Fuelling for the Long Run

Ok, so I only have 3 weeks to go until I have to run 90k in Sweden and although my training has gone pretty much to plan I’ve  still not really worked out my nutritional strategy. So this past week I have been banging heads together with my good friend Renee McGregor (who happens to be a top clinical dietician and sports nutritionist) in an attempt to work out what best to take on board during the race and before. Not only do I need to sort out what I will actually eat/drink I need to work out amounts and frequency.

So for those of you who are sensible enough to stop at marathons as your maximum distance, imagine what it feels like to run a 5k, half marathon or even a marathon. I want you to imagine that feeling now……….

Now imagine running 2 marathons back to back and then an extra 4 miles…..on trails…….your in the realm of ultrarunning now.

Before I started ultra running I basically fuelled on race day with gels and water………..and lots of the them from 10k onwards. This is fine if you want to run fast and for a reasonably short amount of time although it was pretty common for me to get stomach problems during and always after the event.  I know I cant just gobble down gel after gel after gel at Ultravassen and here is why…….

Most of us run on sugar. We consume a fair amount throughout the day without really knowing it and since we live in a pretty hectic society, we are in a constant state of stress that tells the body it needs more sugar to help us keep going.

So consider this, we have around 160,000 calories worth of energy in our body at any given time to burn, of that around 4500-5500 cals are in the form of sugar and a good proportion of that is reserved for your brain and nervous system.  So what does that mean for distance runners? Well the way most of us run, those sugar reserves are depleted pretty quickly, at which point results in a) stop running or b) eat more sugar.  If you don’t do one of the two your body will simply shut down to preserve fuel for the brain.  This is what I like to call ‘hitting the wall’ or as the cyclists like to call it ‘bonking’.

So since A is not an option I want to consider, refuelling is my best bet.  However, if you only eat sugar your body just encourages you to want more. So soon you have to fill up on more, and before you know it you’ve sucked down 20 gels and your stomach and GI system has decided to wage a war on your gel bombardment by ejecting the entire contents of your gut on to the road or over the guy youve been running with for the last 5 hours.

There is a simple answer to this vicious sugar cycle and its called fat burning……the best thing about this is sadly I have plenty to burn!

This is great news for people like me who want to run far, as long as I can tap into fat as my primary fuel source then the only limiting factor for how far I can keeping going for will be muscular skeletal and mental strength.

So this is how I have been training my body to run on fat from the very start of my run. Firstly, this is a gradual process. I havent suddenly decided to stop eating all sugars or carbs before or during training, it has been a concept I have introduced slowly.

1) Doing all my morning runs without breakfast, unless it’s a session where I will be running faster than Lactate Threshold pace, then I would have breakfast which would include some carbs e.g wholegrain bagel, almond butter, banana and a black coffee. Before runs longer than 90 mins I would have either eggs with spinach and tomato or greek yoghurt and berries/nuts i.e no carbs.

2) Limiting my over all consumption of carbs during the day but periodising when I do eat my good carbs.

3) Only re fuelling during runs over 3 hours

4) Using my HR monitor to make sure I am not running too fast and therefore staying safely within my aerobic zone.

5) Practicing during races and long runs by eating real foods rather than gels e.g pork pies, nuts and homemade protein balls.

So with this knowledge and my body nicely adapted to fat burning all I need to decide is what I will want to eat/drink on race day. I have lots of options of which I am still trialing and with a final long race I am doing this sunday as another catered long run I am hoping I will have nailed a strategy by next week. For now here is a recipe I will be testing out on sunday:

1 cup of almond butter

1/2 cup of honey

1/2 cup of powdered milk

1/2 cup of flaxmeal and/or chopped nuts

Coconut flakes

Mix up all the ingredients and roll into balls…..roll in the coconut flakes. Refrigerate.




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