Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's a Race Week! Bring on the Carbs!

This week *is* a race week.  The Spring Thaw 10/15/20 miler is Saturday.  But, I'm not racing this race.  On my running schedule is a 15 miler (the original was 16, but one mile short won't make or break me) with marathon intensity miles at the end.  Since I was going to be at North Park running anyway, I figured I might as well throw my money out there to get a medal for my efforts.  And soup and pizza.  Actually, it's also a good way to practice fueling, running pace with/around other runners, and also utilizing fluid stations.

Fact:  I suck at fluid stations.  Early in races they frustrate me due to congestion and later in races I just don't have the dexterity or coordination to always successfully grab a cup and get a drink without giving myself and those around me a bath in whatever I grabbed.  I still remember thinking I was going to die on the Birmingham Bridge of the Pittsburgh Half because I inhaled the Gatorade instead of drinking it.  Yes, I know the "pinch the cup" deal.  I try to do it.  I just really suck at it.  So often in races I find myself thirsty (which never ever happens to me during training).  I wonder if I shouldn't just face the fact that I'm one of "those people" who would be better off carrying their own bottle in the race.  Laugh all you want.

When a race is coming up most runners put some thought into what we all know and love as "carb-loading".  Unfortunately the thing that pops into most peoples heads is an all you can eat pasta meal late the night before the race.  This isn't always the best idea.

First things first:  It is unnecessary to carb load for most races.  I'm serious!  No need to binge on spaghetti and salad the night before a 5k, 10k, or even a half.  And you definitely shouldn't binge on anything the night before a 26.2.

Now I just want to come out and say I'm not a dietitian and I don't have any type of degree/certification in nutrition (yet - I'm thinking my next fitness cert will be in sports nutrition, but that's looking ahead a little).  I also have a high metabolism and tend to burn off things more quickly than average.  That being said, I have ran some races, including a marathon out of town, and especially as of late I run a lot of long runs.  You have to find what works for you, personally.  For me, that came with a lot of trial and error, crappy poorly fueled runs, and research...

In Pfitzinger's book Advanced Marathoning, he refers to a typical runners diet as being 60% carbs.  That seems to be pretty standard thought among running experts.  When I'm not marathon training, my typical diet lies somewhere around 40-50%.  I've had days that lie in the 30% in the carbs department.  I live with a diabetic, I love LOVE weightlifting, and lean toward a lower carb nutritional profile in the off-running season.  So during training, I like to gradually increase my carb macro instead of going full force.  During Mesocycle 1 of this training cycle, for example, I set my macros at 50/25/25.  I'm currently in Mesocycle 2 and am focused on 60/20/20.  Mid March, when I hit Mesocycle 3, I will kick the carbs up to 65% and stick with that until race week.  Now, keep in mind, this is for the "day to day".  Pre-long run and pre-race is a different story.

Long run fueling:  I like to have my body used to a routine so that when race time comes around there are no surprises.  My long run fueling has been the same for the past couple of years.  It hasn't failed me yet, so I'm not changing it.  The day before, I eat my highest protein meal early in the day (usually eggs/an omelet/greek yogurt and protein powder/something like that).  Then I wean off the protein the rest of the day and transition to eating a higher carb ratio.  My dinner that night always consists of pasta with a traditional/marinara sauce with some bread on the side.  No chunky veggies or greasy meat sauce.  Those don't do my tummy favors during a run.  Every so often I will have a small amount of turkey Italian sausage because it is low in fat and not greasy.  But that's the only thing that "agrees" with me.  Also - when I say pasta, I'm talking a single serving of pasta, not a heaping plateful like you get at a restaurant.  That usually translates into 1 cup pasta, 1/2 cup sauce.  I weigh and measure just about everything I eat.  My kitchen scale and measuring cups/spoons as well as MyFitnessPal are near and dear.  Another Fact:  my worst runs have come when I've eaten too much dinner the night before - no matter what I ate!

I try to eat this dinner fairly early in the evening.  Then I have my bedtime "pre-long run snack". Again, this is nothing scientific, nothing special other than the combination of things that I have tried over time that work.  It is simply: 1/3 cup oatmeal (the real stuff, not the packets of random BS and flavorings), cooked with water not milk, with 1 T chia seeds, 1 T raisins, 1 T honey, and a buttload of cinnamon.  I eat this about an hour before I fall asleep for the night.  I also have some green tea.

The morning of my long run, I eat a slice of light whole wheat toast with 1/2 T peanut butter.  Lately, this has been about an hour before I actually get out and run.  On the drive to North Park (or wherever I run) I eat a banana.  During my runs, I carry a bottle filled with 1/2 Gatorade and 1/2 water and I take a GU every 5 miles on runs longer than 10 miles.  Example:  a 12 miler I'll need 1 GU, a 15 I'll take 2.  I can run 10 miles and under without GU, but I always take fluid with me for 8+.  Again, trial and error, folks.  Don't come and say "well Nichole told me to"!  You might be able to go 15 miles with nothing.  You might need something every 30 minutes.  Keep playing around with it.  Even my plan evolves from time to time when I notice things aren't working anymore.  That's what all these weeks of training are for!  Don't wait until taper time to start... practice makes perfect (we can hope!).

Race fueling:  Read all of the above on long run fueling.  That is exactly what I do for races.  That is exactly what I did for MCM.  One thing I felt I did very smartly was taking my own food to DC.  I had all the stuff I was used to and ate accordingly.  The only thing different was my pasta dinner..  we found a little place that had just plain spaghetti with marinara sauce and while they did serve me about 30 pounds of it, I portioned off what I needed and just ate that.  The morning of the race - since I had to be up super early to catch the shuttle and wait around for the start - I ate half my PB & bread (I made a whole sandwich instead of a half) before I left the hotel and took the other half and a banana with me to the starting area to eat closer to my usual time.

But what about eating allllllll the carbs during taper time and especially in the days leading up to the race?  Trust me, the last thing you want to do during taper is give yourself yet another thing to go crazy about so don't obsess.  This is yet another thing that there is much agreement/disagreement among runners & running coaches about.  Some recommend eliminating certain foods in the days leading up to the race.  Some advise a few days of "carb depletion" followed by days of more intense carb-loading.  Some just say eat as you normally do.  I believe this is another thing that is so personal to your body and your needs that you just have to go with your gut and past experiences if you've BTDT and do what works for you.

Again, I will repeat that I don't think you need to follow any carb-load routine for anything under a marathon.  For a half, I think you're fine to eat what you would for a typical long run prep, and maybe be more conscientious about scaling back the fiber content if your tummy tends to get nervous and squirrelly due to race day nerves.  You don't need the extra carbs for more hours of running and I'm sure you don't want those extra pounds that won't melt off during the race (but might end up weighing you down and slowing you down!)!  A decrease in training plus adding more carbs in the weeks and days leading up to the race can and will make you gain some weight.

Now for a marathon, you need to prepare a bit.  I've only ran one marathon.  You all know this.  I'm not an expert.  But here's what worked for me after research and learning how my body reacted during training.

I ate normally (65% carbs, 1/2-3/4 g per lb of body weight in protein, and the rest fat) until race week.

Race week:  I bumped up my carbs to 70%.  Stopped focusing on the other macros for the most part.  I added more starches and low-medium GI foods.  Lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains.  I was eating sweet potatoes like it was going out of style and I remember eating rice cakes and dried apricots as snacks.  Also starting race week, I began to drink a bottle of water that included 1 Nuun tablet in it once a day.  I know a lot of people out there love Nuun and while I think it is tasty stuff, it just doesn't work for me while I'm running.  It does, however, seem to give me a nice lift and a bump in hydration outside of running, so I figured one a day might help for the race.  It could have been placebo effect, I don't know.  But it was a tasty placebo (I favor the strawberry lemonade).

I read in many places that your last "big" meal (as in one that will fill you up for a while) should be two days before the race (Friday night for a Sunday race, for example.  That would be tonight if you're thinking of Spring Thaw - so choose wisely!).  For me, I didn't exactly eat healthfully all day because I was out at the First Timers pep rally after having traveled all day and going to the expo.  I do know I had Subway for lunch and ate food I brought with us to the hotel that night.

The day before race day:  Carb macro up to 75%.  The key from here out is to eat small amounts throughout the day and hydrate.  I drank more Nuun, Gatorade, lots of water, ate a bit of fruit with a small muffin and croissant early in the day at the runners bRUNch, and munched on simple carbs (Clif bar pieces, pretzels, etc) when I got hungry.  I went to Georgetown Cupcake.  Highly recommend the Key Lime cupcake.  As the day went on, I avoided meat, dairy, high fat foods, fibrous foods, fried foods, things like that.  I think that cupcake was the heaviest thing I ate all day.  I mentioned my dinner above - plain pasta with a little sauce.  Small serving.  No greasy meat, no salad.  I had a piece of garlic bread too.  I made sure not to get full off the meal, which I had fairly early (5 ish?).  Before I hit the sack for the night I had my bedtime snack, as listed above.  Also see the Race Fueling section for what I ate that morning.

You see, I didn't spend days upon days eating pancakes and pudding and chips and pasta and whatever.  I've seen some pretty whacked out things!  My method that I will be practicing again for this next marathon is to gradually increase my carbs through training, then gradually increase them during race week.  Nothing extreme, no gorging, nothing crazy.

Honestly, while carb loading is important, I think people make too much out of it.  It doesn't have to be hard or a total bingefest.  It sure does sound like fun to eat nothing but sugar for days on end, doesn't it?  I could go for a day of laying on the couch eating ice cream and Doritos!  lol

If you're racing this weekend - good luck!  If you're just running - have fun!  Eat some healthy carbs, don't stuff yourself silly until after the race like me (omg soup & pizza buffet! the only thing that would make it perfect would be a beer tent!), and just relax.  It's just running... you paid to have fun doing this! (remind me I said that when I'm having a bad day, please)


  1. Good luck at this race! I've done a bunch of the North Park races before (did this one for 3 years) and I love them! They're prefect for getting in mileage. Plus, if something's not feeling right you can always stop at 10 miles which is great. Every lap I finish I get such a great sense of accomplishment and keep pushing! Can't wait to see a recap :)

    --Gretchen @

    1. Thanks Gretchen! I haven't done this race before and admittedly they kind of sold me on the medal... haha.

  2. Good luck this weekend!! I really wanted to do that race this year but I have to work for the marathon this weekend. Getting some free things and getting your run in is always good

    1. Thank you Shaun! Too bad you can't be there, but working for the marathon seems pretty cool!

  3. Great post! Fueling is definitely my weakness that I'm working on. I've told this story often, so sorry if you heard it, but for my 1st half marathon (Montour Trail), I read that I was supposed to carb load & went out to dinner the night before & had an enormous dish of white pasta, when I hadn't eaten white pasta in years. I got really sick that night. Then, the morning of the race, I was so nervous that I sat in my car before the race started downing Gatorade & energy chews--after I'd eaten my normal breakfast. Needless to say, that race was an absolute disaster, and I dont think I've ever been so sick in my life--not only during the race but the entire day & night. Ugh!!! One thing I'm trying to do now is to stop eating so much fibrous food the day before the race (which is typically what I eat) & also eliminate any sugar. The Racing Weight book advocates an approach like you're doing--eat more carbs as your training volume increases. So recently I've been trying to do that in a smart way with whole wheat carbs since white makes me sick usually. I'll be testing this out during these next races. Oh, and I'm one of those people who carry my own water bottle during a race. I carry Nuun in it & then take water at the stations to drink after a gel. See you Saturday, I hope!

    1. Oh my! I carb loaded for my first 5K... lol I think I was so over the moon and finally feeling like a "real runner" that I wanted to do all the "real runner" things. Live and learn, right? I usually do the whole wheat as well. I like the "weird" pastas too like quinoa or brown rice pasta. They're also better for my husband so that's just what we tend to get. I tried in training cycles before to go all mad (and a lot of bad!) carbs all the time and it just didn't sit well with me. It's easier on my belly to ease into it and back off.

      I think I'm going to take my Amphipod with me tomorrow and try out "racing" (but not) with it. I'd rather find out I hate it or love it now than goal race day!