This week, I want to tell you a story about my client Ryan. It's certainly an inspirational one that shows you just how important our habits can be for our goals.
In mid November 2019, I was contacted by a fellow Nutritionist about a friend of his who was interested in running a 50 mile ultra run. His friend was a law enforcement officer who, up to that point, had been mostly focused on keeping fit by building strength in the gym. However, something inside of him had changed and he wanted a new challenge. For him, that was running. My colleague is an AMAZING gym owner and nutritionist who can help anyone get leaner and stronger, but ultra running wasn’t his specialty. So he reached out to me and got his client and I connected.
Ryan and I met for the first time on November 11, 2019 for a quick discovery call. I wanted to get to know him a little better and learn more about what his goals were. In our first call, I learned that Ryan is engaged to be married, has 4 kids at home ages 7-17 years old, and works 45 hours per week in law enforcement. I also learned that he has a military background, loves to push himself and has an honest fear of failure. He had already signed up for his first running challenge, the American River 50 mile Ultra Run in April 2020 and had a training plan he was excited to follow. However, he knew in order to finish his race feeling good, he needed some guidance with nutrition. After a short time learning more about Ryan and his goals, I knew working together could help get him the results he was looking for, so we lined up 3 months of coaching to lead him into his event.
On December 3rd, Ryan and I met for the first time face-to-face via Skype. This was a much longer consultation where Ryan got to tell me so much more about him and what he really wanted. His main goals were to lose 15 pounds of body fat and learn more about how to fuel his body to be able to perform at an optimal level. When I asked about his current diet: “I am keto, kind of” he said with a laugh. Typically, he skipped breakfast. For lunch, he ate meat. And for dinner he ate more meat. If he wanted a snack throughout the day, he ate...you guess it...meat (jerky). Sometimes he would eat a handful of almonds, some cheese or a Quest bar. He already had great habits established around drinking water, but also loved his coffee. Occasionally he would have some whisky, but it was rare and he typically avoided it during times of training.
To get started, we needed to know exactly where we were starting from, so I got a copy of his blood work, and we lined up an appointment at a local testing center and had Ryan complete a DEXA scan. From that scan, not only did we learn what his body fat % was, but also how much lean tissue he had, what his resting metabolic rate was, and that he has an incredibly fast metabolism! We used this data to help dial in a nutrition plan for him. The goal was to transition to clean keto for a few weeks that include many more vegetables. We used a keto mojo to test ketone levels to make sure we were hitting our targets.
Within 2 weeks, his usual afternoon dip in energy was gone and he was feeling less bloated. Between eating clean keto and his increased running volume, he was also losing weight...pretty quickly.
Within 1 month of starting our protocol, Ryan was feeling a little low in his runs and he had reached his goal weight, so we started doing some carb testing. The goal for this was to use a blood glucose meter to learn which carbs his body responded well to, and which ones didn’t work as well. We also added in carbs strategically around his longer training days on the weekends, and were well into testing different race foods he might be using on race day. Ryan is lucky because many foods he tested resulted in blood sugar levels that were in the normal range!
By February 15th, Ryan was curious about the changes he had made to his composition and went back for a comparison DEXA scan. He had lost 21 pounds and his body fat % had dropped from 22.76% to 16.58%. When I asked him how he felt about the results from his new DEXA scan, his exact words to me were “I feel great, so that’s all that matters.” Over the process of working together, Ryan worked really hard to tune into his body so he could learn more about what made him feel good, and what didn’t. This is so important for endurance athletes, especially ones who stay consistent with weight lifting in the gym, because the scale doesn’t always tell us the full picture! Plus, he’s going to be out there alone on race day and he needs to be able to listen to his body and respond to what it needs. The new habits he created were helping him do just that through all his training runs and in his day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, on March 12th, Ryan got the very unfortunate news that his race had been canceled due to COVID-19. Of course he was devastated, especially since most of the hard work had already been completed. But Ryan had become an ultra runner and his lifestyle was one of eating healthy and running. He was feeling better than he had in a really long time, so he certainly wasn’t going back now! Instead, he kept after his regular routine he had established. He ate clean. He completed his runs. And he focused on his recovery, even though there were no races on the calendar for 2020 anymore. Meanwhile, like so many other athletes, he waited for news about what to do next. Luckily, after a few weeks, the race directors of AR50 offered the athletes an alternative race. Instead of racing all together on the race route on 4/4, the athletes could set up their own 50 mile course, complete it in under 11 hours, and submit their times to the race directors for verification. Since AR50 is a qualifier for other 100 mile races, Ryan was already hoping to ‘punch his 50 miler ticket’ and be able to enter into Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Ultra Run in November 2020. This was great news for Ryan, because that meant, although VERY different, his race was still on!
He spent the next few weeks developing his own race route, asking friends and family to be his aid stations and support along the way, and finished up his training plan.
On the morning of April 4th, he set out for his race. The day was ‘hard and fun all at the same time’ Ryan said afterward. He definitely had his highs and lows on race day. There were times when his body hurt badly, but quitting never crossed his mind. He had practiced this day so many times in training that he knew finishing was the only outcome. Just like he had practiced on the weekends with long run after long run, he ate 300 calories per hour using Tailwind, Skratch chews and Spring gels. He took approximately 400mg of salt each hour and drank approximately 20 ounces of water per hour. All of this had been personalized, tried and tested for weeks leading into his event he knew this formula would work for him.
Although Ryan did all the hard work leading into the race, no athlete gets to the finish line alone. He dedicated his run to two heros he had lost the week leading into his run, his grandfather who was an Army veteran and Nevada Highway Patrol Sergeant Ben Jenkins. These two men helped him get out of rough patches on race day, as did his friends and family who showed up to crew for him.
After the race was over, I got a message from Ryan’s fiance, ‘Thank you for all of the help. He didn’t $hit his pants, I’m very thankful for that.’ LOL! We laugh, but any endurance athlete knows how much of a reality this is when your nutrition isn’t completely dialed in.
Ryan is a shining example of how to set up your goals, trust the process, set up habits to make it happen, and enjoy the ride on race day. Thank you Ryan for letting me be a small part of the success you had at your first 50 mile Ultra Run. Here is to many many more (but next time with volunteer run aid stations, other runners, and an actual finish line).
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!