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How do you fuel a long ultramarathon run?

by Lucas Hathaway 24 Jul 2023 0 Comments
Fuelling a long run
By Andrew Greenfield, RUNUR Athlete
How do you fuel a long ultramarathon run?
Protein and carb shakes, a ton of electrolytes, energy bars, litres and litres of water, and food. Lots and lots of glorious, relevant, much-needed nutrient, protein, and carb-rich food. In a nutshell, that’s it.
Let’s break that down a bit and take a closer look.
I regularly run ultramarathons (loosely defined as a distance longer than a 42.2km regular marathon). They can, and do, differ in distance and terrain.
I’ll use the Québec Mega Trail ( 100 miles / 160 km event as an example as I recently completed it (July 2023).
The event itself follows a route through the mountains from Baie St-Paul to Mont Ste-Anne (Quebec, Canada).
It has a 40-hour time limit with cut-offs at strategic points along the route and a positive elevation gain of at least 6,500 metres.
There were 13 aid stations along the route where you can rest and refuel.
At three of them, you have access to a drop bag that you prepared in advance.
These contain personal items such as a change of clothing, My spare pair of RUNUR 5 inch shorts were in one of them (who doesn’t have at least 2 pairs?) trail running shoes, and specific foods and drinks. They were located at around the 40km, 80km and 120km points. In terms of sustenance I had protein and carb powders in a shaker bottle, energy bars, and some gummy bear candies.
There’s a mandatory kit list that you must carry with you at all times. This should (but sadly doesn’t YET include RUNUR anti-chafe shorts, but does include water, survival blanket, rain jacket, first aid kit, head torch, snacks, and other items. These all fit in your hydration vest.
With months of training done, starting from a decent base, it’s time to focus on the week before.
I ate copious amounts of pasta, black and red beans, chickpeas, tofu, edamame, and a ton of green vegetables.
Although a meat eater (who doesn’t love a great big steak?), I find vegan and vegetarian meals when doing serious mileage really do help with digestion. With me, meat sits heavy in the stomach for far too long and hinders performance. This is the same for many endurance runners.
I take omega 3 capsules, and multivitamin pills every day. This particular week was no different.
Every morning I had oats for breakfast with berries, maple syrup and hemp hearts. I added a couple of tablespoons of protein powder to this for extra nutrition. I drink a litre of electrolytes every morning and again, this week as no different.
I also drank a protein and carb shake every day. One scoop of protein powder and one scoop of carb powder with water. Soy or almond milk also works well and adds that little bit extra. An absolute powerhouse of a drink.
Rest and sleep are also crucial here. I was in bed early every night.
With up to 40 hours without sleep coming up this was all part of the fuelling strategy and absolutely necessary.
Race day (ok race 2 days) – 8pm, Friday 30 June to 11am Sunday, 2 July.
The event started at 8pm so there was a full day to contend with before the gun.
Time for more pasta with beans, green vegetables, Greek yoghurt with berries and maple syrup, and other fruits. This was complemented by more protein and carb shakes.
I drank electrolytes throughout the day, too.
During the event itself the hydration vest I wore was packed with the mandatory kit as per the competition rules, water, electrolytes, and some food. I opted for trail mix, energy gels, and energy bars.
The first evening at the Baie St-Paul end was humid. Very. At the first major aid station after around 20 km I refilled my water and electrolyte bottles, and ate bananas, water melon and oranges (this helps to ward off cramps). I also ate salted potatoes and chips. At all the aid stations there was a variety of foods catering for all tastes. Sweet and salty options in abundance.
A good tactic at aid stations is to eat what you should/need to and then get anything else down your neck that you can before you leave. Stuff in whatever is available and you’re capable of swallowing. Chips, candies, potatoes, rice balls, chocolate, ginger biscuits. Anything. You need the calories.
It’s like an all you can eat buffet but you mustn’t fall into the trap and stay for too long.
Assume that at each stopping point I filled up the water and electrolyte bottles, and replaced the energy bars I’d devoured along the way.
At one I feasted on tofu spread wraps, at another grilled cheese sandwiches.
I lost count of how many of each. Rest assured, it was a lot. Running coach Renée Hamel shoved 4 of them in my hand at one point. Heaven.
I changed clothing and trail running shoes 4 times during the 39 hours it took me to complete the distance.
39 hours without sleep. 100 miles / 160 km covered in humidity (Friday and Saturday nights), heat (Saturday during the day) and an unforgettable 6-hour long, hard rainstorm to finish from around 2am on Sunday morning. Brutal.
Worth it though and capable of finishing it due to the training beforehand and the fuelling during the time on the course itself.
Whatever your events this season, embrace them, enjoy them, get your RUNUR shorts on, fuel up to the max and get at it!
Follow the link to automatically get 22% off your next order! Or use "GREENFIELD22" at checkout.
Andrew Greenfield, RUNUR Athlete
You don’t have to go fast, you just have to go!
a.k.a @GreenfieldRunner (instagram)
Andrew is a middle-aged ultramarathon runner based in Quebec, Canada.
A confirmed mid-pack finisher, he runs for fun.
He is a proud military veteran.
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