Friday, January 22, 2016

Come-back Half

Last Sunday I ran the local Cascade Half Marathon. In terms of performance, I had nothing riding on a set time and I didn't take the lead up to the race very seriously, yet, the day before the race I found myself really worried. I realized I was using this race as a test, a test to see if I really could control my asthma and get back to racing again. Because I had a lot riding on this emotionally, I kind of went into panic mode before the race, taking extra reflux meds, revisiting the steroid inhaler and taking the regular inhaler twice before the race started - I was going to make sure I was well medicated for this thing! (To keep the lynch mobs at bay, I will point out that everything is WADA legal. And contrary to what many people think, asthma drugs do not require a TUE).

I thought a 6:40 pace would be doable even in the pouring rain (you can count on miserable weather for the Cascade Half) and made sure my pace didn't dip below 6:30 on the way out to the turn around. On the way back, I just tried to keep a steady effort and ended up with a ten second negative split for a 1:26:44 finish, which is now the median for my 7 life time half marathons. Despite being a middle of the road time, I was ecstatic: I felt completely in control, I had no breathing issues, and my legs felt like they were working exactly like they were supposed to work, and the race left me exhilarated, not completely exhausted! In summary: I passed my test! If I never got any faster, I'd still be happy and able to enjoy running and that is a very nice thing to be able to say (finally!). Plus, I did actually win the race (the farm town of Turner, OR is not exactly a mecca for speedy runners in the middle of January), which was a nice little cherry on top. I parked eight miles from the finish line and caught a ride with a friend which forced me to do an extra long cool down, which made for a pretty good day in the log book!

One funny little story: a generous doctor in the area donated $100 for both the men's and women's master runners, but there was only a plaque for the overall winner, who is typically removed from the age group awards. I politely asked the race director (and friend) to give the overall win to second place and make me the masters winner -  I prefer a hundred dollars to a plaque! The RD thought that would be awkward so he ended up paying me $100 from the race coffers and the second place 40+ lady got the donated prize money. Everybody wins! (well, except maybe Cascade High School, which is now getting $100 less from this fundraiser. I volunteered to help for a couple hours the day before the race, so let's call it even!). I guess I'll use it to cover all the co-pays for my asthma meds, cause they seem to be working!

In the few days after the race, I couldn't believe how sore my hamstrings were! Geez, don't my legs remember how to run 13 measly miles?? But a friend reminded me that I took ten weeks off and I have to think like I am starting all over again. I am optimistic that this means there is still lots of improvement to be had. I will test myself at the half again in three weeks at the Roaring Run, which will be 13 weeks since I started back running. Last year I ran 1:26:01 while suffering and feeling terrible (and experiencing several bad workouts ahead of time), so I will definitely be hoping for something better. Now that my hamstrings have recovered, it's time to get training!

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Happy New Year! Sure we are ten days in, but I am still celebrating turning over a new leaf. Heck, I've even read two novels already, something that has been supplanted by running books and magazines the past couple of years. (Of course, I still plan to read all of those, too!).

Anyway, nothing better to kick off new training then a Fatass run! So yesterday, my training partner Dennis and I made the trip down to Yachats for the Cape Perpetua Fatass. We agreed that we'd be doing the run more "adventure style" than race style, which meant running in a group, hiking even the low grade stuff, and taking plenty of pictures - even a few selfies! We finished near the back, and I loved every minute of it! (And with no official results there will be no ramifications for my ultra signup score - phew! ;). The trails out there were like carpet - all pine needles and moss. There were a couple of miles that may have been the best suited to me than any other trail I have run: a thin ribbon of dirt running down an old dirt road over grown with grass, fast downhill with out a rock to be seen, just a few down saplings, most of which I hurdled with a  big smile on my face. I am taking three meds routinely with an additional inhaler for long runs, and while I don't like that I have to take them, the fact that they have made me feel so much better and have brought the joy back in to running makes it worth it. Now, hopefully with some concentrated training, I can bring the speed back in to my running, too.
Rays of sun through the tall trees

The beautiful Oregon coast

Stopping for selfies on the coast!
Big ferns and mossy trails: Oregon trails at their finest!
And since I have made it through a full seven days of training and a Fatass,  I have registered for a half dozen races! Here are my plans for 2016 so far:

1/17: Cascade Half Marathon - this is just a hard effort, long tempo day- a so-called "training race."

2/6: Roaring Run Half Marathon - This is the race I set my half marathon PR (1:21:15) back in 2013 when I was running at my best. I also ran a 1:26:01 there last year when I was having such a hard time and struggling to even do 4 mile tempo runs. So I have a very nice scale on which to measure myself and to get an idea of where I am at and what kind of expectations I should have for the year.

2/13 - Hagg Mud 50k - If you mention Hagg Lake you are likely to get an eye roll from anyone who has run it. On paper (or in the summer) it should be a super fast course, but it is endless thick, thick mud in February, which slows it considerably. I got my 4th finish several years ago and I figured this would be a good time to get my 5th and get my name in the  (very prestigious!) "Hall of Mud." But I am not paying $25 for a 5 year finisher's buckle! (really?? sheesh!)

4/2: Gorge Waterfalls 100k - No, I am NOT going for a Golden Ticket (no, really!) but this is a beautiful race with good competition and minimal travel. And I do love mossy trails.

5/13: Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour - Yes, another track race. Yes, I am crazy, but Yes, I still really like the idea of track races, too. I am undecided if I want to try for another fast 100 mile time or if I want to do the full 24 hours and try to get a 24 hour World Championship qualifier.

6/17: Bighorn 100 - Western States is awesome, but I need a break from focusing completely on that one race (not to mention, I don't have a spot!). I am very excited to get the chance to try another classic mountain 100 and the women's field is looking pretty stout!

8/20: Waldo 100k - (if I can make it through the lottery or convince the RD's that I am still "elite") - This is the race where I was first diagnosed with asthma in 2009 after breathing difficulties ruined my run. It seems fitting to go back as I am trying to rebound from such problems with asthma. Plus, it is another great race with minimal travel.

Fall racing schedule will be determined based on how all the above goes. 

So who else is running any of these races?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 Year in Review

The Ultra-Running Year in Review: 2015

Well, my year of running had nothing notable enough that I want to toot my own horn and rehash anything in some kind of long winded year in review. In a nutshell: I was mediocre or worse at every race this year until I finally got so frustrated with poor workouts, that I dropped off of the 100km National Team because I didn’t feel I could live up to my own expectations. 

But there is a silver lining: less time training and racing gave me a lot more time to be a fan (and a cynic!) of the sport. I’ll leave the assessment of individual athletes up to the Ultrarunning Magazine panel and instead, let me tell you what you where I think ultrarunning went in 2015.

1)  You NEED a coach. If you haven't run an ultra yet, well, then you can't possibly know anything about the sport and you will most definitely need a coach to guide you through such complex activities like putting one foot in front of the other, eating gels and drinking water. And if you have run a few ultras, well then you are ready to get better and you will definitely need a coach to show you how to improve. And don't think you will out grow the need for a coach even when you have run a whole pile of ultras with success. Because then you are probably on the brink of burnout and you desperately need a coach to keep you from overtraining. In 2015, you absolutely cannot train for an ultra without a coach.

1a) After you hire a coach, you must fall madly in love with that coach. Or at least it will seem that way on social media when you talk about your coach more than your loved ones. Despite the fact that you may be paying said coach upwards of $400 a month, you feel compelled to do a bunch a free advertising for your coach, babbling on and on about how wonderful they are, as if they had invented the very sport itself. This is perfectly logical, because we both know there is no possible way you ever could have made it through your last ultra without a coach. You gave them a quarter of your take home salary, but they gave you your worth as a runner. Surely, that is worth a whole lot of social media love.

2) Become a coach. If you have finished at least one ultra, then you are ready to become a coach! Do you know how fast this sport is exploding?! Think of all the wanna-be ultra runners who have yet to run their first 50k; after one race, you will know light years more then they do, so why not make a little money on the side by coaching those poor, ignorant saps who are so desperately in need of guidance if they are ever going to survive the harsh world that exists beyond 26.2 miles. Just remember, no matter how good you are as a coach, you are never, ever, ever, qualified to coach yourself. See #1 above. Sure you can coach other people, but you my friend, are still utterly incapable of writing your own training plan.

2a) Once you become a coach, make sure you let everyone know that any time any one of your clients has a good race, it is really you who deserves all the credit for their success. I mean, we have already gone over how most people could barely even complete an ultra if left to their own devices, let alone be successful. Of course, if you do this by congratulating your athlete on social media, I am sure no one will figure out that you are just using your client to pat yourself on the back. And if one of your athletes has a bad day?? Well, you better fucking ghost that client, at least in your social media relationship, because you would not want that associated with your reputation. Obviously, that athlete was uncoachable.

3) The Ultra Beard loses its hipster status. I am not exactly sure what the origins of the ultra beard are, but I am assuming a lot of it has to do with Rob Krar. Ultra running had some inklings of facial fuzz before Rob Krar, and certainly the Boston Red Sox brought the bushy beard into sports way before it caught on in ultra-running, but in 2013, Rob Krar exploded onto the ultra scene and he did it all while wearing a marmot on his face! In fact, his facial hair has so much personality, it even has its own Twitter account! Soon after, it seems like beards became an ultra-running fashion trend. But these days if you head to any ultra in the Pacific Northwest, you would think a big beard and a flannel shirt were required gear for men. Indeed, even my husband Mac has been sporting a beard since March and my husband does not go out of the box. In fact, he doesn’t even like to go near the walls of said box but rather likes to keep his feet planted firmly in the center. This makes him very dependable and agreeable, but I assure you, it does not make him a hipster. In similar fashion, I have two friends that had barely crossed the finish lines of their first 50k’s when they started growing ultra-beards. The ultra-beard may not be going out of style, but it has definitely lost its hipster, cutting edge status. Now it seems everybody and their mother, er, I mean, father has a beard.

4) Finish Line Celebrations need to start carding. This past year there were a lot of big performances by underaged runners. Ford Smith took the title at Black Canyon, Andrew Miller set the Bighorn course record and won the Georgia Death Race, Jared Hanzen raced Lake Sonoma and Western States like a grizzled vet and Ashley Erba had a stellar run at Lake Sonoma. When I was their age, I spent most of my free time shopping and making mix tapes. I guess Amazon and MP3s have freed up a lot of time for ultra training. As more and more “kids” get into ultra-running, race directors may have to monitor the distribution of finish line beverages a bit more closely. But that should be easy least for the men: just look for the few runners without beards!

5) On the flip side, 50 doesn’t even count as old. You are doing ultras in your 50’s?? Big whoop-de-do! 50 year olds are still tearing it up. Anita Ortiz, Connie Gardner, Joe Fejes, Jean Pommier, Meghan Arbogast, and Bev Anderson-Abs are just a few examples of quinquagenarians still kicking butt. How about 60 year old Mark Richtman throwing down 3:34 50k at Desert Solstice; the extremely emotional and inspirational finish of 71 year old Gunhild Swanson at Western States; or 80 year old Bill Dodson crawling across the finish line at Caumsett 50k? To those guys, 50 year olds are still young whipper-snappers. iRunFar  estimates 20% of ultra runners are now over age 50, meaning it is hardly an anomaly any more. In fact, it makes 50 seem like it isn't so old at all - which sounds really good, as it is getting ever closer for me!

6) The more things change the more things stay the same. Ultra running has exploded in popularity, there’s more money in the sport, and races are getting more coverage and more hype. Yes, there are growing pains - like what to do about drug testing and convicted cheats - but at the core, ultrarunning still remains a group of likeminded people out to enjoy the beauty of nature and to test their limits in endurance.

Ok, so what other trends were there for 2015?

Hope you had a great year and have lots of great adventures planned for 2016!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

Hello? Hellooo?? Anybody still out there? I know it has been a long silence here.

On the running front, it's been a rough year. Despite all my best efforts, I just seemed to be circling closer and closer to the drain. One bad race after another where I just seemed completely spent, overly winded and lifeless in the legs. Sadly, training wasn't much better. Even slow paces had me huffing and puffing and my legs didn't seem to work right. Worse yet, they just ached and ached and ached sometimes so badly that I woke up in the middle of the night.

Something was very wrong - I just knew it. Running wasn't fun at all anymore and I was upset and frustrated. I tried to explain all this to my primary care doctor (a marathoner herself) last April and ended up in tears in her office. Crying, muscle aches, trouble sleeping, a feeling of doom, lack of energy, loss of enthusiasm for previously joyous activities...Well, she put it all together and diagnosed me with "moderate depression" (I skipped right over mild!) and she put me on Cymbalta, which along with treating depression is approved for muscle aches. But she did refer me to a neurologist because I kept telling her my legs just weren't working right.

The neurologist practically laughed at me because I had no trouble with any of his tests. As to my complaint of weakness, he told me I was stronger than any other patient he had seen all week. He assured me that I did not have a neurologic problem. And then he changed my anti-depressant prescription.

I was willing enough to give the anti-depression meds a try, but I don't think I ever bought into it. I don't have hang-ups about mental illness or feel ashamed by it, but it just didn't seem to fit. I stopped the meds two weeks before Western States; I didn't feel like they were giving me any benefit and I didn't want to be on any unnecessary drugs for such a physically demanding event.

I knew I wasn't trained as well as I wanted for WS, but I still expected better than I did. By Forest Hill, I was spent. I had been working way harder than I should have been and once again my legs felt so weak. What did I expect?? I had done less than half the mileage I had done for WS the three years prior. I tried to put on a happy face- hey, it was still a silver buckle as Western States; how bad could it be? But inside, I was even more worried.

That was right around the time all the articles came out on over-training and they just seemed to confirm my worst fears: I was just another one of the washed up over trained ultra-runners with flash-in-the-pan success before running themselves completely into the ground. Several periods of rest would make me feel marginally better, but I would be back in the toilet after any moderately hard run. I was obviously in the deepest stages of overtraining. The clincher was trying to pace Liza Howard at Leadville. I had felt miserable for the ten days prior while we were in Colorado, and I kept warning her that I wouldn't be able to keep up with her, but even I was aghast when I got dropped after three miles. Three fucking miles! Yeah, Liza is super speedy, but I'd like to think if I am fresh and she has 50 miles on her legs, I'd have the advantage! As soon as we were climbing Hope Pass, I just could not get enough air, my legs were so weak and I kept getting so dizzy. Altitude sickness, everyone assured me, but I knew it wasn't right, and when I got back to Oregon and good old sea level, I was still wasted. Though it practically killed me, I resigned from the US 100km team; I was in no shape to run 62 miles three weeks later.

I sought out a new primary care doctor, this one an experienced triathlete with an ultra marathon on his resume to boot. He agreed I was probably overtrained noting that I had put my body through a lot the last few years and I started back on anti-depressants.  He sent me to a cardiologists just to make sure, you know, since I am over 40 and all now. My heart rate soared on a stress echo - it escalated way faster than it should have and I was breathing so hard. My legs ached, but I had no problem completing the test. The cardiologist said that it was odd but I had the max heart rate of a 28 year old and my ejection fraction (heart strength) was way above normal, so from a cardiac standpoint, I was fit as a fiddle. The primary care doc said I was just "deconditioned."

All during this time, I had lots of labs and they all came back perfectly normal - hormones, electrolytes, and nutrition all totally awesome. The new doc recommended three months off with nothing but yoga. Oh, and double the dose of Cymbalta for depression.

I stopped the meds all together two days later and started looking for a new doctor. Thankfully, doctor #5 was a godsend! Dr. Yates is a multi-time Kona Ironman finisher and one time Masters Ironman world record holder who served as the Portland Winter Hawks (minor league hockey) team doctor for 23 years. His special interest is in medicine for endurance athletes and he is right here in Salem! He listened to me for about 20 minutes and adamantly told me "This is not depression!" and "Of course your heart is fine! You have asthma - this is classic!" I have a history of asthma and have had a few bad attacks, but I was still skeptical; this didn't feel like an attack. "But I don't wheeze and my chest isn't tight," I countered. Though he couldn't entirely explain why, he told me leg pain and weakness are common symptoms of asthma in endurance athletes. Is my HR too high? Do I breathe really hard? Do I cough after workouts? Do colds always end up in my chest? Do I feel like I am not getting enough air even at rest? Is it worse climbing hills or at altitude (places the body needs more oxygen efficiency)? Do I start out feeling ok and then just fall apart? Yes, yes, YES! Well, holy shit, why didn't somebody tell me this 18 months ago and why the hell did I take so much anti-depressant medication?? Plus, he told me three times that I am only 41! Best doctor ever!

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. It turns out I also have gastric reflux. Well, how did I get so lucky? Apparently asthma and reflux have a tight correlation: 75% of asthma patients also have reflux. I did not know this and I am a doctor for gads sake! One more thing I didn't know: distance running increases the risk for reflux- all that pounding and increased pressure in the abdomen can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. And all those crunches and ab workouts...well, they don't help either. So there's your excuse to skip core workouts! It is thought that either refluxing acid gets into the throat and irritates the lungs or that the acid irritation in the esophagus causes nerve irritation that in turn constricts the airways. I am not sure why all this started, but it seems like once it did, things just kept snowballing until they were out of control.

The good news is that I now have an idea of what has been going on and why I have felt so bad for so long. And I am not overtrained! (OMG - I am so woefully undertrained!). I can't say that having a bunch of chronic illnesses makes me happy, but they should be treatable and after just three weeks I see a HUGE difference. Heck, I even won a race last weekend. Ok, it was a small time 5.2 miler but it had 1000 feet of gain and at no point did my legs feel weak. Actually, I felt totally awesome at the end of the race with that post run euphoria that I had been missing for so long. I don't know that I'll ever get back to my 2013 top form, but I don't know that I really need to to be happy. More than anything I have been missing just feeling smooth and easy and finishing a workout thinking "Man, I love to run!" I am building back very slowly with only easy runs and no speedwork yet, but even so these past three weeks I have started to feel "fit" again and I can honestly say, "Man, I love to run!"
Yes! This is what I love! (ph:Nine22 Photography)
So I am cautiously optimistic, but feeling good enough that I am excitedly pouring over race websites and dreaming of big races and adventures for 2016!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coming Back From the Dead

Well, Blog Fans, it has been quite a while since I posted here. The Lake Sonoma 50M passed without even a 140 character race update on Twitter let alone a full on blog post. I could tell you I've been busy - travel, work, garden season and two kids in multiple activities - and it would be true, but that wouldn't be the real story. For the truth is, I am sick of writing race reports about crappy races or races where I feel like I didn't live up to my potential. For a while I could come up with good reasons - I was tired from WS and/or AC, I took too much time off, I didn't do speed workouts, I didn't get enough trail training - but finally the excuses ran out and I had to face the depressing reality that it has been almost a year since I really felt like I rocked a race (June 1, 2014 - Beacon Rock 25k).

Lake Sonoma started off just fine. I didn't feel great on the road but nothing really worrisome and I was right about where I expected to be in  the ladies' race. But the constant up and downs on the trail just tuckered me out so fast and by mile 12 (yes, 12!) my legs felt like they were at the end of a 100. But my mental state was worse - over the next two miles I traveled through a deep, dark pit of mental despair: "I am not even any good any more. I am such a fraud to be here as an elite. I don't even think I want to be an elite; why do I want to kill myself in every single race? I am a total has been. And why the fuck are women doing a trail race with full eye make-up on?!? It's a trail race, not a fucking fashion show! Ugh - I am such a loser; I can't even put mascara on for work. I do not belong here: I am not elite and I didn't even match my shirt to my shorts."

(Dear Mascara-wearing racers - I am sorry for this. I was not being rational at the time. You should wear whatever you feel comfortable in at races and I know it has no effect on me. But can you please explain what is the rational of being fully made up on race day? Is this kind of like the running skirt - a way to preserve a bit of femininity in a dirty, sweaty sport? And what brand do you use that stays so firmly put through 50 miles??!)
Orange socks, pink shorts, blue shirt, tattered hat and a terry cloth wrist band under my Garmin...seriously, no amount of mascara can help that! (photo: Gary Wang)
Anyway, I suffered through to the finish, thanks largely in part to Jimmy Dean Freeman who stopped to walk a mile with me and let me blubber on his shoulder while getting me to commit to finishing. But just because I got to the finish didn't mean I was in better spirits. Frankly, I couldn't come up with one good reason why I should get up a couple days later and go for a run. So I didn't - for FOUR WHOLE WEEKS! - right at the key time for Western States training! But it didn't matter, my body felt off, my mind felt off and I needed the time off. Besides, I had already decided that I would NOT be doing Western States this year so the training didn't matter.

Well, good thing my pacer Dennis knows me well and didn't believe me when I tried to fire him!
Jimmy Dean gives me a pep talk and makes me promise I'll finish.
photo: Chihping Fu
I started back to running two weeks before the Western States training camp on Memorial Day weekend and had about 75 miles on my legs before taking on 72 miles in three days! I ran all three days with Mac at a very conservative pace and had a great time. I was sore and tired but in a good way, not a run down way. I remembered how much I love the trails and the people and just getting out there and knew I wanted to be part of the Western States race this year even if I was not at my best. I figured I still had a good shot at 22 hours and even if I missed that I couldn't get much worse than the 29 hour finish in 2012 (which I consider a positive experience). Yes, it is awesome to win or do well, and winning Western States was probably the most exciting thing in my running career, but honestly, I just want to enjoy running and the experience of moving through the land under my power, and finally, I was feeling that way again. It was so nice to be in a "happy place" while running that I knew I would be fine letting go of aspirations to battle at the front.
Enjoying Western States training camp with Mac and Dennis, my  fabulous crew and pacer.
Photo: Joe McCladdie
And so I ran Western States. And I had a great time. No, my race wasn't great. But it wasn't even my lack of fitness that did me in. I started very conservatively and was only 4 minutes faster to Duncan Canyon than what I reported to my crew as "worst case scenario (4:40)". I felt amazing climbing to Robinson, and on the sun exposed switch backs I even said aloud, "I fucking love this climb!". Out of Robinson I had the honor of running with Nikki Kimball for five or so miles. And by Dusty Corners, I was catching people and had moved into the top ten for the ladies. Things were going great, the legs felt good and I was having fun. And then my stomach gave out.
"The hills are alive with the sound of music..." The wildflowers were amazing this year!
(Ph: Bob Hearn)
Being more laid back about this year's race meant I didn't have a regimented fueling plan. I have a plan that works, but sometimes it feels like some kind of torture trying to get down powdered drinks and sticky gels and that didn't seem to fit with the "fun" goal. Unfortunately, eating whatever I wanted at aid stations also did not lead to fun. A few too many Oreos, PayDay segments and a greedy two Popsicles at Devil's Thumb had my stomach in knots by the time I was climbing to Michigan Bluff. I arrived there only to start heaving at Mac's feet and I wasn't able to get much down. Nikki, Sally McRae, Joelle and I all grouped for the run down Volcano Canyon and I had a great time with them and enjoyed our soak in the river until Nikki announced, "All right, it's time to get going." I was able to get a little food in running with them and felt strong on the climb to Bath Road, but a little extra effort there once again found me dry heaving at my crew's feet at Foresthill and not taking much in. From there on out I couldn't get much in and my energy levels dropped similar to the trail dropping to the river. I got down a few cantaloupe chunks and two pieces of black licorice which lead to the most Goth looking puke ever on the climb to Green Gate. Unfortunately, puking was not the "control-alt-delete" reset my stomach needed and I still couldn't take much in. I ended up walking most of the way to Hwy 49.
Feeling like shit, but still joking around (ph:Bob Hearn)
But I was still in good spirits and the only point which was a bit disheartening was the stretch when 4 ladies passed me in about 5 minutes. I didn't have my heart set on top 10 this year but still it sucked to go from 9th to 13th in a matter of minutes! I took several minutes at Hwy 49 and got in about 8 ounces of orange soda. Once it kicked in, I was able to run again and had a decent (though not exactly fast) push to the finish: 22:46 - my slowest sub-24 by a long shot (70 minutes slower than my rookie year!) but still light years better than 29 hours! In the end I was very glad to have gone and I am proud to have my 6th Western States finish. There were challenges but I never felt defeated, which makes me think my head is back in the right place.

In the weeks after the race, I got more and more pissed about the race, especially why I - an anal retentive over planner - decided to "wing it" on the food and why I didn't do more to try to correct it at Foresthill and especially why I didn't even try to stay with any of the ladies that passed at mile 87. But I think being pissed is a good sign, too: it makes me think I am hungry again and ready to push myself to do better. 

I've run a couple times in the last week and I feel great. Right now that is the most important thing for me as I think I may still need some time to fall back in love with all of the grueling aspects of this sport. But I am very excited for some trail adventures this summer (Trinity Alps backpacking and Leadville pacing!). Plus, 100k Worlds are only two months away (!) and being part of Team USA always gets me fired up. Hopefully those adventures get the running stoke factor back to high in the next few months! 
Pre-race veteran's panel. This was a lot of fun and I like to think I gave some good advice, but I still have plenty to learn myself! (ph: Mark Tanaka)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Ultra Mindset by Travis Macy

Today is the official release day of Travis Macy's book, The Ultra Mindset, and I encourage you to check it out (available at Amazon). Travis was kind enough to ask me to write a blurb corresponding to one of the principle's in his book. Some of what I wrote got cut (I am too wordy!) and some got edited to better fit the theme of the book, but here is my original transcript:

As a mom, I think ultrarunning models many of the life skills I hope to teach my two kids - things like determination, perseverance, goal setting, pushing your boundaries, and working hard. I also hope they see the joy and the passion that I have for being active and getting outside. Yes, I run because I love it, but ultimately, I hope my running influences my kids to think big and to pursue their dreams, too. And knowing my kids are proud of me (at least until they hit their teenage years!) feels great.

In 2010, I lost sight of the impact my running has on my kids during the Angeles Crest 100 mile race. The day was hot, I was tired, and my knee started hurting. I got to a point where I didn’t care any more and I dropped. Certainly there are good reasons not to finish a race, but that night when my five year old daughter Megan asked, “Mommy, why did you drop?”, I didn’t have one. The next morning when she looked at me with her big eyes and said, “Mommy, you should have finished the race,” it felt like a dagger to the heart. I vowed to give my best efforts to get to the finish line from then on.

In 2012, I had a chance to truly test my resolve when things spiraled downhill at the Western States Endurance Run. Instead of the normally hot conditions, the competitors battled through thirty miles of freezing rain, sleet and snow, before dropping to lower elevations and milder conditions. Unprepared for such weather, I became hypothermic. The cold triggered my asthma and my frozen hands were unable to work my pocket zippers, leaving me without any food for several hours.

But the real issue came at 2 o'clock in the morning when I got to mile 85. My weight was up seven pounds and the medical team forced me to stop. I sat for two and a half hours, but was unable to urinate enough for my weight to get back down to a point where the medical team would let me continue. As the cutoff time approached, I knew I needed to get going or I would be cut from the race. The medical team was concerned I might be hyponatremic but I knew I had been drinking large volumes of broth to get warm and was fairly confident that I was not in serious danger.  I signed a waiver of liability and left against medical advice, determined to get to the finish. I was stiff and cold from sitting for so long, but I trudged through the remaining miles to get to the finish. My time was more than eight hours slower than the previous year and I finished fourth from the bottom, but I was so glad I finished. I knew it was a great example for my kids. I was able to tell them sometimes things don’t go your way or the path gets difficult, but you can still do your best and not give up.

Though I was proud of that finish, I certainly didn’t want a repeat of that experience for the Western States Endurance Run in 2013. I took that experience and the mistakes I made to motivate me. I trained harder than ever, I became very regimented with my nutrition, and I picked apart every little detail to have a rock solid race plan. All of these elements came together for a magical race and I ended up winning by more than 40 minutes. My daughter Megan (now 8), joined me for the final 250 meters on the track. Sharing that finish with her was one of the proudest and most memorable moments of my life. It was a triumph after adversity, and I hope the memory and the lesson stay with her for a lifetime, too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The "Fool" Proof Formula For Predicting The Western States Winner

Who will take home the cougar this year?
Well, Gorge Waterfalls has come and gone meaning only Lake Sonoma remains before the elite entrants' field at Western States is complete. Which means it is almost time for ultra-fans to start furiously speculating on who is going to be taking home cougars this year.

Historically, fans have favored those with quick marathon times in the pre-race hype. If Runner A is ten minutes faster than Runner B at 26.2 miles, then simple math says Runner A should be nearly 40 minutes ahead of Runner B at the finish of 100 miles. But this is folly! Anyone who has run a 100 miler knows simple math enters the Twilight Zone about two-thirds of the way through the race: a place where simple addition and subtraction can confuse Mensa members, where the distances between aid stations are warped and don't seem to be represented by rational numbers, and where paces are no longer predictable. A place where lightning fast marathoners can get beat by middle-aged plodders (and routinely do!).

Sure runners with impressively fast legs will continue to captivate us, but when it comes to the 100 mile distance, leg speed is not enough. A runner must possess the right combination of leg speed, gastro-intestinal fortitude, and mental strength. But how can you weight these things to figure out which runner will come out on top?? This is where my very scientific formula comes into play. Just assign numbers to each category and add up the score. The highest scoring runner in the field is guaranteed to be hoisting the Robie Cup at this year's Western States award ceremony. (small print: results not guaranteed)

1) Marathon time: Ok, running 100 miles requires a lot more than just leg speed, but there is no denying that being fast is a benefit at any distance. Sub-2:45(M)/3:00(F) = 5 pts; Sub-2:35(M)/2:50(F) = 7 pts; Sub-2:28(M)/2:43(F) = 9 pts. No additional points for being faster than that because if you are, you are probably better trained for the marathon than 100 miles!

2) Ultra Sign Up Score: We all know when it comes to running ultras, your Ultra-Signup score is the be-all, end all representation of your ultra-potential. One point for every percentage over 90.

3) Strava Crowns: If you are the best over lots of little sections than surely you will be great over one big section. And we all know that after your Ultra Sign-up score, Strava crowns are the most meaningful proof that you are a badass. One point for every crown. Not on Strava?? Minus 2 points.

4) GI fortitude: GI woes can derail even the speediest of runners in a 100 miler. How well does your stomach hold up? Minus 3 points for every race that has suffered due to GI issues.

5) Gag reflex: Will you be able to choke down a gel at mile 85 or will you start gagging on that sticky sweet wad of goo. 5 points if you have ever swallowed a live goldfish; 4 points if you can eat organ meats, tripe, or haggis; 2 points if you like sushi.

6) Nutritional product sponsor: If you have a nutritional product sponsor, you obviously have the benefit of the most awesome product on the market. We know this because you tell us every other day on Facebook. 5 points for each nutritional product sponsor.

7) Game strategy - Running 100 miles doesn't require intelligence per se, but it does require a certain mental focus and an ability to strategize. 5 points if you can complete a 'Hard' sudoku, 5 points if you like strategy board games, and 5 points if you can read a scientific paper without falling asleep AND you understand what you just read.

8) Experience: When it comes to 100 milers, experience counts. 1 point for every previous 100 miler. Of course, there are several people who have won Western States as their first 100 miler, but almost all of these people were experienced ultra-runners at the 50 mile and 100km distance. So 1 point for every three 50M or 100km races you have completed (Sorry, running a 50k has NOTHING to do with running 100 miles, so they don't earn you any points here. But hopefully they make your Ultra Signup Score look good.)

9) Toughness: Are you tough enough to stick with it through the rough patches? Minus 3 points for every DNF.

There you have it. A very simple formula that weighs in the need for strong legs, a strong stomach and a strong head for success at Western States and other 100 milers. Just calculate out the Holy Trifecta score for each competitor and you'll be the first to know who is going to win Western States!