JUDD JONES: Ready for a Marathon

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The first big marathon of 2018 is just around the corner. On Sunday, May 27, the Coeur d’Alene Marathon will be taking place. Whether you are doing a full marathon or just taking part in a half-marathon, there are a few things to know.

In this week’s column, I am going to revisit some information I published a few years ago. Each year, marathons across the country see seasoned runners, elite athletes and a large number of first-time marathon runners. With the introduction of all these new — and in some cases poorly prepared — runners comes risks that race organizers must prepare for.

One significant aspect for race organizers is making sure there is plenty of water on the course, EMT coverage, and other critical runner support. With so many runners — each with different levels of experience and fitness — race organizers know they will have a few runners bonking and getting injured. There is even the off chance someone could have a significant medical emergency and die. This recently happened in the shorter Bloomsday run in Spokane.

If you are a seasoned runner and marathon participant, I am sure you are familiar with the term “bonk,” which refers to the sudden onset of fatigue and loss of energy that happens to many runners that compete in or practice endurance exercise regularly. The term “hitting the wall” is another way to say the same thing. When your body runs out of fuel or glycogen that is stored in your liver and muscles, you bonk.

What is the best way to avoid bonking during the marathon or half- marathon? The simple answer is proper caloric intake and hydration. Preparing your caloric intake starts during training. Everyone will have different needs, different diets and energy demands for fueling. Most runners begin with carbohydrates, which are starches and sugars the body uses as its primary energy source.

Common complex carbohydrates used by runners are legumes, kinds of pasta and starchy vegetables, potatoes, peas, and corn. Simple carbs are mainly fruits, some dairy and foods made with sugar, such as energy bars, sugary sports drinks, etc.

Carbohydrates have both good and bad aspects for fueling. Carbs burn up very quickly and this form of fueling draws from your liver and muscles. Once it is used up, and assuming you have not replenished your carb stores, is when you bonk. Your body pretty much shuts down and your race is over. This is why race organizers recommend you keep gel packs or other fueling with you during the run. Aid stations around the course usually keep an available supply of carb resources so you can recharge.

In the last few years, many elite runners have turned to fat as their primary fuel. The process to turn your body into a fat burner takes time, practice and a specific diet. I will touch on this at a later time in another column.

The next critical area is proper hydration. On average, endurance runners can lose more than 100 ounces of sweat during a marathon. Dehydration in any marathon is the leading cause for runners to seek medical attention after a race. Most running coaches recommend you keep a steady flow of water intake going days before the race. Then, during the race, make sure you consume at least 4 ounces every 10 to 15 minutes.

Typically, race organizers place water stations every 1 to 1.5 miles, so be sure to take advantage of each station. With that said, don’t overdo it at the water stops and over-hydrate. That can cause hyponatremia, which is a condition where your electrolytes and sodium balances are thrown off, leading to cramping, nausea, and disorientation.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow when preparing yourself for an intense or extended endurance run:

1. Both professional and amateur athletes should establish their baseline range for water requirement. Use the following formula: Body weight (lbs) x 1 = (ounces of fluid/day). However, right before you exercise, you should only drink about 4-6 ounces of water. That will be enough to keep you hydrated before a run. Then drink as needed throughout the exercise. Be sure to carry water with you if you’re headed for a long-distance run or bike ride.

2. Carb loading does not mean you do not need protein. Your body needs protein on a daily basis. When we talk about carbohydrate loading, it is also key to eat a small serving of low-fat protein, such as poached eggs, yogurt, turkey, chicken or plant proteins such as beans and lentils before endurance exercise.

3. Maintain a normal diet with a 60-70 percent carbohydrate intake starting three days to a week before you plan to engage in endurance races or exercise. It is not necessary to increase your total calories. Going overboard with large quantities of pasta, bread or other sources of carbohydrates can be counterproductive, so use common sense.

4. To prepare for daily runs, even for short 5-10K distances, eat something before you go out. You will have more energy and feel better during your workout.

I have asked many elite athletes “What should I eat and how much?” The answer is never dull. It depends on the time of day, whether it is hot or cold weather, elevation and so on.

When training, being attentive to what your body needs over the long haul is key. If you take time to understand your fueling needs under different conditions, your marathon or half marathon will be so much more enjoyable. Proper intake of the right foods and high hydration will take your next race to new levels.


Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.


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