This Sunday thousands of runners will be pounding the streets of Houston and at some point during their x-hour runs, they might want a little snack. Officials will be handing out water and Endurance Formula Gatorade (the official energy drink of the Chevron Houston Marathon), but some extra treats ingested along the way can really raise one's spirits (and blood sugar). If you'll be among the spectators and are looking to offer food and drink to passing participants, that's terrific. Your comestible support is surely appreciated; however, you might want to keep in mind the following guidelines and recommendations for the safety and comfort of all involved.
First, some thoughts on technique. Stand by the side of the course with individual portions in each outstretched hand. Continually identity what you're offering; runners won't grab something unless they know what it is, so a semi-constant of chant of, for example, "Grape Powerade" is always helpful. Don't be offended if people pass on your freebies. Everyone has his own race nutrition strategy, and it may not involve Pop-Tarts. Just be a little offended if runners don't say "thank you." They may be in significant pain or ferociously intent on BQing or just sort of out of it. (But runners, don't be jackasses. A simple "thanks" won't cost you that much time, and most of you aren't in it to win it.)
What To Hand Out 1. Orange wedges. Hydrating, sweet, and easily digestible. Sucking out some of the juice and fiber takes minimal effort and can be really refreshing when temperatures climb.
2. Chewable candies. Think Gummi Bears, Starburst, jelly beans in little Dixie cups. Slow-digesting complex carbohydrates are perfect in the days prior to the marathon, but day of, some simple sugars can prevent those last few miles from becoming a death march.
3. Sports drinks/juices in flavors not lemon-lime. Woe to the runners who loathe lemon-lime Gatorade 'cause that's the only flavor available on the course. (Another good reason for participants to design their own hydration belts.) Spice it up by offering assorted varieties of vitamin water or tart cherry juice, the anti-inflammation wonder libation.
What Not To Hand Out 1. Anything on the polar ends of the temperature spectrum. Nothing like a nasty tongue burn from a boiling hot cup of coffee to really cramp your stride. Or a Popsicle headache to make those hills extra painful.
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2. Alcohol. Nebulous "jungle juice" and martinis of various potency are not what most runners want to be gulping during the marathon. (Afterwards, bring on the tequila shots.) The exception to this rule might be beer, especially in the last leg of the race, as I've heard many runners claim that a cold, hoppy brew is just the ticket when you're in the home stretch.
3. Dairy. While everyone has different digestive foibles, many people experience some degree of GI distress if they consume cheese, milk, ice cream, etc. during an endurance event. In the midst of extended runs, blood flow is diverted from the digestive tract to muscles, and an influx of dairy can overload your system to the point of causing "runners' trots." And, after those come on, it's a long, messy race.