• Chicago Marathon, a new Personal Record!


    Leading up to the Chicago Marathon, I felt pretty relaxed and optimistic. There were very few complications throughout my training cycle, which loosely followed a Pfzinger approach. In past years, I had discovered through reflection that  my body tolerated training plans where the number of hard efforts in a week was fewer, and upon researching plans, I soon realized parallels. Some changes included the V02 Max workouts in the LT and marathon phases of the plan. One component I’m particularly proud of in this build up was the combination of greater volume and percentage of easy running versus hard running. This can be a tricky percentage to meet on lesser volume.


    At the same time, I had only 4 marathon pace runs: 8, 10, 13.1, and 14 miles, which took place over the course of 6-8 weeks, so mentally I really had to trust the science and that my body was ready for a 3:00 marathon. In hindsight, I would definitely aim to increase my pacing on 1-2 easy runs per week and push the pace further on my long runs.


    Taper week went very well, but the niggle game was pretty tough! At first, whenever I wore booties (Hello Fall!), my metatarsals were signaling pain. Then, my right knee cap was a little sticky and far too crunchy to be considered typical. Later in the week, a hamstring pain grew, and I chalked it up to the significant reduction in training volume. However, after lugging our bags for a mile and a half after exiting the blue line Metra, it was growing in tenderness. I definitely felt concerned that it wasn’t as psychosomatic as I’d been hoping. Luckily, I’d packed arnica cream, tablets, and CBD arnica oil (mostly for joints and post-race discomfort) for the trip and began applying it copiously.

    We woke up on Saturday morning and took the red line to the Heartbreak Run store to shake out with Keira D’Amato while she was still the Female American Marathon Record Holder!  Before the run, Keira shared some great pre-race nuggets of wisdom:

    “Give yourself a chance.”

    “You only get one life, so live it twice.”

    “I give my kids the same advice I give myself: have fun, do your best, and go for it!”


    She also shared some words along the lines of the high risk, high reward mindset. Big goals are hard earned and intimidating, and so our anxiety can easily give us permission to sell ourselves short and evade the excellence we pursued the whole training block. Here, the Women's American Marathon Record holder, sharing the very challenges that are visceral to many athletes of all levels… big goals, fear of falling short of them, and recognizing what is lost if we choose to hold back instead of giving it our all.


    I was so excited when I got to run alongside her for a bit, and Mike snapped some great action shots, too. After the shakeout, I ran a few very fast strides in Oz Park. I felt my hamstring, but it didn’t hurt as much.

    The remainder of the daytime, we spent holed up in our hotel room, watching TV, resting, hydrating, and I was hyper aware of every twinge from my left hamstring, and now the inside of my right knee. Cue the dizzy emoji. I was reluctant to modify my race plan, so I decided I’d execute a plan that gives me 2 miles at goal marathon pace and then see what happens. If my hamstring behaved, then I’d proceed as planned, and if not, well, I could still have a great experience running the streets of Chicago and save myself for New York next month… or something. Regardless, I was snacking on my carbohydrate, sensitive food snacks and working hard to get 400g of carbohydrate for the day. This is hard, by the way! 


    We went to Goioa for dinner with Sean and his dad, John. I enjoyed a marinara gnocchi, which contains flour, but consists mainly of potatoes.  I really enjoyed the restaurant vibe and a delicious glass of Sauvignon Blanc (also, carbs). Ha.


    We returned to the hotel by 6:30 PM, watched some TV in bed after we laid everything out for our 4:00 AM wake up, and lights out by 8:30. We slept mostly solidly for 7.5 hours! I’d say another deliberation I struggled with was what to wear on my upper body. The temps were calling for chilly but warming, yet the wind in the city would keep the temperatures feeling on the cooler side. I chose to wear a tech t-shirt.  Actually, come to think of it, most all of my gear that morning had good mojo! I’d won two 5Ks in my red sports bra, a 10K and top finisher at Grindstone 100  in my blue tech-tee, and the Grindstone 100 in my shorts as well. I appreciated the physical reminders (souvenirs?) of positive race experiences when I was feeling concerned about this one! 


    Also, why is eating breakfast so hard before a race? I’d found a gluten free and mighty tasty cereal back home that I packed a few servings of for carb loading and ease of nutrition on race morning. I finished it, but it took some effort. Another funny, but kind of ironic event that transpired before the race included pace tattoos. I’d selected a 3:00 and 3:05 pace tattoo, but when I tried to apply the 3:00 one, I didn’t do it properly (SMH), so I decided 3:05 was better than nothing, and it could even be a motivator running ahead of 3:05 pace (because 3:05 would be a 3+ minute PR).


    I definitely could feel the discomfort in my hamstring and liberally applied all the muscle creams as well as PR lotion to it and my knees. I took two arnica tablets under the tongue as well. After donning my throwaway gear, graciously donated by community members through our local “Buy Nothing” group, Mike and I exited the hotel to meet Sean at the bridge on Michigan Avenue, the light of the full moon casting a glow all along the Chicago River as well as our path into Millennial Park. Luckily, our walk commute took only 15 minutes.


    Droves of runners were appearing from all directions, and together we entered the highly efficient gates, where metal detection scanners waved over our bodies. We escorted Sean to bag drop and then made our way to the bathrooms by corrals A and B. Mike was in the American Development Program and stowed away our items in his bag there. We made frequent stops to the bathrooms nearby, using the flashlight feature on our phones for visibility in the port-a-johns.


    Runners wore all kinds of clothing and items for warmth: bathrobes, space blankets, trashbags, saran wrap even, and of course PJ’s and old sweats. As time elapsed, it was time for Mike to return to his tent and begin warming up with the other sub-elites.  Sean and I hung out for a bit longer before I started my pre-run routine and jogged around a bit.  I bid him farewell, as he was in Corral A, and I entered Corral B. Shortly thereafter, the 3:00 pace team arrived. I wanted to meet them and hear what their plan was. In all of my Boston Qualifying races, I’ve not run with pacers, and I was apprehensive based on past experiences (being left and feeling demoralized, etc.). I’ll say the primary pacer wasn’t my cup of tea, but he shared the first few miles were difficult to gauge due to GPS inconsistency, which I’d heard and read in multiple locations. As I sucked down my pre-race Maurten gel, he shared some other tidbits for later in the race, like the plan to hit the half at 1:29:30, “walk and smile” or “run and cry”, but “don’t walk and cry”. Personally a funny visual.. until this actually happens to you. It’s not funny! But still, a good approach to take should things go south. 

    I enjoyed watching the elites and Mike’s group take off by way of the Jumbo screen. They were flying, and I was so excited! We heard a few more adrenaline-pumping tunes before we were walking, jogging, and boom, we were off!!! We were flying as we went into the first underpass, exiting onto the bridge, where red carpet was laid over the metal ridges on the bridge, thankfully! We were running past our hotel and taking a left on Grand. The rest is somewhat a blur in terms of landmarks and specific names of areas, landmarks, etc. I’d lost the pace group already, and I focused on keeping it easy as I kept my eyes peeled for the pace sign. That first mile was so fast that I missed the 1st mile marker, so I missed the opportunity to use the lap function for it as planned. 


    I did notice that the field started to run in a slinky kind of fashion, slow down on curves and slingshot on the straights. Given the crowd around me, it was hard to kind of do my own thing without feeling a sense of being overcome. I took my first cup of water around mile 2.5 I think, and by that point, I’d rejoined the pace group. My effort did seem high, and every time I looked at my watch, either to hit “lap” for a mile marker, we were trending way faster than 6:51. My watch's overall mileage was significantly off by almost a quarter mile, so my average pace was also reading as 6:42/mile! 20:55 was the true split on the tracker for the first 5K, and please excuse me, but I was definitely trying not to panic then. The pace was WAY too hot! 10K wasn’t much better with 42:01. By 10 miles, I’d run a 10 mile PR in 1 hour 7 minutes! Major oops, but I was feeling a bit stubborn at this point, and my hamstring wasn’t bothering me hardly at all, so I hung onto the group because I dreaded taking on the wind by myself.


    I took gels at 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and at 90 minutes (13.1 time elapsed at 1:29:06), and while I was definitely not feeling comfortable at mile 12, I knew I could hang with that pace beyond 14 miles because I’d done it before untapered in training, and now I was tapered, ready to execute and perform! Shortly after the halfway point, I found that I was on a peak again (peaks and valleys in races) and acknowledged that the reality is that I’d ebb and flow in my comfort level throughout the race. I found myself running side by side with the pacer, which was a huge confidence boost in that moment. Then, all of a sudden, he took off, which I think greatly affected my mental game, as much as I hate to admit.


    The miles started feeling harder, especially through the water stops. The increasing urge to urinate prompted me to at least be wary of bathroom opportunities available on the course, and around mile 16, I saw a water stop in combination with a bathroom stop and decided that this was the moment. I’d take the opportunity to sever myself from the pace group without 1) feeling the need to reel them back in or 2) feel a sense of despair as I watch them run away. I have no regrets about this decision. Upon exiting the bathroom, I drank a half cup of ice cold water before running back onto the course. Miles 17 and 18 were pretty solid in regard to getting back on my pacing plan, though the miles that followed I actively worked harder to keep the turnover coming. My mental game was a pendulum from focusing on running the strongest I could to jogging it in. Ultimately, my desire to seize the opportunity for a pretty sizable personal record in spite of losing the pace group won out, and I'm proud of that! In all of my past experiences following pacers, losing the pace group has resulted in the race derailing along with a demoralized state of mind, and I did not want another repeat of that. 


    How did I get myself out of that mindset? I remembered that I’d hired sitters to care for my girls while I was gone, and I needed to give this my best to justify the sacrifice of our time together.  I also remembered all the people I’ve trained and those I had the privilege to share miles and conversations about “going for it” with. I just  knew in my heart that I needed to lead and perform by example. Training with others and supporting others has made me a better athlete and better able to tolerate suffering.

    At mile 22, there was a BioFreeze station, in a fashion like a NASCAR pitstop, and I veered into the chute to get a spray down the back of my legs because at this point my hamstring was clenching more and more. I’d say it was approximately 15 seconds spent in there before I was returning back to the course.  Throughout the water stops at this point, I was walking and sipping, tossing an extra cup of water over my head as the temperature continued to rise. I definitely felt a little remorse on wearing a t-shirt because my core was a little too warm for comfort under full sun light.


    It was surprising to me the amount of participants who had flown off the back of the front pack, walking towards the finish, puking neon vomit on the side of the roads, hands on knees, tears and sobbing. It looked more like what I’d see further back in the field, but what I soon realized is that the marathon is a merciless distance that eats your lunch if you make a couple of mistakes during the race. I read somewhere that marathon racing is 90% training and 10% luck, and I reluctantly must agree. In hindsight, I wish I’d swallowed my pride and let the pace group go in the early miles and trusted my own instinct and preparation for even pacing.  However, regret gets you nowhere when you still have miles to go, so living with the decisions made and actively mitigating the impact of premature, energetically expensive behavior is what needed to happen to get me to the finish line to get the personal record I’d trained for!


    I took a Maurten at 2:20 and decided to take another at 2:40. That should be plenty of fuel in that final quickly fatiguing hour to enable a strong finish.  Mile 24 came, and I made a vow after that water stop to not slow for water again. It was time to finish this thing! Smile, keep the turnover going, change the music if I wasn’t feeling the jams! Mile 25 came, and the crowds were growing! A sign grew larger as I approached, reading “1 mile to go"! In my mind, I thought around 7 minutes remain.  It’s so odd how long, and then, so short that amount of time can feel. After the whole race, it seems like something precious is slipping away, running out of real estate. Given, around mile 17-18, I was practically begging for the finish line to meet me a little more than half way! It’s an odd sensation to be sad that the race is coming to a close, perhaps its greater representation of the training cycle. Each cycle takes so much time and energy to complete, and while I love this process, each one is different and poses different challenges. It’s bittersweet to sense its end.

    Nevertheless, my legs were still running, and the finish was coming soon! 1200m, 800m, and there it was, the hill at 400m, the one everyone said hurt their feelings. Oh no, I was READY for this! With long runs cresting over 1000 feet each time, I could handle a little bump right before the finish, and surprisingly my pace quickened to 6:42 for the final quarter mile. 300 m, 200m, and I was at the top, turning left and seeing the straightaway towards the Chicago Marathon Finish Line! 200 m is only half way around the track, and I knew I could fly. The road opened up, and I found my own space to set my gaze upon the finish line and finally empty my tank: 3:04:05, a 4 minute and 52 second personal record! 

    What a day!!!! I absolutely know I can run sub 3:00 at another marathon, though it will depend on a great course and great weather (I really can't complain here, the 4 past road marathons I've run, the weather has been close to perfect!). I truly believe the best is yet to come and by continuing to train intuitively and intentionally, my potential continues to expand. I practiced what I preached, led by example, and was rewarded handsomely. My husband ran a 2:36 and both of us were able to walk around, eat, and celebrate far better than after the Boston Marathon. No stomach or bathroom troubles, no spine issues, and just elation. We worked hard with the mindset of being able to celebrate together afterwards.

    The best is yet to come!

    (UnderArmour was amazing with their apparel customization and free medal engraving! This is the changing room inside their store... so creative!)


  • Trail Running: Some Amateur Tips by Eric Olson-Getty

    Eric is one of Excel Rocktown's Runners (ultrarunner!) and is an ambassador for ReNew Earth Running, an organization "running to protect and heal the environment by restoring land to the stewardship of Tribal Nations and Indigenous leadership". 


    Until more recently I have not been a very competitive trail runner. I was a hurdler in my youth and as an adult I’ve done a few road races. I’ve done four trail events from 2018 to now, and only “raced” two of them. I’m pretty much just an average runner when it comes to speed, but I really like running around in the woods. There’s something about running trails that gives me a great sense of accomplishment and well-being. While sometimes I might miss some of the finer details of a place that I might not if I was going at a slower pace, there’s something amazing about connecting to whole landscapes and having the ability to explore a lot of places at one go. And at a very basic level, for me it is important to be someplace remote and peaceful on the regular. Sure, I run on streets and roads when I have to, but I need those hours away from everything where it’s just me and the land.

    But there’s another good reason to run trails: it’s better for your running to add variety, and you get the added mood boosting benefit of being in a natural space. If you’re already a runner, trail running helps prevent overuse injuries, improves balance and stability, and engages your core more than road running. There is more variation in surfaces and terrain, and the climbs, drops, twists and turns, and changing surfaces all mean you’re hardly ever running the same way for more than a few seconds (or minutes…tops!). 

    One time a friend asked me what I think about when I’m running trails. I’ve found that I have sort of an inner “coach” or self-talk that has helped me make explicit what I’m doing and why as I move down the trail. Here are my top three: 1) breath, 2) even effort, and 3) slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

    #1: Breath. Obviously this is the most basic thing. If you don’t breathe, you pass out, whether you’re sitting at your computer or running a marathon. You can learn a lot about breathing well by practicing yoga or meditation. When running I synchronize my breaths with my cadence on an odd-numbered cycle – a technique I learned about in a Runner’s World article ages ago. If you’re a musician, this would be like breathing in 5/4 or 7/8 time, with your foot strike as one beat. Breathe in three beats, exhale two beats (I tend to syncopate it to divide the cycle into two even halves). Using an odd measure means your breathing cycle steps off on the opposite foot each time, helping to build in balance to your gait and preventing injury over time. You can practice this technique while walking or running on a flat surface. Eventually it’ll become so natural you won’t think about it. The rhythm and measure length will change as you increase or decrease effort, and these changes will be your “gears.” Your gears can be a reference point for gauging your level of effort at any given time, and will help you learn to pace yourself by feel as you become better attuned to what is happening in your body. 

    #2: Even effort. The “even effort” principle applies to road running, too. The difference on trails is that, depending on where you’re running, the terrain and the surface may be changing rapidly. You may also be dealing with steeper grades than you would on roads. For that reason, road pace does not translate to trail pace. If your long run pace on the road averages 9:00/mile, it might be 11:00 or 12:00 or even slower on trails for the same level of effort, depending on how severe the terrain gets. So don’t even try to keep up the pace. Believe it or not, trail runners walk – even the pros! Instead, find the “pocket” you want to run in – your level of effort – and stay smooth. Remember to notice your breath: your body will force you to change gears as you push or relax your effort. Choose a gear, relax into that pocket, and flow over the trail. Don’t fight the trail. Let the trail decide your speed. When climbing, shorten your stride, keep your cadence even and gentle, use your upper body, and think of yourself floating smoothly up the hill. Walk if you want to or need to – sometimes that’s more efficient than running – or shift into a new gear if you have to increase effort to keep going. Your body will tell you what to do. All of those pointers apply whether you’re moving at a relaxed effort or trying to set a record.

    #3: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Eventually you’re going to get to the real fun stuff: rocks and roots! Of course, the technical stuff is only fun when you stay upright, so these are some tips on how to have fun and stay safe. Running through a rock garden can be a blast if you think of it like play or like dancing. It is about keeping your upper body relaxed, keeping your hips and waist on a swivel, picking up your feet, and keeping your eyes scanning up the trail. Ever play the lava game as a kid? You know, that game where you can only step on the rocks or you die a fiery death? It’s a great way to train your brain to solve the puzzle of “how to get from A to B when it gets complicated.” Playing little games like this can be a fun way to improve your balance and strengthen the soft tissue that supports your feet and ankles, and it develops your brain’s ability to pick efficient lines as you run. Trail running is both a cognitive and physical activity. When I find myself stubbing my toe or rolling my ankle in a technical section my first reaction (after “oww! @%&”) is to tell myself to “slow down.” After that, it’s “be smooth.” Those two words, “slow” and “smooth,” put my mind back into play mode, and they also keep me centered, focused, and safe. It’s important that I not try to be fast, explosive, jerky, or rushed when moving along a rough section. If that means pausing to reset myself, to get my brain and body back in sync, that’s okay. It reminds me to be playful with the obstacles, stay light on my feet, and float. With time, the mantra “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” will come true. When I am really focused I have the experience of time slowing down as my brain instinctively picks the lines through the rocks. By slowing down, I can clear the rough stuff faster than I could by white knuckling my way through as fast as I can. 

    I’ll add one caution that comes from experience: I don’t fall often, but when I do it’s usually on the easy parts. In particular, easy sections that follow technical sections. It is easy to lose focus in the seconds after clearing some tough trail, when your brain relaxes and you fail to notice that little pebble of death hiding in plain sight! 

    A note on the spirit of things

    All of us come to running for our own reasons with our own beliefs and values. One important value that I’m learning from my Native teammates is to run with respect. That means having a reverence and gratitude for the land that is hosting me as I run, and along with that, an awareness and reverence for myself as I interact relationally with the land. That includes acknowledging that I am running on stolen Native land, and there have been painful histories lived out here. I’ve found that if I come into a run holding this intention and awareness, I am more attuned to what is going on in me and around me. 

    I avoid coming to the trail with a conquest mindset. I don’t think it’s healthy or safe to be in conflict with the land I’m running on, so if I have a sense that it’s not right for me to do the thing I’d planned on, I listen to my gut. That could mean choosing to run on roads to avoid damaging muddy trails during a spring thaw; it might mean opting not to do that off-trail exploration I was thinking about that could damage delicate ecosystems or degrade historic sites; or it can be something as simple as, “I really wanted to send it on this descent, but now I’m noticing it is hot and humid and my brain feels a bit foggy and I’m not finding the lines on these rocks, so maybe I’ll slow down and walk instead.” That is working with what is happening in the body and the air and the trail and not fighting it and risking getting hurt. I think it also means taking the time for curiosity and not just putting down your head and running: pause and enjoy the views, notice the plants growing along the trail, and talk to the animals if that’s your thing! There is give and take, dialogue, connection, mutual care: we take care of the land, and the land takes care of us. For me, when trail running is about connection, not conquest, it means that being attuned to my mind and spirit is just as important as what I do with my body.

  • Overfed and Undernourished

    Over fed and undernourished: that was the theme of my adolescent/early adulthood athletic career.


    In 7th grade, I fueled my XC training runs, races, and track meets with Grapico and Reese’s cups, refueling with even more processed garbage. Now, the body can withstand a smaller percentage of processed, high sugar foods when the safety net has been established: high quality protein, phytonutrients, healthy fats. But at some point, fueling with nutrient-deficient foods will catch up.


    Looking back, it’s a wonder I accomplished what I did before I finally broke. My only regret is not caring for my body better, especially since I'm having to repair that damage now.


    Age 13:

    21st in State XC, 4th/5th on team.

    3rd in Indoor State 4x800

    Top 10 in 400m dash Outdoor state

    1st in Outdoor State 4x400, 65 sec split

    Age 14:

    4 days weekly of 3 hours of ballet at Alabama ballet: 90 min of Technique, then 90 min of Jazz, Modern, or Pointe class

    Indoor State: 3rd in 4x400, 2nd 4x400

    Outdoor Sectionals: won the 400m hurdles, won the 4x400, top finish in the open 400.


    BUT my back was severely injured and my menstrual cycle had lasted 4-5 months approximately. I had also been plagued by aches and pains and adolescent fear. But my back, my L5 to be exact, twisted from same lead leg hurdling, and I couldn’t stand up straight, let alone run without significant pain. The orthopedic solution: surgery or anti-inflammatory drugs. The gynecological solution: birth control… at 14. My mother was horrified by my options.


    I took both drugs, but began chiropractic 3x week during PE and also visited a muscle testing compounder, who decided dessicated bovine ovary was needed. With rest and this healing protocol, my body somewhat healed, though my lower back will be forever anatomically changed.


    I returned to track my senior year, but was plagued with a respiratory infection throughout indoor that I couldn’t shake. I was the fastest out of blocks and 2nd fastest sprinter, so I ran the 55m dash at states. No advancement to the finals, though.


    After indoor, I picked up pole vault and prepared for the 100m dash and starting the 4x100 m relay. One day, I was practicing my pole vault drills and my ankle gave way, causing instant injury to my knee. My ACL was torn, reconstructed with a hamstring graft. My hamstring. That upper respiratory infection turned out to be pneumonia, finally diagnosed right before surgery.  I tried to run for my D3 college, but the scar tissue build up was so great that I couldn’t flex or extend my leg fully, and I limped at a run and a walk. I quit the team because I couldn’t take failing anymore. I had a second surgery to scope out the scar tissue, and this is when I fervently began rehabbing on my own, delving into cross training and creating my own structured programming. I had dabbled in this through middle and high school, but this is when it became truly structured. It wouldn’t be until my first daughter was born that I really began considering nourishment being present in my food.


    I share because when I say overfed and underfueled, I can see now what it cost me, then and now. I ran 28 sec 200’s and 65 sec 400’s as a 13 year old. I didn’t strength train and I certainly didn’t eat well. Maybe not as a sprinter but in every other event now, I am stronger and faster. I’m pain free and INJURY free. When you know better, you do better, and you share the word with others so they can do the same. I see my two daughters and pray the wisdom and knowledge can put them ahead of me in terms of wellbeing and overall physiological durability. Beyond them, I pray people and especially athletes may benefit from the challenge to take a broader view to heal and nourish themselves more adequately.


    There is obsession with moderation, but moderation can only be possible when our security net is established. My question is: Is it? 


    Just something to chew on. Hopefully something nourishing.

  • Finding Peace in this Season

    I dropped, and I dropped early (Petites Gap, mile 8). As I sit here with a low-grade migraine, dizziness, and gut distension the size of a canteloupe, I know I made the right decision. I'm at peace, but I've still cried a couple times. I love racing, Iove this race, and I love running. If I felt a DNF was avoidable and not dangerous for my health or jeapordize the experience of the directors and fellow participants, I'd still be racing now and hopefully approaching Bearwallow Gap in the next 45 minutes from the time I wrote this sentence. However, I showed up. 90% of making progress is about showing up. A DNF is far better than a DNS in my opinion. A DNF shows bravery and hope.

    In a nutshell, as I was gently pushing against and praying for my body to just relax already, I came head-to-head with how I'd been postponing healing in order to race, when I should have been prioritizing healing so that I can race.

    The back story is that for years, especially the years following 2017 and the 270 days of antibiotic use for Lyme disease + coinfections, I've suspected gut dysbiosis and eventually, SIBO infection. Last year, I had struggled to heal from Epstein Barr Virus, which is hard to manage if there is anything in the body like chronic stress, leaky gut, or underlying infection existing. I had developed some kind of dairy intolerance this summer as well as intolerance to prebiotic and probiotic foods, especially around the time I ran Grindstone 100. During that race, extreme stress was placed on my gut due to high heat in addition to the obvious prolonged racing time, and I was unable to fuel the final 30 miles very well due to nausea which I believe was caused by a combination of heat and low stomach acid, the latter of which allows bacteria to make harbor in the stomach and small intestine (where it does not belong!).

    I had scheduled an appointment the first week in October with my Functional Medicine Practitioner prior to Grindstone because I wanted to address this in a lull in my training. $1000+ in testing and appointments later, I came to learn that I have Hydrogen-based SIBO, Klebsiella Oxytoca bacterial overgrowth in my large intestines, and severe inflammation markers in my large intestines.  The treatment protocol was as follows:

    • Begin a 14 day treatment of Rifaximin + Guar Gum and regular diet to tolerance to catch and kill the bacteria unaware
    • Upon finishing Rifaximin, Integrate Candactin AR + BR for 4-6 weeks, and 2 weeks after starting, begin a Low FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharide, Disaccharide, Monosaccharide, and Polyols) diet to starve out remaining bacteria and provide broad spectrum yeast, viral, and bacterial overgrowth treatment in the small and large instestines. Integrate also ginger as a synergist for digestive support, motility, and inflammation

    The first snag I quickly ran into was the cost of Rifaximin, $2000 with insurance, in the United States. So with the help of friends, I found other countries who ship quality prescriptions to America at a fraction of the cost.  However, the shipping time was long.  I ordered rifaximin officially on Nov. 9 and it is "en route" somewhere after it was last received in Germany. I have no idea when it will arrive. Now, I had applied for Hellgate also in early October, thinking the hardest parts of treatment would be behind me by race day.  As race day approached, my growing concern was whether to throw away a hard-earned spot and hefty race entry (and my first official sponsorship opportunity) or commit to the race, accept a delayed healing protocol, and see what happens. I chose the latter. Neither was wrong entirely.

    For a time, therefore, I was in no man's land, unable to start this treatment protocol without the medication, and so after consulting with my doctor, I began Candactin AR + BR, though the jury was out out on when to begin the Low FODMAP diet because it is intended for 4-6 weeks use due to starving unfortunately the good bacteria in the gut.  The equation was relatively sensitive and complex. Once started in mid November, I began experiencing higher levels of inflammation and swelling in my gut, as expected because of the battle being waged there. I saw my times and performances start to sharply slide back, and how I felt in my skin and body grew increasingly more uncomfortable. Then, I began experiencing challenges with stomach emptying, heart burn, and cramping, where laying down was even a challenge. My heart rate variability was suffering, and more importantly, my tolerance to life stress began to dwindle.

    I did not want to begin a low FODMAP protocol entirely before Hellgate because the carbohydrate consumption overall is signfiicantly lower in addition to the limited amount of time appropriate to be on it, but I did begin seeking carbohydrate/electrolyte sources that contained less fructose, because fructose is a high FODMAP. Enter Maurten drink + gel, a high performance product designed to crush goals.  I ordered it on Black Friday (Buy 1, get 1 50% off!), but it arrived the Tuesday before my race. I tried a CAF gel on my final morning workout, and while my stomach felt overstuffed and I nearly threw up, my legs felt fine.

    I will do my best to describe to you this primary symptom: basically my digestive tract felt full from my abdomen to my mouth. Taking in more food, no matter the quality was unappealing and unpleasant when done. My stomach wasn't emptying, and bowel movements didn't seem to be an issue, but again, the distension and swelling in my abdomen was uncomfortable. At times I had hearnburn, but taking TUMS, while temporarily relieving, actually harms the production of stomach acid, which is needed to create a hostile environment for microbes in the stomach and small intestine.  

    Leading up to the race, I spent the morning sipping on 320 Maurten drink mix, very viscous, sweet without flavor, visiting my amazing chiropractor, Dr. David Glazer, eating a nice breakfast with my husband at Heritage Bakery Café, then taking a long epsom salt soak and putting my feet up until it was time to hit the road. I ate approximately 200g of carbs, knowing I was also in high hormone phase and needed to make sure I was getting that 10% ish extra carbs to offset hormonal needs. I felt calm and assured in my race plan, ultimately with the goal of enjoying the experience and finding peace in whatever the outcome may be.

    Dr. David Glazer

    We drove to Camp Bethel in the increasing rain, picked up my race bib and t-shirt. Once returned to the car, I stuffed my Salomon vest full of the things I needed to run through the night and emptied my SenseRides of any remaining dirt, both of which provided by Bluestone Bike & Run. Off to the pre-race dinner, which was delicious! Last year, I had skipped it out of precaution. We debated on whether to attend the pre-race meeting and ultimately decided that I was here to get as much joy out of the experience, so we went! No regrets being in a room full of people who love putting foot to soil in the mountains as much, if not more, than I do, listening to an ultrarunning legend. Not to mention, Dr. Horton was all about reminding us not to be stupid. I was trying not to overthink this given my circumstances.

    Seeded 10th female - damn proud

    In the pre-race briefing given by the famous Dr. Horton

    CATs racing!

    Mike and I retreated to the car, where I changed into my race clothing (I noticed everything felt snug, itchy, like I could feel every seam... tried to put this out of my head and that I'd resolve late with anti-chafing products) and slept a wink, up at 10:30 to accept riders into our car at 10:45 so that we could drive to the Hellgate trailhead. As we drove, heartburn and "icky" came over me. Adrenaline probably played some role here, but a week before, I was struggling with this same issue on a trail run, that overstuffed feeling, and no place for the contents of my stomach to go, for whatever reason. After the other runners exited the car, I told Mike I wanted him to be at Petites Gap. I chose to change the plan because otherwise the next time I'd see him was mile 24ish at Headforemost Gap, which is a long way to go if the stomach issues worsened.

    We had already discussed that if nausea and GI distress struck early on, I would pull the plug because I was causing further harm to my already suboptimal state. And I'd be at peace with it because my health should always come first in these endeavors. I'd be a terrible coach if I recommended otherwise.

    I was happy to be in a trail race that was a single wave, singing the national anthem all together. I kissed Mike, stepped under the Hellgate road gate, watch syncronized, and on the final countdown, began the race.

    Right before the Start!

    The first mile was wide, rocks and roots here and there, but easy to navigate. I quickly let go of top females like Shannon Howell and Alondra Moody and settled into what I believe was an all day pace, walking a smidge here and there in the second mile with growing elevation, narrowing trail, and increased likelihood of tripping over rocks hiding beneath the leaves. Runners were either falling back or moving forward, and it didn't seem I fell into pace with anyone, which I was neither here nor there about. As we ascended, the same dogs from last year were losing their minds barking. Can you imagine once a year, 150 runners with bobbing lights come barreling by your home in the smack dab middle of the night? It's kind of comical. 

    Anyway, we find ourselves in a muddier section, mid calf for me... squelch, squirch... onward! I was leading a shorter line of runners at this point as the double became single track, bringing us to a couple of creek crossings and minutes later, to Aid Station 1, where trail meets gravel. Here comes one of the longest climbs of the race, and I jog right through the AS. I notice that I have sipped about 50% of my Maurten 160, but no actual food yet. I had no appetite for it. As we started climbing, I felt the contents of my stomach push up my esophagus, creating that stomach in throat feeling. Occasionally gagging but reluctant to vomit, I focused on my breath and short, quick cadences for efficiency over this 1500 foot climb, doing all I can to not think much upon how fast the entire field was moving in these first 5 miles... it felt much faster than last year. 

    My legs felt so unbelievably strong, but I felt swollen, feeling hot spots in all the atypical (for me) places. Run 150 steps, walk 50 steps, sometimes running more, but unable to really get away from the burning and rumbling feeling in my gut. However, I decided to embrace this section. It might be my favorite because in the furthest distance, you can see the top runners' headlamps bobbing and ascending high above, with additional switchbacks of closer runners lighting the way on a switchback leading towards that highest group of runners. And then, all the orbs of lights become a question of headlamps or stars. It's magical. And you're breathing and finding a run/walk cadence appropriate with the climb. I really do love this part of the course! I was also regaining ground on male and female runners who took off earlier on, toggling back and forth depending on where we were with run/walk cycles, but ultimately, I'd move on.

    However, by this point, given my symptoms early on and knowing what they could lead to, I knew I'd be dropping. I was proud not to voice my sadness to fellow runners. While I wasn't making friendly conversation, it was important that I not add negativity to anyone else's race. I stayed present and enjoyed the first 8 miles of the course despite the fullness I felt throughout my body. I was grateful to see Mike at the aid station as discussed, because I was concerned he wouldn't be there (there's always that chance, and all participants should be prepared for the absence of crew due to GPS failure or emergency). He quickly ushered me to my box of gear, but I was already ending my run on my watch. I very calmly looked at him and said "This is it.  I'm done." I told him that it was like being stuck in an endless warm up, my stomach and tense body just weren't jiving (and it was not an effort issue; in fact, my heart rate was stabilizing), even though I reached this aid station with muscular ease around 4 minutes faster than last year. Like any good crew, he checked to make sure I was sure. I told him I was sad about it, but the distress felt early on in my stomach was a non-negotiable. Running with those symptoms should earn me the "stupid award".

    We notified the aid station volunteers of my drop and drove home, where I shivered for a time, gagging several times and reeling on the tighter curves. Upon arrival home 1.5 hours later, I stripped, threw on a fresh pair of underwear and my Comfy, climbed into bed, waking up around 7:30 AM. I came downstairs, sat on the couch, and sobbed a bit. Have I mentioned how tired I am of dealing with this? I could say "why me?", but I already know.

    Over the years, I have shared what I've learned about caring for and learning to truly listen to the body, pursuing dreams, practicing relentless self-compassion, but how could I have shared those things and impacted others positively who have struggled and suffered, seemingly alone, and unsure of what to do with that season?

    Ultimately, you've got to be at peace with where you are and trust that no matter the outcome of performance, or lack thereof, there's a pot of GOLD on the otherside. My doctor said to me, "If this is how you perform with all these things going on, imagine what you can accomplish once you heal." I want that. I want that more than anything. I want to figuratively split myself open with the raw energy that is in my spirit. But it's an equation: optimal spirit + optimal body = optimal wellness and performance. Like the simple view of reading, yes, this is a thing, suboptimal levels in either one of these components, expect your performance to be suboptimal. 

    Simple View of Performance™ (I am trade marking this) Suboptimal Body Optimal Body
    Suboptimal Spirit I will work on defining this. I will work on defining this.
    Optimal Spirit I will work on defining this. I will work on defining this.

    So what's next? Healing. Healing is next. Today, I've already studied the Low FODMAP diet again. I'll boil organic coffee for my first coffee enema.  I'll take an epsom salt bath while it cools. I'll foam roll, stretch, and do some gentle strength. I'll read my Gut and Physiology Syndrome book and snuggle up with my amazing husband. He was a treasure yesterday and this morning.

    Depending on where I am with healing, Boston 2022 will be either be a push race or an experience race. Ideally I'd like Chicago and New York Marathons to be strong performances, and I have plenty of time to heal for them. My hope is to integrate shorter, faster races in 2022 and take a long needed break from Ultrarunning (I ran my first ultra in 2015).

    Thank you for reading my report. If you take anything away from this, it is that no chronic condition is normal; seek help and don't accept a poorer quality of life as your new baseline. Optimal spirit + optimal body = optimal wellness and performance.

  • One Cheek Full of Humble Pie

    (Written by Coach Mike)


    What do you know about Hubris? My 2021 was full of it. 


    You would think that after reading about characters like Icarus (or maybe Adam and Eve depending on your reading fancy) from the time I was a child and to my children now, I would have some “take-aways”.  However, every so often I reach too far, have the wax on my wings melt, and I learn this same lesson over again. 


    At the beginning of the year, I decided to run the Lynchburg Ultra Series. A 4 race series that has the Holiday Lake 50k, Terrapin Mountain 50k, Promise Land 50k++, and the Mountain Masochist Trail Race 50 Miler. I wanted to win at least one of the races and also aimed to win the entire series. I earned high places in all the races and won Terrapin Mountain. I went into the last race (MMTR) with an hour and 20 minute lead over 2nd place in the series. Things were right on schedule. I should be able to coast this series in for the “W”. 


    The only problem was that Mountain Masochist was in November, which left me the whole summer to get into other things (races).


    Nelle and I traveled to Washington state to chase a fast marathon time at the “Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon”. I did some good tempos leading up and was hoping to run 6-6:15 pace which would qualify me entry into all of the US Major Marathons. Low and behold, due to good pacing, patience, and getting competitive in the final miles, I ended up WINNING the marathon!


    I also entered the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners Summer Trail Series. It was comprised of 4 short trail races (5k-5 miles in length) sprinkled throughout the summer. Despite getting 2nd place in all four individual races (to various stud high school runners), I was the series winner. 


    So far, this year sounds like a pretty sweet dream, right? It was. I was killing it and having a great time. While I was still doing a good amount of training, I wasn’t really worried about how hard any course was, or what competition I was up against. I was ready to fill my race calendar with any other challenges I could squeeze in. 


    And then it happened: I bumped into Rick Kwiatkowski who was the race director for “Andy’s Backyard Ultra”. It’s a “race” where you run 4.2 trail miles every hour, on the hour, for as long as you can. Last person to be able to complete a lap in the hour wins. I’ve never done that type of challenge before, and there was 3 weeks between that and Mountain Masochist, so why not???


    Now, these Backyard ultras can go on for days. As long as there are 2 runners to keep going, the race continues. I figured that I could do at least 100 -150 miles, or 24-36 hours. 150 miles?!?!  That should be good enough to win. My pride and ego said, “I’ll just do that.” 


    Wrong on all accounts. 


    At around 45 miles, 10 loops, my semitendinosus tendon on my left leg (behind the knee) was beginning to complain… a lot. I massaged, applied muscle rub and took some ibuprofen. Once that kicked in, I was good for several more laps. I was running easy, finishing each lap with plenty of time to rest and eat before starting again. At 62ish miles, it started coming back. I repeated what I did before, but it was less effective this time. I was in a death spiral because I was having a hard time running. There were still 14 or so people in the race and I was doing all I could to continue on, but on lap 18 running was no longer an option, and I couldn’t walk the 4.2 mile loop in an hour. I was done. 


    I sat in my chair. Cold. Sleepy. Beaten. Broken. I sat and watched as the other runners started their next loop, and the next. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, but they looked fresh, laughing, and enjoying the process. The process I got kicked out of because it was too hard for me. I should have been running all of those laps. Then again, Lucifer thought he should be the most powerful in Heaven and look how that turned out. At 3am I couldn’t take it anymore. I drove Nelle and I home. At least there I could be miserable in a familiar place. 


    When I woke up the next morning, I realized that I wasn’t just sore, but I was injured. It became apparent that I couldn’t run and that I probably wouldn’t be able to put my running shoes on again until the Mountain Masochist race, IF THEN!  I wasn’t worried about winning the race, but I did need to hold onto my 1 hour 20 minute Lynchburg Ultra Series lead. 


    Fast forward to 4 days before the MMTR50, I found myself walking without pain, even able to run a couple miles here and there, but still doing Epsom salt baths, and all the little things to help continue the healing. I haven’t really been sick in a couple years, but now I’m dragging through the work day with a cold/sinus infection that is kicking my ass and not allowing me to pack in the food like you should be doing days before an Ultra race. This is the beginning of the perfect storm. 


    Mountain Masochist Race day: 


    Just finish within 1:20 of Steven Tucker (2nd place in the LUS series). That’s all I have to do. No problem. I beat him in all of the other series races, and I’m ok with not beating him today, as long as I stay within an hour:20. 


    I started out VERY easy. BTW: Do you know how hard it is to let a pack of 12 guys run away from you at the start of a race when you’ve beaten them all before? I sound like a cocky little shit saying that, but it really was hard to watch their headlamps disappear into the pre-dawn darkness ahead of me. The good news was that I had no pain, and other than a sinus headache, I was ready to slowly shlog through this 50 miles with only the finish line mattering. 


    At the 12 mile aid station, Nelle did a great job of aiding me and informing that the leaders were rolling along about 15 minutes ahead of me. The news that shocked me was that Steven Tucker was the one leading the charge! My head is always doing math and I quickly calculated that gaining 15 minutes of lead on me every 25% of the race would give him an hour on me at the finish. That is getting close to the 1h20m I was protecting. He was doing exactly what he needed to do try to win the day and steal MY series!


    “MY” series? Who did I think I was? 


    I pushed on and new energy came as I clicked the miles off with the sunrise. I knew that there was a turn around at mile 20 and I would be able to see the runners ahead of me. A perfect opportunity to get a time check on their lead. I really need it to be no more than 20-25 minutes at that point. I was feeling pretty good, still no pain, and only minor fatigue.


    I’m going to be ok. I’m a badass runner that can do badass things. I can fight with the best of them. I am like Achilles, half man and half….  BAM!!!!  I trip over a rock and hit the ground hard!

    I don’t get up immediately. In fact, I just stayed on the ground not moving. It took me a bit to understand and accept what had just happened. I felt pain in my left knee, hip, elbow, and side of head. Thank goodness I was wearing gloves or my hands would’ve been cut up too. I think this is the true point when THIS Achilles got shot in the heel. 


    Finally, I get up, brush myself off, take inventory on how much skin was lost and body mobility. Head is good.  So, I started walking, trotting, and then mostly back to regular run. 


    I started seeing the runners coming back toward me from the turn around. Tucker was still in front and looking pretty good. I took note of the time: 3 hours 23 minutes into the race. My buddy McLane Grow was in 2nd and also looked good. John Andersen was in 7th place and gave me some words of encouragement.  I reached the turn around and looked at my watch: 3:39. Ugh. That means Tucker is 32 minutes ahead of me plus however many minutes I spend at the aid station there. 


    This aid station was pathetic for me. They had so much food and I asked for the one thing they didn’t have. I felt really bad about that. I ate some salted potatoes, and set my water bottle down as I rummaged through my drop bag. I ate a few things and threw my drop bag back, only to find that I had set my bottle right under my bleeding knee and now it has blood all over it. It’s just one thing after another.


    I started back up the trail and almost immediately I can feel the injury from the Backyard Ultra starting to flare. I keep my pace easy and just focused on getting to the Aid station at 27 miles where Nelle would be. Each mile it got worse, but luckily a lot of it was uphill and I used that excuse to walk a fair amount. 


    As I approached the aid station, I was very happy to see Nelle, but she didn’t have the same excitement to see me. She had a puzzled look on her face. “What’s going on?”, she asked. 

    “What do you mean? I’m grinding.” I said probably more sarcastically than needed.

    “But you didn’t come up the trail, you came up the road. You are supposed to come up the trail.”


    I can’t believe this is happening. I have to turn around, go back down the road a bit and turn on a trail. Frustration hit a different level. It only added on a half mile or so, but with my leg not really working, it might as well have been 5 miles, not to mention it’s more TIME that Tucker gains on me.


    Now that I’ve gone the right way, we are able to talk and evaluate the situation. We figure he is leading me by 50-55 minutes now. He’s looking good, and I am not. I have 23 miles to go. I can’t really fathom covering another 23 miles, but I’m a gamer. Nelle asked me what I wanted to do. I told her “I have more try in me.” The next section was a 4 mile loop that would bring me back to her again, so let’s go. 


    I put headphones on to listen to music (which I never do) in hopes of getting my mind away from everything else. However, about ¾ mile into the loop I stopped seeing course markings. I didn’t remember seeing any turns, but I had no choice but to go back because I didn’t want to go the wrong way. This was another momentum crusher, because after backtracking a few minutes I ran into some other racers. They confirmed they hadn’t seen any markings either, but I was indeed going the right way. I had doubled back for no reason. More wasted distance and time. 


    By this point my left leg is shot. My knee cap, hip, and elbow are all beaten and bloodied from the fall at mile 17. The back of my knee is worthless. I’m stumbling every third step because I’m not raising my foot high enough to clear rocks/roots. My last two miles have been 21 and 19 minutes. It’s over.


    I do my best to finish the loop and get back to the aid station where Nelle was waiting. I was preparing for the discussion about dropping out. My fear was that she would try to get me to continue even though I had 17ish miles to go. To my surprise when I got to her she said only two words, “You done?”.    I shamefully nodded my head and headed over to the chair. 


    Sophocles couldn’t have written this better. One minute I’m on the top of my game, challenging anything or anyone to take me on, and the next I’m injured on the shelf trying to muster the gumption to walk to the car after collecting my first set-distance race DNF.


    But no one to blame by myself. This was self-inflicted heartbreak.


    We did go to the finish line to see some of our friends finish. I congratulated Tucker on winning the series, as well as McLane for winning the race. Luckily I was able to crack a few smiles before thanking  the race directors and shoveled my pitiful self into the car for the long ride home.  


    Some lessons are really difficult to learn, and I doubt I’ll ever stop riding that fine line of being aggressive/overreaching. I can only hope to zero it in a little bit better, and maybe keep one cheek full of that humble pie at all times. 


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