Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2017 Part 1: Nutrition and Training


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This is going to be a more personal blog.  I don’t always blog about all my races but this was an Ironman so a little bit more interesting since I obviously don’t do one every month, or every 6 months or every year (but that might change). Also I think that you will find that the nutrition part is very interesting, so let’s start.

Experimenting with the Swim training

This year’s training has been a little bit different. I’ve been experimenting with a new toy: the Endless Pool. For those of you who don’t know what an EP is, it is the size of a spa and has a current that lets you swim against, it’s more or less the equivalent of a swimming treadmill. I must say that I like it a lot, it had been a  dream of mine for a long time so I was really happy to get one installed a year ago. Plus my kids like it a lot too and that is pretty much the only “pool” that will fit in our tiny backyard here in San Francisco. The advantage of the EP is that it’s a time saving. I can easily throw a 30 minute swim here and there. So most of my swims were done in there, with on average maybe three swims per week and then one time I would join a master group with the Golden Gate Tri Club.

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Swimming in Lake Ouimet in Quebec. One of my rare open water swim. Pristine waters. I can drink it!

Some hiccups on the bike

The bike too was a bit different than during my last Ironman training. Last time, I did a lot of long 5-6 hour rides and that just had the effect of draining me and making me cranky and stressed out  more than anything else. I really found it very very boring especially when you’re just cruising in your aerobic zone. This year my coach JD changed things a little bit and had me do shorter distances while putting in some more high intensity interval in the mix. So overall I did mostly 3-4 hour bike rides with some intervals and 2x hundred milers. The first one being Marin century course and the second one also being the Marin century but the hilly version (8000ft). Those two were definitely hard mentally. I just can’t justify the fact of going on a 7 hour bike ride for fun. It’s NOT fun. But doing two overall is not so bad and I was committed to it. I found the training on the bike much easier this year and it fit my schedule much better. As a mom of two kids (10 and 12) and the owner at INprove.me, I have a lot on my plate. And let’s not forget the husband who also wanted to go cycling on the week-end. I did improve a lot in my cycling abilities which means to me that too much is not always better. Especially if that makes you happier.  Also the nutrition as you will see below might have impacted things quite a bit.

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Training in the Sierras

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Training with Jen on one of my 100 milers…I look happy there but was not so much.

It’s all about the run?

Not sure but I love running! I did a little bit more which I didn’t mind at all because the run is really my favorite part. I did a couple of 16-17 miles and then then mostly shorter runs (10-12 miles) with some hefty bricks after my long training rides.

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A 17 mile trail run with a LOT of hills: Table Rock Trail Race. I was sore the next day, trust me!

Pre-Diabetics and Nutrition

As I have posted in a previous blog I have struggled with prediabetes for a while now. I don’t want to go at length with that topic too much but basically when I was in my 20s, I was diagnosed with PCOS (google it!). The main symptoms are insulin resistance (where the pre-diabetes comes from) infertility (managed that one, 2 kids later), amenorrhea (not hypothalamic otherwise known as female athlete triad, managed that one too with diet), high testosterone (I guess this one is good for sports but maybe I should do Crossfit games instead of triathlons?) and other things. I could write a whole blog on this but will spare you for now. Basically, pre-diabetes is defined by a high HbA1c, which is a measure of your average glucose over the past 3 months. However this test has some caveat as it relies on the fact that red blood cell survive on average 3 months. And that is often not the case in athletes. So it is not surprising to see values of HbA1C slightly elevated in athlete. Except that mine was pretty elevated at a number of 5.7 to 6.0 (you are considered diabetics at 6.4). My morning fasting glucose was also sometimes in the low 100. My view on pre-diabetes or insulin resistance is that it is not a curse, but you need to take care of it! If you are overweight, it just means that your storage is full and you need to lose weight, often pre-diabetes will be reversed. If you are lean, it means that genetically your body does not process carbohydrates very well, it prefers fat! Often those people are made for endurance events…

Even though I was training a lot for triathlons and was eating a pretty balanced diet with moderate carb intake, I still saw those numbers. So I decided to go a notch down with the carb intake. On days where I didn’t exercise or very light activity I was trying to keep my carbohydrate intake between 50 and 70 g which is basically minimum so that you don’t deplete yourself. On days where I did exercise I increased my carbohydrate intake accordingly. I do have my own metabolic cart data so I know exactly for each intensity cycling or running how many carbohydrates my body is burning. I would think that at that point I was already a good fat burner but there is always room for improvement. When I went for a four hour bike ride in aerobic zone I know that I burn maybe 30-50 g/h of carbohydrates.  I knew I would have to eat 160 g of carbohydrates (including what I was eating during training) on top of my 50 to 70 g so total for a day like that would be about 210 g which is not by any means low-carb at all but it’s just to show you that you still need carbs to fuel your exercise and to replenish your glycogen. I did a little bit of gram counting at first to make sure I was doing things right but after a while I did get the hang of it. I usually don’t recommend tracking to that extent but in my case with my diagnosis, you sometimes need to do it. Just by doing that and being more aware of my exact needs I was able to reduce my HbA1c to 5.4, which was a huge success.  And my morning fasting glucose was now in the low 90s which was a huge improvement so I was really happy with that. If you have your metabolic cart data you can really use that for your daily nutrition on how to recover after a harder session because you know exactly what your body is going to be burning. However  it can change a lot over time and as you will see it did change for me.

A New Test

Recently, I experimented with a new test that I wanted to implement at UCSF designed by the NRJ perf team for long endurance events such as Ironman or ultrarunning events (contact me if you are interested). This is how it goes: you go ahead and have your normal breakfast and then hop on the trainer and spin for 30 minutes at your anticipated race pace. Then you hop on the treadmill and do the same thing for 15 minutes and that tells you exactly how much fats and carbohydrates your body is burning for those different intensities and that’s going to be pretty representative of what is going to happen during your race.  What I discovered was really interesting, I actually was a much more better fat burner than I used to be and now needed 10g/hour of carbohydrates for the same Watts (I used to be at 22g/hour on aerobic rides) and up to 12 g/hour when climbing. And that was after having my morning breakfast with coffee! Just doing some slight modifications in your diet and training can really change things a lot. And you’ll see later how it impacted my run.

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Testing my new numbers at UCSF.

I want to stress again that it is really important to be in your carbohydrate intake sweet spot (no pun intended) not too high not too low so you still eat what is needed for carbs and the rest comes from fats. This way you really spare your glycogen for the run. Being on the sugar roller coaster, meaning having higher intake of carbohydrates, is probably fine for shorter faster events if your stomach can take it. It keeps your blood sugar high and primes your body for sugar burning. Since you get out of fat burning mode, your body will utilize more glycogen. But for an Olympic triathlon, a half-marathon, who cares.

You’ll see what happens in my next blog: Race Day!

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