— Project Talaria

Elevation Envy

A quick update on our Leadville 100 training. Warning, this could get nerdy… running nerdy.

While Dave has ridden off on a sparkly unicorn to the mystical, high-elevation land of uber athletes and increased red blood cells (Boulder Colorado). I am left at soggy sea-level Victoria to run through MONSOON SEASON! I swear I could have river-rafted half of my trail run yesterday. (I’m whining, but in reality I had a blast on my run and wouldn’t trade it for anything)

On the topic of elevation, I’ve had some great advice over the last week that I thought I would ramble on about.  I met with Trent Stellingwerff at PISE (Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence) here in Victoria. He’s worked with a who’s who of elite athletes and I was grateful to be able to sit down with him for a chat. We talked about training, fueling, hydration and some specifics regarding altitude. I thought I would share some of his wisdom.

A little background on our chosen race, the Leadville 100. 100 mile trail races are popping up all over the place. They are the grand daddy of Ultra Marathons. The thing about Leadville is that it’s not only 100 miles of grueling and rugged terrain, it’s also run between the elevations of approx 10,000 and 14,000 ft.  The elevation factor adds a whole new dimension to the race. Runners are foolish to assume anything when it comes to altitude. It’s effects can be crippling, even to the most well conditioned athlete.

Trent hammered this point home, and it was well-received. There is no substitute for going to altitude and providing your body with experience in those conditions (bravo Dave)  Each time you go to altitude and acclimatize, your body reaps the rewards and you will have an easier time adjusting to it and functioning the next time you go. Anything above 5000 ft is considered beneficial, but 7000 – 10,000 ft is optimal. Despite the mountainous region we live in, it is actually quite hard to find accessible high-elevation locales. Most of the high peaks are very technical climbs, and not something I feel comfortable taking on. I’ve hatched a tentative plan of spending a few weekends in Whistler and snowshoeing up to the summit of Blackcomb (7,300 ft) and then hanging out for most of the day hiking up, down and around the peak.

Some other great advice from Trent included: (these apply to endurance athletes and are paraphrased by me to the best of my memory, not word for word)

– Calculate your sweat rate. Don’t guess at how much water you need to take in during a race. Keeping some simple stats from long runs (temp, humidity, pre-run weight, water taken in, post-run weight) can provide invaluable information about the rate at which you sweat and how much water you need to take in per hour.

– Test the limits of your cabohydrate tolerance.  The more fuel you can process during an Ultramarathon, the better your body and mind will perform. Everyone has their limits, and everyone’s digestive system reacts differently. Use long runs to test these limits and find out what works for you. Ultra runners are “locomotives”. Gels, sports drinks, boiled potatoes, coca-cola, even pizza! It really doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is carb-rich, easily digested and works for YOU. Over the course of an Ultramarathon, runners will often burn out their palette from all the sugar being taken in. It is important to have savory carb options as well. The worst thing you can do is stop eating.

– While racing aim for the 15/15 rule. 15 grams of carbs every 15 minutes, this is more than it might seem. A standard energy gel is 25 grams of carbs. 15/15 rule suggest 60 grams of carbs per hr. That is over 2 gels per hour! Many elite marathoners take in closer to 70 grams per hour. Fuel the machine! As a marathon or ultramarathon wears on, runners often make poor decisions due to fatigue. Having a hydration and fueling plan based on trial and error takes the guess work out.

That’s it for now, I’m off to calculate my hourly sweat rate!


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