Easter weekend marks the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa. Along with one of the world’s greatest and most beautiful Ultra road marathons, there is an incredibly well supported half marathon. On this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, Mark Wolff gives you great tips on how to avoid making major nutritional mistakes on the big day.
Thanks for joining us once again on 32Gi Sports Nutrition. A very big event happening in South Africa shortly and it is the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. It is an Ultra, it’s a big one, 56km in the build-up to another great Ultra here, the Comrades Marathon, a little bit longer that is.
Of course also a 21km which has become an absolutely massive race and one of the biggest things and the greatest things I think about that is over the years the amount of female participation has outgrown that, of their male compatriots.
Mark Wolff joining us on the podcast and before we get more into nutrition around the race, Mark isn’t that something that’s been fantastic to see, the amount of women who are coming out and running half marathons and this is the perfect example of it, the Two Oceans half.
Mark Wolff: Yes, I think it’s a massive race and it’s growing year after year. It sells out very, very quickly and it’s been an incredible setup, not just in the 21km this year, but also in the Ultra as well. As far as, I think, I’m sure, this year it looks like there’s a record attendance.
DK: Well, fantastic race and as you said, a new seeding system this year, it really is hard now to get into that half marathon with the amount of interest that there is from people in it. Talking about the half marathon, it’s not just that there’s this new crot of people coming up, more female competitors, but a lot of people pick that as their debut.
Every year there’s a lot of novices who come and do the Two Oceans 21km as their first ever 21km. For those people out there, for novices, they’re going to be a bit nervous, what are some of the key mistakes that they might make on race day and ahead of race day?
Keep it clean before races
MW: I think the mistake that you usually start before race day is probably looking two days before. I always advocate clean eating in the week leading up to a race, I think it’s very important and not to eat anything that impacts your digestive system negatively.
Also not to consume any alcohol just before race day and try to keep stimulants out as much as possible because all of these things do impact you. Depending on what kind of an athlete you are, when you do put your digestive system under stress, you want to make sure it can handle that stress, so I think that’s the first thing.
I work the Expo quite a bit before the Two Oceans Marathon. I often notice a lot of people walking around and actually asking for advice on nutrition on the day. I think one of the biggest mistakes that athletes don’t take into consideration is that they haven’t planned their racing nutrition properly and that means that you need to plan your nutrition of your pre-race meal.
You need to be able to plan what you’re going to be taking through that event and at what stages and you need to stick to that plan. There’s no point in planning it the day before because if you haven’t trained with that properly in order to be able to cope with the nutrition that you’re consuming on the day, you’re definitely not going to know if it’s going to work properly and you’re taking a big chance.
Another thing I always notice at the Expo is that a lot of people walk around and spend a lot of time on their legs and spending a lot of time on your legs and walking around an Expo, especially the day before the race is not such a great idea, especially if you’re doing the Ultra.
Ultimately you’re going to be spending that Ultra running quite a lot, many hours on the legs and you want to try and rest those legs as much as possible. You want to try and keep your legs up as much as possible and you want to try and make sure that everything is in good check for the day.
DK: A big mistake that a lot of people make, especially when it’s really hard to get down to a race before the day before and you go and register the day before, be very careful about spending too much time at registration, even though there’s really lots to see and do at these Expos.
Diet variations between 21k and 56k runners
Mark, looking at the difference between doing something like the 21km and the 56km, the night before, morning of, how much of a variation would people need in their diet? Would you need that much more before the Ultra?
MW: I think they’re two very different races. A 21km I would say is more of a short to medium distance race, higher intensity than an Ultra, definitely don’t run an Ultra and a 21km at the same pace. Nutrition strategies I think need to be slightly different. For the very fast under 90 minute runners, not much nutrition is needed to complete a 21km in that period of time because your own natural energy source will definitely see you. Guys like that don’t have to stress too much about the nutrition, really the day before or the morning of, they can have a little snack and they can go and they can race quite hard and they can cope with it very, very well.
If you’re looking more at the social runners, the guys going two hours and over, you do need to start putting more focus onto the nutrition and there we need to definitely look at the pre-race meal and then deciding what to take during the event. Again, it’s not a very long time out and I would say to most athletes, my advice is, take the very least amount of nutrition in order to achieve the greatest result. Go minimally, you don’t have to go and overdo it. You need to hydrate, but only hydrate a little bit to thirst for the short event.
As far as nutrition goes, depending on the pace, you wouldn’t need to take in too much, but you can sporadically take over a period of time, so maybe shorter feeds, maybe every 30 minutes or so and taking that to the end, but there’s no need to overdo it on anything because the bodies are very much capable of getting to the finish line with a very little amount of nutrition.
How to arrive at race day well hydrated
When we’re looking at the Ultra, we’re looking at a completely different approach and the approach there needs to be taken into account quite seriously because there you need to make sure that you are properly hydrated on the day for that Ultra. You cannot arrive at a race dehydrated and that’s why I say, avoid alcohol consumption before because it does pull the fluid out of the muscles and it dehydrates you. Again, if we’re talking Expo, make sure you’re hydrating at Expo, walk around with a bottle, wherever you go, take water and make sure you’re hydrating before that event.
I’m not saying overdo it, but make sure you drink in a sufficient amount of fluid each day before the event. There’s no reason to overload yourself on carbohydrates leading up to the event. You can increase your carbohydrate intake slightly, but to overdo it, there’s no point.
Your glycogen stores will definitely be topped up for the day of the race and I think the most important thing is to make sure you get a really good night’s sleep on the Thursday night because the race is obviously on the Saturday and sometimes Friday night is a very difficult night to actually get decent sleep because of pre-race nerves.
Don’t overeat the night before the race, there’s no need to overeat and no need to over-carbo load either. You can have a very small meal and the most important thing to do is focus on comfort and make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Because you need to get up very early in the morning and you need to start that race after a decent night’s sleep if possible.
Make sure that you have prepared your pre-race meal the night before that event that you know exactly what you’re taking in. You definitely cannot go and stress about trying to prepare it in the morning and complicating things.
You need to focus on putting on your kit and putting on your timing shirt and making sure you don’t forget anything and making sure you’re prepared for the event and getting there. It’s much easier to wake up and have a meal that’s already nearly prepared.
Have a travelling nutrition strategy in place
Maybe you just need to add some hot water to it or whatever you need to do and you’ve got that strategy mapped out in your mind. Generally what I do recommend to a lot of athletes, whether elite or amateur is, if you’re going to have oats or you’re going to have rice pudding or you’re going to have porridge or a cereal, it might be a better idea to soak it overnight and have it ready-made to eat the next morning. So you can wake up, add a little bit of hot water if you want it warm, if you don’t mind eating it cold, that’s okay, or at least have your shake ready if you want to have a shake or whatever you’re going to have.
Some of the guys eat hotel food as well, so just make sure you know the hotel has got the right food for you and that you don’t overdo it. I saw last year some elite athletes that couldn’t even get their food before the race because the hotel was out of stock, the one hotel was out of stock of bananas, for example and it was a struggle to actually get the food and only by the time they got to the next hotel and it was a matter of actually making the feed a little bit smaller because it was a lot closer to the race.
Try and be as prepared as possible and if that means taking food with you to the event, take your food with you to the event. Don’t generally say: I’m going to rely on the hotel food and I would also try and avoid eating out and if you have to eat out because you don’t have a choice, make sure that you eat as cleanly as possible.
I’ve seen too many cases of people with food poisoning before a major event or an upset stomach and you’ve prepared hard for this event, you’ve travelled far, you’ve spent money and the last thing you want to do now is go out and have a nice meal and land up with stomach issues the day of the race because that’s just going to throw things out.
I would say if you do all these things and you focus on it, you’ll be pretty okay and you can enjoy your meal and your alcohol afterwards, if you really want to. As far as the actual fuelling in an Ultra goes, I always advocate, you need to start your fuelling early on and don’t wait. The reason being is that as the race gets longer and gets further in the day and as the temperatures climb, the body will want to consume less and less, especially solids and also the body, as the temperatures soar, your absorption rates drop as well.
You might need to realise a little bit more of a fluid feed and more of a minimalistic feed and I would say, in the beginning, from the first 20 minutes in and even pre-race, start fuelling yourself early on because that’s going to see you much later on. We know that Two Oceans Ultra specifically gets quite tough towards the end, especially after you’ve hit the marathon mark, you’ve still got to go up through Constantia and that can really hurt people. We know that fuelling is so critical in an Ultra. It’s not like a standard marathon, that extra distance really does take its toll on the body and from a fuelling perspective, you definitely cannot neglect it.
DK: Awesome, great advice there. If you are running the Two Oceans, be it the half marathon or the Ultra, the 56km, but pre-race, do stay off the alcohol and do stay off the sushi. From myself Mr Active, David Katz and Mark Wolff, have a great race. Have a great weekend wherever you are getting active and we’ll catch up again with you soon.