So, you’ve signed up for a marathon. It’s a gruelling test of your physical and mental strength. Early starts, miles upon miles, most of your free time, and perhaps even social sacrifice. It’s a big deal. Especially for first timers.
But when you’re being cheered on by those crowds, experiencing the high, and achieving something you never though you could, it will be well worth it.
But there’s a lot more you need to be mindful off when tackling the 26.2 miles compared to other distances. So Hussle’s here to help out.
A fancy term for running out of energy. Something all marathon runners need to watch is their glycogen stores. When these are completely run out is when you’re at risk of hitting the wall.
Your body uses a mixture of carbohydrates and fats to fuel itself when running. The easiest thing to convert into energy is the carbs, which is stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. Our glycogen stores have a limited capacity and once we’ve depleted them, our body turns to its fat reserves for energy. The problem is, fat is much less efficient as an energy source. So when we run out of glycogen, we slow down. Therefore, keeping these topped up is of key interest to long distance runners.
It depends on your pace but on average, after about 90 minutes of exercises, our glycogen stores will be running low. By two hours, they’re pretty much gone. Make sure to top up before this because carbohydrate absorption is not immediate.
The problem is, the body can only absorb 60g of carbs per hour but will burn up to 180g per hour. There’s no way you’ll be able to offset all energy consumption by refuelling with sports drinks and gels throughout the race. But you should try.
For context, 60g of carbs is approximately 3 gels or two bottles of Lucozade. And that’s a lot to be taking on whilst running.
There’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to fuelling during a marathon. Some people feel fatigue quickly and can stomach endless sports drinks and gels. Others feel it coming but make do with one or two gels in total as they can’t stomach much more. Others seem to never hit the wall and can manage off a swig or two of Lucozade and half a banana.
The only way to know is to practice. This is where your training runs are handy. Practice your refuelling strategy. Try gels. Bananas. Sports drinks. Start with two per hour after the first 60 minutes. Increase and decrease as you see fit.
Nothing new on race day
If you’re part of a running community or have even just spoken to a runner, you will have heard this before. Again, for complete clarity. Nothing. New. On. Race Day. There are no ifs, no buts, no maybes.
Make sure you have practised with everything you are going to eat, drink or wear in advance. Whether it’s a new pair of running leggings, a new brand of gel, or even new underwear. If you haven’t used it during a training run. Don’t use it on marathon day.
You only need to ask around to hear horror stories of third-degree chaffing, sensitive stomachs and painful blisters to know why this is the golden rule.
The deal on carb-loading
For some people, carb-loading is motivation enough to take on a marathon. A requirement to eat more of our favourite foods? Yeah okay.
But carb-loading isn’t as glamorous as an all you can eat approach to pasta, pizza and bread. There’s a science behind it and a definite risk of overdoing it.
What you’re trying to achieve, is getting your glycogen stores up to maximum capacity ahead of the race so that you use your energy is the most efficient way on the day.
In the two to three days prior to the marathon, aim to a carb intake of around 4-5 grams per pound of body weight. Your calorie intake doesn’t need to increase, just proportion of these calories that are carbs does. For example, a 160lb male would need around 720g of carb in the days leading up to the marathon. It sounds a lot of pasta for one person, but don’t forget that lots of food have carbs in and will help to make up this total.
Believe it or not, running less is a key part of your training that should not be ignored. After all the hard work is done and your miles have been hit, you want to make sure your legs are as fresh as possible before the big day. You need to be rid of any tightness, niggles or aches to make sure you can get through the day as easily as possible. Don’t neglect the taper.
You’ll finish your longest run approximately three weeks before the marathon. In the following weekends you’ll reduce the distance of your longest run.