Thursday, July 10, 2014

Marathon Fueling: Santa Rosa Edition

This is one of those posts that is mostly just me thinking out loud for my own benefit / having a written-down record in a logical place, but hey, if your reeaaaalllllly into race fueling & totally nerding out about grams of CHO per hour & carb-to-protein ratios, then BOY HAVE YOU COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE! :D

So it turns out that up until I read The New Rules last year, most of what I thought I knew about fueling before, during, & after a long race was at least somewhat incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Here's a quick recap of the relevant points:

  • At a moderate pace most people can tolerate 40-50g CHO per hour, some can tolerate 60g/hour or more, and some high-end ultra runners can tolerate 90g/hour or more.
  • Generally, as you run faster, your tolerance decreases. (Ie, you probably can't consume CHO as quickly at half marathon pace as you can at marathon or long run pace.)
  • Generally, thinner / more liquidy carbs are tolerated better than thicker ones at faster paces, with sports drink tolerated best. (Ie, the thicker gels that sit just fine in your stomach during a marathon may make you queasy at half marathon pace, & if you struggle with gels, you may do fine with sports drink.)
  • In races shorter than 75 minutes, extra carbs are unlikely to do anything.
  • In races longer than 75 minutes, 30g of CHO per hour is the smallest "effective dose."
  • Above 30g/hour, consuming CHO faster seems to predict better performance, if your stomach can tolerate it.
  • Many runners find that they can improve their carb tolerance with time & practice.
  • There is evidence that a small amount of protein enhances the effect of consuming carbs during an endurance event.

I did the math & found that in half marathons I'd been consuming less than 30g CHO/hour (ie, not enough to make any difference at all) & in marathons, hovering right around the 30g/hour threshold (so enough to do something, but far from optimal). My long runs are getting long enough now that I need to start figuring out & practicing fueling (I've finally gone through an entire box of gels!), so recently I looked up the Santa Rosa course map & aid station / fluid situation & started trying to make some sort of plan.

So as to avoid another Berkeley Debacle, I contacted the race director & was relieved to learn that the course sport drink is Gatorade, like real, actual Gatorade (old school lemon-lime, apparently), and not some low/non-calorie bullshit like G2/Vega/Nuun/etc. (BTW, everybody knows that those things have few or no calories and thus don't count as "fueling", right? K, just checking.)

Based on where the aid stations are, I sketched out a rough plan to keep me somewhere around 55-60g CHO/hour:

    Pre-race: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 1: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 3.2: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 4: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 5: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 6.3: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g

    ***Hour 1 = 56g***

    Mile 8: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 8.5: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 10.5: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 11.1: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 12: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 13: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 15: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g

    ***Hour 2 = 61g***

    Mile 16: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 17: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 19: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 20: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 20.5: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 22.5: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g

    ***Hour 3 = 56g***

    Mile 24: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g
    Mile 24.5: Accel gel w/ protein -> 18g
    Mile 25: 1 cup sports drink (~3 oz?)-> ~5g

    ***Hour 3.5 = 38g***

    ***Total = 205g***

So far I have been tolerating 40-50g/hour with no problem, which is a relief considering that I am grossed out by sugar/sweet things a lot of the time & as a result basically don't eat them. Over the next few weeks I'm planning to start trying to take the gels closer & closer together & see whether I can get to 55-60g/hour without feeling sick.

The next thing to figure out is the best way to carry 6 gels. (There will be some gels on the course, but none with protein, so barring emergencies I think I want to just stick to carrying my own.)

In my first marathon, I wore a spibelt & carried them there.

wrong no very bad no thumbs up AT ALL.

Screw that because a) getting a gel out of the spibelt took like 20 minutes & always made me feel like I was about to dump them all out all over the road, and b) horrific chafing. Also it kept sliding up to my rib cage, which was not comfortable at all.

In my second and third, I wore my Roga shorts with the zipper pocket & a top that also had a zipper pocket, so between the two of those I was able to fit maybe four or five, which was functional but not great because it's just still not that easy to reach behind you, unzip a pocket, & get out one gel at a time without spilling the rest everywhere.

Roga shorts with their tell-tale "butt tumor" gel pocket.
I'll probably still wear the Roga shorts for Santa Rosa, but the light white singlet I'm planning on wearing has no pockets. In the past I've tried pinning gels to my waist band & folding them over inside the shorts or sticking them in my sports bra, both of which resulted in some extremely unpleasant chafing that I am not keen to repeat. Once or twice I've taped them to a water bottle, but I won't be carrying a bottle this time, so that's out.

This past Sunday I took some internet advice & taped them to my wrists, which is a no-go because of how heavy it made my arms feel. Another piece of internet advice was to purchase some RaceReady running shorts because they have specially designed mesh pockets in the front made for carrying gels, but I checked out these RaceReady shorts & determined that they were too hideous to wear in public.

So far the most promising idea I've seen is to use an armband cell phone/music player case. I do have one & won't be running with my phone, so maybe if I stick two the Roga pocket & four in the armband case, that will work out. I haven't tried it yet but that maybe next on my list.

What am I missing here? How do normal people carry their gels?


  1. I used a SPIBelt or the pockets in my shorts/pants. I found chews worked best for me, followed by chews.

    1. Ah, I need more pockets!!

      I've tried the chews, but they get stuck in my teeth, which drives me crazy, so I'll probably just stick to gels. :)

  2. What about the number belts with gel holders? That way each gel sits individually in your belt so no problems getting them out one at a time and no chafing bc it sits on top of your clothes.

    1. Hmm, interesting! I'll have to look into that.

  3. While I'm not keen on promoting a company, I found that Lululemon's shorts were the key for me. They have two waist pockets in the front (some models don't, but the Groovy and Speed ones do) that will hold two gels each. They have a back zipper pocket that will hold at least two gels (or my phone, though I have an armband for that). Those carried me through a 50k and several marathons.

    1. Sigh, ditto. I have Groovy shorts and also an older model they don't make any more (that has a cargo-leg-type zip pocket instead of a back zip pocket) and I can fit a whole buffet in there.

    2. Ah, yes, while I kind of hate to tell people, I do have a pair of Lulu speed shorts, which I got partly because of the zipper pocket in the back. Are there pockets in the front? I haven't even noticed! Will have to investigate further.

      (Also, boo, looks like the Groovy model is sold out too now. Ah well.)

    3. Yes, and the pockets are IN the waistband, which means you can shove stuff really deep in there and not have it stick out and chafe.

      FWIW, I recently got a pair of Nike Rival (I think?) shorts on clearance that has a zip pocket + a similar pocket in the waistband. Just one, but one is better than zero.

  4. I wear two sports bras and stuff my gels under the stop sports bra. It looks really awkward in lumpy in race photos but it doesn't chafe and it's easier than dealing with zippered pockets/pouches.

  5. I recently bought a RooSport pocket and used it for a couple races, and it was great for gels or whatever else. It has an easy access pocket and tucks into your waistband. I get chafing from all sort of things, but the RooSport didn't bother me at all.

    1. Interesting, I'll have to check it out!

  6. I have a couple of tri/ cycling tanks with back pockets for gels... I know, revolutionary.

    Watch out for all that fluid though - I find too much fluid sloshes around in my stomach. It's a delicate balance between well-hydrated and uncomfortable gurgles.

    1. Heh, definitely. This would be less fluid than I'm used to consuming in a marathon (because in the past I've carried a bottle and also drank at aid stations), but in general I tend to just go by my comfort level. Sloshy is no good!

  7. I just read the Feed Zone Portables book -- the first chapter has some great nutritional info. I'd be a bit cautious about mixing Gatorade with gels. It's something I've done in the past without any problems (seemingly*), but apparently overloading your stomach with sugars may eventually be problematic. Part of this is because gels are so low in water content, while most of the foods we consume are high in water content. Hence, why they suggest you always take water with gels. But I also assume that you'll be practicing the Gatorade + Accel gel combo during training runs, so I'll stop being such a mother hen about it.

    As for where to stash those gels... this is why I don't usually mind carrying a water bottle, because I can stick a whole pack of Clif bloks in there, and then distribute the gels amongst my pockets in my Rogas and my spibelt (which I usually avoid b/c I don't want my cell phone to fall out). Do you have the regular or long Rogas? The long Rogas have a front and back pocket. I've heard that the distance shorts have 3 (!!) pockets, so those might be worth looking into. Good luck!

    *I say seemingly because, while I didn't have an immediate reaction to the combo of gel + sports drink, I've definitely had GI issues in general, so...

    1. You know, I read the thing about mixing gels & sports drink as well, but only after I'd been doing it for years with no problem. So maybe my stomach is just magic? Who knows.

      My Rogas are the regulars. I've never noticed a front pocket, but I've also never looked, so how awesome would that be! The Distance shorts have never really called to me, but the extra pockets would definitely be a draw. (I guess that's why they're called Distance shorts....)

    2. Eh? My regular Rogas (c.2012) have a little front pocket - it's not in the waistband but actually seems to be sewn into the inner lining. It's a wee horizontal slit right in front of your right hip flexor area. If you blink you might miss it but I've put credit cards and keycards in there just fine.

  8. Looks like you eat about as much as I normally do during races. Though for SF half marathon, my general fueling plan is 1 gel every 4 miles, 1 endurolyte tablet every 4 miles, 1 cup of sports drink every other aid station, and 1 cup of water every other aid station. Might be a few less calories than your plan above, but I realized that my stomach can't take an overload of sugar and be okay to function. (Bay to Breakers 2014 is a good example of this at mile 3)

  9. I was going to say that my long Rogas have two good pockets and easily hold two gels each (even if you look a bit 'bulky'). I've also stashed gels in my sports bras (there's enough room in there for a Sunday roast to be honest) and I'm careful to take those ones first to avoid any chafing.

  10. I carry gels and also an inhaler. So annoying trying to lug them all around. The suggestion of an armband was spot on for me. I shove some gels in a phone case even though I don't use my phone.
    I have also stored things using the double sports bra method someone above uses. Still not 100% ideal, but less sweat on my stuff and no chafing!

  11. I got this for SFM. Worn for 18 and 16 miles and no chafing (with prophylactic body glide of course).

    1. I have two of these bras and love them. I can store six gels in them! Also bought Lululemon's marathon shorts, which are compression shorts with freaking SEVEN pockets. I don't care for Lulu as a company, but they do make nice products. With pockets.

  12. I have had the same horrible safety-pin chafing you're alluding to when pinning my gels to my shorts, but it's by far the most comfortable place to carry them. What if you pinned them like you did before, but put big bandaids on your hip(s) to prevent chafing?

    1. Ah, yeah, alas, what happened when I tried this was that I ended up with a bunch of little cuts in my hip/lower belly area from the edges of the gel packaging. I picked up some shorts with extra pockets recently, though, so we'll see how those work out!