Out There: Confessions Of A Coffee Addict

"I love coffee like some people love their children."

Competitor Magazine columnist Susan Lacke is committed to giving up coffee for 30 days. Stand clear!

Written by: Susan Lacke

It’s time I confessed something: I’m one of the millions of people who suffer from addiction.

When I stumble out of bed in the morning, the coffeepot is the first place I visit. Without it, I cannot and will not function. If there isn’t any coffee already brewed when I awaken, I’m forced to resort to a system of grunts, moans, and extended middle fingers to communicate to the boyfriend and the dogs that there better be some combination of hot water and ground espresso beans in my future very, very soon.

Without coffee, my early workouts wouldn’t happen. It is my legal performance-enhancing drug. My morning gets better and better with each cup of coffee I consume. As I go through my work day, my travel mug comes with me. It’s like a loyal servant, a faithful companion always at my side.

I’ve already written Starbucks a very nice thank-you note for their newest increase in serving size, though I’m not sure it’s nearly large enough for me. I’ve offered to name my firstborn child “Trenta” if they can figure out a way to administer nonfat lattes intravenously. I can see it already: Every time I walk into Starbucks, the head Barista declares “Get me a Central Line, STAT!” Everyone moves with urgency. It’s like a hyper-caffeinated episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” (Side note: Patrick Dempsey, if you’re reading this, you can administer my coffee IV anytime. ANYTIME. Wink-wink.)

I love coffee like some people love their children.

Which is why I’m giving it up for 30 days.

You see, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Though I find my training runs in the morning are enhanced with a cup of coffee (or ten), I’m suffering by the time I get to my evening swim session. When the caffeine wears off in the afternoon, it’s not pretty. Some people refer to it as a crash; in my case, it’s more like a dive-bomb.

Pro Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier talks about this phenomenon in his nutrition guide “Thrive.” In his book, he paints a picture in which caffeine usage is much akin to purchasing items with a credit card. You get instant gratification, and it feels great! But later, you fall into debt – with interest. When you drink coffee, you’re not tired anymore…until the caffeine wears off, then you’re more tired than you were before your first cup. When you drink yet another cup to pick yourself back up, you’re just digging yourself into an even deeper hole.

It’s an interesting premise, one that I feel the need to explore. If my coffee addiction is affecting my performance as an athlete, it’s something I need to rein in. Some athletes have taken highly technical and scientific routes for quitting coffee. That’s far more complicated than I’m willing to go. Instead, on February 21, I’m just going to stop and not re-start for 30 days. For me, it’s cold turkey and nothing else. I don’t drink tea or pop, and hate the health risks associated with energy drinks, so there’s really no other source of caffeine in my diet other than the occasional piece of chocolate. No caffeine at ALL? This could get very, very interesting.

Like breaking any addiction, I’m sure it won’t be easy. The first few days (weeks?) will likely not be pleasant. I’ve already offered to put the boyfriend up at a very nice hotel for a few days if I become moody (Yes, I am THAT bad without coffee). I’m going to ease off any long training activities for the first few days, just in case I’m lethargic without my daily fix.

Hopefully, though, I’ll experience positive benefits sooner rather than later. If anecdotal information from others who’ve attempted the same task prove true, I’ll have a clear head, better sleep, more money in my pocket, less stress…and hopefully, better performance as a runner and triathlete. We’ll see.

I’ll be journaling my experience and will let you know how it went when 30 days have passed…you know, after I make my triumphant return to Starbucks. Maybe taking a month off will warrant a little something special…like Patrick Dempsey scrambling to make me a latte.

What have been your experiences with caffeine? Has it helped you or hurt you as an athlete? Do you have any tips for Susan as she makes the transition from hyper-caffeinated junkie to decaf Zen master?

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Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Me at Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Look for her first print column in the March issue of Competitor, and follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke.

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