Friday, August 29, 2014

Leadville 100 trail run report

Part 1: Nutrition

The Leadville 100 trail race was incredible in countless ways.  I admit that I’ve had a difficult time wanting to sit down and write some thoughts about it.  That’s mostly because I feel I’m putting finality on what was one of the most special events I have ever experienced.  As Bob had told me prior to the race, Leadville holds a special place in his heart and it would soon be the case for me.  I know now exactly what he meant. Yet, it is something I have had troubles verbalizing or putting into written words. 

But before I get too emotional about what this event taught me and how lucky I was to even be there, I wanted to report on how my nutrition played out for the race.  Many people have asked me “did you end up using lots of sugar to get by?” and “did you have stomach issues like so many other ultra runners do?”  

My Nutrition Plan A was divided by sections of the Leadville course and my estimated durations for each leg. I packed a "feed bag” and a labeled UCAN flask for each point where I would meet my crew so that they could simply hand me my goodies as I was reporting my food intake from the previous leg. As mentioned in my earlier blog, the bulk of my calories were to come from UCAN, homemade balls/bars, other packaged bars, and possibly some nut butter. By the way, my sister, Sharyn, was part of my crew and kept all sorts of notes throughout the race. She did a great job for me so that I wouldn’t have to trust my memory for all of the details.

Throughout the race, I had planned an average hourly calorie intake based on a Metabolic Efficiency assessment I had done about 1.5 weeks prior to the race. As an aside, this is an invaluable test to do one (or multiple times) for anyone who wants to see how their body uses its internal energy sources at different exercise intensities, which is particularly useful for planning nutrition for an endurance event.  Anyway, in my feed bag, I also packed some extra foods as a “just in case” (i.e., Nutrition Plan B). These foods included some rice crackers, fruit sticks, and caffeinated jelly beans. The other parts of Plan B (or Plan C) would be to take from the aid stations as needed (fruit, soda, sandwich bites).

My Plan A worked decently until the Hope Pass areas (between miles 40 through 60).  It had become fairly warm in the afternoon hours (which was most welcome compared to what it could’ve been at over 12,000 feet elevation!). I had planned to use mostly UCAN for this stretch, but I lost my appetite about halfway up the first summit of Hope Pass.  I wasn’t nauseated nor did I have any other stomach issues. I just felt like not eating.  I knew this could happen, as it had happened to me before and is common when exposed to significant elevation changes within a relatively short amount of time.  I didn’t let this bother me, mentally, and just kept plugging away at this beautiful mountain, enjoying the nearby huffs and puffs of my fellow ultra peeps. Once I got to Winfield (mile 50, the turnaround), I picked up my first pacer, who happened to be my husband (Number One Fan). He was familiar with my previous experience of not eating much in the higher mountain areas, so he didn’t pressure me “much” to eat/drink, but I did catch him trying to reason with me during several sections of the second summit of Hope Pass: “You still have a long day ahead of you.” “You need to take in a few calories along the way.”  “Trust your UCAN.” Yep, all noted.  So, I worked on a few mouse-sized nibbles of crackers, a couple pieces of fruit, three jelly beans, and nursed my UCAN flask throughout these long 8.5 hours (over and back from Hope Pass). 

Leadville 100 Run elevation profile

After I made it back to Twin Lakes (mile 60), I felt better at tackling some solid food. I chose peanut butter and jelly sandwich bites as I had practiced this during some long training runs.  These bites ended up working well for me in the next number of hours, alongside UCAN and fruit. The cold mountain air crept up fast as it got dark, so I knew I needed to bundle up with extra layers especially since I wasn’t moving all that fast. As I had learned from those more experienced at Leadville, hypothermia is another way to quickly shut yourself down with no going back. No thanks - I think I ended up with 5 layers to keep my core warm.  And I kept moving forward!

Interestingly, there are research studies reporting upwards of 60% of ultra runners experience gastrointestinal distress during 100-mile events. Believe me, I saw a number of people vomiting early on…and late into the night. So, I am quite pleased I did not experience any serious GI or nutrition issues during my first 100. 

The biggest physical challenge throughout the race (aside from the cold temperatures at night and starting to get sleepyhead around 3am) was a calf cramp that started at about mile 23. I had just descended the respectable Powerline stretch and popped out onto the paved road towards the Outward Bound aid station. I managed to massage my leg enough for the cramp to subside for several hours, however, I could tell it was still lingering.  Unfortunately, this cramp reared its ugly head in all its nastiness at about mile 93. I suddenly could not even try to run on that leg as it had turned to brick. As I started to fret about making the final cut-off time of 30 hours, there was no chance my stubbornness was going to let me stop and massage or stretch my leg. The calf pain took away any slight appetite I had for those final few hours.  All that I could focus on was the “Left foot, right foot” mantra and “I WILL make it to the finish line”.  Well, that, and why the heck did my calf cramp like this? I think I might have asked Phil (my 3rd pacer) this question about 27 times in the span of 2 hours. Now, you might be immediately thinking, “She got dehydrated!” or “Low electrolytes are to blame!”. However, it could have been related to muscular fatigue… or perhaps I had just stepped on a rock sideways. It could be a combination of all these things. Or as Dr. Tim Noakes might suggest, perhaps this was a protective mechanism by my Central Governor to get me to slow down (even more!) to prevent more trauma to the muscle tissue.  Who knows exactly… we still have much to discover about muscle cramping.   

Nonethless, I made my march to the finish. With a blend of the Nutrition Plans A + B + C. My calculations show an average of 92 calories per hour over the 29 hours and 34 minutes. Here’s the breakdown if you really want to know the true nitty gritty:
Calorie distribution

From my experience doing nutrition coaching and crewing for ultra endurance athletes, I know a nutrition plan is critical.  But, I also know (and REALLY know now) it is nearly impossible to predict everything that will happen in an event that can quickly alter the nutrition plan.  What this means is that it’s great to have a nutrition plan, but you better have backup plans. And then you have to be able to figure out how to deal with what is thrown at you throughout these long hours, particularly if things don’t align with your Plan A or Plan B.  I think this is part of the beauty of ultra endurance events.  No matter how Type A your personality is, your Nutrition Plan A may not work but you’ve got to keep your stuff together to persevere.  Additionally, I continue to strongly believe that having solid daily nutrition patterns that support metabolic efficiency helps to make all of the unpredictables much more easy to tolerate for the long haul.  

And there you have it.  

Next up, my lessons learned at the LT100 Run.
LT100 Finish

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

LT100 Fueling: UCAN, Balls, Bars, Butters and Shots

A big day is coming up for me.  A day I’ve been thinking about for a very long time: my first try at a 100-mile foot race.  I chose the Leadville 100 for many reasons, but the main reasons were that it is relatively close to where I live (~2.5 hours away) and I love being “up high” in the mountains. If you search the Internet blogs about this race, it is hard not to find the words “sufferfest” and “grueling” when reading runner accounts of their experience at this race. Slightly intimidating for a first timer.

I think the most common two questions I’ve been asked during my training are: how long do you expect this race to take you?  and what are you going to eat?

My answer to the first question remains “I just want to finish the race”. 

To the second question, I have a variety of goodies planned.  Here is the majority of my ‘Plan A’ items.

While I am not showing or describing all of the details of my nutrition and hydration strategy here, I wanted to show that the main source of my planned calories will come from the Generation UCAN superstarch, a few homemade items (with a powerhouse of ingredients!), nibbles from a few packaged protein bars I like, a couple homemade ‘gels’, nut butter, and the ThorneFX Elevate energy shots which contain adaptogens and green tea extract. Notice there is not a mound of simple sugar products in the Plan A. 

I do have a nutrition Plan B, which all ultra runners should have (although, it’s surprising that so many don’t even have a Plan A!).  Simply put, the Plan B involves flexibility. Just like with a pacing plan, at some point you may have to adjust based on The Unknown. In my blog searches to learn more about how other runners have done at the LT100, I have read countless reports of stomachs gone bad… leading to nausea, vomiting, and the ultimate DNF. It is very possible this will happen to me, but I am prepared to not throw in the towel right away if and when this should happen. 

My Metabolic Efficiency Training has served me well to this point.  I have not been on the ‘low carb, high fat’ plan this time around, but I have been on the ‘controlled carbohydrate’ plan. A recent Metabolic Efficiency Assessment showed that at my anticipated paces at Leadville, I will be burning anywhere from 64 to ~85% fat.  The more I can preserve my carbohydrate stores, the better. The more I can rely on my fat stores as a fuel source, the better. Of course, hydration status greatly influences how we feel, so this is an essential component to being able to finish without a major breakdown.  However, compared to ultra runners who are not as metabolically efficient
(and believe me, there are many) and who require 200-450 calories per hour, perhaps my nutrition plan will delay or prevent the ‘stomach gone bad’ incidents.

To be determined.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nutrition Trials for Leadville 100 Run: The Balls

I'm less than 5 weeks out from the Leadville 100, which will be my first attempt at a 100 mile event... on foot. Since it's getting close to crunch time, I thought I should write a bit more about some experiences.  I'm a bit shy to share these things publicly, but I realize that as a newbie to the 100-mile distance, there may be other newbies like me who are curious what I've been trying. Or perhaps there are more experienced ultra runners who are interested.

First, it is important for me to mention that I have followed a "Metabolically Efficient" daily nutrition pattern since January (when I started training), yet I have employed nutrition periodization principles throughout my training cycles to align my macro- and micronutrients with my body's energy needs.  I am not following a "low carb high fat" nutrition plan (which has no real standard definition), yet I do make efforts to put together foods to control my blood sugar.  My carbohydrate intake varies between 80-140 grams per day, but will depend on what training I have as to whether I go on the lower or higher end of that range.

Secondly, my goals with the Leadville 100 are twofold:
 #1:  be able to complete the race within the time limit of 30 hours
 #2:  through this experience leading up to the race, and during the race, be able to better understand what my ultra athletes deal with

As a sport dietitian and a gal proud to be affiliated with the well-respected Fuel4mance sports nutrition consulting company, it's important to me to be in my athletes' shoes. Knowledge and education are great, but having the experience enables me to help athletes at a different level.

So now let me get into a bit about my nutrition trials for what I've been consuming during long runs. By a long run, I mean a run that is over 2.5 hours in duration. Anything under 2.5 hours requires no calories.  Up until 2 weeks ago, I was consuming GenerationUCAN superstarch during my training runs with the exception of 2 races I did in May (more on that in a separate post). I have used this product since 2010 and know it works well for me.  I've been doing fine averaging between 35-50 calories per hour.  (Note: my paces typically vary between ~10:30-15:00 min/mi on the terrain, vertical gain, and the elevation at which I run/hike). As I thought more about the duration of time it may take me to complete the Leadville 100, I accepted the fact that I likely will not want to consume GenUCAN for upwards of 30 hours.  It is rare for the "average" ultra runner to consume a single calorie source throughout an entire event. 

Alright, so this meant I needed to start experimenting with either what the race aid stations will supply or get my own goodies lined up.  I'm not a fan of gels or some of the other typical fare served at the ultra runner buffet (however, that does not mean I won't consume some of these items as part of a nutrition "backup plan").  I have always enjoyed trying different homemade "energy bar" recipes, so the night before my most recent long run, I raided the cabinets to see what I could put together.  I did look at a handful of recipes on the interwebs for some ideas.

I ended up with balls. Or bites. Or nibbles.  I'm not sure what name I want to give them, but here they are:

Here's what's in 'em:
  • 1/2 cup raw nuts (I used almonds and pecans)
  • 1/4 cup natural nut butter (I used a mix of almond and peanut)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate whey protein isolate (ThorneFX)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 6 deglet noor dates
  • 1 tablespoon local honey
  • 1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
The food processor did all the work.

I made 12 out of the batch. My nutrition analysis shows these each to be about:
  • 125 calories
  • 8.5 grams fat
  • 9 grams carbohydrate
  • 5 grams protein
A well-rounded (pun intended!), dense energy source with a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. A good trial for my metabolically efficient status. 

This is the run I did the next day:
About 25.5 miles with 5500 feet elevation gain.  I consumed 160 calories from GenUCAN + 2 of these nibbles during the run. [Note: I did freeze these balls overnight and kept them in a cooler in my car.] This works out to ~75 calories per hour for the duration I was out there. The great news is that these were delicious and did not cause me any stomach upset.  I think I will tinker with the recipe (and yes, I have used GenUCAN in a recipe similar to this, however right now I want to save my GenUCAN), but I will add it to my list of things to continue to incorporate in my fueling plan.

More nutrition trials to come!


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Amy’s story: from Weight Watchers to Metabolic Efficiency Training

Before I roll into this post, you noticed I mentioned Weight Watchers (WW) in the title.  This is not a post to dismiss the potential benefits of the WW program.  I realize there have been plenty of success stories, yet over the years, I have encountered many men and women who had either no success or very short-lived success with the program. This post is about Amy, who tried Weight Watchers for several months to lose weight but achieved little progress with the program approach.

A bit more info about Amy from when we first started working together in October 2013:

  • age: 48 years
  • height: 5’10”, weight: ~200 pounds. She had weighed near 270 pounds about 7 years prior when her doctor diagnosed her with prediabetes.
  • also diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome since young adulthood
  • mostly exercised for fitness (walking, elliptical, biking) but had taken up running in 2012 and participated in some 5 Km and 10 Km running events, in addition to a half marathon. She was also swimming and doing some strength training a few times per week

Amy’s primary goal was to reduce her body weight and to improve her running. She also wanted to prevent progression of prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes.

Amy reported her main complaints with the WW program was that she was hungry all of the time.  She did implement the counting system as instructed by the program and used her allotted food points hoping that with her dedication to the program and to her daily exercise, she would see changes.

As I initially assessed Amy’s daily nutrition patterns as outlined to her by WW, I found the bulk of her meals to be low-fat, low in protein, and moderate to high in carbohydrate.  Here is an example:

  • breakfast:  peanut butter and apple butter sandwich on barley bread, coffee with nonfat milk
  • lunch: beans, rice, cheese, salsa in flour tortilla
  • snack: apple and low fat cheese stick
  • dinner: meatball sub

Now, I’m sure you readers can pick apart what was “wrong” or “right” with this snapshot of her nutrition. But, in the WW world, this wasn’t too far off from a calorie-controlled, “use your points” kind of day. Why wasn’t she losing weight if she was in a calorie deficit according to WW’s method?

I began teaching Amy how to implement the Metabolic Efficiency nutrition training principles. First and foremost was how to put together foods to control blood sugar… at every single meal, every single snack. Blood sugar control is the at the core of Metabolic Efficiency Training, no matter who you are. We addressed behavioral modification alongside this:  why are you eating?  how do you know when you are hungry? I gave her tools to re-learn, or even discover, her relationship with food.  

Here is a recent snapshot of her daily nutrition:

  • breakfast: Fruitless Fun smoothie (from the Fuel4mance Smoothie Recipe e-book), coffee with half and half
  • snack: cucumber and hummus
  • lunch: roasted chicken, vegetables, cheese, on bed of lettuce
  • dinner: chicken piccata, broccoli slaw, guacamole

I convinced Amy to skip her frequent weigh-ins. Instead, we agreed to do measurements and weigh-ins no more than every two weeks.  Here is a record of her weigh-ins:

*Note: Amy and I took a break from working together in December so that she could test the waters (so to speak) on her own. She contacted me at the start of the new year with the realization that she needed more time to work together for behavior changes to really “stick” through various life situations. Although it is said that behavior change can happen in as little as 3 weeks, it can take several months for new habits to become second nature. Part of the process of adopting a new habit and sticking to it involves a strong support system, of which I belonged. So, Amy and I resumed our check ins in late January 2014. 

Amy has also lost nearly 16 inches from 8 body measurements she has been tracking (chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves, etc.). I am anxiously awaiting new blood work to see how her diabetes biomarkers look.

Aside from her changes in body composition, Amy is also extremely thrilled that her meals keep her quite full (thank you blood sugar control!). She has reported steady energy levels, good sleep quality, and a sense of freedom now that she no longer has to count calories, points, or has to worry about saving her points for an occasional dessert. She feels at ease with her nutrition choices when dining out or when in social situations, which is always a concern for classic dieters and contributes to many yo-yo dieting habits.

Amy is now working with a running coach to get her in tiptop shape for several running races this year. So far, she is right on track to be in the best shape she has seen in over 25 years. 

A big congrats to Amy for her efforts to live a new nutrition lifestyle.  And another example of how Metabolic Efficiency Training can work for all types of individuals!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Listening to your body (part 2 of many)

... and the WHY behind your nutrition choices...

In my last blog post, I started writing about working on the skill of “listening to your body”.  I had gotten sick, ignored my body’s needs, and had felt some suffering as a consequence.  As I train for the Leadville 100 trail run under a new coach who stresses the importance of listening to one’s body, I figured it was time to figure out what that means for me. Unfortunately after my last post, I became more sick and spent the better part of two weeks out of commission.  During this time, I was obviously out of my normal routine of working, training, doing household-related tasks, running errands, etc. I also got out of my routine of eating - not just what I would eat but how often I would eat… and why I would eat. I thought about this more in relation to “listening to the body” and many of the mainstream diet approaches which completely ignore this aspect when changing nutrition patterns.

I estimate about 80% of my athletes have weight loss or a reduction in body fat as one of their top goals. When done correctly and carefully, weight loss can improve health and decrease risk for some disease states. It also can improve performance (e.g., faster and more efficient running, improved power to weight ratio on the bike, etc.). So, the main question athletes have is “what should I eat to lose weight?”  That’s all well and good to learn WHAT to eat to support weight loss, however, there is another aspect to achieving weight loss and being able to maintain it:  learning the WHY of your nutrition habits and choices.

In the context of “listening to your body,” this really means being able to identify true biological hunger cues versus habitual or emotional hunger cues. For example, many athletes eat because of the time of day: 7am, 10am, 12:30pm, 3pm, 6:30pm, 9pm. No matter if they are biologically hungry. Others may eat for emotional comfort - out of boredom, stress, or to fill a void. There may be associations between certain types of foods that we were given as a child to “make us feel better”. As adults, we can perpetuate that ritual and be unaware as to its negative effects. I also have worked with a number of athletes who simply are afraid to let themselves get hungry. It is a frightening state for them to be. They lack trust in themselves as to what will happen when they start to feel hungry. Consequently, they never let themselves get to that point. There are numerous other reasons that we eat that have little to do with biological hunger.

As a sport dietitian, of course I want to educate athletes on what to eat for their unique health and performance goals. But for those athletes who do have weight loss goals, the nutrition intervention goes beyond nutrition education. After establishing the reasons why weight loss is important (which is an entirely different topic!), we must delve into that other nitty gritty aspect of “listening to the body”. The majority of us have little awareness of the reasons we eat and we don’t truly know what it feels like to be physically hungry.

If you’ve had weight loss goals in the past and were merely given a meal plan or told to “eat this, not that” but were unable to achieve your goals or sustain them, perhaps it is because you need to get to this next level of identifying the reasons why you eat and learning how to listen to your body in a new way.  It may not be an easy process and the findings may be difficult to accept, but it’s a crucial step in the path to success.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Listening to your body (part 1 of many) and how Down moves you Up and Forward.

I’ve been slacking in posting blogs lately. I’ll skip sharing my excuses and reasons, and just say that I’m motivated to write again.  That’s it.

Alright, so I was sidelined this week as I got hit with what I call a “respectable cold” (or flu, I don’t really know which). It is rare to come across an endurance athlete who doesn’t get the moody-cranky-antsy-restlessness bug alongside an acute illness like this. I’m no different.  Of course, I realize I could be far worse and don’t get me wrong, this is not a “woe is me” post. What I did give some thought to this week was something I’ve been hearing a lot from my coach: listen to your body. 

A quick step back…A few months ago, I hired a new coach to help me train for the Leadville 100 trail run. I’ve been through a handful of coaches in the past 10 years and all of them had different qualities and skills from which I learned and benefitted. I was drawn to my new coach for a number of reasons. For one, he lives at an elevation close to where I live (above 8000 ft) and in Colorado, so he understands some of the challenges of training that mountain living poses. Secondly, he has proven, outstanding experience at Leadville so he knows what I am getting into first hand. The third reason for me wanting to work with this coach is his style. I’ll generalize by just saying he’s different from any coach I’ve worked with previously… and I dig it. More details to be shared later on, but one thing he teaches is to listen to the body and this shows repeatedly in his training structure.

I have to admit at first I thought I knew how to listen to the body and what it meant. You have an ache, you watch it. You feel fatigued, you make sure to honor sleep. Etcetera and kinda cliche. It turns out it’s way more than that and way more complicated. There’s that brain doing some tricky things.. and training for a 100-mile event is different than an Ironman, a marathon, or anything else. Duh, right?  The bottom line here is..well, I’m learning I have a lot more to learn. Not only with how to listen to my body but what to do with what I am hearing from the body.  I hope that makes sense.

So, for these past eight days of illness, I thought about this more as I had days where I pushed myself a bit much, which knocked me down further. Am I going to learn this 'listen to the body' skill? How is my body responding to my decisions? Why is my brain wanting different things than what the body is capable of right now? In the end, it has (only) been a week’s lost of training time and some productive work time. But, I can see how essential this skill is, and will continue to be throughout the next several months of training…and beyond. I know my coach is going to put me through some tough times to help me learn myself (strengths and weaknesses) better. This training isn’t just about  pacing, distance, elevation gain, heart rate, nutrition. Underlying it, I see a better mind-body connection in my future and as corny as it sounds, I’m loving the process.

My down week, I know, has moved me up. Now, I’m ready for more forward steps.