There are as many suggestions on how to fuel an ultramarathon as there are runners. Some are complex. Any source that starts talking about glucose polymers or whey protein will not keep my attention. Others are simple. Remind me to consume the 300-400 calories per hour I'll need, in foods that my stomach can handle, and now we're talking. As one tip pointed out, that's nothing more than 12-16 ounces of a sports drink and an energy bar per hour. If only it was that easy...
My coach suggested eating about 800 calories for breakfast about an hour before the race. 800 calories. That's only two English muffins (189 calories each) with a little peanut butter (another 40-50 calories), two bananas (105 calories each), a Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz. for 145 calories), and some Gatorade (32 oz for 200 calories). No problem.
But what about when I'm running the race? Coach AJW suggested trying to eat solids for as long as I could before switching to energy gels. By comparison, when I run road marathons, I subsist on GU energy gels, Gatorade, and water for the more or less three hours of competition. For an ultramarathon, though, I need something more...and a whole lot of fluids. My buddy Ryan, who ran the Leadville 100 last year, had a pretty straight forward plan for his first 100 miler:
I decided to accomplish this mostly by ingesting a hammer gel every 30 minutes while I ran, in combination with drinking sports drink and eating some solid foods and more gel crap at aid stations. I also needed to address my caffeine habit. Normal people rely on caffeine late in these races to get them through the night. I, on the other hand, was going to need a constant, high supply of the stuff. To accomplish this I brought Red Bulls (no vodka) & 5-Hour Energies eating solid foods for the first 50 miles before switching to energy gels and water.
My plan isn't complicated. When it comes to fluids, I'll pass on the Red Bull, but I will be partaking in the "flat Pepsi," soda de-fizzed for our stomach's delight on a fairly regular basis, at quite a few of the aid stations. A six ounce hit of Pepsi provides a quick 70 calories plus a caffeine kick that's needed for a Diet Coke addict like me. I'll also be sure to drink a cup or two of Gatorade or water at every aid station, regardless of whether I have a sensation of thirst.
My supply belt holds two 22 ounce bottles, and I'll have a supply of water and Gatorade in the two bottles...Gatorade on the left, water on the right (that became an unintentional habit). For the hotter sections in the canyons, I'll carry a 22 ounce handheld bottle favored by most of my ultra peers. I've never been fond of the handhelds, but recognize the importance of extra fluids in the heat of the day in the depths of the canyons. My goal is to empty these bottles as often as possible. My first ultra featured a stellar case of dehydration (I was eight pounds underweight 28 hours after I finished...a night's sleep, several meals, and a flight home later), and it's all I can do to avoid that again.
As for food intake, I'll try to follow my coach's advice to eat solids for as long as I can before switching over to the GU energy gels. I ran a couple 30 plus mile training runs on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches alone (no gels). Each sandwich has approximately 350 calories, and most of the aid stations will have sandwich quarters available. I'll grab one or two, along with bananas, watermelon, strawberries, licorice, or boiled potatoes and salt, whatever looks good, to supplement the main course. I could look up the calories in each of those, but trust me, they're all decent except watermelon, and that gives me some extra fluids.
As the race grinds on and my stomach starts disagreeing with me a bit, I'll switch over to GUs more frequently. I favor GU Roctanes in Blueberry Pomegranate, Cherry Lime, or Pineapple flavors. If you've never heard of GU, it comes in a small 1.1 oz packet featuring 100 calories of flavored gel. It's not particularly tasty, and in fact it's been known to cause me to dry-heave on occasion, but nothing provides the perfect amount of carbohydrates and all that nutrition stuff that bores me in one quick hit. It's like a booster charge. I've packed 18 packets of GU Roctane, and most of the aid stations will have regular (low octane) GU available, too. There will be no shortage of GU.
The later aid stations will also feature soup broth. One cup of chicken broth only has 38 calories, but it slams runners with approximately 1/3 of the daily recommended value of sodium. Most people try to avoid sodium; ultrarunners thrive off it.
The last element of my food intake will be something called an S-Cap. S-Caps are small capsules that provide electrolytes in a quick hit to alleviate cramping and provide a little pick-me-up. Each capsule has 341 mg of sodium! They also have the other electrolytes--potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, and phosphate, and I can say that they've worked so well on my training runs that I've been cured of calf cramps in a matter of minutes. My plan is to take an S-Cap once an hour throughout the race. By comparison, I'll probably take a GU every 30-45 minutes after I start taking them.
Of course, the one thing I'm hoping I have the stomach for when I reach the finish line, or shortly thereafter, is an ice cold beer. Tentative plans are to get lunch and drinks at the Auburn Ale House after the awards ceremony, and I'm trusting I'll have my stomach back by then....right?