By Veronica Larisova
Long distance runner and exercise physiologist / nutritionist.
With only a few days left before the biggest fun run in the world, I hope you have been following a good running program for the past three months, instead of trying to start your training now. After some hard training, this week should be all about tapering.
That’s if you are a first-timer or if you intend to do really well and possibly smash your personal best (PB). If you haven’t put the hard yards in (literally), don’t ditch the race altogether!
Just enjoy it as a FUN run, not an Olympic RACE.
Instead of pushing yourself beyond your current fitness level, jog and even walk up the heartbreak hill. Leave your ego at home.
So given you have trained and planning to run your best, there are few strategies that could help you to run faster and recover better.
Nutrition is the key to optimal performance and recovery. Food is our fuel and if you don’t use the right one, you won’t go very far and might break down. It’s kind of like trying to put soda in the fuel tank of your car. You won’t need any crazy expensive supplements and gels though. Just a wholefoods diet, coffee and lots of water will do the trick.
Should You Carb-Load?
Carbohydrate loading is a nutrition strategy aiming at filling your muscle glycogen stores to their maximum capacity by increasing your carbohydrate intake few days prior to a marathon race. Science says that carb loading has no effect on performance in events lasting less than 90mins so don’t bother trying this for C2S and stick to your usual healthy diet instead.
Overeating high carbohydrate foods will leave you feeling heavy and cause lots of water retention, especially when you aren’t used to it. Even when carb loading for a marathon, eating a late big high carb dinner the night before your race, will make you feel sluggish and slow you down.
Have a very light dinner instead, made from veggies and fish (or tofu if you are vego), and eat your carbs with breakfast and lunch. I’m not trying to convert you to a low carb diet here. You still need your carbs every day. What you don’t need however is carb loading and over eating thinking you are going to burn it off. You won’t.
THE THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD COVER THE MORNING OF THE RACE ARE HYDRATION, NUTRITION AND WARM UP.
Dehydration declines athletic performance. Fluid loss of even just 5% of body weight during exercise may decrease your performance capacity by roughly 30%. But even 2% of fluid loss can lead to nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and gastrointestinal problems.
Drink water at a room temperature and add a little bit of pink salt to it. No need to drink sugary electrolyte drinks unless you want to have some during and after the race. One cup during the race and one after is more than enough.
Keep in mind that your body can only assimilate 500ml of water per hour or up to 1L in the most extreme heat conditions and exercise effort. Sculling down a litre of water in one go just before the race is going to make you have a toilet break mid-race. You should keep well hydrated all year around and if you don’t, put an effort in it at least few days before the race by having 3L of water throughout the day. If you want to drink during the race, practice drinking from a tiny cup while running. It’s a refined skill ☺
Don’t eat anything you are not used to the morning of the race; this is not a time to experiment. A small, light meal with some carbohydrates is the best. I like to have oats with banana and honey or rice cakes with peanut butter and banana just before I leave the house and then a black coffee on the way or when I get there.
Caffeine enhances athletic performance but again, if you normally don’t have a coffee or if it affects your bowels too much, definitely don’t have one just before the run. You can also bring a banana and few rice cakes with you and have that on the way if you like eating just before you run.
Without a proper pre-race warm up, your body will do it’s own warm up during the first one or two kilometres which is totally fine when running just for fun but it will probably hinder your PB efforts. Get off the train or bus one stop earlier, jog or power walk to the start line and do at least five minutes worth of dynamic stretching and some drills (single leg hops, high knees, butt kicks etc.) just before the race starts.
Post – Race
Hydration is your number one task post-race if you want to feel good and recover well. You can have one cup of electrolyte drink at the finish line and then keep rehydrating with water and ‘watery foods’ such as fresh fruits and vegetables, smoothies and soups. There is plenty of water and electrolyte drinks at the finish line as well as fresh fruits. Go for it!
You also need to refuel right. My best recommendation is to have some of the fresh fruit at the finish line, then keep sipping on water, coconut water or fresh veggie juices until you have ‘a proper meal’ hour or two later.
This meal should contain some good quality carbohydrates, protein and good fats. Stay away from greasy and heavy foods, sweets and any processed foods in general. You need lots of nutrients without overloading your liver too much.
An ideal meal would consist of vegetables with some protein such as eggs (not fried or scrambled with cream), fish or any good quality meat (only about 80-100g) or with tofu/tempeh. What meal that would be? A breakfast bowl with some quinoa or sweet potato in it, poke bowl, salad or yoghurt with fruits and nuts if you have a sweet tooth. SORRY, no hot dogs, pizza and chocolate bars.
Stretch, ice-bath and a good massage are the three best recovery methods I swear by besides nutrition, hydration and sleep.
Do some static stretches immediately post-race and if you have time jump into an ice bath. It’s easy to do at home. Just grab few bags of ice at a service station, chuck it in a bathtub with some cold water and sit in for at least 10min.
You can have a massage that afternoon or evening (not if you have been drinking) or you can schedule one for the day after. C2S is hard on the body, even for the most elite runners. It’s all on concrete with lots of up and down hills, which takes a toll on your muscles and tendons. A good sports massage is my number one recovery and injury prevention method after such a race.
Whatever you do, cover all the post-race nutrition and hydration strategies before you move onto the booze. I would not recommend ever drinking alcohol after a huge running effort but C2S is a special day and it’s hard to say no to all the party temptations.
So, before you put your party hat on, rehydrate and refuel properly. Drinking on empty stomach is equally as bad as drinking after eating greasy junk food. Your liver can’t process both at the same time and you will feel dreadful on Monday morning. Lastly, keep drinking water between your alco bevies ☺