I entered Paradise Aid Station at mile 27 in 4th place and left in the lead. I’d been running with Gary Robbins and Avery Collins since the start, and our lead pack had slowly eroded to the three of us. I left Paradise with Avery and Gary in tow and settled into a combo of running and hiking. As we ascended past the crowded Manoa Falls and a couple of switchbacks, I looked back and didn’t see them. That was the moment it began to dawn on me that my “experiment of one” and my recent diet shift of utilizing OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism) principles was working. I felt good and relaxed. I told myself to not push yet, it was still early. I kept running smoothly and enjoying the humid jungle ride.
Rewind to 7 weeks prior…
I was a mess. I’d been fighting a candida/yeast issue in my GI tract since June and a staph infection I’d picked up in South America. I’d had to go on antibiotics for the staph, but this caused the yeast to get worse. I was dealing with my 4th major candida flare-up. When it would flare, I’d usually miss a night of sleep itching out of my mind, I was sick and tired of dealing with this issue.
In a desperate state, I started researching anti-candida diets online and came across a Paleo forum talking about yeast and candida and that the Paleo lifestyle could help heal it. After all, yeast feeds on sugar and it made sense to cut out any yeast-feeding foods, especially starchy, sugary carbs. Plus, it helped that my wife had wanted to go Paleo for several years. She’d been dealing with some insulin resistance/hypoglycemia symptoms since her 20s. She already had two Paleo cook books. So, we embarked on cutting out grains, legumes, sugar, wine, beer and even coffee for good measure (I did bring back red wine in moderation after 4 weeks). It was 7 weeks from race day when I got full-on crazy strict — even through the holidays. I had no choice. I just couldn’t deal with another yeast flare-up.
The first week was horrible. I was lethargic, moody, and my workouts sucked. My kids were not hip to Dad’s new grouchy shortcomings. My body was deep in carb detox, starved of my normal intake of sugar, caffeine, and rice and potatoes. My body needed time to adapt to new fat-optimized pathways. I took my carb intake down to 15% of my daily intake, mostly from fresh veggies, about 20% protein from good natural meat sources, while upping my fat intake to 65%. I was combing the web for food ideas, trying to find new habits. I started reading Vespa’s OFM strategy. I started researching fat adaptation and listened to hours of podcasts on LCHF (Low Carb, High Fat, Moderate Protein) diet, the science, the theories. This led me to email my friend and Altra teammate, Zach Bitter for support and tips. I knew he’d been strict LCHF diet for several years and I was in need of advice.
I started to come out of the carb-haze on day 8 and by 2 weeks in, I was feeling better. I cycled myself into ketosis. The yeast amazingly cleared up within that first week and I was starting to have consistent energy throughout the day. No lows, no crashes. I started to experiment with some carb-fasted runs with good success. I found I was able to run a 17-mile run after an 18-hour carb fast on only water and one s-cap, with the last 12 at 50K race pace without any issues. I wasn’t even that hungry after the run. Not my normal.
I started to go on my long 4-5 hour runs with only 50 calories per hour of Roctane drink with no bonks. I lost 7 pounds in the first 10 days and then stabilized at my high school weight of 135 pounds. My energy levels were solid. Recovery seemed to be faster too. Biggest bonus — zero yeast symptoms. I was definitely encouraged.
Fast forward to the race…
As I came back to Paradise at mile 47 still in the lead, I was stoked. I felt good, I had no bonks, despite going on half the calories of my normal 100-mile nutrition plan. As I left, I yelled over my shoulder at my crew, Jesse Haynes, “It’s working! It’s working!” I was just as surprised. I had fretted quite a bit before the race, back up gels in all my drop bags, how much to take per hour? How would my body react? Sure it seemed to work in a 4-5 hour run, but what about at 12 hours? 16? My normal regimen was out the window, the regimen that had been working for years in 100s with good success.
As I pushed up the hill to see where 2nd place was at nearly halfway though the course, I was stoked to see Gary 18 minutes back and Yassine not too far behind him in 3rd. I’d increased my lead more since the last checkpoint. I continued to grind away on the three mile climb back up to Paoua Flats and then up to Bien’s Bench (Rod Bein’s father’s memorial bench) and descending the steep, technical and slippery Nu’uanu Trail. I was pushing on the down and meeting other runners coming up when I stepped to the edge to avoid a woman runner and slipped off the trail on the slippery rocks. I tumbled off the trail and just happened to quickly grab a bowling ball sized rock before I did a face-check. I clung onto the rock to avoid slipping down the 70 degree slope below the trail. The woman standing over me with wide-eyes asked if I was okay. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I was scrapped up but fine, luckily. I pulled myself back up onto the trail and took off again.
At Nu’uanu on the 3rd lap, I grabbed my lights from Jesse and was out to see if I was getting a further gap. To my surprise, Yassine had pulled into 2nd on the descent and was looking good — 24 minutes back. I kept grinding up, running as much as possible on the steep ascent and quickly met Gary too. I pushed the pace down to the Nature Center (Start/Finish), hopping rocks and roots and dancing my way to the bottom. Jesse was ready and I grabbed refills of Roctane and downed another Vespa and took off up the rooted Hogs Back climb. I came through the top short road section where Mike Arnstein (last year’s winner) had a fresh coconut aid station. Every lap, I chugged straight from a fresh coconut on my way through. What a treat. Thanks Mike. One of the things I truly love about the ultrarunning community, the willingness and want to give back. Solid.
I flipped on my lights on the descent on lap 4 into Paradise and continued to increase the lead on each out and back section over Gary (now in 2nd) and Yassine in 3rd. When I left mile 80 for my final lap, I had about a 50 minute lead. I was very relaxed at that point. I felt good, I still had juice in the tank if I needed to make another move and I would see my competition two more times on the final lap on the out and backs. I decided to cruise the last 20 and enjoy the aid stations and just keep from getting hurt on this gnarly course.
This is when I started to think about post-race food. I wanted some protein and asked the aid station if they had bacon. Nope, just ham. I ditched the bread, ate a small piece of ham and cheese. They informed me that Paradise had bacon. 7 miles away.I stopped and chatted with Mike and thanked him for the coconuts. We chatted for a minute or two and I left with one of my water bottles topped off with raw, fresh coconut water poured straight out of a freshly hacked coconut. Sweet nectar.
I came into Paradise on a bacon hunt. Thanks to Jen McVeay, a long time staple at HURT, I mowed down 3 pieces. However, I got the 3rd piece only with the stipulation that if I won, I had to credit the bacon (which I happily did at the awards ceremony…thanks again Jen…that bacon was the bomb).
At Nu’uanu I had a half a hamburger patty. I hike more on the climbs and was keeping an eye on Gary, still 45-50 minutes back with 7 miles to go. My headlamp started to dim on the final, technical descent to the finish, which had me going slow to pick my way through the rocky jumble, but thankfully was enough to make it to the finish. I crossed the line in 21 hours, 22 minutes for my 14th 100-mile win and my 23rd hundred mile finish. So thankful and excited to grab another win and feel better than I have in a while, health-wise. Paleo and OFM are working well for me and I feel strong and excited for the 2016 season! Especially with both Western States 100 and Hardrock 100 on the schedule — a mere three weeks apart.
The LCHF diet has been amazing. I just can’t say enough. I was able to go on half the calories I normally would intake in a 100-miler (GU Roctane, Vespa, unsweetened banana chips, and few orange wedges mainly). It’s a different, less traveled road, but worth it for the health benefits. My post-race recovery was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Truly unbelievable.
Also a big shout out to the HURT 100 volunteers and all the crew that make that race what it is. It’s a special one. And, all the folks who ran. Solid to see everyone laying it down out there and fighting that gnarly course. Thanks Gary, Yassine and Avery for pushing me to a solid finish. Giddyup!
Know more about the nutritional angle…
To understand how we’re wired and why grains and legumes aren’t very good for us metabolically, I highly recommend: Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint (probably most aligned with his stuff personally — great intro and info on his website), Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution (great mix of why and how of Paleo), and the first book I read on the subject (yeah, I like to get my geek cap on), Volek and Phinney’s, The Art and Science of Low Carb Living (deeper science angle). All worthy reads.
A Big Thanks…
Special thanks to my wife and kids and their tireless patience and putting up with all the training. Big shout out to Zach Bitter and Peter Defty at Vespa for all the consulting on OFM to help me get it dialed in before the race. Stoked to be on an even more dialed nutritional path than I was before.
Huge thanks to my stellar sponsors and all their support, Patagonia and the killer threads; Altra who are constantly improving and fine-tuning the footwear line; Magda at GU for the special Bronco Billy Brew Roctane; Bryce and Tina at Ultraspire for the handheld bottles; Rocho at Black Diamond for the lights; Rudy Project for the Rx glasses; Barlean’s for the fat supplements and all the organic coconut oil I use daily. And my local peeps, FootZone, my running community and Recharge for the great scene they’ve created with recovery, treadmills, workout facility — awesome addition to my training routine. Lastly, big ups to the Big Man upstairs for keeping my path straight and safe. Giddyup y’all.