REDEFINING WHAT’S POSSIBLE FOR ENDURANCE ATHLETES
In the ultrarunning scene, Ann Trason needs little introduction. She has won the prestigious 100-mile Western States Endurance Run a mind-boggling 14 times. She has set over twenty world records and her 1994 finish at the Leadville Trail 100, which covers staggeringly high terrain between 9,000 and 12,600 feet, still stands as the women’s course record. Trason even pulled off an astounding “double” in 1996 and 1997, winning Western States just 12 days after winning the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Her accomplishments as an ultrarunner helped redefine the possible for endurance athletes.
The GU Pioneer
In the 1990s, Ann Trason lived near Berkeley, California, where Dr. Bill Vaughan was developing an early formula of the first Energy Gel. Ann teamed up with Dr. Vaughan as an early adopter and tester of his prototype energy products. Her experiences (and successes) helped legitimize GU Energy Gel and showed other athletes how this quirky little nutrition product could solve big fueling problems during endurance events.
“Before GU,” Trason recalls, “most of us ate jelly beans and hard candies… or you could drink Coke to get some calories.” During ultramarathons, she remembers thinking frequently about wanting to eat something better: “I always dreamed of an IV of saline and sugar while I was running, something that would be fluid and digestible. That sounds weird, but just imagine what it was like, how hard it was to keep eating jelly beans and M&Ms after chewing on them for 50 miles.”
From Neighbor to Test Subject
Fortunately, a sports nutrition revolution was happening a few blocks from her home. “I knew Bill Vaughan. He lived just down the street. I would jog down to his house, and he would be making new Gel flavors in his Cuisinart. I would eat one and then go running to see if it would make me puke… it was a fun process.”
There were of course, some hiccups. In the autumn of 1993, Trason ran a road 100K in Amiens, France. “Bill and I met at the French Hotel in Berkeley, where he gave me these long tubes of berry-flavored Energy Gel. This was an early formula, so we called the flavor French Hotel Berry.” But the early packaging—basically sealed bags—was messy to use.
(You read that correctly—the duo met at The French Hotel in Berkeley prior to leaving for France. Why the French Hotel? We suppose she wanted to perfect her pain-au-chocolat order before taking off.)
It Works! Just Needs Better Packaging
Trason won the 100K in France (and set a world record), but the homemade packaging was a bit of an issue: “I had on this white Nike uniform, and during the race I was squeezing purple energy gel all over me.” Unfortunately, the post-race drug testing was a lengthy car ride from the finish line. Unable to eat, drink, or even change her attire, Trason felt bad riding in the luxury car the race organizers provided: “Oh, man. I was hungry, thirsty, and just covered in sticky Energy Gel. The car had leather seats and everything. Woof.”
Despite the mess, her world record indicated a shift was happening in the sport. “At Amiens,” she says, “folks were eating baguettes and pâté. By using Gels, we were definitely ahead of the curve.”
Trason’s experience made clear the importance of a portable and easy to open package for Dr. Vaughan’s new gel-concoction. With input from her and other early users, the first production-ready package design held just a single serving and could be opened with one hand and a mouth on the go. Since then, the GU package design has become the standard for all energy gels on the market.
Simple Plan for Success
Trason eventually developed a winning fueling formula for her streak of Western States victories. The ultrarunner used a simple strategy, consuming a 100-calorie Energy Gel every 30 minutes while she was on the course. “I would use a countdown timer on my watch and take one when it went off. My crew would hang out at the aid stations with GU Energy Gels attached to bottles with a rubber band. It was easy, literally like clockwork.” Energy Gels allowed her to pace her energy intake. Trason became one of the most successful athletes GU has ever sponsored, racking up wins around the world, as well as course records that still stand today.