In every way but one, my 10-mile run at Boston-qualifying pace yesterday was the same as so many others I’ve done. The lone difference — I was on the juice.
The juice, in this case, was yerba mate, a South American plant whose leaves are used to make an herbal tea with caffeine content similar to that of coffee. Yerba mate is purported to provide a gentler stimulation than coffee, with less stress on the adrenal glands and none of the jitteriness, anxiety, or sleeplessness that people get from coffee.
To me, it seems like caffeine is caffeine, but also to me, it seems like cats and dogs should be able to mate and produce dog-cats. So that doesn’t mean much. And since Brendan Brazier, Mr. Anti-Stimulation himself, recommends yerba mate for a little extra boost on race day and during the occasional workout, I figured I owed it to myself to at least test it out.
Much as I enjoy a nice caffeine jolt when I’m reading or doing math, I’ve never been one to drink it before workouts. The two just don’t seem to mix for me. I think the reason is that when I drink caffeine, my mind races and a lot of good, creative, conscious thought starts flowing. But on a two-hour run, that’s the last thing I want. I do my best to zone out on these runs; I worry that I could literally think myself into becoming a crazy person if I didn’t. Two hours without zoning out and I think I would tie some sort of thought-knot in my head that only tightens as I try to undo it.
As a result, my long run day each week has always been a guaranteed no-coffee day, which I kind of like because it prevents my body from doing whatever it does when one develops a caffeine addiction.
The only other time I “juiced” was when I tried some caffeine pills that I got at the expo on before the Disney Marathon in January. The upshot of this brilliant strategy was a cold sweat before the race even started and my learning rule #4: Don’t try out new goodies on race day.
So I tried yerba mate for the first time on my run yesterday, rather than risk any marathon-morning surprises. The result: a gentler buzz than coffee without any unpleasant after effects. Great!
Oh yeah, and a weird sweat during Mile 1 on a sixty-degree day. And a higher-than-normal heart rate. Not great.
What’s more (or less),I didn’t notice any appreciable energy gains. Maybe a little bit of an adrenaline rush at first, but it didn’t seem to last. My worry about trying something like this before a race is that I’d get a rush at the beginning and a crash later on, during the part where I’m already wondering why I keep coming back for more of this misery.
So I’m thinking I’ll skip the pre-race yerba mate syringe in the buttock. Maybe I’ll bring along a gel with caffeine as a last resort in case it appears my Boston dreams are vanishing in a sea of bonk. These little suckers only have 20 mg of caffeine each though, about a fifth the amount in a cup of coffee.
One last thing: do I really want to rely on a drug (it is that, don’t forget) to achieve this goal I’ve worked my ass off to get? Or do I want to do it on my own, without any help from the big C? I don’t really know the answer to this. So many people will have caffeine before their race anyway, not to improve their performance, but as part of their morning routine. Then again, I’m not competing against them; I’m competing against me.
STOP! That’s enough of this seriousness. For some fun, check out this cool thing I found while I was looking up the caffeine content in energy gel. It’s a calculator that tells you how many cups of your favorite caffeinated beverage it would take to kill you! Hooray!