Secrets of the Ultra Fit

Secrets of the Ultra Fit

Running the World’s Toughest Foot Race.  7 Times.

Covering 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA, the STYR Labs Badwater® 135 has been named by National Geographic as “The Toughest Footrace on the Planet”.

In his most recent interview, Mark Matyazic shares insights into how he has finished the Badwater ultramarathon race 7 times and to top it off, finishing in the top 10 for five of those races including this year’s 2017 race.  

Mark has pursued his athletic career to the leading edge by applying an intimate knowledge of physiology, biomechanics, biochemistry and metaphysics to his training and race performances.

At Mile 35. Like the clouds above, lots of swirling thoughts on if finishing the remaining 100 miles was in the cards.

How has your diet and relationship with plants led you to compete at the level you’re currently performing at:

All my life I’ve resonated with plants; whether it was on self guided hikes in the woods when I was 7, planting my own garden at that same age or just the feeling of being akin to plants on a ‘life energy’ level.

As early as high school I was doing some research on optimizing the physical performance of our cross-country team,  and realized how paramount plants were in achieving not only faster times, but accelerated recovery as well.   At that time I came to realize there was a lot more to nutrition than what the FDA recommends as a ‘daily allowance’.  Their recommendations basically just keep you alive.  We need to take it upon ourselves to find what really optimizes the metabolic pathways of life.

I started eating by color (green, red, purple, yellow, etc.) and also location.  Not just where a plant is grown but also various parts (root, leaf, stem, seeds, flower, etc.).

To this day, researchers are finding various components of plants and how they interact biologically within human and animal cells.  For example, it was recently elucidated that the abscisic acid in figs (fig extract) can help lower blood sugar by helping insulin get glucose into the cell.  Then that glucose can be immediately used for cellular energy or stored as glycogen.

By eating a wide variety of plant material you are virtually guaranteeing you are giving your body’s cells access to virtually every micronutrient that exists. These include potent anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, adjuncts that prevent many diseases, including cancer, adaptogens, etc, etc.

At Mile 62, about to descend a vertical mile into the furnace of the Panamint Valley.

I believe these all work in synergy to keep the body disease free and operating at optimum homeostasis.

I’ve also noticed that eating a lot of superfoods and vegetables when heat training enables my body to handle the workouts and recovery much better.

Plants provide a wide range of trace minerals which of course serve as electrolytes and will prevent cramps and muscle spasms as the body becomes dehydrated. As another example, the trimethylglycine found in raw beets can protect cells during periods of osmotic stress (dehydration at the cellular level).

Over the past few years I have added a good deal of plant super foods to my diet.  These would include Maca, Cacao, schisandra, rhodiola, ginseng, etc.

Of course there is no FDA ‘suggested daily intake’, however these plants do a number of things and in a big way.  They also work in synergy with each other.

Rhodiola and ginseng for example work together as an adaptogen and help the body to ‘adapt’ to a given stressor, whether this be altitude, extreme heat, humidity or even helping with the endurance required for extreme events.

Phenomenal how you’ve incorporated the wisdom in these superfood plants for optimal performance. Are there any other plants we may not be as familiar with that you could shed some light on?  

The way I look at it is that the plants and phytochemical superfoods nourish the cells and physical part of the body, whereas the traditional ceremonial plants nourish the spirit and soul.  ‘Soul medicines’ like Ayahuasca and Wachuma are not for everyone, however I’ve found that most people that have worked with them, resonate with them on a deep level.

The ceremonial plants seem to hold a very special place among those that have experienced them.  ‘Ceremonial’ because they have been used for over 5,000 years by the Inca and other ancient civilizations and cultures.   

These types of plants aren’t just for athletes or any certain demographic of people.  In my experience at plant ceremonies, the attendees run the gamut of the population; from athletes and yogis to corporate CEO’s, artists, musicians etc.

The ancient populations used these plants as medicines.  When used properly, duly respected and guided by a competent shaman(most/several ‘shamans’ offering these ceremonies in the U.S. I’ve found not to be well versed in the proper diet and mindset a person needs prior to a ceremony.  They offer it solely for the monetary income), what one can learn in these ceremonies can be and often is life changing.

The medicines seem to work by modulating whatever might be wrong, or whatever the individual is seeking.   This could be as wide ranging as dealing with a serious disease such as cancer, to developing unique creativity say for a software engineer or musician.  It is very challenging to describe just what happens during a plant ceremony to a novice, however the best way to explain it is that one first engages with the plants via an ‘intention’.  This would be a few questions or problems one is seeking an answer to.  They would ask this internally prior to ingesting the particular plant.  Then when one is in the full throws of the ceremony, answers and messages just seem to start presenting themselves.  What is even more unique is sometimes the answers are not what the person was expecting.  Or they come from a unique direction.  One thing I suggest is to not judge the plant medicines without experiencing them in a responsible setting at least once.

In terms of athletes, many have embraced these medicines to help dissolve psychological blocks to performance or similar objectives.


Have your experiences with plants shaped your racing mindset?

Yes they have, but in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  As you know, certain of the plants native to the Amazon can work at levels no researchers really understand.  Something like a hybridization  between our subconscious and the collective consciousness.  In short, what they seem to do is make us ‘see’ or perceive things differently and for different reasons when we return to normal life outside the ceremony setting.

Every time I’ve been to Peru to ‘sit with plants’ there are several intentions, and some bit of time is spent on sport, fitness and health.

What I’ve come away with is I just look at training and racing differently.  For example, the last several years I haven’t really seen myself as competing with others.  I see fellow competitors more as family.

Pre-Race shot with Crew for 2017 STYR Labs Badwater® 135. From left to right Eric Vonheim, Mark Matyazic, Milko Mejia and Jess Dryenforth

How have medicinal, ceremonial plants come through for you in your recent 135 mile race?

Events like the Badwater 135 have become more of extreme tests of human potential.  It’s an opportunity to really test the edges of who you are.  In working with these medicinal plants, mostly Ayahuasca and Wachuma, one can really learn to be much more intuitive.  I’ve told people you can sort of ‘listen’ and work with the energies of the landscape we are on.  

During last month’s race across Death Valley, when I almost dropped out at mile 26 due to electrolyte imbalance, I essentially went into a deep state of meditation.  I was out for a solid hour.  During one of the plant ceremonies there was a lot of Indian drumming and a ‘universal energy’.   I went there and got a strong, succinct message on how to basically resurrect myself from a seemingly insurmountable situation .  What it amounted to was not to listen to my analytical mind at all, but go by total instinct on what I needed to do. It worked and I had a strong run the remaining 110 miles.

I don’t think that if I hadn’t gone to that place and sorted things out, I would have had to drop out of the event.

That’s one example of how these ceremonies can shape and reshape you.

Pre-Race shot with Crew for 2017 STYR Labs Badwater® 135. From left to right Eric Vonheim, Mark Matyazic, Milko Mejia and Jess Dryenforth

So that was a tactical example.

On a more strategic level, ie lifestyle, when I’m training I have gone far more ‘intuitive’.

I don’t use heart rate monitors at all, or look at pace etc.  I do wear a watch as I like to know how long I’ve been out or how far.   I’ll also work hard in the gym but I don’t need to be a hero, and if something on the Crossfit board that day doesn’t resonate with me, I just modify it.

By really ‘listening’ we can learn a lot.  Whether it’s to our subconscious, our bodies or the environment.

We just need to learn how to ‘tune in’. Medicinal plants can help teach us to do that.

May it be noted that Mark was in a firm last place when his body shut down at mile 26.  He then passed nearly the entire field for a firm ninth place at the finish line!

Book a Session or Ask a Question? Contact Mark.