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how do pro runners fuel for the boston marathon?
Running Athlete Stories

Coach Charlotte's Lessons from the 2023 Boston Marathon

Awe. That is how I felt the entire time.

The moment I stepped on the train at Penn Station in New York to head to Boston on Friday evening, I knew it was going to be a special weekend. You could tell, there were so many runners. Excited. Nervous. Bags packed to the brim. The one thing that was running through my mind? I hope they have their fuel and hydration.

We arrived in Boston later in the evening. You could feel it in the air.

The next morning, an early shakeout run with Maurten alongside some incredible runners, each with such a personal story of how they started their journey in running. We ran just about 3 miles followed by a Q&A with the founder, Olof Sköld, the Swedish National Record Holder in the marathon, Mustafa Mohamed, and inspiring runner, Lindsey LaVeck (@lindsey_runs). When do runners get the chance to be so vocal in front of the people who create the products that fuel them? Pretty much never, I thought to myself. This felt like a “pinch me” moment – for me and for everyone else in the room. Let’s soak it all in.

Questions swirled...

Caffeine – how much and when?

No more than 400mg, but start with 1 GEL 100 CAF 100 first and see how it feels before progressing to an all-out caffeine attempt if you so choose. I personally find my preference to be 1 GEL 100 CAF 100 at the start, then non-caffeinated for the remainder, no matter the gel brands I use.

How much carbohydrate do I really need during a marathon?

It really depends on the person, but definitely to take in a gel (or some form of carbohydrate) every 30-45 minutes or so, if you can. This will keep your fuel stores high.

Can I race with more carbohydrates at the start when my body is better equipped at handling digestion, rather than later in the race when my stomach is tired and my body is sore?

Maurten would recommend trying to be consistent in your fueling if you can. If you’re aiming for every 30 minutes, continue with that to ensure your body has the fuel it needs to carry you through the hard effort, hour after hour. Mustafa chimed in that he knew exactly what we were talking about here. He finds he sometimes takes in a bit more carbohydrate at the start and just naturally takes in less (though still trying his best to keep up the intake) over the course of the race.

What about carrying all this? How do I carry my gels or fuel if I am supposed to be fueling every 30 minutes?

Maurten is at the drawing board on this, don’t worry. They’re working on some solutions to provide more storage for all our precious fuel. My recommendation - two belts. One for your phone and keys (plus a gel or two) and another just for fuel. Definitely practice this in training first though. The hip belt from USWE is a great choice for your two-belt attempt.

Following the Q&A was the marathon expo. I helped out at Maurten’s booth. There were so many questions. I knew we had work to do and I was there to help. Fueling strategy before the race was a huge topic. What do I eat? How? When? Is carbo-loading a thing?

In fact, it is, and it can help you come race day. We’d recommend taking in roughly 60-80 extra grams of carbohydrate plus some hydration the night before (like a Maurten 320, NeverSecond C30 x 3 servings, or Precision Hydration 60 gram drink mix). Precision and NeverSecond have additional electrolytes in there too.

Another option, if you’d prefer to chew rather than drink, is a Styrkr bar with a banana as dessert. If you haven’t heard yet, these are like the most delicious rice crispies treats. You won’t be disappointed. Make sure before consuming this, you also have a delicious dinner. Aim for 50% of your plate as whole grains, 25% as (mainly starchy) veggies and fruit, and 25% as protein, sprinkled with some healthy fats on top. Most importantly though, don’t change anything up on the night before the race. If you don’t typically consume meals similar in structure to the above, don’t start this now.

Lastly, it broke my heart. Some came to the expo hoping to purchase their fuel; however, a lesson was learned. Always bring fuel with you as you never know if there will be any left.

Marathon Morning

I don’t think I slept. I was too nervous, excited, and anxious. Will Kipchoge do it? Will he win his 5th major? I felt like I was his coach, invested beyond belief, and I think almost all of Boston felt this too. We were rooting for him and couldn’t wait to watch him transcend the course. First, watching on TV, not wanting to miss a single thing.

Running to the course to spectate, I arrived near mile 24, my pockets full of fuel (Spring Energy and Endurance Tap) and my bottle filled with Gnarly Orange Pineapple, watching the professional wheelchair racers come through first and I was truly in awe, especially with the rainy, cold weather conditions. Continuing to cheer for the wheelchair racers and I see the lead professional men’s car in the distance. Is he doing it, I thought to myself? All of Boston was at the course now. I could see on the app that something had happened.

The biggest lesson I learned at the Boston Marathon is what many have been saying on the internet. We’re all human and we have days where we may not race our best. That is okay and it allows us to learn and grow. Kipchoge taught the running world something we needed that day. It’s okay to not have a good day, and in fact, you should lean into it when it happens.

He was poised as he passed, not in first, but in 7th at that point, officially finishing in 6th. I was screaming for him. His perseverance, determination, and ability to continue when he knew he wasn’t going to hit his goal was nothing short of what I actually might call his greatest race. He is the only human to have ever run under 2 hours in the marathon and the world record holder for the official marathon - and I am saying his greatest race was a race where there was no podium finish or record? Yes. You read that right. The reason being that there wasn’t a huge factor, it seems, that contributed. It just wasn’t his day.

Runners, cyclists, triathletes, and all other athletes out there. Know that you will have good and not-so-good days on the course. You may fuel and train properly, but whether it’s the weather, a bad sleep, or a cramp that showed itself for no reason at all, you may not have the race you expected. That doesn’t mean it (or you) are a failure. In fact, it might be your greatest achievement too, because you pick back up and keep going, showing your ultimate strength.

My top 3 lessons learned at The Boston Marathon:

  1. Bring everything you need with you. This means bringing your fuel, hydration, and any sort of recovery gear. Do not bank on the expo having it for you, because you may end up with a surprise if they’re no longer available.
  2. Pre-race nutrition. Runners, we need to focus on this! Get your carbs in the night before. It will help you. Try it out on a hard training day first, and let us know how you feel. I bet you’ll feel better than ever.
  3. It’s okay to not do as well as you hoped in a race. As I say this, I also know that when this happens, it’s not the best feeling. However, this race can be a lesson, it can make you charge ahead stronger. As a result, it may also end up being your greatest race too.

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The Feed. / Monday, May 15, 2023