If you're starting to ramp up your running and are training for a half marathon, marathon, or even ultra marathon, it's important to know that your nutrition strategy is key to success. We give you all the information you need on how to fuel for long runs.
What is the best thing to eat before a long run?
When running long distance, what you eat before your run is just as important as how you fuel throughout. When training for an event on a specific date, it's important to steadily increase your carbohydrate intake in the week leading up to the event so that you can get your body used to storing more energy. But beware, don't fall into the trap of 'carb loading' the night before the race by eating a load of pasta and then going to bed! You need to build up gradually over several days, rather than just eating more than usual the day before.
For your regular training runs, there are a few different things that will fuel you well before you head out. Eating a good breakfast will set you up well whether your run is morning, afternoon, or evening. Opt for something carb-rich but also high in protein, such as eggs on toast or oatmeal with fruit. This should be eaten around 2 hours before your run so that it has time to digest and won't sit heavy in your stomach. Around 30-60 minutes before you run, eat something with simple sugars such as a banana to give you one last boost.
What to eat 2 hours before a run
- Oatmeal with fruit and nuts/seeds
- Eggs on toast
- Protein pancakes
- Ham and cheese sandwich
- Peanut butter on toast
- Chicken, rice, vegetables
What to eat 30-60 minutes before a run
- Protein shake
- Some crackers
- Apple sauce
Mid run fuel
When it comes to mid run fuel for long runs, different things will work for different people. The ultimate debate is whether to eat real food or not. By this, we mean the difference between a peanut butter sandwich and an energy gel. Some people are happy to fuel solely with sugary gels and drinks, but this doesn't work so well for others.
In order to find out what works for you, it's best to go with the trial and error method in your training runs. Remember, nothing new on race day! Try different foods and gels and see which make you feel the best. It could be that a combination of both works for you.
Foods which are great for mid run fuel:
- Protein balls
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Pretzels (good for sodium but can be very dry, especially if you’re dehydrated)
- Pickles and pickle juice (great for cramps)
- Dried or fresh fruit
- Sugar cubes
- Energy gels
- Sports/electrolyte drink
You also need to remember that whatever you decide to fuel with, you need to be able to comfortably hold or carry with you while you run. Some people don't mind holding a bottle in their hand while they run, but others may find that to be uncomfortable. Work out what you like best and practice running with a hydration bag, bottle, and snacks in various pockets.
It's also important to remember that being as self-sufficient as possible is best for racing as you never know what kind of fuel and hydration will be available to you on the day. There's nothing worse than gasping for a drink and running along waiting for the next water station only for it never to arrive.
Running fuel for sensitive stomachs
If you have a sensitive stomach or you find that certain foods or energy gels give you gastric problems during your run, you need to be extra careful. Here are some top tips for finding running fuel for sensitive stomachs:
- Avoid caffeine
- Stick with bland carbs like toast, bagels, and oatmeal
- Avoid spicy foods
- Avoid eating too much fibre
- Seek out energy/protein bars with minimal ingredients
Homemade running fuel
If you don't like the idea of eating something full of chemicals or constantly buying expensive energy bars and gels, you can make your own homemade running fuel. There are lots of options, from homemade trail mix to even make your own energy gels! Read more in our article below.
If you're looking to run your first ever 5k, 10k, or half marathon, follow our top tips to beat the nerves and make the most of your day. You never know, it could be the start of something big!
1. Make sure you know all the race information in advance
Usually, race organisers will email you important race information before the big day. Make sure you check your emails regularly and keep an eye on your spam and junk folders.
If you don't receive any emails, keep an eye on the official race website so that you're sure you know all of the important race information before you arrive at the race.
2. Check the race route and elevation profile
There will be many different reasons why you might have chosen this particular race. Maybe it's close to home or you have friends taking part. It's important to bear in mind, however, that it's the route that could make or break your day, especially if you haven't trained for it.
If the course description says it is 'undulating', you should be prepared for a few hills! If you can, check the elevation profile of the course beforehand and make sure you know whether it is all on tarmac and roads or whether it goes off-road and onto trails. Is there a large downhill section that could help you get a PB if you push hard enough? You'll be gutted if you realise afterwards that you were seconds off! So long as you're prepared, you'll have a great time.
3. Arrive in plenty of time
There's nothing worse than arriving late and having to rush to the race start. If the race is done on closed roads, there is a chance the car parking may become compromised and you won't be able to park close to the start of the race. Check the race information beforehand and make sure you know where you can park, if you are travelling by car.
Give yourself plenty of time to use the toilet, warm up, and make your way to the race start. If you need to pick up your race number on the day, allow yourself even more time to do this. Starting the race without stress will make a huge difference to your performance and enjoyment of the experience.
4. Give yourself time to have a comfort break before the race starts
One thing that is for sure at a lot of races, the queues for the portable toilets are epic! It's understandable that you'll want one last comfort break before the race starts, but make sure you join the queue in plenty of time as the race organisers won't wait for you to start the race.
5. Take your own hydration and nutrition
Especially if you've been training with a specific sports drink brand or with particular gels, you should take them with you so that you know you'll have them. While some races do offer aid stations, it's not guaranteed that they'll have what you're used to and it's not guaranteed they'll have enough for everyone.
Avoid disappointment by taking your own water so that you know you'll be well hydrated throughout the race and won't go without if there isn't enough. It will also mean you aren't gasping for water between water stations and you won't be preoccupied the whole time wondering when the next station will be.
6. Don't forget to warm up
Nerves can get the better of you on race day and this can cause you to forget your usual pre-run ritual. Especially if you're in a rush or things aren't going as expected, you could easily forget to warm up, but this could mean disaster and you could get injured.
Take some time to relax and do what you usually do pre-race so that you're in the best condition to run well and finish with a smile on your face.
7. Listen carefully to the race brief
At all good races, there will be a race brief conducted by the Race Director before you set off. There will be important safety information as well as information about the course and aid stations so make sure you listen carefully to anything you need to know.
Being well prepared will hugely affect your enjoyment of the race, so listen carefully to the race brief and don't be afraid to ask any questions if you have them.
8. Stick to your pace
You'll inevitably end up running faster on race day due to adrenaline and chasing other runners, but make sure you don't burn yourself out. Your first ever race will be a crazy experience and you won't know what to expect.
It's natural that you'll end up running much faster than usual, and this will happen at most races, but so long as you don't over-exert yourself, you can use this to your advantage. Try to stick to your planned pace as much as possible, but don't be afraid to push a little harder and maybe even get a PB.
9. Take a change of clothes
Most people plan well for the race but then forget about what will happen afterwards. Even in winter, you will be sweaty and uncomfortable after the race and if you have a long way to drive to get home, you'll want a change of clothes.
It's also a good idea to take a friend or family member with you, not only for support during the race, but so they can help you afterwards. If you pushed hard, you'll be exhausted as well as hungry and thirsty, so your support crew can help you get food and water and can drive you home while you relax in the passenger seat and enjoy a job well done.
10. Enjoy yourself!
This is certainly the most important point. If you adhere to all of the points above, there is no reason why you can't have a very enjoyable race. Being part of an organised race is a fantastic experience and you could well become hooked after your first one. Make sure you remember to enjoy yourself as that is the whole point! If you have prepared well, there is no reason not to.
Alex is the CEO of Russian running magazine 'Marathon Journal' and has taken on the epic challenge of running 1000 half marathons all over the world. We talk to this running enthusiast about why he's doing it and some of the amazing experiences he's had so far.
What inspired you to run 1000 half marathons?
I love the runner's way of life: travelling, exploring, and meeting new people. I also like to collect the finisher medals, I think they are wonderful reminders of bright and memorable moments in my life. Being among like-minded active people gives me a lot of energy and inspires me and positively affects other parts of my life.
How are you training for this epic adventure?
I usually train 3-4 times a week for 30-50 minutes to be able to run this many half marathons without injury. I am not a professional runner; my main goal is to be healthy and have fun during training and running adventures. I also include basic core exercises to prevent injuries and try different sports like basketball, swimming, skiing, and cycling to train different groups of muscles and not to get bored.
Do you follow a specific nutrition plan? If so, what and when do you eat?
I don't have any special diet, I just try to drink more water, include more vegetables and fruit and avoid junk food. Before I cook something, I always try to remain mindful about whether this food is good for my body or not.
Which has been your favourite race so far and why?
That would have to be my 100th half marathon in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is my fastest half so far (1:19:34). Moreover, my father ran his first half marathon there, so that made the day special and memorable.
How have you found half marathons differ around the world?
I have Russian, European, and Asian halfs in my collection and I'm happy that the quality of running events is getting better every year. Asian events usually start before dawn, from 3 to 5 a.m. to avoid heat. This is very unusual. And the weather there is really hot! You can't achieve the same results as in Europe or Russia, and in general Asian runners are much slower than in Europe.
There's a lot of food provided by the organisers of Asian half marathons after the races. You have a great choice of local meals (sometimes very strange) included into the starting fee, so you can indulge yourself after a hot race.
European events are predictable, but in a good way: you know what to expect and you get it. Most big European events have very beautiful courses and a lot of supporters along the way. I love the architecture, views and ambience on the courses.
Russian organisers pay much more attention not only to the race itself but also to an entertaining program: they provide a show before and after the race including local dancers and singers on stage, so your friends and family will never be bored waiting for you to finish the race.
No matter where I am I prefer small events rather than big ones that gather more than 6-8 thousand runners, because the smaller the race the more welcome you feel. But it doesn't mean I will never advise such events like the Marathon Majors - you may run them once or twice to feel united and be a part of something really great.
How long do you think it will take you to complete this mission? Have you given yourself a time limit?
I think about 20 years! I haven't set any time limits. I want to stay injury-free, relaxed, and take as much pleasure from my challenge as I can.
What has been your greatest challenge so far and how did you overcome it?
Running in South-East Asia. The weather there is very hot and humid, almost unbearable for running. It is easier to run a half marathon in -20 than in +30 and high humidity. To beat the heat, I tried to drink more, take cold sponges on refreshment stations, and run slower than usual. But it was still really hard each time; you just can't get used to it. It's also difficult to eat properly before the race, as the starts are very early in the morning, so your body doesn't want to accept any food.
What are your plans for once you have completed this challenge?
2000 half marathons... just kidding! I think I will try something new like triathlon, swimming, or skiing. Time will tell.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of undertaking asimilar challenge?
Be consistent and don't hurry. Аnd, of course, do your best to stay injury-free.
You can keep up with Alex's adventure by following his Instagram: @1000halfmarathons
Running a half marathon is a great challenge to aim for. 13.1 miles is a considerable distance and you will definitely need to train for it. Follow Sundried's training plan to get you to the start line feeling confident and excited about the challenge ahead.
Before You Start
Assess your aches
Where you ache the most can give hints as to how you run, depending on how you stride and how your foot lands will affect where you ache. It's hardly surprising that about 15 percent of all running injuries strike the foot—with each step, our feet absorb a force several times our body weight.
Forefront strikers land on the front of their foot, meaning their calves are under constant tension. Running with too much reliance on the forefoot and toes can cause muscle strain due to the additional work placed on the lower leg. If you are suffering from tight calves, try foam rolling to release tension and try to practice a neutral running stride on your next run, eventually as your muscles strengthen this will ease.
As a heel striker, you’re running technique places more stress on the skeletal frame, which can lead to aching joints and in particular aching heels. To compensate for this running technique if it’s causing you issue, you could try investing in a running shoe designed for those who run with a heel strike, these will have extra support and protection around the heels.
If pain becomes significant, you can try to gradually re-adjust your running technique. Start by trying to land further forward on your foot on shorter distance runs. Where the technique will be unfamiliar, it’s best to stick to shorter distances to avoid injury whilst your body readjusts. You could also try running in a barefoot running shoe, which will encourage you to run with more of a forefront strike naturally.
Half Marathon Training Plan
13.1 miles is a long way to run and puts a lot of strain on your muscles and joints. Depending on how fast or slow you run, you could be spending up to 2 and a half hours on your feet, so you'll definitely need to prepare your body. We recommend you do 4 runs per week, mixing in intervals, tempo runs, and distance runs. Combine the following 4 times per week for 6-12 weeks and you should be ready to tackle the challenge!
Interval runs are important for increasing your speed and agility on the run. They will also increase your lung capacity and heart rate capabilities so that you can improve your fitness and stamina. Your interval session can be anywhere from 20-40 minutes and can be done outside or on a treadmill. Sprint for 30 seconds at maximum effort, then slowly jog or walk for 30 seconds. If you feel like you're not ready to sprint again after only 30 seconds walking/jogging, you should still push yourself to go anyway. This is what will make a change to your fitness and will push your body out of your comfort zone.
Tempo runs are the perfect combination between a longer duration run and an interval session. Your tempo run can be anywhere from 20-40 minutes and should see you pushing at a speed that you can only barely maintain. You should be breathing heavily, unable to hold a conversation, and need to consciously keep pushing the entire time.
We recommend you save your distance runs for the weekend when you have more time. For a half marathon, your long run should be anywhere from 6 miles to around 12 miles in distance. The distance runs train your joints and feet for the strain of pounding the pavement for such a long time and time on your feet is a crucial part of the training process. Try to enjoy these runs, take it easy, and ease into the distances.
Top Tips For Running A Half Marathon
Strengthen the calves with eccentric heel drops. Stand with the balls of your feet on a step. Rise up on both feet. Once up, take your stronger foot off the step and slowly lower back down until your toes are pointing up to the ceiling and your calves are stretched, repeat on the other leg.
Remember to always run safely. This means remaining visible at all times, Sundried’s Ruinette tights feature reflective strip lining to the thighs to enhance visibility and a secure back pocket for valuables. We encourage you to wear high visibility clothing if you are running in low lighting conditions.
Listen to your body. If you are aching or you feel an injury coming on, take some time off until you feel better.