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 31 October 2010

Copenhagen 6 Hour Race

After the race, as I was hugging the toilet and throwing up over and over, it was hard not to have one of those "why do I do this to myself?" moments.

6 hours of straight running. It wasn't like a trail ultra, where one has an excuse to walk up steep hills. There were just little breaks at the aid station and then back at it again. And the competition was so tight. The only thing I could do was to ignore the placement of the other women as much as possible to remain sane.

The pre-race was, perhaps, the best part. SR dislikes showing up early because it simply means more time to be nervous and do nothing. I have started to love showing up early because it is the only chance to see my wacky friends who also run races like this. Actually Henriette is far too sensible, relaxed and type B to fit the mold of ultrarunners and, perhaps, that's why we get along so well. And then in walked May-Britt, Denmark's ultra star, who has battled a shoulder injury for many months now. I have a sort of child-like fascination with her and her dedication to running. She didn't hold back about the fact she was worried I would beat her. Her honesty is quite charming (um, especially when it is a compliment to me :)).

This is a pre-race picture, which doesn't exactly prove that I am social before races (hint: blue sweat pants)

Thanks to Ulrik Torp Pedersen for the picture.

I felt really good. I had slept well. I had had 2 runs (albeit both hard) since Brocken Marathon 3 weeks earlier. Otherwise I had been swimming, biking, stair stepping, pulse training, core training (you name it)... even tried zumba once (!) to occupy myself.

But back to the race. We ran it last year. I ran 61.4 km in 6 hours then and ran a pretty poor race, in that I started way too fast and cracked. Let me add, it is really, really challenging not to crack when you have to run a 2.2 km loop over and over.

But, the scenery and weather weren't half bad.

This year would be different. I planned to run a 9 min/mile pace the whole way. AND run the entire first 2 hours on the grass next to the asphalt. I also started out with a hydration pack (kind of weird considering we were back to the aid station every 2.2 km).

Here I am after the second or third loop, still with hydration pack. I am not running like I am going to fall over backwards because it is heavy. That is simply how I run.

Picture courtesy of Løbeklubben på Facebook

I ran a nice, easy marathon in 3:50, hoping that meant I had a lot of saved energy to unleash in the remaining 2 hours. The interesting thing was that even with a relatively slow marathon, I thought I was the first place woman after the 42.2. km (though I wasn't sure where May-Britt was). There were twice as many participants as last year and also a marathon at the same time. But I could see that only one of Denmark's top ultra running females had decided to run the marathon (Britta Karlsson, who has been injured).

As last year, after we had run a marathon, the real race began for the women. I was, after 1-2 laps, passed by two women running around 8 minutes per mile. I didn't know who they were. But when I attempted to bring out the speed and energy I had been hiding, I found I had nothing extra. So I just kept going at the same pace. I knew I was still ahead of last year's winner, Kirsten Dau Nielsen, and still wasn't sure where May-Britt was. SR told me he hadn't seen her at all, so we figured she must have dropped. While it should have relieved me, it actually made me feel kind of crappy, since I was hoping her shoulder injury was getting better.

I ran the 50k in just under 4:40 (8 minutes faster than my previous 50k PR, and time from last year). But even more importantly, I felt I had a lot more energy and was much more mentally sound, with just a little over an hour to go.

I could not at all keep track of the men's race. But SR seemed energetic and was running fast every time he passed me. I told him at some point, as politely as I could, that he was not allowed to run with me. He has the same effect on me that a mother has on her little child - I start feeling a strong need for comfort when I am with him - and this far from helps when success is entirely dependent on remaining mentally tough.

I had turned on my music with 2 hours to go. Once again, my crappy i-pod headphones stopped working and I couldn't change the volume or song. Luckily the volume was okay and all the songs were good. How fortunate that I have such good taste in music :).

All was actually lovely running between hours 4 and 5. I kept an even pace and was so happy to see Helle and Lene and Jesper cheering each time I came to the aid station.

Re the aid station. I should have mentioned I brought my own weakly-mixed sports drink, homemade cookies and hot choclate. But I will also add that they had, in contrast to last year, the most well-stocked aid station of any Danish race I have been to. Take a peek:
Again, thanks to Ulrik Torp Pedersen for the picture.

I had also ditched my hydration pack after 2 hours, having drunk nearly all of it and, wow, did that feel good.

One oddity of the race was that I drank my entire hydration pack, plus drank every 2.2 km and STILL didn't pee the entire race or the hour post race or the entire hour drive home. It is amazing what stress hormones can do.

With about 50 minutes left, I really, really wanted to drop. I started questioning why on earth I ran races like this. I felt so nauseated. Every fiber in my body wanted me to stop, except for those few neurons that make me crazy, which told me I had to run further than last year. Why is it those few insane neurons always win?

I kept a good even pace, though was on the edge of tears and close to vomiting. As is so typical for ultras, I passed almost every man on the course - they were all walking now. Not that I had run further than them, but men just tend to really burn out at the end of ultras. The women on the other hand seemed to speed up. On the second to last lap, there was May-Britt out of the blue. Had she been hiding in the bushes this whole time? Anyway, I had no energy to try to keep up, plus I wasn't sure if she was on the same lap as me or a lap ahead.

I was so excited when I pushed beyond the point I thought I had run last year, which turned out to be over a lap beyond where I ended last year. There was never a more pleasant sound than the horn that ended the race.

63.7 km and 4th place for the women. I am pleased in retrospect, but felt like absolute crap at the time. Turned out I was just 100 meters behind May-Britt, who took 3rd. And there was another woman, Tina Vikke, just 60 meters behind me, who I didn't notice until they had blown the horn. What a tight race.

I had actually miscalculated how far I had run because my Garmin was in miles and I thought 32 miles was 50k and not 31 (almost too embarrassing to admit), so the whole time I was almost 2 km ahead of where I thought. It actually helped push me even more because I knew I had a better race in me than last year. Needless to say, I was happy to do the conversion when I got home and realize I had run over 63 km. And that I had a 9 minute 50k PR at the same time.

Congrats to Birgitte Nielsen and Rikke Thestrup, who were first and second women with 65.6 and 64.0 km, respectively. As far as I understand, 2 of the top 3 women have at some point been on the Danish National ultra team (I, of course, mention this, so I appear close to elite level :) - sorry).

SR ran an awesome race. His total distance was just over 73 km. It is absolutely amazing he could do this considering he ran 66 km last year. He was really, really happy and ended up in 5th place in a large, competitive and international men's field.

Here are the results.

What's next? Well, I am going to take a relatively long period without racing (um, 5 weeks). I need to train more and race less. The next race I will run is the Orlando half marathon on December 4th.

Running song of the day: The Ghost Inside by Broken Bells

Saturday 23 October 2010

Seeking medical advice

I've gotta admit it: I'm completely baffled. And I hate it when my body confuses me (if you are hoping this will be about a sports injury and won't be "gross", you might as well stop reading now).

So, it's now been three months since I had a miscarriage (I know, I said I wouldn't write about it again. But I didn't think I would need to). Generally I feel healthy. I am eating better, getting probably more than enough sleep and have been in no way under the weather since July.

But now, I have just had a 2 ½ week menstrual cycle. This means that I actually ovulated while I was still having my last period. I have a decent imagination and would never underestimate what the human body can do, but THIS seems impossible. Anyone who has studied the estrogen and progesterone cycles knows the impossibility of this.

Since my miscarriage, I have had a 38 day cycle, a 34 day cycle and now, a 19 day cycle. I will also point out that the second period was very light. The other two have been such that I am afraid to go to bed at night because I am bleeding so much. (if the men haven't clicked away already, they are all gone now)

I did what I think was a very thorough literature search this morning and have only come up with two articles, which both indicate that return to normal ovulation, hormone levels and cycles should occur within two month after a miscarriage. But I can't get online access to the full articles through the U of Copenhagen, because they are too old.

1. Donnet ML, Howie PW, Marnie M, Cooper W, Lewis M. Return of ovarian function following spontaneous abortion. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 1990;33:13–20.

2. Elkas JC, Cunningham DS. Effect of 1st-trimester loss on restoration of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. Gynecol Obstet Invest 1995;40:257–260.

However, if you simply do a google search, there are women from all over the world, with no medical background, who simply say "of course menstrual cycles are abnormal after a miscarriage - sometimes for many months".

So what gives? What is "normal"? When should I start to worry (by the way, I started a long time ago)? And can someone please explain to me how you can ovulate while you are having a period?

Before there is a stampede of people writing "go to your doctor", I will explain this: I have an equal amount of general medical training as most of the general practitioners in Denmark and I think they will likely also be baffled and simply send me on to more tests, without knowing they are looking for. Second, my doctor is also our next door neighbor and the father of The Lorax's best friend. 3rd: you can't make an appointment with an OB-Gyn without a referral from your GP, who again, is our neighbor. 4th: I generally find going to the doctor to be a waste of time (with certain, though limited, exceptions).

Update from the last post: the sex shop from the last post just closed yesterday out of the blue.

Running songs of the day:

I Want the World to Stop by Belle & Sebastian
Licenses to Hide by the Posies

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Sex shop and pulse training

This post will have many pictures. Just kidding.

So last week was not a good week. I know, I know: every week is what you make of it. But I was working A LOT, couldn't run AT ALL and I felt my PhD project was getting the shaft in many ways for no apparent reason. And this created even more work.

I started eyeing something in the window of the local sex shop. I am allowed to admit things like this, right? Olga might say it's because I'm almost European.

But I was terrified of someone seeing me walk in. It is one thing to buy slinky lingerie at Victoria's Secret or any other acceptable underwear retailer. It's another to walk into a genuine sex store. What if one of my patients saw me? Or my colleagues? What would they think? What would you think if you saw your doctor walking into one of these stores?

Anyway, on Friday they had 50% off everything in the store. So I made sure the street was COMPLETELY clear of people and darted in. I successfully found what I wanted. And all was going well and I was about to make a purchase when I noticed a large selection of batteries on the wall. "Huh" I thought. "This is just like a regular old corner store. Why on earth would they have such a variety of batteries?" Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a large, purple, glowing... "ah yes, that is why they have batteries." I am still an American at heart.

I rushed out of the store and down the street, hoping the bag would not give me away.

So, yeah, I just didn't really feel like running after the Brocken Marathon. The entire left side of my body hurt when I ran. Even my heal and shoulder. I started to think running injuries were contagious over the internet from Steve Q and May-Britt, respectively.

But I spent my time pulse training with the other members of my athletic club, Scala. (I swam, too, but that's not important right now.) When you spin, you have a pulse monitor on. And everyone's pulse is displayed on a screen in front of the class. When you do the step/stomach, butt, thighs class, it's also about getting your pulse up. I've realized I get a really good workout from these sessions -mostly because it's competitive. Though I have trouble understanding why it looks like I'm working so much harder than the people next to me, and I certainly am sweating even more than the men, and yet my stupid pulse never gets up to 85% of max, unlike everyone else's. I think I missed something in my physiology class in medical school - or I am actually 20 years older than I thought. Any ideas?

I was fooled by my own blog and thought the Copenhagen 6 hour race was this coming weekend. So I was in the middle of a mega-taper when I realized yesterday, the race is actually October 30th (I know May-Britt, you warned me - I should correct in on my blog!).

Anyway, I hadn't run more than a total of 6 miles in 9 days. SR and I went out for a little speed work today. I was worried about my heal. We ran my favorite semi-hilly trail though farm fields, which I train on often. I never run super fast times there, because of the nature of the trail, so I hesitate to write my times on my blog. But today was different.

We did a 5k x 2.

SR gave me a 3 minute head start. Since his 5k PR is 15:57 and mine is (in truth) 19:46 (don't be confused by the questionable relay time I have listed), I knew he would pass me no problem.

Anyway, he didn't pass me! At least not during the first 5k. I ran the first 5k in 22:10 and the second in 23:19. I know it doesn't sound that great, but it is a training record for me on such a hard trail. If I were simply interested in being fast, I would have been pleased. But there was this other good part about it - IT FELT AWESOME.

Now, if you just read the title and scrolled to the last sentence, you probably think I wrote about something slightly different.

Monday 11 October 2010

33. Harz-Gebirgslauf/Brocken Marathon 2010

A fairy tale race, such as Brocken Marathon on Saturday, deserves a better protagonist than me. Actually, my husband, is probably the perfect protagonist. But, alas, this is my blog.

Brocken mountain is the highest mountain in the Northern half of Germany and is fabled by Goethe among others because of the mist that often covers the peak. And the peak has the microclimate of a real high altitude moutain depite being just over 1200 meters.

But what about the race? How did it go?

I will start out by saying, I never realized how much SR and I exemplify the idea of yin yang until this race. I'll take yin, thanks.

Neither of us has previous experience with running a mountain marathon. We ran the Trans Alpine stage race. But a stand-alone marathon is obviuosly a lot different.

It's a big race, which is nice, because it allows one to focus more on running the best race one can rather than thinking of placement. There were around 800 marathoners. I can't find the actual number, but I have based this on previous years. The only other large marathon I have raced was the Copenhagen Marathon in 2009 (which didn't go so well).

Here is the start. Yes, I know it does appear as if I stole this photo from Team Müller without paying.

There would be over 1000 meters/3280 feet of climbing to get to the top. See the altitude profile in my previous post. I have to say thanks for all of the strategy suggestions as to how to run this race. As usual, rather than taking one and "running", I basically tried to incoporate all of the strategies (yes, I do realize how stupid that is). I started out at a 7:45 per mile pace, but much quicker going downhill. My goal was to have an overall time of less than 4 hours. I figured if I made it through the half marathon in approximately 2, I could just coast down and easily come in under 4. But I really had no idea of this was realistic.

For the entire first half up the mountain, I battled with a few women for the 5-7th place spots. I knew this because spectators were shouting out our places. Despite my toddler-like German, I did manage to get into some fights with German women. It was great. German women are really hard boiled (this is a nice Danish saying). I mean this in a good way. They are tough. When they thought I was doing something wrong, they let me know. "What are you doing? Think of the whole race!" was at least my interpretation of what one woman said as I barelled down a hill past her. She rolled her eyes and then in turn sprinted past me (I, of course, wondered if she was thinking of the whole race at that moment).

Meanwhile SR was chumming with a long-time veteran of Brocken Marathon. They enjoyed the scenery and eachother's company.

My first 10k was in 49, SR's in 41.

Then the hills started for real. I employed a technique of walking for 20 seconds, running for a minute. Or something like that. I'm not the type to really calculate these things. It brought me ahead of a few women and many men. I was pleased and feeling good. And then there were rivers such as this to enjoy.

I was glad I ran with my Camelbak. At the aid stations, such as this one, they served tea, Weiss Bier, bubbling water and soup. Perhaps drinking Weiss Bier throughout race would have made things go a lot better. Or at least seem better. Actually there was one aid station with really good sports drink. At the others, I settled for the bubbling water, which actually went down fine. They did have some really tasty german chocolate treats and cookies.

The last approximately 4km of the ascent was basically unrunnable. It looked like this. You get the idea of how this light could create a Brocken spectre, if there was more mist. And if this surface looks difficult to walk or run on, it is. But I powerhiked like never before, passing men and women alike. I've realized a absolutely love the feeling of being at my VO2 max. Plus view like this do tend to make things more enjoyable.

I made it to the top in 1:49 and felt awesome. Someone shouted out that I was 5th woman and as I floated over the top of the mountain. I could tell I was gaining on the woman ahead of me. I felt amazing. I listened to the running song of the day (see below) over and over. I felt like I could actually win the whole race, well, for the women. If a marathon is about constant effort as Steve Q said, this felt nearly effortless, and thus ironically too easy. I ran about 6:30 miles down the hill for about 3 miles and then slowed when the descent was't so steep. I had made it through the half marathon in 2:02.

Meanwhile, SR was uncertain what time he made it though the half marathon, but he was feeling strong, yet not taking any risky moves.

People were cheering and male runners were telling me I looked strong. It all went to my head, of course. I made it through 16 miles (where I usually hit the wall in marathons) still feeling strong. I remained close to passing the woman in 4th place. But then she gradually pulled ahead. Run your own race, I said to myself again and again. But then I got passed by one woman. And another. This went to my head, too. In a bad way. I ate a gel, drank from my pack and tried to regroup.

Here was the view as I contemplated the fact that I was completely out of energy and my legs were hurting (a lot). My left hip was really in trouble. It was mile 19 and 7 more miles sounded impossible. But giving up sounded a lot worse. It was my old friend, the wall. Had it not been mostly downhill, I would have been forced to walk to the finish. I felt like if I put real effort into running, I would start to throw up. I jogged downhill and walked the flats and minor uphills. Woman after woman passed me and I thought the only thing I could think - well, at least it's a beautiful run. And I'm happy to be here. Who wouldn't be happy to run in a place like this?

Meanwhile, SR hit 19 miles and had a sudden burst of energy. He described going from approximately 16th place to 6th place over the last 7 miles. When he finished, he felt he could run much longer and regretted it wasn't a 50k. He finished in 3:04!, taking 6th place and winning a spot on the podium and a blanket (!?).

There is a fun game, similar to Where's Waldo, called iDentify the Dane, which can be played with the above picture.

I had one burst of energy about 1.5 miles from the finish when I saw SR's brother finishing the half marathon. I thought we would have a sprint finish. I sprinted all out and then realized near the finish line, he had opted not to sprint. Here is a video of me crossing the finish line. As SR said, "Wow, you look terrible." Ahhh, yes, well that's at least something I've gotten good at. My finishing time was 4:08, 17th female. You thought a positive split on such a course was impossible, but you were wrong.

Running song of the day: My Heart is a Drummer by Allo Darlin'

Wednesday 6 October 2010


Does anyone think they have a good strategy for running a course that looks like this?

(This is the altitude profile in meters for Brocken Marathon on Saturday)

As I see it, there are two good, but opposite, arguments:
1. Start out fast and then it won't matter how you feel the second half because it's all downhill.
2. Start out slowly so you can run the downhill more quickly.

Then there is the thought that I won't be able to run the uphill anyway, in which case strategy won't really help.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Running Mothers feel Entitled, are Crazy, Lazy

The official record of exercise for last week

Sun: 3 mile warm-up, 10k race (6.2 miles) 9
Mon: 3 mile baby jogger run, pulse core step class, swim 80 lengths in 52 minutes, 3 mile run with baby jogger 6
Tues: 19 miles of hill running with SR 19
Wed: 3 mile baby jogger run, pulse core step class, interval swimming with SR 76 lengths in 56 minutes, 3 mile baby jogger run 6
Thurs: 3 mile warm-up, 8 x 1 km intervals with SR, 3 mile cool down, 1 hour swim practice with Tri-Club 11
Fri: 3 mile baby jogger run, pulse core step class, 30 minute bike ride, 4 mile easy run, 20 minute run with The Lorax (1 mile?) 87
Saturday: 15.5 miles hill running, 3 miles with baby jogger 18.5

Miles run: 77.5 (125 km)
Approx. 3 hours of swimming
Other stuff

Finally a week of training I am really please with. But what was my week unofficially like, you ask?

Well, I'm getting more and more feedback that I am indeed crazy. There is this social concept in Denmark called Jante Law (janteloven)and it basically is the idea that no one is entitled to more of anything than anyone else. If you stretch your imagination slightly, you can see how this also would apply to running/exercise. I find myself constantly trying to hide the fact that I run so much (and the other exercise, too). Winning races is one thing. The people I work with seems to find that charming. But the actual training part? It came out that I had run 3 hours a day with The Lorax in a baby jogger after he was born and there was a concensu among my co-workers that it was good I was over that "illness". (In case you think I am hoping for someone to say, "No, you're not crazy", I'm not. I know I'm a running junkie with a real addiction. But the real question is how unhealthy is it?

Then there is the obvious conflict: when do I actually have time for the kids, SR, cleaning, cooking, etc? It has come up a few times on SR's side of the family that my exercise is a sign of laziness. Might sound counter intuitive, but, of course, I am sure you all understand how I could come off as lazy with an often unclean apartment and shoving yogurt and cereal at my kids for dinner. Or relying on SR to make real food. It's pathetic and I'm embarrassed by it.

Physically, I feel I'm in great shape and ready for Brocken Marathon in Germany on Saturday. As it is in the mountains (over 1000 meters of climb) and there is no chance for a PR, it will simply be fun. But what about getting pregnant? Am I pregnant? Well, on Wednesday, I took note of the fact that my resting pulse was 78, which was certainly higher than I would expect. A rise in resting pulse from 12-15 bpm is actually one of the first signs of pregnancy. Happens before a pregnancy test turns positive. The problem is, I think I somehow willed my pulse to rise. I was 3 days late for my period and took a pregnancy test, which was negative, and later measured my pulse to be 62. :(. And I actually don't know what my resting pulse normally is. Then today I got my period. It is almost enough to make a girl believe she's not actually pregnant. Being infertile may have its charm when one is 20, but not when one is 31 and trying to get pregnant. But does it have anything to do with exercise? If I lived in Chile, I might believe it was simply someone wishing evil upon me.

But, leaving all that behind, I went on an amazing run today. It is hard for me to express the happiness I get from being able to run endlessly to explore the landscape here. I had always wanted to run from Næstved to Mogenstrup through the forests and over the repeating åse and that is exactly what I used my 15.5 mile run on. I am working on finding a running route for an aquathon I want to arrange with out tri club and I think I finally found it. SR was away at work again. I got a baby sitter for the kids. I know. Lazy. ... (but worth it!)

Here are some pictures.

Leaving Næstved, moving east.

The 3rd Åse.

Towards Mogenstrup.

Pretty trail on the forest floor to the left.

Åse spine.

An abandoned house.

And when you feel like you kind of suck at everything and you are just a ball of stress, well, then there is always music.

Here are three songs you might also love to run to.

"Hands" by The Ting Tings

"Hang with Me" by Robyn

"Thule Fog" by John Vanderslice