An Experiment of One

When it comes to eating to run 100 miles, Charles Corfield gets the best results from science.

Corfield is a real-life scientist – his specialty is astrophysical fluid dynamics. He now runs a successful software company, Sandcherry, in Boulder, Colorado.

The standard running fuels tied his stomach in knots, so Corfield decided to tinker in the “lab” of his own body. The need for a solution was urgent – he was training for the rugged Leadville Trail 100.

He says, “This is a science project. And I’m the guinea pig. I can’t say what I do is statistically valid, but what the heck. I view it as an interesting science project: What can I do with this particular body? How much performance can I crank out of it?”

Here’s Corfield ultra-brew:

  • 625g maltodextrin powder
  • 125g whey protein
  • 1 pint hot water
  • Flavor to taste with soups, fruit powder, or whatever you like.
  • Crushed-up Rolaids (add calcium and magnesium)

It certainly worked for Corfield. At age 48, he finished Leadville in 19:42, placing third.

I love hearing about people like Cornfield, who tinker and find out what works for their individual bodies. Like the great coaches of the past – Lydiard, Bowerman, Cerutty – Corfield is an empiricist.

The Wikipedia defines empiricism as the philosophy that says “Try it and see.” In Greece and Rome, an empiric was a physician whose skill came from practical experience, as opposed to instruction in theory.

Sooner or later, every runner discovers that it’s the only useful approach.

“It’s a bit like getting an old, classic clunker across America,” Corfield says. “You’re always reading the dials, the fuel and everything, just running along trying to monitor all the important things. I’m trying to build a better engine.”

Many people – especially on Internet forums – confuse the scientific method with something else entirely. They think that science is about thinking. They argue all kinds of subjects, from the best kind of speedwork, to the validity of homeopathy, to the existence of God, using reason and logic alone, in the mistaken belief that they’re being “scientific.” They aren’t.

Real science is based on that simple question: “What works?” Scientific training isn’t reading a book and following a prescribed program. It’s tinkering and finding out what works for our own bodies.

Would Corfield’s race fuel work for everyone? No way!

It surely wouldn’t work for me.

Corfield believes the best carbohydrate for all runners is maltodextrin. Two popular fuels, Hammer Perpetuem and Hammer Heed, get their carbs from maltodextrin. They work well for thousands of runners and cyclists, yet they both send my energy plummeting through the floor.

My tummy simply doesn’t like “malto.” On the other hand, I’ve used Hammer’s Sustained Energy with great success in marathons and ultras. Hammer claims that SE eliminates stomach problems and the marathon “bonk.” Works for me. The carb in Sustained Energy is “glucose polymer solids.”

Racing is too difficult to let our fate be decided by the drink companies. When it comes to running or religion, the standard fuels don’t always work. At such times, homebrew may be best.

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