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  • Writer's pictureRyan Allen

Strategy and preparation to maximize distance in a day

In case you have not heard, we have recently launched our 2024 Fundraiser to support our various community projects. This is of course accompanied by the Zone 7 24-Hour Trek, where our challenge is to cover as much distance as we can on foot in a day. Recall that you can join the trek yourself, and while we are going all-out and testing our physical limits, there is no obligation to cover any significant distance! On our fundraiser page, you can simply record a walk, run, hike, etc. of any distance and be entered to win a prize of $500 value. When you register, you can also have friends and family support your trek by donating to the cause through your page.


Nonetheless, we try to push ourselves as much as possible in our annual challenges, having previously done a 600-mile bike ride, an Ironman triathlon, and a 100-lb water-carry up the Grand Canyon. Having inquired with friends about the distance they think I am capable of covering, I am setting a tentative goal of 60 miles across the 24 hours. I truly have no sense of how realistic this is for me, but I have been trying to intently plan out my strategy, both for the day-of logistics and the days, weeks, and months prior of preparation. I am definitely not suggesting what I am doing is optimal or even close to it; in fact, I am sure there are ultra-distance athletes who would shake their heads at my plan. This is simply what I think will work best for me as an individual, given that I am not an elite cardiovascular endurance athlete, I am not willing to wildly adjust things like my sleep schedule or exercise routine in order to accommodate this, and (outside of this one day), I am optimizing for a life of longevity rather than performance, which means my health will always come first. That said, here is my framework.



Figure: A previous Instagram post of ours highlighting different nap durations, the 90-minute sleep cycle, and how to optimize restoration from a short bout of sleep. My current plan is to include a 90-minute nap during the hottest period of my trek.


Sleep


I’ll be honest, of each of these categories, this is probably going to be the most detrimental to my performance. It won’t just be suboptimal; my circadian rhythm is going to be destroyed for at least this one day (with a likely blast radius of at least a few days). The reasons for my major adjustments on sleep are two-fold. First, I am trying my best to avoid the extreme Arizona heat, which is not exactly conducive to safe and productive endurance exercise. Second, I am trying to maximize time on my feet, and therefore want to minimize the time I spend resting across the 24-hour period. So, I plan to sleep from around 5pm until just before midnight the night before, in order to set off right at midnight. It will still be reasonably hot in the middle of the night, so I want to maximize how many hours I am going in darkness while the day is at its coolest. In an ideal world, this sleep window will allow me an opportunity for around 4 90-minute sleep cycles, and I will cross my fingers that I wake up at an appropriate time in the cycle (during the lighter stages) which will allow me to feel maximally awake at midnight. The next day, depending on the high temperature of the day and my level of fatigue at that time, I may opt for a nap to optimize my own physiological performance and control for the environmental obstacle of the heat. This nap would likely be around 90 minutes, allowing me to get one full sleep cycle in with a REM sleep opportunity, which would likely offer significant improvement in my recovery and cardiovascular capacity for the remainder of the day.


Training


In truth, I haven’t changed a whole lot in my exercise regimen in preparation for this, aside from a couple things. The first is that I have simply added more time for zone 2 training per week. This should be the principal factor in very long-distance endurance efforts, as you are pretty much relying on your mitochondria and oxidative (“aerobic”) metabolism to carry you through just about the whole thing. This is why zone 2, or low-to-moderate intensity cardiovascular exertion, is often referred to as one’s “all-day pace.” The most elite cardio athletes in the world spend around 80% of their training time in zone 2, and only push with maximal efforts for around 20% of their workouts. I try to do the same regularly, if not even slightly more in favor of zone 2. The other key difference is that I have shifted around a third of my cardio workouts from my typical stair-climbing to running. This is primarily to ensure I could build up a base of zone 2 capacity with running, which can be a challenge due to our tendency to push harder with this sort of movement. Also, I just wanted to generally get accustomed to things like mechanics given that I do not usually run that often.


Race Strategy


As I have certainly found to be the case in our previous long-distance challenges, the best way to sustainably keep covering ground is to ensure I am staying in that low-to-moderate zone 2, and keep my pace ideally as steady and constant as possible. This makes sense, because as soon as you start to push yourself much harder, you will start to accumulate a metabolite from glycolysis called lactate (you may have heard of athletes getting pain from lactic acid buildup during intense exercise). It is virtually impossible to sustain a state of exertion where you’re actively building up lactate for very long, so you want to be careful not to go over that edge. That said, you also do not want to completely rest for any prolonged period of time either. Think about it like an engine that you have already turned on and revved up. Once you already have that system going strong, you want to minimize the amount of times you’re turning it off entirely and having to turn your key in the ignition again. So, aside from the possible recovery nap during the heat of the day, I will likely stay in motion all day. My current framework I have in mind is to alternate between 10 miles of running and 5 miles of walking, although that is very much open to alteration based on how I am going along at the time. The important things are staying moving, and trying to never push beyond a zone 2 threshold.


Nutrition


This is somewhere where I may differ from a lot of people, but I think my strategy is particularly suited for very long distance efforts that do not require bursts of glycolytic activity. As I mentioned, I am trying to stay in zone 2 as much as possible on the day, and I do not want to push myself into an unsustainable path of glycolysis at all as I will accumulate lactate and burn fuel inefficiently. Well, this can be done either through level of exertion, or in some cases nutrition. Simple carbohydrates and sugars will easily push your body into a glycolytic state, as you have lots of readily available glucose to break down through that fast pathway. To avoid this, I actually want to be taking in fats as much as possible, which are only oxidized (metabolized, or “burned”) in the mitochondria. Not only will this try to upregulate my mitochondrial activity the way I am hoping, but it will give me long-acting fuel that will sustain me throughout the day. It is also calorically dense, which is ideal to avoid significant volume intake with all of the movement. A lot of my blood will be shunted to my muscles to help with all of the work they are doing, and with that my gut will be left a bit out to dry, so I want to minimize load on it. Therefore, nutrient dense, fat-heavy liquids are the way to go, at least until the end of the day when you can start pushing carbs to push hard during the home stretch. So, I will rely heavily on olive oil, and potentially even some smooth solids like peanut butter or avocado. Once I maybe take in some bread or fruit, I am largely committing myself to a short-term glycolytic strategy, so it better be close enough to the finish line to avoid the crash.


While this is my personal approach to the challenge, it certainly does not have to be yours. In fact, we want to hear everyone’s strategies and stories of their experiences on the day! Share the details of your trek with us on social media, either by commenting on our posts or tagging us in your own. We’re so thankful for all of you joining us for this exciting, action-packed day, and wish you good luck in achieving your goals!





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