Training Elite Runner Rachel Hannah Asks, JP Answers

Elite Runner Rachel Hannah Asks, JP Answers


As a nutrition pro herself, Canadian elite runner, and iRun‘s November cover star Rachel Hannah, couldn’t help but wonder how JP managed his own nutrition during back-to-back races. And JP gives the breakdown on how to make the best of winter running right now.

Dear JP:

While I only fuel for one marathon at a time, I think it’s so impressive that you fuel for many, back-to-back. What are your nutrition strategies before, during, and after the ultra-distance events? How do you store for energy leading up to the race day?


Rachel Hannah (Canadian elite runner and iRun’s October cover star)

Dear Rachel:

Eighty percent of my waking hours can be accounted for doing one, and sometimes a combination of these activities simultaneously: running, fueling for a run, recovery eating after a run, planning my next run, and most importantly – planning what I’ll eat after my next run!   When it comes to ultra running, I live by two basic nutrition principles: 1. Refuel immediately after a race or demanding training run, and although I’m a ‘carboholic’, I make certain I take in a significant protein hit as soon as possible. 2. When in doubt, EAT! If I’m feeling hungry, eat! If I’m going to a friend’s place for dinner, eat a pre-dinner meal before I leave.

When it comes to running ultra distances or the extreme race events I’ve been doing lately, the issue of digestion becomes increasingly more tricky as the level of exertion increases. It all comes down to that fine balance of blood supply, more specifically, balancing the body’s need to direct that blood supply towards fueling strained muscles while trying to fuel a compromised digestive system. It really is a ‘crap shoot’ (no pun intended) as to striking that fine balance. Typically, something has to give, and that is usually a need to drop the pace in order to adequately fuel your body in the midst of an ultra event.

Another notable difference between fueling for a marathon and fueling for an ultra, is that the farther the distance you are running, the greater need there is to replace protein and fat stores in the body. Now, here’s the really cool part – You know all of that junk food you’ve been avoiding… well, race day is the time you finally get to eat it. Easily digested foods high in calories are now part of your fueling strategy. So, reach for salty potato chips, pizza, cookies, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate, and ‘Gummy’ anythings!

Sound too good to be true, sadly there is one hidden caveat to all of this. The farther you run and the more toll you put on your body, the more prone you are to overheating and the inevitable nausea, and loose tummy.   Most ultra runners rely on something to offset this discomfort by using an over-the-counter antacid, nausea tablet, or all-natural ginger chew.   But the best part of entering the world of ultra running is that you are surrounded by an incredibly supportive group of like-minded, boundary-pushing individuals who are all more than willing to share their sage advice with you as you all walk that running tightrope between ‘sanity and euphorea’.

Dear JP:

I am hoping to run this winter outside rather than wimping out by using the treadmill. BUT I have no proper gear. What is really necessary and are there cheaper options out there for those of us who don’t have much money to spend on all the fancy running stuff?


Allison V.

Dear Allison:

Believe it or not, I actually love winter running! And let me be clear on this … I did not say “I loved winter”… In fact, I’ve been trying to convince Mary-Anne to move to southern California for years, but now that our dollar has tanked, that may not be such a good idea afterall. I’m an early morning runner, so I’m usually up and out the door by 4:30am every day of the week, except Saturday, when I dutifully sleep in and I’m under strict instructions not to wake my wife before 6am!

One of the good things about living in a big city, like Toronto, is that the streets are usually salted and plowed, and that certainly facilitates much easier winter running. In all my years of running, I’ve rarely called off a run because of the weather. You know what they say – “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong gear.”

My advice for enjoying your winter running would be to layer up, and make certain that the layer closest to your skin is made of a high quality wicking fabric because you don’t want to be sweating out in the cold. This is certainly one of the items of clothing you shouldn’t cheap out on. Ask your friends what they prefer, and look around for some sales. You can usually pick up some great deals on winter running gear at some of the spring and early fall running expos. Second, you should feel a little cold for the first few minutes of your run. If you feel toasty the minute you step outside, then you are definitely overdressed. Next, the outer layer should be made of a fabric that offers a good windbreak. And finally, I like to keep a pair of trail shoes on hand throughout the winter so that if the conditions are icy, I have a little more traction out there. And one more thing: If it’s really cold and I’m scheduled to do a long run, I tend to run a few loops of a shorter out-and-back route. That way, if I start to get too cold, I can pop into the house to layer-up or change out of damp socks before heading back out there.


Send your advice and questions to JP Want more tips, tricks and practical advice from JP Bedard? Check out his previous posts with questions from the everyday athlete.