Are Marathons and Triathlons no longer cutting the mustard? Toying with the idea of taking on a whole new ‘ultra’ challenge to test your physical and psychological strength? We caught up with Running Coach and former Triathlete Amy Giannotti to find out how to prep for your first ultra event.
An ultra-endurance event is classified as anything over the events usual distance (i.e. marathon running of 42.195km).
If you are looking for a challenge there are ultra walks, road and trail runs, cycling, swimming and even ironman triathlons. The Ultraman takes place over 3 days with a 12 hour cut off. Over the 3 days the athlete will complete a 10km ocean swim, 281.1km bike ride and 84.3km (double marathon) run.
For anyone who has participated in any endurance type of exercise or event will have some understanding of the exhilaration one gets by pushing their body past their perceived limits. They will also understand the addiction or obsession one can find themselves in.
Ultra-endurance events and training require courage, self-motivation, great commitment, patience, determination, repetition, learning to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, hard work and a streak of insanity!
It is a long term commitment to training and due to the extensive time and energy involved unfortunately there is only so much one can fit on their plate. No one is superhuman. In reality, intimate relationships, friendships and your career are likely to be impacted. Your time and energy can only be spread so far.
Before committing to any event, from experience, I think it is important to evaluate and get clear on your goals, values and what success means to you. It is too easy to get caught up in the hype, competition and adrenalin of training, that you can neglect other areas of your life that are important and find yourself well off the beaten track.
If you have not yet been turned off with the psychological and social considerations then you are a great fit, mentally for ultra-endurance training and racing. You are ready to push the boundaries and discover the true beauty of the human body, mind and the space between.
Physiological considerations one must acknowledge are overall health, digestion, nutrition, progressive and periodised individualised training and recovery.
Let’s be clear that health and fitness does not mean the same thing. Just because you can run a marathon doesn’t mean you’re superior in health over someone who can just make 5km’s. Health encompasses physical, emotional and social health.
Exercise is a stress on your body and only with adequate recovery does exercise act as a stimulus to promote positive adaptations to improve your physical ability. Hard (bone) and soft tissue (muscles and tendons) injures are common in endurance sport. Recovery is essential and when compromised will only result in stress in your body. Those newer to exercise of this type and older in age will generally require greater recovery time.
Consult with an exercise professional with experience in your chosen sport to help formulate a personalised, progressive and periodised training plan to help you peak for your race. A long term training plan, even created by an experienced professional is a gamble, learn to be intuitive with your body and allow greater rest when needed. The plan is a pre-determined guide and must have flexibility and the ability to re-evaluate.
You are only going to get so far with the right fuel and tools, otherwise known as your nutrition. Like a car needs petrol to go for longer, so does your body. Your body’s preferred fuel source for moderate to high intensity exercise is carbohydrate. The lower the intensity the greater contribution from fat. Note the higher intensities cannot be adequately fuelled on fat alone so carbohydrate will act as your premium petrol for your body, which your body’s store (glycogen) are limited. Longer durations and higher intensities requires more fuel. If you compromise your carbohydrate availability not only will your performance be limited but the breaking down of muscle and bone are longer term consequences.
On top of your fuel, your body also requires all of its essential key nutrients to carry out all its bodily functions. Think about this like needing over 35 different tools. Eating from all five food groups will help you to attain all these tools, as each food group is characterised by providing different nutrients. Greater amounts of protein and electrolytes will also be required and easily attained by core food groups.
As it is important to seek professional advice for training, it is just as important to seek professional advice for your nutrition. A qualified and experienced sports dietitian can provide an individualised nutrition plan for daily training, pre, during and post training requirements and most importantly a race day plan that should be practiced in your training. Getting your nutrition right on race day provides a huge competitive advantage especially in endurance racing. It is vital for optimal performance but also your health.
Comfort and logistical considerations for endurance events must include digestion and hydration. Most experienced runners will be on page when we talk about unexpected ‘accidents’. Reducing fibre before racing, adequate hydration and ‘training’ your gut is important for promoting ‘race comfort’ and preventing having to go ‘off track’ (natures bathroom). An experienced sports dietitian will have this at the forefront when formulating your plan.
Balance and Preparation
A speedy recovery is vital for fast progressions. A well balanced diet, fuelling adequately pre, during and post training, stretching, hydration and sleep are essential. The toughest balance to find when pushing your body past its boundaries, to excel in endurance exercise but prevent injury and ill health, is learning to really listen to your body and give it what it needs. This is the key ingredient for success. Here, mindfulness and meditation may be your greatest health and competitive tool.
So, are you ready to start training for your first ultra?
More about Amy Giannotti:
Amy Giannotti is a qualified Dietitian and Sports Dietitian, Personal Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Running Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of Eating Fit, an online platform offering personalised nutrition and training programs.
As a former triathlon competitor, Amy has particular interest in working with and mentoring individuals training for ultra-endurance events and competitions.
Amy combines her skills and passion for all things health and fitness to help empower people to achieve their personal, performance, health or wellbeing goals. For more information on Amy, Visit: www.eatingfit.com.au/or follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/amyleegiannotti/