The moment the starting gun fires for the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic on Saturday, months of training are put to the test. That preparation includes certain diet and activity routines that are followed right up until the day of the race.
George Frazier, manager of CentreTown Fitness and 31-year veteran of the Ogden race, said at the beginning of race week, athletes usually eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet to boost muscles and deplete the body's carbohydrate stores. Then, from mid-week until race day, it's important to load up on complex carbohydrates, which provide the kind of slow-burning energy the body needs to sustain it for 13.1 miles.
"As an athlete or casual runner you will want to fuel your body with the most powerful nutrients to keep yourself running or walking at your best," said Maria Hawthorne of St. Clairsville, nutritional consultant at CentreTown. "Look for the best energy-sustaining foods in your low-glycemic carbohydrates. These foods tend to be higher in fiber and protein and are converted to sugar much slower, giving the athlete stored energy for longer durations."
Said Frazier: "On Friday, people should plan on a really big, healthy, complex carbohydrate meal, like whole-grain pasta with meat or marinara sauce and a big salad." He also recommends whole-grain breads, particularly bagels, and a 3- to 4-ounce serving of lean protein like chicken or fish.
Hawthorne provided a varied list of appropriate high-carb choices, including:
The night before the race, Frazier said he likes to eat a large serving of low-fat frozen yogurt, which is a good digestive aid. The simple sugars found in it, he said, are generally tolerable for a healthy, well-trained athlete. A banana with peanut butter also is a good choice, he said.
Both Frazier and Hawthorne said it is important to avoid sugary drinks, cookies or cakes, white breads and pasta, chips, french fries or anything deep fried.
"High fats will sit in your digestive system for too long and slow you down during the race," the 57-year-old Frazier said.
As for keeping hydrated, runners and walkers should be sure to drink eight glasses of water the day before the race. Half-marathoners should include electrolyte-replacing drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, but diluted with water to cut down on the simple sugars, Frazier said.
Guidelines are helpful, but athletes need to do what they know works best for them, said runner Angie Zambito of Wheeling, a five-time race veteran who in 2008 was the first West Virginia female to cross the finish line of what was then the Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic.
"You shouldn't change up what works for you. If you eat something you never tried before or drink crazy amounts of water and your body's not used to that, it might work against you the day of the race," said Zambito, who is 27.
For instance, she tends to eat a mixture of high-carb and high-protein food the day before the race, including red meat, such as steak or meatballs.
"Red meat is high in iron, which helps promote oxygen flow. It helps you feel energized," Zambito said.
Iron man Mitch Toto of Morristown, who has run in all 34 Wheeling races, said he does nothing different the day before the race when it comes to diet. Toto, who will turn 74 on race day, said he will eat a meal including chicken or fish and vegetables.
"I stay away from red meat anyhow. ... I don't eat that much pasta," Toto said. As for hydration, "I drink when I'm thirsty. I just do what comes natural."
As for activity the day before the race, Frazier said to keep it minimal. World-class athletes can be seen that night running the actual course, or parts of it, but he recommends in general, not running at all or keeping it to a mile or two.
"You might do some light stretching, get a nice massage. I like to get a massage to get the toxins out of the muscle tissue and relax the muscles," Frazier said.
Zambito said she doesn't run the day before and gets at least eight or nine hours of sleep.
"Mostly the sleep is the most important thing," Zambito said. To relax her nerves, she typically drinks a glass of wine with dinner the night before. "No more than one glass," she said.
Toto doesn't run or do any hard labor for a week before the race.
"I'll cut the grass, but that's all," he said. "When I was younger, I would run during that week, but as I get older, it takes longer to recover from a big run."
Frazier and Toto both are looking forward to this year's race. Toto said he suffered a respiratory infection last year and barely finished it.
"I feel much better this year," he said.
Frazier said the rest period the few days prior to the race has him "chomping at the bit by the time the race comes around."
Zambito is disappointed she won't be running the race this year due to a hamstring injury she sustained while running the Boston Marathon last April.
"This is an historical event," she said, referring to the race's new half marathon format. "The Ogden is hands-down my favorite (race). The spectators are fabulous. People come out and cheer you on. You really have a sense of accomplishment when you complete the challenging course. Plus it's a fun weekend with all of the other activities going on."
Zambito cautioned athletes about the importance of recovery time following the race.
"The Ogden is so challenging you fel like a superstar when you're done with it, but you really need to rest up properly the month after - go easy on your body because it does take awhile to recover. Recovery is just as important as preparation for it. Take a few days off to a week depending on how experienced you are. You wnt to just ease back into it - you don't want to go out the day and run 10 miles or something."