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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!