Gels? Potato chips? Bacon? Coca-Cola? Water? Salt tabs? Fuelling for a 50K trail race can be confusing. The perfect strategy is different for everyone. Often it is a matter of trial (or trail) and error to figure out what works best. Although there is no perfect recipe, certain methods have been proven effective for some of Canada’s top trail runners. Here are some tried and true fuelling strategies for your first (or next) 50K trail race:
Calories per hour
Some trail runners train by time on feet rather than distance. This also applies for fuelling. Consuming calories by time rather than distance helps keep us focused on the race and prevent bonking. For example, 2017 Knee Knacker 48K trail running champion Katie Mills aims for ingesting 200 calories per hour in all of her longer training runs. Mills has learned to dial in her fuelling strategy. “I like the accountability of every 30 minutes, as it gives you a singular focus point when everything else is a hazy pain cave.”
Make it non-negotiable
Like rest days in training, ingesting calories during long training runs and racing should be non-negotiable. That is why in longer distance ultras, the primary duties of a pacer becomes feeding their runner as though they were an infant.
One size fits one
Like most things in life, and especially in ultrarunning, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. What works for one runner could be a disaster for the next. Even after we have practised and planned perfectly in training, our stomach can get the best of us on race day. If you haven’t found your perfect strategy, keep experimenting with different kinds of foods, gels, and electrolytes. Don’t arrive at your next aid station like it’s your first day.
Practice makes (sometimes) perfect
Practice makes perfect. But sometimes it doesn’t. At this point in your training, you have already practised eating on your long training runs. Practising self-reliance on long training runs is a key component to success in racing. Even the most successful trail runners have had their mishaps with nutrition. Canadian Kim Magnus explains she needs “easy, quick fuel. I used to sit around at aid stations and blab and take a chip or something and then bugger off. I’m working on gels and tasteless powders because they’re easy.”
Some runners prefer supplementing their calories with caloric liquid such as Tailwind. Others keep it minimal and have water and a salt tab or a hydration tab such as Nuun in their water. Whatever you decide, practise with it. Even for longer distances, Mills uses Tailwind in her water with gels and Clif shots. In 100-mile distances, Mills will also eat real food. When she placed second at Orcas 100-mile race in 2017, she supplemented gels with a large “quadruple decker pizza.”