How to fuel your marathon training

As Pennie Varvarides prepares for her first marathon, she shares her thoughts on fuelling

Oh My Quad, Pennie Varvarides, New Balance, Running

Pennie is running her first marathon in November

I’ll be running a marathon in November – New York Marathon. That’s 26 miles of running. When New Balance asked me to run it with them, the most I’d ever run was about 6, so that’s many many more miles than ever before.

As a total newbie to long distance running, I’ve been experimenting when it comes to fuelling the run. I’ve spent much time asking long distance runners around me – there are many in my GoodGym group happy to share their stories. So far I’ve found I start losing energy around the 6 mile mark, which I’m told is pretty normal.

I’ve been told this is the best point to to start taking little energy top ups. Much of the advice I’ve gathered has said the six mile mark, or one hour in – whichever comes first – is the best point to have a little snack. Some people have sworn by dates, other energy gels, other jelly beans.

I’ve so far tried Lucozade jelly beans, Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy in my water and squash. I’ve recently been given some SIS energy gels courtesy of GoodGym runner George Bright – which I’ll be testing out on my next long run!

Oh My Quad, Fuel, Marathon Training

Energy gels are popular for endurance athletes 

Humans have limited glycogen stores

We’re limited in how long we can store energy for, often around two hours. This is a problem for anyone running more than that – and trust me, my marathon is going to take way more hours than that!

Science says you can improve your run by up to 20% if you can hit your carbs and water needs. Carb-loading is a runner’s favourite term, as far as I can tell. So I’ve been making the most of the running, by eating lots of pasta before/after long runs.

When it comes to fuels whilst on your run, you need to make sure you pick some with a combination of glucose and fructose. These are carried across the intestinal wall to the bloodstream by two different transporters, so if you only have one of the two, you won’t get as much of the energy boost.

Sport scientist Dr Stellingwerff says you need 15g of carbs every 15 minutes of running – or 60 grams per hour. That’s what you should aim for. That’s actually loads and I’m not currently sure how I’m going to get that much fuel in, but like anything you do: I’m sure it’s just practice. A typical gel contains about 24g of carbs, so I’d need to consume a packet every 24 minutes. So, assuming it takes me six hours, I’ll need about 12 gels. Now, that sounds like a lot to me! (Follow me on Instagram @superpennie to find out how this goes!)

I’ve ordered myself a race belt from Amazon to hold the chosen fuel source, so I’ll keep experimenting with with ways to fuel the runs and keep you posted!

Make your own energy gels

I’ve been treated to a recipe by a long-distance runner at my gym called Noel. I thought it only fair me to share the goodness!

  • 4 dates (I used dried dates, soaked for a few hours)
    ½ cup honey
    ½ cup coconut oil
    ½ cup ground chia seeds
    1 tbsp lime zest
    2 tsp lemon zest
    ½ tsp dulse or other seaweed (optional)
    ½ tsp yerba mate tea leaves (optional)
    Sea salt to taste
  • Combine all the ingredients in a blender or small food processor until desired consistency is reached. It can help to melt honey and oil first. Refrigerate till firm then roll into bite-sized balls. Best carried in a little pot as soften in summer. Can be made in batches and frozen. A couple take you a long way….

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Author: Pennie Varvarides

Pennie is the editor-in-chief at Oh My Quad. She is also a personal trainer based in North London and a full-contact kickboxer, competing at national level. She believes fitness should be something we enjoy.

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