August 21, 2010

Doug Hawley: Think nutrition, too

— Diet for runners is an inexact science at best as we set our sights on the first Dalton Half Marathon in October. What works for one person simply does not work for somebody else.

Seemingly ageless actress Betty White appeared recently in Chattanooga as the keynote speaker at “Life: An Expo for Boomers and Seniors.”

Several thousand people gathered at the Chattanooga Convention Center breathlessly awaited the 88-year-old woman’s secret to her diet.

“I love hot dogs. That’s naked hot dogs,” White said, clarifying that she doesn’t add any condiments.

Those who peddle hot dogs at athletic events, particularly baseball, should love her endorsement. Not so the alleged fitness experts, who consider that food “Cholesterol City.” (White did acknowledge “great genes” from parents who lived long lives.)

Frank Shorter, the U.S. Olympic marathon champion in 1972, admittedly drank his share of beer — an obvious no-no to most runners. However, it usually came after hard 20-mile training runs. Bill Rogers, a four-time Boston Marathon champion from Shorter’s era, said he basically lived on junk food.

After many area and national races, you will find bananas as the prime food because of their potassium content. Yet bananas have an unsettling stomach effect for many people.

Sports drinks have been adopted by many runners and athletes as the greatest thing going since grits. They point to the vital nutrients. Nevertheless, a personal reflux problem has been helped recently by me abstaining from them.

“Those drinks have almost killed me,” an influential pharmacist told me.

Back in high school days, I got sick for several mornings in a row after breakfast.

“Are you drinking milk for breakfast?” my high school football coach asked me.

“Oh, yes,” I told him. “A big glass.”

“Do without milk for several days, and see what happens,” the coach advised.

His advice was taken, and there were no more problems. Milk on cereal, though, is a regular part of my breakfast.

(Skim milk is highly recommended, with 1 percent as an alternative.)

Most fitness authorities agree breakfast should not be skipped. It provides the needed energy to meet the challenges of the day.

Bacon and eggs used to be the primary breakfast for almost everybody. With so much focus on cholesterol, many people have eliminated or limited those foods now.

After many races, numerous runners have been known to “pig out” on the likes of bacon, sausage and pancakes. Hey, there’s no reason to not have an occasional “fling” with the menu.

Then you have the age-old question about the effect of coffee, which probably is the most consumed drink in the world. My personal reason for not drinking coffee: “I’m too young to drink it.” I prefer hot tea in the morning and iced tea later. There are caffeine arguments both ways.

Some vegetarians swear by a non-meat diet. Their results are good.

Almost every fitness authority will agree that people cannot go wrong with quality fruit and vegetables.

As you prepare for race day, a session with a highly-regarded dietitian could provide some healthy answers for your diet.

• Many area runners not only provided moral support, but stellar finishes in the John Bruner Memorial, which was part of the 37th annual Missionary Ridge Road Race last weekend at Bragg Reservation in Chattanooga.

David Leatherman led four first-place Dalton-area finishers as a 55-59 age group participant, running the 4.7-mile event in 32 minutes and 55 seconds. There were three female victors: Belinda Young, 40-44, 36:22; Wendy Houston, 45-49, 37:19; and Rhonda Gage, 38:50.

Greg Bruner, the father of Dalton High graduate John Bruner, who died following the race three years ago from a rare artery defect, provided an emotional invocation before the race and then ran in the event.

This is the ninth in a 16-part series of instructional columns in advance of the first national Dalton Half Marathon on Oct. 16. Doug Hawley, a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years, finished in the top 10 percent of five Boston Marathons between 1976 and 1981. You can write to him at