Updated: Mar 28, 2022
People are always looking to improve things, or what I call 'Looking for clues'! Whether that be 'free speed' on the bike, or new 'go faster' shoes. And just like shoe companies who have developed 'the perfect shoe', you can bet that they change it next season, because more models need to be sold! So if the correct shoe for many was developed in 1984, then what about next year's model?
So with food, and let this be clear, this is the most individual thing in triathlon. The message that 'one plan fits all' is why half of Iron distance people are throwing up and in the toilets along the course. They force down their scientifically calculated grams of carbohydrates / calories, throw in a couple of salt tablets, and let's not forget the caffeine for good measure!
Keep it simple, that's the key. Keep it to the stuff you practice on and don't stress about it. Get a routine and stick to it. If you don't like gels then fine, it doesn't mean your race is over. Just find a replacement. It could be melted chocolate bars for the run. They taste better and have huge calories and fat.
So here is a story from 1987, as let me tell you, I had a little experience with nutrition and endurance before I knew what Triathlon was! I coached a swimmer called Evan Barry, and the boy by swim standards was slow. So that would have made him a triathlon swim guru! But he trained very hard, and was a nice kid. So we said 'Evan, you're not going to the Olympics, I can tell you that.' He said 'thanks doc for your honesty, what can we do to get my name remembered somewhere? And then I will give it away and go to Uni and give that 100%.' Swimmers tend to be more realists than triathletes. So, I thought on it for a week.
Some crazy thing came up about the Guiness World Record for 24 hours swim, a record that was 91km. I thought for another week, then worked out the splits. Then I talked with my mate Denis Cotterell, who then was coaching Grant Hackett (2 x Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record holder over 1500m); Denis knows his stuff. We thought a super fit guy could nail it. So we had a meeting, and as Evan was already very fit, we said we would try to break the record at the Queensland Swimathon. We would train for 10 weeks and give it a crack. So during that time Evan covered some times 20km a day, at least 3 times a week.
We also got in touch with all the gurus at the Uni in Brisbane about what to eat and drink. Now Evan was a man after my own heart and had a very particular stomach, So everything we tried didn't work, as he got cramps, and ended up on the toilet. But really he just hated the taste of everything! The advice from our resident sports guru and nutritionist was to forget it as the kid is kidding himself and has no discipline.
Well I watched him swim 100 x 100m, 3 times a week, one of these with a band. The doc back in those days makes the tri version look like a pussy cat! But I knew a kid who could do that didn't lack discipline, and he didn't lack brains either. With 1 week to go I sat down with Evan and said 'every swim set I see you with a can of Coke and a Mars Bar before each session, and after each. Doesn't that make you sick?' He said 'Doc, I live on this. I drink 10 cans a day, and eat maybe 8 mars bars - 2 before and 2 after training, 3 at school, and 1 at night. But I am worried coach, how I am going to get through without stopping for food, as 90 km is about 1 minute 30 seconds per 100m or faster'. I said 'son that is not a worry now!' So when Evan donned his trunks in lane 1 of the Valley pool in Brisbane at midday, Coach had lined up the Mars distributor, and the Coke bottler; Evan was going to be rocket fueled by them exclusively.
The gun went and so did Evan, hammering 1 minute 20 seconds per 100m, like a swiss watch chimes and during one 100m at 30 minutes he backstroked and ate half a Mars bar, then swigged Coke off the block on every 8th 100m. He powered through the night on his rocket fuel, and into the next morning he was still ripping along. I was absolutely amazed. I knew the boy was a natural stayer but this was ridiculous. At 9am he started to falter, the Aussie sunburn was killing him, so we pulled him out, swathed him in 50 plus sunblock and off he went again.
Oh, the food, well we stuck to the same, and it still sticks in my head today, as the last 30 minutes he being a proud man said 'Coach lets take the brakes off!' and Mr Barry swam the last set of 100m on 1 minutes 15 seconds. Banging the wall, tallying up his laps the guinness book representative said 96 km, and Evan Barry had his piece of time in the sun.
I was so proud, because this kid was a worker, with a limited talent, however what wasn't limited was self hammering. There wasn't a swim set, he wouldn't try, his favourite being 3 x 5000m leaving on 1 hour intervals. Yes tri guys you read right.
The record stood for a long long time, but what sticks in my mind even today, they took him to hospital with 3rd degree burns. The Queensland sun does that to you, however all else was fine. I went in to visit him, and there he was sitting up, sipping a Coke, and eating a Mars bar, saying 'coach the hours 6 to 12, then 18 to 20 were the toughest, but if we don't count them, it was sweet.' Yep I think that was an understatement, I kid you not, Evan Barry taught me more than most I have had to listen to on the subject of sports nutrition!