I was fortunate to be able to get on the line with Tawnee Prazek,host of Endurance Planet, and Dr. Jeff Volek to discuss the findings of the FASTER Study. We recorded a three part series that will be released one week at a time. We broke down the science as well as our speculations about using fat as fuel in endurance.
Results tagged “Training Strategy”
Every February, the Wisconsin Track Coaches Association hosts a Coaches' Clinic that is designed to help regional high school coaches prepare for the upcoming track and field season. They usually have a wide range of guest speakers; some who are sharing basic information for coaches who are assigned a discipline they have very little, if any, prior knowledge about. They also bring in a couple of big names in the world of track and field to share their wisdom. This year was especially exciting for me because the go-to speakers were Mick Byrne, Gavin Kennedy, and Jill Miller (coaches for the University of Wisconsin Badgers cross country and track and field teams).
I was fortunate to be able to get on the line with Tawnee Prazek,host of Endurance Planet, and Dr. Jeff Volek to discuss the findings of the FASTER Study. We recorded a three part series that will be released one week at a time. We broke down the science as well as our speculations about using fat as fuel in endurance.
This episode includes...
My plan rests on sound nutrition and smart training during the three weeks between the two events. After World 100k, I will dial back my carbohydrate consumption to a ketogenic level. This will mean cutting carbohydrate intake down to approximately 5% of total macro-nutrient intake. Doing this will assist my body in eliminating any lingering inflammation, which is a key component to a speedy recovery.
I was fortunate enough to fly out to Connecticut during Spring Break to participate in an experiment examining elite ultrarunners' diets. I recently talked a bit about my participation in the FASTER Study, which is being put on by Dr. Jeff Volek and a team of graduate students, many of whom are working on their doctoral theses, at the University of Connecticut. Now I am back to give you some of the specific details of my experience.
In its simplest form, the study is aimed at discovering the role diet plays in how our bodies metabolize fat vs. carbohydrate during exercise. The complete study will be released later this summer, but I can at least share with you some of my personal results.
One portion of the study was a VO2 Max (maximal oxygen uptake) treadmill test. VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete's body can utilize during exercise, and is a partially determining factor in an athlete's aerobic endurance. It is important to note that VO2 Max is not necessarily the point at which you have to stop running; the measurement is is a general indicator of endurance at best: Some folks are able to push on well past hitting their VO2 Max, while others almost immediately cave upon reaching it. I guess this is where mental toughness and guts come into play.
During the test, the researchers gradually increased both the speed and incline on the treadmill until I could no longer continue, and my rates of fat and carbohydrate metabolism at various intensities were measured. In order to be consistent with all testing subjects, they had to use the same method of VO2 Max testing, increasing both speed and incline. Personally, I'd like to try the test again with a program that just increases speed, as my training is more specific to flat, fast surfaces at this time. This makes a difference in the VO2 Max, which is why everyone has a different VO2 Max score for each sport. (Like I said, they did it the way they did for methodological purposes; this is just me being a data geek.)
My VO2 Max came in at 66.1. As I suggested above, this number is of rather little importance by itself, as it really doesn't say too much about what I can do on the racecourse. However, with the rest of the data from the study, I can pinpoint where my fat metabolism and carbohydrate metabolism peak at varying intensities, and I can see the ratio between the two at any given percentage of my VO2 Max.
Analyzing the data was wonderfully reassuring to me. My fat metabolism peaked at 1.57 grams/minute. At this point in the test, my VO2 uptake was at 49.4. By dividing this number by my eventual VO2 Max of 66.1, I can calculate at what intensity I burn the most fat: 74.4%. At that intensity, I was burning 98% fat 2% carbohydrate (1.57 fat grams/minute and .07 carb grams/minute). To put this into perspective, 65% of my VO2 Max had me running approximately a 7:15 per mile. Even when I increase my speed to around 7:00 per mile, I was still burning nearly all fat! Of course, as the intensity moves up, these numbers begin to shift a bit, but you would be surprised at how efficient at fat burning one can be, even at increased intensities.
Take a look below at a few more of my personal data points from my VO2 Max test:
% VO2 Max
As you can see, even when I start reaching some pretty high (for ultrarunning) intensities (80%+ VO2 Max), I am still metabolizing way more fat than carbs. This is an important takeaway for me, especially as I strategize for longer races. An athlete cannot replace the amount of calories they are burning quickly enough to expect an outside fuel source to meet their race-day caloric demands. A person may be able to physically consume enough, but their body would simply not be able to process the fuel quickly enough to stay ahead.
This is why I strongly believe that the less you have to fuel during a race, the better. Not to mention that fueling can be a hassle, and if it can be minimized, the hassle lessens. There are a lot of other factors that come into play as well. Heat, for example, can greatly effect how the body accepts (or on super hot days, rejects) the calories you give it. This is why you see so many more stomachs turn at hot weather races. Less eating means your body can use its precious blood stores for cooling and muscle function, rather than for digestion.
Quite a few people have asked me if I use intermittent fasting as a way of improving my fat metabolism. Now, I don't want to debate its effectiveness or whether it should be used—there are countless arguments on both sides, and there are too many individual nuances to make generalizations. However, I'd like to discuss my personal experience and why I'm cautious with fasting in my own training.
- Stop eating at 5pm
- Go to bed at 9pm
- Wake up at 5am
- Run 15 miles fasted at 6am
- Break fast at 8am
Normally, this 15-hour block of time would be a great window to train the body to utilize fat as fuel. The biggest problem I have found with this is the amount of calories I would burn during a 15-mile run (approx. 1500-1800) would translate to at least 20 hours worth of "sedentary activity." When this is put into the equation, I would be looking at the equivalent of 35+ hours of "fasted calorie expenditure." The margin of diminishing returns on fasted calorie expenditure of 35+ hours compounded five times a week seems to be an issue here. I would imagine there would eventually be some adrenal or other health issues caused by this.
To avoid undue stress, I typically break my overnight fast before my morning run on the days I do one. I don't eat a full meal, but I do aim to send a signal to my body saying that calories are not scarce. This usually takes place in the form of drinking my morning coffee or tea along with some combination of coconut milk, heavy whipping cream, Xendurance Xecute and/or 3Fuel, and taking a Vespa Ultra Concentrate. I do use raw honey from time to time, but this is becoming more rare and is heavily dependent on where I am at in my training cycle. All in all, the coffee/tea usually amounts to between 100 and 300 calories (this again depends on the workout time and intensity). During really heavy training blocks, I will also shorten the fast by eating a small snack before bed, or pushing dinner later. These meals are nearly always high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb (unless I happen to have just done a workout beforehand—then a few more carbs may appear in this meal/snack depending on what my next day's workout will look like).
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)
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.
Here is an example of one of my speed/strength sessions and what I ate before and after it.
Pre-Workout FuelSince 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.
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.
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 FuelAfter 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
When temperatures are at or above freezing, it is mainly a personal preference as to how much or how little you wear. Some people still break out the shorts in the 30s, whereas others cover every inch of skin as soon as the temps dip below 40. But when the temperature gets below freezing, safety is a priority—and it's time to stop trying to be macho.
If the wind is low or non-existent, you really just need to cover your skin. If the temperature is in the teens, and there is no wind, I can usually get away with a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, running tights or pants, a long-sleeve shirt or thin jacket, running gloves, and a hat or headband.
When the wind picks up, you have to start layering up. Here's what I wear when it's below freezing and windy (with windchill in the single digits or below zero Fahrenheit).
- Socks (I love the Drymax Maximum Protection trail socks). I have yet to need to double up on socks when wearing these, even at temperature of -20 or worse).
- running shorts
- running half tights
- running tights/pants
- form-fitting upper body compression
- dry fit t-shirt
- dry fit long-sleeve
- two windbreaker running jackets, or thick dry-wick running pullover and windbreaker jacket
- Mittens (Ditch the gloves at this point; you need your fingers to stay in contact with each other to stay warmer. Oftentimes I even put all five fingers in to the main bay of the mitten; my thumbs have been frostbitten before and that's not something I want to repeat.)
- Neck gaiter, face mask, hat or headband (combine things that will allow you to cover all skin if need be; you can always pull down the face mask if it's not as bad out as you expected).
- Goggles or wraparound sunglasses (This sounds silly, but if it gets super cold and dry retina freezing can become an issue.)
Those of you who follow my blog closely know that I have been practicing a diet that can most simply be described as high fat, low carb, and moderate protein. This type of protocol is known as Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM). Here are a few places you can learn more about this:
- Blog Post: Evolving Diet and Sample Day
- Blog Post: High Carb vs. High Fat
- Interview with Ben Greenfield on Endurance Planet
- Interview with CasePerformance
When I started this protocol, I noticed benefits nearly right away. Things like better sleep, less inflammation, faster recovery, more consistent energy levels (no midday crash). However, if you research becoming “fat adapted,” you will find that individuals who lived a high carbohydrate diet for many years will likely take upwards to two years to fully “fat adapt.” Because I began OFM protocol in early 2011, I am just shy of my two-year anniversary, and I believe my body is now beginning to be fully adapted. And not only because of my recovery: I've also felt a lot more consistent during 50-mile races, even when I consume carbohydrates as fuel during the race itself.
My personalized OFM approach can be characterized as macronutrient cycling. While my protein intake fluctuates little (typically 100 to 150 grams per day), my carbohydrate intake can be anywhere from 5 percent of my total calories to 50 percent, depending on where I am in my training cycle. When I am in full recovery mode after a race, I drop my carbohydrate intake as low as possible. On the other hand, my carbohydrate intake is around 20-30 percent of my total calories when my training is ramping up in volume and intensity, and in the final 36 hours before a race I allow it to climb to 50 percent at most.
All carbohydrates are not created equal. I don’t eat grains; I think the way grains have been engineered in the past several decades has made them hard on digestion and the likely cause of many of our broken guts. I also stay away from lactose, simply because my body doesn't seem to digest it very well. Commercial dairy producers have removed the enzymes in dairy that help our bodies break down lactose. Since our bodies cannot produce these enzymes on their own, this results in bloating and indigestion. I will drink raw milk if it's available, but I don't go out of my way to get it.
My primary source of carbohydrates is vegetables. I usually opt for non-starchy vegetables, but when I am looking to raise my carbohydrate intake I do eat carbohydrates from starchy sources, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or rice. Another source of carbohydrates I use is fruit. I try to focus on melons and berries, as they are less apt to spike insulin, but I do eat things like apples, pears, and peaches from time to time.
After protein and carbohydrates, the rest of my calories, of course, come from fat—often more than half my daily calories. Just as with protein and carbohydrates, I pay close attention to the types of fats I consume. I take in approximately 50 percent of my fat as saturated fat. In recent decades, saturated fat has gotten a bad rap—but it is shameful science that has led to that. I don’t feel the need to defend saturated fat here, because many respected scientists who are much wiser than I have debunked this myth many times. If you're interested in learning from them, check out the resources list at the end of this post. The remaining 50 percent I try to make mostly monounsaturated fat, with very little coming from polyunsaturated fat sources. The polyunsaturated fat sources are a recipe for inflammation, especially when a diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids, so I avoid them for the exception of the occasional snack of mixed nuts or nut butters. A few go-to fat sources I enjoy include: coconut milk, coconut oil, butter, animal fat, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and cheeses (full fat, to avoid lactose).
One of my favorite dishes to eat is a mix of vegetables (mostly greens) with fresh calf liver, bacon, and sour cream. I sprinkle Himalayan sea salt, pepper, turmeric, and macca root powder on top. This dish provides a perfect blend of animal fat, animal protein, and organ meat, a combination that has shown promising benefits in recovery. I definitely ate my fair share of this dish during recovery between Tussey and Lakefront.
My diet, along with strategic use of NOW Foods, Xendurance, and Vespa Power Products, has allowed me to better recoup after a really hard effort at the ultra distance.
NOW Foods is a nutritional supplement company with countless offerings. My favorites include: spirulina, Fruit and Green PhytoFoods mix, CoQ10, yucca root, and vitamin D3/K2. These help with things like an improved micronutrient profile in my diet, sharper brain function, reduced inflammation, and better bone health. I believe a healthy lifestyle allows you to get the nutrition you need from your diet, but with training volumes exceeding 25 hours a week at times, supplementation allows me to better meet the demands I put on my body—and help with recovery.
Xendurance is a supplement that buffers lactic acid up to 15 percent (supported in double-blind, third-party studies). Vespa helps force my body to more efficiently utilize fat as fuel, sparing muscle damage. It does this with unique blend of wasp extract and amino acids (visit Vespa's website to explore science behind this). I take three Xendurance tablets every morning and every evening, and I usually take a few extra on the nights leading into a race, as well as the morning of. Also on the morning of a race, I take a Vespa Concentrate when I wake up, and then a Vespa Junior at the start line. During the race, I usually take a Vespa Junior every 90 minutes or a Vespa Concentrate every two hours. Typically, I use more Vespa Junior if the race is quicker in pace.
When I have my diet dialed in really close, supplement intelligently, and get adequate sleep, my recovery pretty much takes care of itself. I just listen to my body for muscle soreness and tendon tightness, and when the soreness and tightness is gone, I get back to training.
ResourcesYeo WK, Carey AL, Burke L, Spriet LL, Hawley JA. Fat adaptation in well-trained athletes: effects on cell metabolism. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Feb; 36(1):12-22.
Volek, J, Phinney S. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. Beyond Obesity LLC. 2012 April.
Masterjohn, Christopher. "Beyond Good and Evil - Weston A Price Foundation." Beyond Good and Evil - Weston A Price Foundation. The Western A. Price Foundation, 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Attia, Peter. "My Personal Nutrition Journey." The Eating Academy. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
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.
My original plan to run the Mad City 100k has changed; I am now racing the Ice Age 50 Mile. Unfortunately I waited too long to officially register for Mad City. If an event is not near capacity, I often wait until the last minute to sign up. Ultra training is walking the thin line between peak fitness and injury, and I try to eliminate the risk of getting hurt after having already committed to a race by signing up as late as possible. Unfortunately for me, in this case my strategy turned against me. Mad City has a strict cut-off time to register, regardless of how many runners are registered. I was unaware of this policy, so I missed the cut-off and can no longer compete. I understand the reasoning of the policy and completely respect it. By no means do I expect any sort of preferential treatment.
With that settled, I needed a new focus. With Ice Age 50 Mile being less than a month away, I jumped for it. And fortunately, I was still able to sign up. It’s hard to be disappointed; IA50 will have some great runners this year, and I will have a chance to defend my title from last year.
I have ran on the Ice Age Trails multiple times, and, as mentioned earlier, I raced the event last year. So as far as knowing what to expect from the course, I feel very confident. What will be interesting is seeing how my training will affect my performance. My training has been specified for a relatively flat road race. This has meant lots of speed work, tempo work, fartlek, and hybrid road workouts. At first glance, this looks less than ideal for a course like IA50, which is full of small, but relentless, rolling trail hills.
I know there is a polarizing debate about how speedwork affects ultra running. It’s my belief that if you are going to race in the mountains, you better train in the mountains if you want to reach full potential. In other words, train specifically for your goal. IA is a trail race with a saw-tooth elevation profile, and last year I prepared with lots of small hill repeats, and it worked out well. But I suspect that the type of speedwork I've been doing might likewise transfer well to the ups and downs of IA50. I'm looking forward to a good n=1 study, comparing this year to last year.
Another thing I had to adjust was my training cycle. I'm near the end of the three-week taper that was meant for Mad City, and since IA50 is still almost four weeks away, it would not be wise to stretch this out into a six-week taper—it's just too long. This leaves me with a small window of about 7-10 days to get some course-specific sharpening workouts in the bank before resuming my taper.
I began on Tuesday morning by attacking some hills. I visited my old sledding hill stomping grounds from last year, and thankfully, despite the snowstorm last week, there was enough melt-off to find a good path for repeats. I didn’t waste any time, logging a two-hour workout that included 100 repetitions up and down the sled hill (a workout I did near the end of my training last year for IA). I set it up in interval fashion:
- 3.5 mile warm up
- 4 x (25 rep. sledding hill with 3 minute recovery jog between)
- 3.5 mile cool down
Admittedly, I was quite stiff during my four-mile shake out run and plyometrics session that evening. However, I was pleasantly surprised Thursday morning to feel very little soreness or sluggishness in my legs. I am hoping this is a good sign that my body is already suited to running IA-style trails... But there is only one way to find out!
I like to think of my high fat diet as continually evolving as I put into practice new things. A while back, I posted a snapshot of what I ate one day. After an interview with Ben Greenfield (will be posted later on the Ben Greenfield Fitness website), I would like to do that again, but with a few tweaks I have been trying.
First, when eating nuts (almonds, say) I now look for raw almonds. Second, when buying meat, I take a trip to the farmer's market. I have found that things like liver are actually cheaper at the farmer's market. I pay a bit more for grass-fed beef, but I feel the tradeoff is worth it. I am more concerned with the fact I am putting money into the pocket of a hard working farmer, who takes pride in the quality of his or her product, rather than a big company who values dollars over consumer health. Third, I have been trying to reduce the amount of dairy I consume on a daily basis. When I do eat dairy, I try to find a raw version (something that has not been pasteurized or homogenized). If I can get it for a reasonable price, I like to get goat milk products. I was listening to a podcast a while back, and an argument was made that goat milk products are better received by the human digestive system, because the size of an adult goat mother is close to that of a human, the theory being that the milk she produces is designed for a human-sized creature (baby goats weigh about the same as human infants).
Below is a sample day of exercise and food consumption that I recorded. Like last time, keep in mind this is a one-day snapshot, and in no way are these the only foods I will or do eat. I have a large group of foods I eat routinely, and these are the ones that got picked on this particular day.
Thanks for reading!
Sample High-Volume Day
- AM: 15 miles
- 3 mile warm-up
- 5x 1 mile repeats (5:30/mi) with 1 mile recovery jog between
- 3 mile cool-down
- PM: 7 miles easy, 30 minute stretch/circuit routine
- Coffee w/ Tbsp butter, Tbsp coconut oil, tsp raw honey
- Vespa concentrate
- 1 sweet potato
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- cup wild-caught salmon
- 1 medium carrot
- Small bowl of spinach
- Unrefined sea salt (liberal amount)
- 1 oz sharp cheddar (preferably raw)
- 4 Extreme Endurance, 1 Extreme Omega, 1 Extreme Joint, 3 Extreme Immune, Extreme Gut (probiotic), 1 NOW K2+D3, 1 NOW CoQ10, 1 NOW Magnesium, 1 NOW kelp, 1 NOW blue green algae
- cup flax seeds
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 oz sausage
- 1 oz sharp cheddar (preferably raw)
- cup raw almonds
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Unrefined sea salt (liberal amount)
- cantaloupe w/ cinnamon
- 4 oz fresh calf liver
- 6 slices bacon
- 2 cups cabbage
- 3 Tbsp sour cream
- Turmeric (liberal amount)
- Unrefined sea salt (liberal amount)
- 1 avocado
- 1 Tbsp butter
- Herbal tea with coconut milk, Tbsp honey
- 4 Extreme Endurance, 1 Extreme Omega, 1 Extreme Joint, 3 Extreme Immune, Extreme Gut (probiotic), 1 NOW K2+D3, 1 NOW CoQ10, 3 NOW Magnesium, 1 NOW kelp, 1 NOW blue green algae
Running throughout the winter is a necessity in order to be in prime shape for spring races. Of course, winter running can vary greatly depending on where you live, and for a Midwest runner, winter can mean snow, ice, and wind (sometimes all at once). This can present a tricky situation for those who desire a rigid routine. During the winter months, it isn't as simple as setting up a week of training and sticking to it. Just because a 10-mile tempo is on the schedule for Tuesday doesn't mean that 7-to-9-inch snowstorm is going to hold off. Here are a few tips I try to use during the winter season to make sure I get the most I can out of my training plan.
Be flexibleScratching a speed session because it is nasty outside doesn't mean the workout is completely lost. When planning intensity training sessions in winter, try to pick the intensity sessions desired for a 10-14 day cycle. Make a point to note that these are the key elements to your 10-14 day cycle, and that completing them is priority number one. The rest of your running can be filled in around them. Once you know which intensity sessions you are going to do, be ready to do them on a variety of days. Maybe Monday is sunny and dry. Be flexible enough to drop in one of the more intense sessions. Maybe on Thursday there are 30mph winds and hail. Push the workout off to a different day.
Look aheadCheck the weather. Have a few workout options for each of the next few days, so no matter what the weather has in store, a feasible workout is available to you.
Know your routesGet to know which routes get shoveled or cleared most quickly. Some areas seem to take days to get cleared, while others seem to get shoveled as soon as the first flake hits the ground. Be familiar with your training grounds.
Effort, not distanceOn really sketchy days, run based on effort. Listen to your body rather than staring at your pace per mile. It’s to be expected that your pace will be slower if the terrain is severe. Focus on listening to your body to gauge how much running to do.
Keep an open mindEmbrace the weather! Just because there is 6 inches of snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t run. It just means running might be different. View it as a change of pace. Often trudging through rough snow-covered paths can mimic a technical trail really well. Embrace this opportunity to make you a stronger runner.
And lastlyAlways remember that when it comes to winter running, the worst days seem to stick in our minds. But not every day is like that. There will always be a host of gorgeous running weather, even in January and February. Looking forward to the sunny, calm, 30-degree days where you can cruise for hours without a sip of water.
With much consideration, I would like to return to Madison, Wisconsin, in April, this time to take a swing at the Mad City 100k. Last year's 50k left me quite intrigued by the 10k loop, which was utilized for both the 50k and 100k distances. I bypassed the 100k distance last year in order to take advantage of my bid into Western States, and I'd still like to try my hand at the 100k distance. It seems like a no-brainer to focus on Mad City, as it's the USATF 100k Road Championships, and it's located right in my backyard.
So more about Mad City on a later date. The real reason for this post is to talk about training. With my focus ultra being a paved looped course, I plan to alter my training quite a bit from previous training cycles. My goal is to get my body extremely comfortable running between 6:00 and 6:30/mi pace.
My blueprint for getting my body to this state relies heavily on five specific tactics. First, short bursts. These are anywhere from 20-second sprints to 400-meter repeats (on a track if it's clear of snow, otherwise on the road using GPS). Second, tempo runs. These consist of stringing together up to 18 miles at a pace between 5:30 and 6:00/mi. Third, mile repeats. No sugar-coating this one, other than deciding whether to do the repeats fartlek style or interval style (I will likely do fartlek style more, as I hate stopping completely or walking between sets). Fourth, decreased “average pace.” I want my body to be really comfortable at a 6 to 6:30/mi pace. Lots of my non-speedwork miles will be run at the 6-6:30 pace. What better way to get the body used to a certain pace than to run that pace regularly? Don’t get me wrong, I will be wise on recovery runs. The idea here is that by reducing the overall volume, my body will be able to handle a quicker average pace. So no, I will not be robbing recovery by going faster on my recovery runs. I will simply find additional recovery from less volume. Fifth, plyometric/strength training. Last time I decided to focus on speed I used plyometrics often, and I felt this did wonders for the “pop” in my legs, as well as keeping my muscles loose and ready to fire quick without injuring anything.
I am really excited take on this next training block. A different outlook on daily workouts should be lots of fun. As I get things going I will post some sample weeks of training to show specific workout details and how I feel they have helped or hindered progress.
However, the break from blogging certainly did not mean a break from running. I changed a few things in training post-Western States (WS100) to prepare for the faster 50-milers I will be doing this Fall. I plan to race Tussey Mountain Back 50 Mile U.S. Road Championships and JFK 50 Mile. Both courses are relatively fast in comparison to other well-known 50 mile races.
Once I picked up training at full capacity after WS100, something ironic happened. After running in California for two weeks on the most technical terrain I ever experienced, I managed to return to Wisconsin unscathed. Then, within days of being back on the flat dirt trails of Wisconsin, I tripped and managed to roll my ankle.
|Post-icing the morning after I rolled my ankle|
I thought it was much worse than it actually ended up being. Fortunately, the folks at Aurora Bay Care Sports Medicine set me up with some good advice that resulted in only 7 days off running, and I before I knew it I was back in business.
Once my ankle felt good I spent about a month building up my base with very minimal amounts of intense sessions. I wanted to ease into intensity training, while gradually backing away from higher miles. As Tussey and JFK come closer I will need a bit more speed in my legs. In August and September I have scaled down to 100-150 miles (averaging around 120-130) and started adding more intensity. My hope is to raise my threshold, making the faster average paces at Tussey and JFK seem easier. Here are a few of the workouts I have enjoyed doing.
The 20 40Peter Defty, of Vespa Power Products turned me on to this workout, and I have incorporated variations of it into my training. After a nice, long warm-up (40-60 minutes), I break each minute into an interval/recovery block. That's a 20-second sprint followed by a 40 second jog, on repeat. Some days I do this 10 times, other days up to 40. I plan to get to 60 minutes before race day. I also use it as a warm-up for a tempo run (typically I’ll only do 10 in this case).
Road RepeatsI love this one because it mimics repeats on the track, but you don’t have to go to the track to do it. Here's how it works: I get a nice long warm-up in before I start, typically lasting 30-60 minutes. I then break my workout into 3-minute blocks. The first minute is run at a high intensity—5k pace or a bit faster. The next two minutes are recovery jogging. Currently I do about 10 repeats of this during my workouts, but hope to be closer to 20 before JFK.
5K RepeatsThis workout is really intriguing to me. I learned about it from Phil Richert, a former UW-Stevens Point teammate of mine. Basically, it is just what it sounds like. You get on a track or a marked section of road and do 5-kilometer repeats. Right now I have only done this workout with two repeats, but I will do a set of 3 before Tussey. The idea, like in any other interval workout, is to pick a goal pace and try to hit it on however many 5k repeats you decide to do. Recovery between intervals should be active; I aim for a 600-meter jog.
TempoTempo runs are very broad in nature. The race you are training for will dictate the pace and distance of your tempo run. Since I’m training for a 50-mile race, my tempo miles usually climb up into the double digits. I aim for a pace between 5:30 and 6:00 minutes per mile. Currently I have reached 10 miles at 5:45/mile for this training block. I hope to get up to at least 15 miles at this pace before JFK.
I am really excited about this Fall's race offerings because I haven’t done this much intensity work leading up to an ultra since my first 50-miler back in 2010. I hope to see some positive effects from an improved running economy as a result of this training.
If you have any interesting intensity workouts, please post! I’d love to hear how you get your fast pace fix.
CoachingOf course I am more than happy to answer any general questions that you might have. But if you or someone you know is interested in a really in-depth analysis of your training and nutrition, please visit my coaching website or just ask me about individual and group coaching rates.
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.
For More Information
- iRunFar.com Article by Joe Uhan on Waterlogged
- Ben Greenfield interviews Dr. Tim Noakeson his podcast
A bit about the course: The first 29 miles to Robinson's Flat are arguably the most difficult. A mixture of rocky, single-track trail, an ascent to 7,200 feet, and some windy descents leave runners debating on how to attack. Give too much, and you might suffer your way through the faster parts of the course on the back 38 miles. But give too little and you could put yourself too far from a goal. From Robinson's Flat to Michigan Bluff (miles 29-55), the course is characterized by a stretch of very runnable descents, followed by some scorching canyons that can wreck your quads if you are not careful.
This course has all the makings for a classic battle of strategies. If heat becomes a factor, strategy becomes even more important as runners decide how much they want to risk in the blazing inferno that is the canyons. With this year's reopening of the official course, a challenging segment that was previously replaced by very runnable gravel road, will be back in play. I'd say don't expect quite as fast times as the previous two years.
Thursday through Saturday marked a pretty intense block of preparation for me. I didn't follow what would be considered a typical taper for WS100. I have never been on the course before, so I thought finding out firsthand what twists, turns, and challenges were ahead would be more valuable than just resting. I plan to run the WS100 a number of times in my life, and want to get as educated as possible about the course.
I was extremely fortunate in that I was able to spend much of my time thus far with Peter Defty and Bruce Labelle. Peter, of Vespa Power Products, has great insight into the inner workings of the WS 100-mile stretch, great insight into fueling processes I strongly believe in, and knowledge of form efficiency on downhill and uphill running. Over the past three days, with Peter's advice, I have worked a lot on balanced running for efficiency on both descending and ascending trails. The idea is that more efficient running leads to less energy expenditure. I would like to say Bruce has probably forgotten more about the course than I can ever hope to know, but it would be false, because I don't think he has forgotten anything he ever learned about the course. He is competing this year for his 1,000 mile, 10-day award (meaning 10 finishes, all under 24 hours). This includes a stretch from '82 through '84 where he finished 3rd, 7th, and 2nd, respectively. His insight about the course has helped my mental preparation exponentially. With the knowledge of Peter and Bruce, I capped off a three-day stretch that included Robinson's Flat to Michigan Bluff (miles 29-55, with a small 2-3 mile detour in there), Escarpment to Red Star (miles 3.5 to 15, plus a 7-mile detour through part of the snow course due to my navigational deficiencies, and lack of daylight), and Red Star to Robinson's Flat (miles 15-29).
This may seem like a lot for the weekend before a big race, but like I mentioned earlier, the experience is well worth it, and I trust with a few easy days I will benefit from the work. Also, I tried to plan ahead a bit earlier in the week by backing off my training (Sunday through Wednesday comprised 40 easy, flat miles). I ended the week with 108 miles, which is a fairly typical amount for me leading into an ultra. The next six days before the race will be pretty relaxed as far as running goes. I will work more on efficient running techniques and try to see a bit more of the course. If you are interested in following the race on Saturday, I have posted two links that will take you to the video feed, as well as email/text splits.
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.
After last fall's race season I felt I had asked quite a bit from my body by racing three 50 milers in nine weeks. However, I couldn't help but take note of other ultrarunners who seem to never break down. Some even posted ultra-length race results at clips of over ten per year! Crazier yet, there is Michael Wardian, who posts top-ranked ultra times on a weekly basis. And then there was me.
I'll never forget the moment at the JFK 50 Mile when I realized I didn't have the same snap in my step that I had four weeks earlier. Were there only a select few who had superhuman genes for speedy recovery? Was the secret a decade or more of injury-free base miles averaging well over 100 miles a week? Sure, both play a role in recovery, but since you can't help your genes, I decided to focus on a continuation of building base—and nutrition.
By focusing on training and nutrition, I believe I have made huge strides in speeding up my recovery. I tested this on three separate occasions: After the John Dick Memorial 50k, I was able to run 10 miles the following morning. After the Mad City 50k, I was able to run 20 miles the following morning. I didn't taper for either of these events, so the quicker recovery may have partly been due to less shock to my muscles on race day. The real test to me was after the Ice Age 50 Mile. In all of my previous 50-mile races I was physically incapable of running for at least three days following the event. In addition, the first week to ten days that I did run, I could notice a definite lack of turnover and snap in my legs. After IA50, on the other hand, I could have run the next morning. I took off two days anyhow, but that was for other reasons. In addition, my legs lacked that sharp pain that makes running feel impossible. After two days off, I went for a 7.5-mile run. It was a new feeling. Not only did my legs feel fresh, but I even had to force myself to not increase my pace near the end of the run. It was an experience you'd almost need to have for yourself to truly understand. I was certainly surprised... and excited.
So, what did I do differently that allowed me to bounce back so quickly? As mentioned earlier, I did have an extra winter and spring worth of base miles. Certainly this helped a bit. However, it's unlikely it accounted entirely for the speedier recovery. Instead, I believe my nutrition played a big part. I have been doing two major things differently compared to last fall: a high-fat diet and supplementation with Extreme Endurance.
I flipped my diet on its head. Rather than consuming the majority of my calories from carbohydrate sources, I based my diet on fats. My daily fat intake increased to 50-60 percent of my caloric intake. If you want to learn some facts about fat you can listen to the podcast Why Fat is Good by Ben Greenfield. If you are the deep thinking or reading type, check out the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Both are very eye-opening. However, what I heard and read was just theory. I needed to try it out for myself. I have been following the high fat diet for about two months now, supplementing it with Vespa, and I have noticed a few changes. One, quicker recovery. Two, better mental focus. Three, no energy spikes and dips throughout the course of the day. Four, much deeper sleep. As far as I am concerned, all these benefits were extremely worth altering my diet.
The second dietary change I made was supplementing with Extreme Endurance. Just like in the case of dietary fat, I looked into the science behind this product, and I really liked what I saw and heard. However, once again, I needed to try it for myself before buying in 100 percent. You can read my four-week review of Extreme Endurance here. I loved it from the beginning. In fact, I noticed changes within 48 hours of beginning taking the product. The snap in my legs during afternoon runs following morning runs was great. I used to have to do my speedwork or otherwise intense sessions in the morning because I knew my legs were not going to be as responsive in the afternoon of a two-run day. With Extreme Endurance, this no longer is the case.
After winning IA50, I qualified for an entry slot into the Western States 100 (WS100). But I didn't enter IA50 with a goal to qualify for WS100. I actually had somewhat hoped to run WS100 next summer. However, having the opportunity in front of me, and some awesome support from Vespa, I will be running my first 100-mile race on June 23 at WS100. To be honest, I have no idea what to expect. The terrain is certainly different from anything I have trained on here in Wisconsin. I'm looking forward to a great learning experience—and to fall in love with the 100-mile distance.