Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Guest Blogger: Kevin's Comrade's Race Report.

As a coach, I am grateful I get to live vicariously though my athletes!  It is a perk of this work.  When I draft training plans, I spend time researching and understanding the obstacles my runners will face at their chosen events. I try to create training plans that will help each athlete grow, based upon their personal abilities as well as help each athlete feel prepared for the race-specific challenges they will face.  

Often, I feel compelled to want to race those same events!  In my own imagination, I have transported myself to a lot of exciting race courses, many that I will never set a foot upon in my lifetime.  

There has been no event I wished I was prepping myself for more than Kevin's Comrades Marathon!  (http://www.comrades.comThe approximately 89km (over 55 Mile) race in South Africa is one of my dream races. It was my pleasure to help prepare Kevin to run his best first ultra at this legendary event!

Here is Kevin's race report! 


Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Comrades Adventure 

Let’s begin at the beginning with this story.  Why did I want to run the Comrades Marathon?  In high school, I was a “distance” runner where distance meant the 800 meter, 1600, and 3200.  (About ½ mile, a mile, and two miles.)  I thought that the 5K cross country race was long as I only ran in the fall to keep ready for winter and spring.  I still like my track workouts but have begun a true “distance” runner as a grown up.

In 2006, I got back to running and originally had my sights set on getting back to a half marathon.  Did that by Labor Day 2007.  One thing led to another and I ran my first marathon in 2010.  I thought that the marathon distance would be all I’d ever want.  Then, I read an article in Runner’s World by Bart Yasso about Comrades and thought to myself, if there is ever a race to run that would be it.  I already had work colleagues in Durban where the race either begins or ends and I could combine it with a work trip.

Years went by and I ran more marathons and I traveled around the world.  A year ago when my colleagues in South Africa heard about my going a couple other places to lecture they said I must return to South Africa to lecture.  I agreed as long as we could schedule it in the week before Comrades.  That was the beginning of the planning.  I registered in September.  Ran a qualifying marathon with what seemed like a lot of challenging hills in October, and started officially training right after the first of the year with the same coach who had gotten me to achieve my goal in Philadelphia in 2014 of running a sub-3:10 marathon.  I’ve enjoyed worked with Shannon and we have a very good rapport.  

I dedicated this to my Grandmother.  When she passed a little over a year ago most of her resources were gone.  With what my mother received from her estate she shared some of with me and my sister.  That paid for my training and registration and a few other expenses along the way.  I may take my Comrades patch (received at the end along with my medal) and leave it at my Grandmother’s grave.

In any case, the preparation did not necessarily involve a lot more miles than marathon preparation.  Just more strategic use.  Particularly with respect to hills.  Lots of hard downhills before long runs. 

So, I arrived in Durban late Monday evening, six days before the race.  Spent three days working with colleagues and PhD students on research projects.  Ate a lot of curry meals and a dish called samp.  Felt fine Thursday night.

Woke up Friday morning, 48 hours before the race and something had gone wrong with my stomach.  Big time.  I won’t describe in detail, but let’s say, I could only eat a little, what I ate soon came out the other end, and it was not pleasant.  Having that two days before a race is not ideal.  I didn’t take anything as whatever I have ever take for that tends to make my stomach feel like crap.  But having small meals and probably not enough liquid that day was not good.

Saturday morning, I woke up and felt somewhat better.  Did my last shakeout run.  Bought some Powerades to drink to get the electrolytes back up.  Went to an early dinner which was spaghetti and meatballs (beef and lamb) with my closest colleague.  And got about 5 hours of sleep.

Woke up at 1:30 after about four hours sleep Sunday morning.  I was getting picked up at 3 for a drive of about an hour in light traffic for a race that began at 5:30.  Lots of people were driving early.  Not surprising given 20,000 registrants for the race and the 16,000+ who actual began it.

When I got there, I checked my bag with stuff for after the race (very little of which I ended up using), put the sticker to identify the bag on the back of one of my two race bibs, used the portable toilet, and eventually entered starting area B.  I’d worked hard to qualify for starting area B, running a marathon in just under 3:20 in the spring.

In area B, I hung toward the back.  I didn’t want to get swept up in a rush at the start.  When the organizers released the ropes separating areas everyone pushed forward.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such a rush of people at the start of a race.  Definitely a different sense of personal space than at the start of races in the United States.  

The starting line was by city hall in Pietermaritzburg.  The front of city hall was lit with signs for the major sponsor (Bonitas) and the Comrade symbol moving back and forth across the face of the building.  For much of the time there was very loud music.  Much of it dance versions of US hits from the 80’s.  High energy.  Lots of excitement.  

Then the South African national anthem in three parts—Afrikaans, English, and Zulu.  Then chariot of fire.  And finally the loud sound of a fun with streamers.  It took a little time to get to the starting line (probably a minute) and we were off into the relatively well-lit streets of Pietermaritzburg.  

One interesting thing about the race.  The official distance given in the final race instructions was 89.208 km.  In the official results the finish was listed as 89.13 km from the start.  Not sure what happened to the last 78 meters, but whatever.  But the key was the the signs indicating distances along the way did not indicate the distance traveled but the distance to go.  It was like a thermometer (kind of like fundraising goals are shown) that was dropping the whole way.  I kind of liked it that way.  It gave a sense of what was left to finish the very long race.  I missed the first one and was pleasantly surprised when my GPS watched beeped at the first mile.  (Yes, I left my watch in miles because it is just easier for me to think that way).  It had taken 10:18.  But since Comrades is gun to gun I wanted to know my time from the gun and not when I actually crossed the starting line.  (I would eventually find out that I did get a “net time” in my results.)

The early going was beautiful rolling hills.  It was warmer than much of the spring had been in the United States but not summer pre-dawn warm.  And it was dry.  It was a pleasant run and the miles passed.  9:11, 9:14, 9:04, 9:21, 9:05.  All sitting in that sweet spot for running between 8:30 and 9 hours total.  So far, on plan.

There had been a quick stop to pee along the side of the road in the first hour and then a stop at a portable toilet at the end of the first hour.  My stomach issues were not totally returning but I was concerned.

This was the first race where I used a run-walk approach.  My coach had suggested walking up the steepest hills and walking the refreshment stations.  I did minimal walking in the first couple of hours.  That may have been a mistake.  I’ll certainly have a different appreciation for the importance of walking if I ever do an ultramarathon again.  (The jury is out on that one but it won’t happen any time soon as I know just what it takes and it was too much.) 

Miles 8-13 were run at 9:12, 9:07, 10:00, 10:09, 9:22, and 11:27.  I believe there was another stop at a portable toilet in that mix.  There was also more deliberate walking through the refreshment stations.  I was still on track to run just under 9.

Let me describe the refreshments. Not much food early on but I used four of the six Stingers I was carrying.  (Little packets of a honey based mixture that provide 100 calories.)  I drank Coke because it was in cups.  Then they had sachets of water and Energade (the local equivalent of Gatorade of Powerade).  They were challenging to break open.  Sometimes, I used the water to keep cool.  Sometimes I drank it.  I drank a lot of Energade.  But I truly had to slow down to a walk to get the things open and consume them without wasting to keep hydrated and have enough calories in me.

The next seven miles were more favorable.  Stomach issues were beginning to subside.  (The foods once they started appearing at refreshment stations included banana, potato, orange slices (which I didn’t take), chocolate (which I took once and found it stuck to the roof of my mouth—bad move), and cookies.  I liked the bananas and potatoes as they were easy to consume.  Moist and soft.  And the bananas (from lesson one of child rearing) help to bind you up when you have stomach issues like I had.  Brilliant.  The times were 8:36 (took advantage of a downhill), 9:31, 9:17, 10:06, 8:48, 9:29, and 8:55.  That put me on track at mile 20 to finish solidly under 9 hours if I could hold it. 

The rest of the first marathon was also okay.  9:56, 9:20, 9:27, 9:19, 9:29, and 12:24.  That last mile reflected the first of what I considered to be the really big uphills.  I was still on track for at least 5 minutes under 9 hours.  And when I had passed the sign indicating 50 km remaining, I did think “only a HAT run to go.”  (A local, trail-based 50K back home.)

My legs at this point had started to feel tight.  I began to question.  And my watch would only have so much more time as the battery with the GPS going has only about five hours.  The next hour was 9:29, incredibly 8:35 for mile 28, then 11:49, and 11:18.  30 miles in I was still just under 9 hours for total, but it was beginning to occur to me that running the remaining almost marathon distance in the same time was going to be more of a challenge than I had expected.  

Also, it was warm.  I wouldn’t say “hot”.  And I don’t want to blame the weather for my performance.  It never got blistering hot.  There was shade in many places.  And the humidity was low.  But I had not done a lot of running at this temp in a while.

Mile 31 was the last one that my watch captured fully at 9:46 and in the midst of mile 32, 5:09 in, my watch shut down.

It didn’t mean that I was without a watch.  I had borrowed a watch from my most frequent training partner and dear friend, Lauren, to bring with me.  In the end, I don’t have all the rest of the lap times as it seems to only show me the first 30 laps.  But it did allow me to track and plan as I continued.  At mile 31, I was just within holding 9 hours total.  But I was fading.

Most of the early miles were on back roads.  Kovin (my colleague in South Africa) had told me that much of the course was the old way from Durban to Pietermaritzburg before the “interstate” was built.  So, it’s kind of like PA 320 instead of I 476 near where I grew up.  But as we got closer and closer to Durban we moved to more urban streets and in several cases ran the on or off ramps and the “interstate”.  

While I was still a long way from having 25 km to go, I had read about Fields Hill the night before.  It sounded like a grueling downhill.

With 31 miles down, I had about 39 km to go.  I thought of it as four 10K’s.  My only indication of splits at this point comes from the report I got from the race.  Each runner wore a chip device and had to cross over mats at numerous points along the way.  I ran the first 16.52 km at 6:02/km.  That was just about what would get me to Durban in 9 hours.  I ran the distance from there to 31.55 km at 5:55/km.  Enough faster to make me comfortable with getting to Durban in 9.  I ran to 45.57 km in 6:06.  Then to 59.04 km in 7:05.  

I’d stopped one last time at a portable toilet.  The lack of toilet paper at a stop earlier was no longer an issue.  Apparently fewer people used them further along. And now I was ready to push.  

That is where I truly faded.  While the course is called “down,” every account notes that the first half doesn’t really seem down.  As I described it was rolling hills.  With the ups never seeming that challenging and the downs just nice.  The second half is definitely down but it can be punishing on the quads and there are plenty of ups that precede the downs. 

With 59.04 km done, I had about 30 to go—or 18.6 miles.  It was clear that I was not going to be able go for the 9 hours.  My legs were tired.  But I still had the goal of finishing.  And finish I would.  And while I would not get the Bill Rowan medal for finishing under 9, I could still get a bronze for finishing under 11.  And under 10 would be great.  In fact, some of the locals said that finishing under 10 on a first try is considered very good.

The idea of a 50/50 run-walk for 18.6 miles seemed crazy.  I’ll never have the data to know what I was doing but I do know this.   I walked a lot of those last 18.6 miles.  But covered the distance in about 3:40.  What the human body can do is amazing.

When I got down to 25 km (15.5 miles), I thought to myself, now it just five 5K races linked together.  I can do that.  And so I continued.  

I did feel a bit hot.  I could tell I’d gotten a bit too much sun.  The direction I was facing most of the day protected my tattoo.  The visor that came in the goodie back protected my forehead.  I’d had sunglasses on most of the morning since the sun rose.  But I got some extra sun on my neck.

One thing that was in the back of my mind the whole race was that a colleague had suffered cardiac arrest on an ultramarathon run almost a year to the day earlier.  That was sobering.  But clearly, I survived to tell my story.

I tried a nutrition bar at one point.  Bad idea.  It was too hard to consume.  I tossed it.

I stopped at two physiotherapy stations.  They rubbed in a local version of icy hot.

Several people along the way had handfuls or chunks of ice to offer.  I rubbed that on my head and neck and arms. It is hard to say how good that felt.

At several points along the way I crossed paths with some runners who changed “Keep running.  Keep working.” A call and response approach. These guys also sang a song that Kovin told me was a traditional mining song about a train.

As I realized I would not hit 9 but could hit 10, I thought of a few things.  First, it could have been mental toughness. Second, there was nothing that Shannon could have done to get me more prepared.  Third, the number of factors that determined how I ran—stomach, weather, first time consuming considerable amounts of food and liquid during a race, first time with a run/walk combo, and hills that one cannot truly appreciate from the map but that are daunting—is large and I just have to accept.  Fourth, I complete and that was what it was mostly about.  My honor to my grandmother is complete.  And finally, I did feel joy.  I was reminded of joy when there were some ice cream salespeople along the course with their coolers that said “taste joy.”  I thought to myself, “feel joy”.  And despite the tightness, despite not meeting my time goal, I could feel joy.  Why?  Because I had the ability to have a dream, pursue a dream, and put down on paper why it is important to me to pursue my dream.

Getting back to the race, I also played leap frog with any number of other runners seeing them pass me and then passing them time and again throughout the race as we each took our own approaches.  

To 70.58 km (from 59), I sped up a bit averaging 6:57.  To 82.67 km I averaged 7:21.  That left just a little over 6 km.

When I got to five I had to think about what I wanted to do.  I would try to job the whole thing.  I could run-walk-run-walk-run or I could just see.  If nothing else, I wanted to make sure to run into the stadium at the end.

So, I thought I would run from 5 to 3.  However, there was the last refreshment area and I slowed during the 4-3 km.  I picked it up and jogged from three to two.  While walking from two to one, I felt chatty.  I asked on gentlemen how he was doing.  And there was a woman named Amelia with whom I had been playing leap frog.  She had one previous finish (you could tell from the bib).  We talked about finishing under 10.  She was one of those who told me that was good.  When we got to the 1 km mark, she said “Go for it.”  She didn’t have it in her.  I did.  The closing took runners to the stadium, about ¼ of the way around the outside, and then a good portion of a lap inside.  

And I was done.

Throughout, people had greeted me warmly.  Names were on the bibs so runners and fans could call me by name. Many did.  Several, seeing the blue indicating international runner and that I had zero medals welcomed me to South Africa.  Several runners struck up brief conversations along the way.

I received my bronze medal and patch.  And a flower.  And there were pictures taken like at the end of every big event.  

Afterwards, I went to the International Runners tent.  I must have looked a little dazed.  I asked someone from the organizers where the bags were.  I got my bag, got a cup of tea, and waited for Kovin.  I wasn’t ready to eat so we went out of the stadium.  Runners had to go up and down steps to get out.  A cruel joke. 

I waited while Kovin got his car.  Went back to the hotel and showered.  My pee was a color indicating moderate to a little worse dehydration despite all I’d pushed into myself.  

Kovin came back and took me to dinner.  I had taken just a few extra moments to get ready.  I was moving slowly.  Dinner was Italian.  A camembert wrapped in phyllo with cranberries on the side and a 30 cm flat bread focaccia with greens, parmesan, pecorino, a little pesto, and Parma Ham.  I polished off the whole thing and drank about a liter of sparking water.  While we were sitting at dinner we could see other Comrades runners in the parking lot.  The gingerness of the footsteps was a dead giveaway.  

I was more energetic at dinner than I had been any other night during the week.  Even Kovin noticed.  We talked about how “marathon” is a bit of misnomer for Comrades since every other “marathon” is usually the standard 42 km distance.  So be it.

My net time was 9:46:53.

My muscles still hurt like after my very first marathon.  

My 20-year-old sent me a message that my commitment to achieving a goal is inspiring.  Perhaps I helped him to set his sights with a laser focus on his goal of becoming a musician.  

Not much more to say.  A wonderful experience on a course that does take runners through the Land of 1000 Hills.

The race is advertised as “Comrades—it will humble you.”  

Yes, it did.

But the humility has so many lessons with it.  How to push onward.  How to adapt. How to make the most of a situation.  

All these will be things I take with me for a lifetime.  Along with the joy of the training and preparation and anticipation and all the great friend, family, and fellow runners who supported me along the way. 

Quick afterthought--the old expression for brides in marriage goes "Something old/Something new/Something borrowed/Something blue."  Well, I'm not a bride, but this was a transformational experience.  I wore old socks.  But they have brought me through many of my marathons and remain my best pair of running socks by far.  The new was the visor.  The watch that was on the whole time was borrowed.  And the blue--my international number.  (Can you tell I like symbolism?)

And my Romans 12:12 from before the race--I rejoiced in hope.  The hope of finding more important goals and dreams and being able to chase them.  I endured in affliction--the affliction of very tired muscles.  And I persevered in prayer of being able to finish and get on with all the other important things in life.

And a final post-script--no chafing, all toenails in tact, no blisters.  One victory.

Absolutely final--always keep moving ahead.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lager Run, 5k, Glen Ridge, NJ, 6/26/16

Danielle, Jess, Anthony, Me, Gary
Last night I raced the Lager 5k.  I think this race is the fastest course in NJ. I would love to see a Lager Run in cooler weather, because although the course is fast, the summer weather always makes it tough.  However, this year I don't think it was too bad. 

I met Gary D. before the race to warm up and catch up. It was nice to run some miles with Gary, who has been someone who inspired me to change my nutrition and clean things up. Gary has done fantastic work getting leaner and faster. I look forward to seeing how his Fall Season turns out.

I was excited about the Lager Run. My last 5k was in Brick on a slightly slower course. I have reduced some body fat since that race.  I was hopeful that I would be able to run faster, but I was just not sure how much faster.

My 5k PR is 19:54, set a few years ago.  I ran that in the winter when I was in fantastic shape after a great Fall. I have never been the best 5k runner but sub-20 makes me happy.  Competitive ladies in NJ recreational road racing are winning larger local 5k in the 16's minutes. This race had 1157 runners, making it one of the largest 5k races in NJ.

Right now, I am happy to just try to be competitive with myself.  After last year's back pain, I was sure all my Lifetime PR's were behind me. I spent a year working on Acceptance. I was hard to be fit enough to try to slow the decline. (Degenerative Disc Disease is painful).

However, after making a lot of changes (but nutrition was the most helpful)... I was pleasantly surprised when I ran a 20:00 flat at the Brick 5k on June 5th.  That was the 3rd fastest 5k of my life. That was at our check in race at the start of marathon training. Not a bad place to start!

Since my marathon training had just started, I have only hit the track for two speed sessions with Kim.  We also completed just two significantly challenging hill workouts and one good fast-finish long run so far.  I did go to Utah for a race, covering 51.5 miles going up to 9500ft last Friday. I was feeling recovered enough and ready to try to run a little faster than my last 5k race.

Gun Goes Off: 
I am on the starting line with Jess and Paul and we are discussing sub-5k pacing. I am ready to go for it. I am nervous about my back. I am nervous about going out too fast. I am nervous about being disappointed if, after all the brownies I have given up, the race does not go well.

I start running and I feel fantastic! I feel light on my feet and my breathing feels good. My back feels great!  I know the first mile is fast and I want aim for a 6:12.  I watch my pace, but when I see the 1M clock ahead, from a distance it reads 6:05 and I am worried I have already started too fast. However, looking at my splits now, I see that my M1 was 6:12!

I know mile 2 has some incline. I watched a course preview with an elevation chart and it seemed like there was two uphills to deal with before the course elevation dropped and headed to the finish line.  Last year, I remembered just one hill that seemed steep and somewhat long. This was not what I seemed to be running on, so I assumed there was one more hill to tackle around the next turn.  I was careful to run steady, but not get over my head. I wanted to have some power to crest that hill I thought was coming.

We turn the corner and there is no hill. The course starts to descend.  I look at my watch and we are already at 1.7 miles... that's it. The hills is over.  In consideration of the intensely steep hill Kim and I train on, this hill seemed almost non-existent to me this year. The incline was there, but I just remembered it being much steeper last year.  It is funny how hill training really can help put terrain into perspective.  My only regret (if I can even call it that) is that I wish I had pushed harder on that up, but I don't really feel it would have helped me much since my last mile was very very hard regardless. M2 6:29

Last year, I remembered feeling like I could pick up the pace after cresting the hill, but this year I struggled.  I was running as fast as I could.  My mouth was so dry.  I must have missed all the water stations, if there were any out there.  There was a small boy with a garden hose and I yelled 'Hit Me" and he sprayed me down. That helped.

I had no real leg lift. Breathing was hard. I was not getting slower, but I had hoped to get faster and I just could not do it. However, I am still thrilled with this run. I found my redline and I held it the whole way!

As we hit the final turn towards the track, a guy on the sideline yelled out "Strong Core!" to me. I am not sure if he was giving me instructions to use my core more or paying me a compliment... I decided that since I have a choice, I would take it as a compliment and I thought "Yes, Yes I do have a strong core! Thank you very much!"  ;)

I glanced at my watch and it said 18:47. I new I was track for a PR since I never see an 18 on the watch that late in a race. I knew if I hit the 3 Mile mark in 19:15, I was going to break 20.  I knew the 3 Mile clock was coming up soon.

I hear Randy M. yell out "500 meters to go! Start your kick!" I think to myself, "Oh man, 500 meters is far!"

But I follow Randys instruction.  I start my kick and try to open it up on the track.

I can see the 3M clock. But I am digging so deep at this point I can't even see the numbers clearly. It says 19:xx but I don't make out the rest. I just know I need to run as fast as I can and I push hard. 3M 6:27

I catch up to a man who says something to me as we round the turn. I just grunt at him. I can't speak. I can't think. I can't see. I can't hear.  Everything is just a blur.  Last .13 in 0:40 (5:24 pace! speed work is paying off already).

I look at my watch and I can't believe it. Finally a new 5k PR after a year of suffering with chronic debilitating back pain.  I made some changes.  I built a plan and I stuck to it. I made a commitment to myself.  I worked hard to get well.  I am healthier and fitter now than ever.  It is paying off!  Bring on the races!


Time: 19:47 (new lifetime PR)
OA place: 70 out of 1157
Gender place: 8th of out 556 women
Age Group: 2nd 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

May 2 though June 23, 2016: Eating Clean, Running Fast (for me) and Climbing Mountains, #RebuildingTheCar and #CreatingMomentum!

I have been busy. I usually write race reports after each event, but over the last month I just have not had the time. I am now officially on “summer break” (until July 18th) from my Kinesiology/Sports Psych MS program, so I thought I would summarize the exciting things that have been going on for me since running 80 miles at the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. 

Cleaning Up Nutrition

The first thing I wanted to do as soon as the 24 hour race was over was clean up my diet. I have wanted to change my nutrition for a while, but I did not want to make any drastic changes until after the 24 hour race. Starting May 2, I began logging everything I ate while focusing on high protein, high fat, and low carb nutrition. I had stumbled across some research that demonstrated how 30 days of eating this way can help athletes burn excess body fat while sparing muscle. Nothing I have read from peer-reviewed sources available in the the databases provided by my medical school library convinced me that I should expect to perform my best on a low carb plan in a race situation. Despite the massive amount of "soft-science" that report the miracles high protein offers (like personal blogs or non-peer reviewed articles or those with conflicts of interest available on the internet), the unbiased industry leaders in sports nutrition still report that carbs are the way to go for fast energy and the best way to fuel endurance endeavors. While some time eating low carb can be very helpful for someone like me who would like to become leaner, I have found no research that has directly convinced me that I should attempt to race long races without eating carbs and still expect to do my best. I have always run my fastest using fast simple sugar as fuel and that is still how I fuel fast racing for me, even after changing my nutrition. Others, I am very sure, have different methods that work equally well for them.

My nutrition plan was not to target any specific macro percentages, but rather to cutting out empty calories first and see what macros work best for me. I opted to get my carbs from mostly veggies, some fruit, nuts, and dairy. I decided that for 30 days, I would stop eating bakery items, flour-based food, potatoes, corn, and rice. I would build each meal around a lean protein source first, with lots of veggies or maybe some fruit (in the case of breakfast) and finally add nuts and other healthy fats. If I craved carbs I would eat something small to see if that helped and that usually did. I found right away that by eating lean protein, veggies, and healthy fats, I did not crave sweets or breads like I used to. I never felt deprived as I could eat as much protein, veggies, and healthy fats as I felt I needed to feel satiated. I still eat dark chocolate almost every night so I get something sweet. I simply learned how to use carbs to fuel training needs and to not to eat away my gains.  Eating this way works very well for me. Everyone is different.

The first thing that happened when I changed by eating habits, was that I lost about 6 lbs in 2 weeks. After a year of back pain, I had gained 8 lbs over the year. This happened mostly due to me running less because of the back pain but still eating in a way I felt was mostly healthy. My metabolism seemed to slow over the year as I sat more than I moved. I started to gain weight and it was hard to lose it the way I was eating. I generally eat healthy and my nutrition was alway in line with a moderate carb, low fat, moderate protein plan. However, when run not running 65-100 miles per week, this was just not working for me any more.

During the first two weeks of cutting back carbs to about 30%, training was hard. I felt like every run was as hard as the last 10k of a marathon. I had no energy. Kim and I trained together and we both planned for May to be our “rest month”. Thank goodness. We were patient and just logged a lot of slow miles. I remember hitting 6 miles and needing to walk I was so tired. It was comical.  But each day I felt better. As I lost some weight, my back started to hurt less too. The reward of having less back pain was motivation enough for me to continue on. (It will always hurt me, but less is good!)

Run for the Red

On May 15th I ran Run for the Red. My goal was to get a BQ by 5 minutes. I had struggled for a year and had run two BQ’s by 2 minutes, which we all know is not enough to ensure I earned a bib. In the past I had always BQ’d by over 20 minutes and it was a little bit of a shock for me to realize this might be the first year I don't get to Boston. I carb-loaded the night before and I used gels and sports drink the day of the marathon. On a course with downhill in the first half and hills at the end, I ran an even split and finished in 3:33… over a 10 minute BQ and my fastest marathon in a long time. I took a gel at the start and two during the race. I didn't hit the wall. I felt strong the entire race. My back was a little stiff for the first 10 miles but it loosened up in the second half. It felt amazing to NOT fade. I felt strong and healthy for the first time in a year! (I also got to meet and run a lot of miles with Renee, who was just an amazing person to share some miles with).

After Run for the Red, I immediately went back to low carb and it was not hard for me at all.  I love to cook and I enjoyed the food I was making. I also love data so weighing food and logging is entertaining to me.  I love this stuff.  I continued to find it easier and easier to eat this new way. 

I was finally able to fit back into my favorite running clothes. At the Boston Marathon Expo I decided to purchase some items that were in a larger size than what I owned.  I was feeling like my current running clothes were just a tad too snug and I was tired of feeling uncomfortable. Of course now those clothes don't fit at all (which is great as it means I am healthier now, but it was a big waste of money.)

During the next two weeks, I lost about another 3-4 lbs mostly body fat.  Still Kim and I just kept on running slow and easy. We did no actual “workouts.” We either ran short (3-4 Miles), medium (6-8 Miles) or longish (10-14 miles). We did not run hills workouts or speed workouts, but we did choose hilly routes.  We did not care about pace and just ran slow. We took longish breaks as we were in no rush.  We did not fuel on these runs, but only drank water. They were not very long runs.  We accepted and embraced the Bonk when it came. We watched the Bonk come later and later each time we ran. It was interesting to watch how we acclimated.

The Ridgewood Double

On May 30th, I decide to run the Ridgewood 5k/10k double. I went out with Sidney the night before and had a great dinner with bread, carbs, and we even shared two desserts (a strawberry bread pudding with rosemary almond ice cream which were both amazing). 

My last 10k was the Cherry Blossom 10k where I ran a 7:22 pace. I was hoping to beat that 7:22 for the 10k (first event of the day) and then see what I had for the second race. In the past, every single time I have run a 5k/10k double (4 times now), I had an uncanny ability to run both races at the exact same pace. This race was no different! In exceptionally humid conditions on rolling courses, I managed a 7:09 pace in both races. I felt like I had won at the Olympics. Both races were slow starts with negative splits. Both had low 6 minute kicks. Both races were text book pacing. I was really pleased with my work!

Right after those races I went right back to low carb nutrition. I bring protein shakes with me now to races and long training run.  I make sure I get right back on track immediately after any time I decided to carb-load for a specifically reason (race or LR). 

Heart and Sole 5k 
Photo by Kimberly Schwartz

Kim and I decided to run the Ocean Medical Center Heart and Sole 5k as our first "check in" race before marathon training officially started. It was warm, humid, and we did not know the course. I had hoped to be faster than 7:09 pace, since I ran that for the two races at Ridgewood. I carbed up the day before and morning of the race. I was ready to see what I could do.

This race was phenomenal. I started strong, a little faster than I should (sub 6:30). I don't have my watch anymore for the splits, but I faded a little each mile until I dug for a kick at the very end. I wasn't able to catch the lead female, but I happily took 2nd place with an official time of 20:00. I have only broken 20 for the 5k 3 times (it is not my best event). This race had no start mat and I was not toeing the line. My watch had me just sub-20:00 which really made me feel great. This was our “check in” race and I was only seconds slower than my lifetime 5k PR after a year of suffering. I 100% contribute this success to nutrition changes, subsequent weight loss, and some cross training for strength building.

Kim started our first week of Marathon Training on June 6th. We ended up crushing some hills repeats and then ending the week with a fantastic 14 mile negative split long run on a hilly course with super fast finish! It was the best long run I have ever run with Kim and the best long run I have had in almost 2 years. 

Bryce 100M (or 51.5M in my case)

All this progress was helping me to feel more confident about my decision to go out to Utah to run the Bryce Canyon 100M with Dave. We both knew Bryce was going to be ridiculously tough for us. We had not been able to train specifically for it any way. I spent the last month changing my nutrition and running short and slow. He ran a flat 3 Day race that got him over 200 miles, but there was no altitude or hill climbing happening for either of us.

Bryce started at 7700 ft and climbed to just under 9500 ft. This type of altitude is tough for people who live at 106 ft. The race had about a 60% DNF rate and we only met 1 other person from sea level attempting it and she dropped out. We decided to spend the day running slow, taking as many photos as possible, and seeing how far we could get. The limiting factor for us was not the terrain, but rather the lack of oxygen. On the steep climbs over 9000 ft, I needed more rests than I thought I would. My body felt great, mostly. My back did not hurt for even a seconds. My calves did burn on some of the climbs making me wish I had prepared them better.

photo by SuperDave Letteri

We got to 51.5 miles and decided at that Aid Station that we had had enough. We saw the entire course. We reached the summit at sunset and it was the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my life. The birch trees were humongous at 9400ft. The air was clean and the views were vast and humbling. 

This was the most challenging and the most beautiful course I have ever run and reaching the summit at sunset was the best reward I could get for my work. 

photo by SuperDave Letteri
Sidney was back in our hotel room and he had an 11 am check out. We knew we would not likely finish before 6 pm the next night. We decided to call it at 51.5 at 11:00 pm, so we could sleep and then continue on with our vacation. We wanted to see Zion. We wanted to go to Las Vegas. We just did not need to repeat the entire course we just run in the cover of darkness.  If finish was important we could have but I wanted to spend some of my days off from work relaxing.  It was a good decision for us. We had a great time seeing parts of Utah and Nevada I would otherwise not likely get to see. 

So now it is a week later and I have no residual soreness from climbing that mountain. Kim and I jumped back into training without missing a beat. We did 20 x 200 on the track on Tues. We ran 10 x .2 mile (each way) hill reps today. I have added more calories to my diet as training volume and intensity is increasing, but my body fat keep dropping without me trying right now. I am sure that will slow down.

I feel great. My back pain stills comes and goes, but it is not as prevalent or debilitating. It will likely never go away completely, but it is no longer stopping me from doing what I love to do! I am running fast (for me) again. I am running ultras again. I am climbing mountains.

I feel like I have found my way home. 

photo by SuperDave Letteri

(#RebuildingTheCar, #CreatingMomentum!)