Callum Hawkins: the secrets to fuelling a marathon

Britain’s rising distance runner, Callum Hawkins, shares his well honed nutrition strategies for tackling a marathon.

He may have just missed out on the medals at the 2017 World Championships this summer, but there’s still no stopping the 25 year old.

Despite finishing 4th, he still put in an impressive performance with a with a personal best time of two hours 10.17 minutes – enough to equal the best performance by a British athlete in the men’s marathon at a World Championships.

Now with his eyes set firmly on next year’s Commonwealth Games, the HIGH5-fuelled athlete shares his nutrition secrets and tips for those hoping to crack their marathon PB this Autumn.

For a runner who’s pipped to race alongside the likes of Mo Farah in future events, it may be easy to assume that preparing for the full marathon distance comes easily, but what resonates most is Callum’s honesty when he admits that for him – as for most of us – the challenge of making up the miles and the volume of training required, is still testing.

“I think the hardest thing is just the amount of training that is required just to be able to run one,” he explains.

“For London, I was up at 120 miles a week with my shortest run being 8 miles which was closely followed by another 8 miles later that day. The harder sessions that I do often go over 20 miles. Training for a marathon can really take its toll on the body but it’s so rewarding when you finish.

“Finishing 4th at the World Champs, I felt both over the moon and disappointed. To be able to see a medal just down the road was tough but looking back I don’t think I could have done much more than I did. It was quite a stressful build up as I got injured and ill during it, which allowed some doubts to creep in, so to finish fourth was amazing and a huge relief.”

Running at such a pace requires impeccable precision not only in his approach to training, but when it comes to fuelling. The reasons behind it may sound straightforwards, Callum is quick to impress the importance of getting your nutrition right, both for training and recovery – to runners of all abilities.

“Nutrition is huge for a marathon for three reasons. The first is so that you are able to train hard. You need to make sure that you are taking in enough calories to make up for what training has taking out of you so that you can recover and are ready for the next day’s training,” he says.

“The second is to make sure you have enough fuel stored up for the race itself. The marathon is a long way, so the fuller the fuel tank is before the race, the better. And the third reason is making sure your nutrition is right during the race.

“The human body is not designed to have enough glycogen stores to go the full distance. That is why nutrition during the race is key.”

For Callum, being sponsored by HIGH5 has enabled him to use a range of sports nutrition, which each perform their own specific role.

“I use Protein Recovery drink and Protein Recovery Bar as I find it is a great and easy way for me to get carbs and protein in after training. I use the Sports Bar as an extra snack in the lead up to a marathon as I find it is an easy and tasty way to up my carb intake before a race. During a race I use both Energy Source drink and Energy Gel to make sure I have enough fuel in my body to make it to the end without blowing up.”

Callum Hawkins

NYC Half Marathon, March 19,2017
Photo: Victah Sailer@PhotoRun

Intrigued to know more about his fuelling strategy, we ask for his insight on what he takes on board in the days before to help  prepare for a 26.2 mile onslaught, given that the intensity he runs at is considerably more than your average runner.

“I don’t really do anything fancy in the few days before a marathon. I just try to eat a little bit more than I normally would. I do this by having slightly bigger meals but I’ve found that snacking regularly is the easiest way. For hydration I just try to make sure I have a bottle of water on me. It encourages me to sip on it which in turn keeps me hydrated and I sometimes throw a HIGH5 Zero tablet in.”

Come race day itself, a pot of porridge and some bananas throughout the morning of the race are his favoured meal, and of course, the additions of HIGH5 Energy Source which contains added carbohydrate.

“I start drinking it two hours before and make sure I finish it before an hour to go,” says Callum. “Around 10 minutes before the race, I have an Energy Gel.”

Being an elite runner, Callum has the benefit of being able to access his own water bottles every 5km, but there are still added preparations to consider, requiring some forethought and a good understanding of the race route and conditions.

For Callum, each water bottle contains 150ml of Energy Source, each with a gel strapped to them in case he misses one. Even still, extra bottles are taken, positioned and strapped just in case. You can never be too sure.

A typical race situation requires 120ml of the drink every 5km, and a gel at 15km, 25km and 35kms, so making sure there are enough should one go astray, is key.

In warmer weather, he will adjust his fuelling strategy to include more fluids.

“Fortunately for me, my marathons haven’t been in extreme heat so I haven’t changed my fuelling strategy, but when I go warm weather training I do drink a lot more during runs and sessions as you just need to. I also use a HIGH5 Zero tablet in a drink after every run when away somewhere warm, so that I can replace what is lost through sweat.”

Being an elite athlete obviously brings its benefits, but we’re keen to know what best piece of racing advice Callum might be compelled to lend someone hoping to rack up a PB in their marathon this Autumn.

“Pacing is key. It’s so easy to get excited in a marathon and go too deep too early. In all four of the marathons I have run I have negative split. I have found that having a conservative but still quick halfway split goal the best way for me. This allows me to get to halfway in good shape then from there I determine if I should push on or just maintain. Halfway is the point in a marathon when I know exactly what I have in the legs.”

So, where should we expect to see Callum next?

“My next big goal will be the Commonwealth Games marathon in April of next year and after that I will most certainly be looking forward to Tokyo 2020. I will have a few marathons in between the Commonwealth’s and the Olympics but I haven’t decide on what they will be yet – all my focus is on the Gold Coast.”

Need advice on your marathon nutrition strategy? See our easy-to-read nutrition guide or download our free 12-week HIGH5 marathon training plan.