Happy 6 years to my best friend and favorite person! Here’s to many more 🙂
Let’s talk fueling. We’re used to fueling for a run. If we go for a 90 minute run, we know we’re going to show up with fuel. By the way, “fuel” is the athletes word for food 😉 Why? Because it’s what you need to keep going, just like a car. If you head out on a road trip and have enough fuel for 100 miles but are expecting to go 200 miles, you must re-fuel. Same for your body.
Muscles burn glucose for fuel and the body stores glucose in the form of glycogen which can be broken down into useable glucose when working muscles need an increased fuel supply. The body can store enough glycogen to support approximately 60 – 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. If you are going to exercise more than 60 – 90 minutes, or if you are going to experience periods of high intensity training, such as strenuous hill climbing on a ride of less than 60 – 90 minutes, you are going to need to get glucose to fuel your muscles from food you ingest during the activity.
What kind of food should you eat? Carbohydrates. Why carbohydrates? Because their chemical structure is such that they can be broken down quickly and efficiently into useable glucose. Glucose can be derived from fats and proteins as well as carbs but the problem with both fats and proteins is that the process of breaking them down to extract useable glucose takes a long time and is inefficient. You have to burn more energy to extract glucose from fats than you do to extract it from carbs. Carbs, on the other hand, can be broken down quickly and efficiently to provide the glucose needed to power the muscles.
When training for a short course triathlon, we don’t spend as much time fueling like we do when we’re training for a Half or Full Marathon. This isn’t because it’s not necessary but because most of our workouts are short enough to go on the glycogen that is stored in our body. It is important, however, to get familiar with what works for your body so we’ll need to practice when we can. Is it Hammer Gel or Gu that you like? Do Gu Chomps taste better than Honey Stingers? Does Gatorade upset your stomach? Now is the time to find out.
For a quick refresher course on why and how we should fuel, you can refer back to these blog entries:
Now let’s talk about the specifics of triathlon training and when you should practice your fueling:
Swim: obviously you won’t be eating or drinking during the race BUT this brings up a good point about swim training. Always go to the pool with your water bottle. You’re in the pool for 45+ minutes so, even though you don’t feel like you’re sweating, you are dehydrating your body. Anytime you’re at the wall on a rest break, take a sip of your water. You will feel much better throughout your workout and you will have a quicker recovery.
Bike: the bike is the perfect time to fuel since you’re on it the longest amount of time. Remember what I said previously- your body only has enough stored glycogen to power you for an hour or so before it will bonk..and maybe even less time if it’s a really strenuous workout or if you’re going in a little depleted. When headed out on a bike ride, think about the course intensity and how long it should take you and plan accordingly. While we all need to get comfortable fueling while riding, until you are at this point, you can always pull over on a training ride long enough to take a gel (or whatever it is that you pick). So, if i’m going on a ride that will last me more than an hour, i will tend to re-fuel around the 45 minute mark for the first time. *Remember, you have to start fueling before it’s too late! If you wait until your engine has run completely out of gas, it is too late.
Run: treat these training runs a little more delicately than those during Half/Full training. Normally, we wouldn’t really fuel unless running 7+ miles but i still believe that practice makes perfect so i think i would practice fueling during a run for any run over 5 miles. If for no other reason than to see how your body handles it. So, if i’m doing a 6 – 8 mile run, i would re-fuel around the 40-45 minute mark. if we get into runs that are taking you 90+ minutes, i would plan to re-fuel twice- maybe around the 35 minute and 70 minute mark. This is a little excessive but, again, you’ll figure out how your body tolerates different things. *Don’t forget that you should always have water! With the Memphis heat and humidity, i would suggest taking a water bottle for anything over 5+ miles (less if you sweat a ton).
So, you’ll practice all of this in these bits and pieces and then you show up on race day and what do you do? How do you put it all together? Well, by then you will know what your body can tolerate so you’ll just have to come up with a plan.
Here’s how i tackled my nutrition for the RebelMan tri:
I looked at the distances and calculated some different scenarios to figure out how long I thought I might be racing. I knew I would be out there around 1 hour and 45 minutes. If i were running for 105 minutes (1:45), I would fuel twice. First around 40 minutes and the second time around 75-80 minutes. I decided to fuel during this race as best I could to mimic a long run….with just a few hiccups along the way.
4:50 AM – woke up, got dressed, drank about 8 oz of water
5:30 AM – left the house, ate my whole grain mini bagel with peanut butter and drank a Gatorade (Why? This is what i’m currently eating before all of my workouts Went with Gatorade instead of water because we were expecting a warm day and I was a tad dehydrated – if you don’t know whether or not you’re dehydrated, look at your urine. anything darker than a tinge of yellow means you’re dehydrated)
6:45 AM – arrived at Ole Miss campus ; switched to sipping water
7:40 AM – ate a bag (one serving) of Honey Stingers – 160 calories, 39g carbs (Why? I had only taken in about 200 calories since I woke up and I knew it would still be close to an hour before i started racing so I needed to have some more calories/carbs. Wanted to make sure I was topped off. Plus, I know that my body will tolerate Stingers pretty close to an activity)
8:20 AM (or so) – entered the pool, swam
8:33 AM – exited the swim, took the gel – Cliff Gel 100 calories, 24g carbs- out of my tri shorts (yes, swam with this in my pocket) and ate this as i was running to transition, drank water while walking my bike out of the transition area (Why? I didn’t need this just yet but I knew that I wouldn’t be comfortable fueling on the ride- haven’t mastered that yet and not about to stop during a race!- so I figured it couldn’t hurt. Plus, I planned to ride at a pretty high intensity so this would help. The ride took about 49 minutes so had i not fueled between the swim and bike, it would have been over an hour before my next opportunity to fuel, which would have negatively affected my run.)
9:25 AM – back to transition, grabbed a handheld water bottle (i do not like depending on water stops in races) which had another Gel in the pocket. I debated whether or not to take it…..only a 5k left BUT it had been about 55 minutes since the last Gel i took so I figured it couldn’t hurt- again, I eat Gels a lot when i run so I’m aware of how it will feel. I drank all of the water in my 10 oz handheld and I stopped at one water station long enough to refill my bottle.
Post Race – grabbed a banana and electrolyte drink as soon as I crossed the finish line. Not the best post-race fuel- would have preferred something like chocolate milk but that’s just a personal preference 🙂
Ok, so what would I do differently? I think the 2 Gels during the race worked perfectly for me. It’s only 200 calories but 48grams of carbs. I even think the weird timing ended up working ok. The only thing I would change is my fueling…or lack thereof…while on the bike. If i weren’t such a klutz on the bike, I would have taken my second Gel about 40 minutes into the bike rather than waiting until i got off. Also, I felt really thirsty by the time I got to the run which is a clear sign that your body is begging you for water…telling you that you’ve waited too long.
I’m sure plenty of people don’t fuel at all for a short course triathlon but, if you know that your body can handle it and you’re pretty sure it will take you 90 minutes or more, I would absolutely figure out a fueling plan. You’re expecting a lot out of your body on race day so you need to make sure you’re giving it all the tools it needs to perform well.
Well, I can honestly say, I never thought i would utter those words. Even when all the talk of having a tri group started, I still never had any intentions of doing one. I’ve trained people for numerous tri’s over the years but that doesn’t mean I have to do one. Actually, quite the contrary. Many coaches never do the races their clients do!
I did, however, know that I wouldn’t dare send a workout to the group that I wouldn’t also do. I’m that way with my clients as well. I’m the guinea pig, not them. So, with that being said, I knew I would need to at least get over my fear of putting my face in the water. I knew this would be my biggest challenge but I was willing to give it a shot.
Funny thing is, I didn’t really have any plans on how I was going to do this but one day I was on Facebook and a friend posted that she was going to “learn to swim.” I commented that i was proud of her and that I could do nothing more than a glorified doggy paddle. Next thing I know, she’s emailing me and convincing me to take 4 swim lessons with her. Here’s where it all began!
January 11th marks the day of our first lesson. Fortunately she told our swim coach that we couldn’t do anything other than dog paddle and we weren’t real keen on putting our faces in the water. We literally spent our first lesson going under, blowing bubbles, and learning the freestyle stroke…while never leaving the wall. On to lesson 2, we had to do all of lesson 1 but this time while actually moving through the water. Oh boy! He actually told me I had a very “ugly” swim stroke but this did nothing more than fire me up. (by the way, he wasn’t being mean. he was honest and knew i would respond well to this!) I spent the next several days practicing before going back for lessons 3 and 4. I was amazed at the progress. While I’m still no swimmer, I’m no longer terrified of putting my face in the water. I’m pretty good at bilateral breathing and am getting more and more comfortable, although I do feel that much of that immediate progress has become stagnant but I keep telling myself that swims are just like runs, some are good and some are terrible and that’s what keeps you coming back for more.
So, on to the Rebel Man tri. I had bounced the idea around in my head for a little while since I’m not able to do the MIM tri but have been doing the workouts. The fear though was that this race is 7 weeks earlier than MIM and is also a little longer. There’s a possibility that we’ll be out of town for Dragonfly though so I might not have until July to do one so I thought this might be my only chance for a while. I hemmed and hawed and registered on the last possible day. I didn’t feel “ready” but I kept telling myself that you’re never as ready as you think you need to be for a race and especially a type of race you’ve never done. As late as Saturday, I wasn’t convinced i was doing it but thought, we’ll set the alarm and just see where the day goes from there.
No need, however, for an alarm. I was up at 4:50 and I knew right away I was racing….and, yes, i’m using the term “racing” because, although I was racing myself, I wasn’t about to show up and not give 100%. I was eerily calm. We packed the car and headed to Oxford at 5:30 AM. We parked and went straight to transition. We got there shortly after transition opened so I had plenty of spots to pick from. I picked a spot right up front. Keith’s response was, “you sure you want to be up here with the big boys?” Ha! I was right in the middle of all the bad ass bikes and serious triathletes. Yep, I’m staying here….with my pink and yellow girly bike 🙂 The even funnier thing is that my bike is so tiny, it was suspended in mid-air on the rack.
I got all my stuff organized in my little spot and we went to get my timing chip and body marking. It’s amazing how quickly time flies. It seemed like no time before I had to go line up. I was number 221 out of 243 (i think) so I got to watch all of the really great swimmers which was fun. This race is a 440 meter swim in the pool (55 meter lengths ; approximately 484 yards) so you swim to one end, go under the rope, swim to the next, and so on. The lane ropes kept coming apart at the ends and in the middle so it looked a little chaotic but i was still keeping my cool. It’s pretty nuts to see 150+ people all in the pool at once!!
I was actually not nervous but I think it was because I knew I was in a good starting place for me. In this race, you’re lined up according to your projected swim finish and I felt like I gave a really honest time (13:00). About 22 minutes after the first swimmer went in, I was getting in the water.
Ok, so the swim didn’t go as planned. My time was fine, actually better (12:30 actual ; 12:52 clock- you have to walk out of the pool and outside to a timing mat) but the swim itself didn’t go as well as I would have liked. My first length was great…calm and comfortable. By the time I started down the second length, I was starting to really feel the waves and chaos of the pool but I was still ok. As i got into lane 3, which had gotten more and more narrow and was barely wider than my shoulders, I was starting to feel a bit stressed. All of a sudden, the guy behind me was trying to pass me and there wasn’t really enough room so I tried to go further to the right but then i was almost going under the rope into a swimmer in the other lane. This guy was big so I was getting pretty thrashed around in his wake and I completely freaked out. I immediately had to roll to my side to catch my breath and I was seriously having moments of “if i can just get to the wall, I’ll get out.” Whatever! I also know that I am not a quitter and as soon as I got to the wall I went under the rope and into the next lane. I managed not to have anyone else pass me but i spent a good bit of time switching up strokes- side, back, and freestyle. I never felt comfortable but I felt like as long as i was moving forward, I was making progress. I was VERY pleasantly shocked when i hit the last wall and my watch said 12:30. I hoisted myself out of the pool and off i went.
Once I got outside, I ran to transition which is a little ways away. I was shocked at the jelly leg feeling I had. I think that’s mostly adrenaline but that was definitely something I hadn’t mentally prepared for. It felt kind of good though….like I was really in this thing and I was determined to race it!
While I ran to transition, I took out my ear plugs, took goggles and swim cap off, and ate a gel (it was in my shorts) so when i got to transition, I just had to put on a top (which got completely rolled up in the back and caused a little bit of panic but i knew I needed to just slow down and I’d be fine), socks and shoes (i didn’t dry off at all- figured that’s what smart wool socks are for), un-racked my bike, and walked to the mount line (on the complete opposite side of transition!). I spent this time drinking since I’m not good at fueling on my bike.
I was a bit nervous about the bike because there are a lot of twists and turns for the first and last couple of miles (on campus) and it’s hillier than I was prepared for but, even with all of that, I really loved it. I was cautious on campus because they had bikers coming and going on the same road and i almost had a head-on with one of the leaders but as soon as I got off campus, I gave it all I had. This part was an out and back on a little 2 lane road. I had to slow down a few times because cars would get in my way but for the most part, I was really going. I passed a good number of people and was not passed by anyone. I even managed the turnaround without falling over (which the person in front of me did) so I was pretty pumped. I have no idea, unfortunately, how long the bike ride was. It initially said 13.6 miles on their website but we heard today that it was extended to 14.4. It sucked not knowing so I knew I just had to work the whole way. Once we turned around, it was pretty much uphill. The toughest hill was also where an Ole Miss student was killed while riding her bike in October so there was a ghost bike in her honor as well as a burning torch. It was really eery but I decided to push it up that hill for her. Back on campus, up Sorority Row (straight uphill!), lots of twists and turns again, and back into transition. (ADDENDUM: RebelMan posted the final results and my bike was 17.2 mph! woohoo! i’m pretty pumped about that….especially since i couldn’t get my bike to shift into the big chain ring!!)
I re-racked my bike, grabbed my water bottle, and headed out. I decided to walk the transition as I was feeling a little pukey so I started running as soon as I crossed the timing mat. Unfortunately this only lasted about 2 minutes. I decided to walk while I took another gel and the next thing i knew, I saw the 1K sign- i had not started running again. Uh oh, i have GOT to start running soon. I couldn’t seem to make myself go. The 5K is a pretty hilly course and I would make it about halfway up a hill and then have to walk. Finally, as I hit the 3K mark, my legs finally started to feel more normal and I was able to really run. Unfortunately, i had forgotten to put my pace watch on so I had no idea how fast I was going but I knew that I had a really good chance of hitting my goal (A goal was 1:30 but i knew that was a huge stretch, B goal was 1:40 which I knew i would have to work hard for). I saw Keith as I was nearing the finish and he looked genuinely excited about my race and encouraged me to finish strong. I did just that! I crossed the finish line several minutes ahead of my goal and had an average run pace of 10:04. My finish time was 1:37:58.
I hate that i had to walk so much but I can honestly say I gave it all I had throughout the race. I came in 6th in my age group (out of 11) and would have needed 3 minutes to move up to 5th. I didn’t leave 3 minutes anywhere on that course. I raced my first triathlon to the best of my ability. The really fun thing that about the triathlon is that it has so many moving parts. It’s basically a 5 event (swim, T1, bike, T2, run) race rolled into 1. Even if one of these events isn’t the best, you have 4 others to work on and look forward to.
I can see how it’s completely addictive. There’s so much to try to improve upon and it’s awesome to know that, even if you’re having a bad swim or a hard bike, you’re only in that for x number of minutes before you’re moving on to the next event. The even better thing, once you’ve moved on to the next event, you never even think about the previous one. I was irritated with my swim but as soon as I was on the bike, I was completely focused and in that race and that race only. Same for the run. It really makes you appreciate all of your muscles and all that your body can do for you. You also really have to work your mental muscle because people are all over the place- people are finishing the run when you’re finishing the bike but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ahead of you. It really causes you to forget trying to race others and just race yourself. It’s like one big fun and tough game!
Will I do another one? Absolutely! I knew as soon as I was running from the swim that I will do another. What would I do differently? Nothing. I trained as much as I could with my limited amount of time. I was as strategic in transition as I can be. I worked hard in each event. Progress will simply come with practice. I was already excited to take so many runners into the world of the triathlon but now I’m ecstatic! It’s one thing to spectate these races and it’s another to do them. I’m very happy that I took the plunge 🙂
Keith, thank you for the push and the support even though you knew I felt very unprepared and out of place. You’re my inspiration 🙂
“When you put yourself on the line in a race and expose yourself to the unknown, you learn things about yourself that are very exciting.” Dorris Brown Heritage