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?


  1. sweatpassionandtears says:

    This is very helpful, thank you!

    I've read that a runner can drink TOO much water during a marathon. How do you know how much is too much?

  2. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    Yes you absolutely can overdrink. I would say don't force yourself to drink – drink to thirst and you shouldn't have a problem. If you feel your stomach sloshing water – this means your body isn't really absorbing the water anymore, so I would back off a little. Again though, you have to listen to your OWN body because what works for each of us is different!

  3. I usually don't each much besides drinking water during my longer runs. And I didn't really eat anything in my half marathons either. But since I have never run a marathon i don't know what I will need. I do like the bloks because they don't make my stomach upset like the gels. I also use the GU chomps.

  4. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    J – How far was your longest long run? I don't typically eat anything on runs shorter than 14 miles. The only race I eat anything during is a marathon. I would say you should definitely plan on eating something during the race or drinking somethine else other than just plain water!

  5. Great post!! I love the margarita shot bloks! those were my mile 20 and beyond fuel, because I sweat so much salt, I find they work well to replenish…that is a fantastic idea though, cutting them up!! They get annoying to chomp on when I am tired and the smaller size could be just the trick!

  6. In my last training cycle, I found that I was RAVENOUS during anything more than 8 miles. I started taking pb&J with me on the trail. My dad met me at 2 spots along the marathon course. Sandwiches aren't really made for speed, but it worked.

    Next one is on 11/12, I've been using gels and granola bars. I'm also planning to carry water the whole race for the first time. I really think it's going to make a difference

  7. I want to use my handheld at MCM, but I'm concerned about filling it up. I feel like it's not something I should do at water stops. Should I have my spectators replenish the bottle for me? What if I can't find them?

  8. Christy @ My Dirt Road Anthem: A Runner's Blog says:

    I bought some margarita shot bloks but haven't tired them yet, I do love shot bloks in general though and the energy blasts, but I have used chomps on my last two halfs and really liked them. Great idea cutting them up before the race. I wear a belt I tried hand helds but I think I just really like my hands free.

  9. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    People watching you are the best option for re-filling. If they can have the same type of water bottle you already use filled and just hand it to you that works best. It also works great if you have two handhelds and just hand them the empty one and they hand you the new one. If you can't find them then fill up at a water station. The amount of time it takes to fill up at one water station is faster than grabbing cups of water at 3 of them! Hope that helps :)

  10. {lifeasa}RunningMom says:

    Love this post and will need to give the shot bloks a try. I have used the PowerBar energy blasts and they are good….I just found carrying them tough but like the idea of putting them in the Nathan water bottle pocket.

    I race with my handheld too the whole time. It saves time at water stations and I can just refill when needed but wish this could be done quicker during races. I like it when the volunteers understand what you are trying to do and help with it. :)

  11. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    {lifeasa}RunningMom – I have been told some races have BYOB – Bring Your Own Bottle – and will refill it at stations. I am looking forward to the day that ALL races do this!!

  12. Jen @ Run for Anna says:

    I've been using shot bloks and just love them. So easy to eat (until the later miles, as you said), and my stomach is not affected at all. I do find myself feeling like I need something "more" as the miles get close to 20, but have been afraid to try anything new.

  13. Jessica (Pace of Me) says:

    Great post! I have been figuring out my own racing nutrition/hydration plan for years, too. I have to admit I still don't feel like I have it figured out just yet – stomach issues still get to me when I'm racing longer than a half marathon. I'm frustrated because I will do a 22 miler with zero stomach issues and eating the same before/during my run as I do on race day, but still on race day I am dealing with intestinal issues. I think it's a combination of race day nerves + pushing my body more… but even still I'm determined to get it figured out one of these days. Nothing is worse than feeling so in shape and ready to rock your goals on strong legs only to have your stomach explode. I think I have the hydration down though- and am with you on carrying my own water bottle!
    ps – the new blog look is awesome ;o)

  14. Gracie (Complicated Day) says:

    About how many bloks do you take during a marathon, and contrast that to a long run? Fueling has kind of been an issue for me of late so I appreciate this post.

  15. Kristin Miller says:

    Love the bloks. I use hammer gels to fuel. Plus I use their endurolytes for electrolytes because gatorade is haterade to my stomach.

    Question: How do you carb load? I'm always conscious about gaining weight So I usually go low carb for lunch/dinner, but after reading an article on runners world I realized I was under carbing myself. What's your typical race week carb loading look like?

  16. oops I asked all my questions on twitter. :)

    I <3 you for loving your handheld! I can't stand anything around my waist or on my shoulders either. People think I'm weird for not wanting my hands to be free, and I do occasionally have to juggle stuff, but it only got tricky when I started carrying two water bottles for the long runs this summer, and even then I tossed one as soon as I finished it.

    I also love the chomps! maybe we are long-lost running twins…(ha ha, in my dreams, then I would be fast like you too!! cuz that's how running twins works…right? right?? ;)) I wanted a little more oomph at the end of my marathon too so I am trying the sports beans – had them on my last long run and liked em. I also carry granola bars (like @McV, yay!), because dang I'm a slow runner and need real food when I'm out there 5+ hours.

    can't believe MCM is less than a week away. go away taper-crazies!!

  17. skinnyrunner says:

    your right in that sometimes the chewy things can seem huge during a race. like its such a big deal to chew them! ive never thought of cutting them in half. i just take gels bc it seems like i dont have the energy to chew something.

  18. Is there any reason for the 3x sodium, or is it just the flavor you like?

  19. The Samsons says:

    Such an important post! This was a game changer for me. Eating more and staying ahead in hydration really helps not hit the wall!!

  20. Ben & Michelle says:

    Thank you Dorothy for sharing this. It is packed with great tips. I have gluten and dairy sensitivities too so this was very helpful. Super idea about cutting up and where to store them. Do you find you usually need one pack of each (shot block and bursts) during a marathon? I know we are all different but I found it hard to figure out how many do I need to eat at a time? I would love to hear about your take on carb loading or food intake pre-race week as well.
    Thanks again for sharing!

  21. Andrea (Run. Learn. Repeat.) says:

    That's awesome that you've figured out what fuel works best for you during the marathon! I've done 9 marathons and am still trying to figure that out. It's a tough process and I've also tried all sorts of different things including mini candy bars and pretzels. I really like the clif shot bloks too. Hopefully I'll have it figured out as well as you do by marathon number 17. (I have a gluten sensitivity as well.) Thanks for sharing what works for you!

  22. I love cliff shot blocks and I love this idea to cut them up! I find myself chomping and by mile 18 im tired lol. I do use gels in between blocks cliff as well. I have celiac disease so no gluten for me either. Do you find the power bar blasts to bother you? I think they have gluten in them.

  23. Jessica Morrison says:

    I will have to give the shot bloks a try. I can't do the GU–it's a texture thing. I have found that I like the Jelly Belly sport beans. They are small enough for me to eat on the run and they taste pretty good too!

  24. Run with Jess says:

    Great info! I finally feel like I "figured out" my fueling this summer. I could never drink on the run, and now like you, I carry a hand-held. I used GU chomps and gels. Chomps are easier on my stomach, but bulkier to carry. I may have to try these bloks!

  25. Jen @ Mom's Gotta Run says:

    I agree regarding the fuel belt, unfortunately I think I'd go crazy if I was carrying water for the entire marathon. I do like the clif shot bloks as well. It is important to note though, that the temp of them changes in the consistency. It is much harder to chew them when they are very cold and much stickier when it is hot.

  26. Very helpful post. Great idea to cut up the blocks, I'm going to try that because I don't like how big they are. I run with a belt and haven't ran with a handheld but I would like to try because I notice after long runs with the belt my back is sore in the center too.

  27. Great advice! I had to abandon waist-packs too because they made my stomach hurt – I thought I was crazy, glad to hear I'm not alone. Love my handheld, a FuelBelt one, but I need to get a Nathan with a wide-mouth for refilling during races. I just did the Nike Women's Marathon in SF and was so happy they had people at the stations with big jugs to refill handhelds. I've found that I don't notice much arm tiredness anymore – you get used to it pretty quickly.

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