The Worst Run of My Life

I’ll start with the good news– I didn’t get hurt, and I finished the 18 miles yesterday.

Everything else was bad.  Really bad.

For the first nine miles, the run seemed pretty normal, if not better than normal.  I was cruising along, listening to my podcasts, easily finishing each mile in 15-20 seconds faster my goal pace of eight minutes.  I returned to my car after six miles for some sports drink and water, and headed back out for another six, feeling great except for a blister developing on the ball of my left foot and a little bit of chafing downstairs.  (We ran out of Blister Shield Powder, which I swear by for long runs, and I had a difficult time lubing up with Body Glide in the car, so neither of these ailments came as much of a surprise.)

Then it hit me.  To avoid details, let’s just call it “the wave.”  Or better yet, “the tsunami.”

Something was very wrong with my stomach.  I didn’t eat anything weird beforehand (just a portobello wrap at the restaurant where my sister works), so I’m not sure what the cause was.  I ran a few panicked miles but managed to avert the disaster of having to use Mother Nature’s facilities, and after taking care of the problem, I figured everything would be back to normal.  Unfortunately, in taking care of said problem, I awoke the chafing monster.  Not only did all the commotion cause me a tremendous amount of not just stinging, but worse– bleeding, in one of the worst places you can imagine (don’t try, if you haven’t yet).

I carefully limped the remaining mile back to the car, so as to avoid any further damage to my future children.  When I got there, I reapplied Body Glide, drank a good gulp of sports drink and water, and headed out for the final six miles.  Surely now, nothing else bad could transpire.

Wrong again.

After just the first of the six remaining miles, it was clear that something was amiss.  I hadn’t exerted myself much in the first 12 miles of my run, my muscles and lungs felt fine, and yet it was taking me all the effort in the world just to lift my legs and propel myself forward.  In hindsight, I should have turned around immediately, and I probably would have been fine.  But of course I didn’t do this; I thought, “Just wait two more miles to turn around, you can finish this.”

evolution 300x200From here, it went as you might expect, especially if this feeling has ever hit you and you still have about six miles left in a marathon.  Things get worse and worse, muscles start to cramp (for me it was my back), and by the end you’re doing that sort of half-upright limp/run thing that resembles caveman/ape #2 in the image.  No, not the one with the cool spear; the other #2.  By now my blister was killing me, the chafing was worse, and I didn’t even have the energy to adjust my stride to make these things less painful.  I noticed that, though I was still sweating, I had goosebumps on my arms and legs.

I finished the run in this manner (I could have walked, but that would have just taken longer to get back to the car).  When I did get back, I found myself chugging water, even though I hadn’t realized I was thirsty.  I went to the nearest 7-11, got myself a chocolate milk and a Gatorade, and called Erin.  By now I was feeling lightheaded, with hands shaking.  I had trouble stringing together a coherent sentence; I could hardly even explain to Erin how I felt without losing my train of thought.

I told Erin that I thought I could drive home, and I did so without any problems except having to fight to stay awake.  I was freezing, but everytime I turned on the heat I started to sweat and had to turn it off.  It felt like I had the flu.  When I got home, I staggered inside, teeth chattering, and got in the shower then immediately into bed.  After about an hour, I had stopped shivering and felt like I could finally think straight.  I ate a little bit of cereal, went to sleep, and that was the end of an awful evening.

I feel completely fine today; even my legs feel great.  It was truly just an all-out lack of energy, and I am still unsure about the cause.  I’m thinking it was dehydration, or maybe extremely low blood sugar.  During the run, I drank about 12 ounces of water and 16 ounces of sports drink, and it wasn’t hot out and I didn’t feel like I was working very hard in the beginning of the run.  But maybe the stomach problems dehydrated me.  I haven’t needed to drink much during long runs recently– last week’s 17-miler was no problem, and I didn’t drink anything until 11 miles into it.  So I figured two stops at the car would be plenty, but maybe I’m disrespecting the long run and need to prepare better.  I’m also realizing that the sports drink I made had only a few tablespoons of agave nectar and the juice of half a lemon for sugar; since this is so much less than in commerical drinks, maybe I need to drink more of it.

I’m hoping that some of you experienced runners can provide a more-informed diagnosis.  Does this sound like dehyration?  Or bonking from lack of sugar?  Whatever the cause, this run was terrible, the worst of my short running career.  I’m not going to let this happen again, even if it means putting up with a bouncing fuel belt or eating those nasty gels.  Thanks for whatever advice you can give me.

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Comments

  1. Lauren A. says:

    first thing i would do would be to add some salt to your homemade sports drink. the commercial sports drinks are mainly designed to provide your body with glucose (sugar) and sodium. glucose to give your body and muscles quick energy and sodium to help you say hydrated. on a hot day you sweat out a significant amount of minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, and it is extremely important to replenish them–especially sodium.

    another thing you may want to experiment with is your choice of sugar. Agave nectar is a low glycemic, slow absorbing sugar, which is not ideal for your muscles during prolonged activity. you want to provide your body with the quickest, most readily absorbed sugar out there–which is glucose or just plain old white sugar.

    did you eat anything when you stopped at your car? i would recommend experimenting with some sports bars or gels. if you aren’t in to eating those types of processed foods try bananas or fig newtons.

    try experimenting/researching homemade sports drinks and various food options that are high on the glycemic index and contain simple sugars that can be readily absorbed to give your body the energy it needs. remember to listen to your body and know when it is telling you to stop.

    • Thanks, great information. I only listed the sugar-containing ingredients in my drink; it also includes some sea salt, though I’m thinking I should put more in. When I made the drink at home, it tasted like enough salt, but when I actually drank it after a few miles, of course it didn’t taste nearly as salty.

      I think you’re right that I should experiment with different sugars. In fact, this was my first time trying a homemade sports drink, and in hindsight it was stupid to try something new on such a long run.

      Thanks again for your advice.

  2. Well, it’s a bonk, a classic, full-on bonk, no doubt about that. But what was at its root? I’m hardly an expert, but I suspect it was neither dehydration nor glycogen depletion that got you. Neither alone would have the power to take you down in the manner you describe. Instead, I’d look to the entire combination of woes you were experiencing—including the chafing and the stomach issues—and the impact they together had on your brain. Researcher and author Dan Benardot, as quoted in Runner’s World (http://bit.ly/BhkJO):

    “It’s a very interesting phenomenon that we’re only now coming to grips with—that mental fatigue will lead to the perception of muscular fatigue,” says Benardot. He notes that the brain has a lot of processing to do during a run, monitoring blood volume and sweat rates, core temperature, blood sugar, and stress hormones. “The brain is juggling all of this information and can eventually make the decision: ‘Whoa, things are not good here, I’m going to shut it down.'”

    Seems like that’s what might have happened to you.

    BTW, love your blog!

    • Wow that is so interesting! I’ve never heard about that before, but it certainly does make sense. They were certainly some very stressful miles leading up to the immense fatigue.

      Thanks a lot; I’m going to check out the article you linked to.

  3. I think the problem came from the mushroom…. they always seemed poisonous to me. Actually, just kidding, but it does sound like a mild case of food poisoning. Think back to everything you ate and drank yesterday and see if anything could have been handled in a way that wasn’t safe.

    • If I had those symptoms on a normal day after a meal, I would definitely think it was food poisoning. But a long run introduces so many other factors, so even though food poisoning is possible, I’d say it’s unlikely just because there’s so much else it could have been.

  4. Laura M...ski says:

    i’ll agree with Pete. i know stomach issues can completely ruin my day, even if said issues end in the morning…i’m not the least bit surprised your run was ruined, as well as the rest of your night. glad to see it had no lasting effects!

  5. I’ve only had what I choose to call “GI Distress” a few times, but mainly it had to do with changes to my routine – not enough sleep the night before, an odd dinner combo, dairy, or a new supplement/sports drink. Your homemade version might end up being fine, but combined with the toll the GI distress had on your body and the very real mental aspect of fatigue, you were fighting an uphill battle no matter how flat the route was! Just focus on the good runs you’ve had recently, tinker a little with the sports drink, and take it easy today – you deserve it!
    .-= katherine´s last blog ..The Super Post, Part II =-.

  6. I’ve definitely had runs like the one you just described (umm, miles 18-26 of the Boston marathon). I still don’t know what made me feel so crappy, but I think it was a combo of dehydration, low blood sugar, and my mental state. As soon as I start to feel a little bit lightheaded or woozy I start freaking out. It’s better that your bad run happened now rather than on the big (marathon) day! I think it’s a good sign that your legs felt OK the next morning :-)
    .-= Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)´s last blog ..Adventure to Governor’s Island =-.

  7. Bill Carter says:

    IMHO, you had a classic case of electrolyte imbalance. For some reason, the body has certain runs where it just loses control of that delicate balance and you get very sick. You also lose the ability to function at even a fraction of your usual physical fitness. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on this (although it has happened to me at least a few times),but I would guess it is a combination of how we slept the night before, what was in our stomachs, how we hydrated, temperature, and the list could go on and on. A body tsunami might fit the definition??

    Glad to hear that you are OK and feeling better today. That being said, you may want to try one of the Hammer Nutrition products that can help fend of electrolyte imbalances. I have had some success with them.

    Take care and best of luck.

  8. Bill Carter says:

    BTW, Yes I am hoping to PR at Toronto. 2:57 anything would do the trick quite nicely!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  9. I am not experienced, but just wanted to let you know that I have been in the same boat. I would guess dehydration based on the chills, but obviously your stomach was upset before the dehydration began. Sometimes, for me, my stomach is just not acting the way it should. I can’t believe you kept on going, you are a machine!
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..Podcasts and Another Marathon on the Schedule =-.

    • Machine because I kept going, maybe. But machines aren’t very smart. I should have been a human and made the decision to stop! In my defense, I had no idea that the fatigue I was experiencing might be dangerous; next time I’ll know to stop.

  10. Michelle says:

    I’m a friend of Christine’s who, despite being neither a vegetarian nor a runner, has been reading your blog for a while now. Kudos to you for writing/maintaining something that is just plain interesting and entertaining (esp. pictures of beautiful, delicious looking food!). Anyway, thought you might be interested in this article from last Sunday’s New York Times magazine, which sounds very similar to the Runner’s World article mentioned above. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/going-all-out/?ref=magazine

    • Hey Michelle, thank you for the blog compliments! It’s always nice to hear that someone finds my stuff entertaining. I just read the article; that’s really interesting to me. Something else that I didn’t mention was that I was having a really tough time getting “up” for this run. That might have been a warning sign that my brain wasn’t going to behave!

  11. First: I’m so sorry that your run didn’t go well!

    Second: I read on runners blogs all the time about the techs & specs of their training, but no one really mentions when a run is just plain old shitty! It happens to the best of us, I call mine jelly legs. Although it’s nowhere near as intense as what you describe above.

    Third: I definitely agree about more salt.

    I’m sure your next run will be stellar after all of the thought you’re giving it! :)
    .-= Mel @ She Runs Brooklyn´s last blog ..Why I Feel Like a Slug at Work: An Educational Smackdown =-.

  12. Matthew:
    I go for a little bit of food poisoning
    I have only run one marathon so not an expert but when
    I had low blood sugar it was the classic shaky bonk and some jelly beans and a gatorade fixed me right up

    add to a bad stomach— bleeding of your and my god,,congrats on gutting it out
    you did gut it out
    and i am glad that you don’t have an injury

  13. i’m not an expert on what it might be, but sometimes i literally just have a bad running day. all the stars align, and go out of their way to make everything go wrong?

    just a thought – glad you feel better today. i have no doubt you will rock that next run!
    .-= Holly´s last blog ..Dog Days o’ Summer =-.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear about that! Take care of yourself, okay?

    Everyone else seems to have said it all, and it sounds to me (from research rather than experience, however) that it was bonking/electrolyte depletion. But I know that drinking too much liquid has the same side effects as dehydration- do you think that could be the case? Having a little bit too many fluids in your system?

    Okay- I’ll stop diagnosing seeing as I don’t really know what I’m talking about. But again, make sure you take care of yourself!
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..When nutrition gets neglected =-.

    • Thanks for your concern Sagan :) I did think about hyponatremia; I tend to always look for that because I think I’ve experienced it. I don’t think that was the case this time, because I looked at my fingers or ankles to make sure they weren’t swollen. Although I don’t think I had enough salt, so who knows?

      This will not happen again!

  15. Hey,
    I’m a brand new reader – sorry to join you on the worst run of your life! If it helps, this was super interesting to read about despite how crappy you were feeling. I can’t really advise as I’m not an experienced runner – I just started a few months back and my longest run to date is a mere 8 miles!

    Looking forward to reading more!
    .-= Angharad´s last blog ..Rainy days give me wanderlust… =-.

    • Hi Angharad, glad you enjoyed my horror story! Haha. I wouldn’t downplay running eight miles. If you were to walk up to someone on the street and hold a gun to their head and tell them they had to run eight miles, they’d most likely be in serious trouble! It’s easy to forget what an incredible amount that is compared to what most people can do.

      Thanks for reading my blog; I’ll check out yours.

  16. I’m not an experienced runner, but I experienced something similar last Friday on what was supposed to be an “easy” 10 mile run. For me I figured it was simply that my muscles totally ran out of glycogen stores. I hadn’t eaten since noon and headed out for my run at around 6pm. Got home, stretched for a while, showered, and then got to making dinner. Didn’t sit down to eat until almost 9pm and then felt nauseous, chilled, and so exhausted I was falling asleep at the table. Managed to get some food down and crawled to bed. The next morning I felt normal. Perhaps the same thing happened to you? Just didn’t eat enough in the hours before your run? Glad to read that you are feeling OK.
    .-= Vava´s last blog ..A Little Morning Race =-.

  17. Brian Gallagher says:

    My bet is on dehydration or maybe just a one-day virus or other bug. Being a veg for 18 yrs w/a a very high fiber diet at times — you betcha I’ve had bouts of diarrhea (which is what I think you are talking about) … one really lousy time during an all trail 1/2 marathon. Diarrhea can by very dehydrating — it is a very serious problem in very poor areas around the world for that reason — and I think that alone could have caused the chills.

    On the other hand, I’ve recently began experimenting with training and not worrying too much about hydration. I think training “under-hydrated” can be beneficial sometimes because during a race your body can only absorb so much water. So like that NY Times article you mentioned … you might be able to train your brain in accepting being a little dehydrated but not impact performance.

    Finally, no one mentioned your chafing issues. Every body is different … but chafing has been extremely rare for me. I might suggest trying different types of shorts. You really shouldn’t have to lube up to run. Along with your sports drinks (which I don’t think are needed for runs under ~13 miles), experiment with your shorts.

    • Hey Brian, I think you’re right about the dehydration. Especially because of the chills. I have had viruses where I got the chills like that, but not in the past 5 years since I’ve been focused on health.

      It’s interesting that you’ve tried training yourself to not need as much water. I haven’t really anything about whether the body can actually learn to adapt to that, but I’ve found that recently I’ve needed much less than before, so maybe I’ve inadvertently done just that. I think if anything, it could be psychological, learning to at least deal with the discomfort of being slightly under-hydrated.

      Good point about the shorts too, they are a few years old. I’ll have to try some new ones.

  18. This exact thing happened to me a month ago on what I thought should have been an easy run…this is the first I’ve seen someone else describe the exact symptoms– shaking, inability to think straight, feeling light-headed…I never really figured out what caused it, but also thought it was dehydration or lack of fuel beforehand, since I was running much later than I normally do.

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