When nearly 200 men stood on the start line of a transcontinental footrace dubbed "The Bunion Derby" in 1928, they did so with sub-par nutrition, equipment and support. Yet, amazingly, 55 men finished the 3,400-mile (5,472-kilometer) trek [source: Kastner].
In 1977, elite runner Dick Beardsley followed the advice he'd read in a running magazine and didn't eat for several days prior to a marathon. He subsisted on nothing but water, juice and Gatorade. He not only completed the marathon but came in seventh place [source: Latta].
And finally, in the cult classic novel "Once a Runner," the skinny focal character and elite miler Quenton Cassidy is described as a man who, "did not live on nuts and berries; if the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn, even Big Macs" [source: Parker].
It would be natural to take the anecdotal information gleaned from Cassidy, Beardsley and the Bunion Derby runners and surmise that nutrition need be nothing more than an afterthought for runners. After all, how much difference could it make anyway? Many average runners don't, in fact, think much about what they put into their bodies. But consider that Bunion Derby winner Andy Payne later claimed the race probably took a decade off his life [source: Kastner].
Beardsley hit the wall in his marathon, hallucinated throughout the final miles and collapsed at the finish. And while Quenton Cassidy could eat Big Macs and stay thin, he was running more than 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) per week in the fictional tale -- a fact that isn't mentioned by those who love to utter the "furnace" quote.
Nutrition is not an afterthought. It's an important component of success for newbies, middle-of-the-packers and Olympians. The most respected coaches in the world use one word to describe it: vital [source: English].
Click ahead to learn when good nutrition is vital -- before, during or after running.