There is no doubt that 2020 was a challenging year for Americans. However, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a March 2020 New York Times article reported that more people than ever are participating in endurance sports like walking, running and biking.
It’s a long-accepted fact that carbohydrates play a key role in endurance sports. The most recent position statement of the International Olympic Committee is that a high carb diet in the days before competition will help enhance athletic performance.
Endurance athletes in the American sugarbeet industry have always understood the value of sugar and the important role it plays in getting them over the finish line. I talked to six of these athletes about how they use sucrose for success in their daily diets and training.
Christine Crumbaugh, 51
St Louis, Mich.
Crumbaugh, whose family grows sugarbeets near St. Louis, Michigan, started running when she was 39.
“I have had a bit of a love-hate relationship with it ever since. Some days it’s harder than others to get out there and run. However, one thing I know for certain is that when I’m done, I’ve never said to myself, ‘Wow, I really wish I hadn’t done that,’” she said. “It’s the opposite because I always feel so good when I finish a run.”
Crumbaugh’s favorite race is the Mackinac Island 8.12.
“It’s a gorgeous run around the outer loop of the island with expansive views of the straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge,” she said.
Crumbaugh likes to fuel up for a run with toast and jam.
“The sugar in the jam is a quick fuel and the carbs in the bread give longer lasting energy,” she said. “I also generally have a gel pack with me for quick energy if I start to slump on a longer run.”
Andy Fiske, 34
Vice President of Finance and Operations for the Sugar Association
Fiske discovered running for the first time in a middle school physical education class.
“We were required to run a mile, and I quickly fell in love with running after that. I eventually joined the cross-country team in high school,” he said. “I wasn’t quite fast enough to run competitively in college, but continued running as a way to keep in shape.”
Fiske now participates in three to four races a year and said his favorite distance is the half marathon. Diet has become a critical part of his training regimen as he has gravitated toward running longer distances.
“Sugar plays a key role. It takes some trial and error to figure out what works for your body, but I find that it provides me with the energy I need to get through a race,” he said. “During races, especially as you hit the last three miles of a half marathon, grabbing a quick cup of Gatorade at one of the aid stations can be a real life-saver.”
Scott Herndon, 41
Vice President and General Counsel of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association
For Herndon, the best part of running is setting goals for himself and seeing measurable improvement.
“When I was younger, I used to hate running, but as I have gotten older, I have grown to appreciate anything that gets me outside and away from a computer screen,” he said. “It is an incredible way to get some fresh air and clear my head. I enjoy running through my neighborhood in Washington, D.C. which is very hilly and challenging, or along the Potomac River, which is fast and flat.”
Herndon also enjoys running for a cause by participating in various charity runs.
“I recently completed a virtual 10k to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and I’m currently training for a virtual half marathon to benefit a different children’s hospital,” he said.
Herndon said he likes to eat a sugary cereal and some protein prior to a run.
“On long runs, I always carry raisins or other easily digestible snacks with sugar in them,” he said.
Wanda Rutherford, 60
Rutherford, who grows sugarbeets with her husband Paul, said a neighbor inspired her to start cycling.
“It was in the spring of 2012. We were at our lake house and we had a neighbor there who was 76 years old and into running,” she said. “I thought, ‘if he can do something, I can, too.’ It really inspired me. I got a Trek dual sport bike and I’ve been riding ever since.”
In the fall of 2012, Rutherford competed in her first event.
“It was the Iron Girl in Minneapolis. We ran two miles around a lake, biked 22 miles in a hilly area, and then ran another two miles around the lake,” she said. “It took me two hours and fifteen minutes, and I haven’t looked back.”
In 2016, Rutherford cycled for 50 miles to commemorate the 50th birthday of her close friend and fellow sugarbeet grower Tami Busch.
“She passed away in March of 2016 at the age of 49,” said Rutherford. “In June of 2016, my three daughters, three friends and myself rode from Frazee, Minn., to Moorhead, Minn.”
Rutherford also rode sixty miles for her 60th birthday last year.
“It was a huge milestone and a great feeling to cross the finish line!” she said.
A good daily diet is all about balance, according to Rutherford.
“I eat a wide variety of foods, including sugar,” she said. “A healthy diet is all about moderation.”
Pat Freese, 62
Freese, a sugarbeet grower from Kent, Minn., started running in 1980.
“I was running about five to eight miles a week,” he said. “At the peak of my running career, I would run about 25 miles a week and increase it to 50 miles a week when training for a marathon. Marathon training would take about two and a half months.”
Since he began running, Freese has run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota 12 times.
“That marathon is the first weekend in October, which as we all know, is prime time for sugarbeet harvest. Since I can’t get 8,500 runners to change their schedule, I had to change mine,” he laughed. “I love that race.”
For Freese, years of training and running various events have made him very familiar with what does and does not work for his diet.
“Nutrition is of great importance to athletes to be able to perform to their highest level and recover quickly, and one of these key nutrients is sugar,” he said. “Sugar and carbohydrates are the necessary fuels the body needs to help perform simply daily functions all the way up to endurance races.”
For the most part, all runners will realize a lack of performance and recovery time if they short themselves on sugar and carbohydrates whether before or after a race, according to Freese.
“When I’m training for a distance race, one of my favorite drinks is Kool-Aid,” he said. “After the race, I load up on liquids like sports drinks and water to replenish my needs. The greater the distance, the more nutrients and liquids are required to aid in a successful recovery.”
Jessica Anderson, 34
Public Affairs Manager at Amalgamated Sugar Company
Sugarbeet Industry Spokeswoman
Anderson, a former high school sprinter, said it wasn’t until much later that she discovered a love for running.
“I thought I hated running then,” she said. “It wasn’t until 2012 that I found my passion in long distance running. I ran my first half marathon that year and have been running since.”
Anderson now enjoys running marathon distance relays and half marathons.
“I love distance running because, instead of focusing on competing with the person next to me, I am focused on competing with myself,” she said. “I also find running to be a great stress reliever. There’s no brain space for worry when you’re completely out of breath.”
When she is training for a run, Anderson eats a lot of grains and protein.
“I use gummi bears for an energy boost during a race and I don’t shy away from sugar,” she said. “It’s a simple carbohydrate that gives me plenty of energy.”
Anderson is currently training for an event called the Sawtooth Relay.
“Each year, Amalgamated Sugar sponsors a few teams for an event called the Sawtooth Relay, in which a team of 6 runs about 62 miles from Stanley to Ketchum, Idaho,” she said. “I’ve participated every year since I started with the company. I am tentatively optimistic it will be held this year.”