Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vegan-Vegetarian Holiday Menu

It’s the time of year for big, festive meals.  For many vegetarians and vegans, this is a mixed blessing.  Celebrating with a bunch of family and friends is wonderful, but then the FOOD ISSUE comes up.  Given the prevalence of vegetarians and vegans now, I’m sure almost everyone has their story of either (vegan) trying to explain that they eat more than salad to (omnivore) going out of their way to accommodate a visitor – with mixed results – only to have a refrigerator full of strange, expensive ingredients that will never be used again.  Sound familiar?

Here’s a menu certified by my omnivore friends as delicious and friendly to all vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike.  It’s also very doable for anyone with basic cooking skills – or even someone who can read the detailed directions below.  This menu came about in my determination to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner even though I was working night shift on the medical wards all week.  I finished my shifts for the week on Friday morning, went to the grocery store to purchase ingredients, then went home, baked the pumpkin pie (because it needs to cool completely before eating), went to sleep for a few hours, then got up and made the rest of the meal.  Everything was ready in time for dinner!

Consensus – success! Many of the omnivores said they wouldn’t even miss the turkey!  Others said it would be perfect if only there were turkey.  Vegetarians/Vegans were universally thrilled.

Bottom Center, clockwise to the pie, and then center: 
Acorn Squash with Herb Stuffing and Dried Cranberries
Chioggia Beets with Pomegranate Syrup
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Mushroom Red Wine Gravy
Rustic Mashed Potatoes
Classic Herb Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce with Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Vinegar
Pumpkin Pie
Field Roast Celebration Roast (Gardein Holiday Roast or Tofurky Roast)

Part of what makes a veggie holiday meal relatively quick to make is that the centerpiece protein is either forgone or is substituted with a commercially prepared roast of some kind. All of which take between 1-2 hours to cook in the oven, versus 2-3 times that long for an average-sized turkey.  Jokes abound about Tofurky, but there are other options on the market that are pretty good.  My favorite is the Gardein Holiday Roast. Good runner-ups are the Tofurky Roast and Field Roast Celebration Roast.  The texture of the “meaty” exterior portion of the Gardein roast is the most similar to poultry that I’ve found. It is also the least salty.  A big issue I take with many vegetarian meat alternatives (or “faux meat” as I like to call them) is that they are really salty.  However, I don’t think most people who eat out or eat a lot of processed food would notice, because all vegetarian options that I’ve encountered have less sodium than most commercial turkeys – mainly owing to the fact that many turkeys are injected with a salt solution prior to purchase.  Many people who buy non-injected turkeys brine theirs before cooking which still lends to a relatively high sodium end product.  However, the sodium level after brining is probably more on par with some of the higher sodium vegetarian alternatives.   Of course, I completely understand those who want to avoid soy protein isolate (beyond the scope of this post) which is present in the Gardein Holiday Roast.  If this is you, opt for the Field Roast Celebration Roast or the Tofurky Roast – or go completely homemade and avoid a faux meat centerpiece, opting instead for a couple more tasty sides.  I have explored making my own faux meat roast in the past, and besides being A LOT of work and VERY TIME CONSUMING, they don’t turn out much (if any) better than the commercial products.

Field Roast Celebration Roast
Nutrition Information

Gardein Holiday Roast
Nutrition Information

Tofurky Roast
Nutrition Information

Turkey - average commercially available
Nutrition Information (Breast Meat)

Notes on the other menu items: the cranberry sauce is a yearly staple.  Once people try this, they’ll never go back to the can-shaped mold of years past.  It’s easy, not as cloyingly sweet as others you’ll try, and addictively delicious. As our friends noted at Thanksgivukka this year, it’s also delicious on latkes with sour cream!  As for the classic herb stuffing, I made it with the dried cranberries and loved it.  Purists, like my fiancé however, much preferred the traditional, non-cranberry version.   The mushroom red wine gravy will definitely rival – and beat – almost any turkey-based gravy.  The roasted beets are good with the pomegranate syrup, but if that’s not your thing, just toss them with a teaspoon of red wine vinegar and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil after removing from the oven and they’ll still be tasty.

Acorn Squash with Herb Stuffing and Dried Cranberries
For those who opt for no faux meat, this makes a great vegetarian centerpiece for any holiday meal!

1 medium acorn squash
2 teaspoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Classic Herb Stuffing with optional cranberries (recipe, below)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Wash acorn squash, then cut in half the long way (through stem).  Use a spoon to scrape out all the seeds and inner membrane.
3. Brush both cut halves of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
4. Place cut-side-down on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake for 40-60 minutes or until just fork tender.
5. Turn squash cut-side-up, scoop in enough Classic Herb Stuffing (with optional cranberries) to fill the center of the squash.  Return to oven for 10 minutes.
6. Remove from oven to serving plate. 

Makes: 4 servings.

Chioggia Beets with Pomegranate Molasses

6 medium beets (I used Chioggia, but any beets will work)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses, divided (available in the Middle Eastern groceries or aisles)
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (If your oven is set to 350 degrees for everything else, that’s fine but there will be some extra liquid at the end of cooking).
2. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with non-stick spray.
3. Peel beets and slice them about 1/4-inch thick and put them into a medium mixing bowl.
4. Add the olive oil and toss to coat. Then add 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses and salt and toss to coat.
5. Transfer beets to the baking dish and place in the oven, uncovered, for about 25-35 minutes, or until fork tender.
6. Remove from the oven and transfer to serving plate.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses.  Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.

Makes: about 6 servings

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 pounds Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt and more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cut off the dried out stem ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any wilting, yellow or bug-eaten outer leaves.  Then, slice them in half through the stem end (so each half has half of the stem).
3. In a medium mixing bowl, toss halved Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Pour immediately onto a sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove pan from oven, flip sprouts over and roast another 10-20 minutes or until spouts are browned but not burnt.
5. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a bit more salt (optional). They taste best when salted like French fries.  Best when served immediately.

Mushroom Red Wine Gravy

2 tablespoon olive oil
3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 cup finely chopped white onion
8 ounces mushrooms of your choice (I used crimini), trimmed and chopped (1/4-inch dice)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup any type of red wine (DO NOT USE “cooking wine”)
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3-4 tablespoons whole-wheat flour (3 for thinner gravy, 4 for thicker)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a medium or large sauce pot set over medium-high heat, heat olive oil and then add onions and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are transparent and mushrooms have released much of their liquid, 5-10 minutes.  Reduce heat slightly if onions start to brown.
2. Add ½ cup of broth, garlic, rosemary and bring to a simmer for 1-2 minutes.
3. Add wine, bring to back to simmer and cook 1 minute while stirring.
4. Add 2-1/2 cup broth and bring back to a simmer.
5. In a measuring cup, use a fork to stir together soy sauce, nutritional yeast and flour to make a thick paste.  Slowly stir in the remaining ½ cup of broth until the mixture is smooth.  Drizzle this mixture into the simmering pot slowly while stirring constantly to prevent gravy from becoming lumpy.
6. Stir until mixture returns to a simmer and for 1 minute beyond this.  Simmer for 5 minutes longer (no need to continue stirring) over low heat to finish cooking the flour.
7. Add pepper and adjust seasoning to taste.

Makes: 4 cups

Rustic Mashed Potatoes
These are skin-on mashed potatoes. The skins add nutrients, flavor and texture. If you want a more refined product, feel free to peel before cooking.  If you peel them, you can also cut them into 1-inch chunks to speed the cooking process.  Russets are best for fluffy mashed potatoes because they have a high starch content.  Potatoes tend to have a high burden of pesticides, so it is best to use organic if possible.  If organic are not available, peel potatoes as above.

3 pounds small to medium organic Russet potatoes of similar size, scrubbed
1 to 1/2 cups unsweetened soymilk or rice milk (vegan) or whole milk (vegetarian)
6 Tablespoons Earth Balance (vegan) or Unsalted Butter (vegetarian), cut up into chunks
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put the whole unpeeled potatoes in a 6-quart or larger pot with enough cool water to cover the potatoes.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Salt the water to the saltiness of the ocean (about a Tablespoon of salt) and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until potatoes are fork tender to the center of the potato, about 25-35 minutes.
3. Drain water from potatoes.
4. Add Earth Balance or butter to pot. Use hand potato masher (or stand mixer, or hand mixer) to mash potatoes, adding dairy or non-dairy milk until you achieve your desired consistency.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes: 8-10 servings

Classic Herb Stuffing

10 cups of whole-wheat artisan bread cut into ¾ to 1-inch cubes from (approximately 1 pound loaf)
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic (2-3 cloves)
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion (1/4-inch dice)
1 1/2 cups chopped celery (1/4-inch dice)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage (or 1 teaspoon rubbed, dried sage)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried ground or chopped rosemary)
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional (only if using unsalted stock)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock

1. Lay cubes of bread out on baking sheets in a single layer and allow to dry for at least 6 hours.  Alternatively, dry bread cubes in a 200 degree F oven until dry on outside but not rock hard.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with non-stick spray.
3. Toast bread cubes in a large baking sheet in the oven until starting to brown on the edges, approximately 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
4. Turn oven down to 350 degrees F.
5. Heat half (2 Tablespoons) olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and celery, stirring occasionally, until onions are transparent.
6. Transfer ingredients from sauté pan to mixing bowl with bread cubes.  Add sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and cranberries (if using) and pepper. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.  Stir until ingredients are mixed together.
7. Add one cup of vegetable stock at a time, stirring after each addition until stock is absorbed. Mixture should be moist and clump together, but not soggy.  You may need to add additional stock to get this texture.
8. Transfer to baking dish and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

Makes: 10-12 Servings

Cranberry Sauce with Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Vinegar

1 pound (4 cups) fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup water
1 whole orange, unpeeled, seeded and chopped fine in food processor
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup crushed pineapple (from a can or chopped in a food processor)
½ cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste, optional


1. Wash cranberries and set aside.
2. Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally.
3. Add cranberries, chopped orange and ground cloves.  Simmer over a high flame, stirring frequently, until berries pop open. 
4. Add crushed pineapple, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, black pepper and balsamic vinegar.  Adjust salt to taste. 
5. Set aside; can serve hot, cool or room temperature.

Makes: 5-6 cups

Award-winning Pumpkin Pie
This is the pie that I won the Le Cordon Bleu student pie-baking contest with while in culinary school.  Needless to say, no one will miss the eggs and evaporated milk!
(A little one helped decorate…)
1-12 ounce package firm, silken tofu (lite or regular) – this is the kind that sits on the shelf unrefrigerated
1-15 ounce can pumpkin (without sweetener or spices)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust*

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In food processor or blender, blend tofu, pumpkin, brown and white sugars, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt until completely smooth (no white tofu specks should be visible). 
3. Pour filling into the piecrust and bake for 35-60 minutes.  The timing is always quite different for me; check with a thermometer in the center to see when it reaches at least 160.  Alternatively, you can remove it from the oven when the edges are well set and the center BARELY jiggles.  Cool completely on a rack and then refrigerate until serving.
4. Serve with whipped cream or the whipped tofu cream recipe below.

Pie Crust
*This is the pie crust that I use.  It makes two 9-inch pie crusts, which is actually enough for two pies. You can halve the recipe or store the second half of the dough for a pie at a later date. It is totally acceptable to use a store-bought piecrust instead if you wish.

1-¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ -1 tsp. salt (Only use if making the recipe with butter.  If using Earth Balance, only add 1/8 teaspoon salt)
½ cup cold, unsalted butter (vegetarian) or Earth Balance (vegan)
¼ cup vegetable shortening or extra virgin coconut oil
4-5 tablespoons ice water

1. In medium mixing bowl (or food processor), add flours, salt, butter (or Earth Balance) and shortening (or coconut oil).
2. Use a pastry blender (or food processor) to cut (or pulse) in the butter and shortening until pieces are pea-sized or smaller.
3. Stir (or pulse) in one tablespoon of ice cold water at a time until dough forms a ball.
4. Separate dough into two equal pieces and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. You can also freeze at this stage if doing ahead.
5. Remove half the dough from the refrigerator.  On a lightly floured countertop, roll out with rolling pin until dough is 1/8-inch thick and larger enough to fill a 9-inch pie pan. 
6. Fold dough in half and then in half again.  Transfer dough to pie pan with the point of the folded dough exactly in the center of the pan.  Unfold dough to fill pie pan.  Crimp or scallop edges of crust as desired. 

Field Roast Celebration Roast, Tofurky Roast or Gardein Holiday Roast

Follow packaged directions.  All include recipes for a glaze.  Make said glaze and use it to baste the roast during cooking to maintain moisture and add flavor.  Baking time is 45 minutes to 90 minutes.  Cook until internal temperature is 165 degrees as indicated on meat thermometer or as indicated on package directions.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ultramarathon – how to finish strong in a technical 50-mile footrace through mountains

Jason is still smiling after 50 miles!

I started writing this post several months ago after supporting my fiancé, Jason, through his first ultramarathon – the Bear Mountain 50 mile Ultramarathon.  My own running of the New York City Marathon on November 3 was motivation to return to, and finish, this piece. 

An aside – if you get a chance to run the NYC Marathon, I highly recommend it!  Millions of people participate as runners and spectators. The energy is palpable.  Running the race injured, there is no way I would have made it through without the crowd’s motivation – truly unforgettable.

Before Jason’s ultra, I had dabbled in sports nutrition and created a solid nutrition plan for my own marathons, but I had never planned crew and nutrition support for an ultramarathon.  Luckily, the plan was successful – phew!  However, I learned that training and nutritional support for an ultramarathon of 50 miles and longer is MUCH different than what is required for a marathon.

Below is my interview with Jason about his training, crew and nutritional support during the race. 

First, let’s take a step back to make sure we’re all on the same page.


Some know what this is.  Many have heard the word, but don’t know exactly what it means.  Others are thinking, “what”?

An ultramarathon (aka. an “ultra”) is generally thought of as a running race that is longer in length than a traditional marathon, which is 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers.  In reality, both running and walking are often involved.  Some ultramarathons are a specified distance and while others are run over a specified period of time in which the winner runs the longest distance in the allotted time frame. Some common distances covered are 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers and 100 miles.  A common time-based ultramarathon is 24 hours in duration.  That said, races can be many days or thousands of miles long.  They can take place on streets, mountain trails or tracks.  Some take place under extreme conditions.

Some examples of particularly difficult ultramarathons are:

-       Shi Chimony, according to their website, is the world’s longest certified footrace at 3,100 miles that must be completed in under 52 days – an average of nearly 60 miles per day.  In my opinion, the most difficult part of this race, aside from the mileage, is that it is run around a single block in Queens, New York.
-       The Badwater Ultramarathon describes itself as “the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.” It covers 135 miles (217km) from Death Valley to the trailhead of Mt. Whitney, California and has 13,000 feet of elevation gain, finishing at an elevation of 8,360 feet.  The race takes place in July when Death Valley temperatures can reach over 120 degrees F/48.8C.
-       The Arrowhead 135 Ultramarathon runs 135 miles through the coldest part of Northern Minnesota with runners regularly experiencing temperatures of -40 degrees F/C.

OK – now we all know what an ultramarathon is.  Just reading these descriptions evokes a range of feelings.  For most ultramarathons (the exception being Shi Chimony which sounds like the most boring, monotonous, grueling thing imaginable – though I suppose that’s the point), I fall into the camp of, “wow, that’s amazing!” I think people that are able to run them are really inspiring.  However, my body has made it pretty clear that it has no interest in running ultras. I am happy to resign myself to helping others and thinking that maybe someday I’ll make the leap from marathon to 50K.

How I finished strong in a technical 50-mile footrace through mountains
Interview with Jason Wimmert

1. How did you train?

I used The Lore of Running by Timothy Noakes, MD to craft a training plan. (This is just an image, but if you want to download the interactive version, go to Dropbox).   The race was scheduled for May 4.  I started training October 15 with 22-mile weeks.  This was up from a baseline of 15 miles per week that I’d been stuck at due to recurrent injuries.

Highlights and surprises:
- I never ran more than 7.4 miles on a weekday.
            - Some shorter runs ranged from 3 to 7.4 miles.
            - My longest training run was 30 miles (50K).
            - Long runs started out not long at all – 7 miles in the beginning up to the 30 miles 
               mentioned above.  I aimed for 37 miles but the timing never worked out.
            - There was usually one “off,” or rest, day per week after the long run.  That is, unless the 
               long run was marathon distance or further.  I took 2 days off after these longer 

2. Food/Fuel.

What didn’t work?

            - Shot Bloks (or anything that takes a lot of chewing). You get too tired to chew and 
               breathe at the same time.  Some people were attempting beef jerky.  That’s crazy!
            - Goo (aka. sports gels) 
               worked pretty well for the majority of the race, but once nausea set in around mile 
               38 there were nearly impossible to stomach.  All I could tolerate were savory, salty 
               things that dissolved in my mouth, like broth and potato chips.

What worked?

-       Jason: I think you should explain this part.
-       Me: No problem.

It is essential to have a thorough nutrition and hydration plan that accounts for miles, time, calories burned, fluid and electrolyte balance as well as how much can be carried over the distance from one aid station to the next.  It is important to keep a relatively even calorie and fluid balance during the run.  This requires a lot of planning.  For example, Jason consumed 5,830 calories on the run (and burned 6,015 calories).  He drank 12 quarts (3 gallons) of liquid – six quarts each of water and electrolyte solution.  Obviously, this is far too much liquid and far too many calories to consume over a short period of time.  If you get behind, it’s very difficult and sometimes impossible to catch up without distressing your body (think nausea, vomiting, cramps, dizziness) or putting yourself at risk of medical complications. Severe electrolyte disturbances can lead to life-threatening brain swelling, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle breakdown and seizures. 

Work with whomever will be your crew to create your nutrition and hydration plan.  Time for another definition - "crew."  In long races, it is helpful (some would argue essential) to have one or more people to help the runner to create a nutrition and hydration plan and decide what equipment to bring along. They also work with the runner to plan which aid stations to meet them at and which food, water, electrolyte solutions, pieces of clothing and medical items they'll want available at each stop.  They follow the runner throughout the race, bringing all of the things above, tracking time, helping keep pace, keep up with calorie and hydration needs, provide minor first aid, and most importantly, cheer the runner on.  

Sometimes, one or more members of your crew will also be a pacer(s).  A pacer is defined as a "trail companion."  They serve to help the runner combat fatigue by running portions of a race with them - sometimes just a short distance, sometimes many miles. In the Western States 100, pacers can run roughly 40 miles with you!  Pacers can give no physical aid to, nor carry food or water for, the runner except for emergencies.  This type of aid will disqualify the runner.

Creating a Nutrition and Hydration Plan:
(An example of Jason’s step-by-step plan can be found here: Part I, Part II.)

1)  Draw out a map of the aid stations including the distances between each of them.
2) Review the landscape online or read past runners' comments to check which sections 
    are particularly challenging and more time-consuming than expected.
3) Based on this information, and your average time-per-mile on your long training runs, 
    guesstimate how long it will take you to run from each aid station to the next.  Record 
    these times on your map.
4)  Use a calculator to estimate how many calories you’ll burn between each aid station 
     and during the entire race.  Record these numbers on your map.
5)  Review the race website to find out which snacks/fuel and hydration options will be 
     available.  Look these items up online to find calorie counts and adjust as needed to find 
     the number of calories in a serving that can reasonably be eaten/drunk while running.
6) On your map, make list of items that the runner can ingest at/between aid stations that 
     meet estimated calorie needs. The crew will need to coach the runner at each stop what 
     s/he will need to eat at each station – or at least grab to carry and eat on the run between 
     aid stations.

Starting line, Bear Mountain, 5am

Race Day:

1) The runner should eat a caloric, but not heavy, breakfast 1-2 hours before starting the 
     race.  Record the caloric content of breakfast at the top of your map.
2) Draw boxes next to each aid station to record actual intake and cumulative intake.  Use 
     the actual intake box to record how many calories the runner ate since the previous aid 
     station.  Use the cumulative intake box to keep a running total of the runner’s calorie intake.
3) Crew should motivate the runner, make sure s/he keeps an even calorie balance and has 
     a minimum of 2-20 ounce bottles (or the equivalent) that are refilled at each aid station – 
     one with water, the other with electrolyte solution. See hydration, below.
4)  Check in with the runner at each aid station to see how they’re feeling.  Be ready to make 
     suggestions if they tell you, “I’ll throw up if I have another gel,” or “my jaw hurts too 
     much to chew anymore.”


Luckily, this race was under near ideal conditions – not too hot, not too cold, but just right.  Because of this and because Jason is not a big sweater nor does he tend to overhydrate, my job was easy.  I didn’t have to be as scientific and detail-oriented as might be needed under different conditions or for someone who falls closer to the extremes of hydration and sweating.  For this race, I relied on my usual distance running strategy of alternating water and electrolyte solution.  Specifically, Jason used a waist belt that held 2-20 ounce bottles.  One was kept filled with water and the other with an electrolyte solution.  I always had two additional 20 ounce bottles with me that I would have filled and ready to swap out for his empties at each aid station to help get him moving again as soon as possible.

I had Jason start with Nuun which are dissolving tablets that can be added to water to produce a lightly flavored, slightly effervescent electrolyte solution.  Unfortunately, Nuun tabs don’t come with sugar that is necessary for good hydration (see Gatorade post for details about why electrolytes and sugar are needed for proper hydration and how to make your own hydration drinks).  Initially, this wasn’t an issue since he was eating sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods and using gels, which are essentially sugar syrup plus electrolytes, vitamins and sometimes caffeine.  Still, I began to second-guess myself and decided to leave nothing to chance.  I was determined that Jason’s dream of running an ultra would not be crushed by a poor nutrition or hydration plan.  After the first aid station, I had Jason switch over to the Clif Shot drink mix provided, already mixed and ready to go, at each aid station.  There’s nothing magical about the Clif brand. Others containing potassium, sodium and sugar work just fine, too.  Alternatively, if I’d planned ahead, 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar could have been added to each bottle of Nuun for the same effect.

If you notice that you’re having difficulty maintaining good fluid balance on your long training runs, I suggest that you take a more scientific approach to hydration.  This involves calculating your sweat rate and planning to replace your fluid losses at a rate you’re able to absorb them.  The alternating of water and electrolyte solution as above should also work for this in most cases.  However, hydration in extreme hot weather is beyond the scope of this post.  Signs that you’re not hydrating properly are nausea, vomiting, decreasing or absence of urination, dark or tea-colored urine.  If you have anything beyond mild nausea, seek medical attention at the aid stations.  Most will happily advise you on a recovery strategy or tell you if it is unsafe to continue.

Second aid station, Jason's crew is taking in the beautiful scenery.

3. Things to Bring – or not:   

(Back to Jason)

-       Garmin (or other GPS enabled) watch.  It was helpful to know how far I’d gone and helped me stick to my planned pace.  It helped me keep up with timing of hydration and food.  There are downsides, though.  Plenty of people tripped while looking at their watches on the rocky trails. The battery only lasted 37 miles (about 7-1/2 hours) on my Garmin Forerunner 405, so I had to swap it out for Michelle’s Garmin 210 (which only has about 5 hours of battery life) to finish the race.  Most people don’t have 2 Garmin’s at home, but if you can borrow a friend’s for the day, it’ll be helpful.  Finally, the GPS tends to run ahead of the distance on every course I’ve ever run, so I’d psych myself up that there was only a mile left to go to an aid station, but really there might be 2 miles.  It was still better than not having an estimate.

-       Music.  I brought my iPhone loaded with podcasts and my favorite running songs, but never used it.  There were too many nice, interesting people to talk to – which are a much better motivator than music! I just wanted to be in the moment and enjoy nature.  Most people do not run ultras with headphones on.

Head lamp.  The race started in the dark and you were not allowed to start without a head lamp.  Due to the time required to run ultramarathons, many have significant portions that are in the dark.

-       Compression socks.  I am amazed how much these help.  On training runs, I tried with and without compression socks.  They really helped prevent lower leg swelling, soreness, cramping and fatigue.  During the race, I could feel my calves cramp up, but the cramps were never disabling.  I’m sure it would’ve been MUCH worse without them.

-       Compression shorts.  I didn’t wear them, but should have.  I just wore loose North Face running shorts, but feel like wearing the compression shorts underneath or alone might have helped with the quad cramping as well.  It was killer!
     Layers.  Even races that are run under near ideal conditions require layers.  Starting in the mountains at 5am, there is a lot of milling around in the dark waiting for the beginning of the race.  Even at nice times of the year, it can be COLD.  Many ultras have a lot of elevation change which means you also need to be prepared to run in both cold and hot weather. 
     Body glide.  I put this on almost everything before dressing for the race.  I reapplied body glide to my feet after I started to get blisters at mile 22.  Put body glide anywhere anything rubs together – like between your arms and chest, between your thighs (if they rub together), anywhere.  The chaffing can be horrible otherwise.

-       Moleskin.  I started to get blisters at mile 27, put on moleskin, and the developing blisters never progressed.  Unfortunately, I forgot scissors.  Thank goodness for a park ranger who carried everything!

-       Athletic tape is useful for putting over chaffed nipples (mile 34) and for any athletic taping that needs to be done for minor injuries, aches and pains.  (Michelle: There is no need to go out and spend a bunch of money on Kinesio tape.  The jury is still out on its effectiveness.)

-       ID, cell phone, emergency contact numbers. To be left with crew or in drop bags for pick up at the end of the race.  This is just in case something happens to you, you’re lost or you can’t find who you need to meet up with at the end of the race.

-       Extra sport gels, energy bars and other snacks . Carry extra along with you, stash them with your crew or place them in “drop bags.” Drop bags are bags that race coordinators with take to certain aid stations on the trail.  These are useful at aid stations where crew is not allowed or you can have them placed at certain stations if you are running without crew.

-       Hat. Sunglasses would have been tough on this technical course because it’s difficult to see the contours of the ground on the darker portions of the trail.  A hat designed for running keeps both sun and sweat out of your eyes.

-       Flip flops and clean clothes. You’ll definitely want these at the end of the race.  Your feet will ache for a breather after all the pounding on the trail.  Barefoot might be fine if you’re used to it, but my feet were too tender.  The thought of stepping rocks wasn’t worth it.

-       Ice and heat packs.  The chemical-release ones are nice because you don’t actually need ice or a way to heat anything up.

-       Anti-inflammatories and analgesic balm. I didn’t end up using any anti-inflammatories, but I consider myself lucky.  I can imagine a lot of scenarios where it would be nice to have Aleve or Ibuprofen.  I used a lot of IcyHot at the end of the race. 

-       Water bottles or vest. I carried 2-20 ounce bottles (as discussed above) with me at all times.  I carried them in a waist belt. I had to keep stopping to readjust the belt because it seemed like my waist kept shrinking during the race.  It took a lot of time to stop and do the adjustments.  Next time, I might try a water vest since they are adjustable while running.  On second thought, I’m not sure how I’d carry both water and electrolyte solution in a vest.  Hmm…I’ll have to think more about this.

-       Extra socks.  Forget them. I took them but didn’t need them.  Just wear a pair of socks that held up well under your long runs and you should be fine (unless it’s freezing, of course).

-       Shirt with UV protection and sunscreen. Being outside in the elements for nearly twelve hours, I got a lot of sun.  Luckily, I learned on training runs that sunscreen cream is a disaster.  Because of sweating, sunscreen has to be reapplied regularly.  Mix this with the dirt and grime you accumulate on the run and it’s not pretty.  I wore a t-shirt with UV protection and covered exposed skin with sunscreen spray which was much less messy than the cream.

-       Insect repellent. Unless it’s winter, you’ll need this out on the trails.

-       Pacer.  Pacers are a much-needed mental distraction, especially in the later portions of the race.  I had a good buddy run the last 10 miles with me.  Pick someone who can run your pace and will push you and make you feel like you can do it!  Don't pick someone that will push you to injury, though.

Running down into the foothills

4. What shoes did you wear?

La Sportiva Wildcat Trail-Running Shoes worked well for training and didn’t disappoint during the race.  Wear trail running shoes!  My pacer wore regular running shoes and had a lot of issues with slipping and a couple of minor falls.

5. What would you do differently or what other tips do you have for someone planning their first ultramarathon?

  • I would not plan an ultra during a time when I had to do a lot of traveling for work.  My last two months of training really suffered due to international travel to areas where it was not possible to do trail runs.  I wasn’t able to do my longest training run – 37.2 miles – due to traveling.
  • Choose a flatter race for your first ultra.  In other words, don’t pick one that has the with high technical and difficulty ratings, with 14,000 feet of elevation change.  What was I thinking?!?
  • Practice lots of up and downhills in training.  The downhills were quad killers!
  • Try to train based on elevation and course type.  For example, if you’re running at a very different elevation than you live/train in, you need to make sure to acclimate and get some training at the course elevation.  As for course type, I wish I would’ve gone to the ski slopes near where I live during a non-snowy time of year and run up and down them.  
  • If you’re running a very technical (read: rocky) race, you must train to do this or risk rolling your ankles – or worse.  Well, you actually risk this no matter what, but proper training lessens the chance.
  • Find a group or partner to train with if possible.  It makes the time you spend training more interesting and bearable.  I found a running group with several members that had run ultras before.  I did trail runs on the weekends with them and learned some of the things I’m sharing here from them.
  • Don’t anticipate running up significant inclines.  Practice power hiking.  This helped me to both pass people and save crucial calf strength for the end of the race.
  • Most importantly, have a trusted source for the aches, pains, nutrition and hydration info along the way.  Improper training and recovery WILL lead to injury and potentially dangerous medical consequences of fluid and electrolyte imbalance. Luckily, I have a chef, doctor, nutritionist at home.  Without her nutritional advice, I would have been dehydrated and halfway behind on my caloric needs midway through the race.  I credit one big race accomplishment to Michelle – not throwing up!