Food. It’s a trial.

I ran with Jeremy last weekend. We had a 25km run scheduled, and because he planned on going out on his bike afterwards, instead of going all the way down to Dwellingup we just ran from our front door Sunday morning at quarter past 7. We were doing a bit of a food trial as well. The previous day we’d stood in the baby products aisle of Woolworths and picked out two packets of baby food custard each, and I’d also packed us each a ziplock bag of Arnott’s Shapes to eat as well. The race car lollies were deliberately left behind in this run.

We set out and the first 3km always seems to suck a bit on a long run. We had a couple of stops to adjust hydration pack straps and I had to extract a small rock from my left shoe, but on the whole the first 10km seemed to be pretty OK. We got to the toilet block at the Kent Street Weir and had one of our custard packs each, and that was when I realised it was not OK, and actually something had gone a bit wrong.

I finished my little pack of chocolate custard and it felt like I had tried to fill the Grand Canyon with a bucket. I hadn’t had a gel before we started, but that hasn’t been an issue on runs before. This time, I’ve never felt so hungry. When we’ve run that stretch in the past we usually stop at the Nicholson Road lights and wait for traffic which is when I would crack out the food but last Sunday we went straight through without stopping, so I hadn’t actually eaten anything for the first 10km.

We went out from the Kent Street Weir the way we had come in, intending on doing the Canning River parkrun course in reverse to add in the extra 5km that we needed to make the course up to 25km. About 2km into the course I had a gel, and about 500 metres later I realised that it was pointless, I couldn’t run on. Jeremy and I walked to Nicholson Road and we split up, he went back the way we had come, along the river, and I slowly walked up Spencer Road eating everything that I had, bar my second pack of custard. Once I could see the road rise up over Roe Highway I managed to break out a bit of trot and headed for home just nudging 20km.

The next day after I looked at my splits for the first 10km I added up all the spots where I had gone wrong. I realised that even though we had been chatting easily to each other, we were actually doing 6m05s pace. Considering my 10k PB is about 57 minutes I was essentially running at my 10k speed and intending on running for 25k. Which is not clever.

What also wasn’t clever was that I wasn’t really thinking about eating, and I did what I often used to do when cycling together with Jeremy. I am no good riding hands free on the bike, so when it came to opening an energy bar or gel I often waited until we reached an intersection or came to a natural stop because I didn’t want to slow Jeremy down by my stopping to wrestle with a bit of plastic. This just means I would eat about 15 minutes or more after I should have. You need to be able to digest the food to use it, so by eating before you ‘need’ to it allows you to be always be in a bit of calorie surplus than calorie deficit. (This will only work to a certain point – I don’t know that your body can digest enough calories on the fly to make up a deficit, which is why in really good runners an efficient running style and solid natural endurance come in so handy).

What wouldn’t have helped my apparent calorie deficit was that Jeremy and I bolted down breakfast and then ran almost immediately afterwards – we gave ourselves no digestion time. If I run first thing in the morning, it’s usually on an empty stomach but it is also only 5km and then I scoff breakfast and head off to work after a shower. For parkrun and pretty much any other run I have time to digest – in the car, or whilst I faff around and get ready to go. To digest a larger amount of food you need majority blood flow around your stomach. If you run you need majority blood flow around your limbs. There isn’t enough blood in the body to do both at the same time.

This weekend’s run was going to be up the Railway Reserve Heritage Trail, and I decided to do some better food planning. First off, I set the run/walk alert on my Garmin to act as a nutrition alert – DC Rainmaker gave me this idea. I set it to run for 15 minutes and walk for 1 minute, which gave me one minute to remember to quickly scoff some food.

We both had two ziplock bags of food – one savoury, one sweet. The sweet bag had some racing car lollies, some apricot delight (because I couldn’t find those Bellis Apricot bars in the supermarket during the week), and chopped up Edens Sesame bars from the health food section (they have the same ingredients as the Europe Sesame bars from the confectionary aisle, but aren’t nearly as sticky.) The savoury bag had some Arnotts Shapes and some pretzel sticks with big chunks of salt on them. In my pack I that second packet of custard from last weekend and I also had two mini bacon and cheese rolls from the Bakers Delight downstairs from work.

I had a gel before we started, I obeyed the alert on my watch – although I think I have to play with how the alerts work on my watch, because I sometimes didn’t feel the alert, but as we had set off at 8:15 am I knew that I had to eat on the quarter hour. I think I’m so used to ignoring that kilometre auto lap alert that I just don’t feel them anymore. I will keep the auto lap, but switch off the vibration for that if I can.

There was a group of 20 people who started off from Swan View, so we all split up into various groups according to our pace; some went off ahead, some were slower and more steady. I ran a lot with Didi, who we’d given a lift to, and I felt so much better than last week. I went through my ziplock bags of food, but didn’t need to touch the bacon and cheese rolls. I felt really good all the way through, with no massive drops in energy. The track is a bit unrelenting, as you are going up a steady gradient the whole way, and the only downhill you can rely on is the one when we turned around and ran back to the start at the 12.5km mark.

When I ate something it was usually a small amount, but little and often seems to work quite well, the variety was welcome. Around the 16 kilometre mark I saw I was getting a bit low in food, and was mentally working out what extra I would need on race day to make it to aid station 1 (23km) and aid station 2 (34km) when I remembered the bacon and cheese rolls in my pack. I think that they could probably be swapped out with vegemite sandwiches. I was a tiny bit overjoyed at the thought that I was feeling so good without even having eaten those, and so now I feel like I have a better handle on food. Yes, a bit of my eating happened when I was stationary at regroup points on the run because they seemed to coincide a lot with 15 minute alerts, but I know in the unlikely event that I manage 15 minutes of solid running on the terrain at 6 Inch, one minute of walking will probably be very welcome.

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