28 Jun 2016

Ironman Boulder 70.3 – Part 2 – Nutrition

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Generally speaking a big obstacle for Endurance events is figuring out how, when and what to eat.  As we continue to exert ourselves it becomes harder for our bodies to manage digestion.  The harder we exert ourselves the more difficult it is for our bodies to focus on multiple tasks.  While our bodies are generally great at multi-tasking, when we push one part of our bodies, the other parts have to divert resources to accomodate that and something has to give.

Much like when we get sick, our bodies try very hard to combat the virus or bacteria and thus the rest of us feels tired while it works to fix the problem.  Well we also feel crappy because we are being attacked, but we get tired because our body is telling us to slow down, rest, so I can do my work.  I need all hands on deck to fix this problem over here, so don’t go screwing that up by trying to do something else while I do that. That’s a bit oversimplified obviously but you get the point.  So if we are trying to exert a lot of effort to say, pedal a bike, or run some obscene distance, then our body tries to help us by diverting resources from other tasks.  It’s also more complicated than that, but again, you get the point.

So for long distance/duration events we have to figure out how, what and when to eat to put as little demand on the digestive system while still getting what we need to perform.  Hence the multi-billion dollar sports nutrition industry.  Now to help us, they have created all kinds of products that are easy to eat when you can’t breathe, mild on the digestive system (mostly), and simple to digest so that we can get the nutrients quickly.  But not everyone is the same and therefore some products work well for one person but not for others.  I won’t dive into all of the options or how I got to where I am, just go through my thought process for this particular race with what I know works for me and why.

Planning for 6-7 hours of continuous moderately hard exercise takes some planning. For me, in general I shoot for 200-400 calories per hour and 24 ounces of water per hour when exercising more than 2 hours.  If I’m exercising around 2 hours I’ll likely eat something in the first hour just so I feel good and not starving at the end of the ride.  Less than 90 minutes and it’s usually just water for me during exercise.

My general nutrition choices for exercise are, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fig newtons, Tailwinds nutrition in my bottles, Hammer gels (huckleberry), and real fruit available at aid stations.  These are my go to foods.  I know they work, I like them, and so that’s what I use.  I try other products just to see how I like them and for comparison, but generally stick to these.  I like sandwiches for long training rides, it’s real food and easy to transport.

So this race.  I can’t eat or drink while swimming, or at least shouldn’t drink the water I’m swimming in.  So pre-race I ate granola and bananas around 3 hours before.  1 hour before swim time I ate another banana.  30 minutes before I ate a gel and about 10 ounces of Tailwinds in a water bottle at normal strength.  That would be a good kick start for me and make sure that the first 30 minutes of the bike I felt good.  On the bike I had 2 gels in my box, 2 bottles of slightly stronger Tailwinds (2.5 scoops) per bottle because I knew there would be plain water at aid stations to drink.  I have an aero bottle on my bike and a cage for one bottle behind the seat.  I drank the first bottle in the first 70 minutes, refilled with my bottle in back.  At the second aid station I dropped my empty bottle and grabbed a bottle of plain water.  Somewhere in hour 2 on the bike I ate a gel, but don’t remember exactly when.  I finished the second tailwinds and refilled with just plain water by the 2:10 mark of the bike I think.

So at this point, I have had 3 gels, 3 bottles of tailwinds and some plain water and am about 3.25 hours into the race when I get off the bike.  Now I’m going to detour a bit and take a step back in time 1 day.  I knew Friday that this was going to be a hot day.  Hotter than any of my training days and hotter than I thought when planning.  90-95+ temps instead of 85-90 temps like I was planning.  We had not had a lot of heat in ABQ yet for training and I sweat a lot.  So I became a bit worried watching my kids frolic in the reservoir that I was not going to get enough salt and electrolytes with my plan.  I had read and talked a lot with clients about “salt tabs” but I had never used them seriously.  I got lucky here, a little.  I violated a rule of not trying something new on race day.  But I felt I didn’t have a choice with the rising temps.  So I decided to use some salt tabs on race day.  I know I have a pretty tough stomach and digestive system, I rarely get gut bombs and when I do it’s always related to too many gels.  So I didn’t want to up my gels and I didn’t want to have to deal with putting electrolyte tablets into water while running.  And I was most worried about the run.  I won’t go through all the mental calculations that I did, part of it was just guessing because I’ve never done a sweat test, and part of it was being conservative.  But, the tabs I had suggested 2 tabs every 15-30 minutes.  I determined with the gels I was going to have and the Tailwinds I was going to have for the first hour of the run that their suggested serving size was too much.  So I chose 2 tab every 45-60 min, and then tried not to think about how I was violating my own nutrition rules.

Now back to the race, I got off the bike and ate a gel in transition.  I feel good, not too hot, well fueled and ready to run.  So I had prepared two flasks of tailwinds to carry running, 3 gels in my belt, and a stack of salt tabs in my belt and off I went.  The plan was to run between each aid station, walk each station, finish 1 gel and 1 flask of tailwinds each hour and hold on.  At the aid stations I would drink 2 cups of water and eat a couple of oranges.  I ended up eating 2 gels during hour 2, finished both flasks within 90 minutes and had 2 salt tabs every third (I think) aid station and felt strong until mile 7.5.

Here’s why post race write-ups are good.  I believed that I ate enough and drank enough.  But putting it to paper tells me I may not have.  Running is harder for me than biking, my body is working harder and needs more fuel, while what I had may have been enough for biking, my leg fatigue and lack of focus may have been more due to fueling than I thought.  16 ounces of tailwinds is 200 calories, 3 gels is 300 calories, throw in some oranges and that’s not likely enough after having already exercised for 3.25 hours prior to running.  So while I believe that I lacked muscular endurance, it appears I may also have lacked some fuel.  I was hydrated well, I actually had to use a port-a-potty at mile 5.5 of the run, always a good sign.  In retrospect, I should have planned to have more Tailwinds with me for the run and taken the time to make some bottles at the aid stations.

So there is my summary.  I wanted to add, that although my first blog post seemed quite hard on myself, the main point of that post was you can’t outpace your training and you should set realistic goals and be proud of your performance and effort when you achieve it.  6 hours was my goal, and 6:02 is pretty darn close.  I was mad that I couldn’t run better the last part of the race.  But it has only served to motivate me.  But it also prevented me from enjoying the finish as much as I should have.

Completing my first Half Ironman in 6 hours was an excellent accomplishment and I am proud of that.  I would do another one, and will, but not without being more prepared for the run.  You should always learn from your races, they are the result of the hard training, and it would be a waste to do all that effort and not analyze what went well and where to improve both in your training and on race day.

 

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