Race Pacing and Nutrition
The following is a guideline for reducing the
likelihood of an in-race stomach “shutdown” while eating prior to, durin, and
immediately following an Ironman-distance race for experienced athletes who are
focused on fast times or race placement. We have been refining this plan for
the past weeks ahead of your Ironman race by experimenting in workouts,
especially bricks and long sessions, in C-priority races. Don’t do anything on
race day that you have not done successfully many times before!!!
Determine how many
Calories you will take in during the race and the strategy for doing so. As
points of reference, an 11- to 12-hour Ironman burns roughly 6,500 to 7,000
Calories and a 9-hour Ironman uses about 8,000 Calories. Approximately half of
these Calories come from glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) and most must
be replaced during the race.
Gastric problems are a
leading cause of poor performances and DNFs (did not finish) in
Ironman-distance races. If your stomach “shuts down” during the race you either
1) went out too fast—poor pacing strategy/control, 2) ate too much solid food,
3) did not take in enough water, or 4) are becoming hyponatremic (low blood
sodium level). The following is intended to prevent these occurrences.
Prior to Race Day
- Reduce food intake as
your training volume tapers down (late Peak and Race periods).
- Eat “normal” foods
during this period. Do not “experiment.”
Day Before Race
- View the swim course
at race time (from water, if possible).
- Eat a large breakfast
with an emphasis on moderate to low glycemic index carbohydrate. Examples are apple, black beans, grape,
grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, pears and yogurt.
- Eat a large lunch
when next hungry, again emphasizing moderate-low GI foods.
- Have a moderately
sized dinner that is “normal” food for you but with limited fiber intake.
Moderate to low GI foods.
- Stay well hydrated
throughout the day.
- Use extra salt on
Race Day Breakfast
- Take in 1000-1500
Calories from moderate to low glycemic index foods 3 to 4 hours prior to
the start. This should be rehearsed before bricks and long workouts and
before C- and B-priority races.
- For nervous stomach
use liquid or semi-solid foods.
- Options may include
Ensure or Boost (approx. 250 Cal/8-ounce can); 1 medium banana (100 Cal);
bagel with 1 tablespoon nut butter (250 Cal); 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
mixed with 1 ounce protein powder (200 Cal); 1 jar baby food (~100-200
Cal); 1 packet instant oatmeal (~100-200 Cal); 1 cup instant pudding
(~100-300 Cal); 1 can tomato soup (200 Cal).
- Example: 4 cans of
Ensure, banana, bagel with nut butter (1350 Cal).
- Either go back to bed
after breakfast or relax with some light stretching (focus on hips,
glutes, and low back). If tired, go back to bed. If you don’t feel that
you can go to sleep after eating, then eat some of these foods (about 400
calories) just before going to bed. Sleep is important. You want to get at
least six hours, but preferably eight hours.
- Snack but eat no more
than 200 Calories/hour in the last 3 hours. Stay with liquid or semi-solid
- Think calming
thoughts or listen to calming music—do not stress yourself out. When
apprehensions appear recall previous successes in training and racing.
- 1-1.5 hours before—eat
something such as a Clif bar and sports drink.
- Eat/drink nothing in
the last hour except water (prevents exercise-induced hypoglycemia early
- 10 minutes
before—take in as much sports drink as you feel comfortable with.
- If possible, carry a
plastic bottle of the above sports drink into water.
- Do not go anaerobic
at the start of the swim—hold back, yet have a strong enough opening to
get a good draft for the swim. You don’t want to be stuck behind to slow
of a person or group where you are having to hold back your stroke length and
cause mental anxiety.
- Mentally divide the
bike portion into fourths. The
first quarter is about fueling for the day; the second quarter is focused
on an even, steady pace; the third quarter is when you should gain time if
you held back in the first quarter; and the final quarter is a time to
ride strongly but steadily.
- Aim for 350-450
Calories per hour on the bike. You have trained and raced this way
- Carry most of your
calories with you on the bike and get water and Gatorade at aid stations.
- Rely more on drinks
and less on solid food throughout the race.
- If you have any
special nutritional requirements then make sure that you have back-up
sources in transition and special needs bags. Start the bike leg with your
bike loaded with a little more nutrition than you need for the entire
ride. Don’t rely solely on the “special needs” station.
- Depending on caloric
needs and anticipated race duration, carry 2-3, 20oz bottles with about
750 Calories of fluid in each along with Clif Shots.
- A 750-Calorie bottle
may be made by mixing your favorite sports drink to a normal concentration
and then adding Carbo-Pro or carbs that you are used to. (If you mix this
the day before, refrigerate it.)
- Chase each mouthful
from the 750-Cal bottle with 2 to 3 mouthfuls of water that you get from
- Take in as much as 800mg
of sodium for each hour on the bike from drinks, foods and supplements.
Let heat, humidity, body size and your experience dictate the amount. This
is insurance for you from possible cramping.
- If using any solid
foods (not recommended), drink only water with them.
- If your experience in
racing has been that your mind wanders and you forget to eat and drink,
then set your watch to beep every 15 minutes as a reminder.
Bike Miles 1-30
- Use your heart rate
monitor to prevent excessive effort. Up to mid zone 2 should be right for
this quarter depending on what your training experience has been. Avoid
“racing” with others—pay attention to your own race. Going too hard now
may have disastrous consequences later on.
- This should feel like
the slowest part of the bike leg, relative to terrain and wind. Do not
hammer out of T1. Hold back. The heart rate zone readings should be the
lowest of the four portions of the bike leg.
- Pacing is key to
nutritional success early in the race. Keep your heart rate down. Set your
heart rate monitor to beep at the bottom of your 3 zone. You should not
hear the beep for the first 30 miles on the bike. If you do, you are going
too hard and the chances of digestive problems later on are rising.
- Drink water before
starting any calories. Begin sipping right away out of T1 and continue for
20 minutes. This is to start the hydration process from not drinking for
the hour or so during the swim. Start liquid feedings after 20 minutes.
Bike Miles 31-60
- The goal
of the second quarter is to maintain a steady effort at goal
ironman-distance bike pace.
- Ride steadily and
predominantly in the 2 zone. Remember that only the fittest athletes,
generally elites with very fast bike portions, will be able to tolerate
sustained periods of 3 zone riding. You would be well advised to ride under the intensity of your
toughest race simulation rides.
Bike Miles 61-90
- If you are feeling
good, consider increasing the speed/effort, but only slightly. This is
where you can move up through the field.
- You may be
experiencing cardiac drift by now, so pay close attention to how you feel
and less to your heart rate monitor. Stay focused. If you find yourself
constantly in Z3, then turn off the beeping of the heart rate monitor.
- You should have to
pee during this portion. If not, you are not drinking enough.
- Regardless of the
cause, you should slow down immediately
when faced with stomach issues regardless of your time or pacing goals.
The time that you “lose” will be more that made up with an improved run
split. Pushing through stomach issues doesn’t work. Ten minutes of Z1
riding will help alleviate stomach problems and you will more than make up
for that during the rest of the bike and the run segment.
Bike Miles 91-112
- Continue to eat
although you may not feel like it.
- Effort should feel
like zone 2 to zone 3—steady to moderately hard—regardless of what your
heart rate monitor says.
- Gauge your effort
based on how you feel, not heart rate or pace. Use these as secondary
markers of intensity, if used at all.
- Divide the run into
three parts. Part 1 has to do with finding a comfortable pace/effort. Part
2 is a time to run steadily and cautiously. Part 3 is the time to push
your pacing limits if you feel like it.
Run Minutes 1-20
- Run easily the first
20 minutes getting in as many liquid calories as possible – aim for at
least 200 calories during this time based on your training and previous
Run 21 Minutes to Mile 18
- Resist the temptation
to pick up the pace. Save it for the last 8 miles.
- Take in Clif Shot +
water, or Gatorade or Coke at every aid station (do not take gels with
- When using Clif Shots,
immediately take in at least 6oz water for each packet to avoid
- Get in at least 200
Calories per hour—more if possible and you’ve practiced eating at a higher
rate in run training of up to 400-500 Calories per hour (200 Cal is 2 gels
or 8oz Coke or 16oz Gatorade).
Run Mile 18 to Finish
- If you’ve come to
mile 18 feeling good and you can pick up the pace, you will gain a lot of
time on your competition who went out too fast. Smart pacing and refueling
prior to mile 18 will pay off now.
- Continue to take in
sports drinks or Clif Shots with water (6oz minimum per packet of Shot).
- Remove all heat
stress as soon as possible.
- Continue moving
around for 5-10 minutes after crossing the finish line.
- Begin drinking
fluids, especially those with sodium, carbohydrate, and protein.
- Eat any foods that
appeal to you but avoid fiber and spicy foods.
- Eat and drink as much
as you feel like taking in.
- Do not drink water
only as this may exacerbate hyponatremia.
From Scott Molina,
legendary triathlete: "When you
feel good, eat." (Translation: When you feel good during the race, don’t
hammer; rather, take advantage of this time to get more fuel onboard.)
When your attitude about the race turns negative, take in some fuel.
(Translation: Feeling sorry for yourself or angry at the wind (or whatever) is
potentially a sign of low blood sugar. Eat).