Friday, March 21, 2008

Exercise as Meditation

[Cross-posted on my home blog The Potato Vine]

One of the things I like best about exercising is that it keeps my head on straight. When I get out of the routine of incorporating several workouts into a week, I just get off in a lot of ways. I'm just generally not as good of a 'little one' as I am when I'm working out. Absent regular exercise, I end up drinking more alcohol and can be prone to bouts of depression. (Don't worry not super severe.)

When I am exercising though, everything seems to look a little brighter. I feel better about myself and generally more positive. Research shows that part of this can be explained by the endorphins that are released when we're working out. I think I get other benefits though as well. When I'm training, my mind can't obsess. It has to quiet down. I have to count my yards if swimming. If biking in a group, I have to be very focused on what every one else is doing around me and how safe our conditions are. If I'm running, I'm either thinking, "Okay, now sprint for this straight away, " or "high knees, high knees, high knees," or there is just silence.

You simply can't think about much else when you're pushing your body hard. Your body forces you to focus on the minute, to focus on yourself, to focus on just being there. That is something we need to do more of. We need to be in the moment more often. So, I'm grateful that exercising helps me do that and I look forward to my workouts partly because they feel like meditation sessions.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Six Foot Track Marathon, by Bethany

Whilst training for my first Ironman Triathlon back in 2002 I first heard about the 45km Six Foot Track Marathon, while I thought the volume of running training our coach was giving us was pretty tough, a girl in our squad was doing what seemed to me at that time to be an insane amount of training for what was supposedly a run that was only 2.8kms further than the regular 42.2km marathon. Little did I know! Fast forward to 2008 and I am lining up for my first attempt at the SFT.

Our weekend started well with a lunch time trip with my husband Brett down to the Blue Mountains. On arrival at Katoomba I went straight to the race check-in before the crowds arrived, we then spent a pleasant afternoon sitting in the sun at a coffee shop next door to our motel. We drank good coffee, shared a pot of peppermint tea and giggled to each other about some interesting locals. Dinner was delicious pasta with some training partners from home, Marcos, Anthony, Ingrid and Doug, where the boys motivated themselves by talking of estimated race times and goals, while Ingrid and I reassured ourselves by saying “we just want to have a fun day!”

As usual pre-race, I was unable to do much more than doze for an hour or so at a time, and my restless sleep was not helped by the fact that the fog and mist that had descended upon Katoomba had developed into a storm that seemed to be never-ending. I did my best to reassure myself that it didn’t matter if it was a wet race, and that the Cox’s River was not going to wash tiny Ingrid away. Midnight, 2am, 3am, 4am, and finally it was 5.30am and time to get up.

7am and I donned my emergency poncho to keep me warm and went outside to meet the group. Brett and Doug set off for a training run before their drive over to Jenolan Caves to “crew” for us, and we set off in good spirits for the walk down to the Skyway to catch the shuttle buses to the start at The Explorer’s Tree.
At the start line Ingrid and I moved towards the front and lost track of Marcos and Anthony, Ingrid had a Wave 2 start to get ready for and I found some Coolrunning friends to chat to, then found Tim (Sporty Vegan), who I was hoping to do my best to run with, as he was expecting to run a time similar to my goal time of 5 hours and 30 minutes, and is an experienced SFT runner. With a few minutes to go until the Wave 3 start time I was feeling cold and nervous, but concentrated on staying next to Tim for the push at the start.

The countdown began and I started my watch with 2 seconds to go, then we were off, over the edge and down into Nellie's Glen. With dismay I watched Tim’s Coolrunning cap disappear into the distance and clung to the edge of the track, trying to watch my footing while my eyes began to water furiously as they often do when I start running (not because I run fast, it’s just a weird thing they do). Before long I found myself right at the back of the group and we came to a standstill as the single file section of steps began.

The descent down Nellie's Glen

Out onto the fire trail into the Megalong Valley and my legs were feeling really shaky from the steep descent, having dropped over 400m in altitude in under 6kms. I tried to get into a rhythm and make up some ground to see if I could see Tim ahead. I passed quite a few people who were running in pairs and small groups chatting happily. Suddenly I began to loose all my confidence, I figured that these people I was passing probably knew something I didn’t and I should just forget about catching Tim and run my own race.

Across Megalong Road at the 8km mark I knew I was on pace at 50 minutes. I grabbed some gels at an aid station and continued to reassure myself that I was doing ok and the next section was a familiar part of the course from a training run the previous month. Through the fields and deeper into the valley onto the narrow single track towards the river I was feeling a little better and got into a nice pace, occasionally passing people, and pulling aside to let the first fast runners of Wave 4 through. The turn-off to the suspension bridge passed on my right and suddenly from behind I heard a familiar voice calling me, I jumped to the side of the track and let Marcos through, he was flying along and we exchanged declarations of love as he left me in his wake.

Crossing Cox's River

The river crossing was uneventful and Tim’s earlier advice to lift my feet up worked because my shoes stayed free of river sand. I was over the timing mat in 1:41, one minute ahead of my planned 1:42 for this section. However my nemesis was ahead of me and I told myself to forget about times and splits for a while and just do my best up the climbs. I’m not a strong hill runner, let alone fast hill walker, and walking these hills at the speeds people do in this race is something that has to be seen to be believed. I put my head down and focused on the ground ahead of me. Up and up and up, I did my best to shuffle along when it wasn’t too steep, and tired not to get discouraged at the number of people gliding past me. I marveled at some “more experienced” women as they passed me running while I was trudging and swore to learn to run hills like that. My nose was running and I was getting really cold as the hill climbed higher and higher towards the Pluviometer. A few times I needed to pop my ears as the altitude increased.

About a kilometer from the "Pluvi" I heard another familiar voice, my friend Allison, one of Australia's most accomplished female ultra runners, was behind me, striding her way to the top. I looked at my watch, knowing Allison had started 15 minutes behind me in Wave 4, and discovered that I was now 13 minutes behind my schedule for a 5:30 hour finish. I wasn’t surprised by this as I knew the hill was to be my big weakness, and I just focused on getting the legs running again as best they could now that the steepest part of the climb was over. At the aid station a volunteer with a fabulous sense of the ridiculous was dressed up in a tropical themed bikini, hula skirt and blond wig. Complete with grin from ear to ear and sizable beer-belly he was thoroughly enjoying his duty handing out drinks to tired runners and bringing a smile to their faces. I requested a Pina Colada but made do with coke and water.

19kms to go and the ugliest part of the race began. It was heads down for everyone as the path appears to flatten out but rudely continues to beat runner’s legs into submission with seemingly endless rolling hills. I was starting to feel really cold and this wasn’t helping my legs. I forced myself to keep shuffling and started to think of some of my favorite song lyrics, singing them to myself in my head and trying not to look at my watch.

At the highest point of the course, about 1200m altitude I was nearing the Deviation and starting to feel pretty good. I looked at my watch and saw that I was actually back on target pace for this section, I started to feel really relieved and quite emotional, I was going to make it ok, but knew I couldn’t make up the 13 minutes I’d lost to the Pluviometer.

Through Deviation, and suddenly ahead on the trail I recognize Marcos leaning against a tree with cramps, he turned to limp off again as I approached and I squeezed his arm and told him to jog with me, which he did. Luckily another fellow running head heard me talking to Marcos and offered his cramp spray. The spray was too late for Marcos unfortunately, but he was able to continue on as best he could and not let the cramps beat him. I debated staying with Marcos, but figured he wouldn’t want me to lose time on account of him.

4.6kms to go at the next check point and time was beginning to come to a standstill for me. My left calf is cramping and my quads are shaking like never before. Again I am feeling really emotional, from the thrill of being only 4kms from the finish, but also from wanting it to be over already and from the pain in my quads and calves. Despite the pain I am in, I am happy that I am feeling really coherent and quite fresh energy-wise, but am beginning to loose my temper with my legs which will no longer do what I tell them to!

A spectator tells me it’s 2kms to go and time slows even more as I descend onto the most notorious part of the trail, the descent into Jenolan Caves. At times I feel like screaming because I can’t even run downhill anymore and there are rocks under my feet the size of tennis balls and even the size of my feet. To the right is a steep drop off and I think if I fall now I might roll down there and never be found! So I hug the left hand side of the track, stopping to let faster runners though and trying to ignore the agony of my quads. I listen hard for any sound of the finish line and begin to catch glimpses of Caves House down in the valley below.

Finally the handrail and cobblestone pathway appears and I say to my legs, “move, move, move, this is it!” A big ball of emotion clogs up my chest and throat and I struggle to breath for a few seconds, then I see the stairs in front of me and Brett, Doug and Ingrid are calling out to me! I fly down the stairs and around the corner to the finish line, high-fives along the way to hands reaching out to me and into the finish chute. A volunteer places my medal around my neck but I can’t move for a few seconds because my legs have started to shake so badly. I am finished.

The Finish
I have a little cry at the finish line and a lovely volunteer worries about me because I feel so cold, but I am ok. I am finished. The volunteer stands with me until Brett finds me, and all I can say to Brett for 5 minutes is, “that was so hard, that was so hard.”
5 hours and 48 minutes and I am very happy with my time, my goal of 5 hours 30 minutes was a stretch with my lack of hill strength, but I know exactly what I need to do for next year. More hills!

Enjoying my post-race hot chips
Salty carbohydrate goodness - Yum!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Protein from Manitoba

In the fall I moved to a new town, got out on my commuting bike once or twice before the snow hit, and subsequently haven't been out on my bike at all this winter. The local bike shop is having their first "spring" ride this Sunday (about 30km on cross bikes I think), and so, after being fed up with riding my trainer in my basement since January, I've been trying to get in the saddle and get my legs used to the grind again.
Increasing my activity level has made me want to insert a bit more protein in my diet, and so I've turned to Manitoba Hemp powder. Initially I hated it (very coarse stuff), and was regretting the fact that I wouldn't be able to use Vanilla Whey powder anymore. I guess I've forced myself to get used to it though, because now I'm just mixing it in with my bran flakes and not batting an eye at it.

Anybody have any other vegan protein powder ideas? I know Mr. Brazier has an extensive line of vegan stuff, but it is also pretty darn expensive.

For you bike nuts, have you seen the 7 lb bike story in VeloNews? This guy in Germany took the lightest bike materials available, like $15 000 dollar wheels and Campagnolo Record components, and shaved them down until, all together, the bike weighs in at 7 lbs!

And this has nothing to do with veganism, but have you all seen the Ethicle search engine?
This is the google search engine, but the Ethicle version generates donations at a penny per search to groups like Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Amnesty International, PETA, and a few others.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

who the hell's tim?

Hi i live in Australia, about 1hr south of Sydney in a coastal town called Kiama. I am 45, I have a 7 year old son and I run ultra marathons. I think I have run around 60 or so in the last 6 years. I have been vegetarian the greater part of my life and vegan for a few years now. My best running would have to have been last year. I ran the Western State 100 mile, the Glasshouse 100 Mile, the Great North Walk 100 mile and the Coast to Kosciuszko 246km 150 mile). I am not anyone special i just love what i do. i think the greatest gift is to find your passion and be able to immerse yourself fully in it.

Does being vegan help me do all this?

Originally I did not really know. but then the other day I was talking to my partner and she reminded me of the time I ran three ultra marathons in 3 weeks or last year how I ran a 45km trail run the weekend after the Glasshouse 100 mile. So i guess being plant powered helps in the recovery process. But that is not why i am vegan it is just an added bonus.

I think this blog is a great idea and am so glad to be part of it.

Saddle Chat

This is a repost from my blog. For those of you who have already read it, sorry for the repeat.

There's tons of research regarding the preferred saddle type that pulls in every direction. Some say cutaways or noseless are the way to go as they are designed to relieve pressure in sensitive areas. Others say standard saddles work best as the pressure is uniform. It really all boils down to personal preference and what works for you.

Right now I have a cutaway which I'm sure would be comfortable if my bike was the appropriate fit (the top tube is too long which leads to over-extension and poor saddle position). Prior to this saddle I had the standard saddle that came with my Felt S32 which was not comfortable for longer rides.

Gel seat covers should be avoided as they end up putting more pressure in the soft spots. The sit bones push the gel forward instead of cushioning the area, doing exactly what you don't want it to do, creating more discomfort. An uncomfortable seat could be due to too much padding or not enough support in the right areas.

Cycling technique can be the root cause of crotch discomfort rather than saddle. Some useful techniques to reduce crotch pressure while cycling:
  • Ensure your saddle is roughly horizontally aligned, or only slightly nose up. The nose too upwards aligned will directly increase the perineum pressure, while a downwards alignment will reduce the sit bone support of your pelvis, again resulting in an increased perineum pressure.
  • Make it a habit to stand up occasionally, such as on hills and when accelerating if you have stopped cycling or slowed down.
  • Adjust how you sit from time to time. For example, try to sit closer to the rear when cycling on hills and only sit on the nose for brief periods.
  • Try to sit up now and then without leaning forward as much.

Other tips to relieve pain:

  • Chamois cream. I'm a fan of Assos but there are a ton of other varieties on the market.
    Upgrade to a suspension seat post if you're taking a beating on your rides. These posts provide an inch or so of travel and help to soften the blow.
  • Ride more. The more time you spend in the saddle, the more you condition your body to take it. Sounds counter-intuative but works.
  • Always ride in clean shorts and spend money on quality pairs. The nicer shorts are more expensive for a reason. More padding, better design.

And finally, seat fit measurement for a road bike:

  • Make sure there is proper leg extension between the saddle and the pedals. Place your heels on the pedals and adjust the saddle height so that your legs are fully extended on the down stroke, yet your hips don't rock as you pedal.
  • The horizontal tilt of the saddle fits your riding style and integrates with the other fit factors. You're going to feel different pressure depending on where you're resting on the handlebars. Adjust the tilt to be most comfortable in the position that you ride most. See first bullet point under cycling technique.
  • Make sure the distance between the saddle and the handlebars is proper. Check this by placing your hands on the brake hoods and looking down through the center of the handlebar which should obscure the front hub. If the handlebar is ahead of the hub, you are more aerodynamic, and if it's behind, you should be more comfortable. Adjust bar reach by moving saddle forward or back and/or swapping stems. If you weigh over 250 pounds, you must attach the seat post clamp at least 1 inch from the most forward position on the frame.
  • The height of the handlebars in relation to the saddle provides for the proper angle to minimize shoulder and arm stress. Set the handlebars lower than saddle height to be more aerodynamic (Very hard to do with any noseless saddle), and level with or higher than saddle height to be more comfortable.)

To all the experts out there, please comment if you have any other advice or tips. I for one, would love to hear it.