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Post-race payoff – the food

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If you’ve raced in a triathlon before, you know the drill. Eat plenty of simple carbs in the days before the race. Don’t eat anything on race day that might upset your stomach in the water, on your bike or running for the finish line. Bring along a snack to keep your blood sugar from taking a nose dive. Oh yeah, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

But once the race is over, what’s the deal? Are there certain foods the body needs – or is it OK to celebrate and splurge on ice cream, pizza, and any other foods you’ve been craving in the week before the race?

Coreen Lauren of Falmouth coaches women who are training for the fourth annual Tri for a Cure triathlon, which commences at the Southern Maine Community College Campus on July 31. She advises athletes to eat foods loaded with protein after the race, and to continue to drink plenty of fluids. Lauren will be steering people toward the Whole Foods tent after the event, since it is always stocked with a cornucopia of foods that will help triathletes replenish and rebuild.

“You really need to go for the proteins,” says Lauren, who did the Tri last year but will be on the sidelines urging on her daughter this year. “A race like this damages your muscles. You want to repair them as quickly as possible.”

For Laurie Bjorn, 54, of Kennebunk, this will be her third Tri for a Cure. She’s already looking forward to the post-race party on the grounds of SMCC. That’s because she and her sister, Julie Barros, 47, will have a contingent of family and friends camped out all day near the finish line, ready to serve them whatever foods they desire.

“After the race, that was my favorite part last year,” says Bjorn, who is hoping to drop at least 10 minutes from her time of 1:47 last year. “This year I’m going to order a big ole steak to go with my brother-in-law’s famous potato salad. And a nice cold beer just seems to taste better after beating up your body for an hour and a half.”

As it is for many women, the Tri for a Cure is food for Bjorn’s soul. When she crossed the finish line two years ago after her first experience, she really had something to celebrate. She’d had surgery only three months previous to the race after being diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Luckily, she says, the cancer was diagnosed in its early stages and she’s cancer free today.

Bjorn’s own experience is only part of her motivation, though. She’s a junior high school teacher with an upbeat personality and a smile for everyone, so one would never imagine the long list of people she’s lost to cancer. Her husband succumbed to leukemia in 1986 when their son was only 11 months old. Her mother died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003, and her aunt, from bone cancer before the age of 55. Three of her best friends have had complete mastectomies in the past six years. She’s also lost friends to liver and brain cancer.

“Cancer has taken away many pieces of my heart,” she says. “I’ve always said that if I die, it will be from a broken heart, not a diseased one.”

Bjorn has poured her heart into raising money for cancer treatment. The Tri for a Cure is just one of many other races she runs to raise money and awareness for cancer research. As of June 30, she was already three-fourths of the way to her goal of $700.

Bjorn’s experience has inspired her sister to do the race. Barros also hopes to set an example of healthy living for her two daughters, Avery, 16, and Lilly, 8. Last year, she finished behind Bjorn, in 2 hours and 3 minutes – but she didn’t finish alone. After Bjorn’s race was over, she ran back several miles to meet her sister. They held hands as they crossed the finish line together, with Barros’ husband and two daughters, and other family members there to greet them.

“It was the best day of my life,” says Barros, “like nothing I’ve ever experienced!”

Initially, Barros didn’t get a spot in this year’s race (entries close within minutes of being opened online), but she won an entry from a local radio station. She hasn’t thought much about what she’ll eat when this year’s Tri for a Cure is over. She knows she’ll be hungry, though, as she’s only packing a banana and an energy bar for race day. Like her sister, she is looking forward to the picnic afterward with family and friends. She’ll raise a glass of her favorite wine in celebration, she says.

Lauren, the coach, says most people think they’ll splurge on unhealthy foods after a long-distance race, but surprisingly, she says, people end up craving “the good things.” Still, she says, there’s room for favorite foods (hers is ice cream) at the post-race celebration. For many women, completing the race is as life-affirming as a birth, a graduation, or any major milestone. So why not celebrate?

“The look on people’s faces when they complete the race is so cool,” says Lauren. “It’s a pretty big night.”

Laurie Bjorn, left, with her sister Julie Barros, right, and
friend Judy Martin, after completing the Tri for a Cure last year.
Martin, who has been cancer free for eight years, inspired Bjorn to
do the race three years ago.