Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Race Day Nutrition--Why I Run with SaltSticks

It's no secret that I have bonked at many many races.  I am sure many times it was because I went out too fast but I also know that many times it was because of nutrition.  When I crashed during my first couple marathons it was a death march to the finish line.  I had no mental control and walked in many races and was completely miserable with cramping legs, stomach cramps, and no energy.  I would make it to the finish line and swear off running another marathon.  It sucked that bad.

In all three races that I qualified for Boston at, the race felt easy.  Imagine that, running 7:40 pace for 26.2 miles felt easy.  I was trained for that pace, but unfortunately, training is only half the battle.  During those races I also had my nutrition figured out which allowed me to execute my training without a problem.

At my Half Ironman in September I was introduced to the SaltStick.  My coach wrote my nutrition plan out and included taking SaltSticks during my race.  I had no idea what they were but went to REI to purchase a few single packets to see if they would help.

On race day, I got out of the water with a TERRIBLE headache.  I have no idea what happened, but my nutrition was off-balance before my day even started.

I hopped on the bike and followed my nutrition plan to a T, but didn't take any SaltSticks.  My headache was still there for all 56 miles.  I got off the bike and started my run.

It was hot out there and my head still hurt.  I finally thought to take 2 SaltSticks.  Within a mile, my headache was GONE!!  I took another 2 SaltSticks on my run and crossed the finish line with a pretty great time.

When I did finish, I got dizzy, cold, and numb.  I had a similar feeling at Boston last year, due to the heat and knew I was in trouble.  I spent a while in the medical tent drinking coke, eating soup, and finally took more SaltSticks and suddenly the color returned to my face and I was fine.  Apparently gels and sports drink are not enough for me.  I needed the extra salt and electrolytes from the SaltStick to get my body back in balance.

At Disney, things played out a little bit differently.  I knew the benefits of taking a SaltStick (All this information comes from the SaltStick website):

Sweat typically has about 1000 mg sodium/liter, a typical sports drink has 440 mg sodium/liter. If, during the course of training, you ingest nothing but sports drinks (or worse, water), you will become hyponatremic at some point. Many sports drinks also do not address any form of supplementation of the other key electrolytes, potentially causing yet further cramping and muscle issues.
  • The ONLY electrolyte capsule that was formulated to closely resemble the electrolyte profile lost during activity: sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
  • Only 1 capsule per serving. Suggested use: 1 capsule per 30-60 minutes during activity
  • Buffered salt composition that helps digestion and absorption
  • Each capsule contains: 215 mg sodium, 63 mg potassium, 22 mg calcium, 11 mg magnesium, 100 IU Vitamin D
  • Vegetable-based non-GMO capsule composition; Bio-available active ingredients. GMP production.
When I realized that the forecast for a HOT race was most likely going to happen I decided I needed SaltSticks for my race.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any at the expo like I had hoped.  (Runners need to start using them so that vendors start selling them!)  After watching a hot half marathon on Saturday I knew I needed to find SaltSticks, so I started calling bike shops in the area to see if I could find some.  Luckily, I find a shop about 10 minutes away who had one bottle left so I ran there before they closed.

On the morning of the race, I took one salt tablet with breakfast.  I then packed 6 tablets in a tiny plastic bag inside my race belt.  (Apparently, they sell dispensers that attach to your belt, I am going to have to find one for my next race.)  My plan for the race was to take a gel every 4 miles.  I had EFS drink in my water belt and planned on taking water at every stop.  I was not going to let dehydration defeat me!

I took my first gel at the starting line and we were off.  The humidity was incredible and we were sweating instantly.  I knew my body would lose way more salt than normal so was trying to be aware of my body.  I took my first gel at mile 4 and drank my EFS in between water stops.  Right at an hour into the race, my stomach started hurting.  My plan in my head was to take a SaltStick at an hour so I popped my first capsule, hoping that would help my stomach.  Within a mile, my stomach felt better and I was able to continue to drink water and take gels.  

Another hour went by and back came that stomach ache.  (A side note about this stomach ache.  I sweat a lot more at race pace than training paces.  I lose a lot of salt and have noticed I don't get past 13 miles in a race without my stomach acting up, so these were all normal aches that usually cause me to stop to use the bathroom.)  I popped my second SaltStick and kept running and the stomach ache went away.  This was my first time using salt during a marathon and I was excited that I may have found a solution to my stomach issues.

Fifteen miles in, and it started getting hotter and I was feeling it.  I took another SaltStick at hour 3 and my headache that I was developing went away and I was able to pick up my pace.  (Please note, I was still taking gels every 4 miles and drinking lots of water.  I credit the salt for allowing my body to absorb the nutrition that I was putting into it.)

I finished the marathon, with a huge PR and a BIG smile on my face.  I went to find my husband.  I drank a Powerade and a water and sat for a little bit.  About 30 minutes later, I got up to go back to my hotel and the stomach cramps started again and I got very dizzy.  My husband told me to take another SaltStick and I did.  I sat for about 5 minutes after taking the capsule and all the nausea and dizziness went away and I was able to walk to the bus.

I am amazed that I found a solution to my nutrition problems, particularly at a hot race.  I can't promise these will work for you, but many triathletes swear by them and I highly recommend looking into them for yourself.  I finished the Disney Marathon with an incredible time and didn't have to go to the medical tent.  I ran my heart out and didn't have to suffer because my body wasn't willing to take in nutrition.  I plan on using SaltSticks on my long training rides as I prepare for Ironman Lake Placid and you can bet they will be with me on my race belt at the Boston Marathon in April.

**I was not compensated for this post nor was I given free product.  I am a huge fan of SaltStick and wanted you all to know about this product.


krissy murphy said...

Interesting! I have read about them some but wasn't sure how they worked. Thanks for sharing this, R!!!

Bill Hurley said...

It is funny I have been thinking about salt tablets for a while now. I was looking at them at Fast splits about a month ago. I sweat out allot of salt. I will check these out. Thanks for posting this.

Brenna Kate said...

That's great! I seem to be able to do a half marathon with just water and 1/2 a GU, but the marathon was a bust. I can't take GU's regularly because they do not sit well. I found some energy chews that are OK. But I wonder if saltsticks might help. They are not sold close by to me, but I'll keep looking into it.

Hit The Road Jane said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm trying to pay more attention to my nutrition while training and racing and this sounds like a great addition to my arsenal lol Does it taste good?

Michelle D said...

So glad you posted this. I sweat a lot when I run and I'm finding my fueling alone doesn't seem to be enough. Going to look into SaltSticks!

Krysten @DarwinianFail said...

WOW great racing nutrition tips. I actually find nutrition one of the hardest parts of long distance running/racing. Every body is different and you have to work on finding a balance that works for you. Definitely going to have to try these.

Laura @ Mommyrunfast said...

I'm so intrigued! I've heard of ultra runners using salt tablets, but really didn't know much at all about them. Thanks for the overview. I'm considering a half ironman and these would be essential!

Michelle said...

I've never traing with salt - but I NEED to, especially in the humid summers! Thanks for the share - it will definitely on my list of "my buy" items when I get back into running!

AmyC said...

Good to know Robin! Thanks for sharing this product.

raina_smalltownrunner said...

I am going to have to experiment a bit with these. I have never had a really warm race day, but if I do, I don't want any problems! I love that they took care of your headache. I am convinced I need more salt than most other non-runners and I eat my fair share.

Steb said...

Great information! thank you for sharing...I will def look to try them in an effort to beat the Houston heat/humidity.

Jill said...

My coach had told me to take salt sticks at Boston last year and was so nervous to do so since I had never tried them before but I really think it saved me that day. I will never do a hot/humid marathon without them.

Alison Gittelman said...

This is very interesting stuff! Thank you for sharing. I have debated whether I'm getting enough salt. I get headaches after summer races, so it sound's like I'm not taking in enough salt. And I've had those dreadful stomach cramps (I find these worse than leg cramps!) in longer races, just like you mentioned. May be time to try the SaltStick!

Shane said...

I noticed that your coach recommended saltsicks. Have you ever tried Recovery e21. I hear its a great all natural electrolyte supplement!