Saturday, March 19, 2016

My N=1 Experiment - 2016 Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 miler – 3rd place

(March 2014)....I have been pondering what I might say in a race report after the Buffalo Run 100 miler on Friday.  Since I did the race last year the report will undoubtedly be a lot different.   I have always hated when ultra runners tell newbies, 'We are all an experiment of one,' which by all accounts is true.  The useful information an answer like this provides however, is absolutely nothing!  The reason I asked the question in the first place is because I want to know what YOUR 'experiment of one' looked like so I can start trying some things.  Anyway, I have approached training a bit differently this year and have been doing some things different hoping to see some different results.  Either way, I'll be back to report on MY experiment of one so I can continue to figure out what does and does not work for me. 


The goal this year is to break 20 hours. 

I wrote this during taper week before running the Buffalo Run for the second time.  I ran 20:06 that year and could see the finish line when my goal time came and went.  It was a wonderful day and I had a great experience with Michelle crewing and Christine Birch pacing.  Sadly in the time following the race I never did sit down and write a race report.  When everything goes as planned race reports are pretty boring.

…fast forward to 2016.  Everything went better than planned so hopefully this won’t be terribly boring.  I finished the race in 18:51 which was a 1:15 minute improvement over 2014.  This is a 2 loop course so I am always interested in the first half versus second half split over the same terrain.  Comparing the two times provides an objective determination of not going out too fast for my fitness level, proper pacing, and mental toughness to keep pushing through the dark hours all the way to the end.  This year I left the 50 mile aid station 8:42 into the race and did the second 50 miles in 10:09.  Since race day this year felt much easier than both previous runs on this course I want to focus on WHY it felt that way.

By far the number one reason for my improvement was my diet in the months leading up to the race.  On January 4th I went for a lunch run at work and checked my weight on the medical grade scale we have at work. It wasn’t terribly shocking to me when it revealed I was officially in the Clydesdale division at 202.5 pounds.  November and December seems to be my throw everything I know about health and nutrition out the window, eat lots of garbage food, and exercise less because it is so stinking cold outside phase. Rest and recovery from a long year is important but no excuse to eat everything in sight.

Thankfully I have had success losing weight in the past simply by cleaning up my diet and continuing to exercise at a normal level so I felt like it would be manageable to get into shape by race day.  The horrible thing is dropping weight cuts into serious training time so if I can avoid the holiday binge and bulge I would be starting at a much better spot (next year).  I started to get serious with miles and began eating more thoughtfully using the diet that worked for me in the past.  That contained probably 60% carbohydrate, 15% fat, and 25% protein.  Mostly whole foods, plenty of fruits / vegetables, and lots of bread and pasta to keep my energy levels up.  In the past I have used lots of Splenda in otherwise healthy foods just to sweeten them up.  The sweet taste, even though it doesn’t contain calories, seemed to stimulate my hunger and cravings for sweeter foods too.  Artificial sweeteners have their own negative side effects and are not just calorie cutters.

By January 24th I had lost 5 or 6 pounds which was solid progress for roughly 3 weeks.  On that day, I stumbled across Jeff Browning’s blog report of his win at the HURT 100 in Hawaii. (Hurt Race Report)  Jeff explained how he adopted the OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism) principles as a way to improve his race day performance.  He is 44 years old and has been running ultras since 2001 at an elite level so I imagine he has tried everything in the book too.  In the post he says he started following this new style of eating 7 weeks prior to HURT and when I found the blog post I was about 8 weeks out from the Buffalo Run so I figured I would give it a shot.

For those that know me, they will know that I am an experimenter, a tester, a tinkerer, and a numbers nerd in training.  On race day all that goes right in the garbage and I just keep moving forward.  I often ask Michelle at aid stations how I am doing and she will tell me to look at my watch with a puzzled look on her face.  I make a detailed pace chart (mostly for pacers and crew) and wear a watch the whole way and often have no idea how I am doing because I don’t look at either of them.  When I qualified for Boston I had a solid training plan that got me the result I wanted and then when I ramped up training for Boston several months later I used a plan that was 100% different.  Michelle asked me why I didn’t just use the original plan that got me there and my reply was...where is the fun in that?  This is just one big science experiment to me and over time I have whittled down what works and what doesn’t.  When something doesn’t work I am always prepared to accept  total epic failure, which happened at the Lake Lowell Marathon 2011 (pacing) and Wasatch 2015 (over thinking the heat) to name a couple.

Switching up the diet, race day nutrition, and electrolyte intake felt like I might need to be prepared for total epic failure…Maybe.

So the OFM plan, as I saw it, was pretty simple.  I ate limited carbs and trained my body to utilize fat for fuel.  By limited I mean between 100 grams and 150 grams per day.  This isn’t a crazy low Atkins type diet where you get 25 grams a day and have to avoid all fruit and some vegetables.  I roughly ate the same calories as before but just swapped the carbs for fats.  My macronutrient levels were around 20% carbohydrate 60% fat and 20% protein. My energy levels were constant without insulin spikes and crashes from grains and sugars.  Recovery from harder workouts was better since I was removing a number of foods that cause inflammation.  Once my body was learning to utilize fat for fuel I didn’t feel like I got to the ravenously hungry stage like I do when I was burning up all my blood sugar on my daily runs.

The way I trained my body to utilize fat for fuel was to run aerobically almost all the time.  At this lower intensity fat can more easily be metabolized.  Over time your aerobic pace increases at the same intensity.  Running above the aerobic pace will just burn more and more blood sugar.  I started all of my weekday runs fasted in the morning and never took calories during the run.  Once I finished I would go to work and then have a regular breakfast afterwards.  My body was now required to access fat for energy and not just burn the breakfast in my stomach.  On long runs I would just take water and electrolytes for the first several hours to kick start the fat burning and then use Tailwind manage my energy levels after that.  During the initial transition it sucked because my body was going through chemical withdrawals from lack of sugar but I knew it would pay dividends if I could stick with it.

The weight continued to fall off through February and early March.  I was feeling awesome and getting in some big miles at the same time.  Usually losing weight means being in a calorie deficit and feeling deprived and run down.  I felt completely the opposite.  I had more energy than I have had in a long time and I was excited to get out and get the training done every day. By race day I had lost over 25 pounds.  The week of the race I cut the exercise back to nearly nothing and continued to eat the exact same diet right up until race morning. 

The Wednesday before the race I contacted Mike Shuman at Shu’s Idaho Running Company and he gave me a deal on some Vespa.  Vespa is supposed to promote fat burning so I figured I would go ‘all-in’ on this crazy science experiment.  I have used Vespa at races in the past when I had a good result (Western States 2014 and Buffalo Run 2014) but I never had the diet to go with it in the months leading up to race day.  When your body is trained to utilize fat through your normal daily diet Vespa is much more effective so I wanted to test that too.  Mike contacted Peter Defty at Vespa and Peter sent me an email with some guidelines on how to use it most effectively.  Essentially take one 45 minutes prior to race start and hold off on taking calories for up to 2 hours to get your fat burning in high gear.  After the initial 2 hour window, fuel as needed and take a Vespa every 2-2.5 hours.  I diluted the concentrate into a 10 ounce water bottle at hour 2 and slowly consumed it over 30 minutes.  I repeated this every two hours during the race.

Not consuming calories in the beginning was where I was sure the total epic failure would start.  It seems reasonable in training long run but to start a race that will take most of a day with no calories, hmm?  This goes against everything I have ever done in a race but I was committed to the process and followed it.

Aside from the change in eating and weight loss the other thing that helped me was cross-training.  Every year I say I am going to cross train and every year I don’t.  I was committed to making this the year.  I signed up for the St Luke’s Weight Loss Challenge this year for a little motivation.  People who lose 5% of their body weight and keep it off for a whole year are eligible for a ‘Keep It Off’ cash prize next year.  I have been volunteering at the challenge kickoff every year since 2011 and never thought to enter myself since I don’t have much to lose.  While I was there this year I signed up for Idaho Athletic Club for 20 bucks a month.  My cross-training has consisted of spin class several times a week for an hour usually followed by the stair climber (which is a total ass kicker) for 30 minutes and then sitting in the dry sauna at 185 degrees.  The sauna is partly just relaxing, partly teaching my body how to sweat efficiently, and mostly mental training.  I also went to an occasional yoga class and did body weight workouts at home (push up, sit up, squats, lunges, planks, and chair dips).

My race day nutrition plan was 200 calories of Tailwind per hour and 1,000mg of sodium per hour. 200 calories of Tailwind had 606mg of sodium so I supplemented with S-Caps to get me to 1,000mg.  I think in past races I was not getting enough sodium and I also sweat more than any other human being I know except maybe Dave McKinnon.  I took several V-Fuel gels or Honey Stinger waffles with me throughout the day to help me get between longer aid station stretches and washed them down with a small bottle of straight water.  At aid stations I took several bananas, a few cups of ginger ale and coke, and potato soup at mile 70.  Twice on the course Michelle made me a bacon avocado pepper jack cheese tortilla wrap which was amazing.  The first time I took it I took a big bite and the tortilla was too much so I licked all the good stuff out and tossed the tortilla.  The second time I didn’t even bother with trying the tortilla.  I just sucked up the middle and pitched the tortilla again.

Race morning was typical compared to my other experiences there.  The race starts at noon and the sun was shining with a cold breeze blowing.  I tried to stay in my jacket as long as possible because I knew I would be taking it off at the start.  Michelle, the all knowing, always reminds me that no matter how cold I feel at the start I will be hot 5 minutes later and then be grouchy that I had to carry a jacket for 20 miles.  Today was no exception.

The cruise up to the first aid station was a bit of an eye opener.  I found myself running more uphill sections than I normally have in the past but with a controlled effort level.  I chatted and ran with Jeremy Suwinski for a couple of miles until we hit a big downhill and he dropped me like a bad habit.  After the first aid station I was in sixth place and didn’t get passed for good by anyone after that.  I did swap positions with the leading woman a couple of times and Uli Stuwe and I swapped positions around mile 35 briefly. 

At the first aid station at Elephant Head the race director Jim Skaggs has told us in the past we could choose to either do 1) a short out and back or 2) a 5 mile loop that drops into the valley and climbs up switchbacks back to Elephant Head first.  Both options return you to the Elephant Head aid station and then you just do the other option second.  When I got there the first time the aid workers said it was ok to pick either one but they preferred I do the out and back so they didn’t have to remember who did what (which is totally understandable).  I thanked them for the advice and took the 5 mile loop instead.  At the front of the pack the out and back is clogged with people on the way back which I completely avoided by going the other way.  It worked for Karl Meltzer in 2013 and I did it this way the last two times with no congestion.  I was the ONLY person who went the other way at first.  I know I wasn’t in the lead but looking out in front of me and looking behind me and seeing no one at mile 6 was a pretty cool feeling.  Uli was the second person to go this way and killed it on the downhill to get within eyesight.  He would be within 100-200 yards of me for the next 40 miles.


Once I got back around the Elephant Head I started down the out and back while all the aid station workers told me I was going the wrong way and that I needed to back toward the start!  I am they guy who didn’t do the out and back remember? (Kind of funny)  Once I returned, I headed down toward the start with the leading woman Melissa.  We cruised and chatted but neither of us was in a terrible hurry.

I blew through the 20 mile aid station in quick time after refueling.  Michelle told me Garrick, who would be my pacer from mile 50 to the end, asked if I was doing ok since I was walking the uphill out of the aid station.  She said she assured him that this was normal and good strategy at this point of the race.  Others in front of me and behind me ran the whole thing, which isn’t long but in a 100 miles this one wasn’t worth running to me.

Mile 20 to 33 was fairly uneventful.  It is flat rolling terrain that makes you want to run the entire thing but I was already mixing in walking intervals to stay fresh.  Mile 33 is the Ranch aid station and the only thing I really needed was a sleeveless shirt.  I was getting a bit chafed from the tank top (which I never wear in ultras) plus it was getting a bit cooler so it was worth the time to get it on.  I normally encounter darkness just after the Frary aid station at mile 39 so I put on a long sleeve shirt and took my headlamp.  Having done the race twice before it was nice to see where I needed my headlamp compared to prior years which was about 3 or 4 miles later than usual.  I was through the Bridger Bay aid station at mile 46 and around the end of the island at mile 47.5 by the time I needed a headlamp.  I had been chasing one of the most amazing sunsets ever and found that when there is sunlight I can actual run that rocky section pretty good! Both previous runs put me in the section in the dark on both loops.

I arrived at the mile 50 aid station about 20 minutes ahead of my 2014 time and felt really great.  I felt like I had held back more than in previous years with a better time.  The OFM, Vespa, nutrition, and electrolyte plan all seemed to be firing on all cylinders.  Garrick was excited to jump in with me and I was excited to have him.  When I have run closer to the front of the pack usually means lots of long solo miles.  When I have been middle or even back of the pack there always seems to be someone to talk with.  Dudes at the front aren’t terribly talkative.

Michelle got me all reset and we were off into the night.  I told Garrick before the race that I wanted him to kick my butt up the first big climb so we stayed focused and saved some of the chit chat until we crested the top.  In past years I think I was relieved to be done with the first lap and craving someone to talk with and settled into shuffle mode for a while.  I wanted to avoid this since there are other easier running sections to catch up on.  When we got to the aid station the volunteers told us 3rd and 4th place were just ahead and not looking great. (I wondered if they told everyone that just to get them fired up.)  I passed Jeremy back at mile 40 when he was having some issue with his legs and he was walking the downhill.  I honestly thought he was toast and was stoked to see he got it turned around and finished not too long after me.  Garrick and I caught up to Melissa who was in 4th and Brandt who was in 3rd.  Brandt won the 2015 race in just over 17 hours so he was obviously not having a good day.  He was walking and later dropped I believe.  Melissa would go on to take the win for the women in just over 21.5 hours.


Now I find myself in unfamiliar territory.  I am in 3rd place and feeling competitive which never happens.  What’s worse is I have 40 miles to go and I am sort of waiting for this perfect day to start falling apart.  I had been diligent to stay on top of my calories and nutrition throughout the day and now it seemed even more critical.  I was telling Garrick on our descent down the backside from Elephant Head just before mile 60 that in 2013 I told friends I had hoped to be at mile 60 around midnight when Jeremy Haddock was my pacer.  Amazingly I looked down at my watch as it rolled over to mile 60 just a few seconds before midnight.  I was wondering how I was doing this year so I flipped my watch over to the time of day and we hit mile 60 this time at 10:46.  That got me fired up to see I was an hour and fifteen minutes faster and still feeling great.  We put our heads down and hit the uphill grind on the switchbacks pretty hard and then crested out on the side hill section a couple of miles before the aid station.  I was lamenting how great I was feeling and how the day was cruising right along…no sooner than the words left my lips I was face down in the rocks for the first time all day.  We got a good laugh out of it since there was no damage done and continued on.

After a quick final stop at Elephant Head we rolled down the hill to the start finish at mile 70.  I saw Quentin Barney in the tent and said hello.  We had passed earlier in the day when I was in 6th place and he knew that I was in 3rd at the moment.  It was a pretty cool moment to hear him telling the people around him how strong I was looking and moving right up the field.  I am often sizing up the other runners on the out and back sections but have never stopped to think how I might have looked to them.  I felt like a rock star but tried to be happy and have a smile and wave for every person I came across.  I even ran off trail to make sure some kids got a well deserved high five!  Waiting for hours on end for dad or mom to fly through can be exhausting for kids and love seeing them out there even if they aren’t mine.

Again we walked the uphill out of the start finish and then began the long cruise along the Mountain View trail.  About mile 72 around 1:30 Garrick comments about how great the day is going and how we are cruising along…BAM another face plant in the rocks.  Again, no damage but from this point forward we agreed not to use the ‘C’ word.  Cruising is not usually the first ‘C’ word that comes to mind so we got some funny looks when we told the story later! 

From the start/finish at mile 70 to Lower Frary at mile 78 we averaged an 11 minute mile.  I was still running almost everything and having to add strategic walking breaks because I didn’t want to blow up the last 5 miles.  I felt great but was sure if I kept running everything would crumble.  In retrospect, I should have run more but in the moment I had no idea that I would be able to hold on until the end.  We averaged just under and 11 minute pace from there out to the Ranch at mile 83 and were passed by the first and second place guys who were on their way back.  They both looked solid and I was able to get a rough estimate of how far they were ahead.  The leader was 5 miles ahead and 2nd was 2.5 miles ahead.  Even though this is an eternity in most races, in 100 miles this is literally nothing if things start to hit the fan.  I have seen people go from rock star to death shuffle very quickly before and a 5 mile or 2.5 mile gap can disappear fast.  I didn’t worry about them and tried to focus on controlling what I could control. 

My WORST section by far in the previous two runs here has been from the Ranch at mile 83 to Lower Frary at mile 89.  I am not sure why though.  It’s far enough that you aren’t almost done and the terrain is quite repetitive so just when you think you are at the last turn in the trail before Lower Frary…you aren’t.  It is a little disheartening at times.  This time was different.  I was still taking prescribed walking breaks and averaged 11 minute miles again.  In 2014 I was dying in this section and trying like crazy to hang onto 14 minute miles.  This is the point of the race where OFM and Vespa made a world of difference.  Normally at the end of an ultra I have been consuming 300+ calories of straight sugar per hour and not burning any fat.  I get dead heavy legs and a crazy sugar induced brain fog.  I had zero symptoms like that this time around. 

The one negative thing that happened was that I started to suck at math, which never happens.  Garrick says to me just before we get to Lower Frary for the final time at mile 89, I know you didn’t want me to tell you how good you were doing, but DUDE YOU ARE FREAKING KILLING IT!  Hmm, really?  Yes, if you can run the final 12 miles in 2:40 you will get under 19 hours!  Hmm really?  No BS, I honestly had no idea where I was time wise.  I knew I was doing well but didn’t want to jinx it.  Garrick and Michelle had been crunching numbers throughout the day and I think they were convinced I had a shot of getting under 19 hours when we were at mile 70.  Garrick put that tidbit in his back pocket until just the right moment which would have been a great motivator if I would have been able to do some simple math.  Here is how my brain approached the situation at mile 88 at 4:20 in the morning –

240 / 12 = 11 minute miles ?? (What? Seriously)

Hmm, that sounds really hard even though I have been holding a solid pace.  Whatever…it is what it is.  I’ll just run as hard as I can and see where the chips fall.

(Just for the record here is the correct calculation performed at mile 0 at 2pm on a Tuesday)

2:40 = (2 hours x 60 minutes) + 40 minutes = 160 minutes / 12 miles = 13:20 minute miles

It is probably a good thing I sucked at math at that exact moment because I may have dropped into death shuffle and never came out if I had thought I could go slower than I was.  As it was, we averaged just under a 12 minute mile from mile 89 to 96 that even included climbing up from Mountain View trail to the road and stopping to say hello to Christie and April on the trail.  Garrick had been experiencing some issues with his hips and legs tightening up on him.  With less than 5 miles to go you are in eyeshot of the finish area right down the hill.  One of my motivations to run hard at the end is to work over my pacers, which doesn’t happen very often.  I told him he could just go to the finish if he wanted to and I would finish up on my own.  He gave me a big HELL NO and said something like he would run until his leg fell off but he wasn’t going to miss the finish.  That is exactly what I wanted and needed to hear so we pushed on to the final aid station at mile 96.  We left at 6am almost on the dot and my math whiz skills came back to me, 60 minutes in 4 miles.  Easy, we can do that!  We managed a respectable pace, dare I say ‘cruise’, through the rocky end of the island. I didn’t want to say the ‘C’ word out loud and enjoyed the amazing moon set to the west of the island across Salt Lake.

We made our final approach to the big white tent at the finish with the usual fanfare of a 100 miler, none.  It was about 6:40 in the morning and there were several campers who were out getting a fire started and making breakfast. A car or two passed by getting ready for the 50k start in an hour.  I asked Garrick to run ahead and let Michelle know I was coming and to get a good picture.  He told me he was giving me all he had at the moment which I was happy with.  The picture would have been terrible anyway in the total darkness.  I began reflecting on what it took to get to this point and all the sacrifices people made to help me get to this moment in time which is always a bit emotional for me.  We strolled up and I whistled really loud to stir up the raucous crowd of…1 (the timing guy) and Michelle heard me and came out.  We hugged and then had to go inside to tell them I was done.

Garrick and I found a chair pretty quick and began sharing the events of the day with Michelle and Hannah.  It was still dark outside which was one of my goals and then tent was filled with people for the 8am 50k which was another one of my goals.  I thanked Jim for another great event and snuggled up to a space heater with some of his home brew.  One of the funniest moments of the day was while I was sitting there someone asked me when I was heading back out thinking I had just come in from mile 70. Umm…no, I’m done!  I found out later that I ran the second 50 miles in the same time as the two guys ahead of me which was a great feeling too.  Having a great first half doesn't mean a thing in a 100 miler if you die at the end. 

Huge thanks to Michelle who has the crew thing down to a finely tuned machine and for putting up with me through all the training.  Hannah was a huge help ferrying the car back and forth at aid stations that were crew accessible but required you to park a way down the road.  Garrick for pushing himself to his furthest run ever to support my crazy goals.  Tailwind, Pearl iZumi, and Vespa all helped me get done feeling awesome too, thank you.


1 comment:

  1. I'm so freaking proud of you, Ryan! I have a terrible problem every single winter, so I feel your pain. Now I am wanting to follow you lead and lose 25 pounds. You look amazing and strong. Great work!

    PS: I'm visiting Boise next week and staying with Val. Perhaps we'll bump into each other again? I plan to do lots of hikes, but no real runs -- just a week of family fun.

    ReplyDelete

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