There aren’t many runners who can set a world record at their first attempt at the distance, but Aly Dixon is not just any runner. Smashing the 50k record with a time of 03:07:20 in Romania, Aly then set the half marathon world record a week later (while dressed as Wonder Woman) with a spectacular time of 01:18:27 in the UK.
Aly has collected an incredible amount of titles and records in a distinguished career, and we were lucky to quiz the World champion on how she prepares ahead of her record-breaking runs…
Ahead of a competition, let's say the night before, what sort of meals/foods are you having? “The final 24 hours before a long race (marathon) I mainly eat carbs along with a little bit if protein and good fats. I aim to consume about 400g of carbs throughout the day. This will be a mixture of carb based drinks and food. Breakfast will be oats, bananas, honey, raisins. Lunch will be chicken and rice, dinner will be more rice and a plain sauce and I'll snack on bagels, Maltloaf and flapjack. I try to avoid fibre as I don't want to risk GI issues. Lunch will be my biggest meal with a lighter meal in the evening so that I am not going to bed feeling full and bloated”.
Do you eat much in the morning of a race? “I aim to eat breakfast 3 hours before my race starts. It normally consists of oats, raisins, honey, banana and a slice of white toast with strawberry jam and a black coffee”.
Are you eating much after a race? Can you eat pretty much anything you like? “I try to get 250ml of chocolate milk (whole milk with 3 scoops of Nesquik) in as soon as possible and a good chunk of Maltloaf. I often crave full fat cola too. I find that I have a very small window where I can tolerate food after a long race and then I can't face anything for a few hours until I usually start to crave salted chips so it's normally a trip to a local burger place or the local chippy!”
Has your diet changed or developed much over your career, is it much different when preparing for really long distance races? “It hasn't changed too much. I never used to eat many vegetables but over the last 10 years or so I have increased my veg intake. I also now make sure that I have one portion of good fish a week and once a week, normally after a long run, a good medium-rare steak. My diet doesn't change too much throughout the year apart the two weeks after a marathon when I take a rest from training and indulge more in 'bad' foods. However, whilst I’m in training I'll happily eat a burger, pizza, take away, etc if I fancy one. I find that is better than restricting yourself as you then only end up craving them and over indulging”.
Do you eat much when you are training; do you have a protein bar or shake within easy reach? “I don't eat during training but if I do a long run or a long session then I will take carb drinks and gels on board. I don't use protein shakes instead I have a chocolate milk straight after anything over 1 hour duration”.
How important is hydration to an athlete at your level? “Hydration is very important, especially with the amount of training that I do. I spend a lot of time on training camps at altitude where hydration is even more important as you lose fluid more just during everyday living. Whilst at home I aim to drink 2-3 litres a day. Mainly 50% fruit juice squash or water with added electrolyte tablets”.
Max Lahiff (Bath rugby player) came down to our studio and said sleep and nutrition are king for recovery, do you find the same? “Totally agree. So many people look for the extra 1% by trying to train harder or following fads. But the biggest recovery tool we all have is our beds. Ensure that you are getting a good 8 hours a night. We produce growth hormones when we sleep and that is needed for muscle recovery and adaptation. The same with nutrition. Before spending a fortune on supplements, etc make sure that you have your basic diet correct. No point necking a protein shake after a workout if you then follow it up with a Big Mac meal! My mantra is what goes in, comes out. So feed yourself good wholesome foods to get the best out if yourself. If you had a Ferrari you wouldn't run it on diesel. Think of your body the same”.
What are the most common meals in your house? “Stir fry. They are so quick and easy to make. A load of vegetables, some good protein - meat, beans, even fish - add in some chopped tomatoes, soya sauce, herbs and spices and give it a good fry. Add noodles or rice and bingo. We have some sort of stir fry at least 3 times a week”.
What is your 'cheat' recipe? “I don't really like the term cheat when it comes to food. For me no food is off limits. If I fancy something, I'll have it. As I say, what you put in is what you get out so I won't feast my face on burgers, pizza, Indians, etc every day or even every week, but if I fancy one, I'll have one. I make healthy food choices 90% of the time so there's no need to worry about have something unhealthy every so often”.
Is there anything you actively avoid? “I'm not a great fan of pasta which surprises a lot of people as they assume that marathon runners live on pasta but I prefer rice. I avoid mushrooms, peas and sweet corn. I can't stand the texture if mushrooms and I just don't like the other two. Most other things are fair play”.
So, final questions away from nutrition: Do you have a favourite place to compete? “I loved racing the Boston marathon back in April. The crowds were amazing and because I wasn't chasing a fast time like I normally am in a marathon I had the chance to enjoy the atmosphere. Running along the Copacabana beach front with Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer in the background at the Rio Olympics was pretty special too”.
Is there a particular competition or race that stands out in your career so far? “I think there's 3 which have really stood out. Obviously the Olympics is always going to be special. I had my parents by the side of the road supporting me and because it was a looped course they got to see me about 6 times. The recent World Championship 50km race was also very memorable. It was my first attempt at the distance and I not only won the race but broke the 30 year old Word Record by 80 seconds. The final one was the New York Marathon in 2010. It was my 2nd ever marathon after a horrendous debut at London earlier that year. New York was amazing, I enjoyed every second and it was this race where I fell in love with the marathon distance”.
Do you have any pre-comp rituals i.e. putting your left sock on first, or always wearing the same underwear? “I suppose the only one I have is that I always wear my hair in 2 braids for important races. I did once have lucky pins but I then forgot them one race and still ran a PB so I got rid of them!”
What piece of equipment is in your bag, that people might be surprised about (for example, a tennis ball for stretching, or a particular toiletry, or piece of clothing)? “I don't think there is anything unusual just the normal resistance band or activation, mini foam roller and basics such as spare pins, toilet roll, REVVIES caffiene strips, ibruprofen and immodium”.