Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Beast of Burden 100 race report

First, a recap of my last 8/9 months. It's been a long journey.

Those of you who know me know I've been dealing with issues that have not been so pleasant.

#1. Swelling - legs, feet, which seemed to come and go randomly. When I ran, when I didn't run - it didn't matter. I did know it was far worse when I ate more sugar and wheat.

#2. Nausea - even when I did not eat/fuel on the run, I was getting nauseated - very uncomfortable.

#3. Insomnia - there were some nights when I just COULD NOT sleep. Oh MAN did I want too though!

#4. Fatigue

#5. Muscle weakness - at times I could barely lift my arms.

#6. Consistent weight gain, due to the edema

#7. Heart palpitations

#8. Bloated feeling constantly

#9. And others, I will not divulge...tmi.

After dealing with this for some time, thinking it would go away, and acquiring my one and only DNF, and a no show at Mohican I thought I could have an intolerance to gluten, since the problems were worse when I ate wheat products. (Looking back now, really didn't explain why it also happened when I ate sugary treats as well). I had thought I found a solution, for a couple weeks the swelling went down, but not completely-I know that know looking at my feet today. My feet had been swollen for so long that I actually forgot what they really looked like on a normal day. If the swelling went down slightly, I thought WOOOO! FIXED!

It went back and forth like this. It started to get ten times worse after my son's first marathon. Each cycle of swelling my legs seemed to get bigger and bigger and BIGGER. I was falling into a very deep depression. The highs and lows - I'm swelling, OH IT'S GONE YAY! Then, swelling - again and again and again. My running was suffering of course, speed dropped significantly. I could barely finish a run, and some I actually didn't - something I never imagined I'd do (not to mention my DNF at Glacier Ridge). After talking with my amazing friend and coach, Ray Zahab, I backed out of the 100 miler I was supposed to do in June - Mohican 100. I was hell bent on figuring out WHAT this was exactly. Except - I couldn't. My doctors were clueless - and they sent me to specialist. (Actually they lined me up with 4, but after the first one costing over $500 I could not go see the others.) The first specialist, I could tell - just thought I was crazy. I was only mildly swollen at the time of his office visit. So, I showed him a picture of what I was talking about. He nearly fell out of his chair when I showed him, telling me "WOW, I didn't expect that!" AWESOME. But he couldn't help me. He didn't even know where to begin. Again, deeper depression. I was at the point now that I was doing everything I could to avoid running with people. My run was a crawl, and I basically felt like a complete fat ass from all the water I was retaining. I couldn't wear my jeans anymore. My feet were constantly blistering. All I really wanted to do was lay in bed and feel sorry for myself. Boo hoo waaa waaa. I was still running though, even if it wasn't pretty. It was damn near uncomfortable. Imagine this. Go grab a 10 pound weight, try to run with it. Imagine that weight getting put on your body in one, two days. Horrid. Sometimes, it was more than that. I was constantly on the net in a "what's wrong with me mode" looking things up, wondering - seeing different things, thinking well maybe it's this, or that, or that....feeling completely crazy. I also was feeling like the people who really didn't know me well, only ran with me a few times - didn't really believe what was happening or maybe thought I was whining because I was slow. I felt like THEY thought I was crazy, too. No matter though. Something was not right, I knew it - and despite what people may have or have not been thinking I had to keep going, keep fighting until I found the answer. I was grateful to have a few friends help me out with some things. Most specifically - Courtney Baker Russell, who was helped me out and sent me some wonderful messages when I thought it was gluten. Agnes Jung, who always showed her concern, Desiree Cowie, Lee Shane, Wendy Collura, Chettina, and most recently Roseann Perchinske-a fantastic woman and athlete. You all don't know what a few kind words can do when you're really low. Really great people who I'm so fortunate to know. Also, my friend and coach Ray Zahab, who continued and continues to help me out through everything, offer his advice and put up with my frustration. And my husband. My husband who got the worst of it, who saw my tears, my anger, and my resentment.

This was not me. Hate was building up inside me more and more as each day passed. Before all this, I was a happy runner. Now I was starting to question why I was even doing it. What was the point? I wasn't having fun, and the more I ran the more I seemed to gain weight. It just didn't make any sense. It didn't make sense and I was pissed. I wasn't feeling good. Things just plain old sucked. Boo hoo. Boo hoo. But still, I kept looking for answers. Because deep down, I really do love running, and couldn't imagine my life without it. I started to do everything I could to avoid group runs. No way did I want to run with people the way I was. I didn't want people to see me the way I was, and I didn't really feel much like laughing anyway. Misery in my case does not love company.

About a week after I was supposed to do Mohican I signed up for the Beast of Burden 100 miler, thinking SURELY I would have things figured out by then. I continued to run, it continued to suck - with a few mediocre days mixed in between. Literally the ONLY good run I had was a 15k run the weekend before Beast of Burden. Ray advised me not to run Beast of Burden - and I admit that would have been the smart thing to do. But mentally I couldn't take it. I couldn't go through the whole winter with Glacier Ridge, Mohican, and BoB too! I would've shut down even more mentally - and that would have been worse than the physical issues I was experiencing. It was something I had to do.

When I first signed up for Beast I wrote down a time, stuck it on my work computer. A fast time. As the weeks went by that hope slowly diminished, and as the race approached I made a decision. I was going to Beast of Burden not to place, not having a time goal, but my only goal was to go there and smile, laugh, and have an all around great time. It was a good goal :)

So here goes. My BoB 100 race report, with a little bit of Eureka mixed in:

One week before Beast of Burden I was poking around on the Livestrong website. (Fantastic resource for anyone - please check it out!) I was mildly curious when I went onto "Myplate" calorie and activity tracker. I thought hmmm, I wonder how many calories a day I wind up with after eating and running? I thought the number would be outrageous, since the weight keeps creeping up, on and on and on....instead I was at a NEGATIVE calorie balance. A pretty big negative at that. I thought "NO WAY." How could that be? I entered in the previous two days. Again, big negatives. Now, I eat exactly the same way every day (breakfast and lunch, and in between snacks). The only difference daily is dinner. So that means that every day for I don't even KNOW how long I was at a negative calorie deficit, excluding my non running days - Monday and Friday. My heart sunk. I was trying to do things right, and trying to eat healthy - trying to lose weight because I kept gaining, etc, etc you know the story. I was downright shocked. I was always wondering, Ray CONSTANTLY would tell me, EAT EAT EAT! But in my mind I was thinking, just look at me though! I weigh so much!!! Even if it was water weight, it messed with my head, all that extra weight. It sounds dumb, me not knowing I was under calories - but honestly I wasn't a calorie counter. Frankly the shit bores me to death. But now, I have to be. I have to make sure I get everything I need. And honestly using the Livestrong site makes it SO easy it's almost fun. The only pain in the butt is when you have to add a recipe, it takes a few minutes (so really not so bad). It's almost exciting seeing how many calories you have left at the end of the day, and HEY...I can go out and by cashews, I have ### calories left!! That day I started using the tracker on Livestrong and have used it every day since. I found things on "starvation mode" which said you actually GAIN weight when you are at a negative calorie balance but I was questioning that. WHY if I was constantly at a negative balance was I not skin and bones? WHY was I gaining weight! WHY was I one of the biggest runners out there? The things I looked up about starvation mode said this would happen, that your body just holds onto everything it can get when it gets it. I really wasn't buying that one, still confused and curious. But I started to eat all the calories I needed and prepared for the upcoming 100 miler. (There is more to this equation later!)

My son and I headed for Lockport, New York the day before the race. We chilled at the hotel, he showed me a pizza place that he went to during the winter BoB and we just ate, swam, and relaxed. My husband came later that night straight from work, and my other pacer - Scott McGrew and his with Bri came down the morning of the race.

Before the race we met lots of amazing people, fun people - and took a few pics

And then, it was go time! I started too fast for what I was used to considering how training went, and that was a mistake - especially in the heat. The course is interesting in the fact that you are completely exposed to the elements. That's what makes this race difficult. Winter version, Summer version - it's all about the weather.

Mile 12.5 I came into the aid station shaking, knowing what I had done. I left out of there still not learning my lesson. At mile 25 I came in, got a few things and left with my husband, who we decided at the last minute he would pace me (he was actually not going to be able to make the race at all at first, but was able to work it out with his job last minute). I left forgetting to take my ecaps along with me. TROUBLE. And that meant trouble FAST and in a BIG way. I crashed completely and walked quite a bit from miles 25-50, even when I eventually got some more ecaps. It took until mile 50 to be able to put forth some effort again. Scott McGrew started to pace me at mile 50 and I tried running some, walking some, etc, etc.

At one point during the run I really gained some ground and picked up some energy. It was dark now and a wicked thunderstorm rolled through, rain - thunder - lightning, you name it. I laughed to myself as I had mentioned to Sam (the race director) that if he wanted it to be sunny during the day he's got to at least give me rain at night. I guess I got what I asked for! Still holding onto my second wind, I kept on. I wonder, at that last aid station I had 1 scoop of peanut butter and a cup of coke! hmmmm I had also taken a fondness to watermelon and pringles :) (I had ditched my hammer concoction early on, just was stubborn and wanted variation) My main goal was to keep my calories under 300 an hour, as studies have shown that's about all a runner can handle in one hour. WELL. I screwed that one up! After the PB aid station, I decided well HA! That worked so well will DOUBLE the PB! NOOOO! I didn't think, doubling the pb and then getting another coke on top of it put me well over 300 calories. It wasn't long before I started dry heaving, nauseous, and just blah. I once again was walking, although I was still excited because soon my son would be pacing me, and I figured my nausea would be gone by then - since it would take me so long to get to him. haha.

Finally I got to the turnaround aid station - it was my last time there. AWESOME!! My son was ready and waiting to pace me for my last 12 1/2 miles. I looked at him and said "You don't have to do this. It's raining, thunder, lightning - seriously if you don't want too it's ok, really." All he did was look at me, and not even blinking said "No. I'm doing it. I'm going with you. I want to" AWESOME!! And away we went. In a way it helped me, because I went into "mom mode". I stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about him - you know typical mom stuff. Is he cold, is he hot, is he tired, is he hungry, blah, blah blah. At the aid station: Make sure you eat, make sure you drink, blah blah blah. Soon we were nearly at the finish!! I did notice though, he was getting tired. He hadn't run so far since his marathon, and he had been busting his butt at XC practice. Still - he didn't say anything. Didn't tell me he was tired, didn't complain, but I did see it. Soon we got to a bridge that he thought was very close to the finish and said "HEY! There's the bridge!!" I had to tell him "No, we've got two more bridges to cross" and I then saw his shoulders slump. But still, my little trooper was such an awesome pacer and didn't say anything. Finally we went across the correct bridge, ran towards the finish line, and it was done! I took third place female, tenth overall. Not meaning to do anything but finish, I'm pleased with the results.

My time was 22 hours and 18 minutes. And this is the race that I'm most proud of by far. I didn't back down, didn't give up - and am going into fall with a positive attitude for next year. First, thank you's - then to tell you my little "Eureka" moment:

Thanks to Scott McGrew and Bri McGrew! Scott was an amazing pacer, and I would definitely ask him to pace me again! He's a great friend and I'm so glad that we met him and his wife this year. Bri is an amazing person, and was excellent crew for me! She's so positive, and it really rubs off. Great people and great friends, we're really lucky people :) THANKS GUYS!!!

My husband, who drove straight from a 12 hour shift to NY so he could help me out, and ran the crap miles with me. Forever grateful :)

My son, pacer extraordinaire, who fought his own battles silently so he could help me through mine:

My friend, my coach - Ray. As busy as he is, as much as he does - he still takes the time to help me, listen to me, and believe in me!

Beast of Burden Race Director Sam Pasceri, Resurrection racing, and all the BoB volunteers. You guys are incredibly awesome, and the event is amazing. A definite must do for every ultra runner, all because of people like you! I can't say enough about this race and the people - runners, you just have to go there for yourself and see. I really hope we can make it to this event every year, even if we're not running it. Running or helping, either way - this event fast became tops on our list. Thank you so SO much for your hospitality, staying up all night, working so hard - you guys are incredible people and we have nothing but respect for you all. Despite everything, this race and it's people made me love running all over again, and made more hell bent on figuring out what was going on. THANK YOU!!!

And now, my little "EUREKA" moment:

A week after BoB and my swelling was not horrible (actually - I thought it was non-existent, but again I had been in that state for so long when it wasn't too bad I thought I was "normal" even when I was not.) Yet, almost one whole week after BoB I damn near exploded. Frustrated, I thought long and hard. "If this does have to do with food somehow, what are the foods that REALLY make me feel good when I eat them? I mean really truly INSTANTLY good?" First thing that came to my mind, melons. Watermelons, cantaloupe, honeydew. I rarely eat them, because lets face it. They're big, bulky, and well - I'm lazy and really don't like to stand there and take the time to cut em up. So I rarely eat them. But out of frustration I went and bought melons so I could eat during the week, and them to my calorie intake (NOT EATING ONLY MELONS). Monday I was feeling absolutely horrible and started, ate a whole melon. Almost immediately, waterworks. Literally I would go to the bathroom, sit back down at my work desk, and have to pee again. I got home from work and had lost 5 pounds since that morning. Monday night, still swollen - I ran. Just a short run down a busy street - Mentor Avenue. During my run I was running across a crosswalk when I heard someone in a car that was stopped say "WOW that's a big girl to be running like that." It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. I just wanted to scream "THIS IS NOT ME!" In tears I kept running, hoping that what happened during the day was a sign of good things to come. I didn't want to get my hopes up too high though. I didn't want to be knocked back down again.

Tuesday, same thing. One melon, 5 pounds gone.

Wednesday, One melon, 4 pounds gone.

Thursday, my husband and I looked at my feet and legs in utter amazement. I don't remember the last time I saw my feet the way they looked. There was no denying there wasn't swelling. Down 14 pounds since Monday. Such a big difference:

Pic #1 - One pic of how my feet got - this is during one of the swelling instances before Beast of Burden:


Since the melons, for whatever reason were working so well naturally I was curious beyond belief. What is it about melons? WHAT is going on?!

One word: POTASSIUM. Melons are rich with potassium. And LACK of potassium causes every single symptom that I was experiencing. Why the lack of potassium? My negatvie calorie balance. NOW it makes sense, my swelling, my weight gain. Lack of potassium causes it all, and then some.

See below, copied off website:

Symptoms of Lack of Potassium
The most common symptoms of lack of potassium in the body is leg cramps and arm cramps. If a person finds arms and legs cramping a lot without any specific reason, it may mean lack of potassium in the body. Vomiting is another lack of potassium symptom as this mineral is an important part of ones gastrointestinal system. In less severe cases, a person may feel nauseated all the time. If you feel tired at all times and feel that you have no energy left, it may be a sign of lack of vitamins and minerals. Lack of potassium symptoms also include fatigue and weakness. Heart palpitations that crop up on an EEG may be a sign of low potassium levels. Abdominal and stomach cramps are also lack of potassium symptoms. Other signs and symptoms of low potassium may include:
•Abnormally dry skin
•Glucose intolerance
•High cholesterol levels
•Impaired growth
•Insatiable thirst
•Low blood pressure
•Mental confusion
•Nausea and vomiting
•Salt retention
•Cardiac arrest in extreme cases

So my little accidental miracle in a way. I stumbled upon this and so glad that I did. It's so simple. Seems so small, but it was HUGE for me. Potassium. The human body is so incredibly confusing, and such a great big pain in the ass. I'm thankful for my newfound knowledge though, despite it taking SO incredibly long to get to this point. I'm so pumped, more so than I ever have before. Now I have one goal. Get 100% healthy and regain the speed I lost dealing with these issues. And then annihilate the course at Glacier Ridge, the site of my DNF. CRUSH IT. It's not a huge race, no prize money, no national championship - but to go out there and kill the course will have very special meaning to me. Training has begun.

Happy Running,


  1. Laurie - This article made me cry. I am so happy for you. If not for your determination to grab BoB, you would have not discovered the joy of watermelon. What a crazy discovery. News Headline: "Elite runner's mystery illness busted by melon!" Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out. It was a wonderful and worthy read. So glad to have met you! ~Brooke

  2. You have wonderful blog. I read some of your articles and impressed by your knowledge, can you advice me on how to build an effective company profile, there is some sites which I searched for but thinking about which one should I choose. But your blog made a good impression here.

    Plain Racing uk profile