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 25 September 2013

When in Rome, Minnesota (one year after "going pro")

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty - Vroomfondel

Question: if someone asked you "Nigh sow nihnih?" What would you respond?

(no, that is not Danish. This is what I was just asked by a Duluth construction worker... translation at bottom).

Ah, yes, what do we need in life besides love, humility, sun, food and water? As I was warming up once again on the UMD track, it occurred to me: dreams.

So I ask you: what do you dream of and is it a dream worth having?

Maybe I ask you because I don't want to ask myself.

One year ago this week, SR started talking to me about UROC. "Oh my God, M' Lady, you could totally win money at this race!" Money? Ultra? What?

Stow that thought...

That very week, I was fully wrapped in Chrissie Wellington's

And I allowed myself to completely fall in love with her and with the idea of becoming a professional athlete as an adult. Every adult I knew as a kid would have thought this idea was insane. Most adults I know now think this idea is insane.

I told SR, "I want to do it. I want to be a professional ultra runner."

Weird the way the mind works. That following weekend, I ran a PR half marathon in 1:28 (on a hilly course!)... and won prizes at Griseløbet equalling over $500 and I thought maybe I should give this training to be a pro thing a shot. Why not, right?

(there are plenty of "why nots"... not the least of which is time with kids and at work)

So how did it go?

I ran a marathon PR (though was injured and got lost)
I ran a 5k PR (while injured)
I kept training and got depressed (probably from overtraining)
The injury got worse (again from overtraining)
I started with my coach, Ole.
I ran the Bandera 100km and dropped out (still injured)
I ran the Grenaa 6 hour race and dropped (still injured)
Dude, this professional runner thing sucks and isn't very lucrative!
I learned how to run from Ole.
Looking back, this is when the tables started to turn. Pose running. Natural running. Chi running. Whatever you want to call it. It is running correctly. And it saved my "career".

""Anything -- from a sandwich, money in your pocket or knowledge-through-experience -- is not worth having unless you can share it with others." -- Joe Vigil to Deena Kastor

One thing you can take from this blog: if you want to improve, want to keep running and stop getting injured, learn proper running technique! 

Anyway, after that, I, on a still injured leg, but now starting to actively lift my feet, increase my cadence, etc. took 3rd in the Fyr til Fyr 60k trail run on Bornholm and I loved running again. I signed up for a 100 miler (Salomon Hammer Trail) on a whim and won; leg injury basically gone. I took 2nd American at the IAU ultra trail world championships and I set a 18:49 5k PR and a week later won the Superior Sawtooth 50 miler (this is now 2½ weeks ago).

There you go. Set a goal and learn what it takes to achieve it (find people who can help you!). Pose running, trail running, strength training and smart training. Making Team Salomon Denmark and the USA Ultra Team made me a better runner, too for so many reasons: confidence, the best running gear and shoes, learning techniques and strategies from successful runners. Ok, 

I felt like I needed to write this because I noticed my blog suddenly got 1,100 hits. My name showed up as a "dark horse" favorite at UROC 100k on Ian Corless's talk ultra blog  and as a "notable entrant absence" on Irunfar. And I'm sure people were like "who is Tracy Hoeg??"

It is true that I am not running UROC after all. I don't think it is a good idea to run a race at altitude non-acclimatized. Ideally, one should go to altitude 2 weeks ahead of time. When I said yes to running UROC, I had hoped the whole family would be out there. But as a mom, 2 weeks absence from your kids is inexcusable if it is in preparation for a race. Honestly, I would love a shot at running next year (hopefully not at altitude), but of course I don't take the offer of an elite spot for granted.

When I finish my PhD in December, there is a distinct possibility that I will be the lowest paid MD, PhD in the Western World. I am looking for a job. I have applied. It's probably best to keep these things private. But I'm stressed.

Honestly, I have a very fulfilling job (on top of my full-time PhD) coaching women runners (pregnant or not) over email. (subject of another blog post some day) I also spend at least a couple hours a day responding to emails about endurance and pregnancy sports-related health problems (and I LOVE it!). These of course pay as well as my professional running career...

Since a lot of people write to me asking what my training is like, I thought I'd put a sample from the last week:

Wednesday: AM: hot yoga + 20 min elliptical + 30 min swim PM: 8km tempo on the Superior Hiking Trail with the Northern Minnesota Track Club (top of Spirit Mountain and down on technical trails)

Thurs: bike kids to school, daycare, 6 x 200 meters (on an indoor 100 meter banked track! (never again!--- the stares!) + 5 x depth jump from about 2 feet, hip exercises x 15, 50 lunges with weights, jog, repeat 4 times.
Fri: long run up and down Chester Bowl Ski area (trying to get used to being attacked by pitbulls now on a daily basis; two days earlier my leg was actually bleeding after an attack by a different pitbull)
Sat: Long run with SR 25 km on SHT Sat PM: party with cancer doctors (great to do something fun!)
Sun: hot yoga + swim + light running technique + play on beach with kids
Mon:  Bike (10 miles) kids to school & daycare,15 km run on SHT up to this view over Duluth (there is no shortage of vertical gain here)

Or technical trails
Tues (today): Bike 5 miles straight up to UMD, warm-up 6x400 meters (ok, last time I ran them "too fast" according to Ole, so this time I focused on running slightly slower. It was strange.) 1:22-1:24 (2 min break), jump rope x 100, 30 air squats, 15 push ups, 15 hip exercises (repeat 4 more times), bike to Y, elliptical, hot yoga

Running Song of the Day: "Wings" by Haerts

What was the construction worker was asking:

"Nigh sow nihnih?" = "Nice sound, isn't it?" (about the bark of a pitbull)

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Superior 50 (?) Miler: The Math and The Aftermath

How exciting to win the Superior 50 Miler. I was confident going into it. The Saturday before I ran a 5k PR in 18:49. I broke that 19 minute mark and it felt... easy.??
Post Lake Country 5k, North Lake in the background (my parents' house)
So surprisingly easy that I actually measured out the course with Google Earth and it was 5k give or take 1 or 2 meters. I wrote to the race director and asked if it was precise--- and yes, it was precisely measured at 5k, she assured.

That was also good news for SR, who ran a 16:11. Hard to believe there was a guy there who ran a minute faster!

Hmm. So what had I done right or differently? (I thought maybe it was because I didn't eat dinner the night before the race, and I have no doubt that was part of it since it is almost always my stomach that holds me back in 5k's)

Then I went with SR to the University of Minnesota-Duluth stadium and we ran 5 x 400 meters. My times between 1:20 and 1:22. Woah. I finally believed the 5k PR. And SR for the first time said he had trouble running my interval pace. "I'm actually getting a workout", I believe he said.

In the middle of a hectic life, the track is a peaceful place for me. I had however never been on such a high quality track. It felt so bouncy. There are good things about Duluth. A city that produces a Kara Goucher and a Scott Jurek can't be all bad.

The Race

The Superior (formerly) "Sawtooth" Trail Races are legendary. "Superior" was the first ultramarathon I had heard of, way back in 2007. A guy I knew in La Crosse (Jim) told me it was the toughest race in the US and basically no one ever finished it. "You'd love it", he said.

To get a real flavor for the race, I volunteered with Christian at the 100 miler the day before.

Jarrow, yawning Divesh, Wild Knits. Hard not to love the volunteers at these races. Jarrow, I should say, is a 2:23 marathoner. I only mention it because volunteers at these events tend to seriously care about the sport.
The 100 miler starts at Two Harbours and travels northeast along the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) to Lutsen. The 50 Miler starts 22 hours later in Finland and also travels northeast along the SHT. to Lutsen.
Point to point races. Hundreds of volunteers and fans awaited at each aid station. A race like this takes a community.
I chose to not obsess about the details of the course beforehand, other than the distance (and approximate times) between the aid stations. I had heard (through no intent of my own... thanks, Steve Q) that "Crosby- Manitou" (about 65 miles into the 100 miler and 15 miles into my race) was the killer, that the entire course "eats its young" and that the trail is "relentless". 

A couple more details about the race:

-- actual distance was between 52 and 53 miles (I didn't wear a Garmin, but heard this from many), a couple miles longer than last year (not sure why)
-- it was a hot and humid weekend. Very hot for Duluth
-- times in the 50 miler were about 40 minutes slower than last year on average due to a combination of these.

Uber Mother Runners Unite at the pre-race meeting. Congrats, Lacy on an awesome 50 miler!

Anyone look ready to race? Over here! Number 617! Photo by Todd Rowe
 Here we are in Finland. Finland, Minnesota. Just short of 6AM and the nearly 200 starters are readying.

John Storkamp, the race director (no big businesses or money making involved in this race), greeted us all and set us free. I loved the feeling of this race: volunteers and fans lining the course, a family dedicated to making it happen.

I started out in 5th place overall. A bit ambitious. We almost immediately hopped into the woods and I almost immediately fell. I did not start with a headlamp since it was getting light. That would be the ONLY time I fell the whole race!

The first 15 or so miles, Laurie Kocanda was right on my tail. I knew all about her. Not because we talked, but because she has written a book about running as a mom that you can buy on This fact was intimidating. Somehow it seems unlikely my outfit could have been as or more intimadating than her book, but I guess you never know.

Before we entered Crosby Manitou State Park at about mile 15, my stomach was bothering me. I summoned my inner Pam Smith and The Bible of ultrarunning, which she wrote after Western States. I switched over to (almost) all liquid calories from a mixture of sports drink and Ginger ale.
A welcomed sight at every aid station, which I mixed with water and easily filled into my two 500 mL Salomon "chest bottles" (brilliant system!)

1000 ML divided between two soft bottles in the front and an extra small 200 ml bottle tucked in the back. I never ran out of fluids and it did not feel heavy.

Again from Pam Smith: "Cooling Points"
cooling spots
Insert ice into hoo-haw and over head at every aid station.
The above strategies were implemented just before the dreaded "Crosby Manitou" and then throughout the race.
And here, the race got even more fun!

There were a few, nice moments of plank running in Crosby-Manitou State Park.

But here is what the trail looked like for most of the race. I think there was 0.001% pavement (the very beginning and the very end)

George Crosby Manitou State Park
View to the East from Crosby-Manitou State Park (off the race trail), unknown photographer.
As far as I could tell, my lead over Laurie was increasing, but I had no way of knowing and no one at the aid stations seemed to know either.

A big surprise for me was the wicked ascent to Carlton Peak at around mile 30.
Part of the climb to Carlton Peak
When running a 50 miler, there are constant mental and physical highs and lows. This time I was ready. Every time I hit a low, I knew the high would come again and it always did.

Things that went right:

1. I concentrated on positive thoughts.
2. I focused on the rapid cadence and active lifting of my feet that I have been working on for over the last 6 months. 
3. My shoes were a delight to run in. I had never run a technical race in Salomon Sense Ultras and these were so incredibly superior on the downhills to my New Balance minimalist shoes. (I think I could take a couple hours off my last year's Hammer Trail time just by this shoe change)
4. I drank my calories (no stomach problems) except eating 4-5 small salt covered potatoes at the aid stations.
5. No salt tabs
6. Believing in myself and having a ton of fun

The finish

John Storkamp congratulated me and there was a huge gathering of people at the finished who all cheered when I appeared. I was happy, but didn't feel well.

I looked at the results and saw Alicia Hudleson and Chris Scotch had both finished the 100 miler and I was extremely impressed. 50 was enough for me! (by the way, I loved hanging out with them and their wonderful spouses :o)!!).

Still on course vs. drops just before I finished. I forgot to mention there was also a marathon.

Post Race

Yes, so I felt I needed to get a hotel room quickly. I hadn't reserved one in advance and had planned on driving the nearly two hours back to Duluth to meet my parents and the boys. I was stupidly all alone at the finish. 

The nice lady at the Caribou Highlands Resort had seen me win and also saw how desperate I looked. She gave me a "not usually used" room for almost free and as I was heading up with my luggage, I fainted. 

A nurse and another guy saw me. I told the nurse I needed to get into trendelenburg. I knew it was post-exercise postural hypotension. (basically, the calf muscles are so fatigued that they can't pump blood back to the heart like normal)

If you feel faint after an ultra or marathon, get your feet and calves above your head. Your brain needs blood and your calves need the help of gravity for venous return.

They brought me to my room and I thought I was fine, but despite lifting my legs over my head while on my bed, I could only see spots, lost feeling in my hands and needed to throw up. It was terrible. I couldn't move or get any help. It lasted for nearly an hour. I missed the awards. I knew collapsing after racing is considered generally "non-dangerous" in and was comforted I knew what it was, but it was still terrifying and I would do anything to prevent it.

On my way home the next morning, I heard a show about a high school football player who had to get a craniotomy after sustaining a serious concussion. Any time you participate in a sport at a high level, you take risks. While running an ultra like this, you are pushing your body to its limit. When the adrenaline of racing is gone, damage becomes apparent. 

Clearly, I and so many people reading this love racing, but never take your body or your life for granted.

What I did wrong:

1. I raced without a support crew and had no one to help me at the finish.
2. Rather than grabbing something to eat and drink and putting my feet up straight away, I scurried around getting my luggage. 

Next time, I won't race alone and I will drink and eat something shortly after finishing, lay down and get my feet up. I know the heat, humidity and difficult terrain made me susceptible and I should have been more cautious. I AM glad I didn't attempt to drive!

SR keeps asking why this picture is here--- well because when you are afraid for your life, these things fill your mind.

After eating and going to the after-race party, I was able to enjoy my bear. I was 1/21 Female Finishers and 13th overall of around 200 starters. It was a good race for me!! Ok, it was a great race for me.

John Horns, the winner of the 100 mile race. Lake Superior, the world's largest fresh-water lake, in the background. Photo by Todd Rowe.

More about the Superior Hiking Trail here.