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A North Face 50K Birthday Present

Spending my birthday getting dirty running the trails through Golden Gate National Recreation Area, John Muir Woods, Muir Beach, and over the Golden Gate Bridge with a bunch of runners and, my family at the finish line, is my kind of celebration. This is exactly how I will be celebrating not only my birthday but, the fact that I get to be at the The North Face 50K in the first place.

Not only do things have to be good in life to run, things also have to fall in place to get fit enough to run! One of the most challenging parts of training  is carrying on with all the other responsibilities liking working, parenting, dog-owning, home-owning, teacher conference-ing, doctor appointments, stomach flu (the whole family), volunteering, home-work helping, and traveling two-hundred miles between home and office twice a week (in temporary transition – ask me later). To me, all of this is actually part of endurance training (or is running training for all of that?). I am doing all those things and yet still I insist on adding training to the list. Why? Because running is me and, without it is too easy to lose me.

So happy birthday to me!

 

 

 

Running Rim to Rim to Rim

Choices are hard sometimes . I had already begun to imagine the dirty trail beneath my feet, the view, the exhaustion, and the gab session when my running-mom-partner-in-crime (Lisa) asked me a random question to distract us from the inevitable fatigue that would set in while running the Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) of the Grand Canyon. I just couldn’t make it happen this round.

Perhaps the decision not to join in the R2R2R fun was what propelled me to plop down on the couch with a glass of wine with my laptop and proceed on a race registration “bender”. Late August I put another set of challenges of no less equal magnitude on my race calendar: The North Face 50km, Cal International Marathon, Seven Summit Series by Ragnar, The Truckee Half Marathon, and the furthest out and most outrageous, Comrades Marathon in South Africa (running-mom-partner-in-crime from college made me do that one – Stephanie).

Some people online shop in the late evening hours after their family is in bed; I sign up for races.

More than the wine, it was having to decline the great adventure of running the Grand Canyon. The R2R2R, I have discovered,  is one of those things runners do not as an organized race but rather, a collective challenging adventure that produces stories and memories for years to come. It is roughly forty six miles of rough running down, across, up and back again in one of our countries most beautiful, natural landmarks. It sounds ridiculous but, it is available to all who of the desire to see the entire Grand Canyon on foot. Last April another running crew I associate with went out as a seventieth birthday party with our high school cross country running coach we are all still in touch with.

Tomorrow morning my running friends from CLIF embark on this great adventure, starting before sunrise.  Not joining them was  tough decision. Instead, I am on a different kind of adventure, exploring the nutrition and running communities of Chicago and bringing new insights back home from a nutrition conference. Blah, blah but, don’t worry. I will make those insights worth it.

This R2R2R crew is so on my mind that last night I dreamed I had the weekends mixed up and that they were actually running it next weekend instead. I could join the after all! Alas, it was  a dream. It is impossible to “do it all” after all.

Given I have a an ultra and a road marathon coming up I will be putting in some miles between nutrition sessions. My Grand Canyon crew on my mind all the while. Just knowing they are out there will motivate me to cover the twenty two miles on my training plan tomorrow while I think of them having to go twenty-four more miles to meals, showers, and bed (likely in that order). Enjoy every spectacular minute!

 

We Run in Good Times

We get to run when all is well. Right now all is not well in the communities where I work and play. Waking each morning this week to the smoke-filled air has been too eerie. The smoke represents devastating amounts of loss happening in the North Bay communities where friends and families live. Ash is falling from the sky and it is hard to think of anything but what that ash is from and what we can do to help.

We wear facemasks, stay in doors if we can, and try to breath softly. We mobilize our networks, remind ourselves what important work really is, and try to do something, anything truly meaningful when feeling helpless in light of yet another tradegy, this time much closer to the place we call home.

Running and recreation are luxuries to be grateful for doing. When things are good again remember, no matter how ” bad” it feels, it is good.

In gratitude for running times.

Fourth in a Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude

Got iron? I am continually challenged by low iron storage (aka pre-anemic state). My first experience with low iron was during my high school running career when I decided that I didn’t like meat, not for any other reason than I preferred bread and pasta. Being the avid, OCD, calorie counter I was back then, I swapped protein calories for carbohydrate calories.

This of course was not smart but at sixteen,  it made  perfect sense. The most absorb-able source of iron of course is red meat. As my meat consumption decreased so did my iron status. This is important because iron is the critical mineral in transporting oxygen to muscles, and when muscles are running they use more of it. This little dietary stunt sent my long-distance running, low-iron-storing, menstruating  female body into declining athletic performance that cost me my entire senior year of competition and athletic scholarship.

The lesson was clear. Study nutrition and begin enjoying steak at least once in a while. Even now, as a meat eater and someone who knows that iron absorption from green leafy vegetables can increase when consumed with orange juice, I really have to work during training to keep iron levels out of the pre-anemic state.

The pre-anemic state is no big thing when the muscles aren’t demanding tons and tons of oxygen. A runner however, can feel the effect of low iron storage even before meeting clinical criteria for anemia. I have had to convince my doctor to test my ferritin levels (iron storage) despite not showing signs of anemia.

Any low iron state will be exaggerated at altitude because iron has the job of carrying the limited oxygen available around the body to the muscles. Getting a baseline blood test as training for a mountain objectives begins can allow time to adjust the diet and take a supplement if needed. It can take six to ten weeks of iron supplementation and increasing iron-rich foods to get stores back up.  There can be however, side effects of too much iron. Diets consisting of iron rich foods won’t likely put someone over the top but, before hitting the supplement bottle based on an assumption, get that test.

Running on low-iron felt to me like moving in slow motion beginning at about mile three of any run. It can feel a lot like over training, and it can be very discouraging to then increase training only to worsen performance. I found it very satisfying after running my first fifty kilometer trail race to discover my iron status was in the dumps. Why? Because I knew how to fix it. Get the test.

Practice Discipline in these Three Areas to Support Athletic Performance

Speaking on a panel at the Spartan World Championships in Squaw Valley, California may be one of the most interesting angles I have come at nutrition from yet. The panel topic is discipline.

Learning to eat in a way that supports what you set out to achieve – in this case completing thirty plus obstacles, over thirteen or more miles while running up and down mountain peaks at elevation – requires discipline to change from eating behaviors that do not support what you hope to achieve.

For many non-competitive athletes who want to improve and achieve in sport as a hobby they first have to shift in mindset from exercising to burn calories to then be rewarded with food  to that of an athlete who exercises to train and who eats to train for the reward of achieving something more than the calorie credit to eat lots of pizza after a race.

How does someone begin to change the mindset? Well, in my experience as an athlete and working with the pros I have found applying discipline  in these three areas can change the reward mindset to one that makes the participation in the sport the reward rather than loads of food.

Three disciplines to practice daily:

 

Eat to train. Don’t train to eat. Skipping meals, skimping on food during training and events lasting longer than one hour, and delaying eating after activity have major consequences on how well the body can feel during the activity. Stop holding  out on providing the body  the right fuel at the right time through out the day and through activity.

Eat with purpose.  Eating with purpose is being conscious of what is going into the body and why. The purpose could be anything like to nourish, energize, recover, and even to celebrate or relax. This empowers the eater to make the food choice with feeling deprived while also eating the right to suit the occassion.

Eat before, during, and after hard training and events.  Eating an energy dense meal the hours before like a big bowl of fruit and yogurt will top of energy stores in the muscles. Eating an energy gel or three energy chews every twenty to thirty minutes during activity lasting more than an hour will give you the edge over competitors who skip it. Eating a protein bar or drink after the effort to kick start recovery helps to get the body prepared for the next challenge.

Discipline isn’t holding off or delaying gratification. Discipline in sports nutrition comes from learning what to it when and  changing the behavior mindset so it isn’t all about will power but rather, a healthy routine if eating the right food and the right time to suit the occasion, even if that occasion is a celebration!

 

 

 

 

Adventure Mamas Must Adapt

Day-pack stocked with provisions, water bottles filled, sunscreen on, hats, helmets, Xtracycle loaded, scooter in too! Adventure is on for me and my seven and eleven year old sons.  What is adventurous is relative and, as kids grow from infant, toddler, to school age adventure mamas have to learn to adapt. Things that previously were far from a challenge or an adventure suddenly become so when adding kids’ wheels and human power. A casual bike ride down an asphalt trail turns into an epic day with active “big kids” heading to Soccerfest followed by bike park. The xtracyle ( a cargo bike that can carry both my boys on the back) is both back-up when they poop out AND strength training for my self-care day of mountain running.

My boys and I know that the journeys we take are not going to be cake walks. Talking with them ahead of time prepares them when things are inevitably difficult or tiring They have come to expect challenges like big climbs, tired legs, hungry tummies, and short tempers, and have fun despite them. For me, it is teaching them the character- building joys of “type two fun”.  

Eleven

Eleven. My first born son is eleven years old. Everyone says it goes by so fast. That statement always makes me sad and anxious.  I want to savor moments, take deep breaths, and hold on so I feel and experience the miracle of this child before me. It is true that time can not slow down; and it is also true that time does not speed up. It is constant.

None of that changes the fact that Eric is and eager early bird in just about everything. Mornings he is especially bright, cheery, and early. On the morning of his birthday he was so eager to get to school he asked to walk over early and play on the playground (which I can see from my back window). Little did I know that he would head to his classroom where his teacher told him he can’t arrive an hour before school starts.

His early arrival in life is just who he is. It certainly has presented challenges, particularly at his birth when he arrived fourteen weeks early!

He weighed one pound fourteen ounces when he was born. He couldn’t breath on his own, our open his eyes, I couldn’t hold him which was fine because his paper thin skin scared me a little.

He started the fifth grade this week in a new school.  He is confident, excited,  and enthusiastic to begin making new friends. Some days his start in life is so far from my mind that I let mundane annoyances get to me instead of looking at him and reveling the fact that today he does things so ordinary they hardly seem like the miracle they are. Things  like putting on a seat belt, chewing, swallowing, breathing, playing video games, brushing his teeth. Even now he just got himself up out of bed, went to the bathroom, and then knocked on my door to say good morning.

Happy birthday buddy! I love you.

Ultra Running to Ultra Moving

Communities exist that are centered around being active outdoors, in nature, everyday.  I have longed to move our family away from the increasing congestion of the urban home to one that values and embraces the outdoors as a way of life.

This summer  we did it. We didn’t plan on it being this summer. It just happened. More serendipitous activity fell into place than didn’t and we now find ourselves living the mountain life in Truckee, California, where there are mountains, elevation, and trails for days.

In June, I was in Tahoe supporting the super bowl of the ultra-running world, The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race. It is a spectacular feat. While not a one-hundred mile endurance run through the mountains, I did just accomplish what feels like a massive ultra-endurance feat of strength, relocating. Relocating a family while still taking care of the emotional and physical well-being during such a time of change is a huge feat.  This was done while also holding down a full-time job, pivoting a career, emptying a house, moving everything owned into storage, buying a house, a work trip to London , fixing a house for sale, selling a house, then moving everything out of storage to the new house – in two months time.  Anything is possible once you put your mind to it and start grinding it out.

To make the most of resources and time, the move happened at a  pretty grueling pace. My crew was tough and kept us moving forward.  It also came  with many tough ascents and descents.  We planned enough to keep organized  while keeping it loose enough to adapt to the inevitable unknowns as they unfolded rapidly before use.

It might not be a coincidence that I set our family off on this seemingly abrupt change the day after witnessing fierce, strong, and courageous athletes face their demons while running one-hundred miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn.  Every one of them toed the line as  prepared as one possibly can for a journey rampant with unknowns.  Yet, they didn’t let thoughts of fear or doubt sway them from putting themselves all out there on the Western States Trail.  Without knowing exactly how it could turnout they went for it. In doing so they gained experience and insight they will carry into their next challenge.

We may feel comfortable and safe in one place but, even then safety and security are not certainties. We might as well step into new experiences, prepare, train,  learn ,and run with it to squeeze the richness out of being on this tiny planet.

 

 

Third in a Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude

Planning to spend fourteen to twenty one days at altitude before competing is not directly a nutrition consideration. It is however, worth mentioning because adjustment time can indirectly impact nutrition by altering appetite and, how the body feels overall.

Unfortunately, before some of my biggest mountain races I haven’t had the extra time to hang out high up. So I searched for clean short cuts of which I learned, are limited.

In short,  there are not short cuts for adapting your body at altitude. It takes the time it takes. How much time it takes specifically will vary because, as with nutrition, how the body responds is individualized.  Everything I have read says get to your altitude twenty-one days ahead of your race.

With work, kids, and other obligations it just isn’t realistic to get that kind of time at elevation (unless I move there!).  So here are some the strategies that helped when time at elevation is limited:

Go up the night before if you can’t do two-three weeks! So save the PTO and head up the day before. Going up on five to ten days before puts the body into a race while smack-dab in the middle of the acclimatization process, which can be extra tiresome.

Push the training at sea level to get used to low oxygen. Talk with a coach about specific training to mimic low oxygen state so you get used to running through it. For me this looks like lots of stairs or hill repeats to the point of puking. Fun times!

Propose a telecommute option from altitude. If you have a job that you can take anywhere and the other humans counting on your presence are flexible, this can be a great option.

Convince the office to provide a hypobaric conference room. This is a long shot but, given the number of active people in my office who prefer to compete in the mountains, it is possible.

Convince spouse/partner to sleep with a hypobaric tent over the bed each night. I have never been able to present a convince argument or budget for this. I have also “heard” it is of limited value.

Drink up beet juice concentrate per usage instructions.  Studies suggest it can help some with oxygen efficiency. I find it does help. It could be placebo, but does it matter?

The best option for me has been to accept that I will be slower, it will be more difficult, and slow my roll to enjoy the view from up there.

 

Selfies in London Continued: Riding Bikes

I could think of no better way to see London for the first time than riding a state-of-the -art road bike on the closed-to-cars streets past some of the world’s most recognized landmarks. Actually, I could think of a better way, running on foot.

I am not a cyclist so when I learned that my role at the Ride London event was to ride forty-six miles with a bunch of athletes and journalists while spouting off nutrition information, I was a little nervous.

The curly handle bars, pointed seat, and narrow tires on paved streets with pot holes and who knows what else are discomforts and fears that have turned me away from road cycling towards other athletic pursuits.  Those things aside, this actually sounded like an opportunity of a lifetime, and no place for irrational fears. So I saddled up for a different kind of an adventure. The ride was everything you could imagine cycling through and around London without worries of cars to be, complete with a finish in front of Buckingham Palace.

What struck me most is the thousands of people who also showed up to cheer, ride, and celebrate despite real fears about would could happen. London has been terrorized by a few but, the masses prevail despite fears by still taking part in the joys and challenges life presents. Happy riding.

P.S. Ignore the amateur hour off-kilter helmet #hownottowearyourhelmet