Last Minute Marathon Prep

Tom Shand is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian, trained sports nutritionist, sub 3hr marathoner, and general marathon nerd. Check out his thoughts below.

With the Auckland marathon just round the corner, I'm starting to get a few questions on nutrition. Here is my two cents on how to approach it if you haven't  thought about nutrition up until now.

Step 1

Chide yourself. By not paying attention to nutrition during training you have lost a valuable opportunity to get fitter, faster. Also, on top of that, the Traiblazer Nutrition Golden Rule states:

Never try something on race day that you haven't trialled in training

This is borne out of the fact that while clever use of nutrition can improve performance for those who have practised it, it can also be the downfall for the beginner eater/exerciser. Stomach cramps, bloating, fuzzy fingers, headaches, and worse are all symptoms of a nutriton plan gone wrong, so if you haven't been practising chowing down the gels, race day is not the time to start.

Step 2

In saying that, you've got a few more runs to go, so trial some gels* and see how you tolerate them. Also, trial the sports drink that will be on course (Powerade) as you will likely use that on race day.

If you have been using gels/bars/food/sports drink in training, great, but for improved performance, a formal plan is necessary. Ask yourself the following questions:

- What is my goal time?

- How much carbohydrate am I aiming for per hour?  

Trailblazer Recommends: For the beginner eater, no more than 50g/hr. If you have been practising using food in training, more may be tolerated.

- How much fluid will I be drinking, and will this be contributing to my carb intake? Hint, if you are having sports drink, then you will be getting carbs from this source as well.  

Trailblazer Recommends: drink to thirst, a little at each aid station. Being full to the brim for the whole race won't aid performance.

- Will I use the aid stations?

Trailblazer Recommends: Yes! There are 11 on course containing water, Powerade, and some will have coke. Whatever you get from these aid stations means fluid you won't need to carry with you around the course.

The answers to these questions will inform what you need to take with you on race day. Plan for this, do you need to buy a marathon belt? A camelpack, or another form of hydration/fuel system?

*I say gels as these tend to be better tolerated by people not used to eating during exercise due to the lower fibre content compared to food, and they have optimal sugar ratios.

If you think that you will benefit from a personalised last minute nutrition plan that takes into account the above factors and more, check out Trailblazer's last minute nutrition plan here.

Step 3

Will you be carbo loading? There is solid scientific evidence behind carbo loading, for which you need to eat about 8-10g of carbohydrate per kg body weight for the three days prior to your event - warning, this is a lot of carbohydrates. Trailblazer Nutrition provides personalised carbohydrate loading plans here. If you do decide to carbo load, don't force it, listen to your body and back off if you are feeling bloated, windy, or have other stomach issues.

Trailblazer Recommends: Try to reduce the bulk while increasing carbohydrates. Choose low fibre foods, but also foods you are used to. For example, ff you eat lots of rice anyway, use extra rice rather than increasing carbohydrates through adding bread to meals.

Trailblazer's last minute nutrition plan also contains a carbohydrate loading plan - check it out here.

Step 4

Plan your race day carefully. You should eat 2 hours prior to exercise, that is a 4am start for the marathoners! You may want to go back to sleep after that, although I imagine that it will be hard to let your mind relax after getting up. If you do, make sure you set an alarm. Your pre-race meal should be high in carbs, and low in protein and fat.

Trailblazer Recommends: Breakfast should be something that you are familiar with. If you've been running late Sunday mornings after a plate of bacon and eggs for breakfast all through training, then don't try and be good and have weetbix on race day for the first time.

Trailblazer Recommends: Practise getting up at 4am, eating your race day breakfast, and going for a run at 6am, and seeing how you feel.

Hydration: Don't overload in the morning, what goes in, must come out. Drink to thirst, and try not to drink in the last hour before the race.

Step 5

From now on, eat whole, healthy, unprocessed foods including plenty of fruit and veggies. These are the oil to your Formula 1 car, so load up now. And keep up this habit once you have knocked this marathon on the head.

Quality carbohydrates are also best. Cut down on junky carbs that come in a packet (biscuits, crackers, dried noodles, sugary treats, and muesli bars). Focus on whole foods such as potato, rice, whole grain cereals, oats, and fruit.

Step 6

The following are not nutrition related tips, but given the amount of research I did for myself into running marathons to the limit of my potential, I feel like I should share them:

- The marathon is a mental game. Prepare for Pain, and when Pain comes, welcome it. Afterall, you didn't sign up to this marathon because it was going to be easy. When the pain comes, remember overcoming and mastering it is basically the whole point of voluntarily running 42.195km. I have a saying which puts me in a warrior mindset and I repeat it to myself when the going gets tough "Welcome Pain, I have been expecting you."

- Know why you are doing this. If you are running for a charity, have a think about what that charity means to you, and what running for the charity will achieve. If you are doing this for yourself, then think of all the time and effort that you have put in. Did you thrash yourself all winter to give up? No, you thrashed yourself all winter so that you could get across that finish line. Maybe you have some people who doubted you, or maybe you had some people who believed in you. If you don't run for yourself, run for them.

- GO OUT STEADY!! Do not try and make up time during the first half, even splits (running the same time for each 5km interval) are best. I promise. Wearing a watch and having calculated your splits will help with this. Doing the maths as you run is a humbling experience.

- Feed off the crowd. You have your whole life to run to music, take this chance to listen to people cheering you on (when was the last time that happened during a training run?). In saying that many people swear by running with music, I just think it's shame to drown out all that support.

- Run to how you have been training. Right now, your body is a reflection of the training you have been doing. If you have been training at 4hr pace, don't try and run a 3hr30min marathon. It's too late, be realistic.

- Enjoy yourself. When you foot the line, you are a marathoner, and I believe that is a special club. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the fear, doubt, and nerves. Soak it up, it is an experience that nobody can take away from you, and you will remember for the rest of your life, no matter how you go. It is a unique experience standing on the start line knowing that the next few hours of your life are going to be filled with pain, and then immense pride.

If it doesn't go to plan, remember this proverb "Whaia te iti kahurangi, Ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei". Pursue excellence, should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain.

Good luck!!

If you want some more personalised advice to help you achieve your goals, the Trailblazer last minute nutrition plan wil be perfect for your needs. Get yours by clicking here.

If you have a general question, feel free to email Tom at tom@trailblazernutrition.co.nz, and he will try and get back to you as soon as possible.