Back in February, I ran Antelope Canyon 50 with my great buddy Eric Acuña, and had the most amazing time; the course was fantastic, the scenery was beyond incredible, the aid stations were abundantly stocked, and every piece of the experience was amazing. Plus, I was absolutely, positively stoned for most of it. And it wasn't the first, or the last, time.
I'm not a stoner. I'm not a hippie, pothead, raftie, burnout, green fiend, cheeba chump, zooted zombie, or emeritus of the cannabis; that's what makes this all the more interesting that I'm telling you this: Running ultramarathons stoned is some of the most fun I've had with my shoes on.
Matt Gunn and his crew at Ultra Adventures put on an unforgettable event, and I was actually a little worried before I popped a few THC-infused gummy bears into my hydration vest; would I remember anything, or would the whole event just turn into a long, strange trip? I didn't want to miss out on the scenery, surely wanted to enjoy the interaction with other runners while spending time with my good friends as we plodded through indescribable slot canyons and ran for several miles along the rim of Horseshoe Bend. The latter brings up another fear: That I would stumble and fall from the 2000′ cliffs and die, as that would bring this little experiment to a crashing – literally – halt. Getting too stoned during the run would most likely be a bad thing, as the terrain was very technical in some areas, so I couldn't overdo it with the gummies. Even if I didn't fall off a cliff, I still didn't want to catch a toe and go face-first into the trail, or get lost in the middle of nowhere in the AZ desert. This necessitated creating some sort of a game plan for timing when I would chew on a gummy while planning for maximum effect to kick in at the right time. Before I get too far into describing how this test worked out in Antelope Canyon, let's go back to where I “discovered” that a little THC might be just what the Dr. ordered for long runs.
You Never Forget Your First Time
I haven't smoked a cigarette in nearly 16 years since I quit cold turkey on December 1, 2000. It's a funny story that I'm not going to get into here, but make sure to ask me about it over a beer. I used to include the story when I was speaking to groups about motivation, but I'm not sure Kristen was a big fan of sharing how she convinced me to drop a 6+ year habit in less than 5 seconds.
Back in '14 after a brutally hard week building a particularly nasty race course, I was exhausted and sore from head-to-toe. My right shoulder had been overtaken by tendonitis, osteoarthritis, and bursitis after tearing my labrum and biceps tendon 5 months earlier, a few weeks before American Ninja Warrior. I could barely lift my right arm above my waist, and the daggers of fire that shot through my arm when rolling over in bed made a good night's sleep nearly impossible. With another 6+ days of hard work ahead, it didn't look too promising. My great bud (name redacted) pulled out what he called a “vape pen” and offered me a puff. I initially passed, as I had no desire to rekindle the smoking demons that I fought back a decade and a half ago. When he explained the whole water vapor thing, I relented and gave it a puff. I didn't get all giddy or anything, I was way too exhausted. And I slept. Extremely well. Not only that night, but also the next 5 or 6 as well using the same protocol; and each day the bursitis in my shoulder felt less aggravated by working and had more range of motion by a less painful administration than the 9 cortisone shots I'd gotten so far, and I'm positive it was way more gentle on my system than handfuls of Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) that I'd been taking for some time now to knock the edge off the non-stop throbbing. I made it through the event and managed to have an unbelievable time with less pain, and a puff or so a day before bed had no negative side effects.
You'd think after that I was convinced enough to get my “green card” in AZ where medicinal marijuana is legal, but I put it off… and my shoulder continued to throb even worse.
Or the Next
Across The Years is an one-of-a-kind ultramarathon “festival” put on by Jamil* & Nick Coury at Aravaipa Running, held over New Years each year on 1-mile the dirt track around Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, AZ. Hundreds of runners make the spring training homes for the Los Angeles Dodgers & the Chicago White Sox their “home” for up to 6 days of running, they have 24, 48, and 72-hour options as well to see how many laps you can complete in your chosen allotment of time. It's an “easy” ultra physically, though staying focused and on-pace can be difficult mentally. At about 26 miles, the ankle I destroyed 18 months earlier at Hard Charge gave up the ghost. Every step hurt, and I was calling it quits. “Mr. Vapey” made another appearance, and after 10-15 minutes I rejoined the group and ended up logging an additional 25 miles, calling it quits at 51.5 and still feeling like I had many more miles left in the tank.
Shortly after that experience, I brought my MRI results to a Dr, grabbed my green card, and have been legal ever since. Oh, and I also cancelled my surgery to repair the shoulder; if the THC would alleviate pain and inflammation, my next MRI should be clear of the sublabral cyst that obscured the real damage of my biceps tendon and pectoral insertion point. Getting stoned was actually my best option vs. exploratory surgery, win-win!
NOTE: If you live in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, or Alaska, you don't need to jump through any hoops at all, just visit a dispensary. 20 other states and the District of Columbia (legal to use and grow your own but not buy) have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
*Jamil Coury owns the extremely popular “Run Steep Get High” brand that seems to be showing up everywhere, from Competitor Running's must-have trucker hats (#4), to Hunter McIntyre's choice of headwear during the TV show Boundless. While the “Get High” portion nods to running stoned, I've never personally asked Jamil if he smokes weed himself or is a proponent of the ganga for ultras. He is, however, an amazing ultra runner and extremely well-known and well-liked throughout the sport. When he “took a nap” at last year's Barkley Marathon during lap #5, many ultra athletes had flashbacks to Micah True's disappearance in New Mexico just a few years earlier, and immediately started organizing travel to Tennessee to help find him. Luckily, he was healthy, although exhausted and covered in scratches from a full day of climbing and bushwhacking on that ridiculously challenging course.
The Weed That Cures?
I'm legal, but not a stoner. I've been legal to buy booze for over 24 years, and I'm not an alcoholic either. Actually, I'm way worse with alcohol than THC as I don't puff or eat gummies recreationally, but I sure as hell like to have a drink when I'm out with friends or at dinner with my lovely wife (who has no desire to smoke, vape, or chomp some edibles). Beer after a marathon or OCR finish line? Sure! Pop a gummy or take a puff? It's not even a thought, even though arguably it may be much better for reducing inflammation and recovery. Did I write this article stoned? Nope, even though I could be. I'm also not drunk, even though I have a bottle of bourbon downstairs. Just because I can partake, it doesn't mean I will often or recklessly.
Should you try TCH-infused edibles, vape, or smoke some weed? It's totally up to you, provided it's legal, of course. Do you own research and/or testing. I'm not a doctor, scientist, or soothsayer; but all I can say is how well a puff or two has worked for me over the past year: All of the problems plaguing my right shoulder: osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinosis have disappeared, allowing me to resume using my right arm with full range of motion. Before THC, I couldn't touch my mid-back with my right arm, throw a football, or play piano. I still can't play piano worth a shit, but the other stuff is A-OK. Sleeping at night is a non-issue, and it's really nice to be able to do a push-up, pull-up, or a %^& burpee without my shoulder popping at the top of each movement.
Why Run High?
Based on my recovery, ATY comeback, and reading 24 Outside Online articles about running stoned I figured I'd give it a try running an ultra. There has long been rumours that great long-distance runners were frequently hitting the bong before or after adventures or packing a special brownie or two in their drop bags, so I wasn't too worried about being ostracized if anyone found out. I'm not too keen on excessive use of the vape as I have no desire to inhale anything that may inhibit my breathing and the jury is still out on vapor, so I'd been testing THC-infused edibles. Plus, how stupid would it look for a guy to be sucking on a vape or a joint while running? The most convenient to carry and simplest to approximate dose are gummies, and my choice for Antelope Canyon 50 was (3) 10mg THC gummy rings, I'd packed four just in case I dropped one or felt I really needed it later on. They were simple to slip into a tiny little gel pocket on my hydration vest, and I got to thinking about how something so small, cute, tasty, and unobtrusive could be so potent. While I was shoving energy gels and electrolyte tablets in other pockets I wondered how long it would take before we'd see pot-laced energy bars and other athletes raving about their THC-fueled success. (A quick Google search shows we're not too far away, look: Cannabis Energy Drink)
So, what did I hope to accomplish by running high?
From Men's Journal: Medical marijuana's benefits for alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and improving mood are well known. So it's not hard to see why those same qualities would appeal to endurance athletes, who must cope with high levels of pain, stress, and boredom during grueling hours-long events. “It may help some athletes get into a zone and put their bodies through very tough physical activity,” says Mark Ware, a McGill University professor and executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids. “It may enable them to focus on those repetitive tasks.”
Just as endorphins help you push through an intense workout, these endocannabinoids could increase your pain threshold to do the same. – Joel Warner, Men's Journal
Personally, I was interested to find out why the “ultra stoner” vibe persisted, does being a little bit zooted make running stupidly long distances more fun, interesting, or just tolerable? My hips and calves always tighten up and start hurting after 20-30 miles and I dip into my pack for a half dozen or so ibuprofen, maybe a little THC will help knock down the inflammation, east the pain and remove the Vitamin I from my long-distance regimen the same way it “fixed” my ankle during ATY. Since it's legal, why not try it out?
Antelope Canyon 50 “Part Two”
I reviewed and rehashed the first half of Antelope Canyon 50 a couple months back here and my progress on the review hit a sticking point; just before I met up with Eric, my first gummy had kicked in and I was a little bit unsure how I should cover the rest of the race review – explain my altered state or play it off like I was straight? I reached out to my staff and partners, and even sent off an article synopsis to a friend at Outside Online to possibly write about the “ultra stoned” angle for them. While I waited for a response, I thought a bit more about the topic and did a little more research by running another superb Aravaipa Running event, Dam Good Run held at one of my favorite places on Earth, Lake Pleasant.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to finish the Antelope Canyon 50 review of cover Dam Good Run in this article because both world-class trail runs deserve their own review, and frankly it will make this article a bit too long for anyone to ever read through. I'll get to those separately, soon. (and no, I didn't put it off Because I Got High, thanks Afroman.)
The Good, the Bad, and the “Oh Sh*t! Ouch!”
Like any endurance event, I plan and prepare my nutrition and hydration the night before; carefully counting gel packs, salt tabs, caffeine capsules, etc. For longer events where I'll be adding edible THC to the mix, I need to remember to fit those into my schedule as well – and as I've learned from a few mistakes, timing and dosing is enormously important. The consequences can be somewhat serious ingesting too much at once, especially when you need to have your wits about you during a challenging race, being too zooted for your own good can surely create some safety issues. In order to figure out dosage and timing, I absolutely should've done a little more research before Antelope Canyon 50 and again before Dam Good Run, but I didn't. In both cases, these were the only times I added THC to my run, and below are some of the lessons I've learned in my short adventures with mary jane.
Your High is NOT “One Size Fits All”
It's extremely important to note that different strains of marijuana have different effects on different individuals, and eating edibles versus inhaling THC produces an entirely different experience in terms of how long it takes to kick in and how long it lasts. Here's a good overview from the online resource Leafly, 5 Tips to Safely Dose and Enjoy Cannabis Edibles.
“For casual users, people who don’t have high tolerances, 10-20 milligrams should be more than enough,” said Incredibles’ Eschino. “10 milligrams is the recommended serving size from the (Marijuana Enforcement Division). It’s a good place to start, especially with edibles, because you don’t wanna take too much. So start slow, and wait 45 minutes after you take it to see how you feel. You can always take more — but you can’t go back and take less.” – The Cannibist
At 5/9″, 158 pounds, I'm a lightweight for booze and apparently I have a pretty low tolerance for THC too, as one puff of a vape or a single gummy bear can give me a soft, comfy high feeling. One of the first times I tried THC-infused chocolate, I overindulged and had a relatively uncomfortable 8+ hours waiting for it all to leave my system. Here's a primer about what to do if you take too much:
While the effects of smoking marijuana can usually be felt immediately and tempered accordingly, eating cannabis-infused food can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in, depending on the dose and the person. And it’s this delay — people taking too high of an initial dose, or taking more in a short period because it’s “not working” — that can often turn what could have been a fun, long and perhaps manageably strange trip into a wide-awake nightmare that can produce panic, anxiety and perhaps worse.
Since I like being in control of my mental and physical faculties, getting really stoned or drunk isn't high on my list of to-do's and I've found that 5 MG is more than enough for 3-4 hours of running.
Depending on what's in your stomach, edibles can take between 30 minutes and an hour to kick in, and based on dosage can last roughly for 3-6 hours. During any endurance event, there's not a lot of food in my stomach, so edibles will be processed and hit the blood stream faster.
When coupled with already being a little light-headed from an endorphin high, it really doesn't take much for me to get the exact feeling I'm trying to achieve: painless, effortless running with virtually no impact with each step. I don't know about you, but to me this seems like the holy grail of running – the ability to run longer, easier, with less (or no) pain.
When I'm in my “soft running high” described above, another upside is my brain goes on autopilot; I'm not worry about anything and am just enjoying the experience. For me, a “runner's high” from endorphins is as intense as it is fleeting; with the proper dose of THC, I can stay in that comfy, happy, “soft” zone for hours and really enjoy the run.
Sounds amazing, right? Here's how you f*ck it up:
Too Much of a Good Thing is a Bad Thing
Money, sex, food, power, triathlon bikes – if anything's good, humans are hard-wired to want more – right? 100% of the time, that desire for more, more, more gets us into trouble. Fast.
Knowing your tolerance and limits are a good starting point, but sticking to the plan can prove to be difficult. When you're already loopy, tired, and not thinking straight from running, it's hard enough to read your watch let alone execute a dosage plan properly. At both Dam Good Run and Antelope Canyon 50, I made a dumb dosing mistake during each race, and have some scars to prove it.
Since Antelope Canyon 50 was my first experience, I had no idea how my body would react, and I figured that if I only experienced some pain reduction it would be best if it kicked in around mile 15 or so when my hips normally start to get tight. Guessing that it would take up to an hour for the gummy goodness to work its way through my stomach and kick in, I popped the first one in my mouth shortly after mile 8, about 2 hours into the run. Around mile 16, I wasn't yet feeling the effects and had finally met up with Eric. Whether it was the joy of running with a good friend or the amazing scenery, I decided foolishly to eat another thinking… well, I don't know what I was thinking, but it was dumb. Less than an hour later, the effects of 20MG of THC were coursing through my system and I felt great; I was running effortlessly on clouds and my mind wandered endlessly – which is a bad thing when you're trying to stay focused and on-trails, especially when several miles of those trails are on the edge of 1500 foot cliffs! While I didn't fall to my death, I did get us slightly lost 3-4 times, and lucky for me Eric was there to figure it out and keep me safe. Ultimately, my mistakes in direction and pacing ended our 50 mile journey at 55k, as we missed a time cut-off by 6 minutes that we very easily could have made. Simply put, my head wasn't in the race enough to follow very simple time cut-off guidelines.
Pros: Very comfortable running on clouds with no pain or worries, 30 or so awesome miles
Cons: Got lost often, very poor pacing, missed a time cut-off and DNF'd at 55k
At Dam Good Run, I knew the 40k course very well as Lake Pleasant is only 12 or so miles from my house and I run, swim, and paddleboard there weekly. Not eager to repeat the mistakes I made in Antelope Canyon, I decided to take a gummy about 30 minutes before the start and planned on a second one if necessary at the 20k mark. Now, why I was thinking starting off a race high versus running at least the first 10k straight is a mystery to me, and it was a dumb move. Before I was less than a mile in the THC had taken effect, and with nothing substantial in my stomach it got me high pretty quickly. The miles ticked away effortlessly and comfortably, and though I knew the course well I was careful to keep my eye on other runners to make sure I didn't end up off-course. Without a running partner, it was a bit boring and I relied on some tunes to keep me motivated, and as much as I loved the course my interest was waning and my mind drifting and wham – face-first into the rocky trail. For as great as my legs felt, it hurt like hell when I tripped and fell the first time, and it was even less pleasant the second time. The third time, I almost ended up completely off the trail, and that would've ended my running career for an extremely long time, as I came to rest within inches of a the edge, looking down several hundred rocky feet of elevation.
Pros: Very easy running for 40k on only (1) 10MG gummy, no pain or soreness in legs or feet, I was able to play a full soccer match right after the run, scoring twice!
Cons: Several bumps and bruises from repeatedly tripping when I wasn't paying close enough attention to the trail.
Stoned During an OCR?
Based on my experiences so far, I personally feel it would be an extremely bad move to participate in an OCR or anything that requires a high level of concentration and dexterity while under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. If I couldn't run down a rocky trail without tripping and falling several times, I absolutely wouldn't attempt technical trail running, mountain biking, obstacle course racing, or triathlon while high. It goes without saying that driving, cycling, or road running are 100% out.
So far the positives have far outweighed the negatives; my shoulder injury was allowed to heal and full range of motion returned after knocking down the inflammation and bursitis, I've learned how THC can be extremely beneficial for pain abatement, and when dosed properly, running long distances while high has been an extremely enjoyable experience for me. Will I try it again for marathons or ultras? Absolutely.
What do you think?
Have you ever run stoned or thought about giving it a try?
Chime in with your thoughts…