Monday, September 28, 2015

Beyond MAF: How to Add Volume, Go Longer, and Feel Your Best Ever

Recently--among the backpacking lovefest posts--I blogged in July that I was having a hard time running, and that my mind and body were resisting it. So I listened and let it go for a while, still remaining active in other ways including walking, which apparently some of my closest friends hate, i.e. lucho and michelle barton lol.

Well, it's funny how things evolved by listening to my body, giving it some time, and not forcing anything. Don't let the title "Beyond MAF" imply that I'm ditching the MAF Method; I'm just evolving and tweaking it to fit my needs and goals. Since MAF has no set template or plan and it's about health and performance, that's allowed right? ;)
Last Monday's walk/run, super happy cause I had just registered for Boston 2016.
You see, in embracing the "traditional" MAF Method to train for the M2B Marathon, that meant the majority of the time I ran I was running a sub 9 pace (usually sub 8:30 actually). That worked pretty well for marathon training and my goals, and I believe that's the case because my run volume was relatively low for marathon training standards. Then I had aspirations of moving to ultra, but not so fast--literally.

I scaled way back on running, but kept up with the "fit for life" routine and walking. Lots of walking. Dude, 2015 will be the year of discovering a love for walking. I walk whenever I get the chance--to the gym, to the store, and just for the hell of it. Read about that transition here first if you haven't.

Coincidentally, my friend, Dr. Tommy Wood, wrote a great piece on the benefits of walking including highlights of:

"walking increases your ability to handle oxidative damage. This makes is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant."

I swear, this has been the case for me, I can see & feel the benefits. Not to mention the side benefits of all of a sudden being able to get in a lot of miles per week, listen to and absorb some great educational podcasts (the kind that are too hard to soak in during tougher workouts), appreciate random beauty in life that you miss when you're driving... and run again!

As they say: Early to bed (in Vegas!), early to shred (Red Rock Canyon!).

New Game Plan for Volume
Anyway, it's been almost 12 weeks since I've taken a new approach, and so far so freaking good, including the many unforeseen side benefits. So here's my experience on how I made a safe, healthy progression to adding volume and going longer in a way that's sustainable and fun. Take note if you're looking to go longer and break into the ultra world.

1) It's not all about MAF (max aerobic) heart rate;
2) How "easier than MAF" is an extremely effective strategy to build endurance volume/fitness, be consistent and not break down;
3) The value of letting go of GPS watch obsession, pace, HR, needing a "perfect" workout for your log.

Warning: I have not tested this in an actual race yet; however, I do see that my body and mind are responding extremely well. At the end, it's about the individual's needs. So apply to your training as you see fit, if at all.

Riding high in Laguna Beach. That's Highway 133 below, one of three ways to get in and out of where I live. How many times I've driven/run/biked/walked that road? Countless. I prefer the high-up trails though.

Rest first
If you're at a crossroads and something isn't clicking with the current routine, and/or you feel off, there's a good chance you simply need to rest and/or change things up for a while; 2-6 weeks perhaps. This is what I did. Also like I did, you can still do little runs of 35 minutes or so, just 1-2x a week. Then any cross-training within reason is fine. On runs, totally let go of any pace goals, get out of your head, and shift the perspective in order to adhere to the purpose of resting and reseting the body... For me, I wore the Garmin but 100% ignored pace, and any run I did do was absolutely 2-3+ minutes slower than normal MAF pace. I was ok with that, which was weird but cool!

Wait for it... don't force it
After the downtime, things will happen without being forced. Have faith. For me, it was 4-6 weeks later of some major changes, and one day I set out to do my walk but instead I just felt like running. That happened a couple times--I had no agenda going into it, just listening to the body. Running--albeit slow running--was coming back naturally and felt refreshing and good. Then, several weeks later I was ready to take it up a notch and I had the urge to do some short 20-45" hill repeats. I've kept in those repeats 1x a week generally unless the body is tired.

Meanwhile, I still kept walking because I liked how that was building volume and making more time on my feet doable. Before I knew it I was getting 30-40 mile weeks of run/walk/hike.

Then a couple 50+ mile weeks (plus my crosstraining). Feeling great.

What's it all for?
I think in that July post you could probably sense I was a bit down on racing. It happens. I think I was in a funk. Exercise was fine, but I was over the idea of training for a bit. Then it came back. I didn't force it. My mind wanted it again--that new goal/race for which to strive. I think it's because I was so into this new style of training--more volume, slower miles and feeling proud of all my workouts whether they ended up being a 10-minute pace average or 20-minute pace average. This was novel, not caring about the average pace that would be seared on my TP log. And I think that's why I want to break into ultra--it's about the journey--whether that ends up being fast, slow or both.

Race mojo back. Let's do this.

Adding long workouts
You can let go of pace, but you can't let go of the long workouts--long sessions and eventually back-to-back days on the feet are the crux of ultra training. John's also in for a couple ultras next year, so we began planning some longer days in our schedules, which started in August (about 7 weeks ago from writing this). About twice a week we're doing 2.5- to 3.5-hour sessions that combine running and hiking/walking.

The backpacking is also very complementary to this, and I think backpacking was a crucial component of mentally adjusting to long days on two feet and going whatever pace is necessary. It's a different approach mentally speaking than the longs runs I was used to in triathlon/marathon training, which were still much more about a pace/HR goal.

With these new long workouts, it is not about "we need to run at X pace and X heart rate and do X intervals." Nooooooo! It is about "we're going for 3+ hours, here's the route. We will walk/hike as needed and run when it feels comfortable, and, hey, if we end up adding a little intensity or not it's all good." You go out with the intention to get the volume, not burn yourself and make it home holding a consistent effort. All the while, practicing hydration, and of course developing amazing fat-adaptation at these lower intensities!

And let's face it, very few people actually run (as in RUN) an entire ultra; yet, very few people (from what it seems like) actually practice enough walking in their training, which seems backwards to me.

Running Red Rock Canyon in Vegas. At any given moment the ability to cover 15-16 miles is a great feeling!

But what about MAF and a certain level of intensity to get faster/fitter?
An example of a trail that puts my HR over MAF
at a hiking pace. #steep
I won't lie, I haven't worried about holding MAF-specific HR this whole process, but meanwhile I can see and feel the effects of more fitness in my body. Since my goal is to go long, it's all about volume. Get in the volume--at any pace. I bet I'm mostly moving at a HR of 90-130--that's 20+ beats below my MAF! Granted, I know for certain I still get to my 150 MAF on the hilly trails around here, or the occasional "regular" runs. And sometimes even higher than MAF. But mostly it's slow, sub-MAF. Sustainable.

There is an undeniable inverse relationship between volume and intensity, and to get more volume (and have a sustainable, healthy program) you have to let go of intensity (MAF, while moderate, is still a measure of intensity).

Mantra for those looking to build volume: 
Move at paces and efforts that feel comfortable in order to get the distance and be consistent--don't let the HR monitor or GPS dictate what that is. 
Listen to your body, it will guide your appropriately.

However, one may argue if you're always going "slow" isn't that just a bunch of junk miles and not building fitness and endurance? I say, it depends. If volume if sufficient you're likely still building new fitness and ok. Also, it depends on the goals. This approach will likely not work for a 5k or 10k PR or an Olympic triathlon PR--eventually you need more intensity not just sh*tloads of volume. But if you're like me and goals are totally about building endurance and going longer, then this is your ticket to balancing health+performance.

In fact, I did try to build more volume all at MAF for a couple weeks initially and it was risky. I could and can tell that holding true MAF on all or most my workouts was going to cause me to crash and burn--it's simply too fast and too intense for the type of volume I'm looking for (I consider a sub-9 min mile MAF pace fast, that's me). And who knows, maybe in a few years when I'm more experienced it will be a different story and MAF will be doable with this volume. For now it's about tweaking one major stimulus at a time: volume.

I've said it before, I've never been a high-volume runner, ever! Even when I did the marathon this year, I had to be careful with volume in order to do well at the MAF and intensity I was trying to hold on key workouts. So this volume thing is still new territory for me. Volume being 40-50+ mile weeks all the time.

What, if any, "intensity" is allowed?
All that said, you don't want to plateau or get bored so how to appropriately and safely tweak the intensity (when the body gives the green light):

-Run at MAF but usually no more than 90min.
-Add a weighted pack of 10-20+lbs to the long days
-Short hill repeat/hill bounding workout
-Crosstraining: strength, kettlebells, cycling, swimming, SUP, etc. Note that all crosstraining doesn't have to be intense.

Crosstraining these days includes backpacking trips at places like Big Sur. I'm sure most runners out there will recognize this bridge, eh?! #bixbybridge

Mental side effects
The approach of getting in the volume regardless of pace was important shift for me, as someone who's always been so wrapped up in my pace, needing a certain pace, and holding on to a pace at the cost of sacrificing volume... none of that crap anymore. It's been freaking liberating in fact!

I used to be that anal endurance athlete who'd do anything to get the "perfect" Garmin file to upload. I'd stop my watch on stairs, or if I was forced to stop or walk for whatever reason I'd stop the watch so it wouldn't screw up my run file that I'd upload so I could have my "perfect" data in my "perfect" training log. Same with the bike. I'd even start new files so the "good" pace would have it's own file not to be slowed down by the warmup or cooldown. Ha.

Seen (and appreciated!) on my workout.
I know too many athletes who are just like this. So let me say, when you stop obsessing over the numbers a new world opens up--mostly you increase self-confidence and self-satisfaction in the work you're doing, not letting that get diminished if the "pace isn't good enough." There's a good chance you'll feel better training, be happier with YOU and what you're capable of doing with your body, you'll recover faster, be more consistent and not get deflated because of what the watch says. I often like to have my athletes ditch the data if they seem to be getting too number obsessed or down on themselves for unwarranted reasons.

Also in letting go of pace you're able to soak up more benefits of the workout like more enjoyment on your route, soaking in nature (I hope you get out on trails as much as I if you're looking for more volume!), appreciating little glimpses of beauty all around, enjoying the company of the person(s) I'm with, or really absorbing a podcast if I'm alone. Even listening to music is more fun because you'll feel your body jive with the rhythm of the song and a sense of oneness with the workout.

That said, I know many of us pursue this endurance sport stuff because we generally want to get better, get faster/stronger, increase fitness, etc. Seeing the results in the form of faster paces and more efficiency is helpful--but it's not everything. Not every workout will be faster/better, and if we keep striving for perfection we'll hate ourselves after a while. Enjoy the process more, worry less about outcomes. Learn from the process and thank your body for what it allows you to do. Don't whine over what you didn't or weren't able to do.

Maybe it's worth investing more energy into non-training time too to increase fitness--sleep, nutrition, stress management, and awesome post-workout recovery techniques:

I often finish my workouts here, at which point I literally run straight into the ocean to cool off, clothes and all. It's a great natural "ice" bath and immediately starts the recovery after workouts. Good for body and soul.
You may not have ocean access, but developing a peaceful post-workout routine is a good way to calm the nervous system and maintain consistency in training without breaking down.

Is it working?
I think you answer lies in your ability to sustain the mileage and build the mileage. Can you or not? I've been able to, and it's been over 10 weeks so it's not a fluke, I just keep feeling better actually. Granted, I'll finish workouts feeling tired at times, naps have happened, and I have certainly had rest periods woven in, but I find that I generally have awesome energy, I recover really fast, I'm engaged in the workouts, motivated and eager. I never dread a pending workout thinking, "ugh... gotta get on my shoes and out the door; this is gonna hurt." There's no whining--because even if I'm not my best that day I'll just hike or walk and not run, and I can still log 4-6 miles and that's a success. Being intuitive and smart. Before you know it you go for a 20-30mpw person to a 50+ mpw person.

Should you be testing to see if it's working? 
This is tricky perhaps and a level of faith is needed. My MAF test pace is not likely getting faster. I'll be quite honest in saying that. But it's about specificity of training! I'm not really training with a faster MAF pace as a goal. I'm sure if I did another MAF test right now it would be slower than this one. I simply have some volume fatigue in my legs, and maybe if I rested for a bit and did a MAF test I may see decent results. But I don't really care about that right now because I have a different "test" I'm using.

The key test/re-test is a combo of: 
1) building the long workout + 2) weekly volume consistency = can you hang in and keep that up?

All the while, it's important to still have benchmarks to ensure you're not digging into a rut of fatigue or literally going backwards. Most importantly: how do you feel? Then specific to workouts, here are a couple:

If I go out with the intention to run at MAF and it's an 8-10 min pace range, and that feels good not a slog or burning like it's 5k effort, then I still see this as a successful build of fitness and run endurance. And if that's at/near the end of a 30-40+ mile week, which has been the case, even better.

Other signs it's working...

1) Look to your crosstraining: are you thriving or surviving?
Few examples from me. This weekend I had a couple good eye-openers that my body is loving this style of training and it isn't all tense, out of whack, weak or imbalanced. Saturday I did a gnarly (heavy + relatively intense) strength training workout with a client and didn't even get the usual DOMS that I'd suspect from that kind of workout (included 6 X 5 DL @ 145# and 100 sledgehammer swings each arm). That night I danced away at a wedding... still no major DOMS crept up... Then Sunday, I went to bikram yoga for the first time in 4-6 weeks (sorta fell off consistent yoga for a bit) and literally I think I had one of my best sessions in life coming off a 40+ mile week. Focused and nailed the poses, no signs of being overly tight or tense, in fact waaaayyyyy loser than "triathlete tawnee."

2) Are you injured?
This is easy. Your body will breakdown if the stimulus is too much to handle or something, some variable, isn't ideal for you at the moment. It may need an increased focus on functional strength training and correctives, or an adjustment of volume/intensity or all of the above.

Personally, (knock on wood) I'm very injury-free right now and feeling very strong. I think the weighted hiking is helping a ton too to build joint integrity and whatnot. Plus, I'm telling you, I'm certain that too much/too high of intensity is at the root of most injuries out there. Eliminate that and you're in much safer territory.

So what's the schedule?
Set out your game plan and don't rush it. We've allowed 10 months to build toward our A race, and we were talking about the race a long time before that, remember in May when I said I was ultra inspired? I guess a couple "hiccups" along the way, but that notion held strong in the end... the ultra life has chosen me; I've chosen it. By the time we get to doing Badwater Salton Sea, it will be 10 months of specific training for that one event. It's like Ironman, especially for novices, give it a full year to build to it! Have a plan, and build a smart schedule in advance! And as much as I know that you can't expect training/race day to go perfectly as planned, we do have the plan laid out on how we will tackle our training and race execution, no half-assing/underestimating what this distance entails*.

Here's our 2016 outlook:

January - 50k or 50-miler
Feb - no race
March - Backpacking trip(s)
April - Ragnar SoCal (again!); the Boston Marathon
May - 'A' race: 81-mile Badwater Salton Sea
June - Get married
July - Backpacking honeymoon: 70+mile thru hike; crew at Badwater in Death Valley
August & Beyond - TBD

*Please note, it's not our goal to run as fast as we can in Salton Sea or our ultras. Our goals are to make the distance, make the cutoffs, experience new adventures, and figure out how to make this a sustainable lifestyle, not one that drills us into the ground with excess fatigue and problems.

Don't forget that it's about feeling good and doing what's best for you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Backpacking Big Bear: PCT Section 8

This is a crusty selfie taken after finishing a hot 17-mile day on Section 8 of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)--yes, that trail that's bursting with popularity thanks to the "Wild Effect." If I look a bit beat up and concerned in this photo it's because I was.

Only 48 hours prior I felt like I was on my death bed after coming down with the stomach flu/food poisoning. However, I didn't want to miss out on the backpacking trip John and I planned because with our schedule these days it's not easy to find a few days where we both can get away. I'll spare most the details of the flu saga, but it was ugly. I am a dramatic sick person--I cry and whine; I "pass out" face down on bathroom floors. I simply hate being sick like that and, even more, I hate throwing up. Poor John, it was his first time ever seeing me in that condition. But thankfully he rallied rather than ran. And thankfully I made a rather fast recovery--the first 24hrs I was helpless victim to the bug, but after that I firmly believe having a positive attitude (and generally being healthy and strong) helped me bounce back even faster. Mind over matter. So, as planned, we hit the trail Sunday morning, expecting not to return for 2.5 days or so.

But actually, recovering from the flu is not the reason I'm concerned in that photo above.

Once I was alive after the flu, the only thing that I felt like eating
was oatmeal and fruit. I had it 2 or 3 times in a row haha.
This was breakfast before Day 1 backpacking; I
added the avocado for good fats and there's also eggs
scrambled in. Sweetened with blueberries.
Backpacking 17 miles on Day 1 wasn't necessarily the plan--it happened more out of necessity. We pushed the distance for one reason: water. And that's what had me concerned.

Water sources were all but impossible to come by where we were on this part of the PCT; it is a drought around here and deep into summer after all. That weekend was high 80s F and full sun. We had done out homework prior, so we weren't totally clueless/naive, and in our research and chats with local experts and rangers we were told a particular camp, Little Bear Springs, should have a creek and non-potable water source. The creek was not promising, but we were pretty sure the non-potable water pipe would be there from what we were told and what we read. Whether it was still working was another story, and a real gamble.

So we knew well the risks we were taking going in--mainly that we might be without a water source--and we devised safe exit plans accordingly. PCT Section 8 is 21.7 miles and up until a point, it is still fairly close to town so we agreed we would bail if it seemed too dire, or simply hike a short distance and set up camp early while water was still in abundance in our packs. With that in mind, we departed with open minds. We did actually pass water jugs left by trail angels within the initial miles, but at that point we were still fairly full and decided to leave those for folks who may actually need it.

Those jugs were the only water we would see for a long time. However, ironically, in the far distance we often had a view of a big ol' body of water, Big Bear Lake.

Big Bear Lake from the PCT.

I was probably still semi weak from the flu, maybe even a bit dehydrated going into Day 1, even if I didn't want to admit it (I can still be that stubborn athlete!), but more so I was enjoying the heck out of the hike so I refused to whine or give into weakness. I actually felt strong even if I wasn't 100 percent. Mind over matter. We kept going, and eventually the trail went from bordering the lake to turning inland, deep in the mountains, meaning farther from access roads and farther from town to the extent that "easily" bailing was no longer an option. We were in. But still no water sources. We had some on our backs and nothing dire. That morning, we set out each carrying a 3-liter camelback and 1 liter bottle. We were drinking well under 500ml an hour of hike time--but the hike was getting long. We thought about our options: setting up camp early with what we had, or go all the way to Little Bear Springs, trusting (hoping) the information we received was accurate and that we'd find water that we could filter. We decided to keep moving to the established camp rather than disperse camp. I told John I was ok and strong enough to do so. Obviously we had to drink more en route, and the camp ended up being 2 miles farther away than we expected based on our calculations and even the maps, making for a 17-mile hike in 6 hours, plus an extra 1:45 of breaks including for lunch so a 7:45 day in the hot, dry alpine forest. The hike was about 3k elevation gain, and about the same in descent. I'm guessing my pack weighed 20-30lbs. Not too bad considering hours prior the best I could manage was a slow crawl on all fours to the bathroom to puke. 

We made it to the camp--which was on a valley floor--around 5pm with less than 1 liter water remaining combined, absolutely no one around and no cell service. Upon arrival, it was easy to see the creek was bone dry; not too shocking. But then we couldn't find the other water source. It was too late and too far to hike back to town--not to mention we were tired from the 17 miles. We had to stay, water or not.

Home sweet home for the night.
Should we have stopped earlier? Should we have bailed? Who knows. At no point did I think this was a life or death situation, nor did John. Neither ha signs of heat illness, nor were we delirious or out of sorts. So, at worst, it would have been uncomfortable for a while having to ration 500ml water than night and the next day as we made our way back.

That said, in the moment, I wasn't that thrilled with the situation. I was resting at our campsite while John was searching for the non-potable water source. While sitting there in the quiet forest watching the sun slowly move toward the horizon, I felt a very real wave of fear and concern come over me. I was honestly a bit scared that we'd be waterless. I knew we wouldn't die. But we very well could suffer. Then it dawned on me that we packed in beer and wine. I got mad thinking that we had also packed booze but not more water?! Stupid! At the same time, I couldn't help but laugh thinking, "thank goodness we at least have booze to drink, even if it is dehydrating." Silver lining right? I don't even drink beer anymore but I was willing to.

Then as luck would have it, John rushed over with great news. Off in the distance--it was a rather large camp site covering a lot of ground--he found the non-potable water pipe. It was near an old horse corral, meant for livestock and horses. And it still worked. We had missed seeing it due to the direction we entered camp. But it didn't matter at that point. We were saved. John busted out the Platypus water filter and the water came flowing. Crisis averted.

And, that was Day 1. Lessons learned.

Having adequate water on the trail and planning smart especially in summer is crucial. You just never know. In fact, just recently there was a tragic story out of New Mexico when a French family got lost on a hike, ran out of water and the parents died of heat-related illnesses; their 9-year-old son survived.


So how was the rest of our trip?

Well given the water situation, we didn't want to take more risks by heading deeper into unfamiliar trail and farther from our starting point--that would be stupid. Our car was parked way back--17 miles!--and originally we had two ideas on getting back: 1) we'd find a truck trail that connected the PCT to the main highway and whenever we were done we'd hike down and hitch hike or cab it back; or 2) just do an out and back.

The reward of hard work is waking up to this. Sunrise solitude.

After a leisurely morning, we opted to backtrack on the PCT until we hit a truck trail to make our exit. We didn't do the full 17 though, I was a bit too wiped for that again and especially because the first 5 miles out of Little Bear Springs were completely uphill out of the valley back to the mountain crest. I wanted to feel good and still enjoy the trip, not continue to beat my body down and feel worse. Before leaving, we made sure to fully load up with fresh filtered water of course.

That glorious water.

As we got closer to town we detoured down the designated truck trail to the highway and hitch hiked to the car. Day 2 still ended up being 9-10 miles total of backpacking--shorter but definitely a good tough hike, and thankfully with more than enough water.

We didn't want it to end there, so revised the plan on the fly. Man, I love this. Having the car, having money and having access to town, we went to the store to grab more water, coconut water (!) and fresh food for bigger dinner than what the contents of our bear canister could offer. Then, we opted for disperse camping, which is totally allowed in Big Bear. Disperse camping is basically setting up camp nearly wherever you want out there and what "roughing it" entails--no bathrooms, no nothing--unlike established campsites that have amenities and you need reservations, blah blah. We still wanted total solitude though. So we took the Outback back up a truck trail several miles, parked, did a short hike in and found a nice little site to camp off the PCT and away from the main road. All to us. This was us lounging that evening on our "chairs" aka sleeping pads.

Day 2 camp. Using sleeping pads as "chairs." Oh, and coffee snobs we are: John grabbed the French Press, grinder and beans from the car so we'd have fresh cold brew in the morning! Ha!
For a second I thought it was "soft" for us to do all this. Were we really deviating from the plan and being "weak" for going to get the car and not stick to true backpacking for 2.5 days? But then I thought about it. And I couldn't be happier about this move. Dude, I had just gotten over an illness that felt like death. Without much recovery, I rallied and was able to backpack about 27 miles in the next 1.5 days through some crazy mountains and conditions. And John was hanging in like a champ too, making sure we were safe--mostly that I was safe. Putting it in those terms: We had already won! So screw it! If we wanted to get the car (and go to the grocery store) to have that extra comfort and peace of mind, so be it. In fact, I think that second night of camping was one of the best nights ever with John--we were off the grid, immersed in nature and feeling pretty darn good. We had a great meal, we had beer and wine (ha!), and we were just able to relax, enjoy each other's company, share stories, listen to the sounds of nature, and not be distracted by the world. We stayed up "late" to watch the stars as we love to do. (For the record, late on the trail is anything past 9 pm lol.)

The next day we hit the road home. It was a short trip, but enough memories to last a lifetime.

I'm curious to hear from other backpackers/hikers/campers on this spin of events we endured. Have you been caught in similar situations? I felt like we did all the research and homework possible before hitting the trail, but you just never know right?! In my other trips this year we've planned routes where water is guaranteed along the trail, in the form of a creek, river or lake. This was the case in Big Sur and the High Sierra Trail for example. I really enjoy knowing water will be there, not only for drinking purposes but simply for having the sounds of a creek nearby or a cool place to relax, soak and wash up after a hard day's work. In contrast, Big Bear and the deserty conditions were much more harsh, but oddly just as satisfying in their own way.

Oh, and one more note. Speaking of hot, deserty, dry, waterless conditions: A fire recently broke out in Big Bear--just one week after we did our PCT adventure. Now, that really got my mind spinning. No water for a night or so is one thing, but what if we had to face a wildfire while out there on the trail? I can't even imagine.... in the meantime, I'm praying that the Summit Fire doesn't do too much damage out there. Last I saw it's 50 percent contained. I hate when these fires destroy such beauty:


Cool terrain out there; it changes a lot even in less than 20 miles.

Happy campers!

Can you spot the trail? #PCT

I love breakfast and studying maps when camping! I make a really hearty paleo cereal for brekkie, and at some point I'll share my backpacking food and meal plan. I have it dialed in for the health-conscious fat-adapted folk. Personally, I do more carbs on the trail, but am still LCHF-ish and still all about clean-eating.

Views like these make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Top-10 Reasons I Love Backpacking

If you're reading along, you probably see a trend in how my approach to fitness, outdoor sport and endurance is evolving. I'm branching out, and I've fallen in love with a new kind of endurance adventure: backpacking. I give 100 percent credit to my sister for introducing me to this wonderful activity when she invited me on a trip back in March. It's really been life-changing and such a good complement to competing. Backpacking is not an attempt to replace what racing offers, but rather enhance my life experience with new kinds of adventures that test the mind and body in a different way. I'm sure some of you may be thinking (because I did too), "What could be so great and life-changing about backpacking? Sounds dirty and like a lot of work." Well let me tell you from my POV, it's not just another workout to burn calories, and it's not just about bumming it. It's so much deeper. I've attempted to summarize in this top-10 countdown. If you've backpacked and/or still do, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

Thanks to my sister, Karlee, for bringing backpacking to the forefront. This was our first trip that ended with a plunge in some darn cold water, and, man, was it refreshing in more than one way.

Top-10 Reasons I Love Backpacking

10) A fresh perspective on performance. There's a time and place when I love geeking on data, variables and performance that comes along with training and racing. I'll be the first one to say I value structured workouts, meeting specific goals, and working with others on the same. But then there's a time and place to just throw all that our the door and be free with your fit-ness. With backpacking, that happens. There's no pressure to follow the "rules" of training, no pressure to hold a certain speed, HR or watts. There may be the goal of meeting a certain distance per day, and you may push yourself to execute it to your ability, but it's different. No one cares how fast or slow you are, nor should you. It's more important to soak up the experience rather than rush through it to be "fast." The finish line is simply having camp safely set up before the sun sets, and no one will be there to take your timing chip and post results. Now that said, I do enjoy having my Garmin and GPS to track my miles, data and stats but for totally different reasons and different vibes.

9) It's not comfortable. Backpacking presents new challenges and risks that I'm digging. You do not have the peace of mind that race organizers and volunteers are taking care of you--there's no one to point the way, or shorten the course if the weather's bad. No aid stations with a full buffet. No port-o-potties, no medical tents, no sag wagons to pick you up if you fall. There's no such thing as a DNF. You're diving into the unknown, paving your own path and totally responsible for your survival and well-being. Like triathlon, mistakes happen along the way and you have to manage yourself and the situation. And you have to work for everything little thing or it's not happening. But unlike a race, it doesn't end after you've done your miles for the day--you keep working. Granted, backpacking technology and supplies are pretty advanced, and that makes it nice with some added comforts. But even with all the cool gear you can get at REI, when you're out there you still get a taste of truly roughing it.

Dirty and even some kind of heat rash after a long day.
8) Get gritty and don't give a shit. Days on a trail without a mirror and without a shower? Yes please. Makeup? What's that. There's no worry about getting dirty, brushing my hair, nor how I look. I'll look how I'll look. If you are with me, you'll appreciate me for the company not how "pretty" I look on the trail. That brings a new level of confidence--try it. Once you remove yourself from our modern culture, and even mirrors, you start to realize how strong of an effect these things can have on our brain and how we feel about ourselves. Even if you're a confident person, which I think I am, there's always going to be an ad, billboard, commercial or someone's hot-body selife sending the message on how you can be better, prettier, hotter, leaner, buffer, sexier, faster, smarter. You can't help but start over-analyzing yourself in comparison and dwelling on your "problem" areas. It's really a shame that a lot of us get wrapped up into comparisons to the point of losing confidence. I think I'm pretty capable of ignoring that noise and being true to me, but even I was surprised how social pressures to look and be a certain way can seep into my psyche. And it took stepping away, into nature, to realize it. So why not just turn off the noise and get back to being natural in nature, the ultimate for improving one's self-esteem. In fact, studies show that going into the forest--even a short walk--helps prevent and/or reduce depressed feelings and negative thoughts about one's self.

Great Western Divide.

7) Exploration. As I mature and am more comfortable with my career and life situation, I see myself starting to crave more travel and exploration, and I usually prefer nature over cities, so backpacking is a beautiful fit. It's funny, though, because I didn't have this mindset as much in my 20s--I would often make excuses as to why I couldn't take off on a trip or adventure. I suppose I was too wrapped up in establishing "my foundation" and also being all-in for triathlon. I think it's a bit like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs--you meet the basic needs and goals then move on to the deeper things that create a well-rounded and fulfilled existence. Perhaps I'm moving up my unique pyramid. Or maybe I've just gotten out of my head of being Type A workaholic. Whatever it is, I'll take it because the things I've encountered, seen and experienced so far with backpacking have enriched my soul. It's a beautiful world out there, and I for one don't want to let life pass by and miss out on these opportunities to explore.

6) Spirituality. I'll admit, I'm not religious, but I do consider myself a spiritual person. Don't ask me to define spirituality, that's a tough one and it's so individual. For me, when I think of spirituality I think of being in nature. It's the No. 1 place where I feel most spiritual, and it's been that way ever since I can remember. As a kid, I can recall memories of feeling something special when I would be surfing or mountain biking or hiking, as if I was connected to a force bigger than just me and was touched in a deep way. Into my triathlon days, early-morning solo trail runs would often elicit the same vibes. Now, with backpacking, I get those same strong spiritual vibes when I'm out there, and I just soak it up.

5) Back to the basics. Everything I need is on my back and nothing more. If a questionable item that I'm debating bringing is heavy, bulky and awkward it's not coming--even if it may make life "easier" out there. With that, you're left with simple tools and gear, and needing to use a lot of your own smarts to get things done, as well as patience in the process. For example, on my first trip--a girl's trip fyi--I remember my sister and I spending time, effort and total focus to build a fire the old school way, open a can with an archaic tool and to find and prepare (filter) our water. Now, you experienced backpackers and campers may be used to this, but it was mostly all new to me and really opened my eyes to how much I take for granted in our modern world--and how fast we often move through our days not stopping to appreciate the simple tasks in life. Even using a real, physical map to navigate--and not Google maps nor 10 other phone apps--feels so good. I love taking the time and effort to do simple, basic things from setting up safe shelter to digging your own hole in the woods to... well... you know what I'm getting at (thank goodness I have a decent deep squat lol).

4) An improved relationship with food. This may sound weird, but I enjoy food in a different way when I'm backpacking, and I arguably enjoy it even more for what food entails and how it nourishes the journey. I consider myself pretty smart with food these days, but I've had my eyes opened to mistakes I still sometimes make at home with food. For example, rushing food, eating while distracted, eating more than is needed just because it's around or because it tastes good--but not because you actually need it. But when backpacking I'm fully present with food--whether a snack or meal--and if it's going in my mouth I'm focused on it.
Also, food as fuel takes on another meaning. I better appreciate the nourishing aspect of food, how it tastes, and taking the time to slowly enjoy each bite--you earned it! I'm also more in tune with how it feels to reach satiation. Obviously food supply is limited out there so you only eat what you need to, and you can't really afford to overdo it--as such, you really start to truly feel how much or how little the body needs and portion wisely. I'm trying to apply these principles back at home in regular life, especially trying to eat slower and less distracted.

... and my top 3... drumroll ....

3) Get off the grid*. Ahhh. Let's talk about this. As much as I love being connected with others around the world on a daily basis, and as much as I love coaching and podcasting and yapping, I equally love getting off the grid and quieting down. It's all too easy this day in age to be too plugged in to everything all the time and that creates a mind that's cluttered, lacking focus and often stressed and overwhelmed. Going off the grid and back to simplicity is the perfect cure--and it's cheap too, way cheaper than therapy. Interestingly, shutting myself off the world and having no cell service is not something I would have desired even a few years back, for reasons like FOMO, and to this day FOMO--in a serious sense--is sometimes a real concern, but I certainly have evolved and understand the importance of disconnecting and taking extended breaks. It's no stretch to say that taking these breaks certainly makes me better at what I do for a living. At first I would think the breaks showed weakness and that I wasn't working hard enough, or my clients would think I'm lazy and not paying attention in enough detail. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Going off-the-grid re-energizes me so that I'm more focused, engaged and productive upon return (and happier too vs. being a zombie who's always nailed to the office). There's research to prove I'm not crazy for saying this; less really is more, and it's time we stop trying to work hard 24/7 thinking that's the only way to reach success.

2) Be present. As I begin my journey in studying and practicing more mindfulness and meditation I've really started exploring my ability to be present--and how easily I can fail at being present in everyday life. Like I said above in No. 3, it's all too easy to get incredibly distracted, and even though I know I don't have ADD it sometimes feels like it with how conveniently we're connected to a million things with constant notifications of new emails, texts and tweets or whatever it is. I'm actually working on a separate set of posts on a related topic--getting over my multitasking habits and letting go of busyness as a goal, both of which completely take away from the ability to be present. But I digress (see? lol). Bottom line: Backpacking keeps me in the moment, focused and engaged. It just does.

1) Feel strong, alive and empowered. That's exactly what my mind and body need these days. Backpacking is one way I can carry out the idea of being fit for life as I've talked about, and it's also the easiest way to get back to primal living. It complements the style of fitness and "training" I enjoy these days--functional and badass. There's just something about being free in the wilderness and putting to use raw physical and mental strength and endurance. I've worked hard to build a tough body and mind over the years, and I want to continue doing so. It's funny, and I'll admit, my first couple trips involved a pathetic amount of over-packing and our packs were heeeavy, like 50lbs or maybe more. Carrying those bad boys 20-30+ miles was not easy feat, especially when the terrain would get dicey, but I loved every bit of the challenge and feeling my body perform under a load like that. I think I can certainly revise my packing list because I don't think it's a contest about having the heaviest pack, but the idea of it is empowering. It makes you feel truly alive and strong--super durable, adaptable and utilizing dynamic strength. Oh, and this can't be replicated in the city and modern life--that's not the right setting to get the primal essence.


*I have a question for you. Do you enjoy and embrace being off the grid? I know this concept may not be for everyone, but maybe it's because you haven't given it a chance. What do you think when you imagine multiple days of no people, no traffic, no electronics, no phones, no email, no social media, no "typical" interactions with the modern world? Does that give you the heebie jeebies or does it sound exciting. If it terrifies you, why not try it out? You may be surprised at how refreshing it is. In fact, assuming a lot of you reading are endurance athletes/triathletes, I think you are more likely the type who would embrace being off the grid and alone--considering endurance sport entails a lot of that. In fact, I think I originally fell in love with triathlon for similar reasons as I have backpacking--as much as there's a strong community and plenty of people with whom to interact in sport, triathlon is also about solitude and being alone in your head with the goal of continuing to move forward. Food for thought....

Big Sur, Salmon Creek Trail

Monday, July 20, 2015

Cultivating Fitness For Life

About 5 weeks after my BQ, I thought I was ready to start building back some consistent run miles and get back to training for the next race, whatever that would be, an ultra maybe? I'm still using the MAF Method principles (and probably always will) so nothing crazy.

But life had/has other plans.

I'd go out to run and generally it was all crappy--a few glimpses of my typical fitness, and some runs ok, but more so just blah quality. I even started walking during runs in a way that was rare for me. Some days my mind would be into it, other days it was going through the motions with my mind somewhere else. Weekly mileage was low, in the 20s.

I thought, "Well, maybe I just need to keep going, run more, get through this funk and it will come back eventually." So, I got back to the habit of doing regular training with very few off days since MAF felt so moderate. A couple weeks went by. My running wasn't coming around, and even though just taking it easy, I was just feeling off. I know a couple weeks is not a lot of time and you're probably thinking "take your own medicine, be patient," but here's the thing: it was feeling forced and something was saying be careful.

Generally my exercise breakdown since the marathon has been weekly volume in the 8-11hr range, with less than 50% of that running (other workouts/activity include strength training, backpacking, cycling, yoga, walking/hiking, etc). I surely wasn't overtraining/overtrained, but that doesn't mean I wasn't overdoing it from a whole-life standpoint. Hmmm.... 

Embracing Walking 

Crushing my walk commute lol!
So then I drastically switched things up. I stopped being stubborn, stopped trying to force the run. I stopped trying to convince myself I had to train & race again so quickly. It started with resting, relaxing and thinking about what I wanted to do. Thereafter, I started walking/hiking to replace the running--yes, for real walking. While foreign to go out on walks instead of runs, it felt great and refreshing. Immediately the pressure to perform (hold MAF HR, hold my usual MAF pace, etc) disappeared and in the meantime I had great energy all around. Walking is not just for non-athletes or old people, take it from this 30-year-old. I'm even seeing positive body transformations inside and out (I think it's because I'm being kinder to my body and less oxidative stress). 

Listen to the Body & Mind 
The running blahness my body telling me "now is not the time to run at this speed/intensity," and it was cautioning me to be careful in order to prevent a burnout or setback or injury or whatever negative thing. And you know what? This time I actually listened rather than stubbornly ignoring the signs. So, then I thought, why would I force it? For racing? Body comp? To adhere to my public image as an athlete? Or for my own happiness and personal reasons? I think I was forcing a run comeback based on the calendar and what I assumed was the reasonable progression, not running by my intuition... all while feeling that underlying sensation that the clock is ticking and it's time to train for the next race. Kinda stressful. Which made me question (again), does it always have to be about a race? No, it doesn't. So why was I thinking that I was "ready" to race again already? The first things that came to mind were external reasons--namely how racing is important for my career, image and it's what others expect from me. However, at this moment in time feeling the need to race wasn't/isn't coming from within. Maybe it will again? I just have to be patient. That doesn't mean it's time to be a blob (and I could/wanted to do more than just walking lol)... 

Cultivate Fitness For Life 

Backpacking - the ultimate for the fit-for-life way!
I was listening to a new Tim Ferris podcast recently with Laird Hamilton, Brian McKenzie and Gabby Reece and he asked what they'd each tell their 30-year-old selves. Brian said, "be patient;" Laird said, "stop drinking now" (lol!); and Gabby had a bunch of wisdom too especially for women/athletes, too much to reiterate (listen to it). That got me thinking, "I am 30, what should I tell myself now so that in 10-plus years I don't look back and say, 'I wish back then....'" At 30 I want to be healthy & happy, do cool shit, be me, rock my career goals, help others be awesome, and be fit for life... 
On that same podcast they were also all talking about how they're into the "Natural Born Hero" kind of living--the title of Chris McDougall's latest book (I interviewed CM as well on this podcast)--which promotes this idea of training to be fit for life and not necessarily a race or competition. While I haven't yet read the book, to me this idea of fit for life means training in a way that allows you to be present, naturally and dynamically strong, ready for the next adventure, intuitive, and able to survive on your own. Fit for life means that you are not training in a way that wrecks the body, causes injury and makes you feel trashed all the time with a building apathy toward what you're doing. I see a lot of endurance athletes literally complain about the training "they have to do"--what is this? Shouldn't we LOVE the exercise and/or training we're doing? I know I certainly want to!! I also don't want to fall victim to being "fit but unhealthy" again, ever again. 

KB Swings on the patio... love my little set up of strength equipment!

SUP Day.
I will always have my own fitness & health goals that I'm striving for.

Here's another quote from the book "Zen Mind Strong Body" that sums up my current thinking well: "I train to be strong, robust and healthy. I train to make day-to-day physical tasks easier. I train for enjoyment. Gymnasts train to win—oftentimes at the expense of their health and fitness.Competitive athletics are funny like that. Professional athletes are the fittest people in the world, but they are frequently forced to train through injuries. Many wind up pushing their bodies beyond what they can safely handle. The irony is that these people may get to be the best in the world for a brief, shining moment, but will often suffer for it later. The higher the high, the lower the low.I prefer to take the middle ground. If I feel pain, I back off. If I need rest, I take it. By using this approach, I’ve managed to avoid any serious injuries or major setbacks in my training, despite over twenty years of strength work.

So that's where I'm at.

More transitions and acceptance of where I'm at and what I'm doing with my life. At the end of the day, I do not feel lost, I don't feel weak, and I certainly can't feel guilt for not actively training for a race. Who knows, in a couple weeks I may have a different story. Sometimes as athletes we just go through these funks. I'm cool with it! I'm healthy and motivated enough to let it be an opportunity rather than a way to get lost and wrapped up in something no good...
Riding all the waves that life has to offer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On Coaching and Being Coached

Let me preface by saying this is not about me trying to toot my own horn. But as a coach for endurance athletes I'm seeing a trend that quite frankly makes me sad. These days it seems like I get more and more athletes contacting me who've had previous experiences with coaches and the story will be something like:

"He or she gave a cookie-cutter plan and had no interest in my personal development." (sigh)

"I found out he/she was giving the same exact workouts to my friends and training partners." (who does this?!)

"I'd get a month of workouts at a time." (red flag)

"He/she was copying and pasting workouts, which I verified through other athletes working with that coach." (again, who does this?!)

"My coach put pressure on me to achieve a certain time in a race so he/she (the COACH) could boast about it and use it as a testimonial for services." (Seriously, WTF. Makes me want to cry.)

"I didn't hear from him/her for weeks at a time."

"I was only allowed one email a month." 

"Barely any communication." 

"I was overtrained, my health tanked and was chronically fatigued because of my coach's plan." (sadly, this one is all too common)

"It's like he/she didn't even know who I was."

"There was no guidance on nutrition or strength training." (ok, I don't expect all coaches to be an expert on nutrition, but nutrition/diet is a discipline in itself and part of an athlete's overall success. so if the coach doesn't "do nutrition" then have someone to whom you can refer your athlete, or at least a philosophy to make recommendations. Same for strength training.)

"He/she didn't even address my injury past or trying to fix my biomechanical/injury issues; just got workouts."

"I didn't get any guidance before my race; no race plan." (Wait, aren't we teaching athletes to kick ass in racing?!)


Seriously. I've heard all this from athletes (whether they were seeking my services or just speaking casually about their experiences). It makes me wonder who's out there coaching and what sort of education and/or experience they have?

Granted, I've often heard even worse stories from self-coached athletes who usually fall under the category of "more is better;" "my competition is out training so, therefore, I must be too;" "rest is for wussies" -- and they have no one to objectively tell them to say, "wow, scale back and rest! It's ok!" But to be honest, the self-coached athlete "doing too much" is actually more understandable in my opinion and it's very common because competitive people have a drive to just go for it! At least you can only blame yourself, not a "trained professional." In fact, I don't blame athletes who fall victim to this, but I do urge them to seek (the right) guidance ;)

In looking for a coach, all I ask is that athletes be really, really tough when you're interviewing the person who you want guiding you in sport! This is your well-being and health at stake, not just a shiny new PR. Hire someone who will pay attention to you as a person, not just the data or weekly schedule. A coach who does more than just write s/b/r workouts. A coach who's willing to stop everything to be there for your needs and to answer your questions in the days leading up to a race or otherwise (within reason, lol). A coach who helps you be a better person, helps you develop good habits (in life and sport), and helps you train/race smart.

That is all.

Wishing you all happy, healthy, fulfilling and fun training+racing!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

SKORA Shoe Sale!

I normally don't do this kind of post, and I won't make it a habit, but this is a great deal on a product I love and use so I wanted to share:

The deal is for SKORA Last Pairs. They have lots of sizes and style still available, for just $50! Normally these shoes are mostly $95-$100+. Click the links to see if your size/style is available. I now own probably four pairs of Skoras and use them for everything--running, casual wear, strength training, etc. IMO, they're the best when it comes to combining a minimalist shoe with modern technology, keeping it simple but sophisticated for that authentic feel for real human movement. Not to mention the style and colors simply looks awesome, which is why I wear mine casually all the time especially when we travel and have long days on our feet walking around. (Learn more here.)

Try them out, let me know what you think! I love feedback as does Skora. 

Oh and feel free to pass this blog on to friends and family! Happy shopping! 

My Skora crew at the gym. #keepitreal

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

M2B Marathon - Making a Comeback, and Meeting My Goals

Ok, I got multiple requests for an in-depth blog on everything about the Mountains to Beach Marathon, which I just ran and BQ'd at on May 24, so here it is... We also have the podcast version coming out soon (Friday) if you'd rather listen than read; Brockstar interviewed me for it!

#TeamBetty2015. One of the most comfortable kit tops I've ever worn. Shop here.

Last May I practically cried my way through the OC Half Marathon. I was feeling defeated, depleted and not loving it. I was over racing, over feeling that burning pain, and I had zero desire to push myself. At that point I actually was on my road to recovery, but still “sneaking in” a race here and there out of habit—but clearly not recovered. I still finished that race despite wanting to bail, in a 1:43—over 10 min slower than my half-mary PR. Then a week or so later I broke my wrist. The writing was on the wall. Functional health tests confirmed I still had a lot of work to do, as well. I was on my way to success but still had a long way to go.

Fast forward a year and I’m practically a different person than that girl in May 2014—I’m back to the real me, the strong me. I have made a lot of lifestyle changes, and things couldn’t be better. So doing this marathon was more important than just running 26.2 miles, it was a way to test myself to see if I’d do it right and come out ok. My No. 1 goal was (is) not to sacrifice my health for performance. That meant doing things differently, and having a new level of self-discipline.

I guess I succeeded in that goal because I got probably the best news possible the week of the marathon—well before I even toed the line on Sunday. I got back results from my latest batch of health tests that I just did a couple weeks prior (well 2 out of 3 tests; still waiting for organic acids results). My bloodwork, tested via Inside Tracker, looked phenomenal and the best numbers I’ve seen in years. Arguably more important, my saliva adrenal/hormone profile came back superb, and in my opinion this test is more telling for endurance athletes, females especially, and it was the one test I really wanted to see better numbers. My cortisol was near perfect from morning to bedtime, making the right progression and never outrageously too high nor too low, and my sex hormones were back to normal. No longer depleted as I have been in recent years. No more pregnenalone steal taking place. No more tired adrenals. I had a feeling this would be the case because I’ve felt increasingly more amazing every month beginning last fall, and my body is thriving and operating normally like it wasn’t doing for a while there—but verifying all this via a test is still good. Objective data matters too. In fact, Chris Kelly of Nourish Balance Thrive, through whom I get most my health testing done including the saliva and urine tests, said about my adrenal profile:

I NEVER see a result like this. Never! They are always low in athletes.” (...And he meant that in a good way.)

Going into Sunday’s race I now had the peace of mind that no matter how I finished I had already achieved the most important goal: fixing and maintaining great health.

That said, sure, I could have set loftier marathon goals and I could have trained to race a faster marathon. I could have done speedwork, long tempo runs, more 20-milers, trashing workouts, and more volume (see last post). All that may have made me faster on race day.

I could also have been 10 pounds lighter. I weighed 133-134 pounds a few days before the marathon; to put that in perspective I’m 5’7” and I think I used to weigh 125-127ish when I was in the thick of triathlon and half-IM racing. My current weight is simply where my body wants to be right now. I’m not arguing with it. 

So instead of getting wrapped up in hoopla of faster times, race weight and crazy training, I did the opposite and just focused on me. Most importantly, I embraced the MAF Approach (lifestyle) and as such my goals were entirely appropriate and still a great challenge for me—certainly 3:30-3:35 was not going to be too easy. My goals were well thought out taking into consideration my fitness and my limited long run history, which is very limited, see for yourself:

TP's Long Run History 
(aka anything over 16 miles)

Aug 2011
-8/3: 20 miles at an 8:10/mile avg
-8/28: Ironman Canada, 26.2 at a 10:20/mile avg
-Otherwise, I never ran more than 15 miles in training for that race.

Summer/Fall 2013
-8/10: 21.4 miles at 8:24/mile avg
-Also a couple 17 milers.
This was training for IM Tahoe, which we now know my marathon never happened.

-No long runs over 2hr until final 6 weeks then built to 3hr but with walking and those longer ones were 14.5 16, and 18 miles in that order.
-A 16-mile hike/run in mountains but that was probably 50% hiking.

That’s it.

Furthermore, just because I’ve embraced MAF that doesn’t mean there’s no more speedwork or long tempos in my future, it just means that in my MAF journey those kinds of workouts weren’t appropriate at this time.

Dr. Phil Maffetone was advising me through this, but it was more like I was self-coached, which was his intention—and a brilliant one. I cannot thank Phil enough for all he’s done for me—my general wellness and athletic performance. He essentially coaches athletes to be their own best coach, and this can be a wickedly successful approach; it’s one that I also implement in when I coach athletes (when appropriate; I have an open system approach). Granted, it’s a terrible business model because essentially I coach myself out of having a job with an athlete haha. I also have to thank Lucho, my BFF, because he's taught me so much over the years that I still carry with me. 


Back to the marathon.

I wasn’t without some pre-race nerves, of course. And if I had one area where I was still lacking a bit of confidence it was my ability to endure the final ~10k of the marathon at my goal pace. Read my long run history again, and you’ll understand—I was entering unknown territory, big time. So maybe that 3:30-3:35 goal was rather lofty indeed now that you have a better idea of me! That said, on the other hand, I have confidence that when I’m “on” I’m a mentally strong athlete who’s tough as nails and one who can totally dig deep and embrace the suck when it’s hurting like a mofo. Last May I was not that person; I was suffering internally. But this May? Bring it on BABY! I was so ready and so motivated, and in fact I used that lack of confidence for the “unknown territory” to be a motivator instead—a new goal to conquer and nothing or no one was going to get in my way.

So in order to nail the 3:30-3:35 I knew my splits had to fall between 7:50-8:05ish on average, give or take. My athlete Greg has a statistician friend who was also racing this mary and he uses the elevation profile of a course to calculate every mile split to achieve the goal time. This was actually very helpful to see these numbers, but for the race I only sorta memorized the first 6 miles and left the rest to intuition.

Here’s the stats info in the chart below. I like this for a marathon, but at the same time it’s what I want to get away from in my quest to do ultras where predicting splits like this would have no use.

Mountains 2 Beach
Goal Pace: 3:30:00
Elevation Change



We drove up to Ojai the day before the race, and I was feeling a bit blah and the effect of taper week. I knew I needed some solid rest because the weekend before the marathon I was still feeling some fatigue that I had to shake. I rested hard, and by Saturday I felt that crappy taper feeling big time, which sucks but it means I did a good job resting. I stuck to the plan of not running the two days prior. I did an easy bike on Friday, and a 45min walk on Saturday morning. I didn’t question this strategy (even if I wanted to for a moment). I talked to Phil Friday, and he made a special request asking that we update him during and post-race via texting—if you know Phil, this is special.

At bib pickup I met a guy in line who brought up casual convo (he asked about my Skoras!) and once we got to talking, he was like, “Wait, are you Tawnee?” Turns out he is an EP fan, and just like at Salton Sea, he recognized me by my voice. I loved it! I hope this means the podcast is getting more popular.

We stayed in a VRBO studio rental near mile 13 of the course, and it was perfect. We loved being in a quaint tiny space—we will never want a big house in life. We also loved Ojai, and spent Saturday afternoon walking around town. So peaceful. We saw several moviestars; it’s clear why Ojai is their close-by escape. That evening, we made my standard pre-race dinner that I’ve loved for years—sweet potatoes, chicken, veggies, chocolate—and we ate early to ensure good digestion before the morning. I was eating pretty LCHF all week and the night before the race is certainly an ok time to add in more carbs even for the low-carb athlete—but not carb load. There’s no need to “load” or force food down before a race. Eat like a normal human—including those few large chunks of dark chocolate. I didn’t have wine, just wasn’t in the mood—I had a bit the night before entertaining friends and that was enough.
My barbecue master. Loved the little patio at our studio.

Sweet potatoes, bbq'd chicken thighs, and baby squash sautéed in butter.

Feet up relaxing the evening before the race.

It was a 6 am race start so I got up at 3:45. I was in a phenomenally fabulous mood, and bouncing off the walls with excitement. The taper haze was gone, and race day mojo was in full effect. I made coffee (French press!), UCAN Porridge, and mixed bottles that would be for pre-race and during (I borrowed handheld Nathan bottles from Michelle Barton, and told her I'd use them to channel her badassness). I felt like an old pro because my body knew what was up and I was able to go to the bathroom on command at an ungodly hour. Whew, it’s always nice to get that out of the way! I was feeling pretty full after only eating about half the UCAN breakfast and I didn’t want to stuff my tummy so I left it in the fridge for later. I probably ate about 300-400 calories at breakfast, including the coconut milk in my coffee. I was full but not stuffed.

What nutrition was in my bottles?

All my fueling goodies.

Well, I’ll admit this exact concoction was literally new for me, which I know is a no-no, but it had two ingredients both of which I’ve used and I know work for me—it’s just that I’d just never had them together in a bottle:

For during the race I mixed a 16oz handheld bottle with:

-bottled water (no tap)
-1.5 scoops of plain UCAN
-2 tbsp local honey. 

This equated to 270 calories. It tasted like heaven and it was "strong" but for my purposes just right and taste-wise the right amount of sweetness. I personally loved the thicker texture. This is a mix I’ll keep on using for years to come.

I would also have about 2/3 of a chia gel in the later miles of the race, and all in all about 340 calories total during the marathon.

Sucking down Vespa pre-race. #fatforfuel
Also, before the race I had one 16oz bottle with 1 scoop plain UCAN (100 calories) to sip, which mostly tasted like water and wasn’t thicker like the honey mix, plus I downed 8 MAP, and 1 VESPA Junior (30 calories). The Vespa wasp extract is my new BFF next to UCAN. It really helps athletes stay in fat-burning mode, and I can tell the difference in how I feel, my mental clarity on long runs, and in my nutrition needs (less is more)!

The start line was so mellow compared with triathlons, geez! Too easy. We were expecting traffic and chaos—none of that. Thankfully it wasn’t that cold out, about 52 degrees F, and I was fine in shorts and my Betty Designs Team Kit (love) with matching jacket (love). The Betty top was so perfect to wear during the race, and it stayed in place nice and comfy (didn't ride up). I handed the jacket to John before lining up next to the 3:33 pace guy. 

I warmed up for about 10-15 minutes, mostly easy and never going over MAF. I didn’t look at pace—I know me and even warmup pace could potentially get to my head.


The Marathon
Great race photography at this race! In fact, they offer the low-res photos for free, now that's something this day in age!!

I had on an iPod, which was a first for me, and something I enjoyed for this kind of racing. My playlist consisted of mostly Girl Talk (my go to), Led Zeppelin, Queen and a few random songs from Beatles, Tom Petty, No Doubt and Junip.
Start line, go time!
During the race, the only data I ever looked at on my Garmin was actual pace, average pace and miles. Never once did I look at heart rate or time. I really didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to start playing the numbers game of “am I going fast enough based on how long I’ve been running?” Or, “is my HR too high and I’m going to blow?” Turns out my HR was nearly perfect for what it should have been given my MAF HR and goals.

I started running with the 3:33 pace group and that was working fine with my RPE and splits. But by mile 4ish I had pulled ahead of that group, and while that made me a bit nervous, I felt confident in the pace I was running and stuck with it.

The M2B course was lovely; a point-to-point from Ojai to Ventura (mountains to beach) mostly on a bike path. Even though I’m a marathon novice, it’s clear this is a pretty easy forgiving course that can make dreams come true; however, looking at course ratings there are plenty of marathons that are gauged as even easier, which I find hard to believe. I guess living in hilly OC I’m used to climbing. But this race has about 500 feet elevation gain total, and about 700 feet descent. Plus plenty of pancake flat miles (or close to it).

Here are my splits and HR to give you an idea (compare that with other chart above with the 3:30 predicted splits and elevation change!):

Avg HR
Max HR
2:37.5 (7:41 pace)
3:30:01 (7:58 avg)

I felt really good, scary good, just the right amount of effort—pushing myself but not dying—and the miles were ticking by so fast. It was weird. As someone without a deep long run history it was so cool to feel like the miles were coming and going in a way that felt normal—I was not fearing nor dreading the distance whatsoever. I was really just living in each mile and each moment, not worrying about finish times—sounds cliche but it's true. I think a healthier state of mind and body allows for this; it's when we are weak that we get scared and nervous and outcome-oriented. 

Somewhere in the middle miles the bike path tucked away into the mountains and the scenery was incredibly peaceful and gorgeous; it reminded me of our Big Sur backpacking trip (except this was flat and/or downhill—miles 12-14 were speedy!). Meanwhile I just kept thinking: breathe, stay calm, stay loose, and in control of effort and form. I remembered wise words from ER telling me to soak it all in. I was.

At mile 13, I was averaging a 7:58 pace, on target for the 3:30 with a little wiggle room. I was still feeling great but certainly not like I was going too easy—and I knew I had hard work ahead.

More on nutrition
Each mile, I was taking about 1 oz of the UCAN+honey mix from my bottle and it was settling perfectly. I did not feel the need for any more calories than that. The mixture was a thicker liquid (not as thick as gels though) and I made sure to get sips of water at aid stations at times, but not every aid station. That bottle lasted me for 17 miles. From there, I had an emergency chia gel by Huma just in case, which I had about 2/3 of after mile 20.

You might be wondering: only 270 calories for 17 miles (and ~340 calories total for the entire race when you add in the chia gel)? It may seem like only that amount of nutrition seems too low but I assure you it was not. Quite the opposite, I felt like if I had any more I might be risking overdoing it and gut distress. Overall I think this nutrition protocol in a race shows the real-world benefit of being fat-adapted. You simply need less, and this is good because you drastically decrease your risk for GI issues! (For the record: I think the old me used to race a bit more under-fueled at times, so I know what it feels like to race depleted and on fumes. This was not that situation.) 

Hitting the wall?
By mile 17 I was still feeling ridiculously great, and having a blast. Mentally happy, strong, fully engaged, and physically solid. I was running somewhere between the 3:28 dude and 3:3 dude, a solid pace, yet, I was surprised how many runners around me had poor mechanics—or maybe I’m just overly analytical of form due to my profession (sorry!). My splits were looking good and my average pace dropped to 7:56. I was now thinking sub-3:30 could happen. But since I wasn’t concerning myself with the finish time; I just acknowledged the idea of sub-3:30 but didn’t obsess over it. By then the scenery wasn’t as nice—oil rigs and some industrial areas tucked between the highway and mountains. It was also warming up but not hot—mid to high 70s I'd guess but a blue sky and glaring hot sun, no more shade. I stayed diligent in quickly grabbing water at aid stations, but not every aid station. 

Everyone says how they hit the proverbial wall at mile 20. I was getting nervous I might follow suit. As mile 20 approached I thought, “This is it. This is where shit’s going to get real and you will likely be tested. This is the only part that was really in question and now it’s here.”

Mile 20: Good.

Mile 21: Good.

Me: Smiling.

Mile 22: Uh-oh.

There it was. Finally the legs were starting to scream bloody murder and holding goal pace started getting hard. This was in no way a nutritional bonk, it was all inexperience and lack of muscular endurance for this kind of racing.

This is where it got all mental.

I thought of everyone—John, Phil, Lucho, my family, Michelle, friends, Endurance Planet fans, everyone who dropped a line to wish me good luck, even people I don’t know personally but whom I respect. I drew strength from all of you. I drew strength from within. Together that was a lethal combo and enough to keep me going.

By now we were in Ventura and that gave me peace of mind—the finish was near. However, that also meant the rest of the miles would all be flat, not more downhill advantage.

I was heating up. Interestingly a few things started happening to my mechanics that had never happened in all my life: I think my left glute decided to take a break because my left foot/lower leg started getting all wobbly and landing really weird, and as such it seemed like the knee would be the victim if shit really hit the fan—I was so cautious and mentally thinking about firing that left glute. On the other leg, my right calf, deep in the soleus, was in a knot and on the verge of a cramp. That calf had been tight during taper so I’d been babying it. I was just hoping that sensation would stay just at that—a sensation. It did. Whew. The left leg never got worse either. (No bad pain ever erupted.) Overall, it was interesting to see my body wanting to shut down its efficiency as it entered the unknown territory at this pace I was trying to hold. I can't say it enough: it honestly became 100% mental finishing the race.

I grabbed for the chia gel around mile 22; it was a kind I’ve used. I wanted to see if that would do any magic despite feeling zero need for nutrition. It didn’t do anything. I knew I wasn’t bonking.

I was in pain.

If anyone saw me miles 23-26.2 my expression was likely that of a person in pain and hating life. I was not hating life, I promise, but I certainly felt like shit. I was hitting my proverbial wall. At this point we were back on concrete on the Ventura boardwalk. Concrete, oh great, I thought—ouch.

My pace slowed a tad, but miraculously not too much and not enough to let the 3:30 goal slip away. Thank goodness. For the  record, once I saw how I was able to run I threw 3:35 out the door and it was all about 3:30. These final miles to achieve that were all mental. It was probably the closest I’ve ever been to overriding the Central Governor with success.

At mile 23ish you actually pass the finish but then the course turns away (no!) and you run another mile-ish out before turning around and heading home—that always sucks, right?! That last out and back felt like 20 miles alone.

At last I could see the finish. I had about a half-mile to go and even that sounded too long, ugh. But I could see it. Finish line glory. I laid down the hammer and got back to a sub-8 pace, finishing the last half mile around 7:40 pace! I have no idea how.

Seriously digging deep at the finish. #paincave
IPA at the finish? Nah, green juice please! (And plenty of wine later lol.)

I saw John at the finish, he high-fived me and I read 3:30:21 on the clock as I passed the finish; that’s the first time I’d seen anything related to my overall time. I think my first thought was, “Oh hell ya... but so close to sub-3:30? Really?!” You guys, my half-Ironman PR is 5:01… I am that person who gets so close yet so far.

I was elated with 3:30:21, don’t get me wrong! To me it was as if I executed the race perfectly. For my first open marathon on limited training and having no experience racing this distance? BAM! I will take it. I couldn’t have raced, paced and fueled any better. It’s rare I finish a race feeling totally satisfied, but on this day I did.

As it turned out my official time was 3:30:01—taking into account when I crossed the start line after the gun went off, duh! Even closer to that sub-3:30. Next time?

Speaking of next time, my performance should lock me in for Boston 2016, which I’ll certainly do.

Seeing this race data was immensely satisfying.
This was not so satisfying. Note to self: Armpit chafe is real.
Next time Doc's Skincare chafe stick is going in the pits too,
not just thighs and chest/HRM strap area.
After dying on a grassy area near the finish in which John had to help me lay down and get back up, I actually felt great all that day, high on life with the marathon shuffle in full effect as we walked around town—holy sore! I downed a green juice that I’d made prior and I was so glad I had that quality nutrition to start the recovery process. I talked to my family and Phil—Phil even said “you’re amazing” (again if you know Phil he’s a loving guy but doesn’t just throw those words around, you have to earn it from him and when he says something he means it).
Put all this in the juicer for a tasty post-race treat. #recovery
John and I spent the rest of the day playing around Ventura and Ojai, eating great food, drinking wine, shopping, walking, talking about everything, planning the future… talking about more racing ;)

Overall my biggest success all ties back to the health status I maintained this year while training. I didn’t train a lot at all for this event and didn’t really understand what racing a marathon really felt like. Many people spend a lifetime trying to get their BQ, and I respect that greatly—I did not take my achievement for granted whatsoever. That BQ means a lot especially given the situation.

I was/am truly lucky I to get the best of both worlds: health and performance just the way I want it. It makes me so excited for the future adventures ahead, but first I gotta recover these legs of mine, and the chafe:

If you have any more question on my race, let me know.

Here are several more pictures of post-race fun & eats:

Shenanigans in downtown Ventura - random piano on the streets saying "play me?" Sure, why not.

Post-marathon dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant. Pate, salad, pizza (not gluten free), wine. #splurge
A lil wine tasting? Yup.

Breakfast the morning after - avocado, 3 eggs, kale and fennel sautéed in butter and coconut oil. I truly love eating healthy, quality food.

Recovery hike the morning after - a magical trail, and legs full of DOMS.