Saturday, December 31, 2011

500 miles done: 100 miles to go

Christmas morning run. Photo by Peter Duyan.

Today is the last day of the year. And what a year has it been. I feel like this year has been a good one. I have experienced many different things, had fantastic adventures and accomplished more than I ever thought possible in such a short amount of time.

In the space of a year, I have transformed myself as both a runner and as a business person. Whereas in 2010, I focused on 100 milers and trail more, 2011 had me pursuing the Olympic dream and seeing what I could transform myself into the marathon. It has been quite and experience and I am able to now fully understand who I am as a runner and who I want to continue to be. I am not just an ultrarunner, I am not just a marathoner. I am not just a trail runner, I am not just a road runner. I am all of it. This year I have found a way to balance all of my passions, push my limits, keep perspective and weave a common through line into all of my running: my love for it and enjoyment of it.

2011's big running shift was matched by an equally amazing shift in my business. In the course of less than a year, I went from nothing to having a personal cheffing business which I am not only proud of, but allows me to retain a wonderful work life balance while helping others to better health through the meals I provide. I am very blessed to work for some amazing individuals, who are not just good clients but interesting awesome people. This year I have taken my passion for food and made it a successful business and I cannot understate how empowering that is.

As this is published, I will be out for my final run of the year and my final long run before the Olympic trials in two weeks. This run will put me over 500 for the month of December which is my highest month total ever. My training has been good since NYC marathon and I have marveled at times how my body has been able to continue to adapt and learn throughout the course of the year.

With just two weeks to go before the Olympic Trials in Houston, I have about 100 miles to go until race day (cumulative running over two weeks of taper, 70 miles then 30). As any ultrarunner knows, a lot can happen over the course of 100 miles, but you put your faith in your preparation and hope for the best. In 100 miles, I will line up with the nations best and be as ready as I can be. And that is enough. It is enough for me to have come this far. It is enough for me to know that I will put every ounce of energy I have into that race to run the race of my life. This year has been one of digging down and seeking my potential. It is absolutely exhilarating to know that I can and will continue to make even more strides, even when I reach the finish line on January 14th.

Thanks for a great 2011! Cheers to another great year in 2012. Run happy and happy running!

View from Rock Springs on Mt. Tam

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Strong is the new skinny

The other day someone I know referred to another runner as "Skeletor". They were not using this characterization as a compliment or referencing what Skeletor, He-man's arch nemesis, actually looks like:

They were using it to characterize a sickly, overly skinny, depleted, unhealthy look- much like a skeleton:


When this characterization was made and concerns voiced, I noticed an interesting and somewhat alarming emotion flicker across my consciousness: envy. For the briefest moment, I felt like being described that way (to my face) would be a compliment, a reflection of how hard I have been working in training. I immediately pulled myself up short. I wanted to slap myself around for even thinking such a thing. I had just finished up a killer good workout with 14 miles at marathon pace. During that run, I wasn't worrying that I should weigh less, I was powering along with strength, speed and levity. Why did that comment make feel self-conscious and envious? I knew I needed to seriously meditate on that question and not let an unhealthy attitude slide.

I have thought about it for several days now and have come to the conclusion that that thought comes from the crossroads where racing weight and body image collide. I have written about racing weight before, but I felt more thought was necessary because I am, in fact, at my "racing weight" (i.e. the weight at which I have run my fastest this year) and yet the comment still burrowed into my psyche.

Leading up to the Olympic Trials, I have been covering every detail, leaving nothing to chance and training like it is my job.  I've been absolutely devoted to the pursuit of my goals, working harder than ever and also managing to not become neurotic or overzealous. I am on what Nathan calls the "no fun diet", which is not a diet to lose weight mind you, but a diet to optimize my training and negotiate the pitfalls of having many dietary special needs. The diet also encourages having the right fuel at the right time and ensures that I have enough but not too much. I am doing all the right things to make sure my body is healthy, happy and able to do the incredibly hard work it needs to. 

The reality is, in order to lose any additional weight, I would have to be severely restrictive with my diet while trying to train at the highest and most intense level I have ever done. It would be unhealthy and I in turn, would become unhealthy and unable to do the work. Or get injured. Or get sick.

Running is a sport that prizes lightness and low body weight. It is not a sport that necessarily prizes positive body image or body confidence. The pursuit of race weight often takes on as much importance as the pursuit of the running goal itself. That is seriously out of whack. Getting to a certain weight won't inherently make you a better runner. In fact, racing weight should simply be a by product of hard training and a healthy diet. You have to fuel yourself to go fast, to do the work, to recover and make it to the start line healthy and ready to rumble. You shouldn't be trying to manipulate or dominating your body into doing something it doesn't want to, you should be cultivating it to encourage the growth and improvements. Being a "skeletor" is not something to be envied, it should be avoided at all costs. If you look unhealthy, it is likely that you are. I would never want to sabotage the efforts I make in training by depriving my body of the necessary fuel to hone it into the machine I want it to be. 

The comment, in hindsight, made me realize that I was still sub-consciously using weight as a yard stick of which to measure my progress by. I incorrectly thought that because I am working so hard that naturally I would become lighter. I gave that standard way to much credit. It stopped me from using comparative workout times as my standard of progress or seeing that my routine dropping of running partners was a sign that I am fit. Because, I am fit. That is for sure. 


I realized, upon reflection, that what needs work is my perspective, my body image and confidence. I have long struggled seeing myself "as a runner" since I have a completely different body type than your average female elite runner. According to a recent study, I am in fact 8 inches taller than my average competitor. I feel like Andre the giant lining up next to them. I should instead not compare myself to them. My hard work and dedication should instead fill me with confidence and empower me. 

I made a decision through this whole meditation. I am throwing out the old paradigm. I am making a choice to stop judging myself by the wrong measure. As my sister said recently, "perhaps I need to start embracing my body as powerful (and capable) instead of always worrying about how much I weigh". Being strong and healthy and capable are the proper values, these are the yardsticks. Strong is the new skinny. That is, the thing to be valued, pursued and held up as the ultimate motivator. 

My body is an amazing, powerful, strong machine and as I head into the last 23 days of training for the biggest racing stage of my life, I want to make sure I am doing everything to support that machine, continue to get stronger and faster, and to stay healthy. If anything, this whole conversation (in my head), has made me re-examine what my guiding values and beliefs are when it comes to my body and self-confidence and get my head on right. I love what my body can do. That is my yardstick. That is my value.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A day in the life the non-professional OT marathoner


With just 30 days left until the Olympic Trials I have been reading plenty of feature stories of professional runners getting ready to rock the Olympic Trials. While fascinating, I cannot, nor can the majority of the runners, relate to their lifestyles. Professional running is hard work, but so is training like a professional runner while still holding down a full time job. I decided on my evening run that I would share a typical day as I prepare for the Trials.

5:46am: Alarm goes off. Pretend I can't get out of the altitude tent so Nathan will get the snooze button.
6:05am: Stare at the clock and contemplate exactly when I need to leave the house for my run.
6:09am: Get out of bed, make cup of black tea.
6:10am: Drink tea while writing emails to clients.
6:30am: Get dressed in layers and prepare for run.
6:40am: Start running with Nathan to the Beach.
7:10am: Split up with Nathan and run longer through Land's End
7:35am: Have woman exclaim "You must be freezing" as I run towards her, despite wearing hat, gloves, long sleeve and long tights. It is 43 degrees out.
8:00am: Finish 11 mile run.
8:02am: Bundle up in warm clothes and start making breakfast.
8:03am: Make delicious and quick pumpkin oat pancakes with peanut flour.
8:15am: Eat pancakes while doing client planning for the days double (i.e. two clients).
9:00am: Take quick shower and get dressed
9:43am: Leave for work
10:00am: Arrive at Rainbow grocery and shop for clients.
10:24am: Leave Rainbow and drive to Whole foods to shop for clients.
10:44am: Leave Whole Foods and drive to client #1.
10:54am: Drive round and round in circles looking for a parking spot.
10:58am: Eat snack of kale chips and kombucha and end up wearing both since the kale chips are crumbly and the kombucha explodes.
10:59am: Thank the universe I am a chef and it is normal for me to have food all over my clothing.
11:05am: Start cooking for client.
12:40pm: Finish cooking, clean up and head home for lunch
12:54pm: Walk in front door, sprint to kitchen before I eat my arm off.
12:55pm: Reheat poblano, mushroom, chard enchiladas from the previous night. Put it on a bed of greens and call it a salad.
1:20pm: Leave house for second client
1:30pm: Start cooking for second client. Thank the universe that my client lives a half mile away.
3:45pm: Finish cooking, clean up and head to Whole Foods to buy supplies for dinner
3:55pm: Shop for fajita ingredients
4:05pm: Arrive home
4:12pm: Receive a text message from my mom about Jesus Toaster. Think its spam and text back to make sure her phone didn't get hacked.
4:14pm: Confirm phone not hacked and that according to CNN, the Jesus Toaster is moving "briskly" off the shelves this holiday season.
4:16pm: Realize my mom must be really bored at work.
4:17pm: Play a word in each of the 5 ongoing games of Words with Friends.
4:25pm: Leave house for run number two
5:00pm: Enjoy watching beautiful sunset over Golden Gate bridge
5:25pm: Run through a very dark Presidio and home I don't fall in a hole
5:27pm: Put on Poker Face and start running really really fast
5:40pm: Remember how much I love running at night and what a bad idea it is that I am wearing all dark clothes.
5:45pm: Finish 11 mile run #2.
5:50pm: Start making dinner. Steak and veggie fajitas.
6:05pm: Start writing blog about day.
6:27pm: Realize that the blog is taking me a long time.
6:30pm: Text from Nathan that he is going to be late. Realize I have time to stretch before dinner, but also realize that I might eat my hand off if I do this.
6:40pm: Stretch and do core work.
7:10pm: Finish making dinner
7:20pm: Dinner
7:45pm: Plan for my Thursday client
8:15pm: Take shower number two
8:30pm: Play more Words with Friends, W.E.L.D.E.R and read
9:20pm: Collapse into bed and try to go to sleep because of 4:35am wake up on Thursdays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weekends with Friends, 2 ways

Hanging out on a giant pencil before the run

This past weekend, I rented a gigantic house in Arnold California to pre-celebrate Nathan's upcoming 30th birthday. I invited up some ninjas, many fresh off their North Face 50 mile races, to come up, hang out by the fire, eat great food, play endless word games and do a little running. When I planned the weekend, it was possible that there would be snow in Bear Valley and that we would get to go snowshoeing or cross country skiing. However, it was very pleasant chilly weather and though we ran, it was not a running centric workout. It was more about the getting away from the city and hanging out together than getting in miles. While I did manage to get out on Sunday morning and hammer out a 2 hr run with 11 miles at 6 min pace, I really was only running that fast to get back for the waffles that Nathan was making. Delicious. It was a fantastic weekend through and through. There really is nothing like getting together with a group of friends away from home to do the things you love.


Which brings me to an exciting announcement! I am joining Ian Sharman, Geoff Roes and Bad to the Bone Events for their All Star Running RetreatsFor 3-days/4-nights, based in Las Vegas in January (26-29th) and February (16-19th), we will be running some of the great trails outside of Vegas including Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire, hanging out in luxury accommodation and even enjoying a cooking demo/lesson from yours truly. Much like the weekend I just enjoyed with friends, I look forward greatly to hanging out and running with some incredible individuals in a fun location! 


Want to learn more or sign up? Check out the website: here! I really hope some of my readers will be able to join us, it will be an experience to remember!


From the press release, which is also at this link:

December 9, 2011, Charlottesville, VA— From the folks who brought you UROC 100K, the groundbreaking, rule-changing Ultra Race of Champions, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports founders J. Russell Gill and Dr. Francesca Conte are excited to announce a new concept in running camps for 2012. Not a grueling boot camp for runners, or a dense, pack'em in (runners and miles) seminar, All-Star Running Retreats allows runners to combine the fun of a weekend getaway at a unique destination with running and learning from some of the fastest and knowledgeable elite ultra runners competing today. The January and February retreats will take place over three days and four nights in Las Vegas, NV. They will feature Ian Sharman (USA Trail 100 Mile Record Holder), Geoff Roes (Western States 100 Miler Record Holder) and Devon Crosby-Helms (50 Mile & 100K US National Champion and world class chef).

The dates for the 2012 Las Vegas winter retreats will be: January 26 through January 29 and February 16 through February 19. All training runs will take place on the most scenic trails in and around Las Vegas, including Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire. Each retreat includes all meals and accommodations, two daily training runs focusing on different aspects of running and training, roundtable discussions with the All-Star staff and social activities, including the "must see" Blue Man Group on the strip. 

"The concept of a running camp is not new, but the combination of an All-Star staff with different strengths and knowledge bases, plus a unique destination like Las Vegas certainly is. The retreats will focus not just on the mental and physical aspects of running, but will also include the social aspect of running--Vegas baby!" says Gill. Retreat Leader Ian Sharman adds: "I am very excited about running and spending three days on the trails around Las Vegas. I have been to Las Vegas many times, and I know how much it has to offer."  Lead Runner Geoff Roes, who spends much of his time in Alaska, echoes that sentiment with enthusiasm: "I can't wait to run in Vegas in the winter!" The retreats will also showcase other qualities of the All-Star athletes, including the culinary knowledge of Devon Crosby-Helms who focuses her cooking on the perfect foods for endurance training. Crosby-Helms will offer a cooking masterclass for all the participants. 

Maintaining their "best of the best" motto, Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats will house participants at the Vegas retreat in a luxury mansion, which they will share with the All-Star staff and other participants. "This will foster the close culture already present in the sport of ultra running," says Conte  "while taking advantage of the best that Las Vegas has to offer." While the philosophy of the All-Star Running Retreats is to offer participants an exceptional opportunity to interact with the All-Star staff in a unique environment, the winter retreats in Vegas also represent one of the best, early training opportunities for runners to get ready for any spring or summer race. 

To learn more about Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats and to register for the January or February dates, visit www.all-starrunning.com.

About Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports
By directing premiere endurance events, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports strives to motivate athletes of all backgrounds to challenge themselves. For almost 10 years, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports events have reflected owners' Gill and Francesca's decades-long knowledge and passion for running. www.badtothebone.biz  

About Ian Sharman
Ian is a Brit and started running 6 years ago after seeing a TV documentary about a race across the Sahara. He kind of got addicted and started running races most weekends around the world, mainly in Europe. Then he moved to the US in 2009 to get married and found the ultra culture to be even more fun this side of the pond and makes it his mission to race the most interesting courses and most competitive fields he can find globally. Ian is also a coach. 

About Geoff Roes
Geoff grew up running cross country and track in school and then after nearly 10 years without running much at all he found his way back to running because of his desire to get out into the mountains and explore his surroundings. He considers ultra running to be the perfect blend of mountain exploration, high level competition with some of the best athletes in the world, and plenty of time for personal introspection. He can't think of anything he'd rather be doing with his life right now.

About Devon Crosby-Helms
Devon is a certified personal chef specializing in organic, natural cooking as well as special diets. She runs her own personal chef company, Fast Foodie, in San Francisco. Also, she absolutely loves to run and enjoys trails, roads, and every surface in between from distances of a marathon up to 100 miles.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Perspective and progress

I have not been posting frequently in recent times because I have been too busy doing nothing. That is not completely true, I have in fact been busy training as hard as I ever have as well as working hard on top of that, you know, work work. For the last three weeks, I have challenged myself to "run like it is my job". I have tried very hard to make my life centered around the pursuit of my goals at the trials. For me, that also means working very diligently to maintain my own balance, listen to my body and not get overzealous. Yes, I go out there and push myself as hard as I can when I am suppose to, but I am also remembering to not worry about the pace that comes up on my watch, if I am even wearing one at all. I don't go out and just hammer, hammer, hammer every day until I am dead. I am not trying to pound nails in here, I am trying to sharpen the edge of a blade.

Heading up Dipsea during TNF 50 with Nathan
Photo by Peter Duyan

Part of keeping my perspective means staying connected to my community and the trails. Just because I am pursuing a road marathon goal, doesn't mean I have forsaken the trails or ultras in general. In fact, the more I road run, the deadlier I become on the trails. The balance of roads speed and trail time that I find, increasingly, is making me stronger on the hills and more confident in my speed on any surface. I love the trails and I love the ultra community.

Leaving Muir Beach
Photo by Peter Duyan

This weekend was a great opportunity to bring this home once again with pacing Nathan at TNF 50. It was a crazy competitive race and it was incredibly fun to watch it unfold. It was also an opportunity to get to witness a fantastic performance by Nathan. He is an incredible closer and I felt more than once in the last 22 miles that I paced him that it was legitimate that he might drop me, and not because I wasn't running my ass off, he is just that fast. We passed at least 15 guys in those waning miles, even going off course at one point. He was charging and I am so proud of his effort in such an amazing talented field of runners. After the race, I got to catch up with so many friends and fellow runners. It was great to spend three hours hashing out the happenings of the day and catching up. We talked ourselves silly for three hours before we left the finish line. But when it comes down to it, that is what I love about trail running and ultras- the community. We are a community and even when we duke it out on trail, we come together at the end, as friends, and enjoy our accomplishments together. That is not something that is part of the road running world, at least not that I have found. Instead of feeling like I was lost in a sea of (proud) finishers and strangers, I felt like I was hanging out at an extended family barbecue. Everyone there is at least a bit familiar and probably related. I love it. I am so glad that that is part of the way I train, live and see the world. I can't imagine pursuing such a specific goal such as the trials without that to balance it out.

Crushing it
Photo by Peter Duyan

The other side of that coin is the hard specific work I have been doing in preparation for the trials. While the trail/ultra side keeps me balance, I know I will only progress if I attack my specific workouts with intensity and drive. And I have. I have up'd my intensity and specificity and I can feel the changes in my body. Paces that once felt hard are easy. I am more limber and flexible than I ever have been (yes, I have been focusing on stretching!). I feel like my body is working like a well oiled machine. 

There are tests in training. Key workouts you go through that the mind assigns more significance to than any other. For me that has been the mile repeat workouts. Earlier this year, before LA, I did an 8x1 mile workout that gave me a huge confidence boost in my upper end speed. I averaged just over 5:50 a mile for that workout, which was suppose to be race pace -5 seconds & -10 seconds. A week ago, I was up against the same workout. I was nervous because I knew if I was only able to hit 5:50s again then I would  question whether my planned race pace in Houston is too ambitious. But, I also knew that I just had to do the work and let the pieces fall where they could. One workout, one set of mile repeats, does not make or break the race. Suffice it to say, I nailed the workout. I average 5:29 pace for 8 miles, with a 400 meter rest. I was stoked. I felt pleasantly surprised at my progress. I walked away from that workout intensely satisfied.

Over the next 39 days, I will continue to work hard, progress and try and keep perspective. It is a fun experiment, an unusual journey and a unique opportunity to try and see what I can make myself into. I for one, am going to continue to enjoy the ride.

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