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?

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State Recaps Lite and 2015 Goals!

So much has happened in the past few months, and I really wouldn’t mind getting back into the blogging just a tad. But I find race recaps to be very time consuming, and honestly, it can be tough to just say “mile after mile passed” with very little in between. I find it difficult to recall a lot of what happened during a race well after the fact, especially when smaller races tend to have mile after mile that just sort of blur together! But with the new year coming I wouldn’t mind getting back into the swing of things. I actually have a lot of goals and milestones I want to reach next year, so here is a quick recap of the states I finished up in 2014 before I get into my 2015 aspirations:

I ran five new states since my Memorial Day race in Massachusetts: two were slightly disastrous and painful, one was a brand new PR, one was a TON of fun, even if it was my slowest full, and the last one was probably one of my very favorite marathon memories:

IMG_2306I returned to run the Hatfield McCoy Reunion Marathon which spanned Kentucky and West Virginia; it was a great weekend but I was running on Asics well past their prime and suffered a calf strain that lasted 2 weeks. I finished, but it was a painful recovery! It was great running one of my favorite courses again, and seeing my name on a sign welcoming me back! There was a huge Marathon Maniac presence and I think this race is only going to grow in popularity! If you ever have any doubts about Hatfield-McCoy, drop them, this is seriously one of my favorite marathons!
Finish Time: 4:28

 

IMG_2076I ran one of the most difficult and hilly marathons of my life, the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia, Missouri. Easley Hill is notorious and very few people successfully run up it without walking. The course was VERY difficult indeed and I couldn’t even believe I finished in less than 5 hours. I had some pretty bad hip tendon pain due to a slipped heel lift in my orthotics, and I had a very painful time. It was also my very first marathon running in Hokas, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Ultimately this was a finisher medal and a new state in my pocket, no fanfare or anything to note except that I finished. I will also say that this officially wins for the most roadkill on any course, putting Ann Arbor in second place!
Finish Time: 4:52

 

IMG_2303
Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York was by far my fastest marathon, and it was fantastic! I absolutely loved this race, even though it was cold and a little windy, but the autumn splendor made it entirely enjoyable.  Getting to finally beat my PR from Harrisburg in 2011 was one of the best running moments of the year for me! I would highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a PR or Boston qualify! The swag was also quite memorable, as you get a wineglass, small bottle of champagne, and a beautiful glass medal.
Finish Time: 3:51

IMG_2305
The Manchester City Marathon was one I ran with a friend, and I promised that I had no intention of running for a fast time, I just wanted to earn the state. We had a BLAST and took our time, and I had by far the slowest finish time of any of my races, but damn was it a fun time! Granted it was cold, damp and windy, and I think I may have suffered slight hypothermia by the race’s end, but I will also say that it was great to enjoy real food and beverages on the course rather than Gu and Gatorade. It was truly one for the record books on many levels!
Finish Time: 6:08

 

IMG_2304The St. Jude Marathon in Memphis was probably my very favorite event next to my first time ever running Disney, all because it was for a good cause and the awesome crowd support, not to mention running through the St. Jude campus TWICE, was incredible. I had a fantastic time running as a St. Jude Hero, having exceeded my fundraising goal by almost double, plus I ran another sub-4 (my fourth out of 24 marathons) without even trying too hard, so that was very exciting! I had the absolute best time and must have high-fived over 150 people! I don’t think I’ve ever run a race with better spectator presence, and that really made a difference. I will also say getting to visit Graceland and Sun Studio was just the very best way to reward myself the next day. I swear that visiting Graceland was life-changing for me! It was a fantastic trip.
Finish Time: 3:58

Two half marathons for fun: I ran two local half marathons this past fall, and they were both with friends. I have to say they were fantastic, weather was great for both, and we did pretty well with our pacing and times. One of the halfs I even won an age group award, which really was a nice surprise!

IMG_2307Finish Time: 1:52 (3rd place age group award…lost by .3 seconds for 2nd place…yes…POINT THREE)

IMG_2308Finish Time: 2:05

So what does this bring me up to?
21 states out of 50 states plus DC
24 full marathons
4 sub-4 hr marathons

My 50 states goal thus far (and as you can see, New England will be coming to a close soon!):

https://i0.wp.com/vsm.defocus.net/img/vsm-a8742708c028a59878001964431497aa.png

I have to say too, after all of these races I will say this: I am officially a Hoka One One believer.

I have ONE new pair of Asics Gel Nimbus yet to be worn that I will use for shorter mileage training, but I am DONE with running in anything else but Hokas. I love them so much, and since Running Warehouse has been running an amazing sale on Hokas for quite some time, I am also turning into a Hoka hoarder. Hell, if I can get them cheap I’m stocking up, especially since I have some high mileage goals for 2015. I will say this: with Hokas my marathon recovery time has been AMAZINGLY fast. I felt almost fully recovered from my PR in Winegless in maybe 48 hours. This is what makes me come to realize that I can exceed marathon distances as long as I have the right shoe support. Hoka One One is IT. So this brings me to my next point, which are the goals I have for 2015.

So what will 2015 bring? This is the year I am damned and determined to reach the running goals I have wanted to reach for YEARS. I can’t say for sure if I will achieve them all, as they are lofty as usual, but I will list them regardless as a reminder to myself. I definitely still have my health struggles…fatigue, arthritis and other issues related to my celiac disease and Sjogrens syndrome have been plaguing me quite a bit, but at the same time I refuse to surrender myself to these damned auto-immune diseases. As I have said many times before, I just need to fight a little harder to prove myself and accomplish my dreams.  Some people may just allow these diseases to keep them from living, but I use these diseases as a way to prove my strength (body and mind), if that makes ANY sense.

While I am still wanting to work toward my 50-state goal, I have a big interest in trail running and doing more events closer to home, so I may only get 4 or 5 new states for 2015, which is absolutely fine by me, only because I want to work on prepping myself for a pretty decent 2016 goal.

Goal # 1: Birthday run: I am very, very inspired by the ultrarunner Catra Corbett in this regard, but I want to do a very long run on my birthday, and the final talley will be my age in miles. I will say this much, it’s higher than a 50k and lower than 50 miles, heh heh. But I would love to tackle this. I don’t think I would run it all in one shot, but break it up into 2-3 runs for the day. I don’t think I am quite ready to handle that amount of mileage in one shot just yet.

Goal # 2: 100 miles in one week. I say this EVERY year and I still have yet to accomplish this. I’d like to attempt this, and so far my training calendar has me going for this goal in August (which is convenient because the days are longer, but not so much because training in PA in August can be brutal), all to prepare for…

Goal 3: First official ultra race (one by hour and one by distance): I am going to register for two ultra races next fall: a 12-hour endurance race and my first official 50k. I don’t really have a goal in mind for the 12-hour ultra, but I would really love to see what my body can handle. Plus I love the idea of running, eating, resting, repeat…in 12 hours. I think much can be accomplished if I don’t take myself too seriously! I would love to see 50 miles but we’ll see how much my feet can handle that, as blisters are my downfall.

All of these goals will eventually bring me to January 2016, where I want to run the Back 2 Back Challenge in the South: 2 full marathons in 2 days in 2 different states: the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson, MS and the First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL. I have never run more miles in one weekend than the Goofy Challenge in 2011, but I think with solid training (I do plan on running a half and full in one weekend of June, and then some 20+ back to back long runs later that summer) I can easily accomplish this. The Back2Back challenge is something that needs to be approached sensibly, and each race has a 7 hr limit, so I can easily take my time with both. It’s all about earning the state, plus getting Iridium Level Maniac status is a very nice bonus. I think this is why I don’t mind having less states on my race calendar for 2015, as I will be earning two states in one weekend in January 2016 if all goes according to plan.

So let’s end this post on a high note. As I lift my glass of Cabernet in a toast to saying goodbye to 2014, I lift it even higher for a prosperous, exciting and eventful 2015 full of milestones! Cheers!

State # 16: Massachusetts: The Toughest Marathon in the East (?)

OK, it’s time I stopped hibernating and caught up on race recaps. These are MONTHS late but I’m feeling a little more motivated to get back on track. SO let’s put a quarter in the time machine and go back to…spring!
Again, I apologize in advance that this entry comes several months late. I began thinking about the fact that I’ll likely be running a marathon a month for six months and NEED to get used to writing these race recaps again. So there are several coming and I WILL get caught up!

Memorial Day weekend oftentimes means travel for me, simply due to the fact that my birthday always falls on the same weekend (and sometimes my birthday actually falls ON Memorial Day) and I have a little extra time off. What better way to celebrate my birthday, AND commemorate Memorial Day, than by running the Memorial Day Marathon in Lennox, MA? The race actually benefited a veterans charitiy: The Red White and Blue Foundation. I couldn’t think of a better cause to run for that weekend.
The race boasted that it was the “toughest marathon in the East” (hey, it was even on the shirt) and for some reason I found that a little hard to swallow. The elevation chart wasn’t extraordinarily intimidating, so I take these claims with a grain of salt. I knew I wasn’t running to PR that day, so I would just finish and do my best. It definitely got a lot of positive reviews, mainly touting the natural beauty of the course, but gave plenty of fair warning that it was a tough race with plenty of hills.
My good friend TG was my partner in crime for a girl’s weekend, and what made it extra special is that she was participating in the Tanglewood 10k, her first 10k ever! I was actually more excited for her than myself, as I find milestones to be very important, and a 10k is a pretty impressive distance.

We arrived at Tanglewood, a fairground where the packet pick up and start line were located, the afternoon before the race, and it was pouring buckets to the point where we waited in the car for it to die down just a little before we bee lined it to the tables. There were very few people on site, the vendors had more or less packed it up by the time we arrived, so it was very low key. I was excited to see that Hoka One One was sponsoring the race in part, as they are a shoe I am starting to run in more and more thanks to recommendations from my sports medicine doctor.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the hotel, it was pretty tough to explore and do too much outdoor stuff when thunderstorms loomed off and on all afternoon. But it was certainly a fine way to prepare for the race, it’s best not to do too much exploring on foot and let your legs rest.  I brought food from home for my pre-race meal, and enjoyed a Strongbow (or two) and some GF treats as well. I felt fairly well-carbed and ready to go the next day.

Race morning was sunny and cool and we had to be at the race start bright and early for a 7:00 AM start. The 10k didn’t start for an hour and a half, so TG had some time to wait  but was happy to see me off. It was wonderful getting to hear the charity representatives speak at the podium as well as the Star Spangled Banner. Although pretty much every race I have ever run has started with it, I found it much more poignant that morning.
The race was interesting, because like most smaller races, it was hard to even tell where the starting line was, but that wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. After all, I thrive on the smaller events, I just think it was funny that many of us just couldn’t figure out for the life of us where the starting line was without some help from the race directors. Once we found our place, the race started without a hitch and we were on our way.

Maximum Elevation: 1117 FEET      Minimum Elevation: 697 FEET
Course chart from Find My Marathon.com

The first half really had me puzzled. I found it to be…easy. Sure there were some rolling hills, but nothing brutal, and inwardly I was starting to scoff a little at this being the toughest marathon in the East. I didn’t think I was in top racing condition but those early miles flew by with no problems or even the threat of needing a walk break. I chatted with a few fellow marathoners here and there, but since this was a pretty small field, I found myself running many miles alone. The course was green, scenic and beautiful. It really reminded me a lot of Pennsylvania! I could only imagine what the autumn months were like here, I imagine they just explode in color.

The second half is where I suddenly started to eat my words, and thank goodness I wasn’t ball-busting the course aloud to other runners or I would have felt foolish. I read from more than one reviewer that this course looks like it was mapped out by cyclists. I totally understood that. Suddenly it wasn’t just gentle rolling hills, but constant hills, most of them up.  This wasn’t a simple Hatfield McCoy Blackberry Mountain hill that lasts maybe a mile and then it’s easy going from there. The second half was brutal, and I suddenly found myself walking…a lot.

I think, with Two Bear Marathon aside, I walked more during this marathon than any other. At least it felt like it. Honestly, with the sun out and the temperatures rising, it was pretty miserable at times. There was ONE part of the course though, Mile 21, where a family was sitting along a stone wall handing out ice cold towels. I couldn’t even express my gratitude in words, it was the most wonderful (and necessary) thing I could ever ask for at that moment. The husband explained that his wife had run races like this in the past and couldn’t remember anything better BUT the ice cold towels someone handed her at one point, and they felt the need to pay it forward.

Approaching the finish line, I saw my friend waiting with a huge smile, camera in hand and I was elated to finally be finished. There was a runner who was in front of me for several miles keeping the same sluggish pace, and as we both finished I said happily, “Dude, we did it!”, to which he grabbed my hand in congratulations and grinned wearily. It felt SO good to finally be done.

And my time? After all that walking? I couldn’t even believe it, but 4:17:58, a 9:51 pace. I even placed third in my age group, but they only handed out awards for 30-39 instead of 35-39, I guess the field wasn’t large enough for age group awards broken down by five years. Guess all those early (easier) miles really helped me bank some time, something I NEVER recommend, by the way!

The medals were unique and wonderful: personalized dog tags with my name, town, and race stamped on them. While some people like heavy medal, I tend to like things with a more personal and unique touch, and this was the perfect medal for a race on Memorial Day weekend.

medalMy friend finished her 10k and was thrilled too. She had a congratulatory beer and we were ready to get cleaned up and start feasting in celebration!  Of course when Five Guys is within a 15 mile radius it’s always where I want to go, so a double bacon burger and fries was in order. I was shameless too, finishing the whole thing and even having room for dinner that night at a place in town that had a great gluten free menu, the Jade Dragon.  It was a great weekend!

The best part of this entire experience was seeing a good friend hit such an important milestone, and be inspired to do the distance again. She will be going with me when I run Myrtle Beach, SC in February 2015 to tackle the Dasani Half marathon, and has been dedicated and tirelessly training to increase her mileage safely to earn that medal. I couldn’t be more proud and excited for her, and can’t wait to celebrate with her, medals proudly around our necks, as we shuffle towards Margaritaville for a celebratory meal. Victory will never be so sweet!

15 states down (16 including DC!)
States Visited Map

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.

State # 7: Ohio (AKA When Will I Ever Learn…?)

While Cincinnati’s  popular Flying Pig Marathon in May was the one that everyone raved about as being a total blast, it came at a bad time of year for me to travel and I decided to research other options for Ohio. In the end, I chose September’s  Akron, Ohio as my Ohio state race, due to the fact that it got incredible reviews and many running magazines had voted it for various awards such as best swag. But of course there WAS an ulterior motive behind choosing Akron, and that was only after I crossed the finish line would I earn THAT reward!

After Hatfield-McCoy came a LONG, hot summer of training, and it was pretty difficult. Summers in PA are ridiculously humid and hot, and if you don’t get your long runs in at sunrise, you’re in for a pretty miserable experience.  Hydration is so incredibly important, and heat exhaustion is a dangerous risk. I always had to carry a hand-held water bottle and make sure I was able to refill it; I usually made sure I drank water every other mile. Not only is it hot, but the trails are filled with bees, gnat clouds of Biblical plague proportions (I have run so many times with a gnat lodged in my EYE for several miles), snakes, snapping turtles and other fun critters. Makes you long for crisp Fall weather more than ever!

I also learned to love using honey as a training run fuel. It really worked great. Easy to consume and economical, honey is a simple, natural sugar with lots of beneficial properties that can’t be found in more refined sugars. It is even been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is a plus when you are a distance runner that might have struggles with muscle and joint pain. So I would carry honey packets in a Spi-belt or keep a honey bottle in my car for a fuel stop and consume it directly from the bottle. Within ten minutes I always felt a positive boost of energy!

I decided to try something new for Akron. Now here is where the needle scratches on the record, the music halts, and heads shake in pity. As an experienced marathoner, I never, ever should have tried this new idea unless I tried it during a dress rehearsal run, but I did it anyway. While it seemed silly, I decided I would carry a honey bear on the race course. No expensive gels, but just pure, natural honey as a fuel whenever I needed it, what better fuel could I use to excel in a marathon?

I had high expectations of this race. I was ready to try to BQ again. I had good success with Hatfield-McCoy, a very difficult race, and Akron, while hilly, was nothing like that race in terms of elevation changes. I knew it would be a piece of cake and psyched myself up for a PR.

From start to finish, the things with this marathon that usually can stress us out were very smooth. Packet pick-up and parking were a breeze. I got a REALLY nice Brooks running jacket instead of a tech-shirt, and the expo was more or less painless except that they make you stay in line and go through the entire expo rather than just beeline to packet pick-up. Slightly annoying but really not that bad. We got to our hotel and relaxed for the night, for the race was the next day and we didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee or enjoy what we saw of Akron, which at first glance looked like a very nice mid-size city, much like Harrisburg.

Race morning we drove from our hotel to the start and expected horrible delays with traffic and parking. Again, this went without a hitch and we were pleasantly surprised that everything was such a breeze.  We stood in the dark waiting for the race to start, while I had my honey bear in hand. It was a cold morning, around 40 degrees, but there was a lot of enthusiasm in the air. The Goodyear Blimp hovered overhead and after the National Anthem the race began with a small fireworks display. Not Disney caliper but certainly a pleasant surprise! And we were off.

This race definitely went by in a blur, and I certainly couldn’t give you mile by mile descriptions, so I am just throwing in a quick paragraph from my marathon guide.com review: “The course itself was really never dull; I ran past the Firestone plant, through the lovely Akron University campus, a crushed gravel towpath on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, the refreshing Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens (one of my favorite parts) and a triumphant finish in Canal Stadium. The residential neighborhoods also had plenty of enthusiastic spectators, especially children wanting a high-five.”

Beyond the description of the course itself, all I can say is I started off way too fast (my usual arrogant blunder) and got slower and slower as the race continued. My first ten miles were a quick 8:10 mile clip, but soon I started feeling a tweak in my ankle and realized I had to swallow my pride and slow down or risk not finishing.  I slowed my pace, but soon ran into other difficulties.

I need to go back to why trying anything new on race day is never a good idea: the honey bear idea was a disaster. The temperatures stayed in the low 50’s and it was way too cold to get a sufficient amount from it when I needed it. It was stubborn and viscous and near impossible to consume.  Throughout the entire course of the race I don’t think I consumed more than 200 calories, almost half of what I usually consume. Everything seemed to be going wrong, I felt like I kept hitting walls, and the hills were bringing me to a shambling walk.

By the end of the race, I was spent and miserable. My tweaked ankle was bothering me, and the up- and downhills were murder on my knees. We had a final LONG downhill to get back into the city of Akron where a stadium finish awaited us, and every step felt like a railroad spike going into my legs. While Hatfield-McCoy’s rolling hills really worked in my favor for an awesome sub-4, this race’s rolling hills just made things worse. Chris was close to the finish line and saw me, and I think he could immediately tell that I was having a really bad race.

I finished in 4:15, same exact time as DC. My 8:10 minute clip turned into a 9:50. I was underfueled and taxed by the hills. Again, my overconfidence got the best of me. It was a crushing defeat.

I got an incredible goody bag from the Akron marathon volunteers, and while the food was 90% gluten-filled (and handed immediately to Chris to enjoy), the awesome finisher’s hat is something I still use to this day. It’s one of my favorites. The medal was also an incredible quality and it was nice to sit in the stadium for a bit, bask in the sun (even though it was only around 60 degrees), and enjoy watching the finishers.

Once we got back to the hotel, it was time to get moving for the next portion of our weekend, and my ultimate reward. A Five Guys burger and fries? Well, yes, but it’s even better than that.

Let the fanfare commence, we were  heading to Cedar Point!


For those of you who don’t know, Cedar Point is THE roller coaster capital of America. While it’s no Disney World, it still ranks up there with one of the best amusement parks I have ever visited. Even better, it was completely decorated and themed for Halloween, one of my favorite times of year. The weather was perfect and we really lucked out that we were able to go, so we drove to Sandusky, Ohio that afternoon and crashed in the hotel to recuperate for the next day. Initially I was wanting to go to the park that NIGHT…thank goodness we held off. Instead we got to the hotel and both slept a good 5 hours! Much needed recovery indeed.

The next day was spent hand in hand like little kids, riding terrifying coasters, going through haunted houses, and watching shows in the park. It really was a fantastic day. Sure my feet hurt and shins hurt, and I probably did far more walking than I should have, but it was worth it.

I loved the experience so much I’m hoping we can go there again after I run the Ann Arbor Marathon in June. Just keeping my fingers crossed for good weather!

Akron was the first of three marathons that I ran in the Fall of 2012 in order to qualify for the Marathon Maniacs. I can assure you that the next two go a lot smoother than this one did.

My Results
Official Time: 4:15:38
Overall Place: 726/ 1629
Sex Place: 202/ 649
Division Place: 33/ 111

Lessons Learned

  • I don’t know if I will ever get this right, but start conservatively and STAY that way. You would think after DC I would have known better, but nope, I went ahead and made the same mistake again and it cost me a lot of valuable time. Never start off too fast, and stay consistent with your pace.
  • Never, ever, EVER try anything new on race day. Ever. The honey bear, while economical, cute and a proven, effective running fuel, was a big mistake. I never thought about the fact that the temperatures would have prevented me from getting the much needed calories during the race, but I was VERY underfueled and wiped out from the experience. Luckily I now can use Honey Stinger gels, which are made of honey, water, a little salt and come in portable gel packets. Perfect for what I need and even in cold weather I can hold one in my hand for a few miles until it’s warmed up and can be easily dispensed.

State #6: Kentucky (Running Through Feudin’ Country)

The Hatfield-McCoy reunion marathon was by far one of my favorite races I have ever run to this day; the race director, David Hatfield, was a direct descendant of one of the feuding families. The History Channel miniseries had made it more popular than ever that spring, and the race had more runners from all over the country than it ever had in years past.  The race motto was “No Feudin’, Just Runnin’”, and the crossed shotgun logo made it very clear that this event was going to be one for the books!
The Weather Channel listed it was one of the World’s 15 Toughest Marathons, so I had zero aspirations to run this one fast. As you can see from the elevation chart, it’s not exactly flat or fast, and the hills are far from gentle:
That enormous spike in elevation is when the runners get to climb Blackberry Mountain, and sites of the famous Hatfield McCoy feud are all along the course. Not only was the course scenic, but you ran through small pieces of history!  They even assign you a “family” and divide the runners into two teams: Hatfields and McCoys. Whichever team had the best overall finish times would win the feud that year. It looked like a total blast.It took place within two gorgeous states, West Virginia and Kentucky; the runner could decide which state this counted as if they were a fifty-stater. I decided this would count as my Kentucky state, and while I am really wanting to return to West Virginia to run Freedom’s Run, I am fairly certain I will be returning to run Hatfield-McCoy in 2014 since I have a few friends that are dying to see this course for themselves, so it may just become my West Virginia state medal as well.After some research I realized there was zero chance of me finding food in the remote area of West Virginia where we stayed. I packed an enormous cooler with tons of gluten free fare, was assured by the hotel they could accommodate my needs for a fridge and microwave, and we were on our way. There was zero chance of a glutening before this event!

The day before the race Chris and I did a self-guided Hatfield-McCoy driving tour and stopped at various sites of the feud. Since the course followed much of this same route, I saw what I was in for: massive hills to climb, and very steep drops to hold the brakes as I crested the top.  The course was marked with spray painted blue “hill-billy footprints” (their words, not mine) on the pavement so you wouldn’t get lost on the course. It was that remote.

The Race: First Half
This was by far the smallest marathon I had ever run. The race had about 510 runners, mainly 2/3 being full marathoners.  There was very little in terms of glitz and fanfare, and it was exactly my kind of race.  The race started on a cool foggy June morning in the parking lot of a grocery store; after the race director said a prayer  he let off a shotgun to start the race.It was a great start to the morning.  The air was really cool and crisp, lower humidity than I expected, and the temps were maybe in the low 60s.  Not ideal race temps but still very pleasant, it was almost like a training run.I resolved to start off slow and hold back, and overall I think I did a good job.  My first mile was 8:38 and the second was more like 8:20, and soon I kept that pace for a good portion of the first half.  I met some folks from Indiana and we chatted amiably; there was a great group of runners around us, everyone was friendly and chatty, no PR pressure since a BQ time wasn’t even possible because the course was not certified. Everyone wanted to ask where the other was from, runners were smiling, laughing and having a great time.  Lots of Marathon Maniacs and 50 State Club members were on the course, and those kind of participants mean that this is truly a race to run simply for the love of running.

The friendly folks from Indiana passed me eventually, as I was trying to stay slow.  The course was pretty uneventful in the beginning, you run on Route 119 where cars are passing, the course was never really closed off to traffic entirely, and eventually you get off the road to a more rural setting.  Lots of people sitting on their porches cheering us on with dogs barking in unison to our footfalls. We were TRULY in the South, but it was GREAT.  So many friendly people!  Beautiful scenery, lots of sparkling brooks and rivers, lots of hills, rocky cliffs and fields, just absolutely gorgeous.  You really did feel like this was God’s country. The air was so fresh and clean, it was such a nice respite from big city races.

The waterstops were plentiful to the point where I couldn’t drink at every stop or my stomach would have burst, but it was wonderful.  They always had water, ice and gatorade, and there was one stop for every single mile.  Some stops were even themed for the Hatfield and McCoy feud, which really brought out a laugh or two.  EVERYONE was encouraging, sweet and couldn’t be friendlier.  I grew to love the south REAL fast!

By the time I got to the Blackberry Mountain hill, I knew it was serious.  I pretty much just kept quiet and marched up it, never once walking, and I even passed the people from Indiana.  Being from hilly Pennsylvania has its advantages!   I got to the top and managed to hit Mile 7 in maybe an hour and change.  It was tough but definitely not impossible.  Once you get to the top there is a 900 foot elevation drop and it is SCARY steep.  You really, really need to put the brakes on your speed or risk toppling on your face.  And it was LONG.  I felt like we went downhill forever!

I ended up running the rest of the half portion with a nice first-timer from Kentucky.  He did well, and marveled at how anyone could run 26.2 miles.  He was really friendly and made me feel “fast”, LOL.  I showed him some points along the course that my husband and I drove on the day before, you pass many points that marked the feud between the two families.  I also got to see several Shetland ponies that people put out alongside the course for us.  It was really neat, just so rural and pretty, and unlike any race I ever ran.

The finish line for the half was in a very small historic mining town in Matewan, West Va.  This town is somewhat small, and there were just a handful of spectators, but ALL of them had smiles and cheers for us.  This race was nothing like anything I had ever run, expect maybe Harrisburg (that course was just as sparse, but could not even compare in beauty).  I said goodbye and congrats to my running friend from Kentucky as he ran through the finish chute for the half marathoners and I moved on.

The Second Half

I am not kidding when I say I pretty much ran the rest of the race alone.  It was like a training run.  I passed several people and we sort of nodded and cheered eachother on, but it was starting to get warm and the sun had burned away any of the lingering humidity.  The shade was sparser and it got a little tougher, but I felt like I still had some fuel in the tank.

This race had a lot of firsts: I actually ran into several dogs just sort of wandering the road.  That was a little scary, as I had been bitten by an unleashed dog several years ago and it sort of spooked me whenever I saw them roaming alone.  But they just looked at me curiously and I ran past without even a bark from them.  The course then ran into probably some of the rockiest trail I had ever run, which was a point of dismay and complaint for a lot of runners, but not me!  I absolutely love trails!  I see it as a dance with the terrain, you have to know exactly where to put your feet in order to keep the right pace.  You really, really need to watch it or risk tripping on a root or rock and falling on your face.  It was great though, and lasted several miles.  I loved that part, but I read in years past that it could get VERY muddy.  Luckily it was a dry summer so the course wasn’t very muddy at all.

The trail course in the woods suddenly ended and popped me out onto…a golf course!  I was literally ON the green!  I missed my sharp right hand turn and, laughing, ran on the green until I could safely get down the hilly terrain to the pavement.  Luckily there were no golfers or I could have easily ruined their game.  Then you get to cross a wooden swinging bridge, straight out of Indiana Jones.  It would have been fun running alone across it, but there were two other guys with me and we really had to watch our step, it was like running on a wooden trampoline.  We whooped and hollered like little kids and had a blast getting across, but I won’t lie that it was a little scary!  Especially at Mile 18 when you are JUST starting to wear out.

The remainder of the course was pretty uneventful.  I passed the McCoy house where a lot of the elderly descendants were on their rockers cheering us on from the porch.  One little old lady saw me and yelled at the top of her lungs “You GO BABY!” It really made me smile. The water stops came just at the right times by this point.  One stop had kids handing out full bottles of water and powerade, so I grabbed a water bottle and ran with it for several miles so I didn’t have to stop.

At the tail end of the race, there was ONE last steep hill around Mile 23…in full sun.  I audibly complained with a laugh “You have GOT to be kidding me!” and started trudging up it.  I suddenly realized there was NO way I could run this, I was just too worn out.  I walked it.  And I wasn’t the least bit ashamed.  I still had a sub-4 time within my grasp and felt OK with it.  Getting to the top of the hill there was a spray painted message to the runners on the road “Last hill, we promise”.  Ha ha.  Gotta love a sense of humor this late in the game.

The walk actually rejuvenated me a bit and I continued on.  I knew once I hit Route 119 I would be home free, and by Mile 25 I saw I had around 15 minutes left to make sub-4.  I was going to make it!  It actually made me feel better and I sped up and encouraged the people I passed that were forced to a walk.  Trust me, I don’t blame them, the conditions, while not horrible, were not great.  No shame in walking as long as you can finish.

Finally the finish was approaching, I was back on 119 and passed fast food joints, strip malls and lots of cops directing traffic to ensure our safety.  I crossed the state line from KY back to West Va. and entered the final stretch.  My husband Chris saw me and took pictures.  I was all alone and I saw him motioning enthusiastically for me to RUN!  I was very close to a sub-4 and I think he really wanted me to hit that goal.  I crossed the finish line jubilantly, getting to high five actual Hatfield and McCoy descendants (holding their shotguns and wearing 1880’s era attire), the crowd was cheering, and I got an ice cold towel draped around my neck, a medal, and a bottle of water all within 20 seconds.  The finish line spread had so much fresh fruit, as a celiac I was thrilled to see I could actually enjoy the food!  I grabbed a slice of watermelon and basked in the fact that I was DONE, and in the shade.

We had to wait a bit for our awards, each finisher gets a Mason jar with their place number on it, so we had to wait for the guy with the laptop to come and let us know how we placed.  I talked with several other runners to pass the time, and it was amazing how many of them saw me, and told me I looked strong.  It was encouraging!

Finally I got my place, 43 out of 261.  Ehhh, not bad I guess? I came in 13th out of 117 women, which was really a morale boost!  The girl who came first for my age group was from Colorado.  Ha!  I knew there was a trick to it, made sense.  High altitude training obviously makes you faster and more resilient at sea level.  They announced that I placed  third out of 13 women in my age group! I got an award and it was the first time I ever won ANYTHING and I was grinning ear to ear as they handed me my plaque.

So who won the feud that year? I was made an honorary McCoy for this race, and even with my finish time, sadly the Hatfields took it by storm; I am hoping I can someday return to be an honorary Hatfield…after all, with a guy like Devil Anse on your side, how can anything go wrong?

My Results

Finish Time: 3:58:37
Overall Place: 43/261
Sex Place: 13/117
Division Place: 3/13

What I Learned from this Race

  • Never sell yourself short! I had pretty low expectations for this race, since it was so hilly, and in Kentucky and West Virginia in JUNE, a lot of things should have gone wrong for me that day after I fell apart in DC, but instead I exceeded ALL of my expectations. The ones where I assume I will PR oftentimes end less favorably, and then the ones that appear so difficult sometimes end up being the best races. You just NEVER can tell.
  • Walk breaks can sometimes really give you a little break that you need to keep the stamina going; I oftentimes walk through water stops for just a few seconds to give myself a break, and that might be all I need to recharge my battery. I don’t like to walk up hills, I usually attempt to run up them and give it my all, but this race I had to walk it or break down, and in the end it was just what I needed for that final push.
  • This small town race was by far one of my all-time favorites, and I am really drawn to smaller races of this caliper. There is so much heart and enthusiasm, and we felt so welcome (in fact, we were invited inside the historic McCoy home where the log cabin walls still stood inside the structure) and really, truly enjoyed the visit. Definitely looking forward to my next visit, where hopefully I will see my name on one of the welcome back signs along the racecourse!