Ask Anna Q & A

I'm receiving lots of questions regarding nutrition, training and other aspects having to do with ultrarunning. Most of the time the answers all point in a similar direction.

Therefore I have selected the most frequently asked questions from readers and think that sharing the answers can help you moving forward in that particular area.

For easier navigation I have highlighted the main theme of the question.

Enjoy finding out what readers had to ask now.


Q: I just started running about 3 years ago. I can do a half in about 10 minute/miles and a full in 11:30 min/miles. How fast should I expect to be going?

A: It's ideal that you combine hiking/running because in ultramarathons that have a hilly profile you benefit much if your muscles are trained to walk very fast. So on the uphills, you will probably be more efficient hiking up and actually save energy. Then, on the flat you can ease into running even if it's not too fast. It helps to build mental strength more than focusing too much on min/mile. If you have a strong will and determination you will succeed in your ultra races, irrespective of the time you finish the race in. Take a look at some of the tips on mental training on the website, too. So in reality, you can stick to your fast hiking/slow running method because it's all about consistency, too. And over time, you'll gain confidence and can increase your running.

Q: What food do you carry with you and do you ever eat the food that they provide at the aid stations? How much water do you drink?

A: Regarding race nutrition it's admittedly a very individual matter. It's always important to test everything in your training. The same goes for taping the feet. The earlier and more often you tape the parts of your feet that are most prone to blistering, the less you'll struggle during an ultra race where you're easily on your feet for 5,6,7, and more hours. Try coconut water as a great source for electrolytes and mix with water. Also try medjool dates combined with coconut oil.

You need a good source of fat during ultramarathons and pure coconut oil is best. I tend to avoid the aid stations and only choose water and bananas. Sometimes I take mixed nuts with me and home-made energy gels with chia seeds. There is lots more information on energy gels on the website for further reference. Basically, you should always eat during your training to find out whether your body best tolerates liquid energy or solid foods. Some runners rely on plain sandwiches,too. There is no secret to race nutrition as such - only time and experience will tell you what works best for you.

Q: Do you generally follow a marathon training schedule and then modify it? How fast do you run your training runs?

A: When I'm preparing for a race, I set up my own training plan and apply the principles that have proven to work for me. I don't put in ridiculous hours and mileage but focus a lot on mental training and core exercises. I tend to do interval and fast tempo runs at 4:00 min/km which is around 6:20 min/mi and faster. Longer runs I do at a slower pace. Again, build your running by walking for 5 minutes and then run for 5 minutes. Do this routine for an hour and gradually reduce the walking time and increase the running sections until you can easily run for 30-60 minutes without getting out of breath.

Q: I started running at about 50 and have done a few marathons I'm now training for a 50K but I don't really feel like I know what I'm doing. What is most different about an ultra>, compared to a marathon?

A: Regarding your questions on the 'right' or ideal training there is no real secret other than steadily building your mileage and integrating long runs into your training routine. Try and run 75-90 minutes one day and 45-60 the next day. These are called back-to-back runs and teach the body to deal with extra muscle fatigue. That's what happens during an ultra race. After a few hours of running, the mind and body fatigue and that's where your body can learn to deal with this by training back-to-back runs. Also try and find a slightly undulating course and avoid running on tarmac too much. Ultramarathons require you to have mental strength more so than in a classic marathon. With 3 months to go until your 50K race you might want to create a vision board where you manifest a goal. If you're convinced that you can finish the ultramarathon you will. The mind is stronger than the body. The longer the ultra distance the more mindpower is needed in order to get to the finish line. Gently build your long runs, integrate some strength exercises into your routine and work on mental training.

Q: I will be taking part in the Grand Canyon Ultra this September. What is the best and easiest foods to take as this will be a 24 hour race so all my foods and drinks need to be in my back pack.

A: Basically, it's important to test all the foods and drinks you plan on using in a race in your training. That's the only way to find out what your stomach tolerates. Especially during long runs, different foods and drinks should be tested over a number of months. Since your race is in September this leaves you plenty of time. Decide whether you can digest liquid calories better or whether you prefer solid foods. That's very individual. Medjool dates and a teaspoon of coconut oil helps to slowly release the sugar from the fruit and therefore prolongs your energy during a run. Try bananas and vegan sports bars, too. Consume between 200-250 calories per hour from electrolyte drinks and foods.

If you like liquid foods, mix energy gel into a bottle with water. Plan your race nutrition carefully and thoroughly. Even if you don't feel like eating straight away, the body will be depleted after 10 or 15 hours and not be able to absorb many nutrients. In order to avoid a decrease in your performance, start eating after 60(!) minutes and ingest small amounts of calories every 15 minutes instead of a meal every 2 hours. Dried fruits work really well in long ultra races, bananas, nuts, coconut water is a great source for electrolytes. Vegan sports bars and even bread rolls with peanut butter work for some ultrarunners.

You know best whether you like sweet or savoury foods better. Often, sweet foods work for a few hours and then become less palatable as the race goes on. That's when you might feel like switching to more sour energy gels or salty crackers. I would steer away from mars and snickers bars.

Q: I'm curious on the pain relief you are having with your orthotics. I have knee and back pain and been through every physical therapy program. I also had dynamic scans of my foot done and my back x-rayed. Would you say orthotics make a big difference?

A: I got my tailor-made orthotics after a thorough analysis of my running style, axis, legs, feet and overall body posture. I must say that now after I've worn them on every run since March without exception that they have somewhat helped the feet to not get worse. Initially, I felt great relief in my left heel where I've got the inflamed plantar but long-term they haven't lived up to my expectations to progress with the healing.

I'm currently trying to go back to the principle of barefoot running and have been wearing Inov-8 shoes for a while. They're designed to help the feet's natural movement instead of letting high-tech materials do the job. I'm therefore slowly adjusting to this principle by taking the orthotics out of my shoes once a week. The thing is that our feet get used to comfortable material all too quickly so that it becomes harder and harder to keep it simple.

All in all, orthotics are worth a try but I would steer away from getting too dependent on them. The same goes for compression socks, I guess, when athletes believe they can only run well with them.

Q: I just completed a 981 mile swim of the Ohio River. Nevertheless, running is what I enjoy. I have signed up for a 50K, Los Pinos and have less than four months to prepare. The problem is my legs are not so strong after the swim. In fact, swimming 10-12 hours a day has effected my body strangely. How can I best prepare for my upcoming ultramarathon?

A: I understand that you're feeling strange, especially if you've been swimming for 10 and more hours per day. Overall your body is depleted and needs - REST. Since you love running, enjoy some easy runs for now, say 3-4x a week just to develop a feeling for the running motions again.

Do strength training parallely to your running training and avoid weights for now, really just trying to get back into a rhythm again. You could also do longer hikes/walk and integrate some running. Say, head out for 2.5 hours and break the run up into sections of 20 mins. running, then 10 mins. fast walking as this will gently build your speed endurance. If you live an area with hilly terrain, even better. In that case, put more effort in on the uphills and go easier on top again. Eventually start running downhill much faster than you normally would. This will strengthen your thighs tremendously. Try and do one long run/walk per week and continously build up to two of those.

Four months until you race the 50K you've entered means to stay healthy and finding a balance during your runs again. Then, 10 weeks prior to the event, start focusing on intervals once per week, one tempo session and always 1-2 long runs. Do 3 weeks of building intensity and volume, i.e. mileage, then go easier in the 4th week. Make sure to never increase mileage/intensity by more than 10% from one week to another.

If you can, do 2-3 blocks of overload training in week 8, 7 and 5 prior to the race. Precisely, train on 3-4 consecutive days and include long sessions and even combine cycling and running. You want to simulate the tiredness during an ultramarathon and block training is ideal for that.

Q: I just wanted to know what brand of sunscreen you use? I find that on my long runs it starts to drip due to sweat and starts to sting my eyes.

A: Finding the right sunscreen is a tricky thing and I have tried many, cheap ones, more expensive ones and special sport sunscreen.

I have come across one really great brand called DAYLONG and they have a huge range of just normal sunscreen and waterproof ones. In the summer I use DAYLONG 50+. It sounds a little over the top but is long-lasting and doesn't sting in the eyes and no dripping either. Even after hours of running you won't need to put an extra layer on again. Once in the morning and that's it. DAYLONG is a Swiss brand (I live there)and only available in pharmacies. I don't know whether there are retailers in Canada or the U.S. You may need to check pharmacies.

The other sunscreen I use when I go cycling or running is called GARNIER AMBRE SOLAIRE UV sensitive 50+. There is a special suncsreen for the face available, too, which I use. It's a bit cheaper and ok, too.

For everyone living in the States and Canada, I recommend to try Paula's choice. There is huge range of products available and the sunscreen spray 30 is the best one out there. I've used SPF 55+ before but I think 30 is a good option, too. Only a tiny amount of the lotion needs to be applied before your run therefore the bottle lasts forever.

Q: I'm looking for a solution to the tightness in my hamstrings after hard workouts and especially races. Do you have any specific information regarding plyometrics? I would like to incorporate it into my strength training?

A: I used to do plyometrics a few years ago but only for a short period of time. I think that they are a good exercise to a certain degree but plyometrics are really more recommendable for sports like rugby, volleyball and basket ball. Basically sports that require strong fast-contracting muscles and tendons. Of course, it's important in ultrarunning, too, to strengthen the tendons with core and stability exercises but plyometrics can also increase the risk of injury. For ultrarunners, I propose it's more ideal to follow a core strengthening exercise program without the explosive movements that characterise plyometrics.

Plyometric exercises involve an increased risk of injury due to the large forces generated during training and performance, and should only be performed by well-conditioned individuals who are under supervision.

Another idea is to start out with more gentle exercises and then try to integrate a few plyometric exercises once per week. Try and listen to your body but often during intense ultrarunning training where you may be doing long runs on a regular basis plyometric exercises can add more stress to the already fatigued muscles and tendons so that plyometrics would be counterproductive.

In order to aid recovery of the muscle tissue after hard workouts make sure to eat a simple carbohydrate snack within 15 minutes of finishing the workout such as 2-3 dates and a teaspoon of coconut oil. This immediatealy helps to speed recovery, then gently stretch your legs.

Q: I am planning my first 100-mile race in July but am a little confused about the 75% rule you talk about in your training tips. I am hoping to run the race in 28 hours. So 75% of 28 hours is 21 hours. Then my weekly activities over 7 days should total 21 hours?

A: Firstly, respects to your ambitions in planning on finishing your first 100miler in about 28 hours.

75% applied to your 28-hour goal means: 21 hours not over the course of a 7-day routine/week but doing a 4-day block of overload training 2-3 times in your training. This means to combine running/cycling/fast hiking averaging 5 hours+ 15mins. very precise.

I give you an example of how I trained for a mountain multi-stage ultra going into detail about the overload training block: my proposed finishing time was around 40hrs.+ so I did a couple of long blocks and ended up with a total of about 28 hours of training during those weeks.

Thursday: 3 hrs.cycling followed by a 2-hr-run immediately afterFriday: 2-hr-run in the morning then 4-hour break; 2hr-run after the break roughly at the same steady paceFriday: 1 hr cycling + 3 hours running + 1 hr cyclingSunday: 2 hours cycling + 4 hours fast hiking (hilly)

Some people only run and don't do supplementary training. I found that it is less straining on my muscles and tendons to train hard on the bike in addition. I was very fit when I went into the race and came 2nd! I know it is individual as to what training loads one person can tolerate better than another. I personally don't think a lot of high-mileage training and train by the principle of: time spent on my feet during a certain amount of time is better than going crazy about whether you've run 6 or 8 miles per hour.

Once you have 3 months to go before your big event, plan in overload blocks in week 4, 7 and 10. Up until then, try and train steadily and balanced doing lots of stability and core exercises and at least one long run per week.

Q: I'm running an ultramarathon soon and have trained really hard for it. I already raced this particular ultra last year and suffered from major stomach distress. The same happened during three other ultramarathons I did last year. I get stressed and nervous knowing I can have a good race. I'm under pressure now to run well for my team, so please, tell me how to stop my nervousness and my stomach issue.

A: I think there isn't a lot you can do except to know that you've done your homework which you say you have. Mental training like meditation, listening to relaxing audio tapes and visualising how strong you're running along crossing the finish line is ultimately an integral part, if not the most important one in ultrarunning.

Try and relieve yourself from any pressure. Why do you feel under pressure? Running for a team is uplifting and should not cause you to feel distressed. Instead of making you feel under pressure, try and enjoy the teamspirit and your contribution to a successful team finish. You are good irrespective of placement as long as you know you gave your best on race day. It's all within you, the other runners are people to run with in a race, not against.





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