Monday, January 21, 2013

First DNS

DNS - Did not start

I always wanted to be a runner even when my body physically wasn't capable of it. Being known as a runner was a lifestyle that I wait...had to have. I couldn't run more than a mile at first without burning lungs and legs forcing me to halt before I felt like I even started. I spent six months strengthening my body and tuning into the world of running. When I crossed my first finish line at the Kilimanjaro Marathon, I was not only just a runner...I was a finisher.

Since then it's been the same. I finish races. I have never signed up for a race I could not handle. Sure I'm often at the back of the pack on the longer beasts, but I finish. Whether it be running through pregnancy, running from trail demons, or neglecting to train seriously, I still finish (and do so uninjured might I add). I don't always do the right things along the way, but I'm constantly learning what my body can and can't do, and the journey so far has been incredible. I've stepped up to start lines wondering if I was really gonna be able to get to the finish line but come January 19th something happened at the San Diego Trail Marathon that has never happened to me before.

I never started.

I managed a full recovery from an exhaustive go at Tuscobia and have been feeling pretty fantastic for the past two weeks. Although I was tired from the flight just 19 hours before race start I was feeling quite chipper. Then I started feeling "funny" and before long my appetite went from ferocious to zip and soon I had waves of nausea crash over me. The following few hours I only got worse. Just two evenings prior my daughter had been ill with some unknown 24-hour virus that emergency room staff could not figure out. Strep - negative. Influenza - negative. I'm certain I was getting nailed with the same thing. 

Chills. Sweats. Nausea. Dry heaving. Aversion to food and food smells. Body aches and headache. Not exactly my ideal physical condition walking up to the start line. 

I ended up going to race start but did not run. I collected my bib and am hoping to be able to run the course unofficially before I leave back for home in a few days. I did a test 3'ish mile run on Sunday after I felt much better; however, I did not fare well. I will never know if I could have finished the marathon on Saturday, but I do know it would have been terribly risky and I would have been flat out miserable. My first finish line was in 2008 and back then I felt an intense need to prove myself (I'm pretty sure the tears at the end of that race prove that). Now in 2013, I have nothing to prove. And you know what? I'm 100% okay with a DNS on my record.

It is what it is!

Revival run on Sunday - not marathon ready yet

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Great Plank Challenge

My story
During the 2nd trimester of my pregnancy I suffered diastasis recti, a split in the rectus abdominal muscles (a.k.a. the 6-pack). Hold your middle 3 fingers together and place them vertically above your navel. That plus a little more is how separated my abs had become. For the remainder of my pregnancy I was instructed not to flex my core because doing so could cause the split to widen. After giving birth I was then advised to only follow the prescribed therapeutic core exercises until that gap was closed. Performing certain exercises, like crunches, risked the separation becoming permanent. It took almost 6 months to close the gap. I didn’t time my first plank postpartum, but I do remember it was only seconds long.

The Great Plank Challenge
Recently a friendly plank competition started between my friend, Molly, and I. In just a few weeks I’ve reached numbers I’ve never hit before.  When we realized our little “max plank war” was inspiring others we started The Great Plank Challenge on Facebook. The current group record, held by Molly herself, is 6:30, and anyone, anywhere is welcome to join in! In just a few short days we are up to 28 members and growing. One of our group members had this to say on dailymile: “I joined The Great Plank Challenge on FB. I am a newbie to planks. But after running 7 today I made it through to my best time yet.” It’s incredible seeing so many people post their PRs, some as plank rookies and some from people who haven’t planked in a very long time. All those PRs inspired me to write this guide so that they can continue on their journey and keep posting higher and higher PRs!

What is the core?
Your core is the center of your body and is where stability and power originates so you can perform essential, daily functions such as standing and walking.  Some of the muscles involved are the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, and muscles of the back such as the erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, paraspinals and the psoas major.

Planking is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, way to strengthen all the muscles of the core. According to LIVESTRONG, a stronger core can “reduce the chances of spinal injuries and lower back pain, improve athletic performance, result in better balance and coordination” and assist you in achieving a toned look of your abs and backside.

Many have asked why can’t they just do a bunch of crunches? Won’t that achieve the same thing?
Here’s why…

So…how did I go from a 30-second plank to over 6 minutes???

With just a few minutes of commitment a day you will impress yourself with how long you can go. Planks have never been the bulk of my fitness program, and they shouldn’t be yours either. Instead use them to compliment a cardio and strength training program for overall health and fitness.

I treat planks with the same approach as I do marathon training. If you want to be able to run 26.2 miles, would you start with 20 miles, 5 days a week? No, of course not! You would start with shorter runs a few days a week, with a long run of, say, 6 miles once a week - then build that one long run per week up to 8, 10 miles, etc., until you’ve acquired the strength and stamina to go for 20+ miles. Your core muscles are like any other muscle and will fatigue quickly if overworked. Planking every day is fine (and something I enjoy doing) but you won’t be all-out maxing your effort every day. We need to respect our bodies by planking smart! 

Step 1: Your first plank
First off we need to learn proper isometric plank form. Here is a great video on how to execute a plank.
Image courtesy of
 Check yourself in a mirror or have a buddy spot you and correct you until you nail the form. It is a far more effective workout if the plank is performed correctly for 30 seconds vs. incorrectly for 3 minutes. Start it off right and I promise you’ll be increasing those digits in no time!!

Once you’re confident your form is right, perform a plank and hold as long as you possibly can in proper form until you are forced to drop down and remember this number. Whether it’s 20 seconds or 2 minutes it doesn’t matter because you are working on YOUR best time. Don't think you can manage pushing through the burn? Put on your favorite song to distract you. My favorite for plank work is "Try" by Pink.  You jotted down that number right? That number is what is referred to as your PR or personal record, and you’ll be using that number to customize your very own progressive plank plan.

Step 2: Your weekly plan
Now that you know your PR, pick a day of the week that you will be attempting your next PR. Because I tend to use weekends for long distance running I’ve picked Wednesday, but you can pick the day that works best for you. Before we look over the plan, don’t forget to stretch when you’re done! Lie flat on your back and extend your arms up over your head and stretch yourself out from fingertips to toes or try upward-facing dog. A tabata timer can be extremely helpful for timing the rotations, repetitions and vacuums.

§  Day 1: Rest or plank 50% PR (E.g. PR of 1:30 = 45 seconds, PR 3:00 = 1:30)
§  Day 2: Plank rotation, 3 sets or until forced drop (reverse, side, standard, side). Watch how here. Reverse plank can be performed straight armed as well according to comfort.
o   Level 1: 10 seconds each plank
o   Level 2: 30 seconds each plank
§  Day 3: 25% PR plank repetitions with 30 second rest drops, repeat x3 or until forced drop
(E.g. PR of 1:00 = 0:15 repetitions, PR 3:00 = 0:45, PR 6:00 = 1:30, etc.)
§  Day 4: Learn a new variation or perform your favorite variation – this day is purely for fun!
§  Day 5: Perform abdominal vacuum (see instructions below)
o   Level 1: Hold 15 seconds, release 15 seconds, repeat x4
o   Level 2: Hold 45 seconds, release 15 seconds, repeat x4
o   Level 3: Hold 1 minute, release 10 seconds, repeat x4
o   Variation: Try pulsing instead of holding
§  Day 6: Rest or plank 50% PR
§  Day 7: PR attempt: If you don’t PR that is OKAY. In the beginning you will likely experience many PRs followed by plateaus. The key is to keep at it and not give up! Remember how far you’ve come and how much easier it is getting. Have you noticed the shakiness occurring later and later? Is your breathing more relaxed and less labored? These are all signs of improved core strength. Keep planking! Your next PR is just around the corner!!

Abdominal vacuum
This move, also known as the stomach vacuum, activates your transverse abdominus which compresses the abdominal viscera (your internal organs). Think of it as a built in girdle. To execute the vacuum, stand upright and place one hand on stomach and one hand at the swell of your back, exhale all the air out of your lungs, completely. Expand your chest, and bring your stomach in as much as possible, and hold. Visualize your navel sinking into your backbone. Once mastered, this can be performed in variation from standing, kneeling, seated, or lying position. Get creative and try them at your desk at work, while you’re sitting still at a traffic light, while washing dishes…the possibilities are endless and you will be rewarded with a sleeker waist! And ladies, once you master this move you can double-up and perform Kegel exercises at the same time. This is a great postpartum exercise.

Planking with known injuries
We've had several people join TGPC who have had a varying history of injuries including those of the shoulders, back, knees, and ankles. Planking is a full body effort and many of these people reported that they felt too much pressure at the injury site. Some plankers dropped out of the challenge while a few still planked with obvious limitation. Some of the plankers were able to reach a PR. This is highly dependent on the individual and their specific injury and the amount of work involved! If you are wishing to plank with any injury I encourage you to discuss this with your care provider beforehand to avoid any potential for further injury. 

When you're ready to aim for double digits, head here.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Tuscobia Winter Ultramarathon: But what does it mean??

Term: Tuscobia [origin of place name]

Definition: From the American Indian word "tuscola" meaning "a level place". 
[Source: Milwaukee Sentinel, Aug. 29., 1939.]

I've never gone to a race and had strangers walk up to me knowing who I was (and not I'm not referring to the fact my name was scribbled so elegantly on my bib). What a bizarre feeling! Because of social sites like Facebook and dailymile I was connecting with racers before the big day and after just a few moments I was able to match the person before me to the person I knew online. It was surreal and very much like running Tuscobia was, my first (and last?) winter ultramarathon. According to Outside Online, it's the "slighty saner" winter ultramarathon so it can't be that bad, right?

At a Glance
Location: Tuscobia State Trail, 74-mile abandoned railroad grade trail in northern Wisconsin
Total Race Distance: 35 miles (although by the talk afterwards it might have been a smidge closer to 36)
Time to Finish: 9:45
Elevation Gain: Maybe 450 ft

Starting Temperature: About 22° F
Ending Temperature: About 17° F
Quotes of the Day: "Wow. How boring."
                             "But what does it mean?"
                             "I'm over it"

Toughening Up
The physical challenge of running on snow didn't worry me too much. I felt prepped enough from the sand running I did earlier in the year. Surprisingly for being utter extremes the two are similar in perceived effort. As long as my core and extremities were warm the burn from breathing in the chill never phased me. For the most part I feel like my training for this wasn't about mileage but learning how to layer. If I didn't dress warm enough I could freeze like I did at Kickapoo. Adversely if I dressed up too much I would end up sweating which could chill me to the bone. Learning what layers worked in order to keep me warm without provoking sweating proved a task but come race day I had layers tuned in for as low as 15 degrees and had run in temps as low as 11 degrees. Any lower and I would just have had to hope extra layers were enough.

Final Picks for Race Day
Winter hiking boots

Bra, merino wool socks and undies 
Outerlayer jacket (waterproof, wind-blocking, breathable)
Midlayer top (merino wool blend)
Pants (with a brushed interior)
Base layer (merino wool -- packed but not needed for this race)
Two water packs, one for undercoat with water, one for over coat with food/coconut water
Insulated water bottles for outer pack
Hat, wool mittens and water resistent mittens
Required safety gear: reflective vest, 2 flashing LED lights, headlamp
Salt capsules, chapstick

Race Start
For the first time in a very long time I arrived at a race early, way way too early. I had a whole hour to kill and although I was loving the late race start of noon, I was exhausted from tending to my sick daughter the days leading up to the race. Standing around killed what peppiness I had acquired from coffee. I soon found myself at a gas station buying a Mountain Dew just to stay awake but as soon as I returned the gang was leaving to climb onto the shuttle bus. Only one other time have I been shuttled from the finish to the start but that was merely a 10-minute shortcut across the route for the San Diego Marathon. We followed the trail, all 35 miles of it, to Ojibwa. It was best not to think how long the bus ride took knowing we had to make our own way back.

Off the bus and mingling I was fluttering to keep my core temp up. I wasn't gonna bunker down before hand like I did at Kickapoo. Thankfully there were great people to meet and by far the most organized chaotic start line I've been to yet.

Fellow BAMR and 2nd place female, Maggie
Photo Credit: Maggie's hubby
Photo Credit: Phillip Gary Smith
Pick Your Posion: Bike, ski, run or snowshoe
Miles 1-17
I must have been giddy over this race because I never did my self checks beforehand. You see, I hate sloshing. That rhythmic swish-glug-swish-glug coming behind me from my packs annoys me to no end. Within the first mile I stopped to dink around with my packs to stop the slosh. I took off again and a young guy filled with happy-nervous energy got a shock.
  • Him -- "Hey! How you feeling? Feeling good?" 
  • Me -- "I don't know man," shrugging shoulders. "I'm thinking of quitting."  
  • Him -- Cue jaw drop. "But we just started!" 
I felt the need to inform the guy I was just joking around. Of course it was too soon to be thinking of quitting. I hadn't even hit 2 miles yet! More sloshing started and I stopped to tinker with my straps once more. Damn the slosh. At this point I had an outrageous number of people pass me with these two gals being the last, and they would end up being the last runners I would see in front of me for the rest of the race.

I eventually made it 5 miles out from Ojibwa and hit Winter, a check-in station and only station until mile 24. After the race I found out some people dropped out at this station and one person never even made it. Looking back it seems my joke wasn't as funny as I thought. 

I was trying to play catch up to anybody in front of me but I couldn't catch even the slightest glimpse of anyone. I heard a creek up in the tree branches overhead. Stupidly I thought of the movie Predator. The infamous drum cadence crept between my ears. That'll send a shiver down your back alone out on Tuscobia.

I couldn't help but kick myself for wasting so much time tinkering with my gear. I kept a steady pace and then just stopped in my tracks. I had an overwhelming sense of boredom rush over me. I actually asked myself, "Do I really want to run this?" I never answered myself but I did start running again.

Up ahead after no more than a mile I caught glimpse of a bar across the road. I found myself standing on the trail side of the highway. I still couldn't catch sight of anyone ahead. I paused and looked behind me. I couldn't see a soul. So I crossed the highway and waited at the bar for a quick spell. When I came back out still no one. I pressed on.

Miles 17-35
It didn't take long for night to start settling down. I stopped to throw on my vest, get my blinkers going, have a snack and swap my empty pink guava coconut water for my mango coconut water. All of a sudden a shuffler approached me. It was another racer! We exchanged a few customary how-you-dos and he soon drifted behind. The sky was complete cast over so there was no chance of getting by with using any moonlight. My little bubble of world was stark and getting cold. I stopped to layer up. 

Nightfall came down and crushed my vision and that's when my body started behaving strangely. At first it was slurred speech which I assumed was just my typical Elmer Fuddism sinking in or it was from my face being exposed to the cold. The dizziness started to bother me, not that I was worried just that I was annoyed to be feeling it at all. I was also drifting really bad across the trail any time I would turn my head to the side. When I would take a moment to glance behind me the twisting would really catch me off balance. I didn't fully realize this for many miles though. 

The tiny little blink of light from the other racer slowly faded out of view only to be quickly passed by another. The new mass of lights seemed to have a decent pace. I toyed with the idea of slowing down so I would have someone to talk to. What madness I was speaking! But a slight dizziness was spreading over my head and I thought maybe slowing down wasn't such a bad idea. I thought if I walked a bit the racer would catch up. After half an hour the racer was closer but in order to wait for him to catch up I had to stop completely. 

In it 'til the end
 His name was Wayne, and he was more than happy to make conversation. This was his last race on a year long challenge to complete over 1000 race miles. I don't think I have ever run 1000 miles in a year so that pretty much blew my mind. I loved comparing war stories and finding out about races I've never heard of. We both were glancing behind us occasionally except when I did so I would just about crash into Wayne and get nauseated when I straightened myself back up but only for a sheer moment. What started off as amusing turned into frustration which turned into legitimate concern. I felt confident nothing was seriously wrong beyond some sort of exhaustion setting in and was content to just shuffle to the end. 

Meanwhile, on the trail...can you guess which was my fave? 
"I like your stamina, Call me! 867-5390" 
"Your legs will forgive you...eventually"
"Who needs toenails?"
Each time I stopped to take the above pictures I paused for no more than 30 seconds and yet each time I was already chilled and close to shivering when I moved on. I would shuffle hard for a bit then fall back to walking. I wanted to take off running but thought better of being alone on Tuscobia. I could feel that my body was on the verge of some point of exhaustion but I hadn't figured out what that was quite yet.

It took 9 hours and 40 45 minutes to touch the final marker. I was beyond stoked to leave the hypnotic tree tunnels behind me with barely any soreness throughout my body. It didn't take long to get stiff though once I stopped. Racers amnesia graciously kicked in immediately.

Ultramarathon chicks....just the right mixture of sassy and sweet
 The crew did an amazing job keeping us all fed when the race was over. I had Reuben pizza for the first time, some insanely delicious soup, cookies, cake, cheese...freaking yum! After relaxing for 1.5 hours I made the drive home. I was missing my daughter and ready for some solid sleep.

Just a couple little blisters. The right middle is being stubborn with healing.

I have had a hauntingly familiar feeling weigh me down since the race. So far I haven't bothered getting a check up, but it sure feels like I'm anemic again, which isn't surprising considering the 6 hellish weeks of red demon torture leading right up to the race. I feel the need to sleep 'round the clock and have needed to focus more to make basic motions at times. My concentration is currently out the window. The second day after the race I tried snowshoeing and couldn't catch my breath no matter how hard I labored. The lack-of-breath feeling sickeningly reminds me of my horrid track days in junior high when I was made to run the mile but physically couldn't. I often faked an Achilles tendon pain or cramp as an excuse why I couldn't finish. I thought my lack of breath was a sign of laziness and being physically unfit, not that I didn't have the oxygen in my blood to perform the task. I'm working on increasing iron sources from my diet as an alternate means of supplementing iron which never worked for me in the past and only created problems. 

I'll see if the fatigue lifts by Monday otherwise I will  finally consider checking in with my doctor. After all, I do have a marathon 15 days out.

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