What a weekend it has been for sporting triumphs as two incredible Kenyan runners smashed some historic records for the marathon. First up, Eliud Kipchoge, who holds the official marathon world record of 2:01:39, set in 2018 has broken new ground by becoming the first athlete to run a marathon in under 2 hours. It may seem slightly harsh that his time of 1:59:40 in Vienna cannot be recognised officially as a new world record when the world was there to witness every single step. But the race of 1 runner clearly wasn’t an open competition and Kipchoge was helped by an extensive support team. It was mesmerising watching Kipchoge’s 42 pacers rotate into position throughout the race as seamlessly as the backup dancers at the beginning of Strictly Come Dancing. It hardly matters that Kipchoge’s time is not official because he made marathon history and in his own words, he showed the world that there are no limits when you believe in yourself and trust in what you are doing.
The second runner to smash a marathon record was Brigid Kosgei who destroyed the previous world record still held by Paula Radcliffe who set it 16 years ago. Her time of 2:14.04 was more than a minute quicker than Radcliffe’s and can only be described as being truly epic. Amazingly, Kosgei, herself, did not expect to have run so well but reportedly went into the race with Kipchoge’s victory in mind. She said that she had felt good and so decided to ‘go for it’, just like any other superhero would. Now that she has achieved this feat, she isn’t quite done pushing the marathon boundaries further. In another example of testing the limits, she says that she knows that she can shave off even more of her time and believes that running a marathon in 2:10 is possible.
Watching these two runners break marathon records was inspirational but it is difficult to fully comprehend the speed at which they both ran. Relating their race splits to the masses of regular runners out there, it is the equivalent of Kipchoge and Kosgei rocking up to your local parkrun and running the 5km course in 14:10s and 15:28s, respectively. Which means that they would both be well ahead of the usual speedy runner who gets towed by his dog to the finish every week.
For those of us who have ever run a marathon, it is even more difficult to imagine how they could run at that speed for the entire stretch of 42.2km. Of course, they have a massive team of support and expertise to help them during the race. Not to mention, a nutrition and hydration strategy worked out to every last calorie so that their energy levels keep them running like the wind. But even if Kipchoge and Kosgei are in an entirely different league, there is still one basic dilemma that they will face that is shared with runners of all abilities. What is the best breakfast to eat before going for a long run?!
I decided to start investigating what Kipchoge and Kosgei ate for breakfast on the day of their phenomenal races but information on the ground was very sketchy. Starting with Kipchoge, I had heard that he ate enormous amounts of ugali, a Kenyan starchy staple described as a traditional cornmeal porridge. Knowing that porridge is the classic runner’s breakfast, I thought I was onto something. However, I soon realised that ugali could never be mistaken for a typical bowl of porridge made from oats. The main ingredient in ugali is white cornmeal and it is cooked until it resembles a thick doughy bread. In fact, it looks closer to an extremely dense polenta than even the most overcooked of porridges. As ugali is typically eaten alongside soups, stews and cooked vegetables it is unlikely to have been a part of Kipchoge’s race breakfast.
Looking again, I thought I had a breakthrough when I discovered some breakfast banter in the short film Eliud. Filmed inside Kipchoge’s training camp, it showed him helping himself to a couple of slices of bog-standard white bread to scoff while saying to the camera, ‘It’s breakfast for Africans. We only have bread and tea, that’s enough’. However, the film showed that they were eating this breakfast after a long run which had begun at 6am. Which means that I wasn’t any wiser to his pre-race meal.
Luckily, I had a tip-off that Kipchoge had mentioned how he had prepared on the morning of the race at the INEOS 1.59 press conference. Sure enough, at almost the end of the Q&As he said that he had eaten oatmeal for breakfast. Finally, the secret was out! Then again, was this oatmeal made from ground oats? Sometimes millet is used instead and then there is uji, a Kenyan fermented porridge made from dried maize, millet and sorghum. he didn’t mention if it had been made from oats or millet. Then there is the question of milk and toppings…
Looking into what Kosgei ate before the Chicago Marathon was even more difficult and I couldn’t find any leads to follow. It was hard to believe that no one had asked her the fundamental question of what she ate before starting the marathon but the press seemed more interested in the shoes she was wearing. In the end, I could only conclude that pre-race nutrition for elite competitors may be a closely guarded secret for some. However, the one thing I did learn was that her favourite food is reportedly, ugali with vegetables.
We may never find out exactly what Kipchoge and Kosgei ate for breakfast before making history and whether it gave them that final push across the finish line. In any case, and for the rest of us mere mortal runners, the principles of pre-race nutrition still apply.
2-4 hours Before a long run
- Eat a meal high in complex carbohydrates to give you long-lasting energy and keep your blood sugar levels stable
- Include only a little protein and very little fat so that you have an empty stomach when you run
- Do not include more fibre than you are used to eating to avoid stomach cramps
But what does this mean in terms of actual food in your kitchen? The sky’s the limit but oats and whole grains are a good place to start. They are premium fuels for your body and are easy to digest. Try porridge with apple and raisins, some toast with banana or cereals with berries such as Shredded Wheat, Weetabix, Oatabix or sugar-free muesli. Homemade pancakes are also an easy choice but go easy on the maple syrup to prevent a drop in energy before you even reach for your trainers.
Lastly, whether you are an elite athlete or fun runner, it’s important to remember that everybody is different. Some pre-race breakfasts will work better for you than for others. Which means that even if we found out exactly what Kipchoge or Kosgei ate on the day of their marathon triumphs it doesn’t mean that it would necessarily work for us. The secret of fuelling up properly comes down to finding out what works through trial and error. Once we know the answer then it’s even more important to stick with it for long runs and races.
Whether the weekend’s events have inspired you to sign up for a marathon, an ultra or if you have slightly more modest goals, with your pre-run breakfast sorted you will be ready to face however many kms there are in front of you. In the meantime, here’s a recipe to get started on. It may not be ugali but this Classic cornbread will still fuel you up for a long run.