Sunday, December 29, 2013

J'adore France...

I had only spent time in France once before, in the year 2009 when my husband and I joined Hindriks Tours for a custom designed bicycle tour to ride several of the popular Tour de France routes in the French Alps. Just like in those goofy romance films, I had fallen in love with that part of France during the visit:  the mountain towns, the food, the farms, the people.

This past August, I was beyond fortunate to receive an invitation from the lovely and inspiring Linda Quirk, founder of the non-profit Runwell and ultra endurance athlete, to accompany her and Pam Rickard (who is also stunning and inspiring!) to help crew for them at the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and Courmayeur Champex Chamonix (CCC) ultra races, respectively.  I was delighted as this would be my second opportunity this year to be a crew member.  Okay, I was extra delighted because I would be joining these ladies in Chamonix, France.  Oh la la!

Linda had informed me there would be some “race details” we would need to sort out for crewing her and Pam for their races. Linda had raced UTMB the previous year and Pam had been crew for her, but they were both racing this year, which was wonderful to feel their excitement and energy.  I was happy to hear that I would be joined by another gal who was familiar with both race courses as she had been there previously to support her brother. It turns out this gal pal would be Sarah Gaylord Williams ( of Topher Gaylord, a seasoned ultra runner whom I admit did not know about until I met Sarah).  And Sarah, well, she became an incredible buddy in such a short period of time.

Luckily we arrived into Chamonix several days in advance of the races so we could familiarize ourselves with the area and do some race planning.  The landscape around Chamonix was spectacular.

Sarah, with her experience here before, turned out to be very well-informed of many race logistics that I would’ve had a hard time learning on my own. I quickly adopted her as my UTMB-CCC crew mentor because she had great insight as to important details I would need to be aware of, where I would need to go, and when I would need to be at certain spots along with ensuring I had the proper “toolkit” with runner supplies such as first aid. Through group discussions, it was decided that Sarah would be support for Linda and her UTMB race (168km distance) while I would support Pam and her CCC (100km) race. Both of these races go through Italy, Switzerland, and France (ending in Chamonix) and both races are extremely challenging.

Before race day, we did some reconnaissance by foot on the Italy side of the course for UTMB.
a random older man joined us (in red cape)
The two rock stars, Pam and Linda
Sarah, one heck of a trail runner herself
Lunch at Maison Vieille
Once back in Chamonix, we had a few days to plan more for the races and enjoy the town. Sarah and I explored the surrounding trails together. I quickly felt that I did not have my trail running legs on me from the Ironman training I had done this year. Sarah was quite an inspiration for me though and I did my best to keep up with her as she would appear to float effortlessly on these trails.  Aside from loving the trail running opportunities around Chamonix, we got in a few swims at the outdoor pool, which had stunning surrounding scenery.
Chamonix pool
The race planning was a bit tricky given that we had two races at two different start times and start locations with one car and no one in our group who could speak fluent French. We devised a plan, a backup plan, and yet another backup plan for our support crew logistics.  Again, I realized now that I was on the “other side” of the race, not being the athlete but being support for the athletes, which brought on a newfound appreciation for those who have supported me in my previous races.  The support crew has quite a job, especially for ultra endurance events. 

Race day was on Friday, an early morning start for Pam (from Courmayeur, Italy) and a later afternoon start for Linda from Chamonix.  Sarah and I drove to meet Pam near the start area (Pam wanted to take the bus to the start to be with the other athletes) for her CCC race. The energy in the town was hard to dismiss and the race start was unlike anything I had experienced before from a spectator perspective.
Can you find Pam? (hint: blue hat)
CCC Start Line

Pam was off on her race so after an espresso shot, Sarah and I took off by car and then by foot to try to meet Pam along the race to cheer her on. Happily, we met a gentleman who was going out for a trail run at the same time to check out the race. After an exchange in bits of Italian, English, and some mock sign language, we joined him for a steady uphill run. Sarah and I were impressed with this guy because he moved so gracefully for an “older” gentleman... and then we learned he was over 70 years old. Dazzling.
Our Italian friend
Sarah and our Italian friend
Sarah and I enjoyed the scenery while watching the front of the pack leaders of the CCC race. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Pam before we had to leave to return to Chamonix and meet Linda for the start of her UTMB race.  We did snap a few more photos before running down the mountain. This was one of those times where Sarah got me out of my comfort zone, a ‘pose’ I would never consider on my own but she captured my joy at being in this spectacular place brilliantly. And then I got a great shot of Sarah!
We buzzed back to Chamonix and time seemed to pass quickly. The next thing we knew, it was time for Linda to get going.  I thought the energy in Courmayeur was blazing, but the start of the Chamonix race was even more crazy fun as the whole town seemed to come out to cheer on these hundreds of runners as they begin their 160km race through 3 countries and incredibly challenging terrain.

After the UTMB race started, Sarah and Randy (Linda’s husband) left town to meet up and cheer on Linda later on in the race while I got ready to hop on a bus for Switzerland where I planned to meet Pam at Champex-Lac. This is about 56 kilometers into the race and the first point where racers can receive assistance from their crew. It was a long time to go without seeing Pam and I was feeling nervous. I was following her checkpoints online and could see she was still out there going strong, but I also knew she had been suffering with an Achilles injury for quite a few months prior. She also had told me she hadn’t done more than a 12-mile run recently, so I was worried for a mom (which I’m not, but I felt like one in my heart), or a caring friend and a fellow runner. The bus ride to Switzerland was crazy.  One of those situations you hear about where you’re on a huge touring bus on tiny, narrow European roads... on the edge of a cliff. Deep breathing and going to my “mental happy place” was mandatory on this couple hour bus ride.

Regrettably, I did not get any good photos of Pam coming into Champex-Lac. It was dark and when she arrived, there wasn’t much time to spare to get her in and out of there so that she would make the subsequent time cut-offs. I can tell you that I was absolutely thrilled to see her and if you know Pam, or have seen any photos of her, you know that her smile is beyond lovely. I was utterly shocked at how good she looked, how strong she seemed, and her attitude of perseverance and gratitude was holding steady. Though she didn’t know it, she was teaching me lessons, not only about ultra running, but about life. One of her well-known mantras is “I don’t have to do XYZ, but I GET to do XYZ.” (replace XYZ with any task, challenge, duty, etc.)  Anyway, as her primary crew support, I did a systems check with her to see if she needed any bandages, blister care, heat/ice, massage, etc. She didn’t need much at all. I assessed her nutrition and hydration status and she was doing very well as her level of metabolic efficiency training was serving her beautifully.  She ate a few pieces of cheese, drank a few sips of Coke, and nibbled on a few bites of fruit.  Her GenUCAN had been working as planned. She had no GI distress and no energy lulls. After a big hug and my version of a pep talk (although she didn’t really need my pep!), she was outta there and ready to fight for the next 45km of the race.
Aid station at Champex-Lac.  Craziness!
Meanwhile, it was a bit hectic to figure out how to get a bus ride to the town of Trient, the next stop where I could catch Pam (another 16km for her). It was midnight and many runners had dropped out at Champex-Lac, so the crowds waiting for transportation were outrageous. No order whatsoever and there were only a couple of buses working that late. Having patience serves you well in times like these. Somewhere in here I received a text message from Randy notifying me that Linda had to drop from the race due to back/hip pain she was having. This was a result from her Badwater 135 race just 6 weeks prior, so it was obvious she did not have ample time for recovery. I was so sad for her, but at the same time, I was relieved she was smart enough to drop without injuring herself further. She was listening to her body and she knew the right thing to do.

Around 1:30 to 2am, I met up with Sarah, Linda, and Randy in the town of Trient. Linda was in fairly good spirits, which was good to see, and she was also extremely excited for Pam’s race. All of us hung out together anxiously awaiting Pam’s arrival into Trient. I don’t recall a whole lot from this encounter other than one of the first things Pam wanted to know was how Linda felt and whether she was okay (their bond for each other was very apparent). We did another round of “nutrition, hydration, body” systems check and still, all was going fairly well. What a kick for the wee hours of the morning.

There was one last stop, in Vallorcine, where we could catch Pam before heading to Chamonix to wait for her finish. I have to admit that I got teary here seeing her come down this hill with a bit of a hobble in her step, but with an attitude that said “I’m still giving it my all”.
Pam making her way to Vallorcine
I believe there was a time limit of 26 hours for the CCC race. Back in Chamonix, we were biting nails and getting antsy as the clock had reach 25.5 hours. What do you do?  Wait, hope, pray, wait. Repeat. The glimpse of Pam coming into town is still to this day one of my favorite memories. As she rolled into the finish, she looked like sunshine on a new day. Okay, maybe that sounds corny, but seriously... she had fire in the belly to get to that finish line before the cut off, which she made with 9 minutes to spare. We were all so excited for her.

Finish line hugs, Pam and Linda

Pam and her honorable finish

A bonus was that we also got to see our friend, Sandy Suckling, finish the UTMB race a few hours later. I had met Sandy in Death Valley, where we crewed together for Linda at the Badwater 135 race. She is another amazing woman and ultra runner.
Sandy (in blue cap) heading to the UTMB finish
She wore that finisher jacket well!
This trip was incredible in so many ways and I will cherish these memories for many years to come. Above all, I felt honored to be connected with these women and learned that as an athlete, it is a good thing to be on the “other side” to gain new perspectives and to see that we all have different places to go mentally and physically.
me, Pam, Linda, Sarah. Love these gals.

J'adore France

Saturday, September 21, 2013

July Adventure: Crewing at Badwater 135

I was a crewing rookie. Sure, I’ve supported other athletes at their races before and have volunteered, but never had I been on the “other side” like this, nor in these kind of conditions, for this long.  The Badwater 135 race, which starts in Death Valley and ends at Mount Whitney, is hot, brutal, unforgiving, crazy.  I lost track of the number of times I said “This is unreal”.

I was lucky enough to be included in Linda Quirk’s crew at her Badwater 135 race. This woman is incredible in so many ways. She runs a non-profit foundation, Runwell, to provide various forms of assistance to those involved with drug or alcohol addiction and to inspire all walks of life to become active and live a healthy lifestyle. Linda is an amazing athlete who only in the past few years took up the sport of ultra running. In 2010, she completed the 4 Deserts Grand Slam and earned the fame of becoming the oldest American to accomplish this feat in a single calendar year. There could be a book written about her and perhaps there will be one someday.  Anyway, it is an understatement to say I was thrilled to be included in this crewing opportunity.

Linda’s primary mission for the Badwater race was to complete the 135 mile race within the 48 hour cut-off. Her secondary goal was to beat the record held by the woman in her age group, which was a finish time of over 47 hours.  Linda is 60 years young.

The crew consisted of my colleague at Fuel4mance, Bob Seebohar, who is Linda’s coach and sport dietitian, but he also served as our crew chief. The other crew members were Pam Rickard and Sandy Suckling, both ultra endurance runners; Jill Gass, a registered nurse (our medical lead), coach and  competitive cyclist; and Sam Dean who was our photojournalist (but also took on some crewing duties).  Then there was me. My primary duties were assisting Bob with nutrition and hydration preparation/planning/tracking/assessment and pacing Linda when needed. Our job as a crew was basically: “To do whatever it takes to get Linda to the finish line”.  We were all in!

The rules are very strict at the Badwater 135 with regard to crew and support vehicles. For example, there can only be two support vehicles and each vehicle cannot be in close proximity to each other. There is a maximum of 6 crew members per athlete. There can only be one pacer at any given time and the pacer cannot be in front of or alongside the athlete, only behind the athlete. Nothing can be handed off from the vehicle nor can the vehicle follow the athlete.  And on and on...there were lots of rules to learn but there was no way any of the crew would want to get Linda disqualified from such an important race. She had worked hard to get there and she belonged there with a select few of the ultra endurance athletes from around the world.

Besides learning those rules, I tried to prepare myself to spend hours in the desert heat.  I had done some training runs wearing multiple layers, but it was difficult for me to simulate the conditions where I live at 8600 feet elevation. I spent time in the sauna. I turned the heat on in my car when driving in 85 degree and above temperatures.  It couldn’t hurt to do those things, but I wasn’t sure how much it would help.  As Bob and I drove from the Vegas airport to Furnace Creek the night before the race started, we noted the temperature on the dashboard of the rental car.

We laughed with excitement. I was nervous deep down.

Then there’s the part none of the crew had discussed beforehand.  Umm... not all of us knows each other. And we’re going to spend hours in a van together.  Non-stop for two nights. In the desert.  We’ll be stinky. We may get grouchy. But no matter what, we are here for Linda so we have to do what it takes.  Stinky or not.  Needless to say, I was happy I packed extra socks and deodorant in my bag and I’m sure my crewmates were happy about that too.

Did I mention Linda is amazing?  She undertook this race with fervor and determination. I was glad when my turn came up to pace her during the heat of the day, the dark of the night, and the beautiful desert dawn to sunrise we shared on day two. She was so focused that I couldn’t get her to look backwards to check on the sunrise.  Her mottos, whenever I was with her, were “I gotta keep moving forward” and “I gotta get this thing done”. Her back got out of whack prior to the town of Lone Pine so it was quite a nail biter for us to watch her endure what seemed to be extreme discomfort. She stopped very little along the 135 mile route. I was in awe of this woman.  She persevered.  I was learning so much from her every step of the way.
Sam Dean Photography
Nutrition-wise, this was quite an experience. Linda is a low maintenance athlete because she is very metabolically efficient. She can motor ahead without having to fuel frequently or take in many calories. When we assessed her nutrition, it mostly consisted of GenerationUCAN, coconut butter, small amounts of fruit and bites of peanut butter and jam on saltines or a sandwich thin. Of course, we gave her electrolytes and water as well. Pretty simple.  But me, being the sport dietitian, I had my eyes open to what others were doing around us and let me just say that I saw many unfortunate incidents or outcomes.  Athletes vomiting alongside the road and holding their guts in pain is a sad sight no matter who we are.  Granted, the desert heat and wind are elements that can greatly affect the ability to stay hydrated and how well our bodies can digest nutrients, especially on top of the physical stress of this course. It can be very difficult to have an appetite and often times, athletes can confuse fatigue with a nutritional bonk and hence overdo it on calories.  But I had to wonder how many of those athletes had spent much time on their nutrition planning... In any case, it was important for us to have backup nutrition plans for Linda even though she didn’t require as much fueling due to her metabolically efficient system.
backup nutrition
Linda ended up beating the previous record for her age group by over 3 hours with a finish time of 44 hours. The emotions at that finish line were incomparable to anything I had ever experienced for my own self. It was truly a special moment. And one I shared with crewmates who are now friends, even though some of us live thousands of miles apart.
To Linda, whom I adore and highly respect, thank you for including me in your Badwater journey.  It was truly a WOW adventure.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gratitude and Opportunity

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post a new blog since my post-Ironman report. It’s not that I’ve been lazy or too busy either.  I’m not really sure how to explain it other than a feeling of denial that Ironman was over and there was no other new and special event on my schedule thereafter. Dealing with the “what next?” feeling was not something I had given much thought to beforehand. The focus had been getting to the start line, getting to the finish line and then being thankful. 

And I am thankful for all who helped me to get to the IMCDA start line.  While I’m on that tangent, a quick note of thanks to:
  • my coach, Julie, who kept me strong, healthy and injury-free throughout. She kept me honest and put me in my place when needed. Always supportive and paying attention to the balance in my life.
  • Ryan and the KompetitveEdge staff. Nope, I’m no special triathlete with the fancy-schmancy-ness anything. But those guys treated me and my bike with respect and were beyond helpful. My Cervelo horse worked flawlessly.
  • Shirley and the staff at InMotion Rehabilitation for the deep tissue massages. 
  • Sonja Wieck for giving some last minute tips in Coeur d’Alene, providing calmness yet fire, and for cheering me on race day.
  • family and friends - special thanks to my Boise family who drove to CDA to be with me on race weekend. And big hugs to all my other friends and family; you know who you are.
  • my athletes - you inspire me, you teach me. You are uber groovy.
  • and the Last but Not Least: my husband who endlessly encouraged and supported me, never questioning my drive or my goals. You are the bomb.
So, I realized recently I didn’t need to have a new race or my own athletic endeavor immediately on the schedule to feel complete or to prove anything. I had been given opportunities after IMCDA “to give” to other athletes in ways I had not yet experienced. These were times to be on the other side of the fence. Not to show up as an athlete in my own bubble but to be supportive of other athletes’ dreams. 

I’d like to briefly share a few of these stories in my next blogs because that question after IMCDA of “what do I do next?” was answered by three exciting adventures I could not be more thankful for...


Monday, July 8, 2013

IMCDA Race & Nutrition Report

Here is the rundown of my first Ironman race.  If you are only interested in my race day nutrition, you can scroll to the bottom of this post for a summary.
As mentioned in my previous post, we were lucky enough to rent a house in Coeur d’Alene for the week of the race. One of the most important things leading into race day was to have a real kitchen so that I could prepare my own foods and not rely so much on dining out or the mini-fridge and microwave setup that some hotels offer. This house had a killer kitchen (digital stove and microwave!) so I felt immediately at ease upon our arrival. 

Gotta have a kitchen!

Nutrition leading up to race day

There are all sorts of recommendations for what and how Ironman athletes should eat and drink prior to race day. For example, looking on the Ironman website, you’ll see a recommendation for eating 10 times your body weight in kilograms (as carbohydrate grams) for your 2-day carbohydrate load. This would be over 2000 calories just from carbohydrate for someone like me.  Now, if you follow Bob or me or you have knowledge of Metabolic Efficiency nutrition training and nutrition periodization principles, you know that such an approach has been challenged for quite some time. So, what did I do before race day?  Nothing different than what I have been doing during the day or the day before a long training day ... which is eating a carbohydrate-controlled daily diet with an emphasis on higher fat intake and moderate protein intake.

So, here was the day before:

  • breakfast:  egg scramble with turkey bacon, spinach, tomatoes, bell pepper, avocado
  • lunch: spinach salad with tuna, mozzarella, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled egg plus one ounce mixed nuts
  • snack: cottage cheese with olives, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds
  • dinner: chicken breast, broccoli, sweet potato, avocado; cup of almond milk
This is fewer than ~450 calories coming from carbohydrate - quite different than the aforementioned recommendation.  Crazy... or not?
I felt great throughout the day, eating when I was hungry and not eating any more than my usual amounts.  I did do some acute sodium loading after dinner following the Seebohar protocol. I drank water to thirst throughout the day along with a cup of decaf coffee in the morning.

I got to bed around 10:45pm but didn’t fall asleep until after 11:15pm.  I had hoped for a bit more sleep, but knew this was typical so I didn’t fret.

Race Day

My alarm went off at 4:00am. Other than waking up at 2am and being awake for 15-20 minutes, I had slept okay.  I found this in the bathroom (from my Irish husband) and giggled (which I didn’t know was possible at 4am):

At 4:15am, I ate a Justin’s peanut butter packet and drank 6 ounces of Via coffee with half and half. Because I had minimized my caffeine intake in the past 7 months, a little bit of caffeine has a potent effect for me. I tiptoed around the house to not wake my sister-in-law and family or my husband as I gathered the rest of my things.  I started another round of acute sodium loading at 4:30am using SaltStick capsules. I woke my husband up at 4:35am, thanking him for the Irish blessings and to say goodbye. I got a tiny bit teary as I thought about the immense support he had given me prior to this important day in our lives. Gulp.

Sonja, Michelle, and Mikki picked me up at 4:45am. Sonja sported her brilliant smile and gave me a huge hug... and off we went to pick up Emily, another of Sonja’s athletes who has completed 10 Ironman races (!). There was some chit chatting in the car as Sonja and Michelle exchanged a few stories about their previous races here. Emily was super calm. Mikki and I were (I think) secretly suppressing our nervous state. Smiling helped.

I don’t recall what time Sonja dropped us off at the start area, but it seemed chaotic everywhere I looked. It was cloudy and cool, but at least there was no rain. I was carrying 4 bags and was doing my best to stay focused on the tasks at hand. We dropped off our Special Needs bags... and then soon thereafter I realized I had already made my first mistake of the day.  My heart sank:  I forgot to put my frozen hand bottle with my UCAN mix in my Special Needs run bag. I was with Emily when I realized it (the experienced IMer) and she calmly replied with “There’s always Plan B”. Of course, except I was sad that I had already goofed in my excitement of the morning.  Smile and move on, but adjust my Run Plan A to Plan B.

I drank vanilla UCAN mixed in 12 oz water with a dash of cinnamon from ~5:30a to 5:50a. I felt light yet satisfied... what I always anticipate from the Superstarch.

The porta potty lines were extremely long so I felt a bit rushed getting to our designated area near the beach where the gals would all meet Sonja and I would get to see my husband and family before the long day ahead. To my surprise and joy, my nieces had made shirts for the event.  More smiles!!

my support crew: Brian, Mary, Grace, [me], Emma, Bridey, and Pat
(with Mikki's man, Kris, and Mo's husband, Jeff, in the background)
I hurried and struggled to not be a klutz putting on my wetsuit, gave some final hugs to the family and then tried to stick with the gals as we headed off for the swim start. I was excited!

From here, I will do my best to highlight what was important to me rather than recite the details of the course which you can read on just about any other athlete’s race report.


The gals and I did a quick warmup in the water, which seemed a bit chilly (I think 62 degrees) but not that bad.  IMCDA had a rolling swim start, which I found to be perfect for me. I had self-seeded towards the back of the 1:15-1:30 estimated finish wave and didn’t strategize any more than that.  Coach Julie had emphasized the importance of swimming efficiently, smoothly, calmly. I had not trained to become a fast(er) swimmer so I just focused on what I was taught. I also had in mind all of the open water techniques Jane Scott had taught me during Boulder masters swim classes the previous two months. It worked well for me.

I got punched and kicked a number of times, but it didn’t bother me.  When open water space would open up, I would go for it.  I actually did not draft all that much.  During the second loop, the clouds were lifting from over the lake as the sun warmed us nicely.  And what seemed to be all of a sudden, the swim was done.

I think my feet are as big as his.
Swim time 1:18:29, division rank 37


I used the wetsuit peelers, which I find to be a totally awkward experience.  After the stripping, I found my transition bag and headed into the back of the crowded changing tent. Nothing too noteworthy here except that I took my time as evidenced by my 7:41 transition time.


Remember, I was riding my Cervelo R3 road bike with the clip on aero bars.  I do love this bike, even with catching myself periodically gazing at the 'wow' tri bikes passing me by on the flat sections of the course.  Anyway, the strategy here was to go conservative for the first hour and then start to push a bit more after that, all the while having a steady cadence and trying to keep heart rate relatively consistent. I don't have a power meter so I use perceived effort and heart rate.  The bike course is known for its hills and some say for the winds, but those didn’t bug me as I live in the mountains of Colorado.  I truly love climbing hills and I just think of wind as another element like the sun and the rain to accept rather than fight. 

My thoughts were often occupied with trying to stay legal in crowded areas and wondering what the collective thoughts of cyclists are as we catch each other in the moments of not being legal.  Move it! 

You can laugh at me, but I find motivation in imagining my legs are like Thunder... the Norwegian cyclist, Thor Hushovd, kind.  For real.  

my Thunder
I did see my family a few times in the downtown area, but it was so brief that I didn’t get to absorb it as much as I had hoped.  The spectators and volunteers were wonderful, just as I had heard.

Bike nutrition/hydration:

  • 1 BonkBreaker high protein PB&J bar split into thirds: started at 0:45 in and finished by 2:15
  • 1 Clif Mojo Peanut Butter Pretzel bar split into thirds: started at 3:00 in and finished by 4:30
  • 2 packets of lemonade UCAN mixed in one 20-oz bottle with 1 Nuun tablet. Started this at the 2 hour mark and drank 16 oz of it throughout the bike.
  • 1 24-oz bottle with water and 2 Nuun tablets
  • water to thirst
  • FirstEndurance PreRace capsules (quantity 2) at 2:20 and 5:00
  • SaltStick capsules (quantity 10) throughout
  • 1/2 package of SportBeans from 5:30 to 6:00
Total bike nutrition: 680 calories, 108.5 grams carbohydrate (average 106 calories per hour; average 17 grams per hour of carbohydrate).  An interesting comparison is if I had followed a popular recommendation from a well-known website, I would’ve consumed a total of 1775 calories (276 per hour) and 69 grams of carbohydrate per hour.

How did I feel with this nutrition?  Consistent energy levels, no hunger, no muscle cramps or stomach/gut issues. I felt strong and no leg burnout.

Okay, so I'm no Thor.
Bike time: 6:24:29, division rank 28


Another long transition as I changed shirts and had one of the gracious volunteers apply sunscreen.  I also applied lube to my bum foot and changed socks. Seemed like I was there forever.

I had put both of my UCAN handheld bottles in my T2 bag (since I goofed on putting one in my Special Needs bag) so I ended up grabbing the coldest one to take with me.  I ate 2 GU Chomps as I was heading out of the changing tent (45 calories).

Time: 6:12


I was very much looking forward to the run as this is my favorite sport of all. Even knowing my left foot was not healed from the cut a few weeks prior and I wasn’t going to have my 2nd UCAN bottle at the halfway point, I didn’t dwell on anything negative. The strategy here was to go very easy the first 3 miles while trying to keep my heart rate in zone 2. Then, try to maintain a steady pace while paying attention to perceived effort and heart rate.

I was able to run the “big” hill both times without stopping. I found myself walking during the aid stations towards the last quarter of the race but at no other times. I was amazed at how many athletes I passed who were walking or running slowly. I witnessed several athletes suddenly stop running and grab their calves or hold their stomachs...sorry for them but happy it wasn’t me.

It was a kick to see my husband and sister-in-law and family several times throughout the course. They made me smile and I was reminded me of how lucky I was to be able to have this opportunity. 

Run nutrition/hydration:

  • 20-oz handheld bottle with plain UCAN + 1 Nuun tablet during the first half. I finished 16 oz of it.
  • rest of the package of Sport Beans from the bike
  • my Plan B (since I didn’t have my 2nd bottle of UCAN) was to alternate at each aid station taking a gulp of Coke and Perform from mile 10. I found these liquids to be too sweet for my palate and I also did not take in any calories during the last 4 miles of the run due to not having a desire for anything sweet.  So, my best estimation is 8 oz of each based on what my usual gulp amount is.
  • SaltStick capsules throughout
Total run nutrition: 365 calories (~85 per hour or ~21 average grams of carb per hour. That same website I referred to earlier suggested I take in 140 calories per hour or 35 grams of carb per hour).

How did I feel on the run?  Like many others, my average pace per mile slowed as the run progressed but my pace did not significantly change until the last 6 miles. Even so, my pace decreased by only 0:30 to 1:00 minute per mile, so nothing THAT bad.  I did not have any muscle cramps or stomach/gut issues throughout. My foot gave me slight pain but honestly, there was so much else to think about that I didn’t even notice it much.  I didn’t have an appetite the last 4 miles but I don’t believe my pace slowed due to lack of calories.

My friend, Mikki, caught up to me within the last mile. We chatted for a few minutes and then I told her to go on as she seemed to have a faster pace than me. The last stretch of the race through town is truly incredible, in so many ways, as I imagine it is for any first time Ironman athlete in any town in the world. I found myself running a sub 8:15 pace in that last stretch as I approached the cheers of my husband and my family supporters... and then the finish line. This picture makes me look as if I’m believing I won an Olympic medal, but honestly I just felt elated to have finished this race with success overall.

Wrapping up the finish
Run time: 4:18:08, division rank 14

My Ironman finish time was 12:14:59 for 14th in my age group.  Thrilled and unexpected!  And although my nutrition Plan A didn’t get tested, I am still happy with the results. I have no doubts that my metabolically efficient daily nutrition played a huge role in the outcome of this special day in my life. 

Nutrition summary: 

  • Before race:  465 calories from Justin’s nut butter packet, 2 scoops Vanilla UCAN, 2 Tbsp half and half in coffee
  • During race:  1045 calories (~85 per hour), 187 grams carbohydrate (~15 grams per hour)

Actual finish 12:14:59

Right after race finish
My next post will be on Ironman after thoughts and gratitude.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ironman Coeur d’Alene: The week before the Big Day

I know many readers want to know how my nutrition plan looked for my first Ironman. Have patience as I wanted to first write about the days leading up to race day. 

Tuesday, June 18

I had decided long ago to make the drive to Coeur d’Alene (CDA) rather than fly so that my husband (Patrick) and I could take our dog, not worry about bike transportation, and we could see Montana again (albeit at 80 mph with only one stop in Bozeman to/from CDA).  Off we were on the journey!

I had forgotten what it’s like to sit in a car for hours on end. Even with reading materials, good tunes, and discussions of various topics with The Hub, I was antsy. I’m not good at car naps so that was not an option.  I reviewed my race day plan, nutrition plan, and made a grocery list for CDA. These tasks made me feel excitement over what was to come!

Yet...I was feeling quite nervous about my left foot.  You see, I had made a mistake a few weeks prior during a Boulder Stroke and Stride event (1500m swim, 5K run) by deciding to: 1) skip drying my feet thoroughly after the swim 2) skip putting on socks  3) wear shoes I hadn’t worn barefoot before.  Dumb because look what happened...and this was 5 days after the incident (sorry this is grotesque):

I will spare you the other images showing the infection that ensued, which wasn’t helped by swimming in the Boulder Reservoir before it was closed for elevated E. Coli levels. When I saw greenish ooze, I realized a visit to the podiatrist was in order. A painful “clean out”, some topical iodine, and a prescription for antibiotics and I was on my way. The doc said “you’ll be okay to do your Ironman but you’ll probably feel it”. What did that mean?  The pain in my foot hadn’t subsided and I hadn’t run for 9 days. I now feared my favorite part of a triathlon - the run.  All I could do was take care of the wound, hope for the best, and try to get my attitude in order. Mind over matter.

Wednesday, June 19

We drove through non-stop rain to arrive in CDA mid-afternoon. The temperature was in the low 50s and felt bone-chilling. But I was happy to be there and to stretch out the legs!  

We were fortunate enough to rent a house overlooking the lake a few miles outside of town. I highly recommend this option over a hotel room, especially if you care about your nutrition and want the ability to prepare your own food.  With list in hand, Pat and I were off to the grocery store to stock up for the remainder of the week.  Food items on the list included everything I normally consume, but more on that in the next blog.

The evening was pretty much “chillaxing” time. Some unpacking, reading, resting the foot, checking the weather forecast multiple times, and pondering the next few days.

Thursday, June 20

I awoke to... more rain and another cold day.  But, I was looking forward to meeting Mikki and Mo (friends and neighbors from Boulder) for a swim in Lake Coeur d’Alene so we could test out the waters and get a feel for how cold it would be.  We met mid-morning in windy, 48-degree weather to some serious chop. The water temperature was around 61-62 degrees, which actually felt warmer than expected. Perhaps this video gives you an indication of the conditions:

We swam for 30 minutes, or rather, I tried not to swallow copious amounts of water for 30 minutes.  Mo has been swimming for a long time and had some great tips for Mikki and me on how to navigate the swells and alter our stroke to be more efficient. This was super helpful, in addition to just being able to relax the mind and “go with it”. The swim actually turned out to be a fun time, especially getting to share it with these gals.

Out of the water, it was freezing! A quick change into dry clothes and a stop at Calypso’s (thanks for the recommendation, Andrew Chad!) for a hot cup of decaf warmed the bones quickly. I then went to packet pickup, which is where I got my next bolus of excitement seeing other athletes and eavesdropping on other’s conversations about it being their first IM too. Pat and I didn’t hang out at the Athletes Village very long due to the rain and cold so we headed back to the house.

I had hoped to pedal the bike for a bit today, but there was really no stopping the rain so Coach Julie’s advice was “no”, for safety reasons and to not trash the bike.  I decided to wait to test out the foot until the following day which left me with time to start organizing items for race day.  We did catch a movie that night, which is something my husband and I rarely do. I’m serious... if I can get him to one movie per year, it’s a thrill.  We decided to go to a goofy movie because Sonja had suggested finding ways to giggle and laugh as a way to reduce stress and besides, it’s just plain fun to belly laugh. So, we picked the movie “This is the End”, which was funny at times, and a little difficult to watch at other times (for its absurdity). Nonetheless, it was entertainment and the last bit of free time before I felt I needed to get more focused. I was just hoping for no nightmares that night.  

Friday, June 21

Here it is T-2 days ‘til showtime.  The sun was actually shining a little bit today and it had warmed up into the 50s.  Sonja had flown in to support her athletes, but she was gracious to include me for a morning swim and share some great tips about warming up and navigating the swim when you find yourself in a tight spot. This was a short but fun swim and I was happy to be with these gals.  
Mikki, Mo, Sonja and me post-swim
After the swim, Sonja gave us a tour of the run course (which is also part of the bike course) and gave a superb narrative of what to watch out for, where aid stations will be, where the most awesome spectators will be, etc. She knows the ins and outs, having rocked this course a few times herself!  

Later I went with Pat to take my bike to Jim at CycleMetrix per Sonja’s recommendation for a once-over. For future IMCDA’ers, I highly recommend this shop for any of your cycling issues or needs. Jim was beyond nice and super efficient. And he even didn’t give me the stink eye for having “just” a road bike.

After that fun, it was time to test out the foot. We drove back to the lake and then ran part of the run course for about 40 minutes, which included the “big” hill.  Most say this is the toughest part of the run. 

The hill wasn’t as bad as the pain in my foot!  I knew I was going to need some (more) serious mental toughness to get through the marathon if my foot was going to feel like THAT on race day.  Attitude!

Later that day, our family from Boise arrived (minus one niece but with the addition of another niece from Indiana). I was really looking forward to seeing the 5 of them. They make me happy and I am so comfortable around them. Nothing beats having some extra support too!  After some chit chat time, they went out for dinner with Pat while I preferred to stay home to cook my dinner, organize more stuff, and relax. It was a great day overall!

Saturday, June 22

I felt like it was the day before my wedding. Double-triple checking things, feeling a little “on edge”, not a super big appetite.  And knowing the next day would be another one of those “life changing” events. Yep, that sounds sappy and it is.

Pat, my sister-in-law (Mary) and I headed to the lake mid-morning.  Pat and I rode more of the run course to test out the bike while Mary happily walked our dog and enjoyed watching the variety of athletes biking and running the course.  I did a short run off the bike and called it good.

Back home, it was time to do final packing of transition bags and then check in the bike. This is where I got a bit intimidated as I rolled in my Cervelo road bike with strap on aero bars and saw the loads of fancy-schmancy tri bikes sticking their tongues out at me.  Never mind them.  Okay, I was also drooling over those bikes too.  
My bike in the Cervelo sandwich (#682)
I put my transition bags in the appropriate areas and then tried to familiarize myself with the layout of T1 and T2.  I was overwhelmed at first.

...and then I realized I wouldn't be the only out there trying to figure it out tomorrow!  

After bike check in, it was finally time to settle in for the rest of the evening. I spent some time preparing nutrition for the next day and reviewing plans.  I listened to Bobby McGee (the coach, not the musician) for inspiration and to get me centered.  I think I watched a little bit of the Blackhawks game before dinner with my cool bro-in-law, Brian, before it was chow time... and then the final hours.

So, this was a summary of events leading up to race day.  Not super fascinating, I realize (especially for you experienced IMers).  So, next post will be about race day and how my nutrition plan unfolded.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A few notes prior to IMCDA

I wanted to post a few other notes about my carb-controlled nutrition during Ironman training before tomorrow’s big day. Forgive the randomness of these points, but here they are:
  • Recovery from training sessions, especially during high training blocks, has been solid. My recovery methods are fairly basic:  quality nutrition choices, attention to timing, ample sleep, compression wear and regular massages. 
  • I haven’t been extreme with my carb-controlled eating. No urine ketone testing, no obsession with calorie counting. I still dine out, I still participate in social gatherings and yes, I still enjoy a few “misses”. Carb-controlled eating is still in its infancy with regard to endurance athletes and what it means for health and performance.
  • Energy levels throughout my every day and during training have been steady and rarely have I had a lull.  Controlling blood sugar with my nutrition choices continues to have a significant effect on how I feel throughout the day, my ability to concentrate, and not having to eat so often as many carboholics do.
  • Body weight has been fairly stable over the past 6 months. I had no plans to lose weight although it has fluctuated downward by 1-2% on average. Eating fat does not make you fat.  You are not what you eat.
  • I am happy I don’t need 12 gels taped to the top tube of my bike as I saw today at the bike check in.  My race day nutrition plan is fairly simple, yet I have the mental space to make adjustments as any endurance athlete must be able to do on race day. (I’ll let you know how it goes!)

A non-nutrition note:  I admit I got a bit intimidated seeing all of the high end triathlon bikes today at the bike check in. I am racing on a road bike with aero bars and don’t have much of that fancy gear for my first IM.  But what I do have is strong training behind me, a positive attitude, a solid race and nutrition plan and a primary goal of having a lot of fun. Oh, I also have a boatload of support from my family, friends, and my personal athletes.  Big thanks to all of you for what you have given to me!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Metabolic Efficiency status leading into IMCDA

In my work as a sport dietitian, I have assisted many triathletes of all experience levels with their daily and training nutrition leading up to Ironman, but now it’s my turn to feel the challenges of Ironman nutrition. I have to tell you I feel a great deal of excitement to see how the carb-controlled nutrition patterns I have been following will work for me during such a long and challenging event.  Sure, I’m looking forward to the event itself - absolutely. But as part of my (and Bob’s) work as sport dietitians, it is good to challenge the nutrition norms, especially as we are in the midst of an evolving field of sports nutrition for endurance athletes.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not foolish to think my nutrition plan is 100% bullet proof, given that there are always so many things we cannot predict in a race setting, but I do have a good level of confidence in my fueling needs based on my metabolic efficiency status and training nutrition trials to date.
As you can read in a previous post, I overhauled my nutrition patterns in November last year to a more carb-controlled daily pattern than previously. I started Ironman training essentially at the beginning of this year, so about 5.5 months have passed as part of this experiment. An assessment of my Metabolic Efficiency status in December, about 6 weeks after implementing a carb-controlled nutrition pattern, showed that I was fairly efficient at using my fat stores as a fuel source:

You can see the red line represents my percentage of expended calories coming from fat and the blue line is my percentage of calories coming from carbohydrate.  

I haven’t changed my daily nutrition patterns too much since this test, although amounts of foods have changed in bigger training blocks and I also have been experimenting more with nutrient timing to support my training sessions. By "nutrient timing", I am referring to the before, the during, and the after (training sessions)... which does roll into quite a bit of my “daily nutrition” time on long training days. I should clarify my use of the term “carb-controlled”. Please know this does not mean an absence of carbohydrates in my diet. Nor does it mean I am starving myself (I have a respectable appetite!). Rather, the amount of daily carbohydrates is about 50% less than what I would be eating (aside from training nutrition) if I had decided to train for an Ironman prior to last year. I can tell you it is much different than what the majority of sports nutritionists and sport nutrition companies say athletes must have in order to train, perform and recover well. Meals and snacks are focused on higher fat choices and a consistent and moderate amount of protein. I always have the goal of achieving stable blood sugar with my food combinations, but I do allow for some “misses” to occur.  

So, here are the results of my most recent Metabolic Efficiency Assessment:

Note that I opted to start the test at a higher level of watts for my first stage and not go as long as I did during the December test since I will not be biking at 180 watts and a perceived effort greater than 8 for this Ironman race.  Even though I did this test after completing a 70.3 race a few days prior and was in a high training block, the results show I am still efficient at using fat as a fuel source at the intensities and heart rates I plan for IMCDA. This is great news!

As I write this, I am waiting for my most recent round of blood work to show what has changed with my blood lipids since December. I will be sure to share the news. 

In my next post, I will share a few more notes about my Ironman training.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Metabolic Efficiency Success Story #1

I have decided to start sharing more success stories related to Metabolic Efficiency “journeys” from athletes and fitness enthusiasts to whom I provide nutrition coaching services.  There are some misconceptions out there in the sports nutrition and endurance athlete community regarding the purpose, implementation, and benefits of Metabolic Efficiency.  My intention is not only to share success stories from real athletes and individuals who desire a better health profile and improved racing performance, but also to periodically share some insight on the “ins and outs” of what we know now and what is still to come with Metabolic Efficiency.

This first story is about a gal I’ll call Ann. She is 39 years old, married with two young daughters. She was athletic throughout her upbringing but took on the sport of running about 3 years prior to our first meeting in 2011.  I began working with her to help with her goals of learning how to fuel for her training runs, help her family eat more healthfully, and to improve body composition slightly. Even though Ann had two half marathons on the racing schedule in 2011, the first priority was examining daily nutrition and making changes in line with the Metabolic Efficiency principles. (If you are brand new to this concept, you can learn more in the Fuel4mance books “Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat” and “The Athlete’s Food Guide to Metabolic Efficiency” both available at

I guided her in changing some aspects of her daily nutrition that included:
  • increasing her daily protein intake
  • adding variety with protein sources
  • moderating her carbohydrate intake
  • educating her how to combine foods that optimize fat burning
  • attention to appetite and hunger levels
Ann had a good working knowledge of nutrition and she was extremely motivated. This made for easy adjustments to her daily nutrition patterns and her habits changed quickly. It is always fun for me to see my athletes make nutrition a priority... and then hear how much better they feel.

Within 3 weeks, she was within her goal body composition range and she reported feeling good energy, less hunger throughout the day, and training runs were feeling solid. She had become more metabolically efficient!  She went on to run successful and strong half marathons...and then she got the bug... the M bug. Marathon.

Because Ann is super-motivated and has an appreciation for working with an experienced sport dietitian, she contacted me again this year to help her prepare for her first marathon in May. The goals: tune up her metabolic efficiency, maintain body weight throughout training (so many first timers gain weight during training!), and just “finish strong” her first marathon (around 3:40-3:50). There was talk of trying to qualify for Boston, but I remember her saying that would be “a pipe dream”.

We checked on her daily nutrition patterns to fine-tune for metabolic efficiency, but we also spent some time doing some training nutrition trials with her long runs. She was using a well-respected coach out of Boulder, Colorado, so her training schedule was not easy by any means.  I introduced her to GenerationUCAN products since this would be complementary to her improved fat burning state she had achieved. After a couple trials, she was rocking and rolling with her long runs.

The outcome of this story is that not only did Ann run a super solid marathon, she qualified for Boston and smashed her expected finish time, ending up with a 3:32 finish. Some fueling details:
  • chocolate GenUCAN 45 minutes prior to the race start
  • 1/2 packet of cran-raz GenUCAN at 1:40 into race
  • 1/2 packet of cran-raz GenUCAN at 2:40 into race
  • 3/4 serving of GU Brew electrolyte throughout race in a handheld bottle
She consumed a total of 185 calories during her race, which means she averaged about 53 calories per hour.  Pretty impressive especially considering the current standards for sports nutrition state you should consume between 120 and 360 calories per hour or the dreaded BONK will occur.  Nope, not the case for Ann.  Her fat burning efficiency from the changes she had made with her daily nutrition and training nutrition (along with her training program) resulted in a super marathon performance. 

Next up... a story from a fat-adapted Boston marathoner.