Fueling My Runs
When I started running I just used to fuel with an adequate breakfast and water. Then when I started my half marathon training I read lots of information that said you must be properly fueled or you won't get through the race, so I started to drink energy drinks whilst running. Well my stomach hit the floor the second I tried to drink one. I got severe stomach cramps. I read up on it. It could be the brand of energy drinks. I tried a different brand. Same thing happened. I continued to tried every type of energy drink going until I was confined to the sofa after every LSR (Long Slow Run) every week with the crampiest of stomachs and a feeling of dread when LSR came around. So I continued to read up some more. Try jelly babies they said. So I did, I took a handful of jelly babies out with me. The second the first one hit the floor of my stomach my stomach decided it was a washing machine. I couldn't get home fast enough, I'd have given Paula Radcliffe a good race that day. Well if you can't try sweet things, the internet suggested try savoury foods, so I went on to try all type of snacks and I found this almost impossible. Trying to chew and swallow whilst running is a like walking a tightrope blindfolded, it's wasn't natural to me. I think I gave myself stitches gulping for air whist chomping on food, it was like being caught between a rock and a hard place.I gave up trying on the fueling with food idea and I decided that I could fuel my LSR's on breakfast and water. I did and I was very successful in doing so. I had no crampy stomach aches and went on to complete my half marathon in September 2014.
I started training for my first marathon in December 2014 and continued with my water strategy with the foresight that this was never going to get me through a marathon. I'd done some research on the internet and had self diagnosed myself with IBS and had confirmed this with the doctor. Drugs hadn't helped in any shape or form. I'd also read that milk can be a trigger for some people and can cause issues of cramping whilst running and cutting out dairy or avoiding it can help. So I started down this path. I decided to avoid milk and as much dairy as possible, especially around LSR days. Several weeks after starting this avoidance and building back up my LSR's I decided reluctantly to try energy drinks again. Low and behold not one stomach cramp or issue. I am now a convert to alternative milks such as almond milk, absolutely delicious.
After making so much progress with energy drinks and hitting 17 miles. It was clear that a solitary energy drink wasn't going to get me through. Even two wouldn't. The more I was drinking the more I was wanting to pee. I had seen lot's of ultra runners and marathon runners eat on the run and although having had little success before I decided to try again. I baked up a batch of homemade flapjacks. I cut them into manageable pieces (on the right below) and took them out with me. They were difficult to chew and swallow and slowed me down and I found myself picking out bits with my tongue which then made me change my breathing. I took one small one every half an hour but by mile 13 my stomach had started cramping and I had to stop eating. Experiment over. Very delicious before and after and worth baking for that.
Something which I had avoided since I started running as I had such a bad reaction to energy drinks was energy gels. They frightened me for the sheer amount of the sugar in them which is what I thought gave me stomach cramps. Over the course of around 18 months I persisted with energy gels, trying a few different varities. My last attempt at using them saw me take only 2 energy gels and a 500ml lucozade sports energy drink out with me on a 20 mile LSR. I took the first one at 30 mins in and I was quite pleased with how easy it was to open and take. Although I had to swill it around in my mouth to get it down initially. The only way I can describe it is like liquefied jelly babies and as a non sweet fan myself it wasn't entirely unpleasant. The second one I took at 1 hour 30 mins in and as I now knew what to expect, it was easier to get down although I managed to rip the packet incorrectly. My first 12 miles were really well fueled and I felt it although I suffered with a bit of stomach discomfort I had none of the stomach cramps I'd had before. I actually ran much faster on a much hillier route than I have ever done. I tried the SiS ones, the ones without anything added to them. They're basically just sugary carby energy. This false sense of hope did not last long and it wasn't long before the stomach cramps returned. I fueled myself with gels and a mixture of energy bars through my last two marathons (in 2016) but the outcome wasn't pretty. I was pretty much laid up afterwards for both events with excruciating stomach pains. I knew something had to change.
My journey to 12 marathons had to be different. Where did I begin? How did I start? Well by getting rid of all sugary foods and no energy gels for one. I started a training my real food journey in December 2016 with a 17 mile long run. I had with me a peanut butter sandwich and some dried apricots. Needless to say it didn't really fuel me for the whole milage. I made it but I felt exhausted and my legs heavy and fatigued. I needed something better and so I asked (on twitter) if anyone had an answer. The answer soon began to take shape from a wonderful book, Feed Zone Portables. It is full of inspired ideas of how to fuel runs with real food.
The first recipe had me cooking sushi rice, something I have never cooked before. I followed the instruction to the letters but ended up making far too much. It is almost a peanut butter sandwich, just instead of bread, there's sushi rice packed on either side. You cook the sushi rice, pack half in a tin with a lip, pop on some toppings and pack on the rest of the rest on the top. Then cut into pieces. I soon learned to experiment with lot's of flavours. Adding some vanilla to my rice, adding bananas and chocolate. I did try this with cherry jam but alas is was too sugary and a couple of bites and my stomach was already like a washing machine. My first experiment in taking the rice 'cakes' out with me I was going for a 14 mile run. Not too far but far enough to test their effects. I felt fuelled and fine and kept on fuelling and practising for the next few weeks on long runs and rice really seemed to work. Now packing them in foil/clingfilm and getting them in/out of the backpack. Now that in itself is tricky. I think I have mastered the eating them on the go now and I find it breaks up the long run rather nicely. I find I am looking forward to my snack on the go.
Another of the recipes that I tried out was a potato cake. Not the sort that I am usually familiar with though. It involves frying packet mashed potato! Ingredients: instant potato flakes, 2 tablespoons of parmesan, 2 tablespoons of bacon, 1 tablespoon of fresh taragon, 1 vegetable stock cube, 1.5 cups of hot water and 2 eggs. Now I only had the mash, some normal cheese, other seasonings, the eggs and stock cube but I thought I would give it a bash. You basically disolve the stock cube with the water first. Mix the potato flakes (cooked bacon) cheese and herbs with the water then quickly add the eggs. Then make the mixture into cakes and griddle for a few minutes on each side. These were suprsingly tasty and robust on the long run I did, I didn't mind eating them cold either. I did alternate them with the rice which seemed to help as they were much lighter. I am not sure how they would've tasted with the bacon, pretty good I am guessing.
One recipe I made was a complete disaster. I don't know if it was the recipe or me but these looked amazing. Almost like flat scones. You basically griddle a mixture of flour, sugar and almond milk and finidh off in the oven. Well no matter how long I cooked these bad boys they were still soggy in the middle. Paul and Mary would not be impressed. I then got to thinking maybe a could incorporate some sort of scone recipe in. High carbs. They actually looked the part and I cook Welsh Cakes with no problems. If anyone nails these I'd love to know.
2 Ingredient Pancakes
Another one of my favourites but not in the book is 2 ingredient pancakes. Just made from egg and banana. These are a really lovely easy snack and I don't mind eating them cold on the go. Lovely with two squidged together with peanut butter. Mash one banana and mix with two whisked eggs (alternatively use a food processor for a smooth batter, i don't mind the lumpy banana). Heat a pan to a medium heat and fry small panackes. Done!! Easy.
A basic staple of mine is the bagel/sandwich. I will fill one with some peanut butter and use this as carb loading. I do find bagels quite hard going to chew whilst running but in terms of energy they seem to be good.
There are some excellnt recipes that I can't wait to try out over the next year. I will update my successes (and failures here) and let you know how my fueling with real food for marathons and ultras is progressing.