Dining dilemma: marathon training vs holiday eating

There are now only five days – FIVE DAYS! – until the Chevron Houston Marathon, which means I’m in full-on taper mode (and tapering is difficult…). Right now, I’m all about trying to rest up, to ensure I’m on full form for when the race starts at 0700hrs on Sunday morning.

At this point in the build-up to last year’s London Marathon, I became incredibly boring. Well, more boring than usual, at least. If you ask people who know me, plenty would likely suggest I’m pretty boring anyway.

My boring behaviour involved not going out much, limiting what I did and sticking to a fairly boring discipline of eating simple, straightforward food. On the Sunday before the marathon, I cooked up a huge vat of turkey Bolognaise, which I ate with pasta virtually every night that week. The Bolognaise itself wasn’t boring – I added in spinach and squash and all sorts of healthy veg, so it was designed to be ideal marathon build-up food. But having it every night for a week? Yeah, that got a little boring.

But, at least in the context of preparing for a marathon, boring is good. Boring is routine. Routine is important. To be on top form for a marathon I wanted to stick to a disciplined routine and a disciplined, controlled diet.

That’s proving difficult ahead of the Houston Marathon. Here’s the problem: I’m in another country, and the food in the Great State of Texas is quite different to what I cook up on the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. It’s also really very good, and I don’t want to miss out on the local cuisine when I’m here. Have you tried real, proper Texan smoked beef brisket? If you have, you’ll know that nothing you can get in Britain that purports to be ‘Texan-style BBQ’ even comes close.

Another challenge: I’m also on holiday visiting family. That involves both eating out quite a bit and not bring in full control of exactly what I’m going to eat and when. All of which makes repeating my boring pre-London Marathon diet difficult.

It’s not really possible to be totally boring and disciplined in my dining and make the most of being on holiday.

After much internal debate on how to tackle this dilemma I settled on compromise. For the first week or so I was out here I ate largely what I wanted – albeit within reason. So I have had a few portions of lovely Texas smoked beef brisket, but I ordered lean brisket rather than fatty, and majored on the green beans and corn sides rather than a big dollop of gooey mac ’n’ cheese.

Another example: I headed from Houston up to Fort Worth for a few days on a family road trip. The hotel we were staying in provided a free breakfast, featuring some hot food, cereals, bagels, muffins and the like. On the first day I was disciplined and stuck to cereals and fruits. But then I noticed the breakfast buffet included a waffle maker – the sort you’ll find in lots of hotel breakfast buffets across America. Except the ones in Texas are frequently a little different, making it even harder to resist. And so, yes, I couldn’t resist…


…a waffle in the shape of the state of Texas. I mean, look at it. Look at it! How could I not? When life presents you with the chance to make a waffle in the shape of the state of Texas, it’s practically your duty to have one.

The compromise? I persuaded my mum to have half of it. So I sliced off East Texas, roughly from Corpus Christi up to the middle of the Panhandle, for her. Which left me with the rest of the Panhandle and West Texas to eat. And, may I say, El Paso was particularly crisp and tasty.

My compromise plan doesn’t seem to have had too many ill effects – heck, I only managed to win my class on a 10k race a few days into my trip after some BBQ! – but now I’m in the final stretch I’ve made a conscious effort to focus in on what I know.

So it’s cereal or porridge – sorry, oatmeal – for breakfast, along with some nice fresh fruit. And then I’ve been picking out relatively straightforward dishes that offer a good blend of all the things like carbs and protein and such that you’re supposed to eat before a marathon. And, as the event draws nearer, I’m moving away from what I want to eat, and focusing more and more on what I need to eat. Which, sadly, means a temporary break from the brisket.

But, that said, it doest mean  a break from thinking about the brisket. After all, I’ve got the afternoon following the marathon and a few days afterwards to indulge in some well-earned post-race dining (which, as previously noted, I’ll end up feeling guilty about…). And I’m already beginning to picture what I might go for…


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