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Shifting Goal Gears: From The Western States 100 Mile 'Run' to The Unsupported JMT FKT 'Walk' (Part IV)

a JMT day's worth of calories... a JMT day's worth of calories...

Food In The Belly

"Ultramarathons are basically eating contests with some exercise thrown in." - Sunny Blende, sports nutritionist & regular Ultrarunning mag columnist

I'm not sure if that is Sunny's exact quote, but it's close enough. And if the quote applies to ultras it applies exponentially to multi-day fastpacking adventures. As such the bulk of my starting pack weight will consist of stuff sacks full of calories, separated into 24 hour periods. Even with over 10lbs of food weight at the start though, this is a major net calorie deficit game. The NoBo unsupported efforts do come with a self-starvation safety net though: should you misjudge your caloric needs and coast into Reds Meadow or Tuolumne Meadows on fumes you can simply resupply at either location (assuming you don't arrive in the middle of the night). Your unsupported effort, however, is now supported, but at least you can continue.

I started the nutrition selection process with a few simple parameters:

1) 20 hours of movement/24 hour period X 300calories/hour = 6000 calories/day

2) try to select, as much as possible, the most calorie dense foods available (click on link below for a list I compiled of food items in descending order from most to least calorie dense. obviously, there are infinitely more options to add to this list. these items are almost all available at Sage To Summit)

Potential JMT Food List

3) come up with varied options to hopefully keep the palate looking forward to near-continuous eating (every 1-1.5 hours)

4) only use items I have used on previous fastpacks that I know I like and that work

5) go heavier on fat & protein content versus carbohydrates (this occurs somewhat automatically when selecting items based on cal/gram) because of the sating-effect and because I will be moving at a pace that will allow it to digest

6) instant coffee in mornings & hot food (freeze-dried meals) at night were worth enough to me to bring along the extra weight of  simple stove/pot setup

I quickly realized that 6000cal/day simply yielded too much food weight. Everyone I talked to seemed to think this was over-the-top excessive as well; however, in my opinion, many of them went too far in the opposite direction. Not only do I have a 'fear' of having to severely ration calories in the backcountry but I also know that, in spite of the fact that I will be heavily dipping into body fat stores for energy, you simply need a steady stream of calories to keep moving at an equally steady pace. There's no way around that. So, I compromised, and I came up with a plan that started at 4500cal on Day 1 and increased by 500cal/day for 6000cal on Day 4, my theory being that I would be "topped off" with a full belly of real food starting at Whitney Portal and that I would become increasingly ravenous as the miles passed and my calorie deficit increased. I have definitely noticed this on my fastpacks this summer.

As you can see from the cal/g food list I did not stick strictly to the absolute most calorie dense options. Part of the reason is that foods like almonds are much harder to digest than simple carbohydrates, but the primary reason was I strongly believe that variety is the spice of appetite maintenance. When Brett Maune set the record back in 2009 he apparently used nothing but Hammer nutrition products such as Perpetuem because it provided him with the most readily digestible form of carb/protein calories in drink mix form at the least amount of weight. A very scientific approach that obviously worked for him, but just the thought of that makes me nauseous.

The final part of my fueling plan that flies in the face of FKT-attempt convention is bringing along a stove/pot/fuel to boil water for instant coffee and hot freeze-dried meals. I know many people think this is an unacceptable luxury for a fast trip relative to its cost in weight, and time spent heating water. I get it, but I also stand firm in my belief that the psychological "comfort food" boost will far outweigh the extra ounces; and, you're going to be taking rest breaks anyway. I can vividly picture myself in a depleted state on Day 3, struggling to stay warm going over a final high pass at night before a rest, but looking forward to a hot meal as a reward for the effort. Sometimes being warmed from the inside out is much more effective than adding another layer.

Menu, A La Carte

To give you an idea of what I will be consuming each day, here is Day 3's sample platter (5490cal / 3lb 0.7oz):

Starbucks Via Ready Brew packets (Colombia) 3 X 0cal = 0cal

Sugar In The Raw packets 3 X 20 = 60cal

Bonk Breaker bars (Espresso Chip) 2 X 250 = 500cal

(Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip) 270cal

(Almond Cherry Chunk) 255cal

Honey Stinger waffles (Caramel) 2 X 160 = 320cal

(Honey) 2 X 160 = 320cal

(Strawberry) 160cal

Olomomo almonds (Cherry Vanilla) 250cal

Skratch Labs fruit drops (Orange) 160cal

(Raspberry) 160cal

Kettle potato chips <crushed> 4.5srvg X 150 = 675cal

GU gels (Maple Bacon) 2 X 100 = 200cal

(Caramel Machiatto) 2 X 100 = 200cal

GU Roctane gel (Sea Salt Chocolate) 100cal

GU Roctane drink mix powder (Grape) 4srvg X 240 = 960cal

EmerGenC (Super Orange) 35cal

Mountain House ProPacks freeze-dried meal (Rice & Chicken) + 1.3oz olive oil 540 +325 = 865cal

Daily Meal Plan Breakdown

Day 1: 4525cal / 2lb 5.4oz

Day 2: 4980cal / 2lb 7.9oz

Day 3: 5490cal / 3lb 0.7oz

Day 4 : 5995cal / 3lb 0.7oz

Totals: 20990cal / 10lb 14.7oz

The Full Monty Pack

"now when the day goes to sleep and the full moon looks, and the night is so black that the darkness cooks, and you come creeping around, making me do things I don't want to do..." - Fleetwood Mac, 'The Green Manalishi'

'The Green Manalishi,' fully loaded... 10lb 14.7oz food + 6lb 10.9oz gear = 17lb 9.6oz 'The Green Manalishi,' fully loaded... 10lb 14.7oz food + 6lb 10.9oz gear = 17lb 9.6oz

17lb 9.6oz is an unacceptable starting pack weight for many ultralight FKT'ers, but I am satisfied with it; and there are some simple changes I could make to drop a quick pound +, if I decide at the last minute to forego things like, a powerfully-bright headlamp and a battery pack, etc. Brett Maune started with a hefty 25+ pounds and I've heard of people leaving the Portal with under 15 lbs. You could say I'm splitting the difference between ascetic monkish-ness and excessive psychological 'Skinner boxes.'

full dress rehearsal... full dress rehearsal...

Bullet Points And A Target

"but what you've done here is put yourself between a bullet and a target, and it won't be long before you're pulling yourself away..." - Citizen Cope, 'Bullet And A Target'

  • I will start somewhere between midnight (I like the 24-hour cycle symmetry of this and getting out the Whitney Zone before 1st light.) and 5am, depending on how well I sleep.
  • I will be using the SPOT device in continuous track mode which I will interrupt periodically to send out "All OK on JMT" messages, such as when I leave Whitney Portal.
  • Other than a notecard with key mileages written on it to help stir my memory when things get foggy I have nothing written down, including split times of other FKT'ers. If it's dangerous to try and follow someone else's plan in an ultra-race, it's downright senseless in a multi-day long trail effort. I have a general plan but really just want to be as fluid as possible...let the miles come to me as they will; rest when the pace crumbles and the body demands it. It's more about trying to become one with the mountains while moving through the landscape than trying to conquer the mountains while riding roughshod over them.
  • I am not taking a camera, but good friend, and aspiring photographer,Howie Stern, is going to meet me at several locations (Kearsarge Pass area, Duck Pass area, Reds Meadow, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley) to document the journey.
  • My primary goal is to finish, however long it takes. My dream goal is the sub-4 day club. As for the current unsupported FKT record, it won't really even enter into the equation unless I find myself in great physical and mental condition somewhere after Silver Pass with a chance to pull out all the stops and go for broke. I have a better chance of getting into Western States again next year with 1-ticket in the lottery.
  • Nature always has the final say. Even as I post this I am looking at the very real likelihood of postponing the effort because of the heavy smoke from the Rough Fire that has been shrouding the Sierra more often than not this month. I will send out an update either way on Sage To Summit's and my personal social media sites.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy getting after your own adventures!

One thought on “Shifting Goal Gears: From The Western States 100 Mile 'Run' to The Unsupported JMT FKT 'Walk' (Part IV)”

  • Barry Kyler

    Jeff, Great article! How did the trip go? My wife and I were out there 9/25 (onion) thru 926 (exit sawmill) i perfect conditions. Kept an eye out for you.


    Barry Kyler

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