You may remember that my report on the Bribie Island Triathlon included a mention of the very glamorous moment that I had a little vomit. Honestly, this sport of triathlon is just perfect for ruining any image you had of yourself as being sophisticated and lady-like. You should totally try it.
Anyway I thought that the ‘issue’ was caused by a number of factors – including nerves, swallowing copious amounts of seawater, prolonged jiggling up and down and trying an energy gel for the first time. Which was a silly thing to do, by the way – never try anything new on race day! How many times do I need to say it!
In fact, most people I spoke to about the race felt that the gel was mainly to blame for my tummy trouble. But I usually have an iron stomach that can handle all sorts of gone-off milks and whatnot (apologies to those who have dined at my house, but I tend to treat ‘Best Before’ dates as ‘Buy Me Before’ dates and ‘Use By’ as ‘Begin Using By’)
So I don’t know if it was the gel’s fault.
The thing I do know is that I should train the way I plan to race – which means incorporating some gels into the longer training sessions that need it (sometimes forgoing my beloved Sesame Snaps for a gel)
First, I did some research and found out that at the Noosa Triathlon, they provide Endura brand gels throughout the race, at all aid stations. So I’ll be getting those for free when I get to my ‘A’ race and therefore I might as well train on them as well.
Endura is a common brand of sports drinks and gels in Australia; you can even get them at Woolworths. My local health food shop stocks a lot of different flavours of the gels, as well as the electrolyte drinks and other items they produce. I imagine they use a similar set of ingredients across the range, so if I find I can handle the gels I might branch out into trying the electrolyte drinks and other stuff.
The reason for pursuing the gel option for nutrition in races is primarily the ease of use – they come in very light little sachets that you can stuff into the bento box on your bike, or even through your elasticated race number belt if you have one. They are highly concentrated, to pack in lots of carbs without filling up your tummy (one sachet has slightly more carbs than a banana) and most are formulated to include particular types of carbs that are slow-release mixed in with fast-burning, so that you get an instant energy hit that also lasts for a while. Magic.
I’ve spoken before about being properly fueled for a race – in my opinion, you can do all your training on a calorie deficit (if you want) but when you get to race week, you have no choice but to get yourself properly fueled up with plenty of calories to burn on the big day. I know that for me personally, I not only go for longer with fuel in my stomach, but I also have a better mental outlook and can push myself further/harder as well.
Basically, I had high hopes that not only would the gel give me energy to break PBs left, right and centre, but it would also help me to stop being a great big baby. No pressure, Endura.
I started off buying two flavours to try – Grape and Raspberry. I like berry flavours, but if you are not so keen then you could try some of the others, such as vanilla, coffee, citrus, or (if you are some crazy fool) cool mint. Yes that’s a real flavour.
I don’t think I personally could stomach the mint flavour – it might be like drinking toothpaste, which is not one of my favourite things to do. The texture of these gels is very unusual and I have been struggling to think of anything that it reminds me of – the word ‘gel’ doesn’t really reflect it properly. I’d say that it’s about the thickness of tomato ketchup – so a bit runnier than you’d expect a gel to be, in my opinion. But it’s silky smooth and holds together like a lump of icing you might lick off the top of your cupcake. So, ketchup-icing runny gel-like stuff. And the flavour is quite strong – there’s no mistaking what option you’ve gone for, although I was pleased to find there was no horrible aftertaste.
I can’t say I love eating a gel, but I don’t hate it either. If you’re considering them for yourself, maybe just buy one or two to try (around $2.50 each) before you invest in a box-full ($9)
My first opportunity for gel usage was an 8km run on Saturday morning. I woke up, started getting ready and then at 15 minutes before I was due to set off (as per the instructions) I gulped down my raspberry gel. You’re supposed to have 250ml of water with each gel you drink, so I also downed a bit more water. Everything seemed fine.
I set off at a decent pace and certainly felt more positive in the first kilometre than I have in the past – although that may have been directly caused by the excitement of conducting my little experiment.
The course was one I had run before, so I knew when it would start to get tough (mentally) for me. As I approached the half-way mark my tummy did a funny little rumble and I thought ‘uh-oh’ but it went away as quickly as it had arrived and I was fine. It’s possible I wouldn’t even have noticed if I hadn’t been anticipating some dramatic gel-effects.
I got to the turnaround point, started heading back and was surprised to find that the usual voices in my head didn’t appear. Nobody told me to stop or slow down or that running is stupid. I made it all the way home feeling quite happy.
Now, this may have had nothing to do with the gel. Maybe I’d had more sleep than usual or I was just having a better day. But I enjoyed the whole run, I made it home feeling pretty good, and when I looked down at my watch I had also run a decent time (for me)
So test one was a success!
This morning I decided to do a short hills session on the bike trainer, with a run off the bike. Time for gel test number two.
Again, I gulped it down about 15 minutes before I started my workout, although this time I admit that I didn’t take on the extra water that I should have. I think I preferred the Grape to the Raspberry flavour as it had a nice bubblegum-esque hint to it. It reminded me of some Hubba Bubba my sister and I used to have when we were little.
Nostalgia always earns points, in my book. Nice work Endura.
Unfortunately, this session was all gym-based (because it was raining) and as you may remember, my treadmill-based runs off the bike have never been very successful. The most I have managed on the treadmill is a 1km run off the bike, I think because I run a bit ‘all over the place’ when I get off the bike and the steady pace of the treadmill doesn’t suit that style of running.
So I wasn’t expecting much, but I felt OK during the bike ride part. I’ve certainly had better, stronger sessions. I couldn’t put my finger on why – it just felt hard. Again, it may not be due to the gel (one thing I did notice is that I didn’t get a huge build-up of lactic acid in my legs like I sometimes do when I do hills, so that was good) but maybe I should have tried to drink the extra water as per the instructions.
Eventually it was time to run, so I jumped off the bike, got on the treadmill and set my usual pace. I started running. And it was still OK. I ran some more. I felt good.
I did 2km on the treadmill, straight off the bike! I count that as a success, especially on the treadmill. Plus, I realised that I hadn’t got a stitch either time I’d used a gel. Stitches have been a bit of a problem since Bribie, because I have been getting one literally every time I run 1km or more. The two runs in which I’ve used a gel have been stitch-free!
Endura Gel 2 – Vomit 0. And no stitches. No lactic acid. No bad thoughts.
Good results! So the Endura Gel is going into the transition bag for my next race without doubt. And probably in the Half Marathon bag, too. And I’ll continue to use them in training as well.
Basically all my money will now be spent on gels. So Shane suggested that I need to start winning some triathlons so that I can rake in some prize money.
Which made us both burst out laughing until we cried into our beans on toast.