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Fatty acid catalyst?

The usual source of caffeine.

I'm successfully sticking to the caffeine limit I imposed on myself of 200mg or less a day (see blog post titled "Caffeine") after being diagnosed with an Atrial Flutter at the beginning of the year.  I do miss the "feel good" surge I used to get from that strong mug of coffee on days with an early start, but I don't miss the feeling that my blood pressure and heart rate were up.  Generally, I feel healthier without that caffeine and don't think I'll ever go back.

At the time of the blog post about caffeine, I mentioned that it is a legal stimulant that may have benefits for long-distance runners.  Apart from the value of heightened alertness and positive mood, there is evidence it plays a role in energy derivation.  I don't know when the research was first published, but sometime in the 1970s I read about the value of caffeine in releasing fatty acids into the blood stream.  In simplistic terms, as I understand it, during any long distance race, the body primarily derives its fuel from its glycogen stores.  This is the most efficient source of energy but supplies are finite and likely to be exhausted before the end of a marathon.  When the glycogen stores are gone, the body begins to burn fats, a much slower process.

The fatty acids stimulated by caffeine ingestion have been shown to bring fats into the energy fuel process earlier than otherwise, so that a marathon runner's stores of the more efficient glycogen will last longer, perhaps to fuel a late surge in the race.  I read somewhere that two strong cups of coffee about an hour before running was the best timing and dosage and I did try that a number of times during my marathon running heyday.  Of course you never know whether it makes any difference, and the risk is that when you can't do it for some reason (perhaps large race logistics) it can negatively impact your mental state.

I may be smiling, but I was very sick
after this Six Foot Track Marathon.

In recent years, I haven't worried about pre-race caffeine ingestion.  One reason is the negative experience I had in the Six Foot Track Marathon a few years ago, when I was fit enough to do very well for my age.  I drank too much caffeine beforehand and was feeling "wired" by the time the race started.  I never felt good as the race progressed and had difficulty in drinking fluids at the feeding stations.  When I finished, I felt very sick, though didn't accept offered medical assistance.  I just sat in a corner for two hours not doing anything until I felt my equilibrium begin to return and I could start sipping some fluids.

I don't doubt that there are benefits as the research has shown, but to get them, there are factors such as runner weight, usual caffeine consumption, timing, etc., that need to be accounted for in developing the optimal plan.  Now that I'm sticking to my new caffeine-limited regime, I doubt that I'll worry about taking pre-race caffeine.  In fact, I have always felt that if you train over the distances you plan to race, your body will adapt to become more efficient at fuel stores and sourcing anyway.  The more you depend on some pre-race rituals - caffeine ingestion, carbo-loading, sleep - the more likely you are to come mentally unstuck if you can't follow them as planned.

I ran a variation on my usual post-track session 11km this morning, running the length of North Avoca beach and the steep climb up Coast Road instead of the usual climb up Tramway Road.  I felt fatigued right from the start, mostly in the legs, so took it easy.  I have a demanding running schedule for the next three days, and the fresher I can be tomorrow, the better.