Vices to Fuel Vices

Coffee.  Beer.  Running.  Climbing.

“Fueling” is a big buzzword among endurance and mountain athletes these days.  Hang around a race or read an article about some big, cutting edge climb and you’ll be sure to hear it.

“I decided not to fuel during my last half.”

“By the time I got to the feed station I needed some serious fueling.”

“We stopped at the base of the ridge to fuel up before the summit push.”

What does it mean?  Eating and drinking basically, giving your body the “fuel” it needs to perform.  This act is certainly necessary, all the more so if you’re out pushing yourself on the roads or in the mountains.  Our bodies need food to function, and wherever there is a need (real or perceived) there is an industry ready and willing to fill that need.  The highly tuned modern mountain athlete has a bountiful harvest of science backed, performance tested products.  Bars, gels, chews, powders, electrolyte drinks, recovery drinks…


All that may be well and good, but when it comes down to it I am no highly tuned modern mountain athlete.  But I am a man with a few intense vices.  Coffee.  Beer.  Running.  Climbing.  I would estimate that in the last two years, I have left the house for a run without finishing a cup of coffee on the way out the door less than 10% of the time.  I can’t even remember the last time I drove to the crag without a cup off strong, dark, life giving coffee in my hand.  While some runners pack along energy gels to fuel during a long run, I set up my road runs to take me past a local brewery that will pour a 6oz beer to give me the fortitude to finish my loop.  Trail runs end with a can of cold craft brew stashed in a cooler at the trailhead.  And while I would never advocate climbing while intoxicated, few libations satisfy the same way a crag beer does.  There is something ineffably right about the feeling of a cold can or bottle in an abused, tape-glove encased hand.

So while the gel slurping, electrolyte replacement beverage quaffing super athletes may have science on their side, I like to think that my method has its own advantages.  I’m not winning races or putting up cutting edge ascents, and that’s exactly my point—choking down “high performance fuel” is not going to change that.  I’m 24 years old, have never climbed harder than 5.11 and on a good day my pace is barely competitive in a small town race.  Clearly I’m not in it for the glory.  I do the things I love, running and climbing, for the experience.  And what I use to fuel those experiences doesn’t come with a sports science backing, it comes from what I actually like.  Coffee and beer.  Running and Climbing.  Vices to fuel vices.




Every time I take my daughter to dance class I go running.  Her class is short, just 45 minutes, but more and more that time feels like 45 of the most crucial minutes of my week.  So, I take those 45 minutes that my daughter spends twirling and leaping in dance class to run.  Sometimes it’s cold and snowy and I take it easy, try not to suffer too much.  Now the weather is changing and on the exceptional early spring days we occasionally enjoy here at 7200 feet I can push myself, find that intoxicating mixture of nausea and adrenaline that only the right kind of physical activity can produce.  I relish that feeling.  I savor the sweat, wobbly legs and swimming head.

Just because I enjoy the run and the way I am left afterwards doesn’t mean I always want to do it.  On Monday afternoons and Saturday mornings sometimes it sounds far more appealing to post up at the coffee shop to unwind after working with junior high students all day or to take a long, slow morning at the start of the weekend.  It’s easy to decide to go for a run on days when I have the whole afternoon or morning to myself.  I can take my time getting ready, hit the snooze button one more time, or eat a sandwich while I check Facebook before I head out.  It’s different during my dance class runs.  On those days I have just enough time go running, just enough time to make the right decision, because even though I would love to sit at the coffee shop and read or chat with the baristas, I know deep down in my guts that there is no better way to spend those 45 minutes than with my legs and heart pounding.

When I decide to lace up my shoes and make it happen in that barely adequate window of time, I’m deciding to start the week off on the right foot, or trying to erase the stress of working, raising a kid, taking care of a house, and trying to be a person.  The fact of the matter is that while I take pride and satisfaction in the physical aspect of running, what I stand to gain and why I depend so heavily on this stolen time to run is almost entirely mental.  Whatever biological or chemical devices are at work, I know taking that time to move and to breathe gives me the best possible shot at keeping my head on straight.  What I’m really reclaiming during those dance class runs is more than just time.  By deciding to use that time for myself, time that I could so easily spend being idle and passive about life, I am salvaging more than just time.  In those 45 minutes in between dropping my daughter off and picking her up in a room crowded with other wiggly kids and busy parents, what I am truly reclaiming is my mind and my self.