Fueling your body for running
One of the biggest challenges for runners is what is the best way for fueling your body for running performance.
We have succeeded and we have failed in this sport.
The times I have succeeded and pretty drastically stemmed from one training trick that far too many of us neglect, taking in more fluid and calories.
This post is probably the most important bit of information that I have shared yet for runners and visitors to the site.
Afraid to fail?
I have failed miserably in the past at the 26.2 mile distance because I failed to take in enough water and calories.
I was paying enough attention to running fueling.
I would be delusional if I were to write about successes on this site and not discuss the many mistakes that I have made in my own races.
I remember the things I did right when I broke 2.20 and nearly broke 1.07 for the half-marathon and have to try to help runners steer in the right direction to accomplish their goals as well.
My first marathon
My first marathon was the 2002 New York City Marathon and what plagued me in my first marathon has continued to follow me the past few times I have raced the distance. A 5K is a challenge, a marathon is a different animal.
I touched on many of the troubled areas of past marathons that should have been far faster efforts and even more detail in Debut Marathon. What I Learned From My First 26.2.
I have continually been too concerned with taking in too much water/sports drink with the misconception that too much fluid equals cramps and too much contents within the stomach.
You must drink
Food for thought…don’t believe this misconception.
My best races were run when I took in not only additional fluid, but more sugars. The opposite forced me to realize that I was making serious mistakes in my marathon efforts.
The marathon is a complex event and being a sub-2.20.00 marathoner doesn’t guarantee back-to-back perfect races.
This is important. I have been on sub-2.20 marathon pace various times for up to 18-20 miles in past marathons and didn’t make the cut by the finish line. I could have prevented this.
The problem has been that I didn’t take fuel consumption as seriously as I should. In turn, I drastically slowed down and didn’t run remotely close to my capability.
Have you been there?
What I am trying to say is it isn’t what you do the first 10 miles of the race. It doesn’t matter how fast you go through the 10 mile mark in. What counts is if you are able to hold the same pace by not neglecting the calorie intake.
The public, your friends and family only see the finish time, but the many little successes we achieve during the classic distance many miss.
Anyone can run 20 miles. It’s the next six that count. – Barry Magee
The term ‘hitting the wall‘ is not only reserved for distance runners. I have seen it in triathlons, cycling and numerous endurance-based sporting events. It simply means running out of sugars or glycogen and muscle functioning shutdown. Wikipedia says it this way
A typical untrained individual on an average diet is able to store about 380 grams of glycogen, or about 1800 calories in the body, though much of that amount is spread throughout the muscular system and may not be available for any specific type of exercise. Intense cycling or running can easily consume 600-800 or more kcal per hour. Unless glycogen stores are replenished during exercise, glycogen stores in such an individual will be depleted after less than 2 hours of continuous cycling or 15 miles (24 km) of running. Training and carbohydrate loading can raise these reserves as high as 880 g (3600 kcal), correspondingly raising the potential for uninterrupted exercise.
Lets look at a classic example of what happens to athletes who do not lose the motivation to race, but do lose the vital sugars needed in the body to maintain exercise intensity.
Obviously, drinking the proper amount of fluid, consuming enough calories mid race i.e. gels, sports drinks are important for all race distances, the further you race the more important fuel intake is.
Failure to intake the proper amount of fuel can cost you and undermine months of hard work.
People have expectations
I have personally dealt with this experience (hitting the wall) far too many times and have dealt with criticism for not having met faster marathon performances. Coach Joe Newton, one of the most accomplished high school distance running coaches put it beautifully
The more successful you are, the harder it is because other people have expectations for you and with those expectations the bar gets higher and higher, you run a descent race and they say ‘what the hell happened’. They expect you to break the world-record every time you race. – Joe Newton
What coach Newton says is so true.
Remember, do what you love doing..run your best and if you have a bad race or you miss your goal you should never feel as though you are less of an athlete because you didn’t reach it…just keep fighting until you get it!
Needless to say, it isn’t about living up to what other people want from you but learning from your mistakes and training your tail off until you bring your dream to fruition. Forget the negative comments and hone in on what you can control.
We all grow tired
In 2010 I was burned out, tired of trying so hard and not getting results. This didn’t stem from improper fuel intake during my races, but all my hard work and dedication seemed for not.
I was caught up in expectations demanded of me by the elite military unit I was in, had run repeated marathons in attempting to earn the 2012 Olympic Marathon standard of 2.19.00 and simply was losing the joy of an activity I had loved since I was 15 years old.
I want you to maximize your ability, not sabotage it by doing something you can control.
How many times have we all fell short of our capability by losing sight of something as in our control as drinking enough during our races?
The marathon is an art; the marathoner is an artist. – Kiyoshi Nakamura
What I Have To Say About NOT Fueling Properly. A Few Notes On The Consequences
- Improper calorie consumption=severely diminished athletic performance.
This is a no-brainer. There are multiple articles written on this across the internet about this.
Pay attention to calorie intake
You have to take in enough calories. You can have all the motivation in the world, but fail to do this…you lose.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Fail.
- I have had two marathons over 3 hours which (for me) is horrible. If you are a 3.30 marathoner and you go out and run a 4.30 marathon..something is wrong. You lose that much time by walking and failing to consume what you should. Learn from it.
A 2.19 marathoner going out running a 3+hr marathon…something is wrong.
I can relate to say the least.
Your best races will come from knowing and adjusting what derailed your last.
- Bad Performances Should Never Diminish Your Passion.
It is fine to feel bad about performing less to your standard, but feel bad for an hour, then let it go. Nothing can be done about that effort.
- Spend Less Time Dwelling On A Poor Performance and Immediately Start Envisioning What You Can Do In Your Next Effort.
I didn’t ‘get it’ in regards to this until 2011.
I had numerous marathon efforts where all I had to do was drink more and tweak my training. That was it. Adjust the most important thing, your thoughts and ignore the rest of the meaningless BS that won’t help you anyway.
Proper Fuel Consumption
- Do NOT Believe The Misconception That You May Feel Too Bogged Down By Drinking During Your Race
Think of it this way. How would you rather feel..a bit too full during your race or on the side of the curb totally out of energy? I can assure you the former is the much better way to go.
- Take In About 5-8 Ounces Of Fluid Every 20 Minutes or 5K
I started to practice this more often and began to run better times because of it. You can sit out water bottles on the road every 3 miles during your long runs.
If you have to stop briefly to pick them up..so be it..but practice and I think you’ll notice how much stronger you finish because you didn’t pass it up. I have run numerous marathons where I probably drank the equivalent of an 8 ounce bottle of fluid for the entire 26.2 mile distance.
This is far too little and I dearly payed for it. Remember, all they see is the finish time. Correct your racing flaws and derail diminished race times in the process.
Take A Gel
The great thing about taking a gel is it is easily absorbed and gets into your bloodstream relatively quick. You take in about 100-125 calories immediately, whereas to take in the same amount via a sports drink you would have to take down an entire bottle.
If you take in 5 Gels during your marathon that is anywhere from 500 to 600 calories that can assist you along the course of the event. Fueling alone is not the only route to running a faster time.
Obviously, you have to train in a way where you will be using more fat as fuel, rather then carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are quickly burned up. Your body has more than enough fat stored up to last many marathons, but far too often we rely on carbohydrate as our main fuel source and don’t train to burn fat. You do the latter and you will last far longer in your future races.
You can train your body to do this by reviewing A Proven Training Technique That WILL Get You Racing Results
- Grab Two Cups Instead Of One At Each Aid Station
Those little cups are not composed of a lot of fluid. Grabbing two guarantees you a better chance of consuming the proper amount of water or sports drink.
Failing to grab one at all will send you directly to the hurt locker…don’t do that!
Listen Carefully To What Your Body Is Telling You
I say this mainly because you know your body better than anyone.
8 ounces every 3 miles may pay enormous dividends in overall finish time for me, but 4 ounces may work best for you.
The point is. Drink enough and often. I can not stress to you enough the importance of this. I have had various 2.30-40’s-type efforts that very easily could have resulted in sub 2.20-30 times solely by not neglecting this.
I hit the 20-mile mark in the 2009 California International Marathon in 1.50 (2.22 pace) and ended up running 2.36.29. What happened?
Be weary of how much
One, I failed miserably by not drinking enough early on in the race. Two, I was walking and jogging by mile 21 and continued this to the finish line.
Remember, the finish time is all that counts. What people fail to realize is that there are many little races in a marathon and unfortunately, all people see is the end time.
You could set personal bests in every 5K split en route, set a new personal best for 10, 20 or 30 miles and spend your last miles walking missing your goal.
- Don’t Defend Bad Performances, Embrace Them
Learn from failure
You don’t have to accept the performance, but you do have control of how you handle it. I had numerous marathons where I fell short and learned the most from my failures. Successes don’t teach you nearly as much as a failure can.
I was proud of how I finished the last two marathons I ran. I was pushing so hard to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials from 2008 all the way to December of 2011.
Numerous individuals from my professional coach to teammates thought I should have earned it long ago but like my friend, 2.17 marathoner and two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, Michael Wardian put it,
Nate, it is what it is, you and I both know the marathon doesn’t work like that. You have ups and downs..the point is to keep going until you get what you want.
I dealt with a porta john stop at mile 18 and was fighting through glycogen depletion the last 5 miles badly but finished and in an all-out sprint to hold 5th place. It was a great way to finish after many failed attempts and nailing (for me) a fast marathon time.
I felt more accomplished with that run then with the 2.19.35 I ran in December of 2007. Keep fighting. Enforce your standards for fueling in your future racing. I truly hope some of what I have written here you can take with you to the starting line, wherever that may be. Go get it your goal.
In closing, do all the other things that also will pay your efforts forward. Proper sleep and training at your determined goal pace. It is also what you do the other hours of the day that will keep you fired up, confident and producing new personal bests.
Lastly, stay healthy mentally and physically. You will quickly lose heart and the joy of doing this by taking every little detail too seriously. It isn’t worth it. You have all the potential in the world to accomplish anything in this sport but you have to enjoy it. You are in control, always remember that.