Photo from the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Miler by Ali Engin. Permission to use header photo must be obtained through Ali Elgin.

"It's better to feel pain than nothing at all. The opposite of love's indifference." - The Lumineers

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Preview of the best book about running routes of the world

And the only book about running routes of the world. At least I think so. I googled "book about running routes of the world" and the first thing that comes up was something called sealegsgirl and thought to myself, so this probably is the first book of its kind.

The deadline for sending a rough draft to me, if you would like to contribute, is Saturday, May 1st. Please send me something by then, even if it's just an email saying you've been really busy, but you'll get to it soon. Helen, I know you've been battling the volcano, so you have an extension :).

The people who have already sent me something have been a huge inspiration to me. First, I received a beautiful poem from John from Montreal. That's when I seriously started imagining my own chapter. Then I received a rough draft from Steve Q. This was inspiration enough for me to actually start writing my chapter. Next, I received this amazing picture from Martin. He is from Denmark, but took it while in Spain. You have to look at it closely to appreciate how incredible this shot is. He is a professional photographer who is not only contributing something in writing but also photography. I'm not sure which photo he will contribute, but he just sent this one to me to give a taste of the kind of work he does. Since that time I have started including visual aids in my own chapter. It is amazing how creativity begets creativity. Also, the concept for Leslie's chapter (that's Piccola Pinecone) really fascinates me. Even SR has started to write his. Let me put it this way: everyone who buys/loans/finds this book will be in for such an enjoyable read.

Since I just talked about talent, I will just say that, though many of you may think you're not talented writers, you might surprise yourself by how good of a story you can write about a running route that means something to you. Writing my chapter has been such a heart-wrenching experience. One night I was sobbing at the keyboard to the extent that SR had to pull me away. But I made it through the emotional roller coaster and have written the whole chapter and now I just need to make it better.

So, what are the rules of contributing? Well, I kept saying it just has to be a personal story about a running route. And this is true. But then I broke my own rule: mine is actually about two running routes, but I have a creative reason for doing it that way. You may also contribute poetry or art or photography, as long as it somehow depicts your own relationship with a running route! (Aside: I heard on the radio the description of a story that would NOT be acceptable: this is a book written by a 23 year old Norwegian girl about a "fictive" girl who keeps a diary about her obsession with the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Even if she were to go on a run at some point in the story, this just would not do. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you should not write something that could be used as a national park brochure.) Back to the point. Your contribution may also be that you KNOW someone who would be perfect for contributing to the book and that you put them in contact with me. Or maybe it's just finally time for you yourself to become an author (or artist)!

Here is my email address: sealegsgirlblog@gmail.com

And here is a recent family photo, unrelated to this post, but demonstrating a high level of enthusiasm on command.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Talent

It's a concept that makes us lazy. We could look at any discipline: cooking, cleaning, music, etc. How absurd does it sound to say "My house is not clean because I'm not a talented cleaner." Well, quite absurd, right?

But who doesn't look at certain runners and think, "Well, they're just more talented than I am and that's why they are so fast"? When I think of the fastest female runner I personally know, Piccola Pinecone, it is tempting for me to think, well, she is just way more talented than me and that is why she has run a 2:54 marathon. But this is doing an injustice to her! I believe more and more that the reason she is so fast is that she has done everything right. Perhaps she started running at a young age and did some speed training in sports. Perhaps she has always had people to encourage her and thus believes she can be fast. But most importantly, she makes time to train, trains correctly and trains with intensity.

Even more proof of this is my friend Mette. A year and a half ago, her PR's were around a 43 min 10k and around a 1:34 half marathon, very similar to me a half a year ago. But then she started training better and following a strict marathon training plan. And I have watched her over the last year go from a 43 min 10k to a 38 min 10k and from a 1:34 half to a 1:22 half last Sunday. And if I chalked it all up to talent, it would be a lie and unfair to her.

So let's stop using talent as an excuse for believing we just can't get faster.

True, a lot of things have to fall into place for someone to be a super fast runner: support of family and friends, healthy weight and diet, self-confidence, guidance in training and time to train. But the idea of talent should be ignored, so we don't use it as a crutch.

On Saturday, I discussed my talent wagamama with SR (yes, I know wagamama is a restaurant, but isn't a good word for something you are trying to prove?). He agreed that my biggest natural talent was that I didn't get injured. But I have to wonder if that is due to yoga and resting and recovering for an adequate amount of time.

When I was a kid, I was the second slowest girl in the class. The only girl who was slower weighed twice as much as me, so it was hardly a fair comparison. And then in soccer and basketball, which I played in high school, though I was always technically good, I was an embarrassingly slow sprinter. But boy am I glad I didn't just say to myself, "running, well, I've got no talent for that" and then never even give it a try. But honestly, to get to the point I am now, where I can run a 3:27 marathon on a training day has been a long, long, long (though fun) process. And is not something that can be attributed to "natural talent" (yes, Michelle, your comment inspired me to write this, but don't be offended, I love it when people make me think, and I have made similar comments about others' talent in the past :)).

Menstrual cycles and instense training
And another excuse that we women can throw out he window is menstrual regularity. Granted the poll on my blog was very small, but intense training (or at least many miles) does not appear to affect menstrual cycles. Only 1/7 or 14% of women who ran > 60 miles per week had irregular periods (and that was me :)) and 5/18 or 28% of women who ran less than 60 miles per week had irregular periods, so if anything there is an inverse correlation! (Okay, I know this is not statistically significant)

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Copenhagen Ultra 2010 (though I just ran the marathon)

I should say all of my races are "just training". It makes me look more like a superstar. But it sure doesn't help me get a good night's sleep. And it was an early 8 am start (that is the earliest start time of any race I have been to in Denmark). But 4 hours always ends up being more than enough. I have never once noticed sleep deprivation in a race.

What a perfect day for running: sunny, cool and a moderate wind. Okay, so the wind was the only thing I could have done without. There were 125 runners in all, 45 in the marathon and the remaining 80 split between the 60k and 100k races.

The 60k and 100k started first. We waited as they lined up and I met a man with these VIBRAM shoes:

He said he was "fully converted". I have to admit I am intrigued.

But our race was about to start. SR gave me a kiss (without tongue). We had a 2.2k loop around Tueholmsøen, the same lake we ran around in the 6 hour in the fall. And then would run 4 laps of 10k on route I had not seen.

As we started, 3 women raced out ahead of me. Trust me when I say I wasn't worried. I don't mean to sound like a know it all, but I could see they were starting too fast (not that I cared about place, of course, as this was just a training run ;)). By the end of the first 2.2k, there was 1 woman ahead of me. To everyone's shock, instead of turning left to start the 10k loop, she turned right to do the lake again. Her friends yelled after her "Camille! Vend om!" But she was listening to music. One of the aid station workers ran after her and I didn't see the end of it and didn't see her for the rest of the race. And that's how I became the leading woman after 2.4 km.

There was one woman close behind me. This was Linda Kjäll from Sweden. I only knew about her because SR had said she would be my main competition.
This was, by the way, more of a Northern European event than a Danish one as there were tons of Swedes and Germans there. Why Sweden and Germany? Because they are the only two countries one can drive directly to Denmark from.

Back in the race, I could see behind me that Linda was trying to hold on, but I also had a strong feeling she wouldn't. I raced at a comfortable 7:45 mile/min pace and felt I could hold it.

The scenery was gorgeous! I was really happy to see such peaceful, rural course in the middle of Albertslund. There were beautiful rolling fields with furry, stout horses. And our route went on a nice earth, farm path for about 1/4 of the 10k. When we turned into the wind, it got harder, but I still felt unlabored. I figured it was time for me to just enjoy a peaceful race, where hopefully nothing would go wrong. And when you're not fighting with another female, a race IS a lot easier to just enjoy.

Here are some pictures I stole from the internet of the course:

The course was more or less as flat as can be. There were small bridges and turns and little ups and downs, but aside from the wind, it was a fast course.

After the first 10k, I still felt the same and kept my spirits high. Here I am after 12.2 km.


I kept a pretty even pace through the loops and enjoyed passing the 60 and 100k'ers, since they had started earlier and had run 2.2 k less. The women, without exception, got scared when I passed them and all sped up at least a little to see if they could keep up with me. There was no way to tell from our numbers who was running what.

Here were my splits on the first 3 10k loops:
48:28
48:57
49:25

I stopped at every aid station to both eat and drink, except for the first two and the last two, so that made four aid stations per lap. I didn't eat much for breakfast and stupidly at a small dinner the night before, so I needed calories. I found myself wishing I had a gel, but got along fine with peanuts and cinnamon rolls. It was not a hot day, but I only drank sports drink and no water.

With 5k to go, my legs were feeling tired, but I knew I'd come in under the planned 3:30. How much, I wasn't sure. I ran the last half km with quite a lot of speed and ended up with a 3:27:10, getting a PR by over 10 minutes and feeling confident I could run under 3:20 at the Copenhagen Marathon. I felt happy and good and earned a solid first for the women's marathon. I was really pleased since I'd run such a fast half marathon 6 days before and a 50 miler 3 weeks before. Plus my left hip, which had been bothering me, got better and better as the morning progressed. I'm not sure if it's yoga that prevents injury so well, but I can't really identify anything else.

(I should add that my Garmin said 26.20 miles on the dot, so I still have to wonder about last week's half marathon, but I digress...)

SR also won the mens' marathon with a time of 2:50:58, shaving 11 minutes of his his PR and feeling good.

We both had a great day and I think it is safe to say that, though the route was pretty, It was nice to not have to do it 10 times. BUT, this route was perfect for fast times. It was so exciting to witness Kenneth Munk running for and achieving the Danish record in the 100k, with a time of 6:57:35. But every reader who cares about that probably already knows. But you might have not seen THIS photo I snapped of him :).

And here is a picture from right after he got the record (which he beat by one minute), which was taken by the race director, Charley.



Here are all of the results and a link to more pictures:

http://www.kbdahl.dk/alot/cph_ultra_2010/

Here is the second place female, Linda Kjäll, and me. All Swedes think I'm stupid because they can't hear I have an accent when I speak Danish, but, unlike all other Danes, I can't understand them. So we had to speak English. And it's never as big of a problem as I think it will be.

Henriette had an awesome marathon, despite getting 1k off course and took 4th for the women.

And here SR's and my respective trips to the podium.


We both got a super huge trophy, a t-shirt and a really nice New Balance water bottle belt.

I can't end a blog post with the words "water bottle belt", so I will mention that I listened to music the entire marathon, but only six songs, over and over. I love repeating songs when I am in a good rhythm. Here were the songs:

The Balcony by Rumor Said Fire
Zero by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Your Rocky Spine by Great Lakes Swimmers
Kick Drum Heart by the Avett Brothers
Dance Floor by The Apples in Stereo
Nobody but You by The Apples in Stereo


Now we're going to enjoy perhaps the only night of our lives where SR and I are BOTH marathon winners :). Thanks to Charley Prødel and the many volunteers for a wonderfully organized and beautiful race!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Danish ultras are boring and repetitive

Or that is one opinion you could have. This coming weekend, we are going to be participating in our second Danish ultra, The Copenhagen Ultramarathon, though we will just be running the marathon as a training run and actively observing the 60 and 100k's.

In order to understand Danish ultras, you need to understand the way Danes view their countryside. "I have been out hiking on some trails behind Mogenstrup Kro that are so beautiful, you actually think for a moment you aren't in Denmark anymore" said an 80 something member of the Dansk Vandrelaug, as she stood naked in the pool lockeroom rubbing lotion into the skin of her breasts.

While Danes love their countryside, they seldom find it exciting or remarkable. And maybe this is why ultras tend to be run on repeated asphalt loops instead of forest or countryside trails.

A typical Danish ultra is the one this coming weekend.
Vis Copenhagen ultramarathon på et større kort

A 10k asphalt loop repeated either 6 or 10 times to make 60 or 100k (the marathon is a 2.2 km detour followed by 4 loops). The attractive part of these races is they are easy to measure, easy to plan for and allow for fast times. But what is lacking is the "I wonder what natural wonder awaits me around the corner". The exact opposite of Danish ultras is the Trans Alpine: a winding trail/rock line across several countries, often taking the most challenging route. The most extreme Danish ultra is 6 days straight of running a 1.023 km loop on the island of Bornholm. May-Britt, who some of you have gotten to know through her comments on this blog, holds the Danish female record in the 6 day race. How can one have the mental discipline to keep running, I have to wonder!

I personally love the stunning, wide open Danish countryside and the charming forests carpeted with wildflowers. I would love to see more exploratory ultras here. As I have mentioned, I want to organize a trail 80k with start and finish at Gavnø Slot, but can't do it alone and don't know if Danes and/or foreigners would be interested in this.

I really look forward to this weekend, though, and will enjoy the mental and physical challenge this loop format brings. Although my legs felt like shredded tires as I tried to run intervals today. Despite it being a fast course, I don't think I can aim for a wildly fast time. A 3:30 seems reasonable. I think SR could get a really fast time, but he is also just treating this as a training run.

My running song of the day, Dance Floor by The Apples in Stereo, is hot off the presses. If you don't like the song, you may like Frodo singing like a robot. I think I exceeded the reasonable limit today for the number of times one can listen to a song in a row while running. By the way, does anyone ever listen to the songs I recommend besides me?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Can you even trust me?

Imagine if I suddenly assumed the role of an unreliable narrator. Alex from A Clockwork Orange immediately comes to mind. Like the entire time you were reading my blog, you thought to yourself, is she even sane or telling the truth? In reality, I think many people started reading my blog for that very reason: because no (sane) woman runs 16 miles a day while pregnant and refuses to gain more than 15 pounds? Do they!?

But then some women were like, hey, I can relate! And now some of you have gotten to know me. And some of you have even met me. And I'm not even weird. In fact, I'd like to think I'm reliable (I was honestly going to say as reliable as Holden Caulfield, but then I realized he is usually considered an unreliable narrator. Hmmm.)

Where on earth am I going with this?

I want to report my training, my running and my life accurately. So my dilemma is this: what do I report as my real PR from the half marathon on Sunday? The Garmin time or the official race time? Can we come to a consensus as a running community what people should use as their PR on their blogs? Is there already a consensus? CAN one use a Garmin time? Or is it just ANNOYING to do that?

Let me give you a bit more info about the race on Sunday: It was officially "danish certified" (DAF): measured by hand to be 21.1 (maybe even 21.0975, not sure about that)km. BUT even Peer who measured it also got 21.5 km on his Garmin after the race. As he described, everyone took long ways around at times and wide turns at curves, etc.

So what counts? Or does it not matter? Olga is thinking I should just shut up right now.

I have to say I'm leaning towards reporting the actual race time.

I also want to officially apologize to Sparta, who organized this race! You guys did everything right!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Nike Testløb 3 Race Report

Today's race was inappropriately called a half marathon. Here is the distance and map from my garmin:


Generally a half marathon is considered to be half the distance of a marathon or 13.1 miles/21.1 km. But today's route was incorrectly measured and was instead, as you can see above, 13.4 miles or 21.57 km. I honestly didn't think much of it and figured my garmin was wrong, until Henriette said after the race how upset she was by how long the route was "again". Apparently these Sparta races are notorious for being inappropriately measured. This really suprised me, because everything else about these races seems so professional and well-organized.

Granted an extra .47 km isn't that big of a deal if you're just out for an enjoyable run, but when you are running your ass off to get a PR (and prove to the blogosphere that speedwork makes a difference) it IS a big deal.

But on to the report.

Here is what I did not run in, but tried on at the National Museum afterwards:


I started off next to my balloon man, who was pacing for a 1:30 half marathon. He warned me beforehand that he ran the first half faster than the second. Here he is, Frederik Bøjholm:


Well, as much as I wanted to make Frederik my new best friend, I could only hold on to him for the first 5 km, which we ran in 21 minutes. After that, I got a side stitch and he and a huge group slowly pulled away from me. Did I mention there were 2588 runners today?

I came through 10k, according to my garmin at just under 42 min. So my pacing was going well. Federik was a good 20 seconds ahead. Already at this point, I noticed that 10k sign was long after 10km. Between the 10k and 12k, I struggled a lot to keep my morale high. There was a lot of turning and going up and down ramps through tunnels along the lakes in the map above. But after 12k, everthing started clicking again. The side stitch was gone and I paid no attention to women around me. (Okay, I did notice that either Tanni wasn't there or she hadn't passed me yet.)

At this point, I was still hoping that the finish line would come at 13.1 miles. But when I came through 13.1 miles in 1:31:01, the finish line was not in sight. But I did get a new half marathon PR of 1:31:01. And that's what I'm using for my records.

I went great guns the last stretch to make it through 21.57 km in 1:33:04, also faster than my previous half marathon PR. My pace was 6:56 min/mile (or about 4:19 min/km).There was concensus afterwards that everyones' times were slower than expected and that everyone clocked the route as long. I saw Tanni come in about a minute after me and she also looked quite disgruntled. Anyway, I shouldn'i forget to mention that it was such a fun race with so many participants and cheering fans and a beautiful route in downtown Copenhagen.

Here is full proof I wore Olga's Wasatch Speed Goat shirt (thank you, Olga!):

After I turned in my chip, I was so happy to be greated by the fam. They took the train to meet me and go the the (free entry) National Museum afterwards.

And then Henriette and I managed to find each other.

What a fun lady. She was also disappointed, though, that her time was over 2 minutes slower than expected and sadly showed me her garmin with the same distance as mine. She also told us about the marathon in Albertslund next weekend. SR and I are both thinking of running it now, just as a training run. Partly because there are both a 60k and 100k at the same time and we want to see our crazy ultra friends.

Anyway, there are two different ways to look at the race today:

1. Despite running perhaps the best race of my life, I officially barely beat my previous PR because the route was incorrectly measured.

-OR-

2. I got huge half marathon PR of 1:31:01 and then ran a little extra to finish the race route.

You all know I choose number 2.

Running Song of the day: I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas (when I'm running a race, I don't want to think, I want to rock :))

Friday, 16 April 2010

Nike Testløb 1/2 Marathon Preview

My big weakness as a runner is I pay way too much attention to how fast other women around me are running and too little attention to holding an even pace. My excuse for doing this is "other women inspire me to run faster". But the truth is, other women inspire me to run my first mile at a 6 minute pace and then run the rest of the race more slowly on burned out, painful legs. Ultras are an exception, in which I tend to follow my intuition. Though even in those I often start out too fast (yes, May-Britt, you have witnessed this!).

The Nike Test Run half marathon is this Sunday. And this time I am going to do it right. I am not going to get mad if Tanni passes me. Or any other woman, for that matter. I am going to hold my cool. How am I going to do this, you ask? The balloon men. I am running with the 4:15 min/km pacers the entire way (or as long as I can). One of the positive things about such a huge race is the pacers. Garmins fluctuate so much (especially in this sort of race, where there are so many turns) that you can't trust 'em for pacing.

If I can stick with my men, this will put me at about a 1:29:40 half marathon. This would shave 4 minutes off of my PR time. It is ambitious but not impossible. Anything around 1:30 will make me really, really happy.

I wish I could preview SR's race, but he is saving his legs (no, not "shaving" his legs), maybe for the Danish half marathon national championship in 2 weeks. He is still feeling a bit affected from the 50k and is going to stay at home watching the kids. It is over an hour train ride to Copenhagen early in the morning, so I definitely understand his decision not to come. I have to pull myself together, though, and tell myself I CAN run the best race of my life without my Fast Bastard there. A cool thing is my friend Henriette just wrote and said she will be running, so that helps!

The interior of our apartment has just been covered in a thin, uneven coat of Nutella. I need to pull myself away from the keyboard vortex.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Systematically kicking booté

If you want to kick booté (or booty; I just had to rub it in, Steve Q, how easy it is to make accents on European keyboards), you need to have a plan. Or, like me, a good coach. Despite just running the 50 miler 11 days ago, I had my fastest mile intervals yet. I'm telling you, 3 hard runs (one long, one tempo and one set of intervals) a week is still working for me.

My running coach, SR, has been on my case for weeks now to run my miles without a Garmin. "When you're nearing the end of you're mile, you look like a complete idiot the way you waste your energy checking your Garmin," he says. I am grateful for my daily dose of humility. Today my Garmin ran out of battery. Luckily I have memorized where the miles end and know the lines on the bike path by heart. I was afraid I would go more slowly, being unaware of my pace, but the exact opposite was true.

My first mile was 6:22, tied with my mile PR. The second was uphill and 6:36. Third, holding steady at 6:29. After the fourth at 6:49, I was feeling a bit wiped, but saw a female runner run by me right after I stopped. I gave her a 3 minute head start and then took off after her in my fourth interval along the same route. I wasn't sure I could catch her, but as I reached the half way point, there she was. God, I pushed it. If I was going to pass her, I wanted to pass her at the fastest speed she had ever seen a female run in her life. So I did pass her, visibly and audibly struggling, and then at the end of the 6:36 mile, my legs were shaking so much that I fell over into the dirt. As she passed me, she looked kindly and inquisitively and said "Det ser hårdt ud." Literally, "that looks hard out". The Danes. I was complete toast for the last mile and could only do a 7:04. But how pleased I was that this was my best average time yet!

The summary:

6 x 1 mile:
6:22
6:36
6:29
6:49
6:36
7:04

The Nike Test Half Marathon is this Sunday. My preview and plan for how to run a steady pace and PR will be the subject of my next post. In other news...

Running Blog Prostitution

Have any of you run across blog posts that resemble the following: "I have received a year's supply of compression running tights direct from the wonderful company, _________ , I will enter you in a drawing to win one pair if you visit said company's website, tell which product of theirs you like best and then add yourself as a follower to my blog." Am I the only one who throws up in their mouth upon reading this? I have read another almost carbon copy blog post, offered by a different blogger, this time sponsored by GU. Let me just say, if I were so lucky to out of the blue receive a year's supply of GU, I would enjoy it, share it with SR and give it or send to all of my closest running friends. Luring in superficial followers to my blog doesn't excite me quite as much. So running companies, you've had fair warning. These gimmicks are crap. I am no whore, at least not in the blog world.

Running song of the day: DJ by Alphabeat (if you listen carefully to this guy's amazing Danish accent, you may understand how I ended up here)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A change of paradigm - Don't fear running!

First an update: Now that I have included the blogosphere in the timing of my menstrual cycles, I feel compelled to share the fact that I DID get my period last night. Now that I have officially gotten two periods in 3 months, I am more "regular" than I have ever been i my life. You can add me to the category of "runs > than 60 miles/week, below normal BMI and regular periods", well, relatively. And my BMI is right on the cusp of normal.

And now my brief editorial on running and women's reproductive health:

A lot of medical decisions are based on fear. Doctors fear giving the wrong advice. Women fear doing the wrong thing. (I am, of course, referring mostly to women who are trying to conceive and women who are pregnant.) But when was it established that the "safe" thing to do is be sedentary and the "risky" thing to do is exercise? Of course, the exact opposite is true. All women should have regular exercise at every point in their life. If women can't get pregnant, it is not due to the fact that they are running or exercising. If women have complications in their pregnancy, it is not due to the fact that they are running or exercising. And I am not just talking 30 minutes a day 3 days a week. I am talking 60 minutes a day, every day of the week or more. It is the sedentary lifestyle and western diet that leads to health problems and pregnancy complications.

If a woman can't get pregnant, every health problem should be considered and excluded, including stress and nutritional deficiency, but exercise in itself should NOT be discouraged (Brooke, you also gave us a great example of this). Women SHOULD know the risks of NOT exercising, both when they are pregnant and when they are not.

How much is too much? Well, CBurns and I both experienced that we got pregnant when there was in increase in the intensity of our training. I challenge anyone to find a study that shows a direct association between exercise intensity and decreased likelihood of becoming pregnant.

And what about pregnant women? Some of you have asked about those guidelines. Personally, I did not feel the need to read books or follow guidelines when it came to exercising in pregnancy. If I felt like I was getting nauseated or tired or had Braxton Hicks contractions, I of course, slowed down. I avoided ball sports, because who wants a ball whipped at their uterus while pregnant? But don't FEAR exercise! Fear the sedentary life!

Partly because of this blog and the way people attacked the fact that I ran so much while pregnant, I have read many, many, many studies showing how safe and healthy exercise is in pregnancy. And I didn't even need convincing in the first place. There has been ONE study which showed that "high impact sports" can slightly increase the risk of miscarriage in the first trimester. This included ball sports, horseback riding and running. But no one looked at running separately. I have many other critiques of this study. But compare this to the myriad studies which showed benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise and it is no wonder that my recommendations are in line with those of the Danish Ministry of Health.

Oh, boy, I had better get back to work. But challenge me, readers! I love it when you do! Tell me WHY running 80 miles per week while pregnant or otherwise is UNhealthy! Tell me WHY getting your heart rate up is unhealthy!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

No pregnancy, no period, lots of running

The title refers to the fact that I am now 2 weeks late for my period but am not pregnant. Am I sure about the fact that I'm not pregnant? Well, no, but I'm pretty convinced of it since I've had four negative pregnancy tests.

So, why is it that I am not ovulating? Is it due to running? Or in particular training hard? We all know that a very low body weight and/or a limited diet can lead to amenorrhea. But does running alone lead to an anovulatory syndrome? My intuition as a physician says no. Evolutionarily, women should not get pregnant if they lack nutrients or a bodily surplus. But humans are nomads and that is why exercise in itself is healthy for all of us. Interestingly, once women start running over 60 miles per week, about 25% don't get their period, but as their body weight increases, almost all ovulate normally. If they are below normal weight, up to 60% have amenorrhea (info from Ginny Ryan, University of Iowa). Just for comparison, about 5% of the female population suffers from amenorrhea at any given point time (this does not include pregnant women or those on hormonal birth control).

But let's look at a different study: Menstrual patterns in ultramarathon runners. S Afr Med J. 1987 Dec 5;72(11):788-93

70 female ultramarathoners; 9% suffered from oligo or amenorrhea, as compared to 7% of controls (I can't comment on the statistical significance of this as only the abtract is available). The study also showed that menstrual dysfunction was unchanged once they became ultra marathoners, i.e. the same 9% suffered from amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea BEFORE they started running ultramarathons. Allow me to directly quote one of the conclusions "Those likely to develop chronic menstrual dysfunction tended to be younger, had started running at a young age, trained over a long distance each week, had low body weight, had experienced previous menstrual irregularity and tended to be the better performers. In addition, there was frequently a past history of anorexia nervosa." Arrrggghhhh. These ALL apply to me. Well, "better performer" is questionable. They go on to say: "chronic menstrual dysfunction which is probably a reflection of a particular life-style, personality type, body build, and, possibly most importantly, nutritional status."

This study also found that 14% of the ultramarathoners suffered from temporary menstrual irregularity during times of increased stress and/or more intense training. Interesting that the day I was supposed to ovulate was the day of the Nike 15k and that I was training quite hard in the weeks leading up to it.

Am I surprised I am late for my period and not pregnant? No. Am I bummed out? A little, mostly because ovulation is a sign of good health.

Am I taking it bit easier in training as a result?

To answer this question: I went on an 8 mile tempo run today, now 8 days after the 50 miler, in 56:46, just 20 seconds slower than my fastest time ever on this route! I could still feel the 50 miler in my legs a little and pushed myself to the point of bubbling froth from my mouth, puking at about half-way point and completely collapsing at the end. I heard a car honk and looked up to see a 16 year old guy gesturing whether or not I was okay. I held my head up and smiled. I was more than okay!

But back to running's affect on menstruation. I am curious about my female readers. Feel free to participate in my very non-scientgific surveys in the column to the right (if you fill out one, please fill out the other as well).

Running Song of the Day: Waving Flag by K'naan (I love this whole album)

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The heavenly parts


I think my last blog post focussed too much on the difficulty of Hells Hills and too little on what a good experience this trip was.

Here is the Katy House B&B, an amazing find in little Smithville. The former house, office and OR of the town surgeon. Bruce and Sallie have transformed it into a wonderful place for out-of-towners to stay and meet. Here is their website, if any of you are interested in staying there in the future.

Here is downtown Smithville, an old railway town (KT line: Kansas-Texas), turned into Antiquer's paradise.





SR, being European, loves big American lawns with palm trees, like this one in Austin.



At the race check in the night before, we walked around the trails a bit. We learned that wild flower lovers travel here from all over Texas to see the state flower, the bluebonnet, the magenta phlox and many others I don't know the names of in bloom. Who would have guessed Texas would be so lush?



The most beautiful thing of note in this picture is, of course, me.

Here's the beginning of the race day. Not only am I nervous about the race, but I'm also nervous about meeting Olga for the first time. I like this picture a lot because we are both tilting our heads to the right while smiling and happen to be exactly the same height. Who knew?


Happy running after the sun came out (I'm considering paying for this one).


My soon-to-be-champion husband.


By the end of the second 16.66 mile loop, Olga is looking happy and relaxed.


And I am surprised to see how happy I also look.


I think the girl sitting in the background is Meredith, who I have also gotten to know through this blog. She was volunteering! Thanks, Meredith. Sorry if that's not you.

A final moment of rest and good-bye to SR before the last loop. He is, as usual, fulfilling his duty as my manservant.



And the end! 9 hours and 42 minutes running and not a spot of dirt or blood on me. Amazing!


The ladies' "podium":
From left to right, Olga in 2nd, Juliet in 1st and SLG in 3rd.


One other heavenly part of our trip, was the wild love between these two brothers, Big Guy and The Lorax. Sometimes there are, after all, some other wonderful things in life besides running.




Sunday, 4 April 2010

Satan, that was uncalled for (Hells Hills 50 mile race report... temporarily minus pictures)

Hells Hills is an appropriate name, after all, for the winding, rocky, rooty and eternal small and sometimes large ups and downs at the Rocky Hill Ranch. I definitely didn't give the course the respect it deserved beforehand. But don't know how I could have prepared differently for it in Denmark. How does one prepare for Hell, anyway?

All three of our alarms went off at 4am. We are staying at the Katy House B&B in Smithville, TX. This is the town Rocky Hills Ranch is in. Ane the owner of this wonderul, historic B&B is the granddaughter of the owner of Rocky Hill Ranch.

We had everything layed out and prepared carefully and had gone to bed at 9 pm. Everything was going as planned. That is the beauty of arriving over 24 hours early to a race. On the morning of the race , I had some coffee and a really small breakfast. But that was alright; we had enjoyed a massive meal at 3pm the day before at Opal Divine's in Austin.

We drove out the race in pitch black fog. Luckily Olga had warned me the day before to wear a headlamp (something I'd never done). I purchased one in the REI in Austin and couldn't convince SR to do the same. My race started at 5, and his 50k at 6 (this early start seemed terrible, but I wish it had been earlier considering the heat that would come with the sun). We asked Olga when we arrived what time it got light enough to see without a headlamp and she said 7am. There are many reasons it is good to know Olga. When she heard SR had no headlamp, she yelled out:"Meredith, I've got a guy here from Denmark without a headlamp!" and within 2 minutes, he had a handheld light.

Before the race, I couldn't really tell who the women were. I didn't know if Liza Howard was there or Juliet Morgan. But there were about 100 runners in the 50 miler, some who signed up last minute that morning.

One could not see the course at all from the start line. But we had scoped it out a bit the evening before.

I started off running in a group of 3 guys. I had no issues with the headlamp. In fact, it was fun to run in the dark like that. But the course was extremely technical. Despite that, it felt like I was going way too slowly. I figured Liza Howard was doing 7 minute miles through that section and we were doing more like 9 minute miles. Little did I know, I was the leading woman and extending that lead by the minute, despite wipe-outs and getting briefly lost with the guys a couple times.

The 50 mile course is composed of the same 16.66 mile loop 3 times. When there were 5 miles to go in the 1st loop, a guy from Seattle and I went unwittingly 1.1 miles off course. We were confused because it was marked as the course, but was just another section of the course. When we finally made it back to the part we were supposed to be on, the group was going a much slower pace than us. I asked a guy what his garmin said for distance and he had gone 1.1 miles less. What a blow to my psyche! I have never gotten lost in a race before and it just killed my confidence. Olga's one piece of advice to me before we started was "don't get lost!" That woman is too wise.

We made it after 3 hours to the end of the 16.3 mile loop and I saw Olga was just leaving the aid station. She had passed me while I was lost. Bummer! I had thought it would be a lot later into the race when she would pass me. I held out hope of catching her again, though.

Midway through the second loop, at mile 27, I had a complete breakdown. My quads were extremely sore from all the roots and rocks and hills. And despite taking 2 salt caps every 2 hours and drinking my bottle filled with gatorade between every aid station, oh and eating appopriately, I was toast. I knew I'd drop at the end of the second loop. It wasn't worth it. I felt terrible. I told myself not to cry, just because it would be a waste of salt. But when I finally made it to the next aid station, I asked for 3 Ibuprofens, and this ended up being the turning point of the race for me. After 10 minutes, I felt great again.

Then, while I was enjoying the race a bit, a blonde wood nymph of a woman ran by me doing maybe 8 minutes per mile. It didn't take long before I realized this was Juliet Morgan. And I recalled how she did the exact same thing when we ran the Angel Island 50k. She seems to love to starting slowly and gradually gaining speed throughout. Actually, she explained she had a terribly difficult time in the dark as she wasn't used to running with a headlamp and had taken some serious spills. After a quick chat, off she went, leaving me in the dust.

I finished the second loop in 6:05. An even split with the first loop, but 1.1 miles shorter, thanks to my earlier detour. SR was there and had already won the 50k! His time was an amazing 3:55. 5 minutes slower than the previous CR. I was so proud.

As I started the 3rd loop, I revised my goal to finishing in under 10 hours. Even that seemed ambitious, but it is good to have goals. It was getting extremely hot. This would be the loop of hallucinations, losing feeling in my hands, nausea, pain, fishing a half eaten gel out of a stray garbage can and the decision to NEVER run a 100 miler. I wasn't sure what to think about more 50 milers as this was by far the hardest I had tried. I slowed down a lot on the hills and false flats the third loop, but kept my pace just over 9 minutes per mile in the runnable parts. I was pleased with this.

The girls at the last aid station told me I was in 3rd. And I wondered if someone had dropped. I knew it wasn't Olga, as everyone knows she's as tough as nails. But Juliet? Liza? Or maybe the girls were wrong.

I couldn't listen to music or do anything except tell myself to keep going. I ran entirely all the runnable parts of the last 3 miles. This was something I couldn't do at Voyageur last year. I could clearly see I was in better shape and had more endurace. As I neared the finish line in the blistering heat, I saw I could make my goal of under 10 hours. I raced across the finish line, feeling great. I was handed a huge bronze gecko and told I had gotten third. My time was 9:42, faster than the time I had at Voyageur. And Hells Hills was a tougher, hotter, course. I was thrilled. Olga had gotten second with a time of 9:30 and Juliet Morgan first with a time of 9:20. The winning women's time from the year before was 11:56. Liza, unfortunately, could not make it because of a last-minute family obligation.

Man were the times of the top 3 ladies close. But, despite my detour, there is little doubt we all deserved the places we got.

Maybe the coolest part of ultras is the people you meet. Olga and Juliet are not the type of ladies you have the pleasure of running into just any old day. And we had lots to discuss. Although when Olga and Juliet were discussing their sponsors: Drymax and GoreTex repectively, I had to keep quiet (yes, I am still available!!).

The main reason we chose this race was, of course, to meet Olga. And let me just say she is as beautiful and kind of a person as anyone could imagine. Dare I say even more so than one would gather from her blog? She is so smiley and has such a pretty voice with a slight Russian accent. She overwhelmed me when she handed me a bag of gifts. She was apparently concerned by the clothing I wore running in the pictures on my blog and gave me 2 pairs of dry max socks, a bunch of her slightly-used Wasatch Speed Goat and other racing shirts and a really cool racing skirt. She told me not to run in overalls again. (I don't remember ever running in overalls, though it does sound tempting).

What did I learn? Technical trail running and plain old runnning are two different animals (but I have learned that before). S-caps are great in the heat as are Gels (I have officially been converted!). Ibuprofen saved my race. Though more than anything it is was a persistent positive attitude and a belief that I COULD do it that allowed me to finish.

SR had a real breakthrough race and is beginning to establish himself as a top ultra runner. But I would recommend you check out his race report (coming soon) for the details.