Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fueling for 50km (skiing, that is!)

What do you eat?

It's probably one of the most-asked questions an endurance athlete gets. Whether it pertains to daily diet, how to stay lean, or how to fuel for training and events, people are quite consumed (so to speak) with what skiers and runners put in the tummy. And in truth they're worthwhile questions; lost is the athlete who doesn't eat well. For training, it can derail decent workouts into bonked disasters and poor recovery; for races, well...if you have never experienced the giant's hand come crashing down upon your skull, reducing you to a whimpering wet blanket who lusts only that enormous, pan-fried-in-butter Angus burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions... Ahem. Excuse me, I appear to be hitting the wall. Allow me to snarffle a gel, post-haste.

Ultrarunners who compete in 50 and 100-mile events have their own personal mixture of voodoo and peanut butter to fuel them through the grueling day, but skiers must rely on different means. Lacking the ability to carry hand-held bottles, or effectively use running packs such as those from Ultraspire, skiers must instead look to more compact fuels and sparse intake methods.

Last week I competed in the American Birkebeiner 50km ski marathon in Hayward, Wisconsin. I'm a sprinter by ability, so my foray into the ski marathon realm was a bit of an experiment. While I've spent plenty of long hours in overdistance workouts in the training months, it's rare that I spend more than 30 or 45 minutes in a ski race. So going into this race, I wanted to make sure I was prepared, food-wise. As a bigger athlete, I know I'm burning a lot of calories and while you can never replace calories lost in a 1:1 fashion during hard training or races, you must maintain some level of replenishment so your body doesn't enter a state of catabolism (scavenging muscle tissue) or just simply shutting down (i.e. cramping, bonking, general unpleasantness).

Check out the "Jingle-Gels" attached to the drink belt.
My plan for the race was simple: I had one 24oz bottle of strong HEED, and one gel per every half hour of racing. Also, I had a smaller bottle ready to be given to me by a friend at the 38km mark in the course. This was my "Go Juice" bottle, filled with flat Coke and a few crushed-up caffeine pills. This is an old marathoner's trick: your body, at the tail end of a long 2+ hour effort, is craving sugar in any form. Combine simple sugars such as those in soda with a jolt of caffeine (which not only serves as a stimulant but also helps to mobilize fat tissue for metabolism), and you've got a ready friend in your time of need. I should mention though, along with all fueling during races, please experiment with different drinks and foods during training before using them in races. The options I'm suggesting here might not work for you in the same way as me, either in terms of quantity or type of fuel.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in fueling for anything, be it training or a race, is to be consuming calories BEFORE you start feeling the craving. Tim Noakes has a compelling new book which argues that we need far less liquids than we typically consume during race efforts. And yet, hydration aside, sports drinks offer a ready source of calories in an easy-to consume medium. I've read that your muscles can store up to 2500 calories in glycogen, which is ample for a two hour competition. However, completely draining your muscle glycogen stores to the bottom of the tank can't introduce good vibes. I'd rather end a race with a bit left in the tank, and save myself the bonk/cramp/crankiness.

Bottom line: for ski efforts lasting two to four hours, plan on 200-250 calories/hour of fueling. One Hammer Gel contains 90 calories, and a two-scoop bottle of HEED has around 200 calories, so consider taking a gel every half hour, and a few big swigs of HEED every fifteen minutes. I find that if I schedule it in this manner I remember to actually feed. Another way to do it is by kilometer; many ski marathon courses have kilometer signs, which allow you to break the course into sections. For the Birkie, I ate a gel every 10km, and took a few big slugs of HEED every 5km. Play around with these strategies and experiment with different foods and drinks. You'll find a sweet spot of fueling that helps you maintain a steady level of energy without introducing a heavy stomach or discomfort.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spring Training Group

It's time to start training! I'm doing another running class at Winthrop Fitness this spring. Since the Rattler provides an early season race, I thought we'd start earlier in the year so people can use the class to build up their training for the event, or just get a head start on the upcoming running season.

There will be two different sessions, one for beginners and one for more advanced athletes. Both will focus on learning more efficient technique on different terrain and incorporating certain workouts into your own training. The advanced class will work on these things while running, while the beginning class will have more drills and instruction without continuous running.

Training goes from 5:15 to 6:30 on Mondays for beginners, and Wednesdays for the advanced group. We'll meet at Winthrop Fitness for the first couple of sessions, then head to different trails as snow allows. The cost is $95 for eight weeks. The fun begins Febuary 25th and Febuary 27th. Call the gym at 509.996.8234 to sign up. Questions? Email me at alison(at) Come run with me!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mazama 5/10km Run - Registration is up!

Despite the fact that we're still knee-deep in winter and I'm on the road for racing trips more than I'm home, we at Methow Endurance are already planning what will be a very full summer of running events and races. I just put the finishing touches to the registration page for the Mazama 5km and 10km running race, to be held in late May.

Click here to learn more and to register.