In my morning procrastination ritual of browsing social media for news, I came across the article “Running Wild: Long Run Packing List.” The article is a fairly straightforward examination of the obvious requirements of a long run.  Having only been in the running game for a few short years, I can attest to the fact that some of the “obvious” recommendations are not always obvious. For example, in training for my first marathon, I thought I could hit 20 miles with little more than a couple liters of water.

“Hello hyponatremia, nice to meet you.”

I consumed way too much water trying to match what I now know is a higher than normal sweat rate with sweat so salty you might as well be pouring cayenne pepper into my eyes. My fuel and hydration plan was experimental and insufficient, and I had no backup other than calling my wife to save me. Being far too proud at the time, I walked the final 2 miles to my truck wondering through my long run stupidity why I could barely close my hands.

During the subsequent 4 years, I’ve been on a seemingly endless quest to find a good fuel to help me complete a marathon healthy, and I’ve tried some pretty unusual concoctions in the process. Salt pills? Yep. Nuun? Of course. Kelp? It’s salty, no? Pirate’s Booty? Guilty as charged…

Let’s stop there before it gets weird. What I’m trying to say is that I have some experience with testing fuel for long runs.  Consequently, the article from iRunnerBlog particularly caught my attention with this sentence:

“Pick up a variety and use the long run to test drive your options.”

Do you refer to yourself as having a cast iron stomach? If not, you may want to be a little more cautious in your approach to long run fuel testing.  Here’s my process:

Try the prospective fuel as a snack in between meals. Did you experience any GI issues? If so, give the rest of that stuff away and don’t even try running with it. You likely just saved yourself a wasted long run.

If the fuel survived the snack test, take it out for a spin on a shorter, mid-week run. I can usually get through a 5k with almost any fuel, but a 10k+ will expose most potential problems. If it goes bad, you’ve only lost a short portion of a mid-week run.  Being completely paranoid about my long runs due to what are often compressed training schedules, I usually go out for another mid-length run before risking a long run.

If the fuel survives the mid-length run test, it’s time to try it on a long run. Getting back to the long-run packing list, take some kind of backup fuel. You can overcome a lack of calories, but if the hydration portion of the strategy fails, your long run will end unceremoniously.  Assuming you have sufficient water available with you or along the route, you can carry something simple like salt packets to overcome hydration missteps in either direction.

Looking at just the fuel part of the equation, I pack the following items for long runs and marathons:

  • 1 liter of Zico Coconut Water in my hydration pack bladder
  • 1 20 oz bottle of water
  • 1 20 oz bottle of water mixed with 1/3 cup of EFS
  • 1 extra bottle of unmixed EFS
  • 1 small bag of dried Kelp (my salt packet alternative)

Of course, most of you aren’t as digestively challenged as me so you should alter this list significantly. If you plan to take fluids at the race’s water stops, pack those fluids for long training runs. Match the flavor of sports drink if you know what they will offer. I don’t know about Gatorade, but last I checked, blue Powerade is completely different from the other flavors.

You also probably don’t need to consume anywhere near as much fluid as I consume during my long runs. Like I said, I’m a heavy, salty sweater. You may be fine with a single 20 oz bottle of water and a single GU energy gel per hour.

The end goal is to get in your miles AND find a race-day fuel strategy, both without dying.