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Endurance, Wellness / June 4, 2013

5 ways to go stronger, longer

Written by: Matt Minich

Stamina is important. Whether your next endurance challenge is a 100-mile ultramarathon or a five-mile day hike, you don’t want to hit the wall halfway through.

So this week, we called up veteran ultrarunner, Ultimate Direction brand manager, and enduro supermutant Buzz Burrell. Follow his advice below, and you’ll still feel like showing those pearly whites (teeth, not thighs) at the finish line.

1. Drink in moderation

It’s commonly suggested that active people drink two quarts of water or more each day to ward off dehydration. And that’s a pretty good rule of thumb, says Buzz—if you’re a camel.

“The amount of water you’re supposed to drink is impossible,” he says. “It would be injurious to drink as much as they recommend.”  While dehydration is a major drain on performance, distance athletes are far more likely to be injured or even killed by hyponatremia.

So how much should you drink? That’s not rocket surgery, says Buzz. “Your body knows pretty well what it needs. Drink when you’re thirsty. When you’re not thirsty anymore, stop.”

2. Eat better

But a man cannot race on water alone. And when choosing the right solid fuel for a long burn, “eat when you’re hungry” doesn’t quite cut it.

The best food options vary by activity, says Buzz. For those running for 18 hours or less (yes, some people do run for longer), he recommends simple sugars like the kind found in most performance gels. For high-intensity activity, these sugars provide all of the energy needed with none of the effort of digestion.

Those operating at a lower intensity for a longer period (like hikers or backpackers), will need to add fat and protein to keep moving. Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts are a proven and classic source, but for his own ultralight ventures, Buzz downs olive oil by the bottle.

We know—that’s gross. But hey, this guy did the John Muir Trail in just three and a half days. So maybe he’s on to something.

Meet trail running legend Buzz Burrell. He runs farther and faster than anyone you know. Photo courtesy of Buzz Burrell.

Hydration isn't rocket surgery. Drink when you're thirsty, and don't drink when you aren't.

3. Choose bottles over bladders

As we mentioned early on, Buzz is the brand manager for Ultimate Direction: a company that makes hydration packs, belts, and vests for long distance runners. We think of their products as a sort of 21st-century reinvention of the fanny pack.

So as a rare expert in the field, we asked him to weigh in on a longstanding backcountry hydration debate: water bottles or hydration bladders?

His answer? Bottles. Every time. Hydration bladders become a sticky mess when used to store juice or sports drinks, he says, and are nearly impossible to get fully clean. They’re harder to fill at small springs or streams, and can’t be used to measure volume the way most bottles now can.

And besides, there’s just something not quite right about filling a hydration bladder with tequila.

4. Practice RFM

Relentless Forward Motion isn’t a complicated technique, but Buzz gives it the credit for virtually every feat of endurance under the sun. Above all else, he says, speed over long distances is all about putting one foot in front of the other.

“It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going,” says Buzz. “What matters is how many hours per day you’re moving forward.” He points to ultra-hiker Brett Maune, who has perfected the techniques of eating and drinking while in motion. Because of his devout practice of RFM, Maune has broken runners’ speed records by hiking.

That’s if you’re going for speed records, of course. When backpacking on his own time, he says he finds the occasional break to be good for the body and the soul. “If you stop and rest, you will rest,” he says. “You will feel better. But it won’t get you there any faster.” 

As the brand manager for Ultimate Direction, Burrell advocates for water bottles over hydration bladders. Photo courtesy of Buzz Burrell.

Burrell's advice for aspiring endurance runners is simple: once you start running never stop.

5. Train

We say this a lot—training is important. And one of the reasons we’re always plugging it is because every expert we talk to does the same. Buzz is no different, though he prefers to think of training as just a natural part of his endurance-based lifestyle.

“I don’t like to work,” says Buzz. “Do what you do. Do what you enjoy, and try to do it most days of the week. Training is not a negative to gain a positive; it should be just as much fun as anything else.”

When training becomes a chore, mix it up. Try steep hikes or runs one day, and go for distance on the next. If the act of running/hiking itself is getting boring, spend a day rock climbing or in a yoga studio. But if you’re going for long-term endurance, he says, make sure you’re taking at least one hike a week that takes five hours or more.

For more wisdom from Buzz, follow his posts on the Ultimate Direction blog

about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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