June 16th / 17th marked the 3rd annual Ironcology overnight iron-distance triathlon relay event, a race I’ve participated in since it started in 2015. The first of its kind, the race starts at 7pm on Friday, and runs overnight, with a 4000-yard swim, 120 mile bike (new for this year, with previous years being closer to 112), and a 26.2 mile run. I was part of a 4-man team, contributing to each of the three disciplines. The race raises money for cancer research, and is organized by a talented triathlete and oncologist, Jonathan Feddock.
I also had the exciting opportunity to try an amazing product called KE4 by ‘KetoneAid’, which is in testing and development. The majority of folks who have tested are on a traditional diet, so I was excited to see how it would work with my low carb high fat ketogenic approach to eating.
I worked with Frank Llosa, CEO of KetoneAid, on developing a usage protocol for the race, and ultimately decided it would be best to take it after the swim, before my first bike segment.
The swim is in a pool, and since there were more teams than lanes, some teams started at 7pm, with the faster teams starting at 9pm. Our team had won the first two years, so we were seeded in the second wave. We split the swim up with 50’s and 100’s (huge thanks to Chris, our ringer in the water, for pulling 100’s while the rest of us did 50’s). We finished the swim in 48:54. Not a bad start to the race!
TJ ran our T1, and Phil was standing by to kick off our bike leg. The weather was absolutely perfect, with low 70’s, and just a light breeze. While Phil and TJ started ticking off laps, I got into my bike kit and got the KE4 and glucose packs ready to go.
With about 30 minutes to go before my turn on the bike, I consumed 2 GU packs, which are mostly glucose. This was part of the protocol for taking the KE4, and was certainly a shock to my system! I waited 20 minutes, and then came the KE4 itself. I did 60ml of the solution, which equates to 30ml of pure ketone ester.
I would try to describe the taste, but it is, in a word, indescribable. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it wasn’t delicious, either. Just a very strong, very unique flavor. I chased it with a little sparkling water, which was very refreshing!
10 minutes later, I did a blood sugar and blood ketone readings. Blood sugar went from a baseline of 94 to a spike of 237 (not surprising after slamming two GU packs on a keto diet), and my blood ketone levels went from a baseline of 0.4 to 2.5. Time for me to turn some hot laps on the bike!
I was told that it may take some time to warm up, and that was my experience. In fact, my first few laps, my times seemed to be getting slower. But I would say about 20 minutes in, things changed, and changed radically.
You hear athletes talk about being ‘in the zone’. That’s how I would describe it, but it’s a huge understatement. My legs were just there. My mind was razor sharp, and it seemed like the race was happening in slow motion. I was able to maintain threshold power for the entire ride, but it just felt easy. It’s like my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) became disconnected from my ability. I wasn’t able to produce more watts than I otherwise would have, but I was able to run wide open effortlessly, and for a LOT longer time with no fade. No burn in the legs, no mental fatigue. In a word, incredible.
Greg Henderson, 6x Tour de France cyclist, talks about it here. An FBI Special Agent PR’d his 10-mile run by 12% using KetoneAid, and describes his experience here. Adam Cianciarulo, a motocross racer, describes his experience here. Incredibly, self-described bio-hacker and self-quantification geek Bob Troia improved his luminosity scores by over 30% on some scores while taking KE4.
I am told that the ‘in the zone’ phenomenon is sometimes referred to as time dilation – that’s a good way of describing it, and I know others have experienced it. The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion, but when I got done, it only seemed like I was out there for a short amount of time.
Bottom line, I stayed out for 30 laps (36 miles), and was significantly faster than last year, where I did 10 lap segments. My teammates took some laps, and I went back out for 15 more, and was only 1.4% slower than my first 30-lap segment, having taken no fuel between the segments. 54 miles, 2325′ of climb, 2:21:04, 23mph average. When I was finished, my glucose was back to normal, but ketone levels rose throughout the rest of the night and into the next day!
I created some charts that illustrate some data descibing my experience. The first are my bike laps. The course is a 1.2-mile crit-style course with a good climb, and some fast corners. 1552′ of climb over 36 miles total according to my Garmin.
One item of note, I was able to increase my speed lap over lap through about 40 minutes, after which things really stabilized, but slowed just a bit. One of my slower laps can be blamed on a semi-truck crossing the bike course, but it was around 45 minutes when I felt like I was running a very sustainable threshold pace. Based on my ketone and glucose levels, I’m wondering if 40 minutes in was the point where I had torched the glucose, and I wonder what would have happened had I kept taking in some carbs?
I also realized about 4-5 laps in that my best strategy was to really attack the climb, out of the saddle, because I was able to recover from hard efforts extremely quickly. I was out of the saddle, hitting it hard in a big gear for 30-35 seconds, and I felt completely recovered from the effort 8-10 seconds later, so mashing it up the hill and recovering on the downhill was the ticket to fast lap times.
In retrospect, I would have loved to stay out on the course to see how long I could keep it up, but it’s a relay, so I didn’t want to be a lap-hog.
I have another chart that shows glucose and ketone levels throughout the evening, along with food that I consumed, and the portions of the relay I participated in.
Also of note – technically, the total caloric value of the ketones I drank in the KE4 was relatively small (120 calories), but my blood ketone concentration continued to rise for the next 11 hours! I hit the highest numbers I’ve ever hit without any additional ketone supplementation. It’s as if the KE4 put my body’s natural ketone production into hyperdrive.
The rest of the race went off relatively uneventfully. My runs were about what I expected given my current training load (more focus on strength training than running right now) We had a strong team, but ended up in 2nd place overall. Still, we had an absolute blast, and the event raises money for cancer research. Always great racing for a good cause!
Post-race, two things stand out to me. First, recovery was very rapid. My legs felt great the very next day. Normally, after numerous hard efforts (not to mention pulling an all-nighter) would have left me feeling pretty wrecked for a couple days, but after a Saturday afternoon nap, I felt relatively normal. By Sunday, I was completely back to normal, with no impact to my subsequent training.
Second, I was a little bummed for a few days that you can’t just go to the website and buy KetoneAid (yet). Once available, it will definitely be a game-changer in endurance sports, especially where recovery after a hard effort is essential.
I absolutely cannot wait until I can conduct another test of the KetoneAid. I only took 60% of the bottle I was given, so what I have left is being saved for another race. I look forward to sharing those results when the time comes! Stay tuned!