Ragnar 2015 Recap: My Runs Along Cape Cod

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IMG_3631Before I go onto to multiple posts about the bonding and the beast mode and the best trail mix ever, I will simply recap my role in this relay race with all the bells and whistles of my Nike Running App, Fitbit Charge HR, and Ragnar materials along with a fashion play by play brought to you by my obsession with Athleta.

IMG_3641For those who don’t know, the Ragnar Relay Series is a series of overnight relay races in cool places across the country where teams of 6-12 runners run various legs from one point to another covering about 200 miles in about 2 days. Historically, the non-running teammates follow along in a rented van that also doubles as a hotel room for most teams. With a few half marathons under my belt since I ran for the first time in 2011 (2 miles at 14+min/mile), I thought it was time to mix it up. So when a Facebook friend asked for a couple of more teammates for her Ragnar Cape Cod Relay team I was intrigued and felt up to the challenge.

My husband and I essentially joined a team of strangers, hence our not-so-original team name “Never Get in a Van with Strangers,” nicknamed #StrangersInAVan for race weekend social media shenanigans.

We all met for the first time about about three months before race weekend. We picked our legs based on known abilities and desire. With a 12 person team, we were each destined to run 3 legs each. I was in van#2, runner#9. I was scheduled to run a 3.2 mile easy run, a 5.6 mile hard run, and a 7.3 mile very hard run. I was concerned by the incremental increase in difficulty as time passed but the ninth spot was a good fit for me with other spots being better for others in my van.

Strangers In a Van: Van#2

Strangers In a Van: Van#2

A few days prior to race weekend, my final leg was increased to 9 miles. Ugh. With just 7 on the docket, I hadn’t run more than 6 miles since the Disney Half Marathon in January. But, it was what it was and I was in. All in. And so it began. My first ever relay race.

On race weekend, van#1 started in Hull, MA at 7am. Using the Race Pace Calculator, we needed to arrive at the first major exchange at Duxbury Beach by 10:30. My first leg began in Plymouth MA. Here’s how it went.

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I ran in my Athleta Be Free Knickers and a mesh run top from last season. As with all the runs to follow I ran in my Newton Fates, RoadID sneaker pouch, Asics Kayano running socks, Under Armour Braided head band (discontinued as far as I can tell), Shock Absorber run bra and Nike sweat band (really any sweat band will do). Since it was daylight I also work my Nike Running sunglasses (Nordstrom Rack purchase from ages ago-but they never slip or fog and haven’t been damaged in multiple trips). It was warm inland where I started so I did not wear a jacket (I had brought along 3 Athleta running jackets for contingencies) and unfortunately this ended up being a really chilly run for me as I approached the ocean. I never warmed up and I think the cold made me run faster than I every have before for this quick run which sadly had little in the way of a view but had plenty of horse poo to assault the senses along the way.

After van#2’s first round of runs, we stopped for dinner and a quick rest before our overnight runs began. I curled up in the fetal position resting my head on my husband’s shoulder as he leaned against the window. In this gloriously comfortable position I got about 45 minutes of restless sleep. Then we were off to van#2’s second round of runs. Mine began in Yarmouth MA. Here’s how it went.

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This was my overnight run. I have run in the dark before to prep for Ragnar but never truly in the middle of the night. The light and reflective gear made it impossible to garner an action shot but I ran in my Athleta Be Free tights and Stripe reflective, waterproof running jacket. The mist was heavy that night and it kept me dry. My Amphipod Xinglet reflective harness, Petzl Tikka+ headlamp, and Nathan strobe light met Ragnar code and totally did the job during a really, really, dark run. About a mile in a lovely young woman named Lindsay came up beside me. “I hope you don’t mind me shadowing you?” she asked. “I am really nervous in the dark.” I didn’t mind at all and we ran the remaining 4+ miles nearly side by side. It was reassuring when there were animal sounds by the roadside. I will say, though, that this stretch of run had one of the most generous side walks ever and that was appreciated.

When our second round of runs were over the sun was rising. We were at a critical decision point. We were close enough (an hour round trip) to our overnight cottage rental in Truro to refresh with a proper shower or we could try to catch 2-3 hours of sleep at our next exchange point in Eastham MA. As a trauma surgeon who often must function at a high level of performance for 36-40 hours in a row, I know that a shower is equal to at least 4 hours of sleep so I chose the shower. We all met up again at the exchange point in Eastham as van#2 began its final set of runs with my personal anchor run to begin in Wellfleet MA. Here’s how it went.

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This was my unexpectedly long run. It was hot. The elevation was a bitch. I was on just 45 min of sleep but at least I was clean when I took off in my Athleta Maze Be Free knicker  and Forerunner Tee (discontinued as far as I can tell). I wore my Brooks ventilated running cap (a TJ Maxx purchase from long ago) over my Under Armour headband to keep my head cool. I was a mess after this run. It was long, hot, and uphill. I was lucky that the van could stop at multiple points along the way to give me water and cheer me on.

As you can glean by the stats on my distance, pace, and heart rate, things got harder for me as time, distance, and elevation simultaneously increased. My heart was clearly working hard, at points clocking in at 170 bpm. You will also see that the Nike Running App running on my phone’s GPS, the Fitbit Charge HR app running on an accelerometer on my wrist, and the Ragnar maps are pretty good fidelity for a novice leisure athlete like myself in terms of mileage and route for each of my Ragnar legs. In the end, despite the challenges, I felt like a beast when it was all over and I know my teammates did too.

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Brace yourself for #Bragnar

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As many of you may have gleaned I participated in the Ragnar Cape Cod Relay Race this past weekend. I had hoped to blog about it in real time with play by play blog posts but the vagaries of cell reception along the Cape and the gradual onset of exhaustion got in the way. Nevertheless, I have so many thoughts to share about what was arguably one of the best weekends of my life so prepare yourself for some #Bragnar reflecting on the race and so much more from friendship to fitness to fashion to a kick ass trail mix recipe.

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Off to Ragnar We Go: Van #2 hits the road

This is the van before we pick up 4 more runners. 

   
 

And here I am ready to go in my pre-run Athleta In-Fusion pants and t-shirt (style unknown but it’s super comfy so I own it in 3 other colors). And of course to ward off any pre-run leg swelling I have my Pro compression knee length socks on. 

   
 

‘Twas the Night Before Ragnar

‘Twas the night before Ragnar

And all through the house

There were piles of crap all around

The need for gear could not douse

Three outfits to run in, zip locked to keep handy

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Piled with deodorant and dry shampoo in a giant gym bag

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Whilst a giant tote stores foam rollers and meds, and for when breath starts to reek some hard candy

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And in the overnight bag, a real bra lest my apres Ragnar look start to sag

All paired with the matching back pack to to house electronic gear

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To ensure no crinks in the neck with it too comes a neck pillow

Of course real rest will not come without the sleeping bags that appear

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For them there is a hamper filled with pillows and blankets as snuggly as doughDSC08069 Sleep yearns for sustenance so we have a sack of carb laden, electrolyte rich food

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And finally the Race Bible to ensure that all is understood.

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Ragnar hear we come!

Not-A-Morning-Person Detox

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I suck at mornings. I always have. It’s genetic (just ask my dad).

My past efforts at transforming myself into a morning person have all failed miserably.  There were occasionally times where there was a burst of morning joy (yes, I even made a top 10 list about why I should do this yet still failed) but inevitably the joy turned to despair and I returned to my usual ways of barely waking up on time for the latest I could possibly be where I needed to be. My mornings are typically a flurry of being in a rush and arriving at wherever I need to be totally cranky. People in my current job have seriously asked me when they first see me in the morning why I am so angry.

In college my worst grades were in the classes that started at 8:30 or 9:00am.  Luckily by junior year such classes could be avoided. My choice of medicine was quite a challenge in this regard as medical education is decidely not 9-5. Thankfully the labs were you had to be present were all after lunch and the rest…well I will leave that to my lab partners to divulge (this was before ever class was recorded and notes available online thus precluding any necessity to be present for didactic portions of medical education). And residency/fellowship…. oh well, I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was for me to show up at 5:45 every day but I had a spouse who has since the day we married (and is a morning person) been able to supply me with the requisite amount of caffeine in hand and boot my ass out the door in time to make it to rounds (but I did deliberately place at #1 on my rank list a general surgery program that did not require its interns to preround; yes, I am such a bad morning person that I chose a pivotal part of my surgical training to get out of that extra 30-60 minutes of work before 6am rounds).

While I have chosen a career where being on your A-game in the middle of the night is perfectly fine (in-house overnight call as an acute care surgeon; most grants, manuscripts, and data analytics can be done when my second wind hits in the evenings or overnight), figuring out how to fit working out into the mix of a busy surgical career and life as a wife/mother has been a challenge. Excluding mornings from this has made the challenge that much harder. Every day I say to myself, “No problem, I will just exercise after work.” Turns out I am great at lying to myself. Most days, I am just to tired or cranky or hungry after 11 or more hours at work (yes, even when not taking care of patients, it is a rare day that I am working fewer than 11 hours; I have tried to fix this and I am convinced that it is just not possible with a surgeon’s schedule) and find myself crawling to bed, face half-covered in drool, after having fallen asleep on the couch at some point with just 4-5 hours to spare until I have to be back a work.

A few weeks ago, emerging from a long, snowy winter some 7lbs heavier than the fall, I knew I needed to change my behaviors once and for all since saving workouts for the evening has not been successful was clearly not the solution when morning workouts failed to stick in the past.

Somehow though, when I travel for work (or for vacations for that matter) I am able to fit in morning workouts even on very little sleep. So with this current effort at conquering my not-a-morning-personitis, I analyzed my successes while away from home to try to make a major change in my at home routine.

  • First, travel requires forethought and organization that I don’t typically apply in every day life since every day life just happens whether or not I am trying. Part of that forethought is making sure I have my workout gear and that I set my alarm clock to be able to fit in a 30-60 minute workout.
  • Second, when I travel, there typically isn’t a couch to accidentally fall asleep on (note: stay away from suites for this reason) in a big heap due to physical or mental exhaustion the night before. So, on my pre-workout evenings while traveling I get under the covers, read or blog for a bit (I do more pleasure reading or blogging on a trip than ever at home), and let myself fall asleep in the proper place.
  • Third, away work meetings, though still painfully early, usually start an hour later than any of my work obligations while at home. (Bonus: west coast meetings give this east coaster’s not-a-morning-person ass the illusion of extra time in the morning no matter what time the clock says that meeting starts. Yah!)
  • Fourth, because I am a totally technological loser, I can never figure out hotel alarm clocks so I just set my iPhone to wake me when I travel. For some reason being able to wake up to a fake choo choo train sound works better for me than the shrill of a typical alarm clock.
  • Fifth, I typically don’t have the patience to find the local NPR station when I travel (yes, I know there’s an app but remember this is still the morning and we’re still talking about me conquering said morning so finding the screen with that app is an almost insurmountable challenge). Without a great NPR news story followed by another (since this is commercial free radio) and so on and so forth, without the familiar voices of NPR’s Morning Edition emanating from the clock radio, it’s just easier for me to abandon the hotel bed.
  • Finally, when morning arrives (even if it is at 5am),  I am able to rise, brush my teeth, have my caffeine, and get dressed to workout over the leisurely course of 30 minutes or so before heading out to workout.

So here is how the detox happened. It started three weeks ago chosen deliberately due to an odd stretch of time where I was neither traveling nor on call (because being up all night tends to ruin multiple subsequent mornings for me).

First, I had to make my body understand that it was okay to be up much earlier than I need to be anywhere officially. So I started setting my iPhone to wake me up in the mornings since clearly I have no capacity to respond to my actually alarm clock. I just woke up, maybe had my coffee, and then stayed in bed while awake. This was it. Five mornings in a row I just got up early and did pretty much nothing. I just needed to get my body to get used to being up early and not rushing anywhere.

The following week, I actually got out of bed when the iPhone rang, brushed my teeth, had a cup of coffee, and got ready to work out (all without rushing). And then, I actually did work out. That week I focused on indoors in the home gym. No travel time. No pressure. No one to impress. I also conned my husband into joining me (I mean, I needed the coffee after all) and made sure there was something totally sinful to keep up with on the DVR. And you know what, it worked. Each morning for 7 consecutive days we worked out in the basement (and we blew through Newsroom, which I high recommend and moved on to Bloodline, equally compelling to get one up in the morning to see what happens next). On days that we did not time the alarms perfectly or pressed snooze a few too many times, we adjusted our run times to 30 or 45 minutes but 4 of those days we got in an hour long workout.

Each of those seven days was a great day for me. More energy when I got to work. No one asking why I was in a venomous rage when are arrived at my place of employment since I had worked all of that “I would rather be in bed” anger out of my body already. The evenings without pressure to try to work out only to be angry at myself for having not done it were so much easier. And, no more messing up my back by falling asleep on the couch in a contorted position. I would get myself upstairs and to my proper sleep location because I knew I had a morning workout I needed to be up for. I slept so much better. (It’s not that I didn’t know all of this already but transforming such knowledge into action was always the hard part.)

After two weeks of not-a-morning-person detox, I was feeling pretty good. The following week, however, had a few challenges. On Monday of that week, we were nervous for a family member and needed to be at a far away hospital pretty early and we blew it. But we got back on track the next day and it was getting to the point when I really wanted to work out in the mornings. But alas, some mornings are rough, especially those that require me to be at work before 7am. However, I was determined not to slide back to my old ways. So, on the days when even a quick 25 minute jaunt on a machine in my own home was out of the question we turned to the 7 minute workout. Yes, I am partial to the New York Times version of it. My husband turned me onto it. It’s what he did at the hotel when, during his last trip, every treadmill and elliptical in the crappy gym was taken by 5am. Sure, the workout can be repeated over and over for a great cross-training workout but even just seven minutes will get the muscles sore and the heart pumping so on the morning when the alarms just weren’t timed right to be at work for 6:30 and on the day that I had to leave at 5:45 to get my kid to her field hockey tournament on time, I worked out for exactly 7 minutes. But, hey it was better than no workout and it allowed me to stay on the wagon of morning workouts.

So, is this it? Is my detox process complete? Am I finally cured of my not-a-morning-personitis? Will I relapse? I am not sure.

But, this morning was the start of the fourth week and I got up and out for a quick 3 mile run and it felt good. I am hoping that my slow, calculated effort this time based on analysis past successes (as opposed to taking advantage of jetlag after a bout of traveling) will be the secret of life-long success in the days, months, years to follow. I give you permission as followers of the blog to hold me accountable. And please share your stories on how you make mornings work. I need all the help I can get to keep this up.

My Barre-versary

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2 years ago, I was on a girls’ trip out of town, and my best friend from high school dragged brought me to my first Pure Barre Class.  It was not long after the birth of my child and I was getting back into the gym, eating better, and making positive changes to get healthy again.  In fact, I had been working out with a personal trainer and entered into my first class thinking it was going to be “fun”.  Ha.  A few excerpts from my brain during that first class…

Those weights are small.

Why are these weights so heavy?!

Wait, that was only the warm-up?!

Ummm, why are my legs having seizures?

My leg is supposed to go where?

Sweet, I’ve made it.  They just turned the lights down, that must mean class is over.

(*%!  Dang.  It’s not over.

My. Abs. Hurt.

I am definitely going to be feeling that tomorrow.

As you can see, this was NOT what I had expected.  In fact, after that first class, it took me two months to go to my local studio.  And when I did, I committed for one month only.  So, how did all this change?  How did I go from waiting two months before braving a 2nd attempt to now taking Pure Barre classes wherever I go and planning on taking my 500th class later this year?

 

1. Progress beyond the scale

It’s easy when trying to get back into shape to focus only on the numbers showing on the scale.  And, yes, with Pure Barre I did lose weight.  But, even before my clothes began to fit differently, I noticed other changes which kept me motivated … my flexibility improved – I could go further in my stretches and hold them longer.  I progressed from not being able to do a single full body pushup to completing all of them during the warmups.  My legs and shoulders started to show more and more definition.  My strength increased – picking up my child became easier (despite his rapidly growing size!), and I began to notice less backache at the end of a long day at work.  This workout changes your entire body, not just in pounds, but also in inches, in strength and in flexibility.

 

2. Inspiration outside of class

Pure Barre is challenging.  Okay, let’s be real, it’s hard!  And even though it seems unrelated, Pure Barre has really started helping my diet as well.  Yes, there are some days I still *might* eat a cookie in the parking lot before class (hypothetically speaking of course), but lately I have really been asking myself – do I want to throw away all that hard work I just did by making this not-so-smart food choice?  And let me tell you, after I have literally gotten my rear end kicked for the past hour, I want to make it count!

 

3.  Classmates

I love my studio.  I can’t say it enough.  I’m sure some of this is because I work with a bunch of men for the most part, and it’s kinda nice to have some girl time, but I really do appreciate my time with the instructors and classmates.  Bonds are made at the barre.  Trust me, when you are pulling off of the barre, tucking, lifting, and shaking, the best person to understand what you are going through is standing next to you!  These bonds carry over into “real life”, and I am now proud to count several of my classmates as friends.  Plus, who else is going to help you glare at the instructor to start calling out “Final 10”?

 

4.  Anti-ADD

Every class is unique – the exercises, the music, your classmates.  This keeps the workout new and fresh and never boring.  Plus, honestly, I’m not sure how you can get bored when you are sweating so much 🙂

 

5.  Always something…

to work on.  Whether it is going deeper into thigh work or working on the splits or building up to the 3 pound weights, there is always something to improve upon, become better at, or a new goal to set.  And these new goals provide continued, new motivation to stay consistent both at the barre and at the dinner table.

 

So, here I am, celebrating my barre-versary, and thankful to my best friend who introduced me, the instructors who continue to push and inspire me, and my classmates who sweat with me.

Bye Bye Bouncy Boobs

As my quest for personal fitness has progressed, I have done more and more research on how to excel. I ask friends, I subscribe to Runner’s World, I read fitness blogs, I follow the fitness twitterati, and I do a lot of internet searches for things like “best jog bra.”

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Based on this extensive and, umm,  totally scientific research it was clear with p-value < 0.0001 that I was running in the wrong bra. My my single stretch panel, mesh T-back  bras that I had stocked up on in an array of colors at ~$30 a pop were woefully inadequate for my 34Ds, status post 26 months of breast feeding (totaled across 2 offspring).

So, when the running bra pundits led me to brands that start at more than $50 (for an undergarment, whoa!) I had a hard time. The child-of-immigrants in me just could not justify replacing them–they weren’t damaged in any way and technically they fit still fit me. They just weren’t meeting for my goal of running without bouncy boobs, which of course is a phenomenon that has been scientifically proven to cause back pain and slow running speed.

Also, I just hate trying on bras; too much work. Embed from Getty Images

Recently, however, there was a 30% off sale on bras at a local running store I happened to wander into. Being a girl who loves a sale, I took it as a sign that I had to finally try on all the high end, super support offering brands that I had been hesitant to try. So after over an hour trying on multiple styles from 3 brands (including Moving Comfort, Shock Absorber, and CW-X) I was ready to make some decisions.

I quickly ruled out underwire; I have never exercised in underwire (in fact, I don’t even take call or operate in underwire–for me underwire is strictly limited to casual days and fashionista moments) and nothing about these high end bras changed my mind.  Bras without any closure mechanism were quickly booted to the discard pile as well; it turns out that the more support these bras provide the more torture it is to get them on and off (my hate of trying on bras was reproduced thus supporting the initial data). Finally, I just can’t get on board with molded cups; I get that they render a more flattering shape for the ‘girls’ but I hate how they feel and quite frankly I don’t really care if the girls are flattered while I work out because its not like the sweat and scrunched up looks of pain are flattering anyway.

I ultimately settled on the Shock Absorber Jog Bra. [NB: The US manufacturer website is totally sketchy compared to the Canadian and all of the European sites and only has black and white where as the other sites have other colors.] Given the sale and the fact that I had not seen the brand elsewhere, I bought one in black and one in white. The manufacturer’s description is below

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  • Infinity-8 design for scientifically proven support
  • Soft, seamless inner reduces repetitive friction injury
  • Wide, padded, non-slip straps with advanced technology
  • Reflective tape across cups for high visibility
  • Full back opening for easy on & off
  • Soft, gel, non-rub hook & eye for comfort
  • Moisture-wicking, advanced sports performance fabrics
  • Available in 30-36 A 30-38 B/C/D/DD/E/F

See that, it is all about the science!

I have worn my Shock Absorber now for running indoors and out, for barre, for zumba, and for pilates.  First, with the hooks and clip in the back it can be fully open and thus a breeze to put on. Not having to suffocate myself to get ready for a workout, booyah! Second, despite my admonishing effect on the breast shape as a selection criterion, this style is definitely an upgrade in that regard as there are separate, fanned out, two-ply panels for each side creating a more traditional feminine silhouette.  However, despite the two layers, this is not going to provide the modesty, especially on a chilly morning with a thin run top or in a cool workout studio with a tank, that bras with molded cups provide but I don’t really care about that. Who’s looking anyway!? Finally, the bras do have some reflective seems and the marketing suggests the bra could be worn alone but I am definitely not there yet with the rest of my physique.runbra_02

In terms of performance, the straps are soft, though not padded, with many levels of adjustment so there is no digging what so ever into the shoulders or the back. Also the closure on the back leaves the scapulae free to move. The 2 hook lower closure and plastic clip for the t-back promote a good posture which is super helpful during barre classes. The support is very firm, without being uncomfortable so there is no bounce whatsoever during both zumba and running. I really just feel so much more well supported without feeling restricted. Importantly, there is no chafing even after 10 mile runs. The only problem I had was that the hardware on the back was uncomfortable on the reformer when laying flat but one does not need industrial support for pilates, so shame on me!

Honestly, I am so annoyed at myself for ignoring the science and waiting so long to do this. I mean, I get evolution and global warming so I just don’t know what my mental block was with this particular facet of getting my running groove on.

I learned early on that wearing the wrong clothes (ouch the chafe!) or the wrong sneakers (back pain, jaw pain, neck pain!) could really sabotage any running aspirations I might have. But, I totally underestimated the bouncy boobs effect. I guess since I didn’t know better I just tolerated these bras that provided little support other than compression into a uniboob.  I liked this one so much that a found a color not listed by the manufacturer on Amazon and got a third in fuchsia/highlighter yellow [curiously, the same photoshopped runner below appears in the Amazon third-party seller sites in a few more colors].  I highly recommend this for anyone in the mid-30s C-D range look to say goodbye to bouncy boobs.