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"Ultra-trail": preparation and recovery
Regarding preparation, what should you put in your pack before starting an ultra-trail?
It all depends on whether it's a mountain trail or not, and on how adventurous or exposed the course is. Generally, in the mountains, for racing and for training, you should think about what's known as the "basic kit".
This basic kit isn't the same as a mountain-climber's of course, but in the event of a critical situation you will need at least:
- a waterproof, breathable jacket with a hood;
- long over trousers or leggings;
- a long-sleeved base layer for the upper body;
- a hat or bandana;
- a pair of gloves;
- a supply of water;
- a supply of food;
- a means of communication;
- a head lamp;
- a survival cover and a whistle.
Next, you must follow the equipment list supplied by the organisation in charge of each race you take part in. This list may contain other items. In any case, personally, this is what I always take with me for long training sessions in the mountains. This basic kit can be expanded in terms of which materials you carry, depending on the weather conditions: thicker gloves, a sleeveless fleece, etc.
Regarding nutrition, what diet do you recommend following in the lead-up to an ultra-trail? And what should you eat during the race?
As regards nutrition, I recommend simplicity. I've tried lots of sports diets, including the Scandinavian diet, when I used to do triathlons, but these days it's clear that a basic diet is more than enough:
- In the week before the race, when your physical training sessions should be shorter, you should reduce the amount you eat. This sounds logical, but people often advise the opposite.
- However, staring from the fourth day before the race, you should increase your carbohydrates in relation to the rest of your diet, (there's no need to stuff yourself). This will optimise your storage of glycogens, especially if you don't restrict your physical activity and energy consumption.
- On the eve of the race, stick to pasta, although rice and potatoes are very good too. In any case, if you do go for pasta, make sure it's cooked al dente. And watch out for all that cheese that often gets dumped on it, and also certain cream-based sauces.
- On the morning of the race, have a classic breakfast, the same as usual, and maybe even eat a little less that normal! You have already built up your reserves. All you need it to reset your blood sugar to a normal level.
Finally, after an ultra-trail, what is your advice for ensuring a good recovery?
Recovery is an integral part of training. If you have another ultra-trail 7 to 8 weeks later, your recovery should serve as a springboard for this next objective. When I did the double 3 times (3 different seasons), making the podium 3 times at the UTMB® (Ultra-Trail de Mont Blanc) and the "Diagonale des Fous" (the "madman's diagonal", the ultra-trail of Reunion Island), I used the first race to charge me up for the second. I recovered first of all, in order to overcompensate, and then raised my level back up to optimum performance.
You should think of your recovery in terms of three weeks of regeneration.
- First of all, start off with sessions focussing on pleasure and relaxation. Listen to your body and reduce your activity if you start feeling overall fatigue.
- Immediately after the race, above all else you must drink, drink and drink again. Carbonated drinks are useful, but don't drink them exclusively.
- A good meal within two hours of the end of the race is very important, as is recharging with slow sugars during the following two days. Don't forget to eat a more protein-filled diet than usual, in order to aid tissue recovery.
- Regarding which sports activities to undertake, go for cross training (like during the GPP or ‘general physical preparedness' period) or swimming, cycling, etc. These disciplines will help benefit your general recovery.
- Not doing anything at all is not an ideal solution.