100 mile fuel

run and eat

Everyone uses different things to fuel their body during a 100-mile run. You have to find what works for you through trial and error. What I do know, is what works for you as a marathon runner, probably won’t work as an ultrarunner.

Some ultrarunners use the traditional sports fuel such as Gu, shot blocks, sports beans and the like, but it’s difficult to use them throughout the race. You just get sick of it and it becomes more difficult to choke it down.

Fueling is necessary, which means you have to put something down the hatch. Perusing the aid station buffet will give you an idea of what most ultrarunners eat: various types of candy, trail mix, potato chips, boiled and salted potatoes, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, ham or turkey sandwiches, Romen noodles, and fruit.

Bodies run off mainly carbohydrates during exercise. You can also burn fat and more runners are turning to a low carb diet, which allows them to tap into their fat stores as fuel during their runs. This is very useful and can be very beneficial to runners who have stomach issues regularly. You have to eat a whole lot less when you’re low carb. I’ve used this strategy, but could only maintain it for eighteen months because I couldn’t get enough fats to sustain my energy output. I’ve been back on carbs for about 18 months and feel great. I’ve written two blogs on low carb running if you are interested they are here and here.


What about protein during runs? I discourage most protein while running because protein, for most people, digests slow. It sits in your stomach slowing your metabolism down. A slow metabolism means your body doesn’t get fuel quickly. You need carbs to go through quickly if you want to maintain a good pace throughout the run. You also need electrolytes and water to go through quickly. If your digestive system is working on a lump of protein, everything else is going to come through slower too.

Easily digestible proteins are fine during a race, but not too much and space it out. Nut butters are easy, cheeses are easier, and plant based proteins are easy. Meat is not easy. Many protein bars(especially over 10 grams) are not easy.

The only way you are going to figure out what works for you is by training with different things until you find a few things that work for you. I suggest you find multiple things that work because you get sick of eating the same thing every hour (or more) for up to 36 hours.

The other thing I strongly encourage is to find out what the event is using at their aid stations and make sure you can use them. Especially, electrolyte pills or drinks and other specific sports nutrition such as Gu.

My favorites: Swedish fish,Oreo cookies, fruits, peanut butter and jelly, and chick-o-sticks (all vegan by the way :0)

It’s all in the quantity

eat run

Eating while running is tricky for many runners. Your stomach has a hard time shuttling enough blood to your stomach to digest while at the same time pumping it to your running muscles to keep them moving. This is an issue both marathon runners and ultrarunners have to deal with at some point. The best place to start is during training.

As always, there are those select few who can just eat whatever they want along the course and don’t have any problems and then there is the other end of the spectrum who even glance in the direction of food they get sick.

Most of us fall somewhere in between. Over the past few years, I’ve completely changed my eating life style to attempt to manage stomach problems while running. I did this by switching to a low carbohydrate diet. Eating Low Carb made it so I didn’t have to take in many calories while I was running, which was just fine by me because then my stomach wouldn’t have any problems. This worked for about a year and a half.

Low carb was awesome during that time and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. I don’t know what went wrong or if it just ran out of steam. I was meticulous at counting carbs so I know I didn’t go over my daily carb intake, I was just tired all the time. I couldn’t get going on my runs. So I switched back to a high carb diet and I feel much better. I’ve talked with other ultrarunners who have tried the low carb diet and they have reported similar results and have also switched back.

Since coming back into the carb loving world, I’ve had to seriously work on eating while running. Of course, I had tried to work on this before, but I went about it all wrong. I read articles about how other ultrarunners had “Taught” their bodies to deal with both running and digesting at the same time and their suggestions was run on a full stomach.

That route probably works for some people. It didn’t work for me.

Eating while running marathons was never really an issue. I could use gu and be fine for the run. It wasn’t until I began running ultra’s that the eating became an issue.

So what have I been doing? Small bites. Don’t laugh. I know it seems like a no brainer, but it took me a while to figure this out.

I can’t wait until I’m ravenous before I start eating because then I want to eat the entire granola bar or everything at the aid station buffet.

I have to take a bite, drink some water, run a while, drink some water, run a while, and take another bite. The amount of running I do depends on what I’ve eaten. The more time it is going to need to digest (the more complex the food is and more protein it has) the longer I run and just keep drinking water. Drinking is the same way, which I’ve known for a long time. You can’t guzzle water or sports drinks, well I can’t anyway.

Let me know how all of you manage eating while running…

Run Happy, Run Free!


Fueling for a Race

aid station

Providing your body with the energy it needs during a race can be one of the trickiest things to figure out as a runner, but if you plan to run half marathons, marathons or ultras you have to figure it out. There are many fuel options, how do you know which one will work for you? You don’t the only way to figure it out is through trial and error, but where to start.

The various products out there use different types and combinations of sugar such as dextrose, Maltodextrose, and fructose. Some people have a harder time digesting some sugars more than others while running. When you are running, your body’s primary focus is pumping blood (fuel and oxygen) to your muscles. Digestion also takes blood, and your body is reluctant to shuttle much blood away from your muscles, so if you eat something that is difficult to digest or heavy, it will just sit there bouncing around. There are lucky people out there who can eat just about anything while running and never have to worry about it.

There is hope for those of us who cannot. You can train your stomach to digest while running, which brings us back to what to use. Start with asking your fellow runners what they use or go to a running store and ask for suggestions. If you plan to use what is supplied at your goal race, you should be checking their website or emailing the race director prior to the race to find out what that is. You do not want to eat something during a race for the first time.

It doesn’t really matter where you start gu, hammer gel, shot blocks, sports beans, stingers, or waffles. Heck, you can start with real foods that are easy to carry jelly beans, M&M’s, quartered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or fruits. The benefit of the manufactured products is that they are made to be easy to digest, which means they require less blood to your stomach to get into your blood.

The other half of the equation is how frequently do you eat while running. For things that are easier to digest you will need to eat them more frequently because they go through your system more quickly. Your body weight and your pace also change how often you must take in fuel. The more you weigh the more you will need to maintain your pace. The faster you run the more you will need to maintain your pace. Runnersconnect.net does have their “Marathon Nutrition Blueprint,” which calculates how many calories you need to take in and when during a race. I’ve never used this, but it is out there if you want to give it a try.

This requires practice. When you go out for your long runs try different fuels and the timing of them. You can try them on shorter runs as well, but the long run is going to give you the best idea. For a shorter run, eat whatever it is five to ten minutes before you start. You may try one and immediately know it will not work for you because of texture, ability to chew it, or nausea. Others may take your body a few runs to adjust to digesting.

Remember to drink water before and after you eat something. It will help with digestion. If you use a sports drink rather than water, keep in mind that it also contains sugar, so you may not need to take something else as frequently.

Low carb is another matter entirely. The central idea behind eating a low carbohydrate diet is that your body can use fat as energy and it has at least 40,000 calories of fat even if you only have 6% body fat. However, like with anything else you have to train your body to use fat as fuel. This requires eating low carb all of the time not just during a run.

Some low carb runners don’t need anything but water and electrolytes to run, especially for the half marathon or the marathon. When you get to ultramarathons, even the low carb runners typically need to eat something. There are a few low carb options out there like Vespa, the almond butter mixes, and a few gels with lower carb counts 26 compared to 100 in gu or hammer.

As a low carb runner, you can use carbs to boost your energy during a race to kick your body into a higher gear for a burst of speed or for climbing a hill. You do need to train with this approach because your body needs to learn how to transition back and forth between burning carbohydrate and glucose.

The bottom line no matter what you chose to fuel your body with while running is to TRAIN YOUR BODY TO USE IT.


Looking back

One of my friends asked, looking back on Salt Flats 100, would I have done anything differently? The big thing I would have done differently is that I would not have run the Salt Lake City Marathon six days before running a one hundred.

It is not so much the distance that I believe impacted my performance at Salt Flats, but the surface and the stress of racing. No matter how hard I try to run a race as a training run, I still go out too hard and then end up reigning it in over the last half. By then the damage is done. When I went out from the starting line for Salt Flats, I could still feel the marathon. This surprised me, because I can run a 30-mile run on a Saturday, and when I get up to run a 20 on Sunday, I don’t feel the 30 as much as I felt the Salt Lake Marathon when I went out at Salt Flats.

Second, I would have packed more socks. My shoes were soaking wet, and my socks got wet eventually, as well. I was able to change my socks at nearly every aid station, but there were a few I missed because I didn’t throw socks in my drop bag.

Third, I would have gotten a hotel room in Wendover, Utah rather than sleeping in my car at the starting line. I woke up six or seven times during the night to roll over and get comfortable again. I would have slept better in a bed.

Fourth, I would have brought my own rain jacket. Although, I have to admit that Mike’s worked really well because it was big on me and kept me drier than a smaller jacket would have done. A smaller jacket would have allowed easier movement.

Finally, I would have found more solid foods my stomach could tolerate while running. My stomach is sensitive when running. It does not like to digest things on the move. I know that, at some point in an ultra-event, I am going to have to deal with my stomach being unhappy. In Salt Flats, I began to have sharp cramps at mile 16, which is atypical for me, and they lasted until nearly the end of the race. I usually don’t have any issues until at least 40 miles in, and then it is usually some nausea or bloating that can be calmed down with walking and ginger.

I have some ideas about what to try, food wise, over the next few months while I train for my next hundred. I’ve considered trying baby foods, which doesn’t have a ton of preservatives and added sugars. I plan to try scrambled eggs and celery with peanut butter. I’ve also ordered a new gel called Vifuel through ZombieRunner.com and a new nutrition bar. Both of these are lower in carbs than the average gel and bar out there.  

My other option is to force my stomach to learn to digest food while running. This means that I will eat a full meal and then go run over and over again. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it may be the only way.