To Race or Not To Race?

That is the question!

When race season rolls around, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and want to sign up for ALL THE RACES.  Races are the reward for the training hours we put in.  Races provide feedback on how we are progressing and if our training is working.  Races give us social interaction with like-minded people (ie, people who are just as obsessed with endurance sports as we are!).  Races often involve travel and getting to spend time exploring a new or different place.

How many races should you do this season?  This largely varies on the individual, their goals, and their other commitments/constraints.  Here are some ideas to consider.

First, consider your budgets – both money and time.  Speaking strictly from a monetary standpoint, running, cycling, and especially triathlon can get expensive.  Not only are there race fees to pay, but if you’re traveling (which is required for most triathlons), you’ll also need to factor in the cost of transportation/gas, lodging, and food.  There are ways to do this on a budget (buddy up and share lodging accommodations, pack food from home in a cooler, and opting for smaller, local races vs traveling to larger, more commercialized ones).   Time is another factor to consider.  What other commitments do you have in your life?  How much can you train and travel to races without upsetting the balance between your career, family, and friends?  Do you really want to use all of your allotted travel time and funds to go to races, or would you rather use some of it to schedule some time at the beach with family or friends to relax?

Next: Ask yourself… What is my main goal this summer?  Do you want to race because you really enjoy the various aspects of racing itself, but aren’t concerned so much with results? Or, are you in pursuit of a big goal like setting a PR, landing a podium spot, or qualifying for Kona?  If it’s the former, you may be able to get away with racing as often as your schedule and budget permit.

On the other hand, if you have your sights set on a big goal – your “A” race – you’ll need to strategically consider how to structure your race season.  Scheduling a race or two before your “A” race is a smart way to assess your fitness level in relation to your big goal and know if you’re on track to meet it.  Adding a race or a few prior to that “A” race will also help you find your racing mindset and fine-tune your race day routines (nutrition, gear, transitions, etc).  However, over-scheduling other races before your “A” race can be detrimental.  Remember that each race you do before the big day will take time away from quality training: you’ll need time to taper before the race, and time to properly recover after the race.  You’re basically exchanging 1 day of hard training in the form of a race for at least 2 weeks of taper/recovery (maybe more, depending on your physiology and the race) which won’t yield the same fitness gains of two weeks of structured, goal-specific training.  Additionally, associated race travel and/or the super-early race day wake-up can further drain your energy and lead to prolonged recovery time.

I generally like to spread races apart by 3 weeks when possible, though 2 weeks apart may be do-able depending on the race distances and the individual athlete. Racing back-to-back weekend triathlons is not recommended because most athletes won’t be able to perform at peak level without sufficient recovery.  If you’re doing an Ironman race, I recommend doing a half-iron race earlier in the season to help to gauge pace or power for the Ironman race.  If you’re doing a half-ironman race, I recommend an Olympic race earlier in the season.  If you’re doing an Olympic race, you guessed it – a Sprint race can be a great way to prep.

What races are on your calendar for Summer 2016?

Fueling for Endurance Sports – Part 1

“What should I eat during training and racing season?” is a common question asked by athletes.  Traditionally, the endurance sports community has been encouraged to carb load to fuel their activity.

But, Coach and Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist Anne-Marie is here to shake that up a bit!

A problem with the “carb loading” philosophy is that the human body can only store around 1200-2000 calories of glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates utilized by the liver and muscles) at a time.  This number is body-size-dependent, so the smaller you are, the lower your glycogen storage capacity and the larger you are, the higher your glycogen storage capacity.  Once your liver and muscle glycogen stores are topped off, excess carbs you’ve consumed are converted to triglycerides and stored as… you guessed it… fat!  And the bad news is that while your muscles and liver have a finite storage capacity, your body can store an unlimited number of calories as fat.

How do you know if your glycogen stores are full?  If you’re eating a standard American diet (some grains, breads, fruit, starchy veggies), then you’re getting all the carbs you need to top off the glycogen stores without intentionally carbing-up.  (The exception may be if you just finished a marathon – then it is safe to assume your glycogen stores are low!)

Sweet potatoes not only
Sweet potatoes not only provide a source of low-glycemic index carbs, but they also supply your body with vitamin C, various B vitamins, phosphorus, manganese, beta carotene, and dietary fiber.

How can you avoid excessive storage of carbs as fat?  Balance your carbohydrate and protein portions at each meal, and especially try to avoid an all-carbohydrate meal (ie, a big bowl of pasta on its own).  Remember that “carbs” don’t have to be grain-based things like spaghetti, bread, or rice.  Sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, root veggies (like carrots, beets, turnips), plantains, bananas, heck, all fruit- provide a great source of carbohydrates PLUS way more vitamins and minerals than what you get in grain-based carbs.

How can you avoid an energy crash?  Add some protein & healthy fat with your meals, especially before training.  Many people are afraid of eating “too heavy” before a workout will lead to stomach issues, but are pleasantly surprised to find that they do better with more protein/fat and fewer processed carbs. Experiment with different pre-workout meals during your training and see what works best for you… you may be surprised!

Healthy fat examples include coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts, nut butters, avocado, avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, egg yolks, fats from organic/pasture-raised/wild-caught meat and seafood.

I’ll be writing more about nutrition and the concept of metabolic efficiency in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!