You asked! I answer:
1. Um, the bathroom thing. Basically, in a long run, all that jostling of the body takes its toll on the intestines. Is that the gel packs they hand out during the race doing that? Or is it the running and bouncing up and down? Any good strategies to head that off?
The bouncing motion of running does jostle the intestines. This can irritate or provoke someone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome to have more discomfort, but you don’t necessary need to have IBS to have irritation or symptoms associated with intestine problems on race day. The symptoms of bowel or intestine irritation can include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, pain and maybe even heartburn or acid reflux (see next question). What to do about it:
• Avoid caffeine, dairy and high fiber foods in the morning and even the night before the race.
• Don’t eat for 2-3 hours before the race.
• Practice modifying what you take in during the race. Consuming more water based nutrition (mix your gels with water in a bottle to consume, or try different drinks) and less gels may give your intestines some relief.
• Don’t drink too much during the marathon. If you are drinking when thirsty, that may be enough. Drinking too much may cause you to feel queasy or too “full” during the run (as well as other medical problems).
• Also see the answer to #3, When to Drink, below.
2. Heartburn or acid reflux with long runs
Eat less acidic foods before and during run – say no to the oranges and strawberries on the race course. Don’t eat 2-3 hours before the race. Try water based drinks (Heed, Accelerade, or other performance drinks) rather than taking gels during the run. Remember to do some test runs when modifying your nutrition routine. You can try these drinks even on your short runs leading up to the marathon to make sure they work for you and don’t upset your stomach. Also see the answer to #3, When to drink, below.
3. When to drink
There has been A LOT of discussion on this topic in the last few years. Runners lose both water and electrolytes in sweat. Both of these need to be replaced to avoid medical issues. However, drinking too much water or an electrolyte mix can cause serious medical and performance issues. The key? With some guidelines, you should be trying out what drinking schedule works best for you – and then compare that to where the drink stations are on the marathon course and what drinks they are offering. The 2013 Columbus Marathon offers a drink station almost every mile. You probably don’t need to drink that often, but the option is nice.
• For the average marathoner running between 8-10 minutes per mile and weighing around 150 pounds, it’s recommended that you drink between 40-50 ounces of fluid for the whole marathon. Dividing this up between drink types, your fluid plan may look something like this: every 2 miles alternate between drinking water and drinking Gatorade or other electrolyte drink. When you are planning a gel, drink water with it; when no gel planned, drink the electrolyte drink.
• The rate of fluid intake should change with your pace: the faster you run, the more you will drink (8 minute pace: ~10 oz/20 minutes versus 10 minute pace: ~4-6 oz/20 minutes).
• Drink no more than 3-6 oz per mile.
• There is also research supporting the “swish and spit” method if you aren’t thirsty, or if you have problems digesting, or have general intestinal or reflux problems during runs. The swish and spit method is taking an electrolyte drink into your mouth at an aid station (take a few good breaths before) and swishing it around your mouth for about 10 seconds and then spitting it out. Your body will get benefits of the drink without having to digest it. Yes, it looks awful, but I promise you won’t be the only one doing this. I actually have race photos of me spitting out Gatorade after aid stations.
4. How can I drink at aid stations without showering my face or choking every time?
Pinch the cup between your thumb and first finger, squeeze the whole opening flat, and then only allow one tiny opening at the end by your fingertips to open. Put that opening to your mouth after breathing out and drink.
5. Why am I hungry ALL THE TIME?!
It’s ok! You’ve just been training as hard as you ever have; you’ve run the most miles of your life; you’re training your body to be a performance machine and it needs fuel! It’s ok to fuel your body, especially this close to the marathon. Just make sure you’re eating well: nutritious snacks, lots of vegetables, drinking water and eating often throughout the day to keep your body fueled.
As most of the questions pertain to diet and race day nutrition, make sure that you don’t try anything new on race day. Practice what and when you are going to drink and eat during the race and realize that everyone’s needs are different.