Friday, December 6, 2013

How I Found Out I Need Running Candy

I've been waiting for the right time to tell this story...

As you may know, I'm currently training for my second half marathon this month. It's 8 days away! I'm rediscovering my love/hate relationship with long runs, and ran 12 miles for the third time in my LIFE a few weeks ago. Getting back into long runs has reminded me of the story when I ran 12 miles for the FIRST time ever.

It has to be one of the most memorable experiences in running I've ever had.

It's kind of funny (after the fact), kind of scary (even though everything was fine), but overall, a learning experience that led to me better preparing for running and making smarter decisions in my future training.

It was back in March of this year (2013), and  was my longest training run before my first half-marathon. It was a huge accomplishment, yes, but I made some rookie mistakes in terms of staying prepared and fueled.

If you've been running for awhile, this probably won't be informative, but an illustration of how important it is to prepare and fuel properly for long runs. If you're new to running (especially long runs), I hope this inspires you to seek out the right nutritional items to fuel your runs.

I like to call these items (GU, Sport Beans, etc) "Running Candy".

So here we go...

It started off just like any other long training run. I was terribly nervous, as 12 miles was a new distance for me. Running 10 miles still made me feel like my legs were made of lead, and I'd spend the rest of the weekend hobbling around with a gangsta lean. Nonetheless, there was about a month until my first half marathon, and I had to get this in so I could feel confident  that I could run the distance.

As I typically did back then before my long runs, I drank some (plain) water and ate a banana before meeting our group at 7:30 AM that morning. I carried some more (plain) water in my handheld bottle.

We met up with our group, and I found the girl in my group who ran near my pace and would run with me. It felt better knowing I wasn't going at it alone.

Finally it was time to start running. I started off feeling strong. The weather was brisk and comfortable. I listened to Pandora on my headphones and got into the music. I felt energetic as I ran the somewhat hilly greenways in west Knoxville.

For about 6-7 miles, I was energetic and lost in my music. My running buddy was just a few steps behind me, and we occasionally encouraged and complimented each other.

Between 7-8 miles, however, I started feeling a little tired and...hungry??

That was odd. I typically am too mentally consumed with the difficulty of running to think about food. 

I remembered that there would likely be a yummy post-run breakfast/brunch to be had later, so I sucked it up and kept on going.

Between 8-10 mi, it started to feel a little tough. This wasn't unusual for me - after 8 mi I always felt drained of energy, and my legs tired, heavy, and sore. I stayed focused, tried to enjoy my music, and at about 10 mi, started on my last loop of the greenway before I arrived back to my starting point.

And then I tried to think...

Finally, at 10 miles, I'd surpassed my distance PR. This was it - I was doing this! Just 2 miles to go! Regardless of how I felt, I had to keep going.

But wait...when did I lose my running partner? She was just right behind me. Wasn't she? How long has it been since I lost her? Miles ago? Was she okay? How did I miss this? I was confused. Some running partner I was...

(Side note - she was fine, she just fell behind me in pace and ended the run early).

It wasn't like me to get confused like that. Oh well, nothing I could do about it at that moment. I would just check on her when I caught up to my group.

I was so tired, sore, and drained, I was staring at my watch: 10.7 mi...10.8 mi...

Stop looking at it! That makes it worse! Ahh! I looked again. Come on, many miles to go? What's 10.79 from 12 mi? Let's think this through...

Yikes! In my daily life, I'm calculating sale prices at Ann Taylor Loft, deciding which package of Bounty is cheaper by unit price, estimating marketing budgets and response rates - all on the fly.

Why is it taking me so long to do simple arithmetic?

It worried me a little, but I had to try to let it go so I could focus on my run. My legs were running under me almost on autopilot, but there really wasn't much thought going on. FINALLY, my watch displayed 12.0 mi and I had completed it. I should have felt ecstatic, accomplished, and proud. Instead I was too exhausted to process it. I felt a little weak and dizzy.

To get back to our meeting spot and my husband and vehicle, I had to walk up a GIANT hill. Likely the steepest hill in Knoxville.

I couldn't fathom it.

I hate to admit this, but while walking that ginormous hill, I took a couple of breaks and sat on the sidewalk. I'm not sure, but I may have even closed my eyes for a moment.

Not my brightest move.

Finally, once I got to the top of the hill, I thought I had made it! Everything would be just fine!

If it hadn't been for the lady asking directions...

Just as I'd gotten up the hill and was almost to the parking lot to meet my group, a lady in a minivan stopped by and asked for directions to a park.

I could literally see it from the hill we were on.

What I meant to say was: "Yes, it's right down there. Go down the hill and there will be parking on your right. Have a lovely time at the park."

What came out was something like: "TheIt's hjklhkhpark there jhhjlright hill..." with me attempting to point.

She hastily said, "Okay thanks, bye!" and took off.

I must have looked completely nuts. 

And now I couldn't ignore it. I was starting to really worry about my mental state.

I walked across the parking lot to meet up with my group. I passed a grocery store and it hit me.

Salt. I wanted salt. There were olives in that store - my all-time favorite food!! I wanted them so badly. I know that's weird.

Then I decided to get it together...

Finally, I saw my husband, Brandon, and a girl from my group outside chatting. I thought, "The run is over. I'm fine. Get it together!" I was going to be cool. I really was.

As I approached B and my running friend, they asked me how it went.

What I meant to say was: "It was fine, and I'm proud to have run 12 miles. However, I feel drained on energy, which appears to be affecting my cognitive ability. Also, funny thing - I'm really craving salty foods. I could go for some olives!"

What came out was something like: "This lady..[gasp]...directions..[sob]...couldn't think...I WANT OLIVES!"

Yep, this story just got even weirder.

And then I proceeded to cry? Hyperventilate?

This is SO not cool with me. You see, I'm an not an outwardly emotional person. I'm much more open here in my writing than I am in real life. I rarely cry or share my feelings in front of people.

I had no energy left to maintain my usual filter.

They gave each other a confused look, and then they realized I needed a little energy and electrolytes.

Lo and behold, we were at the right place! A local nutrition and health shop just so happened to be the host location of the group run, and they were offering lots of samples of supplements, electrolytes, recovery drinks - you name it.

Most of the girls in my group got back at different times than me, so they weren't around. B walked me into the store, and I remember seeing several athletic guys (some from my group) staring wide-eyed at me in shock, unsure how to react to this outburst of emotion.

Nice guys, but not exactly "Hey girl" Ryan Gosling types.

Fortunately, B is a very kind and helpful husband, and the closest thing to Gosling I have. He started handing me little cups of potions and concoctions of the sample items. My hands were shaking but I started drinking them and felt a little less faded.

Then my RunKNOX coach, Darren, came out from the other room, and started to congratulate me. He quickly shifted from smiling and high-fiving to looking very confused when he saw me. Being the attentive coach he is, he pulled me outside to ask me what was going on and try to help. I was feeling a little more together, and I was able to give him a quick download of what happened.

He seemed genuinely concerned, and asked me a few questions.

"So what are you putting in your water?"

Oh, my water? It's just water. Why would I put something in it?

"And what did you eat today?"

Just a banana, why?

"That's it? No GU's, nothing else?"


And then he looked at me in a very "I've taught you better than this" way.

To be fair, he had taught me better than this. He had told us all before about the importance of electrolytes, hydration, GU's (or other energy sources), recovery drinks, etc. Admittedly, I just hadn't listened (sorry!).


I mean, come on. I'm just a casual beginner runner. I'm one of the slowest in our group. I'm not a track athlete or trying to qualify for Boston. Those products are for serious hard-core athletes, not me. Why do I need this stuff?

He then proceeded to very kindly explain (lecture?) to me that yes, I did need to fuel effectively for my long runs. He explained all of this in a very informative way, but here's my very non-scientific takeaway: It's not about how fast I run, but simply that I'm running for 2+ hours and am burning off all of my stored energy. Also, I need to replenish my electrolytes (i.e. sodium and potassium) that are lost while running.

Here's a more scientific explanation.

We went back into the store and he walked me though the walls of bottles and pouches of stuff that would hopefully do the trick. Again, it was very informative, but in my intellectually weakened state, all I could process was, "Blah beans..." I tried to take in all of the information I could.

Finally, I felt recovered from the incident and armed with some new knowledge. B and I purchased a few items to try and the eventful morning was over.

And then I noticed, oh hey, there's a banana in my hand. B must have handed one to me at some point and I've been holding it this whole time. Hmm...

And now I know...

I tried several different things, but I landed on two essential items I use today:

  • My Magic Running Jellybeans - I had tried a GU once, and the idea of slurping gooey stuff out of a packet grossed me out. It's a personal preference - many love them because they are easy to consume (among other reasons). Sport Beans sounded much more palatable to me. I was right - I love them! They give me just the right amount of energy without making me feel jittery (like I've experienced with some products). 
    • I typically don't need them for training runs less than 5 miles or an hour. I do, however, consume half a pouch about 15-30 minutes before 5K races for the extra boost.
    • For any run (race or training) 5-10 miles, I typically consume half a pouch about 15-30 minutes before running. I carry the other half of the pouch and nibble on a few beans every mile or so. 
    • For a race or any run over 10 miles (including a half marathon), I carry an additional pouch to gradually consume over the course of the run.
  • Nuun Tablets - It also sounded like a good idea to drop a tablet of Nuun in my water to replenish my electrolytes. I've found they keep me feeling hydrated and energetic - especially in the summer! I use them no matter what distance I'm running. 
    • For runs under 5  miles or an hour long, I just use one tablet and drop it in my handheld bottle of water.
    • For any run over 5 miles, I bring two tablets. One goes into my water, the other I carry and drop in my water bottle later when I hit a water stop.  
I use these, of course, in conjunction with healthy snacks, meals, and plenty of water before and after running. Since I've started using these products and employing these strategies, I'm happy to report I haven't had any incidents like this story. Sure, I feel tired (exhausted even), drained, and even dramatic and whiny after difficult runs, but I haven't had scary experiences like this.

I share this with you, not because I'm an expert on fitness and nutrition (far from it!). I share it in hopes that if you're like I was and aren't considering your nutrition while running, you'll seek something out that works for you. It's not just important for Olympic athletes or Boston qualifiers, it's important for any runner to stay well hydrated and fueled. 

There is a plethora of products on the market, so it can seem overwhelming. It's also highly individualized - different things work for different runners. I suggest talking to a coach, trainer, nutritionist, doctor, or visiting your local health and supplement shop and asking for suggestions.

Stay healthy out there! :)

How do you stay hydrated and fueled on your long runs?

See what others around the web are doing with these great fitness communities:

Coffee & macarons

I was not compensated by any of the above organizations for this post, nor are they affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences. The views expressed in this article are solely my own. Also, I'm not a health or fitness professional of any kind. See my  Terms and Conditions page. 

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  1. Scary! I'm so glad you weren't alone when that happened! I'm a Nuun and Honey Stinger chews kind of girl. I hate Gu. Once you puke that stuff up you kind of never want it again ;)

    1. Definitely! I'm grateful I had good running friends around me! I've never tried Honey Stingers but have friends who like them. I'll have to try them! Ugh - that Gu story sounds terrible!

  2. Great post! I usually bring Clif Shot Bloks along with me. They taste like gummies, so I love them. I also usually drink a watered down version of gatorade on the long run. Hopefully, you are never in that situation again! Some people in my running group don't fuel, and I am always trying to get them to start!

    Miss Adventures in Running

    1. Thank you! I've tried the Shot Blocks and like them as well. I hope you can get your running friends to fuel and avoid stories like mine!

  3. This is a great post Amy!
    I never thought I needed to eat during a race but during my marathon I realized how important it is consume calories. I was told that once your body is depleted there is no recovery during the race. That's why we feel emotional and confused :)
    p.s. good luck on the next 1/2!

    1. Thanks, Sami! Yep, you don't realize the depletion until it's too late. Thx for the well wishes! :)

  4. Great post! I learned when I was training for my first half that I needed to bring gels and sports drink with me. I use Huma Gels. They are all natural, caffeine free and are easy on the digestive system.

    Divas Run for Bling

    1. Thanks! I haven't tried those gels. If I give gels a second shot, I'll have to check them out! :)

  5. I'm with you on the Gu. It is SO nasty and it makes my stomach cramp. I've found that applesauce packets that are resealable are THE BEST! I take those and protein bars, and I'm in hog heaven. I've found that eating real food (for me) is ten times better than sport beans, Gu chomps or whatever else.

    1. I'm a believer in "real" (natural) foods in my daily life, and do real food before and after running, I've gone with these items while running simply because they are easy to digest and give me energy. I'll have to try applesauce - sounds yummy!

  6. Since going paleo I find gu doesn't sit in my stomach very well. I've found endura a lot better, but I plan on experimenting with real food. Runners Kitchen do real food for endurance events, she's just started a gluten free line, which I look forward to testing out.
    I also plan on testing out chia seeds, so I will let you know how that goes.

    1. Yeah, it's tough because I do real/whole/natural foods in my usual diet, but have found sport beans, etc to be more effective while running. I'd love to hear about natural options you try that work well!

  7. Wow as I write this you are only 2 days away from your 2nd Half!! So exciting!
    Can't wait to hear about it.
    I definitely have a love/hate relationship with long runs too.. I really do. I don't like being out there longer than 2.5 hours or so unless I am with someone else.. just get lonely :)
    I used GU's and Bloks for many years but (as you read in my latest post) I am into using mostly real food now and protein in my drinks. GUs and beans are fine for runs under 3 hours but I have just found that they can give me stomach upset if I am out there for longer than that. It takes a lot of water (about 20oz) to completely digest them so keep that in consideration when you use one.
    Hitting (or matching) a training PR is a cool feeling isn't it?

    Good luck on your race!!


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