Eating On The Run

I’ve spent the Spring getting faster and running shorter races than I’m used to but it’s time to get back to endurance in preparation for my assault on the Great North Run in just 8 weeks time.  As well as having to run further and longer, it also introduces the additional challenge of taking on food and water on the go.

So far this year I’ve had some fab races.  In fact, I’ve already run as many races so far in 2014 as I’d run in 2012 and 2013 combined!  And I seem to be getting quicker, which is a bonus.

At my traditional season opener, the Carterton 10k, I managed to knock more than a minute off my PB.

The first 3 Mota-vation races have tested my pace over the 4-ish mile distance and undulating terrain with some promising pace being shown by my legs.

And in June, I had my shortest ever race that allowed me to open up and go for it over just a mile.  The London City Mile certainly wasn’t just a mile and has kept strong my new-found passion for the iconic distance.  So much so, I’m competing in my first ever track race next weekend at the Iffley Road track; I’ll be looking to beat my 6m04 mile at the track where Sir Roger Bannister took the world by surprise.

All of this has seen my RunBritainRanking handicap fall from a fairly standard 19.4 to a much-improved 11.2 (the closer to zero the better – elite runners tend to be below zero), with the 5 races this year being my best 5 performances to date.

This turn of pace has been fantastic fun but having secured a place in the Great North Run a couple of weeks ago I need to switch my concentration to longer runs – hoping, of course, to bring some of that pace across with me!

In a complete contrast to my run at Oxford parkrun yesterday (another fastest time for me, 21:52) my run this morning was nothing to do with speed at all.  Today’s 100 minute run was to remind my legs how long they need to be on the move for.  It was also an opportunity to really make sure my aerobic energy system had a proper work out.

Given that I’ve run half marathons before and I know my cardio fitness is in a pretty good shape the key focus of today’s run was to practice refuelling.

I’ve always struggle to take on water whilst running.  I used to try during 10k races but found it completely through my pace and rhythm off so learnt to just carry on without.  And when it comes to food, on the few times I’ve tried energy gels or bars I’ve either ended up with a stitch, feeling sick or just completely unappetized!

Luckily, taking on food and water is something I don’t have to think about when I’m running 10k races or their short siblings.  The same can’t be said for the half marathon.  In fact, anything over an hour and your body will struggle to have enough reserves on board.

The Oxford Half Marathon last year was the first race I have run with a nutrition plan.  Sounds grand doesn’t it?  It wasn’t.  My plan was to slowly consume the carefully bottled tears of the clouds whilst chewing three mini psychedelic idols, or alternatively: drink some water and eat a few Jelly Babies.

The mini psychedelic idols aka Bassett's Jelly Babies
The mini psychedelic idols aka Bassett’s Jelly Babies

This simple plan seemed to work for me, helping me to knock almost 5 minutes off my half marathon PB, taking my time to a very satisfying 1:46:59.  Oh how us runners love or loath those little odd seconds!

No need to fix something that isn’t broken so I picked up half a bag of Jelly Babies and my water bottle.  The first couple of refuelling attempts weren’t too smooth as I struggled to co-ordinate running, breathing, drinking and eating but practice makes perfect and I soon found a sequence that seemed to work more effectively.

I’m not sure if it was the placebo effect but every time I took on the tasty treats I felt fantastic.  So much so that on occasion, I had to ease my pace back!

I felt good this morning and managed to put some running technique work into practice, even when the legs were getting tired.  In fact, concentrating on my technique really helped me back up the hills into Witney at the 12.5k point.

The profile of today's long run
The profile of today’s long run

My dream target now for a half marathon is sub-100 minutes and whilst I’ve been running quickly over shorter distances I’m not sure I’ve got enough time to achieve this at the Great North Run.  I managed to cover 17k this morning, including a very easy 10 minutes at each end of the run to warm up and cool down, so to squeeze another 4k into the same time is a tough ask, but never say never.  In the meantime, I’m hoping my combination of hard work, new-found pace, improved technique and successful refuelling will bring me another personal best performance.

Do you have a race nutrition plan?  How do you decide on your race refuelling?  What works for you?  What stops you from refuelling on the run?

You can also see my review of TORQ gels here: Look who’s TORQ-ing


8 thoughts on “Eating On The Run”

  1. Hi Dan,

    My experience over many years of running for what it is worth.

    Now, I don’t know how old you are but your pace is one I haven’t been anywhere near for twenty five years since 10K was my racing distance. I now look to complete things, rather than compete, and took up fell running a couple of years ago – which was going really well until I broke my ankle and damaged multiple ligaments in my foot and knee last September during a race. Still grappling with rehab for that limb.

    Anyway, nutrition for me on a distance of 13 miles would be to ensure I was fully pre-loaded. By that I mean concentrating in the three days prior to the event in ensuring that my glycogen stores muscle and liver are topped up. If doing an endurance event that would mean taking in 600 grams of carbohydrate in low glyceamic form in each of the three days leading up to the event. One of the best things I find is a decent home made fruitcake. For fluid, I would simply ensure I flooded my system with electrolytes in the preceding 24 hours. On the morning of the event I find bacon and egg (high protein) two hours beforehand keeps my system going for longer before feeling hungry (although by that time it is too late on the events I’m doing (was doing) – up to 62 miles.

    And finally, I might add in a protein bar half an hour beforehand.

    All in all I have found through trial and error the secret is in the pre-load. On these long endurance events I also use technical nutrition e.g. High fives 4:1 in a hydration pack during the event and eat something every half an hour.

    Last year I did a 12.5 mile fell/trail race at the Ingleton Overground event. On that I didn’t carry fluid but used a couple of caffeinated gels at about the 4 and 8 mile points which worked really well and saw me turn in a fab time for that terrain of 2 hours 21 minutes. As you say, they can upset your stomach but I found it worth trying a few different types before settling on these.

    You’ve obviously done your homework and have trialed various strategies – just on the protein angle, I assume you are consuming 1.2 grams per kg body weight per day ? Oh I could go on and talk about ratios of different foodstuffs burnt by the body at different exercise intensities but I’ll leave it there for now other than to say that at the pace you are doing you will be consuming more carbohydrate than anything else so the advice is ‘pre-load’.

    Good luck with the Great North Run.

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