Carbohydrate Intake and Uptake

Carbohydrates are the energy source most runners use to fuel their training and their racing. Wait? most runners. That’s right there are some runners out there who use fats, protein, and even nothing. But this blog is about the carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is what our bodies burn to fuel our muscles, nerves, and brains. Our bodies can store glucose as glycogen in our muscles, but it’s limited. When we run out, we hit the infamous WALL, if we haven’t properly fueled. Our blood also has glucose floating around. Maintaining our blood sugar level is how we prevent hitting, or reduce the impact of, the wall.

Ultrarunners and even some marathon runners struggle with GI issues and are constantly on the look out for ways to optimize their fueling strategy and minimize GI distress. It seems like a never ending cycle, and I’m not here to tell you there’s a way to end it, but there are different things to experiment with and thereby, possibly minimize your discomfort. In our efforts to maintain our blood sugar level and avoid the wall, we may overload on the carbs which causes sloshing, cramps, bloating, and other nasty things in our stomachs.

So the trick to minimizing GI issues, is knowing how much to intake to maximize uptake, but not overload the system. This blog is also for those who don’t suffer from GI issues, since we’re going to look at how much carbohydrate a body can uptake.

Depending on the intensity you’re running at, you’re going to run out of glycogen stores withing about 90 minutes to three hours as an average endurance runner. To maintain your blood sugar levels you need to start taking carbs in right before you begin your race or a long training run. Then, you’ll need to take more at regular intervals to meet that 60-90 grams per hour.

What we know is that regardless of how many grams of carbohydrates you intake, your body can only uptake between 60-90 grams an hour. What determines whether it’s 60 or 90 is the type of carbohydrate your taking in. Your body can process about 60 grams of glucose an hour. So if all you’re getting is glucose, don’t try to put more than 60 grams an hour in.

To get to the 90 grams an hour, you have to combine the 60 grams of glucose with 30 grams of fructose (although sucrose is a combination of fructose and glucose it’s not processed the same so avoid sucrose as a source of fuel). The reason your body can handle the 90 grams of carb processing is because glucose and fructose take different paths to be absorbed by your body.

Sixty grams of glucose produces about 232 calories. Thirty grams of fructose produces about 120 calories. For a grand total of 352 calories replaced during every hour if you play your cards right.

Dextrose and Maltodextrin are made from starches, but are absorbed like glucose. This is nice to know because fructose is very sweet and sometimes sweet things become intolerable during a race. Maltodextrin and Dextrose are not as sweet as glucose and so they can be combined with fructose to get the same benefit of the 90 grams of carbs.

Water intake with the carbs is important. Your digestive system needs water to break things down and get it into your blood stream to be used. Without water, it just sits in your stomach (which is why dehydration causes GI issues). If you put more than the 60-90 grams in an hour, your body is not going to be able to absorb them and they will just sit in your stomach causing problems.

What if you’re feeling depleted, but can’t stomach more food/gels/chews? You can rinse your mouth with a carbohydrate rich drink and spit it out. This will make your brain think that carbs are on the way and give you a little boost for a little bit, but unless your close to the finish line, you still need to figure out your GI issue.

 

Shoulder Strenght and Running

This is the second blog post in a series about how each major muscle group in your body plays a role in your running. Runners definitely don’t want a bulky upper body to weigh them down, but our upper body plays a significant role in our running form and our efficiency. If you don’t pay attention to muscle groups other than the legs, you set the stage for injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Our muscles don’t work in isolation.
Weak shoulders tend to become rounded and collapse inward as you get tired toward the end of a race. Collapsing in this way impedes your diaphragm’s ability to expand and bring in sufficient air to continue to fuel your muscles. You need to have enough flexibility and strength in your shoulders to maintain proper form and allow your diaphragm to function. Your shoulders assist in maintaining a smooth and efficient arm swing (covered in the last post). Shoulders also help you maintain proper form, which impacts your efficiency. Efficiency means your body is burning the least amount of energy in can to maintain the movement and speed you need to perform well.
Running is more complex than people think. It’s not just a forward motion. There is rotation involved as well and over rotation wastes energy and throws off your running form increasing the risk of injury in another part of the body. Strong shoulders prevent over rotation. Your shoulders should be held back opening up your chest and not compressing your diaphragm You should be upright and not hunched over. I often tell runners to imagine there is a string from the center of your sternum reaching up to the moon or sun. This will get you in the proper from.
Using high repetitions and low weight will help prevent building bulky shoulders. If theses are too easy for you, increase repetitions and keep the weight as low as you can. If these are too hard, lower the weight and then the repetitions as needed. By the end of the third set you should feel a burn in your shoulders and it should be difficult to perform the last repetitions.
Exercises that will help you strengthen your shoulders include: push-ups perform three sets of 10-12; Renegade rows three sets of 10-12 repetitions; shoulder press three sets, 10-12 reps
How to perform renegade rows: place light weight dumbbells on the floor shoulder width apart. Get into the starting push-up position with one hand gripping a dumbbell. Pull your arm up through your elbow, pointing your elbow up toward the ceiling.
How to perform shoulder press: Take two light weight dumbbells and hold them at shoulder height press them over your head until your arm is fully extended. Lower them slowly.

Vacation or…

runcation

So you’re going on vacation and it’s the middle of training season. Do you see your running as a hindrance or an opportunity when you are going on vacation? Maybe it’s not you who sees it as a hindrance, but everyone going with you.

Vacations can be a great way to run in new places and with new people. You can look into running routes on line and even email a local running club. Runners of clubs are usually more than happy to take someone out and show them their favorite trails and routes through the city. You may create long lasting friendships in different parts of the country or world.

If you are going out on your own, you should make sure you have some money on you in case you need to take a bus or taxi back to your hotel or stop for water or food along the way. A cell phone is also a good idea.

Your whole vacation doesn’t need to revolve around your running and in fact if you are going to be gone for less than two weeks you can cut back and just do some maintenance runs of 4-5 miles a few times each week.

If you are going to run a race while you’re there, try to time it during the first part of your vacation that way you can take the rest of the time off and not worry about what you eat and how it will impact your run. You might be a little sore, but just take along your foam roller and roll each night to work out the knots and lactic acid build up. Getting moving each day will help you recover faster, just don’t overdo it.

That’s all fine and good, you’re the runner after all. You’re excited to run in new places. But what about the family and friends you’re bringing along. The easiest solution is for them to find things they want to do while you are running. They could have their own adventures while you’re out having yours. Or you can just get your ass out of bed before they get up and get your run in that way it doesn’t interfere with the plans you have. You’ll just be a little more tired.

What if you can’t run? Look for something else that is going to keep your body moving. It won’t help in the fitness zone, but long walks, hikes, swimming, cycling all of these will help siphon off some of that energy. If you completely stop running and being active, you have a lot of extra energy to burn off. You may not be able to sleep or you could be fidgety driving everyone else and yourself up a wall.

Do what you can while you’re on vacation. If that means no running, that’s okay too. Just make sure you have enough fun to make it worth it.

Don’t Become Stagnant

stagnation

Do you run the same routes and distances every week? I hope not, especially, if your goal is to improve your running. It’s important to change things up and challenge your body in new ways. The body learns to run the same old stuff very efficiently. Once it does this, you stop getting gains in your running.

Most training programs include a couple of easy runs, one speed work, and then a long run on the weekend. This is pretty much true regardless of distance.

Having a couple of easy days is important for your body to recover and I don’t think you need to mess with these. Easy days should be at conversation pace. The distance depends on the distance of the race you’re training for and if you’re not training for an event, it would be based upon the distance you like to run on the weekends.

Speed work is a wonderful way to work on your leg turnover even if your focus is not speed but endurance. Being able to move your feet quickly is helpful for steep descents and technical terrain. There are many different types of speed work including intervals, ladders, and tempo runs.

Interval runs consist of a specific distance of a mile or less run at a 90% effort and then either a 200 meter or 400 meter cool down. Then you repeat them. The number of repeats again is tied to the distance of your long run on the weekend.

Ladders are when you increase the distance with each interval. You still have the 200 or 400 meter rest, but the first interval would be 400, the second would be 800, the third one mile, and the fourth a mile and a half. You can create a pyramid by coming back down, one mile, 800 and 400 with the mile and half being the apex.

Tempo runs are when you run a 800 to one mile warm up (actually you should be running a warm up with all speed work) and then run 4 or 5 miles at about 80% effort or race pace.

Of course these are just a few examples, and if you google you will find a ton more. When doing speed work make sure you are not putting it back to back with another hard workout such as a long run. Speed work is hard on your body and it needs an easy run or rest day to follow.

Another way to mix up speed work is not to run speed at all, but hills. You can find a long gradual climb of a few miles or you can do hill repeats (gag). With hill repeats, your rest is on the downhill. So run hard up and then slow down, repeat.

Long runs are another essential part of training, but there are options here as well. You can add in Fartleks. Fartlek means, “speed play.” What you do is pick a point in front of you during a long run. It doesn’t have to be very far out. And then run it hard. You can do this as many times as you’d like and change up the distance each time. This is also good for those who get bored during long runs.

Change up your route for your long runs too. Add some hills, some trails, or run through a park or two. If you run through a park with a playground you can stop and do some pull ups or go down the slide (why not?).

My final suggestion to mix it up and prevent that stagnation is to throw in some other exercises every mile or so during a long run. Stop and do some pushups, burpees, or jumping jacks. Run with high knees or butt kicks.

Changing things up forces your body to adapt in new ways. This means it gets stronger, which is what you want.

The marathon is 26.2 miles right, then why does my training only take me to 20 miles?

tired_runner1

There is a method behind the madness. Six miles is a big difference, as you will find out while you increase your miles during your training program. I understand why runners want to run the full 26.2 prior to race day. They want to know how their body will react, what type of mental challenges will come during that last 10k, and they want to know they can do the distance before race day. How embarrassing would it be to drop out or have to walk right when the crowd begins to gather around you cheering and encouraging you to keep pushing, your almost there, and how amazing you are. Right? Yeah, I get it.

But, Nicole, you run twenty-five and thirty miles and then go and do it again the next weekend one little marathon won’t be a problem for me. Here’s the thing, I have spent years training my body to be able to run those distances and then recover from them quickly to do it again the next day or the next weekend. So in less you are planning to add three months to your training program, I suggest you don’t go over the twenty miles.

The primary reason that it is not a good idea to run the full marathon distance prior to your race is that it takes too long for you to recover from the run. For first time marathon runners it can take anywhere from 10-14 days to recover. That’s two weeks where your one long run is having a major impact on your training level and quality. One run is not worth that.

Running the full marathon distance during training will not give you the best idea of what your time will be during the actual marathon because you wouldn’t taper for the training run. By not tapering down your miles and intensity during the 10-14 days prior to running the marathon distance, you are running on a depleted body. In many cases, it will be more difficult than actually running the race.

You can get a firm understanding of the mental challenges you will be facing during a marathon when you run your 20 mile long run because you will be running that without a taper as well. Twenty miles in long enough to give you the feel of running the full marathon without the cost of actually doing it. It gives you the chance to implement the fueling plan you will be using on race day, to understand your hydration needs, and to get an idea of pushing past the point where your mind is telling you to stop.

If you can run twenty miles with a depleted body, running 26.2 miles with a fully recovered (from the taper) and trained body will not be a problem. It won’t make it easy. There will be challenges, but you will make it to the finish line.

I’ll only run if…

oh your not a runner

Oh if I had a dollar for every person who thinks they are hilarious when they say, “Only way you’d get me to run is if a bear were chasing me. Ha ha ha,” I would be a rich runner. You know how many times I have seen the above picture posted on Facebook with me tagged from my non-runner friends? Yeah, a lot.

But really, isn’t the “bear” chasing us all?

I interpret this saying as meaning, I will run if my life depends on it.

Well, my friend, your life does depend on it.

Running makes you a happier person. It reduces your risk of cancer and cardio vascular disease. It reduces your stress level. It increases brain activity warding off problems of dementia in later years. It increases bone strength and decreases the risk of injury to your joints.

You sleep better. You get sick less often. It lowers your blood pressure. It increases your overall energy.

It makes your days off relaxing and kicking your feet up, so much more gratifying.

Running thirty minutes five days a week will extend your life by 4-5 years. Not only does running extend your life, but it improves your quality of life.

Sure, I might be training for a marathon here, a 100 miler there, an Ironman, but really I’m training for the race for my life.

From the moment we are born, the starting gun has gone off. My goal is to run all the way into the finish line and the longer the race the better.

Training Season has begun: How to get started

marathon starting

Have you chosen which races you are going to run for the year?

January is the perfect time to start looking at the race schedule and deciding which races you want to conquer for 2015. For those in the northern hemisphere it is cold and dreary outside, having something to look forward to can keep your spirits up when many are fighting seasonal depression.

If you are planning to run a spring marathon say in April or May, your training starts during January. Marathon training programs are sixteen to twenty weeks long. The length depends upon the experience and fitness of the runner.

My runners who are going from couch to marathon get my twenty-week training program and my recommended goal is to just finish the race without injury.

My runners who are active will get the sixteen week program which I adjust depending on their running experience and goals.

There are many free training programs on the internet, but before you decide which one is right for you, you need to be completely honest with yourself about your current fitness level.

If you are not active, but have decided that 2015 is the year of the marathon, pick a fall marathon so you have enough time to build your miles and fitness without being injured. If you are hell bent on running a spring marathon to commemorate something, find a run/walk program and set your goal to finish the race before the course is closed. Twenty-six point two miles is no joke, even if it takes you six hours to finish.

If you are someone who is active, but are injury prone or who doesn’t do any impact sports/activities, you should consider a less strenuous program. Look for something that starts with low miles 2-3 during week one and has only two quality workouts (speed and long run) a week or even better on a ten day rotation.

If you have done marathons before and really want to bring your time down, you should pick up a sixteen week program with up to three quality runs in a week to ten day cycle, but listen to your body and don’t over train.

You cannot cheat the marathon.

The 5k, 10k, even a half marathon you can get through if you do “most” of your training. The marathon is different. If you don’t do the training, you will not finish the race in a good place physically.

I have a marathon training program on my pages Here. It is for runners who have been running about twenty miles a week as a base.

I am more than happy to post something for beginning runners and or injury prone runners. Just leave me a message in the comments or email me at Nicole@ultrarunningmom.com I’d be happy to send you something.