For many runners out there, eating whilst running is completely alien, many will never try or do it during their athletic career. When you start to race over 3 hours or more in the mountains and trails what and when you eat becomes so important. It can be the difference between you performing at your best on race day or out on a long training run, or having one of the most horitific battles to keep going as your body grinds to a halt.
I come from a professional cycling background so eating on the bike during training and races is second nature to me, slightly easier as a cyclist because your body and stomach are not subjected to the bouncing and stress that gets thrown at it when running. As an endurance athlete you have a store of glycogen going into a race if you have tapered and eaten the day and morning before an event. So how long does this store last? When do I need to start eating in a race? What foods can my body tolerate? These are some of the questions that have been running through my head when I try to put together a nutrition strategy for a long race.
To help me explain how I refined and modified my plan for races I will take a look back at two Skyraces from this year, The Scafell Skyrace and the Salomon Ring of Steall. One race went wrong and one went well in terms of performance and nutrition. I’ll start with the Scafell Skyrace, an event that is becoming one of my favourite races each year and that I’m looking forward to returning to in 2019. Nutritionally this race was a disaster for me. I went in very anxious to perform which didn’t help, and on the drive to the start line I hadn’t taken a spare bottle to drink before so I arrived very dehydrated on the start line. So even before the gun had fired I wasn’t really prepared. The race started at a rapid pace being led out by Jonathan Albon and Tom Evans. Eager to prove myself I followed them for the first hour, fuelled by adrenalin at this point I had forgotten to eat or drink anything. From this point onwards it went downhill for me. I couldn’t get enough fuel or fluids in to dig myself out of the hole I’d dug in the early stages of the race. I suffered for another 4 hours, hanging on by sheer determination alone, but it wasn’t pretty and I definitely didn’t perform to my full potential.
In complete contrast the Salomon Ring of Steall I went in with a plan with help from Mountain Fuel and Longhaul Endurance. I was hydrated and fuelled on the start line and I started drinking and eating little and often, but this time much earlier. In the end I had taken on less fuel and fluid than the Scafell race but had kept my energy levels topped up throughout the race and therefore I could perform as best as I could on the day. I believe the most important lesson to take away from this is to start fuelling early, have a plan in place and practise using your nutrition strategy in training so your body is used to it on race day.