(please note that this trip took place pre-COVID when masks and social distancing were not a consideration. I wrote it back then but thought it had some good tips for travel during pandemic times, since many of us are sticking to our cars and not eating in restaurants along the road).
Whether you are considering participating in a Ragnar Relay (or other multi-day sport event) or have a long road trip with minimal stops in your future and want some ideas on how to stick to your special diet, this post is for you. You may need to read between the Ragnar-specific lines, but I hope anyone who is about to spend over 36 hours on the road will benefit from my experience.
WHAT IS A RAGNAR RELAY?
Imagine 12 people spread across 2 vans, taking turns running a total of 200 miles. The course is broken down into 36 “legs” that are typically 3-10 miles long. Each person takes a turn running every 12 hours or so, a total of 3 times. That means someone is running at all times, even during the night and early morning hours - until all 12 people have reached the finish line about 30-36 hours later. The two vans leapfrog for a period of 4-6 hours each. When Van One is “on” the team of 6 on board is shuttling and cheering for each other; meanwhile Van Two is “off” meaning the other 6 runners have stopped to have a meal, rest, restock supplies, etc. Then they switch, a total of three times. Sleep is never a given because 4-6 hours goes really really quickly when you have to commute to the next location. The rule seems to be sleep, eat, get clean – pick 2.
EXTREME ROAD TRIP ON SCD
Being on a restricted diet – Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) for my ulcerative colitis -
added a whole layer of intricacy to this already challenging event. Even though I was in the company of friends, it was really important to me that my dietary restrictions not take center stage. I had to create a plan that would allow me to eat enough calories to fuel 24 miles of running, that all my food fit with the framework of my diet (real food only - no processed food that often include gums, thickeners and preservatives; no starches, grains, gluten; only sugars from honey and fruit; mostly dairy free) and have it flow within the natural course of the weekend that included quick group junkets to grocery stores and restaurants.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do some legwork before going on a road trip of any kind but especially one of this length and with so many people. Stop for food when hungry and exhausted makes decision-making difficult so it's great to have a plan.
For this trip, I knew we’d be staying in a hotel halfway along the course (we ran the So Cal Ragnar Relay from Huntington Beach to San Diego so our halfway was Carlsbad). My first google search involved grocery stores and restaurants in the area revealed a Sprouts Market in Carlsbad that had a salad bar and sold rotisserie chickens that have no seasonings and no sugar (side note - many chain supermarket rotisserie chickens have added sugar to make the skin brown which is a big no-no for my diet). Based on our presumed team pace, I knew we’d be in Carlsbad around 6pm so that was perfect timing for dinner. I planned to buy extra salad and then put the left overs in a disposable storage container in my cooler.
IN THE VAN
We had minimal space in the van so I had to be very mindful of my luggage footprint. I packed a medium sized cooler that was kept separate from the communal food. I needed to bring food that would travel well in poor conditions (no fridge) and would have maximum caloric punch as well as digestibility. I brought my own bananas with the ripeness I wanted, apples, oranges, aged cheese, dates, mashed acorn squash, soup, canned tuna. I wanted something that felt like comfort food so I cooked a full batch of Comfy Belly Breakfast Cookies that travel well (I added chopped dates, apple pieces, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts so they'd have a big caloric punch). I knew I’d want something crunchy so I purchased Whisps from Costco and raw cashews.
To avoid food being squished, structured containers are ideal if there’s room. I would suggest disposable packaging for this type of trip because it’s hard to clean out containers on the road and they will start to smell. To be a little more eco-conscious, I save plastic jars or other sturdy containers from regular home meal prep to use and then recycled them along the way.
Frozen water bottles make great ice packs but will thaw after 12 or so hours. Perishables had to be eaten early on. I was able to refreeze water bottles at the hotel and picked up a cup of ice at a coffee shop.
FOOD FOR RUNNING
To fuel my running I brought mejool dates and individual honey packets (I like Nature Nate’s because it’s raw and it comes in very handy individual packets that are easy to open while running). I also brought liquid electrolytes to add to my water since it would be hot and sunny at times.
RESTAURANTS/GROCERY STORE MEALS
BREAKFAST - The first morning was easy - I brought my own hard boiled eggs, ripe bananas, and an avocado so I could start the active morning off right but the second morning would require breakfast at a restaurant – I ordered my go-to restaurant food that includes 2 over-easy eggs with NO seasonings (I find this is the best way to order without a song and dance and results in no added problematic spices), well cooked bacon, and a side of fruit (avoid the banana in case it’s not ripe). I also had my Breakfast Cookies as back up and Starbucks sells bananas (usually well ripened) and That’s It bars.
LUNCH AND DINNER were snacks in the van or salad bar with tuna from Sprouts. I found a juice cafe that made their juices fresh before serving (no concentrates which often contain added sugar) – my kale, spinach, cucumber and apple juice was nectar and a great way to rehydrate after a 9 mile run in the sun. I only ate in one other restaurant at the end and had the salmon made with no seasonings and steamed veg.
COFFEE CREAMER – of utmost importance for my sanity and well being was having my favorite coffee creamer – homemade hazelnut milk. It can be a little less stable and prone to spoiling with temperature changes than other nut milks but it usually lasts for 3 days. I made some fresh the day before the trip and separated it into 3 small glass bottles. The bottles were then kept in their own cooler with ice packs and put into hotel fridges when possible. Yes, I treated my nut milk like it was gold but really it was the only food I couldn’t replicate on the road. While I loved having it, another option would have been to buy some Malk from Sprouts or just to suck it up and drink black coffee.
POST EVENT FOOD. I knew that this trip would take a toll on me (IBD or not, it’s a very long and challenging few days) and so before I left, I made and stored at home some chicken and vegetable soup and my 24 hour yogurt to ensure that I could rest my gut and replace probiotics upon my return home. It was also really nice to come home to a fridge stocked with food.
At the end of the trip, I will admit that my gut was a little restless and it took a few days to recover. I chalk it up to the stress, not necessarily my food choices or even the running 24 miles over 36 hours. As a team captain to 2 teams with 28 women total, the preparation in the weeks prior to the weekend followed by extensive travel in a car was really stressful. The lack of sleep (2 hours in about 42 hours) was the hardest part and it took about 3 days post event to feel well rested again. So for about a week my gut was rebalancing and showed signs of dehydration, inflammation, and poor digestion. But it was an amazing adventure and bonding experience with some incredible friends. I loved seeing new parts of the state on foot, and I loved the challenge of running at crazy hours and meeting people along the way.
About the Gutsy Runner!
Lucie is a runner, hiker, and fitness coach who follows the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) for her ulcerative colitis. She is currently on a year long birthday celebration that includes covering 2021 miles on foot and exploring some of the areas most iconic and beautiful trails. Read more