My marathon season came to a satisfactory conclusion at the Osaka Marathon on February 26, 2023. It was a wonderful experience, from participating in my first overseas marathon and visiting a new city to peaking at the right time just as my training plan had intended and running a personal best.
Thanks to my new job as a sports nutrition reviewer, I now better understand what works for me regarding fueling and what I’ve done wrong in the past – not just which products I prefer but also daily habits and little tricks that make race-fueling easier.
I consumed six Maurten Gel 100 for my B marathon in December and shared some of my favorite gels for this distance. They’ve all worked well for me, but I decided to make a new fueling plan. I will get into the reasons below.
My game plan
A new plan is necessary because of three new elements:
1. First marathon outside of Taiwan
I had to be prepared for the night before, breakfast, and pre-race. Find options similar to what I usually eat to ensure I don’t give my stomach a shock.
Although there were inconveniences traveling to a foreign location, I focused on controlling what I could control and enjoyed the many new experiences. It doesn’t matter where you are. Running is just running, after all.
2. It was my coldest marathon, around 4-8 degrees Celsius
I wore gloves the entire race, grabbing energy gels from my compression belt and tearing them open would have been more tricky.
It was also quite cold at the Taipei Marathon in December. I wore gloves for that race and discovered that I didn’t have the finger dexterity to smoothly open six energy gels. I had to simplify the fueling process for Osaka.
3. It was the biggest marathon I’ve ever participated in, with over 30,000 runners
Japanese road races are well organized but known for long waits in the pens. To get a good spot up front, many Japanese runners start queuing more than an hour before start time.
For such a big event, I had to stand and wait for much longer than I was used to. Warmup was almost pointless, especially in such cold weather. Muscles and joints were going to be stiff regardless. I had to find ways to stay warm and keep my energy level up.
My gel selections and reasons:
These are my energy gel selections based on the second and third concerns.
2 x Precision Fuel and Hydration’s PF 90 Gel.
It is a simple and convenient fuel. The goal is to deliver 90 g of carbohydrates. It does exactly that—no other macro- or micro-nutrients, just straight-up glucose and fructose. (Read our full review)
Two packs provide 180 g of carbohydrates, equivalent to 7-8 standard gels (a typical GU energy gel, for example, contains 20-25 g of carbohydrates). Just two jumbo gels, fewer items to keep track of, and perfect for my gloved fingers.
The energy gel comes in a resealable design perfect for “micro-dosing,” allowing me to sip the gel instead of overwhelming the digestive system with a whole sachet all at once. I also purchased the reusable Bite Valve, so I don’t have to unscrew and screw whenever I take a sip.
1 x 32GI Guarana Caffeine Shot an hour before the race.
It provides 60 mg of caffeine per 4.5 g pack. Pure liquid guarana is the caffeine source instead of coffee. Guarana is maybe less sensitive to the stomach. The shot also contains 13 calories and 3.3 g of carbohydrates, of which 2.3 g is sugar, mostly from brown rice syrup. It was a long wait, so I took caffeine to stay alert. (Read our full review)
1 x Maurten Gel 100 20 minutes before the gun.
It’s a 40 g energy gel with 100 calories and 25 g of carbohydrates at a 1:0.8 glucose-to-fructose ratio. The company claims that the carbohydrates are encapsulated in a hydrogel, which can bypass the stomach to the intestines and can be absorbed faster without causing gastrointestinal distress. The gel also provides 35 mg of sodium and 21.6 mg of calcium. It’s mildly sweet with a unique consistency similar to jello that’s not quite completely set. (Read full review)
I wasn’t too worried about hydration since it was a cold day. I’m not a heavy sweater, to begin with, so water provided by the organizer along the course did the job.
208 g of carbohydrates
And here’s the race rundown.
I went to bed around 930 pm the night before and woke up naturally around the same time I typically wake up at 5:30 am, a good night’s rest. The start time for my wave was 9:15am, so I had plenty of time to eat, hydrate, poo, and get in the mood for racing.
For breakfast, I had green tea, a banana, an energy bar, a hypotonic sports drink made with 32GI Hydrate effervescent tablet, and coffee. Everything was consumed three hours before the start.
As mentioned, I also had a caffeine shot and a Maurten hydrogel while waiting for the start.
Due to the number of participants, the start is much more crowded than any other races I’ve done before. But after 2 km of slightly under pace, I was able to accelerate up to my intended speed.
I began sipping the PF90 at the 15-minute mark and continued to take sips every 10-15 minutes.
I had practiced consuming 90 g of carbohydrates per hour but decided to play it safer to not overwhelm my digestive system. I finished the first pack at 15 km, which took 1 hour and 14 minutes.
PF 90 is one of the rare energy gels that tastes pleasant to me. The gel gave me zero stomach issues throughout the training block and worked well on race day, as expected.
Half-marathon to 30 km
I reached 30 km in 2 hours and 1 minute. I was consuming the second PF90 a little faster than planned. I felt good at that point, so I saved what I believed was the last big gulp to be had at 34-35km.
From 30 km to 36 km, the course was undulating and rose 100 m in elevation. And to run 2:55, my goal, I also had to speed up to make up for some of the slower, heavy-traffic segments.
In hindsight, I should have packed one more Maurten hydrogel as a backup.
To the finish
I felt strong for the first 30km. But the hills combined with an increased pace (I had to run 4-5 seconds faster per km to compensate for lost times). Things got real, but the last gulp, which I pounded at 35 km, provided a boost.
I was able to maintain pace despite a notable increase in effort. I crossed the finish line at 2:56:44 (chip time). A personal best by two minutes but short of my 2:55 goal.
Some takeaways and tips
I’ve learned a lot about fueling during this five-month training block.
- If you train your gut, you can take in 90-120 g of carbohydrates per hour. The old rule of thumb is to consume 1 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour. But I’ve found that I can now comfortably consume 90 g per hour, which keeps my glycogen level always topped off. It’s beneficial for performance as well as recovery.
- Simplify your race fueling. Instead of carrying 5-6 energy gels like I used to, consolidate your fuel into as few items as possible. Fewer things to keep track of and fewer times you have to tear open a gel translate to less worry.
- DIY simplification. Pre-squeeze your energy gels into a 250-300 ml soft flask. Add a little water. All your gels in one place. Nice and convenient.
- Take a pre-race gel 10-15 minutes before the start. I like to take one with caffeine. It keeps me alert in the runners’ pen and lets my stomach process the high-octane fuel. Once you start running at marathon effort, your digestive system won’t be as accommodating to the fuel you put in.