Last week I went out for a long run and zonked. I realised I was zonked when I tried to start up again after a drink stop at the three hour mark, and instead of finding a new spring in my step I swayed forward unsteadily like a drunk on an escalator wondering why the hell he was moving. Full credit to my legs though – they kept going, even if I’m not sure it was me that was making them go. After about three hours of running and half an hour of staggering I finished what I’d set out to do, but I felt very damn sketchy. Depleted is the best word to describe it. Not really thinking straight either. Thankfully I’d stashed a banana and some other goodies in the car so forty minutes later I’d sobered up, but it wasn’t the state I wanted to be in after running for just a few hours. One day I want to be able to run twice as far as that!
Ultramarathons are just eating and drinking contests with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.
Even though I’m way off my first ultra, I really get what this quote is about now. The one pack of Sportz Beans I consumed during my entire run contained about 100 calories, whereas I probably needed about 200 calories per hour! I basically got low on fuel, and at my level of experience (fairly new to anything over a half marathon), I zonked.
To be honest, the idea of filling my pockets with endless bags of Sportz Beans whenever I go for a run doesn’t really appeal. I’d probably turn orange, not to mention the cost. Some people have recommended a combination of gels, Gu chomps, mini Mars Bars and chocolote liquorice sticks, but I thought I would give something else a go. Something that comes with the endorsement of one of the greatest endurance runners in the world.
“Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek is one of my favourite running books. I read it straight after “Born to run”, which is a rollicking book in its own right, but it’s “Eat and run” that I pick up again most often. Every now and again I’ll pull it off the shelf to read the occasional chapter about knocking off a record Western States win with a broken ankle, while scaring off bears and rattlesnakes, and then sleeping at the finish line to congratulate all the other runners that make it home (the course having been cleared of bears and rattlesnakes by then). I take a little inspiration from that. Jurek is a passionate vegan and has dedicated countless hours to finding effective foods for keeping him on top form. There are a number of his recipes throughout the book, but the one that caught my eye straight away (possibly because it has the word “chocolate” in it) is for “Chocolate Adzuki Bars”.
If you’re going to eat a moist, dense dessert on the run, this one is ideal. Made from the most digestible of beans, along with banana, rice flour, and vanilla, these lightly sweetened bars taste even better than their ingredients suggest. Plus, they’re an excellent source of carbohydrate and protein.
(Scott Jurek, Eat and run)
I’ll cut to the chase here and give you the list of ingredients. I didn’t stick exactly to the recipe, so my variations are listed too.
- Half teaspoon coconut oil (I didn’t have any so I left this out)
- 1 15-ounce can adzuki beans, drained (couldn’t find a can so I used just over half a cup of dried beans from Commonsense organics)
- 1 medium overripe banana
- Half cup almond or rice milk
- Half cup light coconut milk (All I had in the cupboard was a 400ml can of coconut cream, which I used instead of these two half cups)
- Half cup barley flour
- Quarter cup rice flour (Again, all I had in the cupboard was bog standard plain flour, which I used instead of the barley and rice flour)
- 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup (I used treacle instead)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon miso or half teaspoon sea salt (I used half a teaspoon of table salt)
- Third of a cup goji berries, currants or raisins (Left this out)
- Half cup vegan chocolate chips (To my shame, I used ordinary choc chips instead)
It turns out to be incredibly simple to make, as long as you have a food processor/blender. As far as the beans go, I soaked my dry beans in cold water for a few hours, rinsed them, simmered them in a pan of water for about an hour, then rinsed them again. WIth hindsight I probably could have skipped the soaking bit and just cooked them for a bit longer. Anyway I ended up with some nice soft, cooked beans. The instructions below come from the original recipe in “Eat and Run” apart from the bits where I chip in.
Heat up the oven to 400F (200C), and grease a 9 inch square cake pan with the coconut oil (So that’s what the coconut oil was for! I thought it was supposed to go in the mixture because I didn’t read the recipe in the book properly until just now. Doh! I lined the pan with baking paper instead anyway, and forgot about the coconut oil).
Puree the beans and the banana with the almond milk and the coconut milk until smooth and creamy. Add the flours, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla and miso, processing until they are thoroughly mixed (I felt at the time this would have been easier if I’d tipped the whole mixture into a bowl and done it with a spoon. The blender didn’t do very well at stirring in the flour. Also, our blender is exceptionally noisy and woke the kids up). Next, stir in the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into the cake pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 35-45 mins, until firm. Makes 16 2-inch-square brownies.
And the result? Well I think Scott Jurek can claim a win here, because I put some in the kids’ packups for school the next day, and they ate every bit and said it was yummy! I’m sure if they’d known it was made from pureed beans they wouldn’t have eaten it. They just thought it was chocolate brownie. (I’m getting good at this kind of deception though – I once fed them vegetarian lasagne without saying it wasn’t the usual meat lasagne, and they snarfled that up too. No way would they have eaten it if they’d known it was lentils!).
It does taste, and look, and feel very similar to a brownie though. It’s moist and heavy, soft, chocolatey, but also quite nutty and a lot like the red bean paste desserts you can get from chinese bakeries (which I love). This is hardly surprising though, because red bean paste is made from adzuki beans. It’s not especially sweet. Maybe I could have used more treacle or golden syrup, but then again there’s already so much sugar in our diet that we don’t need even more sweet treats. I thought it tasted nicer at room temperature rather than still hot from the oven, so give it a chance in your hurry to try it after you shut the oven door. Also, a can of cherries might be a nice addition.
So much for the kitchen test, what about out on the trail? I took three Choc Adzuki Bars, a bag of Sportz Beanz and some scroggin with me on my last long run, which took me on a gravel road around the coast from Days Bay in Eastbourne to Baring Head and back (about 40km). I was out for four hours all up, with a stop about every hour to have an adzuki bar, a few Sportz Beanz and a handful of scroggin. It was a rare sunny day so I took extra water as well. In fact the weather was amazing, but even with a massive high sitting over the country Wellington still couldn’t do light winds and there was a stiff headwind all the way back. With a bit of photo taking and exploring when I got to the Wainuiomata river mouth (there’s a track which goes inland to a bridge if you want to carry on past the river), I was probably running for three and a half hours, same as last time. The adzuki bars held up well in my backpack, despite the sun beating down on them for hours. They held together nicely and didn’t crumble, or melt into a sticky mess. Being rather moist they were easy to swallow, and tasted good. As fuel I think they were great. I have no idea how many calories are in each one, but I didn’t zonk. Certainly I was tired when I got back to the car (and rather windswept), but not zonked.
I think these are great trail food and may well become a staple of my long runs. Another win for Scott Jurek!