Follow these tips and make your next run-cation one to remember.
Running a race makes for a fantastic excuse to travel. I can’t recall the last time I organized a vacation that didn’t involve signing a waiver. After all, running is the best way to explore a new place. Besides being far more environmentally friendly than a bus, safer than navigating a bike in traffic, running will also leave you with enough of a calorie deficit (and appetite) to make you feel good about exploring new cuisines.
When it comes to race day, nutrition is a key component of success, but sticking to a pre-race routine can pose a challenge in a new city, foreign country or different continent. Whether you’re aiming for a new personal best or just hoping to take in the scenery of your chosen destination, a sound nutrition strategy is essential for a safe, enjoyable race — as well as for looking fresh on race photos, of course.
There is so much to enjoy at a destination race, from exploring different sights and cultures to connecting with the local running community. Worrying about your race should not be part of your itinerary. A little planning goes a long way in making your next run-cation a truly positive experience.
Follow these 5 tips to avoid common mistakes and make your next run-cation one to remember.
1. Carry a water bottle at all times.
Your itinerary for the day before the race is likely to look very different from what it would involve for a local race. Don’t get lost in the excitement of discovering your destination. Hydrating properly the day before your race is crucial. Carry water with you at all times and monitor your intake. The Institute of Medicine recommends adult women and men aim for 2.2 to 3 liters (74 to 101 oz) per day, respectively. Janice Dada, MPH, RD, CSSD advises runners to “eat small amounts throughout the day and constantly sip on a water bottle” and “avoid alcohol, which can interfere with glycogen metabolism in the liver.” In particularly hot weather you will need even more water and will also benefit from adding electrolytes to counter sodium loss through sweat. Stick to bottled water and packaged drinks if there is any doubt about the safety of the tap water at your destination. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
2. Stick to familiar foods.
The day before the race is not the time to embark on a new culinary adventure. Foreign cuisines are exciting, but new foods can carry the risk of unwelcome and unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects. Stay on the safe side and choose simple, familiar foods before your race and aim to discover local flavors after the race. Ask your hotel concierge or local friends for recommended restaurants in your area. If you are running an especially popular race, you likely won’t be the only runner in town looking for the best pasta joint, so book your pre-race dinner to avoid lengthy wait times. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
3. Be familiar with course support.
Ideally, this should happen as soon as you sign up for the race or as soon as a course map becomes available, so you can plan and practice your fueling strategy. Never make assumptions about the frequency of water stations. Consider expected temperatures and humidity when creating your plan. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “[t]he risk for dehydration and heat injury increases dramatically in hot, humid environments” but it is also “possible for dehydration to occur in cool or cold weather.” While some races provide water every mile, others may only have only a few stations. There is also risk of water stations running out of supplies for runners at the back of the pack on hot days. Carefully inspect the course map and try to determine if you might need to carry your own water to make sure you’re not left without fluids on the course. Many races now have BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) stations along the course that will let you refill and also help with efforts to reduce waste. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
4. Secure your pre-race breakfast.
Whether or not you have strict pre-race rituals, waking up in a new place on race morning can present a few challenges. Does the hotel serve breakfast early enough? Will there be foods you are accustomed to? Can you get your coffee fix? Plan ahead to take the stress out of race morning. If you must have your morning coffee, bring a packet (or two) of instant coffee. Even if the hotel doesn’t provide coffee in the room, you will likely be able to get some hot water. Also, be prepared with your own breakfast of choice: Bread, cold cereal, energy bars or quick-cooking oatmeal are good choices in the likely event that you have to leave the hotel earlier than designated breakfast times. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
5. Bring your own race nutrition.
This goes back to familiarity — avoid trying new gels or energy bars on race day. This is not the time to experiment with new foods. “Digestion during exercise is difficult enough since the blood supply is diverted to the working muscles,” writes Dada. To keep your gut happy, stick to gels or other forms of nutrition you've experimented with during your training. Depending on the race, you may or may not be able to buy your preferred gels or bars at the expo, so be sure to pack them ahead of time. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
About The Author:
Aletta Kennedy is a graduate student of nutrition in Southern California. She is an avid long distance runner with 15+ local and international marathons and ultra-marathons under her belt.