My journey Back to UTMB — March update and nutrition

Monthly recap — March

Well after the debacle that was February, March went a lot better. Not great, but better. I managed a respectable 132 miles (212 km) and 8560 feet (2600m) in elevation. This was despite March continuing to be a super super busy work month.

The good bits

I was reasonably consistent and got some good time on my feet. The training plan app worked and automatically backed off at one point to reduce training load after a really heavy few sessions. This was backed up by my body.

I did a lovely race all the way round Ulllswater lake in the Lake District. I was actually feeling very tired before I started and very under-fueled. This was because I played a gig the night before, I played drums (which is physically hard — especially on the calfs!) and I got home late. So I took it quite easy for the most part, and just focused on consistency of movement and walking through check points. Weirdly I ended up coming 4th out of 120 people.

The bad into good

I burst the main zip of my running pack at the very start of the Ullswater race. Something like this has in the past knocked me mentally, but I’m very experienced now. I shifted a few things around and just cracked on. It’s fine. Your equipment is important, but it’s you that gets you round.

The bad

I went to the pub with some old friends. I drank too much. I had a hangover for 3 days and didn’t run at all. I should probably not do that!

Fueling and nutrition

For an ultra race (and training for one), fueling is one of the biggest challenges. The human body is a wonderful thing, with reserves of strength and energy, but there comes a point when you need to fuel it. The longer the distance the more important this becomes, and the harder it is to get right. So getting a fueling strategy right, one that works for you, and is tried and tested in multiple different conditions is vital. I’ve never not finished a race because I’m tired, or because my legs or feet hurt. I have DNF’d because I’m delirious, dry retching* and my stomach has shut down and just left me devoid of any energy to keep going.

I’ve learned to break a fueling strategy down into some basic sections

  • Long term nutrition
  • Few days before race
  • Pre race
  • Early part of the race
  • Mid to end point of the race
  • Emergency!
  • Post race

Long term nutrition

Training takes fuel. To train hard you need to fuel hard. But this doesn’t mean just calories of any kind. Try to be kind to your body. Vegetables, pulses, avocados, nuts, dates are good. I’m not veggie, but I feel better when I eat lots. I eat a lot of homemade pizza. Do what works for you. I’m not into the whole keto and fat adaptation, because, well, there’s no real evidence I’ve seen that it works.

What I do recommend is to refuel well after hard sessions. I quite like a banana, peanut butter, honey and chia smoothie (made with milk of your choice).

I’d also recommend seeing if you get enough minerals such as zinc and magnesium, either through food or supplements

Few days before a race

I don’t carb-load. For a marathon, maybe that would work for some people. But I just think it’s a bowel problem waiting to happen. I would just eat normally, don’t try to lose any weight. Probably best to avoid food that is difficult for the digestive system….like super spicy food if you aren’t used to it, or lots and lots of lentils. Get some good vitamins in.

Pre race

Have a good breakfast (or supper if the race starts at night). I go with porridge, with honey and banana. Keep it fairly simple, but lots of good fuel in there, that will last a while. No a bacon sandwich won’t do the same, even if the calories match up.

A note on coffee — Some people suggest coming off coffee prior to a bit endurance race. This will mean your body gets a better boost if you have some during the race. If that works for you, great. I like my coffee strong, black and consistently lots .It works for me. I have an average resting heart rate of 42, and that’s with ALL the espresso. I think without it I may just cease….

Onto the actual race

Ok, so this is the important part really. Running a mountain ultra takes a lot of energy. More than you can ever get in during it.

The body can absorb between 150–300 calories per hour

The body will use somewhere between 600–1000 calories per hour

I WILL be in a calorie deficit for a LONG time. What is important is that I max out how many calories I can get in over that time. Try to put too many in and I’ll have digestive *issues* ….but don’t put enough in and I won’t make it.

People are all different, so you need to find how much your body can take on and in what conditions. General rules like something small every 45 minutes are good guides. But you need to figure how much ‘something small’ is and what it is. You want this to be as much as you can take without it causing problems.

Early race

The endurance nutrition market is pretty big value and growing. Where several years ago there were basic gels and a few powders, there has been an explosion in recent years. I am still however a big fan of normal food for as long as I possibly can.

What this means for me is

  • Nuts
  • Dates
  • cheese sandwiches with butter
  • pre cooked halloumi (the king of salty cheese)
  • homemade flapjack
  • Pretzels
  • Soup
  • pizza (hot or cold)
  • Guacamole!

I eat this type of food for as long as I possibly can, with the occasional addition of something like a clif shotbloc.

Mid to late race

As I said I try to eat as much normal food as possible for as long as possible. But on very long races I will have to shift unless I have dedicated support (which as very definitely not pro is rare!) That means using energy dense products. I’m not a big fan of gels, though find the Clif gels the best if I have to.

I try to avoid too much of the liquid fuel approach like tailwind or mountain fuel. The reason for this is I like to keep my hydration seperate from my fuel. I think it can lead to problems unless well managed, and when you are tired, or its hot, you can run into issues.

I quite like the Luchos Dillitos. They remind me of kendal mint cake but with a latin american feel.

I previously ate clif bars, but I don’t think I could face them again unfortunately!

If I can get my hands on an espresso, then yes please. If not, some form of energy drink might work. Most gels have caffeine in them, so take care.


Most big races have a drop bag that you can pick up later in the race. Put something in there that you know you can eat any time, anywhere. The biggest risk to you is you stop eating and your stomach shuts down. It’s pretty much game over from there. If you can get something, ANYTHING down, do it.

Post race

I pretty much always crave chips and some kind of burger after a race. So I try to get one, or two, along with some pizza. Eat well, you’ve probably got two — three days of eating before you return back to the same weight as you started the race. Enjoy it.

April plans

This month is where the real distance stuff starts to come in. It’s all about consistency, duration and elevation. Lots of slow and steady stuff. Lots of hills. One faster session a week. Some strength.

As the mileage builds it’s really important to keep recovery in mind and avoid injury.

I’ve got the Lakes Mountain 40 on April 9th. 40 miles around the lakes including Helvellyn. Roughly 9000 feet of ascent. I then have 10 days in sardinia which will be about getting some exploration and heat acclimatisation. I should easily top out at least 200 miles and 30000 feet



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