Can Any Body Be an Athlete?

Anyone can be an athlete. It is true. Not having enough time, only have one leg, or fear of swimming can all be overcome. I have met climbers missing fingers, mountain runners with one leg, Olympic marathoners who previously lost their ability to walk and they are doing it. It is in us if we want it.

Then there are the busy people – really busy – like full-time jobs and five kids busy – who make it happen because they want it that bad.

When someone says to me “Oh, I could never do that” – ‘that’ being something seemingly out of their reach like running a five kilometer race, climbing a mountain, getting up every morning and running ten miles on a tread mill – I don’t believe it.

I have had the privilege of getting to some of the world’s best athletes. What they all have in common is something we all have within us. That is the gift of perspective on limitations. Limitations don’t become boundaries. Instead, they become challenges to what is possible. See here for one of my favorite inspirations. No, I don’t climb but am none-the-less inspired.

The professional athletes I have met are dedicated to their sports. They prioritize it. They may seem special and different but, like a movie star they choose to focus on this, and that what makes the so good at what they do.  Genetically, they may have some advantages that push them to the top. We can all however, learn to change our perspective , being the best we can be in context of our own genetics and goals. There is an athlete in all of us, it is a matter of prioritizing fitness, food, and self-care within our own circumstances to find the athlete within every body.

 

 

Second of Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude

While I am a back at sea level for the moment, my attitude remains elevated post adventures above tree line.  My Broken Arrow Sky Race  experience has my giddy weeks later. The run started off slow for me as one can expect going up a mountain at elevation. The air, however, was crisp, sky clear, and snow (in June) slushy for bombing down the mountain without wiping out on jagged rocks!

Toeing the starting-line a running friend asked me for last minute nutrition advice for running at elevation. Scanning my mind for tidbits that would be useful to her on short notice, I opted for this piece of intel:

 

Eat early and often!

Experience (aka fails) has confirmed for me that the body indeed runs at a higher intensity at altitude (as if there is room to doubt) due to the stress of less oxygen. This stress results in an increase basal metabolic rate, respiration, and heart rate creating increase demand for energy (food with carbohydrate calories).

The trick is to remain conscious of eating regularly, at least every thirty minutes beginning at the start. Early race adrenaline, excitement, and fresh legs can leave even me to forget that I need to begin fueling in the first hour. My Broken Arrow choice was an organic energy food pouch followed by three energy chews which, I let each dissolve slowly, one at a time, for full effect on mind and body (check out this sweet science).  If I don’t get my energy nutrition in early I can forget strong quad moves for seriously stellar descents like the one from KT-22 to the bottom of Shirley Lake Canyon at Squaw.

Add the fact that  altitude has been  shown to blunt appetite, and it is easy to get behind on energy nutrition needs from the start. This is of course where I like to preach about planning out ‘what to eat when’ to maximize all the fitness and training. Having a plan that has become so routine through practice and mind replay that I don’t have to think is ideal.  Having a plan doesn’t mean I don’t adapt my intake based on what is happening. Rather, it allows me freedom to assess my body and adapt as needed from a solid foundation .

Realizing my running friend asking for last minute advice may not have a plan, I don’t want to freak her out. So I ask her  what nutrition she is carrying. Great! She has enough to cover the minimum of thirty grams of carbohydrate per hour. That is likely not going to be enough so I tell her what is at the aid stations where she can pick up another thirty grams in the form of the most familiar looking carbohydrate source on the table – which for her is likely gels.  Then, set the alarm on the watch to go off in thirty minute intervals to remind the brain to eat something and drink.

The old alarm trick is a classic sports dietitian recommendation. But, I must be honest! I have NEVER done it. Why? Perhaps it is because I am a dietitian who is entertained by tracking consumption against miles, time, distance, and how my body feels. I am always assessing where I am at and what I need next. Climbs are also useful as a checkpoint for nutrition intake. I find it difficult to breath, chew, swallow, drink, and move all at the same time at elevation. So, I eat as I approach the climb so I can focus on the footing and breathing.

Many athletes underestimate their needs at elevation and then over compensate with too many calories and carbs at one time trying to recover when they hit the “wall”. This can do a number on digestion. Steady consumption is what is needed throughout, just like the pace.

Note: I happened to know my friend  is not fat adaptive and she has a pretty fast top gear so this amount of grams of carbohydrate suited her. Some people do just fine with thirty grams per hour. We are all different.

How I Became a Runner

I have been a runner since the fifth, grade ever since my Aunt Kathy cajoled me into running The Rankin Run 5k with her. She dragged me complaining the whole way. Then, she pointed out the finish line and with my eye on the prize I kept running as she watched me from behind. Her encouragement that day sparked the runner inside me to continue learning what I was capable of accomplishing.

Another defining fifth grade moment for me was an elementary school track meet. I had decided to try out hurdles, long jump, and high jump. At after-school practices I quickly learned that my “grace and coordination” was meant for something else.  My gym teacher, Mrs. Storm said, “Why don’t you run the mile? No one else is doing it and you can win a blue ribbon.” My eyes lit up. As a child who didn’t find herself very athletic in the ways everyone else her age seemed to be (basketball, kickball, hurdles, soccer), the idea that I could win anything was very appealing even if I was only competing against myself.

So that week my Dad took me to the neighborhood track at Great Falls High School. We crawled through a hole under the fence and we set out to run four laps. I completed my four, but my Dad couldn’t. That was the moment he became a runner – story for another day.

I went to the track meet at Lions Park across the street from Lincoln Elementary in Great Falls, Montana. It was sunny. The teachers had marked out a 400 meter lap in the grass. The mile was the final event. By the time the mile took place run there was an audience of kids, teachers, and parents.  Tara, who couldn’t catch, hit, kick, or volley a ball was an athlete. I found me sport.  I could run. Four laps later I fell in love with the sport that has challenged me ever since.

Running remains a constant for me, despite a few break-ups over the years. Through running I also found my passion of the art and science of nutrition. Through running I have learned that humans are capable of so much more than we may think. Through running have met some of the most extraordinary people and had some amazing experiences. So here is my public thank you to those “grown-ups” who sparked my slow twitch muscles to run long and slow.

 

 

Working Where I Work

Working where I do opens doors that lead to opportunity. It opens doors to learn, grow, and explore my  identity. This is a privilege and a challenge for which I am grateful.  Over the past few years these doors have almost always lead me outside to run (far & high), camp, hike, ski, and bring my family with me no matter how challenging.

Watching these four athletes, experts in their individual craft, step out of their comfort zone to ski, climb, ride and surf together all in one day inspires me to think about what I might try next.

Not pictured in this short film is an amazing athlete that I work along side every day. He humbly sits behind his desk each day to orchestrate adventures like these, adventures we can all dream of and do when we let go of fear and self doubt. This short film, Dream Day, reinforces for me a desire to ski beyond the boundaries and into the back country. Where might it take you?

Short trailer. Click Day Dream for full feature

Cookie Memories from the Appalachain Trail

I had the honor of representing​ the support of Clif Bar & Company on  athlete Scott Jurek’s Appalachian Trail journey. Along the trail we met many of Scott’s fans who gifted him with vegan foods.

Outside Magazine journalist, Kate Myles, won the prize for best cookie on the AT, in my book anyway. Maybe it was the trail of sweat and tears that made this puppies taste so good, but I scored the recipe so we can judge!

Maple Walnut Cookies

1 1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal

3/4 cup shredded coconut

1 1/3 cup flour (I use a GF mix, but regular is fine)

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter (I use Earth Balance margarine to make them vegan)

5 Tablespoons real maple syrup

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp maple extract

1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans!)

​​​Heat oven to 300 F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, coconut, salt, and sugar.  In a saucepan over medium heat, combing butter (or margarine), along with syrup. Heat until melted. Remove from heat.   In a small bowl, combing baking soda with 2 tablespoons boing water.  Immediately add to butter/syrup. This is the cool part — it should really foam up.  Add maple extract, then combine with dry ingredients. Fold in nuts.  Form dough into balls. Flatten slightly. Bake until golden brown — about 20 minutes

Would You Run One-hundred Miles?

My work has opened me to the possibility of achieving athletic feats I never new were available to the human body let alone my human body. Most recently I was able to participate in the activities of one of America’s most iconic one-hundred mile foot races, the Western States without actually having to run it. I had the pleasure listening to the scientific community interested in studying ultra-runners while also getting to know some of the leaders in the sport like Nikki Kimball, Stephanie Howe, and Scotto(typo I choose to keep because I liked it) Jurek. Not just these athletes, but all ultra-runners (and many other athletes outside the scope of running) show us that the seemingly impossible is possible. I believe it is this desire for possibility that drives those seekers of challenge.

Running one-hundred miles sounds more and more possible despite the fact that my own legs have never carried me more than thirty-one miles at one time.  I get chills when I drive by Auburn on I-80 knowing this is where the finish line is after the start far away in Squaw Valley. When I think about it as a beautiful journey along some of the best trails and scenery only accessible by foot, it sounds so reasonable to move along from Squaw to Auburn  at my own pace, in my own time, and on a journey with an incredible community of people who support runners or who are runners. Thinking about running anything in this way is appealing – a journey of unknowns with a spirit of adventure to carry me – sounds a lot like life, only living life is more challenging. This thinking leads me to believe that running these types of “journey races” is possible and available to those who have the desire because humans meet the challenges of life every day which breeds the strength and determination to carry you over more miles of trails than your rationale mind thinks possible. I am reminded daily  of this when I look into the eyes of my enthusiastic eight-year old, born at twenty-six weeks and two days, fourteen weeks before his due date. From this seemingly impossible place he began growing bigger and stronger. When I feel like I have nothing left he smiles and inspires me to dig deeper and see through pain to joy. If that isn’t ultra-training, I don’t know what is. Would I run a hundred miles? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am certainly open to the possibility.

 

Trail Butter Might Be Awesome but Could be Scary

On the “snack-hand” this is really cool but on the “athletic-performance-hand” it is concerning. If an athlete is uneducated and tries to eat these in replacement of gel or even frequently during a run they could end up with some serious gut issues.

It is important to know that the fat they body uses during activity is NOT the fat eaten during activity but rather stored fat. Fat eaten during activity lasting longer than six hours has some digestive benefit in small doses and may help with pallet fatigue so I could see eating maybe one these every six hours or spread out over 6+ hours.

    Injury Reminds Me to Acknowledge Small Wins

    I run to experience the feeling of free movement through the unknown with full confidence of my capabilities, knowledge, and strength. Mostly though, I run because I can. 

    Then it happened, I became injured. Injury seems rampant in running no matter your skill level, but I have always felt fortunate that it didn’t happen to me. Then reality hit. You can not put in the mileage and intensity  I have been doing in  the old shoes I have been wearing without getting some kind of running-related injury. On top of that my sleep and water intake had been declining while coffee consumption attempted to compensate.


    Since last November I have been nursing an injured tendon in my foot (posterior tibial tendon). At first I was impatient with recovery, taking a few days off to no avail. After limping around in pain one afternoon I made the call to the orthopedic doc to see what I was really dealing with. Fearing a stress fracture or a torn ligament I was relieved to find out it was only a case of tendinitis that progressed to the -osis phase. 

    I started my recovery-program by first ceremoniously handing over my  entry to The North Face Challenge half-marathon to elite ultra-runner and Team CLIF BAR athlete, Dakota Jones himself. Given he would podium the day before  in the fifty mile he hardly needed an entry to jog the half  the following day. But it felt quite good to say “Oh Dakota needed my entry so I couldn’t run” instead of admitting injury. Like I said, it was ceremonious.

    After coming to terms that I would miss out on all the fun at  TNFC and  also the Way Too Cool 50k I settled into serious recovery mode. I took advantage of all resources at my disposal just like any athlete would.  My employer, CLIF , takes care if its people because while we are not the professional athletes CLIF sponsors we are the professionals they depend on for success. Needless to say they make resources for taking care of yourself readily available.

    The healing process has been slow or at least slower than I would like. Recognizing small wins has been critical in pacing my expectations. Twice weekly physical therapy, ankle wraps, new road shoes, new trail shoes, orthotics, and acupuncture have been the therapeutic methods I have had to prioritize time to do. Given my full-time job is NOT being an athlete, just getting these appointments and activities into my day is small win number one.


    Since acknowledging the power of small wins I have been steadily racking them up over the course of recovering from the bum tendon in my ankle. Mobility improvements? Win! Two mile run and no pain? Win. Taping and new footwear facilitating greater mileage?  and cautiously run the Bidwell Classic Half-Marathon ?Win! And so on…

    It’s now spring and my mileage isn’t exactly wear I would like it be and not everything has been a win. In fact, there have been setbacks, but by focusing on the small wins and being grateful for the running I get do I gain positivity that propels me forward.

    Running offers so many lessons for life. Looking back I have been here before  with a premature baby. Running had prepared me to cope with this kind of trauma in life. This injury is not a traumatic event or crisis. It is however, a reminder that I have the capability to meet challenge and struggle by making the choice to smile and celebrate small wins that overall amount to so much more.






    The Passion of an Athlete

    Anyone can be an athlete. It is true. Don’t give me excuses like there is not enough time, you only have one leg, or you can’t catch a ball. When someone says to me “Oh, I could never do that” – ‘that’ being something seemingly out of their reach like running a five kilometer race, climbing a mountain, getting up every morning and running ten miles on a tread mill – I never believe it. My response is always, “yes you could.”

    In my work I get to meet people doing amazing things. They are world class athletes gifted with a body and mind where limitations are not boundaries but rather challenges to work through to get where they want to go. See here for one of my favorite inspirations. No, I don’t climb but am none-the-less inspired.

    I used to get so nervous talking to these celebrity athletes because they seemed so untouchable, like a movie star. Then as I worked with them more I start being less star-struck and seeing them as people like you and me.

    One of the coolest realizations I had in the past few years was that if I trained, I too could do things my most admired athletes do. Certainly my skill level will be far behind them and I will be the slowest to the top but, I could do it my own way. It is like realizing that if you had people dedicated to you hair, make-up, and wardrobe you too could be beautiful on the red carpet.

    You may not reach as far or as high as the famous ones. This is not because you can’t but, because what you do is scaled to your own individuality. My individuality currently tells me to keep my feet firmly on the ground. I want my Mom to know this in case she is reading. But think about this guy’s Mom!

    Athlete’s accomplishing incredible feats inspire me to get out there and find the adventure that feeds me and get’s me thinking “maybe I can do that thing I once thought I couldn’t do”.

    What drives this trail running Momma? It is teaching my boys that they are capable in their own bodies. Being a good example of this drives me to run, pushing my own limits to a place that brings me both awe and comfort.

    Some day they may say, “Hey, Mom did all that training and was able to run far in beautiful places. So I can do it too”.