The “most important meal of the day” is especially important when you’re running long.
I’ve been running marathons for almost a decade now, so I should have known better: You never head out for a long training run with an empty stomach. But that’s exactly what I did on Saturday, and I’m still paying the price for it.
It wasn’t entirely a conscious decision. Instead, it was the result of me getting to sleep too late and then waking up too early to try and fit in a two-plus-hour run before a busy day.
I wasn’t hungry when I first woke up, and then, in my sleepy state, forgot about food completely until about ten minutes before I was supposed to head out for my run. By then, it was too late to eat anything (unless I wanted to end up visiting a porta-loo or two along the way). So, I decided to see what would happen if I went out with nothing but coffee and water in my stomach.
Here’s what happened:
The first hour was great. My stomach was happy and I dumbly thought that I’d made the right decision. Breakfast…Who needs breakfast? Not me. That’s who.
The second hour was less great. My stomach started growling, my legs got tired and my watch was taking longer and longer to record each kilometre split.
The third hour was terrible. My pace slowed to a shuffle and I skipped all the tough hills that I had been planning for the end of the run, instead opting for the flatter, much shorter route that led directly home. It was so much shorter that I spent much of the third hour back at home, feeling sick, rather than running.
Despite running fewer kilometres with less climbing than planned, I returned home feeling completely beat up and was pretty much worthless the rest of the day. (Which is a tough spot to be in when you’re dad to a very energetic toddler.)
Worse, the exertion made my body susceptible to the germs that my toddler had brought home from daycare, and I ended up catching a full-blown head cold. That cold, in turn, forced me to bike on Sunday instead of running and to skip my Monday run.
Looking back on it, it’s easy to see that I was wrong when I thought that I could handle the long run with no fuel. Next time I’ll know better.