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Monday, 17 September 2012

10 Weeks to 40m Ultra-marathon

10 Weeks to 40m Ultra-marathon

This is the summary of my third week’s training for the Brecon Beacon’s ultra-marathon. Mileage is upped, and the long runs are getting longer!

I started the week by putting an additional 1kg in my rucksack. I’ll have to run with emergency equipment on the runs, and that will weigh a few kilos, so I might as well get ready for it. Also, if I get to do the Marines’ selection run across Dartmoor I want to show them respect and run with as much weigh as I can to hopefully match their weight.

The additional weight did make a small difference – I felt a little slower up the hills, until I adjusted my running posture slightly to compensate for the weight.

My Sunday long run was a nightmare – so frustrating! I will always put my huskies first, and it was because of them I had to cut the run short. The temperature was 7 degrees when I left at first light. Yet rose quickly, and the last few miles I chose a route back that was shaded by trees so they didn’t overheat. I was hoping for 19-21 miles, yet had to settle for a little over 16.

Huskies have fur that insulates them against cold and heat. They cool through their mouths, ears, paws and anus. So when the heat comes up they can’t efficiently shed heat, and the insulation means they overheat quickly. Under 14 degrees is the optimum for working, although I know mine can do light work at 16-17 degrees. When I got back at just before 10am the thermometer was already pushing 19, and it was hotter in the sun.

Sunday was BBQ day and I fuelled up on meat and wine! Perfect for my run the next morning – commencing proper ‘back to back’ runs, getting my legs used to moving while tired. In coming weeks I’ll be looking at getting to around 26 miles on the Sunday and 14 on the Monday – getting the 40m distance in over two days.

I’ve also been hunting for the right foods to carry with me. Carbs, especially fast carbs, are NOT necessarily the right foods to be eating on an ultramarathon. I know it goes against the grain, yet it is worth looking at what happens at the hormonal level.

When you eat carbs your body produces insulin. The job of insulin is to take those carbs and store them as fat – and keep them there. Yet, I hear you say, this doesn’t matter because the carbs will first be used up to refuel – carbs are the first energy source of the body. And you’d be right.

However, you can only process around 300kcals of carbs an hour. Yet you will be burning far more energy. This energy (at the lower respiratory levels where ‘stress’ isn’t induced, such as during an ultramarathon) needs to come from your fat stores. When insulin is present glucogen doesn’t come out to play. Glucogen is the hormone which releases the fat for burning as energy.

Eat carbs and you inhibit fat burning.

And it gets worse. If you have fast carbs, like many energy gels provide, you will produce more insulin than what is actually required. This will further inhibit fat burning.

As a result I am looking towards fat and protein foods for my energy sources during runs, to ‘top up’ the depleting energy stores. And also I’m looking to allow my body to adjust to ‘fat burning’ mode as much as possible. Running an ultramarathon is just as much about correct nutrition and biological reactions as it is about running.

To keep the biological reactions at the right level I am looking at running within the ‘fat burning zone’ as much as possible. This is a lower heart rate, one where you can chat as you run. Here fat will be the primary energy source. Put your body under further stress and you will be burning protein from your muscles instead – not really a good idea!

I’ve found a great drink to use – each little plastic bottle contains around 350kcals all from fat, protein, and just a little carbs. I like the idea of taking fluid on with your food – it helps it be processed quicker in the stomach without drawing fluid from elsewhere in the body. I’ve found a product in Tesco’s that is a chocolate milkshake from full fat milk with single cream, real cocoa, and just a little sugar for sweetness. This could be perfect – I am one of the few who thrive on dairy. I’ll be giving them a go on my runs – I’ll let you know how it works out!

Interestingly, I think I have now hit ‘running fitness’. My body has adapted and now I just ‘run’, it is just a natural thing to do. My Tuesday run was supposed to be just 7 miles, yet I felt I could go on forever, so added another 2 on the end to complete 9 miles in total. I was going to do the further additional 2.5 miles to complete my 40miles for the week – yet I also know it is possible to push it too far, too quick. So I’ve allowed myself to get to the total in 4 days instead. And running the Wednesday 3.5miles, which took my running total to 41 this week, just seemed very short! The Thursday run was just bonus miles on top, and classed by me as active recovery.

I’m now pondering on what routes to run next week in order to keep things interesting on the longer runs.

This is my third week’s mileage, week commencing Sunday 9th September:
Sunday:                16 miles
Monday:              12.5 miles
Tuesday:              9 miles
Wednesday:      3.5 miles
Thursday:            3.5 miles
Friday:                  Rest
Saturday:             Rest
Weekly Total =  44.5 miles

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