long run hydration & nutrition

A friend asked me yesterday about what I bring with me on a long run in terms of food and drink. I’m in my third go round of marathon training and have learned quite a lot over the years about what works for me and my body. There are general rules that apply to everyone when it comes to refueling needs over longer runs, but the specifics definitely vary from person to person and should be experimented with over time.

First off, most anyone in decent shape can perform an endurance activity for an hour to around an hour and fifteen minutes without needing to refuel. Our body’s glycogen reserves, if sufficiently topped off pre-exercise, provide enough fuel for that period of time. However, factors such as intensity, heat, and fitness level affect how much liquid and fuel each of us needs for any given workout. On a hot day, for instance, our sweat rate is much higher and then our needs for fluid are greater as we dehydrate more quickly. Also, if we want to finish the workout or race strong, we should certainly take in fluids and fuel before we begin to approach dehydration and glycogen depletion. Recovery will also come quicker if we don’t nearly empty our glycogen reserves every time we head out on a tough long run.

The challenge is to assess environmental conditions, know what we plan to do in the particular workout, and know the current requirements of our bodies. For instance, if I were about to head out for a long tempo run that was going to take me more than an hour when it’s 80° outside, I’d be sure to have a bottle of sports drink with me and maybe even a few shot blocks or an energy gel. I’ve taken a liking to Clif Shot Bloks for my longer workouts and races. They’re fun to eat— sort of like gummy bears, they taste pretty good, and they can be eaten in smaller increments unlike energy gels.

I need to have a sports drink instead of only water on the longer workouts as they provide needed sugars and electrolytes. Water alone will stave off dehydration, but it won’t prevent someone from hitting the wall when their glycogen is used up. We also have to watch out for hyponatremia, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by drinking too much, even when drinking during exercise. Just because we’re running and burning calories doesn’t mean we can drink non-stop. For me, drinking a couple swallows every 10 to 20 minutes seems to work well during my long runs and races.

All that said, it’s never easy to pin down exactly what I’ll need on a sustained long run, especially for something over 15 miles. Some days no matter how prepared I feel, I still might struggle for one reason or another and that reason may not be hydration or nutrition related at all. In the end I like to head into a long run prepared. I like having a little more than I will need with me, or at least a way to get to what I’ll need if something goes wrong. I’ve taken to doing my long runs with a hip pack that holds two bottles. In one bottle I usually have full-strength Gatorade, in the other I have water or diluted Gatorade. In the pocket I’ll have a package of shot bloks and often some real food as well. The 2-bottle hip pack is a bit cumbersome sometimes, so if running a loop is an option for my long run I will sometimes stash extra supplies in a central location, like my car, where I can make a pit stop to refuel after completing a loop if I need to. That way I can get by with a lighter pack that holds only one bottle.

I find that after being out on a long run for more than a couple hours I start to crave real food. Drinking the same sugary Gatorade and eating the same shot bloks for hours on end gets old and is sometimes nauseating. What has worked for me to tackle that real food craving are fig bars, raisins, granola bars, clif bars and even candy bars— all carbs that are quickly and rather easily converted to glucose. Carbohydrates are what our bodies need the most to keep going during an endurance activity as they’re easily broken down into fuel.

One more note about the shot bloks: I exclusively use the margarita flavor as they have 3 times the sodium of the others. For me, this is a necessity as I’m an above-average salty sweater and I need to replenish that sodium, a necessary electrolyte, in order to ward off muscle cramps. This is something I learned during the second half of my first marathon as the temps had warmed up and I had been out there sweating and pushing myself hard for over 2 hours and suddenly my leg muscles began to cramp…OUCH!

Saturday I have a 22-miler planned. High temperature for the day is predicted to be 73, which is much warmer than it’s been here all spring. Also, I am not adapted to running in any kind of heat as it’s been mostly in the 40’s and 50’s lately. So, I’ll be sure to head out early enough to hopefully enjoy some 50’s and 60’s, which shouldn’t melt me into a gooey mess along the way somewhere. I’m thinking I might try doing 3 loops of approximately 7-miles and that way I will be able to get by with my one-bottle pack. In the bottle I’ll have half-strength Gatorade and I’ll have a package of shot bloks in the pocket. I don’t want to lug my big pack with me for 22 miles. I’ll stop back at the car after each loop and perhaps have a little snack, maybe have a couple swigs of the chia fresca (delicious conconction of chia seeds, water, fruit juice, and lime) I’ll have waiting for me there.

There’s some more helpful info about hydrating and refueling in these articles:

2010 Earth Day Half Marathon: Race Story

» Photos from the race on flickr.

Two days ago I ran the Earth Day Half Marathon here in St. Cloud. Being the first time racing since leaving Alaska and moving to Minnesota last summer, I had high hopes and a solid amount of training leading up to the race. I was shooting to better my previous half marathon best of 1:47:55 by about 5 minutes or more. The weather was perfect on Saturday and I was feeling good, so I showed up to campus feeling confident and mostly relaxed.

I was definitely anxious to get started, but was able to trust in all the good training I’ve done over the last several months. This is by far the best shape I’ve been in this early in the running season since getting back into running about five years ago. Sarah and I made our way to campus with plenty of time for me to warm up and meander through the crowd and find my pace group. My goal initially was around 1:43, which means my pace would have needed to be about 7:50/mile. I found the 7:38/mile pacer near the start and decided to see how it felt to hang with him for awhile. This was 12 seconds per mile ahead of my goal pace, slightly aggressive, but not unreasonable. So I lined up about 10 yards behind him with his easy to spot blue sign displaying the pace and got ready to go. It was cool to be hanging out there with the big crowd of runners underneath the overpass I’ve driven under so many times when bringing Sarah to work or leaving campus on the way home.

The gun went KAPOW and it was on! I’ve never ran a race with an actual human pacer like this before, so it was nice to have him ahead of me to help keep my race-start adrenaline in check. Without the pacer I surely would have started faster than I should have, but not this time. I just went out comfortably and enjoyed the energy of all the surrounding runners during that first couple of crowded miles. With the adrenaline, 7:38/mile felt easily for quite awhile, but then it started to feel right. After a couple miles I was just comfortable and did not feel I was straining to keep near my pacer. So that’s what I did, I cruised along with the pacer around 10-30 yards ahead of me, occasionally checking my Garmin to make sure he wasn’t an evil pacing impostor put there to mislead a whole bunch of running suckers. Each time I looked at my Garmin everything checked out, so I began to trust my guy.

I saw Sarah four times over the first 6 miles and through that entire stretch I had no problems at all. It was always fun to see her and hear her cheers. There were lots of encouraging people throughout the race and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Minnesotans. I slowed down for the water stops and had a few swallows of water or Gatorade each time, then I’d pick it up and gradually catch back up to my pace group. I was beginning to think I had a shot at breaking 1:40, but knew I had a lot of challenging running ahead of me.

Between miles 6 and 9 I knew I was working. I had left my heart-rate monitor at home (on purpose), so I was using my breathing and everything else as a guide. There were some moments where I acknowledged I was pushing a little harder than was prudent, so I checked over my stride, made sure everything was still smooth and comfortable, and backed off just enough to keep myself in line. There were a couple hills that got me, especially one around mile 10 that made me question if I had been pushing too hard. After getting over the hill and settling back down I realized all was still fine and I had enough left and the guts to finish strong even if it hurt.

Somewhere over the last three miles and with the help of those two big hills, my pacer got away from me. I wasn’t too concerned as I knew I was still very much headed for a PR, but I was still hoping to reel the pacer back in. I tried to pick it up when I had about 1.5 miles left, but I did not have a ton left in the tank. I was able to get my pace consistently down around 7:30 and with a half mile left I really tried to pour it on, but I couldn’t quite catch the pacer. My official finish time was 1:40:11, which put me at 29 out of 151 runners in the men’s 30-34 division. There’s a lot of serious runners in this group so I feel encouraged— this was also the largest of the men’s divisions. For my gender I was 130 out of 636 and overall I was 165 out of 1496.

I’m excited for what comes next: more marathon training heading into the June 13th Lake Placid Marathon. And hopefully a few more races around here this summer, maybe if Lake Placid goes well I’ll shoot for a more challenging trail marathon up north in the latter part of the summer or early fall. I still need to pick one. I’m thoroughly enjoying running right now. I feel like I’ve turned a corner recently and the horizon seems broader than ever before!

spring is imminent!

This morning I installed a pull-up bar in the house so that I can grow wings and glide along with ease and joy while running through the trails and open prairies of the upper midwest. Warmer temps are here— lately it’s been getting into the 30s everyday and today it might hit 40. I am incredibly excited about running on the thawed surface of trails again soon. Actually, two days ago when out for a 10-mile run (first double digit mileage since 11/22 when I ran around the lake) some of the mud was beginning to appear on one of the dirt roads I was tearing along on. This was only my second run in my Inov-8 Roclite 295‘s and I have to say, they’re quickly becoming my favourite (they’re made in the UK after all) pair of running shoes ever.

The tread on these bad boys is a bit overkill for pavement, but it works and handles every other surface I’ve been on so far with aplomb. Even on packed snow and ice I’ve had excellent traction— too bad I didn’t buy these a couple months ago. The shoe is quite light for a trail shoe (10.4 oz) and does not contain any unnecessary motion control components. The cushioning is more substantial than in my New Balance MT100’s, yet it’s not excessive and the shoes are still rather low-profile. I am continuing to adapt to a midfoot striking running style, so I am glad to have a shoe with decent cushioning since I still have some tenderness in the balls of my feet.

I’m starting to take Neko along with me on more runs too. Nothing too far yet since she’s not quite 7 months old, but last week she did 4 easy miles with me and didn’t show any signs of fatigue or soreness the next day. I probably won’t take her out for more than 5 miles for a few more months, but it’s encouraging to see how much she likes running. She’s less distracted by smells since she’s moving faster and she seems to like the pace of running more than walking slowly along. There’s so much more for her to learn and experience still, having a dog is great fun an adventure.

NOTE: As I was typing the above, Neko was bouncing around behind me chasing the rainbows (from the rainbow maker) that are dancing around the room. I turned around to find that she pissed on the floor in her overexcited state, hence the edit. Come on, puppy!

Back to running…

My first race of the year is probably going to be the Earth Day Half Marathon here in St. Cloud on 4/17. Being this far along in my running already, I think it’s realistic to consider doing two marathons this year. I’m trying to figure out which ones and where. I’d really like to make it up to Fairbanks for the Equinox, but that might not be a good idea since we have a wedding to attend in Texas shortly after that race. I’m also going to be home in June around the time of the Lake Placid marathon, so that might fit into my plans. Otherwise, there’s several in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including some great trail marathons in northern Minnesota. I certainly have many options to consider.

running down 2009, two weeks along

Running this past week went well. Actually, it was almost a complete repeat of the week before. The weather was especially cold early in the week and a couple of the runs started and ended in below zero temps. Later in the week temps climbed into the teens and low twenties, which nearly felt tropical. My legs are feeling good and most of the running has been smooth and comfortable. Thursday morning, however, I woke up feeling a bit off and was not wanting to run. Then I encountered a video that two friends were sharing in Facebook. This video, a compilation of two performances of Prisencolinensinainciusol, is from Adriano Celentano, who was a pop star in Italy through the 60’s and 70’s. The song is essentially a bunch of gibberish meant to sound like English, or it at least demonstrates what English sounded like to some Italians in the 70’s. It’s awesome, watch it for yourself!

That song, video and the dancing featured tap into something elemental that really gets me going. After watching the video several times and tracking down the mp3, my loins were sufficiently girded and I was ready to run like mad again. I put the song on my mp3 player and left it to repeat while running with abandon through my winter wonderland.

Week two: 31 miles, 4 hours & 54 minutes, 4,654 calories.

report #1: 22 days of running down 2009

Six days out of seven featured a decent run outside last week. I announced my goal on Wednesday to continue running 6 of 7 days a week for the rest of the month, so if I include Monday and Tuesday of last week it will actually end up being 22 out of 25 days of winter running joy before 2010 comes around. Getting out there was a bit of a challenge for the first part of the week when we had single digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chills. Actually, it wasn’t bad after bundling up properly and starting, but knowing it’s that cold and windy does present a significant mental barrier. I did it though, showing myself who’s boss on a routine basis this past week.

Yesterday by the time I ran off in the afternoon the temperatures were up around 30, which was a welcome break from the cold, but it meant the snow on the trail and the sandy road I often cruise along on had softened and my footing was rather precarious. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with flexible, strong ankles and they held up. Let’s hope they continue to hold up.

One of the best parts of making a regular practice of running is that when I get out there even when not feeling like it I am able to reinforce a valuable lesson despite my stubbornness: You are much more than the whiny voice that’d have you seek comfort and wallow in lethargy— an active body and mind bring a more profound tranquility. And also, almost as importantly: You like Christmas cookies too much to not be running!

One week down: 31 miles, 5 hours, 4,688 calories.