|'It's Just Nuts'|
Lyric:- 'Mouth is alive with juices like wine' - Duran Duran
Song Choice:- The Duran Duran boys were still going strong in 1995, the year of my first ULTRA-marathon and I thought I would look at the major things that have really changed for me as a runner since then and the Lyrics of Hungry like the Wolf fit perfectly the main portion of today’s blog.
It’s actually twenty years and two days since that first 33 mile ultra-marathon, The Grantham Canal ULTRA, that went from Nottingham Forest’s Football Ground along a flat and very grassy Canal Towpath to the finish in Grantham’s Town Centre, more famous for being the birthplace of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher perhaps than a ULTRA-marathon finish location.
Anyway, I remember it as if it were yesterday and in the grand scheme of things this was extremely early in my running career being only my 7/922 marathons or more and that first venture over the 26.2 mile mark. I ran the race like my previous marathons with the preconception of it only being another seven miles further and if I ran it at about 90% of my normal pace, everything would be dandy. Luckily it all worked out and, I say luckily, as it was a very sunny and humid day and apart from cups of water and orange juice along the route, I just had enough energy to get me to the finish line and a very comfortable chair which I glued myself to for some time after the race. I can still remember how toasted my legs felt during the car ride home and that until the following Thursday, I shuffled everywhere like Frankenstein’s monster, because at that stage ULTRA-marathon running was new to most folk and there was little or no nutritional information out there to get to know how to load up pre-race, fuel during and recover post-race properly.
I’ve had to learn this the hard way over the years and early on I learned that carbo-hydrate loading with liquid fructose for three days prior to race day following three days of being carbo-hydrate deficient would put the ‘wall’ that at the time, everyone feared at more than 26.2 miles rather than the 17 mile marker it seemed to lurk in my previous races. I did pick up from reading in running magazines that pre-race hydration was very important and subscribed to ‘hyper-hydration’, (drinking water until you couldn’t drink until you weren’t thirsty at all and then drinking even more) without knowing the dangers of Hyponatremia (Low sodium levels from drinking too much water) and my general thoughts on nutrition were based on the theory that as I ran over 100 miles a week in training, I could then eat anything I liked and the starchier the carbo-hydrate the better it was for me and until I went to the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in 1999, I never really thought about the ‘what you are, is what you eat’ or that as an extreme athlete running huge distances and numbers of marathons that I would need a more scientific approach to what I put in my engine.
The MdS clarified race nutrition perfectly. The race has a minimum race calorie allowance of 2000kcals a day and therefore for the week 14,000kcals can get one to the finish, a little hungry in one piece looking pretty gaunt and about 5kgs lighter in my case. What’s changed since then is the QUALITY of the food that we now take to the race. The 800kcal freeze-dried rations of Chili Con Carne and Chicken Tikka (500kcals of which is fat) have been replaced with a more protein based buffet of smaller items of real food that are far tastier and don’t need rehydrating or heating up to eat.
There’s no substitute during the run for ‘Gels’,‘Gel Blocks’ or ‘Sweeties’, to help provide an instant buzz and metabolize the body fat we need to use to get from ‘A to B’ without hitting the wall but pre-race a breakfast of Nuts and Granola with cold water added to rehydrate makes a perfect start to the day. The Nut mixture of equal amounts of Macadamia, Brazil and Salted Cashews delivers 7kcals per gram and helps reduce the food needed for the week of racing to a meagre 3kgs. Another serving post-race, with my now favourite, a Chilli-flavoured Beef Jerky followed by two servings of powdered milk-shake recovery drink and 100 grams of Freeze Dried Strawberries in Custard again mixed with water makes for the best Sahara Spread possible allowing for a weird food power-to-weight ratio as well as the change of palate that occurs from Sweet to Savoury that most folk get during the race.
My goal for next year is to take more of the very sweet items out of my Sahara Menu and replace them with more delicious and nutritious foods that will give me more energy during the long hours running in the muscle draining sand and 55 degree centigrade midday temperatures. In the early days of running, if there had been the internet, no doubt nuts.com would have been a very good place to start and no doubt there are some changes I could make to my 2016 MdS Food. Any tips are most welcome and the diet has to be based on bang for your buck, or Kcal per Gram remembering that variety isn’t important as food is ‘Fuel’ to me and not a reward although after yesterday’s 42.2km, I will admit to a post-race snack of nuts and beef jerky was most welcome and made the marathon all that more worthwhile.