I may be thousands of miles away, but as the London Marathon looms for many nervous runners this weekend, my mind has turned to the food I eat and the way I prepare for the marathons I run every day.
I’ve discovered some incredible things on my trip around the world, from fantastic fine dining in Latvia to terrible tea in India. But the reality is, eating while running around the world isn’t half as exciting – or scientific – as it sounds.
“What do you eat, special protein powders and energy gels and stuff?”
That’s a pretty good example of a question I hear reiterated in many guises once people get over the shock of what I’m doing and the magnitude of the task kicks in. Since I’m eating enough to feed a family of four every week just to maintain my weight, carrying all that with me just isn’t an option.
The truth is I have very little control over my diet – I’m on the road running as fast as I can from A to B, and 18,000 miles later back to A! Compound this with being fully self-supported, with no car to drive off-route to supermarkets and return with supplies, and my choice of diet is very constricted.
I often have to eat whatever has the most calories per dollar or bang for the buck, so to speak.
It’s not food for pleasure – it’s cramming. My mainstays are pasta and rice and pouches of chicken, tuna or salmon. I create sauces using milk powder to make a creamy base and season it for flavour. The milk powder adds much needed protein to my diet, and I use it at breakfast too to make porridge. As I treat I have jelly-style sweets (chocolate melts in this heat) and crackers with peanut butter jam and lemon curd for snacks.
For anything else, the source is sometimes a roadside cafe (a rare treat), but more often than not just snacks found in small village shops or petrol stations. It’s far from ideal, but there’s no choice.
In terms of nutrition, all I can do is damage control. The processed fats present in most shelf-stable cakes and foods are terrible for your health, so I try to counteract these with fish oil capsules I take everyday. Spirulina is the most nutrient-dense foodstuff known to man; it’s a dry green powder that packs so much “goodness” that NASA has researched it as a possible foodstuff for deep-space travel, where the nutrient-to-kilogram ratio really matters!
I take this daily, along with Bovine Colostrum occasionally, which contains the same immune response stimulating properties as human colostrum, and dramatically improves the immune system. When going days without normal food, or when in cities or on flights between continents where people who might pass me germs, I take this to protect me. Top athletes have taken it for years and I find it works.
The reality is I left England seriously overweight for a runner. In fact, as an elite athlete I was classed as morbidly obese on the BMI scale. But I knew I’d be losing weight, particularly in India and Australia. I’ve lost 1 stone so far, and there’ll be another stone gone at least by the time Australia is complete.
In two days’ time I enter the Nullarbor desert, an 800-mile stretch with only a handful of gas stations hundreds of miles apart – and no shops. It will be very tough, but when I’m running across the US, the abundance of takeaways and candy should make maintaining weight very easy, until South America, where I will lose another stone.
By the time I finish I expect to be under 10 stone – I started at 12 stone 12lbs so that’s almost 3 stone, or 25% body weight loss! I’m currently running across Australia, averaging 55 km a day with 200km-plus gaps between water stops, let alone supermarkets. That means I’m already carrying more than my body weight in food and water at some points.
So, good luck to everyone running this weekend – hopefully when you hit the wall the fact you’re not towing a trolley full of food might just pull you through!