Running is a great cardiovascular activity and one that has definite health advantages. For people who enjoy running, training and completing a marathon or road race brings a great sense of satisfaction. But when COVID-19 struck, many races were canceled to limit crowds. Now, virtual races are becoming a popular alternative.
Allison Gregg, a Mayo Clinic dietitian who is also a runner, says that virtual races are a great way to improve your cardiovascular health and stay motivated with training, but require different planning and preparation, especially regarding to nutrition and hydration.
“At physical races, nutrition and hydration aid stations are usually set up at regular intervals around the course. With virtual races, it is now up to you,” says Gregg.
She offers her top 3 nutrition and hydration tips for an effective virtual race.
Tip 1: Don’t skip intrarace fueling.
“Whether a virtual race or in person, it’s critical not to skip fueling while racing as your body needs energy to keep going,” says Gregg. She says it’s even more important for novice runners, compared to professionals because novices typically run for a longer time and use more fuel.
Gregg recommends ingesting 30–60 grams of carbohydrates every hour if running for longer than one hour. “You should begin carbohydrate intake shortly after the start of your race and continue to consume at 15- to 20-minute intervals for the remainder of your run,” she says.
Hydration is also an important component. Losing just 2% of your body weight through dehydration can severely impair performance and easily add unwanted time to your race. While you may not have been accustomed to bringing drinks with you, your virtual run will require it.
You should plan to consume 1 cup of fluid every 10–20 minutes during your race. If running for longer than one hour, incorporate an electrolyte drink. You can choose which brand and flavor, but you should make a choice that provides a balance of carbohydrates, sodium and potassium to replace losses.
Tip 2: Plan ahead for your race route
As you go through your training for a virtual race, consider how your route, and your hydration and fuel, factor in. With a virtual race, you will need to carry your own supplies. This can be achieved several ways, including using a running vest or belt to carry drinks and gels. Another popular strategy is to coordinate your race route to pass by your house. “A looped course starting at your house allows for multiple passes for a nutrition and hydration station set up in the driveway or front yard,” says Gregg.
Or, she adds, consider getting friends and family involved. “They could join you on the course in predetermined locations along the route to hand off nutrition and hydration to you.”
Tip 3: Practice your race fueling plan in advance.
“Race day is not a good day to try new things,” warns Gregg. “Practice your nutrition and hydration plan during training, especially with a run that will be similar to your race intensity effort.”
Experiment during training with different gels, bars and other whole foods, water, sports drinks and electrolyte beverages to see what your body tolerates best. Your body will digest nutrition differently on an easy run versus a harder effort. Simulate your race in terms of exertion and distance as close as possible to leave nothing to chance on race day. Also, practice the simple things, such as opening your gels while running. Or consider ripping your gels or other food items in advance so you can easily open them while running.
“Although COVID-19 has changed the look of running races, you can still aim for your personal best during a virtual event by keeping your body hydrated and ensuring you have enough energy to get to the finish,” says Gregg.