Inside Zara’s recent half marathon experience
Firstly let me clarify, this was NOT my first time running a half marathon and I knew exactly what I signing up for, BUT despite all of this I still experienced bad race day nerves, as I do with most my races. Despite all my training or type of race, I find pre-race my gut has a general unsettled feeling, I need to go to the toilet about 5 times before I can line up at the start line and I often feel like butterflies are in my stomach until the gun goes off. Working as a sports dietitian I am very aware of pre-race nerves and it is very important for me to be practical with my athlete clients regarding issues such as “what do I eat the night before?” OR “what are the best foods/products to consume on/during the race?”
SO, back to my race experience, the Noosa Winter Festival is a fabulous event that I have attended every year since 2015 and it is ever-growing and attracting state-wide athletes. It offers multiple swim, cycling and running events over the weekend for all ages and abilities. It just so happened that my personal weekend was jam packed with other commitments and unexpected life ‘stress’ (when is it ever not). This saw me arrive at Noosa late Saturday evening, hungry and looking to eat anything (gluten free) in sight. Now this is not an ideal situation, but these things happen and it is part of life to be able to deal with different situations as they come.
Been an experienced runner, I of course had already set a race goal time I’d like to achieve, so fully aware that I am asking a lot of my body to get me over the line in 90 - 95minutes. With my nutrition and dietietics background I know there are certain types of foods and condiments that one might want to avoid or limit leading up to an endurance event such as a half marathon such as higher fibre and fat dishes, but Zara did not care to think about those things at this point in time (cue: hangry) as it was 8pm. If you have been following previous blogs, you will also notice I am a coeliac, which again limits the types of foods I can consume (gluten free diet is the only cure). So with this in mind, I began my hunt for survival (dinner) in Noosa.
Now Noosa, is quite a trendy spot to wine and dine, and with gluten free typically considered a trend in this era, I expected that sourcing a gluten free pasta dish would not be challenging at all. Usually I would cook homemade gluten free pasta, however did not have this opportunity. It happened to turn out that in fact Noosa did not have a gluten free pasta option for me and by this stage I had given up and resorted to plan B, pizza. I would consider pizza to be one of my favourite foods however again being gluten free, the bases can be really hit or miss. I finally settled on a pizza place and ordered ASAP. The restaurant so kindly had a bottle of chili oil on the table; one of my favourites and this went superbly with my garlic and prawn pizza. RED FLAG ALERT- high consumption of fat the night before an endurance event can predispose you to a higher chance of stomach upsets the next morning (and/or during the event), what I like to call ‘pre-runners gut’. NOW I can’t fully blame the oil, as I said I am quite a nervous racer and nerves, stress, anxiety or all of the above also play a huge role in gut health. As can timing of your last meal, dehydration, high carbohydrate intake such as sugary beverages or too many gels and of course the obvious fact that you are exercising and therefore there is a reduced blood flow to the gut which is enough to cause issues.
On the plus side, I did manage to bring my own gluten free breakfast food for pre-race as I know what works for me and don't want to rely on local cafes for my pre-race nutrition. Additionally despite my tummy upset, I managed a personal best time at running this distance and am now motivated to continue training and enter the Gold Coast Half Marathon in July.
- Be as prepared as possible, not only with your race gear but with your nutrition.
- Questions to ask: Is there a kitchen at your accommodation? What are you eating in the morning? Have you got familiar options for fuel for during the race? Have you practiced any/all of this pre-training?
- If you can cook your own meal the night before, I recommend this option, as it is likely safe and will be something you’ve eaten before or even better, practiced before a long training run/s!
- If you have to eat out the night before, think about the dish you are ordering, is it similar to something you would normally eat and is it a good source of carbohydrates, moderate protein and low in fat?
- Don't let yourself get hangry/starving and make poor nutrition choices, if you are travelling far or over usual meal times, pack snacks.
- Running a half marathon is a mental mind game.
For more information or an individualized training or race nutrition plan, please get in touch with any Eat Smart Sports Dietitian here: http://www.eatsmartnutrition.com/clinichours.html
The Sports Dietitians Australia also has more information on ‘runners gut’ here: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/fuelling-recovery/runners-gut/