Pre-Race Meals & Feels
As a follow up to my last post, and since I'm just a few days away from my next goal race, now's a good time to talk about what I eat leading up to a long distance event. In short, it's really not much different than what I eat throughout training, just a few simple changes.
When I first started running a few years ago, I thought eating a pasta dinner the night before a race was key to success. I've done this for multiple races from 5ks to marathons, and would always show up to the starting line feeling like a ball of dough. I've also done the drastic opposite: carb heavy lunch, then a very light dinner the night before, and that tends to leave me with low energy the next morning. I've done a lot of thinking about what my perfect pre-race meal is and have tried different things, and when it comes down to it.. my perfect pre-race dinner is: FOOD. Not too much, not too little, nothing too fibrous and nothing too spicy. Don't overthink it, keep it simple, and eat until your full. The night before Cayuga Trails 50, I was in the middle of New York with no vegan restaurants around, and had to settle for a Dominos cheese-less pizza with some veggies. I thought I had ruined my race right there, but I ended up having the perfect race the next morning. What you eat the night before isn't going to make or break your race, unless you overeat or eat something that is going to upset your stomach (like spicy food). If I am home the night before a race, then my favorite meal is tofu scramble, potatoes, and toast with Earth Balance butter. Easy to digest, tastes good, and it's something that has just always worked for me and I look forward to eating. With that said, use your long runs to practice dinner ideas the night before. Most runners know the saying "don't do anything new on race day", well that goes for the night before as well. I do try to eat dinner earlier than usual since most races require an early wake up call.
As far as carb-loading.. I am a mostly whole foods plant based eating vegan who eats a ton of grains and starchy vegetables. My diet is already primarily carbs, so eating more carbs the days leading up to a race is just going to be added stress on my digestion system, especially if I am tapering and not running as much as my body is used to. The only things that I will change leading up to race day is eating a little less fiber, drinking more water, and avoiding alcohol. Making small changes like switching from brown rice to white rice or wheat bread to white bread, reduces some of my usual fiber intake, but I'm still getting plenty of fiber from the vegetables I am eating. I want enough fiber so I don't get "backed up" but not so much that I have an upset stomach during the race. I don't usually drink beer during the week when I'm training heavily, but I especially try to avoid any alcohol 7-10 days before race day. There's a few reason why you should, but my main reasoning is because it interferes with my sleep and digestion.
The morning of a race I wake up at least 3 hours before the start to eat. Not everyone may need to get up that early, but I have a sensitive stomach so I need to the time to digest, but it also gives me time to mentally prepare and get ready so that I am not rushing around before the start. My pre-race breakfast is ALWAYS a bagel with almond butter. I have been eating that same meal before every long run and every race for the last 2-3 years. It's what works for me. Again, this is something you should practice as many times beforehand as possible because not everyone's body is the same.
One more thing I recommend is to increase water intake the days leading up to a race, especially the day before, instead of chugging water before the start. There is nothing worse than starting a race with a sloshy gut and unless it is 90 degrees at the start of the race, there's no reason why you need to drink so much water. Also, the portapotty lines before most races get pretty busy, so it's best to stop drinking water an hour or so before the race and use the bathroom one last time at that time. Then you can wait to start drinking again once the race starts.
When you only have a couple of goal races a year, it makes the week before and the week after each race that much more intense, emotionally. To begin with, I'm already a pretty sensitive person, but when I put so much time and effort into one event versus racing every other weekend, it makes those few events so much more special, but also harder to let go of when they're over. There's a lot bigger of a build up before race day and sometimes I find myself worrying about how I'm going to feel after the race is over before it even happened. The one thing I know I can do to help those post-race blues is to give race day a 100% effort. That doesn't mean dropping the hammer as soon as the gun goes off, but instead, showing up to the starting line with confidence, trusting my coach and my training, sticking to my race plan, pushing through any adversity race day brings, staying positive, and later in the race when it's time, leaving everthing on the course so that I have no regrets the next day.
Because I do train specifically for one event for so long, it allows to me be so focused and see a lot of improvement and growth in a short about of time, and this training cycle as been no different, even though I have trained differently the last few months than I have for any other ultra marathon. I've run a lot less miles than I did for Cayuga, no back-to-back long runs, but more elevation, more speed work, more intensity. I've really enjoyed training this way and it's paid off big time. I also did a lot more strength work at the beginning of training to make up for the miles lost due to my sprained ankle, and I think that helped as well. I trained about 1/2 the time for Mountain Masochist as I did for Cayuga, but I feel a lot stronger than I was back in June. It can be said that training for Cayuga was also part of training for MMTR, but I also think that I've gotten a lot more comfortable with being uncomfortable the past few months. After I sprained my ankle, I thought racing was over for me this Fall, and I decided that if I was going to start training again, I was going to give it 110% effort. Not that I was slacking at all before, but there was room for improvement. If I had a hill workout, I'd pick the biggest hill I could find. If I had a track workout, I'd choose paces that I didn't think I could keep and push myself to stick with it. I ran in the hottest temps and most humid weather with zero complaints. MMTR is an uphill race. There's 9,000 feet of gain and only 7,000 feet of loss, and most of that gain comes after mile 21. I never was a good climber and make up for it on the descends, but with this race I had no choice but to become a better climber, which really meant getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Before during training runs, I'd use the uphills to take a break, powerwalk, and eat. This training cycle, I've done all of my "breaking" and fueling during the downhills because I can run pretty fast downhill without even thinking about it or putting in much effort, and have been pushing myself to run the uphills without walking. I've done a lot of runs on the Waschusett Mountain auto road, and I've really found that if I focus on pacing and just keep running, I can get into a groove running uphill, but as soon as a I stop to walk, it's that much harder to return to running. And the more I've practiced running uphill, the better and faster I have become at it, and can do it efficiently without feeling like toast after one climb. That's the one big improvement I've seen this training cycle, my climbing ability, and well.. I'll have a lot of climbing to do in just a few days!
With all that said.. I am admittingly feeling a little emotional and vulnerable this week knowing that I'm about to run my last race of the year and then take a month off from running, which will be the most I've not run in years, but I am extremely excited and feel confident and ready. Since it is my last race this year, there's no holding back and I feel like now is the time to show everything I've learned this year and to prove to myself that I am a competitive athlete. This will be the first race that I will not know what the competition will be like (since it's not on ultrasignup), so I can't psych myself out beforehand, and I'm traveling alone to the race, so I can really focus on myself the day before and run my own race. Also, I'm the only person from MA running it! I can't wait to get to Virginia and kick some ass!