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.
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: http://www.irunfar.com/