Protein Intake Recommendations for Muscle Building

protein-rich-foodsThe Basics: Protien’s Integral Role in Muscle Building
Your body is constantly breaking down and synthesizing new proteins.  The building blocks of proteins are 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential in that your body cannot make them so they must be consumed.  This is why it is important to not only eat the right quantity, but the right type of protein to make sure you are getting all your essential amino acids.   If you ingest protein, this will be broken down into its amino acids components in the liver and stored, along with the amino acids that originated from inside the body called the amino acid pool which is in constant flux and used for a variety of things including energy production, and more importantly, for skeletal muscle protein anabolism.  Very little of protein is used for energy – this is the role for carbohydrates and to a lesser extent, fat.

Protein Intake Recommendations
Note that the recommendations are in kilograms rather than in pounds.  To convert your body weight into kg, divide by 2.2.  From the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise

Average Sedentary American   .8g/kg/day
Endurance Athletes: 1 – 1.6g/kg/day (elite athletes, or those who exercise for longer durations would be on the higher end of the scale)
Strength / Muscle Building / Power Exercise: 1.6-2.0g/kg/day

Determining your protein intake
The biggest factor determining your intake is your goals and the type of training you are doing.  More protein without training will not build muscle.   To narrow things down from here, lets only consider intake for strength training and muscle building.

  • Beginner Lifter:  You a a beginner lifter if you are new to strength training, or have been training for less than 6 months consistently.   You would increase protein only slightly above what is required for a sedentary person.   (.8g/kg/day)
  • Intermediate Lifter:  This is a wide range of people.  You are an intermediate lifter if you strength train regularly, but have no strength training or nutritional plan to take you to the next level. Your main goal in this stage is to first of all figure out your total calorie needs that match your goals and energy expenditure. From that, you would determine your protein intake, followed by the other macronutrient variables of carbs and fats.  At an intermediate level, protein intake of roughly 1.5g/kg/day will work for most people.  But if you aren’t eating enough, you won’t have energy for your workouts, and the more minor details like nutrient timing and quantity per meal will not make a difference if you don’t already have the more important factors in place like a solid training plan, total calorie intake, or adequate protein quantity. If you are vegetarian, or are getting your protein through grains and vegetables, you should up your intake a bit because these sources are not absorbed in your body as easily and you end up getting less protein from them.
  • Advanced Lifter up to Competitor: This is where is gets much trickier, and the smaller details end up mattering more, the more advanced you are.  This is for people who are trying to go beyond intermediate lifter, up to the  bodybuilding competitor where every single detail is dialed in and becomes important.  Below are a  few additional recommendations for advanced lifters, although this topic is extremely complex so this is more of a brief overview for some additional tools to use, than in depth analysis.
    • Total Protein Intake:  Protein intake increases at this level to support maximal hypertrophy and more volume of training.  Numerous studies have affirmed the 2.0g/kg/day as the upper limit for muscle building, yet other recommendations go beyond that, even up to 3.1g/kg/day.  The Nutrition for Sport and Exercise textbook claims there is no scientific validity to going above 2.5g/kg/day and that beyond that may be dangerous to your health as it builds up ammonia in your body that can only be processed and excreted so fast.  However, contest prep is unique, especially in the final stages.  Factors that increased the protein intake requirements beyond the upper level recommendations were having very low body fat percentage, and how much endurance exercise they were doing in addition to  resistance training, and how much of a caloric deficit.  Some studies have shown that bodybuilders at the very end of contest prep were seeing optimal results at 3.1g/kg/day (A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes)
      Individual Variations:  There are also various factors that decrease protein absorption like protein quality (plant and grain sources for example are not absorbed as well as animal based proteins), individual differences in digestion, and even altitude can effect absorption rates. If you are not consuming enough protein to support the anabolism of proteins into skeletal muscle, you will lose lean body mass.  So this is another reason why people consume protein beyond the recommendations, to give a buffer zone and ensure they are consuming enough.
    • Nutrient Timing and Quantity per meal:  Optimal meal frequency is debated, and the idea of the anabolic window post workout has been shown to be more like a door –  more recent research has shown this time frame to be closer to six hours post workout rather than 30 minutes to get your protein in.  But protein synthesis can be stimulated at every meal whether you eat 3 or 6 meals per day.  In addition to getting in your overall total in, consuming 20g of protein per feeding will stimulate muscle synthesis at near maximal levels, but eating up to 40g will add an additional stimulus, but not much more.  In addition, eating protein before bed will stimulate muscle synthesis while in a fasted state.  This amount of synthesis is quite small and will not impact you if you don’t have the  more important details already in place.
    • Protein Source:  We already covered a bit about protein source between animal and plant based proteins.  Reasons animal based proteins increase muscle synthesis is because it is absorbed faster, and has more essential amino acids.  Here is a graph comparing whey and casein.

NutritionTactics, specifically this post on protein, is a fantastic site for everything you wanted to know about protein synthesis

Supplements:
There is a lot of myths out there about supplements, and even the most effective ones would have a very minor effect.  Its also very easy to take the wrong dose or time it wrong, and waste a lot of money on these.  If everything is dialed in, supplements like caffeine, leucine, beta-alanine, and creatine have been shown to contribute to muscle synthesis.  Theres a lot more to be said on these, but its beyond the scope of this post.

A diet high in protein has a satiating effect
Finally, another reason to increase protein intake is satiety.  Research on satiety, or the feeling of being full after a meal, in the scheme of things is relatively new.  In 1995 a major study was done to measure the satiety of hundreds of foods, which forms the foundation of studies done on satiety and its underpinnings.  There are many different factors that influence satiety including volume, taste, nutrient content, among others.  Some studies have indicated that a diet higher in protein (30% of calories as opposed to 15%) increased satiety and contributed to eating fewer calories overall.  The hypothesis on this is that because protein has high satiety because it has a thermogenic effect when being metabolized, up to 22% more than most carbohydrates.  Essentially you are expending more energy, some estimates put it at 30 calories per hour, to digest a protein rich meal.

Conclusion:
First, you need a training plan and to better understand your current capabilities and what you are trying to achieve.  Are you trying to maintain? Cut weight? Increase muscle mass? These factors are very important in creating the right training plan, but also matching your nutritional needs with your goals.  Secondly you will need to figure out your total caloric intake, which might even vary throughout the week.  Within this smaller unit, then you can play around with your macronutrient ratios, and make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of protein to match your goals.

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Ultra Race Nutrition Plan

Jelly-Belly-caffeinated-jelly-beans-jpgJust like everything ultra, nutrition was new for me, but played a huge role. I experimented quite a bit during my training runs, but the race strategy ended up being a little different from my training, followed by even more tweaking for my second ultra with the North Face 50.   More precise, would be a better phrasing.  My coach was mostly focused on helping me plan out my workouts rather than nutrition, but would give me tasks during training runs to test out my food intake.  For both my races,  he helped me with a very specific plan for my nutrition along with a race strategy that worked very well.  I was also taking a graduate course in Exercise Nutrition, so it was exciting to put into practice what I was learning and experiment on myself.

Training Runs: What works for me
I typically don’t eat anything for runs shorter than 60 minutes.  For runs between 2-3 hours, I’m not very precise about it, but would try to eat every 45 mins or so, usually solid food.  My 3+ hours runs I’m more much strategic with my food intake and try to eat about 90g of carb per hour, and would incorporate gel chews every 20 minutes.  I like solid foods, although I had to change things up as my long runs started getting longer and longer.  I would start out with granola bars, peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, wheat thins, and by the end, be eating potato chips and cheetos since getting down food was very difficult by that point and I needed calories in any form. I was introduced to honey stinger waffles right before my first race and wished I had discovered them sooner. They are delicious and easier than whole foods to get in the calories needed.

Race Plan:
The plan was to get 80-90g carbs in/ hour, and drink water often, especially after ingesting any kind of calorie, to help my body process it.  I was also carrying chews, caffeinated jelly beans and honey stinger waffles, quantified to how much I needed for the race.  I planned on taking a chew every 15 minutes, and eating more substantial calories on the hour.  For liquid, I was carrying just water, and would drink Gatorade, HEED or soda at the checkpoints.  I also had to focus on drinking small amounts of water frequently.  If you drink too much at a time it just sloshes around in your stomach.  Even after drinking soda, I would drink a little bit of water to digest it.

How the Race Plan played out:
For Bel Monte, my first race, I had thought I would eat more whole foods during the race than I ended up eating, since I had experimented with them during my training runs.  I had even packed my little snacks into my backpack, against the wishes of my coach. (Although I did take out at least 75% of it)  He told me to pack just the essentials, don’t bring any whole food, and take advantage of all the food at the aid stations.  I ended up having a lot of difficulty ingesting whole foods, and relied on chews and jelly beans for about 80% of my nutrition.  I remember being aware that I was not eating enough, and there were huge gaps between the checkpoints.  But even digging around in my backpack for my wheat thins was difficult mentally to handle and so I didn’t.  For the North Face 50 – race #2,  I executed the plan very well, even better than the first time.  I did not bring any whole food, counted on getting all of that at the aid stations, but I brought more chews to better account for using them for most of my calories.  (At Bel Monte, if I had been able to finish the race, I would have run out) I stuck to a 15 minute marker of a chew ingestion, had them more accessible, ate more food at the checkpoints, and saved the caffeinated jelly beans till about mile 20.   The food at the aid stations was pretty good.  They had pb&j sandwiches, skittles, potatoes in broth which was on point.   The plan worked very well, and I was focused and executed well the timing of things for at least half the race.  I was very glad I had a pacer who not only provided mental encouragement, but took over the timing of my food and reminded me to drink water.  I was in a mental haze by that point, and it became harder and harder to get food down.  Sometimes I would just have to shake my head when he reminded me, and say I can’t eat right now.  Maybe in a bit.  By that point, you just eat what you can get down, and focus on getting to the end.    Because my training runs were slower and less taxing on my body, is why my nutrition strategy had to change from what I had practiced.  Knowing this, I would have experimented with different chews, gels and waffles, etc. during my training runs.  I had figured.. if I can run 23 miles on mostly whole food, it made sense I could do it for 50.  And I had read that training runs are good practice for what you can tolerate or not during a race.  But this was not the case for me, and I understand now why it is different. Its much easier to ingest food going slower and for less time.  For my longer runs, I averaged about 12-14 min miles, but for my race I averaged 11:13 min /mile, which included hiking and stopping at checkpoints.  So my run time was even a little faster than that.

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Complexities of Carb Loading for Female Endurance Athletes

This Unknowntopic was especially interesting for me to explore academically, because I was researching this topic anyways to better understand how to carb load prior to my 50 mile race.  I had never done this before, and was nervous about trying something I had never tried before, for something so important.  However, I was armed with science!

Muscle glycogen is the preferred source of energy for an endurance event, and your body will utilize this first, before utilizing liver glycogen, or metabolizing glucose from carbohydrate ingestion during the race.  Your body converts glucose into glycogen which can be stored in the muscle, and is ideal for races more than 90 minutes in duration to improve performance.  While there are many studies that have been done on this topic, there are still unknowns.  For example, why do some carbohydrate loading regimes work better for some athletes?  Why does increased glycogen levels in the muscle not always translate into better performance? And the question to be examined more closely in this blog post – what does the research say about carb loading for women?

What Factors can Affect Muscle Glycogen Levels?
Part of the reason that there is not a direct correlation between increased muscle glycogen due to carbohydrate loading and performance, is that so many different factors can alter the outcome for why this may work for some athletes and not others.   Among these variants include the fitness and training of the athlete, the type of endurance event the athlete is prepping for, the diet consumed by the athlete prior to carb loading, the gender of the athlete, and the carbohydrate loading technique itself.  In addition, individual variants are common even when as many factors are controlled as possible, such as why such as some athletes increase muscle glycogen better than others using the same technique and when other factors are similar.  Initial research into carbohydrate loading advocated for a 6 day period before a race, with 3 days of glycogen depletion, followed by 3 days of taper and glycogen loading.  The theory behind this technique  it is thought that this was due to enhance muscle sensitivity to glycogen after being depleted, and that glycogen stores would be replenished at a higher concentration following depletion.  (Sedlock, D.A;  2008) Many endurance websites advocate for carb loading the night before, although research shows that  muscle glycogen can stay elevated for up to 5 days,  but optimally at 2-3 days can be assumed that it is at its peak.

Discrepancies in Research on Women and Carbohydrate Loading 
Research on women and carb loading effectiveness is not as supported as the results seen with the male athletes.  Some initial studies that began to study glycogen stores was a team led by M. A. Tarnopolsky in 1985 and they concluded that women were not able to increase their glycogen stores at similar levels as men, or even at all, in their article “Carbohydrate loading and metabolism during exercise in men and women” (Tarnopolsky et al., 1985)  However, more recent studies have criticized these earlier analysis and subsequent research by Walker et al. as flawed, in that the amount of carbohydrates the female athletes were ingesting were not at recommended levels, and in the subsequent study by Walker, the team did not measure men, despite making a comparative conclusion that women were not able to store glycogen in their muscles to the same extent.  The study by James et al. in 2001 titled “Muscle glycogen super compensation: absence of a gender-related difference” compared women and men, with women who were using birth control for at least two years, and all the athletes in their study consumed 9-12grams (on average 9.9 g CHO /kg), and found no discrepancy in percentage of glycogen storage, even accounting for different phases of women on their menstrual cycle, although they don’t discount that this may still play a factor in other athletes, as research indicates that during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, glycogen muscles stores can be up to 13% higher.  The authors of this study conclude: “Clearly, the view expressed in the scientific literature -Tarnopolsky et al. 1995; Walker et al. 2000) that exercise-trained women have a reduced capacity to accumulate supercompensation of muscle glycogen must be amended.” (James, et al. 2001) In addition, Tarnopolsky’s own subsequent research on muscle glycogen enhancements – though this study researched post exercise supplementation, but showed no gender differences, and they authors point out that this contradicted their previous hypothesis and more research should be done.  (Tarponsky, 1997).  Additionally, some journal articles summing up the literature on carb loading seem to erroneously report on conclusions researched about female athletes, which is common on running websites as well.  For example, a quote from an article by the University of Minnesota’s College of Education says: “Over time, men seem to increase their muscle glycogen storage much higher than women, whereas women increase their muscle glycogen about 13% when eating a high CHO diet for six days or more (Chen, 2008).” (Mueller, et al.) However, Chen’s article they cite is a study involving male athletes and does not conclude anything related to women’s muscle glycogen levels.

Conclusion
To conclude, carb loading can be a useful technique, and research indicates that when glycogen stores in the muscle are at maximal amount, this is likely to contribute to increased performance in an endurance event.   Women who utilize this technique should make sure to follow the proper guidelines and consume not less than 8.0 g·kg BM or even more – as some studies suggesting between 10-12g·kg BM to increase muscle glycogen stores to maximal capacity.   Women should be aware that there are conflicting studies about carb loading concerning female and male athletes, and that more research needs to be done on this topic.

Questions for Discussion 
What kinds of recommendations had you heard about carb loading for women that differed from men? Do you know of more recent research that supports either of these conclusions? What might be some strategies to push for including female athletes in more research studies?

References

Sedlock, D. A. (2008). The Latest on Carbohydrate Loading: A Practical Approach. Current Sports Medicine Reports7(4), 209–213. http://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e31817ef9cb

Tarnopolsky, M. A., Atkinson, S. A., Phillips, S. M., & Macdougall, J. D. (1995). Carbohydrate loading and metabolism during exercise in men and women. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985)78(4), 1360–8.

Tarnopolsky, M. A., Bosman, M., Macdonald, J. R., Vandeputte, D., Martin, J., & Roy, B. D. (1997). Postexercise protein-carbohydrate and carbohydrate supplements increase muscle glycogen in men and women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83(6), 1877–1883.

James, A., Lorraine, M., Cullen, D., Goodman, C., Dawson, B., Palmer, N., & Fournier, P. (2001). Muscle glycogen super compensation: absence of a gender-related difference. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 85(6), 533–538, pg. 537   http://doi.org/10.1007/s004210100499

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Energy Needs of the Long Slow Run

imageThe long slow run is a staple in endurance training designed to build your endurance by improving your utilization of the aerobic system through a variety of physiological and metabolic changes. Endurance can be defined as: “The capacity to sustain a given velocity or power output for the longest possible time”.[1] An endurance runner wants to develop their aerobic energy system because they have a higher energy requirement that would not be sustained by the anaerobic energy system. If you are running slow enough on the long run, your energy needs will come from almost exclusively your aerobic system at around 96-99%.[2]  It is common for a novice runner to run too fast, thus not utilizing the aerobic system as much as it is intended during this type of training run. The long slow run is more about enhancing your aerobic capacity, as opposed to utilizing a higher percentage of it.

The aerobic energy system encompasses many complex steps, and there are steps along every phase of this pathway than can enhance its utilization and efficiency.  The adaptations that happen in the body during endurance training ranges from an increase in heart size, increase in plasma volume, to higher volumes of enzymes that are used during the Krebs cycle such as pyruvic acid dehydrogenase.[3]  Physiological adaptations in the muscle are strongly correlated with increased aerobic performance.  These adaptations are primarily to better utilize oxygen, which is used in the final phase of aerobic energy production via the electron transport chain.[4] Some of these physiological adaptations, as related to endurance training include: 1) increase capillary density – in order to carry oxygen into the muscle tissue 2) myoglobin – which binds and releases the oxygen in the muscle fibers, and 3) increase in quantity and size of mitochondria, which enhances their ability to use oxidative phosphorylation for the breakdown of fat and carbohydrates for energy.[5] Some studies have correlated an increase in mitochondria to increased ability to metabolize fat, which is another staple of energy efficiency, as your body produces 113 ATP through metabolizing fat as opposed to 30 ATP metabolizing carbohydrates through the aerobic system.[6]

To optimally develop these things correlate strongly with running as a percentage range of your V02 max, for a specific duration.  There were two breakthrough studies in the 1960’s and 1980’s by John O. Holloszy, and Gary Dudley, respectively.  Holloszy first studied rats and mitochondrial growth at various run durations all with the same speed, which was measured roughly at 50-75% of the V02 max.  He concluded that mitochondria are optimally developed during a run of 2 hours of duration.[7]  Dudley enhanced Holloszy’s study by measuring run intensity, not only duration, which supplemented the original research by determining that a slightly faster pace of 70-75% of V02 max will more optimally develop mitochondria than at 50%, but any faster than that will begin to diminish the rate of mitochondrial development.[8]  Endurance training also increases your V02, although this type of run is not the optimal training run to enhance this aspect.  Endurance athletes will have a much higher V02 max, which is one of the cornerstone parameters of measuring aerobic fitness, as it allows for more oxygen to move through the body and to aid in the other physiological changes.

Essentially, running the correct pace, which is highly individualized and best measured as a percentage of your V02 max, along with timing your nutrition and hydration correctly, you will be utilizing almost exclusively your aerobic energy system and enhancing it during the long slow run.


[1] Jones, A., & Carter, H. (2000). The Effect of Endurance Training on Parameters of Aerobic Fitness. Sports Medicine29(6), 373–386.

[2] Gastin, P. B. (2001). Energy system interaction and relative contribution during maximal exercise. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)31(10), 725–741.

[3] Jones, A., & Carter, H.

[4] Dunford, M., & Doyle,  J. Andrew. (n.d.). Nutrition for Sport and Exercise, 3rd Edition Cengage Learning. Pg. 80-85

[5] Jones, A., & Carter, H.

[6]Dunford, M., & Doyle,  J. Andrew, pg. 86

[7] Holloszy, J. O. (1967). Biochemical Adaptations in Muscle Effects Of Exercise On Mitochondrial Oxygen Uptake And Respiratory  Enzyme Activity In Skelatal Muscle. Journal of Biological Chemistry242(9), 2278–2282.

[8] Dudley, G. A., Tullson, P. C., & Terjung, R. L. (1987). Influence of mitochondrial content on the sensitivity of respiratory control. Journal of Biological Chemistry262(19), 9109–9114.

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Race Report – North Face 50 mile DC

raceI finished!!!!  The elation I felt when I finished is still with me.  Being pulled off the Bel Monte course a month earlier made victory that much better. In addition, a few days before I had a severe eye infection that left me bed ridden from eye pain and unable to function.  I was anxious, not sleeping, and ready to just start running.   The weather was shit.  Not only was it record breaking cold weather, but within the first hour it had rained, snowed and hailed.  The trail from Algonkian Park to Great Falls was a complete mud slog and included a stream crossing to further drench my feet.  But I was focused.  I finished strong and the last ten miles were some of my fastest! This race also meant a lot to me to finish, as while I was training for it I was going through a very difficult time and running helped me manage my anxiety and sadness and turn my negative energy into being more positive and make needed changes in my life.  Completing this felt like I triumphed over other things in life that had been holding me back.  Sweet sweet victory..

Pre Race:

I took my drop bag on Friday to the North Face store and handed it off when I picked up my packet.  In it I had included my running shoes, in case the trails weren’t so bad.  (I was starting out in my trail shoes, which are much less comfortable for me) dry socks, dry shirt, Honeystinger jelly beans, gels, waffles.  I had gotten up at 5am on Friday morning and was in bed by 8:30pm that night.  I didn’t sleep well although I was able to sleep a bit. But at least I wasn’t in a deep fog of sleep when my alarm went off at 2:55am.  I jumped up, got ready and was in my car by 3:30 to the shuttle.  I don’t think it was necessary to have the race start at 5am as opposed to 6am but everyone was in the same boat.

Race Start: Algonkian to Great Falls miles 1-15
I started out with running tights, t-shirt, long sleeve tech shirt, and a fuzzy warm long sleeve over that along with gloves and ear warmer.  I didn’t have any good light weight rain gear so my fuzzy would have to do.  I hate being cold and even though I knew I would probably warm up wearing so many layers, and sure enough I took off my outer layer after mile 3 and never put it back on, but the weather was cold and unpredictable so even retrospectively I would have brought it.  Starting to run in the dark with our headlamps was actually pretty cool, and I got to see the sunrise as we were running along the water.  At about mile 3 the weather took a turn for the worst and started pouring hail. I kept my long sleeve in my backpack knowing it would just get soaked and  I laughed to myself thinking.. of course this would happen.  This shit is crazy.  The trail conditions were getting bad.  It was a mud slog for this section.  People were falling and covered in mud.  I tried not to look at my watch as much this time and didn’t wear my heart rate monitor like before.  I would check my pace every once in a while but try to mostly go by feel.  I also tried to push my pace a little bit and set myself up for success.  I was averaging  11:30 / 12 min mile pace for these first 15 miles.  There were so many people! I did better about passing than before.  I remember thinking at Bel Monte that I didn’t want to pass people because they would probably end up passing me soon again anyways and I had let myself get stuck behind people going a slower pace than I was feeling I could do.  So I kept telling myself – just run my race.  Don’t focus on anyone else.   Another unique challenge with so many people is that I didn’t feel comfortable ducking into the woods to pee and I had still 4 miles to go until the restroom at Great Falls and it made those 4 miles extremely uncomfortable.  I stopped drinking water, I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was excited to get to Great Falls to use the restroom, get some dry socks, and focus on part 2.

Great Falls loops – miles 16-35
I showed up at Great Falls excited to put on new socks and ditch the extra clothes I had been carrying, only to find out my drop bag never made it.  From what I overheard this had been happening all morning.   That was probably my lowest point of the race, although in comparison to what I felt going up the side of the mountain at Bel Monte it was not that bad. I ditched my fuzzy, told the organizer I knew I probably wouldn’t get it back but I couldn’t continue to carry it.   I was frustrated, checked in with my pacer saying that all was well but I wish I had dry socks, which he would bring for me at mile 30.  Everything else in the bag was dispensable.  I didn’t really need the extra waffles and gels,  I had told myself I would not listen to music unless I had to, and it was time for music.  Luckily it only rained in the morning, and then sporadically.  The forecast had also called for gusts of wind up to 40 mph but we were sheltered at Great Falls and no wind.  My spirits improved with the music and after being thrown off with the glitches, I refocused.  This next part consisted of doing a big loop 3 times, and along the loop was 3 out and backs.  There were many runners on the course as the 50K runners and marathoners started to join as well.  The race was well-organized, the signage was good, and there was never a time where I felt that I didn’t know where I was going or confused about what to do.  Our bibs would be marked at each checkpoint by a volunteer and they would send us back to the next one.  I was feeling good.  My knees and hips were starting to ache a bit, I took some ibuprofen and focused on keeping up with my food and gel intake and drinking lots of water.  The aid stations were well stocked and I made sure to take the extra time to add water in my camel back and not make the same mistake as before – in that I didn’t want to carry so much extra weight but I had ended up running out of water.  My coach joined at mile 29 for the third and final loop around Great Falls.  My wet socks had been giving me blisters on the sides of my feet where I typically get blisters but I had tried to prevent it by putting moleskin before the race.  So we replaced the bandages, but on new socks, filled up the water, and were ready to go.  It was nice to have someone to run with and broke up the monotony of the miles.  By this time I was in a bit of a mental slog, hips were hurting a bit more, but still feeling good overall.  After a few miles I put my music back in, realized my battery was nearly dead and got in a few good songs before turning it back off.

Great Falls to the Finish! Miles 36-50
Coming up on mile 36 I was excited and felt like it was the homestretch.  I told my pacer my goal was to finish an hour under the cutoff time and tried to speed up, and he held me back saying I should wait till we’re a bit closer, as a lot can happen in 15 miles.  Just keep up with the forever pace.  This section also had a lot of hills and I was starting to feel the fatigue in my legs significantly more hiking up them.  I didn’t feel like talking at this point, and my pacer ran behind me most of the run to let me figure out what pace was comfortable for me, and we ran in silence for most of this section.  I would make comments like..  I’m feeling really tired right now.  I feel nauseous.  The flowers are pretty.  I was focused on my form and the running and was spacing out occasionally as well but not with any wandering stories in my head, but just with nothingness. My mind was blank.  Just.. running.  The time I felt nauseous, it lasted about a mile and it was very unpleasant.  I kept waiting to have to stop and throw up, and finally it went away on its own.  With ten miles left I was getting even more excited.  I was so damn close.  We kept running along and I passed a lot of people on this last section.  My failure at Bel Monte was fueling my energy at this point.  I had no significant pain to affect my running. Everything hurt.. but everything was manageable. It was wonderful.  It was all mental now.  We hit the mud slog again and crossed the creek.  It was amusing to me and little things were making me laugh.  Like thinking of running backwards the rest of the way.  Or of going back to pet one last time one of the organizer’s little german shepherd puppy.  There was only one part, at the last section of out and back between mile 47-48 that I mentally fatigued.  We walked for a bit.  I ate a gel and decided at the next tree we were going to run again, and not stop.  And that’s what happened.  With 2 miles left, we crossed by the final checkpoint and picked up the pace.  This was familiar terrain as I had run some of my training runs here. I remember asking my pacer. is this it?  I was worried we would have to do another loop around the soccer field like how the morning started out.  I didn’t want to have a false hope and end up needing to run another half mile.  But this was it.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Passed a few more people along the final stretch and ran into the finish with arms up, a big smile on my face, and excited as fuck to have finished my first ultra. woot!

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Post Race Pain
My hips hurt, my knees hurt, my feet hurt.  My lungs hurt and I am still coughing a few days later.  I am pretty sure I have exercise induced asthma.  My IT Band just above my left knee – the one that originally kept me out of running for a month and a half in December, is very very sore and inflamed.  My abs and shoulders are sore too.  But I’m happy! Very happy. And feel a huge sense of accomplishment.  I worked very hard for this, and trained consistently.  Bel Monte was a beast.  I’d like to conquer it one day.  This race I realized didn’t have 4500 vertical like I thought – it had 4500 elevation change.  So only about 2200 vertical, in comparison to Bel Monte’s 6500 vertical.  I was almost more sore after a 38 mile failure than I was finishing 50 miles for the North Face.  This might have something to do with mental defeat as well, I’m not sure.  My soreness now seems justified, whereas before I was just bitter because I felt a sense of urgency to heal up and get back to training.  I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I wanted this so bad.  I raced as hard as I could and I smashed my expectations of how well I would do.  I think prior to the race was harder mentally than the race itself.  I have a hard time managing my nervousness before the race, when so many things can go wrong.  Like getting sick.  Trying to eat right. Wondering if I’m eating right. Wondering if I’ll slip and fall in a freak accident.  Not sleeping well enough.  But when I’m running, I feel better.  I know unless something happens like tripping and falling and breaking my leg, I can mentally handle all of it.  I can handle the rain and the snow and the hail and keep on going and keep running and this makes me so happy.  On to the next!

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