How to fuel for the Cardiff Half Marathon

With the Cardiff Half Marathon on October 1st, CSN has received quite a few questions about the race from 'how to run quicker', to 'what should I eat before the race'. Both great questions and as I too am gearing up for the Cardiff Half next month, I've been busy planning my carb-load and pre-race breakfast so I am going to pass on what I know.

Carb Loading

So first things first—the carb-load. You might be wondering if it's as necessary for 13.1 miles as it is for 26.2 miles. Honestly, it can't hurt. A carb-load prior to a half-marathon needn't last as long or be as intense, but it is still important and will have a positive impact on your race performance. Technically speaking, carb-loading really comes into play anytime you are out on the road for more than 90 minutes. Carb-loading tends to lead to a bit of stiffness (because your muscles are fully stocked with glycogen) and weight gain (water retention), so for shorter events, it's really not recommended.

Since most of us take longer than 90 minutes to complete a half-marathon (I'm hoping for a sub 2 hour), CSN's recommendation is that you carb-load in the days prior to the race. You can carb-load in as little as one day, but to prevent carb fatigue and the worry of "Am I taking in enough?" aim to start two days before the half-marathon.

You don't necessarily need to increase your calories, however increasing them will simply give you more fuel to burn — just ensure the majority of those calories come from carbs, especially at lunch and dinner the day before race day. (You can always stay stocked up with great fuel by checking out CSN's carbs section). Given time, your body can digest, absorb, and store the nutrients, and you'll be able to rely on those fuel stores on the next day's run. The day before race day, have your main meal at midday and an another carb heavy meal for dinner so you have plenty of time to digest.

The majority of carbs consumed the day before should be from quality complex carbohydrate sources like oats, rice, potato, wholemeal bread, pasta and even cereals like Weetabix and shredded wheat. Aim for about 2.5g carbs per lb of bodyweight the day before the race. The pre-race meal is also very important, as you want to have a full tank that's primed for activity but not so much that you feel full which could lead to discomfort. For more ideas on what to consume pre-race, check out this article on Carbohydrates, glycogen and performance.

Now that we've covered carb-loading and what to eat before the race, it's time to tackle one of the most asked questions we get at CSN: "How do I avoid running on empty in those last few miles of the race?"

How do I avoid running on empty in those last few miles of the race?

As you may have noticed during your training when you're on the road for fewer than 75 minutes, you can usually rely on water, and your body's own glycogen stores to carry you along. Any longer, and you begin to deplete those stores. Your muscles run out of fuel, and your body — not to mention your attitude — starts to drag. Consuming carbs mid-run can keep your blood sugar steady, so you don't crash and burn.

Instead of recommending something new on race day, here are some common and proven techniques for fueling which should help you smash through the race wall. Since every runner is different, you may want to try one or more of the following tips during training. Maybe all of them will work, and you'll have plenty of ammo in your arsonry.

Tip #1

Make sure to take in adequate fuel the day before your long run. While you are at rest, your body will have adequate time and energy to absorb and store those nutrients you ate, and then you'll be able to rely on this fuel for the following day. And don't forget to eat a carb-rich, low-fibre, easy-to-digest, familiar breakfast the morning of the race.

Tip #2

Fuel at regular intervals and before you need to. Wait until you're out of gas, and you won't be able to recover from feeling hungry or weak. Your muscles will be forced to play catch-up, and you won't be able to bounce back and finish the run feeling strong. If you've ever had a long run that started strong and then got slower and slower, it may be time to consider what you did during the first few miles of the long runs that you didn't do during the last few miles. Many runners head out the door with a full tank but, feeling great, they neglect to refuel over the next few miles. If you don't start fueling within that first hour, it's likely that your empty-tank will catch up with you, and you'll bonk. Not only will you hit the wall, but once your muscle glycogen stores are depleted, it can be very difficult to adequately recover during your run (and you may have to walk or crawl the last few miles). My advice to avoid this whole mess? Aim for 30-60 grams of carb per hour (and start using your chews, gels, or sports drinks early and often).

Tip #3

Don't be afraid of fuel. Maybe you've tried a product in the past and didn't care for it or it didn't sit well with you. If that's the case, know that there are always new products coming out. Try a variety of products and brands. For ideas on the many different fuel options available, check out this post or contact us for more some direct advice. Don't be afraid to experiment with a few different products and see what works for you.

Whatever concentrated form of fuel you are taking in, remember to dilute it with adequate water (or else it won't be absorbed, and you will get nauseous). Lastly, find out what gel/product your race will be handing out. If you can tolerate or like the brand that the race is handing out, you'll know that you won't need to pack your own on race day. But if their chosen brand doesn't work for you, you'll need to plan ahead. In addition, you might try to find out at what miles the race will be handing out the products and mimic this in your training.