Monday, February 6, 2012

In The Long Run: Shit Runners Eat

Full disclosure: When I proposed this topic to Midlife Rambler for our first collaboration, I thought my post would be dripping with hilarity. I had a 1 hour/50 minute run coming up and knew I'd have to start experimenting with gu and gels to keep me strong as the runs got increasingly longer. 110 minutes of me dicking around with liquid power has to be good for at least, what? Four gut-busting LOLs?

I had that run on Saturday. And it was the most unfunny run I've ever had in my entire life.

Nothing happened.

It wasn't too windy. It wasn't too cold. My Garmin started at about the exact time I thought it would. I was dressed appropriately. There were no emergency poops. No lunging dogs. No homeless people saluting me. No tripping. No gagging. No wardrobe or technical malfunctions.

I had the best fucking run of my entire life.


So, I'm going back in time, back to my first experience with Hammer Gel. Wanna see this mess?

Generally speaking, I've been a short course runner. I've done a few 5ks, a bunch of 5ks and 10ks at the end of Sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons and I've completed two half-marathons. For all of those races, I've never had more than some sports beans and possibly some shot bloks on my person. And sometimes I just forget to fuel up at all.

As a long-distance runner, I'm not fast. I'm not really speedy in short-distances, either. But I'm hoping I can cross the finish line of my first 26.2 in May in 4:30.  That said, I'm gonna need some energy along the way. Sports Beans, as delicious as they are, aren't going to be enough. I've got 12 weeks til D-Day, so it's time to figure out what power fuel is going to do me right on May 5th.

My first Gel experience was a year ago. One of us ... not sure if it was me or Husband ... got two Hammer Gels as either Goody Bag swag or possibly as a gift (Husband's senior class got him some running stuff at the end of the year. I stole most of it, including the Glide and possibly, those Hammer Gels). The flavors were Chocolate and Vanilla.

Chocolate:  I took this on a whim. I think I was running with Man Friend. I made the mistake of opening the package and squeezing it a bit before I had it in my mouth. 

Trust me ... the gel experience only gets worse if you know what it looks like before you put it in your mouth.

It looks like meconium, that tar-like poop that newborns make their first few days of life. It's a dark, dark black and it's thick and sticky. Wiping that shit off your babies ass with a standard 'wipe' is next to impossible. 

And then it was in my mouth.

I had about a quarter-sized ball of that rubbery awfulness in my mouth and was transferred back in time, to 1979, sitting in the kitchen of the Race Street apartment with a wad of overcooked pork chop in my mouth. I chewed and chewed and chewed, but nothing would break that shit down enough so I could swallow it. I sat with that wad of pork in my mouth until about 8:30 pm, when my mother released me from her culinary prison and sent me to the safe house: my bedroom. My jaws ached for two weeks straight.

The Chocolate Hammer Gel was pretty much like that night, except I willed myself to swallow it. At the nearest garbage can, I tossed out the largely unused packet and swore I'd never use that shit again.

Man Juice (Made With Natural Ingredients!)
Vanilla: I had either forgotten my Chocolate experience, or I just didn't have beans or blocks available, so I grabbed the Vanilla gel. 

I don't know how to explain this in a delicate manner. Its texture. Its color.

It's man juice. 

It's vanilla-flavored man juice.  

And between my utter disgust at the texture and my inability to squeeze it into my mouth, by the time I had finished the package, I looked like I had taken the money shot in an adult film. I had sticky, opaque, vanilla-flavored goo on my cheeks, on my hands, down the front of my black tank, on my fuel belt and all over my iPhone. I didn't even have to wrap my fingers around the phone to hold it: there was enough man-juice on it that it stuck securely to my hand, just like Krazy Glue.*

But dirtier.

Back to this week:  I talked to my Coach about Gel and Gu. She gave me her favorites. I ended up at the grocery store and was surprised to find Clif Shots and PowerBar Gels in the Gatorade aisle. Those were two products she did not recommend, but I bought them anyway because I'm lazy and getting them while I got milk and bananas and broccoli was infinitely easier than going to another store.

Learning from Chocolate and Vanilla:  After talking to more experienced runners, including my coach, I learned that you a) don't look at it before you put it in your mouth and b) you don't let it hover at your mouth ... you have to put it IN your mouth and squeeze. Like a ketchup packet.**

I washed both of my fuel packages with soap and water before I stuffed them into my windbreaker. I figured this would eliminate a last-minute case of the squirms when I shoved the open package into my mouth on the run. 

I loved every swallow.
And here's the deal: Strawberry-Banana flavored PowerBar Energy Gel isn't bad! 

I took it right after I reached a mental milestone ... I ran into Wilmette (that's two suburbs north of me), right up to the Bahai Temple. It was only 5.5 or 6 miles away from where I started, but running thru the end of Chicago, into Evanston, and then into Wilmette felt great. I stopped just long enough to take a picture of the Bahai to send to Husband and Coach with a message to say that I felt great, and I got moving. 

I reluctantly opened the package, put it in my mouth and gave one very generous squeeze -- enough to empty half the package into my mouth. It's not awesome enough that I'd want to eat it for dessert or a snack or anything, but it didn't make me gag. I swallowed it down and without giving it anymore thought, raised the package back to my mouth and unloaded the rest of it down my throat.

None of that was supposed to be sexual.

There it is. Power Gel. The kind I bought contained caffeine, so I had some anxiety because I can get pretty skittish if I have too much caffeine. And here's what it did to me:

It made me run sub-9's 75 minutes into my 1:50 run. That usually doesn't happen.

I ran faster those last 40 minutes than I had in any long run to date. And I felt great. 
I can't say I'm going to become a Gel aficionado, but I'm happy I've had one not so traumatizing experience. 

This run was invigorating - before and after the Gel. I felt comfortable and strong. When I hit the lakefront at Northwestern, I thought about Madison and Michelle painting the rocks for Aurora's last swim before she rocked The Channel (Aurora is on my blog roll if you want to learn about her training and swim). I contemplated taking a picture of the rock that someone painted to look like Jaws, coming out of the water. I felt like Rocky, reaching the top of the stairs of the Philly Museum of Art when I reached the Bahai. My finish line became the ice rink, where I met the rest of my family as Little Guy was wrapping up his hockey lesson.

I was 'present' for every step of that run. I couldn't have been happier.

And then some old dude whistled at me on Ridge. 

I'll take it.

* Truth be told, my phone was a mess by the end of the run from Gel 'drippings.' I couldn't find a waste can on my return run, so I put the packet back into my pocket...with my phone. Ick.  About three hours later, I caught my daughter trying to clean my phone with a tissue and her own spit. Nothing is easy in this house. Nothing.

** Husband does this with ketchup packets all the time. It grosses me out. But he can't be stopped. He's got a need for lycopene.


  1. I like Shot blocks, they aren't messy at all, have caffeine, and just are all around easy to eat and deal with.

    I have not tried GU or gels yet perhaps they are better.

    Glad your run went well!! Always nice to have a great run, there isn't much better!

  2. Thanks for checking in, Rain! Yeah ... I'm okay with Shot Bloks. I had three of them throughout the run. I'm trying to do a combination of non-caffeine and caffeine things to keep me energized without getting sick. I'm no Rambler ... four travel mugs of coffee a day would KILL ME! :)

    There is almost nothing better than a great run!

  3. Things that crack me up every time I read this:

    1) The term "Man Juice"
    2) Daughter attempting to clean your phone with spit.
    3) Equating Chocolate gel with meconium - glad I didn't read that before attempting my gel travesty.
    4) "I'll take it"