I started working on this section after my 18 mile run back in October. Up until that point, I had some general idea of the logistical issues that needed to be worked out before a marathon, but my three > 15 milers definitely brought to my attention several things that I'm not sure I would've thought about otherwise.
Logistically, long runs have helped me figure out…
What to wear. It turns out that not every piece of gear that performs admirably on a six- or eight-mile run will stay super comfy for multiple hours; witness the Nike Pro Combat compression shorts that I love for shorter runs & races that chaffe like a mofo once they’re solidly soaked through & the BodyGlide’s worn off. My three pairs of longer compression shorts (2 Aspires, 1 UnderArmour), on the other hand, work pretty well. My beloved Moving Comfort Alexis bras all pass the test (as long as I remember to lube up in the marathon tattoo area). Various tech T-shirts, not so much, as sweat-soaked sleeves have left me with some nasty chaffing on the inside parts of my upper arms.
Trying to figure out what would work best for the weather at CIM was a little trickier since September-October-November is basically summer in SF, but later in November we started having some cooler nights, so I got a chance to experiment with things like gloves and arm warmers and headbands. What I've learned is that, at least recently, I run HOT. Like tank top & shorts in 50° F, hot. On cool nights, I found that that combined with arm warmers was just about perfect. On a couple of particularly chilly days, I also wore gloves; however, I also found that above maybe 50° the gloves were too warm, and they were downright unpleasant in the rain.
Fueling. Although ~50 grams of carbs per hour is a good baseline, we all have different bodies and metabolisms, and what is barely enough for one person may cause GI distress for someone else. The same goes for what types of food / food-like-substances our systems can tolerate. Outside of a few jelly beans during my first two half marathons, I'd never eaten anything on runs before I started marathon training. Thankfully, it seems that my body tolerates pretty much any type of gel just fine and even does okay with little pieces of bars (Nutri-grain, Clif, Luna, etc.) as long as I don’t eat them too fast. (Too fast = a bit of unpleasant acid reflux.) On my long runs, I've been having one gel or a small piece of a bar (so ~30 grams of carbs) every 4-5 miles, which seems to keep my energy & blood sugar levels fairly steady.
On my 16 & 20 milers I also brought diluted Gatorade (~2:1 Gatorade/water), which I know works for me. On the 18 miler, I didn’t have a chance to get any, but I did have a packet of Cytomax powder hanging around, so I took that. Glad I tried it, because I found the stuff so sickeningly sweet that I could only get down a few sips.
Hydration. It can be tricky to balance staying hydrated with avoiding a sloshy tummy & an unfortunately full bladder. When I first started running with a hand-held bottle, I definitely drank too often, but it’s been fairly easy to discipline myself to drink when I’m thirsty and not just because I can. How much I need to drink depends a lot on the temperature, but so far just going by thirst seems to be working.
I don't normally carry fluids in half marathons, but in Clarksburg I decided to try one of Aron's marathon tricks & filled a 20 oz disposable bottle with diluted Gatorade, duct taped it to my had, drank til it was empty (~mile 10), then tossed it. (I don't know if she does the duct tape but given the lack of hand strap I just know there is no way I could've held on to it for that long otherwise.) This worked great! Carrying my own early in the race will let me bypass earlier, more crowded aid stations & also remind me to make sure I drink enough in the early miles.
I would really like to carry Gatorade with me the whole way, but I'm just not sure how the logistics of switching it out would work. I think I'd feel more comfortable with something like that if I was familiar with the course. But really, as long as I hydrate well early on, I should be fine with aid stations for the second part of the race (though I GAG at the thought of drinking Ultima, which in my personal opinion is the nastiest sports beverage known to man. I've kept it down before though so I suppose I can manage it again if I must).
Storage. For half marathons, I’m used to carrying nothing. They’re not long enough to require serious fueling (sports drink works fine), aid stations are usually only a mile or two apart, and for me the freedom of carrying nothing extra far outweighs the slight inconvenience of not having complete control of what & when I drink. The full has been a different story, obviously. Deciding on the disposable Gatorade bottle narrowed things down tremendously; as for the rest, I'm 95% sure I'll go with the super-minimalistic Nathan running belt (read: tech fanny pack -- super hawt), which will hold my inhaler & 2-3 gels & stick 2-3 gels in the zipper pocket on my top. (Hot tip - Don't put gels in your cleavage. I had some really painful and bizarre-looking blisters to show for that little experiment. Sharp & pointy things do not belong in your bra.)
Pre-Race Eating / Drinking. This isn't something I've done a great job practicing, mainly because I HATE early-morning running & so don't really do it much. In the past, with my shorter races, this hasn't been a big deal. My usual pre-race breakfast usually consists of a bagel with cream cheese, a little sports drink, & maybe half a banana about two hours before the gun. I'll probably stick with that since it's worked well in the past, or maybe add a pre-race gel half an hour or so before the start, just to top off the tanks.
Recovery. The long runs have helped me figure out some of this. (BTW, I felt worse after those "easy" 18- & 20-milers than I EVER felt after racing a half marathon. I re-iterate - the 10K & the half marathon are THE SAME FREAKING RACE. 18+ is a TOTALLY different story.)
The tool kit I've got so far...
The last two can be tough. I've had so many runs where all I want to do is collapse somewhere comfy and not move; alas, that usually just leads to feeling even shittier when ten minutes later I find myself shaking from a combination of ice-cold sweat and low blood sugar. I've already started planning a post-race "recovery bag" to give Don to bring with him to the finish, which will contain happy-making items such as a towel, sweats, flip flops, coconut water, some kind of tasty, carb-heavy energy bar, and possibly a couple of ice packs.
Wow. Is it seriously almost time to start packing?