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Planning Your Race Day Nutrition for Tarawera Ultramarathon and Coast To Coast

We’ve welcomed the new year and for some of us, February is looming! Two big endurance events are scheduled in February: Tarawera Ultramarathon in Rotorua, and the iconic Coast To Coast multi-sport race in the South Island. 

With less than a month to go, it’s time to start thinking and practicing your training and race-day nutrition. 

Nutrition becomes more important for long-duration events. For races lasting a few hours (trail half-marathon, road marathon, <100K bike race) you can usually get away with, and have a good race with a basic or even sub-optimal nutrition strategy. Poor hydration, inadequate calorie intake during the race will likely get you to the finish line. In these ‘shorter’ events, carbs are king: gels, energy drinks, and Coke at the last aid station are effective at producing fast-release energy that pulls us through. Sure, you may suffer from a dodgy gut, but often that’ll be after the race.

This changes in longer events. For Tarawera Ultra 102km, the average runner will be on their feet for 15 hours or more. For Coast To Coast, the Longest Day individuals take a similar time to complete the full event. During this time, your body is working hard, but at a lower intensity than say, marathon race pace. And you’re exercising through the times that you’d normally have breakfast, lunch, and then dinner.

With this in mind, does it make sense to consume JUST carbohydrates during this period? For some high performing and elite athletes, it may do. They finish the event faster, they may have trained their gut to tolerate high volumes of carbohydrate over many hours. However, for most of us, it could spell disaster. There is nothing worse than putting in months of training for an event, for it to be derailed by an uncooperative gut!

So, here are some tips to consider before race day. Obviously we’re all different, so it’s up to you to experiment during training to find what works best. 

Plan

Through your training, you’ll start to get a feel for how long the event could take you. Tarawera Ultra and Coast To Coast are slower than road-based events because of technical running terrain, and challenging bike stages and technical river kayaking in Coast To Coast.

To sustain a good level of energy during the race you’ll likely need to consume a small portion of food every 30-45 minutes, and regularly sip on water or electrolyte drink. Do your pre-race research and work out where the aid stations are and how long you estimate it will take you to reach each. Then identify the sections of the race where you may need to carry more food and drink with you.

Below is an example of how a 102K runner at Tarawera Ultra may plan their nutrition for a 15-hour race time. 

Know what food is available at aid stations

Research what’s on offer at the aid stations. Tarawera Ultra is famous for it’s generous spread of foods (fruit, sandwiches, chips, lollies, pizza - you name it). It can be tempting to go all-out and turn your run into a culinary tour! It’s best to trial some of these foods in training beforehand, and prioritise them when getting to the aid station.

Try to keep things simple and don’t mix too many foods together at the aid station. The aid station crew are amazing and will usually help you to refill your water bottles. 

Energy Nut Butter Roam Coast2Coast Tarawera Ultramarathon

Experiment with real foods.

Taste fatigue is a real issue in endurance events. Loved your raspberry jet planes and chocolate gels at the start of the race? By hour six, you’ll be loathing them.

A possible reason is that your brain becomes tired of the similar sensory information from eating same thing over and over again. Stomach issues associated with consumption of huge amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods during long races can also reduce the desire and taste of your usual race foods.

Break up the monotony and be kind to your stomach by introducing real food. Bananas are gentle on the stomach, as are boiled salted potatoes.

Experiment with different foods during training sessions to determine your individual tolerance. Most people are shy of consuming foods with fat and/or protein during a race.

Moderate amounts are fine, and it’s a great way to reduce taste fatigue. Fat and protein takes longer to digest, but they will provide you sustained, slow release energy. Roam Energy Nut Butter provides a break from the sugar, sits nicely in the stomach and has a soft and digestible texture.

  • Roam Energy Nut Butter | 3 15 and 30 Pack | Mix Flavours
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 9 and 12 Pack | Roam
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 3, 15 and 30 Pack
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 9 and 12 Pack | Roam
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 9 and 12 Pack | Roam
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 3, 15 and 30 Pack
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 3, 15 and 30 Pack
  • Energy Nut Butter Bundle | 3, 15 and 30 Pack
  • Roam Energy Nut Butter | 3 15 and 30 Pack | Mix Flavours
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Hydration Endurance Events Roam NZ Australia

Wash your food and sports gels down with water.

You’re asking a lot of your digestive system during long ultra endurance events. Your body is in a constant state of movement, while trying to digest fuel to keep your muscles going.

Help your stomach out by improving ‘throughput’ to the intestines by sipping on water after consuming your food, especially carbohydrate-rich foods. It’s important for the intestine to receive energy/food in a measured manner, not in large chunks. For that reason, don’t wash food down with sports or electrolyte drinks! This is going to irritate your gut and add to the backlog of fuel it has to process. 

Our preference is to use two soft-flasks (~600mL capacity) - one with water, the other with electrolyte. They’re easier to fill than hydration bladders at aid stations too.

You don't need a gel before the race starts

Most sports gels have usage instructions, that include “consume one gel 5 to 15 minutes before exercise”. This is unnecessary. If you have tapered correctly before the race, you should have full muscle glycogen stores on race morning (i.e. your muscles are fuelled up and ready to go!).

These muscle glycogen stores provide on average, a few hours of energy for your race.* Consuming a concentrated form of carbohydrates close to the race start could sometimes have an opposite effect on performance. The initial rise in blood glucose levels is sometimes followed by blood sugar drop which could make you feel sleepy and tired, not something that you want as you are about to start your race.

So stick to a breakfast that you know works, and start your race. Once the race has started, it is safe to start consuming energy about 45 minutes to one-hour into the event.

Note: this depends on exercise intensity and your physique and level of fitness. For a fast marathon effort, muscle glycogen stores may last for 80 minutes. For an endurance event like an ultra or Kathmandu Coast To Coast, your muscle glycogen stores should last longer.