Reflections on a Half Marathon: Fueling

After my somewhat melodramatic post the other day about how I’ve been struggling with running since my half (well, struggling with running since I started running again two weeks after my half is more accurate), I thought it might be a nice change of pace to talk about something I liked and did well. So, consider this the second in a small series of what worked and what didn’t during my half marathon (the first being my post about race-day kit).

What worked? My fueling plan.

Pre-race, a.k.a. ALL the pasta!

To be honest, I had no idea how to approach fueling in the week or so before my half. I’d heard of carbo-loading, but didn’t really know what that entailed other than vague memories of hearing about my high school cross-country team having spaghetti suppers before big races. All I really knew was that I wouldn’t eat anything high in fat or otherwise questionable the night before my race.

Enter the Runner’s World twitter feed. It’s like they knew I had my first big race coming up (or, you know, fall is a popular time for many people to run their first)… first they posted a link to an article about how to taper properly for your first half marathon, then they posted a link to an one about how to carbo-load properly. That’s what I’m talking about… way to be there for a clueless newbie, RW!

The gist of the carbo-loading article is this:
-Choose carbs that are easy to digest – rice, pasta, potatoes, white bread, tortillas, oatmeal, bagels, pancakes, etc.
-Related to the first point, avoid carbs that are also high in fiber if you’re worried about GI issues
-Start loading up (as in 85-95% of your diet) on carbs 2-3 days before your race, not just the night before
-Make sure you take mid-race fuel

Well, anyone who knows me knows I love me some pasta. If I could eat some form of pasta for lunch and dinner every day, I probably would. So I embraced the advice of this article and stuffed my face with pasta (and a few other carbs thrown in) for lunch and dinner, starting about 4 days out from my half. It was glorious.

Mid-race, a.k.a. sting or be stung!

I started experimenting with different types of fuel as soon as my long runs started taking longer than an hour to complete, and the kind that consistently worked best for me was Honey Stinger Energy Chews. I tried out a fueling plan during my 8.5-mile training run, which involved stopping roughly every 30 minutes for a chew or two, some water, and a quick walk break. It worked well the two times I tried it during training runs, so I made the conscious decision to use that tactic during my race.

For the race, I carried my dodgy water bottle, mostly for “emergencies” between water stops; I planned to stop and take a cup at each water stop, and also decided that I’d take Gatorade at the two stops it was offered at. In the bottle’s zippered pouch I carried my iPod and headphones (I don’t usually run with music, but I was worried I might need some serious motivation) and a baggie with 2 pouches’ worth of Honey Stinger chews.

As I wrote in my race recap, my plan to walk and fuel every 30 minutes didn’t exactly go as planned – a few times I stopped before 30 minutes had passed, and a few times I was able to go a little more than 30 minutes. Despite the minor time discrepancies, the fueling itself went well (apart from honey stickiness, but that was to be expected) and I had enough water for the majority of the course.

Overall fueling report

I would call my fueling efforts, both before and during the race, a success. I did not bonk, hit the wall, faint, or do anything else unsavory. During my two longest training runs I did get a bit bonkish (is that a word? it is now) despite fueling as I went, so I give a lot of credit to my pre-race carbo-loading. Glycogen stores FTW! I’m definitely going to stick with this method for future races.

How do you prepare for big races food-wise?

What type of mid-race fuel to you prefer?


14 thoughts on “Reflections on a Half Marathon: Fueling

  1. Google is my best friend in terms of this kind of stuff. I found that pasta doesn’t sit well with me before a race, so before I did my half in September I had a chicken breast with a whole, large baked potato and broccoli I think. Or some veggie I can’t remember. I felt good and didn’t have any issues from that dinner the night before or my bagel/PB and banana the morning of.

    I’m glad what you did worked for you!

    • Nice! Finding what works best for you is definitely key. I feel lucky that pasta sits well with me, because that means I get to stuff my face with it. A bagel with peanut butter and a banana is my morning-of breakfast as well… clearly the breakfast of champions! πŸ˜‰

  2. I love eating a lot of rice in addition to pasta. And sweet potatoes (no skin). I also need to get my hands on some of the Honey Stingers that have caffeine. They seem to be less common around here, which is a shame. I like that they’re more natural than Gu or Bloks, but I need the caffeine boost too.

    • Oooh yes, sweet potatoes! I ate one of those during my carbo-loading as well. One of my favorite carbs of all time, in fact πŸ™‚ Do you tend to stick with white rice, or do you mix it up with flavors/pilaf/different types of rice?

      You know, I haven’t seen much of the caffeinated Honey Stingers around here either. Maybe at City Sports, but that’s it. Steep and Cheap recently had boxes of caffeinated chews on offer, so that might be a good place to stock up! I just wish they offered Honey Stinger more often than they do.

        • You’re welcome! πŸ™‚ I just ordered a box of Honey Stingers through S&C and it’s perfect timing, because my other box is just about out. I love that site so much. And I’m so intrigued by this forbidden rice! I’ll have to check it out!

  3. Honey Stingers are my fave! I also love Nuun for hydration during warmer months and/or super long runs. I don’t worry much about carbloading for half marathons but am a pasta maniac beyond that distance!

    • Yes! I’m all about the Nuun too, especially when it’s hot. I carried giant water bottles full of it during my hottest races this summer, and it was perfect.

      • They’re not as chalky/pastey as others. And they taste better. Chocolate was my least favorite (although good). Vanilla tasted like a cupcake. I didn’t really care for the gin-sting either, honey you can’t go wrong, fruit smoothie is my favorite and the I acui berry was ok and I don’t remember what I thought of the orange blossom or whatever it was. In case you wanted to know.

        • That’s good to know about the not-as-chalky-ness! And thanks for the run-down of flavors πŸ™‚ I didn’t realize they had so many… I’m even more excited to try some out now!

  4. I rarely carb load. My usual pre race meal is a lettuce wrapped burger. Sometimes fries, I guess those count as carbs. πŸ™‚ I have a bunch of stupid diet restrictions and some of them are all starchy carbs. I actually don’t miss them like I thought I would, I used to be a huge pasta/ garlic bread eater. I do usually break the rules for pizza 2 days before a race. Well I break the rules for pizza once a week, but definitely 2 days before a race. As for races, I usually have Swedish Fish or candy corns. πŸ™‚ I am so odd.

    • Pizza is totally worth breaking the rules πŸ™‚ Swedish fish and candy corn actually sound amazing as race fuel! I enjoy both of them anyway… might have to give them a try one of these days!

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