Ironman Training Update #1

Here we are, six weeks into training for Ironman Texas. If there’s any word I can use to describe it, it would be tired.

So flippin’ tired. Worse than pregnancy tired.

Yesterday I swam in the morning (8 x 75 meter sprints with 20 seconds recovery along with a bunch of drills, 2,100 meters total), I did a bunch of errands, did laundry, then I ran in the afternoon (7 miles equally split between asphalt and trails).  I started to make spinach salad for dinner but never finished. About half way though crumbling blue cheese for the dressing I stopped and asked Jason to go get sushi instead. I was done. Totally exhausted.

I fell asleep on the couch at 7 p.m.

I was so tired, I slept the whole night there. On the couch. In my clothes. I never once woke up.

And don’t even get me started on being hungry. Now I know what it’s like to be a teenage boy. I’m officially on the See Food diet: See food? Eat food.

Last night, I took a couple of bites of the aforementioned blue cheese and it and it was SO SALTY and DELICIOUS. I could have eaten the entire bowl standing there at the kitchen counter. I guess I need to up my electrolyte intake a bit.

Because I’m so tired, I’ve stopped drinking alcohol during the work week. I don’t have a high alcohol tolerance and I don’t drink much anyway, maybe four drinks a week total? Two of those on Saturday mornings after my weekly trail run. But I’ve had to stop drinking Monday-Friday almost entirely. The workouts leave me so exhausted on their own, I don’t need any extra help.

I’m on the verge of having to give up my Saturday morning trail run beers, too. Last Saturday, I only ran 7 miles (normally we do 9-10) and I still had to take a 3 hour nap. No bueno.

What workout am I struggling with the most?

The swims. All of them. It’s been cold here (duh, it’s winter), and it’s always cold in my house. I’m cold all the time. And like everything else, the pool at the gym is cold. Every time I walk out of the locker room and into the natatorium, I find myself thinking…

Please be warm.

Please be warm.

Please be warm.

It never is.

I slowly lower myself in the pool, let out a little shriek, then bait myself to finish the workout with the promise of five minutes in the hot tub.

Two-A-Days

I’m used to spending two or more hours a day working out. It’s not something that’s new. What IS new is breaking that 2+ hours up into two segments; I normally do it all at once. Honestly, I’m not really a fan of working out twice a day. I’d much rather do it all in one chunk but I know that that’s not a realistic proposition once the training load increases and I’m doing three or four hours a day instead of two.

The schedule/training plan I wrote is working out nicely. I feel like I’m making progress and I seem to be in about the same spot from a duration/intensity perspective as everyone else who is training. I know, eventually, I will need to get my tail off the trainer and actually ride my bike outside (which will involve flip/flopping my Friday and Saturday workouts) but for now it seems to work. And as long as it works, I’m sticking with it.

Family Life and Workout Balance

For the most part this is going surprisingly well. Well, at least I think so. I you ask Jason, it may be another story – I don’t think he’s a fan of my new 7 p.m. bedtime.

Slowly, I am discovering little life hacks/shortcuts that help get everything done. Sometimes, I’m successful. Sometimes, I’m not. I’m learning to accept both.

Our house, which I normally keep pretty clean, looks like a war zone. Toys everywhere, tumbleweeds of dog hair accumulating in the corners, and clothes laying in the floor exactly where they were taken off. I’m learning to take care of the important stuff and let go of everything else.

Just let it go.

LAUNDRY is the most important chore in the entire house. You’d think it would be cooking or grocery shopping, but nope. Laundry.

You see, if I get desperate I can get pizza or Chinese food delivered, or ask Jason to go get sushi like I did last night, but no one is going to deliver my kid’s laundry into their dressers except me. And if it’s not in my kid’s dressers it will never make it’s way onto their bodies without parental intervention and parental intervention is unlikely if mom is clipped to a bike.

Laundry is king.

I’m slowly settling into a schedule that has me doing laundry all day on Monday, doing school work with Evelyn on Tuesday and Thursday (while Alvy is at preschool), and catching up on other stuff on Wednesday. Fridays I’m almost always gone, either at my grandmother’s house or taking Evelyn to her science class. Saturday a is cleaning day and Sunday is meal planning and grocery shopping. Occasionally, I’ve been running Sunday afternoon to catch up with friends but I am trying to limit that as much as I can.

On Wednesdays and Fridays, I have to make the kids breakfast long before they wake up so I can squeeze in my morning workout, but I’d rather have it done and sitting on the counter waiting for them than have to explain to my four year old son that he needs to wait for mommy to get off her bike before he can eat.

This has involved teaching them how to use the microwave to reheat their cold food – which I think is a good thing? Hopefully Alvy doesn’t try to microwave something other than his breakfast.

Weight Gain/Loss

(I’d like to remind everyone that I’m not doing this to loose weight.)

I have lost a pound, maybe? Honestly, my weight hasn’t changed much. I’m holding steady at the 129-130 pound mark but I can tell the fat is slowly melting. The little pooch in my hips, just above the waist of my workout shorts is getting progressively smaller. I have noticed my thighs slim up a little. Again, nothing huge which I think is good.

When I’m training to race a marathon I want to be lean and as light as possible. Light is fast!! But not for this. Right now, I’m 5 pounds heavier than my marathon race weight and I want to keep it that way.

I want the extra fat in my thighs…buoyancy!

Being Just A Little Scared

Why does fear paralyze us? It can take a completely rational person, who is facing a seemingly rational decision and turn them to metaphorical stone. Frozen in time, by their fear.

That fear could be anything, from starting your own business, to taking a new job, moving to a new city, loosing weight or…oh, I dunno…completing an Ironman.

Sigh.

I am terrified of Ironman. Have I mentioned that before? I know that most of this fear is unfounded but the unknown is scary stuff.

I know it will be hard, but how hard? I know it will hurt, but how badly? What if I get injured? Or even worse, what if I fail?

Did this fear keep me from registering? No. Though it did force me to drink a beer and reevaluate my sanity before I did.

I was thinking about fear and what it really means to me when I was in Big Bend. I stayed an extra day thanks to the epic ice storm that attacked Texas a couple of weeks ago. My traveling companion had left and I found myself with a whole day in Big Bend National Park, alone. It was COLD outside. 16 degrees. I spent the morning huddled in my room waiting for it to warm up some (it didn’t) because I was going to tackle something that genuinely terrified me.

I was going hiking. Alone.

I’m not opposed to spending time alone; as a bonafide introvert, I need my alone time. But maybe not in the wilderness with the mountain lions and the bears…know what I mean?

That’s where I found myself that last day in Big Bend.

That afternoon, after lunch I grabbed my hiking pack, filled it up with water and drove to the trail head of a popular trail, known for its bear and mountain lion activity. I’m sure it would have been packed on a regular day, but on a day when it was 16 degrees…not so much.

It was me.

Just me.

Alone.

I found myself in the parking lot staring blankly at the “what to do if you see a bear or mountain lion” sign, trying to muster the courage to take the first few steps onto the trail.

“Avoid carrying odorous food or toiletry items.”

I couldn’t help but think of the emergency peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had stashed in my backpack. Visions of childhood Yogi Bear cartoons flashed through my head.

“Hike with others when possible.”

I looked at the empty parking lot.

Take a deep breath, Joni.

Certainly, the mountain lions and bears were cuddled up in their dens trying to stay warm like all the normal people, right?

Yeah, just keep telling yourself that. I gripped the can of mace in my pocket and started walking up the trail.

Remembering what I’d learned in Yellowstone…never sneak up on a bear…I spent the first mile wishing I had a bear bell, and making as much noise as I could without annoying myself.

“Hello bears. Go away bears. Nice bears.”

The further from the road I got, the more scared I became. I tightened my grip on the mace.

It was a 2.5 mile one-way trip up one of the shorter peaks in the Chisos Mountains, a 5 mile round trip. No. Big. Deal. One step at a time. I put my head down, put one foot in front of the other and was determined to make it to the end of the trail.

About halfway up the mountain, I went around a bend and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. What was that?!

I froze, looked around, and listened carefully. Then I saw it again. No, it wasn’t a mountain lion, it was coming from the sky.

It. Was. Snowing. Not a lot, just flurries, but it was SNOWING.

When I looked around, I noticed that a lot of the trees were white and covered in ice. I’d been so focused on the trail, and so worried about the wildlife, that I hadn’t even noticed. It was falling from the sky, and falling off the trees as it accumulated on the branches.

I stopped for a bit and marveled at the thought of snow in the desert. It relaxed me and reminded me to slow down, and enjoy the moment. The climb got tough toward the end. Even though it was a well worn trail, it was steep.

An hour after I left the car, I reached the summit. And holy cow, the view was AMAZING.

Where it was windy down by the road, gusting 15-20 mph, it was dead still on top of that mountain and completely silent. I stood there, my eyes fixed on the valley below, listening to NOTHING. No wind blowing. No people chatting. No footsteps crunching in the dirt. No birds chirping. It was so quiet that it was almost overwhelming.

I’d been standing there for about 20 minutes when I heard a crack and rumble. It was loud, as loud as thunder but the sound was different. It was the same type of sound you’d hear if you threw a rock off a ledge, then it hit another rock and rolled down a hill.

It made my heart stop. I thought about all the large boulders I’d ever seen at the base of a cliff.

I don’t know how close it was, sound travels so well in the dry air that it could have been miles away, but it felt close. I wondered, how many other people heard it? How many other people have ever heard that sound? Certainly, not many.

I felt like a voyeur, peeking in on one of nature’s most intimate moments.

It made me smile.

Overwhelmed by the experience, I forgot completely about the mountain lions and the bears.

I took one more look around, etching that amazing view into my brain, so I could summon it later when I need courage or peace, and slowly started making my way back down to the car.

As I was walking, I started thinking about fear.

What if I’d let my fear get the best of me and I’d never gone on that hike?

I never would have seen the snow. I never would have seen the view. I never would have heard that amazing sound. Fear would have robbed me of all those experiences.

I started thinking about the phrase “be fearless” and what it means. Is being fearless good? Does it really mean, to do things without fear? No, it doesn’t. If something truly scares you, even if you face it with courage, you’re never going to do it without fear. You’re always going to be afraid, and that’s okay.

All the good things in life happen when you’re just a little scared.

I won’t let fear rob me of growth. I won’t let it chase me into the comfort of something familiar, instead I will face it with courage and follow it to see where it leads me.

Fear will be the thing that gets me into Lake Woodlands on April 28. When I start to loose my courage I’m going to close my eyes, think of the view from the summit of that mountain, and remember what I learned there. I might fail but fear won’t keep me from trying, fear will be the reason I try.

I’ve had this post completely written and scheduled to publish for about the past week. Sunday, when I went to church and listened to the priest’s message, I nearly fell out of my chair. The key takeaway? Follow your fear.

God sometimes chooses to shout at you rather than whisper. Okay, okay. I get it.

Big Bend Ultra 50k Race Recap

I’ve been wanting to run Big Bend Ultra for about the last three years. I found out about the race shortly after our family trip to Big Bend Ranch State park five years ago and it’s been on my list ever since, but for one reason or another, mainly Boston, the timing never seemed to work out. LAST January, I finally figured that 2018 was THE year for Big Bend and I started making tentative plans.

Reservations for accommodations were made waaaay back in June. By the time race registration finally opened in August, it really seemed like a formality. I was going to Big Bend.

For those unfamiliar with the area, Big Bend is an entire region of Texas. It includes Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, several very small towns and a whole lotta cacti.

It took about 10 hours and two tanks of gas to drive from my house in northwest Houston to the national park.

I stayed in the only lodging in the national park, the Chisos Mountain Lodge. The rooms are sparse but comfortable. There’s a microwave, small fridge, and coffee pot in every room but there are no TVs, and no phones. In the lodge there’s a small restaurant, a bar, a gift shop, a small convenience store, and a seriously temperamental Wi-Fi signal. Definitely no cell phone service.

I got there a couple of days early to do some hiking in the national park. And yeah, maybe hiking 9 miles the day before my first ultra wasn’t the smartest thing to do…but whatever. All’s well that ends well. It was worth it. I mean, look at that view!

When I woke up the morning of the race, it was a little surreal. It felt similar to the way I felt the morning of Boston. Is this really happening? Finally? I’d been wanting to do it for so long!

I couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was chilly that morning, 30 degrees F, but it was supposed to warm up to 60 by noon with not a cloud in the sky. Absolutely perfect.

I wore a running skirt, short sleeve tech shirt, light shell jacket, running gloves, a baseball cap, ear warmers, compression sleeves on my calves, a pair of gaiters, and my trail shoes (Altra Lone peak 3.0). I carried my hydration pack (Ultimate Direction Ultravesta) with 70 ounces of water, and two collapsible 10-ounce soft flasks of half strength Tailwind.

After I got dressed, I said a little prayer and then left for the hour drive to Lajitas.

The race took place in the far eastern side of the state park, starting and ending at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center.

The 50k started at 7:05 a.m. when it was still quite dark outside. Did I say dark? What I really meant was DARK. No moon, no light pollution from neighboring cities, can’t see your hand in front of your face, DARK. So dark, in fact, that on the walk from the parking lot to the start area I nearly walked head on into another person who was walking the opposite direction. No kidding.

The course was a variation of an out an back. At mile 8, we were to begin a large, 15 mile loop around a mountain and then at mile 22, we were to rejoin the same trail that we took on the way there. It allowed the race organizers to only set up three aid stations on the 50k course (the first one of which was shared with the 30k) and two of them served runners going both directions. The 30k had a similar format.

Around 7 a.m. we all meandered toward a large inflatable arch and a small tent set up in the parking lot and shivered as we waited. The race director said a few words about the race, and then instructed us all to stand, “right about here,” as he waved his hand back and forth in an imaginary line just shy of the timing system.

In what was maybe the most anticlimactic start ever, without even a bullhorn he says, “5…4…3…2…1…Go.” A second guy pushed a button on the clock and that was it. The race had started.

No gun. No national anthem. No ceremony of any kind. Just a bunch of cold, crazy people running off into the desert in the black of night.

The first mile of the race there was quite a bit of nervous chatter.

“I hope the guy in front knows where he’s going.”

“I wish I’d worn my headlamp.”

“Holy crap, it’s cold.”

“Why are we running so fast?”

I wore a headlamp for the first 3 miles or so while I waited for the giant flashlight in the sky to wake up. Those first few miles were chilly. My hands were numb and the cold air cut through my thin jacket.

As I ran, I kept looking over my shoulder at the sunrise. There’s something special about a sunrise in the desert and something even more special when you’re watching it alone. Majestic is the only word that comes to mind, and I’m not even sure that accurately describes it.

As soon as the sun came out, the headlamp went into my jacket pocket and it warmed up pretty quickly. There, in that moment, I was truly happy. The sun was out, my legs were fresh, I was doing something that I loved and all of life’s problems were hundreds of miles away. For the first time in years I was able to relax.

It didn’t take long to notice the altitude. Training at sea level means that any change of altitude at all is tough for your body. A start at 2,400 feet and max altitude of 3,500 feet doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I was sucking wind at a 10 minute mile.

Remembering my past heart rate mistakes, I parked my watch on the heart rate screen, reminded myself that 30-some-odd miles is a long way, and pace didn’t matter. The goal was to manage my sugar consumption by not letting my heart rate go over 160 – anything higher than that required walking. (If you remember when I took my VO2 Max test, 160 was the heart rate where my rate of sugar consumption began to increase.)

This is a SMALL race. With only 47 participants in the 50k, you can imagine that the runners spread out pretty quickly, and we did. By mile 4 there were no other runners in sight. I was alone with nothing to go on but little red flags tied to rocks and bushes to mark the way.

The course was a combination of unmaintained dirt roads, and singletrack trail, some of which was steep and slightly treacherous. It went in and out through dry washes and it was easy to lose your way if you weren’t paying attention. With no one in front of me to follow I often found myself following foot prints in the sand and stopping for a couple of minutes at a time to make sure I didn’t lose the trail.

At mile 5, I found the first aid station, stocked with water, Skratch, pretzels, oranges, bananas, cookies and about 10 frozen volunteers.

I grabbed a cookie, and was on my way.

Things were uneventful until mile 8. I was running down a hill, on one of the unmaintained roads, when my right toe caught a small rock embedded in the ground. There was no waving of arms, flailing or anything that was going to save me and I knew it. In slow motion I felt my body fly through the air and I knew I was helpless to stop it.

My right hand, forearm and right thigh took the brunt of the impact. Thanks to my jacket and gloves, my arm came out okay and my hand wasn’t scraped up but my thigh was covered in white dirt and was dripping blood. I got up, dusted myself off and walked for a minute to assess the damage.

I hobbled around the corner and by sheer coincidence found the second aid station. Thank goodness for good timing. The ladies there wiped down my leg with an antiseptic wipe, and violating all first aid protocols regarding the proper handling of bodily fluids, used their bare hands to rub Neosporin on my open wound, smearing blood all over my leg.

They asked if they should find someone to come get me and I told them no. I took a few minutes to gather myself and then headed back toward the trail. As I left, one of the ladies asked to take a picture of my bloody leg, and told me I was a “piece of work.” Maybe one day I’ll see that picture.

The pain in my leg subsided after a few miles, but my right hand was throbbing. Having to hold my hand up as I ran was painful and I could barely open and close it. I couldn’t move it side to side at all. I was still wearing my gloves so I couldn’t see how badly it was injured and honestly I was a little scared of what I would find.

Around mile 12, I noticed a sore spot developing on the inside ball of my right foot. I had some Vaseline in my pack so I stopped on the trail to lube up my foot; I also wanted to take off my jacket, as it was starting to get warm.

When I was forced to finally take off my glove to untie my shoe, I saw my hand for the first time. It was purple and very swollen near my index finger knuckle. I spent the rest of the race trying to decide if it was broken.

Topping out at 3,400 feet, the 50k had a total of 1,900 feet of elevation gain, almost all of it in the first 15 miles. I spent a lot of those 15 miles walking, mostly on the steep uphill sections, trying to keep my heart rate steady and conserve energy.

At mile 15, I stopped at the third aid station, chugged a shot of coke and kept on running. As the terrain shifted from uphill to downhill I could feel my body breathe a sigh of relief. The 12 minute/mile plod from the front half turned into a 10 minute/mile jog on the second half.

During the race I saw almost no one, especially on the back half. It was an odd feeling being alone out there in the desert. Several times I stopped and stood still just to listen to the silence and take in the amazing landscape.

You don’t really appreciate how small you are and how amazing nature is until you’re alone in the wilderness, where the expanse is so vast that the mountains that appear to be right there, are actually 10 miles away. It’s a bit of a scary feeling knowing you’re 15 miles from the nearest road, totally cut off from the world and the only way out is by moving your own two legs…one of which is bleeding.

By the time I made it to the fourth aid station, around mile 21, I knew I was going to finish but I could tell it was gonna suck. I refilled my hydration pack, ate half a banana, and finally took off my gloves. At the aid station one of the volunteers saw my Boston shirt and said, “Oh you ran Boston?”

What? Boston?

Oh yeah. I did.

At that moment, in the middle of the desert, Boston felt like decades ago.

Those last nine miles where tough. By mile 22, I was wishing I’d registered for the 30k. I was exhausted, and my legs were wobbly from the uphill torment and the downhill battle. My brain was fried.

By mile 25, when I got to the last aid station, my lungs were exhausted. It was difficult to get enough air, and each breath sounded like a wheeze.

With a mile left to go, I started looking for the road that we turned down to go back to the visitor center.

Where is it? I know it’s here somewhere.

Is that it?

No.

Maybe there?

No.

Then, finally, I saw a car. THERE IT IS!!

When I turned onto the asphalt for the 200 yard run to the finish, my stride opened and my legs rejoiced! I’d never been so happy to run on pavement! I turned into the parking lot, ran through the chute, and under the inflatable finish line.

5 hours, 59 minutes, 52 seconds after I started, I was finished. I was exhausted, sore, and still bleeding but I made it!!

I did the whole run on 20 ounces of half strength Tailwind, a cookie, a shot of coke, a half a banana, and a pack and a half of Honey Stinger Chews. About 500 calories.

It was the furthest and longest that I’d ever run. And it may be the furthest I ever run, period. Who knows? The future is a fickle beast. But if it is, I feel like I can be proud of what I did. One cool January morning, I went out for a run and when I got back I earned a new title, ultrarunner.

Looking back on it, knowing the experiences I’ve had and how they compare to each other in my mind, I can say with certainty that though Boston was cool for a whole host of reasons, it didn’t hold a candle to Big Bend.

Boston was a hat, a t-shirt, jacket, finishers medal and bragging rights for life.

Big Bend was magical.

Bucket list: CHECK!

UPDATE: A week after the race, my leg is still black and blue but the scratches are healing. It took about four days for the swelling in my hand to finally go down and it still hurts to grip anything, including a pen. Thankfully, it’s not broken, but it’s seriously sprained.

(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.)

Sausage Bake

This recipe has been a staple in our house for YEARS, we eat it at least every other week and for some reason I never seem to get tired of it.

It’s easy to prepare, a complete meal cooked exclusively in the oven, relatively healthy, paleo, and solidly fits in the toss-it-in-the-oven-and-go-running category. AND you don’t have to wash one. single. pot. My kind of dinner!

It even reheats well and is equally delicious as leftovers the next day.

I love eating it for breakfast with a couple of fried eggs on top. Seriously, yum!

You’ll need a large sweet potato, 4 large carrots, a small head of cauliflower, a pound of raw Italian sausage and two apples (I use Gala, they’re my favorite apple). It makes enough to serve approximately 4 adults.

(If you can only find the Italian sausage in links, you can remove the casing with a knife or scissors.)

Procedure

Chop the sweet potato, carrots and cauliflower in 1/2 inch chunks and place them in one layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste and toss everything in oil so that the vegetables are coated. You can use any kind of vegetable oil, melted coconut oil, or melted butter but I use leftover bacon grease.

Yes, bacon grease. I cook everything in it. Because it’s bacon and bacon is delicious.

Crumble the raw Italian sausage on top of the vegetables so that the chunks of sausage are about the same size as the veggie chunks and put the whole thing in the oven (do not combine!).

Let it bake for an hour at 350 degrees F.

While its baking chop up the apples in the same 1/2 inch sized chunks and toss in a little oil so they don’t brown.

After an hour, remove the tray from the oven, put the apples on top, and toss everything together, making sure the apples are well coated in oil (if they don’t get coated in the residual oil/grease/Italian sausage drippings they’ll dry out during baking) and return the sheet tray to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Done! Serve it with a small salad, fruit, or if you’re feeling festive sliced cheddar cheese, pretzels and ranch dressing to dip it all in.

You can switch up this recipe any way you want. If you want to bulk it up add another sweet potato or more carrots. The most important thing is that everything be chopped the same size.

If you’d prefer crunchier sausage, up your oven to 375 and reduce total cooking time to 1 hour (still adding the apples in the last 15 minutes).

Print Recipe
Sausage Bake
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
adults
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
adults
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Peel the sweet potato and the carrots. Chop them and the cauliflower into 1/2 inch chunks. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste and coat in oil.
  4. Crumble raw Italian sausage on top of the vegetables so that the sausage is also in chunks of about 1/2 inch.
  5. Place the baking sheet in the oven and let cook for an hour. While its cooking, dice two apples into the same 1/2 inch chunks.
  6. After an hour remove the baking sheet from the oven, put the apples on top of the sausage and toss everything together so that apples get coated in oil.
  7. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the apples are cooked but still slightly crunchy.
  8. Serve.
Share this Recipe

Trail Running, Cross Training for the Road

Y’all, I’m running my first 50k on Sunday!! I’ve had this trip to Big Bend planned in my head for the last 4 years but for one reason or another (mainly Boston) I couldn’t get the timing to work out. This year it is finally happening! This is only my second trail race (Brazos Bend was my first) but I’m not new to trail running.

I started trail running a year and a half ago after stumbling across a group who met at our local trails every Saturday morning.

It’s fun. We run through the woods, in the dark, by the light of headlamps, dodging spiders, snakes, armadillos, and other unknown creatures. It’s very Blair Witch Project. After we’re done we eat snacks and drink beer…all before 8 am.

While we run we joke with each other, and talk about both the serious and not-so-serious aspects of life. I had no idea that first morning I showed up that I would meet some of my best friends that day. Running friends are like that, trail friends even more so.

There’s something about watching someone dive head first into a bush, do ninja moves to avoid a spider or slide down an embankment that bonds you in a way that’s hard to duplicate. My trail friends have seen me at my best – and undoubtedly my worst.

Every now and then I miss my Saturday morning trail runs due to training for a race (last week I missed because of the flu) but other than that I’m there. Ready for the spiders, snakes, random tree roots and attack armadillos.

But why bother? I’m not a trail runner. As much as I like to deny it, road running is what I do. It’s what I’m good at. Why waste training time doing something I don’t focus on?

Variety is the spice of life, y’all. Trail running keeps me healthy.

Our trails run through the flood zone of a local creek. They’re rooty and though flat (we live in Houston where everything is flat) the local mountain bikers have designed them to run through every creek bed they could find. Most of the climbs/drops are less than 20 feet but they’re steep and FUN.

That first day I was shocked at how much more difficult trail running was. I was surprised at how tired I felt and how SORE I was the next day.

It’s running, it’s what I do! Why am I so sore?!

If you think about it, trail running is a completely different animal than road running.

On the road every foot fall is the same. You work the same muscles over and over and over. 800 times per mile your body catches itself in the exact same way. You have the same cadence, the same footstrike, the same movement pattern for hours and hours and hours.

But on the trails no footfall is the same. The trails challenge your balance, agility, and mental focus. Your cadence is faster, you’re constantly changing your footfalls as you avoid tree roots, rocks and logs. Your body uses stabilizing muscles it doesn’t utilize on the road, including the oft over looked muscles in your feet and ankles. The varying terrain forces you to slow down and the softer dirt lessens impact forces.

What does this mean for you?

Trail runners have fewer repetitive stress injuries than road runners (though acute injury rates like sprained ankles are higher). Fewer IT band problems. Fewer shin splints. Fewer cases of runner’s knee. If you can keep yourself from face planting, trail running will keep you healthy.

Do you want to be a stronger road runner? Run trails.
Do you want to be less injury prone? Run trails.
Do you want to run happier? Run trails.

Trail running is cross training for the road.

Since I began trail running I’m more coordinated, stronger, more nimble, more agile and my ankles have become larger. Like noticeably larger.

Even during marathon training I never stop running trails. I do all my long runs on asphalt and speedwork on the treadmill but easy/recovery runs are done on the trails where the softer surface, curving paths and tree roots force me to slow down, allow my body rebuild, and help me remember why I run.

You don’t have to be an exclusive trail runner to run trails. You can be like me with one foot on the pavement and one foot in the dirt. I do road races because I’m good at it but I run trails because I love it.

2018, The Year of Good

Happy New Year!! I wish I could say that 2018 started with a bang but really it started with a whimper.

Friday morning (the 29th), I got on the trainer for my long ride and noticed that I had a little frog in my throat. By lunch time I was beginning to cough, and by 5 ‘o clock that evening I was running a low grade fever.

Rut ro.

Knowing that Texas is ground zero for the flu this year, first thing Saturday morning I hauled my sick self to urgent care. When I got there, a nice lady shoved a q-tip up my nose and, sure enough, 15 minutes later I was diagnosed with the flu.

I spent the next two days in quarantine in our master bedroom, occasionally chatting with the kids who would peek through the doorway and binge watching MythBusters.

On New Year’s Eve, around 5 p.m., I bid farewell to 2017 when I took a dose of Nyquil and promptly passed out. I even slept through the barrage of fireworks that inevitably happen at midnight.

My fever broke at some point that evening and I’ve been recovering slowly ever since. The epic cough, runny nose, sneezes, and horrible sinus headache are all gone. But I am VERY weak. As I write this, Monday afternoon, I’m out of the bed for the first time in three days and even just sitting here at my desk is making me dizzy. But it was either this or watching Paw Patrol….

…because guess what? Despite the quarantine, both of the kids are also sick, they’re in my bed, and they’ve hijacked the TV.

Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of time to think the last couple of days about what 2018 has in store for me and what kind of year I want it to be.

Every year I set a goal for the year. Something to challenge me that I can focus on all year. This little tradition started in 2015 when I vowed to record every workout (including rest days) that I did that year. It was a great goal, writing down all those rest days completely changed my attitude toward exercise.

In 2016, it was spending all year building upper body strength so I could do a pull up. I have NO upper body so this was a serious challenge.

In 2017, it was those dadgum handstands – which for the record was significantly more difficult than the pull up.

But up until New Year’s Day morning I had no idea what the goal for 2018 was going to be. I toyed around with the idea of a back flip or learning to play the piano but with Ironman Texas this spring most of my free time will be spoken for, and it’s not going to leave much time for anything else. Whatever the 2018 goal is, it can’t be time consuming.

I tend to be a somewhat grumpy person. My husband nicknamed me “Crabby Crab” almost as soon as he met me. This may (or may not, as the case may be) come as a surprise to people who know me personally – I guess it depends on how well you know me. Most of the time I’m in a great mood but when life happens, which it inevitably does, I get nudged toward grumpy pretty easily.

I don’t like this part of me, I do my best to hide it and I try every day to change it. But it’s hard and I struggle with it daily. It’s part of the reason I love running so much. Running always helps me reset my mood.

I’ve always thought that some kind of gratitude log could benefit me but I’ve never had the discipline to follow though. This year seems like the perfect time to start.

2018 will be the Year of Good. My 2018 goal is to write down something good that happened every day. No matter how bad a day is, there is good in it, and my goal this year is to find it.

And I’m starting right now.

When he was outside taking down Christmas decorations, Jason mentioned off hand to the neighbors that I was sick. A few hours later, completely unprompted, they showed up on the front porch with a piping hot casserole and a cheesecake.

That simple act of generosity was the single nicest thing anyone has done for us in years. As I sat in bed eating homemade Chicken Spaghetti I couldn’t help but think that 2018 was getting off to a pretty good start.

What about you? Do you have a New Year’s resolution?

Year of Running 2017

This year has been insane. I’ve done more this year of running than I could have ever expected. But with the highs come the lows, you can’t win ’em all, right? This is a link up with Courtney from Eat Pray Run DC. I’ve done it before though it’s been several years so here we go!

Best race experience?

Is that even a question? Boston Marathon. The people over at the Boston Athletic Assocation have the business of coordinating a 30,000 participant marathon down to an art. From the timing of your arrival in the athlete’s village to the aid stations on BOTH sides of the road, this is easily the most well organized race I’ve ever run. Combined with the amazing spectators and the beautiful course, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Best run?

I could go with the obvious answer (Boston) but there have been some truly memorable runs over the past year that I haven’t already written about. Like the 10 miles of frozen hydration packs at Bandera or the hanunted park run. Or there was the run where we decided to explore a new area but couldn’t find the trail so we just ran through the woods, honestly it was more like a crawl (a.k.a. The Machete Run). What about the trail running in Missouri?

But I’m gonna choose the first run on the trails after Harvey. The trails are in the flood zone of Cypress Creek. During Harvey, that sleepy little creek that is normally 10 feet wide, was two miles wide and the trails were under 10 feet of water. After the water receded, I didn’t even know if the trails were still there. How could they have survived that torrent of water??

But, they did survive! They looked a little different, debris was everywhere, they were still a little soggy, and in some places they were nearly impassable but they survived. I was with a friend that day and I needed that run. The condition of trails were a great analogy for how I felt. Soggy and in some places impassable but still here.

That run was a celebration of survival, it was therapy, it was the beginning of a lot of things for me. Emotional rebuilding, you could say. It wasn’t long, 4ish miles, but I desperately needed something “normal” that day and that run was it.

Best new piece of running gear?

Nathan Hipster running belt. I love this belt! I bought it to wear during Boston and I now I wear it on most runs. It doesn’t bounce at all and holds a ton of stuff. I have two, one in a size small and one in a medium. They both fit me pretty well. I’m kinda between sizes (the story of my life). My only complaint is that they get very sweaty, more so than my SPI Belt and don’t dry very quickly so I’m constantly washing them. I wish I had more than two!!

Best advice you’ve received this year?

The last couple of months have been rough. I trained for two races and both of them ended in epic failure for different reasons. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t go the way you planned. After BCS I was ready to give up racing altogether but someone very wise sent this to me and it reminds me, that I need to get back out there and try again.

AFTER Ironman Texas though.

Most inspirational runner?

I could go with the obvious answer, Shalane Flanagan…I mean, who wasn’t inspired by her win in NYC? She personifies what you can do if you work hard and are persistent. But that’s too easy.

This year my most inspirational runner is anyone who does anything for the first time. Several of my clients are running marathons for the first time this year, THEY inspire me. They’re attempting something that they don’t know that they can do but they’re gonna try anyway. They’re nervous, scared, excited and passionate. Talking to them is like talking to the kid who just got his first bike. Terrified of falling but excited to try. THAT’S inspirational.

Favorite picture from a run or race this year?

I’ve looked through all my pictures from the year. I have a lot of pictures of my feet, quite a few pictures of snakes and most of the ones that could be decent are out of focus because the camera lens was covered in sweat.

Favorite picture from a run has to be this one taken in Huntsville State Park. I was running with two of my friends and we were in the middle of an 18-mile run. The awesome woman in this picture is one of my dear friends but she and I weren’t in the best mood that day. That run was awful. We both did nothing but complain for about 2 hours…until we came across this tree which I’d always wanted to climb. So instead of running past it like I had before, we stopped and took a few minutes to play.

Climbing up there was a little terrifying, we were close to 20 feet off the ground but climbing that tree changed our attitudes for the rest of the run.

From a race, it has to be this picture. I had just turned the corner onto Boylston Street in Boston and I was taking a video of the race finish with my phone so I could share it with my family (watch it here), but I was simultaneously taking it all in. The finish was overwhelming. The people were 5-10 deep the last part of the race and it was so loud I could barely hear the music in my ears.

The finish line was only about 1/4 mile in front of me. In that moment, I was staring at the finish line, a little sad that it was over but more proud of myself than I had ever been in my life.

(Yes, that’s a $20 bill shoved inside my phone case…you can’t be too prepared.)

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

Just. Keep. Running.

What about those handstands?

Every year I like to set a goal for myself that has nothing to do with running. This year it was to do a handstand. I didn’t really have certain metrics for success, I think I originally said 5 seconds but it really was arbitrary.

Last December, I propped my phone against the end table in our gameroom and attempted to invert myself for the first time. I nearly fell on my face. My glutes were sore for three days afterward.

Between then and now, I’ve done thousands of handstands. I’ve done them at the Y, the beach, my house, and after Harvey, at my new gym, And I’ve had to explain myself no less than a dozen times (to mostly old men) in the gym why I keep flipping myself upside down.

“What are you doing? Are you a gymnast?”

Seriously, a dozen times.

I’ve done handstands for HOURS, to the point where I made myself sore for days. Handstands are hard, people!

But in the end it paid off! Here we are, a year later. It’s not pretty and they’re still hard, (it took about two dozen tries to get one good enough to share with you) but I can do a handstand!

Proof that you can learn to do anything given enough time and determination. It’s up to you to decide to try. Don’t think I’m done with this though.

BRING IT ON, 2018!