Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Another Diet "Experiment"....

Image result for keto diet

It has been way too long, I just haven't felt inspired to write lately, but I have had a ton of questions about my latest nutritional journey so......

One of the rules I have tried to always adhere to in our fitness business is to never, ever promote a product, service, diet, equipment, etc. without personally trying it first.  I find that this allows me to promote from a strong place of integrity and understanding of the benefits and/or pitfalls of the product, diet, etc. 

Of course, I am fully aware that this is NOT valid way to test something in a pure experimental form -- this "n of 1" is simply anecdotal but it helps me feel much better about selling or promoting something having tried it myself.

One of the main places I do this is with diet programs.  At this point in my life I have tried almost every diet on the market (except completely non-science based and, quite frankly, stupid diets like "The Lemonade Diet").  I also do my best to try the diet for a long enough period to experience the most benefit, or lack of benefit, from the plan.  The exception here would be the 100% Vegan diet which I only did for 21 days -- I felt so terrible I just couldn't continue for longer than 3 weeks.  I am sure it is a good plan and works for some people but I am definitely not one of those!

So, the latest: The Ketogenic Diet.  (or simpler: Low Carb / High Fat - LCHF diet). This diet has actually been around since the 1920's, as research has shown that it is one of the only effective interventions for drug-resistant Epilepsy seizures.   It has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, especially in my sport (ultra running) as some top athletes have seen great success with it.  This is actually what attracted me to this plan -- I was looking for a way to get off the "sugar train" that I tend to get on in races longer than 2 hours -- causing a roller coaster of energy and mood and horrible nausea in longer, especially hot weather, races. 

To step back a bit, in September of 2016 I had adopted an "anti inflammatory" nutritional plan, virtually eliminating all the major food groups responsible for inflammation:  Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Alcohol and Simple Sugar.  I saw some AMAZING results, mostly in joint pain reduction (almost immediately) on this plan so I have stayed on it about 80% of the time since then. 

There is a TON of strong research on the Ketogenic diet so I won't go into all of that here, I want to focus more on my results and experience

Here is a good place to start if you are a research and data geek like me....


Basically, to explain the macro breakdown in the simplest way possible; think of the Atkins Diet but with moderate protein.  On this plan you derive 80% of your daily calories from fat (you read that right), about 15% from protein and 5% from carbs. 

Yep, pretty different huh?

For most people (it doesn't work for everyone btw, researchers haven't figured out why) this forces your body to go into a state of "nutritional Ketosis" (NOT dangerous Keto acidosis that can occur with Diabetes) , switching from using glucose and glycogen (stored sugar) for fuel to using dietary and body fat for fuel.  Just from a "gas tank" view, this was very intriguing to me: Most people have enough stored glycogen to run about 20 miles without refueling (about 2000 calories - some elite endurance athletes can bump this up to 2500-3000 calories).  At my level of body fat I have approximately 91,000 stored calories in fat -- enough to run 900+ miles on just water (if I could teach my body to become "fat adapted" and use body fat for fuel more than sugar)!!!!  I could run to Miami only stopping for water and the occasional electrolyte supplement :-)

I did a TON of research on this before I started this plan, both anecdotal from athletes and true research studies.  There is some really strong research coming out on Ketones being "neuro-protective" (protecting against brain disorders - Alzheimer's, MS, Dementia, etc), helping prevent and possibly reduce size of cancer tumors, improved mental cognition and memory, reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms, energy and mood improvement, reduction in inflammation, reduction in triglycerides, and many more benefits!  One benefit, believe it or not with all the dietary fat, is an improvement in Lipid profiles -- increase in HDL Cholesterol, improvement in LDL (small to large) ratio, etc.

I did initial blood work to get my baseline, then I ate Ippolitos as my "last meal" :-)

Armed with all this research I did the diet 100% for 4 weeks.

Since then I have been on it 6 days a week, giving myself one "cheat day" to have some fun with foods that I was missing.

What do I eat?

One of the downsides, unless you are a professional cook, is the type of foods you can eat are pretty limited, luckily I don't mind eating without a ton of variety!


"Keto Coffee" - I have this every day. (you have probably heard of "bullet proof coffee" pretty much a homemade version of this) - this is my favorite part of this diet!:

(I am not trying to drop weight so I don't measure very accurately, mostly estimates)

- Grass Fed butter
- MCT (coconut) oil
- Heavy whipping cream
- Splenda for taste
- Coffee
(blended, it sounds weird but it is actually delicious - think of a full fat, frothy cappuccino).  This is about 600-800 calories of 90% fat so normally keeps me full all morning. 

If I am training hard I eat a 2nd breakfast.  Normally a 4-6 egg omelets or fried eggs cooked in grassfed butter and MCT oil with cheese.  Maybe a side of grass fed, no nitrate bacon.  I eat a ton of bacon - yum!  Normally a side of tomato, or avacado for a small amount of carbs.

Lunch: usually don't need it as I am so full from morning meals.


Some type of high fat meat or fish (very careful to choose organic, wild caught, grass fed, no additives, hormones, nitrates, etc.) Cooked in, well, you guessed it.  Large salad if I haven't eating my allotment of carbs yet.  There are also frozen, organic "riced" veggies that are great (with butter and coconut oil of course).


- Pork rinds (Whole foods has grass fed, clean pork version)
- cheese
- berries (small amount) mixed with Heavy Cream and Splenda
- Macadamia nuts
- Almonds
- Bacon
- Avocados (not enough)


First week:

All of my research prepared me for a rough first week, as your body depletes its stored Glycogen and switches over to using Ketones for fuel there tends to be a rough (3 days up to as long as two weeks- affectionately known as the "Keto Flu") transition period.  I didn't experience much of this, probably because I fasted for 24 hours at the start -- this helps jump-start the process a ton (Intermittent Fasting is a topic for another Blog for sure).  I was a little tired and out of it day 2 and 3 then I was fine.

After first week, what did I notice?

Negative effects

* Cramps (some pretty terrible in the middle of the night), supplementing with electrolytes, specifically Magnesium, helps a ton with this. Drink LOTS of water!  When you cut out carbs, you automatically drop a ton of stored (excess) body water and electrolytes. 
* Heartburn -- from digesting so much dietary fat.  Digestive enzymes alleviated this.
* Constipation - easily fixed with added fiber, more water and small amount of veggies and berries.  Back to "normal" after about 4 weeks on plan.  MCT oil in your coffee helps move things along as well.  TMI?

Yep, that was it for me in terms of negative effects!

Positive effects

* First and foremost, a PROFOUND reduction in stress and anxiety! I have dealt with some level of general anxiety my whole life and have tried many, many different things to improve the symptoms.  Nothing, and I mean nothing - including powerful prescription SSRI's - comes close to the effect of being on this diet - I am as calm as I am when on vacation, even calmer, 90% of my day! 
* Virtually no hunger, I find I can have my morning "keto coffee" and some fat based snacks during the day (Macadamia nuts) and not eat again until dinner and be fine.  Even when you do get hungry, it is a completely different sensation than when you are on a high carb diet.  When I am eating a lot of carbs, low blood sugar can cause a "need food NOW" emergency.  On Keto, you are aware of the hunger sensation, but it really is not that important or pressing. I actually forget to eat sometimes!
* Weight and body fat loss.  I didn't do this plan to change my body comp (so I am not operating at a caloric deficit on purpose -- it probably happened organically as you are so much more full on less food) but I still dropped 7lbs and about 7% body fat in 4 weeks.  One of the cool things on this plan is you do not have to eat as much protein as Ketones are Amino Acid sparing so you don't need as much protein to maintain muscle mass.
* Virtually no joint pain (but this was already alleviated when I cut out gluten and dairy) - see note at end about dairy and this. 
* Steady energy and mood, all day - no up and down
* Greatly Improved sleep and recovery
* Steady energy on long runs (I drink water only and eat bacon and nuts while doing runs over 2 hours - under 2 hours just water). No super highs after eating sugar and no crashing lows.
* Blood work changes - since I was the only person in this experiment, I did a full blood workup before and after (8 weeks).  Interestingly enough, even while eating up to 300g of fat per day, my Lipid profile was fine, my ratio of HDL to LDL actually improved and my Triglycerides were reduced to a very good level.  Most importantly, my C-Reactive Protein level (a good measure of total body inflammation and high levels are associated with Heart Disease)- -which was low to start from being on the anti-inflammatory diet-- stayed very low.  All of the most recent research points to inflammation as the real culprit in most disease, including Coronary Heart Disease.   
* Super easy (first diet plan ever I have had this experience with) to get back "on plan" after a cheat or off day.  This is a HUGE benefit as I lean towards a "all or nothing" mentality which tends to sabotage my long term sustainability of diet plans.  For instance, I once eliminated simple sugar from my diet for a year, when I fell off I think I binged on Halloween candy and ice cream for a month and have Never been able to sustain a sugar free diet for that long again.   

So, why isn't everyone doing this, why isn't it all over the news (especially with the potential to improve cancer???).  Why am I not switching all of our nutrition consultation members to this plan?

Because it is NOT easy. 

Eating this way is not "normal" and takes some work.  And keep in mind,  I am someone who has always loved and felt better on a high fat diet.  I can't imagine someone who doesn't like eggs, bacon, meat, full fat dairy, etc.  Also, the lack of variety is problematic for most people, I do miss my protein shakes, my fruit, large salads (yes, I said that), etc.  It is very restrictive and is probably not sustainable 100% of the time (unless, of course, my "pain" was more - i.e., some type of disease state that this could help), I also believe that metabolic flexibility is a good thing for our bodies so I will vary the breakdown for sure!

I will continue to experiment with this and find a breakdown (adding re-feed carb days, more protein post workouts to help with recovery, etc.) that is sustainable as the benefits far outweigh the downside right now.    Also, I have noticed a bit of knee pain creeping back which I attribute to adding dairy back into my diet -- it has been fun as cream in my coffee and cheese were the only things I really missed (once I went on the elimination diet) and enjoyed putting back into my diet.  I will be taking these back out (replacing with coconut cream) for a few weeks to see if this takes care of the pain (very minor compared to before the anti-inflammatory diet).

What I haven't done yet is do a really long and tough running effort, I have one planned in a few weeks so that will be a good test to see if my body has become more fat adapted and if this is working to solve the original goal.....

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

God bless you all!


Wednesday, October 26, 2016


The Basics and Importance of Recovery

By Eric Marionneaux, Rock Star Coach at FormWell!

Recovery from workouts is often overlooked until an injury or joint pain occurs. If we are more preventative and incorporate better recovery strategies into our lives then the stronger we become!

Allowing for recovery after a workout is the best way to prevent future problems from over training. The time allowed for recovery is what allows our body to adapt to the stress put on it from our workouts. A common misconception is that we get stronger and build muscle during our workouts, but this is the time when we are actually breaking down muscle tissue! During our rest and recovery is when the body rebuilds itself to be stronger and adapt to the stress from the workout. If the body is constantly under stress then it has no time to rebuild itself and we start to become over trained. If you are experiencing prolonged muscle soreness (over 72 hours), increased joint pain and inflammation, having restless sleep, or feeling more unmotivated than usual then these can be signs you could be over training and need to focus on your recovery. Here are the most important tools to use!

Adequate Rest Time

As mentioned, allowing time for the body (muscles AND central nervous system) to recover is essential. It can take 48 hours for muscles to recover from an intense strength training workout so try to avoid hitting the same muscle groups with weights 2 days in a row. However, not being active at all can lead to longer recovery times. Instead perform cardio and active recovery exercise between strength training days.

Sleep is the most important rest time for us because that is when hormones that are optimal for recovery and building muscle are at their highest. Try to get as much adequate sleep as you can even if it means going to bed earlier. Every hour less of sleep you get a night adds up every consecutive night that you do so. This means that if for 1 week you are getting 1 hour less of sleep than you need every night, by the end of that week it would be the same on your body as not sleeping at all for 1 full night!

Proper Nutrition

Eating the right foods and drinking enough water is essential to recovery as well! Most people are lacking in the amount of protein they have in their diet, which can lead to decreased recovery. A great way to know and keep track of the food you eat is using an app called MyFitnessPal. Use this to monitor your daily caloric intake and see how much fat, carbs, and protein you are getting in. Talking with a professional is the best way to know for sure what your specific goals should be. Including the nutritional counseling offered by FormWell is a great way to keep accountability with your nutrition and stay on the right track!


Stretching after a workout is part of the regimen that is most often overlooked, even by people who know they should! Avoiding this for too long will lead to extremely tight muscles that will start pulling on joints and causing pain. The older we get the less flexible our muscles become. Just as with weight loss, flexibility is easier to maintain than improved on later down the road. Start incorporating stretches at the end of every workout for the main muscle groups that tend to tighten up the most and cause issues in joints, such as the hamstrings and glutes. Another great way to improve flexibility is to start incorporating yoga into your routine!

Massage and Foam Rolling

Deep tissue massage is an excellent way to recover by loosening up tight muscles and working out tight spots that can occur from working out. Luckily, FormWell has an amazing Massage Therapist that is a great at this type of massage and loosening up any problem areas! Since having a massage is not practical to do everyday though the next best thing to incorporate is foam rolling. Have a trainer show you how to use one and you can use it before and/or after your workouts to loosen tight areas, increase blood flow, and improve your mobility and flexibility!

Relieve Stress

Relieving stress becomes more and more important the more crazy and hectic our lives become! The build up of stress, both physically and psychologically, can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. When we are stressed our body releases a hormone called cortisol which triggers the breakdown of muscle for energy. If we are constantly stressed then we will be having a much tougher time recovering from our workouts! Try to have at least 20-30 minutes daily where you can unload and relax, whether it is by sitting alone in a quiet spot or going for a walk. Walking on a nature trail significantly lowers cortisol levels more than walking along side a busy road too so try to make it in as peaceful and calm of an area as possible!

Recovery time is just as important as the workout time. Using these tools will help you feel better, perform better in your workouts, and avoid a set back by over training!

Thursday, October 6, 2016



By Eric Marionneaux, Rock Star Coach at FormWell

Why are so many people unsuccessful in maintaining their ideal health and fitness goals? Most of the time there are multiple reasons why. However, a lot of the time these “reasons” are really just excuses. We have all heard of the most common ones: not having enough time, enough motivation, or enough energy. If someone puts off exercising until the perfect time then it will never come or if it does then they will quit as soon as it becomes inconvenient again. In this post I would like to discuss they ways to make sure you are successful with your fitness goals and in all other areas of your life.

Step 1: Take Responsibility

The first step in being able to achieve your goals is taking responsibility. You are responsible for where you are in your health and fitness levels and if you are not where you would like to be then there is no one else to blame. Do not blame it on your job, your genetics, your upbringing, or that the dollar menu is the best way to save some money. Yes I know I do not understand what you have had to deal with in your life and circumstances surrounding it. But I do know there is always someone who has had it tougher and has been able to overcome it. For example, Joshua Sundquist who lost his leg from cancer when he was 9 years old.
Or Scott Belkner and his incredible story. 
The point is if you put your mind to it then you can achieve it. From here on out start taking full responsibility for everything in your life. Once you are able to take responsibility you can start making changes towards everything in your life and health which you want to improve.

Step 2: Decide What It Is You Want To Achieve

As Will Smith says in his interview, “Just Decide!” Decide what it is you want to achieve with your health and fitness goals. Do you want to be as strong as you can be, as toned as you can be, as athletic as possible, or just look good enough in a bathing suit so that you don’t feel embarrassed going to the beach? Do you want to feel more energetic and healthy, or just look good? Make sure you understand WHY you want to achieve what it is you want, as this will help strengthen your commitment when things get tough. Do you want to look better so you will have more confidence in life and meeting other people? Do you want to be more healthy because diabetes runs in your family and you realize preventative care is the best course? Whatever it is, decide on it, realize your personal reasons for it, and set your mind towards achieving it.

Step 3: Set And Write Your Goals

Now that you have decided what it is you truly want to achieve it is time to set your goals. In my recent blog post I discussed setting SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed. Since you now know your general goal it is time to make it more SMART. Lets say you have decided you want to be as lean as possible while having a slightly above average amount of muscle. Great! Now make it SMART! Specify by saying “I weigh 175 lbs and have 10% or less bodyfat (if you’re a guy) on (certain date)”. This goal is specific with the pounds and bodyfat %, it is measurable since you can measure both of those, it is achievable provided you set an appropriate date, it is relevant as these measurements have to do with your fitness levels, and it is timed by setting a date. Notice that I also wrote the goal in present tense. This is an affirmation strategy to help reinforce your goals. Once you set a final goal, set smaller goals that will make it easier to reach that final goal. Narrow down to quarterly, monthly, and weekly. Your big goal may seem impossible at first, but setting your mind to it and breaking it down to to smaller goals makes it much more attainable!

Step 4: Do It For Yourself, Not By Yourself

Once you have written down all of your goals it is time to do work on them. You can try to do them by yourself, but it will be a much easier and quicker process with the help of others. Don’t be afraid to ask! Use the help of a personal trainer to design the correct program for your goals and train you if needed. Tell your family and friends your goals and have them keep you accountable. Educate yourself by reading and researching on information relevant to achieving your goals. A great way may to be finding someone who has already accomplished the path you are about to partake and reading about what they say helped them. 

Step 5: Measure Your Progress And Share

Since you now have written goals and education on the best way to achieve them it is time to start measuring your progress! Make sure you record whether you hit your goal or if not how far away you were from achieving it. A great way to keep yourself motivated is to keep your friends and family updated on your progress when you achieve your smaller goals! Since they will be helping keep you accountable it will remind them to ask you about it from time to time as well. If you have notebook where goals are written then write down your accomplishing results next them. Take a picture of it and send to those holding you accountable so they can see your results and share the victory with you!

Step 6: Keep It Enjoyable

If you often have trouble pushing yourself and dread going to the gym then either you will eventually learn to enjoy it or you will quit. Personally, I feel that most people start to enjoy it once they start seeing results and learn how to do it properly. If you do not think you are wired that way then try out other physical activities to get in shape; then use exercise as a way to help you improve in these activities. Some good ones I enjoy doing are hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, snowboarding, water skiing, and swimming. If it is tough for you to be outside because of where you live try indoor ones such as a martial art, basketball, indoor rock climbing, or racquetball. Once you have found one you enjoy then exercise will become much more efficient at relieving your stress!

Step 7: Help Others

The final step to you being successful is helping others be successful with their goals! Once you have accomplished your goals then you will become an inspiration for others attempting to reach similar goals. Helping others is a great way for you to stay committed to maintaining or improving from the goal you have met, as it will keep you remembering the hard work you put in and how much better you feel. That, plus it just feels great to help others!

Well now you know what you need to know to accomplish all of your health and fitness goals and hopefully any other goals in life you would like to set. Have fun and good luck!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Barkley Fall Classic 2016: The End of Suffering (for now).....

 If you like this Blog, you might enjoy my books:

 Image result for barkley fall classic

The End of Suffering......for now.

You know a race has a significant impact on you when you have basically stopped writing, blogging, etc. for almost 2 years and you feel obligated to putting at least something down on paper on a Friday night about a week after completion (kind of).

To back track a bit, my racing year in 2016 was to be the "year of redemption".  Injuries, time off to heal those injuries, burn out, working too hard, etc. made 2015 the "year of giving back", which was pretty cool.  However, in 2016 (at least at the beginning) I felt the need to get back to some long, really tough efforts that brought me back to the raw place of suffering I sometimes crave, and need, in this sport.

As I have said many times before, we make plans, and God laughs.

Long story short, the year did not work out.  I knew after completing Mountain Mist in January of 2016 that my plans of doing some really hard efforts, including a Western States qualifier, were not to be.  My long standing Achilles injury, which I thought I "fixed" by doing a non-invasive treatment and taking 3 months off running in 2015 was back and with it, a lack of motivation to suffer in chronic pain anymore.

I dropped from the few long races I was signed up for, gave it to the Lord and moved on.  Actually felt pretty good about it.

The one race I had signed up for that I did not immediately drop out of was the Barkley Fall Classic in September, 2016.  I almost did, but I decided to wait to see what would happen as the year progressed and gave myself the option to drop out as the time got closer.

Long story short, I made a decision to completely revamp my diet and supplementation regime in an effort to reduce total body inflammation and chronic pain and, guess what?

It worked!

So..... fast forward to about 8 weeks before BFC -- I put together a very, very aggressive plan that would get me to the starting line in the best shape possible (with only 8 weeks to train and my "long run" being 2 hours since January) for what I expected to be the hardest race of my career.

Good move.

The training actually went pretty well, got in some really hard efforts and was feeling SO great in terms of pain -- which helped my mental state and motivation tremendously!

5 weeks out from the race I was planning on doing a 6 hour (minimum) effort at the Pine Mountain (Cartersville) trails.  1.5 hours into the run with OCD David I sprained my ankle very badly (again, and yes, the same ankle I have turned multiple times, the same foot of my injured Achilles and, best yet, the same ankle I turned about 5 weeks before I ran BFC for the first time in 2014 -- message here?  You decide).

It was pretty bad.  I was able to finish about 5 hours but I hobbled in the last hour.  Good news it was a low ankle sprain (first one I have had) which I hear heal faster than high ankle sprains (wrong, btw, for me) but it was very swollen and black and blue almost immediately so I know I needed rehab for the week after.

I took good care of it -- one of the benefits of spraining your ankle numerous times, you become somewhat of an expert in rehab -- and was actually feeling much better within a week. 

Of course, I only had 5 weeks till BFC so I headed to the mountains just one week after spraining it and did a really good and strong 5 hour Springer Mountain loop from the bottom of the stairs.  Strangely. this was the BEST my ankle felt for the next 4 weeks.

Not sure why, perhaps I actually broke it not sprained it, but the ankle got progressively worse as I got closer to the race.  I was only able to run a few hours (total) the 2 weeks leading up to BFC.

Fast forward to the race. 

As always, the trip up and "boy time" with "OCD" David and "Underwear Boy" Christian (may explain this nickname, may just leave it to your imagination) was the highlight of the weekend.  We drove up Friday night and all were feeling good, however with more than a little trepidation leading up to the race.....

Got a TERRIBLE night's sleep as OCD must have been stressing beyond belief due to the face he could not wear his GPS in the race.  His snoring was, in a word, epic.  At one point I had ear plugs in both ears and pillows wrapped around my head and still could not sleep.  I would kick his bed to stop him and try my best to fall asleep before the snoring escalated to a decibel level equivalent to a jet.   Didn't work. 

Anyway, who cares, sleep is over rated the night before a race and it's not like this was going to be tough on my body, right?

Up at 5am and normal race prep, feeling actually very good and relaxed (after giving OCD a bunch of crap for keeping me up all night).  Christian didn't hear a thing, guy could probably sleep through a hurricane.

So here is where the day changed for me.  My ankle was feeling pretty good in the 2 weeks leading up to the race (due to very minimal running, lots of icing and rest).  This race starts on the road and OCD went out way to fast for me - he starts faster and I normally catch him later, then he normally drops me a the end. Not today, he is in 100 mile shape, I am in 30k shape.  I never saw him again.  Anyway, I get into my grove and the race hits the trail, the first slight hill.  I decide to run this just to see how my ankle is feeling.

And turn it again. 

Not bad, but enough to make me realize it is no where near healed.

This will be a long day.

I really enjoy the beginning of this course, it was pretty dark, there was a nice breeze and it is switchback climbing for a while so I can get warmed up before we actually start running.  My body felt good (except for some lower back tightness that a lot of people were feeling due to the pitch and length of the first climb) and I was enjoying the day.   Another different thing about his day was I was not really into chatting with other runners (normally I have NO problem talking for hours on end in these races :-). Unfortunately for me, this race seem to attract the most chatty ultra runners on the planet!  I was able to carve out some solo prayer time during this climb, said a Rosary, prayed from some good friends that are struggling and, as always, gave thanks to our Lord for all the blessings in my life.

The first aid station is at "7.6" miles (all mileage in quotes as Laz - the infamous race director --  does NOT report exact mileage) and the time cut off to make it to the 50k was 3 hours 15 minutes.  This may sound ridiculous in terms of pacing but keep in mind it is probably closer to 10 miles, and mostly steep climbing.  I got there at 2:45, ate a bit of food and was on my way.

The next section is kind of blurry, even just one week later, not sure why but I am pretty sure the "bee incident" occurred here? 

This is crazy stuff.  Came around a corner and bunch of people are just standing in the trail, never a good sign.  Someone said they saw a bear, but then we realized there was a bee, yellow jacket, hornet, dinosaur sized wasps (depending on who you have talked to) ahead on the trail.  We made the smart move to follow one guy WAY off trail to bypass the nest, a girl behind us either thought she could out run the bees, or did not hear us yelling at the top of our lungs "YELLOW JACKET NEST, GO AROUND!) and ran right through the swarm.  If I didn't know the pain she was feeling (I have been stung many times in my life growing up in NY and on trails) it would have actually been pretty funny watching the trail sprint while screaming and flailing her arms. 

It was NOT funny. 

We caught up with her and the guy with me had to keep running as he was allergic, I am not so I did my best to help her get the remaining bees, dinosaur wasps, etc off her.  I've heard some foul language in trail races but this was a new low.  No judging, but it was pretty impressive coming out of her mouth.  BTW, about 5 minutes later we pulled another dinosaur wasp out of her hair, and her ear!  Crazy.  But not as crazy as the next person to come through.

So we continue to yell as loud as we can to warn upcoming runners.  Then we hear a woman obviously who did not hear our warnings run right through the nest.

Ok, here is the deal. I raced motocross for 15 years.  I hung out with some pretty crazy people.  I have seen a guy break his FEMUR (compound fracture, saw the bone).  Saw a guy cut off all of the tips of his fingers in a motorcycle chain.  I've personally crashed so hard I knocked out my teeth.  I had a serrated footpeg rip my thigh open and get 40 stiches - a cut so deep I could see muscle.  Saw a guy get his leg sucked between the knobby tire and swing arm (space was about 3 inches, broke the leg in multiple places), etc.

Their, and my, screams were NOTHING compared to what and how loud this woman was screaming.  I cannot explain it.  It still haunts me.  Basically she stopped running (we think, we were too far away to see her but we could hear her clearly) when she started getting stung, the worst thing to do.

(** insert tons off expletives **)

It was gut wrenching.  All we could do was yell to her to run as fast as she could. 

And pray.

This moment changed the race for me, I was already realizing, for the first time ever, I might not make time cut offs.  The problem was about 25% my lack of fitness for the climbs and 75% the fact that I could not bomb the downhills like normal to make up time due to my ankle.

And I really, really did not care.  Nothing to prove, finished the 50k in 2014 and would be super happy with the "marathon" (probably a 50k in distance anyway, but who knows and I really don't care).  I didn't know at that point if you got a DNF if you dropped to the marathon (you didn't, I asked a few people who did it in 2015) but it wouldn't have mattered, with what was to come I would never make it.

Next up was a climb called "Testicle Spectacle",  aptly named after how we as Catholics remember to do the sign of the cross:  Testicle, spectacles, watch, wallet.  There was "Meth Lab Hill" in there somewhere as well but I cannot tell you if we went up or down that and when it was.

Told you, its Blurry.

I do remember actually enjoying going down TS, it was fun (you had to slide a lot of it, and hold onto briars to slow your slide) except the fact that I was already cramping so when I squatted down to slide my calves and hamstrings would lock up.  Fun.  Saw Christian and David coming back up, they were WAY ahead of me and looking good.

Coming back up TS I started having thoughts of dropping out.   I was NOT in shape for this and really did not have the mental drive to continue for 6-7 hours more (I think we were about 5 hours in when we started back up the climb).   The mental part was really 90% of it.  The good news is I came to the conclusion that in this season of my life I don't need all day suffer-fests anymore, and that is a good thing!  3-5 hours is more than enough for me now. 

I actually think a big part (besides the ankle, the lack of fitness and the lack of drive) was nutritional.  In addition to no GPS (no big deal for me as I don't own one, just use a simple watch, mostly to keep track of when to eat) Laz also does not allow gels in the race (due to littering) so I had minimal simple sugar during the day (some bananas at aid stations and some raisins I brought with me).  This is fine and I am trained to run on low carbs and fat, but not at this level of exertion.  I know in the past I have felt these low points, and thoughts of dropping out then I get a gel, or some coke or other form of simple sugar and rally within 5 minutes!

Anyway, it was what it was -- these nutritional deficiencies would just add to the suffering and this is what we signed up and came to expect from a Laz designed day.

After climbing TS, we did a really rocky, steep downhill to the prison.  This is when I knew for sure I was either dropping out at the prison or taking 12+ hours to do the "marathon".  I hated this section and I normally LOVE technical downhills.  I walked (yep, walked downhill) almost all of it.  The prison was "mile 17.6" and I was already 7 hours into this thing!

I was with a couple of guys and none of us could run, it was crazy.  There were even downhill and flat road sections leading up to the prison and we were walking, hobbling really. 

And we were not even 1/2 way. 

Before the race, I was looking forward to seeing the prison and walking through it, now all I cared about was if there was anything cold to drink (no ice, or soda which I live on in hot races at aid stations, did I mention after the nice breezy morning it ended up being about 85 degrees for the bulk of the race, no real cloud cover, especially on tough climbs). 

God answered my prayers.

There was an aid station leading into the prison with ICE!  I filled my hydration pack with ice and water and noticed empty soda bottles!  I asked (begged) the guys there if there was cold Coke anywhere and he went to get me one! 

Nectar of the Gods -- I started to walk into the prison with it but he took it back, wouldn't let me have the whole thing!  Oh well, the few sips I got were enough to make me forget about dropping out.  Prison was very cool, the ladder over the wall where James Earl Ray escaped kind of freaked me out, I don't like heights and I was cramping even more at this point but I made it.  Loved the tunnel under the prison, it was damp and cool and dark - a nice break before the HELL to come.

So, here we are about 7 hours into the race and we are starting up "Big Rat" and "Rat Jaw".

In 2014 this was my favorite part of the race, crawling up a 45% grade, took 70 minutes to go .8 miles, briars over my 6foot2inch head.  Amazing, such a challenge and was with good friends and had a blast.  Was way ahead of time cut offs and feeling strong.

2016, not so much. 

All the factors, especially having done TS beforehand, added up to the, by far, hardest 2+ hours of any race I have ever been in.  Just looking at the first section (basically hand over fist climbing in dry, dusty dirt with no handholds except a random briars) made me want to cry.

Ok, maybe I did cry a bit.

This year we not only did the full Rat Jaw, the briars were cut down.  This sounds like it would be better, but it was not.  It made the climb straight up the middle instead of all over the place with some traversing and also we were exposed to the hot sun almost the whole time.  It was about 2pm at this point.  I never thought I would say this but I missed those briars! 

Unless you have done this course, or something like it (is there anything else like this?) I really cannot do it justice trying to explain how hard this is.  Imagine something so steep you are completely bent over, or crawling on all fours.  We would go 10 steps or so, then bend over on a log, or your hand, sit, or even lay down, and rest to let our heart rate and breathing come down. 

Then do it again.

And again.

For hours.

Met and bonded with some cool people on this climb.  The funniest comment from the men was "our wives really are right, we are down right stupid.  We paid for this, drove hours to be here."

My only consolation was that, at this point, I knew there was no chance I would make the 9.5 hour cut off to determine if you got a "marathon" finish or went on to attempt the "50k".  In 2014 I felt great up until the last climb: Chimney Top, and I knew I wouldn't have to do it this year - I almost dropped with 3 miles to go that climb hurt me so badly.   To give you an idea on the difference between this year and the first year we did it, I hit the time cut off at about 8.5 hours in 2014.  This year I was at 10:40!  And I felt like I was in better shape this year!

Anyway, somehow we made it to the top of this climb and I told myself I would just hike the remaining (mostly downhill) to the finish.   I actually ended up feeling better once the sun went down so I ran a good bit and felt SO good to finish!  Around 11 hours to do a "marathon".

You do the math on THAT pace per mile!  Factor in the mile of Rat Jaw took about 100 minutes!

I was SO hungry I ate a steak sandwich and drank 3 Mtn Dews in less than 2 minutes after the finish. 

Both Underwear Boy (decided to let you all figure that one out) and OCD finished the "50k", hats off to them (only 37% of the starters finished the "50k").  Very proud of those guys.

Biggest take aways from this day.

1. Hardest endurance event in my 25 years of competing.  Including Ironman, 100 miler, Georgia Death Race, etc.  Nothing compares.  You HAVE to experience it to understand.

2. Cannot imagine the people who attempt (and even more so the 14 that have finished the FULL Barkley): 5 loops of a harder course, no aid, no course markings, no support, only 40 people in the race. They. Are. NOT. Human.

3. Swore off Frozen Head State Park (for now). No desire to go back.  One "50k" finish and one "marathon" experience are enough for me.

4. Laz is a cruel, cruel man.

2016 Barkley Fall Classic
550 entered
324 brave souls started
73 DNF
132 marathon finishers
119 50k finishers