flat cake called plakous. Today, the French make them paper-thin
and crispy and call them crepes. In Russia, they’re known as
blini, slightly thicker than a crepe. And in the U.S. and Canada,
we call them pancakes, hotcakes, griddlecakes, or flapjacks and
make them thick and fluffy.
Besides being a comfort food to many cultures, pancakes are
a staple for athletes. Up until the 1960s, the feeling in sports (bred
by football coaches) was that you ate steak and eggs before the
big game. But in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a shift took place. As
research pointed us to the same conclusions and the numbers
of fitness runners grew, we saw a rise in so-called carbo-loading.
“I was doing a book with [football coach] Hank Stram,” says
marathon-coaching legend Hal Higdon. “He had his football
RW Stacks Survey
How many pancakes
are in your stack?
One: 4% | Two: 30% | Three: 47% | Four or more: 19%
*Based on an online poll of 4,030 readers
Loaded with energy-replenishing
carbohydrates, flapjacks take center
stage at a postrun breakfast.
players having spaghetti the night before the game. We started
to figure out that the big lineman who needed to have energy
in the fourth quarter was the same as the runner getting past
the 20-mile mark in a marathon.”
So began the ritual of the carbo-load: It started in the form of
pasta and potatoes the night before a race, but it eventually ex-
tended into traditional breakfast foods as well, such as waffles,
bagels, and pancakes. Logic (or maybe hunger hormones) would
tell us that if we burn carbs during a hard run, one must replen-
ish carbs afterward. And, by gawd, after we run we replenish
with pancakes. And syrup that trickles down our ’cakes like a
Colorado stream. And melting butter that, as you decorate your
stack with it, makes you feel like you’re living in slow-mo.
The love of pancakes struck U.S. Olympic marathoner Ryan
Hall as a baby. He would stand in his crib and wait for his mom
in the morning. When he saw her, he spoke: “Pancakes.”
It was one of his first words.
“Yeah, we had a lot of them growing up,” Hall says now.
As Hall got older, he drifted away from them. But when he
started running marathons in 2007, he would wake up starving.
Cereal wouldn’t cut it. So one day, he threw a scoop of Muscle
Milk (for protein) into some pancake mix. And that was that.
Now, Hall eats one big pancake a day. On the road, he totes a hot
plate and fry pan to make his own gluten-free recipe.
“Sometimes, I throw in sour cream, ricotta cheese, and
chocolate chips,” he says. “They sit great in my stomach and fill
me up. After workouts, they really hit the spot.”
ON JULY 4, I ENTER THE KILLER DUNES RACE in Nags Head, North
Carolina—a two-mile race over the largest sand dunes in the
east. Throughout, my legs and lungs burn, as my 12-year-old
twin boys blaze ahead of me. Afterward, my boys, wife, and I
make a beeline toward Stack ’Em High, the local pancake joint.
As I wait in line dripping sweat on the people behind me, I
look at the chalkboard menu: Chocolate Crunch, Chocolate
Monkey, Chocolate Nutter, Berry Berry, Berry Crunch, Blue
Crunch, Blue Monkey, Crunchy Monkey. Some nutty, some
decadently sweet, all bleeping beautiful.
I make my choice: a chocolate coconut topping called Coco
Loco. A Mounds-bar-flavored pancake, if you will. And oh, I
will… I take every bite of that sweet pancake the way I take every
step up those dunes. Slo-o-o-o-o-wly.
Between the race and the meal, it feels like bodily equilibrium.
Work hard, eat hearty. And that’s what it’s all about, really—that
any of us can do the work and enjoy the rewards, whether we’re
struggling runners, lifelong age-groupers, or elites.
Like all of us who live in this euphoric loop of burning and
earning, Hall knows the power and majesty of our favorite fuel.
“If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life,” he says, “it would