Tools of the Trade

So, as I wind down my training in preparation for race day (now, a whole 14 days away...), I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite training tools that I've either loved for years or acquired more recently. Some are for training, some are for recovery, but I have to say that they have made me feel stronger, faster, and better along this Ironman journey.

First, I'll start with the training tools.

Since swimming is my weakest event, Adam bought us each a pair of paddles from Keifer for some serious lap time in the pool. Paddles are great for people with good swim technique, and do an amazing job at strengthening shoulders. For those who aren't sure if their technique is spot on, and even those who are, it's probably not a good idea to use paddles when tired. Once the technique starts to go out the window, which usually happens (at least for me) when tired, using paddles can be a hinder more than a help. Anyway, my favorite workout with paddles:

100yds without paddles, 100yds with paddles, for a total of 1000yds. This makes for a great warmup. I use a pull buoy, and focus on rolling my hips so that when my left arm is stretching forward, the front of my stomach is parallel to the side wall of the pool.
I also got a kettlebell early this summer. Although I don't use it nearly as much as I should (Kettleworx suggets three times per week!), I am really looking forward to incorporating it into my "off-season" (whatever that is...) training.
As a side note, I will be picking up yoga again soon, after the race of course. There's no sense in starting something this soon before race day. Anyway, I love Rodney Yee's Yoga for Endurance Athletes, so I hope I will stick to doing yoga at least once a week.

Recovery tools have been a big part of my preparations, too. A while ago, I bought my first Stick, which is a recovery stick with rollers that is used to alleviate muscle tension post-workout. I have always borrowed a friend's, but now that I have my own, I'm pretty excited.

My diet is also really important for recovery. I make sure I get food into my system, and usually something fairly calorie-dense, within an hour after every workout. My foods of choice: HoneyStinger Protein bars (Peanut Butta Pro flavor), Larabars, or plain ol' cheese and crackers. Goat cheese is probably my favorite cheese on rice crackers. I also drink cherry juice (Montmorency, from Traverse City!), eat a lot of whole foods (have an exchange with a local CSA), and drink a boatload of milk (we go through 2 gallons/week!). And of course, the one thing I will miss most during my upcoming taper: Ice cream. Is it possible to go through a gallon of ice cream a week? Or shall I say, should we? Probably not... but we do.

Other than my bike, helmet, and cycling/running shoes, there are some other essential racing tools that I use when the time comes. I have an off-the-front water carrier that fits perfectly between my aero bars, designed by Revolution. It has two compartments, so I can put Nuun in one side and Cytomax in the other. It's the perfect volume (50 ounces) for a half-iron distance event, and easily refillable with a water bottle for a midrace refilling in Ironman (I hope!).
I love running in a running hat after the bike, because my hair can get in really rough shape, matted to my face, after wearing a helmet for several hours. Although I lost my last one at Chisago Lakes Tri in July, I recently acquired a new one (and flashier, too) from Brooks Running Company, from whom I get all my running gear.

Speaking of the tools, I'm gonna roll out the Stick now for some post-run recovery. Booya!

15 days?!

OOohh man. 363hours. Crap crap crap. It's now starting to hit me. Will I be able to sleep during race week? Will I go crazy, like everyone else says I will, because I'll be tapering and have all this energy but no way to release it? What if I forget my running shoes in Houghton? Should I spend a few hours changing my tube so I can get my time down, just in case? Should I stop drinking coffee NOW? What if I can't... you know... go to the... nevermind.

If things go the way they have been, I should do fine concerning a few of these potential issues. I can't seem to get enough sleep this week! And let's just say I don't need coffee to do what my dad refers to as a "Thursday." That's always a risky factor, though, especially when traveling. I don't really want to talk about that anymore.

I am nervous about flatting. I have only really flatted once, and it was because I put my tire on wrong (oops). I have heavy tires, but the roads can be a little rough out there.

I am nervous about the swim. I need to make sure I get the BodyGlide on (that'll help, yeah?). I need to pull up the sleeves, pull up the legs, pull up the torso so nothing is pulling anywhere near my arms. I need to make sure my neck doesn't get choked by the collar of my wetsuit.

I am excited about the bike, though. One hundred and twelve miles sounds like a long way. And it is, don't get me wrong. But I know I can do it! I have done it so many times. I've even done it on the actual course, starting out in the rain. No big thing. It's scary. There's big hills, sharp turns, gravel. I hope there won't be any gravel... But can I do it fast? Will I? Can I hang with the big kids? We'll see on race day. My goals: Don't go out too fast. Don't get sucked in by the peeps on their big bikes cruising past me up Mt Horeb. There's a lot more race after Mt Horeb.

I am stoked about the run. I am a runner. I can do a marathon. I feel good after biking. I know it's ok to walk. I will walk. I know I will get delirious. I know I will hit the wall. I also know it's ok to drink Coca-Cola. I am looking forward (oh, so much forward) to drinking Coca-Cola. I think, with all the Coke I drink during training, that Coca-Cola should sponsor me. HFCS is bad, but, Coke is just so good.

More to come later. I think I will be ok. Going to spend some quality run-time with my Brooks tomorrow and some quality relaxo-time with my boyfriend now.

Prius vs. BMW M3: Who wins the fuel economy battle?

Adam found this, and I find it very interesting. The first half is entertaining: How far can a SuperCar go on 1 gallon of fuel? The second half I found more educational.

No Sleep til... Saint Paul?

Ragnar weekend has came and went, and it makes me think of that classic Beastie Boys anthem. I think I am finally recovered from insomnia + running my butt off + driving all over the midwest. What an extraordinary weekend it was, though!

Margot, Jill, and I left on Thursday afternoon to head to Minneapolis for some pre-race peace-of-mind. It was pouring rain during much of the drive, and I am not a fan of driving through big, heavy droplets on the interstate. We made it safely to the Cities, though, and were lucky to have the wonderful hosts (Margot's future in-laws, Walt and Julie). We ate, talked, and got a great night's sleep in comfy beds. Margot and I got up in the morning for an easy jog around Palmer Park. We then ate a delicious breakfast and waited for the rest of the Northern Squad to arrive from Duluth (Leslie and Sam). Sarah arrived shortly therafter and we packed up the Suburban and headed off to pick up Lisa. With a full vehicle and a full belly, we drove onward to Winona, Minnesota to meet the rest of the crew and start the 2009 Great River Ragnar Relay!

Margot was our first runner, and speedy she was. She ran across the Mississippi right off the bat and the crew in Van 2 (myself included) headed to the first major exchange. One unfortunate thing about having a group of 12 (instead of 6) is that you don't really know what the other van is doing. It's nearly impossible to cheer on the other half of the team because of vehicle crowding issues. So the Flexmobile, which included Lisa, Megan D., Jess, Mel, Sarah, and myself headed to some random Wisconsin town and waited.

I took a nap (sweet!), saw some interesting Ragnarly costumes (Ragnar 911) and the sun was setting by the time Sam made it into the exchange. Lisa, the Flexmobile's 1st runner, had a few serious hills to climb, which were unrelenting for our second runner, Megan D. I was the third runner from our van, and my 3.2mile leg was fairly downhill. I hammered it out for 21minutes and some change (thinking that my 5K split was pretty close to 20minutes) and handed off the slap-bracelet baton to Jess. By the time Sarah was done running, we were all tired and hungry. Unfortunately, Margot missed Sarah's arrival in the exchange, but it was only about a 30sec delay. I ate some potato salad and beans from a local buffet at midnight, which nicely supplemented my gluten-free cookies and jar of peanut butter, and we headed to the high school for some much needed rest. Sarah, Jess, Mel, and I slept in sleeping bags on the grass, and I don't think I've slept that hard for 90minutes before. Well, maybe at last year's Ragnar... There's something about sleeping under the stars. They were so bright and we could see the Milky Way. Very peaceful.

Lisa took off for her second leg at around 4am, and I was able to run my second leg during the sunrise. Beautiful! My second leg was a little over 5 miles, and I averaged sub 7min/miles, which is better than the 5miler I did earlier this summer. I also did negative splits, so I was content. By the time we were all done with our second legs, we were getting sore, stiff, but I think we had all caught our second wind. Sarah was lucky enough to cross the Stillwater Bridge during daylight! Fun Fun.

As Sam came in for her final exchange, Lisa was geared up to tackle the big hills of her 6mile course. My last leg was entirely along a ped path along the river, with the sun blazing and the heat rising. I went out a little too fast, and was glad that my final leg was only 4miles and change.

Our excitement rose with each exchange, and before we knew it, Sarah was entering the stadium at Boom Island Park. We formed a tunnel for her to pass through and ran through the finish. We donned our giant medals/beer bottle openers and headed back to civilization with running water, showers, and real food. We sat around and chatted, drank beer and wine, and went to bed at 8pm.

I always love the Ragnar Series. They are so well organized, and the volunteers are incredible. The race starter has a long day, because from 10am-4pm he has to be excited and ambitious and energetic at the starting line. Then, there is the oasis in the desert; to see the reflective orange tape and headlamps as you approach the exchanges in the middle of the night is just a crazy different experience. It's 2am and people are cheering. It's 3am and people are still out there, making sure you make it from one spot to the next. It's 4am and the volunteers are standing around drinking coffee and waiting for you to exchange your slap bracelet. You start to catch up with other teams, clang the cowbell in the middle of some Wisconsin farmland where the next houselight you see is a half mile away. You squint to keep your sight on the road directly in front of you as the headlights of cars cloud your sight. It's the adrenaline, really, that keeps you moving forward. It's the red lights you see in front of you as you crest a hill. Is that another runner that you can catch, or the "1 mile to go" blinking light? You won't know until you get closer. So you just keep going, your headlamp lighting the way.

Ragnar Relay Weekend + Powerbar Recipe!

This weekend, eleven of my friends (or soon to be friends...) and I are going to traverse the Great Mississippi River, by foot! Well, not the whole thing. A bunch of my old teammies and I formed our third-annual Ragnar Relay team, this year as a 12-women group to conquer the Great River course!

In 2007, we were a 12-person co-ed team that kicked butt and took names from Wisconsin to Minnesota. Last year, we assembled a 6-women ultra team that dominated the Northwest Passage. This year, we've got ladies from all over the Midwest meeting up in Winona, Minnesota, on a quest for the Twin Cities. The team co-captains, Margot and Jess, will be leading us through the rolling eastern MN/western WI glacial cut land, where we'll navigate farm roads, dodge deer, and hammer away at 195 miles. I am runner #9, with a total of 14.4miles over three legs. Run? Yes, please. Cheer? Of course! Sleep? Um, maybe...

But hold your horses! I'll give ya the run down next time. In the mean time, I'll leave you with this recipe that is absolutely delicious (and will help fuel our mission for greatness in all things running this weekend):

Peanut Butter Protein PowerBars
1cup peanut butter (creamy works well)
1/3cup honey
1/2 cup dried fruit/berries
5 scoop Hammer Whey Protein Powder (I used Chai flavor)

Heat peanut butter and honey in a medium saucepan on low until runny. Be careful not to use too high of heat, as the peanut butter will burn. Add the dried fruit and mix well. Add the protein powder, one scoop at a time, mixing well over low heat. Make sure all powder is mixed in well. Empty contents into an 8x11inch pan sprayed with non-stick coating. Press mixture flat into pan and lightly coat the top of the mixture with water. I used a spatula and dipped it in water. Do not saturate the mixture. Place in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Slice and package in individual bags or saran wrap. These can be stored at room temperature because none of the ingredients need refrigerating!

Last Big Push

So before I head to bed, I thought I'd chat a little about latest in my training.

Last week was a recovery week, and it (to me, anyway) meant I could pull back a little on the training stresses and relax some. I did, however, venture downstate to visit my family and do a 5K on the way. My time wasn't anything amazing (21:20) but I felt good for the most part and tried to stay relaxed. I finished 3rd overall, but only to some zippy high school girls. Ah, what it was like to have speed. It wasn't too bad, actually- I feel like my workouts are hitting right on and that my intensity training is bringing me to a point where I have the near-perfect blend of endurance and speed. At least for running!

It was really nice being able to get home for the weekend, however short-lived it was. I got to see my parents, sister, nephew, cousin, grandparents, uncles, ... in like 24 hours!?! It was worth it.

This week is my last real-big Big Week. I start to taper a little next week, and then its a full-on crazy fest for 14 days before the race. I am not doing too bad, the training isn't too awful and like I said, I feel pretty good! At least, that's how I feel now, after doing a three-a-day today. We'll see how I feel when I wake up in the morning.

So that's that. Just sent the nearly-final draft of my manuscript to my advisor for another journal publication. Hopefully we get that out the door, hopefully it gets accepted. That sort of thing takes a while, though.

Running Away From Osteoarthritis

As many of you know, I am a graduate student in engineering where my research is focused on osteoarthritis of the knee. It's always fun to talk about my research with other people, especially family and friends. Many of them don't understand how I can study something like arthritis and still continue to run. I remember when my cousin's former boss once said to me: "You better enjoy it now, because by the time you're 50, you won't be able to run anymore." I can't tell you the number of people who tell me that I'm going to wear my knees out with as much running as I do.

Of course, I want to make sure this isn't true. I want to continue running until I'm 50. Scratch that, I want to run for fifty years after I turn 50... if I can. So I do certain exercises. I strength train, I stretch, I pay attention to my form. I buy new shoes every 400miles, and I try not to overdo it. But should I really be worried about wearing my knees out?

A lot of research has been brought to the forefront recently, and that's what I want to discuss today. Adam brought this article by Gretchen Reynolds from the New York Times to my attention this afternoon. The article, "Can Running Actually Help Your Knees?," debunks a few myths related to the sport of running. Everyone knows being active is good for you, right? Well, it gets tricky when you start to think about what kind of activities you should participate in. Are you trying to lose weight? Reduce stress? Make sure your joints stay healthy? Avoid injury? I suppose I could discuss how biking is dangerous, because it puts you at a risk of getting hit by a car or crashing into a ditch, but all external factors aside, let's talk about health benefits of an active lifestyle, particularly: the lifestyle of a runner.

Think of knee joint health as one big cycle. We stay active, avoid getting injured, and we stay healthy. We build strong muscles, strong bones, strong cardiovascular systems. Our mood is lifted, because exercise releases endorphins. Maybe we eat better, incorporate more fruits and vegetables because we want to fuel our bodies the right way. If something happens, though, and we get injured, then what happens to the cycle? Our activity levels decrease, our mood might go south. We lose some of the strength we had worked so hard to built up. Joint injury is bad in this way, for sure. But it could also be worse in the long run. After an injury, sometimes we turn into a couch potato, and this ramps up the amount of time we're sitting around doing nothing. We're not loading our joints, we slow down and reduce the amount of time we're moving around. And that's not what our joints were meant to do.

In my research, I have read dozens of articles discussing the benefit of knee movement on joint health. Some of you may have even experienced these therapies in real life. For example, studies implementing animals models have been used to illustrate the anti-inflammatory effect of continuous passive motion (CPM) on knee joint health (Feretti et al 2005; Kim et al 1995). These devices are now used clinically for post-surgical rehabilitation for people with total knee replacements. That little device they strap your knee into after surgery and it goes back and forth, bending and straightening your leg? You betcha that's a CPM device. But why wait until after a total knee replacement to start moving your knees? The cartilage is gone by then, because the doctor removed it. We have to do something now.

Many have suggested the benefits of bicycling for knee joint health. The key words: Low Impact! But if biking is so good on your knees because it's low impact, then running, man- that's got to be bad. All that pounding on the pavement, over and over again. Or is it?

Before we get into that discussion, I want to take some time and talk about the knee. It's not just two bones strapped together by muscle and ligaments. There's a whole lot of stuff going on (see below). The thigh bone, also known as the femur, makes a hinge joint with the tibia (shin bone). There are two bones in the lower half of the leg, but only the tibia, femur, and patella (knee cap) are what really make the knee articulate. The ends of the tibia and femur, as well as the internal side of the patella, are lined with cartilage, a smooth, somewhat compressible tissue that is basically like a lubricated rubber liner for our knee. Atop the tibia rest two C-shaped disks, the menisci, that are attached to the tibia only by their attachment sites (the tips of the C's). These are the "shock absorbers" of the knee, and as the knee moves, the menisci also move. The menisci are also attached to the outer edge of the synovium as well as the medial collateral ligament. There are other ligaments, too, like the anterior cruciate (ACL; not shown), which prevent the knee from misaligning (the ACL prevents the tibia from moving forward with respect to the femur).
So back to the topic at hand. In the NYT's article, Reynolds discusses how our knee cartilage is made to be loaded. True, many researchers have observed a positive influence of loading- in sheer, especially- on the cartilage and meniscus. The chondroprotective nature of the meniscus (in other words, the menisci's ability to protect the underlying cartilage), has also been shown to be influenced by loading, both good and bad. Sure, the meniscus can tear. So can ligaments. And when that happens, it puts unusual loads on the remaining intact tissues that can cause malignment, cartilage damage, and pain. But there is also a protective influence of loading on the health of the chondrocytes and fibrochondrocytes, the cells that make up the cartilage and meniscus, respectively. We've shown in our lab that the absence and excess of loading on the meniscus can lead to increased levels of matrix degrading molecules which weaken the material (Gupta et al 2008; Zielinska et al 2009). Likewise, we've shown that normal strain levels in the meniscus can lead to an anabolic response, promoting the tissue to get stronger by expressing genes for collagen, the molecule that provides stiffness in these skeletal tissues. I'm sure you've heard that "use it or lose it" saying, right? There are many researchers that believe if we don't use our cartilage, it will essentially just go away- degrade, deterioriate- and when that happens, we're in for a whole slew of problems.

In her article, Reynolds brings up a lot of very important points:
  • Running, walking, and other forms of cyclic motion of the knee are actually good for your knee joint health
  • There is little evidence that suggests running leads to knee joint degeneration
  • Previous knee injuries are strong predictors of future arthritis.
So don't live in fear! Run if you want to run. If you have had a joint injury, it's good to talk to your doctor. Also, there are other factors, like weight, genetics, and immune disorders, that can play a role on the health of your joints. People who are obese are at a 50% higher likelihood to develop knee arthritis. Pretty scary...

So remember, talk to your doctor before starting anything new, but don't be afraid of the "high impact" sport of running. Stick to soft surfaces for the majority of your runs (this helps 'save' your legs in the respect that it makes them feel more fresh and responsive, as hard surfaces do not disippate impact energy as well as soft surfaces do). With the whole debate about whether to run on treadmills, trails, tracks, or sidewalks, I choose trails as much as I can. However, I spent a whole winter in 2007 training for a marathon on a treadmill, and I didn't have any issues with my knees.

Get a good pair of shoes. Pay attention to your form, and try to strengthen your core and leg muscles. Strong, and balanced, leg muscles can help keep your knees in alignment and prevent injury to ligaments.

And remember, don't over-do it. Some of the folks discussed in Stanford's study on distance runners didn't run back to back marathons every weekend- instead some would just run every few days, 90 or so minutes a week. The key is to stay active, keep the joints moving like they were meant to move.

Ah, it's always nice to see reports encouraging people to continue to do what they love. For me, I'm just going to keep running.
Feretti, M., Srinivasan, A., Deschner, J., Gassner, R., Baliko, F., Piesco, N., Salter, R., and Agarwal, S. Anti-inflammatory effects of continuous passive motion on meniscal fibrocartilage. J Orth Res. 2005 Sep; 23(5):1165-71
Kim, HK, Kerr, RG., Cruz, TF., and Salter, RB. Effects of continuous passive motion and immobilization on synovitis and cartilage degradation in antigen induced arthritis. J Rheum. 1995 Sep;22(9):1714-21
Gupta, T., Zielinska, B., McHenry, J., Kadmiel, M., and Haut Donahue, T.L. IL-1 and iNOS gene expression and NO synthesis in the superior region of meniscal explants are dependent on the magnitude of compressive strains. OAC, 2008 Oct; 16(10):1213-9
Zielinska, B., Killian, M.L., Kadmiel, M., Nelsen, M., and Haut Donahue, T.L. Meniscal tissue response depends on level of dynamic compressive strain. OAC 2009 June; 17(6)754-60

Sisterhood of the Traveling... Singlet?

During my college years, I was a member of my university's cross-country and track teams, and even dabbled a little in the sport of Nordic skiing. Some of the greatest friendships I've ever had have came from those four years.

For example, in 2004, I traveled to New Zealand to study abroad. While running LTs at cross country practice in the early fall, I told my teammates, and discovered that one of them would be going there, too! Leslie, a senior in geological engineering, had been my lunchmate during my freshman year. Two years later, I was surprised to hear she had also picked the same country, semester, and university to study at. Small world? I helped Leslie find a flat when she arrived to New Zealand, and she helped me find my independence. We navigated all over the South Island with just our hitch-hiking thumbs, bags of oatmeal, and backpacks. She and I had some weird, special bond that we never really knew was there before our six month adventures overseas, but spending rainy nights in a crappy tent or at the pub sure built a strong friendship.

Les and I at Lake Tekapo in the South Island of New Zealand

I remember my first "long run" during my first winter in the UP. The older girls on the team took me out on a cold, snowy morning in early November. We headed down the snowmobile trail toward Chassell, and would talk about whatever came to our minds. I remember singing a few Ani Difranco and Jack Johnson songs and feeling this strange euphoria. I was tired as we crested the last hill, but I also felt delirious. Perhaps this was my first real experience of runner's high... My four years included many more of these long runs, some more chatty than others. We ran 12 miles as fast as we could through a downpour, finishing weighing about five pounds heavier than before (ah, cotton). Some of us were Lahti Road champions, if only for a day, and others were all-time champions of Ripley Guts. One conference meet, the weather was quite unpleasant, and my teammates and I all stood around the finish chute when we were done racing, completely exhausted, and we all had to pee, so we... nevermind.

Anyway, I was one of the younger ones of "the crew." The eldest graduated, and eventually it was my turn. After I finished my undergrad, I headed west to Montana for a few years to get my master's degree, but still kept in touch with my former teammates. Some were still there, but most had left the area. Only few had ventured far, mostly just me. And for the first year while I was out west, I felt disconnected from my athleticism. I stopped running consistently for about a year, and was just feeling burned out. By the time I started my second year of grad school, though, I missed my former self. My new roommate was a strong runner, and although plagued with injuries, she had competed in many of the local endurance events including the Bridger Ridge Run, Devil's Backbone, and Lewis and Clark marathon. She would go to the gym every morning. She'd swim. I decided to make a change in my life, so signed up for my first marathon, the Napa Valley Marathon. I started going with my roommate to the gym, and would run on the treadmill during the cold Montana winter. I ran on a treadmill every day, but with the support and motivation of my determined roommate, it wasn't so bad. We'd share our favorite songs for our mp3 players, she started to be able to run again. I did the Napa marathon with only a handful of outdoor runs under my belt, and I finished well. I was hooked.

A few months after my marathon, I returned to the UP to start my doctoral degree. There, I met up with a few of my former teammies for the annual Trail Running Festival in Copper Harbor. And it got me thinking...
Run to the top of Mount Baldy in Eagle Harbor, Michigan

Why not use a race as a reunion? I started looking up marathons on the west coast, near Seattle, because I knew my old roommate would be there in the spring for med school. I searched Marathon Guide for a spring race, and convinced her to sign up with me for the Whidbey Island marathon, about 40 miles north of Seattle. My friend, Marc, who had raced Napa with me as his first marathon, too, traveled to Seattle for the Whidbey half. A reunion was set!

And then, the whole thing snowballed. I convinced five of my old teammies and one honorable runner to form the Mega Tough Ultra Chicks. We organized our vacation times, bought plane tickets, and booked rooms in a hostel for a trip the west coast, where we competed last July as the first all-women's ultra team in the Ragnar Relay Series' Northwest Passage. And it was an absolutely amazing time.
The MegaToughUltra Chicks! Top row: Kendra, Margot, Leslie; Middle row: Me; Bottom row: Sam and Jess.

Since then, our team has expanded to include more strong women runners, including even more Michigan Tech alumna in the mix. We will be competing in next weekend's Ragnar Great River relay, and members will be traveling from all over the midwest. And we've planted the seed for future relays, including more ultras.

There have been weddings and babies to throw into the planning. Some of us have real jobs, some of us are still in school. Regardless, most of us are still out running our own races, training for something, big or small. Some traveled to Boston to race this spring, and some of us just stuck around the midwest for the lower-key events. Some of us are thinking about doing ultras and triathlons, and others are going to stick with the half-marathons. Regardless, we are our own little networking group, we have each other as our own support crew that we can depend on. This spring, I wanted to visit a friend in Nebraska, so I convinced some old teammies to do a half-marathon and I threw down on the marathon course. It's like killing two birds with one stone, really, and it's doing something we all love.

I am so lucky to have such awesome women in my life. I think that this weekend's excursion with Da Yooper Ladies, and last weekend's venture to Madison to visit Jess, really helped reinforce how easy it is to make such strong friendships out of shared passions. The edgy competitiveness is completely sidelined by encouragement and motivation. To see one of my friends excel just pushes me to try harder, to seek out new adventures, and to test my limits. I find strength here.

To Wisconsin and Back!

What better way to train for the Ironman than to spend a weekend in Iron County, Wisconsin? I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend, Laurie (who is also training for IMoo), to head down to Hurley, Wisconsin, via bicycle. But the real icing on the cake? We were to sign up for the Paavo Nurmi marathon as a relay team the next day. This may sound like a nice, easy, breezy training weekend, but it's more than 100 miles from Houghton to Hurley, over glacial cut mountains. And so the story unfolds...

Laurie, along with a few other women (Ann and Diane), Adam, and myself met at Laurie's mother's place in Atlantic Mine, about three miles west of Houghton. These ladies are extreme! Like I said, Laurie is training for IMoo, too, and she's already done it before in 2007. She knows the ropes, and was able to give Adam and I some excellent insight during the ride down, our downtime, and the ride back home. Ann and Diane (along with Amy, who joined us for the half-marathon on Saturday) train with Laurie and on their own. They are easily convinced to be put through the ringer, all for a little athletic fun, I suppose. Ann and Amy are excellent runners; I remember when I first moved back to Houghton in '07, I raced against Ann in the Canal Run. She's one tough cookie. And Amy kicked my butt last year at the Canal Run. I tried so hard to keep with her, but she dropped me at mile 5 and I never caught back up. Diane joined Ladies' Road Riding nights a few times, and she is very excitable and can hammer hard on her Orbea. So I knew these chicks were some serious business. Adam and I were in for a real training treat.

On Friday morning, we loaded up the Durango (Amy would be meeting us that evening in Hurley and was Diane's partner for the relay) and headed off on our bikes. It was a lot of climb climb climb, descend descend descend, not in that particular order. The roads were great, though. I absolutely love the route along M-26 from Atlantic Mine toward Ontonagon. It's great pavement, typically not too much traffic, and rolling hills with great scenery. The trees kind of canopy the road. Just outside Toivola, along a beautiful stretch of highway, a deer popped out of the woods and ran along side of us. It was a little unnerving not know when he'd want to cross the road, but we gave him space and the little guy jumped across the highway. We flew down the hills just east of M38, but once traffic started picking up a little more (there seemed to be a lot of RVs out there this weekend), things got a little more hairy.

The ladies, myself, and Adam pushed through the rolling terrain. Some of the hills were long and gradual, and some were the out-of-the-saddle approach. It was good practice in getting in and out of the saddle, and I am so excited to be comfortable on my race bike. There were some downhills that we'd fly on, and it was great to be riding such a long distance with a group of people that were so excited to be out and doing something like that. We would enjoy our breaks, and Adam and I had a chance to hammer out +20mph in some areas.

We stopped every 20 miles or so at gas stations for a stretch and a snack, and it made for the perfect rest intervals. Adam and I told each other we didn't want to push it too hard with the race the next day, but we found ourselves cruising at 21-23mph on some stretches... which brings me back to the rest intervals- very well deserved! Unfortunately, I disobeyed all rules about race-day nutrition and was a little too excited to eat garlic rice crackers and dill pickle chips from the grocery store in Bruce Crossing. Luckily, the IMoo aid stations probably won't have garlic crackers and dill pickle chips. If they do, I think I will still be ok... because I really don't want to eat either of those anytime soon. You can check out the bike route that we took here on my Garmin Connect. I didn't get the entire route, because after starting off from some of the gas stations I didn't always hit the start button on my watch, but you'll get the drift (and 103 out of 106 of the miles).

Anyway, by the time we got to
Ironwood, it was just around 3pm, Laurie, Ann, and myself went for a quick transition run. We then settled into the hotel room where we enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Amy arrived around 630pm, and we ventured to The Liberty Bell for some food. The claim to fame of the Bell is their pizza, and Laurie was really excited to go. Unfortunately, the service was terrible. Win some, lose some, I suppose. I had the chicken Cordon Bleu, which wasn't the most delicious pre-race meal I've ever had, and I was still quite hungry afterward. Luckily for me, and the rest of the group, there was a gelato stand right next door! Cherry chocolate almond screamed my name.

We got ready for the morning and went to bed. In the morning, Diane drove Laurie, Amy, and Adam to the bus pickup. I ended up getting really bad stomach cramps (usually get them from not eating enough) and was balled up on the bed while Diane was away. It cleared up about an hour before we were to leave to go to the half-way point. Phew! That's the last time I'm eating a high-protein, no carbohydrate dinner pre-race, and I am sure the junk food all day didn't help.

The halfway point of the marathon, where the handoff was located, was in Gile. This was a really cool park near the flowage.

The half-marathon point, in Gile, was right by a park and was a great spot for a relay transition. The leaders came through while Ann and I were warming up, and it was exciting to see the mix of marathoners, half marathoners, and five person relay folks. I was jogging along the route that the first-half follows, and saw Amy coming in. She was cookin'! I hurried back to the handoff location and waited for Adam.

Adam coming into the exchange
Laurie coming into the exchange

Adam came into the exchange quickly, and the chip-relay was smooth. His time was around 1:47, which is a 3:33 marathon. Being that his "goal race" would be a marathon under 4hrs, I'd say he'd be able to crush that goal. So, that's exciting!!

After I wrapped the chip around my ankle, I took off and headed through the rolling hills. I felt good the whole race. There were a few climbs that seemed to keep going, but nothing too daunting for the 13.1miles until the end. I tried to stay relax, not push it too hard at any point, just keep focused. I paid attention to my form, keeping my shoulders relaxed, and running forward. I kept an average 7:27 pace, which is about a 1:37.35 half marathon. There were a few miles that were over 7:30s, with one even at 7:53, but there was also a steep hill in that one, so I wasn't too worried about it. Having a strong finish really made the whole race worthwhile. My time was not too bad at all for such a hilly course, and had I run the half marathon open, I am confident I would have placed in the top spots. It made for a great marathon-pace run, because for me to do a 7:27min/mile pace on a flat marathon course would give me a personal best (right on 3:15, which is my current goal). Check out the elevation chart:


Post-race, it started to rain a little, and I was cold but not really that excited about the Mojakka (fish) stew. I found a cup of Mountain Dew and a banana, and waited for Ann to come through. I tried to cool down with a quick jog, but my legs were tired and I wasn't too excited to run anymore. We finally found Amy and Adam, so Ann, Diane, and I were able to shower at the hotel before leaving Ironwood. We stopped at the Dairy Queen in Bessemer for some ice cream (and lunch, I suppose). Yay for a well-deserved M&M blizzard!! I slept the entire way home...

The Paavo Nurmi would be a sweet marathon to do, it would definitely be challenging and not necessarily something I'd try to get a PR for. All in all it was an extraordinary weekend with some awesome athletes.

Need To's:

Here's a list of things I need to do in the immediate future:

I need to ...
-Work on my swim technique! [You'll have to watch the video with your head tilted sideways...]

-Take more photos! videos! use my camera more!
-Strength train on a regular basis. This Kettlebell for 20min a day, twice every other week bologna isn't the most useful. Maybe if I did Kettlebell three times a week like I'm supposed to, ...
-Do pushups and pullups! I used to be able to do 13 pullups when I was training for my first marathon (Napa Valley). It was also my fastest marathon finish. Coincidence? Probably. But maybe not?!
-Swim more. swim swim swim.
-Customize my race kit. Should I put my name on it? Sponsor logos? What can I do to it to make me stand out at IMoo?
-Get a good book. Any suggestions?

Adam and I are leaving in the morning to ride to Hurley, Wisconsin. It is exactly 112 miles from Atlantic Mine to the Super8 in Ironwood. We are going with a group of women from the area, one of which is doing IMoo also. We are going to stay with them at the Super8. Can you imagine, Adam and four other women in the same hotel room?! He said he's going to be awfully quiet this weekend... which means when we get back on Saturday night, he's going to be picking on me something fierce! It should be a fun time, though. Saturday morning, he and I are signed up to do the Paavo Nurmi marathon as a relay. He's going to start in what will be his first running race ever- and I will be bringing up the rear. Check the results for Team Red Dragons [any EllisMate fans out there??].

Until next time...

It Ain't So Bad Being Gluten-Free

I've been following a few gluten-free folks on Twitter and recently came across an interesting article in The Examiner about the diet's potential of being referred to as a fad diet (read more here). The author makes a few points at discussing the diagnosis of Celiac disease and how it can be commonly misunderstood. She also discusses what it takes for a true diagnosis of the disease, an intenstinal biopsy, but makes a good point that some people who go undiagnosed- those who just forego gluten in their diets under simply suspicion- can fail the diagnostic tests if they've been gluten free for awhile. The recent exposure and heightened awareness to the disease raises questions as to whether the gluten free diet is just a new fad diet, like Atkins and South Beach. And to me, that's just ridiculous.

I was never diagnosed with Celiac disease. For years, I've had issues with my guts. The gurgling, bloating pains I'd feel after eating, especially before going to bed, were both uncomfortable physically as well as socially (it was quite embarrassing for me when other people could hear my intenstines groan and gurgle from across the room). I had no idea what was wrong with me. In 2006, I had an upper GI to see if something was wrong with my stomach or large intenstine. I swallowed the chalk-like, milky goo and watched it flow through my guts on an x-ray screen. It was cool to see, but it didn't yield any results (and with Celiac disease, that sort of test wouldn't). I thought I had a lactose intolerance, because ever since I started college, my body wouldn't digest dairy. So I gave up dairy (sans ice cream?! Boo!). Still, nothing really changed. So I gave up meat, thinking maybe there was something going on during the digestion of such a high-protein food that caused me problems. My guts continued to rumble. Finally, I talked with my boyfriend's mom, who is a trained nurse and currently serves as a patient advocate. She, as well as her daughter and mother, have Celiac disease. She suggested that I give up gluten, and see if anything changed.

And things changed. I no longer felt my intenstines fill with gas. I could go to sleep without hearing my guts gurgle incessantly. I could even drink a glass of milk without having to rush to the bathroom five minutes later. Granted, it took me a while to get the diet figured out. It was difficult to shop, mostly just expensive, because it seems as though everything gluten free is a little more costly. And it was also difficult to give up my comfort foods: the whole-wheat bread covered in peanut butter and jelly, the flour tortillas that make the crispiest quesadillas, and of course- the pizza. The gluten-free variety of bread that I had found just didn't cut it, and I couldn't find the time to experiment with baking on my own.

Whether I have Celiac disease or not, I guess I will never know. I am not going to go back to gluten for fear of ruining the progress that I've made in the last year. And if I were to attempt to get diagnosed, chances are good that the test would come back negative, because I haven't had triggers in my diet for over a year (aside from the occassional contamination of lingering wheat). But this isn't a fad diet. Whatever removing gluten did to my body, I'm happy with the progress that I've made. I didn't go on this special diet to lose weight. I don't really like making it a big deal when I go out to eat with a group of people. In fact, I find it embarrassing when I have to ask the waitress repeatedly about certain ingredients that are in the dishes they serve (Tiffany mentions this in her article in the Examiner). And I don't like it when my friends have to make a big deal about what I can and cannot eat.

Luckily, even in just the last year, awareness has been heightened. Call it what you will: fad diet, special diet, inconvenient. The gluten-free diet works for people with gluten intolerances, allergies, sensitivities... and there is little evidence to prove that it is harmful to people even if they don't have any issues with gluten. I find that, with a gluten-free diet, I have to cook more for myself. I can't just turn to a box of animal crackers or box of cereal for a snack or even a meal. That being said, a lot of industrial food companies are traveling down the gluten-free road. General Mills makes several gluten-free Chex cereals now, and they actually taste like the "real thing." Even Betty Crocker has a line of gluten-free cake mixes now, although they haven't hit the shelves in the U.P. yet (at least, not in these parts).

But for the most part, I have to make what I want to eat, which means knowing what I'm putting into my body, and carefully monitoring the ingredients and portions. Being the poor graduate student that I am, I can't afford to sit down and eat a box of gluten-free cookies in one sitting (but my pre-gluten free days illustrated otherwise). So I savor things more, and I turn to less-expensive and naturally gluten free foods like real foods (read: vegetables! fruit! who'd have thought?!). I'm no longer a vegetarian (that would be really difficult, and kudos to those who are). I eat a lot of potatoes and rice. I love my weekly CSA delivery of spinach and mixed greens, peas and berries. By eating the real food, the whole food, I don't have to worry about reading the labels or wondering if the modified food starch was made in the US or overseas. I also find my favorite gluten-free bakeries when I visit larger cities. The SillyYak Bakery in Madison, Wisconsin, has the best bread I've ever bought. They make different varieties every day, and I've tried their spinach feta kind as well as garlic cheese. Both are so great!

If I have it available, I'll grab a banana and some almonds for a mid-morning snack. But, at work, it's not always that easy. I often forget to pack a lunch, let alone snacks, so I stockpile my desk drawers with products like Larabar and Kind Bars. I've listed below some of my favorite commercially available gluten-free foods. Some are ready-to-eat, some you need to spend time to prepare, but it's totally worth it!
  • Larabars- Peanut Butter and Jelly is my favorite, but I also love: Cherry Pie, the Jocalat varieties, and Key Lime Pie
  • Namaste mixes - by far, the best chocolate cake I've ever had, gluten free or not, came from a Namaste brown bag
  • Bob's Red Mill mixes - the cornbread is awesome, the Mighty Tasty hot cereal is also great with a spoonful of honey and peanut butter!!!
  • Honey Stinger Protein Bars- Peanut Butta Pro (although not designated gluten free, these bars are made with gfree ingredients)
  • Trader Joe's Cranberry Maple Nut gluten-free granola- tastes and looks just like the Bakery on Main's gluten free granola, but costs half the price!
  • Pamela's Products cookies- Lemon Shortbread cookies as so delicious, but I also love the chocolate chip kind
  • MiDel gluten free ginger snaps

The three newest Larabar flavors!

On behalf of my tastebuds, I'd like to make a quick shout out to the "other" new Larabar flavors that I didn't mention in a previous blog: German Chocolate Cake and Tropical Fruit Tart. The chocolate bar is like dessert in the form of a healthy snack bar, and the tropical fruit tart is perfect for summer.

Big Week #1 Recap

This past week was my first of two big weeks before I start a progressive tapering for Ironman Wisconsin. What started out with a post-race rest day ended with a beautiful long run in Madison, Wisconsin.

Going into the training week, I was feeling good but somewhat hesitant as I wasn't sure how my body would respond to both higher intensity and volume. Luckily, every day I rebounded, only felt marginally run down, and I pulled it all together. I guess that's what good nutrition, rest, and recovery does!

On Tuesday, I put in a few thousand yards in the pool to work on speed and form. In the evening, I railed on my Jamis Dragon mountain bike for 3.5+ hours. I definitely bonked toward the end of the ride, and unfortunately still had a good distance to get back home and recoup. Sure, I ended up walking my bike up some of the hills in Maasto Hiito. That's totally acceptable. Especially since my bike is a hard tail, my legs were toast, and I probably would have fallen off my bike had I tried to climb the switchbacks. After three hours, I can do whatever I want!

Wednesday was a recovery day. I went for a quick swim to work on technique with Erik H. in the morning, and in the afternoon squeezed in a 7mile run. Adam and I went to dinner with some friends at the Fitz (Eagle River Inn), my old stomping ground. Follow that with some hand-dipped ice cream and a visit to Caleb's cabin on Lake Superior, and I'd say it was a well respected recovery day, indeed.

On Thursday, I focused on my one high-intensity workout of the week: 7miles at lactate threshold, 12miles total. Erik and Adam joined me on the Canal for some killer mile repeats. After a 2.5mile warmup, I averaged miles at: 6:58, 6:55, 6:51, 6:43, 6:32, 6:33, 6:27. Not too shabby, especially since I was able to continuously improve my splits. I allowed for ample recovery, too- with around 50% recovery time after each mile. In the past, I had done some 4 and 5 mile LT workouts in one stretch, but I always went out too fast and couldn't hang on at the end. I hope that I am able to get more out of these workouts by breaking them up and running negative splits. I didn't feel completely wiped when I was done with #7 either, which is usually a good sign. Now, if only I could run a half marathon at 6:40s... That would be the cat's pajamas. We followed the repeats up with a swim in the Portage. No better way to cool off, I suppose! After swimming for a few hundred yards, I decided to float around for a bit and wait for the guys to head back toward the beach. We then headed to Andrew J's for the 250F sauna and barbecue, and it didn't take long for me to be ready for some sleep. I felt absolutely great afterwards, and never developed delayed onset muscle soreness. What a great effort.

Friday was a travel day for me, and I wasn't able to get in a workout. Bummer! I had planned a five-mile recovery run, though, so I wasn't missing too much volume-wise. I drove to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit some friends and join the TriWisconsin club for a course preview. Friday night, Jess, her friend Jamie, and I went to LaBrioche- a delicious and eclectic restaurant about a mile from her apartment. It was the final day of Madison's Restaurant Week. Perfect timing! We had a very luxurious three-course meal for $25. I had the grapefruit and avo spinach salad, skirt steak, and gelato. Jess ordered Mahi Mahi with coconut bisque and chocolate cake (her first fish in how many years?!), and Jamie also dove into the skirt steak (but went with the chevre puff and arugula salad and cobbler).

Saturday morning, I headed to Olin Turville Park to meet Gigi and the TriWisconsin club for a IMoo preview ride. Gigi directed me to some people she thought I could ride with, and I got to see her at the 30, 60, and 90mile aid stations. Unfortunately for her, she broke her elbow and collarbone five weeks ago in a bike crash. Crossing fingers, she meets with the doc tomorrow to find out if she can start running and maybe even compete in September, too. She's one tough chick! I ended up starting out with a woman, Ann, who I hung with the whole time.

The ride started out with a nice, refreshing (?) rain. I hadn't ridden much in the rain before, so I was a little apprehensive. Luckily, it didn't take long to clear up. We headed out along "the stick" to Verona, where we hopped on "the loop" and hammered our way up the hills. I definitely was a little too ambitious on the first lap, and felt it at the second aid station. Luckily, Gigi brought peanut M&Ms! Savior.

Lots of rollers along the course

I am definitely glad I previewed the course. It was challenging, technical, and some of the roads are in a little rough shape. Notes for the future: No matter what, never EVER go out for a long ride without chamois cream. That was not good.

Ann made for a great training partner!

The course was hilly, but the first loop definitely felt more tough than the second. I need to remember to race my own race at IM, not get caught up in what other racers are doing. I can do it. I am learning as I go through this whole process that I am a strong biker, and a smart racer. I have one more BIG WEEK of training ahead of me, and then I start spending more time focusing and fine-tuning.
Big smiles at the top...

On Sunday, Jess let me tag along on her weekend long run with the Run Club of UW. I got to meet Tien Tien, who will be joining me and Jess for the Ragnar Relay (Great River) in a few weeks. She's one speedster! I was a little sore and tired at the beginning of the run, but was feeling good (but definitely ready to stop!) but the end of the 15miles. To think, I need to run a marathon after the bike ride?!? Perhaps I should start visualizing now...

Total for the week: 19hours of training

My goal for Big Week #2 is going to be around 22hours. I'm feeling a little sore, but hopefully today's rest will help me recover. Ah, I LOVE rest days...