Figuring out how to fuel for an event can seem like a larger undertaking than the event itself. Sure, 100 or 200 miles is a ton of distance to cover, but how do you maintain proper fueling for that crazy length? And on shorter endeavours, how do you fuel to ensure you’re not too early and not too late to give your body the energy it needs?
Fueling is not an exact science because every individual has different needs. Like so much else in training, figuring out how to fuel yourself for a training session or a huge race takes trial and error. It’s a bit like finding a sock and shoe combo, except instead of blisters you can end up with: bottoming out with zero energy, feeling way too jazzed up, or searching for a giant rock to go hide behind to (ahem) fix an issue.
So, we’re sharing some “fueling fails” from Gnarly athletes, instances when their fueling crashed into catastrophe. From relatively simple fails, like energy gels exploding, to big-time trouble like 225-miles of agony thanks to way too much olive juice, here are a handful of ways that Gnarly athletes have experienced fueling gone wrong.
Kyra Condie: Team USA Olympic Climber
Event: World Cup Comp
How it all went wrong: A bowl full of sugar does nothing for the nerves
“Before a competition, I ate an acai bowl for breakfast and was super shaky and felt terrible until someone gifted me a protein bar.”
Kelly Halpin: Adventure badass
Event: Teton Crest Trail FKT attempt
How it all went wrong: Losing a key piece of the puzzle
“I once was attempting to nab the Teton Crest Trail FKT and I accidentally left a bag of soy sauce soaked rice in my car at the trailhead. I didn’t have enough salt or carbs to feel 100% on the run and while I did break the record at the time, I became incredibly nauseated during the final 10 miles, which cost a lot of time.”
Lael Wilcox: Endurance bicycle extraordinaire
Event: several self-supported races
How it all went wrong: Dairy’s revenge
“During long distance self-supported bike races, like the 4,300-mile Trans Am and the 2,750-mile Tour Divide, I often end up drinking a lot of whole milk. I can find it at any convenience store and it tastes like real food. I often drink a quart at a time and it definitely keeps me going for a couple of hours. While refueling in Wise River, Montana, during the 2019 Tour Divide, the mercantile only had gallon bottles of milk, far too much for me to drink. However, they did have liter bottles of half & half. I got that instead and drank as much of it as I could before getting back on my bike to climb up to Crystal Park, a 2,000’ climb up to 7,800’. It was rough. On the way up, I wasn’t sure if I’d keep it down, but I did. Never again with the half & half.”
Trevor Fuchs: Ultra-runner with too many FKTs to count
Event: A local 50k, training for a bigger race
How it all went wrong: a submarine sandwich that tanked in the gut
“I grabbed dinner from a chain sub sandwich shop. Because their vegan option isn’t very substantial, I stopped by a grocery store and grabbed a small tub of hummus to add to the bread, mustard and lettuce. I’m not sure if it was the whole-wheat bread, the hummus, or possibly cross-contamination of the veggies…but I spent the entire 31 miles fully clenched trying to avoid a disaster. Needless to say, I’ve avoided that combination ever since.”
Raleigh Distance Project: Incredible women breaking incredible running records
How it all went wrong: Typically, overdosing on sugar like it was Christmas morning
“The only time I threw up after a cross country race was when I ate French toast with lots of syrup the morning of the race. It was a fabulous race but afterwards I felt terrible. Never again have I ever had French toast on a race day.”
“That time I ate 12 doughnuts and kept them down for the last 2.5 miles back to the NC State bell tower. That wasn’t my best day.”
“I ate chocolate-covered espresso beans before a workout. Let me warn you. DON’T DO IT!!”
“The morning of Marathon Monday in 2019, I ate my usual banana and peanut butter oatmeal and coffee, and then boarded the bus at 6 a.m. Unfortunately my wave didn’t start until 10:30 a.m. I felt great until the half and then quickly deteriorated—in retrospect I wish I had both a) eaten a bigger breakfast and b) had some calorie and electrolyte-rich fluids to carry me through the bus ride and hours of waiting in athletes village!”
Ben Light: Ultra trail runner who specializes in 200+ milers
Event: Wasatch Tahoe Project in 2018
How it all went wrong: Consuming the salt lick
“During my Wasatch Tahoe Project where I ran the Wasatch 100 and Tahoe 200 back-to-back, I found myself extremely dehydrated and behind on my electrolytes due to the extreme heat and exposure. To counteract the dehydration and to add some quick calories at the same time, I ate some green olives (which I regularly eat) but this time, I drank the salty juice within the pouch. Within a few miles after, I was puking every 5-10 miles. Every time I puked up the contents of my stomach I felt better and would take off running. Once I consumed some nutrition or water, my stomach would start turning again which would result in me vomiting up anything I just consumed. This cycle lasted the next 50 miles until my stomach settled and I was able to hold down my nutrition. For the next 225 miles straight, my stomach was solid. Lesson learned…don’t consume too much salt in one sitting!”
Learning from someone’s mistakes
- Don’t try something new on race day. Ultrarunner Ben Light tried kombucha for the first time before a race which led to many unplanned detours on the 100-mile route.
- Don’t even try something new on an important training day. As the training ramps up in preparation for competition, some are going to be pivotal to success. If you’re trying a new food or fuel combo, maybe save it for a rest day or a less important training day.
- You do you. What works for someone might not be your jam and it’s best to stick to what you know is true on race day.
- Keep timing in mind. It’s far too easy to bottom out if you’re not taking in enough fuel.
- Make a race-day list and check it several times.Your mind is likely crowded on race day with concentration on the undertaking at hand. It’s far too easy to overlook something important, so make a list, check it three times and then have a friend check it over. The best time to catch an error is before it occurs.