Let's be real: I am a slow runner. I have been improving, but there is no getting around the fact that on December 14th I will be out on the Honolulu Marathon course for a very long time. Currently my goal is 6:30. I'm not talking pace here, that's six hours thirty minutes, a 15:00 pace. Nutrition is always an issue in endurance sports, and unless I intend to crawl down Kalakaua Ave towards the finish line I need to plan and execute carefully. The best plan in the world is useless without testing. I have been testing tolerance on my long runs, but they have not been long enough to test calorie replacement. The upcoming Honolulu Century Ride provides just the opportunity I need to test my plan.
For a little over a year my run nutrition strategy has been to take in water only at the aid stations and carry a flask or two of diluted gels in a Fuelbelt. I got the idea from Matt Fitzgerald. I put three GU 1.1 oz. gels in one 7 oz. bottle and add roughly an equal amount of water. This allows me to consume less than a full gel at a time while supplying some of the water that my stomach will require to digest the gel. More than anything it is the lack of water that causes the stomach to rebel against eating even easy to digest carbs during exercise.
GU Energy Labs recommends consuming one whole gel every 30-45 minutes. I find that the impact of a full gel is a little hard to tolerate while running, but taking half and saving the rest for later creates a massively sticky mess. As for the rate of consumption, after many trials I have found that I can just tolerate one gel every 45 minutes; more than that and I get nauseous. But, to be fair, most of that testing was done in races where I was also drinking sports drink instead of water. In any case, be it physical or mental, I have found that I do best sipping diluted gel from a Fuelbelt flask and just taking on water at the aid stations.
Salt is another issue. I have done a couple races where salt loss became significant, so when conditions warrant it I carry some SaltStick pills in a little pouch on my belt. I prefer this to using gels that include a lot of electrolytes as I can tailor my salt intake to conditions.
The current trend in hydration is to drink when you feel thirsty rather than at a set rate or timetable. Too much fluid intake can have a negative impact on performance just as much as too little. When it comes to nutrition, though, I believe that I cannot wait until I feel hungry. I need a timetable.
Last Saturday I ran nine miles late in the morning, in heat equal to or higher than I expect on race day. I used this opportunity to practice my fuel intake pace. I took a small sip of my watery GU every ten minutes, and drank water at all the usual spots along Kalanianaole Hwy. (Aloha gas station to Hawaii Kai canoe house and back.) I was fine until around the six mile point, at which my stomach began to complain. I consumed two bottles in 2:30. Way too much. But on the bright side I had plenty of energy all the way to the end, no sign of leg cramps, and the stomach upset was mild. I was not puking, but had I kept consuming at that rate bad things were likely to happen.
With my setup, an intake of one gel every 30 minutes means finishing one bottle every 90 minutes. If a sip every 10 minutes was too much, every 15 should be about right.
I still have not decided if I will run as planned on the Saturday before the century ride, then do 50 miles on Sunday. My original plan had me at 45, but I was supposed to do 50 last Sunday which I skipped to be at the Na Wahine Festival with Pattie. That, or do a short recovery run on Saturday and ride the whole 100 miles on Sunday. I am leaning towards the 100 as this will be a better test of my marathon nutrition plan.
A comfortable pace, mostly zones 1 and 2, will have me complete the ride in 6 hours. That's 360 minutes. Divide by 90, that's 4 flasks. I actually own four Fuelbelt bottles but I do not have a convenient way to carry them on the bike. (Note to self: make a plan for marathon.) I guess I could put all that in one regular water bottle, and carry one plain water to simulate the marathon aid stations.
Sounds like a plan.