Ultrarunning: a calorie consumption contest

  • This was printed in September of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 68th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

An ultramarathon, any race longer than 26.2 miles, is more of an eating contest than a

race — or so I’ve read. That’s good, because I love food.

Now if only I can keep thinking, “This is an eating contest. It’s all just an eating contest,”

as I run 50 miles of technical trail — and ignore the screaming from my legs and lungs —

I’ll be just fine.

The San Joaquin River Trail 50-mile and 50K race is set for Nov. 15, and it will be my

first attempt at an ultramarathon.

Madera runner Audrey Crow, being much more ambitious than I am, decided to sign up

for the 50-miler shortly after we paced our coach and friends in the American River 50-

mile endurance run in April. I told her we should just wait until next year’s AR50, but

she wanted to do one this year.

I did what any good friend would do and signed up right after her.

SJRT50, with 9,000 feet of elevation gain, will be twice as hard as AR50. Our trail is

rockier and climbs higher, and we are not allowed to have pacers, or friends to run

alongside or behind us, as the AR50 runners do.

Every time we run a portion of the San Joaquin River Trail, Audrey and I look at each

other and say, “What did we get ourselves into?”

We finished 15 miles of the trail on Saturday and couldn’t imagine having to run another

35 miles. We were tired, physically beat and hungry. I had forgotten that it was an eating

contest and had only consumed one energy gel and one Fig Newton.

We marathoners (short distance runners compared to ultramarathon beasts) are used to

gulping down a few energy gels, like Gu, Clif Shots, PowerBar Gels, or Hammer Gels to

replenish our bodies’ carbohydrates and the glycogen in our muscles. We can run 26.2 on

a mixture of sugar, water, and some electrolytes.

Ultramarathoners, however, burn so many calories over the course of a race that they

must consume more than just simple carbs. According to Runner’s World magazine, an

ultrarunner will burn 400 to 600 calories per hour, but the body can only absorb 240 to

280 calories per hour. Eating early and often during the run will sustain a person enough

to keep them from “bonking.”

The AR50 race aid stations were stocked with every snack imaginable, from candy to

chips, pretzels to fruit, and hearty things like boiled potatoes and chicken noodle soup.

Water and electrolyte beverages were provided, but many of the runners were reaching

for one of the dozens of soda varieties available, especially ginger ale.

Runners left the aid stations with food in their mouths and food in each hand, plus some

more food stuffed in pockets and pouches for good measure.

An all-you-can-eat-buffet every five miles? This is something I can get into!


For those who want a little taste of trail running, the first Pincushion Hill Climb will be

held Saturday, Sept. 13 at 8 a.m., which, like the 50-mile and 50K, is hosted by the San

Joaquin Running Team. The race’s slogan, “One mile. Straight up,” couldn’t be truer.

The race starts at the San Joaquin River trailhead at the South Finegold picnic area, where

Sky Harbour Road dead-ends six miles north of Table Mountain Casino. From there it

climbs about 1,000 feet in elevation over one mile to the top of Pincushion Mountain.

Race registration is $25 and includes a bib and custom race koozie. T-shirts are available

for purchase. There will be cash prizes for the top three male and female finishers, and

also awards three-deep for each 10-year age group, team, and in the Clydesdale/Athena

category. Register at sanjoaquinrunning.com.

I’ve ascended Pincushion twice so far. Although it’s a doozie of a climb, the breathtaking

views from the top are well worth it. I hope to see some Maderans out at the race!


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