Even ultra-runners themselves admit it: running extremely long distances is not for everyone. There’s not many who would argue that your average ultra marathoner is a little off his rocker – heck, you’ve got to be to enjoy your own company for that long while simultaneously enduring that much suffering. But want to know what’s even weirder? What they eat while they’re doing it. Famous running writer Chris McDougall said that ultra marathons are 'eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in’ – because to win a race, or even complete it, you’ve got to have great nutrition – during the run. So we talked to a few friends to find out what they’re stuffing their face with during an ultra – and why sometimes, weird works.
1. Beef jerky, African style
Weird rating: 3
Why it works: protein in a lighweight package
How to eat it while running: open mouth, chew thoroughly
When he’s on a multi-day run in the Drakensberg Mountains, Ryan Sandes likes to have biltong and droëwors with him – the South African version of beef jerky, which is popular among runners. The salty snacks are lightweight, but full of protein and fat that the body can use to replenish depleted reserves.
2. Candy, candy and more candy
Weird rating: 9
Why it works: sugar = quick energy, mental boost!
How to eat it while running: unwrap and snack, don't litter
American ultra-runner Jax Mariash Koudele just finished the Atacama Crossing, one of the toughest races in the world. You'd think she'd be into the latest and greatest in energy gels and snack bars – but no. Her go-to snack? Pay-Day candy bars, Swedish Fish (kind of like gummi bears) and Starburst taffy. She also says she knows people who eat Pop-Tarts, an American brand of frosted and fruit-filled biscuits that most modern moms would call 'junk food'. You wouldn't think candy and ultra-running work, but when you run that much, you eat anything you want.
3. The monster-run Mash
Weird rating: 6
Why it works: carbs and calories + salt
How to eat it while running: like a caveman, we guess? spoons are extra weight
What else works for Ryan Sandes? He keeps it simple with some mashed potatoes – but then augments with high-calorie olive oil and parmesan cheese for a little bit of flavour (and more calories). Throw it in a ziploc bag and start running.
4. The not-so-smooth smoothie
Weird rating: 9
Why it works: easy to make, doesn't spoil, calories, calories, calories
How to eat it while running: we have no idea
This one will make you say 'what?!' – in fact, it was the recipe that inspired this story. Christian Schiester says, "On a stage race, I carry a bottle of olive oil into which I've mixed nuts, corn and dates. After a week it's not very tasty, but it contains a lot of calories!" The weird mix helps him plenty during 260km, non-stop runs across the desert. Apparently he got the trick from the desert-crossing Bedouins. Better than sand, we guess.
5. Salty snacks from the sea
Weird rating: 8
Why it works: low-impact salt delivery
How to eat it while running: they're like potato chips – grab a handful and chew
In Japan, those who do the run around Mt Fuji often bring along dried seaweed and dried fish chips as a snack. It's lightweight, and does a good job of easily delivering salt, which needs replenished during long, hot, sweaty runs. We're not sure how western stomachs would handle this, but to each his own.
6. Raw fish – as in sushi
Weird rating: 8
Why it works: pure protein
How to eat it while running: skip the chopsticks, slow down, use fingers
On that same race, aid stations will be stocked with, yep, that's right, sushi. It's pure protein, and let's be honest, pretty tasty – so theoretically, it's great – assuming you can stomach raw fish. And if you're worried your sweaty fingers can't hold chopsticks, don't be – in Japan, sushi is usually eaten by hand anyways.
7. Bone broth
Weird rating: 5
Why it works: protein in a lightweight package
How to eat it while running: slow down, slurp quickly
This isn't your gramma's chicken soup – although it's not far off. Grab a bag of bones from your nearest butcher, and set 'em to simmering with some veggies added for flavour. You'll get a calcium and magnesium rich broth good for keeping muscles and bones healthy – or replenishing fluid and salt during a race. The inconvenient part? It's heavy – so it's most often found at aid stations.