Marathon eating

Half marathon training and half marathon eating

Here’s my Times Union column from March. You can see it on their website, or read below. This story goes along with Egg Salad with Pickles and Dill, Crispy Tofu and Broccoli Sheet Pan with Chile-Peanut Oil and Spiced Carrot Bread with Gingersnap Crumble

Marathon eatingMy husband and I have registered to run a half marathon this spring, and so we are currently in the throes of training. This consists of short runs during the week and one longer run on the weekend. Each week, we add a mile to the long run. This whole half-marathon business sounds serious. It sounds like something fancy runners do, those who set times for their runs and don’t eat ice cream during training season. For us, running is about finishing the last mile and that is as much dedication as we can muster. But we appreciate the rewards of running, like the nice little biscuit offered to a pup for good behavior. We sit up and beg for the biscuits. 

The rewards of training and running are many, if you count them. There is the satisfaction of achieving a goal and the feeling of overall health. That’s the blah-blah-blah of rewards, the boring stuff. The real reward – the reason why Paul and I are out on a cold winter Sunday morning, running eight (or nine, or ten) miles – is because of the biscuits, the tasty little morsels that dogs (and humans) do things for. There’s the deep, restful sleep we will sleep that night. (For all people who have approached or passed middle age: you know. A good night’s sleep is not underrated and we will do darn near anything to have one.) 

And there’s a free pass on a long-run day. Want to nap? Or laze about and read and not do household chores? You’ve earned it. And the best biscuit, the most satisfying reward after a long and cold training run, is eating. Cravings rule here, and the cravings must be satisfied. 

We lean toward salty things, protein-rich and easy-to-make foods. There simply isn’t any energy left for fussy foods. We also like sweets around here, and having a loaf-y, cake-y something that’s politely hanging around the kitchen, waiting for someone to slice a bit off the end, is part of our training plan, too. Here’s a wrap-up of foods we ate after distance-running recently, limping home and having a well-deserved feast. 

I like to have food ready to go after running. Just like the days of having young children around, Paul and I are likely to be crabby and someone might even shed a tear if there isn’t food after long runs. What’s more, said food should be either protein rich (like eggs) or indulgent. There’s some of those kinds of foods here, for standing at the counter, or the refrigerator, and stuffing it in (refueling is a nicer way to say it).

We eat a lot of eggs. From the oh-so-humble hard-cooked egg – that workhorse of a nutrition ideal – to fluffy weekend morning eggs with herbs and cheese and lots of care in making them taste and look good, eggs are here to stay at our house. Since we started training, I’ve kept a bowl of hard-cooked eggs in the fridge. Post running snack? Done. The recipe here is for those times when you have eaten so many plain hard-boiled eggs that change is due. This salad is for anyone who likes salt, delivered in the form of pickles, adding both salt and crunch. A dash of Dijon and a generous sprinkle of dill adds depth and herbaceousness. This salad is good with crackers, on lettuce, in lunchboxes and definitely, standing at the counter, eaten with a spoon, after running. 

Tofu is also good post-exercise eats. It’s another high-protein food that’s easy to cook and is like a blank canvas: good for many different flavors and any color of vegetable you want to throw at it. Here, slices of tofu are pressed (always press your tofu. By squeezing the water out, it will crisp up and won’t fall apart). After an easy roast in the oven alongside a few friendly broccoli pieces, the whole thing is drizzled with chile-garlic oil. Chile oil is a popular condiment now, and there is not one right way to make it. It is also easy to make and is good on other foods, like noodles and — you guessed it — eggs. Here, I simplified the process to use everyday crushed red chiles (though you can definitely use any whole or crushed chiles you have), and loaded it up with garlic, sesame seeds and peanuts for crunch. You should use a neutral, high-smoke-point oil, like canola or safflower. If you like the punch of heat, add a few rounded tablespoons of chiles. One spoonful will get you a mellower tasting condiment in which the garlic, peanuts and sesame stand out. 

Now, on to the sweet part: I baked up a loaf of carrot bread, so we would have some sugary carbs to eat, both before and after a long run. Here’s the deal with this cake-disguised-as-bread recipe: it’s not quite as sweet as cake but it’s sweet enough to be a reward, a tasty little morsel you could tuck into, no matter what you did to deserve it. Folded the laundry? Eat a slice of carrot bread. Ran eight miles? Carrot bread! The crumb of this bread is tender and soft, yet stands up to a slather of butter. I simply wash and shred the carrots in the food processor, no peeling required. The topping is made from crushed ginger snaps, pressed into the batter. You could leave it off and still have a happy loaf of cake, er, bread. 

On April 15, Paul and I will be at the start line at the Heldeberg to Hudson Half Marathon, warmed, fed and ready to run (or walk or limp) all 13.1 miles and across the finish line. After, we’ll celebrate. We will have earned every morsel and reward, each little biscuit at the end of the day. After the race, there will be pasta and cheese and glasses of wine and all the actual cake we can eat.

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