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Mmm, Potassium

By John Dodds

Trailrunners should not read Runner's World magazine. And there are very good reasons why they should not. First, they'll start acting like road runners; for example, they'll stop their watches when queuing up to cross a stream. Next, they'll probably start running a few road races (of course, we know who those people are). But the worst is this - they'll start eating like road runners. So, let me tell you about potassium and Island Vegetable soup.

Plagiarism. It's always good to have a catchy title for your articles, and this article is no exception. But I have to admit that I borrowed this title from an article in the November 2005 issue of Runner's World. And since I just said where I got it, then this isn't plagiarism. You really have to be careful about "borrowing" from other sources. And it's not because you might get sued by somebody. It's because of Anstr. As the "web guy," he's such a stickler for what goes on the web site. Here are some of his favorite questions I've had to answer (or endure) over the past several years in writing about 35 of these articles: "Where'd you get that?" "What web site is that from?" "Can you send me the link for that photo?" "Didn't I read that somewhere before?" "Are you sure that's not copyrighted?" I tell you - it hasn't been easy for me these past few years. But - and I almost gag saying this - it's the right thing to do.

Potassium. As you can probably guess, the article goes on and on about the importance of potassium. It's part of the sodium-potassium pump, the average daily value is 3,500 milligrams (for high-mileage runners it's 4,700 milligrams), it helps your heartbeat and prevents muscles from cramping, etc. You're probably wondering (as I did), how much is 3,500 milligrams? Well, they sort of answer that for you. For example, a four-inch long baked potato contains about 800 milligrams (next time, don't forget to take a ruler to the grocery store). And a banana is 500 milligrams (the article doesn't say how long the banana is). Which means you can get your daily requirement by eating 7 bananas a day. Which also means you won't shit for a week, so you have to use common sense here.

Recovery. The focus of the article is not so much on how much potassium to take while you're running; rather, the article explains why the "water-and-bananas combo" has "become a staple in almost every post-race recovery tent." And the reason is - potassium. If you're a trailrunner, you know this is pure myth. Why? Because trail runs generally don't have post-race recovery tents. We trail runners don't need special structures in which to collapse, faint, throw up, etc. We like to do these things out in the open where everybody can see us and then later ridicule us for years to come. (As for myself, I've been a so-called "ridiculee" for several years now.) This magazine article wouldn't be much of an article if all it said was to eat bananas. No, it tells you other things that are high in potassium, like baked potatoes, milk, yogurt, nectarines, apricots, etc. But my favorite (and I'm sure it will be yours, too) is Island Vegetable soup.

Island Vegetable soup. This article gives you an ever-so-easy recipe for this tasty soup that I'm sure will be served at Edinburg Gap next year at MMT. No soup nazi worth their fascism would pass up this soup. Let me just call out the ingredients first: one pound cassava and yams, onion, red bell pepper, tomatillos, chives, cloves, whole tomatoes, basil, thyme, plantain, and chicken broth. Here was my first reaction when I read the list of ingredients: what the f -- is a cassava? A little internet search revealed the following: "Cassava, also known as manioc, is a tropical, starchy staple of South American origin." It is very low in protein and a heavy diet in cassava stuff can lead to chronic protein deficiencies. And: "The purified starch can be used as a thickening agent. You know gellatinized pellets of cassava starch as tapioca." And my favorite is this - the damn thing is poisonous. It contains cyanide. So, you have to shred the roots and squeeze out the juices, then heat it, say a prayer to the god of the lost Inca civilization, etc.

And where do you find this enticing tuber? Well, I went to 3 grocery stores and couldn't find it. One web site states: "Even under refrigeration, the root's flavor spoils in a day or so, and therefore it is not very popular with supermarkets." No wonder I couldn't find it. Which proves once again the utility of reading Runner's World. You're probably wondering why I even subscribe to this magazine; truth be known, I glance through this magazine at the Arlington County Library. We have a great magazine section there, but the CD section needs a little help ever since someone stole Little Richard's "Greatest Hits."

Let me just say this soup is a loser. You'll run out of gas trying to find a store that has it. Who needs a recovery food that has 12 ingredients? Curiously, the article doesn't tell you what the preparation time is - my guess it's about 4 hours. My favorite instruction is this: "Add chives, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes, breaking the tomatoes with the back of a spoon." I am so culinarily clueless that I never heard of breaking a tomato much less with the back of a spoon. Would another utensil work just as well? Okay, enough of this. Let me tell you what real recovery food is.

Real Recovery Food. No, we're not talking about the trendy and expensive drinks and powders like Recoverite and Endurox. We're talking about food delicacies like mashed potatoes from Boston Market or a chocolate milk shake from Wendy's (although a recent scientific study by someone in the VHTRC shows increased benefits from a chocolate shake at Carvel's). And let's not forget Brian's haggis. One of my personal favorites is the chili you get in a styrofoam cup from a place near the Wild Oak Trail. You had to consume the chili very quickly before it ate through the styrofoam cup (since we all know that stomach linings are stronger than styrofoam cups). The place closed down earlier this year, thus significantly diminishing the allure of running the Wild Oak Trail.

Which finally brings me to the quintessential recovery repast, at least in Gary's mind. Earlier this year, Gary and I ran one of our standard runs at MMT. After the customary cleansing in Gap Creek, we headed out. As Gary was driving down Crisman Hollow Road, he was drinking a bourbon and coke and eating olives and Tostitos; he then remarked: "It doesn't get any better than this." Now, THAT's the kind of recovery food that should be written up in any running magazine worth its salt-potassium pump. I also have to mention that after Anstr read this section, he wanted me to point out that Gary wasn't really driving down Crisman Hollow Road; now that I really think about it, we were sitting in our camp chairs at the Gap Creed trailhead.

Final thoughts. Well, some of you may have found this article to be quite informative on the value of potassium. If you have, that was certainly unintended on my part. Trail runners know the importance of potassium, and we don't need a recipe for some stupid soup to get us to take in our requirement of potassium. We're smart enough to know that we can get what we need in a pill - like SUCCEED, Endurolytes, or a plain, daily potassium supplement like I take. It's just that simple. Then again, trailrunners are pretty simple minded.


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