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How To Avoid Hitting The Wall On Race Day

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It was a monumental year for the 2022 London Marathon. Places were in high demand this year with over 350,000 people entering the ballot, despite only 40,000 places allocated for the start line of the 26.2-mile course. 

Your mindset, nutrition, sleep and activity in the days leading up to the race, and on the day itself, are incredibly important to help run a good race. 

Dr Richard Allison, Nutritionist at Herbalife Nutrition and Head of Nutrition at Tottenham Hotspur Women’s Team, ran the London Marathon this year, marking his 13th marathon overall and having also completed a staggering seven ultra-marathons.

Herbalife Nutrition is the #1 brand in the world in active and lifestyle nutrition and is the official nutrition partner of Tottenham Hotspur’s Women’s team, ensuring the team’s nutrition needs are met both in training and during matches.

The leading global nutrition company is also a partner of Atlético de Madrid Femenino, Real Betis and Olympic Lyonnais Feminine Soccer Team. 

Dr Richard Allison shares his tips here on mindset and nutrition for a big race day.

  • Recovery runs: Typically for the final one to two weeks, you should be tapering your training with the last week being very, very light. It’s still important to move. It’s still important to have that recovery runs and even a very short run two days before – maybe just two or three miles. It’s highly recommended.
  • Mindset and sticking to a plan: Often people go too hard or go too fast and they get themselves into trouble and it becomes very, very painful in terms of hitting the wall. So, it’s important that you stick to your race plan. You should be focusing on the fact that you’ve done the work, you’ve put the process in place and you’re fuelling accordingly. It shouldn’t be as mentally challenging if you’ve done the work leading up to it. And the thing with the London Marathon is you’ve got that support all the way around, which is really, really helpful.
  • Hitting the wall: Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in our muscles and liver for energy. ‘Hitting the wall’ refers to depleting your stored glycogen and is accompanied by fatigue and feelings of negativity. To avoid hitting the wall, you need to take on board carbohydrates and fluid during the run. Once you hit the wall, that’s effectively your body switching fuel sources to fat metabolism… which if it does, it feels like you’ve run into a wall. It’s quite a painful experience. At that point, you need to try and get some more carbohydrates on board. For example, drinks or energy gels. But the idea is to not get into that state in the first place – nutrition is key for preventing the wall. I tend to recommend taking Herbalife24 CR7 throughout the marathon, as this may have a glycogen-sparing effect
  • Avoiding deficiencies to reduce risk of injury: Injuries can happen at any time and may have a major impact on your training, or worse, prevent you from running the marathon! The key to reducing the risk of injury is avoiding deficiencies in the days and weeks leading up to the marathon. Make sure you have an adequate intake of overall calories, protein, carbohydrates, and omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, avoid micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Practice run for nutrition: It’s vital not to take anything new for the first time on race day. This includes supplements or high-carbohydrate foods. You don’t want to experience discomfort from food you haven’t tried before. This will hamper your enjoyment at the very least and potentially even your performance. Make sure you trial your supplements and meals in advance of the marathon.
  • Nutrition ahead of race day: We know it’s no longer necessary to carbohydrate load for the week leading up to the marathon, you potentially only need to do so for the two days before and on the morning of the marathon itself. This means that your meals in the days leading up to the marathon contain the right amount of carbohydrates. You’re looking at somewhere between 5 to 7 grams per every kilogram of body weight. Ideally, you need to consume 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates for every hour you’re going to run. However, it is highly advisable to practice your race-day nutrition in advance.
  • Fruit and carbohydrates on the morning of the race:  Nutritionally, you’re aiming to maximize your stores in the muscles and liver in preparation for the marathon. However, during an overnight fast, your body utilises some of this stored glycogen, while muscle glycogen levels will not deplete significantly overnight, the brain’s demand for glycogen as fuel will deplete liver glycogen. So, I’d recommend that your breakfast on race day also includes a source of fructose, i.e. fruit sugar, because that will help to replenish the glycogen that’s been depleted from the liver overnight. You’ll then be able to maximise your glycogen storage, which for most people is around 500 grams in the skeletal muscle and approximately 100 grams in the liver. It’s dependent on body size but generally, fructose will help you. On the morning of the marathon, I usually have a Herbalife Nutrition Formula 1 shake with two bananas, and then Herbalife24 Hydrate and Lift Off sachets ahead of the race starting.

Porridge is advisable as a good source of complex carbohydrates, but make sure that there’s minimal fat as this can delay gastric emptying and can have a negative consequence on performance. 

  • Hydration: Hydration in the days and hours leading up to the marathon is crucial. On race day, you want to sip fluid throughout the hours leading up to the marathon, rather than drinking set amounts, and don’t leave it to the last minute. If the marathon starts in 10 minutes and you drink lots of water, that can have negative consequences. So, it’s about ensuring you’re taking in adequate hydration in the morning leading up to the marathon. During the race, there are 12 water stations throughout the course. And my advice is to just sip water at every single one of them, or every other one. It’s not so much about taking in a set amount of water but sipping the fluid as you go.
  • Nutrition post-race – using a recovery shake as quick, nutritional insurance: You’re going to want a post-race snack, ideally with protein, carbohydrates, and fluid as a recovery aid. The muscles, particularly in your legs, will have gone through a lot. You’ve been probably running for somewhere between three to six hours, so you need that protein to aid recovery and replenish the carbohydrate (glycogen) that you’ve used. Taking a recovery shake shortly after completing your run, will tick all those boxes.  I would also recommend Omega 3’s post-run, to help reduce some of the inflammation and muscle soreness. Carbohydrates, protein, fluid and omega three is a perfect post-run combination.
  • Warm down: It’s very tempting when you finish a marathon to fall on the floor or to take it easy. But taking the time to warm down is important. It’s going to save you in the days afterwards from a lot of muscle soreness in the legs.