Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Thursday 30 July 2009

What Makes a Great Female Ultra Runner?

I have been reading the book Da mennesket blev menneske by Peter Jensen and became interested in the fact that our Australopithecus ancestors, as they moved out of the trees, had a need to run quickly across the African savannahs. Yes, evolutionarily, we are runners. But why is it, I wonder, that some of us are so gosh darn good at running long distances?

The case of May-Britt Hansen and the "ultra gene"

May-Britt, 47, began running 4 years ago and recently became the Danish female champion in the 24 hour run, running about 117 miles.

Here she is running with the guys.

Danish researchers jumped on the chance to do some genetic testing and found she has a double copy (two alleles) of the FTO gene. Carriers of two copies (16% of the Europeans) have a 1.67-fold higher rate of obesity than those with no copies. But this gene may also enhance performance in endurance sports.

On some weekends she runs between 60 and 70 miles, and some weeks this will be her total mileage, but I was unable to find an average amount. More info at her blog (although it is in Danish).

The case of Helen Lavin

The female record holder at the Voyageur 50 mile is a stand-out ultra-marathoner who began running just 5 years ago.

Here she is at the beginning of the Voyageur 50 with Valeria Shuster behind her. Photo courtesy of Jen Pierce.

After the race, I had a wonderful chat with Helen and tried to find the secret to her success.

She says she runs on average 30-40 miles/week during the winter and 50-60 during the summer. I asked about hill training and she said she hasn't really done any in about a year.

One thing she swears by is Bikram Yoga (Yoga at around 100 degrees F) which she does multiple times a week.

I have gathered from her blog that she doesn't seem to adhere to any particular diet, though has been making an effort to "improve" her eating lately.

One thing is for sure, though, she absolutely loves running. A quote from Helen after 47 miles in the 50 miler "I loved being back in the rocky section."

The case of Jenn Shelton

This is the 25 year old who two years ago broke the female record for fastest 100 miler on trails (this was at Rocky Raccoon in Texas). Her training strategy, according to Christopher McDougal from Outside Magazine, involves waking up and having a veggie burger and then running until she gets too tired to run longer (which ends up being about 20 miles).

She also told Christopher McDougal "I started running ultras to become a better person. I thought if you could run 100 miles you'd be in this Zen state. You'd be the Buddha, bringing peace and a smile to the world. It didn't work in my case. I'm the same old punk-ass as before, but there's always hope."

Let's turn to a guy just to contrast.

The case of Anton Krupicka

He just ran and set the course record at the White River 50 (The USATF 50 mile championship). His time was an incredible 6:32. His training is at 10,000 feet at his home in Leadville, CO. He runs about 160 miles per week (if not injured from exactly that). More info here

But is it actually Anton Krupicka's minimalist approach that makes him so good?

Note this racing outfit:

A hair tie would just be too much accessorizing.

But the most amazing thing is, in these shorts, he had stored a water bottle, four gels and a bunch of S-Caps. Where are they?

So women, you might just need to tuck a water bottle and a bunch of food in your compression shorts and, if you can avoid pseudo camel toe, you might have the secret!

Okay, so the science completely fell apart.


What is it that all of these runners have in common? One thing I have noticed, is considering how extremely talented they all are at ultramarathons, none has an exceptionally fast marathon PR. What else? They all make time for very long runs and, well, they absolutely love to run long, long trail runs. And there's no doubt there are multiple genetic factors at play. But I've failed to find any specific training secret. Are there any readers with ideas?

What have I changed? I did just sign up for Yoga again (though no Bikram to be found in Denmark) but I've decided to keep my hair ties. And now that I can get up from the toilet without using my hands after the 50 miler, I might start some serious running.

Monday 27 July 2009

Voyageur 50 Mile - An Unusual Race Report

Wow, have I been looking forward to writing this.

After 17 hours of travel time from Carlton, we finally made it to København (yes, that's Copenhagen) airport. We then slept all day in SR's parents' house and now we are back in Næstved with The Lorax and Step Daughter.

So who would guess that starting a race 20 minutes late would be so much fun? Well, that wasn't our intention, but it made for quite an experience.

The night before Voyageur, we drove up to Carlton from La Crosse, picked up our packets and then ate a romantic dinner at the Indian Palace in Duluth. I had amazingly good Peshawari Naan and Daal (Indian food in Denmark has been disappointing). We had had a fun but stressful and sleep-deprived week, so it was nice to sit and enjoy a dinner just the two of us.

We then checked in to the Red Roof Inn by Spirit Mountain and were about to get into bed, when a dog started barking in the room next to us. We eventually found out that the owner had left the dog in the room alone and the hotel was unable to contact the owner. Apparently by Minnesota state law, they could not remove the dog from the room.

Here is a picture from the room before the dog started barking.

In a scene that was extremely embarrassing to SR, I convinced one of the nice ladies at the hotel to give us a different room. Suffice it to say, I now understand why SR is so opposed to owning a dog.

In our new room, we layed out our things for the race, set the alarms and tried to sleep. It was about 2:30 by the time I fell asleep. SR was asleep a bit before me.

I then woke up to bright sun shining in the room. Ahhhh! I screamed knowing immediately we had overslept. I looked at the clock, which said 6:52. With a 7:00 start and a 17 minute drive to Carlton, things were not looking good (we had both set our alarms to PM instead of AM--- I am always so obsessive about checking this, but just didn't do it that night).

We grabbed our things and I filled my mug with coffee (I could NEVER race without that.). We discussed as we drove what to do and I said, we had better drive to the start and hope they allow us to start late (SR had wanted to drive to the first aid station). We arrived at the start and, since my English has become so poor, I said "We slept in!" (rather than we overslept!) to the remaining race workers.

We started at 7:19:30 and ran together for the first two hours, trying to catch up. The pace was, of course, way too fast for me. At times we ran under 8 minute miles.

All of your kind advice about what to eat for breakfast was lost on me, since I didn't eat a thing. So, I guess I took Steve Q's advice.

Here we are excited and alone in the first few rocky miles (I did manage to remember our camera).

We caught up to some other racers after about 50 minutes, or at the second aid station.

Here was the "power lines" section. Yes, it is steep.

And, I was so glad I wore a Garmin. I'd never run an ultra without one now. It was great inspiration when I was tired.

I was also glad I wore a watch, because shortly after this photo, I tumbled down a powerline hill, resetting the Garmin.

A quick word on chafing: Ladies (and of course, some men, too), if you have problems with this, buy yourself some spandex shorts! I have previously had nearly fatal chafing between my legs at long races, but none after this one.

Since my family also reads this blog, I won't talk about how sexy I look in spandex. All of my clothing was provided by the company I pretend sponsors me, Geyser.

SR went ahead after a little over two hours and I started meeting people.

The first guy I really talked with gave me the nickname of Wood Shadow and we started singing "Moonshadow" by Cat Stevens, but I didn't get his name.

I wanted to ask everyone their names as I passed, but I don't know, it just seemed weird.

Then I spotted Steve Q about a half a mile ahead of me on Skyline Drive. I figured I wouldn't catch him until much later, but was so excited to finally meet him. We had a good conversation and he amazinlgy had narrowed down the real name of The Lorax to two names, one of which was Dag (which I think is actually a Norwegian name) and one of which was correct! They don't call Steve smart for nothing. Any other readers want to wager a guess? (No family members, please)

I then spotted Helen Lavin, coming back from the turnaround. I believe she was 8th overall at that time and looked incredibly strong.

I made it to the 25 mile turnaround in 4:20. Right on pace to run the course in 9 hours. I could see I was 7th woman at that point and 5 of the women were not too far ahead. I met SR, who was about 10 minutes ahead of me. He said he was already tired and that worried me. I told him with great enthusiasm that I was going to be second woman. Yes, I live for competition.

Here was the gorgeous view of Duluth from Spirit Mountain.

I met and eventually got ahead of Lisa Trainor and Traci Amundson. I ran the first 50k in 5:27. But I was dead by the time I got to the powerlines again.

My eating and drinking had been perfect, I think. Fig Newtons, plus many extras and lots of Coke and Sports Drink were the way to go for me. I must have eaten/drunk 150 calories at or between each of the 17 aid stations. The only limiting factor for me was my quads.

Not to make this post even longer, but God, long runs can really be spiritual. I went through a bit of a life crisis in the second half of the run, wondering if we should stay in Denmark and if I am on the career path that is right for me. But perhaps no decisions should be based on thoughts after 40 miles and 3 hours of sleep.

I pushed with great pain through the last 3 miles in Jay Cooke. When I saw the finish line, I started to sob. It was such an incredibly beautiful challenge. I was overcome with thankfullness that my body was in the condition to run those 50 miles without too much problem. I stopped crying by the time I crossed the finish line. If you subtract the almost 20 minutes because of our late start, my overall time was around 9:40, right around the same time as the 3rd and 4th place women finishers.

I found SR, who had come in 15 minutes before me, but had walked the entire last 3 miles. "I'm not meant for such long races" he lamented. He is used to coming in first at races. I do think he could also see, though, what an amazing thing it was he had accomplished.

Almost immediately, Helen Lavin came up to me and introduced herself. This would be the equivalent of Taylor Swift introducing herself to Step-Daughter. I was in such awe. And she is so nice and normal. She ran the course in 8:07, an hour ahead of the next woman, April Cole. She set a female course record. We talked for a long time and I hope to use some of what we talked about to inspire an upcoming blog post.

She then introduced me to Valeria Schuster, the 3rd place woman. I would love to have Val and Helen as running buddies. Too bad we live on different continents!

Then Mark Inbody came up and introduced himself, his wife and his four incredibly cute sons. They had all come from Kansas for the race!

I wish we could have stayed for dinner, but, as always, we were in an extreme rush. SR and I took quick showers (and I haven't taken one since!) in the high school locker rooms. Then we were off to pick up step daughter and head to Milwaukee to stay with my parents, who were watching The Lorax.

On the long drive back, I shut my eyes, about to take a nap and SR said "I love you." I looked at him and smiled. We are so lucky.

Running Song of the Day: Much Better by The Jonas Brothers

Monday 20 July 2009

Voyageur 50 - I've got some questions

We're back in the Midwestern US.

Even the insatiable Lorax has become so sick of eating like an American that he is stuffing a granola bar in his ear as I write.

Soon we're off to Lake Kegonsa for some camping with the step-kids. To bring all the readers up to speed, after this trip, step-daughter will be retuning to Denmark to live with us.

There is so much I'd like to write, but, I can't tell the story of this wonderful vacation until I upload some photos (forgive me).

I do, however, need some advice the upcoming Voyageur 50 mile race (and hopefully this advice will help some of you readers, too):

What is a good sports drink to have in my bottle?

What is your favorite thing to eat the morning before an ultra?

Is wearing a Garmin worth it or are they just too heavy?

Is biking bad when attempting to taper?

Biking song of the day: The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band

Friday 10 July 2009

What happened to all those "crazy" pregnant runners?

I am often contacted by women who are interested in continuing to run during their pregnancy, but are concerned about the health of their baby.

Recently, I read that Line Pedersen, a Danish woman between 3 and 4 months pregnant, took second place in the European Championship in Mountainbike Orienteering.

This inspired me to write a post dedicated to a few women (who I met through my blog) who ran through their entire pregnancy. Below are pictures of the happy mothers with their girls (links to their blogs are found in the column to the right).

First, Enthused. She is 42 and ran through her entire pregnancy (avg 21 miles/week). She gained 18 lbs and reported a complication-free pregnancy. Enthused kept an incredible journal of her pregnancy experience and is a great resource for exercising pregnant women.

Here is the nearly 8 lb Cadence.

And here is the happy mom 14 days after delivery.

Then there is Joy. She also ran through her entire pregnancy, had an at-home delivery and gave birth to a 7 lb 5 oz girl. The picture below says everything.

Here she is with her baby girl, Selah.

And here is Heather (Ad Astra, Per Aspera), who also ran all the way through pregnancy. She even raced at 39 weeks! She gave birth to an 8lb 10 oz girl, Angeline Marie. Here she is with her almost one year old daughter.

I hope this is reassuring to all of you exercising moms-to-be out there!

And these are just the ladies I have pictures of and info on. I would love to hear from more of you if you've had your baby.

Running Song of The Day: Engel by Rasmus Seebach

Monday 6 July 2009

Gritty, challenging summer fun (Kanaltriathlon 2009)

The day before the race, SR and I looked at the list of participants. 40 men and 7 women. From what we could tell, they were all known triathletes in Denmark and members of tri teams, except the lowly SR and Sea Legs. It was almost a relief for me to go into it knowing I would come in last.

The morning of the triathlon, I was still holding out hope that a couple people would come last minute just to try a triathlon for fun. But as the participants arrived with their plate wheels, aerodynamic helmets and tri-bars, it was clear we were the ones who were a bit out of place.

It would be an olympic distance triathlon:

1500 meter swim (that 30 pool laps/60 lengths)
40k bike
10k run

We have a little experience with the sprint distance, but the olympic distance is quite a bit longer.

As we were all entering the water, I suddenly realized I had a problem. "I have to go to the bathroom!" I said, panicked, to SR. Of course, when you already have your wetsuit on and you have to do more than pee, this is a huge problem. Since there were no nearby woods, I and a 7 year old girl found the only bush and entertained the many spectators lined up on the shore. A good start!

With lightning speed, I pulled up my wetsuit and basically lept into the rocky canal. The water was beautifully warm, with a brownish-green color, which is best not to contemplate at great length.

The horn blew. I kept a steady pace, right behind SR, near the back of the pack. We have taught ourselves the crawl in the last two years and it is kind of fun that we swim at basically the same pace. Suddenly, I could no longer see SR, but I figured he had gotten ahead. I later learned that he had instead gotten off course and ran into the cement wall along the side of the canal.

Despite SR's detour, we exited the water, I after him, with a time between 34 and 35 minutes. A year ago, the fastest I could swim this distance was about 40 minutes. To put this all in perspective, though, the first place triathlete's swim time was 17:27 (this is Rasmus Petræus, an elite Danish swimmer)!

The bike was kind of embarrassing since I was one of perhaps 3 people without a tri bar. But somehow I was able to not slip too far behind SR, which we were both surprised by. It was a down a back course six times, thus we got to cycle through a big crowd of spectators 12 times. It was such an awesome feeling!

My 40k bike time was 1:27.

The 10k run was great. The route was on a path that took us down to the ocean and then back twice. I never got to find out my overall time or place, though, since their chip system stopped working. THAT was a big bummer.

I'm guessing the run was 44 minutes, giving me an overall time of 2:50. I was about 3/4 of the way through the pack, much to my astonishment.

SR had an amazing run with a time of 36:37, putting him at about the middle of the pack with an overall time of 2:30.

Here's a picture of the scene afterwards. And you can get a glimpse of the canal.

I have always been a bit annoyed by triathlons because they necessitate so much fancy equipment. But now that I have experienced the exhilaration of an event like this, it seems well worth the investment. Plus, in Denmark, it seems much less like an event for the elite; even people who make minimum wage (almost $20 an hour here) can participate.

The next step will be to buy a tri-bar and some bike shorts (to avoid the painful chafing I had between the legs). Then we'll find a half ironman, which is a bit longer and favors runners compared to the olympic distance.

Speaking of grit and summer fun, we did have to miss out on the Roskilde Festival Naked Run this past weekend. See a video here:

Running Song of the Day:

A couple cheesy pop songs, perfect for summer

Love Story by Taylor Swift
Back to the 80's by Aqua

Saturday 4 July 2009

17 months - and I can't stop breastfeeding!

It should be easy to just stop breastfeeding, right? The Lorax is almost 17 months old. I am tired of being in public and having him slap my boobs, cry and then reach his little tan hand down my shirt. Plus, as far as I know, the health benefits of breastfeeding beyond 1 year are few, if any.

So, why exactly is it that I just don't stop? Despite efforts to taper down (going 24 hours without when I am on call) over the last few months, my boobs have continued to make the same amount of milk. And the longer I go between breastfeeding, the more painful it becomes to run and swim. So I just keep breastfeeding.

Last week The Lorax went to summer camp for three days and two nights. I thought it would then be easy to stop. Three days without breastfeeding. The milk production should stop right? I fed him once when he got home, hoping it would be the last time. But no, the milk production continues!

Is there a way to stop and still be able to keep running? If not, how many days does the pain of full boobs last? Has anyone else out there had the same problem?

Happy 4th of July to the American readers!

Running Song of The Day: Shoes by Tiga

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Running in the Heart of Germany

Before I talk about Germany, the events of today deserve a mention. I finished and passed (!) my trial job (to work as a physician in Denmark) in the Internal Medicine Dept. So now I start a combined eye surgery residency and PhD August 1st. To congratulate myself, I ran a marathon on trails around Næstved. It was sweaty and rainy and gorgeous. AND I kept a pretty decent pace. I did have a Steve Quick moment when I fell on my hand and thought it was broken, but it's just a common bruise. Anyway, no doubt I'm back into the shape I was in last summer (perhaps better). Watch out Helen Lavin, I'm coming to Voyageur 50, too (okay, maybe I'm not in THAT kind of shape).

Here I am after my solo marathon.

I've got a perfect body because my eye lashes catch my sweat. (can anyone name that song?)
Okay, okay. I don't think my body is perfect. I just like the song.

Over the weekend, we were in The Harz Mountains, Germany. Being from Milwaukee and having a longer and more German maiden name than you could make up, I have always been a bit fascinated with the country. One thing (of many things) I didn't know was that there is a beautiful mountain range right in the middle of the country, on the old border between East and West Germany.

This is Germany. The red arrow points to the Harz mountains.

And all one needs to do is pick a town in the mountains, put on your running shoes (which SR forgot... but emergently purchased some "entry level" New Balance ones), and one will find an abundance of trails leading up into the mountains. These trails are ostensibly for hiking and mountain biking, but are also a runner's paradise.

Harz mountains in the mist.

A view of Bad Grund, the town we stayed in, which really wasn't bad at all, ah ha ha.SR and I had one beautiful run which lasted for hours, but went by so quickly. We didn't see another person the entire day. Harz was apparently a huge tourist area in the early and mid 20th century, but is now nearly abandoned.

Here is a dammed lake we came upon.And SR and his brother would not have been satisfied unless we attempted to hike to the highest peak, Brocken, at 1141 meters.Above are, of course, the brothers. Can you locate the poor Lorax anywhere in the picture?

We would have made it to the top if it hadn't started pouring, creating disquietude with The Lorax. But on the way down, he was once again his happy self.We later came upon an old tower in the town of Osterode. It was completely unmarked, but I have subsequently learned from German wiki that it was built in the 12th century and is called Alten Burg.Here is The Lorax playing with his cousin. If you take a close look at the photo, "Compton" is written on the wall in graffiti.

And here we are playing the Von Trapp Family Singers, saying Auf Wiedersehen.

Running Song of the Day: D.T.A.P. by Nephew

and the song the quote came from...