I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody actually enjoys running a long-distance race. We marathoners and half marathoners are masochists disguised as runners, because, let’s face it, your body doesn’t really want to run 13.1 miles, nevermind 26.2.
I suppose there are those freaks of nature out there who truly enjoy those grueling miles and run their last mile faster than I run my first. Yes, I hate you. But there is one thing I I truly love about running distance races (besides finishing them), and that is the food and eating involved in training and running. When you burn off 2,000 calories on a long run, you get to eat an awful lot without any guilt or worry about your waistline.
There are so many differing opinions on proper nutrition during training, pre-race, and post-race, and everyone’s body and stomach react so differently. Every runner and running guru has his or her own opinion, and it’s hard to have any hard and fast rules. But after working in running stores during college, having hundreds of conversations on this topic with new and experienced runners, joggers, and walkers of all distances, and finally figuring out what works for me, here are mine:
- Eat as much frozen yogurt as possible post-long run, because it is DELICIOUS and fairly nutritious. The people at the froyo place that I frequent know my name, and I am so embarrassed at the amount of yogurt I purchase I am now forced to grab two spoons to make it seem like I’ll be sharing with someone when I get home. I’m not and soon it will be three spoons.
- Steak is your best friend and cows’ gift to humanity (or was that froyo?): Pre-race with lots of carbohydrate goodness. Post-race with some sort of bacon-rich accompaniment because you just ran really, really far, and bacon is the best reward for any accomplishment.
- The morning of the race is key, and my go-to is lots of peanut butter slathered on half of a bagel. Most of the time I only eat a quarter of it, but something is better than nothing (my usual breakfast—I know, most important meal of the day, but I already said I was a masochist). Also, COFFEE! If you normally drink coffee (oh wait, that’s what I have for breakfast) then race day is not the morning to skip it.
- Rule number four: Twizzlers. People love their GU and their Chomps and their Shot Bloks and PowerBar Gel for fuel during a race, but my secret weapon is Twizzlers. This childhood treat is something that just works for me and tastes a whole lot better than some of those other options.
- The most important lesson I’ve learned is not to drastically change your diet right before a race.
Lots of greasy, salty Chinese food before the Chicago Marathon taught me to just say “no” to Kung Pao Chicken and Lo Mein. Now, I stay away from anything fried and slathered with sauce, and, if I order something indulgent not normally a part of my diet, like pancetta macaroni and cheese, I’ll share it and not completely gorge. However, come talk to me post-race and you better not put your fork anywhere near my pancetta. It’s all mine!
Since everyone is so different, my rules probably won’t work perfectly for you, or maybe only one or two will. The most important thing is to try out different things while you’re training. Keeping a food journal doesn’t hurt, either. That way you’ll know if pizza and beer are the perfect things for you pre-race (you lucky duck). Or if that run the morning following a big fried chicken dinner with all the fixin’s was hellish, you’ll know to opt for something lighter, like a salad with grilled chicken.
What are your rules for eating for a marathon? Or any distance running?