One item that I spent quite a bit of time on when training and preparing for the Portland Marathon was how to properly fuel during the race. I used my training runs to find out the best way to get fluids and electrolytes back into my system.
From my research, I knew that the reason people bonk at mile 20 is because their glycogen stores are depleted. Your body can only store enough glycogen to get you to about mile 20 and then the body tries to convert fat to use as energy and it’s a much slower process. In order to delay that from happening, that you need to replenish while you run before you are tired.
I knew from the beginning I wanted to carry my own water. I like to be able to drink when i’m thirsty and avoid the traffic jams as much as possible at the aid stations.
I played around with handheld bottles, fuel belts and a hydration pack. Here was my take on them.
Handheld bottle – Was out immediately as it couldn’t hold enough and found during my training runs that it threw off my balance, I liked having my hands free during long runs. I still use for medium length runs (6-10 miles).
Fuel Belt – I’ve got to say, never been a fan. Maybe I haven’t tried the right kind or the fit was off, but having a bottle constantly hitting my ass for 4+ hours was not welcoming to me.
Hydration Pack – This appealed the most to me. It could carry plenty of fluids, had pockets to hold shot blocks and power bars, was comfortable to wear for long periods and didn’t throw off my form. I picked up the Nathan HPL #20 a month or so before the marathon to try out on the longer runs. It was a bit overkill for my needs, but didn’t want to get something too small only to have to upgrade later, the weight difference between the smaller and larger packs was minimal. The HPL has been a winner for me, has plenty of adjustment straps to ensure a comfortable fit and enough pockets to hold whatever I need to carry. Some people have complained about the valve, but I believe they have improved it in recent versions, no problems here.
I think i’m going to do some more looking at different fuel belts, while the hydration pack works well, the excess sweat it can create on my back is a bit of a bummer on hot days.
Picking the right fuel was all about trial and error. Use the long and medium runs to find what you like, what taste good and is easy to open and eat. A few things I learned for myself.
Gu’s – Can’t stand them..hate the texture, hate the sticky feeling in my mouth, can be messy, just plain don’t like em.
Clif Shot Blocks – These ended up working well for me in training. I tried 3 flavors;
- Black Cherry – Has Caffeine
- Margarita – Additional Sodium
- Strawberry – Regular formula
I carried all 3 flavors and alternated between them all.
I also found during my long runs that I was just plain getting hungry towards the end of my run, so I started to pack a power bar or protein bar with me and eating some of those around the 3 hour mark. This also helped me with digestion of the shot blocks, if I eat too many, I feel like my stomach is just full of sugar.
I’m a sweater, no getting around that fact. I also seem to have a high concentration of salt in my sweat as evident by the white streaks I have on my face after a long run. This meant I was going to have to take in some sodium during my runs. The shot blocks have some, but based on my calculations, not nearly enough to replenish what you are sweating out. I played around with adding a bit of table salt to my water (not a good idea), or just carrying a few salt packets from Wendy’s or McDonalds (that worked great).
This was the plan I had laid out before marathon day and made myself a promise to stick to it. I do think it helped, I didn’t get a huge bonk at mile 20 and felt relatively good at the end, I credit that with sticking to the following:
Plain English Muffin
Creamy Peanut Butter
Honey Nut Cheerios
Non Fat Milk
1/2 Cup of Coffee
30 Prior to start – Shot Block
:30 – Shot Block
1:00 – Shot Block
1:30 – Shot Block
2:00 – Shot Block
2:30 – Shot Block
2:45 – Power Bar – half
3:00 – Shot Block, Salt Packet
3:30 – Shot Block
3:50 – Shot Block, Salt Packet
4:10 – Shot Block
Water as needed, and with shot blocks
By and large I stuck to this schedule. I allowed myself to fluctuate based on how I felt. The important part for me was to be sure I was taking in fluids, fuel and electrolytes on a regular basis, small enough servings that wouldn’t blow out my stomach
Miles 22-25 things started to go a little haywire for me and I began drinking some of the ultima supplied by the aid stations and eating some of the pretzels that were supplied, but overall I was really pleased with this plan. Any changes I would make would probably be to tweak it include a sodium packet closer to the 2:00 mark, It was a warm day in Portland and that meant I was losing a lot of sodium
Anyway, that is what worked for me. Be sure to use your training runs to test everything before you apply it on raceday!