Inov-8 athlete Nicky says, “I know that if I’m running for more than an hour I need to fuel. If I eat well I get stronger throughout the race and can fly past people in the second half, which is a great feeling. Over the years I’ve honed my nutrition and use the same format every time now. The only factor I can’t totally control is how my stomach is going to feel on the day. But to counteract any difficulties I have eating or keeping food down, I pack a variety; some I never eat unless I’m running! When doing an ultra race such as the Ultra Trail du Mont -Blanc (UTMB) I have to adapt to the food that is on offer at the checkpoints. Here it becomes important to be strict with yourself. Last year I did the L’Echappee Belle as practice for this year’s race. I approached nutrition differently and it worked. I finished in 35.34hr without pain, 19th overall and 2nd lady. Here’s my advice for your next long-distance race…”
(1) THE WEEK BEFORE
If it’s an ultra race of more than 30 miles, starting on Saturday morning, begin ‘grazing’ on Thursday, eating smaller meals and snacking in between. If the race is going through the night, eat a little late at night and then again early in the morning.
(2) the day before
Continue the grazing approach but eat slightly bigger meals and eat every 4 hours. I never allow myself to get hungry or over-full. I will include more carbohydrates in my meals and I will also drink little and often, including one drink made with electrolytes.
(3) the evening before
If you have a Saturday race, pack your clothes and food either on Thursday or Friday morning so that Friday evening is dedicated to relaxation. Have your last big meal at about 7pm – I usually have pasta served with a bolognese sauce, followed by a fruit crumble, and then have another small snack before bedtime.
I usually don’t sleep well before a big race, so if I’m awake I will eat a little and read a book. I would normally sit down to eat breakfast at least 2hr before the start of a long race; usually porridge. I would then take a teacake, topped with honey and banana, to registration, to eat about an hour before the start.
(5) 30MIN BEFORE THE RACE
Half-an-hour before the race begins, I would keep trying to eat a little (like a banana) right up until the start of the race.
(6) DURING THE RACE
It is important to eat within the first hour of racing. This is hard to do as the pace is fast and you are unlikely to be hungry, but I think it keeps my digestion working. I make sure I have something close at hand like apricots or a muesli bar – already opened so that I can eat it easily. For a 4hr race I will eat twice an hour, probably only a gel or some sweets each time. For a longer race I will also eat twice an hour, but one gel and one ‘proper’ food item, such as a muesli bar, banana, fruit salad, rice pudding or something that is on offer at the checkpoints.
(7) IMMEDIATELY AFTER
Here, I’m not so strict! There is often a post-race meal provided and as I’m usually starving when I finish, any food is agreeable. I think eating straight away is key to recovery, so I always take my own food (sandwiches, soup or pizza) in case there is no post-race meal on offer.
I really like to have spicy food – so sometimes I take a homemade salami pizza to eat afterwards. Or I’ll have fish and chips with curry sauce. Or I’ll order a chicken madras curry to eat when I get home!
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