Sleep Deprivation

Sooner or later during long distance running attempts the moment of tiredness comes. As this is a fact we better discuss ways and means to deal with this.

What does science say?

Looking at two publications:

[1] A group of 636 ultra marathon runners answered a questionnaire. Amongst the questions with regards to normal sleep behavior and the expected findings (the participants sleep a bit more on weekend compared to weekdays, on days without work more people were doing small power naps during the day) these people have been asked on their strategies how to deal with sleep during ultramarathon races. Around 74% if the study group replied that they do have a sleep strategy which meant for around 55% of them to try to increase sleep prior race day. 21% of the study group reported that they do have a strategy to manage sleep DURING the actual race – the micronap strategy was the most named strategy. From this data a subgroup was further analysed with the finding, that there is some sort of correlation of race duration and sleep time: the longer the race, the more they sleep.

[2] A systematic review on the napping behavior of athletes and how it impacts performance looking at all available literature. The key conclusions are that athletes may want to consider a daytime nap between 20-90 min duration between 1 and 4 p.m. (not later) and may want to think about a 30 min nap prior a long training run or race. Both will ease/delay the impact/onset of sleepiness while running and generally leads to a better performance.

There are some more but not too many articles about sleep behavior/deprivation in ultra running. Most focus on the sleep behavior of athletes in general and how this relates to performance. A general tendency, especially in the view of the above is: take care that you do have a healthy, good quality sleep; perform a nap in the optimal time window during the day; sleep a little more in the days/weeks prior a race and have a little nap before you actually start.

What does experience say?

And then there is life.

Life does not care at all on what would be ideal; life is amazing in giving you sleepless nights right when you are in the important prior race period; you job simply does not allow you to nap (depends on what you work) and your lovely kids keeping you awake anyway at anytime. If you can make use of the knowledge above, perfect. If you can’t – well you have to live with this as well. There are some hands-on experiences how to deal with sleep while moving for 24-64 h (one to three nights).

Do not deny the sleepiness for too long. Its ok to ignore it or work against it fo a certain period of time but at some point the problematic effects become too dominant: you forget to eat/drink in proper intervals, you tend to stumble and fall and navigation is no longer possible. There is a variety of big mistakes when being sleepy you definitely want to avoid. So take a break.

During long race/runs with sheltered and warm sleep possibilities a longer nap of up to 1 hour really makes a difference on the situation and your feeling. If you are lucky it recovers you completely from sleepiness (at least for the night you are in).

If you are in situations where indoor/sheltered sleep is not possible or forbidden you need to shorten the breaks. Everything from 5-30 minutes in a nap-format can help. If you are unlucky you will need these type of naps several times in one night to make it to the next morning. Don’t be angry about that – this is another loss of energy and time (and leads to bad decisions as well).

Try to find the best place for your nap. You may want to stay as dry as possible, it should be possible to lay down without massive problems (although some runners report that they slept while standing in the rain), it should be protected from wind (do not sleep on top of anything) and you may want to stay out of private property.

Set an alarm clock. Make sure you will be able to hear the sound (e.g. sleep on your smartphone).

During colder/wetter weather conditions it is handy to use one of these emergency blankets/foil/sleep bags you carry with you anyway. Take off your jacket and backpack (and more clothes if you are still able to undress and dress yourself), wrap yourself completely (gold outside) and lay down. This will keep body and muscles warm, will dramatically increase the nap sleep quality and reduces the stiffness when starting off again. Take the foil with you for your next stop. That is one of the reasons why you should always pack two of these emergency blankets. One for sleep brakes, one for emergency.

Furthermore it will help to regularly fuel your body with something to eat and drink in short intervals during the night (and during the day as well). Prevents your system from shutting down completely and ease the sleepiness a little as your body has something to do. Make a game out of it: every 5k I eat a little something and drink a few ml.

Last but not least: remember the first one of the two rules: never quit at night – it will get better during the day.

Talking about rules – the second one of the two rules is: never quit during the day – there is simply no point in doing this.

References:

[1] Martin, T., Arnal, P. J., Hoffman, M. D., & Millet, G. Y. (2018). Sleep habits and strategies of ultramarathon runners. PloS One, 13(5), e0194705. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0194705

[2] Lastella M, Halson SL, Vitale JA, Memon AR, Vincent GE. To Nap or Not to Nap? A Systematic Review Evaluating Napping Behavior in Athletes and the Impact on Various Measures of Athletic Performance. Nat Sci Sleep. 2021;13:841-862. Published 2021 Jun 24. doi:10.2147/NSS.S315556

Duinhopper 2021

A true journey changes those who are brave enough to travel wholeheartedly.

About:

The Duinhopper is a 220 km long GPX track provided by acceptnolimits.eu on the Duinhopper page. It covers the whole coast of the Netherlands between Hoek van Holland and Den Helder. How you organize yourself while running, how you manage this long distance is your problem – there is no further service provided. If you are interested in running this track – get in contact with the guys from acceptnolimits.eu and check out the above mentioned Duinhopper page for reports, hints and videos. The original Duinhopper is meant to be run in the winter time in the months January or February.

After the latest activities at the Dutch coast there has been an update post – see here:
En dan is er ineens weer ultra activiteit op het Duinhopper parcours.

The Plan:

While checking possible dates for long distance running weekends in 2021 we found the first weekend of October as one of the few possible options this year. As the Duinhopper is part of a private running challenge the decision on the course was easily made. We decided to keep our appearance on the coast secret until the very start of our run. For the fun and the surprise of it. As mentioned above the DH is normally meant to be run in winter but the challenge allows to differ from that. The final thing to do was logistics planning and it turned out that the best option we found is to park the car in the middle of the course at a train station (from where we could shuttle to the start and take a train back from finish line to the car as well). We decided to use the official parking at Driehuis train station which is 1,2 km off track but good connected via train and at km 120 of 220.

The travel to Driehuis by car and the train transfer to Hoek van Holland was horrible. We lost one hour in the traffic jams around Amsterdam and another hour because of a closed bridge (train just stopped and we had to wait for a transfer bus to the next station to pick-up another train). We finally announced to our running family what we were going to try and hit the start button on all our devices. Game on.

The First Night:

We started on Friday 1st of October at 21:37 – with the 48h time limit we had only one task: to reach the finish in Den Helder on Sunday 3rd of October before 21:37. Sounds like more than enough time considering that it is 220 km run.

We had light rain and some wind – but nothing too horrible. After a few hours the sky became clear and we had great running conditions. Within the first marathon the haven and boulevard of Scheveningen was probably the highlight of the night. Always amazing to enter civilization after hours of dark and calm nature. We made quite good progress and our first 15 min break around km 50 because we were quite tired. But sun was near.

Lights all along the coast…

The First Day:

Around km 50 the Dunes became more and more serious. The track does not alway uses existing patches – as with every great adventure: you need to walk your own path if you want to succeed. The sun was rising revealing the surrounding – and no kidding: we were amazed. What a beautiful coast. Km 50-99 cover a variety of different Dune areas – all of them different – all of them beautiful. Sometimes Savanna-like (a wide grassland full of animals) sometimes Sahara-like (sand) and sometimes covered with dwarfs (don’t ask). We had a blast. Not too fresh anymore, not fast but we had good weather and moments of pure unity with nature. We even stopped for the second 15 min break to take a nap in the sun. A dear was lying 5 meters away from us and stayed there as if he wanted to protect (or control) the sleepy Germans.

At the end of this stretch the next most welcomed surprise was waiting for us. Maarten and his car with some supply.

The news of us travelling along the coast was squeezed through the secret channels of the internet (we know we have to thank Maarten for a lot of work behind the scenes) and we were closely watched and supported by an amazing Dutch long distance running family. Maarten met us a second time at around km 103 – sending us on our last part to our car. He even found the time to shoot an amazing drone video:

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Thanks to Maarten for this amazing shot!

The Second Night:

We reached the car at km 120 in the dark and in more and more intense rain. Long distance running reality hit us hard. All wet and freezing – changing clothes – repacking backs – trying to dry the feet a bit – eat something – finally a sleep in the warm car. The moment the alarm clock rang was so absurd. Kind of warm and dry sitting in a car looking into what was now clearly more than light rain and wind… In these moments: if you have any doubts don’t speak about it. We both were thinking the same about what would be reasonable to do but consequently did the opposite of it. I think we can agree that we do not want to speak about that second night. Luckily we managed to move a little, luckily the hardest rain and wind stopped after a few hours, luckily we were wise and brave enough to split up (after all these years of running we did this the first time) and luckily even the darkest and wettest night has to end. Even in the hardest moments with your best friend you have to stay rational and make wise decisions. Both of us were fighting different battles – and we did this alone. Pushed by the hope that it would be beneficial for a united finish. At the end of the night we were joined by Addie and Margret and had another section of great support. Can’t thank you enough!

Some rain again – km 175 Schoorl

The Second Day:

The first daylight of day 2 revealed the Dunes around Schoorl. A nice hit in the face. And, even more horrible, the last 9 km of real Dunes down to the beach. Exhausted, hopelessness, slightly unconscious and zombie-walking through the endless hills. It. Must. End. So pissed about the Dunes at that moment. But finally – the Beach – and another family member: Francois. Three figures shuffling on the beach. Absurd feeling. Would this endless beach really bring us to Den Helder? Still 38 km to go – long hours of „running“ ahead. But we were still in, we had support and we had hope. We met Francois´ car at km 191 and 204 – great to have something to hold on. It felt like no progress at all sometimes but slowly we were approaching.

The Final:

We left the beach 12km before the finish line. From now on it would be cycling/walking paths through mild Dunes followed by the last long grass part on the dike of Den Helder. Completely exhausted the final relief was slowly approaching. We would really do it. Together with this certainty the sun was back. Some unforgettable km up there in North Holland. Painful but happy moments.

The FB call from our running family was the ultimate sign – we did it. And off course we were not alone – Francois came with beer. I mean: how great was that.

Duinhopper 2021 – job done!

The numbers:

225,66 km; 45:35h; 2600D+; 50% TS

The Shoutout:

Maarten, Addie, Margret, Francois, Stefan, all members of the TS group – one for all, all for one! Fantastic long distance family!