Category Archives: Fasting and Health

Running fast – Day 8, Making adjustments for everything

The prairie outside our front door. Notice the faint trail along the fence. It is one of the trails created by pronghorn antelope that we run on.

This entire, crazy, eight days of fasting has been one of adjustments. At first it was getting adjusted to the hunger pangs, then it was learning to deal with the one banana before my run and how it bothered my stomach. I’ve had to learn to wear more since my body doesn’t heat itself very well without fuel. Remembering not to stand up too quick has been an important adjustment. Next, it was realizing that the banana just wasn’t working out, learning about juice fasts and then adjusting to that. Lately I’ve found it harder to make myself drink enough water.

And, all along, I’ve had to deal with the energy-zapping load of running every day.

Until today.

It was cloudy, twenty-four degrees and almost no wind. My pace felt a little quick when I started but I let it go since I could tell that I had more energy than yesterday. The prairie had received an additional dusting of snow and the path was slippery. My legs had adjusted to the lower weight, so the light, prancing feeling that I had for a couple of the runs was gone, but I still was running comfortably. Only a third of a mile in, the tank went dry. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but on all the runs,except yesterday’s awful one, I could tell the exact moment my body ran out of what few calories I had ingested for that day. On other days it was hard to deal with and slowed me considerably. Today, it was as if my energy production system flicked a switch and immediately began using my remaining stored fat for fuel. It might be hard to believe, but I think I’m becoming hyper-attuned to my body’s functions; I swear I can tell the difference between when it is burning those few carbs and when it is burning fat.

This run was, by far, the best, most sustained effort during the fast. My mile splits were 9:50, 9:12 and an 8:35 pace for the last .45 of a mile. I have taken in a total of approximately 630 calories during the last seven days and fourteen hours. On my runs alone I have burned about 2400 calories, the equivalent of what I burn on an average day. I find it amazing that I was able to accomplish a run like this.

I’ve had some runs that felt good on my legs, because of the reduced weight and I was even able to get in some strides. Yes, I skipped my banana yesterday, but that two-plus miles was tremendously hard considering that I think of myself a long distance runner… long meaning marathon length or longer. So I was thinking that the succeeding days would only get harder.

So there is no explanation for today. Granted the six ounces of V-8 that I had an hour before I ran was much easier on my stomach and may have meant less energy going to the digestive process. But the amount was about thirty-five calories, exactly a third of what is in the banana it was replacing. I also had another good night of sleep, which I am sure helped.

What am I saying? Of course there is an explanation. My experience reinforces my belief that the human body is a tremendously adaptable, resilient and strong vessel. It may have limits, but very few people ever discover what those limits are. Even now, I know I haven’t reached them.

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Running fast -Day 7, Yucky…

Yucky, green-brown goo to be exact. That is what I ended up with when I tried to blend my own vegetable juice out of my wife’s left-over salad. I decided yesterday to switch to a juice fast and almost everywhere I turned, people were saying it was healthier to blend your own. It must take some practice, because what I produced was barely edible, even to a guy whose is going on seven full days without food. You know when you cut damp grass with a lawnmower and it gets all clumped up under the mower? Throw in a little mud for coloring and that’s what I had for dinner last night and breakfast this morning. Granted, it was only a few bites, but that was all it took for me to decide I would accompany my wife to the grocery store and find some better alternative, or at least better ingredients.

To back-up a little- I ran shortly after I woke up this morning, partly to determine what affect the banana was having on my ability to run. It was 24 degrees and cloudy; a cold sun peaked through a layer of clouds thick enough to hold back any feeling of warmth.  Snow had fallen overnight, but the wind had eased a little. The first step was hard and the subsequent ones didn’t get any easier. This was my slowest run of the fast and I got a bit of a headache during it. I’m not sure, though, that it was the lack of banana that was the cause, because I recovered some energy after my shower, got a lot of work done and then went grocery shopping (two different stores!) with my wife later that morning.

We bought lots of healthy stuff that I thought might work in vegetable juice; zucchini, beets, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and other stuff. But I also got a bottle of low-salt V-8 as an extra ingredient, or just a complete emergency substitute. I wasn’t in the mood for experimenting when I got home, so I had a tiny glass of V-8 for lunch. It was one thousand times better than my grass drink.

I am looking forward to tomorrow now. Besides a run, my wife and I are also going to either hike or snowshoe, depending on conditions up at Happy Jack. I’m hoping that the energy level I have now will continue.

I said I was going to blog about the history of fasting, but there just isn’t enough time in the day! But here is a little bit-

Fasting has been used as a form of protest for thousands of years; it was referred to in early India in the Valmiki Ramayana. In medieval Ireland, if someone had wronged you, lying in the offenders doorway and refusing to eat was an accepted way of protesting that offense. The offender would be greatly dishonored if the protester died in his doorway because of the immense value placed upon hospitality that existed in the Irish culture. Mohandas Ghandi was without question the most famous and most successful person to fast as political protest. His efforts directly impacted the independence of India. In 1981, ten Irish prisoners died while on hunger strike. The longest made it seventy-three days before succumbing.

Most people probably think that it would be difficult for someone to intentionally starve themselves to death, especially when food is readily available.  I’m not so sure. Even though cravings have been pretty strong at times, it isn’t really like hunger anymore and they are getting weaker and less frequent. When we were in the grocery store, they weren’t that hard to ignore. I suspect that the longer a fast goes on, the less you feel the need for food. Strange, but true. It is one of the reasons that one has to be careful coming off of a long fast. It takes your body a bit to become re-accustomed to food, or solid food in the case of a juice fast.

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Feeling the love

Many people who have fasted for this long have raved about the energy they have during the later part of a ten-day (or longer) fast. And there is indeed a feeling of “aliveness”  that I am enjoying right now. But I certainly don’t feel as if I have the ability to sustain any moderate or hard effort for a very long period. The energy is a spiritual and mental one, not physical. My run this morning was tough, and not just because of the thirty mile-per-hour wind gusts. Thanks to my son-in-law Sid who ran with me “just in case”, I was able to get through it; I even put in six strides during the run and the overall pace was faster than my shorter runs earlier in the fast. Still, a soul-deep exhaustion set in shortly after we started and it took a lot of willpower to go that distance.

One of the thoughts that I am having is that my daily banana that was intended to provide me with a little energy for my run is not very effective and may be detrimental. I’m not a physiologist, but I wonder if some of my body’s resources are being diverted to digestion and therefore causing me to feel more tired during the run. Even if this isn’t true, it sure isn’t setting well on my stomach.

As a result of some other blogs I have read this morning (like these- The Right Way to Fast & Getting Juiced) I am considering switching to a juice fast and eliminating the banana. A juice fast supposedly gives you better detoxification than a water-only fast.

I did sleep very well last night for the second night in a row and feel as though I should be able to accomplish everything that is required today.

In addition to many Dailymile  and writing friends that are following my fast, I now have some other people who are fasting that I discovered by searching tags in WordPress. The comments and encouragement I’ve gotten is rewarding and a big help. Please sign up for the e-mail follow or follow through the WordPress follow button if you have one. All that positive energy that I get from knowing people are watching and rooting for me will be needed in the days ahead.

There is a lot of fascinating history to fasting and I plan on blogging about that tomorrow. I’m still having trouble motivating myself to blog about the negative side-effects of blogging. I’m experiencing some, but I really don’t feel like dwelling on them.

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I am not alone

Some writers and runners are following my blog, but I’d like to get a few “fasters” to follow my blog and comment. I’ve tried going to fasting web sites and starting a discussion topic with no luck so far. Then it dawned on me to use the WordPress tag search. Goldmine! I was shocked to find so many bloggers who have done, or are in the middle of, ten-day fasts. I think I’m the only one on a water-only and also running, but all of their experiences are interesting and very similar. One fellow faster has already visited and commented and it is amazing how little things like that can help motivate during a journey such as this.

Many of the posts I read were by people doing juice fasts and I am considering changing to a juice fast and skipping the banana. Here I am at the computer and my stomach is making a fuss about the banana I just ate in preparation for my run. Maybe juice will be easier on my digestive system. It also may help me transition into a much healthier diet once I have finished the fast. I am determined to have healthier eating habits after a lifetime of a marginal, in terms of healthy, diet.

Ah! Blessed sleep! I got a full eight plus hours last night! I woke up many times, but didn’t have much trouble going back under. It is the second day in a row with sufficient sleep. I hope that will make this another higher energy day.

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Running fast – Day 5, I’m Alive!

The Hooters, Parkenfestivalen 2011

The negative side-effects of fasting is what this post was supposed to be about. But I can’t write that one, not today. Here’s why-

The Hooters in 2007

It is likely that the younger people reading this post will not have heard of the Hooters and maybe some of you older ones, too. They were a mildly successful band and had some hits in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They were more popular in Europe than the States. But they reformed in 2001 and released a new album in 2007 called Time Stand Still. I love the title of the album because that’s what many of us older folk would love to have happen. On the album is a song I have on my running play list called “I’m Alive”. It is a celebration of getting older and better. One of the lines is: “I’m looking older now than when I was a kid, but I’m feeling younger now than I ever did.”

In the middle of a ten-day fast where I am attempting to continue working and running, it is miraculous that I can feel that way. How did it happen?

I felt more like crying than singing this morning when I woke up. The end of the fast seemed a long way off and I was beginning to have some doubt that I would make it. My digital draft for “Harvest of the Heart” came late yesterday afternoon and there is so much I need to accomplish over the next week. In hindsight, I should have better considered the timing for this fast, and perhaps waited to start. I got about seven hours sleep last night, which is slightly less than I had gotten in the previous three nights combined. Still, I woke up exhausted.  Eating my daily banana brought forth a similar reaction as it did yesterday- bleh. The weather looked to be nasty as it has throughout the fast.

A short, but very touching e-mail from my son, Phil, started the turn-around. Then I got an e-mail with a link to an interview that I had done earlier in the week on a site called Crazy Lady with a Pen . The interview went up today and was quickly picked up by another website- A Place for Writers. I hadn’t expected anything to come of the interview, so this small thing made me feel like good things are happening. With those boosts, I decided that it was a good time to get my run in. Imagine my surprise when I found the temps were approaching forty and the wind was in the mid-teens; not the low thirties and mid-twenties.

I was feeling understandably weak, but my attitude had improved immensely. I told my wife I was headed out so that she could keep an eye on me during the run. She can see a large percentage of my run across the prairie from her home-office window.

Almost as soon as I set foot out the door, I could feel the difference.  I hadn’t gotten out of our driveway when I knew that a corner had been turned. I went right instead of left and added a little distance to the run. Mind you, I didn’t feel strong by any stretch. When you are fasting you are aware of every part of your body to a much higher degree. It is like every inch of your body is clamoring for attention; not hurting really, just there in a different way.  At least this is true for me. So I was aware of the lack of energy in every muscle in my body.

But I also was hit by that feeling of lightness that was, in part, a natural result of the ten pounds I have lost so far. My legs were overjoyed at the reduced burden. This run felt better on my legs than any run I’ve had in… I don’t know, I can’t remember when my legs felt this good. If there had been any source of fuel, who knows how far I could have gone? Without energy, the run was still slow, but I put in five strides during it and my legs loved it.

The strength, resilience and spirit that rest, untapped, inside of a human body never ceases to amaze me and this fast is helping to remind me of that. If the reasons I put forth yesterday weren’t sufficient, this one is… for me.

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Running fast – Day 4, OMG Why!!??

I’ll get into the run and how I’m feeling in a moment. First, I have to answer the question that so many of you have been asking- Why would you do such a thing? Right off I want to say it has nothing to do with losing weight. The five extra pounds or so that I had would have come off as I ramped up my mileage for the Boston Marathon later in the winter. So why then?

All of you want to be part of some grand adventure… some marvelous, impossible undertaking. Admit it. Even those you who have had the joy of experiencing one (or two, or ten) of these, dream of the next one. There are many of these and they all involve testing your limits in some way; climbing a mountain, running a marathon, shooting Class 5 rapids, adventure skiing, finding a cure for cancer or writing the Great American Novel. Some we never do, but trying makes us better than we are. First pushing ourselves harder and then really testing our limits is an important part of a rewarding life. Ann’s Running Commentary has a nice post from someone discovering that.

The Leadville 100 Race Across the Sky was my grand exploration into the limits of body and will. I’ve climbed mountains and done a lot of marathons, but it was only at Leadville that I truly tested my limits. If my training had been consistent and injury free, I might never have had that chance. My crew: wife Kathleen, daughter Carrie Murthy and friends Josh Fuller, Nate Willson and Cassie Garcia made certain that I did test my limits, beat the odds and get to the finish line. I believe that race changed my life and that I probably wouldn’t be on the verge of becoming a published author if I had not finished it. A part of the reason why I’m doing this ten day fast is that I’m ready to test my limits again.

My main reason is that I just felt like it was time to clean myself out and start over. The detoxifying effects of fasting are controversial and, some claim, unproven. Here are two “pro” links- Fasting and Fasting, and a “con” at Livestrong. My experience is that they do have a dramatic and positive effect on many of the bodies systems. I have problems with joint stiffness, especially in my hands and fasting has made a significant positive difference. The digestive system is one where there is little controversy about the positive effects and I need all the help that I can get in that area . The improved eyesight (which goes away almost immediately after stopping the fast) isn’t a reason for doing it, but enjoyable nonetheless. The cleaned out feeling may be psychological in some respects, but it is so pervasive in the later part of the fast that it is almost spiritual.

I know- “What? Spiritual? You’re losing me there, Mike.” I am not about to put any religious spin on this fast at all. My beliefs are my own and I don’t generally share them except with the closest of friends. But there is an aspect to being on the edge that puts me in a very spiritual frame of mind. Just ask Josh Fuller about the hour-long conversation we had in the middle of the night, eighty miles into Leadville. No matter what your belief system is, I think fasting could improve your understanding of it, or make you look closer at what holds it together.

The last time I fasted, I wasn’t paying close attention to all that was happening to me. The fast was for a cause and that was where I was primarily focused. This time, I am paying more attention.

Finally, an after-the-fact reason: I realized, once I started, that the whole process was interesting to some people; blogging about it has greatly increased the traffic at my brand-new website. As a self-publishing author, almost any publicity is good publicity.

And now for the run. It was freaking 18 degrees! 20 mph wind! Give me a break… please? If it wasn’t for the conditions (and another reason I’ll mention momentarily), I think this run  may have felt better than yesterday. I weigh about six pounds less than before I started and I think my legs appreciate the lighter burden. The temps and wind were enough to make me struggle, even though it was a very slow pace. I wore my heart rate monitor for the first time and my HR stayed in the upper 150’s. I’m not worried; considering how little sleep I’ve had, I wasn’t surprised.

The other reason- once you’ve gone past a certain point with a fast, eating again is a dicey thing. You have to be very careful and let your stomach and digestive system get used to working again. I thought the banana an hour before my run would reduce this effect. Not. My tummy bothered me before, during and after the run. It is like it is saying “All or nothing, buddy.”

I know I went a bit long this time, but I hope you don’t mind. In the days ahead I’ll be writing more about the negative aspects of fasting, how it feels to be running with such limited energy stores, and I’ll relate some of the most fascinating events in the history of fasting.

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Running Fast – Day 3, nature lends a hand

The sky was as heavy as my legs and I knew I was in trouble. I was running with a thirty-mile-per-hour wind at my back and still I was laboring, feeling drained of energy. My mood was as grey as the clouds over my head. Yesterday’s 105-calorie banana lasted two-and-a-half miles; today’s ran out after only a half-mile. Would I even be able to move once I reached the turn-around and headed back into the wind? As often happens, I circled around and was greeted by a vista that took my mind off my hunger and my exhaustion. Though the rising sun was hidden behind the clouds, the distant Snowy Mountains of Wyoming, draped in a thin mist, glowed an enchanting pink.

Lake Marie and the Snowy Mountains

I have witnessed so many scenes here in Wyoming that inspire awe at the beauty of nature, but I’m not becoming inured to the effect they have on me.  As I returned slowly westward, the long, horizontal band of sun which brightened the landscape inched toward me. I imagined running until I reached the sun and basked in its warmth; but the narrow strip was still twenty miles away and even I am not crazy enough to think I possessed the energy to reach it.

Among the effects of the fast that began showing themselves today is the nasty taste in my mouth; kind of like morning breath, only worse. It hasn’t reached the horrid stage yet, but it will. Brushing my teeth three times a day won’t be enough later in the week; I’ll be brushing my teeth and gargling all day long. I also have to be careful about standing up too quickly. Fasting causes your body to go into a state similar to hibernation in that your systems slow down to preserve energy. If you are interested in more, you can find a wide variety of opinions and information on the internet.

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/is_fasting_healthy and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting are two places to start.

I’m feeling pretty good now. The next day or two will have some tough periods, but I’m looking forward to that light, almost spiritual feeling that pervaded me starting around the fifth day when I did this in March. In my next post, I’ll include my observations and opinions about the detoxification effect of fasting. The topic is controversial within the medical community.

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