Fuelling is not an exact science because at the end of the day, we are all different and when it comes to running there are extra variables. The variables to consider of course, are whether it's a road or a trail run, the weather, temperatures etc.
At very small local 5k or 10k road races, you normally tend to find plenty of aid stations with at least water and a lot of times other types of drink, potentially fruit, snacks or gels. Therefore, for a short road race, planning for fuelling and hydration is not normally an issue in comparison to a longer road race or a short to long trail race.
I mentioned shorter trail races as these tend to have less aid stations due to a number of factors, technicality of the trail and getting aid stations into place, the size of the running field (i.e. how many runners as trails races tend to have smaller fields than road races), number of volunteers, sponsors and resources.
As a side point bigger road races tend to have more sponsorship as they tend to attract bigger fields of runners and tend to get more media than at a trail race. Also trail races can be limited by permits from the city or park board in charge of the area the trail runs through.
Back to fuelling and in a nutshell this is similar to putting gas/petrol in your car. What you put in affects what comes out and how the car/body reacts. So it's important to try and get on top of your fuelling before race day to try and get your optimum performance.
If you aren't a runner or are new to running then you may not have come across gels. Basically a lot of sports nutrition brands have managed to shoe horn protein, carbs etc into a gel/sticky goo which comes in sachets that are easy to consume on the go. The only thing with gels is it's not real food and too much gel consumption can give some people gut issues. Also as it can be sweet and not real food, they can lead to nausea. Some runners tend to find gels are not an infinite resource as you can get tired of the taste and consistency etc.
Everyone is different of course but I'd suggest trying to plan your use of gels and having other nutrition in between to break up the use to prevent getting tired of them or even having gut issues from using them.
Another way to fuel on a long run or a race is using energy bars, protein bars and granola bars. This is closer to real food than gels but the issues you can have here is, as you get tired towards the end of your run or race and the bar is too chewy you could have issues getting that bar in you.
When running ultra races the aid stations tend to have slightly different options such as coke, cookies, potato chips etc. It's not exactly always a healthy spread but the chips help replace salts, the sugar in the coke helps with low energy and low sugar levels in the body, cookies are easy to eat and are good with sugar. There might be electrolyte drinks and possibly fruit. At some races there are options like soup, quesadillas, grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
In respect to hydration, some runners stick just to water and some people add some electrolytes to the mix. Some people will have a bottle or hydration pack with water and then one with just water. Again it's personal preference and what works for you. The key is to have the right balance, as dehydration and hyponatremia, too much electrolytes replenishment or too little can also create issues.
The other thing to remember is that balance of hydration and fuelling is mostly done whilst running or power hiking if you hit a really big climb! Most races have aid stations but you can not rely on this especially if they are spread out and it's a hot day for example. Also if certain things affect your gut you may be best carrying your own nutrition.
How do I know about fuelling and nutrition? Because I have spent a lot of hours on my feet running and trying to perfect the right balance. Even sometimes when you think you have the right balance it goes south and a prime example was a 45km long run I did the past Sunday. I spent 15k of the route feeling like I could throw up and it's not a feeling I'd like to repeat.
The key thing to remember is practice your fuelling and your hydration on your training runs, on your long runs and try not to ever try anything new on race day.
I have to be honest that sometimes it can be tough out there training or racing but then if it was not a challenge, then it would be easy to achieve a goal. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy running but sometimes it can hurt and you suffer. But you come out the other side and all the hardship is worth it.
So why all this talk about hardship, pain and suffering. Well that's because this past weekend was not easy but it was fun and it gave me some great lessons to move on with.
This Saturday just passed I took part in a Spartan Race at Mount Seymour in North Vancouver. I will be open and honest here; I did no obstacle training whatsoever and that was a big mistake! Sometimes I just go with the flow and fly by the seat of my pants.
Some people have training plans and are very meticulous with training, kit and nutrition. I have always gone by how I feel and what I feel, I need to do for training. It is an approach that has worked in the past, when I ran marathons, half marathons, 10k's and my 50k this year and so I stuck with it.
With the Spartan Race there was a lot of upper body work like going over walls, cargo nets, monkey bars, moving sand bags, going under barb wire. In all there were 23 obstacles and so it was a hard work out for sure, and somewhere along the course I strained my shoulder.
My shoulder didn't give me too much grief immediately and I think that was the adrenaline of the race. Later that day it was giving me grief, and Randi suggested maybe I shouldn't do my long run in Squamish the next day. I'm a runner though and I thought I would be fine and could run through it.
Sunday morning rolled around and my shoulder was super sore, but I was damned if I was going to miss out on my run. The run started and it hurt a lot, but I gritted my teeth and kept going. The only thing is, I was concentrating on the pain and missed a marker, and I took the wrong turn and did 5k extra than everyone else.
It was a hot day and it was 32, maybe 33 out on the trails, and so heat, pain and extra distance all added up to the suffering. In fact it was so hot, I ended up one point bonking. Bonking is what runners call it when you just run out of power. I stopped and ate and drank and managed to get myself going again.
I did manage a 3rd in my age group for the Spartan race and even through my run on Sunday was tough, I still managed a reasonable time, and I know I can push myself really hard and I know that's what I need for my 50miler.
To improve your running performance it's not all firmly based on how fast you run, how often you run or even how far you run.
Stretching can play an important part in keeping you running, running strong and hopefully running injury free. There is and has always been some debate on stretching as to, when to do it ? Before a run, after a run, both, neither, static or dynamic.
Because there always has been so much debate, I think the best approach is to go with what works for you. In the same way everyone has their own nutrition and hydration routine that works for them on races and long runs.
I'd certainly suggest that some stretching is better than none and there is suggestion that static stretching before running can cause injury. I therefore do not stretch before a run and try to do my first kilometre of my run at a slower pace to the rest as my warm up.
I tend to do a mix of static and dynamic stretching after a run and feel this helps to break down in lattice acid and help keep me flexible. I also try to stretch daily whether running or not.
I find that a foam roller is invaluable and as fellow trail runner told me when I was having some tweaks in my ITB (Iliotibial band; it sits on the outside of your knee) roll the s**t out of your ITB. Foam rolling and use of essential oils certainly helped.
Another key component to keep running, staying strong and staying healthy is cross training. Cross training is basically using other activities to support your fitness base. This could be hiking, biking, swimming, surfing etc.
I like to bike and studies have suggested that people who do multi-sports tend to have better results with their running than just running alone.
I think the key to running if you haven't run before, is to take it slowly, listen to your body, stretch, foam roll, cross train and above all have fun.
Disclaimer: Always check with your physician, if taking up a new sport or taking up any sport to make sure you do not hurt yourself.
Did the title of this post grab your attention? I hope so as I enjoy putting my thoughts and musings out into the web, and it's true that from some of the photos I share of my trail running, it looks amazing. But that's half the story as some of these trails are tough to get up and down and even the easy ones can catch you out.
So what do I mean by catching you out. Well there are some nice flat gravel or dirt trails that you can happily cycle on, jog or walk your dog on and then there are those that throw in a good measure of tree roots and boulders as big as baby heads. Some trails throw in mud, marsh, dry river beds, wet river beds, steep inclines, edges that you wouldn't want to go over, snowy summits and creek crossings.
So in other words the trails that I enjoy tend to have everything you would expect in the back country and sometimes a bit more thrown in for good measure. Why do I enjoy this you ask? Well I like to challenge myself and pit myself against the trail. I also thinks it's great fun and the reward is getting out to places very few people other than hikers and other trail runners get to.
There is a down side to these technical trails though and that's the increased likelihood of injury. This could be a slip/fall, being attacked by the wildlife as let's not forget there are bears, coyotes and cougars out there.
A prime example is I have rolled my ankle twice this year, and we are only half way through the year. A friend rolled both his ankles on the trail last weekend and another friend hurt his back not once but twice on a creek crossing a few weeks back. I'm not saying road running is not without its dangers as you got traffic around you but at least that's one less worry when trail running ;)
With injuries come downtime, and people who have partners that are runners or who have friends who are runner, know how frustrated runners get when they can not run. I have learnt to cope with this issue by cross training such as using an elliptical machine or cycling. Also foam rolling and stretching helps to rehab and keep your mind off the injury.
So yes its great conquering those trails and seeing the beauty of nature but it's not always giggles and unicorns, but then if it was easy then everyone would want to do it :)