Met Flex for Fat Loss is about keeping most of your carbs around your workouts and using fats as fuels at rest. This is no different for extreme athletes like Jill but one mistake people make is they think running requires an extreme amount of carbs/glucose, it does not. It is a relatively low intensity activity. So keep that in mind as you read Jill’s story.
First of all, I’d just like to state that I am no different than most of you reading this. I am a single mom of 2 teenagers, I have a full time job, and I have been given just 24 hours in each day to get it all done; just your average woman who loves to run! I was not a track star, nor did I compete cross country in high school or college. In fact, I did not start running until I was 35 years old, and I ran my first marathon on my 37th birthday. Since then I have completed over 20 organized marathons, four 50 mile ultras, a few triathlons, the Madison Ironman, and two Leadville 100 mile ultra marathons. While I love to keep challenging myself and improving, my approach towards running is that if it ever becomes a job rather than a hobby, I’ll just quit. I use running as an escape from all of the stresses in my life.
Ultra-Marathon Training Paradigms
One would say that I didn’t know what I was doing when I started running. I didn’t research anything about the subject of running. I just ran. So when a friend of mine suggested that I run a marathon, I thought it sounded like a good idea and signed up. I was so ignorant; it didn’t even occur to me that I should be on any sort of a training schedule. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know what the Boston Marathon was. In fact, I ran my first 20 miler, running a two mile loop 10 times, and used a drinking fountain to hydrate myself; no gels, no sports drinks, just water. I’m not suggesting that this is a good idea. I just want everyone to know that most of my knowledge about fueling and training is coming from personal experience, not from research.
I also get a lot of my training info from athletes who have already completed (or failed) at that particular ultra event. I truly feel that this is why I succeeded at Leadville on my first attempt. When I went out to the training camp, I met Marge. Marge is over 60 years old and has finished the Leadville 100 more than any other woman – I believe she has 15 finishes. I learned so much from her in the three days I was at training camp. She may be a little older, and maybe a little slower than she was 20 years ago, but she is a complete wealth of knowledge. She is still running and finishing that race! Never let your age stop you from attempting something. I have numerous friends who are getting faster and stronger in their 50’s than they were in their 40’s. This is just the opposite of what the research suggests.
While my passion is running, I have also always enjoyed other gym activities. I loved the classes at the gym that included weights and cardio. My thoughts were that the stronger the muscles, are the more efficient they will become. Most of my friends who were runners just ran. They couldn’t do a sit up or a push up to save their life. Some people believe that if you want to be a great runner, then that is what you should do a lot of: run. I received affirmation of my belief that cross training is a big factor when I was running my first ultra, the American River 50 mile, out in Sacramento, CA. When you are running on the trails, you encounter many obstacles: roots, and a lot of loose rock, not to mention uneven terrain and hills. I remember coming upon a woman standing in the middle of the trail. There was a large step up on the trail and her arms and legs were not strong enough to pull her up and over it. There’s no telling how long she had been standing there waiting for someone to help her; she needed a few guys to help push her over.
A few months later, I ran the Voyageur 50 mile ultra in Minnesota. There are five 350 foot climbs, done consecutively, twice. They are referred to as the “power lines”. They’re pretty steep, and you need strong legs to get over them. But the real challenge comes if it starts to rain; the single-track trail turns into slick clay. In order to get over the power line hills, you have to grab onto the weeds at the side of the trail and pull yourself up the hill. The runners who are not strong lose a lot of time here, and in many cases do not finish because they can’t make the next cut-off. Bottom line: if you want to succeed at ultras, you’d better have strong legs, strong arms, and an amazing core. This increases your odds of finishing. This is why intensity and weightlifting is so important in my training.
My new gym and how Paleo Changed My Life
I remember the first time I walked into my new gym. I knew immediately that this was going to be a key element in my training for my upcoming ultra marathon schedule. CF develops every muscle in your body, and I knew I would be ready for any obstacle that I encountered on the mountains.
This new way of working out has also changed the way I eat. Before I continue, you should know that about 7 years ago, I began to have some serious gastrointestinal problems. Not to go into too much detail, but they immediately set me up for a colonoscopy. My mother had died at the age of 56 from colon cancer. They didn’t see any problems, so they told me to cut back on my fiber intake. My issues continued to get worse over the next few years, so they performed another colonoscopy and also tested me for Celiac disease, as well as other allergies. All the tests came back normal. The doctor told me to take a Prilocec every day, and maybe that would help. I just thought that it was going to be something I would have to live with the rest of my life.
In January of 2012 my gym offered what they called a “Paleo Challenge”. It seemed to me that the gym owners kept pushing this Paleo diet on everyone. I decided to do it, to prove to them how an ultra marathon runner could not survive on this type of diet; we runners need a lot of carbs! Anyway, within a couple weeks my intestinal problems began to disappear. I quietly took note, thinking that perhaps it was just a fluke or a coincidence. After all, I was trying to disprove the fact that this diet could benefit me in any way. Within a month, all of my problems were gone and I had NEVER had so much energy! I had been proven wrong! The longer I stuck to the Paleo diet, the better a lot of my issues got. In the past when I ran, I needed to wear knee straps to help take the pressure off my knees. My knees would swell up after my runs. All of my knee pain went away on Paleo. Other notable changes:
- My hair grew in fuller
- My skin cleared up
- The quality of my sleep got better
- My muscle recovery was faster
After a few months on the Paleo diet, I knew I would never go back.
Event Nutrition Strategies Before and After Paleo
At the time, I was coming into my heavy training for my 2nd Leadville 100 race. I knew that the way I ate when I ran needed to be changed. I believe I had an easier time with this compared to most runners. Most use gels to fuel with, but I have never used gels. Ultra marathoners typically have a better success rate if they use real food instead. In fact, at the training camp for Leadville, they tell you to use real food as much as possible. When you are tossing back so many gels, you stomach tends to get very sick from all the sugar. You typically get nauseous anyway from being at altitude for so many hours, so the less you can add to it, the better. It’s not unusual at all to see runners standing at the side of the trail puking their guts out. I am lucky to say that I have never been to that point.
My first Leadville, I used peanut butter sandwiches, chips, Power Bars, chicken broth, and sport beans. I also used Heed for my electrolyte drink. Let me just say that I never liked Heed, but felt pressure from other endurance athletes to use it. During Leadville, I couldn’t wait to see my crew so I could suck down a Vitamin Water. At mile 50, I was not feeling well at all, and barely had any energy left. I couldn’t stomach the Heed anymore so I switched over to Coca-Cola. My pacers were feeding me a lot of salt tabs. Thus, I swelled up so badly my fingers looked like sausages at the end of the race, and I had gained 4 pounds as well. Honestly, how can someone weigh 4 pounds more after running 100 miles? At least I didn’t throw up…Right?
My second Leadville, I looked at fueling differently. I never liked the taste of Heed when I was not running, so why was I trying to choke it down? I decided to stick with Vitamin Waters because they never gave me a sick feeling, and they always “sounded good”. When you are running continually at altitude without sleep for many hours, you really need to look at it from the point of “what sounds good and what will go down without making me vomit?” It’s kind of like when you’re pregnant. During my training, I tried different foods and found that my stomach could tolerate Kind bars, Lara bars, Old Dutch potato chips (no weird ingredients), sweet potato chips, bananas, oranges, popsicles, and chicken broth. During the Leadville run, I had my crew set up a TV tray with an assortment of items; I would grab whatever I thought would taste good, but more importantly wouldn’t come back up. The Leadville race does supply an assortment of items as well. They are really good at putting a variety of items on the tables at the check points: sandwiches/wraps, pretzels, candy, banana, oranges, watermelon, etc. Because I have a gluten intolerance I prefer to bring my own stuff.
Also, with my second Leadville, I talked more with my pacers and crew about my hydration and fueling. I typically never use the salt/electrolyte tablets – I might take 2 during a 50 mile run if it’s 80 degrees or higher. So this time I talked to my pacers and crew beforehand, so that they were not constantly trying to push things down my throat that my body really didn’t need. In the end, with my 2nd Leadville, I had only lost one ounce from start to finish and my body was not completely swollen like after the first race. One big piece of advice I have is that you know your body better than anyone; what one body needs another might not. I’m little (5’1”) and I am an efficient runner. I typically only burn 50-70 cals per eight and a half minute mile, less if I am running a 10 minute mile. I am not going to need as much fuel as the 6’, 180 lb. runner next to me. I constantly have to remind my pacers of this.
Fueling Before a Run and Listening to Your Body
I also had to look at how I was fueling myself before and after my long runs. I wear a heart rate monitor and I pretty much know how many calories I expend during a run. Typically, when training for an ultra, you do back-to-back long runs. For example: 26 miles on Saturday and 16 miles on Sunday. You are expending a lot of energy, and being fueled before you start running is very important. In the past I used carbs from grains, but now this was not going to happen. I had already discovered the secrets of the sweet potato, so I really diverted to that. When I wake up at 2am starving, I know that I have not fueled enough. Every nutritionist and personal trainer would tell me that 2am is NOT the time to eat; I don’t care. Sleep is important for my recovery, so I always eat at 2am if it’s keeping me awake. I played around with food to see what my body responded best to.
Being a single working mom, I like to keep things pretty simple. I am lucky that my kids do not like the fast food junk. I tend to make large quantities of different food items and freeze them. For example, soups, red sauces and egg dishes. This works best for my busy schedule. I use the Crock Pot a lot as well. That way the food is ready immediately after a workout. We typically eat steak, salmon or chicken with a salad in the evenings. If I have a long run the next day, I will eat a sweet potato with mine. For lunches, I eat a thick butternut squash soup with turkey or sausage in it, or a salad with chicken. I snack on nuts, fruit, or dried fruit and Lara bars. Breakfast is usually something quick like an apple or banana with almond butter, Paleo pancakes, or Paleo muffins. I have my best long runs when I eat grilled chicken, salad, and a sweet potato for dinner the night before. Not sure why that combo works for me, but it does.
I perform and feel my best when I make my own food and don’t consume items from a box. Even gluten-free items tend to inhibit my performance. I’m realistic and I know how difficult it is to be perfect all the time. I’m not perfect, but two weeks before a big race, I am pretty spot-on with my diet and will make ALL of my own food. Because I do my high intensity workouts in the evening and then follow it up with a 3-9 mile run, I do need a good lunch. My body responds best to the thick butternut squash soup with turkey or sausage, rather than a salad. Sometimes if it’s a longer run, about 90 minutes before a workout I will microwave a sweet potato and top it with cinnamon, nutmeg, natural applesauce, and walnuts. It fuels better than any Power Bar.
You could say that all of this has been a game changer for me. It has not only helped me become a better runner, but it has improved my quality of life. Not only am I stronger, but I am healthier than ever before.
- Strength is important, even for endurance athletes
- Age is no reason to slow down and learning from others with more experience is vital
- Paleo-style nutrition can help alleviate many symptoms of disease and improve performance in ultra endurance athletes
- Everyone responds differently to intra-event nutrition so listening to your body is important
- Whole foods are a great option to fuel your runs
- Eating and hydrating properly before, after, and during an event is an important part of success
The Science Lab is what Mike (and Paul) calls the Private Forum which has over 2,500 hundred “Lab Rats” who are all working to gradually become the best version of themselves losing fat while performing at an extraordinary high level. One of the great benefits is that you get to talk to Mike (and the rest of the Eat To Perform team) directly.
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