The median marathon finish time in 2010 for a man was 4:16:14 seconds and 4:42:10 for women. This is a LONG time compared to the average elite finish time of just over 2 hours. The average runner is out there longer and needs to be MORE aware of his or her nutritional and water needs.
What and when you should eat during a marathon is unique to each runner. The only thing that remains the same across the board is that you with out a doubt NEED to eat and drink during a marathon.
After 17 marathons this is what I have found works for me. It took years for me to figure this out. It may work for you, it may not.
I have a gluten sensitivity and am lactose intolerant. I have been aware of the lactose intolerance for years but only learned/figured out my gluten sensitivity this year.
I eat Clif Shot Bloks during the race starting between mile 4 and mile 5. I drink water each time I eat them. They are only digested in the presence of water. Don’t drink any and your body will pull water from other areas. This quickly starts the dehydration process.
Clif Shot Bloks and other such chews can feel huge when you are tired during the marathon. Even the simple act of eating them can seem cumbersome when you are at mile 20. I chop my bloks up pre-race. They will be extra sticky which means that they will stick to my fingers when I go to get them out of my handheld water bottle. This means eating them is even easier and ensures that I won’t just eat a couple of bloks at one time but will slowly pace my nutrition intake over the course of the whole marathon.
At the very end of the race – mile 20 and beyond, I eat PowerBar Energy Blasts. They have a liquid center and this seems to help give me an extra little kick of energy in the last painful miles. These have whey in them, a by product of milk, so if I eat them any earlier than mile 20 my stomach starts to hurt. I’m not concerned with how I feel post race – I just want the energy to finish the last miles strong.
I carry my water in a handheld Nathan Water bottle carrier. I put all of the chews in the pocket first and then the cut up Shot Bloks on top. I used to toss my water bottle at mile 20 but lately have found that I still need water in the later miles. At Columbus Marathon I carried it the entire 26.2 race. I drink from the first mile on.
Does my arm get tired? Yes. I train with water to help build up the muscles in my arms, but I still get tired of carrying it at the end of a marathon. For me being properly hydrated and not hitting the wall is more important than not being annoyed by my water bottle.
Do you ever toss your water bottle? Yes. In many a race I have used the water bottle for the first 1/2 of my race and then tossed it to the side when it ran out of water. Avoiding the first typically over crowded water stops helps. I stick to the center of the road and bypass everyone stopping. This has helped me lower my marathon times, simply by not slowing down in the beginning.
Have you ever tried a waist water bottle carrier? Yes, lots of them. I don’t like them. I have had ones that bounce too much causing chaffing on my back. I’ve had others bruise my back in the center. The main reason I don’t like them is because they make my stomach hurt. It doesn’t matter how the weight is distributed it still hurts.
Have you tried a water carrier you wear on your back? Yes. Don’t care for them either, though I think in an ultra marathon you either need water on your back or two handheld carriers. The back carriers hurt my back and shoulders. When you are tired in a marathon you need your back and shoulders to stand tall. When your back/shoulders start to hurt, your form suffers and you slow down.
Have you tried other gels, bloks, other nutrition items during races? I have tried it all. Well not literally it all, but almost all. One year I ever fueled with gummy bears. My fastest races have been run with the combination I run with now. This works for me so I am sticking with it.
My current favorite flavors are: Margarita Shot Bloks (3x Sodium) and Raspberry PowerBar Energy Blasts.
Any more race day nutrition or water questions?