Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014: A Year To Forget

Howdy friends!  It's been a while.  My poor blog has been on life support for the past year along with my running career.  So here's a recap to bring everyone up to speed...

I was running really fast.  Then I wasn't.  I felt sick all of the time.  No one knew what was wrong.  I went to a million doctors.  I tried a bunch of crazy stuff.  I suffered through an entire year of trial-and-error treatments, a hiatus from running, and moments of losing my mind and my body/health.

After all of that, the sad truth is nothing definitive was ever discovered to explain why I got sick.  Sure I tested positive for a few weird viruses and bacteria, but on their own, these positive results weren't things that should have been causing me to be so sick.  I also had a serious deficiency in some vitamin levels (mainly the B vitamin group) and bit of a hiccup in my Kreb's Cycle (which produces energy), but nothing extremely serious.  Additionally I was having an odd sort of detached feeling with my legs, but no one could/can explain why, despite testing for all of the likely culprits.  And most recently after noticing a pattern between when I was ill and when I moved into my new home, I discovered I had an extremely high level of mold in my environment (which has since been taken care of).

Although it's an odd mix of random factors, taken together they apparently formed the perfect storm of "ew" in my body.

So that leads me to today.  After being on a crap-load of supplements for about 3 months (enough time so they could have an effect), doing some mold remediation in my home, going through months of acupuncture, physical therapy and chiropractic treatments, along with a handful of other tweaks to my body, I THINK I'm on the road to recovery. Woo-hoo for cautious optimism!

 This is just a sampling of my current menu of daily supplements to keep me on the road to recovery.

Unfortunately, since I don't know exactly what caused me to get sick in the first place, I'm unsure of how to avoid a repeat episode in the future.  And I'd be lying if I said I was 100% better.  At best, I'm currently about 75-80% on the Crusher spectrum of health.  The weird, detached/uncoordinated feeling in my legs (left leg mainly) continues to persist and is troublesome. And don't even get me started about being in shape.  I'm in shape, but my shape is a round circle of goo...not the shape of a lithe, fit runner.
                                An "infographic" which represents my current fitness level...

HOWEVER, my head is back in the game and that is a critical first step.  Additionally my training with Coach Ron has resumed and although it's light, mileage-wise, and relatively tame when it comes to intensity, I'm doing it.  It's ugly and slow, but I'm doing it and I'll continue to do it everyday with an appreciation for what my body has been though and wherever it goes from here forward.

My plan since 2012 has been to rise in the ranks and be considered among the top female American distance runners, as well as get back to the Olympic Trials in 2016.  Unfortunately my health mess of 2014 has put a bit of a kink in those plans.  Instead of achieving my goals, I've essentially fallen off the map when it comes to being a "known" competitor on the racing circuit, LUNA dropped me from their sponsored athlete roster, and I haven't posted a result since my abysmal performance at the 2014 Half Marathon Championships.  BUT I refuse to give up.  I've come out of the woodwork before, and I know I can do it again!

My new goal is to qualify and compete at the 2016 Trials, not worrying about the actual race in LA.  At this point, simply qualifying would be an amazing feat.  And you can bet I will be giving it the full beans from now until Feb 13, 2016.
I believe in the power of the jinx, so I'm cringing as I post this pic from 2012. Fortunately I also believe in the power of visualization...can, will, do...LA, I'm coming for you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When A Runner Can't Run...

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard me complaining about not being able to run because of this mysterious, lingering health issue.  Unfortunately the mystery remains unsolved.  And although I'm TRYING to ease back into running (we're talking 20 miles per week of sad, slumpy jogging), what has kept me sane through this entire ordeal has been the fact that I have been able to continue strength training.

As such, I figured why not do a little spotlight piece on the man, the myth, the legend that has been keeping my body in the best shape possible considering the circumstances.  So last week, I sat down with Luke Carlson, owner and trainer at Discover Strength, to pick his brain about strength training and runners.

Quick background on Luke:  he is the founder and CEO of Discover Strength. Luke is a practitioner, speaker, and author on the topic of strength training and evidence-based exercise programs. Luke is an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health and Fitness Specialist (HFS) and holds the unique distinction of being an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Cancer Exercise Specialist (CES). He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and a Master of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Physiology from the University of Minnesota.  Luke has been working with strength training for distance runners for over 12 years.  Over those 12 years, Luke and the Discover Strength staff have worked with hundreds of runners ranging from first time marathoners to Olympians and everything in between.  He is the co-author of the book, "The Female Athlete: Train for Success."  (Basically, he's a BA...and if you don't know what that is, you're not one.)

                                                 The Man - Luke Carlson

KB: So, we all know runners love to run, but there's more they can do to improve other than just hammering more miles, for example...strength training!  What are the biggest benefits of strength training for runners?

Luke: There are really two broad categories, and both are incredibly important.  
Firstly, strength training contributes to injury prevention.  By strengthening the muscles, tendons, connective tissues, and bone tissue, we have an improved ability to withstand the physical demands of distance running.  Great performances are largely the product of sustained periods of uninterrupted, injury free running/training.  So first and foremost, strength training should be viewed as a means to prevent injury (and in order to do this, it has to be done correctly).  
The second category is performance enhancement.  Of course, by remaining injury-free, we see improvements in performance because an athlete can actually complete prescribed workouts/runs over a sustained period of time.  The real performance benefit of strength training appears to be enhanced running economy.  Running economy is defined as the amount of oxygen we use to run at a given speed.  If we can maintain the same speed and use less oxygen, we have improved our running economy.  Running economy is highly correlated with race performance.  Literally every research study conducted on how strength training impacts distance running reveals that strength training improves running economy.  Interestingly, runners, running coaches, running magazines, etc. spend an enormous amount of time and energy experimenting with and touting the benefits of so many different aspects of running/training: mileage, pace-work, speed work, plyometrics, tempo work, flexibility, hill training, (and the list goes on)… When interesting, there is very little scientific research that definitively proves that any of these variables is the "key" to great performances.  While on the other hand, most coaches and runners ignore one training element that the research very clearly supports as being effective for enhancing performance: strength training.  This never ceases to amaze me.   In addition to these benefits, strength training also improves body composition and even enhances cardiovascular function.    
KB: Great answer, but I'm still going to have runners who are reluctant to give up their time to run because they're skeptical.  What's the biggest misconception runners (specifically distance runners) have about strength training?
Luke: The biggest misconception is that strength training isn't beneficial (when in fact, all of the research supports it's efficacy).  Other misconceptions abound and include how many reps a runner should do, a focus on "functional" training, and the myth that strength training will make a runner "bulky."  Even those who support the importance of strength training for distance runners fail to navigate many of these misconceptions.  

KB: Of course I think everyone should come see you and the great team at DS, but if that doesn't work, what are three lifts every runner should be doing on their own?
Luke: If a runner could choose only thee exercises/lifts, they would be: 
1. Leg Press/Squatting motion, 
2. Pull-up or Pull-down, and 
3. Chest Press or Pushing movement.  
These 3 exercises incorporate the vast majority of the musculature in the human body.  Notice, I didn't mention any "core" work.  Research indicates that a balanced approach of upper and lower body strength training is more beneficial than emphasizing "core" work.  The overemphasis of the "core" may in fact be one of the largest myths pertaining to strength training for distance runners.  

KB:  Sweet, more pull-ups, less crunches...check!  Any insights about the timing and/or frequency of strength training?  For example:  before vs after a run; on high-mileage days vs low-mileage days; how many days per week; how many days between lifting sessions; etc.
Luke: We would recommend 1-2 strength workouts per week.  In a perfect scenario, try to piggy back the strength workout after a hard effort (speed work, tempo, or even a long run). A morning tempo run can be followed by a strength workout later in the day.  In this instance, the runner can spend the following day recovering from both the tempo and strength workout.  It is imperative to have a minimum 2-3 days between strength workouts.  

KB:  I must say, before this whole health debacle that I'm going through popped up, my work with you played a big part in my break-through performances last spring and early summer.  The question then becomes this: in the metro area, which is so saturated with gyms, personal training studios, crossfit groups, etc., what makes DS different or how would you describe the DS philosophy? 
               Last summer when Luke and the DS team had me in top form!
Luke: Our approach can be summed up with the term "evidence-based."  This mean that rather than adopt fads and trends, or listen to the testimony of "experts," gurus, or successful athletes… we base our exercise prescription on the preponderance of scientific research.  An evidence-based approach to exercise ensures better results and a safer training experience.  I'm always shocked that the concept of research based exercise isn't incredibly popular to all runners (and exercisers in general).  If you aren't implementing evidence-based exercise, you are simply throwing darts at a dartboard.  One of our company's 4 Core Values is "Science-based Programming" and we will never, ever deviate from this.  
In a nutshell, the 4 things that really make us unique are:
  1. Educated, expert staff (not people who simply like fitness, but who have degrees and advances certifications in bio-mechanics, physiology, motor control, etc.)
  2. Efficient.  Our workouts are 30 minutes in length and we recommend 1-2 workouts per week.
  3. Evidence-based.
  4. Strength training focused.  We love all forms of exercise, but our only focus is strength training.  We make a conscious decision to focus in this one area.  
So, there it is.  Straight from The Man's mouth.  Hopefully any and all readers, whether runners or not, will gain a little insight on strength training.  Now, go pump it up!  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Detox, or Not To Detox, That Is The Question

Bad news:  no race recap of the recent 15k Championships because I had to withdraw due to the continuing mystery surrounding my health.

Bad news #2:  traditional docs keep insisting that I do NOT have Lyme's disease.  And although there are a few other potential diagnoses floating around, until I go to the neurologist, nothing definitive to report as to why I don't feel well.

GOOD NEWS!  Yeah!  A friend of mine who happens to be a chiropractor and health coach reached out asking if I'd want to take part in his spring detox program.  He didn't by any means suggest that this would "cure" me, but he thought the detox might alleviate some of my discomforts (headaches, body aches, low energy, etc.).  At this point, I was feeling so miserable that I that I thought, "why not?"

A little background info first...

I am VERY skeptical of detoxes and cleanses because I feel the body does this naturally.  However after hearing about TrUe North's program, I realized this was legit (http://www.truenorthhealthcoaching.com/).  This was not caloric deprivation and/or a lose weight quickly scheme (which I was NOT interested in), this was all about enhancing the regular detox processes of the body. The support products were not stimulants or anything else weird, they were FDA-approved nutritional supplements.  Also, I think it's noteworthy to mention that this was something I took on at the suggestion of Dr. Chris, but I paid for the service and support.  My review is not based on their "sponsorship" of my participation (but good news for TrUe North...I would TOTALLY urge anyone/everyone to do this detox!  For reals).
                                   Docs Shamanie Haneca & Chris Frykman

Ok, so what's this detox all about?  It involved 10 days of detoxing.  No deprivation, eat whatever, whenever, but eat only the approved foods.  Approved foods varied throughout the course of the 10 days, but the guidelines were pretty simple:  no gluten and no caffeine (which I was already doing), plus no GMOs (genetically modified foods), nor dairy and/or processed sugar.  You might be wondering what the heck you eat then, but I found plenty of delicious options.  At the beginning and end of the detox things like g-free oats, quinoa, and white rice were game.  And throughout the detox, I could stuff myself with as many delicious fruits, veggies, and wild fish as I wanted.  Plus, during the 10 days, I also was taking Metagenics products:  a few capsules of a "vitamin" called AdvaClear and a shake-like drink called UltraClear Renew.  Again, both products were medically developed and FDA-approved to enhance natural detoxification.  No magic potions, no stimulants, no wonky side effects, etc.

                                                            Support Products

Now, by no means was I a perfect example of healthy eating before this detox.  I LOVE dessert and sugar, but no wonder, apparently sugar is 8x more addictive than heroine!  But I don't have a caffeine habit, I love veggies, and I had already eliminated gluten.  So, not to say this was going to be easy, but I found that I had fewer negative side effects than some of the other participants (oh yeah, this was done as a group, so there was a private Facebook support page, access to health coaches via phone/email, and a couple of weekly conference calls to discuss how everyone was doing).

My biggest challenges during the detox included:
1) The lack of processed sugar.  I'm proud to say that I did not cheat once on the detox, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't dream of nutella or drool over my bf's ice cream.  The urge was definitely there, but surprisingly, fruit was a decent substitute.  I ate a lot of strawberries, blueberries and bananas when my sweet tooth would strike.  Or if I was really feeling on edge, a handful of raisins.  By the end of the detox, those alternatives usually hit the spot.  I won't say that I'll stay sugar-free for ever, but I definitely felt the benefits of eliminating it from my diet.

b) Social situations that involved food.  I felt a little bit like a weirdo around others when/if food was involved.  For example, at a morning work function, I sat politely sipping my water while everyone else gorged on coffee, muffins, and yogurt (remember, no dairy!).  When I had dinner with my bf, he got to stuff himself with delicious homemade chicken enchiladas while I munched on broccoli and fish.  When a girlfriend suggested dinner out, I had to pass because I didn't know if there would be anything on the menu that I could eat.  This isn't to say that I would have rather been eating differently, it just was a bit awkward at times.

4) Lack of imagination/variety.  Having new restrictive guidelines and a busy life, I found myself eating the same meals over and over again.  I'm sure if I would have put a little more time and effort into research, I could have come up with some fun meal options, but fruit for breakfast, veggies & hummus for lunch, and fish & veggies for dinner was kind of the repeating theme for me throughout the detox.  Not bad, but kinda boring.
                                  Standard dinner fare:  fish & vegs...delicious!

Now, the good stuff!  The pros of my experience far outweighed the few cons.

During and after the 10 days I experienced:
1) Decreased headaches!  Oh my gosh.  I couldn't tell you the last day I didn't have at least a slight headache before this detox, but by day 2 of eating cleanly and taking the supplements, I was and stayed headache free.  A miracle!  (Side note:  other participants going through caffeine withdrawal had worse headaches those first two days...just thought I should warn any coffee drinkers: it apparently gets worse before it gets better.)

b) Decreased body pains!  My aches didn't disappear completely and I still feel a lack of coordination which makes running difficult, BUT day-to-day my body felt much better than it has in months.

4) Happy stomach.  Despite going gluten-free in October, I was still experiencing random bouts of tummy troubles and nausea.  I didn't feel nauseous once while doing the detox.  And even though I didn't weigh myself or plan on losing weight, I think I might have dropped an lb or two during the process (which is exceptionally impressive considering my activity level has dropped significantly lately).

r) Increased energy.  Now, there may be a little more to this than just the detox.  My latest doc recommended a sleep aid because I was suffering from persistent insomnia and the body needs sleep to function properly, so I have been sleeping more, BUT...the combo of 8 hours of sleep and eating clean gave me more energy than I've had in a long time (meaning, I didn't need a nap).

Overall, I really enjoyed the detox.  Despite the few drawbacks, the experience highlighted just how important nutrition is/can be in wellness.  I believe every participant in my group reported feeling not only better physically, but also emotionally.  I'm not saying that everyone became their perfect self or that everyone will stay on the completely toxin-free regimine forever, but we all agreed that there was an increased sense of vitality that came from clean eating and the nutritional supplement support.

If you're at all considering some kind of detox or cleanse, I would strongly suggest this program.  Like I said, it wasn't a fad or a gimmick, and it wasn't about deprivation.  It was simply enhancing the body's natural processes. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

USATF Half Marathon Championship

Well, the 2014 USATF road racing series has begun!  I'm pumped.  Let's do this.  Unfortunately it started in January with the Half Marathon Championship.  Arguably my favorite and best distance, the half marathon was a race I ran well at last year in Duluth in June.  However, because of world competition considerations instead of having until June to get in shape, the race took place this past weekend.  Hmmm...it's been almost six months since I've raced over 7.5 miles.  This was going to be tricky.

The good news is that I have been feeling much better, in general, without gluten in my life.  See ya later, gluten!  I thought, given the shape I was in, shooting for a 1:15 in Houston (the site of the race) would be realistic.  Then somehow I was able to whip out a near personal best of 4:57 in the mile at a recent indoor track meet.  Given this development, I felt optimistic that I might be able to drop a 1:12:00 or 1:13:00...no small feat, but within my reach.  You see, before my "break-through performance" of last year, 1:18 was my best half, and I felt super human at that!  So to be sitting and having a conversation with Coach Ron about realistically running a 72-73 was kind of surreal, but that was the plan.

The race took place in Houston, and let me tell you, it was wonderful.  It was January and in this magical place called "the south," winter wasn't miserable!  I walked around the streets the day before the race in amazement that there was no snow or ice to deal with, the sun had warmth, and I was comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt!  Jeans and t-shirt?!  I did a shake out run and I actually broke a sweat that didn't immediately turn into frost on my skin.  Glorious!  But I digress...

Race day recap:
4:15am - Wake for a quick shake out mile.  It is pure fog/mist in the air.  The humidity is basically 100%.  This magical weather could be problematic...

4:30am - Breakfast and ready myself.  Fashion choices for the day include sweet New Balance warm-up and race gear, and a spectacularly neon yellow Twin Cities Track Club jersey.
                                                 Only photo from the weekend...

5:30am - Board the elite bus for the shuttle to the start. 

6:00am - Warm up time, which was a bit absurd.  Basically the race officials had this great tent area blocked off for elites, but then only allowed us to run about 1/4 mile up and down the start area for warm up.  We were not allowed to leave that area.  My TCTC teammate, Stephanie Price, and I must have done about 20 "laps" of this ridiculously short and crowded warm-up corral.  Everything else about the race and race organization was great, but they totally dropped the ball on this.

6:55am - Go time!  The men and women started together, but within about a minute, the dudes were gone.  They are so darn fast.  Ridic.  I settled in with a lead pack of about 10 women and felt like I was jogging.  That 4:57 mile on Monday had given me a new perspective on speed and pace.  The bad thing about that is that I went out faster than I probably should have.  I have been doing decent mileage, but not enough and at a high enough intensity to support the way I started the race.  But I don't regret it.  This was a great test of my fitness and it was a golden racing/learning opportunity. 

Back to the race...by mile 3 I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay with the lead pack.  The fact that I threw up in my mouth was a good reminder that this was no regular field of competitors.  They were putting me in the hurt locker and my body was letting me know.  I backed off a bit and got passed by a handful of solo ladies.  Each time one went by, I tested for a few steps to see if I could hang, and it just wasn't happening.  I spent miles 3 to 7 convincing myself that I would make it to the finish.  It wasn't going to be a day of glory and a PR, but darn it, I was going to give whatever I had.

At mile 7 a group of about 6 ladies came up on me and I forced myself to get pulled along.  I knew I was over half-way to the finish, and if I kept letting people pass me by the result could get real ugly, real fast.  This was a field of pros.  Not many of them were going to fade as the race neared the finish.  If anything, they were going to turn on the after-burners.  From miles 7-10 I hung on for dear life to my pack which was good, but required a lot of effort.  At mile 10, the pack made a little move and I had no response.  My legs were dead. 

Miles 10-13 were a grind.  Saw only one other woman and we had a bit of back and forth, which was good to keep me engaged in the race, but in the final 1/2 mile when she re-passed me, every fiber in my brain was screaming, "GO WITH HER," but every fiber in my body was like, "mehhh...." 

I crossed the line in 1:15:05, 21st place.  Not bad, but not good.  Mediocre.  And to be honest, it's a bit of a kick in the pants because 1:15 is a benchmark in the running community.  There are more race opportunities and perks if you can say you've run sub 1:15...grrrrrr.  I was disappointed, of course, but I'm trying not to beat myself up too much (good luck with that).  No excuses, I didn't have the talent this past weekend, but there's a lot of time left in the season and I'm ready to work smarter and harder than ever...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Syonara 2013!

2013 recap.  I'll try keep this fairly short.  It's mostly my running stuff with just a few fun side notes.

January - started off with a bang!  H1N1 flu and pneumonia.  Most of the month was spent in a miserable state of sickness and confusion on the couch (the photo is not me, but it's basically what I felt like)... Side notes:  I also cut a sweet, one-year sponsorship deal with LUNA (yummmmmm), and enlisted the help of both Coach Ron Byland (http://www.miletomarathon.com/) and Luke Carlson, the owner of Discover Strength (http://www.discoverstrength.com/) to get me to the cliche "next level" in running. 

February - shook off the sicky ickies and headed to Osaka, Japan to run the Senshu International Marathon as part of the Bloomington Sister City Organization runner exchange program.  Not a stellar run, 3:04, but an amazing cultural experience!

March - made an attempt to tune up for the Boston Marathon (in April) by doing a couple of local races.  The Irish Run 8k, where I learned that in short races, you should run faster (who knew?!).  Then had a better day at the MDRA 7-miler, I believe setting a new women's course record on a challenging (hilly) course (40:51).

 April - my first Boston Marathon.  Wow.  What to say about this experience?  Got to run as an elite woman = pretty unbelievable.  The explosions at the finish line = even more and tragically unbelievable.  Didn't have a great run (2:50), but appreciative that everyone I knew made it through the ordeal safe and sound.  Also did one of my only adventure races of the year.  Headed to Boone, IA for the 12-hour Boonecrusher race with the GearJunkie/WEDALI crew.  Had a blast, but adventure racing will be taking a back seat to running for a while.

May - after a horrible winter and a lackluster spring, the tides started to turn for me in May.  I bought a house, obviously not running related, but I was pumped about it.  And I started my summer racing schedule with a huge PR and women's course record at the Brian Kraft Memorial 5k (16:03).

June - a banner month!  Finished my MBA program, moved into my new house, and cranked out a few of my best races ever.  Started with Dam to Dam 20k in Iowa (1:10:02 - fourth fastest female time in the race's history), then a fun run 8k in my hometown (26:33), and finally 3rd place at the USA Track & Field Half Marathon Championship (1:11:32).  Somebody pinch me, because I still don't believe that happened.

July - things started getting funky and not in the good James Brown kind of way.  Started going to the doctor with symptoms of fatigue, headaches, body aches, and tummy issues.  Kept trying to compete and turned in a couple of decent, but declining performances.  First, a meager 1:17 at the April Sorenson Memorial Half Marathon in a monsoon (seriously, this was rain unlike anything I had ever seen before at a race, or ever really).  And then a 52:15 at the 15k state championship. 

August - the only thing on the agenda was a fundraiser 5k (no official clock and/or results) for one of my good friend's daughter who was born with cystic fibrosis.  Pretty cool to run for a good cause and my prize of getting to go on the field and meet the Twins during batting practice wasn't too shabby either.   

September - "sickness" reached an all-time unbearable point. After ruling out all of the regular runner maladies:  low iron, low hemoglobin, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, low vitamin D, even auto-immune diseases, I skeptically decided to go gluten-free to see what would happen.  In the meantime, I tried to race at the USA Track & Field 20k Championship and had one of the worst races of my life.  In the scope of world problems, a bad race ranks pretty low, but for a competitive runner the performance I turned in was a big embarrassment and the proverbial final straw...I had to figure out what was going on with my body.  

October - well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!  After about 5 weeks of being g-free, I started feeling like my old self, yippee!  Gone were the headaches, gone was the constant and overwhelming fatigue, and my stomach wasn't in constant turmoil anymore.  It didn't really make much sense (I tested negative for Celiac's disease), but the proof was in the pudding for me.  With gluten, I felt like garbage.  Without gluten, I felt like my old self.  So syonara delicious gluten!  It was the g-free lifestyle for me from now on.  Had planned to run the Twin Cities Marathon but was forced to bow out due the previous few months of health issues.

November - switched running clubs, from MN RED to Twin Cities Track Club, started getting back into the swing of things training-wise, and ran my first cross-country race since college.  I had to test out my xc legs because I was going to be joining the TCTC crew for the club cross-country nationals in Bend, OR in December.  I also ran in the first-ever USA Track & Field Road Racing Championship 12k.  I didn't have my best race ever (41:31), but I was happy just to feel "normal" out there again.  The Comeback was on! 

December - first race with the TCTC crew:  USA Track & Field Club Cross-Country Nationals 6k. Ran unexpectedly well (22:29) on a pretty technical course (by roadie standards). 15th place which meant I was invited to two different world championship cross-country races IF anyone in the top 9 couldn't/didn't want to go.  Unfortunately I missed the chance to represent the US in international competition by THIS MUCH, but I have my eyes on that prize for next year.  

And to end the year on a high note:  I was named USA Track & Field MN female runner of the year!  Boomyah.