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

Tuesday 20 May 2014

7 year bloggiversary, motherhood and different versions of reality

7 years ago, when I started this blog, it was part of my attempt to press the reset button and start my life anew. I was 26. There were a lot of things I wanted to forget or not face up to, but more importantly, there were so many things I wanted to do. I wanted to live my dream life and wanted to be happy, and no one but myself was going to make this happen.

That was also when I met SR and left my husband (who SR will always refer to as "Saint Paul"). Suddenly the version of reality that mattered was the version SR and I created.

For us, writing our blogs, was akin to creating the story of our lives. I am not saying we lied or made things up, but the stories we told are what we remember as the truth. Anyone who has been a writer knows the magic of the written word: you can change the world and make yourself believe in an entirely different reality than people around you.

Over the years, my blog as the grand tableau of my life, has been challenged again and again. It started with people figuring out my identity. When people could look up my race results, my job, details about my past, not even minor alterations in the truth were allowed. At times, it seemed, despite me thinking or writing otherwise, I was nothing more or less than I was - to the readers. And there have been a lot of instances where readers have hated me.

I started writing about the safety of running during pregnancy. Just because I was a doctor didn't mean I could write statements about health and safety without references. My blog became more challenging to maintain, but I learned a lot about what it means to be a scientist - and the importance of accountability.

As I began to race more, my version of what happened during my workouts became so insignificant compared to the clocks at races. I could cut a workout on the track short and claim to have run faster, but if the goal is to get faster, accountability and accurate assessments of my abilities helped me improve and race smarter.

Yesterday, I was at Target with the two boys. I walked down the shoe aisle and took my eyes off Mattias, who was sitting in the large compartment of the cart (the kids' carts were all taken). I eyed some size 12 shoes for Christian and out of the corner of my right eye, I saw my 2 year old teetering on the brink of the top of the cart and then launching off, jumping as high as he could, temporarily growing small angel wings before he landed a perfect 10 landing on flat feet on the cream speckled Target floor - lifting his arms proudly over his head for the clapping crowd. Amazing. Every bone in my body was proud of my wild specimen.

Yet, everyone else there surely saw something else: a boy desperate not to be left alone or ignored by his mom, hopping dangerously out of the cart and almost breaking his ankle. Had my mom been there, she would have blown a gasket.

In truth, no one saw him but me. And I may have made up the part about the wings.

I like to think that my eating has gotten a lot healthier. I am not too thin. I eat a variety of foods. But if my step daughter sees my eating as restrictive and wants to be thin, she may very well become anorexic in attempt to emulate me. And suddenly, as a mom and step-mom, my version of reality is a lot less important than that of my kids.

Yesterday, as we lined up to start the Color Dash 5k, everyone was smiling, but there was a big wait to start even after the race had begun. I looked down at Christian with love, so proud he was going to run, but he looked up at me with fear. He said, carefully, in Danish "Mom, please don't start screaming because we have to wait to start". My heart broke and my smile got strange. In my version of reality, I only scream or cry if I am really upset or desperate. In his version, I am unpredictable. And suddenly, the only version of reality that mattered was his.

I could go on using this blog to tell my story, but it changes nothing of importance when my story is not the one that matters. Maybe that is why I rarely make time to blog. In fact, is this why mothers so seldom write?

Steve Q pointed out to me today that no one under 30 has a blog anymore. This made me sad because using writing to understand our feelings and to help others understand their own is undervalued in the Facebook era.

And I thought again about our trip to Target yesterday, Christian and Mattias sitting in the red cart, repeating in unison the word "tissemand" (Danish for "penis") and laughing. They were like two little crickets singing their joyful tissemand duet and no one could understand them - and this is what seemed to make them happiest - except their mother, who couldn't stop laughing. Every fiber in my body loved those two boys, and I smiled knowing, for at least that moment, my version of reality really was the one that mattered.

Running song of the Day:

Horseshoe by Withered Hand

We can kid our friends. Tell me was it easy to pretend? Like nobody is dead. Nobody in love will ever die again.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Ice Age Trail 50 Mile 2014 - Running with the Pixie Ninja, Ian Torrence and other Stars of Ultra Running on the Stomping Grounds of my Youth

 The sport of trail ultra running has been growing by approximately 66% a year and many athletes are concerned this growth could have a negative impact on the sport. This weekend in La Grange, WI, the only changes I saw were positive.

First of all, it was exciting and educational to read irunfar's preview before the race. That gave me a much better sense of just how competitive it would be. With multiple women who had qualified for the Olympic Trials (Larisa Dannis and Kaci Licktieg), Kate Pallardy with a recent 1:17 Half Marathon PR, Gina Lucrezi the NCAA Div 2 National 1500 meter champion (sponsored by Pepsi!), Alisha Damrow with a recent 6:40 50 miler on roads and Maddy Hribar with an 18 hour 100 miler at Pine Creek. It seemed impossible and comedic that Meghan Hicks added my name to the race preview!! These ladies - and others I have failed to mention - are phenomenal runners!

Here we are in our bus-boose with both boys on the long drive from Duluth, MN to Hartland, WI. SR and I of course filled the hours with talk of ultras: drama and strategy and what would the next day bring? I also have a vague memory of going to McDonald's.

For those of you who read Danish, I wrote a little about my preparation for the race on Team Salomon's website.

7 AM race start, I said hello to Ben Trok, Chris Rubesch, Zach Bitter, Roy Pirrung and Ann Heaslett. Great to see so many familiar faces. As I mentioned in the blog title, I grew up just over a half an hour's drive from the race start. It was fun to see all the locals in awe of the stars. And heck, some of the locals have become stars, too. It is simply fun to see excitement growing around the sport of ultra trail running.

And right from the start, the air was electric. There were photographers and fans everywhere along the first Nordic Loop. It's just over 15 km of cross country ski trails with some steep rolling hills.
This was around mile 2. Females from left to right Kaci (aka The Pixie Ninja) behind me, Kate Pallardy, Gina Lucrezi, Larisa Dannis and Maddy Hribar.

We ran the first 10k together in 48:06. This was a nice start and good way to get to know all these gals, who had all travelled long distances to race. It was fun to hear their stories and discuss our shared passion. Larisa had just run a 2:44 at Boston and was pretty excited about that! Kaci, the Pixie Ninja, was remarkably humble and had a positive energy about her. We all had to compliment her on her awesome performances at Rocky Racoon and Lake Sonoma. 

Nicholas Wied was exactly right when he wrote in his race recap for irunfar that this year the race was about speed. I was a few minutes behind these ladies when I came through a half marathon (after the beautiful and technical single track had begun) in 1:42. I can't emphasize enough how important speed training is for ultras. I could not come close to competing with world class ladies like these if I were not doing regular speed work. A half marathon on hilly trails in 1:42 had to feel comfortable and it did. I kept feeling like I was holding back and getting ready to unleash the beast. 

Awesome shot of my legs taken by Ali Engin, who was crouching down on the ground by Rice Lake.

The trails get more and more technical and the hills steeper the further you get into the race. The first Nordic loop the easiest, the middle out and back harder and the last out and back the most challenging. Yet - and I mean this - it was all so much fun! 

But with increasing difficulty in mind, Kaci Lickteig still managed to run a negative split. And that is evidence for me that- like every other running distance- just about every single record is set with a negative split. It is the best way to run a race. Ultras, as we are learning, are not exceptions to the classic rules of long-distance running.

I, however, did not run a negative split. I managed to keep my tempo reasonable with a 6 min/kilometer average, though the first 44.5 km in four hours.

I came through the marathon distance in 3:47 - and at the 26 mile aid station, there was Timo Yanacheck (director of the Mad City 100k), smiling and cheering. He's a great guy and that was sure uplifting! 

Following that aid station, I reverted to my old trail running habit of CCU (controlled continuous urination) thinking there was no one behind me (glad I was diuresing). Well, my hearing has been damaged by too many years of loud rock music and suddenly a rather good looking fellow was indeed right behind me, my compression shorts still dripping. I don't know if he saw it, but anyway, we ran the next 5 or so miles together, over the now hot and sunny prairie, switching off taking the lead. When I saw SR for the first time, he said, did you see who you were running with? I was clueless. That was Ian Torrence! Ha. Sorry, Ian.

I had one energy low at around the point of this picture - between 35 and 40 miles - I didn't realize this was a big net uphill section until I turned around. It helped immensely that SR was out there constantly popping out from behind trees and cheering me on. He gave me the impression all day that I was solidly in 5th place - both 4th and 6th females a significant distance away. 

Photo by SR. This is about when the temps reached 80F (27C) and I was in a serious meditative state: concentrating on keeping calm with a low heart rate and constant focus on short, fast steps. 
The race strategy SR and I had laid out was- run your own race and there will be carnage among the top females who start too fast. Well, I held up my end of the deal, but there was no carnage at the top.

I felt great the last 15k. I thought I was just cruising, but it turn out ran it in 1:40. Ha. Well, good enough. It is strange what feels like a fast pace at the end of an ultra.

I think I almost tripped here and was quite glad SR captured my clumsiness - although, I didn't fall once the whole race. I should probably note that SR fell getting out of the way for a runner and ended up with a bloody knee. 
Chris Rubesch, running in for 10th guy, looking cat-like as always.

Kaci going for her win and course record. She always looks so relaxed, yet she ran these last 10 miles in 72 minutes. That is the same pace Matt Flaherty (Salomon), who took second, ran the last 10 miles.

To add a twist, with just 1.5 k to go, I spotted a woman right ahead of me. She was walking. What?! Is this my chance at a WS entry spot and sudden fame? I passed her and she did not put up a fight...??!! I really wasn't sure if it was Gina Lucrezi, but it looked like her hair and tank top. Anyway, I ran the last kilometer in 4:48 and was happy to realize I still had a lot of energy, though it helps a lot to know it is almost over!

Finish time was 8:01:00. A 38 minute trail 50 mile PR. I ran the race I knew I could. Turns out the woman who I passed was running the 50k. One place away from a Western States ticket (!), but I could not be happier with my race.

About to pass out waiting to thank race director Jeff Mallach for this absolutely fantastic experience.

Pure bliss. With my calves up, the nausea and light-headedness disappeared within 10 minutes. Finally- I could soak it up- FINALLY an ultra without hip problems or right leg pain. And thanks to Nic Giebler for letting me use his cooler to put my feet on - you are not only a great chiropractor Nic, but you save poor souls from the sequelae of exercise associated postural hypotension.

When I was out on a training run before Worlds with Ben Nephew he said "be smart and run races that play to your strengths". I didn't realize how wise those words were, but Ice Age Trail was exactly that kind of race - lots of hills on single tracks with no asphalt. It is thrilling to make such a big improvement and I consider this a better performance that Fyr til Fyr 60k in 5:14 because there I got lost and my right leg cramped up at the end. At Ice Age Trail, it all went right. Yet, I feel there is a ton of room for improvement: my technique still needs work and my speed work continues to make me faster.

We probably all stand to learn a lot from a gal like Kaci. She lowered Cassie Scallon's old course record by 5 minutes and Cassie had lowered Ann Trason's by 18 minutes. 

Kaci is a physical therapist who has taken ultra running by storm this year and, when I asked her a bit about her background, she replied with the following:

"I was a walk on for a D2 school (University of Nebraska-Kearney) and ran cross country and track for 2 years before going to grad school. I was a "long" distance runner. So, for track the 5K-10K. I am not an elite marathoner. I did qualify for the Olympic trials for 2012. I ran a 2:44:14 at CIM. One thing for me is that I have never been "blessed" with pure talent. I have had to work my butt of to be where I am. Running is such a passion of mine and I am a very driven Type A person. I always want to better myself and keep achieving goals I set."

Kaci seems very down to earth and honest. I have to note, though, that all the girls I was competing against ran track in college. I have a bit of an inferiority complex because of this and wonder if I still have a chance to get that speed they developed in their teens and twenties. It is an interesting experiment and I am glad I have coach Ole to help me with this. My sense is starting to tell me it is not too late to go back and train my legs (and more importantly brain) to run fast in my thirties after all.


I had 2 Clif Bars and 1 Vitargo Energi Kakan bar before the race. They seemed to sit well. I drank half all-natural tropical juice and half water out of my bladder and bottles and refilled my Salomon soft flasks with gingerale or coke at 3 aid stations after the 50k. It was hot and I was thirsty. I only ended up eating half of a Vitargo protein bar and that seemed to sit well in my stomach. Again, I prefer my energy from liquid and am pretty amazed by the low amount of calories needed to keep my energy up. I think the low carb diet, not eating on or after my runs and loading up on energy pre-race all helped.

Top 10 results

  1. Max King (Montrail) – 5:41:07 (course record)
  2. Matt Flaherty (Salomon) – 5:49:13
  3. Brian Condon - 5:58:24
  4. Michael Owen - 5:59:56
  5. Matt Laye - 6:14:43
  6. Zach Bitter (Altra) - 6:19:52
  7. Ian Ridgeway - 6:36:18
  8. Jason Wolfe (AdiUltra) - 6:41:14
  9. Kevin Grabowski (Lapham Peak Trail Runners) - 6:49:51
  10. Chris Rubesch - 6:54:14
  1. Kaci Lickteig (Pearl Izumi) – 6:41:39 (course record)
  2. Kate Pallardy - 7:04:16
  3. Larisa Dannis (Altra) – 7:15:39
  4. Gina Lucrezi (PepsiCo) – 7:37:30
  5. Tracy Hoeg (Salomon) – 8:01:00
  6. Jessica Garcia – 8:14:48
  7. Maddy Hribar – 8:17:42
  8. Alisha Damrow – 8:34:33
  9. Erin Lumbard – 8:44:13
  10. Kristin Frey – 8:49:33

Congrats to Max King on beating the 27 year old course record and ALSO running a negative split. Matt Flaherty (Salomon) also came under the old recorn in 5:49
Congrats to Jeff Mallach on such a wonderful running event, which seemed to go flawlessly. The course was beautiful and the markings easy to follow.
Here I was shaking Jeff's hand at the awards, feeling giddy. Can you sense the love from the guy behind this camera? :-)

Thank you to the volunteers who smiled and cheered and pampered us runners all day. You have all done Wisconsin proud! Beautiful people, beautiful terrain - yes, this sport is cool.

Thank you most of all to my husband, SR, who crewed me all day and made me feel like a superstar. I could not have run this race nearly as well without him. It means the world that we share this passion - and I only hope one day I can support him as much in a race as much as he supported me on Saturday. 

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Ice Age Trail Preview, Help me Design an Energy Bar & Running Fast vs. Long

This morning, I woke to this, as Christian, Mattias and SR slept peacefully. This is our back "yard" for the next five weeks- the ice-covered Lake Superior border between the US and Canada. It seems like good place to finish the writing of my dissertation and perhaps go for a run or two.
I could write many blog posts about returning once again from Denmark to the US. Psychologically, it is always hard for me and I know it is harder on the kids, yet they don't ever show immediate signs of disquietude.

That being said, change is also always exciting and healthy. And most of all, it is wonderful to be back together with SR. He took this picture of me on the still snowy trails of Minnesota Point this morning.

Before he took this picture, SR was saying in disbelief that they (irunfar) had "forgotten" to add my name to the list of favorites for the Ice Age Trail 50. Let me put it this way- I would much rather run a great race than be listed on the potential favorites and not run well (as I finish off this post, I was sent an apology from Meghan Hicks about omitting my name from the list- She is so classy and sweet and one of the reasons irunfar is so successful - whether or not I belong on that list). The name that really sticks out to me as being hard to beat is Kaci Lickteig

From Omaha, NE, Kaci has a 99.0% rating (has run 10 races) on ultra signup of. Beating her would require her car breaking down on the way to the race or something similar. Yet, knowing me, I will start out trying to keep up with her.
After Kaci, there is a longish list of other women who can easily run 50 miles faster than I can: Larisa Dannis, Stephanie Weigel, Maddie Hrybar and Alisha Damrow to name a few.

In the mens' race I am hoping the podium will include the following: Zach Bitter, Mike Borst and Chris Rubesch since they are local favorites, strong runners and good guys!

It will be really fun for me to run in such a competitive ultra. It is not something I have much experience with. And honestly, I do not know what time to aim for. It seems I have continued to get faster all spring. A 5:14 60k on tough trails makes me think I should aim for a sub 7:30, but that sounds unrealistic. Let's call that "the ultimate, everything goes perfectly" goal. Goal number 2 would be sub 8. Goal number 3 is PR. I feel like if I do none of these that I am injured or puking because IAT is an easier course than Glacial Trail where I ran my 8:38 - as long as it doesn't get too muddy. And the truth is, all trail ultras necessitate you obeying the conditions and just running the best time you can that day.

overlooking la grange lake atop one ridge on the west out and back. one of the most beautiful views on the course.
The Ice Age Trail has lovely views and is 100% off asphalt :-). This photos is overlooking La Grange Lake, by Amy Courts.
Course map.

The course is a loop and two out and backs. In essence

A Pippi Longstocking-shaped route

I ran a bit of the Lapham Peak section of the Ice Age Trail while I was visiting my parents and there were really good running conditions. Slightly muddy, but not bad. I think I will wear my Salomon Sense and not the Sense SG.

 I have to thank SR for offering to crew me at IAT. It means a lot to me. I really like it when we have shared projects and he is really, really good at crewing. He has an uncanny sense of where I am and when I will arrive at certain points. Somehow he also seems to like assuming the role of the obedient servant; for those who haven't spent time with us, you should know he never calls me "Tracy" but always "My Lady", which initially I imagined was because Tracy is such an awkward name to say with a Danish accent, but it has just stuck. If I call him "My Lord" in Danish, it sounds like I am calling him excrement, so I just go on mispronouncing his first name and everything is jackanory.

So, I am well aware that what has slowed me down at the end of all my ultras over the last two years has been my "hip". That stupid pain in my entire right leg - often going up to my right shoulder and down to my foot.

My pain started to get worse again after the long flight and the 6k race on Saturday (see below), until I went to Holistic Path in Duluth and got a 90 minute full body massage. The amazing thing was- she noticed my IT band was adhered like glue to my knotty vastus lateralis (where I had indicated the problem was coming from) and suddenly I realized my problem was very, very close to classic ITB syndrome (in Danish "løberknæ") except rather than pain in my knee, it was pulling on my gluteus medius and creating pain above the IT band. This also fits with stair climbing making the problem worse.

I think you can see how form this picture how the vastus lateralis adhering to the IT band could pull down on the gluteus medius.
 But I found this article fascinating, describing how an inflexible ankle or anterior pelvic tilt (I have both of these) can cause the IT band and piriformis muscle to tighten. It is very, very complex, which is why physical therapists and physiatrists have cool jobs! Figuring out what came first is a challenging puzzle, which has now taken me 2 years to try to solve and I still don't have the full answer.

But that didn't stop me from feeling awesome after the masssage.
When my hair gets really curly, it usually means I am happy.
And the lake and sky sure looked beautiful on my completely pain-free run afterwards.

Otherwise, the timing of this taper week falls perfectly with maximum adventure time with the boys.
Goal of finding all the penny pincher designs in Duluth. Location: Grandma's Bar and Grill.

Christian at the Duluth Aquarium (cool floor, huh?)

Yay! 1 degree celcius.

Spongebob at Sunrise

I also ran a quick race the morning after I arrived- a 6k to raise money for clean water in Ethiopia. This was organized by ComeUnity.
I actually won for the men and women in 22:31 for 6k. That must have been around a 18:45 5k and then 1 more km! Felt great to run a 5k PR and keep going, though no official splits of course; just for fun.

The people of Duluth are just really nice! The second and third place women came right up to me after the race and started chatting away. And why am I so tan? Very nice that I inherited my dad's pigment which causes me to look jaundiced after I have been in the sun. I also inhereted my dad's arm length since I compared my arm span to my mom's -- she is over 4 inches taller than me and my arm span is 3 inches longer than hers! Woah!? How fortunate I am so ape-like.
Now - two questions:

1. If you could design an energy bar, which ingredients would you want and what percentages carbs, fat and protein? I have been offered the opportunity by coach Ole and 32gi to help come up with a couple recipes for myself (and others?). Right now my ideas are - all natural, gluten free; one for long runs and racing which is higher in carbs and one for maintanance which is very low in carbs. I am looking at lärabars and clif builders bars for inspiration right now. I have great luck with Clif Builders and they use soy protein isolate, flax sed as well as beet juice, so why not go with it?

unsweetened chocolate, nuts, coconut, raisins, and dates, sesame seeds and oil come to mind. which are probably other good options. Kind of a fun project!

2. When should a runner start training for a marathon? I have been asked this question by an athlete who has recently started to run 6-8 miles once per week and also does regular speed sessions. My inclination now is running is like playing the piano or any other skill- learn the basics first and work up through 5k, 10k and ½ marathon races first. Why slug through Rachmoninoff when you can't play a little etude? I personally jumped right into a marathon as my very first race in 2004 - ran it is 3:42 - after never once trying to run fast - and about 25 different tendons in my body were injured afterwards for 2+ months and I could not run and I was miserable! Ha! Would love your opinions since I think it is an interesting question and if one is able to run the marathon slowly enough, one probably could run a marathon a lot sooner. I personally wished I had focused on speed and technique before distance. I have to go back and learn the basics now, which is seems a lot harder.