Wednesday, January 26, 2022

UCAN vs. Maurten for Marathon Fueling

In my long quest to find the optimal fueling solution for my needs, I have found Maurten and UCAN to be the products that work best. How are they different? Can they be used together? Let's discuss. 

Disclaimer: These products work well for me, but each runner has unique needs. This review is based on my personal experience.

Maurten Products
I have tried all of the Maurten fueling products. They have 2 types of gels and 3 drink mixes. There are no flavors:

  • Gel 100
  • Gel 100 Caf 100
  • Drink Mix 160
  • Drink Mix 320
  • Drink Mix 320 Caf 100
UCAN Products
I have tried most of the UCAN products, but the ones I will discuss are:

  • UCAN Energy Powder
  • UCAN Hydrate
  • UCAN Edge
Hydration
Above we have 3 different gels and 5 liquids. Even though there are 5 liquids, the only product above that provides hydration with electrolytes is the UCAN Hydrate. The Maurten Drink Mix does NOT provide electrolytes. Therefore, if I am looking to carry an electrolyte drink during a training run or a marathon, I opt for UCAN Hydrate. However, if it's cold (below 45) I find that I do not need an electrolyte drink as long as I have pre-hydrated the day before.

I therefore recommend UCAN Hydrate during runs that are above 45 degrees and in the days leading up to the race. I also drink it on a daily basis just to keep my electrolytes in check in the summer months. My favorite flavors are Berry and Watermelon. 

Fueling: Differences between UCAN and Maurten
While both of these fuels are easier to digest than many other products on the market, they are very different from each other. UCAN Energy Powder uses SuperStarch, its proprietary formula for slow-release energy. The advantage to using UCAN over Maurten is that the energy is released slowly, over a long period of time and prevents spikes and crashes in blood sugar.

Maurten uses a hydrogel technology that makes the fuel super easy to digest and quickly accessible as you run. The advantage of Maurten is that it allows you to take in more calories and carbohydrates over the course of your run, which has shown to enhance performance. The more you can take in and use, the better off you will be.

Fueling for Training
For my long runs, I sometimes use Maurten and I sometimes use UCAN. One of the main training benefits of a long run is training the body to use fat for fuel and not carbs. With UCAN Energy Powder, the slow release energy doesn't overwhelm your system with carbs, so your body still gets the benefit of learning how to burn fat. Some runners do their long runs with no fuel so that they can get this fat-burning benefit. I think training with UCAN provides the same benefit. There was a direct correlation with my long runs feeling stronger and better with UCAN than before when I used Honey Stinger gels. 

I use Maurten in long runs when I want to "practice" my race fueling. I don't use UCAN Energy Powder on race day; I use Maurten gels. So it's important to train my body to digest those gels. 

When I use UCAN, I drink a full serving of the Energy Powder 30 minutes before I start. If the run is longer than 2 hours, I carry a Maurten gel with me and I take that when I have 5 miles left to go. Usually my long runs last a maximum of 2:45. If your long runs last longer, I would recommend two gels on top of the initial UCAN serving. My favorite flavor is Lemon and I have tried them all.

Now, there's also the UCAN Edge gel. I think this is probably a good product (I tried it once) but the orange flavor contains erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol that upsets my stomach. The strawberry banana flavor does not contain erythritol and I plan to experiment with that one in my next training cycle. 

Fueling: Before a Race
The Maurten Drink Mixes are excellent for drinking the evening before a race or the morning of a race. Make sure you mix it with the correct amount of water: 500ml. I don't like drinking a ton of liquid right before bed (for obvious reasons) so for a half marathon or full marathon I drink half a serving of the Drink Mix 160 the night before. The 320 might also be a good choice, but I have never done it. The difference between the two is that the 320 has 320 calories and the 160 has 160 calories. The taste is similar with the 320 being more thick. They have a light taste and they are as easy to drink as water.

No matter what the distance (5K-Marathon) I drink the Maurten Drink Mix 160 starting 3 hours before the race. For half and full marathons I end up drinking the entire serving during the 3 hours leading up to the race. I can see how the 360 or even the 360 CAF would be a good choice, but since my stomach is sensitive, I prefer to stick to the 160. I also eat an English muffin with almond butter to go along with my Maurten Drink mix.

Before discovering Maurten, I always had the UCAN Energy Powder 30 minutes before the race. This worked well until one time when it was just too much for my stomach during the Harrisburg Marathon in 2020. 

Fueling: During a Race
I once tried fueling with the Maurten Drink Mix 360 during a marathon so I wouldn't have to take as many gels. It had worked well during training and it's a good way to get in the calories easily. However, I didn't find myself to be all that energized during that marathon so I decided to abandon it for racing. It was only one time though, so I may decide in the future to go back to it. If you have problems with gels, carrying the Drink Mix 360 during your marathon would be a great solution. With 360 calories and the option to have a caffeinated version, it's solid fuel.  Here is how I fuel during races, given that I already drank my Drink Mix 160 starting 3 hours before the start.

5K and 10K: 1 Maurten Caffeinated gel about 20 minutes before the start

10 Miler: 1 Maurten Caffeinated gel about 20 minutes before the start, 1 regular Maurten gel at mile 7

Half marathon: 1 Maurten Caffeinated gel about 20 minutes after the start, 1 regular Maurten gel at mile 8

Marathon: Starting with the Caffeinated gel, alternate the two types of Maurten gels every 40 minutes. Supplement with Honey Stinger Energy chews. 

Remember, this is the fueling approach that works for me and every runner is different. Consult the official Maurten Fueling guide to see their recommendations. 

Conclusion
Both Maurten and UCAN have their place in my fueling and hydration. I use:
  • UCAN Hydrate for my hydration needs
  • UCAN Energy Powder for my long training runs so that my body burns fat for fuel
  • The Maurten Drink Mix 160 to top of my energy stores before a race
  • The Maurten gels (both Caffeinated and regular) to fuel immediately before and during a race
UCAN is a slow-release fuel with the benefit of not having to fuel as often and avoiding blood sugar spikes and crashes. Maurten is a fast-acting energy source that allows you to easily digest and use a large amount of carbs which has shown to enhance performance.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2022: A Shaky Start

This is my 500th blog post! And it's the first blog post of 2022.

The year is off to a shaky start. On New Year's Eve, I had some major digestive issues that left me feeling

January 5 snowy run
quite fatigued and unsettled. So when it came time for my annual New Year's Day race, I made the decision to run it as tempo run, not a full-out race.

New Year's Day 5K
I didn't write a blog post about this race because it wasn't really a "race" for me. Greg and I were planning to leave for our vacation in Mexico on January 7, and I didn't want to get sick beforehand because I raced a 5K when feeling worn out.

Backing up slightly. . . I received the J&J booster shot on December 19, which meant I would be fully boosted by the time I departed for Mexico on January 7. Greg and I also decided to do a self-imposed quarantine after Christmas. . . aside from the 5K race. This meant no going out to eat, curbside pickup groceries, and no going into the office. No socializing with family or friends. 

So with the vaccine booster, the self-imposed quarantine, and the decision to not race the 5K full out, I thought I was being pretty smart. The goal was to make it to vacation and back while staying healthy.

Back to the race. It was 57 degrees with light rain. I decided against my carbon fiber plate shoes because those have no traction, and I am not convinced they make me any faster in the 5K distance. So I stuck with my adidas Adios 4. 

Greg and I warmed up for about 2 miles beforehand. I had a Maurten caffeinated gel, which I hoped would sit will with my still recovering stomach. I felt decent during the warm up but definitely not good enough to want to race at 5K effort.

The first mile was downhill. I went out conservatively and was passed by about 4-5 women. By the end of the mile however, I had passed all but two of them. (6:49 split) 

I decided to increase the effort slightly in mile 2, however it ended up being my slowest mile. I passed one of the two women who were ahead of me, but then there was a slippery path we had to run on followed by another slippery wooden surface. At this point, I was passing 10K runners on a narrow path so even though I had increased my effort for the first part of the mile, I slowed down quite a bit on the slippery surface while passing other runners. (7:10 split)

The last mile was up hill and I had just one woman to catch, but I didn't have the motivation to go any faster than my strong tempo effort. (7:01 split).

I ended up with a time of 21:18 and second place. The course was short and the first place woman was 19 seconds faster than me. I am confident I would have won the race if I had given 100% effort, but there will be other races to win in the future. It wasn't my day to push hard and I was happy with my decision.

Vacation in Mexico
After the race, there was just six days left until our Mexico departure. Flights were being canceled all over the place due to Omicron and the weather. So each day I monitored the flights from Dulles to Cancun and all but one of them were on time. 

Greg and I hadn't flown since the California International Marathon in 2019. We had driven to all of our races and vacations because we wanted to avoid sitting next to strangers in close proximity. I've always viewed airline travel as having a high potential of making me sick. 

Our flight was on time, our plane was only 1/3 full. We had the entire row to ourselves and nobody sat in the row behind us either. The airport wasn't crowded. We had just recently secured Global Entry/TSA Pre and we breezed through an empty security line. 

When we arrived in Mexico, the customs line was ridiculous. It took nearly an hour to get through it and people were packed in there like sardines. Some people were coughing. Sure, everyone was wearing masks, but I don't think the cloth masks do much to stop a virus. I'd personally be more comfortable with people truly staying six feet apart.

We finally made it out of customs, got our transfer to the resort and we were there! We arrived healthy and on time, after two years of wanting to visit our favorite vacation spot: Excellence Playa Mujeres. This was our 5th stay at this Cancun resort. We love it so much that we don't want to go elsewhere. 

I asked my coach to leave my schedule blank and I would "play it by ear". I decided beforehand that I wasn't going to run all that much because the only option is the treadmill, and I didn't want to spend a ton of vacation time on a treadmill. It's not safe to leave the resort and there's really no place to run around the resort. I ran Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with workouts on Saturday and Tuesday. 

The treadmill was in kilometers so I did a 7K progressive tempo on Saturday and then 4 x 2K on Tuesday. Given that the gym was hot and I was on a treadmill, I was pleasantly surprised at how strong I felt running around 7:00-7:20 for these workouts. 

My favorite workout was on Sunday, when I swam in the resort pool. It was nearly twice the length of a traditional lap pool so it was a nice challenge to have to swim more before turning at the wall. Normally I swim the lazy river pool, which winds around the resort and you don't have to ever stop! But that water was way too cold. The water in the long pool was warmer and I had no issues swimming in it. I did 7 out-and-backs, which I am guessing is around 500m. 

I swam 14 lengths of this!

The goal of our Cancun vacation is always relaxation so we spent our days lounging at the beach and/or pool, and we didn't do any excursions. Unless you count going to the spa for a couples massage an excursion! The staff hands you drinks, the food is amazing, everything is all-inclusive and it's just the best place to go!  

Leaving Mexico
In order to enter the United States, anyone traveling by air must have a negative Covid 19 test taken

within 1 day of traveling. This does not apply if you are traveling by sea or land--only by air. So on Thursday, Greg and I were tested at the resort. (The resort offers free on-site testing the day before you leave.) This was actually my first-ever Covid test! I never had a reason to be tested before. 

Greg and I were slightly nervous because we had heard that Covid was going around the resort and 30-50 people were in quarantine after positive tests. Also, I started to feel a sore throat on the day of the test so I was worried I actually had Covid. Thankfully we both tested negative so we would be allowed back into the United States. If we tested positive, they would have quarantined us in a guest room for free, and allowed us to order room service from any restaurant. This would not have been so bad, but it wouldn't have been ideal. If only one of us had tested positive, we would both be allowed to stay, but one of us would be in quarantine while the other continued to enjoy a free vacation. 

We flew home on Friday and everything went smoothly. When we checked in for our flight, they did ask us to show proof of vaccination, even though it's not a requirement. Thankfully we both had photos of our cards on our phones and that was acceptable. They really should not have asked for that because all you need is a negative test, but since we had the vaccination proof, we didn't question it too much.

My Blog was Down
On Saturday, I realized that my blog was completely offline. It wasn't Blogger (my blogging platform) but the service I used to register my domain. They had an outage which resulted in all of their domains being completely down for 3 full days! I wasn't too irked by this because I wasn't trying to write a blog over the weekend, but it was unsettling to type my URL and have nothing come up. Also, it can impact search engine rankings if you are down for too long. There was nothing I could do but wait, and I'm thankful I was able to figure out the source of the problem relatively quickly. Not knowing why it was down would have driven me insane. (I never received any kind of notification, I went into my Google console and figured it out for myself. Some communication would have been appreciated!)

Post-Vacation Illness
My sore throat got worse and worse and on Saturday I found myself physically fatigued, which hadn't been an issue previously. One of my friends happened to have an extra at-home Covid test so Greg went to her house to retrieve it. (She left it on the front doorstep for a non-contact exchange). I tested negative on Saturday night.

Having had two negative Covid tests, I was pretty sure I didn't have Covid, but I definitely was ill. My main symptoms on Saturday were sore throat, loss of voice, dry cough, body aches, weakness. I didn't have a fever.

Given my history with mono, I was worried that this could turn into mono. Mono is not a virus, but a syndrome that is caused by a virus. So any virus could bring about mono. This has been my main Covid concern from the beginning: if I got Covid, would it turn into mono, taking me months to recover? Perhaps my body doesn't recover from viruses normally - it takes WAY more time. 

Not much changed on Sunday. I still couldn't talk and I still felt totally wasted. Greg, meanwhile, felt completely normal. And he was taking great care of me. I couldn't eat solid foods because my throat was so sore, so he made me soup and oatmeal. 

On Monday, I decided to take the second test from the BinaxNOW kit that my friend had given me. And this time it was positive. Yikes. Well, I guess if I was going to be this sick it might as well be Covid to give me some natural immunity in the future. So much for the J&J booster! Greg got the Moderna booster, and that is supposed to be more effective. 

Now it's Tuesday and I have made progress. My throat is less sore, although it's still tender and swallowing hard foods makes me cough. I still woke up coughing multiple times in the middle of the night last night. I can talk again, although it's a strain to talk at my normal volume level. To summarize:

Main Symptoms:

  • Severe sore throat
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Dry cough - coughing fits lasting 5 minutes at a time
  • Inability to eat solid foods and loss of voice
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue/weakness (although not tiredness)
  • Bumps on the skin of my back and butt
No Sign of:
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nasal conjestion
  • Runny nose/sneezing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of taste or smell
I am making progress and I feel like I will either be running again by Monday or it will be another 4-6 weeks. I am optimistic because I don't have the typical dizziness that comes with my mono and I feel like I am starting to regain strength. But time will tell! My spirits have been high and I am in a good place mentally. 

We had a bed on the beach!
A few people asked Greg and me before Mexico if we were sure we still wanted to go with Omicron surging? Our answer was yes because something is always surging. It's almost like the boy who cried wolf. When you live in a constant state of fear, and there's always a new variant to worry about, then you become de-sensitized to it. You realize there will never be a "good" time to go, so you just do it. 

I also have no regrets. I enjoyed my vacation and I probably would have gotten Covid at some point in my life anyway, so why not now? 

Running Plans
I am registered for the Shamrock half marathon, which was supposed to be a PR attempt. Now that is looking less likely so it might be a Covid Comeback race instead of a PR. I am also planning to run Boston, but I kind of don't care that my training for that has been interrupted. I know I can run a solid marathon on as little as 8 weeks of training and with Boston I don't care about how fast my time is.

For blog #500, that was pretty eventful!

If you'd like to subscribe to my blog via email, you may do so at this link.