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Fat Adapted: Running an Ultra on the Paleo Diet

I went Paleo in March of 2013. My body felt better, younger, more energetic than ever, but my endurance running suffered during the transition to becoming fat adapted.

27 days into the Whole30 Program, I ran a 50 miler but fell prey to terrible leg cramping

Three weeks after, I ran a tough, hilly 20 miler and felt strong all day. Six days later at Capon Valley 50K, I added nut butter, banana and dried apricots to my fueling regimen but ran out of gas and walked it in.

I kept tweaking my nutrition, but I couldn't seem to find a winning combination.
What was different? I'd ingested a bun-less burger during my 20 miler, perhaps protein was the key! 

In my final long-ish, hilly run before my big race, I ate a packet of VFuel (which contains protein). Since the run was a mere 3 hours, there wasn't time to take in much nutrition. Probably not a fair shake, but discouragingly, I sensed the onset of cramps in the final two miles.

Desperate to figure out a way to make my ultrarunning work without sugar, I recalled that Devon Yanko uses Vespa as her fuel. After some research, I decided to use Vespa Junior for my 70 miler. Having failed with my other concoctions, what did I have to lose?

According to the Vespa website, it helps the body utilize fat stores for energy, especially if your daily diet is Paleo/low carb. You still eat some carbohydrate during the run, but much less than you'd otherwise need. It also appealed to me because I could avoid consuming a lot of sugar.

I consumed one Vespa Junior 45 minutes before the race began, then one every three hours during the race. I waited an hour or so after taking the Vespa and then I ate a sweet potato baby food squeeze packet or a few bites of a LARABAR every 15 minutes for carbohydrates. I drank plain water, but in a departure from strict Whole30 protocol I nibbled on Nuun tablets for magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. I hoped this would stave off any leg cramps.

This plan worked beautifully for 63 miles, at which point my legs began to feel excruciating pain. So this was what ultrarunners Olga King and Larry King had experienced! I whimpered a bit in the final miles, glad that this was not a 100 miler.

I still count my race at Laurel Highlands 70 Miler as a fueling success. While I was sufficiently trained for the distance, I was certainly pushing the upper limits of my distance range. 

Hopefully, in my next ultra, I'll have the same success. I'll be sure to post about my results. For now, I'm enjoying all that summer has to offer.

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