I first came across UCAN in 2016. I was training for my first Ironman Wales 15-20 hours a week and was a little concerned about the amount of sugar I was going through on the bike. My coach mentioned I could try ‘super starch’.. Back then I had very little experience in triathlon racing and training. ‘Surely all good athletes just swig sugar drink’s, take gels and go fast?’ I thought. That year I stuck to the sugars as I was unsure of whether trying something so different that I knew nothing about would be a good idea.
I made my way around Ironman Wales (2016) consuming around 260 calories an hour on the bike, eating malt loaf, energy bars and sports drinks. In fairness, despite unzipping unwrapping –eating- zipping almost constantly for over 7 hours, my little picnic got me round the course. However, it didn’t sit easy in my stomach and my carefully planned nutrition strategy went out the window after around 5 hours when I experienced flavour fatigue and my sensitive taste buds refused any more sugar. I felt quite extreme highs and lows on the tough hilly bike course. I completed Ironman Wales 2016 in 12.48.
I was happy- I had cracked the Ironman, but I had not cracked the nutrition, I felt the story wasn’t over yet and I needed to give it another go.
I knew there must be another way to fuel, and that winter I went back to the drawing board. My ideal would be to find a sugar free, unflavoured carbohydrate. It needed to be quick to consume, easy to digest and not too bulky to carry. At this point I stumbled back into the mystery super starch and was excited to see a female pro Darbi Roberts had fuelled on UCAN for Ironman Wales 2016 and won. I was intrigued.
I decided to go for a selection pack of UCAN flavours as I didn’t want to miss out! I remember going out on my first; long rides of the year experimenting with my flavour fatigue saga and working it all out. Unfortunately my sensitive taste buds rebelled again against the sweeter flavours. I was feeling the benefit but I just couldn’t train my body to take sweet flavours for so long. I anxiously ordered a plain flavour tub, knowing it would be my last resort.
The plain flavour tasted best to me, which was great but working out the quantities but it wasn’t an easy ride. It took me a good few weeks of heavy training- long rides, brick sessions, long runs, swimming, hiking all at different intensities, successes and failures to work the quantities my body needed to sustain 20-30 hours a week of training and a physical job in the mountains. A few times I got it wrong, and didn’t take enough out, or I would think I had sorted it but then upped the pace and needed more. I read, I asked, I tried again.
By the time Ironman Wales came, We had almost nailed it. I would drink 1 scoop/ serving with 100ml of water before the swim, another after the swim then every 40 min on the bike. I had a fresh ready-made bottle in my personal needs bag and swapped it at 70 miles. I calculated how many sips I would need to consume each serving and make it watery enough to fit through the teat of my bottle but not take up too much space.
I bought soft bottles for the run and carefully weighed and measured each one to make sure the consistencies would be the same each time I trained so that my body knew exactly what energy was coming.
On 10th September 2017 on a stormy day my UCAN strategy was put to the test. I completed my 2.4 mile swim in 1hr 03. I had a UCAN stashed in my T1 bag which I drank whilst I changed into my bike gear to save carrying extra on the bike. I stuck to my fuelling plan to the minute, not worrying and thinking back to some good strong training sessions I had completed.
My head space was good. Despite gales, flooding, torrential rain and cold wind my mind stayed positive, I had no dips in energy and smiled on every hill which I had struggled to climb in the previous year. My hands were not sticky and I had no wrappers blowing around in my pockets contend with. I finished my 112 mile ride with 2000m ascent and made my way into transition.
Here, I took another serving in a mini bottle, ready prepared in T2 in anticipation for the hilly marathon which was to come.
I ran the first lap in good time cruising past all of the feed stations except to get some water. I was anxious about approaching the personal needs station during lap 2. What if they couldn’t find my bag? What If my UCAN had fallen out or leaked? What would I do? But it worked perfectly. The fantastic marshal handed me my bag, I thanked her and I quickly stuffed the soft flask marked LAP 4 into my pocket and continued to run beginning to drink my LAP 3 serving. I sipped water at the next feed station as I needed to be careful not to become dehydrated so close to the end.
Although I felt mentally exhausted during the third lap, my body felt strong and I knew my UCAN was working. By lap 4 I picked up the pace, I was well on my way to an Ironman PB and still had fuel in the tank. I focused my mind to get up the desperately challenging hills using mental and physical strategies I had learned. As I collected my fourth band I knew all I had to do was give everything I had to run the last 4 miles to the finish. At the feed station I took a little bit more water, but still felt no need to use the energy offered at the stations. I ran through the streets blown away by the crowds cheering louder and louder and past my little support crew who had been out there all day. I finished Ironman Wales with a new PB of 12.32 4th in my AG. Nearly 13 hours of hard racing and not a gram of sugar.
I was elated and so proud that the nutrition plan we had worked on so hard, had proved itself!
I became an ambassador for UCAN in 2017 as I want to be able to support others who like me are not satisfied with using sugar based energy during endurance racing.
I believe everybody’s requirements are unique, but we can share our experiences to work out what works for us. I enjoy a balanced carbohydrate, protein and fat diet which works very well for me, and using UCAN during my endurance training complements this. I am continuing to further develop my UCAN nutrition strategy to meet my endurance needs in 2018 and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.
Katy is 30 years old and lives in Snowdonia National Park. She is coached by Ironman Legend Mark Kleanthous . Katy has raced 2x Ironmans, 2x half Ironmans, a sub 3.30 marathon, a 1.34 half marathon and various long distance swim and swim run events. Katy works full time as a mountain sports and open water swim coach @katynelsoncoaching. She has climbed at an altitude of 4000m, cycled the length of Ireland and walked across Spain. ‘I just love going a long way’ she says.