Friday, June 07, 2013

Chicken Scurry anyone?..... Food & water at MDS Ultra

Managing rationed food and water can be tough in a self-sustaining ultra marathon like the MDS…

Food was always going to be an issue. In order to run for that many hours and with that kind of climate, the calories were critical. The challenge was to be able to carry all that I needed to eat for the whole seven days, on the back!

It was indicated that we were to carry a minimum of 2000 calories a day (there was no maximum limit) and this could not be put together just with powdered stuff (shakes, gels & complex sugars). The only way this could be achieved was to carry freeze dried food. A friend helped in securing food packets from Germany, I got 7packets of ~1000calories each, costing me about Rs.700 per packet of double serve meal. Freeze dried stuff is easy to cook, all one needs is boiling water 500-700ml and its ready eat in about 7minutes. I also picked some granola bars, cereal and digestive biscuits for snacking. I bought some packaged nuts (which was important ‘cos anything that I carried had to have nutritive value printed on it. Every calorie counts!).

I could have also taken Indian packaged instant food, but most of them require different cooking style (packet needs to be dipped in boling water), they are more volumious and there aren't any non-veg (high protein) options. And taking something like maggi is not practical or healthy enough.

Another important thing to pack was electrolytes with sugar (Gatorade), this added to my daily sugar and calory requirement and also some flavour the regular doze of salts and water. I had kept four packets electrolytes for each day (to make 2litre of drink from it), I was having them during the first half of the stage each day, and then moved completely to salt tablets which were given by the organisers, I was having about 2salt tablets every hour of the race after that.

Though we would be allowed to light up a fire for cooking purposes at the bivouac (temp camps), firewood in the dessert would be difficult to procure.

This was really bothering me as I needed at least my cup of green tea to unwind to help with the drop in evening temperatures. The one big hot meal is important for me to feel satiated. My hunt for alcohol pellets was almost about to get somewhere when a friend suggested that airlines won’t allow them. Sure enough. Back to square one then. It was going to be a hunt for wood in the dessert then!

I was in for a pleasant surprise when I discovered they were selling pellets at the portable gift shop which went with us everywhere! The alcohol pellets come with their set of challenges though. With these pallets life was lot easier and it took care of the one freeze dried hot meal of the day. But the day I had to Jasmine green tea and the chicken soup, I had to use a real fire with fire wood, this was enjoyable but a time consuming affair, as the strong desert wind/breeze made things quite difficult, plus given the driness of wood in the desert, it burnt very quickly and then increased the requirement of fire wood. It would take us about 8-10 minutes to heat water with about 4-5 alcohol pellets, and on a live wood fired setup it would take us 5minutes to boil water. 

In short cooking even pre cooked food was not easy :(

I started my day by eating a hand full of roast mixed nuts at 6.30am, followed by museli (dry without any water or milk) and about 6 diskets of Threptin. During the run I would have 2granola bars, mixed roast nuts, raisins and dates and 5 more threptins. Post the stage I would eat my double serve free dried meal of 1000calories. I was eating a little over 2k calories per day but burning about 5k calories a day!

Most participants were using free dried food, thick soups, porridge, protein shakes and powdered carbs. 

During the race, we were given between 10-12 litres of water for our daily requirement. Water distribution was split across five sessions at various checkpoints. Each morning before the start of the stage, we usually received about 1.5l. During the day, we had two-three stages and we were given 1.5 or 3l at a time depending on the difficultly of the stage and next check point. After the end of each stage, we were given 3l for the evening. Given this limited supply of water, we barely had any water for anything other than drinking. Only luxury was brushing our teeth in the morning and a 300ml water sponge bath on most days! 

My food plan for the 6day self-sustaining race.

Final food in backpack before control check -

Snickers - 32gm,  160 x 5 = 800 cals

Granola chewy bar - 25gm, 103 x12 = 1236 cals

Gatorade - 35gm, 126 x18 = 2268

Freeze dried - 357 x 2.5, 391x2.5, 428x 2.5, 418x 2.5, 357x2.5, 392 x 2.5 = 5857cals, total of six double serve meals as the big meal of the day, dinner at 6.30pm

Dates - 200gm without seeds = 616cals

Dried mixed nuts - 7oz, 168 x 7 = 1200cals

Threptin - 438 x 2.5 = 1200

Muesli - 438 cals per 100gm X 2 = 800cals

Soups - 300cals

New total = 14300cals

Total weight of food about 6.5kgs

Balance would be gear about 3.5kgs

And about 2litres of water at a time on an average.

Food for thought…

We were treated to some very good gourmand food by the organisers during the two days of acclimatization before the actual race. This included cold cuts, freshly cooked veggies and meat, plus a selection of desert and flavoured yogurt, all flown in specifically for our needs from France. In 2addition, we could choose from red wine, beer and coke, all served chilled during dinners. Quantities for all of the above were limited but enough for an average person. We were served three meals a day for these two days, ie, breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which was French, except for the local bread and couscous.

The last day was repeat performance of the first two days and trust me, food never tasted more divine! The only thing we needed now, was an unlimited buffet!

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