Race Week Tips from Coach Matthew Hill

The week before a big – especially a big long race – start adding a little bit of extra salt to everything. Drink a little bit more water with everything.  Cut out the caffeine heading into a race, and you will get a bigger bump from it on race day. Well proven, and helps with…

Sleep more.

This is pretty much always good advice, but the week before a race it’s even more crucial.

Carb loading works.

Spread it out over a couple of days, though. Not just one big meal, think several over the final 2-4 days before your event.  Up the carbs, but make sure you retain protein and nutrient rich food sources in the meals. Big meal the day before your event should be lunch, not dinner. Overdoing it on the meal the night before can actually mess up your digestion of food the next day. Needless to say, that would be a problem.

Don’t sweat it if you gain a couple of pounds the week before your big event.

You’ll burn right through that, it’s the body’s response to your taper.

Avoid new food choices in the few days before a race.

Definitely not the time to check out that exotic new restaurant you’ve been thinking about trying, or to graze food stalls in the market square of the foreign locale you’re visiting for the event. Stick to stuff that you know works well for you. Cook for yourself if you can.

Race day meal is 3 hours before your start.

Wake up as early as you have to in order to make this happen. The meal is more important than whatever sleep you might lose. That paragraph above about sleep? This is the exception. You can perform really well after even a nearly sleepless night before if you are well rested heading into that last night. Shoot for roughly 100 calories per hour of the upcoming event. That’s either going to seem like a whole hell of a lot of food, or a surprisingly small amount.  For shorter events, remember to include time spent warming up in the calculus.

Day of nutrition has an upper bound per hour.

Day of nutrition is highly individual in terms of what you eat, but in terms of how much you eat, it really comes down to this; you can’t successfully absorb more than 60-80 grams of carbohydrate per hour. That’s 240 Kcal at the upper bound. Doesn’t matter what you weigh, that’s all you’re going to assimilate.
Figure out how much of your race-food of choice that is, and that’s more or less your number. Slightly less than optimal nutrition is way better than too much.

Eat real food if you can, especially if it’s a long event.  

Go longer than 4-5 hours, and that space food crap will burn a hole right through you. Eat a damn sandwich, or some pretzels, or some beef jerky. Whatever the hell sounds good to you.  
If the event is shorter than 2-3 hours, you’re probably fine throwing a couple of gels in your pocket if you’re drinking sport drink. Which you probably should be. Which, of course, leads to race-day drinking (no, not that. You know what I mean. Save that for after you’re done.)

Hydration: keep it simple.

A bottle an hour. More if it’s hot. Electrolyte mix in the bottles, especially if it’s hot. The electrolyte crap is mandatory if you’re going longer than about two hours, and/or you’re drinking a ton. Hyponatremia is a thing, and it’s really freaking bad.

Don’t forget to add the calorie count of whatever you’re drinking in to your overall count.

Don’t try to get all your calories in via liquids. In fact, I’d suggest that for most folks it’s pretty damn important that they not try to get all their calories in liquid form. If you do the math, keeping the calorie count from the bottles down to where you need to add non-liquid food to hit your calorie count will largely take care of osmolality issues in regard to nutrient absorption.   

Coca-cola is a godsend, but once you start on it, you can’t stop.

It’ll carry you through a rough patch, only to throw you into an even bigger hole when you come crashing down from the sugar and caffeine buzz afterwards. Save it for when you need it.
Have fun…
As a coach and trainer, Matthew’s client list includes multiple National Champions, a World Champion, and many successful local racers, fondo and recreational riders, and entry-level enthusiasts.  At the 2015 Cyclocross National Championships, ¾ of his clients placed in the top ten of their respective events, with two reaching the podium, including 3rd place in the Elite Men’s category for long-time client Zach McDonald. Athletes who first learned the basics of Cyclocross from him have gone on to win National Championships and international distinction, and to podium placings at the World Cup and World Championship level. Head coach for the Marymoor Velodrome Cyclocross practice sessions, Matthew has taught cyclocross fundamentals to thousands of cyclists over his more than a decade at the helm. Riders at all levels of the performance spectrum can and do call on Matthew for his skills instruction, including professional teams who have been known to send new recruits to him for skills assessment and old hands to him for refresher courses and refinement. Learn more about Matt.