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

Friday 26 February 2010

Prepare to be amazed: Nicole Hunt discusses her running and pregnancy

I'm not the type of blogger who normally interviews. I don't actually even read interviews that often. But I hope you'll enjoy the following as much as I did:

Nicole Hunt is a new mother who lives in Montana. She is also a runner. And a fast one. Her 5000 PR is 15:52, her 10k PR is 32:48 and her marathon PR, in the 2004 Olympic trials was 2:40. She won the 2006 USA mountain running championships. She is a nurse and running coach and ran through her entire pregnancy (even 7 miles on her treadmill the day her water broke...). You can probably all see why she fascinates me. And why I was thrilled when she agreed to answer some questions.

Can you tell us a little about how and when you started running?

I started running around age 9. My parents would drop me off in the mountains and I would run down the hill. I loved the feeling of being alive and free.

What is your education and work background?
Bachelors of science in nursing and ACE certified personal trainer. Worked as a nurse for several years but realized that I was passionate about the science of running fast for myself and for others so I pursued that direction instead.

What is the running accomplishment you are most proud of?
Oh, that is so difficult for me. I am really happy about breaking 16 min for the 5k because it was a dream goal. I truly believe I ran that time because I believed in myself. (I went from an 18 min 5k runner in college to sub 16). That experience set the precedent for all my future goals. That experience taught me that if you believe in your mind you can truly accomplish a goal and you work really hard to achieve it, anything is possible.

I have to congratulate you on your 20 month old son Eon. :) He is just adorable. And I hope you don't mind me asking some questions about your pregnancy. I hope they don't seem too personal. I am just trying to be specific so other pregnant women runners can learn a bit and perhaps be reassured.

How old were you when you got pregnant? 37 and we planned it

What was your approximate BMI when you got pregnant? 5'2" and 100lbs. (18.3). Throughout my running career I was always regular with my periods even with a low body fat percentage. I attribute that to eating 3000 plus calories a day with plenty of healthy fats.

Did you alter your training plan at all when you learned you were pregnant? Yes but for me I had no choice since I had labored breathing at about 6 weeks. I was forced to run slow since I felt out of breath.

What was your training plan? Run moderate w/some strides a few times per week. (I stopped strides at about 25 weeks due to them feeling uncomfortable)

Did you use any specific parameter as a sign you were pushing yourself too hard (heart rate, speed, contractions, gut feeling, there is no "too hard", etc)? My breathing was labored at 9 min pace so it forced me to run slow. When I felt Braxton hicks cx I also slowed down

Did you suffer any injuries while pregnant and, if so, what was your recovery strategy?
No injuries

I have read you were able to keep running your entire pregnancy, but did your mileage go down through the trimesters? Yes. There was a point during my 2nd trimester where I thought I could not run. I was experiencing intense calf pain, hip tightness and had to pee every 5 min. Luckily those symptoms only lasted a week. After that week, I still experienced all 3 symptoms throughout my pregnancy but not as severe. During my last few weeks I was running very very slow but I was still able to run the miles. I felt best during my last trimester (except for the final week)

What was your specific weekly mileage before, during and after pregnancy?
60-80 miles per week before
50-65 all three trimesters
55-80 now

How much weight did you gain? 25 lbs (100 lbs to 125 lbs)

Was Eon born on time? 1 week early- 39 weeks. Were there any complications? Not with his birth but I had a tough 32 hour labor. I had back labor coupled with back spasms with contractions every 2-3 min throughout the labor. Eon weighed 7lbs 4oz and me being petite, he was a big baby for me so big I needed a C-Sect. I desired a natural birth.

Did you breastfeed? Are you still breastfeeding? Have there been any running-related issues with that?
I am breastfeeding now and Eon loves milk!! I have no running related issues. I ensure I hydrate a lot. Eon does not seem to care if I do hard workouts or long runs. I have plenty of milk for him and he makes the sign for milk all day.

Do you feel that being pregnant helped your training or that it was a setback?
It likely helped my training since I had a few aches and pains that healed up during pregnancy

Have you been able to lose the pregnancy weight?
Yes but just accomplished about a month ago.

Have you returned to your pre-pregnancy speed? No, but honestly I am not training as hard as I was.

Now my husband, SR, has a question: He considers himself a fast runner and thinks ultramarathons ruin his speed and wants me to stop pressuring him to run them (no marital tension here). Have you ever run an ultra marathon? No

What are your thoughts on ultras?
It depends how you train for ultras. If you train for ultras as you would a marathon (lactate threshold training, hills, vo2 max, sprints, long stamina runs) you will definitely not lose your speed. I think ultras are a great tool to help you run faster for the shorter distances as long as you train smart and allow for proper recovery.

Do you have any specific advice to pregnant runners or new running moms out there?
Read the book Exercising through Pregnancy by Dr James Clapp. It was a tremendous help and motivator for me to keep running and exercising.

You can read more about Nicole's pregnancy and life as a new mom at Running Mama's Journey .

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Do or do not. There is no try.

Okay not that I want to come off as being wise (SR told me last night that the real charm of my blog is that it is so naïvistic).

But I can say one thing and that is my training plan is working!!

Took 3 days off of any sort of hard running, ran 4 miles this morning and then this afternoon had 1 mile warm-up and then

6 x 1 mile intervals (yes, still windy and cold here, but there was less snow on my bike path)

6:42 (4:18 min/km for the European purists)

I had 2 minutes rest (standing still) between each of them and sometimes 2:20 if my heartrate was still up.

I have never had such fast times 6 miles in a row in practice.

I learned today the importance of keeping all the miles at as even a tempo as possible. I used to start out running the first two miles really fast and then bending over puking and not being able to run the remaining four planned intervals. Today it actually felt great. It is weird how I am starting to look forward to intervals. But as Levar Burton used to say in Reading Rainbow "Don't take my word for it..."

In the mood for something Scandinavian?

Running Song of the Day: My Mamma Said by Aqua

Sunday 21 February 2010

Playing Tough

I have learned that when I start getting comments in Chinese about money not creating happiness, that it's time for me to write another blog post.

SR and I had a relaxing getaway planned last weekend, which of course would include a long run. I will just start out by saying that no matter how bad it was, I don't think it was anything compared to what we would have experienced had we gone to Purtugal as we originally had planned.

Anyway, I have started to get cocky about running marathon distances every other weekend. I was feeling tough and forgot about all the things that could go wrong.

SR had planned a running route on the island of Amager, outside of Copenhagen, where he used to run when he was in medical school. We had spent the morning swimming and going in and out of saunas and steam baths at a sports hotel called DGI Byen.

The long run started at noon. Everywhere we turned, there was nothing but wet, heavy snow and after about 1 hour, I felt so hungry I could hardly keep running. I had lost 3 lbs in the last week, which I was thrilled about, but I had forgotten what an effect this has, at least short term, on training. A few Rolos and I felt kind of okay again.

By the second hour we were heading out of a nice wooded area toward the ocean. I am accustomed to cold, but not at all accustomed to running by the ocean. It was only slightly below freezing, but the wind was so strong and the air so damp, that I began losing feeling entirely in both of my hands and arms. I was wearing a t-shirt, a long-sleaved shirt and my huge blue gloves (yes, all cotton), but I might as well have been naked. It was terribly painful and I started crying, and we were now two hours from the car. SR suggested in his kind-hearted way that we go and warm up in an oceanside "yurt". Now, first of all, I just hate the word "yurt" so no matter what they are, I don't want anything to do with one. And why exactly would I want to STOP moving in order to warm up? I started screaming at SR about the insanity of going into a "yurt" and he eventually ran off dreaming of yurts and a better wife he could enjoy one with.

Now that I was alone, I found myself wanting to listen to music, but of course with numb hands and arms, that was impossible. And GOD was I hungry. And then my heart started skipping beats again rapidly. This has happened to me almost daily in the last month. My heart beats so hard and I can't breath and then it stops. I can only speculate why this keeps happening. It's probably just PVC's, hopefully not atrial fibrillation.

Well, two hours to go. I had better pull myself together. The snow running hurt my hips, the cold hurt my arms and I was alone. The time went by, though I walked almost half of the time the last hour, luckily SR had joined me again by that time.

I started calculating the miles I'd run in the last week:

Sun: 25
Mon: 6
Tues: 9
Wed: 14
Thurs: 8
Fri: 7
Sat: 20

Total: 89 miles, almost entirely on snow! Plus losing three pounds. The long run on Sat. might have been a bit ambitious.

Okay, it was a stressful, painful, terrible run. But I still loved it. It was way better than sitting around doing nothing. Anyone up for an oceanside winter run with me? ;)

Running Song of the Day: Par Avion by FM Belfast

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Narcisissm works

I used to think it was narcissistic to admit to being a fast runner. Heck, I even felt that way about trying to be a fast runner.

The first 5k I ever ran was the Canterbury Run in Madison, WI. I tried to stay at the back, despite actually wanting to run faster, because I didn't want to be one of those annoying people who pushed others out of the way.

The second 5k I ran was the Germanfest Run in Milwaukee. I started out running with my friend visiting from France but then thought, heck, it's such a beautiful night; why not run my heart out? So I did and really surprised myself by coming in 3rd woman. I didn't even look at what my time was since it meant nothing to me and I found the whole thing embarassing.

Not long after I met SR, he made it known to me that he was "the fastest runner in La Crosse". This is, of course, where we were living. And I was like, God, he seems like such a nice guy, why would he say something like that?

Shortly after, he invited me to a race with him. It was, appropriately enough, the Valentine's Heartthrob 5k. It was -10F that morning, but that was weather I was used to running in. I had never actually tried to run fast in a race, but I wanted to impress him nonetheless. I came in second woman with a time of just under 23 minutes. And I realized how fun it was. Just as an aside, I have to point out the SR also came in second, despite being the fastest man in the city :).

Since that time, SR has been on my case to train right and get faster. But I didn't really see the point. I figured I was "fast enough" and just wanted my slow spiritual runs. I didn't want days off of running. I didn't want anything to change. And I wasn't fully convinced I'd even get faster.

But then I had a change of heart. Maybe it was becoming a 30 year old mom. I figured if everything stays the same, I'll only get slower and more out of shape, and I was already seeing signs of it. But there was no reason I could not be the fastest I had ever been and in the shape of my life. And why should a 30 year old mom be ashamed to do that?

Since this fall, my weeks have consistently had an 8 mile tempo run, 6 x 1 mile intervals and a long, long run. The days in between are relative rest days, but always involve swimming and usually yoga. In all, I'm definitely spending less time exercising, which works a bit better with my schedule, of course.

Today was my 8 mile tempo run. And I knew it was time to break my training record. I knew I had gotten faster. I ran a marathon in the snow on Sunday, but couldn't even feel it in my legs. It was on my usual route. I ran the first 5k in 22:20 and knew I could step it up. The 10k was in 44:30 and the full 8 miles in 57:14. Okay, it may not sound that fast, but it was just a training run and not a race.

Here are my previous 8 mile tempos on the same route starting in the fall:

63:47 (snowstorm)
57:14 (today)
(you may be thinking there are a lot of missing weeks there, but that is either because we ran a race or trained with the track club that week)

As I made it through the 8 miles I heard Rasmus Seebach sing "hvor er hun dog yndig" and I was sure he was singing about me. I have become such a confident runner. I am excited about trying to break my old PRs this spring and summer. Call it narcissistic but at least call it effective. It is just a question of believing you can get faster and sticking to a plan. Thank you SR! I love you!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Making plans

After our run today, I'm getting more excited about the upcoming spring and summer.

It snowed all morning (again). We ate breakfast with my mother who is visiting from the US. SR and I knew that no matter the weather, this was our day for a long, long run.

SR put on his backpack, I my Garmin and we were off. Okay, we did put clothes on, too.

But then it ended up being warmer than expected, so the clothes had to go. Ahhh, the Danish countryside.

We ran about 80% on snowy trails. I have never had a winter of running on almost exclusively snow. In the US, I ran on the sidewalks in the winter. But here, the sidewalks are also covered with snow. The town of Næstved actually recently ran out of their salt supply for the entire winter. So why not run somewhere pretty?

I do not know if snow running is good training, but I do know I've gotten good at it and my legs have gotten quite strong.

Here we are taking a break at Karrebæksminde Bugt and then Gavnø Slot.

Gavnø Slot is the beautiful castle, which looks blurry in the background. It is here I hope to start and end an 80k/50 mile ultra. I've been working on the plans with SR, we just need to get our athletic club involved and work out the details of the route.

We ran for nearly 4 hours together and that was 21.5 miles. But at that point, I wasn't really feeling sore or tired. I have to say that now that I am 53 kg (and I can tell, or at least really hope, the weight is in muscle and not fat), I have become a much stronger long-distance runner (my mom suggested it is because I'm not breastfeeding anymore; an interesting theory). I ran for another 4 miles alone at around a 9:30 pace, even on the snow. I still felt great, but didn't want to get injured, so I called it a day after almost a marathon.

We both felt so good afterwards and were able to better plan out our races for the spring and summer:

1. Hells Hills 50 miler (SR is running the 50k)- April 3. I have spent some time studying the race and I may have a shot at the female course record (which right now is 9:24). But depending on how hellish and hilly it actually is, I might have to revise that goal. Honestly, it does seem realistic with having run one 50 miler in 8:45 and then Voyageur in 9:40 and feeling even stronger this year. But, even if I'm 3 hours after that goal, I'll still be happy. Mostly because I finally get to meet Olga and Larry. And SR and I get a romantic getaway in the small Texan town of Smithville.

2. Copenhagen Marathon - 23 May: goal time is under 3:20.

3. 24 hour race on Bornholm vs. Aabenraa mountain marathon at the end of June. Well, I'm not thrilled about the idea of running a 24 hour race that is half on asphalt. But if Steve Q really does come to run it, then I will, too. If I run the 24 hour race, SR will run the 6 hour and then pace me. If we run Aabenraa, we'll both run the same race.

4. I'll skip right to our plans for late July, early August's trip back the US. We have three weeks, one of which is just the two of us. The first weekend, we are going to run Voyageur (if a race directory is found). I think I speak for both of us when I say the main goal is to show up on time. Followin the race, we'll stay in Duluth and then start a week long trip around lake Superior by car, stopping in parks, towns, wherever we feel like. Just the two of us, bikes, wetsuits and running shoes. The week will end with a marathon around Grand Island near Munising, MI. That is, if we can run a marathon the weekend after Voyageur.

So, what about getting pregnant? Well, let's just say there is no hurry to have baby number two, but if I do get pregnant, the racing plans probably won't change. I'll just run slower.

I didn't actually listen to much music today, but one that stands out was a rec from Steve Q (wow, two mentions in one blog post!)...

Running song of the day: Balloon Man by Robyn Hitchcock

Wednesday 10 February 2010

PW (personal worst) due to lack of sun spots?

While some people were running The Rocky Raccoon 100 miler last weekend in Texas, I ran my worst ever 10k time on a snowy route around Bagsværd Lake. And here's what I'll blame it on:

(Just when you thought you'd heard them all)

There are hardly any sunspots. (This is a NASA shot of the sun today)

You think I'm kidding. Or that I have gone crazy. But the truth is, the less sun spots there are, the colder the weather is. Sun spots disturb the electromagnetic field around the earth, allowing more heat in, so when there aren't many, it gets colder.

I learned this from SR's dad. And being the director of a world-renowed science museum, this is the sort of thing he knows.

But what am I really trying to say? I ran slowly because the weather was cold and there was snow over the entire route.

I ran the same route again afterwards just to take pictures (large camera in backpack).

A PW is just hard for me to accept, since I have been training so hard.

But my slow time is not just because of the sunspots. It is also 1. training a bit too much 2. not being at my ideal racing weight (BMI 18).

Interestingly, I have been notified by a number of readers about articles showing that it does not help your race times to weigh less (and I just love hearing news and getting article from people who read this blog ---- thank you!).

Well, here's what I have to say:

1. Weight matters a lot in races which are marathon length or shorter (though muscle matters more in less than 1k).
2. The closer one can get to a BMI of 18, the faster one gets at shorter races, assuming one stays muscular.
3. Below a BMI of 18, you risk losing muscle, but I think this also depends on your diet and some people can go below this BMI and get even faster.
4. In ultras, as Danni pointed out with an interesting article she sent me, body composition matters more than weight (Hoffman MD, Lebus DK, Ganong AC, Casazza GA, Van Loan MD. Body composition of 161-km ultramarathoners. Int J Sports Med 31:106-109, 2010.). The favorable body composition is more muscle, less fat. And body composition is even more important for males than females. But only in ultras does weight not matter and 10k's are not ultras.

Bottom line: Weighing less helps in short races, weight doesn't affect performance in ultras. So if one wants to be good at both distances, be thin and lean (it won't hurt you for either). No big mystery!

So what was my PW time? 45:05.

At least I've got these guys (hey and they turned 2 and 9 this past week!).

(I love Natali in the dress I bought her at H&M)

The poor Lorax has been sick with a fever and URI the entire week, but I did mange to get a shot of him looking happy.

Running - cool down - meditation song of the day: Splendour by Pantha du Prince

Friday 5 February 2010

Visit to the doctor (!)

Everyone in Denmark is assigned a general or "practicing" doctor, who they can visit for free as many times as they like for whatever they like.

I had an appointment with ours yesterday morning.

I was in a great mood. I found out the day before that I had a guaranteed salary for the next 11 months (because of getting into the PhD program and some hard negotiation by my advisor). I finally slept great after getting the news.

The purpose of the visit was twofold.

The first was the Lorax's 2 year visit. The second is more exciting, so hang tight.

Here's a shot from the waiting room.

What did I learn about the Lorax?

First he doesn't like having his testicles palpated by unknown Norwegian men. He kept saying "Ow" "The end" (in Danish) and "cookie!" as the doctor tried to find his left testicle. I realized I have been a bit cruel to the Lorax by telling him that a diaper is called a cookie. This is of course not the Danish word either.

Anyway, the doctor could NOT find the left testicle so he referred us to an ultrasound. But last night when I was changing his cookie, I found two testicles again right where they should be, so we slip from that ultrasound appointment.

The second thing I learned is The Lorax's weight and head are disproportionately large for his height. He does have a posture, though, like Quasimodo when he has to stand and be measured, so I lied down and stretched him out on top of me and the doctor measured again. That gave him an extra 3 cm.

The second reason we went to the doctor was for me. It was short and sweet. I thought it would hurt, but before I even felt anything, I got up and looked in the trashcan to see this:

Before I had The Lorax, I went 6 years without a period, so it will be interesting to see if/when I do get pregnant again.

But if nothing else, it is a great excuse to eat well and stay in shape.

I ran intervals on snow trails again and was pleased with consistent 7 minutes for 4 x 1 mile. Mile warm up, mile cool down and then a 40 minute swim.

Well, it's Natali's birthday today. Time to get breakfast in bed ready. :)

Tuesday 2 February 2010

The secret of the winter runner

The snow is falling sideways again today. Today I had an 8 mile tempo run on my schedule. After 1.2 miles, I was struggling with everything I had to keep my pace under 8 min miles (5 min km) while running uphill into the snowy headwind. I can't help but suspect that the conditions will be better again one day.

The fact that I lost my research salary last week has been harder to deal with than I expected. Instead of enjoying free time, I find myself scrambling to find ways I can get a full-time salary next month. I think that if I get an acceptance as a ph.d. student at the University of Copenhagen, it will make things easier. But anyway, I woke up at 5:30 Saturday so I could have a couple hours to work on applications to private funds in peace. By the time 12:30 rolled around, and SR returned from dropping off Natali at a birthday party, I was on the edge of a breakdown. I started yelling at SR for no reason and then started throwing some of The Lorax's favorite possessions (good thing he was taking a nap). What on earth was going on? I started crying. I went for a nice swim and it helped calm me down, if only temporarily.

Sunday morning, I woke up again at 5:30, unable to sleep. I ate the breakfast of an ultramarathoner. But the problem with eating like one is that you had better also run like one...

SR and I drove with the kids to his parents' house in Bagsværd. It was a day for a long run together. We started running at 2 pm. There was snow everywhere. We took it easy running in the snow the first two hours.

(I stole these from Tina and Ole who were out in Bagsværd at the same time. My camera sadly ran out of batteries)

We went back to his parents' to refuel. I only had a couple sips of water. I was way ahead on my calories for the week, so I didn't figure I needed any more to continue. We felt renewed as we went out again, this time running on bike paths without much snow. It is so easy to be in love with SR on our runs together. Though there was one point when he told me he was amazed I had made it so long in life without any psychiatric medicines or diagnoses. Well, one could easily take this as an insult, but honestly, it is running that keeps me happy and sane (or at least somewhat).

After 2.5 hours we decided to run alone at our own pace. I stayed on a bike path as night fell. The snow on the dark tree branches glowed as I ran effortlessly under them. After running on snow all day, I felt like I was racing downhill just by being on a dry, level, hard path.

There is something amazing about running in the snowy cold for so long. I felt such a happy warmth inside of me. I listened to The Great Lakes Singer's Your Rocky Spine and cried as I thought of the beautiful places I have been and run in my life. And the experience of the Trans-Alpine Run. A while down the road, as it became completely dark, I listened to Slow Show by The National and the beautiful lyrics "You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you" brought me to tears again.

God, life was good. Only a fool dwells on the negative. If you don't believe me, become a runner. 22 miles down and it felt like almost nothing.

So it is now two days later. A tempo run with pace of less than 8 minutes per mile for 8 miles was probably an unrealistic goal in a snowstorm. But I pushed through the snowbanks and the blistering wind. I don't really know why. I actually yelled out at one point in pain. That was a first. When I turned around, the snow became ice pellets and the wind picked up. I could feel a small corneal abrasion developing in my right eye from the wind and I could see almost nothing out of it as it was tearing so much (I imagined coming into my own department explaining the injury). I just kept pushing, pushing pushing. And came though 8 miles at a time of 63:47. Yes!!! I did it.

And as I was writing this blog post, a woman came to the door and delivered this:

It's an acceptance letter into the Ph.D. program at the University of Copenhagen. :) Again, I did it!!!!