How are the pros fueling for big endurance races like the Leadville 100?
Athlete Stories

HPT Athlete Interview: John Gaston

Firstly, tell us about your history in Ski Mountaineering (Skimo) racing.

I grew up as an active kid to be sure. From a very young age, my dad taught us to ride mountain bikes, dirt bikes, and ski. My brother and I both went out to UCBoulder and kept skiing.

It all came from the action sports side of things. I mean, I was not a fan of going up hills as a kid. I would, I was small and that helped me go fast compared to some friends…but I was kind of a typical teenager who, whether it was a bike or skis, would take the chairlift option any chance I could.

After college, I moved out to Aspen full-time. That first or second winter I was here, I actually broke my back while skiing. While I was on the couch, my brother who had become sort of a trail guide for one of the backcountry touring outfits in Aspen, got into Skimo racing – I had never heard of it. I just thought it was the silliest thing in the world. But, just coincidentally, that was the same winter that Solomon launched their episode series Ks Quest, which follows Killian Ette.

The very first episode of the first season intro started off, um, following him in, uh, the Pier Mentor Race, which is like the Tour de France of Skimo. There were just these helicopter shots of these guys in bright spandex and what looked like glorified cross-country skis running through these mountains, up and down. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I thought it was so cool. So when I was coming back from this back injury, I sort of went off the deep end.

I had some early success in the US Skimo scene primarily because no one could ski. A lot of those guys are coming from either cycling, cross-country skiing, or trail running backgrounds. So they had the engines, but they just did not have any of the downhill technique. But, you know, my first five years or so in the sport, I would go over to Europe and would just be [pack-filler]. It took me a little while to really come to the realization that if I actually wanted to make this work at any type of elite level, I had to start building that base all these guys had.

What brought you to the endurance cycling scene?

I do spend most of my summer sort of just logging big hours [on the bike]. Generally, I do mix in a bit of running, hiking, and roller skiing as well.

With Leadville as like a focus for this year, in particular, I did put most of that on the back burner. At least for that month before Leadville, I cut most of the cross-training out just so I could do a proper five-week build towards Leadville.

Because of my background, I was always going to come [at skimo] from the mountain bike side things. This means from a training [perspective], a lot of my training is very similar, at least from a periodization and a polarization point of view, to cycling.

I do a lot of hours –a lot of really easy training– and then some super hard training. I think cycling is a huge compliment to my Skimo. I mean, to the point where I wouldn't be able to compete at the level I do in Skimo if it wasn't for all the hours I put on a bike.

Has been anything specific about your lifestyle that has kept you balanced and made a difference in your success?

Well, I don't know how balanced and healthy I actually always am. I definitely seem to crash and burn sometimes, too. I'd like to think at this point I'm like mature enough and I've been around the block enough that I have my volume dialed in and whatnot, but I'm probably as guilty as most and sometimes bite off more than I can chew.

I think more than anything, it's my family (a wife and three kids). So that, by default, makes me kind of have to prioritize my time a lot more efficiently than a lot of other people.

I only really started getting fast once I had kids. A lot of that is because, as I touched on earlier, I started way late and behind the ball. [So when I did start a family], all the sessions had to be put into perspective of what you're sacrificing, whether that's work or family time. As a result, I think I use my training time really efficiently compared to a lot of people. I definitely always make sure to have a purpose for every single session I do going out the door, whether it's an easy day or a hard day, just because you are giving up something pretty crucial to do those hours.

The flip side of that is that sometimes I do get a little bit too hyper-focused. I need to step back and press pause on the watch or the bike computer at the top of a mountain and just chill out for five minutes to remember why we all got into this in the first place.

What changes –in terms of training and fueling– did you make for Leadville this season?

I raced Leadville in 2013, 14. Then, I kind of took a hiatus and jumped back in 2019 and again this year. In those early days, my only goal was to break seven hours, and at the time, it just seemed impossible.

In 2019, it was the typical story of like “pull into to Powerline on the way back and the lights just went off – so the last hour and a half of that 2019 race haunted my dreams for two years, to the point where I thought that I didn't want to do it again. I just didn't think I could ever overcome that [situation] where everyone's got legs for four hours and then it's ‘what can you do after that?’

You can really hurt yourself in that race with poor fueling and pacing strategies that you can't overcome with just pure fitness. I don't have the legs on paper to beat most of the guys in the top 10 that I did. But, as a result, I probably focused even more on trying to dial in my hydration and fueling just to like the absolute nth degree. And it worked.

So, I kept it very simple. I went with Neversecond because it's just so simple. They make it so easy to adjust your hydration and fueling both for the duration of the race and also within the race for the temperature swings and subsequent sweat rates that change as a race goes on.

My plan was just dead simple: I was going to take four 30g increments per hour. That could be two scoops of C30 in a bottle and two gels or, for example, up Columbine when it was colder, it was three scoops per bottle for 90g in the bottles and one gel per hour. You could mix and match; so as I started sweating more later in the race when the temperatures heated up, I was diluting the bottles more to get more water and doing more gels.

I had so much sodium on board that I could drink that as needed basically to thirst and never have to worry about any kind of hyponatremia or anything. It worked out brilliantly. I was carrying ~two pounds extra from the bike and a ~pound and a half water bottle, too. While that was hard to swallow at times, I'm glad I committed to that strategy because it did pay off, in a big way.

What’s an ideal training day for you?

My ideal day would never be intervals. I have a lot of structured training and I'm really good at knocking it out alone. I’d definitely prefer a “soul ride” or something – I don't do enough of them. I'd take the head unit off my bike and I won't ride to power – I'll just ride. I'll ride as hard as I want to ride or as easy. I'll stop, chill out, snap photos of the leaves and hopefully meet up with a few friends along the way and just plan a route. A few of those rides in the fall really go a long way towards reminding me why we love this sport.

The best days are always when you can actually get out for a proper tour in the backcountry with a few friends with no plan, no zones to hit, no targets for time or power – just sort of step back, take a breath, and remember why we got into this sport in the first place. I think a lot of us are guilty of not doing enough of those.

John’s Favorite Products:

Neversecond

SIS Beta Fuel

Skratch Horchata

Feed Formulas (daily, gut, recovery)


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The Feed. / Thursday, October 6, 2022