I cannot actually believe it but I am now only days away from running my first ever marathon. Up until now, I have mostly avoided thinking about the big day and just focused on following the training plan one week at a time without peeking ahead at what was coming up. But there was no avoiding getting caught up with watching the coverage of the London Marathon and some exceptional running by the winners, Brigid Kosgei and Eliud Kipchoge, who were simply flawless. They both looked completely relaxed as they powered over 26.2 miles, making it look incredibly easy. Of course, my eyes were also glued to the tens of thousands of other runners who were trying to make it to the end, including an exceptionally tall Big Ben on legs.
While the days tick off, I am officially ‘tapering’ which is said to be one of the most important parts of a marathon training plan. It seems counterintuitive to cut down on the training but reducing the mileage is supposed to allow your body to fully recover before the race so that you can reach your peak performance for the actual marathon. However, I am finding out that tapering means different things to different people.
For example, to my husband, tapering means ‘resting’ whilst continuing to run as usual but for shorter and easier, more relaxing runs. But to my children, it means that without the long runs to occupy me, I am suddenly now more available to do things for them. Which makes the resting a bit of a challenge. To me, it means I am still fully experiencing the same cumulative fatigue of training and thanks to my children, feel just as busy. Admittedly, I’m also getting a bit anxious as I wait for the promised recovery to kick in. As my mind keeps drifting to disastrous marathon scenarios where I end up crawling the course or getting lost running en route, I pray that I will be awarded with springy legs in time for the start…In the meantime, I am distracting myself from these thoughts by dreaming up new carb-loaded recipes to fuel a marathon.
To read the headlines, you would think that carbohydrates should be avoided at all costs because the promotion of all-things-protein as the magic bullet of a healthy diet is still going strong. However, the truth is somewhat different and it is not helpful to demonise what the general public associates with entire food groups. Carbohydrates are essential for our diet and should ideally make up the bulk of it. They are needed by every cell of our bodies and are our main fuel source, especially for the brain, muscles and central nervous system. Ultimately for runners, carbs are king as they play a major role in overall performance.
Our bodies store relatively small amount of carbohydrates in our muscles and liver which deplete over time as we do exercise. Therefore, for long runs over 90min, it’s important to refuel with more carbs to give you energy or you will risk feeling light-headed, irritable and fatigued. Even though we have small carb stores, it has long been known that we can increase them with a bit of carbo-loading. In fact, increasing the consumption of carbs 3-4 days before a long race can help to improve endurance. However, as in a healthy diet, the quality of the carbs matters so carbo-loading doesn’t mean simply eating more biscuits and sweets! It’s not about increasing your calories but looking at ways to make more space for healthier carbs. Therefore, it’s far better to re-jig your plate so you increase the amount of nutritious carbs such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, bread, oats, sweet potatoes plus veg and fruit so that there’s less space left to fill with rubbish.
With a kitchen full of rice, bulghur wheat, barley and other grains, sweet potatoes, noodles and copious amounts of pasta, I’m not going to have a problem embracing more carbs. I have even found a neglected carby ingredient right at the back of my kitchen cupboard – a massive green tin of jackfruit. This starchy fruit it is often held up as the ultimate vegan protein substitute for chicken and pulled pork because this slightly tasteless stringy ingredient has a similar texture and can easily take on flavours. However, jackfruit is almost entirely full of carbohydrates. With the makings for some serious carbo-loading, I think the only real difficulty is now deciding what to eat for the 3-4 days.
However, there is one meal that is sacrosanct as far as marathons are concerned. The classic meal to fuel up on the night before a marathon is pasta. This tradition is so well known that many major marathons all over the world offer a pre-race ‘pasta party’. The New York City Marathon is just one of them and has hosted a Marathon Eve Dinner for more than 35 years. It serves upwards of 2000 kg of pasta to tens of thousands of runners every year. As a pasta aficionado, I do not need any convincing and will be having my own pasta party at home. I plan to be happily sitting down to a big plate of tagliatelle on the eve of my marathon, maybe even with my feet up.
While I continue to ignore my marathon nightmares and heavy legs, I am still working on more carb-filled recipes to eat in the days before marathon eve. But as time is now really ticking by, I think my nerves are beginning to fray. As I continue to taper and try to rest, the only thing I can do is hope that my legs will feel fresher when I get to the start line. Time will surely tell if I manage to glide through the streets like (a much slower and older) Kosgei or if I end up literally hitting the wall like a giant Big Ben. Whatever the outcome, at least the tapering will be over…and I have finally figured out what to do with the forgotten tin of jackfruit.
Now for the recipe…Jackfruit and black bean burritos.