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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.

Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.

My hiccups from the Chicago Marathon? They were certainly a product of the volume of nutrition I had put down during the race. Because I had put it down faster than my stomach could digest it, most of it sat there and bubbled for several miles. My wind/stomach pipe assembly, battling between taking in air at a moderate running pace and holding stomach contents back from randomly upchucking during said run… finally began to give, and suddenly there are hiccups.

I didn’t have hiccups during yesterday’s running, since the pace was a lot easier. I also didn’t have hiccups during long Chicago Marathon training runs where I practiced taking in nutrition, because the pace of those runs were a lot easier.

It was only on race day, when the effort was more intense yet I took in a high volume of in-race nutrition, that hiccups reared their head.

Clearly, my key to avoiding race hiccups is to either practice taking in less of my desired nutrition (probably not the best idea for a marathon), or to practice taking in my desired nutrition on more intense tempo runs (to get my body trained to do so at that intensity over distance).

Most tend to either put no practice into in-race fueling during their training, or they fuel casually throughout too many runs, which may not fully prepare their body to handle a long distance endurance event.

Many, like I did, will make the mistake of practicing fueling on long runs, but only on those long runs. Therefore, you get used to doing so at an easy pace, but on race day you run faster than that, and your body’s not prepared to fuel on the run at that pace.

The marathon fuel training sweet spot:

After you have stretched out your tempo runs, or after you have added some marathon tempo to your long runs, practice fueling with your desired fuel every few miles on your marathon pace runs.

This gets the body used to handling fuel during a race effort. The run itself may not be a peak training effort, but it’s not necessarily the run itself you’re working on. You are working on handling fuel at a faster pace over a longer high-intensity effort.

Much like how training your running muscles and strength training other parts of your body often are best done with specific, separate focus… training your internal organs to handle fuel at a race effort is a skill and set of muscles that need to be gradually trained.

If your marathon fueling plan is more serious than ‘take some Gatorade or whatever the race makes available every few miles’, then it’s just as vital to train in taking that fuel in as it is to build up your specific running endurance or your speed.

Just maybe don’t practice with chicken fingers and lemonade from Raising Canes. Perhaps consume something healthier.

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