The author will soon run a marathon in less-than-perfect shape. He needs all the nutritional help he can get. Here’s what he’s doing.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
I will run the California International Marathon on December 4. My younger brother Sean is also running it. In fact, I’m running it because he’s running it. Sean is making a bid to break the coveted three-hour barrier for the first time, and I will (try to) pace him through it.
Sean set his current marathon PR of 3:03-something three years ago. That’s a pretty good time for a 6’3” 200-pounder who does not consider himself a “real runner”. But he can do better. He was trying to break three hours in that last marathon, and he probably would have succeeded on a better course. Sean has been carrying a monkey on his back ever since, and I’m almost as eager as he is to see that monkey removed. He’s trained more seriously than ever before and I think he’s ready.
As for me, I’m not so sure I’m in sub-three-hour marathon shape. I’ve run a bunch of marathons as workouts in the 3:02 to 2:54 range, so I know what sort of shape I have to be in to pull it off. When I registered for CIM back in September I was not in terrific shape but knew I had enough time to get where I needed to be. Then I missed two weeks of training with a calf strain. I started running again on October 3, five weeks before race day. That’s pushing it!
The original plan was to treat my pacing duty as a workout. I would skip most of the little things I would normally do to get 100 percent dialed in before a marathon that I was actually racing. Now I have no choice but to treat the marathon as a race and do those little things, many of which are nutritional in nature.
My ideal marathon racing weight is 154 lbs. Currently I weigh 162 lbs. There’s no hope whatsoever of my losing 8 lbs of body fat in 11 days, and I often caution other endurance athletes against pursuing weight loss as a primary goal while simultaneously pursuing peak fitness. Nevertheless, I know that losing a pound or 24 ounces between now and race day could be the difference between my leading Sean across the finish line in 2:59:55 and suffering the humiliation of having Sean drop his “real runner” big brother with a mile or two to go.
Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow. I will feast and drink like an emperor. But after that I will put myself on a severe dietary austerity plan. I will drink no alcohol and eat no sweets of any kind. Dairy products will also disappear from my diet for 10 days. I’ll take a break from sauces, dressings, and other sneaky calorie sources as well. And only the leanest protein sources will find their way into my mouth. I will not make any special effort to eat less generally or reduce my consumption of grains, because I need to ensure that my leg muscles and liver are packed with glycogen fuel even as I strive to shed 16 to 24 crucial ounces of flab.
This Saturday I will enjoy my last mug of morning coffee before the marathon. As we all know, caffeine enhances endurance performance by tickling a “pleasure center” in the brain and reducing perception of effort. But it only works in those who are non-caffeine habituated. So I always force myself to endure a weeklong caffeine fast before important races and then I pop two No-Doz pills 30 minutes before the race starts.
I’ve tried various carbohydrate loading protocols over the years but have lately settled on the simplest of them, trusting the research behind it. There is no awful carbohydrate depletion phase to suffer through in this protocol. All you have to do is gobble 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight in a single day within three days of racing. That’s always a fun day of eating, and I’m looking forward to repeating it next Thursday, the day after my last workout of any substance.
One last measure I plan to employ before this race that is quasi-nutritional in nature is swallowing a couple of Tylenol tablets right before the race. A study performed a couple of years ago found that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) improved endurance performance by blocking pain signals. I haven’t tried this before, but as I’ve said, I need all the help I can get.
Wish me—and more importantly, wish Sean—luck!
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.