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The Most Overlooked Key to Marathon Success

Training for and running a marathon is no small feat. Proper preparation and a training program are vital. A good training program includes running-specific workouts to improve your endurance, speed, running economy, pacing, form and strength. Neglect any of these components in your training and kiss your dreams of finishing or obtaining a marathon PB goodbye. All of those hard miles wasted.

Interestingly enough, one of the most common training errors when it comes to marathon training has nothing to do with running itself.

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Why Is Fueling So Important

Your body has a limited supply of energy. If you keep running long enough, eventually you will run out. In fact, running for longer than 60 minutes without taking in more energy will limit your ability to run at your full potential.

If you’re running a marathon, all the training in the world will not get you to the finish line unless you have taken your fueling seriously.

But wait. That’s why there are water and fuel stations in the marathons. Take in some Gatorade, water and maybe one of those gooey gel things and just keep running. Right?

Unfortunately, if marathon fueling was that simple, there would be no runners hitting the wall. And that’s simply not the case. Matt Fitzgerald, in his book The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition, states that three out of four participants “hit the wall.” Novice runners, professional runners, men, women—no runner is immune.

Hitting the wall is not caused solely by improper fueling. Lack of fitness and poor pacing are also causes. Most runners however, practice their pacing and and ramp up their fitness in training.

Fueling, on the other hand, is not as sexy. Many runners, not unlike most people, do not prioritize nutrition—especially fueling during a race.

In order to run to your full potential, fueling must be taken as seriously as your running. [tweet this]

Why Runners Need to Practice Fueling

Taking in fuel while running is not natural for humans. When we were living in caves, running was for hunting and escaping predators. Survival was our priority. Not running 26 miles for fun! Taking in fuel requires practice and training your gut.

Current research suggest that a marathon runner should aim to consume 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (the images below illustrates what 60 grams of carbs looks like). While this amount of carbohydrate is fine for some, many runners will struggle to take in this many carbs while running. I recommend starting at 30 grams of carbs per hour to start and working up from there. Because taking in too much fuel can cause nausea, bloating and sloshing in your stomach, it’s vital to practice your fueling well in advance of your marathon. This will help you find the amount, rate and type of fuel that works for you.

The Most Overlooked Key to Marathon Success

How to Practice Race Fueling—Race Simulation

While it’s not necessary to practice your fueling in every run, you should use two or three long runs (at or near race pace) to develop your marathon fueling plan. In these race simulation training runs, be sure to use the same fuel and consume the fuel at the same rate as you will for your marathon. You may need to wear a fuel belt during your training and most likely on race day.

You’ll also want to research exactly where in the race the fluid stations are. If there are fluid stations at mile 3, 6 and 10 for example, then fuel at the same intervals during your race simulations.

To get a bit more technical, you could even practice grabbing a drink from someone, just like you would at race fuel station. Setup a small table outside your house and do a 3-4 mile loop that brings you back to your house. Have friend or family member hand you water and/or sports drinks and practice drinking during your run. I do recommend slowing a bit or even walking for a few seconds to make it easier to take in the fluid.

My Marathon Fueling Disaster

If you are beginning to think that fueling properly sounds complex and requires too much planning, I don’t blame you. It did for me as well. In my first marathon in 2008, I had no fueling plan whatsoever. I winged it. My ignorance resulted in me “hitting the wall” at mile 20 and alternating between walking and jogging the last 6 miles. A most unpleasant experience.

For my second marathon, I took fueling more seriously. I developed and practiced my fueling plan until I was comfortable with the amount, rate and type of fueling. And did it ever pay off. I beat my previous marathon time by 45 minutes and maintained a much stronger pace those last 6 miles of the race.

I was convinced, fueling was integral for marathon success. I have since become passionate about fueling and found myself telling my fueling success story and providing fueling advice to other runners. Then it occurred to me, there are lots of great apps to help runners train and track their runs, but nothing that helps with fueling. My idea for Fuel My Run was born.

Fuel My Run

Fuel My Run is an iPhone app that helps runners develop, practice and execute half marathon and marathon fueling plans. It’s basically the tool I wish I had for my previous two marathons. I designed it to help others avoid the “wall” so they too can achieve their running goals.

While not only tracking the basic running stats like distance, time and pace, Fuel My Run provides runners fueling reminders based on specific times or distances – making it simple to simulate your upcoming race. Fuel My Run easily syncs with your Runkeeper account, making it easy to track all your workouts in one place.

Take-home Message

If you want to run your best marathon possible, get out there and train hard. Remember though, running lots of miles in training will not guarantee success. You must prioritize race fueling just as much – and practice makes perfect.

 

Featured image via John Rees

Mark Kennedy

About the author:
Mark Kennedy

Mark is a husband, dad, and former Kinesiologist who now works in the finance industry. He can be found running or biking in Toronto, Canada and beyond. You can check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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