I recently completed my second 50k trail running race at the Smith Rock Ascent in Bend, OR. It was a girls weekend, with 3 of my friends and I road tripping it from Boise to Bend for this epic trail running experience.
Sadly, the race wouldn’t take me by a Whole Foods Market or a Trader Joe’s, so I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be able to eat during my expected finish time of around 6 hrs. What’s a raw vegan endurance athlete to do?
Though I have used Hammer gels, Clif blocks and assorted brands of energy bars in the past, I haven’t used any of those products in several years. I prefer to avoid any processed foods and added sugar.
Plus, somewhere during a 50k race is probably not the best time to reintroduce these products to my system.
Then again, carrying a bushel of organic bananas on my head or a 10lb watermelon under each arm isn’t exactly feasible when running an ultra marathon.
Since I prefer to run on an empty stomach and I complete all of my training runs this way, I didn’t eat anything prior to starting the race.
I did drop by the Whole Foods in Bend (of course) and pick up some organic Medjool dates. This is my usual choice for long runs, as they are free of any added colors or flavors, taste okay and have that portability advantage. So I wedged a dozen dates in my hydration pack the morning of the race.
I did also note the aid stations would have fruit, so I held out hope that I would, between the dates and the aid stations, have enough to make it through the race.
This plan did fly smack in the face of my own rule on self-sufficiency though. I always try to have everything I’ll need with me, just in case. This race would be an exception.
Race day and training nutrition have never been my strong point. Though I have a HUGE appetite and love, love, love eating vegan food, I really struggle with eating when I run. Mostly because I don’t like to eat when I’m not hungry (makes sense, right?) and I rarely feel hungry while running.
My running coach, the amazing Susan Loken, is often exasperated at my inability to eat on the run. But I’m equally amazed at athletes that can throw down 4 gels doing a 5k.
At the 2014 Boston Marathon I ate exactly 2 Medjool dates and a half a banana that an adorable little girl handed me shyly at mile 17. At least I think she handed it to me. She may have just been eating it. Things get blurry around that point.
Vowing to be better, at this 50k I resolutely reached into my hydration pack at around the 1 hour mark, located a date and popped it in my mouth. Clearly, resolutions are not my strong point, since that is the first and last date that I ate. For whatever reason, I couldn’t stomach eating even one more of those. Blech!
Fortunately, the energetic volunteers from Beyond Racing had both bananas and oranges at each and every aid station. Bananas were cut into chunks and oranges were fashioned into bright wedges the color of sunsets and happiness. I made a point to hang at every aid station for a few minutes, throw down some fruit, thank the volunteers, and gulp some fresh, cold water before running off down the dusty and lonely single track.
All told, I maybe ate a total of 3 bananas and a couple of oranges. So about 550 calories with the one date that I managed to choke down. Not enough calories, for sure. I know, I know.
However, I handily beat my previous 50k time by ten minutes at the Smith Rock Ascent and had a great experience! Though I did fall on my face at mile 27 and had to stop at mile 29 to let a rattlesnake slither lazily across the trail, it was all worth it when I crossed the finish line and was handed a pint glass to commemorate my accomplishment.
Nutrition remains an area needing improvement for future races. Though it’s hard to know if my limited intake of calories during races hurts my performance, I do know that I will continue to eat as cleanly and unprocessed as I can.
I continue to advocate eating vegan and eating mostly fresh, whole, unprocessed, raw fruits and vegetables.
As an endurance athlete, this lifestyle allows me to remain healthy and full of energy, even while following high mileage training weeks and resistance training.
Even if you’re not an endurance athlete, this lifestyle is worth a try!