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.


  1. Great report Jahson! I like that you did this separate one on your nutrition plan. Congrats again!

    1. Thanks Scotty! Hopefully we can meet up in the North Cascades for a couple good runs this year. I definitely wanna do Easy Pass and Devil's Dome this year.
      And all this 200 mile stuff is your fault. You're the first person that ever told me I could run 100 miles. Now I just don't know when to stop :)

  2. Really enjoyed meeting you in person during the race Ras. Thanks for posting this nutrition report. Very interesting and helpful in the way I'm beginning to come at the task of fueling for long runs. I have some small questions for you about some of the food details and will reach out for clarification one day soon if that's cool by you. Irie in Bellevue, Ben Luedke

    1. Ben! Yes I, it was great meeting you in person. And yeah, any questions are fine. Facebook is probably the best way to contact me for a more detailed exchange. Bless!