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

Sunday 29 August 2010

Villa Gallina Race 2010 and when thinner ≠ faster

How thin does one have to be to be fast? My opinion on the subject has changed over the last half year. Over that same time frame, I have gained a bit of weight, though none of it fat (vanity strikes again) so I am at 53 kg and 5'6". I would have expected perhaps faster swimming and bike times, but slower running times. But, in fact, my running times are still getting faster. On Friday, I knocked 9 total seconds off of my 6 x 1 mile intervals (same route as always) giving my fastest interval training day of my life. Here were the times:


When I moved to Denmark 2 years ago this coming November, I weighed 50.5 kg and could not have run intervals that fast. Had you told me gaining 2.5 kg would help, I would have never believed you.

But there is a variety of factors at play here. My diet has improved significantly over the past 3 months. More fish, more eggs, more vegetables and more fats (more like the diet I had when pregnant with The Lorax). In general, just a bigger variety of food. It has done wonders for my energy level. And the second thing is, I never run two days in a row. All of my runs are intense (okay, the beginning of this past week was an exception when I had a low fever and a terrible cold and only had it in me to run long runs at slower tempos).

I used to have a full blown eating disorder (in 2002-2004 - a while ago now), which as Meghan Hicks pointed out, I have discussed openly, but some readers seem to be under the impression that I still have an eating disorder. Well, I don't. And I certainly don't think a woman could take 3rd place in a decent-sized half ironman and have an eating disorder. Do I still use running to burn calories? Well, of course, but who doesn't? But it has gotten to the point where kicking ass in a race is much more satisfying than an extra couple cookies or buying size XS.

Speaking of which, our favorite local race was today: Villa Gallina Løbet. It takes place in a large forest near Haslev, where there are wide trails over very challenging hills. One of the hills is so large that it is named Gøngehøvdingen after a particularly savage and successful 17th century danish warrior, Svend Poulsen Gønge. And yet another is called "Svenske kløften" - The Swedish Cliff. But seriously, none is so bad that is must be walked.

There were 5.5, 9.5 and 14 (actually 13.5) km distances to choose between. And each distance has around 200 runners. It is a big event in our area (it's about 15 km from Næstved). In light of my plan to run a marathon next weekend and a 5k race later in the week, I opted for the 9.5km distance. I told myself again and again - tempo run only! There is no bear chasing you - avoid injury at all costs!

It was raining at the start, actually quite a downpour, as the 5.5 km racers line up. I snapped this picture just before 10:00 am, when their race would begin. The 9.5 km would start 10 minutes after.

I couldn't help asking this guy if a wetsuit was really necessary.

He answered affirmatively, though I couldn't eek an explanation out of him. But the thing is, you just can't question someone who shows up in a wetsuit to a race. That is not something that happens accidentally. Anyway, what a hot race it must have been for him.

I should mention that SR was just getting off of his night shift, so unfortunately couldn't make it there in time for the start, otherwise he would have run.

After they yelled start for our race, I took off with the lead men. I think all of my interval running has left me too trigger happy since I ran the first mile in around 6 minutes. All of my attempts to "just run a tempo" didn't make that first mile any slower. I even ran without music, with the hopes that I would run more slowly and enjoy the forest.

Then the full-fledged hills started and the pace slowed. I stayed with the same group of guys, though the leader moved decisively ahead.

I came through the first 5k in 21:30. The thing about this race is just when you think there can't possibly be anther uphill, there is. Again and again. The same guy was running close behind me the entire time and I just kept thinking, when will he just stop the torture and pass me? (He was a really nice guy, I would learn at the finish - but I'm not one for small talk during a race). We stayed together. Finally, the last 1km is downhill and I saw SR and I was so happy to see his smiling face. He said to me: "200 meter tilbage - hvis du skal spurte så er det nu!" He was trying to convince me to outkick the guy behind me and, it turned out I did have enough energy in me to just barely beat him at the sprint. Though, he probably let me win.

My name came over the loudspeakers as first female. They even said my middle name. It was a nice moment. My time was nothing to write home about, but 42.40 on that course is something I can live with. And I know I did get a good tempo out of it at perhaps slighly slower than race pace. I was really pleased.

SR and I went for a run and he snapped a nice picture of me, also capturing the forest well.

I loved getting to run the trails again with him. But my foot was bothering me. Yes, the downside of racing. I hadn't noticed it one bit during the race, but suddenly I could barely run.

I should mention my Ecco Bioms worked really well even on wet, rugged terrain. I didn't run the race with the Amphipod, but it is a really nice water bottle for training, which I picked up in the US.

We went back for the prizes. Last year, SR won the 14 km and received a fancy glass blow. I walked by the results and saw Mette had won the 14 (13.5) km for the women in 52:50, which was less than a minute slower than the winning man's time. Damn! That girl is just so fast. She is my real life equivalent of Piccola Pinecone. It was so good to see her again. I had no idea she was coming so it was nice surprise to be able to catch up.

Here I am getting my prize (It looks sunny now, but a downpour would start again in less than 5 minutes).

Here's what was in the box (cars and ship not included):

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Talk about abrasive

I received a comment today, which I feel compelled to share (it was left on one of my posts from a couple of months ago). First, the comment in its entirety. Then the comment in bold and my responses in normal font.

"SLG--as someone who struggled to get pregnant and would do anything to have a baby, your comments are abrasive. You seem to take pregnancy for granted. And, I guess, since you have not had the pain of infertility you can't know what a blessing it is and how there are those of us that would do anything to have a baby and would give up anything to have that baby. To me, you seem like a very selfish person who puts vanity above the potential health of a child. It seems staying "skinny" and running high mileage is more important to you than taking care of your child. I think it is fine to run through your pregnancy and be active; I ran through my first pregnancy. But, running 13 miles a day plus biking, swimming, and dieting is not healthy. Do a search on pregorexia and you may find a description of your tendencies. I can't believe you and your husband are both physicians and so blatantly suffering from confirmation bias in your thoughts on exercise during pregnancy. Perhaps your recent miscarriage will make you think twice about the value of life and appreciate that some things are more important than your vanity. And, make your husband consider whether a woman that is willing to take risks with the health of her child to maintain a workout regimen and limited weight gain is worthy enough to be a mother. You may have gotten lucky once, but I believe your luck has run out."


SLG--as someone who struggled to get pregnant and would do anything to have a baby, your comments are abrasive. You seem to take pregnancy for granted.

I would never take pregnancy for granted. If it is desired by a woman or parents, it is a miracle, and is often a miracle when it is not desired (some might say it is always a miracle but that we humans don't always understand the nature of the miracle - another discussion entirely). I grew up thinking I would not be able to get pregnant as I had very infrequent periods and went 6 years without a period. I was very open to the idea of adoption. Though when I became pregnant, it was absolutely a dream come true. I would love to have a healthy pregnancy again and will do what is within my powers to make it happen. (I'm actually late for my period again - did I just announce that on my blog?)

And, I guess, since you have not had the pain of infertility you can't know what a blessing it is and how there are those of us that would do anything to have a baby and would give up anything to have that baby.

Again, it was a shock to get pregnant after two months and it is true that I have not experienced trying for a long time without success. Every woman's reaction to it must be different and I would never want to underestimate how heartbreaking it is. I have had people very close to me who have not been able to get pregnant and I know how devastating it can be.

To me, you seem like a very selfish person who puts vanity above the potential health of a child.

I am sorry I come off this way. I love my son and my two step kids and believe the health of all of us is very important. I am so vain, though. I probably think this blog is about me. Oh, it is. I love me. And why shouldn't I? There is plenty of room for me to love me, my husband, my kids, family and friends.

It seems staying "skinny" and running high mileage is more important to you than taking care of your child. I think it is fine to run through your pregnancy and be active; I ran through my first pregnancy. But, running 13 miles a day plus biking, swimming, and dieting is not healthy.

You think exactly what you're used to and comfortable wit his "fine", as does every woman. Well, I exercised as much as I did because I had done it before getting pregnant and thus it wasn't outside of any guidelines. I wasn't taking any risks. In fact, I believe my pregnancy was exceptionally healthy as I gained enough weight, stayed fit and ate well. I was in great shape before, better shape after and had a wonderful, healthy pregnancy. I can understand why women who simply listen to what others say would be jealous.

Do a search on pregorexia and you may find a description of your tendencies.

Pregorexia sounds like a word from popular media; it does not require much brain power to figure out what it is. I will refrain from doing that search, thanks. There is a wide range of healthy weight a woman can gain in pregnancy. I gained a sufficient amount of weight in my pregnancy. I was not a pregnant anorexic.

I can't believe you and your husband are both physicians and so blatantly suffering from confirmation bias in your thoughts on exercise during pregnancy. Perhaps your recent miscarriage will make you think twice about the value of life and appreciate that some things are more important than your vanity. And, make your husband consider whether a woman that is willing to take risks with the health of her child to maintain a workout regimen and limited weight gain is worthy enough to be a mother. You may have gotten lucky once, but I believe your luck has run out.

Come on now. Are you suggesting you are happy I had a miscarriage? I actually have tears in my eyes right now as I consider the "abrasive" (if I may borrow the word you used to describe me) nature of your comment. Every woman who has a miscarriage deals with guilt, wondering if she could have done something differently. I highly doubt that you have done more research on this subject that I have. Women who run actually nearly cut their risk of miscarriage in half. I actually had a miscarriage (or fetal demise) before I knew I was pregnant, so, happily, I don't feel guilty about it, since I didn't know about it in time to have done anything wrong.

Oh, and the confirmation bias. I have a boatload of studies compiled by the Danish Ministry of Health showing how healthy all kinds of exercise in pregnancy is (with the possible exception of horseback riding and high-impact ball sports). I also have an entire book written on the subject I could translate for you. YOU come forward with YOUR studies that prove that exercise is harmful and then we can begin a productive discussion. There is a lack of studies on endurance/high level athletes who continue to train during pregnancy and thus decisions must be based on extrapolation, case studies and good clinical judgement. Weight gain studies, as I have previously discussed ad nauseum, are extremely difficult to analyze because women who are pregnant with unhealthy babies also tend to gain less, so it makes research in that area very challenging and the results very difficult to interpret.

I guess it is convenient for you to be able to write this comment and run away without a name or blog attached to you. It would be nice to have a discussion where both parties are held equally accountable for their comments ...

Monday 23 August 2010

Hillerød Triathlon 2010 - Success! -- Finally!

This past year has been full of major and minor disappointments in racing. First, injury from the Trans-Alpine, then lots of training and never quite setting the PRs I expected in running. Then a slew of injuries, a so-so triathlon and and then the pregnancy.

Anyway, yesterday I felt like I had been born again. I felt young and strong. And I know from my training that I have never been in the shape I am now. But being able to display that in a race, especially a triathlon, is never guaranteed.

The day before the race, where the scene and mood is always set, SR and I were full of nerves and thus on each other's nerves. But luckily, there was a party that night, with the fun Danish tradition of song writing (this time for SR's uncle who is soon turning 60). SR and I wrote two separate songs, which ended up being the highlight of the night. His was a more straight-forward comedic piece and mine was more of love story in a short musical (á la Rocazino). We ate tons. And so did The Lorax, who ate 4 portions of Lasagna with SR and then, since I thought he hadn't eaten anything, I gave him 2 more. An hour later, out on a swing, the lasagna came back up all over his clothing.

That night we slept well in SR's parents' basement. We arrived in the morning with plenty of time to spare.

So, as I've stated before, the triathlon would be an ALMOST half ironman. To be more exact, it was 1 km swimming, 76 km biking and 20 km running.

As people were arriving, the normal dynamic developed with nervous men becoming extroverts and nervous women becoming introverts and I was no exception.

They announced shortly before the start that drafting during the bike WAS permitted. Normally drafting is not permitted in triathlons due to various reasons (safety, staggered starts, other?). This was a huge piece of news, though, since drafting would be a huge help on a windy day like yesterday.

There were staggered starts with people starting the swim every 30 seconds.

The Swim

Here was the swim hall it was held in. It was a 50 meter pool, which we would swim down and back, crossing over lanes under the lane dividers, get out of the pool, walk to the start, and do it again.

SR and I took showers separately :) and met out by the pool. I had a sore throat and felt febrile and was just really nervous, though determined to enjoy myself. I realized the strap wasn't in my goggles correctly. SR took a quick look and couldn't fix it. I started having a minor freakout and he wisely said he had to go to the bathroom one more time and left. Deep breath, ah, and I strapped the goggles. We put our chip straps around our ankles. SR would soon take off 30 seconds in front of me. We both had our wetsuits on.

When they told SR to go, he took the ladder down into the pool and I was befuddled by this. 30 seconds later, and I took a flat dive in, grateful my goggles stayed on. There were tons of people in that pool!! And it was hard to pass, but I managed to pass a few. I think my kick turns and gave me an advantage and I passed way more people than I had expected.

I ended up with the 3rd fastest female swim time of 21:12 (which included part of the transition). SR also had a much better swim than our last tri with a time of 22:39.

The bike

My transition onto the bike was okay. My new Sailfish wetsuit (my old one melted in Wisconsin :( - never leave a wetsuit inside-out in the heat) glided off beautifully. But then there was all this stuff: garmin on, gels in pocket, gloves on, Camelbak on, helmet and last socks and shoes. I ran my bike out, now seeing SR coming up to the bikes, knowing I'd see him again soon.

Here was the transition zone (earlier in the day, before all the participants had arrived).

So, the bike started out poorly. I had just learned to use the tri-bar the day before and felt a bit uncomfortable riding fast with it. A few super fast guys blew by me and I thought "this is going to be a long 76 km". Then SR blew by me, immediately to follow a guy down a wrong turn, but they quickly turned around, to pass me yet again. I couldn't get into a grove and then couldn't open my energy bar and was hungry, so I got off my bike just to open that stupid bar (actually it was a really good bar, as far as Danish bars go). Then we started biking into this horrendous headwind and I had no one to draft off. But then... a woman who had started earlier than me had a flat and got onto her bike and I started drafting. It is easy to tell by body language that someone is pissed off you are drafting and this woman definitely was. Eventually I pulled ahead to let her draft behind me, but she just immediately biked ahead of me again. This was very perplexing behaviour to me, so I just kept drafting, for a long time. What a nice free ride. If some of you reader have not drafted while biking before (I'm an old pro, now that I've done it twice) it makes biking SO MUCH EASIER. Anyway, I was all calm behind her for the first 30 km and then a faster woman passed us, and I then started drafting off of her, while the woman I had been drafting off of now had no energy to keep up. I know... it seems unfair! The second woman did not seem mad I was drafting and was qutie pleasant. We soon got into a big group, most of whom were faster than me, and I just kept drafting. Near then end of the bike, I fell behind, and just cruised to the end with a back wind and using my tri bar. It felt beautiful.

My bike time was 2:34:05. (SR called me from work this morning to say "What the hell, you bike ALMOST as fast as me!! It's impossible. Now we can actually bike together without me holding back."). I should point out his time was quite a bit better than mine at 2:25:01.

I had eaten two gels, 1 bar and drank all the sports drink in my Camelbak.

The run

One of the great things about not having clip-in shoes is that when I get off the bike, I just run. And my tri outfit means no changing shorts or shirts or anything. It even has a built-in bra and undies. A complete one piece. It's perfect. I soon realized after I started the run that my shoes needed to be retied. Oh well. So I got a breather while I took care of that.

The run was uphill through Hillerød and then uphill more into a forest all the way up to this lake after 5km
and then turn around and go downhill. Then repeat, for a total of 20km. There were lots of hills where it was tough to know if one should walk up or run. Turns out I ran them and SR walked them.

The run was okay. Not stellar, but no disasters either. My stomach felt so bloated and I realized that decreasing the size of my bladder might be the only way I could help the situation. The downside of wearing a unitard tri-suit is you have to take the whole fricking thing off to pee (I have considered making a velcro pee flap). And, as I mentioned, the built in bra and undies come with. So, instead of creating a spectacle, I just peed while running. This is not something I am well-versed in. I felt fine, though, until urine hit the area of my ankel where the chip band was and burned like hell. Wowzers. I had quite a cut there.

I came through the first 5k in 24, 10k in 48 and the 20k in 1:43:52. This was the third fastest female time. SR said he had a disppointing run with leg cramps and came in with a time of 1:29:34.

The final tally

Well, I can see I've got to go to work, so I had better wrap this up.

I was shocked this morning to learn I had come in 3rd overall for the women (1st in my age group) with a total time of 4:39:10. We didn't even stick around after for the end since people were still coming in and I had never dreamed I would actually get on the podium! Well, if there was a podium, I was not there to enjoy it. But I am enjoying the fact that I finally had a race I was really proud of.

Here are the results.

Running Song of the Day: Frequent Flyer by Jon Lindsay (especially for fans of Steely Dan)

Thursday 19 August 2010

Training runs vs. races (or running vs. running away from a bear)

Why can't you substitute training runs with races? Or can you? Are races actually better training? This is a subject I struggle with a lot, but I think I have finally come to an understanding.

The inherent problem with running a race is you trick your body into believing you are running away from a bear. A race is like a training run on amphetamines and opiates. Endogenous though they may be, they allow us to temporarily overlook the fact that we are doing damage to our body (so we aren't eaten by that bear). People who don't believe in pain killers when training should not believe in races for training for the same reasons. What kind of damage are we doing to our body? Well, skeletal muscle is damaged, first of all, and maybe ligaments and tendons. But you can't feel it at the time because you have induced that survival instinct in your body. And nothing hurts, that is, until you attempt to train again. Do races do long term damage to the body? Well, I don't think that question has been fully answered. There is damage to heart muscle, but does it mean anything long term? We don't know...

But what about straight out training? Well, since I just returned from an interval session, I can assure you that you feel pain. And despite the pain, you push yourself. But you can never run like you do in a race when you are alone. That is unless there actually IS a bear behind you. So you slowly increase your body's ability to run fast over time. And THIS is where real improvement comes from.

Here are my 6 x 1 mile interval times from today (2 min. rest):
(same back and forth course as last week, but this time with a strong wind coming from a certain direction (can you tell which direction? :))


And last week


Note the 2 second improvement overall. Okay, not much. But slow and steady progress is the key.

So why run races? Well, the first obvious answer is, because then you have something to train for. The next reason is you gain experience. This is particularly important in ultras. Third is they are fun.

I'm going to use May-Britt as an example, just because I like her so much and because I'm tired of using myself. May-Britt wrote one day that she was going to substitute intervals with a 10k run. My first problem with this was a 10k is a tempo run and not intervals. The second problem was, even if she said it was just a training run, it is hard to not go all out. And she ended up setting a beautiful PR. That is great in itself, but then you suffer a setback the next time you try to train and I don't think you gain anything extra from a race than a training run (since you're high on adrenaline). But she DID get a PR, but she could have gotten a FASTER PR had she trained specifically for that race (hey, but who am I to judge?... I do it too and I'm always happy with a PR!)

An extreme example of this, and my insspiration for writing this post, is stage races, where you run an incredibly challenging race day after day. Jill Homer has just written a very thought-provoking post about her experience and others' at the Trans Rockies bike rice. From my own experience at the Trans Alpine foot race last year, I know that if you are simply used to running on your own on relatively flat land and then race a marathon in the mountains day after day, you body starts pumping out adrenaline big time until it simply can't keep up anymore and your body begins to fall apart. My entire body swelled up like a balloon for 2 weeks after the Trans Alpine last year and then it took me nearly 3 months before I could run and train at my previous speed. One could argue it was a net loss, but it really was an experience of a lifetime. I recommend you read Jill's post for more on this topic.

But let's say that you trained for an entire year or maybe two, where you gradually ran longer and harder in the mountains day after day. And ran very few races. You would then be one of the few people who could show up at the Trans Alpine or Trans Rockies race and escape relatively unharmed (Angela Mudge was a perfect example of this at the Trans Alpine race last year.). And you'd be in super shape because you had focused your training. People who are not used to the terrain and the day after day pounding are simply going to be destroyed by the experience.

With all this in mind, why are we running so many races this fall? They are just so gosh darn fun, of course. Plus they are social events. And things to work towards. I will mention that this weekend is our half ironman. By the time we get to run, I think and hope I'll be too tired from the swim and bike to do damage in the run. I do think my swimming will suffer, though. I had an interval session yesterday in the pool where I did 80 lengths in a 25 meter pool. I had a total of 11 interval down and backs, 1 at 53 seconds, 2 at 54 and the rest around 56-58 (I enjoy writing my swimming times since I have no clue what is fast. It is just totally uncharted territory for me.). It will be interesting to see how much my swimming suffers when I try to do pool intervals next week. And normally 1km of swimming (which we will do this weekend) would have no sort of negative impact. But again, I'm sure the race will be a setback.

Not rocket science here, people. But something I needed to get down in writing to further my own understanding.

Running song of the day: Rococo by Arcade Fire

Monday 16 August 2010

Rishøjløbet 2010: A runner's first bike race

I am not a cyclist. I am a runner. That is what I might have said a couple of days ago.

I have started to get into cycling for a number of reasons (whether or not you care).

1. Aquathons are rare. When one loves to run and swim, triathlons are really the best best competition modality. And one can't be even a decent triathlete without biking well.
2. My husband (yes, that's SR) loves to cycle. I remember the first time I saw him all dolled up in his cycle clothes and, though I thought he was a Fred, I admired his enthusiasm for life. I am at the point now where I love him in his cycle clothing so much that almost wished he shaved his legs to go along with the look.
3. It is really the best way to get from here to there. Much more of an experience than motoric transport and faster than running. (Okay, if I could fly like PPC's hubby, I might prefer that).
4. I bike The Lorax to day care every day and it is in both of our best interests that I am good at it.

Despite my reasons for wanting to bike, my expectations for yesterday's race were quite low. I don't think I am a good cyclist. I have little experience in drafting and knew if I didn't draft it would be a long, painful race.

We arrived with plenty of time and chatted with a bunch of hematologists.
Below are the hematologists getting out of their cars. Ølsemagle clubhouse in the background (one might pronounce Ølsemagle - Ehwlsehmahwleh, if one had English as a first language)

The race start - me already dawdling, getting my shoes in my straps (I'm the pink girl to the right, if there was any doubt)

What was my gear (head to toe)? helmet, my tri jersey (I don't own bike shorts with padding, so I had to wear this) with SR's pink bike jesey over it (yes, he bought and owns a pink bike jersey - and he is all mine!), my camelbak hydration pack (trust me, I was the only one with something like this), power bar and candy bar in my jersey pockets, extra tire, plastic things for removing inner tube, mobile phone, new sunglasses (which I didn't wear), cycling gloves, my new BIOM running shoes (haven't tried click-in pedals yet).

So there was a confusing start where they said numbers 1-50 should start first (that was us), but nearly all 247 started at once, with a few people staying behind, looking confused. A fast peleton (á la Tour de France) took off with SR at the very back, looking backwards, perhaps concerned for my life. I had no idea what to expect since I had no interest in riding with the super fast men.

Here was one of the lead groups out on the course.

After a few km, I fell in behind 4 men with matching jerseys (white with a rainbow stripe). We were riding at an average of 3:15 miles/min. I felt comfortable and drafted off of them, but then found I could also switch with them taking the lead. I had never ridden so fast for so long and it was great fun! Unfortunately, after about 25km we got lost and had to get out maps and devise a plan. We found our way back on route eventually and it is hard to estimate how much time we lost. I think we added 2-3 km.

Anyway, I stayed with one of those guys and a few other guys and a woman until about 40km when all of them but one broke off since they were doing the shorter 63km route. Huh. The one guy and I looked at each other and laughed "Well, hello there". He turned out to be a very nice guy who switched off leading and drafting with me, though he led most of the time. He had two quotes that stuck with me. "Du cycler sgu da flot": "You bike fucking beautifully" and "Bramser ikke for fanden!": "Break not for the devil!". I could not believe how fast we continued to ride. I had kept up the 3:15 min/mile pace through a good 60km when things really fell apart for me. It started when we caught up to a group of riders and one of them said to me the metal fast release on my back wheel was loose. I got off to fix it and then couldn't catch up with the group again. I finally did when one of them got a flat. I waited, needing a rest and wanting to stay in a group. Once they started riding again, they dropped me quickly and I was like, hmmm, glad I waited to ride with them.

So the rest of the race was spent alone. And my legs were shaking and burning. I had trouble keeping up a good speed. And then with 5km left to go, I realized my bike was making a heck of a lot of noise and not much forward motion. It was my breaks. The chance that I could actually fix something on my bike was as slim as Ilsa. But I remembered how SR had loosened my breaks and that is what I did in the front and the back and gosh darn it, it worked, and I was riding smoothy in no time! I felt like a very sexy woman at that moment.

Suddenly I realized I was coming to the finish and was happy with my time despite getting lost and all the stops: 3:32 for 87km, though more like 89-90 km. And I wasn't last! Actually, it was really hard to determine placement. There was no result list.

I came through the finish sweating like a knock-kneed mule and soaked everywhere. I had actually sweated the entire time, at times so much that I couldn't see where I was going. This cycling stuff can be hard work with hills and turns and wind and playing catch-up with groups. I felt as though I had run a marathon and the time riding was certainly comparable.

I finally found SR, who was sitting with his hematolgists.

He is the guy with the thick head of hair to the far right (but seriously, doesn't he look good in a bike jersey?).

SR had told his friends it would be well over 4 hours by the time I arrived, if I arrived at all, so they were all at least mildly impressed. SR had also gotten lost, though much worse than me. He got so far off course that they came back on course way ahead of the leaders and ended up coming in first, having to explain they didn't actually win. I am bummed out for SR since I know he could have actually held on to the fast peleton the whole way had he not gotten behind at a critical point and then gotten lost almost immediately after that. But he always has a good attitude and didn't act disappointed.

I was shocked how much fun I had. Definitely more fun than many running races I have been to. But a race without pressure is almost always enjoyable. I am feeling more and more ready for an Ironman next year. Heck and maybe even another bike race in the nearer future. I almost feel I need to be apologetic to all of the runners who read my blog. I am sorry... I've been unfaithful and I don't regret it.

Friday 13 August 2010

Materialism is for the birds (and me, because it makes me fast)

Did you ever think you were morally and/or ethically superior to others because you were less materialistic? ... No, no, me either. I was just asking.

So, I don't buy a lot of expensive things. Partly because I lose and ruin so many things I own (which I'm trying to improve). But, I was tempted by the Devil. Actually, it was an email flyer sent to the members of our tri club saying Ecco Biom running shoes, once 1699 kr., were now on sale for 999 kr ($171). Why on earth would a running shoe cost so much, I wondered. Well, I did quite a bit of research into the subject and then found this very well-written review, which convinced me I had to at least go try them on. And then it started pouring when I biked by the store where they were on sale (Sport Master), so I needed a place to hide for a few minutes (good excuse, huh?).

Since most of you are probably already aware of this shoe, I will boil down the idea of it for the perhaps few who aren't: around 250 Danish runners' feet (Ecco is Danish brand) were analyzed by fancy computers to develop a shoe that supported and protected feet without in any way altering natural running mechanics. So all of the benefits of barefoot running, but with a shoe. And more support and comfort than a Vibram.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, I am entirely convinced that my chronic left hip injury is, if not caused, at least exacerbated by all of my previously non-properly fitting shoes (I have very narrow feet. I once explained to my grandma that I had double A width feet and she replied quite huffily, well, I had TRIPLE A when I was your age. Guess it's hereditary. The competitive spirit, too.). Anyway, when I run barefoot, I never have hip pain, I just have sole pain.

Bear with me. I would not be writing this, if these shoes were not BY FAR the best shoes I had ever run in. And you can see in this picture that they do not really resemble normal running shoes. I would take a picture of my actual shoes, but SR has the camera right now.

This picture of the heels shows best how they are different than conventional running shoes:

And here's the actual model I have (which is minus yak skin), since it was the one on sale in Sport Master.

I tried 'em out yesterday in a class which directly translates into English as "Pulse: stomach, butt, thighs". It is what it says. And the shoes were a bit slippery there, but I just wanted to break em in a bit. But then I went for a 5 mile warm up with The Lorax this morning, which was very smooth. You really don't notice they are there.

And then I went on my first 6 x 1 mile interval session in months. I had been kind of dreading it, knowing I would never just be able to hop into running my old fast times from when I was in great shape last spring. But I just had to get that first session out of the way and improve from there. But I completely shocked myself. Here were my times, with 2 min. breaks in between (note exceptions in parentheses).

6:29 (2:30 break to pee)
6:42 (I was suddenly and violently reminded why I don't eat oatmeal before intervals ... into bushes to have diarrhea in someones yard! -- sorry! ... full 2 min break once that was over)
6:46 (yes! It's over but, ... into the woods one more time due to oatmeal)

This was both my fastest and most consistent interval session EVER. And absolutely nothing hurt. I felt like I was flying. Can you blame me for wondering if my new shoes helped? They at least felt wonderful.

Just to clear things up, I have not lost weight since last spring, and may weigh slightly more (which I believe is muscle in my upper body). Could it be that pregnancy doping effect after the miscarriage?

One other strategy I have begun to employ is something I have invented called "Invar" (oh, my, I am such a geek. Sometimes I really embarrass myself). This stands for (am I really going to write this?) "Intensity and Variation". The idea is that every day, I have a very intense work out which leaves one muscle group sore, but it can't be the same muscle group two days in a row.

Here is a sample from this week:

Day 1: 4 mile run warm up, 8 mile tempo run
Day 2: 19 mile bike tempo (70:40 - beat my old record!), easy swim (I admit I did this to burn calories - bad girl!)
Day 3: 40 pool laps, alternating intervals and recovery stroke. Class: Pulse: stomach, butt, thighs)
Day 4: 5 mile run warm up, 6 x 1 mile intervals

The biggest way this helps me is I have eliminated junk running. I told my Invar plan to SR and he said he thought it would hurt my running, though he sounded mildly intrigued. Who would not be intrigued by Invar?

OMG, I have got to get to work here.

Running song of the day: Come with Me by C.E.O. (I listened to this during my entire interval set today. I can't be the only on who is comforted by repeating a song during intervals, am I?)

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Fall race schedule... and my new favorite female athlete

I am not the type to have athletic idols I don't know. Not since I adored Jennifer Capriati, like so many other 12 year old tennis players in the early 90's. I guess I look at world class athletes and just think, well, I'm never going to get close to their level, so why waste time thinking about them.

But I was looking at the pro athletes who will be coming to Challenge Copenhagen (the Ironman this coming Sunday) and I found myself drawn to Virginia Berasategui from Spain. I was particularly impressed by her seemingly laid-back approach and the fact she can kick out a 3:03 marathon in a Ironman (and still prefer the bike). Plus she has what I consider to be the perfect athletic female body (don't get weirded out now).

Virginia as female Jesus
And wearing the same outfit (or a strikingly similar one.. ha! Can you see the difference?), taking 3rd in Kona (For a second there I thought I had an excuse for wearing my 1 tri outfit over and over, but alas).

Yes, definitely a look I wouldn't mind having. I find that runners tend to, for obvious reasons, havevery muscular legs, but not much going on in their arms or upper body. In theory, it helps to weigh less on top. But imagine, though, looking like Virginia AND being a fast runner. Hmmm. Well, I had her picked out to win Challenge Copenhagen, which you can follow here on Sunday. However, she doesn't seem to have it listed on her race schedule on her blog.The organizers may be a little disappointed to learn she didn't even know she was participating.

So, in case you hadn't figured it out, I won't be doing Challenge Copenhagen this year. If one is going to drop $600/3000 kr. on a race, one should really be prepared and rich. And I'm not. So we'll be doing a half Ironman instead in 2 weeks. And maybe Challenge Copenhagen next year (if you sign up earlier, it's about half the price...)

Anyway, here is our fall race schedule, which appears to be jam-packed. But if you consider the tris and one bike race, perhaps it is reasonable. All are in Denmark, except for one in Germany and one in the US.

Rishøjløbet - 87 km bike race - 15 august
Hillerød Gold Distance Triathlon - 22 August
Villa Gallina Løbet - 14 km - 29 august
DHL stafet - 5km relay - 2 september
Skovløberen Marathon- 5. Sep
Herlufsholm Tri Club Championship - 14. September
Brocken Marathon - 9 Oct
Copenhagen 6 Hour Run - 23 Oct
OUC (Orlando) Half Marathon - 4 December

I hope that this fall will be a time of more focused training with less junk miles to burn calories and that I can successfully become a faster runner AND triathlete at the same time (again, if I get pregnant, not much changes unless my body says differently).

Let me say something brief about each one.

1. Rishøjløbet: This will be my first bike race. Let me compare this to entering a first marathon in Kenya with all Kenyans. Kenyans come out of the womb running and Danes come out cycling. My lofty goal is to not be last. SR laughed at this and said he was actually sure they would throw me out of the race once I got too far behind the last pack. Imagine paying and training and getting up early for a race only to have them throw you out because you get behind... how rude!

2. Hillerød Gold Distance Tri: It's nearly a half Ironman, but the swim is cut down to 1km because it takes place in a 50 meter pool! I get a stomach ulcer just imagining how this is going to work, but then I imagine Virginia would be pretty laid back about it (WWVD?), so I'll just stop worrying :). The bike and swim are outdoors.

3. Villa Galina Løbet: This is my favorite race route in Denmark, at least of those I've seen. It is very hilly and in a beautiful woods with some small lakes. Heck maybe I like it because it reminds me of Wisconsin. But one should point out that, unlike Wisconsin, it is never hot here and there are essentially no bugs. I would most like to do the 14 km, but think instead I will run the 5,5 km in light of the two other races later in the week.

4. DHL staffet: I am representing Facebook Løbeklub in this 5k relay. I think it will be a good route to try for a PR.

5. Skovløberen Marathon: I have heard lots of good things about this marathon, which is on a hilly, wooded route. No chance for a PR here, but it should be fun. It's in Denmark and NOT on asphalt!!! If I'm dreaming, don't wake me.

6. Herlufsholm Tri Championsip: This is our club championship. I don't know what the distance will be yet, but I'm definitely going to participate.

7. Brocken Marathon: This one takes place in the mountainous center of Germany in the area of Harzen. It is a mountain trail marathon I learned about last year from Iris. We are making family pilgrimage with SR's mom's entire extended family, so SR and I can't let the clan down.

8. Copenhagen 6 hour run. I am going to run this one to get revenge for last year. Not revenge on a particular person (don't worry, May-Britt), but just prove to myself that I can run this one better. Last year, I went into this race thinking I would win. I led for the first 3/4 and then fell apart into itty bitty pieces. Maybe it was a broken soul or maybe it was sore quads from 4 1/2 hours of asphalt. This year my strategy will be different. I've been working on the race flow chart all year, but don't expect me to give it away until it's over!

9. Orlando Half Marathon - we are planning a trip to Disney World with the kids so SR can go to the American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference. At the end of our trip is the OUC Half Marathon. Looks like it will be a good route to try for a PR.

Will I see any of you at these races?

The following song was recommended by my sister. I get so mad when she, sitting in Minneapolis, finds great Swedish music before I do.

Running song of the Day: Meet a Bear by Britta Persson

Saturday 7 August 2010

You can't write that

Our nearly three week trip to the US has come to a close. We are sitting in our apartment in Næstved again. I can't help feeling that I am a different person than I was when we left. If not a better person, then a happier person. I never thought I would be able to deal with a miscarriage so quickly, but I find myself concluding that maybe it was overall a good thing. And that's the part you can't write. That a miscarriage was good. It makes it seem like I don't value Life, or something like that. Luckily I don't have any editors to please. (I just treated myself to reading the latest issue of Runner's World, which we don't subscribe to here, and was reminded how rare it is for American journalists to give their honest opinions.)

So, anyway, I promise this is the last time I will write a blog post about having a miscarriage. But I feel compelled to bring everyone along with me to the closure I've come to, since I dragged you all into this story in the first place.

Here's why it ended up being a positive thing.

1. SR and I have grown closer. We got to see a strength and sense of humor in each other we hadn't seen before.

2. I had more energy to have a great vacation with The Lorax, step son and step daughter. This was actually the reason we hadn't wanted me to get pregnant when I did. This was our last summer vacation trip to the US for at least a couple of years. The highlights were a trip to Six Flags Great America, a hike to Brady's Bluff in Trempealeau, WI and step son learning to ride his bike. We had a lot of fun (see pictures below).

3. I was humbled. Sometimes it is good to be reminded that there is a limit to what we can control.

4. I really did have a nagging feeling that something was wrong with this pregnancy. And I couldn't gather myself to assume the role of the healthy pregnant woman. Now we will not spend our lives with a child who suffers because they were just barely compatible with life. Instead, we have a chance to try for a healthy child again. (Not because I'm trying to please any editors, but yes, of course children with serious illnesses are wonderful, but seeing them suffer must be so difficult).

5. I have been scared into eating better. I have found it really hard to adjust to the Danish diet as a pesco vegetarian, who was used to buying meat substitutes in the USA which don't exist here (you can't buy tofu or any meat subsitutes in the grocery stores in Næstved). Food is just really expensive here, so you have to plan and buy only the essentials. Sadly, what I ended up with a diet of largely oatmeal and chocolate covered marshmallows (flødeboller). Well, my diet was so much better during our trip to the US, and now that we're back, I'm going to continue that trend. The first big step was buying healthy food at the grocery store yesterday. I don't know if my poor diet had anything to do with the miscarriage, but if I get pregnant again, I don't want to be stuck with a guilty conscience. Plus, hey, a healthy diet can't hurt my running, that is unless it makes me gain weight :) (I guess that subject has been discussed here before).

6. We get to go through the excitement of "trying again". Well, I don't think I need to go into much detail here.

All of this being said, I just would love to get a guarantee that I'll get pregnant again.

What did we lose? A collection of cells that was barely visible to the human eye and a bunch of dreams. As Steve Q and others in my real life have pointed out to me, there is a reason people wait 3 months before they tell others they are pregnant. Well, I've never been one to keep my mouth shut. And plus, I couldn't stand the pressure of running Voyageur without letting people know the reason I was running so slowly. Yes, yes, call it vain and it is.

Just as an aside (the following are NOT reasons I'm glad overall about the miscarriage), there have been a couple of effects of the miscarriage I just wanted to share. 1. I was surprised to lose about 4 lbs over the course of the week after the miscarriage. I have read many places that women shouldn't gain more than a couple pounds the first 2 months or so, but at least with The Lorax I gained 5 lbs right away and that is also what happened in this previous short pregnancy. I am certain it was expansion of blood volume and the fact is came off so quickly is further evidence. 2. Such a short pregnancy (8 weeks since LMP) and I am a faster runner. I surprised myself by racing a guy in La Crosse in Hixon Forest at a just above 6 min per mile pace for over 2 miles . And that was with the recent blood loss) (oh and I was leading when we parted ways, by the way). There has been a little written about the doping effect of pregnancy, but not much. From what I understand, it has to do with the volume expansion causing increased red blood cell production and then coming out of the pregnancy with relatively more oxygen carrying capacity than one's body is used to. Then there is the fact that you train at a higher weight and then lose the weight. There may be other factors that are not known. But, the reason no one writes about it is it just comes off as wrong. Pregnancy is, after all, about families and babies and not about running. Well, that is true. But, again, I have no editors, so I can write about the secondary effects of pregnancy if I like.

Finally, I want to thank everyone for the heartfelt comments on my last two blog posts. I read and cherished every one and truly touched and overwhelmed by the positive energy and wonderful honesty.

Here are some pictures from our trip, for those who might be interested.

Best song introduced to me by step-daughter: Love the Way You Lie by Eminen featuring Rihanna. Best line: "Next time there won't be a next time"

Sunday 1 August 2010

Life along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border

I had said that life was back to normal. And, in fact, life has been way better than normal. We have been on vacation in Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul and now La Crosse, WI living a sort of peaceful dreamlife. But every once in a while I get these panic moments, where, in a few seconds, my brain goes through denial, anger and acceptance. Actually, maybe I never get to acceptance. In fact I have this constant underlying feeling that my body is faulty. What I used to be so proud of is now my source of shame.

It is amazing how much of a woman's identity is created by her perception of her body. I used to think of myself as the athletic, healthy woman who also could be feminine at the right times. You know, and have healthy babies despite exercising what many consider to be an extreme amount.

But then this force of nature comes along and you realize once again you are powerless. The process of miscarriage seemed SO natural at the time, that is was easier to accept than I had expected. But then that sneaking feeling of "I'm an inadequate woman" makes it hard again. Maybe I am to some degree at fault, maybe it has nothing to do with me. And that is why no one woman should ever represent running in pregnancy. Or veganism in pregnancy. Or skydiving in pregnancy. Or truckdriving in pregnancy. Look at statistics and studies and your own beliefs of what is healthy. Don't look at me. Well, that being said, you're welcome to keep reading. It is our relationships with living people that are meaningful, afterall.

For four days after the race, we got "stuck" in Duluth, having forgot our passports to go to Thunder Bay. But we had abolutely no desire to leave, anyway. We enjoyed days of windless Lake Superior, sitting on the beach as if we were at the end of the world and watching the golden full moon rise. We stayed at the William S. Burrows Bed and Breakfast, where the two owners knew what had happened and treated us like their long lost children. There was amazing food, company, a piano, a view of Lake Superior. It was hard to deny being extremely happy and comfortable. Though I felt as though I nearly lost my entire blood volume over the course of a day and a half. They told me to come back to the hospital if a soaked a pad an hour and I was quite close to that. I actually never did go back for my ER follow-up. We decided they'd just repeat the beta-HCG and it would be going down and that would be that. Actually, I'm sure I would have learned something, but I'll never know what that was.

We ventured reluctantly into the big city of Minneapolis. I only say reluctantly because neither of us are really that fond of big cities. But once we were there, my sister immediately did our laundry and showered us with gifts. I felt totally inadequte and SR, like a typical European, was in awe of their view of the Minneapolis skyline. Why was I so concerned with this unborn baby when my sister, who I hadn't seen in nearly a year needed me in her own way to catch up? Well, we at least argued about music and shared our new favorites, as we always do. And it was fun.

My sister and her husband:

And here's the part some readers are scrolling down for: The next day we met Steve Q and Helen Lavin Helen Lavin for a run at Steve's fabled "Brickyard". I must point out that Lavin is pronounced like "lava" not "lake" by the way. Anyway, talk about four completely different and somewhat insane people getting together for a run. Actually Helen's not insane, she is just insanely successful at everything she does. And truly modest and funny and cute, but perhaps that's not news to anyone. In all reality Steve Q is not insane either, he gave us a very interesting tour of this steep hill by the Mississippi in St. Paul-Lilydale where bricks used to be made in the early 20th century. And fossils are still collected. Not that old, though, just about 1 million years. We saw the brick-making caves, but no fossils. He had a story about every path and every apple crab tree. He even shares his water, though very reluctantly. For those of you who don't read his blog, you may not appreciate the fact that he IS quite normal, and you probably should give his blog a read, or at least his description of our run, which differs slightly from mine and Helen's.

Maybe it was because it was hot or because I was really slow, but we didn't run that many hill repeats and the ones we ran weren't very fast. Maybe it was mostly because we had too much fun chatting. And that's why we spent most of the time at Jerabek's in St. Paul, eating kolochies and looking at fun old photos of Steve, including one where he took 5th in his age group in the Twin Cities Marathon. And one he had of me from Voyageur last year where I thought I looked fat. It made me feel better about how I look now. Anyway, Helen had also brought us two T-shirts from the Afton Trail race and Ultra Running magazine.

Jerabek's Bakery. You can probably figure out who everyone is.

The astute readers will see how sallow I am compared to the pictures from the race. When I am anemic, I tend to look like I have liver failure. Below is a seemlingly unrelated photo of SR grabbing a gray lion's balls.
And here's a happy mom, in her new Afton T-shirt, finally reunited with her little boy, who hasn't quite weened himself from nooks.

Running Song of the Day: Enemy Within by Frida Hyvönen