1. How did you get started with ultra-running ?
T: I started running in grad school (2007) with a friend. In 2011, I initiated the non-profit organization “Always Brothers” and, despite having never run further than a marathon, my buddies and I decided to run 100 miles as a group as a fundraiser. This was my first “ultra,” running 100 miles from Thurmond, MD to Arlington, VA in honor of my friend Tyler who had been killed in Iraq. Through that fundraiser, we raised a grand total of $15,000! After that, I did my first 30, 40, and 50-mile training runs on VA Creeper Trail and entered the Northface 50 (2011) as my first official ultra-race.
G: I was inspired to run ultras by Trevor. I had previously completed a marathon before we started dating, and my first ultra was at the Hinson Lake 24 hr where I set the goal of completing 50k. Since I ended up finishing 50k in less than 8 hours, I decided to keep going and went on to finish a total of 100k that day (ummm, is that not incredible or what?!)
2. Earlier this summer you decided to take the Whole 30 Challenge. Why did you make the decision to do this and what was your overall objective for your general health and as athletes?
G: Our friends, Josh & Jill, had previously taken the challenge and inspired us to do the same, stating how great it was for their overall energy, digestion and weight. I’ve also been experimenting with my personal diet for 2-3 years now due to some digestive issues and wanted to try the Whole30 Challenge to see if it would make me feel better. So my main reason to do it was general health and to feel better. The diet appealed to me because I know I can do ANYTHING for 30 days, and this made it much more conceivable.
T: I mainly did it to support Ginger and because I knew it would be a cool thing we can do together. I also knew that cutting out some of the garbage in my diet would likely be beneficial for my running. Earlier this year during the Umstead 100 I was having a tough time early in the race and thought, “What would be possible if I truly commit to training and eating a better diet?” Ginger and I agreed that it was time to commit to something that would truly make us both feel better.
Note: You can read more about the Whole30® Program here.
3. What was the most challenging aspect of the challenge? What surprised you about it?
T: The most challenging aspect was by far the first week of the challenge where I felt completely hung-over and miserable. I know this was my body going through withdrawal, which made me truly realize how much sugar I had been eating in my diet previously. I wanted to quit several times in the first week, but hung in there for the sake of Ginger. What surprised me he most about the diet is that it works! After the initial week, I was waking up refreshed, running stronger and not craving the same foods I used to.
G: I didn’t actually start the challenge for a month after deciding to do it, but in the mean time I had been prepping my body slowly so that I did not feel such extreme withdrawal symptoms. The most challenging aspect of the diet was by far the amount of food prep required in order to have “clean” food available at all times, all while balancing work and training. What surprised me the most was that it was the first time my blood sugar had ever been so stable, and was able to eliminate snacking for the most part.
4. How did you to set yourself up for success in adhering to the Whole 30 guidelines ?
G: In preparation for the challenge, I did a LOT of research about the challenge, brainstormed recipes and fun ways to keep food interesting all while preparing myself mentally. I also knew I had to get the junk out of our house, and decided that the grocery bill wasn’t going to be a big deal for the month. I gave myself some leniency in terms of how much I invested into making the challenge work. It's was overwhelming to start but you figure it out! It teaches you a lot.,
T: My recipe for success was “having a Ginger," though I did start cooking more to contribute towards the overall effort. You both have to pitch in to make it work. I do feel as if we saved money from not buying chips, junk food, etc, which offset the other costs involved with the challenge.
5. How did the Whole 30 challenge change your perspective towards eating for health?
T: We’ve morphed the Whole 30 “rules” into principles, and we eat a sustainable lifestyle diet now. We still are making similar choices at the grocery store (as during the challenge), but we don't stress about having to strictly adhere to the guidelines 100% of the time. I have definitely continued to ensure I eat a quality lunch each day so that I'm still feeling good by the time my afternoon run rolls around.
G: After our initial run through of Whole30, I did a second set of strict 30 days because I just figured out how to do it and wanted to reinforce my new habits. I grew up eating candy like it didn’t count, but now I’m much more of a “sugar snob." I try to stay away from unnecessary added sugars unless it’s a specific treat. Now we think more about the specific components of our meals and prioritize quality protein and vegetables. We do a lot more food prep on the weekend to ensure we always have quality, clean fuel on hand.
6. How did the challenge change your approach to fueling for athletic performance?
T: Whole30 showed me that what you eat matters, especially if you want to feel good, have constant energy and test the limits of your potential. As common sense as it sounds, it helped me to realize that if you eat a healthier diet, it's easier to become a better athlete. Following our month of Whole30, I had my best race result ever at the Eastern Divide 50k. I’ve changed my approach to fueling and have been consistently packing lower-sugar options for my long runs to avoid blood sugar spikes. I now use Tailwind as a sports drink and Vespa instead of gels, aiming for a more even energy burn instead of the peaks and valleys.
G: I now consume fewer gels during runs, which has been challenging transition because they were always such a great caffeine delivery system. Instead, I am making homemade energy bars and other natural foods. I was on the Whole30 Challenge (round 2) during the Eastern Divide 50k in June, so I fueled on blueberries and the Beet-Ginger, Mango-Banana Clif products.
7. How do you strike a balance between your individual training and running together as a couple ?
T: We try to build in runs that are intentionally social and fun, whereas other times we start our runs together and then go separate ways. If anything, we try to time our runs so that we start at the same time.
G: A lot of time people think we must run together other day, but it’s just not like that since we have different goals. We still run together at times, but when we’re not running together we are constantly talking about it (our goals, our weekly successes, etc).
8. What races are on your "bucket list " and where do you see yourselves as athletes in 5 years ?
T: Five years from now I simply want to still be running consistently and strong. My #1 Bucket List item is Western States 100. #1a is Leadville because it represents everything I love about ultra-running (everything is really hard but no one has an ego… and I am in love with the town!). Other goals include getting a Boston qualification at the Richmond Marathon this fall and at some point a sub-20 hour 100 Mile.
G: I’m still pretty new to ultra-running, so I’m currently enjoying a lot of the local races. This fall I’m planning to do the New River Trail 50k and am aiming for a sub-4 at the Richmond Marathon (and am including more speed work to really try to run fast!) A few bucket list items include completing the NYC Marathon and a 50-mile trail race
Ginger reports she’s squeezing in the ultra-goodness and capitalizing on her current fitness before settling down to have a family in the future, which I totally understand!!
Training and racing together or sharing in crewing responsibilities is all part of the fun in being a married ultra-running team!
9. Do you have a favorite recipe to share ?
G: We love this Paleo Pad Thai recipe by Savory Lotus- feel free to put your own spin on it!
10. Any other words of wisdom ?
T: The biggest lesson I learned from Whole30 is that it can set you up to eat a healthier diet overall, but at the end of the day it’s just guidelines. It’s important to not beat yourself up if you have a bad day of eating, or even racing. Moderation in all things, including moderation.
G: If anyone is interested in Whole 30, do it! It raised the bar of my willpower and it just feels good to stick to something for 30 days, feels and even better to see positive results. I think it’s a very positive challenge for people to take their health into their own hands and become very intentional in what they’re eating.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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