My primary goal for the half marathon I’m running tomorrow is to nail down my fueling strategies for my goal race, the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May.
My first half marathon in 2012 was disastrous because I made every fueling mistake in the book. I gorged on white pasta the evening before–after not eating white pasta in years–and got sick. I was so nervous before the race that I sat in my car eating Clif Shot Bloks and bananas and downing Gatorade. During the race, I continued taking the energy chews and Gatorade together, though I’d never drank Gatorade on training runs. Guess what happened? I got beyond sick, with severe nausea and cramps, ended up walking the last two miles, and continued to feel sick the entire day and night. It was awful.
I’ve learned a lot since then, but I’m still learning what works best for me. I think because I eat a plant-based diet, I’ve felt that I don’t have to follow standard fueling advice. I’m special, in other words, so why should I alter my diet that’s heavy on fiber-rich beans and veggies the day before a race? This time, I’m doing things differently. I’m following all the advice! Most of the strategies I’m using are from the Hansons Half Marathon Method and Racing Weight books (I still need to post my reviews!), but it’s pretty standard stuff. These are the strategies I’ll be trying at my race tomorrow to see what works for race day.
1. Eat low-fiber, high-carb, quality foods 2-3 days before race day. Racing Weight argues that instead of carb-loading right before a race, you should really be eating more carbs in general the higher your training volume is. While I typically eat high-carb fruits and veggies, I rarely eat high-carb whole wheat pastas and breads, yet those have high amounts of complex carbs. For the past month, as my training has increased I’ve started to eat more high-quality carbs like whole wheat/grain bread, bagels, and cereal in general. I’ll eat more in the 2-3 days before the race, while reducing high-fiber beans and vegetables. The dinner I’ve been eating before long training runs that has worked well is whole wheat pasta, marinara sauce, sauteed low-fiber spinach and mushrooms mixed in, and some tofu ricotta I made from scratch for a bit of protein. I’m also trying to make sure all the foods I eat are high quality–no sugar or junk food right before the race.
2. Eat 2-3 hours before the race. The more you eat, the earlier you should eat to allow for time for digestion so that food isn’t sitting around in your belly. I’ve been eating a fairly large breakfast (whole wheat bagel, peanut butter and a little jelly, and a banana) about 2 hours before training runs, and that’s worked well. As you get closer to the start of your race or long training run, it’s good to consume more carbs in the form of liquid or gels since you won’t have to worry about digesting them. About a half-hour before a training run, I drink a cup of juice. Because I won’t be able to do that at the race, I’ll be taking a Clif Shot energy gel 15 minutes before the race start.
3. Take 3 energy gels during the race. I usually take a gel every 45 minutes. In the past, I have taken two gels during a half marathon. That means that I take my last gel an hour and a half into the race, yet I have finished in just under two and a half hours so really should have taken a third gel. I felt a lot of fatigue late in my last half marathon, so I’m hoping taking a third gel will help. In addition, I’m following the guideline of fueling early, since it’s easier for me to take gels earlier in the race and very hard to take them at the end, when it just seems like too much work. I plan to take my first gel 30 minutes in and my other two every 45 minutes after that. Also, I will be staggering the amount of caffeine in each gel. The first gel will have no or only a little caffeine, the second will have more, and the third will have the most. I love the Clif Shot gels, which are vegan (GUs are not), have mostly organic, natural ingredients, and are all delicious.
4. Drink water early and often, but don’t overdo it. I’m always amused when I see the common fitness goal to drink more water. I have always been a huge water drinker and like it more than any other beverage. I think I was the only kid who preferred water to soda. I am used to drinking a lot of water, and I definitely need a lot of water during the race, but I want to be careful to not drink too much. Hansons Half Marathon Method talks a lot about the negative effects on your performance from being dehydrated. Basically, if you’re not hydrated enough, your pace slows and your performance suffers. The book warns that you’re pretty much doomed if you get to the starting line already dehydrated. I’m following the suggestion to drink tons of water in the two days prior to the race and smaller quantities the night before and morning of the race. I’ll be carrying a handheld water bottle that I’ll fill with Nuun. During the race, I’ll start to drink in the first 10-20 minutes and every 15-20 minutes after that, as the Hansons book suggests. In my last half marathon, I drank everything in my own water bottle and also drank water at every stop. Toward the end, my tummy felt a little sloshy. This time, I want to take water only at the first few stations and then drink from my own water bottle for the rest of the race. This will also enable me to take short walk breaks early in the race when I feel fresh but not have to walk later in the race when I might feel too tired to start running again after walking.
5. Take electrolytes in the form of Nuun and SaltStick caps. I said that I got extremely nauseated in that first half marathon, and I also tend to experience a bit of nausea when I run hard. A running friend suggested that I take a SaltStick cap, an electrolyte capsule formulated to closely resemble the electrolytes lost during activity, prior to a race or a hard workout. That has worked really well for me and reduced or eliminated nausea for me. I plan to take a SaltStick just before the race starts and then supplement with Nuun that I’ll carry in my handheld.
I’m looking forward to trying these strategies at my race tomorrow!
Can’t wait to read the other Friday Five posts!