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.