When you’re in the middle of a long training run or race, distracting yourself can be a very useful way to forget the general pain and effort you’re exerting on your body. And one of my favourite things to think about when I’m running is what I’d like to eat afterwards.
It’s a reasonably practical distraction, for one thing. Running burns up energy and calories, making you hungry. Eating replenishes energy and calories, and fills you up. If you go running for a long time, you need to eat afterwards. Simple. And, let’s face it, by doing lots of running, you’ve earned yourself a treat, you’ve earned the chance to eat something nice and tasty, and all round a bit unhealthy. Right?
As a result, sometime around the mid-distance of a long race I’ll often start thinking what I’d like to eat after it. And I’m not talking a quick chunk of chocolate or banana or granola bar here – we’re talking meals. Hot meals. Slightly unhealthy hot meals. Burger, anyone? Yup, burgers are nice. And when you’re into the hard miles of a half-marathon, the prospect of a Big Mac becomes mighty attractive.
It’s not always a Big Mac though. I’ve found myself craving all sorts of slightly unhealthy food types when I’m mid-run, from Giraffe’s not-entirely-authentic (but still very tasty) heuvos rancheros, through to Wahaca’s utterly incredible Mexican street eats, to Bill’s steak and eggs (they serve the steak on top of the chips, so they go all lovely and gooey in the meat juices, and excuse me while I stop to drool a bit…).
Okay, I’ve stopped drooling now. But during that short break, you might have been wondering why plotting a slightly unhealthy post-race meal is a running annoyance. After all, we’ve firmly established that a) I need to eat something after doing a long run; and that b) I’ve just done a long run so I’ve surely earned the right to eat something a little unhealthy. So what’s the problem?
Well, two things. The first is that, in my experience, my mind and body plays tricks on me in the latter stages of a long run. Of course it does: it’s probably some form of coping mechanism for the effort and pain I’m putting it through. And while I can start to feel hugely hungry when I’m mid-run, when I stop I’m often in such a strange state of exhilaration and exhaustion that I don’t really know what to feel. I rarely feel instantly hungry. And when my hunger comes back, I often don’t really fancy the sort of food I thought I did during the marathon.
One particularly fine example of this came once when I did an evening 10k race in Yateley, Hampshire. Throughout much of the run I was feeling a McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Oh yeah. It seemed like the thing to have. And so, driving home, I detoured off the M3 and stopped at a McDonalds. And you know what? When it was stuck in front of me, I suddenly realised I didn’t really fancy it. What was supposed to be a wonderful treat had kind of lost its appeal.
Part of that is because it’s hard for actual food, no matter how tasty, to actually taste as good as you imagine it will take when you’re in the middle part of a race. And it also relates to the other problem I have: guilt.
Yes, that might sound kind of silly – and it probably is. I think it came from the reason I took up running: to lose weight and get my general fitness under control after years of idle slobbery. Along with taking up running I essentially transformed my eating habits, and as a result that I managed to lose five stone in nine months.
Because I absolutely, definitely don’t want to fall back into my old routine and watch my waistline expand again, I still a lot of care in what I eat. As a consequence, when I decide I’m going to have something that might be classed a bit unhealthy as a treat, it’s got to be good. If it isn’t – and sometimes, even if it is – I feel guilty.
Guilty? Yup, because it feels like a waste of the hard work and effort I put in while running. I’ve worked hard to earn the right to eat it, and you want food that lives up to the effort and serves as a truly fitting reward.
So what’s the solution? Well, first you have to accept that food will never actually taste as good as you imagine it tasting when you’re in the middle of a long run. It’s just never going to. Never ever, ever, ever, ever. Like, ever.
Which leads to my solution: making sure that the food I eat after a big long race is going to be tasty, delicious and absolutely worth the effort. And that’s why, after several of my long runs I’ve ended up in Bill’s eating steak and eggs. And particularly why, after this year’s London Marathon, me, fellow South West Children’s Heart Circle charity runner Matt and the friends and family who’d come to cheer us on ended up dining in tip-top Mexican street food chain Wahaca.
Pork pibil tacos. Amazing sweet potato taquitos. Chunky, tasty guacamole. Freshly made tortilla chips. Excuse me – I just need to stop and drool again (and no, I’m absolutely not being paid to endorse either Bill’s or Wahaca. They just make lovely, lovely food…).
In short, it was great. Well, apart from the fact that getting to the Wahaca near Covent Garden we went to meant heading down a big flight of stairs. Getting down them post-marathon was pretty painful. Going back up them on the way home… ouch. Just ouch.
In fact, so good was the post-London Marathon Wahaca that when it came time to go for some food after this year’s Great Run Bristol Half Marathon, I decided to head to… Wahaca. And it was good.
It could be the start of a post-long race tradition. And I’d be fine with that.
For more random running annoyances, click here.