Ultra Training: Fuel Fail

Hi, {will run for margaritas} readers!  My name is Tiffany and I blog at Running Hutch.  I have to start by saying I’m so glad that I get to share my Ultra-Training tips with you; Melody is phenomenal in so many ways and I’m honored to post on her blog.

A bit about me: I’m an adult on-set runner from the Los Angeles area who joined Team in Training in 2008 to raise money for cancer research and train to finish a marathon. While I’m anything but fast, I have managed to finish 4 fulls, 16 halfs, and a handful of long distance relays. After 4 years, I’ve learned to love running. Most recently I have set out to conquer some of my running related “fears”. So, I signed up for a 50k that takes place on Dec. 2nd. My first ultramarathon.
There’s something about saying that I’m going for a 24 miler in the mountains that puts bowel-moving fear in me. What if I bonk really hard and I’m stuck 14 miles from civilization, the car, anything? What if my running buddy is annoyed at me for being so slow?

Training on trails (especially in the mountains) brings new complications to the long run:

  • Altitude: Keeping my breathing under control requires a ton of concentration at sea level. Put this beach bunny at 9,000 ft. and I am one hot mess of huff and puff.
  • Elevation Gain: A ton of runners hate hills. Well, trail and ultra runners laugh at hills. They run MOUNTAINS.
  • The Wild: I actually love being out in remote parts of nature, but there are some things about “The Wild” that should not be taken lightly. Most of those things either rattle, howl, or growl.
  • Self-Supported: Every other time I trained for a marathon I had the support of a team for all my long runs (lots of aid stations and cheering). Doing this on my own means I have to be self-supported and carry all my own crap fuel. It’s heavy. No cheering.

I am learning that the key to handling these things is proper fuel (and bear bells). While I can’t know what may happen when I get out there, I can feel confident knowing that I’ve hydrated all week, gotten good rest, and ate well in preparation for the run. Then, I pack up everything I need the night before; especially things that will help prevent my fears from becoming a reality. Here is what I packed for a recent 19+ miler in the Angeles National Forest.

I’m still learning how much I need by trial and error. Turns out that in altitude with major elevations gain/loss, I need at least double the fuel and hydration I would otherwise. I’ve done several runs with less fuel than I should’ve had. I’ve felt my energy and blood sugar drop and had to slug it out to the end. FAIL! I’ve also experimented with making my own fuel from sweet potatoes and trying other, more natural things but have yet to find something that works reliably well.

I usually plan to finish with something left (a bit more water and an extra gel or two), because that means that I have more in case I need it or in case someone else needs it. You never know who you may come across and what condition they’ll be in.

I also pack a post-run bag (not pictured; a banana I added when I realized I had some left). This may be the most important fuel of all. Once the run is done, the real work begins. Most runners agree that the recovery is more important than the run itself in terms of building your body’s strength for the next run.

When I finished this run/hike I had one gel and one packet of shot blocks left and about half a bottle of water. Success! In the last 6 miles I really had to up my fuel intake to keep up with my running buddy. He’s training for a 100k and in much better mountain shape than I am.

Natural Running Fuel:
I’m currently on a quest to discover good recipes for making my own running fuel and training my body to be able to access the energy from it efficiently. While I show images of gels and chews, I’d rather stay away from sucrose and maltodextrin and other synthetic additives.

So far sweet potatoes has been a good recommendation but I find I am slow to process it and I need a lot of it. Nut butter + honey + protein powder is another recommendation I’ve heard and want to try. I also hear that Scott Jurek’s new book has good recipes.

Have you ever tried using whole foods and making your own running fuel? Any recommendations or ideas? I am becoming what my friend calls a “moving lab experiment”.

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Comments

  1. That sounds great. I need to try making my own fuel, as I’m really getting sick of the gels. My first ultra is also Dec 2nd, and I’m glad to be tapering now after a few nutrition fails too. hang in there!

  2. Wow, I don’t know how you do it but thank you for the good read! Good Luck!

  3. made my own homemade “larabars” and they are awesome and so easy. all you need is a food processor!

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