0-48 hours prior to Comrades Marathon

0-48 hours prior to Comrades Marathon

How you eat and drink, and sleep in the 48 hours leading up to a race like the Comrades Marathon, will have a major effect on how your race day goes. On this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, Mark Wolff gets you from 48 hours to go, right up to the start of Comrades 2018.



90km, that’s how long the Comrades Marathon will be in 2018. A finish in the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, the iconic stadium they used for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Mark Wolff joins myself, Mr Active, David Katz, again. Mark, the last 48 hours before and of course race day fuelling is the most critical isn’t it?

Mark Wolff: 100%, it’s definitely where the nerves are at their highest, where six months of training is now coming down to that one final day and you just don’t want to ruin it. You want to be as relaxed as possible. Those two days leading into the race I need to have a plan for sleeping, eating, my race kit preparation, everything needs to be done and it will keep you far more relaxed if you’re in control of the situation.

Sleep, hydration and nutrition

Let’s look at 48 hours prior to the race. I would say give as much focus to sleep, hydration and nutrition as possible. Keep the feet up nicely. I spent hours at expos and I watch runners walking around Comrades Marathon expos shopping, shopping, shopping.

They’re standing on their feet all day long and let me tell you, just from experience. Standing on your feet, even if you’re walking around, it does fatigue the legs. There’s absolutely no reason to spend hours and hours on end shopping at an expo because it does fatigue you.

The second thing is, if you do go to race registration expo, there are very often queues, depending on the time that you get there. Make sure you’ve got a water bottle with you or some hydration drink and make sure you hydrate consistently. I have been to expos where systems have gone down or athletes have been stuck outside for many hours, in the hot sun. It really, really starts to dehydrate you, when you’re stuck in a situation and you don’t have any water with you to be able to hydrate.

Make sure you are prepared. Please, limit the amount of time that you are at the expo, go in, walk around. An hour or an hour and a half is more than enough, get back to where you’re staying and get those feet up. Make sure that you also take some food with you to the expo. Don’t go and rely only on the fast foods there.

Because if you haven’t eaten those foods before and your stomach is not used to those foods and let me tell you, we’re talking Comrades Marathon, we’re talking very spicy foods in some situations, can impact the stomach. You don’t know how the kitchen is being managed etc, they are fast foods, they are take-outs and I would not risk it on the day.

Rather take some snacks with you, things that are very healthy. I often carry boiled eggs with me, I carry a little bit of spelt or rice with me or whatever it is. I actually land up eating out of a little lunch bag and I find that to be the best. You can take a little food bar or a snack bar or whatever, anything that agrees with your system that wouldn’t impact your digestive system. You don’t need to take that risk. Those are the 48 hours before the race. Try to keep it as controlled as possible.

24 hours to go – how to eat

24 hours before race day, that’s another big day. Now the nerves are beginning, months of preparation are now coming to a big test. The Friday night before the race is the time that you can actually maximise your sleep. Why? The night before the race you’re going to battle to sleep. That’s just because the nerves are going to be kicked in and not everybody manages to get to sleep quite quickly.

Make sure that that Friday night you get a decent night’s sleep and that through Saturday morning you even wake up a little bit later, make sure that that is a very good night’s sleep and you get a nice amount of hours. So that the night before the race your sleep, even if it’s impacted slightly, you would have at least made up a little bit of sleep from the day before.

Many athletes do eat a large meal the night before the race in order to top up glycogen stores. I feel it’s not necessary at all. It can in actual fact be more damaging. Why? It actually is going to impact your sleep and you don’t want that to happen.

I mentioned that in the previous podcast. Eat a slightly larger meal at lunch time. You can have a few snacks in the day. Eat a smaller meal at night, make sure you hydrate through the day so you don’t have to overhydrate at night, so that you can actually focus on getting to sleep and that is where the focus needs to be. You don’t have to worry about eating a massive meal at night because the next day when you wake up, that is the pre-race meal, that is the most crucial meal of the day. Try and get a good night’s sleep.

Get breakfast right on race day

On race day, you definitely must take in a pre-race meal. It doesn’t matter what your race nerves are like, you need to take something in that does agree with you. First thing in the morning wake up, have something nice and hot to drink, get the bowels stimulated, get them working. If you need to have two drinks in the morning to do that, that’s great, but immediately get something nice to drink and you can actually take in some caffeine as well, it does have a benefit.

Try and get something into the stomach and then focus on the pre-race meal. What I do generally, I don’t like to go down to breakfast rooms. I’ve got my flours and my powders etc, whatever I need and I just use boiling hot water from the kettle in my hotel room and I put it into a cup with all these mixtures and I have my little porridge. That’s my pre-race meal; I take it with me anywhere I go in the world.

If you have got an idea of what you want to eat, take it to your hotel room, you’ll be far more relaxed that you don’t have to go up and down to the breakfast room and then back to the room or vice versa. Depending on the kind of person you are, that will determine the kind of meal that you’re having.

Generally I do advocate a slightly higher carbohydrate meal in the morning. You don’t need to take in high amounts of fat. It’s not going to be a major source of fuel, unless it’s in the form of medium chain triglycerides which are quite easily accessible. You can take in a nice amount of carbohydrates and you can take in some protein as well.

250-400 calories – your Comrades breakfast

Try and eat a meal that’s around, depending on your body weight, you’d probably need to eat a meal that’s around 250-400 calories. This is usually eaten two hours before the start. However, many people are staying in Durban and they’re travelling to Pietermaritzburg. That means they’re getting up even a lot earlier. You can have a bigger meal if it’s a lot earlier.

You can actually increase the calorie intake by maybe another 100 calories for every hour that is going to be added onto the two hours before the race. If you were going to eat a 400 calorie meal, for example, and you’re eating three to four hours, you can actually probably go to 500-550 calories that far before or you can still eat a smaller meal and you can just top-up along the route.

Take a banana with you or take a little porridge or shake in the car, on the way to the start line and that is absolutely fine as well. Make sure that the meal that you choose in the morning does agree with you. Don’t eat something that hasn’t been previously tested. If you haven’t eaten it before, don’t try and eat it on race day.

Try and keep it very simple and easily digestible. Ensure the carbohydrates selected for your meal isn’t going to spike your blood sugar, but will provide some form of stability. Keep the fibre as low as possible because remember, high fibre can cause havoc with the bowels.

Examples of pre-race meals

As far as examples of pre-race meals go, I look at things like rolled oats and nut butter and some banana or berries. You could also just eat banana on bread with some peanut butter and honey. You can have things like a rice pudding, spelt, sorghum, you can have pancakes, even some people like to eat eggs on toast etc. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with what you choose to eat, just make sure that it is a slightly higher carbohydrate intake.

If you are a Banter, however, a lot of people go and they fat load before an event. I still recommend taking in some carbohydrates. Even if you’re a Banter, take in some carbohydrates before, it’s not going to impact you really a lot, as far as if you don’t go and spike those insulin levels, you’ll be absolutely fine.

How to use caffeine to your advantage

There’s something called the ‘caffeine benefit.’ It has been shown to improve performance and generally we would recommend 1-3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight, around 2-4 hours before an event. Then obviously you can actually use the caffeine during the event. If you haven’t tried caffeine before, caffeine loading, then don’t try it on race day. Because the thing is, it might irritate your bowels. You don’t want to cause that. Make sure you have tried caffeine before.

If you drink coffee before your race, then rather stick to coffee as a form of caffeine, however, you don’t know how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee, so you never know if you’re going to get the actual nominal amount. One of the products I quite like for that is TrueStart Coffee. We know that there’s 95mg per every 2g serving, 95mg of caffeine and it does work very, very well.

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