This post is part of an series on all things marathon training. You can find previous Marathon Monday posts here.
Race week has arrived! Thankfully, so did my package of maple bacon GUs from REI.
Race day fueling can make or break your marathon or half marathon. After months of hard work, do you really want to miss your goals because you didn’t plan for how to fuel before and during your marathon?
Thankfully, race day fueling is not complicated. While weight loss and weight gain may be more complex than a simple calories in, calories out equation (you have to factor in issues like body composition, metabolism, quality of calories, exercise, hydration, etc), race day fueling can basically be reduced to a workable equation of calories in and calories out over time.
(Of course, I am simplifying this a bit for the sake of brevity: to really read in-depth about race day fueling, I highly recommend Matt Fitzgerald’s The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition.)
Most people burn about 90-130 calories per mile, depending upon body weight and running efficiency. So, over the course of a marathon, you can assume you will burn anywhere from 2350 to 3400 calories, with a considerable amount of these calories coming from stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and recently consumed carbohydrates. This means that the foods you consume in the days leading up to the race and the carbs you take in during the race will directly impact your ability to fuel your running for 26.2 miles.
Pre-race nutrition begins with carb-loading in the days before the race, when you want to consume up to 70% of your calories from carbohydrates, such as fruit, squash, potatoes, bread, and grains. You may want to cut down on fibrous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli during these days, as to reduce the chances of digestive issues on race day.
Your dinner the night before the race will probably be the last full meal you consume before the race, so you want to make the most of it by eating a meal high in easily digestible carbohydrates and low in protein, fat, and fiber. You want to eat familiar foods that you’ve tried in training and know will not upset your stomach, which will be extra sensitive thanks to race-day nerves. While you want to eat a large amount of carbs at this meal, avoid eating too heavy of a meal, which can cause a poor sleep or slow your digestion, and try to eat earlier in the evening.
Your breakfast the morning before the race should be eaten 2 to 4 hours before the race—the earlier you eat before the race, the more carbohydrates you can take in. Of course, this is highly individualistic; some runners can tolerate more food on their stomach before races than others. Great sources of pre-race carbs include plain bagels, plain white rice, bananas, dry cereal, oatmeal, or toast with jam. Breakfast serves as topping off your carbohydrates stores with some easily digestible carbs.
For mid-race fuel during the marathon, Fitzgerald strongly recommends consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, depending on how many your stomach can tolerate. You can consume these calories through sports drink, gels, chomps, or a combination of these.
What does my marathon race day fueling strategy look like? Please keep in mind that I am a new marathoner, so what I have is based off of research, personal experience from half marathon, and what has worked in my training.
The Night Before:
Boneless, skinless chicken breast, a very large and heavily salted baked russet potato, and roasted squash, with dry rice Chex and a banana as evening snacks. These are gluten free, low fiber, and low-glycemic sources of carbohydrate that will provide me with easily digestible carbohydrates, minimal GI distress, and a steady release of energy. I’m not a fan of large meals before a run, since those can be hard to digest; I’m saving that for my beer, burger, and fries after the marathon!
The Morning of:
2 hours before: Dry rice Chex and a banana. This is what I’ve done in training and it works well for me. Nothing to upset the stomach, but also enough carbs to fuel my run.
15 minutes before: 1 GU.
During the race: 4 GUs, at miles 6, 12, 18, 24, with an extra GU on hand if needed. Once I start a GU, I take a “sip” about every half mile until it’s gone, so each GU usually lasts about 3 miles. Again, my focus here is having a steady stream of energy without any stomach issues. This has worked for me in training really well, so fingers crossed for race day.
As for hydration, I have practiced drinking water every 4 miles on my goal pace runs and long runs, so my plan for the race is to drink water every four miles or according to thirst.
Portland Marathon Training Week 17
Monday: 9 miles on the treadmill, 1% incline: 1 mile warm-up, 6 x 1 mile at half marathon effort (7:35, 7:35, 7:38, 7:40, 7:39, 7:35), 1 mile cool down. I was tired and just not feeling this run, so I kept my pace on the slower end of the prescribed range.
Tuesday: AM: 8 miles easy, 9:09/mile. PM: 30 minutes of strength training (this routine + extra core work).
Wednesday: 12 miles: 1 mile warm-up, 10 miles at goal marathon pace (7:51/mile average) , 1 mile cool down. This was my last workout and last double digit run before the race!
Thursday: 7 easy and hilly miles, 9:25/mile.
Friday: 8 miles easy, 9:02/mile, immediately followed by 20 minutes of recovery yoga.
Saturday: AM: 8 miles on the treadmill, 0.5-1% incline, 8:43/mile. PM: 8 miles of hiking, 1800 foot elevation gain.
Sunday: Rest day.
52 miles running, 8 miles hiking
Questions of the Day:
What’s your race day fueling strategy?
How was your running this week? Did anyone race?
What’s your favorite post-race treat?