The 19th Hole - Nutrition

Like the 19th hole in golf there’s a final leg in a triathlon that if not executed well could ruin that moment you’ve trained so bloody hard for. To say it’s the same experience as the golfer would be a stretch, however, we all know the most important leg in golf is hole 19 just as is the 4th and final leg of triathlon; nutrition. 

I’m not talking about which diet you follow in everyday life, I’ll certainly leave that for another time, so whether you’re paleo, baby food dieter, vegan, Tarzan, Jane or only eat and drink items starting with the letter C on Wednesday’s, it doesn’t really matter because I’m sure you’re all over it. 

I’ll use my own experience here as the leading light in why you should and shouldn’t do certain things come race day. Remember, the fourth leg pretty much decides the immediate and direct success or not of your day out there. 

Let’s go back to August 2015. I was lucky enough to be competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Months of training, a European commute from Sydney and the most stunning place I’ve ever seen a race held in, all led to the amazing ski village of Zell Am See on Lake Zell in the Austrian Alpes. Travelling internationally to compete has a variety of challenges including jet lag, food, weather and general logistics you wouldn’t need to worry about should the race be your local monthly sprint distance event. So I’m at the World Championships and the day before race day I’m getting my bike and gear ready and make a fatal decision, due to not working out what’s on course nutritionally for the event, at the last minute I change my mind. I use a product that for me was untested and as you’ll see shortly will never be spoken of again......ever.

Race starts, great swim, onto the bike up into a 15km climb through the alpes (yep that was amazing) smiling all the way thinking how good I’m going, hit the decent on the far side of the climb and all of a sudden I have the sinking feeling that whatever I’ve been drinking and eating for the past 2-3 hours is now officially still in my stomach and making its way at a rate of knots back up to where it came from. Oh shit, I knew straight away it was my change of mind that would hurt me here. Through a total lack of experience and knowledge I thought, I’ll just stop drinking and eating, get off the bike and sort the run out as it came. Yeah right, idiot. Petrol gauge was already on empty and I was planning to drive the body for another 3 hours. Hmmmmmm. Proceeding to roll, now with zero petrol In the tank through a small town only 10kms from the end of the bike course, through an aid station I decide the best course of action is to pull over, unclip and finally make a generous deposit into the Austrian countryside (actually someone’s front yard). Great, no problems I’ll be back in the bike before I know it. Yeah, naaaaa. Cars don’t start with no petrol in the tank so why the hell would this rig. Then I proceed to be offered firstly a seat (thanks) then a few minutes later a cigarette, no this is not a joke, from a lovely Austrian mother who appeared that her triathlon career clearly ended many years before. I was totally fucked, after 45 minutes it was time to roll back to T2 and try and salvage something from the day and enjoy the finish line of the World Championships.

So here’s the message, everyone is different, everyone works differently on different products, some work and some don’t. You must test them through training. You must test them at race effort in training as you may react differently to them under the stress of race conditions when you’re heart rate is running faster than you thought possible. Notice the word MUST. This is a non-negotiable for my athletes. 

The second part of this is that with nutrition you must have a plan. Now remember, plans are a 'plan', they aren’t a mathematical play book that if not followed will result in the world imploding. Plans can change, shit happens in races and believe it or not you may actually need to make a decision, by yourself as to the best way to get around the obstacle, example being you roll out onto the bike and on the first decent at 50kms an hour you drop your race nutrition that didn’t quiet comply as you went over a few bumps. Do you A) go back up the climb which will take you 15 minutes, try and find it with fingers crossed the 55,473 people behind you haven’t ridden straight over it or B) do you get moving and change the plan, work out a solution and think it through. Both options here are correct, remembering that you’ve trained for these situations and you will make the correct one. 

My best tips for ensuring you have the best chance of getting nutrition right on race day; 
- Train the way you’ll race. If that means your partner needs to be driving and stopping the car every 2kms on your long run off the bike to simulate aid station make it happen. 
- Understand how much you need. Again, this comes down to planning but many races are often ruined by over eating and/or under eating. 
- Be flexible. Try and have some flexibility in there. What if the aid station runs out of something, you lose your nutrition or your body is just not complying. Remember, doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is stupidity 101. 
- Ask some questions. Consult a few people who might know a little more than you might on the subject. Your coach is probably a great place to start. Like nutrition brands there’s a million and one ways to approach this part of your event. Not all ways are right and not all ways are wrong. It’s about what the best option for you is. 

Plan, be flexible and smile. Enjoy the real 19th hole and the spoils of finishing.