Thursday, August 7, 2014

Feed the Beast

It’s been four years since I last participated at Transrockies. That was 2010, the year I had to drop after two stages because of pain in my hip, which I later discovered was a stress fracture. That was an emotional and painful experience and I learned the hard way that I shouldn’t show up to a race unless I feel emotionally and physically 100%.

There was lots of blaming of the cause, too many miles, too many mountains, too much speedwork, but ultimately it was likely too much pressure on myself. It took me awhile to rebound from that injury and get to the point where I wanted to return to the race. I’ve spent the last two weekends exploring trails in Tahoe. The mountains make me feel alive and connected in a way that I never feel on the roads. Maybe it’s the thinner air or the epic views, but I just lose myself in them. I might be gasping for more air and running much slower, but it’s humbling and exhilarating. I am excited to partake in the 2014 Transrockies race with my coach and training partner Magdalena Lewy-Boulet.

A few months ago I was watching the Stanford track meet with friends and we overheard Lauren Fleshman giving someone advice about running. She was explaining that you should work on your weakness, but make sure to “feed the beast.” I know that I’ll never be a fast 5k runner and I have come to terms that it takes me a good 3 miles to warm-up into a run. Hills, mountains, and long days out on the trails feed the beast in me. This next week in Colorado will be perfect and I get to share the experience with someone who inspires me with every run, workout, and conversation over coffee. Magda and I will take on some long days in the Rockies and breathe in the mountain air. We’ll keep you updated on our adventures.

And I am happy to say I have had no leg issues in the past month. That iron has become a new bestfriend.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Note to self: eat more steak

It’s been a whirlwind over the past few weeks. I fell in love with the UP, got a fair share of technical trail running in, and may have found the culprit to my leg issue. 

I ran the US Mountain Running Champs on July 6th and then Run the Keweenaw: A Festival of Trails on July 12th and 13th.

Loon Mountain was a tough race. The terrain became the main pitfall and I felt like I used up most my energy just navigating the terrain. At mile 4 I started feeling better, but unfortunately there was only .8 more to go. The steepest part was where I felt the best, go figure! Anyhow I made it to the top and that in and of itself felt like an accomplishment for the day. After the cool down I just started to cry. I have had this overwhelming frustration with my legs not feeling right, with training and races feeling harder than they should, and just wanting to throw in the towel. I let out the tears and moved on with my day.

After finishing the race in Lincoln, NH, Sam and I took a road trip to the UP for a stage race in Cooper Harbor, MI. The first day involved a morning 6K climb and an evening 12K (which was actually more like 8.5 miles). The next day involved a morning 25K run.  Leading up to the race I had my typical leg cramps/locking up on a handful of runs, but on Saturday I was feeling pretty loose and excited to explore the UP trails. The first 3-4 minutes of the climb I was doing okay and then wham there was the sensation and there I was walking. Close to 10 minutes later the tightness was easing off and I could do more than just walk/jog. I arrived at the top, took in the view, and then headed back down the hill with Sam who won! For the evening run I decided to experiment with a more intense warm-up to see if it helped. The race started and 5-6 minutes into the race this time wham there was that sensation and there I was walking. Part of me just wanted to turn around, throw up my arms, and just take a break from running, but I am stubborn. I waited until my legs settled down and then I did a progression run on those trails, took in my surroundings, and tried my best not to think about how frustrated that sensation that has stopped me in track workouts, easy runs, and races was.

When I finished there was Sam who had now also won the 12K. He knew I was frustrated. He knew I wasn’t running to my ability. He made a comment about how this was maybe iron related and that I looked pale. Next thing you know the woman that finished a few spots behind me who saw me walking at the start of race came over to chat with me. She asked me to describe this sensation in my legs and told me she had experienced the same exact thing. FINIALLY!!! I knew there had to have been another runner in the world. And you know what she said, iron depletion/deficiency! But my doctor had checked that in the blood work last year and the year before right? Actually neither time did the doctor check. She checked my overall blood panel, but that doesn’t show iron. So you know what Sam did that night, he made me eat a steak. You know what happened the next day in the 25K I ran like my normal self. And this time both Sam and I won! Placebo or not, maybe I am finding my solution.  

I’ve been eating more red meat and iron rich foods along with vitamin C. I am supplementing too. I have been feeling better even with some higher back-to-back mileage. My energy is better. My legs haven’t cramped up. I am hopeful and excited for the training and races ahead. Fingers crossed.

FYI I did get my iron levels checked. They aren’t awful, but they are definitely not great either. I highly recommend if you’re a runner (especially a female runner) and feeling out of sorts to get them checked.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Off to Run a Mountain

Back in 2008 I decided to face some of my fears. First being my anxiety about racing. I entered ten 20K trail races. Second being afraid of heights, I spent a good amount of time rock climbing. Lastly my trepidation of the water, I learned how to swim rather than just doggie paddle. Not surprising, I also found abilities that I didn’t know I had and I enjoyed the journey.

As the journey developed and I raced more I have had ups and downs. Injuries, plateaus, doubts, and new anxieties have come and gone. I remain an experiment of one and 2014 has been unique. I started training with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet at the end of 2013 and she’s been instrumental with breakthroughs. I added more hills, speed, and I’ve stopped wearing my watch. It’s the first time I’ve been able to run 400s and ½ mile hill repeats and venture up Diablo and feel like I can excel at all. My legs have still been an on and off issue, but I am learning to not over think, to just listen to my body, and push through when I can and not dwell when I can’t.

At the beginning of this year I did my first 50K in two years and set a PR. Way Too Cool 50K was a blast and I enjoyed most of the trails along with Magda. The next stop was Boston in April. It was not the race I had hoped for and I fell apart at mile 17. It happens. I was grateful to be part of the experience this year and lived it up.

Since Boston I’ve been running less mileage, but more intensity and more hills. Next stop is this Sunday, the US Mountain Running Champs at Loon Mountain.  It finishes with a 46.2% grade! I will take my high school cross-country coaches advice and just imagine it’s flat, put my head down, and just keep moving. I won’t lie this race is out of my comfort zone. It’s short, it’s all uphill, it’s got great competition. It’s perfect, no watch needed.

Just wanted to give a brief update. More to come post-race… up the mountain I go!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Experiment of One

Running should make you happy. It should add to your life. But we have all been in situations where we’re disappointed, stressed, and overwhelmed by running. When I started running, it was my escape from the chaos of school and turbulent relationships and it was a way to organize thoughts, breathe, and be present. I never expected to be running beside an Olympian in Redwood Park on a Sunday morning talking about my love of running and training with frustrations as a backdrop.

Often life is about perspective. Since the Olympic trials I have been dealing with bilateral quad cramping that comes and goes. It tends to be the worst at certain times of the month and intense at the start of runs and often subsides 15-20 minutes into a run, after the first interval of a workout, or a few miles into a race. It is frustrating, but I’m trying not to dwell on it. But then I’ve noticed, I am anxious showing up to races and workouts just making it all worse, running slower than my capabilities, and doubting myself. Is it psychological? Am I causing the locking up in my legs with stress? I don’t think so. People can see a change in my form when it occurs. I go from a nice stride to super hunched shuffler. I’ve run through it, but it’s painful, I can’t lift my legs, my breathing gets heavier, and it slows me down big time. Then with no rhyme or reason it disappears and I am normal for the rest of the run, maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks.

I’ve had the blood work. Normal. I’ve had the physical. Heart murmur, but that’s normal. I’ve had the ART. Lots of knots in the quads, but running high mileage = normal. I’ve tried the magnesium spray. Only noticeable effect so far is that it can sting especially on freshly shaven legs. I make sure to add some salt to my food. I am eating well, sleeping well, stretching, and strengthening. Knock on wood, but I have only had one run where the quads flared up this month, which was after sitting on a plane most of the day. I’ll keep eating my kale, seeing Dr. Gutierrez, rope stretching, and doing core work daily.

I have some other theories that I toss around. But I am starting to lean towards the fact that my legs missed hills and that I got too fixated on getting something out of running. It’s good to be goal driven, but running should add to your life, it should make you happy. Maybe I was fighting my body rather than just going out and running French without a watch or pace in mind. Maybe it’s of no surprise, but since adding hill workouts and going out to the headlands with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, I’ve been re-inspired by running.

I may never know the culprit of my quad seizing, but I am on a mission to stay happy and healthy in 2014. I am an experiment of one and I am off to climb some hills.   

Magda crushing North Face 50 while I paced. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Run Free

In April I was in Utah with the US Salomon team for a quick weekend of meetings, runs, and a chance to get to know one another. The motto for 2013 was "Run Free." Ashely Arnold, fellow Salomon teammate and recent Leadville 100 miler winner, interviewed me in July. My response to the question: Freedom is a big word for Salomon this year, what does that mean to you as a runner? was, That captures the amazing feeling on runs where you just feel incredible, happy, and free! (You can see the rest of the interview here).

I've changed my mind or at least modified it. Running free is about letting go of those mental limits, running without anxiety, fear, without doubt, and instead running with humility, humor, focus, and determination. I realized a few weeks ago that I needed to let go of my mental limits. And you know something, I ran faster. I showed up to a track workout and I was able to run some fast 200's in 31-33 seconds, which was easily 4-5 seconds faster than I had run them in the past. Then a few weeks later, I showed up to the same track with a stomach ache from nerves. As I warmed-up I could sense I was already worried about whether I would hit paces or not. A few deep breathes and then I hit my mile splits and 400 meter splits to a T or even faster (again faster than I had run them in the past). And just recently, I showed up to a trail race where I felt tired, gearless, and I ran minutes faster than the previous year. 

Our mind without a doubt effects our body (and unfortunately vice versa). So how can we learn to deal with it and use it to our benefit? Here are some tricks that I am finding work:

1. Accept that it will hurt
2. Stay in the moment (when ever I get anxious, I take 3 deep breaths)
3. Embrace good days and don't over think bad ones
4. Work on your weaknesses 
5. Remind yourself of your strengths 
6. Run with others

In the end pay attention to your body, if something really hurts, accept it and take care of it. And make sure that you're also taking care of your mind. Mental outlook not only changes your attitude it can also remove limitations and help you run free. 

More to come and I'd love to hear what allows all of you to get past mental barriers, so you're able to run free.