Sarah Sawyer_Al Andalus Multi-day Ultra marathon

I love multi-day races as for a week all you have to do is run, recover, eat, sleep and repeat. Over the last few years, multi-day racing has taken to me to Wadi Rum and Petra in Jordan, the Andes Mountains of Ecuador and Patagonia, the Atacama Desert in Chile and the mountains of Bhutan. And earlier this month I ran the 5 day/145 mile Al Andalus Ultimate Trail in southern Spain in temperatures of up to 40 degrees.

I’ve come to learn what works and doesn’t work for me in multi-day racing, especially regarding nutrition. I’m no longer the rookie who turned up at my first multi-day race with so many freeze-dried vegetarian cottage pie meals and Clif bars that 5 years later I still can’t stomach either!

As with all ultras, nutrition is a very personal thing, but whatever your choice of fuel, the same things to think about apply.

It’s all in the planning

In a self-supported multi-day race, where you have to carry all your own kit and food for the week, the race will normally stipulate how many calories you need to carry for the week. Use this as a minimum guide, but then work out how many calories you personally need to run well on. Most races I've done have required 14,000 for the week (2,000 calories a day) and I've taken about 500 calories more than this. I tend to use the bulk of my calories on the days when I'll be doing the majority of the running. If there’s a rest day I’m always tired and hungry, but knowing little running remaining, and that the finish line (and lots of food!) are within touching distance, makes it bearable.

Don’t scrimp on food or sleep

There are two things I need to run well over a number of days - food and sleep. I know I’m going to be in a calorie deficit all week, but it’s making sure I don’t fall below the line and become so calorie deficient that I can’t run well. It’s certainly worth carrying a few extra grams of food if it means the difference between running strongly each day and fading because of a lack of energy. Once you’ve done your running and eating for the day, don’t ever underestimate the recovery power of sleep - my tent mates from previous multi-day races will tell you I’m always in my sleeping bag by 7pm!

Practice makes perfect

It goes without saying that you should practice your fuelling plan in training. In a single-stage race you’re likely to have aid stations to use, however the self-sufficiency nature of multi-day racing means whatever you pack is what you’ve got to eat, so there’s nothing worse than carrying something and finding it doesn’t agree with you after a few hours of running.

Adapt to your environment

What might work for you racing at home may not work for you when racing in a different country where you're facing different environmental challenges, such as running in hot temperatures or running at altitude. I know I always struggle to eat solid foods when I'm racing and I've found this even more when I'm racing in hot countries. This is where Longhaul has been brilliant as it gives me real food, but with none of the digestion issues I have with solid food. Also be mindful that if you're running at altitude or in very cold temperatures then you'll burn more calories than you will at sea level so plan accordingly for this.

Variety is the spice of life

I learnt the hard way that taking seven identical freeze-dried meals didn’t do much for my appetite! Nowadays I always take a mix of food, and a combination of savoury and sweet stuff as I know I’ll crave different types of food at different times.

You can follow Sarah's adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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Photos courtesy of James Goldsmith.

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