What powers Geoff Roes’, Olga King’s and Rickey Gates’ long bouts on trails might surprise you.
While chomping on potato chips and slices of bacon during a race sounds unorthodox and perhaps counterintuitive to fleet-footed road runners, on the trails, anything goes. The rugged terrain, often dramatic shifts in altitude, swift shifts in temperatures and sometimes days-long competition of ultra trail races commands unique fueling strategies and a gear list that extends far past the run-of-the-mill road marathon uniform of dry-quick shorts and shirt, anti-blister socks and racing flats. Carrying a hydration pack, layering strategically, and arranging to pick up gear such as headlamps or changes of socks and shoes at drop-off points or aid stations, becomes a vital part of ultra trail race planning.
At trail races—even some whose distances don’t surpass the marathon—it’s not uncommon for aid stations to serve boiled potatoes and candy in addition to water and sports drinks. Combining sports foods with whole foods—particularly those with salt and refined sugars—during ultra races provides a balance of quicker-burning and slower-burning energy, and the sodium helps runners retain fluids. Below is a snapshot of the top-five nutrition and gear preferences of three leading trail runners.
Geoff Roes’ Top Picks
Geoff Roes, 35, of Juneau, Alaska, broke Scott Jurek’s Western States 100 course record (15:07:04) in 2010, when he closed a 12-minute gap on the leaders, passing them at mile 89 and never looking back. The former high school track and cross-country runner, who competed for only one cross-country season at Syracuse University because of injuries, boasts an impressive ultra resume, with recent wins at the Ultra Race of Champions, the Chuckanut 50K and the Iditarod Trail Invitational, where his necessities list included two pairs of gloves with mitts on top, spikes, snowshoes and gaiters, as well as Fritos, salami and Reese’s peanut butter sticks.
Geoff Roes’ Top Five Trail Nutrition Picks:
- Clif Shot gel: “I literally go through thousands of these a year. They go down smooth and provide nice, clean-burning energy.”
- Clif Kid Z fruit rope: “I got some of these originally for my girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter, and slowly started eating some myself. Over time, I started taking them on runs. Now I take at least one on almost every run I do.”
- Clif Shot Blocks: “They’re a little tough for me to digest when racing, but on slower training runs, they’re a great variety to the gel.”
- S! Caps: “Taking in electrolytes in high doses has been a huge benefit to my running, especially in the heat.”
- Chia seeds: “Soak them in water and add a touch of lime juice, and a splash of coconut milk, and carry in a small water bottle. It’s an awesome source of slower-burning energy.”
Roes’ Top Five Trail Gear Picks:
- Montrail Mountain Masochist trail-running shoes: “I have run almost every run in these shoes for about three years now. They’re great for all conditions and distances—they’re without doubt the best shoes I’ve ever worn.”
- Drymax socks: “I just ran a 350-mile race wearing one pair of Drymax socks and didn’t get a single blister. Enough said.”
- Mountain Hardwear Effusion jacket: “It’s the perfect jacket for cold or damp weather. It shields almost everything that comes its way without clamming up inside. This time of year, I wear this jacket on almost every run.”
- Ryders sunglasses: “They fit my face better than any sunglasses I’ve ever worn. My favorite models are the Shot and Hex.”
- Highgear AxioMax Altimiter watch: “It’s awesome for tracking overall vertical on runs.”
- Gels: “PowerBar gels give me the least stomach distress, compared to others.”
- Potatoes and potato chips
- Tomato or V8 juice
- Chicken bullion or chicken noodle soup
- LaSportiva Fireblades
- UltraSpire pack (no bladder)
- Ultimate Direction handheld bottles with soft nipples
- Drymax socks
- Cookie dough
- Miso soup
- Chewy fruit bars
- Nutella, banana and honey sandwiches
- Salomon skin pack: “It’s super lightweight; you hardly notice you’re wearing it.”
- Salomon fast wing jacket: “It’s lightweight and packable, and warm enough for most mountain conditions.”
- iPod: “Sometimes for long, slow, boring runs, I bring my iPod and listen to podcasts. I like Radiolab, the Moth and This American Life. If it’s really engaging, it ensures I don’t run too fast on a slow day.”
Olga Varlamova-King’s Top Picks
Olga Varlamova-King, 42, who lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two kids, was born and raised in Russia, where she ran “for fitness” in high school, but didn’t start racing until about 12 years ago. The former biomedical research scientist is now a licensed massage therapist, Yoga-Fit instructor and running coach. Although King’s not known for speed, she’s finished among the top 20 women (and ninth in 2005) at the prestigious Western States 100, and has won several 50 and 100-mile races over the past few years. When she’s training for and racing these distances on mountainous trails, King pays close attention to striking the right balance of fluids and sodium, the most vital electrolyte for runners during exercise.
Olga Varlamova-King’s Top Five Trail Nutrition Picks:
Varlamova-King’s Top Five Trail Gear Picks:
Rickey Gates’ Top Picks
Races with names like the Canadian Death Race, an event held in central Alberta whose course includes three summits and 17,000 feet of elevation change, don’t intimidate Rickey Gates. The 29-year-old mountain runner, who lives in Boulder, Colo., showed up at that 78-mile (125K) race last July—his first ultra—and won, crushing the course record by nearly 33 minutes. Gates owns the Half Dome trail running record (2:28:18) at Yosemite National Park and, when he won the 2009 Mount Washington Road Race, was only the second American to complete the course in under one hour.
Rickey Gates’ Top Five Trail Race Nutrition Picks:
Gates’ Top Four Trail Gear Picks: