Thursday, May 21, 2015

To the Skeptics, Naysayers and Disbelievers

I am coming to realize now that I have gone ‘public’ about my goal to run a 100 mile race - and because this goal is ‘extreme’- I must get used to people expressing concern.   It's not something I am accustomed to as I am generally a moderately cautious type. I'd even say apprehensive when it comes to risk, especially physical risk.   Is participating in a 100 mile race crazy? Absolutely! Are there risks for the body? Yes.. it's possible (but not guaranteed). Why do I want to do it?  Well there's no short answer, other than to say it's about the journey, not the destination. Cliche. But true.

Recently on a Facebook post (bragging about how pleased I was that my photos are used in Running Times Magazine article titled "Is 100 the New Marathon?") a concerned aunt posted a very short and simple comment "I would ask you to stop at 50 miles just as your auntie the RN".  It even had a smiley face.  Innocuous.  Loving.  Concerned.  I responded with a fairly succinct comment explaining how I research and try to train smart, etc.  Her response - perhaps the one that pushed my button - was "Ok just talk to Bob about it too".  Bob is my younger brother.  It would be safe to say we are quite different.  It would even be safe to say that we are pretty much opposite. 

So, I believe the invitation for dialogue has been opened and I will take this opportunity to respond in a way that all who have doubts can read... Let me first address the comparison to my brother as an athlete (not everyone knows my brother but it seems that everyone has a comparison in mind);  This seems odd and funny or just plain misguided because it is essentially comparing a (nearly) 50 year old woman who has used a fair amount reserve and caution in life to a teen-to-early-20’s man that lived (dare I say it) a bit recklessly and on the edge.  He now lives with constant aches and pains.  I am lucky to be pain free, no injuries, and no deformities that limit my physical athletic abilities.   At the age of 43 I began exploring an endurance sport (that many believe the human form is meant for).  I have immersed myself  into researching, reading, asking and learning as much as possible. I have slowly advanced my distance over several years.  I have paid careful attention to my body.  I have been amazed as it surpassed running distances that I never thought possible for myself.  However,  I am a big believer in recovery (so I take time off).  I feel I am thoughtful and pragmatic about each step of my training (I have had many people comment about how 'smart' I train).  Training is a very methodical process, I don't just go out and "run more" (the people who do are setting themselves up for injury and it is my belief that many of the people I talk with who say they wish they could still run but have bad knees, did just that).  A strong, fit body keeps better form and better form leads to fewer running injuries. I do gym strength training routines to build up my supportive muscles (what every runner should know but many do not: weak hips equal bad knees). I do balance exercises.  I strengthen my core (glutes, hips, abs, back) to help my kinetic chain support my upper body while running (especially to keep good form in the later, fatigued miles).  I have long felt a missing element for me is Yoga and I plan to implement that into my routine too.... Etcetera….

As a young man, my brother played high impact sports (it seems like he did just about all of them.  He was very popular in high school.  After high school, he continued to be athletic (and popular).  Some of his jobs were also physically demanding).  He has a large male frame. I think it's fair to say that he liked pushing it in life.  And I can guarantee (well, maybe not guarantee but I'm pretty certain) he never gave a second thought to how any of that would affect him later in life or how he could best support his body in these physical challenges. There really is no comparison to these two people; Me, now as a 47 year old woman and him then, a 15-25 year old man. So with all due respect, in my mind, there is no comparison.

Let's talk diet and nutrition;  (I have not been a shining example and certainly should not be pushing or preaching but) I recently made a lifestyle change. We (my boyfriend and I) stopped eating meat and dairy and adopted a mainly plant based whole foods diet.  We are not vegan as we occasionally eat fish, feta and goat cheese.  Our bodies responded well. His bad cholesterol plummeted within weeks.  My 5'4" body shed over 25 pounds and yet I eat like a pig.  It has not been about deprivation and I never experienced hunger pangs, fatigue or low energy.   By mainly eating whole foods we automatically omit many packaged foods from our diet (bread is my nemesis).  This naturally eliminated a huge amount of sugar (I still use honey in my morning coffee but I believe that honey has many health benefits so I will not cut it out of my diet). In addition to shedding  body fat (which equals less weight for my frame to carry while running)  I found that my body recovered way faster from long runs and hard training weeks. I would actually say I was flabbergasted by how quickly I began to recover and how great I would feel after super long runs. The lengths of which had been covered in previous training periods and races so I definitely know the comparison of a swift recovery to being knocked out by a long run/race and feeling like I got hit by a truck.  During other training periods for some of my races I had some aches and pains flare up temporarily (creaky knees, plantar fasciitis, etc) and I expected that it would be worse this last time because of the more intense training but the opposite happened.

I have never felt as energized, healthy and good in my body as the time leading up to and around my 50 mile race.  Other than being muscle sore in my quads for two days after the race I had absolutely zero aches and pains. Zero.  To say I was amazed is an understatement.  I unequivocally credit this to smart training and the change in eating habits.  The more I asked of my body the more great nutrition I fueled it with!  Green juices (cucumber, celery, kale, bitter greens, spinach, pineapple, apple, carrot, beets, ginger, lime/lemon).   Green smoothies (with blueberries, hemp seeds, coconut oil, avocado, chia, flax, acai, goji berries, cacao, turmeric, cinnamon, celery, cucumber, kale, spinach, banana, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, vegan protein powder)...  I take omega fish oil and b vitamins, vita-mineral green powder, vita-mineral earth powder, spirulina, wheat grass… (and am still discovering new supplements to add to my routine like tart cherries - any suggestions? I’m open!)… I'm conscious of getting anti-inflammatory foods into my diet (love me some ginger!)… drink lots of water.  I try to consciously think of how all that good green nutrition is going into my body and how happy all my cells are (go ahead, visualize it; cells doing the happy dance.  That's it!). …  I even chose to use the most natural food fuels I could during my 50 mile race rather than the sugary gels handed out at the race.

Because I am pursuing a goal that is not only out of the ordinary but extreme,  I suppose people will feel the need to caution me.   I've even been told that running (any distance) is bad for the body because it jiggles the insides and is especially not good for women (flashback to to pre title ix anyone?).   However, in the bigger picture, what is interesting to me is that we all expose ourselves to risk every day.  Risks no one talks about.  And the more I learn about nutrition, the more I was and am horrified by the Standard American Diet and Standard American Doctors!  But who feels comfortable telling people their concerns about the lifestyle diseases they are willingly choosing to subject their bodies to?  So many horrible things we eat and do are considered acceptable.  We are a pill-popping, mask-the-problem-don't-actually-fix-it society.  Smokers!  Are you in complete denial?!  I may be at risk of having an encounter with a mountain lion on some of my long, remote runs. I know that. However, I also know my risk of getting cancer from second-hand smoke is greater!  Not to mention the risk of getting into a car accident on my drive to the trail!  The point here is that risk exists in all kinds of activities and habits considered "normal" in our society.

This brings me back to my brother,  a few years ago in conversation he told me he was ‘morbidly obese’.  He didn't seem to have any plans to change that fact.  I'm sure he is limited in the exercises he can do (because of back issues and surgeries) but it is my belief that if he tweaked his diet to be more plant based and nutrient dense his mass would decrease and his body would have a much easier time.  Not to mention the internal lifestyle disease that I am certain he is doomed to experience.  But because he is considered in the normal realm, it is unlikely that anyone will openly express their concern.  Even I didn't know how to respond at the time, today I would have plenty to discuss.

All that said, I am grateful to my aunt for voicing her concern to me.  I know it was out of love.  I'm aware of other people who feel similarly but don't talk to me directly.  I respect and accept people's love and concern but I felt the need to write this blog post so that, maybe, others can understand my point of view.  Before you judge what I am doing, ask me questions.  Learn.  You may still not be on board with my goal, but understand that I am not being impetuous.

One of my favorite quotes; “Danger is real. Fear is in the mind”.

Are there risks in attempting to run 100 miles? Absolutely! Rhabdomyolosis, hyponatremia and some other pretty intimidating conditions.  But there are health risks related to being a couch potato as well!  I don’t pretend that I am exempt from incurring an injury but I refuse to live my life from a place of fear… I realize that my experience doing the 50 mile race will not necessarily be the same for a 100, but I am doing my best to be smart and lower my risks as much as possible.  I also don't plan on running more than one (or two).  I like the 50 mile distance and will likely do a few more of those.  But what I envision long term is maybe one race a year to keep me motivated.  Otherwise, I just love getting out on the trails (especially with my dog!).   Running on trails is more forgiving than running on roads and I am a trail runner through and through (we won't get into the therapeutic benefits of being out in nature several times a week, I'll save that for another post). Plus the longer the race, the slower the pace (hiking is acceptable in trail running).  

In my running world I am surrounded by so many inspiring endurance runners. They don’t hobble around.  This sport is full of ‘older’ runners.  In fact, the 50 miler that I did in April had 5 finishers over 70… yes, you read that correct: over 70 years old!!!   All of them finished ahead of me!…  38 finishers in their 60’s (only 7 were slower than me)…. 114 finishers in their 50’s... 248 finishers in their 40’s... 181 finishers in their 30’s...  And only 43 finisher’s in their 20’s. This race alone is a great example that this sport of ultra-endurance trail running is well suited to older runners.  Most of these people are not checking off a bucket list event, they are ultra-runners and participate in many races (and distances) a year (yet another post; the camaraderie in the trail running world).  I invite anyone to come to a 100 mile race and finish line (or even a 50, or 26.2 or 13.1).  You will see some bodies that have been ravaged carrying beaming smiles and spirits that are soaring.  It literally brings tears to my eyes when I witness it.

It is not about the high of an accomplishment.  It is about a journey.  For me, the person who crosses these finish lines is not the same person who doubted her ability to stand at the start line of a half marathon five years ago.  This journey may appear to be physical to onlookers, but it is immensely mental. Psychological.  Emotional.  Spiritual.  Ask any trail runner.

As you can see, this would have been a tad too long for a facebook response so it turned into a cathartic blog post.  Everyone has their own perspective and the experience it is based on.  I welcome loving concern and feedback but please understand that I am steadfast.  Hopefully you will understand a little more after reading this post that the only thing that will change my mind is my own body.  I promise to listen carefully.

Thanks for caring and taking the time to read this post.

Happy Trails!


For the curious, here are some of my food inspirations and resources:
Food Matters TV - Watch Hungry for Change, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead... or any of the movies
Food Matters  web siteA wealth of information
Forks Over Knives - Visit the site, watch the movie
Rich Roll - Read his story, book and listen to his podcast interviews

And one for the running:

Friday, April 10, 2015

The 2015 American River 50 Mile Endurance Run - Clear Your Mind of Can't

How does one encapsulate a huge journey into paragraphs?.... How does one put into words the subtleties of a slow transformation, the kind that hardly feels like anything until one looks back? 

Last weekend I ran the American River 50 mile endurance run and I'm not sure what to write.  Here is an example of the only short version I can think of:
Once upon a time... I signed up for a 50 mile race.  I trained well.  I ran the race.  It was really hard but I finished within the cutoff time... The end.
But perhaps that's just a bit too short.  If you're a curious sort and plan on reading further, I suggest you get comfortable, I can be wordy.  You have been forewarned.

For me, this journey is less about 'running 50 miles' and more about transformation.  I can't help but think of when my endurance running began, back in 2010 at the age of 43 feeling overwhelmed by an invitation to participate in a Half Marathon!  The post that started this blog best explains how this is a journey of transformation and reaching one's potential.

You see, I honestly didn't think I could run 13.1 miles.  I did.  Then I did it six more times.  Then I did a full trail Marathon. Again.  Then a 50k....  Each and every time I wondered if this would be my limit.  Each distance was difficult and I was challenged, but after each one I wondered about the next distance. 

Going into AR50 I was inspired by this blog post and adopted the mantra "Clear Your Mind of Can't".  The redefining of the word "can't'" is the crux of change in my life.

Mantra bracelets I made to wear during my race; Find Your Strong, Clear Your Mind of Can't and Be Badass!

The race!  You want to know about the race!... 

I devoured information... articles, blog posts, race reports and videos... anything and everything I could find.  I soaked it all in.  I trained well, disciplined and consistent.  I tried not to think about the  race as a whole and broke it into segments.  I was confident that I could make it to the halfway point and I had faith that my pacers could get me to the finish.  The race has three segments to pick up pacers and I was blessed and fortunate that my running buddies and my boyfriend wanted to pace. Three segments, three pacers.  How perfect was that?!

To calm my pre-race nerves I reminded my self that all I had to do was make it to them and then we would do what we do; run.  It took an hour and a half to fall asleep the night before the race, but after three hours of solid sleep I felt ready.  We had to be in the parking lot by 5am.  The silver lining here was that there was a lunar eclipse happening!  So we sat in the warm car and watched it.

Time to line up and who crosses my path?  The Good News guy from my WTC50k race!  I took it as an omen that this would be a good day.

 ((video link - coming soon))

Off we go... Keep it slow.  The air was cool, the skies clear.  It was a beautiful sunrise.

I did a good job of breaking the task down in my mind to 'aid station to aid station'.   Keep it slow and steady.  My mind stayed focused and positive, my body felt strong.  I fueled and hydrated when prompted by my Garmin.

But then the morning warmed up.  And the trail turned into sidewalks.  My least favorite part of the course.  My legs began to feel 'tight'.  It was subtle, but it was there.  I felt low between miles 15 and 19.... A seasoned ultra-runner had given me the advise to "leave your ego at the start line".  Initially when I read this I thought 'oh, no worries, I know I'm slow, I don't have an ego'.  But somewhere around this time is when I realized that my ego had been hoping to make my ultrasignup target of 12 hours.  With the issues in my legs I was realizing that my true goal was to finish before the cutoff time.  The meaning of his words became clear.  Do what you can and adapt.

At the first crew accessible aid station, Negro Bar, I was met by my mom and aunt.  It was such a lift to see them, I got a bit emotional.  They told me I was about 20 minutes ahead of my target.  My mom gave me the avocado roll she brought for me (loved them on my long runs in training).

((video link - coming soon))

From Negro Bar to Beal's point it's pretty much uphill, it's not steep but it's steady.  And on concrete.  I caught up with the Good News Guy and he advised just keeping a brisk walk for the section.  I did.  Here I met a man that had finished the AR50 23 times, plus 12 consecutive Badwater finishes... and some other impressive stuff. 

I had to take a photo here because I've seen this shot in so many blog posts.

Beal's Point, mile 24.31! As promised, I made it to the halfway point (still 15 minutes ahead of target) and it was time to pick up my first pacer.

This stop proved to be more emotional than I had anticipated.  It had seemed that the first half, the easy half, had kinda kicked my butt more than I thought it would.  My legs were still tight.  As I entered I began to see so many people I knew and the group was so large I became overwhelmed by the fact that they were all there.  For me.  To support me on this crazy adventure!  Wow.  Plus my boyfriend was the absolute best crew captain!  Everything I had asked for was provided.  He filled my hydration pack with ice (a lifesaver!) and my pockets with fuel and sent me off... with Holly!  We did what we do... run... and chat!  

Off with Holly

Photo by Holly

This 5.14 mile section went by so fast with her company!  We chatted about running and life in general, just like normal.  It was mostly a lovely single track trail with gentle rolling terrain overlooking Lake Folsom, flowers and butterflies everywhere.

Next stop; Granite Bay, mile 29.45.  In hindsight, I took too long of a break at this aid station.  Again, it's just so crazy to have so many people there for support.  I got caught up in the moment, and the shoulder massage from my aunt!  Crew Captain Extraordinaire filled my pack with ice, the pockets with fuel and informed me it was time to go!

At this point eating solid food was proving difficult.  When I tried to eat my ABJ or my avocado roll it was like putting powdered cement in my mouth.  Adding water did not help.  I relied on my Stinger Waffles (a relatively new discovery, yum) and chews and gels (Stinger).  I have tried to keep my run fuel as natural as possible.  It has really helped with GI issues.

This pacer was happy to get into the race!

Now it's time to run with Torie... my Torinator!  Running... It's what we do. We had talked pacer strategy prior to the race, but it's hard to know what you'll need or what will work when it's the first time.  I had told her that I wanted to be pushed and that I was not to be believed if I said I wanted to drop. We started this section with her in front, I did my best to stay with her.

In many of the race reports I had read this section was where runners experienced their lowest point and that contrary to logic the miles in the 30's were harder (mentally and physically) than in the 40's.  Confirmed.  At this point the tightness in my legs was spreading, it was no longer subtle.  My glute, inner hip, hamstring, quads and calf (mostly on the left side) were all protesting and making a vague threat to cramp.  Downhill proved the worst and I became super slow.  My left knee lost flex (felt kind of like it froze) and the huge two foot drops in the trail became very difficult to navigate.  Rocks. Roots. Boulders. Drop offs.  It seemed like miles of it.  Hard to navigate, impossible to get a groove or momentum.  The cool breeze of the day was gone and the heat started to take over, it felt humid.  This section is called the "meat grinder" and I was understanding why!  It was becoming harder to focus.  My garmin lost signal and the fuel and hydration reminders were inconsistent.  I struggled to answer simple questions (like "do you need to eat?" do you want to stop to stretch your legs?") but I never doubted my ability to continue.  I had a few thoughts that maybe this pain would slow me down enough that I might have to walk, and that might cause me to miss a cutoff... but I never lost focus of forward movement.  This section of trail was also stunningly beautiful.  Butterflies and and flowers galore!
This view was stunning in person.  We joked about how it would not translate in a photo. One of the joys of being out on the trail.

Again, it doesn't translate... these two trees have apparently grown together, forming one branch.

At some point in this section Torie had me take the lead.  I managed to take a gel and within a few minutes I seemed to pick up some momentum.  When I would happily join those walking in front of me on the single track trail I would hear Torie quietly say "Pass these folks"... and I would.  We were moving again!  My legs were still tight, but I found a gait that allowed me to gain momentum.  We passed most of the runners that had passed me.  It felt unbelievable.

Then we started to hear the distant cheers of an aid station... Rattlesnake Bar, mile 40.94!

Holy smokes!... I made it to Marcelo!... we only had nine miles left.  I knew - knew - at this point that I would finish this thing!  I had lost quite a bit of time in the meat grinder and was now about 20 minutes behind my target time, but still ahead of the cutoff.  More ice, more fuel and it's off with my guy...

He's fresh and ready to go eat some hills!
Off we went!... The scenery of the trail changed again as we left Folsom Lake and went up the river... At this point I was pretty fatigued and we didn't talk much.  It's also narrow single track so talking was not easy.  I stayed in front and did what I could when I could... I told him "I know this is not a pretty gait, but it's all I've got and it's working!".   At some point the Badwater guy passed me and I realized that he has finished this race 23 times, he is not about to get timed out.  If I can stick with him I know I'll make the cutoff.  He stopped at an aid station and we continued.  We started passing people.  I don't think it was that I was gaining speed as much as they were losing speed.  The fact that I was holding up well here was crazy!  Each time we passed someone struggling it put my experience into perspective and I counted my blessings.  I was not laid flat out in a field next to the trail.  I was not dry heave puking into the bushes.  I was not stretching out a cramp.  I was not white as a ghost talking about sitting.  I did not feel great, my legs were still tight... but I was moving steady and strong, especially on the uphill.

Ahh... the uphill... That daunting ascent at the end of the AR50 elevation chart...

I can't believe I'm saying this but it wasn't as bad as I had feared.  Yes, it was UP.  It was LONG.  But I was able to keep moving strong.  Marching it out.  I continued to pass people - lots of people - on this section.  The issues in my legs were affecting my dowhills so the uphill actually felt decent.   I made the boyfriend proud each time I 'picked someone off' (his words ;).  At some point I said out loud "maybe 50 is enough".  I just can't imagine attempting a 100 mile race...
One Mile to go!  But it would take too much energy to stop, turn around and go again...

Less than a quarter mile to go and I let the jets cool.  I got passed by a few people, but I didn't care and let them go.  A runner and pacer that I had been leap-frogging with for the whole second half passed me and as they gained distance they kept looking back.  I had the feeling they really wanted me to keep up.  It was a cool feeling, the bond that forms out there even without words.  Marcelo told me how proud he was of me but I was so focused that my response was "I'm not done yet"...

Then we start to hear the crowd.  The announcer.  See spectators.  Cones.  This is it!  The finish...!!!

I friggin did it!  Wow.  Crazy WOW!!!!  

And there they are again.. all those people that came to support me!  All so happy and proud.   Huge smiles!  They went through this journey with me.  They fueled my spirit all day.  At all the aid stations I would hear "you look great, you don't even look tired"... but I was tired and I did struggle.  I think my pacers witnessed that.  Having this group lifted me.  I honestly think that the monkey mind would have taken hold if I hadn't been surrounded by so much love and support all day.  I was so grateful, it was amazing!  WE did it...!!!

Pacers!  They make the world go 'round!

I got my 'free' jacket; All I had to do was pay the race fee and RUN 50 MILES!

It was an awesome and great experience.  I am very proud of myself.  I do feel that I have reached outside of the realm of normal and achieved something that few people ever even try.  I worked hard for it and it was worth it!  Looking back, I see how far I have come.  I had imagined that the person coming out of this experience would be a changed person and I believe that to be true.  Minor and major lifestyle changes have lead to transformations both obvious and hidden.  The word "can't" has been cleared from my mind. 

Later that same night at our celebration dinner, someone suggested that Torie and I should do our first 100 mile race together and without hesitation... We both said "YES!"...

* * * * * * * *

Special Shout Outs:

My crew: Marcelo, Linda, Lois, Holly, Cali, Morena, Torie, Forest, River and Ken - I could not have done it without all the love and support!  Thank you!  Thank you!  You guys rock!

My cyber supporters!  I was feeling the love... so many of you cheered my on through facebook, it was awesome!

Good Gear:
RYP Wear Skirts - Reach Your Potential!  These skirts are super cute and work great!
Salomon Hydration pack - Clearly smart design!... for runners, by runners
Hoka Shoes - I'm a believer... Silly looking or not, these shoes work well for long distance.

NorCal Ultras!  I guess I'm a NorCal girl because all of my long-er distances have been NCU races!  Well organized, good schwag, well marked trails, awesome volunteers!  Go find a race and sign up!

After thoughts:

Recovery has been super fast!  As expected, I had a bit of a duck-like walk for a couple days.  Stairs were very difficult.  But by Tuesday all pain and discomfort was gone.  Energy remains low but improves daily.  I'm taking it easy.