Some Reflections on My Two-Year Gluten-Free Anniversary

April 28th marked the day that I officially was diagnosed with celiac disease and went gluten-free. It was my two-year anniversary as a celiac, and it’s amazing how much I have grown in those two years.

In the initial months, I had a quick crash-course in gluten-free living. I had pantries to clear, food to donate, and shelves to stock with all new food. I constantly scoured books and the internet to ensure I was well-schooled in all I needed to know to ensure to stay healthy. In the early months I relied a LOT on pre-packaged foods, which were quite expensive (two small pre-made pizza crusts were around $6.49, a 6-pack of English muffins around $5.59). I found myself constantly hungry and binging a LOT simply because my body was at its lowest weight and malnourished from lack of nutrient absorption. Most of the foods I consumed were still very high-carb and grain-based though: cookies, bagels, rice cakes, English muffins, pretzels, pasta, and GF breads. I still wasn’t very keen on cross-contamination issues and unfortunately still managed to gluten myself several times in one month, especially since I didn’t want Chris to be on a GF diet also since it was all so expensive.  I still ate plenty of sugar-filled indulgences, like ice cream, cookies, cake, etc. As long as a label read “gluten-free” it was a free-for-all with no regard to what I was putting into my body, whether it was refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or various chemicals and preservatives.

Fast-forward two years, and I feel like I have grown a lot, and still continue to learn:

Our home is now gluten-free in order to avoid cross-contamination. It took many glutenings to realize that it was too difficult to attempt to prepare two separate meals, and this is the easiest way to avoid it. Luckily Chris is right on board with the diet and loves it! I’m very lucky to have someone like him who never complains, if anything I’m one that will lament a recipe gone awry.

I’ve learned to love and embrace healthy fats, something I always shunned in the past because low-fat living used to be touted so much as the way to stay lean. We love avocados beyond the guacamole stage, and we put them into our meals all the time. We easily go through 4-6 avocados in a week. Nuts, nut butters and homemade hummus are all daily facets of our diet, and extra –virgin olive oil is a major staple as well.

I’ve learned to cut corners on the cost of gluten-free living simply by rolling up my sleeves and making my own food, and now make my own hummus, pesto, bread, vegan burgers, and other foods. For a fraction of the cost I can make 12 vegan burgers and pay less than half what I would pay for a box of 4 frozen ones. Eating out and ordering take-out is something that is a very rare treat when we used to eat out at least once a week minimum.

I’ve learned to love quinoa, a valuable protein source that’s gluten-free and can be used for any meal (even breakfast, it’s excellent with some cinnamon, raisins, and nuts), added to soups, and as a base for vegan burgers.

I’ve learned to think outside the normal American diet. Sometimes my breakfasts consist of a fruit smoothie and veggies and hummus, something I never would have gone for in the beginning. In a pinch, I’ve eaten peanut butter on a banana with a side of white rice in the airport. As long as I can realize that “non-breakfast foods” in the American diet CAN indeed make a good breakfast, it’s not difficult to find meals at all.

I’ve learned to love fruit beyond bananas, apples and grapes; I never was a fan of berries (I think I’m a texture person and always had a hard time with eating raw berries) but now I load up on them, freeze them, and blend them into a smoothie. I might not be eating tons of raw fruit, but with the smoothies I am still getting those awesome nutrients for an early morning boost!

I’ve learned to always be prepared, whether it’s a Lara bar and a bag of almonds in my purse or glove box in my car, it’s best to never go somewhere without SOMETHING lest you have no options. At Universal Studios I ended up buying a bag of peanut M&Ms as my sustenance for the ENTIRE DAY when there were no options beyond very overpriced fruit (a small cup of cut watermelon was around $7.00). Now I know to always bring my own food as a safeguard.

I’ve learned to live without refined sugar, chemical artificial sweeteners and HFCS. In the past not a day would go by without a sweet at lunchtime and dinner. I would get incredibly cranky without it! But within a matter of weeks I have been able to rid myself of the sugar addiction and noticed massive differences in my mood and overall health.

I’ve learned to love the taste of food on its own without tons of condiments. I was a voracious ketchup fiend, I loved BBQ sauce and honey mustard and pretty much any condiment I could find. Chris on the other hand always just wanted olive oil on his salads and just a little salt or pepper on things like roasted potatoes. He always felt food should be appreciated exactly as it is without slathering lots of dressing and condiments all over everything, and I have learned to adopt his approach.

I’ve learned to embrace my old ways of appreciating and respecting animal life, and have again adopted a vegan diet. Last year I read an article about Scott Jurek, a vegan ultra-runner, and it inspired me to go vegan for maybe 2 weeks and the diet simply didn’t stick. Recently I noticed that on days where I ate a vegan diet I actually felt much better than I did on days I consumed meat, dairy and eggs, and decided it was worth a try to get back into this lifestyle. I had to do a lot of soul-searching as of late, because for a long time I had simply desensitized myself to factory farming and what it entailed. I realized it was a win-win situation, not only would I physically feel better, but from a spiritual standpoint I think I also feel a sense of contentment that I am not harming my animal friends with my dietary choices.

I’ve learned to finally stop feeling sorry for myself. When I was first diagnosed with celiac I went through a barrage of temper tantrums, thinking of all the things in life I’d never get to eat again or experience. I resented “how easy” everyone else around me seemed to have it since food is something I think many of us easily take for granted. Then I realized how lucky I was to finally be diagnosed with celiac and be on the road to healing my body. My problems are so miniscule, so first-world, that I feel ashamed to ever complain about things that at the end of the day don’t matter. Having celiac is something I have learned to live with, and while it’s definitely a challenge even two years later, it’s something I finally have a handle on, and I finally feel comfortable coping with it and hope I can help others feel the same way. I have so many other good things in my life, too many to count, and the idea of feeling sorry for myself for having an auto-immune disease just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

I’ve learned that life does not revolve around food. I feel as an American that we live in a VERY food-centric society. Food is a part of almost any social gathering, food is a focus of our daily lives and something we look forward to enjoying. I love food, but I also love the fact that it is not my first priority in life. My choices can sometimes be limited, and I have to simply accept and be grateful for what I am able to enjoy. In the end, it’s a relief that food doesn’t have a huge hold on me like it used to, but is sort of an afterthought sometimes.
I’ve learned to be grateful that I DO have so many choices. People seem aghast at the thought of me throwing up so many roadblocks with food: no dairy, no gluten, no eggs, no sugar, no meat. What on earth DO I eat then? Surprisingly, I still have a multitude of choices, and food tastes so much better knowing that I’m putting whole, unprocessed fuel into my body. I’m lucky  I live in a country where I have so many choices and gluten-free options are becoming more and more prevalent. The fact that I have access to supermarkets with entire gluten-free SECTIONS is such an incredible blessing, and I have also found myself helping others scouring the shelves with lots of questions. I absolutely LOVE being able to help others adapt to this lifestyle, don’t let the tattoos scare you. I assure you I’m harmless and want nothing more than to help.

A moment of thanks for my loved ones

I’ve read a lot of stories about people who were diagnosed with celiac that had very little support from friends and family; I’ve even read stories of marriages falling apart over it (which, to me, is completely absurd). Teens and children get teased and shunned, siblings, parents and friends don’t “get it” or think “it’s all in your head” and continue to blatantly expose their celiac family member to gluten with no regard to their health or safety. Some of them had no support system but from their online community, and felt ostracized from those who should have loved and accepted them the most.

I wanted to take this moment to say thank you to all of the friends and family that have gone the extra mile to make sure I am safe.  Thank you for never questioning my diagnosis, or scoffing at me having such a strict diet. Thank you for being so selfless when it came to picking places to go out for meals, you’ve always said “Whatever you want, whatever is best for you.” and you meant it without a trace a snark. Thank you for always making me separate gluten-free desserts, and taking cross contamination concerns so seriously. Thank you for bringing me GF treats on a whim, thank you for always being a good host with so many options, and if I have to bring my own food, you’ve never taken offense. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, because without you all, I think this transition would have been much, much harder.

I have to admit, when I was first diagnosed with celiac, I perused a lot of message boards and online support communities to see what I could learn, and to see what others like me had to endure. In the end I abandoned going to these sites simply because there was a LOT of complaining going on, lots of self-pity and anger, lots of “woe-is-me-my-life-sucks” sentiments. I realized I was a stronger person than that, and I was not going to allow the negativity to feed my soul. I looked at all I had accomplished within two years, and wanted to share with everyone that “Life is GOOD, even with celiac.” I’ve run 9 marathons since my diagnosis, and the race calendar keeps filling up. I’m healthier and stronger physically AND mentally, and think it just takes some time to adjust before I could find those strengths within me.

If you are celebrating your OWN gluten-free anniversary, take the time out to think about the things you’ve learned and the people in your life that have supported you.

Also, if you had to make a drastic change in your own life, what are some things you’ve learned in your journey?

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State #9 Delaware (Running by the Seashore)

Delaware, while being known as The First State, is also one of those states that I think 50 staters have a harder time finding one to run since there are so few marathons. Much like Rhode Island and Connecticut, you can count the number of marathons they offer on one hand. Imagine having to fly from the West Coast just to run a marathon in a smaller state like Delaware, you really want to make it a good one!

I had run the half marathon in Wilmington, DE a few years ago, and found it to be a very well-run event with a nice course in May. The only issue I had was that it was two loops, and I have yet to run a course like this and I am not sure I’d like it. I can handle out and backs, but I’m not sold on the two loops course yet. Other than that the choices were limited to only a few others, like Dover and my ultimate choice, Rehoboth Beach.
Out of all of them, this seemed to be the best choice, after all, it was along the shoreline (not really the boardwalk area like Shamrock in Virginia Beach) and went into Cape Henlopen State Park, some of the sections of the race were even on dirt and gravel trail, which appealed to me, and had a cap of 900 runners total for the marathon. The downsides were all dependent on things out of my control: it was in December, wind can be brutal and the temps can be cold and rainy. But I was willing to take a chance on it. In the end, Rehoboth Seashore Marathon was one of my favorite marathons and in my top three of the ones I have run so far.

I had run the Outer Banks marathon 4 weeks before I was to run Rehoboth. I have NEVER run marathons that close together but it was a good test to see how I would fare. After consulting various runners in the Twitterverse (including the well-renowned Bart Yasso! Thanks Bart!), the general consensus was to run Outer Banks conservatively (check) and to spend the next 4 weeks in a sort of recovery stage in order to run a stronger second race…my longest run in those 4 weeks was 16 miles and I maxed out at 48 miles for the week in the third week of recovery. Since my Outer Banks marathon was considered a training run, I recovered very fast from it and was able to jump right back into training.
Race weekend turned into a girl’s weekend as I brought my good family friend D. with me and Chris manned the fort at home. We arrived early Friday afternoon and it was quite overcast and chilly (not to mention it rained off and on the entire drive there), so it wasn’t going to be a great “beach weekend” like we thought. Packet pick-up was simply a large white tent and a few tables, nothing like the massive expos you see at races like Disney or Philly. The hotel was within walking distance to the start, which was a huge plus and eliminated some of the usual race day complications.

Many of the shops were closed for the season, but we still enjoyed walking around and taking in what we could. Of course we hit Kilwin’s in order to grab several varieties of fudge, all which they happily confirmed were gluten-free and made in-house, unlike other shops we had visited which said their fudge was made in a factory and it couldn’t be guaranteed. I’ll take Kilwin’s any day and can easily recommend them as the very best fudge you can find in Rehoboth! The Nutcracker Sweet (vanilla, caramel and pecan) was a huge winner, and I assumed it was seasonal for the holidays. But the fact that it was handmade rather than by machinery off-site really sealed the deal for us.

Yup, this was my race and recovery fuel that weekend!

I discovered, with horror, that I forgot my homemade gluten-free pizza at home for my evening carb load. I was crushed and immediately concerned. Luckily I was able to research with my iPhone (again and again this thing comes in SO handy when it comes to my dietary needs while travelling) that there was a Grotto’s within walking distance that made gluten-free pizza. By this, I was wary…after all, Domino’s also makes gluten-free pizza…but they use the same ovens, pans, prep areas, etc.  Basically NOT at all safe for people with celiac disease (and that’s a WHOLE other rant). Would Grotto’s follow the same cross-contamination method for their own GF pizza?

I asked them upon arrival about their prepping areas and how the gluten-free pizza was made, and the woman almost looked appalled that I would even ask such a question. Her dry response: “Of COURSE. Everything is made in a separate area, we take it very seriously.” That was relieving to hear, but I was still apprehensive. In the end, I took the plunge and ordered a small mushroom GF pizza and said a few silent prayers before diving in later that night.

                      The pre-race fuel of “the old days” in all its greasy goodness.

My fears were unfounded, everything was perfect. D and I enjoyed an evening of fudge, pizza and French fries from Five Guys. All in all, it was a total junk food extravaganza…as I had also brought a whole batch of GF M&M cookies as well. I carb loaded to the absolute extreme that night!

Friday afternoon and evening it rained…a lot. It had me wondering if I would be running my race in the rain on Saturday morning. As I woke up the next morning I saw it was overcast, but the rain had finally ceased. I’ll take that! I have heard in years past that the wind and cold temps really made the race tough, but it looked like winds would be only around 10 mph and temps ranged that morning between 40 and 50 degrees, which was pretty ideal marathoning weather for me!

The race start was simple: no corrals, just a crowd of runners ready to run with the elites in the front. I stayed in the rear simply to avoid crowds and survey the scene. It was definitely chilly, damp and breezy, but far better than the pouring rain we had the day before. Everyone seemed in a good mood and ready to run, and the race began with little fanfare, pomp and circumstance.

The start of the race the streets felt a bit narrow and it was tough to navigate. I felt pretty good and ready to put in a good effort, especially since I knew I had time to recover until my next marathon in March. Luckily the race wasn’t massively crowded, although it did, in fact, sell out since many displaced NYC marathoners registered last-minute for races that were somewhat local (such as Philly, Richmond, Va. and Harrisburg), so it capped out at 900 runners for the full marathon.

I found the general mood of the course was a very friendly crowd, I found myself chatting with other runners; as usual, for out-of-state races, people liked to know where you were from, how many marathons you had run, etc. Plenty of friendly 50-staters and Marathon Maniacs were along the course, all very encouraging and smiling. Much like Colorado Springs and Hatfield-McCoy Reunion, it was a low-key vibe, little PR pressure, and lots of friendly runners ready to give you a word of encouragement. I’ve run plenty of races where I talked to almost no one, others like this I found myself making friends along the way and it definitely makes the mood much lighter and more fun. Not only were the runners friendly, but I absolutely loved the volunteers for this event, several water stops were manned by people who served in the military, which was really wonderful. At one point I had to stop and shake some rocks out of my shoe, and a kind man in uniform approached me with concern to make sure I was OK. I assured him several times I was, but he was insistent on making sure I could get back up!

While a lot of the course was paved roads, several miles were on dirt and gravel rails-to-trails path in pine-forested areas, which were a little narrow, and there was some mud to contend with on the out-and-back. The half-marathoners turn around past this point, so we had to share the trail as a two-way path with the elite/faster halfers.The course was beautiful too, lots of beach grass, views of dunes and the ocean, and by far the best view was getting to crest the top of a hill in Cape Henlopen and getting to see the vast ocean spread as far as the eye could see. It truly took my breath away and I almost wanted to stop just to savor the moment.

                                                  Yup, views like this!
                    
I remember running with another woman for a while, D., who (like me) was heavily tattooed. Seeing female runners with lots of tattoos (and I’m not talking a little ankle or shoulder piece here) isn’t especially common, so I felt a quiet kind of kinship with her and had this desire to run with her for a bit. We joked about how often we felt sort of like black sheep in the running community, and sometimes when we go to expos, etc. people sort of step back and treat us like we don’t belong. It can be sort of a social stigma, but I also think the levels of acceptance are definitely lifting quite a bit. Tattoos or no, we are still athletes and have the guts to finish a marathon time and time again (like me, she was also a 50-stater working on her goal and we swapped stories).  We may not fit the mold of a runner, but I assure you we ARE and then some. Never judge someone by appearance alone! But I digress, getting to run with her for a few miles was fun and I saw that she successfully finished the race as well not too long after me.
                   I remember hitting my wall early right around the Observation Tower!

Around mile 14 I recall I started to lag in my energy; while the course was quite flat, the miles in Cape Henlopen were slightly hilly and sort of wore me out a little early. There was a gentleman running in front of me for miles, and no matter what, I kept pace behind him. Eventually he started to slow down, and I ran alongside him and said with a grin: “You’ve been my rabbit for several miles, I expect you to stay ahead of me!” He laughed and said he would do his best; we ran side by side for a while, chatting and talking about other races we had run, where we were from, etc. In the end, I had to leave him behind, but he really helped those miles fly by and I wish I could thank him for helping boost my stamina. It’s the nice thing about smaller race courses, you can really make a buddy time and time again, sometimes even passing the same people and remembering them…makes all the difference!

As stated, Rehoboth was an out-and-back course so I got to revisit many miles in reverse. While the spectators were few, they were enthusiastic considering the weather wasn’t the most pleasant for spectating. While it wasn’t raining, it definitely was quite damp and misting at times. I made sure to high five a little girl that was so excited to interact with the runners. I felt GREAT and had a lot of energy after I caught my third wind. I really enjoyed how easy the dirt and gravel course was on my joints, and the final miles seemed to sail by without complaint. The finish line loomed as we approached the main town area (and the volunteers really helped increase my fervor to get to that finish line!), and it was such a triumphant feeling to cross it (and hear my name announced, which is always fun!) and see my time was 5 minutes faster than the previous two marathons! I finished in 4:10 and was thrilled. Sure it wasn’t a PR, but it really was nice to see that Bart Yasso WAS right, that I DID finish stronger simply by staying conservative with my OBX marathon. I was thrilled to finish in one piece and earned another state medal, this one in the shape of a lifesaver.

The finish tent area was crowded with runners, all high-spirited and hungry. The spread was incredible and looked delicious. The downside to this was that absolutely none of it was gluten-free. There was macaroni and cheese, pancakes with fruit compote, pulled pork sandwiches and veggie burgers, cookies and brownies, and lots and lots of beer…but I couldn’t find anything (not even a piece of fruit) except a bottle of water. Luckily D. carried a race bag for me with a KIND bar and some clothes (thank goodness too because the day’s moisture really made my feet look like they’d been soaking in a bathtub). The other downside, besides not getting food, was that I had to drive home. Talk about horrible. I kept my car on cruise control any chance I got in order to stretch out my legs. Lesson here: if you don’t have to drive home the day of a marathon, DON’T.

I didn’t get to eat a real meal until 6:30 PM that night. In the afternoon I was able to stop by my parents’ house for a bit on the drive home, where she had an amazing black bean dip and chips waiting for us, so my post-race meal ended up being chips and dip and leftover fudge. I know, mortifying right? Later that night, it was a fully loaded burger and fries from Five Guys. So a whole weekend of junk food for my post-race fuel.

I had some time to recover just in time for the holidays, and my next marathon wasn’t until March. I did end up making some substantial dietary changes in my life between this marathon and Shamrock, and while I am unsure if it boosted my performance (because of several factors which I can get into next time), I can say I’m glad that I leaned to healthfully balance out my diet much better. Rehoboth was considered my last hurrah.

Race Results

Finish Time: 4:10
Overall Place: 433/ 829
Sex Place: 123/ 321
Gender Place: 27/ 45

What I Learned

  • If you have serious food intolerances, it’s really important to check and double-check your food before leaving for a road trip. That should be one of the top priorities, for a pre-race glutening can be a disaster. Forgetting my pre-race fuel was a pretty big mistake and I was lucky that Grotto’s did such a fine job providing safe, GF food for me. I may not always be so lucky! If you have to travel by plane, research options in advance, I can’t stress this enough. Make sure you know where grocery stores are, and any restaurants that have good reputations for providing safe, GF food. It’s always good to make sure your hotel has a microwave and fridge in the room, even if you have to call ahead to have it specially delivered to the room(I did this for Vermont)…explain you have special dietary needs and they should have absolutely no problem accommodating you.
  • Post-race fuel is another thing to always plan in advance. I definitely should have consumed more after my race than a KIND bar and a large WaWa coffee for the long drive home. You need to try to get in some essential calories within 45 minutes of the finish in order to help with muscle recovery, so along with the KIND bar I definitely could have benefitted from a couple hundred extra calories (and protein should be stressed). Some ideas are fresh fruit, nuts, cheese sticks, half a sandwich (though cold GF bread is NOT the most appetizing thing), hummus and veggies, a greek (or soy) yogurt and granola, or peanut/almond butter on  a rice cake. Don’t let yourself go too long without eating, or an unhealthy binge could be on the horizon. I ended up just binging out on chips, dip and fudge. While delicious, my body could have used some better fuel in the form of whole foods.

 

State # 8: North Carolina (Sans the Pirates)

After Akron I had some time to recover until my next race destination, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which was race #2 for my Marathon Maniac qualifier. North Carolina seemed to have quite a few good marathons, but I heard a lot of good things about the race, and that the location was a beautiful and relaxing shoreline location (also much further north and a closer drive!). I was also thrilled because it had a pirate theme, and I absolutely LOVED the idea of getting a medal with a skull and crossbones on it. It just sounded like a blast.

One of the most devastating hurricanes our area has ever seen had hit the Northeast a week before in the form of Hurricane (or Superstorm) Sandy; luckily our area was in the eye of the storm and we got through fairly unscathed from this behemoth. But some areas were definitely not so lucky, and there were concerns that the Outer Banks, which can be pretty hard hit from hurricanes, was going to be damaged and the race might get cancelled. If it came to that, I was more than OK with it. I definitely feel that a marathon isn’t so important that it should override the needs of hard-hit areas that desperately needed manpower to help rebuild, rescue and clean up…not direct traffic and hand out water to marathon runners.

The Outer Banks was hit, and some areas were impassable, but the race course was more or less spared and the race directors assured us that everything would go exactly as planned. We headed down on Friday, and as we arrived in the Outer Banks area we noticed that the area was dark…too dark.  We shrugged, assumed that the night life in the area was very tame in the off-season, and continued driving south. The darkness was a bit unnerving after a few more minutes, and we decided to see what we could find out. With my handy-dandy iPhone, we discovered that the power on the entire island was OUT, and it had been out for a while, slowly being recovered. It had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy, but it was just a strange coincidence.

Luckily by the time we checked into our hotel in Kill Devil Hills, things seemed like they were back to normal for our area but much of the island was still without power.  The next day we did the packet pick-up routine at the expo (I was disappointed to see that the tech shirt did NOT have a pirate flag on it, but an American flag…I shrugged it off, I had confidence the medal would still be awesome) and did a little exploring of the area.

We had great fun in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which contains the country’s tallest active sand dunes (sadly the hang gliding lessons weren’t in session but we watched some kite flying) , and checked out some of the area beaches. Unfortunately  some areas had not been spared by Sandy; we saw severe damage to Kitty Hawk and the bridge to Cape Hatteras was closed down. A nice effort on the part of the race organizers was to have a canned food drive since their local food shelter was wiped out, so I brought a bag of gluten-free goods with me. I assumed there HAD to be gluten-intolerant people in need who really could have used the donation.

                                                     Jockey’s Ridge State Park

The one bummer about visiting OBX in November was the fact that the sun set around 5 PM, so it really limited our time to enjoy the outdoors and the sights. In the end, it was probably for the best. After all, I had a marathon to run in the morning!

Race morning I had concerns about logistics, because they can either be a nightmare or go very, very smoothly. Unless you are within walking distance to the start line, this can always be a problem. We woke up bright and early and got to the designated parking area where busses shuttled us to the start line, which was in a fairly remote part of Kitty Hawk. It went seamlessly and we even had some time to kill before boarding the bus. Waiting at the start it was a little chilly and very humid, but it looked to be a great race day all around, just a little breeze, and sunny skies.

When going into this race, I made a promise to myself. I had a marathon within 4 weeks after this one. I had to STAY conservative and treat this one like a slow training run. Start easy and stay easy the entire race. Chris reminded me of this over and over, and for once I stuck to a plan. When the race began, I stayed in the back, and let plenty of people pass me. I stuck to a 9:20 pace, as easy as I could race, and let the miles pass with ease.
The course was pancake flat with only two hills in the entire race, one being in the Nags Head Woods Preserve, a beautifully wooded park with (yay!) dirt and pine needle trails, and the second being around mile 23 at the Washington Baum bridge that we had to cross to get to the finish line in the small town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. We had driven this bridge the day before, it looked imposing at a distance but the incline was gradual and not super steep like Hatfield McCoy’s Blackberry Mountain!

The start of the course truly was lovely, lots of views of Kitty Hawk Bay, marshes teeming with wildlife, calm views of the ocean with old wooden piers (where you could almost envision a barefoot kid in bib overalls fishing on the edge), and sleepy Cape Cod homes. The Wright Brothers Monument was especially beautiful and awe-inspiring as we passed the field where the first flight took place, and it was definitely one of my favorite sights.            The Wright Brothers Memorial was truly awe-inspiring to run past.

But one of my most memorable and laugh out loud moments was a spectator on the course dressed as the “More Cowbell Guy”, originally played by Will Ferrell in SNL’s Blue Oyster Cult sketch. Tight jeans, belly hanging out, curly haired wig and sunglasses, enthusiastically playing a cowbell – I saw him THREE times and just loved it. He truly, truly made the early miles LOL-worthy, and to you, More Cowbell Guy, I salute you.

Getting to hit the Nags Head Wood Preserve was another treat for me, and surprisingly I heard people gripe.  I still can’t fathom why road runners hate trails so much, but any time I run a race with dirt trail sections, I hear complaints. It was beautiful and cool with a soft pine-needle surface; granted there were definitely roots and rocks to dance around, and a “hill” to contend with that signs warned us about in advance, but I loved it. The hill I had to scoff at a little as the race volunteers directed us up the sharp turn, it was a short and steep climb and then right back downhill. Sorry guys, I’m from Pennsylvania, hills are just par for the course back home.

Why wouldn’t anyone want to run through this?

As the humidity burned off with the rising sun, the clear skies started to become a problem…this course, save the wooded trail section, was in complete sun with no shade. It was like D.C. all over again, and even though it wasn’t as hot (the temps stayed in the mid-60’s), the sun beating down on you can definitely take its toll. I drank several cups of fluid at every stop, but still couldn’t seem to feel satiated. There was a section of the race that took place on Croatan Highway, which served as the main road on the island; it was straight, flat, and seemed unending as far as the eye could see. Even though the bridge wasn’t going to exactly be fun, I just couldn’t wait to get off the main drag because I knew the end would be imminent once we hit the bridge. The courses took you into little residential out and backs to add a mile or two, but it wasn’t incredibly exciting and definitely wasn’t shaded. Water stops seemed few and far between in this section of the race and thirst was really taking its toll.

The bridge climb was much easier than I thought, and not nearly as brutal as it seemed.  I loved the views of the water from up high, it was breathtaking! Once I crested the top, I knew it would be downhill and smooth sailing in the final miles into Manteo. I had managed to see my biggest fan, Chris, twice on the course (once by car as he drove down Croatan Highway to get to the finish line, and I couldn’t help but shout out “Can I grab a lift?” to no avail), but I couldn’t wait to get to the finish to see him again! At this point I was definitely starting to run out of steam, the sun was draining every extra ounce of energy I had.

Doesn’t look so bad does it?

The final stretch involved some twists and turns, and seemed to take forever once I hit mile 26. At 26.2 I crossed the finish line with every ounce of strength I could muster. A quick glance at my watch and I saw that I finished in the exact same time as I did in Akron, 4:15. In the end, staying conservative and easy still gave the same results as my previous crash and burn. That was something I could truly learn from I think.

The finish line had a first for me: coconut water was served at the finish instead of a sports drink. I have to be honest: to this day, plain Vita Coco is NOT my thing. But in time I learned to love the other varieties of Vita Coco that came in fruit flavors, and use that to hydrate during the week instead of Powerade.  But it took everything in my power to try to get down the entire container in one sitting without feeling sick…it’s definitely an acquired taste, and thankfully I learned to love it in time.

As for finish line food, I managed to snag a banana and Chris got to enjoy my free beer and pulled pork BBQ sandwich. Hey, he deserved it for being such a great spectator, and I was happy to just be relaxing even if I didn’t have much food just yet. I always love that I can share my food with him, it’s the least I can do! Unfortunately that meant I had to drive us back to the hotel, but I didn’t mind too much.

The medal was disappointing, I won’t lie. The same American flag emblem that was on the shirts was on the medal. What a bummer, I REALLY wanted that pirate themed medal and was pretty bummed out by this.

medal

In fact, I was recently at a marathon expo where the OBX race table was set up, where they had samples of all the medals for their race series…and yet the 2012 marathon medal was nowhere to be found. I had to bring it up and ask why that medal wasn’t present; the rep admitted sheepishly that the 2012 medal design was a total flop and that it wouldn’t be returning. I also noticed the same theme with the Rock N Roll DC medals….the Bald Eagle that decorated my 2012 finisher’s medal was replaced with the Capitol building with an American flag as the backdrop (which was a MUCH needed improvement). Figures with my luck I ended up getting medals that weren’t the most memorable, but my Akron 10 year anniversary medal  or the Hatfield McCoy Reunion medal with their newer and improved (and AWESOME) logo were both medals I loved and felt lucky to have earned.

That night I sat on the beach and put my toes in the sand watching the sunset, and the next day we enjoyed a visit to the Wright Brothers Monument, which was free of charge that day! It was a great visit to OBX, and hopefully we can get back there another time for a real vacation.

Race Results

Finish Time: 4:15:35
Overall Place: 427/ 1190Sex Place: 138/ 545
Division Place: 14/ 99

What I Learned

  • Finally, conservative pace pays off. I ran what I considered to be slower and an easy pace, and in the end I ran a similar time to the past two races where I started off too fast and ended up walking a bit. Obviously this is something to recognize and learn from, as well as put into practice.
  • I just don’t enjoy flat courses. When looking for races I now try to find ones with some rolling hills and terrain change. Outer Banks had stretches that were flat and straight ahead for what felt like miles, and that part was excruciatingly boring for me; getting to run on a dirt course through the woods was wonderful, but short-lived. I’m excited to say two of my marathons in 2013 will be mainly on trails, and I couldn’t be more excited: North Central Trail Marathon in Sparks, MD and the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, MT.

Spectators and Volunteers: The Life Force of a Marathon

I’ve had a couple race reviews I have been really needing to post( especially since I have been asked about them by other runners), and I will definitely have them posting soon, but the horrific events at  the Boston marathon have caused a lot of moments of somber reflection and “what-if” feelings, and I felt it was important to write some of my feelings about those who were injured and killed during the bombing, because a common trait was shared amongst many of them, and that was that they were spectators.

Marathons are difficult no matter how many you’ve run, and marathon runners are resilient because they will do whatever it takes to cross the finish line and earn that medal. The sense of accomplishment is amazing, and even after 13 marathons I find myself being so thrilled to complete another one. The race medals are piling up, as well as the race shirts and swag, and yet I still have the drive to continue running rather than slow down. It’s so wonderful to explore a new state on foot and make so many new running friends (even if just for a few hours), it’s truly a unifying and positive experience. The feel of crossing the finish line is exhilarating and that feeling of elated joy NEVER fades for me. Even after crossing the finish line, I can’t help but smile and congratulate the finishers around me, ask how they’re feeling, and sometimes we’ve even hugged. It’s just that emotional and uplifting.

There are so many facets of a race though, that I think can sometimes go unrecognized, and I felt it was important to mention it. A marathon is NOT just about the runners, and without these other contributing elements it would simply be an incomplete disaster. Whether we realize it or not at the time, we need each and every one of these facets like we need vital organs. The marathon is a living and breathing thing with many important components that are needed to run effectively:

The spectators are truly part of the driving force of a marathon. They stand in the cold, wind, blazing sun and rain, and cheer for HOURS. They ring cowbells, dress in costume,  hold up motivating signs, make their own fuel and beer stations for the runners, and children anxiously stand waiting for high fives. Their claps, cheers and shouts, listening to them call out your name, all of it provides that extra boost and adrenaline rush that we all need. Even though they may not a family member, they are PROUD OF YOU, and encourage you as if you were their own kin. They are so incredibly important to a marathon, and their love and support of the runners is something that can’t be put into words.

The volunteers have to wear a multitude of hats. Some are there at packet pick-up to ensure you get everything you need before race day. Others get up early, stand for HOURS holding out water, sports drinks, gels and food for us. Others spent backbreaking hours cleaning up our cups that we (sometimes) discard without a care (though I always try to aim for a trash bin to save them some trouble). They range from children and teens, to members of the military, various charity organizations, and a multitude of other groups. They cheer us on, give an encouraging word and a smile, and range in age from young children to seniors…their enthusiasm doesn’t falter and they help provide the sustenance we need to get to the next milestone as we race to the finish line. In smaller races, they are sometimes your ONLY spectators. The firemen and police direct traffic and keep the course safe for you to cross roads safely. The medical stations are manned by people ready and willing to assist during an emergency or even a lesser ailment (whether it’s a little BodyGlide or BioFreeze, heat exhaustion or blisters, they treat everything with the same amount of concern). Without these volunteers, we would certainly have a much harder time as marathoners.

The race directors and staff take countless hours of time making arrangements for a MILLION different factors that must run seamlessly on race morning. When people complain about race logistics, take some time to think about how much work it takes and realize it’s a behemoth of a task. I was always thrilled to receive personal emails from race directors when I have a question, and it really personalizes the experience for me. I don’t feel like just a number, but an individual that matters. The amount of time, effort and planning it takes to organize a marathon usually takes longer than the training itself! And of course there are the race announcers that are at the start and finish, always providing the countdown details and naming off finishers as they cross the finish line. It’s always great to hear your own name, I think!

Then finally there is our OWN personal cheering squad: your friends and your family. I have been lucky that, for every single marathon, there was always someone waiting for me along the race course. There was always someone to give me a hug or kiss and good luck wishes as I enter my corral. There was always someone to greet me enthusiastically at the finish line and bring me a drop bag or carry my things. Always. And time and time again I think how lucky I am to have someone waiting for me, how blessed I am that they can be there to cheer me on again and again.

My point is this: next time you run a race:

THANK YOUR VOLUNTEERS as they hand you water and fuel, and eventually your finisher’s medal.

THANK THE POLICE AND FIREMEN that direct traffic and keep you safe.

THANK THE SPECTATORS that clap, cheer you on and call out your name.

HIGH FIVE THAT CHILD that’s been awaiting recognition (I promise it will make their day).

BE MINDFUL when you throw your cups, Gu wrappers, banana peels and trash.

GRIN FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHERS as they snap your picture (even if you feel lousy!).

SMILE AND WAVE AT THE CHEERLEADERS AND SCHOOL BANDS that are playing JUST FOR YOU.

HUG YOUR LOVED ONES once you’ve got that medal draped around your neck.

I’ve run a lot of marathons, and I have felt pretty lousy during some of them. But no matter WHAT, I always made sure to thank those who are out there supporting us any time I can (even if it’s just a grim nod and a quiet thank you). It’s SO important to recognize them as the life force of a race. It’s not just you that is propelling you to the finish line, even if you think it is, I promise you that there is more to running a marathon than just YOU.

Please remember that as you toe the line for your next marathon, and take some time to ponder that in silence before you cross the start line.

Runners, is there anyone that I forgot? Please make mention of it in the Comments section and I will be happy to update with your contribution!

Runners, We are Family

Driving home after work today I was completely unaware of the tragedy that occurred at Boston; switching on the AM station at 3:10 PM to check traffic I heard news about runners at the finish line and thought with a smile “Oh, they’re actually broadcasting Boston! How cool!” More words…talk about med tents and ambulances…and my thoughts switched gears to “Are some runners injured? Heat exhaustion…? It’s not that warm…” and then the words “explosions” jarred my brain and my blood ran cold. I felt like I was going to drive off the road, I started breathing erratically. So much confusion, so much happening, and not nearly enough information.

The attack at the Boston marathon is something that hits me in a way I can’t describe. So many runners looked forward to this day all year, and every runner wanted to be there more than any other goal in life. Getting to the starting line of the Boston marathon is every runner’s wish come true, and dreams were fulfilled today only to be tragically cut short with a senseless act of violence.  I can’t tell you how many times I was told by a loved one “I’m so glad you weren’t at Boston today.”

I have no words to express how I feel. My heart goes out to the runners, spectators and their families. My heart aches and sadness overcomes all other feelings right now. This act of violence attacked my running family….took away the one joy that was a tradition for 117 years and turned it into chaotic tragedy. While I wasn’t there, many of my running Tweeps and blogging friends were, and I worried.

I do feel like my friends were attacked. I can’t explain it. It’s like “You’re messing with my family“. Runners have that sense of comradery I can’t explain. We’re all on the same journey together when we run a marathon, and all have words of encouragement to send to each other; there’s no sense of ruthless, cutthroat competition…runners are a special breed of people full of laughter, smiles, stories and praise. I’m so proud to be a part of their group and call myself a runner.

Runners, we are all in the same family together, our veins all run with the same blood…we are filled with fire, determination, and a refusal to quit. From the fastest runner who triumphantly wins the first place medal, to the last one to cross the finish line to a roaring crowd, we are ALL made of the same steel.To each runner, I send my love. To the runner’s families, I send my thanks for supporting the beloved runner in your family. We are all family, united, and all feel the same anger, pain and shock.

I love my running family, and my thoughts are with each and every one of you tonight. As I hit the trails tomorrow you will be in my thoughts, and strengthening my resolve to keep running and never quit. Nothing can stop us.

We are runners.

We are family.

Connecting with Bloggers for a Common Passion

Last year I wanted to get into blogging simply because I used to always write race recaps for other runner friends of mine, and enjoyed documenting the journey. Every race was different, had good and bad aspects to it, and I thought it would be useful for other runners. Also, since I was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle, I thought it would be a good idea to incorporate what I have learned in my various travels to different parts of the country, as well as give tips on training fuels and race day nutrition.  I knew there had to be other runners out there that were celiac or gluten-intolerant like me, and I wanted to help them in any way that I could; I felt a blog was a good way to start.

Lately I have been approached to write a guest blog or two for other bloggers that I have corresponded with on Twitter, and I wanted to share links to the posts on their site for you:

G-Free Laura is a gluten-free blogger that has been a great asset to the GF community, with food reviews, travel tips, recipes, and a variety of other topics. She definitely makes GF living appealing and fun! Recently she approached me and had some questions on training for a half marathon, and before I knew it, I was asked to write a guest post for her site, which was recently posted in a 2-parter! The links are below:

The Gluten-Free Runner: Marathon Training

The Gluten-Free Runner: Race Day

Susan Irby is a well-renowned West-Coast blogger that is ALL about clean and healthy living, and goes by the memorable and motivating handle The Bikini Chef.  She, with personal trainer Alison Dlugosz and a group of readers, will be participating in TWO half marathons next month (where two halves equal one marathon) and she asked if I could contribute a quest post on how to get started with running. I was thrilled to oblige, and the post can be seen here:

Running: Where Do You Start

It doesn’t end there! Kathy Nelson, host of the show GFree and Happy, approached Laura of G-Free Laura and asked how the two of us would like to be interviewed for her show in a live 30-minute Skype interview. It will be streaming LIVE this Monday April 15 at 10 PM EDT (7 PM PDT). She wants to discuss how we can connect in social media for the common good to spread GF love and help others, in this case it was all about running and GF Nutrition with Laura and I. It will also be archived on YouTube, iTunes and her website. Talk about an exciting and fun opportunity! I think I just might have to wear my Marathon Maniac singlet for the occasion!

If you have a chance to stay up late, feel free to tune in on Monday night to see Laura and I on camera together! I will post the subsequent link to the interview once it’s run live.

Who knows what further opportunities there may be? It’s definitely a wonderful thing to be able to network with other bloggers that have the same message and focus on spreading the word on good health! All I’ve ever wanted to do was take my passion for running and clean, gluten-free eating and help others along my journey. I think I just may have found my calling!

Food Rx (It’s Good for What Ails Ya!)


Before I was diagnosed with celiac, I suffered quite a bit, which I had disclosed in prior blog entries. I assumed stomach pain was just par for the course after every meal and was simply used to it.  But it wasn’t just the digestive issues that plagued me:  I used to have horrible eczema, and as a child was teased quite often for being “contagious with a skin disease”. I also suffered often from terrible headaches and chronic sciatic nerve pain. On top of taking lots of ibuprofen, I was seeing a chiropractor THREE times a week but to no avail, nothing seemed to ease the horrible throbbing pain that seemed to plague me 24/7. I assumed that the rest of my life I would just have to endure pain no matter what I tried, and that was a bleak thought indeed.

Post celiac-diagnosis, it was like a whole new chapter in my life was opening for me, and I could actually move forward pain-free, happy and healthy. While it eased the usual pain-after-every-meal issue, I also noticed that my eczema that had plagued me my entire life gradually disappeared, even from my elbows (my biggest trouble spot as an adult), and the only time it ever cropped up was from being accidentally glutened. But despite the positive changes, I still had plenty of sciatic nerve pain and headaches quite often. My digestive issues still were causing me some strife: I still suffered from bloating, terrible irregularity (I know, TMI right?) and lower GI pain quite often, even when eating a strict GF diet. My GI specialist ran tests, ultrasounds and X-rays, and found nothing to cause any red flags. It was frustrating to say the least.

While I was eating a strict gluten-free diet, I won’t lie, it was still riddled with processed and high sugar foods. I ate somewhat healthy, but had PLENTY of days where I loaded my menu with high fat and high sugar treats, high fructose corn syrup, and other heavily processed foods with ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce. When checking labels it never went beyond cross-contamination issues with manufacturing and gluten-free ingredients. I figured hey, as long as it was gluten-free, it worked for my needs. Everything else was fair game!

When Chris and I decided to go on a refined sugar detox back in March, I noticed that slowly my sciatic nerve pain and headaches ceased substantially. I had read that sugar causes inflammation in the body, and assumed that eliminating refined sugar and HFCS obviously was doing me far more good than harm. Granted, the initial stages of detox were tough, but we overcame them within a week and never looked back.

Weeks after we started the sugar detox, I ran the Shamrock Marathon, and decided to eat an ovo-vegetarian diet for that week before the race in order to avoid any issues with irregularity and other digestive issues on race weekend. I still ate eggs, and after the race was over I had Greek yogurt in a couple of my meals, and still I noticed that I had some GI issues that cropped up, especially after I put dairy back into my diet. It was especially noticeable when I had made a vegetarian dinner for Chris and I the Monday after the race, and added a side of sour cream to the meal. I was up all night with horrible GI pain and bloating.

That incident sort of sealed the deal for me, I had to research vegan diets a little and see if I could actually do this diet as a celiac and thrive. I know when most people read the word vegan there is usually an immediate eye roll, but to be honest, I have always found that to be very annoying when people are vocal about someone else’s diet. After all, how does what I eat affect ANYONE? As long as I provide for my own needs I would never be militant, aggressive or pushy. What works for one won’t always work for another, so I would never push a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle on anyone, but I know for me it makes me feel good in many ways: I have always loved animals and felt a lot of inner conflict as a carnivore (even as a child I had my misgivings and anxiety about eating animals, and once even refused to eat lamb…I was like Lisa Simpson!); I have always had ethical concerns regarding factory farming, plus I know vegetarianism is good for the environment, as well as one’s health!  For me, it makes sense, for another, it may be one of those “Give me meat or give me death” scenarios.

Adopting a vegan diet was actually far easier than I thought with some homework, and I noticed that almost, like magic, that a clean vegan diet was really benefiting me better than any diet ever had. My irregularity and gas pains (I know, I know, TMI) disappeared and my body was running like clockwork for the FIRST TIME IN YEARS. It was almost frightening! My skin had cleared. My headaches, even on high barometric pressure days, were gone. My sciatica…it’s so minimal that I don’t even notice it most days, when in the past I was taking Advil ALL DAY LONG to cut down on the throbbing pain. Even my afternoon fatigue and the naps that I seemed to ALWAYS need (or I couldn’t function), were no longer a necessity. My body was thriving in many ways I didn’t ever notice before.

Chris was certainly accepting of whatever I needed to do as long as I felt better, but requested we still have meat once in a while for his meals, and I absolutely had no issue with this! After all, I was a vegetarian for 10 years prior to my diagnosis and was used to making him separate meals once in a while, but he is so used to eating vegetarian for most meals he doesn’t even miss it at all. Sure, he loves a good steak once in a while, but he doesn’t need it in his daily meals.

As for the usual question of “How do you get your protein and nutrients?”, well, I can definitely approach it in another entry, but I do take several supplements that my doctor insisted I take after checking my bloodwork (PRE-vegan diet by the way) and noticing I was very low in iron, B12 and D. So I do take them in order to make sure those essential nutrients are met. I know it sort of goes against the whole “don’t feed your needs with pharmaceuticals” thing, but certain nutrients are harder to obtain naturally on a vegan diet (especially B12) and this option is far more appealing to me than the consequences I ran into before adopting the lifestyle.

This entry is not about being a vegan by any means. In fact, I can’t even call myself one since I still use honey and have plenty of leather and wool goods in my closet.  The main point of this entry is this: when you suffer ailments that can’t be explained by medical testing, no matter how big or small, examine your diet. There are methods I have heard about like elimination diets that can help you pinpoint what might be causing your issues, whether it’s nightshade vegetables, corn, coconut, etc. But even before that, seriously examine your food sources: is your food made of five or less ingredients? Is it made of ingredients with names that you can’t pronounce and loaded with preservatives and chemical additives? In my experience, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, healthy fats, and grains are the best sources for a healthy diet. I’ve even found ways to make it more economical by simply rolling up my sleeves and working a little harder by making my own homemade granola, hummus, bread, pesto and vegan burgers. Sure it takes a little work, but it truly is a fraction of the cost of store-bought by FAR. Plus you know exactly what you are getting because your hard work went into it! I find it to be truly rewarding AND delicious.

Don’t get me wrong, of course issues like environment, genetics and other variables can override diet and lifestyle no matter how hard you try. Chris’ cancer is a perfect example of this. He has to continue taking meds for the rest of his life and no matter how clean his lifestyle. But he also feels that he can help combat future cancer growth by living a clean lifestyle, and once he is in remission we are hoping he will permanently STAY in remission.
But, sometimes all it takes is a little self-examination of your habits. You may surprise yourself when you see that all you need is a dietary overhaul. I can certainly attest to this and it has been working for me.

Have you noticed any positive changes in your own health once you’ve changed your diet?

P.S. Just as a note, Chris underwent his surgical procedure on April 2, had some cancerous nodes removed, and recovered well from the surgery. Next step will be meeting with an oncologist to discuss treatment, and hopefully once he goes through that, he will be in permanent remission.