How Ultramarathoner Michelle Barton Trained for the Heat of Badwater

Las Vegas is hot. HOT. HOTTTTT….. We all know this, right?

Earlier this year I was introduced to SaltStick caps and I used them for my training in the Boston Marathon. That race was the exact opposite of hot, but the SaltStick caps still made such a huge difference in how I felt on all my training runs and during the race. I frequently have stomach troubles during races and I think these caps helped me avoid that. The stomach is, after all, a muscle and keeping your electrolytes in check helps prevent muscle cramping.

When I had the chance to partner with SaltStick during their #30SaltyDays campaign, I was happy to do so because a) I’m a salty sweater so I know the importance of replenishing that essential mineral in the body; b) They were going to provide information on how an ultrarunner had success in Badwater with their product; and c) it was a way for me to potentially pick up on some new information and share it with all of you! So…. without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure:


This post is part of our #30SaltyDays summer campaign, in which we hope to educate YOU about the benefits and science behind electrolytes. Follow the campaign with the hashtag #30SaltyDays on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram and the SaltStick blog. We’re offering our brand new product, SaltStick FASTCHEWS, as a giveaway for participants. More information here: http://bit.ly/1Rz0avu.

salt stick capsOn May 4, 2015, SaltStick-sponsored athlete Michelle Barton finished the Badwater Salton Sea ultramarathon, a 81-mile race through extreme heat, from below sea level at the shoreline of the Salton Sea, across, up, and over Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, to the top of Palomar Mountain, almost 5,500 feet above sea level. When she finished, Michelle had broken the female course record by several hours. Joining her was fellow elite ultrarunner Majo Srnik, and together, they took first place in mixed doubles (male and female) team.

Badwater Salton Sea is one of several Badwater-branded races, one of which is the Badwater 135, the infamous “World’s Toughest Foot Race,” through Death Valley, California (which Michelle has also run). The inaugural 2015 Salton Sea race took place in 2013.

*If you want to learn more about Michelle’s experience racing Salton Sea, check out this Endurance Planet podcast and this Tri*Tawn blog entry.

As any Badwater finisher will tell you, these races involve long distances through extreme heat. Thus, athletes need to change their training to accommodate for the tough conditions they’ll have to endure during the race. We asked Michelle to tell us how she prepared for Badwater and to share some advice for age-group athletes looking to compete in similar conditions.

Tip No. 1: Michelle dramatically increased running mileage:

After a steady amount of training at “only” 60 miles per week, Michelle began to up her weekly mileage after February, or three months out. By the time Badwater arrived, she was routinely running up to 150 miles per week.

“I was getting obsessed on Strava,” she says. (If you’re on Strava, you can see her training under ‘Michele Barton.’)

Michelle also reduced the amount of cross-training each week to make time for all those miles. During her 60-mile weeks, she would often mountain bike or swim to fit in more cardio and give her running legs a break, but in the weeks leading up to Badwater, she stuck to running.

“I rarely (if ever) take any days off training,” she says. “My body adapted great to the distance. In 15 years of running, I have never logged this kind of mileage in my life.”

The endless running paid off: “Typically I was a run, bike, swim kind of training the last 10 years,” Michelle says. “But I kept blowing up at mile 80 of my 100 mile races. This time my legs were solid. I wasn’t sore after the race.”

KEY TAKEAWAY: The best way to prepare for a race is to imitate race conditions as much as you can. Ultramarathons require long, slow training for hours at a time each week. You will not be racing fast (Michelle and Majo raced at a 10-minute-mile pace, and they are elites!), so you do not need to run fast in training. By slowing down, you’ll be able to incorporate more overall miles each week, which is the most important thing in preparing for an ultra.

train-hard-to-race-easy

Also, consider finding ways to train in a similar climate: “I recommend logging as many miles as possible and also to sauna train,” Michelle says. “Train hard to race easy. Get uncomfortable during training.”

Tip No. 2: Michelle changed her nutrition strategy to include more liquids and electrolytes:

Michelle routinely consumes all her calories from liquid, regardless the temperature and location of her race. However, to prepare for the heat, she altered her race nutrition to include more SaltStick than normal (she consumed 1 SaltStick Cap every 45 minutes; Majo consumed 2 per hour) and more water — especially ice water — to stay cool.

“Stay on top of your electrolytes and hydration!” Michelle says. “Do NOT be lazy!”

stay-on-top-of-your-electrolytes

Michelle says the liquid calories kept her stomach from cramping: “I recommend staying with liquid nutrition. We never had any stomach issues whatsoever. Next time I would take SaltStick Caps PLUS [which include caffeine] later in the race because I was falling asleep on the final climb up Mt. Palomar from miles 70-81.”

KEY TAKEAWAY: It’s harder for your stomach to digest solid foods during a hot race because much of your blood is redirected away from your digestive system to your skin to help release excess heat. Obviously, you also sweat more when it’s hot, so you need greater amounts of water and electrolytes. The hotter the race, the more calories you’ll want to consume in liquid form.

Also, be sure to stay on top of replacing electrolytes. As we blogged about in February, most sports drinks do not contain a high enough sodium-to-water ratio to adequately replace electrolytes lost through sweat (otherwise your sports drink would taste like seawater). Also, a study published in March 2015 found that triathletes who supplemented sports drinks with SaltStick Caps finished a half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) an average of 26 minutes faster than the control group that only supplemented with sports drink.

Tip No. 3: Michelle adapted her pace to account for the heat:

While the overall pacing goal was 10k (6.2 miles) per hour (about 10-minute miles, which is very fast for an ultramarathon), Michelle and Majo intentionally slowed down for during the hottest part of the day.

Michelle also noticed training in the heat vs. training in the cold helped her in the race conditions: “Majo was training in the snow in Canada and not much heat training at all,” she says. “He did fantastic considering and once the sun went down, he was flying. I, on the other hand was awesome in the heat and once it got cold I felt like I slowed a bit. It was a perfect match because we helped each other a lot.”

KEY TAKEAWAY: Don’t overdo it when racing in the heat. Realize that your body will have to run more slowly, especially if you haven’t been training in hot conditions.

“It is important to train at your race pace in similar conditions (if possible) meaning, if the race is on pavement, train on pavement,” Michelle says. “If the race is in mountains, train on mountains. Seems simple, but people don’t always do what they need to do. They rely on talent or speed, and that doesn’t translate well in to a solid 81-mile finish.”

Conclusion:

Ultramarathons in the heat are one of the toughest racing challenges, but with adequate preparation, you can find success in a race similar to Badwater. As you’ve seen above, Michelle’s training isn’t rocket science. She puts in the miles, she stays on top of her nutrition, and she adapts her pace to the racing environment. You can use these tips as well to find success in your own racing. Good luck, and happy training!

What is Michelle up to next? Michelle is racing the infamous Badwater 135 on July 28, and she says she plans to join Majo again next year for the 2016 Badwater Salton Sea. She also plans to keep using SaltStick!

I seriously would be in trouble if I didnt use your product for the decade,Michelle told us. It is so automatic to use Saltstick, I dont have to wonder or worry because I know it always works perfect for me.


Each year I follow along as the Badwater 135 runners tackle the infamous course… so I’ll be cheering for Michelle!

 

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