100 mile fuel

run and eat

Everyone uses different things to fuel their body during a 100-mile run. You have to find what works for you through trial and error. What I do know, is what works for you as a marathon runner, probably won’t work as an ultrarunner.

Some ultrarunners use the traditional sports fuel such as Gu, shot blocks, sports beans and the like, but it’s difficult to use them throughout the race. You just get sick of it and it becomes more difficult to choke it down.

Fueling is necessary, which means you have to put something down the hatch. Perusing the aid station buffet will give you an idea of what most ultrarunners eat: various types of candy, trail mix, potato chips, boiled and salted potatoes, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, ham or turkey sandwiches, Romen noodles, and fruit.

Bodies run off mainly carbohydrates during exercise. You can also burn fat and more runners are turning to a low carb diet, which allows them to tap into their fat stores as fuel during their runs. This is very useful and can be very beneficial to runners who have stomach issues regularly. You have to eat a whole lot less when you’re low carb. I’ve used this strategy, but could only maintain it for eighteen months because I couldn’t get enough fats to sustain my energy output. I’ve been back on carbs for about 18 months and feel great. I’ve written two blogs on low carb running if you are interested they are here and here.

 

What about protein during runs? I discourage most protein while running because protein, for most people, digests slow. It sits in your stomach slowing your metabolism down. A slow metabolism means your body doesn’t get fuel quickly. You need carbs to go through quickly if you want to maintain a good pace throughout the run. You also need electrolytes and water to go through quickly. If your digestive system is working on a lump of protein, everything else is going to come through slower too.

Easily digestible proteins are fine during a race, but not too much and space it out. Nut butters are easy, cheeses are easier, and plant based proteins are easy. Meat is not easy. Many protein bars(especially over 10 grams) are not easy.

The only way you are going to figure out what works for you is by training with different things until you find a few things that work for you. I suggest you find multiple things that work because you get sick of eating the same thing every hour (or more) for up to 36 hours.

The other thing I strongly encourage is to find out what the event is using at their aid stations and make sure you can use them. Especially, electrolyte pills or drinks and other specific sports nutrition such as Gu.

My favorites: Swedish fish,Oreo cookies, fruits, peanut butter and jelly, and chick-o-sticks (all vegan by the way :0)

Muscle Cramps: part two

muscle-cramps-2

You can almost taste the finish line. The crowd is getting dense, cowbells are clanging, and hands clamp faster and faster. You stagger and grimace as your left calf clenches, but it releases as you toe off. You’re right isn’t so luck and you hit the ground. Your hands immediately find your calf and squeeze trying to get the cramp to release.

As if the last post wasn’t bad enough, let’s further complicate this question of why do muscles cramp during exercise, specifically endurance running? Many times muscle cramps occur in the later part of an event. If this is the case, then the cause is likely muscle fatigue rather than dehydration, carbohydrate depletion, or electrolyte imbalances.

You have all read my posts (at least I hope you have, but if not go back and read some) about how important core strength is in preventing injury through compensation and recruiting supporting muscles. Here is just another reason for me to stress how important it is to strengthen your core increasing the time you can maintain proper form as you run.

Your core doesn’t just mean your abdominals. It includes your hips, glutes, back, and abdominals. Basically, from mid-thigh to the top of your abdominals all the way around your body. If these muscles are not strong, your form deteriorates as the primary muscles become fatigued. The contractions become more forceful to maintain your pace and your body can’t sustain it. You slouch, shuffle, and increase cross over of both arms and feet. When this happens, your body automatically asks other supportive muscles for help to keep you going. These supportive muscles fatigue at a faster rate because they are not used to the strain and then they cramp.

What can you do about it? If you are cramping in your claves and quads (usual suspects) you need to strengthen your hip flexors and hamstrings and then stretch them. When your hip flexors and hamstrings fatigue, they call upon the calves and quads to move your leg back and forth.

The take away, your body is an interconnected system. If you let one part get weak, the other parts will try to help it to their own detriment. This eventually leads to muscle impairment or injury and thus stops you in your tracks.

In case this isn’t confusing enough, there are researchers who believe running hills, inadequate stretching, and a family history of cramping increases the possibility of cramps.

This makes sense to me. Hill running forces your muscles to contract forcefully to propel your body up a hill against gravity. This strain is going to deplete glycogen (see last week’s post) and fatigue (see above) the muscles. Tight muscles have a more difficult time relaxing and at times just can’t do it because they are all knotted up. If they can’t relax between contractions, the contractions just continue to tighten things up and bam, a cramp. And genetics, well their genetics.

Muscle Cramps: part one

muscle-cramps-1

You’re cruzing along a trail feeling great and all of a sudden you fall to your knee clutching at your quadricep  as it spasms in pain. Muscle cramps are not new to athletes, including endurance runners. What causes it and how can you fix it during an event?

Muscles cramp for a variety of reasons, and usually a combination of them. Novice athletes are more likely to cramp than experienced athletes. Novice athletes pushing their bodies beyond their limits these fatigues muscles seize up as they are continually pushed.

Heat is a major culprit in muscle cramps especially for athletes who do not train in the heat. Their bodies are not accustom to dealing with scorching temperatures while making sure muscles continue to fire. Imbalances in electrolyte’s, dehydration, and depleted carbohydrates also create a higher chance of cramps.

Unfortunately, these factors hit an athlete all at the same time more often than not. Dehydration increases the risk of cramps, but it’s not a guarantee you will cramp. When you are hydrated there is a balance in the amount of fluid inside and outside of your cells. If you are dehydrated, there is less fluid outside of your cells. This situation causes nerves to be squished and fire which then causes twitches and then cramps in muscles. So just drink more water right? Sorry it’s not that simple.

Electrolytes make the cell walls permeable allowing the fluid to move in and out of a cell. If this can’t happen, an imbalance of fluid inside and outside the cell occurs and you have the same situation as above.

To further complicate the matter, insufficient carbohydrates leads to cramping as well. We all know muscles need glycogen to function and there is only a finite amount held in our muscles. When that is depleted we have to consume more carbohydrates. Glycogen is the fuel our muscles use to contract and relax. If our muscles can’t relax, they cramp.

What can you do about it? make sure you are drinking to thirst, taking electrolytes on a regular basis, especially in the heat, and train for the conditions you will be running in.

Sodium and Chloride(aids nerves in firing and permeability of cells) are not the only two electrolytes although they get all the attention. Here are the others and what they do:

  • Calcium – aids muscle contraction
  • Magnesium – aids healthy cell function
  • Potassium – helps regulate pH balance
  • Phosphate – helps regulate pH balance

 

Choose electrolyte replacements containing all of these. If you want a good explanation of how each electrolyte works read this.

Blister Care

pop-blisters

You are in the middle of your run, and you have a blister. What do you do? Hopefully you have a mini blister kit in your hydration pack. If you don’t, pray to god you have one with your crew or in your drop bag. None there either? Make some friends at the next aid station and come better prepared next time.

Here is how I treat blisters. Disclaimer: doctors do not recommend popping blisters because you risk infection. If the blister is small and not painful to run on, I don’t pop it. I tape over it with hepafix (bought on Amazon) or kensio tape and keep going.

If the blister is painful to run on, clean the area with alcohol then I pop it with a clean safety pin making a hole big enough that it won’t reseal and fill with more fluid. I make the hole on an edge where it will continue to drain as I run (the hole on the side closest to my heel usually). I try to get as much fluid out of it as possible. If you can get the skin to lay flat, it may reattach itself if you can stop the friction. After I pop it, I put Neosporin on it and then tape over it with kensio or hepafix tape. I treat blood blisters the same way.

If you don’t want to pop the blister you can use mole skin with a hole in the center for the blister, then put tape over it (do you see a theme here?). The mole skin will keep the pressure off of the blister and reduce the pain.

If the roof is torn or off, I clean the area with alcohol. Put Neosporin on it then a piece of Second Skin for burns (bought on Amazon) over the exposed tender skin and then tape over it. Second Skin acts as the roof. It protects the tender skin from being rubbed even more. Once you are done running, you’ll want to expose that skin to the air so it can dry out and harden forming your new top layer of skin.

Blisters can also form under callouses and toenails. Callouses should be kept under control because of this. It’s difficult to treat a blister covered by a thick callous. You have to go through all that skin to drain it, if you can get to it at all. A blister under a toenail, is easier than under a callous. Stick a clean pin in it and tape it with hepafix. Don’t use a tape that is rough on the outside. You’ll likely lose the nail.

The best thing is to try and prevent blisters as much as possible. You can read my prior post by scrolling down to learn how to prevent blisters.

Blister Prevention

taping-foot

Many ultrarunners tape their feet before races and even long runs to prevent blisters. There are different techniques for taping your feet and some tricks of the trade, which I’m going to go over, but I want to talk about why we get blisters in the first place.

Let me start with this, some people are just prone to blisters and try as they might to figure out what is causing them, they can’t. Blisters are caused by friction, cold and/or heat. The culprit during running is most frequently friction. When there is something rubbing against your foot over and over again in the same spot, it tears the top layer of your skin away from the layer below it. Fluid then fills the space and ta-da you have a blister, which continues to grow as the rubbing creates a bigger tear.

The way you prevent a blister is to stop the friction as soon as you feel it. This is usually a  hot spot on your foot. When you feel this, immediately stop, and take care of it. It doesn’t get better on its own. It gets worse. You can spend five minutes taking care of a hot spot or ten to fifteen dealing with a full on blister (possibly multiple times during a race). I’m going to cover the care of blisters in my next post (two days from now).

Okay so you know you get blisters, what do you do? First, make sure your shoes fit right and breathe. Second, make sure you have good socks, AKA not cotton. Socks that pull the sweat away from your skin. Try thick, thin and double layer socks. You can also wear two pair of thin socks and see if that helps.

Then comes the experimenting foot powder can keep your feet dry, which reduces friction. Sweaty wet feet hold onto the fabric of your sock. Wet skin is softer and more pliant making it more susceptible to blisters. A lubricant, such as hydropel, can help reduce fiction by allowing your foot to slide and not have the sock or shoe grip your skin. Hydropel, is waterproof. With both powder and lubricants you will have to reapply throughout the race.

Then there is pre-taping. You can tape the entire bottom of your foot or just the section that is prone to blisters. Note: if you only tape a section, you could get blisters at the edge of the tape (more experimenting). You can tape from one side to the other or from toe to heel covering the entire foot. Make sure the tape does not have any folds.

Tape that comes off during a run can cause blisters, surprise, surprise. Use Tincture of Benzoin to secure the tape to the bottom of your foot. I buy it on Amazon. It’s an adhesive. Apply the Benzoin with a cotton ball, let it dry, and then add the tape. Your tape should overlap a little. If you line it right up at the edges, you can get blisters at the seams (aren’t blisters great?).

There are three different types of tape I use when taping feet elastiskin, hepafix, and kensio tape. I buy I buy all my tapes on Amazon. Elastiskin is very durable and sticky. It has some stretch to it allowing your foot to flex and move as you run. It is rough on the outside so don’t use it on toes unless every toe is taped and no skin is touching the outside of the elastiskin. Hepafix is also a little stretchy. It’s a thin tape and fuzzy on the outside. It’s great for taping toes or places that are likely to rub bare skin. Kensio tape (the stuff they use to support injured tendons and muscles) is very stretchy and thin. It works wonders for preventing blisters and fixing hot spots. With the thin tapes, I find I don’t have to tape the entire bottom of the foot, just the hot spot area.

Respect for the Game

respect

There are a lot facets to the term, “respect for the game,” as applied to ultrarunning.

Respect the course in all ways. The obvious leave no trace. If you drop something, pick it up. If you see something someone else has dropped, pick it up. The not so obvious form of course respect is what Mother Nature can dish out during these events. Be prepared for the unexpected and train adequately for the terrain you will be crossing. Mother Nature has other children out there in the mountains too. Be aware of what you could come across, moose, mountain lion, bears and such. It’s a good idea to know what to do when you do see them.

Respect for all the other runners. I hate to see runners being rude to one another. We’re one tribe. Call out when you are approaching other’s from behind. If you hear someone call out, move over as much as you can. Watch out for one another out there, stop and offer help if you see another runner who is in need, stop and see if you can help. This is just one of the things that I love about trail runners. If you’re bent over on the side of the trail, the next runner will ask if you’re okay, and the next, and the next.

Respect for volunteers and race staff. Remember no one has to be out there for you. The race director and the staff are there because they love the sport. They love to see people succeed. They love to watch the strength and tenacity of the runners. It takes an inordinate amount of organization and time to put on an event that spans fifty to one hundred miles. Many volunteers are out there year after year. So, even when you are hurting and feel like you’re going to die, smile at volunteers and staff and say thank you with your whole heart.

Respect for your crew and pacers. These people are out there solely for you. They aren’t getting paid. They are just there because they care about you and want to see you achieve your goals. They are the people who make or break your run. The work they put into helping you is huge. They are out there all night and day. They deal with things you will never know about (because you have enough on your mind). They cater to your every need even when you’re smelly and have all sorts of bodily functioning issues. They brave the weather and the boredom of waiting for you.

Respect for yourself. You’ve put a lot of time and sweat into getting to race day. You’ve spent hours planning and organizing to make it the most successful race possible. Anything can happen out there. Even the elite runners have bad days and drop out of races. If something goes wrong, learn from it rather than beat yourself up over not meeting your own expectations. Finally, respect your body and give it the rest it needs to become stronger.

Ups and Downs

steep hill

The corner stone to ultra-training is the long run. And not just one long run a week, but two. Back-to-Back.  Ultra-runners get out there on the trails both days of the weekend (or whichever days are their weekend) to put time on their feet—a long time.

Some runners new to ultra-running may think that just time on their feet is enough to finish a 50 or 100-mile run, and maybe it is for SOME runners. But, most ultras will gobble you up and spit you out if all you’re thinking about is putting time on your feet or just getting whatever miles you can in for the day. Being able to run/walk on flat ground quickly will not make you a successful ultra-runner.

Ultra’s climb. Ultra’s descend. It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s a beautiful nature and I wouldn’t want it any other way. There are only a handful of ultra’s out there which are “flat.”

You need to train to climb and to descend. It’s hard, but worth it. Your long runs should include multiple climbs and descents. Don’t skimp on the hills. Make sure you are getting some tough ones in, especially in the last five miles. Race directors love to throw in that last climb at the end of a race. The one that makes your eyes bug out of your head when you see it. The one that makes you pray to a god, even when you don’t believe in a god.

The muscles you use to climb are different enough from the ones you use to move across flat ground, that you have to train them to get the job done. It’s the same with the muscles you use to descend.

To climb well, you need to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. You don’t want to rely solely on your quads to get you up the hill. You use your quads to descend and putting more strain on them when you can recruit other muscles to help with the work will only slow you down as you make your way along the course. The best way to strengthen your climbing muscles is by climbing and focusing on engaging those muscles. Think about them and make sure they are working. In the gym you can do hamstring curls, slow deep squats, hip thrusts, deadlifts, and the glute-ham raise.

Climbing is hard, but in my experience, descending is harder. One reason that descending is harder, is because people think it is easier and they just go for it and then they hit the ground with their foot way out in front of them. Big Mistake. The impact forces on your muscles and tendons in ankles, knees, hips and back are much higher when you are going downhill. The best way to train descending muscles and tendons is by descending. Even with this, I recommend adding in some gym time that includes core strength, all of the above, calves, quads, and balance.

I know this seems like a lot, especially, when you’re running 15-20 hours a week, but two days a week for an hour is enough time to get this in and it will pay off at the end of your race. Strength training in the gym or at home is critical for those training for mountain races through the winter when mountains are not accessible or for those living in areas where it’s hard to find a hill.