Today we are catching up with ultra runner Caleb Denton, who recently broke the record at the Iron Mountain 50 Mile race in a time of 7 hours and 4 minutes – that’s an 8:28/mile pace. Did I mention yet that there is roughly 9,000 feet of climbing in that race and it is all on trail? And that he fueled entirely on GLUKOS? Intrigued? So were we, so we asked him a few questions.
Caleb, please introduce yourself!
My name is Caleb Denton and I’m a mountain ultra trail (MUT) runner from Elizabethton, TN. Technically speaking, an ultra distance is anything beyond the marathon distance of 26.2 miles; however, some common ultra distances for racing are 50k, 50 mile and 100 mile distances. Up to this point in my running career, I’ve ran 16 ultra races, placing 1st in 7 races, 2nd in 2 races, 3rd in 4 races, while holding the course record in 3 races and winning a Golden Ticket to Western States 100, which is known as one of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile races in the world.
How long have you been a runner?
My history in running doesn’t go back too far, relatively speaking. As a member in the U.S. Air Force, I was deployed to the middle east during the fall of 2014. I arrived at my deployed location weighing a little over 200 lbs. and not in very good shape. About 2 months into my deployment, I made the decision to improve my overall health condition by dropping to a healthier weight through running and making better nutritional choices. Within 2 months after I started running, I ran the Air Force Half-Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon and dropped 30 lbs. in my body weight. Before this point in my life, I had never run over 7 miles at once but was falling in love with the sport and I knew that I wanted to keep increasing my running distance and incorporate it into my daily lifestyle routine.
After returning home from my 4-month deployment, I signed up for my 1st ultra trail race. I continued to increase my running distance and since I’m surrounded by beautiful mountains in northeast Tennessee, I started taking advantage of all the trails in my area and found myself running longer and longer in the mountains. I only had about 3 months to train for my 1st ultra trail race so I started spending even more time running on mountain trails with steep climbs to prepare myself. By this point, I had dropped another 10 lbs in my body weight, going from an initial 200 lbs. at the beginning of my military deployment to 160 lbs by race time. Then in March of 2015, I ran my 1st ultra race called Race for R.A.R.E 50k, where I surprisingly placed 1st overall. I was more than ecstatic after the race and found myself signing up for another race almost immediately afterwards.
My next race was only a few months away and once again, I kept increasing my weekly volume of trail running. The more I ran trails, the more I found myself really enjoying the extremely steep and technical trails. For me, the steeper the better. As I continued to train and race, I started to increase my race distance, with my first 50 miler in September of 2015 and my first 100 miler in October 2016. I’ve learned so much since I made that initial decision to start running but my passion to train and race has only increased.
So about this Iron Mountain 50 Miler - how did that go?
My most recent race was the Iron Mountain 50 miler on September 2nd, 2017. Iron Mountain was my 1st 50 miler back in 2015 and has become one of my favorite races to run. The course itself has a little bit of everything. It has some flat and easy runnable sections, multiple creek crossings and many steep climbs with areas that have a lot of rocks and tree roots. Overall, it has around 9,000 ft. of elevation gain. This year the weather was perfect at the start but about 4 hours into the race, it started raining and the trails became extremely slick and muddy with many areas where you had to run through standing water. Overall however, the temperatures were great for racing.
This year was my 3rd time running the course. The first year I ran the race, I placed 2nd with a time of 7 hrs 36 min. The second time I ran Iron Mountain, I placed 1st with a time of 7 hrs 22 minutes, but I was still about 7 minutes off of the course record. This past time, I had the goal of not just winning but increasing my time once again and to also break the record. The race really seemed to fall into place for me and I ended up winning and breaking the course record with a time of 7 hrs 4 minutes.
There are several things that I feel like impacted how I performed, such as consistent training, proper nutrition and the right gear; however, one of the biggest factors that I feel contributed to how I performed was my actual race day nutrition strategy. It doesn’t matter how much you train or how rested and prepared you are for the race; if you don’t fuel correctly during the race and have stomach issues, you could be stopped in your tracks and get a DNF. Some of the best ultra trail runners in the world haven’t been able to place well or even finish a race because of stomach problems, which is a perfect example of why proper race nutrition is so critical.
Last year, I started feel sick to my stomach while running Iron Mountain around mile 30. This year, I knew that I had to make some changes regarding my race fueling. I started doing a lot of research on how the body utilizes calories for fuel during exercise. I learned that during lower intensity exercise, the majority of calories used come from fat stores and that as the intensity increases, more and more carbohydrates are used for energy until a point is reached where both are used almost equally, which is somewhere around 70-75% of your maximum heart rate. Since I wear a HR monitor during a lot of my training and racing and also since I had worn a HR monitor the past two times during Iron Mountain, I knew that my body would be using well over 80% carbohydrates for most of the race. So, with that in mind, I started searching for products that provided quick sources of glucose that were as natural as possible and that’s when I found Glukos!
I started using Glukos products some during training and it seemed to work well with my stomach. I made the decision to use Glukos as my sole source of calories for the entire race. As I looked back at most of my previous races, I knew that I run at an intensity level that typically makes it hard for me to chew food while I’m running so I didn’t want to eat bars on the run. Also, most gels can be hard for me to stomach as well. Also, toward the end of most races, I’m pushing the intensity so hard that I can’t even get a gel down. So, this year I decided to use the Glukos powder mixed with water which would allow me to get my calories in just by drinking. My plan was to wear a Nathan Hydration vest which allowed me to carry 2 soft flask bottles of 14 oz. each. One bottle I filled with water only and the other bottle I added 2 packets of Glukos powder. Each packet of Glukos powder is 130 calories so by adding 2 packets, I had 260 calories in one bottle. My strategy during the race was to finish my bottle with the Glukos added every hour. This would give me 260 calories every hour, which is about the right amount needed given race conditions. Depending on aid station placement, I would only drink about half of the bottle during an hour and then when I came to an aid station, I would fill up my other bottle with water and then, since I was able to catch my breath a little bit, I would take a bite of a Glukos energy bar (around 80 calories) to get some more solid food down. (Editor’s Note: Sadly, these have been discontinued, so we recommend finding a date-based bar with as few ingredients as possible to recreate.) This strategy worked great! Never did I have any stomach issues at all! I kept expecting for my legs to start falling apart and my body just wanting to give up but I had sustained energy practically the whole race. I couldn’t believe how well I felt and I know that Glukos had to be a key part of that.
What’s your next race?
My next race is Grindstone 100 miler in Virginia on October 6th, 2017. Grindstone is known as one of the hardest 100-mile trail races on the east coast. It starts about one hour before sunset so you end up spending the majority of the race running in the dark. The course itself has a lot of technical sections with a total of around 24,000 ft. of elevation gain. I ran Grindstone in 2016 as my debut 100-mile race. I led the race up through around mile 75 until my legs and stomach finally started to fail; however, I somehow managed to hold on to a 3rd place finish.
Good luck Caleb and thanks for chatting with us!