Marathon food and drink – to go!

There’s eating and drinking in it!

On the Merrion Road in Dublin recently I saw a guy out running with a cup of coffee in his hand. I should add that it was a paper takeaway cup and not the fine china, because that would just be plain odd.

I also saw one Sunday morning in Paris a woman run while carrying a baguette. Perhaps it was a bread relay baton.

You’ll need to drink during your marathon too, but preferably not coffee – unless you want to stop for regular toilet breaks and dehydration treatment. And you might also need to eat. Like all things marathon-related, it’s best to prepare and be informed.

In last year’s Dublin Marathon there were water stations every 5 kilometres (3 miles), with isotonic drinks also available at three of them. Make sure you take a drink at each water station – don’t wait until you’re thirsty because that’ll already be too late. It’s bad form to take two bottles from one water station – if everyone did that there’d be none left for the runners at the back, and in any case one bottle per station will be water enough for you. And don’t litter the streets with your empty bottles – keep them for the next water station or where you see a bin.

If you haven’t already practised drinking while running, you should do so during your taper. My technique is to do it in two steps – first I fill my mouth with water and then I swallow it. I take my time with each bottle and make it last until the next water station. This means that for most of the marathon I’m running with a small bottle in one hand, but since I take a water bottle on my long training runs this doesn’t inconvenience me.

That’s the drinking. What about the eating?

Many runners of all levels use energy gels during the marathon. It’s a common sight; competitors with little tubes in a belt around their waists, squeezing gel down the hatch every few miles. A gel manufacturer will also be distributing its product at two points in the second half of the race. If you’ve never tried an energy gel before, don’t start on the day of the marathon – there’s a strong chance that it’ll only make you sick.

If you’ve been following my old-school running habits (no iPod, no tights, no expensive sports watch) then it’ll hardly surprise you to learn that I don’t do the gels. Instead I bring some glucose tablets in the pouch of my shorts.

If you reckon you’ll be running for more than four hours, you may need to have something to eat on the way. This can be something small – for my first marathon I cut half an energy bar into small pieces and popped a few en route. But since then I haven’t needed to do this, and many runners may upset their stomachs if they eat during the race. If you’ve carb-loaded properly in the days before the marathon, plus had a sensible and early breakfast on race day, then you shouldn’t be hungry.

I can’t remember if there are oranges and bananas at the water stations in the Dublin Marathon. But you won’t be left to starve; the streets will be lined with spectators who offer plates of sugary sweets for runners – between Rialto and Terenure you may actually put on a few pounds. However, don’t make a pick n’ mix of it. I took a single sweet at around 19 miles last year when I was starting to fade, and it didn’t go down well. Fortunately I didn’t get sick, and perhaps it was just as well that I didn’t take any Mars Bars from that spectator in Walkinstown.

You might remember the fare on offer to me during this year’s Paris Marathon. One fishmonger at a nearby market seemed to be offering the runners fresh prawns. Near the end, a promotional stand for a vineyard-region marathon was giving out plastic cups of red wine. Not only is all this bad for your stomach while running, but red wine doesn’t go with prawns.

Have a good race – and bon appetit!

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