How to Fuel an Ultramarathon the “Other” Way

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Disclaimer: this was “only” 50k so it does qualify barely for an ultrarunning event as it is longer than a marathon. BUT it is also a very hilly course and had over 6000 ft of total ascension. It was absolutely beautiful with ocean views, forest runs and brutal descents. Here is a course overview.

It really took me a long time to write this post I know. I do not think that my story is particularly interesting or even worth sharing as an average middle age-grouper but sometimes I like to go a little bit more personal and share with the world my bigger accomplishments

I just remembered to write this post, when the other day I was watching a lecture on Nutrition for UltraRunning. As traditionally recommended*, the lecturer was suggesting 6-10g/kg day and during the race 90g/hr. She claims that your gut can get used to it and that will give you the best performances. She obviously has not heard of Zach Bitter, Tim Olsen, Nikki Kimball or myself (LOL!). Here is how I did it.

Since my Ironman in August I was focusing on running and was increasing my mileage. I also had a half-marathon at the end of October which I was trying to PR at (and I did!). After that event,  I ramped up my mileage and I got up to 33 miles on hills, 3 weeks before the event. Not a lot but enough to get me through and since I was also cross training, I guess it was fine. I know that if you are a “serious” runner, this is pretty low, but hey I’m a triathlete what can I say.

It started very early in the morning, got up at 4am and had a HUGE coffee with MCT oil, butter and collagen protein to get me going. I had to catch the shuttle at 5:15. I had with me my gym bag and my nutrition. The start was at 7am, so I started to “drink” my breakfast at 5:30, around the fire pit because it was really cold out there. What was in my secret potion: UCAN 2 scoops, a little vanilla whey powder, some cocoa nibs, chia seeds and some mangoes. I calculated about 400 calories and with the earliest coffee with fat, that is up to 660 calories consisting of mostly fats, with some carbs (55g) and some proteins (15g). So still a good “breakfast” but mostly easily digestible and the fats had been absorbed long time ago. Of course the days leading up to the race, I had eaten more carbohydrates than usual: sweet potatoes and rice. Oh yes and an ice cream sandwich (oops). While it might be considered taboo by certain people I find that for me (and some clients) high glycemic food work better because they get in the system easily without the bloat that certain whole grains and potatoes can create (hello resistant starch). For me there is no good or bad food, it’s all about timing and dose!

My goal was to start very conservative in zone 2. I had mostly trained by HR so I would try to keep it there even on the hills which meant a little bit of walking. I’m used to do shorter and faster races where you usually don’t walk. Also, during training I rarely walked except to practice some fast hiking up the hills. So this was a little bit of a change but the good thing is that everybody was doing it so I did not feel out of place.

I must admit though, I went too fast on the first downhills and would pay for it later. Downhills are so taxing on your body and I know that by experience. I would still bomb the downhills because in my head I wanted to make up the time. Bad idea as you will see later…

After some downhills and rollers, I finally reached Muir Beach. Everything felt great at that point. Had not started eating yet, was not feeling hungry. Then I reached Cardiac Hill. I’m pretty familiar with it but during training never went to the top really, only once a long time ago. So I thought piece of cake (no pun here). But then I remembered why they called it Cardiac Hill, it’s mighty long but it’s not so steep so you can run it in zone 2. So I just went chugging along. That is also when I had my first dose of UCAN  with 5g BCAA at about 1:45 in. All is good I feel great.

I reached the top of Cardiac Hill and that is where the 50mi course comes back and I could see those 50 milers coming in, the elite ones anyway. Going down the other side they were just leaping like gazelles as I was watching them passing by, totally bewildered but also impressed. I was also trying to go as fast as I could but again little did I know…

The next part is all of a blur as I was not too familiar with the course at that point. I did not think there would be so many ups and downs, but yes. I had an almond butter ball sometime in there. Was not feeling hungry but just in case. More ups and down later, right before the Muir Beach station that is when I started feeling my hip, that dreaded pain that leads to IT band syndrome. Sometime in there I had another dose of UCAN with BCAA at about 3:45 in.  I then reached Muir Beach and by then was feeling a little euphoric, mmm where did that come from, ketones maybe? I don’t think I was dehydrated, I was drinking to thirst and this was a very mild day, not very hot and overcast. I know I was under 500 ml/hr of water but I was fine. Better to be lightly dehydrated than overhydrated, to avoid hyponatremia.

Then I went on the toughest hill in my view, the one between Muir Beach and Tennessee Valley. Very steep. Walked a lot there. Had another half of an almond butter ball before I headed down Fox. Boom, 25 miles, like if my body knew: whoa you never ran further in your life girl! Because that is when my IT really started acting up and I decided to walk down the downhill too. Not good. But I knew better and did not want to get a full blown injury. Fortunately, I could still run on the flats and uphills and that is what I did. I was doing the opposite of everybody else, walking downhill and running uphill. Ha

Last aid station at Tennessee at around 5:30. Decided not have more UCAN as I had about an hour left with the walking. Also had a bit of flavor fatigue, instead opted for Coke my favorite for the last hour of an event: caffeine and sugar! And I took a couple of cups in before I attacked the last hill of the day. After that I also walked the downhill but finished strong on the last stretch: 6:30, 3rd AG. A fluke I guess, but I’ll take it.

Overall: 414 Cal, 64 Cal/hr, 14g carbs/hr

No GI issues, energy plenty, euphoria a plus?, IT well could do better next time! So this is another way for fueling for an ultrarunning event without the carb loading, vomiting, stomach ache. Is it the best way? Who knows, it works for me and let me achieve pretty good things. As a sports nutritionist, I try to keep neutral in the diet wars, I have to. Could this be applied to longer event, to faster athletes? Certainly. Check out the blog of these above pro athletes to know more. Want to try yourself? Hook up with a metabolic efficiency trained nutritionist.

*Burke LM, Hawley J a., Wong SHS, Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29(sup1):S17-S27. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.585473.

Somewhere in the Headlands.


    • Thanks David for your comment. Yes MCT is a good one too. I used it with UCAN for Ironman and sometimes during running, but only 2tsp at a time. I don’t like it as much when running because it gives me stomach cramps, but a lot of people have success with it. And yes it’s a good substrate for ketones. Let me know if you try it.

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