Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tamalpa Headlands US 50k Trail Championships

“Take care of your body it’s the only place to live.” – Jim Rohn

Things in life and running are hardly ever linear. If they were they would be boring, but predictable. There have been many times over the past two years where I questioned what I was doing in running. I was putting in the work to see such small results if any. There were many months where I wasn’t running like myself. Last year at the Mountain Champs I could barely run and then the following weekend I was a mess. My legs weren’t my own and I grew anxious that with every workout or race I would continue to feel the same way, incapable. It’s not a fun place to be, but I just kept telling myself things would come together, patience, patience.

There were clearly multiple factors, low iron, maybe overtraining, mindset, general fatigue, focus, but something started clicking this year. I finally feel like myself again. Of course I am human and I still have days that are difficult and thank goodness for my training partners and heart for giving me the confidence to persevere on these days. But overall I have been feeling pretty darn good. I am extremely grateful for the momentum and confidence it’s been worth the wait and the tears and frustration.

Some of this momentum has grown from throwing my anxiety out the window and doing what I know how to do, run. Last week before the US 50K trail champs I grew nervous and even wondered if I should race. I realized I was getting ahead of myself and worrying about the potential outcomes. As the race approached I focused on trusting my training, my strengths, and my love of the headlands.   

I had a plan in the back of my mind race day, but the biggest thing was to stay focused and in the moment. I knew the race might go out fast and I was willing to sit back and run my own race. Megan Roche took it out and Emily Harrison and Tracie Akerhielm followed her up the first climb at Muir Beach. Before the climb I was running with them but decided to back it off a few notches as 7,300 feet was still ahead. I had many scenarios in my mind for how the race may go, but none of them had me taking the lead at mile 8. I felt really solid for the first 17/18 miles and then the climb up Cardiac hurt and then the climb up Steep Ravine kicked my arse even more. I guess having not run a 50K in over 17 months came into play and maybe I needed to up the calories a bit too. It’s the first race where I got cramps in my calves with a few miles to go. I stopped and tried to walk, but that made it worse, so I just kept running. It wasn’t until I saw the finish that I realized I was going to win my first Trail National Championship! 

It was a powerful moment. I felt such gratitude and hopefulness. That win was more than a win. To be honest I can’t even express the emotions that I felt crossing the finish line. All the hard work had carried me to that moment and now I can continue to move forward.

In life and running nothing is linear, but the chaos is well worth the moments like these. For anyone struggling through something remind yourself to be patient, this world and sport require it.

A huge thank you to Sam Robinson for being there for me in my frustration and joy.

Photo credit of John Medinger.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Be Creative Folks

Part of the reason I run is the conversation, the creativity. I have learned the hard way that you can run the fun out and find nothing more to say. Or you can change up the route, the workout, the moment, and be inspired. I've spent a fair amount of time training when I felt crummy, wasn't all that motivated, but my tenacity kept me putting the miles in. Most of these runs were so-so, I didn't feel any better or worse after them, but I definitely didn't feel inspired either. On the other hand by running with people and carrying on certain social interactions (even if they're just in my own head) I've noticed runs soar by as if I had never really been running. I've found the simple act of acting like an artist during a run allows me to be creative with routes and workouts and more connected to what I am doing.

I can be bit of a science nut when I want to be and there is clearly a mind-body connection here. Yes I teach yoga, pilates, and work as a doula, so I do have my hippy vibe too, but don't be too fooled as I am quite grounded in what makes all of these work. Stay with me. Cortisol is a stress hormone while small amounts are good for performance too much can wreak havoc. It's what are body produces when we get anxious and overwhelmed. I see it most readily at births. If a mother can stay calm and focused she'll be less likely to have spikes of cortisol and less likely to feel the need for drugs and interventions. You know what else cortisol does? It crushes creativity. It literally shuts down the right side of your brain. Your brain and body goes into survival mode. There is no doubt that running can trigger over production of cortisol. It probably has the potential to give one that extra drive to win a race or set a PR. Unfortunately it can also potentially inhibit these as well. Ever go out for a race and lock up in the first few miles? Ever go out to the track with a split in mind and get frustrated when you can't seem to hit it? Do you feel better when you start focusing on your breath? Do you feel more at peace when running on a new trail? That's hormones!

A few days ago Outside Magazine came out with the article Running on Empty. It's definitely worth a read and a big issue for the endurance runner especially those pushing the envelope. Towards the end of the article they've quoted Mike Wolfe in regards to overtraining, "I believe in the mind-body connection... I've often wondered myself and others having worked so hard for so long at some point the mind quits before the body and just says, 'Enough.'" Anna Frost a few years ago speaks about getting to a very low point and how she was running without the love of it in this beautiful video by Salomon. She says, "it took a long time before I got out a pair of shoes again to go and do what I love and not just go and run." To me this is exactly the missing link, when running loses it's sense of creativity we are running on empty. We aren't inspired and we're hurt, tired, drained, and just plain exhausted.

By focusing too much on the outcome we lose our creative spirit. How many times have you been out on a run and so focused on a future race that you've missed the experience of the run you're on? I can say I have been there. The problem is that getting fixated on an outcome is more likely to heighten anxiety and stress. The best runs and races in my life have been the ones where I am present. It's probably asking too much to make all runs inspirational, but I have made an intention of this in 2015. This morning I had a foggy run with my friend Linn in Redwood Park. We took a very typical out and back route, but what we shared in that 60 minutes left me inspired. She told me about a friend of hers who said, "much of our suffering comes from wanting things to be other than they are." I would take it one step further to say that suffering is a loss of creativity, of being playful, and in the moment. When we can be open to a process regardless of the end result we can open up a whole other side of our brain. We can move without fear and explore our true potential. Be creative folks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Moving with my Heart

It’s funny how we don’t remember how hard something is until we’re in that exact moment of repeating it. Like the first 5-10 minutes of every race I tend to curse to myself. Yet as soon as I cross the finish line I am eager to race again. It had been five years since I had completed the Transrockies Run. Devon Yanko and I ran together in 2009 and won the open women’s division. In 2010, I started it with Martin Gaffuri and dropped after day two with a hip stress fracture. I wanted to come back and replace that year's challenge with positive memories. I did just that.

I am not going to lie and say it was perfect or easy but imperfect and difficult was beautiful. It started off with Magdalena Boulet and I driving a 15-passenger van from Denver to Buena Vista. We saw rainbows, stayed with an eclectic couple that night, and started the trend of beets with every dinner. After witnessing an amazing almost full moon we were off to sleep and ready for the 120 miles that awaited us. There were ups and downs on the trails. We both felt good and bad at different times. We saw views, mountains, and wildflowers, ran through creeks and grass almost as tall as ourselves. Most of my memories aren’t of the trails or the runs themselves, but the silly stories that somehow weaved in and out of our days in the Rockies.

Story #1: It’s day number three. We completed 24.2 miles today and I am exhausted. We go to sleep in our tent. I wake-up and I have to pee. I sneak off to the bushes. Magda wakes up and heads to the porta potty. I get back to the tent and fall dead asleep. Magda gets back in to have a baby frog jump on her and around the tent. She tries to catch the thing for a few hours well I snore away.

Story #2: We both had a hard time doing our favorite thing other than running, drinking strong coffee. The whole week I could barely stomach breakfast and a cup of hot water. After stage #5, we took a venture into Vail to look for a good strong cup of coffee. Instead of finding coffee, we found a nice fountain to put our feet in. Hey there were kids’ doing it so who’s going to question a couple of adults?

Story #3: Every year I have come to Transrockies I have heard the warning of yelling back to the sheep. Basically if you come across a sheep dog in the mountains you should yell, “back to the sheep” so that it doesn’t try to heard or attack you. It’s day #6 and we are about 8 or 9 miles into the final 22+ miles. Magda asks, “Is that a sheep dog up ahead.” I see a white bushy dog trotting down the trail. I think it’s just a normal dog out on a stroll until the thing nearly pounces us. We both yelled back to the multiple times.

There were other things like the hail storm that happened well we carried on a conversation in the tent, the day we got in the lake with our Balega socks, down jackets, and warm hats, and that day we used sticks as trekking poles. The thing about it is I did hurt, I did have some tears, but it was absolutely worth it. Each day I made it through the challenge I remembered to move with my heart. I couldn't have asked for a better partner and event to remind me to toughen up while having a sense of humor and a smile.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Feed the Beast

It’s been four years since I last participated at Transrockies. That was 2010, the year I had to drop after two stages because of pain in my hip, which I later discovered was a stress fracture. That was an emotional and painful experience and I learned the hard way that I shouldn’t show up to a race unless I feel emotionally and physically 100%.

There was lots of blaming of the cause, too many miles, too many mountains, too much speedwork, but ultimately it was likely too much pressure on myself. It took me awhile to rebound from that injury and get to the point where I wanted to return to the race. I’ve spent the last two weekends exploring trails in Tahoe. The mountains make me feel alive and connected in a way that I never feel on the roads. Maybe it’s the thinner air or the epic views, but I just lose myself in them. I might be gasping for more air and running much slower, but it’s humbling and exhilarating. I am excited to partake in the 2014 Transrockies race with my coach and training partner Magdalena Lewy-Boulet.

A few months ago I was watching the Stanford track meet with friends and we overheard Lauren Fleshman giving someone advice about running. She was explaining that you should work on your weakness, but make sure to “feed the beast.” I know that I’ll never be a fast 5k runner and I have come to terms that it takes me a good 3 miles to warm-up into a run. Hills, mountains, and long days out on the trails feed the beast in me. This next week in Colorado will be perfect and I get to share the experience with someone who inspires me with every run, workout, and conversation over coffee. Magda and I will take on some long days in the Rockies and breathe in the mountain air. We’ll keep you updated on our adventures.

And I am happy to say I have had no leg issues in the past month. That iron has become a new bestfriend.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Note to self: eat more steak

It’s been a whirlwind over the past few weeks. I fell in love with the UP, got a fair share of technical trail running in, and may have found the culprit to my leg issue. 

I ran the US Mountain Running Champs on July 6th and then Run the Keweenaw: A Festival of Trails on July 12th and 13th.

Loon Mountain was a tough race. The terrain became the main pitfall and I felt like I used up most my energy just navigating the terrain. At mile 4 I started feeling better, but unfortunately there was only .8 more to go. The steepest part was where I felt the best, go figure! Anyhow I made it to the top and that in and of itself felt like an accomplishment for the day. After the cool down I just started to cry. I have had this overwhelming frustration with my legs not feeling right, with training and races feeling harder than they should, and just wanting to throw in the towel. I let out the tears and moved on with my day.

After finishing the race in Lincoln, NH, Sam and I took a road trip to the UP for a stage race in Cooper Harbor, MI. The first day involved a morning 6K climb and an evening 12K (which was actually more like 8.5 miles). The next day involved a morning 25K run.  Leading up to the race I had my typical leg cramps/locking up on a handful of runs, but on Saturday I was feeling pretty loose and excited to explore the UP trails. The first 3-4 minutes of the climb I was doing okay and then wham there was the sensation and there I was walking. Close to 10 minutes later the tightness was easing off and I could do more than just walk/jog. I arrived at the top, took in the view, and then headed back down the hill with Sam who won! For the evening run I decided to experiment with a more intense warm-up to see if it helped. The race started and 5-6 minutes into the race this time wham there was that sensation and there I was walking. Part of me just wanted to turn around, throw up my arms, and just take a break from running, but I am stubborn. I waited until my legs settled down and then I did a progression run on those trails, took in my surroundings, and tried my best not to think about how frustrated that sensation that has stopped me in track workouts, easy runs, and races was.

When I finished there was Sam who had now also won the 12K. He knew I was frustrated. He knew I wasn’t running to my ability. He made a comment about how this was maybe iron related and that I looked pale. Next thing you know the woman that finished a few spots behind me who saw me walking at the start of race came over to chat with me. She asked me to describe this sensation in my legs and told me she had experienced the same exact thing. FINIALLY!!! I knew there had to have been another runner in the world. And you know what she said, iron depletion/deficiency! But my doctor had checked that in the blood work last year and the year before right? Actually neither time did the doctor check. She checked my overall blood panel, but that doesn’t show iron. So you know what Sam did that night, he made me eat a steak. You know what happened the next day in the 25K I ran like my normal self. And this time both Sam and I won! Placebo or not, maybe I am finding my solution.  

I’ve been eating more red meat and iron rich foods along with vitamin C. I am supplementing too. I have been feeling better even with some higher back-to-back mileage. My energy is better. My legs haven’t cramped up. I am hopeful and excited for the training and races ahead. Fingers crossed.

FYI I did get my iron levels checked. They aren’t awful, but they are definitely not great either. I highly recommend if you’re a runner (especially a female runner) and feeling out of sorts to get them checked.