Race Nutrition Dilemmas & Decisions

Apologies for the TMI you’ll find below, but hey, I’m among friends and fellow runners, right? We all deal with this stuff at some point. Hoping you can share your thoughts, experiences and perhaps help me with a decision. I’m not crowdsourcing the decision or anything like that, but always looking for data, balance, more objective points of view.

If you’re a past blog reader or follower of mine on Twitter, you may be aware I have some GI issues. GERD (low acid diet & PPIs), hiatal hernia, gluten/lactose intolerance, possible FODMAP intolerance, IBS (“we don’t know the cause or a fix so we’ll name it”), other food sensitivities and GI crankiness from hormone swings or other unknowns.

Pre-race (day before) and in-race nutrition are things I am very careful of, practice in training, and try not to change. Especially 2 weeks before race day of a goal marathon. It’s all about finding what works, repeatability, control, and minimizing variables.

BUT.

(here’s the TMI part….)

I’m getting pretty worried re GI issues on my runs, specifically, bowel/elimination. There have been several long runs (today’s, at mile 13 of an 18 miler) or long speed sessions where I had to stop my run to sprint to the bathroom. (so glad I train on my treadmill!) Looking back, I see one occurrence in this week and each of the last 3 weeks prior (at least) where I either had to stop or by the end of the run (including this past Tuesday) or if I’d gone further I was going to have to stop. This is in addition to having multiple movements pre-run (and every day), which has been happening over the last few months.

I don’t know the reason for these issues. I don’t know if it’s that I’m trying to get faster, or if it’s something in GU (what I’ve been using this year) that my stomach just won’t tolerate after a certain time/distance/speed. I also don’t know if there’s some other thing going on, but I’m going to address what seems to be the proximate cause, run nutrition.

Background: last year for my Shamrock and Baystate BQs and PRs, I was using EFS Liquid Shot gel, which I loved, and didn’t have any stomach issues (other than regular burp-back, which can happen for me with plain water), and I didn’t have to stop. (I did take about half a Vanilla GU at mile 24 of Baystate, according to my race report, and they will have GU on course if I needed it.) But EFS is only available in flasks, which means carrying it those flasks somehow either in a belt, which my tummy doesn’t love, or a vest, which was prohibited at Boston.

So in 2015, preparing for Boston under those constraints, I switched to GU and carried it in a flipbelt at Boston, and was going to carry it in pockets of shorts and bra at Baystate. If you recall, I had some bowel issues around mile 19 of Boston, requiring a portajohn stop. At the time I put it down to undercooked veggies the day before, and to hormones (which were certainly in play) but now I’m wondering if it was the GU. (I’ll deal with what I do for Boston 2016 later.)

DH says it could be nerves and that I’ve been nervous for my long/hard runs for weeks now. He may be right but I didn’t perceive that today and didn’t feel that way (not a nervous agitated stomach). Today and Tuesday were just one of those “gotta stop NOW” things. Also, I could be nervous on race day, so should take that into account.

In terms of day before race/long speed session/long run:

I have been trying to eat less fiber/more carbs the day before my long runs and my long speed sessions (like Tuesday’s 15 miler with 12 at goal pace). I moved away from my chicken and steamed veg dinners and have had white bread with honey, turkey, rice, soup, etc. for dinner. I’m trying to nail down a suite of safe packaged foods I can buy when I travel to races (soup, GF bread, nut butter, lunchmeat, chips, oatmeal or similar) or things I can cook in the hotel (sweet potatoes). I can see no reason for these changes to cause GI problems, and because I’ve been trying a variety of meals, I’m not immediately seeing a common factor in what I eat the day before these issues.

For in-race nutrition:

I’m considering options (aka changes), of which there are only a few in my mind, and all of which I have limited time to try. But the “nothing new on race day” rule means I DO need to try whatever option I think I’m going with. The race is 10/18, so I’m entering peaking (or taper, for those who use that). Tuesday’s plan is tempo intervals, if I feel my legs are up to it, next Saturday is a half distance run with goal pace miles, the rest of the runs are shorter/easier and might not require gel or be good tests.

Options

  • Stick with GU, load up on Immodium pre-race

Pros: it’s what I’ve been training with; not sure it’s the problem; I like the variety of the flavors and choices for added electrolytes, caffeine, amino acids; I’ve used Immodium in non-race situations in the past without incident and have read of other runners with twitchy tummies taking it pre-race.

Cons: if it’s really something in GU that my system can’t take, the Immodium may not be enough, and the combo might be unpleasant. I don’t know if I have enough runs to know that the Immodium will sit well with goal pace miles or if it might cause other problems during the race.

  • Go back to EFS, whether in hard/soft flasks, carry in the waistband of shorts or go back to my vest

Pros: this worked well for me in PR races last year, the liquid consistency and using the flasks allows me to add water to the gel and not have to take as much water at aid stations, not be gulping a packet and spilling/gulping from a cup which could add to GI distress.

Cons: since I don’t know if the GU is the problem, I can’t be sure this is the fix, and have limited test opportunities; just because it was fine last year doesn’t mean it would be fine now; carrying the flasks is a pain/annoyance/weight, and one that I haven’t trained with in over a year – are a couple of runs enough to test the stomach, the vest and weight/speed effects?I suspect I’d wind up wearing the vest even if I could fit a soft flask in the waistband, as I might want extra gel. Of course, having to stop would be likely to take more time than the weight and the vest would add.

(FYI, I am not considering the cost/waste of shipping stuff pre-race in this decision, as I plan to do it anyway with some food and other items/backups – due to TSA restrictions and wanting to fly carry-on only. Also not considering cost/waste of leaving extra behind, tossing empty flasks…gotta do what you gotta do for a race. #firstworldproblems and guilt, but hey)

  • Go back to EFS and load up on Immodium anyway (belt and suspenders)

Pros: see 2nd bullet, above

Cons: see 2nd bullet above plus don’t know if the Immodium will sit will with goal pace miles or if it might cause other problems during the race

I’m leaning toward going back to EFS, trying flasks in shorts on Tuesday and the vest after that. I’m also leaning slightly toward one dose of Immodium after my first clear-the-pipes at the hotel on race day. I plan to get up by 4:30 for an 8am race, to have plenty of time for use of the hotel bathroom before and after a warmup, and before heading to the race site where it’s just portajohns in the cold. I’m also looking at anything else I changed recently in terms of food/supplements and if possible, reverting whether or not it seems possibly related.

Here’s where I ask for your experience, thoughts, opinions….please share!