For Jason

I can only imagine how excited you must be to make your debut at Western States 100 because my excitement for you is through the roof! From the day your name was drawn at the lottery I saw a switch flip – you poured all of your focus and energy into preparing for this race. From the sidelines (aka Strava) I watched you hammer out some killer training weeks and share how well your body was responding to this training. It’s been fun to quietly sit back and watch it all unfold.

You suffered some heartache throughout the journey too – with an injury that caused not one but two DNF’s in races that you had strategically planned for the sole purpose of prepping for this race. DNF’s are painful enough but when you’re relying on them to test fitness for a big event they can be even more crushing. However you stayed calm, cool, and focused. At least to the outside world – you don’t have to admit what was going on internally 😉 Your ability to hold it together and stay the course was admirable and it paid off when you showed up at Cayuga Trails Marathon and had a phenomenal race – just as I expected. You are ready!

While it has been exciting and inspiring to watch – I can’t even imagine how awesome it will be to experience all this hard work coming to fruition on June 24th. I am honored to be a part of it and want you to know that I plan to be the best damn crew and pacer you’ve ever had! That should be easy right? I just have to be better than a lawn chair – how hard can it be? Seriously though, I’m going to put as much prep into this as I would my own race.

I’ve re-read your Western States Wishlist to brush up on things. While you’ve already checked a few things off that list, and others I’m not sure I can help with, you better believe that I’m making #7, #8 and #9 my priorities!

What do I ask of you?

No apologies. I am there 100% for you and your race, no matter what happens. I’m on board to do whatever it takes to help you reach your goals and have an amazing experience along the way. (except for carrying you on my back. Not that I won’t – but I watched Jamil’s video and I don’t want to get you a DQ!)

Let’s do this! #veganpower #seeyouinsquaw

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Ultra Race of Champions – Skylark Edition

The Plan
My main goal was simply to finish. I won’t say I didn’t want a podium spot but I still felt the sting of my DNF at Bandera so most important to me was finishing my first 100k. Normally I set time goals throughout my races but since this was a new course I had no data from which to formulate my goals. This was a “go out and run” kind of race and I welcomed this lax mindset – I took a lot of pressure off myself. I knew who my main competitors were, and relying on my race style thought I would be racing in 2nd place most of the day before getting caught (but hopefully not getting caught).

Part 1 – Whetstone (miles 1-29)
6.8 miles to the first aid station consisted of gradual climbing on a mix of paved and gravel/dirt roads. It was a great start to the race. There was no need to jockey for position to get onto the single track, and it provided the perfect warm-up for the legs. After the aid station it was onto single track and I was excited for the trails.

The next 8 miles contained rolling terrain with some technical spots and some nice climbs to prepare you for the day ahead. The miles were still ticking off quickly and I was feeling great. The course was exceptionally marked – I don’t think they could’ve done a better job. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go off course around mile 15. There was an intersection, and a flag to mark the intersection, but instead of looking for the flag on the turn I bombed straight through it and ran a good 90 seconds before realizing I didn’t see any “confidence markers”. I stopped and turned around to look for the guy who had been close behind me. He wasn’t there. So back I went and sure enough there was the flag on the trail I was supposed to turn on. Of course I panicked for the time I just lost with that error but I reminded myself that it was very early in the day. This was a theme I repeated to myself multiple times throughout the race. From there we had a 3 mile descent to the lowest point of the course where we would turn around and retrace our steps 11 miles back to the 1st aid station. This was a very tight spot for 2-way traffic but it was exciting to see the race leaders coming through. Mocko and Jorge were running together chatting like they were out on a training run. Soon after was a steady stream of men taking chase. Amanda was making her way up – all smiles and looking strong.

It wasn’t long on my return trip before I saw Emily, and then Amy. Damn. They were close. Cue panic again along with the realization that I wasn’t even 1/3 through the race. I started playing the game in my head “how many miles can I make it before I’m caught”. I know this is a dumb game to play but it’s my way of setting mini-goals 😉 It must’ve messed with my mind because during the entire climb I was struggling. My legs felt weak and I was feeling overheated and dizzy on the steep climbs however I wasn’t sweating and I had goose bumps. This can’t be good. I thought maybe I should cut back on the effort but also realized how little effort I was already putting out. It was all very confusing. My hands and fingers were really swollen. I couldn’t remember if that meant I had too much salt or too much water. How could I have too much of either? I remember wishing Jay was here so he could tell me which it was and I could fix it. I sustained several cuts on my legs through this section and I was sticky with blood. My left knee cap was covered in blood and every time I put my hands on my legs to power hike I was making it worse. The cut wasn’t bad at all – it just bled a lot. I was chalking this section up to being the worst part of my day, and it was still so early. Let me just make it to mile 30 before I’m caught.

Part 2 – Those damn jagged rocks (miles 30-53)
I was elated when Whetstone was behind me and happy to be back on the roads for the next 4 miles so I could recover. We made our way onto the Skylark property and had to climb ever-so-close to the finish chute. That was a tease. It was nice to run on some open grass fields as we toured the beautiful property on our way back out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway headed to Bald Mountain. Once we arrived it was back onto the trails. What I remember most about this section was how painfully slow I was going. There wasn’t a whole lot of elevation change but the trails were plastered with sharp rocks that were looking for any opportunity to end your race. I normally enjoy this kind of challenge but wasn’t in the mood for taking risks, again saying that it’s way too early in the race. Eye on the prize – finish. This led me to hike a lot of this section. I hiked, and I felt terrible for hiking. In hindsight it was smart but it still hurt my ego. This was definitely where I would be passed.

I don’t recall much more of that section. I remember making our way down to some falls before another steep climb out of that valley. But the rest is a blur. Mentally I was focused on making it to the aid station at mile 53. That was where I would grab my bottle of go-go juice for that last 10.5 mile push to the finish.

Part 3 – Shaking my fist at Bald Mountain (miles 54-finish)
I was pumped to arrive at AS8 where I was greeted by the kind couple who I met before the start. They came down from CT to support their son and they were cheering for me at every opportunity. I asked how their son was doing and they told me he was doing great – and actually wasn’t that far behind me along with the next female. If they said anything else after that I didn’t hear it – my mind was fixated. I didn’t ask how far back she was – I never asked where she was all day because that’s one mental game I don’t like to play. I filled one bottle, swapped the other, and said my goodbyes. It was time to work. The aid station volunteer told me it was 6.4 miles to the next aid station after climbing Mt Bald. I audibly whimpered.

But I had a new fire in me. I made it 54 miles and I did not want to lose my position this late in the race. The next few miles turned out to be my favorite of the race. I don’t know how many times we crossed streams – it had to be at least 6. Many of them were knee deep or higher. Sure they slowed you down but the cold rushing water felt great on the legs and it also washed off the blood from multiple cuts. I knew that if I could maintain this momentum and determination I could hold 2nd place to the finish.

And then I hit Bald Mountain. Or rather Bald Mountain hit me. The climb was steep and never-ending, and it was quickly sapping whatever I had left in the tank. I started to get dizzy and wobbly on that narrow single-track and all I could think was “if I fall down this mountain I will have to climb it again. I do not want to climb this again.” And so I focused. My hamstrings clocked out for the day. Like “hey, we know we have to stick around for the rest of the day but don’t expect us to do any work.” Not only did Bald Mountain drain the energy out of me, but it also drained my watch. No more data to rely on.

After what felt like an hour I made it to the summit and that final aid station. I grabbed a cup of coke, a handful of pretzels because I was craving salt, and half-laid on the table for support while my bottle was filled. 4.2 miles to go. Half of this was road. “I got this” I told myself. I kept checking my watch on the road – I wanted to keep tabs on the distance I had left and what my pace was. I knew my watch was dead yet I kept looking at it hoping it would give me some reassurance. I also kept looking back – just in case.

Turning onto the Skylark property was such a relief. Just one more steep climb to the finish line. I said “time to light that last match” and then laughed maniacally at myself because there were no more matches. As I made my way up the S-turns a young boy at the top of the hill was shouting down at me “finish strong! C’mon – run strong to the finish!” It was adorable and I appreciated his enthusiasm and support, but I also wanted to yell back “this is my strong – you’re looking at it. Pathetic I know, but it’s all I got.”

Halfway up the climb I passed some of the male finishers who were at their cars cheering me up the climb. Then I saw Amanda hobbling back down from the finish. I was happy to stop and congratulate her on my way up. Yep, that was my finish – stop and have a quick chat. One more turn and the finish line was finally in sight. I crossed the line and Francesca asked if she could take my picture. So I made one last effort of the day – to look like I was feeling great. Then I proceeded to the bench where I collapsed between 2 other finishers. I thought to myself “I don’t think I’ve ever smelled this bad in my life” which kept me from sitting too long. I spared the 2 guys and quickly got up so I could start my hobble back down the hill to my car.

Photo: Francesca Conte

Epilogue
The course was tough. I definitely underestimated it in more ways than one. But then again so did many people as the web site claimed 7,202 feet of climbing while watches confirmed 12,000. But hey, who wants an easy ultra? We wouldn’t be doing this if it was easy. As with every race I have some takeaways to work on – it’s all part of the process (and the fun). Gill and Francesca created a challenging yet beautiful course and a well-run event. Their passion for this event is evident. I would definitely go back to give this course another go.

The Grub
As I wrote in my product review, Muir Energy was my fuel of choice for this race and it worked well for me. With the variety of flavors I never tired of them. Luckily I brought plenty of extra for my drops because I was finding that I had no appetite for solid foods and only wanted Muir. Since this product is working so well for me I am happy to announce that I have partnered with Muir Energy to fuel my future races! (insert shameless plug –> discount code for those who want to try it out –> LK10OFF) P.S. Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana is still my favorite!

As usual I relied on Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix for my electrolytes throughout the race. One error I made was not bringing any of my beloved Hyper Hydration. With the forecasted weather I didn’t think I would need it but I was wrong. I survived without it but I’m sure it would’ve helped me in those later stages of the race when the sun was beating down and my skin was a solid layer of salt.
The Gear
First I have to give a shout out to Henry Klugh of Inside Track. When my local running store basically told me “too bad” when I inquired about a rain shell I knew that I would have better luck at Inside Track in Harrisburg which was conveniently on the way. And that’s why I love small running stores – Henry went into the back, climbed the ladder, and went digging through boxes until he found his rain gear. He hooked me up with the perfect rain shell – lightweight, packs into its own pocket with a hand strap for easy carrying, and it matched my singlet, Altra Superiors, and even my drop boxes. Stylin’! Even though I didn’t end up needing it, Henry took great care of a fellow runner and eased my mind.

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The Altra Superiors are my go-to race shoe on the trail. Although the King MTs would’ve been great for the technical parts of this course, due to the amount of road and gravel they would’ve been too much. I’ll get to race in the King MTs soon enough – and I can’t wait to put those bad boys to the test! I also wore my trusty Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0. Enough pockets to store needed nutrition between drops, and it’s quick and easy to swap out my bottles or refill them when needed.

That’s why they call her Smash’em Basham! Photo: Jorge Maravilla

Finish Time: 11:54:06
Rank: 2nd Overall Female

#FridayFuel – Muir Energy Gels Product Review


During my spring training trip I decided to test a new gel on the market. Muir Energy caught my eye when I saw they are using simple, clean ingredients. I also love that the products are hand-made in small batches in Southern California. SoCal is where I got my start in running – a place close to my heart! Here is what stood out to me on their site:

  • Muir Energy uses only 4-6 ingredients for all of its products. That’s it!
  • Muir Energy is 100% Organic, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-free and non-GMO.
  • Muir Energy is loaded with nutrition. For example, each serving contains 290-350mg of Potassium. Comparable to eating a small banana!
  • Muir Energy’s taste. You will have to decide for yourself, but everybody who’s tried it says it is unbelievably good, unlike any other gel you’ve ever tasted.
  • Muir Energy contains 115-150 calories per 30g serving – 15%-50% more than other energy gels.

I also like what founder Ian Muir McNally had to say:

“Like many endurance athletes, I struggled to find the right nutrition to keep me going while pushing my body to its limits. Most food bars are dry, heavy and not very healthy. Most energy gels are sweet and synthetic tasting, and contain ominous sounding ingredients. I wanted something simple. And quick. Something that tasted really good and was made with real organic ingredients – derived from nature, not in a lab. Something clean, reliable and good. Clean Nutrition. Pure Energy.”

Let’s start with the ingredients. On their site they do an excellent job going into detail about some of their key ingredients and how they will help you not only during activity but with overall health. Check it out here.

Now to move on to the taste… Gel haters rejoice because Muir Energy gels are not like your typical gel! The gels are known to be thick which made me apprehensive – I’ve always steered away from the thicker gels. There is even mention on their site that you actually “eat” the gels. There’s no liquid to them at all. The reason?

Bacteria and pathogens proliferate in an aqueous environment. To keep their products food safe, thinner or watery gels must use synthetic preservatives. We use exclusively real food ingredients with no synthetic preservatives. We have accomplished this by reducing water activity in our products. This results in a thicker, more viscous – as well as more flavorful, nutritionally and calorically dense – product.

Back to the taste…I started out with the Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana gel and my first reaction was “this is unlike anything I’ve ever put in my mouth!” I don’t always like to be a follower, but they can add me to the list of people who say it’s unlike any other gel I’ve tasted. Yes, it is that different from other gels on the market. I immediately understood the comment about “eating” the gels – you can actually chew on them. Unreal! The best way to describe it is an airy taffy – but without the stickiness and sugariness. Like a light and fluffy whipped taffy. I was sold after the first one. Throughout my week I tried many other flavors (see list below). I noticed that on colder days they are a little tougher to squeeze out of the packet. Their suggestion for that is to pre-cut the gel pack a little further down from the neck so that you can rip it open there and get more out easily. Having them against my body seemed to do the trick for me.

The only one I wasn’t too fond of was Blackberry Thyme. That’s really a personal preference as I’m not a big fan of thyme. I would totally eat it again – just not one of my favorites. My hands-down favorites are the Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana and Pineapple Kale. I’m a fruity kind of girl (keep your comments to yourself) and they really nailed it with these flavors! I also really enjoyed the Cashew flavors I tried (especially Cashew Vanilla because…vanilla!) In the past I have used nut butter packets for fuel but Muir Energy makes ingesting nut butters on the run even better by adding ingredients like blackstrap molasses & pink himalayan salt. Be still my heart!

My favorites ❤

FLAVORS

Fast Burning
*Blackberry Thyme
*Red Raspberry
Red Raspberry Matè
*Passion Fruit Pineapple Banana
*Pineapple Kale

Slow Burning
Cacao Almond
Cacao Almond Matè
Cacao Almond Peppermint
*Cashew Lemon
Cashew Lemon Matè
*Cashew Vanilla
Cashew Vanilla Matè

(* flavors I have tried)

That’s right – they offer both slow burning and fast burning gels – how awesome is that? As you can tell by the flavor names the fast burning gels are fruit and berry-based while the slow burning are nut butter based. Not only does this provide options for short, intense vs. long endurance sessions, but it will also appeal to the fat-adapted athletes who want to stick with higher fat fuel towards the beginning of the race and then transition to quick metabolizing simple sugars during later stages.

They also offer Energy Jams and Spreads. On their site they state you can eat them like the gel, or you can spread them on toast, waffles, bananas, and even add it to hot water or an espresso. I will be ordering some of the Jams and Spreads next!

Photo: Muir Energy

There is a growing list of stores where you can find their products – just check on their web site. Or you can go the online route where they offer a custom variety pack so you can create your dream team!

​I’ll be using Muir Energy gels to fuel my run at UROC next weekend!!

Happy Training 🙂

Boston Marathon Recap

Yes, I’m stubborn. This was evident on the day of the Boston Marathon. While I realized pretty early on that my sub-3 goal was slipping away I still tried up until the very end to reach it. I was feeling worse each mile after 20 but the thought never even crossed my mind to just back off and enjoy the ride. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try. So much for all that hot air when I talked about how I wasn’t going to do anything stupid to reach my goal. I always like to think that I am a smarter racer after my heat stroke – that I pay more attention to my body while I’m racing. The Boston Marathon was a day of dancing right along that edge. I ran those last few miles scared and desperate. I wanted to enjoy the sights and the crowds but everything was a blur. I could only focus on that gigantic finish line that didn’t seem to get any closer. I couldn’t think to shut it down and take it easy – I wanted to cross that finish line as quickly as possible so I could finally succumb to the heat and cramps in my legs.

Here’s my attempt at a brief synopsis of race day:

Strategy: I had a pretty loose race plan – I wanted to run the first half conservatively, run a steady 8 miles after that, and once I hit mile 21 I would crank out hard miles to the finish. What I learned is that the first 10k was really tough to gauge. You’re caught up in the crowds making it hard to find and hold a steady pace. A lot of bobbing and weaving, slowing down and surging into open pockets. I took advantage of this to keep myself from going too fast which I’ve heard is often the case. I also took advantage of this time to deliver high-fives to many of the spectators holding out their hands. I know for a fact I’ve never slapped so many hands! I was really looking to have a true Boston experience – I wasn’t even paying attention to my pace or splits, and I was okay with this.

When I hit the ½ marathon mark in 1:28:09 I was slightly behind where I wanted to be. With the rising temps I could tell it was going to be hard to make up the time I failed to bank early on. I knew I was going to need to focus on running strong up those “hills”, but I didn’t, and my pace was creeping steadily above 7:00. Although Heartbreak Hill was my slowest mile of the race, I didn’t find the hill to be nearly as bad as people described it. However when I got to the top I went from overheated to dizzy, and this is where I needed to “turn it on”. I will get to the finish after the highlights…

Aid stations: They are tough to navigate. I could tell right away that I would need to get fluids at every mile. So this meant a substantial slow down due to the crowds at the aid stations, but well worth it to dump a few cups over me each time. At the first aid station the guy in front of me grabbed a cup of Gatorade without slowing down which caused the entirety of the cup to fling right onto my face and torso. “I’m off to a great start!” I thought. Luckily seconds later the same thing happened with a cup of water so I was basically rinsed off 🙂

Wellesley College Scream Tunnel: This section lives up to the hype and was by far my favorite part of the day. The energy of these girls, the signs they display, their cheers to the runners, and kisses they dole out to any and all takers can only put a smile on your face.

Signs: Like any major marathon there were thousands of fun signs on the course and it’s impossible to read them all. 2 of my favorites? One was held by a Wellesley girl which said “1 kiss = $1 to Planned Parenthood”, and the other by a small girl which said “Run Faster Right MEOW” with a picture of a cat. Roger that little lady 🙂

Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates: There was an estimated 1 million spectators at the race Monday. I made it to mile 17 before seeing someone I knew. Teammate Marie was at the Nuun Hydration tent and it was great to see her smiling face. Then when I was at my lowest both physically and mentally, right around mile 25 I happen to look up and see those familiar Strong Hearts Vegan Power shirts on the screaming, smiling faces of Dana, Jay and Alex. They have no idea how much it meant to me to see them out there with signs – I only wish I would’ve had the energy to make my way over to get some high fives!

Alex and Jay, minus the Dana who took the photo

Although I missed him on the course, I have to give the biggest thank you to teammate Skott. He not only offered up his home to me before and after the race, but he drove me everywhere I needed to be throughout the weekend. Not having to navigate public transportation to get to the shuttles race morning made it super easy and stress free. The Strong Hearts Vegan Power family is the best!

Skott even got us rockstar parking for the expo!

I also saw fellow runners Jonathan, Mike and Mark before the race and got to start alongside my good friend Giuseppe!

Now for that finish… When I hit mile 21, with slightly sketchy math I figured I could still run sub-3. I was going to need to hit a sub-7 pace for the last 5 miles but it was all downhill so that should be easy right? I knew what I had to do but I wasn’t checking to see if I was executing it. I was so focused on running that I couldn’t look down at my watch to see my splits. It was taking total concentration just to keep from falling apart.

The affects of the heat were appearing all around. I saw a guy projectile puking orange (they really need to serve something other than Gatorade out there). With about 2 miles to go I saw a girl collapsed on the side of the course being tended to by medics. “That’s not going to be me” I convinced myself. As we cross over the 1 mile to go mark I see a guy on a stretcher as the medics are rushing to shove a 10 pound bag of ice under his singlet. ONE MILE TO GO. That’s when I started panicking – remembering my past experience and how quickly you can go from running to a puddle on the ground. I started repeating in my head “You cannot collapse. You can collapse after you cross the finish line.” Then I remembered to do the mental check and repeated my address and phone number in my head. Rounding that last turn I pass a cart carrying another stretcher with someone who was transformed into an ice burrito. “You cannot collapse”. The only time I glanced down at my watch it said 3:01 and some change. Goal was not met, but I still couldn’t ease up and enjoy Boylston Street. I even remember saying to myself “this is the final stretch of the Boston freaking Marathon – soak it in!” All I was able to do was look up for a moment and say “oh hey, that’s where I ate lunch yesterday.” And that’s what I remember of the Boston Marathon finish!

Closing in on the finish!

I of course also thought about the events that transpired on that stretch 4 years prior. You can’t help but feel a deep sadness for all who were affected that day and even still today. And a deep appreciation for the huge amount of work that occurs behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the runners and spectators. I think everyone would agree that struggling with the heat is a blessing!

Teammate Aaron Zellhoefer repping Strong Hearts Vegan Power, and ALWAYS smiling!

As for my race, no regrets. I put it all out there which is the way I like to race. I ran with heart and joy like I said I would. I enjoyed and appreciated the intensity of the crowds. I smiled as much as I could. I was 3 minutes and 25 seconds over my goal time. I did not run a single one of those last 5 miles under 7:00 pace. I am okay with my result. I am honored to have had the opportunity to race the Boston Marathon and humbled by this event. The entire community, what they have endured – it’s incredible to be a part of it!

Teammate Marie shared some SHVP love for Aaron & I on the #BeBoston statue

I ran in the special edition Boston Escalante which I picked up from Altra founder Golden Harper himself the day before the race. I didn’t run (or even walk) a mile in those shoes prior to the marathon. Although that’s a huge no-no it’s a testament to how much trust I have in Altra’s footwear. They served me well on race day and not a single blister even after enduring endless cups of water and a jaunt through an open fire hydrant.

And with the conclusion of the Boston Marathon it’s time to get back on the trails! I’ll be celebrating with my week of spring training in New Mexico next week as I prepare for the Ultra Race of Champions 100k in May.

Happy Training!

#FridayFuel – Race Week Edition

Race season is about to kick off which means it’s time to focus even more on nutrition. As this continues to be the question I’m most frequently asked, here is what I’ve been eating throughout the week leading up to Boston.

img_6718Breakfast: I’ve been enjoying a version of my Ultimate Blueberry Beet Recovery Shake each day but every once in a while I mix it up by turning it into a smoothie bowl. I simply omit the ½ cup of water to make it thicker. Today’s smoothie bowl consisted of beet juice, tart cherry juice, a frozen banana and ½ cup of frozen strawberries, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of Flora Udo’s Oil, 2 large handfuls of kale, a chunk of ginger and a chunk of turmeric. To top off the bowl I’ve added some chocolate coconut granola for additional healthy fats, blueberries for additional antioxidants, and some chia seeds for essential amino acids.

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Lunch: It’s all about big salads for me. A great way to use up any veggies or leftovers in my fridge, my salads typically consist of the following base ingredients: one chopped romaine heart, (I’ll substitute/add spinach and/or mixed field greens when I have them on hand), 3 cooked beets (I save time by using Love Beets pre-cooked beets), 4 ounces of tempeh sautéed in coconut oil, ½ an avocado, seeds (typically sunflower or pumpkin) and lately I’ve been on a coconut bacon kick.

 

Dinner: I went with 2 dinner bowls this week. img_6689Monday and Tuesday was the burrito bowl featuring cauliflower rice. I’ve become a big fan of cauliflower rice and it’s really simple to make. Chop 1 full head, throw it into a food processor and pulse a few times until you get the consistency of rice. In a pan over medium heat I sauté ½ of a chopped yellow onion in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. Once tender I add the “riced” cauliflower and cook, stirring consistently, for about 10 minutes. For my bowl I layered greens, cauliflower rice, cooked black beans, ½ an avocado, pico de gallo, and topped it with Chipotle Just Mayo.

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Wednesday through Friday I switched to a sesame tempeh and broccoli bowl recipe that I found at Mind Body Green.

 

 

 

img_6717Snacks: My smoothies and salads are very filling so during a taper week I don’t always need snacks during the day. However I always make sure to eat something before my evening run. This week it’s been brown rice cakes with almond butter and cherry chia jam, and these delicious new mint chocolate coconut beet bites I found on Love Beets’ Instagram page. You can find the recipe here.

 

 

And then of course there’s always my favorite – the banana!

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Happy Training (and fueling)!

Gear Review – Altra StashJack

I would not consider myself a gear nerd. I can get overly excited about cool gear, but it tends to be simplicity that gets me going. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles – give me an innovative piece of gear that requires little to no instruction and serves a purpose. The Altra StashJack is precisely this piece of gear and it brought out the child-like enthusiasm in me. It’s also the first of its kind – ratchet that excitement up a few more notches. With the constantly fluctuating weather we’re experiencing at this time of year I’ve already utilized it many times – not only because I think it’s so cool but because it truly does make a lot of sense and is so easy to use.

The Skinny



The StashJack is a 3.3 oz wind and water resistant shell that stashes conveniently into its own pocket. That pocket is a hip belt, so you wear it just as you would any other hip pack. The real magic comes with its unique open-back design. When you’re out on the trail (or road) wearing a pack you don’t have to stop moving and/or remove your pack to throw on this jacket. The jacket keeps your pack exposed so you continue to have access to it while adding a layer of warmth and protection from the elements. It also frees up space in your pack since you don’t need to store it. Genius. No instructions required, but just to show you how simple it is:


​1) Open velcro hip pocket
2) Unfurl jacket (I really just wanted to use the word unfurl)
3) Put your arms through the sleeves
4) Throw the jacket over your head
5) Close around your waist by using velcro closure on your lower back
6) Keep running without skipping a beat


Taking it off is equally simple – the jacket is super-easy to roll up and stash back into its own pocket. The jacket is a half zip and also has a hood along with a velcro closure at the chin. You can really get all snuggled up in this thing. It features flat lock seams and is made of 100% ripstop nylon. There is also a mesh pocket on the back side of the waist pack in which you can store a small item or 2.


Potential drawbacks

– If you’re like me your packs hold bottles on the front. Wearing this jacket covers those bottles. I did not find this to be a major issue because the half-zip allows easy access to those bottles. Plus if you worry about nozzles freezing this thin layer of protection and warmth can help prevent that. (As an added bonus wearing the jacket over these bottles makes me look…ummm…well-stacked if you know what I mean).

– Wearing the jacket as a waist pack means there will be some bounce. So far this hasn’t bothered me because it’s so lightweight.

– It’s not going to protect you in extreme cold and/or wet conditions, but hey – it’s not marketed for extreme conditions. I’ve worn it in the snow and wind in sub-freezing temps and it kept me warm and dry through the duration (1 hour). I actually find it beneficial to have the protection on the front while allowing ventilation out back.

Overall it’s perfect for long days on the trails where you experience variable conditions requiring you to add and remove a layer multiple times. I can see myself getting a lot of use out the StashJack for all of the fun training adventures I have planned for 2017!

The Dreaded DNF

I’ve been here before. Too many times now. I had to go back and look through my results to get an accurate count. I now have 8 DNF’s on my resume in my 12 years of racing. EIGHT! Ouch. The biggest lesson I have learned? They never get any easier to process. Some are out of your control, some are due to bike mechanical failures, and others come from a conscious decision to end your race in hopes of preserving your health, safety, or preventing a full blown injury. One thing they all have in common (for me) is the big black cloud that looms above when the decision is made to pull the plug. The negativity I bring down on myself for feeling weak and not worthy. And tears – there are always tears.

dbd

There are many people who subscribe to this philosophy and I get it. I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity and physical ability to race – to simply “give up” when the going gets tough is not a decision I feel comfortable making. I also respect those who listen to their bodies and know when it’s not worth it to push. Here I was again, faced with the option to drop out or keep pushing forward and I decided to be a quitter. What would I have gained from continuing? A result? More mental toughness? A sense of pride for finishing? Fortunately I didn’t need any of these things. I am lucky to have plenty of races behind me and ahead of me. There may come a time where I face challenges which will make just finishing more important to me. I am not there yet.

I think my first DNF set the stage for me to make better decisions about my health and well-being while racing. I was racing really well at a half ironman in June of 2008 in some unseasonably hot weather. Next thing I know I wake up in an ambulance not having any clue what happened. I collapsed from a heat stroke about a mile and a half from the finish line. Once I was able to grasp what had happened and my memory of the events leading up to the collapse slowly came back I was scared. Being the control freak I am I couldn’t believe that I didn’t see it coming – that I allowed myself to race until I was unconscious on the ground being swept up into an ambulance. Death Before DNF was close to becoming a reality. My mindset had to change – I was wound up too tight around my racing.

I added 2 more DNF’s to my resume within a year of this incident – at a World Championship and then again at a National Championship. Not the races you want to quit. Was I being overly cautious? That thought crossed my mind as I pondered my decisions. But to this day I still believe I made the correct choices, although each time it took miles of convincing along with the accompanying tears. I knew I never wanted to sacrifice my long term health for a race again. I still can’t claim to have the healthiest relationship with racing, or more so with my identity as an athlete. However I have come a long way and Bandera was another example of the progress I have made.

There is no point in writing a typical race report for Bandera because I really only “raced” about 15 miles, struggled through 9 more, then walked 7 to finish the first 50k loop and bowed out. What I can say about the race is that the first 12 miles felt great. It was a lot colder than anyone had planned for but once we got running and the sun was rising it felt wonderful. After picking up our packets on Friday I was excited about the course – I knew the terrain was something I would enjoy. I was right. Lots of dirt, gravel and loose rocks. Punchy climbs followed by tricky descents. The course challenges your footing and forces you to run controlled while also offering plenty of ground to really open up. The course was well-marked and the aid station volunteers were excellent.

I won’t get into the particulars about what happened because I’m not sure it’s something everyone wants to hear about. An old medical issue that I’ve been able to manage for a few years decided to come back full force about 12 miles in and worsen from there. I don’t know what caused it, especially so early into the race, but I’m taking this down time to hopefully find better answers this time around and move past it. Since I am now somewhat a pro on the topic of DNF’ing, I present to you the 5 stages of my Bandera DNF:

  1. Denial – I’m feeling awesome! I’m running smooth and relaxed! This course will play well to my strengths! Wait, what is this I’m feeling? No, it can’t be. I’ve only been running for 12 miles and I’ve got this issue under control. This isn’t happening. It’s just a small hiccup and it will pass just like any other rough patch. Miles later it’s just getting worse and that’s when the first thought of “DNF” pops into my head. I try to push it out of my brain just as quickly as it enters. I won’t have to DNF – this wasn’t at all part of the plan. No way.
  2. Anger – Why is this happening to me? Why now? Why today? What could I have possibly done to cause this? Can I really not keep things under control for this one last race of my season? This race was a big one for me. I was ready to end my season after TNF 50 but no, I rallied and fought hard to get myself to this start line feeling primed and ready to race. And now it was spiraling out of my control. I was angry. I was cursing. But don’t worry, I directed 100% of this anger onto myself 😉
  3. Bargaining – By mile 20 I knew that I was in trouble. The issue wasn’t getting any better. A DNF was turning from a thought to a strong possibility. This is the stage where I start to focus on the “what-ifs” and the “maybes”. What if I just walk the rest of the race? Maybe it will pass. My history with this is that it doesn’t clear up until I stop moving but maybe, just maybe, this time it would be different. I have plenty of race left to salvage if only I can move past this. Or do I just say screw it and keep pushing myself to run even though my body is revolting. It is a smart tactical decision to drop out of a race and save yourself for the next one. There was no “next one” on my horizon – the conclusion of this race was the beginning of my off-season. So why should I care about potential damage to my body? Maybe I should just gut it out and deal with the consequences later. It was a dumb thought and deep down I knew it. These what-ifs and maybes were my desperate attempt to hold on to hope. Which leads to the next step…
  4. Depression – I arrived at the last aid station, aptly named “Last Chance”, with 5 miles to go. There was a sign at the aid station pointing straight ahead for the 25k course stating it was only .25 miles to the finish line. An obvious choice for someone who made the decision to drop out of the race. But instead, without hesitation, I turned right and kept walking. I had one itty-bitty maybe left in my tank, but really I turned right so that I could wallow in my self-loathing for 5 more miles. Yippee! About 2 miles in I realized this was a mistake but refused to turn around. I was dizzy, my walk was more of a shuffle, and I straight up stopped a few times. My only desire (beyond getting to that finish line) was to sit down for just a minute and rest. I knew that if I did this it would be too comfortable and prolong my day even more. So I continued along, shed some tears, and had my pity party.
  5. Acceptance – The previous stages are easy compared to this one. Luckily I was not alone at this race. I had other friends out on the race course so this was not the time or place for me to be negative. I had all of those miles out on the course to do that 😉 Once I spent some time lying down to recover I made it back to the finish line to see Tom and Tim come in on their first loops, watch Scott finish the 50k, and then head back out onto the course to crew for Phil. Distractions – they are key. And I enjoy helping others while they race so it worked out well.

    The toughest part of this phase has been embracing my down time. My body and mind needed a break for sure but I was also expecting to have a solid race going into my off-season. This race left me unsatisfied and hungry to get back out there and redeem myself. I know that’s not the answer but it’s still tough to end on a sour note. I like to think that I learn something from every race – good, bad or DNF. I am grasping to find what I have learned from this one. The only take-away I have is that I need to get back to the Dr for more testing. I am surrounded by the best support system and I am grateful for that every day. On to the next season!

cats

Do you have experience with the dreaded DNF?
What was the toughest phase for you?
What is your best advice for accepting your decision?