True to form, for my first ever Ultramarathon, I signed up for the hardest one in the country: The RUT 50K in Big Sky, Montana. I was fully trained, both physically and mentally, and thank goodness because I had one of the hardest days of my life out on that course and without my physical and mental fitness there is no way I could have finished.
I’ll give a race report in my next post, but for this one I want to talk a little bit about what my training looked like. Not so much in details of workouts or miles or vertical gain, but in the areas of nutrition, recovery, and my day to day.
Although, to start, I think it’s important to know what my actual training approach kinda sorta looked like. It was 20 weeks long — I didn’t have a coach and it wasn’t a plan I bought or found online, it was curated through my own knowledge that I accumulated like a mad woman for the last 2 years, insights from friends, and a spreadsheet from my PT that goes RED when I’ve overdone it. My training was structured “enough” — a really good mix of listening to my body/intuitive training, following the recommendations from experienced coaches and other ultrarunners, and having weekly mileage and vert goals to hit. I do look forward to hiring a coach one day, but was drawn to this way of learning for the first one. Oh and no, I don’t have a strava. I love data, but not that much. I know where my line needs to be drawn, I know my tendencies.
Aside from getting my muscles and tissues and tendons and ligaments ready for the demands of race day (31 miles, 10,500′ vertical gain and loss) with lots of climbing and running and hiking, I had an important goal to maintain my menstrual cycle. I find this an extremely salient topic that can’t be talked about/normalized enough. I had amenorrhea for a few years in my late 20’s because I was essentially addicted to exercise and chronically overtrained and undernourished. Over the last two years I have gotten my cycle back to a place of health. Having a period is such an important marker for hormonal health and I didn’t want to lose it because my training/stress was too intense, or because I wasn’t supporting my body with enough calories or sleep. And usually, because of both. Basically, I was very intentional during my training to not go back to a place of asking my body for really big outputs without giving it the inputs it is screaming for. I
wanted needed to support my body better. I am extremely proud to announce that I was able to make the changes necessary in order to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle. I was able to engage in the sport I love at a higher level than ever AND keep my health intact at the same time. And that, is a really big deal.
The other part of these 20 weeks involved training my gut. I coach people on how to fuel their long runs (spoiler, it’s different for everyBODY), but haven’t done a good job myself. Now that I was doing consistently long days, I needed to fuel the demands of my work — I needed to fuel my long runs. Most experts agree you need at least 2 months to train your gut, but ideally you should begin to experiment 4-5 months out from your race. The reason it takes so long is you really only have 1-2 sessions a week where you can simulate the length or intensity of your race, and that’s when you need to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Practicing race nutrition on a recovery run just isn’t gonna tell you much.
The products that I found worked for me are: Spring Energy Gels (Awesome Sauce was MVG), Skratch Energy Chews, Untapped Maple Waffles, and homemade almond butter, jam, and cinnamon white tortilla wraps. I agree with the “sip sip nibble nibble” approach from Coach Jason Koop and began slowly fueling between 45 minutes to an hour into my long run. I aimed for 200-250 cals/hour between these foods and a bottle or two of Skratch hydration mix throughout the run. Speaking of hydration, I like to preload with Precision Hydration 1000 the evening before and the morning of. This is a high sodium electrolyte drink mix that I’m a big fan of since the main thing we’re losing in sweat is sodium! I know there are mixed opinions on whether low sodium or neuromuscular fatigue causes cramping, but I have not had one single cramp since preloading with PH1000. Also, since it was such a hot summer, I used their salt capsules during big efforts as well, every 90 minutes or so depending on conditions and the salt content of my other products. Afterwards I like to reload my sodium in a more natural manner through foods like canned mussels, an EPIC bar, bone broth, or some salty chips.
In my day to day eating I tried to keep it simple and aimed to just eat.more.food. Throwing on another egg to breakfast, another spoonful of almond butter, more oats and chia in my oatmeal, more bread with dinner. I introduced the game changing Rotisserie Chicken into my life and it transformed my daytime from casual grazing to an actual substantial meal that filled my cells with life. I will say, meat off the bone is not to be undervalued. If you haven’t eaten any meat off the bone in awhile, please go get some and you have my full permission to be a savage about it. I kept my nutrient dense players in the game — organ meat, beef, bone broth, shellfish, salmon, eggs — which always make me feel like someone turned the lights back on inside. Timing of food is also so so important — I made it a point to eat as soon as possible after a run. A mix of carbs and protein were the focus.
Other parts of training/recovery included monthly massage, monthly acupuncture, monthly PT, strength training, weekly chiro, swimming 1x/week, sauna or steam room when I could get there, soaking in the creek after every run, legs on the wall after big days, and REST. Both prioritizing my sleep and ensuring 2 days/week without any running. And every 4th week taking a rest week by slashing mileage and vert in half (usually more so, depended on my fatigue level). I’ve been struggling with achilles tendonitis so I needed to call in the troops to make sure I could get to the starting line. PT, acupuncture, chiro, and calf work were incredibly helpful in getting my achilles to place of strength.
Training my mind was something I spent a lot of time doing. Going through future raceday scenarios where I was sure to face obstacles, and then visualizing myself overcoming them. I tried to think of solutions to problems before they even happened. I journaled everyday. I reflected a lot, as I wanted to see what I could learn from my previous experiences — both victories and losses. I stayed curious. I tried on a few different mantras. And I knew above all else, that if I could keep my inner center calm, that I would without a doubt be able to make smart enough decisions that would get me to the finish line of my race.
Alright, that’s it for the quick rundown of what my summer of training looked like. It’s super important to note that what works/worked for me may very well not work for you. This stuff might not even work for me next season. It’s important to pay attention to your own body and give it what it’s asking for! Be open-minded when it comes to experimenting with different sports nutrition products or homemade packables — the only way to find out what works for you is trial and error! I’m here to help guide you through that process, so go ahead and book a session if you have way more questions than answers :).
Also, we are approaching the “off” season, and your nutrition should change alongside that. Reach out with any questions and we can come up with a plan that is right for you. Again, highly individualized!