The trick to handling nutrition in hot & extreme events
Mark Wolff has dabbled in a little bit of trail running in the past few weeks. You can hardly call it little though, one race was a 200km team relay. It’s a really interesting concept, and made plaining for and handling nutrition quite tricky. Hear more about it on this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition. Also how you would go about fuelling and hydrating for an extreme event.
Thanks for joining us once again on 32Gi Sports Nutrition. I’m Mr Active David Katz. A great chat we had recently with Jenna Challenor the South African marathon runner. If you missed that I’ll put a link up to it. Fantastic read. One thing I love about Jenna is how she’s passing that onto the next generation, she’s really getting her kids active as well. They just look up to her there.
Today we moving back and having another chat with Mark Wolff he joins us once again on the podcast. Mark’s been very active in the last couple of weeks doing trail races. Which I love because I’ve got into a lot of trial running. Mark is it something that you plan for or trained for I know you coming out of Roth or did the opportunity just present itself?
MW: One of the opportunities just landed in my lap, because there was a relay trail run. A 200 kilometre and a team of four. They were looking for people to join. It was actually gonna be a team of six and two dropped out. We ended up being a mixed team of four with one female. That (the small numbers) made it a really tough run, but an incredible experience.
Then obviously once I knew I was doing that trail run I looked at some trail runs to race prior to that. I did one 24 kilometre run prior to that to, you know to just test my legs. So I switched my focus basically from swimming and cycling for a couple of weeks.
I recovered from Roth basically quite well. It was a matter of getting some focus into the run and I actually enjoy it. I enjoy the diversity of the different sports and it was actually amazing to back on the trails again. I love trail running.
Sometimes when I’m not doing an event or big event, because I can be quite active and prone to falling here or there, it’s happened quite a few times to me. But I was blessed with actually with all the trail running now that there were no incidents whatsoever. In actual fact I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t fall at all. So maybe I should actually carry on with it.
How this team relay trail run was structured
DK: Now Mark just briefly you explained to me it’s such a great concept as we talked about. I think South Africans, I think anyone around the world would sort of lap up trying something like this. Just talk us through the basic strategy or structure of how the team trail run work?
MW: Well it’s a race called the Tanach Tashach, which is basically, there are biblical parts taken out of the old testament, there’s quite a few of them. Then Tashach, basically there’s some famous paths which were build in Israel in 1948. What they do is they, they create a race of just over 200 kilometres, 24 segments. People can run it in a relay team of eight, six or four. Then they actually also have a 70, 50 and a 30 kilometre ultra the day after.
We were in a team of four. Which means four runners, we each have to run six segments. So we each have to run a distance of about 51 kilometres I think. I landed up running, the runners are categorised as A, B, C and D. If you choose to be runner A,B,C or D you have to run the segment that are dedicated to those particular runners. So you can’t changed the segment otherwise you get disqualified.
So runner A has to run segments say 1,5,9,13,17,21 and also each runner has got different classifications. So runner A might have a classification of difficult, runner B might have a classification of medium to hard, runner C medium to hard and runner D may have a classification of also round about medium. So you can also look at the strength of your runners within your group decide which runners they gonna be. That will determine which segments they gonna be running.
I basically ran, I was runner A. I think I was one of the stronger runners in the group. We had an awesome team and we started our race, I mean the start times also can be chosen. I think you need to be quite strategic here. You can start early on but then you faced with a lot of heat and if you not acclimatised to the heat you are gonna suffer really badly. Some groups chose to start late on they would rather start in the afternoon around half past three maybe up to round half past five. Get a little bit cooler but then you faced with when you running through the night.
40 degrees Celsius midday race start
There’s no light, I mean except for your head light. I mean how fast can you actually run with limited sight, which actually, we chose to run a little bit earlier. We chose to start at one o’clock in the day. Which little bit hectic because it landed up being I think around 40 degrees and high humidity when we started. One of our runners actually had to be somewhere the next morning and he had to finish the race before a certain time or hopefully we finish the race before a certain time. Because over that distance anything can happen anything.
I just thought we starting at five we can make it, we can use it to our advantage. Because we can run as hard in the day light. Which means the teams that are starting much later will still have to put in quite a bit of effort in at night. It’s not the easiest to put in a fast paced run at night.
So we started off, I mean my first leg was the official start which was at one o’clock. It was only around just over nine kilometres, but it was very, very hot. We finished the race at half past seven the next morning, having run completely through the night. Driving from one station to the next. You need to meet the runner that’s running the actual segment. They need to hand over the tracking tag to you. You need to put it on your arm and run the next segment.
The runner that’s just completed has to register in at the table there, they take your time, they take your race number. Just to make sure that each segment is completed properly by the right runner. It’s a matter of three of you driving constantly between stations and one person running between stations.
I think I mentioned earlier sometimes the runner can get there first, because running over a mountain is one thing. But driving around the mountain can be quite a difference, it depends on the pace that the runner’s running. We did have a maybe two or three sections where the car came after the runner. Which causes a bit of a delay but there’s nothing that you can really do about that.
Nutrition is only part of your required recovery
DK: Now Mark no sleep that’s one thing, but recovery for a race like that must be so important. I mean how did you handle that recovery between legs?
DK: Well I think there’s different elements of recovery. I think the first thing is that, I started in the heat of the day. My biggest worry at that time of the day I mean I had eaten through the morning. I made sure I had a late breakfast and I was fuelled up for the race. I think the most important thing was to try to get in fluids.
Because the amount of fluid I lost was excessive during that race. In actual fact I had six outfits and during each leg I had to change completely. It’s a very hot climate it’s very humid. The day temperature was in the 40’s, the night temperature I think was around 22. I mean that’s at midnight. So you can understand the temperatures of the climate.
I had to change clothing after each leg. Take a towel dry myself down put on a new outfit, only when I stop sweating, put on a new outfit. Then get ready for the next leg. So that was the first thing.
The second thing is you realise how much fluid you losing. One of the most important things post every segment is to actually rehydrate. I mean that has to be done consistently throughout the event. I did I mean I was definitely dehydrated at the finish. It doesn’t hamper being dehydrated, doesn’t hamper your performance. In actual fact I was quite a bit dehydrated. It doesn’t hamper my ability to perform at all.
I think what one of the other factors that I needed to focus on was also trying to get in food after each segment to make sure that my blood sugar level was stable. Because you have to wait an hour and a half probably up to maybe a maximum of two hours between each leg. You know people were using gels etcetera. I didn’t use gels to do the runs because that sort of spike you and drop you and I wanted some sort of stability.
The importance of keeping blood sugar stabilised
So I mean I used the hydration drink one of the, like an Endure hydration drink for example. Which is an isotonic, it’s a stabilising drink, it stabilises the blood sugar. I consumed it quite frequently. I managed to find in one of the health stores puree fruits. Apple, pears, banana and apple mixed together. Packed into pouches sort of big pouches.
What I did was I actually froze these fruits, so chilled it quit nicely. I kept it in a bag. I would actually eat one or two of these pouches of fruit immediately after each session. What I liked about that is it’s not sweet. It’s completely natural and I absolutely loved eating proper, proper fruit.
When it came to later segments on in the night, when I did get to the station, because it was a little bit cooler. Some of the stations actually had soup. There was one station that had an onion soup, I definitely didn’t touch that because onion soup wouldn’t have gelled well with my stomach. But we did get to one station where they had completely clear chicken soup.
I actually wanted that from a salt perspective and a fluid perspective. Because I needed to rehydrate. That’s the only way to actually get the fluid absorption in more quickly, it’s to actually get some salt in with it. So it was just a matter of drinking a couple of cups of that. It made me feel a lot better. But generally I kept it very simple. I think I ate a chew bar here or there. I didn’t really eat any solid foods.
I think basically that entire night was sort of fuelled on little bit of chicken soup and all the fruit pouches in between and just a isotonic stabilising drink. I think that was okay for me, I did have a little bit of low blood sugar around about four o’clock in the morning or so in my last segment. But I mean it was, you talking around having run already 45 to 50 kilometres. I suppose it’s expected to have a little bit of a dip. But I managed to be okay it was only really the last two kilometres of that segment.
Some of the stations had actually dates, dates and biscuits. I found that the dates are very, very good for getting your blood sugar back up. I can’t over eat them because they high in fibre so does impact my stomach. But at the same time if there’s an hour and a half to two hours between a segment, taking a date here or there the fibres not going to affect me that badly. Then they just had sort of tennis biscuits you could say I just sort of munched some of that as well.
It was just a matter of finding foods that weren’t sweet, that were palatable and that also I could afford to eat without impacting my digestive system. Because that’s the last thing that you can worry about. You know between each station you just don’t have time to breath. It’s just a matter of getting from one to the other getting ready to run and then running again.
The importance of planning your race nutrition
DK: Mark I mean with any race there’s planning there’s testing, you need to test your nutrition. But I mean with something like this and we have races across the world. You know not maybe as crazy, but stage races, different relay races. In terms of trail running that planning for a race like this. In terms of when you gonna eat what you gonna eat is even more important than your average race?
MW: I think you do need to think about it quite thoroughly. I don’t know if it’s too my detriment or benefit but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. Cos I just know my body so intimately. I actually realised when I got in the car everybody had tuna and sandwiches and all this and I’m thinking to myself, I’m really fuelling myself minimalistically for this.
At the same time I need to worry about what I eat maybe between one and eight o’clock at night. I don’t usually really eat late at night. So I was thinking to myself what am I gonna do for the early hours of the morning. I’m generally reliant with what was on course. I mean knowing that there was dates and biscuits and soup here. There I generally relied on most of that.
I did have gels as a backup etcetera here and there. But I didn’t give it as much thought as I actually should have. It was like my mind was elsewhere like busy with work etcetera. I just didn’t give it a lot of thought. I’ll probably plan a lot better next time.
I think also one of the other things that I did focus on, I mentioned to you earlier was, and that’s something that I did know that I am running through the night, I need to be focused some of these runs that I did were so technical. I mean especially when you running at a very high pace on a decent, you know it’s one thing having a head lamp. But having a head lamp and running at a high speed, you only got a very, you know your visions limited to a couple of metres in front of you.
You got to be very, very careful of where you keep your, you know where you, which path you choose. Where your feet lands on the ground. I mean there’s dips here and there, there’s lose rocks, there’s lose sand, trees, sharp bends. I think it’s just a matter of you have to be focused. If not you are gonna land up falling. I actually focused on consuming caffeine shots quite regularly.
Definitely I took one definitely at least an hour before I started my run. Maybe at the start and then I would actually you know after I recovered from it the run. I would actually start taking the caffeine shots to get ready for the next one. I went through quite a bit of caffeine through the night to try and stay more alert as well. Which I think helped me quite a bit, that actually did help me quite a bit. I didn’t land up falling so I suppose that’s a good thing.
Trail running is addictive
DK: So many aspects you have to think about when you do a race like that. You did touch in this podcast on hydration, we’ve done a whole podcast on hydration the importance of it how to get water in. I’ll put the link up to that as well. Mark I presume this won’t be your last trail run?
MW: I don’t think it will be my last I actually quite enjoyed it, it’s quite challenging such a race through the night. It’s also it was an awesome team to run with. You know you get to talk to people and learn about people as well. I was quite amazed. From what I understood from the race directors there was two and a half thousand runners over the period of 24 hours which is quite a huge trail run if you think about it. Obviously there’s different formats but that’s the really, really large format.
We managed to podium which was awesome so you know we got a nice little trophy at prize giving. So you know I think that was just the peak of the event, was actually even achieving an excellent result there which we quite enjoyed. But as I said 200 kilometres is a very long run. You know you think about it that it’s split between four of you. I tell people it’s split between four of you but that still means that you running over 50 kilometres each. On a trail in the heat, through the night, up and down a mountain wherever it is. It’s quite a daunting task.
One of the things that I did do to try and prepare for this was I did like double or triple runs through the day. So like doing a morning run sort of an afternoon and an evening run. Because that would sort of give you an idea of how the body sort of adapts from one thing to the other. I mean obviously the impact on the body is slightly less you know having those recovery periods in between.
But with that said, when you running a straight leg, you know your legs don’t really go into that, that sort of delayed onset of muscle stiffness. Because they active all the time. But when you running in segments and your body is starting to cool down and recover from one session your legs start to stiffen up. Especially when you get to the 30 / 40 kilometre mark and you’ve gotta get to over 50 k’s.
So that’s something else, how do you keep that flexibility. You know what do you need to do not just from a recovery point of view from a nutritional point of view,but how do you keep those legs supple from session to session. So we actually took, Caroline Wostmanm’s husband, he’s got the recovery rollers that he sells from the states, R8. It’s nice and portable and we actually took this with us in the vehicle.
We were just kneading and rolling our legs between segments as much as possible and just try and recover from one segment to the next. That was another thing to take into account is how do you get rid of that stiffness. Because by the time it came to my last segment at half past two in the morning my legs were really starting to get stiff and tight. It’s not cramping it’s just that, it’s that feeling that I had hard training session the day before. I don’t even know how I’m gonna run now. But you just gotta go and do it.
So that helps quite a bit as well. I suppose there are a lot of aspects to think about. I think I’ll definitely pick a few more trail runs. I can’t run at the moment I actually got a little bit of a sportsman’s hernia. So I’m out of it for a few weeks. But it’s all good, I think I’m run out at the moment get back on the bike and do a little bit there.
DK: Well it does sound like an exciting event. That’s part of the excitement; how do you balance nutrition, how do you balance recovery. So Mark well done on that. I think a lot of people will be interested, I’ll put the link up on that event. But Mark Wolff and myself Mr Active David Katz, thanks for joining us once again on this edition of 32Gi Sports Nutrition.