Running during a 3-day fast

Here’s something I’ve never tried before: Going for a run on Day 3 of a fast.

Well, actually I’ve never gone three days without food before, either, so make that two new things.


Dominic D’Agostino is a neuroscientist who does research in the field of molecular pharmacology at the University of South Florida. 

As so often happens, I just kind of blundered into this little project. It started with an interview I was listening to during Thursday night’s lame-o “hills workout” on the treadmill. I was kind of frustrated with my eating lately, and I was running like crap, and meanwhile here I was listening to Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Body) interview this neuroscientist (Dom D’Agostino) who’s been doing all kinds of pretty out-there nutrition studies, on himself as well as on lab rats. This is a guy who’s apparently dead-lifted 500 pounds after a seven-day fast and doubled the length of time he can hold his breath underwater after ramping up the ketone levels in his blood through a combination of fasting and a ketogenic diet.

Or something like that. Don’t press me for details or ask me to explain the science or whether I think it’s legitimate science or pseudoscience. All I know is that I liked the sound of giving my body a chance to do some decluttering.

So late Friday morning I’m back on the treadmill, figuring I’ll listen to some more of that interview (it’s 3 hours long), and I haven’t for sure embarked on this fast but I haven’t eaten since dinner the previous night, either, just to keep my options open.

I should digress here for a moment to note that I have this running-anxiety thing about food, which is weird because that definitely was not the case when I was running to lose weight. In the last couple months of my 90-pound weight-loss project back in 2010, I’d go on 10-mile runs with my sister having eaten nothing that day but half a cup of Fiber One cereal and a tablespoon of peanut butter. (My long runs happened to correspond with weigh-in day, so I’d eat light until 5:30 p.m., when it was time to step on the scale at Weight Watchers.)

And I was fine on those runs. Ecstatic, even, at times. Feeling like a whole new person and all that.

Sometime in the years since I’ve gotten fixated on pre-run snacks. If I don’t eat something right before a run, I feel like my tank is empty and it affects my run big-time. And if I’m nervous about getting a workout in, whether I might be tired or whatever, I might even overeat before a run. (That happens WAY more often than I’d care to admit).

So on Friday I start out at a slow jog (5 mph or a 12-minute mile), and I’ve been up for 7 hours without eating anything, and everything is fine. I’m still pretty into this interview, which provides plenty of motivation. I don’t even look at the clock until 17 minutes in, which has to be a new record for me. I just keep jogging along at 5-5.5 mph and get 6 miles in before I run out of time, but I feel like I could’ve gone 10.

This proves nothing, of course, except mind over matter. But now I’m thinking why not try a real fast? Go three days and see what happens, see how I feel?

Friday was basically fine. I’ve gone without eating for a single day before, usually in the context of a weight-loss contest, so I’ve got some practice there. By Saturday, I was feeling a little sluggish. I’d planned to take a short outdoor run but the weather was freakish (60 mph wind gusts and SNOW), so I just focused on getting through the day.

Sunday morning the brain fog cleared and I felt full of creative energy. I headed out for a run but took our seventh-grader with me because even though I felt fine, I didn’t want to take any chances.

We started out at the school, thinking she could ride a bike while I ran. But she got too cold after one half-mile lap around the building, and I was just kind of slogging along there anyway. I wasn’t really in the mood for running laps. So we packed up and headed to a gravel road near our house. I figured I’d go down and back for 2 miles while she did her run/walk thing, staying in visual contact.

My brain was pretty busy processing everything on this run. Was I more fatigued than usual? Breathing harder? Or was this just how I sometimes feel in the first mile or 2 before I get warmed up? I was definitely more thirsty than usual, wanting a drink after just 1 mile on a pretty chilly day (mid-30s at that point).

At times I felt absolutely fine, and I’d speed up a bit, and wonder how far I could go if I wasn’t second-guessing everything. It was a beautiful morning, but I couldn’t really get absorbed in that because every couple of minutes some Nervous Nelli in my head would fret about something. Such as:  “Hey, what about electrolytes? I’ve been putting a little salt in my lemon water, but is that enough? I don’t even know what electrolytes are, really, other than if you run out of them it can be hard on your heart. Is my heart beating too fast? What do you suppose my pulse is right now?”

And so on. Still, just about everybody on the melon committee (a blogging friend’s apt name for all those yammering voices in your head during a workout) agreed that it was interesting to take my stomach out of the equation during a run. With no fresh fuel, this run was being powered by some reserve tanks somewhere in my body. I liked to think of it as a decluttering process, that my body was going through boxes of crap that had piled up and been sitting around unused. When you eat more than you need to every single day for weeks and months and years on end, there isn’t much need to rummage through supplies of stored biological crap to see what ought to be pitched. Hopefully this was giving my body a chance to do just that.

Or not. Maybe my body was gnawing on its own muscles by now. All I knew was, they still seemed to be working OK, and my brain had enough energy to be yammering at me from time to time until I finished the run. At which point I felt fine the rest of the day — though more relaxed than usual, definitely — until breaking the fast with a small sampling of a belated Easter dinner at my parents’ house.

Will I try this again at some point? I wouldn’t be surprised, though I’d certainly do some more research first. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, because I’m no expert on this kind of thing. But it was an interesting experience, that’s for sure.

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3 Responses to Running during a 3-day fast

  1. Tony says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and liking my post on focused fitness ideas. This fasting thing sounds fascinating. I know my ‘melon committee’ has a hard time with just light eating, forget fasting. Interesting post, for sure.

  2. bgddyjim says:

    That’s impressive, Tisch… I’d have been gnawing on my arm.

    And thanks. : D

  3. tischcaylor says:

    Well, notice I went for a couple of easy jogs rather than one of those leg-blurring bike rides you’re known for. Interesting experiment, that’s all.

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