Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mirena Confusion: Running and Birth Control

Heyyo, I have not written a blog in a long, long time since I have been far too busy with classes, my internship, running, and a little bit of working.  I suddenly have a lot more time now that classes finished up this past Friday.  With this sudden free time, I want to talk a bit about IUDs.  I thought the Mirena was my BFF, but it turns out, it was probably more like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, feeding me Kalteen bars while telling me they will help me lose weight.

Image result for mean girls protein bars

I have been frustrated with my fitness so far this year.  While I have been running pretty well, I am far from feeling like the finally tuned machine of last year.  Of course, some of this is easily explained by a move, new coach, and grad school, but as of a couple months ago, I felt like there was still a big piece missing from the equation.  I have been about 10 pounds over race weight (and 5-8 pounds off my usual training weight) this entire school year.  Usually my body gets done there naturally, but I have had a hard time the last three years.  It made sense to me coming off surgery, but this spring I started to get really irritated.  No matter what I did, my body was stuck at a weight that felt much too heavy for racing fast.  I checked in with our team nutritionist, badass steeplechase Olympian Rasa Troup.  We added more protein to my diet, had me start eating more frequently, and made sure I was getting the right balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  While my energy felt evenly distributed, I still wasn’t shifting to my usual racing body.

Which is when we talked about birth control.  In the past, I have taken low hormone birth control pills, but around the time I had hip surgery 3ish years ago, I had a Mirena IUD put in.  The doctor told me weight gain was not one of the side effects, and it would probably work well for my sensitivity to hormones because the Mirena hormones are localized.  However, Rasa said that despite what doctors report, she has seen large increases in weight in some people.  While a 1 or 2% weight change may not be statistically valid in medical trials, it can represent a large impact on women who are trying to compete at an elite level.  I did a little more research into the Mirena, and found that some of the great side effects, like no period, happen because the device is tricking your body into thinking its pregnant.  Unlike pills, the hormones are constant. 

My IUD keeping me at my current weight makes so much sense.  Even last year, when I had no stress and enough time to pay attention to all the details, I couldn’t get more than 5 pounds off my usual race weight.  When I took two recovery weeks at the end of the season, my weight bounced back to my current weight after only a couple days. 

I want to feel comfortable running fast, so I got my IUD taken out six weeks ago.  I didn’t feel much difference until this past weekend when I got my period.  Now that my body realizes it’s not pregnant, I’m hoping it feels okay getting ready to race.  It’s still too early to tell, but I will update with any further conclusions.

A few more thoughts on birth control: If you are using birth control, and it’s working well for you, awesome.  I think the world is a lot better place now that women can have more control over when they get pregnant.  I also think when women are using their bodies for something that require a low percentage of body fat, they should be given full information about their birth control options.  We do not have a lot of information about the exact consequences of birth control on, say, high level athletes (cause why would anyone want to study that?), but, at the very least, I should not have been told with such certainty my body weight would not be affected.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Goal Setting for Anytime of the Year

            I have never really bought into New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because it conjures up images of unrealistic goals which quickly crash and die.  Some people make goals to run for an hour every day when the last time they ran was six months ago.  No wonder gym parking, which were crammed the first few days of the new year, are back to normal traffic by mid-January.

              Many companies take advantage of our insecurities, especially at this time of year, and I get sick of hearing how I can lose x amount of weight without changing my lifestyle, simply by buying a magical product.

Image result for sensa 30 pounds image

         I really like setting goals, and I like the idea of everyone being prompted to reflect on what they want to accomplish in the next year, all at the same time. 

             If you are going to make a NYR, let’s talk about how to set some good ones.  Good goals don’t necessarily mean you will succeed at accomplishing them.  As a runner, I set all kinds of goals; some of them are successful and some are a complete failure.  But good goals are realistic changes in our daily life, which improve our well being.  I don’t think adding Sensa to all of my meals would improve my well-being, but I haven’t tried it.

My three pieces of advice are:
  •      Write Outcome Goals and Process Goals.
  •      Tell at least one person about your goal. Even better - have them work towards similar goal.
  •      Put goals in a visible place and check in to see progress.

Outcome and Process Goal-Setting

                As a society, we talk a lot more about outcome goals, meaning the exact accomplishment we would live to achieve after hard work.  We learn these goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound).  This past year I made a goal of wanting to PR in the 1500m and the steeplechase during the 2016 track season.  I was able to PR in the 1500m by 5 seconds, but fell 10 seconds short of setting a new best in the steeplechase.

                What folks often think less about the steps they have to take to achieve outcome goals.  Process goals are about the things you are going to do to set yourself up to achieve your outcome goal.  I came up with a lot of process goals for the 2016 track season including stretching for 20 minutes 5x per week and getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night.  These goals were much more flexible for me. They served as guides for how I wanted to live while pursing my dreams.  Getting enough sleep each night wasn’t in and of itself a difficult goal for me, but it was part of what I needed to do to race well.

Tell Someone

                I believe I have a fair amount of self-discipline, but it’s funny how easily I can allow myself to binge-eat Oreos when I haven’t told anyone about my goal of eating a balanced diet and minimizing processed foods.  Last year, when I told my family and close friends I was cutting out desserts and alcohol going into the Olympic Trials, it was almost impossible to break my goal because they would have called me out.  Even more helpful was my fiancĂ© was kind enough to join me in my goal, so I didn’t have to watch him enjoying all my favorite things while I tried to stay strong. 

Image result for goal setting image holistic


                Lofty goals can include a lot of moving pieces; I’ve found that when I write down my goals, and put them in a visible place, I’m more likely check in with my process and outcome goals to see how I’m doing.  In the future I want to try setting aside time, maybe twice a month, to reflect on my progress, and if I need to add, tweak, release any goals. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

American Medals; Sport-wide Doping

I didn’t watch much of the Olympics.  A big part of my inattention was I was sulking as a result of my poor Olympic Trials performance.  At the same time, I am having a really hard time watching track and field when doping is widespread and our governing bodies seem more interested in big stars and world records than holding cheaters accountable.  For example, the International Olympic Committee was given information about state sponsoreddoping in Russia in 2013.  The IOC decided to ignore that information, let a super corrupt Olympic Games occur in Sochi in 2014, and only dealt with that information in the past few months when it was forced by wider media attention.  Even when a training group is caught red-handed with banned substances, it’s athletes and coaches don’t seem to held accountable.

Even with my disillusionment, it was great seeing Americans kick so much butt in the distance events during these Olympics.  We had seven athletes medal in events ranging from the 800 to the marathon.  And it wasn’t just these superstars.  Many American made the finals and placed well.  This is usually unthinkable with Kenyans and Ethiopians historically winning most, if not all, the distance event medals.  So why where Americans able to place so well this year?  Is it because our training getting better?  Or do we just have an incredible group of athletes?  Or are we better at cheating?

Runners World argues that Americans did so well because of our environment .  According to Erin Strout, we won medals because as a group, USA track and field has: 1) figured out how to use altitude training; 2) changed the timing of our USA championships; and 3) better planning for logistical challenges.  This analysis is much too simplistic. 

Yes, we have some logistics figured out, but I think a lot of credit goes to specific coaches (Schumacher and Wetmore, for example), an incredibly talented group of American athletes, and, in some cases, better doping methods. 

On the other hand, I think almost all of our USA podium runners are clean, so I can truly celebrate their accomplishments.  Their success is even more incredible when they are certainly competing against some dirty runners.  Further, I think some of our clean runners will move up in placing when cheaters are discovered in the future (Molly Huddle and Jenny Simpson come to mind as athletes who will likely benefit from future doping discoveries).  I am grateful the three women in the steeplechase all seem to be extremely talented, clean athletes.  Nothing would be harder than watching an event when there is good evidence to think the athlete that beat you out is cheating. 

Unfortunately, I think we did have quite a few distance athletes representing the United States who are cheating.  No, they may not have been caught, but Lance Armstrong’s cheating went undetected for years, even with frequent testing. And cheating has become even more difficult to detect as technology evolves.  Kenyan’s track manager asked for only for 12 hours notice for his athletes before testing, when he thought he had the opportunity to bribe a testing official at the Olympic games.

I am grateful to the many athletes who put their careers at risk to call out cheating, especially the Stepanovas, who had to flee Russia after exposing the state-wide doping.   The path to a doping-free sport is unclear to me, but athletes and coaches and a vital first step to put pressure on our governing bodies to enforce clean sport to the extent possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Running Eastern Europe

Training always requires flexibility, because as much as you plan, there are always unexpected obstacles, whether from internal or external structures.  Training while traveling demands even more patience.  The external conditions are more unpredictable and the support structure you create to take care of internal conditions (injuries, eating healthy foods, sleeping well) aren’t there. 

Nowhere I have traveled required more openness than when I visited Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for two months.  Runners had three options for training: 1) Run on city roads before daybreak at 5:30 am (After dawn, all sidewalks and roads were literally unrunnable because of the people/chaos); 2) walk the one city park with a one-mile dirt loop, and run circles; 3) Take public transportation to mountains just outside of city, and run (after full light, of course, when the hyenas won’t eat you).  This was my first time outside North America, and it was an incredible lesson in privilege for a recent NCAA Division I graduate.  Forget the piles of Nike clothes and fancy hotels.  I learned from my training pals how incredibly fortunate I am to have consistent calories, to consume protein, to have shoes that fit and a sports bra, to have a home – a shower!, and to have education.  The list could go on for a long time.

As I traveled through Eastern Europe for these past three weeks, I tried to continue training hard to prepare for road races in September.  It ended up being really hard to get quality training in, and I was too often cranky.  My plantar fasciitis flared up from walking on cobblestones, tour groups of fifty people clogged up an entire path, and I never knew where I could find an open track.  I had one workout that went far better than expected, which was followed by one so terrible, my coaches and I decided to wait until I get home to try anything up-tempo again.  I wish I could always clearly hold onto the knowledge of how fortunate I am to be able to train as much as I do, but I can’t.  If I did, I would love every single second I got to spend running in comfortable shoes and had a protein bar waiting at the end of my run.  At the very least, when I remember to reflect, I can appreciate the flexibility I learned, even if I'm not always happy about it.

                                                                 Run in Riga, Latvia

                                                      Another selfie in Berlin, Germany

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

London and Karlstad Racing, Baltic Vacationing

European Racing Plan:
3k at Gothenburg Swedish Grand Prix 7/16 Result: 9:11.04
Steeplechase at London Diamond League 7/23 Result: 9:47
1500m at Karlstad Swedish Grand Prix 7/27 Result: 4:15, Rabbit 1 mile of Steeplechase
3k at Joensuu Games in Finland 7/30 Skipped due to heel injury
Travel Eastern Europe 8/1-8/21

My racing was mediocre until my 1500m and rabbiting in Karlstad.  Racing the steeplechase in London was an amazing opportunity.  I got to race in the 2012 Olympic Stadium, in front of 70,000 fans, with lots of tough women in the race, including the 2012 Olympic gold medalist. 

                                                                    London Stadium
                                          Shalaya Kipp, Genevieve Lalonde, Jessica Kamilos, Me

Karlstad went a lot better.  We ran most of the race a tad bit slower than our all-out race pace, so I kicked as hard as I could at 300m to get 3rd.  20 minutes later I rabbited the steeplechase.  I was worried because I am so bad at pacing my own workouts, but I was able to be right on 9:40 pace through one mile.  Rabbiting is a lot different than racing, because you know you are only going half the distance, but I was amazed at how good I felt.  I felt like I could have pushed through to a 9:40 steeplechase right then and there, which makes me frustrated my last two steeplechase races have been so poor.  After feeling so good rabbiting, I know the poor races are due to my mentality.  I am overwhelmed by how much my mental state can affect how I physically feel in a race.  Amazing.

                                                                 Karlstad 1500m

Now I am traveling through Eastern Europe with my Dad.  We have seen Tallinn, Estonia, Riga, Latvia, and now we are in Vilnius, Lithuania.  I love the contrast between the medieval, soviet, and modern European architecture.  

                                                                  Tallinn Old Town
                                                           Tallinn Soviet Church
                                                                     Riga Church
                                                                    Riga Old Town
                                                       KGB Interrogation Room, Riga
                                                                  Vilnius Church

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Euro Racing 2016: Gothenburg

European Racing Plan:
3k at Gothenburg Swedish Grand Prix 7/16 Result: 9:11.04, 6th place
Steeplechase at London Diamond League 7/23
1500m at Karlstad Swedish Grand Prix 7/27
3k at Joensuu Games in Finland 7/30
Travel Eastern Europe 8/1-8/21

In the couple days before the Gothenburg race, I got to spend some quality time with running buddies Amber Shultz (Club Northwest Steeplechaser), Sasha Gollish (Haute Volee Canadian Mid-distance), and Victoria Mitchell (Australian Steeplchaser).  With quite a bit of down time in the couple of days leading up to the race, and not having close family or friends around, I appreciated having awesome women to hang out with.

                                    Amber, Me, Victoria, Sasha - post 3k.

                Track officials never seem to disqualify athletes for breaking rules.  Runners blatantly shove, drift over to prevent people from passing, slow races down to let their teammate catch up, and cut others off.  Maybe a yellow flag will be raised, but almost never is anyone disqualified.  So, I was very much surprised that when officials started to get annoyed with some of the women’s conduct in the staging area, they had tools to get racers in line. 

We were all supposed to be lined up and ready to go out to the track, but one of the women was still changing into her uniform, holding the rest of us up from being able to continue warming up before racing.  One of the officials walked over (once the runner had her buns on), and pulled out a yellow card as a warning, soccer style.  I was thankful an official was willing to defend the rules, first, because it was hilarious to see a card being thrown outside of a soccer stadium, but also because if you have an 8:40 3k pr, you have run in an international race before, and you know how things work.  I know I’m my dad’s daughter when I’m that excited about officials enforcing law and order.

The race itself was fine.  I went through 1600m in 4:50, but then slowed down to 5:00 pace, finishing in 9:11.  The time was a one second PR, but it hurt, and I didn’t have anyone to race against after I lost contact with the top five after the first two laps. Right after the race, I was questioning if I should pull out of my remaining three races, because I felt so bad.  But, with a little distance, I’ve remembered how terrible I usually feel when I race a couple days after traveling a long distance. 

Race start.


                                        Pain face.  Maybe if I close my eyes, the hurting will stop?

Now I’m staying with Amber and her husband, Jedd, in an Airbnb for a few days before heading to London.  We are using the time to rest, read, and cook.  Michael is chiding me for not taking full advantage of being in Gothenburg, but I have a lot of racing to do in the next couple weeks, and I know I’ll be on the go once Dad gets here to travel with me in Eastern Europe.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trials Prelim Bummer

I’ve been trying to figure out the reason(s) for my terrible race at the Olympic Trials prelim, and I haven’t come up with any totally convincing answers.  I know I am in shape to PR (sub-9:29), but after three laps in the race, my body started to shut down, and I ended up running somewhere around 10:00. 
                There is no clear answer this time.  I believe I did everything in my power this year to give myself the best possible opportunity to make an Olympic Team.  Going into the Trials, and even on race day, I thought I was in a really good place – in my body, my mind, and my heart.  I had times of being incredibly nervous, but I had skills in place to calm myself down.  Yes, some things were off.  My chronic heel pain had cropped up again in the past couple weeks.   I was a couple pounds heavier than my pre-surgery race weight.  But nothing life-shattering.  I went through a list of other possibilities.  Am I just the type of person who buckles during the most high-pressure events?  I don’t always thrive, but I’ve also had some great performances at high-stakes, high-pressure races.  I don’t think I’ve ever completely fallen apart without a good reason.

                So how do you get past a hugely disappointing race without having any big issues to concentrate on or fix?  I’m not entirely sure.  But each day is getting better as I remind myself my failure was not a reflection of the worth of my person and as I find new goals to focus on.  I’m in Europe and have three or four more races to use for going after new PR’s and prize money.  I am not an Olympian, but I can still try my best to be a badass.

I'm not very pumped about it, but at least I get to drink alcohol and eat sugar again after a 10 month hiatus.