Marathon season is in full swing! Many of you have already competed, but countless more have their sights on a fall marathon. Around here, the focus tends to be on the Chicago Marathon in October. Whether the marathon you have chosen will include 500 participants or 5000, there are a few keys performance nutrition tactics you should practice to set that PR come race day...
1. Train your stomach, not just your muscles
A big mistake I see long-distance runners make is forgetting to train their stomachs. Along with putting in those miles, it is important to practice fueling for race day. Race day is not a time to introduce new products (even sports drink), as your stomach may not be used to digesting during running. As soon as your runs become longer than 60 minutes, start adding in quick sources of carbohydrate such as sports drinks, gels, chomps, beans, dried fruit, or pretzels. Experiment with different products so you know what you prefer and what you tolerate both at the beginning and toward the end of those long runs.
2. Know the course
While it is important to know the running course, you also need to educate yourself about the aid stations. Most (and by that I mean 99%) marathon races have the course map on the website. That course map will either include the aid stations or provide a different map of just aid stations. Know what will be handed out where. Most marathons offer water and sports drink every 1.5 miles or so, but may add bananas or gu's/gels in the second half. Know what is available where so you can train appropriately. Are they handing out a sports drink you have never tried before? Go out and buy some so you can train with it - you never know whether or not you will tolerate it.
3. Frontload fuel
A key to marathon fueling is starting sooner rather than later. Any of you who have run a marathon before are familiar with that "22-mile wall"...it's that feeling you get somewhere between miles 19 and 23 when your body says "are you done yet?". Hitting the wall often means you have little motivation to provide fluid and fuel to your body anymore. Therefore, make sure you will be covered by starting fueling (i.e. something more than water) within the first 30 min into the race and then consistently every 30 minutes after that. This will also assure that your muscles have energy to get you through the ENTIRE race. This means better mile times and hitting that wall later rather than sooner.
4. Have a plan
Once you have checked out the aid stations and begun to train your stomach, start devising your fueling plan. This is perhaps the most important thing you will bring to race day. Decide what product(s) you will take at what mile markers. Will you use a fuel belt? If so, what will you carry? Will you take from the aid stations? If so, do you know what flavors of products they have and if you like those flavors? These are all important questions that should be answered weeks beforehand instead of as you are approaching that aid station on race day.
5. Commit daily
While it is important to plan for the race day itself, much of your success depends on your commitment to your intake on a daily basis. Poor fueling will lead to poor recovery, muscle breakdown, and ineffective training sessions. Make sure you are covering for all of those calories you are burning during training. That means eating at least every 4 hours during the day and fueling during your runs as well. Feel like you're eating all of the time? Good! That's a common feeling and often means you are doing things right. Not sure what you should be eating daily? Meet with a RD, CSSD who can help you come up with a fueling plan perfect for your needs and goals.