The ultramarathon runner behind one of Wales’s toughest endurance challenges has revealed the secret to his success– a diet fuelled by Dragon cheese made on the Llŷn Peninsula.
Huw Williams has run thousands of miles including the world’s toughest ultramarathon, the gruelling 250km Marathon de Sables in the Sahara desert, and now organises the Pen Llŷn Ultras which pushes endurance athletes to their limit running up to 100km in a day.
The 46-year-old dad-of-two from Pwllheli, credits his endurance running ability with munching on Dragon cheese from his local dairy South Caernarfon Creameries.
Huw is sharing his unusual diet tips in order to help other runners get prepared for this year’s Pen Llyn Ultras event, which will see up to 200 endurance athletes running distances of 50, 75 and 100 miles around the Llŷn Peninsula, on June 29.
He will even be holding a cheese and pasta party the night before to get participants fuelled up, with the crucial ingredient served up by South Caernarfon Creameries.
An ultramarathon is anything over the distance of a marathon, which is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometres, so those taking part in the 100 miles Pen Llŷn Ultras will be running almost four times the distance of a marathon.
Huw first started eating a ‘fat adapted’ diet fuelled by Dragon cheese two years ago, when he was training for the 2017 Marathon de Sables, having hit a “wall” running his first ever ultramarathon, the 2016 Snowdonia 50.
Huw said: “I hit an almighty wall at 30 miles on the Snowdonia 50, and it made me realise how crucial diet was if I was going to run these great distances. I started training with a high fat, high protein keto diet, and the results were phenomenal.
“Without the cheese from SCC I wouldn’t have finished in the top half of all the runners in the world in the Marathon de Sables. I’m no top athlete but it shows if you have the right balance of nutrients then you can generate the power you need.”
Huw has now run several ultramarathons including official events and his own independent adventures – such as running 135 miles once from his cowshed to Birmingham to attend a running show, and running 120 miles from Holywell to Nefyn along the ancient Pilgrim’s Way path, for charity.
He explained that by eating a diet rich in good fats and protein, the body enters a ‘fat-adapted’ state known as ketosis, enabling athletes to burn fuel highly efficiently while avoiding the sugar highs and energy crashes that can be associated with a high carb diet.
His routine when preparing for an ultramarathon event involves eating huge amounts of cheese from Wales’s oldest dairy farming co-operative, South Caernarfon Creameries.
Huw, Race Director for the Pen Llŷn Ultras, said: “More and more endurance athletes are now turning to a ‘keto’ or ‘fat adapted’ diet to help them to keep going over long distances.
“This nutritional plan is where you remove the majority of your carbohydrates and your body enters a ‘keto’ state where it becomes efficient at burning fats as a primary fuel.
“When you are running long distances you don’t want a spike of energy, you want to keep your heart rate below an aerobic level, so you are at a constant slow burn like a candle, and you can keep going for longer.”
“You don’t want to risk having a carb or sugar crash, and you don’t want to be reaching for a packet of crisps.”
Huw, who is also UK organisational representative for the International Trail Running Association said: “One of the best sources for good fats as well as things like coconut oil and avocados, is cheese.
“In particular Dragon cheese is great because per 100g you have got high proportions of high-quality fats and proteins from natural sources and zero carbohydrates.
“It is very easy to digest because it has not been over processed, so it is very close to the protein and fat as it comes in its natural form.”
When he is training every meal involves generous portions of cheese so Huw can get enough protein and healthy fats into his system – and he even snacks on cheese in between meals.
“Usually I start with the keto diet six months before an event,” said Huw. “Breakfast would typically include sliced cheese, bacon, and boiled eggs, or some avocados with cheese.
“I also use the Dragon butter in my bullet coffee, which is coffee in a blender with coconut oil and butter, and that really does help boost your keto energy levels too.
“For lunch and dinner I’d have cheese and chicken salad, or avocado and cheese salad, and lots of omelettes with different types of Dragon cheese to keep the flavour varied. I also snack of cheese, macadamia nuts, and avocados in between – I can carry those with me easily when I’m out running.”
He says the Dragon brand cheese made by the creamery, based at Chwilog near Pwllheli is particularly good as it is made with the best quality milk from its 130 dairy farming members across north and mid-Wales.
He said: “I run through the fields where the cows are grazed to make it, and they are very lush which gives you an idea why the cheese is so good.”
The Pen Llyn Ultra marathon is now in its fourth year having been launched in 2016 with distances of 75 miles and 50 miles, and last year a 100 mile distance was added.
More than 180 runners have so far entered the 2019 Pen Llyn Ultras event with up to 200 expected to take part from all over the UK and beyond, including international participants from Kansas, Morocco, France, Belgium, Israel and Ireland.
Sponsors for the 2019 event include Dragon cheese (South Caernarfon Creameries), Jenics property management, Griffith Williams & Co accountants, Abererch Sands holiday centre, Likeys, and Mentrau Bach, with more partners listed on the event website.
Alan Wyn Jones, MD at South Caernarfon Creameries, said: “We are very proud to have supported Huw over the last two years with his athletic endeavours.
“He is a true inspiration and we take great pride in the fact that our cheese made here on the Llŷn Peninsula using milk from farms across North and mid-Wales, is contributing to his success.
“We pride ourselves on the high nutrient content of the milk that goes into our cheese, and Huw’s success is testament to that quality.”
“We are proud to sponsor the Pen Llŷn Ultras as an exciting and increasingly popular event showcasing the very best of our community and countryside to an international audience of sporting champions.”
Huw first started running on a whim, in 2013.
He said: “There was nothing good on the telly and my wife said why don’t you go for a run and I did. And then I went back out again the next day, and every day after that. Then me and my friend set up the running club in Pwllheli, Llŷn Striders.
“I have put over 200 people on the couch to 5k programme. We have people running everything from 5k to 200miles. The Pen Llŷn Ultra is a community event, we are really pleased to be able to put on local events because it’s good for local people and good for the local economy too.”
He said: “The Marathon des Sables is the toughest race on the planet, and I was inspired to keep that spirit of adventure going.
“It’s physically a real high to complete a challenge like that, the euphoria you get is incredible. It’s also about having a laugh and it’s something everyone can do really, you just need to train.
“It’s about perseverance and the adventure. It’s putting yourself into an environment where the feeling and the memories you create last way, way after the event finishes.”
To find out more about the Pen Llŷn Ultras visit: penllynultra.co.uk
To find out more about South Caernarfon Creameries visit: sccwales.co.uk
Ultramarathon runner Huw Williams, Race Director for the Pen Llŷn Ultras, with Dragon cheese, and South Caernarfon Creameries staff member Trystan Povey