Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

October 14, 2018

Spartan Ultra Beast, Lake Tahoe, Sep 30, 2018

I woke up groaning a little.  At 4 am.   A quick check of my Heart Rate Variability netted me some sage advice:  "You're almost dead.  Take today off.  Definitely don't think about running 30 Spartan miles."    Well, perhaps it said something more like, "take a rest day".

Because, to be honest,  I had given my all in the World Championships the day before; running 14 miles in 3:37, getting soaked 3 times in cold water, and doing 60 burpees along with the rest of the obstacles.   Read about my World Championship Spartan race here.    With 18 hours to rest up, I had used every supplement tool in my arsenal, including Kion Flex, H2Now Hydrogen Water tablets, Emergen-C electrolytes,  Spirulina tablets,  Essential Amino Acids, my regular vitamins supplements, and a great bacon cheeseburger at a restaurant in town.  

By 6:15 I was lined up and shivering, ready for the start.   Thinking I wouldn't know anyone in the dark, I immediately bumped into my teammate Phuc from Salt Lake, and also bouldering competion teammate Aaron.  Small world.  We lined up early to get into the start corral, and I found myself on the front line of competitors.  This was my day, I thought to myself.

It was cold.  I had added arm warmers and a windproof vest to my arsenal, but still refused to carry a pack.  To be competitive, I needed to run myself warm and dry, not spend time changing clothes and carrying around extra stuff.  Rumors circulated that the swim was cancelled, but the official announcement was that it was still open.   All I knew was that by 7 am at the pond, it would be very cold, barely daylight, and quite shocking.

I had no idea how many people had raced the day before and were also attempting the Ultra.   I felt pretty good myself, after walking for a few minutes, and wondered how long I would be able to run.   I felt like it was all coming together with my fitness and preparations, but remembered not a few races where I had been reduced to a shuffling weak walk somewhere in the second half.

The shouts echoed down the trail.  "The Swim is CLOSED!"   I was very happy to hear that, and passed the message down behind me.    I asked the volunteer manning the lifejackets "why?" as I ran by.  "It's only 32 degrees up here" he said.   Good enough reason, I thought.  In fact I hadn't considered the idea that there was any reason we wouldn't be tortured with the swim regardless of the temperature.   My minimal clothing choices immediately became a bonus, with very little to carry.

After another grueling gauntlet of heavy sleds, heavy stones, and that rolling barbed wire, I was bruised and hurting.   At least this time I was dry, warmish, and fairly clean.  Tahoe dirt seems to just blow away, unlike some venues where it takes a week to get the sticky dirt to wash off.    The dunk wall was closed too, and the day just kept getting better. 

Then we started the "extra" 3 mile loop on the Ultra, which took us up to 9000 feet of elevation, along singletrack leading to almost the very top of the mountain.  Somewhere along the way, we carried a sandbag for about 1/2 mile.  In that loop, I could see there were a couple of women not too far ahead of me, and a couple more behind.    Back to the regular loop again, I knew the Twister was coming up, and pulled out my secret weapon from my vest pocket....hand warmers.  I stuffed them into my gloves and started clenching my fists as I ran.   It worked.   I hit the spear, high-fived a volunteer, and sped through the Twister.  

Back downhill to the festival area and I was warm for the first time all morning.   I made a tactical decision at the Ape Hanger to save my strength, wade through the water, and do my burpees.    Shortly after that I passed Phuc, who was unable to get his fingers under the 400 lb men's tire, which was sitting on concrete for this race.

Again the second half of the loop was a grueling steep uphill, but then I found myself still able to run back down into transition.  Could I keep that up for another loop?   I passed a couple of women, and then wouldn't see any again for the next 5 hours.  In transition, I dumped all my extra clothing and kept only the purple ultra shirt everyone had to wear.  It was warmish and sunny and the swim was still supposed to be closed so I could go ultralight.   2 minutes flat and I was back again....no transition suck for me.


One more big loop.  I walked uphill munching on cheese, regretting my empty water bottle and no water stations for another two miles.   When I did get to the water, I drank a bunch and took more electrolytes.  Stomach happy.    The third time through the barbed wire, I had nothing to protect me.   It hurt, I grunted, and closed my eyes against the rattling wind gusts blowing dirt in my eyes as I rolled.  The world circled around a million times, and I got up staggering like a drunk.   Done with that bruise making monster.

Third time on the spear was a miss.  Oh well.  3 sets of burpees during a whole Ultra didn't seem too bad at all.   Another competitor was on my tail, and we pushed each other to run fast back down the technical trail to the valley.   Only 4 miles to go and after walking again through the Ape Hanger water and my last set of burpees, I knew I just had to keep pushing.   By now I was passing Beast competitors who had taken almost as long to do one loop as I had to do two.   Very few purple jerseys around at all. 

I did math during the final uphill for distraction.   3 bottles of drink mix x 200 calories.  2 small cheeses x 60 calories.  1 x shot bloks x 200 calories.  1 x UCAN bar x 190 calories = 1150 calories for the 30 miles of racing.   Then I started betting myself that I could beat 9 hours at the finish.  Time seemed to move fast after that.  The crest of the hill never looked so good, and I found that I could run, and run very fast, on the final downhill.   Beast competitors moved to the side as I sped by.  It was very very satisfying for some reason, to feel that good after 44 miles of weekend racing.   My final mile was my fastest.  Almost a sprint.  No one was going to pass me at the end!
That 2 mile run to the finish is seared into my mind...I felt invincible, and flew over the final obstacles to sprint over the line. 

Final time was 8:50, and to my great delight I saw 1st place show up in the results.  First overall Age Group woman finisher!    A few women would trickle in over 30 minutes later, but the next woman in my Age Group behind me was 3 1/2 hours later.    I had the podium to myself during the Awards.  My first win and I was really happy it was here in Tahoe. 

4x Trifecta and Ultra finisher's buckle

Post race bruises, mostly from the barbed wire crawl
No prize money for Age Groupers so I gave myself the gift of post race pizza! 

October 13, 2018

Spartan Beast World Championship, Lake Tahoe, Sep 2018

My first Spartan race was just over a year ago.   By my second Spartan, I was hooked.  By the third, I started wondering if I could qualify for the World Championships.    By my 6th raced, I had qualified (!), and spent the summer training fairly intensely for this race.   Back to back weekend Spartan races, along with in-depth study of the best nutrition ideas that I could find. 

Finally I got to Tahoe for my longest back to back races yet.   A Beast on Saturday of about 14 miles.   An Ultra on Sunday of about 30 miles.   I was most scared of the cold swim atop the mountain, in a pond with water barely above freezing.   To that effect, I had been taking cold showers and ice baths for a month beforehand to prepare myself.   Brrr.

The start of the Beast was at 8:15 Saturday morning.   I was one of the few to start without a pack, as I had been streamlining my gear and was confident I really didn't need much.  No dry clothes for the swim, nothing but a bottle of drink mix, some supplements and electrolytes, and a pair of gloves.   I wore my normal Gypsy Runner shorts, and a bright yellow bumblebee shirt.  

The start corral was crowded as all the weekend races had pretty much sold out.   I was a few minutes late crossing the wall and ended up at the back of the corral.  We started our heat a few minutes early, which was fairly odd (if anything normal is a few minutes late), but after shouting a few AROOs we were off up the mountain.  Luckily the path was wide and I didn't get stuck behind anyone starting ahead of me.  In fact, almost everyone was quickly back to power hiking as the first 3 miles were a slow climb up the mountain.  Everyone had the cold water at mile 3 on their minds.    The Herc Hoist seemed a bit heavier than normal, and I passed a women with cold hands who just couldn't get a hold of the rope to pull the sandbag up.  

The temperature on the mountain was somewhere in the 40s when I hit the pond.  The water was even colder as I grabbed a lifejacket and plunged in.   Brrrr.    All I could do was swim as fast as I could and then keep running.  My time in the water was perhaps 5 minutes,  and the winds were howling across the peaks.  I was almost grateful to start the bucket carry as it would help warm me up....although I still had cold hands when I finished.  From there, it was a quick run to a gauntlet of Atlas carry, plate drag, and barbed wire crawl.   The barbed wire seemed lower than normal, and with a shirt on to snag on the wire, the easiest way to get through the long crawl was to roll through the rocks and sand.  I closed my eyes, grunted and rolled.  I got the beginnings of what would be really nasty bruises on my hips and forearms, but rolling was indeed faster and a bit easier than low crawling.    Next, a few mud humps, and a (once clean) dunk wall to wash the dust and mud off my bumblebee shirt.  

Freshly cold and wet again, it was downhill to the spear and the twister.   I hit the spear to my great delight, but as my hand touched the Twister, I realized that my hands were too cold to grip very hard, and 3/4 of the way across I slipped off.   At least the burpees helped me warm up.  So did a fast run down the mountain, where it got almost balmy back in the valley.    Luckily for me I had warmed up before I took my third dunk of the day on the Ape Hanger.   Sort of like swinging monkey bars, it was built over water in the parking lot near the festival area, giving all the spectators a great view of people falling off this obstacle.  I made it almost to the apex, then slipped off and did a very spectacular belly flop into the water.   More burpees.   

By then I was 2/3 of the way through the race and thought the last loop would be easier.   If anything, this shorter hill seemed longer and steeper than anything else.  The people around me were groaning and whining.   In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that for the Ultra Beast tomorrow, I would have to do this loop again twice!  I tried not to let that thought slow me down, as today's race was for the World Championship and I wanted to do as well as I could.  
Once the trail turned downhill, it was fast easy running a couple miles to the finish.   I made quick work of the rings and didn't jump the non-existent fire (let's not burn down beautiful Lake Tahoe) to finish in 3:37.    I had no idea how I had done and was afraid to look at the results.    But I couldn't help myself, and saw that I had finished 5th in my Age Group.  Just off the podium, but then again I was competing against the best in the world who had also qualified to run this race with me.    Or so I rationalized to myself!   I knew that there was no way I could have made up the 10 minutes it would have taken to get on the podium, and I had raced the best I could.  Perhaps I could hang a swinging monkey bar in my backyard to practice for next year....

Time to eat, rest, rehydrate, and get myself ready to do the Ultra in less than 18 hours.   I immediately started dreading the swim again (twice!)  

August 31, 2018

Nutrition for Spartan Racing, Low-Carb Style

Uber-technical, geeky nutrition advice for Spartans racing and ultra marathons found below.  If you are easily bored and don't have stomach issues while racing, your time is too valuable to wade through this mess of information.   

Still here?  Ok, well, my racing nutrition has come a long ways since my Ironman days, where I ate all sorts of crappy food with the idea that I was training so hard it didn't matter.   Obviously it did matter, because by the time I got to the marathon run at the end of the triathlon, my stomach was so unhappy with the gels, Coke and sugars, that I would usually have to walk rather than run my way to the finish.    I believe I could go back to the sport of triathlon now, and carve some significant amounts of time off of my race times, just with better nutrition.   I'm tempted, but....Nah.  I still hate swimming.  

Since my triathlon days, I've gone on to race more than 100 marathon and ultra marathons, finished a 100 mile run, completed several multi day expedition-length adventure races, and was one of the few women in a 12 day paragliding race across the Alps.  Some days my nutrition worked great, sometimes it didn't.   As I've gotten older, I've realized just how important nutrition is to not just speed in racing but to health and longevity.  I want to be both fast and healthy for the long term, and I think it's possible.  

I recently lined up at a half marathon as a test of my latest nutrition strategies and also as a long training run.  So I was carrying a few hundred calories in my bottle and had eaten a minimal breakfast of some sushi and a hot drink.    And I couldn't keep my eyes off this guy wearing a hip belt, the kind with those loops you can carry gels on.  He had, I kid you not, 10 (TEN!) gels hooked through these loops, along water bottles and whatever else.   For a HALF marathon.  To properly hydrate the stomach enough to digest 10 gels over the 2-3 hours it takes to run a half, you would need to drink at least 4 liters of water!   

I've always hated gels.  I used to buy them and couldn't force myself to eat them, and they would live in my cupboard and get thrown out when they expired.   I couldn't put it into words then, but the science now backs up my feeling, that these things just weren't good for me.  In a nutshell, unless you drink a lot of water with a gel, they actually cause water to be diverted away from working muscles and back into the stomach and intestines, to help change the osmolality of the gut to something appropriate for digestion.   So late in a race when you think you are short on energy and you down a gel, oftentimes you feel even worse afterward, and eat yet another gel to fix it.  And the spiral continues.   Really, what your body needed was water or electrolytes in water.  You were dehydrated, plain and simple.   Then, you gave it calories which required action, which dehydrated you further.  

Why gels don't get digested well during exercise and cause gastric distress

Is there a better way?  

Hundreds of hours of studying nutrition later, my whole perspective on food has changed.  I've been eating low-carb (mostly keto) for about a year.    I can no longer justify the idea that high carbohydrate foods and snacks all day long are in any way healthy.  That kind of a lifestyle spikes insulin multiple times a day, reduces insulin sensitivity, and eventually leads to being overweight, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other metabolic problems.   Plus, getting blood sugar back under control can benefit mood, energy levels, weight stabilization, etc.  

It takes time, but the insulin response to sugar will get more appropriate after some time of eating less carbs than a normal American. Which means, eventually, you could go to that occasional party, eat birthday cake, and then be back in Ketosis within a couple of days of eating low-carb again.  I started out eating very few carbs, but now I can handle quite a few grams a day and still stay in fat-burning mode.   
I’ve been checking my ketones for a year, blood, urine and breath, and really surprised now how often I can stay in ketosis now while adding carbs back in.  It means my body really rations the amount of insulin it produces, which is a good thing!

Type of fats still matter, though. You can’t chow down on fried foods, vegetable oils, salad dressing, fast food meats and think you are healthy. Olive oil, butter, lard, ghee, coconut oil, etc are all natural fats which are great for your body.  

Racing while Low-Carb

I've done quite a few races in the last year, and I've found that I can race well while using many less calories than usual.    I got through a 50k ultra marathon on about 600 calories, and I did a Spartan Beast while only eating a couple hundred calories during the race.   The key for me is to make those calories count.  I use some high quality fats, amino acids that digest almost immediately,  superstarch that act as carbs without spiking blood sugar, and electrolytes to keep my fluids balanced.   More info on all that below.

I realize that studies show Keto has somewhat of a dampening effect on athletic performance if you race low-carb.   So I employ some strategic carbs before racing.  Also known as carb-cycling, I guess. While I normally eat high fat, moderate protein, low carb, a couple of days before the race I'll add a little more carbs like sweet potato, white rice, etc.   I also go out of my way to avoid gluten, grains, salad dressings, vegetable oils and fried foods the week before a race.   Those type of foods can have a negative effect on speed and strength for some time (at least 24 hours) after they are eaten.   

I highly recommend that you go and read Ben Greenfield's book The Low Carb Athlete as well as Volek and Phinney's book Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.   The VESPA website also has an amazing and detailed guide for how to use strategic carbs during races.  

For further reading about the low-carb idea for health and longevity, check out The Obesity Code by Dr. Fung, Grain Brain by Dr. Pearlmutter, or the New Atkins Diet Revolution. The Atkins book, BTW, is a great place to start, because it lays out an easy way to start and continue on this kind of diet.

Electrolyte needs increase on a low-carb lifestyle, as not as many minerals are stored in the body.  When I reduced carbs, my glycogen stores got low, which exposed some nutrient deficiencies.  I.E. I got terrible leg cramps at night until I started taking magnesium threonate or malate every day.   Since magnesium is essential for hundreds of functions in the body, it's probably helped with more than just leg cramps, too!   

I've also added other supplements, both for aid in my training and racing, and for general health.    These include a high-quality multivitamin, Iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Vitamin B Complex, Creatine, Iodine, Chlorella, and Spirulina.   Some of these vitamins and minerals should be checked by a blood test before you supplement, I suggest seeing a Functional Medicine doctor who can point you in the right direction.    

Here's some further reading if you want to delve into more details:

Why Vitamin C in large doses can cure shingles, the common cold, etc, and be used instead of antibiotics.  Lifechanging information:

Why Chlorella and Spirulina are the only true "super foods" to deserve that title:

Still think meat is bad?  Read a brilliant analysis on why the "China Study" is based on faulty science:


How to use Essential Amino Acids (and why they are so amazing)

Keep your gut happy with Colostrum.

Before a Race:

Ok, down to the nitty gritty.   I feel somewhat like a mad scientist these days, mixing all this stuff together for races, but you know what?  It works.  I just raced a triple Spartan, called a Trifecta, in one weekend.  That's a Beast, Super, and Sprint all in two days, it took me a total of 6 hours 40 minutes for about 28 miles and something like 80 obstacles.    I finished 4th, 2nd, 3rd respectively in my Age Group, and I raced my little heart out.  I was moving faster than I thought possible.  Finally, my stomach wasn't bothering me, I had energy, I wasn't injured, and I felt great.  

So the week before the race, I try to eat clean.  Healthy meats, avocado, veggies, good fats, avoid processed stuff, vegetable oils, fried foods, grains.  I do either steak and sweet potato, or sushi the night before the race.  A few carbs.   My normal supplements, plus digestive enzymes.  I will also mix a packet of Emergen-C electrolyte drink into a bottle of water.  Drinking lots of water without electrolytes could flush them out of your system.  But you do want to be adequately hydrated.  

The morning of the race, I wake up and eat something.  I'm not a breakfast person so I hate eating at 5 in the morning but I try to choke something down.   A UCAN bar, a few bites of sushi, and/ or either some bone broth with extra salt, or some cocoa powder with butter or heavy cream.    At this point I also take some supplements, like 3 grams of Vitamin C,  Colostrum, a couple Amino Acid tablets.  

30 Minutes before a race:  

About 30 minutes out from the start, that's the point where I take things like VESPA, HVMN Ketone Esters (make sure you've eaten some carbs before taking it, do your research!), caffeine Orbz, and maybe a bite of a bar.   I've learned not to over drink at this point, because then my bladder invariably yells at me the whole race.   This is my only caffeine of the day, too....if you've had a cup or two of coffee, you really won't benefit from taking any more now. 

Does VESPA work?  Is it worth the cost?  I really don't know.  I'll run out of it after my next race, try to keep everything else the same, and not use it, and see if anything changes.  

Does the HVMN Ketone Ester work?  Jeez, it's $30 a serving so it better!  I've tried it once and can't say for sure.  Supposedly it allows you to be both glucose and ketone fueled for an hour or so.  It's a new product so the hard data isn't there yet.   I've got two more servings for my next two big races (it's sold in a 3 pack), so I'll try it and then see later if not using it changes anything.  

During a race: 

For longer Spartan races, it's handy to have some food and drink with you, but not so handy to carry a pack.  I get these Gypsy Runner shorts (the bright colors will make you very....memorable), with huge side pockets, and I put a drink bottle in one side and my gloves and some ziploc baggies of pills in the other side.   It make me look like I have huge saddlebags (very sexy, lol) but I don't have the extra weight and annoyance of a pack.   

So I carry this Salomon squishy water bottle, and I put all these powders in it, and just this last weekend I realized that I could start the race with it dry and empty, and just add water a mile or two into the race.  It was like a revelation, not starting with a full water bottle.  Why didn't I think of this earlier?   So I almost never carry it full, I just put some water in it and drink it thick, with a water chaser at an aid station.  So I really carry very little water, just for sips if my mouth gets dry.  It doesn't taste that great so a water chaser might be handy.  Experiment!  

So in my squishy water bottle I put:   A scoop of MCT oil powder.  Then 5-10g grams of Essential Amino Acid powder.  Ok, then some sort of electrolytes.  OSMO or Skratch has a very low sugar option which they claim has great Osmolality.  That's a good thing when you want your stomach to empty fast.   And then some UCAN super starch powder.  There are a lot of flavors of UCAN, I've tried Orange and Cocoa and both are tolerable.   The electrolytes help keep the UCAN from clumping up, and running with it in your pocket also helps mix it up.   The overall taste will be sweet and chalky but since it works, I like it.  

In my other pocket are a couple of 3x4 inch ziploc bags.  Heavy duty ones which won't break or leak when soaked in a dunk wall.  Every hour or two, at a water station, I get one out and swallow the contents.   In it I have a couple of Colostrum tabs (they do seem to help keep my stomach happier), some sort of chewable or pill electrolytes, a couple of Amino Acid tablets, and 10-20 EnergyBits, otherwise known as spirulina.  It makes quite a handful of pills, so practice this in practice.   I was amazed, after downing a handful of these last weekend, that I kept on running quite fast downhill and my stomach was very happy.   The times it hasn't been so happy, was when I drank too much plain water and had bad osmolality, and the liquid stayed in my stomach instead of emptying.  

So for a Beast (about 4 hours) I had 1 bottle of mix in my water, and 2 baggies of pills.  For the Super, 1 bottle of mix, and 1 baggie of pills.   For the Sprint, I carry nothing.    For the UltraBeast in Tahoe next month (8-10 hours), I will probably have a preloaded mix in a spare bottle, a couple extra baggies and more EnergyBits, and a UCAN bar or two in my halfway bucket  Maybe a Kion Bar.  So I will still try to avoid carrying a pack at all cost.  Unless the weather demands it.   The slower I go, the more I eat, because then my digestive system can handle a bit more.  

After a race: 

I'm always dehydrated, it's inevitable.  There's a fine line between drinking too much and not enough while racing.  Too little and I've found myself weaving down the trail with blurry vision and compromised strength.  Too much, and my stomach sloshes like a swimming pool going down the freeway.   Regardless, after a race, get some water and electrolytes back into the system fast.  Especially because I usually have another race coming up the next day.  

Post race meal looks a lot like a pre-race meal.  Snacks.   Steak and potato or sushi, and chocolate.   I always have chocolate on hand.  Even if I don't mention it.   My favorite lately has been homemade macaroons.   Coconut flakes, coconut oil, Udo's oil, MCT oil powder, collagen powder, gelatin to stick it together,  some sort of mint or other flavoring,  cooled then dunked in dark chocolate.   My version of a fat bomb I guess.  But that's another story.  

Post-race supplements help me get over the soreness more quickly.   More amino acids, some magnesium, glutathione, Kion Flex, more electrolytes.    I figure I've stressed my body more than usual from travel and racing on these weekends, so I take more Vitamin C, too, 3-10 grams a day.  

Once I'm showered, I rub Magnesium Lotion and Frankincense essential oil on the muscles that hurt. Recovery (aside from diet) can be greatly speeded up as well, by using cold showers,  compression, cryotherapy, chiropractor visits, red light therapy, massage, ice bath, foam rolling, etc.     Use what you have available, and it will hopefully get you back on your feet feeling energetic and ready to starting training again sooner!  

In summary:

Breakfast before race:
Bone Broth or hot chocolate
Sushi Avocado Roll

30 minutes before race: 

During a race:

In my bottle:  

Pills to swallow or chew:  
Goat Colostrum (2 per hour)
SCaps Salt Tabs or Athlytes,  (couple per hour)
or Salt Stick Fastchews  (chew one of these if you get a cramp)
EnergyBits (20 every couple hours)
Amino Acids (5 g per hour)

After a race:

Amino Acids
Magnesium Malate or Threonate

Before you decide to also become a mad scientist and add up the cost of all of this, I have to say that not everything is beneficial.    Perhaps some of it does little to nothing all all.    I started slowly and added more as I needed it and as I learned the possible benefits.  I am an experiment of one, and what works for me may not work for you.   I CAN say that I am running at my best right now, recovering really quickly, and feeling really good.  So something I'm doing is working, and I will eventually narrow it down and stop using things that aren't helping.  And probably, knowing myself, add more! 

Trial and error.  Keep as much as possible the same, and change one thing, see if it helps or hurts.    Go after the low hanging fruit, the easier things.  Stomach issues?  Try Colostrum.   Cramping?  Try more magnesium leading up to and electrolytes during the race.   Not recovering well or building muscle?  Look into Essential Amino Acids.   

My diet going forward (aside from races) will be some carb cycling but mainly low carb.  Five days of low-carb, one day of fasting, and one day of carbs. I’ve read a lot of research and it all points that way. It gives me a day to go out to eat with friends and not stress, a day of no calories to heal myself, and 5 days of healthy clean eating.  

My next race will be a Spartan Beast and Spartan Ultra Beast, back to back days in late September in Lake Tahoe.   Unless I need to carry extra clothing for bad weather, I still think I will be able to racing without a pack using this system and carrying everything in my pockets.  I'll be the one with the wild colored shorts and saddlebags for pockets :)  

Trying out Normatec compression gear during a visit to the US Cryotherapy in Salt Lake City

August 30, 2018

West Virginia Spartan Trifecta Weekend, Beast, Super, and Sprint, Aug 25-26, 2018

Alternatively titled "How I lost 3rd place in the US Nationals Age Group category by less than 2 minutes by missing the spear and doing burpees, even though I had practiced that darn thing in my backyard for months!"

As I got on the plane last week to fly to West Virginia for these 3 races, I contemplated whether I had ever flown somewhere for the weekend just to do a race.   I concluded, yes (for an Ironman many years ago), but not very often.   Races were closer when I lived in England and Germany... mostly drivable.   At least packing for Spartan only consists of shoes and minimal clothing....no more boxing up bicycles and hoping they don't get smashed going through the bag check.

I'd been sweating the weather for this race, but shouldn't have.  Breckenridge last week and Hawaii (cancelled for a hurricane!) were awful Spartan weather races.  West Virginia rolled out the red carpet, turned off the sprinklers and dried the ground out just in time for a perfect day of racing.  Sunny but not hot, winds enough to provide a cooling breeze and amazing dry conditions underfoot.   "It might rain tomorrow but we will always have today."

It was nice to drop down in elevation for this race....I took my resting heart rate the morning of the race and it was significantly lower than normal.  1700 feet felt like sea level.   Not that the course was flat.   The little flags told us to go up and down forested slopes so steep that occasionally it was simpler to slide on your bum, either deliberately or accidentally.  But the brambles discouraged such practices.   I was glad a couple waves of Elite racers had mostly knocked them down before I ran through!

The Elite Women set off first on Saturday morning
The Beast was the first race of the weekend, run on Saturday.  It was the North American National Championship Race, so the first 6 heats were people who had qualified to run by scoring well in other races.   I had qualified fairly easily, but wasn't sure what to expect of the competition.

Spartan mile markers are like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get.   Sometimes I think they just drive along the course throwing them out randomly, but in order, if you know what I mean.   Deliberately wrong, perhaps.     Today, "Mile 2" was at just 1.6 miles.    Yet "Mile 3" was perfectly placed just as my watched dinged 3, and was in the middle of the steepest non-trail bramble path we had seen yet.  Clearly someone had needed to drag the sign up or down that hill to place it there, as no Gator was going to make it anywhere near that spot.

By official Mile 12, my watch was already showing 13 and somechange, so clearly the trend continued.  Of course, there's the whole Spartan idea that "heavy carries" are obstacles, and don't count towards mileage in a race.  As if when I'm grunting under the load of a heavy bucket, sandbag, or log, somehow the distance I'm covering shouldn't matter?

I think the whole deception is brilliant.   And probably deliberate.   Get millions of people to do races where they aren't quite sure where they are, how far they've gone, what's coming up next, or how hard it's going to be.    Normal life is just too darn ordinary, and this provides....something.

Even a swim this year.  The water temperature felt exactly the same as the air temperature.  Not hot, not cold.  Quite a short swim...but just long enough to seep into a baggie of salt tabs, if you hadn't happened to zip them quite closed.   Leading up to the swim, I needed to pee.  I said to myself, it's a big lake, go while you swim.   And then I repeated that to myself a bunch of times.  And then, of course, forgot to go.   So I could have said to the people around me, hey, I was going to pee but I didn't.   They might have been grateful.  Or decided to go for themselves since I brought it up, and saved a bathroom stop.  But if I had remembered to say that, I wouldn't have said anything, and just went.  But I didn't.  So I spend another couple of hours trying to convince myself via an internal conversation that I really didn't have to go that badly and could wait until the finish.   It's a mental game.   Even if I visit the bathroom 2 minutes before I start racing, I'll still feel like I need to go.

Then I missed the spear.  Dang it.  Somehow I knew that it would be the difference in my race.  I felt great otherwise.  Good nutrition, body was healthy, stomach was happy, and I was running fast.   About Mile 11, I had a quick run down the last big hill to do a mile in under 10 minutes, including the Z-Wall obstacle.

The newest Spartan obstacle was Monkey-Twister-Monkey.   I didn't think it was all that hard, and made it through all three races, but I sat and watched it in the festival area later, as hundreds of people fell off and thousands of burpees were paid in recompense.

The slip wall was my favorite of the day.   Dry, all by itself, with short ropes just at the top.   I gathered my energy, thanked heaven I had been doing sprints, and ran as fast as I could for 50 feet and up the wall.  Just as my speed dropped to nothing, I reached down and grabbed the rope before gravity kicked in.   Many races were won or lost at the slip wall.

Worst part of the day was the Olympus, just after the dunk wall.   Wet and slimy at the end of the race.  I made it on the Beast but it taxed me.  On the Super I made it halfway and had to pay my dues, the third race I didn't even attempt it with tired arms, and just did the burpees.

At the end, I was amazed to see that I finished 4th place, in the US Nationals!!!   Finished it in 3:31 after about 14 miles.   And really sad to see that I was just under two minutes behind the 3rd place woman.  Dang that spear, again.

Day 2 was much the same, except with more gimpy people at the start line, and everyone was thankful that the races got shorter instead of longer.   The obstacles got a bit easier too, with longer ropes on the slip wall, and no swim, log carry, or Twister.   I had recovered well with an ice bath the night before and was ready to race hard again.    I felt great, and gave it everything, especially as I passed women by and then tried to stay ahead.  Just the Olympus wall got me this time, which I was thankful for.    Finished the Super in 1:54, good enough for 2nd place!  

My sprint was scheduled for the afternoon in the Open category, but I still felt good and didn't want to wait 4 hours to race again.  So I moved it up to the earlier Age Group category again, figuring I'd race for another podium.   By the time I waited in line to make the change, I had just enough time to change my socks and was off again.   As with most Sprints, it was a lot flatter than the longer races, which I appreciated on tired legs.   I talked to the women in the start corral who had finished near me on the Super, who were starting to feel sore as well.   I tried to stay ahead of them at the start and managed it for over half of the race, even as we all did burpees for missing the spear throw into what were piles of fluff rather than hay bales.  Shame on Spartan for not having some fresh ones available!   The worst part of the race was climbing over the 7 foot wall on my arm which was already super bruised.   Or maybe the worst part was a super long bucket carry near the end of the race...my arms were almost cramping up by the time I put it down.  

After over 5 miles (a LONG Sprint), I was happy to be still near the two other women in 3rd!    We finished just in time, completely muddy from burpees at the Olympus, to race over and get our medals on the podium for the Super.

I was VERY happy with my nutrition and recovery plan, I felt great before, during, and after the races.  Now just a couple days later I am energetic and ready to start training for the Tahoe Spartan Beast and Ultra Beast in a month!  Stay tuned for a blog on my nutrition strategy, which has gotten a bit better, but more complicated, since starting the Keto lifestyle.

The Venue for the race in WV was just beautiful
Made it over the FIRE Once....
 I'm always happy to not trip over the fire when I'm tired at the end.

7 medals for the weekend is just obscene.
 (2 podiums, 3 finisher's medals, plus a weekend trifecta and a x2 Trifecta if anyone's counting) 

August 5, 2018

Utah Spartan Super & Sprint, July 2018

Spartan race photos have to be some of the most flattering pics ever.  Pain, suffering, and sweat with some muddy water mixed in.   Considering that's really all I've posted about this year, for the official record, then I guess I'm usually muddy, grimacing, soaking wet, and tired.  Actually I'm not sure why I'm posting them.  Because they are there, I guess.  To prove that I do get out of bed (occasionally) in the morning.   To make my mother wonder if her child was switched at birth with a stranger's.  

Today is my one year Spartan anniversary.   After suffering through my first race here in Utah last year in the heat, I decided I liked them, and I've done 9 more since then.   With varying success and occasionally an Age Group podium, giving me just enough hope to keep chasing the dream.  

Today was my first Spartan bonk.  

Expression used by cyclists to describe excercise induced low blood sugar levels; being a feeling of light-headedness and weakness in all limbs. Similar to 'The Wall' in running. Has fallen out of usage in recent years due to alternative meanings.
I am feeling a bit light-headed, if I don't have a banana, I think I'm going to bonk. 
Perhaps I should find another word to describe this, as alternative meanings can be rather suggestive.  Either way, after about 6 miles of running fast and feeling good, conquering a lot of steep, calf busting hills (ok I walked on those along with everyone else), I forgot to drink enough water.   I found myself unable to run, sort of weaving along the course wondering what was wrong.   Suddenly just getting over a 6' wall was hard.   While I usually make up time on my competitors on the second half of the course, today I was barely maintaining.   Somehow I managed to complete all the obstacles in my way, and getting my wits about me, chugged a bit of water.  It was probably too little, too late, on a very hot morning.  
Then I missed that darn spear.   I'd been practicing in the back yard twice a day for months.  Perfect throw, too far to the right.  30 burpees was suddenly a very painful addition to my race.   By the finish line, I couldn't run a step, and soaking wet, could barely haul myself over the slip wall, watched a woman in my Age Group bound up and over.   All I could think about was that I still had to jump over the fire.   "Don't fall in, don't fall in" I repeated to myself as I gathered energy to take 3 running steps to make it over.   Even in my own eyes, I was pathetic.  
My mantra at the end was "Don't fall in the fire"
Fast forward 24 hours to the sprint.  I had guzzled enough water to empty Utah Lake, and eaten a few carbs to help my neglected glycogen stores.   Plus we had soaked ourselves in Pineview reservoir which felt amazing.  My legs felt pretty good, as I hadn't pounded them with running the day before.   Small favors I guess.

It was a much quieter crowd on the second day.   Spartan had added the sprint to the schedule late in the game, and only about 1000 people were doing it.  5000 people had finished the Super yesterday, so everything felt a little calmer.  And the shortened course meant that those terribly steep hills on the Super were not part of this race.  In fact, it was almost, but not quite, flat.

The whole race started a bit later, and Jim and I had start times only 15 minutes apart.  No waiting around today for us.   We were going a bit later than usual though, so the temps were already heating up.   Smoke from some fires out West actually made it stay a little cooler, although our lungs probably weren't as happy.

I felt really good the whole way around, and quickly ran past my former self weaving crookedly down the trails.  I even hit the same spear dead center.  No burpees.  My first finish under an hour (:47 minutes to be exact), and enough for a second place finish in my age group.

Jim had a great race with his fastest finish as well.   I think once you get the hang of an obstacle, it isn't as scary and you're more likely to get it the next time.  That's certainly been true for both of us.  Jim finish first in his age group and was very excited....I think he's picked up the Spartan bug as he was even contemplating trying a Super someday....!

Next up in late August is a weekend trifecta (Beast, Super, and Sprint) in West Virginia, which is also the Spartan National Championships.   That might be a little hard.  Difficult.  Painful.  My mother will again wonder if I officially belong in their family.   My official goal is to finish, my secret goal is to podium all three races.   Actually I really want a 1st and 3rd to round out my medals.  My very very secret goal is "not" not drink enough water and watch the whole world pass me by.   Although in West Virginia with all the rain lately, I might be able to drink enough water out of the humid air to last for the whole weekend....

Heat shimmers from the fire.  Luckily I'm soaking wet from the dunk wall.