Family time and 100 mile training

The other day my mom asked me how much of my time is going toward training for my upcoming 100 mile race. For good reason, she warned me to make sure that I am not neglecting my family.  My mom was totally right to check in with me and keep me accountable to the people who matter the most.  My parents are getting ready to celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary this week, and they know a thing or two about a happy marriage.

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39 years of marriage❤

I decided to run the Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run shortly after Cadence was born, and my husband and I had a good talk about what all would be involved with my training.  From day one, Jon has supported my efforts, but I know that it hasn’t come without some sacrifice.  The biggest difference with this training cycle from other training cycles is not that I am training for a race about 4x as long as the marathon, but that we now have an adorable baby to love.

While training for a 100 mile race is more involved than marathon training, I have been surprised at how manageable it has been, even with a baby.  My training plan is big on quality, not quantity, so it feels like I’m training all of the time, when in reality, I am just fatigued from my hard workouts. (I also talk about running all of the time, so to the people who love me, I am sure that it seems like running is all-consuming in my life. ;))  I am reading Jason Koop’s book Training Essentials for UltraRunning, and he says that one can properly train for an ultra with 6-9 hours of training a week.  In that case, the hours need to be extremely well executed.  I am definitely putting in more hours than the minimum Koop suggests is permissible, but it is still heartening to know that one can pursue big things without quitting his/her job and training all day long.

My training plan has runs scheduled almost every day and strength work about 3 times a week.  On weekdays when I have a longer run, I try to get up and run before Cadence wakes up. If the run can be finished in an hour, I’ll often sleep a little later and bring her into the basement with me to play in her pack and play while I run on the treadmill.  Most days, she is perfectly content to play while I run, and it is a fun treat for me to watch her. Other days, my husband waits for her to wake up and then brings her downstairs to join me. Ideally, I’d be running more outside and on trails, but in this stage of life, about half of my runs are on the treadmill and about half of my runs are outside on pavement. The drive time that it takes for me to regularly get to the trails is just too much extra time away from my family, and it becomes especially challenging with breastfeeding.

On the days that I do strength work, I try to wake up earlier to finish my run and complete about half of my strength training before work.  Then, I’ll get home from work with Cadence and finish the rest of the strength routine.  Strength work days are longer, and they do mean that we don’t eat dinner until later in the evening.  The good thing is that Cadence is a great little workout buddy, and she crawls around the basement with me while I do my weights.  We have “babyproofed” the basement as much as we can given that there are machines and weights everywhere, and it is really fun to watch her crawl around exploring.  Every once in a while, she gets restless and I end up incorporating her into the routines. 🙂

My coach has suggested that I can do as much cross-training as I want, but not to let it interfere with my speedwork. The pre-baby Meridith would have been all over this, but I’ve found that balance requires that I limit the extras and just do the scheduled training as well as I can.  I do some cross training, but it mostly involves “hiking” with Cadence in the jogger around my hilly neighborhood.  I’ll have to increase cross training a little more as I approach peak training, but it’s been kind of refreshing to let the A-type perfectionist runner in me slack a little on the extras for now.

So all in all, training for a 100 mile race has not been a full time job, and I’ve found it incredibly rewarding.  Jon patiently listens to me talk about training and racing, and he joins me on some of my workouts.  I still have a lot of demands on me as a wife and a mother, but I’ve got a family who extends a lot of grace and support.    At the end of the day, all of the responsibilities of house and home still apply even though there is a race on the calendar!  I am definitely more focused as a mother runner, and I appreciate every mile.  I also appreciate every moment that I get to play with Cadence and incorporate her into my training.

How do you balance training with family?

Running with a jogging stroller: the perfect little pacer

Running with Cadence in the jogging stroller is one of my absolute favorite things to do.  It combines two of the things that I love the most–my baby and running!  (Add my husband and the dog, and I’m in heaven!)  Here are some of the guidelines and experiences I have had with stroller running:

Our stroller, the Thule Urban Glide: My husband and I chose the Thule Urban Glide as our jogging stroller after I read that Steph Rothstein liked it.  We went to REI and walked around the store with a couple of brands.  The decision was between the Bob and the Thule, and the Thule won because it is lighter by a couple of pounds, and it is more compact and easier to maneuver.  We’ve had a great experience with the brand.  We actually had to exchange our original stroller because the wheel was wobbly at fast speeds (we read reviews that all jogging strollers can have this defect), and Thule was fantastic to replace our original stroller with a brand new one.

When I started running with Cadence: Cadence was born at the end of September, and she was a smaller baby.  Our pediatrician said that her head control would be fine to run with her at 3-4 months, but since it was winter anyways, we decided to wait until she was a little bigger.  In February (about 4.5 months), we took her for a run in the jogger, but she still needed to be in the car seat with the adapter because she was still pretty small.  I LOVED every minute of it!  Running with the car seat adds weight, and it makes the stroller a bit top heavy, but nothing is better than looking at your baby the whole time that you run!  I got all kinds of baby smiles and peaceful sleeping views.

How far I’ve run with Cadence: The longest I’ve run with Cadence is 13 miles so far, but I think I could run with her much longer.  She’s really content in the stroller and I feel like my endurance could handle longer distances.  When I was training for Boston, I needed to get in a 20 mile run, but my husband had an early morning event on Saturday, so I ran 7 miles on my own, and came back for Cadence to finish my 20 mile training.  Having a baby has definitely changed the way that I approach training!

How much does it affect my speed: This is actually one of my favorite things about running with Cadence.  Running with the jogging stroller forces me to slow down.  I have to make stops to make sure that everything is ok up front.  I like to talk to Cadence while we run.  I have to go slower on steep downhills and watch the curves.  As every runner knows, we can beat ourselves up over the numbers, but running with Cadence takes all of that away.  It’s also a really great workout!  With the carseat attachment, I was pushing about 50 pounds.  Now that C is bigger, the stroller is about 23 lbs and she is about 17 lbs = ~40 lbs.

 

Now back to the speed.  I estimate that I am about 30 sec to a minute slower with the stroller, but I also choose to run with the stroller on my easier runs when I don’t intend to push it.  Uphills are obviously  a little slower, and I also have to hold back on the downhills.  My neighborhood is really hilly, so it is a great workout! My average easy run with the stroller is typically about an 8:30 pace. I did my first tempo run the other night with the stroller, and I was surprised at how easily I was able to maintain a faster speed even though I had the stroller.  I was easily running low 7s around my neighborhood for the tempo, and Cadence was fine.  It ended up being a great way for C to get a nap and for me to get in a little added resistance.

How does Cadence do? So far, Cadence has been a great running buddy!  We started walking with her in the stroller from the start of her little life, and she seems pretty used to it.  Every night my husband and I walk with Cadence and our golden retriever around the neighborhood, so the jogger is pretty routine for her, whether running or walking.  For my runs, Cadence normally looks around and “talks” to me in the beginning, and then she falls asleep.  I don’t count on it always being that easy, but I’ll take it while it lasts!

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A few things that I don’t leave the house without: Sunscreen slathered all over Cadence in the summer and a hat! The sun can still peak through the stroller canopy, and her little feet are exposed. (We bundled her up when we ran with her in the winter.)  We normally have a spare bottle of water in the stroller just in case the adults need it, but we don’t really worry about much else.  I’m not about to change a diaper on the sidewalk, so if there is an emergency, I’d just run home.  So far, we haven’t had any reasons to have to run home for anything (other than a pit stop breastfeeding session). In the winter, we added little lights to the stroller, but we haven’t had to use them in the summer.

I’m sure that I will have more things to learn as Cadence gets bigger and her development changes.  I can’t wait to see how my little running buddy continues to grow and share things with me.

Do you run with your baby?  Any tips as they get bigger?

Pulling it all together: Physical Therapy and Diastasis Recti

The last few months have been a lesson of limits for me as I face the reality that I am a 32 year old mother runner, and my body will never be the same as it was before baby.  But that’s what aging is, isn’t it? And I’m really ok with it.  Cadence is the best extension of me that there ever was, and if she’s my youth, I could not be more proud than to have her carry on my legacy.  But before I go off on a mortality binge, let me say that things are really looking up!

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Every sacrifice is worth it for this sweetness!

In May, I was diagnosed with a hernia and had surgery for it.  It turns out that it was not really a hernia, and instead I have ab separation.  The surgeon was all doom and gloom about my state as an ab separated mother runner, but I have since met with two great physical therapists who told me that I am in fact very strong and set me up with strength exercises to make sure that I stay strong.

So what is happening with my abdominals then? From what I understand in meeting with the two physical therapists, my recti abdominus muscles (the six pack muscles) are working together when I engage them.  That’s great news!  There is a gap, but it is not significant, and my oblique and transverse muscles are all very strong.  The linea alba is the tendinous median line that runs down the middle of the recti abdominus, and in my case, that is what was stretched during pregnancy. 

 

Interestingly, a lot of women experience diastasis recti (DR) below the umbilicus (belly button), but in my case, all of mine is above the umbilicus.  When diastasis recti is below the belly button, some women experience a “pooch” that no amount of working out is able to resolve.  The abdominals are all connected to the pelvic floor, and a lot of women with diastatis recti also experience incontinence.  That is why exercises like kegels are so important to engage the pelvic floor.  It’s all connected!  If I had lower abdominal diastasis recti, it would also make running more challenging (no!).  In my case, the diastasis recti is only present from the belly button up, which is why I can feel my intestines down the center  of my abs (still sounds weird).  If it weren’t for that little detail, I wouldn’t notice a thing. 😉

I visited two different physical therapists on two separate days.  One of the physical therapists focused more on breathing techniques to help me engage my core properly, and the other reviewed my form in multiple strength exercises.  They both had different approaches, but the suggestions were all very promising (and I even got a few tips for running!).  I was assured that I would be just fine having a second baby.  It’s a good thing for me to address strengthening my core while I can.  When we decide to get pregnant for baby #2, I’ll just have to focus on the proper strength work to heal properly postpartum again.  That’s the great thing about our amazing bodies!

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Physical Therapist office with a complete pilates studio!

My primary takeaways from physical therapy were proper breathing and proper form.

Breathing: The foundation for proper breathing is to take a deep breath in, allowing the rib cage to expand while abdominals are relaxed, then as you exhale pull the belly toward the spine and engage the pelvic floor muscle. Here is a great site explaining diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing.

My assignment is “belly breathe” two times a day for 10 breaths:

  1. lying with knees bent
  2. sitting in a chair with feet on the ground
  3. on all fours

Another breathing technique to remember during my training is to exhale during the hardest part of a workout (ex: exhale when lifting, inhale when lowering).  This means that I am supposed to slow down my strength training in order to coordinate breathing (I am guilty of speeding through a work out just to get it done!).

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Clam shells are my new favorite exercise to help my gait

Strength Training: Engage the deep abdominals just before and as you push/pull/lift any resistance — this includes lifting the baby or any other type of weight.  I was not given specific strength training exercises, rather my current strength form was evaluated to make sure that I am properly engaging my abs to work together during all of my activities.  Examples of core work that I currently do are planks, side planks, crunches (different variations), bridges, etc.  Some women with DR are instructed not to do crunches, but my abs are actually firing properly.  I also have some side-to-side work, that is not always recommended for DR, but my PT said that given the location of my DR, it is good to get the obliques strong.

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Workout buddies

I felt so encouraged in meeting the the physical therapists, and I recommend that anyone unsure of their status post-baby should go see a SPECIALIST in this area.  I think that women, especially in the U.S., feel like they should bounce right back to pre-baby shape (whether that means returning to work right away, fitting into jeans, or getting that PR), and we don’t give ourselves the space to properly heal and process the trauma that our bodies have experienced through pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding.

Did you feel like you were expected to bounce right back after you delivered your baby?

What are your favorite core exercises?

The stomach bug from hell, and how soon should you return to normal training?

I know that I am in good company when I say that I do not like to take unexpected rest days from running.  But what about my plan?!?  On Tuesday I woke up not feeling so hot, but I slugged through my speedwork anyway and went to work.  My stomach felt off, but I’ve been suspecting that I might have a food allergy for a while now, so I thought I might have just eaten more chocolate the night before than I could handle (dairy).  Sparing you the details, nothing that I ate stayed with me for long on Tuesday, but I didn’t have a fever.  It was supposed to be a weights day, so I got through about 1/4 of my workout on Tuesday evening before realizing that I was absolutely crazy for even attempting to lift.

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Tuesday night before I realized that I had the plague.  Failed attempt at completing weights.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning when I was a whole 7 lbs lighter than the day before and weak and shaky.  I probably would have tried to tough it out, but I am breastfeeding, so I was losing even more fluids than normal for a person being thrashed by the stomach bug from hell.  No medication was working, and I was starting to get a little scared.  My general practitioner told me to go to the ER for an IV, and my sweet husband packed me up in the car and drove me to the emergency room.  A few hours later, I had received 2 liters of saline, and I felt better, yet starving.  We got home and I still couldn’t eat much, but I thought I was improving.  Wednesday night proved to be round two of the worst stomach bug ever, and I woke up thankful that we had “invested” $400 in hydration the day before or this bug would have killed me (maybe I’m being dramatic, but holy cow!).

Thursday I hardly ate anything (applesauce becoming my favorite food) for fear that I would wake the beast, but Friday I was pretty much back to normal, albeit on a relatively bland diet.  All this to say, my running schedule was interrupted, although my body had certainly been challenged!

So what’s the point of this post?  I wasn’t sure when it would be best to resume my running schedule, and I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I am the worst at resting.  How soon can you return to running after having the stomach bug?  Runner’s Connect points out that there is not a lot of research on the topic, but they suggest to run easy and short for at least three days after getting better.  If you exercise too soon, you can further compromise the immune system and delay healing.

This article states that it takes longer to replenish fluid in tissues than it does to restock glycogen stores. Even if you have been able to resume drinking, it will still take some time for rehydration to fully occur, as a balance of NaCl (salt) must also be achieved. If you exercise when you aren’t feeling well, you will further compromise your immune system and have mediocre performance in training. Once you do resume running, it is important to hydrate well and take electrolytes after you finish working out.  Also, eat shortly after finishing a work out.

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Day 1: off, Day 2: Easy 4 miles, ~30 minutes

I had an advantage (if you want to call it that) with this stomach bug because I had an IV with saline distributing the correct ratio of fluids to my body.  Normally after a stomach bug, I still feel the hangover effect days after I’m well.  In this case, I felt mostly normal by day 4 of a 3 day bug, albeit a little hungry.  I reached out to my coach to ask how she wanted me to handle the days missed in my schedule, and she said to do about 30 minutes easy on my first day feeling better, then an hour easy the next day, followed by the next few days of my original scheduled workouts at 60% effort.

I’ve pretty well followed this guidance, and I’m feeling really good/healthy again!  It seems that being a mom has given me a little more maturity (gosh, that sounds old but good) in my training decisions.  I know that if I don’t let myself properly recover, I won’t be able to take care of Cadence properly either.  Pregnancy was also a huge lesson that it is ok to take a break from the normal running routine.  One week of missed training is not going to break a training cycle.  Trust the thousands of cumulative miles that you’ve put on your legs, and don’t add stressing out to the obstacles that you might be facing.  Tomorrow is another day and another mile.

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Because she is everything.

What do you do to help you recover from little set-backs?

Have you ever had a big set-back in training? For me: pregnancy and most recently a surgery   

When things come apart: Diastasis Recti

So I’m trying to be really positive and not dwell on the past, but I recently had hernia surgery for a hernia that didn’t exist.  And I still have the original problem that I started with.  Yes, that’s right, a faux hernia.

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About 10 weeks postop

 

I don’t know where I went wrong, but I wish that I had gotten more opinions and visited women’s specialists instead of a general surgeon.  I was diagnosed with a hernia in May because I had a small place above my belly button that bulged slightly when I worked out.  An ultrasound didn’t show any tears in the fascia, which is what qualifies a hernia, but the general surgeon said that it was a hernia and that he could fix it.  To be fair, it was a weak spot in my fascia, and it was bound to only get worse with my activity level.  I was scared and I asked for the surgery.  The general surgeon was really good, but he essentially fixed a hernia that didn’t exist, and now I have a weak spot above my belly button AND scar tissue.

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After 6 weeks of recovery, I was able to resume all of my normal activities at the end of June, which means I started my strength routine again.  Right away, I noticed a bump pop out below the incision area.  I went to the surgeon the next week for a follow-up, and he said that it was not anything.  After a month more of exercise, I have continued to feel something “pop” out along the midline of my belly near the incision.  It is not visible, but clearly I can feel something happening beneath the skin, and I am able to “push” it back into place.

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I would do anything for this little lollipop!

Post op deja vu has definitely been a test of my character.  I went back to my surgeon last Friday and met with the physician’s assistant.  She gave me a lot more insight and reassurance about what was happening, but it still does not make me happy.  Essentially, I have diastatis recti, or ab separation, to the tune of 2.5 cm (normal separation is about .5 cm), and the fascia running down the center of my abdomen is holding everything in.  The PA did an ultrasound to confirm that I do not have a tear in my fascia (I have never had a tear in my fascia), but fascia is weaker than muscle, and my fascia is having to hold in my intestines.  There is nothing that I did during my postop recovery to make this happen.  It is just general anatomy.  I am pretty thin right now (breastfeeding and training for my first 100 mile race), so I do not have much of a fat layer to act as a buffer.  What I am feeling “pop” along the middle of my abdomen are my intestines as they push through my abs and against the fascia.  I’m a living science project!

The PA told me that a tummy tuck is the only solution to ab separation, but I cannot believe that something muscle related can only be fixed through surgery.  (Also remember that these are the surgeons who operated on a hernia that didn’t exist on me.)  So, this week I have called around to a few physical therapists and made an appointment to see one on Thursday morning.

I can’t help but feel guilt, regret, confusion, and fear about my condition.  I was cleared by my OB for all activities in October after I had Cadence.  All through pregnancy and postpartum, I took fitness classes specifically geared towards the right exercises for new mom bodies.  I read about Steph Rothstein’s postpartum journey of ab separation, but I really didn’t think that I needed to worry much about it since all of my doctors had told me that I was cleared to continue any type of exercise that I wanted.  I was vocal about training for Boston and running ultra marathons.  I also thought that I had covered everything with my surgeon, who told me that I could resume all physical activities after 6 weeks postop.  Good as new.

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We are dedicated to our training schedule.🙂

I am not sure why I am only feeling these symptoms later in my postpartum journey, other than that my intensity level has increased while I have also gotten thinner.  I am hopeful that I will be able to correct some of the separation.  The physical therapist assured me on the phone that diastatis recti is genetically predisposed, and there are some exercises that I can do to help strengthen my core again.  I’ll find out more on Thursday at my appointment.

Thank you if you have followed my story this far.  One last thing that I want to end with.  Recently I was reading my Bible and I came across the passage below.  It just reminded me about how much God wants for us to go to him in prayer for everything.  He is the ultimate Creator and Healer.  So my prayer is that my body will heal and I’ll be protected from any further discomfort or damage in my abdomen.  I do not want to worry about it every time I pick up my daughter or go for a run. I pray for peace of mind and healing.

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Do you have experience with diastasis recti?

Did you do any type of postpartum physical therapy?

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Update: You can read about my physical therapy appointments here.

Race Report: Hot to Trot 8 Hour Race

This will be my third race report in three weeks!  Races can be a great way to train for other goal races, and they can also serve as the perfect opportunity to connect with other runners. I really love running races, and I have to watch out or I’ll sign up for everything that comes my way.🙂 I am currently training for my first 100 mile race, so all of the races between my Boston marathon and the Yeti 100 in September serve as opportunities to have fun and add a little change to my training scenery.

I signed up for the Hot to Trot 8 Hour Race hosted by GUTS on impulse on the day that I had my hernia surgery in May. My training plan for the 100 primarily involves higher intensity running at a lower mileage, plus strength training. I had to take 6 weeks off of any type of strength work (and a couple of weeks off of running) after my surgery, so I was a little worried that I would lose a lot of ground in my training. Plus, 8 hours of running sounded like a lot of fun as I sat on the couch unable to move my body. Ha!

The race was held at Sweetwater State Park around a 1.1813 mile long trail that looped from the aid station, down toward the river, and then back up.  There were three main hills of note, but the loop basically descended to the river and then ascended to the aid station.  No dramatic elevation change, but definitely enough to produce effort, especially after 8 hours!

I was running late on race morning because Cadence had not slept well at all the night before the race (this is something that I am now accustomed to; I have not had a good night of sleep before a race since before I was pregnant), and I had to take extra time to feed her, pump, and get all of my stuff packed up.

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It all worked out, but I was two minutes late to the start of the race.  I sprinted to the start, only to catch up to the walkers on the single track at the beginning of the loop.  I had so much adrenaline after leaving a crying baby, speeding to the park, and sprinting to the start, that I knocked out the first few miles a little faster than I would have planned otherwise for an 8 hour haul.  But it felt so good to stretch my legs and breathe deeply after a stressful week of work and a teething baby.  Isn’t it great how running just makes everything melt away as you focus and feel your body move?

I was really thankful to meet up with one of my trail running friends, Seth, on the first mile.  We ended up running the next 34 miles together.  Seth had run the RuntheATL race the weekend before as well, but he had finished before me.  I didn’t realize it until later in the race, but it was a huge help mentally to have someone to talk to as we ran in circle after circle.  It never really bothered me that there was no change in scenery for 8 hours because there were plenty of really interesting, encouraging people along the trails, and the aid station was full of support.  Seth and I made a goal to run continuously for the first 20 miles.  After that, we allowed ourselves to hike two of the three steeper hills.  At 26 miles, we allowed ourselves to stop at the aid station.  The mile goals were really helpful, and I think getting such a solid base of miles in the beginning helped set the tone for the rest of the day as it got hotter.

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I stopped to pump around 4.5 hours into the run.  I ended up pumping at the picnic tables in the middle of the aid station area instead of walking all the way to the Group Shelter for cover.  I had a cover, and everyone was extremely gracious of me.  Trail runners are pretty used to bodily functions as part of the nature of the sport, so breastmilk hardly seemed a thing.  I am in the right sport!

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From this point on, Seth and I just maintained each loop as well as we could, stopping quickly at the aid station for water and food after just about every loop. After about 5 hours of heat and sweat, I was drinking about 8 oz of water for every loop.  During the course of the 8 hours, I ate one pack of Clif Shot Blocs, one Hammer gel, lots of PB&J squares, a few pretzels, and a moon pie.

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Photo credit: Samantha Taylor Photograghy

Once we hit 35 miles, my running buddy decided to slow down and enjoy the last few laps.  I had a goal of 40 miles in my head, so I kept running. I knew that my coach had written the next week as an easy/off week, and I wanted to earn that schedule.  I ended up finishing just over 41 miles in 36 loops.  I felt tired but not depleted, continuing to run up hills and keep a pretty consistent pace. From about halfway through the race, the volunteers had created a leaderboard out of a portable white board, and my name went from second to fourth to third, etc.  This was not a goal race for me, but it is always fun to be near the top.  My goal for the race was to keep moving and let the Hot to Trot serve as a training run for my 100.

Not only did I want to train my legs on the course, but I also wanted to test how my body felt, where I would get sore, what I would want to eat, and how I mentally handled the heat and the monotony.

  1. I did not wear my hydration pack (I already know that I do not like the way that my current hydration pack fits–breastfeeding has definitely changed things there).
  2. It was a good test of my shoes. No blisters!  Also, my stomach seemed fine in eating lots of PB&Js. I’ve learned that my stomach might feel crampy, but if I just wait it out, eventually, it will start to feel better. For nutrition, I did borrow a few salt tablets from my running buddy, and I want to have them on hand for my 100 as well.  I have read articles stating that cramping is not a result of electrolyte imbalance, but my calves started cramping around 7 hours, and after eating the salt tablets, I felt fine.  If that is placebo effect, I’ll take it.
  3. Mentally, I actually had no problem at all running in circles for 8 hours.  Ever since being pregnant, I have been so grateful to just be able to run.  I’m hoping that will also serve me during the later hours of my 100 mile race.
  4. As for soreness, my legs were only mildly sore.  I did feel sore in my hips and my shoulders.  This makes me grateful that my plan involves a lot of strength work because I am sure carrying your body weight for 24+ hours is a load on the body!

Now I’m looking at a week of easy recovery before I focus on resuming my 100 mile training.  The Hot to Trot was a hot, long, and very fun race!  I can’t wait to run even further in September!

What is the longest run you have ever had?

Have you ever completed a timed run like this?

Race Report: RuntheAtl, the weirdest race I’ve ever run

This past weekend I participated in one of the most bizarre, fun races that I have ever experienced.  It is called RuntheAtl, and it is an informal trail race that gives a tour of Atlanta that I had never experienced.  The “trails” consisted of old railroads, active railroads, construction zones, unfinished beltlines, and dirty tunnels.  Very little of the race was on paved surface, and nothing about it was conventional.  I heard about it through the Yeti group, as some of my buddies had run the winter version of this race in January.

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First of all, the pre-race instructions advised for runners to print out the “map“, which was really a bunch of pictures with notes like “Climb over guard rail and run through some litter covered trail. There is some garbage. Don’t be afraid. It will be over shortly. Stay in the woods a short hop.” Instead of race bibs, we were told to select a playing card out of a deck, and our numbers were recorded.  Mine was the Queen of Hearts.

I met up with two trail friends for the race (and met a bunch more), and finished 20 miles in 3:24 hours.  I am normally cautious when it comes to running by myself, and this race was no exception. We ran through some pretty sketchy sections, so I was really thankful that my friend, Brandon, stuck by my side for the entire run.  He is a former Marine and also a very strong runner.  He was beyond generous to run my paces and share the experience with me.  This was just meant to be a training run for me, not a race, but I ended up finishing first female.  I didn’t run very fast, but I think that everyone was just having fun, and no one was competing.  My finish time just happened to be first (and I got a huge, very heavy award for it.)

Here is the start of the race. We all raised our right hands and swore that if anyone asked what we were doing, we would say that we were just out by ourselves for a fun run, not an organized race. 😉 I took pictures with my Go Pro because we were told that we might need our phones to navigate if we got lost.  The quality isn’t the greatest, but I was able to capture a lot of the weirdness of the course this way.  From the start, we got our shoes muddy.  Welcome to the trails of Atlanta!

I was with a group of top runners, trusting their navigation skills, when we realized that we were off course within the first three miles.  I think we only ran about 0.2 miles off course, nothing in a trail race, but it was just enough to keep us checking our “map” more frequently from then on.

The little detour meant that we were able to join up with another group of runners, and I met a really neat girl named Kirsten (she is the girl in the hot pink compression socks).  A lot of the runners that we met are obstacle course competitors, which is a deviation from the standard ultra trail runner. Below we are running along a fence next to Marta.  Then we came out at the railroad tracks and ran along them for a bit.

Between miles 5-6, we took a left onto Joseph E. Lowry Blvd at the Atlanta Food Community Bank until it ended at King Plow.  Then we took a left onto West Marietta Blvd until we reached a liquor store sign and Floren Immigration Attorney. To the right was Angel’s Hole (pictured below), and this spit us back onto the railroad tracks.

We crossed 6 lanes of railroad tracks and followed the far right tracks.  The trains were active on Sunday, so we were told to keep our ears open for any running trains.  I only saw Marta, and I was glad not to be delayed by a moving train. At mile 9, there was an aid station, but we only stopped for a quick minute.  Along the abandoned tracks is a golf course where the golfers were nice and waved to the crazy, dirty runners.

Finally, we ended up along the unfinished part of the beltline next to Piedmont Park, and we stayed on the Beltline to Irwin St at about mile 13.5.

At Irwin, it was back to the “trails” for us along the unfinished beltline.

I was running with Brandon, and we were thankful that a runner came up behind us and helped us with directions to the next big course change to the Krog Tunnel around mile 14.

Then we ran through a construction area and past Interstate 20 to get back onto the unfinished part of the beltline.

When we reached mile 15ish, our directions said that we would stay on this path until mile 18.9, so we could put the directions away for a bit.  We saw so many weird things along the trails of Atlanta.  There was always a little litter, but we also came upon a twin sized bed (I am sure that was a treasure to some of the homeless people we passed), tons of graffiti, and a few dead animals (watch where you step!).  It also felt like we were constantly running along the railroad tracks.  It was definitely a big workout to either trudge along the big rocks next to the tracks, or plan your steps along the railroad ties perfectly so as not to twist an ankle.  My calves were definitely sore after this run! The dark tunnel in the pictures below is called “Tetanus tunnel” and it was at least a foot deep with water.  Brandon and I both stopped cold in our tracks when we reached this tunnel to see if there was any way around it.  Nope!  Just got to get your feet wet (and very dirty) and go for it!

At around mile 19, we had our final course change, and turned right through a little side trail to “Angel’s back yard”.  This led us through a construction area and on to the finish!

I love meeting people through running, and trail people are just the best.  It was fun to hang out at the finish for a little while, but then I had to go home to feed my little baby.  It had been about 4.5 hours since I had pumped/fed Cadence, so we were both overdue to see each other. (Lots on breastfeeding here if you are a new mom trying to figure this out.)

Like I said earlier, I finished first female, which certainly made me feel good, but this wasn’t a goal race, and my effort was not a race effort.  Everyone received a railroad spike, and I also received a first female enormous, heavy, very thoughtful award.  I have no idea what to do with it, as it would probably rip a hole through any wall if I tried to hang it.  Haha. This race has definitely changed my perspective of trail running, and I am so grateful to the people who worked hard to put on such a fun experience around Atlanta!

What is the weirdest race you’ve ever run? Ever heard of the Barkley Marathon?  This reminded me of that, only not as brutal.

Do you run with a buddy if you think the area might be sketchy?

Race Report: AJC Peachtree Road Race 10k

I am a long distance, endurance kind of girl, but I have to admit that I like the opportunity to run fast.  Running fast is kind of new to me, and I am still learning my limits, especially as a post-partum runner.  For this Fourth of July, my husband and I signed up for our second AJC Peachtree Road Race 10k, which is held every Fourth of July on a hot, hilly, crowded course through Atlanta.  It’s a fun race, but not one to take too seriously.  With that said, this is a pseudo race report because this was a race for fun not a goal race by any stretch. I’m training for a 100 mile race in September, so my training has left my legs relatively tired, and I wasn’t sure what level of effort I wanted to put into this hot race.

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Props to the AJC for giving two free downloads of race pictures!!

My husband, baby, and I spent the night at my parents’ house 45 minutes north of Atlanta because what babysitter wants to show up for a job at 5:30 am on a holiday? :)  Cadence is still getting up in the night, and I like to be there to nurse her instead of pumping/giving a bottle.  It’s our new normal in this phase of life, and it also means that I live in a constant state of sleep deprivation.  Ha!  We are so thankful to have parents who love to babysit and support our activities.

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My race routine now involves pumping, and the car time was perfect for that.

I did not sleep well on Sunday night, finally getting up at 4:30 am.  Even that early, my phone said that the temperature was 75 degrees (it turns out that this year was the hottest year since 2005).  It was going to be a hot, muggy day!  We left the house by 5:45 am and headed to MARTA to take the train to the start of the race.  MARTA is an extremely inefficient transportation system, and that was once again confirmed as thousands of other suburban commuters converged on the same rails.

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When will Atlanta ever learn?!

We were really cutting it close on time when we got off the train, so Jon and I ran to the porta-potties and then ran to the start in order to make it in time.  I had a minute to spare before the gun went off, and I was already dripping with sweat. At the time of the start, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to race or just run for fun.

My legs had been feeling like lead on all of my training runs leading up to this race, so my expectations were pretty low. At the start of the race, my legs felt fine, but there were so many people crowded at the start that no one could run too fast. I broke semi-free from the crowds by the second mile, and my legs felt fine. I was really comfortable with my pace, and realized that I could potentially PR if I continued to feel this good, despite the heat and crowds. I knew that my PR 10k was a 6:38 pace and I was easily clocking the 6:20s.

 

Then mile 3 happened and I started feeling like even the downhills were an effort. At that point, I decided to just enjoy the race and not trash my legs. I settled into an easier pace and just focused on feeling strong for the hills. When I reached mile 5.5, I looked at my overall average pace and it was 6:39. Now I had a decision: either push a little harder and go for a PR after all, or just keep cruising. I didn’t have any excuses not to try to PR, so I sped up just past uncomfortable and tried to sustain that for the rest of the race.

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When I finished, my watch said that my overall pace was 6:34 in 6.33 miles, but my time was 41:40. I had missed my 10k PR by 20 seconds, but my pace was faster than my PR race time (because of the extra 0.13 miles that I ran).

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For races this crowded, it’s hard to run the tangents, and sometimes, the course just gives you a little extra. (This also happened in Boston, which is a super crowded course.) I had a great time running, and I got the best of both worlds by racing part of the course and relaxing for part of the course.

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My husband finished shortly after me (he was in a different wave), and he also ran a really fast race. My favorite memory of the race is actually what happened after the race.  I loved walking around Piedmont Park with my handsome, sweaty husband talking about our impressions of the race.  Jon is just recently starting to run more races, and it makes me so happy to share this with him!

It turns out that I finished 30th female out of 28,677 and 521 overall out of 56,914. All finishers in the top 1000 get a free mug at the local running store, so that is a fun treat that I will pick up later this week.  In the meantime, I can’t help but wonder how fast I can run on a different course in cooler weather. 🙂

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My biggest takeaway from the race is to always maintain a positive attitude.  There will be surprises in any race, and heat, hills, and crowds are all part of the experience.  At the end of the day, running is a gift, and it is a way to praise our Creator with our legs.  We spent the rest of the day at my parents’ house at the lake, and then finished up the evening at our neighborhood pool party.  And that’s a wrap on the Fourth of July 2016!

Did anyone else run a summer race recently?

Does the heat discourage you from trying to give it your best?

Watching for adrenal fatigue: I’m a mom and a runner, of course I’m tired!

It’s no surprise that the body goes through a ton of changes through pregnancy and postpartum recovery, especially if you choose to breastfeed during the first year of being a mom. I’ve been aware that adrenal fatigue is a real possibility as a new mom, but I didn’t really know what that meant or what I could do about it.  In all of the doctor visits that I’ve had as a new mom, I have yet to get a very clear answer of what the typical postpartum body looks like from a hormone balance standpoint. (Spoiler alert: before you read through this whole thing, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I do not have adrenal fatigue.)

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About two months from Boston, I realized that my lack of sleep was affecting my training and I needed to scale back my goals and just focus on getting to the start line healthy.

I ask a lot of my body as a mom and as a runner.  First, I grew a human with my body for nine months, and now, I’m keeping that little human alive through breastfeeding.  All through this time, I have maintained running and increased my intensity as I train for various races.  While breastfeeding and running definitely require a lot of energy from my body, sleep deprivation seems to be the icing on the cake.  My little one was waking up to 10 times a night (my rule is to stop counting when you reach double digits), and she is still waking at least once a night now that she is nine months old.

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Yep, this little baby changes everything.

I’m a working mom, so I was burning the candle from every possible direction leading up to the Boston Marathon. (Cadence got colds from daycare and that is partly why she was such a terrible sleeper between 3-6 months of age.  Poor baby!)  I was able to PR at Boston, but I relaxed my goal by about 10 minutes when I realized how thin my reserves had become. After Boston, I went to the doctor for a general physical, as suggested by my husband. At that visit, I learned that I had a hernia, and you can read all about that fun little detour here. I got my results from the general practitioner and learned that my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels were high.  The report sent to me by my doctor suggested that I get retested in a month.

Trying not to be too disturbed by these results (what is happening to my body!?!?), I went for a re-test about a month later, and I learned that my TSH levels are still on the high-ish side, but all of my other hormones are in the right range.  My thyroid is producing the correct levels of TPO antibody, Free T3, Free T4, Thyroglobulin Ab, and Cortisol. This is important because all of the hormones in the body act on a feedback system, and one abnormal hormone level could create a cascade effect on other hormone levels.

Adrenal Basics:

While I learned that my hormone levels are in a safe zone, I decided to refresh my memory on the endocrine system and understand more about adrenal fatigue and thyroid dysfunction (I have a background in biomedical engineering, but I did not picture myself being the subject of this jargon when I was studying it ten years ago!). Cortisol is produced by the pituitary gland, and a high level could indicate the signs of adrenal fatigue.  The pituitary gland produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) when a stressor is perceived by the brain, and this chemical in turn causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is good when the fight or flight response is necessary, but it is tough on the body when it is in a constant elevated state.

Constant stress can signal the adrenal glands to overproduce adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. The adrenal glands, which are the front line in the stress reaction, can then  become depleted. Once the adrenal glands are tapped, it can lead to impairment in the thyroid gland, as hormone regulation is one big feedback loop. There are a lot of symptoms that can indicate that the adrenal glands are overproducing hormones, some of which include a suppressed immune system, fatigue, unrelaxed sleep, depression, and anxiety.

A few things that I am doing to stay healthy:

I didn’t have any of the above symptoms when I was tested, so I was fairly confident that I did not have adrenal fatigue.  That being said, I do not want to get adrenal fatigue, so I made a few changes which also happen to make me a happier, healthier person in the process.

  1. My first test result came back just about the time of my hernia surgery, so I had a mandatory resting period while I recovered.  As much as I hate to admit it, this was probably a really good thing for me, as I tend to go all out, all of the time.  Ben Greenfield advises to avoid excessive exercise, which is hard to do when you are training for your first 100 mile race. 😉
  2. I have also focused on eating more nutritious foods. I eat a lot of food, especially with training and breastfeeding, but I really try to cut out the processed foods and eat a lot of organic, healthy stuff (although I have a weakness for candy bars at night).
  3. I also have made an effort to get to bed earl(ier) every night.  This is so hard for me because I really can’t get much done around the house or unwind until Cadence goes to bed.  That little baby has a ton of energy, and we are busy playing until right before bedtime!
  4. Recently, my massage therapist introduced me to doTERRA essential oils.  I’m still learning about them, but I did find an interesting journal article that found that inhaling the scent of lavender for 4 weeks can prevent stress, anxiety, and depression after childbirth.  I love the smell of lavender, so this was an easy addition to my retinue of healthy adrenal actions.
  5. Finally, this research study in the British Journal of Midwifery found that the release of the hormones prolactin and oxytocin during breastfeeding have an inhibitory effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is activated at times of stress, and can reduce the incidence of postpartum depression.  I think this just shows how much our God loves us!  He not only gave us the capability to nurse our little ones for healthy growth, he also made the act protective for the mommas who might so desperately need a little tlc themselves!

I hope my little walk down discovery lane can be of help to another new mom out there who may be feeling a little worn down.  Take care of yourself and be aware of your body!  I think as runners, we are acutely aware of our bodies, but we are also the first to tough out the hard times and push through when we might need to re-evaluate and rest.

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I’m much better at naps now, and why wouldn’t I choose extra time to snuggle with this little peanut?!

Have you had any experiences with adrenal fatigue?

What do you do to relax and reduce stress?

Walking to Run

Walking was my first favorite workout, before running stole my heart.  There is so much that a good walk can provide–time to clear your head, pray, have a good conversation with a friend, smell the roses, feel the breeze. Or read a book.  That’s how I started my walking journey–on a treadmill reading book after book.  I studied through college and grad school while walking on a treadmill, and I planned out my thesis mile after mile. Some of my favorite memories are hikes and walks around the neighborhood with my mom.  Walking is good for the soul.  It’s also really good for running.

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I use clothes pins to hold my books open while I walk or run on the treadmill.  I finish about a book a week this way.

I transitioned from being a serial walker to being an obsessed runner during my training for my first marathon in 2013.  I had never run on a treadmill until near the end of my training when I realized that only running on the weekends wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  Shortly after that, I was hooked on running, but I have maintained treadmill walking at an incline as a staple of my week.

Walking to increase strength and endurance

We all know that exclusively running has its set-backs, like injury.  So adding walking to the regimen is a great way to increase endurance by providing time on your feet and strengthening your legs where they need it. It serves as a way to cross train without stressing the joints that sustain the greatest stresses during a run. When I’m not walking outside or hiking outside, I set my treadmill to an incline up to 15% and walk, walk, walk.

All of my ultra buddies know that running an ultra marathon involves hiking,especially on technical terrain, so having the ability to transition from running to walking is a very necessary skill to finish strong. My very first ultra marathon was the Sky to Summit 50k, and I had not trained for it (I was actually using that race to train for a marathon the next month), but I attribute my treadmill “hiking” for giving me the strength to climb the technical trails for over 7 hours to finish as second female.

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She is the cutest walking buddy that I ever did see!

Walking through an Injury

I recently had surgery, and the surgeon told me that I could walk as soon as I got home from surgery, encouraging me that walking helps promote blood flow, which also speeds up healing.  For the first two weeks, I was limited to only walk or cycle, and this provided me with a great outlet to work out and promote the healing process.

Walking was also a great way for me to continue running through pregnancy because it gave my joints the break that they needed and it kept me in shape to continue running postpartum.  Most of my weekday pregnancy runs ended up being half running, half walking by the end of the 39 weeks.  I used incline to increase the intensity of the work out.

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I went for a walk hours after my hernia surgery.  It wasn’t anything intense, but it did get the blood flowing.

Walking as Recovery

If you are anything like me, you barely squeeze in your run before hopping in the shower and rushing off to the day. By allowing your body a proper cool down walk, you keep the blood flowing to the tissues that were just stressed while your heart rate returns to normal. I have found that I am less sore from a workout if I complement it with a good walk afterwards.  (There is a lot of research corroborating the value of a warm up and cool down in reducing DOMS.)  I walked a few miles after the Boston Marathon to sight-see the other finishers, and while I was stiff the day following the race, I was feeling much better than I expected!

Another good recovery walking option is to walk backwards.  For as long as I can remember, my massage therapist, Rena, has told me that I need to be walking backwards to keep me off of her table. I’ve started to do this as a cool-down on the treadmill in the evenings more often, and it feels like a good stretch. (I’ve also tried to walk backwards around my neighborhood, but it makes me feel extremely silly, and I’ve had a few people yell out of their windows to check on me.)  Walking backwards reduces the stresses on your joints, relieves lower back pressure, and increases hamstring flexibility.  Walking backwards is also said to enhance cognitive control, which makes it a good recovery activity for individuals recovering from strokes. I only walk for a couple of minutes backwards, but I have read that 10-15 minutes is the sweet spot.

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Walking backwards on the treadmill is a lot safer than walking backwards on a neighborhood street! 🙂

Other Obvious Advantages of Walking

I’ve listed a few reasons why walking is one of my staple activities, but for non-runners, it can be a life-saver.  The low impact of walking makes it a great activity for individuals already in poor health, obese, diabetic, etc.  It helps reduce the rates of chronic illnesses, and the activity releases endorphins, making both mind and body a better place to be.

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My husband and I walk our golden retriever at the end of every day.  It’s not anything rigorous, but it helps us shake off the work day and get the blood flowing.

So as ultra runners, we walk because walking is part of endurance sports.  When it comes to the 18th hour of running my first 100 mile race, I’m going to be grateful for the hours that I slowed my treadmill, increased the incline, and settled into a good book.

Is walking a big part of your training regimen?