What happens to your body when you run 12 marathons in 8 days carrying a 30 pound pack, running dehydrated and hungry? Interesting things, that’s for sure.
To begin with, I got a stress fracture in my shin. I felt this my first day of the southern loop and although it was a fascinating time exploring my psyche, it was painful. I’m still in the process of figuring out recovery times etc but the moral of the story is…if these cyclists spend all this money and time fixing their broken bikes, you will have to do the same for your body,
I lost a LOT of weight. I am permanently freezing. My boobs are maybe 1/3 of their typical size. I can see my hip bones cutting through my skin. I try not to view this as a positive thing; it takes a bit of unlearning not to view ‘skeletal’ and ‘gaunt’ as compliments weight wise.
On this, I think my muscles started to break down. I don’t have a lot of body fat anyway. I know you’re meant to smell bad on these trips, but I really did not smell good. I smelt like cat pee which I believe is your muscle breaking down. Maybe it’s in my head.
I got major, major chafe. I had sort of been observing it developing on the northern loop and readily bragged to Brad that I wasn’t in pain. What hubris! A callus formed between my thighs and knees. The skin hardened. All fine. But then it started to crack, oozing blood and pus, blistering every time I shifted my legs. For all the weight I lost, I didn’t develop a thigh gap! This is still pretty sore and painful a week later. The skin is slowly healing over, but the massive calluses on my thighs are pretty gross.
Also, I got sunburnt. Dirt doesn’t work as an effective sunblock. Sorry Dad!
GEAR & SUPPORT
My gear was almost all really perfect.
Full gear list below:
- ZPacks 30 degree sleeping bag
- Patagonia Women’s 26 Liter Nine Trails Backpack
- Thermarest Women’s ZLite Inflatable Pad
- Emergency Sol Bivy
- Trash Bag
- Patagonia Leggings
- Icebreaker Merino Top
- Smartwool running socks
- Oiselle Shorts
- Brooks Running T-shirt
- Oiselle Sports Bra
- Feathered Friends jacket
- Patagonia Houdini jacket
- Katadyn Be Free Water Filter
- Plastic Spoon from gas station
- Deuce of Spades Trowel + ziplock + wet wipes
- 3Liter camelbak, 2 smart water bottles
My gear was really great. The Nine Trails backpack is perfect. It is pretty heavy but I highly recommend it for any women interested in fastpacking. The Ultimate Direction and Nathan fastpacks that exist just were way too big for me. The Patagonia one is a less traditional running vest style but I found it worked very well.
My emergency bivy was useless in the spikes of New Mexico and got ripped to shreds. I would bring some polycro if I needed a groundsheet next time, or a real bivy.
This was a bit of an odd run as I was predominantly unsupported – Brad carried none of my stuff. However, having him around was incredible and definitely helped me in so many ways. For starters, he carried a tent, which I did not. I do think I would have been warm enough without it (just), but it was incredibly pleasant to have and I’m sure contributed to sleeping like a corpse pretty consistently. Having him around kept my motivation up – sometimes he was ahead, and I just had to push a final 6 miles more that I may otherwise have struggled with. Hard to say. There were multiple times when my foot was really hurting and I was barely managing a 3mph limp where he got OFF his bike, and pushed it to walk with me. Fact…Brad is great, and I could not have done this without him. In hindsight I could have been slightly less stubborn and asked him to carry some of my food or water. Less weight probably would have relieved some of the pressure on my leg, and hopefully sped me up which I’m sure would have been more fun for him!
You would have to ask Brad about what it’s like cycling with a runner. For me, I would occasionally fall into a bit of a panic that I was slowing him down SO significantly, and imagining him just sitting there, waiting. This is typically one of the reasons I run solo most of the time, and will push other people away even in a race situation. I worry about slowing them down, and actually think I thrive in my own personal pain cave. However this trip was an excellent illustration in how much I thrive traveling with someone. It is ideal if they are uber patient like Brad and even if they are annoyed they tend not to show it! Plus the times when I actually was able to run while he cycled were really great for me. I know they must have been painful for him, but I thrive off being pushed by other people. It’s a lot easier mentally for me to just cut myself off, but this trip has made me determined to do that less.
NUTRITION & HYDRATION
I knew going into this I would be running a major calorie deficit, but only now that I can see how much weight I have lost do I realize just how bad of an idea this was. I can comfortably run low on food for probably about five days, but by day 7 I was really lethargic and struggling. Although I wasn’t always very hungry, I can look back now on how difficult I found simply moving my legs, and a huge amount of this must have been to just not having any energy in my body!
I started each day with a cold coffee/chocolate mix still in my sleeping bag. I would prepare this the night before so the minute my alarm went off I could feel around in the dark and chug half a liter of this concoction. It was always my favourite meal of the day. By Day 2 I was already sick of Snickers bars, and it was difficult to motivate myself to cram yet another chocolate bar in my mouth so early in the day. 200 calories or so.
Throughout the day I would eat 5-8 bars granola or chocolate bars. I loved Fig Newtons (I didn’t have to waste energy chewing them and could just slurp them straight down). I quickly got really sick of all chocolate bars. I don’t like sweet things in the heat, but I felt like I needed the sheer sugar. 1000 calories or so. For the southern loop, I swapped in a caramel protein bar as I thought I was beginning to smell of cat pee (lovely) and needed to strengthen my muscles up. This was by far and away the worst thing I had to eat. Protein bars taste like puke to me so it was always a real effort to choke one down. I rolled in with very little food left; only a few protein bars. Because I hate them.
I would usually have a mid-afternoon snack of candy. Either a pack of gummy worms or gummy bears. Around 500 calories. Then for dinner, it would be two packs of cold oatmeal. 200 calories. This would take me to about 2,000 calories a day. I don’t know how many calories I was burning, but I can guarantee it was WAY more than this! Even on normal training days I aim to eat about 4,000 calories. I simply could not carry more food with how much water I needed to carry. In hindsight I should have been less proud and accepted Brad’s offer to help carry some of my stuff on his bike. I don’t know how I would have done this differently. I should have taken refueling after the northern loop more seriously. I should probably have carried a bit less sugar, and something closer to real food a bit more frequently.
A major challenge on this route was carrying enough water. At all times I carried 5 liters with me, and would usually arrive at the next water source with barely half a liter, that I had consciously not drunk to try to preserve in case something had gone wrong.
On the northern loop I added electrolytes to everything I drank, and I think this was a good idea as it was so hot. I have previously had major issues with my kidneys packing in, and really keeping my salts consistent seemed to help. However towards the end I knew I would puke if I drank one more sip of Arctic Grape, plus I was exhausted. Filtering and packing up five liters of water in my pack so that it would be comfortable enough to run with was work enough; adding flavouring was one step too many.