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Running in the Dark

Sunrise today: 7:11 am

Sunset today: 4:33 pm

Conclusion: winter running sucks. HOWEVER, the worst thing you could do is wait to run until March when daylight savings time starts. Bad idea. No, for those of us with business-hours obligations, running in the dark is wintertime reality, especially if you don’t feel like shelling out $120 a month for a gym membership. I personally don’t think access to a treadmill is worth it. I mean, who wants to pay money to be bored?

 

Now I’m young, female, and was raised to be afraid of being alone outside at night. If you are like me, you might be saying:

 

“Wait Rachel, won’t I get raped by some guy lurking in the park, stabbed 26 times in the neck, and left in a ditch for police dogs to discover 48 hrs later?”

 

I hear you. I really do.

 

But I flippantly say some things are worth dying for, and the liberation and chemical high of running after a day trapped under fluorescent lights for 9 hrs is one of those things.

In all seriousness, I remind you that most areas are just as safe at 6 pm on a Wednesday evening as they are at 6 pm in the daylight – even though it’s dark.

You’re much more likely to get hit by a car. Now that is a fear I can get behind (because if you’re behind it you can’t get hit!). But seriously.

I’ve tried wearing a headlamp, but couldn’t stand how the light-path bobbled around. Wearing it around my waist didn’t’ help. Wearing reflective clothing is always a smart choice, but is still kind of subtle. If nothing else, those mesh reflective running vests are about $20 or less. However, my preferred illumination strategy involves a bike light the sort of which is designed to loop around your handlebars. It’s small and lightweight, and you can wear it like a ring:

hand

When your hand is in a fist, the light shines forward into oncoming traffic. When your hand is open, light shines peripherally towards turning vehicles. These lights are usually buttons activated by simple depression of a large, flat surface, which is easy to do without breaking stride. You can keep them off for the most part (which is good because I have crappy night-vision as it is and the small flashlight makes it so much worse), and turn them on as you approach intersections and thoroughfares. And turn them off again when the danger has passed. Human eyes are attracted to change, so flicking the light on is itself a way to make sure you are seen — in addition to the fact that you are now lit.

And it doubles as a brass knuckle (yup, singular knuckle) if you’re attacked.

I’m just saying.

 

One of the coolest things about running at night is letting your other senses take over. I find myself more aware of the breeze on my skin, and how the temperature drops in low-lying areas. I love running past ponds full of sleeping ducks, seeing the matte darkness of their shapes against the shimmering darkness of the water, and listening to them mutter and clack to each-other. I trust their peacefulness.

Running at night will acquaint you with the phases of the moon. You’ll find yourself planning workouts for nights that are gibbous or full, even if you don’t know what ‘gibbous’ means. You’ll notice when the moon is dark, mark its absence and miss it.

Lyricism aside, obviously some wariness is appropriate. Don’t run on poorly maintained roads or trails if you can’t see the potholes. Keep to heavier-trafficked areas… just in case. Choose roads and neighborhoods lit by streetlamps, well-traveled bike paths, and parks that can be seen from the road.

 

Trust your intuition. Even if you think you’re just freaking yourself out, you don’t need a reason to turn around and go back (or go a different way).

 

And most importantly: DON’T WATCH CHILDREN OF THE CORN IF YOU’RE GOING TO RUN ALONGSIDE A CORNFIELD AT NIGHT!

‘Cause duh.

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I’m sick. I hate being sick. I like to go running to convince myself that I’m not sick. And then I get even sicker.

Cue the classic conundrum: what is too sick to work out?

I’ve been down with the snuffles since the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Remember how I was all ambitious about running longer/harder/smarter/whatever? Some people get injured when they increase too fast too soon, but not me. I get sick. Whatever your weakest link, it’s usually the first to go when your body gets overworked. For me that would be the immune system.

Whether it’s your knee that flares up, chronic plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, hip flexor strains, or the common cold, there’s always that one thing that pops up whenever you were too ambitious.

Here’s a graph. Sorry it doesn’t have numbers on it. It models the “J-curve relationship of exercise and infection.” If you’d like more information, the concept is referenced by the National Institutes of Health here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7883395

figure-1-j-shaped-immunity-and-exercise-curve-1024x920

It means that really avid exercisers are more at risk for upper-respiratory infections (i.e. colds/flu) than both sedentary people and the general population.

I’m writing this post to stave off the stupid plan to go for a run even though I feel like sh*t. I even missed a race today. Good thing it was free.

So let’s refresh our memory, and preempt this January’s season of foolhardy workout goals by reviewing occasions when you really shouldn’t be exercising.

No cardio, No weights:

  • Fever and/or generalized body aches
  • Sinus pain/pressure, nasal congestion with headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Persistent cough/cold with fatigue and/or elevated resting heart rate

All of these tax your immune system even at rest.  Running with these symptoms will make them last weeks instead of days, or even months. The quickest way out is through. Hydrate and rest. Your body is working hard even at rest, and any fitness lost can be regained fairly quickly when you are well. Theoretically you can take about 7 days off before losing fitness. If you’re really desperate, take a 2-3 mile walk. You will probably feel like so crummy after that you will come home and take a 3 hr nap. It’s good for you. If you can’t walk 2-3 miles comfortably, you should not run! Feel free to test yourself if not sure.

No running (cross-training ok):

  • Any musculoskeletal injury that persists while running for more than 2 weeks. It’s not just a niggle at this point. It’s an injury, sorry. Stop running for at least 3 days. The alternative is at least a month or 2 off later.

This is a really great time to brush up on your stretching and ancillary strength activities. Push ups, lunges (side, front, back), planks (side, front, back), single leg squats, hanging leg-lifts, and hip bridges are a good place to start. Then do all of the stretching. If you still have time, practice handstands against a wall.  This should occupy the 30-60 minutes you usually reserve for exercise, and make you feel less like you’re missing out. It will also make you less likely to get injured in the future.

Thanksgiving Weekend

I’ve been sort of silent around the holiday, but that’s mostly on account of the 21 family members from 4 different states who converged on my mom’s house in honor of Thanksgiving 2017. Bless you, mother. And also bless you for living in this town so we didn’t have to travel! That was a fun and exhausting four days, going from living with my husband and sister (yes, it’s an unusual family of 3 over here, but her rent helps with the mortgage, and our low fee makes grad school affordable for her), to the family circus on steroids. I got to meet 2 new baby cousins, and see the other kids all about a foot taller than they were last year. I was also reaffirmed in our decision never to have children of our own. No thank you, sir. Not that they’re not nice to visit, but I’m not really the ‘mom’ type.

I suppose I’d have more energy for all that with less running, but where’s the fun in that?

Fort Collins has a CRAZY fast Turkey trot. Check out the 2017 results! But seriously, there were professional runners in the mix, plus a bunch of Boulder Track Club-ies. It sure was humbling to run my own fairly good race, and still have my ass kicked. It’s those kind of races that help you see room for improvement in your training plan: places to squeeze in daily core strength and stretching, longer long runs, that sort of thing. Goals people, it’s races like that which give me goals.

I did get this nice photo from my mom in which I actually display some rare leg musculature. Mine is a physique that does not show muscle easily. This is a one-in-a-million shot.

rnr

Here’s another for comparison:

rur

That’s more like it. Goodbye muscle. Hello not-fit-not-flabby absence of definition.

The moral? Don’t let race photos get to your head one way or the other. We all have double chins when we look at our feet. Cherry-pick the good ones and frame that shit, because it doesn’t happen every race.

P.S. that is the face of a good hard kick. Also not photogenic.

I was super motivated to do a long run in the foothills west of town on Black Friday. There were a handful of folks out there with me, but not many. It was glorious.

blue gray skiesgray skiesgreen landridges

Can you believe this is 10 minutes’ drive from our house?!? This right here. This is why we moved.

P.P.S. As the holiday season descends upon us, a shout-out to my fellow depression/anxiety/mental illness warriors. It’s ’bout to get real dark real soon. Like, 4 p.m. soon. It’s ’bout to get real stressful, with exams, families, junky holiday food, and high holiday standards. Plus probably some nostalgia lurking around. As if that’s not enough, there’s always bleakest February creepin’ ’round the corner…

The truth is that winter is tough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Take care of yourself. Take your meds. Call your doctor if you cry too much, can’t sleep, feel tired all the time, can’t eat, binge like a maniac, think about hurting yourself, actually hurt yourself, and/or have a panic attack.

P.P.P.S. ‘panic attack’ is a blanket term for any uncontrolled shaking, hyperventilating, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, and/or sweating, and may also include sobbing, screaming, numbness/tingling, and feeling like you’re suffocating. You think it won’t happen to you, until it does.

If you experience a panic attack, know that they peak within minutes, and you will feel safe and calm again when it’s over (albeit weak and fatigued). It’s just another symptom, nothing to be ashamed of.

Schedule self-care in advance, things you’ll look forward to doing. This is a running blog, and I recommend races. They’re community events that get you out in the fresh air, socializin,’ exercisin,’ and moving your body the way it was meant to move. They present a project for you to work towards, and are also a good way to be around people without having to talk, if you don’t want to.

 

 “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t!”

Elle Woods, Legally Blonde

Don’t shoot your husband this holiday season.

 

What do Camille Herron, a Stripper, and a Stay-at-Home Mom All Have in Common?

Why, I follow their blogs of course! I love blogs; they invite you to sneak a peek into other people’s lives. You get to sit in someone else’s head-space, and try their thoughts on for size.

Anyway, let’s start with Camille Herron.

Actually her blog was taken down, I don’t know why. But I was so excited when she set the world record in the 100 mile earlier this month. It’s like when a band you’ve listened to for years breaks into the top 40, or your favorite author becomes a best-seller. I started following her back when I was couch-bound from a stress fracture in 2013. Apparently she had, like, 6 stress fractures in her early running career, and took a break from running to study bone morphology in college. Now she works in a bone lab, and is running again — obviously. She shamelessly supports drinking beer and eating massive amounts of food to fuel long distance running. I guess she’s just too busy winning things to write anymore :(. But it was interesting to watch her vacillate between trying to work full time and keep running, or work part time and keep running, or just run, with extra running. The struggle is real, and I’m glad other people (even the famous ones) experience it too.

Here’s a really thorough interview with Camille from back in 2012: http://www.saltyrunning.com/camille-herron/

Moving on to: the Stripper. 

Her name (stage, obvs.) is Jacq. It’s a riff on Jack the Ripper. Jacq the stripper, right? You can find her at jacqthestripper.com, but I’m not going to hyperlink it here because it’s definitely NSFW, you know. Copy-and-paste on your own time, but it’s totally worth it because her blog exposes stripping for what it is: a job. In light of #metoo, it’s really cool to read about a woman who makes her living by acknowledging, participating in, and putting a price tag on sex culture. Men want it and they’ll pay for it, and that puts the woman in power. She’s smart and feminist without without the holy sanctimonious overtones. She’s a feminist on the front-lines, where the outlook is bleakest. And yet she does it so damn well. Her insider’s take is sassy and droll, and makes me want to prance around in plastic heels for cash. That’s saying something. Unfortunately Fort Collins’ strip scene died when the topless donut shop closed back in ’89.

Why is that not still a thing???

Anyhow, on to tamer subjects, like:

The Stay-at-Home Mom.

Her name is Elise, and she lives at hungryhungryhippie.com. I started following her back in 2012, when she was a nurse working 12s on a busy cardiac step-down. Her m.o. back then was devising nourishing and portable vegan eats for an active nurse-athlete lifestyle. Now she’s an omnivorous mommy-blogger with a highly-allergic preschooler (peanuts, dairy, etc.), and a toddler at home. Obviously times have changed, but I can’t seem to quit the addiction. I think part of the appeal is because I know I will never lead that life; we got married with the understanding that kids aren’t happening. It’s interesting to see the future that could have been.

On that note, thanks for following! We’ll see what sort of future ends up actually happening.  Maybe you’ll be all “omg, I was reading her way back in 2017! She was such a dope back then.”

Ha.

Hacking Healthcare

“Hacking” —  sounds like a new cuss word, doesn’t it? Like, “grumble grumble grumble, hacking healthcare mumble f*cking idiots.”

Hey guys, I went to the doctor today. Like, for my annual, as a patient. It was kind of weird because it’s also my place of work. But I used a whole lot of insider’s knowledge to navigate the process, and it got me everything I wanted. I figured I would share some tips with the class here, because our medical system is one f***** up ball of twine.

 

Let’s talk about getting scheduled. The most popular doctors at our practice are booked 6 months out for annual exams. That would mean calling now to be seen in April. Talk about a crummy deal. Instead, be open to the newer docs, ones still building their practices. NPs and PAs are also awesome. Even the ones with years of experience are usually less booked than their physician counterparts. NPs and PAs are usually perfectly competent to manage your chronic care. As are new MDs. Trust me. And them.

 

Choose someone you think you’ll like. Most practices post bios on their websites these days. I like being seen by someone closer to my age. Generational differences impact medical practice, and doctors aren’t exempt from social constructs. I’d rather have a gen-Xer managing my care than a boomer.

 

The sign of a good doctor is one who knows how to listen. If you feel constantly cut-off, like they’re already working out the plan before hearing your story, the whole story, find someone else. A doctor who listens is worth every copay and premium.

 

Next step: Getting Diagnosed

Don’t hypothesize your diagnosis based on google. Avoid at all costs the phrase “I think I have ______.” Instead, meticulously document your symptoms. Include onset, duration, and triggering or alleviating factors. Try to capture relevant details like “how much,” and “to what degree?” The Internet is a great resource. Just understand that googling symptoms does not constitute a complete evaluation.

 

Here’s a note about lab work: hydrate well, even if you were instructed to be fasting, because water doesn’t count. Dehydration can cause a false positive for kidney malfunction. It also makes it harder for the phlebotomist to find a suitable vein.

 

Getting Prescriptions

Again, doctors exist within a social context. The current social context includes an opioid crisis. People are dying. Doctors lose their licenses over it. Don’t. Ask. For. Opioids. Let your doctor offer them to you, based on the symptoms you described using the format above.

 

The same is true of benzodiazepines. These include the anti-anxiety sedatives Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin. They are super addictive and not indicated for long term use. They pose a high risk for both dependence and abuse. Again. Don’t. Ask. Let the doctor recommend them to you, if he or she deems it appropriate.

 

The last thing not to ask for: antibiotics!!! I don’t care what color your mucus is, let your doctor decide if its viral or bacterial. For the love of all that is holy, let’s try to eke a couple more decades out of the antibiotics we have before all multiple-drug-resistant hell breaks loose.

But for real, do you know how long it’s been since a new antibiotic was brought to market? Google it.

 

Paying for Services

Here’s a secret: after prescribing you your fancy new meds, your doctor actually has no idea how much they’re going to cost. Just like he or she has no idea how much you’re going to pay for your visit.

“It depends on your insurance.” That’s probably the most obnoxious thing I hear myself say on a daily basis.

 

A tetanus shot is $104 if you’re not covered. Flu is $67. They’re usually cheaper at your local drug store, but the local drug store doesn’t have access to your vaccination records and will give you something you don’t need, if you ask for it.

 

I didn’t have any idea how much my new med was going to cost today until I got rung up for $86 by the pharmacist at King Soopers. Fortunately, there’s a really nifty website called goodrx.com that works as an alternative to insurance. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the coupon. If I had it would’ve only been $6. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s for real. If you think you might be prescribed a new medication at your checkup, take a goodrx coupon along for the ride. You can thank me later.

 

Unfortunately I was so tired of driving around town that I just sucked it up and paid the sticker price. Bummer dude.

 

Most insurances cover an annual exam entirely. If your questions and concerns can wait, save them up for your annual, and make sure you use yours each year. It’s sorta-free healthcare, minus the deductible. Even if it’s for anxiety or depression (or frequent UTIs, or plantar fasciitis, or what-bleeping-ever) that you truly need to be seen, schedule it as an annual exam if you’re due anyway. Chances are your doc will bill it as such and you won’t have to pay.

 

If you’ve already used your annual, try reaching out by email. It’s not uncommon for practices to have an online patient portal that you can use to access results and contact your provider. Instead of scheduling a 15 minute appointment that costs over $100 out of pocket, shoot your PCP a question online. They might tell you to come in, but they also might put in that referral or prescription for you free of charge.

 

Getting Follow-up Care

Finally, remember that your clinical staff are gatekeepers. We have a wealth of knowledge regarding your records, vaccination schedule, and home-care. We also have your doctor’s ear, and the power to rearrange his/her schedule. If you are nice to us, we find it easier to do nice things for you. Things like calling the neurologist you can’t get in to see until January, and persuading them to fit you in at noon tomorrow.

 

We’re kind of awesome like that. But it’s easier when you’re nice.

 

I Wish…

I wish working out were a bigger part of our culture. Marketing fitness — the diets, clothes, shoes, fad programs, celebrity trainers, trendy body types, magazines and cookbooks — that’s a huge part of our culture. But what about just giving us the time and space to sweat?

There are hundreds of ways to move your body. I mean, if hitting up nightclubs is your thing that’s totally legit, just make sure you’re up and dancing. If you’re an early-morning yogi, that’s cool too. Hiker, yup. Biker, check. Lunchtime speed-walker, welcome! Slack-liner ultimate frisbee player disc golf frat bro, sure why not. Runner, obvious yes. And so. much. more.

Wouldn’t it be cool if workplace culture supported all that? What if we had 80-90 minute lunches so you could take 20 to eat, and 50-60 to exercise. Locker rooms and showers. Monthly bonuses for using the gym, logging workouts, and/or posting healthy/improved vital signs. A lot of companies have small rewards for being tobacco-free and posting healthy vitals, but we’re talking like, $25 here, $50 there. It’s worth more, and I want more! So much money goes into to treating complications from hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, and all the other plagues of an inactive life. Actually implementing the time, space, and incentives to manage them through exercise would free up significant resources!

What if you could get a prescription from your doctor mandating a daily exercise break if you aren’t able to fit it into your day otherwise? What if workplaces had to comply? Single parents, full time students with full time jobs, minimum-wage double- or triple-job holders, this one’s for you. What if society expected you to get moving?

Exercise boosts mood, stimulates creativity, and releases stress — everything which supports happy workers. I hypothesize reduced absenteeism and increased productivity would adequately compensate for the minor reduction in working hours secondary to implementing ‘adult recess’ in the workplace. I dunno. A girl can dream…

A related note:

My sister and I like to do playground workouts. It’s simple: you find a playground and use it like the free, city-funded gym that it is. Chin ups, tap swings, jumping and circuit work are all possible. It’s play. My sister is also an aerialist, and will string up her lyra at playgrounds for a free place to practice. The cost beats a $25 session at her studio. Of course it’s cool, exotic, and attracts a lot of attention from the kiddos on site. The awesome thing is that they see this adult doing creative acrobatics, and start using the playground equipment in noticeably more inventive ways. By the time we leave, kids are climbing and swinging in new places/ways and at a more adventuresome level.  They beg their parents for classes in gymnastics or circus arts. And the parents actually consider. I like to think we have something to do with it!

lyra

 

Above: chillin’ on the lyra.

Exercise can be cool, fun, and playful!

Exercise is lyfe.

 

Goals aren’t just for January

Hey! Happy sunny fall Sunday!

 

Today was a great day for the Estes Trail Ascent. Rugged, gorgeous, steep ups and downs, and only 4 and 6.75-mile courses: it’s a lovely option for people [like me] who don’t want to commit longer trail racing adventures. I mean, I just like to actually run the entire time!

 

It was an especially awesome day because my slow-and-steady recovery from surgery is paying off. To re-cap, the operative date was 7/5/17 (happy day after 4th of July!). I was up and walking around the neighborhood by the end of post-op week 3. That took f-ing forever. My first post-operative run was 8/12. Running was suuuuper effortful for the next 3 weeks. I started to add in speed work around 9/1. My first race back was a 4k on 10/1, which was 2.5 miles of remembering what it means and feels like to race. On 10/7 I raced a 10 mile, which wiped the last of the rust out of my knees and kind of achy quads. I realize this is kind of a big jump, 4k to 10 mile, but I am a sturdy runner with a long history of running. Sometimes it’s better to just take the plunge and get it over with! Although today’s race took well over 50 minutes, that’s trail running for you, and I earned 2nd place!

 

Part of me thinks “ah yes, it is I, the perennial second place finisher.” And then the rest of me is like: “Oh yeeeeah! I’m ba-ack!”

I won a box of off-brand gu. Yay?

2ndplace

So lets talk about how to get back in the game when you’re out of shape and ready to change that.

  1. Make time to train
    • Assess your odds and ends of unstructured time. Pre-dawn? Lunch? Kids’ sport practice? TV after dinner? Where in the puzzle of your life can running possibly fit?
    • Find multiple, so if you miss one you can use another. For example, I can’t always haul my butt out of bed at 5am, but when I don’t I can run at lunch. If that fails, I try to go after work. Granted, I don’t have kids, so things are a little more flexible around here.
    • Get over making excuses. If you really want to achieve it, you will find the space. Even if that means getting up early, or hitting the pavement after work and making the kids ride their bikes alongside you. At least 4 days a week.
  2. Make training a habit
    • Start off just by creating the space to train. You don’t need to put in the heavy work while also adjusting to your schedule. For example, if you aren’t used to early runs, start by just taking an early morning walk. 15-20 minutes should suffice to begin, and you can start pushing the duration once you’ve proved you can reliably get out of bed. A week or two later, run instead of walking. You can still keep it short.
    • Set goals, and reward yourself for sticking to your schedule. A special purchase, permission to be guilt-free on your off day(s). A good book on tape, or music that you’re only allowed to listen to when you’re exercising. Just so long as you’re intentional about exercising as frequently as you’d set your mind to, and equally intentional about treating yourself with kindness and compassion for putting in the effort.
  3. Vary the routine, routinely
    • Now it’s time to push yourself. But start slow: a 5 min up-tempo here, a couple of striders there. Work up to efforts that leave you uncomfortable and breathless, but not every day. We still want you to have the energy and enthusiasm to come back again tomorrow and also to rest and recover from the harder days. Pushing too hard, too soon is a really solid strategy for getting injured!
    • Create a framework that keeps you honest: sprints on Monday, jog on Tuesday, Tempo Wednesday, rest Thursday, hills on Friday [or whatever your schedule, you get the picture].
    • But seriously! Keep your brain at the wheel. The heart only gets to drive for, like, 5-10 minutes at a time. When you’re coming back from injury or illness, of course you need a little heart. Feel the endorphin rush, find the joy that comes from almost being able to fly again. And then back off. Reign it in.
  4. Reserve a special type of training as a reward
    • This is for when you are feeling on the brink of fitness. Strong enough, now, to not be fragile. Strong enough to deal with the aches and pains of cleaning the cobwebs from the deepest shadows.
    • Something to look forward to when you’re slogging through the joyless work.
    • Something that does make your heart soar and your brain take backseat.
    • Something beautiful, something fun, something social…
    • For me that something is racing. My goal is to race at least once a month. This month, about 90 days out from surgery, I’ve raced 3 times already, and it feels like a celebration. Each one has been better than the last!

 

My lonely little car at the top of the mountain today. I got there early.

car

Top of the hill.

hill

Looking down

steep

Cute bandana on my friend’s backpack:

cute

Races! Long and Short

I’m in awe of my trail-ultra-marathoning friends.

 

Two of them (hi Tyler! hi Kelly!) just ran 100 and 50-mile races, respectively. In the mountains. At 8000 feet.

 

We went up to Steamboat to ‘watch.’ In my case, this meant being at the start and the finish, and keeping an eye on the clock in between.

At noon on Friday, when I was clocked out to lunch at work, Tyler started running. He was running at 6pm when we piled into the car to drive up to Steamboat. He was still running 3 hours later when we pulled into town and went out for a late dinner. He was running at 11pm, when I crashed into bed. While I woke up at 5am to go see Kelly start, Tyler ran.

At 6 am Kelly started running. She remained on the course for the next 12 hours. During that time I ran, showered, drank a pumpkin-spice latte, wrote a blog post, wrote wedding thank you notes, ate three times, dorked around on facebook, called my mom, went swimming, went for a walk, and took a nap. I also read a book.

Until this point, ultra trail running was more of a theoretical experience; something people do out of sight and mind, that you read about later in magazines.

This was the first time I’d witnessed little headlamp lights of runners bobbing off into pitch predawn darkness.

This was my first time to see someone cross a finish line over a day since they’d started to race, streaked in dust and sunburnt so they seemed a differently ethnicity entirely. This was such a long race that the finish line was active for literally 8+ hours!

This is the first time I watched so many racers finish in states of such emotional upheaval. Just finishing can be a huge triumph, just putting one foot in front of the next is success. The potential for suffering is high. Tyler dropped out after an impressive 70+ miles, due to unbearable pain. Kelly fought untold hours of stomach upset, and never stopped. I literally cannot comprehend that much running.

There must be an inexplicable inner compulsion to keep going, something that is never satisfied, that you can’t just pick up off the side of the road; not so much a chip on the shoulder as gauntlet thrown down to the self, by the self.

 

It’s incredible. But I’m definitely not there (yet).

 

Here’s a picture — or three — from the beautiful flatland [but still hilly] 10 mile course I raced yesterday. It’s called the Bacon Strip :). I never thought I’d think of a 10 mile race as short!

That’s Longs Peak:

montanyas

That’s Bryan reading a book and ignoring his sexy wife stretching on the hood of the car:

shoe

That’s my fantastic cheer crew! And a very dusty, sweaty me.

4friends

 

Nothing like racing to hijack you back into shape. I was painfully sore from a gymnastics class I took last week (acro-parkour, actually, and it was awesome), and the race helped to shake it off. Funny how that works. I continue to believe that one of the best ways to get faster is to run faster. I.e., race. Race to get in shape, race when you are in shape, and then race to get into better shape. Even if you’re not fast enough to race to win, you can still race!

Runners Should Eat Oysters!

Because they’re an aphrodisiac? Nope – being a runner is already sooo sexy! LOL.

048000000675_cf___jpeg_31

In all seriousness, oysters are incredibly high in protein and iron. Do you know how difficult it can be to get enough of those –especially iron– from ‘regular food?’ With the prevailing wisdom that fewer animals and animal-products in your diet is healthier, getting your RDA (recommended daily allowance), let alone what you need as an athlete-in-training, is tricky business. Women tend to have a tougher time of this, as their caloric needs are less then men, and so more of what we eat needs to be high nutrient.

Living at altitude also increases your iron consumption, so needs can exceed even what’s listed here!

 

Let me break it down for you:

Protein % RDA Iron
Spinach: 1 cup 0.9g 4%
Tofu: 1 cup 21 g 23%
Chicken breast: 1 26g 5%
Hamburger: 8 oz 26g 10%
Pork: 5 oz 23g 0%
Oysters (canned): 1 cup 11g 60%

(source: myfitnesspal.com for the nutrition info, and http://www.ewg.org for the glamorous oyster pic)

To get enough iron from the conventional ‘high-iron’ foods, you would need to eat 1 of the following options:

24 cups of spinach

4 (and a bit) cups of tofu

20 chicken breasts!!!

10 hamburgers

Endless pork (it will never be enough)

About 1.6 cups of canned oysters.

 

Which sounds most reasonable to you? Yes. The oyster option is most reasonable. Of course, you don’t have to get all your iron from one food source. Oysters will still pack a big punch and turn the other options into more reasonable accessories. If you don’t like the flavor you can always drown them in tomato sauce, or soup.

Notice tofu, not red meat, is the next most formidable. I think that’s pretty cool! But bear in mind that non-animal iron (aka non-heme iron) is less readily integrated by our bodies. Oyster-iron, however, is heme, and therefore easy-access!

 

Normally I like to eat locally, but I make exceptions. Although… Rocky Mountain Oysters do have 10% of your iron in a cup. Still, no.

 

This is also why many runners, especially women, take iron supplements. Which I should totally have done during that last round of marathon training… Remember? But I was under the illusion that I eat well enough to fuel up on food alone. I mean, that’s not too far-fetched an idea, right? Looking at the actual nutrient contents of some of these so-called staples makes me re-evaluate. Ah well, there’s always oysters!

Although I would love to be paid for my writing, this isn’t a sponsored post. I get 0% of Chicken of the Sea’s profit  :-).

P.S. Clams are good too. For some reason they aren’t as ubiquitous in the landlocked grocery stores ’round here.

“Apples and Collarbones” — Emily Stets’ Story

Emily’s story is her own, but it is also part of a larger chorus about the struggle of running at St. Olaf. She’s tough and she’s wonderful, and I’m so glad that she asked me to share her fight with you. Also, I hope she doesn’t mind I stole the awesome pic from her Facebook page, because it is the picture of a woman who’s unafraid.

That’s my intro, and now the rest of this is all her:

 

Apples and Collarbones, and the Omnipresent ED

“I don’t really eat apples anymore. Their sickly-sweet smell gives me nausea, bringing me back to the days when they were a “treat” after lunch, a lunch I’d waited five hours to eat. Back then, there were rules for everything—when to eat (five hours in between meals), when to exercise (every day), how long to exercise (until you were exhausted), and when to sleep (as much as you could). It took me a while to get there, to that place.

“There” was junior year of high school, when I honed in on my high school’s 400m dash record. “There” when I realized that cutting dessert in the name of shaving seconds off my time actually worked, “there” being pacing my team through workouts, always a step ahead, slingshotting around that second curve faster than I thought possible, “there” being “I feel dizzy, it’s probably nothing,” “there” being losing circulation to my outer limbs as my body slowly starved itself, “there” being the gaunt curve of my collarbone that jutted out in distaste for the skin it covered, “there” being an irritable wreck at all hours of the day, “there” being brushing my dull-colored hair and watching it fall out in clumps, “there” being waiting five hours just to peel the skin off a damn apple and feign satisfaction.

I remember my eating disorder (ED) because I thought it was diagnosed backwards—my technical diagnosis was ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), the grab bag for folks who fail to fit squarely into anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or others in the DSM. I showed a combination of symptoms across the board. People kept asking me what the hell was wrong, but I couldn’t explain it to them. I wanted to be the best; wasn’t that worth it?

I remember the tingling trepidation as I entered St. Olaf Track and Field, knowing the team’s reputation of dogged determination and dinner plates heaped with spinach, one tiny chicken breast, and an apple. At that point, I had already traced the roots of eating disorders through my extended family – a genealogy of self-restriction and starvation – and knew I was gambling with my mental health as I did so.

To bring my weight up and convince myself to eat again, I told myself that if I wanted to reach my peak performance, I needed to properly fuel my body to do so. It’s technically an accurate statement, but it only put me in a new cycle of exercise dependence. Now, in order to justify eating anything, I had to exercise to “balance it out.”

The fact that the running culture at Olaf seemed to quietly accept this sort of dependence only fueled my new habits. You quickly learned the runner’s hierarchy of needs—exercise came first, then a small plate of leafy greens and small protein portions just palatable enough to be vaguely satisfying before settling in for long hours of studying. There was always a reason to starve—you just had to want it enough.

This kind of thinking had served me well as a competitor, but alongside my ED, it bared its teeth when I barely hit 97 pounds on the scale.  

At this point, most folks I knew experienced depression alongside their eating disorder, a shadow side occupying the fringes of rules, naked collarbones, and syrupy apples. But my therapist, wise as ever, recognized my discombobulated ED as a symptom of deeper distress and worked to heal that divide through high school and college. Though slow, that method worked.

The ED symptoms remained, but I blended right in at Olaf, where so many around me practiced habits just borderline enough to be considered sane, all in the name of discipline. My haphazard plan worked for a while – I brought my weight up, my skin grew to cover the jut in my collarbone, and the circulation returned to my fingers. Halfway through college, I ran the most intoxicating race of my life. I remember waving the conference heat sheet in my coach’s face, desperate to know how the hell I was supposed to strategize in the second heat of the 600m dash when all six of us were ranked within one second of each other. She shrugged and said, “Get out fast and hang on.”

You don’t come out of blocks for a 600m. I remember jogging up to the line and crouching over awkwardly at the “On your marks” and waiting for the gun. When it went off, so did I. From lane five in the indoor track, I made the cut at the 200m ahead of the other runners. I remember literally running like someone was chasing me, mostly because I was terrified of being passed before the finish line and humiliated.

In the end, I ran through the finish and doubled over 20m past it, unsure of why my coach and teammates were shrieking in my ears. I looked up at my coach and then at the scoreboard, which flashed two sets of numbers to my dizzy eyes. The score shattered my previous PR and landed me in the lead, which I held even as the final heat of the fastest runners took their marks.

As much as I can still taste the sweaty, salty victory from that race, I also remember the wicked jolt of coming down from that high a week later, when I cleaned my locker late one night and did not return to track again. Despite my apparent “success,” I was very unwell mentally and emotionally and couldn’t face my teammates, the same ones who had surrounded me, screaming, a week earlier when I crossed the finish line in a most unlikely victory.

I had slowly, painfully reached the conclusion that I would never be free from my ED. Even after years of competition and finishing the best race of my life, my depression clawed at me with the same urgency as my hunger. I knew that the only way out was the way in, back into my ED and why it was happening, which I couldn’t do while pretending I was sane and healthy.

A few days later, after the outdoor season began and I worked out late at night to avoid any runners I knew, I ran into Rachel Dean in Fireside. I knew she was a distance runner and I remember being afraid that she, like others, would wonder why I couldn’t just muscle through it, keep calm, run your intervals, show some goddamn stamina and discipline. Instead, I remember sitting down to someone who understood exactly what I was doing and praised me for my decision.

I explained that I wanted my body to rest, needed to take a step back and heal my habits before they became too permanent, to go back into therapy and rest from competition (perhaps permanently), and she completely understood. I left that conversation feeling hopeful.

That point was, by no means, the end of the story, and won’t beleaguer you with too many details. Many of our stories contain heroes who confronted us when we were too starved to think straight, mothers who shrieked in our faces and threatened to take away college if we didn’t “get our act together,” friends who helped us face our self-harm, visible and invisible, soft-spoken young women named Anna who manned the Suicide Hotline on cool March evenings, siblings who made clear that they give zero shits about how fast we run, as long as we give them back their sister.

I can say that with ED and depression, my greatest life challenges have become cyclical in a hypnotic, almost comforting way. When you know you can’t beat something into submission, there is an opportunity to ask how you can live with it and learn from it.

I know I will technically spend the rest of my life in recovery. I don’t mean to sound dramatic – it’s merely a vocalization of what I know to be true. I’ll never “crush” my ED. I’ll never fully be in remission, free from relapse, free from dragging myself through a run even though my ankle is throbbing, free from shedding hair and collarbones and the claw of hunger, the apple suddenly not falling very far from the tree.

I was lucky enough to face the 97-pound demon while I still had the wherewithal to do so, before the habits wore ruts into trenches in my mind. However, the competitive running environment at Olaf was not conducive to conversations about ED, mental health, and overall holistic well-being. It’s a tough balance to strike, holding a competitive edge while creating scaffolding and services for struggling athletes to access and use, but one St. Olaf desperately needs.

It’s one of the reasons I wrote this piece, to carry on the stories Rachel and Emma wrote, to add yet a third underline to this narrative that ED has a terrible, special hold on runners, particularly runners at Olaf.

This culture is one that will not lessen by muscling through it, head down, throbbing ankles and stress fractures and hearts aside. The only way to go is in—into the uncomfortable conversations, into the lifelong ramifications of ED, into the ways we can strive to build a culture of female runners who have a healthy relationship with food and exercise rather than a contract with it.

Just as I felt after I spoke with Rachel, this dialogue continues to give me hope. It is possible to deconstruct and build a new culture of runners at Olaf, but that will be impossible if we carry on with business as usual. Don’t let the voices and stories of your alumni go unheard. Grab the heat sheet, march up to the starting line, and throw down the gauntlet.

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