Trust me when I tell you I have seen countless endurance drivers, on my team as well as others, who have run out of gas long before their racecars did and when that happens, it can have terrible consequences.
Two overlooked items on many racers’ checklists are their diet and staying hydrated. For years it’s been a well-known fact that marathon runners eat lots of pasta prior to a race. And it’s true that pasta makes an excellent meal for athletes, particularly those engaged in endurance sports. Why? Simply because pasta is rich in complex carbohydrates, and these carbs are the first source of energy used by our muscles.
Marie-Philip Poulin, a Canadian ice hockey forward for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and captain of the Canada women’s national ice hockey team was a three-time Olympic and three-time World champion with the Canadian national team. She famously scored the game-winning goals in the gold medal games in three out of four of the Olympics in which she competed, for which she was dubbed “Captain Clutch” by her teammates. Marie speaks about the importance of her pre-game meal, “If I’m playing at 7, I have a meal at 3:30 and a snack an hour before the game.”
It’s just as important to put this to work in practice as it is on race day. Some years ago, I had been working with the top driver’s coach in NASA’s ranks and I was making major improvements, driving faster and faster week after week. One weekend I decided to rent Thunderhill Raceway all to myself, intent on really pushing myself to untold limits. By the time the track was ready to go green, I had my car out of the trailer, all setups ready, driving suit and helmet on, and I was waiting at the start line. With the help of a new lap-time computer, I was able to watch my lap times improve with leaps and bounds as I experimented with various racing lines and hitting my marks consistently. I thought, “Boy, is my coach going to be blown away!”
I was so excited with how well the car and I were doing, I almost didn’t notice my fuel gauge telling me it was time to pit, or I would be walking on my rented track. It was a good thing I did come in because several things had happened, to which I was apparently oblivious. As I pulled into the paddock, I noticed a couple of spectators walking over to greet me. I had intended to get out of my car and visit with them while my crew gassed up my car so I could head back out onto the track, but suddenly everything went downhill from there.
Having been so consumed with going faster, I hadn’t been aware the ambient temperature was over 115 degrees. You can only imagine how hot I was inside of my three-layer driver suit. As I opened my door and tried to crawl out over the roll cage and stand up, suddenly my legs wobbled and went out from under me. I was surrounded by people attempting to stand me up until finally getting me into a chair. A nurse asked me when I had last hydrated or eaten, to which I replied, “Last night, I think.” My driver’s suit must have weighed 25 pounds from so much sweat. I had not even noticed anything wrong while driving, and even after drinking 4 or 5 quarts of Gatorade and water, my condition did not improve until the following day.
That was a mistake I never made again and in the instructions to my drivers on practice and race day was a bold-type line that said, you can never be too hydrated!