The top ways to waste your time at aid stations

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AUTHORS: Andrius Ramonas and Gediminas Grinius (Trail Running Factory)

With major international (Transgrancanaria Ultra, Hong Kong 100 Ultra Marathon, Tarawera Ultra and 100 mile Endurance Run) and local NZ races (The Ultra Easy Ultra, Old Ghost Ultra, Motatapu Ultra, Northburn 100 miler) just weeks away it is time to think about how you will deal with transitions through aid stations during your race.

1.       Go gourmet! First start with the pretzels, then move on to the jam sandwiches, followed by grapes, gummy snakes, then wash down with coke. Repeat at all aid stations.

2.       Pull out your cocktail shaker and Worcestershire sauce to fix yourself a Bloody Mary for your hydration pack. You’ve got to take hydration seriously.

3.       Hide the critical gear your support crew is supposed to be ready with in the bottom of your bag so they can't find it.

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4.       Assume that your crew have studied the course map in minute detail and has a superhuman recollection of every part of the course.

5.       Pose to all photographers and cameramen and give short half an hour interview, be the star, this is why you started trail running, isn’t it?  

6.       Go totally mad on your support crew and/or volunteers if they mix things up and don’t have your favourite snack - dried Antarctica monkey kidneys, because you are the BOSS and they are working for you, right?

7.       Aid stations are warm and sheltered, so it is the best place to wait while the rain or snowfall will stop and running conditions will improve.

8.       Explain in great detail to anyone who will listen how you took a wrong turn from the course.

9.       Change shoes and socks at every aid station. Because you like to keep your feet dry.

10.    Pray for trail running gods and ask for the autograph of every Jim Wamsley you meet.

11.    Whip out your iPhone and call your friends to inform them of your progress, and post your on-trail selfies to Facebook and Instagram.

12.    Perfect skills with the gear you have never trialled before.  Didn’t learn how to operate your headlamp or use your poles? The aid station is an ideal testing ground!

13.    Number 13th, really? You should ask for the new number at each aid station, as it is the unlucky one and you are damn slow and tired because of it. 

Ok. Seriously. Here you go:

The fastest way to get through aid stations

1.       Have a nutrition plan and know precisely what foods you are going to be eating during the race. Know three natural foods and three processed ones (e.g. gels) that work for you and stick to your choice during the race. It is not the best time experiment with your stomach. In the months leading up to the race, train your gut to tolerate higher carbohydrate intake. Stomach comfort while ingesting higher amount of foods during long running events can be trained, and frequency of gastrointestinal issues reduced.  

Gediminas Grinius during Tarawera 100 and his support crew Grant Guise

Gediminas Grinius during Tarawera 100 and his support crew Grant Guise

2.       Rehearse your race plan before race day with your support crew.

3.       If your support crew are crewing you for the first time, educate them:

-   Familiarise them with your aid station routine

-   Show them which pocket you prefer gels to be put in

-   Teach how turn on and switch on headlamp for easier transition

-   Teach them how to make an ice scarf and how and when put it on your neck (useful in hot-weather races)

4.       Don’t stop at the aid station if you don’t need to. However, have a good reason for not stopping. If you are compromising your hydration, you will likely pay the price later in the race.

5.       The aid station is not the finish line, so don’t relax too much. Stay sharp and focus on what you need to do. Have a mini action plan for each aid station and rehearse it in your mind before arriving. For example: “I will hand my two soft flasks to fill with water, while these are being filled, I will drink another cup of fresh water, empty pockets from trash and will put two gels into my front pocket. After taking filled soft flasks I will grab a piece of banana and eat it leaving the aid station.”

6.       Open your handheld bottles before you enter the aid station so that they can be filled even quicker. If rules allow and volunteers can help, don’t fill your flasks by yourself. Use that time to do other things.

7.       In some races, you may be permitted to exchange bags. If so, consider having a twin bag prepared to that you can make a quick exchange and keep going.

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8.       Have your most important compulsory gear (waterproof jacket/pants and head-torch) at the top of your bag, because it is the most likely gear that could be checked for a compulsory gear check. Or put it in a transparent bag as it is easy to pull out and show all the mandatory gear.

9.       During the race and between aid stations carry only as much as you need:

Don’t fill all the bottles and don’t take all the gels you possess in first aid station

Use flasks rather than a hydration bladder if there are frequent aid stations

Estimate your water and calorie intake and remember that your digestive tract can only tolerate and absorb approximately 1 – 1. 5 l/h and 60 to 90g of carb/h (depending on composition of carbohydrate meal or supplement), so don’t take unnecessary weight with you

Trash (used gels etc) weighs several grams, so don’t forget to get rid of it at each aid station

The lighter you are the faster you can run and the higher your VO2max :) 

10.    Be grateful to your support crew, as they are doing an important job. Your smile and positivity will boost their confidence, which probably means that fewer mistakes will be made and your run through the aid stations will be quick and smooth.

11.    Having a nutrition plan and supporting race plan is important, but things can go amiss, so it is wise to develop a contingency plan:

-      what if your support crew isn’t at the aid station? Should you wait in hope that they arrive soon, or continue and meet them at the next one? What if the nutrition that you expected to have isn’t available? It doesn’t matter what your decision is, but you must know it in advance.

12. Thank the volunteers before you leave the aid station!

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How to become better at running in 2018 (or just any year you like)

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Maintain consistency. Running is a skill and needs to be practised regularly. All great distance runners become successful through consistent daily practice. There is something we can do every day to improve performance, even if it is simply reading an article about nutrition or listening to running science podcasts.

Explore and be open to try new things. Another element of your success is to be excited about running, which will keep your spirit high even on rainy days. Once a week try a new path or trail. Check out topomap.co.nz and discover trails, or check the Wild Things trail running directory (https://www.wildthings.club/trails/) for ideas. For dedicated trail runners, be brave and enter a road race. Training for a speedy road run will benefit your pace for trail races. What new event I am trying this year? The Ruapehu Ring of Fire Ultra (http://rof.co.nz). Check it out!

Articulate your goals. Cement your running ambitions with events, or plan “a mission”, and work towards that goal. Kiwi Trail Runner magazine has a comprehensive list of events for 2018. If you are looking for European or worldwide events, see: http://www.i-tra.org and http://www.ultratrail-worldtour.com

Remember that your goals don’t have to be centered around events or going further or faster. Running is also about self-exploration and discovering nature. Perhaps there is a National Park or a trail that you’ve always wanted to explore in your own time and at your own speed.

Exploring Tongariro National Park (NZ) with Gediminas Grinius

Exploring Tongariro National Park (NZ) with Gediminas Grinius

Run with others. For some of us, running is our daily escape, but don’t become a hermit. Join others for a social run! There is an incredible amount of combined skill and experience in most running groups - share your experience and learn a lot. And on other days keep running just for yourself.

Get a coach. With so many events to choose from, your racing calendar can easily become overcrowded. A qualified coach will help you to prioritize your goals and simplify your life by preparing your training schedule. Your coach's role is also to identify your strengths and areas to improve and structure your training program so that your strengths are reinforced and your weaker areas are addressed. Being able to see your progress as a runner will help you to achieve your goals and give you confidence in setting even more audacious targets in the future.

Join social groups of fellow running geeks. There is nothing better than claiming a course record, and seeing your friends achieve their goals is also a good motivator. Join clubs on Strava and keep track of your progress.

Strava groups for Kiwis: The North Face Trail Running Club – NZ, Skyrunning ANZ, Ultra-Trail World Tour, Tarawera Ultra Marathon, WILD THINGS NZ Trail Running Club

You can also follow my Strava profile: https://www.strava.com/athletes/2090964

From the left: Andrius Ramonas, Ryan Sandes, Yun Yanqiao, Ben Duffus and Pau Capell

From the left: Andrius Ramonas, Ryan Sandes, Yun Yanqiao, Ben Duffus and Pau Capell

Winning the battle against the heat

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Whilst the summer months grace us with dry trails and a renewed desire to explore, there is one battle runners must face: the heat. Dealing with heat in your training sessions can be a real issue, and if you are (like me) not an early morning runner, then it is likely you will have to face midday sun. Heat poses an extra challenge for the body, but training in the heat can also be beneficial for the endurance athlete. To reap the benefits, it is important to be aware of the risks involved with training in hot conditions, and how to mitigate them.

Benefits

Improved thermal comfort

Better sweat response = Better cooling

Lower core temps during exercise in the heat

 

Risks

Overheating

Loss of fluid (dehydration)

Higher glycogen use

Delayed recovery

Compromised exercise intensity

 

Acclimation. Unsurprisingly, training in a naturally hot environment or a controlled environment (like a sauna) primes you to run efficiently in hot climates. For runners that are travelling from winter to compete in a summer race, training in a controlled environment can be beneficial. Performance can decrease by around 10% when competing and training in the heat. Lack of proper of acclimation could affect performance even more, and present health risks. Many endurance athletes complete 7 to 14 days of repeated workouts in temperatures above 30C in moderate to high humidity to adapt. If you have just arrived in a hot environment I would suggest starting from easy intensity (e.g. 60-90 min running sessions), and after completing 2-3 sessions, adding some high-intensity workouts.

Sports science looking at other means of controlled heat acclimation strategies have found that sauna and hot-water immersion could substitute naturally hot environments. Both strategies reduce core temperature and cardiovascular strain after several days of exposure and bring desirable physiological adaptations.

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Choose the best time of the day. Avoid midday heat by training early in the morning or late in the afternoon. If this is not possible, consider modifying the duration and intensity of the session, to shorter and easier on really hot days.

Pre-cooling and cooling. If running in the full heat is unavoidable, pre-cooling could mitigate risks of overheating. Beginning the session with a lower core temperature may prolong the session’s duration. This can be achieved by applying ice towels or taking a cold shower or bath before running. Partially freezing your water or electrolytes is a simple way to get some reprieve from the heat during your run. 

Hydrate beforehand. If you feel thirsty before leaving home, make sure you drink a few glasses of water or electrolytes. Sweating rate varies from c.1 to 3 litres per hour on a hot day– (a significant increase to the c.500mL – 1.5L that one would sweat on a cool day). Sweating is the most efficient cooling mechanism that your body can offer. Assuming normal hydration levels before the run, there is little risk of getting into serious dehydration if your run lasts about 1 hour. Plan your water access points if you are running 1.5+ hrs. I like to take one or two handheld bottles, or a small and light hydration pack with me, and always check whether I will have an access to water. Streams that you can see on the map are sometimes dry during the summer season (and if they run through farmland you should not drink from them), so it pays to be prepared. For city runners, water is more accessible and if you plan your route to pass by water fountains, you can complete even a 40km training run without having to carry all your water with you. 

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Re-hydration. Restoring fluid loss during exercise is an important part of the recovery process. Adding electrolytes to water improves fluid palatability and natural thirst response, as well as fluid retention in kidneys. Drinking 100 to 150% of fluid for each kilogram of body mass loss during exercise will ensure full rehydration. If you don’t know how much water you lose during exercise in the heat, measure your body mass prior and after the exercise (best naked). Controlling your alcohol consumption is also important. Alcohol has a diuretic effect (that is, it washes water from your body), so consuming alcohol in an already dehydrated state could put you even in worse condition and seriously impair your recovery.

Modify your diet. Training in the heat burns more glycogen (i.e. muscle carbohydrate stores), so it is important to replenish these stores to aid recovery. To ensure good glycogen recovery, do not delay your post-exercise meal. Muscles absorb glucose much faster in the first 2 hours after exercise, so have something ready after you are back from your run. I like foods that are energy dense, nutritious, have electrolytes and fibre in them. Good examples are: fruit smoothie, raw or dried fruits, salad with added kumara or sweet potato, etc. Add some protein to your meal (fish, eggs, cheese, meat or similar) to aid muscle recovery and protein synthesis. If you want to be diligent with your nutrition, it is recommended to consume 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram body weight during the first 4 hours of recovery. *Note, if you are following low-carb dietary program or “train low” strategy this advice may not apply to you.

Finally, don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. These will help to minimise the risk of sunburn and sunstroke.

Running Technique (2): making hills easy

Yes, hills are sometimes hard, and hard for a good reason. To travel vertical distance for a body is actually the hardest thing, that takes up to 80% of all running energy expenditure. And if you find it hard to adopt your running form in uphill sections of your run – I truly believe (and know) that a casual training run can easily become real sufferfest.

A few things you can do to make hills easier!

[This text was recorded on a hilly run in order to keep this advice practical and real]

Shorten you stride (but increase the rate). This advice will teach you some basic physics – I am talking about the length of the lever arm. Here is an example to understand this point. Put a box in front of you. First, try to step on a box from a distance, and then walk close to the box and do it again. The difference is obvious! When running uphill - stay “compact” and put your foot close to your center of mass. This will save lots of energy and biomechanically is more efficient.

Don’t let your heel go to low. This is the best time to be a forefoot or midfoot striker. Keep your ankles and calf active, and don’t let you heel to go too low – this will help to save some energy (otherwise used to pick your heel from the ground with each step) and will put less strain on the ankle joint.

Lean forward. Running uphill you should lean slightly forward. Now it is very important point, it has to be a full body lean (“from your ankles”), not just a bend from your hips. A few more tips about correct running posture HERE

Reduce your running pace. If you want to maintain an overall exercise intensity at a similar physical exertion level, then you have to reduce you pace in the uphill sections. If you are one of those runners that worry about how bad overall pace will look on Strava, you should know that total vertical ascent (i.e. how much you climb in one session) is a completely legit way to describe running session’s difficulty. Also check GAP (aka. grade ajusted pace) on Strava, which is an overall pace taken into account all hills and downhills.

Use your arms. Arm motion during uphill running can actually help you. Using powerful arm swing we help to stabilise core (remember, all muscles in our body are related and form kinetic chains), which in turn can help to achieve more powerful contraction of “uphill running muscles” and improve your uphill stride.

Use track knowledge. Pacing is an integral part of running. Some hills are as short as 50 meters, but others might take an hour to run (or hike). Knowing the track can help to make informed decisions and pace yourself correctly through difficult and challenging hilly sections. This becomes even more important in road/trail running events. Study race elevation profiles and if you have a chance – familiarise with race course during your training.

Be an optimist. The beautiful thing about uphills is that the higher you go, the more you see. Don’t be a pessimist.

Smile. When you smile, you relax,  and when you relax – you relaxthose body parts that need to be relaxed. Don't be afraid to smile running alone. People think that you are crazy enough just because you are running those hills.