Episode 222 brings you and in-depth chat with adidas Terrex athlete Tom Evans about his comeback to racing and victory after surgery and rehabilitation. We also talk to to Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel about an epic journey around Lesotho.
It almost feels like a new beginning for Talk Ultra and in a way, I suppose it is. We have just had the longest period ever without producing a show, but we are now back with some new fire.
Importantly, Karl and myself THANK YOU all for the support, messages and encouragement. It really does make producing the show worthwhile.
I personally had questioned if Talk Ultra should stop in this downtime period. It’s been a great run, 12-years, hours, hours and hours of audio and it was actually only when I looked back and realised that we have created and documented the history of the sport since 2010 that I can’t let that stop… Your support and encouragement and very kind words also was significant.
Importantly, go to iTunes and subscribe so that you automatically get our show when it’s released we are also available on Stitcher for iOS, Android and Web Player and now Tunein. We are also on Spotify too.
Please support Talk Ultra by becoming a Patreon at www.patreon.com/talkultra and THANKS to all our Patrons who support us. Rand Haley and Simon Darmody get a mention on the show here for ‘Becoming 100k Runners’ with a high-tier Patronage.
Mimmi Kotka (far left) at the start of the 2020 Transgrancanaria – (c)iancorless.com
Mimmi Kotka broke silence just last week after a string of below par performances and has acknowledged it is time to take a break from sport. In an open and honest post on social media, she clarifies:
“I have been suffering with my body since the end of 2018. I have finally connected the dots between my low immune system, anaemia, fatigue, stomach problems, lack of menstrual period, inability to run fast and my body always running in reserve: it is RED- S, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport.”
Now for many, RED-S may well be a new term, however, the list of symptoms and problems Mimmi lists are not. In recent years we have witnessed the rise of many a runner, particularly in the ultra-world for them only to slowly disappear.
Caroline Chaverot at Limone Extreme, Italy – (c)iancorless.com
Recently, Caroline Chaverot, a dominant force and some would have said unbeatable in trail running, slowly removed herself from the sport with a string of below expectation performances. In an interview with Damian Hall for IRunFar, Caroline said, “…I want to be better. Everyone else is training a lot, so I will train like them.’ Maybe I did too much? Or maybe too soon? If training becomes like a competition, then you get tired. I probably trained too hard and fast.”
The story of Geoff Roes and his dominance, for a period over the 100-mile distance, who now runs for fun, forever fighting a battle with fatigue. “It seems like I take two steps forward and one step back. I can’t really do what I want physically, I still get pretty fatigued.” said Roes talking with Justin Mock in an article on IRunFar dating back to just April 2020.
To be clear, I am not saying that Caroline or Geoff had RED-S, I am merely pointing out that our sport, the challenges it brings, without close attention can be far more negative than positive. No runner or athlete intends to get RED-S or OTS, quite the contrary. As Mimmi says:
“I never had the intention to lose weight, nor do I have an eating disorder. I ended up with RED-S by mistake.”
The great thing about trail and ultrarunning is that it is a sport for all. All body types are welcomed and RED-S can happen to anyone at anytime. It can creep up without your realising.
“But a mysterious training condition is suddenly plaguing its ranks, robbing a generation of top athletes of their talents and forcing victims to wonder: Is it possible to love this sport too much?”
Mike Wolfe at The Rut, he is co race director with Mike Foote – (c)iancorless.com
The above is from an article, “Running on Empty” by Meaghen Brown that starts with the story of Mike Wolfe at the 2012 Transvulcania. I was there, I witnessed the day unfold. The article goes on to say:
“The past seven years have seen the rise and decline of at least a dozen elite competitors, including Anna Frost, who won the women’s division of the North Face Endurance Championship in 2011; Anton Krupicka, two-time winner of the Leadville 100; Geoff Roes, who set a new record at the 2010 Western States 100; and Kyle Skaggs, who demolished the Hardrock 100 record in 2008. Each of them reached the pinnacle of the sport only to mysteriously struggle to repeat their best results. Transvulcania was the start of Wolfe’s own precipitous fall.”
Now the context of the above article was OTS, (Overtraining Syndrome,) but the similarities with RED-S are noticeable.
What is RED-S?
Relative energy deficiency in sport, known as `RED-S `is the result of insufficient caloric intake and/or excessive energy expenditure. For Mimmi, it was the latter, excessive energy expenditure. The condition can alter physiological systems such as metabolism, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, and cardiovascular and psychological health.
For many, RED-S was known as the Female Athlete Triad and is often directly related to not eating appropriately for the amount of energy one extends. This can be a particular problem for the ultra-distance runner. “Furthermore, the RED-S model includes both male and female athletes – so if you are a male athlete, please do not stop reading! Low energy availability can impact male and female exercisers of all levels and of all ages.”
Food restriction is a worrying scenario, both for male and female athletes. A simple analogy is taking a car and restricting the fuel you add to the car. Do not add enough fuel and the car will eventually grind to a halt, the body is no different. While the condition was often thought to be one for female athletes, medical professionals are now seeing similarity in male athletes and the usage of the RED-S term now applies to male and female.
Mimmi continues to write, “I have plunged myself into this condition over the last few years. I have simply put in more and more hours of training without adjusting my calories accordingly, dragging me towards incredible fatigue.”
Mimmi was eating healthy and good quantities, however, the balance was off. Her training volume was too high and calorie intake insufficient. It was not an eating disorder of any sorts, more a miscalculation of energy burnt/ calories in.
Mimmi, was the winner of CCC and TDS and for a period of time, was considered unstoppable. A force to be reckoned with. But as she says, since 2018 she has continually suffered to find the same performance levels. This in turn brings a negative cycle that only perpetuates the problem.
I will train more.
I will lose weight.
Two common scenarios that gradually add more issues and one cannot ignore pressure from peers, fans and sponsors. In the case of Mimmi, she trained more to get better. She had no intention to lose weight.
While eating habits are an indicator of RED-S, the overall picture is much more complex and of course, the differences between male and female are marked.
The BMJ (British Medical Journal) list several key notable factors as an indicator, the first is missed periods or no menstrual cycle. Now of course, this is specific to women, but what other factors should be considered?
Strange eating habits.
Inability to recover.
The long-term impact if unchecked can be devastating with affects on the health system staying with the body for the rest of the athletes life.
When hormone levels are altered, the impact is potentially far reaching and why it may be common to know and understand that immunity is impacted, recovery, growth, concentration and an impact on endurance, the cardio vascular system can also be impacted which could lead to heart disease.
This is not a condition just for the “elite” of the sport, quite the opposite. We look up to our idols and we copy them. We hear stories of mega training sessions, we hear about fasted runs and we hear stories of specific diets to maintain race weight… A picture builds and is one that many try to copy and emulate. For some and in the case of Mimmi, it was about being fitter, therefore adding more training. But for others, the pressure to be thin is very real and fad diets contribute leaving a myriad of question marks that few find the answer to.
Going back to the car analogy, sports people need energy and that energy comes from food full of nutrients and variety. One should not have a troublesome relationship with food but unfortunately, sport is littered with athletes who do. How often have you heard someone say, “I need to run to earn my calories!”
This mindset is the start of a potential problem and it needs checking.
As Mimmi says in her honest post:
“…I’ve dragged myself deeper and deeper into this condition during the last years. Just loaded on more training hours, not adjusting my calories accordingly and slugged through incredible fatigue. Being able to ignore the physical body is what makes a good ultra runner but it’s also what brought me down.”
Nutrition specialist, Dr Nicky Keay confirms in an article, “Fundamentally there is a mismatch between food intake (in terms of both energy and micronutrients) and the demand for nutrition required to cover expenditure, both of exercise training and for basic “housekeeping” tasks in the body to maintain health. If there is insufficient energy availability, then the body switches into an energy saving mode. This “go slow” mode has implications for hormone production and metabolic processes, which impacts all systems throughout the body.”
We train to get fitter, faster and stronger. But a complete athlete should look at all aspects to make a perfect picture. Food and nutrition is a key building block and without it there will be an inability to improve as expected in response to training and the risk of injury will increase. It´s a downward spiral we have seen all too often in the sport of ultra-running.
Counting calories rarely has a benefit in the long-term, however, in the short term, keeping a training diary that records food intake v expenditure can be useful. If an athlete consumes fewer than 2500/2000 calories (male/female) after taking energy expenditure in to account, your intake is likely to be inadequate
There are many fad diets out there but find a balance with nutritious food that has plenty of variety. Periodise food intake to coincide with training. For example, there is a time and a place for carbohydrate. Equally protein and fats. Eat fresh, minimally processed foods that include plenty of servings of vegetables and fresh fruit. Try not to avoid certain food groups unless advised otherwise by a medical professional and if vegan or vegetarian make sure you understand how to maximise calories paying attention to Protein, Fat, B12, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Iodine and D Vitamin. “The No Meat Athlete Cookbook” by Matt Frazier is a great resource for all sports people
Post exercise, make sure you replenish your body with protein and carbohydrate. Protein will help repair lean muscle and carbohydrate will help restore glycogen for the next training session. How much carbohydrate you eat depends on what training you have coming up… This is where the help of a coach and nutritionist will help keep you honest.
Be sensible with training volume, less is sometime more!
To conclude, who is at risk of RED-S?
The reality is, RED-S can occur in any age or level of athlete but the greatest risk comes for those who are involved in sports that require high power. Power to weight ratio is a fickle beast and those most at risk are cyclists, climbers, triathletes, runners – yes, runners!
Ultimately, find a healthy balance between training, nutrition and rest. Go through the warning signs below and be honest with yourself. If in doubt, ease back, eat healthy and seek the advice of professionals who can help get you back on the correct path.
Below par performances
and of course, an unhealthy relationship with food.
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Pleasure to provide the images to accompany the words of David Roche for the article, ‘Death and Taxes and Running Injuries’
for Trail RUNNER Mag
It’s easy to idealize running.
Frolicking through forests! Jumping over rocks and bounding down mountains! On a training plan, the miles come so easily. But that’s not reality.
As a coach, I try to never lose sight of that fact. It’s so easy to write down “8 mile run” and not think about what that actually entails. That’s more than 10,000 steps, each one with significantly more impact forces than walking, each one with the potential to go horribly wrong. That training log entry seems simple, but it’s asking an athlete to do something that many people can’t do in the first place.
Our heads may be up in the clouds, but our bodies are on the ground, and they can feel the pounding. The process of building up endurance risks breakdown with each step. Running is a lot like life in that way. Every day that passes brings us one day closer to the ultimate breakdown.
What can we do in the face of our own fragility? We can keep moving forward.
That sounds melodramatic. I promise this article will not be too serious. But it is important to understand that we get running injuries for the same reasons that we die—our bodies are only capable of so many miles, even if our brains can expand to encompass infinity. Just as life requires death to have meaning, so too do runners have to get injured for the miles to be more than numbers in a training log.
So let’s celebrate the whole journey, including the parts that might be less fun to talk about. Let’s talk injuries.
This is Episode 112 of Talk Ultra and we speak with Nicky Spinks about that incredible DOUBLE Bob Graham Round. Emelie Forsberg joins us to tell us all about her injury, how she feels and when (we hope) she will be back and we speak to ‘The Jeff’s’ an inspiring husband and wife who took respective 1st places at the Salt Flats 100
Ultra Trail Australia
Pau Capell 9:20
Ben Duffus 9:39
Yun Yanqiao 9:42
notable 4th – Ryan Sandes 9:48
Beth Cardelli 11:16
Fiona Hayvice 11:33
Kellie Emmerson 11:53
00:16:16 INTERVIEW Steven Jeff and Meagan Jeff – Salt Flats 100
Paul Terranova 9:17
Chris Calzetta 9:32
Mario Martinez 9:56
Krissy Moehl 11:02
Roxana Pana 11:44
Monica Imana 12:13
ROB YOUNG – marathonmanUK has started his Transcontinental run record (2766 miles) on May 14th. He started with an 81 mile day 1…. you can track him HERE
At the time of recording having run 5-days he was just south of the Grand Canyon heading to Flagstaff
We mentioned in the last show about Nicky Spinks completing the DOUBLE BOB GRAHAM ROUND and I am really pleased to say I caught up with her just days after of this inspiring interview. Only the 2nd person and 1st lady to complete a double BGR in 45:30
Inactivity would normally have me climbing the walls. Irritable and just ‘out of sorts’. A daily fix of exercise not only eases the mind but it most definitely does provide energy, be that physical or mental. I’m an addictive sort of person and since I got into sport seriously some 25 years ago, the need to fulfil the endorphin rush has been something I just can’t avoid.
In my early cycling days getting up at 5 or 6 am to cycle 30-50 miles before work and then do the same after work seemed ‘normal’. In actual fact, in season I would also do a mid week race and more than likely a race at weekend. When I gave up cycling in 2002 I guess I was pretty much burnt out both physically and mentally. Working 10-12 hours days and then adding 2 bike rides just meant that life was out of balance. Twelve months of RnR and a variety of sports allowed me to move into Triathlon. Of course it was meant to be fun (and it was) but that OCD kicked in and before long I was training twice a day and even sometimes three times a day, working full time and trying to be around for my family. I represented GB for Duathlon at the 2005 Worlds in Australia and went on to do multiple Ironman races.
In 2007 I was reading a book whilst relaxing on a beach in France. Another busy season behind me I had decided I need something new. Something challenging. Little did I know that ultra running would be what lay ahead. Running had been something I hated. It was triathlon that had opened up my mind to the sport but even then cycling was my ‘sport’. In a Duathlon or Triathlon I would nail the bike and survive the run. What I always liked with endurance sport is the element of unknown. The fear of not finishing. When I stood on the start line of an Ironman in 2007 I was sure I would finish. From that moment on I realised a new challenge awaited. Dean Karnazes provided that new challenge. Little did I know that reading ‘Confessions of an all night runner’ would lead to the passion I now have for ultra running.
The ‘fear’ has never gone away. I never stand on an ultra marathon start line complacent or assuming a finish. Running is brutal. It tires the body, it hurts the body and it fatigues the body like no other sport. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a negative. It’s what makes the sport great. The ability to overcome and succeed. I am not a great runner. Never have been and never will be. I can however perform well at Age Group level and I have had some successes but I know my place. Does that matter? Of course not. What’s important is taking part and achieving goals or targets. I met my partner, Niandi, through running and we have both had great pleasure travelling and racing with a common bond. I have had so many fantastic run experiences. I have made some incredible friends and I have witnessed and experienced new places. I have cried through personal joy and pain and I have cried at others joy and pain.
In 2011 I wanted to somehow pass on this passion. My good friends Tom Wiliams and Martin Yelling had started a podcast in 2010 called Marathon Talk. For this show I had helped them out with interviews in the ultra world. As 2011 progressed I knew that an ultra running podcast was just what the community needed. I was aware that other podcasts existed but they had a similar format. A little chat, an interview and then goodbye. I wanted to create an audio magazine. Something with variety, a longer show that could be taken on long runs but ultimately a show that expressed a deep passion for our sport at the grass roots and elite level. Talk Ultra was created.
Fast forward to September 2012. In the last month I have been to Sierre Zinal, Trofeo Kima and just last weekend UTMB to cover the race for Vibram. The sport is now rewarding me with experiences of a completely different nature. I am now reporting on, writing about, photographing and mixing with the stars of the race circuit and a world I love. Just one year ago I would never have thought this possible. But I guess the OCD I have that I brought to my own personal running is now being brought to the sport in a completely different channel and I am being rewarded.
The downside of all this is that my own personal running has taken a step back. Running twice a day has just not been possible. In actual fact, sometimes running just once a day can be a challenge. Ironically, my usual bomb proof physique and lack of injury over 25 years in sport has now all come to a head. Earlier this year I was getting some knee pain. I knew from experience that it wasn’t the ‘knees’ but more everything that connected to the knees. I typically tell all my coaching clients ‘get it sorted, don’t mess about’. Of course like a true Pro I did exactly the opposite… Just finding the time to see my Physio didn’t seem possible. Of course after months of running and racing with an element of discomfort all came to a head and after running the Lakeland 50 I finally had some tests done. As expected, the knees are feeling the pain but the problems are elsewhere. Core and some muscle imbalance are at the root of the problem. All helped by increasing sitting editing and recording a podcast. How ironic!
Anyway, back to the start. I am 16 days cold turkey. I have missed my runs but because of the connection to the sport through the podcast, writing and photography I haven’t missed it ‘that much’. I remain confident that all will come good and I will be back on the trails soon. But I have a new perspective. The joy of running, the joy of being on the trails and the joy of being in the mountains with wide open and empty vistas are what appeals. This all became completely apparent when I did 5 hours on trails with Salomon runner, Linda Doke at the Glacier de Zinal. We had the most incredible time running, chatting, taking photos and enjoying the trails for what they are; an escape!
I will always want that escape. If the escape is following and reporting the sport from the side of the trail, so be it.
Don’t rule me out yet though. One way or the other I will carve a niche on trails. It may just be in my own time at my own pace. I can live with that!