Fueling an Ultra (Part 2)

Part 1 of this two-series post covered the nutrition plan for Turbo Jack, The Fitness Extremist, who recently completed the Singapore 200 Miles (320km) Ultramarathon  around Singapore in 76 Hours and 58 minutes while achieving 2nd place overall! Once again, CONGRATULATIONS buddy! For Jack’s full race-report, click here.

In summary, I advised him to eat more whole foods and avoid all isotonic drinks, gels and stimulants unless absolutely necessary. This part will focus on what he actually ate and the results from there!

Hydration

Throughout the race, Jack had at least 2 bottles of hydration either carried by him on his Ultimate Direction Vest or by his pacer when he had one. One was filled with plain water while the other always had a Nuun electrolyte tablet dropped in. This combination worked very well as Jack alternated between the water and electrolytes.

Furthermore, the Nuun tablets were extremely low in sugar (<1g) with a light refreshing taste according to the flavour we bought. This meant that Jack did not suffer any gastric distress or intense thirst from the drink. We bought 3 different flavors to alternate around and please his palate (Orange, Tri-Berry and Fruit Punch).

Lastly, the electrolytes were more than enough to meet his needs as he did not experience any cramps throughout the race. However, there were times during the race (mostly coinciding with the ‘crash-zone’ after midnight around 2am) where he would feel extremely fatigued and sleepy. It was times like this where I wished we had some caffeine on hand. Not the usual coffee or tea drinks from coffeeshops but something cleaner that wouldn’t cause a crash thereafter.

AAR: For future races, I would recommend buying and testing a few more Nuun products on long runs before race day. We were lucky that these ones we bought 2 days prior to the race did not cause any problems. Nuun Energy is one I have in mind because of its caffeine content (40mg from green tea extract) and B-vitamins. We could use this for the really low periods.

Snacks

About once every hour, there would be a planned interval of rest which could last anywhere from 5-15 minutes. This was crucial for Jack to address any issues such as blisters cuts and abrasions and give his sore feet and legs a short break. This was also when he would consume some finger bites for some energy unless it was time for a full meal.

These include:

AAR: The surprising thing was the blueberries. Jack ate about a handful at almost every break and after the race, said that that really helped him. The berries are low in sugar, refreshing and did not fill him up too much that it would affect his performance. It was sort of a perfect in-between-meal-snack. Will definitely be using this more often next time.

Also, if I had a vehicle and more time I would have made much more chicken broth and sent that to him at every rest break. He said the broth was really tasty, especially when warm. In my opinion, the broth was the best snack choice because it provides an easily digestible source of fuel from Amino Acids, healthy fats, minerals, vitamins and gelatin. Additionally it is a great source of hydration and a well-respected comfort food.

Meals

The initial plan was to still have 3 meals a day to mimic everyday life however, from the second day Jack started getting hungry much more often so he ate almost one meal every 2 hours.

These consisted of

  • Fish soup with rice
  • Chicken Broth with rice
  • Chicken Rice (majority)
  • Duck Rice
  • Coconut water / Iskiate Endurance

Most of the meals he preferred were either soup based for ease of ingestion or he would use the coconut water to aid in swallowing the dry food such as the Chicken Rice.

AAR: From the second day Jack started to crave Chicken Rice pretty badly! Since that day our support vehicle was laden with packets of Chicken Rice, we even had 20 packets at one point in time!

I’m thinking the Chicken Rice provided sufficient oils and energy (in the rice) and savoury-ness (in the sauce/chicken) which his body naturally craved. Also, its a traditional local dish that Jack has grown up consuming very regularly too.

Astoundingly, almost after every packet of Chicken Rice, Jack would feel this huge boost of energy that could propel him from a slow walking pace to one where he could jog and cover lots of ground for a couple of kilometers.

In the future, I will be looking at how to improve the traditional Singaporean Chicken Rice recipe to include healthier oils and/or sauces.

Some of the food I cooked: chicken broth with rice, scrambled eggs and manuka salmon.

More than Nutrition

Another important lesson I learnt this time around was that it requires much more than a good race fueling and pacing strategy to successfully complete and compete in such ultra-endurance events.

Support Crew

The role of this bunch of people is absolutely crucial as they are in charge of attending to the runner’s needs as and when he requires it. The crew will scout ahead in their vehicle to look for a suitable area to part and set up the Pit-Stop before Jack arrives to ensure a smooth transition.

The following items are always taken out first and prepared:

  • Yoga mat and Foam Roller to lie on
  • First Aid Kit
  • Drinks
  • Snacks
  • Meals
  • If needed:
    • Buckets of water to shower and a fresh set of clothes to change into
    • Somewhere to sleep: either an inflatable bed or someone’s vehicle

When he arrives, a number of jobs are undertaken almost simultaneously:

  1. Let him lie down with his feet propped up on a higher surface to allow blood to flow back to the heart
  2. Remove shoes and socks to air his feet and attend to blisters, change socks/shoes if necessary
  3. Ice/massage feet and legs if needed
  4. Feed him snacks/meals and drinks
  5. Prepare shower essentials or sleep area
  6. Switch GPS watches if they are running low and charge handphones+watches
  7. Hand him his phone to update the race organizer of his location and distance covered
  8. Take pictures and try to boost his morale

Thus, after awhile the crew becomes so profficient at this that it almost feels like an F1 pit-stop in terms of the efficiency and smoothness of activities.

Support crews also run in 12 hour shifts with his family covering most of the day shifts and his friends doing the night. This would ensure each crew gets sufficient rest which is crucial as they need to be alert, especially when driving.

IMG-20160810-WA0018
One of the more carefully chosen pitstops with space to park the cars and a slope to let Jack lie facing uphill.

Moral and Psychological Support

Another crucial role not to be forgotten is the role of the pacers and people on the ground who came to support, meet and cheer him on. When one is fatigued by days of running/walking on your feet, the sight of a familiar smiling face or the company of people nearby pacing you can work wonders on one’s psychology.

The pacers also provided Jack with tremendous help by navigating ahead for him which allowed him to focus fully on just grinding through the race.

With each passing day, it seems as if the number of people coming down to support Jack kept growing. This climaxed at the end of the 3rd night when Jack was running with this big bunch of more than a dozen aunties, uncles and friends. It was an incredible sight to behold especially at that late an hour in the night. I believe none of the other racers in this race had such a crowd of supporters pacing them.

All this contributed tremendously to Jack’s spirits throughout the race and to me, it seemed as if he got stronger, the longer the race progressed. In part because he was riding on the wave of motivation by those around him.

“No man is an island, with proper support, you are capable of ANYTHING”
Jack Lian

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