Before you head off and hit the trails for any ultra marathon trail distance, it’s a good idea to do your ultra trail running preparation (aside from the obvious training and exercise of course!)
First off, this is based purely on my own experience, and should not be a set-in-stone recipe for ultra trail running preparation. My hope is that this post can be used as a good basis for anyone getting into longer trail runs.
Ultra Trail Running Preparation, The Week Ahead
Hopefully you have also been carb loading for a few days before your run to ensure your muscles have accumulated a good amount of glycogen reserves.
You should have also been drinking plenty of water every day for the last week or so to ensure you’re at your best, hydration-wise.
On the night before, try to avoid hard to digest foods, and focus on easily digestable carbohydrates.
I find that pasta or pizza with light ingredients (not too many creamy sauces or extra toppings) is a good choice.
Preparation, On The Day
Here is a base guide on what I tend to do on the day of my run.
Eating Before the Run
With the pre-week ultra trail running preparation checked off, I tackle longer trail runs first thing in the morning, aiming to leave at 6am.
I wake up at 5am and immediately have my pre-run, light breakfast which consists of:
- 1 x banana (this is a great source of carbohydrates and contains little fibre. Ideal for digestion and absorption pre-run).
- 1 x slice of wholewheat bread, toasted. Half the slice with with peanut butter, the other half with chocolate spread.
- I love my coffee and personally don’t have any issues running after drinking it. So I have 1 x cup of coffee with the above. I also have a half glass of water (not too much at once though, otherwise I will get stomach muscle cramps at the start of the run).
You’ll want to pack plenty of fluids of course. My personal guideline in around 2 liters of fluids for every 50km.
For whatever fluids I take with, I mix half of that with electrolyte rich energy drink powder mix, and leave the other half as plain water.
Use soft, flexible water bottles that can fit into hydration vest pockets where possible. They can bend shape if need be. Handy if your hydration pack is limited in space like mine is.
I tend to carry two 500ml flexible bottles with bite valves for drinking from in the pack, and a 500ml or 1000ml water bottle that has an easy to hold carry handle.
If you’ve got a Camelbak or similar pack that can go on your back and carry 1.5 or 2 liters, then even better as you can free up a hand.
Packing Your Food and Carbohydrates
I’ll carry the following as food to consume during a run of about 50-70km.
- 1 x extra banana.
- 5 or 6 flavoured isotonic energy gels.
- 10-15 wine gum sweets.
- A handful of almond nuts.
- A large handful of raisins, or a bunch of dried fruit (e.g. apricots).
- A bag of salty potato crisps.
- If there is space I might add something a little more solid like a snickers bar. I’ll go through this one really slowly and chew it really well if I do take it.
I’ll pack all the snacks into the front pockets where I can, so that they’re easily accessible without having to take my hydration vest off.
Packing Gadgets and Other Bits
Here is a list of non-consumables that should not be forgotten.
- All-important activity tracking / GPS running watch. I currently use a Garmin Forerunner 245 music which allows me to easily access and change my music and track my run.
- Sealable, waterproof bag for cell phone in case it rains.
- Basic whistle for attracting attention if you get into trouble.
- Small tube of sun screen if it is forecast to be hot and sunny.
- For music or podcasts, I take my AfterShokz Aeropex bluetooth wireless headphones which pair to my Garmin 245 music or my cell phone.
Although I currently don’t do this, it’s a good idea to pack some emergency basics too. I’ll be doing this as soon as I upgrade to a slightly larger (than 3.5 liter) hydration vest.
- Basic medical aid supplies. E.g. roll of bandage, small bottle of antiseptic like dettol. Out on a trail you could improvise with sticks or branches to fashion a splint with the bandages if you needed.
- Space blanket. These are nice and light and can tuck in anywhere. If you are out on your own and ended up breaking bone(s), this would be invaluable if you needed to wait for help and it started getting cold.
- Small and lightweight torch. A headlamp would be ideal for running in the dark, but if not, a lightweight, bright LED torch is a nice-to-have if you were in an emergency situation, it had gotten dark, and you needed to attract attention.
Consuming Food On The Run
Lastly, if you’re wondering about consuming all that carb-rich goodness on the go, here is how I tend to do it.
Every 45 minutes or so I’ll make an effort to consume 1 energy gel pack (about 25g of carbohydrates), a few wine gums, nuts and raisins. The idea here is to keep topping up your carbs / glycogen reserves so you don’t hit a wall. If you’re running anything that is 60-90+ minutes you’ll want to be doing this.
After a while I’ll get really sick of all the sweet stuff (gels, and the energy drink electrolytes), so the plain water and salty potato crisps really help with that. I also slow down to a walking pace or even stop for a minute whilst consuming the solid foods. It can be serious choking hazard if you’re sucking in air whilst chewing on food!
The banana is a good option for about the halfway mark.
I also make sure to chew everything really well when I’m out running. I believe this helps with digestion and lessens the bulk your stomach needs to worry about digesting. This should equate to less chance of getting stomach cramps, and faster absorption of the food into your bloodstream.
So, that is my personal ultra trail running preparation base guide. Hopefully it is useful if you’re looking for something to start out with and build upon.
There is certainly room for improvement here, so if you have any good ideas, or spot any obvious things I might have missed, please do drop a comment!