September 17, 2010

The Marathon: Practising race nutrition

The final chapter in my book Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon is about marathon training, originally a feature I wrote for the September/October 2008 issue of Canadian Running magazine.

One of the two coaches I interviewed about marathon training was Dave Scott-Thomas, head coach for the University of Guelph, who said that a marathoner must practice nutrition during training: “We do a lot of practicing with nutrition. And that goes to me being on the bike when we are doing some long runs with a knapsack full of gels and water bottles and whatnot. We’ve had some sessions where I go and I stash them along the route so the athletes have access to them and I am in my car.

"We found that [one of his athletes] for example wasn’t really adept at taking in water on the run. He swallowed a ton of air. We had to move to different types of water bottles where he didn’t take less air. The fact is that you just don’t need him with a stomach full of air and feeling all gassy while he is running. It sounds simple but we don’t want him out there at 18 miles having to worry about that.

"There were certain types of gels that [another one of his athletes] liked and certain types that he didn’t like and we just learned that by practice, going out for a 22-mile run with a bunch of tempo in it.”

After running 12 marathons (as well as five Ironmans and three ultraruns), of which I've run the past eight between 3hr 07 and 3hr 15, I know my nutrition during the race is crucial. I eat two plain energy bars (I like the vanilla Powerbars) for breakfast at least two hours before the start of the race and also have my regular morning coffee with 750ml of water.

I carry at least 8, sometimes 9 or 10, gels and start taking these 45 minutes after the marathon start. Then I keep having them every 15 minutes. As for hydration, I always have a cup of water at each aid station.

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