Finding True Gains-a closer look at Morpheus

by Becky Rogers

In June of 2020, I will be taking on one of the biggest challenges of my athletic career-chasing the overall support Fastest Known Time on the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail. The current record is 52 days and a few hours.  That’s right: I will be running for 52 days straight.  At first this sounds really intimidating (ok maybe crazy?).  I get a lot of- How the hell are you going to do this? Do you have supernatural powers?  

Let me assure you, I have no super powers aside from focus. From my perspective as both a professional coach and an extreme endurance athlete, this long FKT is really a test of recovery.  The game here isn’t so much how fast I can go but how well I recover after each day of running and power hiking.  The famous “Gains” for me aren’t gross power or distance per week but recovery.  With my Pitbull-like focus, I’ve been making HUGE recovery gains over the last few years.  Essential to my conditioning is Morpheus from Joel Jamieson (https://trainwithmorpheus.com).  I’ll admit, I’m a fan of integrating what I call global strength and conditioning practices into a specialist’s program (after all, I am a former college soccer player who dabbled in wrestling, played competitive softball, races elite obstacle course and who also strives to do extreme endurance feats).  I discovered Joel years ago when my opinions on recovery and strength and conditioning seemed vastly different than the run-of-the-mill theories out there.  Fast forward to today where Joel has created a system that has something to offer all athletes, regardless if they are training for their first Ironman, Strongman competition or trying to create positive lifestyle changes to be around for their grandchildren.

The cornerstone to habit change is measurable results 

Morpheus has some of the most reliable heart rate variability (HRV) readings on the market.  Joel designed Morpheus after years of working with professional athletes and HRV. With consistent individual readings (morning HRV, heart rate average, recovery trends, sleep data, steps) each athlete is able to see how their behavior impacts recovery.  In my experience, with measurable results comes long term habit change.  Personal story:  I was able to see the effect whey protein was having on my overall daily HRV and recovery.  I discovered I am allergic to whey protein (a rare allergy).  Although changing my habits inside my diet was difficult, with the elimination of dairy from my diet, I’m recovering faster, I’m healthier and subsequently, those Personal Bests are flowing in.  

Visual representation of recovery

The definition of Athleticism is awareness of the body’s movement and wellbeing throughout a space.  Part of becoming a great athlete is understanding workload in programming.  Morpheus helps to develop athletes by showing them the estimated impact on recovery for various strength and conditioning methods.  From a coaching perspective, my job is really to guide an athlete towards increased awareness.   In this respect, Morpheus is the mecca of platforms for interfacing with clients.  The system offers a much-needed approach to performance by focusing on individual recovery.

With Morpheus, athletes can see how daily stress (programmed or life stress) impacts overall readiness.  When used properly as a tool, Morpheus has the potential to lower if not completely eliminate most injuries outside of blunt force trauma.  How much simpler is it than to see RED and NOT train?  It doesn’t get easier than this folks.

From an ultrarunner perspective, the effects of long term recovery debt can finally be identified, potentially eliminating our sport’s problem with what we call adrenal fatigue. Additionally, the 2-week window of recovery, which is erroneously used as a blanketed “rule” for ultrarunning, has been thrown out in favor of individual recovery timelines.  By using individual measurements inside of Morpheus, an athlete can hone in on exact recovery needs in terms of time and workload, eliminating both injuries and de conditioning.

The applications of Morpheus extend well past extreme athletics to the general population.  My own mother (who is nearly 70) is using Morpheus to track her daily recovery on her extensive foreign travels.  She has been able to adjust her hydration and utilizes additional recovery practices on days where Morpheus indicates she needs extra TLC.  By making these adjustments using real data, she has eliminated fatigue that foreign travel tends to bring on.  

Integration of Strength, Conditioning and Mixed sessions

My inner OCR athlete is grateful for this integration.  From an endurance athlete standpoint, strength and its effects on total programming can be confusing for many athletes and coaches alike.  Morpheus offers much needed guidance for specialists, whether they are from the power or conditioning end of the continuum.  Morpheus removes the stigma of the unknown but necessary side of a specialist’s training program.  

Distractions are out

The bane of my existence as an endurance coach is Strava segment chasing.  I’ve seen countless gifted athletes lay aside their training plans and attempt to win little electronic trophies on the online system called Strava. Guess what?  Nearly all of those athletes ended up broken within weeks of this misplaced effort. Morpheus puts the focus back on running our own race.  This leads to more productive daily training and greatly reduces injury rates.  

VO2 max intervals are fun…really

I know, workouts can get old after a while. With the Morpheus platform, an athlete can match zones vs running blind.  This builds a visual map of the workout creating a video game effect.  Suddenly, that hard VO2 max hill workout is fun instead of just a chore.

Adjusted heart rate zones vs the standard zone fixed calculations 

Did you know that your conditioning zones aren’t actually fixed?  The leading heart rate training books on the market will have you believe otherwise but they are wrong.  Morpheus eliminates the hard work for you and adjusts your daily zones automatically off of your individual data, daily HRV, and current recovery percentage. I’m all about eliminating waste in my training, aren’t you?!

World Class support

Morpheus includes recovery workouts and interaction with Joel Jamieson, the world’s leading recovery-based strength and conditioning coach.  For those on Facebook, Joel has set up a user group to help answer questions.  App upgrades are nearly monthly which often takes into account user reviews from the Morpheus FB group. As if this wasn’t enough, upgrades to hardware is consistent.  One of the recent upgrades was the M3 strap which records data without any additional device.  I’ve used the M3 successfully for up to 50 mile runs.  And the M3 strap works great for those Mixed Domain workouts that necessitate hands free such as heavy carries for mile intervals.  

With all the good, there are a few places I’d love to see the system grow:

Extreme outliers are still outliers

The system is currently constructed around the average user.  For those high-level athletes or fairly typical ultra endurance athletes with extreme volume category (like 15+ hrs a week), the recovery recalculation during the day may not be as reliable as for most users.  With analysis and upgrades to Morpheus’ algorithms, the future of this platform inside of user groups such as ultrarunning is bright.  

Tech heavy

While the morning reading takes only 3 minutes, to track all your workouts, you’ll be wearing a heart rate strap or the Morpheus band.  For athletes above 15 hrs a week, this gets old. I know I’m looking forward to some manual entry capabilities! Additionally, morning reading requires having both your phone and M band available.  In tune with good sleep habits, many athletes who are finally leaving their electronic devices out of the bedroom are now forced to bring them back in.  But until we all start having trackers implanted, this is a necessary evil and a small price to pay for the valuable data.

Lack of integration of female cycles in tracking

In the future, it would be great if Morpheus combined tracking of female hormone cycles with the rest of the data stream to create one platform for all the info. This would benefit coaches and athletes alike.  For now, 51% of the population who are Morpheus users will need to use other platforms along with Morpheus (like FitrWoman) to decode and help adjust training, recovery and nutrition around normal female cycles.  As a coach who specializes in female athletes, I can tell you that there is a HUGE difference in strength and conditioning for female vs male athletes. I look forward to seeing Morpheus grow in this area. 

So how am I using Morpheus to prepare and carry out a 2650 mile World Record?

For me, everything starts with the morning HRV reading during training. After I get my HRV and my total estimated recovery, I can make adjustments to my planned workload and/or add in recovery sessions. I’ve used trends in data to identifying recovery hurdles-a major allergen for me, sleep amount and quality, caffeine use and certain training sessions.  I also use my Morpheus data post races to determine which kind of workouts I can do and how much recovery I really need. This has helped me avoid 100% of the normal overuse injuries facing running athletes. During the PCT event, I will use my morning readings to adjustment workload in terms of time on feet per day, sleep and intensity (speed per mile).

All the above is possible by using Morpheus to train with in the years prior to the PCT FKT.  I’ve sometimes gone multiple weeks (up to 3) without a total rest day.  By using the data collected from these in-house experiments, I’ve been able to create a range of workloads that I know my body will respond to in a positive manner without actually resting because after all, there will be zero chance of a Netflix marathon on the PCT run!  

As a coach and athlete, I can not emphasize enough the importance of measuring your training and response patterns.  The bottom line-Morpheus is a invaluable tool that enables athletes and the general public to measure their personal health stats and act on those numbers to create positive change in not just athlete performance but total health.

The Fundamentals -Lessons from the Long Trail

After running my first 200, I was absolutely flabbergasted to discover thousands of people had watched my live tracker. Amongst these excited viewers were people from all walks of life. Beginning runners, athletes from other sports, heck folks that don’t even like running were fixated by little GPS dots traveling painfully slow across a vast desert course.  Every single person I talked to expressed excitement and genuine inspiration.  I know the long trail has many lessons to teach…those lessons are the reason why I continue to lace of my shoes and head out.  But what is the draw of the 200 miler to the rest of the world?  What does this small group of fringe ultra athletes represent?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about the Fundamentals.  Nowhere else will you find pure endurance fundamentals like the really, really long trail.

-Just getting here was a journey-

  I can vouch for the fact that reaching the start line of a race is often the hardest part of the entire event.  The training required to complete an extreme running event well is a long and a necessarily voluminous process.  Athletes need a mature and patient approach to their programming over many years which requires understanding and deploying the fundamentals of conditioning for their own body and life. Believe it or not, this is extraordinary feat in an era of quick fixes and instantaneous gratification.

-Efficiency of process is on center stage-

  Drop bag contents, the precise location of gear in a running pack, calories per hour, self care procedures, perceived effort on the course…these athletes have fine tuned the process of their endurance experience.  Every item and technique is vetted.  Long trail athletes are some of the most efficient process athletes in the world.

-Endurance is strength over many steps-

Just like life itself, endurance is about persistence vs raw power. Nowhere is this more evident than in a 200 mile foot race where a slight amount of unnecessary tension per step can add up hours of lost time because of fatigue.  The power of maturity in pacing is a win here.  This isn’t a sport for the macho.  Ego is either checked at the door or the trail will teach you there is no place for it out here.

-Mind Matters-

The mind of an ultra runner is an interesting thing and likely the largest curiosity point for those outside of our fringe. Veteran ultra runners know darkness always comes. The highs and lows in a 200 are many and sometimes extreme. Athletes must run their own race to run their best race. We travel alone much of the time.  It is true-ultra athletes are eager students of mind training.  We know fear is something that we can not stop. It is a waste of energy to fight the fear. And attempting to bottle fear up only allows it to grow into a monster.  The most successful ultra runner allows fear to flow through. In this, long trail athletes are some of the most self aware athletes, knowing where they stand inside as well as their place in the environment surround them.  The veteran ultra runner concentrates on the now and the power of each step forward vs the entire problem. The run becomes a meditation.

-We are the Driven-

There is no money is this sport.  We do this for personal reasons.  We run for the love of the journey.  At the end of the day, everyone watching and the athletes themselves can see Drive is what got us here and Drive is what carries us to the finish line. In a world full of commercialized sports, the long trail remains purely available to those who are Driven. Drive is a universal concept and fundamental to a successful life.

Anyone who knows me knows I recommend lacing up your shoes and experiencing the trail first hand. If you can’t do that, volunteering or participating in our community in another way is brilliant. Whether you are an aspiring athlete, a veteran coach, a fellow human in need of a little bit of inspiration or like me, an ultra runner, the long trail will continue to offer fundamental lessons for all willing to accept them.

-The Phoenix Running


Cruel Jewel 100: The Good, The Bad, and The Buckle

-First, A Little Background-

I picked Cruel Jewel 100 to train for Bigfoot 200 in 2018.  Cruel Jewel is a notoriously difficult Hardrock qualifying ultra. With 33,000 ft of gain and equal loss in a reported 106 miles, I felt that Cruel Jewel was a great place to condition for Bigfoot’s 42,000 ft of gain in 206 miles. This was not my first hundred plus miler or the hardest race I’d ever completed but still represented the most vertical in the mileage I’d tried. Plus the Georgia heat and humidity would be tough.

Hold my beer.  GAME. ON.

–What Worked For Me–   

#1 Great conditioning, Great conditioning, GREAT CONDITIONING

My conditioning program contains a lot of strength work and not your usual run-of-the-mill items!

I’m a certified coach at Morph Conditioning specializing in strength, conditioning, endurance and sports nutrition. I believe mind and body must be conditioning properly over time to healthfully complete tasks like Cruel Jewel 100 (yes, I think it is possible for this to be healthy!). Besides a winter BUILD where my mileage was greatly reduced and my lifting volume was high and heavy, I practiced a systematic conditioning program which also included a series of build up races. Winning the Mountain Marathon early in the season was a great start (in snow to boot!). I added in a hot and vertical 50 miler (4 th place) and a technical 100k at Diez Vista prior to taking on the Cruel Jewel challenge (top 10 female placement). The build was slow and calculated with zero injury and plenty of rest/nutrition. I also used a heat training protocol involving indoor training and sauna weeks before the race. All this paid off BIG TIME.

 

#2 Great gear

  • Altra Olympus trail shoes.  These are my go to shoes for really long events. I wore the Olympus for the entire race. With great trail grip and plenty of cushion, my feet survived this crazy 112 mile Hardrock qualifier without bruising or swelling.
  • XOSKIN socks, tops and calf sleeves were essential in my gear kit.  This gear is the real deal and delivers.  From the XOSKIN website at:

“XOSKIN™ athletic apparel is designed with our state-of-the art RAPIDriCOPPER™ technology. We use PTFE and Copper fibers in all of our 3D seamless knitted designs to provide athletes with an external supportive covering which reduces odor, promotes skin wellness, protects against chafing and blistering, wicks moisture at extreme speed, dries fast and maximizes the comfort of any activity.

The unique RAPIDriCOPPER™ technology used in our apparel functions as an “external” supporting structure for your skin. A frog’s skin can transfer moisture through its body. Their skin is more breathable than human skin because it is more elastic and they have the unique ability to maintain the right balance of moisture on the skin at all times.  XOSKIN™ apparel provide athletes with an additional multifunctional “layer of skin” similar to a frogs. XOSKIN™ is #YOURSECONDSKIN™”

With XOSKIN, my feet, legs and torso stayed chafe free and temperature regulated in both the hot and wet/cold aspects of the race. I changed my socks twice, my top twice and my calf sleeves once (just in case I got into poison ivy which is quite abundant in Georgia).  The first night of Cruel Jewel we experienced a severe and long down pour.  I was able to run in an XOSKIN tank top for most of that night without fear of freezing.

  • UltrAspire Velocity hydration pack. This pack fit like a glove and had reduced surface contact with my torso helping my body stay cooler and more efficient. I had more then enough room for two 550 ml soft UltraFlask bottles, nutrition in the back stash pockets, headlamps, small med kit, warm layers and rain jacket, bug spray, sunscreen, toilet paper, and Red Bull. The UltraFlask 550 bottles are easy to fill and and close.

.

  • Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking poles.  I’ve used these poles for several years throughout thousands of crazy tough miles.  I carried my Z poles the entire 112 mile adventure.  Carbon Z’s are feather light, collapse for storage, extremely durable, plus– they came in handy for poking ground off trail when I needed to go to the bathroom. There are lots and lots of Nope Ropes (otherwise known as snakes) in Georgia. Thank god for my poles!!!

Yah…there are so many snakes in Georgia, they even come into the Aid Stations and make little sleeping spots in the cups!

  • Petzl REACTIK headlamp was my go-to.  Multi-beam, 300 lumens and rechargeable, this light is worth the money.  I used 1.5 batteries over 1.75 nights of running. I used this light at Moab 240 as well.

About to leave the half way point at Cruel Jewel in a massive downpour.

  • Plastic gloves. I used these to deal with any shoe or sock changes. Poison ivy is very common along the trail and the chances of my gear touching some was very high. I am 99% certain I ran through a bit of the nasty twice. In order to protect myself, I used gloves at aid stations and also scrubbed down with Tecnu at the half way through Aid Station where there was running water (I’m super allergic to poison ivy so this was necessary for me to do). I ended up having no reaction so I consider the extra precaution worth it!

#3 Great nutrition

  • OSMO Nutrition for Women from 1 hour plus.  In the past, I’ve had a lot of problem using electrolyte solutions.  This all changed when I started using OSMO.  I consumed around 75% of a tub of OSMO during the entire 112 mile race with significant improvement in performance and zero GI distress, swelling, and no need for further supplementation (other then FOOD).  At one point during the early hours of Cruel Jewel, I ran out of my OSMO and had to turn to race electrolyte solution on the course.  This particular solution is not ideal for female athletes and I immediately got slosh gut from the excess sugar in the product.  I was relieved to be only a few miles away from my crew and more OSMO!
  • Honey Stinger Waffles and gels.  Always.  Honey Stinger waffles were my food for the final hours of this race and allowed me to move up multiple placements by not needing to stop at the last two aid stations.

  • 2 cans of Redbull, strategically taken at 2-3 am EST on night one and two.  I limited my caffeine to the least amount possible for the rest of the race.  And yes, I carried my cans of Redbull on to the course in ziplocks.  I’m strong and I can do that.  Caffeine pills don’t work for me.
  • Grill Cheese. So much grill cheese. I tend to eat around 100-200 Calories per hour on course and I eat what I feel like. That item was grill cheese for this race due to hamburgers not being available (I eat hamburgers at 50 miles and whilst running with great success!). My typical aid station routine for 100-200+ mile races is to fill a small baggie with 300-400 Calories of food and walk out quickly.  For this race, the main item in my take out bag was grilled cheese.
  • Consuming regular amounts of protein, especially liquid forms was essential.  I was fortunate to have my husband crewing for me and he brought a cooler with Chobani yogurt drink and Go-Gurt. I downed several of these during key stops. Yogurt was key for my completion at Moab 240 last year so I will use it when I can keep my nutrition stash cold. I experienced zero DOMS at two days post event and I attribute both my conditioning and my in race/post race nutrition (yogurt included) to this!
  • Beer at around mile 70 (I like Elysian).  It had been extremely hot and I was getting a bit sick to my stomach. ½ a beer while changing my socks instantly erased my nausea and I was able to finish up the race without a problem.
  • Bolthouse Green Juice. I drank a very, very large bottle of this stuff throughout the 40 plus hour on course. I’ve used Bolthouse on course at Moab 240 as well and swear by it.
  • 40% DEET. OMG the bugs are humming bird size in Georgia.  But the scariest thing are the tiny ticks. I used large amounts of DEET during this race to keep safe.  I’m sure I was quite a site running up the trail telling the bugs to “F off!” at 3 am all  whilst spraying DEET. Haha!
  • Consuming 100-200 Calories per hour and 500-1000 ml of electrolyte solution/water per segment. Aid stations were around 4-8 miles apart during Cruel Jewel. Depending on the technical grade and time of day/time on course, this was anywhere from 75 minutes to 4 hours. I preloaded hydration at each aid station and finished off bottles prior to going into each aid station during the day. At night, I was sure to continue drinking. Much of my nutrition was in liquid form at crew access points which also helped with rapid absorption of calories (less digestion needed) and hydration.

  • Taking spare nutrition just in case. I skipped the last two aid stations on the Cruel Jewel course (1 manned and 1 water station). I was able to do this and move up several placements because I had spare nutrition and plenty of water. Aid Stations are both a blessing and curse. Later in a race, it is easy to stay a bit longer at an aid station which obviously slows down your finish time but also adds to fatigue. I have a finite capacity for sleep deprivation. In my experience, I am good to go for about 48 hours but after 38 hrs, each passing hour becomes harder. Getting the course finished as quickly as possible was imperative for me which meant eliminating any extra stops towards the end.

-What Didn’t Work-

  • Rice balls. I’ve been experimenting with a rice/egg/bacon mix typically used by many endurance athletes. In this race, the heat was too high and the mixture was went foul really fast. The rice also has a habit of getting stuck in my throat causing a choking hazard on this mountainous course. No Bueno.
  • Forgetting to glue in my insoles. I bought a last minute pair of Olympus and made the novice mistake of forgetting to goop in my insoles. Within 3 miles of starting, my insoles were bunched under my toes. I was forced to slow my pace and limp into mile 20. My husband quickly super glued in the insoles. Lesson Learned. This caused me some damage to my toes AND a lot of time that I was never able to make up.
  • Not starting with electrolyte fluid pre filled. I typically do not need to use electrolyte solution for several hours if at all in ultra events. For this race, I had OSMO powder on me but started with 2×550 ml bottles of plain water. Within 30 minutes, I had to stop and add in OSMO. I’m glad I did but I was already dehydrated. With the high heat, humidity and climbing, despite drinking a lot of fluid, I did not urinate over the first 5 hours! Next time I will both PRE LOAD electrolytes and drink OSMO from the very first minutes of the race.

-The Results of My Cruel Jewel Adventure-

I finished 8 th female with no injury and in good spirits. I ran pacer free and
did not sleep (but no zombie walking for this lady!).   I was fortunate to have my husband crewing which was extremely helpful with pre-filled bottles waiting at some aid stations and my own nutrition. Although I wasn’t as fast as my initial goal, several things played into that.  I made a couple of stupid mistakes.  The race ended up being 6 miles longer then reported.  And we did have an extreme storm roll through that I felt required additional sock changes and time to air out my feet after HOURS of running in mud and standing water. I had no swelling post race save for after the plane ride and was running within 2 days with no pain or muscle soreness in my lower or upper body. I had a some damage on my left foot from kicking rocks but who needs those toenails anyway?!

Video of the “glamorous” finish:

trim.DE0CE559-78AC-4ED3-8189-200FF60984D5

-What’s Next?-
Sinister 7 100 solo, Bigfoot 200, Teanaway Country 100, Spartan Ultra, World’s Toughest Mudder and possibly SISU are all on tap for 2018. Stay tuned for more write ups on training, races and general ultra crazy at The Phoenix Running or follow my adventures on IG at the_phoenix_running.

My husband Randy “Cougar Bait” Rogers with the crew cart. Photo credit for most of these photos are to him! Thanks so much for you help Cougar Bait!

Bigfoot 120 – How I conquered my first 100ish miler

68152700-dsc_5736
Greeted at the finish by my crew captain, Frank Bekker. 120 miles done right! Photo by Howie Stern.

 

The task and results:

This was my first attempt at a distance of over 64 miles. This was a PR of vertical exchange by over double. Despite some unforeseen events that caused me to slow some, I did finish 6th female and returned a top 10 all time female finish.  I finished at what my pacer estimated was a sub 9:00 minute/mile and was able to easily run 2 days after this event.

 

68152699-dsc_3295  14720468_10209117995600302_3390353461969117053_n 14517471_10209117994520275_4131400173544376453_n1

 

The course:

120 miles, nearly 60,000 ft of vertical exchange inside of 99.9% of Pacific Northwest single track. Exposed ridges comprise over 15 miles of the blast zone of Mount Saint Helens.  Aid stations are up to 20 miles apart on this course, including those in the exposed blast zones. Race starts at 4 pm Friday meaning all racers run through 2 nights.

The weather in 2016 (2015 was slightly WORSE): 

Downpours for 75% of the race. Winds at 40-60 mph on exposed ridges. Temperature between 60 F – 32F on the exposed ridges.

What worked:

-Drop bags at every allowable drop location. Drop bags in water tight bags. Separate clothing from nutrition/other.

 

14572903_10211011843671878_1815214149085328575_n
Waterproof drop bags. They need to be water proof!

-My crew captain had a box of supplies including shoes and warm clothes that started to appear around mile 55. My crew had specific instructions and I wrote checklist notes to myself in every drop bag past mile 40. This came in handy as the race progressed and my mind became cloudy.

-Wool. Wool underlayment next to my skin.

-Training to become a resilient running athlete.  I ran races within the 6 months prior to this event that were very vertical and technical.  I lifted and lifted frequently.  I systematically built a body that was able to take the continued impact forces and vertical with ease.

-Keeping gloves on for the entire race.  I used Smartwool liners and added Outdoor Research on to the top with “wind-proof” covers.  I switched into all wool knit gloves for the last 11.5 miles.

-Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles.  I used these climbing only.  I experienced less leg fatigue because I used trek poles.   I do have higher then average upper body strength due to my training as an elite obstacle course racing athlete (OCR).  I experienced zero upper body fatigue during Bigfoot and no post soreness in this area because of my training.   For proper pole technique, see Ras’ video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUoupdz8nLA

-Putting all layers back into the water proof dry bag in my Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0 pack.  I used a SeatoSummit Ultra-sil dry bag.

-Carrying more gear on me then was required, including a separate pair of Salomon wind stopper pants, two pairs of socks (one wool), body glide, a large medical kit, meds, an extra small wind breaker and a safety blanket. I utilized most of my gear during this race and had the security of knowing I had it all on me. Because I am very strong but not necessarily fast, I opted to start the race with nearly 13 lbs of gear and water on my person. This decision paid off for me.

– Carrying at least 1000 calories on me at all times.

-CW-X compression pants. I changed into these at mile 73 and the difference was amazing. I highly recommend finding some good compression pants and using those for the latter parts of a hundo.

-Body bottles vs water bladder. I used 4, 17 oz soft flasks, keeping 1-2 empty for the short sections of the race and filling 2 at all times.  The weight in my pack was easier to distribute properly using the body bottles.

-Buffs. Lots of buffs for my neck, face, head, snot..you name it. I left fresh buffs inside of my drop bags and with my crew.

-Lone Peak 2.5 shoes. The drainage in these shoes is awesome. These are still my favorite long trail shoe and I kept a pair especially for Bigfoot 120.

-Changing into the Olympus 3.0 at mile 73 to give my tired feet a boost. The drainage is good in these shoes and the higher cushion was welcome. The superior grip was welcome for the technical boulder fields to come.

-Pacers and crew! I felt I needed to have a pacer for the second night through the most difficult portion of the course, Johnson Ridge to Blue Lake.  My crew had a dedicated crew captain and two pacers. Although not all of my crew was experienced in ultra events, they are extremely responsible and well versed long distance athletes. I couldn’t have had a better crew or better pacers.

68152702-dsc_5227
One of my faithful pacers, Megan Morris jogging into Coldwater Aid Station.  Photo by Howie Stern.

-2 headlamps with many extra batteries. One high powered light for cutting through the extreme weather and seeing markers in the storm ½ mile away.

-Red Bull. Red Bull saved me. I had this drink on my person and was able to revive both myself and others with a little bit of caffeine during the cold dark nights.

-A cheap but good heavy duty rain jacket. A seam-sealed water proof jacket was mandatory gear but I opted for a heavier coat from Columbia Sportswear vs the expensive light weight options. I never regretted that decision!

-Changing my socks every 20-30 miles regardless of whether I thought I needed to or not. I did get a hot spot from newer shoes and I did get a couple of blisters eventually but given the extreme wet, vertical and distance traveled, my feet did very well. I credit changing my socks and using trust worthy, foot shaped shoes.

-Consuming large amounts of Clif oatmeal squeeze, banana and beet squeeze, chia squeeze, Honey Stinger chews and waffles, water and aid station food. I ate a total of 2 gels during Bigfoot 120 in the 45 hours it took me. I experienced zero GI distress.

-Using a gallon ziplock bag I filled with aid station food at every aid station. This running picnic was a great idea. I’d seen more experienced ultrarunners do this at hundos in the past. Knowing I wouldn’t be moving too fast, I decided to follow suit. I would wrap sandwiches, candy bars, chips, whatever in this bag and nibble on it for miles.

-I used zero salt tabs and zero electrolyte fluid. I drank to thirst.  Water and hot soup at the aid stations was a great thing. I also consumed a lot of hot coffee and a tiny bit of soda.  Most of my fluid was consumed at the aid stations and most of it was warm.

-Prudent use of NSAIDS toward the end of the race. I used a few doses of NSAIDS to ward of stiffness on the second half of the race.

-Treating Johnson Ridge to Blue Lake like a single, very exposed 50k and instructing my pacer that we would not be stopping long at Windy Pass. Windy Pass is no place to linger and we did get cold while there. Best to stop briefly, refuel if necessary, and then move on.

-Realistic, conservative pacing with the idea to keep the pace rather then negative split.

-Running through the nights with fellow racers or a pacer. This makes a big difference in mental attitude and safety . I may not have been as fast but I was going to finish.

-Running for joy and the adventure. Remember to look up. Remember this is what you came for. Remember to cherish each step.

 

Things I would do different:

-Push harder. Now that I know how much I had left at the end, I believe I can push much harder on the next 100+ mile race.

-Sizing up for my second pair of shoes. My feet did swell some by 90 miles and I believe larger shoes would have warded off the blisters/bruising that came.

-Heavier wool sweater from the beginning. I did get a bit cold after the 95 mile mark and regretted not putting on my 20 year old heavy duty wool sweater at 80 miles in.

-More wool buffs.

-Better rain pants. I used a pair of rain pants over my compression pants for the last 11.5 miles. These had no drawstring and were way too big.  I will admit these pants were a last minute grab. I ended up holding my pants up for over 4 hours and fell once on the end of the leg.  This was an epic fall doing a sub 10 min/mile on a rocky surface.  I didn’t get hurt (thank you cross training and over 10 lbs of extra muscle!).  Probably should have invested in better pants.

Summary:

I did it and I did it with a smile.  I feel like this race is one of the toughest out there but that anyone, with the right physical and mental prep PLUS the right gear can make it through this challenge.  Laces up to you all.  I know you can do it.

68152701-dsc_5726

14671214_10211023331679071_8530260911632758346_n

I Won’t Back Down: My First 100k at Gorge Waterfalls

“It’s f’d to shit!”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to keep going. I didn’t come this far to quit now. I won’t back down.”

IMG_0214
The first mile of Gorge 100k 2016.

Best laid plans are just that. Exactly 12 months prior to Gorge 100k, I was laying on the couch with a fractured femur. After DNSing Gorge 50k due to that injury (and in typical Phoenix fashion), I vowed I would return and run my first 100k race the very next year in the place I had spent most of my youth exploring. The Columbia River Gorge fills my childhood. Some of my fondest memories in life are inside the creeks, cliffs and moss of that place. I am a Pacific Northwest native and running in the Gorge is like breathing for me. It seemed like the perfect spot to do something amazing. I would be back!

Bones are a funny thing. They take a lot of time to heal and the bigger the bone, the longer that process is. The femur is pretty much the biggest bone in the human body. The docs told me 2 years of healing was required before I would feel close to right again and they were not kidding. I didn’t falter and started pool running within 2 weeks of breaking my leg. I had goals, after all! That was just the beginning of what is still an on going process of repair. I managed to run Silver Falls 50k in late fall of 2015 and then Orcas Island 50k, PRing my 50k and Orcas Island times at each race. A few weeks after Orcas, I developed some pain in my femur that just wouldn’t go away, no matter how much running rest I took, what I ate, or how much I slept. Between Orcas Island 50k and Gorge 100k, I ran just a handful of times. I told myself that the bone would be fine as long as I stayed low impact. There were a lot of hours spent on the incline trainer walking uphill and tons of crosstraining. Thankfully, I am a professional coach. Try not to panic, I told myself, you know what you are doing.

I decided to run Gorge Waterfalls despite my femur issues. I made the decision to take NSAIDs and hope I could make it through the race. It was a risk on multiple levels but I made that choice with full knowledge. I knew I could not be competitive and I realized I was going to have to be mature enough to DNF (did not finish) if anything became overly dangerous. I knew I would be running a very conservative race for safety and I was at peace with that decision.

Don’t back down.

The race started in the early am on Saturday. The weather was slated to be gorgeous, even slightly hot. All of the runners were anxious as we lined up. The first miles were miraculously pain free. I had been expecting worse and so was grateful for every painless step. I steeled myself for what was to come. I had been running when my femur cracked last year so I knew exactly what would happen in the worse case scenario. You are ok, I told myself. You’ve done everything correctly and your training is spot on. Your body is so strong. You’ve got this!

IMG_0157
We are off!

My game plan was to bank some time in the first 26 miles. I run faster downhill on technical courses then most racers and I was planning on doing that while I still could. I figured a 75% burn would be good during the first marathon distance on the downhill.

IMG_0191
The first steps of a 100k.

Having a plan is great but in an ultra, plans are often times thrown to the wind. At right around mile 6, I felt my shoe become very loose. I glanced down and saw my sock hanging out. My shoe had split open! I slowed down and limped into the next aid station. My drop bag with extra shoes was at 20 miles.  I had miles to go.  I tried tape but that fell off quickly.  Frustrated at my bum luck, I slowed down and tried to remain uninjured. As the miles wore on, huge blisters developed on my heel and underside of my right foot from all the sliding. My mile times were pathetic. How was I going to make this time back up?

Don’t back down.

IMG_0281
Feeling great coming into the 31 mile mark.

20 miles and new shoes gave me a boost. I tried to push it a bit to the 50k point.  With the shoe malfunction, I had concentrated on what I could control which was my fueling and hydration.  I had stayed on top of both and was in perfect condition. 40 miles and my legs were tired but I was still going strong. By 50 miles however, my femur was throwing a tantrum that even the NSAIDs couldn’t cover up. 55 miles, my hip started locking up. The last set of switch backs would normally not be any kind of trouble for me but I found myself alone in the woods, late at night with a headlamp screeching at every step. At one point I looked for a stick to use. I had been flirting with the cut off times for hours and managed to make it. There was no way the last few miles were going to take me out! Come on stupid leg, we’ve got places to go!

65158511-IMG_5289
Over 50 miles in, Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2016. It was a glorious day and a beautiful place to do something amazing.

The pace of the last miles was abysmal but I was moving. I some how ran. Sometime around mile 50, the condition called Runner’s Knee had developed on my bad side, added to what was already a quickly deteriorating situation.  I considered myself lucky though.  The vomit that covered the last 5 miles of the race told me others had not been so fortunate. We were all fighting our battles out there and had our reasons for doing so.

IMG_0337
It was a very late night finish at Gorge 100k 2016 for many of the racers, including myself.

Finishing my first 100k was a goal I set for myself one year ago. I doubled my all time distance in a single day and my time on feet. I also PR’d my single day vertical. More importantly, I confirmed the “why” in my running. I knew I was going to be very slow and I knew I may not make the cut offs, even before the race started. I took on the burden of pulling myself from the race if I medically needed to, which is, believe it or not, the hardest thing for someone like myself to do. I decided during the race I didn’t care how long it took me, that I would be finishing the distance and do so safely. I would be achieving my goal.

IMG_0341
Wincing at the flash of the camera after finishing. It was a long day and the pain of the flash was real!

I didn’t back down. I faced my fears and demons. My body and mind did not fail me. My femur is fine and I am certain I will recover fully from the miles.   I discovered that I truly do this for the process. The journey is the reward and oh my, is it worth it! Thank you again, Columbia River Gorge.   And to all my family and running friends, thank you for your support and inspiration.  It was a wonderful day!

 

-The Phoenix

Bigger: Why I Choose to Run for My Nonprofit Running Club, Silverdale RIOT

12669624_10208733045383345_351622919268119351_n-1

It’s important to find something bigger then yourself in life.

In a world full of social media selfies, it may come as a hard shock to learn that some of us do things for a larger cause. From the latest fashion statement in shoes, the most beautiful running photo, or the fastest course time on Strava, media is flooded with those who are stronger, faster, wealthier, luckier…perhaps just cuter.  In the endless stream of one-upmanship, it can be hard to breath.

Silverdale RIOT is a breath of fresh air.

I haven’t talked about my club much: this rag-tag, goofy, noble, and brilliant set of athletic friends and humans that make up a little nonprofit running club in Washington State called Silverdale RIOT, or simply RIOT.   RIOT stands for “running is our therapy”.  Silverdale RIOT is one of the reasons why I run.   I’m not sure I would still be plugging away at this crazy sport so diligently if it weren’t for these lovely people.

Silverdale RIOT is about support and inspiration inside of the context of running.  Our members come from every walk of life, representing every type of athlete. Some wouldn’t even call themselves athletes, although I would beg to differ.   Despite their differences, all of our members have a similar trait: caring for fellow runners. Had a bad day? Someone is there to listen and lift you up. Need a late night running partner? You can probably find one in RIOT. Need someone to travel to remote places for days on end and support your insane attempts at 100 milers? Silverdale RIOT members will volunteer without hesitation. They have your back. They pass no judgment on how fast or slow you are, how your arms flail out a bit when you run, or your bizarre eating habits. They love you for all of your uniqueness. RIOT members are always there and they are not just hoping you complete your race, they are there training with you. They are understanding if you faultier but they know you probably won’t.

IMG_3594

It is important to find things that are bigger then yourself in life. Why do I choose to wear my club shirt to every race I run in? I run not just for myself, I run for these awesome people. I know that I am carrying their strength with me at every footfall. For those that haven’t tried their first mile, I am running to show them they can do it. For those that are working up the courage to enter their first half marathon, I know my success and that of all our club members will drive them forward. My steps are their steps. We come from different places but running brings us the same trials. We all suffer; we all earn every step. I feel their triumph and I feel their pain, whether it is a race or a training run. We run for ourselves and we run for each other. We run because we love running. Silverdale RIOT has brought the “we” into a solo sport. With every photo of my teammates crossing that finish line, I feel such pride. They’ve done it again! They’ve proved to themselves that they could make it. They have made themselves epic. I am so proud of my friends. I choose to wear my club shirt in their honor. My only hope is that I will be able to do my fellow RIOT’ers justice.

12829034_10208944330985353_766429816163843227_o

The Phoenix, Silverdale RIOT team member

 

Finding My Wings

 

10644763_10204793582739241_8802956298601628442_o-2
Taking a break and enjoying the presence of Mt. Hood on a casual 28+ mile run with my husband.

Only crazy people run marathons. I mean, this is a fact, right? Who, in their sane mind, would submit themselves to so many hours of torture? Who would find joy in this? Those marathoners are crazy.

I have become crazy.

I’ll admit to it, I’ve always been a runner. I love speed. Give me a field, a time goal, and step back. But running long distances, like more then 5 miles? Uh, noooooo.   When I was 18, I was forced to log my mileage for college ball and so, begrudgingly, started bringing my mileage up. At the end of a long summer of training, the team members were given a 2.5 mile all-out test. I did manage to do an impressive 14:27 but never thought much of it. I was a sprinter. Long distances were torture and boring. My philosophy had always been, unless there was a ball involved, I’m was not running far.

Something happened to me that summer of training. I don’t know how or why but during my first year of college, I started running a lot. I would run morning, afternoon, at midnight sometimes. I would run whether I had soccer practice or a game, for 1-3 hours at a time. Snowing? It’s ok…there goes Becky. Pitch dark? No problem because the streets have lights! Water? Nah, I don’t need that. No watch, no training chart, no reason except I needed to run. I would run fast, slow and every pace in between. I ran how I wanted. I was free.

The years went by and life happened. Marriage, children, and work all blossomed, taking away much of the time I used for running. My shoes remained untouched for months on end. One day, after my youngest of four had turned two years old, I picked up my shoes again. I did a mile and thought I would die. A few days later, I ran/walked my way to 3 miles. I could do this. Within a month, I was going out for an hour or more. My husband asked me how far I was running and I couldn’t tell him. Who cares anyway? He did care and loaned me his watch for my next run. I ran 8 miles. Randy turned around and bought me my own watch immediately.  I’m not sure he realized what was about to happen.

That first day, with my own watch, I spontaneously ran 16 miles up the mountain and home again. I was sore but laying in my ice bath, I was happy as a clam. This mileage thing was FUN! Within a few weeks, I did another long run. I was aiming for 18 miles but when I got to that number, I decided I needed to understand the crazy people. I needed to do a marathon. I kept running. 20, 21, then 22 miles…I felt like I was trying to move through cement. I had entered the Bonk Zone. I started laughing like a lunatic. This is all that everyone is scared of? This wasn’t so bad! I’d experienced way worse in my life and in sports. F’ off bonk ‘cause I’m moving on through!

I negative split the last three miles of the 27. I’d done it. I’d joined the few that ever dared to run a marathon. There was no t-shirt or medal at the end of my marathon. No one would ever care but me. I had done this all for myself, embracing every moment of that run, owning up to the pain, adding on unexpected mileage, and transcending my previous self in the process. I was hooked. I could run further! Marathoning wasn’t any kind of elite club but something anyone could do.

We are the crazy people.

My next long run was up a mountain for over 28 miles on a date with my husband. As we both stood in the cold creek at the end of a long day, I knew I needed to go further.

11082458_10206737931306740_7528021862927500404_o-5
Sailing into a 2nd place female age group finish, fourth female overall, in my first official marathon. This marathon is listed as one of the very hardest races in the PNW.

This summer will be my first attempt at a 100 mile distance. I’ve run more marathons in training then I can count. I’ve moved from a solid field sprinting athlete to an endurance junkie. I’ve joined the group of super freaks called ultra marathoners, those of us who dare to run/walk/crawl our way past the traditional marathon distance into the unknown. For us, there is no stopping point. There is no end to what we can do.

I’ve found my wings.

-The Phoenix

 

10892001_10206337901306240_1921166163123693115_n
Orcas Island 50k in 2015. With over 8000 feet of vertical, this was a true test of will.

 

 

On Becoming Super Mom

 

12185394_10208012820298168_4733409747546869727_o

“Mommy, time to wake up! It’s time to get stronger!”

I roll over and check my resting heart rate. 37 BPM.   My beautiful, ornery, energetic, charismatic, dynamo of a 4-year-old daughter sees morning as the time to rejoice. Mom, we are going to get stronger. Mom, it’s time to become more. Mommy, I know you can do it…I know we can do it.

My four children are my greatest cheerleaders, my all time PR’s, and my entire heart. I get asked how I can stand to spend so many hours training, away from my favorite little people. I’ve been told I should feel guilty, abusive, that my efforts to better myself are fruitless, that I will never become more then just a Mom.

I disagree.

11412297_10207036904900893_4446178865293748630_n
Just like Mom…

12030548_10207876912740564_4820973158577478931_o

 

My children are happy, healthy, and see a life with obstacles but with very few true limits. My ultra running husband and I do spend countless hours running and training. We incorporate our children into as many aspects of our journey as possible. Travel, exercise, love of nature, persistence…ultra running is not just a sport; ultra running it is a way of life.   Growth is not always pretty. There are a lot of early wake-ups, late night workouts alone on the roads or in garage. I beat myself up pretty bad at times. My kids have seen me both wrecked and brilliant.   My children have seen me dedicate myself to becoming something bigger. They see me get up and work toward a goal every day. Better yet, they have started to expect and anticipate that work as joy. They have assumed the ultra mindset.   Becoming a super hero to my children doesn’t require that I be the best, it only requires that I teach them how to be their best.

“Mommy, time to wake up!” It’s time to get stronger!”

Yes little one, it is time. Let’s get to it!

 

12232937_10208175565806704_6599715799824227132_o
Quinn winning his age group and placing 6th overall in a 5K at age 8.

886889_10208469637718318_2115632477465081467_o-1
Quinn contemplates the race ahead. He went on to place 2nd overall.

-The Phoenix

Out Of The Ashes We Rise: The Fire of Injury

 

12091206_10207864857079180_2252661939651446557_o-1

I’ll admit it, I push the limits of what my body is capable of quite frequently.  The consequence of my actions:  I sometimes get injured.  I’ve, unknowingly, run an entire ultra with not one but two broken legs.  I’ve played soccer with a concussion, lost teeth to sport, and suffered innumerable muscle and tendon tears.  I’ve been bloodied and stood back up for more.  I was trained to always continue forward.  I understand what it is to accept pain and to move through it.  But what do I do when my body can’t move anymore?  When my norm is relentless forward physical progress and I suddenly must cease, how do I adjust to being, quite literally, broken?

Injury is not a limiter but a building block.  Injury is the time for an athlete to turn thoughts inwards and capitalize on the stillness.  Injury is a time for a specialist to expand total athleticism.  Through ever injury, I’ve followed the same steps:

-Mourning:  a brief pity-party, followed by “well, you knew better!”

-Acceptance: a practical evaluation of injury rehab time and adjustment of expectations.

-Action:  assessment of what is possible and formation of a training plan that capitalizes on the positive.

-Learning:  taking steps to avoid, if possible, the same mistakes again.

Using these methods, I’ve not only overcome every injury I’ve ever had (and there are quite a few with over 2 decades of competitive sporting history), I’ve emerged from the fire, reborn as something better then before.  By accepting injury as not a failure but as an opportunity, I have continued to grown as both an athlete and a human.

10849088_10206366466820360_2901300728596252677_o-2

-The Phoenix Running

 

 

Chasing Superman: Tim VanNorman Wins Bigfoot 100k

 

65173926-DSC_1365
Tim saves the cameraman during Bigfoot 100k, 2015.

 

“Do you ever get the sensation the RD is screwing with us?” I shouted.

“Every mile,” Superman responded. The howling wind made his answer barely audible. Fifty plus miles of running, climbing, nearly freezing to death, and basically slogging his way to the lead position of Bigfoot 100k had left Tim VanNorman exhausted, yet posed and somehow, still moving forward. We had entered the boulder fields that surround Mount St. Helens in the pitch dark. The reflective strip on Tim’s shorts danced in the ray of my headlamp, moving away rapidly.  I was chasing Superman. Even after 56 miles of joy and hell, Superman was flying.

The boulders were sharp, each massive stone thrown into the field at random angles, inviting a tired runner to fall in and threatening to shift onto our dangling appendages. The rain was coming down in a haze. It was hard to see more then a few feet in front of our shoes. At points, we were making full jumps of faith between boulders. During one such jump, a 60-mile per hour wind, (gusts that had been plaguing all the racers that day), caught my rain jacket and lifted my 138 lb body clean off the boulder field. Why the hell am I out here, I thought to myself. This is madness. I have four small children. Why am I willing to risk my life over this? And why, oh why, do I love this so much?

When I heard about Bigfoot 100k, I had to be involved. None of us knew what would await the racers, volunteers, and pacers that day. The weather started out mildly enough. Through the first aid stations, the racers of our club, Silverdale RIOT, were looking relaxed and happy. As the day grew longer, the temperature dropped on the overpasses bringing snow and hail. There were wind gusts so extreme, Superman said he was certain his skin had been peeled off at several points. An aid station blew away. Tim was forced to hide in a Port-A-John with a fellow racer to avoid freezing. Dropped runners returned to the starting line, leaving the race vehicles looking mangled and spent. As the hours went on, I became more and more nervous. The number of runners still in Bigfoot 100k was down to less than 50% of the starting lineup.

12038633_10207951134636065_996550641576091510_o12094903_1504116709887032_8240761132050291646_o

 

The Blue Lake aid station volunteers seemed entertained that I appeared in full gear, anticipating Superman’s appearance. “You really think he will be first out of the trail?” they asked me.

“He’ll be here soon and yes, he will be first.”

The hours went by. Finally, a headlamp came out of the woods, bouncing in a familiar way. It was Tim. “Who is in the lead?” Tim asked. All the aid station workers fell silent. “That would be you buddy,” I said with a smile. Tim looked dazed. He’d hardly eaten a thing. “I am in a lot of trouble,” he said, looking at me wearily.

You got this Superman.

The last miles are often the hardest. Tim was on the verge of collapse. Hypothermia was setting in. I had flashbacks to my experience as a 12 year old on a 120 mile journey in the wilderness of Canada. I’d been out in the wind, rain and elements for over 5 days. It had been relentless, harsh and fantastically beautiful. I went back 2 more times over the years. I love this stuff.

“Whoo hoo!” I yelled, panning my light up over the boulder fields. Reflective markers dotted the rising hillside. The whole landscape looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. “You know, no one will ever believe this!” I yelled at Tim. “You’re right!” he yelled back. Our mouths and faces were covered with our buffs. When he turned to speak to me, I could only make out his eyes. Despite all of the day’s trials and his sheer level of exhaustion, Superman was having the time of his life.

Some of us are just wired differently. I think that’s why we do this. When asked to come out and pace, I jumped at the chance to become a safety net for my friend. I managed to keep us from going the wrong way, caught Superman from falling off a ledge, and annoyed the crap out of Tim reminding him to eat. But mostly, I was given the honor to witness an amazing human go to the brink of death and run that line with humility, dignity, and extreme strength. When the glowing lights of the finish arch appeared after over 18 hours of racing, in true form, Tim turned and said, “Thanks for the walk in the woods.”

Any time Superman.

65173928-DSC_2049
Tim, seconds after winning Bigfoot 100k 2015.

12144798_10207951137876146_202431317886864707_n