Friday, August 14, 2015

Female Athletes: Let's Focus on the Positive

I recently completed and interview composed of many questions related to running, training, nutrition, etc., etc. When I got to the last question however, I paused.

"What are your views on the female athlete triad?"

I thought for a few moment about how I wanted to answer this question. Sure, I know a lot about the female athlete triad. With my background in exercise physiology and nutrition, my dissertation study on appetite and female runners, and the fact that I'm a female athlete myself, yeah I know quite a bit about the female athlete triad.

The textbook description of the female athlete triad is a syndrome that can occur when women, often endurance athletes, have low energy intake or disordered eating, leading to the loss of the menstrual cycle (amenorrhea), resulting in low bone mineral density and possibly osteoporosis. It's a snowball effect, as one symptom impacts the next, with impacts the next, etc. It's all too common in endurance sports, and it has very serious negative health consequences. And we know this.

So why, then, do we put so much focus on it?

The female athlete triad is not breaking news. Not at all. It was given a name many, many years ago and dozens of research studies (dating back to the 80's), articles, books, documentaries, movies, podcasts, magazine articles, probably cassette tapes, CD's (what else am I missing from the 90s?), etc., have been produced on the female athlete triad. The triad's prevalence among athletes in sports such as running, swimming, cycling, gymnastics, and figure skating (to name a few) is well known. There are so many stories of female athletes who have "suffered" this path.

+++++++++ Role Models++++++++++

As a kid I was obsessed with gymnastics and I idolized Nadia Comeneci. There was a movie, Nadia, documenting her gymnastics career that I watched more than once. Despite winning a gold medal at the Olympics, what I remember most from the movie was the extreme training regime and eating disorder. I'm sure that wasn't the goal of the movie, but it was glamorized in sorts. Looking back, I don't think that was a great way to portray a strong female athlete. I looked up to this gymnast, and it told me was that eating disorders were part of being an Olympic champion.

Another memory I have is reading the book "Pretty Good for a Girl" when I was younger. I LOVED this book because it was about an female runner who could hold her own in a sport dominated by men. It was inspiring and I very much resonated with the story. BUT, it did place a lot of focus on the dark side of endurance sports:

"You are a girl. You are a girl and you want to show the world what you're made of, blood and steel and backbone, guts. So you start running. Running so all those eyes who see just a girl will know what you can do. Your legs take the hills, eat up the road, the sky, the birds, parts of your heart, strong through your chest and then your throat, stride by hungry stride. And you do it really well, too, you run and run and run. Better better best. Breathe and deeper breathe. Until the exhaustion creeps into your bones, steals the fire from your face." 

The book was about addiction, self-esteem, and the female athlete triad. But not in a good way. Kind of like the way the police officer in DARE told us that taking Ecstasy felt like a full body orgasm. But we should never take it because it's bad.


That really makes kids not want to take drugs. The same is true about celebrating eating disorders in female athletes. Is that really how we want to tell the story?

It seems that every book, movie, or article about a successful female athlete also focuses on the disordered eating. What message does that send? Yes, I think it's important to be open about struggles, but does every single story about a female athlete have to involve a struggle with food?

And if it does, let's actually be real about what it's like.....

Eating disorders are not attractive. They will not make sure you faster, more successful, or help with self esteem.  They are not sexy. And worst of all, there are some very serious health consequences. Like death. Sound good? I didn't think so.

+++++++++++Moving Forward+++++++++++

So, instead of always telling the same story, let's talk about some strong, successful, badass women who are kicking ass right now. Let's glamorize the hard work, dedication, and lifestyle they have chosen to lead. Isn't that a better way to inspire young athletes?

And, maybe, just maybe, if we don't always focus on the female athlete triad (at least in the media) someday there will be more books, articles, movies about strong, healthy women to look up to.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Strawberries, RKUC, Eagle Cap, and the People I Love

I really needed to hit the reset button.....

After returning home from Western States I took a couple days to lick my wounds. I was in a little bit of a funk, still trying to process everything. My grey mood, combined with my overflowing inbox and pile of work waiting for me, pushed me even further into the dark hole. It was time to change my attitude. 

Strawberry Mountains

A few days later Zach and I got out the maps began scheming. Neither of us had spent time in the Strawberry Mountains, so we decided to give it a try.

Heading East. Dog is my co-pilot.
Best buds
What we didn't know was that a fire raged through the wilderness a few years ago, leaving the trails pretty much nonexistent after a couple miles in. That made for a long hike, especially on not fully recovered legs! 

Along the way we noticed that the hillside was covered with blueberries! I have some pretty strong gatherer instincts, so we spent a good hour picking blueberries. 

Blueberry Mountains?
After hiking about 7 miles, we came across Bum Kamp. Perfect. What a great find! 

The following day we did a little hiking, but the trails were so tough it took us almost 3 hours to walk 5 miles. Phew! The scenery sure made up for it though. The hillsides were covered in wildflowers.

Happy Birthday "Merica!
Enjoying the wildflowers
View from the top. Of course we had to summit something.
 Our goal was to hike to some lakes about 8-10 miles away from our camp to fish. Due to the slow going, it wasn't going to happen. Plus, a thick layer of smoke was starting to move in from a massive fire nearby. So, we decided to cut our losses and head back home. Since it was only a three hours drive we could still make the fireworks!

4th of July. Just the three of us hanging out in our backyard.
And since we came back a day early, why not fit in a Broken Top summit? It was such a beautiful day!
View from the Top ring to rule them all
Running down the scree. Whee!


Almost 24 hours later I boarded a plane for Flagstaff. I was headed to the Rob Krar Ultra Camp for the week to help out and give a nutrition talk. I spent some time in Flagstaff a few months earlier, but was anxious to get back and see even more. Flagstaff is such a beautiful place, and this time I could fully enjoy it instead of focusing on training. 

Humphrey's Peak
Photo: Jon Ornate
RKUC really was a once in a lifetime experience. Rob had every detail planned and spared no expense to make sure the campers had an absolute wonderful experience. Each day was filled with a glorious trail run (often a point-to-point) on some of Flagstaff's best trails, followed by a picnic lunch (think Trans-Rockies type organization), with an even better spread of food (thanks Christina & Kyle)! 

Running the Arizona Trail
Photo: Taylor Maltz
Following the run, campers had the option of a massage followed by some evening activities, including a short night run with headlamps, a brewery tour, a visit to the observatory, guest speakers (myself, AJW, and Ian Torrence), and much much more. It was an incredible week and I feel fortunate to have been a part of the camp!

Hanging out after the run.
Photo: Stephane Bailliez
Aspen Corner
Photo: Stephane Bailliez

Eagle Cap Wilderness

I left Flagstaff Friday morning and arrived in Bend around 8:00pm. Zach picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to the Wallowa's for Zach's birthday adventure.

The past three years we've done a backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness for Zach's birthday weekend. And each time I am reminded of what a beautiful place Eagle Cap is. It's totally worth the 7 hour drive....
Camping out with friends the first night

The best part about the Eagle Cap wilderness, besides the stunning scenery, is how quiet it is. We saw about 6 people the entire weekend. Hundreds of elk, some deer, fish, and maybe a bear, but barely any people. I love it.

Caught on a Tenkara rod. Riley sure wanted to help!
Family photo at the summit
We ended up hiking 49 miles over three days (NOT 50....right Zach?) He likes to give me a hard time for being so exact with everything :) What can I say, I'm type AAA. Part of the goal was to scout for Elk, for the upcoming fall. I think it's safe to say we found a good area.

The People I Love

Coming back home I've realized what a great group of family, friends, and sponsors I have. It's really incredible to think about how many awesome people I have in my life. I don't think I take the time to thank everyone nearly enough. So here goes.....

My family

Zach. What would I do without you? I have no idea. Over the past 4 weeks we have been through some very fun, happy times (adventures!) and also some low, dark the last 10 hours of WS. But, good or bad, Zach was there the whole time. Thanks babe!

My mom and dad came out to watch Western States this year. It was the first race they have seen me run. It was incredible to have them there to see me work through and ultimately finish. My dad even ran the last mile with me. I am so thankful they could be there!

Zach's parents and brother also came out to watch. They were out at every crew aid station cheering me on. Phil even rode his bike, ironically 100 miles, to watch me race.

My fantastic cousins, Ryan and Jillian, made the trek out from Minneapolis to be a part of Western States this year. Jillian and I have gotten really close over the past couple years and it meant so much to me to have them there! They also made really awesome signs for me :)

Torsten. Not family, but might as well be. Thanks for all your help this year and for being such a great friend and role model over the past few years. Zach and I are so lucky to have you and Beth as friends!!

My friends

You guys are my rock. Thanks for keeping some balance in my life and including me in some fun, non-running adventures. I feel like a lucky girl to have so many awesome people in my life:

Elisa, Chris, Natalie, Ryan, Matt, Nate, Rob, Christina, Erin, Mandy, Scott, Chassen, Robbie, Meg, Rick, Rebecca, Renee, Kami, Meghan, Monkey Boy, the Bouclairs, and so many more.....

My Sponsors

I am able to pursue my dreams because you believe in me! I am so thankful for all the support you've given to help me get here.

The North Face My Family. I love my teammates to pieces! Thanks to the North Face for supporting such a great, close knit group of athletes. I couldn't imagine a better team dynamic. Thanks for all the great support and product. I am very fortunate to be a part of the team!

Clif Bar I am fueled by Clif Bar products every single day. Thanks for taking athlete input and including me in the development of Clif Organic Energy Food. This product, along with the rest of the Clif Bar family, has fueled me through miles and miles.

Flora  Keeping me healthy during training and racing. I never leave home without my 7 Sources and Green Blend!

Nathan Hydration and a whole lot more. Support both on and off the trails. Thanks for helping me dial in a hydration pack that's perfect for me!

Julbo Shades for running, relaxing, and looking cool. I love our group of athletes!

Drymax Happy feet! No blisters for me!

Roch Horton at Black Diamond Lights lights lights! And, good advice from a ultra running legend!

Burke Selbst at Focus Physical Therapy My therapist, both physical and mental. Not only do you help keep my body healthy, but you listen to me vent. You have helped me overcome so much!

Ian Torrence My coach and mentor. Thanks for helping me run to my potential and not letting me take myself too seriously :)

Recharge Sport Where I work and hang out. I'm thankful to have access to a wonderful recovery lab and shoot the shit with the best athletes around.

Footzone Always providing me support and opportunities to interact with our wonderful community.

Matt Trappe For grinding out two killer photo shoots within 24 hours of Western States, and not wearing me out! You Rock!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Western States 100

To run 100 miles is to push yourself to that place where you waver between delusion and sanity. Stripped down to nothing, bearing your soul. 

Exposed. Raw. Real. 

....And yet the will to continue, to persevere, endures. Quitting is not an option. And at the pinnacle of human suffering, where mind, body, and spirit are broken, you find ease. 

And it's beautiful....

Western States 2015, mile 60
Photo: Sean Dulany
To say my race was ideal is far from the truth, but, it was still everything I had hoped for. To me, running 100 miles is more about the journey. The suffering, perseverance, and feeling of accomplishment as you overcome all adversity to cross the finish line. It was #that exact feeling that I was seeking at Western States.

Devil's Thumb. The body language says it all.
Photo: Gary Wang

And my race this year didn't disappoint.

After a few days to reflect, I am more and more satisfied with my performance this year. In fact, I'm more proud of my finish this year compared to last year. From the outside it must seem like I didn't meet my goals, as many people have consoled my effort, rather than congratulated it. But, I am not disappointed, or discouraged. If anything I am more in awe than ever before.

Photo: Matt Trappe
My race wasn't all dark and dismal. Early on I was able to fully enjoy the beauty of the course. I started right where I wanted to be, taking it easy up to the Escarpment. I had some great girl talk with Kaci and Aliza, and was really looking forward to the view from the top.

Taking in the sunrise over the Escarpment
Photo: Kelly Cronin
At the summit I took a moment to wait for Kaci and Aliza so we could all take in the sunrise together. It was amazing.
Sharing this moment
For the first 30 miles I rolled through the high country with a smile on my face. I felt wonderful and the wildflowers were stunning.
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
Photo: Stephen Ingalls
Somewhere around 12 or 13 miles I caught up to Magda and we shared some miles together. We didn't talk much, but it was so comforting to just be running, knowing we were out there together.

Photo: Gary Wang
Coming into Robinson Flat, I was still right on track. I felt good and was moving along at a similar pace as the previous year. I saw my crew, refilled with supplies, and took off down the trail.

Robinson Flat
It was hot. And somewhere over the next 10 miles the wheels started coming off. Looking back, some of it was nutrition related. But my body also was just not cooperating. I rolled down into Deadwood canyon, but was feeling the effects of my effort.

Slowly, I walked up Devil's Thumb. By this point I was feeling nauseous and low energy. Not a good omen at 40-something miles in. At Eldorado creek I hit my low point. I was still nauseous, but now was also low energy and dizzy. I was not in a good place. But, I could still take one more step. So I did.

I came into Michigan Bluff in the lead, but my I was already a bit defeated. My crew could tell, too. And here I made yet another mistake. Hindsight, I was behind on calories and should have take the time to really replenish and catch up. Instead, I grabbed a small flask filled with sprite and headed on my way.
Photo: Matt Trappe
The stretch between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill was probably the slowest section I covered all day. I could hardly run. I was beyond exhausted. Yet I was still determined not to give up. Even as Magda passed me walking up Bath Road, I didn't let it discourage me. The thought of running another 40 miles was overwhelming, but I knew it was going to happen.

Photo: Matt Trappe
From Foresthill on it was about survival. Zach joined me for the remainder of the race and really pulled me through. Without his constant affirmations and positive attitude, I don't know if I would have made it. Despite my emotional state and defeated spirit, Zach continued to believe in me. That is a true partner. And that was what carried me on.

Photo: Stephen Ingalls
Photo: Matt Trappe

Photo: Matt Trappe
The rest of the night was somewhat of a blur. I shuffled along as best as possible and tried to stay positive. We didn't move very fast, but we kept moving forward. When we got to Highway 49, I was still holding on to third place. From there we made it a goal for me to finish in that position. It helped, having something to work towards.

Since the gap behind me wasn't huge, Zach really pushed me on. When we got to the open meadow before No Hands Bridge, he turned to me and said "Ok, now you have to run. And when you get to the downhill you have to run like you stole something."

Easy peasy. Except not at all. But, I gave my best effort and did move along pretty well. After we crossed No Hands Bridge, Zach gave me another goal "We are going to have to push hard up to Robbie Point. It's going to hurt and it's going to suck, but you can do it."

Ugh. That hill is hard enough when you are not tired, let along 97 miles into a race. But, once again I surprised myself as I dug deep and ran most all of the climb up to Robbie Point. Behind us we could see a couple headlamps moving closer. Fearful that it was the next female, we decided to run the last mile as hard as I could.

And we did. Zach didn't let me let up until I reached the track, finally confirming that I was indeed going to cross the finish line, and hold on to third.

Emotions overcame me. The day, my race, and having my husband see me through the darkest parts;  really became real. And once again, I floated around the track to the sound of Tropical John's voice. It was just as spectacular as the last time, and felt even more satisfying.

Photo: Matt Trappe
It's the tough days that really define us. And the last mile, no matter what happened over the previous 99 miles, is magical. It's a feeling that I will forever cherish, no matter if I finish first or last. It's in the suffering that we find greatness, and #that is always worth it.

Photo: Erin Strout

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cauliflower "Pizza"

Ok, let's get one thing straight. This is not pizza. It's delicious and wonderful, but it is not in the same family as pizza.

I love homemade pizza, and the only ingredients I want in the crust are:
-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-Sea Salt

That's it. No crazy additions or substitutions. Keep it simple.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a recipe claims to be healthier by labeling itself as "gluten free" or "vegan" or "sugar free". More often than not these recipes are not any healthier and usually include some sort of substitution. Using gluten free flour in place of all purpose flour is really not healthier. Nor is using "flax eggs" in place of real eggs. I think recipes CAN be healthier, but usually that means using high quality ingredients, not putting a label on the recipe. I digress.

When I was browsing recipes recently, I noticed that non-traditional pizza was a common theme. A cauliflower based crust has been somewhat mainstream over the past year or so, but now dozens of recipes exist. I've always thought cauliflower crust sounded interesting, and now with the emergence of the veggie based crust all over the internet, I decided I needed to try it out.

However, after briefly reviewing some of the recipes for a cauliflower crust, I didn't like what I found.   First off, many of the recipes were healthified and labeled as gluten free. Ok, duh...I don't think anyone ever thought a vegetable contained gluten. [SIDE NOTE- seriously people. Can we get over this already? I recently bought a package of berries that were labeled gluten free. You think??] But I noticed that many of the recipes for cauliflower crusts also contained some sort of flour flour, such as rye, buckwheat, or gluten free flour. This seemed paradoxical to me. If I wanted a flour crust I'd make one. The point of the cauliflower crust is to use vegetables...right?

The recipes that didn't use flour seemed really heavy and dense. Many used a lot of mozzarella cheese as a binder. And if they were vegan, they didn't use eggs or cheese, but used "flax eggs" and "soy cheese" or something of the equivalent.

I thought I could do it better.

My version. Purple cauliflower edition.
I sought out to make a crust that was vegetable based, didn't use an alternative grain for filler, and  didn't include any weird substitutions. Just real, simple ingredients that taste good.

I started with a head of cauliflower. I bought mine from the local produce stand that just came fresh from the farm. So fresh!

To make the correct consistency, I added the cauliflower to a food processor and blended until it was a rice-like consistency. I did small batches to ensure equal sized pieces. The resulting product was pretty wet, so I spread the cauliflower out onto a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake at 200 degrees for about 15-20 min. To create a crust that wasn't soggy or mushy I needed the cauliflower to be dried out.

After about 20 min the moisture content was reduced. I let the cauliflower cool down and went to work on the rest of the crust.

Beginnings of the cauliflower crust
I liked the idea of using eggs in the crust because they contain some protein and good vitamins (in the yolk). Eggs also have binding properties when used in baking, which would help hold the crust together. I liked the idea of cheese, but I was planning to have cheese on top of the pizza. I didn't want to add a whole extra cup or two to the crust. Instead, I decided to use cottage cheese. Working also as a binder, cottage cheese contains some fat and protein to make a more well rounded nutritional profile. The cottage cheese also adds flavor, but is not as heavy as mozzarella cheese. My crust recipe contained the following ingredients:
  • cauliflower
  • egg
  • cottage cheese
  • salt
That's it. I'm very happy with that list. All healthy, real food ingredients that are nourishing to the body.

To make the crust, I combined the eggs, cottage cheese, and salt in a small bowl and whisked together until well combined. I then added the cauliflower to the mixture.

To bake, I covered a baking sheet with parchment paper, to ensure that it wouldn't stick to the pan. Since this was a new recipe I wanted to be sure before sacrificing the surface of my new baking sheets.

I spread the mixture out onto the pan and pressed into a thin layer. It felt a little wet to me, so I pre-baked the crust for about 10 min at 300 degrees. After taking it out of the oven it was firm and fragrant. Success!

Now for the pizza itself.

I'm slightly obsessed with pesto, especially on pizza. I didn't use to like it much, until I tried a homemade version at a friends house (that'd be YOU Kelli Lytle). THANKS! It forever changed my outlook on pesto.

My homemade pesto recipe

For the pizza toppings, I wanted to be a little different since this was, after all, a unique recipe. I settled on pesto, sun dried tomatoes, chioggia beets, asparagus, shredded dubliner cheese, and arugula.

The finished product? Amazing!

Bonus version
I made a version of this pizza in a hotel room while on the road. Yes, in a hotel room. It was quite impressive. I did have a toaster oven that I brought along, so it was possible to bake. I also had a travel blender that I used to process the cauliflower. How's that for creativity? Indeed you can eat healthy on the road!

Cauliflower "Pizza"

by Stephanie Howe
Prep Time: 15-20 min
Cook Time: 10-15 min
Keywords: bake entree summer
Ingredients (Serves 2, with leftovers)
    • 1 head cauliflower
    • 1 egg
    • 1/2 c cottage cheese
    • 2-3 c basil loosely packed
    • 1 c toasted pine nuts
    • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
    • 2-3 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 t sea salt
    • 1/2 thinly sliced beet
    • 5 sun dried tomatoes, sliced in half
    • 4 stalks asparagus, trimmed and cut in thirds
    • 1/2 c grated cheese
    • 1-2 c arugula
    • sea salt
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • 4-5 slices prosciutto (optional)
    To make the crust, start by adding cauliflower to a food processor. Process small amounts at a time until you have a "rice like" consistency. Add cauliflower to a baking sheet and bake at 200 for 10-15 minutes to dry out. Check the cauliflower after about 10 minutes and stir. You may need to bake for longer, depending on the moisture content. The cauliflower is done when it feels dry to the touch. Next, add the egg and cottage cheese to a large bowl. Mix to combine and add cauliflower mixture. Mix thoroughly and spread out onto a non-stick baking sheet. I used parchment paper to prevent sticking. Spread out evenly and thin. You can return the crust to the oven for a few minutes, but it's now ready for toppings.
    To make the pesto, add all ingredients to a food processor. Turn on and combine until a smooth paste. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides a few times. Add more oil if the consistency is too thick.
    To assemble, spread the pesto on the cauliflower crust. Sprinkle with sun dried tomatoes. Top with thinly sliced beets, asparagus, and prosciutto (if using). Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, or until crust is firm and cheese is bubbling. Remove from oven and add arugula on top. Return to the oven for 2-3 more minutes or until arugula is wilted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt and olive oil.
    Let cool for a few minutes before slicing. Yum!
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