Natasha Wodak crossing the line at the Vancouver Half-Marathon(Des Iles / Canada Running Series)
Canadian elite Natasha Wodak is on a tear. The distance runner from Vancouver has racked up five first-place finishes in the 2019 season and a bunch of impressive times to go along with the wins.
On Sunday, June 23, Wodak was the first to cross the finish line at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon in 1:11:20, only 1:17 off the course record, which was set in 2003 by Lioudmila Kortchaguina.
Wodak has also been named to the World Championship team for the 10,000m, and won the Canadian 10K championships, the Vancouver Sun Run, the Pioneer 8K and the Canadian 10,000m championships. Suffice to say, she’s having a great 2019.
On June 21, Wilfrid Leblanc, 57, broke the Grouse Grind record, finishing 19 ascents in approximately 18 hours, and gaining 15,295 metres over 48K (almost double the height of Mount Everest). The Grouse Grind trail ascends Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. Every summer solstice, Grouse Mountain hosts the Multi-Grind Challenge, raising money for BC Children’s Hospital. Brooke Spence, 37, and James Stewart, 40, also completed 18 Grinds. Spence beat her previous record of 17 ascents, set in 2018.
The Multi-Grind Challenge is unique as it relies on the Grouse Mountain tram system. For the solstice, the tram is scheduled every 10 minutes. Participants begin as early as 4:00 a.m. and start their final Grind at 9:59:59 p.m. Leblanc met the legendary Spence a few weeks prior to the event and determined that “19 (ascents) were possible by doing 45-minute Grinds all day. 19 is not crazy.” Leblanc’s plan of attack was to “stay with Brooke. I know she’s strong. I’m just gonna stay with her, until I can’t,” he said.
Jennifer Sygo is a registered dietitian and the performance nutritionist for the Toronto Raptors. Sygo also works with Athletics Canada and Swim Canada, and she recently spoke to the CBC about her nutrition philosophy for the Raptors players. While a recreational athlete doesn’t need to be as careful as a professional runner or NBA player when it comes to diet, there are some key pieces of advice from Sygo that are applicable across the board.
Sygo told the CBC that while quality food is important for performance, so are treats: “It’s not uncommon for me to put something like dark chocolate or a treat or some ice cream into an athlete’s plan intentionally, because otherwise you create this white-knuckle behaviour of ‘I have to do it right’ or ‘it has to be perfect every day’ and that’s not realistic for anyone.”
Sygo says the trick is to find balance and to destigmatize food so that you don’t feel guilty if you eat something that isn’t the most nutritious.
Nature Medicine journal published a study recently on a special microbe found in runners’ stool samples: veillonella. Veillonella is a lactate-processing microbe that was much more prevalent in the stool samples of elite runners than the general population, especially post-exercise.
The researchers isolated veillonella from the stools of elite marathon runners and transferred it into the guts of mice. Then they had the mice run on treadmills. NPR reports that when compared to the control group, the veillonella mice won by a pretty sizeable margin of 13 per cent.
Gut microbes are a very hot topic right now, with many runners already taking various pro- and pre-biotics to help with digestion and overall gut health. A 2015 study even suggested that exercising while young alters microbes in the gut, which in turn strengthens the immune system and improves brain health.
The brain function which they can influence includes anti-depressant effects. The study’s lead author, Monika Fleshner, says that this is the first time they have looked at how much these microbes can be changed, and her research group found that there is a window of time when regular exercise can alter these microbes.
It’s unlikely that runners will start taking veillonella supplements as a performance enhancer, but there’s certainly a developing link between the gut and exercise.—CR ■