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Making Meditation Part of Your Training Routine

It’s long been widely recognized that regular meditation practice brings a variety of health benefits. Reduced anxiety and depression, increased pain tolerance, improved attention span, lower blood pressure, and improved sleep are just a few of the medically acknowledged benefits to mindfulness. 

That’s a list that looks like it could double as a description of the benefits of long distance running, which may be what inspired a team of researchers to examine the effects of combining meditation and running1. Their research suggested was a big win for the combined program, which is one of the reasons we now see ultra running pros, like two-time Western States 100-mile winner Timothy Allen Olson and three-time Hardrock 100 winner Darcy Piceu, advocate for what they call “mindful running.” 

Getting Started

If you’ve never meditated before, you won’t accomplish much trying to get your first session in on the road.  Instead, you should start by adding a short, seated meditation session before you start your workout. 

Find a comfortable seat—there’s no need to cross your legs, unless you’d like to—close your eyes, and tune in to a guided meditation program. There are several applications available serving exactly this purpose. Three favorites: 

Calm – an excellent meditation primer. The freely available “Seven Days of Calm” unit is a perfect place to start, and the additional features are well worth the subscription cost. 

Headspace – another solid introduction. The free offering isn’t quite as robust as Calm’s, but the opening session is slightly more approachable. 

Run Mindful – Timothy Allen Olson’s own offering to the selection, an app made specifically for endurance runners. 

Once you’ve got the program running, all you have to do is sit still, listen for about ten minutes, and do the best that you can to follow along. There’s no need to worry about whether you’re doing it right, just trying will be enough to improve. 

Immediate Benefits

Over time, you’ll start to notice better sleep, experience reduced stress, and exhibit lower impulsivity and greater patience in your daily life. The improvements won’t be limited to long-term gains: in the short term, you’ve brought your breath under control, lowered your heart rate, and cleared your mind of the day’s stress. Pay close attention, and you may notice a marked difference in the quality of that first workout. 

Honing the Mind-Body Connection

Depending on the guide program that you choose, you’ll likely encounter body scan meditations. These meditations encourage you to mentally scan your body from end to end (usually head to toe), carefully observing any and all sensations. With practice, these body scans can help you discover knots, tightness, and posture imbalances. Sometimes, simply noticing a pain that you’ve been ignoring is enough to relieve the tension. Even when it isn’t, if you pay attention to the signs, you’ll know when you need a little extra stretch, or a date with the roller. 

Take It to The Road

As you grow in your meditation practice, you are essentially developing the ability to train your focus on one stimulus while tuning out distractions. At first, the stimulus will almost always be the rhythm of your own breath, but once you’ve got the knack, you can substitute anything. That’s when it’s time to take the show on the road. 

Some mindful runners like to silently repeat a positive mantra (a simple, short, repetitive statement, usually reflecting a goal or ideal). Focusing on the finish line can be a strong motivator, or general thoughts about life can help influence positive thinking outside the run. 

You can apply the body scan technique here, too. Any time pain crops up as a distraction, you can try impartially listening to it. Our natural instinct is to push pain aside, which often leads to unconscious changes in form and stride. By making an effort to listen to the pain, welcome it, and understand it, we avoid making these comfortable negative corrections, and give ourselves a much better chance of correctly identifying and treating the problem. As Timothy Allen Olson told REI, “When you observe it and accept it, many times pain simply dissolves.”2

Mindful Running Retreats

If you want to make the advantages of mindfulness a part of your running routine, but you don’t think a phone app will get you there, there is help available. As the practice has grown in popularity, there’s been a movement toward group mindful running retreats. Timothy Olson’s Adventure Mindful is one of the groups on the forefront of this movement. They’ve got retreats planned for 2019 in the Canary Islands, Colorado, and Austria, which include trail running for all experience levels, mindfulness training, food, and transportation. 

  • “MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity.” B L Alderman, R L Olson, C J Brush & T J Shors. Translational Psychiatry volume6, pagee726 (2016). https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2015225 

  • “For Runners: How to Stop Stalling and Start Meditating.” Kelly Bastone. REI. May 15, 2018.  https://www.rei.com/blog/run/meditation-for-runners 

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Training Tips from Three of Ultra Running’s Greatest Coaches

Whether they’re gearing up for your first marathon, making a third attempt at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, or testing their legs on a 24-hour, the most important piece of any long-distance runner’s preparation is a thorough, intentional training plan. The right regimen can spur an athlete to P.R.s and victory laps, and a mistimed routine can leave the same athlete on dead legs before the starting pistol fires.

With so much riding on a runner’s routine, there’s little wonder that a handful of high profile champions have leveraged their racing success into reputations as the sport’s ultimate gurus. Let’s check in with three of the top trainers in ultrarunning for a quick primer on the techniques and philosophies that carry their clients to the finish.

Sundog Running’s Ian Torrence

Ian Torrence has built a sterling reputation in the ultrarunning world, winning 53 of the 200 ultras he’s completed. 27 of his finishes have been 100-mile runs. Formerly a coach under the legendary Greg McMillan, Ian and partner Emily Torrence (nee Harrison) formed Sundog Running in the hopes of reaching more runners. They offer personal coaching services, advisement, and weekly training plan packages, and keep up a blog with free tips for all levels of experience.

The Sundog team stress individualized plans for each athlete. They build long-term plans for the full season based on the runner’s goals, experience, form, injury history, life events, and fitness gains.

Training Zones

Torrence’s training philosophy revolves around four training zones, each of which focuses on improving a small subset of the body functions involved in an endurance run. This allows a runner to emulate the effects of extreme distance in shorter training sessions. As Torrence himself wrote in Trail Runner Magazine, “Training is the art of replicating different exertion levels in short, controlled bouts so that our body and mind may adapt to the new stressors and be better able to handle that workload on race day.”1

In the Spring Zone and Neuromuscular Training phase, we enhance the ability to run quickly when our muscles our inundated with lactic acid. This includes workouts like neuromuscular strides, and interval springs with slow jogging recovery between. In this zone, a focus on proper form is stressed.

During Speed Zone Training we run full speed for extended durations (8 to 15 minute bursts) to improve mechanics, recruit fast-twitch muscle fiber, improve our metabolic pathways to use fuel more efficiently, and improve the rate of oxygen uptake from blood into muscles.

To improve the body’s ability to remove lactic acid building, we use Stamina Zone Training, which consists of race pace work for an hour or more. Steady state runs, tempo runs, tempo intervals, cruise intervals, and progression runs are a few recommended Stamina Zone exercises.

Lastly, Endurance Zone Training, which forms the bulk of the training under Torrence’s plans. These runs improve the ability to run for long durations, maintain aerobic fitness, and maximize the capacity to train and recover in the other three zones. These are long, easier runs where the heart rate should not rise about 70% of the runner’s maximum threshold.

Base Phase

Torrence’s plans interweave the 4 training zones throughout four training phases. The first phase is the base phase. This phase should make up more than half of a runner’s training throughout the year, and consists of lighter work in all four training zones to keep the body fast and efficient without a high degree of exertion.

Pre-Race Specific Phase

This consists of a 4 to 6 week ramp-up phase. Runners in this phase perform roughly the same exercises as in the base phase, but slowly increase distance, duration, and intensity to prepare the body for hard running.

Race Specific

Three to 10 weeks of full intensity in all four zones. During this phase, the runner focuses most strongly on their individual weaknesses and on the specific demands of the race.

Peaking

For the last two to three weeks before the race, Torrence’s team recommends maintaining the race specific routine and intensity, but gradually dropping the volume of each run to rest while maintaining peak form.

Jacob Puzey of Peak Run Performance

Compared to Ian Torrence, Peak Run Performance founder Jacob Puzey has had a slightly rockier road to renown in the running community. While Torrence’s claims to fame largely hinge on his own running career, Puzey became a name in the running community when he returned to Hermiston High School, his Alma Mater, and coached the cross-country team to their first ever state title. Despite the differences, the two do share one key link: both have worked as coached under the legendary Greg McMillan.

Training On A Treadmill

As holder of the 50-mile treadmill world record, Jacob Puzey is a major proponent of training on a treadmill. He sees treadmills as a technological advantage, a way to help balance the demands of long running with the other commitments of a busy life.

Aside from taking advantage of treadmill time to spend time with family while training, catch up on TV, or listen to an audiobook, Puzey also loves it for form improvement: put a mirror in front of the treadmill (or find one near the mirrors at the gym) and watch yourself run.

Finding Your Form

If you’re not sure what to look for in the mirror, Coach Puzey has a lot of great advice available on the Peak Run Performance YouTube channel, including an excellent series on injury prevention that serious runners absolutely must see.

In his “Running Form Cues” primer, he provides these vital tips to help with efficiency, speed, and safety.

Relax your jaw. To get the feel for this, Puzey recommends clenching your teeth and then letting go until your mouth is slightly open. A tight jaw causes tension in the neck, which can travel through the back, shoulders, and even into the glutes and hamstrings.

Relax the shoulders, too. To test this out, raise them as high as possible, then drop them to your sides.

Hold your elbows at a 90-degree angle, and don’t open and close them while you run. Your arm movement should be driven from the shoulders, almost like putting your hands into your pockets.

Don’t let your hands cross your upper body.

Hold your hands slightly closed, but not clenched, with the thumbs on top, nearly touching the index finger. Puzey suggests visualizing a delicate, dry leaf between the thumb and finger.

Hold your body tall while you run, with a slight lean forward at the ankles. Your feet should strike the ground directly beneath your hip.

Sage Canaday’s Sage Running

Sage Canaday has been running, and winning, on some of the sports biggest stages for 16 years. His pro endurance wins include the World Long Distance Mountain Championship (Pikes Peak Ascent), the Tarawera 100k, the Speedgoat 50km, and TNF50 mile championships.

Through his and Coach Sandi Nypaver’s Sage Running coaching company, Sage offers training plans and advice to runners across the world. His Vo2maxProductions YouTube channel, where he releases training tips, gear reviews, and other content, has over 100,000 subscribers.

Feeling Based Training

As vital as a strong training plan is, it can be even more important to know when to know when to leave the plan behind, so Sage Running’s training plans are all based on how the runner feels. Canaday and Nypaver futher explain the philosophy in a joint post on the Sage Running site, “The Art of Feeling Based Training”.

In the same post, they offer several tips to avoid (or recover from) overtraining.

The coaches caution that poor sleep, incomplete nutrition, long term stress, or bad caffeine habits can all mimic the symptoms of overtraining. If you maintain healthy habits outside of running, it will be easier to tell when your body needs more rest.

Be honest with yourself when evaluating your condition. You don’t want to force yourself to meet the schedule unless you’re sure it’s right for your body.

Bad quality of sleep, an uncharacteristically sour disposition, a weak immune system, or an elevated resting heart rate can all be signs of overtraining.

If you have overtrained, check your training logs to get a sense of where you went wrong. For now, cut back on hard runs and mileage. Go easy until you’re feeling normal, and then cautiously ramp back up to full intensity over a few weeks.

Don’t Underestimate Easy Runs

Canaday is a big believer in easy runs, and pushes runners to take them at an even lighter pace than they typically expect. Pushing the pace on easy runs limits your ability to recover from the hard days. The key is to get enough work in to keep your heart rate elevated for an extended period, while still giving yourself enough rest to heal from your more intense work. The exercise strengthens your heart, builds capillaries and increases the efficiency with which your body transfers oxygen to your muscles.

Make the Long Runs Count

The long runs on Coach Canaday’s schedule are all specific workouts, rather than pure mileage. Canaday believes that this is the most effective way to simulate race conditions for event specific training exercises, so he makes them an integral part of his training. To further simulate the intensity of competition, Canaday recommends planning long run workouts so that the second half of the run is taken at a much faster overall pace than the first half.

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Camille Herron

Desert Solstice 2018 Re-Cap

World class runners, unconstrained
Camille Herron has smashed the records with her performance at Desert Solstice this Saturday. Herron broke the Women’s World Record for 24 Hours with a distance of 162.9 miles, the event’s best performance. Herron also claimed the 100 mile American Track Record for Women, with a time of 13:25:00. Herron exhibited blazing speed day and night, and this performance marks an important addition to her already extraordinary trove of awards and achievements.

The Desert Solstice Track Invitational played host to 33 world class runners, who looped endlessly in unison.

Desert Solstice was a cache of stellar performance on the whole. 24 Hour distances beyond the 150 mile milestone are already incredibly rare; there were merely a couple in all the preceding months of this year. Yet, five runners from the Solstice roster surpassed that tormenting marker, going 150 miles or more.
These are stunning results from a stacked field. Although trail events may offer more dramatic enticements in terrain and scenery, track based events such as Solstice oblige some world class runners to put on the best performances of their lives. 11 world records have been set here. And 60 national records, too. Such achievements speak to how important records-based events such as Solstice can be.

Andrew Snope, barefoot, loops around the Desert Solstice track.

Other notable performances include Oswaldo Lopez, who has established a new 24 Hour Men’s Record for Mexico with a distance of 139.6 miles, and Andrew Snope, who ran 144 miles barefoot. Greg Armstrong, coming in third, also completed his 155 mile run in Teva sandals!
Some notable participants had to call it early for injury and fatigue, such as Courtney Dauwalter and Zach Bitter. Such impediments are endemic to such long distances, and comprise the central struggle of such events. We are excited for these athletes’ performances to come, in the 2019 season.
The Desert Solstice race consists of only 33 participants, and is a qualifier for the National 24 Hour Team. The race offers prizes for Men’s and Women’s 100 mile and 24 Hour performances, but records for 12 Hour are noted as well; Herron also set the Women’s World Record for 12 Hour last year with a performance of 149,130 meters.

Serious road damage on Andres Snope.

Some may find such events too detached from running’s primal character, from the experience of trekking real land as our ancestors once did. Yet the constrained arena of track ultra performances fosters its own necessity. By evening the runners’ experience of the racing environment, replacing rocky paths with rubber, we gain a more accurate measure of athletes’ performances.
This is the case not only from runner to runner, but also from year to year. While natural path conditions can alter drastically with temperature and humidity, the rubber track retains a consistent foothold from season to season. Events such as Desert Solstice, then, offer us a site to reflect on more neutral measures of endurance, and on running performances across the years. Of course, subjective influences such as pain and digestion can never be eliminated, as attested by the top rank early drop outs this year, but that’s just part of the sport. Cheers to all participants!

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Ultra Mirage in Tunisia

UMED – Ultra Mirage© El Djerid

Ultra Mirage in the Tunisian Desert, The Tunisian Sahara – mixed terrain that involves oasis, palm groves, sand and of course intense heat. It’s a tough place to walk, never mind run! But over 130 runners toed the line for the 2nd edition of the UMED – Ultra Mirage© El Djerid.
 UMED
Known for its unique landscape, this desert has featured in many a movie, the most famous being Star Wars Episode 1. Bulbous buildings, the space port of Mos Espa still remain in the area and they provide a unique backdrop to the start and the finish of this single loop, 100km race.
The desert is a calm place and Mos Espa, surrounded by high dunes, makes for an incredible start as the morning sun breaks the horizon.
Ultra Mirage
In 2017, Mohamed El Morabity won the race. It was great run in Ultra Mirage in the Tunisian Desert on a course that had to be changed in the 11th hour after freak rains damaged the original course. The single loop 100km race became a two loop 50km course.
Ultra Mirage
In 2018,Ultra Mirage in the Tunisian Desert (UMED) was back to the original route and although described as flat with little elevation gain, the runners would soon find out that this was no easy course.
Ultra Mirage
With a 20-hour time limit, runners departed on the stork of 0700, the cut-off time coming at 0300 the following day. The 100km race broken down into sections where aid and refreshment would be provided at 20km, 35km, 50km, 65km, 80km and then the finish.
Ultra Mirage
Each aid station would have its own cut-off time too to ensure the safety of each participant out on the course. Marwen Kahil from Tunisia dictated the early pace along with Mohamed Mnsari while the pre-race favourites of Mohamed El Morabity, Sondre Amdahl and the desert king, Rachid El Morabity bided their time.
Ultra Mirage
Women’s favourite and two-time Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes was shadowed by Shefia Hendaoui while Orianne Dujardin followed.
Ultra Mirage
At the first aid station, the men’s race was hardly unchanged with all the main protagonists together, whereas in the women’s race, Elisabet had made her move slowly pulling away from all the other challengers.
Ultra Mirage
With 35km covered, the race was taking on a whole new perspective at checkpoint 2. Rachid had now made a move and was slowly pulling away looked calm and relaxed. Rachid’s brother Mohamed followed flanked by Tunisian, Emir Grairi.
Ultra Mirage
Minutes later, Norwegian Sondre Amdahl followed – a past top 10 finisher of the Marathon des Sables and winner of the Jungle Ultra. Shefia and Orianne could do little in the women’s race other than follow the trail blazed by Elisabet.
Ultra Mirage
Checkpoint 3 with 50km covered only confirmed the dominance of Rachid and Elisabet but for the men, Mohamed was in trouble! He moved from joint 2nd to now place 4th and he didn’t look good! Emir was now in 2nd and Sondre 3rd. For the women, Orianne now had a slender lead over Shefia – the race was beginning to take shape.
Ultra Mirage
The next section of terrain was relentless soft sand and it took its toll on every participant. It just sapped strength and broke any run stride into a stumble.Ultra Mirage in the Tunisian Desert It was here that Sondre made up time and moved into 2nd. He was some way behind Rachid, but he looked strong.
Ultra Mirage
Behind, Emir was struggling, so much so that Mohamed and caught him and the duo ran together. For the women, Elisabet was now moving into the top-5 overall and Orianne was pulling away from Shefia as the heat and terrain took its toll.
Ultra Mirage
Rachid at the 80km with his lead reduced. He was struggling. The heat was punishing him, and he struggled to re-hydrate and eat. He left for the final push to the line knowing that the final 20km would be a challenge. Sondre arrived only minutes later looking very fresh and ready for the hunt.
Ultra Mirage
He pursued the desert king and despite bringing Rachid close, the skill and the tenacity of the man up front was too great, and he clinched victory collapsing in to the arms of race director Amir. Sondre placed 2nd and the Mohamed rounded out the podium after Emir withdrew from the race in the closing stages due to dehydration.
Ultra Mirage
Elisabet was a conniving women’s champion. Her race was so complete that she placed 4th overall. Orianne placed 2nd and Shefia finished 3rd.
Ultra Mirage
RESULTS

  1. Elisabet Barnes 10:26:06
  2. Orianne Dujardin 12:58:57
  3. Shefia Hendaoui 13:35:57
  4. Rachid El Morabity 9:11:47
  5. Sondre Amdahl 9:18:12
  6. Mohamed El Morabity 10:17:33

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UTMB 2017

The trail and ultra world descends on Chamonix this August for what may well be, the ultimate edition of the race! We often hear the hyperbole, ‘the best field ever assembled’ but opinion is equal across the world that the 2017 edition of the race is the best – on paper!
Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc
The unpredictable nature of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc course and the physical highs and lows of running 100+ miles are difficult to predict though. We have seen it before, past editions of ‘stacked’ fields only to find that by Courmayer, many of the ‘hot-tips’ have been left either faltering on the trail or retired on feed station.
Yes, the UTMB 2017 circus is coming to town.
The men’s race is beyond comprehension with an elite list that extends beyond 100! The ladies race also has incredible depth but not to the extent of the male counterpart.
So, who’s gonna win?
My head is going on the block and yes, I am sticking my neck out with two predictions:
Kilian Jornet and Caroline Chaverot.
Yes, yes, I know, they are not adventurous off the wall unpredictable selections. I think it’s fair to say that fans and aficionados are reading this and nodding their heads finding it hard to disagree.
Kilian is on home ground, he knows these mountains and trails like the back of his hand and the dude is just a machine. He recently summited Everest twice in one week, won Hardrock 100 single-handedly (literally) and then by contrast went and won the short and super-fast Sierre-Zinal. No disrespect to the competition, but if Kilian doesn’t win it’s because he is injured or ill.
It’s also difficult to argue a case for Caroline Chaverot. She won UTMB in 2016 but only just… she often struggles with cramps in longer races and this may be her downfall this year? But her recent win at Hardrock 100 is a great indicator that her form is good and that she may well be on top of those pesky issues that could scupper her race. Like Kilian, she also has speed and loves to mix up long races with shorter ones. The only blip for Chaverot came at the beginning of this year when she withdrew from Transgrancanaria with health issues – she has that under control now.
So. Do I need to go on?
UTMB
Well, yes, of course, I do! Nothing is guaranteed in a race that is this long and the depth of talent looking to take over should someone falter is beyond comprehension.
Francoise D’Haene is the most likely runner to topple Jornet, his results over 100-mile mountainous race is exemplary. His Salomon teammates Miguel Heras and Tofol Castanyer can also not be ruled out. But, 2017 may well be the breakthrough year for the USA. Of course, it is fair to say that Tim Tollefson, David Laney, and Jason Schlarb have already broken through but these three are back and on a hunch, I am saying that Schlarb may be the one who moves up a notch. Let’s not forget though that Jeff Browning is running, he is an incredible mountain 100-mile runner and we only need to look at Western States and Hardrock 100 for proof. Dylan Bowman is running too and then we have the new wave of track and field guys who are bringing full-on ballsy running to the front of the race – Jim Walmsley, Zach Miller, and Sage Canaday. Is it the year when one of these guys goes hard and holds on for one of the biggest wins in UTMB history?
In a field with so much depth, Xavier Thevenard as past two-time UTMB winner is the one who along with D’Haene is the most likely to make the podium. He is the only runner to have won OCC, CCC, TDS, and UTMB – a remarkable achievement.
Gediminas Grinius, Javi Dominguez and yes, Andrew Miller, remember him? He won Western States in 2016. Are all taking part, Grinius and Dominguez are tried, tested and proven on this course but Miller – are we in for a surprise?
Didrik Hermansen, Andy Symonds, Pau Capell, Julien Chorier, Vaidas Zlabys, Sebastien Camus and Giulio Ornati lead the 100+ plus charge of those who are going to be seeking glory on the streets of Chamonix.
Who are your picks?
In the Ladies race, the ever-present Andrea Huser (2nd in 2016) is the most likely contender to push Chaverot as she did last year. Huser races a great deal though and she will need to be 100% fresh if she wants to win in France.
Magdalena Boulet was 2nd at Western States and recently won Transrockies and providing the latter race hasn’t fatigued her, I think it may well be a podium year. Following on the US theme, Stephanie Violett (formerly Howe) was one of my favourites for Western States – that race didn’t go to plan but I have feeling UTMB will and I can see her placing 2nd or even winning if Chaverot falters. Kaci Lickteig would have been a contender but life pressures have taken a toll and Lickteig said some weeks ago that she would race, but not for the win – a smart move.
Juliette Blanchet was 4th at UTMB last-year and that took me off guard, it wasn’t expected! Following such a quality result with 2nd at Diagonale des Fous elevates Blanchet has hot for the 2017 race.
Nuria Picas gives me a dilemma. Any other year, I would say she is the hot favorite for victory, but this year I am not sure of her form or endurance for the big loop through Italy, Switzerland, and France – we shall see?
Leading the charge behind my hot contenders for the podium is Fernanda Maciel – she rocks the longer races and I see her being solid once again at UTMB. Emilie Lecomte is equally solid and she will be in the mix as will Kaori Niwa, Manu Vilaseca, Aliza Lapierre, Sophie Grant, and Amanda Basham.
For me though, the UK’s Beth Pascall is a dark horse that many of these ladies will not know. I see her watching Jasmine Paris’s 6th place last-year and don’t be surprised if we have a breakthrough performance that surprises everyone.
As with the men, there are many names not listed here that will threaten the front of the race and rest assured, if anyone above falters, they will be lining up to take over and achieve a coveted top-10 at UTMB.
Who are your picks?
Racing starts on Friday, September 1st at 1800 hours. It’s set to be an iconic edition of the race and with such a quality line-up we will no doubt see something special. I wonder, is a course record on the cards?
 
Credit ©iancorless.com

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Fifteen Questions on MDS

Fifteen Questions on MDS

Multi-Day racing and in particular, the Marathon des Sables provides a very unique and difficult challenge for those who toe the line in Morocco. It’s easy to get bogged down with too much advice on equipment, training and what is the best plan of action for a 6-day adventure in the Sahara.
I caught up with three 2017 participants and asked just five questions.

Elisabet Barnes has won the MDS twice, 2015 and 2017. She is a very experienced multi-day racer who is meticulous in preparation.

How did you get into running and how long have you been running?

I started running in my teens as a hobby so it’s been a long time. I ran my first Marathon in 2002 and in 2011 I started running Ultra Marathons as part of a lifestyle change.

What is it like to return to MDS as a previous champion?

I loved returning in 2017 as I felt well prepared and confident. The pressure is always on when you are the reigning champion and I have learned that it makes all the difference how you deal with that. It can make or break you.

You were really prepared for 2017, what made the difference?

I had some really specific training and racing in the lead-up including Lanzarote, Costa Rica, Tenerife and Morocco. In addition, I spent time focusing on other areas such as marginal weight gains on my kit, specific planning of my food, and mental preparations. I was very focused in this year’s edition.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t win?

Winning is never guaranteed. The field was strong and many things can go wrong in such an extreme race. I was super focused every day and never assumed I had it in the bag.

Three tips for those who may run MDS?

  1. Understand your race ambitions, e.g. whether you are a “completer or a completer”. \
  2. This will determine the focus of your training, kit choices and food planning
  3. Acclimatize to the heat. Be mentally prepared for the unexpected.

Kev George is relatively new to running but likes a challenge. It’s always good to dream and Kev made his dream a reality.
 Marathon des Sables

What was your experience prior to MDS?

I was an unlikely entrant to MDS, having only started running in 2014, but I had a dream to complete one of the world’s most iconic ultra-marathons and so signed up in December 2015. I spent the next 12 months training hard, running longer, ticking off multiple marathons and ultras until disaster struck in December 2016 when I suffered a stress fracture.

 You were injured before the race, how did the MDS go?

Because of the injury, my only goal was to finish and so I committed to only walking on Day 1, but as the days passed, my confidence grew and I ran more and moved up the rankings.

 Did the MDS live up to expectation?

Words cannot describe how special this race is; it is way more beautiful than I could have imagined and to be out there in the desert landscape in searing heat, testing your body and mind against the elements is incredible.

 How tough and long was ‘the long day?’ And what was your lowest point?

Yes, the long day was tough, and I cursed the race director frequently, but there was something magical about trekking over dunes in the moonlight, with desert creatures scurrying underfoot. I had some low points but all were forgotten at the sight of that finish line where I was overwhelmed by the achievement of traveling 150 miles across such an inhospitable landscape.

 Three tips for those who may run MDS?

  1. Do it!  Commit and believe in yourself.
  2. Train smart.  You are going to walk… lots!  So train for that.
  3. The journey is personal.  Train with your food.  Train with your kit and choose what works for you.

Pete Rees is experienced in off-road running and likes his fair share of mud, particularly if obstacles are in the way.
MDS

What was your experience prior to MDS?

I’ve run a lot over the last 10-15 years (mostly trail) but, until this year, I hadn’t ventured into ultra-distance.

How did the race unfold?

My aim was to “race” and get into the top 200, and I managed to finish in 89th. It was a grueling experience, mentally and physically, but I felt well prepared for it. My training and kit preparation was spot-on for my needs.

What was the highlight, what was the low point?

My low point was in the second stage. Bad toe-taping resulted in me ripping a large blister before the first checkpoint – it was a mental hit at the beginning of a very challenging day. My high point was halfway through the forth (long) stage. My energy had been sapped by temperatures approaching 50 degrees in the sun. I stopped at checkpoint four to get a grip on myself. I put music on (for the first time), ate and took some caffeine. The boost that gave me was incredible – I stormed through the dunes that followed, while others crumbled around me.

How did you feel at the end?

Elated, exhausted and proud. I have never given so much to anything.

Three tips for those who may run MDS?

  1. Research and test. This applies to training and kit. It helps you to go into the event with confidence.
  2. Lighten your load (but not at the expense of food). My favorite rule when deciding on gear: “If it’s not mandatory and you can’t eat it, don’t take it!”
  3. Contrary to rule 2: Take poles, no matter what your target. There were a lot of runners in the top 100 who were jealous of how they improved my dunes game.

 
Credit ©iancorless.com

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Sondre Amdahl Wins The Jungle

Experienced multi-day runner Sondre Amdahl just recently completed and won The Jungle Ultra located deep within the Amazon Rainforest. Taking place in the Manu National Park, the route goes from the Andes mountains to the Madre de Dios river. It’s hot, humid, uncomfortable and the dense jungle provides no escape as the runners place one foot in front of the other as they cover 230km in 5 stages, Daytime temperatures vary from 20 to 30 degrees, at night the temperature drops to 10 degrees and below.
Like the Marathon des Sables, the race is self-sufficient – runners must carry all that they need! This not only includes clothing and personal essentials but food, safety equipment and the capacity to carry 2.5 liters of water. Some comfort is provided in the evening when participants sleep in research stations or lodges, however, the humidity makes nothing easy – especially if the day’s efforts have been through mud and rain.
It’s not an easy race!
I caught up with Sondre Amdahl to find all about the journey and what advice he would provide for those looking to take on the challenge of a rainforest multi-day run.
Jungle Ultra

How was your build up to the event and what specific training did you do?

This winter has been very busy for me, with a lot of races. So, there has not been too much specific training for the Jungle Ultra. I did quite a lot of faster running before Ultra-Trail Australia and I think that paid off in the jungle. I also did a four day fast-packing trip in Sweden at the beginning of May (four weeks before the jungle). I did 50k + 60k + 60k + 25k and my pack weighed approximately 6kg, so that was great!

You completed MDS and The Coastal Challenge – how does this compare?

It is always hard to compare races. The good thing about the Jungle Ultra is that we saw the “authentic” Peru. We ran thru small villages and could relax in them too – this was something I didn’t get at Marathon des Sables as the race is so much bigger and we spend our time in bivouac.
In comparison to The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, the Jungle Ultra is more technical but the race is shorter. Without a doubt, TCC is hotter and more humid – that is tough but Jungle Ultra is “scarier” in terms of snakes and spiders.

Tell me about the conditions and the self-sufficiency.

We had to be self-sufficient from Sunday morning until Thursday at the finish line. The organizers provided hot and cold water that’s all. Everything else we had to provide just like in MDS – so you need to be prepared!
Sondre Amdahl

Any specific equipment that you used that was invaluable? Did you not take something and wish you had?

The most specific equipment was the hammock! That is an absolute necessity. I used a very light hammock from Hennessy. You do not want to sleep on the ground in the jungle! I brought very little extra, and that was good. I think I had one of the lightest packs in the field.

Which was the easiest day and which was the toughest, explain why?

Easiest: The first day was the easiest and eased us into the race. I felt very good the whole day. I enjoyed the jungle trails at the beginning of the stage, but also the road section in the latter part of the stage
Toughest: The last stage which was the long stage. It was 65 km and even if I had about an hour lead ahead of the next runner, I wasn’t sure that I would make it. 65 km in the jungle is hard and everything can happen. So, I followed the second placed guy (Fabian from Germany) the whole day. He tried to push hard and run away from me a couple of times, but I managed to follow him.
In Costa Rica, I felt slow and that I had only one speed. It was totally opposite in Peru. I felt a lot stronger and managed to switch to a “lower gear” when I needed to.

Hydration and food – what did you use and did it work – any tips?

I used the same as I used in the MDS. Muesli for breakfast, couscous for lunch and freeze-dried meals for dinner. This worked great! I took some liquid hydration for during the race (Tailwind) and some gels. Approx. 2400 calories per day.

Would you do it again?

Yes, absolutely. It was a very well organized event.

Can you give 3 top tips for future runners doing this race?

Practice with the hammock before the race. It’s essential – you don’t want to sleep on the
floor! You need good trail shoes and ideally, they need to drain water. The jungle is wet and muddy.
Come early to Cusco and acclimatize and you can also explore.
 
©iancorless.com
Credit ©iancorless.com

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Riboflavin: How This B-Vitamin Could Change the Sport of Ultra-Running

Riboflavin: How This B-Vitamin Could Change the Sport of Ultra-Running
By: Amy Tribolini, MS, RD, LD
You may not be familiar with riboflavin, but it is likely you have heard of or even supplemented with B-vitamins.  B-vitamins have been marketed as “energy enhancement vitamins” and added to sport supplement bars and drinks for years.
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, has stayed relatively under the rug and gained little attention by itself, but all that may be changing after a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine proposed that supplementation may have significant benefits on muscle pain and soreness both during and after completion of ultra-running events.  
In 2016, researchers performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on participants at one of the most iconic ultra-marathons of all time: The Western States 100-Miler.  Researchers split up participating runners into a control group or a placebo group.  The controlled group received a riboflavin capsule both before the race and again at mile 56, the other group received a placebo at both intervals.  Participants in the study rated their soreness and muscle pain before the race, during, immediately after, and for 10 additional days.
The results were significant.  The runners that received the riboflavin reported significantly less muscle pain and soreness during and immediately after the race.  While this is newer research into this area, the findings suggest that riboflavin may be a highly beneficial supplement to decrease soreness and aid in the performance of ultra-runners.  
 
Riboflavin
 
What Does Riboflavin Do in the Body?
Riboflavin plays an important role in metabolism and protecting against cell damage.  Essential to ultra-runners, riboflavin is involved in the process of energy metabolism.  Without adequate riboflavin, the enzymes needed to break down nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) do not function as efficiently.  This can lead to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue in an athlete.    
The second essential role riboflavin plays in athletes is enhancing oxygen delivery.  Hemoglobin, the protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the body, requires riboflavin in order to synthesize.  Having adequate oxygen transport allows athletes to perform better with less fatigue.  
How Much Should I Take?
In this research study, participants were given a 100mg supplemental capsule of riboflavin twice during the race (once before the race and another 56 miles into the race).  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this far exceeds the estimated daily needs of healthy athletes- 1.2mg (men) and 1.1mg (women).  But, because riboflavin is water soluble, healthy individuals will excrete excess out through the urine instead of storing it in toxic levels.
B-Vitamin
Can I Get Enough Riboflavin in the Foods I Eat?
It is easy to meet your estimated nutritional needs by selecting foods high in riboflavin.  However, in order to experience the decreased soreness that the Western States athletes reported, supplemental riboflavin may be needed.  
Foods High in Riboflavin:
Riboflavin occurs naturally in foods and it is also fortified into many grains.  If you are looking for natural ways to enhance your intake of riboflavin during a race, these handy grab-and-go snacks are good sources:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified Grains, Crackers, and Breads
  • Fortified sports bars and supplements
  • Almonds
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Yogurt

 
Conclusion:
With new research suggesting that increased riboflavin intake may be a significant component of decreasing soreness among ultra-runners, there is likely to be more chatter in the ultra-running community over this topic.  While more research needs to be done to identify optimal dosing and benefits, the preliminary research seems to point to this B vitamin as a nutrient that may be changing the field of ultra-running.   
References:
Hoffman, M. D., Valentino, T. R., Stuempfle, K.J., & Hassid, B.V. (2017). A Placebo-Controlled Trial of Riboflavin for Enhancement of Ultramarathon Recovery. Sports Medicine – Open, 3(1).
Denny, S. (2014). Vitamin Needs of Athletes. Retrieved April 5, 2017, from https://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitmains-and-nutrients/vitamin-needs-of-athletes
Zempleni J, Galloway JR, McCormick DB (1996). Pharmacokinetics of orally and intravenously administered riboflavin in healthy humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The American Society for Nutrition. 63 (1): 54–66.
About the Author:
Amy Tribolini currently works as both a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Instructor. She lives, trains, and competes as an ultra-runner out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Amy specializes in fueling endurance athletes, athletic performance, and plant-based diets. Amy holds both a Bachelors Degree in Dietetics and a Masters Degree in Human Nutritional Science from the University of Wisconsin
Instagram- @ultrarunningdietitian
Email contact: [email protected]
 

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Know Your Macros: A Recovery Guide for Endurance Athletes

Know Your Macros: A Recovery Guide for Endurance Athletes 
By: Amy Tribolini, MS, RD, LD
You’ve done it!  Maybe you finished your long run for the week or your highly anticipated race.  You are feeling proud and accomplished but your body is feeling run down.  No matter how good your fueling strategy during your run or race is, it is near impossible to end up anything short of depleted.  It can be easy to overlook the proper nutrition your body needs to repair, recover, and rebuild.
While there are many factors to consider, let’s start with the basics:  carbohydrate, protein, and fat.  These substrates are the building blocks of food and athletes have specific needs when pushing their bodies to the next level.
Carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.  If you have been running more than 3-4 hours, your glycogen stores are likely running on empty.  There is a short window of time after finishing your workout or race, when carbohydrate is more effectively absorbed.  This window is about 30 minutes.  This is why it is very common for runners to begin to imagine, dream, or even fantasize about what they are going to eat at the finish.  This is the body’s natural way of cueing the mind to consume carbohydrate-rich foods while the body is still rushing with adrenaline and enhanced blood flow.  During this window of time, your cells are more receptive to breaking down carbohydrate to glycogen and rebuilding the body’s stores.  The faster your body’s glycogen stores get re-filled, the less muscle soreness you may experience.
It is also important to understand that all carbohydrates are not the same.  A research article published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated the effectiveness of glucose vs. fructose at re-fueling muscle energy stores.  The results showed that glucose was significantly more effective and lead to increased exercise performance the next day.  Some handy whole-food, post-run snacks high in glucose include: bananas, grapes, dates, and dried fruits.  There are also many sports bars and supplements high in glucose that are easy to take during or after endurance activities.
endurance athletes
Protein:
Protein is another big factor in refueling.  While protein is not a primary substrate that is burned for fuel, it is critical to repair the standard muscle breakdown and tears that can occur.  If you are in the market for a post-run protein or amino acid supplement, look for ones high in the branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.  These amino acids are especially beneficial because they are more rapidly absorbed.  Unlike other amino acids, the branched-chain can bypass the liver and be directly transported into the muscles for repair.
Marketing and media have really pushed the idea that more protein is better, but science disproves this theory.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the athlete needs only slightly more than non-athletes.  The daily recommendation for athletes is 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  The lower end is better suited for endurance athletes while the higher end is more directed toward bodybuilders and power athletes.
Fat:
Fat is definitely part of a healthy diet, but science has yet to demonstrate that fat consumption is essential for recovery right after a race.  Its function may be more to provide satiety and let the brain know that the body no longer has to be in fight or flight mode.  Fat is also essential to aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.  Remember to choose foods high in healthy fats like avocados, nuts, chia seeds or olive oil.
An Important Mineral for Recovery – Magnesium:
Repleting magnesium may aid in preventing stress fractures and demineralization of bones.  Magnesium largely exists in muscles and bones where its primary function is muscle contraction and energy metabolism.  Ensuring you consume enough magnesium-rich foods after events can aid in longevity
and quick recovery in your sport.  Some great whole food sources of magnesium include dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
Nutrition
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure:
Going into a race or a hard workout well rested, well nourished and well hydrated can be worth more than anything you can do to fix your body up after.
While exercising in moderate doses boosts your immune system, long endurance events, such as ultra-marathons and multi-day events, tend to do the opposite.
Prolonged endurance events can kick out the release of cortisol (a stress hormone), which causes your immune system to kick into high gear.  This may be one reason it is common to hear athletes complain of getting a cold after a hard race.
Research shows that consuming sports drinks or carbohydrate-rich supplements during a race can slow down the production of stress hormones leading to less stress on your immune system.  This, coupled with consuming adequate macronutrients post-run (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) can really get you out running again quicker with higher performance.
References:
Protein and the Athlete – How Much Do You Need? (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete
Rosset, R., Lecoultre, V., Egli, L., Cros, J., Dokumaci, A. S., Zwygart, K., . . . Tappy, L. (2017). Postexercise repletion of muscle energy stores with fructose or glucose in mixed meals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105(3), 609-617.
Matias, C., Santos, D., Montiero, C., & Vasco, A. (2012). Magnesium intake mediates the association between bone mineral density and lean soft tissue in elite swimmers. Magnesium Research, 25(3), 120-125.
Nieman, D. C. (2007). Marathon Training and Immune Function. Sports Medicine, 37(4), 412-415.
About the Author:
Amy Tribolini currently works as both a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Professor. She lives, trains, and competes as an ultra-runner out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Amy specializes in fueling endurance athletes, athletic performance, and plant-based diets. Amy holds both a Bachelors Degree in Dietetics and a Masters Degree in Human Nutritional Science from the University of Wisconsin
Instagram- @ultrarunningdietitian
Email contact: [email protected]

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Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron Deficiency Anemia : What Athletes Need to Know

By Amy Tribolini, MS, RD, LD

Iron deficiency anemia can break down even the toughest competitors and it is more prevalent than you may think.  Approximately 10 million people in the United States are iron deficient and 5 million suffer from iron-deficiency anemia.

While mild anemia can go overlooked within the general population, it can have a significant impact on performance in athletes.  It is definitely valuable to be informed of early warning signs of a deficiency and understand what your options are.

The diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia may not be more common in athletes vs. non-athletes, but data shows that athletes are more likely to overlook or confuse the symptoms.

Does Running Increase my Chance of Getting Anemia?

Running and high levels of physical activity do not necessarily increase your chance of becoming anemic, but it may cause you to overlook the symptoms longer and neglect to seek treatment.

High-level endurance athletes, such as ultra-marathoners and triathletes, are at an especially high risk of overlooking iron-deficiency anemia because they tend to shrug off some of the common symptoms, such as: muscle burning, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and increased frequency of respiratory illnesses.  Because of the stress and fatigue that can naturally coincide with the rigors of training for extreme endurance events, symptoms of iron-deficiency can easily be confused with symptoms of overtraining.

How Does Your Iron Level Effect Running?

Iron plays an imperative role in transporting oxygen to muscles.  Hemoglobin, the primary transport system for both oxygen and blood in the body, is largely composed of iron.  If you want your metabolism to function normally and your muscles to receive oxygen, you must maintain an adequate level of iron.

In a healthy athlete, regular exercise increases red blood cell mass and plasma volume.  These natural adaptations lead to heightened oxygen delivery and potentially enhanced performance.  In an athlete with iron-deficiency anemia, these adaptations do not take effect as efficiently and the athlete may struggle harder to perform at their baseline activity level.

iron-deficiency

I’m a Healthy Athlete, How Could I Have Iron Deficiency Anemia?

There is a strange phenomenon known as foot-strike hemolysis that some runners may experience.  What this literally means is that red blood cells are being destroyed during exercise.  The theory behind this is that the capillaries in the feet are being compressed from the foot strike and this results in red blood cells being physically damaged.  While this phenomenon has been scientifically documented, it does not account for a huge drop in red blood cells; and often times cannot be detected on a routine blood test.

Another explanation is simply diet.  Athletes are often times particular about their diet and may omit certain foods or food groups in hopes of meeting their race weight or performing better.  If high iron foods have been largely omitted from the diet, it is understandable that iron deficiency will occur.

How Can I know if My Iron Levels are Low?

If you feel healthy and have not been having any difficulty training at your normal level, you would not necessarily benefit from undergoing screening for iron deficiency.  Often times, it is difficult to get insurance to pay for screening if there are not documented symptoms of deficiency.

If you have been experiencing decreased energy, weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, lightheadedness, or an unusual drop in your athletic performance, these are not symptoms to overlook or train through.  The simplest way to identify iron-deficiency anemia is to go to your primary care physician and have labs drawn.

What If My Iron is Low?

If you have low iron levels or have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, it will be important to first discuss treatment options with your physician.  Your physician may prescribe a supplement to treat your specific level of deficiency but it will also be important to start incorporating high-iron foods into your diet to prevent this from happening again in the future.

What are Some High Iron Foods to Choose?

There are two forms that iron comes in: heme and non-heme.  Animal products such as beef, chicken, oysters, turkey, and eggs are examples of foods high in heme iron.  Non-heme iron can be found in foods like beans, tofu, lentils, spinach, peanut butter, and brown rice.  Your body can benefit from either type or both as long as it is getting adequate amounts.

If you want to boost the amount of iron your body absorbs from these high-iron foods, pair them with fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C.  Vitamin C is known to increase the absorption of iron and allow it to be more readily absorbed.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

References:

Miller, J. L. (2013). Iron Deficiency Anemia : A Common and Curable Disease. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 3(7).

Zielińska-Dawidziak, M. (2015). Plant Ferritin—A Source of Iron to Prevent Its Deficiency. Nutrients, 7(2), 1184-1201.

About the Author:

Amy Tribolini currently works as both a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Professor. She lives, trains, and competes as an ultra-runner out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Amy specializes in fueling endurance athletes, athletic performance, and plant-based diets. Amy holds both a Bachelors Degree in Dietetics and a Masters Degree in Human Nutritional Science from the University of Wisconsin

Instagram- @ultrarunningdietitian

Email contact: [email protected]

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