Over the past several weeks, the heat index in the DC area has topped 105 numerous times. Two weeks ago, I found myself on training ride where I had to simply pull over and find the nearest 7-Eleven and down a Slurpee and a bottle of Gatorade as possible to keep my core temperature in check. Prior to that day, I can’t remember the last time I had a slurpee…
On the East Coast, we are no stranger to heat and humidity, and most experienced athletes know how much it can adversely affect performance. In fact, I wrote about effectively training in the heat several years ago and you can find the entire article here , where I mention numerous tips which include things like slowing down or training indoors. However, what happens when you are in a competition, and racing indoors or reducing intensity simply isn’t an option except in the most dire of circumstances? So how do we effectively race when it’s hot and humid? Here are 6 tips to help you race better in the heat:
While adhering to these principles may not generate a personal best during a hot race, they could very well keep you from a heat-related disaster while striving for one. So, the next race where the temperature soars, remember these tips to ensure you cross the finish line safely!
This month’s performances were particularly challenging, and each of those athletes needed to not only call upon their training and fitness to compete, but they had to call on their mental toughness to finish their races. In fact, I was talking about the mental side of training with one client earlier in the month who was concerned about faltering in a race he’s competed in several times, but without achieving his goal of going sub 5:00 for the 70.3 distance triathlon.
Sometimes even though we are at the peak of our fitness, the mind can be a bigger part of why we struggle than the body. We start to think negatively, we doubt our training, and irrational thoughts do creep in. Especially when the workout or race is going poorly. However, there are three ways we sharpen our mental game and be more prepared to combat those negative thoughts when they surface, achieving a solid performance even when the cards are stacked against us :
1)Rehearse a simple, positive mantra. Find a saying you can use as a positive affirmation when things get dicey. I’ve used ones such as “race your own race”, “ focused, calm, relaxed, strong“, and “you’re strong, your focus, your experienced.” Think of something positive that resonates with you. Rehearse this as you do your workouts - and then often during the race, especially when this get tough. While the race will still be hard, the story you tell yourself matters. Ever heard of the placebo effect? What you believe matters!
2) Be in the present and focus on the process. Sometimes, we focus so much on the end result (qualifying for worlds, a sub five hour finish, etc.) I had it eclipses all the hard work we’ve done. If we focus too much on a hard time goal or in result. If something goes off track on race day is easy to spiral our thoughts out of control and think “I’m not going to finish in my goal time”, “what’s the point”, “I don’t think I can make it up”, and so we don’t stay in the present and focus on the process of recovering from whatever adversity has happened and getting back to the race. Case in point- My chiropractor won the XTerra world championships (off road triathlon) as an amateur when she was riding her mountain bike and someone crashed in front of her and cut an artery she jumped off her bike to help him, and in doing so thought for sure she’d jeopardized her own chances of winning. However, because she was now free from the stress of being hyper focused on her outcome, she just enjoy the process and raced incredibly. And ended up winning in becoming an amateur world champion.
3) Visualize your success. This allows you to create in your mind the perfect race, the trick being not seeing yourself in the third person but experiencing it in the first person mentally. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, and I remember writing a paper on mental imagery and visualization in sport. While doing research, I read about a veteran who was POW for 4 years in Vietnam. Prior to the war, he was a very good (scratch) golfer. To help pass the time in captivity, he would spend several hours a day visualizing playing golf at his favorite golf course every single day. Upon his release and return to the US, his first round of golf he received the exact score he did 4 years prior with zero practice other than his daily visualizations. What this and countless other research shows is that the mind can’t tell the difference between something vividly imagined and something that actually occurs. So, use that mind to vividly imagine your success on race day!
So, as you prepare for your upcoming events, remember to have a positive mantra you can tell yourself. Stay in the present, focusing on the process. And finally, visualize your success. In the same way you execute your physical workouts, dedicated some time to sharpen your mental game.
Spring signals the arrival of three things: warm weather, the Easter bunny, and triathlon season. And as such, we’ve already seen several TFE athletes dawning swimskin, lacing up the Nikes, and dialing in that aero position in hopes of fast times this race season. There is so much that goes in to racing- and April is usually the first month where we get to dust off the cobwebs of Winter and see the results of all of that off-season training. As athletes, we spend months dialing in our FTP on the bike, refining our swim technique in the pool, and hammering out tempo runs on the street. Yet many times triathletes neglect one very important element of our race: the transition.
There is the one place during a triathlon where everyone is equal - the transition. A speedy transition doesn’t require any great amount of talent or skill. It doesn’t demand hours of training and the most cutting edge gear. It’s the one time where the ordinary back of the back age-group athlete can be just as fast as the the seasoned pro or elite level athlete. And it's apparent in every triathlon you’ll see.
In fact, I remember witnessing this last year while coaching a few clients and friends at a 70.3 race in Florida last year. As I cheered each of them on, I also watched other athletes as they entered and exited transition, some fluidly and some not so much. In one instance, I was surprised to see an Ironman All-World Athlete (someone who is ranked in the top 5% of Ironman age-group athletes) running up from the swim in a complete panic. First, she couldn’t find her bike, and when she finally did, she struggled to get her wetsuit off, sitting on the ground tugging at her ankles as she muttered the occasional curse word. After a minute or so she finally won the battle with the wetsuit and hastily grabbed her helmet, put it on and fastened it...backwards! Then, she struggled to put on her socks, then finally her shoes, and rushed out of transition. I was taken aback by what a challenge the transition was for her. This was a very good athlete- super fit, very fast, obviously very accomplished- but her transition was a disaster.
While the transition only accounts for a fraction of the overall time of the race, those minutes do add up- especially if you’re on track for a PR or podium finish. But more importantly, frantic, disorganized transitions can create stress, elevating the heart rate, and ratting the nerves when an athlete needs to remain calm and stay in control. So, how do you succeed at the shortest part of a triathlon?
Check out these 7 steps for a faster transition:
The transition is the easiest and shortest part of the race. Using these 7 steps, you’ll have a fast, fluid transition and save valuable time as you race toward a PR, a podium spot, or just feeling like a pro.
It’s the start of race season, and we’ve already seen some amazing performances by some of our TFE athletes, and we’ve got at least 6 more months of racing to go! So, as many of you are heading into upcoming races, I thought it a great time to brush up on some pre-race tips- in particular how to taper correctly. Tapering involves strategically reducing an athlete’s training load for several days (or weeks), allowing for adequate recovery from a high-volume training block while still maintaining optimum fitness. A proper taper helps the athlete arrive at the start line healthy, well-rested, and ready to perform at a high level. Timing a taper can be tricky and there is no perfect approach that fits for everyone- however there are some guidelines that if followed, can help ensure you line up on race day well-rested and ready to have an epic day.
Check out my 5 tips to master the taper:
So, as hard as it may seem, trust the taper. The body will appreciate the healing recovery time and mental break from high volume and intensity work. If done correctly, the taper can be the difference between lining up at the start line in optimum condition or showing up over trained and fighting off sickness or injury. Enjoy your next taper and good luck this race season!
Despite the groundhog seeing his shadow, we’re still in the 30’s and 40’s here in the DC area. Along with much of the country, we’re not seeing the warm temps just yet which can put a real damper in the Springtime workouts many of us look forward too. So, to help us get through the last bit of winter, I’ve listed a few of my favorite cold-weather workouts (some are indoors;) They are all under an hour and are actually fun!
Treadmill intervals. Now I know many runners roll their eyes when we mention treadmill and fun in the same sentence, but bear with me. A treadmill is a great way to work on both run technique and overall fitness in a very short amount of time. The challenge is that most people jump on the treadmill and just plug away at the same pace, on and on and on with no variation. Not so fun. Instead, mix things up by doing the following:
Bike trainer HIIT workout. Riding indoors can be tough. It’s hot, even with a fan blowing full blast, which causes the heart rate to climb and the sweat to flow. However, with the advent of smart trainers, and digital platforms like Zwift, and Trainer Road, long boring trainer sessions are a thing of the past. However, if you’ve just got a standard trainer , spin bike, or upright stationary bike, you can still get a great workout:
Running/Walking the stairwell. In another lifetime, I had a sales territory that spanned Northern California and Northern Nevada. When traveling for work in the wintertime, I would stay in the tallest hotel/casino in Reno just to so I could run the stairwell. It was 24 stories, and when it was too cold and icy to run outside (usually the case when I was there), I’d simply walk from my hotel room to the stairwell, drop my water bottle at my floor, and get to it. It wasn’t glamorous, but I loved the simplicity of it. Whether you live in a 4 story walk up or a 30 story high rise- it’s a great change of pace and each landing or floor is a built in rest stop if you need it. Sometimes, I’d add in some push ups or crunches on different floors to break up the workout. Get creative and feel that heart pound! Try this:
Trail running/hiking. This is a great way to change up the normal routine. When I travel home for the holidays (out to Utah), my twin brother and I go on trail runs. It’s a great time to slow down and see some beautiful views. Typically, his pace is a touch slower than mine, but at his home turf of 5,000 ft elevation he runs like a billy goat, and in that thin air I struggle a bit to keep up. When it’s been snowy, the workout is a combination of hiking and running in the snow making it more challenging but also more fun. If the trail is dry, try the following:
Cross country skiing/snowshoeing. I don’t know a single person who has tried either of these and wouldn’t do it again. If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with snow, what a way to take advantage of a PHENOMENAL workout. It’s low impact, highly aerobic, and engages the entire body, all the while being surrounded by Mother Nature. The last time I donded the cross country skis was a few years ago at the 2002 Olympic course at Soldier Hollow. But you don’t have to go to a specific course to ski or snowshoe! The last big storm we had, there were cross-country skiers out in downtown DC on the National Mall (one of which was TFE ultra-runner and winter-sport phenom Liss Sloss:) For these incredible winter workouts, no need for structure- just grab your skis, snowshoes, and poles and have at it!
There you have it- 5 incredible workouts for when the mercury plummets. All are highly effective, creative, and less than an hour. So don’t let the cold weather put a damper on your fitness goals. Next time you need to change things up a bit, try one of my 5 Favorite Winter Workouts to burn the calories and build some cardio in the process.
The winter months always make me think of running. When I lived in California, “winters” were spent running through miles and miles of trails, through the lush foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I’d travel back to Utah during the Holidays where most days I would wear cold weather running gear, throw Yaak Trax on my trail shoes for added traction, and head out in the snow for an hour or two of frosty solitude. Now that I’m in DC, I don’t make it back to UT or CA as much, but I still focus on running during the winter months. As such, I’m a bit more observant of other runners- be it outside or on the treadmills at the gym. As I engage with other runners,I am reminded of some essential keys that every runner should understand. At the same time, I see the pitfalls that MOST runners commit in the quest to become faster or fitter. Hopefully, you don’t fall into the trap others do. See if you’re guilty of doing any of these 5 Pitfalls Runners Make:
1) Running too far, too fast, too soon. Ever been injured? Most runners - 70% in fact- get hurt every year and more often than not, it’s because they ran either too far or too fast before their body was able to handle the added intensity or duration. To safely improve as a runner (or as an athlete in most disciplines), the body has to adhere to the SAID principle: Systematic Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Basically, it means your body needs time to slowly adapt to greater demands (speeds and/or duration). If runners try to increase the demands without adequate adaptation, injury is usually the result. However, most runners can gradually build speed and distance by simply using the ‘10% rule’, in which runners increase the time of their long run by 10% per week (if running an hour one week, the next week would be running 1:06, etc.)
2) Running the same pace every run. Albert Einstein is credited with coining the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again but expecting a different result.” I know virtually nothing about astrophysics, but I can tell you from a running perspective, that if you run the same pace over and over and over, you won’t get much faster. And THAT’S insanity to me. To overcome the dreaded plateaus that all runners face, the ‘imposed demands’ (remember that from earlier) have to be varied. For example, novice marathon runners tend to run most of their runs at one pace. They might add a tempo run here, or speed work there, but by and large, there isn’t enough variety in their workouts to challenge their bodies and force adaptation to faster speeds. One simple way to vary runs is by using the ‘sandwich’ principle. If a runner runs 5 days a week, 2 days are significantly slower than goal race pace, 2 days are significantly faster than goal race pace, and one day is at race pace (the “race-pace” day is sandwiched by two faster run days and two slower run days).
3) Running the ‘fast runs’ too slow, and the ‘slow runs’ too fast. I see this all across the board- from the novice runners I coach all the way up to my sub-elite athletes. Most runners don’t have problem pushing the pace, but they DO have a problem with running slow on the recovery days. The discipline to go slow is a critical part of training- as it allows the body to recover fully for the next high intensity (or ‘fast’) workout. With the body fully recovered (having run the ‘slow/recovery’ run at the right pace), the speed workouts (hard tempos, dedicated speed work, or race pace intervals built into long runs) can be run at the proper paces. Over time, the body adjusts to the demands and the runner can go longer and/or faster. However, if the runner fails to fully recover by running slow, residual fatigue builds up and limits the athlete’s potential in hard, long, or even race-day efforts.
4) Improper strength training or avoiding it all together. I get it- by nature, runners would rather be outdoors running than inside a dank, musty, gym competing against body builders for time on the squat rack. However, that time goes a LONG way to preventing injury (Remember that 70% stat from earlier?) Because running is a repetitive, anterior-based exercise, we naturally develop muscle imbalances that if not corrected will lead to watching that next 5k or Marathon from the sidelines. I know far too many runners that head to the weight room, do some bench presses, arm curls, some sit ups, and a few triceps extensions, and call it strength training. Not so. An effective strength routine uses compound lifts involving the posterior-chain (think deadlifts, heavy squats, hang cleans, etc.), engages the core muscles, and focuses on single-leg stability and strength. It also focuses on lifting moderate to heavy weight at different times of the year based on a periodized training schedule. Not only will this lead to injury-free runs, but the leg power acquired from lifting correctly will allow for quicker accelerations up hills, help lessen fatigue later in the race, and enable a faster kick down the finishing chute.
6) Neglecting technique work. Even the most elite runners in the world still practice run technique. In college, I trained alongside several Olympians, and I still remember seeing Frankie Fredericks doing drill after drill every single day. (He won the Silver medal in the 100m and the 200m in BOTH the 1992 and 1996 Olympics) And it’s not just the sprinters that practice run technique - it’s even more important for distance runners, as we’re so much more concerned with running economy, especially as races get in the the later stages. Yet how many of us dedicate time each week to doing specific running drills? Do we practice on improving run cadence, carriage (posture), and footfall? Are we working on the flexibility required to open our hips and allow for quicker trail-leg recoil? If not, we sure should! As I’ve told every runner (and triathlete) I’ve ever coached, it’s almost always a better use of time to do 10 minutes of running drills as a warm up, run a purposeful 40 minutes, then do 10 minutes of stability/mobility/flexibility work, than to simply run straight for 60 minutes.
So, as you run this Winter (and into the Spring season) be sure not to succumb to these 5 pitfalls so many fellow runners do. Avoid them and you'll be well on your way to a successful season. Ease into your training, vary your run intensities, run the slow runs slower, put in your time in the gym, and work on those run mechanics and watch those race times fall.
With the New Year upon us, and the Christmas season just concluding, it's a great time to reflect on 2018 and all the positive changes made during the calendar year. For me, my business grew by almost 15%, I posted a PR returning to Ironman triathlon after a 4 year hiatus, and qualified for the Boston Marathon on a last-minute whim. I had clients get into wedding-shape, runners that completed life-long race goals, and triathletes who became first-time Ironmen. And while all those accomplishments are incredible in their own right, nothing compares to the birth of my son. With the arrival of this 7 pound little wonder, my entire outlook on life has shifted in an almost indescribable way. Everyone said that would happen. That I’d see the world just a little bit differently. From how I would spend my time, to my goals in life, to my triathlon training, etc. They said it would all change. And they were right!
It’s interesting how our perspective changes. Sometimes our viewpoint changes due to something expected, that you try to prepare for, but that still permanently alters your world in a way you never thought it would- like having a child. At times, a shift in perspective is brought about by something unexpectedly life-altering, such as a sudden accident or illness. At times these shifts are short-term and quick, such as during a race when adjustments have to be made due to weather, fueling, or hydration issues. And sometimes these shifts are instigated by a slow burning desire to change contemplated over years. Whatever path we are on, or whatever the course we need to alter, it’s critical we keep the right perspective during the process. A loss in perspective can be tough to overcome, especially when things go poorly, leading to lots of frustration and difficulty, be it on race day, in the gym, or in life.
To help keep the right perspective in the fitness world (or outside of it for that matter), I find it helpful to remember 2 key principles:
Remember the big picture. So many times, we lose perspective simply because we take our eye off the ball. We don’t focus on the big picture and allow ourselves to be caught up in the minutia of the moment, failing to take a step back and recognize that trajectory is more important that perfection. A while ago, I read a book on personal improvement called, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”, which talked about not becoming preoccupied with minor setbacks, and how not to let the small things take us off track. Yet so many times I see clients fall into that trap.
After several months of slow but steady progress, one client was absolutely despondent after returning from an family emergency that took her out of town for several weeks. Due to the circumstances, she was unable to maintain her fitness and nutrition regimen while attending to family, and backslid into poor habits while on the trip. Upon her return she was frustrated with herself, becoming discouraged at her loss of immediate progress. For several weeks, she struggled with getting back into her routine, and her workouts and nutrition continued to suffer. She'd lost sight of the big picture; she’d forgotten that this process was about long-term, fundamental lifestyle change, not being perfect week in and week out. She focused on those few weeks when her fitness took a backseat to her family’s needs, not on the several months of fitness success prior. Her trajectory was still headed in the right direction, even if she had a few bad weeks.
So, in those low moments when you’re off track, and struggling, step back and asses your trajectory- are you trending in the right direction? Are the majority of your decisions trying to take you toward your goals? If so, then you’re on track. And that’s the big picture. Remember it!
The second principle to help you keep perspective may seem somewhat contradictory to the last;
The little things matter. Remembering the big picture is paramount, but the ‘little things’ matter. I once heard a saying that goes, “Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character, character leads to destiny”. I’ve always loved that quote, because it underscores the point that small things (a thought) leads to great things (our destiny). Keeping the right perspective involves doing the little things daily to get us to our goals.
Recently, I listened to a podcast in which an elite marathon runner was talking about his training leading up to a major event. I was struck by a few of his points in referring to his preparation for the race. The host asked if he was unsure he would be able to achieve his race goal, and he responded ‘no’, because he had done the work. He had put in the time, day in and day out which enabled him to get to the starting line healthy. He took his rest days, slow runs, and strength training just as seriously as he took his speed work, tempo runs, and marathon pace runs. He stuck with prescribed paces, and rested when he was supposed to and did the work every day that was going to get him to his goal. That process allowed him to maintain perspective about the importance of the process as a whole, and how each day fit into that.
Sometimes, as athletes we don’t look at how the pieces fit- we misfire on race day because we skip our recovery days or strength training and we come to the start line injured or overtrained. So, to help maintain that critical perspective that the ‘little things matter’, remember each day to focus why you are doing the work. Are you doing a recovery run, speed work, burning as many calories in the gym as possible, or strengthening a specific muscle group? Remember why you are doing these specific things. Consistent, daily adherence to workouts drives results. Pay attention to the “Little things’, because they matter!
So, with the upcoming New Year ahead, remember to keep perspective. To help do that, ‘remember the big picture’, and that ‘little things matter’. Whether it be on the track, out on the road, in the gym, or in life, don’t lose perspective on what matters most.
If I had to choose one topic as the most common source of client questions, it would have to be nutrition. It seems we are always looking for the fastest way to achieve our health and fitness goals- and nutrition plays a huge part in achieving them. Some people want to just lose weight; others want to gain weight. There are some looking for championship-level race performances; others just want to finish a 5k. Whatever your goal, what you eat plays a significant role in your progress.
In the world of nutrition, there is so much information floating around regarding everything from extreme diets to trendy performance products to plant-based meal planning. Keto, whole 30, intermittent fasting, Paleo, Veganism...it’s easy to become inundated by so much information and simply throw up the hands in frustration. So what’s the right starting point for you? That depends on your goals, of course. But what if your goal isn’t to lose half your bodyweight or race the Ironman in Kona? What if your goals are just be healthy - maybe drop a few lbs, have a bit more energy, and tone up a bit? What is best nutritional advice for the average person?
For most people, it’s a good idea to start with the basics and go from there. Remember, the basics are a starting point. Some people may have different situations that warrant adaptations to these tips. But for the grand majority out there, following these guidelines help ensure you’ll be able to get off the dietary roller coaster, master some good habits, have more energy, and even drop a few pounds.
So, I’ve distilled down my best nutritional advice to 7 tips for the average Joe or Jill:
Contrary to popular belief, for most people adherence to the basics consistently over time can help bring about the health and fitness goals we want. Start by using these tip as a guide and see how you feel. Good luck and enjoy the process!
Recently I saw a news story which cited an interesting study. Researchers found that taking vacations increases life expectancy by 37%. While many of you may think that’s a no-brainer, many still struggle to maintain that coveted work-life balance. Here in the DC is ground zero for type-A go getters. These high achievers excel in their professional lives, working 60, 70, and 80 hour work weeks and thrive in the process. In fact, I know several people that forgo that vacation time each year due to their hectic jobs. They trade in time at the beach for a few more hours at at the office, a last-minute lunch meeting with a potential client, or a chance to catch up on paperwork, proposals, or emails.
At times, clients of mine who fall into this category have complained about how busy their lives are. Some say they couldn’t possibly meet the minimum standard of exercise of 30 min per day; others state how it would be utterly impossible to give up the alcohol or decadent meals that simply “come with the territory”. I’ve heard the same story from family members, friends, and acquaintances that claim they cannot devote any more time to achieving a healthier, more balanced life because they are “just too busy”.
On the flip side, I know of dedicated triathletes, who won’t take a rest day. The idea of resting one day a week instead of going for a ride, swim, or a run sounds like a crazy idea to them, even given all the research that champions the benefits of recovery and rest. There is just something inside them that says, “more is better”. So they continue to train, even when sick, injured, or burnt out.
However I get it. I get all of it. I get those who push too hard on the fitness end of the spectrum, and I get those that are so devoted to work and professional pursuits that there is no time for a healthy lifestyle. What both groups have in common is a lack of balance. And just as a muscular imbalance will lead to muscular breakdown over time, and ‘imbalanced life’ will lead to a breakdown as well.
So, how do you create that balance? How do you find a way to ‘have your cake and eat it too?’ Just like anything else worthwhile, it takes work. There are literally hundreds of books dedicated to helping find balance in life, achieving worthy goals, and becoming a ‘better you’. My assumption is that they are all good and have meaningful insights to offer- yet my guess is that if you can’t find an hour to exercise, reading a dozen books on balance is probably not in the cards for you either. So I’ve distilled down 3 keys that can help you start to bring a bit of balance back into your world- Recognize, Refocus, and be Consistent.
July the middle of the race season, as you’d expect, I’ve recently had numerous conversations with clients about race nutrition. Everyone wants to know, “What should I eat before and during a race.” Many times, that question is followed up with a personal experience involving cramping, GI issues, bonking, or other nutrition-related breakdowns. Nutrition is a critical element in endurance events- if you’ve ever got it wrong, you certainly know what it means to have your nutrition off. When nutrition and hydration is on point, athletes enjoy sustained energy throughout their event, with limited if any stomach issues. Yet so many fail to get this critical piece right.
So, what SHOULD you eat when undertaking an endurance event? There is no perfect solution- with multiple factors to consider, what works for one may not work for another. Yet there are a few basic tips that can be extremely helpful to ensuring a positive race experience. Here are 6 things you can do to master your race nutrition and crush your next race:
Know your caloric and hydration needs (calorie, carbohydrate, and sodium intake). Because everyone’s body chemistry is different, no one’s caloric needs are exactly the same. But there are some benchmark ranges to determine if you’re getting the essential nutrients needed for extended periods of racing. Calories, carbohydrates, fluids, and sodium are critical nutritional elements vital to endurance efforts. Understanding how much your body can process is vital to managing your nutritional efforts. As a general rule, the body can process between 200-350 calories per hour, depending on your weight, race intensity, heat, and humidity. Consume 25 g of carbohydrates (the body’s preferred fuel source) every 30-45 minutes, based on body weight. Heavier athletes require more fuel as they race. Athletes that are under fueled or don’t take in enough carbohydrates are subject to the dreaded ‘bonking’ effect when glycogen stores are depleted. Sodium needs can vary greatly based on the athlete’s sweat rate (hence the need for a sweat test), but in general, most require anywhere between 600-1800 mg of sodium per hour during a race. No surprise that low sodium levels can also be a major cause of GI issues during races- most people fail to get enough sodium during hard efforts.
Know the race course. Understanding the demand on the body during different parts of the race, and the locations of aid stations on course is a much- overlooked part of race nutrition planning. Athletes that know where they need and have access to nutrition can better manage their race effort. They have a huge advantage in not having to carry excess fluids/nutrition, yet are able to fuel up at critical times during the race. Knowing challenging parts of the race, which may require nuanced fueling (ex., long, hard climbs on a bike course, or open exposed sections of flat run courses may require more hydration), can be a smart way to ensure an athlete doesn’t suffer a serious nutrition setback.
Plan and practice beforehand. It goes without saying, but plan your race-day nutrition just like you would your race-day pacing. Use your training as a time not only to test your body but to test your nutrition, allowing your gut to acclimate to what you plan to ingest on race day. Most races will tell you (either on the web page or by emailing the race director several weeks in advance of the race) what they plan on using to stock the aid stations on race-day. Find out and then use the several weeks leading up to that race as an opportunity to acclimate your system to what will be on course. This reduces the need to carry your own fueling and hydration (a significant effort if racing an Ironman or even a marathon).
Race hydration starts several days prior to the event. Most endurance athletes have heard the ominous statistic that being dehydrated by just 5% is enough to drastically affect performance. Yet, drinking lots of water the day before a race isn’t enough to be sufficiently hydrated prior to a significant endurance event. Air travel to races, daily influxes of heat and humidity, changes in elevation, and multiple other factors affect hydration. Keep on top of your hydration needs by sipping water AND electrolyte-rich fluids several days prior to the event. Urine color is the easiest way the know if you’re hydrated sufficiently- light yellow is best, dark yellow means you’re under hydrated. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are the critical electrolytes that are needed for you to execute on race day, so make sure daily fluid intake includes these essentials. Nuun tabs, G2 or other ‘light’ sports drinks can be a simple way to help supplement water intake with the essentials.
Reduce fiber and fat 1-2 days before. Depending on the duration of the race, you’ll want to reduce fat and fiber content prior to the event. Why? Just imagine going for a 3 hr run after eating a large bean burrito :) Enough said. Fiber, while healthy for daily intake, can spell disaster for race efforts. For events lasting longer than 5-6 hrs (Ultra running, Ironman, half Ironman, etc.), start to reduce fibrous fruits and veggies and substitute them with grains or other simple carbohydrates (bananas, rice, bagels, pretzels, plain pasta, etc.) Be careful to also avoid butter, nuts, nut butters, and other heavy fats, as they can slow down the digestive system.
Have a go-to breakfast option. It’s great to have an easy, pre-race breakfast option that is low fiber, high carbohydrate, and most importantly, portable. This one should be be tested over time on your long-run days. I’ve adapted Jesse Kropelnicki’s “Applesauce breakfast’, and recommend it to almost all of my clients. This high-carbohydrate breakfast has almost zero fat and fiber, and just enough protein for long-race fueling, but doesn’t bog down the digestive tract. Depending on your weight and the distance/duration of the event, consume 2-4 cups unsweetened applesauce, 1x24oz. Sports drink (high in sodium and other electrolytes), a banana, and a scoop of whey protein powder (mixed in w water or into the sports drink). I may also add a mini plain bagel as well. As you may note, this breakfast will top off your glycogen stores as the simple and complex carbohydrate quickly break down into glucose in your body. Stored as glycogen, this is fuel is ready to burn as soon as the gun goes off.
With these tips, you'll be able to navigate your nutrition effectively, whether it's just the local 10k, a half Ironman triathlon, or a 50 mile ultra marathon. Try this your next race and my bet is you'll have consistent energy throughout, and minimal stomach issues!