Friday, February 25, 2011

Goodbye Results... to start CrossFit!

 Yesterday was my last day at my gym. I know, I loved it to. The clean locker-room, the sauna, the pool with a treadmill, the amazing spin bikes, the awesome instructor, the convenience of it being right across the street from my office.

I've spent many a lunchtime there doing strength training, stretching, running, biking... it was sad to leave. The membership people sure do know how to send you out right. The complimented my "athletic body" (Whaaa? Me?!), and all yelled out a great farewell as I left. Goodbye Results Gym. I will miss you.

Now, CrossFit has a bad(ish) rep. It's cultish and intense. But, from what I've seen, it works. The people who I know that do CrossFit have total body physique and strength.

I've been trying to apply CrossFit ideas to my own workouts: "varied, full body, functional, multi-joint movements." I've been jumping up and down on a block, noticing how I use everything to get to the top and my heartrate spikes. I've been creating circuits of planks, pushups, lunges, and jumps, and competing with friends. I've been using kettleballs, doing cleans, deadlifts, squats, and pullups. Over the last month, I've noticed how much my core strength has improved and  how easy a 25lb kettleball is to whip around and lift up. 

I decided to focus on full body strength when I realized that I could run 100 miles but couldn't do a pull-up. When I was weeks away from Grindstone, I felt so weak and out of shape. How dare I attempt such a crazy athletic feat when I still got winded running uphill and couldn't lift my body weight?

The dude from District CrossFit that
kicked my butt in just 7 minutes.

I love the idea of CrossFit: fitness for the sake of being able to do more. While yes, my friend who does it has the most amazing abs I've ever seen in real life, the CrossFit workouts are designed to create a body that can do more than just run, or weight lift, or row, or do gymnastics. It's designed to make you good at all of these things, so that you can lift your heavy carry-on out of the overhead bins and run to the next plane. 


Also, without running or being able to race, I need motivation. I need something to get me fired up about fitness so that when I show up at the MMT start line, I've had months of good training. Every CrossFit workout is a competition. Gymnastics was the first sport I ever did, and I'm kind of excited to be doing some of those workouts again.

Trail running does require total body strength, and I know that even though pull-ups have little to do with running, it will make me a better runner, a better athlete, and open up doors to new activities, friends, and challenges.

Monday, February 21, 2011

MMT Training Run #2

One of the coolest thing about MMT is that VHTRC hosts training runs on the course over three different weekends in the months before the race. I suspect the real purpose is that more people will drop out and make room for the members that didn't get the lottery. I always forget how little mercy these trails show your feet. After only 25 miles I wanted to sit down and be done for the day. This could be because it took so damn long.

I was still injured for the first training run MLK weekend, and so training run #2 was my first.

Now, I knew that my first ultra distance attempt since my 5-month running hiatus was going to be rocky (pun intended). I loved the vibe of this group run, it was large enough and long enough to feel like a race, but it was really low-key and relaxed. We started off in a big group, but this broke up quickly. I settled into a group of 6 or 8 for the first few miles, then it became a group of 4. It was hard to talk on the run because the wind was so strong and noisy that it was difficult to hear.

The only problem with this section is that it has 7 miles of road. Roads have been death to my IT band, and so I walked almost all of them. Despite the roads, they were still very pretty.

Thanks Bobby for taking pictures!
We certainly took our time, taking pictures of the amazing vistas and enjoying the warm, windy day. There are some seriously beautiful views on the run. I was surprised with how great I felt. I took my time on a lot of the trail, walked down steep downhills and roads, and was able to get through most of the run. There were two aid stations, and my boyfriend volunteered at them, so it almost felt like he was crewing for me again!

I walked into the last aid station, unsure if I should go on. I got through 20 miles at this point pain-free and I didn't want to push it. There was beer, food, and good company, but then I was told the most grueling climb was ahead of me, and so I decided to go on. Last year, I volunteered at the next aid station and people came in constantly in awe of this next section. It took some of the leaders 3 hours to get through, I couldn't pass this up!

The next climb was a bitch, and to think I'd have to do this after 50 miles! I was nearing the ridge and all I could hear was the wind! Once I got up the mountain I could get in a decent amount of running. It was rocky, but mostly flat. At this point, I still felt good but I was getting tired and my body felt ready to fall apart. I almost blew away with the crazy gusts of wind heading over the mountains. Several times, wind sent tons of leaves into my face, or I had to stop and crouch down. I was a little worried that the wind would throw me off balance.

But it the wind blew me away and I ended up here:

It would be totally OK because I would be the tallest person ever and I would beat them ALL at ultras.
Finally, I found the yellow blazed Stephen's trail (follow the yellow-blazed trail, follow follow...) and I was only 5 miles to the end! Things started hurting (hips, feet, knees) and so I decided to walk to the finish. I also took out my iPod and started jamming to some tunes. My next post is going to be about songs that are really about ultrarunning, you should check back every day this week. Like at Uwharrie, I was passed, but it was by cool friends and people that made me feel better instead of worse.

I was an idiot, and since I was taking my time I decided to move a tree off of the trail. But, there were pretty rhododendrons right there, so I carried it uphill and set it down where it was cleared. But when I threw it, a branch didn't make it and tore up my leg. Ouch. But, I felt really strong and cool and did something resembling this.

I loved the Stephen's trail, it was rocky and technical, but it was full of rolling hills down to where food and beer waited for me. I walked, I ran, and I skipped. My legs were torn up, my feet ached, my energy level was at a -2/10. I forgot about how much an ultra can take out of you as I spent the last few days exhausted. But, it hurts so good.

Monday, February 14, 2011

From drafts...

One of my favorite things to do every couple of years is re-read old diaries. They are often hilarious, sometimes pathetic, and I finish each one always very glad that I've grown up. I re-read my freshman year diary for the first time after college graduation and had forgotten about a very painful entry. It started out with
Last year Mr. Bink [my AP Biology teacher] asked us when we saw when we looked at ourselves naked in the mirror. The answer was protein. What do I see when I look at myself?
I tore apart my body and found something wrong with absolutely everything. I was too short, my breasts were too small, my arms were too flabby, I didn't have flat abs, I didn't understand what a nice ass looked like to begin with, my thighs were too big... It ended with "What is my body made of? I don't care. I hate my body."

This little struggle started when I was 11 years old and went from 78 to 92 pounds in one summer. I shot up to near my now 5'2" height. I used to be so skinny, people literally didn't want to be my friend. At this point, I'd been a gymnast, ate healthy for a normal kid, and it was one picture of me in a two piece bathing suit, and I remember so clearly looking at it and thinking I looked fat. Its never been  a struggle with a weight goal, but in every Life's to-do list, or New Year's resolution, I always included body-confidence. I didn't care if I gained or lost 5 lbs, I just wanted to live again without tearing myself apart every time I looked in the mirror.

This continued all through Junior High, High school, and College. I still wear size 00 jeans and have trouble finding clothes that fit me, yet there's always pressure from everything telling me that I should/could be thinner.

Since that diary entry, I've run three marathons. I remember finishing the Baltimore marathon in 2006 and thinking that Marathon training should be a part of every eating disorder rehab center. How do you not love your body when you give it a challenge like that, and it delivers?

After MCM I looked at myself again naked in the mirror before hopping in the shower. No, its still not perfect, but my body not only delivered my 3:30 goal, it killed it and finished 8 minutes faster. My body built up speed and endurance in over 500 miles of training. What is my body made of? Protein. Muscle. And now, I know what it can do. Now, I love my body.

This draft was written back in 2009. I was keeping it safe in drafts, waiting until the day I could post it, when I truly got over my body images issues. Funny, it still hasn't been published. Instead I published this post, recognizing that I may never get over them, and I should focus on that small breaks I get after running and how awesome it is. So, I wanted to share it anyway, and clear out my drafts folder, because I know that more than half the women in world deal with the same issues. I love reading posts like this on other blogs, and knowing that I'm not in it alone, and so hopefully someone else loves reading this.

Better late than never: Eagle Run!!

This is weeks late, but I wanted to post something about this fun run! It was the last year for VHTRC's Eagle Run, and boy am I glad I made it!!

First, I carpooled with some cool ultra peeps and hung out in a parking lot, happy to see so many people that I haven't seen since Grindstone. We all drove to Gary Knipling's house, where he had a fire ready for us, beer set out, snacks, and I even saw a birthday cake. (Score!)

Brian, me, and Martha

After a brief intro we all set out for different distances. I planned to go short and just enjoy being at another event. I haven't done a group run in a long time!

At the Eagle run, you're on the lookout for Eagles (duh) and I didn't see any. I'm just bad at finding that small dot on the ice across the bay that other people can. I chatted with people (who were still asking me about Grindstone), found a WUSer to run with, and... got lost.

My little group took a wrong turn, but eventually made it back on the trail. We ran to Gunstor Hall (home of George Mason) and instead of adding a 2-3 mile loop, I stayed back to lay off the IT band. We got a tour of the house (which was warm! it was below 20 degrees outside) and it was a ton of fun.

We started our run back to the house, which was unfortunately on a lot of roads. My IT Band started to feel a little tight, so I walked the last mile or so. The whole run was pretty slow, with walk breaks, but I wasn't exactly trying hard. My only fear was that my beer was freezing and worse yet, gone.

Warming up with some liquor
 After the run, we all ate pizza and dessert, stood around the fire, drank beer and whiskey, and had philosophical discussions about things like what-makes-a-100-miler-hard?, will-that-beer-stain-come-out-of-martha's-jacket?, the-@vhtrc-twitter-account, and then I caught up with Jeff Reed who I worked with at my first VHTRC event. It was way fun. Thanks to Gary for hosting!

On the way back into DC, as we were passing over the Memorial Bridge, a bald eagle flew over the vehicle. At least I saw one!

** All pictures from Bobby or Quatro, found here:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Uwharrie Mountain Run

At 6:55 a.m. on Saturday morning, the 40-mile Uwharrie runners were still in the drop bag tent, despite the race starting in 5 minutes. Why? The cold temperatures, buckets of raining pouring down, and... well do I really need another reason? If I was planning on running this race, it would be one thing. I'd have adrenaline, the running would keep me warm, and racing in the rain makes sense. Hiking to a DNF does not! I really, really did not want to start this race.

We entered the trail almost immediately (almost no road!) and the forest was beautiful. The trail throughout this race was a twisty, undulating single-track that had some technicality through the whole race, but it was runnable and scenic. It had been raining for over 12 hours at the race start and the trail was muddy (but not shoe-sucking muddy), streams were high, and the leaves could have been slippery, but I didn't trip at all.

I went in almost last, with a pretty good attitude about the run. First, I was just so, so happy to be doing this again. I missed that race tension in the air, the crowded start to the trail, and that energy pushing us all forward--it was exciting. Second, I knew my limits and that I was planning to drop at the turn-around. I'd be happy just to run 10 miles pain-free. Third, if I finished, I would probably be the last person to cross the finish line.

Hell, I might be the last person to get to the turnaround! But, I was ok with this.

I chatted with a few people, and then the field spread out. I was alone for hours. With the rain, I wasn't listening to music. I had my usual "deep" thoughts while running alone. Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? What should I do for a living? Should I just go ahead and buy that skirt I loved at Bloomies?

Then I was being chased down by fast, wild animals--the leaders of the 20 mile run that started an hour later. They were flying! Soon, my first teammate, Sean Andrish, was flying by. I love seeing friends while I'm racing, it really lifts my spirits. I cheered, I shouted, and I wished him good luck. I did a mix of walking and running, walking the steep up and downhills. The running felt really good. Martha Nelson, another teammate, was the first woman in the 20 mile run and looked awesome. I was about fifth in my field... fifth from the end. Definitely the slacker on the team.

The trail was very wet and I was so glad I had my light WT 101s on. I came to the 14-mile aid station and couldn't believe my luck. 14 miles! Pain-free! I was elated. This run's mood was much worse than the elevation chart. After this aid station I decided to take a walk break due to some tightness that was about 0.5/10 on the pain scale... nothing to worry about. Until I hit the stream crossings. We crossed one stream three times... ice cold and really freaking high. The third time, the water came up to my hips and I went through way slower than I should have.

I came out of that stream so cold and when I started to run I decided instantly it was a bad idea. The cold would tighten up my IT band, and I might not feel  the pain. I decided to walk to the turnaround from here.

Getting passed by people for hours SUCKS. They need shirts for runners that say Injured on front, and Usually I'm a better runner than this on the back. Once the middle-of-the-pack 20-milers started passing my walking, cold self, I felt awful. Brian Greeley was already heading back in first place, I told him I would trip the next guy and he told me not to because it was our other teammate, Mike Maason, who followed in minutes. 20 milers passed me, I'd tell them that they were doing a good job, and they would say "you too." Really? Really?! I'm pretty much last. I am not doing a good job.

This really started pissing me off. As the 40-milers were heading back, they all told me I was doing well, looking good, etc. I usually love that ultrarunners are like this, but at this race, they were all liars to me. I was not feeling well, I was cold, and I know that I did not look well. And some people were worse. They would pass me and tell me to start running. One told me that I should take advantage of the downhill and run. Idiots! Running downhill is the last thing I want to do right now! Soon, I would let people pass me, and I would wince and grab my leg as I did so.

Finally, a guy passed, and I told him "Good job! Looking great!" and he replied, "I like your pigtails." Awesome. Whoever you are, thank you for complementing my pretty locks as opposed to lying about my lacking performance. I was really downhearted and decided that I'd drop at the next aid. Now that I wasn't running, I was really cold, and didn't feel like hiking 6 miles. Finally, I had purpose. There would be cookies. There would be warmth. I would be done and back with my friends.

More 40-milers passed me and I looked at them with pity. I got to drop soon and wouldn't have to go swimming in ice-cold creeks again. I was not only way smarter but lucky for the excuse to stay away from those streams. I was walking slowly and worried about how cold I was. Losing a toenail during a race was ok, but losing toes would not be.

The flags and white tents were in the distance and I was there! Done! I got the aid station and told them I was dropping with a giant smile on my face. My interaction with the aid station volunteers went like this:

"I'm going to drop!"
"Why don't you take some cookies."
"I'm really cold and I can't run anymore."
"We can give you a blanket."
"I want to stop now."
"It's only 2.5 miles to the end you can make it."
"But, can't you drive me to the turnaround? I'm a 40-miler, I'm already going to drop there."
"We can send you there with a blanket and cookies."

I smiled, thanked them, took cookies, and marched off to the turnaround. Really, I wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves for being so unhelpful when I just wanted to get this over with already. I was disappointed and angry, but there were no cars in sight so I realized that they may have hiked in from a road. Then, I saw their large SUVs and pick-up trucks on the gravel road and I was fine with walking. Having them drive 6 miles just for me would severely impact my carbon footprint average for the month.

Then, I don't know where this came from, but I started crying. I was eating a cookie and realizing that I would go through that stream 10 more times if it meant that I got to chase down the female leader. I would run through a hurricane if it meant that I got to race today and fly downhill and run the flats. I just wanted to recover from all this IT band stuff and be competitive at a race.

I just dared someone to tell me that I was looking good and doing a good job. I would probably finally stop smiling and yell at them. Then, I would throw a cookie at them, which would be unfortunate because then it would get soaked in muddy water and I would still eat it.

I got seriously angry again when a couple passed me and I stood off to the side and they asked if "I was going in the wrong direction." I was stunned and said nothing but I wanted to say: "No, I have not gotten to the turnaround yet. Please open your fat mouth so that I can shove a handful of mud into it you stupid cow."

Then, I heard chanting and cheering. It was only maybe a mile from the aid station, but I was definitely hearing the finish line. Maybe, there was a short-cut and I could make it there by bushwacking. I was really excited... and then I came across a bunch of kids that were hiking, and chanting our race numbers and high-fiving runners. I told them thank you, and that they were sweet. But I was really thinking that these little fuckers should not get our hopes up.  So, soooo not fair. Then, one of the adults joked that "the female leader just passed! Go get her!" and laughed. I wanted to punch him in the face.

The last mile or so was really, really pretty and I enjoyed being out in the woods. Near the finish, there was an old man walking down the trail playing the harmonica, and I thought that I was hallucinating. Finally, I saw the finish/turn-around. I came in, and people started cheering. I took two steps of a mock sprint and then stopped and said "just kidding" and everyone laughed. I then said that I was dropping out of the race and within two minutes, I was drinking bourbon in hot chocolate and sitting by a fire.

Getting back to the start was a hassle, but then I finally made it there to find out that our team kicked butt! Brian got first in the 40M, Mike 4th, Martha won her race, and Sean got 7th. Rob was still out there, but was moving along faster than his goal time.

The race was fun, and even though my emotional chart was more extreme than the elevation chart, I'm glad I did it. I got in twice the miles I've been able to, and I'm definitely healing. Plus, the road trip was probably the most fun thing I've done in a year. I haven't laughed that much in ages.

FYI, Apple cinnamon gels are evil. One opened up in my purse and got EVERYWHERE. Hopefully I will have awesome pics to add to this post soon. Like, 4 of us in one double bed and me brushing my teeth while sitting on a cot in the hotel bathroom. Oh yes.

P.S.: Brian inspired a search for bigfoot in the Uwharrie forest: bigfoot-search-begins-nearby