I’m sharing this personal experience with hopes that it might save someone from the mistake I made…
On May 27, 2012 I ran my first full marathon. My goal was sub 4 hours which I thought was reasonable for being a busy mom of 3 young boys. I followed a training plan and ran the appropriate mileage each week. As a Registered Dietitian I paid attention and knew nutrition was important especially for the full marathon distance. I was careful to hydrate, get my electrolytes in on long runs, paid special attention to carbohydrates and recovery nutrition (including carbs and protein). For ease, I trained using water, energy gels and sports drinks.
Race day was a cool cloudy day. I felt ready but anxious. The start was congested but I managed to make my way into my own space after a few kilometers. It wasn’t a flat course by any means but I managed the hills (I am from Saskatchewan after all) and was thankful for my hill training. The atmosphere was enjoyable with people cheering you on and I had some good laughs at the signs created by spectators.
I felt good overall until near the end of the race when fatigue starting setting in. Honestly, the thought of choking back another energy gel was enough to make me want to vomit. So I didn’t. Big mistake.
From what I remember around the last 5km mark I bonked and bonked hard. Some may call it “Hitting the wall”. I basically felt like I had a sack of bricks tied to my feet and legs – they were so heavy and difficult to lift. From a mental perspective, I started to feel delusional and just “out of it”. Someone asked me why I just didn’t sprint the last 100 meters and honestly it would have been physically and mentally impossible. After I crossed the finish line I almost fell over and didn’t feel right until I ate some cookies and drank some sports drink at the food tents.
In case you are wondering, somehow I still met my goal of sub 4 hrs (my chip time was 3hrs:59min:58sec) and I was still happy about meeting my goal. However, questions will always remain – how at risk was my health and safety? and if I hadn’t messed up my nutrition plan – what could my time have been?
In the end, I learned a valuable lesson and want to share it with others. Have a nutrition plan, don’t think you can get away with skipping the carbs, and train with some different options. Otherwise your safety and performance will suffer.
5 Nutrition Tips for New Marathoners:
- Forget Low-Carb: Low carb diets are not for distance runners. Distance runners need carbohydrate stores called glycogen which fuel long runs. Simply put-if you are not eating enough carb daily to meet your basic needs, you will not store any glycogen to fuel your long runs.
- Train with a Nutrition Plan: You need to practice your fluid and fuel strategies during training runs in order to assess your body’s tolerance (ie. digestive upset, cramping, etc.). For runs 1-2.5 hours: 30-60g of carbohydrate is recommended per hour. For longer runs >2.5 hours: up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour. Adequate hydration is always essential and electrolyte replacement is recommended for running 1 hour or longer.
- Vary Carb Sources: to prevent flavour/taste fatigue. Taste buds can get tired too which makes it very difficult to choke down another sweet gel. Train with a few options. Varied carb sources may also be of benefit to achieve higher carbohydrate absorption rates and therefore enhance performance.
- Don’t forget Recovery Nutrition: Have a recovery snack high in carbohydrate with a modest amount of protein within 20-30min. Then have a balanced meal ~1hour later.
- See a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist if you have Questions: It is very important to look for the credentials RD or PDt after the health professional’s name or ask if they are a Dietitian. In many provinces the title “Nutritionist” is not protected so someone could call themselves a “Nutritionist” with little or no education and without accountability to a regulatory body. Registered Dietitians have many different specialties so seek out someone with sports nutrition experience.
Check out these links to useful resources:
- “What to Eat During Endurance Sports: Nutrition for Triathletes, Runners, Cyclists, and More” by Health Stand Nutrition Consulting: http://www.healthstandnutrition.com/what-to-eat-during-endurance-sports/
- “Marathon Nutrition” Factsheet by Sports Dietitians Australia: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Marathon_Fact_Sheet_web-ready.pdf