Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Into the Wild 30k OC Trail Run and IMAZ Weekend

happy campers
And back to some regularly scheduled "tritawn" programming, ya know, race reports and cool vibes ;) I find it incredibly important to dive into the recent topics (like this and this post), and I'm certainly not done with those, but thankfully I can flip flop back and forth and follow some rather serious posts with ones that get back to my present reality.

This past weekend was one of those that I live for: racing, more racing, a little travel, and being surrounded by incredible people.

Starting with MY race! This is only my second race of 2015 (three if you count ragnar). Toeing the line becomes extra special if you’re not doing it 24/7. In fact, in a recent podcast with Michelle, at the very end (aka the “outtakes”), we decided that over-racing was a huge problem of ours in the past and one of the variables that led to burnout/overtraining, so instead we agree it’s better to invest in quality, healthy training so you shine ever brighter in the races that matter. That said, I am still a huge fan of multisport athletes jumping into events that are C-races for practice, i.e. try some open water swim races, bike TTs, running races etc.—in particular, choose races where you have to face your fears and weaknesses so you get stronger. I digress…

30k Trail Race Report
There’s a great trail-race series I’d heard about for years called Into the Wild OC Trail Runs, but I never felt quite confident that my trail running fitness was up to par for tackling longer distances with gnarly hills. This year, that all changed. I didn’t even question the idea of whether I could just jump into a super hilly 30k (18.6 miles) spur of the moment—I knew I was fit for it, and more importantly I had the right state of mind going into this one. I had simple goals: I did not intend to go out and hammer as hard as possible, but rather use it as practice for our future ultras—practice the art of pacing for this style of racing, manage intensity, adapt to the terrain, enjoy the process, and get in the zone vs. sit there thinking “shit, when will this be over?!” It was certainly not about outcomes, finishing times, or beating other runners. I was not "in it to win it."
Course profile

Mid-race picture-taking. Probably less of this in the future...
Fun fact: that trucker hat may very well be a one of only a few in the world! Ben had them made for us
in 2012 when we went to the Endurance Live awards. Lucho was there... wonder if they still have theirs.

My training has been consistent and steady. I’m not doing a ton of MAF HR-specific runs, and certainly not running harder than MAF! Most my runs/hikes are actually sub-MAF, and this is all in effort to build volume in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for me. In order to have the energy and health I want, I can’t be running all this new volume at MAF—I’d crash. So maybe in 2-3 years when this kind of ultra volume is more the norm for my body I’ll be able to handle most of it at MAF, but for now I like my approach, I feel good, and I’m not wrapped up in obsessions to get faster and have it be all about pace—I’m on a mission to build mega endurance and the ability to be on my feet for hours. My overall energy remains great: I can do a 3-plus hour workout then get back to work, talk to clients for the rest of the day, go to the gym, and not be trashed. I’m also adding about 1-2x a week of intensity in the form of hills or sprints. So I guess you could say it is a form of MAF Method polarized training.

My partner-in-crime John did the race too. The race was Saturday, and since we like to keep things interesting, we added a bit of an added challenge to the weekend: We booked at 12:30 Saturday afternoon flight out of OC en route to Arizona to be in Tempe for Sunday’s IMAZ. That meant we had to, no matter what, be done with the 30k within 4 hours to make the transition and catch our flight. Neither of us were worried about those numbers, sub-4 hours was totally doable. I was thinking that I’d be finishing around a 3:30 or a bit faster (logically I figured I could do a 30k just as fast or faster than my open marathon time back in May).

I also convinced one of my local athletes to do the race with us. He’s only been into road marathon racing up until this point, but he loves crosstraining in the trails. He wasn’t so sure about jumping into the 30k distance for his first-ever trial race, and he didn’t think he was ready or prepared for it at all, but this is where the art of coaching is awesome: I knew he was ready and fit for it, so I encouraged him to just give it a try and step outside his comfort zone—you never know what you will discover about yourself in the process, right? So with my vote of confidence he pulled the trigger on the race too. Had he truly not been prepared I would have never put him in a compromising position… but I was certain he was fit and fine for it. A lesson in learning to believe in yourself!

I had zero pre-race nerves or anxious thoughts going into this event, and none of my crazy old mind games reared their ugly heads. It was hard for me to even classify it as an actual race given the weekend on tap—I knew I had to run smart because we still had a lot of activity ahead. Although, since it was just 30k I knew I didn't have to totally hold back. I was reminded of past Xterra Trail Races I did in which I would run so freaking hard that I would be beyond trashed after—that wasn't going to happen this time. I did take a solid rest week going in, just so I could have my best energy for all of it.

Race morning was rad, about the exact opposite of an Ironman. While not technically not an ultra, it still had the ultra vibes: Show up to a random field/dirt parking lot in the hilly wilderness, where about 50 people have casually gathered and head out for an adventure together. Super mellow.

We got going about 7:05 am, and oops, I forgot that it can actually get cold in SoCal, especially in this area near Saddleback Mountain. I was dressed in shorts and T-shirt, no layers. Meanwhile, some folks had on long-sleeve everything and beanie-type hats or gloves. Needless to say, those first 20 minutes I dealt with some excruciatingly cold hands. The rest of my body, even feet, were fine, it was those hands! Finally I wised up and stuck one hand at a time under my shirt on my core to generate some heat. That worked, plus the sun came over the mountains and started shining down on us—before I knew it, the weather was as I expected—pretty hot.

I was running calmly, comfortably going off RPE not even looking at pace or HR. I thought about John (who was on my heels) and my athlete (who was already way ahead of me), and that was about it. I was immersed in my tunes! The night before I made an epic playlist for my ipod, and I was jamming—only one ear bud in so I could still have awareness of my surroundings.

 The first couple miles were more singletrack and nothing too hilly, then miles 3-13 had all the hills—either crazy up, or crazy down, and some little flat sections mixed in occasionally. I love hills, they are like the adult’s version of a rollercoaster to me. This course delivered with about 3,900 feet of elevation gain. I am really confident in my hill climbing right now—and I am totally OK with power hiking up the hills vs trying to run them and burn myself out. I really feel good about the training I’ve been doing, especially using the weighted vest on hike/slow jog days—that’s been a FAST way to ramp up fitness without having to pound more run miles and overly fatigue myself. If you are injury free, resilient to injury and have a solid functional and strength base I highly recommend crosstraining with a weighted-vest. But don’t do it if you’re injury prone, overcoming an injury or working out a known biomechanical issue—fix that shit first.

I was loving all of it. I was totally content stopping to take a picture here and there on my phone (we were on a special trail that’s normally not open to the public so I felt obligated to capture some images lol), and I was also literally singing out loud at times when a really good song came on—for real, ask John. This approach and mindset was huge for a girl like me who spent years being way too overly focused on outcomes, what my competition was doing, what my final time/ranking would be, or what the world would think of my splits—yuck.

Meanwhile, I was actually running pretty well overall in the field—but I had no idea. At that point I could have cared less.

Pre race dinner included this spaghetti squash dish
with fresh herbs.
Nailed it. I had a very light breakfast of a small bowl of paleo cereal (wasn’t hungry at 5am, didn’t need to force it), and I expected that I'd want more calories during the race. I had on board 1.5 liters of plain water in a camelback, 2 of Lindsay Cotter’s Healthy Bites, and a Chocolate Chip Simple Square bar. Here’s how it went down and I timed it also with the course terrain (I knew the last 8k ish was going to be flat/downhill with faster running, no more hills, so I wanted all solid nutrition totally done prior to that):

10 Perfect Amino at 40’ mark

1st Healthy Bite with water at 1:15

2nd Healthy Bite with water at 1:45

½ Simple Square bar with water during mile 12 which was all a steep power hike hill climb.

Other than that, drank water to thirst, getting through ~ 1.25 L during the race, and finishing the rest after the finish, and some.

Healthy bites!

Competitor Mode Switches On
At mile 10-11ish there was an out-and-back section so you could see the runners in front starting to make their way back. Of course, like any normal athlete, I started counting guys and girls. My athlete was running strongly in fifth behind the “big-time” guys! Awwww ya!

I counted three girls who had a decent but not crazy gap on me, which put me in fourth/fifth—I was switching places casually with another girl throughout the race so far. There was a long decent then U-turn and climb right back up the steepest hill of the day, brutal. After that I knew it would be mostly smooth sailing.

Knowing that my position was decent, I couldn't help it—I suddenly slipped into competition mode, just like that. Said to myself, “I guess I should stop jacking around with pictures and singing and dancing to my songs. I don’t know if I can catch any of the girls, but I know I feel good enough to run strong still. Final 8k, let’s do this!” 

The last 5.6 miles were very strong for me, and the last 4 in particular were between 7:15-8:45 pace (helped that it was a moderate decent lol). My cardio and heart rate felt phenomenal like I could hold that effort forever, but muscularly I could start to feel signs of fatigue, soreness and normal breakdown from those hills that had taken their toll. I was actually glad to feel the soreness in my glutes and hamstrings—proved that I hadn't been pacing too easy. I passed a couple guys during this section, but otherwise I was totally alone in the wild. John had fallen off my pace at mile 11, and my other athlete was ahead still. It was nice to be alone on a random trail in my own rhythm.

My longest workouts lately have been 3:00-3:15 on trails, but overall this race was faster than my training days usually go. It was comforting to know I could easily be running in the 8’s or faster at 13-plus miles into a hard trail.

I would look ahead in the distance in the off chance a competitor ahead might pop up, who I could then “hunt down” but saw no one. All good… even though I was feeling more of the competitive vibes, I was still focused on me and my effort, and I felt proud. Body moving well, no issues. I then came up on another dude, who I proceeded to pass in the final mile, then in the finishing chute he came back to battle me in a sprint to the finish; putting ego aside I let him have it.

Finish, Mind Games & More Fun
I crossed at 3:15 on the clock, feeing awesome. That was my longest trail running race ever, and I think I nailed it physically and mentally. On track for what's ahead… 

I found out that the first-place female finished in 3:01, and the second and third place girls finished back-to-back in 3:13 and change—which means I was just TWO minutes from the podium and actual prize money! I won’t lie, I got a bit down on myself after learning this news, and I was kicking myself thinking that without the dilly-dallying and picture taking, and without the couple stops for John, I could have easily shaved off 2 minutes or more off my finish time. My brain was going there—i.e. the woulda-coulda-shoulda crap. But I quickly shut that shit down and found peace with my performance. I had been truly happy and in control the entire race, and I couldn’t let finishing times and rankings ruin that or get me down—I couldn't play those mind games. Too many times I've beat myself up over race performances thinking about where I could have saved a minute here and there for a better finishing time/ranking. I'm over that.

Still, flirting with a top finishing spot and the taste of competition again, well, it felt good. Can you blame me? I'm a bit hungry for some more, hehe. But I am also patient and set on doing things my way, the healthy way, this time around, and certainly not being a results-driven athlete. Did I mention our approach to Badwater Salton Sea is about making the cutoffs, not about how fast we can go?! At 81 miles, I have no desire to push the pace this "early" into my ultra racing.

John finished in 3:40ish, very on par with his current training, but I think he's ready to step it up a bit. It's time. I'm doing more than he is, and you could tell in my performance vs. his—he also dealt with a bit of cramping and whatnot, which I think was more training-related.
This guy has grit. Proud of him! It's all good. We got this.

He recovered just fine, and we felt great for the rest of the weekend.

We ended up getting to our flight with time to spare, then had an epic day with my athletes and the rest of the racers at IMAZ. If you follow Ironman you probably heard that it was a cold, wet, dreary day. Oh boy, yes it was… 12-plus hours of spectating with a good amount of shivering and lunges to stay warm. But every second was well worth a bit of personal discomfort—seeing my athletes and friends kill it, and be so tough, was priceless.

And I got to meet Maffetone in person finally!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Analyzing Healthy Eating vs. Eating Disorders (including Orthorexia), and The Need to Get Out

Whoa long title... but lot's to follow up on in regard to my last post.

Among all the lovely comments, emails and replies to the anorexia post (btw, thank you!), a couple stood out, which makes me want to dive deeper into this very important conversation. Basically the jist of those comments was, "But, Tawnee, it is OK to 'fear' today's food, ingredients and restaurants!"

The folks who said this, folks whom I highly respect for the record, suggested that it's better to prepare your own food (aka cook at home), be seriously skeptical of the restaurant industry and what really goes on in their kitchens (especially in the U.S.), and find ways to socialize or go on dates that don't center around food and dining out.

Valid points.

However, I said, "Yeah, but it's different if you've had an eating disorder (ED). In fact, it's really complicated...."

Letting Go of Control and Loneliness
For one, I've had to work my ass off to overcome some serious fears over food, control issues with food, body dysmorphia, and self-imposed social isolation. When you're suffering from an ED, you are lonely--extremely lonely no matter how many people love you and how many friends you have. And loneliness is not fun. In fact, the latest NBT podcast with Dr. Bryan Walsh explains how loneliness has very negative impact on gut health and overall health. I had to step up and stop isolating myself. There where times where I'd go hide in my car at SDSU (while it was parked in a hot parking structure) to eat my "lunch" for fear of people seeing what I actually ate, and what they may think of me. Those were sad times. I've had to overcome anxiety eating in groups (even with family!), anxiety over dining out, and anxiety over what my body looks like to the world. Thus, it is incredibly important that I continue to GET OUT and make sure I don't get "stuck" in my safe place at home, eating my "safe" meals. Not only physically get out the door to sit at a restaurant but also build up the comfort and confidence to enjoy the company of others--and not feel isolated but rather feel engaged, connected and truly part of a group. (And this isn't just specific to those with ED's either; think about how often we're lonely when we're around others; in or cubicle or social media are good examples too....)

Not to mention I love the experiences and life-lasting memories that often come from dining out--even at the risk of a few less-than-perfect ingredients. John and I have had some amazing times, amazing meals, and guess what? I survived, and he and I thrive as a couple. Plus, since 80 to 90 percent of the time I am cooking at home and eat an incredibly clean diet (even when we travel we do VRBO to get places with kitchens so that we can home-cook some of our meals) I think that extra 10 to 20 percent of the time I'm perfectly ok stepping outside into the world and take risks--and so are you.

My risks don't include "extreme eating" like sketchy hole-in-the-wall buffets, questionable hot dog stands, Outback Steakhouse-type fare or fast-food joints, etc. Hell no! I'll sit out on eating truly bad stuff, and/or go there to be social but not eat--then before (or after) eat something better quality. When we dine out, I am usually very conscious of choosing good restaurants, for health reasons above all--not for the need to control/restrict calories or lose weight. Ok maybe I am too conscious at times of searching for "the perfect" restaurants (getting a little obsessed with Yelp), but I truly care about fueling my body with the best quality foods possible--organic produce, free-range/grass-fed meats, wild fish, healthy fats, locally sourced fare, etc. Especially since I have knowledge (maybe too much knowledge) on nutrition and today's food supply--it is a scary world out there if you're not careful--and because I want to fuel for performance in sport and life. I'm the first to agree, and recommend, that we should give a lot of thought and concern into the the quality of food we eat, the restaurants we choose, and the meals we cook at home.

Happy times at a random restaurant in DC...
...trying creamy, buttery escargot--worry free!

New-Age Eating Disorders
This begs the question.... what's the healthiest approach? Does it always have to be about adhering to the best-quality ingredients, or should we let go more often--let go of the associated stress that comes with seeking perfect food--and be more free and go-with-the-flow. If you get too wrapped up in always trying to eat a perfect, pure, healthy diet, you go down a scary road--one that's lonely and isolated--and risk developing a new-age eating disorder known as orthorexia, the obsession with eating healthy food to the point where it disrupts your life, behavior and happiness.

I've thought about it in my own case: Has my ED past manifested into some form of orthorexia? Are my aforementioned friends who told me I should fear the food and only cook at home also orthorexics? (They both work in the functional health field, after all.) There's plenty of reason to believe, as you'll see below, why a former anorexic could easily fall become orthorexic. I don't want to think that's the case with me... and I'll argue why I don't think I'm orthorexic. But at the same time I don't think you'll ever catch me eating McDonald's or even the salad at Chuck E Cheese's, ever.

So now to the meat of the post. I've got some 'splaining to do. 

Breaking it Down
Gets confusing though, right? You're telling me. There are multiple situations going on, and they can't be lumped together. What the former anorexic feels--often irrational fears--is very different than what a non-pathological human feels when going to a restaurant with intent to eat healthy--which is different but similar to the orthorexic. Thus, my friends who promote cooking at home have a fair, valid point, but they have to understand there are reasons why I choose to eat out that are more important to me than ingredients alone. Below I'll attempt to distinguish the differences among the types of people we're talking about:

Person 1: 
Those who strive to eat quality/healthy food but are flexible with no disorder

Person 2: 
Those who've suffered from an eating disorder such as 
anorexia nervosa ("AN") and/or bulimia nervosa ("BN")

Person 3: 
Those who've developed Orthorexia Nervosa ("ON") by taking healthy eating too far

Person 4: 
Those who are all or some of the above

It could be a good practice to find out where you fall on the spectrum in your quest to develop a healthy relationship with food, your body, your mind, and stress levels--and to avoid any loneliness or isolation caused by fear over food.

Person 1Health-Conscious but Non-Pathological 
This is the person who seeks healthy food and clean ingredients for smart reasons, with no underlying pathology. Their reasoning to eat healthy may include achieving and maintaining good health status, avoiding harmful substances (i.e. pesticides, GMOs, chemicals, additives, hormones, etc), disease prevention, and building a well-functioning body that's not overloaded with sugar, gluten and other disruptive forms of food. Or it's the person who wants to eat healthy and clean as part of their health and fitness routine--perhaps they're in high training mode and need/want to feel their best, or they achieved great weight loss and don't want a setback. Or it's the person who's doing it for more ethical and moral reasons. With the increase of documentaries, books and articles exposing what really goes on behind the scenes in the food industry--from poor treatment of animals to GMO crops--some folks will not support these poor practices and avoid conventional foods for better alternatives--they consciously seek labels that say "organic" or "free range" or "grass-fed" (hint: labeling something "natural" doesn't count--that term is total BS with no governing regulations). Person 1 may develop a sense of pride in choosing quality over the "evil"' stuff, as well as realize how much better quality food in terms of its nutrient density, nourishing properties and superior taste*. Or maybe Person 1 doesn't even care so much about health-food per se, but simply realizes that junk food and empty calories make her feel like crap--and she chooses not to feel like crap.

That said, Person 1 is not overly obsessed with only eating healthy, quality, pure food. She likely has no pathological condition surrounding food or her body and its size/shape. She allows for balance--realizing we can't all be perfect--and sometimes living life means the occasional situation where the food may not be the best, so she adapts, doesn't freak out and understands that the 80-20 rule (or some variation) will ensure she'll be okay. For example, she's flexible and willing to eat most things at holiday gatherings or parties, she can find something to eat at most restaurants or during travel without any food-related stress, she's okay having the occasional "conventional" piece of birthday cake or pizza. Person 1 has good intentions to eat well, but realizes we can't be perfect so we can just do our best, and the idea or reality of a "bad" meal or "bad" day of eating won't shatter her world or have lasting psychological implications like anxiety, fear, doubt, and obsessive thoughts.

Bottom line, she's not eating the Standard America Diet ("SAD") by any means, and rather is much healthier and making conscious decisions for clean, quality food the majority of the time, but she is flexible and doesn't see food, or control over food, as a source of stress.

Btw: I think my fiance, John, is person 1, and I admire him. He definitely makes efforts to eat as healthy as possible but realizes it'll never be perfect, so he doesn't stress it and instead lives a balanced, happy life and goes with the flow. Could he be healthier in his meal choices at times, sure. Does he know that? Yes. But at what price? Maybe more stress that then makes him less healthy?


Person 2: Healthy-Eating-Turned-Orthorexia
For argument sake, let's assume Person 2 does not have a history of an eating disorder nor a per-existing condition. It started out innocently enough: She got on a health kick, liked how it felt, saw results, and even liked how it felt to be part of an "elite" community of fellow healthy-eaters. She spent free time reading/following blogs and websites on nutrition, clean eating and healthy recipes. She started obsessing more over "pure" eating, eliminating anything that was not deemed healthy, and even letting her obsession with healthy food cut into her social life by declining invites if she knew there's be unhealthy options. She'd get angry if she couldn't stick to her healthy routine, fussy if ingredients weren't up to par. It snowballed, and healthy eating went too far turning into the latest of eating disorders: orthorexia.

Orthorexia was coined by Steven Bratman, MD, in 1996 and literally means "the fixation on righteous eating." Although it's not listed as a disorder in the DSM-5, it is an increasingly growing REAL eating disorder in today's population, and happens when people who let a once-innocent desire to eat clean, quality, and pure go too far. The quest for quality food dominates their life. How does it differ from healthy eating? According to Dr. Bratman, "healthy eating is a conscious choice. Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy food that involves other emotional factors and has become psychologically and perhaps even physically unhealthy. It is an eating disorder."

I can certainly see this being the case for many athletes, especially endurance athletes, who are very in tune with their bodies and very particular about the food they allow in order to look and perform a certain way. In fact it took two seconds to find research validating that theory. On one hand, I think it's fair for an athlete to be strict with diet--or any human, it doesn't have to be athlete--but how do you know that strict approach has gone too far?

When it invades your life and "creates psychological distress and impairs various life dimensions, but does not present a physical danger," says Dr. Bratman (who recovered from orthorexia). Dr. Bratman was also quoted on nationaleatingdisorders.org saying, “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed. … I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life's meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”

Still, there are some who think it's silly that healthy eating could be considered a terrible thing, but in my eyes--as someone who's lived through an ED--I don't think it's too silly at all. Those addictions and obsessions can go too far, I think. However, I would NOT consider ON on the level of AN or BN.... I just wouldn't...

More on healthy eating vs. ON - and don't be a "wannabe orthorexic."
Here's a test used to assess ON
Here's a critical look at ON.


Person 3: The Recovered ED
I don't want to take the space here to define an ED other than they are mental disorders, often life-threatening; read more here. What I do want to distinguish is the difference between ON and other EDs: AN/BN are more related more to the quantity of food, while ON is more about quality. AN/BN patients seek an ideal body image, while ONs seek a pure body. Usually there are strong biological roots in AN/BN cases (my story supports this), whereas I would argue that ON may be more of a phenomenon of our modern world (and the person with the "right" traits falls victim). ON often has roots in obsession to look good and fit in, including on social media--AN/BN not so much. Not too many ANs want to post full-body selfies. Instead, AN/BN often reach a level where they knowingly don't take care of their bodies--they realize the harm but still continue on. TO complicate it further, as you will read in Person 4, it seems that these days the lines are often blurred between ON and AN/BN.

So for the Recovered ED (aka Recovered AN/BN), it's complicated... there are stages to get through. Let's assume we're talking about someone in a maintenance and relapse-prevention stage, or beyond. Whether you finished rehab yesterday or 20 years ago, it doesn't just shrivel up and die as soon as treatment is over. If you've never experienced an ED don't assume that this illness can be expelled from the mind and body once and for all.

There's a lot of shit that can still surface, those unwelcome inner "demons" that rear their ugly heads:

1) Sometimes food choices may or may not not have pure intentions about healthy, clean eating. Perhaps eating healthy is just another manifestation of restriction or quantity control. Research supports that some Recovered ED's still have a strong urge to control food, ingredients and/or weight even in the management post-ED phases, and healthy eating or having dietary restrictions (i.e. vegan, gluten free) is the perfect excuse; for more see Person 4.

2) Maybe exercise addiction is still present along with body dysmorphia and the need to control weight. The Recovered ED may be a normal weight but inside feels strong impulses to keep strict control over bodyweight, fears getting fat, and maybe even feels fat or obese even if that's not the case. An "easy solution" is to take up a sport that requires a lot of training, or some highly-regimented fitness routine. There's a bit of comfort found in the calories-in, calories-out equation.

3) Speaking of punishment, it's hard for the Recovered ED  to let go of feelings of guilt and self-hate. For example, say she over-indulged--not binged--but simply enjoyed eating whatever food was present and let go of that damn voice telling her to control. It felt so good for a second--free and liberating--but then... then the guilt set in. The desire for self-punishment and future restrictions started brewing... 

4) Or, there is some presence of obsessions, the need for control, and anxiety issues. There are still "pizza stories" that pop up. Perhaps these obsessions manifest into a new issue. Enter Person 4.

I could go on... keep in mind I'm highlighting the problematic behavior for a Recovered ED (for the purpose of this post) not the positive gains they've made. Whatever the problem is, it's all about self-management and belief in one's self that they are better than the ED.


Person 4: The Recovered-ED-Turned-Othrorexic
Yikes. Person 4 is not just someone I made up, there is strong evidence in the research of this being and actual person. This study, for example, had a small sample size, but it showed how "easy" it is to develop ON if there's a history of AN or BN. ON symptoms are highly prevalent among patients with, or recovering from, AN and BN. ON tends to increase after treatment of and improvement from AN/BN--it's migration toward a "less severe" form of an ED.

I see how this can be. Coming off AN/BN it seems very logical that one would develop a new obsession for eating healthy--the obsession for quality, to some degree, replaces an obsession over quantity. Let's assume that she even lets go of obsessing over weight loss and calorie control. Now the obsessions are about organic, gluten-free, chemical-free, etc--all those distinguishing variables I listed with Person 1 (oh, Person 1, it was so simple then lol). Again, seems innocent enough, right? But not so fast...

Since there are biological roots in someone who develops AN/BN, the new ON obsessions may trigger the same old anxiety or irrational fears over food, and bring back the same old habits, rituals and tricks. More and more food is "off the table" for being considered edible, dining out once again becomes a problem (god forbid eating non-organic), there's more secrecy and seclusion surrounding food. The fun is taking out of food, anxiety comes back, and the quest for healthy food is no longer pure. All of a sudden it appears a worse relapse may be occurring: social isolation, psychological disturbance and even treating the body maliciously again.

Perhaps even the desire to control weight and calories comes back. Dr. Bratman says there are "covert anorexics" who use healthy food as an excuse for low calorie. Even the diagnosis of "anorexia" now includes one's desire to eat healthy food--not just restriction. Equally confusing, there's research to support that some orthorexics start to take on AN/BN behaviors like binge/purge or severe restriction and weight loss obsessions. It gets to a point where you have to question what really is going on here? What's the diagnosis?! It's complicated!

"Today, the majority of people with orthorexia may best described as having orthorexia with anorexic features, and a large percentage of those with anorexia as having anorexia with orthorexic features," says Bratman.


Final Thoughts
I can't help but think about where I fall.... I wish I was Person 1. I'm not quite there. I'm likely some hybrid of a Recovered ED with ON tendencies--but I certainly don't consider myself to be ON. If I weren't careful, I probably could go down that road. I won't go down that road. I don't want to be lonely and isolated due to food ever again. So I have to be proactive. How so? Keep it real. Go outside my comfort zone. Face situations that will allow me to toughen up and manage it. I don't like going out of my way to introduce stress (like the pizza episode), but sometimes risking a little potential stress up front ends up saving a lot of big stress down the line--and could even promote better health going back to the Bryan Walsh/NBT podcast. It's the same with sport, the podcast, entrepreneurship, even backpacking--none of these things are "easy" and there are definitely associated stresses and fears at times, but that doesn't mean I hide from them by quitting or getting a "safe" desk job instead. I step up to the challenge--and I also become a part of some great communities as a result, making life-long friends and lasting relationships in the process. Just look at lucho and I--he's my BFF! All because I got over myself and public speaking fear to do the podcast AND bring on a co-host who at first intimidated me due to his amazing race resume/reputation.

So with food, hell yea, I will proudly eat healthy and clean, and hell yea, there are still certain unhealthy foods that I'll absolutely refuse to eat for health reasons. But I'm equally set on branching out and maintaining balance and quality relationships--let me say that again QUALITY RELATIONSHIPS. I do my best to maintain an open mind and a flexible approach and attitude. I don't want to go down a path of stress, isolation, loneliness and misery just because of food... 
Sometimes that means facing those very stressors to stand up to them, and sometimes I have to fight really hard to overcome the old demons. But I got it. I can and will stay strong. Attitude prevails.

ED or not, maybe we can all take this as a lesson to ease up a bit... don't always stress... think deeply if you are feeling lonely or isolated (for food reasons or otherwise), and know that we won't be perfect, but there are tools to have a damn fulfilling, fun life--pizza included.

What do you think: 
How far should we take our healthy habits? How far is too far?
Have you ever felt lonely or isolated because of your eating habits/dietary needs?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Anorexia Nervosa

John and I grabbed a table after ordering our dinner where we proceeded to make small talk, sip our drinks, and take in the ambiance as we waited.

Then, for about the billionth time, my mind started freaking out. Here we go, yet again. I didn't let him in to the inner turmoil and nervousness bubbling up inside of me. Anxiety-filled thoughts about the food, the ingredients and the impending meal clouded my brain. I was fidgety. I practically began chugging my glass of wine as an attempt to chill out. I felt my heart beating faster. Flushed. Brain on overload. Obsessive thoughts about food overwhelmed me. More wine....

I was second-guessing the order we just made. What were the ingredients? Was it the healthiest, best choice? Does this place really use quality ingredients or are they BS-ing? Should I have found a "better" restaurant for us? I had spent an hour on Yelp researching what was nearby, deciding that this one restaurant--an artisan pizza place with quality ingredients--would meet our needs for a healthy yet somewhat indulgent delicious Friday night dinner date. But now I wasn't so sure (for no reason). Shit.

C'mon wine, set in, I thought. It was the first time in a long time that I was "using" wine for this reason again.

The anxiety was real. I had control over the choice of restaurant, but now I had no more control over the situation. All I could do was wait. The meal was in the hands of someone else. I had to let go... but... ugh. John hadn't caught on to anything being wrong with me. I was pretending to be as cool and casual as ever. I've gotten pretty damn good at that over the years. But this was far from normal thoughts and behavior.

Finally pizza No. 1 came. A "personal size" gourmet pizza. It looked good--great actually. I wondered if they remembered to use the gluten-free crust. I hoped the GF crust didn't have too much starch or gum-type ingredients, which upset my GI system. They brought pizza No. 2, but it was the wrong one! Shit. We sent it back, hoping they'd remake it the right.



I dove in for a slice.

My heart was pounding. John was already halfway through his first slice at this point. He had no idea.

I tried to take a moment before that first bite to calm down and ease my mind. Telling myself the same old, "You're fine. What's the worst that can happen? Just enjoy.... Don't scarf it down. Don't turn this into something ridiculous." I know from past experience that I'm more likely to get an upset stomach and digestive issues if I eat while overly anxious.

I found some peace after a little self-talk, breathing and positive thinking. I wasn't going to let "it" win, even if "it" was trying.

Those first couple bites settled well. I was feeling better. I was over the hurdle. The anxiety left. Relaxed. No longer feeling threatened. It was no longer Tawnee vs. Food. Flight or fight over; transitioned into rest and digest mode. And thankfully the wine pour was meager so I never even got a buzz--I was clear-headed. I laid off the wine... I enjoy the taste, but I didn't "need" it nor a buzz.

The second pizza came, the right order this time, along with a side of veggies. We enjoyed the evening. I was able to recover from that little episode and have a happy fun date with my man. I didn't make a dramatic scene about it... although, the next day I did tell him what had happened. He understood. He knows.


Let's back up...

In 2003-'04 I developed and fought anorexia nervosa.

There. I said it.

I am no longer anorexic by definition, haven't been for years, but the struggle and the traits that led to my eating disorder are still there. I wish it would just be done forever... I've dealt with similar versions of the pizza story for more than 10 years now... it's getting old.

My anorexia (the aforementioned "it") never got to the point of hospitalization, but it did require treatment and therapy, which drastically detoured my life for a period of time. I was in college, and after my freshman year had to move home for a bit to rehab.

I recovered within a year from the worst of it, and with the right mindset I've moved on to live a relatively normal life. I truly believe at the root of my being I am a strong woman, and I was not going to let my zest for life and potential go to waste. I was determined not to let anorexia define me, control me nor ruin me. At the end of the day, I just wanted to live a healthy, fun, fulfilling life. So I went for it. Oddly those traits that led to my anorexia (perfectionist, over-achiever, Type A, obsessive, etc) were also the same ones that helped me recover, move on and thrive. And 10-plus years later, I've excelled in my goals, developed a better relationship with food and my body (especially when I found triathlon), and accomplished awesome stuff. It could have been way worse. I was lucky to be a tough chick.

However, it's not that easy. It wasn't totally happily ever after. The psychology of the eating disorder, the ability to become anxious over food on the drop of a dime, the body-images issues and issues with weight.... All of that was still there, and still is at times. Over the past decade my brain will "go there" and haunt me with obsessions, fears and anxieties over food and my body. There are certainly triggers that I have to manage, which I plan to talk about in more detail forthcoming.

Many of us, especially athletes, have some issues with food, questioning what to eat, what will be best for our bodies, and what we should avoid (especially challenging in this day and age with info overload on diet). Athletes, especially female athletes, are subject to scrutiny on so many levels, from our own minds and from others. People are never totally satisfied with their appearance and develop lifelong body-image issues. It's tough. I get it.

But anorexia, like I've lived through, takes that to a whole other level...

Eating disorders suck. 


Moving on.

I no longer try to restrict my eating in an unhealthy way, I don't force myself to lose weight, nor do I strive to be stick thin. (In fact, I think anorexics get to the point where it's not even really about being stick thin anymore--instead, the disorder takes over and it's the obsessions, need for control and restrictive nature from which they can't break free, so they continue down that path even if they understand the harm they're doing.)

I did break free. I've been able to regain a level of health that's quite incredible if you think about where I've been. I've built myself back up from zero (or, more accurately, about 103 pounds at my lowest). I strive to be strong and thrive, using food as fuel to build a healthy body. I can sleep well at night knowing I worked so hard to get where I am now. In fact, I may be your go-to girl on how to build a healthy body and mind, as well as navigate food, body image and performance of course!

But just because I'm an expert and have had success doesn't mean "it" is gone and out of my system. Like the pizza date episode described above, I still have to deal with the disorder in my head, and occasionally I have those episodes of inner anxiety, obsessive thoughts, worry, and sometimes even tears and sadness as it relates to food and my body. Usually it all comes back to needing control over food, meals, weight--or fearing what may happen when I surrender control. Oddly, I'm a foodie and love eating out and trying new dishes. Go figure.

So back to that pizza date for example. Was that a victory? Yes and no. I consciously choose places like that pizza joint for John and I to go to because 1) he will appreciate it, and 2) it's good for me to avoid getting stuck at my familiar and safe restaurants or with home-cooking. I have to branch out, take risks, and that keeps me healthy. I actually love dining out (the inner foodie in me), but getting over the hump can sometimes be tough (the inner anorexic mentality). On the other hand, unfortunately, the pizza date proved to me that I'm not over those thoughts that lead me down a negative path--I still have that anxious response whether I want to or not--I don't want to!

These days, I think part of my food frustrations are also due to the gut issues I've developed, which are not just pretend in my head, nor an excuse to restrict. The last thing I want to do is restrict. My gut problems are very real and have been quite severe over the past 5-8 years, but just now am I connecting the dots. It took me years to wake up to the fact that what I was feeling is NOT normal. Just recently, I made a discovery browsing the research: Those with a history of an eating disorder are very likely to develop some level of gut issues within 10 years of the ED. I dug deeper. Turns out, there's a very high correlation between those with ED's and gut disorders. So, how ironic is that: Now that I want to eat normally, the gut issues are forcing me to be careful or pay the price. You can maybe see how this gets tough at times.

But I refuse to let this crap take away the one thing I have: my strength.

So what do I do? I manage it. I have become a master at managing it, and a lot better at having the right tools to counteract the bad thoughts and feelings. It's taken me years to build those skills and fill that toolbox, and I'm still working on it. Maybe one day it will be gone for good. Who knows? I don't live in "what if" land so I don't dwell on that idea. In the meantime, I'm willing to face potential anxiety and go outside my comfort zone vs. running away and hiding in my familiar safe place. That is how I am able to remain strong!


Why bring this up now...

Why didn't I bring it up before?


Fear of what you may think of me. I held back for years out of fear of the opinion and judgements of others, and fear of losing credibility as an athlete, coach and expert in my field. But I will not go forward in fear because this is a journey that needs to be told--I know it can help someone else who's struggling and inspire many others. It's time. I think it's extremely important to tell the whole story.

I'm not afraid anymore. I am so incredibly confident in who I am, what I do, and my knowledge base, and anorexia does not take away any of that. I am not defined by that piece of my history, but it is part of who I am and what I've become.

What's next? Lots. I started writing about my journey on this blog in fact (a separate post from this one), and about how the anorexia came to be, with intentions of describing in detail my post-anorexia days in triathlon, building a better relationship with food and my body, and all that. The blog started getting long, really long, like thousands of words. Not to mention all the research I started uncovering and citing in addition to my own story. I realized this is--and needs to be--much more than a blog post. This will be the biggest project of my life so far. And it just feels right.


Go hug someone, for me... thanks xo

Please note that I am not a doctor nor counselor. If you or someone you love has an eating disorder, or you suspect someone you know might have an ED, the right treatment plan is in your grasp. Here are some resources. Don't wait another second. There is life beyond this dark place. 

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.