The Food Fight

by Sinéad Brunet

In my first email to Rob Watson, I told him that I would be bringing to the team an attitude of “I’m just here for the free bananas at the end”.  Not entirely true. One of the questions I was asked when signing up to train with Rob was “Where do you think Rob can help you?” “ Everywhere”, was the first answer that automatically came to mind, but after giving it some thought, nutrition was my downfall.

I have always told the story about quitting smoking and taking up running again to battle the cravings and get my much needed alone time, but there was another factor that played a part in my return to running…vanity.  As with so many that have quit before me, I too fell victim to the weight gain associated with giving up the weed.  I thought I was being so clever: whenever I wanted a cigarette, instead I would reach for a fat-free Twizzlers, bite off both ends and gnaw away while inhaling.  The fat-free part is where I thought I was clever; of course, I decided to ignore the caloric intake until my jeans were a little too snug.  That was when I laced up and got out the door.  The weight came off quickly, and a new, healthier addiction had started.

The other addiction, my sweet tooth, still is indulged from time to time.  Who better to help me battle the sugar cravings than an elite?  I told Rob about my kitchen drawer full of candy and the sweet tooth that haunted me.  I fully expected him to have no idea what I was talking about, but was surprised by him once again when he admitted to suffering the same problem!  His answer: “If you don’t have it around, you won’t eat it.”  Ok, now this is where myself and Mr. Elite will not be able to see eye to eye.  Being a mother of 3 kids, and training through Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter means there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep the sweets out of my house for an entire training session.  To make matters worse, St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favourite times of the year because my awesome cousin in Ireland always sends me Irish candy to celebrate!  Deep breaths, Sinéad: You can do this.  I make a promise to myself to limit the candy intake this training cycle.

Now, all that being said, there is a flip side to this that I needed to run by Rob.  I have never, in 9 marathons, eaten anything during the race.  During my first marathon, in Toronto, I drank Gatorade at the aid stations and by mile 20 my stomach was not too pleased with me.  Nausea took over, and my pace slowed.  Lesson learned.  At my second marathon, in Boston, I tried something different by having water the first half and Gatorade the second.  The stomach issues were better, but I was still a little uncomfortable at the end.  Since then, I have run each marathon with a disposable water bottle in my hand and have no Gatorade. Sinead at the Forest City Road Races

The idea of having the gels on the run has always made me feel queasy…just the texture of them is awful.  When I was in Chicago in 2012, mile 18 came and I knew I was in trouble.  I had always heard of ‘the bonk’, but never (touch wood) fallen victim to it.  Approaching mile 19, I was not ok.  My legs were lead, my field of vision was closing in and I knew I needed something.  From out of nowhere there appeared a girl with a gel chew, she offered me a packet of them, which I grabbed as a final lifeline and quickly popped two in my mouth.  I slowly chewed and swallowed the first and ended up spitting out most of the second.  My vision corrected and my legs found new life.  I finished the race with my PR of 3:13:38, but was right back to my old ways by the following Spring.  So, I asked Rob, “Is it a necessity to take on fuel during a marathon?”  His answer ” You must fuel as the race goes on!”.  Ah crap.

On April 27, I ran the Forest City Road Races half marathon as a training run to focus on my pacing and nutrition.  Now, the good news is that the makers of the gels have disguised the nutrition I need as candy in these lovely little chews, and Rob has told me to train with them and practice taking them when training, so it means I can have my nutrition and candy, too! I took with me a few gel chews to have on course.  At 14k, being at the 1 hour mark, I popped a couple into my mouth.  Everything was going great until my stomach started digesting the chews at 19k.  Not great timing, and not a great feeling.  I still finished on pace, with some mild discomfort.

Since then, I have been out for one last long run and a few mid-length runs, and have continued to practice using the chews.  So far, so good.  I feel like every time I eat one, I’m smuggling candy contraband into my training.  I was able to dodge Easter and let the kids eat all the eggs, and I am saving my Irish  candy for the ride home from Ottawa as a post race indulgence.  Although I am still aware of the stomach issues that can come with fuelling, I am feeling more confident as race day approaches.  If you see me doubled over on the course, just give me a cup of water and remind me that when I finish I have been promised beer and cookies post-race.  That ought to get me to the finish line. If not, mention the free bananas.

Sinéad Brunet is running the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon on May 25th, 2014 as part of the Le Team du Rob. Her blog can also be found at iRun.