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

Wednesday 30 June 2010

The SLG Look of Summer 2010

Put away your fashion magazines. The look of the summer is here. Or at least, that's a pretty nice haircut.

No more running with hairties?

And what else is cool this summer?

I have slowly begun to accept the fact that I am not a skinny runner anymore. I have, actually against my will, become more of a well-rounded athlete. And don't think I'll EVER get below 52 kg again and I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Our entire spring was filled with race, recovery, race, recovery. And all of that recovery time has meant lots of swimming and biking for me (initially to burn calories, but then to really get good at both of them). And yeterdsay, "Cross Fit". So, as I understand it, this Cross Fit phenomenon has been big in the US for a while, but has just made it to Denmark. Or at least has just made it to our small town. To me the idea of swinging a big black weight called a "kettlebell" was completely abhorrent (maybe I just don't like the name "kettlebell", which is also what they are called in Danish). I am a pure, beautiful, skinny runner, who doesn't taint herself with that nonesense. Or I was, sort of... Anyway, my first cross fit class yesterday involved 30 men and women in a race set-up which included running 400 meters, swinging "kettelbells" and doing pullups, repeat 4x all outdoors. And gosh darn it, I won the whole thing and even beat the men, including the guy who runs the athletic club. And it was a blast. Who knew? (But part of me still wishes I were a waif who couldn't do a pull-up to save her life... am I mad???).

I hate looking at pictures of myself. I feel so, um, okay, "big-boned".
Yes, I cut off the bottom half of the picture because I think my legs look big (but they work, gosh darn it!).

Here's the deal: everyone loves the blogs of women who used to be overweight and then lost weight and now look beautiful. But no one wants to hear a woman who used to be too skinny now whining when she's not too skinny anymore. Okay, I'm not whining. I'm calling it the look of the summer 2010.

Hey, and with those arms, I finally beat a female high school swimmer at the pool the other day!!! But I guess the real truth will come out at the Kanal Triathlon this Sunday.

I am also learning that nothing says "Summer in Denmark" more than toplessness and nudity (no, no pictures of me. I'm still too American, I guess. But SR isn't rushing to submit a photo either.).

Anyway, here is a angry, naked boy on a tricyle, who turned out to have a wicked-shparp stone in his "gluteal cleft", which he demanded I remove shortly after this photo.

Danes ALL get at least 3 weeks of (paid) summer vacation and sometimes even the opportunity for topless tabletennis arises (this is picture from a yearly bulletin of an athletic club in Copenhagen)And, yes, runners get into it, too. Here is a video of last year's Naked Run at Roskilde Festival (I had to sign a waiver not to upload anything "obscene"when I was about to upload this, so I decided I'd just post a link, rather than have readers accuse me of being obscene). The female and male winners receive free entry to next year's festival (I think I may have found a target race for next year). It takes place again this weekend.

Well, if you weren't so grossed out that you navigated away, I will say that I have yet to find the running song of the summer. But I liked Steve Q's suggestion, and I know if it's a song the two of us agree on, it has to be good:

Sound of Sunshine by Michael Franti & Spearhead

Saturday 26 June 2010

Blog fonts and other important considerations

It's 6:30 on a Saturday morning. I got up early because I was thinking about how the automatic font on my new blog template wasn't inviting enough (yes, yes, I changed it... what do you think?). It is moments like this where I think, yes, this blogging thing has gone a bit too far.

Last night, all I really wanted to do was hang out with my family. They had all bought/boughten (ha! which one is it? Yes, it's the first. Now you know I was brought up in the midwest if I have the desire to say "boughten") birthday presents for me and we were going to sing "SLG har fødselsdag og det har hun jo og det er i dag..." and I sat down for a brief moment to check The Blog and, before I knew it, I had irreversibly changed the template and erased my old header picture and, oh, this just wouldn't do. And suddenly, looking at my unrecognizable blog on the screen, I had this strong desire to just erase the whole thing and never think about blogging again.

It was, after all, more fun playing at the beach an hour earlier.

And the water was warm enough for us all to swim! And one can swim without goggles and look through the crystal clear water, with only a few jelly fish to blur your vision.

If I scrapped the whole blog now, I would be an idiot. When I began blogging, it was just a diary. I didn't realize I would actually MEET a lot of the people who read and commented on my blog. And, if not actually meet, then receive emails and articles and really become friends with people because of it. I was overwhelmed by the number of people I received a Happy Birthday from on Facebook on Wednesday, who have, one way or another, gotten to know me through my blog. And many of them are actually Danes, who share a passion for running, and put up with reading a blog in English.

A number of years ago, I read the book, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Allan Sillitoe. And, when I was done, I found myself wishing I could read more stories of runners. There is something about being a long-distance runner; we have a need to hear and share running adventures and mundacities. And even if you don't enjoy this blog, at least I link to good ones.

Plus blogging is just fun. And I learn a lot from you guys: about running (of course) and my often-slightly-warped view of the world. And mankind has never experienced anything like blogging: a combination between journalism and an ongoing novel, which can be constantly revised and criticised by the author an the readers.

But I would be lying if I said it created peace and happiness in my family. And that is, of course, the rub. The big rub. Not in the sense of a massage, but in the Hamlet sense. I think everyone in my family has come to actually hate the existence of the computer because of the time I spend on it. And sometimes I hate it, too.

That is why I am blogging before everyone wakes up. In two days Natali leaves for the US. We won't see her for 3 weeks. My role as her step-mom weighs heavily on my mind. I don't think I'm doing the best I could. With kids, it's about making time for them.

Or ignoring them while they are trying to catch up to you on their bike.

Running Song of the Day: 20 Miles by Deer Tick

(oh, I just love music, well, especially good music like this, though there is room for improvement with the video)

Exciting running events this weekend:
1.Western States 100 miler in California (live updates)
2. Kaiser Sport/Asics Etapeløb along the Eastern Coast Denmark. 182 km in all, where one can hop in at out as they please.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Fredism and Compression Socks

To mark my officially making it a 1/3 of the way 93, I am writing perhaps my oddest blog post ever...

When I see a runner in compression socks, I think "what a Fred". But should I?

And what exactly is a Fred?

Well, it's a cycling term for an amateur who pretends to know what they are doing. Freds typically have the newest, most fashionable clothing and equipment without knowing why, if or how it helps. Fred A. Birchmore Jr., the first guy to cycle around the world in th 1930's, is apparently the man behind the term Fred. Legend has it that on his world tour, he hopped in front of a bunch of cyclists in a race in Italy, pretending to win. Someone in California thought this was pretty funny and started calling all wannabe cyclists "Freds". Fred is from Athens, GA (a really magical town, if you've never been there). Here he is with his bike, Bucephalus, around 1935.

Fred is now 99 and is rumored to still run around 10 miles a day. Dare I say the term "Fred" should be one of respect?

So, what about compression socks? Should I continue to laugh on the inside when I see them?

I mean Paula Radcliffe doesn't wear them anymore.

Er, I mean, whoah, closer look reveals she DOES - just skin-toned.

But did she wear them when she set the world record? Take a close look!

(yes, she did)

Lots of people who wear them do look like they know what they're doing. Take note of the woman in green who finished in the top 5 females in the half marathon of the Naturmaraton on Sunday.

And then there are pictures like the first (see above): compression socks that go down to the ankle without socks! And ugly shoes that haven't seen a speck of dust. Give me a break, Fred! (Fred in the old sense of the term)

But I guess it's not so important what people look like if they work. But what is it these socks supposedly help with? 1. venous return 2. injury prevention 3. performance enhancement

First of all, it seems weird that they do three things, but let's consider these. (Can I really find any information out there that has nothing to do with a company trying to sell them or some woman exclaiming that she prefers them in pink?)

The thing that got me started on this train of thought was: if they help with venous return, why not wear stockings that go up over the knee and increase venous return even more? But honestly, I can't understand why any healthy person would not have a normal venous return while running. I just don't believe these stupid socks will improve something that already functions so well (the muscle in the calves, that is).

Well, let's just answer the question. Do they increase venous return? Well, maybe. A small study showed decreased blood lactate concentrarion in runnning and cycling while wearing compression socks. 4. Am J Physical Med 1987; 66:121-132

Number 2. Do they prevent injury? Again, this seems preposterous to me. I mean can anyone explain to me why having something halfway tight around a muscle will prevent an injury? I mean it's not like you prevent the muscles from moving, otherwise you couldn't run. Right? Well, I have found a couple studies saying I am partially wrong. While I don't know if they prevent injury per se, they do seem to decrease soreness.

1. They significantly decrease muscle soreness after a 10k race in men.

Ali, A., M.P. Caine, B.G. Snow. 2007. Graduated Compression Stockings: Physiological and Perceptual Responses During and After Exercise. J Sports Sci 25(4): 413-419.9.

2. Decreased perceived muscle soreness after arm curls in women.

J Sports Rehab 2001; 10:11-23

What about number 3: Do they improve performance? The most interesting study in my mind comes from 2009 and was done by a group of Germans. They found statistically increased running performance at both the anaerobic and aerobic thresholds with stocking that give "constant" rather than "graded" compression over the calf. We're talking 1.5-2% improvement.There was no difference in VO2 max between stocking group and control group.

Kemmler, W., S. von Stengel, C. Kockritz, J. Mayhew, A. Wassermann, J. Zapf. 2009. Effect of Compression Stockings on Running Performance in Men Runners. J Strength Cond Res 23(1): 101-105.

So, turns out I may have been too quick to judge. Maybe compression socks do provide benefit. At least the "constant" compression type. And I have to admit that when I was in high school and I got second woman in the mile, I was wearing my tight soccer socks to just below the knee (you know, just because I loved 1970's basketball). Maybe it helped, a little.

The moral of this tale: a runner with compression socks isn't necessarily a Fred and neither was Fred.

Running Songs of the Day: So Human by Lady Sovereign and Bulletproof by La Roux (I have a real soft spot for lead vocalists with androgynous voices, as in La Roux. What is more, I have purposely avoided learning whether or ot the lead singer is a man or a woman... dont' tell me!)

Monday 21 June 2010

Race report: Storbælt Naturmaraton 2010

Sometimes a race is such a incredible experience that the desire to share it with other runners is overwhelming. And you are reminded why it is that so many runners have web logs.

First of all, a marathon is never "just" a marathon, no matter how many ultras one has run. So many things have to NOT go wrong over the course of 42 km in order to run the race you hope to run.

The history behind the "Large Belt" Nature Marathon: Denmark had previously been broken up into amts (the approximate equiavalent of a US county). But in 2007, amts were done away with and united into larger "regions". To celebrate the new large "Region Sjælland" (where we live), a race was developed along the coast of "Large Belt" (a body of oceanic water between Sjælland and Odense) to display the beauty of the region. It is a point to point race, from Slagelse to Skælskør (seen below), with the first half mostly on roads and the second half on sand and wooded trails along the coast of Storbælt.

At the start were a decent amount of people we knew, including Hernriette, Ultra Ole and Maj-Britt M from our Tri club. And as SR pointed out after the race, he had never seen a start line in Denmark with so many in-shape women, most of whom I'd never seen before. Where had they been hiding? Though placing obviously says nothing in particular about one's race, I had hoped to be in the top three to get a big money prize (top 3 get between 100 and 200 dollars). But with about 200 runners, it wasn't a tiny trail marathon.

SR and I both felt good. But SR's foot had been bothering him and he just hasn't had much training in the last half year. I felt well-rested, well-fed and hydrated, and I don't think I have EVER been in the shape I am in now. Not that you can tell from a shadowy picture of me, but I have lost 4 pounds in the last month and a half and have become a significantly faster swimmer and cyclist over the last few months. I didn't suffer from lack of confidence, let's put it that way. But I hadn't tapered and was mentally treating this run as a training run for Voyageur 50 miler.

The first half marathon was run on rolling country roads, with distant views of the oceanic waterway. I ran in a pack of men and a woman, Nanna Berg, who I had never met before, but who had won the race last year. It was a beautiful day, I felt great and I figured I would run the whole way with them. At about mile 9, I got really hungry. I had taken sports drink at the first two aid stations, but the fruit at the aid stations didn't didn't sound good to me. So I pulled out my one yucky Danish gel and downed the whole packet. Bleh! Terrible. And then I got a side stitch. But, I know enough to know that side stitches go away. At least at some point. I ran the next two miles with the group, clutching my side. I kept up, but I could see they were on pace to run about a 1:38 half marathon. So I slowed a bit, wanting to avoid the same mistake I made in the Copenhagen marathon. I ran my own race and was enjoying it. I thought I was 3rd female, but when I came through the half marathon in just over 1:40, they announced I was 4th female. Oh, well.

The half-marathon participants were lined up and would start in 20 minutes and run on the same trail as us. As I ran through the streets of Korsør, a young girl scootered almost right into me. Her father thought this was quite cute, despite the course being marked off. I yelled at her and then her father yelled back at me in return. I almost had an asthma attack due to the anxiety. But I told myself to just smile at everyone I saw from then on and the anxiety would subside. And it did, somewhat.

We turned to running along the beach. Sand running is not easy. And then there was quite a steep hill into the woods section, which I walked up. Wow. This was feeling like an ultra trail race. And then in the woods, something happened AGAIN. Bewteen 16 and 17 miles, just like in the Copenhagen Marathon. Everything was spinning and I couldn't put one foot in front of the other. I felt extremely dehydrated and hungry. I just walked, confused, desperate and frustrated.

Maybe I really had a medical condition. You know, that feared condition of "can't run more than 17 miles". Great time to get down on myself, but I really DO train for half marathons and not marathons, I thought. Due to time restraints, my runs come in short bursts, not the every other day 3 hour epics I used to enjoy. Well, there would be no dropping out this time, no matter what. I needed to train for Voyageur, after all.

I didn't think I could survive to the next aid station, but I did. And I drank 4 cups of energy drink and ate a granola bar. I started walking, but once I ran again, the vomiting started. I think I vomited about 5 times there. Not sure. But then at least I could run again. There were aid stations every 4 km. With 2km to the next station, I became desperate again for fluid. I had to walk again. It was beautiful scenery in salty-air woods with perfect dirt trails. I had listened to the same song about 40 times now, Into the Ocean by Blue October, so I decided I had best just turn off the music as every bit of sensory input nauseated me. I ran in spurts and the next aid station arrived. I drank a few cups (3?) and ate a little granola bar again. (God, I wanted peanuts or chocolate or cookies or something rich/salty!) And then I puked again and again and again. But chin up, I was going to do this. It began to hurt too much to walk, due to a strange pes anserine intertwined with left hip problem, so I basically had to run if I was going to finish this. I reached desperately into my pocket for my ibuprofen, which had turned to dust and wafted their way out of the shorts fabric into the salty storbælt air. Hmmm. I ate a little of the remaining Ibu-dust, which was of minor help.

I actually ended up running with the same group of men all the way to the end. So they got to enjoy seeing me puke my guts out after every remaining aid station. The stations came every 2km towards the end. There was lots of challenging and beautiful beach-side sand running and hilly, grassy trails. But my experience could not be called "fun" in the traditional sense.

The race really had the feeling of an ultra, with people all suffering together and chearing each other on. And the shared "another patch of sand?!" misery. With 5km to go, I had a nurse come up to me when she saw I couldn't walk and I was puking. I reassured her I'd make it to the end alive (and of course, if I didn't, it would be all her fault).

The support of the fans along the route the entire race was so wonderful. Despite it being such a long route, there was not a moment where one could not see a supporter or more on the sidelines. I'm not just saying that to seem grateful. The morale was high the entire race because of the enthusiastic supporters.

As I hobble-ran through downtown Skælskør to the finish, I got tears in my eyes, but also couldn't help feeling embarrassed by my slowest ever marathon finish time of 3:45. Here I am rallying, but losing in a sprint to the guy next to me. I remained 4th place woman the entire race, so I guess I wasn't the only one who slowed down.

I am really not sure what happened there at 16 miles, but I would love to hear your opinions. I honestly think it was a combination of many things:
- training for shorter distances
- unwittingly starting the race with a fluid and calorie deficit
- no tapering
- somehow getting low on salt

The only thing I can think of doing differently is taking salt tabs and being sure I eat more.

Certainly my left hip problem also contributed to my slow time.

There was SR at the finish and he looked strangely refreshed. Well, he had dropped at 20 miles due to nausea and dehydration and hitched a ride to the finish. Gosh and it really wasn't that warm, maybe 70 degrees and sunny. He had also been in 4th place when he dropped. I felt bad. I had expected him to do well, maybe even win. Apparently Henriette also dropped, a little earlier at the half marathon. But I haven't yet heard exactly what happened.

Well, it was a perfectly-arranged, beautiful race with an overwhelming number of volunteers and supporters. Here are some pictures of Danes I don't know running the race yesterday, to give you the idea of the scenery:

The ONLY thing I would change would be (speaking as the spoiled American I am) adding some food to the aid stations that isn't fruit or granola bars. Suggestions: peanuts, cookies, chocolate. Or perhaps I could eat more beforehand and just stop complaining.

There was live music and partying afterwards in the beautiful seaside downtown of Skælskør and SR and I had time to discuss the race as we waited for the bus back to the start. Well, we've done a lot of races lately and perhaps it's time for more normal training and full recovery. I for one really need this entire month to get my hip back to normal before Voyageur. SR has announced he is not running Voyageur, but will run the 5k at Carlton Days the night before (and go for the win).

Picture from a park in Rønnebæk the day before the race:

Running Song of the day, as mentioned above: Into the Ocean by Blue October

Friday 18 June 2010

Dealing with fame

Dealing with fame is notoriously difficult, but if you're someone like me and you're not actually famous, fame is just plain fun. Deserved or not.

Above is a clipping from the front page of our regional newspaper yesterday. I heard about it from many people during the course of the day, but we're not actually susbcribers, so I was glad when Henriette's FATHER scanned it for me. What a guy! I was so frightened that it would be an ugly-grimacing photo. But I think I ended up looking strangely like the Lorax, but with a chemotherapy Buff on.

Well, let me first translate it and then explain why my fame is undeserved.

"'Sea Legs Girl' (yes, you can read my real name right up there, people) was Denmark's Relay's fastest woman.

Fastest woman at the Relay:
Næstved: SLG was the fastest woman to cross the finish line when 1,777 runners whipped through Herlufsholm forest and over The Suså in Denmark's Relay. She came through the 5km run in a time of 20:12. The fastest he-runner was Peter Munch Larsen in spikes, noted to have a time of 16:07."

Well, I of course wasn't the fastest female runner and Mette was. She showed me her Garmin and it said just under 19 minutes. But for some reason all of the times after the 1st round were off and in a stroke of luck (a mistake), I was given all the glory. And how glorious it is. That is, if anyone actually cared about that kind of thing :).

Just for fun, here is a great photo of our friend, the afforementioned fast Peter in spikes. Just imagine how fast he could have run had he actually tried ;)! (Note the reaction of the crowd.)

We're getting excited for the marathon on Sunday. At this point, I'm mostly stressing about my music. It is a bit wack how important my music is to me in a marathon.

Anyway, here's one new song that will be in the mix:

"Baby Lee" by Teenage Fanclub

Wednesday 16 June 2010

The red thread

You know something is up when you are crying so hard listening to Snow Patrol that you can't get out of the car and buy groceries. Oh and then you accidentally beep the horn as you're stuggling to whipe your eyes.

Wow. Hard to say what triggered it, but it might have something to do with SR's very emotional blog post. And then Olga's response, asking if SR and I still stared lovingly into each other's eyes like in the old days.

Travel back in time with me for a moment. My life has been in many ways a string of incomplete successes. I got grant to travel to France and write a book about the small town Lectoure when I was 20. I wrote the book (in French) and only let two people read it, never translated it and never had it published. When I was 22, I got a fully payed position at Harvard medical school to do dementia research. I did the research, but never continued it as I had planned and never published anything. At 26, I got married (to a different guy) and then when I met SR (at 27) I said good-bye to my first husband. I said I was sorry to husband #1, but he knew I wasn't and I haven't talked to him or his family since. But during everything, I had running. It was my red thread. I don't know if there is a saying in English equal to the Danish "red thread" but it is something that is a constant and stays with you in life. Whenever I needed security, I had my red thread, running.

But then, when you fall in love, you don't need security anymore, it's just always there. And it just so happened that running had been a red thread for both SR and me and that we could enjoy even more together, not as a security blanket, but as a real joy.

Looking back, life was pretty easy in the US. But when we moved to Denmark, SR got depressed, understandably, missing his kids. And I didn't know how to react. I just tried to stay positive. I wouldn't allow him to make me feel guilty. And I just wanted everything to work out here so badly. Well, it was really hard for both of us and I wrapped myself up more and more into a ball. And running became not only my security blanket, but a desperate attempt to get SR to really admire me again. And now SR is gone at least 2 nights a week, and I wonder how much we're losing of what we used to share. Not that we haven't been in love this whole time; it's just different and more separate than it should be.

I have just started reading Jesper Olsen's Jorden Rundt i Løb (Around the world in run) where he describes running across the world. He talks about his decision to basically spend two years on his own. The whole idea sounded so wonderful and romantic to me. But then I realized, wow, no! what is happening to me? Why is it that I think so much in the first person now? I used to always think about us and now I think about me.

Well, when you really fall in love and you find the red thread that will define your life, you just pray you won't mess it up and have another "incomplete success". Thanks for reading. Sometimes it helps to put things into words. To answer Olga's question, yes, we still look lovingly into each others' eyes, but not enough.

Song of the day: Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

Monday 14 June 2010

Denmark's Relay - Næstved

Yesterday morning SR and I quickly fit in a relay race before we had 14 guests over at 2pm. The event was called Danmarkstafetten - Næstved. But I've realized that if I use an event's real name in my post title, my blog has a disturbing propensity for coming up second after the actual race's website when I do a google search. But since this is in theory an anonymous blog and I want to be able to write without feeling as if I need to write like a newspaper reporter, I've realized I need to adopt some new under-the-radar tactics.

Anyway, in our backyard, sits a beautiful forest surrounding the river, Suså. It is an almost daily source of joy for us. Yesterday was the enormous running relay Danmarkstafetten, which takes place right there in the forest every June. How could we miss it? Actually we almost did until our friend Rasmus M called and told us we had better not miss it and yesterday morning it sounded like a fun thing to do. There were certainly upwards of 1000 runners there. Actually, I read that last year there were 500 teams of either 3 or 4 people, so it was probably closer to 2000 runners. All-women teams are required to only have only three members otherwise they, being of the weaker species, might drag the event out the entire day, or something like that.

Each mix or all men's team runs a 5k x 4. SR and I signed up as a mix team with just the two of us. We ran like this: SLG: 1st, SR: 2nd, SLG: 3rd and SR 4th.

The best thing about this setup was we could bring Natali and The Lorax and take turns watching them. And for once Natali was in heaven because all of her school friends were also there, two of them actually running and others supporting family, etc. There was a huge trampoline and Natali and her little friends took turns hopping with the blonde, big-headed Lorax. Needless to say, he was also in heaven.

This is not the kind of course one should expect to PR on. At least yesterday, the trails were very muddy from the recent rain and the entire course is on trails or grass. And there are little hills and just tons of people, so I rather quickly, though reluctantly, gave up the idea of setting a PR. I had on Friday run a 20:38 5k in the middle of a training session, so I figured I was in pretty good 5k shape, but didn't know exactly what to expect. SR on the other hand has surprised me this year by not doing any sort of speed work. I see it is a bad sign that he is just so tired from work and his long commute and helping take care of the kids, that he doesn't have it in him to train hard in the evenings anymore. But the thing about my husband, that I have trouble explaining, is he is at this point where even if he doesn't do any speedwork at all, he is still extremely fast. I guess you could interpret that as a bragging wife or a wife who just doesn't understand how someone can continue to be so fast without doing the speedwork he is prescribing for me. Anyway.

On to the race: I lined up next to one of my gal friends from the tri club and a guy, who I previously didn't know, who was really impressed with my Chippewa 50k t-shirt. A safe generalization about Danes is they LOVE the romantic idea of Native Americans/American Indians. I found this to be the same of The French. Anyway, not much time to chat. As typical, I started out way too fast, at a below 6 min/mile pace, but with all of the sudden barriers created by young boys starting out at lightning speed and then without warning dropping off to a walk right in front of me, I needed some fast running to end up with a decent time. God, it was fun to watch all the young guys who I passed freak out, sprint to keep up with me, and then swallow their pride and fall back. Along many places on the course, there were people cheering and some of them knew me and since I was the first woman, I got lots of screams and cheers. I ran the entire time right behind the guy who loved the Chippewa tribe and we came in at almost exactly 20 minutes. As I was coming up to the finish/switch area, they yelled on the loudspeakers, Here's SLG (okay, they said my real name), the first woman from Team Lorax!! And the huge crowd cheered. What fun! SR sprinted off.

I had a moment to play with the kids and their friends. Natali's friend, Ulrikke was so proud I was the fastest woman and Natali wasn't sure if she should be happy or if this meant my running obsession would be fueled even more. My friend from the Tri club came up and gave a congrats and then asked if I'd be on their team to represent our tri club in the Danish Nationals in September. She has seen me swim, but may regret her invitation when she sees me bike. But of course I said yes, thinking I had better get out there cycling more often.

Soon I went up to switch off with SR. Just before SR came in, I saw Mette B, and she had a time right around 19 minutes. So we have stayed about the same amount apart in our times, which made me happy, since I know she has gotten in much better shape in the last year. SR came in in just over 17 minutes. So, no, it's just not a fast course. My second round, I just had more fun and enjoyed passing people and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and muddy trails. My second was in just over 21 minutes. And then SR's second was again in just over 17. A great day for Team Lorax. We didn't have time to stick around and see what place we got since we had guests coming and food to prepare. But I think we were second of the mix teams and the 4th or 5th team overall.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Excuse me while I briefly slip into my white coat and end the % body fat discussion

Now that we have discussed % body fat ad nauseum (a subject I was previously nearly indifferent about), I feel it's my duty to at least outline some interesting facts I've learned over the past few days (I have to thank Danni, PubMed and my many wise readers for their assistance)

- DEXA scans are more accurate than TANITAs and they tend to read higher since they detect even very small areas of fat (a 10.9% reading, for example, on a TANITA may be a 14-15% on a DEXA, similarly a 30% on a TANITA, would likely be above the WHO "healthy" range on a more accurate DEXA)

- DEXA scans were used in the ONE study (Gallagher et al. Am J Clin Nut 2000; 72:694-701) the WHO based its guidelines on and may explain why the range is shifted higher than one might expect if one is measuring body fat with a TANITA.

- If the general population is going to use TANITAs, a "healthy" range based off of DEXAs should not be given as a reference

- TANITAs are also not very precise and fluctuate a lot in the course of a day

- No body fat % reading alone should be interpreted as healthy or unhealthy, but should be looked at in the context of the whole health picture of a person, ideally with the assistance of a physician versed in working with % body fat (okay, I think we all knew this one to begin with)

- After doing a thorough browse though research over PubMed, I can find no studies that directly correlate % body fat with health outcomes, so it's significance in overall health status and mortality has yet to be determined SO AGAIN the % alone, should be interpreted with caution and only in the context of many other health factors (exercise, BMI, diet, confounding health conditions, etc.)

After all this, I am left wondering what sort of helpful information one could get out of % body fat readings. Any thoughts readers? I have to say, I think most of us know before we step on a Tanita generally how healthy & fit we are and it is hard to think of a circumstance where it would add anything. Okay, end of discussion, I guess.

My next post might be about something interesting. But I'm not making any promises.

Friday 11 June 2010

And that is why so few people blog about women's weight

In the post below, I discussed % body fat. I posted my own body fat (10.9%) which I was told was way out of the healthy range according to WHO guidelines. I showed pictures of women with various body fat % ages and would really love it if you as readers gave me your opinions about what is healthy. In my PERSONAL opinion, according to at least what I have read, the only one who is obviously unhealthy is the one who is 8-9% body fat, because she is quite clearly using anabolic steroids. So my questions are "Why are the women with 11, 15, 18 and 20% body fat considered unhealthy? Should they be? (okay, so yes, it is true I did infer I don't believe they are unhealthy, but does anyone have evidence to say otherwise?)"

I have nothing personal against any of these women! I think Miss 18%'s body is the nicest, but as pointed out, our ideals are simply shaped by the society we live in. I personally don't know which body fat percentage is most conducive to longevity (though I peronally prefer having a lower body fat percentage since I am so into trying to run fast and that is how I feel best). But I thought it would be a good topic of discussion! I apologize if I came off as judgemental. But if I just constantly wrote "I love everyone and rainbows and puppies and hamsters and then I eat ice cream with my perfect children" no one would read my blog and nothing interesting would be discussed :).

So let's make the discussion constructive again: "Are women with a body fat % between 10-21% really unhealthy?"

Edit #1: At this point, I have spent way too much time stressing about why so many people seem to be offended by my last post. So maybe I DO believe that women with 10-20% body fat tend to be healthier. Is it such a crime to believe that? Does it mean that I hate women who have a higher body fat %? Um, no. Perhaps when I look at the picture of the woman with 30% body fat, I think of high blood pressure and vascular disease and high cholesterol. Are all of these things necessarily true about that particular woman? No, but I think they are more likely in a woman with 30% body fat than in a woman with 15%, especially if the 15% woman exercises regularly and eats well. If I pretended I agreed with the WHO recommendation, I would be lying. But if there is evidence that I am wrong, I'd love to hear about it. But until then, I can only be honest about what I believe.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Body Composition Analyzer

(The title of this blog post should preferably be read aloud in the computer-generated British woman's voice in Austin Powers who says "Commencing warm liquid goo phase")

So, I spend most of my time these days working in a Clinical Biochemistry Department. In the corner of an examination room sits this piece of equipment, which is used on all of the participants in the study I am working on, called the TANITA Body Composition Analyzer. It's most important function is that it measures % body fat. For those who haven't tried something similar, you stand on it barefoot and grip some metallic handles and then little electrical currents are sent through various areas of the body, the resistance is measured and % of various tissues determined. You have to enter your height and whether or not you are "athletic" and it weighs you and figures out the rest.

After I was done doing eye examinations the other night, I figured it was time to take my shoes off and give the TANITA a try. I'd never had my % body fat measured, so wasn't really sure what to expect.

Needless to say I was a bit shocked to see 10.9%. Seemed quite low, but I wasn't about to complain. I mean for those of you who have seen me in real life, you know I look like a pretty normal woman. I had always thought of 10% as the lowest a woman could possibly go before she actually turned into a man.

Anyway, the MOST remarkable thing about the printout I received and the reason I am actually writing this, is it told me the optimal measurement for me would be 27% (!). Is a woman my age with 27% body fat healthier than I am? The actual "healthy range" for women ages 20-39 is 21-33%. Of course the confounder is most of my fat is not fat, it is muscle (to be more precise, I have 5.75 kg of fat, 44.8 kg muscle and 2.4 kg of bone). So women who have a lot of muscle and little fat, but normal or close to normal BMI are still healthy. You didn't need SLG to point this out, though. So why is it that the WHO/NIH who made these guidelines can't figure it out? Well, it goes back to a large study done by Gallagher in 2000 in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, where they converted the normal BMI range to normal % fat range. He admits that they basically had no subjects in the low normal or below normal BMI range (!), so they couldn't make reasonable caclulations there.

Readers, don't be fooled into thinking that % body fat below 21% is unhealthy. In fact, don't be falsely reassured if your % body fat is in the upper end up normal. It is not clear how exactly % body fat correlates with BMI or how % body fat correlates with longevity. But I have subsequently read that most competitive female runners/triathletes have a % body fat between 10-15.

Let's look at some pictures I found on Then you can probably figure out for yourself what's healthy and what's not.

First, woman? man? steroids? What IS hiding uder that bikini? And you can't tell me that I need to look like this to get to be a faster runner.

Now take a look at Miss 11% above. No, despite what you're thinking, that is not me. HA! Just kidding. How is it I have the same body fat percentage as her? Could the answer lie in les boobs (yes, that should be pronounced in French)? All I can say is thank God I don't look like that.

I actually think I look almost EXACTLY like miss 18% :). Right, SR?
Now, getting back to the WHO % body fat guidelines. Miss 25% and miss 30% are well within the "healthy" range according to the WHO, whereas Miss 18% (and even Miss 20%) is not.

Edit (thanks, Meghan Hicks): It is difficult to know which of these women is healthiest. But I think it is wrong that the WHO implies that women with less than 21% bodyfat are unhealthy and that women with 30% body fat are healthy based on a rough estimate from normal BMI to % body fat. I am also having difficulty finding how % body fat can be used as a determinant of health or as a determinent of fitness among elite athletes, when the measurement seems to be, at least to a certain extent, affected by breast size.

Running Song of the Day: Airplanes by Local Natives

Monday 7 June 2010

24 Run Holte 2010

Does 52 km broken up into repeated 2.7 km hilly intervals sound like good training to you? Do you like the like the idea of running as part of a team all day and all night? Then 24 Holte is just the race for you. I know of no other race like it!

Quick thoughts from morning after the 24 hours: I just slept an uninterrupted 12 1/2 hours. And the last hour consisted of dreams of beautiful landscapes (which I enjoyed with an old lady) and then a woman singing with a gorgeous voice for just my dad and me. It's been a long time since I was reminded of the fact that dreams become more pleasant and fantastic the longer one sleeps.

The setup of the race: 24 hour run either solo or as a relay team. A 2.7 km route through the hilly forest, Rude Skov, and then one trip around the track. I was on a team with 6 other women. We ran with a partner, who we switched off with for 1 1/2 hours, and then got a 3 hour break. Repeat and repeat.

My partner, Henriette, and me (that is my Star Wars first aid kit on my lap).

Highlights in (more or less) chronological hour.

- Finding a barely legal parking space
- All 6 ladies present:Helle H, Helle A, Helle W, Grit, Henriette, moi
- Conversation with May-Britt Hansen. I had some time before I ran, so I was happy to see May-Britt there supporting everyone. She looked completely recovered from running 145 miles last weekend. I had never talked to her in person, so was amazed by what a beautiful speaking voice she had (wondered if she also could sing). We talked and talked and though it wasn't the case, she made me feel as though it was me she came to see. What a cool gal.
- Ran my first loops. Was happy my second loop was in 11:40 and this ended up being the time that earned me second fastest woman of the female relay teams. Maria Damtoft had otherwise the first 7 fastest times. She rocks. And I rock a bit less.
- Conversation with Kenneth Munk. There is a paucity of adjectives a married woman can use to describe this guy. But he is the holder of the 100km Danish record time of 6:57 and is only 29. He told me he has only run 100km twice, never runs more than 25 km in training and his marathon PR is 2:32. He said he's turning back to focusing on the marathon distance. His fascination with the 100km began when he figured it was the longest distance he could run at a decent speed the entire time.
- Massage with brutal Danish woman. My right hip was a bit tight (too much non-barefoot running), so I thought I'd take advantage of the free massage offer. My masseuse had the theory that laying all of her weight and all of her hand strength into my sciatic nerve would loosen things up. Perhaps it did, but wow did I scream, and many times. And every time I lifted my head she yelled at me for straining my neck. Henriette just stood there and laughed.
-Confused skinny girl. There is a girl on our Facebook Løbeklub running club who was quite pretty and quite thin. But the most remarkable thing about her was she was never there when she was supposed to relieve her partner and start running. Multiple times someone had to hunt her down and then she would nonchalantly walk to the start. And then, at some point, we just never saw her again.
- The two stray daughters of Michael S.K. Mortensen. Michael was doing the 24 hour run and parked his 9 and 10 year old daughters in a tent to hang out with our Facebook running club. Once they got over the fact that I talked funny and that I was actually from the land of Disney and Lady Gaga, they really opened up. "Sometimes our dad says he is going out for a short run and then comes back hours later" :). Me "what does your mom say about that?" "Oh, they're divorced". "Our dad just got a new job. He's a chef." Me: "Oh, does he make good food for you guys?" Girls look at each other with extreme confusion. Older girl: "No." Still wondering what that might have to do with being a chef. Couldn't help feeling I would be good friends with Michael.
- Diaperless Lorax. Classic miscommunication between SR and me leaves the Lorax diaperless only to lay a turd in the area under our Facebook tent. Helle H scurried to clean up the turd while we rushed The Lorax to the bathroom to get him cleaned up. Luckily SR would take him to his parents' soon, where his mom (who always thinks of everything!) had diapers.
- My running posture becomes a source of laughter for all. Yes, I look like I'm going to fall over backwards regardless of how fast I'm going. But no, if I trip, I actually do have forward momentum. I guess you've gotta see it.
-Rasmus Nøhr/Delightful Guitar: accousitic performance by Danish star Rasmus Nøhr. Natali gets an autograph on her favorite white scarf and The Lorax is sure to say to everyone we encounter "dejlig guitar" (delightful guitar) while the performance is happening.
- Vegetarian food at dinner!
- Running with SR at night: There are highlights and then there is the REAL highlight. Well, this was it. SR arrived at 11 pm to run two loops with me. He snuck in behind me after I went over the chip mat and followed, though I had my music on. He had no headlamp, so had to follow close behind. After I switched off with Henriette, he said, "I thought I would have to cheer you on, but I actually didn't even know you could run so fast, so I wasn't about to tell you to go faster." Well, if his goal was to encourage me, he certainly did.
- Midnight shower
- sleeping in a gym: 2 hours.
- cheese on bread with coffee. I'm starting to love Danish breakfasts.This is real cheese and bread, folks. The good stuff.
- My total:19 loops: 51.3 km! And it didn't feel like it. Resting is just so crucial.
- We ran to through the finish as a team, taking second place, with a total of 275.4 km. Here is Helle A on the homestretch, us waiting for her, and then the exciting race to the finish.
- We all received a 400 kr. gift certificate to Puma. Sweet. Here are all the results.
- Friends. Well, I too am human and love having friends. Moving to a new country and living in a new language has made it a bit harder for me to make friends. But feel extremely happy and fortunate yesterday to have wonderful friends, who are crazy running gals, too.
Left to right: SLG, Henriette, Helle H, Helle A, Grit, Helle W

Thursday 3 June 2010

BMI in women's running

Ilsa Paulson (above) won the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009, beating Colleen De Reuk, with a time of 2:31. Should women runners strive to be her weight to be fast, or is she unhealthy?

I've been looking forward to writing this for quite a while. It's a topic basically everyone is hesitant to broach because weight, for some reason, is such a sensitive topic. But what if for a moment, we all talked about weight in women's athletics honestly and realistically?

First, on being skinny:

I would have had to be blind to not notice that the top 5 female finishers at Copenhagen Marathon were thinner than me. First the winner, Colleen Van Deuk has a BMI of 17.3 (normal: >18.5) and certainly has a higher BMI than Ilsa (above), who has beaten her. I saw Anne Sofie Pade Hansen, number three at the Copenhagen Marathon, walking around near me after the race and was astounded by how thin she was. Here is an old picture of her where she weighed more than she does now:

My friend Mette, who took 5th has slipped comfortably into the below normal BMI over the last year and I challenge anyone to find an elite female runner of the 5000 meter to marathon distance who is of normal BMI.

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but most women who enjoy running competitively would also like to be as thin as these women, but it is HARD to stay so thin. But what is even harder, is knowing where to stop with the weight loss before it becomes unhealthy.

On not being too thin:

In college I lost a lot of weight and for a while plateaud at a happy 5'6" 105 lbs (BMI 16.9). Everyone told me I was too thin, but I felt just AWESOME. But my periods stopped and I felt more and more, well, asexual, and by the second year of med school, I fell to 95 lbs, was admitted to the hospital due to almost being killed by a bacterial gastroenteritis which caused me to lose an extreme amount of blood and was discharged to many follow-ups which revealed what I had feared: my estrogen was too low, I had osteoporosis in some spots and osteopenia everywhere and even had multiple painless stress fractures. I embodied the female athlete triad. Partly against my will (anorexics are crazy), I gained weight and then just kept on gaining. My periods didn't come back and I was just depressed.

Anyway, as of this morning, I'm at 115 lbs (BMI 18.6) and would love to lose at least 5 lbs, bringing me back to where I was a year and half ago when we moved to Denmark. I want to be healthy and feel good and be a fast runner. I want it all. But can I? Can we? I just had this discussion while on a run with Helle and the thought of weight loss is exhillarating to us both (and most people would also look at her and not find she had anything to lose). Don't we all want to be that perfect thin weight without having any health problems? Why is it that all non-elite athletes who are thin are attacked for being "too thin", while elite athletes with the same BMI are praised? What IS actually healthy? I KNOW, I'm a doctor, I should know this, but I don't.

I will quickly add that many people say that the best female ultra runners don't need to be thin. And there is some evidence of this. But if you look at the largest ultras (not that there are any nearing the size of a large city marathon), the female winners also tend to be thin, though there are exceptions.

Here was the winner of the 24 hour run world championships in 2010, Anne Celine Fontaine (who ran a sweet 240km) and the winner of the 2008 USATF 50 mile championship, and course record holder, Suzannah Beck.

I hope if I wave a magic wand now, an interesting conversation will develop in the comments section /**** (that was the wand)

Oops. I almost forgot about this freakishly good running song of the day: Farewell to Wendo by Mock & Toof (deserves it's own blog post, which I won't write)

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Yasso 800s: My tumultuous love affair with speed work continues

It turns out I've missed speed work a lot. I tapered for the Copenhagen Marathon, failed miserably, nursed a hip injury the week after, ran 39 spiritual miles over the weekend and the ONLY thing that sounded good to me today was speed work. And why not Yasso 800s? I love the distance of 800 meters, but have never gotten myself to actually run it 10 times in a row, as Bart Yasso intended (for marathon time prediction, anyway). Last summer, on the same dirt track I ran on today, I never ran over 6 of them before collapsing out of utter fatigue.

Today I told myself "You ran a marathon 3 days ago. Just run consistent times so you can get through all 10 rounds of 800 meters". I also told myself to not think of writing the times on the blog and to just think of completing it. Well, I'm going to write them anyway, of course. They may not be very fast, but they are consistent and I am thus pleased.

800 meters=2 x around a track = 1/2 mile (okay .497 miles)

1. 3:01
2. 2:59
3. 2:59
4. 2:58
5. 2:57
---- pee break---
6. 2:56
7. 2:57
8. 2:58
9. 2:58
10. 2:56

1:30 break between each.

It's a fun workout. It is hardly worth mentioning that Bart Yasso believed that the average of these times predicts your marathon time in hours. I discussed this very same topic last year. And, of course, I can't run a marathon in under 3 hours. So I'm not a believer in it for predicting. But it is a fun way to get speedwork.

I listened to the same song every single time so I would know how I was doing based on where I was in the song. Much more fun than staring at my Garmin. Especially since it fit my tempo perfectly:

It was "Collector" by Here We Go Magic

Tonight I am off to a running get together with some of the participants of the 24 hour relay this weekend. We are doing an hour of practice running on the 2,700 meter hilly loop in the woods of Holte, which will be used for the race.

Here's the video for "Collector" :)