Small Details for Big Gains over the Long Run
Once you have your training plan set and have a weekly schedule for getting yourself prepared for the distance, there are a few other details to get to the start line in optimal comfort and speed. What to eat while training and what to put on your feet are two questions that come up with beginner runners.
Ever been out running and started to feel light headed and a bit weak in the knees? Or finished your long Saturday run dreaming of milkshakes and bacon? Perhaps you have heard of ‘the Wall’? Chances are your body needed more calories, even if you feel you ate a good supper the night before. On training runs over ninety minutes, athletes should plan to take in 200-300 calories per hour. Your body has roughly two hours worth of carbohydrates available for exercise and you need to start replacing those calories early in the run, not after you start to run out of fuel. The body burns through carbohydrates in strenuous exercise and replacing calories lost has been proven to improve performance in endurance racing and training. Athletes who take in calories while training finish their long runs stronger and therefore receive a greater training effect. Taking a PowerBar gel with sips of water (200-400ml) every 30’ starting 30’ into the run is one of the easiest ways to replace calories and electrolytes lost through sweat. There are a plethora of carbohydrate drinks and gels on the market and the only way to figure out the correct formula of calories and type of replacement fuel for each athlete is to try it out in training.
Glycogen is a readily available fuel stored in your muscles and organs that can be called on immediately for energy needs. When topped up, your body will store about 2 hours worth of glycogen for endurance activities. However, when this glycogen starts to run out and is not supplemented with nutrition, the muscles will become depleted of fuel and begin to falter. In extreme circumstances the body eventually goes into a self-preservation mode and directs the remaining fuel to the vital organs to stay alive, thus depriving the muscles. This is the ultimate Bonk and you may have observed it in marathons and Ironman when people start crawling to the line.
2: Fueling the body.
If we have only 2 hours of glycogen for fuel, then how do you fuel for a race that my take 4 hours? Well if you were only using stored glycogen for fuel, you wouldn’t make it. However, the body can preserve glycogen levels by also using existing fats as fuel and ingesting calories primarily by taking on carbohydrates. If you can balance out your fuel burning system so that it uses all three systems, it is possible to prolong the glycogen depletion for a very long time. The body’s ability to ingest calories is lower than its ability to burn them during exercise so you must maximize the number of calories that your body can effectively ingest to optimize your performance.
3: How many calories (through carbohydrates) are needed?
The amount of calories you burn is generally proportional to your weight. Therefore, usually, the more you weigh the more calories you must ingest. It also varies from individual to individual and should be tested in training and racing. The range for caloric intake should be about 125-250 calories per hour. To give you an idea of what that means, the average 500ml sport drink has 120 calories with 30 grams of carbohydrates. The sports bars will vary but average around 200 calories with 25-40 grams of carbohydrates (check the label) and a sports gel will average around 100 calories with 25 grams of carbohydrates.
Most runners will stick with gels and liquid while running and racing. Solid food is difficult to digest during the rigours of running. Practice opening packets and sipping gels at timed intervals in training, and run with a water belt (available at most running retailers now, it is a wide comfortable belt that can hold up to 4 small bottles.) to practice taking small amounts of liquid while running.
Choosing the best running shoes for training and racing as both a personal and a technical issue.
Most experiences runners will typically have 2-4 pairs of shoes on the go at any one time. They will have lightweight trainers for tempo run days, cushioned trainers for the long run, and racing flats. Once they find a pair that fits, athletes will often buy multiple pairs of the same shoe to ensure they have a stockpile of their favourites. This is a lot of shoes! Your top priority is to find shoes that fit well and that suit your foot, gait and biomechanics. The running shoe market is currently flooded with a plethora of nifty looking styles and models aimed at the active consumer. You must sift through the hype and trends and maintain a focus on getting the right shoe for maximal comfort and to lessen the chance of injury.
There are four basic types of running shoes out there: neutral and supportive, cushioned and lightweight. Generally, cushioned shoes have more midsole material and are used for longer endurance days as they provide more cushioning against the forces of landing, and lessen the impact of running on the body. A lightweight shoe is used for faster running: intervals, tempo and racing, where carrying less mass can increase speed. Neutral shoes work well for athletes with good biomechanics and efficient strides, and a supportive or corrective shoe works well for athletes with biomechanical deficiencies. The correction provided by the shoe can minimalize stresses to the knee, hips and back. Cushioned and lightweight shoes can be neutral or corrective. Within each category, there are also road and trail shoes. Technical trail shoes have been a great addition to the running shoe market. With a more studded outsole for good grip over rocks and roots, water shedding uppers to keep the foot dry and the ability to keep out pine needles and small rocks, a good trail shoe makes forest running a very enjoyable experience. (As a side note, doing a fair amount of your mileage on trails on softer surfaces may reduce the chance of injury as the reduced impact is a bit easier on your body.
Racing flats: comfort versus speed.
While some athletes can get away with a really lightweight shoe for racing, others prefer the comfort of more cushioning. In half and full marathon running especially, being comfortable and managing sore legs and calves is more important than pure marathon run speed, so a trade off to a more cushioned shoe can be the better choice. Testing out racing flats in a training time trial or a road running race will give you a good idea of how you adapt to a racing flat. Keep in mind that trainers are generally lightweight now because of the advancements in midsole technology so weight is not as big an issue anymore.
LifeSport coach Lucy Smith has been competing for over 30 years as an elite athlete in endurance events from 10k to Ironman triathlon. She is a 19 time National Champion in distance running and multisport. She is a certified running and triathlon coach and assists athletes of all abilities set goals and reach their potential through sport. For more information go to www.LifeSport.ca.