During a half marathon I was wholly unprepared for a couple of years ago, I sucked back the sickly sweet energy gels at the drink stops along the way. I had never taken gels before, but they’re supposed to give you the energy boost when you need it (and I really needed an energy boost) and some of the best endurance athletes use them, so it couldn’t hurt, right?
I was lucky I didn’t suffer the stomach upsets that afflict some, but many of us have vaguely heard something is a good idea but, don’t really know how or when to apply it. Without the knowledge arsenal in our tool kit, a good idea can backfire and we can find ourselves in an uncomfortable position on race day.
The Blackmores Sydney Running Festival is this weekend. With 33,000-odd people participating, the experts tackle some of the most common problems people face during longer runs and clear up some common misunderstandings.
Sports nutritionist and naturopath, Kira Sutherland
Carb Overloading “Carb loading isn’t about overloading. The aim is to store up glycogen in your muscles by changing your ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the few days before the race. Slightly decrease the amount of protein and fat and increase carbohydrates by adding a sweet potato or some pasta, but keep your calorie intake fairly static.”
Food Bloat “Avoid overeating too close to the race,” Sutherland says, who suggests a light meal about two hours before the race. “Good food choices for the morning of the big day are white bread, crumpets, honey, jam, bananas and smoothies.” She also advises people hydrate well with water before the race and drink about 200 ml of water every 20 minutes or so throughout the race.
The Trots “Many runners find high-fibre foods can have negative effects during the race with tummy upsets and unwanted trips to the toilet. Even though they are healthy, avoid oats on race day as they contain fibre and may cause gastrointestinal upsets, especially when you are nervous.”
Starving Your Recovery “One of the worst mistakes many runners make is not eating soon enough after a run. Aim to replenish your energy quickly and effectively after the race. Try to eat within 30-60 minutes after the race. This time frame optimises recovery and promotes the desired adaptations to hard training. Avoid alcohol for at least two hours after the race as it slows down glycogen replacement and carbohydrate replenishment, as well as inhibits your recovery.”
Vlad Shatrov, running coach, founder of Runlab and ultramarathon runner
No Imagination “Visualising your race is critical to race success. If you can’t see it in your mind, you won’t be able to plan for any issues you might face. In the race lead-up, visualise the course and how you’re going to approach it. Rehearse the feelings you’ll want to have, what you’ll be wearing, the scenery and how you want to feel mentally and physically. Be open to all possibilities and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Visualise any tough situations and the strategies you plan to use to pull through.”
Lack of Trust Mentally “Tough runners learn to have faith in themselves and trust that their body will know what to do when it’s race time. Get used to running on your own and being in your own head, so you can learn to rely on yourself for motivation.”
Running Cold “Don’t take the marathon warm-up lightly. After months of hard workouts and long runs, you want to give yourself the best chance of success. Prime all your energy systems and your body for optimal performance.”
Managing director of Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions, Dr Brad McIntosh
Lack of Muscle Memory “Many runners place too little emphasis on stretches and drills that can help to stretch and prepare muscles for the run and optimise technique. Beneficial drill exercises include high knees, butt kicks, grapevines, running backwards and skip marching.”
Forgetting Blisters and Chafe Protection “Preventing blisters and chafing is better than the cure. Make sure you wear shoes and socks that fit well, and always be careful with new shoes. Cover any potential problem areas with Vaseline or second skin to create a protective shield.”
Sudden Cramps “Sudden cramps are hard to prevent. When a cramp strikes, try to gently stretch it out and hold for 30 seconds and if it comes straight back, hold the stretch for another 30 seconds. Remember a cramp does make the muscle more susceptible to strain immediately after and for the next 24 to 48 hours. For added support for your muscles, consider supplementing with Blackmores Super Magnesium+. It contains easily absorbed forms of magnesium, which can help to relieve muscle cramps and spasms due to low magnesium levels.”
Lack of Cool Down “Reduce delayed-onset-muscle-soreness (DOMS) and aid recovery after a run with static stretches that target the specific muscles you have just used. Always hold a light stretch and gradually increase the intensity within comfortable limits.”
Alcohol and exercise researcher Evelyn Parr, of the Centre for Exercise and Nutrition at Australian Catholic University
Recovering with alcohol It’s not uncommon for people to have a post-race drink (or three), but Parr warns it can “impair protein synthesis, i.e. the muscle repair processes in terms of the structure of the muscle”. We are also less likely to make good food choices that will aid recovery while we’re drinking and, she explains, “drinking during the recovery period can exacerbate the intoxication if the individual is dehydrated and drinking normal-high strength beverages (i.e. above 4 per cent)”. So drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids after the race and, if you want a celebratory drink, Parr suggests having a carbohydrate and protein meal beforehand and says, if we stick to moderation, we’ll be fine.