How not to poop your wetsuit

I often joke that endurance races are as much of a running competition as they are an eating contest; I love both so no wonder these types of races are my favorite. But the truth is: several hours into the race, eating, just as running, becomes hard. But you can’t quit – because if you stop eating, eventually you’ll run out of fuel, and your legs will no longer let you move. You can never fall behind on nutrition, and if you rely on your hunger to know when to eat another snack you’re already behind.

Knowing this I came into my first ever endurance OCR event, WTM 2017, with a plan: eat often, eat foods high in calories and easy to process, and I would never have to stop running. That plan worked well until the reality of the wetsuit hit me – when you’re covered in layers of neoprene that are covered by more layers of bibs and windbreakers, eating too much (or eating the wrong foods) is just as much of a disaster as eating too little. Wetsuits are expensive and spouses only have so much patience to deal with our crap (pun intended), so I was determined to figure out my nutrition, study my body’s response to different foods, and test new strategies in endurance events throughout the year to come into WTM 2018 better prepared.

Everyone is different

The most important thing to figure out is what kinds of foods work well for you. Now is a great time to start – throughout the year, notice which foods give you energy, what puts you to sleep, what you can eat 5 minutes before a workout or a run and not barf. Most importantly, figure out which foods make you poop – I started making notes of things to avoid based on how soon after the meal or a snack I was running for the toilet. For me, two of those are nuts and watermelon, which would otherwise be perfect in a race (nuts are high in calories and watermelon is full of electrolytes). When you’re running around in a wetsuit, however, electrolytes aren’t going to help you much if you turn hypothermic stripping out of your wetsuit every 10 minutes (if you’re lucky enough to be able to do it in time).

sad-food

Your choice of food should probably make you a bit happier than this. Photo credit: Jake Ramsby. 

Know your diet

Another important thing is to know your diet, and not deviate from it significantly during the event. I generally eat healthy, with almost no processed food (other than cereal) and I haven’t had a dessert other than fruit in years. While it’s true that any calories are better than no calories, I have no idea how my body would respond to things such as cookies, Snickers bars, or other heavily processed foods so I tend to avoid those. You can certainly eat foods you don’t normally eat on a run, but I would avoid things you never eat. Similar goes for energy gels – a lot of those are basically a mix of fructose and maltodextrin, the main reason for my GI issues before I switched to real food based gels. You might be fine if your stomach is used to processed foods, but if your diet generally consists of meals made from scratch you probably want to find something your stomach will know what to do within a race as well.

pizza-and-coca

Pizza and hot chocolate are a popular nighttime snack. Photo credit: Joe Tabor.

When to eat

Once you have your list of deliciousness to look forward to, just how often should you consume them? I went into WTM 2018 with a plan to have one Spring energy gel every 20 minutes and real food at every pit stop. What I didn’t account for was that my watch was both caked in mud and hidden beneath layers of clothing. You could set an alarm, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear it under all of the layers keeping your head warm. Instead of going by time, I decided to go by the feel – not hunger, but rather energy level. As soon as I started to feel a bit more sluggish, I tried to eat. If I started feeling cold, I tried to eat. I had mental checkpoints along the course, places where if I hadn’t had anything yet by then on that lap, I would eat something there whether or not I felt like I needed it.

eat-on-the-go

Eating on course saves you a lot of time. Photo credit: Brad Kerr Photography

Immodium is your friend

Even with all of the above, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to run for 24 hours without needing to visit a porta potty at least once. Don’t try to hold it longer – you won’t make it through the race anyway, and it will only make it worse and probably give you a stomachache. If you notice that your stool is loose, I highly recommend Immodium – in fact, I recommend this as a precaution as well, and I always take one before a race. I took two of those after my poop lap in Atlanta, after which my stomach calmed down and I was able to keep on racing without any more trouble coming my way. And make sure to note how you feel afterwards – one thing I’ve noticed is that pooping always makes me so hungry soon after, so I make sure to increase my food intake during the pit stop that follows.

hand-warmers

Lines between gear and food get blurred as the temperatures drop below freezing: and warmer or a cookie? Photo credit: Benjamin Keith Riley 

Bottom line

At the end of the day, we are all different and figuring these things out takes a few races to troubleshoot and learn on mistakes. Hopefully, yours will be less smelly than mine.

poop-patrol

Anne Clifford helped both me and Kris Mendoza strip in and out of our wetsuit on the course. The real hero of WTM 2018. Photo credit: Mathieu Lo

 

Why My Wetsuit Played A Huge Role At World’s Toughest Mudder

There is something about a 24-hour race that you can never fully be prepared for. I could train harder, run faster, complete more pull-ups, and carry heavier things, but that doesn’t guarantee anything at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Training is imperative to success, but there is a limit to what your physical prowess can provide. There are moments when you have to rely on our emotional and psychological strength to push you through, but even that gets tapped out at a certain point. Just like any race, there is utmost importance to prepare physically and psychologically, but unlike other races, gear plays an essential role in this 24-hour grind.

 

Coming into WTM for the fourth time, I knew what to expect, but there is only so much that prepares you for 24 hours of the unknown. Unlike previous years, I was competing in the Team Relay competition instead of the individual category. This would throw in a whole new dynamic to the once familiar race. Instead of slowly grinding my way throughout the race, I was tasked with racing hard for a short time and then stopping.

Here was the plan, start the race as a four-man team and then alternate two people every lap, minimizing pit time, until the wheels fell off. I was hoping that faster laps would allow me to wear a thinner wetsuit than previous years, knowing full well that things can go downhill quickly. I prepared my usual gauntlet of wetsuits and layers just in case. The plan was to start off in shorts and a t-shirt.
Once the sun went down, I switched into long compression gear. Then the Blegg Mitts and a windbreaker came on for a little more warmth. I knew that temperatures would quickly drop and more water obstacles at night meant that we would be cold and wet for the duration of the race. During previous years I wore full wetsuits ranging from 3/2mm to 5/3mm, often making it difficult to move. The relay calls for quicker laps, so I needed something that was warm enough, but less constricting than a full wetsuit. The plan was to use the Hyperflex VYRL 2.5mm Shorty Springsuit with a front chest zip and the 2.5mm Neosport Wetsuit Cap with an adjustable chinstrap from Wetsuit Wearhouse.

I wish I had more to tell you, but the truth is, this combination worked like a charm. Every lap, my teammate and I would start our lap in cold, wet gear. Putting those cold clothes on every lap added a whole new dimension of suck to WTM. Less than a mile into the lap, my body would warm up and it was off to the races. While the water temperature threw a wrench into many people’s plans, my layered outfit was perfect for staying warm on-course. When we finished a lap, we would quickly strip out of our wet clothes, throw on something warm, and try to recover for the next lap. While it would have been nice to have two wetsuits that I could alternate, this was a small wrinkle in the scheme of things. Plus, this is WORLD”S TOUGHEST MUDDER. It isn’t easy. While it was hard putting on wet clothes as we prepared for another lap, it didn’t rival the psychological ups and downs of the relay format.

All in all, it was a tough race. Starting and stopping throughout the night was a whole new challenge that I have never experienced. I was forced to stay loose while trying to recover in time for my next effort. My laps felt like an all-out sprint at times and it gave me a whole new experience at WTM. Our team managed to finish 2nd overall in the Team Relay category and I am so proud of my teammates and pit crew for helping us along the way. While Atlanta will bring a whole new challenge to WTM, I can only speculate that people will underestimate the conditions and forgo bringing a wetsuit. Don’t be one of those people. World’s Toughest Mudder is a race of unknowns, so always be prepared. I can’t wait to see all you crazies out there!