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Author - IRun4Ultra

Marisa Lizak breaks out at Desert Solstice, with Camille Herron as coach

By Larry Carroll

Reports out of Arizona have Marisa Lizak breaking records at Desert Solstice, the annual elite-level ultrarunning track event in Phoenix. The news is particularly noteworthy because she is coached by Camille Herron – a Solstice juggernaut herself just last year.

“If you are not familiar with the name, Marisa Lizak, you will soon,” reports the Instagram page for the US National 24 Hour Running Team . “She quietly came to Desert Solstice Invitational Track Meet – 100 Miles & 24 Hours race and has run away with the fastest time for a 100 mile race in 2019.”

With her stunning under-15-hours time of 14:50:44, the Marina del Rey, California native broke the previous 100-mile run record of 15:32:31 set by Kaci Lickteig at the Javelina Jundred Endurance Run just two months ago. She then went after the World Record for 24 Hours, running a total of 148.08 miles to take the new American 40-44 AG record (besting Traci Falbo’s 147.11 in 2014). These numbers give her the 4th best women’s qualifying time for the 2021 World Championship, and also make a strong qualifying mark for the 24 Hour National Team.  

Just last year, Herron herself was the talk of Solstice “Desert Solstice 2018 Re-Cap“. She broke the Women’s World Record for 24 hours with a distance of 162.9 miles, and claimed the 100 mile American Track Record for Women with a time of 13:25:00. This past October, Herron re-asserted her dominance in Albi, France, winning the IAU 24-Hour World Championships, adding just under five additional miles to her record by covering 167.8 in 24 hours.   

“I may need @runcamille as my coach!” tweeted @Tracey_Outlaw, using the hashtag #runlikeagirl. “Her athlete, Marisa Lizak, just threw down at Desert Solstice. Massive number for 24 hours.”

The dominance of Herron and Lizak seems to be ushering in a new era of competitive track ultra-running, as records are seemingly rising and falling with each successive race. 

“Fangirling from afar for our athlete Marisa!” Herron tweeted mid-race, in support of her protégé. “She’s running great.” 

Herron then followed that up tweet after the race with clapping emojis and the celebratory boasts of a proud parent: “148.08 miles to win Desert Solstice overall and break the 40-44 age group American Record!!! Fantastic!”

Held annually on Central High School’s oval track measuring 400 meters, Desert Solstice is seen by many as an event orchestrated to optimize record-breaking potential – and once again, it lived up to its billing.

Lizak ran 595 laps and beat her own personal record by more than 11 miles over the course of 24 hours. “Overwhelming!” was the word she used to describe the experience to USA Ultrarunning , who tweeted a photo of her after the race recovering in a chair, staring down with head in hands. 

“I just can’t imagine what these runners go through, running for 24 straight hours,” tweeted Patrick Duggan, a sprinter in awe of Lizak’s achievement. 

Following behind Lizak was Rolfe Schmidt (Fayetteville, AR) with a distance of 145.80. Here’s the top finishers for each field in terms of 24-hour distance:

Women’s:

1. Marisa Lizak (Marina del Rey, CA) – 148.08 miles

2. Yvonne Naughton (La Conner, WA) – 117.81 miles

3. Adela Salt (Leduc, AB) – 116.13 miles

4. Sarah Emoto (Sierra Madre, CA) – 91.21 miles

5. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, IN) – 70.58 miles

6. Laurie Dymond (Chambersburg, PA) – 63.63 miles

7. Meghan Laws (Cool, CA) – 62.13 miles

8. Nicole Bitter (Phoenix, AZ) – 35.79 miles

Men’s: 

1. Rolfe Schmidt (Fayetteville, AR) – 145.80 miles

2. Oswaldo Lopez (Madera, CA) – 141.13 miles

3. Zachary Szablewski (Issaquah, WA) – 115.36 miles

4. Scott Traer (Lyons, CO) – 102.15 miles

5. Pete Kostelnick (Brunswick, OH) – 100.66 miles

6. Mark Hammond (Millcreek, UT) – 100.00 miles

7. James Elson (St Albans, GBR) – 100.00 miles

8. Jacob Moss (Ladson, SC) – 90.47 miles

9. David Huss (Seattle, WA) – 70.58 miles

10. Kyle Pietari (Edgewater, CO) – 68.60 miles

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Pristine Patagonia: Ready for its Racing Close-Up

By Larry Carroll

When an event bills itself as “the running experience of a lifetime,” you might be inclined to think it’s just hype. But when we’re talking about Patagonia – the sparsely-populated South American region shared by Chile and Argentina and boasting views of the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans – it’s anything but hyperbole.

In recent years, 3 groundbreaking (and endearingly unique) running events have been introduced in the extreme south, allowing athletes to compete amidst a backdrop unlike anywhere else in the world. The Ultra Fiord, Ultra Paine and Patagonian International Marathon each offer runners a chance to compete in various distances, across wide-ranging terrains and elevations. 

“Through these events, runners have the unique opportunity to experience running in Patagonia,” says race director Stjepan Pavicic. “By holding these races during the low season, not only does it help support the local tourism industry, but runners are also guaranteed greater access to accommodations, travel and other services, and all at a more affordable price.”

If you’re thinking about putting “the running experience of a lifetime” on your to-do list, which of these races is the one for you? Let’s take a closer look. 

The Patagonian International Marathon launched in 2012, marking the first time a road-running race was allowed in the Torres del Paine National Park – a majestic natural marvel between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes, encompassing lakes, mountains, glaciers and rivers. Featuring distances of 10K, 21K and 42K, it certainly offers a challenge to any runner, whether you’re a rookie or elite. Touting itself as the ultimate way to get up close to the breathtaking beauty of Chilean Patagonia, the event has grown exponentially over the last 8 years while attracting over 4000 runners from some 65 countries around the world.

Patagonia then upped the ante in 2014 with the introduction of Ultra Paine, which embraces runners of all levels in the region’s first trail running race. This is your chance to navigate stunning river crossings and forest climbs, in distances of 14K, 35K, 50K or 80K in one of the world’s most pristine running environments. 

In 2015, Ultra Fiord was introduced as Paine’s extreme younger brother. Encompassing high-mountain passes, glacier crossings and views of the fjords and mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, it has since gained a reputation as one of the most challenging trail running races around. 

With the calendar turning to 2020, the Patagonia triad of races is getting ready for their close-ups. Ultra Fiord (https://www.ultrafiord.com/) kicks things off on April 24 and 25, featuring everything from 21K, 42K, 50K, 60K and 80K to two-day races of 95K, 115K and 136K. The 9th Edition of the Patagonia International Marathon (10K, 21K and 42K) will take place on September 5 Patagonian International Marathon . Ultra Paine (14K, 35K, 50K and 80K) goes down just a few weeks later, on September 26. 

Ultra Paine is an Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc qualifying race, with different points being awarded for your chosen distance. Like the others, it is also quite active in conservation partnerships with the Chilean Patagonia, seeking to increase environmental awareness and tourism promotion. 

As for the Ultra Fiord, perhaps 2015’s 100-mile 2nd place finisher Enzo Ferrari said it best on his blog: “A tremendous, wild, tough, and strong race, suitable for those who truly are mentally strong and have a powerful heart,” he remembers of his time in Patagonia. “My goal was to finish, and, in the best case scenario, finish amongst the top 5. I had the opportunity of finishing second – not for being the fastest, the most trained, or the most capable, this was perseverance, toughness, mind, mind, and mind – convincing myself that there are no more limitations that one could put. Today, I am a person more prepared from what I went through.”

If you have a similar desire to develop your whole being through a transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experience, you might want to consider the Patagonia race most appropriate for your skills. It’s the rare opportunity to combine running, nature and travel – and if you love all 3, it’s hard to imagine a better gift combining fitness and adventure that you could give yourself heading into the new year. 

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Rocky Raccoon 50: Athletes Prepare to Run Their Own Race

By Larry Carroll

There’s a good reason why the image selected for the registration page of the Hoka One One Rocky Raccoon 50 Endurance Trail Run is a smiling athlete wearing a tutu. Rocky Raccoon has been growing exponentially over the last few years, driven by a culture that embraces the “no pressure” mindset, and runners are responding to that.

Wanna run a 50k? Prefer to run 50 miles? A half marathon, your first ultra, or a really fast 50? No pressure, the Texas-based event seems to say – you be you. 

Wanna put on your game face? Prefer to take the course with a smile and a silly hat? Again, you be you.

Online registration is now open for the February 8th 50 miles/50k/half-marathon options, which will almost definitely sell out as more and more athletes use it as a solid option to begin their new year. Set in the city of Huntsville (population: 38,000), the course promises challenging elevation changes, beautiful pine trees, cool bridges and some Texas wildlife.  

Rocky Raccoon 50

Founded in 2002, the Rocky Raccoon 50was amended to include the 50k option in 2016, but capped out at 500 runners max so it won’t lose its charm. 

One interesting thing about the Rocky Raccoon 50 is that both the men’s and women’s categories seem ripe for a record reset. The fastest men’s race was run by Todd Braje (5:43:08) in 2011, and women’s champion Melanie Fryar (6:59:40) set her record way back in 2010. Another interesting factor is that race times seem to be trending in the wrong direction: There hasn’t been anything close to 7 hours for women in the near-decade since Fryar set the record, and the last 3 Rocky 50s have been over 8 hours. For men, two winners came within a half-hour of Braje since 2011, but the last two Rocky 50 winners have taken well over 7 hours. 

Much of this fluctuation can be attributed to weather, trail changes and the occasional trail closing that requires adjustments. As the site says: “Please appreciate these records knowing they are not certified but are impressive.” Could this year’s Rocky start reversing the trend back down?

Another interesting note is that the Rocky Raccoon 50 often trends older than many races. Last year’s winners were 49 (Amy Ewing of Texas) and 46 (Chad Lasater, also of Texas); in 2018, Barb Delgado took the women’s title at age 50 – and in 2006, 51-year-old Larry Hall led the pack. Indeed, the 50 miler proudly maintains a database of the fastest runners per age – all the way from 14 (Matt Holdaway, 12:29:42 in 2011) to 79 (Grant Holdaway, 14:55:47 in 2011). An ultra-running family with grandfather/grandson record holders at both ends of the age spectrum – how cool is that?

Every finisher gets a cool commemorative medal, and as their website shows (TEJAS TRAILS AWARDS & FINISHER MEDALS), race organizer Tejas Trails takes great pride in creating unique, handmade medals for its races. Some can even double as bottle openers or wine stoppers. Also, in keeping with the “you be you” mentality surrounding Rocky Raccoon, Tejas loves giving special awards to standout performances – as the website explains: “Whether it be for someone who slowed down to help a straggler accomplish their goal, someone who we know went through the ringer to get their race done, whoever had the most crashes, or a mom who ran/picked flowers/caught bugs with their little daughter the whole 10km, who knows what…”

Rocky Raccoon 50

Helpers will often be greatly appreciated, as evidenced by this excellent blog ( Rocky Raccoon 50 Miler ) from 2018 runner “Iron Jill,” who chose Rocky Raccoon as the ideal trail run while she ramped up for bigger races. She dealt with a constant drizzle as the race began, followed by heavier rainshowers later in the day. 

“The hardest part was all the mud from the rains. And the course was pretty mucky from the 100 mile race the weekend before,” she writes. “And oh the roots! It should be called Rooty Raccoon!”

After only 1 mile, Jill landed in a deep puddle and soaked herself – and her other foot hit a root, rolling her ankle. At mile 9, the “Damnation” aid station brought relief for her rapidly-developing blisters thanks to a helpful aid. Later, she earned herself the nickname “Mud Butt,” falling into a massive mud puddle. By the end of the race, Jill had a raw big toe, a taped-up ankle, and was soaked in mud – but finished the race with a smile and the mantra: “I CAN do hard things!”

Keep your eye on this year’s Rocky Raccoon 50 to see similar stories of pain, trials and triumph. Ultimately, everyone has their own race to run – and it’s fun to see one event that proudly affords its athletes the opportunity to blaze their own trails. 

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Fourmidable 50K ready for another wet, wild race

By Larry Carroll

It is time once again for the Fourmidable 50K, for mud-splashed legs, hunched-over uphill climbs, hugs of camaraderie and muscles stretched to their very limits. 

Known far and wide as one of the most challenging 50K races out there, Fourmidable gets its name from the four most substantial climbs along its course. Fresh out of the gate, runners must descend down to the American River, then climb back via punishing Cardiac Hill. Around five miles in, the field runs across No Hands Bridge and climbs up Training Hill towards Knickerbocker Canyon – then descends to the river again. Now having successfully danced along with the river and traversed it, runners climb a series of switchbacks to the Knickerbocker Aid Station. It all finishes up by following the Western States trail towards the No Hands Aid Station, heading uphill once again to the finish line.

With less than a mile of road at any given point, the event offers over 6000 accumulative climbing feet over the course of its completion – so yeah, it’s a pretty decent workout. The 2019 installment (Fourmidable 50K 2019) featured intermittent rain, substantial mud puddles and a raw morning push-off, so don’t be surprised if the weather wants to once again complicate matters – following on the heels of rain season in California, the 2017 Fourmidable was even muddier.

In case you can’t tell from the description, the Fourmidable is … well, quite formidable. As such, it is a selection race for the U.S. Trail Team, and an official qualifying race for the coveted Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in the French Alps. 

This year’s Fourmidable will take place February 15 and 16 – appropriate, since it’s likely to break the hearts of more than a few competitors who can’t quite conquer it. Held in Auburn, California’s gorgeously intimidating Overlook Park, the event will be accompanied by a 35K, a half marathon and a 13K as well. 

The 2020 race offers a unique cash incentive to those brave enough to strap on their running shoes. Both the male and female categories have set aside $100 for fifth place, $200 for fourth, $500 for third, $700 for second and a cool $1000 for their first place finishers. 

To further sweeten the pot, anybody who breaks the current course record for either gender gets an extra $500 awarded to them. Currently, these records are held by Max King (3:32:36 in 2017) and Stephanie Howe Violett (4:10:16 in 2018). Since both of these records were set fairly recently, who knows? Perhaps the Fourmidable organizers could be shelling out some substantial coin come February.

As long as you finish the race, this much is certain: You’ll receive a cool finisher’s award to memorialize your run, and show off to your jealous friends. Depending on your age, you could also qualify for an age group award presented to the top finisher 19 years and under, 70 and older, and each decade in-between. 

Last year’s Fourmidable was won by Tim Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes, CA. He came within 11 minutes of the course record, followed closely behind by Sam Sahli (Boulder, CO), Evan Williams (Seattle, WA), David Kilgore (New York, NY) and Ryan Ghelfi (Ashland, OR). On the women’s side, Daniella Moreno of Santa Barbara, CA finished just barely 2 minutes behind the record, followed by Rachel Drake (Portland, OR), Chessa Adsit-Morris (Santa Cruz, CA), Corey Conner (Longmont, CO) and Emily Richards (Reno, NV).

As difficult as Fourmidable can be, perhaps the best advice can be extratcted from Andrew Taylor, an athlete who blogged (FOURmidable Wet and Muddy Race Report) about his wet, physically-demanding 2017 Fourmidable experience. When you see a puddle, he says, just go for it:

“The run across No Hands Bridge featured a large puddle that was un-escapable. I charged right down the middle of it, soaking my feet for the first time of the day. As I hit the far end of the puddle, I jumped up in the air and came splashing down to cheers of the aid station workers and a few spectators. After all, it’s not fun to be out here, if you’re not having fun as well.”

The bottom line? Lace your sneakers uptight, find the right balance of pushing and pacing yourself, but don’t ever be too grown up to make a splash every now and then. After all, one of the great things about running is that it makes you feel so alive – so, live it up out there.

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Western States 100 Lottery

By Larry Carroll

Its history dates all the way back to the Native Americans; the first runner to successfully conquer it did so in 1974. By 1977, the Western States Endurance Run was official – and the first installment featured 14 men who were monitored at “veterinary stops” intended for horses. These days, the Endurance Run follows the middle part of the beloved Western States Trail, and is considered one of the most arduous organized running events in all of America.

And if you want to be a part of this epic history, the time is now, fill out your information online. But before you do, a few notes: You must be able to submit the results of a qualifying run whose results are available online – if your qualifier is deemed invalid, your application will be rejected. 

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to sit back and hope. On Saturday, December 7th, entrants will be selected via lottery system. All results will be posted on the WS website, and a fee charged to those folks. If your name isn’t announced on December 7, don’t despair: You may also be selected as one of the 50 applicants whose names will be placed on the ordered wait list, which would then be used to fill in for drop-outs, etc.

Of course, there are two other groups of people who will also get to strap on their running shoes. First are runners wishing to exercise their one-time lottery bye, a unique luxury the race affords those who have accrued lottery tickets but had an “unexpected life event” interfere. If you haven’t already used it, a one-time lottery bye will get you past the lottery – just be sure to declare your intention to use it during the application period.

Second are automatic entrants. These are folks who have qualified for special consideration, typically based on past achievements. They include the top 10 male and female runners from last year’s race, winners of the Golden Ticket Races (such as the Hoka One One Bandera), elite athletes in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, members of the Board of Trustees and more. Perhaps the most endearing one might be the “Silver Legend Entry,” created in the memory of longtime WS Race Director Greg Sunderlund and awarded to one qualifying runner who will be 60 years old or older on race day.

What can all these entrants expect, come race day? Assembling in Squaw Valley, California next June 27, they will begin the day at 5am with a few hundred of their closest friends. Any runner hoping to be eligible for an award has to reach the finish line in Auburn, California by 10:59:59 am the next day. 

From Squaw Valley, the trail ascends 2550 vertical feet – and that’s just the first four-and-a-half miles. After that, runners follow the original trails used by gold and silver miners in the 1850s, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn. Running predominantly through rough and remote territory, runners are encouraged to bring two LED flashlights – and are encouraged not to try and find their way in the dark should they fail.

In case of emergency, much of the trail territory is only available via foot, horse or helicopter. At 78 miles, runners will come to the American River, where a guide rope (or in high-water years, a river raft) will help them get across. A message on the event’s official website reads: “The remoteness of the trail can lead to disaster for anyone not experienced in the backwoods.” So, as you can see, this race in not for the faint of heart.

If you still want to try and take your turn at the next Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, now is the time to jump in on the lottery. As 3-time Western States champion Jim King said: “There are three types of runners at Western States: The Survivors, The Runners and the Racers.” Which will you be?

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World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina promise sights, sounds and sweat

By Larry Carroll

The eighth-largest country in the world, Argentina is home to 44 million people. Since 2003, it has also been home to the K42 Adventure Marathon – and in 2019 will play host to the World Mountain Running Championships. 

If you want to get an idea of how seriously the residents of Patagonia take the Salomon K42, check out this video “Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon anfitriona del Mundial de Montaña 2019“. While hyping up the 2019 installment, footage is shown of deep blue waters and pristine mountains – as well as blinding snow and hellacious downslopes. “Do you want to show who you are?” the clip teases as if daring participants to sign up. “Do you want to honor your country, your people?”

Of course you do. The only problem is, so do athletes from Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and too many other homelands to count. So the end result is an annual race that has dozens upon dozens of runners out of the starting gate, but precious few at the finish line. 

This year’s festivities take place November 12-17, with a flower ceremony in beautiful San Martin Square awaiting those who earn medals. Organizers are expecting some 2000 runners (a substantial increase over the 345 they attracted in their 2003 inaugural race), with about 60 percent running the 42km and the rest selecting the shorter but no less important 15km. 

 “You will travel to the bottom of South America, to walk in the footprints that the greatest athletes of the world have already left,” touts the video, showing clips of entrants splashing across streams and hesitantly navigating steep terrain. “A footprint that knows about sufferings and feats. A footprint that will remain in history.”

Sure enough, over the years such elite runners as Kilian Jornet, Miguel Heras, Luis Alberto Hernando, Oihana Kortazar and Zaid Ait Malek have left their footprint in Argentina. Perhaps the most beloved K42 athlete (locally speaking, at least) is Cristian Mohamed from Mendoza, Argentina – who won the 2009 and 2011 K42 Adventure Marathons, then returned for last year’s edition to triumphantly take the title back to its country of origin (after six years of foreign winners including Heras, Francisco Pino and Marco de Gasperi). 

“I ran the first six kilometers with the Italian,” Mohamed said after the race of Bernard Dematteis, another K42 favorite. “But it was going at a pace that we would not be able to sustain. I knew that the race begins in the climb to Bayo, in the Raizal and I took care until there.”

Echoing that sentiment was 2018 women’s champion Ragna Debats, a formidable Spanish Dutch runner who similarly conserved her energy for the latter part of the race. “It’s a very demanding race,” she said of the K42. “[I had to be] conservative because I knew that the second part was demanding.”

So, what can this year’s runners expect? A good road map is provided by Sarah Lavender Smith, a long-distance runner, mom and author who wrote extensively about her 2009 run on her blog “An Adventure Marathon” in Argentina’s Lake District Lives Up to the Hype“, calling it “epic” and “unforgettable.”

“The Salomon K42 calls itself an ‘Adventure Marathon,’ but I didn’t expect its course or my experience on it to go to such extremes,” she writes, citing her marathon resume. “Suffice to say I was reminded that it’s best to expect the unexpected and prepare for any and everything that the course might deliver.”

While fondly describing “that magical, crazy day when I traversed a peak in the Andes overlooking lakes and ski towns,” Smith bluntly recalls the dangers of mountain running.

“I was grasping at branches of shrubs that lined a narrow chute of mud and snow on a stretch of trail that seemed as steep and slippery as a wet playground slide,” she recalls. “At one point I had to scramble to the side to avoid being toppled by a guy who lost his grip and came skidding butt-first toward me.”

Beginning in the town, racers are given a powerful push-off via shouts of encouragement from the supportive community. Within moments, however, the Patagonian primeval forest blankets participants in near silence – broken only, no doubt, by the rhythm of their breathing. After a loop of going up and down throughout the forest, on single trails that seem to weave between untouched natural beauty, runners begin making their way up to the base of Cerro Bayo ski station – the point where the contenders are often separated from the pretenders.

Check points offer food and drink, while icy rivers reward those who splash through them with enough cold water to revitalize the legs. Then comes the vertical path named RAIZAL II, as forest turns to snow and the threats evolve along with it. At some point, you view La Angostura down below, then begin the downhill descent, back into the forest and through curves and countercurves that would offer a fun rollercoaster ride – if your muscles weren’t on fire by this point. It all ends back in the town, with cheers on the main avenue.

Who will survive this year to see that celebration? Who will enjoy the hot stew and celebratory party with a medal on their chest? Once again, the time has come for the hype to fade away – and the athletes to start moving their feet. 

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Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them

By Larry Carroll

When you’re an elite athlete, the only thing that approaches your workout in terms of importance is what you put into your body. Like any human being, food nourishes, sustains and on some occasions delights you. But more so than most people, you depend on food to build muscle, stave off injury and allow you to perform at peak capacity. 

More and more these days, athletes are coming forward with revelations of embracing a plant-based lifestyle. And with many of them, it’s hard to argue that any other sort of diet could make them better at their respective sports: tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, Olympian weightlifter (and holder of the U.S. record in the clean and jerk) Kendrick Farris, NBA all-star Kyrie Irving, world champion surfer Tia Blanco and more. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

Then there’s Scott Jurek. Considered one of the greatest runners of all time, the 46-year-old Minnesota native has won the Hardrock Hundred, the Badwater (twice), the Western States 100 (7 straight years) and more – and has been on a plant-based diet since 1999. In 2012, Jurek published “Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultra-Marathon Greatness,” an autobiography which concludes each chapter with one of his favorite vegan recipes.

Anecdotally speaking, athletes quickly notice a difference in their bodies after switching over to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle – and most of what they notice appears to be good. 

“I wasn’t feeling as inflamed, creaky or sore, or just kind of blah in the morning,” Olympic medal cyclist Dotsie Bausch told US News recently (Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets), looking back on her switch. “I was bouncing out of bed – I felt ready to go. I was more energized.” 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“I think it’s a great lifestyle for long-term stability,” Venus Williams, who credits veganism with overcoming the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, told Shape magazine ( A Venus Williams Interview That’s Not About Tennis ). “You also have to look at everything else in your regimen, what you’re putting into your body, like supplements. I’m always learning and I’m hoping to perfect my system.”

Accordingly, Venus made headlines earlier this year (Venus Williams said her raw vegan diet was unsustainable, so she now eats potatoes and lentils too) when she revealed that her raw food-diet aspirations had proven difficult to sustain over long periods of time, leading to an amended diet that includes such foods as  potatoes, rice and lentils. “Sometimes you just need something more substantial — some rice, some potatoes — after a workout,” she reasoned. 

According to a series of studies published in the journal Nutrients ( Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports )

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection. In addition, plant-based diets may offer performance advantages. They have consistently been shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition. Because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they foster effective glycogen storage. By reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility and endothelial function, they may be expected to improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes.” 

Bausch, for her part, certainly agrees with the recovery advantages. “When you recover faster, you can handle more load … You can handle more damage, more training. The more training you can do, the faster you’re going to become. People can’t train 24 hours a day, because you have to recover. So if you recover fast, you can train again.”

So, where do you start? According to “Forks Over Knives” ( Top Tips for Plant-Based Athletes ), you need to train yourself much like in athletics – but to avoid all animal products, processed foods, oils and refined carbohydrates. Many athletes worry about where they’ll get their protein, but the human body only requires 5 to 10 percent of its caloric intake to be protein, so simply maintaining adequate caloric intake will often satisfy that need. You’re also likely to get all your essential amino acids. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

In a gradual manner, a plant-based athlete needs to transition to a diet of calorically-dense whole plant foods, starchy vegetables and fruits for fuel. Rather than large meals, it is wiser to eat many smaller ones per day. It’s also crucial to keep close tabs on weight, looking to the Harris-Benedict calculator “Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) online (Harris Benedict Equation) ” to determine caloric needs and  BMR (basal metabolic rate). 

Naturally, you want to consult with your physician before embracing any radical change to your diet. But the keyword here is exactly that: naturally. Athletes who embrace the plant-based lifestyle and are able to make it work to report all kinds of benefits from putting all-natural foods into their bodies. Ultimately, it’s a matter of having an open mind, a compliant palate, and training appropriately. 

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2019 Big Dog Backyard

2019 Big Dog Backyard preview: ‘This is a race to the death’

By Larry Carroll

Typically, when you discuss a sporting event, you marvel over the feats of the athletes. Somehow, they might manage to accomplish the impossible, do something no one has ever done, create a physical expression on par with a masterful painting, poem or novel. In their own way, through endurance, imagination, and talent, they craft a masterpiece.

But when you’re discussing Big Backyard Ultra, the praise must first be heaped upon the race’s designer. Sure, massive props must be given to anyone who actually wins this punishing, annual test of the human capacity for pain in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. But much like when you consider the complex machinations of baseball (9 innings, 27 outs, no clock) or football (two-point conversion or field goal?), you begin to realize that the creation of the sporting event itself is a true thing of beauty.

And so, it is with that knowledge that we can call Gary Cantrell, a.k.a. Lazarus “Laz” Lake the Picasso of pain. And in the note establishing this year’s ground rules, he seems to take particular, defiant pride in his achievement.

“The Backyard Ultra is back for 2019,” he says of the October 19 race, in a page on UltraSignup whose “Align Left” format evokes a kind of cruel haiku. “The concept is simple.”

2019 Big Dog Backyard

So simple, in fact, that it almost feels like a trap from a “Saw” movie. In short, you run. And then you run again and again. And as long as others keep running, you must do the same. The last person running wins the race, everybody else loses. If no one runs one last lap after second-place gives up, guess what? Everybody loses.

It is that distinctive framework that instills such a love/hate relationship with the participants. 

“Have you ever thought that you could not be beaten, if only the faster runners were unable to run away and leave you?” the posting explains, teasing you with the allure of this one-of-a-kind race. “This is your chance to find out. Every surviving runner will be tied for the lead, every hour.”

2019 Big Dog Backyard

Ultimately, every hour is a chance to start anew. At 6:40 on Saturday, October 19 the race will begin, with all participants running around a 4.166667-mile trail in Laz’s backyard. If you don’t finish near the top of the pack, no worries, all you need to do is cross the finish line within an hour. Sure, some might finish with more time to spare – and they get to do whatever they like with that time for recovery – but at 7:40, the madness starts all over again, and you are once again revitalized (or perhaps, cruelly teased) by the notion of being right back in first place with everyone else.

At that point, Big Dog participants become Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” – repeating the same events, in the same spaces, against the same people, time and time again. Each time, it all becomes a little less fun, a little more repetitive, a little more like a punishment. There is no certain point where it will end, and it will inevitably come down to a battle of wills as the final two competitors wearily eyeball each other in a “can we please just end this?” game of chicken.

For that and so many other reasons, this is a race unlike any other. “Brats and chili will be served beginning at 1500 hours and continuing until the finish. Rumor has it, there will be moonshine testing lessons around the campfire,” the site reads as if to underline that point in red ink.

In 2017, Guillaume Calmettes and Harvey Lewis dueled to the point of exhaustion, with Calmettes (listed as a returning participant for 2019) running a total of 245.835 miles in 59 hours. Last year, Johan Steene and Courtney Dauwalter battled for 66 laps before Dauwalter finished their 67th showdown with her slowest lap in three days (53:26); smelling blood in the water, Steene came out for lap 68 and rather than discovering a competitor, he found Dauwalter’s hand extended in capitulated congratulations. 

2019 Big Dog Backyard

Expressing the same sentiment as the Big Dog Backyard description, Steene freely admits that had the race been a traditional one, he would have lost. “If there had been a predestined finish line at Big’s Backyard, my money would have been on Courtney to win, she would beat me at any such race and distance,” he told Trail Runner. “But at the Backyard, you draw your own lines.”

As the race’s description reads: “The Big Backyard will continue until but one man is left standing…no matter how long it takes. This is a race to the death…”

Steene’s grand total was 283.335 miles. The general sense among Big Dog observers is that a 300 mile/72 hour race is going to happen soon. Steene has predicted that someone will do 85 laps soon. Calmettes, meanwhile, has been quoted as saying that it would be “cool” to cross the 100 hours mark. Could this be the year any of those milestones finally fall? 

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World Championships

Preview: Camille Herron, Courtney Dauwalter lead the pack for 24 Hour World Championships

By Larry Carroll

It’s no secret that ultra-running has been growing in popularity for some time now, so in some ways, it seems only natural that interest in the sport would splinter off into other subsections under the ultra-running umbrella. Of course, races like the Iditarod and the Big Backyard Ultra proudly take the concept of a long-distance race, break it down and flip it on its head. Then there’s another rapidly-growing obsession, fueled by some recent record-setting efforts: The 24-hour race.

This past December, 36-year-old Camille Herron ran around a high school track in Phoenix, Arizona as many times as possible for 24 consecutive hours – finishing after 162.9 miles and establishing a new world record by about two miles. Less than a year later, Zach Bitter took to an indoor track in Milwaukee to make history, setting the world record by running 104.8 miles in 12 hours – almost as an afterthought following his obliteration of the fastest 100-mile run record. 

Although many athletes have been proudly running in circles for years, there suddenly seems to be renewed interest in such offshoots of ultra-marathoning. It makes a lot of sense, then that the upcoming 2019 IAU 24 Hour World Championships is boasting increased numbers – and participation from folks like Courtney Dauwalter and Herron.

World Championships

“Based on provided data we are expecting to have 363 athletes from 45 countries (38 for women and 44 for men),” the International Association of Ultra-runners says in a statement dated September 27. “This is a 26% improvement comparing to the last Championship in Belfast in 2017. With respect to individual distribution, it will be 153 women and 210 men. It is another improvement comparing to the last Championships of almost 19% and over 32% respectively.”

Set for October 26-27, this year’s 24 Hour World Championships will take place in Albi, France. It is one of the IAU’s four main world championship events (along with the 100km World Championships, the Trail World Championships, and the 50km World Championships) and the only one based on a time format rather than distance. Currently, the event’s standing records belong to USA’s Michael Morton (277.543 kilometers, in 2012) and Japan’s Mami Kudo (252.205 kilometers in 2013).  

World Championships

Episcopal city and birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi has a population that hovers around 50,000 and a humid subtropical climate. Operating as the world governing body of ultra-running, the IAU regulates and sanctions ultra-marathon championships and tracks records.

Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them tracking some new ones later this month. For starters, Camille Heron will be working to improve the incredible pace of 8:03/mile that she maintained in December when she set her records (she also captured the women’s world record for running 100 miles on a track). 

“I’m coming from a marathon background, so I know it’s hard to wrap your head around running 100K, and then 100 miles, and than 24 hours,” Herron, who ate a Taco Bell Double-decker taco and a beer at 2 am in the middle of her record-setting performance, told OutsideHow Camille Herron Set a 24-Hour Running Record“. “I really had to work with my husband and coach, Conor, to think about what I might experience while running through the night and dealing with sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and nutritional needs. There are all these things you have to deal with on top of the actual running part. It’s more about your mind than your legs. It’s trying to will the legs to keep turning over through sleep deprivation. My legs just started getting really stiff and I was doing wind sprints just to try and keep my legs turning over.”

World Championships

Although she may be the record holder, Herron will be competing with more than just herself in Albi. Courtney Dauwalter continues to cement a career of near-legendary proportions, having recently won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2018, she finished 2nd overall in the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra and also broke the women’s course record for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Dauwalter is perhaps best known, however, for her breakthrough performance in the Moab 240 race – her 2 days, 9 hours and 59 minutes were faster than any man in the pack and she finished more than 10 hours in front of the second-place finisher. 

Unfortunately, Zach Bitter will not be participating – but since she holds the record for a fastest 24-hour race among both men and women, any of the other 362 athletes hoping to dethrone Herron will be able to challenge her (and, perhaps, take a few notes) in person.

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Blood Testing

Blood Testing: Is it the path to peak performance?

By Larry Carroll

For the most part, runners have become accustomed to certain measuring tools for assessing their training and overall health. Some rely on the latest technology (heart-rate trackers, post-run stats), others on old-fashioned observations (pulse, dehydration), but in this sport, everyone is always looking for that next great advantage.

Which is where direct-to-consumer blood testing comes in. The industry claims that our blood contains vital information we cannot attain elsewhere, which can lead to diagnostics that will keep us operating smoothly and effectively, as an electronic device or automobile; critics point out that results are often misinterpreted, that you may be opening yourself up to privacy concerns, or that claims of accessibility and ease could be Theranos-like missions of misinformation.

Blood Testing

What’s the truth? Below, we examine some facts and fiction about the blood test movement – and the possible advantages of do-it-yourself blood analyses. 

Is the price right?

Testing your own blood while bypassing a physician or healthcare practitioner is a rapidly growing business. Companies like LabCorp, Health Testing Centers and Walk-In Lab offer easy-to-use tests, typically with online result delivery. With prices typically ranging from $99 to $1000, the question then becomes a more complex one: What are you screening for?

The services you need

Blood testing companies typically offer to screen you for everything from allergies and cancers to diabetes and STDs. If you’re a healthy athlete, many would be an unnecessary expense; if you have a history of iron-deficiency anemia, low hormone levels or other afflictions, testing might be more helpful. While some athletes are driven to blood testing because of symptoms – sluggishness, underperformance, etc – others see it as a preventative measure. Clearly, if you have significant deficiencies in zinc, vitamin D or magnesium, it’s better to know and adjust your diet than pushing harder in your workouts and potentially compounding your problems.

Blood Testing

What are the benefits?

Over at Simplifaster 7 Reasons to Blood Test Athletes “, Track and Field coach/sport technologist Carl Valle recommends quarterly blood testing, calling it “one of my top three metrics for athletic development.” He then explains how analysis of a person’s bloodstream measures biomarkers represent long patterns over time, revealing “cold and direct” truths about such things as vitamin D levels (which he says are easy to work with) and hormone levels (which must be approached more cautiously). 

“Blood testing helps coaches elicit performance when athletes are free of such barriers as nutrient deficiencies and problems away from the track or field,” he says. “A clean bill of health and perfect scores on blood tests do not guarantee an athlete will reach the podium or win a championship, but it does rule out wellness as a limiting factor.”

Also worth considering is Valle’s assertion that since information is power, many athletes will use its acquisition as motivation to further push, nourish and rest their bodies – and the results are often beneficial. However, this also marks the point where certain substances could be labeled as “performance-enhancing” and get an athlete in trouble – so proceed with caution.  

Misreading the results

Although many of these companies present their findings in easy, user-friendly readouts, to many physicians and lab technicians the thought of a layman interpreting their own lab results is nothing short of horrifying. Then there are studies like this one “Assessing the utility of yearly pre-season laboratory screening for athletes on a major professional sports team.” on healthy professional athletes, which found that 10.1% of initial screening lab results were abnormal, leading to 40.3% receiving additional testing, but only .35% leading to a change that resulted in a significant positive outcome. In short, only one out of every 300 abnormal blood tests in a healthy athlete leads to anything more than additional testing, additional money and increased worry. 

Blood Testing

Reading the symptoms

Ultimately, much of this stuff is simple common sense. If you’re not feeling well, dial back your exercise regimen and discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider who may or may not recommend a blood test. If you are feeling well, then you most likely have little to gain from a blood test – striving for perfection in every metric, or overcompensating for a certain shortcoming by taking vitamins and mineral supplements beyond their daily recommended allowance, is a slippery slope. 

Proceed with caution

With the above in mind, it seems clear that anyone seeking to cut doctors out of the diagnostic process should proceed with extreme caution and skepticism. False positives are a very real concern with any blood test, and if you are interpreting them without professional help you could end up impeding your physical regimen via paranoia and unnecessary response measures. The sweet spot for those looking to test their own blood is to look over any possible concerns while accompanied by a trained physician or specialist, and then proceeding accordingly. 

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