Strategies to reduce fatigue in an ultramarathon

Now that we’ve covered the basics of fatigue during an ultramarathon, what do we do to reduce or minimize it?  One of the key points I hope you picked up on is that a large portion of fatigue during an ultramarathon occurs because the brain reduces the amount of signal it sends to activate the working muscle.  Therefore, the first thing I would focus on to reduce or minimize fatigue is to somehow boost that signal from the brain.   How do we do this?  Well, there’s several things we can do to boost the signal from the brain to activate more muscle: listening to music, having a pacer, sparing use of anti inflammatory drugs, and possibly alcohol consumption.  All of these methods to some degree distract the brain from the perception of pain.   When the brain senses pain from the working muscles, it may reduce running pace in an attempt to  reduce the pain.  Generally, anything which reduces boredom would also have a similar effect.  The other effect we would want is to minimize inflammation.  Diet and stress prior to the race would likely affect inflammation.  If you are stressed out or eating poorly then you’ll have more inflammation going into the race.  Conversely, if you maintain a high fiber intake with plenty of probiotics (yogurts) and you minimize life stress prior to the race then you would likely start with reduced inflammation.  During the race, you can minimize inflammation by avoiding surges in your pace.  However, eventually  (6-8 hrs) your working muscles will produce inflammatory signals which can feedback to the brain and reduce the pace.  A well timed dose of ibuprofen or 1 alcoholic beverage may reduce inflammation and restore pace for a few hours.  The trick is want to time it right to avoid boosting your pace early on resulting in more inflammation.  What I generally do is attempt to run the first 30-50 miles of a 100 mile race without anything to help me.  No music, pacers, or pills.  I immerse myself in the experience and focus on getting plenty of food and drinking appropriate amounts of fluid.  Once I get past this initial phase, I switch on the music in 5-10 mile segments.  I rarely have pacers, so this would likely alter my music use.  I usually hold off on any anti-inflammatory drugs till at least the 100k mark.  I wait later if I can still run.  I take a very low dose ibuprofen.  I would recommend consulting a physician before using any anti-inflammatory drugs since using these when dehydrated can result in kidney failure. The anti-inflammatory drugs  will make me feel amazing for 10-15 mile bursts.  I may end up taking a total of 2 doses.  I should note that many people drink beer for the same purpose which can both suppress inflammation and provide a potent dose of energy.  If you can make it within 5-10 miles of the finish line, the excitement of finishing will take over.

 

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