Long Runs and A Touchy Gut: The UCAN Tri Challenge

Age-group triathlete Katie Godec takes the UCAN Challenge to see if she can improve her fueling as part of her ultramarathon training.

I am a pretty typical triathlete. Slightly dehydrated, sleep deprived, and a seasoned pro at politely turning down late night drink invites because I have a date with a 6 a.m. ocean swim. My race day nutrition is always on point. Dialed in. Bonk proof. Or so I thought until I took a swig of water on mile 20 of my Ironman Santa Rosa 2019 marathon and I couldn’t keep it down. “That’s not good…” I thought. I finished that race on fumes. In an effort to avoid replicating that experience, I sought out alternate means of fueling for long-distance endurance events. I wanted to find something I could trust not only for triathlon but for ultra-marathons and Swimrun events too (yeah…I am a well-rounded kind of endurance crazy).

As fate would have it, I was invited to test my training against a new fueling system where I would train for one week with the product and one week without. Enter the UCAN Challenge. UCAN is a SuperStarch energy food that delivers steady, long-lasting energy with no spikes & no crash, is easy on the stomach, and requires less dosing than traditional energy products. The name has a nice ring to it as well. Sometimes we need all the motivation we can get. I’m sure UCAN understand.

My mission statement was clear: I wanted to find out if UCAN was going to make me feel energized and sustained throughout my weekly workouts. The UCAN Challenge required identical training for each week, so I devised a training schedule of tempo runs, trail runs, track sessions, and time on the bike that would put UCAN to the test. The first week I like to call my “dry week.” I completed the training completely devoid of UCAN products. I fueled the way I typically do (something I will get into in just a moment). Along the way, I kept a daily log of how the training began, how I felt during, and any important changes in my energy. When the second week rolled around, I was eager to test out what UCAN was made to do.

Their origin story is actually quite touching; a fueling system created by scientists to help a young, sick child in desperate need of energy that lasted. His life literally depended on it. My stakes were not as high, but if UCAN could improve my training experience even 10%, I would be impressed. I’m a triathlete but currently training for an ultra, so this block of training is more run heavy. Here is my candid recount of my “dry week.”

Week 1: “Dry Week”

Day One

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Easy 5 miler with a 1 mile “warm up.” Normal fueling for a run like this is nada. That’s a lie, I drank a cup of black coffee. But I drink a cup of black coffee every day (or three…..) so sometimes I forget to count that.

Day Two

Speed work. “Katie tries to run as fast as possible without injuring herself.” Warm up 2 miles, followed by a set of 30sec on / 30sec off (repeat 5 times). After this I did an easy jog for .5 miles and then blasted off into 2min tempo intervals x 3. In total, this shook out to about 5 miles with a little cool down. What did I eat before this workout? Have you heard of coffee?

Day Three

My favorite day. My medium-long trail run. 10 miles of bliss. Trails are my happy place. Once you go ultra marathons you don’t go back (until the trail takes your knees temporarily). I always eat before a long trail as my pace is typically slower and I need to be out there for longer. This day I had a yogurt with granola about an hour before and a bite of a Larabar literally moments before I hit the trailhead.

Day Four

Another easy fiver. In all honesty, at this point in the week I end up putting this run off until later in the day, so normally I would have eaten lunch about an hour or so before. I took this run fasted just to compare results.

Day Five

Rest day!

Day Six

My second favorite day of the week! The long run (16 miles). In this training block, my long runs were also on trail. Coming off of Ironman Santa Rosa training and ramping up into my 30k and 50k trail races means trading out a fair amount of pavement for dirt. And vert. I make sure to eat something carby before these runs and also pack a few bars with me. This day I slammed a pastry and black coffee, remembering to bring at least two larabars and an uncrustable PB&J sandwich. I took in a bar every 4 miles.

Day Seven

And on the seventh day, we bike: two-hour trainer sesh. The goal for this workout was to keep some steady state time in the saddle with 45sec Z4 intervals thrown in (45secx10). I treat bike days like long trail runs. My system can handle more nutrition front-loaded. I had half a banana and a slice of bread with peanut butter about 30min before.

Reflecting on my dry week yielded very little surprises. It was exactly what I had been doing. Notice I rarely consumed gels, or pretzels, or chips, or Coke. Yet…race day…I blow through those aid stations on the run course and find myself grabbing that stuff. It has mostly worked out for me, but I’m still weary of trying new things on race day. Overall I would say I did not ever feel ENERGIZED. I was often ravenous after the workout. And after the long runs…naps were for sure needed.

Week Two: UCAN Challenge

Day One

Same workout, easy run. Only this time I took in a packet of UCAN Workout Energy 30mins before. I was nervous. Eating anything of substance before “pavement runs” can sometimes, uhh, stir the system if you catch my drift. Happy to report this did not happen on that day.

Day Two

Fueled by a UCAN energy bar and some additional nerves, I attempted my intervals again. This product is even more solid and this was my highest intensity day. Again, all systems go! In a good way. I was certainly tired after this workout but no bonking.

Day Three

My medium trail run was pregamed with 1 serving of UCAN Performance Energy and followed up with 1 serving of UCAN Performance Energy + Protein mixed with almond milk. I loved the protein recovery drink. It’s thick and delicious and tastes like a milkshake. I’ll run anywhere for a milkshake. Didn’t feel like I needed the emergency Larabar I brought on the run. Should have just trusted the UCAN magic and saved myself having to carry the bar!

Day Four

No treats, no UCAN. Fasted easy run. I never feel AWESOME after fasted training. I have always done it out of necessity to avoid GI issues. The run was normal and my energy levels stable.

Day Five

Rest day! If you must know, I had a delicious sandwich and took a nap. #trilife

Day Six

This day was what was going to really “make or break it” for me. Long run on a new fueling system. If I bonk up in the mountains, my options are pass away quietly under the shade of a sparse Southern California bush or shuffle until I can get to some food/water. I drank a serving of UCAN Performance Energy 30min before and ate 1 UCAN bar (1/2 bar at mile 8 and the other half at mile 12). Finished strong at mile 16, no need for that bush. I also enjoy a post-run milkshake, UCAN style.

Day Seven

I mixed it up a little here and tried the UCAN Performance Energy + Protein prior to my bike ride. Halfway through I took in a serving of UCAN Performance Energy. Honestly, I even felt like that second serving was too much. I didn’t need the extra energy.

All in all, I was really pleased with this test run (pun intended). I hope to keep using UCAN in preparation for my next Ironman and see how my results stack up against the last race. The difference in energy was apparent. My post-workout naps and lethargy faded away. And for those with sensitive systems like myself, I do believe in these products for that alone. No GI distress. They say you aren’t a real trail runner if you don’t “commune with nature from the other end” at least once. But ain’t nobody got time for that.

Katie is a multisport athlete based out of Venice Beach, California. She is a USAT Level I Triathlon Coach and instructs athletes in open water skills and swimming during the warmer months in SoCal. Over the past two years, Katie has competed as a long distance trail runner and will make her debut in the sport of swimrun this year. She hopes to have her pro card by 2021. You can find her in the mountains, in the ocean, or in line for a cup of coffee.