Fall marathon season is quickly approaching. Soon our thoughts will switch from our training to tapering and then our race day plan. We will need to make decisions about all the important stuff: what our goal pace is; what to eat for breakfast on the big day; what outfit to wear; etc. Those are all important, but today I want to discuss something near and dear to my heart. Fuel belts.
Right now, some of you are scoffing. “HA! As if I would ever consider using a fuel belt. LAME!” But there are some very serious runners who are very attached to their fuel belts. I should know. I used to be one of them.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I subscribed to the fuel belt doctrine. As a well established part-time running store employee I am accustomed to having every possible running accessory under the sun at my disposal, and I honestly thought the fuel belt was just another legitimate essential of marathon training. I trained and raced with it regularly without giving it a second thought. I never considered my fuel belt to be particularly comfortable or stylish, but I did fancy it to be a means of liberation from utter dehydration, the dreaded “wall”, and congested race course water stations.
After completing two marathons with what I felt to be two decently mediocre times, my fuel belt and I decided to take on qualifying for Boston. When I missed the qualifier in two consecutive attempts my amazing, much-faster-than-me running friends from near and far joined forces and cooked up a large-scale marathon intervention to make sure I got the BQ once and for all. Their master plan involved pacing me, which meant being seen running with me in public. And that is when they set me down and lovingly gave me what will forever be known as “The Fuel Belt Talk”.
My goal for race day was not just to hit the BQ, but to beat it by 5 minutes in order to increase my odds of actually securing a spot at Boston with the 5 minute priority registration cushion. For me this meant running 3:30. On the eve of my third-time’s-the-charm BQ attempt, my dear friend and esteemed running mentor (who also just so happens to be a total running bad-ass and 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon finisher) pulled me aside for the little pre-race debriefing.
This is “The Fuel Belt Talk.” She put her hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eye, and said to me in a gentle, yet firm voice “People who run 3:30 marathons DO NOT wear fuel belts. And NO ONE was wearing a fuel belt in the Olympic Trials Marathon.” I recall looking at her wide-eyed and thinking to myself “How the eff did the entire field of the Olympic Trials Marathon make it through 26.2 miles without withering into dehydration despair if they weren’t wearing fuel belts?” Until this moment I had honestly assumed that hydration belts were a universal truth of marathon training for everyone from the 6 hour marathoner all the way up to Kara and Shalene.
I know that in marathon training and in life it is above all important to know thy self, and to avoid comparing yourself to others (especially when you run 3:30 marathons and “others” are people who competed in the Olympic Trials), but I am here to tell you that the moment those fateful words rolled off my wise and speedy running idol’s tongue I swore off racing with the fuel belt forever and never looked back. To think that I had been running around for all this time looking like a total marathoning newb! I still cringe a little when I think about it. Ouch.
Since “The Fuel Belt Talk” I have belted up on a few particularly hot, humid, extra-long long runs here and there, but over time my former trusty hydration sidekick has faded into near obscurity in my training as well. This leads me to wonder how the general running public perceives and embraces the fuel belt, and what is thought to be the least lame/ most socially acceptable long run hydration accessory these days.
And so I took it upon myself to poll my trusted running community. With help of a Survey Monkey savvy friend, I whipped up a fun little “Feelings About Fuel Belts” survey below and mercilessly pestered my Facebook and Twitter followers and my local running group email distribution list to complete it. You are invited to read my entire in-depth (but most un-scientific) analysis of the results here on my personal blog), but in the meantime, here is a brief Salty summary of my findings.
I’m not gonna lie, I thought that most everyone who took my survey would be all like “Hell to the no, dogg! Fuel belts are Bush League!” And this was the stance taken by 32.20% of my 61 respondents. However, to my great surprise, 35.59% of survey participants agreed that the fuel belt is clutch for any and all long runs. An additional 25.42% of survey takers agreed that fuel belts are kind of drag, but also a necessary evil in the hottest and/ or longest of running scenarios.
When asked “What distance, temperature, or combination of the 2 warrants a fuel belt?” participants were divided into 2 nearly evenly split camps. The very marginally larger one being “I wear my fuel belt on ALL RUNS 15 miles and longer regardless of the temperature.” And the other being “No distance is too long, and temperature too hot. I would sooner die of dehydration and shame than be caught wearing a fuel belt.”
Those who were strongly morally opposed to fuel belts confessed to avoiding dehydration on their longest, sweatiest runs by carrying handheld water bottles, wearing hydration packs (Shocking! I always thought those were only for mountain biking), or planning routes with water available or dropping water on along the route prior to their run. The fuel belt haters solved the conundrum of packing gels and keys by wearing shorts with plenty of pockets, utilizing sports bra storage space, pinning gels inside the waistbands of their shorts. (Salty elaborates on these and other strategies for staying footloose and fuel belt free here.)
65% of survey participants agreed that wearing fuel belts in races is for newbies only, and something they would never do, while the remaining 35% stated that they are down with racing in the belt because it liberates them from congested water stops at crowded races.
In the end, I suppose it all comes down to this: If you are doing any sort of long distance training you will eventually encounter some runs that warrant hydration. If you are down with the fit, feel, and fashion of the fuel belt, well then, get out there and rock that shit! The little cross-section of runners that I surveyed finds fuels belts to be marginally social acceptable! On the other hand, if you think fuel belts are hideous, uncomfortable, and just all around sucky, you are most certainly not alone in this opinion either.
So, how do you feel about fuel belts? Do you have any running gear that you just can’t quit?