Doping for the Glacially Paced Athlete

Time to channel my inner Lance Armstrong! Yes, I engage in “doping” when I run! No, vials of blood aren’t drawn and replaced, I don’t have doctors on my payroll, and no urine test is going to catch me ingesting anything illegal. So what is my choice of substance? Caffeine!

Let’s start with the fact that I am a very slow (but enthusiastic!) runner (or combination run-walker these days). And I need a little help to run longer distances, like when I do a ten-mile weekend run. And let’s continue with fact number two—I drink only decaffeinated coffee (yes, I know that brands me a philistine among the java cognoscenti) A few years ago, I decided to drink an energy drink before my weekly endurance workout (usually running, although sometimes it’s the rowing machine or the stationary bike). Endurance workout, as defined by me these days, is a cardio workout lasting at least 90 minutes (but preferably 120 or more). I’d read (in the New York Times, I think) about runners using caffeine as a performance booster. These runners were considerably more elite than me. But, I thought, surely if this helps runners of that caliber, it can also help those of us that are running “duffers”. My dilemma was this: I did not want to become re-addicted to caffeine. Nine years ago, I slowly tapered off my prodigious coffee drinking precisely so that I would not be beholden to caffeine. Could I do this? Could I have “just one”?

I decided to take the plunge. I drank an energy drink before running. About fifteen minutes later I could feel the caffeine coursing through my veins. It worked! I ran and ran and it took longer for me to reach my exhaustion limit. Warily, I waited for a caffeine withdrawal headache the next day, but it never materialized. I’ve been caffeine-doping ever since. I’m convinced it works so well for me because I AM a decaf drinker—I don’t think it would work as well for a regular coffee drinker. I do, however, eat chocolate (1 square of dark chocolate daily).

So, I run my annual Mini-Marathon (the nation’s largest half-marathon) in May. I’ve got my doping regimen ready—no decaf or chocolate for two weeks prior to the race (even decaf has residual caffeine, though in very small amounts). An energy drink about 20 minutes or so into the race (obviously, one of the non-carbonated varieties!), along with caffeinated Clif energy gels for mid-race. My goal? To finish, preferably with a better time than last year’s personal worst!

Energy Drinks