Marathon & Beyond Monday: ‘Food Fads and Doodads’

April 11, 2011
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In this episode of Marathon and Beyond Monday, Olympic marathoner Lorraine Moller writes about all the various tactics she and her roommate tried over the years in hopes of achieving better performance in sport. To get a free PDF file with pictures of this episode’s story, click here. Or, scroll down for the full text of the story.

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Food Fads and Doodads

By Lorraine Moller

My friend is dangerous. She incites play where stodginess has taken root. Colleen Cannon, also known as “C2,” the constant in Einstein’s equation, is the founder and director of Women’s Quest Fitness Retreats. Now in its 18th year of successful running, Women’s Quest was birthed by Colleen when she retired from her career as a professional triathlete after distinguishing herself with the title of 1984 World Champion and numerous national titles. Through Women’s Quest she invites women to connect with the joy of being an athlete regardless of their age or ability. The amount of physical activity that her participants manage to pack in during their high-altitude week in Colorado never ceases to amaze them and me. They hike, bike, run, belly dance and do yoga, gyrotonics, aromatherapy, and whatever zany and fascinating new thing Colleen might come up with. Time and time again I see women leave with a sense of accomplishment and physical confidence that they had no idea they possessed. I should not be surprised; C2 has been an inspiration as long as I have known her.

We met when Colleen came to Boulder in the mid-’80s and rented my house while I was training in New Zealand. I first knew she was wacky when I saw a bedcover over her new racing bike and a pillow under its front wheel and she was reading it a bedtime story. She wanted it to be a happy bicycle that was kind back to her and would help her win races. Her imagination was infectious, and we quickly became fast friends. We spent hours talking about the inner game and the power of the mind, but that didn’t stop us from looking for that one special thing that would set us apart from our competition.

Between us we tried almost every dietary, body, and psychotype therapy Boulder had to offer, including but not limited to high-carb, low-carb, wheat-grass, color-infused water, bach flower, Rolfing, Reiki, Hakomi, spumoni, craniosacral, a gadget to hang us upside down, another to rotate us into nirvana, hypnosis, meditation, channeling, psychic readings, chocolate, and talking with our dead relatives—all in the pursuit of faster times. Most went by the wayside—except chocolate. We spent oodles of our winnings to spur Boulder’s New Age economy and buy things like talismans handcrafted out of pine cones and sacred chicken feathers to tie to our running shoes. One time we combined winnings to buy a $15,000 Myopulse machine to speed our recovery. Once we had our hands on it, the magic somehow dissipated, and neither of us bothered to read the manual to actually use it. It sat in my garage until someone offered to take it off our hands for half price.

Carrots versus chocolate

Colleen recalls how she lugged a Champion juicer as big as her bike to a race in Europe and caused a power outage in the hotel the morning of the race while she was juicing carrots. Being a smart cookie, she kept quiet as hotel management ran for the fuse box while irate competitors demanded light. In a similar vein I lugged a juicer to Barcelona and almost electrocuted myself as I powered it up the day before my marathon. Fortunately, it did not cause power failure for the Olympic Village. To this day I wonder if my medal was the result of carotene or extra voltage through my system but have not had the courage to further experiment with the electrical side of things.

While both Colleen and I appreciated our victuals more than the average woman or man, we did on occasion stray to fads that required disciplining the taste buds. I have to add here that Colleen was especially attuned to a wide variety of earth’s bounty. (I had, on several occasions, personally witnessed her uncanny sense of smell, just like a bloodhound’s, that enabled her to sniff out hidden stashes of food that contained anything chocolate.) Being a triathlete, she trained three times as much as I did, so she certainly earned her desserts. My lot looked like easy street when, after our morning run together, she jumped on her bike to ride 100 miles and I headed back to bed. But I do remember feeling a twinge of jealousy when I learned that her turnaround/refueling station at 50 miles was a Dairy Queen, and I did have a (very) fleeting thought of changing sports.

Bearing in mind that Colleen believed chocolate to be the base of the food pyramid, I was amazed at her willingness at times to forgo it in favor of something daringly unappetizing. But, like me, she had the ability to do almost anything she put her mind to—even if it was misguided. During one period she was avid about green barley grass and slugged the stuff morning, noon, and night. I followed suit even though it smelled and tasted remarkably like . . . grass. (I know from experience because when I was 5, I played school with my friend and we made sandwiches out of newspaper and grass clippings for lunch and ate them. I regretted it afterward.) Another time Colleen was persuaded by an expert to rehydrate during the Hawaii Ironman with umeboshi plums. I shudder to imagine how she got them down. Needless to say, they did not produce one of her more stunning results.

When it came to dietary follies, I was equally vulnerable. I let a different expert (officially, there are now more experts in any one field than there are novices, creating a serious backlog in the flow of information) talk me into giving up wheat, rice, barley, corn, millet—in fact, every grain known to mankind—after he validated my sensitivity to them by testing my weak deltoid. After a gluten-free week on this excruciating prescription of lettuce leaves and carrot sticks, I ran the Bolder Boulder. I would have veered off the course to my house at the four-mile mark, but my weakened mind was too indecisive to pull out, and I wobbled to the finish line in tears. My compatriot Barbara Moore patted my back while giving me the line “There, there, it’s OK.” She then bundled me up into her car like a little kid (as much as she was able, considering I am twice her size) and dropped me off at home. In my tender emotional state, I proceeded to gorge myself on a bumper pack of Oreos that I had managed to successfully hide from Colleen. Ten minutes later I was out on the road running 10 miles at faster than my race pace. I learned my lesson.

Years later I was asked at a running clinic how long I carboloaded before a race. My genuine answer was “about three or four years.”

Over the edge

When Colleen and I meet we regale each other with the stories of our adventures as athletes who frequently sailed over the waterfall while looking for the edge. She can always top me with her story of how she raced to the finish of an Ironman with a roast chicken in her shorts. This one puts her at the top of my list when it comes to innovation and optimism.

Invited to an Ironman on Reunion Island, Colleen approached it as she did most everything—for fun. Dressed in her skimpy lycra two-piece, she emerged from the water and onto her bike and followed the course, which to her surprise (not having done her due diligence) took her up a mountain. The climate became considerably colder, and she thought she might freeze to death, but being a tough competitor and having few other options, Colleen pushed on. She also discovered that there were no aid stations, and, unfortunately, at the turnaround there was no Dairy Queen. She realized as she descended that she was desperately cold, thirsty, and ravenous—which activated her food radar. It led her to a roadside stall in a village at the base of the mountain. With no money, she pulled off a spectacular trade: two finger-licking chickens and a watermelon in exchange for her watch. The watermelon and one chicken were quickly polished off. The remaining chicken was tucked in the back of her shorts for later, where it helped restore her core body temperature.

In a race that had taken its toll on the other foreigners, Colleen went on to finish solidly—warm, well nourished, and pleased with her good fortune.

C2 and I always knew that the power was within. That was never the issue. We also recognized that to be an athlete is to be an explorer, that the fads and doodads are tools on the journey, and that the territory is always oneself. We spurred each other on to take risks, and we returned to home base each time to share our experiences. In the process we learned from each other, we came out of it with a few good stories, we became lifelong friends, and, above all, we had a lot of fun. I think such an approach made us better competitors, practiced at looking for the possibilities in every situation. Today we still regularly jog together, itching to tell each other of the greatest new thing we have just discovered.

It has been two years since I began as Marathon & Beyond’s “On the Road” columnist. This column will be my last for a while as I take leave to work on another book and put more energy into the Lydiard Foundation and our Lydiard Online Training Schedule. I depart the post with much gratitude to editor Rich Benyo, who called me a writer before I did and thus coerced me to write regularly, and to his cohort, M&B publisher Jan Seeley. Thank you to all my readers and especially those who felt compelled to contact me with their comments. I would also like to add that I made up the fact about there officially being more experts than novices, and I confess that under no circumstances did Colleen and I really try spumoni. All the rest is true. I now pass on the baton to my dear friend and a key driving force behind the renaissance of women’s running, Kathrine Switzer. I am certain she will keep you all on your toes with her wit and wisdom.