Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Top 10 Mistakes You Might Be Making While Training and Racing

Sometimes when I Google things like, “How to not kill your child when he shoves his little sister into her new locker



Or, “How to fart delicately when you are in a social situation” (who knew there are actually activated charcoal underwear and pads?), I happen upon some really interesting information that I think everyone should know.

Today I’m sharing with the you Top Ten Biggest Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make (by Hammer Nutrition). It might not surprise you to find the biggest mistake made is that people don’t use Hammer Nutrition (just kidding, sort of).

I want to share these with you because I am a hugely flawed and mistake-ridden endurance athlete. I have done it all wrong (three injuries in three years), and now I am backtracking and trying to do it all right. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in MRI machines, crying while holding a 20 ounce glass of wine.

Overall, I think it’s a good list even though it is biased towards Hammer Nutrition (which is a great product, but not one I’ve used excessively). I tried not to plagiarize, but instead to summarize in my own words  (I don’t want Ms. Priles from ninth grade to come and give me a wedgie and an “F,” which would cause my dad to take away my new Michael Jackson album and my Love’s Baby Soft). I also added in my own two cents because this is my blog and I like to do that. If you take issue with any of these, let me know in the comments section. Some make sense to me and some I’m not sure about.

The Top Ten Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make

1. Too much drinking (and not of the alcohol kind, but that could be problematic as well)
We always hear about watching out for dehydration. Turns out, we need to be just as aware of over-hydrating. Interestingly enough, the front runners in races tend to under-hydrate while the middle to back of the packers sometimes drink too much.
Over consumption of fluid can lead to low sodium in the blood (hyponatremia) and can cause bloating, stomach upset and even death.  While hydrating, balance is the key – most doctors/nutritionists agree that approximately 20 ounces per hour will do the trick. This is an average – some people will need more, some less, and of course temperature and humidity come into play. I have a rule of thumb that on every long run I drink 2-3 ounces of water every time my Garmin beeps at the mile mark.
2. Eating and drinking simple sugars

According to the article, simple sugars – fructose, sucrose and glucose - cannot be digested by the body efficiently. There is a whole physiological theory behind this that I am too dumb to understand. It appears that complex carbs (maltodextrins or glucose polymers) are the best choice – they move into your system quickly, digest as easily and rapidly as the simple sugars and may cause less tummy distress (much needed over here).  GU is an example of a fuel source that contains maltodextrin (and Hammer, of course). Not everyone agrees that simple sugars are to be avoided. You can read the opposing viewpoint in this article by Matt Fitzgerald.

3. Improper amounts of calories

Apparently, your body cannot replenish calories as fast as it expends them, same with fluids and electrolytes. Therefore, athletes need to figure out the least amount of calories that they can consume to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but not too many calories that they get sick and lethargic. Too many calories and you risk being bloated and having stomach distress. Not enough and you bonk or DNF.

In general and according to the article, an intake of about 250 calories per hour is  sufficient for the average size endurance athlete (approximately 160- 165 lbs). Lighter weight athletes will need less, while heavier athletes may need slightly more. I can get by on 100 calories an hour during a marathon. I took in 150-200 per hour during the half Ironman. That’s just what works for me.

4. Incorrect Use of Electrolytes

Basically, athletes need to replenish electrolytes consistently, and especially when it’s hot outside (duh!). This needs to be done prior to becoming electrolyte-depleted. Once that happens, it is tough to catch up. But, it is also important to get the right balance of electrolytes – for example, the article points out that salt tabs alone cannot satisfy all electrolyte requirements and might even cause more problems than they help.

In all of my races I’ve started using Endurolyte Tabs because mixing gels and sports drinks upsets my stomach. I take 2 to 3 before the start of race, and a few during the race, depending on the duration. Throughout the race I do gels and drink only water. Some of my longer races like the Boulder 70.3 took over 5 hours and were done in 90+ degree heat. I’ve never suffered from dehydration. I swear by these capsules and they have never upset my stomach or caused any ill effects.

5. No protein during prolonged exercise

I have to say, this is not something I have done except in the half Ironman. But, apparently when you exercise for more than two hours your body will eat up your own muscle for fuel. This can devastate performance and cause deterioration and weakness. Carbs are still your major fuel source, but you should include small amount of protein. Supposedly, an intake of protein during longer workouts will help reduce recovery time as well.

6. Too much solid food during exercise

I am sad this is a mistake because I love eating eggs benedict during marathons. Just kidding. In fact, there is no way in hell I could ingest much solid food during a race or long workout effort. I know that if I ever did an ultra I might have to train my body to do this, although some ultra runners don’t take in any solid food. Liquid nutrition is easy, convenient and usually digests well. In addition, eating too much solid food utilizes blood for digestion, thereby not supplying it sufficiently to muscles.

The article goes on to say that if you do choose solid foods, avoid refined sugar an saturated fat.

7. Doing/using something new in a race without testing it in training.

This is one that we hear over and over again, “Never try anything new on race day.” This goes for nutrition, shoes, socks, tampons, condoms, etc.  (Who wants to get pregnant on the course?)

8. Sticking with your game plan even when it's not working

I think this is a tough one, and I like to compare it to the birth plan. When I was pregnant I told my doc about my plans for labor and delivery. He said, “It’s good to have a plan as long as you’re willing to ditch it if need be.” In other words, have a plan but for God’s sake, be flexible!

No matter how much we “plan,” it’s tough to anticipate what will really occur on race day. There are so many factors at play including weather, aches/pains that arise, etc. In terms of fueling, while it’s good to have a strategy, if the weather is hot, the body cannot process calories as well. Under these circumstances if you gag down food your stomach will fire back at you and it won’t be pretty. This is the point at which hydration has to become the primary focus. Once your body adjusts to the heat, you can try eating again. Like the article says, “Have a game plan, but write it in pencil, not in ink.”

9. Inadequate post-workout nutrition

This was a hard one for me to get when I first started running. I thought more was better.  The real gain of exercise comes during recovery when the body has been broken down and begins to adapt and rebuild. But, this can only happen with proper nutrition and rest. Protein and carbs need to be replenished post-exercise (within 30 to 60 minutes), especially for workouts of more than an hour. This will rebuild/repair muscle and support immune system functioning. 

Ideally, consume a 3:1 ration of carbs to protein. Good choices are chocolate milk, a protein shake, peanut butter and jelly, an egg sandwich, turkey and cheese on a bagel, etc.

10. Improper pre-workout/race fueling

Basically, over indulging (“carb loading”) the night before a race or long workout is futile. It takes weeks to maximize glycogen stores. In addition, don’t over-eat during your pre-race meal. 200-400 calories of complex carbs is sufficient, and avoid too much fiber. Ideally, stop eating three hours before your race. I usually do this, but only because I’m too nervous to gag anything down near to the start time.


Do you agree with these points? For the most part. Need to learn more about the simple sugar thing, and about eating protein during a race/workout.

What’s the worst “rookie” mistake you’ve ever made during a race? I ran a half marathon with a stress fracture in my foot. I’m an asshole!



  1. I have such a messed up stomach racing marathons...for awhile I started eating small pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Easier to train with, harder to race with, so I gave that up and now just use Perpetuem, which works...but still a big pain in the ass to carry. I saw they have solid Pertetuem tables now....hum. But who knows when/if I'll do another marathon so no need to rush into that experiment.

    I went to see Tara and her baby today...we were talking about you, were your ears burning? :) All good, of course!

  2. So apparently my snack sized Snickers aren't so great with their refined sugar and saturated fats! Sigh. I swear, they give me wings, though!

    1. I eat a snack size candy on my way to a race too! My hub says "You know that isn't doing anything for you", I say "Mind your own body fat". Got my last PR when I ate a 3 Muskateers.
      - Deb.

  3. I disagree with nothing new on race day. :) Seriously I make it a point to do something new on race day from 10k to IM from nutrition to bike saddle.

  4. Perhaps I'm just too crazy new at the longer race thing, but I wonder what race fuel they would recommend that includes a little protein. I LOVE Luna bars, but the idea of choking one down during a marathon (because I'm not quite fast enough to get one of those done in 2 hours or less) seems less appealing. What's easy to take and would be good protein?

    1. Hammer's Perpetuem has protein. It's powder that you add to water, no chewing necessary. I used it when training for, and during, my first marathon in June and it didn't upset my stomach at all. For some reason, Hammer's Heed really gives my stomach fits!

  5. I love Hammer Products and they have lots of great info on their site. And those Endurolytes help prevent & help you recover from hangovers. Not that the lush in me has tried that or anything...

    1. Good to know. Not that I've ever been hungover.

  6. On the road I don't feel I need anything more than Coke and water if I'm not racing, if I'm racing I'll have a couple of GU or corn syrup, what ever is in the draw at home... But on the mountain if I'm out for 3 to 5 hours I might find myself eating a chocolate!!!

  7. I made the rookie mistake of thinking I could run a half marathon with minimal training and still reach my optimistic original goal time. My half marathon training didn’t go according to plan due to a calf strain - I was tripped up by an elderly pedestrian while on a training run and couldn’t run for 5 weeks AND I didn’t bother to do any cross training... on race day I was apprehensive about whether my calf would hold up but started off well and reached the 10km marker in 48:xx and was feeling great with the delusional thought of ‘yippee I can finish this in 1:40 no worries’. By 11km lack of training caught up with me, my legs instantly felt like concrete, had a gel which I’d not tried in training, burped a few times and then slogged it out to finally finished in 1:47. The hardest most tortuous part was around 18km where you ran close to the finish line and then had to run a further 3km loop.

    Absolutely love your blog! I started reading last Christmas and have gone back through ALL your archives!


  8. I have no problem with too much drinking part. I drink less than 8 glasses of water a day. Don't know why but I think I'm just plain lazy. lol. Thanks for this wonderful information.
    Wedding Video Perth

  9. Thanks for this, you broke it down, made it easy to digest! ;P Last year when I ran Chicago, I did everything "right". Well, I thought I did. Prerace, my 20 miler went perfectly. Of course, it was 58 degrees for that. The day of the marathon? 80 degrees. The heat killed me. Even tho I trained in the heat all summer,it didn't make a difference on race day. I didn't count on my nerves sucking the life out of me. The pretzels that I brought to snack on periodically got stuck in my throat--I couldn't choke them down. I drank and drank and drank....but I didn't use electrolyte tabs and cramped up at mile 14. I thought about dropping out but when I called my husband at mile 18, he said, "don't you dare!" Apparently, all my training got to him...(he's not a runner). I finished, a painful 1 hour longer than my projected time. Refueling at Subway, once my stomach stopped talking to me, that turkey sub was the best ever.

    No matter what I do, I really struggle in the heat. Any suggestions on dealing with that? How did you do that 70.3 in 90 degree heat?

    1. I think the electrolyte tabs really help. Also taking my time, pouring water on my head and putting ice cold sponges in my bra.

  10. The only thing I'd question is the simple sugars part. I do love Hammer products (I swear by their EnduroFizz tablets), but I recently tried a Honey Stinger waffle during a long run. It "went down" great (TWSS). But my understanding is it's made with Honey which I thought was a simple sugar. I might have to look in to that one. Thanks for the list!!

  11. I love Hammer products, especially Endurolytes! I used Perpetuem for my first marathon and had no GI problems. For my current marathon training I've been trying different things and can't seem to avoid stomach issues. I did email Hammer about the amount of calories I should take in and they said the guidelines on the site are aimed at cyclists and runners should half the amount and adjust as needed since our stomaches can't digest as well while running.

  12. Love the picture of your kids!! I agree with the list and also need to work on the post workout refuel.. I tend to get caught up in other things and forget to replenish after a hard/long run.

  13. A few years ago I used Perpetuem and Sustained Energy in ultras. It was like magic!! Then, suddenly, I could not stand it anymore. Maybe I'll give it another try.

  14. I run at night during the week and don't eat afterwards because it's too late. So my post workout refueling would be inadequate I guess. I found though when I did (drank chocolate milk), I started gaining weight... I do eat though after long run on the weekend.

  15. This is the first year I am really practice better nutrition while running. i always figured what I did before and after was cutting it, but now training in Miami in the summer I started to realize I was dying on every long run for a reason

  16. It took me awhile to figure out fueling, and I still don't have it down 100%. I do know what I absolutely can't eat during a race (Cliff gels. Instant barf), and I have gotten more tolerant of pre-race variety. I usually handle my electrolytes well, probably because I get used to replacing them since I train in high heat all the time. The one time I cramped during a race was an unusually hot and humid January day. After a month or so of cool weather, I wasn't accustomed to losing Na and K and had calf cramps on the back half.

  17. My rookie mistake was Running my 1st race which was a 10k on 1 week of training!!! Or what I calle training - I screwed up my shins for weeks afterwards because I also wore the wrong kind of shoes. I have learned a lot in 3 years but I still feel like a rookie.

  18. Good list, I agree with it for the most part. I haven't been eating protein during long runs, but we recently got packets of peanut butter and honey to try; my husband has used them a few times and loves them, I have not yet. When I started running half marathons, I used a hydration pack because I was worried about getting enough water on the course (I'm a slow runner and some races don't have enough for us back-of-the-packers!). I've found a couple of bottles of water on a belt are enough now, though, mostly so I have it available when I take a gel--gotta have something to drink to get those down!

  19. I fail miserably at the post-workout nutrition. First, I run later in the evenings so I don't like to eat right before bed. Second, the thought of eating anything within a couple of hours after exercise makes me want to hurl. That's something I've always struggled with.

  20. The ones I see the most is the too much/ or not enough drinking and horrible carb loading. Eating greasy pizza is not the way to fuel unless you have a stomach of steel. It surprises me the blogs that I read where people are running in the double digit miles without water!! Crazy!

  21. Nutrition is easy; go to, click on Bookstore, download the 100+ page Guide to Success, follow the advice for any issue or problem. To see the results, go to my blog at Did #117 last Saturday, been using Hammer for 18 years.

  22. Great timing on the post, as I am 9 days from my half and been worried about 50-70% of these things. As a bigger guy (220pounds) I have been trying to learn the right amount of calories/fluids on my long runs, which is about 25% more than what people suggest, as I am about 25% bigger.

    It simply takes a lot of fuel to haul this much mass around.

    Post runs, i have started to drink the chocolate milk, which my 4 year old is always happy to sample along with me :)

  23. My rookie mistake was wearing support shoes for a year and a half because my shoe store "professional" recommended them. Turns out I underpronate (a lot) instead of overpronating, and I most definitely do not need support shoes.

    Still figuring out foods and running. That whole certain-types-of-sugars-are-better thing above just blew my mind a little bit.

  24. I consume protein with my carbs during my workouts and I have had tremendous results since I started this and the volume keeps going up because I am getting tremendous recovery as well.

    I am with Matt Fitzgerald when it comes to simple carbs as well. I think a combination of both works great as we need them for different reasons.

    As for liquids, I am drinking 1 - 1.5 gallons per day in the form of water, green tea, smoothies and I have been able to control my weight very well as well as being prepared for my workouts.

    Great list and as you say everybody is different and they need to test it all out. I have found what works for me and I am not planning on changing a thing until I decide to change something.....haha!