When I was a much younger runner the idea of eating before I went out on - much less DURING! - a run repulsed me. If I ate or drank anything within a half an hour of going on one of my piddly little 2-3 mile runs I could almost will myself to cramp up, to be distracted by the sloshing of my stomach. And so I would roll out of bed hungry, go running and sweat it out and lose the hunger pangs, come home and down a huge bowl of cereal and move on with my life. Same went for races ... I could not eat anything within an hour of racing (which makes sense ... I was running six minute splits on a 5K course. DUDE. WHAT HAPPENED?).
Even when I ran that 13.1 back in January I turned my nose up at the free stuff on the race course, the rule to "Not eat anything new or weird on race day or you'll PAY!" echoed in my mind and I was too chicken to chance it. Come marathon time though? OH BUDDY. I ate all the things. Orange slices on the race course? Check. Chex Mix out of a random stranger's popcorn bowl? Check. Snickers bars? OH YES. I can't even remember everything I ate that day while running. It was awesome.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you that times since my early days as a runner have changed. Oh have they EVER changed. For whatever reason (age, hormones, lack of sleep, longer runs than I've ever done ETC), I just can't go on a run without fuel, no matter how short. Marathon training for a second time has been a challenge for my body and an adventure in eating. Not since I was nursing newborns has eating been such a JOB.
If I'm headed out for a 4-miler I have to eat and drink something before I leave. Same goes if I'm going on a run in the 7-12 mile range, plus I take water and more to eat with me. And for runs in the 12-20 mile range (oh yes, if you're training for a marathon there WILL be a 20-miler, just buckle your seatbelt for that one), well then you're going to need a sherpa. When I did my 20-miler on Saturday my friend Lindsay rode along next to me on her bike. In her bike's basket? A 32-ounce Gatorade, 2 12-ounce bottles of water, 4 Gu, 4 fun size Snickers and a bag of Red Vines. I ate and drank EVERYTHING (ok I only ate 2 of the Red Vines but close enough). Not to mention that I ate a Gu and a Snickers and drank some water before we left.
SO! If you're headed out on a long run (and I would say as a non-professional that if you're going to be out running for at least an hour, that qualifies as a long run), here are my tips:
1. Get yourself some gear. If you don't have a sherpa, a FuelBelt is the next best thing. I have this FuelBelt and this extra pocket. The bottles are dishwasher-safe and I got the extra, larger pocket and exchanged it for the smaller one that was included so I could run with my iPhone. My phone and three Gu fit in the large pocket. The smaller pocket can hold 1-2 Gu, a Chapstick, ID and credit card, stuff like that. My favorite run route takes me past several sets of water fountains so I can refill them when I turn around and head home. If you don't pass a water fountain while you're running, you might want to consider a 4-bottle belt.
2. Caffeinate. I have tried to run without drinking a cup of coffee or eating a Gu that contains caffeine. Once - because I planned very, very poorly - I woke up to do a 12-miler and realized that I only had one Gu. Before I ran I ate some non-caffeinated "energy gel" things that we had in the cabinet from a race expo, sipped some water and also ate a cereal bar and then high-tailed it to the beach to get my run over with because I was running late. The first three miles were AWFUL. I felt so sluggish, my legs just wouldn't wake up ... at mile 4 I finally gave up and ate my Gu. In about 5 minutes I felt totally fine and had a great last 7 miles. Scientific researchers have researched the heck out of how caffeine positively impacts endurance athletes and love to argue about the positives and negatives. All I have to say about the matter is reflective of my own experiments: "My special juice is gonna make me wiiiin!"
Honey Boo Boo is really on to something guys.
Maybe I should be making up some Go-Go Juice for my runs? No? ANYWAY! I have taken to calling my precious Gu a liquid candy bar. It's awesome like that.
Earlier in my training I would get up and make myself a cup of Keurig Starbucks and drag myself out to the front porch with that and a Nutri-Grain bar. The problem was that it took me about 20 minutes to work my way through my snack and cup of coffee (I was already moving slow. It was 6 am!). I didn't have that kind of time, so I switched to eating a caffeinated Gu (they come in every flavor you can imagine and with OR without caffeine) and sipping some water. It had the same effect but took a lot less time.
The moral of the story? Caffeine is a runner's friend.
3. Eat ahead. The most important thing you can do is eat well the day before you do a long run and make sure you have what your body needs already in the tank on the day of your run. So? If you're running on Saturday morning? Friday is your day to hydrate and carb-load. Plan on three hearty meals that day.
Typically my meal schedule on a pre-long run day looks like this (if I'm running 15+ miles):
Breakfast: Quaker quick oats with a tablespoon of brown sugar, milk, raw almonds and dried cranberries
Mid-morning snack: hummus and Triscuits
Lunch: tuna and white bean salad with toast or crackers, grapes, cheese or yogurt, and raw carrots (and if none of that works out? A giant peanut butter and jelly sandwich.)
Mid-afternoon snack (if I'm hungry): small bowl of cereal
Dinner: Pasta with protein plus veggies (but one of my favorite pre-run dinners is actually sushi rolls with a side of rice)
Pre-bed snack: either a bowl of high-fiber cereal or a snack of cheese and (high-fiber*) crackers with a beer.
And I drink water all the day long. So much water! So much peeing!
As you can see, if I was eating like a runner but not actually running? I would probably weigh a lot more than I do. I'm actually looking forward to the end of marathon season this year just so I can go back to eating like a regular person (and hey! Maybe drop a few pounds!).
*high fiber footnote: I like to eat something high in fiber before I go to bed so I have a chance to, uh, vacate my bowels before I leave the house for my morning run. There is nothing worse than a mid-run poop. I'm sorry but it's true.
4. Plan your travel menu. Before you set out on your run you need to decide when you're going to stop for a "nutritional break." Let's say I'm running 12 miles. I take both of my water bottles with me and plan on eating one Gu at the 6 mile mark and drinking one water bottle with it. The other bottle I drink "as needed" and I refill both at a water fountain on my way back home. I use these Gu stops as a reward for getting to certain points of my run (and I usually try to bring one extra for emergencies). I've had the most success with Gu this way ... if I wait until I feel like I need it, it's usually too late. But if I plan to, say, eat one per hour or one every five miles, then my brain and body knows that it's going to get a boost at that point. When I'm running 15+ miles I usually add a fun size Snickers bar to my Gu stop and alternate between water and Gatorade as well. You have to figure out what works for you. Some people like Sport Beans. Some people like Shot Blocks. Some people like peanut butter Snickers (ME! ME!!). The point is to try different things during the course of your training so that by the time you work up to your 20-miler or your marathon race day you KNOW what works and what doesn't.
5. Organize. I know this sounds so simple and basic but the best thing I have done for myself is set my stuff out the night before (this was my husband's idea. He is full of good ideas!). I started laying out my entire outfit next to the bed at night before I went to bed, and in the kitchen laying out my belt with my water bottles filled and waiting, Gu lined up and ready to pack, my "breakfast" Gu and water bottle set to one side, my sunglasses and headphones ready, even my sunscreen waiting on the porch. It helps so much, especially if you're a morning runner and have a hard time snapping to ... as I do. The days when I wake up ready to go end up being my best runs because I don't have to think too hard about (and stress about) the small details and go back into the house a million times.
And that my friends, is how I get fueled up for a grueling long run and as you can see, eating is a full time job these days. How do you fuel up? What's your favorite way to eat while quite literally on the run?