Eating on the Go for Adventure Racing

The dreaded bonk.  Hitting the wall.  Running out of gas.  Whatever you want to call it, you want to avoid it at all costs.  What is “bonking,” you ask?  Well, perhaps you’ve seen this video before (Warning: It’s a bit hard to watch).  While this is an extreme example, there are varying levels of “hitting the wall” that can affect you and your race which you’ll want to avoid completely if possible.

But how do you do that?  You must make sure you fuel your body properly before and during your race.  I am not a nutritionist or a dietician, so I’ll save what to eat for the experts – starting with this article on the 10 Laws of avoiding the Bonk.  What I can help you with is how to eat during an adventure race.

“But I already know how to eat,” you say.  Well, it’s not quite as simple as just opening your mouth and chewing during an adventure race.  There are, however, some ways to make sure you eat sufficiently and frequently enough while on the go.

Eating is a big part of adventure racing

Eating is a big part of adventure racing.

Most people don’t have too much trouble eating while on foot.  But sometimes, especially during a difficult orienteering section, everyone becomes so focused on finding the next Checkpoint they forget about eating.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but it happens more often than you’d think.  To help prevent this, you should consider making someone on your team – preferably not the navigator – the food/hydration monitor.  Every 30 minutes or so this person will remind the team to drink something, and every hour or so he or she will remind the team to eat something.

Your finishing time will suffer dramatically if you stop, take your pack off, and get some food out every time you need to eat, though.  Those short food-breaks can easily turn into 20 minutes or more if you’re not careful.  And asking your teammate to get food out of your pack can be a pain in the butt after a few hours.  To make eating easier while trekking or running, make sure your pack has pockets on the hip belt and/or the shoulder straps.  You’re much more likely to eat if you can get to your food quickly and without hassle.

Adventure Racing Pack with Hip Belt Pockets

Food at the ready in the hip-belt pockets.

In the canoe (or kayak, or raft, or other boat), it can also be difficult to stay on top of eating and drinking.  Your pack may not be close enough to you in the boat, or the water might be so rough it requires your full attention.  You should try to eat something substantial before starting a long paddling section as a sort of preemptive strike on hunger.  Then do your best to keep food and water close to you in the boat during the paddle.  Many Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s) have pockets to help make your food much more accessible.  And your food/hydration monitor should continue reminding everyone to eat and drink.

Many people have the most trouble eating while on the bike.  Obviously, if you’re biking on technical single track, you probably shouldn’t reach down for that bottle of sports drink or a Cliff Bar.  Most Adventure Races, however, include lots of gravel and paved roads.  This is where you can fuel your body.  You need to be able to access the food easily, though.

There are several products that make accessing your food on the bike easier.  There is the Bento Box, a box-shaped bag attached to the front of the top tube of your bike, which is popular with triathletes.  There are similar products from Revelate Designs called the Gas Tank (sort of resembling a gas tank on a motorcycle) and the Jerrycan.  Revelate Designs also makes frame bags that are extremely popular endurance gravel races such as the Dirty Kanza 200.

My favorite product for the mountain bike, however, is the Mountain Feedbag.   This attaches to your handlebar, stem, and fork completely out of the way.  It looks like it would obstruct your pedal stroke or be awkward to ride with, but I don’t even notice it’s there until I want to grab a snack.  It’s also big enough to carry a bike tool, a spare tube, car keys, or whatever.  You can open it and close it with one hand which is a huge advantage.  It’s rugged, too.  I’ve abused mine for over two years, and it’s still going strong.

Mountain Feedbag on the Mountain Bike

Please ignore the hideous mustache and notice the Feedbag on the bike.

We learned this next tip from Scott Frederickson, our friend from Team Bushwhacker.  Anytime someone on your team gets something to eat, you share it with your team.  It’s sort of an “If I eat, you eat” kind of thing.  This helps everyone remember to fuel their body, and it also adds some variety to your nutrition since everyone brings something different.  And the best thing to eat while adventure racing is what your teammates are carrying.

One final thing… Make sure you practice eating on the go.  Not only to make sure you can ride/paddle/run and eat at the same time, but to make sure your body can handle the food.  You don’t want to be 10 hours into a 24-hour race when you realize that you shouldn’t have eaten that bean burrito.  Find out what works for you in your training, and don’t try something new in a race.  That’s a recipe for disaster.