Ultras and Food Consumption
By Ray Krolewicz
I ate solid food at my last ultra. Actually I ate solid food at my last four ultras. As one who spent many years fueling at most ultras with only liquids, and has more recently lamented the fact that ultras sometime resemble roving picnics with a little running in between, this came as somewhat of a surprise.
Granted, four races ago I ran a 48-hour event. Over the course of two days some solid food must be eaten. Three races ago I ran 100 miles in just under 31 hours. It was more than a day of effort (even with a nap) and some food or meals had to be taken. Two races ago I completed a 72-hour run. Eating and sleeping are both necessary parts of multi-day runs. It is the careful application of each that leads to maximum performances.
My last race, however, was only 100K. I begin by saying that eating in 100K events is unnecessary. Remember that more than enough calories can be consumed in liquid form, which leaves the body better able to expend energy running, rather than digesting food. This was a trail race though, so the times are somewhat slower. That means runners are on the course longer. In my case I spent just more than 16 hours on the course.
I could have run the Weymouth Woods 100 Kilometer, hosted by Marie Lewis and her family and friends, without solid foods, but there was no point. It was also cold at the start, and even though the day warmed up it again became cold after dark. I also had all of that great food to choose from.
My eating began on the fourth of the 14 loops when Doug Dawkins, an ultrarunner and race director himself, called out that he had grits as I approached his “back” aid station. Being fond of grits, and wanting something warm in my stomach, I gladly accepted. The grits hit the spot, but made me realize I was still hungry. I decided to get some more food at the “front” aid station.
Yep, on a 4.47 mile loop there was the “back” aid station and the start finish aid station headed up by “Mrs. Doom” and manned by the staff of dedicated volunteers. Mrs. Doom is Fred Dummar’s wife, and since he was running the race, the competitors benefited from her presence and service. The front aid station had everything from candies to potatoes, grilled cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, and hamburgers. My running might not have been fast but the food was great.
I did not have a hamburger (not wanting to digest red meat), but believe I sampled everything else, including pizza. Had I mentioned there was pizza? Late in the race I switched over to grabbing handfuls of simple sugar items at both aid stations and eating them as I made my way around the course. This seemed effective in keeping my energy levels somewhat constant.
I consumed far more calories in the event than my 15:20 pace per mile would have indicated I needed. As mentioned earlier though, it was cold and I was aware I was spending energy keeping warm, especially at the slow pace I was running (shuffling). More importantly, I may have learned a little about caloric replacement for future runs. Perhaps runs as short as 100 miles, but certainly multi-day events.
My next race is only 50K. I hope to run fast enough to avoid the traveling picnic. I do know, however, that when the conditions merit I can “picnic on” with the best of them.