I guess all runners have ups and downs. Once upon a time I thought I’d become Forrest Gump. I thought I could run endlessly. I went from home without the dog because I felt that I would go too far for him. I remember me also considering to check how important it is to eat something before a run. I would check myself if it was all that necessary to eat some carbs the night before a long run and again in the morning before the long run. I didn’t eat before I left home. Just as I used to do in the week days when I ran before work. But this particular day was Sunday. And I even think I had a couple of glasses of red wine the evening before.
I took off. Ran like the wind past my mother’s house. And I vent on and on. It felt great. I had some new music I liked in my iPod and life was good. My feet seemed to carry me without any effort. I ran along the road. Sunday is such a dull day out there. The weather wasn’t the kind of weather ordinary people like to get out into. So I mostly had the road to myself. And I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Free like the wind. Speaking of the wind. It was blowing, not too much, and mostly from the side. I always like it best when it it wind still. But you can’t have everything, can you?
I ran past a school where I once worked. The school is 13 kilometers away from my home. And I vent on, up a hill on the other side of the river. OK, I have to admit that I walked a little where the road was up a really steep hill. But then I went on running. And then, all of a sudden. After two hours of good running and about 21 kilometers from home, something happened. Something very uncomfortable. I was totally drained.
I could feel it in every cell in my whole body. There wasn’t enough energy around to keep the pace. I started walking. I didn’t have anything with me to eat or drink. And being in the middle of nowhere I couldn’t just go into the next shop and buy something. No, I just had to go on. There were a few cars passing by but I wasn’t in such a bad shape that I considered it necessary to stop any of them. And I passed a few farms also where I could have asked for help if I thought I was dying or something. But I decided to go on. After all it was only 30 kilometers I had to go. I had run this distance a couple of times before without problems.
I tried to run a little to keep warm because I was also starting to freeze. And my whole body just hurt. Not only my leg muscles but my whole body. And my vision was a bit strange. The grass was starting to get green there in the early spring, but I thought it looked way too green. I tried to think clearly but that wasn’t easy. Somehow I seemed to have lost the ability to calculate how far I had gone and how far I would have to go to reach my mother’s home. The only thing I could do was to keep on walking and running. There were yellow sticks along the road and I used them to pull me forth. Said to myself that I would count them. But I lost count again and again. Seemed pretty pointless anyway. I also tried to run between two sticks and the walk between the next two. I managed to keep my mind occupied doing just that.
When I reached the point where I thought I had 7 kilometers left I met someone I know walking with her old parents. I tried to look as good as I could and just run past them saying polite “hi”. Didn’t want to stop. Didn’t want anyone to see how miserable I in fact was. But there I also decided I was not going to run or walk all the way back home. That seemed like one thousand kilometers. Or like the distance to the sun and back to earth. No, I would manage to get home to my Mom. And she would have something warm for me to drink.
My mother lives 4 kilometers from my house and there was no way I could manage those last 4 kilometers on my own. So I vent to her house. Funny thing is I don’t think she could see how miserable I in fact was. She saw I was pale and I looked tired. My lips were blue, but I am just like that, I often get blue lips when I am cold.
I think the running gear fools people. Runners just do look fit when they are wearing those shoes and tights. At least my mother didn’t say anything about me being ill or anything. We just chatted about flowers and dogs and things like that. I drank some warm water with sugar and salt in it. She didn’t have any soda or juice. And certainly not a sports drink. So I just tried to improvise.
After a while I felt better but I still couldn’t get myself to finish my route. But I accepted gladly when my mother offered me a lift home. And I was much viser. Now I knew how “the wall” felt. And I didn’t want to get in touch with that phenomenon ever again.
When I came home I took my time eating and drinking. I was basically just hungry. And then I lay in bed with my laptop and tried to gather my thoughts. I didn’t know then that a part of this hitting-a-wall thing was that you have problems thinking clearly. But I am very curious by nature and I just had to get some knowledge of what was going on. What had happened to me.
I found out that when you are low in blood sugars from the start, the risk of finishing all energy or glucose from the blood stream after about two hours of intensive physical exercise, is very high. That is what happened to me this day. I didn’t eat before I left home. And I didn’t eat or drink anything on the way. So I just used up all the energy that was available. This is the simple way to say it. Of course I could get into lengthy discussions of blood sugar levels, insulin-induced hypoglycemia and so forth. But as far as I am concerned it is enough for me to know that if I want to continue feeling good during a long race I have to drink something with easily accessible energy in it.
So I started reading about different liquids, electrolytes, energy, carbohydrates, glucose and so forth. And I found out that apple juice or orange juice in 250 ml. containers would be the ideal running drink for me. Maybe not so many electrolytes, but nutrition and energy. I also found out that an average runner uses 50 grams of carbohydrates each hour. As I think I weigh less than the average runner, I think I need less. Which means in the end that I should be able to manage a 4 hours run on one and a half liter of apple juice.
Then I never even considered using gels, because you would need liquid to consume them properly. Or that is what I read. So for me it was sports drinks or fruit juice. That sounds fine for me. In a race with drinking stations it isn’t necessary to worry about bringing something yourself. You just have to know approximately how much you need in order to avoid the wall, and also to avoid drinking too much water. Because that is possible too.
Now I was much wiser. And I seriously thought this wouldn’t happen to me again. But four months later, in the beginning of August, a couple of weeks before my first marathon, I was out there running. It was in the afternoon, on a Sunday. The weather was just fine and I decided to go on the route I usually took on Sundays earlier in the year. My 14k route. It has a loop of 2.2 kilometers on the far end which means I can add as many 2.2 kilometer loops on the ordinary route as I want. And that is what I did this Sunday.
I didn’t drink anything immediately before I took off. Although I had eaten breakfast as usual. I guess I didn’t think I was going very far. For some reason I left the dog behind though. So there I was, running well, without the dog. It was very pleasant being in the woods and running on my favorite gravel paths. So I just continued running in circles. Somehow it is easier to cut the route into pieces and just think of one piece at the time. And that is what I was busy doing when I suddenly realized that even if I ran straight back home I would reach 30 kilometers or 3 hours running.
There were some berries in one place. Delicious black currants that I had no difficulty eating. So I ate quite a few of those. But I had no idea of their nutritional value. If they helped blood sugar levels or what. But at least I felt as if I had done something to avoid the wall. And I took off home. When I got into my street I could feel the wall very clearly. So I walked the last few hundred yards. And boy, did I feel lucky to be so close to my own home. But I felt stupid too.
And there again I could clearly feel the effect of hypoglycemia on ones intellect. It was simply impossible for me to figure out how many kilometers I just had run. Even if I knew exactly how far it was to where the loop started, how long the loop was and how many loops I ran. I couldn’t add simple numbers. I just felt weak and miserable. Good thing I wasn’t freezing too, because it wasn’t cold outside. At least not as cold as it was first time I got in touch of the wall. Need I say that this was also my best friends birthday and I forgot all about it. That is the worst of it all. Stupid me. Stupid because I didn’t use the knowledge I had. I should have known better.