Dawg Gone Long Run

Dawg gone that was a long run!
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Early on Saturday morning, just after 3:30am, I started my trip south…first to meet one of two companion runners for the day, then on to Caesar’s Creek State Park, located about a 90 minute drive southwest of Columbus, OH. He was driving, and thank goodness! I’d managed a 3 solid hours of sleep the night before. Pretty normal for me prior to a big race. And this was big. My first 50 miler!
I’ll admit the Dawg Gone Long Run (DGLR), hosted by ORRRC, wasn’t in my original race plan for the year. I HAD planned on pacing during the Mohican Trail 100 two weeks prior. When my runner decided to drop to the 50mi distance, thereby eliminating the need for a pacer, I was out of a job. And yes, I likely could have picked up another runner to pace, but my lack of experience made me more nervous. Add in the hand injury from a few weeks prior, and I didn’t know how much help I could really be to a stranger. In the end, I chose to volunteer all day (and night…and the next morning) at the Covered Bridge Aid Station, and learned some invaluable lessons from that experience. I was also able to see many folks I know press on, dig deep, and finish a great race…one I’ll be adding to my schedule for the future.
So here I was, fully prepared to run 50 miles (or so I thought), without a race in sight. My next big event occurs in September, and is a completely different monster. A friend suggested DGLR, and it seemed perfect: timing, terrain, and distance all fit the bill. I stalled as long as possible to register, but I finally I pulled the trigger. 50 miles. I couldn’t get my head around the distance.

The race:
Caesar’s Creek is a great place to run. The course was just shy of 17mi of single track, the self-proclaimed “best single track in Ohio.” The trail was normally very runnable, save a few hills and the nauseating stairs (running down stairs at varying depths throws off your equilibrium). There were a few road sections, mainly to cross over the Lake, and a couple boat launch access roads. The last 6 miles of the loop were the most technical with roots and a few short but steep climbs, but the rest was mainly smooth, rolling hills. There was one true creek around mile 1.5 of the loop, which we crossed three times. On the first loop you barely got your feet wet as there are flat rocks you could use to cross. By loop 2, it was ankle deep. On loop three, I was wet to mid calf. But by then I didn’t care. I contemplated sitting in the creek for a minute, but feared I wouldn’t stand up. A valid concern after nearly 35 miles.
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There were two manned Aid Stations: the first was located at approximately mile 9, and the start/finish area served as the second. They were stocked with typical trail/ultra foods including PB&J, cookies, pretzels, pickles, watermelon, oranges, plus water and gatorade. Sadly, not a banana nor a potato in sight (good thing i brought my own). Three unmanned water stations filled in the gaps: mile 3, 6, and 14.5. The race crew was wonderful at keeping these jugs full of water and ICE! What a lift you can get from a few sips of ice-cold water.

My plan:
I need a plan? Remember this was my first 50 mile run. The longest single run I had completed recently was a 50k (~31mi). The longest ever was last September, and that wasn’t much further (60k or ~37mi). I didn’t know what would happen after that!

I had two friends agree to run along with me which was a life saver. First off, they did all the driving. Don agreed to drive down and run the first loop before heading back to Columbus. Doug would meet us there, run the 2nd and 3rd, then drive us home. What a blessing! Pre-race I was a bundle of nerves. Post-race my legs were twitching and my brain was fuzzy. They didn’t so much keep me to a pace, but rather provided companionship for what would otherwise be a long, lonely day. In fact, I carried my iPod the entire 50 miles, but never turned it on. A true testament to great friends. I was in charge of the pace, and carried my own fuel and water always…save twice asking Doug to “hold my banana” so I could get situated. Thanks buddy! ­čÖé
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The second part of the plan involved the miles themselves. There was no way I could comprehend running 50 miles. Now 10 miles? That I could handle. So I ran five 10milers. And celebrated each one at completion.
We also celebrated a few other milestones along the way:
Don’s trail Half Mary.
My longest single run time-on-feet at 8:30
My longest single run distance at 38mi
Doug’s longest single run distance at 32mi

And the plan mostly worked. Sure…I had a few dark miles…mostly in the 40s, but I expected that. Doug listened, or was just ignoring my grumbling. Either way, he didn’t acknowledge or address it, and let me have the time to work through it. The rain that started during loop 2 only added to the already soaked trail from the deluge they had the night before. On loop 3, we choose to “embrace the mud” as trying to avoid it was even more treacherous. It slowed the pace, but we moved onward. We said goodbye to a few tough hills and the nauseating stairs. I was excited to not run them again…that day anyway. I saved enough energy to run the last grassy area towards the finish. Doug ran ahead to get my picture. And I cried. All the way to the finish line.
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The race director this year was fantastic. I had emailed Julie Blair prior to the race to let her know this was my first 50miler, and that I’d likely be close to the recommended pace and finish last. She was more than encouraging. After each loop, she was there cheering for me. She was excited when I made the loose cutoff to start loop 3. Her voice was the one I heard cheering “You did it!” And “Smile!” as I ran to the finish. Thank you Julie! You made me feel so special!
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A note on nutrition.
After feeling like I couldn’t eat during my last 50k, I needed a better plan. And it was going to include forcing myself to eat. I ate my ENERGYbits after each 10 mile segment which worked out perfectly. I was just starting to feel my energy wane at that point. Amrita bars, PB&J, pretzels, and a banana rounded out my food for the day. I couldn’t touch the watermelon…I may never again after a few (possibly unrelated) horror stories I heard about food poisoning. I also drank 4L water just from my pack, and a cup of water at each Aid Station. By mile 30, the hunger feeling was gone. I felt only nausea. And it seems, for me anyway, that’s what hunger feels like after running that far. So I ate and drank through it. And it passed.

Just one negative comment…
I was slightly disappointed at the amount of trash discarded on the trail (outside of the Aid Station areas) that was obviously from the race: gel packets, paper cups, and a potato chip bag. I felt bad enough leaving my cup at the first unmanned water stop since the crew hadn’t left a trash bag (a task remedied by the second loop). But not to worry. Race or not, my team picked them up and threw them out for you. I’d like to assume it accidentally fell out of your pocket. We’ll go with that.

All in all, a wonderfully trying day. I’m relieved it’s over, and I’m excited looking forward to my next event. It’s now Day 3 post-race, and I can say with confidence that I was ready. I have little-to-no muscle soreness. No walking down stairs backwards for this girl! No ravenous hunger. No energy drain. I’m feeling refreshed and happy.

Real Food on the Run

I need to apologize. I wanted to get this out yesterday, but I was a little preoccupied. You may (or may not) know that I’m training for a 50 mile race…and it’s just under three weeks away. Three weeks? Eek! So my mind is consumed with doubt and running. Did I mention doubt?

Anyway…here’s the post I promised, though not as in depth as I hoped. We’ll continue this discussion throughout the summer, and I do have a few product reviews and recipes that I’ll be sharing…but I’ll likely reference them here. Again…my apologies.

Running fuel manufacturers…I’m not pointing fingers or naming names here…will all tell you the same thing.

You need to replace calories while running…especially on the long run and during races.

This is true. Naturally…or not so naturally…they are hoping you’ll use their product…gels, chews, electrolyte replacement drinks, fizzy tablets, and pills. Go to any half or full marathon, and you’ll see a race course littered with foil packets and and a sticky mess surrounding the water stops. These products seem to be the staple around such events. They all use primarily sugar, and sometimes honey, to fuel the body until…the next gel. They spike your blood sugar, which is great for a surge in energy.

The problem is two-fold. First, you need to keep adding sugar to maintain that surge. And second, the after-effects can range from a serious post-sugar crash to GI issues both during and after the event. Yuck!

I find it funny. Many of these athletes wouldn’t indulge in such sweetness in their regular diet, but while running, they down these products like…well…candy. And I was no different. It wasn’t until I was training for my second marathon that I realized this fuel wasn’t going to cut it. The feeling would creep in around mile 16. I was HUNGRY! And I wanted more than that sloshing stomach and the immediate trip to a portable toilet after the race. I wanted food. Real food. Something I could chew. And something that tasted good.

So I started doing some research.

This will likely come as no surprise to my trail-running readers.

You can eat real food while running.

I know. Shocking. It’s true. But what? And here’s the problem. Almost anything will work…but you are what you eat, right? And you get out what you put in? I know this local doc, and he says something like this…

If you want muscles like Twinkies, go ahead and eat Twinkies. I’d rather have muscles like broccoli. So I’m going to eat more broccoli.

And, of course, he’s right.

I started with prepared foods because it was the easiest. Convenience isn’t always bad…but you have to be careful. Fig Newtons (yes…cookies) have a similar nutritional content to a gel. They have a few more calories and carbs, but they still have potassium which is necessary for runners. The main source of energy is still sugar, but it was a good start. Cheaper too.

I need to mention timing before we go any further. Gels and chews are mainly carbohydrate. The one benefit of their composition is that digestion starts in the mouth, so you feel that surge quickly. When you start eating real food, you will need to allow for some digestion time. That means eating early and often. A few bites, here and there. Practice. That’s the only way you’re going to learn how soon to start and how much you can keep down and still move. It’s an adjustment, but its worth it.

Ok…back to food. Cookies are great. I still have dreams of Pringles and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies I found in an Aid Station box during a group run once. Yummy! Trail runners will eat anything…but I digress.

The thing is, I’m not going to tell you what to eat. Remember, I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician. I am going to suggest a few things to try, but please, do some research on your own. Don’t take my word for it. You should know what you’re putting in your mouth!

Real food running fuel as used by myself or other experienced runners:

Bananas – harder to carry, but easy at aid stations. Also great in cookies (recipe in a later post) Potassium!

PB&J – you ate it as a kid…and it’s just as tasty on the run. Whole grains can be tough for some to digest while running, so experiment with bread choices.

Raisins, Dates & Figs – easy to carry, natural sugar.

Nuts – Protein! I like almonds best, followed by peanuts…get the unsalted unless you are the kind of person that gets cramps. I’m a salty sweater and get plenty of sodium!

Pickles – tested cramp preventer! Even mid-cramp pickle juice can help release the muscle. I start eating them during the taper, and always have them on hand during a race.

Potatoes – a favorite during ultras because they have MORE potassium than bananas. Often served boiled and salted. Sweet potatoes are ok, but they do have more fiber and significantly more sugar. White potatoes are NOT bad for you…just don’t fry them…or load them up with butter, cheese, sour cream, and bacon! Pringles are good too (stick with plain since the flavored have MSG)!

I said I would talk later about a few products that I do use, but I wanted to mention them here.

ENERGYbits (Spirulina) – a great vegan source of protein, vitamins, and energy without caffeine. Low calorie, so make sure you’re eating other foods too. You can read my review of this product in an earlier post.

AMRITAbars – vegan, raw, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free. These bars taste amazing. Energy bars in a variety of flavors for use during exercise filled with fruit and seeds, and a recovery bar that tastes like a fudge brownie! Review coming soon!

Try something. Try everything. Just make sure you’re reading the labels. Isn’t your performance worth the research?

So tell me…what are you eating?

Labels…they’re not ALL bad

I’m in the middle of a huge training weekend, so I’m just going to leave you with a quick post today.

I cheated. I ate a doughnut. Two actually. It IS National Doughnut Day…and I am running 40mi this weekend. Those are not excuses. I refuse to feel guilty. The extra sugar did make my stomach feel terrible, and I could use a nap!
Lesson learned.

Back to today’s point…labels.

Everything has a label.

Produce has labels…do you know the difference? Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
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Definitely avoid that last one…but these are not the labels I’m worried about.
Have you ever read the labels on prepared foods? That’s what I want you to start doing. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, look it up. Better yet, don’t buy it! I want you to decide which ingredients are unhealthy. But I’m going to give you two to start with.

Artificial sweeteners: Yup. Fake sugar. Do we eat fake food? Not any more. I’m not going to debate whether these products cause cancer or other health problems. I’m eliminating them because they are artificial by definition. Here’s where you’ll find them, but read food labels. All of these must be listed on the label per the FDA.

NutraSweet® and Equal® are brand names for aspartame.
Other artificial sweeteners on the market include sucralose (Splenda┬«), acesulfame K (Sweet One┬«, Sunett┬«), and saccharin (Sweet’N Low┬«, SugarTwin┬«).

Monosodium Glutamate: Good old MSG. It’s a “flavor enhancer.” More flavor can’t be bad! Here’s a thought…if your food tasted good to start with, why would you need to “enhance” it? You’ll likely find this in food items that should be avoided anyway…and almost anything with “cheese flavoring.” If you want the flavor of cheese, just eat cheese. Don’t eat cheese-flavored chips! Maybe if our taste buds weren’t overloaded by the amount of sugar we eat, we could taste the natural flavors without enhancing them.

Don’t get me started on sugar. Another day…

So that’s it. Just start reading labels. I find the food that tastes the best has the least amount of ingredients anyway. I just want you to know what you’re putting into your mouth.

On Tuesday, I’ll have a special post for runners…How to fuel on Real Food. Don’t miss it!

A note on drinking

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of diet plans and products that promote quick weight loss. And, by now, you know how they accomplish that.

Water.

Most of us are carrying around excess water that can easily mean 2-5 extra pounds (maybe more) that we can drop at a moment’s notice and poof…the diet works! Right?

Wrong! Resume normal eating and drinking habits and the pounds are right back. But do they have to be? Is it possible we are over-consuming water and other beverages, and carrying that weight for no reason?

I used to drink soda…specifically Coke…every day. Two cans. The year I stopped, I lost about 10lbs easily. This was mostly because of the sugar I now wasn’t consuming, but I quickly put back a few of those pounds drinking my eight, 8oz. glasses of water each day.

Diet soda is an even worse offender. But it has the word “diet” or “zero” in the name! It can’t be bad for you! Think again. It’s a beverage with ingredients that have zero calories? It takes some magic to conjure that…usually in the form of FAKE sugar. And since this is the Eat REAL Food Challenge, we’re not going to touch that stuff. Sure…Stevia comes from a plant…and if you need to add sugar to your coffee, I’d much prefer you add that over white, processed sugar. More on that later…this is about drinks.

Most days I stick to two liquids: water and coffee. Sure…I’ll enjoy a beer or two after a good run, and I won’t turn down a glass of wine with friends. But no commercial juice and no soda. There are a few exceptions…if you’re a distance runner please drink what your body needs…but don’t miss the following article.

Tim Noakes, MD wrote this great book last year entitled Waterlogged. If you haven’t read it, you should. I’ve included a link to an extensive review on the iRunFar.com blog which discusses the main points. Warning, it’s long and somewhat scientific, but it addresses the main myths about hydration, specifically for runners.

So drink up! Just keep it REAL!

Eat More Often

Ready? I said the first challenge would be easy. You can do it.

Eat More Often

I making an assumption here about the people taking on this challenge. Remember, I said its mostly for me.
I’m assuming you are “fairly active.” What does that mean? You do SOMETHING every day. It can be as little as a 15 minute walk. But it’s something. You walk up the stairs in your house a few times a day. You walk from your car to the office…grocery store…park…something! I guarantee that even on a “rest” day, you probably walk about a mile. That’s what I mean.

Three “square” meals don’t cut it for most people. You’re going to cheat. Trust me. You will snack…and the worst offense will be right before bed. THAT is the one that’s going right to your you-know-what!

Why not try this:

Eat 3 “meals” and 2-3 PLANNED snacks.

Use a smaller plate for your meals (smaller plates hopefully means smaller portions), and try to eat every 3-4 hours. You should never feel “stuffed.” If you’re hungry 3 hours after dinner, eat again. Just because it’s nighttime doesn’t mean you have to eat ice cream! At this point I’m not going to suggest what those snacks should be. We’ll get to that.

I know there are conflicting studies out about whether eating more frequently helps you lose weight. And that’s fine. Weight loss isn’t the ultimate goal here.

Remember, this is not a diet.

I want to feel better, with more energy. That will make me want to be more active, and THAT, coupled with eating clean, will keep me at a healthy weight for me. If you want to temporarily drop pounds for some timed challenge, go for it. I’m not interested in weighing myself. Ever. I don’t even own a scale. Eating more regularly will keep your blood sugar at a more even keel, and that can’t be bad. It certainly should help with some of those cravings!

If you’re already doing this, no problem. You’re a step ahead. I just want us all on the same page. I want to hear about your snacks this week. Post pictures on twitter with me! And don’t forget to tag them with #EatRealFood. What are you eating?

Next Challenge is coming up on Tuesday!