This is Part 2 of The Gluten-Free Runner by Rebecca Bishop (find Part 1 here). In the last post, Rebecca addressed the issue of eating gluten-free while training for a marathon or half-marathon. Part 2 will discuss race day preparation and execution, including everything from the carb-loading dinner before the race to dealing with the gluten-filled finish line spread. Take it away, Rebecca!
Race week it is important to carb-load a little. By this I mean don’t gorge yourself all week, just add an extra 100 calories or so to your daily intake. I usually have a Vita Coco or even just a ½ cup of sticky rice with a little salt. It’s important to retain water for race day, so add a little extra sea salt to your meals and drink extra water. It’s very likely you will gain a couple extra pounds that week. I promise it’s water weight and nothing to be alarmed about at all. The days leading to the race I recommend a sports drink or coconut water to sip throughout the day.
As for meals, I stick to a strict vegetarian diet due to GI issues, but race week I follow an almost 100% vegan meal plan. Rice and GF pasta loaded with steamed veggies, fruit, healthy fats (I am a total avocado junkie, and love almonds and nut butters), lean proteins, GF cereals and granola are all great staples; and as an added bonus, I love to dig into some homemade GF bread and olive oil as a side dish with my meals. Even if you are a meat eater, it’s still best to stick to foods that can be easily digested and that aren’t going to stick around so there aren’t any elimination issues race morning. Trust me, it’s not fun! Like desserts and treats? It’s your lucky week! In my day I definitely enjoyed homemade GF chocolate chip cookies, a little extra ice cream or a few pieces of chocolate. It’s OK to allow the additional splurge!
Race weekend I cannot stress this tip enough for gluten intolerant or celiac athletes, and please remember this in bright neon letters: Try nothing new. If you can, pack your own food before the race, and stick to whatever worked for your pre-long run dinners. I oftentimes pack my own pre-race meals in Tupperware for long road trips. This is obviously not so easy for races where I have to fly. If you can’t pack and prepare your own meals, do extra planning and research. Find restaurants you KNOW are going to provide safe, GF meals, look on websites you trust, and contact the restaurants directly. Stores like Wegmans have hot bars where you can grab a container of rice, some steamed veggies, and a side of protein. It’s always best to do everything you can to handle and provide your own food. I have been glutened before a marathon before due to carelessness, and it was one of the worst race experiences I ever had. It’s critical to avoid a glutening, I promise it can ruin what is supposed to be a momentous occasion.
Obviously if you’re gluten-intolerant or celiac you have to avoid the pasta dinners that so many races will provide, and it can be a real bummer to miss them; I love to meet other runners and break bread, so to speak. Many meals have been simply consumed in my hotel room. I personally stick to high carb foods like baked potatoes, pasta and veggies with tofu (or any other protein), homemade GF pizza or bread with olive oil, and treats are always a nice plus, so indulge that sweet tooth if you have that desire. I used to love, as a pre-race lunch, a baked potato and Frosty from Wendy’s, perfect amount of carbs and sugar! Those days are gone, but I still performed quite well on race morning carb-loading in this manner, and recommend that you stick to what works for you the night before a long run. Veggies are better consumed steamed, not raw, it’s best to avoid too much roughage to prevent GI issues on race morning.
For race morning breakfast, again, stick to a routine. I always have the following maybe 2-3 hours before the race: a banana, 2 cups of coffee, an Udi’s bagel with peanut (or almond) butter and honey. I have consistently stuck to this routine for years and it’s worked well for me. Whatever gets things moving for you, so you don’t have any issues or emergency stops during the race, is the key to a successful race from start to finish! Don’t let the hotel continental breakfasts (or even their appliances like toasters) tempt you, they are a gluten-filled nightmare. I use the microwave or a hotel iron and a toaster bag to ensure a safe breakfast, and it’s never failed.
On race day, I try to ingest 350-400 calories during the race and make sure I hydrate at almost every water stop. That may not seem like enough for some people, so you have to assess your caloric needs accordingly. For a marathon I would usually take in calories around Miles 6, 12, 18 and 22, but somehow in the final miles I forgot that last gel and just want to finish. For a half marathon, maybe take in a gel around Mile 6 or 7, and if you need a little extra boost, mile 10 or 11. There are plenty of fuel stops provided by volunteers and spectators alike, laden with things like pretzels, marshmallows, candy, brownies and yes, even beer. As someone with celiac I wouldn’t take ANYTHING but fruit, and even then it’s best to see if there is a possibility of cross-contamination (like a plate of pretzels or cookies right next to the orange slices) and make a judgment call.
The finish line spread will almost always be disappointing to one with a gluten-intolerance or celiac disease. I’ve run races with the most amazing finish line spreads, and I usually have to bypass all of it and grab maybe a banana and a bottle of water. If you have a drop bag or someone waiting for you at the finish, have a protein bar or other gluten-free recovery fuels waiting. I usually would have a KIND or Think Thin bar; once I get back to my hotel room, I would have something like a Greek yogurt and gluten-free granola and fruit, and then wait a couple hours before my next meal. The most important things are to keep yourself well- hydrated, keep moving, and get some protein into your system within 30-45 minutes in order to get the muscle recovery activated. This can be cheese sticks, almonds, yogurt, protein bars or a shake, half a sandwich, anything that you would rely on as a post-run recovery fuel. Even if you aren’t hungry, try to eat something, and then let your appetite dictate when you want to refuel again. Most of us just want a shower and a nap, surprisingly food is usually on the bottom of the list of priorities. I’ve had to force-feed myself often after a marathon.
Running a race is a wonderful journey of self-discovery that is full of incredible and satisfying milestones as you prepare for the main event. The main lessons here are that you will have to practice and see what works best for you, never try anything new, and stick to a solid routine. You just may surprise yourself when you see how well you can do!
Good Luck, Happy Running, and Much G-Free Love to You!
Rebecca Bishop’s mission is to see all 50 of the United States on foot by running a marathon in each and every one. She states that running is her motivation, but she has also embraced her role as a celiac disease advocate since her April 2011 diagnosis. Rebecca has found that by changing her diet she has opened a whole new world of running for herself and can’t wait to see what the future holds!