Run clinic: What to eat on those training runs?

Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 16:37

Q I read Run, Fat Bitch Run and did a 10km in June, and am entered into the Rock and Roll Dublin Half-Marathon on August 5th. I’m really looking forward to it, but am getting confused by what to eat, not to eat, gels, protein bars, and so on. I know you suggest half a Snickers bar (and I love that idea) but I’m not sure when to eat it or if I really need it.

I am due my first long run next Saturday – eight miles. Do I need to bring something with me to eat? Should I be eating during my training runs? To be honest, when I’m running I’m just trying to focus on getting it done and food hasn’t really occurred to me.

I know the half-marathon will be hard (some big hills in there) but I want to enjoy it and not have the whole experience spoiled by not eating/eating something stupid on the day/not being properly prepared.

The run starts at 8.30am and I am planning on eating porridge for breakfast before heading in.

Michele Pender

A Michele, the short answer to your question is no, you really don’t need to eat anything during training runs for a half-marathon, nor do you need to eat anything during the race itself.

Your current plan of porridge for breakfast on the morning is a very good one, provided porridge is something you normally eat and you have tried and tested it as a breakfast before one or two of your long training runs. Paula Radcliffe is a fan of porridge on the morning of a big race – so it pretty much has to be the perfect pre-race meal in my book.

Rather than worrying about what to eat during the race, get your breakfast and, crucially, your meal the night before right, and you won’t have to worry once the starting gun fires.

Have a big meal the night before, something very simple and carb-heavy like your favourite pasta dish, drink plenty of water and go to bed early. The same applies for all your long training runs.

Giant scam
That said, some people swear by the gels, energy bars and isotonic drinks that you can’t fail to notice in all running shops and gyms and places of exercise worship, and if all that jazz floats your boat, go for it. Whatever works for you works for me. But if you want my opinion, I think all of that is a giant scam.

Much like the dieting industry, it is all designed to get our knickers in a twist about not having sufficient energy to go the distance without buying this magical elixir, robbing us of the little confidence we do have in our bodies and giving us something else to needlessly panic about and waste money on.

None of those special gels, bars and whatnot have anything that you can’t find in ordinary foodstuffs.

For your impending eight-miler, you most certainly don’t need to eat during it, but if it cheers you up and spurs you on, then by all means go ahead, take that half Snickers bar or have a big bite just before you set off (bearing in mind that come July and August, you may find a Snickers ain’t the most practical of snack choices when it melts against your throbbing thigh).

It is worth remembering that on race day there are often freebies, such as jelly babies, being handed out over the course, and the less baggage you take to the start line, the better you are going to feel throughout the race – less encumbered and more free: free to stay focused on your running, your breathing, and the sheer pleasure of being alive and taking part.

Health and hydration
There is always enough to worry about, let alone sort out on race day without adding unnecessary extras into the mix. If you are in good physical health, fully hydrated and carb loaded at the starting line, you are good to go the full distance.

The key thing is not to get side-tracked about food at this stage in your training plan. It is all the runs you put in between now and race day that matter, not whether or not you have the perfect diet to accommodate them.

We are not – sadly – elite athletes, but one of the plus sides to this is that the odd blow-out curry and Snickers is not going to make a jot of difference to your performance because you are not flirting with shaving seconds off a PB.

If you can squeeze in an extra training run or take on an extra mile on your long run, or speed up on a hill, that will pay dividends above and beyond whatever tweaking you do with your diet or special gel you swallow at mile nine.

Miles and more miles are the food your body needs to see you across the finishing line in good shape. As for your mind . . .

The Grit Doctor says:
Your inner bitch is all the food you need.

Tweet your query to Ruth at: @gritdoctor
Ruth Field is the author of Run, Fat Bitch, Run