April 23, 2012

Runday Monday: Fueling the Fire

When I started running a decade ago I wasn't a breakfast eater. Or a big water drinker. My day started with just a cup of coffee at my desk. I usually didn't eat anything until at least 10:30ish when the grumbles started and then it was quite likely a pastry or doughnut or something equally carby and sweet. A glass or bottle of water was rare, unless it was super hot out and where I live that isn't often.
In hindsight I'd guess the bad habits started in university when late nights out led into late morning sleep-ins that led right into lunch and when I'd rather replace water with wine. Alas, as my running distances crept up over the course of marathon training those habits simply didn't work anymore. 

I discovered that a long run of 10km-32km simply wasn't doable without breakfast and good hydration. I could plug through a shorter distance ok, but after that 10km mark my energy and will to keep on keepin' on dropped without something in my tummy. I also found that I was hungrier earlier and more often during the week. I guess all that running built up muscle and metabolism and my coffee and sugary brekkie's weren't enough. In fact, some of those longer runs even required snacking en route just to keep the energy up.

I tested out different breakfast menus, times, and amounts of water until I found something I could rely on. With a few different experiments (including one that involved a late Saturday night of drinking followed by a greasy brunch immediately followed by a very long hot summer run: EPIC FAIL!) I settled on a good routine. I found a light carb such as half a big whole grain bagel or a bowl of oatmeal, some peanut butter for protein, and a banana worked best. Anything more wasn't digestible pre-run and anything less was not enough sustenance. I also found a big glass of water and a half a cuppa joe with breakfast was about right. Most of my long run hydration needed to happen the day before and then during and after the run. Otherwise I'm on the look out for a port-a-potty or large bush!
Fast forward 10 years and well into half marathon training, I needed to remind myself about fueling the fire. Since my marathon training days I had become a habitual breakfast eater, but water first thing in the morning was a no-go. A couple of long runs in and I remembered the importance of extra water the day before and at least a glass before hitting the blacktop. I also remembered I need finish eating and drinking about an hour before lacing up so everything has time to settle. A couple of longer runs in and I've rediscovered the balance - a nice warm bowl of oats with some PB and banana mixed in,  a half a cup a java, and tall drink of water about one to two hours pre-run and I'm set.
My pre-run fuel: oats+PB+banana, a little coffee + water
I strongly recommend you play with your own pre-run meals to see what works best for you - as I what I do may or may not be it. I also recommend you try that out well in advance of any race day as you certainly don't want any unexpected surprises en route that day. If you're looking to figure it out what works for you, check out this article and this one from Runner's World online as they certainly have more experience than I do.

Just remember that fueling the fire, however you do it, is key to having a good long run!

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