Monday, October 13, 2014

Electrolytes

We all know that electrolytes are important for performance, not to mention normal bodily functions. There are plenty of electrolyte drinks and whatnot out there, but I prefer to get them through my normal diet. I usually eat pretty well. I don't eat much processed food and try to eat plenty of veggies and whole grains. Even so, I have had trouble getting enough of various electrolytes at times.

The first issue I had was a few years ago with low sodium. It's pretty unusual for an American to have low sodium, but I think the combination of not eating processed foods (that have a lot of sodium), not adding any to what I cooked, and exercising (and hence sweating) a lot, caused my sodium to drop over time. I started having really bad muscle cramps after exercising and even some mild heart arrhythmia. I got a blood test that showed all my electrolytes in the middle of the normal range except sodium which was barely inside the low end. I started adding a little salt to my food and the problems cleared up pretty quickly.

The second issue I had was with calcium. I was just not feeling well and was having a hard time going hard. I felt like I needed to stop and lie down after about 30 seconds of going hard. I didn't know if I was anemic or what, so I went back for a blood test. The only thing that was off was calcium which was barely inside the low end of normal. Calcium is critical for muscle function. I drink a fair amount of milk so I don't know why it was low. It may have been due to the drug tamoxifen I was on to prevent breast cancer recurrence which also caused me significant fatigue. I started taking calcium supplements and started feeling better, although the medication was still taking its toll.

I've recently had an issue that I believe was due to low potassium. (No blood test this time.) Earlier in the summer I had been feeling great and my time trial results were back up to where they were a few years ago. But several weeks ago my body started feeling (especially my legs) heavy and fatigued and like I wasn't recovering well from my work outs. I didn't have any good reason why I was feeling this way. I tried giving myself plenty of rest and recovery, but the next hard workout set me back again. I started googling "heavy legs" and several running websites suggested it could be due to low potassium. I can't eat things like bananas too frequently because I start having allergic reactions to them so I needed to find a source of potassium I could eat daily. I looked into supplements but they only contained 3% of the RDA and that didn't seem worth the expense and bother. Then I remembered that salt substitutes are made of potassium chloride and thought that I could use that. So I started adding 1/8 tsp (10% RDA) to my oatmeal every day and lo and behold, started feeling great again. Now I can crank out my hard workouts and bounce back like I used to.

The thing that surprises me most is that I could experience such symptoms when the electrolytes weren't that far off of normal and how small the additions to diet it takes to feel better. Food for thought!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adventures in Northfield

Last Saturday Nate and Craig invited everyone down to their neck of the woods for a long roller ski and brunch at Nate's house. We had a nice group of about a dozen of us. The brunch was great and it was fun to see Nichole as she nears the birth date of their first child.

While it was nice to have a change of scenery from the usual Afton area, I must say that the roller ski session was a bit of an exercise in mental toughness due to the wind that day. The Northfield area has a lot of corn and bean fields and while it's pleasant to be out in the country they, don't do much to stop the wind. Plus it was a rather chilly wind. So after a few hours of fields stretching to the horizon, the beginning of body aches from K upon K of double pole, and the cold wind whistling through your helmet, the mind numbs and begins to ponder the truly great questions of life such as, "Why does the wooly bear cross the road?" Some cross one direction, some the other. Some go diagonally, some straight across, and some down the road. Some just roll into a ball and lie there. Where are they going? It's not like there is any food or cover from predators out there. And then there's the whole stripe width thing. What's up with that? These are the sort of things the mind contemplates on days like that. Yep, it was that sort of day...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Core and mental toughness training with a bear

My kids, Will and Libby, and I recently visited Yellowstone National Park to visit my niece who is a rafting guide in Gardiner, MT.  We were looking forward to an active, adventured-filled week, but we got more than we were hoping for. It was our second day in the Park. We awoke to light rain, so we decided on two shorter distance hikes.  We didn't want to be too far away from the car in case the weather turned severe.   Our first hike was Bunsen Peak. It is listed as one of the top 5 most popular hikes in Yellowstone by the Lonely Planet Guide Book. The trail head is close to the main road. The type of trail where you'd expect to see more people than wildlife. 

We were about 1/4 the way up the mountain, when the open terrain quickly changed to a densely wooded area. Libby was leading, I was behind her and Will was bringing up the rear. Suddenly we heard a couple of grunting sounds coming from the woods. I knew immediately it was a bear. Before we could react, we heard branches and trees coming down in our direction.  Then a large black bear jumped in front of Libby on the trail and started to growl at us.  Libby screamed and begin to sprint in the opposite direction down the trail. The bear followed in pursuit.  As the bear begin to charge at me, I put my hands up above my head and took a wide stance to appear larger. I also started to roar back at the bear. In my mind, I was thinking "Ok, this is one of those bluff bear charges that I've read about." At some point as her open mouth with sharp teeth and claws got closer to my face, I realized this was no bluff. It was the real deal. 

I needed a plan B.  I wasn't sure exactly what that was going to be. Thankfully, my instincts took over.  I tucked my head in between my forearms and leaned in towards the bear's chest.  As I made contact, I pushed as hard as I could on the bear's chest.  She seemed a little surprised and stumbled backwards, back onto all fours. Then her yearling cub emerged from the trees. The bear and I both looked directly at the cub and then they both retreated back into woods.  

We regrouped and thanked our guardian angels for watching over us. Then we got our bear spray out of the bottom of our backpack. We didn't want to test the higher spirits again. We continued up to the top of the peak and back down, singing loudly the whole way with the bear spray in hand. Our songs were a variety of pop, camp, Christmas,  improv and Sound of Music melodies.  We were quite an earsore to all creatures around us.  We opted to get the cowbell out of the car for our second hike of the day, to Osprey Falls.  Thankfully, there were no other close range bear sightings the rest of the trip!
 5 minutes before the bear!
Lower Falls from Uncle Tom's Cabin trail in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March

So, how come so many of us stop racing or even skiing after the Birkie?  Late-season skiing is often some of the best skiing, and the last month has been exactly that – more comfortable temperatures, more daylight, and still great trail conditions.  With yet a decent snow pack and with the really good grooming that seems to be pretty much the norm now in the Twin Cities, March has had a lot of wonderful opportunities to keep enjoying our favorite sport.

Even the late-season racing can be some of the most fun – low-key, no pressure, just get out there with your buddies and go as hard as you can for 10 k’s or so.  And those 10k’s can go by pretty quickly on March corn snow.  The Slush Rush at Elm Creek the weekend before last was absolutely perfect conditions – no slush, just immaculately groomed and lightning fast and a gorgeous sunny day.  I’d attribute my time of 22 minutes for a purportedly 10 k course to great skis and Fast Wax Cold Flite, but then pretty much everyone was flying that morning.

Even the past few days, with warmer weather and snow disappearing elsewhere, the conditions at Hyland and Wirth have been first-rate.  (Maybe especially for classic; corn snow and klister – fast and bomb-proof kick.)

I’ll move on to other things when the snow is finally gone, but until then I’m going to enjoy the skiing.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

MN State Pursuit Championships

Yet another chilly morning of skiing with a start temperature of -3F.  The sky was blue and the sun felt good, even if the air was cold.  This was my first ever pursuit race.  I chose to wear my skate boots for the races.  The boots felt weird during the classic race because of their stiff soles, but I adjusted. 

I didn't get the best start, the front line was filled with several skiers that should have started in the middle of the pack.  It didn't take long for the field to get strung out.


 
My son, Josh, had layed my skis out for me at the exchange.  The toughest part about the exchange was stuffing my lobster mitts into my pole straps.  After a couple minutes I adjusted to the skate technique and was on my way again.  The skate portion felt slow as the cold, sharp snow crystals took grip on my ski bases.  I had waxed with Fast Wax's HSLF-0, and my skis were gliding as well as anyone's out there, I just wish the conditions were faster.
 
 
I finished 10th overall and first female.  This finish gave me enough points to claim first place in the Fast Wax Cities Cup Series.  Dave Christopherson also had a race, finishing 9th overall.
 
At the finish we were all treated to hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and hot dogs.  The key word here being "hot".  It all tasted good.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Birke - 50km Skate

When we are told to catch a bus from Hayward no later than 6:30 AM, they actually mean it!  We were running a bit behind schedule and pulled into the parking lot at Donnellan Field at 6:38 AM.  Not knowing if there was a parking spot left in the lot, Angie Robinson asked the attendant if we could park "here"; a spot partially blocking the lot entrance.  We took the attendants confusion for a "yes", and quickly vacated our vehicle.  We headed for the next loading bus as another bus pulled forward, next to the line of loading busses.  The driver open her door and asked if there were a few skiers that wanted to get on.  Angie and I ran over to the bus.  After about fifteen of us got on she closed her door and zoomed away.  We looked at each other and said, "that was weird, why didn't she wait until the bus was full?"  We were glad to be on a bus and headed for Cable. 

As everyone that skied these races knows, the ride to Cable took a bit longer than usual.  We finally pulled into Telemark about 7:50 AM; our race started at 8:00.  Certain we would miss our start, we pleaded with the driver to let us out ahead of the other unloading busses.  We were told there were procedures and we needed to wait our turn.  After getting released from our bus we ran for the start area.  My running wasn't quite as fast as Angie's since I had consumed an entire thermos of Gatorade on the bus ride up.  All I could think about was my bladder and how badly I wanted to empty it. 

As I approached the bag dump area I saw Brad Skillcorn.  Without saying a word he nodded "yes" and I handed him my bag which he relayed to the bag check truck.  I heard it announced that we had two minutes to the race start.  I ran to the nearest truck and finally emptied my bladder (sorry truck owner).  With one minute to race start I jumped over the start area fence and into my skis.  I still can't believe I actually made it to the start on time, and I was nice and warmed up from the run.

My race started off O.K. skiing with Jan Gunther.  We worked together for quite a few kilometers (20 or so?).  Just before OO I started to feel energy depleted;  I officially "bonked" not long after.  I have a really fast metabolism and needed a higher dose of calorie consumption than what I was getting, especially in the cold and slow conditions.  I have a few ideas for next year.
With about 17 kilometers remaining
 
With about 12 kilometers remaining (just before Bitch hill) I was in serious trouble.  I started feeling like I was floating and had to back my plodding down to a crawl (literally).  I oscillated between plodding and crawling for the remainder of the race.  With 100 meters to go I wasn't sure if I would actually cross the finish line, or if I would pass out on main street (how embarrassing would that be!). 
Crossing lake Hayward
 
I did finish and was whisked away to first aid on one of their golf carts.  Wow, first aid isn't such a bad deal.  They put me in a 80 degree room, brought me my clothing bag, fed me hot soup, barbeque potato chips and brownies.  Catlin stopped by and I was able to chat with her about her race. 
 
Hopefully next year I won't look quite as pathetic at the finish as I did this year.  But, I am very grateful for the wonderful volunteer that took care of me.
 
It's all a big adventure-

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mora Vasaloppet - 35km Skate

It was a brisk morning for skiing!!! In the negatives at the start and barely rising above zero by the finish.  Going into the race I knew my skis had too much structure for these cold temperatures; I was apprehensive about strapping them on at the start just to confirm.  I was pleasantly surprised to find relatively fast snow.  The groomers must have worked overtime to make sure the course was well packed with beautiful corduroy.  The start went well with no crashes or falls (at least none that affected me).  I started a few rows back and so after the 35km split with the 58km I was looking around to see what women were in front of me.  Throughout the race I wasn't quite sure what place I was in, but was guessing Elaine Nelson and I were the first two (actually, I thought it was Margie).



My skis were riding well.  I did exactly what Dan Meyer (Fast Wax) recommended: HSLF-10 teal followed by HSLF-0 white, and then Flight Arctic as a top coat.  The pack from the photos above stayed together for just about the entire race.  The kilometers flew by and before I knew it we had 7 kilometers to go.  I was still feeling the marathons from last weekend, so I was happy to just ski with the pack and not try to break away. The streets of Mora were a welcome site after 35km.