We're getting into the section of the training program with some of the longest sessions before the race. When you are out there for several hours at a time, nutrition and hydration during that time becomes very important. So here are some key points for you to think about. One of the most important things to remember is that, on race day, you don't want to try anything new. You should have tried out every single thing during training so that you are comfortable with how your body reacts to it. So over the next couple of weeks, your job is to experiment with the below to find out what works, what doesn't, and to fine tune the details.
You'll most likely be sweating during the race. Those of you in colder climates may not be sweating much in your training sessions, but trust me you will be in Orlando. As you sweat, you become dehydrated and so need to drink regularly to stay hydrated. The more dehydrated you become, the weaker and more prone to cramps and side stitches you become. The number one rule of hydration: If you wait until you are thirsty before you start drinking, you've waited too long. Other symptoms of dehydration: dizziness, nausea, inability to concentrate, muscle cramping.
How much should you drink? Typically I recommend anywhere from 10 to 20 ounces per hour. A typical bottle of bottled water is about 17 ounces, so you should be drinking a whole bottle every hour. Rather than downing it all at once, try to drink some every 15-20 minutes so your body has time to process it, rather than having it jiggle around in your belly. I always have someone tell me that they absolutely can't drink anything when they run. If that's you, try drinking a few sips (or even a single sip) every 15 minutes. After doing it for a couple of runs, gradually increase the amount. Trust me, if you go 3-4 hours without drinking anything, you are in for a long day, so train your body to handle it in your training sessions!
What should you drink? My suggestion is a sports drink like Gatorate, Powerade, etc. They are all pretty similar in what they do for you, so see what tastes best to you. Why that over just plain water? Sports drinks also include salt, sugar, and electrolytes. The salt helps prevent muscle cramping (and some people who sweat a lot may even want to consider taking salt tablets), the sugar replaces the energy stores you burn up while running, and the electrolytes theoretically will also help prevent cramping. They haven't announced which sports drink will be available on race day yet, so for now use whatever tastes best to you.
Hyponatremia: This is the opposite of dehydration, some people take in so much fluid and not enough salt that they actually become over-hydrated. It's pretty rare, so don't worry too much about it, but just be aware it can happen if you drink lots of water and don't sweat much.
Pro tip: On race day, they will be handing out cups of water and sports drink that you can grab as you go by. People tend to spill it all over themselves when drinking and running, which is not fun when it's sports drink. If you watch the elite runners, they will pinch the top of the cup so it makes a spout instead of a big circular opening. Makes it much easier to get it into your mouth that way! Share the tip with others and they will think you are a pro!
What about eating during the race? Remember how I recommended to eat and drink something before you start any training session (as well as race day). Some people like to eat during the race itself as well. This is essential for anyone doing a full marathon, but it's still very helpful for half marathoners as well. Most people use a gel packet such as Gu, PowerGel, Cliff Shots, Sports Beans, or any number of other options. Each brand also comes in a ton of different flavors, some also have caffeine. Try a bunch of different ones out and see what you prefer, they all work the same way so it's really personal preference. The best way I can describe them is it's like eating cake frosting. My suggestion is have some water handy after you eat them to help wash it down. I recommend one gel every 60-90 minutes. While they aren't really super-appetizing, my guess is within 2-3 minutes you'll feel a sudden surge of energy, they do work! But you will find there's a big difference in taste between them, so try out a bunch until you find out what works best for you.
On race day, they will have water, a sports drink, and one or more gel stations on the course for you. While training, you'll have to fend for yourself. I recommend a water belt, which is basically a waist belt that holds one or more water bottles. I prefer one bottle at the small of my back, but others prefer several small bottles spaced around their waist, or even a type of glove that holds a water bottle. Fill it with your favorite sports drink and away you go. Most of them also have small zippered pockets to hold your gel packets.
I hope your training's going well, let me know if I can help!