Ultra runner Anna Rutherford swears that they were the key to her success on her recent record-breaking run of 212 miles. We find out why – and get to grips with how much salt we runners really need
We know that many of us runners have our race superstitions – it might be a certain pair of leggings, a particular playlist or a stash of sweets alongside our gels. But stock cubes? This is a new one to us!
Anna Rutherford is a 38-year-old ultra runner from the Scottish Borders who set out to break the women’s record for the Southern Upland Way last week. And break it she did – she took a whopping 17 hours off the previous record, running the 212-mile route in 62 hours and 34 minutes.
The mum of two credits her incredible achievement to a number of things; the desire to get home and see her children, Kit and Ella (two years old and nine months old respectively); her friends, many of whom are experienced long distance runners, who supported her along the way; and, unexpectedly, stock cubes.
“I could have any food I wanted as I ran, as there was a van meeting me at points along the way with supplies, but I just couldn’t eat,” she told BBC News Scotland. “Then my friend, Lucy Colquhoun, gave me a bag of dry stock cubes – and that was unbelievable! I was losing so many electrolytes – the stock cubes helped me so much, as they are pure salt.”
Although we’re often warned against the dangers of salt in our diet, it’s really important for us runners to make sure we’re getting enough of it, especially when it comes to sweaty or long runs. This is because sodium helps us to regulate the amount of fluid in our blood and cells – if levels drop, we may retain excess fluid, which can be unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst.
Knowing how much you need can depend on lots of factors, including the amount of salt you normally eat, and how much sodium you personally lose through sweating. Some tell-tale signs of sodium deficiency to watch out for are muscle cramps during runs, as well as white lines of salt residue on your skin or clothing after your run.
If you do need an extra boost of salt in your diet, there are loads of options – you can take a leaf out of Anna’s book, and eat or drink a stock cube, or look for foods with higher levels of salts, such as salted nuts. Some sports and energy drinks also contain sodium – check the label to find out how much. And, of course, you could just add an extra salt sprinkle to your pre- or post-run meal.
As for Anna, she’s now proudly recovering from her run. Having slept for a total of just 90 minutes during her almost 3-day effort, we can imagine rest is very welcome. She’s said that she feels very proud and humbled by all the messages of support, as well as the support shown by people in the towns she ran through. “I get so emotional thinking about it,” she says. “I’m just me. I’m a mum who is just so normal – how can someone like me run as long and as hard as that? But if I can do it, then anyone can.”