Having recently run herself into second place at the CCC at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, we chat to Jo Meek on the podcast. Jo is a one heck of an ultra and endurance athlete. On 32Gi Sports Nutrition today; we hear more about the race in France, and how she handles her nutrition.
She’s a trail runner by trade, she’s known as the running squirrel and it’s a great pleasure to welcome Jo Meek onto the podcast. Jo thank you very much for joining us today.
JM: Thank you for having me on here this is the first time. I’ve been listening to it so it’s an honour to be on here.
DK: Now Jo for most people your accent will give away that you are from the UK, if they didn’t know that. I wanna start right on the sort of newsy topic you were recently racing in France.
You didn’t do the actual Ultra-Trail Mont-Blanc, but you did the shorter event the triple C I’ll call it, you can give them the full name. But you went and finished second overall there. You were the highest place British runner, I believe, out of anyone else during the week.
Ultra-Trail Mont-Blanc’s little (not so little) brother
Yes, so the Ultra Mont-Blanc is the main one. So just over a hundred miles taking about 24 hours. There’s a few others, one longer which takes days and two shorter ones going one way around Mont-Blanc sort of half way around, and one going around the other way half way round.
So I chose to do the CCC which is just over a hundred kilometres with 6100 metres of vertical gain. You start at in Courmayeur in Italy, run into Champex in Switzerland and then back into Chamonix in France. I chose that one because it’s a good build-up and introduction to what the ultimate race would be. Like doing the UTMB so that is on my sights one day.
DK: Now I mean we say it’s not the race there but it’s still as you said a hundred and one kilometres for most people that’s far further than they’ll ever run. But you know in South Africa, and you know very well. We’ve got the Comrades Marathon. It’s not quite a hundred but it’s close on. You’ve run that as well and you’ve had a very good result there in the past.
JM: I absolutely love doing Comrades the atmosphere obviously is second to none. But just the challenge, I did the Down there. I came fifth when I did it out of the women. It’s fair to say I was limping more after that than I was after the race I’ve just done. Having gone for fourteen hours in the CCC and significantly less time in Comrades to finish the race. But my legs were toast afterwards it’s a real beast of a race.
The longer Jo goes, the better she gets!
DK: No it really is a lot of people attest to that. But it also as you said has this air I don’t know, people just cannot stay away from it. We’ve got our guys who run 45 odd years in a row, which is absolutely incredible. Between your sort of road running and trail running; you’ve got more of a trail pedigree. Is that more what you focus on?
JM: My background is actually road running, so I am a runner. A lot of trail running, trail races tend to be not just running but quite a lot of hiking and climbing. I’m not very good at that. So I tend to stick to whether it’s road or trail but I do like the runnable stuff that’s for sure.
DK: Looking at some of your recent results you done. Marathon des Sables, you placed second there back in 2013. Highest place ever British female there. 2014 you were fourth at the IAU 100km World Championships. So there’s no doubt about it, you not a sprinter. You like the long endurance stuff.
JM: I battled away for years to try and get my marathon time down, to something, my best is 2:46, but back in the UK that’s just kind of a good club runner really. I want to get underneath that to make my mark, but I never managed it and.
I think I’ve just gone longer and gone better. So it’s beginning to pay off for the hard work. Just going out for those training runs. But obviously I love it is what I’ll say…
DK: So a lot of it is, I mean we say yes you need the talent. But when you doing these ultra-events. Were you doing these crazy distances these crazy amount of hours. A lot of it is mental.
Do you have a special way of preparing yourself mentally and when you in a race and you start hitting these sort of dark places; how do you keep yourself going?
JM: It’s an interesting question, cos I’m not entirely sure. I have an answer for that. I’m very reluctant to give it up, so a lot of that is just sheer stubbornness and determination. I’ll keep going on anything whether it’s running or if I’ve got any aspect of work. I won’t give up until I finish it. So I guess that’s just in my nature.
Yes, you do hit some dark places. But I have to remember that I did actually sign up for these races. They are voluntary. It’s not like I’ve been held captive and made to do them. So I also remember that as well. I just like the challenge of knowing where I can take myself so ultimately I am enjoying it. I guess that’s what motivates me to keep going. To see what I can do and how fast I can do it in.
How the Running Squirrel balances nutrition
DK: You really do learn a lot about yourself in these ultra-endurance events. Looking at your nutrition and how you fuel. I know you in the 32Gi stable. Are there any special things you do that you find works well for you?
JM: So my nutrition is just everyday life a good balanced diet. I used to be vegetarian, but after 12 years I’ve gone back to eating red meat just for iron levels really. So I’m quite selective what meat I eat. But I cook everything from scratch and it’s just a really good healthy balanced diet. So that’s day to day.
I tend to not overly worry about eating too many carbohydrates, but do on race day. So I probably pre-load a little bit before such long events. Then on race day I’ll have probably just you know a bowl of muesli or similar to start the day.
Then during the race it literally is the 32Gi gels and chews. Then if I want something a little bit more real I’ll take a homemade flapjack or something like that. But I do rely heavily on carbohydrates. You know I didn’t have any stomach problems during the race.
I did have quite a lot of belching, but I think it was just the position I was running and my poor tummy moving up and down 14 hours. No, GI problems which is always a good relief for a runner. I tend to balance it out so my diet is, is fairly healthy on the whole.
DK: Jo you mentioned the race itself looking at the CCC which you did recently. You know a lot of people over a hundred kilometres they thinking what am I gonna eat? Am I gonna have something that’s similar to a meal? I know the average runner is not doing it in the time you’re doing it but you were able to sustain yourself pretty much on gels and chews didn’t you?
JM: Yeah for the whole 14 hours I mean it’s fair to say I’ve been fairly hungry since I’ve stopped. But I didn’t feel as though I was running out of energy at all it was absolutely fantastic.
DK: Now in terms of post-race you talked about being really hungry. Now coming out of that of course you know initially or often for people very hard to eat. But then replacing and that recovery nutrition very important as well?
JM: Absolutely so in the back of my mind I generally try and eat within an hour. But just wasn’t possible my stomach had had enough of food or you know or carbohydrates. So I didn’t actually for a good few hours after race.
But you know your body will always tell you what it wants, when it wants. So I’ve been listening. So I managed to get some 32Gi recovery drink after the race. Which I thought would be sufficient and see me through the night.
I mean I got in at sort of 11 o’clock at night and sleep wasn’t most forth coming because my legs was on fire and the adrenalin was still rushing. So after having the recovery drink I just gone back onto my normal diet now. So just listening to my body probably more than I’d normally but that’s fine it’s all good recovery.
DK: Jo the racing can be a problem especially when you looking at these endurance events. I know with sort of Ironman and Challenge athletes you know they don’t wanna do too many of these in a year. How often do you find yourself racing?
JM: Dave I’ve learnt the hard way, I over raced the first year I came into ultra-running. Then I had to take some time off my body had had enough. So I tend to race ultra’s maybe 4/5 in one year. Depending on how long they are. Because an ultra can be anything over a marathon, so if it was just a 30 mile I might be able to get away with a few more. But running for 14 hours is not possible to do too many
DK: Joe what’s coming up for you, what’s the goal in the next couple of months and years, what’s the big one that you sort of looking to?
JM: So the most immediate goal coming up is the World Trail Championships which are gonna be held in Portugal this year. I’ll be running for Great Britain and that’s at the end of October. So recovery for that is crucial now. Then a little bit of training. Then I’ll taper into that one.
But that brings us nicely into the winter, well just get back into training really. No significant races. Then next year I need to plan…so the race I’ve just done the CCC gives me points for is a race in America called Western States, which is a hundred miles on the trail. So I’m hoping, but quite a fast trail, quite a well-groomed trail. So hopefully I’ll get into that. Then obviously in the back of my mind I also have the UTMB as the main race and that will probably be next year or the following year.
Would love to come back to South Africa
DK: Western States definitely one of the pinnacle of 100 mile races. Looking at South Africa you’ve raced here before in the Comrades. We’ve got a great, well we’ve got this great SkyRun here but also Ultra–Trail Cape Town launched in the last couple of years. Is that something that could be on the horizon for you?
JM: Yeah no I’d love to do that. I wouldn’t necessarily like to do the sky race because they are very technical. I’ll give it a go but I’m not sure I’ll excel at it. But any other race you know I tend to leap at. I know you’ve got some, some great mountain ranges over there.
I’ve been listening to them on various, listening to people who’ve raced on them on various podcasts. Yeah keen to get back over there. Also the Comrades, yeah I’m quite finished with that I don’t think…
DK: Well that’s good to hear it’s always good to have more competition. We’ve seen a great competition in South African. Women’s running in terms of the ultra’s in the last couple of years. Which has been fantastic. Lastly before I let you go Joo, I know you have a personal blog it’s called the running squirrel. If people sort of wanna find out about that, follow you on that blog. How do they do that and are there other avenues on social media where they can follow you?
JM: Absolutely so I’m more on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as the running squirrel or just jo_meek. You can find my blog is a wordpress blog so it’s jomeekwordpress. I’ll be this weekend actually writing up my CCC race so I can relive it yeah relive the great memory.
DK: Well Jo I’ll put the link out to that. We’ll look out for that, fantastic results in France. Zll the best for Portugal and once again thanks very much for joining us on the podcast.
JM: Thank you for your time David. Thanks very much.
DK: Well that’s it from another edition of 32Gi Sports Nutrition. From myself Mr Active David Katz, I’ll catch up with you again next time.