BY TOM RODGERS
I started running marathons relatively late in life (1998) but did not have my best times until my 50th year (2010) and thereafter. By then, I had devised a better nutritional system using Hammer Nutrition. All three of those times, two standalone Houston Marathons at 2:59 and one Ironman marathon segment at 3:19, came when I had a nutrition plan that emphasized using a fuel belt with Sustained Energy, Hammer Gel, and sometimes Endurolytes, depending on the temperature.
I found that the more I could rely on my own calories, the better the odds of running the fastest pace in the marathon. Good nutrition also ensured the most consistently paced long training runs of 18-21 miles in the months before the race, also using the fuel belt with water fountains along the training course. I've proven this method both in cold and hot weather.
Why not just drink the fluids provided at the aid stations? The caloric quality required for me to run a 2:59 marathon is much greater than just a 3:30 jogging marathon and I can't do that with just simple-sugar drinks. But even for slower long training runs, you should eat the same way you will in the marathon.
It's hard to recommend exact amounts of Hammer Products to use, or even exactly which flavors to use, because taste varies and you should enjoy what you ingest to race your best. For me, running most of my marathons in an Ironman, it helps me to drink the plainer tasting drinks like Sustained Energy's plain flavor with modest protein for most of the day on the bike and early run. I then move to Hammer Gels for the later parts of the race, emphasizing more caffeine to keep me alert and going hard when I'm tired. Note that I'm a 185-pound male at 5'11, which is big for a triathlete and huge for a marathon runner, so smaller men and women will need less and will be able to digest less than I do.
For the standalone marathon, I try to start with a fuel belt that has two or three 7-ounce bottles, though I've raced with as many as four in a marathon or on a training run where I might not find a water fountain for hours.
Nowadays, my ideal load for a 55- 60F day in a standalone marathon would be two fuel belt bottles mixed at what I call double strength, at 125 calories per bottle meaning I would only drink half the bottle at a time (about three swallows for me running), and mix that with a hand-up cup of water at the aid station. That makes for four chances to drink Hammer products at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20. In addition to those calories, I would carry three Hammer Gel packets flavors like Espresso or Tangerine in a fuel-belt-bag or tri-short pocket to administer at miles 6, 12, and 18. Add all this together and you have over 550 calories, which is enough to get me through a relatively coolweather standalone marathon. I drink just water at most other aid stations.
If it's going to be a warmer marathon, I would add Endurolytes products, maybe 3-4 capsules for the race, but that could be more if it's very hot, such as an Ironman marathon in the afternoon in Texas or Hawaii. I would also add an additional two fuel-belt bottles to be picked up at the Ironman special needs station. Drink even more water at each aid station, so that a typical aid station strategy might be: drink some Hammer Gel mixed in the bottle before the aid station, then drink two cups of water at the aid station.
When you start drinking a lot more water, you should take in more electrolytes. The only way to know the exact amount is to practice in training. Since I don't like to fumble with capsules while running, I mix the Endurolytes powder directly into the fuel belt bottles.
Although I've had my best times sticking to my own products as much as possible during the race, if you drop a bottle or miscalculate, you can drink some of the race fluid, especially in the later sections, because you've built a good cushion of complex carbohydrates. I also like to increase the proportion of Hammer Gel to Sustained Energy the farther the race goes. My first bottle might be all Sustained Energy or maybe 50%, and my last bottle is often all Hammer Gel with no protein. Some people have trouble digesting any protein at all during a race and those people should stick with Hammer Gel throughout.
Racing is all about confidence, and confidence comes from controlling as many variables as you can. Hammer Nutrition gives me the confidence to plan nutrition so I can focus on pacing and passing my rivals in the final miles.