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Gray's Peak: Fueling for an Alpine Trail Run

Off the Beaten Path

By Brandon Dyksterhouse
October 6, 2013

[Placeholder]Gray's Peak: Fueling for an Alpine Trail Run | Off the Beaten Path

Here at The Feed we try and sneak out of the office every once in a while to enjoy our beautiful surroundings.  On Wednesday, I (Brooks) and another soigneur at The Feed, Tally, went on a trail run.  Not just any run, but an alpine adventure up one of Colorado’s many 14ers, Gray’s Peak.  Gray’s is the highest peak on the Continental Divide and it's only about 1.5 hours from our office.  The run was a mere 7.5 miles  but with 2800 feet in elevation gain, topping outed out at 14,270 feet above sea level.

Alpine trail running can be quite precarious, especially when you're running above 14,000 feet in such a harsh environment.  As Inigio said in his blog, performance at altitude is an entire different ballgame.   Breathing gets shallow, you become hypoxic, and  reaction time is slower.  This is where proper hydration and nutrition come into play, without it we could become delirious and make potentially fatal decisions.

With all this in mind, what do you eat during an alpine trail run?  First its hard to estimate how long a run like that is going to take. You have to keep in mind trail conditions, weather and the way your legs feel that day.  On Gray's we came across a lot of snow and crummy trail conditions that forced us to walk certain sections making the duration a little longer than estimated.  It's always smart to pack a bit more food than you think you need.

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Here is what I ate:

We started around 11 am which is right around the time most people start getting hungry for lunch.  I consumed an SiS Go Gel right before I started running.  This was the first time I have used this gel and was very pleased.  It’s perfect for running because it’s isotonic, which means you don’t need water to help absorb the nutrients and get the energy to your muscles.  This really helps to avoid that full feeling you get when drinking too much water before a run.  The gel gave me quick, but sufficient energy to get going.

About 45 mins into the run I started to get hungry, not bonking, but I knew it was time to eat.  I always carry Bonk Breaker Bites with me during long trail runs.  With only 125 calories in the PB&J bar, it gives you good long term energy without that feeling of being full.

40 mins later, we summited and I was already hungry again.  Running up a mountain takes a lot of energy out of you!  The last thing you want to do is bonk at 14,270 feet with a long walk back to the car.  With that in mind, I ate a package of Honey Stinger Cola chews.  One, they taste amazing (even more at altitude) and two, they are easy to digest which is better on your stomach this far into a run.

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Down the mountain we go.  It’s easy to argue that downhills can be one of the most challenging parts of a trail run.  Not because it takes more effort, but because it requires full attention to foot placement and focus on your line.  This is where caffeine gels come into play.  About 30 mins into the downhill I stopped to take a Clif Mocha gel.  The caffeine is crucial to keeping focused and avoiding a misstep, which could easily lead to a broken ankle or worse.

As for the OH SO IMPORTANT Hydration!  I always carry a running specific pack that has two 21 oz bottles filled with Skratch Labs Lemons and Limes mix.  Its always important to stay hydrated, especially at high altitude.  You lose water from increased breathing and evaporation from the body since it is so dry.  I take sips of water every couple minutes to make sure I stay adequately hydrated.  21 oz of water an hour seems like a tall order while running, but at altitude it is absolutely essential.

Have any questions? Email me at brooks@thefeed.com.