Say you are about 2.5 weeks to go before your marathon, and thinking “I am now at a point where I just do not want to mess this up. I have worked so hard, and I have done all I can to be ready for this race, all I can do now is make sure I stay healthy, and keep my mind in the right place.”
Right now, you are in a good place. All you want from this race is to have a positive experience; to look back on it and smile. Unfortunately, back in the day I couldn’t do that with Chicago or Philadelphia in 2015…..okay, some parts of Philadelphia I can; but it is definitely overruled by the bad.
Either way, I learned so much in those two marathons, and I know I will learn even more from my future races to come.
This is also around the time of the segment where you start to reflect. You start to think about all the things you have done to help make sure you are ready. The number one rule you hear for the marathon…..okay, other than do not go out too fast, is to NEVER try anything new on raceday.
I thought I would expand on how I have prepared for the fueling aspect of the race. As I am racing in the section of the race (with the masses) rather than the elite start (which is 30 minutes prior), I am not getting my own fueling in this race. This is different to Chicago, where I had my own bottles, and in Philly…..well I wore a fuel belt the first half……and then BOMBED not long after I ditched it as I did not drink anything after mile 15.
So what do you need to do to practice fueling for a marathon to keep your rhythm, without sacrificing performance by skipping what you need to do.
Firstly, let me just say that I am THE WORST at drinking water while running. I think it may be because I am a mouth breather, but I choke almost half the time. This has made practice even more critical!!
What fueling am I using for any Marathon?
I am not a fan of the major energy drink sponsor of the marathon (Lucozade), so Steve and I decided from the start that I would not even worry about their stations….especially as you cannot even get Lucozade in the States! A friend of mine, Tom Craggs, tried to send me a package of gels to try from England…..but it never made it to my house….I am guessing customs thought that was suspicious.
Back in the day UCAN was also out of the question. Even though I had found success with that in Chicago. I did not feel like carrying around bottles for the entire duration of the race, and it would be almost impossible to successfully get the fuel I needed from people watching. Especially without Steve there…..even the way you hold a bottle for someone to grab takes practice!
That left me with gels. I asked around some of my other running friends (Sarah Crouch, Clara Santucci, Esther Erb) and the unanimous result was Powerbar gels. All three of them said that it “goes down easy”. I trusted their judgement and ordered a 24 pack of Strawberry Banana.
From the first time I used one of the Powerbar gels, I was hooked. It really did go down easy. There was no “chewing” it, nor did it require lot of effort to get the whole thing out. I had used Clif Shots and Gu in the past, and both of which required a LOT more concentration to consume.
How to practice fueling?
For your race you should do the research and see if and when they have their fueling stations. It may be critical for you to see and plan where they are so you won’t go without nutrition or water for long periods of time.
Before your race as well practice taking your nutrition on the run, Steve and I have practiced water and gels on almost every workout and long run. This would require Steve either jumping out of a car, or off his bike to stand on the side of the road/path, with his hands out, a bottle on top. I would grab the bottle off him (trying different tactics), take some water (with a few sprays of Enduropacks Electrolyte Spray inside), and either throw it down for him to pick up, or hold on to it until he caught me back up.
You do not even notice bottles in these tights, and I mean that. You know I am honest, and these tights/shorts are AMAZING. So amazing infact, that when I finished my first long run of wearing them, I did not call Steve to tell him how the run went. No. I immediately called the Saucony guy who had sent me them. Thanking him for such an amazing gift, and rambling on an on about how great they were. If you heard that voicemail……crazy lady alert 😉
When I was getting ready for the London Marathon in 2015, I wore the Saucony Bullet shorts for the race. I actually wore them for Chicago too…..for the first time of wearing them ever….what was that I said about never doing anything for the first time in a marathon? My shorts were rejected by IAAF for the “logo” being too big (read more here), but I wore those shorts, and LOVED them.
Now it is time to make an actual plan for the race. As you have been practicing, you will find what is comfortable for you while you run and what is something you would rather do without. For the London Marathon Steve and I had come to a conclusion that during the race I would plan on drinking water every 3 miles, and taking a gel at miles 7-8, 14-15, and 21. For this, I am tucking a gel in each side pocket of the shorts, one in my sports bra, and one as a backup in the zip up pocket of the shorts.
The Strawberry Banana gels have a little caffeine, which is good. If you have not listened to my podcast with Sweat Science writer, Alex Hutchinson, you can HERE. It comes with SO MUCH good advice!
We have found that the best strategy is to open the gel as I come towards the
steve water station, grab a drink, take 2 sips, take half the gel (one big mouthful), take 1 sip, take the rest of the gel, take 1-2 more sips before throwing the bottle. We worked out this gets me between 4-7 oz water per station.
I was surprised with how much I have improved at taking the water now. I choke far less, and have found that I can get back into my rhythm much faster, which means my relaxed breathing comes back faster, and I can continue at the pace I was before.
A great thing to practice as well is fueling BEFORE the race. A few weeks out I usually start this practice and have for every workout and long run. If I was running at 8am, I got up at 5am to eat it. Marathon training requires sacrifices and preparation, and that is one of the most important things to be sure you practice. At 7am, I will eat 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water, along with a banana. At around 8:30am I will have another banana. I also drink a tea when I wake up, to get my stomach working….don’t think I need to say more there 😉
Runners Connect, my old employer has a more scientific based post about how to eat and drink during a marathon if you want to read more, but this is the strategy we have decided to use.
There are no guarantees that this will work, and knowing my luck, as I have written this post, my stomach will be upset on the day, but I have done the best I can to allow my body to practice this, and so far it has responded well. Hopefully this should give you some advice on how you can make the most of your fueling practice, but the most important thing is to try new things early in the segment, until you find something that works, and then stick with it. Use it every week/workout/long run, so come race day, your body knows what to do.
Hopefully this was helpful 🙂 If you want to read more fueling tips from me, I was recently featured on the active times. Or if you want more specific nutritional advice tailored to you, check out the Runners Connect Marathon Nutrition Blueprint. I have checked this out myself, and it is AWESOME, especially if you have had fueling issues in the past.[Tweet “Really helpful advice from an elite runner on how to practice fueling for your next marathon #fuelyourfuture”]
What is your fueling strategy for a marathon?
Ps. I would LOVE if you would take a listen to Runners Connect podcast episode with Travis Macy. I learned SO MUCH from him about mental strategies for my training and racing. I think you will learn a lot too….it is not just for ultra runners….or even just runners. I would LOVE to hear your feedback, your opinions mean so much to me 🙂