I like to keep things simple. As I’ve gotten older I have come to appreciate that my body can’t handle a lot of processed carbohydrates and so have taken on a generally low carb diet, as little sugar as possible and as little rubbish as possible. Although, I do like to have an indulgence now and again! I know the low carb way of eating is a fad at the moment, but my own issues with carbohydrates are what has driven me down this route rather than be part of the current trend. It’s a shame too, as I love bread! Generally, I eat a lot of veg and meat, so called good fats like olive and coconut oil with some fruit. I also sprinkle in here and there some nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Not too much of the latter and certainly not on race day as these cause me no matter of tummy issues while running. Having said all that, the whole foods nutrition goes right out the window on race day!! I’ve found over the years how certain foods can cause certain reactions in my body and I am not unconvinced that what we take in can affect our levels of injury and illness.
I don’t do anything specific like a carb depletion or loading as I am probably more carb depleted than most generally. I am careful about what I eat and reduce any incidences of inflammation that might occur. So in the lead up, meals will be planned out with foods that I know won’t cause any issues with bloating etc. The night before the race I had a very well balanced meal in the team hotel. The main dish was chicken, vegetables and sweet potato. The veg and potato were self-service so I ate quite a lot of vegetables and potato!! I also make sure I am well hydrated on the week up to a target race.
Race Day Morning
This was a difficult one as the race started at 7am. I need a good 3 hours to let any food get properly digested and so I was up at 4am eating a banana, and apple and a pint of water with a single Tailwind stick (packet). I’ve found Tailwind to be very gentle on the stomach and I feel it supplies me with enough energy for shorter ultras without taking on anything else. At the breakfast table I opted just for coffee, a few cups and I was set to go. That might seem like little food, but the meal the previous night in the team hotel had been served later than I had anticipated and so I didn’t want too much food in my stomach.
During the Race
Now, 100km was a new distance for me and so I decided that I would alternate between Tailwind and Honey Stinger gels, trying to stick to that natural whole food as much as possible. I would alternate between a 250ml bottle of Tailwind mixture and Honey Stinger Raspberry gels, one of each every hour but ensuring I was taking on something every half hour. However, as I approached 45 miles my stomach started to say no to both of these and I went from running 6:50 per mile to nearly 8:30 per mile in a matter of minutes. I had gone from 2nd place to 4th pretty quickly and if it had continued I would have lost more places. I refused to take on fuel and at one point to stop them from bothering me each lap I took the Tailwind and gel and threw it in the bin. My plan was just to death march it to the end.
However, my support, Ken, gave me a bottle half full of flat Coca Cola. I don’t like coca cola, but the taste of the sugar on my tongue and the apparent thickness of the liquid reignited something in me! Within half a lap I was back to running sub 7 minute miles, regaining 3rd spot and running the fasted 3rd and 2nd last laps of anyone in the race to cross the line 3rd place in 7:17:11. On reflection, I don’t believe I got the nutrition correct for this race. The combination of the very small breakfast and not taking on enough during the race ensured I only really lasted until 45 miles. Next time I will get it right, possibly look at alternative sources of energy, GU gels have worked really well for me in very long training runs, so I may go back to using them.
Well, for me, everything goes out the window. I love beer and wine and chocolate, and lots of it. However, during the race build up I remove all of this from my diet, sometimes for months at a time. It helps get the balance in my body back and allows me to control weight better, but after a target race is finished, the first thing I want is a large cold beer.
Nutritionally, you must work out what works and what doesn’t for you. When running ultras there is so little blood going to the stomach for digestion for such a long time, it is vitally important to get nutrition correct. Use the long training runs as a time to test out products or real foods. Never leave it to race day. Mostly, enjoy it. This is our hobby, running around in circles, over mountains, or over consecutive days should be fun, exciting at times, exhilarating occasionally. We all get those dreadful training days, sometimes weeks or months, but know that you will get to the other side of it, concentrate on the present because that is all you have control of.