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Strapping on the Feed Bag - Eating for 8 days in Africa

Lists and planning, planning and lists. It seems never-ending in the lead-up to the 2017 Cape Epic. It can feel overwhelming at times as there's a lot to plan for an 8 day stage race halfway across the world, so as we go through our planning and preparation as the race quickly approaches, we're going to share our plans and strategies that will hopefully propel us to another successful finish.

Today, it's all about

The Cape Epic is great in that buffet breakfasts and dinners are served every day of the race, as well as well-stocked aid stations along the route. However, an 8 day endurance mountain bike race is not the time to stray from your usual habits. If you're not fueling with marmite sandwiches regularly while training (and really, who is? I hadn't heard of the stuff until I was in Africa last), it's probably not a good idea to start shoving them down during your big race.

Our aim last time was to stay relatively self-reliant for on-bike food and drink, while supplementing with the 'safe' options at aid stations that we knew would sit fine (things like small baked potatoes, fresh fruit, gummy candies and coca-cola were at every station and a tried-and-true food that I've definitely eaten on the bike at home). That approach worked wonders, and won't change much this go around.

A Typical Day of Eating at the Epic

Breakfast time

A race-provided buffet is the plan for breakfast, so we'll eat as much as we can stomach to fuel for a long day on the bike. Oatmeal, toast and cereal are safe options, while the buffet-style eggs and South Africa's take on bacon are bit more risky, we try to stomach some to up the protein intake. Oh, and a couple visits to the Woolworth's coffee cart are in order.

Coleman enjoying a 'Woolie's' coffee before the start of Stage 2 in 2015

Prepping the on-bike food

Over breakfast, we start prepping one of our main fuels for on the bike - protein peanut butter sandwiches. Out comes the jar of natural peanut butter (the oily consistency helps mix in more protein) and the bag of plain whey isolate, and get to work. We mix in as much whey isolate as we can, even adding a tiny bit of water to the mix to pack more protein in, and then slap the protein-peanut-butter in between 2 slices of bread to put in ziplocs inside our camelbaks. We'll go through 3-5 of these sandwiches a day.

Next up is the protein drink. This year, we have got bottle service at the aid stations, meaning our pre-mixed bottles will be waiting for us. We'll be drinking anywhere from 5-8 protein drinks during the day.

Then we're on to putting electrolytes into the camelbak reservoir - 4 scoops of Skratch Labs hydration mix go in to start, although that will only last to the first aid station. Inside our packs, we'll bring a bag of Skratch Labs mix to toss into our hydration bladders at each aid station when we refill, meaning we'll go through anywhere from 12-18 scoops over the course of the day.

Lastly, we toss in some emergency food that can be used if we mis-judge how much food we needed, or even just need a change-up in the food we are cramming down our throats. In the side pockets of our Camelbaks you will find some packages of Honey Stinger Chews, Skratch Labs Chews, Honey Stinger Waffles, and some emergency energy gels in case of an extreme bonk.

Out on the Race Course

While we will be eating and drinking everything mentioned above throughout the course of a day, we'll also be stocking up reserves at 2-3 aid stations on the route. A chance for some real food is a great change-up from the pre-mixed, repetitive foods that make up the core of our plan. We're careful at the aid stations to only take on foods we have used in training to avoid the risk of an upset stomach. That means I'll pass on the marmite sandwiches, but will gladly take some fresh fruit, a couple small baked potatoes, and a small cup of coca-cola.

A well stocked aid station is always a welcome sight during the day

After refueling with some of the race provided foods, we'll take advantage of the other amenities at the aid station (sunscreen, chamois cream, sunglasses wash, chain lube, and even full bike service if absolutely needed) and then head out, with the next aid station in mind.

The Finish Line

Immediately upon crossing the finish line, we will be greeted with someone who takes our bike off our hands to go wash and lube it. Then it's directly into the recovery zone, where race staff hand off cold, wet towels to wipe off the layers of Africa dust off our faces. Deeper into the shelter we go where we are handed what I can really only describe as a bag of groceries! Real food from a grocery store sponsor is a welcome change from the usual on-bike food that has been eaten over the last 10 hours. Usually this bag includes a chocolate milk or smoothie, some fresh fruit and vegetables, some nuts, and a sandwich. Even better, inside the recovery tent there's also quick takeaway hot food options, usually some sort of pasta and meat, that we'll also take, even going for 2 servings if it was a particularly hard day.

Dinner Time to Bed Time

The first few days of the Epic in 2015 were greeted with excitement in the dining tent. A buffet dinner with choices of meats, carbs and vegetables seemed to hit the spot, but as the days wore on, the heavy buffet-style food started to wear on the stomach. This is when we discovered the food trucks that followed the race, the most important of which was the taco truck. Perhaps it was just because of the scenario, but it tasted like some of the best, freshest tacos I've ever had, and it became a staple in our dinner rituals. We'd eat some dinner at the race-tent and supplement with some lighter options from the taco truck. Seemed to do the trick, and help keep things fresh during 8 days of what otherwise would be heavy buffet dinners.

After attending to any other needs post dinner, we'll wind down with a slow release protein powder mixed in with a smoothie from one of the vendors on-site. A slow release protein powder like casein keeps the midnight hunger pains away and keeps the body in full muscle recovery mode overnight. Probably the easiest part of our meal plan to overlook, but also likely the most important.

As far as what's brought from home vs sourced there, we will bring all our Skratch and supplements/protein powders from home, and source out the rest of the foods in Africa, either prior to the race, or in the race village itself. When it's all laid out like this, it starts to feel a little less daunting... As of this writing it's only 39 days to go!

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more posts on our final preperations for the 2017 Cape Epic.