Sunday, May 23, 2010


On Friday afternoon I had a meeting with one of the country's top sports nutritionists, in an attempt to improve my eating for the WHW race. I have always had problems with my food strategy: I find it difficult to stomach anything when running, and I have had a lot of problems with cramp over the years. I was sure there must be things I could be doing better, and I was keen to get an expert's opinion.

In a nutshell, there are so many things I could be doing better. It was a fascinating discussion. I am sure this is an area where a lot of us could learn - while the advice given was specific to my issues, a lot of the principles are applicable to anyone taking part in an extreme endurance event such as the WHWR.

I've noted the main points below.

* As I find it very hard to stomach solid foods, I shouldn't even bother trying. For the race we have put in place a 'no dry food' rule; instead my main meals should be liquid foods, such as Complan or Build-up. These are specifically designed for people who have small appetities or find it difficult to digest solid food - in other words me when I'm running an ultra! They contain all the things that I need, so there is no need for anything else that will be more difficult to digest and is likely to lead to nausea and sickness. I should try and have one of these Complan meals every 3 to 4 hours.

* We have also put in place a 'no milk based products' rule. Milk is a great food, but not a great food for extreme endurance events as it will upset the stomach and cause nausea.

* One of the main reasons I have been getting cramp is because I am drinking plain water, which is flushing the electolytes out of my system. If cramp is to be avoided I need to ensure these electrolytes are replaced. So I should not drink water on its own, but ensure electrolytes and glucose are added to it. A good way of replacing electrolytes is by adding a rehydration treatment powder to the water (the same products used if you have had diarrhea on holiday). I should also add glucose polymers to the water - around 40 to 60 ml per litre of water. Both the glucose polymers and electrolyte replacement can be added to the same drink.

* Fructose is a good thing to take - it was suggested that I might want to have a couple of spoonfuls of honey in the later stages of the race.

* For optimal performance I should be trying not to lose much weight during the run but should be replacing the lost fluids and maintaining my weight at a similar level. To achieve this I need to know how much fluid I am losing during the event - it is known as my 'sweat loss' calculation, and can be worked out by comparing my weight at the beginning and end of the activity with the amount of fluid I have taken on.

* Iron is also very important for extreme endurance, but building up iron levels will take a a number of months and require me to focus on my longer term diet, There is not much I can do now in respect of the 2010 race.

* I drink quite a lot of coffee, and I was surprised to hear that this was not really a concern. On race day caffeine can be useful - it helps alertness and it provides a slight cushion against pain. However these benefits will only be achieved if the body is getting something it is not used to - therefore it probably makes sense for me to cut down a bit on my coffee prior to the race.

Yesterday was the ideal opportunity for me to test out the things I have outlined above, and see if it made a difference. I followed the advice very closely: I had no dry or solid foods, my eating was restricted to 2 Complan meals (one after 3 hours and one after 7 hours), I added glucose and electrolytes to my water, and didn't drink any water on its own at any time. It was probably the hottest day of the year, with temperatures for the most part in the low to mid 20s. We were out for just under 10 and a half hours, covering 41 miles.

Despite the intense heat, I had no problems with cramp at all, which I found incredible. Had I not changed my nutrition strategy there is no way I would have been able to cover yesterday's run without serious problems. Also I had very few problems with nausea or sickness, apart from one small period just after I had taken my second Complan meal. I am sure the reason for that was the fact it was one of the strawberry Complans, with a higher milk content than the more savoury ones. For race day I plan to stick to the savoury ones.

Despite following the advice I still lost a significant amount of weight, so perhaps I was not taking enough on board (I will follow up with the sports nutritionist on this and find out). I monitored all my food and drink intake very closely, as well as my weight. At the start of the run (just before leaving Balmaha) I weighed 87 kgs (13 stone 11). When I arrived at Bridge of Orchy my weight had fallen to 82 kgs (13 stone 0). So I lost 5 kgs (11 pounds) throughout the run - a significant weight loss. My food and liquid intake was as follows:

2 Complan meals
3.6 litres of water/electrolyte/glucose drink;
2 small coffees (about 0.4 litres in total);
2 and a half cups of tea (about 0.5 litres in total).

I am seeing the sports nutritionist again this week, so I'll have a chance to talk through yesterday's run in more detail.

Although my original plan was to do another 35 mile run today from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William, I have decided to give that a miss. Yesterday was very hot and the forecast is for another hot day today. I think I'll benefit more from an easy recovery day today than I will from depleting my body further.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Baby Cateran

At the moment I can't face a 55 mile race so soon after the traumas of the Fling, so I've pulled out of next week's Cateran Trail Ultra. However I really enjoy the route and the area, so decided to do the 'baby' 23 mile version which took place today. And what a cracking run it was. There were about 30 of us at the start, including Scott, Lucy and Richie, 3 of Scotland's top ultra runners, so a more quality field would be hard to find anywhere. The weather was ideal for running; sunny, but not too warm. There was also a 3 leg relay which started half an hour later. Although the race was only 23 miles (how ridiculous does that sound - 'only' 23 miles) it was a tough old day out, especially the 5 mile climb just before the finish. I finally made it to the top - an ascent that my calves certainly felt, particularly when I tried to run hard again down the last steep hill to the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel - but I was delighted to cross the line a few minutes quicker than 4 hours, in 3.57.10. I think I ended up in 7th place, but a couple of people who were in front of me went off route at one point (including Bobby) which definitely made my finishing position a bit more flattering.

All in all a great day out. Well done to the organisers and to the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel, who put on a barbeque and generally made us all feel very welcome.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

13 good years

On Tuesday we said good-bye to our old dog for the last time. Isla was 13, not a bad age for a labrador, but she had slowed down a lot over the last couple of years and was almost blind. All so different from her first 10 years or so, when she would walk miles and miles with me along the Ayrshire coast, day after day, and we thought she would never calm down. When we moved to our current house she loved walking on the moor, sniffing the smells of the wildlife, and eating the horse and rabbit poo. Her love of food stayed with her to the very end - she never lost that.

We often said she was the friendliest dog in the world. It took her years to learn how to bark, and throughout her life she didn't once show any signs of aggression towards anyone or anything.

Ali took her to the vet on Tuesday afternoon - she was strong, it was the right thing to do - and when I came home from work there was a dog missing. The house feels strange without her.

Last night I was in Troon and ran along many of the streets and pavements where we used to walk. It just seemed like an appropriate thing to do.