Saturday, August 5, 2017


As I write this, I'm seriously contemplating DNS’ing (did not start) tonight's 60k race. It's not just that I've been sick all week, for which I just started on antibiotics yesterday. It is that, to an extent, but also that I'm in a mental/emotional funk that leaves me with no desire to do things I once found fun -- like racing, or even running. My runs this week, for instance, have been slogs of four or five miles, involving many glances at my watch and self-talk to the tune of, “Okay, that's half a mile. Just fifteen more minutes and I can turn around.”  That doesn't inspire much confidence in my ability to run an ultra, much less the 200-miler I'm signed up for next month.

The deal is that Joe and I want to get married -- in the Catholic Church. As soon as possible. We want to start our lives together, and celebrate our love with friends and family. But the annulment process, which began last October, has stretched out far beyond the “three months” we were quoted by the archdiocese. We got engaged in January, and thought surely we'd get news of the annulment being granted by spring, and we could plan to get married in the summer. When we got a letter saying the file was moving to the bond defender at the end of February, we counted that as good news. When Joe called at the beginning of May, and was told the file hadn't made any progress -- it was still with the bond defender -- I broke down and cried. That turned out to be the first of many, many cries.  At the beginning of June -- the file was still with the bond defender. “But you should hear by mid-July, if not sooner,” Joe was told. In mid-July, first “I can't find your file,” and then, “I found your file. It's with the bond defender.”  In the last four months, essentially, it has not moved.

Why does this cause me so much grief? Because I'm not willing to get married outside the Catholic Church. If we did, the Church would view Joe as an adulterer. We would not be viewed as married by the Church. We couldn't receive the sacraments, which we both value so much. I would feel like I were turning my back on my family and the faith that kept my beloved relatives going through the decades, despite the deaths of children, the Great Depression, wars, and other heartaches and losses. So the stress of not knowing whether Joe and I can get married -- whether we can share our lives and grow old together with the person who completes us -- as we wait for this piece of paper that tells us, effectively, yes or no -- is overwhelming.

I want to assure you that I'm trying to keep this in perspective. I have a friend, M, whose husband has had a relapse of cancer that is not responding to chemotherapy and whose mother just passed away after battling Alzheimer's. She and I talked recently about how both of us are finding it hard to trust in God's plan for us at this time, despite our desire to do so. My issues are absolutely nothing compared to the issues she and her family are dealing with. And yet, if emotional trauma is defined as anything that occurs to you that exceeds your ability to cope with it, then what I am feeling is decidedly trauma of a sort. For awhile now, it is seemed beyond my ability to cope with, and beyond my ability to let go and trust in God. Though I keep praying and trying, for sure.

In an effort to make ourselves feel better, at the beginning of June, we decided to do a couple things in preparation, so that when the annulment is granted -- as please God it will be -- we have fewer things on our checklist. We went to the jeweler and Joe bought his wedding band; I had my grandmother’s ring resized and polished. And I bought a wedding dress. Now these things are starting to haunt me. How presumptuous of me to buy a wedding dress when I don't even know whether I'll be able to wear it. Every time I think about this beautiful dress now, it makes me cry. Yep, crying right now. *Deep breath.*

That's one of a few things that should be happy, but makes me incredibly sad. Another is our wonderful friends, who promised us they will throw us a couples shower once we have our wedding date set. And my parents, who are so excited to come down to Texas to attend the shower and celebrate with us. It makes me so sad to not be able to celebrate our love with our friends and family. You know, like normal engaged couples would be able to do. Another thing is the girls, Joe's girls. They were so excited when we told them back in January that we were going to get married. Joe's oldest calls me her “almost stepmother.”  It's that “almost” that breaks my heart. Anytime she talks about that, and how I'll be a Schmal, I think about how much I want that to be true, but how it's also possible that that will never happen. That instead of being part of their family, the Church might decide that we can't get married. And what would that mean? I don't know that I could hang around and just be friends with Joe. And watch as he eventually moves on and finds someone else. And this is where I have to stop thinking about the chain of events. It's just too damn sad.

Maybe we'll find out tomorrow that the annulment has been granted. Then maybe it will seem like all this worrying was for naught. That's what I told myself back in March, then April, then May, then June, then July.  Right now, it seems like it's never going to come. Joe checks the mailbox every day. Every day it's empty, or filled with junk mail.

I want to feel the happiness of someone who is engaged to be married, and gets to set a date, celebrate with friends and family, and make plans. Buy a house where we can live together after the wedding. Instead I'm telling my apartment complex I need to extend my lease on a month-to-month basis. And I don't feel like I could lace up my shoes and go for a five mile run right now, much less a 60k. I hate myself for wallowing in my sorrows. But that just makes me even more depressed.

This is to to say that, for the second time this summer, I might DNS a race that I count as one of my favorites.  I don't know that I can do tonight's race because of a number of things -- physical, mental, and emotional.  But I'll just blame the antibiotics.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

He Said: Joe's account of Bighorn 100

My first 100-miler has to have an accompanying race report, pretty sure that's a law of some kind.  I've resisted the urge to read Julie's so far, so that I won't start "remembering" things differently!

I think she signed up for Bighorn a long time ago - I barely remember her forwarding me her registration email and asking me if I wanted to come along.  I don't think she was actually expecting me to sign myself up for the race, but that's what I did.  For some reason...  The most I'd run in one stretch was 66 miles (thanks to a wrong turn on a 100k last year that added 4 bonus miles), but that was a much flatter course.  I didn't fully appreciate or recognize how difficult this was going to be…at all.

I typically under-prepare for races, and this was no exception.  When we checked into the Airbnb in Dayton, WY, there were 2 hours remaining to get any drop bags to the staff in Sheridan.  So that's when I dumped out my stuff and started thinking about what needs to go in a drop bag.  I settled on: an extra jacket, couple of protein bars, batteries, amino acid powder to dump in my bottles (great placebo effect), and some other crap I knew I'd never use.  That night I thought of several things I wish I would've put in there, but it was too late...didn't end up mattering.

The 10am start meant a lot of sitting around; I think everyone was ready to go after the race brief, but there was a 1.5-hour gap.  The race brief itself included the word "treacherous" more frequently than a Scooby Doo episode, and it almost seemed like they were trying to scare people.  Luckily, I never get nervous before long races, and knowing Julie and I were planning to stick together the whole time put me even more at ease.  She has a calming effect in pretty much any situation, and I love when we run together - we share a similar sense of humor, but we also never feel pressure to fill up every second with talk/chatter when we run, which is nice...and who has 33 hours’ worth of discussion topics anyway?  I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing stroll in the mountains to check off my first 100-miler.

Starting near the back of the pack was a new experience.  Once you get to singletrack, you only go as fast as the slowest person, out of the 300 people in front of you.  Of course, logically, I knew there was no rush, and Julie is a pro at letting people race ahead and mowing them down later.  But I still couldn't stand it.  Why are we walking downhill???  It was mile 3 and we were still sometimes just standing there, waiting for the traffic jam to clear.  After maybe 6-8 miles, we were finally determining our own pace.  Julie led the way, and I followed, as is our practice for singletrack.  The first 7 miles have almost a 4k' net increase in elevation - not easy, but we made it up in good shape.

Mile 30 (Sally's footbridge, big aid station) is where my only drop bag was.  There is some nice downhill in the preceding few miles - I think this is probably the only time I had more than 100 meters separation from Julie all day, as I played around a bit ahead on the gravity-assisted sections here…FUN!

From 30 to 48 is a long, gradual uphill.  This is also about where is started pouring rain.  For the next 11 hours.  So much mud.  I had the chance to pace my friend April at Bandera 100k back in January 2015 (anyone who was there will well remember the muddy conditions).  This mud was much more slippery and shoe-sucky than even that day.  At one point, Julie's shoe came completely off, lodged in mud.  At another point, there was a hill where I wasn't even sure we'd ever make it to the top!  Started sliding backwards and had to grab on to some trees to make forward progress.  It reminded me of my pitiful attempt at XC skiing back in December - there was one hill I eventually had to just crawl up on my knees in the snow, or we probably never would've gotten home that day.

Finally, we made it to the turnaround at Jaws (mile 48) sometime after midnight, and it was crazy with activity inside that tent.  Most people that I spoke to after the race that DNF'd, did it right there at Jaws.  So warm inside, volunteers were so helpful, and it was freezing outside thanks in part to the 9k’ elevation and constant rain.  Julie headed to the port-o-potty to change clothes so I just hung out in the tent to admire the chaos.  I saw Rob, who had just shuttled Jake and Edward out of there.  Everyone seemed to be doing ok according to him, and Julie and I were still at least a couple hours ahead of cutoff, joking around the entire time.  Physically, I was totally fine and having the time of my life, despite the conditions.  Now just head back down, this should be the easy part...

Well, the mud was getting ridiculous.  Julie and I stayed mostly upright in the first half, but were starting to spend more and more time on our butts.  As we approached Sally's again, entering the 18th, then 19th, then 20th hours, my attitude started to turn a bit; I think at this point I was still positive outwardly, but a lot quieter.  The mud was not funny anymore.  I also noticed it was doing quite a bit of damage to our pace.  We were starting to put down some 26-27 minute miles, and you need to average right around 3mph (20-minute miles) to finish before the 34-hour cutoff.  Our 2.5-hour pad had shrunk to 45 minutes.  Somewhere around here we crossed one of those “treacherous” bridges and I wondered silently whether anyone had fallen in yet, off the slippery planks.  No more than 10 minutes after that, Larry came passing by and after we greeted each other, he nonchalantly said, “Well, I fell off the bridge back there.” There ya go.
I finally let Julie know I was getting worried about the pace and said we wouldn’t make it unless we started going faster.  Somehow she immediately, almost frantically, increased the pace by ~5 min/mile.  I'd just calculated that we'd be really close to getting cut off at the mile 82.5 aid, and to be honest, I was looking forward to quitting there.  As Julie somehow got us back on pace, which was borderline uncomfortable for me since it was nearly impossible to actually “run” in that mud, I got even more grouchy.  After mile 66, the 2nd time at Sally's aid, I was improving slightly, but knew the worst was yet to come.
Going up to the next aid station was tough – 2k’ climb over 4 miles.  One of those four miles had half the climb (1000’) in it - took us 35 minutes for that one mile.  Fortunately, there was daylight now and you could sometimes make slightly better decisions about where to place your feet to slip around less often.
We had a funny conversation with the volunteers up there, who had to carry all supplies in with horses, about what to do with your dirty post-race clothes (suggestions were to drop them off at the YMCA or to just burn them), and some rather odd requests runners had made of them.  Ultra-runners really are a weird group of people.
The Dry Fork aid station @ mile 82.5 was in sight around mile 80; it was at the top of a long hill.  We kept seeing people that we passed earlier in the race being driven up that hill in ATVs or Mules, and I remember getting extremely jealous of them, just sitting there, not having to use their legs.  I let Julie know how lucky I considered those people to be, but she was just too damn positive about the prospect of finishing this epically difficult race. Finally, the climb (partially accompanied by Rob again!), we were there.  It was a quick stop, then another climb to the high point on that end of the course.  I was pretty sure we’d make it before the final cutoff now, but I had mixed feelings about having to cover another 17 miles.  A 17-mile run on pavement, with fresh legs, could be done in 2 hours or so. But this would take us 6 hours, since neither one of us could really “run” anymore.  We could kinda make it look like we were running, but it was basically a walking pace. Then tendon behind my right knee was also on fire (a week later, and it still hurts a little to straighten out that leg), but I knew it was not the kind of injury you stop for.  When I ran the Palo Duro 50-miler last year, I did have the kind of injury that you stop for during the last 15 miles of the race (although I was winning, so I didn’t stop of course), so I knew the difference; most of us do.  But Palo Duro took maybe 8 hours for the whole race.  We were now at hour 27.
Julie and I were barely speaking at this point, although we were very supportive of the other when needed.  We were both just so miserable.  After the mile 92.5 aid station, we found out we had 2.5 miles of singletrack, then 5 miles of dirt road back to the town of Dayton.  The Singletrack. Took. Forever.  We skipped the aid at mile 95, and with 2 hours and 20 minutes to go before the cutoff, I knew we’d make it.  I’ve never, ever, experienced the kind of expansion of time that occurred over those last 5 miles. Every step hurt so bad.  I had to stop looking at my watch, because it seemed like 10 minutes would go by and we’d move .03 miles or something, so I just quit looking.  I found out later that Julie was having some kind of panic attack or something and was probably worse off than me, but either she kept it to herself or I was so inwardly focused on my own suffering that I didn’t realize it.  Someone on a bike came by to congratulate us with 1.5 miles to go, saying that most of the Bighorn veterans agreed this was the hardest year ever.  I couldn’t even respond to congratulations at that point – the finish still seemed days away!
Somehow, someway, we made it to the town.  We held hands as we turned toward the park, and walked it in from there, crossing together in 33:16.  I rarely have “emotions,” but they sure tried to come out in that last tenth of a mile in the park.  Hopefully there’s no photographic evidence.
As soon as we stopped, and the tendon behind my knee cooled off / tightened up, I could barely use the leg. Edward, who had also just run the 100 miles, was nice enough to drive us back to the cabin (3 blocks away) since there was no way I could make it.  Even Julie had to go get my drop bag from the collection area – I felt pretty pathetic! Once in the cabin, after showering, I had these weird shivering-but-hot spells.  Felt like my neck and above was hot and sweaty while the rest of my body was freezing – I was sure I had some kind of fever and that the rest of our trip (3 days in the Beartooth wilderness near Red Lodge, MT) was ruined.  But the very-experienced Julie said it would be better in the morning, and it was.  With the help of 2.4g of Vitamin I per day, we were able to put in about 35 total miles of hiking in some incredible places from Monday to Wednesday morning.

Now that a week has passed, of course I’ll be running another 100-miler - probably Cactus.  I will only remember the good parts of Bighorn – the partnership with Julie, and triumphing over adversity.  I never stop growing when I’m around Julie – and these aren’t just lessons in running better ultramarathons, although I certainly get a lot of much-needed help there.  I am just a better person in general with her.

Friday, June 23, 2017

She Said: Bighorn 100 Race Report

Time for a quick selfie before the race
Although Joe and I ran/walked/plodded every step of the Bighorn 100 together, we chose to write separate race reports.  I think it will be interesting to compare them and see the differences in what we choose to focus on.  I'm basing my recap on a set of four goals I wrote in my journal and shared with Joe the evening before the race.  Here goes:

Goal #1: Run the whole race together and finish together.  
Grade: A+.  Although there was a time I didn't think we'd make the time cutoff, as we wallowed in the mud overnight, and although Joe half-joked about wanting to drop around mile 60, we managed to stick it out and finish hand-in-hand.

Example: [Joe, jealously pointing to runners being carted away on ATVs after they'd dropped:] "Look at that guy.  He doesn't have to move a muscle!"

Finally approaching the finish line, more than 33 hours after starting
Out of 437 starters, only 175 finished, the conditions were so bad.  For me, it wasn't only the mud, which caused me to fall maybe twenty times and also ripped my shoe off my foot at one point; it was also the constant feeling of being cold and wet that challenged my desire to carry on.  The rain lasted hours and hours, and the temperature at the turnaround, at 9,000ft elevation, was probably around 40 degrees.  If I hadn't changed my outfit from head-to-toe at the 48-mile turnaround, my misery in being cold and wet might have threatened my finish.  One thing that kept me going was thinking that we committed to running the race together, and I couldn't ditch Joe, leaving him to continue alone.  The race seemed like a metaphor for marriage, and if our marriage gets difficult, I wouldn't just give up on it, would I?  I'm so glad we kept going, when so many others gave up.

 Me, slogging through the mud for 50 miles: "I feel like Milhouse.  'So this is my life.'"

Goal #2: Have fun making new memories with Joe, enjoying the scenery, another adventure, and many laughs.
Grade: A.  We certainly made new memories, and we did enjoy the scenery.  I especially appreciated the beautiful purple and yellow wildflowers blanketing the hills and meadows.  It was more of an adventure than we bargained for, with the rain, mud, and cold, but despite the conditions, we joked and laughed a lot.

Easier to enjoy the scenery here, at the start of the race, before the mud-fest
Example: [Joe, running past moose droppings:] "That poop looked like those little chocolate Easter eggs.  What kind of animal do you suppose poops like that?"
[Julie:] "Like Cadbury eggs?"
[Joe:] "No, those little foil-wrapped ones."
[Julie thinks to herself] Cadbury eggs are wrapped in foil.
[Julie:] "It's probably the Easter bunny."
[Joe:] "He poops in the shape of chocolate Easter eggs? But how do you tell the poop from the candy?"
[Julie:] "When it's out of season."

Goal #3: Maintain a positive attitude and perspective.  
Grade: B+.  I'd say we had positive attitudes for about 88 miles -- which is pretty good, considering the conditions, on top of the general difficulty of the course.  I have to admit, however, that we had terrible attitudes the last 12 miles or so.  All of a sudden it got hot, it was totally exposed, and the singletrack never seemed to end.  Then, when we got to the road, that never seemed to end.  

Example: [Julie:] "F--- this singletrack s--t!  Get us out of this f---ing National Forest! I just want to be on the road!  Let us out!"

Example: [Joe:] "F--- me in the goat-ass."  (If you don't get this reference, you really need to listen to this.  Caution: NSFW.)

Long before this, during the mud slog, Joe had started giving me updates on how well we were doing compared to 20-minute miles.  That became the goal; we joked about "Slamming down some sub-20s" when we were really feeling good.  It was so helpful to know that as long as we continued hitting that mark, we would make the cutoff, with time to spare.  That pace is a bit depressing, though, because when you have 12 miles to go, that means 4 more hours.  3 miles to go is another entire hour.  

I had pretty much stopped eating with 12 miles left, thinking there wasn't that much remaining.  That left me lightheaded and exhausted by the time we got to the road, and I felt like I was having a panic attack -- I was breathing rapidly and out of control, and dry-crying (probably too dehydrated for tears).  Even with only 2 miles to go, I was secretly worried I'd collapse before the finish, which terrified me -- imagine suffering through 98 miles and not being able to finish!  Both Joe and I had swollen hands and fingers and were worried about hyponatremia, and I had reacted to that by not drinking even though I was thirsty (mistake!).  Both Joe and I were hurting and beyond ready to be done at this point.

Goal #4: Help each other out there.
Grade: A+.  All I can say is that running this race with Joe was like having a pacer for all one hundred miles.  He helped me in countless ways.  To name a few: 1) when I ran out of nutrition between aid stations (oops!), he gave me gels, and even took the tops off for me.  (Aww!)  2) He helped me get my shoe out of the mud and back on my foot.  3) He always stayed behind me and let me determine the pace.  4)  He kept track of the time for us -- he told me how much cushion we had before the cutoff, and how close we were to 20-minute mile pace.  (This was reassuring for the most part, and motivating in parts where we were slower due to the muddy, steep climbs.)  5) He'd give me encouragement, like "You're moving really good, Jules."  6) He'd remind me to eat.  7) He made me laugh, and we kept each other entertained.

Speaking of entertainment, here's a partial list of songs we had stuck in our heads during the race.  (We were kind enough to make sure any song in our head got stuck in the other's head, as well.)
1. Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen (Really, this one has been stuck in our heads since the Franklin Mountains 50k last September.)
2. Ironic, Alanis Morrisette 
3. Hungry Like the Wolf, Duran Duran (Why is it "the" wolf, and not "a" wolf?  Which specific wolf is he talking about?)
4. Pachelbel Canon (Why?)
5. Highway to Hell, AC/DC

Toward the end of the race, Joe was questioning why anyone would do a hundred-miler.  But of course, now he's excited again for running Cactus 100 in October.  As Chris Russell commented, it's important to have a short-term memory in this sport.  I'm so glad I was there for his first 100-mile finish, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when he runs one like a race, rather than running with me.
Happy and relieved to be finished -- and to have accomplished it together.
Bighorn was a tough experience, but it was another chance to grow as individuals and as a couple.  We continue to put ourselves in situations where we see all sides of one another, and where we are challenged to our perceived limits, and we keep coming out the other side stronger and better for it.  It's such a blessing to have this sport where we can have these kinds of experiences and make these memories together.  We're already looking forward to our next trail adventure.

Thanks to Nathan for my hydration pack, bladder, and headlamps.  Thank you to Victory Sportdesign for the gear bags (Bear II and Bear III) that kept my stuff organized and dry, allowing me to change socks, shirts, shoes, hats, capris -- pretty much everything. Thanks also to Rob Van Houten, who hiked with us up to the Dry Fork aid station and gave us great moral support, and all the volunteers -- many of which were out in the cold rain all day Friday, all night, and all day Saturday.  They were amazing!  Also thanks to Edward Sousa for sharing his packing list and race strategy, and giving us a ride back to our cabin after the race, when we didn't feel up to walking three more blocks.  And always, thanks to Rob and Rachel Goyen for letting me be part of the Team TROT family.  It's such a blessing and a pleasure to be in the TROT community.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Taco Cabana Challenge Recap (with photos)

This Rockhopper endurance eating competition promised an inter-city competition featuring two legends from Austin.  Ominous clouds on the horizon and thick humidity in the air set the stage as 9 hungry, na├»ve competitors toed the line for this 9.3-mile, 3-restaurant, 4000+ calorie showdown. 

At restaurant #1, tension mounted as the competitors were served their massive burritos, which weighed just over a pound each, along with chips and guacamole.  At 8:33am the gun went off and the gorging began.  The literal storm outside would eventually skirt San Antonio harmlessly, but the storm within the digestive systems of the foolhardy competitors was just beginning as each eater finished up meal #1.

“Sweet” Chris Russell, accompanied by his 2 lovely pacers, was the first out the door.  He was followed by Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin from Austin, then Julie “Habanero Kid” Koepke.  The rest of the competitors would soon follow, and the field started making its way along the 6-mile route to the next restaurant.  Joe “Schmo” and Steffen “Two F’s” Andersland joined up and took the lead all the way to Taco Cabana #2.  Meanwhile, Sweet Chris, his pacers, and Erin “The Tornado” Good were already diverted to a port-a-potty along the route.  Refried beans will do that.  “Maffatone” Tom Bowling, in a complete departure from his normal, steady heart rate strategy, was setting 5k PRs and lighting Leon Creek on fire on this first leg – would this risky move pay off, or backfire?  Along the way, competitors were also cheered on by pacer Jess Winnett, Kristen Malloy, Tony Maldonado (riding his bike along LC) and Michele Genereux, who decided (probably against her better judgement) to witness Tom’s performance first-hand this time.

Russell enjoying the company of his two pacers
Andersland and Schmal were the first to order at the second restaurant.  Trail-running legend Steven “Eatsum” Moore from Austin was not far behind, despite taking the longest to make his way through the 1-pound beef burrito.  Bowling came in next, having just bagged a 5k PR according to his watch.  Then Koepke and Ruhlin ran in with Jess, followed shortly thereafter by Good.  Eric “Game-Time Decision” Lamkin – who waited until the last minute to decide to participate, as well as to decide on which menu to order from (meat vs. vegetarian) – also arrived at the second restaurant around this time.  Russell wasted no time in finding a comfortable patio spot in which to create a small kiddie pool of sweat.  The two leaders quickly lost their spots as Ruhlin, well-known in Austin’s endurance eating circles, made the second 1-pound burrito disappear faster than the Rockets in the NBA playoffs.

Russell's kiddie pool
With Ruhlin already making his way down the last 3.3 mile stretch of Bandera Rd, the others had their work cut out.  Schmal, Bowling, and Koepke (who put away her second burrito incredibly fast), all left together in the chase pack.  Unfortunately, Taco Cabana #2 would also have a few casualties.  Lamkin, Moore and Good would not even order food at the third restaurant.  When Good arrived at the last restaurant, she announced that she DQ’d “somewhere along Bandera Road,” having unleashed a bean-and-cheese tornado of puke.

Ruhlin and Schmal arrived 1-2 at the last restaurant and ordered, but Schmal could already taste defeat.  While Ruhlin attacked the last burrito (another 1-pound brick of steak, rice and beans), Schmal could only nibble at it, bit by bit.  Bowling, the only TC competitor to have successfully finished the Whataburger Challenge last year, was next into the restaurant.  Koepke, Andersland and Russell would follow.  However, Ruhlin was just too strong.  At the 2:26 mark, he gulped the last of his peach margarita and raised his fists in victory.  He would be the only competitor to finish all 4000 calories; the rest would have to be weighed on the food scale.  Schmal somewhat redeemed a poor performance at the Whataburger Challenge last year, getting through almost all of the last burrito – only 3.3 oz. remained uneaten from the 17 oz. behemoth, earning him second place.

Schmal experiencing a new feeling: There's food in front of me, and I don't want to eat it.
Bowling, pretty happy about his peach margarita
The agony of defeat. How bad do I want it? Maybe not that badly.
The most dramatic moment of the competition was about to occur.  Everyone had weighed their remaining food contents by 11:32am, 1 minute before the cutoff, and it appeared that Russell had a narrow edge over Steffen for 3rd place, with 10.1 ounces remaining versus 10.2 for Andersland.  But Russell was still chewing on a huge mouthful of food as the seconds ticked toward 11:33 (the 3-hour mark).  Once time was officially called, Russell had to spit the remaining un-swallowed tex-mex into the wrapper to be re-weighed.  The new weight was 10.9 ounces, pushing Russell to 4th place, and forcing everyone to recoil in disgust.

The awards ceremony began promptly following the competition.  The coveted DFL award, a toilet-shaped air freshener, went to Good, although all competitors would probably benefit from such a prize.  Ruhlin graciously accepted his new Squatty Potty © for 1st place overall.  Schmal and Koepke awarded 1st place male and 1st place female to themselves – plastic shovels to hopefully aid in shoveling food into their mouths a little faster next time.  Andersland scored the final prize of the morning – a “grow your own chili plant” in honor of defeating his spicy competition on the way to a 2nd place male finish.

Ruhlin with his major award
 Another successful Rockhopper eat and run competition is in the books.  Mark your calendars now for our 2nd annual Whataburger Challenge, to be held Labor Day 2017.  We also hope to continue this new tradition of a spring eating challenge, which will feature new restaurants each year.

-Schmal and Koepke, RDs

Taco Cabana Challenge Results
Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin 2:26
Joe “Schmo” Schmal 3.3 ounces remaining
Steffen “Two Fs” Andersland 10.2 ounces
“Sweet” Chris Russell 10.9 ounces
“Maffetone” Tom Bowling 12.49 ounces
Julie “Habanero Kid” Koepke 16.2 ounces
Steven “Eatsum” Moore DNF after TC #2
Eric “Game-Time Decision” Lamkin DNF after TC #2

Erin “The Tornado” Good DNF after TC #2 with 8-ounce puking penalty

Sunday, May 7, 2017

One month on AIP, then ran a 50k. Here's what happened. (Wow, I should write clickbait headlines!)

I ran Trail Racing Over Texas' Wildflower 50k yesterday.  It seemed like a good experiment, because the race took place after exactly once month of being on the AIP diet.  Here's my experience of what went well and what didn't -- you know, for science.

The good

  • Maybe because my body hadn't been exposed to added sugar for a month, I felt especially energized by chews and gels.  I didn't follow a strict nutrition regimen during the race; I think I consumed around 600 calories of chews and gels, plus several bottle-fulls of Coke from aid stations.  According to Strava (this phrase is generally accepted to be the equivalent to saying, "indisputable fact"), the run burned 4,000 calories.  I can't say that means I'm "fat-adapted," where I'm burning fat versus protein, and I don't know what might have happened in a longer ultra, but this was a good enough experience to convince me to continue avoiding added sugar in my daily diet.
  • It felt so good to have energy throughout the race, and to be able to push myself each loop, rather than deteriorating with every mile, like I did in my last couple races.  I kept fairly even splits -- 1:07, 1:06, 1:08, 1:10, 1:06, and moved up through the field from 6th female after the first loop, to 1st female, 14th overall by the end.  Ah, the feeling of not being over-raced.  I might actually try to avoid over-racing in the future to preserve that good feeling.  Well, at least I'll try to try.

The bad
  • Maybe because my body hadn't been exposed to added sugar for a month, it freaked the f- out when I consumed all that sugar.  My GI system was like, "Holy hell, Julie; wtf?!"  
  • After giving my all to win that race, I came back to San Antonio only to have my butt handed to me in Connect 4 by a wily 9-year-old.  It was kind of like that scene in Scrubs:

We aren't competitive at all.

Monday, April 24, 2017

AIP Update: 2 Weeks In

I'm on day 17 of the AIP diet.  Here's an update on how it's going, in case you're thinking of trying it yourself, or maybe are just a weird diet-voyeur.  (No judgment here!)  I'll do it report card-style, because Lisa Simpson is my spirit animal.

Fidelity to the diet: A-

  • I have been eating solely meat, veggies, and fruit.  However, I have made mistakes with spices and peppers, like when I used cumin. (I realized last week that cumin comes from seeds).  I have also willingly eaten bell peppers and little bits of tomatoes, which are also on the "No" list, when they've been served in my food.
  • Whenever Joe and I have eaten out, we've either gone to bbq places or steakhouses, figuring we have the best shot there of finding food I can eat.  (What a sacrifice!  We even had to suffer through a meal at a Brazilian steakhouse last week.  It's been rough.)
  • Speaking of BBQ, I have cheated and eaten BBQ sauce.  That's probably the most added sugar I've had in over two weeks.
  • I've patiently picked every shred of cheese out of store-bought salads, and I've thrown away every crouton and egg slice that's come my way.
  • I've carried baked sweet potatoes and fruit in my hydration pack during long runs, instead of Honeystinger waffles or Gu Chews.
  • I've been in several all-day meetings where they served lunch, and I've either 1) brought my own lunch, aka dried beef, baked sweet potato, and fruit, or 2) scavenged the catering table for deli meat and iceberg lettuce while my co-workers enjoyed sandwiches and dessert.
  • I have ignored the persistent food cravings saying, "Just one Coke Zero won't hurt you.  Doesn't ice cream sound great right now?  That Pop-Tart would really help fuel your run on the Powerlines."*
*Note: Since starting this diet and cutting out all added sugar, I've had weirdly specific sugar cravings.  After taking a shower, I thought my towel smelled like a donut.  During a run, I thought I smelled Diet Dr. Pepper.  At this moment, I'd really like to eat a brown Tootsie Pop.

Calorie management for running performance: B
  • My first couple runs while on the diet, I felt pretty lethargic.  They've improved since then, maybe because I've started eating sweet potatoes, which have 27g of carbohydrates per cup.  
  • This past weekend, I did two moderately long runs: a 3.5-hour run and a 2.5-hour run, both at Bandera.  The first one was a night run, after dinner.  I ate one apple during the run, and felt good the entire time.  The second was a morning run, after a breakfast of vegetables and fruit, and I didn't consume anything during the run.  I bonked hard enough that I couldn't think clearly toward the end, which resulted in this conversation:
          Joe (quoting The Simpsons): "Now, let's all celebrate with a cool glass of turnip juice."
          Me: Have you ever had a tune -- tunip -- tune-up?  What's that word again?
          Joe: Um . . . 

Enthusiasm for continuing on AIP: B
  • After the month-long experiment is over, I would like to continue avoiding grains and dairy and only eating whole foods -- for the most part.  I do miss going to Sammy's for an omelet with Joe on Sunday mornings, and I miss trying out different restaurants (usually carb-heavy ones) during our once-a-week lunch together.  So right now I'm thinking those two meals a week could be the exceptions to the rule.  I definitely will let myself eat nuts, spices, and peppers again without restraint once this experiment is complete.
  • One AIP website I was reading said something like, "Everyone makes mistakes on the AIP diet.  It's nothing to worry about.  But you do need to start over from scratch when this happens."  Joe and I have had fun joking about that: "Don't worry about the report you messed up.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But you're fired; go clean out your desk."  As far as this diet goes, I am happy to acknowledge that I've made mistakes, and happy to try to do better going forward, but there's no way I'm starting again from day one.
Another note: Strength and conditioning coach extraordinaire Phil reminded me that AIP is about eliminating all causes of inflammation from the body.  Thus, he told me, doing 20 miles of hill repeats is not AIP.  That kind of thing causes stress and inflammation.  So the fact that I'm still running, in combination with the mistakes and exceptions I've made in the diet, means I'm not a perfect model of the auto-immune protocol.  And I'm okay with that.  Overall midterm grade: B.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Experiment of one: AIP

On Saturday, I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet.  So far, my progress has followed the usual steps: 1) start diet, 2) post food pic on Insta, 3) talk about diet with friends.  The next step is clearly: 4) blog about diet.

Seriously, though, a couple friends have asked me to blog about the diet occasionally over the next month, because they're interested to hear about someone's -- particularly, an ultrarunner's -- experience.  I figured that's a good idea, in case it could be useful to someone else.  Of course, there's the caveat that we are each an experiment of one; what works for me might not necessarily work for you, and vice versa.  Here's my story so far:

My reasons for starting AIP
For a year or two, I lived a fairly no-grain, no-added-sugar lifestyle.  I was happy eating the same foods (scrambled eggs, smoothies, carrots and hummus) day in and day out, for multiple meals a day.  Then Joe and I started dating, and things became more complicated -- in a good way.  I wasn't going to serve him a smoothie for dinner when he came over to my place, and I surely wasn't going to turn down whatever he served me at his.  And if we took the girls out for ice cream and everyone else was getting one, it would feel antisocial to refuse . . . It was fun, yet from there it was a shockingly quick spiral into eating 1,500 calorie meals at Carl's Jr. on a quasi-regular basis.

Sometime in the midst of this, my doctor went over some lab results with me, and informed me that one marker, associated with adrenal levels, was outside of the normal range, and he recommended that I try AIP.  Naturally, I blew him off.  I'd heard of the protocol from my strength and conditioning coach, who does it occasionally for a month at a time, and it sounded awful.  No grain, no dairy, no hummus?  No thanks.

However, ever since the Lone Star 100 in February, I have felt like I'm eating junk all the time.  I gained about 5 pounds, and I was unhappy with myself.  Some of my runs have felt terrible, and sometimes it's hard even climbing the stairs up to my apartment.  It's difficult to pinpoint the causes of those last two things: I know I've been racing ultras too frequently; I've suffered from iron-deficiency anemia in the past; I donate blood regularly.  All of those things could be factors in my fatigue.  But I feel like I'm doing what I can about the iron, taking a supplement every day.  So hitting the "reset" button on my diet seemed like the next step in getting healthier and hopefully feeling better.  Of course, I could have chosen a diet that involved moderation, but that's actually harder for me than a strict elimination protocol; for better or worse, I'm kind of an "all or nothing" person.  So for the next month, I'm all in.

Learning curve
Going to H-E-B the night before I started the protocol, I wasn't sure what to get.  Fortunately, I had these little cheat sheets to guide me:

I ended up getting lots of vegetables, some frozen grilled chicken strips, avocados, and fruit.  It's been interesting trying new combinations of foods.  I've found I hate plain avocado, but I really like it combined with cilantro, cumin, and salt, served on cucumber slices.  I have a bland enough palate that chicken and broccoli tastes fine.  And I've just realized that coconut milk isn't prohibited, so I'm thinking about reverting back to my old smoothie ways.

1 avocado, 2 tbs cilantro, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt
I have had a couple accidental cheat moments already -- eating guacamole that had some ground-up bell pepper in it (oops), using seasoning that had paprika and sugar (oops) -- but those seem like small errors in the big picture.  I'm really trying to be faithful to the protocol, so that it can give me useful information about what foods make me feel better, and which might have a detrimental effect.

Observations so far
Today is only day 4 of the protocol.  Here are some observations I've made over the last few days, with the caveat that I'm not necessarily suggesting causation.

  • My runs haven't been stellar.  They've been slow, and even tiny bumps feel like huge hills.  I've had to stop and walk a couple times.  (Though to be fair, it's as muggy as a steam room here lately, and that could be part of it, too.)
  • I've lost 2 pounds.
  • It takes a lot of cabbage and grilled chicken to make me feel full.
  • I am perfectly happy (so far) eating whole foods and avoiding junk.
  • It is so helpful to have an extremely supportive significant other when making a change like this!
  • I should use a cutting board, instead of my hand.  (Had to Google "How do you know if you need stitches?" earlier today.)  
So that's my story so far.  I'll report back with an update in a couple weeks.  In the meantime, if you have any good AIP recipe ideas, send them my way!