Last summer my girlfriend and I spent seven months visiting various mountain towns in the Western US. Our obsession with ultrarunning led us into working a four day stint at the Bigfoot 200 race. We setup camp at mile 188 and what came through our aid-station was nothing short of amazing. People were running for 3-5 days non-stop in very difficult conditions. One of the people we met ordered up an avocado, bacon and a beer. That man was Rick Arikado a veteran of ultrarunning who is approaching sixty years old and still able to finish multiple 200 mile mountain races a year. Not only does he finish, but he finishes in the top half.
Rick shares his personal story and explains what drives him to run these distances way plus how he does it. This is a long interview, but I assure you it is worth your time. Enjoy.
First off, thanks Mikey, for the interest and taking the time to ask about how this aging mid-packer manages to run 200 mile races. I had so much fun last summer running two and most of another 200 miler, that attempting to repeat that (or to better it) now while I have the means was a no-brainer. Being a part of this new community within the greater community of ultra-running has been an incredible experience. One I don’t want to end, though realistic thinking says my abilities will fizzle out at some point.
1) You have three 200 mile non-stop mountain trail races on your calendar this year. You have already run three 200 mile races. What got you into this kind of running?
There are three things that led me to these events:
- For years I have run a lot of ultras per year, so a lot of them ended up being back to back, a week or two apart.
- I guess I am a text-book insomniac. Pretty much life-time. During elementary school days, I used to stay up and watch the late news with my parents though my sisters had gone to bed, then spent hours after that reading under the covers with a desk lamp, mostly encyclopaedias. I have gone 4 or 5 days unable to sleep totally unrelated to a running event. I get by with an average of 5.5 hours of sleep per night.
- FatDog 120 mile, which is so much more than just another 20 miles added to a 100 miler.
By 2010, I had run a few 100 mile races as a natural progression from my earlier beginnings in trail racing. I loved the fact that an organized running event would allow me to run through the night. “I mean, what else was one to do, sleep is such a waste of time” I always said. That year a new local 100 mile race came on the scene – FatDog. The fact that it was 120 miles not 100, a very tough course and that the temps soared to over 100F, led to a DNF. I felt good enough to continue, but there was no way to communicate to waiting & worried family that it was going to take way longer than expected.
The following year FatDog was cancelled due to snow pack in the high country. 18′ walls of snow on all 4 passes that the course crosses over. When I returned the next year, I had run the Squamish 50 miler the weekend before. I ended up DNF’ing FatDog yet again, this time due to severe chaffing (I will spare you & your readers the nether region details).
2013: I attempted FatDog120 once more but not without my typical back-to-back 50 miler in Squamish the week before again. I finished in 43 hours 22 minutes, elated with beating this beast and wildly curious about the fact I had stayed awake through 2 nights, running (well, at least relentless forward progress) and no sleep.
There is a detour in my life story here that cannot go without inclusion. Although not running related, it has obviously affected everything since that day. Sometime in the early hours of August 18, 2013 as I was finishing FatDog120 or celebrating at the finish line, my wife passed away at home. She had not been under the care of a doctor for any specific illness. This was a total shock to me and our families.
Months later I staggered out of a fog of family services, celebrations of life, insurance claims, banking & property issues, work, dealing with friends who hadn’t heard, drinking too much and no direction in how to go forward to find two things: registration to FatDog was open and a new 200 mile race in Tahoe was forefront in the ultra running chatter. Running, of course, was going to be my salvation. The rest, as they say, is history.
I have just recently had this part of my story published by a British running magazine, Like the Wind, and invite your readers to seek issue #9 of this artistic side of the running world.
2) You are a low carb paleo runner. What do you see as the benefits of this way of eating? What are your staple foods that you eat every week?
Actually, I dislike the “paleo” part, but I will explain. Again, sorry for the length.
Part of the tragedy of losing my wife was dealing with and finding out “why?” and I don’t mean that in a religious way. Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis was listed as a major contributing factor. Finding an exact definition for this is where my research started. I found it hard to believe that a person who was so adamant about eating a “healthy” low fat diet and a runner, could succumb to heart disease. At the same time, I was completely aware that we had lived & eaten together for 15 years and prior to that I had been eating a similar “runner’s diet” since before my first marathon. At first I was only finding the sort of info that has been around for years. Dietary recommendations along the lines of what we had already been doing. It just did not make sense, even allowing for genetic history.
Internet research on atherosclerosis, led to “triglycerides” and “cholesterol”. That is when I discovered Ivor Cummins (link below) and from there, Jeff Volek, Tim Noakes, Stephen Phinney, Gary Taubes, Peter Attia, Cereal Killers documentary, etc. Finally there was someone talking real science.
Ivor Cummins on Youtube –
So back to your diet questions, the benefits of this diet to me are health and life. If it helps my running, that is just a bonus. I find it does help as I can go all day without additional fuelling. I breeze through many aid stations with nothing but water fills. I don’t need to slow down every two to three hours on the trail to eat a gel or a bar. Theoretically one could run for 6 or 7 days on nothing but water & body fat, but I do enjoy eating.
Unlike “paleo”, I stay away from even natural sweeteners like agave or honey. I also avoid most root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes etc. The only “squash” type veggies I eat are zucchini and spaghetti squash. I do use beetroot as a supplement and occasionally include carrots in some meals. The only fruit I eat regularly are berries, which are so high in anti-oxidants I accept the low amount of natural sugars they have.
Sugars in all the forms, as much as possible, definitely no refined sugars, syrups etc. I haven’t had a sweet tooth since before college so no hardship there. You have to be diligent in finding the hidden sugars though.
Grains or grain products. Included in this are breads, pastas, rice, corn.
Processed oils like trans fats, margarine, canola oil and others high in omega 6.
Most root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes & turnips.
Most fruits, esp bananas (never really liked them that much anyway), juices
Meat is limited to a means of getting animal fat. It is easy to go overboard on proteins.when available and reasonable I will choose grass-fed over grain-fed but can’t always stick with that. I eat the fattiest steaks I kind find, pork chops, chicken with the skin, the cheaper ground beef (higher fat content), lamb, sausages, bacon.
Dairy – also high fat. 10% fat unsweetened greek yogurt, cream for coffee, grass-fed butter!!
Cheese – I have a place close by where I can get small sample size cuts on a continuously rotating variety.
Vegetables – any & all leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, zucchini, mushrooms, celery, onions, garlic, radishes, peppers.
Fruit – avocados, tomatoes, lemons, limes, berries. Watermelon & orange slices at race aid stations.
Other stuff – eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, avocado oil, mixed nuts & nut products (eg: almond butter or almond flour).
Sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, coffee, yogurt, beer, pepperoni – about the only fermented foods I eat.
Very seldom – some beans, usually in the form of a soup or chili, from a lunch counter.
· Turmeric (always with fresh ground pepper)
· Vitamin D Not in summer, when I am getting a lot of sun.
Cheats: Beer/wine: try limiting to weekends, but not always successful.
During a race: Avocado, bacon, jerky, nut butters. Burgers are just way easier to eat with a bun, never with ketchup which is just red sugar. Some fruit juice (at least it’s not coke). I make sure I go the first few hours with nothing but water to ensure I am in “fat-burning” mode. I do use Vespa when I can get it, but it is hard to come by in Western Canada now.
Post-race: Again, a bun with a burger is a treat of convenience. Considering how much pasta I used to eat, it’s surprizing I haven’t craved anything like a huge platter of hand-made pasta from a great Italian place, nor sweets at all. A bunch of us got together after Colorado 200 last year and had pizza in Crested Butte. I have to admit, that was really good! Favorite post-race food is still smoky greasy beef ribs from a good BBQ place (not the kind covered in a sugary sauce), which isn’t a cheat at all.
Biggest Mistake: I went over-board on protein at first, and still have to monitor how much meat I am eating.
Typical day: Every day at home starts with lemon slice in tall glass of water and coffee with cream & about a tablespoon of unsalted grass-fed butter. That along with another large coffee with cream picked up on the way to work often gets me through to lunch. Some days I also have a small amount of berries, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, yogurt and nuts all mixed together. Weekend mornings, if I am not doing a long run, I might make bacon& eggs in some form. Weekday lunches are usually salad with roast chicken on top. See also soup &/or chili above. Once in a while, sashimi sushi (no rice). Too often, I end up working through lunch and just have another coffee or two. Suppers are typically meat in some form on top of veggies or beside a salad. Some days, just a giant salad, no meat. Zucchini cut in strips and fried in butter replaces pasta, as does spaghetti squash. I make my own pasta sauces, chili, butter chicken, stew w/o potatoes in batches and freeze. I try to end every 2nd day with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. Other days it is beetroot root crystals and magnesium citrate dissolved in a tall glass of water.
Intermittent fasting a lot on weekend days by often eating only once per day in the evening.
3) What does your training look like? The distances you race are so great how do you prepare for them?
This may come as a surprise, but very little, relatively speaking. I walk to & from work most days (2.5 miles each way, I do walk really fast). I run about 6 miles maybe three times a week on very flat urban trails. Weekends it is one long trail run, usually Sunday. Living in Vancouver, I have easy access to incredible mountain trails, but not high elevation. Late in the spring as it gets closer to races, I will bump to double days on weekends. The weekend runs vary from 3 hours to 6. I usually find a way to get out for a couple of night runs late in spring by bussing out to a start point on Friday night and running to arrive at home sometime Saturday. Occasionally, if with a group doing something specific it will bump to 10 or more hours on Sunday. Races becoming the training for the next event. I did a 100K “fun run” a month or so ago (about 15 hours), and Bighorn 100 miler in the Wyoming mountains last weekend.
4) You are almost sixty years old! You have been running ultra distances for the last twenty five years. What is the key to performing so well and for so long?
Yeh, my first ultra was the KneeKnackering Northshore Trail Run 30 miler in July 1992, so I guess that anniversary is here. I was immediately hooked on trails. I don’t know if I would say I performed “well” and my fastest days are long behind me. They were never anything to write about back then. I ran a 34 min 10K, 1:24 half and a sub-3 marathon back then. My usual place in the standings would be at the back of the fast runners and at the front of the mid-pack. Typically at the 10% mark – 100 starters, I would come in 10th.
The 2016 Frosty Mountain 50k on my race calendar happens a few days after finishing Tahoe 200 in Sept. Assuming my summer goes as planned and I make it there in time to run, it will be my 99th ultra.
There has been a few injuries over the years, but I have been lucky I never did anything that sidelined me altogether. Plantar fasciitis, deep compartment syndrome and as recent as this spring, tight hamstring muscles that required physio and chiropractic help to get through. Apparently, after all these years, I have to start stretching 🙂 In addition, I have taken a few nasty falls along the way, though never broken a bone (touch wood). The diet I described above has only been 2 years now for me, so prior to that, I think the biggest thing has been constant shoe changes. I have a big collection of shoes, all different styles and I never wear the same shoe for two consecutive runs. This helps with keeping all the different micro-muscles strong, never getting dependant on one type of foot support. I plan three shoe changes during a 200 miler, so four pairs at approx 50 miles per pair, all quiet different.
I have found a renewed life at the 200 mile distance and am curious to see how that pans out with more runners entering these events. Will my no-sleep advantage dissipate now that there are other tireless vampires and zombies out there, or will more runners toeing the line just mean more snoozing carnage to pass in the night 🙂
5) What suggestions would you impart to a half marathoner that would like to race the distances and terrain that you do?
The first organized race I entered was a half-marathon in 1986 so that is another milestone anniversary this year.
Patience, persistence and confidence.
Patience in that these processes take a while, whether it be improving at the same distance or stepping up to a new distance. Maybe not as long as me, but whatever it takes to adapt along the way. We just saw a 20yo win Western States 100, so obviously it is different for everyone. We are all an experiment of one. When things go wrong in a race, it can be experience that puts you back on track to finish.
Persistence in training and on race day. Running through those ugly weather training days. Continuing on when things get uncomfortable during races.
Confidence in yourself and your training that you can do it. The biggest difference between a 100 mile finish and a 200 mile finish isn’t the 2nd 100 miles, it is the few inches between your ears. It is not about those one or two training runs you missed or did extra. If your body is trained to run a 100, it can run 200, but will your brain let it?
All that said, coming from a road running background, as I did, there is a basic difference to be recognized. Taking the marathon for example as compared to say a mountain 50 miler. These are truly two different sports, as are North American football versus soccer. In the football/soccer analogy, the idea is to get a ball across a line, but by two different sets of “rules”. In the running scenario, the idea is to get your body across the finish line for both distances but the “rules” are also totally different. For me, a perfectly executed marathon, is one where I run the entire course at a pace that gets me to the finish without walking, but nothing left to spare at the end. Tough to do. It requires enough training to know what that pace is, so you hold back to it at the beginning and push to it at the end. For the mountain 50 miler, especially one where you don’t know the course, the pace constantly changes. You will walk. You will run some sections and other sections probably not. As for the training, the distance is almost double, but you don’t simply double the training. The longer the ultra, the more that is true. Can you imagine how little time there would be left in any given day or week if I multiplied a typical marathon training program by almost 8 times to train for a 200 miler?