Eating Cookies on the Battlefield

I was going to post this yesterday but my husband convinced me to watch an episode of House, which I haven’t seen in ages. When did House and Cuddy get together? Honestly, I watch them flirt around for years and then miss the actual event.

Moving on…

Last Saturday I joined my Manassas Battlefield running buddies. This weekly get-together is organized by Ian Connor, the manager at The Running Store in Gainesville. It’s a great group. Even though I attend their runs sporadically they are always welcoming. Ian is one of the nicest guys on the planet. In college he was named All-American several times in Cross-Country and Track, has qualified for the Olympic trials, and could run up front with the fast guys if he wanted to, but he hangs back and keeps the group together, making sure everyone has a buddy to stay with and no-one gets lost. He is like the group shepherd. Or maybe the sheepdog, since he does a lot of herding.

Unfinished Railroad Manassas Battlefield

I LOVE these trails!

I always enjoy chatting with Ian but feel guilty about monopolizing his time because, since I rarely come out, there’s always a lot for us to catch up on and I will bend his ear for miles. After talking about nip guards and body glide, we got onto more serious stuff. He asked me why I was running at the back of the pack instead of up front and I explained I’d just run Shamrock marathon and was training for a 50K so needed to take it easy. Then he told me he was putting his coaching hat on and suggested I bag the ultra stuff until I’m burnt out on marathons and run 2 marathons a year instead. I protested that I AM burnt out on marathons, even though I’ve only run five, and want to try something different, something off-road. It was an interesting conversation because it made me realize for the first time why I want to run 50K. I absolutely LOVE trail running and want to get off the road for my longer races. I could keep running road marathons and try to get faster each time but my heart isn’t in it.

I was practicing eating different foods, even though on a normal 10 mile run I’d just manage with one GU. When I pulled out the chocolate chip cookies Ian asked me if I’d brought milk…yeah, yeah. Everyone was squeezing gels and chewing shotblocks and I was eating cookies. I need to get used to eating regular food because I figure that’s what you need in an ultra. As those of us who have experimented have discovered, your stomach can only handle so many GUs. I managed five during Shamrock Marathon, the most I’ve ever consumed in a race. But the ultra will take me much longer, probably more than five hours, so I need to practice eating different stuff. But what, exactly?

I decided to enlist the help of some ultrarunners whose blogs I follow. Dan Rose is a seriously fast guy who runs seriously long races and ran for Team USA in last year’s 24 hour world championship. He lives near me and we both run Bull Run trail, but I’ve yet to meet him. Dan said: “Alison, I’m a ‘liquid only’ guy during ultras. For a 50k I’ll just mix in 6 or 7 hammer gels into my camelbak and sip that throughout. For a 50m, I’ll do the same and refill along the way so it works out to 250 calories per hour. For 100 milers I’ll mix in a little Perpetuem after the 50 mile mark to get a little protein & fat in my system. For 24 hour races I’ll usually drink a recovery drink like Ultragen in the middle as well. Overall the goal is always 250 calories/hr. Oh, and I’ll take an SCap every hour for electrolytes no matter the distance of the race. My fuel plan isn’t for everyone, but it keeps things simple and efficient for me and my stomach!”

What?! I was so looking forward to combining my two loves: food and running, and now I’m hearing that ultrarunners don’t really eat? Note that a 50K is small potatoes to Dan. Also note the food analogy. 😉 I once tried mixing GU in my water and it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. Love you, Dan, but don’t think that plan will work for me!

So I asked Neal Gorman, another fast ultrarunner who lives in the area. Neal said, “On longer runs I usually start off with a Clif bar or two then mix in Clif blocks and GU gels from there after. During long races same thing but during a 50k I will go with only blocks and gels, with gels only towards the end. Calories absorb into the blood more quickly. I also consume one to two (depending on heat) s-caps per hour for electrolytes.”

OK, so at least Neal eats a Clif bar, but he doesn’t eat any real food, either! Amy Sprotson is another phenomenal ultrarunner for whom a 50K is a warmup. She is a member of the Montrail-Mountain Hardwear Team. She recently ran the Chuckanut 50K and experienced “stomach issues” for much of it, so my “hey, what do you eat during a 50K?” may have been poorly timed. 😉

Amy said: “I usually stick to gels or shotblocks. Usually gels, if I’m carrying a handheld water bottle, as they are easier to carry. For a 50 miler and above, I actually don’t vary that too much and still prefer gels and shotblocks. I nibble on real food depending on how I’m feeling, but usually rely on gels/shotblocks/liquid calories (Ultragen). For me, they seem easier to digest.”

OK, three hits and I have totally struck out. So I guess I will be saving the cookies for after the run, and loading up on GU and Honey Stingers. How boring. And a bit disappointing because I was expecting a 5+ hour foodfest where I could look forward to each aid station’s offerings with wild anticipation. On the bright side, it looks like those s-caps I’ve never used will come in handy. Do they expire?!

Stonewall Jackson monument

I wonder what Stonewall Jackson ate?


About racingtales

Runner, triathlete, writer
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7 Responses to Eating Cookies on the Battlefield

  1. What about salted and boiled potatoes? I know some people who have used them in 50-100 milers, but not 50k. You can carry them in a ziplock bag in your pack. Each person’s nutrition is unique, so just keep playing around to find what works for you.

  2. racingtales says:

    I was thinking about trying the potatoes…maybe for the next run?! I’m not completely throwing out the real food plan just yet…

  3. Beth says:

    It probably also depends on how long you’ll be out there. I’m running a 50k in June and fully intend on taking most of the day 🙂 There will be PB&J and chips for sure. If you’re going slow enough and taking walk breaks some real food shouldn’t be a problem.

    • racingtales says:

      Beth, you’re doing North Face, right? Some of the guys who do the Battlefield runs are doing that. I agree that if I’m going slow I should be fine with some real food. I think asking the elite guys was my problem! There will be a follow-up to this post with what the non-elites eat!

  4. lester says:

    Hey Alison, I left a message to Brian about something, but I’ll need a 2nd opinion. I’m not running or ridding for 1 o 2 weeks (achilles tendon), Im’m watching what I eating to keep my weight under control, or even try to loose some , sence i’m not exercising that hard. But beside swimming it’s something else that I can do to keep my aerobic capacity or endurance sence I’m not doing that much? (I hope my english it’s good enough to explain my self)

    • racingtales says:

      Hey Lester

      Can you do the elliptical? You might not be able to because it’s your achilles, but a lot of people use that when they’re injured. Maybe nordic track would be better. You could try pool-running, which is one of those love/hate things – some people love it, others hate it. Just google Deep Water Running and you’ll find out all you need to know. You’re seeing a PT, right? Because aside from resting it you need to learn some exercises to prevent the problem from reoccuring.

  5. lester says:

    I’ll see PT next week and I’ll try to do nordik and eliptical today. Water walking is a good idea even if I hate it. thanks!

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