How to Prepare for a Marathon: Marathon Fueling Strategy

Training Tips

26.2 miles are no joke.

Not for anyone.

Even if you have done everything you can to train for the marathon and read up on all the training tips, there are some things that are not included on a marathon training schedule that you need to do in preparation for a marathon.

There is not a marathon training diet as such, although I did talk about my diet for marathon training before I ran 2:37:25 at the the London marathon.

Having some kind of runners diet is important, but having the right marathon fuel is critical, and today, I want to show you what you need to do, and what I do to prepare.

Marathon Fueling Strategy

One of the most important marathon tips I can give you is to make sure you know what to eat during a marathon that will work for you.

Marathon Fuel Before Running

This one is kind of given, you need to make sure in the days leading up to the race, you are only eating those foods you know sit well in your stomach.

You should practice your night before meal MULTIPLE times before race day. Make sure you feel confident with it, and your body is used to it.

If that means having plain pasta with nothing but salt and pepper, do it every Saturday night during your build up.

Would you rather have a few extra bland meals or have an upset stomach on race day?

We all know how horrible that feels!

What do you eat before a marathon?

The night before a marathon, I will have a few baked potatoes. Before the Indy Monumental Half I had a GIANT spud from McAllister with cheese and chicken, (plus a little of a second spud, I didn’t realize they would be so HUGE!) and that was fine.

The morning of, I will wake up three hours before, and eat a large sweet potato with almond butter, and a banana.

sweet potato almond butter

I have practiced my pre race meal over 10 times (before workouts and long runs). I have practiced the potato 3-4 times.

What to Eat During a Marathon Race

We all know how important this part is, and without it, things can go very wrong very quickly.

My advice is to try to decide which fuel brand and type you are taking with at least a month to go. That way you have enough time to practice the exact combination while a few times.

Start testing out  as soon as you start marathon training by fueling during long runs.

If you do not like that brand, or you find your stomach gets upset, try a different type or brand. If you do like it, then that’s great, the longer you give your body to get used to something, the better, and you might even find one that upset your stomach initially, your body gets used to.

There are three main directions you can go; gels, liquid, and natural sources.

Whichever of these you choose, you MUST practice taking them on your workout and long run days.

That means you get the practice of taking it when you are fatigued, and ideally, you should take as many as you intend to in the race, at the intervals you intend to for the race.

Marathon Nutrition Cheatsheet

Don't leave race day to chance! Nail your marathon nutrition using this plan

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How many energy gels for a marathon?

When I raced the London Marathon, I had a Powerbar gel at miles 7 (around 42 mins), 14 (1hr 25 mins), and 21 (2hr 10 mins) .

Therefore, on my long runs, I would take gels at those timed intervals (around 40 mins, around 1hr 25 mins, around 2hr 10 mins). Even if I only had 5 minutes left of my run, it meant my body got used to having three gels.

In workouts, you want to practice taking them at speed. During your long runs, you will mostly be going slow enough to take it comfortably, but it is a LOT harder to take it moving fast, so practice that too.

NOTE: If you are using gels you MUUUUUSSSTTTTT take it with water, so practice that too. When you take the gel, have some water with it.

Marathon drinking strategy

This is now my preferred method of fueling, and is better for me than those sticky, sugary gels. I notice that my energy levels are more sustained and even with liquid fuel, and I have no concern about an upset stomach, which is nice.

The nice thing about this, is that you do not have to worry about taking water separately, as it’s already there with the UCAN.

Practice the liquid fuel in the same way you would with the gels. At the intervals you intend to use during the race, and in your workouts at race pace or even faster than race pace.

Take the amount you intend to take (I would say for most people around 5-7oz at a time is good, depending on how often you take it).

This is pretty much what happens on my workouts. Steve does this, and I grab it, keep running, drink it, and hand it back to him.

This is pretty much what happens on my workouts. Steve does this, and I grab it, keep running, drink it, and hand it back to him.

I realize I am very lucky to have my husband to stand out there for most of my workouts to cycle ahead of me and hand me a bottle. I am also incredibly lucky to have elite fueling, where my bottles will be prepared for me with my Generation UCAN.

You can also place bottles on walls, benches, or even on the floor, to run by and pick up. It is worth losing a few seconds in your workout or long run to slow down and pick it up. I have done some runs where I just do loops, or go back and forth, so I can practice my fuel.

Now:

I will explain more in a minute how you can use UCAN even if you do not want to carry bottles in the race.

I did have to take my own bottles on most of my long runs, and that is where these Saucony Bullet Shorts and Capris are ahhhhmazing!!! You don’t even notice the bottle, seriously, it doesn’t bounce or move, and I cannot recommend them enough.

Use my coupon code TINA for 10% off the Saucony website.

Other natural sources for marathon fuel

Okay, so I haven’t exactly gone this route, but you could use dates, raisins, or other fruit (low fiber!). I did use one of the natural ingredient brand gels a few years ago, but it tore my stomach up, so I had to switch away from it.

However, I do have another suggestion for you.

When I talked about using UCAN for my race, I mentioned you can make your own gels, and so I asked Debra for the recipe (she just rocked a 3:29 at 60 to win her age group at Indy Monumental Marathon!).

So here you go:

Use these Hammer Nutrition gel flasks

Add a bit of water to flask then use a funnel to add one full serving UCAN.

Add a little coffee if desired and shake. They will be thick and concentrated, but gets it over with sooner, right? 😉

Keep the “gels” in your Saucony Bullet shorts. I would maybe take them every 10k instead of every 5k.

If you do turn the UCAN into gels, be sure you take on water (and practice it!).

How do you eat and drink during a marathon?

As I mentioned before, I will be using Generation UCAN CranRaz Superstarch for the California International Marathon, and I am very happy with how it has been going so far.

I used UCAN for Chicago, and it worked well. If I had elite bottles in London, I probably would have continued to use it. At that time, I did not know about the UCAN gels, which I probably would have used instead of the regular gels.

I will be taking the UCAN every 3 miles in a full bottle that contains 1 scoop of UCAN. I will take on about 4-7oz of fluid.

That means at 5k, 10k, 15k, 20k, 25k, 30k, 35k, and possibly 40k……will see how I feel at that moment!

I really would recommend Generation UCAN Superstarch if you have had a history with an upset stomach during a race OR if you have been working on your diet and think you are fat adapted. This will work SO well for you!

You can use my coupon code TINAMUIR25 for 25% off.

Tina ucan run gum

Oh, and one more thing. Meb uses UCAN……I know many of you are HUGE Meb fans, just thought you should know 😉

Other Marathon Fuel

Once you have your gels, liquid, or natural sources down, you are all set for race day fueling, right?

Well, maybe, but I would encourage you to consider these two products to add to your army.

EnduroPacks

You know I have used EnduroPacks for many years now, and I am a huge fan of their entire package every month, BUT for marathons their Electrolyte Spray is a lifesaver, and I actually carried it in my Saucony Bullet Shorts in the last two London marathons.

If you suffer from electrolyte imbalance cramps, this is a MUST for you.

Carry EnduroPacks with you and spray it directly into your mouth (around 5 pumps). You can also spray it in your bottles if you have them with you.

Use coupon code TINAMUIR for 15% off.

We all know just how HORRIBLE cramps feel, and I don’t know about you, but there is no way I want to risk cramps, when it is so easy to avoid them!

RunGum

This has only been added to my toolbox for this marathon after talking to Nick Symmonds on the podcast, but I am telling you, guys, Run Gum is AMAZING!

It feels like you have had a shot of caffeine into your veins within a few minutes of taking it.

Yes, the chewing part is tough, and cost me some time at the Indy Monumental Half (the two girls I was running with put 50m on me within 2 minutes), BUT once you do get it chewed enough, ZING! You feel wide awake and energized.

I also was running about 20 seconds per mile faster than I will be in the marathon and only had 3 miles to go.

Run Gum also has Taurine and B12 vitamins, which also help with energy.

Those last 6 miles are a struggle, but if you could have a “good patch” for a few of those miles from Caffeine, I would say that’s well worth a few minutes of chewing.

You will probably also be better at taking it than me. I am a really heavy mouth breather, so that makes it more difficult.

Coffee

Cant believe I almost forgot this part!

I started drinking coffee before this years London Marathon, and it took a little while for my stomach to get used to it.

As this is so…..well, effective, at helping to get our bowel movements going, you MUST practice it as much as you possibly can.

Take it before your workouts and long runs, at the interval you intend to on race day.

What other products do I use during a marathon?

I will spray the EnduroPacks into my UCAN bottles (probably around 10 sprays per bottle), therefore I will take it every 3 miles in a smaller concentration.

If I did not have the bottles, I would use it the same way I did for the London Marathon; in my shorts, and use it at miles 11 and 18.

I will take RunGum around 20 miles, maybe a little later if I feel up to it, but I do not want to get my body in a state of panic by leaving it too late.

I don’t like to drink coffee every day (actually, I have decaf or tea on the other days), but on every workout and long run day this year, I drink a cup of coffee 2 hours before I am going to run, which is what I intend to do on race day.

Marathon Nutrition Cheatsheet

Don't leave race day to chance! Nail your marathon nutrition using this plan

Powered by ConvertKit

How to Prepare for a Marathon

This is SO important, but something that people often forget.

You NEED to decide which shoes you will be wearing for the race relatively early, and then practice using them in your workouts. Warm up in your training shoes, which for me (and Molly Huddle!) is the Saucony Kinvara or Saucony Ride.

For the hard section, change into your race shoes.

I liked to race in the Saucony Fastwitch and for reference, Molly Huddle ran in the Saucony Type A. Jared Ward also uses those for his marathons.

I would wear your racing shoes for maybe one long run, or if you are doing a half marathon race in training, wear them for that, or for 1-2 of your long runs with hard efforts in them.

The rest of the time, for your long runs, you can stick to your training shoes, but use your racing shoes for workouts as much as you can….yes, this does probably mean you will wear through them and need a second pair as you close in on race day. If you do this, give yourself at LEAST 3 workouts with your newer pair.

You also want to practice your race day outfit, EXACTLY as you will wear it on that day.

tina progression run

That means the socks, sports bra, shorts, vest/top, and even hat/sunglasses.

EVERYTHING you intend to wear on that day should be worn for a few workouts and your longest run….even if that means you wear it under other layers.

If anything chafes, take note, and make sure to put vaseline on that area….or consider wearing something else….then practice that!

And my friends, I *think* that is it.

Seems like a lot, but it will give you the best chance of controlling as many variables on possible for race day, which leaves less to go wrong, and no “what if’s”.

[bctt tweet=”VERY helpful guide on exactly what to practice for your next marathon” username=”tinamuir”]

What do you practice before race day?

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17 Comments. Leave new

  • It’s always interesting to see what elites like yourself use before races. I’ve been eating the same meal before running since basically beginning to run. I like a plain waffle with peanut butterLOL. Honestly not training for marathons is nice because I don’t have to worry about fueling as much.

  • It’s crazy how much you have to practice before race day and how consistently you need to practice it to really get it down. I practiced so much during training but still made mistakes during the marathon. But, you live and you learn, right?! I’ve been hearing lots about UCAN lately and it’s encouraging to see you love it so much, so I’m excited to give it a try with my next training cycle 🙂

  • Awesome post! I use UCAN, but I usually use about 3 scoops at 2 intervals (9 and 18 miles), and I am practicing 10k intervals this year. You show a scoop/serving every 5k? Do you get an overly full feeling? I fade at the end of the marathon, so I am practicing more UCAN, I just don’t think I can handle that much.

    • Hello! I actually only take 4-7oz of that bottle at each 5k. So you are probably getting more than me overall, as I probably only take in about 1/4 of a scoop each time 🙂 But yeah, I think the way you are doing it is good. The more concentrated it is, the better as you can get away with less of it…..I would consider taking on water every 5k though 🙂

      • Thanks for your tips Tina! This makes sense, 7 scoops of UCAN would be too much for anyone. 🙂 I like your idea of breaking it down in to 5k “sips” instead of a couple large slugs of UCAN. I get so full and it makes it hard for me to breath. I will practice this change during this weekend’s long run. Thanks again!

  • I love to hear all the details of how others fuel and prepare. I do need to get better at testing out gels before race day… I rarely use them on training runs, and rely on dried fruit or other snacks instead, but then switch to gels for races. Not the smartest, but it hasn’t come back to bite me yet, thankfully!

  • Jessica Kuepfer
    November 14, 2016 12:40 pm

    This is so interesting. Thanks for sharing Tina. The sweet potato and banana breakfast sounds delicious!

  • Hi Tina! This is so helpful and interesting. What about taking amino acids before your long runs or race? Or do you only take it after?

    • Hi Michelle, do you mean Body Health Perfect Amino? I take that after. But that is a good point, I should add that into the post for after my runs on those days. I will take them either immediately after I run or when I first wake up in the morning. Have you been using them?

      • Hi Tina, yes Body Health Perfect Amino! I just ordered it but have not tried it yet. Good to know first thing in the morning or right after. Will try it tomorrow and Friday since those are my next workout/long run days!

  • Like many others, I love reading the details of how others rehearse and fuel for a big race! I’m a big fan of practicing the food – I eat the same thing before every long run throughout all of training and wear the same outfit on my long runs as I plan to on race day. And I love the bullet shorts!

  • Thanks, Tina! This one’s going into my “keeper” file for future reference 🙂 I used UCAN, sipping on it throughout Run The Bluegrass half this past spring and nailed the hills and ran well. I feared I wasn’t “fat adapted” enough to risk it for Chicago and now regret my decision. I can hardly wait to watch you ROCK CIM!! Appreciate you sharing the all important details of your plan; fueling plays such a huge role in the Marathon distance and regardless of what a runner uses, your tips can be applied and make for a fantastic race experience!!

  • Fantastic round-up, Tina! I shared on my Mastering Running Facebook page.

    Elites don’t run with headphones but many runners do. I had a headphone malfunction in a race this summer, so I’d recommend making sure your headphones are in good working order if using.

  • Thank you for sharing so much awesome info. Question for you….what type/brand water bottle do you use that fits well in saucony bullet shorts? I have the shorts but usually just put my phone down in the pocket. I didn’t even realize they were large enough to hold a water bottle!:)

  • Zebra Girl Runs
    November 15, 2016 12:54 pm

    I’m marathon training now and this post was a good read to remember to practice race day fuel logistics. I ate a sweet potato, banana and poptart the morning of Boston! I really think the sweet potato was a great integration into fueling for a race. I just bought RunGum and am curious to try it!

  • Martina Di Marco
    November 17, 2016 5:18 pm

    OMG I cannot believe Molly ran an entire marathon in the A5!!!

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