Guest article provided by trail and ultra runner Jenna Bensko as part of our ongoing collaboration with Front Range Elite.
I am not a natural born runner. Funny enough, I started off my athletic journey as a swimmer, and our “dry land” workout days put a pit in my stomach. It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Cornell University that I first tried my hand, ahem feet, at running. As a nutrition major, I knew it was important to stay active, and I needed a non-academic outlet. Fast forward five years, and now I am living and running through Colorado with a team of incredibly inspiring female runners, and my stoke for the sport is off the charts. A little bit of consistency, proper fueling, and self-love go a long way in staying happy and progressing in this sport.
Consistent Training, Consistent Fueling
Consistency has proven the most effective training principle for me. I train pretty much year-round, but I make sure to strike a balance so that running doesn’t feel overwhelming and I don’t crave large blocks of time off. However, consistency can show itself in a lot of different ways. I consistently take a rest day every Monday to allow my body the time it needs to adapt to the stress I put it through. I like to think of training as a bank from which I am constantly withdrawing and depositing stress/energy. By resting every Monday, I ensure that I have enough energy to last me through the training week. It also gives me a chance to adequately refuel for the week, in case there were days in the preceding week where I didn’t take in enough food to balance out my training. This way, I feel both physically and mentally prepared to get out the door running on Tuesday.
I practice consistency in my fueling strategy as well. I always eat something before heading out on my morning runs. Depending on how much time I have to digest my food, that might look like some oatmeal with peanut butter, water mixed with a powdered nutrition blend, or a large chocolate chip pancake. It’s really important for athletes, especially female athletes, to get in some calories before heading out the door. Running on empty usually doesn’t feel good and puts us at a huge deficit to start the day. Learning to eat before I run has really made the difference in my energy levels during workouts and training runs.
Maintaining MineralsWhen I first moved to Colorado, I wasn’t as adamant about eating pre-run and didn’t supplement my diet with the critical minerals I wasn’t getting enough of through food alone. My first month of training at altitude felt like a constant slog. I struggled to find motivation to get out the door and my runs felt awful, both physically and mentally. After a month of grinding on empty, I found myself diagnosed with a stress reaction in my right femoral head and had to sideline myself from running for a couple of months. This gave my body the time it needed to heal and my brain the break from training it needed.
Since recovering from my injury, I started taking a daily iron supplement and calcium supplement from Floradix. I take Floradix Liquid Calcium in the morning to give my fragile hip some extra love and help keep my bones strong, and I take Floradix Iron + Herbs Liquid at night mixed in with some orange juice for overall energy support to stay active.* I call my iron/OJ mixture my “night cap,” and my roommates chuckle every time I mix the “cocktail.” I love that Floradix iron is liquid, because then I can easily turn taking the supplement into a fun routine.
Female athletes tend to run low in both of these minerals, especially those of us who live and train at altitude. Iron is essential for transporting oxygen through our muscles as we run. It is a critical puzzle piece to our red blood cells, so without adequate iron, we will have fewer red blood cells to drive our oxygen around to where we need it. This is particularly important at altitude, an oxygen-deprived environment. Getting your iron checked is easily done with a blood draw and might be worth the test if you are feeling a bit more lethargic than usual.
Staying Happy & Healthy
Staying on top of your fueling, including with supplements, is critical for keeping the stoke high. And who wants to run hard when it’s no longer fun?!
TELL US: How do you stay motivated and energized in your sport?
Jenna is a first year M.S. student at Colorado State University in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. Jenna's love for running started with friendly sister competition. Her sister ran a half-marathon when Jenna was starting college, which inspired Jenna to try the same feat. Jenna was instantly hooked by the sport and went on to run several more half marathons and full marathons. After graduating from Cornell University in 2019, she moved to Boston where her passion for the sport blossomed even more because of the supportive running community she found there. She set a goal of breaking 3 hours in the marathon this past spring and surprised herself with a PR of 2:55. Most recently, Jenna started journeying into the world of trail running and has really taken a liking to the ultra distances.
ABOUT FRONG RANGE ELITE
Front Range Elite is a Colorado-based nonprofit with a mission to foster a supportive space in which athletes can develop their potential as they pursue running careers. Currently, the organization backs a team of 11 amazing women who are training for excellence in the field while promoting clean sport, serving their community, and acting as good stewards of the Earth.