Running

How an Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier Overcame Her GI Issues

For many marathoners, the dreaded threat of GI distress can ruin the best training run or race. 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and 2:34 marathoner Dawn Grunnagle nearly cut her marathoning short because of repeated stomach issues.

An accomplished track athlete, Dawn was an NCAA qualifier in the 1500m in college and also qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials. However, when she tried moving up in distance to the marathon, her nutrition became a serious issue, especially for a runner who previously never had to think about eating and drinking during her runs.

“At the recommendation of my friends and coach, I tried all the gels I could find to see which of them I could handle,” says Dawn. “I got sick every time I ran a race. I just kept thinking to myself, ’this just isn’t fun. How do people do this?”

During her marathon debut at the 2015 LA Marathon, Dawn finished 16-minutes off her projected pace because she battled stomach issues throughout the race.

“I ended up in a porta potty and was thinking, ‘please somebody come pick this thing up with me in it and just take me away!”

FINDING A FUELING SOLUTION

After realizing that sugary products were not for her, Dawn still needed to find a way to fuel her marathon training.  Her coach and 3x U.S. Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein introduced her to UCAN, a unique, long-lasting energy source that digests easily

“I started to fuel with UCAN while training for the 2015 New York City Marathon,” says Dawn. “It was there that I ran the whole thing without throwing up and actually had fun while doing it.”

“Fueling with UCAN made me train the way I wanted to as well as race the way I wanted to and it even helped me get from a 2:49 marathon time down to a 2:34 personal best at the 2018 Berlin Marathon to qualify for the Olympic A Standard!”

WHAT MAKES UCAN UNIQUE?

Despite decades of research and creation of a billion-dollar sports drink industry, there has been little innovation with respect to the formulation of carbohydrate-based sports nutrition products. Most formulas consist of simple sugars (e.g., glucose, dextrose, sucrose) or maltodextrin, with an emphasis on providing quick energy.

Because these sugar-based formulas consist of many individual sugar molecules in solution, they exert a high osmolality in the gastrointestinal tract. The osmotic force in the stomach negatively impacts gastric emptying and can increase stomach issues in runners.

UCAN products are powered by SuperStarch®, a unique, complex carbohydrate that delivers steady, long-lasting energy with no spikes and no crash. SuperStarch® is an extremely large glucose polymer that exerts a very low osmotic pressure in the gastrointestinal tract and is rapidly emptied from the stomach into the intestines.

Therefore SuperStarch is gentle on the stomach and because of its low osmolality, it is possible to use higher amounts of carbohydrate with less risk for stomach distress.

HOW DAWN USES UCAN

The fueling strategy with UCAN differs from the traditional simple sugar-based nutrition plan that calls for frequent feedings throughout a workout.

In training, Dawn pre-loads with 1-2 servings of UCAN 30 minutes before a long run or hard workout without the fear of stomach issues. Fueling with UCAN before a run minimizes the need to take in calories during the workout for up to 2 hours.

For racing, Dawn uses UCAN pre, during, and post. As an elite runner with bottles on the course, she’s able to have nutrition available to her every 5k and she takes advantage of this by continuing to top off her fuel stores with UCAN without the worry of GI distress.

Dawn’s Race-Day Nutrition Plan

  • Pre-race: Sips on 2 servings Cranberry-Raspberry UCAN starting two hours before start time and stops about thirty minutes prior to the start of the race.
  • During the race: Distributes 2 scoops of Cranberry-Raspberry UCAN mixed with 18 ounces of water into 8 separate bottles; 3-4 large gulps every 5K
  • After the race: 1 serving of Chocolate UCAN + Protein (with ice) and a banana

Learn more about Dawn by listening to her featured episode on the Ali on the Run Show podcast!