Fueling Long Runs

I can’t think of an apt title for this post, so I’m leaving it until the end and hope that some inspiration comes before I hit the ‘publish’ button. If it  doesn’t this will be my first untitled  post!

I’m not long since back from my long run. It was 11 miles today, as Monday is my elected long run day, and I wasn’t looking forward to the run, but I wasn’t not wanting to go either. I tend to either be desperate to get out the door and hit that dopamine high or I have to drag my sorry ass out of the door as it continues to protest loudly about all the other things sorry asses could be doing. Today was a bit in between.

The weather was fine; a bit windy and a bit too sunny/hot at times, but mostly fine. It was ‘that’ll do’ weather for long runs. Heading out I had a headwind, but that helped me home. No complaints there.

For fuel I took some Energybits. I had about 10 left from the freebie the company sent me as an incentive to buy. You are meant to take 20-30 before exercise, but as I only had 10 that had to do. To compensate I took an isotonic drink in my Camelbak (this time ensuring that all the pipes were correctly and securely fitted!) I’ve been looking at how I fuel my long runs for a while now and I’ve never been too keen on sticky gels that are a nightmare to open. To be honest, I’m not even keen on using sugar as a fuel source. It’s too quickly used up and doesn’t take advantage of the fuel I’m already carrying. On these long runs I’ve been taking less and less with me and it doesn’t seem to have made a big difference performance-wise. No dextrose tablets, no gels, nothing. I’m not even making a special point of carb-loading. I just eat normally.

I’ve done a bit of research on how the body uses fuel during long runs and maybe the reason why I’m not losing fat is because I haven’t been using it up. In the past when I’ve used simple and complex carbohydrates as my fuel source my body has used those before looking to what my body has naturally stored. A lot of the time that’s all that’s been used. It’s like having a fuel reserve on a car and never letting the tank run below half.

I decided that if I could run 9 miles on just isotonic juice then I could run 11, 13, 15 and 17 with little more than that. But what to supplement it with is a bit of a mystery still. Using up the Energybits was a step in the direction away from gels/tablets. I follow the writings of Matt Frazier who set up the No Meat Athlete website which has an amazing following. This article ‘Burning Fat for Fuel‘ has given me food for thought (pardon the pun!) I’ve chosen some quotes that sums the article up:

First, note that we’re only talking about the long, slow run. Your body starts sugar-burning as your exercise intensity crosses the lactate threshold.  (A good indicator of when this happens is when it becomes difficult to carry on a conversation, or when your mouth drops open to start taking in air while you run.)  You can gradually increase the level of intensity at which you cross the threshold, so that you can eventually run faster while staying in a fat-burning state.  For speedwork and hill workouts, your body will still rely on sugar, and that’s fine, since they’re short, and sugar is great for hard, short runs. 

Extend your warmup period. If you’re standing still and you suddenly bolt off running, your physiology changes.  Your body senses something is up (perhaps you’re being chased by bears and zombies?) and starts burning the sugar fires, since sugar is great for short bursts of energy.  But that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen on your long run.

So warm up extremely slowly.  Walk for the first few minutes.  Then start running so slow that you have to hide your face when you pass people you know.  Relax everything and enjoy it.  Over the course of 10 or 15 minutes, build up to your long-run speed.  Speaking of which…

Run slow! You want to stay below your lactate threshold for as long as possible, so your body can get used to burning fat for fuel.  So go really slow.  If you use a heart rate monitor, stay at 60 to 70 percent of your max.  Make sure you easily carry on a conversation while you run.  Your goal is to do this enough that your threshold increases, i.e., you can run faster yet still stay in this aerobic, fat-burning zone.

To help with trying to identify my lactate threshold I’ve started wearing my heart rate monitor. I sat last night with it on for about half an hour and got a stable resting heart rate of 58, which I am very pleased with. Today my maximum heart rate hit after 15 minutes and was 206 bpm. As I was running a 10 minute mile at the time I’m going to use that as my maximum heart rate. Regardless of my pace, in order to use my fat as fuel (and I have plenty to use!) I will run my long runs at between 60%-70% of 206 bpm which is 123 – 144 bpm, much lower than the 160 ish I was running at for most of today. Please let me know if I’ve made mistakes here!

Anyway, back to my run. I followed Jeff Galloway’s Half Marathon training app, as usual, but I’ve changed the settings to running four and half minutes and walking for 30 seconds. It’s not much of a change, but it has lowered my pace. I might look at running for 6 minutes and walking for 40 seconds and see how that affects my pace. If it helps me to achieve the lower bpm then it’s worth it and, hell, if I can run for 4.5 minutes and only get a 30 second respite then I’m sure I can manage to run a whole flaming half, if I wanted to!

I ran along the shore road, heading for Bankend village which is 5 miles away. I decided, on getting towards Bankend, that I’d turn left instead of right for a change. Silly wee changes like that make all the difference on a route that you know really well. (I’d decided against two more interesting loops of the road behind our village because of the distinct possibility of the road being flooded after some heavy showers – I didn’t want wet feet after 2 miles. There’s interesting and there’s INTERESTING!)

My left heel was feeling a bit bruised again and the pain started to work into my knee on the way back. I definitely think that the time has come to retire my Ghosts. I need new trainers pronto. Apart from that and the heat build up from mile 8 onwards, where you can see my pace really drop on my Garmin data) this was a fairly uneventful run, for a change! No mishaps, meetings with wildlife or angry fist-shaking motorists, just a run there and back.

I finished my 11 miles in an OK 2:03:53. I wasn’t looking to do fab pace, just do the 11 miles. My pace, as it happens, came in not far off target at 11:15. My training plan is set at 11 min/miles, so to do an average not far away from that it great.

Next week, as last week, I’m set for intervals. Last week I went down into the woods behind where we live and found a 0.4 mile stretch of track that is serving as a backyard stadium. I was due to do half mile intervals, so I’m having to be a bit inventive and run the length of the track and turn or run the length and run in circles for a bit (literally – at one end of the track is a lorry turning circle for the timber lorries!) to get my half a mile in, but it saves me the time and fuel in going into town. I was managing the half mile in between 4 min 30 and 4 min 50 which I was quite pleased with given that it’s an uneven forest track that isn’t flat. I’ll try and improve on that next week.




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