#5 Fuelling for ultras
It's usually only a matter of time before an ultra runner gets to learn about fuelling... One long march to the finish whilst being unable to stomach any fluids or sugars or anything at all for that matter, it can wipe out energy levels in no time and before you know it half the field has passed you and there's nothing you can do about it... I generally don't get many issues in this department as I stick to a couple of sources of calories and it works for me... I did manage to run the first 8 hours or so of Trans Grancanaria without taking in any calories, I was drinking 'Pepsi Max' on the checkpoints thinking it was the same as Coca Cola, loaded with sugars BUT it's actually the sugar free version! Doh! I suspected something was up whilst I was barely able to run or focus and kept going dizzy up hills. After investing some time in getting calories in me I ran the later stages totally fine.
I think the main risks with fuelling are
1 relying on one source of calories then getting sick of it, eg setting out with just gels for 24 hours worth of running and being unable to even look at a gel after 6 hours.
2 trying some food or powder or potion that you have never tried before and it throwing you off
3 not taking in enough calories or fluids early on and then being in a giant energy deficit and unable to maintain any kind of pace
4 perhaps not so drastic but worth noting, fuelling inconsistently and just having a bit of a roller coaster in terms of energy levels.
Which brings me to my top tips...
1 - Practice the foods or drinks you plan to race with, try them in a training run and see how you feel.
2 - When it's very hot (talking 30 -40 plus degrees C) I might consume about 1 l per hour of fluids, you might need more or less so listen to your body, depending on size and acclimatisation, try to practice in conditions similar to what you'll race in
3 - Always have a bit of a back up or emergency calories, if you run low on food or water, maybe a section takes you a long time between checkpoints or you get lost or something and miss a checkpoint, being tired and thirsty and not having anything is a grim feeling.
4 - There aren't any magic foods or diets or pills that will make up for a lack of training, sure eating a healthy balanced diet is going to put you in good stead, but going on a crash diet for 2 weeks to try and compensate for not getting the miles in will probably do more harm than good.
5 - Carbohydrate loading... Could almost be a section on its own, carb loading is where you increase the amount of carbs in your diet for 2-3 days leading up to a race to ensure your glycogen stores are topped up and you're ready for a long race. It doesn't involve gorging on junk food for 10 days before your next 10k and it definitely doesn't mean you need to eat your bodyweight in donuts every time you want to go for a run.
There are other considerations but these should definitely get you started. If you are having issues with your stomach in races or long runs, what you're eating might be playing a part. Worth looking into in more detail if that's you!
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