Saturday morning, June 20, dawned cold and overcast. Clouds hung low over the mountains, and the air was a crisp 45 degrees as Kelli, Marin and I arrived for Xterra Buffalo Creek, my first Xterra of the 2009 race season. In Xterra, as with traditional triathlons, you're primarily competing against other people in your same age group. For me, that's the M30-34 division. And at Buffalo Creek, that field of competitors was especially deep...roughly 50 men in my division alone. (By comparison, another Xterra that same day in Oregon had just 6 men in my division.) Competition would be fierce.
Based on each leg of the race - 1 mile swim, 20 mile mountain bike, and 5 mile trail run - I estimated my finish time to be 3 hours and 15 minutes. I got off to a great start in the race, swimming right on pace for where I wanted to be. The mountain bike was spectacular. After an initial descent on dirt roads, the course turned off onto singletrack that climbed into Pike National Forest, and then wound its way through alpine meadows of wildflowers where the Hayman fire (the most devastating wildfire in Colorado history) decimated the landscape just a few short years ago.
The run - a 5-mile loop around Wellington Lake - was great. As I turned the far corner of the lake and began to head home for the finish line, the competitors around me all turned out to be in my age group (the numbers marked on our calves and shoulders make ID'ing one another easy). We pushed each other, opening up our strides and quickening the pace as the race end neared. When it was all said and done, I edged out some guys, but got edged out by others. My finish time: 3 hours and 16 minutes, just one minute off my prediction. This was nothing short of remarkable, considering that in ski mountaineering racing, my estimates are often off by a factor of 30-60 minutes! It was a great race day.
With the race behind me, it was time to recover...which brings me to the final installment of Going the Distance - post-race nutrition. When a race is all said done, you've pushed your body hard, fatigued it, and broken down muscle fibers. Post-race is the time to rebuild those muscles and enable your body to rest and recover.
As far as the rest is concerned, different people have different guidelines for how much rest you should give your body after a race before you start training again. Rest and recovery are just as important to your performance as intense training days. Without the rest and recovery, your body gets beaten down by all the training. With the rest and recovery, your body recuperates and becomes stronger. As a general rule, the longer and more intense the race, the longer the recovery period. So, for instance, give your body more time after a marathon than after a 10k. I typically give my body a baseline of 2-3 days of complete rest, and then judge how I'm feeling subjectively from there. I can take an extra day or two or three, if needed. Or if I'm feeling fresh and ready to get back into training, I can get back into my routine and start focusing on the next race.
As far as the nutrition is concerned, I focus on proteins (and their building blocks, amino acids). Getting protein into your system ASAP, and keeping amino acid levels in the blood high, are crucial steps for rebuilding your muscles. For me, that means a meat binge (eggs, or steak, or chicken, or pork), but you can introduce protein into your diet in a number of ways. (My meat binge is partly practical...I need the protein for my muscles...but it's also psychological. After sucking down glucose-heavy energy gels during a race, I find I really crave something savory and protein-y.)
Also, don't forget about the carbohydrates. Remember that carbs...which break down into glucose...and then get stored in muscles as glycogen...were depleted during the race. You need to replenish those stores of energy, too.
So, that's my quick and dirty four-part series about gluten-free nutrition for endurance athletes/racing. But the information can be used far beyond that relatively narrow scope... Wanna kick some butt at the company picnic softball tournament? Have a big hike in the mountains coming up? Want more energy for being active in general? Put this info to good use, and get out and live an active gluten-free lifestyle!
In the meantime, I'm already eyeballing the next race on my calendar - Xterra Beaver Creek (which is also the Xterra Mountain Cup regional championship race), coming up in mid-July. Just a few weeks to tweak the training and improve upon my last performance.