Friday, February 21, 2014

The Unpopular Truth About Alcohol & Recovery

The Unpopular Truth About Alcohol & Recovery
photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     I've been vexed and chagrined by a recent spate of articles in running magazines and on health websites that have addressed the issue of alcohol intake and athletic performance, with an emphasis on recovery. The conclusion put forth by these fluff pieces has unanimously been, "Well, alcohol may not be an ideal post workout beverage, but everyone loves a cold beer, right?!" While pandering to public opinion may assuage readers' gourmand guilt, I feel an obligation to uphold a higher journalistic standard. After all, it's a matter of biochemistry, not opinion.

     Recovery not only prepares you for your next effort, but it is the process wherein you reap the benefits of your most recent workout. The goal of every workout is to strengthen and adapt your body to your sport or activity, and this is accomplished in recovery. During this time, your body needs carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores (1), protein to repair damage to existing tissues and build new tissue (2), and antioxidants to counteract the flood of free radicals (cell damaging unstable molecules) produced by training and exercise (3). The truth is that alcohol counteracts every one of these vital processes.

     According to a publication by t
he National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, when your body metabolizes alcohol it has numerous deleterious effects, including, but not limited to:  
  • Reducing the amount of antioxidants
  • Producing additional free radicals 
  • Impeding glycogen assimilation
  • Increasing systemic inflamation    
  • Damaging cell mitochondria (4)
  • Interfering with amino acids that form key proteins, including:

    1. those found in the membranes surrounding red blood cells
    2. tubulin, which is necessary for protein transport within cells as well as cell division
    3. hemoglobin and albumin, two crucial blood proteins
    4. collagen, the main structural protein of human connective tissues  

     It doesn't take a biochemist to see that the effects of alcohol consumption exactly countermand the needs of the body during recovery. And these consequences are inescapable. When alcohol enters your system, whether it be beer, wine, or hard liquor, the body treats it as a poison and prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol, halting assimilation of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (5, 6). 

     I am not emotionally invested in whether or not other athletes have a beer after a race or take a shot at an aide station or guzzle a suitcase of PBR on a wild Friday night. But when respected information sources in the running and health communities fail to make substantive information available to their readers, the iconoclast in me must make himself heard. And for the record, I only have access to the same information sources as anyone with an internet connection. All of the alcohol related information in this article came from the first page of a Google search.

     If you think of your recovery as the Andrea Gail, alcohol is the perfect storm.

(1) "The key to enhancing the replenishment of muscle glycogen is to ingest carbohydrates immediately after your workout. Science shows that this is related to the hormone insulin as well as the enzyme glycogen synthase (discussed above). Insulin stimulates glycogen synthase which then converts more carbohydrate to glycogen. Insulin simultaneously increases the transport of this glycogen from the blood into the muscles. Choreographed perfectly, the hormonal system and associated enzymes work to not only replace the glycogen you lost during exercise but they do it in the most efficient and rapid way.

Once scientists began to focus on insulin's role in glycogen replenishment, another connection was made that impacts the recovery routine. It turns out that ingesting protein along with the carbohydrate increases your insulin response. As a result, up to 30% more glycogen is stored than if you just ingest carbohydrates." – Greg McMillan source

(2) “Protein repairs exercise-induced muscle damage, reduces the response from the stress hormone cortisol and even helps speed glycogen replacement, the goal of taking in carbohydrates, says Jackie Dikos, a registered dietitian and competitive runner who competed in the 2008 U. S. Olympic marathon trials.”  Runner's World source

(3) "Excess free radical formation has been hypothesized to contribute to cancer, atherosclerosis, aging and exercise associated muscle damage. Regular low to moderate physical exercise enhances the antioxidant defense system and protects against exercise induced free radical damage. Heavy exercise increases the level of free radicals. Free radical production or loss of antioxidant protection can adversely affect performance. Effects of free radicals and antioxidants on exercise performance source

(4) “Mitochondria are responsible for creating more than 90% of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth. When they fail, less and less energy is generated within the cell. Cell injury and even cell death follow. If this process is repeated throughout the body, whole systems begin to fail, and the life of the person in whom this is happening is severely compromised.” – United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation source

(5) “Alcohol is considered a poison by your body, and all efforts are made to excrete it, including the cessation of maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that alcohol interferes with all three sources of glucose and the hormones needed to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.” – source

(6) “The effects that alcohol has on your health start with how it's metabolized. Once alcohol is in your system, your body makes metabolizing it a priority. That means that it will stop metabolizing anything else in order to first get the alcohol metabolized. The reason for this is because unlike protein, carbohydrates, and fat, there is nowhere for alcohol to be stored in our body so it has be metabolized first.” – Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS source

Friday, February 14, 2014

UltraPedestrian Podcast Episode #004

UltraPedestrian Podcast Episode #004
Ultrarunning & Trail Culture for the 99%

Ras issues a Cougar Fact Reality Check

Heather Anderson Anish Hikes gives us another look inside her record setting thruhike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Get more details on her blog
Brandon Lott talks about ending the 2013 Plain 100 miler with an ambulance ride
Matt Hagen interviews Gu and Ultraspire athlete Kathleen Egan about her two year global trailrunning adventure with John Fiddler. Get all the details about their adventures on their blog
Hosted by Ras


Sunday, February 9, 2014

All Day Ultra Meal Plan

Vegan Recipes for An All Day UltraAdventure

photo by Jason Llewellyn

By Kathy Vaughan

     Running a self or unsupported ultramarathon takes a lot of planning in order to complete the distance. Nutrition for the day of the run is key. I spend the day before an adventure run in the kitchen, preparing the food Ras and I will need to get us through from breakfast until our post run meal. I usually want to spend as little time on my feet right after the run as possible, so having the dinner precooked and only needing reheating is the easiest way to ensure healthy food is ready fast. Of course, each of us brings our own food to fuel us through our trail time, in addition to the meals listed here.

     I will share 3 recipes I commonly prepare ahead of time, for an all day trail adventure. I follow a vegan diet, so all of the recipes I share are vegan. All recipes are my original creations. 

#1 Breakfast     Whole Wheat Banana Muffins: Chocolate Chips Optional 

          3 medium sized, ripe bananas, mashed
          1/3 cup soy margarine, or other dairy-free margarine
          2 T soy or almond milk
          2 T ground flax seed mixed with 6 T warm water or 2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
          1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
          2/3 cup cane sugar
          2 t baking powder
          1/2 t baking soda
          1 1/2 c dairy free chocolate chips (I use Guittard or Ghiradelli semi-sweet)

     Stir together bananas, margarine, milk and flax seed mixture or applesauce, until well blended. For fruity & moist muffins, use the applesauce. For more texture & the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, use the ground flax seed.  Add flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda until thoroughly blended into wet mixture. Add chocolate chips or 1/4 cup of chopped nuts of your choice and stir until mixed in thoroughly. Divide the batter up evenly in a 12 muffin tin. I use a stoneware muffin baking dish for consistently even baking. Bake the muffins in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the center of a muffin.

#2 Lunch on the trail      Pinto Bean & Rice Burritos

           2 cups dried pinto beans, rinsed & soaked
           1 onion, chopped
           1 green pepper, chopped
           2 T ground cumin
           4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
           2 T ground black pepper
           3 T Bragg Liquid Amino Acids (or add to taste as beans become cooked)
           1 T chili powder
           2 t onion powder
           1 T Italian seasoning blend (or add oregeno & thyme)
           1 T smoked paprika

     Put rinsed and soaked beans into a crock pot and fill pot to the top with cold water.  Add onion and green pepper and cook on high until beans begin to soften. Add the remaining ingredients and allow to simmer on high for several hours. I like to put this recipe into the crock pot to cook while I am on a long run also, and come home to dinner being all ready.  Beans are done when they are tender and the skins begin to peel.

     Meanwhile, cook a pot of your choice of rice. I like to make brown rice or white jasmine rice. 

     The night before the run, or the morning of, I assemble the burritos and put them into ziplock bags to carry with me in my running vest. I use whole wheat tortillas, but other soft tortillas would work as well. I first put a couple of spoonfuls of the cooked beans down the center of the tortilla. Then I add rice and top with either a salsa verde, Srirachi hot sauce or Tapatio. I like to add chopped black olives and diced onion as well, but you could add whatever other ingredients you might like. Ras likes them simple with beans, rice, and hot sauce. Wrap and roll the burrito!

#3 Post Run Dinner         Tofu Scramble

              2 packages of firm tofu, previously frozen, thawed
              1 onion, chopped
              1 green pepper, chopped
              1 red or yellow pepper, chopped or 1/4 cup roasted red peppers, diced
              1 zucchini, diced
              1 can of black olives, diced
              1 cup mushrooms, sliced
              1/4 cup green olives, chopped
              1 medium tomato, diced or 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
              1/2 cup of frozen or canned corn, optional
              1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
              1 cup chopped kale or spinach
              3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
              3 T Bragg Liquid Amino Acids (or add to taste)
              2 t ground black pepper
              1 t onion powder
              2 T smoked paprika
              1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes (or add to taste)
              2 to 3 T soy margarine or other dairy free margarine

     Heat up a large skillet on the stove top and add margarine. When margarine is melted, add garlic, onion and peppers. Saute on medium high heat until softened. On a cutting board, cut up tofu into bite size chunks. Add to the skillet and mix in well. Allow the tofu to absorb these flavors as you add the Braggs. Add all of the rest of the ingredients, except the nutritional yeast. Add water as needed, to give the mixture a liquid in which to simmer. When the veggies and tofu have been simmering for about 10 minutes, add the nutritional yeast and water again as needed to help create a sauce.  Stir well and continue to allow the mixture to simmer, turning the temperature down now. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until tofu is firm and the veggies are soft. Allow to cool and then store in a container to be reheated after your long run the next day. Serve in a bowl; as a wrap; or on a plate with leftover, cooked pinto beans and hot sauce. 

     Many different veggies of your choice can be added to this tofu scramble dish. The ingredients listed above are the ones I often use, although I will also use whatever I have on hand. Adding cumin as a seasoning, gives the dish a different flair and makes it good in breakfast burritos. Experiment and Enjoy!

drawing by Natsumi Sasajima

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Team Seven Hills: Promoting An Unprecedented Performance Paradigm

Team Seven Hills:
Promoting An Unprecedented Performance Paradigm
Part 1 Of 2

copyright Tim Mathisby Tim Mathis
with photos by Glenn Tachiyama

Team Seven Hills: Where Cool is at Least as Important as Fast

     On the face of things, Phil Kochik seems like an unlikely leader in the trail running community. An unassuming guy with a goofy sense of humor, in person he presents as reserved and quirky. He doesn’t have a personal Facebook profile, but his dog does, and he operates on social media under the persona of Louie TrailPug – an animal whose tongue is much too big for its head. But since opening Seven Hills Running Shop in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle at the end of 2012, his brand’s been visible seemingly everywhere in the Washington trail scene, and through a series of events and promotions, he’s already turned his shop into one of the key gathering places for trail runners in Washington.

     Phil has old-school ultra chops – he finished in 2nd place at a very competitive White River 50 in 2004 (beating the likes of Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, and William Emerson), won the American River 50 in 2005, and finished fifth at the Western States 100 in 2007 – and he spent years honing his business acumen working at the Seattle Running Company and the Fleet Feet that replaced it. And, he’s an undeniably likeable guy who seems genuinely committed to the promotion of trail and ultra running. He believes that his store is the first running shop in the country to carry more trail focused product than road, and he’s already sponsored countless giveaways and promotions at trail events across the state. He’s helping bolster the community and has added some excitement to a scene that’s already expanding.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Adam Hewey. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

     From the beginning, Seven Hills has been committed to supporting notable local runners on the trails, and the store provided Adam Hewey with a sponsorship in 2013, which he promptly used to invest in a dramatic top 10 finish at Hard Rock – arguably the toughest 100 miler in the world. But at the end of 2013, Phil took this support to the next level and announced the roll out of an entire team of supported Seven Hills runners. While sponsored racing teams are nothing new, the makeup of the team is something worth drawing attention to. In this post and the next, I’ll highlight the team by introducing some of its members, and ask Phil some questions about just what he’s trying to accomplish by assembling this ragtag group of misfits.

Fast Runners, Fast Packers, and Innovators

     The team members in 2014 are: Adam Hewey, Jodee Adams-Moore, Heather Anderson, Chris Barry, Stacey Nievweija, Matt Urbanski, Brandon Sullivan, Jon Robinson, and our own Ras. (I should probably insert a mid-article disclaimer here. Ras didn’t ask me to write this piece – I approached him about it because it fits the UltraPedestrian ethos.)

     Teams of sponsored runners usually include, pretty much exclusively, fast runners that finish at the front of races. What makes Team 7 Hills interesting is that they have at least partially eschewed that criteria to support runners who finish throughout the pack, at least one who almost never races, and one who is more known as a fastpacker than a runner. Like, the team represents “Trail running - Ultrarunning - Backpacking - Fastpacking – Thruhiking - Supported - Unsupported - Self-supported - All of the Above”.

Glenn Tachiyama/Rainshadow Running, Angel's Staircase 60k/35k 2013
Jodee Adams-Moore. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama/Rainshadow Running, Angel's Staircase 60k/35k 2013

     The core of the team is represented by fast trail runners. Jodee Adams-Moore is probably the best runner in the state, is in her prime routinely breaking course records, and is nationally competitive – narrowly missing out on a win at the 2013 Speedgoat 50k and setting a course record at Chuckanut in 2013. Adam Hewey is one of the best Masters runners in the country. And Chris, Matt, Brandon and Jon all finish on or near the podium when they race locally.

     But Heather, Stacey and Ras are interesting for reasons other than winning races. If you are reading this site, there’s a fair chance that you know something about Ras’ adventures covering insane distances in unsupported fashion, his podcast and blog. And if you follow outdoor sports news at all, you have probably heard of Heather Anderson – undoubtedly the most famous team member who set the Fastest Known Time (male or female) for a self-supported trip up the PCT last year, averaging 44 miles a day to cover the 2663 mile trail in 60 days, 17 hours, and 12 minutes. Stacey, who is a visible member of the local community who rarely races, has her own set of amazing accomplishments, including a self-organized road 100 miler last January and a self-organized 170 mile run from Vancouver to Seattle.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Heather 'Anish' Anderson pacing Ras at the 2013 Cascade Crest 100. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

     And the team as a whole is made up of innovators and interesting people. (Part of me suspects, in fact, that the team was comprised primarily with an end of year party in mind.) Jodee Adams-Moore was a high school phenom who took 7 years off after college to live in the woods making pottery before returning to racing and promptly winning every race she entered. If all goes as planned, Adam Hewey in 2014 will become the first person to complete what he calls the “Mondo Slam” – the Western States 100, the Hard Rock 100, and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – in one year (a feat almost as impressive for the lottery luck required as for the toughness involved). Ras basically created a whole new type of running achievement – doubling or tripling traditional routes in order to establish “Only Known Times” (OKTs). And Matt Urbanski spent the last three years traveling the world with his wife, running marathons and ultras, completing through hikes (including the triple crown AT, PCT and CDT), and chronicling their adventures on their blog and in his wife’s books.

In Part Two I’ll talk to Phil about how he put the team together, and what his vision is for the team in 2014 and beyond.   

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Matt Urbanski. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Tim Mathis lives in Seattle and is a regular contributor to He has been running trails with his wife Angel for a couple of years.  One time they ran across Spain fueled mostly on pastries and espresso.  He blogs occasionally at and has contributed to and Trailrunner Magazine.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How To Set A Fastest Known Time

WTFKT? How To Establish A Fastest Known Time Or Only Known Time
Protocols For Providing Proof Of Your Performance

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     It's no surprise that there are a wide variety of opinions regarding FKT's. I've seen fastest known times referred to as a "rage" and a "phenomenon". I've heard the people who attempt fastest known times characterized as, "introverts, fakes, or slow folks who wish they were fast." But regardless of people's opinions or misconceptions, FKT's and OKT's are the backbone of endurance running, not a departure from or derivative thereof.

     Some people contend that keeping track of fastest known times was an outgrowth of wilderness designations and national parks rules that forbade formal races, but this assumption is historically myopic. Consider the marathon, perhaps the most lauded and widely pursued distance in endurance running, and the father of the marathon: Pheidippides. Every marathon, in name at the very least, is a tribute to his epic and mythic run from Marathon to Athens to bring word of Persia's defeat. 

     Pheidippides was a professional runner before the days of shoe sponsorships and energy drink endorsements. He ran as a means of transmitting information. He ran to fulfill a need for his community and civilization. His only competitors were the sun dial, the elements, and his own abilities. Pheidippides wasn't running organized races for a living, he was running fastest known times. So it's reasonable to say that the marathon, that most revered, formalized and structured of races, is little more than an aided mass reenactment of a historical FKT.

     Imagine our ancient hominid ancestors with a method of locomotion unique in the animal kingdom, and the rudimentary beginnings of language. There was no spontaneous genesis of the concept of a race, just out of curiosity, to see who was the fastest for no reason other than to do it. The first race was run when there was a disagreement to be settled. One proto human claimed to be able to run from the forest verge across the savanna to the big watering hole and back before the sun was halfway across the sky. Another proto human claimed he could do the same before the sun was two fifths of the way. An FKT was claimed, BS was called, and the footrace was born.

     Compared to the stress and structure of an organized race, the nature of an FKT attempt is somewhat laid back. However, there are some widely accepted protocols for backing up your claims. Adhering to as many as possible of these, if not all of them, is the best way to insure that your feat is recognized and widely accepted as being valid. Below are the official recommendations for establishing the veracity of your claim. But, as Peter Bakwin states on his site, "These three rules do not 'prove' you have done anything. They just make it easier for a good person to believe you."

Announce your intent – Take the risk of failing publicly. Put something on the table and see how it plays out. Ante up. Post the specifics of what you are attempting in a public forum such as the Fastest Known Time page for the trail you are running, or an active Facebook group. Be sure to include the specific route you plan to take, as well as your intended methodology/style. There are generally considered to be three techniques for attempting an FKT/OKT: supported, self-supported, and unsupported.

Supported means that you do not carry everything you need from the start, but have one or more people who help to meet your needs and facilitate the successful completion of your trip. This includes meeting you with supplies and pacing or accompanying you for less than the entire distance. Being the fastest, lightest and, in many ways safest approach, this is sometimes referred to as "ultrarunner style".

A Self-supported effort is one wherein you do not carry everything you need from the beginning, but you do not have preplanned outside help along the way. Instead you place caches ahead of time, mail supplies to predetermined pick up points, forage and buy things along the way, and receive unplanned kindnesses from others on the trail. On long trails this is called "thruhiker style," and even this has its degrees of purity. 

Unsupported, sometimes also called "alpine style", "fair means", or "good style", involves carrying everything you will need, including all gear and food, from the beginning to the end of your trip. Only water is obtained en route. Acquiring or disposing of any supplies along the way violates the purist form of the unsupported ethic.

Track your journey - Use a SPOT transponder, or another brand of GPS transponder, to provide a live feed of your progress. Record a GPS track and post it online for others to verify and benefit from. Gather eyewitness testimony by asking people you meet on the trail to bear witness as to where and when they saw you on the trail. Correlate key landmarks you reach to weather and time of day. Essentially you want to be able to offer numerous data points, as random as they may be, that add up to a portrayal of your trip which is difficult to refute. 

Document it. Write a detailed trip report honestly portraying what you intended to do and what you actually did. Peter Bakwin says “Be clear about what you did - that's more important than the label.”

     My learning curve regarding methodology is clearly shown on the Wonderland Trail FKT page. (Perpetuity isn't always flattering.) I carried all my supplies for one loop, then resupplied and completed the second loop, which would qualify as self-supported. Although I ran alone through two of the nights, I did have friends running with me for almost half the total mileage, which would make it supported. 

     Interestingly enough, after that, during a Facebook conversation with Sean Meissner, he messaged me, "For the record, not only do I consider your historic and epic Wonderland double to be unsupported, but I also think it would be *almost* suicidal to try that double without the help of some pacers, purely for a safety reason for you." This shows the importance of relating your trip in honest detail. Even if you violate strict interpretations of your chosen methodology, the true spirit of your effort will be better defined the more specifics you give. 

     This will also give you the opportunity to answer questions and respond to challenges via the comments section of your blog or website, Facebook groups and pages, and other interactive forums. And there may very well be questions and challenges. There's no need to be defensive. Simply be prepared to openly discuss the specifics of what you did. Establishing the facts is up to you. How other people feel about it is not your responsibility.

     When all is said and done, proving it is close to impossible. A SPOT transponder moving over the trail only proves the device was there, not you per se. Eyewitnessrs can falsify their testimony. Trip reports can be finessed. When all is said and done, it comes down to your word, and the value it holds in your running community and the larger scene. Reputation is key.  

     The potential is almost limitless for new routes and unique achievements in FKTs and OKTs. New paradigms abound - urban thru-hikes & stair routes, peakbagging routes, roadtrips stringing together multiple routes including drive times (interesting logistical challenge there), doubles, triples, quadruples and more of existing trails and courses – things are wide open. New sports and specializations are waiting to be born. (In fact, I am acting as Doula for the fledgling sport of Extreme Picnicking/Ultra Picnicking - more on that in a later post.)

Modern technology has given us the ability to announce our ambitions globally. Affordable gadgets and services now allow us to be observed as we traipse through the wilds. And twenty-first century communications have made it possible for someone half a world away to say, "Oh, yeah? I can do that even BETTER!"