Ultra-Running and Race Day Nutrition

Nick Billock is an avid ultra-marathoner and trail runner who has run 25 marathons and 13 ultra-marathons including 3 100-mile finishes spanning 25hrs, 39min to 30hrs, 52mins.  He is also a blogger, covering running, his service in the Navy, and the day-to-day happenings in the life as a husband and father of two beautiful girls.  Nick resides in northeast Ohio and blogs regularly at www.rtrsbm.blogspot.com.

Ultra-running (as defined by any running race longer than the marathon of 26.2 miles) requires a whole different nutritional viewpoint when compared to the gels and quick shots of Gatorade normally encountered during a road race up to the marathon. Ultra-marathons most often take place on the trails of national and state parks with the 50K (31.2 miles) being the most popular race distance, then followed by the 50-miler and 100-miler. All these distances are covered with no rest or stopping, except for the occasional aid stations where runners refuel.

This is where nutrition and the endurance runner meet. From the 50K to the 100-miler, runners will find themselves on the trails for 5 to 30+ hours. This requires knowing what to eat, how often to eat it, and how that changes over the event. A rule and a mantra that many ultra-runners live by is: Eat, Eat, Eat; Drink, Drink, Drink; Pee, Pee, Pee. All must be true, especially the last; it’s a good indication that your body is still operating as it should.

The liquid you choose to hydrate during your race can be water, but the best choice is a liquid with an electrolyte that can replenish your glycogen stores that will become totally empty. Salt replenishment is also important to help retain some water and is most often addressed by taking “salt tabs” which also contain electrolytes.

A very popular staple at aid stations is ramen noodle soup. This gives the body easy carbs to digest, salt, and yummy broth to address hydration. Other popular aid station foods are PB&J sandwiches, Pringles chips, salty snacks, and during the really long events that continue into the evening, mashed potatoes and boiled/salted red-skinned potatoes.

Ultimately, every runner must train in the months leading up to their event and try out different foods they’ll encounter on race day. Smart training, garnering advice from fellow runners, and sticking to the plan will pay huge dividends on race day. All this and listening to your body at all times will provide a fun experience and hopefully, a trip across the finish line.
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