Thursday, February 21, 2013

Odd Stuff Ultra Runners Eat

I am always open to learning, and when that acquisition of knowledge has to do with running, I am an eager student. So, a Google search of "odd things runners eat" brought up several links to explore, I noticed after the third or fourth click that it was virtually the same list over and over.

Salted potatoes, pickle juice, coconut water, hard candy/sugar, beet juice, tart cherry juice, and chocolate milk. I think one health specialist copied another and so on and so on. Most of these are on any ultra-runners list--but beet juice and tart cherry juice? Really? I think someone was copying someone's homework!

When I first started running, Runner's World Magazine (the mag with the skinny supermodels on the cover posing in a frozen running stride) said I needed Power Bars, GUs, and Carboom. Today, I gag at the thought of chocolate slime at mile 18. When I fuel during a run, it's with "real food". When I first ventured into distances past 26.2, I saw crusty old guys (who beat my butt to the finish line) scarfing down regular old food. At my first 50K, I an old codger pulled a sandwich out of his shorts pocket, scarf it down, suck down a cup of Coca Cola at an aid stop, and sped off in leaving me in the dust. At the second or third aid stop, I noticed a styrafoam plate with cubed potatoes smothered with salt?!?!? On my return trip (it was an out-and-back) someone saw my dilapidated state and suggested I try the potatoes. AT that point, I was watching my good pace for the race drain away, and was desperate for any kind of help--so I tried a small piece. "Get yourself some more. You need it," I was told, so I did. No more than 100 yards down the trail, the nausea I was battling left, and I even had a bit of spring in my step, and were it not for the blisters, I might have ran the final five miles in. But I was a believer in salted potatoes.

Since then, I have come to like plain old food--stuff you have to chew. Potato chips, Fritos, Pretzels, and PBJs, ham and/or turkey sandwiches, cookies, brownies, candy bars, and a lot more.
One of the first trail run shirts I earned said the race was like running from buffet to buffet. Aid stations in the races I put on are meant to WOW people. I think that my runners should never be hungry. Hearing reports at how awesome our aid stops are makes me proud.
But besides having an all you can eat fast food restaurant in the woods, my intent is to provide the calories runners need to run the perfect race. Salted potatoes provide the sodium and potassium runners are depleted of, plus they're an easily digestible  carbohydrate and give a quick energy boost. The sodium helps settle my stomach too. I carry my electrolytes and a baggie of sea salt with me in long runs for cramps and nausea. Works for me.

Back to the seven foods mentioned in the above links:

  • Chocolate milk is a great post run recovery drink, although I have chugged some during a race. They are a good balance of protein/carbohydrates and with the calcium.
  • Pickle juice is a miracle cure for severe cramps. The intense sodium and vinegar gets into your system immediately and can keep you in a hot race.
  • Potatoes--believe it. They work, and might be the best ultra food.
  • Coconut water is not something I have used, but a lot of people swear by it. It's rich in potassium and is good for re-hydration.
  • Beet juice--YECK! They're high in nitric acid, and help with stamina. (No can do da beets!)
  • Hard candy keeps your mouth from drying out and gives a slow release of glucose. It might not be the best thing for your teeth though.
  • Tart Cherry juice is high in antioxidants and helps with recovery. 

The four above links give a more scientific explanation of the benefits, but for my purposes, I like to know if they actually work, and know someone who uses them. I endorse five of the seven.

But there are MORE foods that are (or should be) staples at every nutritional oasis in ultra races.
Burritos, pizza, quesadilla are foods I have been pleasantly surprised to find in the middle of the nght on an ultra. Sometimes something "off the wall" just sounds good, and that's a good when you're at the point where nothing sounds good and you have not taken in calories in a couple hours. Bonus points if they're warm!

Chicken soup and potato soup have saved my life during 100 milers. It's cold, and you've walked more in the past 4 miles than you've ran, and someone hands you a cup of potato soup. And dumps a little salt on top. It warms your near-dead body, gives you sodium, potassium, and calories enough to get to the next aid station.
I thought I had found heaven at Rouge Orleans when one of the aid stations were cooking heavily buttered crispy toasted grilled cheese sandwiches. YES!! (I only got half of it. Had to share with another runner.)
Another time in another race, I had quit eating, but knew I needed to eat. A lady suggested I try a boiled egg rolled in salt. I reluctantly tried one, and it hit the spot. And yes, I had another.
The first aid station in Arkansas Traveller serves up pancakes and BACON!! This might be the tastiest aid station food ever. I take a pancake and roll up as much bacon as I can. I might have been frowned at, but hey, it's BACON! It's carbs from pancakes and sodium which I needed. But most of all, it's BACON!
Bacon is became a staple in TATUR races. It's funny to see runners new to trail races jog up looking for a cup of Gatorade and catch a whiff of bacon. Their eyes get big, and they sometimes ask if it's ok if they eat that. Some will refuse it, saying runners shouldn't eat stuff like that--but we know better. Some will get 100 yards down the trail, turn around, and come back for seconds. And for the privileged  you might be asked to take the syrup challenge: Can you chug a shot of pancake syrup? It's better than GU.
The first aid station that the 100 milers and 25Kers see at Pumpkin Holler is called the Waffle Stop. Waffles, bacon, sausage, and coffee are on the menu. Many a 25Ker ditched their goals of PRs (the monstrous hill preceding the Waffle Stop might have a little to do with that) and just had breakfast.
If you "know the right people", you can find refreshments other than water and Gatorade at a few aid stops. I happen to be "in the know" and enjoy a half-a-beer during warm weather ultras. Sometimes you really need a good burp.

But the aid station food that gets the most comments are a creation we stole from Sunmart, an old trail race that was held on the same trailz as Rocky Raccoon.
Take an Oreo cookie, smear peanut butter all over one side, and then sprinkle M&Ms on top. These are the real deal.
And for those needing some pain relief, you can substitute a couple Advils.

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