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Fueling for the half-marathon: do I need gels for 21.1K?

Some guidance on nutrition for your first long race

The half-marathon distance could be considered a threshold into long-distance or endurance running, and if you’re contemplating your first half this spring, by now you’ve realized you’re likely going to be out there for well over an hour. You may be wondering, will I need nutrition?

RELATED: Accessible energy: gels help go the distance

The short answer is yes. Your body will be running low on stored glycogen after about 75 minutes on the course, so unless you’re extremely fast, you will definitely benefit from an energy gel (or chew, or bean) taken within the first hour. Doing so will prevent you from hitting the wall, otherwise known in running lingo as “bonking.” (This becomes even more of an issue in the full marathon.) 

This is not including hydration and electrolytes, which are never a bad idea, though these are usually provided along the course. Gels may be, too. Definitely do not wait until you feel tired before refuelling, if you go beyond an hour. If you’re not carrying your own water, plan to take a gel just before a water stop, so you’ll have something to wash it down with. 

A good rule of thumb is to consume 60g of carbohydrate per hour on the course. However, many gels contain significantly less carbohydrate than that, to avoid triggering gastrointestinal issues. All the more reason to experiment during training, in advance of the big day. You do not want to still be experimenting on race day!

All of this assumes, too, that your pre-race fuelling is adequate, which means plenty of complex carbs (pasta or brown rice are good options, or your favourite gluten-free options) in the days leading up to the race, and a nutritious and familiar breakfast the morning of. These are all things you can, and should, practise during your last few long runs leading up to the race. 

Tired legs are a given as you race longer distances, but if you get the nutrition piece right, it will go a long way towards a positive race experience and a speedy recovery.