Growing up as an elite-level mountain bike racer for 15 years then transitioning to ultra-running, I’ve had my fair share of pain with the long miles. I was so ignorant about cannabis even five years ago. Sure, I’d had it offered to me at parties growing up, and even at national mountain bike races from buddies. But I refused it, sure it would hinder my performance.
The tipping point.
In the summer of 2016, I was living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and decided that I would take the summer to run all of the major mountain peaks. I was often running peaks daily, for upward of eight hours, and you can probably imagine the effects of running down steep mountains—my knees, my back, my feet, and my entire body began to hurt worse and worse. Naturally, each morning I would drink water, then swallow six to eight ibuprofen promptly, seeking to ease the pain and soreness in my body. After two months and close to 30 peaks later, I realized that putting that much ibuprofen into my system couldn’t be healthy.
I had a close friend who used a vape pen to ease the pain of his chronic back pain. I saw how subtle it was and how the use of a vapor pen didn’t hurt his lungs as much as smoking marijuana in a more traditional way. My mind was opened. At first I only used the vapor pen a little bit after my long mountain runs. I noticed that it calmed me down, decreased the pain and swelling, and helped me to sleep better without muscle spasms. It was truly amazing to go from six to eight ibuprofen each day to just a few puffs of the cannabis vapor pen each night.
Since that summer, I’ve used micro-doses of cannabis in various edible forms to aid me in my training, recovery, and performance as an ultra-runner. Here are some of the main things I’ve noticed since incorporating cannabis into my movement routine:
1. The sharp pain is gone.
For months, the left side of my knee had this stinging pain that always set in around the second hour of a long run. I’d cringe with every step! If you run long ultra-distances, you know what I’m talking about. It’s almost unbearable. While micro-dosing with cannabis before my long runs, I noticed that the “sharpness” in the pain was absent. Sure, my body still had some aches and the pain of a normal long run, but that brutal sharpness was gone. I felt more fluid.
2. I’m more mindful of the moment, and my focus is increased.
The first time that I ever micro-dosed with a cannabis edible, I set out for a 13-mile trail run on a chilly day. Even though it was cold, I didn’t feel the sting. I was more focused on every step, the colors were richer, and the sounds clearer to me. I felt grateful to be there, grateful for life, and grateful for each part of nature that I felt connected with. Normally during runs, I lose attention and my mind runs very quickly, wandering in a million different directions. But on cannabis, I get a keen sense of awareness, focus, and enjoy the journey more. I’m not thinking about when I’ll finally be finished; I just get into that state of flow faster and tend to stay there.
3. I’m less nauseous.
During my first ultra-marathon, I vomited terribly at mile 23 and was extremely nauseous the rest of the 50k race. It’s very common for ultra-endurance athletes, especially runners, to feel so nauseous and that they can’t take in food, which then leads to a lack of energy intake, cramping, and so much more. I’ve seen firsthand people who had mitigated their severe nausea by using cannabis while on chemotherapy. The cannabis was the only thing that would help them to gain any appetite.
It made sense to me that it could help ultra-runners gain their sense of appetite back, and for me, it’s definitely been effective in that regard. If you can keep calories coming into your body on a long run versus not being able to eat anything, you’re much further ahead.
A few words of caution about cannabis.
Cannabis is not legal in all states yet. If your state is not legal for either medical or recreational cannabis, you can still legally purchase CBD products that do not contain any THC, which is the psychoactive component in cannabis.
Also, start small. Start very small. You may start with as little as 2.5 to 5 mg of THC and see how your body feels. Keep in mind, too, that with most edibles it can take as much as 30 minutes to two hours to really feel the full effects. If you’re at the professional level in your sport and you know you have drug testing and enforcers, check with them first. Don’t do anything you’re not allowed to do. Many anti-doping agencies such as WADA are finally allowing the use of CBD but still not THC. Keep that in mind!
Last but not least, be smart. Cannabis while running isn’t for everyone. Use your best judgment, and listen to your body!