Nutrition, Fatigue and Fast Finishes – Secret to Success



When you work with marathoners as fast as 2:10 and as slow as 6 hours, you learn a thing or two about what makes for a successful race. The training might be different depending on the goal, but every runner needs to consider three crucial factors.


I’ve known successful marathoners who eat a lot before and during the race, and I’ve known others who eat very little, if anything, before successful marathons. Tim Noakes, author of Lore of Running, is now touting a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet leading up to a race and no fluids or fuel during the marathon. Other runners seem to require a full buffet to run their best.

I echo what others have said: Start with the least complicated race nutrition strategy, then change fuel if that doesn’t work. Most runners do the opposite. They want to have good training runs, so they fuel up with the maximum amount of drinks, gels, chews and various energy-delivery items to help them feel better. But feeling better in training is not necessarily the best way to race faster on marathon day. You may need some rough transition days to help your body adapt to new ways of fueling.

The least complicated strategy in the marathon is to not drink or eat. Just run. Before the establishment gets up in arms, let’s admit that few marathoners know if this strategy is best for them, because they always fuel. What if you went through one marathon training phase and trained your body to perform without fueling? Who cares if you bonk on a few training runs? Maybe that’s the best thing that could happen. See if you adapt enough to avoid bonking the next time.

The second-least complicated strategy is to use a slowly absorbed carbohydrate source or to take only sports drinks during the race. (Note: I advise all marathoners to consider carrying their own fluids so they can drink what they want, when they want.)

The third and most common strategy is to use sports drinks and gels according to the recommendations of the manufacturers–namely, drink two or three good swallows of sports drink every 15 minutes or so and ingest a gel every 45 minutes or so. Most runners use this strategy, so it has the most backing as effective. On the downside, it increases the potential for side effects. GI distress is the most common, but spiking and crashing of blood sugar is another serious side effect. If this turns out to be your best option, go with it, but be sure to try the simpler options first in order to find what works best for you before race day.

Read more on this topic: Lessons on Fueling for Training and Racing and The Runner’s Ultimate Nutritional Recovery Routine (RUNRR)


All marathoners know when they have power in their legs over the course of a long run or long race–and when they don’t. When leg fatigue does occur, it’s frustrating because your breathing is fine, your mind wants to push, but your legs simply won’t respond, or they cramp. Here are a few strategies to build fatigue-proof legs:

Higher Mileage Helps
If you can increase your mileage by 10 to 20 miles per week and stay healthy, your legs will be more resistant to fatigue in your next marathon.

Do Long, Long Runs
The length of a long, long run depends on the athlete. Faster runners (sub-3:00 marathoners) find that a 3- to 3.5-hour long run accomplishes the goal because this is well beyond the time they will take to finish the race. Many of us 3:00 to 4:30 marathoners find that simply running for the duration of our marathon goal time is sufficient. Because the recovery time is so great, I’m not a fan of super long runs for slower runners, but they still must get in 3–4.5 hours to address leg fatigue.

Run Hills
Plan more of your runs over hilly courses and do hill workouts. This was the old-school method of strengthening the legs, and it still works. It’s also good to do some downhill training to condition the quads.


Sounds easy, but it’s mighty hard. That’s why runners have to work on it. You can have your nutrition dialed in and your legs can be strong, but if your mind isn’t ready for the type of fatigue that occurs in the marathon, you won’t race well. This is precisely why many first marathons (especially from speedy runners) don’t go well. Most runners are used to the fatigue in a 5K, 10K or half marathon, but the fatigue in the marathon is an entirely different beast. It’s not a problem with breathing. It’s not a problem with lactic acid buildup. It’s simply a problem with fatigue, physical and mental. Unless you insert some workouts in your training that mimic this type of fatigue, you won’t be ready for the marathon.

The best way I know to simulate marathon fatigue is to add between one and four fast-finish long runs into your marathon program. These should last 16–20 miles, start at a pace just slightly faster than your normal easy run pace, but then, over the last 4 to 8 miles, build to the fastest pace you can run, even sprinting at the end. These are extremely hard efforts but effective in preparing athletes for the mental toughness required to run well on tired legs.

Read more on this topic: Fixing the Fade and Lucky 7 Speed and Stamina Workouts for the Marathon


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