The Running Dead (and how to come back to life)

zombie runner

Endurance running is no easy feat.  Part of the reason that the sport is so addictive and intriguing is the fact that it requires an athlete to push and explore the limits of the human body.  Spend a couple of hours talking to an avid endurance athlete, and you may walk away feeling like they just aren’t fully human.  After all, what kind of person willingly wakes up at 5am, spends countless hours running in the dark, and needs to eat endlessly without ever really seeming full or satisfied?  Plant yourself at the finish of any marathon or ultra-marathon, and you will undoubtedly witness masses of these people dragging themselves across the finish line, appearing only half-alive.

Watching these zombie runners cross the finish line is one thing, but what if you find yourself mindlessly marching forward with no finish line in sight?  What if you begin to realize that you yourself have become part of the running dead?  Well, I have some advice and recommendations that just might help you come back to life.  Afterall, the training plan I am currently following is focused around the concept of accumulated fatigue, so it should be no surprise that I, myself, am feeling slightly more exhausted than usual.  For a working mom who runs and CrossFits, baseline tired is pretty tired, just for reference.  In my final celebration of Halloween, today I’m going to share some of those tips and tricks for coming back to life during and after tough training segments.

During the Run

For most runners, the reason you may feel as though you have left your physical body is due to reaching a state of depletion.  How long it takes an individual and to reach a depleted state is highly variable, but suffice it to say that all human beings have their physical limits.  So, if we all have our limits, and our goal is to push those limits further and further, how can we accomplish this without running head-first into an early grave?  The answer is simple: intelligent training, recovery, and problem-solving.

It’s important to remember that most issues that really kill you (pun intended) during a run or race need to be addressed as soon as possible.  For example, if you are out for a long training run, and you wait too long to eat some calories or improve your form, thinking you’ll address these things later, you will likely feel so crappy later that nothing short of witchcraft will save you.  I highly recommend staying on stop of all these things to try to be as preventative as possible.

Electrolytes, Fuel, & Caffeine

One of the most obvious reasons for feeling less than alive is an imbalance or depletion in potassium or glycogen.  Running on empty can feel rather exhausting, as one would expect.  Luckily, there’s some really great products that are focused on giving you back what you have taken from your body.  What can make refueling slightly difficult is that training and racing fueling is somewhat of an artform.  You have to factor in heat, sweat, effort level, stomach acidity, previous fueling, and how much further you plan to go.  If you are new to endurance running, pick some sort of sports-related chewy product (HoneyStinger chews, Gu chomps, SportsBeans, etc).  These products tend to be a bit more friendly on a stomach that is not accustomed to eating on the go, and make sure you chase them with a decent amount of water to avoid spewing your fuel back out like the girl in The Exorcist.

Once you’ve found a staple product that works well for you,  I do recommend trying out small bits of other products here and there just to see if you can expand your selection.  I also recommend experimenting some with caffeine.  There are lots of brands that will gladly add caffeine to their calorie-based products, so that you get the extra boost without having to take anything additional in.  Again, this is something you will have to experiment with, as different people are more or less sensitive to caffeine and it’s side effects.  For me, I’m fairly close to walking dead status in my normal everyday life, so the more caffeine the better, but it’s not a lifestyle choice I recommend for everyone. I really like caffeinated Honey Stinger Kiwi-Strawberry gels.   Finally, if you are a heavy sweater or running in a warm climate, taking in some form electrolytes can be helpful in saving your stomach and energy levels.  Find something you like (salt tabs, Nuun tabs, pretzels, etc) that works well with your stomach and stick to it.  PS – never resort to the Gatorade that is offered on race courses; I am convinced it is laced with arsenic, and it will be the end of you and your stomach.

How To keep running - fuel with caffeine
Caffeine & Fuel in one

Manage Your Temperature

What’s one of the first signs that someone is no longer a normal, living human being?  Their skin feels cold.  That’s because zombies don’t need to maintain or regulate their body temperatures.  If you don’t wish to join them in the afterlife, though, you do.  Nothing can drain you of energy faster than shivering for an entire run, or conversely running through the equivalent of a furnace (or Hell).  Both situations are less than ideal, but somewhat easy to manage.  If the weather is warm, drink cold liquids, use a wet bandana, pour water on your body every time you drink, and don’t shy away from shoving some ice into your running clothes.  If the weather is cold, dress intelligently; make sure to cover your head, ears, and hands.  Grab a couple of handwarmers for extra cold days, and always dress in layers.  Being warm is only fun until you start sweating.  Cold + wet = death.  Simple math.

One last quick tip on managing your temperature.  If you’re going to run for longer than two hours, bring a change of clothes.  Whether it’s hot or cold, having something to change into for the end (hopefully) portion of your run can be just refreshing enough to resuscitate your soul.  If not, at least your post-run drive to pick up breakfast tacos will be more comfortable.

How to Keep Running
Happy, warm runner

Remember it takes longer to walk back to your car

If all else fails, and you just can’t get things back in order physically, it’s time for some mind games.  For me, I’ve found that I prefer to count up instead of down on really long runs.  It helps me to focus on the amount of ground I’ve already covered, rather than what I have left to tackle.  I also make sure that on long runs, I run far enough away from my car, that I’m forced to run back.  It seems silly in the days of Uber and Lift, but I’m too stubborn and prideful to admit defeat and rideshare back.  Having to get back to your car that’s 6-10 miles away means that walking just isn’t an option, unless you have an extra three hours in your day to kill.  And if you do, well I’m too jealous of you to be your friend.  Now, or in the afterlife.

During the Week

Now that you’ve survived your run, you may think you’re in the clear.  But you’re wrong.  You also have to survive the rest of your time outside the run.  Lack of focus on recovery can be just as deadly as the tough runs themselves, so don’t neglect the next few tips, if you want to stay alive.

Just like it’s important to fuel appropriately during your runs, you need to fuel your still-living body throughout the week too.  If you’re running higher mileages, it makes sense that you will need to need to increase your caloric intake during the week.  I personally recommend focusing on protein for recovery, and carbs to fuel, but needed amounts of each will vary person to person.  One of the reasons I love my Garmin is that it gives me a good estimate on my average and daily caloric expenditures.  It’s certainly not 100% accurate, and I don’t take in exactly what it tells me I’m putting it out, but it does give me a good idea of what to shoot for on average for recovery.  Spending some additional time sleeping will help you avoid falling into the Big Sleep, so don’t say no to naps or even extra rest days when you need them.  Finally, while rest is an important part of recovery, going from long periods of running straight into laying prostrate for the rest of the day is a recipe for stiff, achy joints and muscles.  If you’d like to avoid walking around like Frankenstein, put your feet up for a while (enjoy the fact that you still have blood flow in your extremities), but also spend some time later in the day stretching, rolling, and ideally walking around.  Your body will come back to life much faster if you incorporate an active recovery instead of a clinical coma.

So, there you have it.  Basic, common sense advice that can be much easier to supply than to actually follow.  I’m definitely not immune to blowing all of these things off from time to time, but I can say without a doubt that I ALWAYS feel the effects eventually.  While foam rolling and caffeine are not likely to get you very far during a zombie apocalypse, they can go a long way to keeping you from your own personal purgatory. Run hard, and rest in peace friends!

Happy Halloween!

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