By: Melissa Farrell
April 2013, I decided to run the Labor of Love 50 miler for the first time. Having completed the 50K the previous year, I knew the course and most importantly I knew when and where I would be able to eat. We drove to the race start and as I prepared to get set up for the start, I realized something was missing. I had managed to come without my water bottle. I had packed my drop bags, I had the food I would need, but without adequate hydration I was screwed. 50 miles, nothing in hand, this was not going to go well.
With nothing to carry to keep my energy up, it was time for a quick change of plans. I made a decision that the only way I was to make it through 9 hours of hilly hell was to take advantage of every aid station. I made it a mission to make sure I hydrated every 4-5 miles. With no other option, I went into it and hoped for the best. 9 hours, LOTS of bananas, and a lot of electrolytes later, I finished the race in 2nd place and felt great! Well, great is a relative term, but I felt pretty damn good!
Any time you are preparing for a race, whether it be a 10K, a half marathon, or an ultra, it is IMPERATIVE to have a plan in place for your run. This doesn’t mean picking up some protein bars on your way to the race start or swinging by Krispy Kreme for some “quick sugars”. It means taking the time to test out different foods during your training runs. It means tweaking your regimen where need be BEFORE race day. A lot of runners make the mistake of getting to the start line with either no plan in place or an untested plan. A bad move that may lead worse results. I have done 5K’s to 50 milers to Duathlons and I can say that each race was varied in terms of nutrition and how you plan for it. A 5K may not warrant any race time nutrition, but instead may require a plan in place for before the run. A marathon may require a pre-race plan as well as a plan for race time hydration. A 50 miler requires a plan for the week before as well as a plan for hydration AND nutrition during the run. I don’t know anyone who can run for 8+ hours without eating or drinking anything. No WAY that will go well.
So how do you test out different systems during your training runs? The best time is during your long runs. These runs tend give you the time to gauge when you need to start your nutrition, when you become depleted so you can plan for these moments, and amounts or types of products to use when it comes to race day. If you plan on running for longer then an hour, you generally will need some type of electrolytes and/or sugars to replenish your energy stores or you will feel the depletion. General rule is about 4-8 oz every 20 mins of your run(speed will have something to do with the variance). There is also hydrating leading UP TO your run. You cannot make-up for dehydration on your run and trying to front load with fluids will only lead to sloshing and discomfort during your runs. If you run until you’re thirsty, chances are you will be suffering the rest of the race.
I know a number of people who will tell you that eating a gel substance that tastes like espresso is not on their highlight list of foods they love, but I will tell you when you need it, you’ll be thankful. Why else would I pick up a GU off of the ground during a 20 mile run and GLADLY eat it? Look, if you’re hungry and depleted, you’ll do just about anything! There is no set rule as far as “this is THE food you need to eat during a run”, there is a lot of flexibility and each runner is different. My go to’s? Bananas, animal crackers(a childhood fave and easy to hold while running), gummy bears, and gatorade. I will gladly eat a GU if it is the only option or if I need something quick! You need to test out different foods during your training runs. Training is exactly what is says, TRAINING for your big event. In ALL aspects!
Co-Founder & Running Coach, Las Vegas Runners