I will be running the Chicago Marathon in just over three weeks after a long summer of training. This will be my first marathon, and you can follow my Maree’s 26.2 Journey on the Eastbay Blog to learn about my experience.

As I get closer to race day on 10/10/10, I am beginning to realize just how important proper nutrition is for marathon runners. I find myself eating constantly and craving carbohydrates and fruits, and if I eat the wrong foods, such as candy and soda, I feel lethargic and weak. I decided to look up tips on marathon nutrition, and I discovered some interesting facts.

I already knew that carbohydrates, proteins, and fats were important for marathon training, but I didn’t realize just how vital they are to help your body run efficiently. One source I read said that the typical runner stores about 1,800 calories from carbohydrates in his muscles, liver and blood, which means that around mile 22 or 23, that stash of energy is almost completely burned up. This is why marathoners usually hit a wall at the 22nd or 23rd mile, and also the reason that it is very important to eat during long runs. I have been bringing an energy bar and GU packets along with me on my long runs that I eat throughout my run, and the combination keeps me going strong until I finish the workout. However, I have never run more than 22 miles, so I know that the last four miles of the marathon will probably be the toughest on my body and mind.

Here is a sample taper week (the final week before the race) nutrition schedule:

Day 1 – Exercise Duration – 60 minutes, Carb intake – 60%

Day 2 – Exercise Duration – 40 minutes, Carb intake – 50%

Day 3 – Exercise Duration – 30 minutes, Carb intake – 40%

Day 4 – Exercise Duration – 20 minutes, Carb intake – 70%

Day 5 – Exercise Duration – Rest, Carb intake – 70%

Day 6 – Exercise Duration – Rest, Carb intake – 70%

Day 7 – Race Day

I had no idea that running nutrition was so complicated! The website also mentioned that on the day of the marathon, I should wake up about three hours early to eat a meal so that my body has time to turn my food into fuel for the race. That means that I’ll be waking up bright and early at around 3:30 a.m. on that Sunday morning.

One of the most important tips that I have gathered on marathon nutrition is to not change your diet drastically right before the race. A lot of runners read nutrition information at the last minute and end up doing more harm than good by altering their food intake. It’s best to do your research ahead of time so you know what foods work for you and in what quantity so that the marathon goes smoothly. I am already eating all the right foods – bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs – I just have to remember to load up on carbohydrates based on the schedule above during the week before the race.

Early next week, I am hoping to do one final long run, between 18 and 23 miles, and after that it’s taper time! I can’t wait.