November 17, 2011

Nothing new on race day

There are a thousand variables that can alter your performance in a marathon. Fitness (the single most important variable) is completely within your control, so you train hard and smart. However, other variables such as temperature and weather can't be controlled, so you hope for the best.  The "little things" like shoe selection, fueling / hydration strategy, and pre-race logistics really add up, so its wise to start thinking about them far in advance.

The standard pre-race meal
Andrea and I subscribe to the "nothing new on race day" philosophy. We want to simply go out and execute what we have practiced for thousands of miles in training. We've evaluated different pairs of racing flats, worn them on harder workouts, and made the choice for what we will wear a month in advance. We've practiced taking gels on long runs. We've worn several iterations of our racing "outfit" to dial in exactly what we need to wear depending on the temperature. Before the race, we'll eat the same exact breakfast we've eaten for every other race and long run this year. For dinner the night before the race, we'll eat the same thing we always eat... some mac and cheese and some ice cream. This is my segue to carboloading... we don't believe in (the standard application of) it... hear us out...

An anti-carboloading stance is probably a touchy subject for a lot of folks, and understandably so! That's not what we are trying to promote. In my experience, I've seen plenty of inexperienced runners ritually putting down too much extra food in the 24 hours leading up to a race. Lots of them also seem to suffer from GI problems, cramping, and an assortment of other issues during the race itself. That's worse than being hungry! Somewhere in between is where you ideally want to end up... the old "middle ground!"

I'm not advocating cutting out carbs in the days leading up to a big endurance event! That would be stupid and terrible for performance! I just think that the best eating strategy is to simply do what you typically do all the time. When you are a week out from a big race and tapering, eating normal amounts of food is probably enough to top off your glycogen levels, since your activity level is greatly reduced. Going out of your way to plow through a couple extra bowls of spaghetti adds a stress that your body has to deal with. I know the science behind carboloading (its not definitive by any means), and while it definitely might work for some people, in our opinion the risks or a "true carboload" greatly outweigh the potential rewards.

My guess is that most runners probably know these things, and would opt for a larger breakfast/lunch and smaller dinner on the day before a big race. Even websites like the "Endurance Calculator" mention (in the finer print) not to necessarily chow down too much in the 12 hours before the race. It should probably be spread out over a longer period of time. The Sweat Science blog is a good resource on this topic.

In the days leading up to Philly, we'll eat the typical meals that we always do, and our pre-race dinner will be the same thing our bodies have become very accustomed to. We found a hotel with a  kitchen, so we won't have to deal with the hassle of going out to eat any meals on Saturday. By taking in enough carbs all week and not running our usual higher mileage, our glycogen stores will be topped off for several days leading up to Sunday, and we won't have to subject our digestive systems to any additional stress in the 24-48 hours before the marathon.

On race morning, we'll eat the same breakfast that we ate before long runs. Andrea goes with a banana and a powerbar. I usually just go with a powerbar for long runs, but since I'll need a bit more fuel for 26.2, I'll either add in an extra powerbar or eat some sport beans. For whatever reason, these highly processed foods digest very easily for me, and I've never had any GI problems using them.

Stocked up for race day. This is way more than we'll use, but its good to have doubles of everything.


  1. Great post! I love your blog because I always learn so much from it and I really appreciate that you are willing to share your knowledge. I agree about the carbloading. I just eat normal leading up to a marathon and don't really overdo anything.

    I too eat a granola bar and banana before a big race but for some reason it hasn't made me as fast as Andrea yet. :)

  2. I think you might be blowing it with your fueling strategy. Real champions eat chicken nuggets for breakfast.

    Good luck in Philly.

  3. I think that was my favorite part of the Beijing Olympics - Bolt and his nuggets!