The Sugar Free 70.3

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It’s difficult not to get caught up in the hype when you race an IRONMAN 70.3 branded race. There’s a sense of “bling” about the event. You’re made to feel like you are really achieving something really special, so I was impressed with my first ever IRONMAN branded 70.3 race in Ballarat, Australia.

I was a little nervous though going into the race as I’d just come off an injury and had not been running much over the past eight weeks. One thing that I wasn’t nervous about though, was my fuelling strategy. For once I was clear with no questions about which brand of gel to use? How often should I be fueling? Should I be consuming magnesium? How many gels should I carry? If I drop any of my gels, how bad will I run?

It was going to be simple this time. I would be racing the way I was training and that would be no sugar or carbs for the whole race and only water to replenish fluids. I was going to race the 70.3, sugar free!

It’s easy to look back now and say that I wasn’t nervous. I was nervous. It had only been six weeks since I completely cut out sugar and processed carbs in my diet, so I was worried about bonking and even having to pull out of the race as a result poor fueling.

I’d wanted to reduce my sugar intake for a long time. I’ve always been a sweet tooth, but the amount of sugar and processed carbs I was eating had increased due to my training with plans to tackle a full IRONMAN. I’ve been concerned that my lifestyle and the way that I eat would lead to insulin resistance and diabetes later in life.

I came across the concept of the Low Carb, High Fat eating plan about 12 months ago and saw it as being a way to reduce my dependence on sugar. The theory goes that you train your body to burn fat instead of sugars for energy. I saw some pretty extreme meals that completely put me off the concept until I spoke with a work colleague who is diabetic and is using the eating plan to help control his symptoms.

He recommended I watch the movie Cereal Killers. It opened my eyes about my sugar and carbohydrate consumption and it was not as extreme as I had originally believed. The diet made sense to me as it meant there would be no grey areas to cutting out sugars, as I would be cutting out all processed carbohydrates of any kind including most fruit, grains, and starchy root vegetables.

So I started the day with my usual spinach and cheese omelet and a coffee. Then it would only be water for the rest of the race. I would not be risking anything though and would pull out of the race if there were any concerns out on the course. Even long term, if I ever show negative results from any medical tests, I would be stopping this eating plan straight away.

As for the course, IRONMAN Ballarat offered an interesting mix. The swim is in a freshwater lake. Reeds got tangled in my goggles, but the water remains calm most of the time with a nice up and back course. The bike is a two lap course with an mix of technical turns for 5km stretches which then take you on undulating, straight and furious time trial sections that run for over thirty kilometers in parts. The run course is flat and if it is hot, any wind coming off the lake is a refreshing change under the hot sun.

The race day went really well for me. I stuck to my plan and made sure I was consistently drinking water throughout the race. I ended up sore and tired, which would be expected, but hydrated with no bloating or sickness from gels. I was able to sleep without any issues and was not hyperactive or over stimulated from the race.

It was one of those days when everything goes to plan. I had been training hard and over a consistent period of time, so taking ten minutes off my PB shouldn’t be a surprise.

What should be surprising is that I was able to swim for thirty minutes, ride for two and a half hours and then run for just over ninety minutes, without any need for sugar, gel, electrolyte drink or supplement replacement. I didn’t need to rely on feeding every thirty minutes or anything that I had learnt over the past fifteen years of being involved in running, open water swimming and now triathlon. What else are we capable of? What else is there that I’m doing wrong with my training and racing?

Incase you are curious about my results:

I am not advocating that this is something that everyone should be implementing in his or her diet, but so far it’s worked for me and now I need to scale it up over the next two months to race IRONMAN NZ. I am still a work in progress, but I believe I am eating better with my cupboards almost empty, usually full of cereal, pasta, noodles, flour, rice, chocolate and my fridge is now full with fresh vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, berries and avocados. I am able to go for longer periods of time without eating or feeling hungry, and feel like I am no longer a slave to having to continuously eat. My thoughts are clearer, and as a result feel like I am less stressed, calmer and happier.

Vince Sesto

What about you? Have you tried anything like this, or do you have an interest in doing so? Please add your comment below!

Vince Sesto

Tri Swim Coach Ambassador

Vince works as an IT Engineer in Melbourne, Australia where he lives with his cat Tim Tam. He has been a runner for longer than he can remember. He competes in distance running races, open water swims and long course triathlons.