This past Saturday I had 14 miles on the schedule, which was meant to be run at a moderately easy pace (I was thinking 9:00-9:15 min/mile). After reading Michele’s post last week about glycogen depleted runs, I decided to try running my 14 miles fasted.
If you haven’t already read the post, I recommend you do. There are also links to some other articles about this strategy. Basically what you are doing is not eating before or during a shorter-long run and training your body to burn fat as fuel rather than glycogen from carbs that you’ve eaten.
When I started training for marathons and running long on the weekends I wanted to figure out what I could eat before and during my runs that would sit well in my stomach and fuel me through. For a few years I ate either a half or a whole bagel with peanut butter and a banana about 1-2 hours before my run. This worked for me and as long as I gave myself time to digest my stomach felt fine. I learned to like Gu and other gels (but does anyone really “like” them?) I think I was pretty dependent on using carbs as fuel for my runs because I was giving my body plenty of them.
My fueling strategy worked well for marathons #1 and #2. When I ran #3 (Baltimore) in October 2013 I went out a little too fast (the early downhills got to me) and I hit the wall around mile 15. This was really early to be hitting the wall and I knew I was in trouble. I was eating everything I could and drinking lots of water. I remember even taking swedish fish from someone handing them out on the course which I had never eaten while running before. They were ok but I remember thinking it was really hard to chew while I was running. Anyway, I walked alot but finished the race and added lots of time on at the end so the faster early miles ended up not helping me at all. I learned my lesson in pacing there.
So when I read about glycogen depleted runs I thought it would be good to try. I have actually naturally been eating less before and during my runs lately anyway, because I have found it trickier to find paleo friendly foods to eat before and during a run. I have a banana before my harder workouts or longer runs and nothing but coffee and water before short easy runs. This had been fine when I wasn’t really training and my mileage was lower. I hadn’t brought gels on most of my runs either since they hadn’t been very long. I tried Powerbar Performance Energy Blends which are all natural during my 13 miler last week.
On Friday night before my 14 miler I ate pasta with meatballs and salad. I hadn’t eaten pasta in a while but I started again before some of my longer runs. I think its just a mental thing that it fuels my runs better than something like sweet potatoes but since it doesn’t cause me any problems I will probably continue to eat it. I also had a couple of paleo cookies before bed.
I woke up a little after 5 (I didn’t set an alarm but I knew the earlier I could get up and get out the door the better). I made a cup of coffee and drank about half of it and water while I got ready. I did a quick warm up and was out the door at 5:30.
I think my biggest problem with trying a fasted long run was knowing I hadn’t eaten and expecting to feel awful. I wore my camelbak filled with water and brought some gels just in case. The first 5 miles were ok but I was already wondering if I would be able to survive the run without fuel. I was also worried that even if I took the gels that it would be too late and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I also haven’t been running with music, so I was way too focused on this fueling thing most of the time. There wasn’t much to distract me.
After 5 miles I was starting to pick up the pace a little but told myself as long as I made it until mile 10 (1.5 hours) I could take a gel but it would still count as a fasted run. I have no idea if it would have- but it did make me feel better.
Once I hit 10 miles I was sort of shocked that my pace had continued to drop and I really wanted to finish without fuel. The last 2 miles were the hardest. It was pretty much the feeling I had during the Baltimore Marathon when I hit the wall. However, its much easier to push through a final 2 miles on flat ground than 9 hilly miles. I actually started to physically feel hungry during the last mile.
The weird thing was, when I stopped I wasn’t dying for food like I expected. I actually didn’t really want to eat but knew I had to. So I made a smoothie and drank it while I cooled down and did the myrtle routine. I had made extra eggs/bacon/veggies the day before so I heated those up and ate them about 30 minutes after finishing. After I showered I ate a Luna Bar (I usually don’t eat them but felt like I needed to eat something else). I started to feel a little better at this point. I finished my run at 7:30 and had eaten all of that stuff by 9. I ate some leftovers for lunch around 11:30.
I felt pretty good throughout the day on Saturday but when I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday to use the bathroom my legs felt really sore. Surprisingly, when I woke up on Sunday morning they felt ok. Maybe my body was just working hard to repair my muscles while I was sleeping and that’s what I felt.
Now that I have done a fasted 14 mile run, I am hopefully past the mental barrier of being able to do it. I wouldn’t try this for anything longer that 14 miles anyway. I may do this for some of my easy longer weekday runs (some get up to 8-9 miles). I think between doing a few fasted runs and eating less in general before and during running, I should be better able to fuel my runs and avoid the wall. But only time will tell!
Have you ever tried a fasted/glycogen depleted long run?
Have you ever hit the wall during a race?