Mysterious Case of the Fainting Runner

Excuse my absence the last couple days, friends. I‘ve had some strange health issues that I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of and basically spent most of yesterday sleeping or in bed. I’ve been feeling craptastic for some time now (the past 4 weeks). You’ve heard me complaining here of GI probs on my run…well now they’ve carried over into regular life. And I’ve been having some other issues…heart palpitations, headaches, feeling weak. The only reason I’m listing them out here is because they have to do with an “episode” that I had while running on Tuesday.

But first, my 11 miler last Friday. I decided to change up my route a bit just for a mental break, so I ran out on a hilly rural road next to some vineyards and a lake. It was a nice change of scenery.


Halfway through the run, I look pretty disgusting, lol

I meant to go farther than 11 miles, but like my other long runs in the past month, I started to feel nauseous and weak around mile 9. I’ve racked my mind over why I keep feeling this way (so suddenly, after running for years).

Maybe I was dehydrated? Nope, I’ve been setting up my water bottles and have been drinking both water and Nuun consistently.

Maybe I was overhydrated/drinking too much (my sodium levels were low)? Nope, I would feel the water sloshing in my stomach and I haven’t drank any differently than I have in all my past runs.

Maybe I was eating too soon before running? Nope, I was eating my usual Luna bar 2 hours prior to starting the run.

Maybe I was over heating? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’ve been getting up super early to run and most of my runs are in the 70-76 degree temps. 

Basically, I have no idea why I’ve been feeling this way. My legs feel great and I haven’t gotten injured but now the rest of my body doesn’t want to cooperate. I decided to go long again on Tuesday and to hydrate all day Sunday and Monday and eat very plain food the day before. The run started out fine. It was pretty humid and felt like I was running in a swamp, but the temps were actually a bit cooler. I took a full GU (my usual flavor) at mile 6, a half GU at mile 11.5,  and had been hydrating with water and Nuun.

So all was fine until my “episode”. I was coming up on 14 miles and had been feeling mildly nauseous with a headache for the previous 2 miles. But I pushed on…until all of a sudden I felt incredibly weak, like my legs were totally out of energy. My heart–which has been giving me some trouble with palpitations since May–started beating super fast but felt like it wasn’t pumping blood, or working properly, or something. Then I started to black out. I could literally see my eyes black out. So I laid down on the street praying for someone to drive by just in case I was going into cardiac arrest or something. I focused on my breathing and was getting in air but it felt like the blood wasn’t going to my brain or something (so strange, right?).  Let me just say that this was not like the feeling of hitting “the wall”, so that is not what happened. After lying down for 10 minutes I got up and started walking. All I had left with me was a bottle of water so I made sure to sip as I walked. Around mile 15 I started jogging again, but found I could only go about a half a mile before feeling like I was going to faint again. So I jogged/walked until I got to my car…16.67 miles later.

I made sure to immediately replenish with this Strawberry Protein drink when I got back

I was obviously really freaked about what had happened. I seriously thought that I was going to be one of those *incredibly rare* cases of a runner dying from sudden cardiac arrest. I was just worried that maybe something was wrong with my heart, especially because I’ve been having those palpitations since May. So when I got back I called the doctor and was able to go in immediately. She gave me an EKG and listened to my heart but said everything sounded fine. She assured me that palpitations can be caused by many things so I didn’t necessarily have a structural or electrical heart problem. After taking some blood I was on my way home, where I slept the rest of the day (have you ever fainted or come close to fainting? I have only ever fainted one other time and it takes everything out of you for 24 hours).

Early the next morning I got a call from my doctor. She said  my blood glucose level was very low, a 59, at the time we took the blood (anything under 70 is low, and 50 is considered severely, dangerously low). That was a few hours after the run and after I had the Strawberry Protein drink, which has a ton of sugar, and a bagel sandwich. So it was probably much lower when I was running, which would explain why I would almost faint. So now I’m in the process of checking if I have “reactive hypoglycemia” or heaven forbid, diabetes. WHY would I all of a sudden have a blood sugar problem? Or maybe I’ve had a problem for awhile, which would explain the GI problems and headaches I’ve had for months. Not sure. But I hope to find out soon!!!!! I just want my runs (and the rest of life) to go back to “normal”.

I’m too nervous to go running alone until I get to the bottom of this so I’m going to either stay on the treadmill or hopefully get the bf to ride his bike alongside this weekend.

Have you ever felt faint during a run (or have you ever just fainted)? 

Ever had heart palpitations? 

I could use any words of encouragement, this has been very strange and scary…

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34 Responses to Mysterious Case of the Fainting Runner

  1. Melissa says:

    Oh my that is scary Claire! I would have been freaking too but so glad you were able to get into the doctors right away. I hope you find out soon what is causing all of this but it seems you caught it quick. You’re making me think I should go to the MD too…I have been putting it off and keep saying the GI issues are because of my diet, the heat, hydration, etc…but sometimes I am extremely fatigued too but manage to get my runs in which may not be the smartest move! I also notice when I am like that, my heart seems to be working harder. Keep us updated and be safe…so glad you’re okay though!

    • Oh no! Hope you don’t feel that way for long! the strange thing with me is that I feel like my heart is racing even when I’m just sitting on the couch. Like constant anxiety…but I’m not anxious about anything! Urghh, hope to get to the bottom of it soon!

      • Melissa says:

        Maybe subconscious anxiety? Lol sounds like u have an attentive and proactive MD which is good. My task today (other than work lol) is to make an appt..better to be safe than sorry I suppose. 😉

  2. Carina says:

    Do you wear a heart rate monitor? That would seem to be a very good idea. My brother has supertachycardia and he had several instances captured during or after a run that he was able to show his doc, which was very useful. I’d also think having only half a gu when you’re entering your second hour very well might not be enough fuel.

    I’ve had the same thing where I can see my field of vision getting black several times during yoga (if you ever do Bikram, it tends to happen to me in between sets of the toe stand). I find that if I just stand still (or sit, either way, keeping my heart above my legs), it goes away. It would be far more frightening to have that happen while alone and running.

    I hope you get good news back from the doc. Regardless of what the answer is, a heart monitor is probably a good idea, both to track yourself and to help your training. I ease up anytime mine gets to be what I consider too high (for me, anything over 190), even if I don’t feel like I’m in any kind of distress.

    • Great idea…I just got out my heart rate monitor for my Garmin, so we’ll see if it tells me anything! You also have a good point about the GU. The only reason I am careful with that is because too much sugar is tough for my stomach to handle so it’s a fine line.

  3. Oh my goodness! I’m so glad you are okay. It’s good that going forward you aren’t going to run outside alone. I hope you figure out what’s wrong soon. That is so scary!

  4. Nicole says:

    That sounds so scary! I had several fainting episodes that were really similar to yours when I was in high school, after a long run, or a particularly hard dance class–but I was never alone. I hope the doc figures out what’s going on soon!

  5. Oh my goodness, I am so glad to hear you are okay! I had an incident one time when I was out with a friend Saturday evening (after running 15/16 miles that same morning) where I actually fainted…this was long after the run though but I knew it was because I did not hydrate well throughout the day after my run. I have had that weak feeling during runs and it was usually because I wasn’t taking in enough fuel/electrolytes during the run. What marathon training plan are you following? I would try to space out my long runs a little bit further apart if I were you. Maybe your body was still trying to catch up after that Friday long run…whatever you do listen to your body and make sure you are replenishing your body with fluids during the week. That is odd though, but I think for me just listening to my body week to week and adjusting where it’s necessary has worked for me in the past few years of running marathons. Marathon running really does take a lot out of your body! Take care of yourself and keep us posted 🙂

    • Good advice! I actually follow Hal Higdon’s intermediate marathon plan, but because I’ve trained so many times I basically adapt it and follow it myself. You could be right about spacing out the runs, I just also felt the same way the past 4 weeks when the runs were spaced out (my medium distance run of 8 miles was 4 or 5 days before my long run because I actually follow a 9 day training cycle to prevent injuries). But you make such a great point, I’m going to definitely take that into account. Thank you!!

  6. Oh no! I hope it’s nothing too serious! Thinking of you and hoping for the best!

  7. wow crazy. this is actually strange because i had the same sort of results on a blood test. it basically looked like i had fasted when i had just eaten. they were shocked. i have never heard of anyone who had the same sort of deal. they never really looked into it but i think i should.

    • Whoa! Weird that it’s happened to both of us! You should totally look into that! I actually talked to an endocrinologist and he said that reactive hypoglycemia is actually fairly common in young women. It’s just strange that it has never happened to me before and also doesn’t explain why I still feel kinda lousy when I’m not running. He just told me to make sure that I was eating enough protein before my runs. I think the fact that I have a sensitive stomach has been tough for me because I don’t want to eat much before long runs. I’m going to have more blood glucose tests done, so we’ll see!

  8. Kayla says:

    I hate medical problems that are mysteries! I hope that you get it all figured out and solved soon so that you can take the proper steps forward!

  9. tdowell says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this!! I recently had some GI problems myself–it was awful. I had some of your symptoms (but not all) when my thyroid was all out of whack. Might be worth checking.


  10. katiemoves says:

    aw 😦 so sorry to hear about your problems! that’s scary! i’m glad you went to a doc to get checked out right away! i hope that you can get it all straightened out. I’ve (KNOCK ON WOOD) never fainted and can’t imagine being alone while it happened. take care of yourself! sending positive vibes your way!

  11. Oh my goodness, my heart breaks for you. I’m so glad you are okay though girl, and made it back to your car and home safely. I had a very simliar situation after a 13 miler. I made it home, but the rest of the day I just felt incredibly weak.. couldn’t move, naseous & had the worst headache. Thankfully after hydrating my body with a ridiculous amount of fruit & water I started feeling better. I to have GI problems, so maybe that’s the reason for it? I dont know, I’m just so happy you went and saw a doctor & getting to the core of it all. Keep me posted.

    • Oh no! That happened to you too! So glad you were able to get back safely. I’ve also had nausea and headaches this whole week so I’m hoping they go away soon. I’ve been downing water and Vitamin Water Zero like it’s my job. Still not sure why I feel this way. I just HATE the hot temps out. For some reason I’m convinced that once the cooler temps come I’ll feel better!

  12. 😦 I’m so happy you were ok, I can only imagine how scary that would have been, esp with nobody around. It’s always a relief when the Health care workers are able to figure you out, right? Keep us posted!

  13. eatpraytri says:

    Oh. My. Goodness. That is SO SCARY!! I’m glad you are OK and nothing horrible happened. I have no idea what is going on, but I do know that a while back Paul was having the same issue for a few months and then it seemed to just go away. He went to the Dr. and everything and they said that it happens from time to time and then like 3 weeks later the symptoms stop. Our bodies are complex, crazy things! I will say some prayers that they figure it out!! 😉

  14. Kailey says:

    That sounds like one of the nerve wrecking experiences for any runner. I have never blacked out or passed out during a run but I would never wish that upon anyone!

  15. Megan@ Run Like a Grl says:

    That’s so scary!! I’m sorry that’s happening to you, hopefully it’s something that you can easily fix. Sounds like you were smart in laying down to relax though!

  16. jumpeatrun says:

    That sounds terrifying! I would have been super freaked out! Do you run with your phone so you can call someone in case of an emergency??
    I fainted once a couple years ago just walking around and it was a combo of low blood sugar/dehydration, so a little different.
    I do have to say, the route you took looks incredibly beautiful!!
    Take care of yourself!

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