I Hate to Eat & Run but I Am in a Marathon

Many people consider it a faux pas to “eat and run.” However, many marathon runners like to “eat on the run.”

As you probably can guess, I’m not talking about noshing on bagels while running (although I’ve seen that done once or twice). I’m referring to the use of “carbohydrate gels,” to use their generic name--popular brand names are GU, PowerGel, and Clif Shots.

energy gel A carbohydrate or energy gel usually has a net weight of about an ounce, provides a quick 100 or so calories, and comes in a foil packet. Some of them contain a goodly dose of caffeine along with the calories. They can be purchased online from thousands of suppliers for less than a dollar each, and while they can be bought at many bricks-and-mortar retailers that sell running shoes and other gear, the price is usually a bit higher.

Using a carbohydrate gel is very simple. When on a long run of an hour or more, after about 45 minutes or so of running, pull out a GU packet, tear off the top, and use your teeth to squeeze the glop into your mouth and swallow it. (Since the gel’s consistency is about that of honey, almost everyone takes a drink of water or sports drink to wash it down.) Additional gels can be consumed as desired. Personally, I plan on taking two gels during a 90-minute run and five during the course of a marathon.

If you haven’t tried an energy gel, the natural question to ask is, “What do they taste like?” I think the tastes run from fairly pleasant (I like vanilla) to flavors that should be banned for use on POWs under the Geneva Convention (such as tangerine and mango). With that range of flavors--and some runners hate all of the gels--I advise anyone considering using a carbohydrate gel during a marathon or half marathon to try them on training runs well in advance!

The next question is, “How do you carry these gel packets while you’re running?” Although one possibility is to stuff them into a fanny pack, not everyone is comfortable running with one. A second possibility (I actually did this once, and it sort of worked) is to safety pin the packs to the waistband of your running shorts. A potential drawback here is that you might accidentally puncture the packet, resulting in sticky gel on your waist and your shorts.

The only method that I use now was created in 1993 by two Californians who came up with the idea (it was quickly patented) of sewing onto the rear of a pair of running shorts a strip of mesh pockets that are ideal for carrying gel packets, ibuprofen, bandages, TP, or whatever lightweight items a runner might want to have along for the run. If you’d think this sounds like something you might find useful, the company they founded is called RaceReady. (And, no I don’t get a commission for referrals.) I’m sure there are other products available that work just as well, but I don’t know of any.

Now that youve been let in on the secrets of eating (if taking in a gel or two can be called “eating”) on the run, the next topic will be the Long Run and why you need to do it.

Back to front page.