Month: July 2017

Feed “the Beast” – part II

Feed “the Beast” – part II

The saga of eating on the run continues.  Now that you know why you need nutrition for longer runs, it’s time to dissect what to eat.  During long runs of 13+ miles, the body needs to replenish calories, specifically carbohydrates, and salt.  When we sweat, we lose both water and salt, so the best nutrition options are those that provide quick, readily digestible calories and salt (think sodium and potassium).  There are three main types of in-run nutrition:  liquids, sports gels/chews, and real, honest to goodness, solid food.

Let’s start with liquid options.  Most runners have heard of the classic Gatorade.  But there are a number of options now available to runners as powders to add to your water.  Options include GuBrew, Tailwind, and Sword.  This list goes on forever as new vendors come on the market whispering the sweet Siren song of performance enhancement without stomach problems.

If you’re feeling “hipster chic” you can also try coconut water.  At 90 calories per 16 oz serving, coconut water contains all the key electrolytes including magnesium, potassium, and sodium.  In fact, coconut water contains more 2x the potassium in a banana which is an extra bonus as potassium intake is linked to preventing muscle cramps.  I can’t say I’ve tried this option because I’m not a fan of the flavor but I can see a lot of upsides to this option.

Final point on liquids; whatever you do . . . for the love of puppies, DO NOT HAVE DAIRY!  Science tells us this is a bad idea.  Nature tells us this is a bad idea.  Do not subject yourself or others to this form of explosive GI tract apocalypse.  Save your dairy for a safe post-run chocolate milk.

Energy gels, chews, and beans.  These are a good option for people who can eat anything on the run and don’t want to think about their nutrition.  Grab a gel, eat 3-4 chews, or snag a handful of sports beans.  Each option has 80-150 calories and salt.  Many gels and chews also come with or without caffeine.  There is a buffet of options for this form of nutrition.  These options are tough if you have trouble with the “mouth feel” of the gels or you struggle to chew when your mouth gets dry.  For me, I can’t do most gels.  There is a brand called Gu which I think is onomatopoeia because that’s the sound I make when I try to use most gels.  I have found that the more natural gels made with chia seeds or Stinger honey packs go down a bit easier because of their lighter texture.  Whatever you choose, make sure you consume them with lots of water.

If all else fails, there is always good old fashioned real food.  Ultrarunners are hysterical at aid stations.  At a 50 and 100 mile races I have seen runners eating beer and burgers.  My husband ate a chicken salad sandwich during his last 100 miler.  It all depends what works for you.  If you can eat a chili dog and ride a roller coaster without losing your lunch, this is probably a good option for you.  I can’t even look at food during a run without feeling queasy.  However, if this is your jam, consider a mixture of sweet and salty to satisfy your mood.  Some salty options include, pickles, PB & J Uncrustables, Cheez It’s, PB pretzels, potato chips, or salted boiled potatoes.  For the sweet, there’s Pay Day bars, brownie bites, frozen grapes, dried fruit, watermelon, or bananas.

Lastly, nutrition only works if you consume the right amount on the run.  If you have the best nutrition plan in the world, it will be wasted if you don’t eat or drink regularly during the run.  Make sure you test out all of your planned nutrition options for any stomach issues and taste appeal.  Chews may taste great for the first half of the run but by mile 20 if you’re gagging, they aren’t a good option.

Feed “the Beast” – part I

Feed “the Beast” – part I

When runners move up in distances from 5 K to marathon and beyond, they have to start thinking about nutrition in a way that may seem foreign.  To further complicate the issue, a simple Google search will yield a Golden Coral Buffet’s worth of ideas on what to use for fuel and technical instructions on how many carbohydrates are needed per hour based on the phase of the moon and the length of your mother-in-law’s toe nails.  Certainly, for anyone who has mucked up their nutrition, getting the right amount of calories at the right time is very important, but it does not require a PhD in Biochemistry to get it right.  But just in case it does, I’m here for the people.

There are lots of pieces to the nutrition puzzle, so in this first post we’ll discuss why the body needs nutrition at certain distances but not others.  In part II we’ll talk turkey – what options exist for fueling?  Finally, in part III, we’ll dive into the “soup to nuts” of eating on the run, as in when to eat and how to consume the nutrition to avoid the dreaded “gut bomb”.

Let’s dive into the mystery of nutrition.  As I am a big believer in people taking ownership of their running experience, let’s discuss why nutrition is needed, particularly as the miles pile up.  When you are performing in an endurance sport like running, you use two main forms of energy, carbohydrates and fat.  Carbs are the easiest and most readily available to the muscles, while fat takes longer to serve up.  Now add to that fact, the body can only store a limited amount of carbs “ready to use” in our muscles.  This form of carbs is called glycogen.  Science tells us our bodies can store about 90 minutes worth of glycogen in our muscles.  So . . . what happens after that?  Well, things can get a bit messy when our muscles run out of glycogen and we don’t supply more carbs.  We won’t becoming raging zombies, but we will “bonk” or begin to see a drop in physical performance and mental focus (remember our brain uses a lot of carbs in the form of glucose).

Runner’s often talk about carb loading the night and/or days before a big race.  Here’s the reason:  Runners want to top off the glycogen in their muscles.  By race morning, we want our muscles completely full with glycogen so that we can go faster and farther before needing to tap into other energy sources which are less efficient.  So how much do you need to carb load?  Again, we go to the science.  Women are less responsive to carb loading than men of equal weight, so we need roughly 8 g/kg of body weight, the day before the race or long run.  Guys, you can get the same effect with a bit less – sorry, you can skip the extra doughnut.  So for those of us who don’t work in kg, that equates to approximately 3.6 grams of carb/pound of body weight (if I did my math right).  For a 150 pound woman, this equates to 540 g of carbs the day before the race.  That’s quite a bit of carbs.  To put things in perspective, a banana is 27 g of carbs, 1 slice of 14 inch, regular crust pizza is 36 g, and a single pancake, 6 inches across is 22 g of carbs.  If eating this many carbs is a big jump from your norm, definitely try a bit of carb loading before training runs of 14+ miles.  You want to know how your stomach will react to a bolus of carbs on a long run and not on race morning.

So now you understand why runners carb load and how carbs can effect performance.  The last piece of the puzzle is nutrition on the run.  Energy sources designed for runners such as, chews, GUs, sports drinks, etc are formulated to be digested rapidly and used quickly by the body.  That being said, anything we eat/drink on the run still has to be absorbed into the intestines, passed into the blood stream, and shuttled off to the muscles.  This explains why runners want to maximize glycogen because it’s already at the muscles and ready to use and why it’s so important for runners to time their nutrition during a run.  If you wait too long to take in energy, you will use up your glycogen before the new carbs come to town and  . . . “bonk”.

Stay tuned for the next post where we will sidle up to the runner’s buffet to sample the options.

Running Adventures – Sewanee Perimeter Trail

Running Adventures – Sewanee Perimeter Trail

One of the parts I enjoy the most about running is the storytelling.  Our sport is so unique in the fact that we share much of our running lore and knowledge through mentoring and storytelling.  We have all been through grueling races and training runs only to spend hours reminiscing the misery and adventure later.

Last weekend myself and several members of our running group, the Mad Cow Running Company (credit to Tyler our “hype-man” for the videos and water drops), visited the Sewanee Perimeter Trail.  The trail stretches roughly 20 miles along the perimeter of the campus, within the Boundary of the University of the South and follows the bluff line of the Cumberland Plateau.  The trail is mostly single track trail but does cross a few logging roads and runs on a paved portion near the local farmer’s market.  The primary users of the trail are hikers and trail runners but there are some mixed use portions for horses and mountain bikes.

Our herd met at 8 am on Saturday at the Memorial Cross.  We parked at the few spaces afforded by the small gravel lots near the cross and took a moment to check our gear and water, as well as, to take in the view of the cross and the valley which it overlooks below.  The temperatures were already in the 80’s and forecasts called for temps to soar into the 90’s by noon with heat advisories and “real feel” temperatures expected to hit well into the hundreds.  Two of our cows were kind enough to do early morning water drops at 8.4 and 14.2 miles.  With temps as they were, we knew that we would easily go through our multiple liters of water during the 20 miles.

Five little bovines set off on the trail going counter-clockwise away from the Cross.  For most of the first mile we did “power hiking” as the trail winds through some rocky portions that required a bit of finessing and climbing over rocks.  In my opinion, the first mile is the prettiest but doesn’t have the great overlooks of the later portions of the trail.  The sweaty herd alternated a mixture of walk and run intervals with the goal of taking it nice and easy to keep from getting overheated and planned to average about 15 minutes/mile.

The trail was a mixture of more technical portions covered with roots and rocks with more groomed portions that were very runnable.  It goes without saying that there were hills.  Many hills.  The herd made it to the first water drop without major incident.  We did have to make a few minor detours as parts of the trail were “under construction”.  We were all grateful for the water drop as we had all nearly emptied our supplies of water in the first 8 miles.  I won’t share the indecent comments made during the exuberance of having ice cold water.

And then the herd was off again.  After a few miles, the cow in front of me stepped off the trail to let two oncoming runners pass.  Said cow yelped.  Not being the yelping type, I looked up to find said cow flailing and yelping and running away at speed. . . and a nest of yellow jackets.  With no time to spare I changed course and shouted a warning to the runner behind me.  But the damage was done and one of our herd had picked up a half-dozen or more stings.  According to Wikipedia, yellow jackets are a hazard on this trail – nailed it.

After a quick assessment, our wounded cow was still able to continue and did not appear to be majorly allergic to stings.  But, after a few miles our cow had itchy hands, swollen appendages, full body hives, and looked like he just got punched in the mouth.  So as our herd often does in the case of an emergency, we huddled up and problem solved.  Mercifully we were close to our next water drop which was also near a road.  By taking the road, we were only 2ish miles from the cars rather than the 5-6 miles remaining on the trail.  Half the cows ran to get their cars.  One car to gather the wounded cow; one car to grab Benadryl and Zantac.

And this cow, this cow called our herd nurse who wasn’t able to join us but knew exactly what to do.  She provided me with precise dosing instructions of what to take and how often.  Let me just say, a person can consume a lot of Benadryl before they will overdose.  Thanks to the quick work of the cows, we had a happy ending with everyone making it home safely and one cow having one heck of a Benadryl hangover.

The moral of this story is stick together and carry a better first aid kit on the trails.  As for the future, the cows will be out running this trail and many others in the future.  And in time, this story will move into the annals of running lore where 6 stings became 50 stings and yellow jackets become dragons.  And more importantly, where cows become legendary.

Do What Moves You – part II

Do What Moves You – part II

In the second part of this blog series on “motivation” we will discuss finding motivation during recovery and in returning to running after injury or a long hiatus (see part I on the elements of motivation).  Not surprising, there is a huge field of study on the “psychology of sports injuries“.  There is no way around the issue, injuries are awful.  According to the NCAA and Sports Science Institute, “injuries can hinder performance and negatively impact . . . athletes’ mental health and well-being, including: threats to self-esteem, social isolation and motivational demands associated with rehabilitation. Therefore, injury is one of the most arduous physical and psychological tests confronting . . . athletes.”

Sound familiar?  The scope may be different for us amateur athletes (i.e. no shoe contracts or college scholarships at stake) but the similarity of the human experience in injury is largely the same.  LeBron James and myself are likely to react in a very similar way to being injured and sidelined from the sport we love.  So if injuries are such an “arduous” experience, how do we athletes come back from injury and stay motivate?

We science the heck out of our recovery!

Science tells us that “greater self‐efficacy is the ability to perform prescribed rehabilitation modalities, stronger beliefs in the treatment efficacy, and higher value attached to rehabilitation, were all related to compliant behaviour.”  Say what?  If we believe we can succeed (self-efficacy) and we believe in the value of the treatment/therapy, we will be good little recovery runners and do our work without pushing too far, too fast.

Now is the critical point.  We need to find the motivation to recover and the self-belief that we will recover.  To achieve this goal, we will utilize the strategies of motivation from my first blog post: Autonomy, Value, and Competence.

Autonomy – we control the outcome.  In order for us to feel “in control of an injury” we need to understand the in’s and out’s of our injury.  What is the injury, how did we get it (i.e. overuse, muscle imbalances, bad form, etc) and we need to understand how we can prevent the injury in the future.  We also need to have a clear idea of what recovery looks like – how long it will take, what are the steps of recovery, and what does success look like at each step.  We need milestones for performance during recovery.

Value – recovery is singularly important to us and our running tribe.  Value is perhaps the easiest for us to find.  We want to be better and back in the race.  To boost value, we need to tap into our social network.  Our network of family and our running tribe become our recovery team.  They help us see the value of little accomplishments and keep us connected to our running even when we are sidelined.  I have good friends that have been injured but quickly became the hero of the long run when they showed up to provide mobile aid stations during hot training runs.  The injured runner values their return to sport and their community values them and their recovery.

Competence – we will recover and be better than before our injury.   We must approach our recovery with “tenacious attention“.  The athlete must make their singular focus to do all the million little things correctly that will lead to recovery.  With this laser focus, there is no room to doubt the possibility of recovery.  The runner must stay in the moment.  The worst thing a runner can do is reminisce about who they were as a runner.  That is not the runner we are at the moment and it is an unfair comparison.  The runner must focus on every fine detail of a task and push their bodies precisely to facilitate recovery without crossing the line.  Every precise execution is the opportunity to build competence and prepare for the great return.

Do What Moves You – part I

Do What Moves You – part I

What moves you?  When you have a long or hard training run planned and the temps are in the teens or heaven forbid, triple digits, what drives you to lace up and head out?

I have a group of friends from my running group who have a messenger chat room and the topic of today’s conversation was how to stay motivated.  Not just when the weather is challenging but when you are recovering from/coming back from an injury.  This will be a two part post.  In this post, I’ll cover what fuels motivation and what science has to say about staying motivated.  In the second part of this series, I’ll cover coming back from injury.  So let’s get down to it.

The good, old-fashioned, dictionary defines motivation as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way” or “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”.  Thanks to science, we can also define predictors of staying successfully motivated:  Autonomy, Value, and Competence.

The principal of autonomy dictates that the more ownership we have for an activity or pursuit, the more likely we are to stay motivated for the task.  So to translate for us runners, the more opportunity we have to control our training and goals, the more likely we are to stay motivated for our daily run.  To aid with this control, it can be helpful for runners to develop their own training plans and goal races.  During the day, runners should schedule runs in their calendar and keep these commitments in the same way we keep business lunches, staff meetings, or summons from the local pastor.  Also, science tells us the earlier in the day we schedule a run, the more likely we are to complete the run because other life commitments don’t get the opportunity to pull us away from our run.  I add control to my running life by scheduling runs in my calendar, specifically runs with my running groups for extra accountability.  I work many long hours but on running group nights, if no one will die because I leave the office, I will not schedule late afternoon meetings because the run is my commitment to myself and my sanity.  I am an adult who runs!

The second principal component of motivation is value.  We are generally more motivated to complete a task when it comes with a high personal value.  For runners, this may mean paying for a goal race or speed sessions.  For other people, the value is in telling others of our plans and knowing that to keep social status we must follow through with our workout (i.e. think of the endless social media posts about workout plans or completed workouts).  Still for others, the value is in the competition.  I know runners who go out the door solely because they know their competition is out working hard to beat them.  Find the value and you find your motivation.  For me, the value add is that I don’t want to show up to the start line unprepared.  I want to compete and I can’t rest while my competition is out running hills while I make sweet love to a pizza and a Netflix Marathon (Don’t judge.  People we’ve all been there).

The third and final component of motivation is competence.  There is a direct link between our perception of our prowess and our desire to complete a task.  For us runners, that means as we find success in PR’s, overall/age group awards, weight loss, or running longer distances we have a greater motivation to run/race.  This is great, but all runners have slumps.  So what do we do when we feel our times are slipping, that Father Time is winning, or we gain a few pounds after winter break?  The best cure for our feeling “incompetent” is to re-frame.  Maybe we didn’t perform well at the most recent race, but rather than going to the “I suck” head space, we need to evaluate the things that went right and the specific, discrete tasks that will help us address a weakness.  To succeed, we must always train our weaknesses.  If I didn’t kick soon enough or I got psyched out by a strong surge from a competitor, there are speed work sessions to be done, hill repeats to be conquered, and running groups to engage to help train my weaknesses.  And in training my weaknesses, I have more ownership and autonomy . . . and you guessed it, more motivation.

So, the next time you hesitate to lace up or look back at your day with disappointment because you couldn’t find the motivation to run, check which of the big three components, autonomy, value, or competence was draining your drive.  Chances are, with a bit of tweaking, you’ll be ready to rise to the challenge tomorrow.

The Wise Runner’s Fear

The Wise Runner’s Fear

I truthfully have no idea how many races I have run.  I know I have run a lot of races.  I have run 5K to 100 milers.  I have run multi-day events.  I have run trails and roads.  And while each race is unique, they all have one thing in common, fear.  Every time I toe the starting line, I have the butterflies of anxiety and the undercurrent of fear.

So what are we afraid of and more importantly why do we as runner’s persist in an activity which evokes fear and anxiety? Let’s start with the fear. Most fears can be defined as rational, or reasonable concerns. For runner’s, the reasonable fears are getting lost, running out of water or nutrition, injury, not finishing, heat, cold, chaffing, and the ever dreaded . . .potty disasters. All of these are rational fears because they likely could and often do happen to runners at some point during their running career. The good news is that with proper training and planning, these anxieties can be easily mitigated.

But what should the wise runner fear? A wise runner fears the battle between his “demons and his better angels“.  If a runner ever tells you that she has no jitters before a race, she is a liar.  The runners who are truly honest will tell you that they always fear the “demons”.  The “demons” are the inner voice we all have; the negative self-talk.  The “demons” catch you off guard and make you feel like you are worthless.  They whisper sweet consolations that can make you dump months or even years of training down the drain because you are suffering.  The battle between the ears is truly where races are won or lost and goals actualized.  I have run phenomenal races only to crash in the last few miles because my demons said “we are done”.  The demons are clever; they know exactly what to say to make you slow down, rationalize less than your best, or make you not care about something that was once an ambition.  The distance of the race is no matter.  I know 5K runners who have caved under pressure when challenged during the last quarter mile.  I know 100 milers who sat on the trail and pondered DNF (did not finish) at mile 90.

So the next time you set your site on a race, remember, you must first rally your better angels to silence the demons.  Then, you can worry about the location of the next restroom on the course.

Now for the why.  Why do runners subject themselves to such a physical and mental battle such that the very act of competing, makes  a runner experience fear and anxiety. The answer is  . . . because we must know.  We must know who we are when we suffer. Part of what makes us human is the quest to define who we are.  And what better way to know thine self, than at a time when we are pushed to our limit. In short, we put ourselves through “this mess” in pursuit of our best self.  We want to do the hard thing.  We want to be weighed and measured against the best runners, the hardest trails, the longest distances, and our own demons. . . and we want to be found worthy.  In the end whether we succeed or fail isn’t what matters.  What matters is that we will be better for the struggle.  We will come to a greater understanding of ourselves, and we will be better prepared for our next trial (or trail).  Because let’s face it, there will always be a next time.


It takes suffering to succeed

It takes suffering to succeed

What is the price of success to become an ultrarunner?  I think in life, we all want to be successful at something.  We all have dreams we want to pursue.  Whether it’s getting a promotion at work, going back to school, or running the Vol State 500K.  The real key to success is not however thinking about the dream itself.  Imagining yourself in a cap and gown with sheepskin in hand or standing at the finish line at some race is helpful in terms of positive visualization, but it does very little in the grand scheme of things for actually achieving the goal.

The way to define whether you have what it takes to achieve your goals is not to fantasize about what achievement looks like but to think about what misery looks like.  This seems like a somewhat negative approach but it prepares you for the reality.  If I want to measure my chances of completing the Vol State 500K, I need to be thinking about whether I’m prepared to run 100+ miles a week in preparation.  I need to be prepared to suffer in TN heat and humidity for 10 days straight.  I need to know that I will be hungry and tired, I might get lost in the dark and have blisters that eat my feet.  These are realities that I must be prepared to face and over come to “live the dream”.    So rather than asking what is my dream, I should be asking myself, what level of suffering am I prepared to face – that will dictate the chances of succeeding in my dream.

Another case study is the Barkley Marathons or for those of us mortals, the Barkley Fall Classic.  Since the release of the documentary, that brings light to the lore and legend of what many consider to be the hardest race in the United States, there have been many in the running community who fancy they are up for the challenge.  Some days, I admit that my husband and I are victim of this passing fantasy.  Here is a post from the Race Director, Lazarus Lake, regarding both the Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) and the actual “big kid” Barkley Marathons.  Below is what Laz thinks is necessary to succeed:

“Here is an interesting fact, for those of you who are thinking you will one day join the small number who have completed 5 loops at the big barkley: Robert Youngren wrote a fantastic race report last year, about his serious attempt at 5 loops. (Maybe he will post a link on here, it is a fascinating glimpse into the world of 5-loop aspirants) It is no secret (or won’t be after you try to capture a Croix) that people who succeed at Frozen Head have to run everything runnable. Being serious about doing the deed, Rob went out in the company of the people who get deep into the race with a chance at 5. Do you know what they were doing on the way up Bird Mountain on the first loop? They were running… FAST… The first climb you hit in the BFC is defined as “runnable.” If you are one of those people who include it as “walk all the uphills,” you can take finishing 5 at the big barkley off your dream list…. Maybe you can walk it and still get a Croix at the BFC….


But, I will tell you this much about the 2017 BFC. Running the runnable sections, even when your soul cries out for relief, is going to be more critical to getting the Croix than ever before. You better put on your big girl panties when you get dressed on September 16.”

So I asked myself in the middle of a somewhat benign 18 miler yesterday, that felt like I was dying, am I running up ALL the hills? Am I running fast? Am I working as hard as I can every minute of every mile?  And I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t.  And until I’m prepared for that level of suffering on every training run, the Barkleys and perhaps the Vol State 500K are still dreams.  But tomorrow is a new day and another chance to test my resolve.