Crewing for your Spouse

I recently called him my “secret weapon.”

Not everyone has access to one. I get it. I’m super lucky. My husband was nearly born for the thankless and exhausting task of being pit crew.

With a background in racing, a diploma in Massage Therapy, a tendency to extreme preparedness and an uncanny ability to control nearly any situation – John is the guy you want on your crew.

But I feel like a lot of the things we have learned as a team over these years can be learned… and I thought I’d do my best to get them out there in this top five list.

1 – Give your Spouse a Pass

One of these rounds, your spouse is going to come in – and you won’t even recognize the person they’ve become. One or two hours and they’ll transform into some heinous combination of Sophie from the Golden Girls and a teething baby. In the molar stage. That’s ok. You’ve got this. They’ll find their way back to themselves again. Just give them time, space and a hall pass to act like the Creature from the Blue Lagoon. And whatever you do, don’t take it personally. They just cursed out a wall made entirely of wood.

2 – Know your Athlete

You may know your spouse… but your athlete might be a very different person from them. Some athletes need gentle guidance, some might need a very firm enforcer. Once you figure this out, it’ll be a whole lot easier driving them to their goal and staying in the control seat.

3 – Listen Carefully but Take Control

If you run long enough, your brain starts becoming deficient in carbohydrates. And intelligent thought.

They may be overheating because they jumped into their 4 mil wetsuit prematurely and the temperate never dropped. They feel fluish and lethargic. They’re sweating and their skin is beet red. And yet, they still can’t put their finger on it. More neoprene maybe?

You’re dealing with Ralph Wiggum here. Deep breaths. They’ll thank you once they start feeling better.

4 – Prepare and Anticipate 

OK so Ralph comes in 30 minutes before sun-down, and is probably thinking headlamps and strobes, but hopefully you are. Best case scenario, you have a rough chart in terms of what your athlete needs and at what approximate times. If not, get them to make you one.

Of course, it always helps to look a little farther down the pipe when your athlete is just focused on that very next step. It’ll everything a whole lot smoother for everyone.

I like to have things ready for my pit crew for situations I can see arising. Sand storm? Hand me these goggles. Colder than anticipated? Start with the items in this bag and then move to this bag if I start turning blue. Encourage your spouse to go over all the “if’s and when’s” in advance, write it down and go over it with you in detail before the gun goes off.

5- Take Care of Yourself

It’s cliche but… put your own oxygen mask on first. Make sure you’re fuelling, hydrating and moving around when your athlete is out on course. You may even be able to catch a quick cat nap if laps are long enough or you have a pitting partner. Just like knowing your athletes needs, you need to consider your own. If you’re a voracious reader, bring some books… if you’re a social butterfly, pit with a group. The better mood you’re in, the better care you’ll be able to take of your spouse.

Lastly, have fun and celebrate in the success of your spouse. There’s nothing quite as magical as completing a challenging race with the full support of your partner. It’s pretty cool to get to share adventures with the person you love most.

Race Day Advice for your First Spartan

So it’s your first Spartan Race and you’re not sure what to expect? Read on for two top ten lists that will help you get to the start line easy.

Pack a Bag

A well packed bag is worth it’s weight when you’re dealing with the elements. Here’s a few of the items that have earned their way into my nap sack the hard way:

  1. Government issued photo ID and a completed waiver WITH my bib number on it (look it up online so you can save time and headache morning of.)
  2. An extra pen and cash.
  3. Sunscreen (and gloves to apply it), lip chap, deodorant and a comb.
  4. Gloves, compression sleeves, tights, a tank top and shorts (in case the weather changes).
  5. Blister pads, band-aids and body glide.
  6. Soap, a scrub mit, quick dry towel and a water-proof bag to keep dirty clothes.
  7. An outfit that is warm, snugly and easy to get into with wet skin. No tights. Lord no tights.
  8. Slip on shoes. I would advise against flip-flops if you plan to stay at the festival area for any length of time since they are hard to walk in if the ground is uneven or muddy (or more than likely both).
  9. Gloves, toque and winter jacket to stay warm before and after even in June.
  10. A bottle of water and some snacks. They’ll usually have a Clif Bar and some water or FitAid for you but it’s better to be over prepared when it comes to essentials.

Race Day

It can be a scary experience showing up for the first time. I figured I’d condense the experience so that you can fully know what to expect before the gun goes off. After that third AROO, you’re on your own. You’ll know at the finish line as they say.

  1. Be familiar with the route to the race and where to park. Bring cash for parking as there is usually a charge ($10 is common).
  2. Arrive early. You should have time to register, warm-up, go to the bathroom and check your bag. And you should have plenty of padding in case things go sideways.
  3. Hopefully you have your printed waiver (with bib number) and ID ready. If not, sign a waiver at the first table and look up your bib number on the big wall. You absolutely need to have ID to pick up your kit.
  4. Enter the lane that corresponds with your bib number. Hand them your waiver and tell them your bib number. Show them your ID.
  5. They’ll give you an envelope. The headband goes around your head, numbers to the front. The blue chip gets threaded through the yellow band and affixes to your wrist (you want it tight enough it does not come off but not so tight it interferes with the mobility of your wrist). Sometimes they’ll be a little chip that zap straps onto your shoe laces instead. If you’re elite, they’ll possibly give you a sweat band for your arm. Although you’re probably not reading this if you’re elite.
  6. There may be a marking station in case you want to write your number on your arms (or forehead or whatever). It’ll help you better find yourself in photos later… and you’ll have a badass looking momento for days.
  7. Apply sunscreen with gloves so you don’t grease up your hands, do any last minute adjustments to your wardrobe and make sure your shoelaces are triple knotted.
  8. Go for your easy warm-up jog and do some drills and dynamic stretches. This is also a good time to scope the course a bit and find out where the start, port-potties and bag check are.
  9. Use the washroom and check your bag.
  10. Aim to be in the pit at least 10 minutes before your wave ready to go!

Last but not least have fun and relax. If you need help, ask. Spartans are more than happy to help.

How to Recover Fast Between Races

On the last two Spartan Race weekends I managed back-to-back wins (Ottawa Super and UltraBeast and Red Deer Super and Sprint). And I have been getting a lot of questions as to how I recover.

couch

Here’s my Top Five List:

  1. Training – I train hard and long days back to back so my body is pretty used to getting a beat down a couple days in a row. Usually I try to vary the stress if my body feels off like a long run followed by day of power hiking in the mountains or pulling the kids around in a bike carrier on a hilly route.
  2. Nutrition Window – Almost the first thing I try to do is get something into me. You have about thirty minutes to get some fuel in. Basically your muscles are like sponges during that time and primed to soak it up. You also want some protein to start muscle repair. Experts say 3 or 4 grams of carb to each gram of protein but really, just get a little protein in there and you’re good. You also need water to break those carbs down so drink up. Depending on the race I usually head straight to the Thirsty Buddha or chocolate milk tent. I also have a handful of bars and a bottle of water in my drop bag just in case.
  3. Active Recovery – Honestly, I’m too lazy for cool-down jogs but I do try to walk it out a bit before I hose down. I also spend a much longer time warming up and start off way slower on day two to give my body more time to get race ready. Plus, my kids love pools and we’re usually travelling race weekends so I end up spending the afternoon floating around in water shaking things out.
  4. Body Work – I a huge believer in doing your own mobility work. I have a pre-race and post-race routine. I’m also fortunate to pack around a registered massage therapist with me (my husband) who understands the sport. But if you didn’t marry into mobility, that’s fine. Just carry a portable foam roller and some balls with you.
  5. Relax – It’s not only your body that just took a huge hit, racing is also mentally and emotionally taxing. With two little bitty kids we don’t get to watch movies as often as I’d like so between races I look forever to curling up and watching one. It’s also important to remember not to take it too seriously if you have a double race weekend. Have fun out there and take the pressure down a notch. It may be normal in our sport, but being able to finish two races back-to-back is pretty darn amazing!

How to Run Better without Running

As a running and strength and conditioning coach, I often run into problems with poor lateral alignment and the profound effect that has on power, efficiency and injury.

I wanted to do a quick post elaborating on this rampant runner problem.

And I would know, because every photo of me post accident looks like I’m melting under my own body.

Worse that most, as I damaged the nerve that supplies my glute medius muscle (shown below) on the right side of my pelvis (along with snapping the inner thigh muscles off the pelvis on the same side to make things extra flimsy).

It was like kicking a leg out and expecting the table to stand upright when pounding on it with a sack of hammers.

glute med

Thankfully, I am looking a lot straighter now. And I feel like I owe a big debt of gratitude to strength and conditioning.

good hip

I’ve done my fair share of monster walks, clamshells and lateral leg raises – exercises that traditionally target the glute med. But really, I feel the biggest leap forward was made using the humble squat.

A great many people start out squatting with their knees collapsing in. If you look closely you can see her knees crying. You can also see her feet collapsing inward or “over-pronating”. Any of you runners feeling a little “ah-ha”?

suqat

This pattern is even more pronounced in the one-leg squat patterned, AKA running. And with half the unstable support missing, the pelvis drops noticeably on the unsupported side, causing shear forces on the lower back and pelvis. Gross.

If you’re one that suffers from IT band issues, you might have this going on. Just imagine how much pressure gets put on the outside of your leg (including the wee TFL muscle that holds down part of the top of the band on the outside of your hip).

hip drop

I think in order to learn to fire this small but indispensable little muscle, you need to do the isolated exercises.

But then you need to take it into your big movement patterns: squats, stairs, hiking, running. Pelvis straight, knees over toes. It just might make all the difference in your running efficiency and freedom from injury.

Every movement in your day contributes to your movement pattern and how your muscles need to support your structure and activities. Make em count.

3 Tips for Pre-Race OCR Handcare


As an ultramarathoner, I am totally bound by my PreRace foot care routine. Having suffered from blisters, lost toe nails and dealt with hot spots… I have certainly learned the hardway when it comes to the meticulous pre-race preparation of my feet.

As an obstacle course racer, my hands don’t look much different from my feet. And I’ve found a similar strategy works.

1. About a week out, be extra careful not to wear shoes that will potentially rub or do anything else that might jeopardize the condition of your feet. Do the same with your hands. If they feel hot or sore, wear gloves. Also avoid anything that chews them up like hard ropes or sticky bars.

2. Trim nails and moisturize a few days out. You don’t want soft slickly moisturized feet going into a long race, but you especially don’t want soft slickly moisturized hands going into an obstacle race. If you need to apply moisturizer or oil (or sunscreen!) try to use gloves or wash it off but good. It makes you look like a totally creep-o but that’s better than looking like a total chump-o doing burpees at the monkey bars with suave hands.

3. Shave callases off. After I cut my toenails, I take one a callus razor and carefully shave all the calluses on my feet off. I do the same on my hands… and I haven’t torn a callus off post-shave since.

I like to do this after a hot bath when my skin is soft. I wouldn’t suggest doing this one the first time right before a race though. Try it a few times in training to make sure you’ve got it right.

As with feet you have to find something that works well for you and stick with it. You can probably finish a race with chewed down hands but you don’t have to!

I’d love to hear your tips – please comment below.

The Montreal Super – Montreal is super!

My experience this past weekend reminds me of a Brazilian proverb…

“If we dream alone, it’s only a dream. If we dream together, it’s the beginning of reality.”

Even the owners of the bed and breakfast felt like long time family. Our already late flight was delayed a couple hours in Toronto. We ended up missing the cut off for checking in but were welcomed with late night tour of the property any how.

The all female Canadian OCR group, known as the  Mudd Queens were equally as welcoming come race day.

I hardly turned a corner out there without someone cheering me on.

All the warm reception was especially nice given the language barrier. I should have paid more attention in grade school.

But I didn’t.

The typical Spartan PreRace pep speach was pretty friggin awesome in French and ended with a booming charge!

The course was more than reminiscent of the infamous Killington.

I didn’t bring any water and carried only a single gel. The last Super I did took me 1:06. This one took me more than double that. 

It was also smoking hot and humid. Thinking I was doing a short race, I didn’t bring my hydration pack. There were four water stations, I stopped at one. I started drooling over the mud puddles underfoot. That’s how you know you’re really thirsty 😉

The carries and lifts were comedically light but the gnarly terrain more than made up for them. It was one of those courses where you couldn’t find your running stride for more than a few steps. The rest of the time was a battle with gravity.

By end of day, so much like in Killington, exhausted bodies lined the trail up the mountain. 

A lady whizzed past me into second place as I was doing my “trente” spear miss burpees. And I had 30 more to do after missing the slack line. When I paused to get my balance, a volunteer shrieked and I came off. Darn it.

My favourite set of obstacles were the line of wood blocks you traverse down using only hands to some super long monkey bars. And my favourite volunteer was the Mudd Queen who guided me through it.

The next major obstacle was the infamous Platinum Rig. I came off on the Tarzan Swings in Montana the week before so I was itching to conquer it. Rings, low monkey bars, step in rings, trapeze, ring, bell. I made my way across to the trapeze where some poor dude was swinging helplessly and without enough momentum to get the bell. After he came down, I used the foot in the ring to generate a big swing, added a kip. I got the ring my hand and bell with my foot.

Watching the open division later, I saw all kinds of techniques. Some worked: the majority of people who got it skipped the last ring and just kicked the bell from the trapeze. Some didn’t work: the much greater majority of people kipped with their knees or tried to generate a swing with pull-ups. 

On the final climb up the mountain, I got too comfy in third place and neglected to open up the gap between Faye, who was in fourth. Oddly, her boyfriend was right in front of me and we both went off course. As we were swinging back to the flagging I saw Faye starting her decent. She enthusiastically urged me on and was gone in a flurry of legs.

It was a steep and uncomfortable decent in. And when the fire jump and finish line came into view I realized that my reserve tank was still full. 

In road racing it’s so easy to leave it all on the course. Less so for me in OCR. It’ll take some more races yet to figure it. Especially when you’re racing the top athletes in the sport these days. 

Next time Faye is behind me I’ll be pushing a lot harder. Even if I know she’ll be kind as she over takes. And so we dream together. As rivals and teammates.

People out east have continued to amaze us. Another runner high fived me on my jog the other day. A group of daycare workers cheered, “Allez!” as I traversed vertical bars in a playground. The folks from Come and Train bootcamp had me out crawling on Mont Royal.

I’ve had a great time so far and I can’t wait to cap it off by leaving it all out on the course this weekend. Every last ounce.

10 Tried & True Mental Strategies for Long Distance Racing

fort mac

Let me preface this by admitting that I am generally terrible at everything.

Thank the heavens for long distance running.

It’s the only way I could ever call myself an athlete. My husband and I once saw a shirt that read, “All grit no talent,” and we both looked at me in lock step.

I once met an Olympic sprinter who waived her accomplishments off as simply born talent. She wanted to know how we did it. The long distance runners that is. Gritting it out is just how we do.

A friend asked me at a party a couple days ago what exactly goes through my mind when I’m racing… and how it is that I am able to endure so much unpleasantness mentally and physically. I think it comes down to  few things.

My childhood was awesome but it wasn’t easy. I was born in Northern Alberta. And yeah… that is a dog sled. It was miserably dark and inconceivably cold all winter. We didn’t have Gortex or “high loft” down. I had whatever jacket my sisters wore out five years ago – and maybe whatever Zellers boots were on sale. I had frostbite so often I thought that’s just what skin felt like when you came back inside. And if we whined, we got kicked back out. So we didn’t.

I got into horses and worked on farms and ranches for years. I even lived in a barn for a while. I woke up early, I mucked stalls and lifted heavy stuff all the time. Because I had to. No sense thinking about it. It just had to be done. So I did it. After years shovelling and lifting I got into training horses. I learned patience and probably the true meaning of grit. Eventually the horse does what you want it to – but it takes time – and usually a lot of getting bucked off. And it takes even more getting back on.

I definitely feel that my background shaped who I was when I finally started running in my 20s. Maybe even more than growing up an athlete would have. But what goes through my mind to keep me going…?

Here are the top ten things:

1. How do you want to remember this?

As was famously quoted of Muhammad Ali, “Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.” You’re going to finish it anyway, so why do it half-assed? In fact, I sometimes make myself a deal that this can be my last race if I do it well. And then I sign up for another one. Every. Damn. Time.

2. I leaked some torque on that last step.

More often than not when I’m chasing down a PB or willing my little slow twitch muscles to go fast I am focused inwardly, taking score of each step.

Did I tense anything unnecessarily? Did I achieve full hip extension? How long was my foot on the ground? Did my arm swing straight back? That sort of thing.

3. I love this.

I stay positive as much as possible and when I’m feeling yucky I remind myself that I am the one who signed up to be here and wanted to challenge myself. That I love both the good days and the bad days because it’s all part of this sport.

4. This is not easy.

Sometimes I poke fun at myself for thinking, “Wow, this ultra marathon is hard!” Yeah. Yeah, it is. And then I move on. Usually back to #3.

5. Go get ’em.

I sometimes start playing a cat and mouse game if I’m getting bored. Even just changing up the pace by adding a quick pick-up helps.

6. Swing those arms.

As you tire your cadence (speed of foot strike) slows dramatically. I focus on light quick arm swings to get my feet going. You also start slamming the ground, so I pretend I’m running through the forest at night which gives me slightly quicker, lighter, higher steps.

7. Wow, that feels great. 

Sometimes changing my mood requires little more than removing a pair of gloves or sunglasses. i then reinforce it by telling myself how great it feels to have the cold breeze on my hands. It’s not quite like starting the race anew but it’s rejuvenating if your tell yourself it is.

8. This is why you’re out here.

This one connects to #3. Embrace the suck. Most people are incapable of pushing themselves to that level of discomfort. But runners know it’s going to be a bit unpleasant and maybe even a little painful… and we’re cool with that. It’s why we strap that bib on.

9. Feeling good. Easy day.

After embracing the suck I usually cycle it back around to feeling easy. I focus on the little things like how comfortable my shirt is or how light my legs feel. I acknowledge the big things like rain as not being too hot and hilly courses as a chance to break up my stride. Basically, I just try to spin everything into a positive. It’s good practice for life!

10. I’m doing so well. 

I don’t even let myself get disappointed with a bad race out on course. I acknowledge who I am ahead of or behind. I applaud myself for fighting through a tough day and getting stronger physically and mentally. i find a way to be happy with my effort. I try to do this post race too… but it’s definitely harder.

So – it’s your turn now. What goes through your head to make you keep on running?

We ALL Have Obstacles

Yesterday afternoon we had our first official obstacle course training camp.

John and I have been coaching OCR since 2012 – but in a weekly class format – so we were excited to be able to offer it in a more condensed way. AND in one of the best Crossfit boxes in Canada, Crossfit New West.

spartan training vancouver

We could not have asked for a better group of enthusiastic and determined people… and got everyone from first timers to those who had completed the World’s Toughest Mudder and UltraBeast.

Yet, everyone had something to work on.

We ALL have obstacles that challenge us.

It’s funny. I think of myself as someone who is generally terrible at everything. Especially anything new.

I saw in their eyes what I have felt in mine. At times, insurmountable challenge – at times, staggering accomplishment.

After I had Seren (AKA the baby), I had lost so much grip and arm strength that I couldn’t even hold myself up on the monkey bars, never mind traverse them. I wondered if I should bother trying to get it back.

The other end of the monkey bars was too far literally and metaphorically for someone who couldn’t make it to the next rung.

Fall, fall, fall, fall. Try again, and again, and again. And again.

I had also gained weight, which made running hard. But I kept on picking my feet up and moving forward.

For the first few years in this sport I could not make it two steps across the balance beam. I couldn’t help but wonder how falling repeatedly off the beam was making me any better staying on it.

Walls were always too high to grab and I couldn’t coordinate using the toe kicks.

Things slowly, imperceptibly, started to get easier. And I started doing harder things. In my head, I’m still the same person who can’t hold themselves up on the monkey bars. In fact, more often than not I am surprised by the things consistent training has allowed me to do.

I wanted to put down the top three things I did to get from puttering along and repeatedly falling off a pull-up bar to standing on a podium with super heroes.

1.) Hang every day. EVERY day. Just hanging for as long as you can is a good start. But it’s boring as hell. I have always been a big fan of mixing things up: holding onto one or two towels, changing grip, bending my arms, hanging for different durations. I started back just hanging as much as a could every time I passed by my pull-up bar with no baby in my arms and I tried to make my forearms numb 5 days a week.

2.) Run, hike, walk and loco-mote. Here it is: running sucks when you start out. But it gets SO much better. Just keep doing it and one day you’ll get it. If you lost it, good for you, you’ll have way more faith because you know it’s still there inside you. If you ask me, you cannot spend too much time moving – just switch up the mode so as to not overtrain. Every little bit, like taking the stairs or walking your groceries home, helps.

sandbag training

All aboard…

3.) Play. Go try a new fitness class, take aerial gymnastics, buy a pass to a bouldering gym, chase your kids around the park. Just get moving and get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be ready for anything life throws at you… or obstacle course racing.

Most of all, be patient and trust in the process. It’s cliche but it’s true. Believe.

For April and May I’m going to be launching different challenges on my Yo Mama So Fit Facebook Page to get you ready for anything this summer throws at you.

They won’t take much out of your day but hopefully they’ll make all the difference in terms of what you can do with it,

Easy Tips to go from Running on Road to Trail

If you’re like me, you started running on good-old flat, predictable roads. Sometimes there are cracks, other times grassy traverses… maybe even puddles – or the worst, black ice.

But there are no rocks. There are no boulders. And there are few surprises.

In fact, the hardest part about going from road to trail for most of us is constantly adjusting our stride.

If you’re also like me (in that you’re old) you might remember those old school pedometers that required you to set your stride length. It would then count how many steps you took in your run and do some simple multiplication to figure out how far you went.

That worked well enough on roads – but hit the trails and your distance calculation would be way off.

As a general rule you want to keep your strides short, compact and quick. That being said, you’ll need to be able to go between those tight little strides to bound over things: big rocks, roots, tree trunks, streams, dogs, etc.

You might think I’m kidding with the dog comment.

I’m not.

 

1. Flats and Gradual Slopes

Stay tall and relaxed with your head up. You want to look a few feet ahead: not at your feet. As the adage says, your body will go where your eyes lead… and that includes down.

You want quick, light, even and relaxed steps just as you would on the road. If there are rocks or roots on the path, pick your knees up a bit higher than you think you need to. But keep the effort as relaxed as possible.

2. Uphill

You’re going to need to lean into the hill a bit… but in doing so, stay tall and long through your torso. Don’t collapse at your hips or hunch. You need to keep your chest proud to get adequate air and you need to extend your hips to get full firing of your glutes (aka butt). Your butt is what gets you up the hill, so use it.

Again, take quick light steps. Think about floating up the hill, driving the elbows back and the knees up with a relaxed effort. If it’s a short steep and you have some momentum, you may want to bound up. That’s fine as long as the effort to get up is minimal.

If your heels can touch down, I say let them. You might get to a hill so steep that you end up on your toes. Which is fine… and a great calf workout.

Lastly, if it’s so steep that you could walk faster, or if it’s a long run – power hike. Go ahead and use your hands on your knees too if you feel like it.

If it is a shorter more intense effort though, think about cresting the hills and getting your pace back quickly. You’ll settle back in.

3. Downhill

You love it – or you hate it. Maybe both. Maybe even both at once.

This is certainly the area I have to work the hardest on… let’s put it the nice way… not being the risky type.

I like to think about a waterfall running down the mountain, or a cyclist riding downhill. No impact, just flow.

Just as on flats, your feet should stay under you and your stride should stay circular.  You also need to find the right amount of lean into the hill… lean too far into it and you’ll feel unbalanced, too far back and you’ll end up jamming your feet down ahead of your body.

You also want to look ahead and pick the line flow with the least resistance – – and run it with the quickest, lightest steps you’ve got.

Eventually you’ll end up stepping on something slippery or unstable. If your feet are moving quickly and you’re balanced, you’ll likely just bounce off and keep going.

If the hill is steep, I like to swing my arms about to counterbalance. If it’s gradual, I try to kick my legs up and back (toward my butt) as I do on the road.

Lastly, like anything, it’s mostly just a matter of getting out there and getting used to it. So get runnin’.