Photo from the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Miler by Ali Engin. Permission to use header photo must be obtained through Ali Elgin.
"It's better to feel pain than nothing at all. The opposite of love's indifference." - The Lumineers
Monday, 29 March 2010
Brief guide to running an ultramarathon
I was just out to lunch with some of my dear friends from Hartland, WI. Spending time with "normal" women does wonders in terms of putting my life half dedicated to exercise and running in perspective. As you can see, I'm actually wearing running clothing to lunch. Well, I believe in packing very light, so it's the only stuff I brought. Though none of them could fathom why anyone would willingly run 50 miles, they at least acted curious (like good friends do). I'll admit my life is quite unbalanced, BUT I could not contain my excitement and happiness as I described the sport and thought about the upcoming race on Saturday.
Hells Hills will be my 7th ultra, so I thought I could write a little summary of what I've learned for those interested in running an ultra. For those who have run many more, speak up, if you find anything I say egregious. It is actually quite amazing how little you need to know to enjoy such a long endeavor.
About a month before a 50 miler, I try to run one 26 miler fairly fast. Anything more than this risks injury too much. I find the more ultras I have run total, the better my next ultra goes. I don't know if this is due to mental or physical advantage, though probably both.
I also think training to be fast at shorter distances is advantageous in longer races because of the muscle base one builds.
Yoga helps build core muscles and balance, plus prevents injury. I just heard some ladies at the gym here in the US complaining of chronic hip problems while running. Knock on wood, I haven't had any hip problems since I've gotten serious about yoga and varied my exercise routine. And that's in the face of more intense running.
Pre-race food and nutrition:
The week before the race is not a good time to lose weight. One burns through energy quickly in an ultra. But you don't want to gain weight either as that's just extra weight to lug around.
Having a diverse diet including protein can only be a benefit. One does not need to eat a lot of meat to achieve a healthy amount of protein. There are many good sources of protein. The ones I prefer are fish, grains, legumes, nuts, eggs, cheese. (Devon Crosby Helms would disagree and recommends eating meat. Here is her well-written post).
Supplements: you don't need supplementation if you do not have an underlying physical condition requiring them. Eat a diverse diet including omega 3 fatty acids and supplements just can't improve your performance. If you are pregnant, take folate. If you get next to no sunlight (but what runners do?), take vit. D, especially if you are a darker-pigmented person. If you are post-menopausal, take calcium and vitamin D. It's that simple. (Read Steve Q's post on Vit B6, if you would like some detailed info on that supplement.)
What to wear
Clothing that prevents chafing! I have made the mistake of running two ultras in just a sports bra and the chafing marks from my water bottle belt in 2008 are still visible on my back (luckily, I adore scars like this). If it's really hot, you never know where you will chafe, so buy breathable tight-fitting clothing. No cotton allowed except in underwear and socks. Maybe nobody out there wears cotton underwear like me, but I'm always a "little behind" in that department.
Shoes. Go with the old faithful. They should be shoes you've worn many times. I have read way too many race reports with shoe malfunctions.
I also bing: ipod, garmin, and ibuprofen, a PPI (I sadly take these on a daily basis for my stomach) and a little food in my pocket.
Oh, yeah, and don't forget suntan lotion - I did that at Voyageur last year. I've never worn sunglasses because they give me headaches.
And something to carry fluid in. I wear a belt with a water bottle. I have worn a camel-back, but find it too heavy and awkward to take out to refill.
Fueling during the race
Fluid: Replace the fluid and salt you lose! It is nearly impossible to overdose on ingested salt. In physiology I once asked what would happen if a person ate an entire salt lick and the answer is a temporary increase in blood pressure. But you also need to drink fluid along with the salt to avoid dehydration (so yes, I guess if you don't drink water with the salt you can overdose in a sense). Try to keep yourself urinating. But beware, you can also overdose on water. I usually fill my water bottle with half water half sports drink, but never drink water alone. Water alone also starts to taste badly at some point. The stress of the race, even without the sweating, drives down the sodium in our blood, so it's best to make an effort to get sodium. If it were really hot, I'd take a salt tab (though I've yet to try one) and/or eat salty foods at the aid stations.
Food: eat small amount of calorie-rich food throughout the race. I made the mistake at the Angel Island 50k of eating a small dinner the night before and then hardly eating anything during the race. Oh, and I was breastfeeding. I absolutely crashed at about 26 miles. There IS a difference between a marathon and an ultra! Let me just add I have never and would never eat Gu/gel. Not because I think it's dangerous. It just disgusts me. There goes another sponsorship.
bandaids (the only thing I've used)
(I think drop bags become more important in 100 milers, but I wouldn't know first hand)
What did I forget?
Running the race:
My three good pointers are: 1. on most hills I walk the first 3/4 and run that last 1/4. 2. wear a garmin 3. run with a group, if possible.
The family is waking up now, so gotta get going!
Running song of the day (another awesome one I missed in 2009): Take a Minute by K'naan