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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happy Birthday Run (MRT)

For my birthday this year, I had an amazing opportunity to run the McKenzie River Trail (MRT) with my friends Jeff McKay and Don Wheeler (both from Joe’s Team).  Sure, there was another, totally different race happening in town that day but we opted to get away from the hustle and up onto God’s trail.  If you haven’t been up to the McKenzie River Trail, do yourself a favor and go! It was the perfect birthday treat for my special day and I know it’s a delight on any other occasion as well.  Here’s the breakdown of our 14 miles:

We met at Takoda’s, a lovely little restaurant near Belnap Hot Springs.  Then, with the help of Pam and Tonya (Don and Jeff’s partners, respectively), we discussed our water stop and rendezvous.  Pam and Tonya would be along to offer support, and boy was it welcomed and needed!

After that, we drove up to our starting point at Trail Bridge Reservoir.  Here you can pick up the MRT about halfway down its 26ish mile descent through the lower, western Cascades.  The habitat is primarily fir, cedar and some pine, though hemlock , aspen and other leafy favorites are abundant. Under the canopy, lush ferns and broad-leafed elderberries lined our path. 

Our first stretch took us about 4 miles through the forest and along the river.  Our first stop was at Deer Creek, camping and hot springs abound!  It was good to take in a rest and hydrate before we were back on our way.

Along the entire route were many roots and tripping hazards; proof of this came for me at about mile 7 when I just barely tapped a jutting root with the tip of my shoes and spilled out horizontally landing on my elbow and knee.  Not to be alarmed though as I was just fine, aside from a nasty scrape that was more a badge of honor than an injury.  Jeff and I talked about not taking the trail for granted, and I thought that sounded pretty smart.  He said that when you relax and take your eyes off the immediate ground in front of you, that's when falls occur.  He would know too; a veteran to the McKenzie River Trail Run (MRTR) 50 K held on this very trail each year in the very late summer (usually early September). 

A link to the run can be found here: http://www.mrtr.org/  Also, if you want to see a map of the entire course, click here: http://www.mrtr.org/files/map.pdf  We ran the lower 14 miles, so just a little less than half of the MRTR...but I digress!  Where did I leave off?  Oh yes...

Just after the fall, we had our second support stop with Tonya and Pam at Buck Bridge.  Luckily, Tonya had a first aid kit so she patched me up and sent us on our way again.  Along this part of the trail, we crossed tributaries and climbed ascents, moving slower and with more caution than we had before.  Also, Don had a few falls along the way and I was afraid I would trip again too so I was grateful for the slower pace.  This part of the trail is familiar to me on a bike so it's a much different experience on foot. We passed the Belnap entrance road and I started thinking that we were almost done.  Then I remembered that we still had to pass Paradise and we still had another small climb coming.  I think this took a little wind out of my sails, but I still pushed on.

As we passed the ranger station connection, Jeff told us this was where the MRTR finished up, but we were still planning on putting in another mile up to the mountain bike staging and shuttle parking.  I knew that my husband and kids would be there waiting and I knew that Pam and Tonya would be there with water and cheering.  As I thought about this, this amazing trek through the woods--pushing myself in a way that I wouldn't have dreamed when I was celebrating my birthday last year or the year before that-- I was overcome with gratitude.

Someone should have told me when I was in my 20s how much I would love this experience.  But you know, I don't think that 20 year old Rhonda would have been able to hear it, let alone believe it! No, I think the stage had to be set for this moment, this birthday of 43 years, and this glorious run. 

I finished just a little behind Jeff and Don but I finished feeling good.  I finished feeling like I could do it again, which made me wonder when I would.  Would it be next week or next month?  Maybe I would come back next year for the MRTR in September 2015.  But whenever it would come, I would welcome the challenge with my whole being.

Thanks Jeff and Don for a great run!  Thanks Tonya and Pam for helping us at our stops giving us the assurance and confidence that we could do it and that you would be there when we needed you.  Thanks Dave and my girls for coming to the finish and cheering me in.

What a great birthday! I cant imagine a better one.  Happy birthday to me!

Don Wheeler on the left, me in the middle and Jeff McKay on the right

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fuel the Fire!!

As I ramp up in miles, so too does my need for proper hydration and nutrition increase.  This is especially the case during my long runs.  But what is the best way to stay hydrated and fueled?  These things seem to vary widely based on the individual. Here’s what works and what doesn’t work so well for me:

I think have the hydration issue mostly settled with minor tweaks based on distance and temperature. Throughout the week of a long run (bi-weekly for my training) I increase my fluids and add a regular regiment with coconut water.  I realize some might not enjoy coconut water, but I have found one that is low in sugar, high in potassium and has a great flavor (thanks to the pineapple). It has no cholesterol, no fat (check your brand) and is low in sugar (again, check your brand).  This coupled with constant water intake, especially the day before, plus a little extra salt with dinner the night before, can really make the difference in how I am feeling in the hydration department.  And although, no amount of hydration can curb my wilting decline when the temps exceed the low 70s, it gives me a bit of a buffer even on warmer days.  Besides, it is better to have extra hydration and not need it, then to need it and not have it.

Fuel has been a trickier issue for me.  The night before, I try to “carbo load” by pour on the pasta.  I learned from a friend the benefit of plain pasta as opposed to saucy pasta, still bland is as bland does.  What I have found to be a nice treat and also pack in the carbs is a balance of gluten free pasta coupled with fresh veggies or a salad.  I think the more complex ingredients in the gluten free pasta sustain me longer than burning out on simple white flour sugars.  During a run, I rely on a number of different fuel sources. I have found that I really like ShotBloks by Clif Bar for their amazing amount of sodium (in the marguerite flavor only).  Also, if it’s hunger that I am trying to satisfy, I goggle a LaraBar, or at least part of one, near a water stop or on a walking break (hey, there’s no shame in a nice walking break!)  As far as Gu goes, I have yet to find one that I love.  But something that I do love lately is called Runa.  This is a high energy beverage that is packed with naturally-occurring caffeine.  As a bonus, the company aims improve livelihoods for indigenous farmers in the Amazon.  I have never once felt a crash from this beverage like I have the few times I’ve tried Red Bull (honestly, I can count these occasions on one hand). Besides the eco- and fuel benefits of Runa, I also really like the taste.  It’s like a sharp iced tea without bitterness. 

You may find some of these methods and products to your liking or you might think I am completely off-base.  Remember, everyone is different.  What I would suggest is that you experiment on training runs and zero in on what works for you. 

Whatever your choices are, remember to fuel both your body and your spirit.  Always keep a happy mantra in your thoughts on the road or trail.

Happy flying, little bees!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eat Up (Gluten Free Mack'en Cheese)

After my 15 mile training run today my coach asked me if I maintained a special diet for my health around the MS.  I told him that I avoid preservatives and processed food, I avoid artificial sugars, and that I do not eat fast food no matter what.  I have found that making my own food is healthy and easy.  But then I got to thinking as I drove home, what if there are people out there in the wonderful world of the web who might benefit from some of my tips on preparing food and watching what I eat?  What if they would like to see some of my meals and snacks up close?  So, over the next few months I am going to post a few of my most favorite recipes.  I think these can help any runner, not just those with MS.  Bon Apetit!

Starting with my favorite carb loaders, I bring you:

Gluten Free Mack'en Cheese!
•7 tablespoons unsalted butter
•4 tablespoons amaranth flour
•2 cups milk
•1 teaspoon salt
•fresh ground pepper to taste
•1 teaspoon GF onion powder
•1/2 teaspoon GF garlic powder (not garlic salt)
•12 ounces freshly grated cheddar cheese (about 3 cups)
•8 ounces freshly grated gruyere OR Swiss cheese (about 2 cup)
•4 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
•small container of fat free ricotta
•16 ounces, al dente cooked gluten-free macaroni (we like the quinoa and brown rice at Trader Joes)
A note on cooking GF pasta if you are planning on baking it with a sauce (as in this recipe or with a rigatoni): leave it slightly undercooked.  It will be more absorbent and take in the flavors of the sauce.  Plus, it is less likely to turn to mush for leftovers.
Preheat oven to 350° 
Melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a 3-quart baking dish. Set aside.
Put the baking dish with butter in the preheated oven and leave just until butter melts. Remove and coat bottom and sides of the dish with butter using a pastry brush. 
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour until loose paste forms. 
Slowly whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium and whisk until mixture thickens (might bubble but do not boil). 
Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder
Add all cheese slowly, 1 cup at a time, but do NOT add the ricotta
Stir until cheeses melt and mixture is smooth and creamy 
Scoop small spoonfuls of the ricotta into the buttered baking dish
Pat dry cooked pasta
Pour half of the pasta in the buttered baking dish and cover with about 1/2 of the cheese sauce. Distribute remaining pasta on top and evenly cover with remaining cheese sauce
Lightly salt and pepper and bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden and bubbling
Cool for at least 5 minutes before serving
This same dish can be prepared with regular pasta as well.  If you are using it for a carb loader, I recommend a whole wheat variety for a more complex carb.