#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.

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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)!

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship

really wanted one of those days where everything just clicked. Don’t we all hope for that at every race? I didn’t have that – not even close – but I still had an amazing time at this race and as usual learned a lot! The course was everything people described it to be (almost). There was plenty of climbing which meant plenty of descending. The course was completely runnable. The views were absolutely stunning. The only thing I did not expect were the stairs – so many stairs! We talk about the stairs at Cayuga Trails 50 because they definitely stand out at that race. I couldn’t help but wonder if TNF 50 had an equal amount of them. They were wooden railroad ties, and not as steep as Cayuga, but there were so many of them. Up and down. I actually enjoyed them for most of the race – at least going up.

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Stairs and more stairs. Photo: TNFECS

It was a very chilly start for me – leaving the hotel at 3 am the air felt perfect but once we got to Marin Headlands it felt considerably cooler. Luckily The North Face supplies fire pits at all of their races. I squeezed into one and up against the guy next to me. He apologized and gave me room to get closer to the fire before I explained to him that I was invading his personal space to share his body heat, after which he thoughtfully obliged J I was regretting my decision to leave my arm sleeves back at the hotel. I was regretting my decision to skip buying a pair of throw-away gloves the day before. I arrived in CA on Thursday feeling like I was hit by a train. I had one day to pull it together and an easy detour to buy some gloves while I was out seemed too daunting a task. Everything would be better once the sun came up.

I felt oddly relaxed leading up to the start. I’ll chalk that up to feeling like I had properly prepared for this race. As the first wave was moved up to the start line I was looking for people I knew in the crowd to position myself with but it was dark and there was so much bustling energy I couldn’t figure out who was who. I was happy to see a fellow PA runner Jonathan Lantz next to me and it was comforting to know that he was going to be on the course with me today. Fellow Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammate Ellie Pell was with me as well ready to tackle her first 50 miler.

The start command was shouted and we shot off into the darkness. It wasn’t long before I noticed Magda in the lead group of women so I settled myself in behind that pack to get a feel for how things would go. The pace felt really comfortable for those opening miles even as we went up and over the first climb of the day. The lead group of us shot right past an early turn and luckily the field behind us started shouting. It felt like Black Rock 25k déjà vu as we corrected ourselves and quickly tried to get back in front of the pack. As we hit that first descent that’s where I realized my weakness – the lead women were bombing down the hill while I was trying to stay conservative – it was only mile 4! I was able to catch back up as we bypassed the first aid station but once we started that second climb they began to pull away and I thought it would be best to let them go. Time to run my race.

After dropping into Tennessee Valley I grabbed a cup of water and finally felt like I was settling in. However I was still really cold. It was difficult to eat because I had no feeling in my fingers, but what bothered me more was my legs – especially my hamstrings and quads – feeling cold, stiff, and tight. I found myself focusing on how much better I would feel if I would’ve worn capris. I kept telling myself that once the sun came up I would warm up and everything would feel better. It was still pitch black and sunrise seemed so far away. I was being a big baby and spending too much time thinking about things that were out of my control.

The best I felt all day was miles 10-15. I was sitting in 8th at the time but as we started the long climb to Cardiac my legs were again feeling so tight and weren’t cooperating. I knew I needed to grind out this 9 mile climb to McKennan Gulch where I could turn around and get some relief with the descent.

I had dropped 3 spots to 11th by the time we hit Cardiac and as simple as that math was I was so mentally frustrated I thought I was lucky if I was in top 20. Don’t ask me how I couldn’t pay attention to something so simple – it shows that my head was not in the game. The high point was seeing the lead men come through between Cardiac and McKennan. Zach Miller was out front moving like a freight train and I was super-excited to see him doing his thing. We both cheered for each other and he encouraged me by saying I was “up there” and then shouted “Go PA” as he made the turn heading down to Stinson Beach. Pennsylvania pride is strong! Existing in my negative head space I laughed to myself about his “up there” remark thinking he was trying to be nice.

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No more headlamp!

Frustration ran deeper as I hit the turnaround and made my way back down to Stinson Beach. This should’ve been a spot where I could open it up a bit and make up for that long uphill trudge. But I didn’t feel any better. Again my legs weren’t cooperating – the sun was up and I was still cold. I couldn’t shake this stiff feeling and my mental state worsened as I realized I was only halfway through the race feeling this terrible. There was no way I was going to give up but I started to have that talk with myself that this would be a race that I just need to finish.

On this out-and-back section I got to see some familiar faces which helped to elevate my mood. Karen Holland, Leah Maher who I only met that morning but is also from PA, and Anne Bouchard whom I raced with at TNF Toronto. Everyone was smiling and looking strong and I used that energy.

I was anticipating seeing my new friend Sandy who was crewing me at mile 29.4. I looked at my watch and realized I would be getting in right around the time I told him to be there and he had to take a shuttle which I know can be unreliable. I kept my hopes high that I would see him but on Friday I was already mentally preparing myself for the possibility of not getting my hydration and nutrition at mile 29.4. I rolled into the aid station at 9:06 and Sandy was nowhere to be found. I spent way too long standing around hoping he would magically appear – my backup plan thrown totally out the window due to my mental state. Finally I realized I had to move on so I slowly filled my bottles with water, grabbed a chunk of banana, and went on my way. Out of the way of the aid station I took another break to properly hack up all of the fluid in my lungs and clear my nose which I had only been half-successful doing while running. I looked up to see a poor, innocent bystander hiking towards me as she asked with concern “are you okay?” Sorry lady – no one deserved to see that.

It was a short run to the Cardiac aid station so I got my head together and realized that I would need another plan for electrolytes and nutrition now that I did not have my stash. I also had the attitude of “I’ll eat and drink whatever the f*ck I want because it doesn’t matter anymore.” I was a ray of sunshine. I arrived at Cardiac and grabbed a cup of Coke – yes Coke – and chased it with another chunk of banana because nothing else looked good to me and I remembered how bananas saved me in Switzerland last year. In a matter of minutes I felt a rush of life come into me. Huh. I guess it’s true what they say about that nasty, poisonous, rocket fuel. My whole damn attitude was turning around and at one point I actually yelled out “Coke” in an effort to praise my new-found savior. We dropped into Muir Woods and the beautiful redwoods. It was invigorating. We were now on the course with the 50k runners and I was definitely utilizing their energy. It was great to have people around and people to pass since I had been on my own for so long. Then I passed a familiar face – Team USA (duathlon) teammate Elizabeth Sponagle was tackling her first 50k and she looked great. I was so excited to see her as I was bounding down the trails with my new-found energy.

Not too long after that I heard a loud scream of “NOO!” up ahead and I see the guy that I had been running near for most of the day hiking back up the hill. He said we were on the wrong course but I was sure we were going the right way and told him the same even though I had stopped in fear that we had done something wrong. 50k runners confirmed for us that we were heading in the right direction so we started up again. He said to me “you’re my beacon of light – every time I think something is going wrong I turn around and see you there and know everything is okay.” I appreciated his kind words but laughed and told him that wasn’t the wisest plan. He doesn’t know my track record.

I recalled what one of my training partners texted me before the race: “Remember the race doesn’t start til 35!” I wanted to respond “It’s TNF50 – the race starts when the gun goes off” but I knew what he meant. And I remembered it now because at mile 35 I was finally starting to feel like I could race. Just at that moment I came across a spectator who told me I was in 11th. Who is this lunatic who doesn’t know how to count? I shouted back a very skeptical “what?!?” and he confirmed that the 10th place female passed through about 10 minutes ago. I said “well…damn!” and thanked him for this info which was the first I received regarding my placement the whole day. Into the next aid station I grabbed another cup of coke, another bite of banana, and a handful of Clif Bloks to ensure I was getting enough calories.

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The climb from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley

I was looking forward to reaching Tennessee Valley as I was sure Sandy would be there this time with my bottle of go-go juice to get me through the final 10k. I had one more climb to tackle before that point and then only one more left in the race after that. The downhills were starting to hurt more and more so once you reached the top of the climb you wanted to celebrate only to realize the real pain was about to set in. I could see Tennessee Valley and the huge crowd awaiting as I made my way down and worried about how I would find Sandy. As I approached the aid station my head was swiveling back and forth along the crowd that lined the road only to see Sandy standing right in front of me, arms waving with bottles in hand. I was so happy to see him and he spouted so much encouragement. I wanted to hug him but there was no time to linger. I gave him my vest and grabbed my hand-held before hitting the aid table for another piece of banana and heading up the final climb.

I caught up to Jonathan at the aid station and was really excited to be with him for this final push. As we were hiking this climb I turned around and was certain I saw another female with an orange bib. Panic set in. I held my position for over 20 miles and I wasn’t about to give it up in the last 10k. I turned around one more time to confirm she was there and it certainly looked as if she was. I made two decisions: 1) I would not turn around again for the rest of the race – I would go as hard as I could, and 2) I was going to get up this last climb through equal parts running and hiking. Being the obsessive counter that I am I started a 25 x 8-count cycle of running/hiking until I made it to the top. Another painful downhill but knowing it was the final descent I pushed a little harder. Again we could see far ahead on the course to where the trail leveled out so I focused on that spot – knowing that once I reached the bottom I could open it up.

With about 2.5 miles to go I could hear someone coming up on me. Then I could tell it was a female. Another moment of self-defeat as I thought “I can’t believe I let this happen”. As she pulled alongside me I looked over to see her bright-colored bib and told her “great job” even though I didn’t recognize her. That’s when she said “I’m a relay and I can barely catch you – you’re so inspiring!” Her bib was red, not orange! Phew! She had a strong pace and I was determined to stay with her so that’s exactly what I did. I ran alongside her for those final miles with her encouraging me the whole way – she was so awesome! She said I was inspiring but really she was the one who inspired me. She was in her own race yet she dedicated herself to pushing me those last miles talking me through it the whole way.

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Coming into the finish

I hadn’t looked at my watch in quite some time so when I rounded the corner to the finish line I was happy to see that I had met my goal of finishing under 8 hours. I gave my finishing partner a hug and thanked her for her kindness. I wanted to quickly grab my bag so I could get my phone to capture Ellie’s finish and as I was exiting Sandy was waiting to congratulate me. It was so awesome to have him there. Turns out getting my bag was quite the ordeal so sadly I missed Ellie’s finish as she came hobbling over to me crying tears of happiness after executing an amazing race – placing 15th in that field at her first 50 miler ever!

Of course since the race ended my mind has been in a constant state of ‘what I did wrong – what I need to do better’. But that’s how we grow right? It was a great experience to be racing such a strong field of competitors on a truly enjoyable course. The weather was perfect and I finished without any battle wounds or injuries so I couldn’t ask for anything more. Onto the next one!

There are some people I need to thank for making this race a positive experience:

Scott Field of Keystone Bodywork who spends countless hours keeping my body tuned and making sure everything is firing properly. Even though I swear at him a lot and wonder what I’ve done to make him hurt me so, I know that his thumbs and elbows are giving me love.

Jay Friedman my steadfast training partner who never missed a track or hill workout. Even on those dark sub-freezing mornings he was there to pull me along and keep me in check. Oh and hey, he’s in the running for RunUltra Blogger of the Year so vote for him here!

Sandy Naidu who offered up his Saturday to a complete stranger by crewing for me at the race. I’m so happy I got to meet and spend some time with such an awesome person and I will definitely take him up on his offer to crew me again in the future! And of course I have to thank Jonathan Levitt for bringing the two of us together.

Canada – you threw one crazy post-race party the weekend before my race which sharpened my endurance skills, challenged my ability to roll with things that aren’t part of the plan, and probably gave me the nasty cold I had to deal with going into this race 😉

And finally Topo Athletic for providing me with the shoes that kept my feet happy all year long. Yet another race without a single blister or any pain in my feet. A special thank you to Kristine David who, when the replacement shoes I needed for this race were not available in my size, sent me her own personal brand-spanking-new shoes so that I had a fresh pair for race day. Now that’s service!

Results: 11th Overall Female, 7:47:53

Gear: Topo MT2 shoes, Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest 3.0
Nutrition: Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer, BeetElite, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration, Skratch Labs Fruit Drops, Huma gels, Larabar Bites, Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer, Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator…and of course Coca Cola and bananas 🙂

LivWell Plant-Based Protein

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I know what you’re thinking…another vegan protein powder. As public perception shifts towards the many benefits of opting for plant-based nutrition and athletes in particular notice that they can recover and perform at higher levels when they switch to a vegan diet the market is becoming super-saturated with plant-based protein powders which can leave your head spinning. I have to be honest in saying that my interest in LivWell piqued when I learned that the company is based out of Philadelphia, PA – close to my home town. I always have much love for Philly and anything that comes from this fine city so I had to check it out.

The story is one I can definitely get behind as an athlete who cares a great deal about the quality of the fuel I’m putting in my body. The founder is a fitness and wellness enthusiast who grew tired of corporate influence over the food industry and began to question the quality of the ingredients going into some of the products he was consuming. After months of research, consulting and experimenting he came up with his own vegan protein powders that boast only high-grade, organic, 100% plant-based ingredients.
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Before I get to the fun stuff, the contents of LivWell Protein are definitely worth talking about. I’ll start with the protein sources:

Brown rice – 95% protein, fast absorption, aids muscle recovery, all 20 amino acids, lean muscle gains
Yellow peas – 80% protein, high levels of BCAA’s, high in lysine & arginine, healthy circulation, collagen formation
Sacha inchi – 60% protein, high in tryptophan, brain boosting, fatty acid omega 3, easily digested
Hemp seeds – 50% protein, packed with fiber, fatty acids, sustained absorption, easily absorbed

What you’re getting:
– 17 grams of complete protein
– state-of-the-art cold processed
– powerful amino acid profile (with all 20 amino acids)
– smooth texture
– fast & slow digesting proteins for sustained intake
– 3rd party lab testing of every batch – no heavy metals
– packaging made with recycled material
– free from soy, gluten & dairy
– no artificial anything – flavors, sweeteners or preservatives
– USDA Certified Organic – non-gmo, free from any synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and chemicals
100% VEGAN 🙂

Now onto the fun part…testing the product! The first thing I noticed was the pleasant smell of both flavors when I opened the packages – this was a good sign! You can tell there is nothing artificial in these powders. LivWell uses organic wild vanilla bean pods and Ecuadorian raw cacao for natural flavors.

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I started with one of my simple yet delicious smoothies – chocolate peanut butter banana. 1 cup of Califia Farms unsweetened almond milk, 1 frozen banana, 1 heaping Tbsp of peanut butter, and 1 serving of LivWell Raw Cacao protein. I can tell you that the protein tasted as great as it smelled! And what I really noticed is how smooth it was – there was no chalky or grainy consistency that you sometimes find with protein powders. I was off to a great start!

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Next up I decided to use the Wild Vanilla Bean protein in my classic Protein Pancakes (topped with banana and peanut butter – do you notice a trend here?) One word: delicious!

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Then I went onto LivWell’s Instagram page which showcases so many amazing recipes it’s hard to choose where to start. However once I saw Vegan S’mores Protein Milkshake I was sold. I used 1 cup of Califia Farms unsweetened almond milk, 1 frozen banana, 1 serving of LivWell Raw Cacao protein, 4 pitted dates, 1/4 cup cashews, and I topped it with aquafaba marshmallow fluff.

For my last taste test it was an easy decision when this Raw Vanilla Protein “Donut” recipe popped up on their IG page. Wow. These were super-easy to make and the flavor is incredible. I will definitely be making them again…and again.

Raw Vanilla Protein “Donuts”

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 6 soaked medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 2 scoops LivWell vanilla protein
  • ¼ cup pecans or walnuts
  • pinch of sea salt
  • Icing:
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup

Directions

  1. Blend all ingredients (except icing ingredients) in a processor until a dough forms.
  2. Roll into balls and freeze for about 20 minutes.
  3. Melt icing ingredients and roll balls into the icing once cool.
  4. Freeze balls again until solid and continue rolling balls in icing and freezing until desired icing is achieved (I rolled them twice).
  5. Store in fridge or freezer.


Credit: LivWell Nutrition

My verdict? I’m definitely sold on this protein and will be purchasing both flavors. The taste is superior, the texture is unlike any other protein powder I’ve tried, and the ingredients are clean and pure. Bonus: I’ll be supporting a local PA company! If you’re interested in trying LivWell you can order yours here. And make sure to check out their IG page if you’re looking for fun new ways to use their protein powders. Enjoy!