Cordillera Mountain Ultra – next time, train for mountains

September 2005 was my first international race. In Newcastle, Australia I befriended the Philippine Duathlon Team. They were my biggest supporters during the race – cheering louder for me than anyone. We exchanged team gear, contact info, and they invited me to race in the Philippines. 14 years later I finally made the trip (although not for a duathlon obviously) and all I can say is – what took me so long?

2005 Philippine Duathlon Team

My recent trip to the Philippines introduced me to people as warm, welcoming, and downright awesome as the Philippine Duathlon team I met years ago. The land was equally beautiful making for an awesome experience all-around. Let’s get to it!

Much like my trip to India in January, flying halfway around the world was just the beginning of the journey to get to the Cordillera Mountain Ultra. Fresh off a 16 hour flight, I hopped into a cab to the bus station, and then got on a bus for a 6 hour ride to the mountain town of Baguio City. I was really hungry. Ill-prepared for a flight that didn’t have vegan meals for me, luckily my flight attendant was over-compensating by showing up to my seat at random times throughout the flight when she’d find a banana, apple, or package of peanuts 🙂 (they fixed this for me on the return flight). The bus station had zero options for me as well as the 2 stops along the way to Baguio. I really wanted to enjoy the bus ride and take in the scenery but I couldn’t stay awake any longer and passed out on my bag twice before arriving, where I had one last cab for a ½ hour ride to my hotel. Phew!

My Unived family (Monica & Amit) arrived a few hours later and we were all anxious to get a vegan meal! We set off on a 5k walk to what became our desert oasis – the vegan restaurant Ahs-Wes. I lost count of how many meals we ate there throughout our short time in Baguio City, but I can tell you we knew the menu quite well 🙂 We had a full day Thursday to settle in and the race director pointed us towards some nice runnable trails as Camp John Hay. I was happy to get in a shakeout run because man my lungs were burning! Baguio sits at 5,000 feet which really isn’t that high, but when you come from Syracuse, a whopping 380 feet, you can feel it. We also had some time to relax and explore Baguio – what a beautiful town!

running at Camp John Hay

Friday it was time to head to the race site and I was really excited that our transport was a jeepney! It was an hour ride to the barangay of Tinondgan. A typhoon in September of 2018 led to landslides that devastated Itogon – destroying land, homes, and leaving casualties. We were seeing some of this damage along the way. We later learned that the Cordillera Mountains also experienced wildfires in February of 2019, causing even more devastation to this beautiful area. The race course took us along some of the charred land 😦 All of this made us even more grateful to the residents for their willingness to share their land with the runners.

Amit’s ready for the jeepney ride!

Shortly after arriving at race headquarters I laced up for a shakeout run on the course. In just 3k of running I already had a good sense of how challenging yet stunning this race would be. The trails were not very technical but they were dry, and the loose dirt and stone would add challenge to the steep ascents and descents. I made the correct choice in bringing my Altra King MT’s for race day! The short jaunt on the race course was all I needed to get my excitement level revved up and I was wishing the race started tomorrow!

checking out the course

It was a short walk down the village road to our homestay, where I settled into my room and our gracious host made rice and veggies for our dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much rice in the span of a week, but it sure was great!

relaxing at the homestay with Amit, Monica & Arjun

Saturday hosted the Vertical K race, packet pickup and pre-race festivities. We spent a relaxing day at headquarters meeting and talking to other racers representing 30 countries – wow! We also enjoyed a welcome ceremony and Igorot dance performed by the local children which brought smiles to everyone’s faces.

Welcome ceremony. Photo: William Cheang

During the race briefing the elite fields were introduced and that’s when the nerves set in – I was up against some really strong females – exciting!! It was time to head back to the homestay for dinner and race prep – tomorrow was the day!

Q&A with the Asia Trail Master. Photo: William Cheang

Race morning I was up at 2 am and with a 4 am start this wasn’t so bad. Everything was laid out and ready to go – all I had to do was fill my bottles and it was a short walk to the race village to check in. I was feeling pretty calm – for some reason I think starting in the dark helps but I also just felt ready! A couple more photo ops and the countdown began!

Ready to race!

My A goal for this race was 6:30. My B goal was 7:00. C goal was just to get it done. To accomplish this I split this race into 3 sections of focus:

First 15k
Time Goal: 2 hours
Mantra:
calm & focused

Starting a race in the dark is always exciting. It forces me to keep things under control so that I don’t make any dumb moves early on 😉 The suspended bridges were pretty cool when you have the entire starting field running over them at once – almost like trying to run on a moon bounce. A lot of us were laughing along the way. I noticed that Veronika settled in behind me right from the start allowing me to dictate the pace, when we hiked, and when we ran. I could tell she was going to be a strong contender that day. It quickly became just the two of us. At about the 4k mark a short road climb turned into a long, winding descent on the pavement and that’s where Veronika made her move. She went flying down that road and as tempting as it was to chase her I knew that would be a huge mistake on my part that early into the race. It’s always really impressive to watch a strong runner do their thing so gracefully. I was in awe of her prowess on that hill – it’s never a good feeling to see a leader disappear ahead of you but it’s awesome to witness that talent.

Early miles. Photo: GlairoldRecella Photography

I kept my mantra in my head and pressed on at my own pace, enjoying the darkness, the silence, and the undulating trails along dirt and stone singletrack. I was also thrilled with the 4 am start because the sun and heat were going to be a strong presence that day and I wanted to make as much progress as I could towards the first major climb before the sun was directly overhead. I was able to remove my headlamp right before rolling into the 15k aid station to enjoy the beautiful dawn light. I came in at 1:54 – just enough of a cushion showing that I had restraint in the opening 15k. This is where we needed to fill up 1.5 liters of fluid as we weren’t going to see aid until after both West Ugo and Mt Ugo summits, which were 16k away! I was told Veronika was 5 ½ minutes ahead of me. Ouch!

Filling up before the climbs. Photo: Viaje ni Drew

Second 15k
Time Goal: 3 hours
Mantra:
consistent climbing

I was relying solely on run fitness to get me up those mountains as I had not done any climbing since Vagamon Ultrail in January… I quickly learned that running fitness was not enough to power me up those climbs. I had some regret for not bringing my poles but there was no use in dwelling on that – I had to focus on pressing onward and upward. The 7k to the first summit was unrelenting. There was no break in the climbing and man was it steep – sometimes reaching 30+% grade! I felt I was surely widening the gap between myself and Veronika as I struggled to maintain that consistent climbing I was aiming for. Each time I felt I needed a break I reminded myself to just stay strong and make it up that damn mountain! I knew the reward for climbing would come eventually. I caught up to another runner on the first climb and we went back and forth for a while – it was nice to have someone around for the first time since I was passed at the 4k mark. I wish I could describe the views as we summited West Ugo – stunning!!

My only company for the day. Photo: Rox Roldan

With the first summit out of the way the sun was now striking with full force. Only 9k left to the next summit with a gnarly descent to attack first. Coming off the ridge there was no trail – it was a bushwhacking choose-your-own adventure line following the course markers. I was so focused on my footing in the tall grass and loose terrain that I lost site of the markers and began to panic – there was no way I wanted to climb back up that summit to find where I went off course. As I was desperately looking for a marker I had my first solid fall of the day, landing on a large branch adding some nice cuts to my left butt cheek. I was happy to have the branch to catch me from tumbling further down. I took a pause to settle down, focus on the ridge, and find my marker.

The next section was my favorite on the course. Although the sun and heat were starting to peak I was enjoying the flat sections where I could open up my stride. My strength today was on the flats and there weren’t many so I needed to take full advantage. There was an aid station as we were beginning the final summit and I was told that Veronika was 3 minutes ahead. I was in shock that I made up time on her and as I started the steep climb sure enough I saw her far up ahead! I again hit my time goal of 3 hours on this second section, reaching 31k at 4:45. It was all mostly downhill from here. Time to bring it home!

Final 17.5k
Time Goal: 90 mins
Mantra:
BRING IT HOME!

By the time I reached the 2nd summit Veronika – the downhill destroyer – was out of sight again. At the next short but steep climb she reappeared and I was finally coming into striking distance. I tried to quietly make ground on her but before too long she turned around and saw me just as we were reaching the crest of the climb. Then off she went again – man this girl can crush the descents! I realized that she found a second gear this time as there was no sign of her at all. When I reached the next aid station they announced I was the first female. I corrected them, obviously, and they reassured me that no other female had reached the check-in. Uh oh. This means Veronika either went off course or something happened and I didn’t see her off the trail. I didn’t feel good about either scenario but the only thing to do was continue on.

Attempting to fly!

I wasn’t excited about my new-found position in the race – there’s no fun in taking the lead that way. I actually felt really deflated and bummed – also a bit worried about her. Even if it would have sparked a fire in me to crush those final miles my legs were not into it anyway. The downhills hurt in a way I wasn’t expecting them to in this short of a race, and basically my legs were too tired for me to trust them on the steep loose sections. Then I heard someone coming up fast behind me on a downhill and I didn’t even need to turn around to see who it was, but I did anyway to welcome her back 🙂 Veronika told me she was distracted and went off course as she flew by me like I was a spectator. Suddenly I felt better and although I knew I wasn’t going to match the fire I saw in her I was ready to push to that finish.

But not before those legs I didn’t trust decided to throw me into a head first dive one last time. And not before I came across two springs in those final miles that were gushing ice cold water that I couldn’t resist placing my whole body under. It was really hot. The time I was giving up to cool off was well worth it. Reaching the final village felt awesome as everyone was outside and cheering us along. Now we were in full sun exposure for the final 2.5k. Over the 2 suspended bridges I felt even more wobbly in that heat. After crossing the first bridge I felt like I was still on it. After crossing the second bridge it was all uphill to the finish line.

Final climb to the finish.

Although my time goal for the final section was not met I ended up finishing in 6:34, only 4 minutes off my goal, and 3 minutes behind Veronika. Overall I was happy with my race and even happier to be at the finish line celebrating with the other runners I met from all around the world.
It’s very exciting to have my nutrition completely dialed in. I again tested the *soon-to-be-released* new products from Unived. I had one Endurance Gel along with 250 ml of RRUNN During drink mix every hour throughout the race. I didn’t experience any low points and never had any stomach issues even in that heat. I did take one small banana before the final summit and of course filled up with water at every stop! I want to give a major kudos to Cordillera Mountain Ultra for making this race zero waste. There were no throwaway cups at the aid stations – runners were required to bring their own reusable cups and some aid stations had tin cups you could use if needed. Aid station fuel consisted of bananas and rice cakes that were wrapped in banana leaves – no paper or plastic disposable goods to be found! I loved this 🙂

I had an amazing experience racing the Cordillera Mountain Ultra and I hope to someday check out more of the Asia Trail Master series. So much attention and love went into every aspect of this event and you could feel it in every step of the race. JP put his heart into that race and his volunteers were some of the best around! When I was first invited to this race it was an immediate “no”. My overseas trips for the year were already planned and this did not fit into the schedule – certainly not another trip halfway around the world only 2 months after a trip to India. Luckily Amit knew how to play it cool, and a few weeks later slipped in a gentle reminder that the offer still stood. Sometimes my flaw of being a “yes” woman pays off 🙂

Podium: Veronika Vadovicova, me, Sandi Menchi

Finally, congrats to Monica and Amit who celebrated their 5 year court marriage anniversary by running the entire race together 🙂 These two are inspiring!

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I Cannot Do Justice to the Vagamon Ultrail Race

It has taken me a while to write this race report because my words cannot fully describe this wonderful experience. What a great start to a New Year! This is going to be a long one… In an attempt to not ramble on too much I will keep this focused on the race weekend. However I cannot fail to address that my trip to India was an awesome experience from beginning to end thanks to Monica & Amit of Unived Sports, and Unived Trail Runners Club athletes Rahul, Ashish, Arjun and Sanjay. I cannot express to you all how much you filled my heart ❤

Getting to the race

Getting to the hills of Vagamon was quite the journey! On Thursday afternoon we took a 2 hour flight from Mumbai to Kochi where we found a hotel for the night. The cab delivered us to the front desk – literally – he drove up the ramp into the lobby and dropped us right at the desk! We dropped off our gear and set out to find dinner in town, walking through the quiet beautiful streets of Kochi. We were on the search for “authentic” South Indian food. That was the theme of the weekend – they wanted me to have authentic experiences, even going as far as getting me to do things by telling me it was authentic 😉 We found an excellent dinner spot where I was able to try all sorts of delicious foods, which was the kickoff to my weekend of eating way more than my body was accustomed to! But how could I turn it down? (I tried sometimes, but wasn’t allowed haha).

The next morning we left for Decathlon where we check in and acquire our bib. This is where we met up with the rest of the UTRC boys and took a short walk to a breakfast spot. I tried more new foods – delicious Appams – served by a man wearing soccer cleats 😉 A sporting goods store is a perfect spot to wait around for bus transport so we hung out at Decathlon for a while and before I knew it they were serving the racers lunch. Not hungry at all, I was informed that I would only have one more chance to eat that day so I better fill up. I rallied and got it done. After lunch we boarded the party bus (yes, it even had a disco ball) and we began our 3 ½ hour drive to Vagamon.

All aboard the party bus to Vagamon!

The last hour + we climbed the narrow, winding roads that showcased the beautiful landscapes we would be running the next day. We made one pit stop on the climb at a vista so we could enjoy the view, and a vegan mango sorbet from the ice cream truck.

Mango pops!

Once we arrived at our cottages and checked in I had to quickly prepare my drop bag as we were soon leaving for the race briefing and pre-race dinner. The cottages sat high up on the hills and were quite cozy. Each cottage had 2 rooms and I was supposed to share my room with another 90k racer but she did not show so I had the room to myself. I shared the cottage with Anand, the race director for Malnad Ultra, and another gentleman. We decided to walk down the hill to the race briefing and it was nice to stretch out the legs and soak in the views of the beautiful tea estates. The race briefing was perfectly succinct. Then I loaded up (once again) on rice and dal before we walked back up the hill to turn in for the night. I organized and laid out my race day gear before getting about 4 interrupted hours of anxiety-laden sleep. I was worried about the heat – that was all.

Views on the walk to the race briefing

Race day!

The 3 a.m. alarm went off and I started my race morning prep. I had a cup of dry oatmeal with a splash of room temperature bottled water (you gotta do what you gotta do) and a packet of almond butter. The bus was ready to leave promptly at 4 a.m. as we descended into the valley snatching up other racers along the way. A gentleman sat next to me and as we introduced ourselves he said “oh, you’re THE Laura. You’re supposed to win today!” No pressure. We arrived at the race start and it was dark and cold. I was definitely happy about the cold start! I checked my bag, snapped some selfies with Rahul, then calmly made my way to the start line. Most ultras I race have that quiet, nervous tension at the start line. This one did not! So much energy and excitement – I couldn’t help but smile.

They sent us off into the darkness and the leaders took off at a good clip. Not knowing any of these runners I did not know what to expect and how the race would play out. I wanted to stay close to the leaders to get a feel for what would unfold so I tucked into 4th position. The trail wasn’t too tricky but there were plenty of rocks and ruts to throw you off with only the light from your headlamp. Within the first mile one of the guys in front of me took a serious ankle turn which caused him to stop and walk. Yikes! Within the second mile the next guy did the same. Okay, let’s focus and not do that. I was dancing the line of wanting to push these early miles to cover as much ground as I could before the heat set in and being conservative over trails in the dark. I now chose to lean towards conservative. I was sitting in 2nd and the leader was running strong pretty far ahead. As we were climbing I saw a turn off onto a trail that he had missed. I stopped and called out to him. When he turned around I pointed to the trail but he turned back around and continued. I was now in the lead and will admit I wasn’t very confident running out front in the dark. However as I climbed into a clearing I was overwhelmed by the quiet, calm beauty of running under the stars and moon with just my beam of light – I felt so much appreciation in that moment.

I didn’t hold the lead for too long before a few runners passed – one of which was the leader who I was happy to see found his way. He thanked me for warning him. Still trying to run conservatively on the trail sections I soon lost contact with them and twice went off course. However that wasn’t due to improper marking – I simply didn’t pay attention. And because the course was so well-marked I was able to quickly realize and correct my error.

I will admit that the competitor in me was a little bummed to fall off the leaders that early in the race, so it was time to adjust my mindset.

  • Do not focus on placement.
  • Do not focus on time.
  • Run your own race.
  • Respect your current fitness level.
  • Respect your recovery.
  • Respect the HEAT.
  • Soak up everything this experience has to offer.

As the sun began to rise the horizon was blanketed in beautiful pink and purple hues – simply stunning! I was excited to finally start seeing the landscape. Villagers were starting their day and some were out sharing the trails. It was nice to start seeing people and my smiles and greetings were happily returned.

At the 30k mark we had access to our drop bags where I was swapping out fresh bottles of RRUNN During Hydration Mix and RRUNN Endurance Gels. There were plenty of volunteers ready to cater to your every need and they were very insistent that I stop for a hot breakfast. I politely declined each time and was quickly back out onto the trails. Soon after that the two leaders came into sight – they were running together. I would be lying if I told you the competitive runner in me didn’t come back. I caught up to them around mile 21 and we all ran together for a bit and chatted. One of them kept calling me Super Lady 🙂 They were running strong and I was surprised to have caught up with them at this stage in the race.

Throughout the race there were many cows on the course. I obviously had a conversation with each one of them. We reached a spot of high cow traffic and just as I was scoping out how to maneuver around them I took my only spill of the day – I tripped on a rock and went down hard – startling the cows as they quickly moooo-ved out of my way (sorry I couldn’t resist). Santhosh and Sunil kindly stopped to make sure I was okay and then we carried on. It was great running with them and part of me wanted to stay and enjoy their company but I also really wanted to run my own race so soon after I was out in the lead on my own.

The next major chunk of this race is mostly a blur to me. We spent a lot of time in the heat of the day directly exposed to the sun and I was quickly melting. I do still remember all of the scenery, which is where I fail to properly describe the beauty of this course. I also remember suddenly emerging on the ridge at the highest point of the race and yelling out an expletive. It was so cool! Running along the ridge was also a welcome break as the winds were high. I kept spreading my arms like wings – letting the breeze hit my arm coolers for some relief.

Running along the ridge. Photo: Vibin Balakrishnan

At each aid station I would douse myself with water to cool off. I cannot tell you how many times throughout the day I went through my mental safety check – reciting my name, address and phone number. I did this so many times I was afraid I was reciting it out of habit, so I switched to my family members’ full names and birthdays. I even threw in some work passwords to really challenge the brain 😉 As a heat stroke survivor I have learned that if my mind gets fuzzy I’m in trouble. So even if I was a little too obsessive with checking in on my brain it gave me the reassurance that I was doing okay.

Trying to cool off. Photo: Satya Sravan

Somewhere after the 50k mark Santhosh and Sunil caught up to me when I was at a low point. I didn’t even hear them coming. They asked if I was okay and I assured them I was just slowing down. I kept them in sight for a little longer but soon they were gone and I was sure I would not see them again. Pine Forest was a favorite for many of the runners but not as much for me as it was the one section that reminded me of running in the states. However I was happy to have some relief from the sun. On our return trip this area was now bustling with activity. As I ran through the small, crowded market two nuns stopped me and one asked “where are you FROM??” with such curiosity. As I hit the forest trail it started a stream of cheers. Each person was yelling something down the line and putting their hand out for a high five – from children to older women. It was fun and their energy fueled me. In the excitement I nearly blew by the turn but luckily a runner coming the other way yelled out to correct me.

Beautiful Pine Forest. Photo: Vibin Balakrishnan

I arrived at my drop bag for the final time and began mixing my last bottles of RRUNN During and re-stocking my gels. I was again being told that I needed to sit down and enjoy a hot meal which was the last thing I wanted. After politely declining, and being told again I should eat something hot, I was offered curry rice and I agreed to a small portion. A few seconds later I realized he said “curd” rice so I quickly ran over to tell him I was vegan and could not have curd rice (and let me tell you that small portion I agreed to was already a heaping mound and growing). Another volunteer told me I could eat the idli so I took one to be courteous. After taking a bite I said to myself “there is no way I’m keeping this down.” But to avoid being wasteful and rude I quickly shoved the idli down and grabbed the Thums Up (aka rocket fuel) I stashed in my drop bag and was on my way up the next climb. (*To be clear, the idli was good and I appreciated their kindness of fueling me, I just don’t typically eat any hot and/or substantial foods during a race.)

Late race struggle

I saw Santhosh and Sunil up ahead on the climb but even as I was guzzling my Thums Up I did not see myself reeling them back in. Once I hit the 60k mark my legs were in full-on protest. I also don’t remember exactly when my watch battery gave up on me, but that added to my feelings of despair. By this point I knew I was not getting anywhere near my goal of sub-10 hours so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to not be reminded of the time. And with the ample aid stations which always provided mileage updates it was easy to know where I was on the course. I was living aid station to aid station – looking forward to dousing myself with water, drinking some cold RRUNN Watermelon, and treating myself to orange slices. I came upon an aid station where I was greeted with “sit down and we’ll make you an omelette!” I informed them I was vegan so no omelette for me, and also that I wasn’t allowed to sit 😉 They told me I at least had to have “special drink”. I did not know what this was but figured why not, and took a shot from a glass. A volunteer offered to pour water on me and I wasn’t turning that down. He poured a huge bottle over my head and I left that aid station with renewed energy from the special drink and the cold shower.

Running back through the villages I was a popular attraction. The women would stare intently into my eyes as I passed. I ran by a group of about 10 women sitting along a wall – conversation stopped and all heads turned to me as I passed. I then heard laughter and as I turned around one of them was taking a picture of me. Children were out playing and were very enthusiastic. They would see me and run into their houses to alert others to come outside. Lots of cheers, smiling faces, and high fives. I was very excited to see the final aid station which meant 5k left to run. When I arrived one volunteer told me it had been so long since they last saw me. In my tired daze I thought he was referring to how painfully slow I was now moving. He reminded me that they last saw me at 5:30 in the morning. Oh yeah, they were my first aid station of the day as well as my last. After what felt like the longest 5k ever, the finish line came into sight and I was ecstatic to complete my race as I broke the tape among a crew of happy volunteers.
11:43:29

Finished!

I quickly found Santhosh and Sunil and we all congratulated each other on strong performances (they finished together for 1st place). Monica was there to welcome me and I also found Amit who finished 7th (!) in the 60k, along with Arjun. Ashish finished soon after me and before too long Sanjay finished his race. I saw the physio for a wonderful post-race massage and we all sat around enjoying post-race food and recounting our days on the trails while waiting for our team photographer/videographer Rahul, who was also running the 90k.

Post-race with Ashish, Amit and Arjun

We received a unique clay finisher medal and for my overall awards I received a handmade coconut leaf hat and a beautiful painting from one of the volunteer’s 14-year-old daughter. What beautiful gifts to cap off a beautiful race experience 🙂

1st Overall in 60k & 90k

Nutrition

I was very excited to test a new line of Unived RRUNN Elite products on race day. I won’t give away too much yet…you will definitely hear more from me once the products are launched. It’s great to have the trust in a company to try new products for the first time on race day and have them exceed your expectations! Unived continues to create top nutritional products and I’ll be very excited to share them all with you. The flavors…okay that’s enough teasing for now. Throughout the race I drank 6 bottles of RRUNN Elite Electrolyte Mix and consumed 1 RRUNN Elite Gel per hour. I did not experience any stomach issues and felt properly fueled throughout the day. I supplemented this with some orange slices and water at aid stations and also popped a few RRUNN Caffeinated Salt Caps to help me battle the heat. I also enjoyed a few cups of the RRUNN Watermelon During Mix that was being served at aid stations because who doesn’t want a refreshing watermelon drink during a hot race? And let’s not forget the Thums Up!

aka Rocket Fuel

If you’re interested in trying any Unived nutrition products or performance gear you can use my code LAURA15 to receive 15% off at checkout!

Gear

Leading up to the race I went back and forth between my 2 favorites – Altra King MT’s and the Altra Superior’s. I chose the light and fast Superior as there weren’t too many technical or rocky sections. I also got to debut the Unived Race & Recovery socks which will definitely be my new go-to sock! The material was very soft and comfortable and I’m a big fan of the arch compression. They feature 3D dots along the sole of the sock as well as the achilles and this technology really added comfort while preventing fatigue in the feet. The socks got wet, went through mud, and endured the heat, yet I had zero blisters or hot spots. You’ll see pictures of me post-race still wearing the socks because even after almost 12 hours on the trails they felt good! Under my Unived Performance Air 1.0 Singlet (definitely feels like air!) I wore some DeSoto Cool Wings to add protection from the sun and heat. I went with my trusty Ultimate Direction Race Vest – lightweight as there’s not much to it with ample pockets for 1 liter of fluid and a stash of gels. I was also excited to sport the new Unived visor – I’m just not a trucker hat fan – visors for life!

Props

Overall my comeback race was a success. 2018 was a tough year and it was hard to safely build the mileage I needed to compete at 90k in the short amount of time I had available. Although this lack of volume was the main contributor to not meeting my goals on race day, I was still able to run, race, and thoroughly enjoy an amazing day on the trails! With the time that has passed since the race I recovered quickly and by respecting my current fitness level I am no worse for the wear! This has deepened the hunger in me for a strong 2019.

Thank you to the Soles of Cochin who organized this race. The Vagamon Ultrail was a first-class race experience. It was very well-organized, the course was well-marked, and provided plenty of well-stocked aid stations. Not only well-stocked with food and drink but also with enthusiastic and friendly volunteers who went above and beyond to provide a great experience for the runners – such a welcoming group of committed volunteers. To answer the volunteer who ran with me a short time during the race – YES! I am coming back to race in 2020 🙂

A thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to my Unived family. They made this race possible for me. They helped me through this injury – not only nutritionally but through their emotional support and commitment. They were also the most gracious hosts from the time I landed in India until I had to say some hard goodbyes (more like see you soon!) Also for making sure I had everything I needed on race day from nutrition to gear. I am beyond grateful to continue our partnership in 2019.

Rahul, Arjun, Sanjay, me, Ashish, Monica, Amit

Unived Trail Runners Club – you guys rock! Your warm welcome immediately made me feel like part of the crew. You all put the C in UTRC 🙂

Thank you to Altra for believing in me after a season of injury. I am humbled to be a part of the Altra Red Team again in 2019.

Finally, thank you to all of you who stood by me last year. It wasn’t an easy one, but when you have a strong support system of family and friends who make you laugh when you’re feeling down or give you tough love when you need it – that makes all the difference.

Looking ahead it’s now time to start focusing on my next big race of the year – Comrades! There will likely be a race or two in the lineup before then, and potentially another exciting trip (more coming soon).

Congrats to all of the runners who tackled Vagamon Ultrail. It was a pleasure meeting many of you and I hope to run with you all again next year 🙂

Happy & Healthy training to you all!

Let’s Talk Recovery

As I’m patiently making way through this injury recovery what helps me is to approach it as I would a training block for a goal race. A healed bone and returning to running will be my “finish line”. I have to lay out my plan week by week. I need to listen to my body and make adjustments to the plan on the fly as needed. Most importantly, I need to prioritize rest, recovery and nutrition.

“Use Pain as Your Guide”
I despise this guideline. Pain is a 4 letter word. Using pain as a gauge is not very helpful and basically places me in a state of constant anxiety. Am I feeling pain or just discomfort? Is this feeling due to de-conditioning and then trying to use my right leg again? Is it just pulling and soreness from the muscles that had shut down and are now coming back to life? I don’t have a great track record when it comes to respecting pain. It’s very difficult to trust myself but I am trying…

I had a meltdown recently – the evening I first rode my bike outside. It felt great – no pain, not really any discomfort that I could tell. It left me feeling optimistic well beyond what I was expecting. Later that night as I got up to go to bed it hit me hard. I stood up and couldn’t walk properly – there was a lot of pain – it took me right back to where I was in May. I was lying in bed feeling stabbing pain and crying – not from the pain – from the feeling that I just fucked things up and would need to start all over. No. Freaking. Way. I told myself that in the morning I would get back on the crutches full time and figure out what to do next. Luckily when I awoke the next morning the pain was gone. I cautiously stepped out of bed and things felt back to “normal.” Phew. I really wanted to ride my bike again that day – the previous evening was the best I’ve felt mentally in 2 months. Instead I honored my recovery and erred on the side of yet another rest day. It shouldn’t be this hard, I know. I wish it were easier.

Progression
√ 90% crutches – non-weight bearing
√ crutch & touch – to slowly introduce minimal impact
√ upper body strength work while seated/core work
√ crutches outside of the house only
√ riding (w/o “pain”)
√ yoga without balance poses (w/o “pain”)
_ walking without crutches!!!
_ RUNNING!!!!!  🙂

I’m getting so close!!! My next MRI has been scheduled on August 14th and will be reviewed that day. Wish me luck…

Results
I had the following tested:
· CBC w/ auto differential
· Ferritin
· Comprehensive metabolic panel
· Magnesium
· Parathyroid hormone, intact with calcium
· TSH
· Alkaline phosphatase, bone specific
· Inorganic phosphorus
· Vitamin D – 25 hydroxy

The only level I was concerned about was Vitamin D as it was on the low side the last time I had fractures. Although there is always room for improvement (you will see how I’m achieving that below) it was at a safe level. I felt confident that everything else would be great but it’s always good to take a look. As expected, all of my levels were where they needed to be! (I’m not going to post everything but if anyone wants to see any of my results please let me know)

Next up was the bone density test. Although my T-Score puts me in the lower end of the normal range, I am still within that range and the Dr. is not concerned. The more important score is the Z-Score which compares my results to a person of the same gender and age as myself, and she was happy with this score.

With the results of these tests my physician confirmed that my fracture is most likely due to a combination of the following:
1) biomechanical issues (*I am fully to blame for slacking off in this area.)
2) long term damage from prolonged use of Depo Provera (*I have been off this, and all birth control for almost 9 years. Please DO NOT EVER use Depo.)
3) exercise/nutrition imbalance (*this is a big one that deserves way more attention but I will touch on it briefly.)

Nutrition
The first order of business was to add some weight. This is standard protocol when you have a stress fracture as your body needs to heal, and the best way to facilitate that is by providing it with abundance. Any hint of deprivation is stealing resources that your body can use to mend itself. I learned the importance of this after my last set of fractures 9 years ago and now anytime I am taking a break (or off-season) I make sure to put on a few pounds. It’s a healthy practice that everyone should incorporate.

Time for honesty – it’s not easy. I don’t feel comfortable putting on weight so while I am always willing to do so for my health I’m also anxious to take it back off (safely). When my physician said we couldn’t rule out “female athlete triad” my initial reaction was to defend myself and dismiss it because she doesn’t really know me. However I am seeing her for this exact reason – real talk and an understanding of female athletes. So I am not taking it lightly. My plan was to initially put on some weight while I heal, then slowly start to take it back off so that when I’m cleared to run again I will be back to my “comfortable” weight. My physician informed me this week that I need to continue focusing on weight. So I will.

I am achieving this by following the same nutrition guidelines I follow during training, just with slightly smaller portions. Since 2009 I have been following a “5 servings of healthy fat per day” rule and I continue to do that even though I am not training. Healthy fats are always my number 1 focus – avocado, nut butter, hemp hearts, seeds, nuts, coconut oil – are among my daily servings. Equally important for recovery is protein, as protein is called upon to rebuild bone. Again I’m eating the same things I would eat if I were training – tempeh, beans, lentils, pea protein powder – I am not cutting out any protein during my time off from training. The biggest change has come in allowing treats, because who doesn’t need some vegan ice cream when you’re feeling down? 🙂

Supplements
I am in great hands when it comes to receiving direction on what supplements I should take to ensure proper healing and am extremely grateful that Unived provides a lot of what I need to stay on top of my recovery. A company dedicated to athletes, run by athletes who devote so much time to researching and obtaining the highest quality ingredients. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of their family.

Morning
Blood Builder – I’ve been taking MegaFood’s Blood Builder since 2010. It’s my source of B12 while also providing a hefty dose of iron and folate.

Mid-Morning

Unived D-veg – each serving has 2500 I.U. of pure vitamin D3 derived from Lichen. D3 is a fat soluble vitamin, so it is mixed with coconut oil which aids in fast transport to the bloodstream and maximum absorption.

Afternoon
Unived Colox
Colox offers natural relief from joint pain and inflammation which is superior to and safer than OTC NSAIDs. It contains Boswellia serrata, Ashwagandha, and Curcuma longa extracts.
Curcumin – in addition to the Colox I am taking 500 mg of Curcumin C3 complex. Again this is a great anti-inflammatory which also helps increase the antioxidant capacity of the body and can even improve your mood! **Unived will be releasing its own highly bio-available Curcumin soon!
Cissus Quadrangularis –
clinically proven to accelerate fracture healing and reduce the recovery time.

Evening
Unived CalDVegI’ve been taking this daily prior to the stress fracture but a supplement for enhancing bone health is definitely a priority. CalDVeg is sourced from algae and also contains Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, and magnesium which will enhance calcium absorption and utilization.
Unived Colox – dose 2 for the day
Magnesium –
I use a powdered magnesium fizz blend to assist with enhancing bone density through assimilating calcium absorption and activating Vitamin D. It’s also great for relieving anxiety and providing calm, which is why I like to drink it before bed.
Zinc –
zinc supplementation aids in callus formation, enhances bone protein production, and thus stimulates fracture healing.
Curcumin –
dose 2 for the day
Cissus –
dose 2 for the day Overall I’m feeling very optimistic about my results and progress, so now it’s just a matter of giving my bones optimal time to fully heal so I can come back even stronger!

Beyond this my focus is on relaxing – the biggest challenge of all – but it’s a good opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends, reflect on the mentality that broke me, set positive future goals, and most importantly be thankful for everything I have.

I hope everyone is having a great season of training and racing – run some stunning trail miles for me! 🙂

#FridayFuel – Ultra Bites

This recipe features Unived Ultra Butter which has become a staple for me before races and big training days. Ultra Butter contains peanuts, cashews, virgin coconut oil, dried coconut, pea protein, dates, himalayan pink salt, cocoa powder, and vanilla flavor. It tastes great on its own and comes in handy packaging so that you can eat it on the run. I’ve also been enjoying it in my oatmeal, as a waffle topping, and with my apples 🙂

Ultra Bites

  • Servings: ~15 balls
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted dates, soaked for 10 minutes & drained
  • 1 packet of Unived Ultra Butter
  • ¼ cup vegan chocolate chips (or sub any add-ins like dried fruit)
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds (or sub flax or hemp seeds)
  • 2/3 cup gluten free rolled oats

Directions

  1. After dates have been soaked and drained, pulse in a food processor until combined in a dough-like consistency.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients & pulse until combined. You want them to be chunky, so don’t overprocess.
  3. Scoop mix and roll into balls of desired size. Should yield ~ 15.
  4. Allow to chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. Store them there as well.