Trail du Vélan - 9th

This weekend I ran in the Trail du Vélan in the canton of Valais. It's a 45km race with 3600m of climbing. The race starts in the village of Bourg-St-Pierre which is the last village in Switzerland before the St Bernard pass going through the Alps to Italy. The route winds through the Alps passing by the mountain refuges of Cabane Mille, Azeria, Cabane Valorsay and Cabane Vélan.

My goal for the race was to work on my nutrition, making sure that I took in enough calories during the run, and to manage my pace consistently and within my ability for the race distance. These were two errors that I mentioned in my Lavaredo report so it felt good to have these as focuses during the race. I was pleased to do a good job on these two objectives and I think that it made the whole race more enjoyable and a little faster.

I still have some strength to work on for the long climbs and descents and I need to be certain that I can execute my improved nutrition and pacing plans in all future races.

The route was spectacular and very, very tough. It felt like a lot of climbing until about the last 7km which was all downhill to the finish. The sunrise was beautiful and the views of glaciers are always something I treasure and look forward to. I highly recommend this race!

Bourg St Pierre - nestled in the Alps.

Coming in to the finish after a good day in the mountains.

Race result: 7:23:14 and 9th.


Jonathan said...

Well done Dan! A great result! I'd be interested in knowing what you did differently in respect of your nutrition during the race in terms of what you were taking in (fluid and solid) in terms of both quantity and the intervals between ingestion. Also, what did you eat on the morning of the race and how long before the race did you eat?

Daniel Rowland said...

Thank you!

I ate about 2.5hrs before the race. It was a simple meal of oats with banana and raisins. I've been using that meal on my training days and it seems to go down well and give me sustained energy during the run.

In the race I split it into two portions and had different food intakes during those two phases.

The first 4 hours was taking in about 250 kCal/hr where I ate every 30min and drank every 15min. In that first portion of the race I was using products that provide more sustained energy like 32Gi bars, chews and Endure drink. This worked pretty well and was quite manageable.

In the second part of the race I moved to simpler carbohydrate sources. This was a bit of an experiment and it seemed to work this first time in a race. I had coke and water (you might know where I learnt about that!!) and glucose sweets. I was aiming at 200-250 kCal/hr and drinking whenever I felt like it.

Overall the strategy wasn't markedly different to what I've done in the past. ~250 kCal/hr with some sort of food or drink coming in every 15 min. The main difference was shifting towards simpler sugars at the end of the race. It worked, but I still need to experiment with it more.

Jonathan said...

Hi Dan - your regime looks very much like the one I have been testing in preparation for the Augrabies this year, with a high carb loading a few hours before, followed by a long-chain sugar drink about 20 minutes before starting and then getting in solids during the first two or so hours of the run. I am using my own energy bars made from 1/3 dried fruit and nut mix, 1/6 roasted salted peanuts, 1/6 roasted salted almonds and 1/3 dried pitted dates. After putting all into a blender the mix compresses well into cohesive bars (bound by the dates) with a calorie count around 236 per 50 grams. Getting solids in early, I find, settles my stomach with refuelling then later with the normal gels.

Dr Gwinyai Masukume, MB ChB(UZ), Dip Obst(SA), MSc(Wits), PhD(UCC) said...

Congratulations on your recent races. How in the main do the mountains differ from your previous experiences in terms of nutrition?

Daniel Rowland said...

Thanks Gwinyai!

There are three major differences with respect to nutrition.

The first is that the mountain races have aid stations and the opportunity to pick-up food along the way which differs from the self-supported stage races. This means I don't have to take with me all my food and the focus on carrying foods with the highest calories per gram is not as important. This is a big advantage because I can eat a better variety of food which helps with keeping up my appetite - eating the same sweet gels and drinking a sugary drink every 20mins can get monotonous and dull the appetite.

The second is that the mountain races are single stages and much longer than each individual day in a stage race. Nutrition during the race is more important to maintain the pace towards the end of the race. In the stage races it is possible to get away with a less-than-optimal nutrition plan provided I have a big focus on the recovery and between-stage nutrition. I have to be very diligent to keep eating and drinking no matter how I feel to be certain that I don't run out of energy.

Finally the long descents in the mountains really shake up my body and especially my stomach. In the stage races it's easier to eat on a schedule whereas the mountains require better timing so I don't have a full stomach before a long descent and at the same time I have to be careful as it's more difficult to eat during a steep climb. I try to eat immediately after a long descent so my stomach has time to digest before the next long descent.

Dr Gwinyai Masukume, MB ChB(UZ), Dip Obst(SA), MSc(Wits), PhD(UCC) said...

Interesting. Thanks for the comprehensive response! Best.