Monday, May 29, 2017

Baselines

To start things off with my #FITfor40 challenge, I wanted to get some baseline measurements of both me and my fitness level. I like numbers. I like objective assessments. I like seeing my progress (and knowing when I need to kick it up a notch).

I started last Sunday with a MAF treadmill test. I've done this treadmill test for years, so I am able to see the result and know what it means about my own, personal fitness level. I first started using my heart rate as part of my training in 2007, when I first Melissa Simmens. Melissa was initially a personal trainer I hired at my gym while living in Columbia, MD. She's since become an great friend and training partner. Melissa is an experienced ultramarathoner and only made her own, real breakthrough progress in endurance training when she started paying attention to her heart rate. So many people undertake run training with a constant goal of seeing how fast they can run every single time they lace up their shoes. I used to do that too and it never worked. That is to say, I was never able to truly develop an aerobic system that allowed me to run longer distances at faster and faster speeds. Melissa changed all that.

I don't train completely by heart rate, but I do pay attention to it. And I love doing my own, mini version of a MAF test whenever I decide to get serious about building my aerobic fitness. What I do is this: I get on the treadmill, with a HR monitor, and run for 60 minutes (0% incline) at my MAF HR (currently 142 beats per minute) and see how far I go. Then, as I train and get fitter, I do it again...and I see improvement. That is, at the same HR, and for the same amount of time, I run farther. Every time I try to just train "by feel" I always end up going back to a MAF test and focusing on my HR training. It's the only thing that has ever worked and that has ever allowed me to make real progress in my run fitness. For me, it's been the fastest, most reliable way to truly get into shape.

So I did that last Sunday. On kickoff day. My half birthday.

Then, on Wednesday, I did some personal training with Julie that included both body measurements and fitness testing. I don't have a whole lot to report on that now, except that, like the MAF test, it gave me baselines against which I will compare my progress three months from now. It was fun. I love personal training sessions with Julie. She's great in group classes, but one-on-one time is a different kind of fun. More on Julie, and our history, in a later post.

And, while I'll refrain from posting my general "before" pictures at this stage in the game, I will share this one from my wall-sit test. Which, by the look on my face, I took very seriously!

"You have a perfect 90-degrees! I have to take a picture...stay right there." -Julie

So, there we are. For now. I am still working on developing a plan for my running. For now, I am just getting in a few miles here and there. And while that feels good, I do need to start planning and implementing something a bit more formal. Cheers! #FITfor40.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fast-Twitch Follies: #FITfor40

It's been three years since my last post. There's no mystery as to why that is. In short: I've become unfit, unmotivated, overweight, and uninspired. The completion of my 50 for 35 challenge (if not the race) was an epic achievement. I was very proud. I graduated from law school a week after running 40, hilly, miles of trail: another epic achievement. But after that, life got complex, confusing, upsetting, and just plain hard. It happens.

I've tried, throughout these past three years, to regain my fitness. I miss it. Terribly. I miss feeling good in my body and in my skin and in my soul. I miss having reasons to feel proud and fierce. I miss having the ability to go for long runs and for hilly-scary-difficult runs, and to participate in running events. I've still participated in a few races here and there...but it's been unfulfilling and frustrating - despite the only intention being to just show up. I'm a born athlete, I'm a natural athlete, and I get a lot of my positive energy and positive reinforcement from the universe by being an athlete. Now, this is all in the eye of the beholder - I get that. I can still call myself an athlete. The reality is: I am not happy with myself and I am not being honest with myself. And that unhappiness goes beyond fitness. My life has taken twists and turns that were not what I wanted, not what I imagined, and that have caused me excessive amounts of pain, illness, heartbreak, and disappointment. Not only have I struggled with my physical well-being, but also with pretty serious health diagnoses that are not new, but that have reared their ugly head more and more over the past few years.

Anyway, I decided it's time to just stop the madness. All of it. There is only so much I can control, but there is a whole lot that I can control. One thing I believe that I can grab by the horns, slam on the breaks, screech a 180, and steer in a different direction, is my physical fitness and by proxy my overall wellness.

Welcome to FIT for 40. Or, since we are in the era of social media: #FITfor40. Why? Because why the fu** not?

What is #FITfor40? Well, I am not exactly sure...yet. But I have a ton of ideas, and a ton of goals, and currently a ton of inspiration. I want to keep it rollin'...

Of note: My 40th birthday is 18 months from today, on November 21, 2018. I have decided that I want to snap myself out of my funk, re-engage with my innate physical abilities, tap into my former athlete, and get myself back to doing things epic.

So, stay tuned. And, if you'd like, I hope you'll join me on this adventure. You don't need to be unfit, or frustrated, or flirting with 40 to join me or this challenge. All you have to have is a desire to start engaging in physical fitness - and healthy living - more than you are right now.

So why am I saying all of this "publicly" (to the four of you who will read this)? Because it helps to say things out-loud, even if it's the social-media version of out-loud. It helps because it makes it real, it makes a "thing," and it makes me accountable. I am nostalgic for the focus and dedication I had while I was fundraising and training for my 50-miler. And while this is a different sort of journey, I am still committed to making it real and not just an idea in my head or my private journal.

So, what am I gonna do? Well, that's also a work in progress...more to come in ensuing posts. I am gonna start by signing up for a few races: organized events are key for me and while my goal is to be better equipped to participate in them at a higher level, for now I am going to throw myself back into the mix and remind my body what it feels like. I also plan to get back to regular, and intensified, run training, and to kick up my attendance record in classes and with my trainer at Destination Fitness. I'll also be working with my trainer on doing fitness tests and measurements at three month intervals throughout this process; I like measuring concrete, objective progress!

I've learned so much from running, and training, and experimenting with my fitness and abilities through the years. I hope to share some of that here. I also hope to explore some new training methods and fitness ideas and share those too. I've run over 20 half marathons, 10 marathons, and a couple of ultramarathons. -- And all this for a girl who excelled in, and is better suited to run, the 100 meter dash!

And, as with my 50 for 35 challenge, this entire journey will culminate with an attempt at one, epic physical challenge.

FIT, for me, means: Fierceness, Integrity, Tenacity.

I'm also on twitter with a new handle. For my twitter photo, I chose a day in 2012 when I was, perhaps, more inspired than I have ever been: In London, after watching one of my dearest (and fittest!) friends pour her heart out in the Olympic marathon. Watching the race that day I was inspired to work hard to get the most out of myself,...whatever that is. I don't think I've done that yet. And I'd still like to try. I have 18 months until I turn 40, and while there's truly no deadline, in those 18 months I intend to focus on getting my body, and my mind, #FITfor40.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ice Age 50-Miler Race Report

Well, this isn't exactly the race report I hoped I'd be writing. I of course wanted to be celebrating the completion of my first 50-miler. But it was not to be. That said, I am very proud of what I did accomplish (both with my fundraising and in the race). I am proud of the way my body held up physically and how I handled the hills and trails. For whatever reason, despite drinking what I thought was a lot of fluids, I got very dehydrated, which led to dizziness, and the decision to call it a day at the mile 40.3 aid station. Yes, I was/am disappointed - I wanted more than anything to finish! But I left it all out there...and I even impressed myself with what I was able to do out there. I'll take it. For now.

I read race reports where people go mile by mile, or section by section, and explain exactly how they felt and what they were thinking and doing during that part of the race. I have no idea how those people remember with such detail and clarity. I'd like to think that I can't remember specifics because I was so in the zone, in the moment, while I was out there...not thinking about how I will report back, but just enjoying the "being" on the trail. Whatever the case, here are some random thoughts and memories of what happened out there:

I completed law school - literally - on Thursday (May 8th) at about 4:45pm. I walked out of my last final exam and it felt a bit surreal...I wanted to celebrate, but I had to pack! My flight departed for WI at 6am the next morning!

I arrived in Milwaukee at around 8:30am and met my mom, who had flown in from Duluth, at the airport. We got in our rental car and drove the 40 minutes to the hotel, which was about 15 miles from the race start. Once there we just hung out and relaxed. I got my drop bags and crew bag ready for the next day, laid out my clothes and I was ready to roll!

My race fuel!

My mom hanging out in the hotel as I got ready for the race.
At around 4pm we went to packet pickup which was held at a restaurant just up the road from our hotel. It was very low-key and painless!

Sign on the restaurant where we went for packet pickup

My race number: "Lucky" 13!

The alarm(s) went off at 4am on Saturday. I was definitely anxious before the start, but I felt ready to go. I strangely had an excellent night's sleep the night before so I felt rested and solid before the start.

It was still chilly in the morning when we arrived at the start.

Right before the start! Ready to go.

The race has 3 distinct parts: The first is a loop on a XC ski trail and the second and third are two "out and backs" on the single-track Ice Age trail. If you are interested in seeing how the course is laid out, you can click here.

The race course.

I felt really good from the start, which was on a nice grassy trail. The trail was nice and wide here so I was able to chat with several different runners - something I love about trail running culture: the people. They are all so down to earth, so supportive, and friendly. Not that there aren't friendly people in road races, of course...but it's just, well, different. It's different in a way that I find preferable. Even the people who were out there looking for a specific time (as opposed to those of us just hoping to complete the race, and before the cutoff) don't take themselves quite as seriously as road runners do. I just love it.

After that first loop, the trail got more challenging. It was now "single-track" (only enough space for one runner at a time, so no running side by side) and since it was out and back, there were people going in both directions.

The trail started off reasonable enough, but sometime after mile 17 it started getting very hilly. At least for this girl who trained on the flat paths of Washington DC. I knew the course would be hilly...but I wasn't prepared for how steep and constant they were. That said: I realized right away that I was handling them really well. I hiked all of the uphills (everyone around me did this). This is a common way of handling the length and terrain of a trail race, especially an ultra. People were talking about taking the downhills easy because they can shred your quads after a while...but I pounded them all. I am not exactly built for distance running...but what I do have is lots of strength in my rear end and quads! I've never had trouble with downhills: I am built for them. And I take them aggressively. It's extremely fun and exhilarating.

Side note: It was pretty cool, on the first out and back, to jump out of the way when the elites flew by me. The speed with which they run the trails is amazing. And even though they were racing for more than just completion, they still made a point of saying something encouraging ("nice work" "looking good" and the like...) as we passed each other on the trail. Pretty awesome.

In the end, both a men's and women's course record were set that day - pretty amazing considering how warm it got in the afternoon. But they, of course, were done before the afternoon! For the approximately 6 hours, give or take, that they were running the weather was pretty great. You can read about the elite race here.

In general: I loved this race. I loved the course, I loved the event, I loved being out there. I was inspired by my mission (and success!) to raise money for Jacob's Ladder and I was excited that the race was finally happening. My body felt great and I realized I really was in great shape and ready for this race. I have never trained as long or as consistently for anything and it really paid off. Additionally, I did core/strength classes at the gym all semester and I think that really helped both my endurance and my ability to handle the hills and the technical parts of the trail. And I am proud of all of that.

But around mile 35, I started feeling dizzy. This happens, so at first I thought I'd be able to figure it out by doing something with my food or fluids. It was definitely warm (though I didn't really feel overly hot) and I had been running for a long time. And I thought my nutrition had been going well. I found that what I was craving most were the PBJ sandwiches at the aid stations and I had 1-2 pieces of those (they were cut in quarters) at nearly all of the aid stations. In between, I had Gu Roctane gels and Gu Chomps. But not that much. I only had 2-3 actual Gu packets and I think 3 packs of chomps during the whole race. For fluids, I was drinking water and water mixed with Nuun electrolyte tablets. I made a point of drinking a bunch of water while at the aid station and then filling up my 20 oz bottle before leaving the station. It's hard to imagine that I didn't drink enough, or how I could have had more, but clearly my body needed more. I was, of course, sweating a lot. I took a LOT of salt tabs (S-Caps), more than I ever have before, because I could feel the salt drying on my skin. The only other symptom I had that something was wrong, other than the dizziness, were my swollen fingers: they were HUGE. Very puffy - so much so that I could hardly bend them. They looked like huge sausages. This is not completely abnormal, but I have never seen them this big before.

At the mile 37 aid station I tried everything. I had some banana, salt, tons of water...I took off running again but I just didn't feel right. By mile 38 I was walking and trying to decide if I could push through. During the whole race I had been making good time without feeling like I was putting in too much effort. I had hit the half way point (aid station at 24.4) at 5 hours, 15 minutes. And at that point I still felt realy great!

I was feeling great at the halfway point!

But as I was walking mile 38 I realized I was losing a lot of time and knew that if I was going to push it through to the end and make the cut offs, I really needed to start alternating running. I tried over and over again but I was just too darn dizzy. My peripheral vision was fuzzy...and it was just too hard to run and dodge the roots and rocks in this kind of shape. I was probably around mile 39 when I decided that I had to stop at the next aid station, mile 40.3 (the point to the far right on the map above) and drop out. It was a terrible decision/feeling. And a very long walk to get there. 

I think the most frustrating thing was that I otherwise felt really good - physically, that is. Yes, I was tired. And yes, I had soreness (my hamstrings and lower back were definitely talking!). But I felt like I could do it...if I could have just figure out what was going wrong with my nutrition. But it wasn't meant to be.

When I got to the aid station I found my trusty crew: my mom and step mom, who had been so incredibly amazing all day! It had been so great all day arriving at the aid station and having them waiting there for me...snapping pictures and getting me whatever food and water I demanded! They were amazing, especially since they had never done, or seen, anything like a trail ultra before! I was so grateful to have them there all day. They had been so impressed by how strong I felt every time they had seen me up to this point. As such, it sucked to tell them that I had to stop. I sat down for a while and finally pulled off my timing chip and gave it to the volunteers. I wasn't the only one doing that...but that didn't make it any easier.

Here are some pics that my mom took at the aid stations:

I really did have a lot of fun.
See? Fun.
Loved those PBJ sandwiches
See? I drank a LOT!
I had the best crew - even when I got grumpier and more demanding. "GIMEE CHOMPS NOW!"

The whole experience was just so incredible: training for an ultra, fundraising for a cause I really cared about, and focusing on it all for so long - it was really a full year's journey when all was said and done. Thank you, again, to everyone who supported me through your donations to Jacob's Ladder (I raised $3,635!) and for your encouragement through the long training process.  It was truly one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. And even though I technically didn't "finish," I definitely completed an incredible journey. My thanks to everyone who was a part of the journey with me.

Up Next? On Sunday I graduate from Georgetown Law. A pretty great couple of weeks.

All gussied up in my graduation garb