Western States

Strength

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

I can't believe I am doing this (terror- early miles)

I can't believe I am doing this!!!! (elation- finishing straight)

This is so hard. This is too hard.

This is dumb.

This is amazing!

Why do people do this? I am never doing this again.

I can't wait to do this again!!!

I feel terrible. I am going to pass out. I am going to barf.

I feel amazing! I can't believe I didn't pass out and now I feel so good!

This was a terrible idea. Who thought I could do this 2 months after breaking my foot.

May the lord open.

1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4

They are playing my song!!!

Ok, reel her in. Just don't cramp. Don't cramp.

Don't look back. Keep it cool. Pretend you've got it together.

(blubbering sobs) Holy CRAP, I did it! Gold medal!!!

These are my thoughts while racing Comrades. That in a nutshell is my Comrades 2017 experience. I've been trying to get motivated to write a race report for the race but honestly feel like I am over race reports for their own sake. I am just looking for the take-aways, the lessons, the things I want to remember. I raced Comrades despite having only a very short training block after Two Oceans and London, races which I did coming straight back from a very extensive and long injury.  I knew that Comrades would be hard. It is a hard, fast, competitive race and I was in good shape, not great shape. I was in good health, but not niggle free as my foot continues to adjust and settle and relearn. Comrades is hard period. And I tried to steel myself for it to be harder than a normal healthy well-trained race might be.

And it was freaking hard. I battled both mental and physical barriers to get to the finish line. I had a good day for my fitness level, but not a great day. I faced down a deep undercurrent of desire to quit that was almost incessant. I had to trick myself, distract myself, bribe myself, and make deal after deal with myself. There were moments where a DNF threatened for both reasons: mental and physical (great article AJW!). But somehow, I made the choice time after time to not quit. Yes, there were good, even great reasons (like when I nearly passed out), to contemplate quitting but ultimately, time after time, I found the strength to keep going. It was not graceful or easy or even close to a great race for me, I got super ugly, but I made it to the line.

Getting to the finish line of Comrades and two weeks later, coming in third at Rock and Roll Seattle marathon, as well as "watching" Western States stories unfold have made me think a lot about strength. Strength does not mean never breaking down, never falling, never failing. It means bending, adjusting, persevering, enduring, staying steadfast and yes, even sometimes knowing when to quit. Strength can be having a perfect day where everything clicks. Strength can be being ready for a great day and finding yourself in the chair for hours, but finally finding a way to move on. Strength can be recognizing that you have nothing left to give. In our sport, there is a such a beautiful display of strength from the first to the last finisher. We put ourselves through so so so much adversity. We prepare as best we can, but when you are out there on race day pushing limits, so much can happen. Strength is working the problem, strength is honoring the journey.

In my 11 years of ultrarunning, I have had near perfect days, had perfectly crap days, had days in which I unlocked the magical power of simply not quitting when I really wanted to, had DNF's that were both heartbreaking and some that I am totally at peace with. What I have realized through those experiences is that no matter what, whether I win, finish or stop, that it doesn't define my strength. My strength is defined by how hard I work, how much I am willing to endure, how much I honor the journey, the sport and who I want to be. Strength is going through the darkest depths and simply not giving in to the darkness, knowing that there will always be light again. Sometimes that light is a finish line, an outcome, a resolution. Sometimes that light is a new race, a new opportunity or a new life. 

There will be light after the dark.

There will be light after the dark.

The last year has been a pretty hard one for me. I feel like it has been like jumping from bad patch to bad patch, with only temporary glimmers of hope that have kept me pressing forward, slowly, painfully. There have been things in my life that I was certain would fail. There have been things in my life that I was ready to abandon. There were times when I had absolute certainty of what must be done. And yet, I did not quit and do not want to quit. Instead, I started to look at the struggle and say, "perhaps this is the only way through, perhaps what is on the other side of this is growth, is a deeper sense of connection, deeper understanding, valuable lessons and a deeper understanding of strength, both mine own and others". Perhaps, enduring what can be endured is absolutely life affirming. When I made the choice to stand on a start line, begin something, involve myself I had good reasons, big goals, positive feelings, hopes, dreams, etc. So when things go south, does that mean that I was wrong to make a start? Usually not, usually it just means that just because something isn't easy, doesn't mean its not worth doing. Just because it gets hard at some point, doesn't mean that this is a "stupid race and I am a stupid idiot for ever thinking it was a good idea". Yes, sometimes we have to stop. Sometimes we have to change, let go or choose a different path and that's ok. But sometimes we can endure things that are hard and face shredding and come out the other side saying, "I am so glad that I survived that. I am so glad I did not quit". We don't have to laud a sucky experiences, but we can be grateful for our own ability to go through tough shit, to survive and the once again live in the light and thrive.

Strengthening my weakest link

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

"Sickly D"- that was my college boyfriend's nickname for me. And pretty much sums up my entire life. For someone remarkable durable both muscularly and skeletally, my endocrine and immune systems are most definitely not. Throughout my life, I have struggled with illness. I can catch any cold or flu that comes within the same county as me, I have had more stomach/digestive issues than the entire graduating classes of most high schools and my endocrine system often seems to be living on another planet in a distant universe. It is remarkable that for how many times I have been sick and how much of my lifetime I have spent at the doctor, that I haven't in fact had any truly serious illnesses or been hospitalized. (Let's just say everything in this post just gets one big knock on wood). 

When I was in elementary school, I missed months of school at a time with a never ending flu. In high school, I got mono. I missed my first Boston marathon because I had pneumonia. That may not seem like a lot, but in between those notable episodes have been so many "minor" illnesses, so many trips to the doctor, so many tests. In my 13 year running career, I have had to cancel or change my racing plans because of illness/health problems almost EVERY single year.  Over the past 3 years whilst opening and running the bakery I have had some issues so serious/painful/awful that the doctors were very concerned that it was something terrible/dire. Or nothing. That was their other suggestion. This is either an ulcer or nothing. This is either cancer or nothing. Really? How can those really be the only two options. Maybe you just need to quit your job? Maybe you just need to stop running so much. Those are their answers.  Just scrolling back on my own blog for the past 6 months, there are countless examples of the huge impact endocrine and immune system problems have profoundly impacted my life. After the terrible month of March I had, I was over it. I KNEW there had to be a more complex and nuanced story to my health somewhere between "it is nothing" and "it is something terrible". I am not dying (which is awesome), but I am also not truly healthy, how do we address that space? How do I not run myself into amazing shape and then have to hope and pray that I don't get sick again the week of a race. Forget the idea of "not being sick", how do I become optimally healthy? I want the same level of durability that I enjoy muscularly and skeletally to also be true for my immune and endocrine systems. So I went to my doctor and got the same song and dance as I always do- no answer at all.

I decided to take a different approach. On the recommendation of badass friends Amelia Boone and Michael Wardian, I decided to get in touch with InsideTracker.  InsideTracker looks at biomarkers differently. They are not looking for illness, they are looking for optimization. They are looking for areas you are at risk and areas that are problems. Not problems by medical stand point necessarily, but problems when it comes to feeling your best and healthiest. They believe that #BloodDontLie and I wanted to know the truth about my health. I wanted to find a way to strengthen my weakest link. As they say, "Know Better, Do Better".

I have now had three tests through InsideTracker, each revealed something that has been instrumental in my health and wellness as well as my training and racing. 

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

The first test revealed something interesting, I am chronically low in Vitamin D and magnesium. Vitamin D is absolutely instrumental in immune function. When I uploaded my previous year's worth of blood tests for comparison (which is a cool feature of the InsideTracker dashboard), it revealed this as a persistent issue. Same for the magnesium. Magnesium is instrumental in good sleep and I am an absolutely terrible sleeper. Stress can cause a magnesium deficiency and let's just say that opening a bakery (and then working on the night shift) did nothing for my stress levels. I immediately started taking a Enduropacks liquid multi vitamin as well as extra Vitamin D to help bring my levels up. Slowly but surely and even through peak training and racing, my levels are rising. 

My ferritin levels have been chronically low and I have known that for years. The doctors don't know why. I have had to have endoscopies to look for intestinal bleeding, I have been poked prodded and finally given up on, as the WHY of my woeful ferritin levels. They wager it is just the running. So it is something I have had to keep my eye on for a long time. When I got my InsideTracker results, I was stoked. My ferritin was 75! The first time it had been over 30 in years. Guess we finally found something that worked! But I knew, going into peak training, being at altitude for a month, that it was something I would need to stay vigilant about. So I ate my Inside Tracker recommended beef liver and supplemented a bit more iron in my diet. One thing I found interesting is that plenty of iron was getting into my body, but not all of it was being absorbed (Total Iron Binding Capacity) which leaves me susceptible to feeling tired and weak also. I had to find a balance between getting the iron in and not getting too much. I have had a similar issue with the thyroid and my hypothyroid meds, the meds are getting in there, but they are not being absorbed and getting where they need to go.

After gathering all the initial biomarkers, InsideTracker walked me through a series of steps to determine which items to address based on my goals, how I want to deal with those things (diet, exercise, supplements, lifestyle change) and distills the information down into 5 action items. My first test had me eating lots of seaweed, beef liver, eating fish 2x per week, taking a vitamin D supplement and watching my calorie deficit(not having too big a deficit as it was messing with my sex hormones). Between the end of March and my next test 10 days out from States, I meticulously followed my action items. We retested before States to get a glimpse of what my biomarkers look like during my peak. And all systems were go. Many of the biomarkers had not in fact improved, BUT that actually does show improvement because they didn't drop during the most extreme period of stress. In other words, I was ready to race. It felt good going into the race knowing that all systems were go.

We also tested 3 days after WS 100. It is fascinating to see what running 100 miles does to your biomarkers. I also talked with one of the Inside Tracker coaches to help me understand the results. To put it plainly, I left it all out there. I am sure the early dehydration in the race didn't help, but by the end of WS, I had used up my available resources. I did what I could with the day that unfolded in front of me. My biomarkers for inflammation were very high (AST/ALT) and the InsideTracker coach recommend that I take my recovery seriously. I found this very valuable because I didn't try to do too much too soon. I respected my bodies need for recovery, I didn't try to bully it into doing too much too early. I allowed myself to be tired and worn thin. I took my new set of InsideTracker recommendations and posted them where I could see them and I have seen my recovery happen. Today, I went out and crushed a workout that would have been a lot during peak training. It was possible because I used the knowledge I had from my InsideTracker results to let my body recover. I slowly, patiently was able to pull back the layers of inflammation and tired, I was to power my recovery in a methodical way. I didn't rush back, I didn't try to do too much. I waited, I listened to my body. I feel confident in the way forward towards my next race and my next goals.

Knock on wood, I haven't had a serious medical issue since March, I haven't gotten really sick (though I had a very close encounter right before States!) to me that is immense progress. I am a firm believer that InsideTracker's testing and approach have helped me begin to strengthen my weakest links. I will continue to utilize them as I train and race and try to live a more healthy optimized life. 

If you want to try InsideTracker out for yourself, use the code FASTFOODIE for a great discount. You will absolutely not regret it! And thank you InsideTracker for helping me on the road to optimal health! #blooddontlie  

 

WS 100- round up

Photo by Oiselle

Photo by Oiselle

Wow, WS 100 2016 is in the books. What a journey, what an adventure. I have already posted my race recap over on the Oiselle blog, so I just wanted to pull together a few resources in case you missed all the action.

Pre-race:

Post-race:

 

 

Sean O'Brien 100k

Photo credit: Billy Yang

Photo credit: Billy Yang

After my performance at Javelina last year, I was naturally a little nervous lining up for my next ultra. Especially a ultra that I had one goal for: qualify for Western States 100. A goal that I had sacrificed the Trials for, a goal that I had really set my heart on. I was nervous for this race before I signed up for it, or more precisely, after Javelina, I was nervous for whatever I would do next. I had had such an incredible race there, I unlocked things in my mind that made me a more capable racer. I didn't want Javelina to be the exception, that doesn't mean breaking records every race, it means running to my full ability. So many people told me after Javelina that it was the performance of a lifetime, that I would never be able to top it, that it was above and beyond. I chose to see it as a breakthrough for me, a sign of amazing things to come. 

Yet, I have always been someone who struggles in believing in my own abilities. So I worried about holding on to that "Javelina" feeling. I wrote down lessons and strategies from it. I learned how to pump myself up, talk to myself. I want to believe in myself.

Heading into Sean O'Brien 100km, I felt good. I had recovered well from Houston Marathon. Nailed some great trail workouts and put in some good mileage in the 3 weeks in between the races. I didn't taper quite as much as a 100km might warrant, but arrived at the line feeling fresh, focused and firey. 

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

And then the race started. And my mind rebelled. It was a gremlin, demon free for all, up in there. Seriously, the things I say to myself. I would not say those things out loud to anyone, I would never say them about another person, why do I say them about myself? It was nasty. But as long as my body felt fine, I just resolved to ride it out. Maybe it would get better. I pelted my mind with mantras of "I'm awesome, I'm awesome, I'm so fucking awesome." for miles, but the gremlins wouldn't relent. It was annoying and demoralizing. And when the going started to get tough, it made my desire to fight zero.

What the hell was wrong with me? I clicked off miles, pissed. But as I ran I realized something. I was suffering from a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. 

Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
— Wikipedia
All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

Maybe Javelina was just luck. Maybe like people said, it was my once in a lifetime run. Maybe when it really matters, I wouldn't be able to rise. I struggled, I ran. It was hot, my knee hurt, the course is brutal. Gremlins fed my imposter narrative with everything they had. Everything. You are not enough, you are not worthy. Why is it so easy to believe the negatives, not the positives?

The course is unrelenting and the day was hot. About mile 26, my friend and new training partner Amelia Boone passed me on a crazy long climb and I really struggled. I wanted to stop. In fact, I had come up with a million different reasons I could drop for about the last 20 miles. I power hiked the hill and felt sorry for myself. And then I received a gift. First, my Bay Birds teammate Jessi who was running the 50 mile (which started later) was coming down the hill. She cheered, I lamented. She threw her arms around me in a hug and said, "it worked for you last time (at Javelina)". Yes, a friendly hug and words of encouragement really had saved Javelina. And my longtime friend Jess Mullen, from Seattle, gave me a hug and a no nonsense, "you'll be FINNNNNNEEEE." Then heading up towards Mile 42, I spotted a Oiselle jersey on a girl named Halley (sorry if I spell it wrong!!!) and she ran with me and gave me words of encouragement. It all helped. They held up a mirror that said, "hey Devon, you are ok."

At mile 36.3, I had been able to run well for about 3 miles, although my knee hurt. I decided to try ibuprofen at that aid station and I wanted to see if my knee was a mild irritation or injury. An injury would not have been solved by 2 ibuprofen, so I took them and decided to see if I could make it to the mile 42 aid station. Like Javelina, 2 ibuprofen and some caffeine were a game changer for me. (Please not that aspirin and ibuprofen should be used very carefully during ultras and not relied on. I do not take more than one dose. If I needed more than one, I should not continue to run!) I realized that I had simply twisted my knee awkwardly at some point, but that it wasn't injured. I left the mile 36 aid station and began to run. Really run. Like I did at Javelina at mile 60, it was like I finally found my groove. And my wings.

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

With each step of running, I gained confidence. I moved well, felt good. I had been fueling optimally even in the heat (high 70s in February!!). I was able to run up hill. Heck, all systems were go. I was not going to back down. I was not sure I could catch Amelia. After all, by the time I got my groove back I was being told that I was 15-20 minutes back. I knew that WS spots were 1-2, so that I just had to run hard enough to not be caught. And so I pressed and pushed and gave chase.

Be patient with everyone, but above all, with yourself... Do not be disheartened by your imperfections. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor’s fault if we are impatient in dealing with our own?
— -Saint Francis de Sales

Coming into Mile 42, I thought of this quote. Maybe I just took 40 miles to get warmed up and into my groove. Why was I so impatient and unforgiving? As I headed out onto the out and back section to Bulldog turn around, I chatted with Billy Yang. For the first time all day talking to him (on camera), I was happy, I felt good, I believed in myself, I smiled. I believed I could do this. I wanted that WS spot and I was not going to give it up. 

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

I opened up my heart and mind and let my inner unfuckwithable badassery come out. I ran hard and I ran free. No more gremlins, no more demons. I simply outran them.

I didn't think I would catch Amelia. She is insanely talented and while this was her "first" "runnable" ultra, I knew she was fully capable of running an insane race. I pushed downhill as hard as I thought safe and clipped along trying not to think of the ridiculously difficult climb back up the same mountain after the turn around. I was nearing the bottom, picking my way through the park when I saw her. I belted out "Circle of life" (as we both have a love of the Lion King) and ran up next to her. She was hurting, her calves were betraying her on the downhills and she was bonking. I gave her a little pep talk, reminded her to keep her eye on the WS prize (1-2) which is why she came. I reminded her to be patient, not give in, that it could and would pass. And then I pressed on.

When I regained the lead, I did not want to give it up. I had thought I only cared about getting the WS spots but I was feeling so good after the turn around at mile 49.5 that I wanted to push and see just how hard I could finish. This race is brutal, especially on a hot day. Since it was an out and back, I knew that when I passed Amelia, I moved into 3rd overall and I got hungry to keep that too. 

My mind was on board. I worked the uphill, I pushed and pressed and my mind said YES. I asked my body for more and it said, here you go. I smiled and found myself with a happy heart. Ultimately, that is what I want to find. I want to run with a happy heart, especially when I am working so so very hard to achieve a goal. It would feel like a waste to put together a solid race and not enjoy it. But I was, I was loving it. 

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

I came into the mile 55.9 aid station flying and smiling. I was going to do this. Not an imposter, not lucky, this was me and this was what I was capable of. I flew. Down (ok, more like up, down, up, down, down, down, creek, up, but who is counting) towards the finish line. After one little last climb just past mile 61 (thanks Ginger Runner for the heads up!), I pushed hard towards the finish. Damn. It feels good to fly that free. I crossed the finish line in 10:27. 1st woman, 3rd overall. WS ticket! 

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

I have been working very very hard to change the inner narrative I have. To change the habits of my mind. Today, I realized that I can, with patience and perseverance and strict non-indulgence. My brain tells me "you suck, you should stop.", I counter, "whatever you say" and keep going. I acknowledge it and let it go, not hold tight to it like it is truth. It is not the truth. I am worthy, I am enough. Running is an incredibly opportunity to test myself and to learn so much and I am truly grateful for it and for the small victories I can have like today in be braving and truly daring greatly.