Runner's Footprints

Runner's Footprints

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How to Fuel for Endurance Events


There is a great deal of information and advice available regarding healthy eating and sport nutrition science. One important question to always ask yourself first is: what is your goal? If your goal is to improve your health, maintain weight, lose weight, build muscle, and/or fuel properly for optimal performance, each have their own mechanisms and tips on how to properly fuel for each. There is a lot of overlap in the goals above; therefore, it is important to first identify what your goal is in order to understand how to pick out and experiment with what advice will work best for you. I am a passionate advocate of healthy eating, so regardless of what my goals or goals of my athletes are, I aim to focus on revolving fueling strategies around healthy choices first as much as possible.

If you are looking for my tips on “How to Lose Weight as an Endurance Athlete” you can visit: here. Below are tips on how to fuel with healthy choices for your endurance training or races for optimal performance. Experiment with what works for you. What works for one athlete may not necessarily always work for another athlete. Also, what your individual needs may also change as you become a more efficient endurance athlete and/or vary your intensity in training and races.


For Training LESS than 1HR:
Normally, you do not need to emphasize or worry too much about consuming a surplus of calories before/during training or at an event that is less than one hour. Truth is, our bodies have a large fat reserve and glycogen storage so regardless of intensity or your personal body composition, you have a storage of calories for your body to use. You can opt to fuel with a small snack or energy boost at least 30 minutes prior to the onset of training or event. After your training, whether it is high intensity or not, you will want to consume something with high quality protein either in food form such as: lean chicken, lean grilled fish, salmon, etc. or a lean protein drink. What type of protein drink or shake you choose will depend on your goals. If you are looking to simply refuel: pure protein drinks usually are around 200 Calories per serving are a great option. If you are looking to refuel with a meal replacement: a protein shake with a mixture of carbohydrates is a great option, but keep in mind these shakes can vary between 400-600 Calories so it is meant to be a meal replacement. 


For Training MORE than 1HR:
Here is where you will want to focus on calorie quantity and quality depending how long and intense you are training or racing. For any long training session and/or endurance event such as a half marathon, marathon, Ironman, try to consume complex healthy carbohydrates mixed with lean protein and/or healthy fats before, during, and after.  Simple carbohydrates are usually the best choice during the activity, as it will get absorbed into the bloodstream faster. Some examples that have worked for my longer training sessions or races of 2hrs or more are listed below. These are my go-to snacks that are healthy, lean, contain quality nutrients, and won't upset my stomach. The longer the training or endurance event, the more important it is to find a fueling strategy and frequency that works with your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Sometimes, you will find some athletes report after an Ironman or ultra event that they were sidelined, slowed, or DNF’d due to GI tract issues. Most of the time, this is due to lack of training the stomach to withstand a proper fueling strategy while racing for 6hrs, 12hrs, 24hrs or longer. Physiologically, our GI tract can be trained properly, but it needs practice. If we do not do long training sessions AND train the GI tract to consume a large amount of calories, it will shut down on race day due to the race effort and cause you GI issues. My strongest Ironman times have risen from a combination of proper training, race execution, and the final touch is a proper fueling strategy that you have practiced and honed in on during your long training sessions. Always make sure to practice different fueling strategies in training first before utilizing it in a race. Key point to remember: 

Your individual needs may change as you become more efficient and/or vary your intensity in training and races. You will notice some athletes will need less than others because they are either pushing at a higher intensity or have already trained to require less. What works for one may not necessarily always work for another. Experiment with what works for you and implement that strategy for you on race day.



BEFORE: 200-500 Cal ~1-2hrs before start
* greek yogurt with granola or almonds/walnuts
* whole wheat bread toasted with almond butter and sliced banana
* whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, sliced banana, drizzled with honey
* lean chicken breast with pico de gallo (normally this is for my afternoon or evening sessions)
* whole wheat bread toasted with avocado, tomato, and tapatio (adds sodium)
* small bowl of fruit with cottage cheese
* light smoothie with frozen banana, almond milk, flax powder, chia seeds, and any 2-3 fruits I have in my fridge at the time
* Mas Korima Korimalitas snack bites made of Pinole (100 Cal/packet)
* Vital4U energy shot (40 Cal/packet with 150mg caffeine)


DURING: 100-500 Cal/hr
* gels (I am not a huge fan of gels, however I may opt for 1/road marathon)
* any high calorie powder mix in my water bottles (for my long bike rides or mountain runs)
* Andale Pinole mix by Mas Korima (100 Cal/scoop)
* nutty bars 
* salty trail mix
* PB & J sandwhich 
* Justin's individual packets of almond butter
* chips
* crackers with cheese
* turkey slices with avocado and tapatio
* footlong subway wrap (lunch on my mountain days)
* note: all most of these options are meant really when training is 3hrs or more and I use them on my mountain outings where I carry more in my hydration or Orangemud adventure pack. 


AFTER: 100-300 Cal within 30min of finishing
* protein drink (Quest cookies & cream)
* protein bars (Quest Hero, Quest Cereal Bars, Quest Protein Bars are my three favorites)
* lean grilled chicken with wild rice and steamed veggies
* lean grilled fish with kale and couscous  
* blackened salmon with quinoa
* grilled shrimp or scallops with baked sweat potato 
* tuna ceviche made with lime juice and pico de gallo with air popped popcorn

* note: it is very important to consume protein within 30 minutes of finishing your activity because that is when your cells will absorb it the fastest as the enzymes/mitochondria are their most active. That is why having a packet of pure protein powder helps to just get the protein in when you're done training/racing. Then within 1-2hrs or when your appetite returns, you can have a healthy recovery meal. It is VERY important to reward ourselves with healthy food meal options. Every healthy meal will help cleanse our system and most importantly set it up to be stronger for the next training session. Recovery happens faster by choosing what we eat. You trained and raced hard, so now you deserve a healthy, wholesome meal. Your body will thank you for it. 






For great information on The Best Home Gyms check out this article from BarBend.comhttps://barbend.com/best-home-gyms/




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ruco Pichincha Summit 15,413'

The Andes Mountains are filled with volcanoes and peaks for the elevation seeking soul. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, sits nestled inside the Andes at 9,000' with several volcanoes relatively nearby to choose to ascend. A few to play with are:

Ruco Pichincha 
Guagua Pichincha
Sangay
Reventador
Los Illinizas
Antisana
Corazon
Cayambe
Chimborazo
Cotopaxi

My first visit to Quito was at the age of nine when my mom was finally granted US Residency; she happily then brought us to Ecuador to visit our extended family for the first time. It was then as a child that I fell in love with the mountains. My mom is from very humble beginnings in the countryside Loja where we would need to trek at least one mile for running water to them camel buckets back home. I ran around the Andes hills unknowingly that the love was deeply planted then. 

I usually visit Ecuador once every three years on average to 'play' in the mountains and visit family. This time, I came to celebrate some pre-birthday activities with my father. I had my eye on Ruco Pichincha to start as eventually my dream is summit to 19,000 and beyond. I did my research and was a little nervous about summiting my first foreign major summit. But we all need to start somewhere. 

Getting to Ruco:
From Quito, the best method to reach Ruco is take an inexpensive taxi ride (about $2-4 USD) to the base of el TeleferiQo, the highest tram ride in the world. Opening in 2005, it travels about 20 minutes taking you from the base in Cruz Loma at 10,000' altitude to 12,900' altitude, the top of el TeleferiQo. It runs 9am-7pm daily at $4.50 per Ecuadorian resident or $8.50 for foreigners. Make sure to bring your passport or any government ID. I used my CA Driver's License. 

Weather: 
Year-round Quito holds relatively the same weather pattern at the equator: 50s Fahrenheit during the day / 40s Fahrenheit at night with varying wind patterns and thunderstorms. It's mountain weather at 9000'. So time your summit attempt when Quito has really great weather. The sunrises at approximately 6am and sets at 6pm year-round. We were very lucky Quito had a 'warm' day in the 60s and clear sunshine. Thunderstorms or heavy cloud cover usually roll in at higher elevations in the late afternoon so you don't want to be at the summit 2-3pm or later. The later it is, the more risk you take as you descend the rocky scrambling terrain. Recently at the time of this writing, a couple separate groups of locals and foreigners got lost near the summit being found the next days hypothermic. Never take summiting higher elevation lightly. Mountain weather dictates your summit and safety. 

Our summit:
We started relatively late at 11:30am so I calculated a hard turn around point at 3pm: we turn around no matter what wherever we are. I was determined for the peak, but also nervous my dad wouldn't make it due to a stomach virus he was fighting for a week prior. So I packed his nutrition and hydration filled with high density calories and coca tea. I also made him pack in layers. With unpredictable mountain weather you always want to have a base tech layer, 1-2 insulating layers, and a wind proof/waterproof outer layer. My dad tends to run cold so I made him pack extra. We were fortunate to have good weather in the high 40s and mild 15-20mph gusts. That was challenging for my dad, but something I was accustomed to fortunately. 

We began our trek at the top of el TeleferiQo at 12,800' elevation. Thin beautiful marshmallow cloud filled sky. Taking it one step at a time, my dad and I aimed for the summit. He set the pace and I watched him cautiously making sure he was drinking and eating. The best way to handle altitude is do what you can to avoid the early signs of altitude sickness: headaches, dizziness, nausea, light headedness. Keep hydrating before your thirsty. Keep snacking as caloric expenditure is higher at higher elevations. Surprisingly, my dad was on a mission. He held a brisk pace and I followed trotting behind carrying extra food and layers just in case anything was needed for us. 

As we neared the peak, I gazed around and tears began to gather in my eyes. Grateful. Happy. To be right where I was. Climbing in such a beautiful landscape and bringing my dad along to get a taste of what I love so much about the mountain tops. I cried because it had taken so long for me to become grateful to be where I am currently. Three years ago, my life drastically changed leaving me very lost. I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't want to live anymore. I didn't understand how one's heart can hurt so much with such a deep pain inside. Losing something that defines us, something that becomes a part of us, feels like darkness. During times of severe hardship or drastic loss, some resort to self-destructive behavior: drugs, abuse, or worse suicide. Because we are confused with pain. Pain that seems will never go away. What did I do? Resort to the mountains. I couldn't understand what had I done so wrong to feel so much pain. I couldn't understand why everything seemed to be at the height of my life then lose the most meaningful things in my life. But now I know. To learn. To learn to value what you have because you never know what you have until you lose it. Three years ago, I made some major changes in my life and sold almost everything of high monetary value that I owned and only kept my laptop, car, and my two precious companions: Max and Bruno. I needed to redefine myself. To help myself find value again on what is important within me. As my 32nd birthday approaches, I have battled a cancer scare in solitude, divorce, heartbreak, infertility, betrayal, and I know there is still so much to learn. On the bright side, I have my freedom, my ability to climb mountains, my precious dogs, and my inner fire reignited again to seek my life goals. That was what I lost. But I have found it again and even if I needed to start again, I know now I am strong enough to try again. I know I rather die adventurously than live miserably. 

We approached 15,000' altitude, the first time I had every broken that mark. I took a moment to take a deep breath in. And out. Beauty exists around the world; we need to take the moment to exhale and experience it. I looked above and ahead and saw what I had read about and what my dad had feared: the last 500' of scramble to the top. The beautiful mountain landscape had turned into a daunting, dark rocky terrain that towered over our heads. We climbed on all fours grasping for dear life and breathe. Our pace slowed as each exhale I felt I was becoming more and more lightheaded. My dad lead the entire way and he continued to do so on the scramble. I would lose sight of him around the rocks and he would shout: Cachito! I'm right here, I'm coming. Truth was, I was very nervous. To get hurt, fall, or get seriously injured. Suddenly I hear my dad yell ecstatically: Cachito we made it!! The summit is here! My desperate face for air turned into a wide grin as I forgot I was scared and quickly crawled to the top. I stood there with my dad smiling. He took his first video as he narrated it climb. Tears gathered in his eyes as I saw behind his reading glasses. My old man made it and I knew what it meant to him. I knew what this meant to me. Gratefulness. Gratitude to be alive to be experiencing this exact moment with my father. We made it. 

The greatest of all evils is: comparison. If you find yourself comparing yourself to what others have, you will not have the time to value what you have. To have the time to nurture what you have. We can look at our situation and be disappointed or we can try to work on the areas that need working on. This is how I wanted to celebrate life. Inhaling the beauty. Exhaling the negativity. One day at a time. 

***

Ruco Pichincha 15,413'
Summit
Moving time (1:48)
Total time (2:30)

Round Trip
Moving time (2:57)
Total time (4:15)

Calories Consumed:
Breakfast - smoothie, yogurt with granola & fruit (500)
Mile 0 - tamale (300)
Mile 3 - banana, almond butter, kimbolito (500)
Summit - granola (200)
Finish - trail mix (200)
Total (1700)

Route Details:
Mile 0 - 12,800 
Mile 1 - 13,500 -- 700' gain
Mile 2 - 14,200 -- 700' gain
Mile 3 - 15,000 - 800' gain
Mile 3.3 - 15,500 -- 500' gain 
Total route 6.5mi, 3000' gain

12,000 altitude
13,000 altitude
15,000 altitude
15,413' summit

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mt. Langley Summit 14,042'

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Last minute, I craved some sky and higher altitude than 12K so researched a peak and went for it. As Labor Day weekend is a very popular weekend for outdoor activities, all hotels were sold out in Lone Pine, which sits at 3700' elevation and a 3 hour drive north from LA. Next best thing: car camping. Coordinating with a couple friends who were planning their double 14er summit weekend, we all stayed overnight at Horseshoe Meadow Campgrounds, where the trailhead to the summit begins and sits at 10,000' elevation under the stars. 

It was a very crisp night at 37F and I had forgotten my sleeping bag. I slept in all my gear layers, but it wasn't enough. I might have gotten maybe 3hrs of interrupted sleep due to discomfort, not ideal when trying to climb to 14K the next day. Overnight, I drank almost a liter of water due to an increased thirst at elevation, which I discovered later would lead to about 3 urine stops within the first two hours. Tip: Space out your hydration throughout the days prior.  I had not. 

Mile 1. We started on the Cottonwood Trailhead shortly before 6am when the first sun rays began warming the tops of the pines. No permit is required if you are not camping overnight in the wilderness. Only a parking pass is required for $6. We excitedly began with the intention to summit, but keeping priority first that weather and/or our bodies may not allow for a summit. The first five miles meander through the serene tree lined wilderness and climb slightly over 1000' collectively, therefore, a very gentle climb. At Mile 4, you come to a section where the trailhead breaks off to New Army Pass or Cottonwood Lakes. We ran into a couple who recommended Cottonwood Lakes (Old Army Pass, it's a mile less, climbs a little steeper, and much more scenic with lakes). 

Mile 6. You climb only another 200' where it opens up to the beautiful meadows, crystal lakes, and get your first view of the gnarly rocky ridge you will need to ascend. The 360 degree terrain is mesmerizing. After reaching the rocky ridge base around Mile 6 at 11,200' elevation, you begin the most difficult half of your ascent. The majority of hikers at this point are carrying only a day back to summit as they camped overnight at the lakes to split the ascent over two days. Tip: Drink, eat, drink, pace, and listen to any early signs of altitude sickness especially as you climb to higher elevations.

Mile 8. When you reach the top of the ridge breaking 12,000' elevation, the views in front of you are mountain range after mountain range, something my soul simply loves to see. Turn around to see what you just climbed in less than two miles will shock you. Welcome to the Sequoia National Forest. 

Mile 9. The climbing becomes forgiving again for the next two miles climbing only about 800', so if you're an avid climber, this may not phase you. If you're sensitive to altitude, this will tax you. Mile 9.5 at 12,500', we stopped for a 30min lunch eating my foot long subway sandwich. Extra jalapeño and mustard on chicken with veggies hit the spot. After this point, we all went on our own pace to the summit. Less than two miles left to the summit; it will be the most challenging 1500' gain of the day. Be prepared for some scrambling, crawling on all fours, and being brought to complete stops (for most). There were a few laying down and taking naps even though we were so close to the summit. 

Mile 10. Above 13K, that will do it to you. Pushing the effort, I passed hiker after hiker. My goal: get absolutely uncomfortable (safely) to earn that summit. I was nauseous, sleepy, lightheaded, and breathing very heavily. It felt awesome! Inside, I missed this extreme type of discomfort due to altitude... that feeling of pushing so hard you want to vomit. I was uncomfortable yet so happy to be right where I was.

As my birthday nears, I always take the month to reflect and celebrate if I can where my life has brought me, asking myself: have I accomplished what I wanted this past year? What areas have I grown in? What areas do I still need to work on?  What actions will I do to today to ensure I am grateful? Normally, most do this during the New Year; however, I find my mind is more reflective at different times, not when everyone else is doing it. I usually do it during my very long or difficult training days, therefore, I enjoy reflecting often. I took a moment to look around at the vast open space and gave thanks. Thanks for suffering in life. Thanks for losing. Thanks for failing. Thanks for the insatiable hunger to keep learning. Because if I had not suffered, lost, or failed, I wouldn't be the woman I am today.  

Summit. I reached the summit and allowed myself to enjoy it for an hour until my body could not take the cold any longer. Some found signal at the summit; I stayed disconnected to just really take in that moment. We were as high as cessnas fly. But we didn't fly up there; we climbed on foot and our bodies can do that. Survive discomfort. Survive suffering. Survive pain. One thing it does is it teaches us: we are strong enough. We are capable to endure more. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To go further. To go faster. To go higher. It's when we're uncomfortable where we learn. Learn what we really can do. 

***

Mt. Langley 14,042'
9:30 moving time (2016)
12hrs total time
6:18 moving time (2017)

Start:
Horseshoe Meadow Campground, Cottonwood Trailhead

Sept Temps:
10K - 37F overnight 
11K - 46F day
12K - 50F day
Summit - 32F, 20mph winds
10K - 45F evening 

Calories consumed:
Mile 0 - fruit salad (400) 
Mile 4.5 - chips, string cheese (500)
Mile 9.5 - subway, almonds (700)
Mile 11.2mi - bar, yogurt, nuts (600)
Mile 12.5 - yogurt, nuts (400)
Mile 16 - Bar (100)
Mile 22.4 - soup & crackers (300)
Total (3000)

11,000 altitude via Cottonwood Lakes


Friday, July 29, 2016

Great Wall of China Marathon

Race Report & Tips

WHY TRAVEL
My first international trip was at age 11. I went to visit family in Toronto. As a little girl, flying in a plane alone, I felt like an eagle. My parents trusted me and the airlines escort children traveling alone to ensure their safety. When my 15th birthday came around, my parents asked: would you like a big 'quinceñera'? My immediate answer: "No. Can I use the $3,000 you plan to spend and take an educational school trip to London?" Back then quinceñeras didn't cost as much as a mini wedding. My mom was disappointed not being able to plan a party for me but supportive. I traveled with a small school group of six with chaperones sightseeing the historic sights of London, watched plays, and experienced history. I decided then exploring the world was of high importance in my life. Exploring the world is when we can embrace different cultures, learn about different values, and open our minds to accept the world's differences. 

At age 16, my 3rd international trip was fundraised by me. Coming from an immigrant family, we did not come from money, but I was taught how to manage my money. At age 16, I fundraised $800 for a city-sponsored student exchange program to Bavaria, Germany for three weeks by selling chocolates. It was the trip of a lifetime. In my young teen years, as I traveled to Europe to experience its culture versus going there to simply party, it taught me tolerance and acceptance. We should never judge other cultures due to a country's history. Through turmoil, we can be fed biased or skewed view via news and social media. Exploring a country with a native family taught me there are still good people out there, people can change, and my heart will hold onto that. 

At age 17, I moved out to live near campus at UCLA. My fourth international trip was to Jerusalem, Israel at age 19 with a college group. We had six armed soldiers escort us the entire trip as we went sightseeing historical cites, the Dead Sea, and more. My parents were afraid I went, but I have found that we often fear what we don't know. Yes, there is an inherent danger; however, that is true for everywhere. Think about where you currently live. Within a 20 mile radius, there are many dangers we always need to be conscious about, but learning to be mindful makes us more conscious citizens. Fear stops us from living. 

At age 20, after I completed undergraduate and graduate school in 2005, I then discovered marathons were all over the world. I was ecstatic! This is when I wanted to combine my travels with running races. I chose a dream race, made a financial plan, and ensured I took the steps DAILY to get myself one step closer to that race. It could have been the NYCM or Bermuda Marathon. I didn't care if I had to go alone (fortunately I didn't), but I would do what it took to get there. Train daily, save daily, skip on Starbucks (because, yes, it's overpriced), pack work lunches (saves up to $4K annually), and, for me, practice family planning. It's the little things we do daily that collectively get us to our big goals. I don't believe in a "bucket list". I had a cancer scare in college that most don't know about (now you do), but it scared me horrifically. I endured it alone by choice not telling my family and feared I was going to leave this world too early. What is the point of only working for retirement in our 60s, 70s, 80s? What if we never make it?? What about our 30s or 40s? I am all for planning intelligently for the future, while opening our hearts to living in the present. I vowed to have a to-do list instead. There are things that are definitely out of my control; however, that should never stop us from taking the little steps daily towards our dreams. We need to wake up and live our dreams. Traveling is one way I make sure I do, even if I had to sleep in my car to save money (which I did for a period back in college). We sometimes need to make sacrifices at different and even multiple stages of our lives.

* * * * 
RACE DAY

Wake up call rang at 3:30am. I rolled out of bed, followed my pre-race ritual, and helped my mom make a final check list of what she needed. We headed down to the hotel lobby with our luggage to board the race shuttle buses. Unfortunately, my mom left her luggage unattended in the lobby for less than 15 minutes and everything was gone, including her passport. Extreme panic set in. My mom burst into tears. My dad and I rushed everywhere looking for it on the five nearest shuttles. Nowhere to be found, our tour guide told us they would do what they could to find it as we needed to head to the race start. My mom cried in my arms and I called my sister back in the states to contact the embassy to see how we can get mom home without a passport. Losing all your luggage, phone, money, and passport in a foreign county is scary. My mom is a little humble woman so I felt at blame for not putting her under my wing. She cried and cried. I tried comforting her and told her after the race, we will do what we can to find her luggage and get her home. 

My dad and I kissed my mom's head as we walked to the start line. The marathon and half marathon started together in four waves. My dad and I were in wave 1; my mom was in wave 4. Without words, I looked to my dad for reassurance and comfort. My dad and I don't have to say much to each other, but with just one look, we knew were in for a beating. The gun went off and I said to my dad as usual: "I'll see you at the finish, Papa dog!" 2,500 runners gathered in the Ying Yang Square for the marathon, half marathon, and 10K from 70 countries around the world. It was exhilarating to see so many different cultures and hear so many different languages all in one place. The first of four waves went off at 7:30am just as the sun began to peak over the mountainside. A light breeze cooled the morning, but we weren't fooled. We knew it was going to be an exposed scorcher very shortly. 

Sure enough, peak race temperatures were in the high 80s with 85% humidity. To compare, some states  on the east coast vary between 30-60%, most summer months. Hawaii tends to hover around 70-80%. The Philippines, the most wet heat I've raced in, settles at 100% humidity while in the high 90s. Heat is heat, but add humidity and we're talking a different story. But everyone sucked it up quietly. The first mile left the Ying Yang Square into the village and swung a quick left into a steep road climb. For the next 3 miles we climbed straight up on a winding road to an entrance for the Great Wall. I'll admit, as a trail runner or within some of the ultras I've done, we are advised to walk/hike the long uphills. On the roads, it's a different story. If you're in the front to middle of the field, you don't walk, you push through. I wanted to walk already so bad! I looked around and no one was walking so I pushed on. I guess this is what I get for starting in wave 1 with an international field 70 countries deep. Sun out, heat on our backs, incline under our shoes, everyone pushed forward. Mile 4, we were climbing stairs. Steep. High. Short. And uneven. I looked around and the field was brought to a slow climb on these stairs. Maybe it would be smart to slow down here.... I took my first snapchat clip. 1200' gain so far. 

The stairs were never ending it seemed. I can run hills. I can hike a steep incline very aggressively. I tried to insert as much stair training as I could during my months of training. But I still felt the burn race day. That's the amazing thing: no matter how prepared we feel or no matter how unprepared we feel for a race, we can always just give it what we got. I signed up for this race five months prior with the full intention to train smart, train hard, and make it to Top 3 women in an international field. I reviewed reports, I stalked years of women's race results, and I knew I could do it. There is no prize money. I wanted to do it for me and prove to myself I could. I knew I was willing to work for it. Sometimes, crap in life gets in the way. That didn't mean I was going to stop trying and say: oh well, at least I finished. I knew that wasn't good enough. I pushed on. Mile 5, my thighs burned, my head pounded, and my knee was flaring up. Up down, up down, up down.... have you ever done real heavy squats and your quads shiver in muscle spasms afterwards? That's what my legs were going through. After each set of stairs, there was a small section on the wall to run to the next set of stairs. Up. Down. Up. Up. Down. Down. Mile 6, slowed to a 20:00 min/mile. At this point, it was very hard to keep my head in the game. Why wasn't I going faster? I wonder how my dad is doing? I hope my mom is ok. 

I took a moment to look around and the beautiful mountainside. Beijing is very populated and polluted, similar to Los Angeles. But the Great Wall was about a 2.5hr drive outside the city within green, mountainous beauty. Probably still polluted slightly. I didn't care. I was here. I was living this moment. It hurt and I was already disappointed, but I put myself in check: I am grateful. I was running the Great Wall of China Marathon. Millions have visited this site through history, but a very small sect can ever say they ran a race on the challenging terrain of this moment in history, the Great Wall. Mile 7, we finally emerged from the wall back into the Ying Yang Square, the race start. The crowds cheered as marathoners and half marathoners ran through it to exit quickly again. Seven miles on my legs and they felt like I had done 30 miles already. As the terrain flattened on the roads, it was time to pick up my cadence to make up some serious time! I dropped my pace to about 8:30s with tremendous effort. My legs felt enormously heavy. Keep pushing. Keep pushing. You don't give in easy. So what if you can't go faster, you're NOT going to choose to go slower.... 

I repeated it over and over, but something was missing. I was missing the "Nadia hunger" where I am relentlessly pushing forward while making it look effortless. I could only imagine I looked like a mess. It was 85F, Mile 10, and the hills weren't as dramatic, but they were still there punishing us. Mile 7 - 19 ran within the rolling road hills of the village. Children and families came out to cheer us on with their cameras and the biggest smiles you can imagine. How awesome is that! It reminded me of the village children in Legazpi, Philippines and their excitement to see athletes race within their town. It was comfort I needed as my mind was going dark fast. Mile 10, I felt I threw in the towel mentally. I consciously made the choice to walk. Screw this! I'm hot. I'm tired. I don't know why I am pushing so hard when I'm so far behind from my planned race strategy. I'll confess: I looked back for the first time to see if I saw my dad. Maybe I should just wait for him and jog it in with him....

The mind game when you're hurting is a roller coaster. Do you want to give into slowing down? Or, honestly, how bad do you want it? Sure I can choose to slow down, but will it really hurt less? Maybe my legs, but not my pride. When I choose to sign up for a race, I make the commitment to myself to give it my all. I came to the start line and said I would give it what I had. Whether I felt I was prepared or not, I CAN give it all I have. Just as much as my dad is. Just as much as my mom is. Just as much as the runner next to me. You can give in or you can give it all you got. We decide that at every race and every day we wake up. Today, I woke up to race this race and dammit it I will!

I started my slow shuffle and whimpered. No going back now. If my dad catches up to me, he does but at least he did it while I'm trying my best not while I gave in and waited for him. Mile 13, another two mile climb started and I looked below to see my dad's big hat and yellow jersey down below. PAPA DOG!!!!! I couldn't believe how close he was. He was doing great for him! Actually, anytime a race is a scorcher, he does relatively very well. Not because he is not suffering, but because he can accept the suffering. He just keeps pushing forward. He raised his hand and smiled. I smiled back and kept pushing forward. Shuffle to the finish I would and if I would need to crawl, I will. 

Mile 18, the marathon route began to overlap the half marathon route as we began returning to the Ying Yang Square. Mile 19, I saw my red long sleeve shirt on a little woman with her hat sideways to block the sun. MAMITA!! Tears came down my cheeks as I ran to hug her. She smiled with tears. As broken hearted as she felt, she decided to walk the half marathon after all without training or running a single mile this year. "I love you, Mamita!! I love you, mija! I'll see you at the finish, Mamita!!" With a wave and blowing a kiss, I turned around and charged. Game finally on! I was back. The Nadia hunger. 

My pace dramatically sped up. Did it still hurt? Yes. Was it still scorching hot? Yes. Was the hardest section coming up? Yes. The marathoners ran through the Ying Yang Square for a second time and back on the wall we go. We basically run the first six miles of the marathon on the wall shredding our legs for the rest of the race. Then we return and run the last six miles on the wall when we are at our absolutely weakest. You push yourself to your limit at any race and any distance will be a challenge. That goes for an Ironman, a 100 mile race, or even the 400m dash. Ask any professional 400m sprinter: they train 20-30hrs/week for that one minute to give it ALL they got. That is the beauty of a race. That is the beauty of any individual. We all can do that--give it all we got. Mile 20, the climbing resumed on the stairs. This time, I was charging. I was huffing so hard men that I passed turned out in shock, probably thinking, "who the hell is that?" The moment I passed another male, each one huffed under their breathe: great work! My dad was giving it all he got. My mom was. I had too. My fire was back. Maybe it was seeing and knowing my mom was ok at mile 19. It may have been too late to catch the top women. I didn't care. I would push forward and start counting how many I would pass to help ease the physical pain. Mile 22, men were sitting on the shaded steps to find some refuge from the scaling heat. Mile 23, men were crawling on all fours up the stairs. Hot, humid, relentless stairs for this long are just another story. I kept pushing forward, cursing in my head, but smiling on the inside because this is what I came for: to make it burn and give it what I got. 

I passed men. I passed a few women. And shuffled my way down the last 2 mile descent to the finish! Returning once again to the Ying Yang Square, I crossed the finish line with a big, huge smile. I did it. One of the hardest road marathons in the world and I didn't let it defeat me. I completed it and gave it all I had. 


Marathon #127 in 5:07
Top 25 Women
Dad finished his 66th marathon in 5:33
THANK YOU Que Noche for making this dream a reality.

Great Wall Marathon
  • 900 marathoners
  • 1200 half marathoners
  • 600 10K participants 
  • 70 countries represented
  • 46% of field were women
  • 5,164' stairs on the Great Wall
  • 4,950' vertical gain
  • 90F / 85% humidity (peak temp)
  • Official tour company: Albatros Adventure Marathons

Race Tips
  • Train in heat.
  • Train in humidity.
  • Practice specific hydration and fueling needs for high temps and humidity.
  • Aid stations are about every 5K so carry your needs accordingly.
  • Use road shoes race day. I made the mistake of using trail shoes when they weren't necessary.
  • Incorporate stair climbing at least once per week up to 4-5 months prior: long outdoor staircases are optimal or begin to get a close bond with your gym's stair climber
  • Follow your regular marathon training plan adding lots of hill training as it has almost 5K gain.
  • Depending how well you train, plan to add about 60-90min to your regular road marathon time. 

Race Stats
5:07:35
25th FOA
99th Overall
International Marathon #8
Marathon #127