Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things I learned: food and drink

Here are some of the things I learned about marathons. I have now completed 5 races (3 marathons and 2 ironman marathons) and these prescriptions hold up very well. I do better than before and the difference is significant. For a regular marathon my gain is 15 minutes or more, and for the ironman 20 or more. These are well-tested observations.

1. The more normal your diet is the better. I eat normal food, I use no supplements of any kind, no vitamins, no minerals, no protein powders, nothing, nada. 

1b. You don't need a high carb diet to run, and a high carb diet will only make you feel hungry or cause you to over-eat. Fat is great, you heard it here!

1c. The most important thing about diet is quantity. Don't overeat!

2. Carbo-loading (the traditional way) works very well for ironman but less so for marathons. This time I did not stick to my carbo-load and it made no difference.

2b. You cannot carbo-load the night before. These so-called carbo-loading pasta dinners are to be avoided at all costs.

3. Avoid fruit and vegetables and anything with added fiber (you should not eat that stuff in any case) for about 2 days before the race. It will greatly reduce your need to find porta-potties beforehand, to stop during the race, or to suffer from abdominal cramps or stomach upsets.

4. Eat a small breakfast and drink little before the race. It will avoid stomach upsets and potty breaks. You can even skip breakfast if the race is early. Always eat less than you are used to.

5. Don't drink too much. I don't drink before mile 8 and very little afterwards. Yes you will dehydrate, but so will everyone else; even those that drink. The cure for dehydration is to stay clothed in hot weather and to train in race conditions. Your body will adapt. You will lose less fluid, less salt, and you will tolerate the losses better. The cure and prevention is to RUN MORE.

6. A gel (or two) at mile 17-18 is a great placebo. Pick one with caffeine because it will help. The other ingredients are useless, although the taste matters. The sugar can be helpful but, if trained well you should be able to complete a marathon on your stored sugars (glycogen).

6b. Don't drink too much coffee beforehand. Not because it is a diuretic -that effect is minimal- but because you will feel wired and you will be tempted to run too hard in the beginning. If you are easily excitable, be especially careful, because the setting can be very conducive to running too fast.

7. The key to marathons is pacing. Run an even pace. An even pace will always trump the alternatives. Avoid stopping or walking, keep going at all times (this is especially true in ironman). If you feel exceptionally good at mile 23, then you can run a bit harder and shoot for a better time.

8. All gadgets are useless. They weigh extra, they distract you, and they prevent you from listening to your body. Unless you learn to listen to your body, you will never run well. If you run well, the data you collect will contain no information (i.e. it won't be any different from any other run so the information content is zero), although they make for great facebook postings.

9. Wear light shoes and light clothing. Don't lug stuff around. Lighter is better. Remove all excess weight. Certainly don't carry water in a race. You are just making it harder on yourself.

More to come..

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