Project Davos: How to Fuel a Nepali Ultrarunner?

The third in a series of articles about training two Nepali runners to compete in a top European trail race.

By on July 5, 2010 | 5 comments

What should I eat during an ultra? I get asked this a lot by people preparing for ultras. And it’s very important to get it right – getting it wrong can mean hours of discomfort, or even pulling out of a race.

I’ve been in the support tent enough times to see what people go for after a few hours of running. I’ve seen what works and what really doesn’t, what people gravitate towards and what picks people up. But here in Nepal, I don’t know where to start. Everybody eats two meals a day – two massive servings of rice and lentils (dal baht). If they don’t get it, or it’s late, it doesn’t slow them down, they don’t get grumpy. Something seems odd about that.

Then I saw Bed run the Annapurna 100 eating just two bananas and a small cup of chicken soup.  Eight hours is all it took him to finish. He came sixth, and a full three hours ahead of the first Westerner. Something didn’t seem right about that either. But it’s what actually happened.

Sudip Tim var der Veer Bed Nepal

Sudip, Tim var der Veer, and Bed on a training run in Nepal.

I’m convinced that if Bed ate more of the right food during training and racing he’d be faster and feel better. But first I have to convince him of that. Second, I have to find out what food works for him. And, third, I have to make sure we can get it in Switzerland for the Davos race.

So, this task is not as easy as it first seemed. I’ve taken to sending Bed out on his long training runs with 100 Nepali Rupees telling him to buy whatever he fancies and see what happens. A few experiments I thought would give us a clue about his metabolism. Will he try anything? No. He’s too worried about feeling ill, or slowing down, or even the two minutes lost it takes to stop and eat.

So here I am with a very talented runner, who can achieve amazing results even though he puts in far too little fuel. But then he’s so committed and focused in his running it’s as though the fuel doesn’t matter. Do I press him to eat more and run the risk of breaking his confidence? Do I focus somewhere else to make improvements in his ability instead? But isn’t nutrition one of the fundamentals?

I keep coming back to the fact that the way Bed eats seems to work well for him. Just because my text books (based on studying Westerners) tell me otherwise, doesn’t mean they’re right for you average Nepali villager. Especially when I’ve seen Bed run a very long way, quite fast, on just two bananas.

This is one tough call for a coach to make. But I feel that keeping his confidence, and his ability to not worry about food, is maybe more important. If we had a year to prepare maybe I’d think differently, but one thing I’ve learnt from Bed is the power of his attitude, to keep on running despite the energy he puts in. What can I do to make the most of his psychology?

Rob Cousins
a contributor to