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Preparing for an Endurance Event

Phase 2

Help customers create a memory that will last a lifetime.

When I was given the April topic for my column, I was more than excited. This month, I am writing about something I have extensive experience at: preparing for an endurance event. After all, I have participated in almost 300 endurance events over the past three decades and can provide meaningful insight on what has worked for me over the years. Plus, the profound sense of accomplishment the athlete gets from completing one of these events is unsurpassed. And you, the retailer, can be a big part of that success.

For any competitive athlete, preparation always breeds confidence leading into the event. For example, if I am preparing for a marathon (26.2 miles), it’s all about putting in the miles. What does that mean? It means different things for different people. Mileage requirements increase as performance goals increase. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on the normal athlete, not a world-class athlete.

Some miles count more than others. When weekly miles include tough track workouts that include intervals, they’re harder to recover from than if the athlete does the same number of miles of easy aerobic running. Therefore, decrease total weekly mileage when doing track workouts to account for the added stress.

When increasing weekly mileage, to avoid injury, take it slow and allow the body time to adapt to the increased mileage. That said, add a mile for every run that is done per week. Train at least two weeks at the new distance before increasing again. If the athlete runs five times a week, for example, increase weekly mileage by five miles. Then stay at that higher level for two weeks before adding another five. My weekly miles are capped at 50 leading up to a marathon.

After 12 weeks, the athlete will need to incorporate long runs into their routine. Ultimately, the length of a long run is determined by the athlete’s training program. If they’ve built up to 15 miles, increasing to anything longer than 18 may put them at risk for injury. If they’ve already extended out to 20 miles, the athlete should be able to cover the marathon distance barring any unforeseen occurrences.

While there are no set guidelines on how far a long run should be, there are factors determining how long a run shouldn’t be. Be sure the longest run is 10-15 percent longer than the previous longest effort. Never run longer than three hours— there is no physical or aerobic benefit to running beyond three hours, so the athlete will be doing more harm than good to their body. It is okay if it takes three hours to run 15 miles. Incorporate two longer runs a week in an effort to increase strength, which will help significantly on race day.

The previously mentioned principles apply to any endurance event, whether the athlete is preparing for a triathlon, rough-water swim or a 100-mile bike ride.

One of the basic factors often overlooked is strategic allotment of time. How will training impact other daily responsibilities that may include family, job or other outside endeavors? The athlete needs to arrange his or her schedule to adjust for the hours they’ll need to accomplish the ultimate objective— completion of the race.

Nutrition: An Essential Element of Preparation

Some athletes refer to nutrition as the “other” event. The athlete must be as compulsive about nutrition as they are about training in an effort to avoid problems, such as hypernatremia (water intoxication or low salt), stomach bloating, low blood sugar and bonking [sudden fatigue and loss of energy].

One of the key nutritional facets leading up to an event is determining what works best for the athlete. Gatorade is my sports drink preference as other sports drinks give me gastrointestinal distress. Again, the key takeaway is what works best for the athlete. What is most palatable for that athlete? What liquids and foods do they digest the best? If they like a particular drink or bar, then they should stick with those.If they have problems with digestion, nausea or bloating, they may benefit from consuming an exclusively liquid diet.

An important aspect of nutrition (especially on race day) is the release of insulin. After the athlete consumes food, especially carbohydrates, their body will release insulin. This increase in insulin inhibits growth hormone (GH) release. Because GH improves performance, it is essential to minimize the GH inhibition by insulin. Studies have shown that elevated insulin levels before activities results in a faster rate of carbohydrate utilization. Since carbohydrates are a critical component for energy needed to complete any endurance event, the athlete does not want to use them up too quickly.

A good pre-race carbohydrate load will contain 100- 200 g of carbohydrates and may include the following:

• Fruits

• Sports Drinks

• Whole Grains

• Oatmeal

• Energy Bars

• Beans, Lentils, Peas

When preparing nutritionally for an endurance event, especially race day nutrition, it is imperative to understand the energy requirements.
The average athlete expends approximately 100 calories per mile during a marathon. During a triathlon, the athlete expends approximately 500-1000 calories on the swim, 3,000-4,000 calories on the bike and 2,500-3,000 calories on the run. Normally the athlete should aim for 200-300 replacement calories per hour. It is risky to take in more, as the athlete will likely not be able to digest the increased calories. This increased calorie load may cause problems, including the previously mentioned stomach bloating. I actually experienced stomach bloating during my last event—the Pacific Shoreline Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA. I was dehydrated because of unseasonably warm weather and took in too much liquid and food (energy bar) too fast. Basically, it is very important for athletes to develop a nutrition plan during training leading up to an event.

An equally important part of nutrition is sodium replacement. For events lasting longer than four hours, having adequate levels of sodium is critical. Recent studies on electrolyte losses during exercise provide solid evidence that salt replacement significantly improves performance. Salt and electrolyte supplements are available and should be used during training and intra event. However, anyone with kidney problems should consult a health care professional before using.

Another great benefit of salt is that it aids digestion. Sodium facilitates the movement of water across the cells of the digestive tract. This is yet another reason why salt supplementation is beneficial.

I’d be remiss not to mention caffeine and its profound impact on performance during an endurance event. Athletes have long used caffeine to help increase energy and endurance. Studies have found that, when it comes to exercise, caffeine:

• Delays fatigue

• Slows the breakdown of muscle glycogen, which means the body has more fuel

• Can reduce muscle pain during exercise

• May lower perceived exertion, making exercise feel more comfortable
According to recent studies, 3-6 mg of caffeine will enhance endurance. (The average cup of coffee has about 60-120 mg of caffeine.) Caffeine is a stimulant, so it does have side effects that could cause problems for certain people including:

• Increased urination

• Stomach upset

• Trembling or shaking

• Trouble sleeping

• Increased anxiety

• Headaches

• Nausea

Consider avoiding caffeine if the athlete is on medication or taking other performance-enhancing supplements that contain other stimulants. Too much caffeine will exacerbate the side effects and could be dangerous.

One of my greatest passions has been the natural high I get from seeing that finish line at the end of an endurance event. And a byproduct of that is inspiring others to do the same. That said, a great amount of preparation is required both in the form of training and nutrition. Talk to customers about incorporating what I’ve recommended, but most of all, tell them not to put pressure on themselves with unrealistic expectations. Have fun. After all, when all is said and done, the memory of the successful completion of the event will last a lifetime.


Lanzi, R., Manzoni, M., Andreotti, A., Malighetti, M., Bianchi, E., Sereni, L., & Pontiroli, A. (1997). Evidence for an inhibitory effect of physiological levels of insulin on the growth hormone (GH) response to GH-releasing hormone in healthy subjects. J Clin Endocrin and Metab, 82(7), 2239-2243.

Graham TE, Rush JW, van Soeren MH. Caffeine and exercise: metabolism and performance. Can J Appl Physiol. 1994 Jun;19(2):111-38.

Motl RW, O’connor PJ, Tubandt L, Puetz T, Ely MR. Effect of caffeine on leg muscle pain during cycling exercise among females. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Mar;38(3):598-604.

Demura S, Yamada T, Terasawa N. Effect of coffee ingestion on physiological responses and ratings of perceived exertion during submaximal endurance exercise. Percept Mot Skills. 2007 Dec;105(3 Pt 2):1109-16.

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