Ready or not, here comes race day: preparing for the Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run

I’m just about as ready as I can be for Race Day, and I feel strong as Friday approaches.  The reduced volume of training this week has given me extra time to make race day plans and go shopping for supplies.  This is my first 100 mile race, so I am sure that I will learn a lot about what I need and don’t need on the run.  I ran 33 miles of the Creeper Trail course in June on a training run, so that really helps as far as anticipating the terrain and elevation.  I know that I will learn a lot about limits on this course, as I push further than I’ve gone before, but thankfully, I will have family and friends (both in body and spirit) there with me to help!

I always pick a verse for my goal races instead of thinking of a mantra, and that helps me refocus and remember that God is in control, and as my Creator, He designed me to run for His glory.  I chose Isaiah 40:26 for this race because it is a reminder that out of all of humanity, God knows each one of us.  He created me to run and He knows my passions.  He also created my sweet little baby, not one of them is missing, and He loves her individually.

Isaiah 40:26 Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.

About the course:  You can see more about the course here.  In summary, this is an out and back, out again course, so I will run the same 33ish miles three times.  The trail is an old railroad bed, so it is mostly smooth and wide.  The elevation profile is like a tipped bowl, where most of the first 33 miles will be descending from White Top Station to Abingdon, then I’ll run back up and then down again.  The risk is that it is easy to go out fast downhill for the first 33 miles and bust your quads for the last 66+ miles. There are 5 aid stations that runners will pass multiple times due to the out and back nature of the course.  It is anticipated to be in the mid to upper 60s during the day and in the low 40s at night. I am told that White Top Station can feel downright cold and layers are necessary.

My crew and pacers: My husband is my number one support in every way, and he will be critical in helping me on race day, as he knows me better than anyone.  My parents are joining to help watch Cadence and crew during the day.  Finally, I have an awesome new speedy friend, Katie, who will be coming out with her husband and baby as well.  I met Katie through Instagram (@katyhaytay) when she was traveling to Atlanta.  She’s from Memphis, so this is no small commitment from her.  We went for a run together, bonded over running, babies, and Jesus, and the rest is history.  Actually, it’s not quite history yet, but it will be after she paces me through the night with a headlamp blazing the trail!

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Virtual friends who ended up real life friends!

How I expect for the day to go: For people unfamiliar with trail running or ultra marathons, there are a few things that are very different from road racing.  Endurance running most often involves a mix of running and fast hiking.  I won’t be running the whole time, but I would like to keep moving forward as quickly as reasonable.  I’ll carry my food and water with me in my hydration vest and restock at aid stations and when I meet with my crew (parents, Jon, and Katie).  The fuel that I plan to carry includes gels, shot blocs, pouches, and bars.  Plus, I have a variety of foods to eat when I meet with my crew and at the aid stations.  I plan to run a conservative pace in the beginning in the hopes of saving some juice in my legs to finish strong. There is a 30 hour cut-off, but it would be fun to finish earlier than that.

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Practicing runs with the hydration vest. I will miss her on the trail!

The plan is to see Cadence at least twice during the race, thanks to my parents who will be helping out. I will either need to feed her or pump.  Most likely, I’ll be pumping. I’ll meet with Katie at mile 66 to have her pace me for half of the remaining leg, and then I’ll pick up Jon to finish out the race.  I am so thankful for the team helping me run this race, and I am just about as excited to share it with them as I am to run my first 100. :)))

There will be race tracking about every quarter of the way that can be found here, and I’ll hopefully we’ll have enough cell signal for Jon to post a few updates to my Instagram account, @runningwithcadence.

Prep: This being my longest distance yet, I have spent a little extra time trying to map out what I’ll need each hour and mile of the course. I have planned out my fueling strategy, and I am aware that the digestive system works really differently when it is forced to operate on the run for this long of a duration. I purchased supplies over the weekend, including tape, etc just in case I have foot problems or anything else. On Monday I saw my fabulous medical massage person, and she did a final easy massage to keep things loose.  Most of my supplies are packed up in little baggies so that I can grab what I need quickly on the run when I meet my crew.

Any concerns:  I followed a training plan developed by my coach, and I feel strong going into this race.  I have one little place on my ankle that every once in a while gives me a little pain, but when it does hurt, it seems to go away once I start moving. 100 miles will be the real test!  Also, I had surgery in May, and I am always aware of the incision spot above my belly button

My biggest concern is that I am still breastfeeding, so my nutrients and hydration will be diverted to feed a baby.  Cadence turns one year old on Thursday, and I didn’t want for this race to dictate when I weaned.  She’s been waking up a lot in the night to eat lately, so my supply is not as diminished as I would have hoped by now.  Either way, she’s my number one priority, and breastfeeding is worth whatever happens on race day as a result. I also hope that she will let me get a little more sleep on Thursday night, as this past week has not been her best sleeping record.

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Travel: We will leave on Thursday late morning to go to our AirBNB house in Abingdon, VA.  There is a mandatory race meeting on Thursday at 7 pm, and the race starts at 7 am on Friday morning.  We’ll stay through Sunday morning before hitting the road again.

Ready or not, here comes race day!

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What is the longest race you have ever run?  Any tips for race day prep?

The Sweetest Kind of Exhaustion

My relationship with sleep has changed a lot in the last year since Cadence was born.  You see, my baby doesn’t really sleep a whole lot, at least not in long stretches at a time.  I’m getting ready to run my first 100 mile race, and one mantra that I remind myself when I start to freak out about that distance is You can do hard things.  Out of all of my experiences in life, the two hardest things that come to my mind with that mantra are 1. natural childbirth (which really wasn’t that hard; more mental than anything) and 2. functioning for a whole year on very little sleep while training for races ranging from the Boston marathon at 6 months postpartum, to my upcoming 100 mile race at 1 year postpartum. img_20160120_1925463

I can do hard things because I can wake up with a baby all night long, still wake up for my training run in the morning, and then go to work all day only to return back home to the responsibilities of wife and mom.  I can do hard things.

My husband and I met with our pediatrician before Cadence was born, and he told us that babies can sense when their parents are stressed and it can affect the baby.  I tend to be an A type, need-a-plan kind of girl, so being stress-free does not exactly come naturally to me.  This piece of advice really made an impression on me though, and I decided early on that if we had a bad night with little sleep, that was OK.  And it has been. For a whole year.

img_20160814_081402From the beginning, we had the normal newborn, every two hour feedings, plus a few other wake up times for good measure.  Cadence started to get more on a three hour routine around three months old, and then I started back to work and she caught every single bug at daycare.  My lowest point (I can do hard things) was around March (6 months old) when Cadence was waking up more than 10 times a night (my rule is to stop counting at double digits).  I was nearing the end of my training for Boston, and my body was hurting in every way. Miraculously, just in time for Boston, Cadence improved to about 2-3 wakings a night, and we’ve pretty much been in that state since then.  Some nights are better and some nights are worse.

I’m not complaining.  Not one bit.  It has been hard, but I can do hard things.  It has also been one of the sweetest, most rewarding things in my life. I get to hold my tiny (growing) baby in the night when snuggles are the very sleepiest.  I’m still breastfeeding, and I know that even if she is distracted to eat very much during the day, she’ll make up for nutrition with breast milk at night.  I’m at work during the day, and my training takes up my early mornings and some evenings after work.  Night time is our time.

img_20151104_074223014Cadence won’t always need me in the night, so I am soaking up all of the baby snuggles while I can. I’m sure that the lack of sleep has limited my recovery after hard workouts, and I know that it has made my brain fuzzy many days at work, but I’m a mom first, and right now, my sweet little baby needs me. As I approach my race where I’ll be running (and pumping) through the night, thinking of Cadence will be my motivation to finish strong and fast so that I can get back to that little sleeping angel.

img_20160908_224336Any other moms still waking up with their babies at night and while trying to maintain a training schedule?

Interval training: my new favorite workout that hurts so good

Until this past summer, I had never really followed any structure to my training.  I would sign up for a full marathon, check Hal Higdon to see when I needed to do my long runs, and then run whatever I felt like in between with a few speedier runs that I liked to call speedwork.  Fast forward to my current training cycle where I am training for a distance that scared me into hiring a coach.  Plus, as a postpartum runner, I wanted to make sure that my training was appropriate for what my body had to give.

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My current training plan involves a lot of interval training, which I have grown to really appreciate (even though it is a lot harder to get out of bed in the morning when you know that your first hour awake is going to hurt so bad!).  That being said, I am much more likely to embrace a plan if I understand the reasoning behind it, so here are a few things I’ve learned about the nuances of interval training.  Before I get started–an interval is a workout that typically has a faster component, followed by a rest period, and this cycle of fast, recover, fast, recover is repeated for the duration of the workout.

Interval training:

  1. Teaches the body to recruit more muscle fibers as you achieve faster speeds.
  2. Stresses the cardiovascular system to a greater degree than if you were to run continuously.
  3. Teaches the muscles to more efficiently process oxygen (increases VO2 max).
  4. Improves focus, which helps with mindset on race day.
  5. Stimulates many of the same cellular pathways for endurance training, but in less time.  (Read about a study on a stationary bike that showed interval training to produce the same physical benefits as long-duration endurance training here.)
  6. Helps the legs feel different paces, which can help prepare for race conditions and teach the body to handle tough conditions.
  7. Helps increase our body’s ability to run at a sustained anaerobic pace for longer periods of time.
  8. Burns more fat than standard endurance training by increasing metabolic rate. (Read a study here.)

 Tips for interval training:

  1. Build a foundation of 6-8 weeks of running before going hard for the intervals.
  2. Run at a pace that can be sustained throughout the interval without dropping pace.
  3. Focus on perceived effort, working toward a 90% effort.
  4. Integrate ladders (ex: 3,2,1), pyramids (ex: 1,2,3,2,1) , or repeats (ex: 2,2,2) for variety.  A “step up” ladder improves strength and stamina, a “step down” ladder helps build speed by getting more work out of tired legs, and a pyramid can combine the two. All will help improve overall race times.
  5. The longer the interval, the more it works to improve endurance. The shorter the interval, the more it works to improve speed.
  6. Intervals on uphills have less impact on the legs.
  7. Recover adequately during the prescribed recovery time. Your goal is to run the strongest interval time, not keep the recovery fast.  This means that you may need to walk the recovery time.
  8. Always warm up and cool down for interval workouts.  Speed work tends to be harder on the joints, so a good warm up and cool down can help prevent injury.
  9. Keep up with strength training to help decrease the chance of injury when speedwork is involved.

There are a lot of variations to interval training that can be applied, and that keeps training interesting and gives the muscles different stresses for improvement.  As much as intervals hurt while they are being run, they also give some of the best endorphins after a tough sequence is achieved! It’s a love/hate relationship, but after seeing the improvements in just a couple of months, I’ll always have intervals as an integral part of my training plan.

What is your favorite type of training run?

Treadmills, really going the distance

Contrary to a lot of runners, I love the treadmill. It always bothers me when I see people refer to treadmills as “dreadmills” because the treadmill is my favorite material thing in our house.  It has really gone the distance with me. Ha! I started out using the treadmill as a means to walk at an incline and read for my exercise.  This was before I became a runner, and it served as a great foundation for me.  I ran my first marathon in 2013, and that is when my treadmill finally realized its full potential and helped me fulfill my training.

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Here are a few reasons that I love the treadmill:

  1. I can control the incline (I run at 3% or > for all of my runs)
  2. I can control the speed (actually really good for intervals)
  3. The surface is shock absorbing so impact is minimized
  4. I read and run, so I consume books at a rate of about 1/week
  5. A bathroom is always near (very helpful when running through pregnancy)
  6. It is light in my basement when it is dark outside
  7. Bad weather doesn’t keep me from a run
  8. I can run without coordinating childcare for my baby

I currently have the Landice L8, and I love this machine!  We bought it off of Craigslist in 2014, and it has been my staple almost every weekday morning.  A good treadmill for serious running needs to be really solid, and will probably be an investment. I bought my treadmill used, but there is always a risk with used exercise equipment that you might not get as many miles out of it.  Used gym equipment has probably been well maintained, but it also probably has A LOT of miles on it.  On the other hand, used gym equipment is generally bigger and sturdier, which is a great benefit.

Here are the specifications that you should look for in a good home treadmill for serious running:

Motor power: My treadmill has a 4HP continuous duty drive motor, which is ideal for running.  If you only plan to walk, you can get away with less horsepower.

Running area: It is recommended that the running area be at least 20″x60″.  My treadmill has a  22” x 63” running area, and it is perfect for both my husband and me.

Incline: My last treadmill only went up to 10%, and I was happy with that.  Now that I have a treadmill that goes to 15%, I don’t think I’d want to go back.  I like to “hike” at the 15% level for cross training.

Speed: My treadmill goes from 0 to 12 MPH, and that has always been sufficient for me.  If you are looking to break 5 minute miles, you may want to invest in something speedier.

Shock absorption: Landice claims to use commercial grade materials for high quality construction.  With that, they have a special shock absorption system that they say is 5x softer than grass.  I would think that any treadmill that focuses on meeting running needs will also have a pretty robust shock absorption system.

Programs: this is not anything that I have ever used, and my Landice has very basic programming.  I have always thought that the more complex the computer, the more chance that it might malfunction.  On the other hand, it would be pretty cool to be able to simulate a race day scenario in a treadmill program!

Book Prop: this might sound silly, but it is really important to me that I can see my book on the console of the treadmill. The same should be true for you if you are wanting to watch Netflix on your tablet. Also note where the rails are located to make sure that you feel comfortable with your arm swing.

Warranty: my treadmill has a lifetime warranty on all parts as long as I have a bill of lading.  If you invest a lot of money in your treadmill, it is worth it to look into this aspect as well.  If you buy used, make sure to ask for proof of purchase!

I always recommend keeping your equipment well maintained.  We have our treadmill serviced once a year, and we add lubrication to the belt about every eight months if we’ve been using it for a heavy training period.  It is very important to make sure that the belt is aligned and fixed at the right tightness because it can wear out the motor if not.  A shot motor is a very expensive thing to fix, and it makes for a very ineffective treadmill.

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This is still one of my favorite pictures. ❤

Do you use the treadmill regularly in your training?

Life seasons and then there’s running

Labor Day weekend just marked the end of summer and the beginning of fall.  Another great season, although this one felt like it flew by now that my baby is WALKING!

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Working out has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I’ve always loved the way that exercise made me feel, and it didn’t hurt that it also helped keep clothes fitting through the holiday season.  But then something shifted.  I ran my first marathon in 2013, and then in 2014 I decided to try to qualify for Boston.

Before I knew it, working out was exclusively about helping me run better.  I work out to run and I eat to run.  I sleep to run, and I read about running.  The podcasts that I listen to are pretty much all about running.  It’s been really rewarding to see the progress that I’ve been able to make in both speed and distance.  I’ve met incredible people through running, and I feel like things in general fall into place better when I’ve got goals, even if they are running related. I ran through pregnancy, and I think that it helped keep me healthy in a lot of ways.  I have run after pregnancy, and I think it has made me a better mom and wife.

As you can tell, I realllllly love to run.  And right now, I am at the height of a big training season, so my training is at a high right now (and I am functioning on an endorphin high!).  But just as summer turns to fall, seasons make us focus on different things.   Hopefully I’ll always have a race to look forward to, but I’m reminded that through it all, I’m not a professional athlete.  I don’t even work in a running related field.  I am a wife and a mom first.  And those two things fill me up more than I ever imagined!

This last season of figuring out how to be a new mom, waking up all through the night, breastfeeding, cooking our meals, going to work, keeping laundry clean and folded, maintaining a somewhat clean house, and remembering to feed the dog have all made for a beautiful blur of months.  And all of that doesn’t even include going for a run or training for a race.  I’ve learned a lot about what is important (my family) and what isn’t (a clean house).  I’ve also grown to appreciate just how much a human can handle–in emotions, physical limits, and time management.  I believe that all of these things do make me a better, more grateful runner, but they are also proof that running is a complement to the seasons, not the season itself.

 

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I always have a little helper. ❤

What has this last season been like for you? 

 

Marginal Gains: when every little bit counts

Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.

—Jim Rohn
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There was a lot of talk about marginal gains around the time of the Olympics because, for those athletes, a decimal point of improvement could be the difference in a podium win or a back-of-the-pack finish. While no one in my running circle is looking for Olympic-level kind of gains, there are a lot of details in the margins that can make us happier runners with better results.
This current training cycle has been more intense than any of my other training cycles, and I have really found myself relying on the little things to keep my body healthy and happy throughout the workouts. The more intense my workouts, the more critical it is for me to rely on the little details.  As with forming good habits, marginal gains accrue over time to ultimately lead to more success.  Here’s to hoping that all of the little things will help me get to the finish line strong and fast!
Here are a few of the marginal  and not-so-marginal habits that I think have helped make me a stronger runner:
  1. Consistency: Without a doubt, consistency in my workouts has made me a stronger runner.  I wake up early to run before work, and I make sure to complete all of the workouts that my coach prescribes.  There are plenty of days that I wake up tired or get home from work and feel tired, but then I think of my goals and what I want to achieve, and I get my butt outside or downstairs to our gym.  (Of course, if you are sick, skip the workout!)
  2. Sleeping in compression socks: There is debate over the full benefits of compression socks.  Some proponents say that wearing them during a run improves running by increasing circulation and reducing vibrations to the leg muscles.  Others say that during a run, there’s not really that much added benefit.  One thing that is more widely accepted is that compression socks do help aid in recovery (when not running) by increasing circulation.  I do like to wear compression socks when I run in the winter, but I’ve found that staying cool when it is hot outside is more important than running in  compression socks in the summer.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t speed recovery to my legs while I sleep.
  3. Drinking a lot of water:  I started really being intentional with hydration when I was pregnant, and now that I am breastfeeding and working out like a crazy person, it is equally important.  I drink a whole lot of water throughout the day, and I only occasionally drink caffeine or alcohol.  In addition to water, there are a couple of drink mixes like this one that I like to add for flavor and a little added benefit.  I also drink almond milk for the added calcium (still tbd on dairy, so I limit milk).
  4. Eating enough good foods:  Fueling properly has become much more critical as I push my body in training AND in breastfeeding.  My body is working as hard as it can, so I need to make sure that I give it the nutrition that it needs.  I have transitioned to eating mostly organic foods, and I have cut out a lot of the refined grains that I used to eat.  I used to try to eat a low-fat diet, but I now try to incorporate good fats into every meal. I also make an effort to get a lot of protein through good meats, protein shakes, and cheese.
  5. Rolling and stretching: I’m not the best at rolling and stretching, but I am definitely better than I have ever been. One thing that has helped tremendously is that I carry a lacrosse ball in my purse, so I can roll at any time that I feel a twinge or have spare time in the car.  I also keep “The Stick” at my desk at work. I also do at least a light foam roll and stretch every night before bed. One more thing: I schedule semi-regular sports massages.  They are expensive, so I have to ration them out, but they are so valuable when I’m putting a lot of stress on my body.

One of the most valuable gains that I am missing is SLEEP.  The more intense my workouts get, the more I realize how much extra sleep I need.  I am not even getting the minimum suggested amount of sleep when you subtract out the time that I wake up to feed/console Cadence in the night.  She has never been a great sleeper, and teething isn’t helping us much.  So, I’ll work on this.  🙂

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What are your tricks outside of running for marginal gains?