Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “endurance”

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part II

I believe I last spoke to you as I was returning from my second loop. I had completed 50 miles, was smiling, and my crew of friends, along with the epicurean crew chief, were restocking my pack, bladder, and flasks. My legs could definitely tell that I had just covered 50 miles, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit jealous of the folks finishing their race at that moment, but I was feeling really good for the most part. I was ready to tackle the second half of the race, and excited by the prospect of having pacing company for the next 50 miles. I was going to treat these miles as just another great run through the woods with some amazing friends! I ate part of a bean and cheese burrito, along with some orange slices, and was ready to roll.

Loop 3- The Darkness Sets In 

The nature of the course and the number of pacers meant that each of the four folks would tackle either 9 or 16 miles with me. Nicole and I headed out back onto the trail, and we were ready to conquer the next nine miles. It was nice to have someone to chat with after 50 miles of relative silence, and our conversations bounced all over the place. As I’ve talked to my friends more and more about the race, I’ve come to realize that I don’t actually remember nearly as many of the conversations as I thought I did. I was still feeling good early on in the third loops, so my mind wasn’t straying all that much from reality. My stomach, however, began to stray from comfortable after about 3 miles. Almost without warning, I began to feel nauseous and acquired a throbbing headache. I shared my discomfort with Nicole, and we spent some time trying to think about where my nutrition and hydration plan had gone wrong at this point. Most ultrarunners know that the stomach is a finicky beast, and I’ve certainly had my share of G.I. issues in the past. However, I felt like I had been taking in solid foods, Tailwind, and water pretty consistently over the course of the day.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

After a bit of discussion, it occurred to both of us…the burrito! How could I have been so foolish?! I was perhaps more hungry than I realized when I returned after the second loop, and the burrito sounded great at the time. It even triggered memories from the race in Arizona and the fantastic overnight burritos they fed us. Those, however, didn’t have cheese in them. I should obviously know better since I’m lactose intolerant. The middle of a 100-mile race is probably the wrong time to add some dairy-induced distress into your system, but that’s exactly what I did. The sun was setting, and my body was diverting resources to deal with the nausea that was consuming me. This, coupled with the declining temperatures, meant that my body was no longer balancing the fatigue that was beginning to overtake it. Our pace dropped off significantly, and Nicole did her best to keep me moving. The first aid station was a bit of a blur but I drank some ginger ale and found a ginger chew to try and calm my stomach. Running became considerably harder as I was constantly holding back the urge to vomit, and I’m still not sure how I managed to not return my dietary acquisitions to the earth. I focused on her voice, feet, and the trail and just kept moving forward.

By the time we reached the small section of black top before the mile 9 aid station and crew access point, I was hurting. It was a struggle to keep moving, and I was at a loss for how to describe the battle my immune system was waging against me. I was convinced that I was being attacked from within, and all I could do was settle in for the overnight siege. I’m not entirely sure how Nicole dragged me up to the aid station, and I don’t entirely remember it happening, but I made it and everyone was waiting for me. I found a chair, sat down, and put my head between my legs. Everyone worked around me to fill my bottles and get me food, and the images in my mind are more like blurry photographs than clear thoughts. The warmth and blandness of a cup of mashed potatoes was the perfect medicine for what was ailing me, and I gladly accepted it. I sat in the chair for what seemed like an eternity while everyone assured me that I was doing great, and Carla readied herself to take me out on the next segment. This was my first moment of doubt. This was the first time thoughts of quitting entered my mind. Everyone lifted me out of the chair, and the epicurean shared her faith in my ability to finish, quietly in my ear, as I left. That small, whispered sentence may have been the only think that got me back out on the trail.

Coming in to Mile 59...who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Coming in to Mile 59…who took away the light? (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Carla and I made our way down the trail to the stream-crossing, and I slowly stepped across, trying not to topple over. She helped me across (I think), and we continued on our way. I had picked up my headlamp at the last aid station, and it was now entirely black in the woods, so our lamps were the only think lighting our way. The moon would make an appearance later in the evening, but only in those brief moments when the tree canopy parted long enough for the beams of light to float down to the forest floor. After about 30 minutes, my headlamp began to get much dimmer. This was considerably worrisome, because a) I had fully charged it before the trip, and b) we had many hours left to go in the dark! After a few minutes, my headlamp was completely dark. Fortunately, my intrepid crew had snuck my flashlight back into my pack after I had handed it off. Carla fished it out, and we carried on,

The next few hours proved to be the lowest point not only in the race, but in my entire running career. My energy never really bounced back, and each step became a battle with my body. We ran a little, walked a lot, and our conversations drifted from topic to topic, becoming more and more random and non-coherent as the miles passed by (from what I remember, and what I’ve been told, anyway!). I struggled from aid station to aid station, and my mind drifted to thoughts of quitting quite frequently. Luckily, Carla kept me talking, kept me moving, and didn’t acknowledge my self-doubt. She maintained such an amazing attitude throughout the entire 16 miles, and I’m fairly certain that I finished those miles with her energy more than my own. This part of the race was such a blur that I seem to be gaining new memories each time we talk about it. I do, however, remember that silent moment in the dark when we heard a rustling to our left. We both pointed our lights on the area, and ever so faintly, we spied the image of a small, spotted cat. At the time, it didn’t register as overly frightful to me, although I’m guessing Carla, who was far more coherent, had other thoughts. We would find out later that bobcats are pretty common in the Mark Twain National Forest, and the story only grew from there 🙂

Somehow, despite my body’s constant onslaught on my movement, I continued to make relentless forward progress and we finished those 16 miles. It took 6 hours, which if I had been asked earlier, would have seemed like a ridiculous figure. Carla had definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty as a pacer, and earned her MVP (most valuable pacer) status for the trip. There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t have finished that loop without her. I had plenty of time to plan my DNF speech, but she got me to the 75 mile mark. I walked into Jackson’s landing like a zombie, with a look in my eyes that no doubt gave everyone a bit of a scare.

I remember sitting down in that chair, exhausted, and barely able to coherently utter the words I had been mentally rehearsing for the last two hours. My entire crew could sense my mood, and I whispered hints of dropping, which they expertly ignored as they checked my gear, filled my water, and sought out food to nourish me. My hands were almost numb after forgetting to pick my gloves up off the ground following a pit stop hours earlier, and I needed gloves. My fingers couldn’t function properly, so they slid the gloves onto my fingers comically as the race director watched on with a smile. He made a comment about getting me back out on the course, and was quick to help me remember I’d feel worse if I stopped than if I jumped back on the trail for the final 25 miles. He was right. I knew it, and I fought my body every step of the way so I could get back out there. Ultimately, I was simply too tired to quit. The words didn’t come out, and deep down, I didn’t want them to leave my mouth. They lifted me up, and Lani assumed her role as the next pacer as we slowly made our way to the trailhead.

Loop 4- Let There Be Light! 

The first nine miles of this loop were more of a blur than perhaps any other section of the course. I was unreasonably tired for some reason, and could have curled up on the ground at any point to take a brief nap. Lani’s amazingly positive attitude kept me moving as she announced each and every rock and tree root that my reflexes were too slow to adequately avoid. At certain points, stopping to take a drink of water meant teetering on the brink of sleep, and I spent most of those nine miles on the verge of falling asleep right on the course. My legs were heavy, and she helped lift them over the fallen trees that looked like the walls of Alcatraz, trying their best to hold me in the gloriously open prison of my own making. I’m always thankful for Lani’s positive attitude and energy, but was no more so than during those nine miles. I followed her voice, stared at her feet, and kept moving. The darkness seemed to encompass us completely, and the tunnel vision I experienced was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

I don’t remember making it to the first aid station, but I’m sure I took in some nutrition, drank as much as I could stomach, and kept moving. The nausea was gone, replaced by fatigue as pure as freshly fallen snow, and it took all of my energy reserves to keep moving. These hours represented a very dark point in my journey, and tested me in a way that no previous endurance event had. We were passed by a few folks in the couple of hours it took us to navigate the darkness, but for the most part, we were alone and left to our own thoughts. I recalled later hearing strange noises, but Lani brushed them off as kicked brush at the time, although I would learn later that she felt a shiver of fear at what might be lurking in the darkness. Our saving grace was truly the rising sun, which began to cut through the darkness slowly and gave me hope. I recognized the trail more towards the end of our 9-mile journey as I caught a subtle 8th or 9th wind. However, each time I thought we were close to turning the corner, I’d realize that I had miscalculated. I was running from tree to tree, from Switchback to Switchback, and eagerly anticipating our emergence onto the short stretch of black top. We finally hit that section as the light emerged with enough strength to allow us to turn off our lights, and it was a wondrous moment. Lani looked over at me and said “we did this”, and “you’re going to do this!”, and she was right. I could feel the sunlight coursing into my veins and reinvigorating me as we strolled into the Huck’s Watering Hole and Eric was there to meet us. Lani had pulled me through the darkness and I was eternally grateful!

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

On the final leg- this was going to happen! (photo credit: Eric Esser)

I stopped to refuel, enjoy another cup of mashed potatoes, and visit a restroom that didn’t involve nature’s toilet paper. Many ultrarunners talk about the importance of getting through the night, and reaching the dawn. If you can reach the dawn, you can do it. I’d always thought this was a nice sentiment, and great for motivation. However, it wasn’t until this moment that I realized just how true it really was. Almost instantly, I felt my energy return, my mood improve, and excitement fill my body. I had just woken up from a walking slumber, and I felt as well rested as when the race had begun 25 or 26 hours earlier. My crew was admittedly surprised, especially considering how I looked the last time they saw me, and I assured them that it wasn’t a fluke. I took a final drink of water, and Eric and I headed out for the final 16 miles.

I was now awake and aware enough to appreciate passing each portion of the trail for the last time. We joked, talked about the previous lap, and discussed my new-found energy as we pushed forward at a much more brisk pace than I had seen in quite some time. I was able to run and power hike the whole rest of the route, and felt like I had extra energy to burn. Eric began joking about how easy his pacing duties were compared to the others, and I laughed with him. It was true, and I knew at that point that I would indeed be finishing this race, and my excitement only grew with each passing mile. In some ways, this segment became like any other early morning run with a wonderful friend. Eric and I have spent many early mornings ticking off the miles before meeting others, and I could think of no better person to finish out the race. We stopped at the final two aid stations and joked with the volunteers, ate pancakes, and I thanked them profusely for their support. Many folks seemed a bit surprised at my energy, but they were ultrarunners so they understood. Heck, we even passed a few people on the way into the finish.

Crossing the finish line...I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

Crossing the finish line…I promise I was very awake, despite my closed eyes!

With about a half mile to go, we came across a volunteer standing on the side of the trail and she began cheering us on. It was a testament to the dedication of all of the race staff that she had hiked that far down to cheer runners as they entered the home stretch. No matter how hard I push myself and for how long, I always seem to find a little bit of extra energy at the end of a race, and this one was no different. Eric and I rounded the final turn up the hill and into the clearing near the finish line, and I picked up the pace and began running with all the energy I had left. I crossed the finish line in 29 hours 46 minutes, wearing the biggest smile I’d had all day. The immensity of what I had accomplished took much longer to set in, but my joy was immediate. I felt a surge of endorphins rush through me instead of the expected final wave of fatigue, and I knew it had been an amazing race, and an incredible experience. There were plenty of hugs and handshakes, and I took a bit of time to rest and eat before we packed up the car. Our exit was quick due to the 9 hour drive we had ahead of us, but that just meant I had plenty of time to process what had just happened. I’ve never been more thankful for such amazing friends and an incredible partner than during this race, and there is no question in my mind that I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve no doubt forgotten many moments in this recap, despite it’s length, but that’s the beauty of a 100-mile race. The memories will keep floating in for months to come, and they’ll bring a little smile to my face every time!

Hard-earned hardware!

Hard-earned hardware!

 

Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part I

There are some experiences that you know from the beginning will stick with you for a lifetime, and that thought creates equal parts pressure and excitement. The Mark Twain 100 was just such an experience, and I couldn’t have been happier with how the trip turned out. The lead-up to the weekend seemed like an eternity. I’ve been preparing for this race all summer, targeting it, and planning all of my training around this weekend. Some folks say it’s never good to put all your eggs in one basket, but this was my “A” race. No matter what happened, my hard work this year was leading up to that starting line.

This race was a series of “firsts” for me. I spent the previous two weeks working out the logistics for the trip, which was far more time than I ever remember spending on that side of race preparation. The beautiful epicurean and I would be camping near the starting line (you can’t argue with free camping!), so not only was I thinking about packing for the race itself, but also our camping needs. We also decided to bring Looper along for some outdoor time, which added another level of preparation. On top of that, I was going to have pacers, in the form of 4 amazing friends, for the first time in a race. I figured I should probably decide how to work with them as well. Even though this was my second time tackling the 100 mile distance, my previous adventure in Arizona was quite different. This would be my first true 100 mile trail race. Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind leading up to our departure.

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

We got everything loaded into the car (it just barely fit), and headed south for Berryman, MO around 8:00AM on Friday. The all-knowing Google told us it would be about a 7 hour drive, which didn’t seem that daunting, although I wasn’t crazy about spending that long cramped up in a car before running the next day. The drive ended up taking closer to 9 hours, and we arrived at the campground with rain falling on our heads. This was not a good sign! We set up camp in the rain, and then hopped back in the car to head to packet pick-up. Check-in was incredibly smooth, I collected my materials, along with a really nice hooded sweatshirt, and we stuck around for the pasta dinner. There was a brief race meeting at 7:00PM, and then a raffle for some great Salomon (one of the sponsors) swag. I ended up winning a pair of Salomon gaiters, which was a nice perk. By the time we got back to the campsite, it was dark and still drizzling. Crawling into the tent in the dark, with temps in the 40s and rain, didn’t exactly make for the comfortable evening I was hoping for but we made it work. Our 4 intrepid friends were still on the road, and would end up rolling into camp around midnight, by which time the epicurean and I were long asleep, albeit restlessly.

I woke up around 4:30AM to give myself time to eat a light breakfast (Cliff bar, banana, water) and get dressed. There was quite a chill in the air, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly once I started running. The darkness was still consuming the everything around us for the beginning of this 25-mile loop through the Mark Twain National Forrest, so I mounted a headlamp, slipped on arm warmers and a long-sleeve shirt, and waited for the 6AM start. This was a small race, with perhaps 60 people starting the 100-miler (4 loops), and another 100 beginning the 50-miler (2 loops). I anxiously awaited the start, sure that I forgot something, and then the clock ticked down to zero, and we were off. The course itself is a counter-clockwise loop and is 99% single track, so I fell in line with some other runners near the middle of the pack, and we made our way in the dark. Everyone was in really good spirits, and I was content to push forward and listen to the conversations around me. Many of the runners appeared to be from the St. Louis area (the race is put on by a St. Louis running group, the Slugs), and folks were talking about previous experiences on this particular trail. I knew going into the race that the course was single track, but it became clear pretty early that I had under-estimated the technical nature of the trail. It was certainly not as rocky as Flatrock, but I was not going to escape the constant bombardment of rocks and tree roots, combined with endless rolling hills and switchbacks. There was only one larger than average climb early in the race, but the route still managed 2,500 feet of elevation gain per loop.

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 1: Miles 0-25- feeling the adrenaline

In some ways, the first loop went by in a bit of a blur. We spent the first hour in the dark, so all of my concentration was focused on keeping my footing. We made it to the first aid station, around mile 5, as the sun was coming up, and I was able to briefly stop and take in my surroundings. It felt good to take the headlamp off, and my core had warmed up nicely, although my hands were still a bit cold. Aid stations are perfect for breaking up large groups a bit too, and I found myself with a bit more elbow room for the next segment, which was nice. I was feeling really good, easily running the downhills and flats, and tackling the hills with plenty of energy. I told myself I was not going to go out too fast, as I am oft prone to do, and at the time, I thought I was doing a really good job of holding back and remembering I needed to do this 4 times. The first 9 miles were definitely a technical challenge, and it became clear by the end of the loop that these miles were the most difficult on the course. Just before the aid station, there was a 3/10 mile section of asphalt which felt incredibly strange on my feet after they had taken a rocky beating for so long. This strange sensation only became more pronounced as the race went on.  Luckily, the epicurean and the rest of my crew were waiting for me at the mile 9 aid station (Huck’s Watering Hole). It was great to see them, and they gave me the once over to see if I needed anything, and I headed back out to tackle the remaining 16 miles. This was the only crew access point, other than the start/finish area (Jackson’s Island), so I knew I was on my own for a few hours.

There was one stream crossing on the route, and I came up on it almost immediately after leaving Huck’s Watering Hole. Luckily, the water levels were pretty low, so I was able to mostly step across on rocks although I still got a bit wet. My Altra Lone Peak 1.5s drained and dried pretty quickly, however, and I knew I had made the right choice with these more protective shoes. It was clear early on that my Dirty Girl gaiters were a good choice as well! I made my way to the Tom’s Canteen aid station at mile 15, still feeling good, and restocked on water. Each and every one of the aid stations was incredibly well stocked, and the volunteers were amazing! As soon as I arrived, they were asking what I needed, filling my soft flasks, and offering me a wide array of sweet and salty foods to keep my energy up. The last 10 miles, with another aid station in between, went really well. The trail in this section was quite runnable, and I was able to make good time on flatter and more open terrain, although the switchbacks continued. In all, the final 16 miles of the loop was somewhat easier to tackle, and much more open than the first 9 miles. Soon, of course, it would all blend together pretty thoroughly. I emerged from the forest and ran comfortably into Jackson’s Island, and everyone was waiting for me. I had covered the 25 miles in about 5 hours, and my legs were feeling really good. I shed my long sleeve shirt  and arm warmers, and my amazing crew restocked me with Tailwind, Honey stinger chews, and bodyglide. The sun was out, the air was warming, and it was an absolutely perfect day to be out on the trails. I couldn’t have asked for a better day as I waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out for loop 2.

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 2: Miles 26-50- Oh right, I have to keep running! 

My momentum continued to carry me into the next loop, and my legs were holding up nicely. I began to feel some fatigue as the miles ticked away, but that was to be expected regardless. I knew that the 5 hour mark was not sustainable for 25 miles, so I began making a more intentional effort to slow down even further. This became easier as I had more of the trail to myself, although I was still happily crossing paths with plenty of other folks. Slowing down meant I needed to be even more careful of my footing, as I wasn’t going at a normal pace. I managed to kick a few rocks and tree roots, but nothing too substantial. However, I was happy for the more structured Lone Peaks to protect my feet a bit. I knew the rocks and roots would be having plenty of other conversations with my toes as the day wore on, and although I’d never lost a toe on a run, I figured I stood the strongest chance yet in the Mark Twain National Forrest.

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

I rolled into Huck’s Watering Hole still feeling good and excited about passing the 50K mark. The trails were certainly beginning to make their mark on my feet but my legs were feeling good. Everyone was waiting for me, and filled up my bottles and nutrition. At this point, they had everything down to a science and it was fun to watch! They knew exactly what they were doing and all the right questions to ask. I drank some ginger ale and ate some pretzels and M & Ms, and was back out on the course in about 5 minutes. I hopped from rock to rock over the stream again, although I did manage to submerge one foot in the water before making it to the other side. The following 16 miles were all about patience, attention, and consistency. I had a much firmer grasp on the trail itself, and was comfortable being out there. However, I did manage to catch my right foot on a rock and in falling forward and catching myself, hyperextended my right hamstring. This definitely caused some pain and would end up giving me problems the rest of the race. I pushed through it though, and it didn’t slow me down all that much. I made my way back and forth on the constant switchbacks yet again, and by this time, they seemed to all bur together in the woods. I found myself thinking I knew where I was on many occasions, only to realize I was wrong. In the last few miles, I fell in step with another guy running the 100-miler and we had some nice conversations, which helped the time roll by that much quicker. He had gone out faster than he had wanted as well, so we were both in the same boat and focusing on slowing things down a bit. The added walking breaks felt good on my legs, and I was happy for the company.

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

I arrived at Jackson’s Landing around 5:00PM, which meant the second loop had taken me about 6 hours. This was a much more manageable time and I was still really happy with the progress I was making. Additionally, I was excited about being able to pick up my first pacer, and to have someone to run with and push me for the next 50 miles. I took a few more minutes at the aid station this time, ate and drank a bit more,  and chatted with everyone about how I was feeling. The first 50 miles were tough, but I was in good spirits. I restocked on nutrition, water in my bladder, and Tailwind in my soft flasks, and headed out for the third loop, accompanied by my first amazing pacer. Little did I know that those 9 miles would be the start of a battle with myself, and prove just how amazing my friends are…that, of course, is a story for the next post! Stay tuned 🙂

Finishing the second loop strong! It's a tad blurry because I'm clearly moving so fast ;) (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing the second loop strong! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

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 🙂

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!

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!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: