Sunday, December 02, 2012

Highs and Lows

Thanksgiving sunset from Tunnel Creek Road - a lot to be thankful for this year!

My husband Andrew has a question he poses to everyone on their birthday. He asks it of dear friends at birthday parties, as well as the woman in front of him in the lift line if he happens to learn it’s her birthday. He wants to know, “What was the high and low of your year?” I find it to be a dauntingly personal question, but he always gives people the out of “just thinking about it.” Surprisingly, they usually give an answer, even if it takes a bit of time, often trusting us with intimate details of their lives.

It’s the “thinking about it” that turns out to be the important part, in my opinion. I’m big on reflection, and often I don’t think we examine our lives enough so that we can learn and grow. Also, it’s fun to relive the good moments!

For myself, I am horrible at answering this question. I can never narrow it down, and I certainly don’t want to reveal anything painful in front of a bunch of strangers. As far as I can tell, I’m in the minority on that one.

My low is something that has stretched on for the entire second half of the year: my digestive woes. I thought things had healed up after Hardrock since I felt great all through August and the beginning of September. It all came back with a vengeance this fall though, and to sum it up: it sucks. Being in pain is totally crappy, and it keeps me from running which makes my mental health even worse. You know who deserves the most sympathy in all of this though? My students. I am not a fun person to be around when I am in pain, and my temper is short. Sorry, kids!

I even spent a month on the Whole30 program, which Olga tipped me off to, in an attempt to heal. (As a side note, if you’re looking for inspiration for your next crazy goal, Olga’s blog is a pretty good place to hang out. She’s always got something going on!) The Whole 30 is basically a 30-day super strict paleo diet. I ate only veggies, fruit, meat, and eggs. No grains, legumes, dairy, or anything processed or with added sugar, preservatives, etc. No alcohol, and although coffee is permitted, I thought it best to skip that as well since it could be an irritant to my digestive tract. In other words, it was total deprivation.

This isn’t the kind of thing I would have ever considered if I wasn’t trying to solve a health issue. Whole30 does not choose foods "because that's the way our ancestors did it," (which, frankly, I don't find to be a convincing argument for anything) but rather, based on their nutritional value. I did a lot of reading about it and learned why consuming a lot of foods that we normally consider to be healthy could possibly be causing me problems. I can’t help but believe that my intestinal pain can be healed by simply choosing the right things to put into my body. If only I can figure out what those things are!

It was actually a great experience, even though it didn’t turn out to be magical solution for which I’d been searching. (I had a flare-up of pain in the middle of the month.) I slept so much better, my energy levels were more stable, and I didn’t get hungry all the time. The hardest part came during the first week with all the meal planning, researching what I could make for myself, grocery shopping, and cooking. Eating healthy takes a lot of time! I became dependent on my slow cooker, and made more frequent trips to the grocery store. Of course, grocery shopping became a quicker affair as I didn’t need to bother visiting about ¾ of the store – just the produce and meat departments for me! I cooked fabulous dinners, and Andrew, who was initially bummed about this endeavor, became a huge fan of the paleo meals.

Even though I went off the program after my 30 days were up, I learned a lot and it has definitely changed my eating habits for the better. I am still eating “Whole30 style” for breakfast, lunch and snacks. I’m mixing paleo –friendly dinners with occasional other meals and I feel good about it. My biggest indulgence since going off Whole30 has been a lot of sweet treats. It’s a tough time of year to avoid that. But for me, that's true all the time. I love sugar!

Although weight loss was definitely not a goal for me on Whole30 (I was still hovering around racing weight when I started the program and didn’t have any weight to lose.), I somehow lost 3 pounds and ended the month with 16% body fat. I found this to be pretty surprising since I was doing only moderate exercise that month, consumed a ton of yummy food, and was never hungry. If weight loss is your goal, I’d say this is a pretty healthy way to do it.

I’m thinking of going back on Whole30 in January, with the exception of allowing sugar for fueling and recovery of long runs. My one long run on the program (4 hours) was an interesting experiment in fueling without Gu or any of those other things. I ate mixed nuts, avocado, and those squeezable mashed fruit pouches they make for kids. I refueled afterwards with butternut squash (yum!) and a little Udo’s Oil/turmeric cocktail (yuck!). It felt pretty good, but it was a very mellow pace, and I could tell I couldn’t have gone any harder without bonking.

Anyway, as far as the gastritis-gall-bladder-who-knows-what-the-problem-is thing, I did return to the doctor. He was fairly unhelpful, except to refer me to a specialist which will take me 3 months to get in to see. I’m finding the whole experience to be a bit frustrating. It’s no wonder people just walk into the emergency room for medical care. Alas. I’ll let you know if I figure anything out.

And now that I’ve told you all about my tummy troubles, I’ll share half of the truth: That’s not my real low. But it’s low enough, and it’s all intertwined, really. Life is complicated, you know? It’s funny how your physical health can be a reflection of your mental health, and vice versa. I’m well aware that without difficult experiences in life we’d be unlikely to grow as individuals. Still, sometimes I’d rather skip the really hard experiences and just remain static and shallow.

Enough! On to the high(s)!

I have to include Hardrock as one of my highs. Honestly, I can’t remember anything about this year prior those two days in July. Did anything else even happen? Because even if it did, it was all consumed by my obsession with Hardrock. Racing-wise, I was happy with my performances at Napa and Sonoma (It was a wine-country year for me!), but those events weren’t soul-digging like Hardrock. That one will stay with me for a long time. I think it’s the only race in my entire running career where I was immensely proud to simply have finished. It was a race where one of my faults (my ability to be single-mindedly stubborn) turned out to be my greatest asset. Anyway, I’ve already spent enough words on this race. Suffice it to say, it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

HRH, somewhere in the last 25 miles.

My other big high is Andrew graduating (near the top of his class, no less) from the Fire Academy. It was an epic summer for him. I wish I could tell you the stories, but they are not mine to tell. The best part: Two weeks before graduation he’d already landed a part-time job at Northstar Fire, just fifteen minutes from home. His second day on the job he came home all stoked about his first 911 call. It makes me so happy.

Graduation night, downtown Sacramento.

Looking back is always something that helps me look forward. For 2013, I’m thinking about shifting my racing to a little later in the year so I can spend my winter skiing instead of worried about getting in my long runs. I don’t have any 100-milers on the schedule. If I decide to enter one, it probably won’t be until the fall. I’m just not prepared to think about that kind of training any time soon. I’ve got a few 50Ks and at least one 50-miler on the plan, and that feels like enough for now. I love this time of year because all the time away from racing has me excited to get back to it again!

Even if it’s not your birthday, it is nearing the end of 2012. I’d love to hear about some of your highs and lows, so please share in the comments!


  1. Gretchen, dearest! Thanks for the boost, sweetheart, and I wish Whole30 was a final solution for either one of us - although it did work for both, but keeping it up every day is hard with a family. I planned to come back in December, but thought better of it with season and family visits. Like you, I keep it 80%, and sometimes the 20% fly, and half the time I curl in...and I did visited doctors a couple of years ago, but gave up. Just as I gave up seeing them with my semi-always bleeding (while I am menopausal for many years by now). Funny, but as an educated doctor from a different country, I have to say - many (not all, I've seen good doctors) medical professional here can't think and rely on gadgets (kind of like population relies on GPS and Smart phone for directions and not able to read signs and maps?)
    But I digress. Hardrock is certainly special, and although people there are changing (along with ultrarunning population), I would love to go back, one last time, and have that as my final foray for 100's.
    And a special congratulations to Andrew, Mr. Best Husband for Gretchen, who, of course, is a top of his class, and a class guy who loves his job. Why be surprised?
    Seasons greetings, girl.

    1. Whole30 was a great experience though, and it is definitely still helping my eating. Too bad I am not disciplined enough to continue avoiding sugar. And I think maybe my condition is just one that takes a specialist. I don't know. That's why i never go to the doctor. :) And don't get me started on people relying on their GPS and phones for navigation! Drives me nuts!

      I'm sure Hardrock has changed, but since this was only my 2nd year there, it still seems pretty oldschool to me. I like that part. And I am not fooled at all - you will not have your final foray into 100s any time soon. You may not believe that, but I know it!

      Hope you are doing well, Olga! And thanks again for the inspiration for Whole30!

  2. Oh, Gretchen, I'm sorry to read that your tummy troubles have not passed. I really hope that your specialist appointment reveals something about it. But other than that, you had a fantastic year! Hardrock was such a cool experience, and I'm soooooo glad we got to be a part of it! FYI, we'd do it again in a heartbeat :-) And major congratulations to Andrew!! That's a great picture of you two :)

    Highs and lows here? The high: Our No Reservations summer, of course! Best summer of my life. The low: . . . I can't think of one, other than petty superficial stuff (like the nerve entrapment I got post-Bear 100 excellence, which is pretty much gone now; or not getting into my program for 2012 (but even that was a blessing in disguise because that's what finally pushed us to move to SLC!)). I guess it was a darn good year, and I look forward to a darn good 2013, too! Here's to a GREAT year!!

    Holy eff, I can't believe it's December already...

    1. SO glad you guys were there for Hardrock, Paige! I could not have asked for better support. You guys really were a big part of what made the experience so successful. Not to mention fun! I hope Geof gets in, and maybe I will be able to return the favor. :)

      You guys definitely had the summer of dreams. Very, very cool. And I love that one of your lows turned out to be a high since it got you to SLC. Yay! I have been loving your skiing posts on fb, too, by the way. Keep getting after it, you two!

  3. I think my high was finishing my first trail half marathon about 30 minutes faster than I thought I could do it. My husband was in a bike accident the day before, and was unable to run it with me like we'd planned. It was the longest run I'd ever done by myself, and one of the hardest, but I was so proud of my performance.

    My low was probably finding out that my father's recurrence of thyroid cancer was terminal, and that he was being put into hospice. He's still hanging on, but probably not for much longer. That's made it a really interesting year for running, since I've spent so many weekends down in San Diego with my family, but it's also made me more determined to run longer races (hopefully the Ray Miller 50k as my first ultra...if I can swing the sign-up fee!)

    1. Nice job on the half! And 30 minutes faster than expected? That's huge!

      Very sorry about your dad. That is so hard, but it does tend to make us think about getting the most out of our days, doesn't it? I hear great things about Ray Miller. I think one of these days I will get down there for that one. Good luck, and I hope you decide to do it!

  4. Gretchen, this is a great post, and I really appreciate your reflections. I'm so sorry to hear you're still in pain (and you don't need to lose weight below your race weight, that's for sure!). Have you ruled out an ulcer? Parasite? I followed Geoff Roes's woes earlier this year as he tried to figure out his medical mystery, and it turned out to be a parasite.
    As for my highs, on the running front: going to Geoff's Alaska running camp and then the Grand to Grand Ultra. Low on the running/health front: lower back problems, and last Saturday's yucky North Face Endurance Challenge 50M -- which really wasn't THAT bad, so if those are my lows, you can tell it's been a pretty great year. On the personal front: both my kids are healthy & happy, they transitioned well to 6th and 9th grade, and my husband's startup rebounded after a dry spell. Can't complain!

    1. Sarah - I didn't hear about Geoff's issues. Did he talk about it on the blog? Maybe I'll have to go back and read it. I don't think it's a parasite just because I don't know where I would have gotten it from, but who knows. Maybe an infection, maybe gastritis, maybe gall bladder, that's all I've gotten. (Sigh.)

      you had some HUGE highs, Sarah! I am especially impressed with G2G. That looked amazing. And definitely the health challenges are going to be a big low. Being unhealthy just affects everything, doesn't it. It's so frustrating. I hope your back issues are behind you (ha ha!) and I can't wait to hear about TNF!

    2. Hi Gretchen, I wrote a race report on TNF if you *really* want to read it (it's not pretty!)
      and the G2G article just came out,
      Geoff blogged a little bit about his health issues but mainly he and his girlfriend posted to the Facebook group for his Alaska camp about it. He drinks from the streams up there, so my guess is he picked up a parasite that way. I hope you can get the tests you need for a proper diagnosis.
      After TNF I pulled my name out of the Miwok lottery since I had an epiphany on TNF course that I want to run new-to-me courses in 2013. Hope I get into Sonoma and I'm also looking at San Juan Solstice 50M, the "mini-Hardrock." Would love to do a race or special run w/ you in the coming year.

  5. I'm going to be one of those people who has to think about it before answering. Congratulations to Andrew on his achievement and best wishes chasing the digestive dragon.

    1. Thanks, Anne! Do think about it, okay? Feel free to come back and share if you want, or not. :)

  6. Gretchen, this is going to take an entire blog post to respond to. Thanks for the inspiration, as I have been a largely silent blogger this year.

    Your Hardrock finish was one of the highlights of MY year. I was so, so happy for you. And your write-up about it was gorgeous. I wish I could have been there....

    I'm sorry about and can sympathize with your continuing stomach troubles. In my experience, diet change really does help, but it may take longer than a month to kick in. When I went GF a couple of years ago, it took 2-3 months to really start feeling better. And I still have flare ups, still don't know what exactly is going on. I have found the naturopathic community much more helpful than the traditional docs. I have been flirting with paleo, so I'm eager to check out the Whole30 program (thanks Olga!).

    And for your other low, only hinted at here, I wish you balance and strength. Be well, my friend.

    1. Pam - I did read on the Whole30 site that for some people (many, probably) healing from whatever their issue takes more than 30 days. I would definitely believe it. I'm hoping eating "smart" (depends on your definition, right?) for now will help, and going back on W30 after the holidays will get me there. I did buy a number of cookbooks while on the program and I am still loving exploring them and finding new foods and recipes.

      I love that my Hardrock was one of your highlights. :) I do want to go back, but as a runner? I think it will be a few years. I was fairly stressed about that race, and stress is something I don't need more of at the moment. I hope to be back in a support role as much as possible though!

      I do hope you write a blog post about going gluten free and such. It's both supportive and informative to hear about others' experiences.