The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part three: Fuel

Eat

As with hydration, I think that during the race, the best you can hope for is to top up your fuel stores as best you can. The body can absorb 90grms of carbohydrate per hour which equates to about 360 kcal.

In general running is considered to require about 500 kcal per hour. However this is a rough estimate. For a man of my weight running at my target pace of 6 min/mile the rate of calorie burn rises to almost 1000 kcal per hour.

Depletion is inevitable. The ‘wall’ isn’t.

Even if I consume 90g carbohydrate per hour, that will deliver around about 360 kcal which is less than I need to run at my target pace. However provided that in the days leading up to the race, I manage to eat well and top up the carbohydrate stores in my body – the endogenous fuel – there will be about 2,000 kcal that I have in my body to which I add the gels as I go.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 21.42.59

The ‘wall’ is something I have encountered a few times – once in the London marathon – and it is pretty real. When it happened to me in the London, the change from feeling good and barreling along at 2hr 40min pace to shuffling through an aid station guzzling energy drink and gels, took just two miles – 15 minutes. Thankfully the recovery was equally swift and I was able to finish that year in 2hrs 43min. But I had missed my target by 8 minutes and those minutes were spent trying to refuel.

So my aim when I am racing a marathon is to buffer the endogenous carbohydrate stores that I have through the consumption of gels, in my case those from TORQ Fitness.

My plan in London this year is to take six gels during the race – one every 30 minutes – to keep the depletion of muscle glycogen stores to a minimum and to give the ‘wall’ a miss altogether. I would say that for most runners who are trying to race the best they can, a similar strategy will be beneficial.

Do as he says, not as I do

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by my coach Nick Anderson, to a group of runners from my club, the Mornington Chasers. The subject of the talk was rather wide-ranging and essentially boiled down to…

Ways to be the best runner you can be

As usual, Nick got stuck in to some pretty specific advice. And I took absolutely none of it on board. It was almost comical.

Amongst other things and in no particular order, Nick gave the following advice:

  • Hydrate well – I had probably drunk a pint of water all day and that evening drank almost exclusively fruit juice!
  • Eat properly – the Chasers had organised a some lovely food, but I actually ate some chips, some pizza and a couple of handfuls of peanuts. Nick told us clearly in that what we had eaten was not enough – that it was a snack and not dinner – but by the time I had cycled home it was nearly 11pm and I was tired. So I had two small bread rolls with feta cheese and a chocolate mousse. Brilliant!
  • Eat within 5 minutes of finishing your run/session – I had been for a pre-breakfast run at 7am but when I got back it was at least an hour before I managed to eat anything. Then the first thing to pass my lips was a cup of tea.
  • Sleep well – Nick talked about the fact that our bodies enter the phase where we are really repairing the damage from training after four hours sleep. I got to bed around midnight and was up at 5am… so that would be one solitary hour in the recovery sleep phase then.
pizza chips
A runners dinner? It is if you’re an idiot.

To top all that off, I went out today to meet a trail race organiser to learn about how to put on a good off-road event (it was a brilliant day and there will be a report on here very soon). By 2pm I was freezing cold – having spent almost 3 hours walking and running around the course with the organiser and a photographer, leaping in and out of puddles to get the perfect shot – and I had not eaten anything since 8am when I had feasted on just 2 slices of toast.

Life gets in the way of perfect training for most of us. But that is no excuse for being an idiot.

Like many people, I suspect, I allow the pressure of life and work to take over. But that is a choice I make. I can always make different choices if I want.

I could have taken a Tupperware box with a homemade pasta salad to the talk last night and done the same for the day out today. I could have ordered two pints of tapwater at the bar last night instead of orange juice. I could have made a sensible decision about not trying to go for a run before leaving to catch my train to meet the trail race director, which might have afforded me an extra couple of hours’ sleep.

What I think happened is that I did not follow my new mantra:

Run the day. Don’t allow the day to run you.

So please, do me a favour. Do not do as I do. Do as Nick says. If you really care about your running and you really genuinely want to be the best runner you can be, plan ahead and make sure you do the right stuff to allow you to eat, drink, recover and sleep well. That way the training will take care of itself and you will arrive at the start line of your race in the best possible shape. Oh and if you remember, can you drop me an email to remind me to do the same? The address is idiot@simonfreeman.co.uk. Thanks!