Cold weather endurance racing requires a totally separate set of rules compared to races in the summer. The temperatures at the sub-arctic latitudes in Yellowknife pose risks of frostbite and hypothermia. While it is vital to manage sweat effectively, it is also a lot more work for your body just to stay warm. Then throw in the fact that at the Rock and Ice Diamond Ultra you're pulling a 30 lb pulk (sled) behind you, making your body work harder still. Plus, you’re doing this for six days to cover 225km, making all of the effects cumulative. The bottom line is: you need to consume a heck of a lot of calories.
The countdown is on until we head north, so I'm now trying to fine tune what I'll be dining on for the six days of the race. Most athletes at Rock and Ice rely heavily on dehydrated camp meals in the evening. They are quick and convenient with just having to add hot water. Camp foods have improved a great deal in terms of taste and nutritional value over the past few years. Of course, pasta meals work great, but I also found it helpful last year having something with a bit more protein like a rice and bean combo. I usually found that two packages of camp-food were adequate each night. Instant potatoes are also good if you need something extra. The packages usually say ‘good for two servings’ but that is a little misleading as you are burning so many calories during the race. Adding extra chunks of butter to meals is another way of boosting caloric and fat intake. I am also planning to take cheese curds with me this year. Other things that I will include in the evenings are chocolate (ie. Rolo pieces are easier to break off when frozen and can be sucked on) and nuts. Macadamia nuts are awesome as they are very high in calories and fat, and have the added benefit of being very lightweight. Hot chocolate is also a nice treat in the evening after a cold day on the trail.
For breakfast, I will go with instant oatmeal and soft wraps with peanut butter/honey. On the third day of the K-Rock race last year, I found that I needed some extra calories, so had a pasta breakfast and ended up having my best day of the race. Another good reason to pack some extra instant meals.
Fuel during the actual race is vital. I will eat a lot of the same stuff that I would normally eat during any other long race. I’ll use energy gels regularly; warming them up in my mitts before eating. Sports bars don’t work well in the winter as they freeze up and are impossible to eat without breaking a tooth. Granola bars (Nature Valley type) are good long burning forms of energy and are easy to break off pieces in the cold. You could also suck on pieces of chocolate, but I found that alternating between gels and granola bars work quite well. If I find that I needed something more substantial, then I’d eat some Macadamia nuts or have a soft wrap with PB.
Hydration in the cold can also be a very difficult thing to master, as water bottles freeze up easily during the race. To prevent this, I will use an insulated water bottle cover and put one of those convenient ‘instant hand warmers’ in the bottom of the cover at the start of the day. This should provide enough heat to keep the bottle from freezing.
My six days of meals on the trails near Yellowknife might not sound like fine dining, but you can bet that the thought of that first pizza and beer at the end of the race will be enough to inspire me to get to the finish line as quick as possible. And speaking of fine dining, the World's Best Fish and Chips are reported to be served at Bullock’s restaurant in Yellowknife. I didn't get a chance to try their arctic char last year, but I'm told that it's so good that I will be tempted to turn in my Vegetarian badge.