Thursday, November 10, 2011

PacMan. (Or.."What I Got For Christmas")




Must. Keep. Swimming.    My mantra for several weeks now.  Since August came and went, I've literally been a fish out of water.  Or a chicken with my head cut off.  Or just ridiculously, almost painfully busy.  But I'm on a streak of what I like to call "fireworks in the butt".  I'm not really running on fumes yet, and if I'm lucky I won't have to.  I promised myself this year that I would do everything in my power to maintain that fantastic BALANCE in my life---even if my life is crazy.  I know this is absolutely necessary because last year at this time, I was in the same position.  Only I wasn't in balance check.  And I got sick.  (See http://gutsygirlsadventures.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-i-spent-my-christmas-vacation-or.html)  

So, I've turned health maintenance into a sort of game.  (Yeah, just like me to turn this into a competition, of sorts.)   I envision a nostalgic game of PacMan, where I am Pacman, desperately running from my enemies Pinky, Inky, Blinky and Clyde.   If I win, I get a billion extra lives--and make it through the holidays in peak condition, which, let's face it, is a reward all in itself!

And truly,  if this really were a game, I think I would have attained the highest score of all time, (yes, I'm bragging).  Because,  while my colleagues, staff, and athletes were all around me falling prey to the endless stream of illness that were passed back and forth for weeks and weeks--I somehow survived.   During one of our winter day camps, 8 out of 15 campers missed the last day of camp due to a nasty stomach flu.  Again, somehow, I survived.

How?  Well, I talk about BALANCE so much, that I sometimes think this blog should just be called "Balance 101".  But seriously, I can't think of anything more important than maintaining a healthy balance in our lives.  It's the foundation to everything else--our physical health, our emotional health, our longevity, our happiness, our relationships, our spirituality!  So in my mad game of "PacMan", I kept up with my routine.  I continued my running/yoga/crossfit regimen, I ate lots of veggies and whole foods (particularly after a bigger meal of holiday goodies and spirits), I took my vitamins, I made sure I got 8 hours of sleep every night and worked and played hard during the day so that the sleep I did get was highest quality.

I am proud of my family members for adopting the same tenacity for maintaining their health and balance too, because it was an extremely busy time for them too.  My dad officially opened the doors to Anytime Fitness right after Thanksgiving and has been working like a dog every single day, building a place that demonstrates and offers everyone an opportunity to experience the kind of health they deserve.  I love that even amidst the stress of opening a new business, my dad and mom both took time for themselves to keep their health in balance and made it a priority to get out of town for a couple of days during the holidays.  It was the first time, in a while, that every single family member was in town for Christmas and together.  And because everyone was healthy, we were able to really enjoy each other and our time together.

This is not something to take for granted, for sure!  It takes hard work for twelve people to keep themselves healthy, especially during the busiest time of the year.  So I am grateful that my family understands the importance of making it a priority for themselves and also doing it for each other.  Truthfully, it's the greatest gift any of us could ever receive.  It's something that takes diligence and perseverance and can obviously be very difficult at times.  But the rewards far outweigh the hard parts. I mean, who doesn't want a billion extra lives, right?  Aaahh...PacMan.  Anyone wanna play?

Part of the Anytime Fitness Gang at a Healthiest Town In America Event

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Skyline 50 Report...and Lessons Learned The Hard Way.

 Right before the start of the Skyline 50.   Excited, but COLD!  Hence...the crazy moeben sleeves and strained look on my face!  We're not in AZ anymore!  HaHa!
There's nothing like racing in 60 degrees, slightly overcast temps after spending months and months waking up at 4:00 in the morning just to beat the sun, get some decent miles in before triple digits hit, while desperate for the only shade available-- a little sliver offered by a giant saguaro cactus!   Skyline 50 in Castro Valley, CA offered me every opportunity to kick some major ass--cool temps, soft trail, and a fast course.    When my brother, his girlfriend, and Kelly brought me to the start at 6:30 in the morning, it was so cold, I was wearing two sweatshirts and track pants.  I huddled over a little bonfire with some other runners and shivered with anticipation.  At the race start, I overheard two other women talking about the qualifying time needed for a spot on the North Face Endurance Championship Team for Dec and how they'd better break 5 hours.  After listening in on their race strategy, I realized I'd probably be stupid not to follow their plan, since I had every intention of gaining one of those spots for the team.  The first three miles of the race was a rolling paved bike path around Lake Chabot, which I was dreading.  My left foot, right below my middle toe and the ball of my foot had been bothering me for a few days and I was worried the pavement would irritate it more.  I was wearing my NB Minimus, which I knew would be fine on the softer forest trails and even the fire roads, but pavement?  Yikes!  I scrambled to get a spot near the sides of the path, where I could run on what little, narrow dirt I could find.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was moving fast.  Maybe too fast.  But I got those three miles done with a huge sigh of relief.  The next several miles were pretty hilly--lots of wide dirt fire roads with glimpses of the lake and some canyon country below.  The fog was still pretty thick though, and there were times I couldn't see anything but the road before me and the trees above me.  I cruised at a decent pace, keeping my two "competitors" in sight at all times.  We passed each other several times before hitting the single track forest trail near mile 12.  It was here that I felt most relaxed.  I was ahead of the girls and it was quiet.  The trail was soft , but challenging, with a massive amount of poison oak to keep me alert and constantly  watching my footing.  My speed was decent, I hit my goal of under 2:50 at the halfway point, decided to dig into my drop bag at the aid station and switched to my NB 101's since my left foot was starting to cramp up, and took two hammer gels along with some endurolytes.   I left the aid station feeling strong and excited to head into the gorgeous redwood forest.  About 5 minutes later, trouble started brewing in my stomach.  I took a ginger chew, hoping to settle things.  The vomiting started a few minutes later.  Frustrated, I tried to back track and drink more water.  I tried another gel, then another ginger chew.  Nothing stayed in my stomach.  Not even the water.  My back started seizing up from all the vomiting, and I was reduced to walking.  Several people passed me, offering salt tabs, electrolytes, and ginger.  Someone alerted the aid station a couple miles ahead and one of the volunteers met me about a quarter mile from station to assess my situation.  I was desperately trotting at this point and told her that I thought I might need to stop.  At the aid station, the volunteers gave me pepto, sprite, and more ginger and asked if I thought I could make it to the next aid station, 4 miles away.  I thought I could and went on my way. My back stopped seizing up, but I continued vomiting off and on for those next few miles.   At the next aid station, I drank some ginger ale and mixed it with some endurolyte fizz and this seemed to do the trick.  I was able to get back to my cruising pace and pass several of the people who had passed me in the forest.  Still, I had lost a good 90 minutes and came through the finish line happy to have finished, but frustrated with my time.

Having spent three months building up to race form, it was definitely disappointing that I had come to a point of almost DNFing the race.  But I certainly learned a lot from my experience at Skyline--#1 being that I simply can't be influenced by other's race strategies.  If I had stuck with my plan, MY strategy, instead of following those two women at the start, I probably would have run a great race and hit my goal and qualifying time for North Face.  I know I waited far too long into the race to fuel and hydrate properly and I certainly paid for it!  

No regrets though.  The course was beautiful and so different from my training grounds that I was mostly in a state of bliss, even after it was all said and done.  I met some amazing people, including several incredible volunteers who certainly went out of their way to help me out and cheer me on even in  my worst moment!   And though I didn't qualify for the championship team, I can still enter the championship race in Dec.  Another beautiful northern CA course---how can I resist?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Family That PLAYS Together...

1987 Urbanski Family rafting trip in Colorado.
Quite a while ago, I had the good fortune to be asked to speak at a Girls On The Run function.  Speaking to a group of middle school girls about the benefits of making healthy life choices, something I'm so passionate about, was a no brainer.  That is,  until one of the girls asked what I thought was a simple question:  Why did you decide to be healthy?  And why is it so hard for other people to choose to be healthy?  Hmmmm.  Yeah....I was stumped.  I mean,  I know MY reasons for choosing a healthy lifestyle, but I can't answer for everyone.  And I don't really know why it's hard for others.  So...I thought it would be really cool to ask others what they thought about this topic.  This post will begin a series of interviews I'll be conducting with various people who have been of significant influence to my choices.    More specifically, these people, I believe, hold great insight into the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle and by interviewing them, I hope that myself and my readers will learn more about the benefits of choosing to treat our bodies well.

My first interview is with Mike and Gail Urbanski, who recently became owners of Anytime Fitness, a 24 hour fitness center that provides a unique, non-intimidating environment where people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and fitness levels can come and reach their fitness goals.   Mike and Gail are also parents to 4 children (including me!) and 2 grandchildren.  Mike has been a runner for most of his life, having competed in countless road races, marathons, triathlon and ultramarathon.  Gail has also competed in road races, and has always incorporated endurance and strength activities into her daily regimen whether it be jazzercise in the 80's or rollerblading and cycling.  What better way to start off my interview series, than with the two people who have influenced me most!
Mike Urbanski  
Gail Urbanski 










GG (Gutsy Girl):  What did "healthy" mean to you as you were growing up?

GAIL:  I grew up in Los Angeles in the 50's.  Back then, we were always outside playing.  "Exercise" was not a word we really stressed.  Mostly, I think, because there was no need to stress it--we were constantly moving, rollerskating, biking, jumping rope, inventing games.  There were no special classes and there weren't a lot of organized sports, especially for girls.  My mother was extremely active and quite an athlete.  She played on a church volleyball team when she was young and softball until her father told her it wasn't "ladylike".  But later, as she became an adult, she was constantly seeking out new sports and activities.  I wasn't encouraged to play organized sports, but I was constantly playing hopscotch, tag, tetherball, volleyball, and basketball.  My mother did not let us sit around the house or sleep in.  She would come in our rooms in the early morning and sing loudly to wake us up.

MIKE:  I grew up in Ohio in the 50's.  My parents didn't exercise a lot back then, and they both smoked cigarettes.   But my uncles, who were a little bit older than me were all into sports and very active.  They taught me how to play sports.   I played outside a lot, did little league, midget football, etc.   When we moved to Tucson, when I was in 8th grade, I participated in my first track meet and fell in love.  For whatever reason, being on the cross country and track team made me feel good about myself and this is what really led to my healthy lifestyle.  It wasn't so much by example, but by experience and falling into a sport I really loved.  I did it long enough that it became habit.

GG:  How about nutrition?

GAIL:  In my household, we ate a lot of fresh vegetables and fish from a delivery truck that came by once a week and blew a whistle in the neighborhood.  We didn't have a lot of sugar or ice cream.  Never soda.  On special occasions, like birthdays, we'd have treats.   Our parents went through the Depression though, and we were fortunate to grow up during a very a very good time and our parents wanted to provide more for us.  There was a mentality of "clean your plates"  and "sit there until you finish all your food".  They didn't want us to waste anything.

MIKE:  In the midwest, I ate more ice cream, sop, potato chips and Tasty Taters.  But we didn't overindulge, not the way people do today.  We didn't sit down and eat a whole carton of ice cream.  We didn't have time--we were too busy playing outside!  My mom grew up on a farm and we always had home made meals and fresh food.

GG:  When you met and got married, did you talk about your health or how your lifestyle as a couple would be?

GAIL:  No.  We didn't talk about our health, but I remember that when your dad was running back then, people thought it was odd.

MIKE:  It wasn't until 1972, when Frank Shorter won the olympic marathon that started the running boom in the United States.  In 1976, my brother and I started a running organization in Ohio and it took off.

GG:  How about when you had kids?  Did you make any conscious decisions together on how to keep your kids healthy?

GAIL:  There were a lot of progressive thoughts in the 1970's that contributed to our decisions.  For instance, when you were born, it was a big deal to make your own baby food.  Sugar and soda and things like that weren't talked about as being "bad" for the body as much as bad for our teeth.  But we just knew it wasn't good for our kids.  We didn't really talk about it.  We always tried to keep with our instincts.

MIKE:  I was racing a lot when our kids were born and constantly reading up on what was healthy for me, so that I could be at my best, so it just trickled down to our kids.  We owned a restaurant at the time, so we had a lot of fresh produce and meats and we were committed to being healthy ourselves and providing you kids with the same opportunity.

GG:  Were your kids as active as you were when you were growing up?

GAIL:  You were active very, very young.  You all started swimming early and ran in fun runs by the time you were 4 or 5 years old.

MIKE:  You came to all my races when you were little.  Your mom would run too and because it was a part of our lifestyle, you'd participate.  We just lived this way, we didn't have a conversation talking about how we needed to do this for our kids, it was a normal part of life.  Our vacations were about the outdoors--camping, backpacking, hiking, swimming, running.  You learned early that this is what we did.  As a result, you all wanted to continue to be active and whatever sports you wanted to do, we supported it.
My brothers and me 1988.  Our first backpacking trip down the Grand Canyon.  My youngest brother  was only 6 years old.

As you got older, we knew if you were involved in healthy things, you wouldn't get involved in unhealthy things.  We wanted that for you and for you to always be surrounded by people like that.


GG:  Obviously your family sees the benefit of being healthy and the longevity it has provided you.  People are always commenting on how young and energetic you are.  So what can you tell us about how you feel today and how you've maintained your health?

MIKE:  My shift is now not as much about being fast and competitive, but how healthy I can be.    I log what I eat and the type of exercise I do.  This helps me be more aware of what I'm doing for my body.  I crosstrain more now--swimming, biking, weightlifting ,along with my running.  I sleep better because I've chosen a new lifestyle (Anytime Fitness) that is less stressful, and healthier for me emotionally.  We look at the ingredients we put in our meals and don't eat out much.

GAIL:  I had two sisters die too young and it has really made me take a look at what I can do for myself and it's been a lot about preventative care.  I want to look good and feel good for me and it's why I always go for a yearly check-up to make sure I'm doing everything I can for my body.  It's harder as I get older and it's frustrating sometimes, but ultimately, I want to be good to my body.  It's not all about food and exercise---it's about how you deal with stress and it's effect on your life.

MIKE:  I want to continue to lead by example.  I believe I have an obligation to my family and children and grandchildren to be a role model.

GAIL:  Maybe it takes living and experiencing as much as we have to understand that it's about WELLNESS--it's the whole package.  I know that I have to be realistic and not beat myself up.  I can't be married to the scale, and I can't deprive myself.  I have to eliminate the stress in my life and balance it all out.

Ultimately though,  this works for us because we have an incredible support system in each other.  We both want a healthy lifestyle and it's much easier to achieve it when you have that support!


GG:  What about your gym, Anytime Fitness ?

MIKE:  Some people think we're crazy for doing this at our age, but this is what we do---we take risks, especially when it's about helping others and supporting others in reaching their health and fitness goals. We recognize that so many people are just afraid to get started and that's why we're passionate about offering a non-intimidating environment.

GAIL:   Again, it's the whole wellness thing.  I know the benefits of a life less stressful and I don't want to deplete all of my energy every single day.  It's a lifestyle and we want that for others.

GG:  Thank you for taking the time to talk about this!

GAIL:  This was good.  I think it's important to remember why we do this and why it's so important to us!

GG:  If people are interested in your gymAnytime Fitness where should they go?

MIKE:  Our website isn't done yet, but if you go to the link (click on my links above) it will take you to our Facebook page and you can find out more information.  The renovations start Tuesday 7/12 and we're hoping to open by late summer!
Mike and Gail's grandsons Michael and Grady.  It runs in the family!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The "ON" Button

In six weeks, I'm racing the Skyline 50 trail race in Castro Valley, CA.  I say "racing" because I truly mean to try and kick it up a notch and see what I'm capable of this year.  In the past, most of the ultras I've entered have been more about "just finishing" than actually racing.  This is the first year I've felt healthy enough to raise the bar.   If all goes well, and I end up reaching my goals at Skyline, I'll be racing again in December at the North Face Endurance Championships in San Francisco.

I'm pretty excited that at 37 years old, after years and years of "almost there" , I'm finally feeling like I'm reaching my athletic capabilities and goals.  KNOCK ON WOOD, I'm healthy and uninjured..FINALLY!  This level of health has actually saved me in the last few weeks when "survival mode" had to kick in during some extremely long days that required me to be in constant motion and have non-stop energy from before sunrise to after sunset.  What I found was that maintaining and being diligent about my training schedule, sleep schedule, and nutrition needs during these crazy, whirlwind days most definitely allowed me to have enough energy and stamina to make it through without getting sick or suffering a major lapse in training for my race. Yay!!!

So, I started thinking about what has really attributed to my ability to feel so "ON" lately.  As I entertain thoughts of kicking up my competitive goals with ultrarunning, I realize that I've made some adjustments  over the last few months that have made a significant difference to my overall health and the smaller details of my training regimen.

1.  YOGA.  I finally caved and put my past negative experiences with yoga aside and decided that with my extreme flexibility "issues", it was absolutely imperative that I either spend tons and tons of money to hire a personal "stretcher" or find a yoga class that I actually like.  I started 3 days a week at Yoga Oasis in downtown Tucson a little over a month ago and BINGO-- It's working!  I like the fast pace of the class, which incorporates a rapid progression of popular yoga poses mixed with some other challenging poses that kick my ass.  The challenge is good for me and keeps me from being "bored".  And the benefits are worth the $4 per class.  I'm feeling more flexible and less rigid on the trails.  And most important--I'm preventing injury!

2.  CROSSFIT.  I've talked endlessly about this topic before and how much I love crossfit training.  Unfortunately, I don't get to do it every day, but I spend at least 3 days a week either training with a group or doing the workouts at our gym.  I've strayed away from most of the workouts that require olympic lifting, only because I don't do it enough yet and when I do, I tend to get hurt a little bit.  So, until I can devote more time to crossfit, I'm focusing on the metabolic conditioning and workouts that incorporate more relative strength work like pullups, handstand pushups, squats, box jumps, and sprinting.

3.  FOOD.   Eliminating pretty much all sugars and caffeine before my R2R2R proved a positive move in changing my energy reserves and output.  Maintaining this change has been very important.  The few times that I added sugar back into my diet resulted in such sluggish, sleepy, poor performance, that I think I probably lost at least a couple quality days of training, working, and just living with good energy.
I've also discovered that I have a difficult time processing most grains, especially rice.  The performance nutritionist I work with had me change things around to incorporate mostly vegetables and salads with added proteins into my daily menu and this small (or large) change has also proved positive in increasing performance levels.  Fortunately, I really love trying new, unique veggies and recipes, and also have several wonderful green-thumbed friends in my life who have been bringing me weekly goodies from their gardens!

4.  SLEEP.  Study after study over the last several years has shown that people who lead very active daily lives sleep better at night.  It's kind of a no brainer.  I mean, we watch kids run themselves ragged outside playing for hours on end and think "they'll sleep well tonight!"   So why don't we think that way for our adult selves?  Too many adults (and children unfortunately) lead very sedentary lives.  We drive our cars, we park in the closest spot possible, we sit at our desks, we sit down to eat, we sit in front of our computers, our tvs, our video games and then we lay down to sleep at night.  Hmmmm.   Sure, some adults exercise the prescribed 30-60 minutes 3 days a week.  But compare those workouts to the hours spent sitting or laying down every day?  No wonder so many people struggle with sleep!  Their bodies aren't tired!   I am so grateful to have a job that requires me to be active, on my feet, and moving constantly.  And I know that as much as I can sometimes complain about the hours and how tired I am by the end of the day, I now realize that if I didn't have this job, I might not have these wonderful nights of great sleep followed by a good, energetic, quality day.   (I should mention here that it's true that a lot of adults are "tired" by the end of the day.  But I would encourage all adults to take a look at what's making them "tired".  Because caffeine can make you tired, food can make you tired, sitting can make you tired, and weather, illness, and too much sleep can make you tired.   This kind of tired doesn't necessarily make for good sleep and can, in fact, make for sleep problems.)

5.  TRAILS.  My favorite, beloved trails in the Rincon, Santa Rita, and Catalina Mountains are shut down due to fires or fire danger.  So, while I continue to perform my daily rain dance, I have had to explore some other trails in the Tucson area.  Sure, some of the new trails I've found are too rocky, have had me cursing and falling over myself and into cactus, but the thing is---it's still a trail and it's what I love and why I do what I do.   I spend a good portion of my day on mountain trails.  Quiet and peaceful, I get to think about things in my life and sometimes work out problems or stressful situations.  Mostly though, I get a daily lesson on me and my character--flaws and all.  Because the trails challenge me and push me to choose whether or not to embrace the challenge ahead.. or not.

So...these days, while I'm out on the trails, I'm thinking a lot about what else might up the "ON" and what might be possible for me in the next few years athletically.  Dreaming big, setting big goals, and most important, consistently listening to my body.  Because I'm pretty sure I won't achieve much if I start to ignore these things. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Under Construction...

A month after my R2R2R and I'm on a bit of a wind down.  Healing some small, nagging aches and pains and adding some crosstraining and Crossfit back into my training regimen.  Post epic run, I definitely have felt the letdown after the hype and excitement has simmered.  Fortunately, I'm not one to not have another adventure or goal in the near future, so the letdown has been short lived.  Nevertheless, the bit of fog I've been wading around in has led me to do some serious re-evaluation on pretty much everything going on in my life from my weekly training to my competition goals to my career goals to my thoughts on where I want to really be in 5 years.  Yikes.  Heavy stuff.

After 37 years with myself, I certainly know what makes me tick.  And what doesn't.  I know that I'm a creature that grows bored with routine and daily activity that leads me unchallenged.  I know that I have to feed the competitive monster in me, I know that I need to be intellectually stimulated, and I know that I have to maintain a good balance of body, mind, spirit in my daily life.   When something is off balance,  I'm pretty much a disaster.   And everyone, unfortunately, can tell.  I'm OFF.  I'm miserable.

Currently, I'm not miserable.  But I'm a little off.  I'm bored.  I'm also antsy, itchy, and craving something HUGE.   And I'm not sure if jumping out of an airplane, or even traveling to the other side of the world can curb this craving.   I know this, because in my deep, heavy, self-analytical discussions with myself, I have narrowed down a few things...


Number One:  Through my work, I have had the rare opportunity to help young girls grow into confident, athletic women.  I have worked with countless girls who struggled with their identities, their body image, and their mental toughness.  And more often than not,  I got to watch them overcome those hurdles and rise above teenage adversity, embrace their athletic prowess and become incredible young women.

Number Two:  My favorite part of my job has always been what I've achieved in Number Two.  It's what led me to my vision of Gutsy Girls Adventures to begin with.  Hmmmm...

Number Three:  It's not enough to dream about doing something huge.  If I don't feed the dream, I'm only going to feed the boredom again and stay right smack dab where I am.   This life is short.  If I'm unhappy with my situation, what's the point of staying in it?  And after all these years of teaching young girls to embrace the unknown and conquer their fears, what kind of example am I if I don't live by my own words?

Number Four:  LEAP!   After my wind down phase, I am now in my "under construction" phase.  This phase involves a lot of journaling, lots of note taking, lots of emailing and talking to people I admire and have asked to mentor me, lots of late night discussions with my partner over what steps are realistic to take today and what steps might need to be taken later, and most importantly--being accountable to myself to do something to move forward EVERY DAY!

Number Five:  Maintain BALANCE while in "under construction" phase.  It's easy for me to get carried away with the excitement of change and the HUGENESS of what I want to accomplish.  It's also easy to get overwhelmed.  So, it's super, super important for me to meantime, keep things balanced and take time in my daily life to recognize the here and now.  Because sure, I've got big plans, but I've also got some pretty awesome stuff right here in front of me that simply can't be ignored.  

Of course, I don't have it all figured out yet.  I'm 37.  I'm just BEGINNING to figure it out!  But that's part of the fun, right? --where I've already been, what I've already done, the mistakes I've made, and what I've learned along the way.   Truly,  as deep in my head as I can get sometimes, I've discovered that I'm really just a big kid who has big crazy dreams and looks at most things in life as a giant amusement park--with a few big, scary, stomach dropping rides with twists and turns that end up being pretty darn AWESOME!  Which leads me to Number Six...

Number Six:  Don't take it all TOO seriously.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Warrior Dash! (or why I should definitely run in a costume)

Last Saturday, my fellow "warriors" and I departed for Florence, AZ to compete with other equally insane "warriors" in a 3.4 mile obstacle course race that promised to be "the craziest freakin day of your life".



Warrior Dash 2011.  Just check out the footage on their website and the video above:  http://www.warriordash.com/    and you'll see why.   I think what made it truly "crazy" was the environment--the crowds of people in ridiculous costumes (we saw a whole group of people dressed up like Pat Simmons and another group dressed in tutus) some not particularly looking as though they were in any shape at all to run 3.4 miles, much less climb a cargo net or jump over fire.  In fact, the scene was more like a giant outdoor concert or party with live bands, lots of beer, turkey legs, and drunk people in costumes dancing around, high fiving and chest bumping each other while covered in mud from the course.  Wild.

My group looked pretty tame as we lined up at the start of our 12:30 wave. The event would be held over two days with waves starting at 8:00am and running every half hour until 4:00pm.  We're talking THOUSANDS of people getting their warrior on!   Once the fire torches blew to signal the start of the race, it was a ridiculous attempt to push through the shoot through all the tutus and capes and kilts to get any kind of normal running stride.  But that was part of the fun and if I ever thought I'd be competitive that day, I should have positioned myself in front, not smack dab in the middle.   It was entertaining anyway and I realized, as I passed hooting and hollering men and women in neon tights, tutus, and dresses, that this whole thing was pretty reminiscent of the couple of times that I ran Bay to Breakers in San Francisco.  Only this time, there were no naked people.  Bummer.

My brother pushed out of the crowds pretty early on, and I decided I felt good enough to follow him.  This made it much, much easier to get through the obstacles up ahead without too many people stopping or slowing us down.  First obstacle was jumping over and under several walls about four feet high.  Next up, we had some small dirt hills to climb up and down.  Then a junkyard of cars and tires, a big cargo net, a tower of hay bales, balance beams, more cargo nets, another wall, and finally...the firelogs and mud pit!  I had planned on doing something ridiculous, since I wasn't wearing a cool costume, and maybe cartwheel or flip into the mud pit, but in the end, I would probably have landed on the guy in front of me and drowned him, so I opted for a bit of a belly flop instead.

The mud was pretty awesome and a great way to end this insane event.  Once our group was in, we immediately went to the beer tent for our free beer and then headed off to the "showers"--a concrete slab about 8x8 feet where we stood, like cattle, while crew members stood on water trucks hosing us down.  Hilarious!

In the end, I decided that this was a perfect event for me after the seriousness of the week before.  It was even better that I got to do it with family and friends!  I did decently too--32nd out of an insane number of nearly 800 and was pretty happy I didn't die out there or fall headfirst into the fire.  We are already planning for next year's Warrior Dash, will be recruiting several more of our family members and friends and yeah...we'll be designing our costumes way ahead of time!

I HIGHLY recommend this event to everyone!  It's just a fun, crazy, challenging day that you'll surely remember forever and at the very least, you'll definitely get some awesome pictures!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventures In The Grand Canyon

Last weekend was a blur.  Pretty surreal too.  Kelly and I left Tucson at 5am on Friday morning, driving straight to the Grand Canyon south rim entrance and catching our first amazing glimpse of the Canyon that day at around 11:00am.  We walked around on the rim trail, snapping photos and then took the shuttle bus from the visitors center to Bright Angel Lodge for a lunch of taco salad and roasted red pepper soup.  Yum!  We went by the Bright Angel trailhead so Kelly could see where I'd be finishing the next day.  The weather was perfect---clear and sunny and temps around 58 on the rim.  We stopped by the ranger table so that I could ask when the first mule trains leave for Phantom Ranch so that I could avoid having to try and pass them on the trail.  (Mule etiquette requires you to step aside when the mules pass and apparently it's difficult to get the "driver" to let you pass when running.)  The ranger told me I should be fine if I left by 5:00am, but reminded me of the mule rules.  I was trying to avoid explaining that I was running, not hiking, (running in the Canyon, and even hiking from the rim to river and back is something they frown upon.  But with good reason---250 rescues are made a year.) but it eventually came out and the ranger raised an eyebrow at me and lectured me on proper hydration, salty snacks and electrolytes.   We took the shuttle over to the South Kaibab trailhead, where I would start my run that next morning.  I sat near the edge of that "big ditch" and looked down and across, thinking to myself, "how the hell am I going to do this?"  

After checking into our hotel, I dumped all my gear on the bed and began to put my pack together.  I have an Ultimate Direction Wink hydration pack that fits me perfectly and with the mesh vest straps in front with lots and lots of pockets, I can carry quite a bit.  And yeah...I had a LOT to carry.  10 Hammer gels, 1 roll of Perpetuem solids, 3 small baggies with single serving of HEED, 1 baggie of beef jerkey, 1 baggie of salty nuts, 1 baggie containing 24 Endurolyte capsules, 1 bandana, a small first aid kit, a small camera, my cell phone and I still needed room to fit my moeben sleeves and long sleeve tech shirt after I took them off when it got warm!  Oh yeah...and I had a full 96 oz bladder to fit in there too!  

I ate a spectacular dinner of oven roasted chicken, salad, and a couple rolls and after taking a long, warm shower, I was in bed and asleep by 9pm.  The next morning, I was up a little before 4am, putting last minute things together, filled my pack with water, got dressed and arrived at the visitors center shuttle stop by 4:45am.  It was FREEZING!  40 degrees with a good, chilling wind.  Thankfully, Kelly was riding the shuttle with me to the start and I could give her my extra layers before heading down the trail.   The bus was full--a few hikers, but mostly people wanting to take photos of the sunrise from Yaki Point, which Kelly was planning to do after seeing me off.   At the trailhead, I took one last bathroom stop, peeled off my extra clothes, snapped my pack into place, turned on my headlamp and posed for a pre-run photo.  I looked around for Wayne and Patricia, two fellow Tucson trail runners who were supposed to start around the same time, but didn't see them and decided to start anyway.

I had never been on the South Kaibab Trail before and it certainly lived up to all the things everyone had told me--though rocky and steep, the views were INCREDIBLE, especially at sunrise! About 30 minutes into my run, however, I felt a leak in the bottom of my pack.  Great...I just not have secured the top of the bladder enough.  I stopped for a second to rearrange things and realized I had a true leak in my bladder.  Crap!  I dug through my bag for my duct tape and tried to stop the leak, but it wasn't holding! Frustrated, I started asking hikers coming down if they had any tape.  Within twenty minutes, I had a crazy assortment of duct tape, athletic tape, and even masking tape holding the bladder together!  Wayne and Patricia passed me and Patricia donated a piece of athletic tape and gave me some words of encouragement.  I still had a handheld bottle and thought I could definitely make it down to the bottom and refill at Phantom Ranch and maybe grab another water bottle at the canteen and at least complete a Rim to River to Rim.





















So, I continued on my way, trying not to worry about the water issue and made it down to the Colorado and black bridge in about an hour and half (despite 20 minutes of hassle with my pack).   I stopped at Phantom, refilled my handheld, bought an extra water bottle, drank some HEED, took some more endurolytes and went to the bathroom.  I had 14 miles to go up to the north rim with not water availability.  My pack was still holding water, so I decided to go ahead with my plans and head up to the north rim.  Patricia passed me on her way back from the 3rd bridge.  She had decided to turn back there, her legs were really hurting.  Wayne was up ahead somewhere, hoping to get to Roaring Springs.  Running along the river was a great distraction, especially as I went through "The Box"--a huge canyon carved out by the creek.  I crossed several bridges and then started really climbing.  There were some murky, wet spots, but other than that, I didn't get too wet, even at Wall Creek where I had to cross a small waterfall.  At this point, two other runners passed me going the other direction.   The female, I recognized as Darcy Africa, a phenomenal ultrarunner from Boulder, CO.  Turned out she was going for a FKT (Fastest Known Time) and trying to break the record that was set just four days before by two other well known female runners:  Devon Crosby-Helms and Krissy Moehl.  They had run their R2R2R in 9:12.  The way Darcy looked, however, she was well on her way to breaking their time!   Darcy gave me a thumbs up and told me I looked great and to "get after it!"--just the inspiration I needed!



At Cottonwood Campground, I felt the taped up bladder in my pack give way and break open, water poured down my backside.  I knew of only one other runner/hiker on the trail at this point and that was Wayne, but I had no idea how far ahead he was from me, so I decided to press forward.  I still had over 24 oz in my handheld and the extra water bottle from Phantom Ranch full as well.

My legs felt good and my feet were holding up very well.  Once I hit Roaring Springs, however, I had to power hike some of the steeper sections.  I hit the Supai Tunnel, with 2 miles left to the north rim and saw a hiker heading down the trail.  After explaining what I was doing, he offered me an extra water bottle!  Unbelievable!  He told me he was camping for the night at Bright Angel and had plenty of water to hold him until he got back down and actually thanked me for lightening his load!  I seriously almost kissed the guy!  I was getting colder as I climbed higher and it really felt like I'd never get to the north rim, but finally, the trail leveled out a little and I saw the forest ahead of me and the trail head!  I put on my long sleeve again, checked my watch and realized I could make good time and even be ahead of schedule if I pushed hard back down to Phantom.

I got down in almost half the time it took me getting up North Kaibab and by the time I got back to Phantom Ranch, I was ahead of schedule by almost an hour!  At Phantom, I took another bathroom break, refilled my water bottles (now I had three!), checked my feet for blisters (none!) and considered, for about a minute, whether or not I'd head back up the South Kaibab, instead of my intended Bright Angel Trail.  The difference was, Bright Angel is a little over 3 miles longer.  Also, the FKT runners go back up South Kaibab and I thought, briefly, that it would be cool to get a benchmark time for myself just in case I decided somewhere down the line that I'd want to attempt an FKT.  Yeah...the thought was pretty short lived as I remembered that there are no water stops on South Kaibab and there was no way to tell Kelly that I had changed my mind.  So, I pushed on toward the Bright Angel Trail, crossed the silver bridge and enjoyed the short lived flat, sandy trail slightly above the Colorado River.  I saw some groups of rafters below and heard a few shouts of "Whoo hoo!  You're crazy girl!" and "Nice Job".  Once I hit Pipe Creek, I realized why I needed those water stops.  I had almost depleted my water again and the switchbacks and Devil's Corkscrew were looming ahead.  Still, it was pretty breezy and overcast and it made for an easier run uphill, not having to deal with the heat.  I refilled my water bottles at Indian Gardens with 4.8 miles to go.  But I knew the hardest, steepest part of the trail was ahead of me.  The cuts in the trail from erosion logs were killing my pace at this point as I had to jump over or onto them.  I really didn't want to walk any of it, but in a few places, especially as the trail got more crowded with hikers, I welcomed the brief moments of powerhiking instead.  Passing was getting a little annoying, especially as I got closer to the 3-mile rest house and crowds of hikers appeared.  It boggled my mind how so many people could be so clueless as to hike down without water, in sandals and jeans.  I saw one woman heading down wearing a long skirt and sandals.  She was carrying a massive camera...but no water bottle.  And she looked at ME like I was crazy!!!  I did get a lot of funny looks.  At this point I was getting a lot of comments too and people curious about what I was doing.  One little kid said to his dad, "she looks really tired".  Ha Ha--you have NO idea kid!


At the 1.5 mile rest house, I decided to kick it into gear.  At this point, I had nothing to lose.  I was way ahead of schedule by over an hour and though my legs and back were hurting, my lungs were holding up really well and I wanted to push it to the finish.  I started thinking about chocolate cake and an ice cold beer (not together.  But what the heck!) and how this was the most awesome way to celebrate my birthday EVER.  When I saw the Bright Angel Trailhead and the rim ahead, I pumped my arms in the air and kicked it into gear!

11 hours and 8 minutes after leaving South Kaibab trailhead that morning, I arrived at Bright Angel Trailhead!  Almost 44 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation gain.  No blisters. No falls. No stomach problems.  Minus the problems with my hydration system, I was feeling pretty good!  Tired, yes.  And once I stopped running, I started cramping up, but overall, I was ok!
                                     The End.  The sign might be holding me up, but I feel Great!

Kelly had made a huge banner for me and put together a great finishing package of snacks and goodies!  Back at the hotel, I sat in an ice bath, called my parents, and told them about all my adventures (and misadventures) in the Grand Canyon.  And after a pizza dinner and warm shower, we opened a bottle of champagne and watched "The Blind Side"...which I barely made it through before falling FAST asleep!

A couple of other notes:
*After having issues deciding what shoes to wear for this run, it turned out that my New Balance Minimus were exactly what I needed.  No rock bruising, no issues with my toes sliding on the downhills, and I felt flexible and confident on both the steep downhills and uphills!  And best of all--no blisters at ALL!

*Turns out Darcy Africa DID post a FKT that day.  She did it in 8:28!

*This run was by far the toughest run I've ever encountered.  But it is also BY FAR, the most spectacular run I've done.  It felt surreal, especially the next day, when Kelly and I returned for one last glimpse before heading back to Tucson.  Looking at the vastness, the incredible, intimidating size of the Grand Canyon, I could hardly believe I had JUST run it, the day before.  If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, you MUST go!  You will never see anything like it on earth!
                                                    The day after.  Look--I can squat down!

So what's next for me?  Well...I have the Warrior Dash (a 3.4 mile run and obstacle course) this weekend (however slow I may be after last weekend!).  And I have the Skyline 50K in Northern CA in August and then the NorthFace Endurance Championship 50 miler in San Francisco in early December.  Meantime, I'm going to spend some more time doing CrossFit and maybe take that skydiving trip I've been talking about!  Stay tuned...


Thursday, April 14, 2011

COUNTDOWN!!!!!!!

9 MORE DAYS!!!!!!  Excited, nervous, ready.  Obsessively checking the nps.gov site for the Canyon for weather updates and last minute postings.  Last weeks possibility of a government shutdown almost killed my plans altogether, but THANK GOD they pulled their crap together!

A week ago I was second guessing my shoes again.  I had a particularly bad experience with some rock bruising on a really technical trail run and came home nearly in tears, panicked that I had only two weeks to get new shoes.  I spent five days freaking out, going back and forth between two local shops where I literally tried on every single shoe they carried.  Most places don't allow you to purchase and shoe and test it out on any sort of decent run, much less a dusty trail.  But both shops allowed me to test their shoes and promised I could return them if they didn't work out.  AWESOME.  So I tried both the Inov8 Terrocs and an old friend---the Adidas Response Trail, which was my favorite shoe back in the 90's.  And both delivered a MISERABLE experience.  The Inov8's caused the toes in my left foot to go numb within a few miles.  I felt clumsy and actually had to go slower on the downhills because I kept tripping.  The Adidas' were NOT the shoe I once loved so much and in fact, if it's possible, I actually had a worse experience with these shoes.  Numbness in BOTH sets of toes and then lots of ankle rolling and toes sliding to the front of my shoe on the downhills.  Ughh.   Back at the running shop, I made one last plea for any solution to my problem and then....there it was....SOCKS.  Yep, simply changing my socks from ultra thin, to a little thicker allowed me to wear both my NB 101's and the Minimus in a totally different way.  I guess that just goes to show---I should have trusted my original plan.

Aaaaaahhhhhh.....feeling SO relieved.

Now that THAT's solved, I'm just gathering last minute supplies and finalizing my fuel/hydration strategy for the run.

MY SUPPLY LIST:
*Ultimate Direction Wink Hydration Pack with 96 oz bladder
*1 extra 24 oz water bottle
*moeben sleeves
*longsleeve tech shirt
*singlet
*running shorts
*extra socks
*Black Diamond Spot headlamp +extra set of batteries
*map
*Hammer endurolyte capsules
*Perpetuem solids
*Heed powder
*12-15 gels
*beef jerkey
*Pb&J
*sunscreen
*water treatment tablets
*first aid kit
*pocketknife
*bandana
*hat
*sunglasses
*camera

MY FUEL/HYDRATION STRATEGY:
*3 endurolytes capsules every hour
*1 gel/2 perpetuem solids every hour
*solid food as needed
*Heed as needed

I won't consume all 96 oz of my hydration pack bladder on the first downhill (South Kaibab down to Phantom Ranch), but will definitely top off and use all up the North Kaibab.  I'll refill again at Cottonwood campground or Roaring Springs and then again at the top of the North rim.  Refill again back down at Phantom Ranch and then again at Indian Gardens.  I'm not taking the hydration issue lightly.  Weather next Sat promises to be hot at the bottom of the Canyon.  And I know my biggest struggle will be the very last 9 miles up the Bright Angel at the hottest time of the day.

I've had a LOT of advice from fellow ultra/trail runners who have done this run.  Everything from proper etiquette in passing mule trains on the trail to avoiding the "amazing" lemonade at Phantom Ranch.  Great advice from great runners, for sure.  Still, I know that this is MY run and though I can prepare as much as humanly possible, anything can happen.  And I have to be okay with the possibility that things may not go as planned.  What I need to do is pay attention to ME.  Pay attention to my body and how it's experiencing the terrain, the elevation loss and gain and extreme temperature changes.  Because after all this time, all this training, I'd better know what works and what doesn't for ME.  

Run report to follow my adventures in the Grand Canyon!!!!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Life Without The "Juice"

So, in an effort to maximize every possible advantage in my quest to be as healthy as possible for my Grand Canyon run, I decided, what the heck, I'll give up coffee and all "treats" ("Treats", as defined by my 6 yr old nephew, is basically all unhealthy desserts. Cake, cookies, ice cream, etc.  My nephew has given up "treats" for lent and I've got to hand it to him because it's got to be hard to go to a birthday party and say NO to cake!).  I'm not a big "treat" eater, and don't even really like cake and ice cream.  But I do like Eegees, a local frozen fruit slushy delight that boasts lots of vitamin C, but unfortunately, a lot of added sugar too.  This month's Eegees "flavor of the month" is Orange Dream and not one of my favorites, so fortunately, I'm not horribly jonesing.  

But COFFEE...oh, coffee!  I LOVE coffee.  I love the taste, I love the ritual of it and apparently, to my surprise, I've recently learned that my body loved it a LOT.  I honestly didn't think I drank that much coffee.  Yes, I drank it every morning, but only 2-3 cups and most of the time, I was too busy to get through a full mug anyway.  Nevermind that my "mug" holds 3 cups.   But HOLY COW!  I had some serious withdrawals the first few days.  Headaches that started around lunchtime and stayed with me until bedtime.  I don't think I was that irritable, but I'll bet those around me would say otherwise.    I've heard about these awful headaches, but in my mind, those withdrawal symptoms were for true caffeine junkies.  Not me.  Right.  I couldn't stand myself that first week.  I don't know if I was more upset that I couldn't drink coffee or that I was THAT dependent on caffeine.  It's pretty amazing how caffeine, especially in large doses, can effect the body.

I wouldn't really know how much it HAD effected my body unless I had quit the stuff.  And now, over two weeks later, I see some pretty incredible changes that just proved my dependency was truly producing negative side effects.  

Here's a list of the positive side effects I'm currently experiencing now that I'm off the "juice":

*I wake up and feel REALLY awake.  I don't feel like I need coffee to wake myself up.  I also feel like I'm sleeping better.  I used to think I needed 8-9 hours of sleep.  But I'm currently getting 7-8 and feeling great!

*I feel less irritable about trivial things.  This is hard to explain, but I guess I would describe the feeling as "calm" and "even" about things.  Stuff that would normally piss me off is rolling off easily.  I like that.

*When I take off on a morning training run, my body moves quickly, efficiently and no longer do I feel like it's going to take a good half mile to wake up my legs.

*The first thing I feed my body in the morning isn't caffeine.  It's water and good food or nutrients I need to sustain myself for a successful day.   My body is thanking me by rewarding me with a more balanced system both physically and mentally.

Okay, so for ME, this is turning out to be a positive situation and the benefits of not drinking coffee at this point definitely outweigh the negative side effects.  For ME.  I'm not advocating that everyone needs to swear off coffee or even caffeine.  In fact, there are many thought-provoking studies that have found a certain amount of caffeine to be good for the body.    My partner asked me the other day whether or not I would be relieved, after the G.C. run to start drinking coffee again.   Honestly, I'm kind of thinking I'm going to keep going with this.  Over fifteen years ago, my brother and I decided to give up all soda and to this day, I don't think either of us has had even a taste of it.  I quickly forgot it meant anything to me and don't feel I'm missing out on anything special.  Maybe coffee will be the same.  After all, there's decaffeinated coffee and tea to help with the missing taste and ritual, right?

What I WILL be looking forward to, after this run, is an Eegees...(and maybe some birthday cake.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This Is For All The Type A, Ridiculously Competitive Personalities Out There...



Give yourself a BREAK!
At 1:00am this morning, I was wide awake.  My throat hurt, my body ached, and in five short hours, I was supposed to be on a  3 1/2 hour trail run.  For the next two hours, I went back and forth, in and out of sleep, worried and negotiating with myself.  The conversation went something like this:
"Your G.C. run is exactly one month from today.  You need all the time you can get on the trails."
"Yeah, but I feel like CRAP!"
"Stop whining!  Suck it up!  Get through the run and then take some extra vitamin C and a nap!"
"What if it gets worse?"
"Get over it.  You can't take time off.  Take time off on April 24th."

I am really ridiculous sometimes.
The truth is... when I set my sights on something,  I often put an "all or nothing" attitude into reaching my goals, and as a result, can become a structured, painfully inflexible, rigid, irrational self-masochist with tunnel vision.  I yell at myself regularly.  Whining is not an option.  Giving up is not an option.

And here's an interesting thought...  For all those who have the "other" conversation in their heads, the one that results in immobility and the excuse to NOT push themselves to take that first step and start that thing they're passionate about---it's really not so different, is it?  Same self-destructive result. Hmmmm.

Lesson learned--over and over and over again.  When all the guts and commitment and work and determination throw off the balance of life, health and future, it's time to take a good hard look.  And it's not a pretty picture.  All the signs will eventually be pointing to a picture of a very disappointed gutsy girl who will NOT be able to run her goal of a R2R2R in the Grand Canyon in April.  All because she's not willing to back down when it's most important.  The reality is, one day off---even three days off will not hurt my training like my irrational side believes.   And in fact, as I possibly teeter on the border of overtraining, my body is most likely craving a break.

So, my rational, level-headed, intelligent side won today.  I took a day off.  I soaked in an bath of epsom salt, did some studying I've been neglecting, and ate and hydrated well.  And tonight?  My body is thanking me.  My irrational, competitive monster side is sulking in a corner somewhere.  Good riddance.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Motivation

As I get closer and closer to my Grand Canyon run (April 23!) , several things of note have taken place recently:

*My training runs have gotten longer and longer, which means, I've had to rearrange my day a LOT to accommodate for time on the trails.  This also means that I have relatively NO social life right now.  My day consists of:  running, studying, working, eating, and sleeping.   It's a little sad saying "no"  to raging weekends, but at the same time, eh...

*I am constantly hungry.  And I am CRANKY when I'm hungry.  So, when I'm hungry, I really am serious...I NEED food NOW, or else...!
                                                  

*I desperately need a good night's sleep, EVERY night.  Not that I need MORE sleep.  I've always needed 8-9 hrs anyway.  It's just that now I can't recover from a late night AND get a good run in the morning.  (Sadly, this means that I won't be celebrating St. Patrick's Day the way I did LAST year.)            

*I take recovery EXTREMELY seriously.  My training runs need to be high quality right now, so the way I treated my body last month, by skipping flexibility work and doubling up on strength work, is a definite no-no.   What I do for my body AFTER training is JUST as crucial as how I treat it DURING.  This new regimen has consisted of:  Recoverite (by Hammer Nutrition) immediately after a run to replenish and repair,  a really lengthy session of flexibility work that involves some static AND active flexibility training, 3 days a week of epsom salt soaks to release toxins and alleviate muscle soreness, and when I'm lucky, a good 'ol massage!  I'd like to add some yoga in this mix, but good lord...when?????

*I talk to myself... A LOT, when I'm training.  I don't have the perfect run every day and in fact, at least once a week, I need to really dig down deep and motivate myself with positive self-talk and a little reminder of WHY I'm doing this.  Sometimes I really like the hard times, because when it's easy...it's almost too easy.  It's autopilot and I don't think I appreciate what I'm doing when it's easy.  When it's HARD, however, it's a pretty cool lesson in NOT taking my abilities for granted.  I've learned, during these hard days, that I CAN push through.  I already know that for every difficult mile, there will be two that are awesome.  I also know that the feeling I get AFTER I'm done is incomparable to anything else in my life...that feeling of accomplishment.  Of the pride in knowing I'm freakin' TOUGH enough to conquer these crazy mountain trails and take myself to places most people only see in photographs!  THAT is enough to motivate me in tough times.  I LOVE this ability and I am so incredibly GRATEFUL to have it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Big, Bad, Barefoot Debate...(and why it's not a debate anymore)


I have spent the majority of my life barefoot. I have never been much of a shoe person, even as a little kid, when one frigid winter in Ohio, I decided, without my
parents knowing, that I would go outside and play in the snow in my socks! It was an awesome feeling, much like how sand feels on bare feet, only... well, you can imagine what followed. I wore shoes to school, church, and in public buildings, but I didn't like it. Fortunately, my sport of choice, gymnastics, involved bare feet. And then, I had the very good fortune to get a job coaching the sport in my early teens, transitioning from barefoot training, to barefoot coaching. And for the next twenty years, my full-time job has allowed me this wonderful opportunity to never wear shoes!

As a result, I have developed very tough feet. I can walk across rocks easily, and when I step on glass or thorns or even a rusty nail (which has happened a couple of times now) I barely feel it--the bottoms of my feet having built up a pretty awesome, thick skin.

How STRONG my feet have been has been another story. When I stopped training as a gymnast, I started my long-lived training as an endurance athlete and suddenly it became very important to find the perfect, supportive, cushioned running shoes for my very flat, arch-less feet. I went through countless pairs of highly supportive shoes, where in the store, I was told I had "severe pronation problems" and needed the ultimate, maximum support. This involved very expensive, very rigid, thick, heavy shoes that the salespeople claimed would keep my arches from falling and basically hold my foot hostage in a cast-like way. I, myself, even had a brief stint working in a local running store near my college campus where I was trained to say the very same things to our customers. So...it MUST be true, right? My feet were screwed up, so I needed maximum support in order to run efficiently so I wouldn't get injured.

WRONG! For years and years, I had tibial stress fractures, shin splits, plantar fasciitis and loads and loads of pain in my feet and legs. It didn't occur to me that my problems stemmed from my SHOES and not my supposed "horrible, screwed-up feet".

In 2004, after one too many injuries, I started cross training at my own gym. A few of my fellow coaches and I put together a workout regimen that involved a lot of jump roping, stair sprints, plyometric jumping, pullups, pushups, swinging, handstands, active flexibility and a lot of the other conditioning we put our gymnasts through on a daily basis. And we did it all...barefoot. I still ran regularly, but mostly on trails, and after a while, I noticed that the barefoot training I did in the gym was strengthening my feet and legs and knees in such an efficient way that when I was running, I didn't experience much of the pain I had previously. Hmmmmm....

This transitioned to running barefoot in the park, which I did regularly at least twice a week in addition to my barefoot training in the gym and trail running.

And then my dad told me to read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall,
who basically wrote the book back in 2009, because he too loved running but couldn't understand why he was injured all the time and wanted to know WHY! The book isn't totally about the over-correction of feet or the fact that there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that running shoes do anything to improve or maintain running efficiency or prevent injury. And yet, running shoes are a multibillion dollar industry, despite the fact that current research indicates that runners wearing shoes are actually bearing far more impact than runners in bare feet or minimalist shoes. There are groups of people all over the world, such as the Tarahumara indians of Mexico's Copper Canyon (the group McDougall talks about in his book) who run without shoes and have been doing it, like our ancestors, for centuries. These runners have a higher range of motion in their feet, engage more of their toes and foot muscles, and experience more efficiency in their running. They are faster and able to run longer. The thing is, McDougall argues, ...we already know how to run like this, with proper biomechanics and injury-free efficiency, because we were BORN like this. It was the moment the notion was born that our feet are flawed and need corrective devices that our feet were ruined. No wonder so many people hate running!

When Vibram Five Fingers came out, I immediately bought a pair. Basically a glove on my feet, with virtually no sole, I transitioned slowly--wore them first on grassy, park runs and then on short trail runs until I could eventually run for a couple of hours at a time. It wasn't a very difficult transition, mostly, I think, because my feet were already accustomed to jumping, running, and moving according to this barefoot concept. Other people that began to transition into Vibrams and barefoot training were experiencing a significant amount of midsole and forefoot soreness and tightening in their achilles and soleus--a lot of this due to the natural transition from typical heel striking (very bad!)in shoes to running from the middle of the foot to the toes (natural) in Vibrams or barefoot. What I DID deal with was "stone bruising" on the ball of my feet.

Most of the trails I run are pretty rugged and rocky (see left. One of my favorite trails, Douglas Springs), and I suppose it was inevitable that I'd feel the impact of what was underfoot, especially as I was bounding downhill. Still, I got used to it and eventually, in less than a year, I had transitioned completely into my Vibrams for all of my trail running, with three days a week still devoted to barefoot runs on grass and soft trail and gym workouts. (I should also mention again, that this training has most recently saved me from having extensive surgery on my achilles. My orthopedic team, which included a podiatrist, all said the same thing---barefoot training had strengthened and PREVENTED my lower legs from more severe injury to my achilles.) Now some of you might say, "But your feet must be all torn up!" As you can tell from the photo above, my feet are holding up very well! In fact, some might even say they're "pretty". Ha Ha! I still have tough skin on the bottom of my feet, some might call it "calloused", but it doesn't peel and I don't get blisters. My heels are rarely cracked or painful. I don't have smooth, "baby" skin, but my feet aren't rough or scratchy to the touch. I paint my toenails and use a pumice stone and moisturizers regularly. I take care of my feet. Everyone should.

Today, a mere two years later, the barefoot and "minimalist" debate has become much less of a debate and more of a popular hype within the fitness community and beyond. Vibrams aren't as much of a weird fashion statement as a normal piece of footwear now, in much the same way that Birkenstocks and Tevas grew in popularity in the late 1980's. Active and inactive people alike are sporting some version of FiveFingers. And Vibram has, in the last two years, developed so many sport-specific models that the company is literally overloaded with back orders, especially with their most popular models.

At this point, I am in the midst of a big review of minimalist footwear...

I am about to encounter my first R2R2R (rim to rim to rim) run in the Grand Canyon in less than two months. This will entail 48 miles of extreme elevation loss and gain on pretty rocky terrain. In my original Vibram KSO's, I have run up to 25+miles on very rocky terrain, but I'm slightly skeptical about running a constant DOWNHILL in the Canyon for 11 miles without experiencing a significant amount of stone bruising.

One day, about a month ago, I decided to pull out my old Asics trail shoes and see how they held up on a rocky downhill run. BAD idea. I immediately regretted the decision once I felt my feet rolling around, unsteady in the shoes. My knees started hurting, I rolled my ankles three or four times, I fell twice, and then decided I had come too far in developing proper running efficiency over the last few years that I couldn't possibly go back to heavy trail shoes.

Next up, I bought a pair of New Balance MT 101's, (see left) NB's answer to minimalist footwear. They're light, a little over 7 oz, low to the ground--an outsole a little over 2mm thick, flexible, and fits like a glove. The upper is primarily lightweight mesh--no lateral support whatsoever. Perfect. I tried them out on a rocky, 11 mile trail that had significant, steep, climbs. They certainly protected the bottom of my feet better from stone bruising, and I liked how lightweight and breathable they felt. I climbed uphill easily and quickly. What I didn't like was how my foot seemed to slip around in the shoes during the steep downhill portion of my run and the way I was experiencing some instability bounding on rocks. My ankles rolled a few times.

Then, my beloved KSO's came out with another version--the Vibram KSO Treks! (See below) Deemed the Vibrams for "trailrunning", the Treks weigh in at just under 6 oz., provide the
same lightweight features as the original KSO, but offer a slightly tougher outsole that protects from stone bruising and offers improved traction of trails and more rugged terrain. When testing the Trek's, I found that they gave me significantly more sole protection and allowed me to barrel down the mountain with more confidence without rolling my ankles in a "shoe". I still experienced a little stone bruising, but only on extremely technical, rocky downhill portions of the trail.



My Vibram Five Finger KSO Treks on left. Compared to my original KSOs on the right.

All in all, I think the KSO Trek has made for my best training runs lately, though I'm continuing to switch to the NB 101's every so often. The decision on what exactly I'll be wearing on my R2R2R in April has still not been confirmed, but at least I have a better idea of what DOESN'T work, right?


For more on barefoot running and minimalist footwear, check out this video:












Thursday, February 3, 2011

Grand Canyon or Bust!

Well, it's official. I'm either totally ready for this, or completely BONKERS! ( I'm going to go with the latter.) Even went and booked my hotel room. Non-refundable, by the way. There's no backing out now...A R2R2R in the Grand Canyon on April 23rd...can't think of a better way to celebrate my 37th (did I say that outloud?) birthday.

A R2R2R in the Grand Canyon, in the ultrarunning world, is basically, a 41-48 mile run (depending on which trail you take) from either the south rim or north rim of the Grand Canyon DOWN to the bottom of the Canyon UP to the other rim back DOWN to the bottom and back UP to the south or north rim. Elevation gain of over 11, 000 feet total. Temperature range (in April) of 20-40 degrees F at the south rim to 90 degrees at the bottom to below 20, with the possibility of snow, at the north rim. I'll be taking the Bright Angel Trail starting at 6800 feet, descend 2400 feet, cross the bridge over the Colorado River, climb 8240 feet on the North Kaibab Trail up to the north rim and reverse it all for my return. My total R2R2R route will cover a little over 47 miles. Time? I'm shooting for a goal of under 16 hours. This means that in order to return before dark, I'll need to start my run before 3am.

Twenty-three years ago, in 1988, my dad ran a R2R2R when he turned 40. The entire family went to cheer him on. I remember waiting, along with my mom and three younger brothers at the top of the south rim for my dad to finish. I saw a sign at the top of the trailhead, warning hikers of the danger of attempting to hike from rim to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day and chuckled at the thought of my dad defying all the odds and RUNNING double that amount in one day. I watched as hikers and backpackers emerged from the trail, tired, spent but so obviously triumphant and proud of their accomplishment. Many of them asked my mom to take their picture. A couple times, she asked if any of the hikers had seen my dad. "He's running it", she'd say. "and we were expecting him by now". And the hikers eyes would grow wide in amazement. "Running the canyon? Are you kidding?"
Back then, in 1988, running the canyon was an uncommon feat only attempted by small handfuls of an equally small ultrarunning community. Ultrarunning and trailrunning wasn't as mainstream as the marathon or triathlon at that point. "Ultrarunning", those distances covering more than 26.2 miles, in particular, were considered extreme and well...crazy. Running the GRAND CANYON? Well, that was just plain old RIDICULOUS! And MY dad was doing it! Did I think he was crazy? You bet. I wanted to be JUST like him.

In 1988, there wasn't GU or S-Caps or Clif Shots. My dad had to rely on water, gatorade, and whatever whole foods he could fit in his small waist pack with two 20 oz. water bottles. Yep...no hydration packs either. Today, in 2011, there are entire websites and blogs and how-tos on the subject of running the Canyon. No one knows how many ultrarunners run the canyon every year, mostly because the Park doesn't sanction these runs , but you can bet the number has quadrupled since the 1980's. The National Park Service still strongly discourages rim-to-rim hikes or even day hikes from rim to river and back and rescues are frequent. Still, today, more and more R2R2R's are attempted and even a "Double Crossing" (R2R2R2R2R) isn't such a strange feat anymore. Today we have hundreds of gels, goos, electrolyte tablets, drinks, hydration packs, headlamps, apparel, etc to get us through an ultrarun. The plethora of options is downright overwhelming! Makes me think: Did my dad and all those crazy ultrarunners back then have it RIGHT? The minimalist in me thinks I could find success in a R2R2R with the mere basics. However, the first thing my father said to me when I told him I was embarking on my own R2R2R, was "Of course, today, I'd do it differently". Yeah...there's something to be said for hydration packs and electrolyte tablets and lightweight, easily digested food.

So, as I train up in the mountains near Tucson and southeast AZ for the next two and a half crucial months, I'm also putting together my list of R2R2R essentials. My biggest concern? Whether or not I'll do the entire run in my Vibram Five Fingers. I've spent the last two years
transitioning completely to either barefoot or Five Finger running. I can run pretty rocky terrain in the Vibrams and now for a few hours straight. The barefoot and Vibram training has benefited me in some life-altering ways and in fact, is the reason, my orthopedic said, that I avoided reconstructive surgery on my achilles this past summer. My feet and ankles and legs are so strong now, that I worry if I go back to shoes, I'll actually create damage by supporting my feet in a way that will hinder my strength in the mountains. But I've never done a 16 hour run in my Vibrams. Can I handle THAT much time, on THAT much elevation change, on THAT terrain in the Grand Canyon?

Hmmmmm....For more on barefoot and Vibram training, stay tuned!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation (or What I've Learned In 30 Days)

I love vacation. I mean, who doesn't? But I love it because at the end of the year, I am 100% completely SPENT. For a typically calm, casual, laid back person that I am, at the end of the year, I become what I can only describe as a MONSTER. I am a wound up ball of stress, anxiety and usually, as a result of my monstrous transformation, I am sick. Without getting into the details of what leads to this transformation, mostly because it's all work related and boring to most people, I will tell you that this happens EVERY YEAR to me. Usually occurs right after Thanksgiving, which, by the way, is my favorite holiday and one that I enjoy and celebrate with all my might. Maybe I celebrate so hard because I'm anticipating the horror that's to come. I don't know. But, like clockwork, I'll wake up the Monday after Thanksgiving, usually at some god-awful early hour in a panic, sweating, and grinding my teeth. This is followed by a lovely visit by the flu fairy who sticks around so long, I have no choice but to bear down and go about my business as usual. And this usually means going into work with a temperature of 103, attending meetings where I get daggers thrown at me when I start coughing like I've got tuberculosis, and attempting to work out without passing out. Fun. The other pleasant part of this transformation is how plain old MEAN I get. I'm pretty sure I'm called "Grinch" behind my back by my employees, family, and friends. I so desperately want to relish in the holiday spirit, but I'm so sick, so stressed out and so unlike myself that I can't possibly be anything but AWFUL. Ugghh.

So, I LOVE vacation. Because I know that those few days off from the regular world will bring me back to sanity. I magically get well, I wake up to the horror that is me, and get to evaluate what went wrong that let me to the monster. So...you ask, did I actually learn anything this time? And I will tell you that YES, this time, I think I actually figured it out. I think I might be able to change something about this vicious cycle once and for all. And good lord...maybe I'll actually ward off the monster next year!

Here's what I learned on vacation:

1. I don't actually NEED to get stressed out. Because truly, everything always works out. The things I'm worrying about have a way of working themselves out, regardless.

2. I get sick because I'm not taking care of myself. I'm consumed with things I'm not normally consumed with. The balance that I have most of the year shifts dramatically, and it's no wonder that my health is the first to suffer.

3. While we're on the subject of "balance" (yeah, it's one of my favorite subjects), I realized over vacation that there was a bit of a missing link to achieving that balance for me. Simply put...I was really missing my long runs in the mountains. This year, I was experimenting with a new training concept and adapting to the regimen of crossfit endurance and the idea that I could train for an endurance event without spending countless hours running. Instead, I was spending more and more time with metabolic conditioning and anaerobic, interval training in less than half the time I'd typically spend on the trails. Now, don't get me wrong...I LOVE crossfit and what it's taught me. I will always find a way to incorporate it in my training because I feel it's imperative. But, my long, long hours on the trails is also imperative...to my mental health. It's my think time, it's when I work out most of the stuff in my head, or the problems I may face. Without it, I'm "off". That explains a lot, at least, this year.

4. I am an adrenaline junkie. Simply put, I NEED something adventurous and risky in my life at ALL times. During my monster phase, I fall prey to the mundane routine of work, work, work and all work. During the rest of the year, I've always got some adventure in my plans, so my focus is balanced (there's that word again) between work and play. So, I decided to reinstate the adrenaline and adventure back into my world with a trip to Historic Banning Mills, site of half-mile long Screaming Eagle Zip Line crossing over Snake Creek Gorge in Whitesburg, GA. Nestled in the beautiful mountains and trees near Atlanta, GA, Historic Banning Mills boasts many other adventures: Team Building courses, GPS Treks, and Kayaking. But their claim to fame is hosting one of the longest,highest, and fastest zip line canopy tours in the world! I was instantly sold. My tour involved climbing up wobbly, narrow wooden bridges up into the trees over 300 feet above ground, standing on a tiny wooden platform built around the tree, hooking myself to a line from there and zip lining from tree to tree or tree to bridge and so forth. I can't even begin to explain how awesome of a rush this was. The video doesn't even do it justice. All I can say is, about halfway into the tour, I asked the guide, this twenty-something, outdoorsy, laid back, super-cool guy with a winter beard who actually builds the zip lines, how I could get trained to lead zip line tours and do it full time! And a couple zips later (I still haven't mastered all the "lingo" yet) I was considering throwing a few "tricks" while mid flight (which, by the way, I wasn't allowed to do) Still.... AWESOME! And after only four hours of this much-needed adrenaline rush, I realized...I'm BACK!!!!!
video