Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Sulphur Springs Trail Race is in 3 days.  It is a favourite on the Ontario Ultra and Trail series for several reasons.  The trail is not overly technical, which can be a blessing when you are approaching the end of your rope.  Technical trails are my favourite, when running 15K.  You run at a heightened processing speed.  Not sure how else to describe it.  At speed on a technical trail, your brain is processing information (terrain, camber, obstacles, wind speed, exertion rate, altitude) at a phenomenal rate.  After 30-40K, technical becomes "tricky".  That's a great word to describe why you are suddenly bleeding in 4 different areas.  Sulphur is technical enough that you won't fall asleep (100 milers excepted) but won't have to write up those annoying accident reports!

For me, the greatest aspect of running Sulphur is the varied starts and areas of 2-way traffic.  Although the course can be a bit confusing (am I the only one running in this direction?), it is a great chance to greet people as you meet them, overtake them, or they overtake you.  Being able to cheer on friends and fellow runners every few minutes can detract from dwelling on the rough patches that surface on occasion, during a race!

Before I move on to the topic of nutrition, an update on the pond.

I might be prejudiced, but Lee Anne had the easy part.  She watched me struggle to clean out the pond (I was responsible for the 3 months of rain we had last Autumn), then instructed me to fill it in.  Simple!  After 2 weeks, she asked me how long it would take.  I believe she thought it would take me 2-3 afternoons.  I flippantly replied "3 months".  Be careful what you say...

There is an amazing amount of work in filling in a pond.  Now try it without any land fill readily available.  No, I'm not going to order 30 truckloads of fill - that's cheating.  One job, after terraforming for 3 weeks, picking rocks, rototilling, picking rocks, raking, seeding grass and picking rocks, is to water 3,000 square feet of new grass.  I ran my well dry.  This was not as easy as it seems.  I bought a lawn sprinkler with a timer.  I set the timer for 30 minutes.  I then forgot to wait 2 hours before moving the sprinkler and setting the timer for another 30 minutes.  3 times!

Overall, the pond project is going well.  I removed and burnt the 2 wooden bridges in an impressive bonfire.  The upper 70 feet of pond is done, including a rock path designed to allow pedestrian traffic should water flood the pond area.  This is a very real possibility, as the pond was made on the old Mad river bed.  During floods, the water will naturally follow the pond's "valley".  The lower 80 feet I will leave semi-landscaped (yes, another new word...) and allow nature to determine what vegetation grows.  If it is all weeds, more grass seeding will occur next year.


Of all the components of running, there are few to match the difficulty of dialling in proper nutrition, when attempting a longer distance race.  To run a 5K race, there is no need for nutrition.  The body can manage adequately with the stored reserves.  Even running 10K does not always benefit from nutrition.  I would argue the time spent downing a gel is not worth the benefit.  I have skipped drinking while running 10K, in cooler weather.

At the half and full marathon distance, nutrition, fluids, electrolyte and salt can help delay bonking, hopefully until after the race is over.  At these distances, gels are optimal, as they don't require stopping to grab some food, can be ingested in seconds and provide the nutrients needed to continue running at speed.  My preference is Hammer gels.  As most gels are similar in nutrient value, I go for ease of operation and taste.  My favourite is Apple Cinnamon.  I like Hammer gels because I can get them open and eat them in the winter, before my hands freeze.  The Espresso contains caffeine, which is of benefit in the latter part of a long run or race.

At the ultra distance, nutrition takes on a whole new meaning.  Yes, you can complete a 50 miler without eating, but I don't think your body is going to thank you.  When running 50K and longer, eating real food is important.  It can provide your body with long lasting energy.  The problem that many people have with real food, is the impact on their stomach.  Running for 5+ hours while attempting to digest is not in the Homo Sapien owners manual.  Gels are a great option for avoiding GI issues, or to obtain much needed nutrition when experiencing GI issues.  Eating real food also takes more time than quaffing a gel.  Elite runners have posted impressive times (world records) while eating nothing but gels.

Whether you plan on using gels or other nutrition sources, it is important to manage your nutrition during ultras.  This does not simply mean taking a gel at every other aid station (although this is a reasonable plan), but to assess your body and translate the symptoms into a nutrition reaction.  I.e. perhaps you need to eat before reaching the aid station.  Perhaps you forgot to eat at the last aid station!

The same goes for hydration, salt, electrolyte, calcium, magnesium, etc., a future topic.  The important aspect is to understand that you need to manage your body's requirements.  One of the better Ontario runners, new to ultras, was not aware that taking salt during a hot 50K race was critical for a best performance, until Lee Anne mentioned it to him.  I'm not sure if he would like me to use his name, so I won't, but make a note to ask Mike.

Another benefit of having a nutrition management plan before going into a race is because at some point during the race, you might not be completely rational.  For 100 mile runners, pacers are a distinct advantage.  They are typically not allowed to carry anything for the runner (muling) or physically assist the runner in any way.  So, why is the pacer of any use?  After running for 18 hours, early in the morning, sleep deprived, exhausted and delirious, the runner has the mental acuity of a 3 year old.  The pacer plays Mommy to the runner, explaining that it is time to take a salt tab (I don't want one - they're yucky!) or refill a water bottle.  Although less severe, the same issue tends to crop up in shorter ultras.  Without a pacer, your nutrition plan becomes your mommy.

So, decide what you want to eat, drink and pop during your next race ahead of time, what works for you (note this implies you have tried product X during training) and what would be a reasonable schedule.  But also keep in mind that during the race, you need to determine if the plan is indeed working for you.  It is 30C and your finger are swelling.  You have taken a salt tab spot-on every hour.  Perhaps you need to take more salt than you did during your training run in 16C weather?


1 comment:

  1. Just re-read your Aug. 31st. 2011 blog post.. it resonates with my illogical thinking in so many ways.. No matter how many times I read it.... I still laugh out loud much to the chagrin of my co-workers.. Your writing is impeccable!..