Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Zumbro DNF FAQ*

*Did not finish; frequently asked questions (in my mind)

First of all, there are some incredible race reports and race photos out there from this weekend. You should probably check them out. If I missed one, post it in the comments and I'll add it here:
Kevin Langton's 100 mile race report
Matt Wilson's 50 mile race report
Julie Berg's 50 mile race report
Jon Howard's 50 mile race report (with rain video)
Tim Smith's 50 mile race report
John Heemstra's 50 mile race report
Sarah D-Potter's 17 mile race report
Jake Haugen's finish line photos
Zach Pierce's course photos
Todd Rowe's course photos
Janet Gray's uber-muddy course photos from the 17 mile
Scott Mark's course photos
Kelcey Knott's finish line photos

I'm mulling over my weekend at Zumbro. Trying to figure out what I should learn from it, what I should change next, what I should let go. Here's some of the questions I've been turning over.

1. Should I have carried more clothing on my second loop?
Yes. I set out on my second loop with a tech T shirt, shorts, wool armwarmers, calf sleeves, and a cotton running hat. I was dressed for the current temperature, and for light to moderate rain. I'd run comfortably in similar clothing in rain many times before, but it was not adequate for heavy rain or a significant temperature drop. 17 miles for me was going to take at least 4.5 hours, and weather can change during that time. It would have been no big deal to carry a light long-sleeved wool shirt and a warmer hat.
Underdressed. Credit: Jake Haugen
2. Would those have been enough to keep me warm, under the circumstances?
Probably not. Everything I was wearing was saturated, and even though wool is warm when wet, it's not warm enough when it's soaked in cold water, in the wind. I think I would have needed a decent rain shell in addition to those extra layers to have a chance. Even that was not a guarantee -- a number of runners were coming in, soaked through their raincoats. But it would have improved my comfort -- and odds of finishing -- significantly. I've never run with a rain shell; as noted above, I'm fine in wool if there's not a prolonged downpour; but I think for longer trail races this would be a good thing to have in the pack. Though I might need a bigger pack...

3. Should I have waited out the storm at AS 2/3?
Tough call. It wasn't a great option. It was pretty crowded under the tents there, with lots of crew and runners who were dropping. It would have been cold and uncomfortable, and a long, uncertain wait -- it rained hard for about an hour. I would have been unhappy in a different way.

4. Could I have warmed up, changed clothes, eaten, foam rolled my IT band, and gone back out for a third loop and finished the race?
I think it would have been asking for trouble to try this. Even if I got my body temp back up to normal, I expended way more energy than I expected to on my fast run across the ridge, and on shivering through the last leg of the second loop. I think even with diligent eating, I would have been in a significant nutritional hole and could have had a bad bonk, or injury, or another bout of hypothermia. Especially since the trail was now slippery, rocky mud (where it wasn't just underwater). As much as DNF'ing was disappointing, it would been so much worse to be 100% out of gas, miles out in the woods.
A little bit damp out there. Credit: Janet Gray
5. What the %$# was up with my knee?
Not sure. The pain felt like IT band distribution, but I'm not positive, and today it feels better -- hopefully a sign I stopped before doing anything too bad. I wonder whether my strategy of walking up hills and running flats and downhills was putting strain on my legs that I hadn't trained for.

6. Did I train right for this race?
Sort of. It would have been good to do more hill training, and a longer long run. The hill training was tough, heading into an April race: very cold winter weather and heavy snow prevented me from getting to big trail hills in places like Afton. But I could have spent more time on road hill repeats, or even the smaller hills at Theodore Wirth or Lebanon Hills. Hill climbing, and running downhill, would have helped me, I think. But I don't think my training is what determined the outcome of the race.
Lots of snowy training runs this winter.
7. Was volunteering the day before a Bad Idea?
An early morning start and 10 hours on my feet wasn't the optimal way to spend the day before the race, but I think it was okay. I was well rested heading into Friday and didn't totally exhaust myself working the aid station. The experience, to me, was worth it.

8. What else do I need to figure out before trying a 50 mile race again?
Food, water, electrolytes. I didn't do a good job of following my nutrition plan (200 kcal/hour, eat something every 15 minutes) because I was distracted by talking to other runners, and by OMG! I'M RUNNING 50 MILES! thoughts. I could tell I didn't get enough calories by the end, because once I got into warm clothes, I was ravenous. I did follow my plan of two S-Caps per hour and water every 10 minutes, but the swelling in my hands (and peeing regularly, though not excessively) suggests maybe I was overhydrating for the conditions.

9. Anything else?
Pacing. Was I going too slow on the first loop and first half of loop 2? I don't think so. I was concerned that going at 50K pace would lead to Bad Things in the final lap, but maybe it wouldn't be any worse.

10. So what did I get right?
- Aid stations. I did pretty good getting in and out, and usually had an idea of what I wanted so I could get through efficiently. Next time, maybe I should not even bother with aid station food unless (until) I'm getting tired of what I'm carrying.
- Feet. Despite the sand on loop 1 and repeated soaking on loop 2, they stayed pretty much intact. I have a sore big toenail that might turn black, but I think that was from stubbing that toe in the dark on big sticks hidden beneath last year's leaves.
- Chafing. Even though I was wet, out for a long time, and carrying a hydration pack, I had absolutely none. Big cred here to my INKnBURN kit and Nathan pack, which performed perfectly, at least in that regard.
- Recovery. I'm focusing this week on eating enough (a lot!), sleeping enough (also a lot!), and getting my stiff muscles, especially quads, moving again. I hit a yoga class Monday, foam rolled very carefully, and went out for my first short, 2 mile run yesterday, and nothing felt injured. I'll hit my favorite spin class this morning to try and loosen things up some more. So far, so good!
- I didn't break anything. Last year, I fell on ice around mile 2 and fractured my elbow. This year, I did some slipping and sliding, but nothing's broken. Epic win!
Last year's Zumbro, coming into AS1 with a broken elbow.
Yeah, broken.
11. What's next?
In a week and a half I'll do the Twin Lights Half Marathon in Gloucester, MA with my mother. Should be fun, although I'm kind of expecting she'll clean my clock -- she got hold of a Hanson's method book and is now a mileage monster, clocking 30-35 miles/week and running 5 days/week. Yikes!

Then, in month, I'll head up to the North Shore for the Spring Superior 50K. I loved this race last year and feel like I'll be well prepared for it this year. It was my first 50K. It was hard, and beautiful, and exhilarating. I'm looking forward to bringing my family up too -- they'll go rock hunting while I run the race.

What's next after that? I'm going to wait till after Spring Superior to decide. There are great options at every distance over the summer, and some great longer races happening in the fall. I'm in no hurry to set my schedule -- no matter what I do, I'm pretty sure it's going to be great.
Nothing but good times ahead.
Superior 50K, last year. Photo: John Storkamp

Monday, April 14, 2014

Race report: Zumbro Midnight 50 Miler, 2014

Executive summary: 
I dropped at 33 miles, and about 9:55 in, with hypothermia after traversing a ridge in a thunderstorm, unprepared for the weather. I know I made the right call. But I'm still on a lingering high from an incredible weekend. So many people did great things, so many acts of generosity and selflessness, so much joy and pain and emotion... Wow. Wouldn't have missed it for anything.
Still smiling at mile 31? Must have been Julio's witty banter
and hot chicken soup. Photo credit: Julio Salazar
Prologue:
I was late to the 50 miler party, having signed up for the race about five weeks ago.  My training cycle wasn't perfect, but I had the taper nailed. I headed into race week as well trained as I could be (last weekend of long runs got cut short due to some knee pain and completed on the elliptical, but I got my 8 hours of training, and the pain now seemed to be resolved thanks to the work of my excellent ART guy), pretty well rested, and even got a sports massage the week of the race. I figured I was in great shape for a 50K, and beyond that, well, I felt like I was ready to suffer. Packed up every item on my two-page list and I didn't forget anything critical. I got up at 4 am Friday morning and headed toward Zumbro.
Start/finish, campsite and Zumbro race headquarters.
 Aid Station 2/3:
After I pitched my tent an hour before the 100 mile race start, the first order of business was volunteering. I was really excited to work at an aid station for the first time. We were lucky the race came at the end of a week of dry, sunny weather so the minimally maintained gravel roads to AS 1/4 were accessible by car.  From there, AS 2/3 was a mile or so up the trail, and accessible only on foot or by ATV. I met up with John Gustafson, the aid station captain, and we walked in together, reaching the site an hour before the first runners arrived.

The next 8 hours were busy: Mixing drinks, unpacking the dozen big Rubbermaid containers full of food, tools, tarps, Christmas lights, first-aid kit, cowbell, and motivational signs ("Never Surrender"). Greeting hundred-milers with "Hi! What do you need?", filling water bottles and bladders, making PB&J sandwiches and quesadillas, stashing sweaty layers in drop bags. Lin and Jackie and Peter showed up to help in the aid station, and other folks, crewing for friends, visited and pitched in at times as well. It was great to see the speedy front-runners, the steady midpackers, and the determined people at the back, all moving through and getting it done.

The initial cloud cover cleared and the day warmed up -- a lot. The sun shone and runners came in on the second 17-mile loop looking hot and a little sunburned. We broke out bags of ice and watched a few people pour pitchers of water over their heads. I began to think about sunburn myself, and tried to drink more water. A runner came in looking queasy and demoralized, and I watched Joe, who was crewing his wife, revive him with ice packs, peanut butter, and deep breathing. John kept us entertained and taught me important lessons about the care and feeding of hundred milers.
Brilliant early spring sunshine. Photo credit: Todd Rowe
Soon, it was 4 o'clock, the end of my shift. The aid station was well staffed and I was resolved to follow my plan to nap before the 50 miler midnight start. I said goodbye to the aid station crew and hiked back to my car, and then to my campsite.
Trails at Zumbro are a mix of wide horse/ATV trails... 
... and rocky singletrack. Photo credit: Todd Rowe
Midnight 50 Miler:
I packed my drop bag and hydration pack (2-page list strikes again!) and crawled into my sleeping bag. It wasn't easy going to sleep in bright sunlight at 5 pm, but after an early morning start and a busy day, it wasn't that hard either. I slept deeper once the sun went down, occasionally waking up just enough to hear cowbells and cries of "Good job, runner!" as hundred-milers ran past on their way to the start/finish/aid station 5.

My watch alarm sounded at 10:45 (and 10:48, and 10:50... leaving nothing to chance), and I felt reasonably refreshed as I got up and tried to persuade my body it was just a really early morning run. I dressed, brushed my teeth, and ate a sweet potato, a piece of roasted chicken, and a hard-boiled egg. Got to the start line and had a cup of coffee and picked up my number.

As a side note, how genius is it to have a coffee company sponsor your ultramarathons? Thanks, Peet's Coffee (and Matt Patten)! You rock.

The sky had clouded over but it was still surprisingly warm, probably close to 50 degrees. Over 100 50-milers lined up, race director John Storkamp counted us down, and we were off on the stroke of midnight.

The Zumbro course has a little of everything. The first leg climbs 300 feet up a bluff on singletrack and doubletrack trail, then traverses through pine woods (the site of last year's elbow fracture) before it drops down the back and winds along to the first aid station. The second leg crosses a bridge, then parallels the river with a long series of mostly gradual climbs, before a steep descent down what may or may not actually be a trail. It's the longest leg, at 4.3 miles, and feels longer than that. The third section loops up to Picnic Rock, back down, then through a half mile or so of ankle-deep, soft sand. I had gaiters that kept the sand out of the tops of my shoes, but a fair bit sifted in through my shoes and I could feel it between my toes. The fourth leg climbs and traverses a ridge, drops down the long technical descent called Ant Hill, then returns to Aid Station 1/4 via a mile or so of long, flat, straight gravel road -- surprisingly difficult to run. The final leg back to the start/finish area is runnable double and singletrack, a short stretch of road, then the last quarter mile through the grassy campground and into the finishing chute.

Very few things freak me out. It's not bravery, it's willful lack of imagination. But I didn't want to let myself think of 50 miles.  I tried to keep my vision of the next 12 to 15 hours very much like my vision of the trail: only what I could see in my little cone of headlamp light. And most of the time, it worked. The trail kept me in the here and now. Here is a rocky climb; oops, that was a log hidden under those leaves and now my toe hurts; look, there's two runners ahead, moving so slow it must be a hundred miler and his pacer. "Great job. You're moving well," I told them as I moved past.  I walked the uphills, and ran the flats and downhills, trying to run lightly and without hurry.

Friends came and went on the trail, as our paces coincided, then diverged. I ran a lot of the trail with Mike Barton and Julie Berg. For a lot of the run, especially the second loop, I was alone, and that was nice too. The air was warm -- soon I was in just a T-shirt and shorts -- the wind was light, and it was still, aside from some early morning turkey calls.

I came through loop 1 just a few minutes after my goal time of 4:30, feeling pretty good, though perhaps a bit behind on nutrition. I stopped at the start/finish long enough to change socks and remove all the sand from between my toes. It was nearing 5 a.m. and the sun would be up soon. I left my wool shirt and hat behind, and grabbed my running hat and sunglasses, thinking it might get a little warm when the sun came up. I held onto my wool armwarmers, figuring they would keep me warm if there was some rain. Everything felt pretty good as I headed back out onto loop 2.

I passed Arika and Jeremy, who were running the 100 mile, at the end of my first loop.  They had been running together all day and night, and Travis, who had come to pace Arika for a loop along with his wife Steph, had now decided to pace Jeremy for a second loop, his fifth. Todd was pacing Arika on her fifth loop, and I once again overtook the four of them heading out on my second loop.  They were all in good spirits and moving well.  I enjoyed their company for a little while before running ahead.

Around 5:45 am, it started to rain -- lightly, then moderately. I put my wool armwarmers on and felt fine. Hey, if this keeps up, the sandy section won't be quite as... sandy, right? The sun rose and the trail lightened up enough I could turn off my headlamp. The sky was pretty gloomy, but day had come.  As I climbed yet another hill heading to AS 2/3, I felt a little dissociated or light headed. Was it an electrolyte problem? Not enough calories? Or just my internal clock getting wise to the fact that we'd started running at midnight? I wasn't sure, but I felt better after some more food and a little coffee at the aid station. It was great to see Friday's daytime AS 2/3 crew back in action. Hello, John and Lin!
Cloudy view from the first ridge, down to the campsite/start/finish.
Photo credit: Janet Gray
As I ran the Picnic Rock/sand coulee section for the second time, I noticed the beginning of a little pain in my left knee. Oddly, not my medial knee, where it had been hurting for the last five weeks, but the lateral side. What the heck?! I never have IT band problems. I began to plot a stop at my car to use the foam roller before my next lap. Back at AS 2/3, I stopped and stretched, which helped a bit.

The rain was definitely picking up now, and was harder to ignore. I heard a distant roll of thunder as I prepared to head out to the ridge climb, and asked John, "What's the official party line on climbing the ridge during a thunderstorm?" He replied, helpfully, "Stand next to someone taller than you."

Well, I hoped I could get across the ridge before anything really bad hit. I headed out, probably around 8 am. Heading up to the ridge, the rain was picking up more and more, and by the time it leveled out, it was pouring rain. I could see lightning flashes now, and the thunder was rolling and clapping. I counted seconds between lightning and thunder: seven, then five, then three. There was tree cover along the ridge but it was definitely the highest point for several miles around. I decided there was nothing better to do than to keep on running. I didn't think it was very likely I would get struck by lightning, but it wasn't entirely out of the question.

Much of the trail along this section is singletrack that's worn into the ground, forming a trench. It quickly filled with water. I heard later that there was a hailstorm at the start/finish area. I abandoned any hope of keeping my feet wet and splashed on, booking surprisingly good time across the ridge as the wind picked up and the rain pounded down.

Ant Hill was transformed into a lively creek bed/waterfall and I slid and skidded down the mud, trying to avoid the big rocks. The rain had saturated my hat and I could feel cold water seeping into my hair. It was still pouring down rain and I couldn't help but laugh at just how rainy and wet and ridiculous things had gotten.
Pretty representative of the trail after the rainstorm.
Photo credit: Janet Gray
I breathed a sigh of relief at the bottom of Ant Hill, then laughed again as the water came over the tops of my shoes and up my ankles, heading onto the gravel road. The rain was still pounding down hard enough that you couldn't see very far down the road. My left knee was hurting more now; I'm sure my fast ridge run and descent didn't help whatever was going on there.  No matter; I was going to run as much of it as I could, because I was getting cold.

I shambled down the gravel road, with visions of Aid Station 1/4, shelter and hot food drawing me along. I overtook Jeff, another 50 miler, as I went. "I think I'm dropping," I told him. I'd been thinking it over since the bottom of Ant Hill. The combination of worsening knee pain and increasing hypothermia was not looking like a winner. "I am too," he told me. We walked, then ran together into the aid station.

I stopped long enough for a few cups of hot broth and a conversation with the irrepressible Julio, who had volunteered all day Friday and all day Saturday and was fixing a steady stream of cold, wet, underdressed runners. I was shivering pretty hard and just wanted to get to the finish line where my dry clothes were. It's only 2.7 miles to the finish, on easy runnable trails, I told myself. Let's go.

It was a long, long 2.7 miles. I was shivering hard and my right hip flexor went into painful spasm, I think from the shivering. I've been that cold before, but never for that long. My hands were very cold and surprisingly swollen. I tried to think of what to do. Move as fast as I could, but that wasn't particularly fast. Eat more. I could do that. I downed two gels and and a couple of date rolls. Keep moving. Try not to get worried.

I kept going and going, through ankle-deep puddles when I had to, through mud when possible. Am I still on the trail? I backtracked and, yup, there was a marker. Keep going. Onto the singletrack. Keep going. Onto the road. Must be close now. Finally, the turn into the campground and the finish line. Run it in. I completed loop 2, 33.4 miles total, in 9:56.
I look good for someone who was freezing.
Photo credit: Jake Haugen
Lisa and Christie met me just past the timing mat. "How are you feeling?" "Really cold," I answered, heading straight for my drop bag. I pulled on a wool hat and fumbled my drenched armwarmers off, then was stymied trying to get my fleece coat on. My wet arms and swollen hands were stuck in the sleeves. Oh well, it was partly on. At some point, I said, "I'm dropping." I must have looked bad, because Lisa immediately said, "I'll take your number over." I think she was worried I'd change my mind and try to go back out! Christie got me a cup of soup, then gathered my drop bag (I'd kind of scattered the contents) and walked me to my tent and car, where my dry clothes were.

After an extremely shivery clothing change, I gradually started feeling human again. I was very grateful that although my tent had leaked a bit in the storm, my pants and shoes were still dry and I had spare socks and a several dry wool shirts (including the one I had left in my drop bag instead of carrying on the second loop. Would it have saved my race? I don't think so, but it would have helped. Lesson learned). Suddenly, I was starving.  I drove the 300 yards back to the start/finish with the heat blasting, and stood by the bonfire for a long time, leaving only long enough to retrieve successive cups of coffee and a massive bacon-and-egg quesadilla.  BJ, who volunteered at the finish line, cooked 100 pounds of bacon that morning, and may have saved a few people with his bacon-and-egg quesadillas. Thanks!

It took 45 minutes to stop shivering. The rain had stopped, but it was still cool, probably in the low 40s, and breezy. Runners from the 100, 50, and 17 mile were finishing. Most of them were very wet, and some were very cold. Arika and Todd came in from her fifth loop and she was very cold, shivering and wet. Four of us converged on her, bundling her into a chair by the bonfire with a coat, a space blanket, a hot drink, and a dry hat. She got into her van, blasted the heat, and eventually warmed up, but had to drop, after running an incredible 84 miles. There were a lot of people dropping after the thunderstorm. I think the 100 mile had 15 finishers out of 56 starts -- a brutal attrition rate.

I wish we'd all had the race we set out to have. But for me, there's no question I made the right call dropping. Even in a change of dry clothes, after a meal and a hot drink, I think I would have been endangering myself (and maybe others) by going back out. By quitting when I did, I think I'm setting myself up to have a great remainder of the season, instead of incurring a season ending injury my first race of the year.

Even though I didn't complete my race, I loved this event. It's the first big local trail race of the year, and so many of my trail friends were there, either running, volunteering, crewing, or cheering. It's like Woodstock for trail runners -- complete with rain, and even better, with bacon! So many people went beyond their ordinary limits. The runners, of course, but the pacers too, like Travis, who ran 17 extra miles with Jeremy and helped him finish his first hundred, and Todd, who cleared and marked the course on Wednesday and Thursday, photographed the race all day Friday, then saw Arika through the thunderstorm and safely back to the finish. And volunteers, like Julio and John, who worked two full days. And Lisa and Shanon and Christie, who worked overtime in the medical tent, keeping everyone out of the hospital. And race directors John and Cherie, who worked for weeks to pull this off. John stood at the finish line and personally announced and gave finisher's medals to everyone who finished, and just radiated joy while doing it. You could tell, watching him, that everything leading up to this race was worth it for moments like that.

Thanks, everyone, for an amazing weekend. Thanks for the lessons of love, and selflessness, and humility, and joy, and going beyond what you think you can. I can't wait to do it all again. I can't wait to see what's to come.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Zumbro 50: Going big, taking chances

So, um, a couple of weeks ago, this happened:
Yikes?
Zumbro has been on my mind a lot this winter. It's a mid-April trail race held at the Zumbro River Bottoms on 17 miles of trail that climb and descend the river bluffs and wind through the woods and stream beds of southeast Minnesota. There's a 17 mile (where I broke my elbow last year), a 50 mile (3 loops, midnight start), and a 100 mile (6 loops). It's a Rocksteady Running event, so it's well organized, well supported, and has great volunteers.

My plan for the spring was to do the 17 mile again, a half marathon with my mother two weeks later, then the Spring Superior 50K. Very reasonable buildup to a 50K, and that way I could volunteer during the first day of the Zumbro 100. If all went well, I'd do Voyageur 50 mile this summer, or the Fall Superior 50. Plenty of time to build and train.

But there was a problem. I felt a little too good after Wild Duluth last fall. Then, my long runs this winter felt really good. Great, really. And I started to feel like... I could do more?
A great snowy Saturday run!
Maybe I could pace a 100-miler. Two loops on the course would be just about perfect! I brought it up on the Upper Midwest Trail Runners Facebook page.
The response, especially once I mentioned the 50 miler, was (in hindsight) entirely predictable:
Thanks, guys. Thanks a lot.
I tried to be reasonable. My trail-running friends were not impressed.
If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you?
Peer pressure wasn't going to sign me up for my first 50 miler... but it did start me thinking about it again. Could I train for the 50?

I looked over a lot of 50 mile training plans... again. (I had found them all immediately after Wild Duluth, you see). I quizzed friends who have run 50 milers and asked my fellow Manic Runday-ers and INKnBURN amabassadors about their training secrets. And decided to start running a little longer on my weekends... just in case.

My long runs kept going well. The Frozen River Run went well. Lifting was going well. I was consistently running longer and better than I ever had. Last weekend, I ran over 6 hours on Saturday, then another 2 the next day... and aside from some knee pain in the last mile and a half on Sunday, I couldn't believe how good I felt.
Look at all those crazy people. Love running with this group.
Eventually, I decided to trust in what my ultrafriends have told me: although running 50K, or 50 miles, or 100 miles, requires strong legs and core and lungs and heart... it mostly requires a strong mind. And that if I head into this race determined to finish no matter what happens, I will finish it.

Who knew that filling out a form on the computer and clicking "submit" was an act of courage? It was for me. I hope to go into this with curiosity, excitement, and acceptance that unexpected things will happen along the way. I hope to see and hear and feel and learn something new. I think something happens to your mind when you run long, something that changes you. I think this will change me. I can't wait to see how it all works out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Things I learned while weight training

So I've been lifting consistently (and heavy) for about four months now, ever since finishing up my trail running season. I've lifted weights before, but this has been my first experience with Olympic weight lifting, and the first time I've lifted with friends, consistently, for many weeks. It's been a great experience, and a fun new set of skills to build during a winter that just won't quit.

I learned the basics of weight training way back in high school, when my physical education class sandwiched a shockingly well thought out weight room unit right in between the usual flag football and softball. One of the rare useful things I learned in P.E. was how to track weights, sets, and reps, and how to use machines and free weights.

This time around, though, I've been learning some new, valuable things. Here are six of them.

1. I lift more with friends.

Started with the bare bar.
But then I did them with more weight... and a spotter.

When I'm lifting by myself, I'll choose a manageable weight and go, maybe adding another few pounds for each set. When I'm lifting with friends, I can't get away with staying in my comfort zone like this. "Want to try some more weight? I'll spot you!" said Kathy, the day we were doing thrusters.
This is Kathy. Denise is in the background. They're STRONG.
Another week, I was happily lifting 160 pounds on the leg press when Denise came over. "You know," she said solicitously, "I can do 200 on that. And you have strong legs. You should give it a try." Well, okay. I loaded on a few of those ridiculously huge 45-pound plates and gave it a try. I couldn't do 20 in a row, but I could do four sets of five.

2. Fifteen is more than ten.
Shoot! Was that 13 or 14? Kathy, are you counting?!
Hmm, definitely felt like 14. Or  maybe 15...
Shocking, right? But before now, 90% of my weight training was sets of 10, rest, another set of 10. It sounds funny to say it for something that only takes a few seconds more, but getting to 15 (or, heaven forbid, 20!) takes endurance. Varying the length of my sets has introduced a new dimension into my lifting. It's hard to say which is harder, six sets of 10 (adding weight each set) or three sets of 20... but I can definitely say that they're each hard in a different way.

3. When lifting free weights, good form trumps heavy weight.
Still working on the perfect back squat, at any weight.
Weight machines are very forgiving of wonky form and limited flexibility. Free weights, particularly Olympic weights, not so much. Using the correct form requires a surprising amount of flexibility, balance, and concentration. All those mirrors in the free weight area at the gym suddenly make sense! They're not just for narcissistic hardbodied guys to flex at each other without making eye contact, after all -- they're giving critical feedback!

4. Strong comes in many shapes.
This is Kathy. She is very strong.
She lifts heavier than anyone else I lift with.
She says, "I don't do fast, and I don't do graceful.
But I can do strong."
I'm kind of tall and gangly. (I used to think of myself as awkward, but I don't any more.) And strong. Kathy's solid and strong. Denise (in the first picture background) is compact and very strong. Sally, who's not in these pictures, is taller, like me, and strong. Strong comes in a lot of shapes, and it comes from consistency, and focus, and the drive to keep trying and getting stronger.

5. Stealth core is good, but specific core is even better.
Weights + Whole30 = abs!
Okay, I confess: I'm a plank hater. Yeah, I can do them, but they're not, you know, fun. In fact, when I broke my elbow, I joked that the only upside was that I got a several month break from having to do planks.

So I love any workout that provides me with some "stealth core" -- core work that doesn't feel like doing planks. Yoga, kettlebells, Olympic weights -- all of them are pretty good for this.

Turns out, though, that doing actual core work? Even better. One week in three I do a core circuit: bar sit-ups, incline sit-ups, back and side extensions, leg lifts, cable extensions. I sit around in my office the rest of the day waiting for the DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) to strike, then creak around for the next three days complaining about my aching muscles. And darned if I'm not getting a stronger core.

6. If you lift with a labor coach...
Come on! You can do anything for 30 seconds!
Okay, one more story to finish out. I did inclined sit-ups with Mary one day in January. She's an obstetrician. She coached, cajoled, and cheered me on through my third and fourth sets of 15 sit-ups, adding weight each time, to a point far beyond what I could  have done alone. The last set was an absolute struggle... but I got it done. And promptly collapsed back on the bench while she joked, "Congratulations! It's a girl!"

Normally, my abs are tired after a core circuit day. The muscles ache for a day, maybe three, then get better. After that set of sit-ups? I had sore abs for eight days. If you lift with a labor coach, you might end up with a harder lift that you thought you were capable of doing. Thanks, Mary! (I think?)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Race report: Full Moon Frozen River Run 2014

Ever since reading Joel Button's account of last year's Full Moon Frozen River Run, I knew I wanted to come along on this year's outing. A loosely organized, moonlit, nighttime group run on the frozen St. Croix river sounded pretty awesome, and seemed like a great introduction to nighttime running. Joel's emails promised 12-16 miles of scenic running, with four hours of aid station support and a potluck afterwards. Free! It's been plenty cold this winter, ensuring good ice on the river, but the really cold weather broke for us just in time: the forecast was for 19 degrees (ABOVE zero!) with light wind.

Since I wanted some more miles for the day, I started my Saturday out bright and early with a nice easy 2 hour trail run with Stephanie, who's training for the Spring Superior 25K. The singletrack bike trail at Theodore Wirth was in great condition and we got a nice 7-ish miles in the chilly, clear morning air and wrapped up by 8:30 am.
Sunrise: Worth getting up for!
Check out the ice lashes!
I headed home (by way of breakfast) and spent the day doing ordinary Saturday things -- hanging out with boys, grocery shopping, the usual -- and took a two hour nap after lunch. (Which was, by the way, AWESOME). Kids are getting over a cold, so we had dinner around 5:30, did the usual bath-storytime-bed routine, and everyone was asleep by 7. I changed back into running gear (minus a few layers, since it was now a good 15 degrees warmer), gathered inordinate amounts of snacks, spare clothes, coffee, headlamp, and other running junk, and hit the road for Stillwater.

By the time I reached Joel's office at 8:15, there was already a good crowd there, gathering for the 8:30 run briefing and 9 pm start. We signed waivers and loaded the table with potluck treats. It was great to see lots of trail friends there -- Janet, Mike, Pam, Shannon, Julio, and lots of others. Last year's run had 15 participants, but this year there were about 38!

The briefing covered the route -- 3 miles south, then back to the aid station on the riverbank, then 2.5-5 miles north and back. It covered the wind direction (blowing from the north, take it easy on the first part because you'll be coming back into the wind). And it covered the "trail" conditions. Which were, he warned us, challenging. We would be following snowmobile tracks on the frozen, snow-covered river, but there was fresh, unpacked snow, and it was lightly crusted. Joel's email from a few days before had warned: "The most difficult part is punching through the snow unexpectedly, like riding a trike with one wheel the shape of an egg and the other the shape of a triangle."
Joel (in the center), giving a pre-run briefing.
With a few more words of advice and wisdom (check in and back out at the aid station, don't get lost in the river channels), we were off. First to the aid station, staffed by fantastic volunteers right on the riverbank, complete with bonfire, tent, and a propane stove with two kinds of hot soup. And then, off and running!
Heading toward the lift bridge
 We crossed the lift bridge (welcome to Wisconsin!) and immediately descended onto the river. It was very quickly clear that this was going to be some difficult running. There was a snowmobile track, but it hadn't been used heavily. Much of the trail looked like this:
The view, for much of the run!
 The snow varied in depth in most places from 4 to 8 inches. It was lightly crusted over, so if you ran an unbroken section, about one step in three you'd be on top of the snow, then you'd break through. If you went in other people's tracks, it was like running in 4-8 inches of mashed potatoes. But it was a nice temperature, the wind was at our backs, my gaiters and the cool temperatures kept my feet dry, and by throttling my run down to a slow trot, I found a sustainable pace.
Lights across the river in Stillwater
Janet and I ran together and quickly found ourselves bringing up the back of the pack. No worries, we were both comfortable at our pace and pretty sure at least a few of the people who had taken off faster would come back to us. We trotted along past the pilings for the new bridge (giant concrete cylinders rising from the river), and past the lighted power plant (I think?) on the Minnesota side. A couple of miles in, we overtook Mike and Anjanette. Mike and I pulled ahead and caught up as we ran -- we met at last spring's Superior 50K and did a lot of the same races last year, but hadn't run together since the Turkey Trot.

About 60 minutes into the run, we reached the turnaround a little more than 3 miles in, at a pavilion on a little peninsula.
Jacket off, red cheeks, having a good time!
Anjanette, Janet, and Mike at the turnaround
We started back, now heading into the wind. But thanks to some advice from Joel, we got onto a slightly better track closer to the Wisconsin shore, and made decent time heading back. Janet and Anjanette walked a fair bit of the return trip. I pulled a little ahead of Mike and was back at the aid station in about 1:45.

The awesome volunteers checked me in, fed me soup, and thawed out and refilled my frozen water bottle. Lots of people had recently gotten into the aid station. Many were calling it a day, surprised by the difficult trail conditions. (I think about 15 people went out again after the southern out-and-back). A runner just ahead of my looked at his GPS, laughed, and exclaimed, "753 calories? I don't think so!"

The potluck party was getting rolling up in Joel's office. The bonfire was warm and smoky. Someone asked me, "What about you? Are you going back out?" I didn't really have to think hard about it. I had come here to run! I was a little tired, and it was hard, but hey, nothing felt injured. I'd made time to do this. I wanted this run. Yes, of course I was going back out.

A group, including Joel, was heading north as far as the ice falls at mile 2.5 and offered to wait for me, but I wasn't sure how much time I was going to take. Janet and Anjanette got in and decided they were done, but Mike was up for more, once he got his snowshoes out of his car. It was actually great snowshoe conditions, with the crust of snow.

I switched to a heavier jacket and a volunteer gave me some handwarmers. Mike and I started back out. I forgot to check my watch, but it was probably 11 pm. We headed up the river, passing under the lift bridge (the only place I saw bare ice) and past town. We chatted and watched a little constellation of headlamps heading toward us, from the far distance. A group of seven or so fast runners on snowshoes were returning. Mike decided to head back with them. I looked at my watch, saw that we'd been out for 15 minutes, and decided to keep going. I came here to run! "See you back at the office!" I said. "I'll buy you a beer!" he offered.

I kept heading north, alone now. It was nice. The wind was still in my face but I was warm now from moving along, and the snow was better going this way -- a runnable crust in many sections. I followed the snowshoe tracks and passed a few other returning runners. I kept on eating (I had a Picky Bar, a gel, a Larabar, and some soup, all told) and drinking. I looked at my watch and decided I'd turn around at 11:50.

Right around then, a returning runner pointed out some lights ahead and told me, "That's Joel's group up ahead by the ice falls. He's waiting for you!" Well, okay, then. The ice falls it is! I picked up the pace and met up with Joel as the rest of his group started back.

"I'm so glad you made it!" he said. "Do you want to see the falls?" I'd come this far; of course I did. We plunged off the track into knee-deep, unpacked and untrodden snow. We crossed a small channel island and a channel, and clambered up on the Wisconsin shore to the base of the 60-foot, frozen waterfall cascading off the steep bluffs. Beautiful.

We turned around and started back. We were the last ones out on the river, and we'd been out for three hours now. It was a slow return trip, walking and jogging, hunting around for the best track. It was great to talk to Joel, in the dark, about racing plans, training, balance with family, seasons of life... we were getting tired, but the time went clicking by and soon we were back under the bridge, retrieving the lamp that marked the route across the river, and heading back to the aid station. We pulled in at about 12:50.

I made my way back up to the office, where a dozen runners were still hanging out, eating, drinking and thawing out. Suddenly, I was starving, and my back was achy, and, come to think of it, so were my ankles and hips. And my shoes, socks, and gaiters were soaked. Yikes! It was like I'd just spend four hours swimming through ankle-deep mashed potatoes. Or snow. A baked sweet potato hit the spot, and so did sitting down and talking with Mike, Janet, Pam, and the others who'd gotten back before me. According to friends with GPSs, I had run about 11 miles. It wasn't fast, but I got my 4 hours' worth!

The next day, I was surprised to feel fine. No aches, no deep fatigue, and after another afternoon nap yesterday, I felt pretty close to normal.

What a cool run, with a great group of people. Huge thanks to Joel for organizing it, Kyle for helping, the aid station volunteers for running an awesome operation, Mike for running with me and helping clean up, and Janet and Anjanette for running with grit and determination. And especially thanks for Joel for waiting for me at the frozen falls, and keeping me company on the return trip. Great to get to know you better. Can't wait for next year's fun!
Random selfie from today's snowy run, back in Minneapolis!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Whole30, days 20-30! Slow cooker Italian roast pork recipe.

It's day 30 of the Whole30! I'll do a big wrap-up post shortly, but wanted to get a post up about what I've been eating. My rate of posting has slowed as what we do becomes the "new normal". It's no longer a big deal to cook this way for us. We're both feeling pretty great (though ready for some warmer weather, sheesh, it's been cold here this January!) and will continue to cook this way going forward (as we did before this), easing a few rules along the way. It'll be nice to add white potatoes back into the mix, and sausage (and bacon!) with added sugar, and -- dare I say it? -- beer. But as a template for how to eat, I think this one works well for us.

The last Whole30 roundup!

Friday (day 19), continued:
Dinner: Roasted chicken, sweet potato, cauliflower.

Saturday (day 20):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
During the run: Two Larabars.
Post-run: Seward Cafe: 3 egg omelet with olives, mushrooms, and broccoli, with tahini and jalapeno salsa. Side of grilled carrots. Black coffee.
Lunch: A big salad with lettuce, grilled chicken, baked sweet potato, grated carrot, half an avocado, roasted golden beets, and balsamic-sundried tomato dressing.
Pretty awesome.
Dinner: Polar Vortex Chili, with roasted butternut squash and avocado.
Wow.

Sunday (day 21):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-run: Carrots and jicama sauteed in coconut oil with onion, a fried egg. Black coffee.
Midmorning: A few dates (I was hungry at church!)
Lunch: Polar Vortex Chili with squash and avocado.
Dinner: Out with friends to the Seward Cafe! My usual omelet, this time with mushrooms, kalamata olives, and carrots, tahini and jalapeno salsa, and a side of broccoli. Also had a piece of sausage. At home, still hungry, so a little more Polar Vortex Chili. Dang, was it good.

Monday (day 22):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-workout: Baked sweet potato, small handful of trail mix (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins). Black coffee.
Lunch: Tuna salad with green beans and roasted yellow pepper. Salad with spinach, radish sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Midafternoon: A little more trail mix, a few dried figs.
Dinner: Polar Vortex Chili, one last time! I'll miss it.

Tuesday (day 23):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-workout: Baked sweet potato, two hard boiled eggs. Black coffee.
Lunch: Tuna salad with green beans and roasted yellow pepper. Salad with spinach, radish sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Midafternoon: A little more trail mix, a few dried figs.
Dinner: Roasted chicken legs, green beans with olive oil and salt.

Wednesday (day 24):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-workout: Baked sweet potato, hard boiled egg.
Lunch: A banana, and then Seward Cafe. 3 egg omelet with olives, kale, and mushrooms, with tahini and jalapeno salsa. Side of broccoli. Black coffee.
Midafternoon: Salad with spinach, radish sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. An apple. A few pistachio nuts.
Dinner: Slow-cooker Italian roast pork and broccoli. Whoa, this was pretty amazing. The roast pork recipe came from this site, via my brother-in-law, who made it for us over Christmas. We obviously skipped the bread and provolone cheese, and instead had it with steamed broccoli and lots of the pan juices. It was juicy, tender, and unbelievably flavorful.
Wow, this was amazing.

Slow Cooker Italian Roast Pork (adapted from food.com) (Serves 6-8 hungry people)

2.5 - 3 pound pork shoulder (or other large inexpensive cut of pork; chicken would probably be amazing here too. Bone in is fine)
3 Tbsp garlic, minced
2.5 Tbsp rosemary (fresh if available), minced
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

If the pork shoulder is trussed or in netting, remove it. Score the meat in thick areas.
Combine the garlic, rosemary, parsley, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a bowl. Rub it onto all exposed surfaces of the pork shoulder (and into the scores if you cut them). If the shoulder came rolled or trussed, you can re-roll/truss it now.
Place the shoulder in a slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 20 minutes, then on LOW for 3-4 hours, or until meat is very tender and falling apart.
Remove the pork from the cooker and remove the truss (if you used it). Shred the pork with two forks and return it to its juices.
Serve with sauteed broccoli or garlicky greens

Thursday (day 25):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-run: Seward Co-op! Roasted butternut squash, chicken, olives, grated beets. Black coffee.
So pretty!
Lunch: Tuna salad with green beans and roasted yellow pepper. Salad with spinach, radish sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Dinner: Italian pork, broccoli, sweet potatoes

Friday (day 26):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-workout: Seward Cafe: 2 egg omelet with olives, kale, and carrots, with tahini and jalapeno salsa. Black coffee.
Lunch: Tuna salad with green beans and roasted yellow pepper. Salad with spinach, radish sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Dinner: Roasted chicken, cauliflower, sweet potatoes

Saturday (day 27):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
During the run: Two Larabars and a handful of dates.
Post-run: Seward Cafe: 3 egg omelet with olives, mushrooms, and broccoli, with tahini and jalapeno salsa. Side of grilled carrots. Black coffee.
Lunch: A big salad with lettuce, warn Italian Pork, bean sprouts, half an avocado, pan juices, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Yeah, the pork was good this way, too.
Dinner: Braised cabbage with sausage. We used green cabbage this time and it didn't turn things purple. Winning!

Sunday (day 28):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-run: Paleo Diner Hash variant with sweet potatoes, squash, and cauliflower. A fried egg. Coffee with coconut milk and a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa.
I ended up eating about twice this much hash. It was awesome!
Lunch: Zoodles and meat sauce (ground beef, onion, garlic, a little jalapeno pepper, tomatoes, oregano, basil).
Snack: Coconut butter, a carrot, black coffee
Dinner: Roasted salmon, pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, steamed Hakurei turnips.
The turnips didn't taste like much, but they were kind of pretty.

Monday (day 29):
Breakfast: 3 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, leftover turnips, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-workout: Seward Coop salad bar raid: Chicken, roasted beets, sunflower seeds, olives, sprouts, with a little olive oil and vinegar. Black coffee.
Lunch: Tuna salad with green beans and roasted yellow pepper. Salad with spinach, bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, leftover turnips, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Dinner: Chicken mulligatawny-ish soup. I made a massive pot of chicken stock on Sunday out of saved chicken bones and some chicken backs and necks. Pulled about a pound of meat off the bones. The husband added roasted butternut squash and a lot of curry powder, then blended it with the immersion blender. He then added pearl onions, carrot, broccoli, and green beans. We finished it with a little apple cider vinegar. It was a little random but pretty tasty! I had a sweet potato in mine.

Tuesday (day 30!):
Breakfast: A little leftover chicken soup. 2 egg omelet with kale and jalapenos cooked in ghee, butternut squash, black coffee.
Post-workout: Baked sweet potato, trail mix with sunflower seeds, pepitas, and raisins. Black coffee.
Lunch: Tuna salad with green beans and roasted yellow pepper. Salad with spinach, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, 1/2 an avocado, roasted yellow pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Planned dinner tonight will be Well Fed's Chocolate Chili!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Whole30 Recipe: A Chili mighty enough for the Polar Vortex

So it's late January, in Minnesota. Which is to say, cold. And lately, not just garden variety, January-in-Minnesota cold, but polar-vortex, closing-the-schools-so-kids-don't-freeze-to-death-at-the-bus-stop cold.
COLD. (From the earlier polar vortex 3 weeks ago).
It's not stopping us from getting outside on days when the mercury makes it past zero, and the abundant snow and consistent cold mean we can have old-fashioned Minnesota winter fun on warmer days. We've been skating...
(also, photobombing)
We've built snow forts and tunnels...
Three seconds later: "AAAGH! There's snow down my neck!!!"
 And the trail running has been truly magnificent.
Getting to Lebanon Hills last weekend at 6 am in 4" of fresh snow was a little sporty, but SO WORTH IT.
Great day for a run!
All the same, on days like today, when the wake-up temp was -15 (-35 windchill) and the HIGH is -8, it's stinkin' cold.

Puts me in the mood for chili. A massive pot of spicy, meaty, rich goodness that gets better every day you reheat it? Epic winter win. It's Whole30 compliant, too, if you use W30-friendly sausage and water or stock instead of wine.

This recipe was originally given to me 25 years ago (damn, I'm old) by a family friend, who swore it was a secret family recipe he'd never before shared. I later found an extremely similar recipe -- just a few minor changes -- in one of the Silver Palate cookbooks, where it's called "Jalapeno Chili." We call it "JM Chili", after my friend who gave me the recipe. It's very meaty, quite spicy if you use all the jalapenos (omit some or all if you don't want that, don't remove the seeds if you want more spicy), and makes a huge batch to last you for many days, or a big party. Divide everything in half if you don't need a lifetime supply, or freeze half of it.


Polar Vortex Chili (serves about 12-16)


1 lb hot Italian sausage, casing removed
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs ground beef
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
2 red bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1/3-1/2 lb jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch dice
3 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup dry red wine (or water, or chicken stock)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup minced fresh parsley
6 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried basil, crumbled
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
4 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 can ripe black olives, halved
2 lbs fresh Italian plum tomatoes, quartered (or use another 28 ounce can -- not quite as good but still very decent)

Serve with:
Chopped avocado
Chopped green onion
Baked sweet potatoes or roasted winter squash
A big green salad

In a large pot, put in the sausages and cook over medium high heat, mashing them up into bite sized pieces, till they're starting to brown. Add the onion and the ground beef and cook till all the water has cooked off and things are starting to brown and sizzle, about 15 min.
Sausage...
... plus ground beef and onions.
Starting to smell good.
 Add the garlic and peppers and cook another 10 min or so.
Peppers!
That's a lot of jalapenos.
I almost forgot the garlic, but remembered in time to throw it in.
Add the canned tomatoes, wine/water, tomato paste, and herbs and spices. Bring it to a boil, then simmer uncovered for at least 10 minutes.
This will seem like a LOT of spices. Go with it.
Starting to look like chili!
At this point, you can put the whole thing in the fridge (or out on the unheated porch, if it's cold enough) overnight, and it's even better upon reheating. But if you want to eat it today, simmer it slowly for at least 30 more min. When it's getting close to dinner time, reheat it (if needed) add the olives and fresh tomatoes, and cook another 10 minutes.
Olives and fresh tomatoes as a finishing touch.
Serve with avocado and green onion as toppings.
I ate mine on top of roasted butternut squash, with avocado. SO GOOD.