What’s The Best Way To Recover?

One of the hardest pats of recovery is learning to trust your body again. I’m not talking about the physical aspect of recovery . . . learning to run again or gaining fitness. I’m talking about trust. Really trusting in my body and the movements it makes.

 

The human body and it’s complexity fascinates me! Especially how the nervous system works. Our nervous system is closely integrated with our motion, constantly inputting sensory data as we move through the world. This is true when we are running or playing a sport, it’s all connected – nothing is independent, or at least, each independent system requires the other to gain importance.

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I learned this through my first injury. I had a major ligament injury in my foot. A ligament rupture in the arch. I had surgery and hardware placed (then removed). There was a lot of damage. The recovery was long and slow, but eventually the pain went away and I was able to get back to walking and then running. But there were still certain limitations to the movement of my foot.

 

Technically, my foot was healed. I was cleared by my PT and my doctor to start running. But there would be days, I would inexplicably feel uncertain and weak on my right foot. I was constantly worried about it, hyper aware if it was hurting, if it was swollen or was getting injured again. I had built an association of pain and hesitance in my foot, even though it was no longer injured.  This neuro-connection lead my body to start favoring it.

 

My good friend, Levi Younger, reached out to me and told me about this technique called Rolfing and we began working together. We worked on structural integration with manual manipulation of the injury site, but the most important aspect of it was talking through the emotional/mental side of the injury. We worked on associating new movements in a positive, safe environment so that my body learned to trust in the motions it once did. This in combination with my regular physical therapy at Revo was groundbreaking. I never had considered the power of mindset when working on a physical problem – I had just assumed they were separate.

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Now, you would think I would be done right? Well, that’s never true. Even though it’s been almost 2 years since breaking my back and my ribs, there were still some days when certain movements were a bit restricted. I was doing fine and trying my best to integrate everything I had learned, but then I broke my ankle and had to really focus in on recovery again.

 

I always think things happen for a reason because through this injury I met Travis Jones, and he told me about Eldoa. It’s a technique that aims to increase the space between joints. It can be done on any area of the body, but we started working on my broken ankle, to create space in the ankle joint, to prevent stiffness and encourage full range of motion.

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The more we worked together, the more I became aware of other areas of my body that still had scare tissue from my injuries 2 years ago! Sure, I was fully recovered and my bones were healed, but why was I feeling so stuck? I felt like I had certain restrictions to the motion and no matter how much I tried my body was good at resisting these motions; it was protecting me.

 

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Working through some of these Eldoa techniques with Travis has helped bring awareness to the movement of my body and the importance of creating space between even the smallest joint spaces. It’s changed how I think about recovery from injury – focusing more on the support network of the body and how those influence the bigger picture. It’s impressive how a shift in mental perspective integrated with the correct manual manipulation can encourage a more productive recovery process.

 

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If you’d like to learn more about Eldoa check out @eldoatrainer and share your recovery tips with me!

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Who Makes You Better?

Who makes you better? The best version on yourself?

It’s a question I often ask myself, as a way to reflect and appreciate those in my life that have brought me to where I am today.

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, and women’s history month, I’m reflecting on those that made me the woman I am today. I think the best people in your life aren’t those that are the same as you, but those that challenge you to dream, to fight and to do things you never thought possible. For me, this includes men and women. For starters, it begins with my parents.

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Both scientists, my mom and my dad never told me that I needed to play with dolls, or that I needed to behave a certain way due to my gender. They saw that I was a curious kid and encouraged me to play outside in the dirt, to move, to play sports, to explore. They saw my curious spirit and encouraged me to pursue a career in chemistry. They saw my need to explore and encouraged me to study abroad and live overseas. My mother was in the Peace Core, so she saw the value in travel and learning who you are, by living somewhere else. My father, a Ph.D. scientist, encouraged me to take a chance on running, while I was in graduate school, deciding whether or not to continue with my Ph.D  It was by their example that I have learned to be brave, to be unapologetic about my passions and deliberate with my choices. I think, being a strong woman – a strong person – requires not only strong women role models, but strong men as well. Those that don’t think you’re different due to your gender but see your attributes as a human being and push you to be the best version of yourself.

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When I think about my career as a runner, I’m brought back to two people: my middle school run club coach, Jim Kruse and my good friend and mentor, J’ne Day-Lucore.

 

I’ll start with middle school. I was not a cool kid. Remember how much I liked to play in the dirt and explore and play outside? Well, add in some bug catching to that list and you’ll begin to get a picture of what I was like in middle school. I also really liked school, so when I wasn’t outside getting dirty, I was lost in the library with science books. My older sister was the cool kid and a great athlete at that. She would go to run club every day after school, and because I liked to run around too (although mostly just for catching bugs), my parents encouraged me to go too. That’s when I met Jim Kruse. He was the math teacher at my school and absolutely loved running. At first, I didn’t see the point of running unless you were chasing something, but with Mr. Kruse, he brought it all to life. He created community out of our little run club, meeting up on Saturdays, at 5km races that were themed, where we got to wear costumes and enjoy running together. He made running fun for me. I looked forward to going. I wasn’t very good and would get easily distracted (especially if I saw a bug), but to Mr. Kruse it didn’t matter. To him, the kid having the most fun was the best that day. I took that with me years later, when I started to run, and have never forgotten the importance of fun and playfulness.

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J’ne Day – Lucore is another important person in my life. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She is the embodiment of strength, persistence, joy, and the deliberate intention to follow what you love and never apologize for being yourself. When I met J’ne it was my first run, at 5am, one cold, dark morning in graduate school. I was 24 and had no idea what I was doing. Mr. Kruse had taught me to run for fun, but J’ne and this group of women were some serious runners.

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Photo: Matt Trappe

J’ne is a multiple time qualifier in the Olympic trial marathon and she held multiple records at prestigious mountain races around the US (Pikes Peak ascent and Mount Washington ascent to name a few). But, with J’ne’s encouragement, I started coming to run club 3 days a week and then 5 days a week.

 

J’ne coached me to my first road marathon and while training for that, she introduced me to trail running. She encouraged me to trail run and from there I tried an ultra-marathon. She taught me to problem solve and to find the positive side when things don’t go your way – in life and during a race. She maintains a contagious optimism and will to achieve throughout her life. She’s constantly pushing her limits and that’s what I learned most from J’ne, not from her accomplishments, but from her unyielding spirit; her relentless tenacity to keep pushing forward with an infectious smile, no matter what life brings.

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Photo: Matt Trappe

 

So, I ask you, who inspires you? Who makes you better? Let’s take the time to appreciate those men and women who encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.
Because success is that much sweeter, when shared.

 

 

Move equal this march. Check out Strava’s blog to share stories of those who inspire you.

 

 

 

Running with Curiosity

When I was in kindergarten we had career day. I was ready for this. I hurried home and told my mother exactly what I needed. First was a lab coat. Next, we went to get the best and most realistic bug stickers from the craft store. I meticulously covered my new, white lab coat with all the bug stickers I could fit on there. Next was my bright -neon orange bug net, and finally, the biggest and most important piece of all – my bug collection. On career day I marched right into that kindergarten class room declaring I wanted to get PH. D. and be an entomologist – that’s someone who studies bugs.

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Although my passion for bugs shifted from career to hobby – I built my future around pursuing a scientific career. I got a scholarship to a private liberal arts college to study chemistry – with sights on graduate school. I accepted a Ph.D. candidate spot at the University of Colorado Denver, where I had plans to earn my Ph.D. in neuroscience and structural biology. I was in my element. I was doing it. I was making my little kindergarten Hillary so proud.

 

But with all that work in the lab and countless hours at the lab bench, I needed a break and a way to let my mind rest. I found a local running group and started running a few days a week before heading into the lab.

 

This is how my running career started.

 

Running helped my creative process in the lab. As a neuroscientist it made sense – I needed a pause, space and time to let my mind wander and create. The more I worked, the more I wanted to run. It became a sacred space, time warped and I could just enjoy and be free. No matter how stressful my day was, the time I spent running was my meditation. I would be drawn into the sounds of birds chirping, insects buzzing and the rustling of leaves of tress. Plus, it was a time to create and think about science in real time.

 

I can search for bugs, salamander and wildlife. I can think about photosynthesis, plant physiology, evolution and see it all happening right in front of me. It’s my own personal lab.

 

Although my hobby quickly turned into running and racing professionally, running has not lost its wonder or fascination. In fact, I believe this playful relationship with running has allowed me to find balance. To race hard, while not getting burned out. To really enjoy the times when running is hard, because it can be pretty difficult at times. I use running to explore my surroundings, to play and learn. It’s that curiosity in running that has led me to discover other ways to explore the outdoors – like cycling, ski touring, rock climbing and traveling.

 

Running might be my favorite way to move through the world, but I believe it’s much more than that. It’s an avenue I use to survey the scientific world. It’s the application of my scientific mind and opportunity to dream, create and continue to be curious. It’s what turns a simple run, one I’ve done one hundred times, into a new world full of discovery, excitement and learning. Running feeds my perpetual curiosity, and leaves me eager for more.

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Progress is Not Perfection

I used to strive for perfection. Pushing myself constantly, to be better. I was never satisfied.

 

It took me far. I got straight A’s in school, I was in student government, played in the band, I was in 4-H, played tennis, and volunteered at my local church in my spare time. I continued this trend through undergraduate school where I majored in Organic Chemistry, played collegiate tennis and studied abroad in Spain becoming fluent in Spanish. I had to be constantly busy, and constantly pushing to be the best, to be more involved, to be more.

 

It got overwhelming. I never had a moment to just be, relax and enjoy. In fact, I didn’t know what to do with down time if I wasn’t moving, if I wasn’t doing. I struggled a lot with this while I was in Graduate school, earning a masters in Neuroscience and structural biology all while picking up ultra-running.

 

Once I graduated graduate school, I got a bit better at settling down, realizing I didn’t have to do everything. But, that mentality still persisted and drove me crazy at times. I couldn’t be content unless I was doing something, and something usually turned into everything.

 

It wasn’t until my first serious injury that I really learned to be still. I had no choice. I had broken 14 bones and was left with only one leg to stand on. Not only could I not run, or walk, or drive, — I couldn’t cook or bathe without supervision or the help of someone. It was a very humbling experience, but in it, was an opportunity.

 

I had the opportunity to slow way down. To appreciate life when I wasn’t buzzing around constantly. I’m not going to lie, it was a challenge. I questioned my worth. I thought, who am I unless I’m doing something? But in those struggles, I got more and more comfortable letting go of my need to distract and do.

 

I gained new perspective. One not associated with ticking things off on my ‘to-do’ list. I became more connected to myself, how I was feeling that day, my motivation, what excited me. It gave me an opportunity to be completely satisfied curling up with a book, or spending hours at a coffee shop catching up with a friend, or simply doing nothing at all. It was wonderful.

 

I learned that progress does not mean being perfect. It’s messy and not straight forward. I wouldn’t have expected an injury to help me connect with my soul. But it did. I was able to be content in my own human existence, without needing to be constantly achieving.

 

Even after recovering and getting back to more movement at training, I took that lesson with me and allowed myself the freedom (and permission) to just be, and not constantly weigh myself down with responsibilities and tasks. I found the creativity to make new, different goals, still pushing myself, but in different ways that were vastly more fulfilling. It’s helped me live more fully.

 

So, as I face this injury, breaking my fibula, and the recovery time associated with it – I look back on my past year. I look back on what I’ve learned and I’m able to shift into a slower pace of living. I’m making new goals and shifting my perspective. It’s a positive one, too.

 

Some ask how that’s possible – to maintain my positivity. I say I have no other choice. Of course I’m angry and disappointed, and the transition to recovery is difficult – and it’s certainly not automatic – but I am happy to do it. I know I’ll learn something from it – I’m positive of that. It’s an opportunity for growth, to learn – that’s progress.

 

It’s all a matter of perspective and I chose a positive one. Because progress is not perfection; progress is messy, progress is caring, and to be better – to soak in all that progress – I’ll take all the unexpected twists and turns of life, happily.

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Here I am again?

Step, slide, crack. Step, slide, crack. Step. Slide. Crack.

 

I grab my ankle, feeling the pain. Declaring to myself “You’re ok! You’re ok!”

 

I know it’s broken. I’m familiar with the feeling. I’ve been through this before – breaking a bone for the first time (make that 14 bones). The trauma from my previous accident is fresh. The sound of my ankle cracking immediately brings memories of my rescue – helicopters, doctors, panic. Then memories of my recovery – an inability to move, or cook, or bathe, or take care of myself.

 

I start crying in panic. Repeating to myself “I don’t know if I can do this again. How can I do this again?!”

 

This is my reality. After 18 months of clawing my way back from a nearly fatal accident, rediscovering my strength as a human and athlete, I’m here again. Injured. Broken.

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Photo by Mike Thurk, September 2017

The emotions that are going through my head are numerous. But one that’s louder than the rest, is anger. Why did this happen again? Did I deserve it? Is there still something more to learn?

 

I want to scream!

 

I don’t know if I have the strength to do this. Again.

 

I read the influx of encouragement and support from my friends and the running community.

 

It’s ok to be angry. For now, anyways.

 

I’m reminded that I’m enough. The words of my dear friend David Steele, repeat in my head.

 

The portions of your self worth that are all bound up in being an athlete, on being able to perform —this is a chance to remember the other parts of yourself.

This is a reminder to be a whole person. Finding joy and success and personal, internal stability in the web of all those aspects and complexities of what makes you, you – that’s the goal.

 

 

 

Things happen for a reason – if you chose to let them. I’m reminded to take a deep breath, feel what I’m feeling and believe. BELIEVE. That this too, will create, reignite and provide an opportunity for growth.

 

 

 

Do you need more stories of perseverance? Check out the new podcast, Athletes Unfiltered, it will inspire you to keep digging deep when times get hard.

Power Your Own Adventure

This post is sponsored by the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang initiative.

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Photo by Josh Uhl

 

Traffic drives me crazy. Literally. It’s one of those things that I will avoid at all costs. I rearrange my schedule, I ride my bike to appointments, I carpool, I even get up before sunrise to be the first one at the trailhead. But, sometimes getting in a car and being stuck in traffic is inevitable.

I’m a Colorado native, so I’ve been witness to the incredible growth of the Front Range the past decade. As someone who dislikes the extra bustling on the roads but loves to recreate outdoors and in the mountains – which I totally need a car to get to – I’ve had to get creative to avoid those traffic jams, while still getting to the places I enjoy most.

So, I got really excited when I learned about CDOT’s Bustang lines. It’s a bus service that commutes along the front range of I-25 and the I-70 mountain corridors and links major transit systems together. Right now they’re even providing extra routes to DTC from I-25 to help with commuter traffic from all the construction.

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As a professional endurance athlete, I train in the mountains. I live in Boulder, CO, so the foothills are accessible from my doorstep, and for those trips I like to get to where I’m going by using the power of my body. Whether that means riding my bike to a trailhead or starting a run from my house instead of at the proper trailhead, I like to power my own adventures. But, let’s be honest, to have access to the bigger mountains, I can’t always ride my bike there, I need a car. Driving, however, takes time and energy, especially with all the new traffic on the roads. This is where Bustang comes in –  I was intrigued by the opportunities for adventures without the headache of traffic and driving.

 

I wanted to try out Bustang and see how reliable and easy it could be. There’s a lot of  route/trip options Ride Bustang offers, but I decided to take the South Line to Colorado Springs, one of my favorite places to trail run. But, once I got there, I didn’t want to be limited without a car, so I decided to bring my bike along on.

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Riding to Denver on the bike path from Boulder

For this adventure I wanted the theme to be as ‘self-propelled’ as possible. I also had some company along the way too, because adventures are so much better with a partner! From Boulder, I wanted to ride my bike to Union Station in Denver to catch the bus. So, we packed up our bikes with a few changes of clothes, lots of warm layers, an assortment of food and running shoes.

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Our packed up bikes

 

The ride to Denver from Boulder is a continuous bike path, and then there was less than a quarter mile of actual road to reach Union Station. I already had our Bustang tickets downloaded on my phone with the Just Ride Bustang app, so I just scanned the tickets, loaded the bikes on the rack and we were ready to go. The bus ride to Colorado Springs, even in rush hour traffic, was less than 2 hours. I was already impressed.

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Once we got there, since I had my bike, transportation was simple. Our Airbnb was a short ride from downtown Colorado Springs, same with all the restaurants. So, it was pretty straightforward to get around with my bike and Google maps.

The next day was when the real fun began! I had mapped out a route to ride my bike from downtown Colorado Springs, up a gravel dirt road, to the trailhead of Mount Rosa. The peak itself, which is visible from the city, sits at 11,533 feet, but since the gravel road dead-ends at the trailhead (around 9,500 feet) we planned to lock up the bikes and go by foot from the trailhead to the top of Mount Rosa.

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I wasn’t sure of the road or trail conditions, but I was pretty certain there would be some snow and ice up high – again, it was December. But, I read the road was maintained, so we thought we’d give it a try. We packed up the bikes with extra water, extra warm clothes, and lots of food – it was going to be an all-day adventure.

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Photo by Josh Uhl

Going south from downtown, we headed to Cheyenne Mountain State park to find Old Stage Road. This road climbs 22 miles and 5,000 feet of steep terrain before reaching the trailhead for Mount Rosa. What’s incredible is that this road leads all the way to the summit of a neighboring peak, Mount Almagre too – and Almagre sits at 12,367 feet! As the road reached more of a plateau, it got rather snowy and icy, which made for some interesting bike riding.

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The road got fairly rough and really icy around 9,000 feet, so we found a good spot to hide the bikes, switched into running shoes and started running toward the trailhead for Mount Rosa. Once there, it was all snowy trail to the summit. Even for December, the weather was clear and the sun was out, although it was 30 degrees.

After returning to the bikes, it was time for a chilly descent back into town – and lots of food!

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photo by Josh Uhl

The next morning we reversed the trip home, catching Bustang back to Union Station and then riding my bike back to Boulder. It was such an incredible trip and not having to sit in traffic or deal with the headache of driving made the trip even better! CDOT really has provided a reliable and fast alternative for commuting along the Front Range and it’s a resource I plan to use again. I’m already planning my next adventure, this time heading west! Where would you want to take the ‘Stang?

 

Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

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“Many people have been impressed, even awestruck with my recovery. I’ve been asked frequently how it was possible to recover so quickly and to such a high level after such a serious accident. Although the process was grueling, arduous and full of set backs, my success in recovery can be attributed to one thing – my strength program.

— Hillary Allen

So what’s the deal with a strength routine for endurance athletes? Is it necessary? Won’t it make me slower, or cause me to bulk up?

These are questions I’ve asked myself, and excuses I’ve relied upon to prevent me from entering the weight room. As a professional ultra runner for The North Face, if I want to improve performance, it’s an easy default to think I must do MORE – miles, hours, vertical feet – to make improvements. Since the race distances I cover range from 30 -70 miles in one go, and cover extreme elevation changes, my immediate thought is – I need to put in a ton of volume so my body can handle these distances on race day.

Although this argument is true to some extent – running is the most specific way to train for a running race – it’s not the complete picture. If my body isn’t strong enough to withstand my training load, injuries will start to creep in. The most common source of injuries in runners originate from weak hips or core. These are the powerhouses which support the biomechanics of running, so why don’t we pay more attention to them, and strengthen them?

As an endurance runner, I did zero strength work. It wasn’t until I got my first running injury that I saw a physical therapist and began to understand the importance of strength. My injury was a pinched nerve in my calf. I thought I had strained it running, but it really resulted from a weak glute causing severe compensation issues. I was forced to stop running and had no choice but go to the gym and address my hip imbalances.

At first I viewed my gym work as a tedious task, boring, and something I could leave behind when I returned to the trails. But, when I was able to start running again, I noticed how smooth, fluid and effortless my running felt. Maybe it could be the strength work? So, I continued my strength routine as I upped my running volume and I continued to see the benefits. It was the strength work that changed my body’s ability to withstand my training load. It became my new routine, and kept me injury free for 2 years, competing at a professional level.

Last year, however, I was faced with a new challenge. During the final race of my season, a rock gave way underneath my foot and I fell 150 feet off of a ridge-line. I broke 14 bones including my back and some major ligaments in my feet and ankles. I was told I would never run again, let alone compete at a world class level. My spirit – and body – were crushed.

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I was faced with an intense recovery, starting from ground zero. I had to learn how to walk again before I could even think about running. So what did I do? I got my butt into the weight room.

Now, I’m going to ruin the surprise, but nearly a year after sustaining such traumatic injuries I’m back competing and running. Many people have been impressed, even awestruck with my recovery. I’ve been asked frequently how it was possible to recover so quickly and to such a high level after such a serious accident. Although the process was grueling, arduous and full of set backs, my success in recovery can be attributed to one thing – my strength program.

Long before I could run, or even walk properly, I was working with Matt Smith at Revo Physiotherapy and Sports Performance. I would come in 5 days a week working on my hip strength, glute activation, and an all around strength program for endurance athletes. If it wasn’t for their devotion and expertise in rebuilding my body (and booty), I would have never been strong enough to start running trails again. It wasn’t about the number of miles I was putting in, it was about how strong my supporting framework was to withstand the training, allowing me to compete at my first ultra only 10 months after the accident.

So if you have doubts about your performance, maybe some niggles that keep popping up, or you’re in need of an off-season activity, I encourage you to head into Revo. They will get you up and running again, and stronger than before. From a performance and injury prevention perspective, strength training is the best thing I ever did for my endurance running.

So go work on that booty, you’ll enjoy more about it than just the look in the mirror.

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Strength training for endurance athletes