As I’m sure many of you have seen from my numerous social media posts (sorry not sorry) – I ran my first half marathon last weekend!!
I will be honest by telling you that I haven’t always been a “runner” or even enjoyed running. I was envious of people who fell into those categories. At just over 5 feet tall I felt like I wasn’t built to run effortlessly or even at a pace over eleven minute miles. Running always felt like a chore and the fastest way to get a workout in. It certainly wasn’t enjoyable.
Enter graduate school, a dietetic internship, a NICU dietitian position, starting a business, and moving out of my parent’s house. Add an introverted personality into the mix and I was an emotional mess. My chore of running started to turn into an escape. It was thirty to forty five minutes of being alone and collecting my thoughts. It no longer mattered how fast I went or how many miles I logged. With that judgment removed I actually started to enjoy it.
One year later, I was getting in 3 miles consistently with an occasional 5 miler squeezed in if I was feeling really great. I still wouldn’t call myself a runner but the thought of running didn’t trigger thoughts of disdain. Running a half-marathon was a very intimidating idea but seemed like it would be a good goal to work towards. (certainly not in the near future)
I somehow managed to get my boyfriend’s sister to get on board with the idea that eventually running a half might be fun. Six months later we were signed up to run a half marathon in Newport.
A dietitian’s dilemma:
I knew I was going to have to get serious about eating before and after my runs. What better excuse for a dietitian to think about food, right? I am by no means a sports dietitian or an elite athlete but I was able to use my nutrition skills to guide me through the process of fueling for the event. I knew carbs and protein with minimal fat and not a lot of fiber was the way to go before runs. Toast with a little peanut butter, oatmeal with banana, yogurt and blueberries … all of these ideas popped up as food to eat an hour before my runs. I started trying different combinations before my short runs.
Like clockwork, around the 1 mile mark of each run the cramping would start. By 1-¼ miles, I was stooped over with incredible abdominal pain. This was pain that I had never felt before. It took every ounce of me to maintain my composure so that fellow trail runners or passers-by wouldn’t think I was a lunatic. I was sometimes able to recover and finish my run after an agonizing ½ mile walk but by that time I was ready to go home.
Google search after Google search brought up the same three diagnoses. I was either pregnant (as only any medical Google search can determine), dehydrated or I had exercised too soon after eating something too rich. I decided to focus on the latter two of the three. Dehydration was a distinct possibility – I was always horrible at drinking water. I decided to pay closer attention to my water intake and keep the fueling the same. That didn’t work.
Was it really a possibility that I, a dietitian, didn’t know what to eat before a run?? I decided to keep a food and symptom journal to try and find some connection between the cramping and food.
After what seemed like ages playing with the timing and types of food as well as my hydration, I was eventually able to find what worked for me. Carbs and carbs only was what worked best for me and my clearly sensitive tummy. Runs less than 6 miles were fueled with the traditional banana at least 1 hour before running. Weekend long runs were fueled with a plain bagel with blueberry jam at least 2 hours before the run. Like magic I never felt those cramps again.
Given this issue and the horror stories I had heard about gus and chews, I was very hesitant to start fueling during my runs. Luckily, I was easily able to find products that worked for fueling during my run with no problem. Gatorade Chews and mini Starbursts were my go to for runs over 6 miles. A near miss taught me that, despite recommendations, Swedish Fish and running is a choking hazard.
Moral of that story? Sports nutrition is a very individualized approach. Just because something works for one athlete doesn’t mean it will work for you. It’s a trial and error experience.