Wednesday, November 4, 2015

800ers' Thoughts During XC

In honor of championship cross-country season, I am going to take this moment and
             1.     Enlighten all of you to what it is like on the XC battle field for an 800m runner
2. Make the 800m runners feel a little better about their struggles. Or at least possibly more understood.


While all the distancers skip along on prerace chatting about their day, and goals, and boyfriends, and “How great is this course!?” 800ers are at the back of the pack wishing that an easy 7:30 pace was, in fact, easy. Newsflash distance freaks of nature! When your heart rate is 80 bpm on a tempo run, ours is 150 just walking to the locker room. Even the simplest movement revs up that anaerobic system.

It is a slight mind trip struggling to run 7:30 pace when you know you are going to have to drop sub 6 minuters the next day. But good news! 800ers do better at faster paces. Running a few minutes at 6 minute pace is in a lot of ways easier than running a few minutes at 8 minute pace! (Now, the rest of the minutes after the first “few minutes” in the race are a bit of a struggle.)
Plus! 800ers thrive under pressure. An easy run has zero pressure and zero reward. They don’t like to run just for the heck of it! 800ers want to see the fruits of their labor! This makes them much better racers compared to preracers. No guts not glory. 
Or for 800ers: No glory? No guts.

Warm up

During the warm up the distancers like to start out at a slow pace and go much longer than the prescribed 2 miles. I guess to make sure their body is good and warm.
800ers can’t go long because we will be good and tired. Plus, 800ers are ready to roll out the gate. The anxiety about the future inevitable pain is high. And anxious people run accidentally fast. Like a high school kid sprinting the first lap of a mile!

We’d prefer to run a few minutes hard until we get a little winded, do some drills, stride once, tie our shoes 3 times, do one more stride, pee, check for wardrobe malfunctions, and call it warmed up!

The Start Line

Distanters look so light on the start line—like gazelles. And they have high ponytails with ribbons. It’s like a fashion show for very dainty, very fit people.

An 800er’s thought: Why do I look like a linebacker? Am I gaining muscle? How am I going to get all this muscle 6k to the finish line?! I look like a cross dresser with my ribbon. Please let my buns stay on. Why are they doing so many strides?!

What an 800er feels like on the start line:

The Start

Distancers try hard to get to the front to avoid the hundreds of other distance runners also trying to get to the front.

800ers do not try to get to the front but accidentally do anyway. This is followed by panic and a “HOW THE F DID I GET UP HERE?!”

The Middle of the Race

This is where distancers are zoning out and trying to be patient. They are harnessing their excitement of the possibility of winning/PRing/making other people hurt. Plus they go wizzing past the dying 800ers. This gives them motivation and confidence.  

This is also where 800er surrender to hurt. They question a lot of things: Why am I out here? Why aren’t we done yet? Why did I go out so fast? Are they really picking up the pace right now?! How can I get off this course without my teammates and coach knowing?

My college coach always said: 2 miles is where you should wake up and start picking off people.
I honestly have no clue what he is talking about. I was thinking more along the lines of “Coach says this is where everyone besides me wakes up and picks me off. Don’t get picked off!”

The End of the Race

Distancers get faster at the end of the race. It’s like the harder they breathe and the more lactic acid-y they are, the faster they can go.

At the end of a race 800ers think: OK! Half a mile left! I can run a half-mile faster than anyone out here! This is my time to shine.

And that is enough to motivate the 800er for approximately 150m. The next 600m are an all out shit show. Form goes to pieces. And there are thoughts of “WHOEVER SAID THAT FASTER PEOPLE HAVE A BETTER KICK IS A LIAR!”

That last 50m though, No one has a chance!

Post Race

Distancers are quick to cool down for hours and talk about how fun that race was!

800ers have blood completely of acid. They are dizzy and hate anyone trying to make them do anything other than curl up in the fetal position. I’m looking at you race volunteer ushers. 800ers don’t even have the energy or focus to untie their shoes. No they do not want to cool down with you. They don’t want to cool down. Period.


Don't feel sorry for yourself. No one cares that you are an 800er, and that you are trying considerably harder than most people, and that you are wheezing, and that you went out too fast. Don't give yourself that excuse to give up. 

Always remember your team. That is the single most powerful motivating factor. This isn't about you. It's about helping your teammates who desperately need you.  

Embrace the hurt. It is going to hurt. You are going to feel terrible the last mile. Luckily how you feel doesn't determine how fast you run. You are tough. Prove it. 

Cool downs. Go cool down. Your hamstrings will hate you if you don't cool down and then sit on the bus for a few hours. 

Team bonding occurs in the XC practice van. Even if you can't keep up on workouts and runs, you are still a huge part of the team. Most team bonding occurs on the team van anyway. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Started from the Bottom, Now I'm Here:


HOLY SMOKES I FORGOT WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO RUN WELL. And let me tell you, it feels like... going on a roller coaster after you waited in a queue line for two hours. And then you are greeted with a funnel cake once you get off the ride. And then someone gives you one of those fast-pass-skip-the-line-passes to go again. And a giant check and "Congrats" texts are in there somewhere. But it actually feels better than that.

A year ago at this time, I'd line up at practice and have zero clue whether I'd shit the bed or have an okay workout. That was my scale: Shit-the-bed to OK. I tapped out at OK.

I'd line up at races pretending to not have anxiety.  But I wasn't fooling me, I had anxiety. It is hard to not have anxiety when your race performance feels out of your control.

Me. ON TV! At a Sports Bar!

Here's what happened.
A week before the race I looked at the start list. I noticed
1. 13 of my favorite people of all time are going to be in Iowa.
2. 13 of my favorite runners are all racing in the same 2 minute stretch?! That's 5 women too many, but if we played Survivor and had to boot 5 women off the start line, I'd most certainly get the boot. So I'll take 13 people. Plus I get out well, so it's really only a disadvantage for the 8 people that are not in the top 5 positions. So everyone's disadvantage is my advantage.

I went to the start line. Having slight anxiety, but still considerably less than a year ago. It was spitting rain and 45 degrees--which sounds bad, but actually my skin tone and lungs really thrive in that type of environment. Everyone's disadvantage was my advantage.

The official declared, "Waterfall start." For those who don't know what that means--you shouldn't because a waterfall start should never, ever happen in the 800m. Having an overcrowded field all race to the pole position within 20m is just asking for a train wreck. But whatever. I've got elbows and a good 20m dash PR.

About a minute into the race I noticed that I felt good! And then at 650m into the race when I was trapped in a box, I wanted out! Last year's races I would have rather just stayed in the box and hoped the box becomes a physical box so I can get off the track all sneaky-like with no one noticing.

I had gears on that home stretch. Gears that matched the other women in the field. And those women are like Ferraris. It's like I upgraded my 1991 Volvo station wagon in for a 2015 Porsche. I go from zero to 100 real quick.

I won one of those giant checks, which, by the way, is the BEST way to get paid. You can sign your name all big on the back. You can do a photo montage of you trying to cash it (in for singles). You can fashion it into a dress. You can sword fight with someone who also happens to have a giant check.
If I'm ever a Boss, I'm paying my peeps in giant checks

So even though this was an opener. And I didn't win. And it wasn't a super fast time. I showed improvement and have some traction. Which is exactly what I needed. I can take care of the rest now.


Why The 800m Comes Down To the Hunters And The Hunted
"The older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I am being uncomfortable. I figure, you can’t grow fast twitch muscles but you can develop more efficiency, so if you’ve got someone who has speed and they’re willing to work like a 1500 runner, that person’s going to be tough to beat"

Women's 800m Up Close And Personal

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Gray Zone of Doping

What is cheating? Where is that very bold line that separates Doping from Clean? With all the doping scandals, it is looking like that line is in Russia, apparently. 

It seems pretty simple: Anything that gives an unfair performance advantage is cheating. Track is a sport where the most advantaged wins, and "unfair" is one of those weird, biased, undefinable terms--kind of like basketball foul rules.

Steve Magness (Known as the "Scientist of Running") and I discuss what it means to cheat. 

How do we categorize gray into black and white terms?  
What is "unfair"? 
Can too much talent can be a bad thing? 
Should I feel bad about that pre-race cup of coffee? 
And being a hermaphrodite is a talent, too, you know.

THE DOPING PODCAST (click below)!

FOR MY FRIENDS WHO DON'T LOVE SCIENCE! Here's a quick lesson in drugs, anatomy, and EPO!

The body basically has a giant tube running through it called the digestive system . It is good at keeping things out that should stay out. Technically, if you eat a penny and a day later you excrete a penny, that penny was never in your body. 
Drugs infiltrate this system and get into the body. This is why the FDA exists--so that they can make sure things that get into your body are semi-safe. 
There are no "risk free" drugs. Why? You take a drug to do something to your body, so therefore, it is doing something to your body. If there is evidence of physiological effect, that effect is going to have side effects. Usually the bigger the physiological effect, the larger the side effects. 

Everything in the body is based on concentrations. Too much or too little of a anything--muscle, hormone, cell growth is a problem. 
Let's take Dopamine for example. Dopamine is a hormone. Hormones are the messengers of the body. They tell other body parts what is going on and how to respond to the environment. Too little dopamine and you have Parkinson's disease and can't move your muscles. Too much and you are Schizophrenic. Being in the normal physiological range is, well, normal. And no one wants to be "abnormal."
Too much cell growth=cancer. 
Too many Red Blood Cells = Your blood is too thick to pump and you die. 
Too little Red Blood Cells= Anemia
There's always a consequence. 

So what's the deal with Supplements, man? 
Most supplements change your physiology about the same as food. This is optimistically thinking. Most supplements do not ever enter the body. But that Flintstones vitamin rock you just ingested--it has a hell of a placebo effect, so it may be worth the investment. 

If a supplement actually cured things, a drug company would test it to make sure it is safe and effective, and then patent it and then rake in the money. 

There are some supplements--DHEA, Red Yeast-- that do actually mess with your physiology a little--this is all that weird stuff that you see with body builders or herbalists that reject modern science. YOU SHOULD 100% STAY AWAY FROM WEIRD SUPPLEMENTS. They are not regulated in any capacity, so you have no clue what and how much you are putting in your body. 

In short: Eat a balanced diet and you shouldn't have to "supplement" it. 


Supplements might, maybe give your body more nutrients to digest. Drugs go in the body, pretend to be a part of the natural body system, bind to DNA, and cause superhuman, lasting effects. 

I hear this argument all the time: But Phoebe, it would be a level playing field if there were no rules.

Well, actually, it would most certainly not be a level playing field. 

1. Not everyone responds to drugs the same--there are people who turn into the Hulk at a very small amount of drugs. Races wouldn't be about who works hardest and races gutsy; it would be about who has the best drugs and whose body responds the best to those drugs. 
2. Unfortunately, drugs make a huge difference, there would be very little opportunity for clean people to survive in the sport.
3. Do you really want non-medical professionals making medical decisions?! People would get stupid with it. The "more is better" mentality would literally kill some people. 
4. The one with the best scientists (and least morals) would win.  
5. Drugs would take away the aspects that make runners the best people. Runners have grit, camaraderie, patience, perseverance... they have this because the ups and especially downs of running has bettered their personality. The secret is in the process. Drugs bypass this process and go straight to the results.
6. This is a sport, not a freak show!


Blood Doping: 8 weeks out from a race, dopers withdraw blood and freeze it. The body makes more blood to replace the loss. Then the blood is put back into the body pre-race. This results in more red blood cells in the body than physiologically possible. More blood=more oxygen=faster human. The cost: strain on the heart. Plus risky risky blood injections are risky.

EPO: Your body naturally produces EPO. It causes the body to make red blood cells. When you inject EPO, your body thinks it needs to make more and more and more red blood cells. More blood=more oxygen=faster human. 
One rare side effect of EPO: Immunogenicity. Your body sees the synthetic EPO as an intruder. The body then makes soldiers to attack the EPO intruder. Unfortunately, your body attacks both the synthetic and natural EPO. Which means you can no longer make red blood cells. Ever. You have to have transfusions for the rest of your life. 

Testosterone: Steroid hormone usually taken in cream form. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone--it causes your body to build things, like muscle mass, for example. It cuts down recovery time. It has a laundry list of side effects. Hormones control so many things that we do not know everything it controls.