Pre-Race Nutrition Matters: Forget the PR – Mohican 50K Race Report

Why did I signed up for this race again? This was supposed to be a fun week-end: my birthday was the day after the race and at that time of the year, the weather is usually better than ever. So, why not going outside and explore the nature rather than going in a bar and drink for hours? Forget the PR 50K is known to be challenging, with a lot of hills and some root climbing. But it is also known to be a lot of fun and the event is sold out within a few days. So, it was the perfect activity for this special week end. After long hesitation (of about 3 seconds), I signed up. I was ready to hit the trails again.

On another note, this race was my first trail race after being injured. Sure, I was able to run a marathon a month ago but it was totally flat. Going for an ultra is a completely different story and mindset. On top of that, the last weeks have been very though, either physically or mentally. It will be interesting to see how it impacts the overall race experience.

 

Gasp, it's high!
Gasp, it’s high!

Pre Race

I booked a room at the Blackfork Inn Bed & Breakfast. This is a local and lovely business, it sounds like a nice place to stay before the race. I arrived on Friday afternoon, just the time to rest, go to the pre-race pasta party/dinner and be ready. Even if I do not believe in carb-loading, going to the pasta-party for the race is a nice way to meet other runners and honestly, some have fantastic stories (special thoughts for the girl that ran 60+ miles and ended up by using a Bobcat to find her car during the night, I am sure she will recognize herself!).

I did not plan or prepare the race in terms of nutrition. As life was unpredictable since a month, my nutrition plan was totally driven by food cravings. One day, I could eat almost nothing (one peanut butter sandwich) and eating a full 5-cheese pizza pie the next day. And yes, of course, I ran after eating the pizza because “Dude, you have to be used to that”. On top of that, because of many commitments, I was not able to get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before the race – which is probably the most important aspect. So, to overcome the lack of sleep, this was time to sleep early and go to bed at 8pm to make sure I can get some sleep before race day. Better than nothing.

It turned out that the folks at the Blackfork Inn are fabulous hosts, friendly and give a good service. While I initially planned to request a bagel with peanut butter, the owner told me he will wake up at 5am and make me pancakes with eggs because “you’ll need energy to run on the trails”. The full breakfast, the one that will make you miserable half-way and makes you puke. While I have many doubts about the specific pre-race nutrition knowledge of my host, it is hard to refuse such an invitation. So, I decided to be adventurous and try the full breakfast service before the race. A full stack (3) of pancakes, eggs and of course everything topped with syrup and peanut butter. Such a pre-race meal ensures that sugar will flow into your veins as chemical flows into the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. Lovely. After this breakfast, I was ready to sleep go and head to the bathroom packet pick up.

When getting in the car, I just have one though in mind: this race is going to be interesting but probably not so fun.

 

Forget the PR 50K - 2015 edition map
Forget the PR 50K – 2015 edition map

 

Race

The race starts at 0730am. For this 2015 edition, the weather was terrific: slightly cold at the start and getting warmer during the day. You cannot expect better conditions. Before starting, the race director gave some indications about course changes. Basically, as it rained a lot the days before the race, the course has been changed for safety reasons. Instead of doing the usual course, we were expected to make more or less two loops of the course (except the dam loop – we did it once). As I am not half-stupid (and rather totally stupid), I missed all the information about the changes. I did not know exactly what flags to look for but I knew that I would eventually make it to the finish.

The race is about 31 miles with more than 5000 feet of elevation (5631 to be precise). The map and the elevation profile of this 2015 are shown below. If you are looking for complete information about this route, you can find the mapmyrun map and data here.

Elevation Profile
Elevation Profile

 

Video by Travis Lloyd – good overview of the race

The race starts with some hills and then continues on “big has hill”. At that time (about 3 miles), the pancakes (or the peanut butter, who knows) decided to remind me how delicious my breakfast was. An unexpected internal war between my brain, my stomach and the willingness to throw up starts in the middle of the hill. Going on this steep hill, my heart rate increased significantly. I felt I was about to faint, stop, walk on the side and eventually continue to the top. Great. I did not remember how I made it to the top. But I made it, and this is what matters.

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During the Dam loop – Picture from Nick Longworth

These hills are quite challenging but once you pass them, the elevation is reasonable. On the other hand, the route is technical: lot of roots and rocks.After a while, you hit the first aid-station. I was not very hungry but knew that I needed to take something. There was something I never tried called energy bites (recipe below) and it sounds delicious. So, as I did not put enough crap in my GI system, I tried it right away: we are here for an adventure, right? So, let’s make it interesting. At that time, we were 6 miles in the race. And I started to experience nausea and wanted to puke. I was having a good time.

There is no very steep climb (as in Eastern States 100 for example), but this is definitively more challenging than a road race. When you get to the Dam Loop, you start to explore an area with a lot of roots. At some point, you cannot even run or walk and just have to climb the roots. Very fun and cool, this part was definitively a lot of fun. In addition, there is a lot (a ton) of mud and you will have to run in water streams (which will then clean your shoes).

Once we completed the first loop, you come back to the start and, you start to see the light: there are bathroom available. At that time, I logged 20 miles, had just 10 more to go so. It was then appropriate to take some time to evaluate the damages. For sure, after 5 minutes, I had nausea, headaches and wanted to throw up. But there was no way I was about to give up with just 10 miles to go. No. Way.

Some root climbing  - Photo by Samantha Goresh
Some root climbing – Photo by Samantha Goresh

So, I started the second loop and climb the big ass hill again. This second time went very well, better than expected. But after, I wanted to throw up again. When I got to the aid-station, there was the energy bites again and so, had to honor this delicious treat and take another one. This of course triggers the nausea symptoms again, which finally helps me decide on a policy of “nothing into your mouth until the finish”. Everything I put in my mouth – water, food, whatever – gave nausea, headaches, was very painful and I just wanted to puke. This lead me to be very dehydrated quickly because I stop drinking water even before (at mile 20 or so).

I finally completed the last 6 miles at a steady pace and made it to the finish line in 6:43:19. At that point, thanks to all the crap I had before (breakfast topped with syrup and peanut butter) and during (energy bites) the race, I still had fuel in the tank to go ahead and continue for a lot of miles – doing 50 miles did not seem so challenging at the finish. Not sure my stomach will agree on that but I did not really felt tired at all. I tried to go for a run the next day to see how I feel and was able to run about 6 miles at 0830 min/mile pace without any pain. Looks like I will be ready for the coming Burning River 50 milers in July then.

Post Race Party

Once you cross the finish line, you got a medal and you have an area to rest. Food is also provided for runners and is vegetarian compliant (simple – but much appreciated after a race – chili). More important than anything else, especially for this race: there are showers available with hot water. Considering the course and the mud on the course, this is more than appreciated.

Also, there is a beer tasting The environment is very friendly and people are cheering when you cross the finish line.

Let’s do it?

If you like trails and are looking for a great race, heck yeah, do it! The race is only $70 which is really reasonable for such a race. Considering the markings, the support, having portable toilets on a trail race and that the aid station are well-stocked, this is definitively worth it. The race director puts a very nice event, which is challenging, fun and beautiful.

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The Take Away

What did I learn during this race? That your experience during race day depends on your preparation. While I got the physical preparation (training, log enough miles, etc.), I did not plan ahead as I should have done. The rules to finish a race without issue are very simple and basic:

  1. Get your miles in – no matter what and get a long run few weeks before. This part was ok – I got an average of 70 miles per week and completed a marathon.
  2. Eat carefully before the race and do not overload your system – my diet was a roller coaster driven by pizza cravings and gallons of diet soda. Definitively a mistake.
  3. Get enough sleep all the week before the race – it was a miserable failure as well – I got an average of 5 hours of sleep during the last weeks before the race – probably the biggest mistake
  4. Stick to what works for you and do not be distracted – by taking food I am not used to (pasta, pancakes) in big quantities, I did something my body is not used to. Just stick to what works.

While these rules are simple and basic, being consistent on the long run can be challenging, especially if the pre-race preparation if not your main focus. But there is no snake-oil and success will mostly rely on your consistency at following these rules. As you work, relations or many other activities: the basics are simple – applying them for hours/weeks/years it what makes it particularly difficult. Also, be careful: these rules are necessary but will not guarantee anything. It just reduces the likelihood of having a bad day.

To the infinite and beyond
To the infinite and beyond

Information

Energy Bites Recipe (Fire Tower Aid Station)

  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. You can also use raisins, chia seeds, dried cranberries or m&ms
  • Mix together & roll into balls. They are easier to eat if you refrigerate!!
Pre-Race Nutrition Matters: Forget the PR – Mohican 50K Race Report

Harvest Hustle 5K – race report

How I got there

I was at the conference on Portland, OR. I woke up at 08am and, after taking my morning coffee, went out for a run to discover the city. After a couple of minutes, I see many runners on my left and decided to follow them. After a mile, I found out that other runners had a bib and saw signs on the course. People start to cheer and there was also cheerleaders. It was pretty cool!

So, I just found out that I joined a race. I did not know the distance and decided to follow the runners and see what will eventually happen.

The race

I cannot say what the starting line looks like because I join the group after starting my regular morning run. I cannot also say much about the swag because I did not register or pay for the race. I assume people got a t-shirt and a chip for the time. The race is an out and back on closed road and follows the river. Pretty nice, especially because the weather was collaborative. As an out and back, you basically see the same things all over.

There are one or two water stops (I do not remember exactly), so, if you feel you need water for a 5K, you even do not need to carry your own bottle. Once you finish, you receive a bag with food and a water bottle.

Let’s do it again?

It was a fun to join a running crowd for my first run in Portland. Even if I am not addicted to 5K races, it was funny to crash into a race. However, considering the price ($30), it seems a lot for 5K. But if you live in the area, that might be a good fit. On another note, I am glad I can keep sleeping on my two ears after having raced a 5K without being registered. It seems that having accurate race results really matters for part of the community and I am surprised (and glad) for not having been reported. Feeling safe now!

Informations

Harvest Hustle 5K – race report

Rock’n the Knob

This was the beginning of a week-end, the first race that was a good shakeout before going to finish a half-marathon and cheer friends. I went to the Rock’n the Knob 5 mile race on Saturday, 13 and … it was a blast!

This race is organized by the Allegheny Trailrunners, the same folks that organize the Dirty Kiln. Needless to say, there are putting all the necessary attention and care for making a great event. For $20, you get a great race with scenic views, a tee-shirt, great company and a complete refuel at the finish with the beer brewed for the race! What else could you ask for?

If you plan to stay next to the race, you can get a studio located at a walking distance from the start for $50/night. Great deal to make sure you are on time but also get a place to get a shower after your race! The place itself is old but at this price, you do not really care. On the other hand, the food offered by the local bar is not so great and you might want to pack your own food. Typical bar food, nothing to write home about.

Welcome runners!
Welcome runners!

The race starts at 0930 for the 5miles whereas the 20 miles starts earlier at 0830. You start on the trails on technical and rocky paths. Something that will excite many trail runners but will sound not so appealing to many others. The weather being rainy, it was easy to potential trip and fall so that you have to be careful and watch out where you put you foot. The 5 miles course alternate moderate hills. Around the finish, you go over a ski slope, which is big challenging down hill section.

The course is well marked with flags and punk ribbons. I missed some signs but the likelihood you get lost is very low. On the 5 miles option, there was only one aid station (at mile 2), which was more than enough. The 20 miles option has several with snacks and other food.

Let's rest before the race!
Let’s rest before the race!

At the finish, you get an untypical medal (a bottle opener!) and some great company. Also, once you are done, you can replenish with beer (a local brewery – Railroad City – brews a beer for the race – a nice pale ale!), sandwich, pizza and pastries.

This was definitively a great experience. Unfortunately, as I was running the next day, I did not want to overexercise and thus, selected the 5 miles option. Considering all the aspects and the logistics, I will definitively be back next year and make the 20 miles option. The scenic view, the fantastic support from the trail runners community justify going for such a distance. Finishing so quickly was frustrating. I wanted more and continue this beautiful journey.

If you are looking to run on trails and never did a race from these folks, check out their next race, Sweat for Vet but also consider running Dirty Kiln or Rock’n the Knob. Fantastic experience guaranteed.

 

Steel City Road Runners finishing strong!
Steel City Road Runners finishing strong!

 

More infos

Rock’n the Knob

How to (re)fuel

Many articles have been written about what to eat before/during/after a long run. The idea of a post about fueling stems from a post on pghrunner blog. So, as everybody is trying to add his own crap on top of this stack of ideas/suggestions/opinions, I can’t stop to put mine! Also, as I have an interest in diet and nutrition, I am glad to add my own non-sense to the debate.

 

Takeru-Hot-Dog-Champion

“Sorry, pre-race dinner, I am just carb-loading”

 

I race so I eat

It’s time for your first race? So, you are very nervous about having enough nutrients in your system to go through 26.2 miles in 5 hours? Your mother told you you gonna die before the finish line, so, you are concerned you packed enough calories to make it to the finish? So, the day before your race, you eat at least 10 pounds of pasta/bread/whatever-contains-sugar (you need the carb, right?) and 3 pounds of chicken breast (people say your body needs lean protein for your muscles!). As a matter of fact, you wake up early in the morning in order to go to the bathroom and get ready for your race and, surprisingly, you have a lot of stuff in your bowels that seems comfortable in your body and do not want to go. As a result, you feel like Ralphy in A Christmas Story and do not think you can even make it to the starting line.

 

Image

“I do not feel ok to race today ….”

 

You start the race very nervous and end up at the portable bathroom after 5 miles, telling yourself overeating the day before was not a good strategy. Then, once on the track again, you are convinced that all the good energy is gone and you need to refuel with some bars/gels/powerade/whatever! The glycemic peak starts and you just feel like shit again. One or two other trips to the bathroom will eventually convinced you that your body probably had enough fuel even before starting the food festivities more than 24 hours ago.

This post is for you, fellow runner, because so many people made the mistake and feel miserable on race day! So that you will not make the mistake of overeating!

Stick to the basics

You are doing 13.1 or 26.2 and go for a couple of hours, and trust me, you are not gonna die because of lack of food (you can die for many other reasons on the race, which is another topic). So, if you try to think it through, it does not make any sense to overeat: fueling your body just a few hours before the event will not change anything and will rather overflow your digestive system.

The strategy is to take some carbs here and there the week before, take some rest to be able to hit the road in a good shape and with enough energy to reach the finish line. Remember than energy is not solely related to food and is a combination of enough nutrients but also getting enough sleep (which is obviously not considered as much as food). Forget the traditional carb-load or pasta dinner, it matters most to eat mindfully through the week and stick to healthy habit: eat carbs that has a low-glycemic index, lean protein for your muscles, avoid food with high fat contents and sleep a lot. However, does not avoid fat at all but favor the one enriched with many nutrients (eggs, nut butter, etc.). A good rule is to get a source of lean protein at each meal (fish, chicken/turkey/eggs) and avoid pork/beek.

 

On the race, keep some gels/power bars/whatever that can provide some sugar. No need to take the latest stuff promoted by your favorite runner, this is mostly something that repackage nutrients with a nice label. However, make sure you get some sugar: this is essential because after 60 or 90 minutes, your batteries are depleted (glucose from your muscles has been consumed) and you need to get some sugar to refuel. Anything with sugar will do the job but take something your body can process. In other words, do not try anything new on race day and try different strategies during your training. Some people like gels, other like bars, other bananas … it does not matter what you take as long as it works well for you.

You should also consider taking some sodium, especially if you sweat a lot. During exercise, your body will consumer the sodium and you need to replenish your reserve. One good idea is to take salty snacks such as chips or pretzels. Other people uses salt energy packs. Again, the best strategy is to try during your training and stick to what work best for you on race day.

Finally, the most important thing: hydrate mindfully. Hydration is probably more important than food: our body contains around 70% of water, so, this is a critical resource. Some survived without food for more than 40 days but you can barely survive without water for more than 20 days. So, water is way more important for your body than food. Consider appropriate hydration before race day and, on race day, hydrate regularly. Be careful not to over-hydrate also because this would potentially disturb your GI track. A good rule is to take a sip of water every mile.

Your body is more resistant than you think

Especially when you start running, you are very concerned about fueling your body and what you take before and after your training. If this is normal, this is more important to take care of your fuel intake through the month or week rather than on some particular days. Observing a regular and balanced diet is the best way to avoid any digestive issue and will provide fuel over the day.

There will be many days when you feel exhausted and need to increase your food intake. In many cases, this craves come from sleep deprivation rather than inappropriate food intake and your muscles probably need more rest than nutrients. Observing a balanced diet with a regular and good sleep patterns will help you to maintain your energy level over the days and recover your body at night. In other words, stop overeating, enjoy your bed and your training!

Fueling for a race, the FAQ

Do I need to eat gel on the way?

Yes, especially if you plan to do a race longer than 2 hours. Do not try anything new, stick to what you are used to. Try different strategies during your training runs and stick with what works best for you on race day. Again, avoid all the bullshit promoted by flashy marketing campaigns … want to replenish the sodium? No need for special pills/oil/bars/gels: all you need is salt! need to get some energy for the next couple of hours? take sugar and try to take snacks with low-glycemic index! Again, this is just common sense and the latest stuff promoted on TV/facebook/gmail/runnersworld is just here to package basic nutrient in an expensive package with some added stuff: stick with something that contains salt and you like, nothing else!

In his book Eat & Run, Scott Jurek (also sponsored by a brand of protein bars) explains that he eats home-made burritos during his runs! Even if he mentioned his sponsors in the book, this dude seems to stick with what he likes and just applies common sense for fueling his body over the race.

What should I eat the week before?

If you are going for 13.1 or 26.2 miles, observe a regular diet and rest normally. Do not overeat before race day, eat a very light dinner and a small breakfast. Avoid the so-called carb-load the day before race. A good strategy will be to take pasta meals the days before the race. No need to overload the plate, just take a regular portion. Also, by pasta, we mean pasta and tomato sauce, avoid all the crap loaded with high fat that will definitively generates GI track issues.

What should I eat the day before?

As said before, no need to observe a special diet the day before the race. Avoid all snake-oil food such as the powergel, vegan bars and other marketing bullshit: you will replenish your energy level with a magic potion within a day! It takes time for your body to get used to run a lot and there is nothing that is going to change that! So, stick with your good usual habits: eat as normal and take a light dinner the night before. You can have a dinner with pasta but do not overload, eat regularly and most important than anything else: make sure you get enough sleep.

In Eat and Run, the author describe how the team Tarahumara (a tribute with a special ability for running) fuel before a race and it seems they do not have any magic potion! These guys are just used to run long distances and their body is just used to it! So, do not look for any magic: either you are ready (and you trained for it since several months) or not (in that case, it would have been better to think about it months ago when signing up for that event!)! But there is definitively no magic at all that will help you to finish except a car or a bike.

What should I eat after the race?

After a race, you want to make sure you get the nutrients your body needs. However, as for eating and feeling hungry, most of the time you feel hungry when you are just tired. On the other hand, it is obvious that you need to eat something but you might consider choosing carefully! Avoid high fat content and try to take some carbs with a low-glycemic index and good protein. For example, chocolate milk is a good recovery drink, a turkey sandwhich is a good candidate and if you want to stick with fast-food, get a burrito at Chipotle or Qdoba! Again, as usual, think about hydration: drink plenty of water! Some runners might enjoy a good beer as well in order to replenish the energy using the sugar from this alcoholic beverage!

 

How to (re)fuel

Preparing the season

Dear google bot,

This season will start pretty soon and the calendar is already pretty packed until October. Unable to run one year ago, due to my built-in stupidity and a heel injury, things seem to go better now. Within a year and after putting almost 20 pounds on my body weight, running more than 10 miles is not a problem. And if running more than 12 miles means extreme fatigue and requires a recovery day, this is not an issue now: 20 miles workaround is becoming usual and running a marathon without so much prep is not an issue at all.

So, what’s next? The challenge would then be to run an ultra – anything longer than a marathon. Dates are already saved for several events. However, going fast means going smart and it is important to ensure a recovery time between events. So, no more than a race per month will be the basic rule of thumb.

The season is exciting, the sun starts to shine, the house is nice. Life is good, what else can you expect?

Preparing the season

From Rock & Roll to Buffalo

The Rock and Roll Marathon of Pittsburgh has been cancelled. No real justification other that the heat seems to be a real concern. So, I switched to the Buffalo Creek Half-Marathon. Let’s Rock and Run.

From Rock & Roll to Buffalo