Haile Gebrselassie and sports drinks

Haile Gebrselassie - How Fast Might Geb Have Run the London Marathon with the Help of a Good Sports Drink?

Track & Field News, always a great source of information about our sport, reported in a previous issue that Haile Gebrselassie consumed only water during his exciting and much talked-about 2002 April duel with Khalid Khannouchi and Paul Tergat at the London Marathon (Geb finished behind both the Moroccan-turned-American and the Kenyan). According to this publication, Geb’s ‘handlers’ indicated that the Ethiopian had never used carbo drinks in training or competition and thus decided to forgo the use of such drinks during the big race (‘Geb runs out of gas’, Track & Field News, June 2002, p51).

Hello! The importance of using a sports drink in prolonged endurance events like the marathon has been well established in sports science circles for at least the last 14 years (see, for example, the article ‘For long runs, water is no longer the drink of champions’ in the July-August 1988 edition of Running Research News). The problem is a basic one: after 18-22 miles of running, leg-muscle glycogen levels come scarily close to the ‘empty’ reading, and leg-muscle cells begin looking around for an alternative source of energy so that muscular force production may be sustained and marathon pace maintained.

There is always plenty of fat roaming around the muscles and blood, even in an incredibly slender runner like Gebrselassie, but for various reasons fat has a difficult time supporting high rates of force production, including the rate necessary to produce competitive marathon running. The solution to the problem (literally) is a sports drink like Gatorade, which – when ingested in adequate amounts before and during the race – provides the muscles with enough carbohydrate to keep them happy and in good working order.

Gebrselassie ran 2:06:35 in London, in spite of his carbohdyrate insufficiency. If his ‘management team’ ever steps into the 21st century, it is scary to think about how fast Geb might run in future marathons.

Owen Anderson

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