30-Day Nutrition Upgrade for MUS

It was at a meeting of local dietitians many years ago that I first heard of Monica Reinagel. Another dietitian was raving about a podcast called The Nutrition Diva, and always on the lookout for good resources, I went home and checked it out. The Nutrition Diva is a podcast produced by nutritionist Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, and after listening to a couple of episodes, and then reading many of her blog posts, I, too, became hooked. Monica’s approach to nutrition was refreshing. Evidenced-based, practical, and relevant, her blog quickly became one of my go-to resources. Other people and organizations also recognize Monica as a trusted nutrition professional; she’s a regular guest on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR’s Morning Edition, and has been interviewed and quoted in numerous publications.

A couple of years ago, I saw Monica was offering a group nutrition coaching program called the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade™, an original program that she had developed. The program uses the Nutrition GPA (Grade Point Average) app as a way to track dietary intake. However, unlike the tedious process of entering foods and portion sizes that most diet trackers require, this app consists of 10 yes or no questions about what you ate that day. You can answer the 10 questions in under 2 minutes. While I didn’t hesitate to join the program because I wanted to see what it was about, I admit that I didn’t have particularly high expectations. As a dietitian, I already knew what I should be eating, right?

Day 1: I scored a D. That’s a D based on a regular A through F academic scale. Yikes! For a dietitian, as well as a person who prided herself on earning top grades during school, this was disappointing to say the least. 

Day 2-30: I actively worked to improve my cumulative GPA. I still had a couple of D days and even an F day, but overall the trend was positive, and I reached a point at which I was consistently earning a decent grade, usually a B or better. But I quickly found that it wasn’t just about the grade. On those days that I earned an A or B; I truly felt better. My natural tendency to snack all of the time lessened, and my energy level was steadier. I was able to reign in my sweet tooth without feeling deprived. Here’s what else I liked about the program: it was simple, scientifically-based, it did not prescribe a meal plan or require hours of prep time or special foods, and there were no forbidden foods. It encouraged a realistic and sustainable way of eating. I also found the online community that was part of the program to be surprisingly helpful and supportive.

Day 31+: Despite my modest expectations to start, I truly believe that after completing the 30 Day Nutrition Upgrade™, my dietary habits changed for the better. And even more impressive is that nearly two years after completing the program, I still consider the ten questions when I’m making my food choices. While I can’t say that this program eliminated all of my cravings for chocolate, sweetened cereals, and French fries, I can say that I’m eating more vegetables, more omega-3’s, more fermented foods, and when I do indulge in some not-so-great for you foods, I am thinking more about how to balance out the rest of my eating day. 

But I’m not just telling this story for the sake of a story. After completing the program, I kept thinking about how beneficial it would be for MUS plan members to participate in the Nutrition Upgrade as well. So I reached out to Monica, and (drumroll please)…I am thrilled to announce that MUS Wellness is partnering with Monica to offer the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade™ specifically for MUS Benefits Plan members this spring! This is the first time that the program will be offered to a specific group rather than the general public, so we thought it’d be fun to add a little friendly team competition to the mix too! The program will run April 9th through May 8th at a reduced cost of $10/person (savings of $30 off the regular price). In addition to a live online kick-off and two live online check-ins throughout the program, MUS participants will be invited to join a private Facebook group for ongoing support. Plus, participants will have access to downloadable handouts and other program materials.

So, to all of you MUS plan members, this is an amazing opportunity to improve your nutrition habits, to do so along with your coworkers, and have the support of Monica Reinagel and myself. Registration will open Tuesday, March 20th — mark your calendars and watch for an email from your campus Human Resources or Wellness contact. For our blog readers who are not MUS Benefits Plan members, you can sign up here for the next Nutrition Upgrade for the general public, also beginning April 9th.
If you have questions about the program, check out the information here or email me at cristin.stokes@montana.edu

30 day with wellness man

Wellchat Episode 12: Mountain Bear Expedition Part 2

Episode 12: Special guest Lisa Verwys from the Museum of the Rockies returns to tell the story of the Mountain Bear Expedition in Yellowstone National Park.

A few amazing images from the Expedition are below. Listen to the podcast to learn more!

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The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

Magic Wand Survey Results

During this round of our Incentive Program challenges, we conducted a simple survey with the following single question:

“If you could wave a magic wand and improve one specific aspect of your personal health and/or well-being, what would it be?”

Thus far, we’ve received over a thousand responses to this question! If you provided one of those responses, thank you for contributing! We thought we would share some of the initial results during this post, and follow that up with some insights later.

After reading through all your answers, Cristin and I each took a separate sample of 100 responses, and grouped them into categories. The following chart shows the Top 10 categories that emerged, and the number of times each was reported. Keep in mind this is a sample size of 200.

magic wand response1

For us, there were no real shockers as far as the emerging themes. Nearly 1 in 4 people wanted to wave a magic wand and either lose weight or lose fat. Wishes for more consistent exercise and better eating habits landed at 2 and 3, respectively.

At number 4, we were a little surprised, and perhaps pleasantly so, to see so many people focusing on their overall attitude or mental outlook, and wanting to keep their thoughts positive. Hopefully, with the onset of daylight savings time, more sun, and warmer temps, we can all get a little boost from Mother Nature in this category.

There were a couple of things we were surprised did not come up more often, especially stress, although stress can be related to work/life balance, which was the 6th most mentioned category in our sample.

Another way we looked at the aggregate data was with the word cloud function that Survey Monkey provides. This word cloud represents the most commonly used words in all the responses, with the size of the word representing the frequency with which a word was mentioned. magic wand response2

These visuals are a couple of tools to better understand what our Montana University System employee population is “wishing” for when it comes to better overall health and well-being. For now, and for the sake of brevity, we’ll let these results speak for themselves. Next week, look for a follow-up post where we offer some insights on how to utilize this question, and share some anonymous individual responses that we liked!

Be Well!

Neal & Cristin

National Nutrition Month: Go Further with Food

It’s March. Finally. Pat yourself on the back–you’ve almost made it through another very snowy and icy winter! Along with the (hopeful) arrival of spring, there are lots of other reasons to be excited for March, including:  

  • More daylight (Spring forward on March 11th)
  • Spring break (for many of you)
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • March Madness
  • And most exciting of all…March is National Nutrition Month! Hooray!

The 2018 theme for National Nutrition Month, designated by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, is Go Further with Food. According to the Academy, this theme serves as “a reminder to eat healthfully for ongoing energy and plan meals and snacks in advance to help reduce food loss and waste.”

One of our past dietetic interns, Kelsey Tanner, wrote an excellent piece about reducing food waste, and in it, she too suggested meal planning as an important strategy for wasting less food.

Meal planning used to be something that I found really helpful, but now that I’m a working mom with a 5-month old, meal planning is essential. With much less time and energy after work, in order for my family to eat healthy, balanced meals, it’s critical to have ingredients on hand and something planned in advanced. While I’ve written before about my meal planning tips, since becoming more consistent than ever with my personal meal planning routine, I’ve rediscovered some of my favorite tools that I thought I’d share with all of you:

  • Weekly meal planning tear-off notepad. While I received mine as a gift, it’s similar to this one. It’s simple. It’s pretty. It has lots of space to write and make notes. It’s backed with large magnets so it sticks to the side of the fridge where both my husband and I can easily reference it. Each Saturday, I tear off the week that’s gone by, and use the back to write my grocery list for the upcoming week, organized according to how my grocery store is laid out: Produce, Refrigerated, Frozen, Canned/Dry, and Bread.
  • Budget Bytes cookbook. I have dozens of cookbooks on hand, but Budget Bytes has been a favorite of mine lately. It’s a great book not only because the recipes are cost-effective, but because they also taste wonderfully, user fewer ingredients than many other recipes, rely solidly on pantry staples, and are relatively quick to prepare. The author, Beth Moncel, has a recipe website too. One of my recent favorites is her Greek Turkey Burgers.
  • Cooking Light subscription. Yes, you can find all of the Cooking Light recipes online, but I love the tactile experience of paging through a Cooking Light magazine, ogling over the pretty pictures, and selecting one or two recipes every week to incorporate into my plan. I’ve had some major recipe fails from online blogs, Pinterest, and some cookbooks, but I have yet to make a Cooking Light recipe that wasn’t at least ok. Most are delicious, and they’re good for you.
  • Slow cooker. Oh how I love coming home to a house that smells amazing and to a meal that is nearly complete. It’s also nice to have extra time in the evening that would normally be taken up with cooking dinner. I typically plan at least one weeknight meal for the slow cooker. Here are a few slow cooker recipes that I’ve been enjoying:
  • Roasting pan. Ok, maybe it’s a stretch to call this a meal planning tool, but I’ve been really, really into roasted vegetables lately, so I had to include it anyway! The combination of roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes is amazing, and makes an awesome side for just about anything. Make more than you need for one meal, and you can have roasted veggies on salads, in wraps, as a snack, or even for breakfast.

And with that, I encourage all of you to take moment this week to think about how you can . Perhaps set a nutrition-related goal for this month in honor of National Nutrition Month. Or consider making a small investment into a meal planning or prep tool like the ones above that will inspire you to stay motivated and consistent. It’s amazing how something like a fun meal planning notepad or good cookbook can help turn what might be considered a chore into an enjoyable task.

Also this month, check out your campus eateries for National Nutrition Month happenings! The dining halls and some of the SUB restaurants here in Bozeman have designated each day of the week with a nutrition special. See below for details:

Specials this month at MSU Bozeman SUB restaurants. Check your campus for any specials going on this month in conjunction with National Nutrition Month!

Happy National Nutrition Month!



Thinking like a coach

One of our annual Montana Moves challenges asks you to create your goals for the year. These goals could be personal, professional, or wellness related. (If you haven’t done so yet, this challenge runs until March 4th.) Every January, I must admit I get the most excited to write down my athletic goals for the year. Writing down my big goals gives me a framework, strategy, and plan for the year. For me, I know that in the absence of concrete goals, my exercise is less focused, less consistent, and less effective. As I went through my yearly practice of goal setting and planning this year, I was thinking about the process, and I wanted to share some of that process, because I believe it can be a tool for bridging the gap between having a goal and making it a reality. This is a process that coaches use to build programs for athletes, teams, or clients, but I think many of the concepts translate to goal-setting and planning regardless of the type of goal.  In other words, this process can be used to set personal, professional, or financial goals as well as physical.

Step 1: Begin with the End in mind

This is where your initial goal-setting will come in. I won’t spend much time talking about goal setting here—if you need a refresher, check out this post. The main thing is to begin with the end in mind.  What’s at the end of the journey? What are you trying to accomplish? Is it a big event? Is it something on your bucket list? Is it a personal best? Is it just to look smokin’ hot before your June vacation to some place warm? Be specific, write it out, and put these events on your calendar.

Once I have dates on my calendar, I like to figure out how much time I have to prepare for each event. I even have an app on my phone called “Days Until”. It’s a free, simple app that let’s me know exactly how many days I have until certain events. I even know how many days until my hundredth birthday (20,589 days, so there’s plenty of shopping days left for you to get me something nice). I also like to count how many weeks until these events, because a week is a nice, neat unit of training measurement that many coaches use, and is often referred to as a microcycle.

Steps 2 and 3: What’s the Big Picture? How does today’s workout fit into that?

Once I know how many weeks I have to train, I start thinking about the big picture. What are the general concepts I’ll need to work on over large chunks of time in order to reach my goal? One thing that I’ve done the past couple of years that’s worked for me is to divide my year out by the month–once again, a nifty, pre-made training unit. For me, I often use a month as a macrocycle. Anything from 4 to 8 weeks is common for a macrocycle.  It’s long enough to see a training effect before changing the emphasis of a program. This consistent varying of a training program allows for specific results, and is the best way to avoid the dreaded “training plateau”.

A couple of years ago, I made a marcrocycle spreadsheet that keeps me dialed into my training goals, and focused on upcoming events. Here’s what it looks like: 2018 Macrocycle (Neal) If you like it, feel free to copy it, modify it, and use it for yourself.

Let’s break down a few month-macrocycles from this spreadsheet as examples. Right now, my training focus is to build my aerobic base through cardiovascular training and cardio-strength training. My next event on the calendar that I’d like to be ready for is Run to the Pub, on St. Patrick’s Day here in Bozeman. So my microcycle (week) is structured to includ two running days, 2-3 resistance training days, plus cross-training days with things like skiing and swimming. Next month, I’ll bump the running up a little. In the meantime, each cardiovascular training session is designed to build up an aerobic base (nothing fancy, just building up volume) and each trip to the gym should focus on driving my work capacity (the ability to do high quality work while warding off fatigue). In this case, what I’m doing for resistance training is a complement to what I’m doing with my cardio exercise.

If you’re wondering, “Ok, Neal, you’re training for a road race, but you’re only running twice a week? Shouldn’t you be running more?” Perhaps. But alas, I’m not 23 anymore. I know my body, and these days I have to build the road miles slowly. Also, I like to ski, and XC skiing is great cardio. And finally, I’m not trying to hit my peak fitness until this summer, so I build up slowly to that, which helps me stay healthy. Showing up to a starting line healthy is always my first goal when designing a training program.  If you’re injured, you can’t train, and you can’t race–at least not well anyway–and the quickest way to get injured is to do too much too soon.

There are two events highlighted on my calendar this year. Those are the events I want to peak for and perform my best: the Bozeman Triathlon in June and the Montana Cup XC race in late October. My training goals and focus are designed to get me to those events fit and healthy. If I feel like doing something different, or I’m having a low motivation day, a quick look at my macrocycle calendar helps me re-focus. It’s on the wall behind my desk, along with my written out goals.

Now let’s look at October and compare it to February.  October is a peak month. My aerobic base will have hopefully been built.  So I’ll be free to do more intervals, tempo runs, and speedwork in preparation for the Montana Cup XC race. To me, this is the fun stuff, but it has to be earned. I can’t start with it. My microcycles (weeks) in October call for four runs per week, plus a bike and endurance lift for cross training.  That leaves a rest/recreation day for other fun. Perhaps some fall hikes.

After the Montana Cup, my racing is done for the year, and I switch gears to off-season strength, hitting the gym three times a week and lifting pretty heavy stuff (for me). This change is good for my body and my mind.

In summary

Start with your SMART goal, write it down, and get it on the calendar. Begin with the end in mind. Then, if it’s helpful, write out some training focuses–perhaps chunking them into macrocycles. Finally, write down your plan for the week (microcycle), making sure it fits into the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. On low motivation days, look at your goals. Ask yourself why you are going to exercise today.

Finally, always be able to answer these two questions:

“What is my goal for today’s workout?” (Now)

“What am I working toward?” (Big picture-future)

Happy training!


P.S. For more on training goals and how to manipulate exercise variables to reach goals faster, check out today’s webinar Sets, Reps, and Such.

Wellchat Episode 11: These Go to Eleven

Eposode 11: Recorded February 5th. Neal and Cristin share their favorite goofy movies, which naturally leads into a conversation about exercise intensity. Happy American Heart Month!

For further insight into this week’s Wellchat, check out this clip.

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

New super-vitamin, or just catchy headlines?

“Before you jump on a nutrition bandwagon, and start taking supplements or radically change your diet, dig deeper. Be wary. Find reliable sources. Read the actual study.”

As a dietitian working in the wellness field, nutrition-related news always catches my eye. So I was intrigued when I saw several headlines last summer pertaining to vitamin B3. The first group of headlines were about miscarriage: “Vitamin B3 may prevent miscarriage and birth defects, study suggests” and  “Landmark Vitamin Discovery Could Prevent Miscarriages and Birth Defects”  Then a second group of headlines appeared, this time for vitamin B3 links to skin cancer prevention: “Vitamin therapy could prevent melanoma” and “New review shows potential of Vitamin B3 in preventing melanoma”. Reading the media-written articles about the research, things sounded pretty promising!

However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a dietitian, it’s to be skeptical of “too good to true” headlines. So I decided to take some time and investigate the actual basis of the headlines. What I found was surprising, and not in a good way, especially if you went out and bought a bunch of vitamin B3 supplements based on the headlines.

For some background info to start, vitamin B3 comes in two forms: niacin and niacinamide. Niacinamide is derived from niacin, but the two forms are nearly interchangeable in low doses, like the doses found in vitamin supplements. In bigger doses, niacin and niacinamide do vary in their ability to treat certain conditions such as high cholesterol. Vitamin B3 plays an important role in our body’s metabolism, helping convert food into usable energy. Good sources of the vitamin in our diet include meat, fish, nuts, mushrooms, and fortified cereal.

Now, let’s take a look at the study related to miscarriage. An estimated 10-25% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, so there could be huge implications for millions of people if the headlines are true and vitamin B3 can prevent miscarriage. Researchers were looking specifically at a group of birth defects known as VACTERL association, which causes abnormalities in many different body systems including the spine, heart, kidneys, and limbs. VACTERL association is rare, affecting 1 in 10,000 to 40,000 babies. Researchers studied four families who had been affected by this particular type of birth defect and found that this association was related to a deficiency of a certain compound in the body known as NAD, or niacinamide adenine dinucleotide. NAD is a coenzyme formed from niacin, which allows cells to produce energy, and which is important for normal organ development. 

The discovery that NAD was involved and responsible for this group of birth defects alone was a big deal, but then scientists went further and found that when mice with the genetic mutation that will result in VACTERL were given extra niacin, their mouse babies didn’t end up with the expected defects.

It was a well designed study and an important one for the prevention of this specific type of birth defect. But, notice that the study was conducted on only four families and mice, and no niacin was actually given to humans! Furthermore, the dose given to mice was the equivalent of ten times the recommended daily amount for people. We also know that body mass index and diabetes can affect how someone produces NAD, and developing fetuses are particularly sensitive little beings. So, while it’s true that niacin may potentially prevent a certain type of birth defects (if humans react in the same way as mice), we are still a long ways off from recommending extra niacin to all pregnant women or being able to say that niacin will prevent miscarriage and birth defects. In other words, it’s an exciting study, but certainly shouldn’t be interpreted as having widespread ramifications for our entire population yet.

Next, let’s take a look at the study, or review rather, that spawned the headlines related to melanoma. A clinical trial known as ONTRAC was recently conducted which looked at the effect of niacin supplementation on the recurrence of skin cancer. Researchers found a 23% reduction in basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers (both non-melanoma cancers) when people with a history of skin cancer were given 500 mg of niacinamide twice per day as compared to a randomized control group receiving a placebo. It’s a compelling finding for people with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, especially since niacinamide is safe, inexpensive, and easily available.

However, researchers then hypothesized that vitamin B3 might also be effective in helping to prevent melanoma, based on the promising ONTRAC trial results, as well as the assumed role of vitamin B3 in relation to skin cancer. Vitamin B3 is thought to reduce inflammation and suppression of the immune system caused by UV radiation, and is involved in DNA repair.

So, scientists never actually studied Vitamin B3 in relation to melanoma. They just called for future studies. And yet, somehow, their untested hypothesis that niacin might be able to prevent melanoma got translated into headlines that at first glance anyway, certainly give the impression that there is more of a connection.

Bottom line? Before you jump on a nutrition bandwagon, and start taking supplements or radically change your diet, dig deeper. Be wary. Find reliable sources. Read the actual study. You don’t have to have an advanced degree to find serious limitations of studies including small sample size, animals only, or no control groups. Or, in the case of the melanoma headlines, no study at all; simply a call for future research!

Hopefully we will see follow-up research that support these findings and hypotheses, but in the meantime, the best approach is to get your niacin from a whole-foods based, healthy diet!


Want to learn more about dietary supplementation? Check out our 2016 Webinar Smart About Supplements



Wellchat Episode X: Mountain Bear Expedition.

Episode 10: Special guest Lisa Verwys from the Museum of the Rockies talks about her upcoming Mountain Bear Expedition, an all-female ski traverse across Yellowstone National Park.

Learn more at: www.mountainbearexpedition.com

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

Ridge Laps and The Law of Specificity

I had my spring training plan all laid out. After an off-season of strength training and skiing, I had begun to slowly add some running mileage back to the routine. The Run to the Pub was 9 weeks away. Plenty of time…

Then a friend asked me to be on her team for King & Queen of the Ridge, an annual Bridger Bowl event in which you see how many “Ridge Laps” you can do in a meager five hours. A ridge lap involves a nearly 500 foot vertical bootpack from the top of the Bridger ski lift up to the top of the ridgeline, and then you ski back down. Sounds fun right?

This is one of those events that I’ve heard of, and in the back of my mind thought, “Hmm, I wonder how I’d do in that? Maybe I’ll try that out someday.” It reminds me of a time in my younger life when I thought I’d really like to skydive. And then I got an opportunity to go skydiving, and it got real, and I thought—do I really want to skydive? Maybe I’ll just save that for later. (I’ve yet to go skydiving.)

Last year, the same friend asked me to be on her team, but I had a race the same day as the event. A fine and good excuse. This year, I had no excuses, and I agreed to join her team before I could think the better of it. This left me two-and-a-half weeks to prepare. No problem right? [Insert “freaking out” emoji]

scream emoji

So I’ve hurriedly modified my training for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve done some very specific training to prepare for the event. The most specific training I could do is to actually hike the ridge and ski down, which, luckily, I’ve been able to do a few times. But since I’m not to the point in my life where I can go ski everyday, I also have to supplement with other types of exercise.

The first sport-specific workout I did in preparation for this event, was hauling sandbags up and down a stairwell in the MSU Fitness Center. I did 10-minute intervals of stairs, while practicing different carries: front, suitcase, on the shoulder, under the arms, and overhead. Then I would do a one-minute ski drill followed by a three minute rest. I structured the workout to mimic the event itself: a long hike under load, a short ski run, and short break in between.

Then this weekend, in my garage, I did loaded step-ups on a box, except this time I wore my ski boots. Who needs ankle weights when you can just slap on a clunky pair of ski boots? Again, the theme is to mimic my movement and feel as closely as possible to the real thing.

The reality is, I’m not going to gain that much physical or cardiovascular fitness in two weeks. However, two weeks is enough time to have an effect on my neuromuscular system, the connection between brain and body—how the body moves and how the nervous system recruits and fires muscles. This in turn can lend a little mental edge and the confidence of knowing I have had a bit of focused practice for the event. If the training is challenging and specific, the actual event seems much easier mentally.

All of this has to do with what exercise scientists refer to as the Law of Specificity, Specificity Principle, or SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). This principle states that the body will make specific physical adaptations depending on the type of stress, or demand, placed upon it from physical activity. In other words, you get what you train for. This holds true for general adaptations like greater strength or cardiovascular fitness, and very specific adaptations like the ability to hit a golf ball, serve a tennis ball, or ski moguls.

What makes this concept important for us? Well, let’s start with the assumption that most of us aren’t professional athletes, and don’t have professional coaches figuring everything out for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have goals. There are still reasons why we exercise (or there should be). Let’s also assume that we don’t have all the time in the world to exercise. Between work, social and family life, and the rest of life’s responsibilities, most of us have a limited window of time to exercise, so those precious minutes need to count.

While it’s perfectly fine to squeeze in a short bout of exercise just to get us moving and make us feel good if that’s all there’s time for, if you have a specific goal such as losing 15 pounds, running a half marathon, or improving your pickleball game, you should spend the majority of your allotted exercise time doing things that will lead to the specific results you desire.

If you need more help, there are always personal trainers and coaches who are excellent at creating programs to fit your specific needs. You can also tune in to next month’s Montana Moves webinar, Sets, Reps, and Such, which will get into the SAID principle as it relates to resistance training.

But in general, if you want to be a better swimmer, spend most of your exercise time in the pool, and when you’re not in the pool, condition and strengthen the muscle groups and movement patterns that help you swim. If you want to lose weight, choose more intense exercise that burns a ton of calories, and promotes lean muscle development. If you want to be a better downhill skier, strengthen and condition your lower body, core, and do sport specific drills. Then hit the ski hill as much as you can! Or if you want to do King and Queen of the Ridge, hike the ridge, and when you can’t hike the ridge, carry sandbags up stairs, or do step-ups in ski boots. And if possible, do it longer than 2 weeks.

Be specific. You’ll discover specific, and hopefully favorable, results.

We’ll see what kind of results I get this weekend. Honestly, I just want to challenge myself and have fun. Whatever I do will be a personal best.

You can check in on twitter @montanamoves or at the bottom of this page to see how it goes!


bridger pano
On the 6th or 7th lap, I’ll try to remember to enjoy the view.

Sticking with the Plan: A Marathon Success Story

“If you believe in yourself and put in the work, our bodies are amazing machines capable of accomplishing things you think aren’t possible.”

Today’s success story comes from Jessica Torgerson-Lundin. Jessica is the Cataloging & Acquisitions Technician at the MSU Billings Library, and has always been very active in the MUS Wellness program. Anyone who’s ever run a marathon or similar long event will be able to relate to the emotions and physical toll Jessica describes in her story. Congrats to Jessica on setting a big goal, sticking to the game-plan, and crushing it despite adversity!

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to run a road marathon in 2017. I ran a road half-marathon in September 2016 and a trail half-marathon in April 2017.

The road half was slightly challenging, but satisfying knowing I could do it. I didn’t do much to train for it, except increase my mileage. That worked just fine. Thinking back, I wasn’t even lifting at that point and doing no speed work. The marathon distance was intriguing and it stayed on my mind for the next few months.

The trail half was in Zion and was extremely difficult. Climbing up and down those mesas is quite challenging! We had such a snowy winter that I was unable to run on trails from mid-December until about March. That was not good for training. Most of my training was on the icy roads. I had barely gotten into speed work once a week at this point and had been consistently lifting twice a week for about six months or so. I got through it though and enjoyed myself. That is when I realized I wanted to challenge myself more on the trails because it is so exhilarating, a feeling that does not ever happen (for me) on the road. But the problem was I had already been telling everyone since December that I was going to run a road marathon in 2017.

I had it narrowed down to three fall marathons: Spokane, Portland, and Seattle. In the end I chose the Seattle Marathon which was Thanksgiving weekend. I talked about it a lot over the course of the summer, but nothing about it seemed real. I had a couple of other challenging runs to do before I even wanted to think about training for the marathon such as the race in Zion mentioned earlier, The Wulfman CDT, and The Rut VK. The Rut was 12 weeks before the marathon, so my formal marathon training started right after that.

Training went really well. I stuck to the plan the entire 12 weeks. That is a huge accomplishment for me, sticking with anything for 12 weeks straight! It was a great plan written by my friend (a coach) that focused on timed runs, not mileage. I had timed, easy runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I had speedwork on Tuesdays (fartlek) and Thursdays (hills). [Fartlek is a Swedish word that translates into “Speedplay”. It is a type of less structured or unstructured interval training] I lifted Mondays and Fridays. I won’t say it was easy. It was so hard. I was so tired, so cranky, so emotional, so unsure of what I was getting myself into… I had people questioning how I was training. They would say, “Well, how long is your longest run? I am very curious to see how this will work out for you.”

My husband had to make me feel better about it several times. He would say there’s more than one way to train for a marathon and this is one of those ways. He runs a lot of trail ultra marathons and this is basically how he trains. I had minimal goals for this marathon. I wanted to finish, and I didn’t want it to be terrible. I didn’t care how fast I ran, I just wanted to run fairly consistent. I went through a lot of ups and downs the last several weeks. I would feel ready about it one day and completely terrified the next.

The marathon weekend finally came. I felt so sick the day before. I was pretty sure I had come down with something, but it was just nerves. The night before, it started raining. It rained all night and all day on race day. I was soaked before the race even started!

Keeping a positive attitude through the rain while waiting for the start.

The wind was howling. And oh the hills!!!!! It was a super hilly course, close to 1300’ of gain instead of 300+ like the Montana Marathon. It’s really beautiful, but not easy. I enjoyed the first 15 miles, but then started to have issues eating. I was trying to take in a certain amount of calories every hour, but it was so hard. Fortunately they had aid stations every one to two miles. I had to force myself to drink Gatorade at all of the aid stations after mile 15 so I could get some kind of calories in me. I went to a really bad place at that point. I was not going to quit, but every time I saw a medical tent approaching I thought: well maybe I look so bad that they will pull me out or maybe I will hurt myself and they will pull me. I didn’t stay in that place too long, fortunately, but I think I had to go there to lift myself up. I knew I could do it. It is what I had been training for the last 12 WEEKS! After that I walked through all the aid stations and I let myself walk on all the uphills at that point. Then the running wasn’t too bad. I ended up having some slower miles, but not terribly slower. I still finished 20 minutes faster than my goal—4:39! My “A” goal was 4:25, my “B” goal was 5:00. I was so amazed with myself. Really amazed. I couldn’t believe I finished. I couldn’t believe the moment I had been waiting for the last 12 weeks was finally here.

When I got to the hotel, I was shivering so much and my lips were tinted blue. I took off my soaking wet shoes and socks and started crying because I had 3 black toenails. I got in the shower and started crying because the chafing was so bad from being soaked for all those hours. After I warmed up, I started sweating one second and then get the chills the next. Walking the next two days was so challenging because I was sore and my toes hurt. It took a good 2 weeks to start feeling normal again. I stressed my body out and it was letting me pay for it. I have never felt that way after a race! I don’t consider this to be the hardest race I have ran, but it was definitely the hardest recovery.

Now that a couple of weeks have passed, I’ve had time to look back on my experience. I’m happy I did it. It’s something a runner should experience at some point, if possible. The training was hard. Training requires so much time, and you also have to fully commit mentally and physically. It’s not just the race that is hard, it’s the road to get there. If you believe in yourself and put in the work, our bodies are amazing machines capable of accomplishing things you think aren’t possible.

Turns out the Seattle Marathon is not the best choice for a first-time marathon. Spokane would have been a much better choice… But I finished, and I suppose it would make any other marathon I run in the future seem a lot easier. Would I run another road marathon? Hmmmm…ask me again in 3-4 years. For now I think I will go back to trail running. Next up, SMUT 35k trail race in Pocatello, ID in June.

Jessica Torgerson-Lundin, MSU Billings

Always worth it to bring home the hardware! Nice job Jessica!