Fueling and Hydration


Fuel for the 2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge

My race fuel for the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge arrived.  As I pack it away in my race vest, prepping for the coming race, I’m thinking about hydration and race day fuel.

I’ve spent much time trying to figure out the best way for me to hydrate / fuel for my training and races – either by trying different things or reading about what works for others.

I’m a runner w/Crohn’s disease, so that affects what I put in my body pre-race, and during the run.  I typically go for things that are low in fiber / carbonation the day before, and during, my race.  Those two items don’t sit well with my Crohn’s.

I love beer, but it’s not what I choose to carbo-load with.  The carbonation in it is very uncomfortable for my Crohn’s.  I’m also a big fan of Clif bars, but they don’t go near me before a race.  I’ve tried it; it wasn’t fun.  After a race, sure, they’re both usually the first thing I consume.

I’m sure things vary from person to person, but I thought it’d be worth sharing where I’ve landed.  Perhaps it helps.  Or perhaps it at least gives you some things to try – even if you’re not a runner with Crohn’s (and I’m guessing most of you aren’t).

A couple of my baseline rules are:

  1. No beer / chicken wings / Chinese / ghost pepper sauce the night before any race, or a training run longer than 6 miles.
  2. Drink water.  All the time, regardless of whether I am running the next day.  Staying hydrated makes me generally feel good.  If I’m not enjoying a Michigan beer, or a stout cup of coffee, I pretty much only drink water.

I wear a UD SJ 2.0 vest to accommodate my fuel / hydration (amongst other things – we’ll get into that in another post).  I love this vest (you can see it in the picture below).  At this point, it’s pretty much like wearing a seatbelt – I wear it on every run.


recent grocery run, featuring the Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0 vest

Training run: If I’m running less than 10 miles, I fill both bottles with water only.  I don’t need both bottles full, but I like the balance it provides having them equal weight.  My watch alerts me to drink every 10 minutes and I rotate between the bottles to evenly distribute the weight through the run.

If I’m running 10 miles, or more, I fill one, or two, bottles with two scoops of Tailwind – one caffeinated and one non-caffeinated.  Each bottle provides me with 200 calories and 16oz of hydration.  Since the calories and electrolytes are in the liquid, I don’t have to mess w/carrying gels.  Or stuffing messy gel packets in my pockets.

If it’s a really long training run, I’ll utilize the 70oz hydration pack that slides into the UD vest, and mix it at the same ratio of 200 calories per 16oz – half caffeinated and half non-caffeinated.

The combo of raspberry buzz / lemon Tailwind go together very well.

Marathon: Two 16oz bottles can’t get me through a marathon and a 70oz hydration pack isn’t very conducive to running fast.  After doing some research I found that some folks mix their tailwind to a higher concentration.  I tried this during my last marathon and it worked fabulously.

In each 16oz bottle I mixed 4 scoops (4o0 calories – again half and half) so I was carrying 32oz with me and 800 calories.  At the end of each mile I took a small squirt of liquid – alternating between bottles, again to keep them balanced.  This made the bottles last through the marathon.

I tested this ratio prior to the race to ensure my body was good with it.

However, since I wanted to drink more than 32oz over the course of the 4 hours+, I supplemented the hydration side with water at each aid station.

The bottles in the vest took care of the calories / electrolytes and the extra water from the aid stations kept me hydrated.

I ran a PR at that marathon – 3:56:58.

FullSizeRender 57.jpg

ultra setup – a stick of Tailwind in each

50k: I move slow enough during an ultra to carry the hydration pack, but I don’t – that’d be dumb with the aid that’s available.  Pre-race, I fill both of my 16oz bottles with 2 scoops of Tailwind (200 calories each bottle).  This time I mix one bottle caffeinated and one bottle non-caffeinated.  I start the race with these in my vest along with a number of Tailwind sticks.

Rather than alternate drinks in each bottle during the race, I typically down an entire bottle first.  This makes refilling one bottle, vs. two partial bottles, much easier at the aid stations.  That convenience is worth more to me than the minor imbalance the bottles create.  At aid stations, I fill the empty bottle and fill with one of the aforementioned Tailwind sticks, shake, and go.  It works out pretty quickly and stuffing the empty Tailwind packet in my pocket isn’t as gooey and sticky as an empty gel.

The Tailwind provides me the calories / electrolytes / hydration I need through the race.  So far, I haven’t had to eat anything else during an ultra.  But – I haven’t run anything farther than 34 miles yet either.

Pre-race: There are times in life I still feel like a big kid.  My pre-race dinner is one of these occasions.  I eat Kraft mac and cheese w/hotdogs.  Seriously.  It’s a bland meal, provides some extra carbs, and is comforting as it reminds me of childhood.  The salt in the hotdogs make me drink a little extra the night before the race.  It’s wondrous.

The morning of the race I get up and eat a peanut butter and jelly a couple of hours before I run.  Again, simple and bland – easy on the ole’ gut, but it helps me start the race without feeling hungry.

After that it’s me and Tailwind until the finish.  So far that’s worked out well.  We’ll get a chance to test it again in a few short days.

How do you fuel / hydrate for races?

Do you choose different methods for different distances?

What’s your pre-race meal of choice?



7 thoughts on “Fueling and Hydration

  1. Rebecca Royy

    Wow! You really have the fueling and hydration down to a science!
    Haven’t done any ultras yet, so don’t have a system there. But on long training runs I just tuck a few dollars and a gel in my shorts pocket, and run by a store for water or Gatorade! Marathon, I rely on aid stations. As you can see, I don’t really like to carry stuff with me.
    I’m with you on the beer and cliff bars. Ugh, what do they put in cliff bars that make your belly feel like its being clawed??


  2. Jen

    Helpful post! I am running my first ultra (62km) in 4 weeks and have had to start thinking more seriously about nutrition, hydration, and what to carry with me during training runs as well as on the day. I dislike the taste of most of the powder electrolytes but have forced myself to consume them – not sure I could double the concentrate though! I have the Jenny Ultimate Direction pack and love the bottles on the front as well as the pack and while like you I generally sip from the bottles evenly to make sure I am balanced, you have a good point in saying that during a race, you drink from one alone because then it is easier (and quicker) to fill up – will have to start doing that in training runs too.

    Agree with you on the no chilli the night before – I love chili spicy food and usually it doesn’t mess with my stomach, but for some reason if I have spicy food the night before a run, it does! Frustrating!


    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Hi Jen – I’m glad it helped; thank you for reading and have fun w/your first ultra!

      If you don’t love the taste of most of the drinks, Tailwind makes a naked flavor. I’ve personally not had it, but I’ve heard good things about it and enjoy the rest of the flavors I have had – Lemon, Raspberry Buzz (caffeinated) and Orange.


  3. Pingback: Race Report: 2016 Yankee Springs Winter Challenge | darkskyrunner

  4. Brad Patterson

    Good stuff on the tailwind. I use your same method for longer ultras. I found a good method for making your own “stick packs”. I buy the 2 oz TSA authorized travel shampoo bottles at meijer or target and then carry them with me. Each bottle is just big enough to hold 2 scoops of tailwind. I used this method at Marquette last year and it worked well, since we had access to our drop bags about every 10 miles. I carried two full bottles of tailwind in my vest, and then i also carried two small shampoo bottle “flasks” of mix in a belt around my waist. At each aid station, I tried to have one of my drinking bottles empty and then i refilled it from the powder in my shampoo bottle. Also, since I had the shampoo bottles in a belt pack for easy access on the run, I could get my drinking bottle filled with the tailwind before I hit the aid station (while I was still running). This meant all I had to do was top off with water and go.

    Here is a photo showing the bottles that I used at Marquette. I also used different color bottles for diff tailwind version. The pink bottles were for raspberry buzz, green bottles were for orange tailwind, and the white bottles were for naked flavor. http://roadtomarquette.tumblr.com/post/126546249177/tailwind-nutrition-filling-station-getting-all-my

    All that being said, but my race at Marquette did not go was planned. I missed the cutoff at 50K by 6 minutes and DNFd the 50 miler. Oh well, there were lots of lessons for me to take away from that race and the course was beautiful. Best of luck to you in all of your training and racing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. darkskyrunner Post author

      Great idea on the travel flasks! I had been thinking about how to prep the bottles before hitting the aid station so all I had to do was fill and go. Are you headed back to Marquette this year? I’m training to run my first 50 miler there this summer. I ran the 50k last year and loved it.



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