Responding to Stress

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my body has responded to the running I put it through this year. Training, racing, and general ‘fun runs’ – each stress that I exposed myself to over the season allowed for new lessons to be learned. As I gain experience, I continually develop a deeper understanding of who I am and how I can expect my body to react to a given effort – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The pinnacle of this stress experience in 2016 occurred during the 122 miles at Fat Dog. As I explained in my race report, I developed serious issues about 20 miles in, yet at the time we were not sure what the cause was. I seemed to be in good spirits when I started the race, so what was going on?

Here were my symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • General uneasiness
  • Confusion
  • Frequent urination
  • Flushed skin
  • Fatigue
  • Sweet-smelling body odour
  • Inefficient electrolyte uptake

I’ve been constantly reflecting on this experience trying to figure out what my body was going through. For someone who regularly runs well over 20 miles without any problems, this seemed quite odd. I did what any rational person would do and started self-diagnosing via the internet! Who needs a doctor, right? Well, turns out these symptoms are bang on with ketoacidosis. Not something many people have experienced outside of those with diabetes, however after discussing with my doctor (okay maybe doctors are important…), all considerations point to this diagnosis. For now, this is what we’re going to go with. If new information comes to light, I may have a better conclusion to make.

What is ketoacidosis? Well, in a very simplistic explanation (and likely not completely accurate, I’m still learning!), my body was trying to use fat as fuel but it wasn’t doing it very efficiently – the fat metabolising process was getting bottlenecked – my body was processing the fat into my bloodstream as ketones, but had trouble using those ketones for energy. So the ketones were building up and causing my blood to acidify. This is not something you want to go unchecked as it can lead to serious life-threatening conditions. This is where having an experienced friend on the course pacing me on the back 82 miles saved my butt big time!!

So what does this mean for me in the future? Well, for starters, I need to be more mindful of my nutrition. Seriously mindful about it. Although I’m lucky not to have diabetes, apparently there may be something not working perfectly with my insulin production during hard efforts, likely caused by the added stress that is difficult to get away from in a race environment. My training over the next year will be focused on dialling in my nutrition to ensure this serious condition doesn’t happen again.

I’m starting to understand this issue on a surface level, however I expect this will take years of training and racing before I fully understand how my body will react to future stress and how I need to respond to those stressors. I’m fortunate that this experience ended in a positive way, though I appreciate the seriousness of what could have been if we weren’t able to get it under control, even if at the time we didn’t know what we were getting under control.

This experience will shape my training and racing over the foreseeable future and I look forward to understanding how I can use this to my advantage when planning my nutrition strategies. I have yet to schedule my 2017 race season, however I’m leaning towards a minimal schedule. This decision is partly due to ensuring confidence in my nutrition, but also due to some other big opportunities that are currently in the works…

Happy Trails!



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