“Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive”
~ Jackson Browne, 'Running on Empty'
~ Jackson Browne, 'Running on Empty'
My first run following last Sunday’s 20-miler was Tuesday. Monday was a rest day. Following Tuesday’s run, my left IT band was sore, not just after the run, but for a good part of Wed too. After a 2-year battle with IT trouble that I was finally able to resolve early this year, I know not to push it in the early stages of pain. Another rest day Wednesday, with a plan to do some tempo and steady-state drills Thurs and Fri, ending with a 23-miler on Sunday. It would be the highest weekly mileage I’d achieved in my entire running career.
Then came late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning when either my GI tract was hit with major food poisoning or I caught the stomach flu. Not the aching tummy, bloated and cramping kind. The full on deal. I’ll spare you to gory details of that night, but let’s just say by the time I rolled out of bed on Thursday morning, I lost at least a gallon of fluid within a 5 hour period and maybe managed to get 3 or 4 hours of sleep in. I worked from home Thursday and Friday to avoid the embarrassment of dealing with my symptoms in public, barely managing to eat any solid food before Friday night. I was drinking as much fluid as my stomach could tolerate: water, Powerade, Bolthouse protein shakes and eventually some soup. All the while totally stressing myself out about my inability to train and the importance of this next long run. My last chance to get in an LSD before the 3 week taper. Come Saturday, my stomach had probably shrunk to the size of an iPod Nano. It still wasn’t thrilled with solid food but I was certain to stick with high carb, nutrient rich foods and continued with the Powerade and water in an attempt to make up for all that had been lost.
Later that night, I think my logical brain decided it was time to chime in. What will I do if get 10 miles from the car and I’m in such bad shape that I need help? I always carry my phone and extra money with me when I’m running alone outside for emergencies. A) I can take a cab back to the car; B) I can reach 911 with the touch of a button. I decided to get some input from the hubby. It didn’t take long for us to agree that if I was going to try this, I needed to be in as safe an environment as possible. Treadmill it is! I was instantly relieved. The thought of being on the treadmill for 4 hours wasn’t nearly as intimidating as running at the beach seemed. I can do this. I opted for some alternative listening material to mix things up a little bit. I downloaded a podcast that I’d missed the previous week that would take me through the first hour and would start listening to the audiobook version of Born to Run that I’d been meaning to get around to for the remainder of the run.
As you can see, my view from the treadmill isn't exactly scenic, but for me, that white-board can be a great motivator, provides 'in your face' immediate feedback, and when I clear my head, it's a great tool for totally zoning out. The Kings of Leon towel you see hanging over the banister is my attempt at limiting the amount of sweat that flings off my arm and ends up on the family room couch downstairs. So far, so good. :-)
I loaded up the console with a PowerBar, Cliff Shot Blocks, Jelly Belly Sports Beans, Accelerade and water. I was in it for the long haul. The first 3 miles were tough and I was only running an 11:45 pace (my normal long run pace currently), but I'm not even close to giving up yet. Anyone else following The Runners Roundtable podcast series? I listened to Things to Remember and Know on Your Marathon Race. Great panel. Totally recommend it. After an hour (5 miles), I'm finally hitting my stride. I know at this point I'm relying a great deal on fat oxidation for energy (due to this low-intensity pace), but I'm keeping my carb intake up because I know my glycogen stores are limited, and the longer I run, the less glycogen I'll have available for energy. I'm feeling good and really positive. I've got my Garmin
Listening to Born to Run was a great escape. I was able to immerse myself in Mexico's Copper Canyon in search of the Tarahumara Indians. Fascinating. Around mile 10, I am becoming aware of how incredibly thirsty I am. This rarely happens to me and should have been a red flag, but I didn't let it phase me. While I'm trying to keep up with my hydration needs, I'm having difficulty with getting calories in. The Accelerade seems to be going down okay, but a couple bites of PowerBar made me feel instantly full, almost like I was having heart burn. I even had to loosen my Garmin HR monitor strap because it was feeling constricting. I tried a few sports beans. Those seemed to agree with me a little better, but for the most part, my calories (thus carbs and a little protein) were coming from the Accelerade. Tricky balancing act here, but I was doing everything I could to keep the carbs coming in. My calves and hamstrings are aching a little, but nothing I can't handle. It was at this point I remembered the treadmill was set at a 1% grade. For my shorter runs on the treadmill (under 10 miles), I always have the incline set at this level because this grade is generally considered to provide an equal amount of resistance as you would feel during street running. However, 0.5% can be used as well. In hindsight, I should have thought about this earlier, but I so rarely change it (or think about it) unless I'm doing hill work.
|J Appl Physiol 87: 124-131, 1999|
Where are you getting this glucose? Your blood (the plasma part to be exact), your liver, and your muscles. Unlike the very limited glycogen-storing capacity of the human body, our fat stores are almost colossal in comparison. In healthy lean athletes, Dr Tim Noakes explains in Lore of Running "....fat is the largest energy store in the body... as much as 9kg even in relatively lean...[athletes]. By comparison, the carbohydrate stores are quite trivial, at most 600 to 700g." Higher levels can be achieved with carb-loading and high-intensity endurance training. Whoa.
So what's the deal with fat? Why can't we rely on that to go the distance? Two reasons: 1) the metabolic cycle that turns fat into usable energy is very slow in comparison to the breakdown of sugar (this is why you hear fitness experts say it takes about 20 minutes to 'start burning stored fat'). When you need a lot of energy and/or need energy quickly, it can't keep up with your increasing energy demands; 2) the breakdown of glucose provides more energy per liter of oxygen you're breathing in relative to the energy you would get from the breakdown of fat (at the same rate of oxygen consumption).
Here's another interesting fact: Did you know that for every molecule of glycogen you lose, you also lose about 3 molecules of water along with it? Another source of dehydration! This was evident on the scale when I weighed myself Friday morning to find I’d lost 1.5% of my body weight in under 40 hours. You can see an illustration of the effects of different exercise intensities on glycogen utilization over time in a previous post. The point here is, as endurance athletes, we've got enough challenges with maintaining what little stored sugar we have during distance events without the added effects of poor nutrition, dehydration and pre-exercise glycogen depletion when the need for sugar is increasing with each passing minute of your endurance event.
To wrap up, let’s put all of this into perspective. I started off dehydrated. I did not have enough time to properly re-hydrate or re-fuel my body from it’s energy-depleted state. Not ingesting enough carbs or calories basically means I was on a calorie-restricted, low-to-moderate carbohydrate diet for over 48 hours (see aforementioned Figure 7 in link above to see how this aspect affects performance) leading up to about 26 hours prior to attempting the 20-miler. The longer (and harder) you exercise, the more glucose your body uses. I started off depleted, was unable to stomach as many carbs as I had planned on ingesting during the run, and I was working about ~10% harder to maintain the same pace I did during last weeks long run. Somebody call Rachael Ray. I've got a recipe for disaster! It's a miracle I made it as far as I did with no major repercussions. Including ending with a pain-free and happy IT band.
Oh ya, one last little reminder of this LSD treadmill adventure through Copper Canyon: forgetting to use Body Glide on my lower back. Ouch!
Gotta do what you can to keep this love alive, right? I think I did my part this weekend. :-)
Three Saturdays to race day!
Three Saturdays to race day!