I wrote a brief report for them after UTMB, detailing my preparation and race nutrition, again, giving them the opportunity to look for areas for improvement. I know I still have a lot to adjust with regard to my race nutrition, but I really feel that I am now moving in the right direction and, more importantly, feel more confident about what I'm doing. I thought it would be nice to share that report with readers of this blog.
Nutritionally, the preparation for this epic was a mix of “out of my control” and “spot on.”
We spent a week travelling through France, doing our own WW1 battlefields tour, staying in hotels along the way, inevitably eating out for every meal and having cooked breakfasts every morning. My best laid plans of a perfect nutritional build-up were out of the window, but I knew I would arrive in Chamonix four days before the race and, being self-catered, I should have time to get things back on track.
As soon as we were in Chamonix, it was straight to the supermarket to get some basics: lean chicken, couscous, potatoes, rice, you know the kind of stuff. I had brought my breakfast essentials with us so I could start each day with my normal portion of jumbo oats, flax seed, dried fruit, mixed seeds and maple syrup.
Lunch each day was some kind of cold meat/cheese combination along with the obligatory baguette. I was only doing some light training during the week and made a real effort to modify my food intake accordingly, though, once the nerves started to kick in, my appetite dropped off a little anyway.
I made sure I drank a bottle made up with Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy Fuel on each of the three pre race days along with plenty of water, trying to make re-hydration a long steady process rather than a last minute drinking-fest.
Race day, I tried to keep things familiar, but nerves really started to kick in big time, and taking in food did seem more of a chore than a pleasure. Breakfast and lunch were as normal, I also had a bottle of Xtreme Energy Fuel in the early afternoon. With a 5:30pm start time, thinks were a little more difficult to plan after lunch. In the end, I went with a small bowl of porridge oats at about 1pm and then a portion of Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel mixed with soya milk at about 3:30pm. I love the taste of the Morning Fuel and the small portion is easy to get in and quick to digest.
In hindsight, I probably needed a little something to eat in the final few minutes before the start as we had to stand around for 45 minutes or so before the off. I did not drink any more during this time, mainly due to the lack of opportunity to take a pee!
The most important part of my preparation for this race was getting my head around the fact that I could get most of my race energy from the Xtreme Energy Fuel. Prior to this, I felt that I needed to throw in gels to get me round my ultra races. I had a particularly bad experience earlier in the year and can trace the problems back to too much gel use. This time I was confident in my nutrition and happy that the Mountain Fuel products would get me round in good shape.
Between each of the feed stations, usually 2 – 3 hours apart, I carried 500ml of Xtreme Energy and 500ml of water which comfortably saw me through each section. In addition, I nibbled on Chia Charge bars, which again I just love the taste of, but probably only ate 3 bars during the whole race.
At each checkpoint, the organisers provide an array of cold meats, bread, biscuits and cakes, along with a salty noodle broth, and various drinks. My life-saver was the salty noodle broth. I avoided the cold meats as this would have been a break from the norm and I did not want to get the sugar rush associated with the cakes and biscuits, so at every station, I would have some broth, and as the race went on, I would manage to eat this when nothing else appealed.
Drinks-wise, I found that I wanted something sharp, in contrast to the Xtreme Energy Fuel and plain water I was drinking out on the course. What seemed to hit the spot was varying cups of carbonated water and Coke – this became my routine in each checkpoint; refill bottles ready for next leg, collect a bowl of broth, drink 2 or 3 cups of carbonated water/Coke. A couple of times I mixed up a mug of Morning Fuel with cold water, just for some variety, but I think I much prefer either warm water or milk for this mix and just didn’t really have the time/inclination to sort this out.
Most interestingly, I probably only took 6 or 7 gels during the whole 33 hours of the race and these were more likely to be a psychological crutch rather than a requirement.
The times where I felt nauseous seemed to be associated with altitude (2500m) and I felt slightly better once back down at the feed stations. Energy levels were generally good for the duration, certainly better than I was expecting and must have been a contributing factor to the positive attitude I held for the whole race.
As I was nearing the finish, I was planning my recovery, so I must have been in fairly good condition to be thinking about this! The plan was to get at least 2 servings of the Mountain Fuel Night Fuel in to me before I went to sleep, hoping to catch the optimum recovery window, unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Initially, I was caught up in the emotion and euphoria around the finish area and then, once back at the apartment, sleep was the only thing on my mind.
The following morning, it was back on porridge and all the trimmings, but I didn’t have the same desire to just throw in any old junk food as I would normally have after an ultra. The HUGE mixed grill I treated myself to that evening actually defeated me – not a phrase I utter very often!
This whole event and the positive experience I have gained from it, has really increased my confidence with regard to my nutrition and I cannot thank Darren Foote enough for his advice on all matters nutritional; my first two hour conversation with him was a real eye-opener and a key moment in my development. In addition, having Rupert Bonnington as a sounding board, right here in Keswick has been a great help. When we first spoke in July, the guys talked about marginal gains; these improvements I have made to my training and racing nutrition feel a lot more than marginal gains.