The Icon Classic Ski race is an interesting event from a hydration and fuelling point of view. For a lot of paddlers, it’s right on the border between the longest distance you can race effectively without taking in any energy or fluid and the point at which some supplementation might start to make a meaningful difference to your performance.
For most people, the point at which intake of fluids and carbs does start to make a real impact is around the 90-minute mark. A good place to start with planning your nutrition and hydration strategy is therefore to estimate your target finish time. If it’s well under 90 min, you’re likely to be ok without much in-race intake, but if you’re drifting out towards 2 hours and beyond it’s more likely that consuming something to help you perform at your best right to the finish line would make sense.
Because it’s on the cusp of what you can do without fuelling mid-race, there’s a big emphasis on getting your pre-race nutrition and hydration nailed down correctly. The better hydrated and fuelled you are on the start line, the further you can realistically go without needing to take anything on board. Minimising your intake during the paddle itself is also very helpful as it reduces the time and energy you waste carrying and trying to consume fluid and foods when all you want to be doing is concentrating on staying on target pace (and hopefully catching some runners if the wind is blowing!).
Starting the race well-fuelled means some light carb loading on the day before the race and a good energy rich breakfast before the start. This helps you head off with maxed out glycogen stores in your muscles and liver. It's a good idea to slightly increase your intake of quality carbs (rice, potatoes, bread, pasta, etc.) in the final 48 hours before the race. Coupled with a reduction in energy burn due to tapering down training this is usually sufficient to top you up. It’s also an excuse for some Woolacombe fish and chips the evening before the race!
Aim for a decent, carb based breakfast on race day with easily digestible, low fibre foods like white toast, bagels or porridge. Practice your pre-race breakfast in terms of content and timing prior to some hard, long training runs to dial in what works for you, as big individual differences in the best time and what to eat before racing are common
During the race
If, when you weigh things up, you do decide you’re going to take in some energy during the race, then it’s a good idea to use simple sources of carbs that are quickly absorbed into the blood stream. Fluids are probably best for this (around a 6% carb solution), as trying to unwrap and eat solids or even gels whilst paddling is tricky and can even be impossible if it’s really choppy out at sea.
Personally, I tend to use standard Coca Cola, watered down 50/50 as it’s too sugary otherwise, and I leave it out over the night before with the lid unscrewed so it loses it’s fizz. If it’s hot, I’ll sometimes add one of our electrolyte tabs to it too, to put some salts back in (as I sweat quite a lot!). I aim to drink about 500ml of that for every 45 min to 1 hour of hard racing, trying to sip it down in small amounts rather than taking on large quantities all at once.
As far as hydration goes, the idea is very similar to the management of energy levels. The first aim is to start well topped up and then if you are taking in some liquid energy, that will take care of most of your in race fluid needs too.
However, a big danger with pre-race drinking is overdoing it. Some athletes take in lots and lots of extra water in the last few hours before the race trying to ‘hydrate to the max’ and this can have very negative consequences if you’re not careful. In a nutshell, what happens when you over-consume water is that eventually you just have to start peeing it out, and this can flush valuable minerals (mainly sodium) out too. In the extreme this can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels), but even at low levels it will hurt your performance.
To counteract any electrolyte losses expected in the race, whilst maintaining good levels of body water, it’s a good idea to top up with a bottle of a strong sodium-based electrolyte solution (about 2-3 times stronger than a standard sports drink) in the last few hours before the race. We’ve included a free sachet of our 1500mg drink in your race pack that you’ll collect at the event. If you mix this into 500ml of water and finish the bottle about 90 minutes before the start, it will help top up your fluid tanks whilst leaving enough time to empty your bladder before the gun goes off.
(Remember, if you want a Personalised Hydration Plan that matches how you sweat, you can take our free online Sweat Test by hitting the button at the bottom of this post).
- Some light pre-race carb loading will be helpful. (So you start with maxed out glycogen stores in your muscles and liver).
- If you’re going to be out there for more than 90 minutes, definitely consider taking in a 6% carb-based drink at a rate of about 500ml per hour to help maintain energy levels.
- With pre-race hydration avoid the temptation to over do the plain water. You can take in a little more fluid than normal in the 48 hours pre-race, but not to the extent that you’re running to the loo every 10 minutes and peeing very clear urine all of the time.
- Consider pre-loading with the 1500mg electrolyte drink that you’ll get in your race pack. It will help draw more fluid into your blood stream and hold it there, rather than it just being peed out before you start.
Enjoy the race!
In 2017 the Icon Classic is taking place on 20th May. Enter here if you're interested.