Just like everything ultra, nutrition was new for me, but played a huge role. I experimented quite a bit during my training runs, but the race strategy ended up being a little different from my training, followed by even more tweaking for my second ultra with the North Face 50. More precise, would be a better phrasing. My coach was mostly focused on helping me plan out my workouts rather than nutrition, but would give me tasks during training runs to test out my food intake. For both my races, he helped me with a very specific plan for my nutrition along with a race strategy that worked very well. I was also taking a graduate course in Exercise Nutrition, so it was exciting to put into practice what I was learning and experiment on myself.
Training Runs: What works for me
I typically don’t eat anything for runs shorter than 60 minutes. For runs between 2-3 hours, I’m not very precise about it, but would try to eat every 45 mins or so, usually solid food. My 3+ hours runs I’m more much strategic with my food intake and try to eat about 90g of carb per hour, and would incorporate gel chews every 20 minutes. I like solid foods, although I had to change things up as my long runs started getting longer and longer. I would start out with granola bars, peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, wheat thins, and by the end, be eating potato chips and cheetos since getting down food was very difficult by that point and I needed calories in any form. I was introduced to honey stinger waffles right before my first race and wished I had discovered them sooner. They are delicious and easier than whole foods to get in the calories needed.
The plan was to get 80-90g carbs in/ hour, and drink water often, especially after ingesting any kind of calorie, to help my body process it. I was also carrying chews, caffeinated jelly beans and honey stinger waffles, quantified to how much I needed for the race. I planned on taking a chew every 15 minutes, and eating more substantial calories on the hour. For liquid, I was carrying just water, and would drink Gatorade, HEED or soda at the checkpoints. I also had to focus on drinking small amounts of water frequently. If you drink too much at a time it just sloshes around in your stomach. Even after drinking soda, I would drink a little bit of water to digest it.
How the Race Plan played out:
For Bel Monte, my first race, I had thought I would eat more whole foods during the race than I ended up eating, since I had experimented with them during my training runs. I had even packed my little snacks into my backpack, against the wishes of my coach. (Although I did take out at least 75% of it) He told me to pack just the essentials, don’t bring any whole food, and take advantage of all the food at the aid stations. I ended up having a lot of difficulty ingesting whole foods, and relied on chews and jelly beans for about 80% of my nutrition. I remember being aware that I was not eating enough, and there were huge gaps between the checkpoints. But even digging around in my backpack for my wheat thins was difficult mentally to handle and so I didn’t. For the North Face 50 – race #2, I executed the plan very well, even better than the first time. I did not bring any whole food, counted on getting all of that at the aid stations, but I brought more chews to better account for using them for most of my calories. (At Bel Monte, if I had been able to finish the race, I would have run out) I stuck to a 15 minute marker of a chew ingestion, had them more accessible, ate more food at the checkpoints, and saved the caffeinated jelly beans till about mile 20. The food at the aid stations was pretty good. They had pb&j sandwiches, skittles, potatoes in broth which was on point. The plan worked very well, and I was focused and executed well the timing of things for at least half the race. I was very glad I had a pacer who not only provided mental encouragement, but took over the timing of my food and reminded me to drink water. I was in a mental haze by that point, and it became harder and harder to get food down. Sometimes I would just have to shake my head when he reminded me, and say I can’t eat right now. Maybe in a bit. By that point, you just eat what you can get down, and focus on getting to the end. Because my training runs were slower and less taxing on my body, is why my nutrition strategy had to change from what I had practiced. Knowing this, I would have experimented with different chews, gels and waffles, etc. during my training runs. I had figured.. if I can run 23 miles on mostly whole food, it made sense I could do it for 50. And I had read that training runs are good practice for what you can tolerate or not during a race. But this was not the case for me, and I understand now why it is different. Its much easier to ingest food going slower and for less time. For my longer runs, I averaged about 12-14 min miles, but for my race I averaged 11:13 min /mile, which included hiking and stopping at checkpoints. So my run time was even a little faster than that.