I gave up caffeine and this is what happened
|July 11, 2018
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
Almost 3 weeks ago I poured myself a cup of half-caf coffee, drank half of it, and then said “Damnit!” loud enough that the little one glared at me for interrupting her precious Saturday morning cartoons.
It was the day I was supposed to start my 4 week no-caffeine binge prior to Tahoe. When you plan to run 100 miles you buy into all sorts of crazy ideas and reserving caffeine so it “works better” during the race seemed worth a try.
My vague impression of “working better” was being able to drink a cup of coffee during the race, especially during the second morning and afternoon, and have it perk me right up.
I freely admit that coffee is my stress habit. Slightly better than twisting my hair or shopping, probably worse than dedicated yoga practice. My coffee habits had settled into a moderate amount of coffee. Probably about 5-6 cups a day.
Other people have since pointed out that this may not be as moderate, but they are the same people that say riding or running 100 miles is “crazy” so they are not to be trusted.
I felt totally fine the first day, which I expected. I’m not one of those people who “can’t wake up without coffee”. Oh sure, it will definitely mess with my sleep if I drink it past 1pm, but yawning and napping without my cup of joe has never been my problem.
So why do I drink it? an astute reader may be asking. All in good time. I couldn’t have even told you that answer before this little experiment.
The second day I was in trouble. I had a low level frontal (behind my forehead) headache. It was a really weird headache because nothing I did made it worse, and nothing made it better. It didn’t care whether I ran, hydrated, ate, rested. It was just there.
Fine. I expected this. It wasn’t unbearable, just there.
What was unbearable was my attitude.
I was so grumpy. Curmudgeonly.
I could feel how awful I was to everyone around me, I just couldn’t do anything about it. My inner cheerleader was gone. There was no re-framing. Everything was irritating. I was being unreasonable but it didn’t matter.
That’s when I actually did some research on caffeine and found out something everyone in the world probably knew except me.
Caffeine isn’t just a stimulate. It also affects dopamine receptors.
This was something else entirely. I’ve been on and off various drugs for anxiety and depression before that affect serotonin and dopamine. This wasn’t going to be pleasant. This also is when I started to get an inkling that perhaps I was drinking coffee (and caffeine) for different reasons that many people around me were.
I started asking around to the coffee drinkers in my life about their coffee drinking experience. “When you drink a cup of coffee do you get a rush? Almost like a high? Can you feel the ‘good hormones’ rushing from your brain and filling your entire body, almost like you are floating?”
Turns out the answer is mostly no.
But you see…..I do.
When I euphorically proclaim after yet another cup of coffee with the biggest smile pasted on my face that “CAFFEINE IS THE BEST LEGAL DRUG KNOWN TO MAN,” I actually mean it. The only time I’ve gotten a bigger feel-good rush is the two times I got IV narcotics/opiods when hospitalized for various nasty painful ailments . BRING ON THE COFFEE.
So I got some decaf coffee to drink in the morning to see if it was strictly a psychological effect.
Nope. When I drink decaf, I can barely get through 3/4 of a cup before losing interest. With “real” coffee it’s a mindless, obssessive cup after cup after cup – even microwave partial cold cups in the microwave over and over if needed. Something causes me to drink….and drink and drink caffeinated coffee and I think now I have the answer. It actually is pushing the feel-good buttons in my brain. Is it any wonder that I gravitate towards it when I’m stressed?
All this made me more certain in my decision to cut out all caffeine before Tahoe. Why waste such a powerful drug by over indulging on a regular basis? Especially now that *NSAIDs are almost completely off the table, I need every advantage I can get.
*Also have been doing a bit of research on NSAIDs, which turns out are as scary as f*ck for using during long runs/races. About 18 months ago I switched from ibuprofen to acetaminophen if I had to take an NSAID during a race because I had heard that the research was showing that the kidney risks were really high with ibuprofen. No matter how hydrated you think you are during an ultra, your kidneys are under a lot of stress. The problem is that acetaminophen doesn’t work that well, AND wears off a full two hours before I can take another dose. Turns out acetaminophen is one of the weakest NSAIDs, and is generally known not to work as well as the rest, BUT that’s one reason it’s more okay to take under these circumstances. I was toying with the idea of making an exception for my precious ibuprofen under dire circumstances if it hadn’t been for the other risks I discovered – elyte disturbances that make hyponatremia and brain swelling more likely during race and increase in blood pressure (and theoretically cardiac events). UMMMMMM……HUGE NOPE. Maybe we used to pop it during marathons like candy, but no more for this runner. If NSAIDs (non-acetaminophen) is needed post race, one recommendation is to wait until you have a normal urination (you pee a normal amount and normal color). FYI at the Ride and Tie Championship a few weeks ago that was very hot, even while I felt I had done an adequate job with hydration and elytes, this didn’t happen until THE NEXT MORNING.
For the first 1 1/2 weeks, everything went as expected. After that single day with a headache and extreme irritability, I felt pretty much like myself. Sleeping well, getting through my work days without an issue, no fatigue. I didn’t have a GREAT attitude, but it seemed adequate. I wasn’t biting anyone’s head off, but I wasn’t euphoric either. My heart rate was more steady throughout the day. Piece of cake.
The biggest positive change was my hydration. I found myself drinking a lot more water every day, but I wasn’t having to pee more than a couple times a day. A HUGE change from the almost hourly treks to the bathroom under “normal” coffee drinking. My weight stabilized and I couldn’t help thinking that it was a good thing that my kidneys weren’t in constant diuresis mode.
About a week ago things started to fall apart.
First my sleep. I have insomnia and ADHD issues that actually improve with a *reasonable* amount caffeine. It might be the reason that I don’t notice the stimulate effect of caffeine as much – it actually “levels” me out.
Now, I’ve been in a funk I can’t shake. More than a funk. I’m totally apathetic. It’s exhausting to make myself do even the bare minimum every day. I’ve been here before. The last time it was this bad, I went on medication, therapy, and learned that I needed to focus on self-care. I don’t care about my horses (why do I even own horses?). My dog has lived in a kennel. My husband has picked up Fig and made dinner most nights. I’m not running. Hell, I’m barely showering.
Let me explain why starting tomorrow I’m breaking my caffeine fast with a daily single (not 5, 6, or 7 cups….) cup of coffee.
- I think giving up caffeine AND tapering (reducing my running) was a mistake. Normally when I’m not tapering I can probably generate enough running endorphins to make up for the lack of dopamine stimulation by the caffeine. What is becoming apparent is that I can’t cut both.
- Stress of having to navigate the human medical system certainly isn’t helping. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the last time this happened (I hesitate to call it a true depression at this point, but it’s definitely headed in that direction) I was starting vet school – also very stressful. I didn’t cut out caffeine during that period, but my running mileage was basically non-existant.
- Cutting out caffeine for it’s potential stimulant use at the 100 miler is probably not going to work. That just doesn’t seem to be how it functions for me.
- Improvement in my sleep isn’t happening with caffeine gone – it’s getting worse.
- Caffeine as as a “mood lifter” for me cannot be overemphasized, and THAT is something I can absolutely exploit during a 100 miler. Having one cup of coffee in the mornings right now is probably going to fix a lot of immediate things, and not ruin it as a “miracle drug” during my race.
- The amount of urine output my kidneys were generating because of the coffee habit was scary. Ultras make kidneys work hard. I don’t need to add to their load. Having 1 cup of coffee in the morning will be OK. Having 3 cups at home and then finishing off an entire thermos on my commute is probably not OK.
Knowledge is power. I know a lot more about caffeine, coffee, why I drink it, and what it does to me. It was smart to cut it out, but it’s even smarter to not stick to a plan that isn’t working.
PS. I’m so unfocused and apathetic (coffee tomorrow!) I can barely get myself to half way proof read this and edit it. Oops. To write is better than not to write?