The Great Ocean Road Marathon was always going to be an interesting race for me. After both my first and second marathons it took me 6+ weeks to even manage a run over 20km . So here was I toeing the start line of one of Australia’s most scenic road races 6 weeks after running 50kms in the Australian High Country. Sure many have run a marathon and got up and done it again the next day or multiple times in a 6 week block but this was new territory for me. The race was not about chasing a PB. I felt sub 4 hours was a good target but this event was just as much about refining my race nutrition.
When I say my intention for this race was to refine my nutrition it was about finding my middle ground, to see if my strategic carbohydrate plan would work under the pressure of a race. I was very interested to see how would it impact on my performance during the race and in recovery. I think its fair to say in the science world of nutrition and sporting performance at the moment there’s two sides – The High Carb side and the Low Carb side. One says you need the carbs to run fast the other says you don’t. What seems to be forgotten or go unnoticed is the middle ground. It is a LOW CARB way of eating not NO Carb so a strategic Carbohydrate plan makes perfect sense to me. Who says I cant be Fat Adapted and plan my consumption of my carbs around racing and heavy training sessions to maximise performance potential, recovery and to get my engine really firing when needed.
As The Great Ocean Road Marathon was my first road race as an LCHF fat adapted runner, it was for me a really good chance to gauge where I was at. Mt Buller Skyrun I guess you could say proved I was fat adapted and I could run all day on little calorie intake. So this was an opportunity to play a little, bring some carbohydrates back into the mix and see what would happen. I think at this point though I need to be clear about what i mean by saying bringing the carbs back. I am not talking about carb loading as many people understand it, most days I would be at best consuming 50 – 60gms of Carbohydrates and would very rarely especially in the last 6 or so months had too many days where I would ever be over 100gms. Bringing the carbs back simply means sneaking some extra carbohydrates in under a blanket of fat. Bit of extra potato or sweet potato cooked in butter and served up with a dollop of sour cream for example, so in my case my carbohydrate intake in the days leading up to the Great Ocean Road Race were much closer to 100gms possibly even a little higher on the Friday and Saturday. So what did my meals consist of? Saturday breakfast was a couple of eggs, tinned tuna, some veges grilled in butter, avocado, a small bowl of my fat lovers porridge and a Fat black. My meal Saturday night was very simple Salmon fillet and lots of roast veges cooked in butter a good helping of sweet potato with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of dark chocolate finished the evening off nicely. My race morning Breakfast was no carb I wanted to start the race burning fat predominantly with a good store of glycogen in the system from my earlier meals, it too was very simple 2 boiled eggs, little piece of Salmon left over from the night before and some coconut cream and chia seeds. Not a very big meal at all and nearly 3 hours before race start too.
When it comes to racing you couldnt have asked for a better day than the May 17th 2015. The skies were clear, not a breath of wind and a slight chill to the air to start the morning off. My race plan was simple start nice and easy really let myself warm up and settle into an easy rhythm for the first 10km or so. Push on a little through to about the 22km mark easy up over the one really decent climb and push for home once over the top. I met up with Andrea Valvo who had very kindly picked up my or should I say Narelle Lagergren’s race bib who I was running on behalf of. We both hid in my car untill it was almost time to go took a selfie how it actually came out was amazing as my hands were shaking uncontrollably from the chill in the air made our way to the start line where we bumped into Andre Van Der Westhuizen. Quick chat and before we knew we were away.
I settled in quickly found a good rhythmn and started making my way along the course. At the 10km mark I took a salt tablet and I remember looking at my watch and thinking to myself wow I am dead on my original marathon pace and decided there and then that was as good a time goal as any to aim for. I was feeling fine running very comfortably and well within myself. Another salt tablet at 20km and all was good. I was aware of my left quad feeling a little tight but nothing too drastic. I had brought 2 gels with me for this race. The plan had been to take one around the 20km mark and the second if needed. Except I was feeling really good and my pace was steady. I was working a little on the hills but all in all I was feeling great. In the end I decided around the 24km mark to open the gel. For some reason decided I would sip it rather than have it all in one go. In hindsight I think I would have been better having the whole gel at the 22km mark and then a second between the 32 and 34km. Why do I say in hindsight, I now understand part of using strategic carbs is the insulin response you are after and also timing them to coincide with a upcoming hill or a planned surge, strong push for the finish line etc or for topping up the fuel tanks. In this case having the whole gel at 21 /22km would’ve given me an insulin spike and helped get the extra glycogen into the muscles before I hit the longest climb in the race and then around the 32 -34km mark would have topped me up again for a really strong finish.
Did I hit the wall? No I didn’t. My left hip certainly impeded me by the end a little and my pace dropped as a result, my energy levels however were consistent throughout. My final time was 3:34:52, my marathon split was 3:23:10 just oustside a minute off my original marathon time. To achieve that sort of time only 6 weeks after running a similar distance in the Australian High Country off a non specific marathon training base was very pleasing and gives me great confidence as I move forward. My recovery was fantastic. I had none of the usual DOMS, I was moving really well and back into some solid training sessions within 10 days. The left hip was fine straight after but it didnt respond well to running hills in the Dandenongs a few weeks later. So I took a week off and gave it a well earned rest and have started building my training back up from there.
I know that some would say that I didn’t run on fat by taking on some exogenous carbs during the race – being fat adapted has many advantages, my reliance on carbs for fuel and calorie intake during a race are greatly reduced, there is marked improvement in recovery post training and racing. There are many suggested long term health benefits by being fat adapted, improved cholesterol numbers, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes plus others. However on race day its about RACING it may not always be time focused, could be all about working on race strategies for future races etc. I train myself to be Fat adapted so on race day I know I will get a great response from my body when I bring back some strategic carbs. Middle Earth is where the real action happens, our bodies are designed to burn two fuels Fat and Glycogen. We can go all day on fat and we can be explosive and fast on carbohydrates. Finding your Middle Earth gives you the best of both worlds on Race Day.
For those interested below is the strava link for the race