I’m training for my second half-marathon, the Seattle Rock n Roll in June. I’m a hearty eater under any conditions, but when I start increasing my mileage, I find myself looking at food differently—as fuel. It’s not often in my normal daily life that I am truly hungry, but there’s an experience that runners call bonking or hitting the wall that occurs when your body has used up all available energy reserves. It doesn’t feel like hunger, it feels like running out of gas. Your body just gets heavy and slows down and then pretty soon it stops. Just stops. I’ve experienced it, and it’s a whole different sensation than gosh I’m hungry, let’s grab some lunch. It is best avoided.
When I was training for my first half-marathon, I learned that I needed to fuel up around mile six if I wanted to avoid hitting the wall by mile nine or ten. I started experimenting with performance training foods. It’s hard to carry a banana along on a long run, and I can’t seem to chew and digest energy bars while working that hard. And this is where race gels come in. You can’t get these at the Farmer’s Market. They are not organic, local, natural, or even recognizable as food (except maybe by astronauts), they are the ultimate in highly refined, processed nutrition: Clif Shot Gels in “Razz” flavor with caffeine, and a peanut butter texture. Wretched tasting, but effective.
I am personally a fan of pancakes and sausage as a pre-run breakfast. A giant stack of buttermilk pancakes, and I’m good to go for six or seven miles, at least. And when I get back from a run, sweaty and footsore and ravenous, that’s when the pancake sandwich becomes a true object of desire. Carbs, protein, sugar, potassium–I want those nutrients badly. I think about it on my way home, like a thirsty traveler dreaming of an oasis, shimmering on the horizon in the desert.
Two cold leftover pancakes, slathered thickly with peanut butter and honey, layered with banana slices, and smashed together into a sandwich that can be eaten in large, seagull-esque bites standing at the kitchen counter. The peanut butter is rich and creamy, with a hint of salt. The honey tastes impossibly sweet, in a way that reminds me that sometimes sugar is not just an indulgence but also pure, raw energy bursting on my tongue and coursing through my body.
Revived by this utilitarian snack, I am ready for a shower and a rest, and then maybe I can think about a real meal later on—a meal made from quality ingredients, to be savored and lingered over and shared.