[Editor’s Note: Currently, Ben is trying to share his experiences with all the veterans out there to show that the Keto Diet can be used to aid recovery from PTSD as well as managing the chronic pain from injuries sustained during their service. In an effort to shine a light on his efforts and share his journey, he is planning to run one ultra-marathon a month in 2018 using Fat For Fuel (low carb/no carb). This is an edited version of his experience in his first Ultra race. You can read his back story here.] [Editor’s Update: It was discovered during discussions with Ben this last week that his blood ketone test meter had been ‘misplaced’ and so I reached out to our good friends at Keto-Mojo. They are doing such a great job at driving down the cost of the ketone test strips so that testing becomes affordable for everyone. When they heard. they immediately stepped up and sent Ben a new meter and test strips. They’re the sort of people we want in our community! Thanks Dorian Greenow!]
This past weekend, I undertook my first ultra-race of the year. I felt very confident leading up to the race. Knowing that there was a chance that the temperatures could be in the single digits, I planned and trained accordingly. I worked through how I was going to layer my clothes and I created a hydration and nutrition plan that would sustain me throughout the race. The distance was comfortable for me and I had planned on it taking me between 6-8 hours. I knew I wasn’t going to set any speed records and I didn’t plan on doing that.
On the Monday before the race, my son got sick. He was projectile vomiting and had a tummy ache. I thought it was because he drank too much punch at his brother’s birthday party that day. (He kept sneaking back to the punch bowl having different relatives fill up his cup which I estimate to have been at least 7 times). Around 2 am that night, my stomach didn’t feel right so I went to the bathroom…it was at that point that I began to my own display of gastro-intestinal pyrotechnics that would continue for the next two days. By Thursday, I was able to finally eat a meal and hold down water. This was at the same time as the “Bomb Cyclone” was hitting. Temperatures were dipping down into the negatives. I was able to get out for a warm-up run and I felt pretty good, all things considered.
The plan was to go out on Friday night and stay the night and wake up early for the race Saturday. We left later than we wanted to but made it to the race site to register that night. I got my number and packet and we went back to the hotel to eat and then sleep. As I was laying out my clothes and equipment at the hotel, I realized that I couldn’t find my top two layers. I had trained using these layers and I knew that it was going to keep me warm even in the single digit temperatures. Now I couldn’t find those top two layers. I didn’t freak out, I had packed enough to know that there was something else that I could wear, so I tried to relax before I went to sleep. After everything was laid out and I got to bed, it was around 1 am.
Next morning, we got to the start about 20 minutes before race time. The temperature was -1 out. I was a little nervous because it had been quite a week leading up to the race and I didn’t have a high degree of confidence in my layers. But I knew I had enough water, fat, and pickles/pickle juice to get me through the race.
So the race starts and I kept to the back because I wasn’t in any particular hurry and I wasn’t planning on setting any speed records. After a couple of miles, I was really blown away with being out in the woods. After a while, the only thing I could hear was my feet hitting the snow. It was so peaceful and serene. I realized that I hadn’t been alone in nature like that in over a decade. Then I realized that I really was alone. I couldn’t see or hear anyone. I knew that the first aid station was supposed to be after four miles. All my water had frozen, so I was carrying 4.5 litres of ice. Fortunately, my pickle juice was not frozen all the way, so I was able to make it to the first aid station where I could attempt to thaw out my water bottles. Even though the temperature was in the low single digits, I was kind of warm and I was sweating, which made the heavy cotton sweatshirt freeze, so that was also a new and interesting experience. Throughout the run, particularly the back half of the course, I just felt like I was sinking. This is to be understood because even though I have lost around 130 lbs to date, I still weigh right around 260, which makes me over 100 lbs heavier than the typical ultra-runner.
This doesn’t bother me, but it was just interesting to see how the effect that had, particularly on the back half of the course which was lots of hills and powdery snow which at times went up to my calves. I felt like I was running on a beach for a better part of it the last half.
Also, during the back half of the run, the distances between aid stations did not feel right. I chalked it up to a lot of twists in the terrain and all the hills, but it turns out that I had made a wrong turn and followed the wrong path. It’s easier than you might think in the winter time, not that it is a point of pride for me. When I got in, I checked my Garmin GPS and I added an extra 10 miles to the loop. That might seem hard to do, but I really was just enjoying myself out in the woods. It’s not often that I get that kind of solitude in nature. Normally when I run, it’s in the city or from city to city. Some of the routes I take put me through parts of Detroit and Dearborn that is abandoned and run down, so the solitude isn’t that foreign, but there are always sounds in the city. Being in the woods like that, it was just a surreal experience…even though I was running in single degree temperatures.
By the time I finished that loop, I talked with race officials and they weren’t sure if I would be able to do the second loop by the cut off time. I also didn’t have a headlamp and the back half of that course was gnarly in the day. Can’t imagine what it would have been like in the dark without a headlamp. I decided that it was best that I end when I did. To DNF or drop from the race is not in my DNA. I know I could’ve finished, but I would’ve probably crawled across the finish line at 10 at night. Feeling that the risk didn’t justify the reward I decided to stop. If I’m honest with myself and everyone, one year ago, I would get out of breath walking up the stairs or tying my shoes, now I’m running ultra-marathons. I know that I have another race coming up. One that hopefully I won’t have a gastro bug before. Also, I will have all the right gear and maybe the weather will not freeze my water [and maybe he won’t run an extra 10 miles either].
The reality of this is that in real life, sometimes we DNF or drop. Sometimes that happens with our diet or exercise, sometimes it’s in our personal or professional lives. These things happen, but these things do not have to define us or be the cause of our demise. We don’t live in a binary world of ones and zeros and we don’t need to live our lives accordingly. It is what we do next that will help shape our outcomes. I have another race in a few weeks. After just two days I’m back at the gym training to prepare for the next one. A little wiser now and I have learned from my mistakes. I am continuing to better myself, despite what some would perceive as a failure. I will keep putting my right foot in front of my left and I will be ready for the next race.
[Ben Davis: Army Vet – Blog Contributor]