An Ultrarunner’s Tips for Prioritizing Wellness
Get Some Sleep
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of sleep: It’s when your body and brain repair themselves. It boosts your immune system, reduces stress, and helps you think more clearly. For athletes, good sleep improves recovery and leads to better performance. During Bulgers, Hardrath aimed for four to six and a half hours of sleep per night. He knew his body could get by on that if he integrated a few longer sleeps for recovery.
At home in Klamath Falls, where Hardrath teaches elementary school P.E. and often trains 20 to 30 hours per week, he tries to sleep 7.5 hours a night. That’s his magic number, but each person should try to zero in on an individual ideal amount (experts recommend seven to nine hours a night for adults). One way to support higher-quality sleep is to cut out alcohol. For Hardrath, a craft-beer lover, that lifestyle change was easier than expected thanks to Athletic Brewing Company. With its award-winning nonalcoholic craft beers, he doesn’t have to choose between his training goals and the mental well-being that comes with engaging with friends.
Remember Food Is Fuel
While training, or during a short effort, you can get away with not fueling right or not drinking enough water. But that can quickly derail a longer effort. Hardrath was “religious with nutrition” during Bulgers, and he focused on avoiding getting into a calorie deficit. Whether on a trail or at home, Hardrath thinks of food as fuel. He teaches at a rural school, and there aren’t a lot of healthy food options if he doesn’t plan ahead, so he does meal prep and packs snacks to have on hand. “What I’m trying to do is fuel a body for action, and I think in our culture we get caught up in food as pleasure,” he says.
That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy a treat. If you’re keeping up with the nutrition your body needs to perform, says Hardrath, a celebratory slice of cheesecake or a summit candy bar can offer a necessary psychological boost.
On the final peak of Hardrath’s Bulgers List, 8,363-foot Mount St. Helens, he went as fast and as hard as he could. After 50 days of pacing himself—which was integral to his success—he could finally go all out without worrying about fatigue or injury. “On a multi-day effort there’s this element of knowing you have to continue tomorrow and the next day and the next, and it’s the same with training,” he says. “You have to train in a way where you don’t get injured but can maintain a high level of confidence and motivation. I can’t train so much that I’m fatigued and burned out.”
Pacing means avoiding burnout by spacing out high-effort days with easier ones. Pacing could also be thinking three weeks out (as Hardrath was doing) or about how you’re feeling when you wake up, or it could just be about the very mile you’re in. Don’t forget to pay attention to how you’re training your mind either—a lot of pacing is a mental game. “The moment you get back inside the mile you’re running, and you’re just like, ‘I can run this mile,’ it’s not so bad anymore,” says Hardrath. “The same is true in life.”
While Hardrath doesn’t see his Bulgers effort as healthy or well in and of itself considering the prolonged strain it put on his body, he knows that a by-product of a big, hard effort like that is wellness. “As soon as you zoom out and take a step back to the bigger scale of life, it’s important to have something that gives you meaning and purpose and direction,” he says. Hardrath recommends finding meaning in training too by setting intermediate goals that keep you motivated and excited. That could be a race or smaller objective that you’re looking forward to. “How does one quantify the value of having done something that makes you proud of yourself?”
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