Mid-marathon nutrition

Hi all,

I'm training for a marathon and I'm trying to work out my optimum nutrition strategy. For example, will I take gels, how often, how much water should I drink etc? I had a 16-miler on sunday and used 3 gels. The last few miles were really tough and I don't think I took on enough water either as I was quite dehydrated. It resulted in me having to go lie down when I got home, as I felt pretty bad. Is there a good nutrition strategy where you dont completely run out of energy and don't get a stich either or does each person have to work it out for themselves?

I'm concerned about getting a stich as well if i consume too much en route. Its my first marathon and Ive never run a distance that required me to take on energy/fluids. Also, when you're taking on water, do you stop to drink or drink on the run? A friend of mine suggested stopping as he says he gets a stich if he drinks on the run. But I'm worried, if I stop, it may be difficult to get going again, especially in the last few miles. 


  • Interested re the 3 gels in 16 miles - that does seem a lot to me based on the fact I would have nothing if running 10-13 miles and so I might take one around 10 miles for a 16 miler.

    Try and drink little and often whilst on the run. It just needs practise. A lot depends on pace I suppose. If you are doing a 5 hour  pace then stopping won't do any harm, if you are running at 3 hour pace then it wil definitely be harder to start and you will be conscious of lost time.

  • It is really a case of experimentation to find what works best for you. Try also weighing yourself before/after runs to see how much you are dehydrated by (1 litre water = 1 kg ). As for the rest hard to advise without knowing your fitness and pace. Eg I don't use gels etc on anything under 18 miles as I know I won't need it as it is under 2 1/2 hours. I also drink and take gels on the run in a marathon but not always in training but then I know I can do it in a race so you may want to practise.
    Training for your first marathon is tough so needing a lie down now and then does happen.

  • Thanks for the comments guys. I ran the 16 miler in 2 hrs 20 mins. Im aiming under 4 hours for the marathon (hopefully 3:45!). As you both said, I think its a case of practice. I'm not keen on pausing to drink so I need to get my body used to taking on little amounts of water frequently, and drinking on the run. I'll also have to practice using the gels if Im going to use them in the race.
  • Hmmm. You're training at race pace. Not a good idea. If that's your long run and it's your longest run you should be running about 30-60 seconds slower than your marathon target pace. No wonder you need a lie down.

    Where have you plucked 3:45 from?

    Slow down and take a gel every 30mins after 1.5 hours.

  • As Tim said re pace especially as it's your first marathon training. I am now on my 5th so no expert but marathon pace for next will be 7:30 - today I did 22 miles at 8:10. Other runs speed/tempo/hills etc will give you the speed. Having said that for your first just concentrate on building up your endurance so you know you'll finish. You can worry about doing it faster on the next one (there will be more!)
  • I personally find that eating anything mid-marathon makes no difference. I think that as long as you have eaten well beforehand, all you need during the marathon is one drink of water around the 20 mile mark.
  • I'm actually running at a comfortable pace. When I initially signed up, my target was 4 hours. Then on my long runs, im comfortably running at well under 9 minutes/mile (I wasnt aiming for this. I just wanted to run comfortably, and when I got home and calculated my minutes/mile, it worked out that way). Based on that, I considered lowering my target but since its my first marathon I didnt want to push myself too hard first time out. Thats why I mentioned 3:45, as based on my long runs, this should be achievable. But I understand what you're saying. The reason I may have needed to lie down could have been my pace, but I also think dehydration was an issue. I have an 18-miler scheduled for Sunday and I'll make sure Im not dehydrated and see how I get on. I should know more then.
  • Ok.

    Fuel-wise for a long run I'll eat a bowl of porridge about an hour before a run and a banana about 30mins before.

  • Pauline- when is your marathon?  If you are struggling to run 16 miles at the moment it might mean you're running too fast... It's all good being comfortable running at well under 9min/mile but you will have to keep it going for 26 miles... Have you done any other, shorter races?  It might be a good idea to do a 10k or even better a half marathon before the full one to give you a better idea of what to aim for and make sure you don't go off too fast.

    Re fuelling like the others said- it's all very individual and needs testing.  I have gels during a marathon (one every 5 miles) and sometimes in training, but not up to 16 miles.  I drink water but only when I feel I need it which is not very often as long as it's not boiling hot.  I'd rather be slightly dehydrated (nothing wrong with it) than have too much and have to stop for a toilet.

  • Paulie - I am also training for first marathon (Oct 9 Liverpool)....

    I have run several 20 mile long runs now - the first couple I didn't drink water which was a mistake as I felt very lousy afterwards due to dehydration, like a bad hangover - after that I took water with me, bit of a pain to carry, but felt better for it.The idea is to take on small amounts of water, often - so a small mouthful every mile or so.

    I haven't been taking on any gels in my training, but will try a couple for my last long run this weekend, to see if they work ok with me. I am going to try SIS Go gels as I have used before on 1/2 marathons.  I am planning on taking 4 or 5 along with me on the big day - I am nervous about this wall hitting business. Plan to take every 45 minutes - am hoping to finish in under 3.30.

    You need to get up to 20 miles in your long runs at least once - run slow, use gels or jellybabies or whatever if you need to - but you need you need to increase your distance - and take some water, or leave somewhere so you can have along your route....

  • Im running my first Marathon on October 9th too (Chester)

    I will be running 21 miles this weekend and during my previous training runs, i've just plodded along to get my endurance level up. Time for me was not an issue. I have been putting in some quality speed work sessions during the week.

    I found sipping water on the move works. I hid a bottle of SIS Electrolyte drink at mile 16 which was the best thing I did, as I was starting to run out of water. The SIS Go Gels are great to use and you don't need water to wash it down unlike other gels. Good Luck!

  • Im running the Dublin marathon on 31st Oct.

    My long run plan is to do 18 miles this weekend, then 20 miles next weekend, then cut back to 15, and then 22 miles as my last long run before my taper. Based on your comments, it seems I need to slow down and take on water frequently in small amounts. I probably won't use gels this weekend, as I don't want another thing to worry about. I'll just concentrate on a steady pace and keeping hydrated and fingers crossed I'll feel ok afterwards!

  • sounds like a good plan.
  • I use gels in the marathon at the rate recommended by the makers - this, not surprisingly, is at the top end of what can be tolerated (but obviously is within the possible range: they're not going to win fans by telling people to slurp down so many gels they throw up!).

    That's one every 5k - plus sport drink as well if one which agrees with me is available on race day.

    +, carboload at 10g/kilo of bodyweight/day for 3 days beforehand.

    This is pretty much at the top end of carb intake and is not fun, but I wouldn't do it if it didn't work - I scraped a sub-4 time and my best ever HM was over 1:53.

    So don't dismiss energy gels & sport drink - they help a lot of people perform significantly better than they could otherwise. (To the people who don't use anything in a marathon, I'd say, give a few different types of gel a go - you might find you can go faster for the same effort).

    The VITAL thing is to try it all out in training first! I don't normally use as many gels on long runs - maybe one every 4 or 5 miles, because I have a dodgy tummy & so would have "issues" if I ate a sensible breakfast chiz chiz, I'd use even fewer otherwise.

    But for the last long run or marathon pace run - a gel every 5k and the sort of water or drink I'd have in the race, when it would be available in the race - so come the big day there's one less nasty surprise waiting...

    There's an interesting article here about it:

    The latest thinking is that the carb intake during the race is important because it helps keep the brain working at full tilt to do things like tell *all* of your leg muscles to keep going and to make you "feel" like you can.
  • just noticed a few people have said their first marra is oct 9th, same here! getting excited now image

    in terms of on the day nutrition you're doing the right thing now, that's testing in training and getting people's advice so you'll get it right i'm sure.

    my longest run so far is 20 miles and i've built up to finding that taking 4 gels and water out with me (500 ml) on this run is ideal for me, so...i'm going to take 5 gels with me for the big one and just pick up my water as i go from the stations.

     tip - them gels are great but you do need to drink water along the way, even if it's just to make your mouth feel fresher and of course keep you nicely hydrated.

     It's the running long distances without needing to go the loo that i need to work on now haha.

  • Thanks Fido and Carl. I think the mistake I made last time was to only have the gels and not any water, even though I used the gels that dont need water to wash them down. As you said Carl, I think drinking water as well along the way would have definitely helped. This weekend I wont use gels, but will probably re-introduce them on my next long run.
  • There's lots of stuff on the web about taking on carbohydrates on the run. It's dificult to wade through it.

    General consensus seems to be that you can't absorb more than around 240calories an hour. So you need to take the gels according to time and the amount of calories they contain (2-3 per hour). Taking additional carbs in sports drink at the same time may well be a waste of money/time/effort and you'll end up with digestive problems as your stomach becomes saturated with sugary stuff.

    You can also run into problems drinking too much water. There's some advice earlier about weighing yourself before and after a run but 1litre of water weighs 1kg so you would need some pretty accurate scales to see that. I've not seen any that are repeatable and accurate enough.

    Another part of your long run training is to improve your body's ability to burn fat and to store glycogen. So by taking gels on your training runs your body will be burning the gels and not the fat, although you'll be using around 500 cals an hour running and only absorbing 240 so you'll have to burn fat eventually. I'm not exactly sure of the process of glycogen depletion but the more you use the body will adapt and store more. Again I'm not sure whether taking gels will hinder this at all.

    Again its not an exact science and there's loads of confusing info around so just do what works for you. Probably for a first timer it's far too involved to matter.

    I do most of my long runs with nothing then on the marathon use jelly babies towards the end.

  • So I had an 18-miler yesterday, and took things quite easy and made sure I was running at a very comfortable steady pace. This turned out to be, as I worked out afterwards, about 9 mins 10 secs per mile. I took on little amounts of water at various points and felt fine throughout.

    When I got home, I felt nackered and weak and low on energy so I had a banana, a few jelly babies and about 700ml of water. But about 10 mins later, it all came back up again (sorry if you're eating your lunch!). I didn't feel well at all, still weak, but I tried to eat, but didnt really have an appetite. It was about 2 hours later when I started to feel better and my appetite returned that I had a big meal, and then felt absoultely fine for the rest of the evening.

    I'm not sure why this is happening. On the encouraging side, the run itself felt great and I felt I had a lot more to give. It's when I stop running that the problems start. It could be hydration levels. I drank about 300-400ml of water on the run, which doesnt seem a lot to me over 2 hours 45 mins. The problem I have, which prevents me from drinking more, is that I get stiches easily and I could even feel one threatening about mile 16. I can't really think of any other cause. Maybe I need to increase my carb intake, though I felt I had plenty of energy on the run itself and it was only when I got home that I felt wrecked. Has anybody else experienced this?!

  • Another part of your long run training is to improve your body's ability to burn fat and to store glycogen. So by taking gels on your training runs your body will be burning the gels and not the fat, although you'll be using around 500 cals an hour running and only absorbing 240 so you'll have to burn fat eventually. I'm not exactly sure of the process of glycogen depletion but the more you use the body will adapt and store more. Again I'm not sure whether taking gels will hinder this at all.

    You'll probably be burning 1000kcals or more

  • bannana and jelly babies? nah, get a good recovery drink down you with quality carbs/protein (muscle milk etc)...you need to start the recovery process within 30 mins of your run so a drink like this does the trick cos let's face it the last thing you feel like doing is eating, which is what you're body has just told you by puking up image give it an hour or so then you'll be ready to have a good carb infused meal down you, happy days! p.s you're always going to feel a bit rough after your long run but even worse if you don't get a good quality/fast acting recovery drink down your neck!

  • Another vote for a recovery drink.  I used to get sick when I first started doing very long runs.  Like you say- I was perfectly fine while running but as soon as I got home I would start feeling nauseous.  I found that having a recovery drink within a few minutes of getting home or even just a banana would help.  It doesn't happen anymore so I guess it was just my gut gettting used to all this shakingimage.
  • Going back to mid-race fueling and gels, I have been thinking about race-day nutrition quite a bit recently because I want to make sure that I give myself every opportunity to nail the target time I want in my next marathon in February next year. I had a hard time in London this year, missing my target time by quite a bit. However I think that was more to do with the heat than anything which I found difficult to deal with and which also had an effect on my race nutrition - basically I got really dehydrated and couldn't swallow the gels I usually use (I've written a bit about the gels I use here: http://simonfreeman.co.uk/2011/09/fuel-on-the-run-sis-go-gel/)

    So for my next race I am hoping for better conditions but I also think that I am going to need to practice taking gels where there are water stations rather than stubbornly sticking to the schedule that I set myself in advance.

    I'm also interested in how people carry their fuel. I start from the championship start at London and I never seem to see anyone carrying gels in a belt or anything in that start pen. What do they do with them? Any thoughts on how to carry gels will be gratefully received!


  • Cheers guys, sounds like I need a good recovery drink, and hopefully that will do the trick. Anybody have any tips on which brand? A friend of mine recommended the SIS one.
  • Treadmill Hater wrote (see)

    You'll probably be burning 1000kcals or more

    Not at 9min/mile. Depending on your weight you may be doing 700 so I'll agree more than 500. The point is that you cannot absorb anywhere near enough from fuelling on the move.

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