This week, while Kipchoge was breaking the world record in Berlin, Cam and I were pacing at the Richmond Marathon, a local event we have taken part in for the past three years. The marathon is part of Richmond Runfest, which bills itself as a two day festival of running and, although it may not be as glamorous as a World Major, it does start in the world-famous Kew Gardens, and I have always found it in previous years to be a well organised, friendly and enjoyable event. Cam was pacing 4:15 and I was pacing 4:45 – so both comfortably within our usual marathon times – and while Cam successfully brought her pace group home on time, I had to take my pacer bib off around 17 miles and came in late.

This is the first time that this has happened to me and there was a reason. My timing was spot on, and I was feeling like I could run this pace forever (hmmm…), until we reached the aid station around 28k where unfortunately they had run out of water. As it was a warm day and I was very thirsty, I made the disastrous decision to drink some of the Lucozade which was on offer instead. I know from previous experience that my stomach cannot tolerate this or any of the similar sports drinks (or gels) but, as I said it was very warm and I was worried about dehydrating. True to form, shortly after drinking it I was very sick and did not manage to recover enough to pick up my pace for the remainder of the run. I hope my pace group went on to achieve their goals. Although I consoled myself with having got them over half way at a steady pace, I was very disappointed not to be able to finish the event with them.

After the race I spoke to the organisers who said that they were aware of the shortages but could not get to the aid station to restock it. I suspect that part of the reason they ran out was because they were experimenting with smaller bottles of water and paper cups to avoid waste – which I completely support – but I think it is still unforgivable to run out of water at an event, and organisers should always anticipate extra demand in warm weather. Not a place to cut costs. And on that point, this was not a cheap race, so to run out of some sizes of race t-shirts was also not acceptable. I ended with one too small and Cam, finishing in 4:15, had to accept one that was too big. Not such a big deal for us maybe, but for many of the people we were running with us this was their first marathon. I’m sure that they would be disappointed not to have a race t-shirt that fitted and that they could wear with pride.

So on a more positive note this leads me to the sports drink and gel of the moment – the one that helped Kipchoge break the world record (maybe) and could possibly be the answer to my (and Cam’s) running nutrition issues. Neither of us can use traditional gels or sports drinks without suffering badly, and after so many marathons we are still searching for ways of getting sufficient fuel without the consequent nausea. Have you been reading about Maurten?

Bella with Maurten

Maurten, a product developed by Swedish scientists in conjunction with universities around the world, claims to be a completely new concept for getting sufficient carbohydrate into the bodies of endurance athletes without causing gastrointestinal problems. It was chosen by Nike for the sub 2 project, and apparently has been used by the winners of all the major marathons in 2017. This is not an advertisement, by the way – I’m just excited that there may be something different on offer.

Although not without controversy, it is generally agreed that marathon runners need between 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour, depending on their weight and speed, and the length of the run. A typical energy gel contains around 25g per sachet and sports drinks about 6-8g per 100ml. The carbohydrate in these products is in the form of a variety of sugars, commonly sucrose, fructose or maltodextrin. The problem with most traditional gels and drinks is that the high sugar content often causes runners GI problems similar to those I experienced.

The Maurten brand comes in the form of a powder (in two strengths). It contains no preservatives, colouring or flavouring – just carbohydrates (in the form of natural sugars maltodextrin and fructose) and electrolytes – and are said to taste neutral though mildly sweet. The powder when mixed with water forms a sports drink. The difference is that when it hits the stomach, the stomach’s natural acid converts the liquid into a hydrogel. In this form the sugars are ‘enclosed’ and apparently pass more easily into the intestines where the water, salt and carbohydrates are absorbed. The hydrogel, formed by an extract from brown algae and pectin (as used in jam making), protects the stomach from the high concentration of sugar which causes the GI distress. Recently a gel has also been developed; this is already in hydrogel form, so again supposedly passes easily through the stomach.

Because of this new development, the elite athletes are apparently able to take on higher concentrations of carbohydrates than usual; Ross Tucker estimates this gives them a 1% advantage. But for me I would be so happy just to take in sufficient fuel to complete a race without feeling nauseous.

So my order is on its way and should arrive today – the days of peanut M&M’s and Jelly Beans might be over. I will report back.