Race Report: Melbourne Half Marathon 2018

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two weeks since the Melbourne Marathon Festival – where has the time gone! Since then, after a small break to recover from all the excitement, I’ve started to get back into the training routine and, together with my coach – Sarah Grove, Complete Per4mance Coaching – have decided on some exciting future running and triathlon goals (more on that another time – stay tuned!).

But before I look too far ahead into what the future may bring, I thought it was a great time to reflect on the half marathon – what I did, how I went, how I fuelled and more – to give you a little insight on how a Sports Dietitian might prepare, fuel and execute a half marathon event.

Baseline Diet

To give you a bit of background, in January 2018 (start of the year) I decided to overhaul my diet due to some serious issues with whole body eczema and allergies, and autoimmune issues. After a lot of reading and research (as it turns out, dairy is one of the big culprits that make eczema symptoms worse), and because conventional methods weren’t working, I decided to “go vegan” – well, plant-based with largely no animal products. I have had the occasional egg-containing baked good over the last few months (#parttimevegan ha!) but for the most part, I’ve steered away from all animal products. And I’ve never felt better. I find I’m recovering better after training sessions, have a lot more energy, I’ve been able to get to race weight easily and, most importantly my eczema is under control – it’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than what it was. So, leading into the half marathon I was eating a largely vegan/plant-based diet, tailoring my nutrition around my training to ensure I was fuelling correctly and recovering well. The specific things I was focusing on as far as my nutrition goes were things like nutrient timing (pre/during/post training fuelling) and practising my race day nutrition and hydration. With all the racing I’ve done this year – Challenge Melbourne, IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns, Gold Coast Half Marathon, IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships – my baseline nutrition/diet has been essentially dialled in, so leading into the half marathon it was really all about maintaining status quo and making sure I stayed on top of my daily nutrition and hydration.

Race Week 

I didn’t do anything too different with my diet/nutrition leading into the half marathon. I was mindful to include good carbs with every meal and to make sure I was hydrated (combination of water and water + electrolytes) but that’s about it. I didn’t specifically ‘carb load’ as such – I don’t do that before a 90-minute long run on a weekend, so it certainly wasn’t a good idea to change things too much days out from a goal run race (hello potential gut issues).

If you maintain your regular training nutrition in taper – so if you eat what you would normally eat in peak training e.g. including good carbs with meals and around training (pre/during/post), adding that to a reduced energy output (training volume is typically reduced in taper) you will load up the fuel stores because you’re simply not using as much energy in taper. Of course, this will be different for everyone and for different/longer races; e.g. I would have ‘carb loaded’ more specifically for a full marathon, and I certainly up the carb intake leading into a half and full iron distance event.

Speaking of all things carbs, one of my pre-long run/race day rituals is popcorn. Those who know me will know how much I love the stuff. I can’t get enough! Specifically, I am pretty much obsessed with Cobs Natural Popcorn Sea Salt. So good. I had a bag of that the day before the event – it’s my secret weapon 🙂

I will confess, I think I did make an error with my pre-race dinner though. Yup! Even Sports Dietitians are human. Shocking, I know. For dinner I had my usual – gnocchi with basic pasta sauce – I like to keep things pretty simple, being mindful to limit the fibre to avoid too many visits to the ladies room the next day. BUT I also had a bottle of The Juice Lab Cool Beets beetroot juice that I came across in the supermarket (WHY!). Normally, there is nothing wrong with doing this but beetroot can be problematic for sensitive guts, and I think it may have contributed to some (not too significant because I ran through it) gut issues for me during the race. So learn from me – keep things simple the night before, don’t try anything new and limit the fibre and anything that might upset your guts.

Race Morning

The alarm went off at about 3:30am on race morning. Ridiculously early given the race start was 8am BUT Kona (the IRONMAN World Championship) was also on and I had people to track 🙂 Plus, I love, love, love Kona… so if you spotted me pre-race you would have seen me glued to my iPhone on the tracker before the half mara. Side note: towards the end of the half mara, when I was charging to get back to tracking Kona, a male runner did say to me: “I want to finish this quick too, to get back to Kona tracking.” Triathletes everywhere 🙂

OK. What did I eat and drink?

I recently discovered the glorious world of Seven Sunday’s Bircher and Quinoa Muesli. Holy moly! So good. I soaked a bowl of the muesli in So Good Almond and Coconut milk overnight and had that with a chopped banana on top, along with a strong instant coffee when I got up. Oh, actually, backtrack for a second – before all that I had a glass of water with half a lemon and then I had my breakfast. Anyway, I’ve been having bircher before all my long runs lately and it’s like magic. I’m in love with bircher *insert heart eyes emoji*!

Once breakfast was in and done, I did some pre-run yoga (Yoga with Adriene, get on it guys and gals! The best.) and I was off – to the race we go!

In the car and throughout the early morning, as I waited for the half mara to start (I had like two hours to kill – I got there super, super early!) I sipped on a bottle of water that had a couple of tabs of Hydralyte Sports in it and had snacked on a Clif Bar. I also had some Black Cherry Clif Bloks as well. Then about 30-minutes before the start I had a Clif gel – Razz  with some water and a No Doz . And I was ready to rock and roll.

21.1km of Bliss

Leading into the race I really wasn’t too sure what to expect as far as times go. I had done a massive PB at Gold Coast half mara earlier in the year (my breakthrough half mara) but the Melbourne course is harder (GC is known for being flat and fast) so speaking with my coach the plan was to run to my set pace targets and then just to see what would happen. I know, all a bit vague but because this year has been my breakthrough year (I’ve never hit these targets before. Amazing what consistent training does!) every race I do at the moment has a little unknown factor in it as far as my times go. So, I didn’t have a time goal going in as such, although I knew that I could probably do the run in about 1:35-1:40 (depending on the course, weather etc.). Mainly, I wanted to ‘nail’ the run – as in, I wanted to hit my pace targets, but I also just really wanted a good, solid run (no matter the times). I wanted to give it my all because I didn’t want to walk away disappointed – my mental game still needs work sometimes and I get easily disappointed when a race doesn’t go to plan.

And I’m stoked to report that I nailed it!

I lined up near the front, with the 1:30 pacer. While 1:30 for 21.1km is a touch ambitious for me at the moment, I figured if I tried to hold on to this pacer for as long as possible I would hit my expected time (I was happy to run anywhere between 1:35-1:40. And to put it in perspective, in GC I did 1:36).

It worked. After dodging about 4000 runners at the start I got into a rhythm and held on for dear life, even managing to stay in front of the 1:30 pacer for the first ~8-ish km. This strategy meant I ran a PB for the first 10km (~44minutes) too. Very happy. I didn’t quite manage to negative split the run though. Things slowed down a touch in the second half of the run – it was hot, windy and I was feeling some fatigue. But I held on and came away with a course PB (and almost an overall half mara PB too). My official time was 1:37:06 and I came 11th in my age category. Say, WHAT?! Holy moly! So stoked! This is what happens when you need to run quick to get back to Kona tracking 🙂

My Race Nutrition

Nothing wild or revolutionary here. The guidelines say about 30-60g carbs/hour for an endurance event, which is basically what I did. I had a Citrus Clif gel (because it contains caffeine = a little pick me up!) at about the 11km mark and sipped on water to thirst at aid stations, which wasn’t that much in the end. I took a sip of water with my gel and then maybe at one other aid station. That’s it. For the most part, I ran through. I find I don’t need too much during a half mara these days. I try to keep it simple because the aim is to run as fast as I can over the 21.1km distance. And because I was fuelled and hydrated going in, I had enough fuel on board to get me through. The gel was a little fuel top up to make sure I got to the finish as fast as possible. NB: This is what works for me – everyone is different though, yeah?! 🙂 And this is what I do in training, so I know it works for me.

Post Race Recovery

I’d love to be here all like: “Oh, yes, I nailed my post-race recovery nutrition. I got straight onto the protein and carbs to replenish the fuel stores…” Blah, blah what a perfect little Dietitian. Right? Wrong. Oops. Sadly this was not the case (shame on me!). I’m not going to lie. I thought I would be able to buy something to eat pretty quick after the run but there were a lot of people around, my appetite and desire for food disappeared, I then decided to drive to get food at a cafe but couldn’t find a car park… Bah! I was not organised at all with my post-race recovery (DO NOT FOLLOW MY LEAD ON THIS). I didn’t bring any snacks with me to have in the event of not being able to get to a proper post-race meal. And so my recovery nutrition went to poo a little bit. But I did have a sports drink and half a banana in the race compound once I finished. So at least there was that.

The Takeaways 

  • Don’t try anything new before the race – no pre-race beetroot juice for me
  • Be mindful to include good carbs with meals/snacks leading into an endurance event but you don’t have to go overboard
  • Get organised with your post-race nutrition

So, there it is – the 2018 Melbourne Half Marathon report. Next up – a local 10km race. Coach and I decided it’s time for a little 10km TT to see how fast I can run over that distance.

Post-race chat with coach: 

Coach: “I’d love to see you do a straight 10k. See what speed we can get.”

Me: “Yeah! Let’s do it. Prob induce vomiting but let’s try.”

Coach: “Haha. Nothing like a lil spew on the finishing line.” 🙂

Stay tuned.

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