I was also a huge user of sugary energy gels during my races, long runs, and tempo runs. I was always told I needed to replace the glycogen storage being burned during intense exercise. It seemed every race my stomach would get upset and I couldn’t eat any more gels and I always crashed toward the end of the race. I thought that I just had a bad stomach and needed to train my gut to handle these gels.
I started doing trail racing exclusively in 2016. I ran a few 50ks that year and my first 100k (Waldo.) However, every race I would vomit at least once, and had a hard time eating anything after getting sick. It made racing a struggle and I thought I just wasn’t meant for ultramarathons. At the end of the year, I jumped in Elk-Kings 25k. My mileage had dropped off after Waldo and I wasn’t in great shape, but I didn’t think a 25k should be a problem. Was I wrong! It’s a very tough 25k, but the nausea was really what made me struggle. I must have puked at least 10 times. I walked most of the last half and barely made it to the finish.
Like a lot of distance runners, I thought I could eat whatever my appetite asked for as long as I could run it off. When I was a road runner, I usually trained for a marathon late in the year (Portland Marathon is in October.) Once I ran the race, I lowered my miles during the holidays and gained 15-20 lbs. from the holiday candy and lack of a caloric burn. I would start to ramp up my miles and the weight would eventually fall off.
I had picked up some weight after Waldo in 2016 and thought the pounds would drop off when I picked up miles again. It wasn’t happening this year. I had heard about the high-fat/low-carb from a few podcasts I had listened to and looked into it a bit more. By March of 2017, I decided to give it a try.
The first three weeks were tough. I kept carbs to almost zero. I didn’t realize how addicted to sugar I was. Also, the runs really sucked. I had no energy to run anything but slow. I then went to hear Jeff Browning at Evolution Fitness talk about how he became fat-adapted from the same type of diet. It gave me the confidence that this could work and I decided to stick with it.
Soon the pounds started dropping off and it became a little easier to walk by a donut without having the craving to stuff it down. I started adding vegetables to my diet and eventually moved on to fruit. I had a beer every once in a while.
In May, I ran Smith Rock 50k. I ran Smith Rock the year before and started vomiting about 2 miles from the finish and finished at 6:15. I was really hoping I was fat-adapted by now and this race would go much better. It did. I felt great the whole way and finished really strong. I did puke, but not until after the race. Even better, I improved my time by 40 minutes and finished at 5:35.
Since then, I’ve kept with the high-fat/low-carb nutrition plan. I don’t count carbs or calories, I basically just stay away from sugar, bread, pasta, and white rice. I gave myself beer as the one vice to live with. I don’t think of this as a nutrition plan anymore, but a lifestyle.
My weight is now the lowest its been since I was in high school, the race day vomits have stopped, and even as I close in on my 50th birthday, I continue to get better at races. I still have to figure out how to add carbs for races longer than 50k, but I’m confident I can do it.
For those interested in learning more, I recommend a couple books; The Big Fat Surprise and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.
Read our article about how Jeff Browning has used the high-fat/low-carb plan to win Hard Rock and other races and also Chris Albright’s rise from the back to toward the front of the pack and ultra races with his ketogenic diet plan for more inspiration.