Fueling Up

Here’s something I’ve heard out on the road: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Fueling!”
Person: “But you’re only running [a half marathon; 10 miles; w/e]!”

Okay, so first of all, let’s get rid of the word “only” when describing distance. Sure, there are people in the world who run crazy ultra-marathons (a hundred or more miles over the course of a day or two). Sure, there are people in the world who do triathlons and other endurance events that are way harder than a 6, 10, 13, or even 20 mile run. But using the word “only” implies that in order to be a “real” athlete, I have to measure up to these people. You know what? The only person I have to measure up to is myself. I work every day to be stronger than the previous day; who are you to tell me that the person I am today is “only” anything?

Alright, that little mini-rant out of the way, onto the next one: fueling is about time on your feet and calories burned, not distance. If I’m running for over an hour, I fuel. That’s just the way it is. Personally, I find myself most comfortable when I take in about 100 calories after the first hour and then on the hour after that. If I’m going very long, I will try to do 50 calories on the half hour rather than 100 calories on the hour because it keeps my blood sugar/insulin from spiking and then (subsequently) crashing.

I use a variety of fuels when I run. I started with just Gu but gradually I have moved to prefer cliff shots. I love the gummy candy texture, and the fact that they come in easily dispensed blocks allows me to control my intake a bit better. With a Gu packet, I pretty much have to take the whole thing or none at all (I have yet to master the “take half of your Gu now half later” trick that I know some runners use). Pro tip: tearing the Gu packet open with your teeth will keep you from getting sticky fingers when you’re trying to fuel yourself.

These days, I’ve taken it a step even further. When I can, I try to fuel with (gasp!) “real” food. I have to put “real” in quotation marks because there’s not much really real about the food I tend to use. I favor Rx Bars (pretty processed despite their wholesome ingredients) and Pop Tarts (come on, seriously? I can’t call this real food). Half an Rx bar has about what I need for an hour’s worth of going and it packs up pretty conveniently. These puppies kept me on my feet for my Spartan Beast which took me an unexpectedly long eight hours of trudging. Rx bars have a good protein/carb/fat balance so that you’re not just getting carbs, but I will say they are pretty chewy. They’re approximately the consistency of a tootsie roll, so I find I can’t really run through my Rx bar snack break; I have to stop and walk it off.

Pop tarts are a whole other beast entirely. I’ve had mixed reactions from people when I tell them I use pop tarts as fuel. Some say “Oh my god, Pop tarts! I love those things! They’re so good and they’re not terrible for you!” Others reel in horror at the disgustingness I’m putting into my body. Let me set the record straight: Pop tarts are terrible for you. One pastry is 200 calories of pure carbs/sugar. To make matters worse, they are packaged two pastries to a packet. This means that either you have to come up with some method of keeping your extra pop tart clean and uncrumbled, or be forced to eat two servings of this already terrible snack in one go. Not okay, sneaky food industry. Not okay.

Suffice to say the Pop tart conundrum is pretty annoying. I, personally, grab a Ziploc and stick the whole shebang in my camelback. Over the course of a long run, I’ll go through two pop tarts so it’s not a big deal. That being said, I now understand why my mom was so adamantly against feeding these abominations to us when we were kids. They are, however, great quick carbs for when your body is burning fuel so fast that it’s hard to stay on top of things. As a result: runners, crossfitters, weight lifters… pop tarts are awesome for us. I’ll eat a quarter of a pop tart every half hour and find myself doing great for the run. As an added bonus, if you’re running when it’s hot out the heat will give you a nice melty pop tart center just like a toaster oven. Yum? Or gross? I choose yum.

Anyway, fueling is one of those things that’s different for everyone. You’ll have to experiment for the best results. The only real hard and fast rule is that you probably shouldn’t criticize another runner’s fueling techniques mid-race…. Especially if the other runner is a complete stranger who just happens to be running next to you for a while.