Sometimes you just have to play it safe: My Keystone State Goofy Challenge

In order to prepare for ultra-running, I decided it was important to do back-to-back long runs and get myself used to the idea of running on tired legs. Recently  I was supposed to run a back-to-back race weekend: a full marathon on Saturday (the ½ Sauer ½ Kraut Marathon) and a half marathon (the ODDyssey Half Marathon) on Sunday. I was pretty excited, and felt ready. I wanted to take it super easy for the full, maybe a 5 to 5:30 finish in order to toe the start line on Sunday with somewhat fresh legs. But in the end, I had to change those plans in order to safely cross the finish line both days.

During the week before the race, I received an email informing me that they were going to cut the course time limit to 5 hours due to possible inclement weather and heat/humidity warnings. The course for ½ Sauer was a double-out and back course (kind of like a needle actually), so the full marathoners always had the option to cross the finish line early if they wanted to just end it at the halfway point. The medals and shirt are the same regardless of the event you decide to run. But with a five hour limit in place and heat warnings that would get us close to a 90 degree heat index by noon, I had a feeling there would be a lot of marathoners that were going to downgrade, or just completely DNF.

Rather than DNF (which is something I absolutely REFUSE to do), I decided to just flat-out downgrade. Why not? I know that I could easily run a sub-5, but had no idea how the heat might affect me during the second out-and-back, and God forbid I get stuck out on the racecourse past the 5 hour point because I’m suddenly falling apart from the heat. My intentions were to run an extremely slow full to begin with, but now I was just going to stress having to push myself more than I planned in order to finish under the cut-off time.
There were also two other factors that led me to easily come to this conclusion to downgrade:

1. This race was in PA, by no means a new state medal. I didn’t have to travel far for it and I had a few PA medals already.

2. I had a half marathon the next morning and needed to feel like my legs could handle it. If I pushed past what I planned, pace-wise, I might have suffered a little unnecessarily on Sunday.

So, all in all, easy decision, and I’m so glad I came to this conclusion! I had a fantastic weekend and a total blast both days! I even managed to run a decent half on Saturday, despite the heat!

Race 1: ½ Sauer ½ Kraut

This was a German-themed race that was to take place in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia, and the best part about it was that it was 95% shaded, and even had a fun trail section. It was an out-and-back course and had some fun water stops with people dressed in Leiderhosen, not to mention my very favorite aspect of all, the accordion music of UberHans, my temporary weekend crush. Sorry, I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a guy with an accordion and leather shorts.

This was the first real race where I wore my CalmelBak, and I’m so glad I did. I managed to drink from it every mile and carry my own fuel, as well as my phone to take a few pics along the way. I was wondering if the CamelBak would slow me down? Not in the least, if anything, the extra hydration really helped push me to the finish.

The first few miles I definitely felt slow and sluggish, and a LOT of runners passed me. I didn’t even care, I really wanted to be conservative with the heat. It was actually a somewhat pleasant morning as long as there was a breeze and we stayed out of the sun. There were only a few small sections with full sun, and good LORD was it warm. If I had to run a race in full sun like this, I don’t think I would have done well at ALL.

Having the CamelBak allowed me to blaze through the water stops, and honestly I liked not contributing to the waste with cups (and being able to drink as much as I wanted rather than just a small cup). Being as warm as it was I definitely drank more than a water stop would be able to provide.

The best part of the course was definitely the trail section. What a blast! I’m really learning to love trails. Sure you run slower, and it can get a little dicey with the terrain, but they are SO much more fun than road. The ONLY thing about trails I get frustrated with is when I feel like someone is breathing down my neck and wants to pass on a single track. Luckily that doesn’t happen often, we all sort of respect each other’s pace and just run single file. And personally, I don’t mind applying the brakes if there is someone in front of me that’s slower…with trail you have to just take it a little more carefully and watch your step and respect your fellow runners.  It was fun to be able to run this part of the trail, as it will be part of an ultra course I will be running later this year.

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So heading back I was feeling good, and decided to pick up the pace a little. This is when I noticed that all the people that flew past me in the very early miles were suddenly running a lot slower, some walking, and I was passing THEM. I’ve learned from past mistakes, and know that starting off too fast sometimes equals a crash and burn later, especially if the temperatures are rising. So I’ve learned to slow my role a little.

Approaching the finish line I was happy to see I managed a 2:02 finish. It was funny, the race director was trying to direct me to the turn-around for the marathoners, but I just shook my head and finished the half with a smile. I was fine with that accomplishment for the day!

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Pros of 1/2Sauer ½ Kraut Marathon (and half)

  • Ample parking at a nearby German Club where you can be bussed to the start line (and there are actual bathrooms with soap and running water)
  • Packet pick-up the morning of the race! Always a plus for out of towners!
  • Nice race shirt and medal
  • Nice shaded course in a beautiful park setting with rolling hills and a mile or so of trail for some adventuring
  • Super easy bag drop and no lines to grab your stuff when you’re done
  • Waterstops manned by girls and gals alike in Lederhosen and German barmaid dresses
  • Amazing finish line spread! You get a little bit of food at the finish, which for me was just watermelon (but I love watermelon at a race so no complaints here!), but you also get two tickets to get a meal back at the German Club where you park…and they had a full spread, burgers, bratwurst and sauerkraut, sausage, soft pretzels, French fries, the list goes on. The other ticket is for a beer of your choice, though if you can’t have beer like me, they have a full bar to make one drink of your choice. Probably one of the best post-race spreads I could enjoy!
  • UBERHANS! He played before the race start, and also on the course, and it was: THE. BEST. I made sure to tell him so.
  • Small enough field to possibly earn an AG award, though I was 9th out of 44 or so for mine. Oh well!

Cons

  • The medal you earn is for the half AND full. I realize WHY they do this, because they won’t know how many people decide last minute to downgrade to the half. After all, this is something you can do as you’re approaching the finish line! So basically I didn’t miss out on anything swag-wise.
  • The race takes place in mid-June, so it’s a guarantee to be hot and have a risk of thunderstorms.
  • The course is mainly an out and back, try doing it twice for the marathon. Might not appeal to some.
  • Spectators are minimal, if any

Race # 2 The ODDyssey Half Marathon

So the next morning it was Round 2, the ODDyssey Half Marathon in Philadelphia. This one was going to be very conservative pace-wise, as I would be in costume (like a lot of the other runners, it’s part of the race’s charm) plus I already committed to sticking with my friend J as much as possible and keeping her pace.  My friend M decided to join us, and the three of us made sure to get there early in order to find street parking, and it was a piece of cake!

We all made sure to dress in costume, and I decided to dress as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a costume I have worn to several Halloween parties in years past. Chris even made me a mallet to carry, and considering we made it out of stuff we found around the house and didn’t have to spend a dime, I’d say he did a great job!

23352336This is about as legit as I could get to make it a running costume. No way I could run in my knee high Hot Topic combat boots.

Because of the heat warnings, it seemed like a lot of people bailed on wearing costumes, which was a huge disappointment; I was just really into it I guess! And, as expected, only a few people knew who I was dressed as, which was fine. I assumed only video game/comic book nerds would know who I was anyway. But the ones who did LOVED the costume and said it was definitely the best one they had ever seen, so that was nice to hear. I do like to go the extra mile when it comes to things like that, I’ve always been that way.

The race was fun, and went through areas I was familiar with from parts of the Philly Marathon and from Team in Training practices. The main issue was the heat, there wasn’t a lot of shade on the course, and it wasn’t especially breezy to help cool us off. But to help that, almost every water stop had a sprinkler to run through! Whoo hoo, it was awesome and very refreshing!

ODDyssey boasts games and obstacles along the course, but I saw very few. They had gigantic beer pong (basically throwing a volleyball in a bin), a ring toss, and throwing a softball at a milk bottle pyramid. I actually got the beer pong on the first try! But I was a little disappointed that the games weren’t better.

The water stops were also a problem. Because we were taking it a lot slower, one of the first stops already had run out of Gatorade. The stops were kind of disappointing as well. I found myself grabbing a lot of my own water. I left my CamelBak at home since I assumed there would be plenty of stops on the course, but the stops seemed to be sorely lacking in volunteers. They just couldn’t seem to keep up with the steady stream of thirsty runners. Though the ones they had were friendly and cheerful, on a whole.

I stuck with J until around mile 12.5. I did a lot of walking, and running intervals, and by the time we got to the last .7 miles, which was uphill in full sun, she told me to go on since she knew I wanted to finish. The sun was pretty brutal and I was glad to get this one over with!
It was great to approach the finish line; as I did there was a group in the stands that shouted “GO RAMONA!” and REALLY cheered me on…it was pretty awesome! I still managed to have my mallet on me the entire time, which got a lot of props from people. I didn’t strip a single part of my costume off, and trust me it was tempting, but it was also nice to keep my skin protected from the sun.

I finished in 2:53, and honestly, despite my finish time, I had a great time! Met a lot of nice people, even some really cool ultra runners, and was able to get some good insight and advice on training and events. I found the experience to be very laid back and fun.
Although the race definitely had some small cons, I still would to run it again another year. And BRING IT even harder, costume-wise! The wheels in my head have been turning (a dangerous pastime, I know!)

Pros of the ODDyssey Half Marathon

  • GREAT Swag! Nice shirts (you can choose from two different colors), a pint glass, and a medal that is also a bottle opener. Cool AND Functional!
  • Fun atmosphere! I loved seeing people run in costume, especially since it wasn’t just Disney costumes, as I am used to seeing when I ran my Disney races years ago. They even have a costume contest, but since it’s heavily swayed by Facebook, I am a huge loser in this regard because I am Facebook-less (and have no regrets) and can’t promote myself.
  • Flat course with very few hills (take this as you will, I like hills, but many people don’t)
    Games along the course, which I think were sorely disregarded by many runners, which is a shame. Take 60 seconds to play a game and have some fun!
  • Sprinklers at every water stop, which REALLY comes in handy for June
  • KIND bars and fruit were available at the finish line! I was actually able to eat!

Cons

  • OK, this is a big one, but packet pick-up, rather than being the weekend of the event, is the weekend BEFORE. They may think this is doing us a favor, but a LOT of runners grumbled about it, and while they have limited pick up the Saturday before, they really only wanted out of town runners to be there. Morning  of race packet pick-up? Only in VERY EXTREME circumstances. On the flipside, if you don’t feel like dealing with it at ALL, just pay a small fee and have the bib shipped to your house, but I think that means no shirt.
  • Not a lot of shade on a hot course. You know my feelings on that. And really, for a city race not a lot can be done about that.
  • Stops seemed to run out of Gatorade early. It really seemed like it was mainly available for the faster runners, and trust me, the longer you are out there, the more crucial the electrolyte drinks will be!
  • No GF beer for this celiac, but who am I kidding? I only was given that golden opportunity ONCE at Myrtle Beach’s Marathon. But dammit, I am so tired of being promised free beer, and never a drop can I drink. That’s just my little gripe.
  • Spectators are sparse except at the start and finish line.
  • No fuel provided on the course, but I don’t know how common that is for a half marathon anyway. I could swear they usually have at least one.
    In the end, I had a great weekend with friends, and would love to run ODDyssey again!

So my next big thing will be my trail ultra in August, though who knows if it will even be a true ultra. It’s a 6 hour challenge on a 6.5 mile loop on trails. My goal is a 50k (which is 5 loops), but considering the terrain and the time of year (translation: heat) I just may NOT be able to pull it off. But I will do my very best to try!

Until next time!

Two Marathons in One Week? Check.

Hell yeah it can be done. Here’s how I pulled it off.

I realize I am a lousy blogger, I can’t seem to keep up at all with race recaps, but wanted to get this posted even though it’s a month late!

I decided that the first step toward running an ultra was to tackle two marathons within a one week time-frame. By Maniac standards, this is still pretty tame, but to me I thought it was a pretty good challenge, and would serve as one of many for the year. In the weeks leading up to Marathon #1, I made sure to put in some high mileage weeks and back-to-back long runs on weekends. My maximum mileage for the week was 70, and it wasn’t easy getting in those double-digit runs on a weekday, but nonetheless I was dedicated to the training and made sure to stick to my self-made training plan as much as I could.

I also had traveled and taken a couple weeks off from serious training in April (it was totally worth it too), so I had SOME concerns about being able to pull this off successfully. I never managed a 20 mile training run during this time, but I personally think 18 is all one needs to run a marathon after they have several under their belt already. Sometimes between fulls the most I can do is maybe 14 miles…but trust me, the body remembers (or was it Pepperidge Farm?).

So enough jibber-jabber, here we go…

Marathon 1: Delaware Marathon (Marathon #26)


I went into this race telling myself over and over, I am only doing this as a training run, this is going to be a “fun run”, and take it slow and easy; besides, the medal and swag were pretty damned sweet (thus a huge incentive…what else is there I ask ya?).

And it’s exactly what I did. It was a very humid day, 100% humidity for the duration of the race, but luckily it stayed overcast and 60 degrees for the morning. It was a double loop course, something I swore I would never do years ago, but since a lot of ultras are on loop courses like this, I figured it would be good practice. And in the end, it was not nearly as bad as I expected, it was actually kind of nice! Plus you pass the finish line area where the halfers split off, and the crowd support was pretty great. There were a LOT of halfers and relay runners, and only around 400 or so marathoners, so I have to admit it felt a little badass to tough out the entire 26.2 when everyone else was running 4, 8.5(ish) or 13.1 miles.  I had to control the urge not to shove someone out of the way as they pranced by clean, fresh-faced and full of purpose at Mile .01 and I was at Mile 22. DON’T demoralize me.

My body felt great for the duration of the race; I only had some issues that had nothing to do with running: basically I was undergoing severe GI distress and had to stop several times during the race. I was seriously in pain, it was like my Anne Arbor Marathon all over again. I had pain, cramping, and even chills. Ugh. It sucked. A lot. But after the final PortaJon stop with only 5 or 6 miles left, I finally felt a little better and was able to pick it up. I also had some chafing from the humidity, but had put a portable sunscreen stick in my Spi-Belt and it worked well as pseudo-Bodyglide. In fact, it saved me I think.

Considering all the starting and stopping I had to do, plus a short walk break or two, I finished in 4:16, and looking back feel that it was a pretty respectable time. I kept my pace VERY conversational and comfortable throughout, and my pace never really changed throughout the morning. There is a decent hill section at Mile 5.5 and 18.5, and that second loop almost made me hit the wall, but I managed to push through. All in all it was actually a pretty enjoyable race, and the sun came out just as I hit Mile 26. Thank GAWD. If I had to run in full sun with that humidity it would have been horrific.

The finish line had plenty of food, but one of the BEST things was a beer and champagne garden, and you were free to enjoy your beer anywhere in the finish area, not just a designated beer tent.I had brought a couple cold ciders and even had a couple cold mimosas. Food? Eventually I had real food, but was content with a bag of Old Bay Kettle Chips. In fact, I am discovering that kettle chips are turning into my favorite junk food, and some ultra-runners swear by them as fuel! That’s giving me some ideas for my ultras this year!

DE Marathon Pros:

  • A lot of Maniacs and 50-Staters run this one, as DE is a state with few marathons.
  • Tons of parking and easy race day logistics
  • Course was actually quite scenic for the most part
  • Very good course support and finish line spread
  • Swag was fantastic – a pint glass, hat, gender-specific shirt, and a really nice quality medal
  • Finish line was really great, good spectator support at certain points
  • Packet pick-up available on race day without a fee
  • Beer AND champagne garden, and you could sit anywhere in the grass to enjoy, not just a roped off area/beer tent
  • Early morning start to avoid the heat

Cons

  • Double-loop course (you can take this as you will, I prefer point to point, but didn’t mind this so much)
  • This time of year is hit or miss for weather, and it can be very warm and humid in May
  • Some sections of the course are slightly ugly in terms of scenery, but nothing super industrial (Harrisburg Marathon, I’m looking at you)
  • A bit pricy but the cost doesn’t change, $100 without a running club discount, which for a small marathon is pretty expensive

The Week Between Two Fulls

The Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine was exactly a week after the DE marathon. For the Monday after the race, I rested. Completely. And I actually felt pretty good, I was hardly at all sore…it honestly felt like I had completed a long run that Sunday, but regardless I didn’t jump into a high mileage week at all. I made sure I rested, took naps, and ate carbs – mainly simple carbs like rice or toast with breakfast.

But I digress, Tuesday and Wednesday I did walk/run intervals for 4 miles, Thursday I only had time for 2 miles. That’s it. Just maintenance and shaking out the soreness. Nothing more.

Friday and Saturday involved the drive to Maine and relaxing at the Sugarloaf Hotel. The day before a race I tend to do absolutely nothing. I like to stay off my feet, eat a little more, drink a little cider, play Final Fantasy: Crisis Core on my PSP (in the words of Patton Oswalt: My geekiness is getting in the way of my nerdiness.)…and just have the laziest day I can possibly imagine before hitting the racecourse again.

Marathon 2: Sugarloaf, Maine : Marathon 27, State 23


Race morning I had to take a shuttle to the start at 5:45 AM. In all honesty, I felt pretty good, no leftover soreness, no phantom joint or tendon pain, everything felt good and I felt ready to go. I had NO idea how I would fare, but this race was known as the fastest race in Maine and was a great Boston qualifier and PR course. Precipitation-wise, we lucked out with the weather too, as it had threatened to rain off and on in the forecast…and on race day, the rain was definitely no longer in the forecast. So I had a feeling I would do well, but the idea of a ridiculous PR sounded way too good to be true.

It was.

The problem with Sugarloaf is it’s on roads that aren’t shaded, so even if you’re running at a good clip, having to run in full sun on a warmer day (to me, warm is anything above 70 degrees) can devastate you in the second half. I don’t do well at all in full sun, and really felt like I was starting to fall apart in the final ten miles.

All I could keep thinking was:

I actually WALKED at mile 25 (I NEVER EVER WALK AT MILE 25!!!) and that is usually when I really push myself to the finish.  Instead I felt as if I was just done…I had to REALLY dig deep mentally to finish. I felt pretty defeated in those final miles.

The first 5 miles were great, it was a nice easy morning, still felt a tad cool outside, rolling hills and beautiful scenery. Miles 5-10 were slowly uphill, and while nothing ever brought me to a walk, they were fairly long hills and a decent climb. At this point the sun was also starting to beat down on me just a little. Once we got to the top of the hill section, the last sixteen miles were either downhill, flat or slightly uphill. The main problem, again, was sun.  I felt like I could never get any shade, and it was draining me fast.

I also decided after this race to never bother with another energy gel AGAIN. I’d rather starve and rely on my own body fat. Bottom line, they’re gross, and during the Sugarloaf marathon I had a very hard time using them. I actually was gagging trying to get them down. From now on it’s real food or nothing, the way ultra-runners do it, I’m DONE with them! Bam!

Here was another issue: the race wasn’t closed to traffic, and there were cars and exhaust almost constantly during the second half. A lot of the family and spectators were driving along the course (sometimes I saw the same cluster of people four or five times, it was great because they were SO encouraging) and heading toward the finish line. But this is where it got complicated. The final half mile was just bottle-necked with cars, and I actually had to SQUEEZE past traffic to continue on the course into what felt like a cattle chute to the finish line. It actually was VERY anti-climactic, and also annoying. I wasn’t the only one who was very disappointed by this. Your final .5 miles should be victorious, and instead I felt as if we were elbowing our way through a traffic jam!  I was literally inches from brushing up against a hot car waiting in traffic!

I’m sorry if I sound like a Little Miss Complainy Complainerson, but the last thing I will say about Sugarloaf, is while I loved the shirts, the medals were the same ones that the 15k runners got, and even said “Marathon and  15k” on the medal. I shouldn’t care about the medals, but I feel like I worked pretty hard and deserved one that proved I ran a marathon. I could easily have just run the 15k, got the same medal, and no one would be the wiser. But cheating is NOT my way! Nor should it be ANY respectable runner’s way (you know who you are!), but that’s…another story (cue Limahl and the Neverending Story theme music!)

In the end, I finished in 4:06, and was VERY disappointed with my time. I felt like the race just flat-out sucked, and was really bummed I couldn’t even manage a sub-4 when in the past few marathons they came so easily. In hindsight, I feel like I did pretty well for two marathons in one week, and I know now that I can do this again, no problem. I just really struggle with weather conditions, and there’s no controlling that.

Sugarloaf Marathon Pros

  • Small race field, great for 50 Staters and Maniacs (and everyone was super friendly)
  • PR course WHEN CONDITIONS ALLOW, like Wineglass there’s a lot of downhill, which helps to make up for any of the uphill in the early stages of the race
  • Great tech shirt, long-sleeved (my favorite for maximum ink protection! Gotta protect that investment!) for the marathoners
  • Lovely host hotel with good transportation to and from the race, and the rates were also very reasonable
  • Beautiful scenery through a point-to-point course, some of the prettier scenery I’ve seen during a race
  • Good support stations and volunteers, and there seemed to be a lot more in the second half (which was needed, as it got pretty warm)

Cons

  • HARDLY ANY SHADE. Obviously nothing can be done about this, but it really sucked. A LOT.
  • Roads open to traffic, and in the final miles I felt like I was really sucking down a lot of exhaust
  • Roads were pitted and cambered, and that was pretty tough at times
  • Sorry, I’m still a tiny bit annoyed about the medal. I would have liked something to mark the year or race to separate me from the 15k, but trust me, I’ve gotten MUCH worse medals. Ones that can’t even spell marathon right. At least the design itself was very nice and really captured what the Sugarloaf Marathon was about.
  • The finish line bottle-neck was very frustrating, as we really had to squeeze past traffic to get to the finish.
  • Not really much in terms of finish line food for this celiac…but I didn’t even care. I was too wiped out to care.

One thing I took away from all this: I bought a CamelBak Marathoner in order to keep myself well-hydrated during long, warm races. Sometimes smaller marathons don’t have enough support to keep you well-hydrated, unless you’re a totally kickass marathon like Hatfield McCoy and have one EVERY FREAKIN’ MILE. So in smaller races, especially with trail sections, it’s nice to be able to just hydrate when you feel the need, bypass the support stops and not contribute to wasting plastic/paper cups. PLUS the CamelBak holds all I need in terms of fuel, tissues, and anything else I’d need; it’s come in so handy on training runs this time of year, and I absolutely love it!

Final note: I will say when I researched the CamelBak online I saw a lot of message forums where people asked about them, and some runners just ripped into them for “not being a real runner if you need one” or “you’re obviously a slow runner if you are on the course long enough to need one”. Way to be supportive and informative while sounding like a total dickbag.

It’s runners like you that I hope I never have the pleasure to meet. Obviously you’ve never run trail races where support is minimal or you’d never be so dismissive. I’d love to see you during an ultra someday, especially one in August.

Have a nice day and keep up the good work by supporting the running community.

39 Years, 39 Miles

This will be brief, but yesterday I accomplished something I have always wanted to do, but didn’t feel I had it in me…until now. I know if I have any aspiration to be an ultra-runner I need to experience it for myself in an unofficial setting, that way I can test myself to the limit. There is no course support, no friends or family, nothing but your own support system and a lot of mental digging…only YOU can make yourself move forward. And only you can decide to quit. There’s no one else but you to make that call. But the nice thing is: there’s no clocks, no cut-off points, no pressure to succeed, no fear of failure…

I was inspired to complete my age in miles on my birthday, and decided no matter what I was going to give it my best attempt.  Yesterday was warm, and I knew from the beginning I wouldn’t be able to run all 39 miles outside, as the high was to be 89 degrees and sunny; my goal was to complete 39 miles total for the day, even if it was broken up, but I really wanted to make sure I did at least an ultra distance outside (which is anything beyond a marathon).

I hit the trails with just my Nathan handheld bottle and some fuel and electrolyte tablets. I took it slow and easy the entire time, making sure to drink water often and incorporate walk breaks throughout, and not just in the final miles. I brought an applesauce squeeze pouch, dates and raisins for my fuel, and I have to say I’m learning more and more to love raisins! I also made sure to stay on trails with as much shade as possible, but by noon it was very tough. Any time I hit full sun it was like Krytonite, and I felt like I was draining pretty fast. There was a nice breeze in the early hours but that soon just felt like a blast from a furnace by midday.

I managed to run 28 miles pretty strong, but by this point the heat was starting to get to me, and I start incorporating walking much more than I had planned. But happily I had no joint, tendon or muscle pain. I actually felt pretty strong! I totally attribute that to my new orthotics and my awesome Hoka One One Kailua shows. Since I have adopted Hoka into my life, I never, ever have nagging injury issues. No wonder ultra runners swear by them! My main thing was I had a toe blister on my left foot that hadn’t quite healed from my marathon at Sugarloaf (that entry is coming soon), so even though it was bandaged up, it still was quite bothersome.

I finished 32 miles in around 6:20, but that also included all of my stops to fill water, fuel up, and stand there and contemplate if I could move another step. All I could think of was cold fluids in ice: orange juice, iced coffee (the urge was SO strong to find a Wawa and get a huge iced coffee WHILE on the run), cold soda. By the time I got back to my car, it was 89 degrees. I was doused in sweat, trail grit, salt and my ankles were absolutely filthy with dirt lines. I was completely done with running outdoors, and decided I could finish up my mileage inside.

I got home and grabbed a ginger ale, and then jumped on the treadmill to finish up the 7 miles. I was damned and determined to do this, it was all I had planned for my birthday, and I wanted more than anything to prove to myself I could do this (even if my mind kept insisting this was a silly goal in the final hours). I did a slow five miles and then walked the final two miles…the blister was really getting the best of me, and honestly, I thought about ultra running and that there is NO shame in walking or going slow. Why else do they give 12-14 hours to finish the JFK 50? 24+ hours to finish 100 miles? Because you need breaks, you walk, you do a brief self-assessment. Then you get your bearings and continue forward.

In the end, I finished and felt great, took a long shower and scrubbed the trail grit from myself. The only weird thing I noticed that my appetite was lacking for the day, plus I was dehydrated no matter how much fluid I took in, in fact I barely peed for the rest of the day, even though I drank LOTS of water. But I was proud of myself at the end of the day…I completed the distance and didn’t give up. I proved to myself I do have it in me to complete an ultra. I even woke up feeling pretty refreshed and well-rested. I’m a little sore but not hobbling about at all, so that is a good sign for future events down the road.

Now I just need to figure out a way to keep those blisters at bay!

My Journey into Ultra-Running Begins!

For years I have wanted to dabble in the world of ultrarunners, there was just so much that appealed to me about it:

  • Long slow runs (I’ve always considered myself a Husky rather than a Greyhound)
  • Relaxed, non-competitive  atmosphere full of comradery rather than ego
  • Races on trails more than roads, I find they are SO friendly on the body, plus you really have to slow down in order to successfully traverse the terrain, so there’s less pressure to run fast
  • REAL FOOD on the course, plus you can really take your time at the stations to refuel and get a second (or sixth) wind

But then there are things about it that sort of scared me from it:

  • Blisters
  • Possible injury that would prevent me from running/training for future events
  • Losing a shoe in mud (this almost happened to me during a ten miler), plus the idea of river crossings (running in wet shoes sound horrible and very unappealing)
  • Blisters (Yes, I really have an issue with them)!

I personally approach running long distance very cautiously; I think it’s important to have experience, and if you ran a marathon…run another…and another…and ANOTHER until running a marathon is “easy” and it doesn’t take you a week to recover. I recover in usually 24-48 hours and get right back into training, but also approach it sensibly with walk/run intervals for at least a week.

I personally don’t think it’s good practice to jump from marathon distance to 50 miler. Start with a 50k or a timed endurance challenge (the ones local to me are 6-12 hours, and I know they can go to 24 but, again, NOT ready for that just yet, if ever) before trying to run a 50 miler. I will say I don’t think I will ever run a 100 miler, I think the most I would want to run is a 50 miler or 100k…but that’s probably the most I would ever want to do in my lifetime. My main reason is that I really don’t like the idea of running in the dark, during “off” hours, etc. My body is very specific as to sleep schedules, etc. and I have yet to even register for a night race (like a Halloween 10k) because I think my body will protest big-time. But my bucket list race is, by far, the JFK 50 Miler…someday!

I feel like my body is finally ready to tackle one this year, so I have several on my calendar for the fall, as well as other endurance challenges. Here is what my year is looking like, and yes, these ARE paid for so, in my mind, there’s no turning back. I’m committed! I also have friends joining me for a majority of these races, and with friends coming along for the ride, I’d never want to back out! We’re in this together!

May:

Two marathons in one week (one being a new state, Maine, and another in DE); I plan on doing the first pretty conservatively for fast recovery, like a 4:30 or 4:45 finish time. I’m hoping the second is faster, as the Maine course is a lot of downhill and is known for fast times.

I’m also hoping to do birthday run at the end of the month. My goal is a mile per year, but realistically I think a 39k is more possible for me at this point. I will see how my body fares, but I would like to finish 39 miles in 8 hours. If I feel it’s too much, I may just stick to a 39k. Another thing I may try to do is split the mileage up throughout the day, so it’s a little easier than trying to tackle all at once. THAT, I think, makes 39 miles possible for me.

June:

A full marathon on Saturday and a half marathon that Sunday. The half is a very fun local race called The ODDyssey, and a lot of people dress in costume. Since I plan on running very conservatively, I will also be in costume! I’m pretty sure dressing in my Ramona Flowers (from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) will be a pretty easy costume for running, the wig isn’t heavy and I can wear tights with shorts, etc. I’m hoping I can make a huge mallet, her weapon of choice, to run with as well! I never run in costume but I think in the spirit of the event it’s worth it. Several friends will be running this one as well, but I warned them I would be SLOW and I’d see them at the finish line to celebrate!

August:

My first timed endurance challenge, a local 6-hour trail run. I am hoping to run a 50k distance that day, but being that it’s August in PA, I have my reservations. It’s sure to be humid, but luckily will be OVER by 1 PM!

September:
A new marathon state, Iowa, for mid-month. It will be a small trail race, which is really more my thing. I think it will be fairly no frills, if the $50 registration fee is any indication.
Another timed endurance race at the end of the month, a 12-hour. My goal is 40 or 50 miles for that one. I’ll be running that one with my friend J.

There is also another timed race over Labor Day weekend that I am 50/50 decided upon, which is also a 12-hour. I think I want to see how I fare for the 6-hr in August before committing to TWO 12-hr races in one month. Plus I don’t have any running buddies that can join me for this one, and I think it would be tough to do without support on the course. But maybe it would be good to try to see how I do.

October:

A local trail 50k that is a full loop course with no repeating loops or out-and-backs. It is one that has been on my radar for YEARS and I finally think I can commit to it.

Another marathon in DE with a monster theme! I’m mainly doing it for the medal alone.

November:

Mid-month I will be doing another half/full marathon challenge weekend in PA in Bucks County, PA. The challenge is called The BUCKY challenge and you get an extra incentive for finishing both the half and full. Challenge accepted!

To summarize for 2015: 3 new states, and 10 official marathon+ races. By this point I will be at 24 states for my 50 states and DC marathon goal, and 35 marathons total (if I count the ultra races, which I think count).

January

J and I are going to do a B2B (Back to Back) challenge in Mississippi and Alabama (meaning: two marathons in two days), so a lot of my events and training from 2015 will prepare me for this. It’s something we’re both SUPER excited about!

I’m also really and truly hoping to run my first 50 miler in 2016, but I want to see how the training goes for this year. There is a local trail run that has a marathon, 50k and 50 miler in May, and I definitely would like to commit to that! I know more states will be added as well, as I think Chris and I will be touring the Badlands in the fall and I can actually knock out North and South Dakota in one week, so that would be a great way to get in some travel as well as earn some new states.

So how WILL my training look to prepare myself for these distance events?

Lots of back to back long run weekends and high mileage weeks in July and August. My ultimate goal is a 100-mile week in August. My max mileage in past years for training hovered around 70 for the week. This usually means doubles on weekdays, but it’s totally doable.

I am going to start incorporating a new BeachBody program into my training, called PiYo, which is a Pilates/Yoga hybrid that is low impact and involves no weights. I just started PiYo and  have sore abs two days later! It also looks like it will take some time to adjust to, as some of the moves are a little advanced for this extremely inflexible and uncoordinated gal, but I am determined to keep up with the program, even if for now I am spending half the workout just trying to watch and get the moves right.

Training runs with REAL food and smart hydration. I oftentimes in the past would do long runs with no fuel, and sips of water when I could find a fountain. I oftentimes felt awful and extremely tired by the end of it all. For any run 10 miles or more, I plan on eating at least 60-100 calories every 5 miles, and taking an electrolyte tablet every hour while carrying a handheld Nathan bottle with water. With summer looming, running in heat is NO JOKE, and I plan on training smart this year. Sample fuel will include:

  • Raisins
  • Dates ( I really dislike dates, but they are SO great for a fast carb shot!)
  • Sugary fruit that’s easily portable like grapes
  • Salted Onigiri (these are simply cold formed balls of rice, I ate this a LOT when I went to Tokyo, and I think these would make excellent fuel for training)
  • GoGo Squeeze applesauce pouches; other runners attest to the portable pouches of baby food, but I just can’t stomach the idea of strained sweet potatoes
  • Cold, salted, cubed potatoes (sound appetizing? LOL)
  • Trail mix made of peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips (OMG so good)
  • For longer races like my timed endurance runs I probably will have gluten-free pretzels and paleo cookies at my fuel stops, but I am trying to stick to a modified paleo diet for most training days.

Make sure I incorporate walk breaks into my runs. I know some people may think: Walk breaks? Isn’t that counter-productive? I beg to differ. For ultras, I feel it’s the only way for mere mortals such as myself to have stamina and keep going.  Ultras aren’t the same as marathons, you need to be able to keep moving, so going a little slower and allowing yourself walk breaks is a way to give yourself a little extra energy.

Believe it or not, I actually incorporate a lot of walk-breaks in my current training and can still manage sub-2 halfs and sub-4 full marathons without pushing myself super hard and I recover fast. I realize that yes, I can probably Boston qualify, but I really enjoy running a fun and conversational pace…I can still run a 3:51 full while chatting and laughing with other runners. That sort of thing is more important to me than a BQ, so to each his or her own!

So that essentially will be my approach, and if any current ultrarunners have any suggestions, please feel free to comment below! I will keep you all posted as these events happen, and I am SO incredibly excited to see how I fare for this year.

Major Life Milestone: 20-Year Anniversary (Platinum Edition)

This will definitely age me, but a very special day is coming for me next week: my 20-year wedding anniversary. Yes, friends, this girl has been married for 20 years; I’ve spent over half my life with my husband Chris, who is my very best friend in the world. I can at least say when people discover the length of time we have been married, they assume I was 10 or  12 years old when we exchanged vows, so that’s an uber-compliment right there.

I love being able to say that we met before internet was mainstream. In fact, we were pen pals on different coasts (he lived on the West Coast and I was on the East Coast). What are these “letters” you ask? They involved pen, paper, an envelope and a stamp. Such an antiquated means of communication! Yet, to this day, I still have all the letters we wrote to one another in a shoebox.

I feel like this day will be a huge milestone for me. More than running milestones or career milestones, but standing the test of time through good times and bad, and as the years pass we fell more and more in love and sync with one another, and we know each other so incredibly well that we can literally read each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences. Fights rarely happen, and when they do, they are a learning experience and we simply add the stone to strengthen the foundation of our marriage. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s never been a perfect fairytale life whatsoever, but it’s been a wonderful journey together. We’ve grown, changed, evolved, and became better people just by being together.

I am so thankful for every morning I am able to wake up with him warm and breathing next to me. He’s cheated death many times in our relationship, from cancer to almost being killed by a drunk driver. And yet, he is still with me, he’s meant to be with me, there’s a reason for his being by my side. And for that I am eternally grateful. I know it won’t last forever, but dammit, I am making sure every single day with him counts, and treat it like it will be my last with him. I never leave the house without saying “I love you”, because I never know if that will be the last thing I say to him, so it may as well be the simplest and most important statement you can convey…just three little words that could possibly last an eternity.

Sweetie, thank you so much for your love and support over the years we’ve been together. You’ve stood in the heat, wind and rain to spectate my marathons, you have brought me so much affection and laughter, you’ve never stopped supporting me with all of your heart. You say at least once a day that you’re the luckiest husband in the world, and that I’m the best wife in the world, and I know that you absolutely mean it. Thanks for always making me laugh, cheering me up after a bad day, and helping to push me forward when I felt like I couldn’t run another step. I couldn’t ask for a better soulmate in my life, sometimes I think we know one another better than we know ourselves. Thank you for your patience, kindness, love, sense of humor…and for helping to shape me into the person I am today.

Here’s to 20 more years together…Toasting Champagne Flutes Png Champagne bott

State # 22: South Carolina

Every winter I find I need to get out of PA and somewhere warm, and a run-cation is a perfect way to get in a mini-vacation as well as knock a state off my list. Last year after we went to Massachusetts, my friend TG and I discussed the possibility of flying to Myrtle Beach for race weekend, she would tackle the half, I would run the full. As the weeks passed, we finally decided to commit over the summer, and I helped outline a training plan for her.

One of the only downsides to training for a February race was that winter had been cruel, and it was really tough to get in much outdoor training after I ran Memphis. I’m not kidding when I say this, but I think I managed three outdoor runs. Any time I did attempt an outdoor run I was met with sheets of ice and treacherous terrain, as my trails are left unmaintained in winter (and I won’t share the road with cars). So I ended up doing a LOT of indoor training, with 16, 18 and 20 milers on the treadmill. Was it maddening? Actually it wasn’t bad, I would just find DVDs or shows to stream and find myself entertained as I ran. Considering Myrtle Beach’s marathon was flat as a board, treadmill training served its purpose. I didn’t need to worry about hill training this time around. I seriously just learned to love and appreciate my treadmill. I also managed a 75 mile week, which was a big accomplishment for me and I think it really helped boost my endurance.

The other downside? Pretty much the entire East Coast was in a state of deep freeze, and Myrtle Beach was going through the same unseasonably cold temperatures. When we arrived that Thursday, it was a high of 66, the warmest day we experienced that week.

IMG_2369                           It’s just another day for you and me, in Paradise…para…paradise

After being in below freezing temps for weeks, it felt like absolute paradise to sit outside at LandShark drinking a sweet tea margarita (don’t knock it till you try it!) in the sun, but that was short-lived as the temperatures dipped back down to freezing and the winds kicked up again to make it JUST like home. Good things aren’t always meant to last I guess!

Expo and Race Swag

The Expo was held right where we were staying, at the Sheraton Convention Center, so it made it very convenient for us to get out number and swag the first day of the expo, which was Thursday evening. It had been a while since I had been to a big race expo (besides Memphis) and TG and I both needed some running supplies (Gu, socks, sunglasses, etc.) so it was the perfect opportunity to get what we needed and kill two birds with one stone.
We got a REALLY nice reusable bag, probably the nicest I’ve ever gotten, and the shirts were red, long sleeved, and gender specific. Sure, they were loaded with sponsor logos on the back, but otherwise really nice shirts! The best part of the expo was, by far, the PUPPIES!

IMG_2379                                      And they called it Puppy Love…

I got to play with Molly, an 8-week old golden retriever puppy, as there was a booth set up by an animal shelter trying to find good homes for their puppies. There was another booth set up with maybe 12 dogs that were in training to be service animals. Not only were they trained to help others, but they were ALSO trained to take a dollar bill if you held it out to them!

Another best part was the free beer truck that had maybe six different free beers, and one was ANGRY ORCHARD!

Photo: Angry Orchard

They said the beer was free and they would be back and at the finish line for us. This. Was. Huge. I have run a LOT of marathons, and never, ever have I been able to enjoy a beer at the finish line since my celiac diagnosis. I almost cried with happiness, the very IDEA of getting a beer at the finish from the actual race organizers (and not my husband) sounded too good to be true!

The expo was full of great vendors and we managed to get all we need (finally got a new pair of running sunglasses, LONG overdue) plus some free swag from booths that were advertising races. Marine Corps marathon, I’m looking at you! I got a nice bag and bottle opener just for talking to the guy.

Pre-race dinner
I’ll say first off that my modified-paleo diet was disregarded while on this trip. When I am running races closer to home I think I am going to give the strict paleo a try. But I was pretty shameless with the food I was eating. That afternoon we dug into the Volcano Nachos at Margaritaville, barely making a dent in them, and had an Angry Orchard. I will be the first to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE Margaritaville. You can say it’s hokey or lame, or not like Jimmy Buffet’s music, but they REALLY take good care of their gluten-free patrons. The chef came to the table to talk with us, and they constantly made sure that all of our needs were met 100%. Thanks a million to our server Tim and Chef Sam for an awesome “lunch” that Friday.

We decided that the best place to carb-load that night while in Myrtle Beach was the Mellow Mushroom, a really great pizza joint with a fantastic gluten-free menu. I was really tired and decided to opt for take-out while TG went out with her sister and sis’ boyfriend; I was very sleep-deprived on this trip and decided I needed to just relax in the room than go out. But in the end, it turned out to be absolutely perfect! I got a gluten-free pizza loaded with veggies, a small chef’s salad, and a SIX PACK of Angry Orchard (they know me all too well!). I saved some of the pizza for breakfast (it worked VERY well when I ran Wineglass) and only managed one and a half ciders before finally passing out from exhaustion with maybe 5.5 hours of sleep before I had to get up for the race.

Race Start

The race started at 6:30 AM, well before sunrise. Bottom line: it was cold, unseasonably cold for the area. I have run colder races (MD was a 21 degree start and a 32 degree finish) and being from PA I didn’t even really mind it much. I was pretty well-dressed for the race, but looking at everyone else I probably looked WAY underdressed! I was in shorts, calf sleeves, arm warmers, double-gloves and a knit hatband. I was cold but not freezing. A lot of people were in much warmer running gear, most were in throwaway clothes (including bathrobes!), and some were even dressed with thick running jackets, heavy pants and balaclavas like we were running in the Antarctic. Look, it was 30 degrees and the sun wasn’t up yet, but I don’t know if it was cold enough to dress like Randy from A Christmas Story. Also, I’m from a part of the country where it’s just the norm to be that cold in Feb, so 30 degrees was actually almost comfortable. The sight of me in shorts must have garnered some pity, as one woman passed and handed me a metallic sheet from the Chicago Marathon and told me she had a spare. I was grateful for it in the end, but would have survived. Still, runners are an awfully kind and generous bunch!
We didn’t have to wait long once the bus got us to the start; we both hugged goodbye, wished eachother luck, and got into our respective corrals. The National Anthem was sung, the crank chair division started around 6:25 AM, and before we knew it, we were on our way!

Course

The course was pancake flat, and overall fairly scenic. We went through quite a few touristy areas loaded with restaurants and gift shops, but my favorite thing was DEFINITELY seeing palm trees!

IMG_2357                                  Best. Gift Shop. EVER.

Sure it was cold, but it was very nice to see run through a beachy, tropical atmosphere. I will admit that the cold made me want to run fast, and I felt like my first mile I was flying…until I look at my watch and saw 8:25 for the first mile. OK then, not nearly the 7-minute mile I envisioned my legs running, but it certainly FELT like I was running faster. I decided to run a conversational pace and just enjoy myself.

IMG_2413                                   Go pink lightning, you’re burning up the quarter mile…

The first 8 or so miles were pretty quiet and low key. Then suddenly I had a runner come up alongside me and start a conversation. While that might bother some runners, I certainly never mind that, especially when I had no intention to PR. When I run races now I NEVER try to set myself up for disappointment, I don’t like to say “I have a X:XX finish time goal”, instead I just say “Hey, I’ll run based on how I feel and go from there, if I do well, awesome, if I don’t, I still earned my finish and that’s all that matters.” So having a running buddy come out of nowhere was pleasant.Here’s the amazing thing. We talked for a bit, swapping stories. He was also a Marathon Maniac and working on his 50 states goal, and at some point we ended up talking about Hatfield McCoy Reunion Marathon from 2014. It dawned on me suddenly that I met this guy before!!! We ran together for maybe 2 miles right before Blackberry Mountain before we lost one another (I was struggling with pain issues and he trucked right up the hill…singing). It was pretty funny! Only because he was telling me about the horrible time he had travelling to HM’s marathon, and I realized I had heard this story before! So, Seth Cramer, from South Florida, it was really great to see you again, and thank you for helping those miles fly by. I hope we meet again soon! I know you have yet to earn PA and DE.

We ran and chatted and laughed for MILES. I’m SURE plenty of runners found us obnoxious and annoying because we were a bit raucous, but we were there to have fun and it wasn’t a death march, so we might as well joke around, have fun, and swap race stories. We ended up running with another guy for quite a few miles, but eventually lost him. We kept a good and consistent pace throughout, and it was awesome to get to run so close to the beach! It was absolutely beautiful with the sun out and just a few clouds. Sure, it was chilly, but with the sun up and my body finally warmed up, it was actually pretty nice for a marathon! Ten miles later though, I realized I needed a portajon stop, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant…I had to stop, there was no way I could keep going. So Seth and I parted ways.

Interestingly enough, we found each other again as I managed to somehow catch up. Guess I was having a pretty good and consistent day with my pace. I was feeling conversational, in a good mood, and never once hit the wall. The only problem I encountered was after the first half, the wind really started kicking in (10-18 mph, so not brutal but enough to slow you down a little) and made it just a little bit tougher. Any time we could detour off the main road was a blessing, to get the wind out of our face.

Water stops

Myrtle Beach’s marathon was very well-stocked with volunteers and more than enough water stops, one every 2 miles from what I could gauge. There was no fuel until Mile 16, so I made sure to carry two Gu gels with me for Mile 6 and 12 (I just stuffed one into the cuff of each arm warmer, easy peasy!). But the volunteers were very helpful and friendly, and I really appreciated them standing out in the cold for us. They had another Gu stop at Mile 22…and I managed to snag one more for the road. I am trying to be better about fueling myself evenly and not waiting until I feel like I’m going to crash, so it was just right. While I adore the salted caramel Gu, I will say that the salted watermelon flavor was a genius idea!

Finish

I never really hit a wall, but I definitely had some unpleasantness on the course. I could feel blisters forming in their usual places (never bothered with Vaseline or moleskin, which was a big mistake), and actually felt them BURST in my shoes. It was slightly nauseating. One toe I swear I could feel the fluid sloshing around in the blister before it burst like a water balloon. Painful but I just did my best to ignore it. I was way too close to the prize now.
Looking at my watch I could easily see I would manage another sub-4. Talk about a wonderful moment! I had managed three sub-4 marathons out of the last four that I ran, and I was so thrilled to see it was getting “easier” for me to keep a consistent and even pace throughout. In the past I know I always had problems starting off way too fast and then would crash and burn in the second half. Now I was staying evenly paced and not allowing myself to run faster than I could comfortably handle.

I was thrilled, too, to see TG and her sister waiting at the finish line with a camera in hand, and she had her medal hanging proudly around her neck. Yay! That was one of the best moments of the morning. I know that last .2 I just ran as fast as I could without bowling anyone over; I wasn’t trying to showboat, I just wanted to be finished.

IMG_2409Getting to see friends at the finish line is my ultimate reward!!!

 Place/Medal

My finish time was 3:52:20, a minute off my PR in Wineglass. If ONLY I didn’t need that restroom stop, I would have been RIGHT THERE! But I digress, my splits were almost identical, with my first half at 1:54, my second at 1:58…with a restroom stop and winds to push me back, I think my pace was almost perfectly consistent the entire race.  I used to run with 15-25 minute positive splits, but I was finally getting better at properly pacing myself.

I will say, too, I had several runners congratulate me at the finish line, pretty much the general message from all of them was “Strong finish, I was trying to keep up with you”, which was a REALLY nice thing to hear. Gotta say that runners are a pretty amazing group of people, sure you compete a little, but if you run faster than someone else, they aren’t sour grapes about it, but congratulatory and happy for you!

The medal was nice, a heavy metal set of flip-flops on a tropical lanyard. Part of me wished they could have incorporated the palm tree and moon from the state flag into the medal, but it was still a nice reward.

IMG_2407

Dreaming of the day I can start Lazing on a sunny afternoon…
and ditch the PowerPuff Girls hatband!

 

Overall Finish 407 / 1478
Gender Finish 99 / 623
Age Group Finish 20 / 121

Post-race spread and celebratory meal

While it was sunny out, it was COLD… and while we would have LOVED to stand around and enjoy the post-race festivities a little more, the wind was just making it a little unbearable. The finish tent food was actually pretty good, lots of fresh fruit to choose, muffins, granola bars and other gluten-filled carbs, but all I wanted (as I usually do after a race) was fluids, so I grabbed a Powerade and bottle of water. We did finally manage a toast at the beer tent, Angry Orchard and microbrew in hand, and while the beer was apparently as much as you could carry (gasp!), it was just too chilly to stand around in sweaty clothes and drink cold beer. Trust me, it was a real shame. 10 degrees warmer and no wind chill I would have easily enjoyed the sunshine and celebrated a little more heartily.

My post-race meal was, of course, at Margaritaville. I’m SO lucky to be able to travel with friends that are easy-going about meal planning and having to choose restaurants with GF options. I think some people might not be so generous about it and get a little resentful about it. But so far, in life, my friends and family care more about my health and well-being than their own needs, and that really makes me feel blessed.

I had a chicken sandwich (with bacon…OMG) with fries (double OMG) and their amazing (and enormous) brownie sundae. I barely put a dent in the sundae but had to make an effort! It was the perfect way to end the day before having to fly home to a wintery hell.

https://i2.wp.com/vsm.defocus.net/img/vsm-c0f26cab5a93f1353991ac8abbaf4f8f.png

Now that South Carolina is done, what is next? Well, I was SUPPOSED to run the Naked Bavarian Marathon this weekend but it got postponed due to inclement weather conditions. THEN I was SUPPOSED to run the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April and THAT got deferred because my parents treated us to a family weekend vacation that very same weekend, luckily the race organizers were VERY understanding! So life can definitely throw some curveballs, good and bad!

So, just maintenance for now, and it’s fine…a lot less pressure on myself. It’s good because I really am busy with upcoming vacations, social plans, and plus I got sick with a cold when I got home, so it’s just been slow recovery!

This May I’ll be running the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine, and surrounding it with some smaller, local races as well. By the end of the year I will almost be halfway done my goal of 50 states and DC, but I also have a goal of running 100 marathons, which I think can easily be done if I include ultras in the mix.

It’s going to be a fun and exciting year, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Back to Basics: Adopting a Pseudo-Paleo Lifestyle that Suits a Gluten-Free Athlete

OK, the holidays were bad. Very indulgent. Lots of treats (yes, I bought the one- pound peanut butter cup over the holidays…), and I was buying Immaculate’s pre-made GF cookie dough at LEAST once a week to make a batch so I had a constant supply of fresh cookies. When I was training, I was eating things like marshmallows, GF cookies, chocolate and more GF cookies. My diet was full of bread, refined pasta and rice, and I was just feeling sort of bloated, tired and not very satisfied with myself.

I realize that if I want to be a decent marathoner, I need to treat my body right, and start fueling it properly. You don’t put 87 regular in a car that is supposed to run on premium. It’s worth making the switch to see if your body can positively respond, so I knew I REALLY needed to work on cleaning up my act. I had to stop acting like marathon training was a license to eat everything in sight.

I decided to research a diet that would benefit a gluten-free lifestyle that wasn’t loaded with empty and unsatisfying carbs and processed foods. I really wanted to put a muzzle on my sweet tooth. I also wanted to try to reign in my salt tooth (which is JUST as bad, if not worse, than my sweet tooth). I wasn’t interested in cutting calories, just cutting the ones that weren’t as beneficial to my training.

I found the concept of the Paleo diet intriguing. It’s naturally gluten-free and relies on whole foods for a bulk of the diet plan. I will admit though that I am not into super-strict dieting, and when I saw that Paleo involved avoiding dairy, peanuts, legumes and (God forbid) coffee and wine, I was a little hesitant. After all, I already have to eat a strict diet for medical reasons, so I didn’t want to cut gluten-free foods that were considered natural, whole foods.  I decided to look into a pseudo-paleo diet, which was basically a whole food diet but not nearly as restrictive…maybe more like a P90X Phase 1 diet plan.

So what sorts of changes have been made thus far?

Cauliflower Rice
Instead of incorporating rice and pasta into my meals, I am using riced cauliflower. It’s simple to make and actually somewhat satisfying as a substitute. Instructions on how to make it can be found here. I also attempted to make my first cauliflower crust pizza, and I will say it turned out very well! It’s definitely a trial and error process, but one I think I can easily stick to. Now a tub of cauliflower rice is always on hand in the fridge, and even though it has maybe a 5-day window for freshness, I can promise it NEVER lasts that long.

New Flours and Baking Adventures
I decided to see what I could do with low-carb, higher protein flours, like coconut flour, ground flax and almond meal, and it’s definitely been somewhat adventurous. Coconut flour is VERY different than anything I have ever baked with, as you don’t need much at all to make a recipe. Most recipes call for 1-3 TABLESPOONS instead of the usual 1-2 cups of flour simply because the flour absorbs liquid very easily. But on that same note, the recipes also call for eggs. Lots and lots of eggs! In fact, most recipes for something like a loaf of bread call for 4-5 eggs. Also, a lot of these recipes I’ve tried rely on nut butters as a binder, and may call for something like ½ CUP of almond butter, so I’m grateful I can stop by Trader Joe’s and load up on their organic nut butters!

Different, yes, but the results have been GREAT. I made this recipe not too long ago and the banana bread was a HUGE hit with Chris, he really loved it! Unlike a lot of gluten-free recipes, it turns out very dense but moist, unlike the usual dense and dry. Also, I swear that we are satisfied sharing one slice, mainly because it’s protein-rich so it’s also very filling. Also,HOORAY there’s natural FIBER in the recipes, something processed gluten-free foods sorely lack. Another fun thing about these recipes is they call for the use of parchment paper, and that makes clean up and getting the loaf from the baking pan an absolute BREEZE.I love to cook but hate to clean up afterward, so this is a win-win.

One of my favorite indulgences on weekends, especially when I have a long run, is pancakes. Fortunately I don’t have to go without them, as I’ve made pancakes with almond meal and also tried one with an almond meal/coconut flour combination and both turned out incredibly satisfying (and almost too filling). A lot of my GF pancake mixes had a lot of salt (600+ mg for a ¼ cup!!), not enough fiber, and a lot of calories…the almond meal ones are incredibly easy and very much satisfy that pancake craving I enjoy on weekends.

Snacking
I’m trying to rely much more on fruit, nuts and protein for my snacks. In the past it was easy to grab a cookie, tortilla chips or pretzels, so I had to adjust my snacking mentality.  It was a little tough at first, but now I find myself actually CRAVING something like an apple or a banana with almond or sunflower butter, or even something as simple as a hard-boiled egg. Salt cravings are put to ease with something as simple as a handful of pistachios or almonds, and if I have a sweeter and more indulgent craving…that banana bread is pretty damned good and all you need is half a slice.

So Long Bread and Tortillas, Hello Lettuce Wraps
I actually don’t mind lettuce wraps at all, if anything, GF bread rolls make me feel too full. I’m attempting to make tacos with lettuce wraps (not even close to being as fun, so perhaps I can find or make a flaxseed wrap of some kind) and they are actually not too bad either. It’s an easy enough switch and saves plenty of empty calories.

In the End…
Now will I have a cheat day once in a while? Sure, life’s too short.  I was actually treated to sushi the other day and wasn’t going to turn THAT down! But I definitely do like the idea of overhauling my diet and sticking with it to the best of my abilities. Sometimes it’s harder when traveling, but all it takes is proper planning. And I think on days I run a race…I should allow myself the extra indulgences…but who knows, I just might like sticking to healthy fare anyway.

I’ll be interested in seeing how I fare with my upcoming races on this diet. My training hasn’t suffered from “low-carb” living because I still eat plenty of fruit, at least 3-4 pieces a day and I haven’t felt my energy levels flagging any more than usual. So I will be sure to keep you posted once I cross the finish line! My first race will be on February 14, the Myrtle Beach Marathon. It will be my 22nd state and my 25th marathon and I am hoping to do well since it’s flat and the temps should be ideal for racing. I personally don’t like pancake flat courses, but considering I have been doing a LOT of treadmill training this winter, it might be for the best!

Have you tried a low carb or paleo diet? How has it worked for you?