Thursday, 28 March 2013

A Continuation of Changes and Progress - Thoughts on Nutritional Strategies and the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon Race Report

Hi, some of my thoughts on nutrition tonight, and then race report number two for 2013,
Three weeks ago my Steyning Stinger Marathon race report included some details regarding my changed approach to physical training for 2013.  Well tonight’s Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon race report will also include some details regarding changes I have made to my nutrition for 2013.  Well it was meant to be some details on nutrition, but I got carried away a bit, so the actual Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon race report doesn't start for ages!  If you aren't really interested in my thoughts regarding nutrition, skip the first bit, and look for the heading titled Race Report Finally!
It was on one of the Lakleand 100 recce runs back in June 2011 when I first met ultra trail runner Barry Murray from Optimum Nutrition 4 Sport.  We were running from Pooley Bridge to Ambleside, and whilst going up the first gentle climb the two of us slowly moved ahead of the small group we has started with.  We got talking, and around five or so hours later I was a bit more knowledgeable when it came to sports nutrition for endurance running.  Yes, it was a fortunate meeting, as Barry not only comes across as pretty 'switched on', but he is able to explain it well, supported with some evidence/science, combined with his own personal experiences.  So since then I have been giving more thought to my nutrition, not that I hadn't previously, but now I was a bit more open minded as there appeared to be quite a bit more new stuff taking place, since I had last read the sports nutrition literature back in the late nineties whilst I was doing my sports science masters degree.
Looking back at a blog post I wrote shortly after the 2010 Lakeland 100 I discussed what I had consumed during the race.  Not much really, especially for the last 40 - 50 miles, as I was running so slowly that there wasn't really the demand, the need to consume loads.  I have also identified in a previous post that nutrition/fuelling is one of the key factors that you need to get right in order to perform at ultra trail running.  So paying it a little more attention this year, fitted in with my new approach for 2013 of making big changes if appropriate.
So combined with listening to a few podcasts, discussing it with training partner Kev on Saturday morning runs, and searching through some of the latest scientific articles, the idea of doing long training runs whilst in a fasted state seemed to appeal.  My wife Frances, who is really into her nutrition, had already got me off the cardboard cereals for breakfast, and I was now consuming porridge, soaked overnight in a bit of yogurt, with ground linseed's mixed in after cooking.  The rationale for the porridge rather than cardboard cereal was something about a slower energy release, so not getting the spike in blood glucose and insulin,  Anyway, I then thought it was time to start doing the morning runs without any breakfast.  I remember that back in around May/June 2011, that I had experimented with doing a long training run without feeding, although I did have cereal for breakfast prior to starting.  On the long 40 mile run, I got to around the 25 mile mark on the run, and I was 'woossey' in the head.  I had to take on board an energy bar I was carrying, and then I got some chocolate and Lucozade was the Golf Pro shop I shortly ran past.  So back then, I clearly needed to consume carbohydrate for a long run.  It appeared that my body and mind was not capable of completing a long run without carbohydrate.  It didn't need much, as demonstrated by my three day Lakeland 100 recce run and the actual 2010 race, but it needed some carbohydrate.  Back then I barely trained for longer than 18 - 20 miles, so never taking on board carbohydrate during a long run never seemed to be a problem, but thinking back now, I do remember beginning to struggle at the end of some of my 18 - 20 milers.
Back to the present day, come the end of 2012, I am keen to give this fasted running a go.  I start with my long Saturday morning runs, all goes well.  I then decide to try it out whilst up in the Lake District for the January Lakeland 100 recce.  Saturday morning, I skip breakfast and run on my own for around 14 miles, over leg 5 and then back to Buttermere YHA via the road.  Again all is fine.  Then the big test, on the Sunday the recce run of 27 miles, legs 1 - 4 from Coniston to Buttermere, whilst fasted and without fuelling.  There is a long bus journey to take us from Buttermere to the start.  So we don't start running until 9:45am.  I have a great run with John and Tom, including running through the snow, for five and a half hours, and only consume water during the undulating 27 miles.  So it is 3:15pm when we finish, so those that know the route will see that we weren't really 'hanging around', but everything was absolutely fine, no lack of energy, no tiredness, all good.  So from the end of November / start of December when I consistently introduced fasted runs on Saturdays and Sundays, and typically on one morning run during the week.  The rest of the time I would run during the day, so would be running not in a fasted state.  Within quite a short space of time, based on my Jnauary Lakeland 100 recce experience, it appeared that my body and mind had already adapted, so completing a long run fasted and no fuelling ,was now totally manageable.

So what is the purpose, the gain in doing long runs, after an overnight fast?  Well the key is, supported by the latest research, that the body adapts and then becomes more efficient at utilising fat as a fuel, rather than using the limited bodies carbohydrate stores.  There are quite a few recent papers that confirm this, with one titled "Training with Low Muscle Glycogen Enhances Fat Metabolism in Well-Trained Cyclists" being written (first author) by one of my ex-students from Worcester, Carl Hulston.  He has done really well for himself, having gained a PhD at Birmingham working with Asker Jeukendup, (a bit of a sports nutrition guru), and Carl is now back at Birmingham after spending some time researching in Denmark.  One interesting point from Carl's article is that they created a low muscle glycogen state in the cyclists by getting them to do a hard training session in the morning, and then prevented them from consuming carbohydrate during the intervening time, before their afternoon training session.  So this method, and the overnight fasting method, are typically the two approaches used to encourage fat metabolism.  Looking at the scientific literature, all of the biochemical markers indicate that it works.  Here is the abstract (summary) of the study:
HULSTON, C. J., M. C. VENABLES, C. H. MANN, C. MARTIN, A. PHILP, K. BAAR, and A. E. JEUKENDRUP. Training with Low Muscle Glycogen Enhances Fat Metabolism in Well-Trained Cyclists. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 42, No. 11, pp. 2046–2055, 2010. Purpose: To determine the effects of training with low muscle glycogen on exercise performance, substrate metabolism, and skeletal muscle adaptation. Methods: Fourteen well-trained cyclists were pair-matched and randomly assigned to HIGH- or LOW glycogen training groups. Subjects performed nine aerobic training (AT; 90 min at 70% V˙ O2max) and nine high-intensity interval training sessions (HIT; 8 5-min efforts, 1-min recovery) during a 3-wk period. HIGH trained once daily, alternating between AT on day 1 and HIT the following day, whereas LOW trained twice every second day, first performing AT and then, 1 h later, performing HIT. Pretraining and posttraining measures were a resting muscle biopsy, metabolic measures during steady-state cycling, and a time trial. Results: Power output during HIT was 297 + 8 W in LOW compared with 323 + 9 W in HIGH (P < 0.05); however, time trial performance improved by 10% in both groups (P < 0.05). Fat oxidation during steady-state cycling increased after training in LOW (from 26 + 2 to 34 + 2 KmolIkgj1Iminj1, P G< 0.01). Plasma free fatty acid oxidation was similar before and after training in both groups, but muscle-derived triacylglycerol oxidation increased after training in LOW (from 16 + 1 to 23 + 1 KmolIkgj1Iminj1, P < 0.05). Training with low muscle glycogen also increased A-hydroxyacyl-CoA-dehydrogenase protein content (P < 0.01). Conclusions: Training with low muscle glycogen reduced training intensity and, in performance, was no more effective than training with high muscle glycogen. However, fat oxidation was increased after training with low muscle glycogen, which may have been due to the enhanced metabolic adaptations in skeletal muscle.
So Carl's study shows that the low muscle glycogen training enhanced fat oxidation, although there was actually no greater improvement in performance, as a result of the limited carbohydrate availability training.  One needs to look at the duration of the performance test, it was  "a 60-min steady-state cycle test at the same absolute workload as baseline measures (i.e., approximately 70% of pretraining V˙ O2max). This was immediately followed by a time trial designed to last approximately 60 min."  So therefore the true benefits of improved fat oxidaton may not have had the opportunity to improve performance as the intensity of the performance test was too high, with the duration being too short.  But when it comes to ultra trail racing, where the intensity is substantially lower, one would expect that improved performance would result, although to date, not demonstrated within the literature, mainly due to the difficulty in setting up a controlled study.  One intersting aside is that the performance improvements were the same for both training interventions, even though the intensity of training in the low muscle glycogen state was significantly lower.  A nice reminder that performance is influenced by more than simply the amount or the intensity of the physical training.

Here is the abstract/summary, from another study from 2010:
Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, Nielens H, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. J Appl Physiol 110: 236–245, 2011. First published November 4, 2010; doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00907.2010.—Training with limited carbohydrate availability can stimulate adaptations in muscle cells to facilitate energy production via fat oxidation. Here we investigated the effect of consistent training in the fasted state, vs. training in the fed state, on muscle metabolism and substrate selection during fasted exercise. Twenty young male volunteers participated in a 6-wk endurance training program (1–1.5 h cycling at 70%V ˙ O2max, 4 days/wk) while receiving isocaloric carbohydrate-rich diets. Half of the subjects trained in the fasted state (F; n = 10), while the others ingested ample carbohydrates (CHO) before (160 g) and during (1 g•kg body wt_1•h_1) the training sessions (CHO; n = 10). The training similarly increased V ˙ O2max (+9%) and performance in a 60-min simulated time trial (+8%) in both groups (P < 0.01). Metabolic measurements were made during a 2-h constant-load exercise bout in the fasted state at 65% pretraining V ˙ O2max. In FASTED, exercise-induced intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) breakdown was enhanced in type I fibers (P < 0.05) and tended to be increased in type IIa fibers (P = 0.07). Training did not affect IMCL breakdown in CHO. In addition, FASTED (+ 21%) increased the exercise intensity corresponding to the maximal rate of fat oxidation more than did CHO (+6%) (P < 0.05). Furthermore, maximal citrate synthase (+47%) and -hydroxyacyl coenzyme A dehydrogenase (+34%) activity was significantly upregulated in F (P < 0.05) but not in CHO. Also, only FASTED prevented the development exercise-induced drop in blood glucose concentration (P < 0.05). In conclusion, FASTED is more effective than CHO to increase muscular oxidative capacity and at the same time enhances exercise induced net IMCL degradation. In addition, FASTED but not CHO prevented drop of blood glucose concentration during fasting exercise.  
Anyway, enough of the scientific writing, does it actually improve endurance running performance?  Well, firstly one needs to do some more reading, and some thinking!  The duration, and the intensity the race is run at largely influences the bodies ability to metabolise fuel, and it's demand for the different types of fuel, i.e. carbohydrate or fat.  Now when racing 100 mile trail races, in all of my experiences I have slowed down massively, and I mean mega massively slowed down during the last 40 or so miles.  to such an extent, that I am going so slow that I don't really need to take on much food, as the intensity is so low, that the body can function on fat with no problems.  Although I do remember reading in my Astrand  and Astrand exercise physiology text book from the eighties, that "fat burns within a carbohydrate flame", so there is still the need to burn some carbohydrate.  But I am now beginning to think that due to my "run as fast as you can, while you can" approach to pacing an ultra, my intensity for the first few hours is pretty high, so I will be metabolising quite a bit of carbohydrate, so perhaps the benefits described within the scientific journals from fasted / low glycogen training could be beneficial even in 100 mile ultras, if working at a reasonably high intensity.  For marathon racing, where the duration is significant less in time, typically around 3 hours for a trail marathon for me, then likely benefits from enhanced fat metabolism would be expected.   What do the elite endurance runners do?  I don't really know in terms of ultra trail runners, but this increased focus on fat burning does appear to be the 'buzz' approach within ultra trail running circles at the moment.  In terms of marathon runners, well it also seems to be quite common.  A nice review paper written by L.M. Burke in 2010 stated:
In real life, most elite athletes practice an intricate periodization of both diet and exercise loads within their training program, which may change within a macrocycle or microcycle. Either by intent or for practicality, some training sessions are undertaken with low carbohydrate status (overnight fasting, several sessions in the day, little carbohydrate intake during the workout), while others are undertaken using strategies that promote carbohydrate status (more recovery time, post-meal, carbohydrate intake during the session). It makes sense that sessions undertaken at lower intensity or at the beginning of a training cycle are most suited, or perhaps, least disadvantaged by ‘‘train low’’ strategies. Conversely, ‘‘quality’’ sessions done at higher intensities or in the transition to peaking for competition are likely to the best undertaken with  better fuel support.
But the best indication that this nutritional strategy improves performance is an excellent article from 2012 titled "Case Study: Nutrition and Training Periodization in Three Elite Marathon Runners" written byTrent Stellingwerff.  The article is fantastic, well worthy of having a read.  Here are some key bits regarding the nutrition:

Well I was going to paste a few sentences from the article, but there was just too much good stuff to paste.  I am very fortunate that I can get access to the scientific articles through my day job as a University lecturer in sports science.  It is tempting to simply provide the PDF document to you, but this would be breaking copyright laws and abusing the privileged position I have.  But I have just searched the web, and someone else has broken the copyright laws by posting the PDF document onto a web page.  So to read this great article click this following link,  Well written applied articles like this don't come much better!

So to summarise, this nutritional strategy to encourage fat metabolism, (emphasised more during the early and middle stages of a 16 week marathon build-up), but then to modify the nutrition to focus on carbohydrate feeding whilst training leading immediately up to the marathon race, appears to be adopted by elite marathons, well at least the three elite Canadian marathon runners referred to within the article: Reid Coolsaet, Dylan White and Rob Watson.  The times they ran for the marathon at the end of  the 16 weeks training which was covered in the article were 2:11:23, 2:12;:39, and 2:16:17, but all three runners have since improved their PBs to 2:10:55, 2:10:47, and 2:13:37.  The quickest Canadian marathon runners for some time!  By the way Reid Coolsaet ran at the London Olympic Marathon finishing in 27th place.  As an aside, click this link to access an excellent magazine/news article I recently discovered when researching these guys which describes Reid Coolsaet obtaining the qualifying tome for London.  Again, another great article!

Within the case study article, it describes how for the three runners during the 16 weeks, there were in total 606 training sessions.  Of these there were 107 low carbohydrate availability training sessions, of which 11 of these were reduced glycogen training, and 96 were morning fasted training. The runners completed most of the low carbohydrate availability training sessions during the first 12 weeks of the 16 week training programme. Within the literature there is also some interesting articles that indicate that there appears to be a relationship between the amount of carbohydrate consumed DURING a marathon/ironman with the finishing time,  Those runners that consume the most carbohydrate during the marathon/ironman, have a quicker finishing time, as illustrated in the image below.

Initially I was a bit sceptical regarding this relationship, as just because there is a relationship it doesn't mean that it is causal, i.e. it could be that just by chance it is the more seriously training athletes that have read the literature so are aware of the perceived benefits of taking on board carbohydrate, so it is not in fact the carbohydrate consumption that has caused the quicker time, but the influence of the more seriously trained athletes have in fact read more and therefore consume more carbohydrate.  Anyway, that was my initial thoughts, but more searching of the literature indicates that there have been multiple studies that have shown that there is a direct relationship in terms of grams of carbohydrate consumed per hour and performance.  With one very recent article by Smith et al (February, 2013) concluding:

We estimate incremental performance improvements of 1.0%, 2.0%, 3.0%, 4.0%, and 4.7% at 9, 19, 31, 48, and 78 grams per hour, respectively, with diminishing performance enhancement seen at carbohydrate levels >78 grams per hour. Carbohydrate beverage ingestion and endurance (160 min) performance appear to be related in a curvilinear dose–response manner, with the best performance occurring with a Carbohydrate (1:1:1 glucose–fructose–maltodextrin) ingestion rate of 78 grams per hour.
The three Canadian marathon runners in the case study article are also aware of the need to consume a large amount of carbohydrate DURING the marathon race.  Previously it was thought that the maximum amount of carbohydrate able to be oxidized was 60 grams per hour, being limited by the intestinal absorption of the carbohydrate. However, it has recently been shown that when fructose is ingested along with glucose, then the oxidation rate can increase up to 90 grams per hour, due to the fructose using different transporters.  Hence you will now see that many of the carbohydrate gels now use a combination of typically 2:1 ratio of glucose polymer: fructose.  Just one last bit of research to finish off with, it appears the the gut is trainable in terms of its ability to absorb carbohydrate.  Therefore, training within a fasted low carbohydrate availability state seems to be in conflict with the principle of specificity.  The dilemma goes like something like this; in order to improve fat utilisation, beneficial for endurance performance, one needs to train without taking on board carbohydrate.  However, then come race day, when evidence clearly shows that carbohydrate feeding will enhance performance, with the more carbohydrate the better the performance, combined with the fact that the rate of carbohydrate absorption is trainable, i.e. will improve if carried out during training, then surely one must train consuming carbohydrates!  This is where looking at the nitty gritty of the research is important.  Apparently, the improved carbohydrate transportability/oxidisation only requires four weeks of training, therefore, just as athletes will use periodisation in terms of their physical training, then periodisation is also required in terms of their nutritional strategies.  The Canadian case study clearly demonstrates this nutritional periodisation, where the majority of the low carbohydrate availability training sessions took place in weeks 1 - 12, and then for the last four weeks, the frequency of the carbohydrate fuelling sessions substantially increased, and the runners were encouraged to consume carbohydrate in every training session longer than 75 minutes.

Well, a bit of a side track there leading into my Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon race report.  So lets finally get this race report started, where hopefully I will integrate some of my nutritional experiences for 2013 into the report.

Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon Race Report FINALLY!!!

The Sussex coastal trail races were venue number eight from a total of eleven venues for the 2012/13 coastal trail series. At each venue there is a choice of from 10km, half marathon, marathon, and 33 mile ultra distance races to opt for. I decided that the marathon distance would be ideal preparation for my first key race of the year, the 53 mile Highland Fling, five weeks later. I had completed the inaugural Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Marathon back in 2011, but missed last year's event due to being in New Zealand. For 2012, the course had been slightly shortened from the over-long 28 miles in 2011, and therefore my winning time from 2011 was no longer the course record. This year's course was the same as 2012, so during my preparation, I set myself a target to try to 'keep me honest' and not to 'slacken off' like I usually tend to, to help me work hard the entire way. The target set was to ensure that I ran faster than the 2012 winning time.

As opposed to the Steyning Stinger marathon three weeks earlier, when I trained hard/long right up to race day, for the Sussex Coastal Marathon I adopted a mini taper. The reason for this was to help ensure that I performed well on the day. With it only being five weeks until the Highland Fling, I felt that it would be more beneficial to feel positive from a strong run, and that this positivity would be far more helpful towards improving my Fling performance. More than any gains I may get from doing a bit more physical training. Remember training needs to be TOTAL training, not just physical!

As I am sitting in my car, keeping away from the freezing strong chilly wind, I am 'well up' for a solid run.  The fact that it is going to be arctic conditions doesn't distract me,  I am focused for a continuation of my forward and upward progress of 2013.  Again as similar to the Steyning Marathon, with it being quite, no extremely chilly, I have a dilemma over what to wear.  Endurancelife races require you to carry/wear specified clothing, and a pack with mobile phone, foil blanket, whistle etc.  Originally I was going to carry the awesomely tiny and lightweight Montane Slipstream GL Jacket within my recently purchased UltrAspire Synapse Bottle Waist Pack,  However, having been out in the wind walking back from registration, the conditions reminded me of the 2010 Hardmoors 55 mile race, where similar to today, it was only about one degree, but I had to resort to racing with all of my emergency clothing on, and with a balaclava on, and I was still cold.  So for the first time ever, I started a race wearing tights.  Luckily, I had just received Montane's newest style Trail Tights, which, yes I know I am sponsored by Montane, but these tights are absolutely 'the business'.  They hug your legs, but yet don't feel tight or restrictive in any way.  I also decided to ditch the lightweight jacket, and start with the more substantial Mimimus Jacket.  The thinking was, if I got too hot wearing this jacket, I could simply remove it and store it within the bungee cords designed for this purpose on the side of the UltrAspire Synapse Bottle Waist Pack.

The race starts and I am straight into the lead. One great feature of the race is that within the first three miles you race over the iconic Seven Sisters. These are seven short but sharp hills, which are great fun, as it is like doing rep work, attack the climb, then recover on the descent, then attack again, etc. The real bonus is that you are racing over these whilst fresh, whereas in the Beachy Head Marathon, which I have raced eleven times, you don't encounter the Seven Sisters until around mile 18, so the 'attacking' of the climbs is usually rather subdued!

I am really enjoying myself as I race across the Seven Sisters, with a very supportive tail wind, then as I turn inland at Cuckmere Haven after around three miles I get a shock. There is a runner only around ten seconds behind me! It was a shock as right from the go, I was on my own, and I hadn't sensed anyone behind, (I now never look behind, as I focus on what I am doing, not to be influenced by others). So I had just assumed I was quite clear and so I was prepared for the day being simply about me being disciplined and running hard the entire way. All of a sudden I had a race on my hands, especially as I hadn't been dawdling! I concluded that this guy behind must be a pretty competent and confident runner to start at such a quick pace, so yes, battle on! With this realisation that I was in a race, I 'banged out' a slightly downhill mile in 6:14, but more significant was that the average heart rate for the mile at 169 bpm, was the highest of the race. (GPS data on GarminConnect).  During the first six miles of the race, my heart rate strap seemed to have lost its elasticity so it was continually sliding down.  Fortunately my training partner Kevin, was marshaling at the first checkpoint at Litlington, so I was able to take it off and pass it to him.  Great that I no longer had the frustration of it slipping down, but I therefore no longer have any heart rate data after mile six, so unable to have any objective data on whether I did 'slacken off' during the race.

Shortly Before Checkpoint 1 - Working Hard to Get Away!  Notice that I am appropriately dressed for the arctic conditions: tights, gloves and four layers on my upper body!

I pass through checkpoint one, with the guy behind still pretty close, actually the official results show only 24 seconds behind. I also later see on the results sheet that his name is Matthew Yarlett. The course then travels along the first of many really muddy boggy sections, as it is next to the Cuckmere River as we approach Alfriston. As I mentioned earlier, on the day there are four different race distances taking place. The 33 mile ultra race started 30 minutes before the marathon, and marathon runners if they choose, usually the slower runners, could start 30 minutes earlier with the ultra runners. I presume due to the very demanding and rather unpleasant weather conditions, probably around half or even more of the marathon runners decided to start early. It was shortly after the Litlington checkpoint that I started to overtake quite a few of these runners, including my phsyio Luke, who was completing his fifth of the seven marathon he is completing this year from the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series, It was enjoyable 'flying past’ these early start runners. I would typically say hi, unless I was puffing and blowing too much climbing a hill. And they would usually reply with a friendly hi. Although I always wonder just how much they appreciate me overtaking them, as the difference in our running pace is quite substantial, especially at this point of the race, as I was pretty determined to maintain the fast start to increase the gap on Matthew behind, before he got the idea into his head that he could keep up with me the whole way!

I continue to overtake the early starters as I continue running past the bottom of the Long Man of Wilmington. There is then a tough steep climb to get up above the Long Man, before a nice gentle grassy decent before entering the mud of Friston Forest. The GPS data shows 5:46 for this mile, which although appears fast, for a descent of 56 metres, it is rather disappointing. I already knew that this aspect needed addressing prior to the HIghland Fling, so to go along with the changes in terms of mega miles, and nutritional strategies for 2013, I am also reintroducing repetition sessions into my training during the next five weeks before the Fling. Something that I haven't done for many a year!

Talking about my changes e.g. nutrition, now is probably a good time to summarise what I consumed during the marathon. Having adapted my body and mind to run within a fasted state, I have found that I no longer get any urge to 'having to' take on food whilst running. However, being aware of the research I still take on board carbohydrate whilst racing and consume a breakfast of a bowl of porridge around two and a quarter hours before the start, together with a cup of coffee. Interestingly, Barry Murray, who I mentioned at the start of this blog post, doesn't consume breakfast prior to a morning start ultra race.  Take a look at his summary of his nutrition for his 2011 Lakeland 100 race.  The one key thing that is apparent within all of the material I have read, is that individuals vary immensely in terms of what works for them, what levels of carbohydrate they can handle, whether they suffer from gastrointestinal problems.  So one of the key messages is to work out what works for you! 

With regards to my race day nutrition, I have a bowl of soaked porridge and a cup of coffee 2:15 before race start.  Then 15 minutes before race start I consume one CNP Pro Energy Gel Max- Cola flavour (the only flavour) which contains 25 grams of carbohydrate, and 100 mg of caffeine, and 50 mg of guarana.  I then consume three of these gels during the race.  I used to consume typically four for a marathon, but since I have been working on fat utilisation I don't actually feel that I need four.  In fact in both the Steyning Stinger and last Saturday's marathon, I didn't get any sense of 'needing' to take on board carbohydrate.  I never got that feeling of 'woosiness' in the head!  I actually only consume the carbohydrate gels, as I know that I am working at a pretty high intensity, and the literature clearly states that performance will be improved. 

Having to carry water during Enduranceife races means that I can consume the gels whenever I want, and aren't restricted to the water stations (as it is important to consume the gels along with water), so I aren't exactly sure when I took my first gel, but I had my second gel at checkpoint 2 after 1:37 and the third and final gel at checkpoint three after 2:40 of running.  So for 1 hour 3 minutes, I consumed only 25 grams of carbohydrate, well below the recommended 60 - 90 grams per hour, or the 'ideal' 78 grams per hour.  Interestingly, even though I don't have any signals indicating that I need carbohydrate, would my performance improve if I took three times the number of gels, so around 75 grams per hour rather than the 25 grams per hour I consumed?  Within the Canadian case study, the three marathoners consumed 49, 56, and 77 grams per hour respectively, so also less than the apparent recommended and ideal, (remember the importance of individual variations though)!

At around the 16 mile mark, shortly before the village of East Dean the marathon course is joined by the half marathon runners. I probably join into the half marathon race at around the two-thirds, three-quarters mark of the field. At first I am running substantially quicker than the half marathon runners, but then the further up the field I move, the difference in our running pace is reduced, which I recall from the first time I experienced this back in 2011 created a negative mindset. It was as if I was receiving negative feedback. The judgement of my performance was being made on the quickness at which I overtook the half marathon runners. So due to this speed of overtaking being reduced, as I moved closer to the front of the field, I was interpreting this as my performance was declining, I was tiring, I was running slower. This year though I was prepared for this situation, so I didn't have any negative feelings affect me. In fact this year I really enjoyed working my way through the half marathon field.

After East Dean, we reach the coast line again, at Birling Gap. During the Beachy Head Marathon, this usually indicates less than four miles to the finish. For the Sussex Coastal Marathon, there were still nine miles to go. Not that I was counting down the miles! No, I am fully aware that counting down the miles is the start of negativity taking over! I try to continue to maintain a good running pace as we are now totally exposed as we run into the massively strong and chilly head wind. As I make my way up to the climb of Beachy Head, the GPS data shows a mile split of 10:15. Looking at a pretty identical mile split from the Beachy Head Marathon last October, my mile split was 8:44, so 90 seconds slower. Clearly illustrating the strength of the wind last Saturday!

I continue to maintain a high intensity, which I feel I did, although no heart rate data to confirm. Climbing out from Eastbourne, I do recall that I was really puffing and blowing, making a really noise, continually passing runners. There was then a nice gentle downhill mile with the wind now behind. After some very slow miles of 10:15, 8:16 (steep downhill into Whitbread Hollow) and 9:39, the pace quickens to 7:34 and then for the nice gentle downhill mile with 47 metres descent, I bang out a 6:04 mile. I recall at the time that it felt reasonably quick, but on reflection, this should really be 30 seconds quicker. Yes, I think one thing I have let slip over the last few years is my leg speed. Exactly what form of 'speed work' is appropriate for ultra trail running, I am not entirely sure. For trail marathons it has increased importance. But I am now beginning to reconsider some of my earlier ideas, and perhaps some form of 'speed work' is relevant for ultra trail racing. Yes, 2013 is definitely turning out to be the year of reflection and change!

After viewing the finish flags not too far away, we have to turn away from them and battle again back into the headwind, before another small climb and then finally a tailwind three=quarters of a mile to the finish. At the last checkpoint on the edge of Eastbourne, with around 5 miles to go, I take a look at my watch an calculate that I will finish pretty close to 3 hours 20 minutes. Knowing that the course record is 3:20 and something, is a great motivator, to keep me working hard, so I don't slacken off. With probably around 500 - 600 metres to go, my watch has passed 3:18. The course record could be touch and go. As I pass a half marathon runner, he recognises me and starts to initiate a conversation. Ninety nine percent of the time, I am welcoming of a friendly hi, how's it going, but at this exact moment in time, was the one percent when I wasn't. I grunt something aggressively back, like "I'm trying to concentrate!" So if you are the half marathoner reading this who I grunted at in reply to your friendly comment, many apologies, I assure you I'm not usually that rude!

I cross the finish line in a time of 3:19:48, so beating the course record by 42 seconds. Just before crossing the line, I unzip my jacket for the first time, to ensure my number is visible to help easily identify my race photos which are available for purchase from the Endurancelife website. It then occurs to me that not once during the entire 25.82 miles (my GPS watch reading) did I feel too warm. In fact my zip remained up and my gloves on the entire race. Yes, it wasn't your typical spring day in Sussex! I immediately jog back to my car, get some dry clothes on and then spend the next hour or so distributing under car windscreens leaflets for my newly launched running venture I highlighted in my previous post. Please visit the website and if you have any questions please zap me an e-mail or give me a call.

Second place finisher actually does turn out to be Matthew Yarlett, the chap that was giving me the 'hurry up' for the first few miles, in a time of 3:34:01.  Matthew narrowly beats Scott Forbes by eight seconds, who I mentioned in my quick update on Saturday, accidentally started 30 minutes earlier with the ultra runners and the less quick marathon runners.  The winning women was Sarah Dudgeon, in 11th place overall in a time of 4:13:25.  Full results are available on the Endurancelife website.

Well, although 2013 may be a year of change, one thing that hasn't changed is the length of my posts.  Yet another ultra effort!  Well done to you all, if you have manged to get yourself through to the finish of this blog post.  You demonstrate true endurance qualities.  Time to sign off with a quote.  "One must always remain open to continued learning, even if it may mean that you have to accept that perhaps your ideas and beliefs require changing.  The process of learning is an enjoyable and never ending pathway, which simply requires thoughtful navigation."  Stuart Mills, 2013.

Happy questioning, investigating, and learning,



  1. Congrats on another great race and course record, really does look like your new training and nutrition strategy is work well.

    On the topic of whether high intensity, VO2max training might be important to ultra running, perhaps the following paper "Maximal Fat Oxidation" might be of interest:

    The key observation of to ultra runners is that maximum fat oxidation happens at 63% of VO2Max and that runners with the most fat oxidation had the highest VO2Max. While we don't come close to running at VO2Max during an ultra, the lower the percentage of VO2Max we utilize the closer we'll be to the 63% intensity and the higher amount of fat we'll be utilizing.

    It it worth noting that the paper also mentions large variations between people so the 63% is just an average.

    While this paper only sees a maximum fat oxidation around 33% of total energy expenditure which is lower than I'd expect for an ultra, simply because when exercising for long periods out bodies are forced to shift to higher fat oxidation.

    This 33% total also even a strict maximum, as more recent studies of athletes on ketogenic diets have shown fat utilization up at 90%. I'm afraid I don't have the reference to hand.

    The overall takeway is that a high VO2Max is important to ultra runners and diet has a huge influence on fat utilization. My hunch would be that running fasted helps with moving your towards fat utilization, but if you still have a high carb diet overall the gains in fat utilization will hit a ceiling simply because the body prefers to burn glycogen. If you refill your glycogen stores after a fasted run then your next fasted run might have you with low blood sugar but your muscles have plenty of carbs to hand.

  2. Hi Robert

    Thanks for the comment and the link to the journal article on maximum fat utilisation, although I ma pretty well journal article fatigued at the moment, having read quite a few last week.

    I've had a quick look and it does look interesting, and as you highlight the huge variability between subjects is probably one of the key messages.

    I see your logic. Train to improve your VO2max, so you can then run at a lower intensity during the race, i.e. at a lower % of your max, so then there will be a greater contribution from fat metabolism.

    WIth regards to your last paragraph, yes, the idea is to consume carbs following a fasted run to ensure that the muscle glycogen levels are high, however, the research suggests that simply exercising in a fasted state, even with fully load glycogen stores, still increase the fat metabolism. The key thing is that training in a fasted state isn't the same as consuming a low carb diet, one still consume carbs but just at a different time. One final aspect is that come race day, you still consume carbs via gels etc, but hopefully due to the enhanced fat metabolism from the fasted training, for the same intensity more fat and less carbs will be used.

    Thanks, Stuart