Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When Less is More

If you have followed my blog at all then you know that I have been on a journey to find out how far I can go in terms of "running with less". It started after reading Born to Run and like countless others I, too, wanted to run like a Raramuri. Minus the flowing skirt. I never saw myself struggling to into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers much less running in sandals or barefoot but I liked the concept. Long story short, since I already wrote in detail about this, I wanted to find how little of a shoe I could comfortably run long distances with. After a slow and methodical trail I found the Pure Grit by Brooks was a tad over the line for me. Now that I am recovered from my stress fracture what's next? Well, I read about Waterlogged by Dr. Noakes and Joe Uhan's experience at WS100 this year (read the article from iRunFar) and became interested in the fueling aspect of doing with less. I believe the human body is capable of amazing things. From phenomenal feats of strength and endurance to an unbelievable ability to heal itself. At this point in my running I know I can run 50 miles. The question then becomes not can I run 50 miles but can I do it without electrolyte supplements, a case of gels and a handful of fermented Japanese wasp saliva? And not merely cover the distance but do it relatively easily. 
So I began to experiment and devour any material I could find about the topic. Things like the different fueling systems used by the body or what to eat before different types of runs to maximize performance. My water bottles are now filled with plain water, I drink to thirst (not XX number of ounces every XX number of minutes) and I no longer carry electrolyte capsules with me on long runs. Guess what? No cramps. Not that I ever really had an issue with them but it was a question for me. Now I have an answer. Can I complete a 4 hour run with only a handful of gels? I'm still working on that one. My usual strategy had me slurping a gel every 30 minutes and some sort of solid food about every hour. What about a gel every 20 minutes or 45 minutes? Things seem to go well for me up to about 3 hours and then the stomach has taken issue with the gel only approach. That was with Gu brand gels, my longtime gel of choice. My energy level seems to be more or less there but I have experienced some pretty wicked acid reflux and fought the urge to purge a few times. Some solids seem to help, I prefer Powershots to Chomps simply due to ease of use. But the point is to get through long, tough runs on gels only. The one gel that shows some promise for a gel only approach to long runs is EFS Liquid Shot from First Endurance. I was exposed to them at the Inca Runner Camp in July up in the Tetons. Great taste (I have tried vanilla and kona), available in 5 oz flask so no little packets to open with sweaty hands (and reusable w/ the 32oz refills), no wrappers to stash and it seems to sit well in the ol' GI tract. The biggest issue I have is with finding an easy and practical way to carry the flask. I would like to find an armband type carrier to keep my hands free. I'm just trying to determine if I can find the right combination. Maybe it can work or maybe it won't. Time will tell. 
Why even try you ask? At some point a given distance becomes a known factor and perhaps some of the allure fades away. So if one is striving to improve upon that known mark there are few options. I could go longer but the 100 mile distance has yet to call upon me. I have not been struck by that arrow. What about going faster? That is definitely on the table. I could make a go at it on a tougher course, say, with more elevation. That challenge is on the radar as well. But the call I hear now is to do it with less. The way I see it, if I can eliminate 3 Vespas, 6 Stinger Waffles, 10 Gu gels and 12 S! Caps on my next 50 miler that has to be, what, like $40 plus bucks in savings. Over a few races that's enough for my UltrAspire pack or Hokas. 
The real challenge is in doing the same, or even better, with less. Training my body to become more efficient. To do this I will have to eat better when not running. And that's a good thing. It will require making my body stronger and that, too, is a good thing. In the end isn't that what runners are all about? The challenge. Whatever it is, whatever form it takes, that thing that causes you to wake up in the morning and lace the shoes up when you could stay in bed. I needed a new motivator and this was it. 

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