Why should everyone run an ultra?

First of all let’s start explaining what is an ultra-marathon and it variations. An Ultra, how is commonly known, is a organize footrace extending beyond the standard marathon running distance (42 km and 195 meters).

Ultra races usually begin at 50 km and can extend to various distances. 
There are two types of ultras marathon events:

  1. Those that have to cover an extended area (e.g. 50 km, 100 km, 100 miles, etc.)
  2. Those ones that take place during a certain amount of time (e.g. 8hs, 12 hs, 24 hs, etc.) with the winner being the one that covers the most distance in that time.

Ultras are run on roads, trails and tracks. They can be point-to-point, like the UTMB (Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc ); or held on loop courses, like the (in)famous Barkley’s Marathon.

Marathon Des Sables

There are also stage races, these races are done usually between five or six days, where each runner has to mandatory stop when they reach to the finishing line of the correspondent day before leaving for the next stage the following day. (E.g. Marathon Des Sables)

Some harder ultra-marathons include, self-navigation; runners don’t run on a market course and they have to orientate themselves with the use of a map and compass (Berghaus Dragons Back Ultra). Considered to be even a tougher event are self-supported ultra-marathon stage races where each competitor has to carry all their supplies including food to survive the length of the race (The Jungle Ultra Marathon)

If you ever decide to run an ultra, regardless the distance, you have to make a great deal of choices, from what you or drink to how much you rest or train.

When it comes to food and drink, the first thing you need to do is to find what is best for you, go to a nutritionist or try different diets by yourself (check my previous post about diet). You need to adjust your diet not only to your training but also to the race. If you are consistent with your diet, your overall health will improve dramatically. (do not only associate the word diet with synonym to “lose weight”, diet or dieting in this case is to find the nutrients your body need to perform such an activity like ultra-running). I’m on keto and that is what works best for me, I have tried many diets before, but keto is the one that my body reacts the best to.

So why running an Ultra?

There are many benefits of running long distances, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

The reasons to run ultras are endless. Some say their body feels happier on the nature. Also, things like changes in elevation, obstacles – such as roots, rocks and potholes – as well as sharp bends and turns, result in a more balanced and athletic trained runner. It also helps you develop some sort of sense of peace and therefore you are more likely to run based on feel, rather than what your running watch says.

Here are some of its benefits:

  • Strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3902253/)
  • It improves bone density of the legs and hips and it helps you maintain a healthy weight. (https://www.londonbridgeorthopaedics.co.uk/2016/06/16/running-and-your-bone-density/)
  • Improve your coordination, agility and balance. Running in nature avoiding falls, negotiating steep slopes, cutting around sharp corners and landing on unstable surfaces, all help build athleticism
  • Improves discipline. You have to train and you have to organize a schedule for it. We are talking that for some ultras you be running 14 hs a week depending on the training. You have to be very organized and consistent to not only arrange your running routine, but also your daily life. Once the race is finished, you will find yourself planning your daily life in a much better way.
  • Reduce tension, confusion, anger and depression. There is something special about running an ultra, while you are running you are in a relaxed state of mind, there are no issues, no anger, no frustration, just the feeling of feeling free. If I’m ever down then I can pick myself up with a run. Some might argue that it isn’t healthy to rely on running to regulate your mood. Maybe that’s true. That said, being dependent on exercise to regulate your mood is much better than having to rely on medication. Running is free. Medicine isn’t.
  • Improve your mental health. It makes you happy, it is as simple as that . Reaching a difficult goal that required a lot of sacrifice will make your body experience a state of mind that has no comparison.

Most people meditate siting down, they fix a point in a distance, they control their breath and posture.

I do the same while I run, and I check my posture (my running posture), control my breathing and concentrate on a fix point in front of my legs while moving. Running is my active way of meditating

The joy is in the journey.

Every single time that I cross the finish line reminds me of this . I have trained my body for months to be physically capable of doing this crazy thing that very few have done or can do, and I just freaking did it! WELL DONE, ME!

We are capable of doing really hard things and that capability now applies to all aspects of your life. Through training for and then racing an ultra, we’ve willingly given ourselves numerous opportunities to work through hard circumstances. Times when it would have been much easier to stop and quit than to struggle and possibly fail. The tenacity that you’ve developed through training for, and racing, a race of that magnitude is impressive and will serve you well in life.

So how does it feel crossing the line?

Joyful. Exhilarating. Scary. Exciting. Tearful. Humbling. Prideful. Tiring. Inspirational.  All of this and more

It’s something you have to experience for yourself to understand.


Keto and Me

Benefits of ketogenic diet on endurance training and ultra running

First let’s start explaining in simple words what is Ketogenic diet or as it is commonly known, Keto. Keto is basically a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diets. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

When this occurs, your body produces small fuel molecules called “ketones”. This is an alternative fuel source for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply. Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar).The liver produces ketones from fat. These ketones then serve as a fuel source throughout the body, especially for the brain.

On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy.

The benefits of a ketogenic diet are:

  1. Lose Weight. Fat burning is significantly increased, while insulin levels drop greatly. https://www.dietdoctor.com/yes-a-low-carb-diet-greatly-lowers-your-insulin
  2. Appetite control. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.12230
  3. Energy and mental performance. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18804129
  4. Increased physical endurance. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26892521

I started keto almost by chance. I have just started running and I wanted to find a diet that would help me loose the extra weight I had. I read and try many diets but with no luck. Either I was not trying hard enough or I felt that I didn’t enjoy eating the “recommended food/meals”.

Me with 127 kg

So one day I was talking to a colleague of mine and he mentioned that he has done a diet called “Keto” which in his own words was basically eating fat and protein and cutting carbs down almost to none. I went on line, like everyone else does nowadays, and did a bit of research.

The more I read the more interesting I found the diet, especially when I came to the food that was going to be able to eat.  So I went ahead and gave it a try .

“For the ones who don’t know how to do a proper and effective keto, the simplest thing to understand are macro nutrients or macros. The reason why Macro nutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) are very important on a ketogenic diet is because you want to get your body used to metabolising fat as an energy source, instead of carbohydrates. To do this effectively, you must also restrict carbohydrates at the same time. Protein is a building block which your body requires, but doesn’t directly translate this into energy”

Generally, on a keto diet, macros vary within the following ranges: 60-75% of calories from fat, 15-30% of calories from protein, and. 5-10% of calories from carbs.

I started with the following percentages, just to get my body accustomed; 70% fat, 20% protein, 10% carbs. What this means is basically, that on a 2650 calories intake, I will be consuming, 66 grams of carbs (10%), 132 grams of protein (20%) and 205 grams of fat (70%).  I was on this percentages for a couple of weeks and I started seeing the results of fat burning.

As my training progressed, so did my diet. Ergo I decided to modify my macros in two ways.

  1. I modify the percentages to 75% of fat, 20% of protein (sometimes I alternated between 80% fat and 15% protein) and finally a mere 5% of carbs.
  2. I boosted my calorie consumption up to 4000/4500 calories depending on the intensity of my training. ( I burnt on a regular day about 3800 calories, and on my intensive days about 6000 calories)*

Example: On a 4500 calories,  56 grams of carbs (5%), 225 grams of protein (20%) and 375 grams of fat (75%).

*Note: “Is very important to know how much calories you burn while training, those calories should be added at minimum with your meals, if not the weight loss could be harmful”

To clarify, in many articles that you might read, it will say that to be on ketosis you need to eat less than 40 net carbs per day, this measurement is based on a 2400 calorie consumption diet. However your macros have to be calculated on your daily consumption of calories not as an estimate. An athlete or very active person will burn more calories and for that reason must consume more than a sedentary person.

Training on Keto.

As many people that have started any sort of diet (mainly losing weight) I did started keto on the same premises. However, besides losing weight, the effects of the diet were far greater. I found myself with a surplus of energy when it came to training.

What does this mean?

Basically means that in a fat-adapted state, you are “virtually bonk proof” and can exercise for hours on end using just body fat for fuel. Most people can store at least 40,000 calories as fat — a nearly unlimited supply! And a fat-adapted athlete can tap into that supply quickly and easily. In contrast, our bodies can store only 2,000 calories of carbohydrates, which means that we constantly have to replenish glucose stores.

When we run we use carbs, fat and protein as a fuel source. This is call aerobic metabolism. An aerobic exercise is done at a heart rate below 85 percent of maximum heart rate and doesn’t use vigorous muscle contractions. Your body is able to maintain a constant energy stream by breaking down carbohydrates and fats with aerobic metabolic processes.

Me with 86 kg at the Munich Marathon

That’s why on a carb based diet, endurance athletes tend to “hit the wall”. This is essentially lack of glucose on your bloodstream, in simple words is to burn “fuel” (carbs) faster than we can re supply our body with them. And like I mentioned earlier, our body can store up to 2000 calories of carbohydrates which is a very limited energy source. On the other hand, on a fat based diet, the supply of “fuel” is almost unlimited, with 40000 calories of fat to burn.

Having explain that, I found myself, as a runner, with enormous amount of energy to burn. My runs became longer and longer. When before I could not run more than 30 min, now on a fat based diet I started adding hours to my runs. One hour became two, and two became three and so on. Little by little, keto diet has transformed me into a long distance runner, I could run for hours before having a snack.  My body adapted so well to keto, that I decided to move from a “runner” and became an “ultra runner”.

Running marathons/ultras on a low carb high fat diet.

As an ultra-runner, I had many questions about how to make it all work during training and racing. Most importantly, I wondered how exactly to fuel myself during an ultra-distance race

Ultra race Country to Capital with 81 kg

What I learned is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to training and racing while in ketosis. Everyone is different and has different fuelling needs based on factors like body composition, how long you’ve been fat adapted and the duration of your race. Some runners can train and race in a fasted state; others need to eat before and during a race. Still others opt to break from ketosis in the days leading up to an event and consume more carbohydrates for optimal performance.

I started training for ultras after being on the keto diet for about six months. At that point, I was fully fat-adapted. During my training, I noticed a few interesting things:

  • I was much less hungry than I remember being in the past while doing long distance training.
  • Three hours before a race I would only eat food high on fat (cheeses, avocado, etc.). Whit that I would had plenty of fuel to hold a consistent pace for up to 30 miles. After that I would replenish only if very hungry with some protein or fat based snacks (cheese strings or salami bites). 
  • I felt like I was recovering from workouts quicker.

Training was one thing, but knowing what to eat during the race was more difficult. I knew that for most races, keto athletes don’t need to consume extra calories before, during or after. However, for races longer than 3–4 hours, additional fuel would likely be needed.

Most food and drinks typically provided at aid stations during races are not keto — isogenic drinks, pretzels, candy, cookies, bagels­, etc. I knew I needed to be prepared to supply all my race nutrition beforehand.

Two hours before the race, my plan was to have a coffee, cheese, avocado and some cold cuts for breakfast (I usually have the same, because It works for me)  and carry  two litters of water on my ransack. I also planned to take salt tablets, about one every hour.
In my drop off bag (if the option is available on the race), I planned to have some keto-friendly options like cheese strings, nuts and dry sausage.

Looking on the bright side, I know the ketogenic diet is working for me — not only in my day-to-day life, but also in my endurance races. During a race, I could ran more than 45 kilometres with breakfast in my belly and nothing else. Logistically, it is much easier to plan than other races where I’ve run in the past, where I’d need to find a way to consume 300 calories an hour to sustain my effort.

This time, my body had plenty of dietary and body fat to keep going strong. I still have so much to learn and try as a fat-adapted athlete, but I know and have confirmed that keto is the way forward in my ultra-races.

Keto has changed my life, but I will not vouch that it will work for everyone else. Everybody’s body is different and will react differently to different diets. I tried so many diets before I found one that actually worked for me.

Me at the lightest I have ever been. 78 kg at the Barcelona marathon

Barcelona Marathon

And how perseverance and consistency can make you achieve unimaginable things 


I have never been a sportsmanlike person. I did enjoy, in my youth, playing some collective sports such as rugby or football, but never, in my mind, I came across with the idea of running, less with the thought of becoming an ultra-runner. I tried it a couple of times but didn’t make it far, nor in distance neither in attempts. And let’s be honest, the lifestyle that I choose at that time, was not the adequate for running or for any sport for the matter of facts.

Therefore, running has become something that I admire people for . However it was not my thing, I just couldn’t manage to keep myself interested or motivated. But almost two years ago I decided that I need to do something different with my life so I gave running one more chance.

After training for a couple of month I decided that I needed to stepped it up, so I went and registered for a marathon. In September 2017 I run and completed my first marathon. It took me 4hs:35min and an incredible amount of pain to finish that race.

There was a mix of feelings at the time, I was happy and upset at the same time. I finished yes, but that time was embarrassing, “well just walk it next time” I keep telling myself. So there and then, I decided that I needed to push it further, that no matter what I will break the 3hs 30min barrier.

I set my goal and I went and train for it. Since then I run 7 marathons, all of them, under 4hs but none of them close to my goal. However, on my last one (Venice marathon- October 2018) I was very close to beat that goal; 3hs and 31 min 12 sec was my time (1 min and a half more). I was so upset, 1 freaking minute.

In the following months I stepped up my training again and in the month of November, December and January I run 800km. My long runs (30km-35km-38km) were done at a 4:49 pace. But I wasn’t tired or exhausted, just filled with joy, the joy of running for fun. Something that I wanted for so long.

I was feeling very strong and confident. I started to visualize my goal as a very achievable one. However, February came along, and with that a lot of changes in my life. Changes that became challenges, I had no time to train, at least not as much as I would love to. And with those changes, came the frustration of seeing my goal vanish before I even started the race. I started thinking that I would not be able to run at that pace or even worst, that if I managed to run at that speed I might get injured badly.

Anyways my girlfriend and I flew to Barcelona a day before the race. And I was still skeptical about the race, specially because I slept only 3 hours before my flight due to some work related matters.

On arrival we dropped our bags and we went immediately to pick my BIB number to the sport centre at Plaza Espana. And for the first time in a month I was exited of running this race. The atmosphere was just great, so many people of different ages/sexuality/nationalities just sharing the same vibe, the vibe of running a marathon. I was happy

Plaza Espana

We left the area, and did a bit of sightseeing, finally going back to our room at around 10pm and straight to bed.
Next morning I woke up at 6am, I got ready and we left to plaza Espana.
We got there around 7:45 am, and the place was already full of people, full of colours and full of life (just beautiful).

I dropped my backpack and we started walking to my block (first block under 3hs to 3hs 15min; second block 3hs 15min to 3hs 45min, third block 3hs 45min and onwards.) My girlfriend kissed me goodbye and wished me luck, and I stood there on my own amongst thousands of runners waiting for the signal to go.

During this time my mind was in sync with me, and for the very first time I was sure that I was going to beat my previous time and obtain my Personal Best . I don’t know how or why, if it was the great night of sleep that I had, or the day or just my girlfriend wishing me luck, but there was something inside that was telling me that it was going to be a great fun day, that I should not be worried and push more than I usually do. And so I did.

We all listened to the countdown very impatiently and exited at the same time. When it reached 1 we all left, like a massive river of people.

Start line at Plaza España

I started running at a 4:49 min/km pace and I was ok with that pace, because I knew that with that rhythm I could break my PB. I kept on running for a couple of kilometres, checking at the distance not the pace. When I reached km 10 I checked it and I was surprised that I have been running at 4:38 min/km and I wasn’t feeling tired, on contraire I felt like very strong.

I started running a bit faster and after a couple of km, I finally saw the 3hs 30 min pacers. I was so exited, I caught up to them and by km 18 I have already passed them.

I didn’t slow down, I kept pushing harder and running faster. Checked my pace again and at this time It was 3:26 min/km. Im not going to lie, in that moment two thoughts came into my head; first, that im going to eventually injure myself , due to the pace I was running in; second, that if I can keep this pace I might eventually catch the 3hs 15min pacers.

I ignored the first thought and I let myself go. I was running the fastest marathon I have ever run, and I was also having so much fun, so why would I slow down, not?

Thankfully I didn’t and at km 28 I caught up with the 3hs 15min pacers and by km 34 I have passed them by far. I was now running at a 4:24 min/km pace. I run at this pace till the end of the marathon, I did get to see the 3hs pacers, but I couldn’t catch up with them. But none of that mattered, I was 1km away of not only breaking the 3hs:30min barrier that I had, but also close to break the 3hs barrier which I though impossible.

I turned into the last 200 metres with tears in my eyes from the accomplishment I was about to achieve.  I saw my girlfriend from a multitude of thousands, which made the moment even better (the possibilities of spotting her, from literally thousands was almost microscopic, but there she was).

I crossed the line at a surprising 3hs 04min time. I was tired yes, but I was also euphoric, between smiles and tears, I remembered how hard was when I first decided to run , how overweight I was (127kg) to how I am now (79kg). I also remember people that I know telling me that I am overdoing it, that im running too much, that I train too much, and I couldn’t help to think of how wrong those people were. “I truly believe that if you put your head into something, and you are consistent and you work hard for it, you will achieve unimaginable things”. I was the proof, I was the guy who couldn’t run 5km, and I was the guy who run a year before a marathon in 4hs 35 min, I was the same guy who in a lapsus of a year had improved his time by almost 1 hour and a half.

Most people who are criticizing and judging, haven’t even tried what you failed at.

David Goggins
Barcelona Marathon Medal

I looked for my girlfriend amongst the crowd, found her, kiss her and told her how happy I was of everything, crossing the line, the time, of seeing her. She told me how proud she was, we smile together and headed into the city tin search of a nice cold beer.

Never say never, because limits like fear are often just an illusion.

Michael Jordan