I remember in the lead up to my first marathon I would literally lay awake at night worrying how I could carry all those energy gels during my race, as I planned to run light: shorts, singlet, socks, speedy shoes. Those worrying days are over: I have nailed it. And now I’m sharing with you: how to carry gels in a marathon.
During a marathon most of your energy coms from glycogen, stored in your muscles. Unfortunately you can only store so much of it, and once depleted you feel physically and emotionally fatigued. You hit that famous wall. In order to prevent that, you have to top things up during the race. Like most (professional) athletes, you can do that wit energy gels.
Your maximum uptake is about 60 gram per hour. About two or three gels an hour should be fine. Taking more won’t really do much. In my case: I generally take one every 5 to 7 km, about every twenty minutes. That means I have to carry six gels during my race: I take my last gel at around 30km. After that, I really can’t stand those things anymore. I just cannot swallow anymore gel. No stomach issues, just that I really have enough of that stuff.
How to carry gels during a marathon
Back in the lead up to my first marathon I could not find a satisfying answer online about how to carry all that stuff with me. Some suggested attaching them to your shorts with safety pins, others advised on using rubber bands around your hand (no way I was going to run 42.195 with rubber bands around my hand). And again others suggested the back pocket of shorts. They either 1 never run marathons, 2 don’t take enough gels with them or 3 have huge back pockets in their shorts.
For my first race I bought 2 in 1 shorts. These had a phone pocket and a back pocket. It just about worked, but it wasn’t ideal as I also found the shorts a little too warm.
This year instead I took some advice from a triathlete friend of mine. He suggested buying a bib-number belt from Ronhill. It has these little loops where you can slide your gels in. It has 4 larger loops (perfect if you use Maurten gels) and 4 smaller loops. These are too small for my liking. (@ronhill, if you ever read this: I would love to have the same belt, but with six or eight of the larger loops).
So I used 4 loops on the belt, and the other two I could carry in the back pocket of my shorts. But you could put all of them in the belt. It’s really secure and easy to take out at higher tempo. I had no issues whatsoever.
Pro tip: I put the gels in upside-down. So the piece you rip off, is facing downward. I do this so I don’t accidentally rip it open when pulling it out (pull it out downwards, your hips will hold the belt in place) of the belt and drop half of the gel as if i’m playing Mario kart (remember dropping that banana with Mario kart and the guys behind you slipped?).
Another pro tip. Get this belt on time so that you can practice with it in training. You don’t want to be anxiously fiddling around during your race. I had to find out how tight I wanted the belt around my waist. Putting it on too tight started annoying me, having it too loose, it would start to bounce. As with everything else in marathon running: control what you can control, and don’t start messing with new stuff during the race.