Interview | Jessica Trengove

Competing in the London Marathon is a huge achievement for thousands of people around the world, and that includes professional Olympians. We were lucky enough to steal a few minutes with Aussie Olympian Jessica Trengove as she trains for the race in London, and we quizzed her on how an elite distance runner prepares nutritionally for 26.2 miles of hard running in the London weather.

Jessica, thank you for sitting with us today, can you tell us what you eat before a race, like a marathon, or do you tend to compete on an empty stomach?

"I like to eat a couple of hours before competition. Usually I have two pieces of toast with honey and a banana! I add in a few extra carbs on the morning of a Marathon i.e. a small bowl of cereal as well as toast"

And what would you eat immediately after competing?

"I aim to consume a combination of quality protein and carbohydrates within the hour after competing. My appetite varies depending on the type race but I know how important this is for recovery. Specifically I tend to go for a WPI protein bar + milk and a banana if I know I won't be eating a proper meal for a little while. My meal preferences after a morning race, are eggs on toast with avocado/mushrooms, etc, or bircher muesli with yoghurt and nuts/seeds. At night I would choose a meal involving meat and vegetables with carbohydrates such as rice or noodles"

What sort of meal would you have after a training session, as opposed to a race?

"Grilled salmon with dukkah on top with either a quinoa, couscous or rice noodle salad on the side or stir fried vegetables and noodles"

A lot of individuals who will be looking ahead to the London Marathon (and other distance races around the world) will have been told about consuming gels and protein bars as they go. As a professional, where do you stand on these types of products?

"I prefer to consume less processed foods in general however I can see the benefit of gels and bars for fuelling and recovery around key training sessions and races. I ingest gels during my Marathon races as a practical and consistent way to provide my body with the energy and electrolytes required for optimal performance in this endurance event. I tend to only consume protein bars after key sessions or races when I know that I will not be eating a proper meal within the following hour"

So what sort of things do you have after a gym session?

"I like to have a milk-based drink after my gym sessions and then have lunch soon afterwards"

As a distance runner, does your diet change much, in and out of competition?

"A little. I maintain a fairly consistent diet however definitely pay more attention to the fine details in the lead up to a major competition. For example, I make sure that I capitalise on key sessions through appropriate fuelling to support performance and recovery. I aim to consume a diet very high in nutrient-rich foods (fresh fruit and vegetables etc.) to maintain a strong immune system and also increase my carbohydrate intake during particularly high volume / high intensity training weeks. After a major race I tend to relax a little and make choices based more on what I feel like in the moment rather than weighing up all of the factors above"

Do you have a cheat meal?

"Banana and nutella crepes and chocolate fondants. I also love banana caramel pie and apple crumble"

Putting aside your nutrition, what does a typical week of training look like for an Olympic standard distance runner?

"During Marathon preparation it involves double runs on 4-5 days of the week. I usually have three sessions and two long runs with Sunday being the key long run. My sessions vary between intervals, repetitions, fartleks, threshold / tempo and pick-up runs. I also do two key strength and conditioning sessions at the beginning and end of the week"

So, when you line up on the start line of a major race, like at the Olympics, how do you handle stay calm?  

"What keeps you calm on the start line? I like a bit of pressure and feel that it helps me to get the most out of myself. I reassure myself on the start line that I have done my best to prepare for the race and that it is my choice to be there. I often remind myself that it is a privilege to be able to run and race as experiences and observations have taught me that I should never take this for granted. It is exciting to embrace a challenge.

I always feel very proud to wear the green and gold and think of all of the people at home who have supported me to be on that start line".

Are there any athletes, from any sport, that you really admire or look up to?

"Yes! I have a lot of respect for Roger Federer. His attitude, concentration, respect for others, endurance, power and consistency is incredibly impressive. I also admire my brother who has remained very patient, positive and persistent throughout a long period of injury. Benita Willis and Lisa Ondieki are two of my running idols"

Has there been one race so far in your career that has really stood out for you?

"The Glasgow Commonwealth Games where I experienced challenges in the lead up that resulted in a very different preparation to my previous Marathons but was able to come away with a personal best and a bronze medal. I also loved my debut Marathon experience in Nagoya where I was fortunate to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics"

Has you got a favourite place to compete?

"That is a tough question. Japan is certainly a wonderful place to compete. The people are very welcoming, friendly, punctual and organised. The food is fresh, healthy and fantastic. The atmosphere during a Marathon race in Japan is phenomenal and there is always a lot of support from the spectators"

Do you have a favourite route or outdoor run in Aus?

"I love running along the Torrens River (Linear Park) and the Henley beach / West Beach foreshore. The river trail is only a few hundred metres from my front door" 

Finally, as an Olympic Marathon runner, do you have any tips for the runners doing the London Marathon this April?

"I would suggest building up training slowly and setting short and long term goals to maintain motivation. Meeting with a group or friend for a run and then following up with a coffee or meal afterwards can be very satisfying and enjoyable, particularly when motivation is waning"