That twenty hour period, where the night sets in during your ultra – and the brain starts to fade and you have to slow down to keep sure footed on the trail…. Or the 30km point in the run of the Ironman, where your focus on the road begins to blur…..
Mental exhaustion – it is as much a part of endurance racing, as is cardio-vascular fitness and muscle fatigue. How we manage it can be the difference between finishing and a DNF.
While using food based stimulants, can ‘pep us up to go faster at night’ – it’s not purely about the performance. In fact it’s very common, that at checkpoints during the night, in Ultras, that confidence is seen to wain, mental fortitude is challenged, and emotions are most fragile.
Coffee is probably seen as the go to food, to provide mental stimulus. However, gels with caffeine, chocolates, chocolate energy bars and hot teas are all used during races to provide that necessary ‘hit’ to keep on rolling. One thing to be aware of with Coffee , is it has a mild-laxative effect for 30-40% of the population (US study). This is due to the acid nature of coffee effecting the large colon. You may get away with this for a two hour run, but six, ten, fifteen, twenty hours of running and coffee-drinking – isn’t going to end well for anyone 🙂
In this most recent study, it was interesting to note that in addition to the 14% improvement in endurance performance that caffeine provided – mood state was also notably improved. Using caffeine based foods to help us ‘stay alert’ to avoid a mistaken foot strike, or to ‘keep us in a positive frame of mind’ maybe even the more valuable reason for using it in Ultras.
So think about caffeine use to help out in Ultras, though be sure to test on your long training runs, which foods help the most – and which may have other effects you would want to avoid.