Sue, Jim & Cody on the 14,433' summit of MT Elbert, CO - The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains


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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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“Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.”  
- Mark Twain

Fuel for the REALLY  long run!

It is estimated that thru-hikers on the AT require approximately 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day to maintain enough energy to complete the Trail. For most thru-hikers, it’s a “losing” battle – losing weight, that is. It's tough to eat that much!

Even though I'll be carrying less weight than the thru-hikers, I might burn even more calories than a person of similar stature because I'll be going faster. I can't imagine how I'll get all that food down!  I'm a person who likes to "graze" all day long rather than eat three large meals. On this adventure run I'll have only two "real meals" each day - breakfast and dinner.

Although I could stand to lose about five pounds right now (I put on some weight last year before and after my foot surgery), I should be at a good "race weight" by the time I start this adventure run. It will be interesting to see if I can maintain a healthy weight for four months during the run. I simply can't imagine consuming 5,000 calories a day. Although I don't "count calories," I'd guess that's at least double what I usually eat.

I'll record my weight at the start of this adventure run and monitor it periodically as I head north if I look like I'm losing too much. I'm not even going to try to count calories. I'll consume what my brain and body tell me they need, and hope I can maintain a healthy weight to give me the energy I need week after week. I can probably lose up to fifteen pounds before I look emaciated.

What I'm anxiously awaiting is that first glorious moment in each really good training build-up when my body feels light and my running feels effortless, like I’m gliding over the trails. I'll let you know when that happens! 

Ahh . . . "Happy feet.” Coach Roy Benson used that term to warn runners about starting races too fast, but I use it in a positive connotation.


Eating "real food" during an ultra sometimes causes gastro-intestinal problems for me in hot weather, but most of the time I can eat whatever looks good to me at aid stations and my body doesn't rebel. I've learned to eat what I crave at times like this (salty foods, fruit, whatever)..

My real problem with solid foods during races is the TIME it takes to eat solid foods at aid stations or along the trail. It is easier for me to get the majority of my calories from energy drinks and gels that I can consume frequently as I run or walk. If you read Preps7 and 8, you already know that time is my nemesis in long ultras (is "long ultra" redundant??)

Electrolyte dosage can also be a challenge because of so many variables during an ultra or long training run. I used to suffer from water retention and swelling during 100Ks and 100-mile races, especially in the heat. I’ve gone ten or more hours in a couple races without peeing. This is not ideal!! 

After switching to electrolyte capsules with less sodium in them (Endurolytes) several years ago, I've pretty much gotten the swelling under control. I don't have much problem with cramping or GI distress, either.

This all bodes well for my adventure run, although it's on a grander scale. I don’t anticipate any major digestion problems because I'll be treating each day like a long training run, using mostly products I've used successfully before, and eating a normal (although much larger) breakfast and dinner in the camper.

If I do encounter any nausea or other digestion problems, it will be easier to adjust what I’m eating and drinking than during a race. That’s another big advantage of having the camper to use as our home base – if something doesn’t "sit well" today, I can try something different tomorrow.

GOING LIQUID                                                                

Since I've had success using a mostly liquid diet in 50- to 100-miler races, I’m going to try this method while I’m running on the Trail. It will allow me to carry less weight, digest calories more efficiently, and save time.

My primary source of calories will be Hammer Nutrition's Perpetuem, an energy drink that contains proteins and fat as well as carbohydrates.  It is recommended for runs over two hours in duration.  For variety, I will also use their Sustained Energy drink and maybe some leftover Clip 2 from Succeed.

I can use "Perp" and Sustained Energy three ways, which gives me some flexibilitypre-mixed in a water bladder, pre-mixed in a bottle + carry little bags of the powder, or put a concentrated solution in a gel flask and take it periodically with plain water from the bladder in my pack.

I like Perpetuem's flavor as it is. Sustained Energy is best if flavored with gel. Clip 2 can be drunk as is, but I prefer it with a little Crystal Lite mixed in.

The only gel I've used in recent years is Hammergel because it works the best for me of any gel I've ever tried. I like most of the flavors. I will use it with water as an alternate energy source, and to flavor Sustained Energy.

It is critical that I get the necessary calories and nutrients right after I finish each day's run, too. I've learned to do that after ultras (especially 100-milers) and long training runs (especially long doubles). I've used Endurox 4 most recently and other less effective products before that. During this run, I want to try Hammer's Recoverite to see if it works even better.


I don't know of anyone who has fueled a four-month long athletic endeavor with liquids as their main energy source. Hammer Nutrition sponsors cyclists and adventure races who compete up to a couple of weeks, but I think I may be in uncharted territory here. (That's kinda fun, you know? Experiment of one, and all that.)

If I find that these products are adequate as my main energy source day after day after day for weeks on end, I can take less solid food with me as I run – things like turkey or p & b sandwiches, my favorite nutrient-dense “harvest” muffins, energy bars, Snickers, etc. – and consume the majority of “real” foods in the camper before and after running.

My plan is to eat a large breakfast each morning, eat an energy bar or drink Boost on the drive to the trailhead, use the drinks and gel mentioned above during the run, take only a little solid food for lunch and snacks, have a good recovery drink as soon as I get back in the truck, and eat a large supper early enough in the evening to allow me to sleep comfortably several hours later.   (See Prep17 for recipes for my favorite breakfast concoction and harvest  muffins mentioned above.)

(NOTE: I currently have no financial interest in any of the products listed in this journal. I wish I did!  If I do get a company sponsorship or discount, I will modify this page to indicate the products. Either way, I'm going to be using a LOT of energy drinks, gel, bars, and electrolyte caps on this adventure run.)

[ADDENDUM:  I'm very happy to report that as of April 7, 2005 Hammer Nutrition is helping sponsor me on this trek by offering a nice discount on their products. That will help a lot. Thanks, Hammer/E-Caps!  I promise my readers that I will be as objective as I can be as I report periodically on how well the products are working for me and how I'm using them. Even though we're all pretty much "experiments of one," maybe the information I provide will be helpful to some other runners and hikers.]


Two food groups sorely lacking in the average back-packer’s diet are dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables. I already eat large quantities of these foods, and should be able to continue doing that on the trek since we have a refrigerator and freezer in the camper.

Since I started running, my diet has been top-heavy with carbohydrates. I eat a lot of whole grain foods – breads, cereals, the muffins I mentioned, pasta, and brown rice. I eat an adequate amount of protein, but it’s not my favorite food category. I eat eggs, poultry, seafood, and some red meat, as well as vegetable sources of protein. I don’t eat much fat or junk foods.

The less I tinker with my normal diet, the fewer problems I should have. I’ll definitely need MORE of everything, though, including more protein to maintain muscle tissue.

And I should be able to indulge more in items I love to eat but avoid in “normal life” because they are full of fat and empty calories – like chocolate and ice cream! Yippee!! 

A “cool” Trail tradition is trying to eat ½ gallon of ice cream to celebrate achieving half the distance on the AT. Although constant trail relocations mean the halfway mark also changes, the original sign is in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. Hikers who can down ½ gallon of ice cream in one sitting receive a commemorative wooden spoon and become members of the “Half Gallon Club.”

As much as I love ice cream, NO WAY can I eat that much in one sitting, even on a hot day when I’m ravenous! That’s about 3500 calories, by my estimation. I’m a grazer who prefers to eat small quantities of food multiple times a day.

But it will be fun trying to join the club anyway!


My intention is to carry as much of my own fluids as possible and treat spring or creek water only if I think I’ll run out. This might be naïve, considering I’ll be running in a lot of heat this summer and guzzling a LOT of fluids. I’ll be acclimating, learning how much I need, and adjusting fluid consumption as I go. 

Rule #3 = be flexible and adapt!

My main water source will be the 100-oz. bladder in my Camelbak H.A.W.G. pack. I want to keep it solely for water.

I haven't used energy drinks in a bladder very often because the bag, tube, and nozzle can get gross and are difficult to clean. I have a spare 70-oz. bladder I can use for my energy drinks, or I can carry a bottle in one hand and refill it from the water bladder or springs/creeks. My pack has room for two bladders.

Water purification is necessary along the entire Trail. The ATC guidebooks make that perfectly clear (pun intended). I’ll use Potable Aqua and Aqua Mira on this trip. I don’t want the weight or fuss of a container-type water purifier.

Of course, if I end up with Giardia, I could be persuaded to change my mind!


Another source of food and beverages along the Trail are the serendipitous gifts called “trail magic,” edible and liquid surprises left (usually near trailheads) by “trail angels” who live in the area, former thru-hikers, or just Friends of the Trail.

Every thru-hiker’s journal I’ve read describes random acts of kindness by total strangers along the AT – coolers stashed with ice and beverages, home-made cookies or other goodies, candy, and other treats sure to brighten a hiker’s (or runner’s) day.

In some instances, the trail angels are right there handing out sandwiches or even grilling hamburgers for whoever is hiking by that day! Other times, food or drinks are left in conspicuous places for thru-hikers to find, sometimes with notes of encouragement, almost always anonymously..

I wonder if this delightful tradition exists on other long trails?

This should be fun to experience, and Jim and I will definitely reciprocate since we’ll have our truck for travel and camper for storage of items that we can share with the other thru-hikers.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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© 2005  Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil