I love training and racing hard. I enjoy the entire racing process, from creating a plan to crossing the finish line. But beyond grinding it out in those final miles, beyond the elation of a PR or a race well run, I also love sinking my teeth into an indulgent post-race treat or two.
In the general running world, there can be a bit of an obsession with healthy eating – “clean” eating, gluten-free, no sugar, green juice, and any other diet trends that have graced the pages of Runner’s World. Obviously, eating nutritious, minimally processed foods is important for both health and performance. But a tipping point exists between having a healthy, balanced approach to food and nutrition and being so obsessed with dieting that you’re counting calories even on race day (an extreme example).
I eat a high-quality diet year-round, but my eating habits undergo a slight transformation as I train for a race. I eat more vegetables and fruit, I make sure there’s a bit of healthy fat with each meal, and I avoid sugary treats, fried foods, and hard alcohols, for the most part. Proper nutrition is essential not just for my overall health, but for recovering well in training, fueling my workouts, and running my best on race day. I do have my moments of indulgence, especially if travel or a holiday are involved, but most days are focused on high-quality eating.
The week of the race involves particularly careful eating. I opt for a balance of high-quality foods without any irritators (beans, high-lactose dairy, and cruciferous vegetables for me) and then taper off to more carb-rich foods in the couple days before.
After months of training and 13.1 or 26.2 miles of racing hard, I don’t want an apple or a salad. I always promise myself a treat after a race. Not a treat like a healthy muffin or a glass of red wine, but a real treat, the type of food I would normally pass on in training. I worked hard and I want to indulge in something that tastes incredibly good.
After the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon last weekend, Ryan and I drove to Top Pot Donuts. I had half of a CLIF bar, half of a KIND bar, and a banana to get some food down, but I was not going to skip out on my post-race treat. I ordered and ate an entire apple fritter, savoring each and every bite of that delicious glazed piece of fried dough. The only other times I’ve had an apple fritter, I split it. But this was a post-race treat – of course I was going to eat the whole thing.
After I ran my first BQ at California International Marathon, we purchased a giant bottle of Hendrick’s Gin (California has such cheap liquor compared to Washington!). Gin has been my favorite spirit of choice ever since I turned 21, but I don’t drink too much of it during training because of the high alcohol content. A BQ is well worth celebrating, so celebrate I did – and celebrations for me include good food and drink.
And last year, after the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon, Ryan and I split a pitcher of beer and I devoured a burger and fries.
Long distance running requires a lot of discipline. To do well at a marathon or half marathon requires months of hard training, healthy eating, and attention to fine details such as hydration and recovery. You read a lot of articles and blog posts, including mine, that focus on how to train, nutrition, etc. – all valuable things – but not the full picture.
Running a marathon or a half marathon is an accomplishment: reward yourself. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard and spend the next month eating indulgent foods, but don’t swing in the opposite direction and deprive yourself after you cross the finish line.
You can’t – nor should you – eat a 100% healthy diet all the time. Healthy eating includes treats in moderation. The purpose of food, after, is not solely nutrition: there’s companionship (a word which literally means in Latin sharing bread with) and pleasure in food, and celebration combines those two.
Just like a few days of rest for recovery after a race won’t derail your fitness, you’re not going to gain weight with one day of indulging. Enjoying a post race treat is good for the mind and body, especially after pushing to your limits for 13.1 or 26.2 miles.
So after you next race, take some time to indulgent in some good food and drink and celebrate with your family, friends, and fellow runners.
What’s your favorite post-race treat?