Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ragnar Trail Appalachian '14

mud, Ragnar, trail running, running, race, medal, trails
Got Mud?
  What have I been up to, lately?  Training, training, training.  Marathon running.  Trail running.  Triathlon training.  Starting some exciting new projects in my personal life that I will tell everyone about when they are becoming more definite.  Last weekend, though, I experienced the insanity that was the Ragnar Trail Appalachians, in West Virginia.  What an experience.  Crazy storm, beautiful though muddy trails, awesome people.

Confluence Running, Binghamton, Ragnar Trail, Ragnar, relay, race, running
Team Wetsuit Legal for Confluence Running
We wrote our team name on our arms
Our team's start time was 2:30, and the day was gorgeous: sunny and full of promise.  Two of us had arrived the night before the race so one of our tents was set up, but we spent the morning and early afternoon once the rest of the team arrived setting up our campsite, checking out the Ragnar village and applying temporary tattoos, etc.

Check out my sweet Ragnar tat
Finally it was time for us to go listen to the safety talk and then the first runner could start!  During the safety talk, he explained what would happen in the case of inclement weather.  It seemed simple enough, they would postpone the race for an hour and skip the next runner.  I just crossed my fingers and hoped it wouldn't happen. Finally, our first runner was ready to line up at the start.  Very exciting.  We all went to see our runner off and then headed back to the campsite to hang out for a while. Everything went as planned, and our first runner came in at the expected time and the exchange went exactly as planned. 

Storm, Ragnar Trail, Race
Ominous clouds - that "oh crap" moment...
During the second runner's first leg, we were hanging out by the campsite, trying to charge my phone in the car, when we noticed some ominous clouds coming up at us quickly.  Suddenly lightning was flashing, thunder was rumbling, and the wind kicked into high gear while the rain came down in sheets.  I watched in shock as some other teams' tents blew away, taking other tents out with them.  This is when I decided to jump out of the car and take down our borrowed easy-up tent from our friends at the local running store, Confluence Running, which luckily was a pretty heavy tent and didn't blow away with the first gust.  When I finally got a chance to look at our sleeping tent, I was horrified to see that the wind was blowing the side in and looking like it could potentially snap the tent poles.  Let me tell you, you have not lived until you've stood in a field at the top of a mountain in a wild storm desperately grasping tent poles and trying to keep them from bowing too far while shaking from the cold.  By the time the storm had let up to just a steady deluge of rain, the entire camping area was completely trashed.  People were trying to put things back together in the rain or just staring, dumbfounded, at the carnage.  Five of us climbed into my pontiac vibe to ride out the rain, while making ridiculous jokes about the devil coming straight out of the sky to blow away our tents and laughing hysterically at the situation. 
Waiting out the rain in my tiny car

Thankfully, our runner wasn't in the woods in the storm for too terribly long, and made it back safe.  Meantime, the Ragnar people handed her the obligatory postponement card when she returned, putting off the race for an hour and skipping our next runner.  Ultimately, they ended up skipping the next hour and 4th runner, as well.  At this point, we were all chilled to the bone from the rain and the drastic temperature drop brought by the storm, so we decided to make use of the hot food offered at the free dinner - spaghetti and rolls and salad.  It's amazing how some mediocre-tasting but hot food can feel like such a blessing in these conditions.  
Stuffing our faces because: warm
Hanging out in the relative dryness of the merchandise tent.  So.cold. 

 After the storm passed, the race started back up again, having skipped two runners.  The skipping of the runners actually worked in our favor in terms of time because Ragnar just uses the average team pace to calculate those skipped legs, and our skipped runners were slower than the average pace, generally.  It didn't much matter, though, because after the torrential rains, the trails were basically composed of total muck.  Think mud 6 inches deep, when it wasn't just standing water.  Now realize, this race had 1000 teams of 8 runners.  That's a LOT of feet going over trails that are a total disaster, churning them to the point of being about the texture of a thick milkshake.  Needless to say, was pretty slow going.  A total slog.  We had two more runners to run before it would be dark and the going would be even slower.
Ragnar Trail, Ragnar, relay, race, trail running
The trails

As runner #8 (the last runner), I was "lucky" enough to be the first one to run in the dark.  In the slushy-mud trails.  In mountain lion territory (I went in being nervous about the possibility for an encounter with wildlife).  On friday the 13th... and a full moon. I was slated to run the yellow loop.  I put on my headlamp, grabbed a hand-held flashlight and nervously waited in the exchange area for my teammate to come through.  The light was still waning when I headed out but the moment I got into the woods, it was clear that I needed my lights on immediately.  About a minute and a half into my run, the fog became so thick you could barely see anything and the headlamp just made the air into a wall of white.  Every breath out just added to the fuzzy visibility.  I was so glad I brought my hand-held flashlight as well, because using that to spotlight rocks is what made it possible to run at all through that fog.  I'm a little disappointed that I didn't get to see much of that trail (fog too thick, trail too technical and required too much concentration).  At one point I ran past ferns that came up to my shoulder.  It really felt magical, at the time, despite my fears of encountering a bear or mountain lion.  The mud and fog made the going pretty slow, but I was still hitting a pretty good pace (around 10 min/mile) and ended up finishing the loop ahead of my projected pace and blowing by a ton of people who were stuck just walking because of their lack of light or whatever.  When I got back to the Ragnar village, I immediately told my teammates to take their time because I had no need to have another run in the dark, but later I started to feel like it was kind of awesome, though it would have been more fun (and less terrifying) if I had been running with my friends who have been doing the night trail run training with me.

mud, vivobarefoot, trail running, Ragnar Trail, West Virginia, Racing
My poor trail shoes
 Luckily (or not?), we were all slow enough through the muck at night that I didn't end up running again until about 9 the next morning.  My second leg, luckily, was the shortest and had dried out fairly well over the course of the night.  The running was only somewhat technical, but pretty fun, and overall uneventful.  It was by far my fastest leg of the three.

After that, we had expected a lot of down time again, as we went through the cycle of runners one last time.  Unfortunately, the Ragnar people decided that too many of the teams were too far behind schedule because of the lousy trail conditions and they were telling us that we needed to have our final runner out on the trails by 4pm or risk a DNF (did not finish).  They told us that if we were not likely to have that happen, we would have to double up and since there was only one race bib, the doubled up runners would have to finish the leg together.  So, for the last leg (the longest one) I ended up running with a teammate.  It was a lot of fun!  The trail was technical, but GORGEOUS and running it with a friend made the experience that much more enjoyable.  By this time, the trails had dried up, for the most part, though there were still some fairly slushy areas, and it was just a lovely fun trot through the woods.  We pushed hard at the end, through the very mucky last mile, and I think the elevation difference from home (about 2000 ft higher there) made the running more difficult, but my final experience with the Ragnar Trail was that it was an awesome though exhausting experience.

My overall takeaway from the Ragnar Trail Relay is that it was fun and physically challenging, but there was at least as much mental challenge (from lack of sleep, and grueling runs through the darkness and the mud).  During the race I kept thinking "ugh, why do I do this to myself?  I hate relays." but just like always, afterwards all I can think about is when I can do it again!

I'd like to give special thanks to our local running store, Confluence Running, for loaning us the tent that kept us dry and shaded during the race.  It really made our race experience that much better.  If you're ever in Binghamton, NY, stop by and check them out!  It's one of my favorite places to go.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Minimalist Running in Winter

This is the first winter I've really spent much time running when it was very cold.  This is partially because we're having a colder winter than we had the past few years, and partially because in previous years I was a lot less serious about getting out there as often during cold weather.  The biggest question I get from other runners regarding my minimalist shoes is "Don't your feet get cold?"  The answer might surprise you.  Nope!  In fact, generally my feet are one of the warmest parts of my body despite the thinness of the soles of my (well worn) Merrells, along with the thinness of the upper.  My hands tend to be cold when I run in cold weather, but not my feet.  I do wear wool socks to help keep in warmth in case my feet get wet, since the upper extends very close to the ground and there can be some water seeping in if the road is wet or slushy.  So far I've run in 4 degree weather where my legs felt very cold, but my feet were perfectly warm.

The basic concept behind this is that your foot muscles are in use so much more than when they're being supported by arch support and all kinds of padding that you're pumping blood through there much faster.  I don't really have anything to compare with, since I've never run in conventional shoes in wintertime, but I have been hiking in winter boots and had my feet feel extremely cold/numb.  I know my feet are much more muscular than they were before I started running, so it seems to make sense that that's why they're not cold (muscles in use generate heat, right?), but I don't have any specific information on it.  Anyway, just thought I'd share that experience, in case there's people out there wondering how that goes.

Meantime, my Merrell Dash Gloves have over 1000 miles on them and I'm hoping to try out Skoras soon, since Merrell seems to have converted their entire "Barefoot" line to something less minimalist than I'd like to see.  I'll post a review once I've used them for a while.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

12 Ways a Marathon is Like Natural Childbirth

I might be kind of freaking out over my marathon that's coming up so soon, now.   The trepidation I have going on reminds me so much of preparing for labor.  When I was pregnant, planning a natural childbirth, the midwives always told me "labor is like a marathon, you gotta be in it for the long haul and you've got to prepare."  Coming up on my first marathon (omg, in just a couple weeks!!) has me thinking of all the ways that a marathon compares to childbirth.

1. You're preparing for months.  Both for labor and marathon training, you've got to start getting yourself prepared (mentally and physically!) starting months ahead of time.

2. The time leading up to the event is not necessarily comfortable.  There will be aches, there will be pains. You'll grin and bear it.

3.  You can use it as an excuse to eat like a horse!  Come on... we all do it.

4. You know it's going to hurt, but the a big question on how long it's going to hurt for and exactly how much.

5. Along the same lines, there's a big question as to how sore you'll be after.  Could be only a little, could require a wheel chair.

6. You oscillate between being excited and being terrified.  This is a huge life event and a huge accomplishment!  It's going to be so amazing and awesome when it's over... but it's no small feat to get there!

7.  Slight risk of death.  Let's face it:  People die, occasionally, while running marathons or giving birth.  It happens... the chances aren't huge, but it happens.

8. You worry about needing to poop during it.  Yep... during labor or during a marathon.  Mostly you hope to not poop your pants.

9. You need to try to figure out what you can eat and drink to keep your energy up without making you nauseous.  This is probably not something that people delivering at a hospital deal with, but I had two babies at home and we definitely needed to think about this.

10. You know you'll look awful in the pictures, but you still want to see them in all their sweat-soaked glory.

11. You hope you make it through without needing surgery.  Injuries happen.  C-sections happen.  Neither are ideal (for those planning a natural childbirth, at least).

12.  The only way out is through... just keep going.

Obviously having a baby is a bit bigger life event than running a marathon, and not everybody goes through childbirth the way I have, but I've been so amused at the parallels I've been drawing.  Hope you enjoyed them.  Please comment if you can think of more!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Running Stuff I Like

I've been pretty busy lately between marathon training and writer's block (aka, kids), so I thought I'd just drop in quickly and post about things I've been into lately in the running world.

  • My new compression socks.  I love these things.  My calves used to feel so, so tired at the end of long runs, but the compression socks keep my legs feeling fresh even at mile 19 (my longest run so far has been 20 miles).  I'm pretty thrilled.  And look how cool they are!  Neon green with crazy pink stars?  Yes, please.  And I got them on sale from www.procompression.com.  Check them out on facebook, seems they're consistently posting coupon codes, which I especially like because compression socks are pricey!  They have less, er, flamboyant ones, too, if you're into that kind of thing.
  • NUUN in kona cola flavor.  Because I'm low carb, I don't need a ton of fuel, but I do need electrolytes, and for whatever reason at the end of a long run I'm consistently CRAVING COLA, so this is perfect.  I was worried that it'd be kind of nasty-flat-soda-ish, but it's not.  Just don't expect coca-cola because it's not really that either.  Something about the gingery cola flavor really seems to settle my stomach, too.
  • The book "Train Like a Mother".  It's got funny anecdotes and interesting information and it's where my marathon training plan came from.  I'm using the Marathon "Own it" plan and I really like it because they organize it by which runs are completely required and which you can skip if you need to.  Perfect for busy moms.  
  • My garmin watch.  I was so torn on buying this because I ran with my phone with the endomondo app and it seemed to fill that purpose for me, but I so strongly prefer running with my garmin.  If you're on the fence, I'd say go for it.
  • Margarita flavored clif shot blocks.  As I said, I don't do a ton of fueling, but on the 20 milers I'll have a few shot blocks (like maybe 4 or 5 over the course of the 3 1/2 hr run).  I far prefer the margarita ones... they're tasty and not overly gooey-sweet like all the other stuff seems to be.  They have extra salt in them, too, which has been great for me in all this extreme heat and humidity.
  • My Smiths sunglasses.  I've had them for years and they're my best friend on a sunny day.
  • Running along the beach.  Because beach.  Even despite the humidity.

    And with that, I'm out.

    What's your favorite running stuff?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cleaning the House in 40 Minutes a Day? Or: How Running Made Me a Better Housekeeper.

Behold, the sparkling clean trash can of day 2!
My history with housekeeping has been a long and messy one (ha!). I've never been the greatest housekeeper, though the months we were selling our house, I really kicked it up a notch and pulled through, but BOY was that a lot of work.  I've typically been terrible at following schedules, so all the fly lady stuff never really worked for me.  Especially since her #1 focus seems to be waking up each day and shining your sink.  I just don't care if my sink sparkles, as long as it's not disgusting, I guess. 

I recently stumbled on this thirty day cleaning schedule from Apartment Therapy.  Well, to be honest, I ran across the kitchen one, first.  Twenty minutes per day?  That feels doable!  I decided to start the kitchen cleaning schedule on June 1.  I'm thinking I'm going to do both, though, I just need to catch up on the house cleaning schedule by spending a little extra time today.

This brings me to my first problem: I'm terrible at following schedules (at least, when no one else is specifically counting on me for it).  Here's the thing, though.  After following my half-marathon training plan, following a cleaning plan actually feels like it's no big deal.  I think I can commit to 30 days, and I honestly think I'll be pleased enough with the results that I'll want *WANT* to continue. 

Let's hear it for learning discipline!  This gives me hope of managing to get myself on some kind of homeschooling schedule.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Training Notes

First, I've caught crazy and signed up for a (mini) triathlon.  I don't think it should be too bad, it's only a 250yd swim, 5 mile bike, 2 mile run.  I think I should be done in around 50 minutes.  It's funny because I had put it off for so long because I thought I hated swimming laps.  In the past, every time I swam laps I felt so BORED and just hated it.  I don't know what happened, maybe the kids have really pushed me past my limits and I'm desperate for quiet, or maybe it's just via all the running without music I've gotten used to the silence.  I'm actually enjoying the lap swims!  It's started pretty slow, I couldn't swim more than 50 yds at a time without feeling like I couldn't breathe, but now I'm able to swim 500 and then take a short break and swim 500 more.  I'm pretty pleased with my progress.

Interestingly, the cycling part of the tri training is not so appealing to me. though I had thought I'd enjoy it.  I love riding our tandem bicycle with my husband, but I am not loving riding in town, by myself.  Maybe I would like doing group rides, better.  Hopefully when my kids' evening activities end in a couple weeks, I can start participating in group rides with the local triathlon club.

Second, I've caught double crazy and signed up for a MARATHON in October.  I started marathon training this week.  I'm planning on using this "less is more" training plan from runner's world, basically, except I added a few weeks in the middle because I really want to run a full 26 miles before the race so I know what I'm up against.  I bought the book Run Less, Run Faster by Bill Pierce, Scott Murrand Ray Moss, to try and make sure I am completely up on exactly how much cross training to be doing, and what pace I should be running at, etc. I'm planning to do some cycling, some swimming, and some HIIT-style work outs for cross training, at this point, but we'll see how it goes.  This will be important, I think, because I've signed up for a Super Spartan race, which will be 8+ miles of obstacle course and mud in the beginning of September, and I'll need to have decent upper body strength for that.
My new pace gloves, in funky yellow!

In preparation for this stuff, I've bought a few things.  New shoes, of course, though I kept with the same shoe (Merrell Dash Gloves) I've been running in all year (though I got myself a new pair of the Pace Gloves, too).  Also, I bought a pair of compression calf sleeves since during my recent half marathon training I was getting some calf soreness.  Hopefully they'll help me side-step that during marathon training.  ALSO, I'm super excited that my husband has bought me the Garmin Forerunner 910xt watch!  WOOT!  Hoping it's as awesome as it seems like it will be... and now I won't have to worry about bringing my ginormous phone everywhere with me (previously, I've used the endomondo app), and I can use it to track my swims!

So, here we go!  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Grand Experiment

Just before the finish line of my most recent half marathon.
     I've been basically conducting my own little experiment with running and diet since the beginning of the year.  Let's just say my dietary choices were pretty out of control over the holiday season and I gained 10 lbs in the space of about two months.  Something had to be done!  I needed to get back to basics for paleo/primal.  I started looking into options that were on the paleo spectrum but also helpful for endurance athletes.  I looked into Loren Cordain's Paleo Diet for Athletes but it seemed like more carbs than I could reasonably function on.  Every time my carb levels go up, I gain weight.  I tried doing their program during my training for my first half marathon last fall and gained fat.  It'd be nice to be able to say it was muscle, but my pants got tighter and I got more of a belly.
So, in my googling, I found a few discussions referring to The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Steve Phinney.  Their research on low carbohydrate diets actually enhancing performance for endurance athletes (after up to a 6 week transition period) was fascinating to me, so I figured I'd try it out for a while.  I highly recommend reading it to see what they say before anyone starts criticizing it.  Recently, for instance, a low carb athlete won the Western States 100 race!  

Low and behold I started dropping pounds (like most people do on a low carb diet), despite not having yet picked up my mileage for my half marathon.  Volek and Phinney do recommend use of non-caloric sweeteners, but I just cut out sweets aside from occasional berries.  I ate nuts and lots of veggies and lots of fatty meat and dairy.  Honestly, I think I should probably cut the dairy out, too, because I think it is related to some of my problems like acne, but I just haven't gotten there yet (or maybe ever).

The first couple weeks were tough, cutting back that much, but after that it felt normal and I didn't mind not having the sweets that I used to crave, though  I did eat the occasional piece of dark chocolate.  I kept track of my diet for the first few weeks on sparkpeople.  It was really enlightening how many incidental carbs I was getting without realizing it.  A lot of people end up with "carb flu" starting any kind of low carb diet, but I didn't - presumably owing to my somewhat low carb diet in the past following paleo/primal.

I was training for the Greater Binghamton Bridge Run Half-marathon, which was beginning of May.  Once I acclimated to the diet, my running was just fine, though I did bring some "bonk-protection" (a bit of sugary something-or other) and drank coconut water on my longer runs, but even my 13 mile training run, which was over 2 hrs of running, I felt completely fine and did not have to break out the emergency sugar.

My results:

 I'm pleased with this diet and how functional I am as an athlete on it, but recently I've read more about super low carb and cortisol, so now I'm not exactly sure what to do.  I've struggled with adrenal fatigue (aka overtraining, except mine was just from stress in life, not stress from exercise) in the past and am not overly interested in hitting that again. It was fascinating that I didn't really get hungry ever, though, and found my "full" response.  I would get through half of what I normally wanted to eat and just be... done.  That never happened before with my regular old paleo/primal diet.

In terms of my running performance, I PR'd by 10 minutes (1:54:06), which was awesome, but I'll admit that I trained much better for this race than I had for my last. 

Overall, I'd recommend people try this for a couple months and see how you feel.  Maybe it'll be great!  Maybe you won't notice much of a difference.  Definitely read the book, though, because the research is FASCINATING!  It really put a twist on my thinking about the need for carb loading, etc.