Nine miles into a long run, and I am unable to figure out why I am so beat. I am not running particularly fast, I’m in fantastic shape, I’m not hungover, and there is no wind or hills, so 9 miles in I should feel like a rock star, not like death. Then it occurs to me that I have not eaten nor drank anything with the exception of a cup of coffee since last night. The more I get involved in the sport of triathlon and the more ultra-distance triathlons I prepare for, the clearer it becomes…it is all about nutrition.
Like most things in triathlon, adequate nutrition requires proper planning and practice. What works for your friend may not work for you. The first time that this became apparent to me was during Timberman 70.3. This is, no doubt, a tough course. The elevation gain on the bike is ridiculous, and still haunts me every time I go for a ride. The fact that the most training I did for this race was my daily 5 mile run, did not help me nor did I even have a plan for nutrition. My friends asked what my nutrition plan was; I went with my usual “I didn’t think about that.” This was followed by, “I figured I would wing it. I have a water bottle, and they will have stuff along the way.” This is fairly typical of how I live life…little planning. Yes, usually I get away with that method, but every once in a while it bites me in the ass. Timberman was one of these times.
Taking my friend’s advice, I brought a ton of energy gels with me on the bike…and finished all of them. Coming off the bike I was no doubt tired, but ready to conquer the run. I found my friends and off we went. Things were going great until mile 4, at which point my GI tract decided to pay me back for force feeding it nothing but pure sugar and caffeine for 3 hours on the bike. Bloating was just the beginning, only to be followed by the inevitable diarrhea and vomiting. The next 9 miles were torturous. I stopped just about every 1.5 miles to vomit. I finally crossed the finish line and promptly sat on the toilet for the next hour.
I blame my lackluster performance during Timberman solely on improper nutrition. Not doing the research prior to the race and “winging it” definitely did not do me any favors. Since that day, I’ve learned to avoid energy gels or any product that resembles it. They seem to work well for some athletes, but definitely do not agree with me. I’ve also learned there is value in doing more planning before a long race or training. I have found products that have the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and electrolytes that are easier on my GI tract. I find that for shorter workouts, when I need pure electrolytes and hydration, that Nuun tablets are light and not too sweet. For my longer workouts/races, the Infinit products provide just the right balance of carbohydrates, electrolytes, and protein to help me avoid the mid-run “bonk”.
At the end of the day, your nutritional status can make or break you. Only consuming coffee prior to your long run is probably not ideal, and can lead to poor performance and much unwanted time on the toilet. Proper hydration plus carbohydrate, protein, and electrolyte balance are essential to successful training and racing…all of which should be trialed before race day!