Luke Nelson Shares his Fueling Plan for Ultra Running

courtesy of http://challengeofbalance.blogspot.com

This summer I spent a lot of time running in the Tetons.  The efforts of the runs varied immensely depending on the objective and the people I was running with.  With the different intensities and distances came different fueling strategies.  I have been thinking a lot recently on fueling and thought I should share how I fueled on 4 of the more memorable runs in the Tetons and how it might help others better understand fueling for mountain running.

 

Run #1 Middle and South Tetons with Ty Draney.  This was one of the first runs I was able to get out and do in the Tetons this past summer. Ty had never been to the summit of any peaks in the Tetons and we were not sure about the snow conditions up high.  We left the car planning on being out for 6-7 hours.  We mutually agreed that it would be a conservative pace, but not too easy.  I took 2 liters of water. 2 EFS Liquid Shot flasks and a couple of Nutella, Peanut Butter and Jam wraps.  Over the course of the run I nipped on the flasks about about every 15 minutes, which provided a constant flow of calories.  I ate the first wrap on the summit of the South Teton, and I chowed the other wrap as we began our descent off of the Middle Teton.  We spent plenty of time messing around on the descent; taking pictures and working on our glissading techniques.  The conservative pace allowed me to eat real food, when at higher effort levels it normally doesn’t sit too well.  Our total time for the run was 6:19:00.

 

Calorie breakdown: Total Calories for the run: 1900, roughly 300 calories an hour. Water Consumption: 3 Liters, about 500 mL an hour (475g*/3000mL= 15% solution).  Breakdown: Whole Wheat Tortilla wraps (2 Tbs of Nutella, 2 Tbs of PB, 2 Tbs of raspberry preserves) 550 calories each.  EFS Liquid Shot Flask- 400 calories.

 

Run #2 Speed attempt at the Grand Teton with Ricky Gates.  A few weeks after Ty and I had our adventure I got a call from Ricky who was planning on an attempt at the Grand Teton car to car record.  I met Ricky that morning and we set out on a blistering pace towards the summit of the Grand.  Ricky had gapped me by several minutes within the first few miles and that would be the story for the rest of the day.  I pushed very hard the entire time and felt pretty good all things considered.  Just after crossing the two lower technical sections I started to feel a little off.  I pulled the plug and headed back down to the upper saddle to wait for Ricky to come down.  A minute or two after I got to the saddle Ricky came cruising down.  We ran from the Upper Saddle to the Lower Saddle pretty much together, but as soon as we hit the snow Ricky put the hammer down and again put several minutes on me.  I pushed as hard as my body (mind) would go, and hit the parking lot in 3:29:00.  Ricky finished about 3:19:00 if I recall correctly. Before leaving the car that morning I knew it would be a very hard effort.  I chose to carry 1 liter of water and 1-8oz flask of slurry (4 oz of EFS liquid shot and 2 scoops of EFS powder).  I consumed pretty much the whole flask during the run and drank 2/3 of the water.

 

Calorie Breakdown: Total: 450 Calories, about 150 calories an hour. Water: 600 mL, just under 200mL an hour (112g*/600 mL = 18% solution). Breakdown: 8 oz Slurry- 480 calories.

Run #3 Up and Around the Grand with Ty Draney, Mike Foote and Chris Kroger.  I blame Ty for coming up with the idea for this run, and he in turn blames Nate Mcdowell for planting the seed of summiting Mount Rainer and then doing the circumnavigation in a single push.  Regardless of it’s origin, 1 week after being on the Grand with Ricky I was back.  This time the plan was to run to the summit of the Grand, back to the car to refuel and then run the 36 mile Circumnavigation route.  The total route would be just under 50 miles with 17,000’ of ascent. We didn’t know what to plan for exactly but hoped to do about 5 hours on the Grand and then another 6-7 for the Circumnav.  Total estimated run time was 11-12 hours.  We headed up the Grand with relatively heavy packs, by running standards, because we were carrying the requisite gear to rope the upper technical sections of the climb, even with the heavy packs we made decent time, that is until we hit the log jam just after the Upper Saddle.  There were several groups of climbers that had arrived before us and were not willing to let us pass.  They assured us they would move quickly but after 45 minutes of shivering in the shade on the North Side of the Grand we bailed.  We did make quick work of the descent and just over 6 hours after leaving the cars we were back dropping off climbing gear and refueling for the next leg of our journey.  For the first leg of the journey I carried 2 EFS flasks and 2 of the Nutella, PBJ, Jam wraps, about 1900 calories.

 

Chris Kroger had other obligations so he didn’t go on with us, but Ty, Mike and I headed out to run the Circumnavigation loop clockwise.  We ran into the heat of the day and it started to take it’s toll about 3 hours in.  All of us were feeling the effort starting to pile up and there were some epic low spots experienced on the way up towards Alaska Basin.  We patched ourselves back together and continued to move forward.  By the time we finished the Circumnavigation we had been on the trail for a total of almost 15 hours and certainly felt like we had gotten out money’s worth.  The second leg of the trip I consumed 3 liters of water,  2-10 oz slurry flasks, 1 EFS flask and two more wraps, about 2460 calories.

Calorie Breakdown: Total: 4060 calories, about 270 calories and hour. Water- 6 liters of water total, 400 mL an hour (1015g*/6000mL = 16% solution). Breakdown: 3 EFS Flasks- 1200 calories, 2 Slurries- 960 calories, 4 Nutella, PB, Jam wraps- 2200.

 

Run #4 Circumnavigation Trail with Inca Runners Ultra Camp. The last hoorah of the in the Tetons was the Inca Runners Ultra Running Camp.  We spent 4 days running various trails in and around the Tetons and capped the camp off with a group run of the Circumnavigation Route.  The group was great, but we had been doing a lot of running the previous 3 days and the cumulative fatigue took some of the pep out our legs. We kept the pace reasonable all day and in the end it was one of my favorite runs of the summer.  We finished the run in a little over 10 hours and capped it off with a nice soak in Jenny’s Lake.  I knew the pace for this run would be moderate so I took 2 EFS flasks and 4 of the now famous wraps and in leu of water I carried two liters of EFS in my hydration pack and drank 1 liter of plain water near the end after the EFS ran out.

 

Calorie Breakdown: Total: 3400 calories, about 340 calories an hour.  Water: 5 Liters, about 500 mL an hour (850g*/5000 mL = 17% solution). Breakdown: 2 EFS Flasks- 800 calories, 4 Scoops EFS (2 per liter)- 400 calories, 4 Nutella, PB&J wraps- 2200 calories.

 

You may notice a recurring theme after reading this far.  For moderate paced, long runs about 300 calories an hour seems to work really well.  That is generally coupled with between 400-500 mL of water per hour resulting in a heavily concentrated fuel to water ratio, about 16%.  I will admit that I need less water than a lot of athletes and this may be too concentrated for you, actually it is recommended that you stay less than 15% or GI upset may occur. I never had any “bonks” or low energy because of fueling.  For shorter, harder efforts I do well on fewer calories and rely on my bodies reserves a little more.  After each of these, and most trail runs I do, I always consume a bottle of Ultragen.  Ultragen is an amazing recovery drink that helps quickly replace many things that are depleted during a long or hard run.  A full serving of Ultragen is 320 calories.  As I worked on writing this I was amazed at how evenly spaced my caloric intake and water consumption ended up being throughout all of these runs.  I didn’t plan on how many calories I needed, I just made an estimate and it worked out really well.  Hopefully this may provide some insight to you and how you could tweak your fueling to be a little more optimal.

 

*For sake of math I simplified the solution equation assuming that all the calories came from Carbs, I will be working on getting the caloric breakdown and solutions more exact over the next week or so.

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