Thursday, October 28, 2010

The word from my sponsor.

Salomon Running has been a great sponsor this year and I really love being a part of their team. They put together this awesome "getting to know" video about me and I wanted to share it! Thanks Salomon and thanks Audrey Weber for a great video!

Once you are done watching, you should go bake some delicious pumpkin scones, seriously.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tis the season for my favorite seasonal foods

I can't say that I have always been a lover of pumpkin. When I was a kid, I didn't like pumpkin pie at all, except for it being a vehicle for whipped cream, which I did like. I also can't say that I am a new comer, just hopping on the pumpkin bandwagon now. 

Instead, like brussels sprouts and persimmons, I have been carrying on a love affair with pumpkin for a while, even before pumpkin was cool. When I first moved to San Francisco and knew little about trail running, I would get up super early on Saturday mornings to join a friend on a (still to this day favorite) loop on Mt. Tam starting out of Ross. Part of the draw for me and motivation for getting out of bed was knowing that afterwards we would be going to Woodland Market and there I would find (if we were lucky and early) a glorious pumpkin muffin (with none of that cream cheese stuffing crap I don't like). This was before I knew I was gluten intolerant, mind you, but I loved those muffins. And not just because they were muffins (as we know I am obsessed with muffins), because they were pumpkin muffins. I was all or nothing, if they were out of the muffins, I wouldn't get a muffin at all. It was then that I started loving pumpkin and incorporating it into more things.

Recently I have started putting pumpkin in my oats, making homemade pumpkin butter and dreaming of ways I can maximize my pumpkin consumption. Despite being a muffin freak, the idea of pumpkin muffins just wasn't speaking to me. Instead, I was dreaming of making pumpkin scones. Only problem is that my last few attempts at scones have ended up very average and often times with burnt bottoms. I did some research, consulted a few recipes and finally went to work baking. The results? Amazing. Moist and crumbly at the same time a way a good scone should be. Light and tender and without any "gluten free" taste (like the not so nice metallic taste). Delicious. I topped mine with more pumpkin butter. 

Gluten-free pumpkin scones: 
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
dash ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup honey
1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons of butter, very cold
1/3 cup of almond milk, plus more for brushing
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cinnamon sugar

Place a cookie sheet with parchment paper/silpat on top and place that cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet. This is the secret to not burning the bottom of your scones! Took me a very long time to figure this one out.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

Pour the apple cider vinegar into the almond and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Mix all of your dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and cut into the dry ingredient mixture with a knife or pastry cutter. Work until the butter is in small pea size pieces. Place bowl into freezer to keep cold.

In another bowl, mix your honey, almond milk/vinegar mixture, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract and blend well.

Remove dry ingredients from freezer. Mix the dry with the wet ingredients and, as the dough starts to form, use your hands to knead the dough a few times, until it is all combined. Do not overmix or overwork. You want the dough to stay cold and the butter in pieces.

Form a ball with the dough and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Flatten the dough into a circle, about an inch and a half tall. Place back into the freezer for 10 minutes. Wash the dishes, check your email, do something else. Keeping the dough cool is very important.

Remove dough from freezer. Cut the circle into 6-8 triangles, depending how large you want them. Slide them apart slightly. Brush the scones lightly with almond milk to smooth and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Top with homemade pumpkin butter for a real treat.
(Recipe adapted from Wellsphere)

Monday, October 18, 2010

2010 50 mile road USATF National Championship-Tussey Mountainback 50 mile race report

A very special thank you to Hydrapak for getting me out to the race. And to all of my sponsors: your support makes this possible.

Photo courtesy of USATF

Don't call it a comeback....

After JFK last November, I often wondered if I would ever again have an experience in a race like I did that day. That feeling of pure joy, ease and speed without pain, effort or faltering from wire to wire. That feeling, the inexplainable thing when everything comes together just as it should. That feeling of your entire mind, body and spirit working together for a common purpose. I wondered if I would ever again have such a day.

This year, for the most part, I have had good races but not like JFK. Lake Sonoma I won/set a CR, Miwok I ran a strong second against a deep field while staying in a controlled "eyes on the ultimate prize (WS)" mode. Both races I had highs and lows, but overall pretty satisfying days. WS was much of a polar opposite and didn't turn out well despite my best efforts. So I wondered if I would ever again have another day like JFK. I know I had set a high bar for myself on that day and I know that more often than not races will not go flawlessly. I didn't worry about it; that kind of day where everything falls perfectly into place doesn't happen every day. But when it does, it is beautiful.

This weekend, I had one of those days.

I was slated to run Tussey Mountainback 50 miler last year but contracted H1N1 while staying in NYC after racing Vermont 50 a week before. I was really keen this year, after spending the first half of the year focusing on 100 mile trail racing, to get road fast again and go after the 50 mile road national championship at Tussey. I thought it would be a great transition race from 100 mile trail races back to the marathon and an attempt at an OT qualifier (January in Houston).

After opting out of CC100 in August, I utilized my taper for that race instead as a nice extended mid-season break and added a week to it for good measure and extra rest. It felt like a true off season though it was short. I came back to training feeling ready to do the work to get faster and stronger. I don't think my training for Tussey could have been better. I was dedicated on the track and pushed myself in tempo workouts and long runs. I did numerous doubles, did strength and flexibility work with my trainer Josh and on my own. I ran my second most mileage month all year in September. And I felt great doing so. Each 100+ mile week that passed, I felt better and better and even capped off my training with a final long run of 25 miles in 3 hours flat. But without a successful race since Miwok, I was only feeling cautiously optimistic for the race.


I was very lucky for this race. I flew into Akron where Kristin (Nathan's sister, as well as his parents) lives and she was to be my crew, long haul driver, cheer squad and great company. Kristin is an extremely dedicated and gifted crew person. I cannot thank her enough. Akron is a 4 hour drive from State College, PA so it was perfect.

Prerace was pretty typical. Eat, relax, check stuff, try to sleep and fail. The drive out from Akron was beautiful (fall colors!) and easy (easy for me to say). We arrived at our host family's house, Dan and Kelly Wright. Dan and Kelly were running the relay at Tussey and were very gracious hosts. I cooked everyone dinner, my typical pre-race fare-white rice with butter, salad with sweet potato and goat cheese and a nice juicy steak. Unlike before my other races this year, I wasn't feeling any nervous energy or anxiety about the race. Kristin and I went over my fueling plan, checked all my supplies and I headed to bed about 10pm. Naturally I couldn't sleep and just as I was about to fall asleep around 12:30 my phone rang (had it on to act as my alarm). I didn't answer it, but when I listened to the message post race it was a friend asking for a gluten free cookie recipe: might I suggest consulting my recipe page?

Even though I wasn't nervous or even thinking about the race, I just didn't sleep great. I don't usually when I am not in my own bed.

Kristin and I before the race. Brrr. Mittens were necessary.


5am alarm. I was all business. Not nervous energy or anything. Coffee on, typical pb&j on Udi's gluten free bread and a banana. Still no nerves. I recognized the feeling from before JFK. Calm. Deadly calm. Even with the local paper hyping me and my potential for breaking the CR, my goal truly was just to run happy and enjoy a race in a way I haven't in a long while. I felt no pressure to run to prove myself to anyone or run a great "comeback" run. Comeback from what? WS. Nah, I don't see it that way. All I needed was to comeback to the way I run and experience running.

We loaded up the car and headed to the race start, a quick 15 minute drive. The race is interesting because it is an ultra and relay with the relay starting in waves beginning an hour after the ultra starts. What makes this interesting is the fact that the race and all the support vehicles share the same gravel road. Thus vehicles all have to be carefully staged and early in the race we all spent a good amount of time slinking along the shoulder of the road. It also meant Kristin didn't get to see the start of the race because they sent the vehicles off before the runners. Smart but it also meant I had to relinquish my jacket and (her) mittens and stand shivering at the start for a few minutes in the pre-dawn low 40s temps. Todd Braje (defending 50 mile champ, my 100k teammate and friend) and I huddled together for warmth and joked that between the two of us we might have enough body fat to keep one person warm. Soon Howard was leading us in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and Olympic Marathoner Brian Sell said go.

Just for the hill of it is right; there was only up & down on this course.

I went out with a comfortable stride. Other than being quite cold, my legs felt really good. All the aches, pains and weirdnesses acquired in taper were all gone. I had a mild concern for my lack of ability to um, clear the pipes, pre-race but I figured I wouldn't worry about it and cross that bridge if I came to it. I warmed up a bit as we climbed up the first leg, a 3.2 miles steady climb. Things were clicking along. I carried one small gel-bot and felt like my Salomon Exo 3/4 length tights, technical shirt and sleeves were a spot on selection for the race. I fell into a comfortable pace and watched a decently deep field of men's leaders, plus a few fool hardy and overexcited runners, dash away from me.

I felt fantastic on the climb which quickly became switchbacks. I keep thinking- look at how easy this is; running up these hills. Let's be real, "just for the hill of it" (the race motto) is spot on. Tussey may only have just over 5,000 feet of climbing but this course is all hill. Even the "flats" are at a slight grade.

I rounded one switchback and glanced to see how the field behind me was shaping up. I knew my main competition was Connie Gardner (who is also a friend, mentor and amazingly talented runner). She just won the 24 hour national championship and a week later ran Akron Marathon. I saw Connie but no other woman, so I settled in to run my race.

Kristin and I decided that she shouldn't go to TR1 (transition 1 aka aid station 1) because I wouldn't need anything and it would be much easier. I had given her a range of times which were the earliest she should expect me at the aid stations. They were pretty ambitious times with nothing but good training to indicated that kind of fitness. But they sounded good, so I said why not. I knew Anne Lundblad's CR was very stout at 6:36 and also knew that Tussey and all its hills was likely a slower course than JFK. But I still gave Kristin times for a 7:30-7:45 min/mile range for pace (that is a 6:18-6:28 finishing time).

I came into TR1 about 25 minutes and then got to enjoy stretching my legs out for 4 miles of downhill. My stomach was a little gurgly and I needed to pee but there were many many cars on the road heading from TR1 to TR2 and I had to hold it until the aid station.

I arrived to a cheering and prepared Kristin in 1:23 which was right smack int he middle of my expected range. I took my salt cap and dixie cup of gatorade and switched bottles with her. But not before I hit the porta potty and made everything right in the world (well in my digestion). I have to say everytime I had to pee during this race I thought "yeah my kidneys still work!". I headed out of the aid station feeling great. Another 3.8 mile downhill section passed without incident. I was starting to enjoy fewer and fewer cars as the field spread out.

And so it went. I just comfortably cranked out the miles. I looked forward to seeing Kristin every few miles, taking a new bottle every other station, a Vespa every 1.5 hours. The scenery was beautiful, a perfect fall day among the vibrant fall foliage.

I passed through 20 miles feeling like I hadn't even been running at all. Mentally, I felt a mixture of "f-yeah" and curiosity of just how long I would feel so good, solid, speedy and downright giddy.

Although the mile markers were way off, I crossed the halfway point under 3:15 and was very pleased. Kristin had acquired a new passenger, Jason Bryant, who won StumpJump a few weeks ago and is Nathan's La Sportiva teammate. He was having back problems and was forced to drop. I was bummed for him but it multiplied my cheer squad which I didn't mind. I was so damn happy & feeling good that I couldn't stop grinning and being excited every time I saw them.

My fueling plan was working perfectly. I had a plan of taking 2 gels per 70-80 minutes plus water and 1 Saltstick tablet every other time I saw Kristin. It worked perfectly with the Vespas every 1.5 hours. I never felt an energy lull. I didn't lose the bounce in my legs. I didn't feel mentally or physically fatigued despite getting no sleep the two days prior to the race. I hit the 50k mark in 3:56 and started to realize, or more accept, what I had been hoping for: this was my day. This was the day when nothing would go wrong, it would all click. I stayed comfortable and didn't press as I was already ahead of CR pace.

Getting ready for the lift and spin. Mile 37 is a great place to do ballet moves with strangers.

We tackled each section with surgical precision. Kristin fueling me up and telling me exactly what the next section contained, me running my little heart out. I pushed on the downhills, banking speed for the bigger climbs that I knew were waiting at the end. I came into TR 9, did a spin around the course monitor and prepared myself for a grueling 5.8 mile uphill which I knew would only deliver me to TR10 and the hardest climb of the day.

This was the only exposed section and I was warmed by the bright sun in a nearly cloudless sky. I had relinquished my sleeves at TR9 and settled in to do work uphill. It was crazy how good I still felt. My pace was slightly slower with the grade but I was on. I took a Roctane gel, the first caffeine of the race for me, to add a little pep to my step on the hills. I passed another runner and moved up in the field. I knew I was top 10 overall at that point but wasn't sure where exactly. I was running along when I heard a man from one of the houses along the road (there were very few- I saw more hunters than I saw houses!) say, "getting tired yet?" I looked over to see a lone old man, sitting on his porch, watching the runners come slowly past. "Nope!" I replied. "I feel great!"

I hit TR10 and Jason told me to expect a .8 mile steep uphill then a .8 mile steep downhill then a flat section to the turn around and then back .8 mile up and .8 mile down back TR 10/11. I had seen Dave James leaving the out and back and I knew I would get a chance to see how some of the race was shaping up. The only runner in front of me I didn't see was Todd, who had taken over the lead. I saw Howard powering up the final climb and he gave me an "atta girl!" and I felt equally as pleased for him to be racing so well. It was a comeback run for him after recovering from an injury. Howard told me later I'm the first woman to ever be on the out and back with the top me. I climbed the hill and chuckled at the fact that the hardest hills by far were between miles 41.8 and 45.8. And even they did not dampen my spirit or make me feel more tired. All I could think about was how excited I was to reach the top of the return because that meant it was all downhill to the finish and I was ready to blaze it.

I hit the top and started cranking. I came back into the aid station and declined my new bottle from Kristin telling her I wanted to go light and fast. They relay was finally catching up and the aid station was full of relayers and their teams cheering.

I picked it up. Here I was at mile 46 and felt amazing. My legs were nibble and fresh. I joked to myself that I should do the final 4 miles as a tempo run so I could finish tired. I laughed, naaaaahhhh. Why would I? I was far ahead the women's field (having not seen the 2nd woman, Connie, on the out and back) nor were there any men close enough to chase and none were chasing me. I had 4 miles and 45 minutes to break the CR and didn't need to crack myself. I still sped up though. It was sweet downhill and I just had to open it up a bit. I felt like a machine. At mile 48 I got really choked up, finally realizing the magnitude of the run I was having. Holy s**t was it my day. I kept myself together though. When I saw the mile 48 marker, I calculated that even running 7:30 miles, I would arrive at 6:24 and some change.

I was in fact running faster than 7:30 and hit the mile 49 marker and pushed a bit more. I kept rounding corners expecting to see the finish line but it didn't come and didn't come. I glanced at my watch: 6:25, my mileage at over 50.5 miles. Finally, I broke out of the trees and saw the finish line. "Kick! Kick!" Howard yelled. I picked it up and crossed the finish line in 6:28. A new CR by 8 minutes and a PR by a minute on a harder course! National Champion and a perfect race. I embraced Kristin and then Howard (who finished 3rd and first Masters!!!). We walked a bit as not to cramp up and I couldn't stop smiling. Kristin exclaimed (having crewed for only 100 milers before) "man I love 50 milers so much more than 100s!". I couldn't agree more. I changed, cleaned up and chatted with winner Todd Braje who had broken the men's course record by 5 minutes, as well as 2nd place Dave James, Howard and Mark Godale (5th). I was 6th. Turns out that everyone's watches measured the course as nearly 51 miles (50.7+) meaning I averaged a rocking 7:39 min/mile.

Wow, what a day. I didn't go into this race feeling I had something to prove. I went into this race prepared and ready and just desiring to be consumed with joy, floating in the present and enjoying the the ability to run. This was my day.

We gathered up our stuff about an hour after the race and drove back to Ohio. It felt like such a dream that when I woke up in the morning, my legs barely sore, it took me a moment to realize that it was, in fact, not a dream at all. How cool is that.

Don't call it a comeback...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The cautious optimist

I am leaving on a jet plane. Heading to Akron today, then State College, PA tomorrow. I am racing on Saturday at Tussey Mountainback 50 miler. It is the national championship for the road 50 mile.

I am feeling cautiously optimistic. My training has gone great. I have had 3 long road runs where I felt strong, fast and confident. My last long run I ran 25 miles in 3 hours. September was my second highest mileage month all year, I did a training block of 4 100+ mile weeks and my body has never felt better. So why cautiously optimistic? Well, I haven't had a successful race since Miwok 100k in May. Western States ended in a bad way and I had no choice in not finishing. Cascade Crest 100 was a poor choice as I didn't really want to do a (nother) 100 miler and I stopped because continuing seemed silly to me. Therefore, I just don't have the race confidence I have been able to maintain through most of my ultrarunning career. I mean racing 8-10 per year means I am never without a recent race under my belt, even if it was just for training purposes; it is still a race even then.

I am fine with being cautiously optimistic. I just want to go for a nice long run. Enjoy the beautiful fall weather in PA, spend time with awesome people and run the way I know I can. What happens on race day will happen, I have prepared myself as best I can.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dare (not) to Compare

Within our community, our peers, our friends, how much time is spent comparing ourselves to one another?

I always say that its a good thing when life gets in the way of blogging. When life is busy and full, the first things to go are blogging, facebook, email; without a doubt, question or wisp of guilt. I blog when the mood strikes me, when I have a story to tell or recipe that I absolutely must share.

Imagine then if I woke up tomorrow and decided to start blogging absolutely everything I ate, every workout and most of the rest of my life in between. Putting aside completely my motivation for doing such thing, what would you think? As a reader, what would that mean to you? Would you think I am the kind of person you'd like to invite to a dinner party and ask to bring the bake goods and wine suggestions (like Eat Live Run)? Marvel at my ability to train for a marathon, blog all my food for the day, participate in numerous blog related events and activities, and work a full time job (like Meals and Miles)? Or would you find me endearing and relatable, the kind of person you'd consider being friends with (like Healthy Tipping Point)? Or would you merely be fascinated by the number of different ways I can make oatmeal (like KERF)? You may be inspired, enamored, fascinated or curious? You also may be triggered (as in disordered eating/eating disorder), competitive, comparative, pressured or like you don't measure up. There is a infinite spectrum of emotions that may arise for you the reader, if that were the content of my blog (I am choosing not to discuss the writer responsibilities of popular blogs, simply addressing the perspective of the readers and the community as a whole).

There is, in fact, a very large community of these blogs in existence. They have their own community known as "healthy living blogs". Recently there was a Marie Claire article about the "big six" (the four I mentioned above are considered part of the "big six"-a term used by the article but not widely used in the community) and the healthy living blogging community that sparked a firestorm of angry reactions (as well it should it was a horribly written personal attack on these ladies) as well as some acknowledgement of legitimate concerns about the group conscious. The concern seems to be that this community supports unhealthy behaviours such as disordered eating and excessive exercise. I have read most of these ladies blogs and I do not think that they suffer from or encourage these things. In fact, I think they are like most health conscious ladies. That is to say, they try but they are not perfect. They do the best they can to navigate the deep deep sea of information about healthy living and synthesize that into their own lives. They are human, they can be insecure, they can falter, they can make bad choices, like everyone else. They just record every single solitary moment of it. And they have a wide readership that responds to it in the ways I described above. 

And the whole thing got me thinking about what I started this whole post out with:Within our community, our peers, our friends, how much time is spent comparing ourselves to one another? 

It seems like a lot of time and energy is spent on that. Whether it is comparing mileage, racing schedule, workouts, paces, nutrition, body weight, etc it appears to be an ingrained part of the running community. And for the most part I think this is not done in the open. We look at what our peers are doing and say to ourselves, well maybe they have it right, I should be doing that. We run 10 miles because our training partner did, we wait at the dining table to see what others order after a nice long group run to see what others order. There is all sorts of weird maneuvering and thought process that seems to go on. Instead of just being. Instead of just responding to our individual needs, wants and desires, we are responding to what we think we should be doing. I don't like it, but know how easily it is to fall into it. Recently I have had a few moments where I was doing a lot of comparing myself because of comments made by others or because of the fact that I haven't finished a race since Miwok. I caught myself and pulled myself up short, who cares what anyone else is doing, it's got nothing to do with me, it's no reflection on me and it is a freaking ridiculous unfounded thought process!

Unlike the healthy living blogging community, there is no forum where the ultrarunning community comes together and discusses things like this. We don't hold meetings or address community conscious. We don't even do it on a small scale. We just don't even talk about it. We don't talk about triggering behaviour, we don't talk about insecurities or stupidities. While running is a competitive sport and thus we want to be doing whatever we can to do our personal best, it also seems to be a very comparative sport. I honestly think it should be more of a collaborative sport. We should be allies in one another successes, we should be advocates for their health, safety and sanity. We should inspire and encourage and lift one another up. We should simplify and try and remember that running is suppose to be fun, healthy and make us happy (even when its challenging us).

This past week especially, instead of my running being complicated, comparative, competitive or anything like that, it has just been simple and beautiful and fun and made me very happy. I think it should be that way. Just like life.

“Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people”- Nido Qubein

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