Homemade Hydration: DIY Nuun Electrolyte Replacement

You know you are supposed to hydrate.  You know sweat is salty and you should probably put some of that back in your body after a good run.  But how much?  And how?

Fortunately, there is no shortage of companies ready to sell you something that does the trick.  Traditional sports drinks like Gatorade will not only replace lost electrolytes, but they are also filled with sugar and artificial unpronounceables.  Nuun is a cool product that dissolves like an Alka Seltzer in water and skips the added sugar, but the original formula was sweetened with acesulfame potassium which might be cancer-causing.  Newer versions of Nuun include monk fruit as a sweetener, which is natural, but its safety is poorly tested.  Even if it is completely safe and natural, it’s really expensive if you use it regularly!

I received a stash of Nuun tablets at a runners’ white elephant Christmas party (along with some mini bottles to create my own Nuun cocktails!) last year and I have really enjoyed them.  But when I went to replenish my supply, I got a little sticker shock and decided to figure out how to make them on my own.

The key ingredients in Nuun or any electrolyte replacement is sodium, potassium, and magnesium.  (Calcium is added too, but in a tiny amount.)  The hands-down most important ingredient is sodium.  Researchers have found that during endurance exercise like a marathon, sodium is the only one you need.  The rest can wait for later and come from real food.

Here’s how most of the flavors of Nuun break down: 360g sodium, 100g potassium, 25g magnesium, 13g calcium.

The formula I came up with is 372.5g sodium, 87.5g potassium, and 30g magnesium.  (For now, I’m skipping the calcium.  I take a calcium pill most nights before I go to bed and that’s probably sufficient.  I suppose if I really wanted to, I could crush up a calcium pill, but I’m not too worried about it.)

It’s so simple and cheap!!  Did I mention cheap?

Get out your tiny measuring scoops and prepare to be amazed at the simplicity of this!


Add the mix to a pint of cold water and you have a refreshing, slightly salty thirst quencher.  If you need a little more flavor, add a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice, or mix with an herbal tea instead.  If you need even more flavor and carbohydrates, try mixing with apple, orange, grape, or cherry juice.  Another idea is to try a squirt of some of the water enhancers that are on the market.  Usually after a run, I am so thirsty that I don’t need any flavorings.

I make a batch for the week and store them in a pill container.  You could use contact lens cases or any other small container you can think of.  I find it easier to do this once a week rather than measure after every run.

Three cheap, cheap ingredients:  baking soda, epsom salt, and Morton’s Lite Salt.  That’s it!!

So why do I use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) instead of salt (sodium chloride)?  Well there is a little salt in the Lite Salt, but the main reason is that baking soda is a base and serves to neutralize acid in the body (remember those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes you made in grade school?).  Chloride is important too, but bicarbonate is “the star of the show” when it comes to restoring electrolyte balance.  And, if taken in the right dose before a race, baking soda is a proven performance enhancer.  Cool, right?

One word of warning, if you go overboard with baking soda or magnesium, your GI system will be upset with you, so try to stick to using electrolyte solutions (mine and any others) in the measured doses until you know how it effects your unique body.

Try it out and let me know what you think!




From “Eh” to “Hell Yeah!”

If marathon training were easy, everyone would do it.  Actually, that’s not true.  If marathon training were easy, most runners would get very bored and would do something else that was a real challenge.  Overcoming difficulties is a big part of why we run.  There’s really nothing better than doing something hard well.

So what do you do when you’ve had a string of good runs and then all of the sudden you get smacked in the face with mediocrity? (It’s not a hard slap.  More of a smear with a wet sponge.)  I’m not talking about the runs when you are dead tired, or sick, or sore, or just not feeling it.  I’m talking about the runs that start out just fine and gradually dissolve into an ego-bruising struggle.  It’s the kind of run where each time you look at your watch you imagine the GPS satellites have exploded in some cosmic crash because you can’t possibly be moving that slow.  It’s not the run that is an undeniable failure; it’s the run that’s just eh.

My long run last weekend was one of those eh runs.

It was 20 miles with miles 12-18 at faster than marathon pace.  I’ve been running my easy miles during long runs very slow lately and I thought I’d pick up the pace to a still easy, but more reasonable 8:30 pace, just to keep it a little more real.  I also decided to practice eating a lot more than I normally do on a long run to try to better simulate race day.  A marathon nutrition calculator that my coach had sent said that I needed nearly 600 calories during a marathon to fuel properly.  In Boston, I hit the wall hard somewhere between miles 20-23 and I don’t know if not eating enough was to blame for part of it.  So I thought I’d eat a bigger than normal breakfast and take a 100-calorie gel at mile 3, 7, and  just before 12.

That might have been a mistake. I wouldn’t say that I was really sick to my stomach, but I certainly didn’t feel great.

I got to mile 12 and picked up the pace.  6:51.  Well, that was a bit too slow, I told myself, but it’s okay to take the first mile conservatively so that I don’t fade hard later.

Mile 13 came in at 7:09, 24 seconds off.  Wait, what?  I was breathing hard.  It felt like marathon-pace effort.  I felt some stiffness in my legs, but that’s to be expected.

I tried to regroup. 6:55 for mile 14.  Okay that was at least in the ball park.  I’m good.

7:16.  Really?  You’re kidding me.  No way.

7:08.  Still not under 7?  Jeez.

One more to go, I thought, so make it good. 7:01.  Huh.

I jogged the last two cool down miles home and felt halfway good about the run, because no matter how you look at it, 20 miles at any pace is an accomplishment.  The other half of me felt eh about it, since I feel like I have the fitness to have done this run as written.

Coach Sarah had some welcome words for me after I logged my workout.  “Claire, I’ve never once made it through a marathon build up without at least one run like this,” she told me.  “It happens to everyone and the best thing you can possibly do is to let it go and move on; it in no way means that you are not fit. Try to keep your confidence high, the next one will be better!”

I know she is right.  If I nailed every workout I was given, the only thing I would learn is that my goal is too easy.  I have chosen an ambitious goal because it’s big and scary and there’s a likely possibility that I won’t achieve it.  But there is also a small but real chance that I can make it happen.  It will take more weeks of hard work, a willingness to be uncomfortable, and a healthy dose of good luck to cross the finish line in Richmond under three hours.  I know I have it in me.  Somewhere.

All I have to do is find a way to use that eh run as fuel for my next hell yeah! run.




Raising a Runner

My seven-year-old son Riley has been begging for weeks for me to bring him with me to the track workout on Tuesday nights.  I’ve taken the kids to the track on the weekends before, but not to one of the group workouts.  There are other parents who sometimes bring their kids to play in the infield, but I had yet to try it out.  Now that I’m not doing track workouts anymore, I like to run in the mornings.  But he’s still asking.

So when Riley asked this week, I said yes.  I had already run for the day, but I figured I could jog with him and we could leave when he got tired.  Maybe we’d get a mile or so in.

We arrived at the university track before the group and I put him through some warmup drills:  lunges, high knees, grapevine, leg swings, a few stretches.  He copied my examples in his own adorably exaggerated way.  “Do you really do all this stretching before you run, Mom?” he asked.  “Yes,” I told him.  “Warm ups are important to get your body ready.”

“I’m ready!” he answered, looking excitedly around the oval.

When the group of thirty or so runners began making their way around the track, Riley quietly held my hand in a moment of shyness.  Norm announced that the workout would be the first in a series of four.  Hill repeats.  Off the track. If I had been going more often, I would have known this.  I have heard about how tough the hill workouts can be.  I began to second guess my choice to bring my son that night.

I asked Riley if he wanted to run hills with the group or run around the track with me.  He said, “Hills.  With you.”

So we followed everyone as we left the track for the surrounding hills.  The first set was close to a mile away.  Riley started out running in a goofy kid stride with his arms flopping happily out to the sides.  We talked the whole way and the gap between us and the group grew.  As Riley told me about his day, I smiled thinking how nice it was that we had this moment to ourselves to catch up.  This normally doesn’t happen on a typical school night.

We met the others at the bottom of the first hill.  Norm had already given them instructions to run hard up and jog back down four times.  We jumped in at the bottom of the pack and ran up.

Kids have such a simple freedom when they run.  All the grown-ups at the workout had serious, hard faces as they concentrated on conquering the task in front of them.  My son smiled and laughed and chatted.  At the crest of the hill, he asked if he could “bomb back down” like he does on his mountain bike.  I reminded him that we needed to save our energy to climb back up.  He tucked in his floppy arms a little and headed back up.  “Now he’s got it,” Norm commented.

As his little face began to redden, Riley’s pace slowed and he ended up walking some.  After climbing the next hill, he decided to take a break at the bottom for a set.  I asked him if he wanted to head back.  “No!” he replied.  “I want to do the rest of them too!”

On the way to the third set, there was a little short cut through some woods that college kids had carved out to cut a corner.  Riley asked if he could run fast down this hill.  “I don’t mind if you go fast, Riley,” I said.  “Just as long as you are in control.”  He took off ahead of me and bombed down it effortlessly.  “Looks like you’ve got an ultra runner on your hands,” remarked one of my friends.

The light began to fade as we made it back towards the track.  I told Riley that we needed to head back since it was already getting close to bedtime.  I looked at my watch and announced that we had run 2.75 miles.  “Wow!  Really?” he asked, clearly impressed with himself.  I asked him to take a break and drink his water while I did a lap to get an even 3 miles.  “Can I come with you?”

I smiled, and told him no.  “Awww.  Pleeeeease?” he cried.

As much as I actually did want him to come with me for that last lap, I also knew that telling him no would make him want to come back again.

The natural joy that kids have when they run is something I need to remember more often.  Running with my son just this one time makes me think of how much more I’d like to run with him and my daughter.  I don’t know if I really have an ultra runner in the house or not, but I hope I can teach my kids how much running can enrich their lives.

Or maybe they’re the ones teaching me.


Let Me Be Specific

It seems so obvious when you think about it:  train for your race by mimicking what you will face on race day.  For 800 meter runners, that means a lot of time on the track running (you guessed it) 800s.  But for all but a very few elites, marathoners don’t run the full marathon distance in training because it’s more damaging to your body than productive.  And on the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bust out short sprints on the track in the middle of marathon training.  Speed is important, but weekly doses of super-quick, intense track workouts aren’t developing the systems that you use during a marathon.

We need to get specific.

I’m 8 weeks away from my race and this week I had two marathon-specific workouts.  Tuesday was a hill to tempo and Thursday was a basic tempo and I am happy to say I nailed them both.  Here are the basics of each and what they are designed to do.

Hill to Tempo

After a 3 mile warm up, I found a nice hill and sprinted up it six times for 90 seconds and jogged back down.  The effort is supposed to be about mile pace, but pace is not helpful at all determining speed on hills.  So I didn’t look at my pace at all, just clicked the lap button and raced uphill as fast as I could.  Ninety seconds is an eternity when you are going all out!  I quickly learned that my high-knee, on-my-toes sprint fizzles after about 15-20 seconds, making hauling my body uphill so much harder for the last miserable minute.  So I cut that nonsense out and used my regular stride as fast as I could and I actually got faster with each interval.  It seems that the “don’t go out too fast” warning applies universally to all distances.

After the hills were done, I took a three-minute rest and water break and headed down to the park for the tempo part of the workout.  The idea behind this is that the hills tire you out and strengthen your legs at the same time, making the tempo effort harder, as if it were late in the race.  The plan called for 4 miles between 6:50 and 6:55 and I stayed in that box, even cranking out a 6:36 last mile! (What?!)  I finished with a 2 mile cool down and a happy dance.

Basic Tempo

Tempo runs are some of my favorite runs.  I like to get into a groove and just lock my pace.  The idea behind tempos is to run “comfortably hard,” or even “hard, but controlled.”  Some people say a tempo is the fastest pace you can sustain for an hour.  My schedule called for 6:50 to 7:00 pace, which is the pace I hope to sustain for three hours!  But the key to tempos is not to run it as hard as you can, but to stay right in the zone at your current fitness, not your goal fitness.  I knew not to start out too fast and my first mile was 7:01.  Then the rest of the miles just flowed: 6:40, 6:41, 6:47, 6:44, 6:51, and I pushed the last mile with a 6:38.  So technically, I ran this too fast, but I really felt fantastic.  Not that it was easy, but it was not hard.  I would say the hard end of medium pace.  I did pull out all the tricks with this one, drinking beet juice and caffeine 90 minutes ahead of time, and the weather was just a bit cooler than I was used to.  I know I got several more humbling workouts coming up, but this was a great confidence booster!

In a couple weeks, I have another marathon-specific workout, the 2×6.  After a warm up, I’ll run two sessions of six miles at 6:50-7:00 pace with a crazy-long 10 minute break in between.  The long break is meant to stiffen up your legs and break your flow so that the second set feels even harder than it should.  Again, this is another technique to mimic the challenges of race day without running the marathon distance.  I remember this one from my last training cycle and I pretty sure I did okay with it, so we’ll see.

While I’m sad to be missing Tuesday nights at the track with my running friends, I know the track is not where I need to be right now.  I’ll be logging lots of road miles in the next 8 weeks and the track will be right there where I left it.

Lemon Cream Pie Endurance Gel

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I love a good pie.  For Thanksgiving, I usually make three or four of them.  My dad loves cherry pie and chocolate pie so I make both of those and it’s just not Thanksgiving without a good pecan or pumpkin pie (or both).  For Mother’s Day this year, I made an incredible Lemon Meringue Pie.  And, yes, it was vegan!  It takes quite a bit of vegan magic to make a lemon meringue without eggs, but as you can see in the photo above, mine turned out so beautifully.  It was decadent and delicious and completely over the top.

So when I went to mix up a batch of new gels, I remembered that pie and thought it would make a great gel flavor.  It’s sweet without being too sweet, with a hint of vanilla and salt.  I took it on my 20-miler yesterday and it was smooth and easy on my tummy.

This recipe covers all bases:  maltodextrin for quick carb absorption, and a little glucose and fructose to make sure all the carbohydrate pathways are being utiltized.  You can choose to add caffeine or not.


For more on the science of the ingredients, check out my original post on endurance gels.

As with all my recipes, I recommend weighing your ingredients for accuracy, but I have included traditional measurements as well.



The Michigan: I’m Supposed to Be Having Fun?

With just over two months to go until Richmond, my Tuesday workouts are getting much more marathon specific.  Gone are most of the short sprint intervals on the track, replaced by long alternating-pace miles on the road. This Tuesday was the Michigan.  And it’s a beast.

The Michigan is a Runners Connect staple, usually done once per cycle, so I’ve done this one before (attempted is more accurate).  There are lots of variations of this workout invented by a track coach in the mid-1970s at Michigan University.  Our version is like a double-decker Dagwood with 2-mile slices of marathon pace as the bread:  after a two-mile slow warm up, sandwich two 2-mile segments of marathon pace around a faster mile at 10K pace, then speed up even more and add a schmear of 800 meters at 5K pace, topping it off with another 2 miles at still-fast marathon pace, with a two mile cool down, NO REST (that was in all caps on the schedule).

It’s a lot to chew on.

The point of the no rest mandate is that this workout is teaching you how to race.  Hopefully you will not be varying your pace this dramatically during a real race, but this simulates the increased effort necessary at the tough last few miles when your body just wants to slow down or stop.  When you speed up at the end of a workout, the following set becomes exponentially harder, making the effort required to run the same pace much higher than at the beginning. In other words, you are getting the stress of racing a marathon, without actually having to run one.

The paces for me this time didn’t seem all that scary since I’ve been feeling pretty good lately: 6:50 for marathon pace, 6:35 for the mile, and 6:25 for the 800.  I’ve only run one hilly 10K and my 5K PR is a little faster than 6:25/per mile so the paces given to me were more based on my marathon goal rather than based off shorter races.  But I knew that this would be a tough one to get through.

If you just look at my GPS data, I ran this workout almost perfectly. After the warm up, miles 1 and 2 were medium effort and right on at 6:50 and 6:53. I sped up for mile 3 and while it was harder, it still felt okay and I clocked a 6:33. When my shoe came untied at mile 4, I happily stopped my watch, took an 5 extra seconds than necessary to tie it and breathe deeply (6:45). One of the water fountains is out of order at the park, so I stopped for water at mile 5 convincing myself that I should because I wouldn’t see one again later (6:57, slowing a bit).

Then I prepped myself mentally for the 800 (did I stop then, too?).  I took off in a panicked, hyperventilated state, pumping my arms as hard as I could.  I was so shocked to see that I had actually beat my goal time (6:20 pace) that I just stopped, panted and regrouped. During the last two fast miles, my brain was getting tired and I forgot that the 800 threw off my even mile splits so I stopped at 1.5 miles instead of 2. Then I realized my mistake and finished it off (7:05 and 6:48).  After catching my breath, I added a half mile to the cool down because runners are weird like that and can’t stand uneven numbers.

What this tells me is that physically, I am in shape to handle this workout, but something is holding me back from executing it perfectly. I know that I am much better at steady paces than alternating ones, so I have to figure out how to transition better between paces without stressing out about it.

After I logged my workout, many of my fellow Runners Connect members commented that they have been there and just stopped as well.  I wasn’t feeling any pain, just a general sense that the effort was hard.  There was no conscious thought telling me “go ahead and stop now;” I just stopped.  While I am happy that I made it through on pace, I have room for improvement.

Michael Hammond, one of my coaches, zeroed in on my real issue, and it’s one that I never would have come up with on my own.   “The Michigan is a tough workout for even the most well-trained athlete, so you honestly cannot read into it too much,” he said. “Shifting speeds that much throughout one workout is just plain difficult.”  Then he added: “To me it sounds like your main focus on these workouts is to relax. Changing paces shouldn’t be a stressful event – try to think of it instead as a fun game. Personally I always liked alternating pace stuff better – varies it up, makes it more fun and interesting.”

Wait, what?  Running is supposed to be fun?!?  I mean, I’ve heard that somewhere before, but really?  Even the hard stuff?  I’ve always joked about running not being fun and in the beginning, like an entire year, it honestly wasn’t.  My husband would say, “have fun!” as I went out the door and I would always grumble, “I don’t run for fun.” I definitely enjoy myself now, but I never think of it as a game, except perhaps during a race when I’m trying to pass someone.  Could something as simple as “go have fun” be serious training advice?

I know that when I relax I run better, but actively trying to have fun?  I’m hoping that having fun is easier than the Michigan.  I’ll let you know.



Simple Cereal Bars

To improve at a sport that requires little more than a decent pair of shoes, runners tend to find a way to complicate things.  From $600 multi-data-point watches, to scientific socks that squeeze the blood out of your calves, to space-age food that could be straight out of an episode of the Jetsons, there is always something new and better and shinier that promises to make you a better runner.

But sometimes simple is better.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m addicted to my GPS watch, own lots of compression socks, and eat strange space-age goos on long runs (homemade, of course).  But I don’t like to rely on packaged food and prefer to make my own.

There are lots of whole-food bars out there and they are undeniably convenient.  But they are also incredibly easy to make.  One of my favorite bars is  LaraBars.  Their cashew cookie bar is made of two ingredients:  dates and cashews.  Throw some dates and cashews in a food processor and shape into bars.  Done.


But, of course, as a runner, I need to complicate things a little bit, right?  So I came up with a new variation that you can’t buy in stores.  My motivation?  Cheerios.  Too many Cheerios, to be more specific.  Cheerios were on sale a few weeks ago and I bought several oversized boxes, precisely at the time my kids started not wanting to eat Cheerios anymore.  So now we have enough Cheerios to last through the apocalypse and no one will eat them.

Time for a new recipe.


The Cheerios in the homemade LaraBars add a nice little crunch to each bite, not to mention a few vitamins and minerals.  The bars are easy, iron-rich, portable, and delicious!

A double batch of cereal bars