Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pigtails Challenge: Nutrition & Fueling Report

by Ras

Pigtails Challenge 200 Mile Endurance Run

Nutrition & Fueling Report

At the end of the Pigtails Challenge 200 I felt amazingly good. I felt as though I could run for ever at that pace, with that fueling and rest regimen; it seemed almost infinitely sustainable. If I had been 200 miles deep into a 300 mile race at that point, I would have had no doubts about my ability to finish the distance. This is an exploration, explanation, and explication of my fueling and nutrition for 200 miles.

Eating avocado and brown rice after lap 5


I have a theory about training for 100 mile and longer races. My basic premise is that there is a fitness and endurance base of 50 miles, and beyond that the issues are fueling and mental ability. So if you are fit enough to run 50 miles fairly easily, you should be able to run 100 miles with proper fueling and stubbornness. (Bear in mind, this is towards the goal of simply completing the mileage, ideally in an efficient manner and in good style, although not with any particular emphasis on speed.) But it seemed a logical extension that this would apply to 200 miles, as well.

Leading up to the race friends asked me, "How do you train for a 200 mile race?" To which I replied, "I don't know." For the Pigtails Challenge 200 I suspected that fueling and recovery were going to be the main challenges, so that was what I focused on.

For hydration I drank two 22oz. handbottles of water per lap, plus 1 to 2 12oz nutrition flasks of Hornet Juice and Delta-E.

I decided to conduct a grand experiment and completely change the focus of my fueling, prioritizing fat instead of carbohydrates. I had run some big distances and been fairly happy with my performance fueling mostly with Hammer Perpetuem and Cliff Blocks, but had still experienced some real lows in energy, performance, and motivation. Plus, I never felt satisfied or satiated while on the trail, and often found the constant intake of sweets unpalatable. This led to problems where I simply didn't WANT to eat, and therefore didn't, and suffered as a result. Anyone who saw me limping along clutching my side for the last 8 miles of last year's White River 50 miler witnessed one of these moments.


I don't eat any type of meat or eggs or dairy, very little salt, I avoid processed grains and wheat in general (because of the inflamatory response it provokes in the body), and I don't eat a lot of sweets. I DO eat honey (and other bee products), which is an animal product and not vegan, so the term vegan does not strictly apply to me, but it is a convenient term I use to explain how I eat in a succinct manner. Usually the sweets I eat will be something Kathy bakes (for instance, I ate almost an entire chocolate cake by myself just a couple of days ago, but that was a dietary aberration). We live in the middle of nowhere, so there are no vegan restaurants or specialty bakeries nearby, which is lucky for me. If we lived near a PCC I doubt I could withstand the temptation of all those easily available vegan cakes and hemp ice creams and the like. I would be fat. And I have been fat, so I am not saying this in jest.

But fat is where it's at, and fat is what I wanted to fuel with. My goal was to get the majority of my calories from fat so that my body would be in fat burning mode for the entire event. This should then allow the glycogen stores in my muscles to be constantly replenished and never completely depleted, since my body would be fueling primarily from fat, not glucose. 

Because of the way I eat, I don't rely on the food at aid stations during races. I carry my own fuel, then supplement it with fruit and potatoes from the aid station. Sometimes potato chips are very appealing and they do have a lot of fat, although it is not the best kind. Here is a list of what I ate during the PTC 200:

Coconut Manna, a spread similar to a nut butter, made from ground pure coconut (two tablespoons of this in a baggie is about the size of a gel, but with twice the calories, most of them from fat). I ate a little over one jar total.

Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut butter (similar to Nutella, but dairy free and with a LOT less sugar) with toasted coconut stirred into it. I ate almost two jars worth, and almost an entire bag of shredded coconut. Delicious.

Raw Almond butter, approximately 3/4 jar.

approximately 7 avocados, some on their own, some stirred into brown rice with Bragg's, some on veggie & soy slice sandwiches Kathy made for me, and some cut up into ginger carrot soup and butternut squash soup.

cubed potatoes form the aid station, which I also added to my soup

wasabi almonds, approximately two handfuls total throughout the race

watermelon from the aid station, for deliciousness and wholistic dehydration-prevention

potato chips, a stack of 8 or 10. I probably had about 6 servings total

FRS energy chews, a source of quercetin, low calorie and the citrus ones taste like Gatorgum, if anyone remembers that. I had quite a few of these, 12 servings or so, usually at the "bench of temptation" where I would allow myself to sit only for as long at it took me to eat my FRS chews. Rumor has it Tim Stroh was seen laying down on this bench at some point during the race

FRS energy drink, also a source of quercetin, I had at least 3 of these over the course of the event, perhaps 4

Green tea, 5 or 6 servings

One Cliff block, which sounded good at the time and tasted good, too

3 or 4 tiny dixie cups of soda pop. This and the Cliff block were a bit of an indulgence, they tasted good and had some psychological benefit as a reward, but I didn't really notice any effect on my running at the time, good or bad

Reed's brand crystallized ginger, soothes the stomach and can help disrupt sleep patterns, which it did well for me at the Badger Mountain 100, but not so well at the PTC200

On the third day Kathy made me two tomato/onion/lettuce/soy-slice/avocado sandwiches on whole wheat bagels, which tasted amazingly good. At this point I was confident of my finish and wasn't overly concerned about the inflamatory response of the body to wheat, so I let my appetite guide me

As you can see, my fuel intake was mostly whole foods, many of the same foods I eat on a daily basis, very high in vegetable-based fats, low in carbohydrates, and low in protein.


Supplements were another key part of my fueling and nutrition. I used S-caps throughout the event along with a potassium supplement for electrolyte maintenance. Knowing that extreme feats of endurance suppress immune function, I regularly drank Delta-E, a vitamin C/B vitamin/trace mineral supplement. I didn't notice any difference between this and Emergen-C, so I will most likely stick with Emergen-C in the future. I also took Enerprime, a green superfood supplement, to supply trace minerals and flavenoids. Unfortunately, these come in a gelatin capsule, so vegetarians have to empty the capsules into a liquid or nut butter. 

Hornet Juice is a metabolic enzyme supplement derived from honey that I have been using for over a year. It helps predispose your body to metabolizing fat, which aids in both fueling and recovery. I added this to my nutrition flask every 1 1/2 or 2 hours.

I reasoned that recovery would also be a key factor at this distance. My body would have to be able to recover throughout the event while it was still working, so I began a regimen of recovery supplements before the race even began Thursday morning. Every six hours I took 8 Recover-Ease capsules, 4 Extreme Endurance tablets, 8 M.A.P. (Master Amino Pattern) amino acids, and 4 IbuActin, a wholistic, herbal anti-inflammatory.

In general, I eat a rather low-protein diet. I don't need to eat protein, because I eat a variety or raw fruits and vegetables, as well as cooked vegetables and whole grains, all of which gives my body the ingredients it needs to build it's own protein. This protein, made BY my body and FOR my body, is of higher quality and is far better assimilated than protein made by another animal's body and for another animal's body. 

High quality protein is necessary for your body to repair itself, as I knew mine would be doing on an ongoing basis, while still performing at a high level of endurance. I used M.A.P. during the race to make sure my body had the building blocks for all the protein it required. From both my performance and recovery I can only deduce that they performed very well.

I use Extreme Endurance as a supplement everyday, and I ramp up the dosage slightly before, during, and after races or other high mileage efforts. It purports to help reduce lactic acid buildup and increase aerobic threshold, both of which aid in not only performance but recovery. The fact is that even at the end of 200 miles I was not suffering lactic acid burn in my muscles. My fueling and easy pace definitely play a major role in this, as well. 

This was my first time using Recover-Ease, but I was impressed. Again, it's hard to isolate the benefits or effects of a single ingredient in my approach, but this was the newest factor with the most potential impact. This is another product that uses the dreaded gelatin capsule, so vegetarians, vegans, Hindus, kosher Jews, and Moslems, amongst others, will have to empty out the capsules into some other food or drink to take them. Gelatin is such absolute filth I have trouble believing that it is considered not only a standard ingredient, but a high quality one. Before I reign in my High Horse, let me just state that I don't consider collagen extracted from the skin, bones, connective tissues, organs, and intestines of cattle, chicken, and pigs to be a food fit for human consumption. But a lot of people do. Here is Wicked Fast's take on the matter. They are the makers of Recover-Ease:

I'm amazed at how well I ran. I really felt great the entire race, and simply didn't bonk or have any low times or "dark places". I was still able to run the flats and downhills throughout the entire 69+ hours, and I could have kept going. And, perhaps most amazing of all to a lot of people, I had FUN. I really had a great time and enjoyed running 200 miles. Mindset is one of the touchstones of measuring the effectiveness of treatments and therapies nowadays. Performance studies used "perceived effort" as a standard. Hospital pain management is now based highly on the patient's perception. "On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you've ever felt, what number would you say you're at right now?" is a common interrogative. 

Based on that same scale of 1 to 10 relating to Pain, Fatigue, and Fun, the PTC 200 scored a 2, 2, and 8, respectively. 

I had very little pain throughout the entire event. The couple of small issues I had (one hot spot, a few twinges, tight IT band) could all be dealt with during the race and with rather minimal effort, and none of them developed into anything that had an impact on my race. Did I hurt a bit? Yeah. That's par for the course. But I didn't suffer. Apparently very little weakness was leaving my body, because I felt very little pain, and I've heard there's a relationship between the two. So I must still be full of wimpiness.

The only form of fatigue or tiredness that affected me was mental. My body felt solid and energetic, consistently so, but at two distinct points my mind became somewhat muddled and dull, and required a couple hours rest. But my legs were never leaden. I never had to push past any "wall" (although I was desperately looking for the end of a particular chain link fence, which I now believe is finite in scope, but infinite in length, reminiscent of a mobius strip). My breathing was strong, my stomach was good, and all of my smile muscles were performing until the very end. And when all was said and done, running 200 miles was much easier than I expected it to be.

The PTC 200/150/100 had the feel of a funky, circumambulating party. Or maybe it's better characterized as a large, albeit passive, slow-moving mosh pit. It wasn't hard to have fun at this race. You got to  see the other runners constantly, due to the reversing loop nature of the course. Lots of friends and familiar ultra faces stopped by, paced runners, and pitched in at the aid stations. Local teenagers shouted inspirational slogans from passing cars ("Smoking them blunts, baby, smoking them blunts!"). And the race course was just fine. I didn't show up expecting 200 miles of downy-soft, pine needle carpeted single track through pristine wilderness (although I would sign up for that, for sure). But the trail was very runable and was in good shape. There were lots of miles off through the trees away from the road, and aid stations every 5 miles are hard to complain about. 

When people ask me why I run crazy distances, or how I can, my answer often seems to leave them a bit befuddled. "It's fun," I say. I do it because I enjoy it. Running is one of my very favorite things to do, and I just plain love running for 6 hours. Twelve hours is even better. Thirty hours of running is amazing and miraculous. And 69 hours and 24 minutes of running is wonderous and dumbfounding. 

It's amazing what we human beings can do. And it was an honor and a blessing to bear witness to so many extraordinary people doing so many mind-blowing things. Yes, human beings CAN run 200 miles. Yes, you might be able to do it (or 100 or 150). Yes, you should consider giving it a try at next year's Pigtails Challenge.

*I expound my ideas, experiences, philosophies and half-assed schemes simply as documentation of the immense blessing that is my life. I am uneducated and underemployed, and in many ways not what is typically considered a productive member of society, and my words should be understood within this context. I mention specific brand names simply for clarity and specificity, not to endorse particular products or companies. Lawyers consider it dangerous for human beings to move self-powered through their own natural habitat, so if you care what lawyers think, that might be meaningful to you.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pigtails Challenge: Race Report

by Ras

Pigtails Challenge 200 Mile Endurance Run

Race Report

All photos by Kathy Vaughan

On Sunday, May 27th, at 3:24 am I completed the Pigtails Challenge 200 Mile Endurance Run. I came in 8th out of only 9 finishers in the 200 mile distance. This was the first 200 mile race in the history of Washington State. My official finishing time was 69 hours 24 minutes. 

The race was held on a loop trail around the Lake Youngs Watershed near Kent, WA, with about 1000 feet of elevation gain per loop. Fifteen runners began the 200 mile distance at 6:00am on Thursday, May 24th with a short out and back section. Competitors then had to complete 21 loops of the 9.4 mile course. Runners had a designated area at the start/finish were they could leave supplies such as food and clothing. There was an aid station at the start/finish with water, electrolyte drink, soda pop, coffee, cubed potatoes, bananas, watermelon, pretzels, hot soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, sports gels, energy bars, and numerous other food and snack offerings to keep the runners fueled. Approximately halfway around the loop was a second, much simpler aid station with water, electrolyte drink, gels, energy bars, potato chips, and a small first aide kit.

The first three loops flew by at just over two hours each and I enjoyed the early speed, all the while knowing it was an unsustainable pace for me. As the day heated up my pace slowed, and I settled into 2:30 to 2:45 times on each loop, plus 10 to 20 minutes in the main aid station at the end of each loop. Each time my wife Kathy, who was crewing me, was waiting and watching for me, ready to help get me the food I needed to eat, loading my pack with calories for the trail, filling my water bottle and nutritional flask, helping me change layers, dispensing  my nutritional supplements, and giving me updates on my times, other runners' times, and how many people had dropped out of the race at various points. This was especially helpful for me since I do not eat any kind of meat, eggs, or dairy, and therefore had to supply the majority of my own food, rather than counting on what was offered at the aid station. Also, my fueling was based not on carbohydrates, but on fats. So I was eating avocados, raw almond butter, chocolate hazelnut butter with toasted coconut stirred into it, ground coconut meat, butternut squash soup, and ginger carrot soup. Kathy also paced me at night, running with me for all of my nighttime loops.

getting 2 hours of crappy sleep

I ran 8 loops before my mind started getting foggy and my judgement impaired. This wasn't good. I had originally planned to run at least 100 miles and as much as 150 before resting. In a 100 mile race I would never have been thinking about napping only 22 hours in. In fact, my pie-in-the-sky goal had been to run the entire race without sleeping.  But at about 4:00am Friday, after running for nearly 22 hours, Kathy and I decided I should rest for a little bit, so I laid down in our car and slept for just under 2 hours. My body had already felt fine, and I awoke with my mind refreshed and clear. I started running again a little after 6am Friday, just after the 150 mile runners had begun, so there was now more traffic on the course. 

Each time you completed a loop, you reversed direction for the next loop, so it made for a very social race, where you constantly saw the other runners. The ultrarunning community is suprisingly small, especially at distances greater than 50k, so I either knew or knew of many of the other runners on the course. "Good job" and "Nice work" were among the most common greetings exchanged, along with high fives, low fives, side fives, whoops, hollering, unintelligible exclamations, or even a quick stop for a brief hug. Eventhough we were all competing against oneanother, each of our main opponents was ourselves and our own limits, and everyone wanted to see as many people as possible finish the race. My friend Dan Paige paced me for two laps, during one of which Jon Shark called from Afganistan to wish me luck and express his confidence in me.

As much as I enjoyed the running, I was not running all that well. I was slow all day, and ground to a crawl after dark. After a single nighttime loop that took 4 hours, Kathy and I agreed I should rest again. Just after 1:30 Saturday morning I was eating some soup at the start/finish aide station in preparation for some sleep when Tim Stroh completed his 21st lap for the overall win. It was an amazing feet of speed and endurance, and I congratulated him heartily before heading off to rest. Tim's only comment as he crossed the finish line was, "Ow." He was done, but I had only completed two thirds of the course, and time was ticking toward the 72 hour cutoff.  I lay down in a tent Kathy had set up and slept for three hours. 

Again I awakened with my mind clear and revivified. By the time I had eaten, changed clothes, and geared up, it was almost 6:00am Saturday and the 100 mile competitors were about the begin, more than doubling the total number of runners on the course and adding to the party atmosphere. Race Director Van Phan, the "Pigtails" of the eponymous race (who also ran in the 200 mile event and finished in an impressive 52 hours 50 minutes for third place overall and first female) had been jokingly calling the 100 miler the "Half". Usually the 100 mile runners are seen as the superhuman badasses in the ultra sceen, and it was an odd turn of events for them to be the ones running the "short" distance.

Race Director Van Phan 

I now had 24 hours, one third of the allowed time, to complete 7 laps, one third of the course, and I was feeling the pressure. Just before I began running again Uli Steidl greeted me with a hug and asked how I was doing. We had run the Wonderland Trail around the base of Mt. Ranier together last year, along with George Orozco (also running the 200 and eventually finishing 7th), Jeason Murphy (who took second at this years Lumberjack 100), and Ted Schmidt. Uli has a brilliant mind for the math of running. He can calculate paces and mile splits faster than a calculator. I told him I had 7 laps left. He glanced up for a split second as he ran the numbers mentally, then said, "Twenty-one hours. You can do it." I wasn't sure I believed him and didn't know how he came up with that number, but I was grateful for the encouragement and vote of confidence.

I headed out again feeling very strong, and peeled off my first three laps with 2:30 splits, including aid station turn around time. As the day heated up I knew I couldn't sustain that pace. I made a rule that I would not run in the direct sun, only in the shade, and would hike the hills also, in order to conserve myself for the rest of the day. I finished my 5th lap just after 9pm. Kathy fed me and helped my change, messaging my legs and applying biofreeze gel to my feet, then leading me off into the gloaming, joining me as she had for all of the nighttime laps during the race. We pumped out two quick laps by our headlamps in the dark, the first in the 2:40 range, and the second in the 3:10 range. And at 3:24 am Sunday May 27th, 21 hours and 14 minutes after Uli had told me, "Twenty one hours. You can do it." I crossed the finish line of the Pigtails Challenge 200 Mile Endurance Run, making me only the 8th person to ever complete a 200 mile US Track & Field certified race in Washington State.

I felt great in every way. I had no blisters, no chaffing, no cramping, no injuries, and energy to spare. Although on the third day I was concerned about making the cutoff, there was never a time when I didn't think I could complete the mileage. I could have run 50 more miles. I could probably have run 100 more miles. I'm not trying to ego-trip here and shoot my mouth off, I'm just reporting on the state of my body at the end of the race. I felt like I could have kept running indefinitely.

Ultrarunning is a search for one's own personal limits. Before I began running crazy distances, I never thought I could complete a marathon. Then I did. But I still thought there was no way I could run 50 kilometers or 50 miles. But it turns out I can. So as I continue to find out what things i CAN do, the question remains; what is it that I CAN'T do? I entered this race partly because last year, before the start of the Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile Endurance Run in Easton, WA, race director Charlie Crissman had said, "If you have never DNF'd then you need to run harder races." Well, Charlie, I still haven't DNF'd. What's the next test?

My results are bib #203 J. Vaughan

Here's a link to the results page: