food for thought

This post on Sarah’s blog has, not surprisingly, generated lotsa lively discussion.  And imma be adding to it over here. 🙂

The gist of it was that there is a possibility that some people may overestimate the amount of fuel they need to take in during runs/races.  My response to that?

In both marathons I finished, I took 4 gels (once at 10k, then every 5 miles…but keep in mind my marathon is in the 3:45-4:00 range)…and never once felt depleted and still felt strong at the end. if it was a result of being properly fueled, it’s worth it.

While I had no issue with the post in general, this comment-which kind of  looked like it was pointed to me and what I had said in mine-sorta rubbed me the wrong way. (sorry, Laura!)

But why would you want to finish a marathon feeling strong? To me that makes no sense. I want it to get tough so I can push through it and feel really accomplished, and I want to know that I put it all out there. If you finish feeling great, that just meant you should have run harder earlier (or not eaten as much along the way).

So I guess according to that logic, both of my marathon times need to be asterisked, as they are both “PowerGel-aided times” and not truly legitimate.   And why would you want to finish a marathon feeling like you’re gonna bonk, if you haven’t already?  And what’s wrong with going out easier and picking up the pace…don’t most coaches encourage negative splits?

Oh, and I had more to say.

I should also probably clarify that when I run marathons (and other races too,) I don’t run them “just to finish.” I run for time, I want to finish in the best time possible for me. And in order to achieve that, I have to make sure that I am fueled enough, because bonking in the last 10K will mean that I will have to kiss my time goal goodbye. I’m going for a BQ in Chicago and it could be a situation where even seconds matter-why risk being under-fueled and missing my goal?

To elaborate on that point even more.  I was going for time goals in NYCM 2006 and 2008 (sub-4 and sub-3:45, respectively.)  And in the last few miles of the race, I knew it was going to be really close.  I was grateful that I was properly fueled enough to be able to pick up the pace-not to mention pacing smartly too-as if I had crashed in the last 10K I definitely would not have gotten my goal either time.  (And for what it’s worth-I did leave all it out on the course.  Both times.  I was all too happy to stop running when I crossed the finish line!!)

Another example-last year at NYCM a good friend of mine made the mistake of not taking enough fluids early in the marathon and by the time he was thirsty, it was too late as hydration has to come before you feel thirsty.  Unfortunately, that race-day error led to him missing his time goal (and it wasn’t training-related as he is a very accomplished runner and his training was impressive!)

As I said before-going for a BQ in Chicago could be a situation where it’s really close, that it could come down to mere seconds.  If I do everything right on race day and still don’t make it-well, I’ll be disappointed, but will just have to accept that I don’t have a 3:40 marathon in me.  If I don’t make it because of being underfueled-I would be angry at myself for missing my goal due to something totally preventable…why risk it?

Hell, even a coupla elites agree with my thinking 🙂

Kara Goucher converted to the marathon after competing in track at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She placed third in her 2008 New York City debut and third at Boston in 2009. Her biggest struggle?

“Nutrition while racing,” she said. “I thought I practiced enough, and then on race day twice, I had not practiced it enough.”


Dathan Ritzenhein’s four marathons include the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he led the US with a ninth-place finish. In 2009, he ran personal best at the London Marathon (2:10.00) but his biggest lesson came from his 2006 New York City debut.

“I completely ran out of energy,” he said. “I went from a 2:10 [finish] pace to 2:14 and it all happened, really, in the last mile. I’ve never had a feeling quite like that.

“I totally underestimated how much fuel you need. I think I took in maybe a total of 200-300 calories and only drank maybe four ounces at each of the 5K bottle stations along the way.”

Since then, Ritzenhein has consciously increased his intake during the race. “Now I probably take in way more than anybody else in the elite [field]. I take up to 1,000 calories by dissolving gel packets in the bottles or just taking them straight out on the course. I try to drink more fluid, like six ounces at every 5K mark. I also try to drink in between [the elite water stops], at the other ones on the course.”

Ritzenhein’s advice: Find out what works for you and rehearse it. “It’s something I definitely practice a whole lot – even in shorter, faster workouts where I don’t even need that amount of fuel.”

And if fueling in races is no big deal…then why was it a big deal that the “B” qualifiers at the 2008 Men’s Marathon Olympic Trials didn’t get “elite fluid stations” like the “A” qualifiers did?

(And yeah I know some of you will say that elites are completely different animals than the rest of us…but don’t forget, they are just like us too!  🙂 )

So what’s the point that I’m trying to make…oh yeah, the marathon times of fat pigs like myself who take in 4 gels should be as legit as those who are able to get by on only 1 gel or none at all. 😛  Practice makes perfect on race day when it comes to nutrition and other race-day strategies!!  As I am going to do this weekend at the 18-Mile Tune Up race.  I will not be racing it, but frontloading beforehand by running to the start (2-3 miles) then use the race as a long run.  I know a lot of people aren’t crazy about 3 loops of the park but I’ve actually grown to like this race!  As long as you use restraint, it’s a great way to practice race-day pacing (some miles at MP, perhaps?), race-day nutrition, and having the water and Gatorade tables help me practice the “grab and go” method with fluids.  And I will also be rehearsing the race-day outfit too…gonna be a little different than years past!  Stay tuned… 🙂


14 thoughts on “food for thought

  1. Wow – what an interesting post and commentary. For me, and that is of course the only marathoner that I can speak intelligently about – I view the 26.2 mile gauntlet as the “test”. I work hard in my training to race that distance the very best that I can that day in those conditions on that course.

    I’m only racing two things on that morning. Myself and the time goal I have established.

    I don’t run in old shoes to prove how tough I am, or go without bodyglide to “test my resolve”. I prepare, eat right, hydrate according to my plan and ingest what I believe are the proper nutrients to allow me to race commensurate with my abilities and training.

    Racing a marathon (racing and finishing are different things in my view), is hard enough. I don’t feel like I need to add to that challenge to “test myself” – the time to test yourself is during training and preparation.

    On race day it is time to celebrate that training and let it all hang out. If you need one gel per 5K or 4, 2 ounces of water or 6, I say load up and keep that engine running as smoothly and well maintained as possible.

    That final 10K is test enough for any of us.

    Happy running!

  2. When I started marathon running, energy gels didn’t exist – in my first marathon (New York) the spectators were handing out slices of orange. That kept me going!

    Actually for most of us finishing the 26.2 miles without hitting the wall is a major achievement. I find a lot of stuff on marathon training works great for the elite runner, but does not necessarily apply to the other 95% of marathon participants.

    Check for some good solid marathon training tips and advice.

  3. Those four, 100-calories gels you take will absolutely make you a fat runner. Ahem. You know, I’m not a marathoner, and I didn’t intend to direct that post at marathoners, although that might not really matter in the long run (snap). I think whatever has a positive effect on your body is what you should do. What I reject is the notion, somewhat based in biology and taken to town by the companies that benefit from such thinking, is that you must replenish calories on a run or you gonna die. I think it’s silly, I think it intimidates beginning runners, I think it leads to those silly gel packs lying on the ground after 5Ks, and, yeah, maybe unneeded sugar consumption (although I really don’t care about sugar consumption besides my own). I do think a lot of runners, particularly those on the small side who straight up don’t burn as much energy during a run, overestimate how much energy they need, and…I dunno. It bugs me. That’s why we blog, to discuss things that bug us, correct?

    In any case, the marathon you run will be entirely faster than the one I don’t run. Bon appetit.

    • you mean that the 2600 calories I burn during a marathon won’t cancel out the 400 calories worth of gels? boo.

      Yep-I know the post wasnt targeted at marathoners, but not surprisingly the comments seemed to start to tangent towards it. And like I said, I really had no problem with your post in general. And if I couldnt blog about stuff that bugged me I’d be out of material. (ok, maybe not.)

      For what it’s worth…when I first started running, and running long, I learned from experience when I needed to replenish-not based on what a label said. I guess thats what it comes down to? Experience and proper education?

      And wouldnt you know it-what delivery from Running Warehouse showed up for me today? A 24-pack of tangerine flavored PowerGel. Booyah. 🙂

  4. I totally agree with the nutrition factor.

    At the Queens half (an extremely hot day) a friend and I ran. She is faster than me but does not hydrate or fuel. At about mile 8 she had to start walking and walked/ran the rest. I ran most of it and finished before her (like 10 minutes! her half-marathon times have been about 25 min faster than mine to give you an idea). I was tired that day but that was it. She was dizzy and unwell the whole week, was not able to continue training, and went downhill. To me, although most runs are not in that extreme heat, this just magnified the consequences of fuel/nutrition vs non-nutrition.

    But I see this over and over in the longer runs – in the end, a lot of people are walking and I am feeling strong and pass them. I am not faster than they are at all usually, but I am still strong.

    I also want to address the feeling strong er, feeling. I want to feel strong at the end because when I am strong I can give 110%, push it when I need to, etc. I do end with a feeling I left my guts out there and have had to stagger to sit after runs but if I’ve also had times when I did not feel strong and could not push myself and had to walk even though I wanted to PR.

    The other thing is one person can do 10 miles in one hour and for some it can take closer to 1:30 or even 2h and our nutritional needs will be different (as in before one hour, I think one does not need nutrition). If the pace you are running is very easy for you, even if you are running long, you may not need to fuel, if you are pushing the pace – for you – you may need to. It’s very individual – I don’t think we can look at someone and decide whether or not they should fuel or not.

  5. I suppose I understand Sara’s point, to some degree, in that I see people doing 5Ks or 10Ks loaded with enough gear, food and water to run a marathon, which is over kill. Plus, runners have various goals for they are trying to accomplish from running or racing.

    But Fly Girl, you have it right, when we are racing; we need to take in the proper amount of nutrition to allows us to perform at our best, from start to finish. I would never (well at least not on purpose) arrive at the start line without a full tank and I am going to attempt to take in enough calories to be able to perform at my best all through the race. And a strong finish with no late race or post race blow up is the right and health choice.

    According to my logic, I’d put an asterisk next to the races where I failed to properly hydrate or fuel, not the ones where I followed a good overall race plan.

    Good luck this weekend, I think that using a race for race-day pacing and practice is a great idea. Drinking, fuel, outfit, race day jitters – all are helped by practice.

    Having run three Chicagos, my advice on your Race-Day Outfit, have three – because you can get almost anything on October 10th.

    Now, go get the BQ!

  6. My two cents here,in 20 years I ran 14 marathons,2 a year between 02-05 and never took gel,goo etc and still managed to run 8 sub 3 hours 26.2s.
    As I’ve said countless times “running is not one size fits all”what works for one runner may not work for another,I always think back to an old Runners World article about embarresing running stories where one runner w/ a loaded fuel belt felt his shorts fall down at the start of a race and fell over his shorts as the race started!!!
    Good thinking on the “grab and go” technique this weekend,I can’t tell you the number of marathons I looked like Popeye because I got Gatorade in the eye instead of in the mouth!!
    Good luck this weekend

  7. I always run with water. Read: always. Sometimes when I’m at the 5k race it’s really a run within a run and I’ve run 5m there and will run say 5 miles home. Can I have water for a half marathon? Sometimes I wear a fuel belt because I need to carry a bunch of crap with me and figure, hell, throw on the water. I have def felt judged at a shorter race that I’m fitting in.

    I guess my point is, don’t judge. I always used to be annoyed by people flying past me on the trails, now I think, whatever this is my recovery run, maybe it’s their tempo.

    I happen to fuel 1x an hour for the most part. mostly with gels for convinience but sometimes with bars, bananas, oranges, etc. I am hypoglycemic and need the extra hydration/food to not feel super light headed. While I agree it’s an interesting debate, I’m cool with it until the judging begins 🙂

    • And you know what drives me crazy? when I see people on message boards telling people “oh there are going to be a ton of water/sports drink stations, you shouldn’t use a fuel belt.” Umm…ever consider that maybe the sports drink on the course may not work for the person? or that they trained with something else and “nothing new on race day”

      Just recently I was joking around with a teammate of mine and said that he doesn’t need to wear the fuel belt in short races. He left it off for a recent 5K and placed in his AG and credited it to my advice 🙂 However, he says he does utilize the fuel belt as a way to bypass baggage check at races-which I guess is similar to your thinking!

  8. Good discussion. I completely bonked at Boston and I am pretty sure it was from starting out too fast and not being well fueled/hydrated. I am a minimalist during training runs, but 26.2 scares the shit out of me so I will be prepared with many GU and Gatorade come November 7 🙂

  9. Eek! Sorry to have rubbed you the wrong way. I definitely want to emphasize that “YMMV” at the end of the post – that was my attempt to note that my opinions really weren’t meant to be offensive at all.

    Also, I should note that your PR is still 5 minutes faster than mine… so my “leaving it all out there” isn’t that great! Hehe 🙂 Apologies again!

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