• Factory Reset, but first: St. George Marathon

    St. George Expo

    I had hoped St. George Marathon would be my first sub 3:00 marathon, but 2023 had other plans for me. Oftentimes, when we reflect on races, we remember the ones where we had race day magic, where we were butterflies taking flight effortlessly. But I think when a greater series of races have gone poorly, it is important to look for patterns. What I didn’t realize was the time I needed to spend as a caterpillar, refueling from 2022 and then how long I needed to stay in my chrysalis.

    So let’s begin with a fairly year long re-cap:

    • A year ago, I raced the Chicago Marathon with a sudden sciatic injury (sitting on flights ironically injures me easily), clocking a 3:04:05 marathon finishing time and a 4+ minute personal record.

    • Shortly after the marathon, my chiropractor and I worked to get my body back to performance readiness because my 3rd World Major Marathon of the year was only a month later: New York City. Mike’s and my plan was never to race it, but to enjoy it together. However, I developed cramps in my diaphragm with a couple miles to go that I would later learn were in part due to endometriosis lesions on my diaphragm. 

    • By this point, I was rolling into training for Hellgate 100K, looking for redemption there and to test road marathoning repeats up against the demands of ultramarathoning and trail terrain. This went really well, though my fueling plan lacked protein (Maurten was my safe food after a year of food sensitivity testing and diagnosed SIBO) and my stabilizing muscles/ligaments were shredded by the forever trail around mile 42. I set a new personal record for this race and distance (66.6 miles) of 13:48 from 14:03, also placing 4th female overall and finally scoring a puffy jacket.

    • I knew I needed to rest and heal, but I also wanted to race with my teammates. I accepted I wasn’t in race shape and still recovering in January, so instead of pushing pace in workouts, I delayed intense workouts and pursued the course record at the Holiday Lake 10K, which I lowered by close to 15 minutes. However, I severely strained the muscles in my left ankle at mile 4.5 and hobbled the race in. For months, I dealt with swelling and avoided the trails so it could heal. I’m coming back maybe in a couple of years for that sub 13:30 barring anything crazy with my body or the weather happens.

    • By March of 2023, I was in full swing of training and training hard, but maybe it was the fatigue of traveling over spring break and my race occurring on the back end of the break that my Shamrock Half Marathon was a bust. I ran out of steam fast and ran the same pace as my marathon personal record from October at Chicago.

    • In early April of 2023, Mike and I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler as “fast runner” qualifiers, and while I raced pretty well, I again lacked the stamina I used to have.

    • I ended my season in late April after the Ukrops 10K, where the air quality was quite poor. The course and race itself was amazing, but I realized I’d been grinding long enough and dealing with the same issue of fatiguing faster than usual that it was time to end my season.

    • In early May, after traveling to Maryland to visit a pelvic pain specialist to address the menstrual pain and pelvic pressure that took me out of work for 1-2 days at a time, I returned for a laparoscopy, which confirmed that I did indeed have endometriosis in the following places: both fallopian tubes, ureter, broad and uterine ligaments, intestines, diaphragm, and liver. Biopsies also confirmed this, and the treatment recommendation was total hysterectomy with hormone replacement therapy. Not me. 

    • I continued pelvic floor therapy as I healed from surgery and did all I could to not rush my healing. Admittedly, this is very hard for me, and I also had a 40 miler in West Virginia that I needed to somewhat prepare for in the middle of June. My longest continuous road run was 8 miles, but I had a 20 mile hike/run and some other hike/runs where I used the mantra “as long as it takes”. I was seeded 3rd, but DNF’ed in 5th place at 36 miles because I got lost (loved the race, loved the directors, but the course was not well-marked). I just didn’t have it in me to persist.

    • In July, I ran the Hotter ‘N Hell 9 mile race and was 3rd overall female with a personal course record of 5 minutes. On the climbs I felt I had no power, but on the descents I could make up a lot of ground.

    • In May-June, we were also treating me for gut infections (Genova Diagnostics: GI Effects test) as well as relapsing EBV and a Lyme/Bartonella Flare. My body was really struggling with the host of internal challenges, but it’s really not in my nature to just not train. Throughout June and July, I received 3 Methylene Blue + NAD IVs to combat the stealth infections listed above.

    • Finally, in August, I DNF’ed the Jarmans Invitational Marathon a second time (I’ve finished it once). I’d hoped to have a solid training run before I started the challenging Dapsone + Methylene Blue protocol, and I did, it just wasn’t a finish. I still didn’t have any power. 

    • By the end of August, my body was so depleted from the Dapsone + MB protocol that I had to have an iron transfusion and a second High Dose Vitamin C, and after much inner turmoil, I deferred my Rim to River 100 to 2024.

    • That still leaves the marathon tomorrow. Here we are, the day before and my recovery times for all training have me at 0% when in the past I’d be fine. My body is simply put, working with less power and metabolic rigor. I’ve had some good workouts and some really bad ones. Neither is predictable, and so I’m ready to hit the factory reset to allow my body the rest it needed in January and start training in December.


    Typing all of this out has me thinking,”Wow, Nelle, that’s a lot. What a year. Why don’t you rest?” I will say that most runners use their running as a healing tool, and I am no different. I have run my way through my father’s death, postpartum of my second child, separation and divorce of my first husband, and through Lyme treatment. Running grounds me to the earth. When I worry about other things but then go for a run, that worry almost always dissolves in a way. While running tires me in some ways, it breathes life into me in others. The challenge with racing is that it often requires lots of advance planning. Lotteries, Sell-Out races, and race-timing are all things that (should) influence our decisions of what to race and when, but it's impossible to anticipate exactly how the body is going to respond to racing and training, especially when this isn't my full-time job (training myself). I can be a product of my product, but not always. External factors absolutely do impact our training!


    I am now going to share my plan for tomorrow’s marathon as well as my looming “factory reset”.

    • My watch is predicting 3:38 for my finishing time, which is an 8:19 pace. I am honestly not sure what I am capable of, but I think it will be safe to begin at that pace and attune to what my body is saying in the time that follows.

    • I am carrying a 20 oz bottle of LMNT on course and 5 Maurten Gels + 1 package of Honey Stinger gummies.

    • I will wear my headphones and listen to Milky Chance, Taylor Swift, and then my Race Playlist because that makes me happy! 

    • I am going to enjoy the views because this race is incredibly scenic, descending through several State parks before entering the city of St. George for the finish.

    • I am not going to worry about what my heart rate says in the coming hours, nor what my body battery level is. I can’t control that. 

    • I can control my hydration and fueling behaviors between now and the race.

    • I can control my mindset, which will include mantras like “One mile at a time”, "Attune", “You are strong”, and “You can do hard things.”

    • I am going to smile and be grateful because I get to do this, and I am ABLE to do this. Last month I couldn’t walk the damn dog because I was so sick from treatment. My husband stated it was the worst he’d ever seen me. The cumulative effects of this medication were hellacious and excruciating.


    This has been a hard year for me, but I have uncovered so many answers, and they will be worth it. In the past several months following the treatments I’ve undergone, I am not experiencing menstrual pain or pelvic pressure at near the intensity I was before. I've gotten a "0" for active replicating EBV and a negative Lyme test for Band 23 for the first time ever. I can go about my day. I have also quit drinking alcohol entirely. While I do fatigue very quickly right now, I also know that my body is rebuilding and restructuring to be stronger and more capable than before. In the next couple of months to come, I will be resetting and coaching myself the way I would an athlete who is novice or returning from a physical injury. I will be sharing about that, because I think being patient with yourself is more impactful than what your performance shows. I’m not here to prove anything to anyone but to ensure my longevity is retained in this sport and leads by example. Health first, performance from health.


    Ultimately, I know my constitution overcompensates for my composition, and on the other side of this finish is a respite for my natural inclination to grind and overcome. I recognize that with each year, I take on new challenges and must adjust accordingly to honor my body’s needs in the present. This is messy work.


    I hope this piece of writing is impactful to my readers. What is important to note is that Chronic Lyme + Coinfections is a highly complex disease, the aim for which is remission, but at this time, there is no cure. Dapsone, when taken properly, is looking as a potential cure, but like chemotherapy, it can be extremely tricky to tolerate and requires expert and involved medical care. Endometriosis and Epstein Barr Virus are also systemic diseases called inflammation. Root cause diagnosis and gut health are essential pieces. If your gut has increased permeability, you can bet your abdominal cavity will be a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, parasites, and endometrial cells that retroactively flow during menstruation into the abdomen. It is extremely difficult to find a doctor who can first acknowledge, understand, and treat them integratively. Most people with chronic illness end up learning more than their own medical doctor in layman's terms as a result.

    Bryce Canyon

  • Guest Blog (Title by Coach Nelle): Mory runs 100 near perfect miles at Massanutten Mountain Trails (MMT)

    (So Coach Nelle is a bit biased, but thinks Mory absolutely crushed executing his first 100 miler! Therefore she wrote the title for this blog post.)


    MMT 100
    May 20/21, 2023
    100.6 miles
    +/- 18,500 feet

    2023 Stats:
    209 starters
    141 finishers
    67% finishing rate


    Friends, Family and Gratitude
    That was my mantra for the race. Heading into race weekend, my wife Kate was out of the country on a long-planned trip and my daughters Anna (13), and Leah (11) were in Hampton Roads with my father-in-law for the state gymnastics meet. My son Isaac (16) was home with me in Harrisonburg and had a busy week with his district track meet. I was grateful for all the fulfilling activities, but as a family, we were certainly spread a little thin. Kate texted me from Costa Rica on race morning with wise advice, “Just stay in a state of gratitude and it will all come to you”. For their part, my daughters let me know that dropping was not an option. To get my mind right, I’d watched and rewatched AJW’s WSER speech on being "Confident, Resilient, and Faithful", but you never really know what might happen over 100 miles. I think accepting that uncertainty and vulnerability is part of the why. Luckily my parents Dick (80) and Diane (76) offered to drive up from Chapel Hill to help crew along with Isaac. And I had the gracious and generous support of three pacers: Nick Langridge, Rebecca Kurihine, and my coach Nelle Fox at Excel Rocktown Running.


    It was my parents' first experience at a trail race and they were taken-in right away by the hospitality and spirit of community at the pre-race briefing. Being my first 100, we are all in a bit in awe of the runners who had completed the race 5, 10, or 20+ times.


    This was the first year of GPS tracking for the race. I sent the link to a group text comprised of a combination of family and friends, new and old. The support from that group whenever I turned on my phone provided a boost throughout the race. Nelle did a great job providing updates and it was inspiring to see and hear the text chatter along the way.

    The first 4th of the race seemed to fly by. The climb from the start up to Short Mountain felt relaxed and social. A fussy calf that had been bothering me for 4-5 weeks felt great and never gave me problems allmday. I fell-in with a good group and navigated the rocky trail on Short Mountain at a decent pace. After seeing my parents at Edinburg Gap AS (Mile 12), I was pleased to find the rocks mellowed out a bitmheading into Woodstock Tower (Mile 20). The volunteers at Powell’s Fort (Mile 26) provided great advice to hydrate for the exposed sections heading into Elizabeth Furnace (Mile 33), where I saw my parents for the second time and experienced my first example of the CREW acronym (Cranky Runner Endless Waiting) because the salted potatoes I’d planned to eat were not sufficiently salty for my liking. After that ridiculous behavior on my part, I left the AS feeling the weight of the 65+ miles to go. It was early afternoon and had gotten quite warm. Luckily I fell in with Greg from New Mexico and Amelia from Maryland for the next big climb over High Peak. They were veterans and exactly the company I needed at that point in the race. After passing a rattlesnake near the reservoir, we kept the pace super chill on the climb. Greg was one of several Senior or Super Senior runners who blew me away on the downhills (literally and figuratively) with mountain goat skills over rocky, steep descents. He also assured me it was okay to be tired at this point.

    One of my favorite parts about the race experience was chatting with the other runners along the way and hearing about races they had run or would be running (Tushers, High Lonesome, Moab, Tahoe).  After Shawl Gap (Mile 38), the three miles of gravel road to Veach Gap (Mile 41) were a welcome change of pace. I was in 105 th place at this point. The long climb after Veach Gap gave the impression of being on a never-ending escalator, but the footing was good and I chatted with Deb from VA about her career with the Coast Guard and sled-dog guiding in Alaska. The long ridge section after the climb was one of my favorite parts of the course. I was prepared for this 9-mile section to be hot, but luckily we were greeted with a cool rain shower and some very runnable trails. Feeling refreshed, I stretched out my strides for long sections and felt like I was moving well and moving up in the standings.

    I used the 4-mile road section after Indian Grave (Mile 50) to load-up on calories and hydration for the 2440’ climb up Kennedy Peak after Habron (Mile 54), where I saw my parents again and also Isaac and Nelle for the first time and picked up Nick my first pacer for the 10-mile section to Camp Roosevelt. Having Nick with me on this section was huge. The sun set as we were climbing, and the day turned into what was a beautiful, breezy night for running. The ridge section after the climb was another highlight of the course and the setting for one of the most memorable pacer moments when Nick recited "My Heart's In the Highlands" by poet Robert Burns. That may have been a first in the 27 years of MMT. We caught up with Greg from Ohio, another veteran with 10+ finishes, who was planning to drive home the next day and who also dropped us on the downhill like a mountain goat. Completing this section felt like a significant milestone with the longest climb and the first three-fifths of the course behind us.


    My nutrition to that point consisted mostly of Tailwind, Honey Stinger Waffles, and Wallaby’s Chews. I lost my taste for the waffles on this section. The last one I flung off the mountain side like a frisbee. Nelle took charge like the pro she is when we reached Camp Roosevelt (Mile 64), having me take time for Ramen and some soda. I thanked Nick, Isaac, and my parents, who themselves were approaching a 22-hour day, and set-off with Nelle feeling strong for the night section. I have to pause here for a note on Isaac: He has a wonderful smile. Seeing him at these aid stations, smiling and enjoying the race atmosphere was heart-warming and appreciated; it was Saturday night after all and he was spending it driving around the dark mountains with his grandparents.

    Knowing that Nelle would pace me the next 24 miles was a huge source of comfort leading up to the race and earlier in the day when Mile 64 seemed impossibly far away. We moved really well up the climb and through the swampy Duncan Hollow section, reaching Gap Creek 1 in 83 rd place. The time spent power hiking during training paid-off during the overnight hours when it was harder to run the rocky sections. We climbed strong up to Kearns and then took our time on the super-rocky ridge line. We had a Keith Kipling sighting on this section as he flew by on uber technical trail. Nelle may have been channeling Scott Jurek on pacing at this point, because we more or less hauled ass down the following road section to the Visitor Center AS (Mile 78).

    The climb up Bird Knob was steep but short and familiar from training. On my first training run up Bird Knob 5 months earlier, I simply could not comprehend making that climb with 78 miles on my legs. On race day, it felt like the first time I knew I would finish. The ridge-line greeted us with another milestone (Mile 80) and the first sights and sounds of daybreak, which combined with coffee at Bird Knob AS (Mile 82), left us feeling invigorated for the couple punchy climbs and then a long mostly downhill section to the Picnic Area AS (Mile 88). We ran with Keith during this section. It was one of those unexpected highs that you read about in ultra-running. All of a sudden, there was no soreness and my legs seemed light and fresh with energy to charge a few short up-hills.

    Proof that Mory was running at mile 80!

    After counting upward all day on miles, it felt good to be counting down for the last 20. I also knew there was a chance I’d get see Kate at the Picnic area. (She had flown into Richmond the night before and driven to the race on a few hours sleep).


    We arrived at the Picnic Area AS (Mile 88) feeling strong. We saw my father-in law Bob and sister-in-law Rebecca and learned that Kate was just a few minutes away. Bob is a long-time marathoner with infectious enthusiasm for running and races and Rebecca is a bad-ass, known for flying over roadcourses pushing her two young children in a double-stroller. One of my pre-race goals was to be running when Kate arrived at the race, which I knew would take good pacing, smart decisions, and determination. She’s my rock and I knew seeing her would provide me with strength for the last miles. Kate arrived with a big hug and a warm smile. It was the first time I’d seen her all week and the highlight of the day, but we had 12ish miles to go, so catching-up would have to wait. We thanked Nelle and headed out feeling good.

    Leaving the AS, I told Bec that no one had passed us in hours and we were going to keep it that way. After which two veterans (Greg and another gentlemen who had been asleep at Bird Knob) promptly passed us on the next downhill. We caught them on the last big climb but they pulled away again after that.

    The two segments after the Picnic Area are where I made my most significant tactical mistakes of the day. We’d come so far, and I was so excited about finishing that I started to let up on fueling and hydration. But 12 miles is still 12 miles. My reservoir ran dry prior to Gap Creek II (Mile 97) but for some reason I thought the tube was just kinked. Trail brain. My feet started to swell and get tender. It hurt to walk or run, so we ran the dirt road down from Gap Creek back to Start/Finish area. The last half mile or so of trail once we were back on the camp property was the second episode of being a cranky runner. But after some ridiculous cursing and griping about the trail on my part, we gratefully arrived at the finish shoot after 30 hours and 22 minutes. 58th place overall.

    Despite those missteps, I think we ultimately passed about 50 runners in the last half of the race and were caught by just a few.


    Reaching the finish line is something I will forever remember. Kate, Isaac, my parents, Bob and Rebecca were all there. I was grateful to share the experience with them and for their support. Grateful for the support from old friends following along from afar and the shared time on the trail with new friends.

    Grateful for my pacers. Grateful for Nick’s spirit, for Nelle’s coaching and wisdom, and for Bec’s strength in bringing it home. Grateful for Dr. David Glazer who helped me work through some nagging issues that made it hard to run at times leading up to the race. Grateful to the folks at Virginia Happy Trails Running Club for hosting a tremendous race and for all the volunteers and excellent aid stations. Grateful for the beauty of the Massanutten Mountains and for being able to call them home. Grateful for the support from Kate and the kids for all the time spent training. I was grateful for the good fortune of a stomach that never went sour and for feet that were blister-free. When it was hard, I’d tried to be grateful even for the rocks that define MMT, including the ones that were just lying around doing nothing useful or the ones in the creek bed at Mile 95 that seemed to be arranged in a defensive formation specifically to keep us from passing. Some of those rocks I may have cursed a little.

    Sunday afternoon was beautiful, warm and breezy. We cheered-on other runners at the finish for a few hours, most of whom I’d shared some time with on the course. We’d planned to stay for the awards, but I was starting to spike a fever, so we headed home early. Something to look forward to for next time.


    Finally laying down!

  • Chicago Marathon, a new Personal Record!


    Leading up to the Chicago Marathon, I felt pretty relaxed and optimistic. There were very few complications throughout my training cycle, which loosely followed a Pfzinger approach. In past years, I had discovered through reflection that  my body tolerated training plans where the number of hard efforts in a week was fewer, and upon researching plans, I soon realized parallels. Some changes included the V02 Max workouts in the LT and marathon phases of the plan. One component I’m particularly proud of in this build up was the combination of greater volume and percentage of easy running versus hard running. This can be a tricky percentage to meet on lesser volume.


    At the same time, I had only 4 marathon pace runs: 8, 10, 13.1, and 14 miles, which took place over the course of 6-8 weeks, so mentally I really had to trust the science and that my body was ready for a 3:00 marathon. In hindsight, I would definitely aim to increase my pacing on 1-2 easy runs per week and push the pace further on my long runs.


    Taper week went very well, but the niggle game was pretty tough! At first, whenever I wore booties (Hello Fall!), my metatarsals were signaling pain. Then, my right knee cap was a little sticky and far too crunchy to be considered typical. Later in the week, a hamstring pain grew, and I chalked it up to the significant reduction in training volume. However, after lugging our bags for a mile and a half after exiting the blue line Metra, it was growing in tenderness. I definitely felt concerned that it wasn’t as psychosomatic as I’d been hoping. Luckily, I’d packed arnica cream, tablets, and CBD arnica oil (mostly for joints and post-race discomfort) for the trip and began applying it copiously.

    We woke up on Saturday morning and took the red line to the Heartbreak Run store to shake out with Keira D’Amato while she was still the Female American Marathon Record Holder!  Before the run, Keira shared some great pre-race nuggets of wisdom:

    “Give yourself a chance.”

    “You only get one life, so live it twice.”

    “I give my kids the same advice I give myself: have fun, do your best, and go for it!”


    She also shared some words along the lines of the high risk, high reward mindset. Big goals are hard earned and intimidating, and so our anxiety can easily give us permission to sell ourselves short and evade the excellence we pursued the whole training block. Here, the Women's American Marathon Record holder, sharing the very challenges that are visceral to many athletes of all levels… big goals, fear of falling short of them, and recognizing what is lost if we choose to hold back instead of giving it our all.


    I was so excited when I got to run alongside her for a bit, and Mike snapped some great action shots, too. After the shakeout, I ran a few very fast strides in Oz Park. I felt my hamstring, but it didn’t hurt as much.

    The remainder of the daytime, we spent holed up in our hotel room, watching TV, resting, hydrating, and I was hyper aware of every twinge from my left hamstring, and now the inside of my right knee. Cue the dizzy emoji. I was reluctant to modify my race plan, so I decided I’d execute a plan that gives me 2 miles at goal marathon pace and then see what happens. If my hamstring behaved, then I’d proceed as planned, and if not, well, I could still have a great experience running the streets of Chicago and save myself for New York next month… or something. Regardless, I was snacking on my carbohydrate, sensitive food snacks and working hard to get 400g of carbohydrate for the day. This is hard, by the way! 


    We went to Goioa for dinner with Sean and his dad, John. I enjoyed a marinara gnocchi, which contains flour, but consists mainly of potatoes.  I really enjoyed the restaurant vibe and a delicious glass of Sauvignon Blanc (also, carbs). Ha.


    We returned to the hotel by 6:30 PM, watched some TV in bed after we laid everything out for our 4:00 AM wake up, and lights out by 8:30. We slept mostly solidly for 7.5 hours! I’d say another deliberation I struggled with was what to wear on my upper body. The temps were calling for chilly but warming, yet the wind in the city would keep the temperatures feeling on the cooler side. I chose to wear a tech t-shirt.  Actually, come to think of it, most all of my gear that morning had good mojo! I’d won two 5Ks in my red sports bra, a 10K and top finisher at Grindstone 100  in my blue tech-tee, and the Grindstone 100 in my shorts as well. I appreciated the physical reminders (souvenirs?) of positive race experiences when I was feeling concerned about this one! 


    Also, why is eating breakfast so hard before a race? I’d found a gluten free and mighty tasty cereal back home that I packed a few servings of for carb loading and ease of nutrition on race morning. I finished it, but it took some effort. Another funny, but kind of ironic event that transpired before the race included pace tattoos. I’d selected a 3:00 and 3:05 pace tattoo, but when I tried to apply the 3:00 one, I didn’t do it properly (SMH), so I decided 3:05 was better than nothing, and it could even be a motivator running ahead of 3:05 pace (because 3:05 would be a 3+ minute PR).


    I definitely could feel the discomfort in my hamstring and liberally applied all the muscle creams as well as PR lotion to it and my knees. I took two arnica tablets under the tongue as well. After donning my throwaway gear, graciously donated by community members through our local “Buy Nothing” group, Mike and I exited the hotel to meet Sean at the bridge on Michigan Avenue, the light of the full moon casting a glow all along the Chicago River as well as our path into Millennial Park. Luckily, our walk commute took only 15 minutes.


    Droves of runners were appearing from all directions, and together we entered the highly efficient gates, where metal detection scanners waved over our bodies. We escorted Sean to bag drop and then made our way to the bathrooms by corrals A and B. Mike was in the American Development Program and stowed away our items in his bag there. We made frequent stops to the bathrooms nearby, using the flashlight feature on our phones for visibility in the port-a-johns.


    Runners wore all kinds of clothing and items for warmth: bathrobes, space blankets, trashbags, saran wrap even, and of course PJ’s and old sweats. As time elapsed, it was time for Mike to return to his tent and begin warming up with the other sub-elites.  Sean and I hung out for a bit longer before I started my pre-run routine and jogged around a bit.  I bid him farewell, as he was in Corral A, and I entered Corral B. Shortly thereafter, the 3:00 pace team arrived. I wanted to meet them and hear what their plan was. In all of my Boston Qualifying races, I’ve not run with pacers, and I was apprehensive based on past experiences (being left and feeling demoralized, etc.). I’ll say the primary pacer wasn’t my cup of tea, but he shared the first few miles were difficult to gauge due to GPS inconsistency, which I’d heard and read in multiple locations. As I sucked down my pre-race Maurten gel, he shared some other tidbits for later in the race, like the plan to hit the half at 1:29:30, “walk and smile” or “run and cry”, but “don’t walk and cry”. Personally a funny visual.. until this actually happens to you. It’s not funny! But still, a good approach to take should things go south. 

    I enjoyed watching the elites and Mike’s group take off by way of the Jumbo screen. They were flying, and I was so excited! We heard a few more adrenaline-pumping tunes before we were walking, jogging, and boom, we were off!!! We were flying as we went into the first underpass, exiting onto the bridge, where red carpet was laid over the metal ridges on the bridge, thankfully! We were running past our hotel and taking a left on Grand. The rest is somewhat a blur in terms of landmarks and specific names of areas, landmarks, etc. I’d lost the pace group already, and I focused on keeping it easy as I kept my eyes peeled for the pace sign. That first mile was so fast that I missed the 1st mile marker, so I missed the opportunity to use the lap function for it as planned. 


    I did notice that the field started to run in a slinky kind of fashion, slow down on curves and slingshot on the straights. Given the crowd around me, it was hard to kind of do my own thing without feeling a sense of being overcome. I took my first cup of water around mile 2.5 I think, and by that point, I’d rejoined the pace group. My effort did seem high, and every time I looked at my watch, either to hit “lap” for a mile marker, we were trending way faster than 6:51. My watch's overall mileage was significantly off by almost a quarter mile, so my average pace was also reading as 6:42/mile! 20:55 was the true split on the tracker for the first 5K, and please excuse me, but I was definitely trying not to panic then. The pace was WAY too hot! 10K wasn’t much better with 42:01. By 10 miles, I’d run a 10 mile PR in 1 hour 7 minutes! Major oops, but I was feeling a bit stubborn at this point, and my hamstring wasn’t bothering me hardly at all, so I hung onto the group because I dreaded taking on the wind by myself.


    I took gels at 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and at 90 minutes (13.1 time elapsed at 1:29:06), and while I was definitely not feeling comfortable at mile 12, I knew I could hang with that pace beyond 14 miles because I’d done it before untapered in training, and now I was tapered, ready to execute and perform! Shortly after the halfway point, I found that I was on a peak again (peaks and valleys in races) and acknowledged that the reality is that I’d ebb and flow in my comfort level throughout the race. I found myself running side by side with the pacer, which was a huge confidence boost in that moment. Then, all of a sudden, he took off, which I think greatly affected my mental game, as much as I hate to admit.


    The miles started feeling harder, especially through the water stops. The increasing urge to urinate prompted me to at least be wary of bathroom opportunities available on the course, and around mile 16, I saw a water stop in combination with a bathroom stop and decided that this was the moment. I’d take the opportunity to sever myself from the pace group without 1) feeling the need to reel them back in or 2) feel a sense of despair as I watch them run away. I have no regrets about this decision. Upon exiting the bathroom, I drank a half cup of ice cold water before running back onto the course. Miles 17 and 18 were pretty solid in regard to getting back on my pacing plan, though the miles that followed I actively worked harder to keep the turnover coming. My mental game was a pendulum from focusing on running the strongest I could to jogging it in. Ultimately, my desire to seize the opportunity for a pretty sizable personal record in spite of losing the pace group won out, and I'm proud of that! In all of my past experiences following pacers, losing the pace group has resulted in the race derailing along with a demoralized state of mind, and I did not want another repeat of that. 


    How did I get myself out of that mindset? I remembered that I’d hired sitters to care for my girls while I was gone, and I needed to give this my best to justify the sacrifice of our time together.  I also remembered all the people I’ve trained and those I had the privilege to share miles and conversations about “going for it” with. I just  knew in my heart that I needed to lead and perform by example. Training with others and supporting others has made me a better athlete and better able to tolerate suffering.

    At mile 22, there was a BioFreeze station, in a fashion like a NASCAR pitstop, and I veered into the chute to get a spray down the back of my legs because at this point my hamstring was clenching more and more. I’d say it was approximately 15 seconds spent in there before I was returning back to the course.  Throughout the water stops at this point, I was walking and sipping, tossing an extra cup of water over my head as the temperature continued to rise. I definitely felt a little remorse on wearing a t-shirt because my core was a little too warm for comfort under full sun light.


    It was surprising to me the amount of participants who had flown off the back of the front pack, walking towards the finish, puking neon vomit on the side of the roads, hands on knees, tears and sobbing. It looked more like what I’d see further back in the field, but what I soon realized is that the marathon is a merciless distance that eats your lunch if you make a couple of mistakes during the race. I read somewhere that marathon racing is 90% training and 10% luck, and I reluctantly must agree. In hindsight, I wish I’d swallowed my pride and let the pace group go in the early miles and trusted my own instinct and preparation for even pacing.  However, regret gets you nowhere when you still have miles to go, so living with the decisions made and actively mitigating the impact of premature, energetically expensive behavior is what needed to happen to get me to the finish line to get the personal record I’d trained for!


    I took a Maurten at 2:20 and decided to take another at 2:40. That should be plenty of fuel in that final quickly fatiguing hour to enable a strong finish.  Mile 24 came, and I made a vow after that water stop to not slow for water again. It was time to finish this thing! Smile, keep the turnover going, change the music if I wasn’t feeling the jams! Mile 25 came, and the crowds were growing! A sign grew larger as I approached, reading “1 mile to go"! In my mind, I thought around 7 minutes remain.  It’s so odd how long, and then, so short that amount of time can feel. After the whole race, it seems like something precious is slipping away, running out of real estate. Given, around mile 17-18, I was practically begging for the finish line to meet me a little more than half way! It’s an odd sensation to be sad that the race is coming to a close, perhaps its greater representation of the training cycle. Each cycle takes so much time and energy to complete, and while I love this process, each one is different and poses different challenges. It’s bittersweet to sense its end.

    Nevertheless, my legs were still running, and the finish was coming soon! 1200m, 800m, and there it was, the hill at 400m, the one everyone said hurt their feelings. Oh no, I was READY for this! With long runs cresting over 1000 feet each time, I could handle a little bump right before the finish, and surprisingly my pace quickened to 6:42 for the final quarter mile. 300 m, 200m, and I was at the top, turning left and seeing the straightaway towards the Chicago Marathon Finish Line! 200 m is only half way around the track, and I knew I could fly. The road opened up, and I found my own space to set my gaze upon the finish line and finally empty my tank: 3:04:05, a 4 minute and 52 second personal record! 

    What a day!!!! I absolutely know I can run sub 3:00 at another marathon, though it will depend on a great course and great weather (I really can't complain here, the 4 past road marathons I've run, the weather has been close to perfect!). I truly believe the best is yet to come and by continuing to train intuitively and intentionally, my potential continues to expand. I practiced what I preached, led by example, and was rewarded handsomely. My husband ran a 2:36 and both of us were able to walk around, eat, and celebrate far better than after the Boston Marathon. No stomach or bathroom troubles, no spine issues, and just elation. We worked hard with the mindset of being able to celebrate together afterwards.

    The best is yet to come!

    (UnderArmour was amazing with their apparel customization and free medal engraving! This is the changing room inside their store... so creative!)


  • Trail Running: Some Amateur Tips by Eric Olson-Getty

    Eric is one of Excel Rocktown's Runners (ultrarunner!) and is an ambassador for ReNew Earth Running, an organization "running to protect and heal the environment by restoring land to the stewardship of Tribal Nations and Indigenous leadership". 


    Until more recently I have not been a very competitive trail runner. I was a hurdler in my youth and as an adult I’ve done a few road races. I’ve done four trail events from 2018 to now, and only “raced” two of them. I’m pretty much just an average runner when it comes to speed, but I really like running around in the woods. There’s something about running trails that gives me a great sense of accomplishment and well-being. While sometimes I might miss some of the finer details of a place that I might not if I was going at a slower pace, there’s something amazing about connecting to whole landscapes and having the ability to explore a lot of places at one go. And at a very basic level, for me it is important to be someplace remote and peaceful on the regular. Sure, I run on streets and roads when I have to, but I need those hours away from everything where it’s just me and the land.

    But there’s another good reason to run trails: it’s better for your running to add variety, and you get the added mood boosting benefit of being in a natural space. If you’re already a runner, trail running helps prevent overuse injuries, improves balance and stability, and engages your core more than road running. There is more variation in surfaces and terrain, and the climbs, drops, twists and turns, and changing surfaces all mean you’re hardly ever running the same way for more than a few seconds (or minutes…tops!). 

    One time a friend asked me what I think about when I’m running trails. I’ve found that I have sort of an inner “coach” or self-talk that has helped me make explicit what I’m doing and why as I move down the trail. Here are my top three: 1) breath, 2) even effort, and 3) slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

    #1: Breath. Obviously this is the most basic thing. If you don’t breathe, you pass out, whether you’re sitting at your computer or running a marathon. You can learn a lot about breathing well by practicing yoga or meditation. When running I synchronize my breaths with my cadence on an odd-numbered cycle – a technique I learned about in a Runner’s World article ages ago. If you’re a musician, this would be like breathing in 5/4 or 7/8 time, with your foot strike as one beat. Breathe in three beats, exhale two beats (I tend to syncopate it to divide the cycle into two even halves). Using an odd measure means your breathing cycle steps off on the opposite foot each time, helping to build in balance to your gait and preventing injury over time. You can practice this technique while walking or running on a flat surface. Eventually it’ll become so natural you won’t think about it. The rhythm and measure length will change as you increase or decrease effort, and these changes will be your “gears.” Your gears can be a reference point for gauging your level of effort at any given time, and will help you learn to pace yourself by feel as you become better attuned to what is happening in your body. 

    #2: Even effort. The “even effort” principle applies to road running, too. The difference on trails is that, depending on where you’re running, the terrain and the surface may be changing rapidly. You may also be dealing with steeper grades than you would on roads. For that reason, road pace does not translate to trail pace. If your long run pace on the road averages 9:00/mile, it might be 11:00 or 12:00 or even slower on trails for the same level of effort, depending on how severe the terrain gets. So don’t even try to keep up the pace. Believe it or not, trail runners walk – even the pros! Instead, find the “pocket” you want to run in – your level of effort – and stay smooth. Remember to notice your breath: your body will force you to change gears as you push or relax your effort. Choose a gear, relax into that pocket, and flow over the trail. Don’t fight the trail. Let the trail decide your speed. When climbing, shorten your stride, keep your cadence even and gentle, use your upper body, and think of yourself floating smoothly up the hill. Walk if you want to or need to – sometimes that’s more efficient than running – or shift into a new gear if you have to increase effort to keep going. Your body will tell you what to do. All of those pointers apply whether you’re moving at a relaxed effort or trying to set a record.

    #3: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Eventually you’re going to get to the real fun stuff: rocks and roots! Of course, the technical stuff is only fun when you stay upright, so these are some tips on how to have fun and stay safe. Running through a rock garden can be a blast if you think of it like play or like dancing. It is about keeping your upper body relaxed, keeping your hips and waist on a swivel, picking up your feet, and keeping your eyes scanning up the trail. Ever play the lava game as a kid? You know, that game where you can only step on the rocks or you die a fiery death? It’s a great way to train your brain to solve the puzzle of “how to get from A to B when it gets complicated.” Playing little games like this can be a fun way to improve your balance and strengthen the soft tissue that supports your feet and ankles, and it develops your brain’s ability to pick efficient lines as you run. Trail running is both a cognitive and physical activity. When I find myself stubbing my toe or rolling my ankle in a technical section my first reaction (after “oww! @%&”) is to tell myself to “slow down.” After that, it’s “be smooth.” Those two words, “slow” and “smooth,” put my mind back into play mode, and they also keep me centered, focused, and safe. It’s important that I not try to be fast, explosive, jerky, or rushed when moving along a rough section. If that means pausing to reset myself, to get my brain and body back in sync, that’s okay. It reminds me to be playful with the obstacles, stay light on my feet, and float. With time, the mantra “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” will come true. When I am really focused I have the experience of time slowing down as my brain instinctively picks the lines through the rocks. By slowing down, I can clear the rough stuff faster than I could by white knuckling my way through as fast as I can. 

    I’ll add one caution that comes from experience: I don’t fall often, but when I do it’s usually on the easy parts. In particular, easy sections that follow technical sections. It is easy to lose focus in the seconds after clearing some tough trail, when your brain relaxes and you fail to notice that little pebble of death hiding in plain sight! 

    A note on the spirit of things

    All of us come to running for our own reasons with our own beliefs and values. One important value that I’m learning from my Native teammates is to run with respect. That means having a reverence and gratitude for the land that is hosting me as I run, and along with that, an awareness and reverence for myself as I interact relationally with the land. That includes acknowledging that I am running on stolen Native land, and there have been painful histories lived out here. I’ve found that if I come into a run holding this intention and awareness, I am more attuned to what is going on in me and around me. 

    I avoid coming to the trail with a conquest mindset. I don’t think it’s healthy or safe to be in conflict with the land I’m running on, so if I have a sense that it’s not right for me to do the thing I’d planned on, I listen to my gut. That could mean choosing to run on roads to avoid damaging muddy trails during a spring thaw; it might mean opting not to do that off-trail exploration I was thinking about that could damage delicate ecosystems or degrade historic sites; or it can be something as simple as, “I really wanted to send it on this descent, but now I’m noticing it is hot and humid and my brain feels a bit foggy and I’m not finding the lines on these rocks, so maybe I’ll slow down and walk instead.” That is working with what is happening in the body and the air and the trail and not fighting it and risking getting hurt. I think it also means taking the time for curiosity and not just putting down your head and running: pause and enjoy the views, notice the plants growing along the trail, and talk to the animals if that’s your thing! There is give and take, dialogue, connection, mutual care: we take care of the land, and the land takes care of us. For me, when trail running is about connection, not conquest, it means that being attuned to my mind and spirit is just as important as what I do with my body.

  • Overfed and Undernourished

    Over fed and undernourished: that was the theme of my adolescent/early adulthood athletic career.


    In 7th grade, I fueled my XC training runs, races, and track meets with Grapico and Reese’s cups, refueling with even more processed garbage. Now, the body can withstand a smaller percentage of processed, high sugar foods when the safety net has been established: high quality protein, phytonutrients, healthy fats. But at some point, fueling with nutrient-deficient foods will catch up.


    Looking back, it’s a wonder I accomplished what I did before I finally broke. My only regret is not caring for my body better, especially since I'm having to repair that damage now.


    Age 13:

    21st in State XC, 4th/5th on team.

    3rd in Indoor State 4x800

    Top 10 in 400m dash Outdoor state

    1st in Outdoor State 4x400, 65 sec split

    Age 14:

    4 days weekly of 3 hours of ballet at Alabama ballet: 90 min of Technique, then 90 min of Jazz, Modern, or Pointe class

    Indoor State: 3rd in 4x400, 2nd 4x400

    Outdoor Sectionals: won the 400m hurdles, won the 4x400, top finish in the open 400.


    BUT my back was severely injured and my menstrual cycle had lasted 4-5 months approximately. I had also been plagued by aches and pains and adolescent fear. But my back, my L5 to be exact, twisted from same lead leg hurdling, and I couldn’t stand up straight, let alone run without significant pain. The orthopedic solution: surgery or anti-inflammatory drugs. The gynecological solution: birth control… at 14. My mother was horrified by my options.


    I took both drugs, but began chiropractic 3x week during PE and also visited a muscle testing compounder, who decided dessicated bovine ovary was needed. With rest and this healing protocol, my body somewhat healed, though my lower back will be forever anatomically changed.


    I returned to track my senior year, but was plagued with a respiratory infection throughout indoor that I couldn’t shake. I was the fastest out of blocks and 2nd fastest sprinter, so I ran the 55m dash at states. No advancement to the finals, though.


    After indoor, I picked up pole vault and prepared for the 100m dash and starting the 4x100 m relay. One day, I was practicing my pole vault drills and my ankle gave way, causing instant injury to my knee. My ACL was torn, reconstructed with a hamstring graft. My hamstring. That upper respiratory infection turned out to be pneumonia, finally diagnosed right before surgery.  I tried to run for my D3 college, but the scar tissue build up was so great that I couldn’t flex or extend my leg fully, and I limped at a run and a walk. I quit the team because I couldn’t take failing anymore. I had a second surgery to scope out the scar tissue, and this is when I fervently began rehabbing on my own, delving into cross training and creating my own structured programming. I had dabbled in this through middle and high school, but this is when it became truly structured. It wouldn’t be until my first daughter was born that I really began considering nourishment being present in my food.


    I share because when I say overfed and underfueled, I can see now what it cost me, then and now. I ran 28 sec 200’s and 65 sec 400’s as a 13 year old. I didn’t strength train and I certainly didn’t eat well. Maybe not as a sprinter but in every other event now, I am stronger and faster. I’m pain free and INJURY free. When you know better, you do better, and you share the word with others so they can do the same. I see my two daughters and pray the wisdom and knowledge can put them ahead of me in terms of wellbeing and overall physiological durability. Beyond them, I pray people and especially athletes may benefit from the challenge to take a broader view to heal and nourish themselves more adequately.


    There is obsession with moderation, but moderation can only be possible when our security net is established. My question is: Is it? 


    Just something to chew on. Hopefully something nourishing.

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