"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Llandudno Llearnings


Welsh, the language of the dragon, is alive and well in Llandudno, Wales, where we were hosted for the Commonwealth Championships.

As many have probably heard by now, things in my race did not end according to plan. Although I'm frustrated that I got some minor chafing (sports bra) and stiffness in my legs without the trade-off of a good performance, I'm not overly upset about the whole thing. I've had a stellar year and am really pleased with what I've accomplished, how much fun I've been having with my running mates, and that I have done it all without getting injured, despite the intensity.

A fantastic Canadian mate, in his first ever 24 hour race (extraordinary performer in 100 Miler trails), managed to break a M55 record at the event - that was pretty awesome to share in. Another mate from Perth took a silver medal at the event with a PB performance, too. And of course I was able to see Lizzy Hawker do her thing to set a world best performance (subject to ratification).

Some race detail (warning - there's a lot of detail, but that's because a lot of people are asking me for details and because when I fail I need to know why so the same mistake isn't made again):

The race started at noon in good conditions - about 16 degrees and mostly cloud, with a strong headwind for 500 mtrs before the turnaround on the 1 k loop. The headwind actually provided a nice cooling factor.

I ran at target pace for the first 6 hrs and was at the time in 4th female position with a 65km total. I was actually 1 km higher than planned at that point. I was trying to be careful not to go any harder, as I knew that could really spell disaster later. It was probably around the 5 hr mark that I started to feel the nausea. At 9 hrs there had been no change to my yucky stomach feeling and had slowed slightly more than planned. But with over a km in the bank, I was still fine for my goals. From 9-10 PM, however, my continued slower pace took its toll on my targets.

At midnight, where my goal was to be at 124k, I was only at 118. However, I was able to maintain my pace from 10 PM through to 2 AM, staying just 6kms below my goal each hour - no further slowing. By then we were trialling different fuel sources because I was having so much trouble getting the Hammer Perpetuem down. Anytime in the past, if I'd had any nausea, we just adjusted my fuel and water concentrations very slightly - as little as 10 cals/hr or 50 mls/hr - to get me right again within an hour. On this night, I'd had the same sick feeling since the 5 hr mark (5 PM) and couldn't make headway.

From 2 to 3 AM I lost another 2 kms off my goal - I was taking more breaks, trying to find a way to get the stomach to settle. I wasn't vomiting - just felt terribly queasy. Rolf and I did some brainstorming, running through my nutrition, hydration, electrolyte usage, toileting.... Then we hit on the only thing left - my Hammer Perpeteum fuel must have been spoiled. Way back in March or April, I had received a container in the post and it had been busted open - the seal was broken and loose - some powder was floating around the box. I noticed that it had little granules in it. I figured that was the result of moisture getting in. But I wasn't even thinking that the damage to the container may induce some kind of spoilage. I used this fuel for the next several months, but somewhat sparingly, as I wanted to make sure I wasn't sick of it for each competition. I took the tub to Canada, took a bit to Ireland's World Trails (also used Solids there), and then the rest to Wales. Before going to Wales, Rolf asked me whether I thought the lumps were bad - they wouldn't dissolve in water. I didn't think so - thought it was just some kind of moisture absorption with a sugar. The fuel smelled and tasted fine. But Rolf also told me later that when mixing it during the race there were grey "snotty" threads in it - which I've never seen or heard of before.

Since the event, I've had some e-chats with Hammer Nutrition people and have done a bunch of online searching, trying to understand what might have happened from a chemical perspective. We're all in agreement that the little granules were the l-carnitine amino acid having reacted to exposure to moisture - it's hydroscopic. That wouldn't have caused nausea though.

That leaves us with the carbohydrate and protein. The fuel wasn't exposed to heat, so the idea of some sort of negative denaturing effect of the protein doesn't hold up - and many proteins are denatured anyway (e.g., cooking an egg) with no ill effects to humans.

So, the best theories at the moment suggest that (1) the protein was degrading slowly over time, which caused the ill effects and/or (2) that the fuel was exposed to bacteria when initially broken open and likely increased with each subsequent opening. Bacteria would have fed off the sugars in the carbohydrates and perhaps somehow that could have caused an ill effect. The ill effect may have been caused by the fuel having less nutritional value (if the bacteria had consumed and converted many of the natural sugars my body needed as fuel) and/or may have been caused by the byproducts of this conversion - say if an acid was the byproduct of the bacterial process.

So, as of now, we still aren't sure of the chemical reactions that caused my pervasive nausea, but we feel confident it had to do with the container being excessively exposed to air/moisture. I certainly have no doubt that this fuel is still the one for me - nothing compares to its composition, in my experience. Switching to more 'simple' sugars during the later stages of the event made it more challenging to get the calories and nutrition necessary to keep my energy stable. But I will be more diligent about the storage of my product - and would not eat any "old" product that had been left open a long time or opened multiple times.

As a last resort at the comp, Rolf suggested we try to "reset" my system by making me vomit. He wanted me to down a huge load of calories, expecting me to chuck it up, but I couldn't make myself. Instead, I was willing to try to "sprint" to make it happen. I went out and ran 4 fast laps, but nothing changed.

It seemed all my personal goals were gone. I had a chat to the team manager - Canada had no chance for a podium position - our girls were not having a good day. So there was no point in me continuing to slog around the course. We had worked the nausea for over 9 hours with no change. It had mentally beat me down and physically taken a toll on my pace. It was the most challenging thing for me to run with that discomfort for so long - completely inward-focused, I did not have the mental energy to cheer on my fellow runners. I felt completely selfish - often the most I could do was offer a quiet thumbs-up to others. Physically, I know what I'm capable of, so beating myself up further seemed pointless. Better to stop and let the body heal.

Now I'm really looking forward to my Bibbulmun Track FKT (fastest known time) attempt in about a month's time. I was then planning to race Coast to Kosciusko (C2K) in December to finish off the year. But as I sit back and consider where I want to go with my running over the next year, my heart's not in C2K at the moment. My heart's in the FKT and in getting back to running with my Perth-mates and getting my Perth Trail Series off the ground well. So that's where my energy will go for the next few months.

If anyone has a food chemistry/nutrition background and has further theories they might suggest for what happened with my ruined fuel, please send me a private message. I'd love to chat about it.

I'm coming home, Perth!

Addendum (June 2017): I returned to Perth and continued to have random nausea episodes, even when not working out. A blood test in late October 2011 revealed extremely low iron stores. The sports doc was surprised I wasn't totally fatigued all the time. I've been on Ferrograd-C iron ever since, monitored with regular blood tests.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Creation and Dissolution

As I have run around frantically these past few days, preparing for my evening flight to Wales tonight, it struck me how much humans go through cycles of creation and dissolution. At the end of June, I arrived in Canada to "create" a little world for myself where I would work on my PhD, train, and connect with family and old friends. Now, mid-September, I am turning in my work keys, giving away my bear spray, and hugging people goodbye. This creation is ready for dissolution. An undoing.

No wonder we ultra runners crave mile after mile of running. It's a break from our mind's attraction to this. No craving, no creation. Break life down to the necessities - food and warmth. In the moment.

This last week of tapering has gone well. I had a chance to do some riding on my family's ranch. Late that night on a gravel road, we came within a foot of hitting a grizzly with the car. On all fours it was a foot higher than the bonnet. Sadly for Rolf, he was unable to try out his bear spray ;) I, myself, deployed an expired cannister after our last run on Saturday.... Let's just say none of us were feeling very comforted by the mist that came out. Hopefully it was a factor of it being expired!

With most of Rolf's Canadian wishes met, we managed to get one more in on Saturday...running in snow! Just rain at our starting elevation of 1900 mtrs, but it wasn't far into the climb that the snow appeared. A great ending to the summer season here, saying goodbye to the Rockies at 2600 mtrs. Altitude training complete :)

Here's the website for Commonwealths. If live updates are happening, they tend to be advertised on the IAU site.

The toes are ready. I decided to go blood red. Blood seems appropriate (though don't plan to spill any). Naturally, red is a Canadian colour, too. And it's the lucky colour in Chinese tradition. Since the Welsh flag has a dragon on it, I used that theme to draw the Mandarin character for dragon on my big toes. Also reminds me of the year I spent working in China. And the word for dragon happens to be "long" - which in English is a very good word for an ultrarunner!

It took over two months to re-create my Canadian accent and have my Aussie hint dissolve, but that will soon change again...just a warning to the guys at home - you might need your babelfish to understand me again for a while!

Pushup status: 30 in a row, rest 30 secs, do the last 10. Didn't get to 40 straight in time for the event, but not bad for a girl who couldn't do 5 three months ago.

Special thanks to the crew of professionals in Calgary who helped keep my body right through all the intensity these three months. Dave Proctor, my ultra running massage therapist, who made my right hip happier than it's been in months, Ian Goodwin, who connected my popliteus and gastroc tightness to my foot and fixed a problem in basically one session, and Patti Hort, who kept putting my errant rib back where it belongs.

Time to head to Wales, so I can be in the moment for 24 luxurious hours.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Squeezing all the Goodness Out

Lashings of apologies! I know it's been two weeks. But, finally, here I am ready to share some stories.

Since the Mito charity run, I've pulled back mileage and 'enjoyed' some harsh tempo runs. My first 14k one that was supposed to be half-marathon pace leaned toward marathon pace but felt like 10k pace! Guess that's what running 58k in the mountains does to the legs. Another one of my speed work sessions was a 5k race, which is a more bearable way to get the work done.


But naturally what we all want to talk about is the mountain running - yeehaw! Rolf arrived from sea level Perth nearly a week ago. Being kindhearted trailrunners we did a lower elevation run last Wednesday night with "only" +460 mtrs over 15k. Poor guy.


This past weekend I didn't mind if my long easy runs were more like heart-thumping hike/runs, so we chose a few special outings to give us max altitude and view factors. And Rolf had almost adjusted to the effects of altitude and dry air.

Saturday was a run/hike/scramble/via ferreta/scree run up and over Yamnuska Mountain. Only 10k but +1260 mtrs and about 3 hrs to do it. Scree running is so unique.



Sunday saw us head out to Banff to do Cory Pass. 14k +1058 mtrs and again near 3 hrs (including gawking and posing time).


Almost all the climb takes place between km 1 and 6, when you reach the pass. One of the neat things about this run was that early in the day we had taken a gondola from Banff townsite at 1400 mtrs up Sulphur Mountain to ~2200 mtrs. From there, we stood looking across the valley at Cory Mountain, Cory Pass, Mount Edith, and Mount Louis, knowing we were going to run it.


Not only would we get back to this height under our own steam, we would actually surpass it by running from the valley floor to a stunning 2350 mtrs. Rolf googled this as the baddest hike in the national park :)


What a feeling to be up there. Going through a mountain pass triggers the explorer gene. Suddenly, you hit the summit and can see an entire new world in front and below you that has been completely blocked from view until that moment. It's like having a curtain suddenly drawn open.


At a few points on the ascent I did have my doubts we'd get there. Rolf was struggling with the 28 degree heat, the elevation and pace, and probably most of all, struggling to keep his ice cream down from lunch. However, it was so steep going up that there was no way I wanted to get stuck into having to go back down the same way. I wanted the loop more than ever after slogging along that tough ascent.


From the summit, we hit some single track scree. Because it was north facing, this section had some snow, giving Rolf the chance to throw a snowball (at a rock, thankfully). Then some technical descent through the trees - lots of roots - before the trail widened and smoothed out.


Rolf tried to stop to enjoy some berries along the way, but I strongly suggested that was a bad idea, since it was a buffalo berry section along a stream. Bears need to eat upwards of 200,000 berries per day now to fatten up for winter. I wasn't ready to watch Rolf fight the bear over a berry when we can get a punnet of them in the shop for $3.


Strength and massage today, then back to the speed work tomorrow. Two more of those sessions before the hay is in the barn.