How Training Saved My Life – Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, go back and read it here.

After the race, I cracked. I ate a whole roll of Oreos, which felt like the worst of sins at that point. Oreos were not even remotely close to being “on plan”, but I didn’t care. I was tired, I was hungry, I was mentally broken, and I was frustrated with everything in my life.

I jumped on the scale a few days later and had lost weight. Clearly, Oreos are clearly the key to weight loss. That moment was incredibly freeing – I ate something “off plan” and I didn’t gain a ton of weight. In fact, the opposite happened.

This all resulted in a huge mental shift for me. It was the first time I realized that perhaps food is not the enemy. That moment was enough for me to quit my diet plan and perhaps start nourishing my body. It was not an easy process though; I spent the next several months still obsessively counting calories and semi-starving myself.

Later that year, I went through a rough breakup with my live-in boyfriend. I ended up moving in with my friend Ryan (the crazy 200 mile runner), his wife, and their baby girl. Their approach to food was entirely the opposite of obsessive calorie counting and for the first time, I started to realize that the quality of your food matters more than the caloric quantity.

In hopes of healing the hormonal and metabolic damage I did, I adopted a totally grain free, sugar free (even most fruit was a no-go), higher fat diet. Somewhere between “strict Paleo” and a primal diet, since I was still consuming dairy and beans on occasion. Lots of people have benefitted from high-fat, low carb diets, but let me tell you how unpleasant becoming fat-adapted is. I was a gem to be around!    

Ryan decided that his goal for that year was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. His wife Kim decided she was also going to run this marathon and recruited me and one other friend to run as well. Like before, we bonded over the miles and we laughed and cried and lamented our blisters and chafing and the terrible weather.

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Amazed that we survived our first 15 mile run together!

We ran distances that seemed impossible and wondered how we would ever run farther than we just did. I remember looking at the training plan I found for myself and being completely intimidated. I learned important lessons about BodyGlide and hydrating and good socks and that I really just shouldn’t drink orange Gatorade.

My two training partners both ended up injured during training and committed to the half marathon instead of the full. Ryan’s training also did not go as planned and he agreed to pace me instead of trying to run a really fast race. I was sad for him, but happy that I wouldn’t have to do this big scary thing all by myself.

We got on a bus at 4 am and headed up the Poudre Canyon. I was so nervous. “Trust your training”, he told me. Trust your training. I have repeated that phrase more times than I can count. To myself and to other people. I was surprised by how quickly the first several miles flew by. My goal was to break 4 hours and I was on perfect pace to do that. It would be close, but I was on pace. By the 20 mile mark, we were both hurting and trying to keep each other in good spirits. We caught a mutual friend of ours about 23 miles in and the 3 of us suffered through the last 5 kilometers together. There is nothing like shared suffering to bring people together. I finished in 3:58. It was close, but I made it!

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I felt like I got hit by a bus but I felt invincible. It was an amazing experience. However, despite being smarter about my diet and training, I had actually gained a bit of weight during training and my hormones were nowhere close to balanced. Every doctor I saw kept telling me that it was “stress and exercise”. Maybe relax and don’t run so much. I was hesitant to take that as an answer because there are people who run marathons and still get their periods. I’m pretty sure I could be one of those people.

I don’t know who decided another marathon was a good idea. But I suckered a lot of people into it, including my parents, my sister, Ryan, Kim, and my brother. My brother was hesitant and I finally just registered for him. He’d thank me later.

 

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Those post-marathon feels

I started graduate school in Iowa late that summer and began training hard. My family reunited at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. I finished almost 12 minutes faster than my previous race, which put my Boston-qualifying time only 12 minutes away. It would be a big stretch, but I started to wonder if I could qualify.

 

 

Unfortunately, living in Iowa also put me into a bit of a negative environment and my weird relationship with food reared its ugly head again. I was obsessive about my caloric intake, I restricted myself, and I started to feel exhausted all of the time again. I would fall asleep at my desk, I was cold all of the time, and somehow still bought into the idea that this was an acceptable way to go about my life. I was lifting weights 5 days per week, running 5 days per week, biking to and from campus every day, playing soccer, teaching group fitness classes and absolutely not doing a good job nourishing myself. I was training with a couple friends of mine who were really fast and between the tough training and the weight loss, I was the fastest I had ever been.

I moved home for the summer at close to my lightest adult weight ever. I was back to “runner skinny” but I managed not to look nearly as sick this time around. I injured my knee about a month into the summer and spent about 4 months in physical therapy. I was crushed. I was in great shape and what about my dreams of Boston?!

Since I couldn’t run, I decided that this might be a good time to focus on getting my body back to healthy. I had all but given up on things ever being back to normal, but I decided to give it another shot. I met with a Naturopathic Doctor and the test results brought me to tears. I learned that I was gluten intolerant, deficient in a number of key nutrients, and my estrogen and progesterone levels were almost unmeasurable because they were so low. It was a typical hormone profile for a woman who was post-menopausal, only I was 24 years old.

We tried a number of different treatments. I felt like I tried everything. I tried all kinds of supplements in all kinds of doses. Being on incredibly strong hormonal treatments makes for an interesting few months. But nothing worked. There was little improvement in my blood work and I hadn’t had a period in 18 months. My body was broken on the inside and on the outside. The situation felt hopeless. 

But this isn’t where the story ends! Stay tuned for Part 3 of my story!

 

Distance Running 101

Thinking about distance running? Here are my recommendations for getting started!

Gear

  • Shoes – Make an investment here. Good shoes are a game changer. I highly recommend going to a store that specializes in running shoes for these. I suggest trying on a lot of shoes, running in them (both on a treadmill and outside), and finding something that feels comfortable. Comfort is the priority here.
    • You can check out runningwarehouse, leftlanesports, and even amazon for good deals on running shoes.
  • Socks – Also worth an investment! $15 for a pair of socks seems ridiculous until you don’t have to worry about blisters anymore. My favorite brand is Feetures!. I also like Balega and SmartWool.
  • Bodyglide – Buy this. Use it on your long runs. Especially in the humidity. Chafing is a terrible terrible thing.

Training/Tracking

  • Routes – I use MapMyRun to plan routes. You can also use Google Pedometer, but I like MapMyRun much better. You can log routes, save activities, and see what other people have logged as routes. You can also use MapMyRun to keep track of your weekly mileage.
  • Training runs –  I recommend 3-4 runs per week.
    • 1 day per week: Long Run. This is obviously your longest run of the week. You will gradually increase your mileage most weeks until you reach your goal distance or close. I like to run the race distance a few weeks before the actual race just to know that I can at least run that far and not die.
    • 1 day per week : “Quality” run. I like to program in a speedwork day or a tempo/”sustained hard effort” day every week. I usually alternate – one week is intervals and the next week has a tempo day. These runs are hard but really really helpful!!
    • 1-2 days per week: Easy run. These runs should be 60-80% effort. The focus of these runs is building your aerobic base.
  • Strength Training – I recommend fitting strength training into your routine. The stronger I am, the faster I recover and the less I hurt. Here is a short routine (~20 minute) to try 2 days per week – no equipment necessary!

Warm Up: 5-10 minutes of something to get blood flowing (jumping jacks, jump rope, jogging in place, high knees, butt kickers, etc.)

2 Rounds (30 seconds of high effort, 30 seconds of rest for each movement)
Air Squats (or squat jumps)
Pushups
Crunches (or V-Ups)
Alternating lunges (or jumping lunges)
Plank jacks (or a regular plank)
Burpees
Glute bridge hold (single or double leg)

  • Taper – About 1.5-2 weeks before your race, you will want to gradually decrease your mileage to be properly recovered for your race. About 3 weeks before the race, you will have your highest mileage week. 2 weeks prior will be 65-75% of that peak mileage, and the week of the race will be a low mileage week with lots of easy running to make sure your legs are fresh come race day.

Nutrition/Hydration

  • Water – I suggest hydrating before and after your runs. I typically don’t carry water unless I’m running for more than an hour and/or in warm weather. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you. I’d suggest bringing water on your longer runs – I like this water bottle for long runs and this one for shorter distances.
  • Pre-Workout Nutrition – This will depend on when you run. If I run in the morning, I will typically just have some coffee. If I am going out for 90+ minutes, I’ll usually have a banana and peanut butter a little before. If it’s a really long run, I’ll try to eat something more substantial but still easily digestible (oatmeal, energy bar, ½ a bagel with peanut butter) about 2 hours beforehand. You’ll have to play around with this and figure out what works well for you in terms of what sits well and timing and that sort of thing.

   If I run in the afternoon or evening, I will try to time it so that my last meal was about 3 hours prior to my run. Some people can run sooner after that – just depends on how you feel.

  • Electrolytes – Again, this is something that I don’t typically use unless it’s really hot and I’m going to be on the road for 90+ minutes. However, most of the time I just try to get something in once I am home. You can make a DIY electrolyte drink with lemon juice, salt, and water – adjust those to taste. I’ve found that to be just as effective as commercial beverages. Coconut water is also a great way to rehydrate.
  • Gels/Gu/Fuel – I typically use these only on my long runs. Most recommendations are to use about 1 every 45-60 minutes for exercise lasting an hour or more. I usually use one every 6 miles for runs lasting more than 90 minutes. If it’s less than 90 minutes, I am usually ok with my pre-run banana and peanut butter. Again, something to experiment with. Also, a lot of these have electrolytes in them, so you don’t need to double down with both gels and an electrolyte drink during your run.

I use Hammer gels – the Montana Huckleberry flavor is probably the best. Clif Shotbloks aren’t awful either. There are tons of brands and products out there – the key is to find something that works well for you. I have also used bananas, dates, honey, jellybeans, homemade energy bars, homemade gels, etc.  

Remember, the first few weeks are the hardest! Stick with it and you may find that you even enjoy it. And no matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everyone on the couch!

More questions about running? Shoot me an email – I’d love to help! 

How Training Saved My Life – Part 1

Training saved my life. It continues to save my life. At first, it was about losing body fat and getting healthier. These days it’s more about my sanity and my confidence and becoming who I have always hoped that I could be. My story is long and random and full of ups and downs. I learned so much along the way and my own struggles and failures have given me the passion to help others on their journeys!


HPIM0611 (3)Like many people,  I grew up reasonably active, I played sports in high school, and I ate whatever I wanted. As you do when you are 17 years old. I started putting on a bit of weight during my senior year and once the last sports season ended for me, I lost my structured workouts and I w
as overweight by the time graduation rolled around. Things didn’t get better for me in college. I partied a lot, I ate Del Taco at 2 in the morning, and I gained the “Freshman 15”, which is a nice way to say that I put on close to 40 pounds. I have no idea what my heaviest weight was, but I know it was in the 200s by my 21st birthday.

I don’t remember what inspired me to do anything different. In the spring of 2010, the chiropractor I was seeing started group high-intensity workouts and was looking for people to join. So I did. His employee was starting to do some personal training not long after that and I agreed to be one of his clients. It was awful.

Just kidding, it was great. I just was not prepared for it! My starting weight was 190 pounds and I was in complete denial about how out of shape I was. It was humbling. I whined and complained and wanted to quit at least once a day. There are two moments that really stand out for me – the first time I cried on the floor of a gym and the first time I heard the phrase “long run”. He told me I was supposed to run 5 miles that weekend. In a row. (This man is crazy and he should be stopped!) I’m 98% sure that I did not actually go run 5 miles in a row that weekend. I think it took me a really long time to build up to that.

Slowly but surely, I made progress. My trainer suggested I sign up for something. A goal to train for would help keep me motivated. This was the beginning of obstacle course races and I thought that might be something I could actually get on board with. It sounded way better than just running and it might even be fun. I signed up for the Warrior Dash that summer. I trained hard and actually started running a little bit on my own.

My younger brother and sister agreed to also do the race. They were both still in high school and great athletes and I was afraid that I would be totally embarrassed by my slow time. I asked my sister if she would run with me. She agreed and we crossed my very first finish line, hand in hand.

 

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I realized that I wasn’t that fast of a runner… in fact, I was mediocre at being athletic in general. The only reason I was good at sports is because I wasn’t afraid to hit people. Since I wasn’t very fast at running, biking, or swimming, I thought a triathlon would be perfect! Maybe the combined mediocrity would result in an exceptionally average performance. I signed up for a sprint triathlon that October. Training kicked my ass, but I was making progress. I started to enjoy feeling like an athlete again. There is something about getting a training session in before the sun comes up that makes you feel like a badass.  

I finished my first and only triathlon to71944_1659364042802_956419_n date exactly in the middle of the pack. I learned important lessons about not drinking orange Gatorade and to be careful when you pin your bib to your shirt before you put it on. I also ran a 5K in under 30 minutes for the first time in my adult life. Less than 6 years ago, for those of you who are keeping track of dates.

“What’s next?” was the question from my trainer. Great question. The next logical step would have been a 10K, but my mother had just finished her first half marathon and I couldn’t go about my life knowing that my mother could kick my ass. So a half marathon it was. Plus, runners are skinny, right? I also wanted to be skinny, so this sounded like the perfect option.

My mother trained with me. We bonded on our long runs, she encouraged me, she slowed me down when I would try to run an unsustainable pace, and she kept me moving faster than I wanted to when I needed a push. I don’t remember much about training for that first race, except for a particularly memorable 11 mile run with my mother and my friend Ryan. Ryan was training to run 200 miles over the course of a weekend, so 11 miles was a very small deal to him at that point. It was the longest run I had ever attempted in my training and it was harder than I expected. We were about 2 miles from home, Ryan was singing and I remember just wanting to die and wondering why in the great wide world he was so effing happy?!? Seriously. I hate this and I want to die. We all had a really good laugh about this a few weeks ago actually. 

I IMG_0993completed my first half marathon in 2:23 in May of 2011. I forgot my watch in my nervousness and had no concept of pace. In hindsight, that was probably for the best. I just ran by feel and completed my very first true road race! I felt like I got hit by a bus and was completely in awe of the fact that people ran twice as far! My only disappointment was that the weight didn’t come off like I wanted. I wasn’t “runner skinny”.

 

In a moment of drunken desperation, I made an appointment with a weight loss center. They promised results and I was so tired of feeling like the fat sister. I started their program and I started training for a half marathon that August. Despite just finishing up my degree in exercise science, I knew surprisingly little about energy balance and appropriate fueling for a half marathon. Or maybe I was in denial and so desperate to get to my goal weight that I disregarded what I knew to be healthy. I also assumed that the weight loss counselors had more experience than they actually did and they were not really helpful in navigating performance and weight loss.

I stuck to the plan religiously. I dropped weight quickly and was always complimented on how meticulously “on plan” I was. It seemed like I made the right choice. It was an expensive option, but it was working. It worked very well for about 2 months and then things took a turn for the worst.

As I got further into my training, I started to feel tired all of the time. Just exhausted. I was having a hard time recovering from workouts. I was hungry all of the time but I started to feel sick when I ate. My weight loss slowed down. Some of the staff was helpful, and others did more damage than they know. I ate a very small slice of cake and took a few sips of a beer at a wedding on a weekend and they told me that was why I was up half a pound a week later. One girl told me to “hurry up and lose weight so you can start eating more” when I told her how ravenous I felt. “I hope you’re not pregnant” was the response to my complaints of feeling tired and sick.

In hindsight, you can’t sustain 1200 calories per day and 30 miles per week. Not a good plan at all. But I wanted to get to my goal weight. So I stuck to my plan. It consumed my life. Anything that had anything to do with food was incredibly anxiety-provoking. What if I couldn’t eat “on plan”? I could no longer go out to restaurants and my social life suffered. My relationships all suffered. I was a neurotic mess.

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At my lightest and sickest in August 2011

 

And I was tired. So tired. I would fall asleep at work all the timeTasks that seemed simple
were exhausting. It took so much energy to even walk up a flight of stairs. One incredibly awful night, I stayed at work simply because I didn’t want to be alone at home in case something happened.

Between May and August, I dropped 27 pounds.
The race came around and I crushed my previous race time by over 17 minutes. I was finally “runner skinny”. But I was so sick. I felt sick and I looked sick. I had a crippling dysfunctional relationship with food, I stopped getting my period, I was exhausted, and my life was ruled by the scale.

 

I came back from this disaster. It took years, but I was able to recover. Stay tuned for Part 2!