Minimalist Marathon: How To Experiment on the Run

Running long distances influences elites and non-elites in different ways. I am squarely in the non-elite camp. (At this point, my goal is to run a consistent 9:00 pace, with a few upshots of 8:something at the end of the marathon.)  This week I want to talk about something unsavory, so let’s just get it out there. Vomit. I said it. Let’s talk vomit and endurance.

This entry is for the runners in training out there on the verge of hurling during a long run and/or interval training. This week’s blog post may constitute as an “over share,” a TMI-kind-of-post.

Puking, hurling, spewing, el vomit-ola has been on my mind more now than ever, in fact. I agree, this isn’t a very lady-like topic. BUT running brings out certain characteristics in me that, well, are not pretty. I tend to throw out a few expletives when my performance is sad based on the numbers I see in my Garmin Forerunner. I do.

When you're on the verge of hurling from running long distances, sometimes the ground becomes really interesting....?

When you're on the verge of hurling from running long distances, sometimes the ground becomes really interesting....?

The fueling system while distance running has taken on a life of its own. It is just as important as shoes, wicking gear, and socks.

I don’t remember feeling this level of nausea while pushing the limits of my body than during the first trimester of my pregnancies years back. The fueling system while distance running has taken on a life of its own. It is just as important as shoes, wicking gear, and socks. Here is what I learned through trial and error…

Experiment at Will. The intense feeling of hurling comes about half way into a long run, when fuel and nutrition either do or do not agree with what’s going on. The other day while endurance training on the big orange oval track I experimented on myself. A guy with lean veiny forearms at the sports store recommended a fuel block. How could Mr. Ripped be wrong?  Well…

The important thing to do is fuel early, often, and do more than you think you need. I recommend 20g of sugars per hour.
— Andrew Loscutoff, Sisters Athletic Club

What I found was that my stomach made so many noises I could hear its rumblings over the Rolling Stones in my headphones, and mortals, that is not a good thing. You should not hear your stomach twerking at mile six in broad daylight, in public.

Many endurance athletes love the gels, blocks, and performance beans for sports nutrition. These folks are steel, awesome, and admirable. However, when consumed, for some(!), they may have a tendency to sit in the stomach as sludge or molasses, which does not make her feel light on her foot strike and ready for more interval mad pacing. Experimentation is good. Become your own fuel guinea pig way before race day. Don't be afraid to puke. Go with it. Learn.

The A-La-Natural Fuel. If there is something I know about it is fast-acting sugars, as I have two small children living with Type 1 Diabetes, the insulin dependent kind. I have an entire drawer in my kitchen dedicated to fast-acting sugar options—natural and unnatural kinds--to treat their hypoglycemia. By years of experimentation, we know what works on the spectrum of super fast, medium fast, and slow-long burning. 

In many ways, as a long-distance runner, we are doing the same thing with our sugar tank. We have to use our self-indicators—know your body—and fuel before it’s too late, past the point of recovery.

The affable Andrew Loscutoff--a personal trainer, former track star and triathlete, and elite-level mountain bike champion--gave me this advice. "The important thing to do is fuel early, often, and do more than you think you need. I recommend 20g of sugars per hour." (You need to listen to him, too.)

Because I am not a fan of artificial sweet things when on the run or ever, I have experimented with natural products for fuel. The sources that work best for me include:

·      fresh medjool dates

·      figs

·      freeze dried bananas

·      dried cherries

·      raisins

·      fig newtons (ok, these are processed; got me)

All of these are concentrated natural sugars. They add zip and a longer burn, rather than an artificial sugar rush I have found that burn fast, furious, and leave a gross coating in my mouth.

Electrolyte It, Baby.  I never realized how good or bad something tasted until I started running long distances and pulled electrolyte fluids out of my pack. Each run for the past five weeks I have tried a new option—flavors, brands, liquids, and dissolvable tablets. This is self-science.

My point is: experiment on the run. Don’t take anyone’s advice about what will work or not work for you. Only you know if you can pound Gummy Bears down with an electrolyte chaser and run jazzy. Find your own science.

These options run the course of disgusting to nauseating to flourishing. I ended up liking the non-stevia, non-sugar dissolvable tablets. NUUN lemon-lime is good. FIZZ tablets in peach and grapefruit get the thumbs up too from this chick on the side of vomit-ville. 

My point is: experiment on the run. Don’t take anyone’s advice about what will work or not work for you. Only you know if you can pound Gummy Bears down with an electrolyte chaser and run jazzy. Find your own science.

Ask around for recommendations from qualified fitness experts, too. Sometimes they receive free samples and may share and pass along for your experimentation. For example, Loscutoff offered me samples of FIZZ, which felt more like electrolyte Alka-Seltzer on the belly while on the run. They know about food interactions, performance, and physiology. They may hold your little golden ticket to a pleasant run.

Lace up. Hit the road. Fuel.