And this is my "Race Performance Journal" I write it for me. I share it for those who may be interested in this kind of thing. Maybe there is some nugget buried in here that might help you have a great race too! If I could tell you where to look... skim to the stuff about nutrition. That would probably be the most useful part of this novel.
The Event: Three Days at the Fair is a 6 day race on a certified 1 mile loop at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Each day, shorter races may or may not take place (48 hour, 24 hour, 12 hour, 6 hour, 50k and marathon) based upon runner's request. All results for the week are combined and winners are those who run the furthest or fastest by the end of the event. I ran the Saturday morning 6 hour.
Weather: It was hot (70-80 degrees with a 63 degree average dew point). This was May and until this weekend it hasn't been very hot.
For dew point, anything under 55 is comfortable, 55-65 is sticky and uncomfortable, and anything over 65 degrees is down right oppressive.
So far, all my races in 2023 have been in cool and/or rainy conditions. I knew the warmth was going to be a shock. For once it didn't rain, but I wished it would have.
Shoes: I was ambivalent. I wanted to wear the lightest shoes I owed since I would be taking a lot of steps. In 2019 I spent too much money on some VaporFly and then stopped racing (COVID and achilles pain). The VaporFly are light, fast, efficient, and optimal for a long race for me. Yet, I opted for my Saucony Endorphin Pros, I have been training and racing for months now in them. A little heavier but my achilles like them.
Physical Health: I was feeling well, no issues, except lingering achilles soreness that I live with now. Beside the usually "scanning for weak links" which I think we all do as races near, I felt fit and strong since running a BQ at Jim Thorpe. I was ready to celebrate with a 6 hour attempt.
Nutrition (Part I - more tom come later on): I started my carb-load about 36 hours out from gun time... not really on purpose. It was Nurse's Week at the hospital where I work (as a therapist) and cupcakes were everywhere. So I ate them. Friday I continued carb-loading, I hit about 330 gram of carbs the day prior. This represents a ratio of almost 6g of carbs/kg of mass for me.
For long runs over 20M, I have found a ratio of 4.5g/kg of mass worked well as a carb-load. 6g/kg was more than I was used to. A lot of that came from simple sugar (152g) and fiber (70g -which a huge amount of fiber).
On race day morning, I was up 4 lbs over my average morning weight. (I weigh in each morning when I am training and again after my runs to assess how much hydration I am losing so I can learn how to best take care of myself on race day).
I think it is incredibly important to provide carbs and hydration to burn off during long runs. I know dehydration can drop us. By starting out 4 lbs over my average weight I had a lot of fuel to burn before depletion w0uld even being to touch me. This is important. If I started the race closer to my average weight I would have dropped from loosing too much hydration. I have learning in training that I feel awful once 3% under my average weight. This is actually right on target to what exercise science finds too. Once we drop 2% or more performance suffers. I can make it to 3%. But if I am going to running for hours, I don't want to experience that low too early.
By the end of this race I was 3.5 lbs under my average morning weight. 3% lost. That's a 7.5 lb loss in 6 hours despite me:
(1) eating about 1448 calories from the moment I woke up until the end of the race (I share my log)
(2) drinking an outrageous amount of fluid for me (I lost track along the way. I know started the day with about 40 oz of fluid. I tolerated 30 oz of sports drink and 20 oz of water before I needed to start filling a 10 oz bottle almost each lap for the last 2 hours (about 12 laps) drinking half and pouring half on me so that makes about another at least 40 oz consumed. That totals at least 130 oz of fluid.
(3) Plus a post race 12 oz protein shake.
Body Composition changes from the stress: To drop 7.5 lbs after pushing in 1448 calories and 142+ oz of fluid and have great experience tells me that the carb-load and pre-race weight was incredibly necessary since it provided fluid and calories to burn through. We can only digest calories and fluid a set slow rate during the run. I could have never kept up with the demand. My race day nutrition definitely kept me moving. But do to the carb-load, my actual loss felt more like 3.5 lbs not 7.5 lbs. Carb-loading has it's critics and those who resist it. I have been an enthusiastic carb-loader since 2016 when I started negative splitting 5ks though 50 milers and running lifetime bests in everything.
I was taught in grad school (Kinesiology program with Sport Performance and Sports Psych concentrations) that 1 gram of glycogen attracts 3-4g of water to it when stored. Weight goes up but that weight is all fuel and hydration. My tank is full on race day. What is the value of building a fast race car and showing up with no fuel? I come with fuel to burn even if that means I feel bloated and heavy on the line.
Goal Setting: Once I start racing, realistic goal setting becomes easier. I did some calculations based upon my Jim Thorpe Marathon time and had predicted that 37-38 miles was my projected A Goal. The Course Record for women is 41 miles. I have run 43.16 miles in 6 hours in 2016 so the sounds of of setting a new CR was whispering in my ear. However I ran 43 miles when I was is in sub-3 marathon shape. I am in 3:45 marathon shape right now. 41 seemed like a Reach Goal. I didn't know if my achilles would actually hold up. So at the very least I wanted to run 27 miles. If I signed up for an ultra, I wanted to run more than a marathon.
Pace Plan: My plan was to start at 8:50-9:15 pace and see where I was by 3 hours to go. My projected pace based upon Jim Thorpe 2 weeks prior was 9:24 pace but I felt I could move faster than that target because Jim Thorpe improved my fitness. I was hoping that if the weather was comfortable and I stayed in good control for the first 3 hours, then I would have some capacity to push myself during the last 3 hours - whatever that means (negative split or just try not to die).
All The People: The last time I was at 3 Days was about 10 years ago. It was remarkable how so many of the same people return to this event yearly. Of course I knew Dave and Alanna were racing (we put all our stuff together), I got to chat with Steve T., Paul H., Matt M., Newton B, John B., Shamus, and Trishul... and more.
In some way, I felt like I had come home.
On the starting line I saw Gerald. He was there for the 6 hour so he could earn his 1500 Mile brick, He needed a marathon to do it. We took off together and got a nice fast start to get out of the crowd before we settled down. I needed to burn off some pre-race jitters and this helped. I shared my pace plan with him. I did not want to run his race but he was welcomed to run mine with me if he wanted to, It was lovely to have company for many of the early miles.
I was really pleased with how " relatively easy" the first three hours felt. I was having delusions of negative splitting if I could hold myself together and attend to my needs as they arose.
As mentioned, I did really well with fueling on race day. I had two days of carb-loading in me as well. I felt hopeful.
I told Dave before the race "ultras are really just eating competitions with a side of sports psychology. And the eating is probably more important." When I would see him on the course, instead of saying to each other things like "You're looking great" we would say "You're are a good eater!" LOL.
More on Nutrition (Part II): For this race, I was definitely a good eater! Before the race I had my giant cup of coffee, a bottle of gatorade with some BCAAs mixed in. I had a Roctane Stroopwafel on the ride up. I ate a chocolate donut because I saw them. My sports drink for this race was Roctane Energy Drink. I mixed 500 calories for the race (but consumed only 375 calories of that before I had trouble tolerating it. I brought 6 Roctane Gu and consumed 300 calories of those. I ate two ice pops.
By mile 22, the heat started to impact me. I was covered in crusty salt and other electrolytes. I learned from my exercise science studies that when the body is not adapted to the heat, the first month or so we will just dump salt that we don't need due to excess sweating. Rapid sweat rate plus a high electrolyte diet means we are going to get crusty. This crusting over slows down as we adapt to the heat, sweating a little less. I am not heat adapted.
I was covered in salt. My Roctane Energy Drink and the Gu have plenty of electrolytes in them, more than I am used to. As a result, I was over- salted and my body was dumping it hard. My skin felt so uncomfortable.
Water: I couldn't tolerate my last bottle of Energy drink. I was craving plain water. I drank the water I brought with me. I had to use some to get the salt off my face and my arms. I was starting to get frustrated from the crustiness on me. I grabbed my last bottle of water just before Mile 28.
I didn't anticipate needing to drink as much as I actually did in this race. I didn't anticipate needing to have water to douse myself. I was hoping for rain. It didn't come.
Music: Maybe music would help. I never race with music but I have been training with it. I had my headphones and my phone. I needed 90 seconds of so to fumble with turning on my phone, finding my headphones, loosing an ear bud, freaking out, realizing I had my tiny bluetooth speaker that I use when I train with Dave, and then getting myself organized with music.which helped ... but I was overheating and about to finish my last bottle of water soon.
HELP: As I approached Mile 28, I could feel some worry starting to set in. People were cheering for me... "You're doing great!"... "Looking good"... "Keep it up"... and all I could think to myself is "I. NEED. HELP!"
Afraid To Stop: I could have used a crew but I didn't have one. I was sure that If I stopped to fill a water bottle from the cooler my whole body would just shut down and refuse to get back up to speed. It took all I had in me to not have the wheels fall off when I got my music. I knew stopping again would be too risky.
I see Dave at the picnic tables... he is too far away to hear me and I wasn't going to stop to explain myself. I have a bottle half empty in my pocket. I am trying to convince myself with self talk: "You will be fine. You will fill the bottle and get back to work. You will feel better for it. This isn't a choice. You need water."
I see Alanna. I call out to her desperately "Can you help me?" I knew she racing the 6 hour but said she was there for a long run and was planing to run/walk the second half her her race once she hit her long run goal. I knew this wasn't a goal race for her and hoped she might have the ability to help.
She asked what I needed. While still moving I call out "Can you grab my empty bottles, fill them with water and leave them on the table. I have some water for now, but I will run out and I don't think I can stop."
Alanna saved my race. Our stuff was together, She knew what I needed. She was able to get it done. I felt rejuvenated when I saw those two bottles filled. I felt hopeful. I was able to douse myself to cool me down, to get the salt off, to feel more comfortable and I kept on moving.
Feeling Better, music playing, water flowing: I knew I had time for 39 miles if I dug deep and pushed hard. But I made a decision at 34 miles to start filling my own bottles. I stopped each lap for a few seconds to refill, dumped some water on me and then ran the rest of the lap. This small carrot of a refill break was motivating, but I wan't going to get as many miles as possible with this short stop.
Achieving My Goal: With 30 minutes left to race, I made a decision that leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent... like now I have some unfinished business at this race. I had time to push hard to possibly get 39 miles if I wanted it bad enough... or I could add an extra walk on the back stretch and be happy with 38 miles.
This race was supposed to be my season-closer celebration. I have fall marathons on deck. So far my achilles was holding up. I had gotten more than I felt I deserved at this point. I was afraid picking up the pace would hurt me. I could feel my body getting depleted. I was at least 4-5 miles ahead of the second place female. I knew I was also ahead of Gerald, the 1st place male and he wasn't racing me today.. I knew the CR was 41 which was out of reach. I believed that 38 would get me on the leaderboard for top female performance for all time. So I decided that I had already achieved what I came for and played it safe for the last 3 miles of the race. But all this does is make me want to race it again, make it a goal race, and aim to not leave any miles on the table.
Many of the people who know best got to witness one of the best 6 hours races of my life. Not because it was the furthest I ran, but rather because it was a glorious comeback for me.
Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.