MELROSE PARK, Ill. -- Gummy worms, marshmallows, cupcakes and orange soda sound like kids’ ideal Halloween party fare, but it actually is part of Benny Garcia’s special diet for a short, special time. Garcia, who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is a running coach at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, is training for the Ultra – the 50-mile or 50K race along Chicago’s lakefront, which will be held this year at 6:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 29.
“Three days before the Ultra, I start eating sandwiches made from half-a-loaf of Italian bread with stacks of deli meat because I need the carbs and the salt,” said Garcia, who is 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. “I eat sugared cereal with marshmallows for breakfast and snack during the day with more sugary sweets to get quick energy.” Garcia, 30, usually eats a strict diet of lean meats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and a very limited amount of refined carbohydrates and sugar.
This is the fourth year that Garcia will run the Chicago Ultra and he expects the race to take him about 8 hours to complete.
“My personal record is just over 7 hours, but I don’t expect to beat that because I started training late for the Ultra,” he said. But he’s no slacker; Garcia was training for a 24-hour run in San Francisco earlier this fall that was canceled the day before the race.
“I still enjoyed sightseeing in San Francisco,” Garcia said. “But I was focusing my training on running continuously for a very long time – the Ultra is a sprint compared to a 24-hour race."
Garcia’s best tip for the Ultra? “Don’t do it,” he said, jokingly. “Seriously, no one should run this race. There are only a handful of people like me, who are constantly challenging themselves to run longer and longer.” The Chicago Ultra limits the race to 100 participants and they often do not reach even that number. The Chicago Marathon accepts 45,000 entrants and always reaches the limit.
“I don’t even give advice or tips for the Ultra because you really have to know yourself and your running style and everyone is different,” he said. Garcia specializes in coaching runners individually at Loyola University Health System’s Gottlieb Center for Fitness in Melrose Park. He also leads a running club September through April.
“I have coached many of my runners who have participated in marathons – in Chicago and even Hawaii – but only one of my clients was capable of the Ultra and he opted for the 50K rather than the 50-mile,” he said.
Garcia’s Personal Strategy for the Ultra:
Maintain correct running posture – “Chin up, chest out, abs in and arms at a 90-degree angle at all times."
Fuel every 5 miles. “I discovered orange soda gives me a quick energy burst, so do marshmallows, gummy worms and pastries."
Maintain a brisk 9-minute per mile pace. “The Chicago Ultra is actually a continuously fast race and there’s no holding back; I even sprint at the end."
Chicago Reward for a Chicago Race
Garcia has a special ritual for celebrating his successful completion of the Chicago Ultra. “I eat a Chicago-style stuffed pizza,” Garcia said. “It’s a treat that I allow myself only twice a year.”