With Melanie McQuaid
What kinds of foods do you recommend eating during a half-distance event?
My answer will always be: what you have eaten during practices. Here are a few ideas on what you should try:
On race day, wake up about three hours before the race and eat about 500 calories of easily digestible food. I like bread and almond butter, but oatmeal, applesauce with protein powder or eggs are also great choices. Then, sip an energy drink while waiting to start and top off your energy stores with a gel before the swim.
You’ll have the easiest time staying hydrated and wellfed while on the bike. I like to keep my drinks for hydration and food for energy. For my first half, I started with eating a gel before the swim, a bar first thing on the bike and then gels for the rest of the race. I combined this with energy drinks for hydration.
What you are able to eat and digest is going to be entirely dependent on how intense your pace is and what you have trained your stomach to handle. The higher your heart rate and effort, the more blood is diverted to muscles, so less is available to the stomach. Complicated food that takes longer to digest will stay in your stomach longer and will be more uncomfortable to race hard with. So, if you are going at a very conservative pace, you can probably eat more solid food. If you are racing very hard, looking for a fast or best time, then you’ll have a harder time consuming solid food. The only fuel your body really needs is carbohydrate to power your muscles; however, you can practice with some solid food and tweak your nutrition program as you gain experience.
Most people find solid food hard to eat once they get to the run. I carry a flask with three gels mixed with some water for the run. You want a gel every 20 to 30 minutes. Experiment with what you like eating while running to figure out what is the best plan before race day. Estimate how long it will take to finish and then figure out what you need to eat to get 60 g of carbohydrate each hour. That is a great starting point.
Are disc wheels good for beginners? Also, is it worth shaving my legs for the wattage?
Disc wheels really don’t provide significant drag reduction if you are riding below about 40 km/h. Depending on how fast you ride, along with the course profile, it may not be worth the money to invest in one. There is much more aerodynamic drag when you’re not down on your aero bars and are sitting up holding on to the base bar. That problem is not solved with a disc wheel. Focusing on holding an aero position is a higher priority than wheels. If you do have a disc wheel, it creates a rudder for your bike, helping you ride “straighter,” so it is always worth using if you have one.
Shaving your legs for wattage does not seem truly realistic to me and I am skeptical of Jesse Thomas’ information to the contrary. That said, shaving your legs makes a lot of sense as a proactive action if you crash. Applying bandages and cleaning wounds on hairy legs is a nightmare. Shaving your legs makes road rash somewhat less terrible to deal with, and I believe that is the main reason to do so.
What is your advice to keep bathroom breaks to a minimum during a full-distance race?
That depends on whether you are asking about #1 or #2. You want to pee at least twice on the bike. Pros will pee on their bikes while riding and sometimes again on the run. (Sorry, this is the truth.) If you don’t pee at least twice during the bike, you know you are inadequately hydrated.
To avoid an unfortunate and uncomfortable #2 stop, eliminate the fibre from vegetables and whole grains from your diet for three to four days leading into the race. This keeps your digestive tract moving quickly. During this time frame, white bread, white pasta and white rice are a perfect choices. Simple, easyto-digest carbohydrates should comprise most of your diet leading up to race day. Keep in mind it takes energy to digest food, so keeping it simple removes this energy cost in the days leading up to the race as well.
Second, practicing with race nutrition helps determine how much your body can absorb on race day. Even if you have the correct products, consuming more than your body will absorb leads to problems. It is really important to figure out what you can eat while training before the event.
How far over my FTP can I go on the bike before it affects my run in a half-distance race?
By definition, FTP (Functional Threshold Power) refers to the amount of power you can sustain for one hour. Since 90 km of riding will take significantly longer than an hour, you definitely cannot hold above your FTP for a half Ironman.
Reframing the question, maybe you meant: how many times can I surge past my FTP in a half before it affects my run?
Surges create lactate in the blood and, with training, your body uses lactate for energy. Training your body to metabolize lactate requires intense work above FTP.
How often and how much beyond your threshold effort you can surge depends on how much work you do above threshold. Doing steady state and tempo efforts during training will not build any lactate tolerance. Athletes without this training should stay below threshold during a race, or risk accumulating too much lactate and slowing before the run. The metaphor of limited matches applies – with no training for surges you have one or two matches to burn, and then the box is empty. With proper training, though, there will be the equivalent of a full pack of matches available to you, so you arrive at the run ready to run fast, even if you went above your threshold during the bike.
Melanie McQuaid is a three-time Xterra world champion. She lives and coaches in Victoria.
ABOVE Taylor Reid rides fast enough to take advatgae of the aero gains of a disc wheel