I am on a grassy, alpine balcony, high above my favorite village in the Alps. Nearly 40 miles and 10,000 feet behind me, one of my best days in recent memory is winding down. I’m tired, but I don’t want this moment to end. Shadows are moving ever faster across the valley floor below my feet. These moments, I think, are fleeting. “Remember this,” I tell myself. Everything seems very nearly perfect.
There’s just one problem, and his name is Bluto Blutarsky.
I look down at the bucolic village, and wonder if anyone there knows about Bluto, the John Belushi character from one of the great films of my childhood, Animal House. In the scene of which I am thinking, Bluto is moving his lunch tray across his college cafeteria’s stainless-steel rails, and he is grabbing everything he can reach. Everything. Burgers. Chocolate eclairs. Deviled eggs. Tapioca pudding. You name it, it’s piling up on Bluto’s tray.
It–my own Bluto-esque, post-run moment–happens a few times a year, and it’s always the same.
Really? This can’t be. I’m already hungry? A croissant and banana is enough for breakfast! Okay, so I hadn’t counted on running so long, today. But… I felt strong, the weather is perfect… the scenery so beautiful…
Why me? Life’s not fair. Kilian runs through three countries, and all he eats are berries he finds along the way. Why do I have be the one that wants to eat a wheel of cheese?
If I can just finish this run, I promise, next time I’ll have oatmeal for breakfast. With raisins. And peanut butter, too. Lots of peanut butter. If you’ll just please go away, Bluto.
I’m going to crash and burn and end up walking. I know it. That one Gu that’s been in my pack since the Nixon administration isn’t going to get me through the next six miles.
I am hungry. Really, really hungry.
And so, Bluto takes charge. He conjures up pizza smothered in oily cheese. He reminds me of the thick, juicy burger available at the local café, now less than an hour away.
“I don’t eat meat, Bluto!”
“Look at me. Do you think I care?”
Bluto doesn’t care. He’s like that.
For all my years of trail running, I should have this figured out by now. A coach might say that I miscalculated my caloric needs—the sort of clinical description that’s akin to NASA’s “major malfunction.” My brain is Samuel Jackson and he’s got my full attention. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Bluto’s appearance makes sense. In college, I remember studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Food is at the bottom of the pyramid, right after air and water. If you’re missing food, you might as well forget everything higher on the pyramid, like love, following your dreams and—oh yeah—self-esteem, too. And so, today, my cerebrum—that part of my brain that controls food drive—has gone farther off the reservation than Colonel Kurtz.
The diorama that is this Alp valley fades and my thoughts turn inward. For the next half hour, I mentally review everything in the fridge in the little apartment I’ve rented for the summer. What can I create? How quickly can I make it?
This is the way my run finishes. I don’t see the herd of cows that mark my arrival back into Champery. I only casually note the clockwork-like final descent of the tram to the village, and the departure of the 7:34 train to Monthey. That’s the power of Bluto Blutarsky.
A few minutes later, the moment I’ve been thinking about is finally upon me. Everything I need is laid out before my eyes and, now, the race is on. Fresh bread from the bakery. Check. Nutella. Got it. A thick bar of Ovomaltine malted chocolate. Ready to go. I add strawberries, and slather on honey from the village market. Can an otherwise healthy person can go into a sugar coma? Maybe I’ll be one of those little Associated Press stories that catch your eye. Man Dies from Sugar Toxicity, Coroner: “It’s a First!”
In most of life, fulfillment can seem anticlimactic. Not so, when Bluto’s around. I am a junkie, and the heroine has just hit my veins. My vocal chords surprise me with an obscene noise that will make me look at the floor tiles when I see my neighbors the next morning. But, right now, I could care less.
Twenty minutes later, Bluto’s still hanging around the apartment. I shower and head to the local café, where Bluto and I bargain. No meat, but I go for the most filling thing I can find—croute au fromage—bread baked with thick layers of local cheese.
A half hour later, I’ve turned a 57-kilometer run with 4,000 meters of vertical into a calorie-positive day. What the &*$#*$ just happened, I wonder.
But Bluto’s gone. My mind wanders to an upcoming race. I’ll need a bigger breakfast, I think. Maslow was right. Showered, sheltered from the coming cold early fall evening, and well fed, I bounce back to what he’d call “Self-actualization.”
In school, no one taught us that the hierarchy of needs is an ever-changing thing. But now, I know better.
Too often, I’m careless about managing my calories. Bluto will be back, I know it. I just don’t know when. But when he comes, I hope there’s food nearby.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- When have you pulled a ‘Bluto’ post-run? Where you finish so famished you could eat about anything, and so you do?
- What kinds of foods do you crave or indulge upon when in post-running Bluto mode?