Thursday, December 6, 2012

Refueling for Road or Trail Runs

Only water, electrolyte, Gel at the SF Marathon!

Everyone has their own fuel strategy.  It could be gels, like Gu.  It could be Clif ShotBlocks.  I have seen (and consumed) Red Vines on the course.  I have also heard jelly beans rattle with every step of a runner or heard people eat snickers on the trail.  It is funny how I have played around with refueling on a run, but I have settled down, by a process of elimination, what works for me. 

Beginning with my first half-marathon I started off with Jelly Bellies, popcorn and cherry flavored to be specific.  I quickly realized that I did care for the juice it would create in my throat as I was trying to run and would find myself hacking and coughing.  The problem though, in my training runs, I never included jelly beans of any kind, so it was a shock to the system on the run.  

I then discovered doughnut holes and gummy bears at the Long Beach Marathon.  If you have ever run Long Beach, you know that there is a unofficial aid station at about mile 11 that hands them out.  I remember, being what I thought an expert in nutrition at the time, why would anyone serve doughnut holes on a road race.  That was before I began trail running, more on that later. I liked the  gummy bears so much (I believe it was at mile 18) that they replaced Jelly Bellies.  They have to be the chewy type, like the ones at the end of Faris Bueller Days off.  You remember the line: “Would you like a gummy bear? They’ve been in my pocket and they are warm.”  The chewy ones again are too much effort and have also had my hacking and coughing.

Since the Napa Marathon, I have also included cut up a mint Clif Builder bar into small bite size pieces.  These, when combined with gummy bears, seem to do the trick.  I will also an occasional Gu and electrolyte drink at an aid station does fine for my road races.
Brazen Racing Trail Runs have the best assortment!
For trail races, we are spoiled.  There is a virtual banquet of food at the aid station.  Have you ever had a boiled potato dipped in salt?  I have and it is so good on a long run.  How about watermelon on a hot day, that was the spotlight of the Mt. Diablo 50K my wife and I attempted.  How about flat Coca Cola or Ginger Ale instead of electrolyte? Yummy. 

The key here though is that aid stations for trail runs are spread out much further, especially the longer races.  It isn’t uncommon to have them paced anywhere from 4 miles to 10 miles apart.  That compared to the typical road race, which has the stations at a maximum of 2 miles apart.  What this means for a trail run is that you still carry some sort of fuel in between stations, but you definitely take advantage of what is at the aid station when you arrive.

You know, the other big difference between Road Races and Trail Runs is the refueling after the race.  

The spread at a Coastal Trail Run....note the boiled potatoes, YUMMY!
If you are at a well-organized road race, you should be able to find your water and typical fruit (most likely a banana), another carb like a dry bagel, and if you are really lucky, some sort of protein (I would love to know why someone hasn’t caught on that this is the most critical macronutrient after a race and it should be there).  Oh and of course a beer garden.  

At a trail run, you will find a party!  There is typically a nice spread of food, like what you found on the trail.  Most trail companies have a tradition of providing soup and or chilly, maybe cakes, cookies.  They may have the dry bagel but they definitely provide some sort of protein to go on it, like Nutella or peanut butter.  Even at some Brazen races (the Mt. Diablo races in particular) you might find hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers, etc.

Everyone is different and therefore you should experiment with what works for you.  Whatever you do though, incorporate it into your training run so you don’t get into the middle of a race and either cramp up since you haven’t identified how the fuel will affect your run or bonk because you haven’t taken enough with you.

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