Running a marathon? Make sure you do this.

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When you sign up for a marathon, properly train for it.  This sounds pretty straight-forward, but not training is both tempting and common.  Because training is hard.  It’s grueling and time-consuming and takes you away from your other commitments.   Some mornings I talk myself around in circles for a good 20 minutes or so before I even get out of bed for my run.  And once I do, I shuffle around the house for another good 20 minutes, sighing, grumbling, ready to willingly accept any excuse that seems feasible for skipping.  It’s snowing/raining/dark/windy.  I’m sore/exhausted/too busy.  I’ll add the miles to tomorrow’s run.  One little run won’t make a difference.

But consistently skipping out on logging the miles needed to be physically (and mentally) ready for your race could set you and your body up for a cruel, rude awakening on the big day.  More importantly, it increases your chances of  getting caught in a vicious injury cycle that is tough to break out of.

If the whole thing seems daunting, don’t worry.  Here are some simple guidelines:

1. If you have the time and desire to train, it’s a matter of scheduling it into your calendar.  And then sticking to that schedule.  Can you miss an occasional shorter run and still be okay?  Yes.  But definitely don’t miss the long runs!

2.  Make sure the running plan/schedule works for you and your fitness level.  Hal Higdon has training plans for various types of runners.

  1. Don’t drastically increase your mileage from one week to the next as a result of trying to “make up” missed runs.

4.  Add strength training, stretching and yoga.  It will make you a better runner and further decrease your risk of injury.

5.  If this isn’t your first rodeo, try doing some speed training one or two days per week.  Track running not your thing?  No worries–Try some fartleks or pick up the pace for a minute or two, then take a few minutes to recover and repeat.

Does Running Really Hurt Our Knees??

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Non-runners sometimes misunderstand distance runners.  They can’t, for the life of them, understand why we happily spend countless hours trucking around town in rain, in the dark, in snow and ice, braving speeding cars and barking dogs.  And what about OUR KNEES?  Don’t we know that running wrecks our joints?!?

My hunch is that every distance runner has fielded this inevitable question from a non-runner, at some point.  And how should you respond to such concern?  With the truth.  Running does not hurt our knees.   Say it, and say it proudly.  Need proof?  For one, you can point to a 2013 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.  It found that the thousands of runners studied over a decade had lower risk of osteoarthritis and lower risk for hip replacement than non-runners.  And, the runners who ran the most were at the lowest risk.   In fact, studies suggest that jogging can help your joints.  In one study, Swedish researchers took one group of people at risk of osteoarthritis and had them engage in exercise, including jogging. The other group didn’t exercise. After imaging the joints of the participants in both study groups, they found that the cartilage actually appeared to improve in those participants who were running.

Even though running, in itself, is not bad for knees, you can obviously still damage your knees while running.  So what are some things that could increase the chance of knee injury during running?…Overdoing it, running form, ignoring pain, or another underlying problem such as a muscle imbalance or lack of flexibility, being genetically dispositioned to have osteoarthritis, and…This is an important one…obesity.

Perhaps, in terms of knee health, we can point to the fact that the more overweight one is in general, the worse off that person’s knees are.  Let’s focus our concern on the epidemic of obesity in this country and what it’s doing to our joints…and our health.  Obesity, not running, is a real culprit here.

So, fellow runners…Keep running, and know that you’re doing your body, and your knees, good.

First Marathon: The In’s, The Out’s, & The Point Of It All…

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I just had coffee with a friend who will be running her first marathon next weekend.  As we talked about the in’s and out’s of preparing for this momentous occasion, I had flashbacks of what it felt like preparing for my own first marathon.  I remember that whirlwind of mixed emotions like it was yesterday.  The conglomeration of exhileration, self-doubt, fear, and pride.  The agonizing over my outfit, the poring over weather forecasts, the back and forth over fuel options and travel accomodations.

Looking back, I’m glad I planned out each detail…because I ended up racing in a 40 degree, 4 hour rain storm.  And, despite the monsoon and an injury that rivaled child-birthing, I look back fondly on that day.  When I crossed that finish line, I beat the self-destructing part of me, the part that places limits and saps energy and loves to tear the rest of me down.  I crossed that finish line, come hell or high water (Turned out to be both, in my case).  When that happened, I proved to myself that I was stronger than I had ever considered before.

Awhile back, I wrote about the things I would have done differently on that day, and the things I believe I got right.  I thought it would be worth bringing back, for my friend, and for others approaching their first marathon: First Marathon: My Do’s and Dont’s

You may also want to check out my friend’s awesome and witty running blog: http://www.fortybaby.blogspot.com

Happy Marathoning!  You WILL cross that finish line, hopefully with no hell or high water in sight. 🙂

 

My Experience With myfitnesspal. Did it work?

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If you read my previous post, “Portion Control, Marathons and a Stick of Gum,” you’ll remember how I was using myfitnesspal to track calories in order to find out if my post-marathon eating was catching up to me.  Was I so used to eating larger, marathon-training portions that I had a tendency to do so months after racing, even though I wasn’t training anymore?

I’ve never had to count calories before.  After the birth of my second child, I lost nearly 40 pounds by eating clean and exercising almost every day.  I controlled portions by listening to my body’s signals.  Could my marathon racing have distorted my ability to still listen accurately?

I’d have to say yes.  Deep down I already knew, but myfitnesspal confirmed it for me.  Math doesn’t lie.  I’ve recommended this app to clients, so I figured, why not?  I religiously punched in my calories consumed and burned, every single day for 4 weeks.  I tried my best to stay within my allotted calorie count.  And guess what?  I lost the few pounds that I had slowly added from racing.

Myfitnesspal is a great way to learn about portion control.  It can also be a wake-up call.  Here’s why:

1.  It reminds us how many calories are in the foods we love to eat, even some foods that are considered healthy.  Athough some foods may be great for us, they can also be very calorie dense, and should be eaten in moderation.  For example, peanut butter and avocados.  Both excellent sources of fat, but if you’re trying to lose weight, measure your portions.  Two tablespoons of natural peanut butter has 200 calories!

2.  It is very easy to erase the calories burned through a good workout by eating badly.  Sad, but true.  You quickly find out what types of workouts burn the most calories.  But you also are reminded that it all adds up.  Ten minutes of brisk walking?  That counts.  Ten minutes on the stationary bike?  That counts too.

3.  If you mess up one day, it’s not the end of the world.  You can still stay within your calorie count for the week!  Like I always say, it’s all about balance.

4.  You can find out if you have any nutritional deficiencies.  I really like that the app lets you track your daily nutrition intake.  Yes, maintaining/losing weight is all about the simple math of calories in/calories out, but the quality of those calories is just as important.  It plays a huge role in how you feel, look, and how you metabolize your food.  Not to mention, your health, in general.

All that said, there are a couple of cons to using the app.  For instance, it can be tedious scanning food labels and entering every single food you’ve eaten every single day, especially if you make a lot of recipes, like I do.  Also, calorie counting day after day can become a bit neurotic after awhile.  If you get to a point where you’re saying, “I just ate a cupcake, I’ve got to go run 2 miles now!” it may be time to step back and re-evaluate the situation.

Overall, myfitnesspal can be a great tool to help people figure out proper portions, and to learn about what’s in the food they’re consuming.  Everything I’ve listed above, I already knew.  I just had to be reminded.  And now my marathon-sized portions are gone.  Hopefully for good.

Portion Control, Marathons and a Stick of Gum

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I’ve acquired a bad habit as of late.  I LOVE to graze while I’m cooking dinner.  I’ve also been known to have a glass of wine while cooking dinner.  I love doing this so much, that occasionally I’m full by the time dinner is ready.  This is no fun, because then I don’t get to eat the recipe I’ve spent the better part of the past hour working on.  And, I get to sit at the table empty-plated and watch my family chow.  No fun either.

Portion control has been on my mind a lot lately, and not only because of my recent grazing tendencies.  If you run marathons, you know that you can actually gain weight during training, as well as after the race.  Marathoners need to properly fuel themselves during training by increasing calorie intake, but often portions can get out of control during the process.  What’s more, it’s very easy to keep eating the marathon-training portions after the race–even after the training and calorie burn have dramatically decreased.  I’m on a quest to make sure that I’m still not consuming marathon-portion meals, months after I’ve finished my long-distance training.

One way I’m tackling this is by doing what I make clients do–record everything I eat to find potential problems.  I’ve been using the phone app, myfitnesspal.  I’m not a calorie-counter by nature, but I figure it can’t hurt to try it out.  And for the most part, results have been helpful in helping me to keep calories in check.  Updates on the specifics of this in a future post…

As for the grazing-while-cooking problem, I think I’ve solved it with a stick of gum.  I chew half a stick while cooking, and the other half while cleaning up to prevent nibbling on my kids’ leftovers (Moms, you know what I’m talking about, right?!?)  This simple dinnertime ritual has helped tremendously, and now I always keep a pack of gum stashed away in the kitchen.  I’ve tried this while making my son’s chocolate chip birthday cake, and that also did the trick.

Portion control can be a tricky thing.  It requires listening to your body’s hunger signals over powerful emotional and social cues that bombard us every day.  It comes easier to some than others.  If you’re fighting “portion distortion,” it may help by first figuring out what triggers your overeating, and then coming up with coping mechanisms to turn to instead.  A stick of gum may not work for everyone;  The key is finding what tactics work for you, and using them consistently.

Some general suggestions to avoid overeating?  1) Go for quality.  Choose less-processed  foods.  The closer to nature,the better.  Typically these foods have more fiber, keep you fuller longer, and give you the most health benefits for the number of calories.  2)  Eat slowly and deliberately.  3) Don’t keep trigger foods in the house.  Have leftover birthday cake?  Stick it in the freezer!  4)  Don’t deprive yourself all day.  You’re much more prone to binge later.  5)  Opt for a smaller plate.  Studies show this works!

Exercising While Sick–Good or Bad?

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It never fails.  I ran a half marathon last weekend, and three days later I caught a nasty cold.  I can guzzle all the probiotic and vitamin C drinks I want, but sometimes it happens anyway.  Why?  In this case, my immunity was temporarily compromised because of the race.  Intense exercise for prolonged periods of time can do this.  Add my two germy kids and lack of proper sleep to the mix, and, well, here I am.

So should we reach for our running shoes while we’re in a state of upper-respiratory misery?  It can be a tough call.  But here’s a good guideline, recommended by most immunologists:  If your cold symptoms are above the neck, a light workout is fine (ACSM).

Specifically, if you have muscle/joint aches and pains and headache, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, extreme tiredness, or a worsening cough with your virus, don’t exercise until you feel better (ACSM).  If you’re in doubt as to the type of illness you have, consult your doctor.

I felt all-around crappy this week, so I did much less.  I did teach my interval training class.  My “above the neck” symptoms were an annoyance, but when the class was over, I actually felt better for a short time.  Other than that, I played it by ear day by day, and listened to my body.

My Long Run; A Play-By-Play Account

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With the Rochester Half Marathon quickly approaching, today was my last chance to fit in one last long run.  Two hours this morning, especially blocked out.  Just me and my long run.

“So what DO you guys think about all that time?  Isn’t it boring?”  I’m sure you runners get asked these questions frequently, as I do.

As I downed my last sip of coffee, waiting for the 50 degree downpour to at least turn into a sprinkle, I decided that afterwards I would write down a play-by-play account of my thoughts during the run, and others can determine how boring it all sounds.  Here goes… (btw, Does anyone have a long-run experience to share with me?  By all means, do so!  I’d love to hear.)

Downhill…off to a great start.  Just coast.  Got the fuel belt, watch, gel, ipod with special long-run playlist…I’m good.  I’m not even minding the less-than-balmy weather.

Crazy traffic…may slow me down a little.  The price to pay for leaving too late.  At least no rain right now…

Spoke too soon.  Raindrops are falling on my head.  WHY did I apply makeup this morning?  I’m sure I look like Alice Cooper.  My nose starts to run.

As I attempt to cross the main drag, I see a woman in a trench coat moving her lips at me.  People never seem to notice the ipod.  I turn it off to hear her tell me how dangerous these sidewalks are.  I wave and make my way into the traffic without flinching.

Okay, I hate this stretch.  Too much traffic.  I kick it up a notch.  Stop, go.  Stop, go.  People look at me funny.  Probably my Alice Cooper eyes.  And snotty nose.  I wipe it on my sleeve. (Note to self:  Bring Kleenex next time.)   Haven’t you ever seen anyone run in the rain before?  Sheesh.  A car looks like it’s headed straight at me.  I’m prepared to jump into the bank, if need be.  It swerves away.  No respect for the runner.  Get me out of here.

Ahh, much better. A wooded path grazes the edge of a golf course, then leads to the lake.  I hope no boogey men jump out at me…forgot the pepper spray.

I rip open my mocha Clif gel.  I’ve grown to love these little babies.  Sugary-sweet gooey goodness.  Woa, don’t step on that stick.  Wait…Do sticks have eyes? SNAKE.  I’m glad no one was around to witness the sound that came out of my mouth at that moment.

A porta potty.  Stop?  Don’t stop?  No, I’ll wait for the bathrooms at the city pier.

Police cars?  What?  The city pier is closed?  SH**.  No potty break for me.  I turn around, trying to calculate in my head where to make up the lost distance…

Half way through.  Ok, time for the long stretch.  The only way to go is straight for a long, long time.  Maintain the pace.  Check the form.  Ignore the nagging need to pee.  Hmmm, those bushes are looking pretty good…

I turn up the music, losing myself in a Katy Perry song.  I typically don’t listen to Katy Perry, but running brings out the unexpected in people, perhaps.  You’re gonna hear me roaaarrr…

Well, hello, annoying hamstring tightness.  It’s been awhile…a week to be exact.  Can’t say I’ve missed you.  You’re like a fly that refuses to leave me be.  Now I will attempt to ignore you by thinking of the mountains of laundry waiting for me at home…or the office full of work.  Oh, and I have to hit the dry cleaners, pick up a bottle of wine, call so-and-so…(list continues)

There comes a point where I zone out, usually right about here.  Time is irrelevant.  It’s kind of like meditation, very euphoric.  Almost spiritual.  Rainy, cold, whatever…The weather is just fine.  Spending time alone in this peaceful place is what keeps me running, I think.  I don’t look at my distance or pace for miles.

I pass a parked car donning a sign.  “Be the person your dog thinks you are.”  I think of Sophie Mae, my golden retriever, back at home, and how sad her eyes looked when I left.  Sorry, girl.  This run is too long for you.

Two miles left.  Focus.  FOCUS.

I come up behind the trench-coat lady, still walking along.  As she does a double-take, I’ve already paused the music.

“How far have you RUN??”

“About twelve miles.”

“Wooahh!”  Which probably translates into, “What the **** is wrong with you?”   Twelve miles really isn’t that much, compared to a 20-mile-marathon-training-long-run.  Some people don’t understand long-distance running, and never will.  Oh well, no matter.

What?  Only at West Street?  I’m ready to be done now.  FOCUS.  I mapped a hill into the last mile?  Really?  Where was my head??  A pickup truck passes me.  I see a “No Fear” sticker on its back window.  Yes, no fear.  No fear no fear no fear.

Ah, a Muse song.   Perfect.  All intense and anthem-y.  Muse will get me through this.
 Life’s a race…I’m gonna win…I’ll light the fuse….And I’ll never lose…I choose to survive…Whatever it  takes…You won’t pull ahead…I’ll keep up the pace…I’ll reveal my strength to the whole human race…

I open the back door, to find my number one fan getting ready to attack me with kisses.  An ecstatic Sophie shares in my glee that this long run is officially over.  Yay, it’s OVER.  Protein smoothie, foam roller and steaming hot shower, take me away…

Actually, as I read through this, it does sound a little boring.  I could add fictional events.  I could spice it up a little; Try to make people understand why I keep going back for more…

Nah.  Running is running.  I like it just the way it is.

Speed Running Day

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Here’s the track where I do speed intervals.  I hate track running day.  A lot.   But at least it’s a beautiful day to do it.  And, I’ll feel awesome when it’s over.

If you’d like to increase your speed, incorporating a speed interval workout into your running routine each week is a great start.  Check out runnersworld.com for some great information on how to do speed work.

Now, time to finish this workout….

Proper Running Form–Does it Really Matter?

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Before I began marathon training or became a personal trainer, I never paid much attention to how I ran.  It was as simple as one foot in front of the other, I figured.  Not until I got injured did I even consider examining my running technique.  Improper form, over time, can cause unnecessary aches and injuries.  Here are some things to pay attention to on your next run:

1. Where are your feet striking the ground?  It should be mid-foot.  From there, quickly roll up to your toes before your feet spring off the ground.  If you can hear your feet loudly strike the pavement, try to land more softly.

2.  Is your stride too long?  If you’re not a sprinter, you don’t need to worry about lifting your knees high off the ground or having a long stride.  For endurance running, bend your knees slightly, with a short stride, for maximum efficiency.  Your feet should land right underneath your body as you run.

3.  Are your abs engaged?  This area may often be overlooked, but tightening your abs while running can help keep your pelvis stable and prevent lower back pain.  In addition, don’t lean too far forward as you run.  This tilts your pelvis forward, which adds lower back pressure, throws your body alignment off and can cause injury.  Keep your torso straight and tall.  I had this issue at one point.  When I started to work on running “tall” and engaging my abs, it really helped with the pain I was experiencing.

4. Are your shoulders hunched up?  Pay attention to what your shoulders are doing.  You want them down and back–not tightly hunched up and forward.  You want them stacked over your hips for proper alignment.  If you feel them starting to creep up during your run, take a deep breath and shake them out.

5.  Are your arms swaying in front of your body?  I notice people doing this A LOT.  Your arms should be moving back and forth at your sides, and should not cross in front of your body.  They should be bent at 90 degree angles.  Also, watch for tension in your hands–They should not be clenched into fists, but  “cupped”–with your fingers partially bent.

6.  Is your head tilted back too far?  Make sure your head is not tilted too far back (or forward).  You should be looking straight ahead of you.  This will keep your posture in alignment and help you to run more efficiently.

If you’ve been running the same way for many years, it can be very difficult to change aspects of your running form.  I’m still fine-tuning my technique–I take a mental note of my form a few times during each run, and adjust accordingly.  I can say that just a few small tweaks have helped improve my aches and pains a lot, so I feel that it’s definitely worth the added effort–especially if it helps me to run for decades into the future.