Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Race Report: SOS4Kids

Sorry for the delay--this race took place over three months ago--but the munchkins take over the blog again to bring you their latest report:

This was the second triathlon I've done.  This was my first triathlon.  I ran / swam / biked a greater distance than she did. I swam eight laps, ran one mile, and biked four miles, and then ran another quarter of a mile.  I swam four laps, then ran half a mile, biked two miles, and then ran another quarter of a mile.  When I was at the first running part, a lot of stuff hurt, but only a little. However, when I got to the biking part, my legs started hurting a lot.  In the biking part of the race, I was kind of annoyed because I didn't have gears and I'm pretty sure that everyone else did.  During the bike, I felt like I had missed the turn around, because all of the uphills and downhills made the whole race seem a lot longer. I won a silver medal in my age group.  I was feeling great at the end of the race. I won a third place medal in my age group.

-Lexi and Dylan

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ultrarunner of the Year: My Ballot

This was the second time I was asked to vote for Ultrarunning magazine's Ultrarunner of the Year award, and I found this time around much harder than the first.  The men's and women's UROY were pretty obvious choices, but beyond that, narrowing down the rest of the top ten was exceedingly difficult.  Not to mention parsing the myriad fantastic races run this year to come up with the five best Performances of the Year.  And of course, just when I had settled on just about everything, last weekend happened and OH MY GOD.  It was pretty much back to the drawing board Monday morning.

One thing that made it a bit easier--or maybe harder?--was that for the first time, we were explicitly instructed by the powers-that-be that Fastest Known Time performances (FKTs) were not to be considered among the criteria for deciding UROY or POY.  This meant that several of the top contenders for POY, particularly on the men's side--Jim Walmsley's incredible R2R2R FKT, Pete Kostelnick's amazing transcontinental record, Karl Meltzer's FKT on the venerable Appalachian Trail, Jacob Puzey's 50 mile treadmill WR--were all out.  (For me, that effectively took Pete and Karl out of the running for UROY as well, though it didn't effect Jim's candidacy at all.)

There are about thirty voters, and the results are still being tabulated; the final results will be released on the Ultrarunning website starting in about a week.  For what it's worth, here are my picks.

Women's UROY
1. Kaci Lickteig
2. Magdalena Boulet
3. Caroline Boller
4. Courtney Dauwalter
5. Sarah Bard
6. Amy Sproston
7. Camille Herron
8. Maggie Guterl
9. Hillary Allen
10. Darcy Piceu

I found this category to be the toughest of all to compile my ballot.  This past weekend made it almost impossible; after Kaci, who was untouchable in 2016, I agonized over just about every spot on this list.  Toughest omissions for me: Katalin Nagy, Pam Smith, Gina Slaby, Devon Yanko, YiOu Wang, Jenny Hoffman, and Alissa St. Laurent.

Women's Performance of the Year
1. Gina Slaby, 100mi WR at Desert Solstice
2. Caroline Boller, 50mi trail world best at Brazos Bend
3. Katalin Nagy, dominant repeat win at Spartathlon
4. Sarah Bard, fourth place at Comrades
5. Hillary Allen, win at Cortina Trail ultramarathon

Felt like maybe I made up a bit here for leaving Gina and Katalin off the UROY ballot.  Tough to leave off Maggie's 100mi performance at Brazos Bend last weekend, Kaci's dominant win at Western States, and Cassie Scallon's course record at Bandera.

Women's Age Group Performance of the Year
1. Meghan Arbogast (55 years old), 100K age group WR at IAU World Championships
2. Meghan again, sixth place at Western States
3. Connie Gardner (52), win at Mohican 100
4. Beverly Anderson-Abbs (52), win (3:48) at Jed Smith 50K
5. Debra Horn (52), 170 miles in 48 hours (and the win) at Across the Years

Meghan's world age group record was an easy choice for me here, though I continue to have difficulty evaluating all of these performances across different age groups.

Men's UROY
1. Jim Walmsley
2. Jeff Browning
3. Zach Miller
4. Alex Nichols
5. Ian Sharman
6. Hayden Hawks
7. Dylan Bowman
8. Cody Reed
9. Brian Rusiecki
10. Andrew Miller

Just like for the women, Jim was an easy pick for the top spot; I'd honestly be a little surprised if he doesn't win unanimously.  And, just like the women, the next nine spots were a nightmare.  Almost too many difficult omissions to count; the toughest: Zach Bitter, Dave Laney, David Riddle, David Roche, Paddy O'Leary, Chase Nowak, Patrick Regan, Tim Tollefson, and Aaron Saft.

Men's Performance of the Year
1. Zach Bitter, 100mi American Record at 2015 Desert Solstice
2. Jim Walmsley, course record at JFK
3. Jim Walmsley at Western States
4. Tony Migliozzi, repeat winner at IAU 50K world championship
5. Tim Tollefson, third place at UTMB

Honestly, this was even harder than the women's POY for me.  Trying to choose between Walmsley course records was a thankless task; JFK got the nod given the history of the race, the number of legends who have taken on that course, and the fact that no one is within two fucking miles of that performance.  I couldn't leave off Jim's race at States either, which was the single most talked-about performance of the year, and the most dominant display that I've ever seen.  It may not be fair, but that's my vote.  I do hope Zach winds up winning this; it's unfair that people have kind of forgotten about DS last year, which was too late for 2015 voting.  Toughest omissions here were Zach Miller's crazy battle and win over Hayden Hawks at North Face, Jim at Bandera, Jim at Sonoma, Jason Schlarb at Hardrock, Geoff Burns' 6:30 100K at Mad City, and Patrick Regan's third place finish at IAU 100K worlds.

Men's Age Group Performance of the Year
1. David Jones (65 years old!), 17:34 100 mile at Tunnel Hill
2. Rich Hanna (51), age group national record (3:17) at Jed Smith 50K
3. Jean Pommier (52), 3:18 at Caumsett 50K
4. Ed Ettinghausen (57), 270 miles in 72 hours at Beyond Limits
5. Roger Jensen (66), 7:59 for 50 miles at JFK

You really could make an argument for any of these to be at the top of the list for me, and I wouldn't disagree with you.

So there you go.  Feel free to tell me what an idiot I am.  If you do, though, you must vote for me for Run Ultra's Blogger of the Year.  If you vote, you can go to the comments and call me whatever names you want.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Importance of Being a Furnace*

"If the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn, even Big Macs."

"And too, there were the questions: What did he eat?  Did he believe in isometrics?  Isotonics?  Ice and heat?  How about aerobic, est, ESP, STP?  What did he have to say about yoga, yogurt, Yogi Berra?  What was his pulse rate, his blood pressure, his time for the 100-yard dash?  What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret."

--John L. Parker, Jr.

It seems like I can't escape diets.  Everywhere I look I'm reading about people's diets.  My Facebook feed is full of pictures of what all my ultra running friends are eating.  In interviews, the elite runners I listen to are constantly being asked about their diets.

Why?  Part of it is the American obsession with diet, sure, but it's more than that.  As the sport gets more competitive, we're all looking for an edge; that's part of it too, the hope that we can find an advantage, the secret.  But there's another factor at play, too: it seems like people want to tell other people what they are eating, and why everyone else should eat that way too.  This may be due to the economics of ultra running, still in its infancy as a professional sport for some; sponsorships in many cases are tied to an athlete's social media profile, and all those bloggers need something to write about.  (Guilty as charged.)  And social media by its very nature encourages this sort of food-based voyeurism.  (Though maybe you should stop.)  But there seems to be a proselytizing aspect to it as well, particularly in the ultra world; not only to people want you to know what they're eating, but they  want you to know that you should be eating that way, too!

I'm reminded a bit of the minimalism craze of the late aughts, after Born to Run came out, and everyone wanted to tell you (rather loudly) why you, too, should be running in Vibrams.  The two cases share some similarities.  In both, there is a lot of research out there that can be conflicting and confusing, and the scientific community can't seem to reach a consensus.  Acolytes on all sides of each issue spout one-size-fits-all solutions.  And interestingly, both problems seem like they should have a universal solution.  I mean, shouldn't there be an ideal diet to optimize performance?  Shouldn't there be an ideal way to run, to minimize injury?

But the fact that so many people are finding success with so many different approaches would imply that there is no universal answer.  There are world-class athletes on paleo/LCHF/OFM diets (Zach Bitter, Jeff Browning, Tim Olson, Nikki Kimball);  on vegetarian diets (Sage Canaday, Scott Jurek, Mike Wardian); on vegan diets (Sandi Nypaver, Yassine Diboun); on gluten-free diets (Devon Yanko); on gluten-free AND vegan diets (Laura Kline, probably some hamsters); on all-fruit diets (Denis Mikhaylove, Mike Arnstein), and everything in between.  I think the common denominator is not what these people are eating, it's that they've all found what works for them.  There are arguments to be made for almost any diet.  We have enough trouble identifying what a healthy diet is for regular people, let alone defining what ultra-endurance athletes should be eating to maximize performance.  The more I read and hear, the more I think that the specifics of what you eat don't matter.  What matters is that you're paying attention to it.  If you are cognizant of what you're putting in your body, of what is does to you, of how it makes you feel and how it affects your performance, you're going to figure out what works for you.  And that's the secret.  That's where the advantage is.

Having said all that, here's what I've been eating.

This is not to say what you should be eating.  I may be a hypocrite, but I'm not going to go on a rant about people telling other people what to eat and then contradict myself two paragraphs later.  (You'll have to wait at least two, three posts for that.)  This is because since I've started to pay attention to my diet, at the beginning of last year, and have found something that, for now, works for me, people have been asking me about it.

At the start of 2015, I started following a low-carb, ketogenic diet.  (I hesitate to say "high fat," because I'm not sure that I'm actually getting the 60-70% of calories from fat that most "experts" would recommend.)  There were several factors in play when making this decision.  Primarily, I wanted to be more mindful of what I was eating, to help control my weight and to aid in performance.  I wasn't overweight by any stretch, but at 5'6", I was having trouble staying under 145 pounds, and wasn't anywhere near the 135-lb race weight from my collegiate days that I thought was most beneficial for my running.  I had done some reading and talked to several people who had experienced success with the diet, and the scientific theory behind it seemed, at least, plausible to me.    And, crucially, (and in contrast to calorie-counting, vegetarianism, fruitarianism, etc.), it seemed like something I could adhere to for an extended period of time.

My experience with the diet mirrored a lot of what I had heard and read.  At first, I felt pretty crummy and my running went in the toilet for about three weeks.  After that I started running normally.  I lost weight and was able to keep it off without starving myself.  And I found in races that my energy levels stayed much more stable, and I was much less prone to "bonking," despite taking in fewer calories than I had previously.

I mentioned it on the blog, and a few people were curious, but then I started running well, and people started to get really curious. ("What was the secret, they wanted to know...")  Some of the more common questions:

Why do you eat that way?  What's the theory behind it?
I've mentioned above why I started with this diet; click the link for a longer discussion of my own personal reasons for the switch.  The science behind a low-carb diet for athletes, which certainly in dispute, makes sense (to me at least) in theory.  For strenuous exercise, the body depends primarily on carbohydrates, and is most efficient at using carbohydrates as fuel.  You can burn fat, but if you eat a standard diet, probably not efficiently enough to use it as a primary fuel source, particularly in races.  Why does this matter?  Well, your body can store about 2000-2500 kcal of carbohydrate (in the form of glycogen).  At about 100 kcal/mile (about what it takes to run a mile, regardless of pace, believe it or not), that means you can go about 20-25 miles before depleting your glycogen and needing to replenish it.  For most exercise, this doesn't matter; you can run a marathon, or close to it, without worrying about taking in too many exogenous calories.  But for an ultra, you'll need a lot of calories, and getting those calories in can be a problem.

The theory behind a low-carb diet is that, over time, if deprived of carbohydrates, the body will actually become more efficient at burning fat--almost as efficient as it is at burning carbohydrates.  And the body stores way, way more calories as fat than it does as carbohydrates, like twenty times more.  The thinking is, if we can tap into those fat stores efficiently, we give the body an alternative fuel sources as races reach beyond the 2-3 hour mark, and decrease our reliance on taking calories in as we run.

Now, whether or not that's true is a matter of great debate.  (As is whether or not eating a low-carb diet is even necessary to become "fat-adapted" in the first place.)  But many athletes have anecdotally reported that they are able to run longer despite taking in fewer calories after switching to the diet.

What do you eat?
This is an easy one because it never really changes.  For breakfast, scrambled eggs with cheese, or an omelette with cheese and tomato, and usually bacon or some meat.  For lunch, a salad with whatever fat or protein I can put on it (cottage cheese, turkey, pork, hard-boiled eggs, etc.).  Dinner is almost invariably some sort of meat dish: chicken with vegetables, steak, burger without a bun.  Lots of vegetables with creamy dressings or dips.  Snacks are nuts (peanuts aren't the best choice, but they're really the only nuts I like) or cheese, maybe some lunch meat.  Dessert is whipped cream.  I mean, like, straight whipped cream, right out of the can.  I can kind of go overboard with it sometimes, but even half a can is less than 20g of carbs, and usually 3-4 mouthfuls will satisfy the sweet cravings.  I drink water and Diet Coke.  Once in a while I'll drink a low-sugar hot chocolate (that's like 4g of carbs).  I know Diet Coke is terrible for me but what else can I do?  I've tried to like coffee and tea so many times and I just can't do it.

How many/few carbs do you eat?
I'm not really sure.  A big part of my success with the diet is not being overly scientific or strict about it.  Many people I know track their carbs obsessively, but I know myself, and if I tried to be anal about it, there's no way I could ever stay with it.  (I downloaded an app to track my different "macros" but had to give up after a day.)  The recommendations I read from Phinney and Volek (which is a very good starting point in my opinion) is less than 50g/day for the first 2-3 weeks, then under 100g/day for "maintenance."  I can say with some confidence that I'm well below those guidelines, but I'm not zero.  If I had to guess, I'm probably usually in the 30-40g/day range.

Were you/are you able to train on that?  Do you use carbs in training or racing?
As I said before, it took me a good 3-4 weeks before I could really train the way I wanted to.  I was able to run mileage without a problem, but any kind of intensity--even just running slowly uphill--was a giant struggle.  This passed after about a month and then I was back to normal in terms of my training.  But it was a frustrating time.

I don't use carbs in training.  Many low-carb athletes do, including Zach Bitter, who uses specific carbs for specific, targeted workouts.  I don't do that for a couple of reasons.  For one, I'm a bit leery of jumping on and off the carbs.  In general, when I've taken a "cheat day" or had a couple of beers, I won't notice any ill effects, but I'd rather not make a habit out of it.  (Plus, if I'm going to have carbs, I want to really glutton it up.  You know, pizza, ice cream, the whole deal.  I'm not wasting carbs on a baked potato.)  Second, I don't like assigning a ton of value to any specific workout, to the point where I feel like I need the carbs to get the workout done.  If the workout doesn't come off like I want it to, so be it.  But mostly I just need to keep this simple.  Complicating it by adding carbs "strategically" is just another barrier to me sticking with it.

I do use carbs in racing, though, as many (if not most) low-carb athletes do.  My general race strategy is, a carbo-load the night before (to top off the glycogen stores); no carbs for breakfast--eggs and meat, as usual--and no carbs for the first hour of the race (usually just water).  After that, anything goes.  Gels still work fine for me, and I'll do some real food at aid stations--banana, PBJ, pretzels, broth, whatever.

I've heard that after you stop eating carbs and sugar, your body doesn't even want it anymore.  Is that true?
Ha.  Hahahahahaha.

Does it really work?
Dunno.  It works for me.

*My apologies to Oscar Wilde.  I wanted a pithy title.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Blogger of the Year!

Not to toot my own horn, but...well, yes, to toot my own horn.  I'm very excited (and confused) to announce that I've been shortlisted by RunUltra for their (prestigious?) Blogger of the Year award.

Honestly, this is a great honor, and I'm a bit humbled by my inclusion (though not too humbled; I'm still kind of an insufferable jerk about this sort of thing) on a list of many great blogs which I myself enjoy.  However, I'm certainly not so humbled that I don't want to win!  So if you enjoy my (and Lexi's; this whole blog was her idea) ramblings, please consider voting for me.  It's a little confusing; when you vote, highlight my name/blog, then you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter your name and email address.

You can only vote once per email address, and once per computer (or computer user), but if you have multiple users on a computer with separate logins, and/or multiple email addresses, that seems kosher.  So, if you like the blog, please vote.  If you really like it, have your kid/spouse/significant other log on and vote too.  If you love it, vote from your home computer and your work computer.  If you really love it, vote from the computer of the guy who sits next to you at work, then go to your local library on the way home and vote there.

In case you didn't get the hint above, here's the link to vote.

Thanks for the support.  I know you always laugh at actors when they say about an Oscar, "Just being nominated is an honor," but that's actually true, and it's just nice to be recognized among the many other great ultrarunning blogs out there.  But winning is nice too.