Health issues in ultra running
When running long distances, staying well-fuelled is essential. Here's how, when and what to eat and drink on long runs, as well as advice on resting and staying injury-free.

Health issues in ultra running

Liquid replacement

When training for long distances, you will have to consider refreshment: liquid, energy and electrolyte replacement. Again, depending on your route and any partners, there are various methods. One of my friends used to drive around his 30 mile run the day before, putting out drinks at suitable locations. Perhaps a cyclist friend could carry drinks in a backpack.

it is essential to get used to drinking (and eating) on the run

You may be quite happy to go for thirty miles without a drink in the cooler months of the year but it is essential to get used to drinking (and eating) on the run, not only to avoid de-hydration but also to perfect your technique and find out what works best for you.

Research suggests that a 4-6% strength energy supplement plus a small amount of electrolyte (salt) is the best solution. However, there are numerous energy drink formulae available and you will need to find one that works for you. Four per cent is 40g to a litre of water, which, with a generous pinch of salt added, should be an ideal strength.

Various flavours are available, or you could add a slosh of your favourite fruit drink. For shorter distance runs plain water is fine. Making drinks up to the manufacturers recommendations will generally give a too-strong drink for ultra runs. This can result in stomach cramps or vomiting.
Rest is key for ultra runners © adimas

On longer efforts there is a need to take on more solid nutrition. The first solid food on most lists is ripe bananas, but jelly babies, jelly beans, tinned peaches, tinned rice, yoghurt, malt loaf and other sweet and easily swallowed foods are used regularly. Over a long time-scale race it is more important to replenish energy than worry about the time lost in stopping, so taking a mouthful and chewing it for a minute is preferable to 'hitting the wall' later on.


Taking a mouthful and chewing it for a minute is preferable to 'hitting the wall' later on

Due to the sometimes extreme conditions which characterise ultra distance running there are some basic health rules to consider. The actual stress of training and racing over extended periods can leave the body open to infections due to collapse of the natural immune system. It is therefore essential that adequate rest periods are programmed into any training schedule, and that proper diet care is taken to ensure full recovery and maintenance of essential vitamins and other important trace elements.


Injuries are liable to be the result of constant repetition of the same movements - overuse injuries - rather than the type of muscle tear seen in "explosive events". It is worth considering a regular maintenance massage by a competent sports massage therapist who should be able to nip things in the bud.


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