If Superman and Wonder Woman were ultra-endurance athletes their real names would surely be Paul and Meredith Terranova. The power couple’s combined running, cycling, and swimming mileage must be record-setting in itself, but even more than that, each is the other’s motivator–making the ultimate superhero duo that pushes each other beyond what would seem to be the ultimate challenge.
Take Meredith, for example, who decided in 1999 that running was her thing…yet couldn’t run the full 5k she had signed up for. It takes someone with an unstoppable will to go from there and say, ‘I’m going to do a full marathon’. Fast forward 18 years and Meredith has completed the Western States 100 and is a multiple time finisher of the Ultraman event. For Paul, it started with collegiate rowing, then the marathon, now just ‘basic’ 100-mile trail runs are what makes him happy.
“After my first marathon I was hooked,” said Meredith. “I did one or two a year, then got into the 50k distance. Then got in with people doing 50 milers; it never ends from there. You go down that road and sign up for a 100 miler after that.”
The Western States 100, which Meredith finished in under 24 hours in 2010 is widely revered as one of the most prestigious 100-mile running events on the planet. And, once checking that goal off the list, Meredith did what she always does, which is continue pushing herself by upping the difficulty of the event she enters. That’s where Ultraman came in. Three days of over-the-top running, swimming, and cycling on the Big Island of Hawaii makes it the hardest triathlon known to man. Stage 1 includes a 6.2-mile ocean swim followed by a 90-mile ride, with around 6,000 feet of climbing. Stage 2 is a massive 171 miles on the bike, while Stage 3 is a 52.4-mile double-marathon. To most of us, this would be an absurd level of challenge; for Meredith, it’s what gets her up in the morning.
“I found that when I would do IRONMAN I would finish and there wasn’t that deep satisfaction, whereas when I cross the finish line of Ultraman I’m impacted deep in my soul. I think, ‘I can’t believe my body let me do that’. I want to be scared enough of an event that it pushes me in training. If it’s not big enough you lose your why a little bit. Training a little scared is very exciting. It’s easy to not put stuff on the calendar because it’s intimidating, but once it’s out there it’s easy to start working toward it.”
Even though Paul could see himself going after an Ultraman at some point in the future, “as long as Meredith lets me dabble in her universe,” he says, the focus remains on 100-mile trail races where he has already owns multiple national titles. As accomplished as Paul has been over the past couple of decades in endurance sport, he seemed to have met his match this year.
“The biggest challenge I’ve had is a stress fracture in my femur that I’ve been dealing with this year,” said Paul. “I didn’t know it at the time it happened and it’s kept me away from running. I’m going to be 45 in December and this is by far the most injured I’ve been. It’s an emotional challenge, having to shelve travel plans and cancel events. It feels like I have to go back to the drawing board. If all goes well, we’ll do something more substantial in October.”
By something more substantial, Paul means easing back into things with ‘just’ a 50-miler.
EATING THEIR WAY TO THE TOP
Over the years, the couple has not only had a chance to fine-tune their nutrition game plan for events, but Meredith also has a Bachelors of Science degree in Human Nutrition and works as a Sports Nutritionist. How Meredith sees it, diet is everything. “Someone could not exercise, eat well, and be healthy. Or, someone could exercise but have a poor diet and not be healthy. Everything our body needs can come from the food we eat. There’s so much to be gained with a good diet.”
For events specifically, Meredith has seen athletes make a number of mistakes in their fueling strategy. She says, “I’ve seen a lot of people over-fueling at the beginning. You are not a squirrel and you can’t store it for the winter. You need to keep the flow of calories going consistently instead of taking down 600-700 calories before the start and then trying to cram in another 300-400 calories early in the event. People will go into aid stations and eat too much, then all the blood goes to digestion. I like to think about food in terms of nibbles, where a Bonk Breaker Bar could last two or three hours intermixed with other calories.”
Testing your nutrition plan before the big day is what Paul recommends. “Trying those things out in training and in B-level races is critical. I really cut my teeth in triathlon and figured out what works for that duration. The one change for running would be less solid food, especially with hot weather. I think my first and second trail hundreds took some tweaks, but then it really clicked well and is a non-issue for me.”
Paul uses a mix of things to get in the calories he needs. He shared his plan, “For a typical hot weather mountain hundred I use easily-digestible liquid nutrition then supplement with solid food like Energy Chews, in addition to nibbling on bars. The sweet spot is 200-300 calories per hour. That’s after my pre-race meal of a Coconut Cashew bar, a banana with almond butter, and coffee three hours before the race.”
Meredith also has her go-to Bonk Breaker favorites. “My happy place is Mint Chocolate Chip, Paul knows not to touch them. Those are my prized possession. The Energy Chews are also a real home run because they can melt in your mouth.”
As the Terranova’s continue to prove, just about any sporting goal you put your mind to can be achieved…with the right nutrition plan, of course.