Soon after Dave Beran finished the New York City Marathon in 2014, he made his way to one of the fanciest restaurants to Manhattan, Per Se.
“I’m sure I looked like I was hit by a bus,” he said. He was shivering and had thrown away his hat midrace: “I just got mad at it, ‘Nothing matters. I hate this hat.’”
Mr. Beran, the chef of Pasjoli in Santa Monica, Calif., laid down on the floor of the private dining room and waited for his friends, sous chefs at the restaurant, to deliver him a post-race meal: not a multicourse dinner, but a sandwich.
About 50,000 runners are expected to stream across the finish line of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, many of whom have been adhering to strict diets and navigating suboptimal gastrointestinal issues. But what happens when running is your passion and food — with its long hours and rich meals — is your job?
Madeline Sperling, a Seattle chef, ran the 2019 marathon as a member of the chef Daniel Humm’s Make It Nice running club. Then a chef de cuisine at the NoMad, she would build her training into her commute, regularly running home after her dinner shifts — in the middle of the night.
“My Mom didn’t love that,” she said.
She traversed the Queensboro Bridge to her apartment in Astoria so often that the bridge, one of the most dreaded stretches on the notoriously hilly New York marathon route, no longer intimidated her.
But the pre-run fueling did. She could make a green smoothie before training runs on her days off, but, when she was working, her nutritional plan was straight off the NoMad menu.
“I had to taste every single item we were serving before service, and that’s a lot of salty, rich foods,” Ms. Sperling said, adding that “it was not always something that I would have chosen as fuel.”
For runners, learning how to keep your digestive system at ease when bouncing up and down for 26.2 miles is an exercise in trial and nightmarish error. That means experimenting with food that’s more science than art: running gels, those slimy, gooey, sticky substances that are chock-full of carbohydrates, electrolytes, caffeine and much-needed calories.
Dan Churchill, the executive chef of the Osprey, will suck down the strawberry flavor this weekend. Ms. Sperling, who deferred her slot till next year, tends to gravitate toward the coffee flavors, espresso and caramel macchiato. Mr. Beran, who is not running the race this year, said salted caramel flavors “were the only ones that didn’t taste disgusting.”
Reilly Meehan, a private chef and content creator from Phoenix who will compete on Sunday, leans to the “more bright, citrusy ones” — lemonade and raspberry — and calls the chocolate peanut butter ones “vile.”
But it’s the post-race food that propels many chefs to the finish line.
“I’m often thinking about food when I’m running,” Ms. Sperling said. “Sometimes it is creatively and professionally, that I’ll work through ideas for a dish while I’m running, and then sometimes I get very hungry on runs and think about what I want to eat after.”
Mr. Churchill has frequently found himself recording voice memos of recipe ideas midrun to transcribe into his chef’s notebook.
Recently, Mr. Meehan found himself thinking about Thanksgiving while running in the Arizona heat and whipped out his phone to jot something down about brussels sprouts and goat cheese.
On Sunday, as runners zigzag through all five boroughs, running gels in hand, he will be keeping his eyes on his post-race prize.
“I literally told my friends to meet me with a hamburger in hand and a beer,” Mr. Meehan said. “I’ll need it desperately. I don’t care where it’s from.”