Fuelling a marathon
The marathon is a fuel economy run. This is certainly the case for the sub-three-hour brigade, who are running almost entirely on carbohydrate. For those over four hours it is less important, because at a slower pace the body is burning up fat, but even the slower runners will benefit from an energy boost.
I have found that the most effective marathon diet strategy is to follow a low-carbs routine from the Tuesday evening to the Thursday evening. Having run, maybe 6 miles on the Tuesday evening, I then keep the carbs down to a minimum – just a small spoonful of rice or potatoes, and only half a slice of toast at breakfast time. You can eat plenty of protein at this time, and some fruit – but not bananas.
From the Thursday evening to Saturday night you are on the carbo-loading regime, with double helpings of your rice, pasta, potatoes or bread – but not so much as to upset your digestive system.
On the morning of the race you should have your breakfast three hours before the start.
Eat something you are accustomed to. Porridge is very good, but avoid muesli, because it has too much roughage in it and it may cause serious and embarrassing problems halfway through the race. The same goes for prunes. My favourite pre-race breakfast is porridge followed by scrambled egg on toast and a cup of tea. A lot of people take a strong coffee 60-90 minutes before the start. The caffeine will give you a boost and the coffee will also make sure that you go the loo and have a good clear-out before you get onto the start line.
After your marathon breakfast you can put on the racing kit which you have put out the night before, plus a warm layer and outside that a waterproof layer. If there is any chance of it being a warm day, you should be sipping on your Orbana as you progress towards the start, from 90 minutes out to 30 minutes out. This will make sure that you are fully hydrated, and you will probably want to get in the loo queue with 20-30 minutes to go.
Drinking During the Marathon
What about drinking on the run? Neither the Brighton nor the London marathon are likely to be hot, i.e. over 20C, so taking a bit of fluid every 5k should keep you from serious dehydration. The body performs well when it’s slightly dehydrated – something we inherited from our ancestors- so losing a couple of kilos during a marathon is normal.
In coolish weather you might take in about 100ml – a few gulps – at each feeding station, but in warm weather you should be drinking 200-300ml at each feeding station.
It’s important that you drink more than just water – otherwise you might be flushing the salts out of your body and risk hyponatremia. Obviously Orbana is the best, if you can get it. When I was doing the Athens marathon I carried a water bottle and put a sachet of Orbana into it every 10k. If you can’t do that, try to get some energy drink every 5k. It will eliminate the dreaded ‘wall’, which you will hit of you run out of glucose. Once you’ve done it, you won’t do it again!
Go for it!