With a HOT LA Marathon coming this weekend and some warm summers races right around the corner let’s talk about how you can best prepare for the warm weather leading into the race as well as on race day to be able to put all of your training together and have the best day you can.
To race well on a hot day you must prepare for it in the week leading up to the race. A lot of athletes talk about sodium and the fact that you should be taking it while racing. Let’s back up and first talk about sodium and why the body needs it to perform well. When you drink fluid it does not automatically transfer from the intestine into the blood stream where the hydration is used to oxygenate the muscles and keep them working. Sodium helps that transfer from the intestine into the blood stream. When an athlete is low on sodium the hydration/fluid the athlete takes in sits in the gut, causes bloating/discomfort, and unrest. With all of this fluid in the gut, none is being transferred into the blood stream which means the muscles are not receiving the fluid they need so they start “grabbing” for anything available to feed off of. This ‘grabbing” leads to cramping. First the hardest working muscles cramp i.e. hamstrings, quadriceps, diaphragm because those muscles and “grabbing” the most. The the other muscles begin to fail/cramp and the downward spiral continues like a chain reaction accident.
So now that we have cleared up WHY you need sodium let’s talk about how to get it. In the week leading up to the race the athletes should be sipping on Nuun, adding an extra sprinkle of salt to their meals, drinking Powerbar Perform before/during/after the weeks workouts, and stay away from drinking straight water. The straight water dilutes the bloodstream which puts the sodium at a lesser ratio in the system which decreases the ability to transfer fluid into the bloodstream. If you take in too much sodium no worries, your body will excrete it through urine/sweat but rather you have too much than not enough sodium. The practice of hydrating in this manner should be maintained up until the gun goes off. You should be sipping on a sodium laced beverage until then.
So the race is upon you, you are topped off, and you are ready to crush! But you MUST be smart. If you are taking gels such as Powerbar or Gu you will not need to carry extra sodium with you because they both contain a good amount of sodium. If you are not planning on taking gels during the race you should be! But if not, you may want to carry sodium tablets to take every 3-4 miles.
Race fueling should be early and often. I advise all of my athletes to take calories/gel 10 minutes before the start, EVERY 2 miles after, and take a sip of Sports Drink at EVERY aid station. Like a fire place needs more wood to burn bigger and hotter your body needs more calories when it is running hotter. If you don’t provide those calories you will fizzle out and die(not literally). Like you did during race week you want to take Sports Drink because straight water will just dilute your system and the sodium will not effectively penetrate the intestine walls.
If you feel your energy waning or cramping at anytime during the race, you race is NOT over. Up your calories, adjust your pacing for a short moment, increase your Sport Drink hydration, and keep moving forward. Your fitness will pull you through.
Take your approach to the race seriously and your race fueling extremely seriously and you will come out on top with the day you dreamed of. Just know it WILL be hot and embrace it. RACE HARD and SMART!
PS- Many athletes ask me, “How do I carry so many gels for a marathon, that would be 13 gels!” There are few things I do but you have to have a plan that you are going to be comfortable with. I wear a triathlon top or fuel belt and stuff 4-5 gels in the top/belt. After that I use whats on course and take the gels from the aid stations. I find out which aid stations have gels and I grabs 2-3 gels at those aid stations as I go. This approach has NEVER failed me.