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I have been meaning to write about running during pregnancy for a very long time, yet here I am – finally posting this at nearly 38 weeks pregnant!

Clearly a lot has happened since I ran the Big Sur Marathon last year. That was always the plan – run one last big race, and then attempt another far more challenging endurance event…PREGNANCY! We were fortunate enough to conceive right away, so I cruised from post-marathon recovery right into training for motherhood. We found out the good news shortly after an incredible trip to Hawaii, where we ran almost daily on the beach and had an epic trail running adventure down and around the Haleakala crater. I didn’t realize that I was 3 weeks pregnant at the time (if that even counts) and thoroughly enjoyed our 12 miles of running at altitude, hurling ourselves down the crater and across some of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. It was my last blissfully ignorant running hurrah – before any of the now familiar pregnant running thoughts and concerns entered my mind. E captured the day quite well in his blog and I highly recommend hiking or running there if you find yourself in Maui – check it out!

Once I processed the initial shock and joy of discovering I was pregnant, one of my first thoughts was, “Wait – what about my running?!?!” I was averaging 30-40 miles per week pre-pregnancy, not training for anything in particular but trying to maintain my fitness after Big Sur for myself, and in case I wanted to squeeze in one last marathon or ultra over the summer. I couldn’t imagine not running. It is such an integral of my life – my “me time,” my release, a way I bond with my husband, and a large part of how I stay fit and healthy. I wanted to keep running as long as I could!

As a running coach, I knew the basics surrounding exercise during pregnancy, including:

  • Don’t start any new physical activities – unless it is something relatively gentle (i.e. if you weren’t active before, starting a walking routine is fine)
  • Limit or avoid sports that have a higher risk of injury/falling
  • Listen to your body and err on the side of caution if something doesn’t feel right – it’s just not worth the risk
  • Ensure adequate hydration/nutrition before, during and after exercise to maximize energy levels and recovery
  • Avoid exercising in heat or other potentially dangerous weather conditions (e.g. ice)
  • Most importantly, follow the advice that your doctor provides you that is specific to YOUR unique pregnancy!

Exercise, generally speaking, is without a doubt beneficial to mom and baby, assuming a healthy pregnancy. There is a great deal of research to support this, leading doctors to encourage most women to perform some type of physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. But I was already very active – 30 min of walking doesn’t exactly cut it for me – and I couldn’t help but feel nervous, especially during the first trimester, so I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I knew that many women ran during pregnancy – some even finished marathons in their second and third trimesters – but there seemed to be conflicting information and opinions out there regarding distance and/or high intensity exercise. Could I continue with my previous mileage? What about long runs? What was safe for me and my baby? There wasn’t a whole lot of concrete information available on the topic.

I found myself doing a lot of googling and and blog reading about other women’s experiences. This of course did not substitute my need for individualized medical advice, and it’s important to note that every pregnancy is different, but it was reassuring and motivating to know that other runners were able to have healthy, successful pregnancies and stay in great shape without sacrificing their love of the sport. Did their running change and was it challenging at times to keep running? Of course! Was it worth it? Hell yeah! Did their successs mean that I would be able to run throughout my entire pregnancy? Definitely not. But I hoped I could and I am grateful my little one allowed me to run as long as I did, up until 36.5 weeks!

It also helped that I have a great OB who has been supportive of my running from day 1. With the thumbs up from her, I kept doing what I was doing, with some key adjustments that I have outlined below. My running obviously shifted as pregnancy progressed, but I pretty much followed these guidelines throughout, based on my experience as a coach and long-time runner, my own research on pregnant running, and my doctor’s advice specific to my exercise and medical history:

  • I approached training for childbirth as I would any important race. Preparing for birth (especially if you are planning for a natural one, as I am), is in many ways similar to training for a race. You have an overarching plan that includes all the physical and mental prep work to cross the finish line successfully, but have to take things day by day and adjust that plan as needed to get to that start line healthy.
  • I tried to stay flexible. If I felt particularly tired, queasy, or something didn’t feel right, I shortened my run, slowed down, took walk breaks, cross-trained, or took a rest day. As a side note, I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor  – keeping heart rate below a certain level for healthy pregnancies is old school advice – but simply paid attention to how I was feeling and adjusted my efforts accordingly.
  • Speed was no longer a priority – especially since pregnancy WILL slow you down eventually (for me, this happened later in my 2nd trimester). I cared more about CONSISTENT running. I still did some high intensity exercise to relieve stress and break up the monotony of easier efforts, but only when I felt strong and up until my third trimester, after which I kept things very low key.
  • I paid closer attention to the weather. I’m the type of runner who usually doesn’t get discouraged by a blizzard, downpour, or a hot summer day. That had to change! On extra hot days or if conditions were slippery, I adjusted the time of day that I went running, hit the treadmill, or did some indoor cross-training.
  • I was extremely careful about my running nutrition & hydration. I carried water if running for more than 4 miles, especially in warmer weather, and carried electrolytes/calories if running longer than 8 miles. I also made sure to have pre and post run snacks (always on my radar though, as a dietitian!).
  • I dedicated more time to strength training and lower impact cross-training, especially once my belly got bigger. Running became less comfortable for me around 34 weeks, at which point I started to run/walk and incorporate more spin classes and what I like to call, “Netflix & Elliptical.”
  • I bought a Road ID to wear in case something happened to me while I was running, especially for when I was alone. I also carried a credit card and if straying far from home, my phone (which I usually never carry), in case of emergencies.
  • I invested in a few key items of maternity exercise wear to stay comfortable as I got bigger. I was lucky in that I could keep wearing a lot of my normal gear until mid/late second trimester, as I already had some flowy and stretchy long tops, large running jackets, and some looser/stretchy shorts and pants. I did find a few things useful to buy, including a couple maternity tanks, a maternity long sleeve zip top, and a pair of maternity tights – all on sale from Old Navy and Gap. I splurged on my For Two Fitness “Running for Two” tank and long sleeve top, as they were too cute to resist!
  • I always ran within my comfort zone – and appreciate that this is different for everyone. For example, a half marathon during my second trimester seemed reasonable to me (I did the Staten Island Half at a slower but strong pace), as did running 12-15 miles with my husband on long slow run days during my 1st and 2nd trimesters, but I did not feel that longer distances were worth the risk. During my late second and early third trimesters, I was quite happy running 8-10M and 6-7M, respectively, as my “long” runs. Additionally, I felt solid running on technical trails up until my third trimester, as long as I ran with E and slowed down or walked particularly tricky sections. Our trail running adventures in Asheville, NC (check out E’s post here) at the start of my second trimester were particularly awesome!
  • I tried not to compare myself to other pregnant runners – what my body looked like, how much I was running, or anything else. Every pregnancy is different and the only important thing was to respect my own!
  • I always kept the “big picture” in mind – heathy mom and baby! Sure, I still had fitness goals – run/exercise consistently and as long as possible – but the ultimate goal always was to keep my baby safe. I’ll be honest, it was a bummer to miss a workout or cut things short because I wasn’t feeling well or my doctor wanted me to be extra cautious at times, but in pregnancy, it’s just not worth the risk.

I never sought to run a specific number of miles while pregnant, but when I realized that 1,000 was within my reach, it become the perfect goal to keep me motivated, especially whenever my running started to feel aimless. The last 50 miles were especially challenging, as I began to feel my increased weight and changes in my gait – a good chunk of those miles were walking – but I’m proud of myself for getting it done. As my doctor told me, my dedication to exercise helped maintain great blood flow to my baby and will likely lead to an easier labor! It also means that my return to running post-partum will not be *quite* so painful (although I know that it will still be pretty tough…).

My path to full-term pregnancy has not exactly been easy – without going into details, we have had many bumps in the road, and the process has been scary/overwhelming at times – but I am extremely grateful to have felt good for the most part and to have been able to stay so active. For the past week, I have only been walking because that is what feels best, but I walk every day for at least 30 minutes and at a good pace. I’m thinking of it as “tapering” for “race day” – I don’t get that same post-run high, but I still feel great afterwards. The finish line is within sight now and I cannot wait to meet my baby girl!

A quick note on training for natural birth – my husband and I enrolled in a birthing class that teaches the Bradley Method. It has been a huge time commitment (8 x 3hr sessions) but SO worthwhile. We knew very little about the birthing process pre-pregnancy and we feel so empowered and prepared now (as much as you can be, that is). E and I have always worked well as a team, often training side by side, exploring trails together, and pacing each other in marathons and ultras, so I knew that I wanted him to coach me through birth. The parallels between running a long race and birthing a baby naturally are actually quite astounding. I have been practicing various physical and mental exercises (e.g. kegels, squats, pelvic tilts, active labor positions, relaxation and visualization, breathing etc.) to help cope with labor pain, and also practicing E’s coaching techniques to make sure that they resonate with me. Kind of like strength training, structured running targeted at your race distance, mantras, and learning the art of pacing, right? Childbirth is not the same as running an ultra obviously, but having run for 12 hours and navigated the physical and mental highs and lows of that experience certainly gives me confidence that I can get through the many hours of labor and delivery!

If you’re interested in hearing more about my experience of running while pregnant, in addition to my coaching and nutrition advice for pregnant athletes, check out this podcast that I did with Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running! We had such a great conversation on pregnancy exercise and I would love your feedback.

I’ll close out with a photo diary of my running and other exercise adventures while pregnant – check out the captions to see how far along I was. It’s amazing how much my body has changed, even if I haven’t gained as much weight as I thought I would (and believe me, I have been trying hard to gain more, especially in recent weeks). Then again, I have always been a small person and can’t imagine my belly being much bigger! It will be a long road to get my body and my fitness back post-birth, but I know I’ll get there eventually.

First trimester:

Second trimester:

Third trimester:

I ran the NYC marathon for the first time in 2010, back when I was still living in London. It was my second marathon, and I had trained extremely hard with the help of my coach to BQ (sub-3:40 at the time). I remember waiting to start on a perfectly sunny, crisp day. The atmosphere was electric, and I was overcome by emotion as I crossed the start line and took in the amazing views from the Verrazano Bridge.

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Brooklyn was a huge party – I got caught up in the excitement (all smiles pictured above left) and reached mile 13 feeling unusually fatigued. It was way too early to be tired as I entered Queens, and yet every mile was a battle to stay on pace. Cheers from my friends, family and thousands of strangers carried me along 1st ave. I felt my goal slipping away as I made my way through the Bronx and up 5th avenue (where did that hill come from?!), but then something happened when I entered Central Park. I felt a renewed sense of determination and clawed my way back to my goal over the last two miles, unleashing this fury I didn’t know existed. I simply refused to accept defeat – I had worked too hard for that – and found another gear that catapulted me forward to finish in 3:39:36. I was in complete shock as I hobbled my way through the chute. I eventually found my Dad and whispered “I did it” as he gave me a huge hug, which unlocked a flood of tears and a huge smile. My all time favorite post race photo above captures that moment!

That first NYC marathon was a pivotal experience. It inspired me to create this blog, become a running coach, and push myself harder to reach new running goals. It gave me the courage to leave London and go back to grad school to become a dietitian. It solidified my relatively new relationship with E, who also ran that day (his first marathon). It motivated me to coach the Gilda’s club team for the past four years, as I love to share this incredible NYC event with other runners while supporting a great charity. This marathon holds a very special place in my heart, and I had always wanted to run it again – not racing it all out, but at a pace that would allow me to be more present and enjoy every step. This year I finally got to do just that.

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Sunday’s marathon represented many things. Most importantly, E and I raised over $6,000 for team Gilda’s in memory of our friend Noirin, who passed away in June. She started the NYC marathon last year but wasn’t able to finish due to a painful side effect of her cancer treatment. Her DNF must have been very disappointing after training hard and finishing the previous year, but she remained cheerful as always and eager to hear about everyone else’s race. This year, we celebrated her life and finished the marathon for her. As we crossed the start line, I pictured her smile, her laugh, her strength, her determination. It was an ongoing source of inspiration during our race. E and I are so grateful for the generosity of so many friends, family members and co-workers who helped us achieve our fundraising goals – we cannot thank you enough!

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The marathon also happened to be E’s birthday – and what better way to celebrate than by participating in NYC’s biggest block party?! I made special birthday running hats just for the occasion…so silly and fun! (The visor fanny pack will be saved for another time…)

Lastly, the NYC marathon was the first time that E and I actually raced together. We ran two ultras together but these were at a more leisurely pace on trails – very different from racing a road marathon. Sunday actually was a training race for the JFK 50 miler on November 21, which we entered somewhat last minute after being inspired by so many legendary athletes at NESS. E ran it last year (check out his race report) and I had so much fun pacing him, I wanted to give it a go myself! Staying healthy and having fun were our top goals, but since we usually don’t race marathons together, it was a great opportunity for me to pace E to finish in 4 hours. He always tends to go out too fast in road marathons and it was my mission to hold him back, as I know he is capable of sub-4!

One AMAZING thing that we experienced for the first time was waking up in our own beds and going to a marathon start – and hopping on the subway and being back home soon after the finish. I can’t believe it was our first marathon in our home city! I kept forgetting that we were actually running, because there was no hotel or hours of travel involved. AMAZING.

That said, I forgot how logistically challenging this race is! It took us 2.5 hours to get to the start village – cab to ferry to bus to corrals. Getting on the ferry was crazy (took over 30 min to get on due to crowding) and the bus was stuck in tons of traffic. The Wave 1 folks were getting very nervous! We finally made it and wandered around for a bit before making our way to the green corrals. We had more than enough time, there were a billion toilets, and everything was extremely well organized. It was very mild out – turns out E didn’t need that crazy bear suit after all for warmth, but we did get some good laughs!

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We started in wave 2 on the bottom of the bridge, which was a really different experience. Fun but not as dramatic without those great views. It was SO crowded – not at all like in wave 1 five years ago! It was difficult to keep track of E while we each tried to find openings to pass people. I kept telling him not to surge and pass too much to conserve energy but it was difficult given we were constantly slowed down and trapped behind walls of people. By mile 2, we were slightly ahead of pace and I tried to slow him down, which he did but not enough. Those early miles definitely zapped a lot of energy! We finally hit a steady pace around mile 5 or 6, although crowding remained an issue – navigating water stations was particularly challenging – but I guess this is the largest marathon in the world!

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Despite these frustrations, we had an amazing time. The spectator support was even better than I remembered – likely due to warmer weather and the later time. I felt very present and in tune with my surroundings, which was a nice change from my usual tunnel vision hanging on for dear life race experience. Seeing friends was uplifting as were all the great signs (“Never trust a fart,” “Pet for power” with an actual dog in the sign, and so many more), bands, costumes etc. Brooklyn was the same huge party that I remembered and the miles flew by.

E and I chatted and ran comfortably for the first half, singing and taking it all in. As we entered Queens, we knew it was time to work it. What is it about mile 13 in this particular race that always gets to me?! I guess the fun of Brooklyn is over and you know the struggle that lies ahead. The warm weather was starting to get to E but he was doing a great job maintaining pace. The 59th street bridge was challenging as usual – I felt like I was encountering an old enemy as we approached it – and sure enough this is where we started to lose goal pace, but we planned on changing gears and getting back on track later on. E was still hanging on in the Bronx, and I was tired but feeling good at mile 20 – uplifted by the Gilda’s cheer station!

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E started to slow down and the wheels came off as we made our way back into Manhattan. He felt very sick and had to walk it out a number of times between miles 21 and 25. It’s funny how the second you need to take care of someone else, your own pain goes away. All I cared about was making sure he was okay and keeping him moving – running ahead to get him water and Gatorade, and using every motivational phrase and tactic I could think of to get him running again. It was a disappointment to see him struggling – we both really thought he had a 4 hour race or at least a PR in the bag – but hey, we were still running the NYC marathon and we were doing it together, and the rest didn’t matter.

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I thought entering the park would have the same motivating effect on him as it did on me many years ago, but he couldn’t shake off his nausea. I took advantage of these miles to work the crowd – drum up more cheers, tell everyone it was his birthday, and admire the gorgeous Fall colors in the park. Reminded me of all those times when I was struggling late in a marathon, and there always was a runner with WAY too much energy waving his arms around trying to get more cheers from the crowd. Finally, I got to be that person! When we hit mile 25, I pretty much ordered him to stop walking with only 2km to go and things finally turned around. “It never always gets worse,” as Dave Horton always says – so true. He finished so strong and I’m really proud of him, clocking in at 4:13, only about 1 min off his flat marathon PR.

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All in all, it was a great day. Despite some painful miles, E had a wonderful birthday run. I did my best to help him reach his goal and am sorry we didn’t get there, but we learned from what went wrong and will try again next time. Running NYC again really made me appreciate just how challenging the course is –  it’s not exactly “hilly” but there are so many long inclines that can exhaust you over time that you need to be very strategic in how you run it. I don’t have a desire to go back and race it again, but I do hope to run it for fun again someday! You can’t find the same energy and crowd support anywhere else in the world.

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We celebrated with dinner at Babbo – the same restaurant we went to in 2010 (left). Delicious as always!!

So next up is the JFK 50. I felt great during the marathon and recovery was going well until a couple days ago, when my foot randomly started hurting a lot…I’m hoping that this passes quickly with rest! Either way, I can be happy with two great Fall races in the books.

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I attended the 2nd Annual National Endurance Sports Summit (NESS) at Princeton University last weekend. What is NESS, you might ask? Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either until several months ago, when I received an email through my RRCA listing as a running coach. NESS is a conference that seeks to “elevate endurance” by “showcasing the power of endurance sports to make a difference in one’s own life, in one’s community, and around the world.” It is organized and hosted by Team U, an intercollegiate fundraising endurance team founded by Joe Benun, a recent Princeton grad. I was very impressed by last year’s speaker list, which included Marshall Ulrich, Pam Reed, Ray Zahab, David Horton and Matt Fitzgerald, just to name a few. However, there weren’t any Dietitians participating in the nutrition panel or talks, which presented a great opportunity to get involved and share my passion for both nutrition and endurance sports!

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Team U listened to my feedback and invited me to join the Saturday morning nutrition panel to kick off a packed day of amazing presentations. Check out the 2015 schedule – recognize any of those names or faces above?! YEAH – only some of the most inspirational, accomplished athletes in the endurance world (from left to right – Simon Donato, David Horton, Ann Treason, Karl Meltzer, Travis Macy, Lisa Smith-Batchen, and Marshall Ulrich). Shockingly, the number of attendees was quite small – I was told 90 but it seemed lower than that, giving each talk an intimate feel and allowing for great interaction between the speakers and with the audience. Given the steady increase in popularity of marathons and ultra marathons, I’m sure that this event will grow dramatically with targeted marketing, word of mouth, and recruitment of more sponsors.

Here are some highlights from the many panels and presentations from Day 1 of NESS (unfortunately I could not stay for Day 2). Here’s another write-up on ultrarunning.com if you’d like to hear about Day 2 as well!

Panel: “To Eat or Not to Eat: Perspectives on Nutrition” 
Jason Fitzgerald, Vinnie Tortorich, Terra Castro, Claire Shorenstein 

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Running coach Jason Fitzgerald, retired pro-triathlete and founder of Be Bold Crew Terra Castro, and celebrity trainer Vinnie Tortorich joined me on the nutrition panel. The topic was very broad and one hour was hardly enough time to delve deep into one large nutrition issue let alone several, however we managed to touch upon a variety of topics with the help of our moderator, Andy Wegman. We discussed creating a nutrition strategy yet staying flexible, training your gut not just your muscles, high protein diets, becoming fat adapted through diet and exercise, and fueling with carbs-vs-fat (the most highly debated, given Vinnie supports a “NSNG” or no sugar no grain diet). Many perspectives were presented and discussed, and while we didn’t always agree with each other, it was good to talk through some of these hot topics in sports nutrition. I did my best to present evidence based recommendations while staying open-minded – nutrition is a young and ever changing science, after all.

Let me take a moment to share a few thoughts on what we discussed. I am not a food extremist and do not believe in eliminating otherwise healthy foods (or even the occasional treat) from your diet unless you are doing so for medical, moral or religious purposes. Not only is it unnecessary to achieve good health, it’s not a fun or sustainable way to live your life. It’s always important to ask “why.” Why do you avoid gluten, including in whole grains, if you do not have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance? Why do you avoid hormone free dairy if you are not lactose intolerant or vegan? And so forth.

I certainly agree that reducing intake of refined carbs and grains will aid in weight loss, and that fat adaptive training may be worth exploring for some athletes during base training (check out these related articles by sports nutritionist Sunny Blende). If you can become more metabolically efficient and train your body to burn more fat for fuel during lower intensity exercise, that’s great – but you still need SOME carbs to burn fat for fuel (it’s biochemistry folks). Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains (portion controlled), and dairy contribute “healthy” carbs to your diet. You also need carbs to fuel high intensity exercise (e.g. racing a marathon, surging up a hill in an ultra, speed work etc). If you’re lucky to have an iron stomach maybe you can eat real food, but you may only be able to handle more refined sugars (e.g. gels, drinks) just before and while running at higher intensities. The takeaway is that it’s important to pair your carb intake with what you are doing. For example, if you’re running easy for an hour or two, you’re fine running with water and perhaps some electrolytes.

This obviously is a much more complicated topic that I will not go into further here, but those are my two cents for now! At the end of the day, regardless of guidelines and studies, what matters most is what works best for your health, your body, and your athletic performance. If you like to eat cheese and olives during your long training runs and you’re performing and recovering well, more power to you! I look forward to seeing the event organizers narrow the topic for next year’s panel and hopefully dedicate a presentation to nutrition or add another nutrition panel so that we are able to cover more ground on such a crucial topic.

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Marshall Ulrich: “Journeys of Extremes of the World”

For anyone not familiar with Marshall Ulrich, he is an “extreme endurance athlete,” author of “Running on Empty” (which is on my reading list), and a really lovely person. He has finished more than 120 ultramarathons, among many other mind boggling feats of endurance. He began ultra running later in life after his wife passed away from cancer, pushing his body further in middle age than most 20 and 30 year olds could ever imagine. His presentation covered just a few of his “extreme” journeys, including running Badwater (he just finished his 20th!), climbing Mt Everest, running across America at age 57 (3,063.2 miles from California to New York, averaging more than 400 miles a week), and circumnavigating Death Valley on foot at 61 (425 miles). He presented the challenges and risks of each of these environments (obviously there were many), and how he overcame the obstacles he faced to achieve his goals. I’m really looking forward to reading more about his run across the US, what Marshall called his hardest journey. It was inspiring to hear him speak about pushing himself to each finish, at times risking his life and running through some serious injuries. He focused on maintaining forward progress and fulfilling his commitment to himself. I hope I am fortunate enough to stay active and courageous enough to keep pushing myself beyond what is perceived to be possible as I grow older.

Dr. David Horton: “Lessons learned from 100,000 miles of running”

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David Horton is amazing – a real character. I met him right after the nutrition panel (he shared many of my views on nutrition), before he gave his own talk. He has one of the most high energy and enthusiastic personalities I have come across in awhile. He is also fiercely competitive and will poke and prod relentlessly because he knows that you can achieve more than you think you can (or in his words – you CAN’T – he wants you to prove him wrong). Dave is an endurance beast – 113,000 miles run since 1977, including 160 ultramarathons! Even though he is no longer running much due to knee surgery (long distance cycling is now his thing), he loves to share his passion for running and endurance sports with others. He teaches an advanced running course at Liberty College that requires students to run an ultra. Wish I could have taken that course in college!

His talk included a list of short phrases and sayings, which he used to prompt stories and motivate the audience. Here are a few that stuck with me:

It never always gets worse.” You may feel horrible halfway through a race and think there’s no way you will finish because it can only go downhill, but in a few moments or miles everything can change – for the better! So keep pushing. That said, sometimes it DOES get worse! Which brings us to…

This too shall pass.” Whatever it is, it always changes, for better or for worse. Wait it out.

You can do more than you think you can,” and along the same lines, “You’re better than you think you are.” It’s incredible what you can push yourself to do when you really want it. He used an example – how many miles could you run if you had to run them right now? Could you go an extra 10 miles if you were paid 1 million dollars? Could you run an extra 20 miles if someone would shoot you if you didn’t finish? Find what motivates you and run with it.

Commit to what you do.” Believe in yourself and don’t make failure an option.

E and I definitely had Horton in our head this past week when we said to ourselves, why stop at running the NYC marathon for charity? Why not also run the JFK50 three weeks later (my first 50 miler, E’s second) to keep pushing ourselves? Before we knew it, it was booked. Thanks Dave!

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Featured Power Panel: “Learning to Push Past Limits: Roundtable Discussion with the World’s Greatest Ultrarunners.” 

Ann Trason, Lisa Smith-Batchen, Dr. David Horton, Karl Meltzer, Marshall Ulrich, Dr. Simon Donato, Travis Macy

Again, how incredible to have such a concentration of legendary endurance athletes, not just at this panel but throughout the entire day! Dr. Rob Gilbert, a sports psychologist, guided a discussion that touched upon a wide variety of topics, including the idea of “suffering,” finding balance, life after winning (passing the torch to younger athletes, shifting goals), learning from past races, and more.

I really enjoyed Lisa pointing out that the word “suffering” is not the correct choice when describing endurance sports. It is appropriate for chronic disease, death, trauma, and other tragic things that happen to us. By contrast, we CHOOSE to run because we love the sport – sure we may hurt and feel pain, but we are not “suffering.” You have to enjoy the process – embrace the highs and the lows – and remember that it’s not all about the destination.

Regarding balance, I’m always amazed that many accomplished endurance athletes also hold full-time jobs, have families, travel constantly, all while doing some seriously time consuming training. Some sacrifice sleep – Lisa said that she trains between 3am and 7am – while others sacrifice family time. Prioritizing is key, but it’s still tough to find that balance.

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Christopher McDougall: “Endurance under Fire: Lessons from the Extreme Athletes of WWII” 

This was the day’s keynote talk, and it was really fascinating. I think nearly everyone has read “Born to Run,” right? Chris McDougall spoke about his latest book, “Natural Born Heroes,” which explores the idea of running for survival, as a man on Crete had to do during WWII, versus running for exercise. He shared a fascinating story of Resistance fighters on Crete who relied on a man to deliver messages by frequently running extreme distances on foot to overcome the Nazi occupation. His talk tied into how we inherently possess such natural, fundamental movements that distinguish us as humans – we are not highly specialized like most animals, but rather can do many different things. However, as we get older we lose many of these basic movements, instead doing things like running a marathon as fast as we can or doing bicep curls in the gym (both unnatural and not useful). Parkour, he explained, encourages us to get back to our natural forms of motion, including jumping, throwing, crawling and other elastic recoil motions. Unfortunately I missed the Parkour clinic that followed, but his talk intrigued me and made me think twice about some of my own exercise routines…

Panel: “Learning How to Push Further and Reduce Injury”
Shane Eversfield, Terra Castro, Jason Fitzgerald, Ann Trason, Andy Wegman

Many things were discussed. Here are a few takeaways:
Ann – Remember the P’s of ultra-running: patience, persistence, passion, practice. Consider working with a heart rate monitor. Remember that running is a gift!
Jason – Don’t neglect strength training – even just 15min twice a week. Check out his site strengthrunning.com for great articles and videos!
Shane – Listen to your gut – your gut can sometimes tell you more than your brain.
Terra – Commit to foam rolling, massage, cross-training, yoga.

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Travis Macy, “The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life”

I recently read “the Ultra mindset” to get motivated for the UTHC 65k last month, so I really enjoyed meeting Travis Macy and hearing him speak about applying principles of training to life. Most of what he said was covered in the book, so check it out if you want all the specifics! One of the key phrases that he uses to push through tough times in training, racing and in life is, “it’s all good mental training.” So true. Another one I really liked – “the harder it is, the stronger you get” – great running mantra that I used in ultra training. He discussed the importance of creating the life that you want – not listening to the stories others or even a less confident version of yourself you may create. This really resonated with me as I try to carve out my own path in life. I recommend the book – it comes with some helpful exercises that Travis even said he would “grade” if you send them to him!

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Terra Castro, “Life Lessons Learned from Racing Professionally”

Terra Castro is an inspiring, courageous, honest and lovely woman who was a competitive athlete from a young age, became a pro triathlete, and has since started her own company Be Bold Crew in an ongoing effort to keep her “joy tank” full. It was awesome to hear her personal story of her accomplishments and struggles, and what she learned from it all. Takeaway – take risks to find your joy – and be B.O.L.D. (Believe, Outpour, Light, Dedicated).

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Speaker Dinner 

We finished out the night with a lovely speaker dinner, where E and I were able to chat with everyone in a relaxed and intimate setting. Everyone was curious to see what the dietitian was eating! It was a great way to wrap up a day of learning, inspiration and making new friends. Everyone was so friendly and down to earth, it was easy to forget that we were surrounded by some seriously unique, tough, and accomplished individuals.

It’s nearly been a week and I’m still feeling the energy from NESS. If you have any interest in marathons, ultras or other endurance sports, then I urge you to sign up next year. This event is a true gem with some serious growth potential. I’m still amazed that it was organized entirely by college students – great job Team U! I certainly hope I am able to participate next year.

I’ve had two weeks to process my second ultra marathon, and I’m still amazed that I pulled it off. I wasn’t just attempting to run 65km in the Canadian wilderness; I was flying to Montreal after work, driving 5+ hours to La Malbaie, getting on a bus the next morning at 5am with a small group of mostly French speaking locals to run 40 miles on an unfamiliar trail with a potentially fractured wrist, then driving back to Montreal and flying to NYC the following day. It was a full-on endurance weekend in unknown territory on all fronts. Then again, it’s not the first time I’ve done crazy things in the name of running, and I wasn’t alone on my trail running adventure!

E and I found the North Face sponsored Ultra Trail du Harricana (UTHC) race somewhat by chance, when searching for a “fun” ultra that fit into our restrictive fall schedule. E ran the JFK50 last year and originally wanted do a longer ultra closer to home on his own, but we had so much fun running the North Face ECSDC 50k in April – my first ultra – that I convinced him we should take on our next challenge together. UTHC was appealing in that it offered a point to point course on trails at a distance that seemed like a reasonable next step up from a 50k (in retrospect, JFK50 would have been easier). I’m very much a solo racer on road, but out on the trails I love company, especially for a race that advises you to carry a bell to ward off bears, only has four aid stations and isn’t heavily populated. Also, it was my birthday – what better way to celebrate entering my mid 30s than eating delicious food in Montreal, driving to middle-of-nowhere Quebec, and running together for 11 hours? That sounds like a romantic, fun weekend – sign me up!

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After a long day of driving, we arrived at Le Mont Grand-Fonds (the race finish area) in Charlevoix around 5pm the day before the race for packet pickup. It was a gorgeous day – not a cloud in the sky and quite warm. I had feared icy rain (common weather this time of the year, apparently) and was very grateful the skies remained clear for us! As we wandered up to the finish line to take a few photos, I had trouble believing that I was racing the following day. I had barely run for two weeks, so my legs felt heavier than usual during a taper. Although I had received the all-clear from my sports Dr to run, he was concerned about the weight of my splint (potential strain to my neck) and the risk of me falling again and worsening my injury. My MRI was scheduled for two days after the race, so we didn’t even know if my wrist was broken or sprained, and my legs remained bruised from my fall. As if I needed more reasons to be nervous! I promised myself that I would try my best and pursue three goals, in order of importance: be safe (i.e. stay upright), have fun, and finish (if able).

UTHC offered several distances – 125k, 65k, 28k, 10k and 5k. Most of the people we met were doing the ultras. We explored the finish line area, which mainly consisted of a merchandise stand, an info tent, and a couple food/sports product stands. I was shocked that the race did not include a t-shirt given the North Face sponsorship and the price to enter – it was the first race that I have done that didn’t give one with entry! I caved and forked over $30 for a t-shirt…cool wolf logo, though didn’t have our event distance on it sadly and wasn’t great quality fabric.

We attended the small opening ceremony, thinking the race organizers would explain important details about the course, but it mostly included speeches in French about the history of the race. We had a TON of organizing to do back at the hotel, but we were glad we stayed to experience the energy and excitement of the other runners. They had a translator on site, which was a nice touch for a race seeking to attract more international participants (there were only a few other “yanks” this year). Too bad no one was around to interpret the key race details that were announced right before the gun went off the next morning, such as what color flags to follow and which to avoid! Thankfully I speak a little French and we caught the important bits.

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Back at the hotel, we frantically crammed our hydration vests with everything we would need for the race. We stayed at the Hotel-Motel Castel del la Mer – highly recommend for a comfy, affordable room! The first floor with handicapped shower was a plus (amazing for post-race). Poor E had to do the bulk of the packing given I had limited use of my right hand, and just when we thought we were done the outer strap broke on my vest, so we had to get creative to keep my jacket in place. We managed to cram in 22 gels (I used SIS Go-gels orange flavor, PowerGel Vanilla, and VFuel citrus), 2L of water, salt pills (S-tabs), light jacket, extra calf sleeve (which I used under my splint to prevent chaffing), whistle, and a variety of smaller items. My original plan was to use 400 cal of Tailwind instead of some gels, but I wasn’t able to grab the bottles with my wrist in the splint. Packing took forever, but we had just enough time to put our feet up, watch some horrible French dubbed TV, and get to bed early for our 3:30am wakeup!

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Runners in the 65k event had to catch a 5am shuttle at the finish area, which is about 20-30min drive from the hotel. This worked well, as that way we could drive home after finishing, and we were also able to leave a drop bag at the start that would be driven to the end so we wouldn’t have to forfeit our warm clothing. Everything was very well organized – we got on the school bus and were shuttled in the darkness to Hautes-Gorges National Park. It took about an hour to get there, at which point the sun was rising and the sky was neon pink. The bus stopped in a parking lot and no one really knew what was going on – we started to trickle off the bus and runners wandered in all directions. Only a few people spoke English. Eventually some race officials turned up and pointed us towards the start area, where there was a welcome center (warmth! bathrooms!) and then further on, the actual start line. Well, for us at least – for the 125k runners, it was just another aid station!

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We started at 7am with beautiful mountains in the distance. I had expected some great views from the tops of those mountains, but our course didn’t seem to have any – we were more in the thick of things – still beautiful though! We started out conservatively, my usual pacing strategy, plus it always takes me at least a few miles to wake up in these early, long trail races. Sun was streaming through the trees and the air was cool and fresh. Runners quickly spread out once we hit the trails, and we ended up towards the back of the pack. Fast field!

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Although we had read the course description and studied the elevation profile (above), the course was not quite what we had expected. Actually, we didn’t know what to expect! We knew there would be challenging terrain and some tough climbs, but we had hoped the trails would be a little more runnable than they were…to us at least! Many runners were flying over sections that we had to power hike. We encountered pretty much every terrain you can possibly imagine – paved road, packed dirt, sand, rocks, roots, mud, SERIOUS mud (thigh deep, the kind that suctions you down), streams, all forms of sketchy moss covered planks and bridges with huge holes, gravel, fallen trees, trees trying to trap you and poke your eyes out, bushes smacking you in the face, dusty fire roads…you name it, it was there.

Amazingly, except for the quicksand mud and the water we ran through, we had managed to train for all of it throughout the summer, during our trips to Hawaii, Vermont, and throughout NY. The terrain was particularly challenging given I had to be extra careful not to fall, and could not use my right hand to grab onto trees etc while circumnavigating various obstacles. We did a lot more walking than usual to avoid taking risks on tricky technical sections. It was amazing to see runners pass us and quickly disappear – especially the 125k runners! Truly inspiring. 

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One of my favorite things about running trail races is making new trail buddies. We thought everyone had passed us as we made our way towards the first aid station when we met a lovely woman from Nova Scotia tagging along behind us. I was beyond grateful for her company, between her helping me through the insane mud to laughing together at E when the mud ate his leg to chatting about music among many other things. Trail buddies are the best and certainly help the miles go by! We separated at the first aid station (pictured below) and were happy to see her cheering for us at the finish line later that day. She was one of many DNFs that day – 10 in the 65k and 34 in the 125k! Really tough course!

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E wrote a detailed, awesome description of the course on Trailz.io, his trail running site. Check it out! He captures the spirit of our race and covers all the gory details, so I won’t rehash it all here.

However, I do want to talk about race cut-offs. I am usually a mid-pack runner and have never had to worry about them before. UTHC had cut-offs at the last three aid stations that they called “very generous.” I think that’s a stretch, but I understand that they were for safety purposes (mostly, to match hours of sunlight). It never occurred to me that cut-offs would be an issue for our race, but after having done a LOT more power hiking than we had planned to do, we found out that we were already running at cut-off pace at the first aid station (mile 13). We started to panic – had we done all that training and come all this way only to be pulled from the course? We had to pick up the pace or else!

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I continued to feel strong and as the hours ticked by, the idea of not being allowed to finish when I knew I could made me angry. There was no f-ing way we were not going to finish! (So much for being goal #3).

I wish I had been able to enjoy the beautiful scenery a bit more and chill out at the aid stations, but racing against those cut-offs actually made our race AMAZING. It lit a fire inside of us and made us truly run as a team. And that sense of teamwork – of accomplishing something great with the man I love – that is exactly why I wanted to run another ultra with E!!

The following moments stand out to me.

*Passing runners after the first aid station – slowly reeling them in after they left us in the dust hours earlier! One of my strengths is pacing over long distances, and I love that feeling of passing runners in the later stages of a race as I hone in on my goals. I don’t say this from a competitive standpoint – UTHC’s tagline is “Je suis loup” or “I am wolf,” pointing to running as a team or wolf pack, and supporting one another throughout the race. That’s what trail running is all about! Passing people wasn’t about placement, but rather about making progress, coming back to life, and seizing control of our race. Each runner I passed gave me energy.

*Flying down a dusty fire road towards what we thought was the first official cut off and thinking we had over an hour to spare (nope – that would be the next one)! It was crazy hot by this point. We had run out of water. I somehow never had any severe emotional or physical lows in this race, but I certainly felt fear and doubt at this point.

*Coming across bear (or some big animal we didn’t want to encounter) poop on the trail. E singing Taylor Swift loudly – really E?! Okay, I sang too.

*Fighting to make the real first cut-off (3:30pm at 46.5km). The distance between the second and third aid stations seemed relatively short (~7km) and yet we needed every minute we had to cover it. The trails were technical and we had to hike many sections. Finally hitting a steady downhill that we could run was a relief. The trail remained technical, yet I had a mantra that got me in the zone – “focus, small steps.” I said this aloud to myself over and over again for several km to stay focused and avoid a fall. Every step was intentionally placed. E and I seemed to enter an altered state – each focused intensely on our own bodies and yet moving together, cursing under our breath, “we’re going to f-ing make that cut-off,” practically sprinting towards the aid station down a fire road. By the time we got there, I felt superhuman. I have never experienced such intense euphoria like that before. After a brief refuel, I took off up a hill and E had to calm me down so I would better pace myself for the next tough section!

*REALLY fighting to make the last cut-off (4:53pm at 54km). We had another 7km to go and it was HARD. I didn’t crash but that high ended. We had a long climb ahead of us and E was hitting some pretty bad lows. Lots of power hiking and words of encouragement got him through. We finally hit another glorious downhill and morphed back into our crazed, focused states. We had actually trained for this exact moment – we raced miles from the top of Bear Mountain all the way to Manitou station, sprinting down the final hill to make a train. Little did I know how important that training run would be! We flew into that last aid station with more than ten minutes to spare. It was a glorious feeling. Only 8km to go and no more cut-offs to worry about. This photo says it all – YES!

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Those last 8km were BRUTAL. “Oh, this will be easy,” we thought. “No more cut-offs.” Ha! Turns out sprinting downhill after having run for nearly 10 hours does not feel so good. And the easy downhill mostly road course that I had imagined in my mind turned out to be more mud, more climbing, painful steep downhill, some grass, and uphill to the finish. Of course. By this point, my achilles and ankle were bothering me – surprisingly not my wrist, neck, hamstring, quads or the bruised parts of my leg. Finishing was painful, but spirits were high, and we were eager to bring it home.

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We finished in 10 hours 51 minutes and 48 seconds. We came in 178th and 179th – 15 runners finished the 65k after us, the last runner finishing in nearly 15 hours! After all that, we learned that the cut-offs were not actually being enforced…SERIOUSLY?! In truth, I’m grateful for those cut-offs – I can’t imagine taking any longer to cover that distance, and no way in hell was I running in the dark without a head lamp!

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It was a very proud moment, crossing that finish line hand in hand.

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The race finish area was great and the party had been going on for hours, given the first person finished our distance around lunchtime and we arrived at 6pm. There were hot showers, a tent with free food (veggie chili, soup, etc), and another tent with local music and beer. We could hardly move but eventually managed to get semi-cleaned up and partake in the festivities. By the time we got in our car and drove back to town, we were wrecked. We had meant to go out to dinner for a nice post race meal, but instead stopped at a grocery store to get some food (not knowing the restaurant was literally next door to our hotel). We were half asleep randomly grabbing things, and ended up with ice cream, beer, prosciutto, cheese, and apples. I swear, I really am a Dietitian!

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The next morning I was very stiff, but by the end of the day was moving fairly well. It’s incredible how the body adapts, and how much stronger I’ve become over the last five years since I started to run longer distances.

A few more details on nutrition and gear: I only ended up taking about 15 gels. It was hard to stay on top of my two gels per hour goal, but I was also eating at aid stations and my energy levels were good. Stomach felt solid. My Garmin died after 9.5 hours, but you can see what it captured here. Watch fail! My Brooks Cascadia trail shoes worked well – I had some ankle and achilles pain at the end, but I think that was more the distance not the shoes. They held up well through water and mud. Lululemon shorts were solid. My Ultimate Direction vest was a disappointment – mostly because it is new and it broke – so that will be returned.

Overall, my second ultra was a huge success – all three goals achieved – and the race organizers did a great job. Big thumbs up to UTHC! I’m recovering well and slowly easing back into training, with the NYC Marathon less than a month away. I’m nursing my sprained wrist – it will be a couple more months until it heals. I am right hand dominant so it is a challenging injury, but I know things could have been much worse. I am grateful.

Next up for me is the National Endurance Sports Summit at Princeton University this weekend. I’m one of four speakers on the Nutrition Panel on Saturday morning, followed by an amazing lineup throughout the day. Here’s a great article on Competitor.com covering the event – visit Elevateendurance.org to register. It’s only $75 and if you use code cs10, you’ll get a 10% discount! Will be a fun weekend.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who has donated to our fundraising efforts for the Gilda’s Club. If you haven’t already done so, please consider supporting us. Any contribution is greatly appreciated as we honor our friend Noirin while supporting a wonderful charity!

Oh, and yes, we’re already starting to plot our next ultra. These things are addictive!

Happy Friday! Last weekend’s Ultra Trail du Hurricana 65km race was pretty epic, and I promise to give a full race report soon. For now, E and I are beyond pleased to have finished the race safely, under the cut off time (just barely!!), and in great spirits, crossing the finish line hand in hand in 10 hours and 51 minutes. Such a joyful moment!

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I’m also very pleased to report that I did not fracture my wrist – I have a sprain (i.e. ligament tear) and thankfully no major ligaments involved, which means no surgery or cast. I got a new custom splint that allows for much greater mobility and with a little rest and then some therapy, I should be healed within 1-2 months hopefully!

In the meantime, here are some great tips on running form on Livestrong.com, including several from yours truly! 🙂 I contributed to this article a few weeks ago and it went live last night. It has some good info on improving efficiency and avoiding injury before, during and after your runs. Check it out!

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Have a great weekend everyone! Happy running!

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

Asparagus stir fried to crunchy perfection with shallots and garlic - sooooo tasty! A great delicious and healthy summer side dish. Rough 18-hour travel day made better by our fav brunch @thesmithrestaurant, after a quick shower and nap! Avo toast with poached eggs, Brussels sprouts, and fresh grapefruit juice. 👌🏻 Peaceful moment early this morning as we get ready to fly back to the hustle and bustle of NYC! We don't exactly have that rested vacation feeling after our time in California & Hawaii with the baby, but it's been amazing to escape the city and be together as a new family in such beautiful places. See ya next time, Maui! 🌺 One of my favorite ways to explore when I travel is with my running shoes, and the best thing is when you discover new running routes in a place you've been going to for decades! Found a beautiful trail and paved running path through Kihei right from our condo - not quite the crazy volcano adventure we had last year, but a wonderful way to wrap up our Maui trip. #Repost @wellseek with @repostapp
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Training hard for a race or event? Don't sell yourself short on your protein intake during recovery! @eatforendurance shares her of nutritious, protein-packed picks to refuel on your off days 👍#linkinbio #ExpertsWhoSeek Happy Summer Solstice! We love to grill when in Hawaii, especially all the delicious local fish. Here we have grilled Opakapaka (aka Hawaiian pink snapper) marinated in tamari sauce and fresh ginger with greens and fresh papaya. 👌🏻

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