August 19, 2017

Zero Calorie Run?: Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run – 25K

Paul Hardcastle, Michelle Grubb, Hope Beatte (my wife), and me pre-race in the parking lot at Cheyenne Mtn. State Park

Last Saturday I joined my wife, Hope, along with our friends Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb for the inaugural Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run 25K.  Epic Endurance is the brainchild of our friend Andrea Watkins and her new boyfriend, “Steve 6.0” … those are her words NOT mine!  Let me say at the outset that Andrea and Steve picked an outstanding venue.  Cheyenne Mountain State Park (one of Colorado’s newest) is located just to the southwest of Colorado Springs, CO and offers nearly 1700 acres to explore with over 20 miles of trail access.  Cheyenne Mountain offers an elevation of 9565 ft.

The morning arrived cold along with a potential for precipitation of the blowing, frozen kind (i.e. snow).  Although the skies eventually cycled through overcast to bouts of blue with intermittent snow—really, it was an ideal day for a trail run.  The parking lot featured lots of energetic, albeit cold, racers and many familiar faces as volunteers, our friends Beth Tennant, Tyler Walton, Barry Cross, and Anthony Beeson were just a few of the friendly faces that had turned out to support Andrea and Steve’s first race.  And now, a note about my personal guilt: I felt really bad about racing and not volunteering; however, when I had asked Andrea about how I could help, she had encouraged me to race.  However, even before I set foot to the starting line, I felt uneasy about being a competitor and made a personal commitment to serve as a race volunteer in subsequent years.

A bit about the lead photo on this post, the one withe the smiley face made out of various high protein, high fat, and low carbohydrate foods: Over the course of the last several weeks, I have been experimenting with elements of a “slow-carb” nutritional strategy, purposely training and racing on lower quantities of low glycemic index (GI), complex carbohydrates and higher quantities of “healthy” fats.  This nutritional plan also features scheduled “high carb” days to replenish my body’s energy stores, every 7-10 days.  The net effect or this type of nutritional strategy, when combined with metabolically specialized training, is an increase in the body’s ability to spare carbohydrates while relying on large percentages of fat as an energy substrate.  Note: To see one of the most dramatic slow-carb protocols, see pages 70-99 of “The 4-Hour Body” authored by the ever-controversial, but highly motivated and energetic Tim Ferriss.

The actual ingredients of my breakfast included 3 hard boiled eggs, 11 grams of Brazil nuts, 11 grams of organic whole almonds, 2 T (32 grams) of almond butter, providing approximately 652 calories and an approximate macronutrient breakdown of 14 grams of carbohydrates, 54 grams of fat, 36 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber.

There were two primary ideas behind this fueling strategy: 1) I wanted to provide a mental challenge to run 25K (15.5 miles) without an appreciable carbohydrate load, and 2) I wanted to test my own endurance while using a virtually no-carb pre-race meal and without the addition of on-course fuel (thereby testing the limits of my personal glycogen stores).

A brief biochemistry lesson: Glycogen is a “secondary” fuel source that is primarily stored in the muscle and liver (compared to glucose which is the “primary” fuel source that is made available to the body via the blood) and the average individual stores approximately 1500 calories of glycogen—this is highly variable and is determined by both genetic and lifestyle factors (think training and diet); but sufficient fuel to provide a couple of hours of sustained, moderately high intensity workout.  Note that only the glycogen stored in the liver can be made available to other organs.  The body has three principle energy systems: the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative (each is always “on” but the amount of energy supplied by each is dependent on both the intensity and duration of the activity  the body is engaged in, e.g., complete rest versus heavy resistance training or sprinting versus running a marathon).  The energy systems fall along a continuum that places the phosphagen system on side, fully engage during high intensity but short duration exercise, and the oxidative system on the other, providing the predominant proportion of fuel during low intensity but long duration exercise.  The glycolytic system fall in the middle, being further divided between slow- and fast-glycolysis.  Each of the systems are “on” all the time, but each contributes to the body’s energy needs at different levels based on the demands being placed on the body at any given time.  Glycogen, or lack there of, is principally involved when an athlete hits the proverbial “wall” or “bonks.”  In this situation, energy expenditure outpaces energy (caloric) consumption and the athlete’s stored glycogen levels.  Not only does this have dramatic implications for the athlete during a training or race event, but it makes proper recovery nutrition paramount.

Running strong without any nutrition!

So as the mass of runners crossed the starting line, I set out on my personal quest to see when I would hit my wall.  The run from the parking lot along the park’s access road provided immediate elevation gain—it went UP—before quickly yielding to near perfect single track.  Once we made the single file line, the elevation continued to come.  I ran with Hope for a while as Paul and Michelle jockeyed for positions in front or behind us—I really had no idea where they were (only later did I learn that Michelle had bowed out early on due to some intestinal issues—I am sure that she will return next year to give it another go)!?  I was running free without pace of mileage data, only heart rate and felt strong.  Hope was now behind me and I started to really enjoy the trail experience, dodging roots and rocks, quickly changing direction, and following the trail as it coursed up and down.  Relatively early into the course I managed to hook up with a group of runners who was pushing the “perfect” pace (i.e., a bit faster than my comfort level) and provided an opportunity to draft … not that you can really draft in a running race, but I find there is a certain mental benefit and ease that comes by running on the end of a faster pack of runners.  This is especially true for me when running trails, as if I see that the runner (or runners as it may be) that I am following is making efficient foot placements, I can kind of put myself on autopilot.  Note: I still stay focused on where my feet are landing, but my mind seems to get a mental cue from observing a good foot placement in advance.  Has anyone else had this experience or is it unique to me?  Our group began to separate from the other runners (mind you, the runners ahead of me were three women … and all very experienced runners) and the pace continued to increase.   We were all running with iPods, but brief conversation was still manageable.  “You all are great trail runners,” I shared and then added, “thanks for the pull.”  To which I received a “glad to have you along and we will look forward to you leading us along in a bit.”  I promised to head out front and, at about mile 8, I did.  I worked out ahead and eventually pulled away from my little pack, only to assure them before I left that they would see me again as I was conducting a little experiment.  I passed all the nutritional goodies at the aid stations and only took water but continued to feel strong until about mile 13.  My wall appeared and I, as I had predicted, the other runners that initially followed, then paced, and eventually moved away from started to catch up and then overtake me.  I crossed the finish at 2 hrs. 47 minutes and 27 seconds after I started (12th in my division and 45th overall).  Paul finished at 2:53:04 and Hope followed at 3:24:39 with Michelle getting the DNF (really, it was DNS, “Did Not Start” as the nausea, etc. had plagued her almost from the start).

A word from the race director:

The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race was my first attempt to organize a true race experience.  After spending years organizing teams of athletes to train, travel, and compete nationally and internationally event directing seemed the next logical step in my career.  My mission for Epic Endurance Events is to create an environment where competition is fierce but the race is also accessible and supportive to runners of all abilities.  For me this means support is available for every person on the course, whether you are in first place, in the middle of the pack, or the last finisher across the line.  The course will be challenging and well-marked.  Food and water will be available to you (even if you choose to pass it up!) at aid stations, volunteers will be on the course, and GOOD post race food and drink will be there for you when you cross the finish line.  Placing you in the race to hear your experience on the course was critical to building the race and achieving my goals.  I would have been crazy not to take advantage of your experience and knowledge as an endurance athlete.

This year [2012] I am looking forward to having you out there as a volunteer supporting our runners.  Your support means a lot to me, but more important, your support means a lot to all of the folks who made the decision to come run with us.  I wish you the best in your endeavors with your new blog.  I have no doubt you will inspire, encourage, educate, and support people in their endeavors to be fit and healthy.

See you at the races!

-Andrea

Owner | Race Director

Epic Endurance Events

www.epicenduranceevents.com

The Takeaway:

My experiment was just that, a bit of experiment and a change from my usual routine.  Several weeks of lower- and slower-carb  (complex, low-GI carbohydrates) nutrition combined with an ultra low-carb race day breakfast had shown me that I had a “range” of nearly 3 hrs. of moderately high intensity exercise.  My experiment also solidified the importance of “good” carbohydrates on the athlete’s table as part of an ongoing training, recovery (they really can’t be separated), and race day nutritional strategy.

I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with the organization, the venue, and the execution of this inaugural event … congratulations Andrea and Steve 6.0—I will tell as many people as I can about this great new event and will look forward to seeing you next year, as a race volunteer, that is!!!

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