A Cold Run on the Beach – Psycho Wyco 50K 2014 @skorarunning @skratchlabs

I ran the aptly named Psycho Wyco 50K this weekend at Wyandotte County Lake Park in Kansas City, Kansas. “Aptly named?” I offer this comment from a friend to a picture I posted to Facebook: “You are crazy.” No exclamation point, just a declaration. Hard to argue.

This was my first ultramarathon and my first Psycho Wyco. While I’d previously paced a 26.2+ distance, this was my first timed race entry for an ultra. I probably would have apologized more for calling this 50k an ultra (it is) having not run a 50m or 100m yet, but this was one tough 50k. I had some lofty goals for this race that were crushed by the weather. I can run this 10 mile trail loop in about 1:30 in decent conditions. I ran it in 1:37 in December’s Alternate Chili run, and that was with a slight amount of snow/ice on the ground. For the 50K, that’s three laps. I had aspirations of breaking the 5:00 mark. Spoiler alert: not even close. I was pleased with my overall place, 12th.

We had an ice storm the weekend before the race, followed by close to a foot of snow on the Tuesday before. The temps stayed arctic after that too. Very little melting. Yesterday, a local weatherman observed that we had gone 252 hours since we were last above freezing!

I did my typical low-residue diet the Friday before the race. That is, no fiber. Eggs, meat, carbs (I usually try to avoid refined sugars, but not pre-race), cheese, cream, etc. Worked like a charm. No porta-potty stops! My son had a soccer academy skills clinic on Friday night, and as I was messing around on Twitter during his practice, I saw Dr. Jordan Metzel @drjordanmetzl tweet that he was coming into town for Psycho Wyco with @RWGearGuy (Runner’s World Editor Jeff Dengate) and @JamieMetzl. I let Dr. Metzel know I appreciated his advice (he’s a triathlete and MD who regularly contributes to Runner’s World) and especially his excellent Iron Strength workout. I didn’t get a chance to meet Dr. Metzel at the race, but Jeff and I finished within 30 seconds of each other and traded congratulations at the finish line.

The night before, I re-screwed my Skora Forms (the screw heads were looking a bit worn after heavy use in recent weeks), assembled my gear, and hit the sack. I woke up around six and had some eggs, a double espresso with cream, and about 20 oz of this:

http://www.skratchlabs.com/collections/drinks/products/apple-cinnamon-exercise-hydration-mix-limited-edition-holiday-flavor

Hot hydration? You bet. If it’s hot out, you want a cold sports drink right? It’s delicious – actually flavored with apples and cinnamon!

Then it was off to the race. Great logistics. Close-in parking at start/finish line is limited, so a shuttle runs from a remote lot. It gave me a chance to do some final gearing up. I changed out of my Skora Cores and into my screwed Forms. The Form is my go-to trail shoe. Minimalist with just enough sole to keep you from getting beat to death on the rocks. I also slathered my face and hands with Alba Unpetroleum jelly (I had already covered my feet with it). Temperatures were just under 20F at race start, and only warmed into the mid-20s during the race, so I decided on a light-weight headband, a cold weather compression shirt, lightweight windbreaker running jacket, running tights, shorts, and toe-socks. I went with some glommits on my hands – rag wool – just picked them up the night before. I figured wool would stay warm better if I got them wet from putting a hand down in the snow, and they worked great.

Conditions were daunting as we waded out into the snow in the starting field. I had already mentally prepared myself for a slower and longer day than I had previously hoped for. Justin, a fellow runner I had met at my kids’ school a few months back (I introduced myself after noticing his Boston Marathon jacket) diffused any tension by coming up and saying hi before the start. We ran together for quite a bit of the first lap.

The trail wasn’t as chewed up during the first lap as it was on the second two. To put a finer point on it, the snow never packed. Ok, there was a stretch on a ridge where I thought I heard snow packing under my feet for a few seconds. Since it was so cold, the snow pretty much remained the consistency of sand the whole time. Hence, the title of this post. During the second and third loops, it really looked like sand for long stretches where the dirt had mixed in a bit.  The trail did clear a little bit in some places with all the traffic moving through, but I thought other spots actually become more difficult from getting all churned up.

Here’s a picture fairly soon after the start. I was moving as fast as possible, but I can’t disagree if you think I look like I’m walking (or if I have an “are we there yet” look on my face):

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The next set of photos come from a really fun part of the trail – the “Triangle” – a single-track section with lots of switchbacks (other parts of the course are on a slightly wider “bridle trail” – btw the horses were smart enough to stay home). I actually enjoyed it the most the first time through when there was more snow:

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The first loop was also the most fun because there were still so many people running together. Most trail racers are pretty cool about yielding the trail if you want to pass, especially under these conditions. I passed and was passed, all without any hurt feelings.

The first time through, the biggest shock was how difficult it was to get up to the top of Dam Hill and onto the road up to the aid station. I slid back down twice before crawling onto the road. By the way, the course had excellent aid stations throughout – stocked with plenty of necessities and staffed by super-friendly and enthusiastic people, including my friend Darin Schneidewind – who I paced for the last 35 of the OT100 last November! For my part, I pretty much stuck to the sports drink and the gels. The Dam aid station had hot broth the last time through – that was GREAT! I had started asking for “something hot” as I finished the first loop, and people would give me coffee out of their thermos without hesitation. Just great.

Here’s a few shots from the Fester’s Wander section and coming down a big hill. This was probably the most treacherous hill on the course that day, which is why I again look like I am walking. I could see the skid marks of those who had gone before me. And maybe some blood. On the second lap I was running with a guy named Kevin, and we joked that we kept leapfrogging each other. He would fly down the hills and pass me, and I would crank up them and pass him back. So here’s that section:

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Easy does it!

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I didn’t ask the photographer to focus on my Skora Forms, but this is a nice pic of the shoes.

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Chasing up a hill!

Now for my two favorite pictures. It can be really hard to describe to people the pure joy I feel when running. I’m so thankful that I have the ability to do what I love. These two are worth at least a thousand words each:

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I finished the first loop in 2:00:40.7, hoping as I came through the start/finish line that the course had gotten packed down a bit for the second loop. I didn’t find it to be any easier the second time through, and I couldn’t manage to pick up my pace any, falling off to 2:10:24.4. Perhaps if I had set a fallback goal ahead of time atm6 hours and figured out that pace I might have pushed harder, but as it was I was just enjoying the day as much as possible and not really looking at my watch. I knew I was going to be slower than I hoped. It was tough going, but I wasn’t really able to move quickly and productively enough that I was ever challenging my cardio except on the ups.

Perhaps the most exhilarating moment of the race was coming through the start/finish line at the end of the second lap. There were still a lot of people hanging around at that point waiting for people to come in from the 10 mile and 20 mile distances. I got some nice crowd support once they realized I was headed out for a third and final lap! That lap was pretty lonely, although I did come across a few racers. One guy was chatting with his significant other on a cell phone while keeping up a pretty good pace. Impressive! He described the snow as having the consistency of sugar. Agree. Another, Will, caught me in the last few miles. Making excuses for myself, I had developed one of those mysterious side stitches and just couldn’t knead it out. Will and I ran together for a while, but I knew he had me to the finish. Several of us finished pretty close to each other, and I did manage to gut it out and stay ahead of a few guys on my tail.

Not surprisingly, my last lap was the slowest, at 2:17:45.1. My total time was 6:28:50.2. At least I set the bar low for my first timed 50k ultra! Nowhere to go but up.

I’ll be back. Psycho Wyco was a blast, and I sure don’t like a course to get the better of me. Here’s the finish, with apologies to Ryan Hall:

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The Electrolyte Debate: What to drink during your marathon?

I’ve previously dabbled in the alchemy of finding the magic elixir of running. Look for a future post on my weird marathon carb-loading regimen (I use the Western Australian method). I’ll also probably write one about what to eat on race morning, so I am excluding those subjects from this post.

I have fought to push GU down during my previous 4 marathons. I just can’t seem to stomach it at race pace, although I don’t have nearly the problems others note. This, coupled with a recent depletion run bonk, caused me to rethink what I should intake during a race.

There is a significant debate out there over hydration, electrolytes, and calories during a run. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on tv. So, take all this with a grain of salt (or don’t, more on that in a minute).

I am not going to plow any new ground here. I’ll lay out the basics, give you my conclusions, and pose a few questions along the way. I’m interested in what works for all of you though – what have you tried?

My main sources for my conclusions here are “Advanced Marathoning” and “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.” There are 3 components in this equation: 1) how much fluid?; 2) how many calories?; and 3) electrolytes – yes/no/which/how much? (obviously the muddiest issue).

#1 – Virtually everyone agrees that you need to take in some fluid during the race. Except maybe Alberto Salazar. Elites will dehydrate themselves to a certain degree during a race, but there is a point at which this becomes counterproductive. Studies show that a certain amount of dehydration does not decrease performance. You can also drink too much during a race – especially if you’re out there for a long time and are drinking only water: this condition is called hyponatremia, and it can be just as deadly as dehydration – it’s just not as well-publicized. Exactly how much fluid you need depends on your sweat rate – which varies based on the environment and you. You lose 3-4 pounds of water during a marathon on a hot day, 2-3 on a cool one. Also, your stomach can only empty so much fluid per hour. It looks to me like average consumption should be around 24-28 fluid oz. per hour. Conclusion: I’m shooting for 6 oz. every 15 min.

#2 – My two main sources agree on the amount of calories you should intake during a race – basically 200-300 per hour. Conclusion: for 3 hours out there, I’m targeting 700+ calories.

#3 – Electrolytes. Sodium is the biggie. AM says you need it – recommending a ratio of 250mg/L. AM specifically recommends it to avoid hyponatremia and improve caloric uptake. The Paleos don’t agree as to its benefit – but waffle on the conclusion. To be fair, I think what they are saying is that it really doesn’t help as much as we think, although on balance it seems to recommend it. Also, I think I see a flaw in their reasoning. Basically the theory is that the sodium content of your sweat is less than in your body, thus sodium becomes more concentrated in your body as you exercise and sweat so you don’t need to replace it. But…(and I didn’t go to the source study so maybe they just skipped a step) if you’re sweating out sodium and other electrolytes and drinking straight water (or something with calories and no electrolytes) during a race, that should dilute the concentration of sodium in your body, right? Duh? The Paleos admit there’s no known downside to taking in sodium during a race and may be a slight advantage – improving the rate of absorption of water and carbs – thus ultimately concurring with AM. That’s enough for me. Conclusion: a dash of salt. The AM ratio is designed to not exceed the level of palatability. I have seen other formulas with 5-6x the sodium. I tried one. It’s barely drinkable. The new Gatorade Endurance formulation boasts 3x the sodium and 2x the potassium of regular Gatorade. However, it doesn’t have sufficient calories in my estimation – 80 per 12 oz – only 480 if you drink 72 oz. It also has a lot more sodium in those 72 oz. – 1740 mg – than the AM formula would recommend (532 mg). Plus, I can make this stuff way cheaper than a $30 canister of powder, and without any food coloring. I’m going to split the difference between Gatorade Endurance and AM: 1120 mg/72 oz.

On to potassium. AM and the Paleos are silent on the subject, but Gatorade includes it in their formulation. PDA does discuss it in the context of cramp prevention – but says available studies show no benefit. PDA does recommend it as part of recovery. Anecdotally, whenever I had a huge calf cramp after 2-a-day soccer practices in HS I’d make sure I had a banana or two that night. I eat a lot of bananas these days, which seems to ward off the cramps for most purposes, however I have experienced significant calf cramping in 2 of my 4 marathons. Also, one of my other sources – a Doctor/runner who passed along the World Health Organization’s Oral Rehydration Solution (“ORS” – for treating severe dehydration) includes potassium as an ingredient, but again in a fairly high concentration. Since I am not planning on suffering a bout of explosive diarrhea before the race, I’m going to compromise with a lower concentration closer to the Gatorade number of 840 mg potassium: 795 mg/72 oz.

There are other electrolytes to consider, but I am not adding them to the witches brew at this time, primarily magnesium. Spinach and pumpkin seeds have a lot by the way. So does swiss chard.

The recipe:

72 oz. of marathon electrolyte/fuel/fluid (that’s a lousy recipe name. Maybe MEFF72? Sounds vaguely Victor Conte-ish. Maybe I should go register that with the PTO).

  • 1 cup of dextrose
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Nu Salt
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (or to taste)
  • water to fill to 72 oz.

Notes: 1 tsp of dextrose has 15 cal. There are 48 tsp. in a cup. So 1 cup of dextrose is 720 calories. Dextrose aka glucose is used because it is a simple sugar – a monosaccharide – rapid absorption. It’s also more easily tolerated than fructose. Sucrose is an ok substitute, but it’s a disaccharide, so there’s a metabolic process there. You can get dextrose at a brew shop or Amazon. Sea salt is sodium chloride, obviously. 1/2 tsp. yields 560 mg of sodium. Nu Salt is potassium chloride. It’s sold just about everywhere as a salt substitute. There are alternatives, but watch out for Lite Salt that also contains sodium – then you’re doubling up. I’d really prefer 1/6 of a tsp., but who has that measuring spoon. 1/4 tsp. yields 795 mg of potassium. If that sounds like a lot, you need a lot more K per day than you do Na. A banana has over 500 mg. So I’m not worried about OD’ing on K. Lime juice is purely for flavor. I like Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice. It’s the next best thing to fresh.

Using the recipe:

I am going to be such a wannabe at the Heart of America marathon. I’m going to split these 72 oz into 6-12oz. bottles and have the RHSW place them at aid stations for me. The advantages of a small race! Run like the elites! I’m going to try to pick one up every half hour and drink 1/2 right away, the other 1/2 15 minutes later. I’ll start the first bottle pre-gun.

I’ve tried it out once already and tolerated it well. I think it will be easier than GU to get down. I was a bit nauseous in the first few miles of the Garmin marathon. AM tells me that’s because I’m pushing harder than I should at the beginning. Well, that’s how I race. I can race a bit better than my training would predict, but not without a price.

As with any “new” thing – try it before you race it. If you try it, let me know what you think!