Fuelling long runs without gels/powdered drinks

I'm wondering if anyone out there has trained for a marathon without using the various gels on the market?  I'm run/walking the VLM this year and am looking at alternative fuels to gels/powdered drinks and I've tried most of them and they make me feel very sick. 

Anyone actually done it that could give me some advice?



  • gels are fairly new - so lots of people have run marathons without them. 

    Why not use the jelly babies/beans/percy pigs etc ?

    I've run an ultra on jelly beans and foamy bananas. Very enjoyable it was too. And shedloads cheaper than gels. 

  • Thanks Cougie, usually the reaction I get is that you can't possilbly do a marathon without them!  I'll start trying out some sweets on my long runs then, although am a little concerned I may be a little sick of them after a while as I'm expecting it will take me about 6 hours to finish.  Am wondering if something like homemade flapjack might also work if I nibbled it over a period of time (rather than stuffing a whole piece in my face in one go! image)

  • I've rarely ever taken gels, and never during a marathon.

    I sometimes have the Lucozade energy tablets, and jelly babies are always good image


  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭

    I've tried homemade flapjacks/percy pigs/jelly babies and they work fine instead of gels. A friend of mine swears by rolo's as fuel for her marathons.

    This weekend's race was a new experience for me as I craved salty things and coke instead of gels. It worked really well as I had a handful of ready salted crips and a few swigs of coke and I was on my way.

  • Ah, hadn't thought about using savory things too Emily.  That would also help with salt replenishment too I guess; I sweat quite a bit as running's a struggle at the moment.  Might have to think about trying cashews.  Was thinking of using orange juice diluted 50/50 with water for drinking. 

    *whispers*  What are percy pigs?

  • jelly beans are nicer than jelly babaies........if its not hot then white chocolate mice go down well......

    i did have a few lagers at mile 17 of london last year image

  • I do like gels when racing as I find them easy to get down - but on a slower run I dont mind a walking break to take on fuel. Percy Pigs are a bit chewy though, and Sammy Snails just send out the wrong vibe. 

    Tescos jelly beans are very nice. You could use gourmet jelly belly beans, but it'd probably be cheaper having caviar. 

    ShotBloks are quite nice too. 

  • I'm currently training for a 50 mile ultra and have always previously used gels for marathons.  Knowing that I am going to be run / walking for the best part of 9 - 10 hours I have decided to go down the route of 'real food' when running.

    I have so far tried peanut butter sarnies, jam sarnies, sausage rolls, cheesy biscuits, fruit cake, nuts & raisins, the list goes on......  I find I am actually able to carry on running slowly whilst munching away or alternatively take a short walking break to scoff.

    I now find my stomach starts talking to me whilst I'm out on a long run and appreciates having real food inside it instead of gels which can aggravate my stomach.  I do also now take a couple of SIS caffine gels with me just in case I really start flagging.

    Good luck with the training.

  • Wow!  That sounds exactly what I would like to do Liz!  Never would have thought of sausage rolls, although guess they are a good carb source.  I think my stomach will appreciate the real food too, it's not very good at coping once I get hungry which is why I think the gels make me feel ill.  I'm really pleased to know that it's totally possible to have real food and still do a long event.  Am getting rather excited about this weeks long run now so I can try a few suggestions out! image

  • Would a sausage roll cope with marathon running though ? You may have to veer off course and pop into a Greggs en route ?

  • seren nos wrote (see)

    jelly beans are nicer than jelly babaies........if its not hot then white chocolate mice go down well......

    i did have a few lagers at mile 17 of london last year image

    haha - i've still got some fantastic photo's of you from that image

  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭

    I'm helping crew a girl for her 100 miler in March and she's using pizza, jaffa cakes, salted peanuts and jelly babies along the route. It's all about what your stomach craves and what you need along the way. I normally hate coke - but on saturday I was craving it!

    Also... I use tesco/morrison own brand jelly babies/beans and they work just as good

  • i had a pack of salted peanuts in my back pocket for the marathon on an ironman. They'd turned to peanut butter i think by the time i tried to eat them. they didnt like all that running. image


  • i have resal food and salted nuts for ultras but not for marathons when its a case of trying to run as fast as i can

  • Now jaffa cakes sound good!  I'm going to be leaving some stuff with the RW supporters at mile 17, so could pick up a sausage roll and some other bits there.  I'll also have a couple of supporters at other stops, although I realise that I may miss them if they can't get to the front or I'm early going past (not that that's likely! image).  I've got a drinks belt thing too so I won't need to actually put stuff in pockets and am assuming there will be plenty of drinks stations along the way so won't actually need to carry my own water on the day, which will free up space for food. 

    I'm not trying to run fast though Seren, I've got a niggling injury so will be run/walking the whole thing and the only aim is to get across the finish line. image

  • JJ2JJ2 ✭✭✭

    Diluted sports drink- about half strength, with peppermint creams did well for me

  • Only run 2 marathons but never used a gel during race or training
    Jelly babies, chocolate, mini Jaffas yes

  • Done plenty of 20 milers with just water, and raced plenty of marathons with just sports drink provided on route. I find pre run meals to be the far more important factor.
  • I've not done more than HM, but an experienced marathon runner I know swears by marzipan (which starts of rock hard from the fridge and gradually softens as he runs)

  • I think I'd be wary of anything with a high fat content on any kind of run. It might linger in the system longer than you would like and could lead to an off-course diversion! On a more serious note, I reckon it would also slow down the absorption of the "bits" that you do want - the carbs.

    As others have intimated - I guess you have to experiment and just keep a diary of your food combinations and outcomes.

  • Curly45Curly45 ✭✭✭

    I dont fuel at all... perhaps an idea worth thinking about if you are finding gels hard work?

    You need to build up but I can happily run 18 miles with no brekkie and 20+ with a small one 2-3 hours before.

    On race day i may drink some energy drink if its hot, otherwise I probably wont. At race pace I find it hard to digest anything and I find drinking water disrupts my rhythm too so I tend to go without.

  • Good idea about keeping a record of what I've tried Mike.

    Curly, it's going to take me around 6 hours to run/walk the VLM, there is no way in the world I could go that long with nothing inside me, I'd faint at the very least! You must be pretty unique to be able to run that far on nothing.
  • I'm currently marathon training for my 2nd trail marathon and, from experience, in-race nutrition is absolutely critical and my major error in my first one. I took on no food until mile 22 at which point I ate lots of jelly babies and drunk some coke, which were both much needed as I was pretty much spent! I am not keen on gels either but will perhaps try on this occasion. I also like the idea of some nuts or one of the 'Eat Natural' bars perhaps. Keeping a food diary seems sensible. Best of luck!
  • This is really helpful as I've been unsure what to eat as the gels make me sick. Flapjack seems to be a good one but I'm going to try peanuts as I'd much rather have a savoury snack than a sweet one.

  • Long ago, In  my first ever half marathon I'd hit a wall at about 11 miles due to lack of training & the knowledge of what I was in for. I was walking & my dad pulled up in his car, got out & handed me a big slice of rich fruit cake. I wolfed it down as I was ravenous & it was like someone had refilled my energy tank, I ran the last two miles easily. Not sure how you could carry a fruit cake in the VLM though, may be a bit of a mess! image

  • Being a bit lazy as I'm sure I google and find out myself, but what's the advice on when to start eating during a long run? I can do up to half marathon distance reasonably comfortably without taking on any food, but as soon as I hit 14+ miles and particularly over 16 miles my energy levels hit rock bottom. I struggle to eat whilst running so would prefer something lighter than some of the snacks being suggested here (but maybe that's my problem?). I usually go for a few jelly babies but think I'm leaving it a bit too late in the run to start re-fueling.

    Any advice? 

  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    I can usually run up to about 18 miles without needing anything but if running a marathon I'll take a gel at 5,10, 15, 20 miles. I force myself to take the first too even though I don't fancy them at the time but fund that better than making it through to 15 miles and then trying to shovel it all in. I'm not sure my body would cope with such a large sugar rush.
  • V4D wrote (see)

    Flapjack seems to be a good one but I'm going to try peanuts as I'd much rather have a savoury snack than a sweet one.

    I'm going to try a shop bought flapjack on Saturday and then if it goes ok I'm going to make some myself with all sorts of nuts and seeds in and a sprinkling of dried apricots, which hopefully would be a bit less sweet. image


  • Legend777 - I've recently started extending my long runs as part of my marathon training and like you, have never previously felt the need to take on 'fuel' during a run - be it gels or other - with the exception of water for a half marathon. My last long run was 15 miles and beforehand, I spoke to the guys at my local running shop. They recommended to start taking on fuel during my current training runs at about mile 10 - that way I would have a mile or so before the effect started to kick in and so by time I reached mile 12 ish, the effects should start to be seen. They then recommended every five miles ish after that for additional fuel. I did 15 miles on Saturday and used a SIS gel at mile 10 and the last couple of miles certainly felt a little less fatigued (although not sure how much of that was placebo or not, but hey, if it works, it works). They recommended for during the actual marathon race to take on the first bit of fuel at mile 7 and then every 5 mile intervals.

  • I'd go with millsys plan. I do the same but I'll take two extra gels with me - for 25m - but I'd take that sooner if I thought I need it as 25m is too late - and another one spare in case I lose one.

    When training on long runs I have something small to eat every 5 miles. Good to practice remembering to do it every 5.
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