I've never run a marathon, only 6-8 miles max. I read your column on drinking water/sports drinks and eating something along the way, especially in training. Do you carry this on you or stop somewhere? If you stop, wouldn't that mess your pace?
It's true that eating and drinking during races and long runs are very important for sustaining your performance. Luckily, both carrying and stopping for food/liquid supplies are viable options for runners - when carried out correctly, both methods will leave you recharged and refueled, without drastically affecting your pace.
There are plenty of ways to keep food and water handy during a run. When it comes to carbohydrates, there's no doubt that energy gels are your best bet for food on the go. They are portable, easy, and convenient - you simply rip the package open and squeeze the gooey, carbo-loaded contents into your mouth while you're running...no stops necessary. Energy bars are another option - they're not quite as easy to eat as gels, but still small enough to be tucked away during a run. RaceReady makes running shorts with special pockets specifically designed to hold gels and bars while you're running. A low-budget option: you can safety pin gel packets to your usual running shorts, unhooking one every two to three miles.
As for liquid refreshment, our favorite way to carry fluids is with a Fuel Belt, featured in our products section. Secured around your waste, fuel belts hold up to eight water bottles that vary in size, as well as bars and gels in an attachable pouch. Fuel Belts are better than fanny packs - based on their design, they won't bounce or chafe during the run, keeping all your refueling supplies close at hand without any discomfort.
If you opt not to carry food, many runners use the method of planting supplies along their route before running their long runs, but this takes a lot of planning ahead and offers several uncertainties - supplies could get thrown away, consumed by animals, or damaged in unexpected bad weather. While this method generally works, on occasion you might find yourself left hungry, dehydrated, and lacking nutrition to help in your run.
Instead, when running sans fuel during a training run, consider choosing a route that passes by a local deli or gas station food mart. Bring along a couple bucks and stop in for an electrolyte drink, Power Bar or another high-carbohydrate snack that you know won't upset your stomach. These stops will probably only be necessary during your 13-mile + training runs. Since these long runs are meant to be run at an easy, unhurried pace (if you can't hold a conversation while you're running, you're going too fast) and allow for plenty of rests and water/food breaks, there is no harm in pulling over to grab a bite when you need it.
Come race day, stopping to refuel takes less planning on your part. Marathons set up a number of strategically placed water stations along the course, most of which also provide sports drinks and sometimes even bars and gels. To learn how to drink at a water station without messing up your pace or losing those precious marathon minutes, check out John Elliott's advice.
- Erin Kandel
Erin is a member of the MarathonGuide.com staff, writing articles, answering questions and generally helping to maintain this website.