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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:

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The Big Sur marathon offers a chance to experience dramatic landscapes along Highway 1 while tackling a challenging course. For this reason, it’s considered a great destination race for runners across the globe. This marathon has been on my bucket list for years, as it combines two things I love: running, which started in high school not far from the finish line in Monterey, and Northern California, where I grew up. Big Sur in particular has always been a magical place for me, in part due to yearly camping trips with my family when I was young, which is why I wanted it to be the first marathon I ran in my home state!

E and I had already signed up for the marathon when an old friend of mine from high school asked if we would join his relay team, We Be Crazies. He’s been trying to get me to run for the last 7 years, but the timing was never quite right. Doing the relay and the marathon seemed a bit nuts, but apparently we could run Leg 1 (4.9 miles) and then continue onwards to complete the marathon. I was on the “A” open female team that won 1st place last year, which meant that I was expected to run as fast as possible for the first 5 miles. Not exactly ideal marathon pacing strategy, but I was never planning for this race to be a fast one, and I was excited for a potential podium finish!

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We flew in from NYC late Thursday night before the Sunday race, allowing us to stay on East Coast time. Very important when you have a 3am wakeup call race morning! We had a relaxing day at my parent’s house in Santa Cruz on Friday, including some nice walks on the beach to calm our taper crazies, and drove down to the expo on Saturday. The expo was small (you don’t need much time there) but had some great speakers. I particularly enjoyed meeting Bart Yasso – he shared an entertaining and powerful story about how he became the Chief Running Officer of RW, and all the adventures and health challenges that he has experienced since. His book is great too!

Bart’s main message was the following: you may not always have your health, but no one can take away your positive attitude or your passion for the sport. This proved very helpful on race day while being blown to pieces by crazy headwinds and feeling unusually fatigued early in the race. I could either think about how crappy I felt, or focus on the gorgeous views and how fortunate I was to be running in such a special part of the world. Attitude is everything!

The race was very well organized, with shuttles in several convenient locations. We stayed at the Hampton Inn (5 min walk from the shuttle at Embassy Suites), which was brand new and very comfy. It also was only a short drive from the expo (note – it says Monterey but really it is one block away from Seaside). The staff was great about letting us use their microwave to reheat our pre-race meals (salmon, zucchini and rice for lunch and pasta with mushrooms for dinner), and cooking oatmeal at 3am. As for gear, I had never run in my relay singlet and it was very big, so I layered it over my usual racing tank and the awkward baton fit nicely into my arm sleeve so I didn’t have to grip it.

The bus took about 75 minutes to get to the start line in Big Sur – a slow ride of peering out into the darkness. We got to the athlete village around 5:30am, which was extremely small and crowded (there isn’t much space to put everyone off of the highway). We were essentially dumped into a convoluted, massive line for the porta potties. Thankfully, the hilarious signs on each one kept us laughing. For example, “Tesla charging station,” “Las Vegas bus leaves here,” “Only for under 40 years old,” “Toasty 75 degrees inside,” and my favorite – “Condo for rent.” Not much of an exaggeration for California! The mile markers also had funny pictures and sayings – the race organizers definitely have a great sense of humor, and I appreciated the laughs while mentally toughing it out on the course.

Despite the crowds, we soon reunited with our fellow We Be Crazies Leg 1 runners. Because the highway remains open until 6am, the start line is only put up right before the race begins. They also load the corals differently – slowest runners first to get them further down the highway and fastest first. My friend encouraged me to start at the very front, which seemed crazy since my “fast” pace is slow compared to the front runners. But hey – it was my only opportunity to start at the very front of a major race, so I figured why not go for it! It was such a rush, running down that hill. I knew I would be passed immediately (and I was) at my 7:07 pace, however it was still awesome.

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The weather was cool and cloudy but fairly protected by the redwoods during my relay leg. It was so peaceful and mostly downhill – though certainly not “all downhill” as everyone kept saying (never believe that statement with regards to this race). There were several climbs though relative to the rest of the course, I suppose they were quite small. I felt strong and happy with my pacing, even though it would bite me later in the race.

After the handoff at mile 4.9, I felt sick. But sick = nice job on the relay! I shifted gears and slowed down to catch my breath and settle into a more sustainable pace. It wasn’t really a choice anyway as this was the point at which the roads opened up and the wind reared its ugly head! Large groups of runners kept passing me by, making me wish I could run fast enough to keep up so that I could get some protection from the wind. This sign definitely rubbed it in – all lies! Those hills felt endless…because they were.

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By mile 10 I was exhausted and the wind and slanted roads were taking a toll. I focused on how lucky I was to be there and on one of many long hills, the following mantra popped into m head: “Never ever ever give up.” I repeated it to myself over and over again and particularly while climbing hills to the rhythm of my feet.

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The taiko drums before hurricane point really locked in my mantra. You feel the sounds reverberate in your soul. These drums are a call to battle – in this case, the battle within against the never-ending hill! The fluid, powerful movements of the drummers were inspiring.

At the top of hurricane point it was so windy I literally could not move forward. It stopped me in my tracks and nearly blew me over! Good thing I ran during some crazy snowstorms back in NYC – who would’ve guessed it would be great Big Sur training? Usually you can make up time running downhill but the wind was so strong, it wasn’t worth the energy to push against it.

Bixby bridge was magical. We didn’t have blue skies like the last time I visited Big Sur, but the views were just as beautiful. You could hear the piano way before you even saw the bridge – the music floating faintly in the wind with sounds of crashing waves down below. This race clearly was not going to be a fast one, so I made sure to stop and really soak it in.

Just after the bridge, E cruised by me! I was beyond happy to see his face. He was looking strong and I could barely keep up with him at first. We settled into a slow but steady pace for 10 miles or so, occasionally saying a few words but mostly focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

Around mile 22 or 23, I finally got my groove back while E started to fall behind. I needed to keep moving so we parted ways. I hit the strawberry aid station – yes, an aid station with super sweet, fresh local strawberries – where I ran into an old friend from college. Turns out she lives in the neighborhood, and since they’re blocked in for the day they have a party!

The slant of the roads was tough on the body – I tried to find a sweet spot on the road but getting comfortable was nearly impossible. It was the first time in a marathon I wanted to walk but somehow I kept myself running. Knowing my parents were waiting for me at the finish helped me finish strong – it was the first time they were watching me race a marathon since Boston 2013. I saw my parents screaming in the spectator stands and was proud to finish in 4:08. It was my slowest marathon time ever but I still fought hard for it and took time to soak in the scenery – and that’s what matters.

E finished shortly after me in 4:16 – it was a strong run for him, given it was only a few minutes off of his flat course PR. The medals were awesome – ceramic with leather cords. Definitely a unique one to add to our collection!

Our relay team’s success certainly sweetened my slow personal finish! We Be Crazies won four awards – 1st overall, 1st open male, and 2nd and 3rd open female. My team won 2nd – we missed 1st by 15min – but we still rocked it with a time of 3:19!

After the awards ceremony, we celebrated together with an Indian buffet before heading back to Santa Cruz. As much as I love the solo nature of running and racing, I also enjoy being part of a competitive team. It’s not just about you achieving your personal goals – people are counting on you, which make you want to push that much harder. Doing both the relay and the marathon was a real challenge, but it was pretty cool to race hard for my team and then be able to battle it out for myself. I highly recommend this race – you can choose one of the shorter distances if you wish to experience the course without committing to the full 26.2!

After Big Sur, we got to relax in Santa Cruz with my family. As much as I love NYC, I hadn’t been home  in a year and I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be back. Our bodies ached for several days but we quickly recovered with daily beach walks, lots of delicious food, and massage. One week later, my legs felt refreshed and I had one of my all-time best beach runs, from La Selva to Seacliff (10 miles)! Perfect conditions – low tide and sunny with a cool breeze – combined with an awesome playlist led to some unexpectedly fast miles.

A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a run in the redwoods. I did a couple short runs with E on the trails in Nisene Marks as well as a hike and meditation session with a close friend down by the Buddha bridge, my favorite spot in the forest. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful, active week!

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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!

E and I both like to read something inspirational leading up to a big race. It doesn’t have to be about running, but any story that captures the journey of chasing a goal, overcoming a challenging situation and accomplishing something spectacular. As I train for my upcoming ultra, I’m enjoying a book called “The Ultra Mindset” by Travis Macy, a very accomplished endurance athlete. This book is all about changing your attitude, and is not just geared towards athletes. I’m only about halfway through, but I’m enjoying the various exercises that he has you do to rethink the obstacles you face, such as negative stories you tell yourself that can be reframed, all in the context of his own story about becoming the athlete he is today.

One tidbit that motivated me through some tough long run miles is something Macy wrote while narrating his solo race across Zion National park. He was pushing to the finish and said to himself, “You can do it. The harder it is, the stronger I get.” That last sentence resonated with me – a great new mantra – and it is also very true! The last two weeks have been my biggest mileage weeks in a long time – 45 and 41 miles, respectively. Granted, that’s nothing for most ultra runners, but for me recently and especially while rehabbing my hamstring, I’m pleased! It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I feel myself getting stronger. Strong enough to run 40 miles in the mountains? Not so sure about that yet, but I have a few more long runs and trail excursions to work that out.

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve been including a longer midweek run on the East River to boost my mileage. The run pictured above right is one such morning – it was gorgeous out and the miles flew by. The following Saturday, I ran 16 miles on Summer Streets NYC, which if you’re not familiar with, involves closing Park Avenue to traffic from 72nd street down to the Brooklyn Bridge for runners, cyclists and everyone else to enjoy. It gets a little too crowded for my liking but if you go early in the morning, it’s pretty cool. Part of this run was spent coaching the Gilda’s Club team, which is going well with two coached runs under our belt. We enjoyed many of the “rest stops,” including the coconut water station complete with a hammock (dangerous – I almost didn’t get back up).  I won’t lie – this was a tough run for me. My body was not feeling great after mile 12, but I managed to finish and thankfully recovered well for the next day’s adventure.

We are trying to do back to back runs each weekend to practice running on tired legs, with a long run Saturday and if able, a trail run/hike outside of the city on Sunday. Last weekend, E and I ventured back to the Appalachian Trail, but this time to Bear Mountain. We took Metro North to Manitou and ran along a quiet road (Manitou Station Rd –> Manitou Rd –> S Mountain Pass Rd) that intersects the AT after about 1.3M. We could have gone along the main road (9D) to the bridge like everyone else on our train, but we wanted to get away from the cars and people, while maximizing our trail time.

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Like in Vermont, this section of the AT was rocky and technical, but that was short lived. We soon hit a long stretch of road – 9D and the bridge (above) that takes you across the river to Bear Mountain and into the park along a paved path that hugs a lake and eventually leads to the trailhead. It was a gorgeous day, but we were still surprised by how many families were having huge loud BBQs by the lake. Everywhere smelled of smoke and kerosene. It looked fun but it’s a shame that they permit it in what could be such a peaceful place.

The trail to the top of Bear Mountain is essentially a stone staircase that turns into a trail and crosses a road 3 or 4 times. The trail and the top of bear mountain were PACKED – all in all this excursion was not the escape to nature that we had envisioned but the view was nice and we certainly had a great workout!

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Trains are infrequent from Manitou and when we realized that we would just barely be able to make our train with the next one several hours later, we booked it down the mountain. Nothing like racing 5M on a hot day after a big mileage week! Flying down those steps was SO fun – and great practice. I’m working on gaining confidence on steep downhill running and we were MOVING.

We had 3M and less than 30 minutes left on rolling hilly road when we both really started to feel it. At one point E said “I don’t think I can make it,” to which I responded, “we WILL make that cutoff.” He perked up and that suddenly became our motto – make the cutoff! It sounds silly but we are running the 65km race together and being able to motivate one another and work as a team is really important. Also, cutoffs really are a concern if you are a slower runner (as we will be in this race given all the hiking we’ll be doing), so it was a good motivator! We made the train with two minutes to spare – ending the run at 11M, tired but feeling very strong. After eating the healthy lunch I packed for us on the train, we beelined to Davey’s Ice Cream in the East Village (one of my fav spots) for a well-deserved summer treat. Dietitians need dessert too and this stuff is seriously worth the calories!

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Gear update: I’ve been using Saucony’s Omni Progrid as my road show for years and have been on the hunt for a good trail shoe as my feet were not happy after I ran the 50k in my Omni’s! I tested out the cliftons by HokaOneOne. Those are road shoes too but E swears by them protecting the legs over long distances. They were super comfy at first but they had to be returned as they were too narrow for my feet, causing a gigantic blister to form after just an hour. Ouch. On Sunday, I tested out the Brooks Cascadia 10 pictured above. This is a popular trail shoe with much more structure than I am used to, which means more protection from rocks. They held up well during our part trail part road run. Much better traction on rocks for sure, although still trying to decide if they are comfy enough with the structures upper. A longer run will surely tell! I’m grateful for the awesome return policies that these two companies have, as it’s impossible to tell if a shoe will work until you’ve done a long run in them, and shoes are really expensive!

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As for this past week, I threw in some cross training to mix things up. On Monday, I participated in a super fun Ironstrength group workout with Dr. Jordan Metzl aboard the Intrepid with 1000 other people! I’ve done one other Ironstrength class before in Central Park and love that it’s free (usually), open to anyone, and takes place all over the city. It was a gorgeous night, and although E and were sore from our big weekend, we had a great time working up a sweat in such a unique location. On Wednesday, a co-worker and I tried out a spin class at the Peloton Cycle studio in Chelsea with Robin Arzon, a fellow ultra runner (E and I saw her at Endurance Challenge DC) and all around bad-ass and inspirational athlete. She is gorgeous and her energy is infectious! The studio and the bikes are amazing too. Obviously I’m a huge fan of Peloton and will be back! I did a short shakeout run after the class and ran into E on the river – I wish I could run commute home from work!

This weekend, E and I ran 18 miles yesterday, partly on Summer Streets. We managed to run at least 6 miles on trails, between the bridal path and north woods in Central Park, and a dirt trail that ran all along Riverside Park! Pretty cool. This run was tough but overall I felt better than last week, and the tape on my hamstring still seems to be helping, as I didn’t feel any pain throughout. Our experiment of the day was testing a new nutrition strategy, as we are still trying to nail down our plan for race day. We used Tailwind Nutrition endurance fuel naked flavor in our 16oz handhelds. We ran for ~3hrs and used 1.5 scoops per bottle x 3 (450 cal). It tasted great – not too sweet, especially with all the ice we used in that first bottle – but after 2-3 hours and with warmer water I found myself craving plain cold water, even though I had been drinking a lot (we were filling our bottles at fountains along the way). Also, I’m not sure how I would use it during the ultra, given we’ll be running for 10+ hours with only 5 aid stations. I could put it in my hydration vest bladder, but it’s much harder to gauge how many calories you are drinking this way compared to a handheld. Overall it’s a great product that I would like to experiment with more, and I wonder if in colder weather I would have had a different reaction. It could be useful in conjunction with food and/or gels, although I realize that their motto is “all you need, all day, really.”

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Today, we opted to stay in the city and hit some “hills” on the Williamsburg bridge for 8M rather than do another trail excursion out of the city. It was hot, but overall I felt quite strong, which gave me a confidence boost.

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On the cooking front, I’ve been making all kinds of good stuff lately that you can check out on my Instagram page. I’ve included a few photos here too.

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I’m in the process of setting up my new Eat for Endurance nutrition counseling website (finally!!!) so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch (thefightandflightresponse@gmail.com) if you wish to work with me, either for nutrition counseling or run coaching, in person or online. Have a wonderful week!

Happy August everyone!

This is old news by now, but a few weeks ago Team Dietitian Divas made the podium again with a second place division finish at the NYC Triathlon Relay! The conditions were brutal – one of the hottest and most humid days we have had so far this summer. I was worried about my speed given the weather as well as my ongoing hamstring issues, but I managed to pull off a very strong effort. I ran 45:16 – just 20 seconds slower than my PR which helped us win first place in 2013! It has been awhile since I truly ran all out and I was surprised given that I’ve basically done zero speedwork since April. It was really tough and I was proud of myself for hanging in there and really pushing towards the end, when all I wanted to do was quit. Amazing mental training for the ultra!

Here are a few shots from the awards ceremony – including the random free stuff I scored at the finish line and our awards from 2013-2015!

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I had promised myself that I would only push as hard as my hamstring would let me and I did just that. I felt no specific hamstring pain throughout the race, even during my final sprint. I really should’ve known better though – it was so hot and the adrenaline was flowing, making it easy to cross that line without feeling anything until it was too late. A few hours later, my hamstring wasn’t feeling great. The frustrating part was that I had been running strong up until this point and was poised to ramp up my mileage with E for our 65k race in September.

After almost a week off running, the inflammation went down and I saw a sports doc who said that the strain is mild and I can continue to train with regular PT as long as I continue to run pain free. I have committed to doing twice weekly PT sessions and am hopeful that I will make it to that start line feeling strong!

I’ve had 3 sessions thus far and it’s going well. The doc said that he wanted me to try getting taped up so I tried that last weekend. It felt strange but I think it did help, as it got me through a 45 mile week. My PT explained that the tape works by shortening and compressing the muscle. Not exactly sexy wandering around for three days with my entire hamstring covered in black kinesio tape (not to mention the awesome tan line I got from it), but hey if it works I’m game!

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I’ve been moving forward with ultra training with some great runs on trails and road. It hasn’t all been peachy – rehabbing an injury can be frustrating especially when all you want to do is get out and run – but we all have our good and bad days. I’m trying my best to listen to my body instead of being a slave to the training schedule.

E and I recently spent a long weekend in Sugarbush, Vermont for a family event and saw it as an opportunity to hit the trails. Although our “trail runs” involved more hiking than running given the insane elevation gain over short distances and very technical trails, it was great training.

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First, we power hiked from our hotel in Sugarbush straight up to Lincoln Peak (3975 ft over ~ 2M) and ran back down the rocky slopes. THAT was quite the quad & trail running technique workout!! The views at the top were spectacular and we were thankful to just barely miss a massive downpour. I tried out my new Ultimate Direction hydration vest that I plan to use for the ultra. It took a little getting used to but overall was very comfy.

The next day, we ventured over to the Long Trail at App Gap. In case you are not familiar with this trail, the Long Trail is the “oldest long-distance trail in the United States” and “follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks.” The Long Trail also coincides with the Appalachian Trail for 100 miles, and it is part of that section that we visited.

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Originally we had planned a long “run” along the ridges back to Lincoln Peak, but we only made it slightly past Starks Nest for a 7M out and back due to time constraints. As you can see, this was another technical trail (lots of rocks, ladders, etc) so we mostly hiked, but there were a few sections that were more runnable and allowed for some technique practice (which I need, given we mostly run in NYC). It was a challenging, fun outing despite not making it very far. Tons of through hikers too!

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We only logged about 12 miles total that weekend and yet we both felt like we had just run a marathon so I wasn’t feeling too troubled about missing that long run! Plenty of time on feet. We watched an awesome ultra running documentary called Finding Traction on Nikki Kimball’s attempt to become the fastest person to complete the entire length of the 273 mile trail. Incredibly inspiring and fun to see some of the trails we had just experienced!

That’s all for now! E and I both had a huge mileage week last week, with more training, trail running, nutrition, coaching, gear reviews and other updates to come. Stay tuned!

This week has been a light training week for me with the NYC Triathlon Relay this Sunday. Team Dietitian Divas will be racing for our third podium – with 1st place female relay in 2013 and 2nd in 2014! I’m not sure my hamstring will allow for a 100% racing effort (not to mention my lack of speed work since since April!) but I’ll still go for it!!

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After Sunday, it’s full steam ahead on the training front. E and I have been searching for another ultra to run in the fall and finally settled on the 65km Ultra Trail Harricana of Canada in La Malbaie, Quebec on September 19th. We plan to fly into Montreal, celebrate my birthday there, then rent a car and drive past Quebec City to La Malbaie (about 4 hours). Worst case – if the weather is really horrible or we can’t do this for another reason – we’ll have a fun weekend in Canada!

Just to give you a little preview, here’s an excerpt from the race website: “A perfect mix of flow and technical. The race will get underway at the Hautes-Gorge de la Riviere Malbaie National Park and end at the Mont Grand-Fonds Ski Center. The course will take you halfway through the famous trail called La Traversee de Charlevoix. Passing several lakes, runners will have the chance to encounter Canadian wildlife, including beaver, porcupine or moose.” Apparently, we also need a bell for bears – well, that’s on the optional gear list at least!

I’ve only been averaging about 20-25 weekly miles since April, thus two months isn’t exactly an ideal amount of time to prepare for a 40 mile trail run with 6500 ft of elevation gain. However, I think we can handle it – we’ve gotten some great trail running and hiking in over the last month, and I hope to build a good base supplemented with hill and strength training.

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A key part of our training, given that we mostly run along the East River and in Central Park, will be escaping the city to hit the trails. Last weekend, we ventured out to the Breakneck Ridge Trail Loop for some cross training. The trailhead is a 90 minute ride from Grand Central on Metro North, and the train was packed with hikers given the beautiful weather! It was a perfect start to our upcoming “back to back” Saturday/Sunday training runs, given we did 13M the previous day.

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The first 1M or so involves some serious scrambling and climbing – I was pretty much on all fours for the first hour. These pictures don’t quite capture how steep it was – and the trees disappeared after the first section! I don’t have a lot of climbing experience, so I had planned on taking the easier ascents, but in the end we stuck with the more challenging route. I was surprised how natural it felt to climb – I just moved by instinct and was able to put any fears out of my head. E has a lot of experience with climbing, so whenever I got in a bind (which happened on one very big rock), he talked me through it. It was amazing training and super fun.

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The views of the Hudson weren’t too shabby either! A good excuse to take a break and catch our breath, with the viewpoints all throughout the scrambling section and the sun beating down on us.

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Once we made it to the fourth peak, we stopped for a quick lunch in the shade. It was simple but I cannot tell you how delicious it tasted – especially since I had placed a frozen water bottle with the bag to keep the food ice cold! Hummus, smoked turkey, dill, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles on whole wheat with sliced apples and a big bag of raw veggies. SO refreshing!

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We opted to do a 5.5M loop from Breakneck Ridge to Cold Spring (white to blue to red to blue trails). The trail became a bit more runnable after this point and also mostly flat / downhill, so we ran the remaining 3M. The trail was beautiful – mostly in the forest, which felt great after being in the sun – and towards the end the trail was even paved. It ended with a single track parallel to the road, and then about 0.5 on the actual road into town. I was pretty shocked my stomach was able to handle running after lunch – but that’s a good sign for ultra training! We ended at Moo Moo’s Creamery for ice cream, obviously – SO worth it. The ice cream tasted so homemade and really hit the spot!

This was a great hike and so easily reached from the city. We’re definitely planning to go back to do a longer loop with more running!

E and I recently spent 10 days in Maui and 4 days in the Catskills. As usual, our travel was filled with some unforgettable runs, hikes and meals!

MAUI, HAWAII

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It was E’s first trip to Hawaii and I hadn’t been there in seven years, so we were excited to do some exploring in between chilling out on the beach with my family.

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Our first adventure was a 10M run from Makena to Kihei literally on every terrain imaginable – road, pavement, sand, grass, gravel trail and dirt trail. The paved beach trail (pictured above) meanders through the fancy Waliea hotels (from the Fairmont to the Andaz) and is a popular path among runners and walkers. What you may not know is that you can keep running past the Andaz along the beach (bottom left) for another mile or so to the Mana Kai hotel, along the grass (middle) around the hotel across more grass and onto a gravel trail leading past a boat ramp and onto another trail that takes you into Kihei (bottom right). Most tourists don’t go this far so you can get some peace and quiet! We did a shorter version of this run – from the Fairmont to the trail and back (~5-6M) – a couple times later in the week.

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The views are magnificent, and the earlier you go the better! We started our runs no later than 6:45am and already, the sun was beating down on us and the path was crowded (at least in Wailea). These runs were not easy between the sand, the heat and the rolling hills, but the scenery certainly made the miles fly by.

We also went on a 12M run/hike in Poli Poli State Park, which is way up a volcano towards Haleakala National Park along a tiny VERy windy road. We planned to devote one day just to a long run/hike somewhere far away from the beaten path and after some research, E decided upon Poli Poli. I won’t bother to write about this because E already wrote an awesome recap on his new trail running website, trailz.io, that truly captures the spirit of our adventure. The terrain was incredibly varied, but here are a couple photos to give you a sense of two sections of the trail…

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Lastly, we did a beautiful hike (with a little running) along the King’s Highway trail. It’s rocky but runable in certain sections. We happened to go there on a breezy, slightly cooler day, which made the temperature manageable in the late morning, but this is one place to watch out for the sun and to be sure to bring enough hydration! We only hiked for a couple hours but this trail goes on and on and on.

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Eating and being active of course go hand in hand, so I’ll leave you with a few of my Maui fav’s in case you find yourself in the area. We spent a week with my family in a condo and did a lot of grilling (my favorite fish is Opah moonfish – marinated in ginger, tamari and lemon – pictured bottom right with spinach and purple sweet potatoes), but here are some great restaurants that we love (some new, some very old):

  • Monkeypod kitchen: Good happy hour, have to get the Mai Tai
  • Cafe O’lei: Great value especially for lunch
  • Kimo’s: An old fav in Lahaina, go at sunset and don’t miss the hula pie
  • Coconut’s Fish Cafe: Yummy fish tacos in Kihei
  • Flatbread Company: Great pizzas in Paia

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We can’t wait to go back to Maui next year!

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CATSKILLS, NEW YORK

A week after we got back from Hawaii, we rented an adorable log cabin near Phoenicia to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary. The weather was horrible (heavy rain most of the time), which initially really bummed us out. It ended up being a blessing, as it forced us to relax by the fire for two days and get some much needed recovery. We did a lot of resting, reading, and s’mores eating! We ventured out once our first day to grab lunch at Phoenicia Diner – the town seemed completely dead but apparently that’s where everyone was hanging out. Totally packed! We opted for breakfast but the lunch items looked incredible too.

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The rain let up just long enough for us to squeeze in a few hikes. All that rain explains why the area is so incredibly lush, but it also meant that the trails were super muddy and slick. Even on a dry day the trails are quite rocky and steep, so we ditched the idea of trail running and were happy to hike instead (enough of a challenge!).

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Our first hike was on the Slide-Wittenberg Trail, one of the trail-heads that originates in the Woodland Valley Campground just a few miles from our cabin. We got a late start (mid-afternoon), as the rain had only just stopped, and there literally wasn’t a soul on the trails, so we only did an out and back on a section of the loop (about 3.3 miles). The trail was beautiful, although sections of the trail were engulfed in water and at times we were essentially hiking up a rocky stream. Nevertheless, it was very peaceful and it felt great to be active after lounging around the cabin!

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Our second and main hike was a 7 mile out and back on the Giant Ledge-Panther Mountain Trail. You can get on this trail from Woodland Valley Campgrounds, but we decided to try something different and instead catch the trail-head near Big Indian (a 30 minute drive from Phoenicia). We started on the footbridge and from there it was essentially one very long climb up to a series of ledges with stunning views. The weather was still variable (we had sun and rain) and the trail was a mud bath, but thankfully the weather was clear enough when we reached the view points to glimpse the endless tree-covered mountains.

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After passing these ledges, we carried on towards what we thought would be the peak of Panther mountain, but strangely the trail started to go back down and we eventually decided to turn around. We later found out we went too far. There were a couple nice view points, but not so dramatic that we thought we had reached our final destination! Giant Ledge is the best feature of this trail and were it not for the fact that we wanted a longer workout, I think we would have been happy stopping at that point. Overall, a beautiful and challenging hike and well worth the effort!

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Of course, one of the best parts of doing a long run or hike is the awesome meal afterwards. We finished our hike around 4pm, just in time for Peekamoose restaurant in Big Indian to open for “dinner.” This was our favorite restaurant in the area – we had a huge meal including appetizers and dessert since we hadn’t eaten a real lunch. Everything was delicious and homemade. The restaurant was empty (because who eats dinner at 4pm?!), which was a good thing since we had attempted to clean ourselves up after our hike but we were still pretty gross! I don’t eat red meat that often but sometimes I really crave a good burger and this burger was INSANE. Definitely the opposite from the other burger pictured above from a few nights before – a delicious black bean burger at the adorable Woodstock Garden Cafe. We stopped here on our way to Phoenicia – beautiful garden and tasty, healthy vegan fare!

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Our last day was our anniversary  – I made the above photo collage from all our wedding and honeymoon pics. Before our drive back to NYC, we checked out the Tanbark traila short loop that starts right by the post office in Phoenicia. It was a lovely, less technical trail that we could have run in parts had we not been so sore from the previous day’s hike! Worth checking out if you’re in the area and want something a bit less strenuous.

We’re back in NYC now without any trips planned for awhile. I can’t complain after two incredible vacations! We’re hoping to enjoy some local running/hiking to build up for our Fall races, which we still haven’t locked in but we’re getting close to pulling the trigger on a few.

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with awesome workouts and delicious food!

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Running an ultra has been on my bucket list for awhile. During my first North Face Endurance Challenge Series (TNFECS) event in SF four years ago, I only ran the half marathon but heard all about the awe-inspiring 50M and 50K races that happened the day prior. Back then, my thoughts were more along the lines of, “WOW…those people are CRAZY,” and that’s saying a lot coming from me! That started to shift when I spectated E’s first ultra at TNFECS Bear Mountain 50K last May. I decided I actually wanted run an ultra after pacing E for 24 miles at the JFK 50 miler in November. Maybe all the runners I met out on the trail motivated me, or perhaps I was simply jumping to a new level of crazy?! Either way, I had so much fun taking part in E’s ultra experience that I decided we needed to finish one together.

About two months ago, E mentioned that he was going to run TNFECS 50K and suggested it as an option. It takes place in Algonkian Regional Park, Great Falls Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail in Virginia, not far from where E’s parents live in Maryland. Although not exactly flat, the course is one of the least technical of the TNF series, and I definitely was looking for a newbie friendly race not too far from NYC. Unfortunately, the timing was terrible with various work and grad school commitments, so I said no, and we started to consider Fall races instead.

Cut to the week before the race, and I felt this unexplicable urge to enter. The Boston Marathon has been my big Spring race these past two years, and while I intentionally did not fill my race calendar this year, I couldn’t help but crave a new challenge as the marathon hype began to build. I was feeling exhausted and burnt out, and yet conquering a new, scary distance and experiencing that raw feeling of victory after crossing the finish line was exactly what I needed to keep pushing through the other challenges in my life.

Also, I’ll be honest – THAT was how badly I wanted to put off working on my Master’s research paper! Seriously. I am a very productive procrastinator.

So, I entered the 50K just three days in advance and caught a train to Maryland after work the night before the race. So much for my usual meticulous pre-race planning and prep!

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Panic set in briefly after I entered, but I reminded myself that I ran regularly over the winter to maintain fitness after the Marine Corps Marathon, including two 18-19 milers in Manhattan and several tough trail runs in Nisene Marks last month (two 1.5-2hrs, one 2.75hrs to Sand Point overlook – pictured above). I was under-trained but not horribly so, and I am not a newbie to trail running – just to the distance. It made me feel better that E hadn’t run much more than I had, so at least we were in the same boat. Also, pace isn’t as important in trail running unless you’re really competing, trying to break your own course PR, or need to beat a cut-off time. These didn’t apply to me, so for the first time ever, my goal truly was “just to finish.” It was a refreshing feeling after so many years of chasing PRs. I was especially excited to finish the race with E, hand in hand – we often train together and run the same races, but have never finished any together. We kept the race fairly quiet just in case it was a total disaster.

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It was still dark when we arrived at Algonkian Regional Park at 6am. The 50 milers had just set off and all the 50K runners were hanging out trying to stay warm. As in SF, the start area was well organized with plenty of toilets, food tents, coffee, fire pits, pre-race packet pickup, bag check, etc. It was meant to be a very hot and muggy day, and I knew we would be looking back fondly on these chilly pre-race moments later on! The sun started to rise, right up through the start line just in time for our 7am start. I was very tired from many weeks of inadequate sleep, but overall was in good spirits. I think they call that being in denial. I guess the trick to fighting off pre-race nerves is simply to enter last minute and don’t give yourself any time to think about it!

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I didn’t get a chance to study the out and back course. E told me that the first 13M were relatively flat and runable, followed by a more challenging middle 6M loop, and then 13M back to the finish. Didn’t sound so bad, right? We made a plan to run nice and easy, walk all the inclines and technical sections, take our time at the aid stations, and stop for photo breaks to make sure we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Our goals were to remain injury free, have fun and cross the finish line together. See that smile? Yes, still in denial.

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The first few miles were a total mud bath! The race started with a big loop of a field turned swamp after the rain, so within five minutes our shoes were soaked and legs covered in mud. I hate mud but quickly got over it. This led to a very slippery section of single track – essentially a slow Congo line of runners trying not to fall over – and then into a forested area (pictured below), where the trail widened and finally started to dry out. Smooth runable sections alternated with stretches of roots and rocks. We kept the pace slow and enjoyed the views of lush trail covered in wild flowers with the Potomac River on our left. The sun was shining, and signs of Spring were everywhere.

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We finally got into a groove when we hit several unexpected steep climbs and descents. Clearly, I did not take a close look at the elevation chart in advance, otherwise those hills wouldn’t have been such a surprise…oops.

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We hiked the ups as planned but unfortunately had to hike the downs as well, as it was too crowded to hurl ourselves downhill as we normally do. I started to feel it in my knees after a few of those. More importantly, I found myself unusually fatigued not even a third of the way into the race, which was very daunting. We let a lot of runners pass us and the crowds finally began to thin out. I wasn’t feeling fabulous, but it was very peaceful on the trails. It was still relatively early, which meant that the hordes of tourists hadn’t arrived yet, and the marathoners who started an hour later than the 50K runners hadn’t reached us yet.

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I pushed myself out of my funk and got a much needed surge of energy when we got to Great Falls, snapped some photos at an awesome lookout, hit another great aid station and entered the middle miles.

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I had imagined this section to be nonstop climbs and descents, but it felt easier than what we had already encountered. Don’t get me wrong, there were many hills, but it was a complicated loop (more like two mini out and backs tacked onto a loop), which kept things interesting as I didn’t really know what was coming next. See, it helps not to study the course map sometimes!

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I also was distracted (in a good way) as this was a social part of the race for me. We caught up to the other 50K runners as well as the 50 milers, who were doing 3 loops of this section (!!!), and the wider trails and two way traffic were more conducive to striking up conversations. Chatting on the trails almost always gives me energy, quickens my pace and melts the pain away (at least temporarily). After feeling so crappy during the earlier miles, I was reminded that part of what makes trail running so fun is all the amazing people you meet. Sure, it’s a solo endeavor at times – but it’s also a supportive, friendly community experience as well. Also, hearing about some guy’s upcoming 24 hour race (i.e. run as many miles as you can in 24 hours) and running alongside the hardcore 50 milers made the 50K seem like an easy day out. It’s all relative, right?!

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I promise – I wasn’t smiling in ALL the race photos.

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The miles were flying by and before I knew it, we were back at the Great Falls aid station, where E’s parents awaited us. By this point, it was very hot and muggy out. I was grateful to have worn my shorts, tank top and visor – all comfy and lightweight. My feet were starting to hurt and blisters were forming (my road shoes weren’t the best choice, but I didn’t have time to test any others), and other parts of my body were starting to ache, but I felt good overall – happy and confident.

I attribute this to solid pacing and staying on top of my nutrition. I was having combination of SIS Go Gels (I brought 8 and was taking one every 45-50min), water (I carried my Amphipod large handheld – no time to buy and try a vest), and a variety of aid station food offerings. I hadn’t trained with eating real food and I have a sensitive stomach, so I had to be careful. E swears by peeled boiled potatoes with salt (good source of electrolytes – potassium + sodium chloride), so I had a few small nibbles early in the race to test the waters, and ate more once I tolerated it. Highly recommend. I also had some chicken broth (delicious), some banana and a few potato chips/pretzels. I can’t stomach food at my marathon race pace (~8-8:20), but eating a little bit at each aid station kept me feeling strong at my ultra shuffle pace (~10-11 running, ~13 with walking). My taste buds also appreciated switching between salty and sweet!

E was really feeling the heat, so we started to run/walk the flats. Parts of the trail had shade and a cool breeze, but others did not and our bodies were in slight shock after such a long, brutal winter. I still felt strong but then of course stubbed my toe really hard on a rock during a steep descent, which briefly threw me off my game. I will likely lose my first toenail soon – E tells me that this is an ultra rite of passage.

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After we passed the marathon distance (pictured above), I officially entered unchartered territory. I felt a sense of relief knowing that I would make it to the end. E felt better when he took frequent walk breaks, and when I walked everything hurt 100 times more, so I ran ahead to keep my momentum going and then waited for him periodically to catch up. Without realizing, I started to run my usual 9/9:30 long run pace, which felt very comfortable. I felt the urge to hammer out the last miles, but E wasn’t up for it. Plus, this race wasn’t about speed. So we took our time and only picked up the pace in the last mile to ensure we finished in under 7 hours.

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We crossed the finish line together in 6:54:16, holding hands with gigantic smiles on our faces! Technically, I finished one second ahead of E, but I swear that was not intentional (he doesn’t believe me). It was an amazing feeling to finish and I immediately knew I had to do another one. Despite our slow pace, I still placed middle of the pack – 225 of 401 overall, and 69 of 145 women. Not bad for a first ultra and last minute race! If I had run all the flats and didn’t stop so much along the way, I think I could have finished in 6-6:30. Not that time matters… 🙂 Check out my Garmin details here.

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Post-race was awesome. I felt surprisingly okay, and was beaming from my ultra runner’s high! E’s parents met us at the finish and we scrubbed/soaked our muddy legs in the muddy ice water (SO COLD – hurt more than the race itself) and enjoyed some beer and food. I got a massive ice cream cone (post-race MUST) on the way home – calories well earned!

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I highly recommend the TNFECS and I’m glad I picked DC as my first ultra. It’s rated 3 of 5 stars for difficulty and elevation change, and 4 of 5 for scenery, so it’s challenging yet newbie friendly and rewarding. It’s not a cheap race, but you get your money’s worth. The start was seamless, the trail was well marked every step of the way, the aid stations were frequent and amazing, and everyone was friendly and chilled out. The race swag was good too – a pair of Smart wool socks and a technical shirt tailored to our distance.

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Our one complaint is that we wish more runners practiced better trail etiquette. For example, we noticed a lot of gel wrappers thrown on the trails (not cool) and so many runners were listening to music, which is dangerous on narrow trails with two-way traffic. Perhaps this is something North Face can better address in pre-race materials and events. Personally, I think music should not have been allowed – many races ban music for safety reasons. It also makes the events more interactive.

Recovery has been going well thus far. I haven’t been very sore, but my legs have felt a little fatigued/heavy, so I’ve been taking it fairly easy on the training front with just two runs last week. My next race is the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 16th. I don’t have any great expectations for the half given how little speed work I’ve done recently, and how stressed out I’ve been in these final weeks of school (graduation May 18th woohoo!!!), but I hope I have enough speed in my legs to have a strong race. For now, I’m trying to mix it up with some cross training – I’m excited to try my first Soul Cycle class today! It’s a charity ride that my friend invited me to at the East 83rd street studio, which should be fun.

Aside from the NYC Triathlon relay in July, my race calendar remains empty for now. I need to decide on my Fall race plans soon…perhaps another ultra? I’m leaning towards YES!

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” — E.H.

Background

Running is probably one of the more isolating things that you can do with your time. Most days, you’ll be on your own. You’ll quietly slip out into the morning air at the crack of dawn with no one around to tell you it was a bad idea. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few familiar voices in your head to keep you company. The bad news is that these voices have names like “doubt,” “fear” and “fatigue.”

Trail running is a slightly different animal. While it’s true that the voices are still there to keep you company, the culture tries to cultivate community. The community tries to rally around the idea of “connection to our collective experience,” including how we connect not just to the mountains, rivers, and wilderness, but also the people that make every experience rich, moving and unique.

10525899_10152810266175821_7688336940618464541_nWhen researching ultra-marathons for the 2014 season, I wanted to find a race that would scream community. The JFK race is steeped in history and community – it was originally conceived by JFK himself as a rallying cry for the USA; a call to a higher standard. Not only did the military return the call, but the public did as well with many such races springing up around the country. Today, there still is a large military presence in the race (Marines won the team event) – and while civilians seem to expect that our elite military units are cut from a different cloth (and IMO that may, in fact, be true), these races remind us that EVERYONE has the ability to exceed his or her own expectations…if we only dare to try.

As part of my mental preparation for the race, last week I had the privilege of hearing Admiral McRaven speak at the office. While I can’t say that I agree with all of his politics, I do think that his pointers for dealing with adversity should be part of the Ultra-Marathon Training Guide.

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The start

Training

So now that we have the race selected, how on earth do you prepare to run 50 miles? This seems to be the most common question I’ve received so far and there are many approaches. After much research, I customized my own training plan as follows:

Step 1: Prepare for a marathon (time it to peak 4 weeks before the race – Marine Corp Marathon fits nicely and it has a similar race profile)

Step 2: Add significantly more volume (+miles, peaking at 178 in September – “time on feet” also works)

Step 3: Add significantly more strength + stabilization + core exercises (gym time + pack running – body weight over metal)

Step 4: Add back-to-back runs (Sat and Sun runs, both at least 1-2 hours to simulate time on feet, peaking at 20+12 miles on Sat+Sun, respectively)

Step 5: Pay special attention to recovery (rest + nutrition)

This approach seemed to work fairly well for me. I exceeded my volume goals by hitting 1400 miles by November and got to the start injury-free. I also included an excessive taper program just to be sure I got to the start rested; for me, that involves very little running the week before the race. While it’s not without a little Taper Madness, I’ve found I always run better when I’m rested and itching to get to the start.

Problem Solving

Race execution at any distance is all about knowing the course and solving problems. Any distance. The JFK50 is split up into a few key sections: the Appalachian Trail (AT) 0-15.5, the canals (15.5-42), and the roads (42-50.2). Embedded in each section are a number of mini-milestones, official cut-off points that let you know if you’re on track to make it to the roads in time. The cut-offs are non-negotiable and you get pulled off the race if you don’t make them. They are AGGRESSIVE because running on a canal in the dark is dangerous – period. There was a lot of discussion on the JFK50 forums by some people that DNF’d this race because they felt the cut-offs were too aggressive. Personally, I feel that these adventures are not supposed to be easy – that’s part of the joy, so get over it.

Now, onto the problems.

The Problems

P1The AT. The AT is super fun but it’s also the most congested part of the course. It’s also the section with the most uphill so you risk burning too hard, too soon – which will destroy you for the rest of the day. It’s very easy to get stuck in a conga line, which has the benefit of forcing you to slow down in the early miles, but the downside is: IT SLOWS YOU DOWN.

JFK (Top) + MCM (Bottom)

JFK (Top) + MCM (Bottom)

Getting off the AT has an additional complication: the train. Yes, there is a train that eventually comes and if it does, you have to wait for it to pass. Precious time wasted. This is no joke and it means you need to be at mile 16 (0.5 mile down the road from the AT exit) by 4 hours.

P2The Canals. Basically, after running for 2-3 hours (3:30 for me) you then have to run an uphill trail marathon fast enough to hit the 42 mile cut-off.

P3The Roads. Asphalt feels like a relief when compared to roots, rocks, etc. However, darkness is now a problem and so is the cold. While you may have started cold, and later on warmed up in the sunlight – now with the sun setting, the cost of keeping warm is also taking its toll on the body. Maybe if you’re fast this isn’t an issue but hey – I’m slow – and so are a lot of people.

P4Nutrition. Your body only has a certain amount of glycogen it can store. Beyond that, you’ll need to find a replacement. The nice thing is that there are many stations along the way to fuel up. The downside is that there are no guarantees what will be there – if you hang your strategy on food that isn’t there when you arrive that’s it – game over. It’s VERY VERY hard to recover from calorie deficit once you get too far behind.

FullSizeRenderP5Hydration: Just like fuel, you lose tons of water and electrolytes in this type of endurance event. You need to drink enough to stay hydrated, but you can’t drink so much that you become hyponatremic. It’s a delicate balance.

P6Pacing. How the heck do you pace this thing? Maybe some people can run the entire length of the course but I cannot. My A goal was to finish under 10 hours (not met), which would require an average pace of 12:00 min per mile. Sounds slow, but when you factor in elevation changes, crowding and pit-stops, time adds up fast. Especially when most people are slowing down significantly in the last third of the race.

The Solutions

While these solutions won’t work for everyone, they certainly worked for me – this time, for THIS race. I’m curious to see which solutions work in future races.10259791_10152816325705821_3810747082238434306_n

S1: The trails. I’ve done a number of trail races so I’m fairly comfortable on this type of terrain. I love to bomb on the downhills and feel like I can cover the rocks in short order. The AT is certainly not the most technical trail out there, however, the uphills are no joke – they burn you out. So like many long races, the key is to take what the trail gives you – run the flats and downs, walk the uphills and pass when you can to get in front of the conga line. In the end, I still wasted probably 30 minutes behind people in un-passable situations. There’s simply nothing that can be done about this except to move faster next time. Just like normal, eyes down and active scanning ahead to avoid branches, rocks and various obstacles. The key is getting out of here without an injury – one gentlemen fell off some steep switchbacks at the end and had blood running down his nose, cheeks and eyes (oh yes, he still finished – he was a 68 year old Vietnam Marine veteran finishing the race for the 26th time).

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S2: The canals. There’s no secret to this section, you just have to get going. I was very fortunate to have my wife pace me for over 23 miles along the canals (pictured above). She kept me moving and helped me come up with a run/walk system once I hit a few very very low points. Think the key is to mentally find a rhythm and hang on. I’m not sure if I did better or worse with a pacer but having this support sure felt amazing during this section – and with her being such a seasoned runner in her own right, I had complete confidence in her suggestions. That’s really what you need, someone to do the heavy mental lifting when your mind starts to go.

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The final stretch

S3: The roads. At mile 38, I changed into my fleece, which saved me as the sun went down. Not only did it set me up to try and focus on mile 42 – the final cutoff required to finish – but again, it proves that you really can’t do as well without a team to support you. The wife and parents were just legendary in this regard – sprinting around and staying out in the cold as a spectator is no joke. Not enough can be said here to demonstrate my gratitude.

S4: Nutrition. There’s strategy and then there’s flexibility. These races require both. My plan was to take in 200 calories per hour in gels (if it sounds disgusting, you’re right – it is). In order to stay on track, I set my Ironman watch on a 30 min repeating alarm (1st time I tried this). Not only did this make sure I kept the calories constant, it also gave me a kick in the butt when I was stalled. The plan was to use this for base fueling (mix of Vanilla PowerGels, VFuel MCT-based gels) and then supplement with SaltStick tabs (2 per hour) plus aid station food (to taste).

Generally, I’ve done well with potato chips, coca-cola and potatoes/salt at aid stations. I did wind up trying a few new things (bad move) and found that although I was able to tolerate them, I did best with potatoes/salt (thinking of making my own for next time). The key here was (a) keeping on a tight schedule and (b) practicing with everything to make sure your gut doesn’t freak out. I’ve been blessed with an iron stomach and think the only problem was that maybe I still didn’t eat enough on the canal section.

S5: Hydration. Speaking of flexibility, I brought with me one vest bottle and one bladder. It turns out that at 17F degrees the outside tube of your hydration bladder will freeze rendering it useless. I’ve heard of this happening before but it never happened to me. Thank goodness I brought the UD flask with me – it saved me from a real problem. That said, I’m sure I didn’t take in enough water as a result. Pee color looked good though so probably OK. At the worst, I was running with an extra few pounds of water weight (that I shed later – again, thanks to support crew) and at best I was hydrated enough from the frequent aid stations – on a different course, I just don’t know what would have happened here. Likely, a DNF.

S6: Pacing. Here’s where understanding the course matters. In every race, it’s important to have a few ranked goals. Over this sort of distance, the obvious goal is to make the cut-offs and finish the race. This is essential. To go beyond that, you have to be realistic. Veterans advise that you can typically run 2.5 times your marathon time for a 50 miler.

So, if I’m pacing a marathon at 4:00 – that puts me in 10:00 territory – which is exactly what I ran, minus some challenging terrain. In order to do this, I would need to hit the canal somewhere between 2:45-3:15 hours, execute a 4:30-5:30 marathon, leaving me with 8 miles to close out in 1.5 hours (not impossible). This is effectively what happened except for a few differences:

  • Uphills on the AT. There were a lot of them and there’s no way to run everything. It’s just not feasible.
  • Conga Lines. There were plenty of choke points on the AT, especially on the switchbacks. This easily cost me 20-30 minutes.
  • Uphills on the roads. Rolling country roads is a bit of an exaggeration. They were pretty darn steep; like walk with your hands on your knees steep.

Aside from these challenges, you can run most of the flats/downhills and hike the uphills. I probably walked more than I expected, but less than I feared. In general, I was more concerned with finishing once I knew 10 hour goal wasn’t realistic given the above reasons – so I definitely took a conservative pacing approach later in the race.

photoClaire also paced me for almost half of the race on the canal (she had only planned to run 12 miles). This was awesome for a number of reasons. In addition to being able to share the adventure, she was also helpful to keep me pushing forward. Running with a pacer made the event feel so “real” to me; it magnified the undertaking significantly. I’m forever in her debt for getting me through it.

Assessing The Damage

It was a miracle that my family was there to support me. While I managed to find some legs in the last 5 miles and finish strong, there was no question that without someone to pick me up and take me back to the hotel, things could have gotten hairy. One nice feature of the JFK race is that if you don’t have people around, there are showers you can use at the high school after the race – so while I went back to the hotel to shiver, sweat, and freak out uncontrollably – if you do not have such a luxury, you can always do that in your car after a nice hot shower.

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Any race with elevation changes like this one always smashes your quads – no exception here. One big difference was that I was a bit chafed on the inside of my legs and finally got a number of large blisters due to swelling in my feet (and use of road shoes for the duration over trail/hybrids). This wasn’t a surprise, as more than one blister popped during mile 32 or so (ask Claire what the expression on my face was – I’m not entirely sure). Still, it’s always a nice surprise when you take off your shoes to assess the damage and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.

It’s Tuesday morning and the feet are mostly healed. Some back toenails, but I have it on good authority that all toenails go to heaven.

Recommendations

If you’re looking for a first 50 mile race on the east coast, you really couldn’t pick a better one. The community, support and available course information make it a fulfilling adventure. I would say that there are other races that I’d rather do now that I’ve tackled the distance, but given the opportunity I would do it again. Mainly, I’d like to take on a course with significantly more trails/elevation – this was the most fun I had the entire day and I can’t wait to try out these legs on some sweet, groomed, west coast sunshine in 2015.

Other Highlights & Notes

It really was an adventure and probably it’s still too soon to process everything. Here were some additional thoughts from the day:

  • A police officer was directing runners at the 49 mile mark; his car was blasting “Ode To Joy.”
  • I did NOT get my red velvet cake at aid station 38. Stopping was a bad idea; at least the wife got to enjoy it. She earned it!
  • Mile 44 won the best aid station award: boiled potatoes with salt. This was my favorite fuel of the day; hands down.
  • Surprise visit from Claire/my parents during my 2nd wind at mile 46 – she was shocked at how fast I was moving (me too).
  • iPods are NOT allowed in this race for safety purposes. This is great because it forces you to meet/work with others through the low points. A new friend Joe and I attacked the short telephone poles together at mile 47 – when I saw him at the end he found me and gave me a huge hug – band of brothers…
  • Mentally, you really go to some dark places. My mental state was strong and was really able to accept the voices and push them aside.
  • The Appalachian mountains are beautiful. I can’t believe I never explored these growing up, given it was only an hour from my house.
  • Still have not completely conquered the chafing monster. More trial/error research is required. DZNUTS worked well both pre/post race.
  • Sprint finish uphill – well, maybe “sprint” is being used too loosely, but it felt faster than 10:00, which after 49 miles is quite something.
  • GPS clocked 51 miles. Well known to be inaccurate although I haven’t quite calculated where it went wrong exactly.
  • Stubbed my toe on the canal and I got a cramp in my chest; very strange place to get a cramp.
  • Right biceps extremely sore. This is likely due to the water bottle on my right side. Think it makes sense to either have 2 bottles or switch side next time.
  • 100 mile races are beyond my ability to comprehend at this point. Claire was sure to remind me after crossing the finish line (in an attempt to discourage any thoughts of running a 100 miler next) that all that pain I was feeling – that was just HALFWAY. One thing I know for sure is that there is probably an exponential effect to the amount of training required (I’d wager > 3x what I did to prepare for this race).
  • The wife kept calling me “el jefe” on the canals – this will no doubt be a short lived moniker…
  • Garmin details (JFK): http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/638753213
  • Reference Documents: Unspoken Rules of Being a Badass: http://runitfast.com/2014/09/16/the-unspoken-rules-of-being-a-badass/

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

Big bowl of healthy and mostly plant-based goodness after some mid-day strength training! Chopped kale (massaged with miso lemon vinaigrette), spinach, leftover roasted spiced cauliflower, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, black beans, feta & golden raisins. Don’t forget to register for tonight’s NYC Marathon event at @finishlinept tonight (link in bio), where I will be answering all of your nutrition questions! Having a plank off with the babe! 😂 #gameface #Repost @wellseek (@get_repost)
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Quality fuel means quality runs. 🙌🏃
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From micros to macros, it's important for endurance runners to cover all of your essential fueling needs. Let’s break down what’s needed and where to get it from with @eatforendurance #linkinbio #ExpertsWhoSeek Fueling an active morning (heading to the @crunchfitnesss #crunchgoespink event shortly) with this tasty, balanced breakfast! Ricotta and homemade blueberry compote (thanks leftover baby food!) and almond butter and banana on @shewolfbakery bread from the farmer's market. 👌🏻 This may not be much to look at, but was seriously tasty!! Sautéed two portobello mushrooms in olive oil and white miso paste (added an awesome flavor) and added a fried egg and a dollop of whole milk ricotta. Happy Friday! Who's running the @nycmarathon? @finishlinept is hosting a great event (register at link in bio), and I'll be on a panel of experts to answer all of your burning nutrition questions!

Join Finish Line Physical Therapy and Tailwind Endurance on Monday, October 23, as we welcome a panel of experts to discuss the ins, outs and secrets to success at the New York City Marathon. If you’re racing, you won’t want to miss this!

We’re assuming you’ve already gotten great advice from a coach about marathon training (“nothing new on race day,” right?). Now you need all of the inside-scoop, nitty-gritty details to have your best race at the New York City Marathon – and we’re here to give it to you! Join us for what promises to be a great night of discussion and insider knowledge on race weekend, event logistics and the race course.​

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