“Remove the oxygen absorber from inside the pouch, then follow the instructions on the reverse of the food bag. Add boiling water to just above internal fill line 5 (410ml), stir the contents and then close the bag and wait 5-8 minutes for the food to re-hydrate.”
Picture running 25 miles across sand dunes and sharp rocks while avoiding snakes and other perils throughout the trip. You make it to the finish line in the blistering heat and all you can think about is one thing: A juicy steak with mashed potatoes and spinach (a personal favorite of mine). Maybe some watermelon for some dessert to keep you cool… and I am sure an ice cream cone filled with sugar and cream would top off any great meal like this. Instead, you get to read the instructions above for the freeze-dried chili con carne and rice that you are about to mix up. Before dumping the boiling water into the bag, you realize that what you are about to eat looks like something a mother bird would regurgitate to her babies. Awesome. Bon Appétit!
This is the realization that most of the runners will come to when they cross a finish line each day. Each camp that is set up at the finish line is pretty bare in what it offers besides shelter. Besides the fact that there are no showers or proper bathrooms at camp (this fact probably deserves a separate post in itself), there is no way to cook real food. One must also realize that since you need to carry all of your food with you in your pack, it is important to keep it as light as possible. From speaking with some past participants, they just can’t stomach the freeze-dried foods and choose to pack cans of tuna fish and other heavier items in their pack and sacrifice the extra weight for foods that they know will stay in their stomach after eating them. I have a pretty strong stomach and am going to focus on having as little weight as possible in my pack to ease the burden on my shoulders, core and legs. We’ll see if this backfires on me once the race starts. One thing that is provided at camp is hot water, which is perfect for freeze-dried foods. The advantage of these meals is that they pack a lot of calories into a small amount of weight. For example, the chili con carne and rice that I sampled last night had a net weight of just over 5 ounces but packed a whopping 800 calories, 52g of fat, 81g of carbohydrates and almost 19g of protein. An average 175 pound male (which is close to my current weight) will burn approximately 4200 calories running over a 4 hour period. Factor in 110 degree temperatures and 20 pounds on my back and I am certain that number is going to rise a significant amount. Besides properly eating and hydrating while running, a post race meal is of utmost importance for refueling and repairing your body for the next day.
So the obvious question everyone wants to know is, “How did the chili taste”? To be honest… not that bad. I’ll never be confused with Frank Bruni from the NY Times for my culinary analysis, and past Menupage reviews I have written more closely resemble a third grader after eating a happy meal, but I must say that the chili was surprisingly tasty, with an added kick that I was not expecting. I was able to make it through the whole bag and actually caught myself shoveling the stuff into my mouth (this could be because I’m a slob). The brand of freeze-dried foods was Expedition Foods (www.expeditionfoods.com). They are a UK-based company and cater to outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers throughout the world. Because of this, they offer a very wide variety of regional meals: from Spaghetti Bolognese to Fish and Potato with Parsley Sauce, they seem to have most of the globe covered. I think I’m going to stay away from the Fish and Potato meal for now as that might be pushing it, but I am definitely going to try a few more meals before I head to Newark to get on my flight to the Sahara.
I encourage some of you to give them a shot… maybe you will find a new addition to your weekly meals. And at $10 a meal, it’s good for a cheap date!
(Disclaimer: Do not cook this for dinner for a date unless it is a match.com setup that is going terribly and you want it to end quickly)