Post Ultramarathon Funk And How it Sucks Balls

It is pretty well known that the more a person does ultramarathons or marathons, for the most part, the quicker one recovers. Recovery from one’s first 50 miler is nothing like the 10th or the 20th or even the 5th. The body figures out, bit by swollen bit, just what in the bloody hell was laid down upon its bones and joints and muscles and skin and how to look around and pick up the pieces. You’ve Humpty Dumpty’ed yourself over and over again and the king’s horses and the king’s men are getting quite good at this game.

However.

The rest of it, the head stuff, is weird and troubling and kind of common.

After an ultra, I have a day, maybe two days, of a kind of awesomeness. I’m tired. Blissed out. Exhausted. Content. And then, things happen in the brain and it all goes kaflooey. It doesn’t happen to everyone. A few studies have even “debunked” the whole idea of feeling like crud after endurance races. I’m not convinced by one study – maybe familiarity with a mood test taken daily for weeks on end makes you feel better about your life in general, who knows.

At any rate, a scholarly search on this phenomenon gives me some great stuff to work with like theories about amino acid depletion and such, but that doesn’t tell you the STORY. The story of feeling like a old bloated whale with arthritis who never lived up to Moby Dick’s expectations and is likely to end up as lamp oil ASAP. The story that digs into why it might happen, with a little science as background but a lot of first person experience to bring it together in the flesh. I’ll run through the stages, best as I have known them.

Stage One: Finish Day

So here we are. It’s that first day, the day of the finish. There’s a few hours of just shock. You walk around a little bit, making sure you’re warm and fed (if hungry, though that can take hours to come back normally, too) and not bleeding all over the place if you took a trail stumble or bashed up your feet. Mingled with that shock is some bliss, coming from endorphins and a general sense of accomplishment. People are probably telling you ‘great job’ and ‘nice to see you out there’ and stuff like that. What happens from here on out varies, depending on the length of the event and the time of day you finished. After a 100 I generally fall asleep mid-day, often during the awards ceremony. After a 50, it’s evening-ish already and all you need to do is try to eat something and get back to where you’re sleeping.

Stage Two: Sleeping

That night of sleep can vary as much as any night of sleep can. You could toss and turn in pain and get little rest at all, or you could sleep like a baby on benadryl with possible short interruptions for a muscle cramp here and there.

Stage Three: DOMS day(s)

The next stage is a lesser version of immediately after the event. You’re sore, a bit stiff, a bit hungry, and still basking in the congratulatory glow. Maybe you’re back at work with a tan and some trail wounds and someone there actually gives a shit about your weekend. But at this stage, the glow is fading. The muscles are beat all to hell and while they feel better by the hour, the real damage will take weeks to repair.

Stage Four: FML

Ok, so now you’re in the place we came here to talk about. Song lyrics appear in your head full of melancholy: My head is an animal. It’s empty in the valley of your heart. That kind of stuff. Your body is well on its way to repair, though it has a long way to go. You get out for a run, or two. It feels ok, or it doesn’t. Sleep is better. Legs aren’t as twitchy. But you, in your head? You feel like that event was a mirage. It barely happened, the pain was barely perceptible, the joy was fleeting, and it seems like you won’t feel that excited about something again for a long time, maybe ever. THAT’S IT. It’s a funk, or its depression, or its the suck, and you’re in it.

Why does it happen? Here’s a theory, cobbled together from research and experience (my own and others‘). Firstly, some people are more prone to this than others, and those people often seem to have general issues with “lower” moods throughout their life. They aren’t necessarily what you’d call full blown depressives, worthy of medication. I’m simply talking about us who get a little anxious, get a little nervous, get stomach pains, get a little obsessive. The sensitive people. It seems we get that post-event funk/blues/suck moreso than others.

So that’s the correlation, but the causation could be something more real and simple: amino acid deficiencies. See, brutal and prolonged exercise really hammers on a few key amino acids like choline, but depletes them all to some degree, including tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine. Those three are required to make your happy chemicals serotonin and epinephrine. So there’s one of the big theories. The combination of a person with melancholic tendencies coupled with a huge hit on key nutrients = FUNK. Serious funk.

we got the funk

Now what? Basically, wait it out. Feed the amino acid machine – eat great quality food: eggs, sustainable organic meats, cheese if you want, sardines. Get your levels back up to normal, the real food way.

And, don’t beat yourself up if you engage in guilty pleasures. I’m known to abuse a little of the chocolates during this time, and snack food in general. I just need to remember to eat good protein and sleep lots. And it will end. Really.

 

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What Makes An Ultrarunner: Guts, GU, and (minimal) Glory

(Cross-posted from Medium.com)

I’m experimenting with writing long-form for Medium, and would love to have your feedback over there. It’s a lovely site with good content.

I wrote a very long report from the viewpoint of a pacer for a 100-mile race, the Javelina Jundred in Phoenix. I’ve run the race before so I know it pretty well, and I was assisting (with another friend) a runner to their 2nd finish. We encounter GU, nausea, the founder of ultrarunning in the US, sand, and pizza. Enjoy.

What Makes An Ultrarunner: Guts, GU, and (minimal) Glory

Tuesday Tribute: Katie DeSplinter

Hi kids. I’m back on the posting wagon, finally, with another Tuesday Tribute. The schedule goes back to weekly from now until eternity or I run out of amazing women in my life. That could be awhile. But now, on to Katie DeSplinter, ultrawoman of mystical powers. She doesn’t break bad, she breaks excellent.

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Me: “Holy shit you’re running amazingly fast!” Katie: “Not as fast as those guys!” Me: “No one runs as fast as those guys. Seriously.”

Those guys were Dominic Grossman & Co, screaming down a loose cannonball run of babyhead rocks next to a steep creek drop-off on the way towards Grouse Gulch on the Hardrock Hundred course. It was a training day, but it seemed to me that Katie was getting some serious turnover practice for future racing days ahead.

Katie is a new person in my circle, but one of influence in just a few encounters. She’s learning her way around racing ultramarathons in one of the most open and generous and patient ways I’ve seen. She blogs about her successes, her worries, her failures, and the intersection of all three. Case in point, AC100 this year was planned to be a dream race, sub-24, with everything looking pretty good. Then, worries about training load (too little) and previous issues with kidneys (too much) and finally, she just went and did it. The write-up is pretty spectacular and takes a meandering course through angst, joy, flow, bloody pee, and rain in Los Angeles. Yep.

“The only thing I honestly feel right now is everything.” – Katie

Just read it, already.

Are ya back after reading that? Good. Now, let’s talk about AC in general. She’s part of the overly-feared next generation of young ultrarunners. Young ‘cuz she is only 31 – the age at which I knocked off from ultras and went down the marathon rabbit-hole for 5 years, losing all sense of moderation and some of my bone density in the process – and yet she is capable of winning races. A few for now, but more to come I’m sure. Her generation (really a sub-generation, but whatever) is overly feared by some in the long-standing ultra camp who think youth entails enthusiasm at the cost of respect. But in many young runners, as well as many older runners, the respect and volunteerism and community are part of the ultra life. They give back. They volunteer and crew and pace with abandon. They do trail work. They organize their own races (hello Nick and Jamil), adding to the pool of awesomeness out in the country and world.

But enough about other runners. Katie’s getting the podium today. I ran into her, not quite literally, on the PCT outside of Los Angeles last weekend. She was running with a friend, as was I, in opposite directions. The four of us stopped to chatter about everything under the warm sun, only finally disbanding when we all realized we probably should get back to our respective days. She sported a hat that can only be pictured to be appreciated.

Katie says 25% of people get it. I'm surprised it's that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

Katie says 25% of people get it. I’m surprised it’s that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

It’s a snarky hat from a snarky 2008 youtube phenomenon, but underneath the hat is a good dose of earnestness. Without the dippy video, this could actually be Katie’s motto. Do what you like and give zero Fs to those who stand in your way without reason.

That’s why she is here. Another woman making me rethink what it means to be solid in your own self.

—————————–

**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Running Ruminations (a fancy way to say daydreaming)

I joke that there should be an implanted audio recorder in my body so that I can take notes while I run; it’s not really a joke that great thoughts often spring out of the kind of unfettered rumination repetitive exercise allows. In childhood they called it daydreaming. In adulthood it is trampled out of existence by cell phones, family, television, radio, and an iPod in every ear when working out. (In certain cases, using music to enhance a workout experience is desired and OK – here I’m just talking about the default headphones mode that many runners and joggers revert to for every single outing.)

For many, the only chance at quiet consciousness is when unconcious. We dream, we wake up, we might recall that something in the dream was good and it should be written down, but then we forget.

Go take a walk with zero electronics or friends to talk with.

Don’t listen to music.

Allow your mind some unfettered time.

See what develops.

The Spaghetti Approach to Achieving a Breakthrough

Let’s say you’re stuck in your progress toward a goal. Doesn’t matter what goal – it could be a physical feat or it could be getting your homework done. There are two generally accepted ways to make progress: incremental change (ideally with tracking) and jumping off a cliff (not literally).

Incremental change is the preferred method: it can be tracked, measured, and reproduced. When you make progress you know WHICH thing enabled the progress. You know that it was the fact that you started flossing your teeth right after eating that made you less likely to snack, versus putting an alarm on the fridge door. You know which behavior change you are in the middle of, and therefore you know what is working. Incremental change gets much love, partly because of how sciency it is, probably also because it is easier chunks to bite off if you’re the person making the changes.

But here’s the problem. It’s fucking slow. Sometimes you need or want the end result to happen very soon, or at a particular point in time rather than just “when it happens”. This is where jumping off a cliff becomes useful. For clarity’s sake, let’s alternatively call this method the Spaghetti Approach.

Oh please.... stick!

Oh please…. stick!

In the spaghetti approach, you simply change a whole BUNCH of stuff all at once. In the snacking example, you padlock the fridge, take herbal appetite suppressants, floss after eating, drink water before meals, AND buy a dress a size too small. You throw all the spaghetti against the wall at the same time. If enough of it sticks, you have made your breakthrough in record time. The only drawback (if you can even call it a drawback – it depends on how sciency you like your life to be) is that you won’t know for sure what really worked, and which pieces of spaghetti you can ignore the next time around.

BUT, here’s why the drawback might not be a drawback. The next time around, things might be totally different. Knowing exactly what worked before might not even be useful. This is especially true with things involving the human body or even relationships. Humans are just a mess of ever-shifting potential. It’s true you can generalize, of course. If you take up weightlifting, you will almost certainly get stronger. But generalizations are for generalized results. Doing MORE weightlifting, and MORE, and MORE, will not necessarily move up your maximum squat by 20 pounds. When things get detailed, humans get slightly less reliable results.

What works today or this month or this year or this decade will not necessarily work again.

This is why my 2014 Wasatch Front 100 race is getting the spaghetti approach. I am going out for a breakthrough, and I’m going to try a lot of new things. New things that I have not tried before, or things I have not done in an ultra in awhile, but all things that I have reasonable confidence will not be utter disasters. I’m not going to just decide to go keto-adapted and eat only macadamia nuts. That would be truly nuts.I am happy to share my plans. So here is what I *am* going to do:

  1. Use music. I never, ever, run with music. But I know it helps a ton of people and has sciency research to back up its effects on performance. (See, science!)
  2. Bring back my gaiters (woo, Dirty Girl!). Haven’t worn these in several years and dust/dirt is a big issue for my feet on this course.
  3. My own hydration drink, always. Preloaded dry into bottles or baggies in drop bags. Tailwind, if you’d like to know.
  4. MOAR calories. I undereat at ultras and I suspect that it has an effect on my pace, even if I don’t feel like I’m bonking.
  5. New food (to adjunct to #4) – rice balls. Many, many rice balls.
  6. Swap hydration pack at mile 82 for bottles.

Of all of these, the one with the most potential for bad effects is #4. That will have to be monitored closely so I don’t hurl all over the trail (at least not more than once, anyway). All the rest should have minimal side effects and if they are annoying I can stop or change course in moments.

Wish me luck and sticky pasta.

spaghetti-stuck-on-wall

Tuesday Tribute: Charlie Thorn

[A NOTE ABOUT “TUESDAY TRIBUTE” and it’s beginnings]: a few weeks ago my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strayed into the realm of songs I’d rather not play on repeat, what the weather might be like today, did that car just wave at me, and wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas. Ideas like Facebook memes. I thought about how nice it is to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook or given me reason to make a positive change.

There is only one guideline, and one caveat: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. They might collectively have their own post(s) in the future, but this series is for my direct circle. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology. That is all.

TUESDAY TRIBUTE #2: Charlie Thorn

charlie thorn

Charlie Thorn, in front of his house, gathering for trail marking.

It was 1998 and I was an avid participant in this email group called the Ultralist. I had recently started doing 50Ks back in the Midwest and now, living in Albuquerque, I was jonesing for good trail running and connecting with whatever ultra community was around. Trouble is, there wasn’t a lot in the way of races in New Mexico. Like, none. Sure, there were trail runners, ultrarunners, and lots of trail fun runs – you just had to find the right people to hear about that stuff.

Up in Los Alamos there were a bunch of folks who thought about two things: physics and ultrarunning. One of them owned a house in Silverton and went up there a lot to run and stuff… that’s as much as I knew. On the Ultralist came a notice of some trail work being done in Silverton over Memorial Day weekend. I had nothing better to do, so I contacted the guy organizing it, Charlie Thorn, and he offered me a spot to crash at his house, even. Off I went, into these totally new-to-me mountains north of Durango, and had quite a hard time actually finding these guys as they did trail work. Luckily I found them the next day (Sunday) as they were constructing a totally new trail for some ultra event that summer. That trail was the Nute Chute (named for Chris Nute), and it removed a few miles of road from the course. That course, of course, was/is the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, and Charlie was one of the founders of the event.

On that Sunday – and the next day when he and his wife Andi Kron took me up to Cinnamon Pass half on bikes and half on foot – Charlie told me about Hardrock. I was impressed, obviously. The run didn’t fill up in those years, so Charlie told me I should enter. I thought he was joking at first, and then completely nuts. Had I entered then, who knows what would have happened with my Hardrock “career”. I ended up pacing a new friend instead for about 40 miles and had a really enjoyable and tough time. Sometimes I think Charlie wanted me to enter to see how badly I would blow up. With aid stations and support, I wouldn’t have been in danger, but it might have been an interesting experiment.

Charlie, in his many years on the Hardrock board of directors, has been a voice of reason, humor, snark, and sanity. He has a boatload of Hardrock finishes – TEN, that’s 1000+ miles of Wild & Tough! – and has arguably spent more miles on the course than anyone else still traipsing the trails.

Thanks Charlie!

Tuesday Tribute: Mike Kline (and origins)

Today, on this ordinary Tuesday, my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strays into the realm of songs I’d rather not play on repeat, what the weather might be like today, did that car just wave at me, and wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas.

Today I thought about Facebook memes. I thought about how nice it is to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook or given me reason to make a positive change.

There is only one guideline, and one caveat: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. They might collectively have their own post(s) in the future, but this series is for my direct circle. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology. That is all.

Let’s begin.

TUESDAY TRIBUTE: MIKE KLINE

Coach Mike Kline taking notes during a meet.

Coach Mike Kline taking notes during a meet.

Mike Kline was and is the Cross Country coach at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. He is a marathon runner, jogger, and embracer of anyone who finds joy in running. This inclusiveness, I believe, is one of the reasons that our cross country team was not competitive amongst our peer colleges. But it is the reason that it was a dynamic and enthusiastic herd of athletes.

Coach Kline believed that the title student-athlete was ordered that way for a reason. GPAs of less than 3.0 were offered tutoring to bring their performance back up. Being a B student was something that allowed one the privilege to run on the team. Scholarships were frequent and partying was minimal. We trained relatively hard given most of us didn’t have a summer workout schedule, and some of us got injured a lot. Coach Kline was new to this, too – he was about 26 when I started college on his team.

A dedicated runner himself, the one thing that Mike Kline did “to” me as a runner was to condition my head to the idea that some people really, really just like to run. It doesn’t matter if you’re competitive or past your prime or anything. If you like to run, you should do it. He’d show up for practices sometimes after having run 15-20 miles on the roads around campus, looking like I often do these days after the same kind of run – a little sweaty, a little dehydrated, a little crazy. I could tell he had a bit of a compulsion but in a certain way it was alright.

If I were a coach now, I might be a bit more nudgey with my athletes to help them compete, but I’d also be that wild-eyed salt-streaked weirdo showing up for practice right on time because my run went a little long. I’d hope that one of those kids would see the joy in my obsession.