What is the best food to eat before a race? All that you want.


The other night over dinner, after a day of doing various things at work and at home during which I had let time pass and procrastinate on my run, I said a few things to my wife, Hilary:

“I should really go for a run tonight.”

“Do you want to go get some ice cream?”

These two things were close enough in time to suggest that the person saying them was unreasonable. Especially when he was shoving forks of kale and broccoli slaw in her face. (I don’t know what you eat before your run, but leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables aren’t usually high on my list of pre-run snacks).

Then we went to get some ice cream at our local spot, because I had let the lazy/hungry person inside of me win over the fit person. Picking up a waffle cone of S’mores ice cream, I began to notice people running around in the fading evening light – a woman in her 20s, a couple in her 50s, a man in his 30s or quarantine with a dog. I pointed these people out to Hilary as justification for me to run, even though it was almost 8:30 p.m.

And so, on the way home, I put on some running shorts and left, my stomach full of veggies and ice cream, thinking “It’s going to go both ways.”

In fact, it took a third route, which I hadn’t expected: acid reflux. Which isn’t fun, but I could say it’s better than shitting your pants in plain sight, something that’s *almost* happened to me while running a few times.

In other words, it went well. I didn’t set any speed records on my four mile ride, just did it and got home just before it got really dark feeling pretty good about myself.

A while ago I was talking to a guy during a race about how he got into ultrarunning. He mentioned Dean Karnazes’ book Men’s Ultramarathonand how Karnazes’ writings on the Badwater 135 inspired him to start running ultras, with the eventual goal of trying to qualify and run the Badwater 135, which is probably one of the most hot and hardest that humans attempt, if not the hottest and hardest – but I’m not exactly an expert, as I haven’t studied the subject much, as it seems that is not the case, how would you say, fun I guess?

Anyway, I said Yeah, it’s a great book, although my favorite part is the beginning, when Karnazes orders a pizza to be delivered to him halfway through near Petaluma, California, oh and also a cheesecake, thanks. And then he tells how he managed to carry the pizza and the cheesecake and eat them while dragging along the road.

I mean, listen, there are a lot of fast people, and of course, they’re inspiring. And sports journalism has always focused on the most successful athletes in all sports. And that’s great, because people are doing amazing things. But I’ll tell you the image that got me running ultramarathons, and it’s Dean Karnazes eating a whole fucking pizza while running. And also a cheesecake.

We look up to athletes, and in many cases it’s a “wow, this person is basically superhuman,” doing things we’d never see ourselves doing: throwing a fastball at 100 miles per hour, diving a basketball, run a 2h10 marathon. And often that just means that these are sports we watch, instead of playing them ourselves. But sometimes we can see ourselves doing something similar to what athletes do: run 100 miles, climb a road on El Capitan, ride a famously challenging section of singletrack.

Reading the story of Dean Karnazes eating pizza while running made me think: this is a sport I could get into. I mean, how many sports can you do and eat pizza while you’re doing them? OK, yes, golf. Darts. Cornhole. Probably baseball, honestly. Billiards. Skee ball. So maybe not bad, really. But what about sports where you burn a significant number of calories? Sports that don’t traditionally look like good sports for eating pizza? I ran track in high school, and neither of us had a sandwich before or during an event, that’s for sure. It’s hard to control your breathing enough to take many bites out of a six-inch sub during a 100-meter sprint or a 1,500-meter run.

But if you’re moving for 12, 16, or 24 hours straight, you need more calories. And of course, you can probably get all those calories in a sports drink. Most people don’t. Instead, like Dean Karnazes, they find some kind of “real food” that will work for them: Pizza, rice balls, quesadillas, Sour Patch Kids, gummy-bones, cookies, whatever works without forcing you to stopping on the side of the trail to clear your bowels every 30 minutes.

It is, for me, a small happiness. It also opens up a lot of possibilities in your schedule. I’m not what you would call a “fast” or even “serious” runner, but I have a pretty good attendance record. I’ve enjoyed this process of figuring out what I can eat before and during the run, and it’s quite liberating knowing that if I splurge once in a while, I can pause my watch, go into a convenience store, buy a candy bar, eat it, restart my watch and finish my race. When I stop at a pit stop during an ultramarathon, I approach it as my personal Sizzler in the woods, a buffet of endless possibilities – should I have Oreos and wash them down with a handful of M&Ms? Or Chips Ahoy? And if you asked me to meet for a run and suggested we start at a donut shop, I wouldn’t respond with, “Oh, I can’t eat before running.” I guess you and I were going to be great friends.

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