Lately, I’ve been working on eating for performance, thinking about each meal through the lens of supporting an upcoming training effort. After two years of not quite getting it right, I had some focused conversations about food with coach Johnny. My physical fitness has improved significantly, but I’ve experienced performance plateaus. Plateaus that can’t be fully explained by not following my training plan to the letter.

After some detailed meal tracking and reflection, we determined that I was under-fueling the carbs and overly heavy in fats. My calculated daily carbohydrate intake should be 525g but I was eating 250-300 g. It’s no wonder I was hitting the wall after 8 miles of running or 50 miles on the bike. My fitness allowed me to complete the longer sessions, but I wasn’t able to maintain the effort very well.  So, for the past 6 weeks, I’ve been deliberately consuming more carbs than in the past. And I was uncomfortable doing it. I assumed that I’d gain weight, not that I’d have more energy. I was both correct and wrong.

More energy!

I’ve noticed an increase in energy as I train. Not so much a higher level of it, but that it lasts longer during sustained efforts. In addition to eating more carb-rich foods, I’ve become more strategic with what I take immediately before and throughout each training session. The impact of these changes became very clear this weekend. I had a 3-hour run scheduled for Friday, and a 5-hour bike on Saturday. Having back-to-back long sessions was a wonderful test of my new approaches.

On Thursday, I went to bed feeling excited about the long zone-2, race-pace, run. I planned to average 10:30-10:45 min/mile which would result in at least 15 miles. My primary goal was to run the entire time, only stopping to pee and refresh my nutrition every hour. To prepare, on Thursday, before going to bed I consumed 22oz of electrolytes and took all my multivitamins. Being a very heavy sweater, sodium depletion is a real concern. I chose to wear my new Altra Escalante no-drop shoes to see if they’d be suitable for race day too.

After a 10-minute warm-up, I moved into high zone-2 feeling strong and confident that “today was my day”. Surprisingly, holding a 180 cadence was easier than I expected. I didn’t have to look at my watch to know when I dropped below 175 steps per min, I could feel it. As is typical, the 1st 30-45 minutes are the most difficult because it takes that long for my body to feel warmed up and get into sync. After an hour, I was feeling great, I was on track with consuming my hydration & nutrition as planned.

For the 2nd hour, I changed from podcasts to music with a 180 bpm tempo and set off to enjoy the trails. Initially, I had been stopping to pee every 15 min. I don’t fight this anymore, it’s how my body works right now. Then, 90 minutes into the run, my bladder seemed to relax and the urges disappeared. I was able to go for 45 min without any need to stop and was feeling full of energy, physically strong, and clear-headed at mile 10.  I began to understand the power of having a proper nutrition plan and how it can unlock a new level of performance. How much more can I do If I learn to properly support my physical needs?

Moving into the 3rd hour, I could tell that the real test was beginning. The test of whether or not I could sustain zone 2 pace, not get lightheaded or succumb to the desire to walk. Two hours and 30 min had passed and my pace was no longer in the low to mid 10 min/mile. I was falling into 10:45-11:15 min/mile which is still zone 2, just the very bottom of it, so I was ok. I still felt full of energy, but my hips were fatiguing. Lifting my leg was becoming more of a burden and uncomfortable. At this point sustaining became more a mental game. I had sufficient energy, but could I ignore the discomfort long enough to reach my goal?

15 strong miles at race pace!!

I did it, accomplishing my goal without being exhausted or depleted felt great. My legs were heavy and I was salty from all the dried sweat, but otherwise was able to go about the day normally. The shoes felt good too. I started developing a small blister under one of my pinky toes, but that can be addressed with a piece of moleskin and different socks.

5-hour Saturday bike ride

Having another endurance session the next day, I planned my nutrition so I could duplicate what occurred on Friday. The training calendar had a 5-hour zone-2 bike ride. My triathlon club members generally do their long rides on either Saturday or Sunday, so I don’t have to ride alone. My plan was to stay in zone-2 and focus on the basics (cadence and breathing) for 5 hours. If that resulted in getting left by the group, so be it. When I race, it’s always me against me anyway. I enjoy the social component of group rides, but this ride was about testing capabilities, not socializing.

We set off just before sunrise and it was cold. Everyone was in a good mood, this was one of the first big group rides of the season. Within 10 minutes, people began pushing the pace and I just let them all go. I was still warming up, so that’s what I continued to do. Afterward, I increased my effort to the desired zone (151-171 Watts).  Eventually, I ran into a few of the folks who were planning the same route and we stayed together for the remainder of the ride. No pressure to go faster, so I was happy to have the company.

The route we took was 37 miles each way and I felt super strong when we arrived there. I refilled my bottles, took some photos, and headed back knowing there would be a fierce headwind. The headwind was welcomed this time, I wanted to practice staying in my power zone and not on speed. Fortunately, the sun was out and the temperature had warmed into the upper 50’s so it felt good. The warmth of the sun was a nice contrast to the cool breeze.

Typically, I’ll struggle and begin easing up around miles 55-60. In contrast to the past, I was still feeling relatively fresh at miles 60, 65, 70, and until the end! I felt like I could have done a century ride without issue.

Two successful back-to-back strong endurance days unlocked with improved nutrition!

New level unlocked!