Categorized | Tips

Energise your body, feed your brain

Posted on 21 July 2010

When preparing for an ultra it is very important to plan your hydration and energy strategy. When are you going to drink, what are you going to eat at what point etc. Over the years I have been running ultras I have tried and tested a few different ways and at my most recent race, the 24h Namibian Ultra Marathon through the Namibian desert I put my plan to the test.

Below are my thoughts on how it all went, and also what I will do ahead of the next event. This strategy is very much for a single-day ultra, a multi-day I would manage differently since you typically have more time after each stage to re-energise.

I split up my plan in three different elements:
Energy for the muscles,
hydration for the body,
and finally feed the brain.

The last one is not so much talked about in the articles I have read before, but for an event like a ultra this is a crucial element to manage!

Energy for the muscles:
I decided against cooking a hot meal, something I had done in the same race in 2008 and 2009. I felt that it takes too much time to boil water etc. Instead I built a energy plan that focused on easy energy that I could take onboard on the go. I am allergic to nuts, so I was very happy when I found that sunflower seeds contained as many calories as nuts, so about half of my calorie intake was from sunflower seeds. The other half was from an energy powder from Hammer called Perpetuem, which is developed specifically for ultra runners. Having tried it in training I find that it doesnt give me the normal “sugar rush” that I get from other energy powders, instead it releases the energy slow and over time.

Since neither of these taste much I also brought a few small packages of treats such as olives, dried mango, dried sausages and raisins. For each stage I had a small package of treats to get me going. I saved the olives for the last stage only to find that I had olives with stones in them. I was so tired at this point that I actually didnt eat them, the work of spitting out the stone was too much at the end of the race, some 20 hours after we started! I never stop being surprised how tired you are at the finish line! Olives are such a treat with their salty taste, but make sure you get the ones without stones…

The seeds and powder kept me going, and the little treats were great throughout the race.

Hydrate your body
The energy for your muscles only keep you going for so long. Hydration is an equally important part to make it to the end in an ultra. I have found that if part of the energy strategy is fluid, than it helps to keep your body hydrated. On top of that have a bottle of water with electrolyte (I prefer Elete Water) to make sure you have enough hydration and that your electrolytes are replenished. I find that 600ml – 800ml works fine in the UK, and maybe up towards 1 litre in desert climates during the day when you are sweating in bucket loads! Dont forget the electrolytes though, I add Elete to both the water and the energy fluid.

Feed the brain
One aspect of the energy and hydration strategy that I have previously neglected is to feed my brain. Considering that running ultras is to a large part a mental challenge it is important to give the brain energy too. If this is neglected I have experienced difficulties to take charge of my own body and I think my collapse in a race in 2009 was largely due to this.

The brain needs sugar, so to have this available will help you to stay focus and in control. Energy beans, sweet candy, dried mango are things I have used to give my brain the energy to take command.

Get these three right and you will be able to stay in control during your race and make the most out of your time at these amazing challenges.

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