Epic Adventures

Last weekend was a doozy!

On Friday night, we hustled our butts out of work and into the car to try and beat traffic and get to New York City. Hint: it didn’t work out that way. We arrived in NY late and basically went right to bed so we could wake up at the crack of dawn to get to the New York Road Runners’ Queens 10K in the morning.

Me and my dad crossing the finish line

It was the day before father’s day and my dad was running with us, so I hung back to pace him (to what I knew would be a PR day for him, but I didn’t tell him that at the start line). I really love the NYRR five boroughs series. I missed the AirBnB Brooklyn half this year (and I’m really sad about it), but so far I’ve run every other race in the series. It’s a set of six races designed to give runners the “best of the boroughs” and it includes: the Fred Lebow Half Marathon, the NYC Half Marathon, the Queens 10K, the Bronx 10 Miler, and the Staten Island Half. If you run 4/6 of these races, you qualify for guaranteed entry to the NYC Half in the next year. This year, I lotteried into the NYC Half (and OMG was that an AMAZING experience!). I’m so stoked that we’re going to be back to the Half next year, and running the five boroughs has been a really cool way to experience my city.

The Queens 10K took you around Flushing Meadow park, and gave you some up close and personal views of the old world’s fair site (pretty awesome!). It wasn’t terribly hot on Saturday but it was about 90% humidity, so running conditions were definitely sub-optimal. My dad was a total trouper though and ran a very strong race with a significant PR. It must have been in the air too because Mike also PRed his 10K by about 5 minutes (woo!)

Straight off of this victory, we got ourselves back into the car and drove home to Massachusetts. There, we did some light grocery shopping and heavy lounging because Sunday we had to get up at the crack of dawn to drive out to the Boston Spartan Sprint. The Sprint was in a new location this year (Treasure Valley Scout Reservation in Rutland MA). Scuttlebutt on the internet had told me that parking was going to be a bear, so I scurried in and grabbed a VIP parking pass to guarantee parking close to the event. I was the only member of my gym’s team who managed to grab one, so we all stuffed into my car and drove out to Rutland together.

The festival area, I’m told, was smaller than usual but it didn’t feel that way. Actually… it felt awesome. Since it was Sunday, there were fewer people on the course. The course was fast and fun; relatively flat for a Spartan course (I mean, it wasn’t on a ski mountain so that alone should tell you something). This meant we got to actually run a couple of the trails (we usually kind of slog them out since elevations are so intense).

The obstacles were awesome. The tire flip has returned and, unlike my experience in Montreal, this one was legit! 200 lb tires

In case you were wondering: this is how I look before I go to war with Troy

for the ladies, 400 lb tires for the men. The ladies tire was no big deal for me, but I couldn’t quite get the men’s tire high enough to transition from “pull” to “push.” This gives me my first big goal for next year: flip the men’s tire. I see many many deadlifts in my future.

The only other obstacles where I did burpees were the Twister (I did better on this than when I tried it on my Beast earlier this season, so I’ll take that as a win), and the ring rig (I have some issues transitioning on the Olympic rings. I’ll be discussing training strategies on this one with my coach). Miraculously, I was able to get through Olympus (I did have a spot from Mike, but it was an “honest spot” not a “dude carrying me across the obstacle” kind of situation).

It was again hot and humid, emphasis on the humid. The humidity was a real killer for me and while we didn’t carry water packs (it was a Spint and there were water stations every mile), I am REALLY glad we decided to throw some salt tabs and a packet of honey stinger gummies in our pockets. I definitely needed the salt and the blood sugar before the end of the race and, combined, these prevented a mini heat-induced meltdown around mile four.

The ropes were EXTREMELY slippery, but I was happy that my new modified J hook technique worked wonders. The trick is to wrap the rope around your foot and step on it rather than rely on the friction created between your feet to hold on. My trail shoes have really changed the rope climb game, but I’m ecstatic that I’ve gotten the trick of it now. Rope climbs are one of my strongest movements and I never want to do burpees at that obstacle again.

One of our best fire jump pics.

In brief, we had an epic weekend. This weekend is going to be nearly as epic with a trip to NY in the works to run two races (I’ll be volunteering one to get my +1 credit in). Stay tuned for more adventures of the Mike and Dani!

On Track While Away

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Las Vegas. As a result, you guys get another entry on how I stick to my program while traveling. Often, being out of your “home zone” can really throw you off nutritionally and from an exercise standpoint, but it doesn’t have to! Here’s how I stay with it even when I’m far from home.

Traveling, for me, almost always means sneaking in a trip to the local Crossfit box whenever possible. I love having the opportunity to check out different gym setups, sample different programming, and meet the lovely members of the greater Crossfit community. It’s like having a home away from home, since Crossfit will always be Crossfit even though you’re in a different setting while doing it.

Just Hanging Out at Mountain’s Edge

This trip, I dropped in to Crossfit Mountain’s Edge; what a welcoming and warm community of athletes! When I arrived, I was told that the box had just moved in to their new facility (and it definitely looked that way; very pristine for a Crossfit gym which is kind of amazing!). I did two days’ worth of killer workout routines, and that was a bit of a shock to the system.

Up until quite recently, it’s been pretty cool here in New England. The Las Vegas heat of 90 degrees plus definitely slapped me in the face, and then being asked to run in the Las Vegas heat was a bit of a challenge for this cold-blooded Northerner. After a warm-up 200, I realized that it wasn’t going to be safe to run much further than that at a single clip despite the fact that the programmed workout called for 800s (and I didn’t want to risk of getting lost in an unfamiliar area). I scaled the runs back to 200s; trust me, I still got an incredible workout in since the rest of the workload was pretty intense (and I grabbed weights that I knew would challenge me even while scaling the runs).

There was an additional consideration to this: running in that kind of arid heat is insane; my mouth was dry after a few steps out the door, and even though I was sweltering the sweat was just evaporating off my body almost as quickly as it was generated. I drank a lot of water during workouts, much more than usual, and rehydrated like crazy afterwards. Still, in spite of these challenges, working out in Vegas was a great time.

When I’m on the road, I usually bring a couple important mobility tools with me: a lacrosse ball, a golf ball, and (if I have room for it) a foam roller. Since I have a ROMWOD account, I can log on and complete a mobility workout at any time (and often do while traveling!). I find that a ROMWOD after a long plane flight is really helpful to get circulation going and just to stretch out those legs. After these workouts, it was pretty necessary to make sure I was taking care of my body and doing the regular maintenance to keep things in tip-top shape.

Hydrating is HUGELY important for me on the road. I find that airplane travel dehydrates me like almost nothing else. I always make sure to bring a bottle of water with me; while the TSA won’t let you bring a full bottle of water into the airport, they will let you bring an empty bottle. So that’s what I do: I bring my favorite water bottle, and then fill it up after I have gotten through the security line. I also take every opportunity to grab water when offered drinks on the plane; I’ll ask for a small bottle of water and whatever other beverage (usually coffee or diet soda). This way, I can stay hydrated but also enjoy a little treat (I don’t drink soda at home, so that counts as a special thing for me!)

Walking is perhaps the easiest way that I stay fit while traveling.

Protein in wine glasses…. because VEGAS!

It seems that no matter where I go, there’s always a good amount of walking to be done. My step goal is 10,000, and I generally struggle to hit that on a given day unless I’ve got running programmed in my workout somehow. While I’m away from home, it’s a different story entirely; I rely more on my feet for transportation and, because of that, I usually have no problem with a 10,000 step day (and usually it’s far more than that).

Nutrition is one I definitely struggle with. I try to pack a whole giant baggie of protein powder (along with a scoop) just to make sure I’m hitting my protein macros. I also try to lay off the booze, since alcohol is the easiest way for me to derail a day. Other than that, I log when I can. If I’m traveling for business, I am a bit more strict with my diet than if I’m traveling for pleasure (mostly because vacation should be vacation in my book, and you’ve got to relax sometimes and just enjoy life).

What are some travel tips that have helped you stay on track even when you’re not at home?

The Pain Cave

This weekend, I PRed at the covered bridges half marathon. I’ll do a real race recap later, first I want to talk about something a bit more important: what it took to PR.

I’ve been noticing lately that I’m seeing a LOT of gains in the strength department, but strength is (for me at least) easy to train. Figure out what’s weak, target the weakness, and lift as much/as often as your coach tells you to. Checking off boxes in my bullet journal is my own little type-A paradise; the fact that it leads to achieving my goals is an added bonus. That’s the way the world’s supposed to work: put in the time, do the thing, progress accordingly. Simple, right?

Okay, here’s where the whole thing becomes problematic: training speed. The last time I set a PR at the half marathon distance, I was running exclusively. I hadn’t started Crossfit yet, I was 20 pounds lighter than I am now (because muscle is HEAVY), and I was running upwards of 25 miles a week. Breaking 2:30 in the half happened so naturally that I didn’t realize at the time what a big deal it was for me.

Selfies with the sign marking our race route; I love finding these on the road the day before a race!

Once I started Crossfit, my times dropped back. The reasons why were logical: I was running less, I was lifting more, and I was running longer distances and focusing on things like the marathon rather than speed. Okay, whatever, that was fine, but something was nagging me about the whole thing.

Eventually I realized what it was: a primary reason I had slowed down so significantly in running was the same reason that I have trouble with “engine” workouts in Crossfit: I do not like being in the red zone. You know the place; the pain cave. That place where your heart-rate is elevated and physical activity no longer feels “good,” “refreshing,” or “fun,” it just feels like you’re dying. That place where every step is a battle as you convince yourself that no, you’re not actually dying, this is just what it feels like to push.

Closely related to the pain cave is “the bad place.” This is the place where non-injury related DNFs are born. I’ve spent some time in the bad place over the course of my last Spartan Beast, wondering why in the first three grueling miles I had even chosen to do this in the first place and how many people would actually be disappointed if I didn’t make it to the finish. The crazy part about “the bad place” is that it will lie to you. It will whisper tales of how your progress isn’t impressive or important to anyone around you, it will tell you you haven’t sacrificed enough or that your sacrifices are insignificant. It will make you think that quitting is a good idea. Finding my way out of the bad place was a matter of admitting to myself, first and foremost, that this was where I had wound up. Once I recognized it for what it was, I was able to disentangle the bad place’s lies from what I knew to be true: my training was impressive AND important and I had made significant gains for this race. The bad place can be found through the pain cave, but you don’t always wind up there. Sometimes you never make it out of the pain cave, sometimes you just get stuck in its darkness.

The truth is that every time I get the opportunity to go deep in the pain cave, I ease my foot off the gas. I hate the pain cave. I hate that feeling. I have a very low tolerance for that specific kind of suffering, and as a result whenever I find myself in the dark place I find an “out” to make it more tolerable. This means I get through my workout slower, but in the moment that doesn’t feel like the worst option.

This race, I decided I was going to go for it. I was in great shape, I had been drilling my run form, the course was reasonably flat, and there were zero reasons why I couldn’t run a PR race. Even as I began to think this, I didn’t really fully comprehend what it might mean. I didn’t put much thought into the greater significance of this as an experience because the last time I had run that hard, it had been so easy to push.

On the car ride to the race, I spent a long time telling Mike about how I was disappointed in my engine and my inability to face the pain. I told him I wanted to devote this next training cycle to building up that tolerance and growing the engine. I told him how great it would be to get my engine to line up with my strength numbers, and how I thought I’d

Feeling pretty heroic on the day before the race

grow by leaps and bounds as an athlete if I could achieve it.

It wasn’t until a little over halfway through the race that the realization dawned on me: committing to a PR was committing to suffering. It was engaging with the idea that this whole experience was going to hurt, and it was going to hurt for a long time. I don’t know why I hadn’t put this together earlier; I’ve spent the last several months closely following Nike’s breaking two project in the context of which this very issue has been discussed over and over again. PRs are great in the rear view mirror, but the process of achieving them is grueling and full of agony.

But for whatever reason, it wasn’t until I found myself in the pain cave that I remembered what running a PR race might be. Of course, my natural instinct was to ease out of it like I always do; to slow down a little or even take a walk break. But that wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to be at the end of the day; that day, or whatever came after it. If I really wanted to build my engine, I had to commit to the suffering.

Celebrating my PR at the finish!

So I did. It wasn’t a single decision, however, it was a constant reminder to myself about why I was doing this, what I wanted out of it, and what drove me. Sure, I told myself, I had the option to slow down at any time, but that wasn’t going to help me achieve the things I had JUST been saying I wanted.

Having a crystal clear sense of why I had chosen this was the foundation of how I got through the race to the other side, PR in hand. It’s certainly not the only tool I used from amidst the pain cave, but it was definitely the most important one. This is why PRs are so glorious; they are a battle and victory isn’t guaranteed. The mental fortitude is just as important as the physical strength, and it’s much more difficult to train.

What are some tactics you’ve used to talk yourself through the pain cave?

Canadians are Nice; Their Mountains are EVIL

This weekend, Mike and I took advantage of the holiday to dart up to Canada and sneak in the second wedge of our 2017 Spartan Trifectas: the Montreal Super!

I found surprisingly little information regarding Canadian Spartan races on the internet. Trust me, I looked. I scoured Reddit for any intel trying to figure out what we should prepare for. Here and there, I saw a mention or two of the race (which really only served to show me that it wasn’t a figment of our collective imaginations). I couldn’t even find a course map on the Friday immediately preceding the race. Eventually, I

night before beer flight. Carb loading at its finest.

just relaxed into the idea that we wouldn’t be seeing any of these things and to just go with it. It was still a Spartan Super after all, how different from usual could it be?

When we arrived at Owl’s Head, we immediately noticed that the parking situation was slightly different from what we generally expect. The lot was a good five minute walk from the site, with no bus. It was actually kind of nice to have a warm up walk, but it did make us paranoid that we’d be unable to find our car on the way out. We got to the starting village and immediately realized that this was a much smaller race than we’re used to running. All of the general Spartan village bits were there (some food, a merch tent, bag check, etc.), but there just weren’t as many people as we’re used to. To be honest? This was kind of nice. It made the race feel a bit more homey and less like the corporate monster that the hustle and bustle of Spartans can become.

We lined up with our heat at 10:30 and hopped over the wall into the start chute. There wasn’t anyone checking time wristbands, which was good because they didn’t write our wave time on our bands at check-in.

After the usual Spartan bravado (in English with some small bits in French, which was fun), we were off. The course was a gradual grade jog for about 200 meters before it became clear that the kid gloves were off. We turned a corner and there it was, our path STRAIGHT UP THE MOUNTAIN.

Now, look. I’ve run a bunch of these races at this point. I know that

Clean at the start line

there will be places when your hands AND feet will be on the mountain as you climb, and that’s cool. But usually the course creator takes you a windey way around for at least some of the duration of the race. In Montreal, they don’t play those games. Owl’s Head is pretty much STRAIGHT UP or STRAIGHT DOWN with almost nothing in between. It was a brutal 14 kilometers.

Another big difference is the complete lack of distance markers on course. Usually, I can temper my suffering accordingly and mentally orient myself by how far into the race I am. Not in Montreal. Here, you had to use your best guess to gauge where you might be, with occasional input from some of the very nice and helpful volunteers along the way.

Water was plentiful, and we even got to refill our packs (since we wound up being pretty slow on course and, therefore, the penultimate water station took pity on our bedraggled state). Another hitch that narrowly avoided ruining our race day was nutrition: Mike very carefully packed his nutrition bag (which he carries separate from his pack… don’t ask me, I have no idea why) and then very carefully left the nutrition bag in the car. Thankfully, I had packed plenty of calories and I was able to share with him as the day progressed. We did have to ration our snacks carefully, but for whatever reason the hanger never fully took either of us and it worked out okay.

In terms of obstacles, they were the Spartan regulars with a few special twists. The inverted wall had no foot holds (which meant I needed a tiny boost to get over it). Bucket brigade involved filling your buckets with dirt instead of the usual rocks (I found this lighter, but I’ve been told that others found it heavier… I guess it depends on how well you “packed” the dirt?). The monkey bars were straight across like standard issue playground monkey bars rather than the usual “up, down, up” split-level bars. The Z-wall had more holds than usual, and it was both dry and mud-free! Best of all, the holds were placed level with the ground rather than at a slant, making this the easiest Z-wall traverse I’ve ever accomplished on a Spartan course. The pancake-style sandbags were much heavier than usual: 40 lbs for women and 60 lbs for men. That didn’t bother me any because strength is what I’m built for, but I’m sure that more agile/speedier ladies had a bit of a rough time on those.

We encountered two obstacles we hadn’t seen before, though I’ve since been told that they aren’t new. The tractor pull involved a concrete donut on a chain that you had to pull through a track of the slickest mud on course (knee deep in some places!). The platinum rig was like a multi-rig, but hung only with Olympic rings. The first two rings were foot level so you stepped into them, then transitioned to the hanging rings with your arms.

The tire flip was an obstacle that I was ecstatic to see. This was on my first Spartan course back in 2015, and I haven’t seen it since. As we rolled up on it, the helpful volunteer directed me to the far end of the tire field where the “ladies’ tires” were…. Okay, I definitely get having different standards for male and female athletes but this was ridiculous. The ladies’ tires were pretty much standard issue Michelins (maybe a tiny bit bigger). They were basically a joke. As a result, I didn’t touch those dainty things; I went right for the men’s and flipped the biggest friggen tire I could find. Twice. Because I could. It was fun and I sincerely hope to see more tire flips in my near future.

Finish line beast pose! You’ll notice how conspicuously not-dirty I am… it wasn’t a terribly muddy race.

I also got the Tyro for the second time ever. I’ve been having issues with this obstacle the past few times I’ve encountered it, despite completing it the very first time I found it on course. This weekend, however, I made that traverse my supplicant and rang that bell. I even have some delicious back-of-knee bruises to prove it.

The “dunk wall” was a bit weak. Don’t get me wrong, I generally am not a huge fan of the dunk wall, but if you’re going to include it I feel like you should probably at least make people “dunk” themselves. This one was about two feel above water level, so while you did have to wade through the water to get to the wall, there was no whole-head dunking involved. While I’m grateful for the reprieve from that gross water going in my facial orifices, I still kind of feel like I cheated despite completing the obstacle.

On the whole, this race was DEFINITELY a beer-earner. Or, in my case, a poutine earner; because I’ll be darned if I drive all the way to Canada and leave without eat an unwise amount of poutine. It was fun to travel to a race outside of our immediate geographic location and experience what some of the other Spartan course designers have up their sleeves. It was also fun to talk to the locals about their experiences and how they differed on their various races from ours. While I probably won’t be going back to Owl’s Head anytime soon, I definitely think this was a worthwhile way to spend a weekend.

Spartans Abroad

This weekend, we’re doing something insanely cool: we’re traveling to Montreal to do our first international Spartan Race! Okay, yea, traveling from New England to Canada isn’t exactly the most epic of quests to get to a race, but we cross an international border so it totally still counts.

This has meant that we’re doing a lot of thinking about race logistics that we might not normally do. The race we’re running is a Spartan Super, a race that we’re both very familiar with. We know pretty well what we need for our “usual” packs, but there have been a few things that we’ve added to the routine.

Mike graciously helping me warm up the other day. Spartan team!

First: language. Quebec is generally a bilingual province, and I speak French, but Mike doesn’t. This isn’t a huge problem because we stick together during races for the most part anyway, but we’re definitely putting some extra thought into emergency situations just in case. I’m brushing up on a few words that I don’t generally get to use (“injury”… “sprain” … “dehydration”… “emergency”… etc.) on the off chance that we have a problem on the mountain. I don’t anticipate that this is going to be a big issue, but it can’t hurt to be prepared.

Identifications: we both have passport cards, and we’re both being extra diligent to remember to pack them. Nothing would put a damper on this trip quite like making it all the way to the border only to have to turn around due to a critical packing malfunction.

Fuel: we are being EXTRA careful to pack all of the fuel we’ll need, because there’s no guarantee that our usual tested brands and preferences will be available anywhere near the mountain. I take fueling pretty seriously since GI issues can make or break your time on the mountain, and there’s just no margin for error with these things. I would rather have a spare baggie of unused fuel at the end of the trip than take a chance with an unknown international brand…. That seems like asking for trouble.

GPS: We tend to rely on our phones for GPS services, but roaming data charges being what they are and reception always being an unsure thing in unfamiliar areas, I’ve taken the time to print out a few maps and several sets of directions getting us from our AirBnB to the mountain, from our home to the AirBnB, and from the AirBnB to various restaurants in the area. It might seem archaic to have paper directions in hand, and trust me it does feel a bit Paleolithic, but I know I’ll feel better about navigating with something tangible.

Post Race Food: I’ve done COPIOUS research about where to get a post

Spartan training is sometimes more than just what you do at the gym.

race meal. The biggest thing we need when we get off the mountain (besides a shower) is calories. As a result, I’m making sure we know where to get those calories. The area near the race is pretty isolated, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to get us clean and on the road towards civilization faster than you can say “Aroo.” We’ve discussed our post-race plan, and we have clear directives and instructions on it: get clean, get changed, and go go go! The sooner we leave site, the sooner we can shove guilt-free beer and burgers in our faces.

Car: As with any long trip, I want to make sure our wheels are good to go. I’m taking my car in for an oil change tomorrow so that it’ll be ready for the road. Making sure I factor that into my schedule was a bit of a time juggle, and definitely not on my usual pre-race radar. I’m glad that I put a lot of thought into our race trajectory or I likely would have missed this step in the preparation frenzy.

What are some things you add to your routine for races far away from home?

Fluffy Kodiak Power Cakes

So I love LOVE LOVE pancakes. For many years, they were a sadly foresaken part of my diet because I just need more protein in the morning than a stack of pancakes can muster. Then, I discovered Kodiak power cakes and all of that changed. While I won’t say that you’ll get a day’s worth of protein in these little things, they are definitely much more protein-packed than your average flapjack.

There was only one problem: the way I prepared them they tended to turn out a bit more rubbery than I wanted. Having done a lot of baking experimentation with whey protein, I can tell you that it often yields rubbery inedible messes if done incorrectly. Kodiak cakes, as prepared on the box, aren’t that bad, but they certainly aren’t the fluffy pancakes of yore.

fueled by delicious fluffy kodiak cakes.

I set out on a quest: to figure out how to make my Kodiak cakes as light and airy as the pancakes of my youth. This weekend, gentle readers, I discovered the secret! This was too rich a golden fleece to keep to myself, so here it is, on the blog, to be shared with all of you.

For the record, my usual (rubbery) preparation method for Kodiak cakes was half cup mix, half cup coconut almond milk, one egg. It was okay, but my new method is FAR SUPERIOR.

Here’s how to get your Kodiak cakes fluffy and awesome:

2/3 cup kodiak power cakes baking mix
2/3 cup coconut almond milk (or whatever milk/milk substitute fits your fancy)
1 tsp. Coconut flour
2 egg whites (whites only, not the whole egg)
1 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Vanilla bean paste (I guess you could use regular vanilla extract as well, but I find that the paste is much more flavorful)

Mix all of this together in your favorite bowl (I actually just use a large measuring cup because it has a pour-spout and heaven knows I need every advantage I can get to not make a gigantic mess in the kitchen).

Make sure it’s fully mixed and that you’re not leaving yourself dry little batter clumps to discover somewhere in the depths of your mixture (another argument for using a measuring cup; mine is glass and therefore I can see all the clumps and seek them out to destroy like the abominations they are).

Heat up your favorite pan, greasing with your favorite de-stickifying substance (butter, pam spray, whatever it is you like to use). Cook pancakes as normal. I mean, they’re pancakes, I don’t feel the need to micro-manage you on this one. Also: I’m terrible at cooking pancakes. Just ask Mike.

Even my inability to get the pan the right temperature didn’t put a damper on how awesome these were. They were fluffy. They were wonderful. They were little golden-brown puddles of dreamy pancakey goodness. For the record, this recipe makes five or six SIGNIFICANTLY SIZED pancakes. Here’s the macro breakdown:

Protein: 26.9 grams
Cars: 45.4 grams
Fat: 6 grams
Calories: 341

This leaves plenty of room for your favorite topping (I usually put peanut butter and banana on mine with a drizzle of honey, but why limit yourself? Go nuts; sliced strawberries, whipped cream, halo top ice cream, or good old fashioned maple syrup. Whatever floats your boat!)

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did. I definitely see many pancake-fueled long runs in my future.

Decisions, Decisions

This week, I made a few important marathon-training related decisions:

Decision One: we purchased an R8 Recovery Roller for the household. If you’ve never encountered this sweet puppy in the wild, you’re missing out. Mike and I first found it at a running store in New York where we were on a whim and without real intention to shop. It was love at first roll, and we’ve been obsessed with this thing ever since. The price tag is pretty hefty for a foam-rolling device, which is why we didn’t purchase it on the spot, but we’ve still been keeping an eye out for any sales or deals on this Rolls-Royce of foam rollers.

What makes the R8 so incredible? A few things. First is the tension; it gives a really good deep massage, something we both need in our household. It’s easy to use since you just kind of clip it on to your body (it’s basically two sets of wheels on a spring-loaded tension mechanism) and go to town. Part of what I hate about foam rolling is contorting into the various positions that getting a good rollout requires, and the R8 does a lot of that work for you. You can use it without having to roll around on the floor, and I feel like it gives me a bit more control about what I’m targeting with my mobility work. We’ve both been a little lax about our mobility, and I think the R8 is going to encourage healthier mobility habits in the household.

Anyway, it’s in the mail on its way from Colorado and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Apparently I have hit “that” phase of running: where the procurement of new recovery devices causes glee in my heart.

Second decision: this year, I’ll be diligently asking for company on my long runs. Last year, I suffered them out by myself (partly because I had never run with anyone before, and partly because I was always on the road so darned early). There are a fair number of people training for distance events at our Crossfit box right now, and many of them are also slower runners, so there’s a great community to reach out to when looking for road companionship. I think running with friends is going to be a lot more fun than just cranking out the miles on my own, and I also think it will help those LONG training runs go by faster. I’m excited to try training with others, it’ll be like a tiny party on legs every weekend rather than four plus hours of sullen solitude sweating it out to the dulcet tones of Ira Glass telling me stories of This American Life. Not that I don’t love Ira Glass, just that it can get old somewhere around mile 16.

Decision three: I’m going to approach each of these long training runs with as much joy and excitement as I can muster. Last year, there was a fair amount of anxiety about each of my long runs (especially when they began to get really long). I know that training for a marathon through the summer isn’t always the most fun thing in the world, but a positive outlook can definitely make the difference. Last year, I was constantly remembering why I decided to do this in the first place,

Gonna harness this feeling for every run.

and I’ll continue to implement that strategy this year as well. Thinking about how wonderful it will be once we get to DC will definitely help me out of some running-related funks as I meander my way through the training cycle. This year’s training cycle motto is keep it positive; let’s see what a conscious mindset shift can do to alleviate the tougher moments of a marathon cycle.

Decision four: Okay, this was never really in question, but I am absolutely going to use as many of those extra calories I get from running my behind off to consume as much ice cream as I can while remaining within the boundaries of my regularly scheduled macro nutrition. And yes, I know about Halo Top. And yes, I eat a lot of it. But sometimes it just isn’t a good enough substitute for the real deal.

What are some things you’ve decided that make your training easier?

10 Miles

This weekend was the first long run of our training cycle for the Marine Corps Marathon which meant a relatively short long run (ten miles). Unfortunately, I’m down with a cold. Fortunately, it seems to be impacting me (mostly) from the nose up. My chest is nice and clear even if my sinuses are running more than I am, so that meant I had no excuses when it came time for a run. My rule is generally if it’s below the throat, no run. Since this cold seems to be sticking to my cranial region, it didn’t prevent me from hitting the road this weekend.

That said, the fatigue and general ickiness that comes along with a cold made the first few miles of this 10 a suffer fest. It was a really nice day out; mid-fifties and clear. The weather was perfect for a long run. I am very grateful that running weather seems to be in full force here in New England. There’s nothing quite like a run in the perfect weather, and I’ll embrace it while it lasts before the heat sets in for the summer. I am extremely thankful that every other variable (that wasn’t me being sick) was pretty darn perfect for this run. That definitely lessened the blow of the pain cave a little bit.

I will say that I did eventually hit my stride. It’s been a while since I’ve done a long steady sustained distance, since Spartan Beast training was all about the short distance, do a task; short distance, do a task. I was honestly a little concerned about it since I wasn’t sure how far my cardio endurance had back-slid. Turns out: 10 miles was fine… you know, except for the head-cold part.

I’ve also been experiencing these weird cravings for honey stinger waffles lately. Seriously, who craves running fuel? Apparently me. As a result, I was super excited to take in my five-mile “treat,” and a tiny bit disappointed that my head cold impacted my ability to truly taste the magnificence that is salted caramel honey stinger waffles. Ah well; motivation for the next long run I guess?

For the record, I’ll be using the same method to train for this marathon that my coach and I employed for MDI last year. That is: a heavy focus on cross-training and recovery, and long slow runs. I actually only have a single run programmed each week: my long slow on Saturdays. The rest of the week is spent cross-training and strengthening the muscles I need to support those distances. One thing that I’ll be ramping up this training cycle that took a back seat last time is mobility; I did not do a very good job of using my foam roller last cycle unless I was experiencing a problem. Bad runner, no honey stinger waffles. This is a great way to buy yourself a ticket on the injury train. Intellectually, I know this, and yet it’s so hard to convince myself to spend more time on that foam roller. So: I’m

Marathon training can look like this

refocusing this round to make sure I really and truly get that mobility in, and keep myself healthy this marathon cycle. I was lucky last time, and I have no time for injuries since my race calendar this year looks like this:

5/28: Spartan Super

6/4: Half Marathon

6/17: 10K (9+1 race)

6/18: Spartan Sprint (Finishing my 2017 Trifecta)

6/24: Four Miler (9+1 race)

7/3: 5K (excited to retest my 5K time!)

8/20: 8K (9+1 race)

9/24: 10 Miler (9+1 race)

10/2: Half Marathon (Finishing up my 9+1)

10/22: Marine Corps Marathon

1/5: First race of the Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, Half, Full on four consecutive mornings)

The summer is going to slow down a bit as marathon training kicks into gear, but I’m sure we’ll be putting a few more races on the calendar as things settle in. That said, the MCM to Dopey Turnaround is going to be tight, and there’s NO WAY I’ll be missing either of those races. So: mission, accepted. Stay healthy through two marathon cycles this year, one of which prepping for a fatigue-driven race on tired legs.

What are you training for right now?

Who Wears Short Shorts?

At the Beast last weekend, I once again broke my own rule and tried something new: for the first time, I completed a Spartan race wearing shorts. I’ve always been adamant about wearing something that covers my knees for Spartans. Many of the blogs written to help racers prepare for these races even recommend wearing knee and elbow pads for the race. I don’t actually think this is necessary, but I’ve seen enough crazy barbed wire crawls (including ones that went on seemingly forever both up and down hill) to know that you should at least try to protect your knees on these courses.

But last weekend I broke that rule. The weather was forecasted to be a sweltering 83 degrees at its warmest (at the last minute, this forecast shifted to 77 and let me tell you that made a HUGE difference in terms of comfort level on the course). I knew we’d be out there a good long time – Mike and I were determined to take our time on this course, and neither of us are particularly keen to bust an ankle trying to run on trails. I was reasonably sure that shorts were going to make a huge comfort difference to me in terms of temperature, but I was still nervous about protecting my knees from the inevitable bumps and bruises that a Spartan might have in store.

The nail in the proverbial coffin came when I got some encouragement from another seasoned Spartan who works out at my gym and always races in shorts. She told me she’s never had a problem leg-exposure wise and that gave me the courage I needed. Shorts and high compression socks it was!

One rule I did not violate was my rule to never wear something on the mountain that I would cry about being ruined. Last year’s Beast claimed the pants I was wearing (I tore them down the front on the inverted wall about 2/3 of the way through), and I’ve had plenty of other incidental incidents with random rips and tears. It just so happens that I have a pair of Hylete shorts (Serenium pocket shorts for anyone who cares) that I got for free and have basically sat around since I got them. I was apprehensive about their ability to stay on my waist throughout the day since they’re a tiny bit big in the waist, but I knew they would dry quickly once soaked (which, of course, was going to happen probably multiple times over the course of the day). I also made sure to pack a stick of body glide in my pack because otherwise it would be chafe city for me (and really, nobody needs that).

The step to wear shorts on a race this big was particularly important to me

Glorious dunk tank suffering

because up until a year ago, I never wore shorts in public. My fitness journey has changed the shape of my body, but more importantly has changed my relationship with my body. Shorts, now, are a vital part of my running and Crossfit wardrobe, and when the heat spikes I couldn’t imagine doing a workout in the capris I used to wear. I do make absolutely certain that I have tall socks for rope climbs (because you only need to make that mistake once. Trust me.)

And you know what? The shorts were awesome! They kept me cool, they made me feel strong, and they definitely stayed up the entire race. For any of you Spartan ladies considering the short shorts route for your next summer race, I highly recommend it. Just make sure you sunscreen your legs (… my one mistake in this entire plan).

What are your favorite race-day articles of clothing?

Tri State New Jersey Beast 2017: Race Recap

This weekend, specifically Saturday, we conquered what was Mike’s first Spartan Beast and my second. The tri-state New Jersey Beast holds a special place in my heart as my first LONG endurance event, and it was really exciting to be there with Mike while he completed it as his first LONG endurance event. Here’s how it all went down.

en route, we found this awesome country store and cidery!

There were a bunch of folks from our box going down for the Beast this year, so we used Air BnB to rent out a lovely house about a half hour from site. That sounds like a long way, but in the area surrounding Mountain Creek (the ski lodge upon which this Beast took place), it’s about as close as you can get to anything. The house was awesome and had a gorgeous deck (complete with grill!) that we took full advantage of. On Friday, we drove down and grilled up some excellent pre-race food. We settled in for the night and prepared for the day to come.

Saturday started bright and early and we were out the door at 7AM for a 9:30 heat. When we arrived on site, we were told that things had been delayed by a half hour so we would actually be out of the gate at 10AM. This worked out just fine since it allowed me plenty of time to get my nerves out and warm up, and we lined up in the corral and were off at 10AM on the button.

I was really excited about this cow I found at the start line

The other members of our gym are SPEEDY so they pretty much dusted us in the opening stretch. That was fine; we were in no rush to tackle the brutal terrain of that ski slope (various Garmins worn during the event reported elevation gains between 3,000 and 4,000 feet over a 13 point something mile course). Since we’ve got marathon training to do, the last thing we wanted was serious injury on the mountain. We took it purposefully slow to avoid hurting ourselves and also to enjoy the views; it’s really gorgeous out there!

The first few miles were pure drudgery (for the record: this was true last year on the NJ Beast course as well). Insanely steep inclines that seemed to last forever followed by ridiculous descents that were too treacherous to run. By mile 3, I had mentally gone to what I call “the bad place.” It’s the place where DNFs are born. The place where you’re surrounded by your demons; why did I start? Why am I bothering to do this? Last year, I trained my hiney off through the winter; spent a lot of gym hours doing dedicated Spartan training. This year, I relied on my regular workout regime (with a couple of long trail runs thrown in on weekends). On paper, I knew I was stronger… but somehow I showed up to the start line feeling unprepared anyway. By mile 3, that feeling had grown past almost past the point of no return.

I had to get my head back in the game. I didn’t want to burden Mike with my demons when I felt like I was there to support him, but I knew that if I said outloud what was happening it would help me refocus. So I waited for the Spartan crowds around us to thin a little bit, and I told him what was going on. Just saying it helped me get past it; and you know what? He agreed that those miles were TOUGH. Later, after the race, he admitted that he had had similar thoughts I had had in the first few miles last year (“if it continues on like this, I just don’t know if I can finish…”) Demons out in the open, I was able to work through and past them and I relaxed into the course a little bit and got down to business getting the work done.

The day was hot, but not as hot as preliminary forecasts had predicted. Last minute, the forecast went from a high of 83 to a high of 77 and that really made a difference on the course. Still, having the dunk tank at mile 3ish was a really nice feeling (even if the water was cold and its usual muddy slurry). For me, the lifting obstacles are a walk in the park. I’ll pick up heavy things and move them all day. As a result, the Spartan standard log carry, sandbag carry, atlas ball, and plate drag are no big thing. I have a tougher time on the gymnastic obstacles like the Tyrolean traverse (this weekend it was almost directly after the swim so, wet and cold, my calves cramped up as soon as I hopped on the rope and it was burpees for me), the multi rig (I still haven’t quite gotten the trick to transitions on this one), and the new “twister.” My exciting obstacle triumphs this weekend included the monkey bars (my coach gave me a tip last year to try them “sideways” i.e. reaching out with one hand leading constantly and catching up with the other hand, and I’ve since learned to also use body swing to help get where I need to be), the rope climb (I can rope climb in my sleep but my trail shoes add an extra degree of difficulty, but this weekend I seem to have gotten the trick to it!), and the Z wall (always a toughie since you never know how slippery those holds are going to be).

There are a couple “benchmark” obstacles that I am always excited to retest; namely the Hercules hoist, the Atlas carry, and the rope climb. All three were on my first Spartan race in 2014 and I deeply recall how “impossible” they felt at the time. I remember precisely how heavy that sandbag was, how I was convinced I “couldn’t” get the Atlas ball in a carry position, and how I just couldn’t figure out how to place my feet to get a grip on the rope. I’m happy to report that this weekend, none of these obstacles were a problem. In fact, I walked off the Herc hoist thinking “cakewalk” and as I lifted the Atlas ball thought to myself “…this is it? This thing used to be heavy!” Those obstacles are like bread and butter to my fitness journey, and I look forward to them every race to remind myself how far I’ve come since I started out.

This race had a real doozy of a finish line. After descending an incredibly steep slope, you were thrown right into a bucket brigade that was at least a good quarter mile right back up and then down the slope you had just conquered. After that, it was directly into the Twister, and then the rope climb, and then a quick jaunt up another ridiculous hill only to run right down into the patented Spartan fire jump. By the time we hit the bucket brigade, I was so deeply fried. It had been a LONG day on the mountain and I was hungry for real food and ready to be done. I loaded up and hauled out, taking the obstacle 40 steps at a time. 40 steps, take a break. 40 steps, take a break. Down was easier than up, but in the last 150 meters the slope got INCREDIBLY steep and was covered with the debris of fallen gravel. On the way down, I took a tumble. I landed on my bum, held onto my bucket, didn’t spill any gravel, but did manage to bloody myself a bit. The Spartans around me were incredibly kind and all of them made sure I was okay (I was, just a bit stunned). After that, it took a lot to pick myself (not to mention the bucket full of gravel) back up to finish the carry, but I made it suddenly dreading the new obstacle that would await me after the

Obligatory muddy finisher photo with medals!

finish line: enduring the hydrogen peroxide that the med tent would use to wash off my newly wounded rear.

Once the bucket brigade was in the books, it was time to try out the Twister (a new obstacle for this year). My hands were so fried that I just didn’t trust my grip, and rather than hold up the line while I fumbled I opted instead for burpees. Cranking those out in sight of the finish line was not the most pleasant experience, but I stand by my assessment of obstacles; if you aren’t feeling like it’s a safe option for you at whatever point in the race you’re at, burpees are the way to go. After one or two fumbles with the rope climb, the last obstacle, I got a good grip on it and fell into a knack with the rope and my trail shoes. I figured out a foot hold (a modified J hook) that would give me enough friction to climb. THANK GOODNESS because I was not feeling like another 30 burpees at that moment.

FINALLY it was time to jump that fire and let me tell you: it was glorious. I have almost never in my life been so happy to see a banana and a protein bar, except for maybe last year when they handed me a banana and a protein bar at the finish. Despite my initial misgivings, it was an incredible day on the mountain, and I’m really proud of how strong Mike was the entire time. He did great out there, and it was fun to revisit this race a year later and a year fitter.

For those who are curious, in keeping with tradition I ate three dinners after the race. The first was an egg sandwich on a bagel that I had in the car (which shows you how hungry I was that a lukewarm egg sandwich that had sat in the cooler all day even kind of tasted good), the second was a 10-piece hot wing appetizer that never saw me coming (and didn’t get shared with a single soul), and the third was several slices of pizza. I also had a chocolate chip cookie and a beer, but who’s counting?

Spartan racing continues to be an incredibly fulfilling part of my fitness journey, and I’m stoked to finish the 2017 Trifecta. Next up: the Montreal Super over Memorial day weekend, marking my first international race! Couldn’t be more excited to gear up and get going again. Can I get an aroo?