)
PM: 9 miles
FridayAM: 10 miles
PM: 10 miles
Saturday28 miles
- Hill work at Lapham Peak and Ice Age
Weekly Total160 miles

Fueling Philosophy

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Most people look at me bewildered when I explain to them my fueling strategy during ultramarathon training. It seems backwards at first, until the reasoning is explained.

When I do a morning run, which I do almost every day, ranging from 5 to 35 miles, I take full advantage of my low muscle glucose levels. I usually leave the house with no more than some diluted coffee, water, and a serving of honey in my stomach. This sounds silly at first but—trust me—it is very crucial to the success of an ultramarathon. I'm not a sports nutritionist, but I do know that the human body can store about 2,000 calories of glucose (ready-to-burn fuel in your body) in its muscles. At the onset of any activity that burns calories, the body tends to burn this fuel because it is the simplest to burn. As physical exertion continues, the body starts burning fat as well in attempt to avoid depleting its glucose, which is vital for other functions such as mental sharpness. God designed the human body to do amazing things. One of these things includes adaptation. If you constantly force the body to chose fat as fuel, it will become more efficient at using fat as a fuel. This is where the ultramarathon fueling strategy comes into play. In a 50-mile race, if I consume 1,000 calories and exhaust my glucose stores of approximately 2,000 calories, that leaves me well short of the energy requirements to run all 50 miles. (Probably over 2,000 calories short.) In order to avoid numerous highs and lows during a race, it is ideal to keep the body glucose levels as high as possible. If they are depleted too early, a death march to the finish line will surely ensue.

By not fueling up before my morning runs, I train my body to burn fat early and often during my morning workouts. After a while the body gets really good at turning to fat as a fuel source. In the long run (No pun intended... Oh, who am I kidding? Pun fully intended.) this helps the body preserve and stabilize its vital glucose levels. This means fewer highs and lows while on the course. I prepared like this for the Fall 50, and if you read my race report you will see I only had one low while on the course. Those of you who have run an ultra—or even a marathon—can vouch for me that only one low over the course of 50 miles makes for a much more pleasant experience than average. I really believe in this training philosophy because last year at TNF Madison I did not train like this and, although I felt like I ran a solid race, I had multiple highs and lows over the course of the race.

One thing I did not mention that needs to be recognized is when I take on really long runs of 25 plus miles I do take in some fuel and water along the way. I want my body to adapt, but I don't want to pass out on the side of the road. A quick example will help: If I am going for a 30-mile run, I would probably consumer 200 calories before I start, and take in 100 calories per hour and 40-60 ounces of water over the course of the run.

Two major challenges need to be recognized before anyone tries a plan like this one. First, you have to make sure you are taking in enough calories over the course of the rest of the days to adequately replenish and heal your body. Too many bouts like this with inadequate recovery fuel will certainly end badly. Second, it does take some getting use to. Running on empty, which is what is happening during this type of plan, is much harder. This is why I don't do it for all of my runs. If I am doing an intense speed workout I tend to fuel a little more. After all, if your training is suffering from this plan, then it's not doing its job. Also, race fueling can do funny things to the body. It is wise to “practice” fueling with the product you plan on consuming during a race. If you plan on drinking gatorade and GU, then you should incorporate these products into a couple of runs in order to test how your body will react.

Fall 50 Door County 2011

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I am very pleased with my performance at this year's Fall 50. I ended the day with a first-place finish and a time of 5 hours, 26 minutes and 52 seconds, which was a course record by over 38 minutes.


I went into this race with a solid pre-race fuel plan in place. By “fuel plan” I basically mean I ate a lot more than I needed to in the days leading up to the race. I believe this aided in recovery over the final days of my taper, as well as storing a little extra energy for race day. I slept well the week leading up to the race, but I only slept 5 hours the night before the race. This was an hour longer than I had ever slept the night before a race of marathon distance or greater, so I was not concerned about lack of sleep. I have come to expect it, and understand it is more vital to sleep well the days leading up to the night before a race than on the night before a race itself. My race-day fuel plan consisted of a cream cheese bagel and Clif bar for breakfast (700 calories), approximately 170 ounces of sodium-enhanced gatorade and one strip of Clif shots (1200 calories). I was blessed with an awesome race crew that supplied me with nearly all of this fuel along the course.


My thoughts about projected race pace were that if it was flat the whole way I could break 5 hours and 25 minutes (6 minutes and 30 seconds/mile pace). Upon careful analysis of the race elevation map I reassessed and decided that the rolling hills across the first 30 miles would make 5 hours and 30 minutes a more realistic goal time. The course had a point to point outlay and we had a slight head wind (meaning any wind would be in my face the entire way). I still wanted to get out fast, so I started at a 6:30 mile pace. I decided to not wear a satellite watch, so I planned on taking my splits every 2 miles.

As I approached the 2-mile marker I experienced a minor setback: My watch screen was blank. Apparently my battery had died sometime after the start. At this point a began to prepare myself on a pace based entirely on feel. When I rolled through the first aid stating at mile 4.8 I asked my crew if anyone had a running watch. They did not, but I caught a break when someone in a van of spectators overheard my request and provided me with a watch at about 6.2 miles. I began to take mile splits from mile 7 onward, going with my original plan of splitting every 2 miles.

My mindset was to only think about the first 20 miles at the start of the race. Wrapping your head around 50 miles can be very intimidating and often lead to frustration, worry and fear. I picked 20 miles because I have had a lot of training sessions in the 30-mile range and knew that if I had a positive outlook with 30 miles to go I would be able to mentally break down the remainder of the race. The first 20 miles were filled with rolling hills with one really steep climb at mile 12 with the wind at its strongest right in my face.

I came through mile 20 at a pace that was slightly faster than 6:30/mile. This was a good feeling, because it allowed me to focus on a distance I was quite familiar with, all while being ahead of pace. The next 5 miles really cruised. I crossed the halfway point at 2 hours and 41 minutes (on pace for a 5 hours and 22 minutes finish), and I crossed the marathon distance (26.2 miles) in a time of 2 hours and 49 minutes. I continued a pace of right around 6:30/mile for the next 4 miles before I encountered my first major low of the race.

At about mile 30 I started feeling pretty rough. I knew I needed a good dose of fuel and a strong mental outlook in order to power through this phase of the race. Fortunately, I was able to put down about 20 ounces of gatorade and a strip of Clif shots in a five-minute timeframe. I gutted out the next 4 miles trying not to think about the number of miles I had left—just under 20. Around mile 34 I began to feel optimistic again. A fresh feeling of energy and confidence began to lighten my legs. I coasted past part of my race crew at mile 35, grabbed a new bottle and began the final 15 miles of the race feeling confident about the pace and outcome.

When I went through the halfway point and entered the low point in my race, I kept telling myself that if I could maintain pace until mile 40 even if I slowed to a 7 minute/mile pace for the final 10 miles my time would still be close to 5 hours and 30 minutes. This mindset was encouraging, and was one of the mental strategies I effectively used during the race. As I approached mile 37 I began to get excited because I was starting to convince myself that slowing to a 7 minute/mile pace for the final 10 miles would be too conservative if I wanted to walk away from this racing feeling like I left it all on the course. I relished the thought of maintaining a sub 7:00/mile pace until mile 43. Basically, I maintained this mentality for the rest of the race. Each time I got 2 miles closer to the finish line I convinced myself I could go a little farther without slowing down. At mile 45 I checked my splits and had maintained approximately 6:45/mile pace for the previous 10 miles and was on pace to finish in under 5 hours and 27 minutes. At this point I just took it one mile at a time. I would pick out a landmark about 300 meters in the distance and just work on getting to it before picking a new landmark. This did wonders for making the final 5 miles not feel twice as long as they actually were. As mentioned earlier, I crossed the finish line in a time of 5 hours, 26 minutes and 52 seconds. I was thrilled, despite the grimace on my pace from the scorching leg pains I was experienced upon completion.


Logistically, I couldn't ask for a better race. I only had to break stride three times. Twice to use the bathroom (once for each kind), and once to fill my bottle and grab some Clif shots. This was mainly due to my superb support crew who kept the fuel coming and the optimism high. I easily saved 3 minutes because of their hard work and support. My original plan was to run JFK 50 in 4 weeks, but I am trying to be smart about recovery, so I will take the next few days to see where my legs are at before I fully commit to the trip out east. If I don't race JFK 50 I will certainly get out for another bout with ultra distance racing before the close of 2011. Stay tuned for more stories of training, racing and ultra running philosophy!!!