Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vegetarian Athlete?: Part 1 Realization Strikes

For a long time I have been ignoring an elephant in the room related to my running. I have been doing the training, fighting the aging, but ignoring one aspect that was having a major impact on my performance: nutrition. Actually the nutrition problem has two parts, weight and fuel, and I had pretty much been in denial on both fronts.

Weight is a tricky issue with runners. With all the scare over eating disorders and disordered eating in our society, it is a risky thing to say that a key to improving running performance is losing weight, but it is true. Weight is related to distance running performance. From a physics perspective, speed boils down mostly to what it does in all sports: a power to weight ratio. In fact, VO2max, a key physiological variable related to running performance, is measured in milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The easiest way to change the VO2 max is to change the weight side of the equation.

The truth is that for maximal performance in running, a person needs to be what is considered below average in weight for our society. Studies of elite distance runners versus sub-elite runners shows that the major factor separating them is not mileage or training, but weight. An interesting article on this was printed in Peak Performance a while back. There is also a book called Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance which explores this more deeply (and includes 9 pages of references to scholarly publications to support the discussion). The fact is that to perform optimally in race situations, one needs to be at an optimal racing weight.

Anecdotally I have found this to be true. When I was running my best and set PRs at all distances, I was about eight pounds lighter than I am right now, and about eleven pounds lighter than I have been for most of the past several years.

As I was contemplating this idea and realizing that instead of training more (and risking injury), perhaps I should take a look at the losing weight side of the equation. About this time, I read the preview chapter from Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run  that had been printed in Trail Runner magazine.

That article pushed me over the edge. It made me realize that not only did I need to get this weight thing under control, but that I also needed to stop trying to get my body to perform like a race car on poor quality fuel. As I read Scott's information and then started to do some research on vegetarian/vegan athletes, I was intrigued. I was surprised at what a "hot-button" issue this is in the athletic and nutrition community, with very strong opinions on both sides. 

One of the problems that I have experienced for many years is extreme muscle soreness. I am not talking the typical delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that one gets the day or two after a hard workout. I expect and gladly accept that. I am talking about muscle soreness that would come on immediately after even an easy run and last most of the day.  I could do an easy three to four mile run with friends, head home in the car, and be as sore as finishing a marathon by the time I had to get out of the car to walk into the house. It was ridiculous. I talked to a few doctors about it, but none of them had any idea why this should be so. I just resigned myself to living with soreness.

What I read in the information from Scott and other athletes, such as triathlete Brendan Brazier, was that most of the vegetarian/vegan athletes mentioned improved recovery and reduced inflammation and soreness as benefits of a diet change. That was the final straw. I was willing to give anything a try that might help with the soreness. That a switch to a vegetarian diet might also help move me to an ideal weight now became a secondary consideration to the idea that I might not have to be sore all the time.

Thus, about six weeks ago I started on the path toward becoming a vegetarian athlete. I am not quite ready to go all out with the vegan thing, and I am also not ready to be what I call one of those "crazy" vegetarians who goes into convulsions if meat is in the same room that they are. Plus, I am practical and cheap (we still had a few really good pork chops and steaks in the freezer).  However, for the past six weeks I have been on primarily a vegetarian diet. I can count the number of times I have had meat on one hand.  I have also started to become much more conscious of the idea of food as fuel, which has changed the way I look at all types of food. 

So," how is it going?" you may ask. Are you getting any of the benefits you hoped for?  Is it hard to do? Do you feel deprived? Well to get those answers you will just have to wait for Part 2.

Related articles:
Book Review: Scott Jurek's Eat and Run

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Race Report: Keyes Peak Trail Marathon

In keeping with my training plan of running a trail marathon as a last long training run two to three weeks before my DWD 50ks, last weekend I ran the Keyes Peak Trail Marathon in preparation for my upcoming 50k at Dances with Dirt Devil's Lake in July. I chose this marathon for three reasons:. I had never been to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and wanted to see the beautiful scenery; it is in the Trail Runner Trophy Series; and it had a river crossing, which I had never done in a race before.

I had researched the race in advance and had read race reports. One report talked about mud, hills, ticks, and a river crossing. Sounded like a lot of fun to me!! Well, truthfully, I wasn't that excited about the ticks, but I bought an industrial sized bottle of bug spray with DEET and was ready to go. The race was also an environmentally aware race. All racers were required to carry bottles, and no paper cups would be used on the course. In addition, it was an automatic disqualification to be observed dropping any litter on the course. I was totally on board with that and thought this was a wonderful way to run a trail race.

As we made our way up and across the Mackinac Bridge the weather was perfect, sunny and beautiful. The water was beautiful shades of turquoise and blues. However, as we headed out the 2 and got closer to the MI/WI border, it was looking dark and cloudy. Finally we had a bit of a downpour. Yikes. I was worrying then about the condition of the trails and the water level in the river. On a previous year the river crossing had to be canceled because conditions were too treacherous for the runners to cross.

By the time we got to Keyes Peak, the storm had mostly passed. As we were driving down the road looking for the campground we were staying at, I saw a sign that said Keyes Peak Ski Resort. That was the starting line and packet pick-up. Then just about 300 ft. down the road was the entrance to our campground. What great luck!! The campground I had booked us at was literally next door to the race start!

We checked into our cute little cabin and headed over to packet pick-up. It is a small race, less than 300 runners total in the three races (50k, marathon, 10k). Packet pickup was a small affair. No big race expo here. What was here, though, was an incredibly friendly race director and staff. The race director was so nice that he even took groups of people outside to explain the course and to answer any questions. You could tell how much he cared about the race and that his main concern was a great experience for all runners.

Most people had questions about the river crossing. He explained that there were two options: swim across or cross with a rope. The water this year would be about "waist deep" and very doable. There would also be a guy there to help with the crossing. Some people looked a little worried. I thought it sounded like loads of fun.

"No Nonsense" arm warmers
The race start time was 7 am. I suddenly decided that it was going to be cooler than I expected at start time. I was expecting lower 60s, but they were now saying low to mid 50s. That is a little chilly for me standing around at the start. I decided I would need arm warmers. A quick check of my running bag revealed that the arm warmers were back in MI. It was off to town to find a Walgreens for a pair of knee socks to become improvised arm warmers. I thought they turned out pretty good for the $1.99 I had to invest in them. I thought the "No Nonsense" brand logo was fitting as a mantra for the challenge ahead.

Race morning was an unusual one for me. Because we were so close to the start and the race was so small, there was no need to get to the race early. Even with the 7 am. start time, I was able to sleep until 5:30 and still get to the race with plenty of time to spare, even with stopping for three applications of bug spray. (I was very serious about avoiding ticks).My improvised arm warmers worked well to keep me warm waiting for the start, but by start time, it had already warmed up to the upper 50s, so I ditched them before I headed out. 

The group at the start for the 50k/marathon was probably around 100. The start was the typical low-key ultra start, with the race director saying something like "Ready. Go!"  We sped, jogged, or hobbled off the start line. The race was at a ski resort. The finish was down the ski hill, but the start went up a dirt road that paralleled the slope. It was a pretty good hill with just enough mud to make it interesting. It was similar to the start at Gnaw Bone, only not as long and not as muddy.

Once we hit the top of the hill and got to the ridge, we began about 6 miles of mostly downhill, some of it pretty steep. This suited me fine. I love downhill running and ate up this part of the course (including one mile split of 7:40 -- what was I thinking??). As I was doing it, though, I was not naive enough to think that I would not have to pay. Southern Michigan around where I live has no place to train for a sustained 3 or 4 mile downhill stretch. My quads were not prepared well for this type of pounding, and I knew there would be big pain in the future. I put that thought to the back of my mind, though, and decided to take maximum advantage of the parts of the course that played to my strengths.

The course itself was not what I expected. It was almost entirely on dirt roads, with very little of the single track that I love so much. On the positive side, the footing on the dirt roads was very good, and unlike some roads, these were very flat and easy to run on. It would be a good course for a road runner, not used to technical trails. The scenery was also beautiful, lots of trees and greenery, and lots of shade, which became important as the morning progressed. In general, I was cruising along and having a pretty good time.

Along about mile 13, though, things turned not so fun for me. First of all, the second half of the course is predominantly uphill, which is never fun for me. It was also warming up, which for me is not a horrible thing, but when mixed with uphills just adds to the overall discomfort level. However, my real problem was the nausea. Despite having taken S-Caps religiously from the first hour on, I was having waves of nausea. There is nothing quite like being nauseous, hot, and climbing a hill, knowing that there are still 10 more miles of hills to go. It made me cranky.

On top of that, I was hungry, but there was a little battle going on between my brain and my stomach. The conversation went something like this:

Brain: "If you want to avoid a total shutdown here you better send us some more of those carbs."

Stomach: "If you send us any more of that gooey, sweet stuff, we are sending it right back out!"

I went through this almost continually for miles. I had a lot of time to think about it too because there were some really hellacious hills in this section. The worst hills on the course tended to be right after the aid stations. One of them was so steep I wondered whether vehicles could really make it up.   

The one bright spot on the horizon was the river crossing. For the marathoners, this is between mile 18 and 19. As we approached there was a volunteer there asking us whether we were doing the swim or run option and yelling it out for the volunteers on the river. I took the run option, which meant crossing with the rope. There was a volunteer to help me down the steep bank to the water and another to help with the crossing. The guy on the rope was awesome, giving really helpful advice and letting runners know where the big rocks and deep spots were. The water was moving fast in the middle and up to chest deep for me. I got knocked off my feet one time, but had a good hold on the rope so did not go under. Mostly the water just felt really good and the crossing was fun. That one experience was worth the trip.

This is not me. It is a representative picture of the river crossing from  Running  in the USA.
After the river crossing was an aid station. I was not changing shoes, but I did need to do something about my nausea. I had Gatorade in my hydration pack and decided that I might be better off with just water, S caps, and gels. I had pretty much drained the pack by then, so I had a volunteer refill it with water. She was so sweet. She filled it with the pack on my back, which I was very thankful for. I didn't want to take it off since it had taken me about three miles of fiddling to get it to sit just right.  

The water in the pack helped a bit, but I was still nauseous in those final miles. I was cheered a bit by realizing that it looked like I was going to break 5 hours, but it was not a guarantee at the rate I was moving by then (mostly a walk). There are some really cruel hills in the race between miles 22 and 24. Things were not going well.  I got passed by the only woman I had seen since about mile 7 of the race. She was very sweet and tried to encourage me to run with her to the end, but I was in my own private hell at that time and was not able to rally and join her, especially when we hit some runnable (for her) uphill. At about that time, I realized that I could break 4:45 if I picked it up just a bit, so I tried to pull myself together for one last push to the finish.

Me with my bottle of syrup
I was so happy when I finally started to get glimpses of the lake, ski lodge, and finish line through the trees. The finish was down a big ski hill which was fine for me. My legs could handle one more downhill with the finish in sight. I finished with a 4:34:35, which was a new trail marathon PR for me. I was also 6th woman overall, but only 3rd in my age group. The age group award was a bottle of Wisconsin maple syrup, which was cool. I also really liked the finishers medal, which was wooden and hanging from a piece of twine.

The finish line treats appeared to have been homemade, and the whole race had a really homey, small town feel. I would have enjoyed it a lot more, though, if I had not been in so much pain. My legs were not ready for the amount of continuous downhill and made that very clear to me when I stopped. I was in more pain after this race than even the Gnaw Bone 50k. Still it was a great experience and will be good training for the Leading Ladies Marathon which is also a downhill course.  

Friendly Volunteer!
All in all, it was a good experience.  It is a well run, well marked race. The race director is a nice guy who cares a lot about the event and the runners. The course is pretty and very runnable, good for those just switching from road to trails. It did not have enough single track to suit my preferences, but probably others were thankful not to have to deal with technical trails. I did not run into any of the dreaded ticks mentioned in other race reports you might see online. The river crossing was a fun element for me. The volunteers on the course were excellent and very friendly. 

Friendly Crew at the Last Aid Station

It is exactly the type of low key race that makes me love trail and ultra running. The experience was definitely worth the trip. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Meeting a Running Idol: Scott Jurek at Playmakers

Wednesday night I got to meet and run with one of my running idols, Scott Jurek. He is touring to promote his new book, Eat and Run, which I reviewed in a previous post.   For all you non-ultrarunners out there, let me try to explain how significant this was for me. If you are a road runner, think meeting, say Bill Rodgers. If you are a golfer, think Tiger Woods.  And for my totally non-running friends, well, just think meeting Elvis.  For me, it was a big deal.

Meeting an idol is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it is exciting (Hey, I am meeting Scot Jurek!!), but on the other it carries with it some perils. What if the person turns out to be not as idol-like as you had hoped?  What if the person turns out in some way to be a jerk?  In Scott Jurek's case, not to worry.

My initial impression of him, as he stepped out to address the crowd gathered for the fun run 5k at Playmakers, was "Dang, he is a lot taller than I had imagined." I think he had mentioned that in his book, but I was still surprised. I am thinking he is easily over 6 ft., but then again, I am small, so anyone over 5'7" is tall. The next impression I had was of how down-to-earth he seemed. After a few pre-race introductions, we posed for a group picture. Someone suggested that he lie on the ground in front of the group. Although the pavement was undoubtedly quite hot (it was in the 90s), he only hesitated for a half beat before he gamely stretched out in front of us on the ground for a series of pictures, still with a genuine smile on his face.

During the run he did something that I thought was super-thoughtful. He started at the beginning and went out with the leaders, giving the group a chance to spread out. Then he turned around and ran back through the crowd of runners, taking time to greet and talk to every runner, smiling the whole way, sometimes even posing for pictures. I was running with my friend Jessica. When he got to us, he even suggested the best way for Jessica to get the picture of the two of us running.  

Back at the store, after the run, he spent a lot of time, just mingling and talking to people. He was so accessible to anyone who wanted his time. He must have posed for over a hundred pictures and never stopped smiling. He has a natural grace and thoughtfulness about him that seems to come through in every interaction.

Finally (the run was at 7 and the talk at 8:30), we all milled into Playmakers, where it was wonderfully cool, to wait for his presentation.   There was a group of probably close to 300. It was an interesting collection of people, as was evidenced in the Q/A session following the talk. Some people were there because they were ultrarunners who were fully aware of Scott and his achievements. Then there were the road runners and beginning runners who may or may not have been familiar with his running resume. Some knew of him because of his appearance in the book Born to Run. Others were local vegans and vegetarians (some who were also runners) who were there because of their interest in his choice to follow that lifestyle as an athlete.

He began the presentation with a short video that told a little about him. It was a longer version of the book promo video that I had posted with the book review. It was no doubt helpful for those who did not know his history and background and who had not yet read the book.

He began by telling us how glad he was to be back at Playmakers, which he quipped is the "Bass Pro Shop of Running Stores." Then he thanked everyone for helping make his book #7 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.  Next he discussed Micah True (Caballo Blanco) from Born to Run, who had just died a few months ago. He told about going down to help search and referred the audience to the great New York Times article that I had mentioned in my follow-up post on True's death. Then, rather than taking a moment of silence, which he said was not True's style at all, he led us in his famous celebratory yell that he does at the start of every race he runs.

His presentation was short because he said he did not want to rehash stories from the book. Instead he opened the floor to questions and answers from the audience, so he could talk about the things we might want to know.  As mentioned before, the questions reflected the interests of the audience, everything from questions about training, hydration, and electrolytes to questions about how he makes it through the long runs mentally, to questions regarding his vegan lifestyle and habits. He answered each one fully, patiently, and with a sense of humor. He also answered many questions by referring the audience to articles that he had written in case they wanted a longer or more detailed version of the answer.

He ended the talk by mentioning some of the charity work he is involved with. He gave information about supporting the Caballo Blanco Memorial Fund  to help continue the work that True was doing for the Tarahumara in Copper Canyon. He also mentioned some charity work he is involved in helping get eye surgery for Ethopians.  To help raise money for this, he had some very cool shirts for sale at the event and promised there would  be more available on his site in the future.  He mentioned that although his visit at Playmakers was a free one, many of his appearances are not and that the funds being raised are being donated to the charities that he believes in.

At the end of the event, he did the obligatory book signing that comes with this type of tour. This is another spot where his incredible patience, good nature, and thoughtfulness again shone through. It was already after 9:30 when the talk ended. The line for the book signing very quickly snaked down one side of the store, across the front, and back up the other side of.  As we all waited in line, he popped out several times to remind us of things he had forgotten to say in the talk, but also once to assure everyone that he would stay until the very last book had been signed. That was pretty gracious considering he still had to drive back to Grand Rapids when the event was over.

When signing time came, he took the time to again greet each person individually and to pose for yet another picture. You could tell he really wanted everyone that had come to see him to be happy. When I left, somewhere around 10:15, he was still signing. We took a quick trip over to Taco Bell for a few bean and cheese burritos, and when we drove back past Playmakers, well after 10:30, you could see him through the window, still in their signing.  

For me, this was a really great experience. His personality is even more engaging in person than it is in the book, and I have even more respect for him, not only as one of the best ultrarunners of all time but also as an outstanding human being.  If you get the chance to head out to one of his events to meet him, I highly recommend that you do so. His book tour schedule is listed on his site at   And, if you have not yet read his book, what are you waiting for? 


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Race Report: Mango Madness

I am so excited this week to have a special guest race report for you. Fellow runner, triathlete, cyclist, Playmaker's and TCBA teammate, and partner in ultra-running adventures, Leslie Miyasato, (you may remember her from the DWD Gnaw Bone adventure) just returned from a vacation in Hawaii where she used her time wisely and entered a very exciting trail race. I got bits and pieces of it in text messages while she was gone  ("rats," "hill," "roots," "lost") and was super intrigued (and jealous). I asked her if she would write a race report to share with us all on the blog and she said "yes"!!!   So here it is, Leslie's race report of Mango Madness!! 

Each time I travel to Hawaii I check the local race schedule.   There is always something going on, and always a family member that is gullible enough to join me.   This trip was no exception.   My daughter Christi and my Finnish daughter Maria agreed to join me on their first ever trail race, Mango Madness!  

The race is advertised as "10+" miles. The plus is for the little "detours" they send you on. It begins and ends in a mini “park” at the intersection of Mikiki & Mikiki Heights, a residential area at the base of the mountains in Honolulu.    The term park is used loosely, since the only thing there is a pumping station, some grass, a tree and glaring lack of a pre-race staple.   Not a restroom or port-a-potty in sight, gulp!    Anyone that knows me knows this is not an ideal pre-race situation, not at all!   OK, from the lines I always see at races, this is not ideal for anyone.   Thank goodness this was a trail race.   All trail races have foliage to hide behind, right?    We were also promised a real restroom at mile one of the race, and thankfully, I elected to use it.   Foliage and cliffs don’t really make for wilderness pit stops!

Registration for the race began at 6:00 a.m.     We dropped our $10 into a plastic shoe box and picked our “race bib”, a number written on our leg just above the knee.

Hawaiian "bib"
After a short race briefing, we were off for our 7:00 a.m. start.   Make that 7:20ish……..we are talking Hawaii time here!   Christi and Maria planned to speed hike with me, even though both are runners.   We started at the back of the pack and thought we had ourselves nicely placed between two groups of runners.    We were nipping the heels of the first group, but decided we wouldn’t pass them until after the long awaited restrooms!   So much for nipping at their heels, we never saw them again.   

 After a short race briefing, we were off for our 7:00 a.m. start.   Make that 7:20ish……..we are talking Hawaii time here!   Christi and Maria planned to speed hike with me, even though both are runners.   We started at the back of the pack and thought we had ourselves nicely placed between two groups of runners.    We were nipping the heels of the first group, but decided we wouldn’t pass them until after the long awaited restrooms!   So much for nipping at their heels, we never saw them again.   

The first half of the race was well marked.   We climbed and climbed.    Plenty of roots, mud, and climbs. Everything you’d expect on a trail race, and more.   The scenery on the Tantalus trail system is spectacular, so spectacular that I caught a root at around mile 2.   Thank goodness I’d worn my calf compression sleeves, or my race would have been over.    It’s amazing what a black compression sleeve can hide!   I decided to wait and check out the damage at the first aid station (the one with no first aid kit, but plenty of water and Gatorade).    Not pretty, but I still had 8+ miles to go, so covered it back up and headed up what is affectionately known as the “Concrete Hill."   It’s steep, it’s slippery, and it’s covered with a pebbly concrete of sorts.    The first man and woman up the hill receive a special award.   Perhaps an award should go to the last one up too, although that wouldn’t have been me.    We passed 2 women on the way up.    Yay, no longer in last place!

Mango Madness is a trail race with unexpected detours.    We hit our first detour at the top of the concrete hill.    What’s a little more climbing at this point?   Well worth the view of Honolulu from the peak!   We were given a blue bracelet (a piece of blue plastic ribbon tied around our wrist) to prove we’d been there.    That is the last time we saw anyone.    The two women behind us opted out of the detour.   One more trail marker, and we never saw another one of those either.   Here we were on the top of the mountain, with trails going in various directions at intersections.    We guessed, and guessed, and guessed.    Evidently the person clearing the markers for the last 5 miles of the race cleared them a little too soon.    Oops!

The route down the mountain took us through bamboo, banyan trees, tropical flowers……..more roots and cliffs.    I’m still not sure how people actually run through all of the roots on the trails.    They are incredibly treacherous in a lot of places.     

One amazing find while lost was a tree that looked like it was wearing a grass skirt.    You won’t be seeing a photo, thanks to the rat tree.    I stopped to take a photo when Maria commented that there was a mouse in the tree.     It wasn’t a mouse; it was a rat.   Make that a lot of rats.    The tree actually started to shake with rat activity.   If anything can get me to run through a maze of roots, it’s the thought of rats jumping out of a tree and landing on my head.    Off we went, without a photo of the cool looking tree.  

After more wrong turns and some backtracking, we made our way back to the finish.   We conquered Mango Madness, although Coconut Craziness would have been even more fitting for our trio!   We had a lot of laughs, and actually got to enjoy the scenery once we realized we were lost.   

Would I recommend the race?  Absolutely!   There were some glitches, but hey, we are talking about a $10 race here.   One major snafu (in addition to the missing route markers) was some information we were given at the race briefing.   We were told to be sure to check in at the finish, because they would not leave until everyone was accounted for, even if it meant they had to sit there all night.    I guess someone miscounted.    Everyone was gone, with the exception of the race directors.   They were getting into their cars when we came around the bend, and had no clue we were unaccounted for.    Oops!   Not good on a trail that is an injury waiting to happen and somewhat confusing.    Next time I’ll be sure to stick a map of the trail system in my pocket!  

If you are visiting Oahu, be sure to check out the H.U.R.T (Hawaiian Ultra Running Team) website (   They have weekly trail runs and numerous races, including the HURT 100.    It’s a great group, and even though we were lost on Tantalus, we had a great time!   

Have you run an interesting, exciting, or fun race that you would like to share a report of? If so, email me ( to make arrangements for a guest post. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Race Report: Flirt With Dirt 10k

Flirt with Dirt Bling
Last weekend I did something that I almost never do. I ran a race that was less than a half marathon. Lately I have been concentrating on longer distance races, so this was the first 10k I have done since this same race a year ago.

As you can guess from the name, Flirt with Dirt is a trail race. It is located in a small park just a mile or two off the freeway in Novi, MI. This race is put on by Running Fit, which you might have noticed if you have been following my posts, is my favorite race organization. It is the second race in the "Serious Series," which includes a race from the Trail Marathon weekend and one from the Legend set of races, which is coming up in August. Those lucky runners who complete the three races, pick up a Serious Series beer glass. This can be added to the collection of coffee mugs that one might earn as age group award at the races in the series. One of my goals in life is to replace all of our glassware with Running Fit items. So far I have a martini glass and four coffee mugs. 

The Running Fit bus
There is also a 5k race, as well as the 10k, and between the two races the number of runners is limited to 600. Still, it does have the feel of a small race. The course starts and finishes at the top of a fairly steep hill. The start is on grass, followed by a short stretch through a dirt parking lot and down a dirt road, and then onto some really nice single track for most of the race until runners pop back out onto the grass to run up the steep hill to the finish.

Having had some experience with short distance trail races from running the Winter Trail Running Series in California several years back, I know how important it is to get out fast in a race like this. I lined up close to the front of the pack.  I was planning to attempt to average about an 8:40 pace, but lined up with the 8:30s to get a good spot at the start. When the horn blew to start the race, I took off. At the start, it was pretty hectic. For the first hundred yards,  my main concern was to avoid tripping on the steep downhill and rolling to the bottom like a sack of potatoes.  Simultaneously I was also trying to avoid being trampled by all the testosterone amped men who had started around me and keeping an eye on the women who were out ahead of me.

We swept down the hill, around a large field, and poured out onto the parking lot. Jer was there waiting and cheered me on. I was still smiling at that point, so I gave him a smile and a wave. We turned a corner and headed toward the single track. I looked down at my watch and saw that my pace was 7:40. Yikes! That was pretty fast to go out in a trail race, but I really felt it was a good strategy with the single track coming up.

When I got to the single track, I tried to pull it back just a bit and settle in. This park has really nice trails, similar to the ones I run at Lake Lansing North on Thursday nights, so I felt pretty comfortable. It soon became clear that I had done the right thing and placed  myself correctly, as I was only passed by a few men and two younger women once we hit the single track, and I only had to pass 2 or 3 people to get into the slot where I could run comfortably at my pace, one of whom was a woman.

Things went along pretty smoothly through the early miles of the race. The course has a lot of interesting switchbacks on the trail that result in views through the trees of lines of runners at various spots, but you can't tell if they are ahead of or  behind you. For some reason (probably oxygen deprivation from the fast start)  it struck me as funny, and my brain filled in some Benny Hill music, which almost made me laugh out loud.
(In case you don't remember the Benny Hill theme song. It's just the thing to have stuck in your head during a trail race)

About 3.5 miles into the race, I started to hate life. Although I did not remember hills from the year before, they were sure enough there this year. All of them were runnable, especially for a 10k, but since I am horrible with uphills, they HURT!  I knew I was slowing down some and was extremely dismayed to be passed back by the woman that I had passed earlier. I was also extremely dismayed to see that chances were good that she was in my age group.

I tried to stay with her and managed to keep her in sight for the rest of the race, but I could not catch her. Mile 4.5 to 5.5 was pretty painful, partly because I had gone out a bit fast, partly because I am just not used to the fast running at this point, and partly because short fast races just hurt!  She stretched out the lead a little bit. At mile 5.5 I toyed with the idea of trying to catch her, but by that point, I just did not have enough left to pick it up.

The finishing hill of the race was just as painful as I remember. Runners come out of the woods to the cheers of the crowd and have this vertical grass hill between them and the finish. Seriously, it is like climbing the Alps. Thankfully it is only about 25 yards long. I crossed the finish line in 55:05, which was about 90 seconds slower  than my time from last year.

I found the woman who had passed me and congratulated her. She had finished in 54:42. Just as I suspected, she was also in my age group. She had been the age group winner for the previous two years in the 50-54 age group. I had been second the year before in the 45-49 age group, and I was second this year in the 50-54 group. One thing that made me feel a little better about the slower finish was that  this year I was 51 out of 377 while last year I was 106 out of 333, so maybe times were a little slower this year, possibly because of the heat.

I wasn't happy with my time, but felt I had run the race well. I am not as fit as I was last year at this time. My Bayshore results had already told me that. The IT band problems which had caused me to cut back on my running in the six weeks following Green Swamp had cut into my fitness and also taken the time away in the training cycle where I should have been running more hills and starting to work on some speed. Given those factors, the result was not terrible. I am hoping to see lots of improvement in speed later in the summer. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This Month's Giveaway: Scott Jurek's Eat and Run

Have YOU entered yet??

Enter the contest for the giveaway of a free copy of Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run. To enter is an easy  three step process: 

1. Go to the blog's Facebook page: Click here 

2. Add a comment to this post telling either your favorite running book or one of your running inspirations. 

3. Share this post with one of your friends to help spread the word about Scott's excellent book. Contest ends midnight Friday, June 15th.

And don't forget to read the review of this outstanding running book below. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review: Scott Jurek's Eat and Run


"We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it's not what's most important. What matters is how we move toward the goal. What's crucial is the step we're taking now, the step you're taking now."  Scott Jurek, Eat and Run


I love books about running. Several shelves in my book cases are devoted to my fairly extensive collection of running books.  On those shelves are many that I have read multiple times and that are like old friends. In those books, especially the memoirs and biographies, I often find things I can relate to and stories that inspire, but there is no book on my shelves right now that has had more impact than the one I have just finished reading. I am referring to Scott Jurek's new book , Eat and Run, which was just released this past Tuesday.  
Many times I have tried to explain, either to my road running friends or to non-runners, why I love trail running and ultras. This book expresses it so eloquently. If anyone wants to really understand the heart and soul of ultrarunning, it is all here in this wonderful book.

Those of you who have read Born to Run, may already be familiar with Scott Jurek. If you are not, let me give you a quick bio from his web site

Scott Jurek's outstanding competitive resume includes victories in nearly all of ultrarunning's elite trail and road events, including the historic 153-mile Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135-mile Ultramarathon, the Miwok 100K, and—his signature race—the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times. The Washington Times named him one of the top runners of the decade, Runner's World awarded him a Hero of Running and Ultrarunning Magazine named him Ultra-Runner of the Year three times. In 2010, he set a new US all-surface record in the 24-Hour Run with 165.7 miles—6.5 marathons in one day—for which he was named USA Today's Athlete of the Week.

Scott is a truly amazing endurance athlete and has been one of my running heroes since I first saw him in the Race for the Soul video that I told you about in an earlier post

Although I had pre-ordered a copy of the book from Amazon, I could not wait for it to arrive. I drove down to my local Barnes and Noble and bought the only copy in the store. I thanked my lucky stars there was one available and headed home. I was already anticipating a good read because I had read (and loved) the excerpt from it printed in Trail Runner magazine, called "The Wisdom of Hippie Dan."  Expectations were high, but the book exceeded them in all areas.

First let me give you the basics about the book.  The book is a memoir of Jurek's life from childhood and his beginnings as a runner, through his climb to ultramarathon greatness, to the present. However, it is not just about running. Scott's approach to life is thoughtful and holistic, and thus his story is as well. The book is as much about nutrition and spirituality (his becoming a vegan and searching for a better understanding of himself and life in general) as it is about running, as these three things are the essential essence of who he is -- it would be impossible to look at running in his life without also looking at these other things.  At the end of the chapters, which mostly focus on the running, there is a section of training tips and a vegetarian recipe for any readers who may be interested in exploring that area.

This book will not just appeal to runners and ultrarunners. There is something in this book for everyone who has ever strived and questioned, been the underdog, doubted themselves, dealt with adversity, decided to live more deliberately, attempted to live with integrity by bringing action in tune with principles, and searched for one's limits. If there is any doubt that a non-runner could enjoy the book, let me tell you this. I started to read a portion of the first chapter to my husband, who has never run a step in his life (unless someone was chasing him). He was so interested that I ended up reading the entire book aloud to him because he didn't want to wait for me to finish it so that he could read it himself. He loved it as much as I did.

Why?  (I smile as I start the paragraph this way because "why?" is a question that Scott never stopped asking throughout the book.) What makes the book and the story so captivating? Well first, Scott is a person that many people will be able to relate to on several levels.

Scott is an underdog of sorts who overcame and achieved. His childhood was difficult. His mother was ill, diagnosed with MS at an early age, when Scott was quite young. His childhood and adolescence was full of worry, working and caring for his siblings and his ailing mother. His father was hardworking but stoic. Scott was the "Pee Wee," the wimp, the picked on kid, the sidekick to the natural jock.  To watch the transformation of this unlikely athlete into a world class champion is incredibly inspiring and gives hope to all of us that anyone can accomplish great things if they approach them carefully, with passion, perseverance, and determination.  His father's advice, which is a key mantra in Scott's life, "Sometimes you just do things," will be something that will no doubt pop into every reader's head at some point in the future when things get tough in running or in life.

A second thing that I love about the book is his honesty on so many levels. He is honest about his failures and shortcomings. He could have packed the book with the stories of only his successes, but he also talks about his failures, the races he didn't win or sometimes didn't complete, and the times he struggled physically and mentally. He talks about the ambivalence of the situation with his family, his moments of selfishness, and his moments of questioning and self-doubt in an honest way that has to be respected.

I also love the balance he continually seeks between being a spiritual person and being a competitive athlete. He will be poetically describing the beauty of the Colorado Rockies one minute and the next be discussing his strategy for turning out his headlamp to trick his competitors in an effort to win the race. One moment he is appreciating the simple grace of the Greek people and the next running like hell as he passes a competitor to demoralize him and discourage a counter-attack.

This is something that many trail and ultrarunners can surely relate to. We love the spirituality of the experience, but it is a race. If we were only interested in the spirituality, we would run the trails and not venture into the race situation.  He does such an outstanding job of showing how the appreciation for the beauty, the reflection on the meaning, and the competitive aspect can all flow in and out of each other as part of the total experience.  

Another fascinating aspect of the book is watching the evolution of Scott's desire to live deliberately.  He is very Thoreau-like in his approach to life, which is how the vegetarian/vegan aspect comes into play. Part of his quest to live more deliberately and also to excel as a runner led him to a concern with what he was putting into his body. This led him to his decisions to become vegetarian and later vegan, which is something that he believes in passionately. Again, the honesty comes into play here. He is honest about his evolution to the full vegan he is today. He talks about how in the early stages of his transformation, he would sometimes still stop at McDonald's for chicken sandwiches or sausage and egg biscuits.  He recognizes that we may not all desire to switch to a vegan lifestyle, but he does invite us all to think a bit more carefully about what we decide to put into our bodies and the effect this has on our lives. 

If you have ever considered making changes to your diet, Scott's book will definitely be an inspiration.  I had actually been contemplating this idea for several months, and just the Hippie Dan excerpt had been enough to convince me to give it a try. I have been almost meat free for the past month (with just a few exceptions -- we need to empty the freezer). I can't wait to try some of the recipes that Scott has provided in the book.  (I will be reporting back on my progress on this plant-based athlete thing over the next few months.) 

 Finally, I love the relationship in the book between Scott and his friend Dusty. I have always been a sucker for the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style guy friendships, and their unlikely and quirky friendship was a high point of the book for me.

I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed by this book. If I could choose only one running book to have with me on a desert island, this would be the one.

If you are still in doubt about whether you might want to read the book, check out this video promo:

I am so passionate about this book that I have decided to have this as my June giveaway. (That extra copy I ordered came in handy!)  Click here to visit the Through a Running Lens Facebook page for details on how to enter. Contest end Friday, June 15th.

This is a good thing for my Michigan audience because Scott will be appearing in Lansing on June 20th at Playmakers and in Grand Rapids on June 21st to promote the book.  For out of state readers, here is a list of scheduled appearances
  • 6/5: New York
  • 6/6: Boston
  • 6/7: Chicago
  • 6/8: Washington DC
  • 6/11: Portland
  • 6/12: Seattle
  • 6/13: San Francisco
  • 6/14: Boulder
  • 6/15: Los Angeles
  • 6/16: San Diego
  • 6/18: Austin
  • 6/19: Minneapolis
  • 6/20: East Lansing
  • 6/21: Grand Rapids
  • 6/22: Seattle
  • 6/24: Denver

(P.S. If you do decide to order the book from Amazon, I would be very grateful if you remembered to click through one of the links to the book on this site.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bib Switching: Does It Really Matter?

Controversies are rare in the running world. Oh, there are disagreements over things like what is the best approach to marathon training or whether a taper is best at two or three weeks or how many carbs one really needs for  a carbo load, but by and large we are not a very controversial bunch. However, occasionally a topic comes up that does put runners on different sides of an issue. One of these is the idea of bib switching.

First let me separate bib switching from the idea of banditing a race. To bandit a race is to run without a bib, to jump into a race and run the course without being officially registered. Bib switching is a cousin of this, but in bib switching a runner has a bib that they have begged, borrowed, or bought from a legitimately registered runner.

I, personally, have never banditted a race, but I know many people who have. The practice never bothered me that much. The bandit was on what was normally a public road, and most bandits I knew were polite enough not to take refreshments meant for registered runners. They also did not get a race shirt, an official time, a medal, or any of the other accoutrements, so I never felt like they were really hurting anything (although I am sure many race directors would disagree). The liability issue never bothered me much. I just did not think it was really that big of an issue.

Recently, though, another practice has popped up, bib-switching, where a runner will obtain a bib from someone who is registered and run the race posing as a legitimate participant. Initially the idea of this didn't bother me much, but recently my perspective on this has changed because an incident occurred that affected me directly, which caused me to really look at the practice.

I ran a large race recently, one where registration closes almost the same day it opens and one where participants must commit six months in advance of the race. In the weeks before the race, my Facebook and Dailymile running groups were awash with literally dozens of people looking to acquire a bib for the race or to trade a bib from one distance for that of another (i.e marathon to half or vice versa).

This did not bother me particularly. I understood the motivation of most of the runners. Many were injured or ill and not able to run the race or needed to switch distances. Others had not been able to get registered in time but wanted to run the race with a friend or family member. Some had work or family commitments that kept them from the race, but they did not want to see the opportunity go to waste. In fact, I was so unconcerned that I even offered to repost a request from one group to another to help a runner out.

However, my feeling about this changed after the race. I found out that someone I knew who was running on a switched bib had won an age group award. Not only was it not in this person's age group, but it was for the opposite sex!  

I may be dense, but I was stunned by this. It had not occurred to me that someone would actually be taking an age group award away from someone who had probably worked hard to earn one. I felt horrible for the person who had just missed an award because a bib-switcher had taken it. I know how much work goes into getting an award in a large race. It is a huge accomplishment and a huge disappointment to finish one place out of the medals.

Then I started thinking about this even further. This was just one example. I am assuming that most of the people who bought bibs actually finished the race (unlike bandits, who would normally turn off before the finishing chute). How many other finishers in the race had been bumped down a place or two in their age group by someone who was not from that age group and perhaps not even the same sex? 

This puts the practice in a whole different light. It moves it out of the "no one is really being hurt by this" category. It bothers me. Someone asked if I planned to turn the person in. The answer is "no." I have no desire to get this person or the person who gave the second runner the bib into trouble, especially not when I had originally had no problem with the idea (as did the people on my running groups -- no one spoke out against the practice in the comments).

However, I do think this is an issue that deserves some serious thought. On one level, runners need to be more responsible about this issue. If a runner really wants to run the race and needs a bib to get to the start or to not be pulled from the course, then the responsible thing to do is not cross the finish line. I mean, really, what is the point? The runner can't claim the time. Okay, so the runner would not get the finisher's medal, but perhaps that is a sacrifice that needs to be made in recognition that one is breaking race rules to participate.   I believe that runners have an obligation to not do something that directly impacts the other "legitimate" runners in a negative way.

After a lot of thought, though, I think that the real responsibility for addressing this problem lies with the race management. This whole practice happens because some race directors make no arrangements to fairly handle requests related to race changes. Every single one of the people that I talked to who were looking for bibs would have very happily gone through proper channels if that was an option. I think most runners would even be willing to pay the small processing fee that might go along with such a transaction. Most runners do not want to run under a different name and would MUCH rather have a legitimate time for the race that they could claim.

When a race demands that runners commit so far in advance, and when a race closes so quickly that people new to the running scene might not even realize entries were available, then doesn't it seem reasonable to have some process by which people who need to be rid of bibs and people who would like to purchase their spots can get together.

Many races do this. For example, the Pittsburgh Marathon  allows runners to switch from one event to another by paying a fee and allows for bib changes all the way up to race weekend. The fee ranges from $25 to $35 depending on the nature of the switch. The Boilermaker 15k, an extremely popular road race in New York that sold out in 65 days last year for the 14,000 runner cap, this year announced a newly minted transfer policy for this year's race.   The rules related to the transfer were clearly outlined for runners and involved a $10 fee and a transfer date.  Other marathons such as Columbia, SC marathon , the St Louis marathon, and the Steamboat marathon do allow and make arrangements for transferring.

This issue is a controversial one for race directors. According to Runner's World's race director blog, there are several considerations. It does involve more administration: costs must be decided, processes established, and deadlines set. Another issue is that race directors often overbook their races, counting on the no-shows, in a way similar to the airlines. Finally, the question must be settled of who determines who gets the transferred bibs, the race director or the participant.

These are no doubt considerations that race directors would have to address, but none of these seem to be prohibitive. Perhaps this should just be considered one of the elements that needs to be planned for to run a quality race. The "it would be a headache for race directors" argument isn't particularly convincing for me. If they are up to the task of putting on a race with thousands and thousands of participants, they ought to be up to the task of making arrangements for the few hundred who may like to make the event or bib switches. Perhaps they could talk to the directors who do allow transfers to find out what process is used. It obviously is possible. 

While I have no doubt that this might require more work on the part of race directors, I think it is their responsibility to do more to accommodate the needs of the runners. As one of my running friends pointed out, at heart this is really a "customer service" issue. These events are supposed to be for the runners. In the push to make these events bigger and bigger, the needs of the runners are often forgotten in favor of what is easier or more beneficial for the race organizers. The fact that some races are able to allow for this process suggests that it can work IF the race directors are willing to do it.

What do you think about this issue?