I woke up at 5am California time this morning, despite having forced myself to stay up late last night. This is in contrast to the night before last, when I crashed hard for 13 hours after an extremely long travel day from London to Santa Cruz via Chicago. Ah, the joys of jet lag!

I felt like a complete wreck yesterday morning – exhausted, splitting headache, completely paralyzed. It was 11am when I woke up – I had assumed I’d be up bright and early due to the eight hour time difference, but alas, my body was finally feeling the effects of sleep deprivation and stress from my last few weeks in London.

Several years ago, there’s no way I would’ve dragged myself to the gym or out the door for a run in this state. However, since I started training for races on a more regular basis, I’ve found that running (or exercise, generally) is the key to lessening the effects of jet lag and getting my energy levels back on track as quickly as possible. I also don’t have much of a choice if I’m in the middle of a training cycle, unless I want to fall behind!

So, what are the symptoms of jet lag and what’s the best way to overcome them when you’re training for an event, travelling to a destination race, or simply maintaining your running routine??

According to this article from Run the Planet, symptoms include “fatigue, disorientation, insomnia, loss of appetite, stomach distress, prolonged reaction time, decreased short term memory, decreased concentration, reduction in anaerobic power and capacity, higher injury rates, and reduced dynamic strength.” Much of how you deal with these symptoms involves common sense – stay well hydrated, eat light healthy meals, try to get sufficient rest prior to your trip (I clearly failed on that one), etc.

In terms of exercising, if my flight isn’t obscenely early, I try to run the day I travel so that I feel better about sitting down for so many hours. I also try to run the day after I arrive, particularly if I wasn’t able to run on my travel day, which apparently is what many athletes do as well. Don’t expect to give your best performance, but personally, I always feel infinitely better afterwards. Just make sure you pay close attention to how your body feels, differentiating between simply being tired and more worrisome fatigue/aches/pains. If you truly feel too tired to run, then perhaps go for a walk instead, and try to get a good night’s sleep so that you can return to your schedule the following day.

Normally, I start to feel normal again within a few days, although I do notice it can take a day or so longer when I travel East. When planning a destination race, think back to prior trips and try to figure out what your body requires, allowing at least a few days to adjust before the event, as well as a few days to recover afterwards if possible. And don’t underestimate small jumps, such as West to East coast – obviously everyone is different, and many of you may not suffer much from jet lag, but when I DO run Boston (I will, someday), I will definitely allow enough of a buffer so that I don’t struggle on race morning!

Given that I’m already VERY behind in my Portland marathon training with only five and a half weeks left until race day, it’s particularly crucial that I don’t let jet lag and other logistics interfere too much with my planned sessions. This isn’t so much so that I can run a good time, but rather, so I can simply finish without hurting myself! In many ways, it feels like a race to the start line, as much as it is to the finish…

So, after a good breakfast and a couple hours to clear my head (kind of), I headed out the door for my threshold interval run. I won’t lie – it was not fun at all – my legs felt like lead, my head was still pounding, and mentally I was mostly just going through the motions, rather than enjoying the challenge as I normally do. However, I managed to complete the session and afterwards, I felt like a new person. Headache? Gone. Energy levels? Sky high. Appetite? Okay, still a bit funky (ravenous in the morning, not at all later in the day, which obviously makes sense), but I had to cut my body some slack. It was (is) a bit shell shocked and confused.

As was I, upon walking into an American supermarket for the first time in a year. Well, it was actually a natural food store, but given I’m from Santa Cruz (land of health food stores), it was gigantic, so we can call it a supermarket. I feel like either one of two things happen in this type of situation – you either get so excited after being relatively deprived in the UK (or wherever else) that you buy half the store, or you get so overwhelmed you freak out and run away empty handed. In this case, it was the latter.

I figured some crackers with almond butter and a coconut water would be a healthy post-run snack that my stomach could handle. I wandered the aisles half in awe, half in sensory overload. I went to the nut butter aisle – I blankly stared at the 30 brands of nut butters (in the UK, even in Holland & Barrett, maybe you’d find 5). I tried reading the labels and converting the various prices into GBP, thinking it would help me choose one, and then got fed up and decided to make my own from the almond butter machine that makes it fresh (pretty awesome, although not as creamy). I mean, really, 30 types of nut butters? I’m indecisive even in the best of times.

Then I proceeded to find some crackers. There was an entire cracker aisle. I desperately looked for a brand I recognized from the UK just so that I didn’t have to look at them all – no luck. I abandoned the crackers – almond butter with a spoon it shall be. By this point, I was practically running out the store so I didn’t have to deal with it anymore, but managed to snag one of a handful of brands of coconut water on the way out – literally the first one I could grab. It was large and cheap, relative to what you find in London. Score. I then fumbled with my American coins and bills for several minutes (I nearly forgot what a 5p coin – I mean a nickel – looked like) as the cashier looked at me like I was some freak. I felt like one.

Yeah, running doesn’t really cure the culture shock that often accompanies jet lag, but that will fade in time, too!

And now, it’s time for my second California run – my favorite run of all – on my local beach. Nothing says “I’m home” quite like going for a run on my beach! After running to the end of my street, I hit this path – the smell of the eucalyptus trees always conjures up so many memories:

And then a few minutes later, the path opens up to this view:

When I’ve been away for awhile, I always feel like I’m seeing an old friend for the first time in ages when I reach this point, and the feeling of being home finally sinks in. I can then run in either direction – normally I go north towards Santa Cruz, but here’s a view facing south towards Monterey Bay:

Okay, full disclosure – these are photos from last year’s visit, but it’s currently foggy and cold out and I’m not bringing my camera, so looking at these will help get me out the door!

My head is still pounding and this time I don’t have 13 hours of sleep under my belt, but I’m still excited – and for me, whether I’m returning to somewhere I love, or exploring somewhere new, that excitement always carries me through to the finish.