Your Top 10 Questions About What To Do During the Week of A Big Race Like A Marathon or Ironman

Kona underwear run
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Kona underwear run
My biggest tip is to do an underwear run with your kids 2 days before the race.

This week, I just returned from Ironman Hawaii. You can check out The Kona Diaries to see more details on what happened there, or go read my Ironman Hawaii race report.

In the days since I’ve returned, many of you have written in with specific nutrition, fitness and training questions about the Ironman event. Below, I’ve chosen the top 10 questions you’ve asked about what to do during the week of a big race like an Ironman or a marathon and succinctly answered them.

Many of these questions answers apply to you whether you’re doing an important workout, a big game, a 5K, a half-marathon, or any other hard effort, so check them out, and if you have follow-up questions, feel free to leave them as a comment below this post!

Q. What do you eat the week of a big event like an Ironman?

A. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Your stomach has learned to digest specific foods, and there is no need to change that or throw your digestive system for a loop during race week. If you read “How To Get Healthy Food When You’re Traveling”, you’ll see that I purchase and consume the same type of items I eat at home: avocados, olives, feta cheese, sardines, coconut milk, sprouted wraps, sweet potatoes, fresh vegetables, fresh fish, fruits and nut butter. Breakfast is typically eggs and veggies, lunch is  a wrap with cheese, veggies and protein, and dinner is fish with a vegetable and potato, with some healthy fruit, protein powder or snack mix for snacks.

Q. What are foods you should avoid in the week before an Ironman?

A. Coffee and caffeine (so you’re more sensitive to it on race morning), any “new” nutrition supplements, and starting two days prior to the race, excessive fiber (no more than the equivalent of 2 pieces of fruit and a small salad each day).

Q. Do you lift weights during a race week?

A. Not during Ironman. During most other race weeks, early in the week, I do a light body weight workout that is short, powerful and explosive. Your body takes about 6-7 days to fully recover from a proper weight training workout.

Q. What kind of workouts do you do during a race week?

A. Not much at all, especially before Ironman. Prior to Ironman Hawaii, I did two 20 minute bike rides, two 20 minute runs, and three 20 minute swims. Going into a big race, it’s better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.

Q. What do you have for dinner the night before?

Usually, fish (easy to digest protein) with a small side of roasted or steamed vegetables (good iron content) and an easily digested carbohydrate, like rice or potato. Prior to Ironman Hawaii, I had fish tacos with a small amount of red cabbage on a sprouted grain wrap.

Q. What do you eat for race morning breakfast?

Very little. Two purple Hawaiian sweet potatoes, lightly salted. This was only about 400 calories. Anything you eat on race morning isn’t going to do much except top off your liver glycogen stores, and 300-600 calories of easily digested carbohydrate is sufficient. Take some digestive enzymes to speed up the process.

Q. Do you have any special rituals you do right before the race starts?

If time, I close my eyes and see myself completing the entire race in very, very fast motion –  like covering the entire course in about 30 seconds. Just prior to the swim start, I take a few deep breaths to oxygenate the body. Also, see below.

Q. Do you stretch before an Ironman?

Almost always. Even through stretching can slightly reduce force production, your comfort and injury prevention is more important, since Ironman is not a 100 meter sprint or a barbell squat competition. I personally do the same stretch routine I do every morning, no matter what. 

Q. Isn’t all the sugar you eat during a race like that very unhealthy?

Kind of. When you’re exercising, your body is very insulin sensitive, and most of that sugar doesn’t even have time to do much else other than get burnt for energy. However, sugar still does have a net acidic load, and long undigested sugar chains do end up in the lower GI tract. As a result, you can feel a bit nauseous if you’re not used to eating much sugar (which is how I feel) and indigestion, diarrhea or constipation is common after 9+ hours of a steady maltodextrin, glucose and fructose diet. Incidentally, I never eat any gels or sugary training foods unless I’m in a race (OK, OK…I had a total of FOUR gels outside of racing this entire year).

Q. Are you hungry after an Ironman, and what do you eat if so?

I took 10 MAP capsules immediately after the race, and then did not eat anything or have an appetite for 2 hours after Ironman. I then had a nice dose of protein and fat with 4 egg omelette with cheese and an avocado. Aside from one blended alcoholic drink, the only other food I had until late the next morning was 2 spoonfuls of peanut butter. It is common to have a very low appetite until several hours after completing an event like this, although this is the least I have ever eaten on the day of finishing the race.

Feedback, comments, or additional questions? Just ask them below, and remember that no question is a stupid question!

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9 thoughts on “Your Top 10 Questions About What To Do During the Week of A Big Race Like A Marathon or Ironman

  1. On Q9, you mention that you don't eat sugary foods while training. I'm sure you've answered this eleswhere, but what do you eat? I did my first Ironman this year and tried to do the same. I ended up popping a gel on my long runs (18 mile +) and having a couple of Clif bars and a couple of bananas on my long rides. I stayed off energy drinks and just went with diluted OJ with a dash of salt. Seemed to cope OK with gel frenzy on the race,

    1. I only had two long runs before Ironman. One was during Ironman Canada, and I stopped at the expo and had two powerbar bites. The other was from my house, and I had two no-bake cookies my wife made in the kitchen.

  2. Ben, you look much better in your undies than me- show off!

    I also felt sick during ironman. I suppose it was the gels. I practiced using them during training but no training session was as long as the actual race.

    Here’s my question- a. Do you train using gels? You said you never use them outside of a race

    b. What alternative can be used and carried on my bike?

    1. I don't train using gels, but I use them during the race. I'd recommend you look into your digestive health – take probiotics and digestive enzymes. They'll help you get strong enough to digest gels quickly.

  3. Lauren asked already my question. So no gels during the training, Ben? What are you using instead, for the long sessions?

    1. not much at all. I like to teach my body how to be fat efficient. Also, I only had a total of 4 long sessions leading up to Hawaii (2 long bikes and 2 long runs) so it wasn't a big deal.

      1. Based on the "no gels" approach in training and your comment above, do you recommend doing long runs and rides with no fuel if possible? Even when running or riding at an easy pace, I still tend to fade with just water. Do you have any suggested fuel other than gels if needed when out on a long run? Thank you.

        1. Have you tried Chia slurry? Mix Chia in 9:1 ratio with water and shake. Also, in my personal training, I rarely go long enough to need gels. If you go long a lot (and many of my athletes do), you'll still need gels.

  4. Hey Ben! Congrats on Kona this year! Quick question, you’ve mentioned several times throughout your previous podcasts in a couple of your Traveling Tips posts that you use ear plugs when you sleep. I was curious if you had any suggestions on a good re-usable set of earplugs, or do you just buy cheap foam ones? Thanks!

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