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Why Nutrition Is Important in the Marathon

By Alix Shutello

Oh boy, another exciting day at Boston on Monday this week….but no American woman finished in the top ten. Perhaps that is too much to ask. American Pam Higgins  came in 10 minutes slower than the women’s winner, Teyba Erkesso, of Ethiopia.

Higgins dropped out of the LA Marathon last month because of nutrition issues but was able to finish Boston. While she hoped to finish in the top ten and run a sub 2:30, she ran a 2:36 and finished 13th in her field. A sub 2:30 would have earned her a top 5 finish and a personal best.

So what went wrong last month? In an article posted on NBC’s Web site, Higgins went too long without nutrition on the day of the LA Marathon. For some reason, the start of the race was pushed back and that half hour delay had a disastrous effect on the full-time working marathoner from Flagstaff, AZ.

A seasoned runner literally bases the need for nutrition on time away from food, not the distance run. Higgins probably had eaten before the race and then calculated that she’d need some sort of Gu or Gel product at the 5K mark or so. When the race was delayed, instead of eating something about 1/2 hour into the race, she had to wait about 45 minutes. By that time, she’d metabolized what she had ingested before the race, and at an all out effort, a runner will be burning calories at super speed. While you’d think that a trained athlete has trained their body on how to use energy during a race like a marathon, many top marathoners start taking nutrition in some sort of Gu, Gel or energy supplement pretty early in the race. This was clear in the women’s Olympic Marathon in Beijing. 

So unfortunately, the timing became a huge issue for Higgins, who just ran out of steam  as a result of feeling weakness and fatigue and had to drop out of the race. Her contract states that she only is to run a race every 8 weeks but considering that she didn’t finish the LA Marathon and only ran 16 miles, the LA race director pulled some strings and she got into Boston.

Hopefully we’ll see Paige increase her endurance and speed so that one day we can boast that Americans are finishing in the 10 ten in both the men’s and women’s fields. America Ryan Hall came in fourth at Boston, just over his personal best of 2:06; which was not enough to catch Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya, who beat his personal best of 2:06:23 last fall in Frankfurt with a 2:05:52 at Boston.



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