Friday, December 26, 2014

ATY Plans: Nutrition and Pain Management

This post is a continuation of my race plans for the Across the Years 48-Hour Run.  Today, I’m focusing on nutrition and pain management.  I’m breaking nutrition into three components: fluids, electrolytes and food.  All three are largely unchanged from last year, as I didn’t have any problems in these areas.


My first several ultras were all in hot weather, so I was hard pressed to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.  I won’t have that problem in this race.  The climate is dry, but temperatures will be cool enough that I won’t sweat excessively.  Even if I only drink a few ounces at a time, I probably won’t need to drink every lap.  I have to be just as concerned about overhydration as underhydration.

One way to know if I’m drinking the right amount is to pay attention to how often I stop to pee.  If I go for hours without needing to pee, I’m not drinking enough.  If I’m in the bathroom every hour, I’m drinking too much.  I figure every two hours is about right.  This isn’t very scientific, but it’s easy to make adjustments.  If it seems like I’m not drinking enough, I’ll drink every lap until I catch up.  If it seems like I’m drinking too much, I’ll drink less frequently.  Having an aid station every 1.0498 miles gives me some margin for error.


As I sweat, I’ll lose electrolytes.  An easy way to replace them is to take electrolyte capsules.  In warmer weather, I take one per hour.  In really hot weather, I sometimes take them every 30 minutes.  Last year, I took them every two hours.  That seemed to work out OK.  If I’m eating a lot of salty foods, I may take them less frequently – particularly at night, when I won’t be sweating as much.


I’m hoping to run 200 miles.  The average runner burns 100 calories per mile.  I’m lighter than the average runner, so I probably only burn about 80 calories per mile.  Still, that’s about 16,000 calories.  My muscles can only store enough glycogen to last about 20 miles.  That’s 1,600 calories.  The rest either has to come from stored fat or from food I eat during the race.  One pound of fat can supply 3,300 calories, but it takes a long time to mobilize those calories.  The more I can eat, the less likely I’ll run out of glycogen.  I need to take in as many calories during the race as my digestive system can handle.  Ideally, most of it should either be sugars, or foods that convert quickly into sugar.  Also, not all sugars are the same.  Glucose can be converted quickly into glycogen.  Fructose can’t.

The easiest eat to get calories is from the fluids I’m drinking.  For that reason, I favor sport drinks over water.  I won’t need as much fluid as I would on a hot day, so I can’t
rely on getting most of my calories from fluids.  I’ll get what calories I can this way, but it’s only a start.

The next easiest way to get calories is through energy gels.  This is also an easy way to get calories in the form of glucose or glucose polymers.  Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how often I can eat them.  I’ve tried to take gels once an hour, and I’ve found that after about 10-12 hours, it gets difficult.  I feel like I’m filled to the brim with gels.  Last year, I was taking them every two hours.  That worked OK.

I plan to bring enough GU packets to take them every two hours.  I’ll also bring a couple of extras.  I bought a variety of flavors, so I won’t get sick of the taste.  Some flavors have caffeine.  Others don’t.  I’ll have some of each.  I want to be able to take caffeine when I’m feeling tired, but I don’t want to get too much caffeine.  Finally, about a third of my GU packets will have amino acids, to help prevent catabolism of muscle tissue.

The rest of my calories will have to come from solid food.  About once an hour, when I’m stopping at the aid station to get something to drink, I’ll also get something to eat.  They’ll have standard easy-to-digest foods like PBJs and potato wedges.  They’ll also have more substantial foods.  Last year, in addition to the PBJs and potatoes, I sampled turkey & cheese sandwiches, chili, pumpkin pie, bean burritos, pasta, cheese enchiladas, a red chili burrito, a fruit smoothie, a pickle spear and an egg burrito.  Nothing gave me GI problems.  Just in case, I’ll have some crystallized ginger, which helps with nausea.

I have one other concern about food or beverages.  At midnight on New Year’s Eve, they’ll have champagne for a toast.  Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about it, but that’s when I’ll be fighting to stay awake.  Will a small glass of champagne tip me over?  Stay tuned.

Pain Management

I used to take ibuprofen in the second half of a 24-hour run.  Now I’m much more conservative about NSAIDs.  I don’t plan to take any during the race.  I’ll bring some ibuprofen, but mostly so I have the option of taking it after the race to take the edge off the soreness so I can sleep.

Last year I had painful blisters after 12 hours.  It wasn’t easy to live with the pain, but I was able to do it.  I’m pretty good at tuning out the pain from blisters.  I’ll also have increasingly sore muscles.  That’s a bigger problem.  I’ve found that sore quads can make it difficult to start running again after a walking break.

Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers.  Sometimes you don’t even realize how much pain you’re in until you take a break.  When you stop exerting yourself, you stop producing endorphins.  Pain that was previously masked suddenly becomes noticeable.  It also works in reverse.  If you start exerting yourself harder, you produce more endorphins.  By working harder, you can make the pain melt away.  This only works, however, if you can sustain the effort.  Late in the race, I’ll have to balance my desire to conserve energy with my desire to manage the pain.

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