New Zealander Anna Frost has been a professional ultra runner since 2004, following a hectic schedule travelling and racing all over the world. From the peak of setting a new record for the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in May 2012 she hit rock bottom, suffering with female athlete triad, a hormonal imbalance which caused stress fractures and bone pain, and adrenal fatigue. She talks to Totally Active about first finding, then losing and rediscovering her love of running.
Totally Active: Why did you end up with adrenal fatigue?
Anna: You don’t know where your boundaries are so it’s hard to not push yourself too far. You say you’ll rest for the recommended four weeks but who actually does rest properly? No one. That’s why some people end up with Adrenal Fatigue. Our bodies are really pissed off at us for pushing too hard and not relaxing.
It would take four to six weeks for my body to recover physically but adrenally and mentally your body doesn’t recover that quickly. It takes a lot longer to restock your iron and calcium levels and for your lymphatic system to rest and rebuild. Those are things we overlook too easily because we can’t see and touch them so it’s hard to know if there’s a problem until you go out and run and feel like crap again.
Totally Active: What were your symptoms?
Anna: I was tired all of the time. It was like a big block of fatigue. We were on a media tour in South America with Salomon travelling, doing Q&As and 5k groups runs. I wasn’t in a routine so I couldn’t rest or eat well, or do yoga and I was drinking a lot of coffee. Everyone would say, ‘It’s only 5k, you’re used to that.’ But it’s all of that you need a break from. It was a long, downward spiral that got worse and worse every single day. I kept pushing and pushing through it.
Totally Active: How long did it take to recover?
Anna: I started going downhill from about June 2012. By December I was at rock bottom. In January 2013 I started putting myself through rehab. I read ‘Rushing Women’s Syndrome’ by Dr Libby Weaver and used it as my bible.
I stopped everything. For a whole month I focused on being calm. I stopped drinking coffee, I ate a good diet, I did breathing exercises, had acupuncture and weekly lymphatic massage. After that month I started doing yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi.
In March I started running a little bit. I still couldn’t run every day and was taking it really cautiously. It wasn’t until the May that I was starting to feel I could run without the pain of bone inflammation in my shins or the worry of hurting myself further.
I manage my time better now. It’s learning to be brave and saying no to some things as well. When I do something I want to do it with heart and energy – people deserve that.
Totally Active: Your sponsors, Salomon, stuck with you?
Anna: Yes, they have been fantastic. They supported me the whole time. That makes a massive difference. We’re a family and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.
Totally Active: What’s your typical training week like now?
Anna: I don’t have a routine programme. My schedule changes depending on what the weather’s like and where I am. This is the first ‘winter’ I’ve had so I’m learning downhill and Nordic skiing. I usually go from summer to summer.
Before a major race I do six to 10 weeks of solid training with six to eight hours a day of running, biking, swimming, gym work or yoga. I give myself six to 10 days to taper before the race and take a good two weeks off before starting again doing short runs.
In between races to keep fit I do a lot of cross training and long, slow days in the mountains.
Totally Active: The Anna Frost Big Trail Weekend in Coed Y Brenin in May was a hit. Are there plans for 2016 already?
Anna: It was a great weekend. We had a women’s day where I gave a talk and we went out on a run, did some yoga and had a Trails in Motion movie night. The next day was mixed and on Sunday we did a 10k round the biking centre.
It was really fun with a mix of super speedy runners and five women who’d never done a trail run in their lives. We haven’t finalised the dates, but it should be in April.
Totally Active: You’re back on amazing form. In July you won the Hardrock 100. In August you and Missy Gosney became the first women to complete the Nolan’s 14 [around 100 miles over fourteen 14,000 ft plus peaks]. A few years ago you said you couldn’t even imagine the last 20-30 miles of a 100 miler.
Anna: We do those things because we can’t imagine it. It intrigues us. That’s what separates the doers from the non-doers.
I never go in to a race unprepared. There was a lot I didn’t know but I did as much as I could. In the run up to The Bear [the 100 mile qualifier for Hardrock in October 2014], I did a huge eight-week block of long, slow days out in the mountains – big back-to-back days including some racing and 50 milers.
I had 36 hours to finish. I’d done multi-sport stage races before so I knew I could go for a long time. I had no pressure on me. I kept to a consistent pace and it paid off.
Totally Active: Tell us about ‘Fearless Frosty’, the book about your life aimed at encouraging young girls to be active.
Anna: The author, Chloe Chick, came up the idea of the SisuGirls to get the word out that girls can be brave, determined and resilient [the definition of the Finnish word ‘Sisu’].
We’ve been amazed how many people it’s empowered – not just five to 10 year olds but also grandmas and young mums. I’m super proud and privileged to be part of it and I can see it becoming huge.
This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.