Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Tailwind Nutrition Review

For most of the summer, I’ve been using Tailwind nutrition as my go-to nutrition source during most runs over 10 miles, and I thought I’d share some thoughts. Tailwind kept popping up on various ultrarunning blogs and websites that I follow, and I’m always on the lookout for the most efficient nutrition solution for what I can only describe as a finicky stomach. I’ve mentioned before that I have given up on all sports drinks, and most GUs and Gels don’t sit well in my stomach either. The sugar just seems to be too much for me, and I always end up with a few unplanned pit stops. So, I was excited by the idea of an all-in-one nutrition product that I could dissolve in water and drink throughout my entire run.

tn-logofinal

I typically carry some sort of portable hydration solution, whether it be the incredibly comfortable and economical Simple Hydration Bottle (love this bottle!)  that frees up my hands during shorter, faster runs, or my Salomon pack, which sustains me for most of my long-distance training. Tailwind offers a pretty exciting product that has the potential to eliminate the need to carry around additional GUs, chomps, bars, and electrolyte pills or tabs. Since I’m already carrying water, this seems like a no brainer…on paper. However, did Tailwind come through and lighten my load without lightening my stomach?

It has absolutely come through! I’ve been nothing but impressed with this product. It truly does offer the complete calorie + electrolyte + hydration solution. The taste, portability, ease of mixing, and easily digestible nature make this product my new go-to nutrition solution for training runs and races.

My order even came personalized with a hand-written thank you note!

My order even came personalized with a hand-written thank you note!

Taste: I ordered the berry flavor, as this is usually my first choice with any new product. I was initially skeptical after tasting so many different artificial berry-flavored sports drinks and flavored waters. However, the berry flavor was light, smooth, and refreshing. It was not overpowering, and it mixed with the water so completely that I would have never guessed it had been a powder. They recommend approximately 1 scoop per 12 oz. of water, but I’ve added even more for some added calories and it still mixed cleanly like a champ! They sent me a small package of the lemon flavor as a thank you for my first order, and I had the exact same reaction. I usually hate lemon and lemon-lime flavored drinks (why is it ALWAYS lemon lime at aid stations?!), but the Tailwind lemon was just as smooth, light, and refreshing. I’m looking forward to tasting the mandarin orange as well.

Portability: I’ve been able to carry it around with me in several different formats. When I want to pack extra on self-supported runs, I simply portion it out into ziplock bags and carry them in my Ultraspire Quantum waist belt. It’s really easy to empty the powder into my empty water bottle and fill it up at a water fountain around town. I’ve also simply brought along the entire bag and left it in my car so I can circle back at various points, very much like you would do with a drop bag during a race. I plan to drop empty water bottles with the Tailwind already in them as well, which should make for a quick transition. Tailwind even sells individual pouches for ultimate portability!

Ease of Mixing: What can I say? It takes minimal effort and dissolves quickly and completely. You’ll never have a gritty aftertaste or see it settle at the bottom of your bottle. Cleaning your bottle out is as simple as if you were only using water.

Digestion: This was the biggest test for me. How would it sit in my stomach? My sugar intake overall is now so low that I can barely stomach the taste of sports drinks because they are so sweet. Tailwind has such a light taste that it’s more like drinking water with a hint of berry to make things interesting in your mouth. I’ve used it exclusively for up to 6 hours thus far, and am happy to report that I have not once had any GI issues! I feel full, hydrated, and energized, and my calorie consumption seems to be more consistent as well. It’s easy to forget to eat at times, but you are always drinking.

nutrition information

nutrition information

Of note is the decision by Tailwind not to include protein in their mix. They reviewed quite a bit of research, and determined that most of it indicates no benefit to a carb + protein mix, and that furthermore, protein can hinder the absorption of carbohydrates, as well as being hard to digest. They now offer a version with caffeine, which I haven’t tried yet but will probably give a chance as well. The cost per serving comes out to be less than you would spend on other solid nutritional products as well, so you will end up saving money in the long run, which is always nice! Tailwind is also naturally Gluten Free, which makes the epicurean happy. Overall, I’ve been completely won over but how well Tailwind works for me. I’ll be putting it to the ultimate test during the Mark Twain 100 in a few weeks as well, so stay tuned. We’ll see if it’s still keeping my hunger at bay after 16 hours on the trail :)

Reflections on My First 90+ mile Training Week

When we left for the North Shore, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to hike as much as I wanted, let alone trail run. I was delighted to be able to dispel my doubts with some wonderful trail time. When we returned, I knew I needed to refocus my training in a sustainable way as I ramped up for the final few weeks of intense training before a two-week taper. The time off left me questioning how my body would handle the longer distances, but I knew I needed to find out before getting to Missouri and toeing the line for the Mark Twain 100. Thus, I dedicated the last week to a “slow, steady, and long” mantra and put my legs to the test. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

As I’ve gotten more and more tuned in to the trail and ultra-running community, I’ve become more aware of the training schedules of many of the elite athletes that I admire. It seems as though I’m constantly reading about 100-120 mile training weeks being rattled off as though it was a normal part of life. For them, I suppose it is a normal part of life, eh? Those numbers still seem amazing to me, especially considering I still only have one 100-mile finish to my name, and my training weeks still hover more consistently in the 50-70 mile vicinity. Obviously, everyone’s body performs differently and is able to handle different amounts of stress and distance. I know how important it is to listen to your body and get a feel for when you’ve pushed yourself too far. This is something I’ve been working on rather consistently for the last several years, but I know I still have plenty to learn about what my body can accomplish.

We arrived back in Iowa on Sunday afternoon, and I began to give my upcoming training week some thought. Pacing, or more specifically, slowing down, has not been my strong suit in longer ultras, and it has predictably come back to bite me in the ass. Thus, I wanted a chance to force myself to slow down and put on some slower than comfortable miles. This week was my chance to work on pacing and endurance, and see just what my legs had in them at this point in my training regime.

irunchallenge

My weekly runs typically involve some speed work and hill work, with more repeated shorter runs. This time, I decided to push further during the week, and I committed to running four consecutive half marathons during the week. These four runs would force me to aim for around a 10:00 min/mile pace, and think more intentionally about form and nutrition. The weather fluctuated throughout the week but my legs held up beautifully. After each run, I still had plenty of gas left in the tank (as I should), and I didn’t feel the need for any recovery time. More importantly, I nailed my pacing goals, with overall paces within one second (or dead on) each time. What was even more exciting for me was I would be heading into my weekend long run(s) with 52 miles already in the books. This was by far the most miles I had ever tallied during the week, and it was exciting to know I didn’t feel any worse for the wear.

Although I was feeling good, I continued to be realistic about my weekend goals. I headed out to a groomed trail to meet some friends for a comfortable early Saturday morning run. The temps were comfortable, but the humidity was out in full force, and I was soaked fairly quickly. Humidity seems to sap my energy and weigh down my legs more than just about any other uncontrollable factor. I clocked in 20 miles on the trail, had a wonderful time chatting with friends about life, the universe, and running, and decided to break for a shower and some nutrition. It was a good opportunity to dry out, change socks, and squeeze in a little rest.

The most important aspect of ultra-training seems to be learning how to run on tired legs, which is why back-to-back runs are so important. Thus, I was delighted to meet up with some friends in the afternoon to join them for a run. This was their last large training brick in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, so they entered the run after 115 miles on the bike. I love chatting with them about the similarities and differences between triathlon and ultra-running as sports, both in terms of the training and culture. It’s also a joy to have friends to understand the demands of ultra-endurance activities on a personal level. Our runs are always comfortable, and fly by no matter how tired we are from already running, cycling, or swimming. Well, they might have just gotten out of the water, but the only water I’m interested in incorporating into my workouts is the cold water I pour into my hydration pack!

Check!

Check!

The sun came out and cooked us a bit more than the early morning haze, but I still made it back home feeling energized and excited to have logged another 12+ miles. My shorter run on Sunday was a relaxing way to end the week, and the 7.5 miles I logged felt great, although the heat and humidity was beginning to wear me down. I had thought about the possibility of breaking 90 miles earlier in the weekend, but had put it out of my mind. My goal was simply to push myself and log some quality training miles. However, when I uploaded my data and realized I had hit 92.3 miles, I was ecstatic! Now, my goal is to once again run even further than this in a 24 hour period, so I am fully willing to celebrate in moderation. However, this week still seemed like a milestone to me. I proved to myself that I could log the big training week, and that my legs and body were at a level of fitness that could sustain those distances.  I may never log repeated 120 mile weeks, but I’ll keep tackling my goals and setting new goals along the way!

On Reconnecting with the Run: North Shore Adventures

“What’s true for us as individual humans is true for the civilization we create:
a sprint culture, seeking ever greater speed and power in all things cannot endure.”

- Ed Ayres, The Longest Race

There is no finish line. Our fast-paced society has certainly taught us to be goal-oriented, always striving to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, and a host of other qualities that our individualist, Western culture values. When we cross that finish line, whether at a race or in the board room, we immediately turn our attention to the next finish line. All of this is to say that we create artificial targets for ourselves because we think we need them to feel happy, satisfied, and successful. I’m certainly guilty of this, and I”m sure many of you are as well. I am continually setting goals for myself, whether they be running or academic-related. I’ve convinced myself that my identity is shaped by whether or not I achieve those goals. In some ways, I suppose these beliefs have become a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be better than ourselves, or that we shouldn’t derive a sense of satisfaction in achieving something new, exciting, or extreme. We should always take pleasure in those moments. However, I’m realizing, more and more, that we need not define ourselves by those moments. Doing so robs us of the enjoyment that the journey brings, the benefit of the physical and mental growth we receive along the way, and the relationships we build in the process. Who would have thought that a brief injury and a yearly camping trip would have produced such insight, eh?

As you may recall, I managed to injure my back rather successfully a little over a week ago. A subsequent trip to the physical therapist revealed that my issue was in the pelvis, which has apparently decided not to twist forward when I bent over. Not surprisingly, this is quite painful. My pelvis was out of alignment, in part from the injury, but also from extreme tightness in my lower back, and persistent leg issues related to a small length differential. This injury caused the epicurean and I to worry about not being able to embark on our yearly, rejuvenating adventure to the north shore of Lake Superior for some camping, hiking, and disconnecting. Fortunately, my mobility improved in the days following the injury, and we hit the road for Split Rock State Park as soon as I finished my PT appointment. My back was still a bit tender, but I could walk, and was confident that I could get around in the woods with limited difficulty. We had stumbled upon a backpack site in the park last year and immediately fell in love with it. We reserved it as soon as we got home last year, and were excited to revisit this peaceful, secluded oasis nestled on the shore of Lake Superior. There’s really nothing quite like feeling as though you have the whole lake to yourself! It was a short hike (less than a mile) from the parking lot and camp office, yet far enough away from everyone else that we felt as though we had the forest to ourselves.

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Although I felt up to traveling, I was still uncertain as to whether I’d be able to enjoy the hiking and trail running that I had been so excited to experience. We arrived late on Wednesday and quickly set up camp before nestling into our tent for the night as the northern sun gave way to the full moon glistening on the glassy waters of Lake Superior. There’s really no substitute for the white noise of the lake as the waves break on the shore. We awoke the next morning and decided on a comfortable hike on the nearby trails to get our bodies moving. This first test of my mobility proved to be a success, and a lovely morning hike was just what we both needed to feel the stress leave us in waves. After lunch, I decided to test my body and head out for my first trail run. I hadn’t run in 5 days, which was the most time I’ve taken off all year, so I was equal parts anxious and excited to lace up my Altra Lone Peaks and tackle the beautiful single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail. It wasn’t long before my legs remembered why I loved trail running and this particular spot in the world so much. There’s truly nothing that compares to finding yourself in the fortunate position of choosing between beautiful wild views and technical single-track that forces you to keep your mind and body focused on the task at hand. This was just the run I needed. Although it had only been 5 days since my last run, it has been a full year since our last trip to Lake Superior, and I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend. The trail greeted my with all of its rocky, rooty excitement and joy. Interestingly, I forgot to pack my Garmin, and although I had my phone stowed away in my pack, I was still running solo. This made the reconnection with my footfalls, balance, and breathing all the more enjoyable. I had a general idea of where I was going, and knew I had to be back for dinner. Other than that, however, it was just me and the trail. There was no finish line.

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top :)

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top :)

That 12-mile trail run propelled me into subsequent adventures. The epicurean and I tackled some challenging hikes, and I was able to follow them up with more running and exploring. The elevation I tallied, relative to my everyday miles, was a not-so-subtle reminder of just how flat Iowa is, and now much more intentional I need to be about seeking out the vertical. I was able to explore some new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail this time around as well. I think I fall more and more in love with the trail and area each time I lace up my shoes. Following the coverage of some of the major ultra-running events throughout the summer (Western States, Hardrock, Speedgoat, etc.) has left we dreaming about the mountain trails in the Western U.S. This trip North reminded me of what I still have available in my own “backyard” and left me grateful for the opportunity to explore it with my best friend.

So many options!

So many options!

I’m not going to go into great detail on my specific hikes/runs, but will instead let the pictures speak for themselves. At some point during each outing, I had to make the arbitrary decision as to when to turn back towards camp. It was simultaneously tempting and encouraging to know that the trail kept going, even if I didn’t. There was no turn-around point, no cone marking the half-way point, and not signs counting down to the finish. There was just the trail. It’s important to remember that running can be one of the most amazing life-long activities, and I truly hope it is just that for me. I’ll always set goals for myself, and I know there will be more setbacks in the future. However, as long as I can, I’ll continue to lace up my shoes. I’ll continue to force myself to hold back in those opening miles, to focus on my endurance, and to remember…there is no finish line.

Exploring Temperance River State Park...

Exploring Temperance River State Park…

The top of Carleton Peak.

The top of Carleton Peak.

There aren't too many climbs like this in Ames!

There aren’t too many climbs like this in Ames!

NorthShore2014-7

Goodnight, Lake Superior...We'll see you again next year!

Goodnight, Lake Superior…We’ll see you again next year!

Mandatory Rest

This past weekend was one of highs and lows. I began the weekend on Friday with a long morning run. The epicurean and I were heading up to Minneapolis early on Saturday morning, so I knew I needed to get my long run in beforehand. I met up with a friend and we tackled the pavement at 6AM. On our way back to drop him off before I kept going, we ran into another friend, so she hopped out of her car and joined us (I love running friends who are always up for some miles!). After dropping her off, I continued on for my remaining miles and finished quite content with my 30 miles for the morning! There’s no better way to start your day than with an energizing run and a cup of coffee to follow :)

Definitely an upgrade from my days at the Metrodome!

Definitely an upgrade from my days at the Metrodome!

On Saturday morning, we headed up to Minneapolis to catch our first live European futbol match! Manchester City was playing Olympiakos in the International Champions Cup at TCF Bank Stadium. As a U of M alumni, I had early access to tickets so we jumped on the opportunity! It was strange being back on campus after so many years (I’ll keep you guessing as to just how many) and the changes were a bit shocking. This was also my first time in TCF Bank stadium, which was truly exciting. It is a gorgeous outdoor stadium, and truly a stellar environment for U of M football, as well as a variety of other events. The stadium will be even busier this coming year, with the Vikings playing their home games there while their new stadium is being built. In some ways, it was a bit ironic that my first visit to the stadium was to watch a European futbol match, but I loved every minute of it. The sun was beating down on us, but it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day, and we were only a few rows back from the field. Both teams put on a fantastic show, and Olympiakos eventually won on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw during regulation. It was an amazing experience, and a great way for both of us to ease the despair over the World Cup being over!

I hope this match is the first of many!

I hope this match is the first of many!

We stayed with my parents that evening, and then headed back early on Sunday morning. We needed to get back so we could pack and prepare for our yearly camping expedition up to the North Shore of Lake Superior. We look forward to this trip every year, and this year is especially exciting because we reserved a rustic, isolated hike-in campsite right on the shore with beautiful lake access. We stumbled across it last year while on a hike, and completely fell in love. Well, once we finished pulling out the camping gear and got most of our things organized, I packed up the items we wouldn’t be using and began to bring them back down to the basement. Then, as I was lifting a tub of gear, I felt a sharp and instantaneous pain in my lower back. I cringed in pain, and almost immediately was unable to stand. The epicurean rushed in and helped me to the living room, where I laid down on the floor with my legs in the air and felt wave after wave of pain rush over me.

All of a sudden, horrible thoughts came rushing into my head. What about our camping trip? What about our hikes and my trail running plans? What about my race in September? I have a training schedule to stick with and my race is so close! The emotions were pretty strong and I felt horrible for potentially ruining our yearly camping trip. For the rest of the day, I laid on the couch, and dreaded having to get up for any reason. I would gingerly shuffle across the floor, and randomly collapse into the epicurean’s arms to support myself because my back pain wouldn’t allow me to stand. I haven’t had many injuries in my life, running or otherwise, but this was definitely the most intense pain I had felt in quite some time. On top of that, I realized very quickly just how critical this area of your body is to all normal functioning. You can still get around with an injured foot, arm, wrist, or knee, but your back really holds everything together (duh!). I tried to avoid the pity party and think about worst-case scenarios but my mind has a way of conjuring up some rather elaborate images and scenarios. It was bad enough that I wasn’t able to go for my Sunday run, but I was worried about running at all in the next few weeks, as well as stressing out about our camping trip.

Enough said!

Enough said!

The rest of the evening was an exercise in minimalism. I focused on breathing, moving as little as possible, and being present in the moment so as not to send my thoughts into a tailspin. I slept on the couch that night since I clearly couldn’t make it up the stairs (better that than getting banished to the couch, eh?), and slept very little. I woke up the next morning, and my back had relaxed some, and I was able to walk, although quite gingerly. I made an appointment to see the doctor and kept my fingers crossed that it wasn’t as bad as I had considered. In the lower back, it seems that it is typically one of three things. It could be a pinched nerve, a slipped or herniated disk, or a muscle pull/strain. I was hoping for the latter of the three, and my own self-diagnosis suggested a muscle strain as well. Luckily, the doctor confirmed my suspicions. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, as well as some muscle relaxants. Over the last 24 hours, I have steadily improved, and have been able to get around much easier, so my progress has been steady. I’m still committed to our North Shore adventure, so I’m hoping my body will agree with me!

After today, it will have been 4 days of “rest”, or at least no running. This is the longest I have gone without running all year, and I’m certainly starting to get antsy. I’ve been saying for at least a month that I needed to scale back my training miles a bit, so perhaps this is the universe telling me to take it easy and not overwork myself. I’m hoping this period of mandatory rest will be just what I need to finish my training schedule strong and conquer the Mark Twain 100!

In Defense of Nice Things

I originally titled this post “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and then saved it in my drafts folder so I could return to it when I was ready to document my thoughts. However, the more I thought, the more my approach to the topic changed. I began to consider the realities of “nice things” and this topic in general, and I now find myself convinced that the reality is a far cry from the popular headlines. You’re no doubt wondering what “topic” I’m referring to, however, so I should probably back up.

Such natural beauty!

Such natural beauty!

This post was sparked by recent reports that Grand Canyon officials would be reconsidering access policies to the national park when they release an updated back country management plan this fall to deal with overcrowding issues. Now, I’ve had a R2R2R run on my running bucket list for quite a while, and love reading reports from other ultra runners who have made the journey. I’ve spent time obsessing over routes, tips, gear suggestions, and timeline recommendations. I’m pretty sure I could attempt the run tomorrow if I actually had the time and money to get to the Grand Canyon tomorrow! Thus, this news obviously made me perk up and pay closer attention to the discussion.

It sounds like the number of hikers and runners descending on the national park has been steadily increasing, and the current infrastructure just can’t handle the numbers. This is not surprising since most of the structures were built over 100 years ago. The park rangers are hearing more complaints about the increasing numbers, and are being forced to address problems resulting from visitors who aren’t adequately prepared and suffer any number of ailments or predicaments as a result. There has also been an increase in trash left around the park, which also creates more work for rangers and other park staff. These problems are no doubt exemplified by various problematic scenarios involving large groups of unprepared visitors that visit the Grand Canyon as a park of tour packages.

Plenty of land to explore.

Plenty of land to explore.

Now, it goes without saying that poorly prepared, inconsiderate, or otherwise destructive visitors should not be acceptable, regardless of their intent. However, let me bring to the forefront a few points worth mentioning.

1. The line between “runner” and “hiker” is clearly very murky, so it’s hard to say you are running, fast-packing, or hiking in the park.

2. There will always be outliers. There will always be sensationalized stories of situations involving individuals who do not represent the majority of participants in any given activity. Runners are all too familiar with the random rude folks in an otherwise open, caring and supportive community.

3. Attempting a R2R2R run doesn’t just happen. Even the most experienced trail and ultra-runners take time to plan out details, just like they would for any other race.

4. If you are attempting a R2R2R run, chances are you’ve run a few ultra and trail events before! I’d venture to guess that very rarely does a recreational runner just wake up one day and decide that want to traverse the Grand Canyon twice, over 42 miles.

5. Trail and ultra-running is built-in part on the principle of “leave no trace”. The same is true of committed hikers and fast-packers. We know how important it is to be good stewards of the land we have the privilege of exploring on foot, and we want to keep it as pristine and beautiful as the moment we ran through it. (if you are rolling your eyes or shaking your head in any way, please see #2)

Recently, however, it seems that there has been a particular “backlash” against runners (broadly defined). Articles are popping up everywhere complaining about behavior or generalized (read: stereotyped) personality traits that happen to describe some runners. I’m really not sure what is motivating people to decide runners are worthy of their scorn and the time to chastise, especially considering all of the other complete stupidity that exists around the world on a daily basis. I could suggest that there is an element of self-loathing involved, linked to the obesity epidemic that our country is currently experiencing, but I’d probably get chastised for that. Thus, I’ll refrain.

I should add that the Grand Canyon is just the next in a line of national parks that are limiting access to runners and others. I followed the Badwater 135 very closely this past week and was amazed by the endurance and athleticism of everyone who toed the line this year (side note: I WILL toe that line some day). This year’s race was especially interesting because the course was altered due to the moratorium placed on special event permits by Death Valley National Park’s new superintendent. There was quite a stir when the announcement was made, and the race director has taken everything in stride and should be commended for his continued service to the running community! The race went off beautifully, but the new route has certainly changed the history of the race.

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

All of this is to say that I completely understand and support the movement to protect our natural resources and update national park policies to reflect changing trends in community behavior. Many of our natural resources are dwindling and our national parks, along with the wildlife and plant-life, are constantly being threatened. Not only do many of the shelters and other facilities located at many of our parks need to be updated, but people visiting these areas need to take the time to educate themselves on proper etiquette and behavior so we can maintain the beauty that defines these spaces. Limiting access and eliminating events may ultimately prove necessary for the continued preservation of these spaces. However, for the time being, I would hope that committed and passionate runners would not be excluded from the experiences one can only have in these spaces. We are a considerate, responsible, and thoughtful bunch. Embarking on these various experiences is simply the final step in a series of unique and personal commitments. As runners, we understand the responsibility to be stewards of the land, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Every time we hit the trail, clear a path, and explore the natural beauty around us, we prove that we do deserve these nice things. We truly appreciate them.

Race Report: 2014 Midnight Madness 15K

I’m rather convinced that Mother Nature is really cranky with Iowa this year. There’s really no other way to explain the horribly cold, windy, and long winter, which has been followed by a ridiculously rainy, windy, and hot spring/summer. Ok, so perhaps global warming might have something to do with it…you know, if you believe in that sort of thing. Personally, I think I’ll stick with Mother Nature. Whatever the cause, I’ve done my best to adjust my running to meet the whims of the weather. This past weekend was yet another exercise in weather patience and flexibility, with a few races thrown in to keep things interesting!

As I’ve mentioned previously, Midnight Madness was my first 5K race and thus holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve run it every year since I started running, and I continued the tradition again this year, along with the 10K race afterwards. However, don’t let me get ahead of myself. First, I need to back up and begin in the morning. I had a long training run planned for the morning, and I was intent on completing it regardless of the evening race. When my alarm when off at 4AM, I was already half-awake because of the thunderstorm that was currently occupying the area. Now, I love to run in the rain as much as the next person, but I’m not so much a fan of dodging lightning bolts. In light of Adam Campbell’s lightning encounter at the Hardrock 100 this past weekend, I’m glad I decided to reset my alarm! I woke up again around 6, the rain had moved on, and I was out the door by 6:30 to meet the group at 7AM for our weekly Saturday long run. I was able to get in a solid 10 miles with everyone, and it was a great start to the weekend as always. I waved goodbye to everyone and continued on for the additional miles I needed. It was a smooth, uneventful morning run, even if I did get a bit of a later start than I had planned. I still managed a solid 27 miles, and was back before noon for a late lunch and the all important coffee boost.

Kilian Jornet- 2014 Hardrock 100 Men's Winner- 22:41- AMAZING! (Photo Credit: irunfar.com)

Kilian Jornet- 2014 Hardrock 100 Men’s Winner- 22:41- AMAZING! (Photo Credit: irunfar.com)

I had enough time to relax for a bit, and then the epicurean and I headed down to packet pick-up to volunteer for a few hours. The best part about local races is that you are a part of the community,  and they become as much social gatherings as events. We had a blast welcoming other runners to Ames, talking with friends about their goals for the evening, and making plans to get together after the race for the block party to follow. It was also great to see so many first-time runners and be able to explain how things worked and share in their excitement as they prepared for their first 5K. In some ways, volunteering made me wish I could work full-time organizing races and talking to other runners about strategy, goals, and gear. I’d say that sounds like a great way to spend my days, wouldn’t you?

We headed back after our shift ended, caught most of the Brazil/Netherlands game, and made a quick dinner. The epicurean decided to bring Looper down to spectate along with some of our other friends, so we walked down a bit early so they could take up their position along the course. I made my way over to the starting area prior to the 5K start at 7:30, and mingled about with everyone. I was so busy talking, even after we lined up, that I almost didn’t realize the race had started until the gun went off and surprised me. I took off with no expectations after my long morning run, much like last year, but knew I’d still push myself and see what I had in the tank. There’s just something about being surrounded by other runners that never gets old and never ceases to make me go faster and push harder than I intended. I hit the first mile in 7:01, and was feeling pretty good but I knew I couldn’t hang onto that pace, as much as I wanted to try. After the first mile, I stopped looking at my watch all together and just let myself run and enjoy the rush. I had a huge grin on my face and couldn’t have been happier. Sure, my legs were a bit sore and I was breathing hard, but the more adrenaline I have pumping through my body, the more alive I feel.

 

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

I crossed the finish line in 22:58 (7:23 average), which was good enough for 16th (out of 56) in age group. I’ve certainly run faster in unofficial 5K distances, but this was, ironically enough, still a PR for me :) One of the best things about increased endurance is a faster recovery, and I was breathing normally within minutes and enjoying welcoming in other friends and chatting about the race. After a bit, I headed back towards the starting line to get ready for the 10, which was set to start at 8:30. I had plenty of time to relax and hang out, and had already told myself I was going to take it easy for these last 6.2 miles. As in most cases, this was easier said than done.

When the gun went off for the 10K, I actually managed to hold myself back this time and went out at a relaxing pace. After the first mile, I picked things up a bit but was still very conscious about not pushing too hard. My legs actually felt much better when they were moving anyway, so it made the race that much more enjoyable. I found other runners to chat with along the way, and soaked in the environment once again. The route for both races is the same every year, with the 10K simply completing the 5K course twice. In the middle of the route is a small hill, however, that always seems to get bigger each time you run up in (in either direction). This was definitely the case each of the 6 times I ran up during the two races, but I was always able to find plenty of energy in a large group of friends waiting at the top to cheer everyone one. Looper was definitely a bit overwhelmed by all of the noise at the top of the hill, but she hung in there like a trooper and it was a great opportunity for socialization for her. Slowly but surely, we’ll make her a city dog!

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

Photo Credit: Tim Fencl

I crested the hill for the final time and rounded one final corner for the finish line. I had a bit of a kick left so I let it go and it felt good to stride out at the end. I crossed the finish line in 53:06 (8:33 average), which was again not my fastest time by far, but still a great end to the running events of the day. I was rather pleased with the 36 miles I had logged for the day. We made our way home to drop off Looper, and then the epicurean and I headed back down to the block party. For some reason, free beer always tastes better after a race, no matter the quality. Spending the evening with great friends and making new memories doesn’t hurt, either. Ok, now that I’ve got my story down, I think I’ll go for a run. It’s a beautiful, breezy 70 degree day in Iowa today :) Go figure!

On Highs, Lows, and Pushing Through…

This past weekend, I was left with multiple occasions to reflect on a spectrum of running-related emotions and thoughts as I pounded out the miles. I may have just found myself in the midst of a microcosm of an entire training cycle, all in the span of 72 hours, and it reminded me of just how much I love lacing up my shoes on any given day.

Endurance- running-quote3

I never stopped being committed to my training, but there is something about pulling the trigger on your A race (The Mark Twain 100) that re-invigorates you and re-commits you to staying true to what you know you are capable of with hard work, dedication, and determination. I had stuck to my training plan throughout the week, and even squeezed in some unexpected speed work after the USMST defeat at the hands of Germany. I was in a good place heading into the weekend, and was looking forward to a long run to kick off my Saturday.

Friday is normally one of my built-in rest days, and I woke up content to do just that. However, around 11AM, I began to get that itch you feel when you really want to just get out and move. I fought the urge momentarily, but then gave in to my instincts and laced up my shoes. I ventured out a relatively relaxing 7-mile run that left me with plenty of opportunities to reflect on the week, prepare for a busy weekend, and enjoy the sunshine and warm (albeit humid) weather. HIGH.

Endurance- AT

After I returned, I was feeling even more jazzed about my long run the next day, and I portioned out my nutrition needs and set out my clothes and gear so the early morning would be a bit easier. The epicurean’s mom has been visiting this week, and we all had a delightful dinner, and curled up in the evening to watch American Hustle, which was much better than I expected. I was in bed at a decent hour, and running through the next day in my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

I set my alarm for 5AM, so that I could meet a friend for some early miles at 6AM, before meeting the rest of the group. I slowly rolled out of bed, checked the time, discovered it was 5:50AM and I had slept through my alarm, and promptly became rather annoyed with myself. LOW. Then I looked outside and discovered that the slight chance of rain had turned into a full-fledged thunderstorm, which certainly wasn’t a part of my morning plan. LOW.

Despite the rain, I was dragged outside to run anyway, courtesy of a few intrepid friends who are just as adventurous. The four of us met at the start of the predetermined route, waited around for a few minutes to see if anyone else was going to venture out into the rain with us (they didn’t), and we headed out. I’ve always enjoyed running in the rain once I get started, and this adventure was no different. After the initial shocked of being rather quickly drenched, we embraced the rain and had a wonderful time in the process. We stopped by a local diner to give a few friends a hard time for not joining us, then continued on along a random, rather haphazard route. We tackled trails, stomped through puddles, ran through flooded ditches, and even took a few laps around the ISU track and practiced our high-jump on the soggy mat. We made our way around town, and as we ran past a friend’s house, decided that a dip in the pool was in order. Mind you, it was still raining quite steadily, and we were soaked, so we didn’t even bother to take our shoes off and we jumped right in! HIGH.

Endurance- Born-To-Run

I made my way back home after we finished swimming, and I was all smiles. I only managed 10 miles but was quite content to come home, dry off, and avoid any blisters on my feed. In the process, I managed to put the drainage abilities of my current favorite shoes, the Montrail Fluid Flex, to the test and they performed admirably. Despite being soaked, my feet were never “squishy” and didn’t suffer any slippage. HIGH.

An enjoyable rest left me ready to tackle a second run for the day in order to pick up the miles I still needed. I headed out on my own this time, and the sun had risen quite a bit higher by the time I ventured out around 1PM. The run was certainly a sharp contrast from that of the morning, but nonetheless enjoyable and I knocked out another 11 miles rather easily. The added heat did, however, give me pause, and I found myself wishing it was still raining. This run was a good reminder that sometimes you simply need to get out there and take care of business. There are no highs, and no lows. You simply PUSH THROUGH. You just finish.

The next day, the epicurean and I hosted friends at our house for a backyard pancake get-together. It was quite humid, and the temperature rose quickly, but it was still a delight to share the morning with so many friends. The delicious (as always) pancakes didn’t hurt either :) However, I didn’t hydrate very well, so I was already at a bit of a deficit when I headed out to run around 2PM. The 85 degree temperatures and high humidity were immediate factors and I was ready to be done after no more than half a mile into the run. However, with 10 miles to go, I PUSHED THROUGH. I made more frequent stops for water than normal, and soaked my hat in water fountains to provide a bit more cooling, but it was still quite disgusting outside! The real turning point (pun intended) came at mile 5, when I reached an intersection and could turn left to head home or right to continue my run. I thought long and hard about calling it a day and heading home, but ultimately I turned right and decided to PUSH THROUGH. I knew I had the energy left in me, and would have plenty of access to water and shade if I needed it. Ultimately, I was very glad that I kept going, and it made arriving back at home as my Garmin struck 10 miles that much sweeter.

Keeping my goals in mind...and remembering that it's not REALLY that hot.

Keeping my goals in mind…and remembering that it’s not REALLY that hot.

Endurance runs are about more than simply training and working your way up to a certain mileage. They are about more than basic athletic ability (although that certainly plays a part). In the end, when you have passed a certain point, it’s a mental game. You need to be prepared for the HIGHS and LOWS, and know that there will come a point when you have nothing left to do but PUSH THROUGH and finish. This weekend provided me with an excellent training opportunity to experience all three of these factors, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. In the end, it was a great weekend, and I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out!

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