"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lost Soul 100 Miler: Trading Fat for Age

Different choices from the start...hydration systems, use of poles....
A civilised race start - 8 am Friday. Forty-four Milers and 91 Century runners toed the line. The 50k runners (actually doing 54k) would start at 7 am Saturday. Showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast. Despite this race being in September (autumn), temperatures typically hit high 20s to low 30s. That's not the same as a Perth high 20s. High 20s Alberta feels the same as low 30s Perth. I don't know why. Maybe it's the stiff breeze that often accompanies a high 20s Perth day - rendering the "feels like" temperature lower. Maybe it has to do with the ozone layer.

In this race, forecast rain is NOT a good thing, though. The climbs in the coulees are STEEP. So steep that in 2008 when it rained, they had to call it off, mid event. The organisers' rain plan for this year was to move everyone to the "Pavan loop" (16k) to do repeat laps. That wasn't the Miler I wanted to run. And I sure as heck didn't want to get shifted to the "rain course" mid event.

We started under a clear sky, with showers expected after 2 pm.

One lap. Like an ECG with a flat line getting kicked going again.
My original calculations for this race, based on elevation and distances, came in around 21 hours. Nice, except that's the male course record (CR) time! I knew I was missing two key things - a heat factor and a grade factor. Midday heat would take a toll. And I'd been warned about the hills. They are short (compared to mountain climbs), but so steep in places that they are hikes up and toe-crushing, quad-destroying, sliding-on-the-butt downs. You don't easily get in a groove in this race. The flats are sometimes in long grass, marsh, soft riverbank sand or river rock, and freshly mown straw hummocks.

I revised my plan to 23 hours. The female CR (26h08) was held by Shelley Gellatly, a hardcore Yukon Arctic Ultra runner - she set it in 2007, the year I ran the 50k.

Out from the hills as I approach an aid station.
With the mix of Milers and Century runners starting, I lost track of how many were in front of me, but I started as lead woman with perhaps 10 men increasing the gap out front. Less than a km in, however, on a steep bitumen descent, a lean woman passed. I didn't catch her bib and didn't know which race she was in. But I was on a 4.28 pace and that seemed already rather quick for a Miler! At aid 1, I asked my partner-crew Rolf and he didn't know anything about her. He set out to find out, whilst I ran on. At aid 2, I still didn't know anything, but Rolf said, "She looks good, but that's not a 100 mile pace." Encouraging, but perhaps it was her 100 mile pace! At aid 3 I had my answer: 100k. We could tell by the bib numbers and shading.

Lap 1 heated up and we initiated the heat management strategies - including lots of cold water soaks and ice at the aid stations. I was running on Hammer Perpetuem caffe latte in a pancake batter mix, with pears as a fructose source to augment caloric needs. I swapped UltrAspire packs at each aid station, which held enough water for that leg. Caffeine pills were at hand, but I also used the option of Hammer Espresso gels, which had the perfect 50mg hits I needed to top up stores periodically.

Somewhere around the 40k mark, I came through an off leash dog park. The day before, recce'ing the aid stations (Rolf was going to be driving solo on the right (wrong) side of the road with "crazy" things like 4 way stops!), we'd seen a dog chase down a truck, biting at the tyres at 25kph. Scary as heck. It wasn't the same dog, but I was chased by one as I passed through and had another do the "dazed-dog-in-the-middle-of-the-trail" routine. I had to veer around him at the last minute. I like dogs a lot, but I was starting to dislike this park's dogs.

As I closed in on the completion of lap 1, I noted that I was going to bank an hour on my projected lap 1 time. I was going to come in under the female CR time for the 50k (5hr49). That sounded decidedly unwise. I pulled it back a few notches and told myself to get some recovery from the increasing heat of the day by bringing my heart rate down. I came through lap 1, ~54k, about 5hr54. It was just before 2 pm.  [For those who looked at online splits, several are completely wonky and I have no idea why.]The sun had disappeared behind the clouds and a short shower ensued. Then the sun came back with a vengeance. A scan of the horizon indicated there would be no more clouds for the afternoon. More heat management. The shower had soaked my feet and they couldn't dry due to narrow trails with long grasses throwing more water on them with each step. The bottoms of my feet started to macerate - I took an important 8 minute stop to apply Compeeds and change socks. The descents had become temporarily slick in the wet. I was chased by different dogs in the park.
Closer up view of our terrain - photo by Lynne Chisholm

Perhaps around the 75k mark, I came upon a woman from behind, moving with some pain evident. I was confused, as it wasn't the 100k female I knew was in front. Then she told me that there were 3 or 4 more women ahead. Okay, so where was the bus that everyone else got in?? How did I end up behind 5 women? Rolf solved the riddle later for me. The 100k runners skipped a 7k loop on their second lap, in order to keep their race to ~100k, rather than doing a double 54k. So several 100k runners, men and women, were now in front of me. I finished lap 2 (108k) just after dark, 1 hour ahead of my projected time.

Although my beautiful trail mates, my Leki poles, were packed, the course did not lend itself to their use. The trails in the hill sections were so narrow and filled with long grasses that they would have snagged heaps and slowed me down.

Lap 3 allowed a pacer. Thus, Rolf could run out further from the aid stations to meet me in each section. He was amazed by the steep coulees, with their sharp drops off one side and the long grasses and cactuses. There was a "whump" behind me as he fell off the trail. I couldn't look back, as I was too dizzy and feared I'd go over with him. Rule #71 of having a pacer is that the help only goes in one direction ;)

Superhero goggles on another night-originally meant for my watery eyes
Little flying bugs appeared in huge clouds in the afternoon. With sunglasses and a cap on, I could keep most out of my eyes and breathe in gasps through clenched teeth. After dark, I was thrilled I had my superhero horse jockey goggles to keep them (mostly) out. The bugs continued to appear in swarms all night, literally smacking me in the face, they were that big and thick.

But it wasn't all suffering :) I heard coyotes yipping, saw fish jumping in the river, and saw a roo. Okay, my brain told me it couldn't be a roo, but for the life of me those glowing eyes in the dark looked like a roo. A small, fat critter waddled off my path later - raccoon or skunk, perhaps. I came through the dog park one last time in the dark and cheered aloud that there were no nocturnal dog owners.

I developed a blister on the end of a toe that had nail damage from earlier in the season. I loaded 2Toms anti-blister powder into my socks in the hope it would prevent what I thought was going to be a problem toenail. Sure enough, descents became torturous. I had to will myself to start down each time I stood at the top of a hill. Amazing how blindingly painful a little blister can be. I kept expecting the sudden warmth of it popping in my shoe, but it never did. My banked hour was donated to a lousy toe blister. But worst of all was the realisation after the race...why didn't I stop and pop it?!? A 5 minute stop might have saved 30 minutes of slow descents. Ahhh, the clarity of a rested mind! I put this one in the "learnings" basket... don't expect a blister to pop of its own accord.

6 Years On - Trading "Fat" for "Old" ;-)
At 7.21 am Saturday morning, (23h21) - 21 minutes after the 50k got underway - I crossed the finish line, taking 2h45 off the female CR. My Canadian massage therapist, Dave Proctor, had come in a few hours ahead of me, narrowly missing the male CR. Rolf and I hugged and he thanked me, saying he couldn't have done it without me :)

Back in the hotel room, we collapsed - one on each of the two queen beds. I didn't have the energy to undress and shower yet and didn't want to get the communal bed stinky. We laid there in silence for a few minutes and then Rolf said it:

"First you were fat, now you're old."

And we both burst out laughing.

With the benefit of the finish line in the hotel parking lot, I was able to go out numerous times Saturday to cheer runners in. As the cut off approached (7 pm), I stiffly hobbled out onto the course to cheer those who toughed out another day (or a long 50k day) in the coulees. I felt a strange sort of angst, not knowing how many were out there and whether they could stay ahead of the sweep. I breathed a sigh of relief and cheered aloud for each one climbing that last hill home.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Three Times in One Day

In 2007 I did my first ultra - 50k in the coulees of southern Alberta. Dry, hot, rattlesnake country. Short, but very steep hills, totalling about +1300 metres.

Throwing bales (strength work) during the taper.
On Friday morning (that's Saturday at noon in Perth), I embark on their 100 Miler. That's three laps of the 50km (actually 53km) course. (For those who know me, you can see that I was initiated into "bonus k's" very early on!)

Somehow it seems ironic after all the things I've done that this is my first 100 Miler. Thrilled to be here for it, back to dance with my first love... three times! ;) Let's hope the romance doesn't wear off too quickly. Sometimes we remember those old flames with rose coloured glasses!

Possibly, there will be updates here http://racepro.ca/lsu/

Monday, September 2, 2013

What's in the Carry On Bag?

Travelling internationally for nearly two months now, I have several items that comprise my "essentials." I've mentioned them before, but haven't made the time to talk much about why.

Dark hot chocolate with cinnamon. Perfect reward after a  chilly winter run?
Cinnamon. I came across reference to the anti-viral properties of cinnamon when I went to World 24hr champs in May. Keen to enlist whatever I could in good nutrition to help ward off the possibility of cold/flu viruses after 24 hours of flying, I tried it. Since then, I've stuck with it, sprinkling a bit of cinnamon on my yoghurt each morning. Cinnamon oil contains eugenol, and it's the eugenol that was found to inhibit the replication of the herpes virus. You know the smell of cloves? That smell is eugenol, as eugenol is really high in cloves. It's also found in nutmeg, basil, and bay leaves. Eugenol also has antiseptic/antimicrobial properties. Thus, it should also be useful against yeast, fungus, and candida issues. And it has anaesthetic properties, and is used by dentists and exotic fish vets/owners. What a super-food, eh? Of course, one needs to maintain balance in taking cinnamon/eugenol, as there are reports of sensitivity in a few cases (just like some people are allergic to eggs or strawberries) and toxicity can develop in the liver in extreme high doses.

Another benefit of cinnamon has been found in its apparent ability to reduce fasting blood glucose levels and LDL cholesterol, as reported in a few studies. This has been suggested as potentially helpful for those with Type 2 diabetes. Dosages mentioned seem to be under 6g/day, which would roughly equal 1 teaspoon in volume, I figure.

If only there was a superfood to cure fear of precipices!
Finally, cinnamon has been found to have catechins/epicatechins, the flavanol in green tea and cocoa that has an antioxidant effect. Woohoo! Cinnamon flavoured dark chocolate, anyone?

Turmeric. A plant from the ginger family. 'Nuf said, then, right? Antifungal and antibacterial properties. Of particular interest to me is its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric contains curcumin (not related to cumin), which also has antioxidant properties that seem to work against cancer cells (also found in studies with cinnamon). I try to get up to 1 teaspoon worth sprinkled on all my savoury foods, like stews, eggs, potatoes, and such. There is evidence it's a blood thinner, so those on blood thinning meds might be best to talk to their doc if thinking of mega-dosing. Also, if on NSAIDS, one might consider the effect of "double-dipping."

Udo's Oil (plus chia seeds and walnuts). If I am temporarily without a bottle of Udo's, I find some flaxseed or linseed oil to spread on my morning cereal and yoghurt combo. I'm crediting an increase in the omega-3 fatty acids found in these foods for a lot of the reason behind my decrease in injury rates over the past year+. My spending at physios this year is down by at least $1000. I should actually do a count at year end! (Other things I credit are the use of ice cup massages and ice baths, musculoskeletal adaptation, which just takes place over time, and regularly scheduled "rest").

Legal to grow in your backyard :)
Dark chocolate. For the antioxidant properties cited above. There was even one study done where they fed the participants 40g of dark chocolate for breakfast before their cycling test (nice!). This study and others have found connections between the catechins in the dark chocolate reducing free radicals, therefore "oxidative stress" therefore inflammatory responses/immune cell dysfunction and muscle fatigue. So, although there's generally nothing found saying it can directly improve performance (e.g., VO2max), it may indirectly improve performance by reducing fatigue and improving recovery. And the caffeine (stand alone or in dark chocolate) promotes lipolysis (increases free fatty acid concentrations), suggesting that at sub-maximal efforts (below 70% of VO2max), caffeine should help to promote use of fat burning vs glycogen. There's some interesting stuff emerging about the possible synergistic effects of combining catechins with caffeine. (Cinnamon sprinkled green tea leaves dunked in dark chocolate?!?) And, perhaps most importantly, it's truly a "feel-good" food that's not just a toxic, processed, engineered horror.

Peppermint tea. Particularly in the evenings, I find a cuppa helps me rehydrate when I don't feel like a cup of water. And there's evidence it sooths the digestive system. It's also supposed to give feelings of satiety, but I'm not sure about that one! I still feel like I eat non-stop! :)
Tapering's not so bad, if you have the right distractions!

Also in the carry on? A tennis ball for trigger spot treatment of tight back and hips. A trail magazine for easy, inspirational reading. And Tigger (I'm okay with being the only 44 year old woman on the plane with a stuffy - he makes a great lumbar support and occasionally I lend him out to a screaming overtired small child, too).

The things you won't find in my carry-on? Gluten, sugary high-GI processed foods, and alcohol. If I have to compromise something in my diet these last two months whilst travelling, trying to be a vegetarian, lactose intolerant, gluten free, no trans-fats/bad fat eater, I have chosen to compromise the vegetarian part first. That's just my personal choice, based on prioritising what makes my body feel best through to worst.

A new one I've been reading about that might prove a bit awkward in the carry-on is watermelon! Some new research just came out focusing on watermelon's antioxidant properties for athletes. There's an ingredient in watermelon called L-citrulline, an amino acid. But a bit of searching has shown me that the bodybuilding world has been onto L-citrulline for quite a while already. In addition to the antioxidant properties (which reduced post-exercise soreness in the cyclists given 500ml of liquefied watermelon an hour before their workout), it forms nitric oxide (think beetroot juice!). Thus, with its potential for dilating blood vessels, it is used to help lower blood pressure, too. I might try this out before the Lost Soul 100 miler this weekend. Nothing like trying something new before a race! :)