Amazingly, I was roughing this piece out last night with a view to publishing it today when John Ky posted a link to William Sichel's article on the same subject.
There are more than a few similarities, the stongest of which is his advice to "eat less!". He ran the Spartathlon on 100 kcal per hour which concurs with my view that most people are trying to get far too many calories down.
Anyway, have a look at William Sichel's article here and then laugh at mine, ;-)
Reading other folks' blogs has reminded me how much my own practice with regard to nutrition and hydration has changed over the last few years. Given that this change has coincided with an improvement in my ultra distance running, I thought it might be worthwhile sharing my current thinking on the subject with anyone who is interested.
Firstly though, I must point out that we are all "experiments of one" and what works for me might not work for anyone else. In addition, what is working for me now, might not work in different weather conditions or race conditions so please bear these thoughts in mind when considering any changes to your own practice.
They say that you burn about a 100 calories per mile when running. Multiply that by the WHW and you get something in the order of 4 days worth of food burnt in one day. One could try and eat that amount but I doubt that anyone could manage that and run the WHW on the same day. Fortunately, training enables us to get away with eating less than that by tapping into our reserves. Anyone who has raced a marathon knows that 26 miles without eating anything is hard, the tendency is to "bonk" (i.e. suffer a collapse in energy reserves) after about 20 miles. According to those who know about these things, there just isn't enough glycogen (the storage from of glucose) in the body to take you past this distance so you have to supplement it with food of some sort.
Clearly what is needed for running 95 miles miles is more than nothing but less than four days worth of food, the big question is, how much do I (or you) need.
As I've worked my way through the WHW training runs this year, I've discovered that one can get away with very little indeed. In fact, I've discovered that about 285 calories per 10 miles works for me (one Mars Bar). This has huge advantages from the point of portability. If I can maintain this level of intake over the whole WHW, I can do it on a 10 pack of Mars Bars which I can carry myself.
On the face of it it seems improbable that this could possibly work given the energy expenditure but one thing that we all have is huge reserves of energy in the form of fat. Even if your BMI is in single figures it's reckoned that we all carry more than enough stored energy this way. The problem is in tapping into it. To "burn" fat, you have to have enough glucose in your system. No glucose = no fat burning = bonking. Just keep a trickle of glucose coming into your system though, and you can burn fat and tap into this resource. In the early stages of the run, this glucose comes from stored glycogen but as reserves fall, you need to supplement your glucose supply. This is where the Mars Bars come in. I really don't think there's any place for difficult to digest food (ham sandwiches etc.) containing protein or fat. Your digestive track is having to cope with a compromised blood supply because you're running and trying to absorb anything other than the simplest sugars is probably asking a bit much of it.
I can't pretend that any of the above will stand up to any sort of serious scientific study and most importantly, I can't say that it's possibly to be competitive on a diet of Mars Bars alone, but if you're having recurrent stomach problems with nausea & cramps, just bear in mind that it's possible that you're suffering from eating too much, not too little and that you may be able to get away with much less than you think.
Anyhow, this is just my current take on nutrition. I'm not a fan of liquid nutrition for reasons that I'll cover under hydration.
If there are any ultra-runners out there who aren't scared of hyponatraemia, then they ought to be. Dehydration may make you perform sub-optimally, it may even in extreme cases lead to your collapse. What it will hardly ever do, is kill you. Hyponatraemia (low blood salt levels) will. The first you or your support crew may know about it is dizzyness and/or confusion. Once you have symptoms of altered conciousness, you're already in big trouble.
So, why does it happen? As the good Dr. Ellis has made clear, the commonest reason is over-hydration. In short drinking too much. The question is, why, despite the known dangers, do runners keep doing it?
The popular reason given is that the mantra "if you wait until you're thirsty you've left it too late" and the concept that dehydration is a "bad" thing have over played in the past. It was certainly true that the official advice for marathons used to be to drink "plenty" and regularly, irrespective of thirst. This advice has certainly been toned down but it's still quite common.
When it comes to ultra running, advice that might only lead to a mild to moderate degree of over-hydration in an event the length of a marathon, can lead to serious over-hydration in an event that can last over 24 hours.
Another reason that people inadvertently over-hydrate (and this is just my pet theory) is that we've started really confusing our body by taking calories in liquid form. This means that when your blood sugar is falling, you're feeling tired, you reach for the sports drink when what your body is really craving is just the glucose. "Ah but!..." I hear you say, "I'm taking salt in with my fluid so that should be okay." Well it might be if it contained the same amount of salt as your blood but sports drinks are a long way short of that for the simple reason that they would be horribly unpalatable if they were. So the more you drink, the more you dilute your blood sodium levels. To make matters worse, drinks containing some salt are absorbed more rapidly that those without so potentially, this "advantage" of sports drinks, could potentially be aggravating the very problem it's supposed to be alleviating.
I'm coming round to the idea that we evolved to eat calories, not drink them and that taking calories in liquid form leads to a muddying of the distinction between thirst and hunger, two separate needs that need to be dealt with separately. Treating hunger with inappropriate quantities of dilute calories leads to over-hydration.
My solution is simple and cheap. Drink water. Not necessarily exclusively, but certainly I think it should be your "first line" fluid. Additionally, whenever you find yourself reaching for your camelbak tube or other bottle, ask yourself seriously "Am I thirsty?". I find that when I ask myself this question I realise that I've been reaching for my bottle more often through reflex, not need. I know find myself completing long runs on much less fluids that I used to drink and feeling better for it. In February I ran 31 miles on one cup of coffee, something that I previously would have thought of as "impossible".
I don't expect anyone to change what they do based on my views but perhaps they might encourage people to experiment a bit more and potentially run a better race.
Monday, 31 March 2008
Amazingly, I was roughing this piece out last night with a view to publishing it today when John Ky posted a link to William Sichel's article on the same subject.
Sunday, 30 March 2008
I can never remember everything I want to mention at the time of blogging so I thought I'd add a few more thoughts now before I forget them again.
Both Thomas and Marco commented on the "self sufficient" nature of my run yesterday, not relying on a back-up team. Part of this self sufficiency is just down to bad organisation, part though is down to a desire to do the whole WHW one day as an unsupported run. The WHW is a nicely defined "unit" with a clear start and finish and the thought of doing it all, non-stop, unsupported has a strong appeal for me. I'm not agin doing it with company however so if anyone out there shares similar ambitions, feel free to get in touch. I'm not however planning on doing it in the winter though, once was enough. ;-).
I think the hardest part of running unsupported will be finding the right gear to wear that will remain comfortable for the full distance and getting the nutrition right. Of course I can make up any rules I like but I'd prefer to carry all my provisions for the full distance. Buying stuff en-route would feel a bit like cheating. Coffee deprivation might be a big problem as I've always consumed copious quantities of it during my runs along the WHW. Yesterday's run however showed me that what I'm currently doing works well for distances up to 37 miles. Fingers crossed that I can build on it and stetch it out for the full unsupported 95 miles one day.
Regarding yesterday's run, I mentioned my "Mike Mason moment". For those not in the know, Mike Mason (a WHW runner) was caught "in flagrante cr*ppo" during last year's race. The talk on the WHW forum since then has been of little else. ;-)
I forgot the mention meeting Pete Duggin on my descent down to Kinlochleven yesterday. It was the only point in the route where I'd slightly regretted wearing road shoes as there was a bit of slushy snow at the top but it was a shortlived problem and for the rest of the run, I had no regrets.
It was probably a good thing to reacquaint myself with that stetch of the WHW as it was much longer than I remembered. Curiously, the section from KLL to Fort William was also much longer. I've a sneaky suspicion that the WHW has been lengthened to at least 100 miles since I last ran it. ;-)
After yesterday's run I jogged along to Morrison's in FW to get some milk, some orange juice and to use their toilets to get changed into my dry clothes. Well, I managed the first two without mishap but things went awry on the last stage. Now you would thing that all supermarket toilets were the same. I've been in the toilets in Morrison's in Ayr and think I'm pretty clued up on how they should be. In Fort William however they do things differently. As I staggered into the toilets, rank with sweat & mud and in my shorts, I was struck by the relative spaciousness. After that, the number of cubicles and wash basins struck me as slightly excessive. The absence of urinals and the very effeminate looking long haired bloke by one of the sinks was that last clue that something was not quite right.
I rather lamely enquired if one of us wasn't in the wrong loo as by now, I was begining to doubt my choice of convenience. Sure enough, I was in the ladies. Fortunately, no screaming ensued, no security guards were called and no arrests made. A bit disappointing really. ;-)
Having made my escape and visited the other gents toilet (honsetly, you'd think they could make the signs a bit less confusing to an addled WHW runner) and got changed, I wolfed down a plate of macaroni cheese & chips. It may only have been supermarket cafe fare but it felt like ambrosia of the gods at that moment.
After that, all I had to do was get back to Bridge of Orchy which is easier said than done by public transport in FW. Having looked at the options I decided to hitchhike. I toyed with the idea of staying in my smelly shorts (working on the principle that the more exposed flesh the better for getting a lift) but the smell was pretty bad and having got changed in to leggings I hoped that a lycra-clad leg would be sufficient for hitchhiking purposes. I jogged down to the south side of FW and within 5 minutes I was en-route for BoO. It's nice to know that one can still hitchhike in Scotland and there are still a few psychos prepared to pick up total strangers. ;-)
Saturday, 29 March 2008
It could only happen amongst a group of ultra-runners. Had a great run, 36/37 milesish and I feel like a weenie as most of the folk were running 43. ;-)
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Ever since Angela's excellent talk last week I've been thinking about but never quite getting round to updating my Blog. Perhaps I just don't lead an exciting enough life or perhaps I just don't lie convincingly. ;-)
Anyway, runningwise, it's been a good week which has helped to make up for my slight disappointment over my Inverness time.
Since last Tuesday:
Wednesday: day off
Thursday: Carrick hill run. This is my 4 miles each way run up and down the Brown Carrick hill to the radio masts. Ran a training PB without really trying too hard. Of course, training PBs don't tell you an awful lot but they're nice to have nevertheless.
Friday: another day off!
Saturday: River Ayr run racing my wife. Before you think I'm setting my sights just a little low, I did give her an 11 mile and 25 minute head start so it wasn't that easy. ;-) We drove up to Failford, left a car by the pub, drove back to Oswalds Bridge at Auchincruive (10 miles downstream) where I dropped my wife, the dogs and her friend. After dropping my daughter in town, I drove home (21 miles from Failford) and set off from there. To be honest, I didn't really expect to catch them, and I didn't. What did surprise me though was that I was only beaten by one minute! I reckon if it hadn't been so muddy I would have made better time and might have caught them. Then again, they might have gone faster too. Still, made for an interesting challenge. As before, finished off with a pint of milk & some fine real ale.
Sunday: An easy 5 miles with my wife.
Monday: An easy 8.25 miles with the dog. He really is getting too old for his lark but he never learns and demands to be taken out and I'm too weak willed to resist his pleadings.
Tuesday: Club hill repeats. Just 3 x 1 mile. I had planned to do four reps but we were keeping the rests down to 3 minutes and my legs really weren't recovered when I started the third rep. Still, my times were good if somewhat inconsistent. First mile was 6:14. I'd consciously held back a bit but perhaps held back too much. On the second rep I was flying (for me anyway) and ran 5:51, my fastest ever. My third rep on heavy legs still managed to squeeze in under 6 minutes (5:58) so I was pleased with that. Definitely a case of "Could do better" for my report card but pleasing to get two sub 6 minute laps in.
Just to brighten a dull blog, here's a picture of Roger cooling his paws.
Tuesday, 11 March 2008
How else can you explain why the first three raffle prize winners at Angela Mudge's talk about her record breaking run in the Everest marathon, *didn't* pick up the video camera and then Debbie swans up with her ticket to take away the top prize!
Not that I'm jealous or anything. ;-) Guess I should have bought more tickets!
Monday, 10 March 2008
I may not have excelled in yesterday's race but my training seems to be paying off in term of (apparently) speedy recovery. Apart from aching biceps (which was a bit odd) I've had no muscle aches since the race and I went out for an easy run around my regular loop (about 7.2 miles) with Roger tonight. A bit wet but if the forecasts are to be believed, nicer than it's going to be tomorrow!
If you look at any of the race time predictors (like this one) you'll see that based on a 19:21 5K, they all come up with sub-1:30 times. Of course all predictors only work if you've only done the appropriate training for the distance and I think my WHW training runs may have built my endurance up well but not provided me with the combination of endurance and speed over the half marathon distance. If I was serious about getting a sub-1:30 I think I'd need to concentrate on improving my 10K times first but in the buildup to the WHW, 10Ks have always felt like a very low priority. Perhaps if the right race comes up at the right time before the WHW I might have another bash at a half marathon but for the moment, I'll have to settle for being 10th V50-54 out of 68 in Inverness. (Yes, they were quoting 5 year age groups in the results). Meanwhile Ian finished an excellent 8th out of 130 in his age group.
Three photos from http://www.northsport.com/ who were the official photographers. One of Ian (looking like he's out for a spot of power walking), one of me and one of a guy who passed me at 9 miles (a real "heartsink" moment).
Thursday, 6 March 2008
I was out with my old collie cross mongrel Roger this afternoon. He's not really up to long runs but he just can't help himself, particularly when he's just come out of kennels where they walk all the dogs three times a day. In there for two nights and he's expects the same service at home!
Anyway, it a repeat of my route out to Craig Tara. It was after reading Debbie's blog and her encounters with neds etc. in her neck of the woods that I realised how lucky I was to have the shore to run along. There are usually big flocks of curlews along the shore by Craig Tara making their characteristically evocative sound, something I'm willing to bet you don't hear in Glasgow too often. Of course, I do miss having decent hills to train on but you can't have everything. Roger started off full of beans but soon realised that he was in for a longer walk than he was expecting so we had to stop a few times at streams for him to cool down but no matter how tired he sometimes looks, he always has some energy to chase the squirrels in Bellisle Park on the way back! Still, it was good to have him with me to ensure a nice slow pace. My legs are a little stiff after Tuesday's 5K and driving 400 miles to Aberdeen and back yesterday.
Tuesday, 4 March 2008
I always feel that I run better after a haircut but even I was surprised by the difference yesterday's haircut made in tonight's 5K time trial.
Last month I had a runner to chase and another one hot on my heels so I felt I had really given it my best shot. I was pleased to squeak back in under 20 minutes with a time of 19:59. Tonight though, I had no one to chase so I knew I'd be setting the pace myself. I was hoping to get under 20 minutes again but without anyone to chase, I wasn't sure whether I'd pull it off again or not.
I needn't have worried. My legs felt full of beans right from the start and unlike previous months, I didn't feel like I was slowing significantly as I progressed. In the end I was delighted to stop my watch at 19:21, 38 seconds faster than last month.
My splits this time were 3:48, 3:49, 4:02, 3:50 and 3:50. If only I could have held my speed over that 3rd Km! That would have been another 10 seconds off. ;-)
Still, mustn't grumble, I'm more than happy with a 38 second improvement in my 5K time in one month. Of course, it probably won't make a ha'pence worth of difference to my WHW time but I enjoy my 5Ks. Doubt I'll pull off a similar improvement next month. ;-)