Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ice, Ice ... Maybe?

Two for the price of one.  Icing the base of my right foot's big toe, while also
icing the heel of my left foot.  That takes talent, people!  (Also note the
red blotch by my knee where I had already iced.  Sad, huh?)
I am sure this is just what you want to see - my bare tootsies on ice.  Sorry, but I thought it was a funny picture.

I am one of those people who rarely ices.  I have to have a pretty serious injury to sit around icing.  It's not that I am against it; I just forget that it is out there as an option.  So, I am grateful when I somehow am reminded that that is one more tool in the toolbelt I have to fight nagging aches and pains.

That's where I am at right now.  Last week's vacation to DC and beyond was supposed to be a recovery week of sorts for me.  Down mileage, few cross-training opportunities, etc.  What I didn't take into consideration was the fact that we would be walking and standing .... a LOT.  By a lot, I mean hours upon hours: several hours one day, almost eight hours the next.  We took cross-training to the next level!  Even with all the walking, I think I would have come away from the week well rested if it hadn't been for the stairs.

In Washington DC we took the metro around town a few times - you know, to avoid the walking?  Well, unfortunately, the metro station near us had a "down" down escalator.  So, instead of being carried into the bowels of the earth in relative comfort, playing imaginary muzak in our heads (doesn't everyone do that?), we got to march down the stairs to the beat of an internal drummer.

I wish I had gotten a picture of the escalator so that my massive whine fest here would make more sense, but I didn't.  Suffice it to say that I am not talking the length of a normal flight of stairs.  I am talking hundreds upon hundreds of steps.  The type of distance where you pause at the top looking down and actually point it out to the children - look, kids, see how far down it goes!  (I think historically it might have even been intended as a bunker of sorts in the event of nuclear attack.)

In any event, we took these monster stairs not once, but twice.  I tried not to complain too much, because touchy patellar tendon twitching and groaning aside, I wasn't the one who had just done a 50-mile running event the day before.  I know Hubby was hurting way more than me.  The problem is that I tend to feel the lingering aftereffects of insults to my body far longer than Hubby does.  So, while he is back to working his way into his running routine, I am icing everything.

Oh well, ice and foam rolling.  If this is what gets me through my marathon, then I am not going to complain about it .... too much.

On another note, I have to say that I am looking forward to rowing today.  I have missed that infernal machine while on vacation.  Hotel fitness centers just don't cater to the rowing crowd.  I wonder why.

Also, in other news, inspired by a friend's homemade granola (I may have eaten about half her stash while she was out teaching a yoga class), I decided to give homemade granola a whirl.  Lucky for me, in the new cookbook I received for my birthday, Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker, there was just such a recipe - slow cooker granola.  It wasn't as tasty as J's granola, but it is edible and Hubby and I both enjoyed it for breakfast.  The kids opted for Cheerios.

Happy Running!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Back after a Month of Craziness!

Wow.  Surely October 19 wasn't the last time that I last wrote something on this blog, was it?  Well, it must be, because now that I decided to finally come back to it, I had to Google it to find the webpage.  Seriously.  I couldn't remember the exact URL.  If that is not a sad state of affairs in a "writer's" life, then I don't know what is.

In my defense, to say the last month has been busy would be a gross understatement.  In fact, life threw me a couple of curve balls that I had to deal with and I attempted to do so with aplomb.  Time for writing was not part of the game plan, though.

So, when last I wrote, Hubby and I were headed to Door County for the Fall 50 relay race and a weekend away.  We had a great time with that - very fun and relaxing.  If I recall (sweeping the cobwebs from my brain), my runs were pretty good although I paid for them.  I was on a four-gal team and had two six-mile legs for the relay.  I pushed the pace as well as I could, but my hips and hamstring acted up and I got to about four miles in each leg before my hip would start to spasm.  Not fun.  So, I would say I had a good eight miles for the day and a struggling four miles total.  All in all, a good experience though.  Now that I have tasted success with a four-person team, I am sorely (pun!) tempted to try a three-person team next year.  I figure if I downgrade by one person each year, then by 2015 I'll be ready to run the whole thing solo.  Ha!

Coming back from the Fall 50, we cleaned up the house and got ready to welcome Hubby's mom for a five-day visit with us.  Traveling from across the country, this is always highly anticipated by everyone, the kiddos especially.  They love seeing WCGM.  Unfortunately for WCGM, on the second day of her visit she had a biking accident trying to ride my bike to the park with the kids while I went on a run.  The result: a broken hip and a partial hip replacement.  Her five-day visit stretched into almost three weeks as she worked on recovery.  I did the best I could to help her along - mostly so she wouldn't be bored off her gourd for the duration (we don't even have cable TV!), and strangely I think it all worked out for the best.  The kids and WCGM (and I!) got to spend some serious quality time together, and WCGM got to take part in a lot of things she normally would miss - Halloween, extracurricular activities, LG's birthday.  She also was here long enough that she could enjoy some "normal" kid behavior.  The kids are usually so wound up when she visits that I always get the feeling that she doesn't see them as they really are.  With this longer visit, though, she got to see the real deal, and I think that was almost worth the price of admission.  (Not quite, though.  No one should have to pay for anything with a broken hip.)

After WCGM was cleared for take off and we said our good-byes, we had two days to turn around, do laundry, and pack up before heading out of town for a 10-day driving vacation to Maryland and Washington DC.  That wouldn't have been so bad, but unfortunately for me I had a school fundraiser distribution to work that sucked away about six hours of my day on the Tuesday between.  To say I started our vacation a bit stressed is my second understatement of the day.  Once out of town, though, I can say that I finally started to calm down, and in fact the vacation was really nice.

I'll gloss through the details of the trip, but will say that the whole reason for going to Maryland was a success.
Wrangling kids after the 50-Miler.
Hubby ran the 50th anniversary of the JFK 50-Mile ultra and had a great time doing it.  The kids and I passed the time during his race by going to the Antietam National Battlefield (from the Civil War for those not in the know), where the kids completed the junior ranger program happily.  For anyone taking kids to otherwise potentially "boring" national park venues, ask to see if they have a junior ranger program.  I thought I would be dragging the kids through Antietam kicking and screaming while I tried to get something out of the history of the place, but instead - with that program - I had two happy campers trying to complete the age-appropriate scavenger-hunt/activity books they received.  We were looking for weapons in the museum, measuring canons in the field, scouting out specific monuments, and more.  It was so much fun!  In fact, the kids were so keen on completing the program that we went back the day after Hubby's race to finish up.

Exploring the battlefield - day 1.
Exploring the battlefield - day 2.
After Maryland, we spent too short of a time in Washington DC.  All told, we probably walked eight hours or more going around to see the different monuments and the White House, visiting the Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo. The fancy schmancy hotel we stayed at (for a decent price!) was built in the 1930s, and I think I had almost as much fun there as anywhere.  (You know you are in a fancy place when you walk around in jeans, sweatshirts, and running shoes and everyone still treats you like you are wearing Armani and armed with Gucci handbags.)

Washington Monument on our nighttime walking tour.
At the National Zoo.
One thing I will say about Washington DC is that it just about FLOORED me to find out that all the attractions were joke. Maybe everyone else knows this but me, but the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Zoo (also part of the Smithsonian) were free.  And, Antietam cost us all of $6 for a three-day pass.  Being used to vacation attractions that regularly cost anywhere form $7 to $40 to get into, it occurred to me that we could probably pay off our nation's debt if the feds would just CHARGE ADMISSION to these great museums and attractions that get how many millions of visitors a year.  Just a thought.

The fun didn't end in Washington, though, because on the trip back, we stopped and visited some old friends in Ohio (we hadn't seen them in 15 years or so!) and then on to a family Thanksgiving in Michigan.  Finally, getting back home this past weekend, I thought I was ready to crash after a month of topsy-turvy.

Running-wise, I managed to hold my own this whole time (and that may be part of the reason my sanity is still intact).  I am following a new training plan that a friend put together and so far, so good.  I still have my hip/hamstring issue, but following the plan, which has me running a lot slower than normal but with speed work days added in, I haven't felt that bad.  The past two weekends have seen me becoming the Treadmill Queen, though....10 miles last weekend at a hotel in Maryland and 16 miles (!!!) on my treadmill at home yesterday.  Although I made it the 16 miles, the run was a bit of a failure as I was really supposed to do 18.  Ah well.  I felt okay for the run yesterday; nothing really barked at me pain-wise (although the base of one of my big toe's did bug me for the last little bit), but overall my legs felt kind of tired.  Mentally, I broke the run down into two-mile chunks - that's the only reason I could get so far.  I was pretty determined to finish the 18 miles, but by the time I reached 15.5, I was just done.  I walked it out to 16 and called it quits.  Strangely, I feel okay with the effort, despite being shy of the goal.  I think it's just what I needed yesterday.  We'll see how the rest of the week unfolds.

Happy Running!  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall 50 Weekend

It's Fall 50 Weekend!  Hard to believe.  It's snuck up on me this year, and I find myself going a little crazy trying to figure out what to do first to prepare.  Aside from actually packing for the race, it doesn't help that I need to clean up from a certain birthday celebration that took place last night, I am in the middle of a school fundraiser that has to be sorted out, and I have scheduled a haircut for this afternoon.  Ugh!  What to do first?

I really can't wait to do the Fall 50.....eight hours (at least!) on the road with three other gals, taking turns covering 50 miles from the tip of Door County, Wisconsin, to Sturgeon Bay.  All that followed by a fantabulous party in the park.  This will be the fifth year I have done this race, but it's the first time with a completely new crew.  The past four years - while we've had people come in and out - we always had the same core members.  This year, though, the core members wanted to do something different - myself included.  After being on a team last year of all guys - except for me - I thought it might be fun to be on an all-girls team.  So, this year I am on a team with three other ladies - so not even a five-person team!  We've only got four.  I will be running two legs, adding up to 12 miles or so. The first leg will have a couple of hill challenges in them; the second is relatively tame.  

It's a good thing our team is not out for any awards, because I don't think I can run my two legs too fast.  In fact, I am guessing my average time will be way under what I optimistically entered when I registered six months ago.  (I was running much faster then.)  Aside from lack of speed, I just don't know what my hamstring is doing.  It's been twinging off and on the past month or so - some days fine, some days not so fine.  After the 12-miler on the treadmill last Sunday and then an unplanned 6.5-miles of hills on Wednesday, it's been really touchy the past day and a half.  I am hoping by tomorrow it will be good again.  I had a running evaluation done on Tuesday and started some exercises based on the results, so I know that is adding to its discomfort a bit as well.

My hope is to get through the relay tomorrow gracefully, and then I will take a glorious three days off of running to really rest and see how things go from there.  It might be time for some more serious intervention if I don't start feeling like things are improving by then.  

So, things I could do to get the hamstring back in order:
  • Get a running evaluation done - Check!
  • Start strength and stretching routine again - Check!
  • Get a massage - Not yet
  • See a PT - Not yet
  • See the chiro lady again - Not yet
  • Take time off from running - Not going to happen if I can help it
Speaking of PTs, I am a little bummed because two of my favorite PTs were doing free evaluations last night at two different locations.  I unfortunately missed out because we were celebrating Hubby's birthday.  Of course, the celebration was worth it!  (But I do sort of wish I could have gotten the free eval.)

Next time.  In the meantime, I have the memory of the delicious lemon cheesecake that I somehow managed to make.  I don't know how I managed it, but it turned out really good.

Happy Running!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Who Forgot the Coffee?

Geez, I did!  Unbelievable.  I wouldn't call myself a coffee addict; I don't have to drink it throughout the day - and in fact I really only have about a cup and a half in the mornings and that is it.  But, generally speaking, I really, really want that cup and a half.  It's the first thing I do in the mornings - I make coffee.

Yesterday, though, in a strange, completely foreign-for-me turn of events, I F-O-R-G-O-T to make coffee.  Now, I can almost forgive myself because it was such an unusual morning for me.  Since Hubby was heading to the Glacial Trail 50 Mile and 50K race event to volunteer for a half day, waking up way before anything nearing a decent hour to do so, I had to squeeze my long run for the weekend in around the kids getting up and needing breakfast.  So, I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m.  Yeah, okay.  That didn't happen.  I listened to the alarm go off, somewhere in the fog made a mental note of it, and then proceeded to hit the snooze for a half hour.  Getting up at 5:15 a.m. instead, I managed to eat breakfast and watch what passes for the news at that time, before finally making it to the treadmill at 6 a.m.  There was no time for coffee.  I then proceeded to trot along at the Training Plan's assigned 11:06 pace for the next hour and a half.  Once the kids got up, I had a 45-minute break where I made breakfast, got the kids dressed and out the door for church with the GPs before being able to get back on the treadmill at the same pace to finish up the 4.5 miles I had left of my 12 miler.

After finishing up, stretching, showering, and getting ready for the day, I was about to head out to the gymnastics center for play time, when I realized - no coffee!  Strange, with all that running, I must have forgotten.  A stop by Starbucks rectified that situation.

Okay, so a minor slip up.  No big deal, right?  Well, fast forward to this morning.  I got up at 6 a.m. - after apparently turning my alarm off altogether - and did the few core exercises I have started as well as some running-specific PT-assigned exercises (trying to work on that strength!).  By the time I finished those, the kids were up and needing breakfast.  We ate, cleaned up, got ready to head to the bus stop, and - mental headslap - I forgot the coffee again!  This is all highly unusual for me and I don't know how to explain it.  Maybe I am losing my mind.  Maybe exercising first thing in the morning somehow gives you enough of a boost to forget about needing/wanting the coffee. I just don't know.

What I do know is that it got me thinking.  As I headed to Starbucks yet again for the second day in a row, I realized - they owe me a LOT of free coffee.  You think I am kidding?  Check out this picture.

Each of these bags represents a free "tall" coffee, and this isn't even all of them.  It's the only reason I continue to purchase Starbucks - even after they raised their prices a while back.  I may be paying $7.99 or $8.99 a bag - but once you subtract the $1.73 for the tall coffee, it doesn't seem so bad.  (That's what I tell myself anyway.)  In any case, I have a poop load of these bags because - since I keep making coffee at home - I don't need to go to a coffee shop for a cup o' joe.  Well, I think this week, that is about to change.  I have decided rather than make coffee at home, I am going to start working my way through these free cups of coffee.  I am going to go every day until these bags are gone - or until I get used to saying "tall" instead of "small," whichever comes first.

So, if you happen to see me enjoying what appears to be a home-brewed cup of coffee, know that - at least for the duration - it's an illusion.

So, what do you say?  Forgetting coffee two days in a row - mental lapse or exercise endorphins replacing the caffeine?

Friday, October 12, 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes...

...not for me; for my kids.  I know, I know. They are at that age where every day they seem an inch taller, a word or two closer to being able to express themselves reasonably (that is, without breaking down in tears or screaming until they're blue in the face), and generally just ready to kiss this hacienda good-bye and head off on their own.  Despite that, I am still surprised when we do something as a family that flows painlessly - at least as compared to the last time or two we did it.

Okay, by now you are surely wondering what the hell is she talking about.  Namely this: my kids did a fun run with me.  I mean, our running club holds these things every month and my kids have been dragged along with us more times than I can count, but they rarely actually RUN one.  In fact, the closest they have come to running a club-sponsored fun run with us was last year in October when I cajoled them into doing a short trail loop with me and we ended up kind of sort of half running, half walking the route.  It was great, and in fact I wrote about it here, but it wasn't painless.

This past Wednesday, though, was different.  I didn't think it would be given the Aw, do we have to go? and Can't we stay with Grandma and Grandpa? I got before leaving the house.  In fact, I thought for sure I would be pulling them around the trail again, cajoling and pleading, gritting my teeth and saying Isn't this fun?  Boy, was I wrong.  This year - this one time at least - they really got into it, and they ran pretty much the whole way - at least a 1.5-mile loop at Bubolz Nature Preserve.

Standing around at the start, there was no indication that things were going to play out differently.  They were horsing around as usual as the runners got their instructions and prepared to set off.  I was chatting with one of the hosts of the run when the running group actually started, and what happened?  Lo and behold, my kids took off after them!  A shouted Mom, they're leaving! was the first indication I had that we might actually do something this run.  After calling them back so we could pick up a couple of maps - one for E. and one for me - we set off.

Of course, it was beautiful.  What's not to like about wooded trails in the fall before hunting season starts.  The leaves were falling; the air was crisp, but it was sunny; and no need to wear hunter's orange yet.  (Not that I go out in hunting season anyway.  I don't care what I am wearing, moving at a run through the woods with itchy trigger fingers around is not my idea of a wise move.)

We ran along at a decent clip for most of the run.  We did stop quite a bit of course whenever we reached a trail crossing.  I think E. enjoyed consulting the map and tracking our progress almost as much if not more than the actual run.  LG did alright for himself too.  He is not as fast as E. or me, but he plods along at a consistent pace.  Occasionally, he would ask me to hold his hand as we trotted down the trails after his sister, and that was somehow just nice.

There was no complaining, there was no feet dragging or tiredness; it was as if we were all somehow just where we were meant to be.

Happy Running!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Warrior Princess Mud Run Race Report

I have a friend who tells me that the reason mud runs are so popular these days is because the majority of people running them are not runners, so there is a much larger audience for them. After taking part in this past weekend's Warrior Princess Mud Run at Mosquito Hill Nature Center in New London, Wisconsin, I would have to agree.  But that might be part of what makes them so fun!

So, I had never done a mud run before.  In fact, I had been rather befuddled about what all the hoopla was about.  It's not that I am prissy, well, too prissy, I don't think.  But there is just something about the idea of rolling around like a piglet in the mud, getting dirty, and actually finding that all a good thing that just hasn't meshed in my mind. With this particular event, though, the right combination of things happened to finally tip me over the edge of good sense and down the slippery, muddy slope of a mud run.

Loved the signs everywhere, reminding us what the
real reason for this run was.
When my friend A. told me that she was doing the Warrior Princess Mud Run and would I do it with her, I really didn't hesitate.  This was the mud run opportunity I had been waiting for: the chance to do it with a friend, instead of by myself; a great cause (all proceeds go to support Harbor House - a women's shelter); and location, location, location - the race was going to take place at one of my favorite nature centers not too far from home.  For all this, I figured I could handle a little mud.

Race day morning started out rather luxuriously, as I was able to wake up at a normal time.  Seriously, if you have done enough races, then you know that one of the common factors in most of them is that they seem to always have you getting up at the butt crack of dawn to make it to the start on time.  Not this one, at least not for me.  Our wave wasn't scheduled to run until 11:40 a.m.  I was already liking this whole thing.

The biggest challenge of the morning, however, proved to be deciding how to dress.  I knew the race was encouraging costumes, but since A. and I didn't get on the ball with that, we were going in plain old regular mud running attire - um, yeah, whatever that is.  Other than that friends had told me to wear stuff I didn't mind getting ruined, I really didn't know what to pull out of my closet.  Finally, I ended up with my least favorite pair of running tights, a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt and a short-sleeved cotton t-shirt, layered - both pulled out of the Goodwill/potential trash pile on my closet floor.  For fun, I pulled out both pairs of kickass socks I had received to review from (the review is coming SOON, I promise!): my knee-high Bad Ass socks with the arrows pointing towards my butt and the hot pink "Hottie" ankle socks.  It's not that I wanted to throw these gems away, anything but!  I just thought I should dress up my otherwise boring outfit.  In the potential land of costumes, I wanted to pop somehow.

So, all dressed, it was time to decide which shoes I would sacrifice to the mud gods.  I had been told that - while I may be able to salvage my clothes after the run - I should assume the shoes would be a complete loss.  That in mind, on the way out the door I decided to grab my old Nike Pegasus, which had been retired to my lawn mowing shoes this past summer.  I figured they could go on to their next life if need be.

A. and I showed up at the nature center about an hour before our scheduled start.  For parking we were directed to a field down the road from the nature center.  Packet pickup was a breeze, as the tent was located in the parking lot - easy to drop stuff off at your car if you needed to.  The volunteers were very helpful, but I didn't understand why they wrote my race number on my hand with a sharpie.  (Understanding came later when I almost tore my race bib off going through an obstacle.)  In our packets, we got a cotton long-sleeved royal purple t-shirt, a princess crown, a purple towel, and a couple of other happys along with a ton of coupons and literature for various organizations.

The walk to the nature center was entertaining.  Watching the previous waves' participants stream past in various states of muddiness provided us with a glimpse of what awaited us.  One gentleman was covered literally head to toe in mud.  For our own peace of mind, we determined he must have done that on purpose.  Right?  Also not to be overlooked was the fact that indeed a lot of people had opted for costumes: many iterations on the princess theme, fairies, superheroes.  You name it, it was there.

I felt lame compared to some of the others who really
dressed up for the occasion!  Next time!
After walking around and checking out the lay of the land, we headed inside to warm up a bit and use the bathrooms.  One thing that was not very pleasant about the race was that the high for the day was only to be 48 degrees.  Perfect if you are just running; not so good if mud is involved.

Finally it was time to head to the start.  We took a quick before picture, crammed our drop bags with our clean clothes along with our goodie bags into the huge plastic garbage bags they provided, and handed them over to the volunteers at the gear drop.  Bananas were available to grab at the gear drop, but I had just eaten an Ezekiel English muffin, so I passed.

The official before picture.  This is what I look like
in throw-away clothes.
At the start, we both made use of the porta-potties one last time and then waited for our wave to be called.  Because waves were starting every 10 minutes, the start area never seemed to get crowded.  Like us, most people seemed to be getting to the start a wave or two early and then just waiting for their wave to be called.  While waiting, a DJ kept the energy going with some good music, and the announcer was calling off team names in the waves.  When our wave was called, we headed into the start corral, cheered when our team's name was called and then toed the line.  Then we were off.

The approach to the start area.  Obstacle #1 - the Hill - is
off to the left.
Start corral right after a wave took off.
As to the race itself, I really didn't know what to expect.  I think in the end, I would say, the run part was harder than I expected, while the obstacles were easier.  The run - had it only been a 5K through the nature preserve - would have been challenging enough.  Mostly trails through the woods, it was a gorgeous course with its own challenges, not the least of which is obstacle #1 - a natural one and the first thing you tackle out of the starting gate: Queen of the Hill.  This 900-foot climb up Mosquito Hill has an average grade of 15%.  A. joked that I shouldn't have any problem with it having just tackled the Jungfrau in Switzerland (you remember, that race I didn't finish?).  I wanted to try to run up the whole way, but about halfway up decided that was dumb.  When you realize you can walk faster than you can run, it's time to walk.

For the most part, though, A. and I did run the whole 5K.  A lot of folks didn't - which is why I do believe the majority of participants were not folks you would see at your average 5K.  I could be wrong, but I think more people were in it for the obstacles and/or just the craziness of the whole idea.

So, what kind of obstacles were there? Well, after the hill, our first real muddy obstacle was a series of buckets half-filled with mud that you had to step through.  I joked that they were just trying to get our feet wet.  Pretty soon though I realized this was no joke.  I could barely get through them!  I didn't realize that mud had such sucking power, but it apparently does.  I didn't lose my shoes, but I almost did.  It took all the foot power I had to pull my feet with shoes out of those buckets.  I could understand now why some people had duck taped their shoes closed before the event - obviously that helps keep the shoes on.  Ahhh, live and learn.  Anyway, exiting the buckets and starting to run was a treat, especially since now my feet felt like they weighed two tons.

Other muddy adventures we had along the way included crawling through pipes filled with mud, army crawling under ropes through mud, and last but not least crawling under a cargo net through mud.  That  last one was the second-to-last obstacle and - given how low the net was - I can only assume the idea was that if you had somehow avoided getting too muddy up to that point, that was about to change.  Other obstacles included steeplechasing over logs, climbing an 8-foot wall, climbing over hay bales, and slip-sliding down a pumpkin-gut-and-water slide.  That one was my favorite.  In fact, I would have done it again if I could have.  Weeeeeeeeeeee!  Some of the obstacles were not that exciting - like weaving through tire trees and having volunteers throw flour (I believe) on us.  That just seemed like gratuitous dirtying to me.  And, then there was the swamp, which I believe they had technical difficulties with.  If it had worked, we would have wended our way through an ankle deep swampy morass, but somehow it didn't pan out.  I bet they fix that glitch for next year.

My favorite obstacle - No Guts, No Glory....
...otherwise known as the pumpkin guts water slide!
Having never done another mud run, I can't really compare how this stacks up to the competition.  For myself, I know I certainly expected the obstacles to be a lot harder.  I thought there might even be some I couldn't do.  With the exception of the climbing wall, however, the obstacles seemed more about getting dirty, not testing yourself physically.  Mental strength was tested for sure.  I admit that when I got to that last crawl-through-the-mud obstacle, for about a tenth of a second I almost said forget it.  With the chilly weather, I had felt frozen for most of the run, and I was not excited about getting even more down and dirty.  But I did it.

All in all, I have to say - in an amazed, almost-can't-believe-it-myself way - that I enjoyed this messy experience, and I would definitely do it again - although not on my own.  This to me is definitely a friend/team shared experience.  My understanding is that there are different degrees of mud run craziness.  I know my other friend A. put on a mud run this year that sounded good too.  While the run didn't sound quite as challenging, the obstacles sounded far more difficult.  Maybe something to try in the future.

After the race, we gathered our drop bags and rinsed off hands and arms in the homemade showers that had been set up for the event.  It was too cold for me to do anything more.  We then headed to the changing tents to finally get out of our nasty, wet clothes.  I opted to throw out my shirts and shoes, but I saved my socks and tights.  (Bagging them up, I was amazed at how heavy they were!)  I have heard that some races have spots where you can donate your shoes, but if this race did that I couldn't find it.  So, into the dumpster everything went.

Food at the end of the run included bananas, bagels, water and princess cookies.  Also, a full Snickers bar in my goodie bag was welcome too.  On hand to buy were brownies, apples and caramel, and "runaway" tacos - a bag of Fritos topped with taco fixings, as well as some other things.  I got the brownie and some coffee, and that tasted wonderful after the cold run.

Seeing as this was an inaugural event, I didn't really know what to expect from the race organization standpoint.  I needn't have worried.  Even with over 1,300 people registered, the event ran smoothly as far as I could tell.  I would certainly consider doing it again next year, if for no other reason than I would be curious to see if they change anything.  And, let's not forget, it is for a great cause.  So, the plan is if there is time and anyone wants to do this again, then I will sign up too - and cross my fingers and hope for warmer weather.

Happily ever after picture.
Happy Running!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Fashion Faux Pas

I realize I am not the most fashion-forward person in the world.  I mean, no one is going to look at me and wonder, hey, where did she get that stunning outfit? But, I like to think that no one ever looks at me and questions my hygiene either.  I do have certain standards after all. If you would have seen me yesterday, though, you might wonder.  When I took LG to his afternoon karate class yesterday wearing the same running clothes I had worn to run trails in earlier in the a.m. - and then subsequently mowed the lawn in - I think that qualifies as a new low for me.

Now, this was not exactly by my choice.  I had actually forgotten about the class.  In fact, it was only as I was making a snack and dreaming of the shower I would soon finally be able to take, that I happened to glance at the clock and realize that his class had just started.  Oops.  Bad mom moment.  Not too torn up about it, I was completely prepared to write off the class as a loss for the week, but as I apologized to LG for missing it, the look I received and the small little voice I heard say "But I like karate" were enough to spur me to action. 

So, that is why, two minutes later as we were peeling down the street (not really, I am too old-ladyish of a driver for that.  But, mentally I was peeling), having slapped together a jelly toast sandwich snack for LG and a PB&J toast snack for me, that the reality hit me in the form of a certain post-run, technical-gear odor that I was not really fit for polite company.  Crappola.  

We got to the Y fifteen minutes late.  LG, knowing we needed to hurry was actually motivated to dash out of the car and into the building without even his shoes on.  This is the boy, who at the best of times dawdle-walks everywhere.  So, harried and pathetic looking no doubt, I tore off down the hall after my little munchkin, carrying his shoes and karate belt in my hands, Birkenstocks on my own feet, and really looking like I was anything but in control.

If I was worried about how showing up late would have affected LG, I needn't have.  While I remember myself as a kid and how mortified I would have been to call such attention to myself, he marched right in there in his stocking feet, announced to the class "sorry we are late!" (where did he learn to be so polite?), and jumped right in.  I have to keep reminding myself that the boy is just not shy.  

So, in the end, LG was just happy to not miss the class, while I was for once totally embarrassed by my appearance.  Not only did I look ever so fetching in a running skirt, long sleeve tech shirt,  and knee high compression socks, I actually had trail dirt and mown grass clinging to my socks from the morning's activities, as well as the aforementioned eau de running hanging about my person. I had enough sense at least to sit as far away from the other moms as possible, but I am sure that only added to the aura of freakishness I was already giving off.  

Ah well, the trail run was worth it.  I ran with my running peeps along the trails of High Cliff State Park, and having the opportunity for one last peek at the fall colors before they are all blown away on the next wind made it worthwhile for me. Happy Running!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No longer a Jungfrau "Jungfrau"

On September 9, 2012, I had the runcation experience of a lifetime. I participated in the Jungfrau Marathon in Interlaken, Switzerland. Originally, when I conceived of this idea, I was not going to run in the event. It was more for my husband, who at one point several years earlier had become fascinated with the possibility of doing this race. Toeing the start line at 9 a.m., that Sunday morning of race day, I knew two things – I was not as well trained as I had hoped for and there was a very real possibility that I would not be able to finish. But, I was in Switzerland!

The day before the marathon with race
shirt on and the Jungfrau in the background.
The Jungfrau Marathon celebrated its 20th year this past September, and as a special gift to itself, it decided to double its marathon capacity. Normally topping out at 4,000 runners, it opened its starting gate to 8,000. Because the race cannot actually handle 8,000 runners, they solved this problem by holding not one, but two marathons on race weekend – one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

My husband and I were scheduled to run on Sunday. He as a matter of course, me as an exception, because as it turns out this year the race was also hosting the Long Distance Mountain Running World Championships. As such, for the most part, the two marathons were divided along gender lines: women on Saturday and men on Sunday. This was not a hard and fast rule, because men and women did end up running in both events. Some were actually Doublers – running both days. And some, like myself, were no doubt exceptions to the rule. Given the limited amount of vacation time that we had – and the fact that I didn't want to upstage my husband (this was HIS 40th birthday present after all) – I asked for and received special dispensation to run on Sunday. So, as a result, when race day dawned, I was one of about 90 women in a field of over 3,500 men.

So, why the Jungfrau Marathon? Well, why not? Just this year, the Jungfrau Marathon was listed on as one of the Ten Great Races in Amazing Places. In fact, it seems quite often to be listed in top ten lists – most beautiful marathon, most exotic destination marathon, etc. We first heard about the Jungfrau in Runner's World Magazine's “2007 Marathon Guide,” where it was listed as the runner-up in the “Run Up a Mountain” category. (Pikes Peak was listed first.) It had been on the bucket list ever since.

The race itself is not for the faint of heart. It's a full marathon that saves the toughest parts for last. In fact, relatively speaking, the first 15 miles are a breeze. Starting out in Interlaken, you do a loop through town, before heading out into the countryside. You wend your way through several Swiss villages, past small farms, and into the Lauterbrunnen Valley – famous for its 1,300-foot cliffs and 72 water falls. 

The shouts of “Hopp, Hopp” follow you along the way as you are cheered by a host of spectators. Runners' names are printed on the race bibs, so the cheering became personal, as I heard “Bravo, Shannon! Hopp, hopp!” almost anywhere people were gathered to watch.

A lot of spectators in Wengen make for a fun party!
In each village, there seemed to be an announcer welcoming racers by name as they came through and entertaining the throngs of spectators hanging out. Each little town seemed to make this event into a big party – with food and beer, live music or a DJ. The alpine history and traditions of the area were brought to life with many people ringing cowbells as their way of cheering runners on.

In one village, a whole band was present, ringing oversized bells that required two hands to hold. The resulting tones were deafening, and I almost had to cover my ears to make it through that section with my hearing intact. Everywhere you looked, fans were waving Swiss flags, and overall the event was very festive.

Aid stations were plentiful along the route. Every couple of miles or so they would pop up with water, a sports drink, and food items. The day was warm, so as the race wore on it was nice to see some stations offering sponges soaked in cool water.

It is easy to enjoy the first 15 miles of this race, and I did. The scenery is dramatic and stunning in spots, and the terrain is easy – roads, mostly – and relatively flat with only a few rolling hills. Of course, a few of those hills rolled a little more than others, with two in particular taking me by surprise with their height. When compared to the second half of the course on the elevation chart, however, they had barely registered as bumps in the landscape. 

The real challenge of this race, however, comes after Mile 15. That is where you start climbing.

At about Mile 15, runners get on a trail – not too technical, rather a nice hiking trail. It's outstanding feature at this point, however, is that it mercilessly, endlessly winds its way up in an almost three-mile stretch of switchbacks – that's 26 turns taking you up 1,594 feet in elevation. Running at this point is not an option for most people. The grade is at about 16 percent. This is not a technical trail section; there are no step-ups onto rocks that would make you think you should have worked out on a Stairmaster. Rather, you head up on a steep incline with your toes pointing towards the sky and your achilles stretched about as far as they want to go.

From the valley floor below you start your three mile climb to
where this picture was taken from. (Lauterbrunnen below.  Wengen above.)
Not the actual switchbacks to Wengen. This stretch came later, but it gives you an
an idea of what incline looks like if you haven't seen it for a while!
It is at about this stretch, too, that signage on the course goes from being placed at every kilometer to every quarter kilometer.

You wouldn't think a quarter kilometer could last that long, but it does. At just about the time it occurs to you for the tenth time that the climb will never end, it does flatten out a bit.

Finally, at Mile 18, you know you have arguably the worst climb behind you. A short downhill has you running into the village of Wengen where spectators are your reward for making the climb. Even here, they are ready to cheer you on and push you forward with their enthusiasm and encouragement.

Wengen, the morning of the Saturday marathon. Raising the arch, flags
waving merrily in the scant breeze.  Split clock already running for the
sprint awards.
However, getting through Wengen, you realize once again what you already knew: the climb is not over. In fact, although one of the toughest stretches is done, the last 12K continues the theme and it's a tough slog as you climb another 3,280 feet to the finish if you happen to make it there.

Not the best picture, but from this vantage point you can see that climb
awaiting runners in the last 12K.  Below is the village of Wengen. We are taking
the picture from about the level of the finish line.  We were actually in
Maennlichen, but from here we did an easy, flat hike over to Kleine
Scheidegg where the finish was located.
For me, I am sorry to report, I did not finish.  My first DNF was handed to me by a Swiss Alp. Rightly so.  If you are going to do it, do it right!

There were two time cutoffs that I was aware of for the Jungfrau. The first one was at Mile 18, right after the steep upward haul to Wengen. The time for that was 4:10. The second one was at Mile 23.5 at 5:30. Runners need to reach the finish line in 6:30. Having made the first cut-off with admittedly not a lot of time to spare, I thought I had one hour and 30 minutes to make it the 5.5 miles to the second cut-off before the finish. I wasn't too worried about making this cutoff. I was surrounded by other folks and didn't have the feeling of being left at the end of the race. And, as I felt that I was walking strongly on the hill parts (it was strangely a nice break from the running), I felt that with the running parts that I knew were coming mixed in, I would have a good shot at beating the second cutoff. What I didn't know, however, was that there were two sweeper bikes slowly working their way up the field, and if they reached certain aid stations before you did, you were done. Seeing as I stepped aside to let them pass right before one of these aid stations, not knowing who they were, I was particularly irate when it was explained to me that I could no longer continue.

Me at the 18-mile cutoff point.  This would be after a steep three-mile climb.
If this all sounds like sour grapes, that is in part because it is. However, I don't know who I am more irate at – the race for the unclear directions – or myself for not pushing it harder in the first half to position myself better to finish. I suspect it is the latter. It's one thing to DNF an event because you just bomb it and feel awful. It's another thing to do so because you are playing things too cautiously and you just barely miss a cutoff. I will never know if I could have finished the Jungfrau that day. I know I couldn't have gone much faster in the first half, although I think I could have shaved another five minutes or more. I had opted to go to a run/walk from miles 6 through 15, thinking that would help me save energy for the second half. Looking back, if I had it to do again, I would have run more in the first half and not worried so much about the second half. I won't deny that you need to conserve some energy, but at the pace I run, I am hardly ever giving it all I've got.

So, officially, my race was over at Mile 20.5. With only a 10K left to go and still feeling relatively okay, after signing off on my finish and handing over my bib and chip, I refilled my water bottle, grabbed a banana and continued along the marathon course. I didn't really have a plan. The thought occurred to me to finish the race anyway, but I debated too long with myself. Being – at essence – a rule follower, it would have been hard for me to whole-heartedly break away from all my fellow participants who were following regulations and getting on the train for the finish line. Instead, I dawdle-walked for a while, holding an internal debate, telling myself I would just see what was around the next bend. As it turns out, I did this for the next three miles.

Leaving the villages behind, the marathon course takes you relentlessly uphill on a beautiful alpine walking path – a wide dirt path through the forest with glimpses of breathtaking views of the Alps you are in fact wending your way through. The couple of water stations I passed were closing up, but the volunteers freely offered me refills on my water for which I was grateful. With about a 30-minute uphill hike left to the second cutoff point, the views really started opening up. The panorama of the Alps is almost unreal – too picture perfect to somehow not have been painted against the sky. The Eiger, MÅ‘nch and Jungfrau Mountains are framed so perfectly that it's really hard to take it all in.

The race was taking its toll, though. Finally, as I struggled up a particularly tough portion alone, I thought that when I got to the next railway station I would indeed just hop aboard and take the train to the finish. A part of me wondered if I could go the distance, as it were, but as I finally approached the cutoff station, the sight of the marathoners in the distance, snaking their way up a steep, single-track trail along the side of the mountain, and the view of the mountain falling away from the trail, I knew I wouldn't try that by myself. Perhaps, surrounded by others where I could really just concentrate on the person's feet in front of mine, then maybe. I would like to think I could do it – despite my fear of falling from high places. But, alone, with no one around, that is another story, and I am sorry to say that I was not brave enough. That, or maybe I do have sense. I was extremely tired at that point, and still not being an experienced marathoner, I didn't really know my limits. I figured, for me, at that time, trying to discover my limits while clinging to the side of a mountain was not the smartest thing to do.

I pulled in at the second cutoff point and asked the way to the train station. The volunteers there were – as they had been all along the course – exceptionally nice and concerned and helpful. They asked if I had already given up my chip and bib, and when I said yes they presented me with a finishers' medal – much to my surprise. When I tried to wave it off, they insisted. Apparently, as they explained, they feel their race is tough enough that if you make it to Mile 23.5 – even without officially finishing – you deserve the medal anyway. I felt a little funny about taking the medal, but then I thought when in Rome...or this case, Switzerland... So, actually, aside from the fact that I don't have the personal memory of finishing, I came away with the same things everyone else got: medal, shirt, and even the 20th anniversary gift of a backpack.

So, my race story ends rather anti-climatically. I took the train up to the finish line at Kleine Scheidegg – where I was to meet up with my husband. I claimed my backpack anniversary gift with the receipt I had been given when I gave up my bib, and searched through the throngs of finishers and supporters for Hubby, who was able to finish the event. His race went better than mine, needless to say, although he still found it tough. Normally, a 3:20 marathoner, he finished the Jungfrau in 4:50. The first half took him about an hour and 50 minutes, while the second half took him almost three hours.

His report of the heights and views confirmed what I had suspected – that I would have had a hard time doing that last stretch of trail on my own. Hubby reported that the last two miles were very slow. Being on a single-track with not a lot of room to step to the side, he was forced to stick to the pace of the person in front of him – a slow, painful walk. With about a half-mile to go, though, it was a fairly easy downhill into the finish area for him.

Finish area:

So, would I do this event again? Yes. I would try it. The only thing that would stand in my way is that there are too many places to go and races to try. However, I think Hubby and I both fell in love with the Berner Oberland region where the race was held. It's a hiker's paradise, and we have already joked about going back for the 30th anniversary of the Jungfrau. We'll see. One thing I know is that if I do go back, it will be as someone who has completed a lot more marathons than two – and as someone who has a much better understanding of how I manage that distance without the added obstacles of – say, a mountain – added into the mix. Also, I would have a much better training season behind me – preferably one not sidelined by an injury as this one was.

All in all, though, the race was a great experience, and a wonderful learning opportunity for me. The scenery is stunning. Switzerland, and in particular the region around Interlaken where the race is held, is beautiful. The race was very well organized and supported. As a racing tourist, I can't imagine somewhere where you would feel more welcomed. If you happen to be in the area or simply looking for adventure, love mountains, and can do a regular marathon in 4:30 or so, then the Jungfrau is definitely one to consider.

Waiting for the train back to Interlaken.
Hubby looking happy with his finish. Me?
Oh well, I tried.
Other random pictures:
Tent city at the start.
Inside the tent.
The start line, which you actually go through twice: once at the start
and once after three kilometers (after looping through Interlaken).
Waiting for the start.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Tale of Three Races and Absenteeism

So, it occurs to me, I am rather surprised to say, that it has been over a month since my last blog post.  In that time a lot has happened running-wise.  I have participated in three races: two half marathons and a full marathon.  I have completed only two.  The third, while kicking my butt, was still amazing and a story worth sharing.

I don't know why I haven't posted anything in so long.  I think at the beginning of my month of absenteeism it had to do with nerves.  Hubby and I were getting ready to head overseas to Switzerland for the Big Goal Race.  I was wired more tightly than those little door stopper doohickies a lot of houses have attached to their baseboards wherever a door is present.  In fact, I was fairly freaked out - not just by the looming event, but also the logistics of getting over there, leaving the kids with Grandma and Grandpa (lovingly referred to as the GPs), and, well, everything.  I guess I didn't want to share that with anyone.  And, yes, while I realize there are relatively few of you who actually read this (probably fewer now that I haven't written anything for a while), I still didn't want to scare off my few readers with glimpses of what a basket case I can be at times.

Anyway, at least for now, I am back.  There is a lot to catch up on, and I will attempt to do that in the next few days.

So, what were the three races?  The first one was the Cheesehead Half Marathon, a local event that I have done before or somehow otherwise been affiliated with - either by doing the 5K or volunteering - for a number of years.  It's a nice race.  The route isn't too spectacular unless you like flat and fast.  Whereas I can see the appeal to that, it's not really a factor with me. Beyond that, though, the volunteers are amazing (remember, that's me sometimes), and the post-race food is phenomenal.  The Cheesehead was scheduled for two weeks before my "A" race, so I decided at the last minute to do it as a sort of confidence booster heading into my marathon.  Yeah, that didn't work.  As it turns out, fate had other ideas for me that didn't include me finishing the Cheesehead in a blaze of self-satisfied running glory.

In the days leading up to the race, I could feel that I had a cold coming on.  So, when race morning dawned, I wasn't surprised to find that I was tired, my throat was scratchy, and I just wasn't feeling it.  To add insult to injury, it was hot that day. Surprise!  It had been hot all summer, so why would I have expected it to cool down for my August race?  Silly me.  I just don't know what I was thinking.  Anyway, rather than rolling over and going back to bed, I sucked it up and headed to the start.

I wish I could say that I overcame what was ailing me and conquered the event, but I didn't.  Frankly, I sort of slogged through it.  My idea was to start out slowly and run for two miles to warm up, then go to a run/walk and hopefully pick up my pace a bit - at least through the run segments.  I had used this approach before in the past, resulting in a PR at the time.  But this time it didn't work.  It didn't help that somehow I didn't click to the right screen on my Garmin, so instead of looking at my current pace through the first couple of miles, I was looking at.... well, who knows what?  In any event, instead of doing the 10-minute-miles I meant to do, I started out at under 9-minute-miles, like closer to 8:30 at times.  With the sun already feeling hot on an unshaded course, a head cold in the making, and - the worst part - with my heart just not into it, I think that all but killed my race.  At mile 3, I was already asking myself if there weren't an easy way to loop back to the start.  Seriously, I was that done.  I had no desire to continue.  But, I did.  The race wasn't easy.  I wanted to quit for most of it, but I plowed through somehow.  My run/walks were really slow, and by the last mile, I was taking a lot of "unsanctioned" walk breaks.  I just didn't care.  I finished the event in 2:27:58 - a far cry from the confidence-boosting 2:10 I was looking for going into the marathon.

Looking back, I don't know if it was the heat and the cold (no pun intended) that destroyed the race for me, or the fact that I was already so wrapped up in worry for the marathon to come that I just couldn't relax.  I guess I'll never know.  Other than the run itself, the event was brilliant. I knew enough people either running or volunteering that the post-race talking and hanging out with friends was in itself worth the price of admission.

So, that was the Cheesehead.  Contrast that with yesterday's half marathon - the Fox Cities Half Marathon.  I also went into yesterday's race less than enthused.  No heat in the forecast this time, though, and no head cold,...just a lingering feeling of tired legs from my failed marathon and a weariness with racing in general.  Instead of trying to make something happen from nothing, however, I decided I would morph my goal into something else altogether, and so I purposely went for a slower time goal than I know I am capable of and opted to run with the 2:30 pace group.  And, I had a GREAT time doing it.  However, more on that tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you are still reading the blog at all, thanks for sticking around!  I will try not to let another month go between missives.  I do like writing a lot, and the interactive nature of blogging is in a way so much more rewarding than the alternative reality of me, a blank journal, and a pen.  By the way, what do you know?  This is my 150th blog posting since I started doing this a year ago.  Happy ... something .... to me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back-to-Back Long Runs...Well, Sort of....

Well, I am officially in taper mode now for my upcoming marathon.  It's a good feeling to be there, but at the same time I am worried that I didn't manage to do enough training for what will prove to be a very difficult event.

My last long run was a 20-miler, and I completed it on Saturday.  It's the first time I have run that mileage since my last marathon on October 2 of last year, and it was tough.  My training really fell apart this summer with my hamstring, and my long runs especially were what suffered.  Instead of having a sensible, consistent build-up to the 20-miler, I was doing what "I could manage."  That meant a lot of trail running - a couple hours here, once and a while three hours.  I spent a lot of time hovering around the 13-15-mile mark for my long runs.  As these final weeks approached, and I was finally! starting to feel better, I was left with just three more long run weeks.  I took a very scientific approach to them and opted to do the following:

Week 1 - 2-hour long run
Week 2 - 3-hour long run
Week 3 - 20 Miles (which I assumed would take me about four hours)

Not exactly your 10-percent rule, is it?  To make things even better, I ended up doing my 20-miler only five days after the 3-hour run because that is what fit into the schedule.  Not ideal.

So, how did it go?  Well, okay.  I headed out on the run with my hamstrings and lower back already sore from all the cleaning I had done the day before.  Don't ask me why I decided to do a day of heavy cleaning the day before a long run when, in fact, I've been ignoring most cleaning all summer, but that's what I did.

I woke up, and the plan was to run to the local running club's 14-mile training run.  The run there would net me a little over two miles, I would do the training run with the run/walk group, and then I would finish up running home adding any miles as needed to get me my 20.

As it turns out, the run there was fine.  I enjoyed a slow, warm-up-type jog and got there just in time to find the route reel instructions and hook up with the run/walk group.  We started out and for the first five miles or so, everything felt fine.  I felt a little funny running with this group, because although I know all the people in it, they clearly are running buddies while I am the outsider who drifts in and out of the group occasionally.  Ah well.

The run/walk worked out great for five miles or so, as I said, but after the first few miles I was informed that the group likes to ramp up their running interval speed in the middle miles before bringing it back down again.  Yikes! I wasn't quite prepared for that, but I seemed able to manage okay.  What was my undoing, however, were the hills.  The route that the course designer had put together included a fair amount of rolling hills leading to, along, and leading away from the river - a nice challenge for anyone doing 14 miles.  For someone doing 20 miles however, it was a bit much.  Maybe if I were a stronger runner, I could handle them better, but as it was by the time we reached the 14-mile turn around point (so about nine miles into my run), I was already falling off the back of the group.  I realized I couldn't keep up the pace and tackle the hills and go 20 miles too, so I let them go.

Once I dropped off the group, I almost felt a bit of relief.  It's almost like feeling like you have to be on your best behavior because you are in the company of others.  Suddenly, finding myself alone, I felt able to breathe a bit better and my running improved.  Well, either that, or it's because I wasn't talking anymore.  From miles nine to 14 or so, I felt I did fairly well.  Make no mistake, I was ALL ALONE and that was a bit of a bummer.  There's nothing like doing a group run and finding yourself trailing at the end of it to such a degree that you could be the only person out there.  The plus side, of course, is that getting to the water stations I felt I had them all to myself.

After about mile 14, things started getting tougher.  I was starting to enter into no-man's land, that land of mileage you don't visit very often.  In fact, really one of the few times I had visited it at all was only five days previously, and my legs were feeling it.  I managed to get myself back to where the training run started, but facing still another four miles, I didn't feel like sticking around or talking to anyone, so I just filled up my water bottle and went.  Those last four miles were torture.  I felt like I had hit the wall in a marathon.  I was sluggish, my legs didn't want to run when I asked them to, and I ended up changing my intervals from a 4:1 to a 3:2.  Even then, my slow-walking legs were not too thrilled to be put into running gear when the time came.

I finished the 20 miles in 4:03, with those last six miles taking me almost an hour and a half.  Serious wall-hitting there.  After stretching and an ice bath, I still felt mostly miserable all day Saturday.  By Sunday, though, I was already starting to feel better, and yesterday I managed a 5.5K row with little problem.  I'll be curious how today's run goes.

There were so many thoughts running through my head after the 20-miler that I don't think I can outline them all here.  The overriding one, however, was the thought that I fully intend to slow down after this marathon.  I know I have another marathon in January, but I am only going to look to finish that one in one piece.  I plan on hopefully keeping my base up after this marathon, keeping my early long runs in the two to two-and-a-half hour range, but I am going to slow WAY down and work on my aerobic, endurance base.  Speed will have to come later, after I prove to myself that I can go the distance.  I am really looking forward to it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two Books Have Me Wondering if Vegans Make Better Ultra Athletes...

So, inspiration can come from a book.  I am sure that is what the authors hope will happen - that they will reach out and touch someone, make them think.  But ever since leaving school, I have been more or less a read-and-run type of person.  Two books recently have really got me thinking, however.

The past few weeks, I have been devouring two food- and running-related books that I happened to buy for Hubby for Father's Day this year.  The first was Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run and the second was Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra.  It's been a long time since I have had to write a book report, so I won't even pretend that I know how to anymore, but I will try to do them both a little justice.

Although I never really started out with the idea of comparing the two books to each other, their similarities cannot be denied.  Both books are written by ultra-endurance athletes who considered themselves unlikely candidates for such at one point in their lives.  And, they both happen to be vegan (that is, they eschew all animal products).  Both Jurek and Roll are convinced that their food choices positively influenced how far they have been able to come in their sport of choice.  Finally, both books are deeply personal accounts of the authors' respective lives and some of the hardships they have been dealt.

I'd say that is where the similarities end, however.

In Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run, Jurek recounts how he went from a meat-eating, hunting and fishing Minnesotan to a vegan seven-time winner of the Western States 100, as well as American-record holder for the 24-hour race, and more.  His childhood troubled by a dysfunctional family life in part resulting from the impact of his mother's MS diagnosis and poverty, running started out as a means to keep in shape for the cross-country ski season, the one thing he found he was really good at.  Eventually, running morphed into the main focus.  Even after starting to run ultra events, though, and becoming good at them, he had to deal with the insecurities that come from being the outsider - the flatlander attempting to win (and then succeeding to win) one of the most esteemed mountain races in ultra history.

The decision to turn vegan came somewhat slowly for Jurek, having been influenced by some people in his life, as well as his own research on the topic.  Being a physical therapist, he recounts working in a hospital and watching an elderly gentleman turn his nose up at the hospital food and just sort of having an "aha" moment.  His own research and experimentation then eventually led him down the path of whole-foods veganism.  (As opposed to junk food veganism, which is possible.)  Although the transition seemed to be slow, by the time he toed the line for his first Western States, he was completely on a vegan diet.

Food, recipes, and his choice to become vegan are woven throughout the book, and the clear message is that to improve health, this is the way to go.

Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra has less to do with being a roadmap to veganism as a way of life in the ultra world, and more to do with his fight to overcome addiction.  Although I haven't struggled with addiction myself, I found it a powerful and compelling story of someone falling down that particular rabbit hole, only to finally pull himself out once he hit rock bottom.  The choice to become vegan was simply a further step in redefining who he was.  After conquering his alcoholism, the next step was getting healthy.  Rather than being a slow metamorphosis, Roll experiences some scary moments where he feels he's being given the opportunity to change.  A self-proclaimed all-or-nothing guy, he jumps into veganism and exercise with a vengeance and doesn't turn back.

His story of going basically from couch-to-Ultraman (double distance Ironman triathlon) in middle age is compelling in its apparent lunacy.  Having been a competitive swimmer in high school and college, before alcohol took that away from him, he did have a leg up in at least one triathlon event.  However, running and biking did not come naturally for him, and he credits eating healthfully and really paying attention to what he put in his body for allowing him to make that leap.  I would argue there was some innate natural ability as well.

Now, I was interested in picking up these books for a couple of reasons.  First, Hubby's recent foray into ultra running has spurred the need to investigate nutritional tactics more closely.  Additionally, being long-time vegetarians, we have flirted with veganism off and on through the years but have never really been able to make the commitment.  I wanted to see how it should be done.  For us, any attempts at eating vegan in the past were half-hearted at best.  That is to say, we didn't put a lot of thought into it.  Rather than seek out the healthful way to do it, we just yanked out the dairy.  Eating spaghetti?  Just leave off the parmesan cheese.  After reading these books, however, we've both been moved to clean up our food act, to make every bite count.  So, lately, we've been buying a lot less simple-carb loaded stuff, and investing more in nutrient-dense, high quality "superfoods."  Look in our fridge and you will find kale, beets, berries, tempeh, and sprouted tofu.  Our pantry holds quinoa, barley, sprouted lentils, and brown rice.  And, we're actually eating the stuff, not just looking at it!

I hate getting into discussions about food choices, because for some reason people feel very strongly about the way they eat.  Many will take it as a personal attack if they think you are criticizing what is on their plate.  I will say, however, that personally when I eat a healthy, vegan diet, I do feel better.  I feel I have more energy, less fatigue, and even recover from runs better.  Is it the "right way" to eat?  I don't know.  There is a lot of talk about how some elements in a vegetarian diet are not good for you, and maybe there is some truth to that.  The Paleo folks would have you believe it.  (And I don't pan paleo altogether.  I even subscribe to a paleo blog.) But, I also know that there are a lot of anecdotes of people doing super things on a healthy vegan diet.

Back to the books, however.... Even if you eschew the idea of going meat-free, I think both books have something to offer.  They may not definitively answer the question of whether or not vegans make better ultra athletes.  However, the info on healthy eating gives you food for thought, even if you don't want to give up the flesh.  And, the personal stories of two very amazing athletes are an interesting read.  In a way, both books offer messages of hope.  Rather than just leaving you with the feeling that you have read an interesting account of someone else's feats (that you could never do), both books left me at least with the feeling of wanting to look around and see what my challenge could be.  I may not ever win the Western States 100, or run it for that matter.  And, I may never take on Ultraman or any other triathlon, but I do wonder what things are just beyond my reach.  What kind of challenges can I take on?  And I think they might do that for you too.

Have you read any running-related tomes lately?  Recommend your reading list here!