Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Feeding on Long races

I've been competing, or maybe I should say, participating, in long races since about 2006. I cut my teeth on adventure racing, 8hour stints of cycling and shuffling. (I really wouldn't say what we did in those days was running). Spending that amount of time on our feet meant that we really had to get our nutrition right, Even more so when we entered the 12 and 24 hour events.

Finlay Wilde chain-ate jelly babies on his record breaking
Cullin traverse. Personally I can't stomach them. 
I thought this might be a bit of a relevant topic, considering the Long and Superlong Fell races that are coming up. 
Back then I think we might even have overdone the eating thing, but to be honest, it was a good idea. We really didn't move fast enough to worry about a little bit of extra weight in the bags, as generally it was going to get eaten anyway. 

For long, long races, Rob and I ensured that we ate every 30 minutes. Each and every half hour throughout the race, one or other of us would get out a geobar, snap it in half, and share it. It was borne of necessity. A couple of times we really didn't get food at the right time, or in the right quantity and ended up either sugar crashing, or getting so bloated we could barely move.
Geobars. The crux of my adventure racing nutrition
Note that we were using geobars, not energy gels. Geobars are chocolate, chewy, raisin crisp type affairs. They don't melt, they don't really freeze, nor do they release a horrendous amount of sugar into your system all at once. 
We worked out that if we ate every half hour from the very beginning of the race, there would be no point at which we would crash. Equally, if we waited for a couple of hours before starting to eat, there would be an inevitable bad patch where nutrition fell below the needed level for our energy output. 

Energy gels have their place. I tend to use them for when I need a serious and quick boost of energy. Relying on them long term is ok if you are fully used to them, but a bad idea if you are not. 
For us, they were too expensive a commodity to use willy-nilly on training runs, so they got brought out for serious sugar lows, or the last half hour of a race where we needed to get back to base before time ran out. One particular race springs to mind where we had a seemingly insurmountable distance to travel in 30mins. Bring out the gels and "pow" we got back with seconds to spare. 

The inevitable sugar crash that comes post gel is something that has to be managed as well, unless of course, you are finishing the race there and then. 
Nutella. Banana. Wrap. What a combo.

More recent long fell races have been an interesting feeding challenge. On training runs I try to keep the food I take with me to a minimum, in order to train for the race where I will inevitably end up running out of food. (This happened at The Great Lakes last year, where I had plenty of food, but kept dropping it before I had the chance to eat it...)
This does mean that I eat less on the hill than I normally would, and has occasionally meant that the final hour of the run is spent fantasising about haribo
toasties smothered in nutella. (Which, by the way, is not a nutritional recommendation). 

I have now got to the point where if the race is going to take less than 3 hours, the most I will take is an emergency bar of chocolate. I might not need it, but if a fellow racer sugar crashes and ends up not being able to get off the hill, some kind of energy food might be what helps him/her out of a potentially sticky situation. 
Longer than 3 hours, for me, needs a bit more of a nutritional plan, involving 30min eating intervals, and potential strategic eating of gels prior to big hills, keeping a decent level of sugar coursing around my system. 

Home made goodness
This approach, I know, does not fit all sizes. I have a friend who swears that refined sugar makes him cramp, so my strategy would not work for him.
What I AM trying out is a new type of race food for longer races. Home made savoury and sweet foods based on rice and spaghetti and other things. This is in an attempt to reduce my reliance on shop bought sweet bars and chocolates and things, and to help me get proper nutrition on the hill, as opposed to just trying to keep my sugar levels high enough to keep bashing on at the same speed as I am used to. 

We've been trying out various recipes in the past few weeks, from Feedzone portables- and its more of just working out how to wrap and pack the food for easy eating on the go, and just what to eat, when. 

As for drinking. Well. I drink when I'm thirsty. As an example of how things have changed, I used to take a 3litre camelbak with me for a 3 hour run in 2006, filled up with various nutritional powders and electrolytes. On last years Old County Tops, which took just under 8.5hours, I barely got through a 500ml bottle of water.

Water supplements. Good or bad?
One thing to remember here, is that if you are drinking, and the powder you are eating contains Carbohydrate, you shouldn't be eating as much as if it is just water. You'll fill up too much, and won't be able to eat or drink at all. The stomach only empties at a certain rate, and carbohydrates are only absorbed at a specific rate... if you take it on faster than they are absorbed, they just swill around in your stomach making you slower. 

As ever, there are a myriad of options out there, and a lot of money to be spent. I know that everyone has their favourites, but if you're out and don't want the faff of water, but do want to take a gel, the high5 ones are great. Energy and liquid in a pouch. If you're tired and thirsty enough, it almost tastes like fruit juice. (You have to be properly knackered though). 
For gels that go with water, the Gu gels are great. Personally, if I could have a lifetime supply of the double espresso ones, that'd set me up. Running along, sore to the bone, have an espresso gel, and all of a sudden, the world seems right again. 

All in all. Practice. Work out what consistency of food works for you. What can you eat, while running, that doesn't stop you breathing? What can you eat that doesn't end up with sticky muck all over you? What can you get out of a packet with gloves on? What can you eat that replaces your expended energy, without slowing you down too much to digest?

I suppose the answer maybe in this blog, but only if your body works like mine does. Otherwise, get out there and practice. It really is the only way to actually find out. 
Good luck.
End of a training run, with a distinct lack of food.
Learning what it feels like doesn't make it any easier or more pleasant

No comments:

Post a Comment