Men’s Health Urbanathlon 2013 (Chicago): Fuel for Thought

Earlier this summer I ran my first half marathon. As we marched down the street to the start, I was pretty confident in my training, I came well prepared with the proper gear, was astutely aware of every water stop, and had more than enough gel tucked in my SpiBelt. And then before the horn went off  I was hit with the realization that all I ate that morning was piece of toast with peanut butter and honey (a good two hours earlier). Impeccable planning, but I forgot to eat.

I finished the race with an epic bonk. Never again.

I’m sharing this because after all of the training you put into the Urbanathlon I don’t want you to fall short on fuel. At 10.8 miles you’ll need it.

Racing rule 102.36 in the runners handbook declares that you should never try anything new the morning of a race. You just don’t want any surprises out on the course with cramps or semi-traumatizing GI issues. For the most part I follow that rule. So I’m not here to tell you to try something new, but I thought I’d share my approach to fuel come race day (it’s based on nothing more than my preference).

As of right now

  • Stay hydrated. The night before the race don’t expect to empty a water cooler and call yourself ready. Starting right now (it’s Wednesday) keep a water bottle or cup around, and keep it full, and consistently take a hit off of it. You don’t have to go nuts, and you don’t need any out-of-the-ordinary concoctions. Just make a concerted effort to stay hydrated.
  • My diet is pretty normal by most standards, and more than anything I’ll just start to abstain from heavier or more fatty foods (I know, real scientific). Push the fresh veggies and fruits, and mix a sweet potato in here and there. And as much as I can go for an IPA, red wine, or something with a little more oomph, I’ll save those delicious calories for the post-race antics.
Nothing fancy, just a cup with some water well within reach.

Nothing fancy, just a cup with some water well within reach.

The night before the race

  • Really just depends on what our dinner plans are. I could plow through a Chipotle Burrito Bowl, or if we’ll be at a more formal restaurant I’ll do some pasta with red sauce, or something similar. Whatever we do I just won’t go overboard with a  steak or burger, or cheese curds.
  • Keep up the water.

Race morning

My Urbanathlon pre-race ritual.

In 2011 and 2012, this was my Urbanathlon pre-race ritual at the funky Hard Rock McDonald’s across from Best Western River North. In 2013 I’ll shake it up a bit, but will keep McDonald’s in the  equation.

  • 4:30 a.m. I’ll reluctantly rise and warm up my sweet potato in the microwave (I will have cooked it in the microwave the night before). I’ll add a touch of butter and salt, and toss a hard boiled egg on my plate and wash it all down with 16 ounces or so of water. This will give me the sustained energy I need a few hours later.
  • 5:30 a.m. I’ll have a cup of coffee, black. My stomach can handle it, and I need it. I think there’s a McDonald’s in or right near Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, where I’ll grab a scalding cup.
  • 5:45ish a.m. After a trip to the restroom, I’ll trek to Soldier Field and along the way will nurse a Gatorade and nibble a PowerBar. I won’t finish either. I’ll work on these until about 6:30 a.m.
  • 6:45 a.m. 15 minutes before the race I’ll empty a Gatorade Prime pouch. Whatever is left of my PowerBar at race time I’ll toss in my pocket.

All told this may seem like a lot of weird stuff floating around my belly, but it’s a regimen I’m somewhat used to, and the spacing will help.

During the race

  • I’ll hit every water stop. I know they’ll have Gatorade and water, and for most of the stops I’ll hit the Gatorade. This is also why I may make the executive decision to wear my black tank instead of my white tank as planned; because if the Gatorade is anything other than clear my white top doesn’t stand a chance.
  • Midway along Monroe Harbor, at about mile 5, just before Soldier Field, I’ll inhale a Roctane GU (this is just a commercial gel). I’ve trained and raced with these, and know my stomach can handle it. I’ll take it just before a water stop, at which time I’ll actually drink water, not Gatorade, so that I can wash it down.

Ultimately …

Put simply, the point of all of this is that whatever your stomach tolerance is, just don’t forget to properly fuel for what is a pretty demanding run. And you can take some baby steps right now, even though the race is a few days out. It’ll make a big difference. Trust me.


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