Friday, April 30, 2010

Hold on, Treadmill.

Yesterday I "ran" 7 miles in about 50 minutes, which is a great pace for me. But I don't really think I can accept this award - I cheat on the treadmill. I hold on and I KNOW that skews the results. I hold on because I don't want to fall off, and because I've gotten used to the treadmill telling me I'm a 7 minute miler. I know it's lying. I know I really run about an 8 or 8:30 minute mile. And I know when I step off for just a few seconds to switch something on my ipod or ipad (can't do it while bouncing on the treadmill), that I really should stop the treadmill for those few seconds. But I don't. I stand on the side (really, it's just a few seconds) and the treadmill tells me I'm still going strong. I figure I won't rain on its parade. Or mine. I like to see the numbers going up and going up fast. And I've gotten used to it.
But I know we're both lying. I know when treadmill tells me 7 miles in 50 minutes, and my eyes say 7 miles in 50 minutes, that I didn't really do it. I adjust it in my mind and say, well, I probably did more like 6 miles. I don't say it too loudly, just loud enough to assuage my feelings of guilt at deceiving myself. And that's enough penance for me. Besides, I figure as long as I'm getting a really good workout, good sweating, increasing incline or speed, it doesn't really matter that I hold on and that the treadmill's end tally is off. The thing that matters is I ran, I sometimes had fun, I pushed myself, and that's that. When I go on the road and find I'm slower than what my friend Treadmill says, it's at first disappointing. But think how much slower I'd be if I didn't do the treadmill at all? So I don't mind holding on. Better than falling off.
Now the very best workout EVER is running with my kids. They hop in the double jogger stroller with lollipops and water bottles in hand, blankets and books in tow, and off we go, running with 100+ pounds up steep hills into hard headwinds while singing the ABCs and counting fire hydrants. I'm just so darn thankful when those runs are over that I don't even care how fast I went. Nothing builds my endurance and strength like a stroller run. I wonder if I could invent a treadmill that mimics a stroller run? Pushing on the run. You'd have to hold on, of course...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Running IS fun

I forget things too easily. I need constant reminders. I know in the back of my head that I like running, but I don't always feel the like. My head says, "Yes, you do like it!" and my body says, "That sounds like no fun at all."
So after some heavy negotiating between mind and body, I finally convinced my whole self to try another run today. After all, I haven't run since two days ago and that's a long time - long enough to make me wonder why I run at all. I had an entire day yesterday to rest, I reason with my Self. That's plenty, that's like being spoiled. Body, you can try another run. And if anything, says Brain, you can just show Brain that you (the reluctant Body) is right - get running and prove that it's a waste of time. Just try it. (Meanwhile, Brain is hoping this tactic works, and that once Body gets going it will see the light and remember what the Brain knows - that running isn't all that bad!).
So I promised my whole Self that after a day of rest yesterday I would get up early for a morning run today. It was the great compromise. One day off, then one day on. I set my alarm. I pictured myself running. I tried to remember the runner's high. I fought off my many justifications to not get up early. I woke up several times at night to check my watch. I WILL GET UP, I kept telling myself. And I started to get a little excited.
I got up. Ten minutes before my alarm went off, I got up. 5:20 am. I was looking forward to the run, or at least to getting it over with.
Mile one. Ugh. Mile two. Still ugh. Mile three. I did a 5K already! Mile four. This isn't so bad. Mile five. Feeling good! Mile six. I did a 10k! Mile seven. I can do a little more. Mile eight. I did it! I'm done. Eight Miles. A little over an hour. The runner's high didn't really set in until late in the run, but it hasn't worn off either.
I remember this feeling. Satisfied. Proud. Happy. Fulfilled. Energetic. How could I have forgotten so easily? I know what if feels like to run - it feels good.

My role

My house this morning: Mom, watch me! Mom, can you help me? Mom, where are you? Mom, where's my (fill in the blank). Mom, look at this! Mom, guess what? Mom, I need you! And, the #1 on the list - a spontaneous: Mom, I love you. (Crazy & hectic as motherhood often is, I really love being a mom.)

Speaking of motherhood, I dreamed last night that I had the kids out in a forest somewhere and it was night. We had a roomy tent that had no floor (just dirt). The kids got in their sleeping bags, but they were cold. They were so very cold. I did everything I could to get them warm, finally starting up a fire to warm them up. But then they were hungry. So very hungry. I made sure they were safe, then took off into the night towards a cabin I knew was nearby. There was food stocked there. I wanted ham and roast beef and bread and fruit and hot chocolate to take back to my kids. It was the most important thing to me, my most important mission, to make sure they had food and they were warm.

I woke up before I got the food to them. And guess what? I was very cold and very hungry. I turned up the heat, ate a cookie, and went back to bed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

23 Miles and Me

I have been sick all week. Coughing, fever, fatigue, coughing, headaches, lost appetite, coughing, no sleep, no slowing down, and coughing. It's been miserable. I skipped last Saturday's long run because I was sick, thinking I'd do it on Monday instead. I didn't run Monday. I didn't run Tuesday. I ran 4 miles on Wednesday and felt awful. I was determined not to lose any running ability so I ran 8 miles on Thursday. I didn't run Friday. Still, with a marathon in 3 weeks, the OCD part of me simply couldn't rest. Luckily I was feeling good enough (I should say, "less bad enough") to force myself to run Saturday.

My brother Jim showed up at 5 am as usual for our Saturday long runs. I had been up most of the night, coughing, so it was a relief to have him there and get going. And get the run over with. Honestly, I was feeling better than I had all week, but I was worried I wouldn't have it in me to complete the full 20 miles, as per our training schedule. So we ran a 5 mile loop (hills!), stopped in for a potty break, felt okay, did another 5 mile loop (with a second potty break), felt okay, so at the turning point we decided to keep going and do the 12 mile loop.

It felt great to be running again. It was a HUGE relief that I could still do it. I know we probably could've walked faster, but hey, I'd been sick all week. At the end, I had extra energy and did another mile (still hills!), totaling 23 miles. It took 3:58. The time is slightly discouraging, but I'm trying to not dwell on it. The last marathon I raced in I did the full 26.2 miles in about 3:50 (and it was also very hilly). I have a million excuses why I've slowed down. Sick. Tired. Protein deficient. Nutritionally anemic. I did cough a bunch on the run, but not enough to really slow me down.

And at the end of the 23 miles, when I walked in the house, I had plenty of energy to get right back into being a mom. (Warning: the following is all self-imposed, probably to assuage my guilt at taking time to myself.) No naps or downtime for me. That's the compromise. I can take a long run, as long as I start early so I'm home for morning chores and caring for the kids, but I can't take a nap later on or go to bed early that night. I have to function as if nothing had happened. Or if I get a long run in during mid-day, I have to make sure Jeff and the kids have something to do where they won't miss me (like going to a movie). Why do I feel so guilty about taking time to myself? Even sitting here to blog feels like I'm sneaking away from my duties and I'm worried I'll get caught and have to apologize.

How do you learn to relax without feeling like you have to justify it? Where are these expectations to do-do-do coming from? Myself? My idea of what a mom and wife should do?The feeling that there is no "me" now, that my life is my family? Is there room for me to just be?
I think I need a nap.
Still, it was a good run. Three more weeks until my summer's first marathon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tricks of the Trade (or, how to have a happy race)

During the last few long training sessions (15-20 mile runs) my brother and I have been reviewing race day tactics. Here are some personal tricks of the trade that work for me. Everyone is different, so find what works for you. Maybe some of these ideas will help you.

Starting a week or so before your big event, spend a day or two eating primarily protein. You want those muscles strong and happy. The remainder of the week should be spent "carb loading.". Carb loading does NOT mean overloading, though! Eat your normal quantity, maybe a tiny bit more, but not more than your body can handle. No amount of overeating will make you race better.

That said, there is the delicate issue of the infamous "runner's trots." This may be a non- issue when cycling, but some people do experience digestive problems during any kind of heavy exercise. At the risk of a little ickiness, I'll share the solution that works for my body. If my race (or long training session) is on a Saturday, I will take a mild, natural laxative (senna) on a Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Clearing out the digestive track mid-week, then being careful not to over-eat the rest of the week, makes for a lighter and more comfy race. Do NOT try this - or any unusual tips - for the first time at a race. Try the tips on long training sessions and find out what works for you.

More on this delightful subject (for many it is a very frustrating problem): avoid high fiber foods the day before the race. Choose foods that are easy to digest. White rice, pasta, light breads, for example.

Many races offer a big carb dinner the night before the race. Pasta is the norm, although here in my Idaho town a potato bar is the pre-race dinner for at least one race. Other races off a wide array of breakfast foods right before a morning race. Fearing the big bonk, people pile up the food and dig in. Unless you have a stomach of steel, I would recommend restraint. Go ahead and eat a little, but realize you are not going to starve on a 3-4 hour or more race. You can fuel along the way. No need to pile it up and have it sitting in your stomach - undigested, unusable, and uncomfortable - like a rock. Instead, eat your biggish (not huge!) meal at lunch the day before a morning race.

As for hydrating don't go overboard on that, either. Your body can absorb only so much liquid, and unless you enjoy frequent port-a-potty visits, drink only what you need for the time being. Like fueling, you will be able to hydrate along the course. Be careful not to under-hydrate - my approach is to at least drink to thirst, then a little more, and also to drink every time I fuel or at least every half hour. It's always best to drink before thirst kicks in. No need to chug a quart of water, a few swallows or even a cup or two might be enough. Again, pay attention to your body on long training sessions to figure out what works for you.

Energy gels are the bad guy for some people. In an effort to keep energy up, people gulp down an energy gel, then wonder why they feel worse than ever. They experience stomach cramps or feel heavy, or like they have a weight in the pit of their stomach. The very thing intended to keep them going is slowing them down. This has happened to me enough that I either had to give up fueling with gels or find a solution. I found a solution. Instead of chugging the gel, try squeezing a little out at a time into the pocket of your cheek or under your tongue. Doing it that way helps you not taste the horrid, sometimes sickening taste of the super-sweet pseudo fruit/chocolate/whatever flavor. Let it dissolve slowly, sip a little water or sports drink if you can, then when you're ready do it again. It can take a good 5 - 10 minutes this way, but for me it's the only way I can tolerate the stuff. I can feel when fatigue is setting in, and after the gel I can feel my energy levels jump up. My brother laughs at me on our long runs as my talking dwindles to nothing, sinking along with my energy. When the fuel kicks I start running with a bounce (he says) and I feel like a little chipmunk chattering and chatting away. I am sure it annoys him, but he's a good sport.

Ladies only: if Aunt Flo is prone to unexpected visits, especially when you are putting extra stress on your body, prepare accordingly. A small, sports specific tampon could save your race.

Another thing that has helped me tremendously was a bit of advice from my brother. I have no idea if he made it up or if it's an old wives' tale, or if it is actually true. I do know that it has helped me and so I want to (and do) believe in this idea. He said we run off the sleep we had two nights before, not the night before. Why is this such a big deal? Well, many racers simply do not sleep the night before a big race. Nerves kick in. Nervous about the race, nervous you have forgotten something, nervous you'll oversleep, you name it - you'll likely be nervous about it, particularly if racing is new to you. I actually get those same reactions the night before a long training session.

So the mental battle begins the morning of the race. You are worried you won't race well because you didn't sleep well, or you didn't sleep well so don't even try to do your long training session. But armed with the advice from my brother, you are now empowered to race anyway and to know you'll be just fine because two nights ago you had a good night's sleep. Behind a good race is a lot of good thoughts. If you think you can, you're probably right. If you think you can't, you're probably right then, too. I found, anecdotally, that this bit of wisdom held true with newborns and sick children that kept me up all night. I could function just fine the first day (going off the sleep from two nights ago?), and crash the second day.

Just a tidbit here, if chafing is a problem, it's best to deal with that before the race than have to hurt in the race itself. Long training sessions will help you figure out where then rub is, if any. I put Vaseline between my toes and under my arms because those spots are an issue for me. Take bandaids in your pocket if you expect a rub that'll need some extra protection. Men often chafe and bleed on their chest so bandaging up beforehand is a good idea.

Next, Ibuprofen. Don't take ibuprofen (Advil) or other medications that will mask the pain of an injury during a training session. You need to feel the injury so you can respond appropriately. During a race, however, it is kind of too late and if I intend to compete despite a potential or existing injury, then I take my Ibuprofen before I race so it doesn't hinder me. I am not suggesting anyone else do this, just saying what I do. Athletes do not always make the best decisions when competing is involved.

Self-talk can help in all stages of a race. Walk yourself mentally through the race. Do you have all the items you need? Make a checklist on paper so you stop fretting. Imagine yourself speeding along, a good cadence, a nice stride, a long stroke. You are in the groove. You feel the high and you can go forever. During the race, pick landmarks to reach, find people to pass or pace, talk positively to yourself - or yell at yourself if that's what keeps you going. Again, a good part of racing is the mental battle waged between you and yourself.

And just keep going. You won't finish any sooner if you stop.

After then race, take some Ibuprofen if you haven't already. Stretch out, walk around, ice up. To help avoid sore legs, I pull on the compression socks I bought to combat varicose veins during pregnancies. I will even sleep with them if I have had a particularly hard or hilly race or training session.

These are just some ideas, like I said, that work for me and may work for you. Again, don't try anything drastically new during the race. Figure it out during long trainings rides or runs to find out what your needs are and how to best address them. Happy trails.

Mr. Rogers and Gandalf - A love story

When my husband started his residency, the hospital held a get-to-know-you gathering. As part of the activities, we took some pretty extensive personality tests. All those questions just to find out who you are. I don't remember any of the questions or any of the analyses, except for the part the test told me which celebrity I most resembled. Mr. Rogers. Me - and Mr. Rogers? I couldn't have been more flattered. I don't think I'm nearly as much like Fred Rogers as Fred Rogers is, but I'd sure like to be. Everybody deep down inside has a soft sport for Mr. Rogers.
My husband's results were far different, but just as flattering (I think!). He turned out to be Gandalf, the very cool wizard in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. He (my husband and Gandalf - a collective "he" since they are one) is wise and powerful, and also has a very gentle, caring side. A leader, a do-er, and a handsome guy, too. Nice.
As one friend of ours said, I can just picture Jeff telling those Balrogs at the front door, "You shall not pass!" Meanwhile, I'd be inviting the creature in with a song, "Won't you be my neighbor?"
So a Miss Mister Rogers marries Gandalf the Grey. And live happily ever after. How neat is that?

Groats for Breakfast!

My favorite breakfast food is boiled oat groats. I scoop 2 cups of groats into a medium sauce pan (pot), and boil the groats, keeping them covered with water (I have to add water occasionally), and stirring often. It takes a good hour or so before they're soft enough to my liking. Ladle out 1/2 cup or so of groats into my cereal bowl, add salt (some people might prefer brown sugar), cold water to cool it down (or milk, if I'm feeling decadent), and dig in. Yum. Groats fills up the corners of my stomach, as my sister-in-law once said.
What exactly are groats and, as my kids love to ask, are they gross? Groats are unrolled, uncut oats. Like wheat berries are to wheat, groats are to oatmeal. They plump up nicely to a chewy, soft cooked cereal. I could eat them for every meal and every snack, but nutritionally they wouldn't fill all my needs. They do make me happy, though. And no, groats are definitely NOT gross.
Refrigerate the rest for future breakfasts. Or snacks. Or other meals.
Here's some info from Arrowhead Mills Oats Groats:
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1/4 cup (42.0 g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat
Saturated Fat
Total Carbohydrates
Dietary Fiber
Vitamin A 0%Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%Iron 10%

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Great Fish Story - the big picture

Sam’s True Fish Story

My son Samuel had a fish he called K.C. It was a goldfish he got when he was three. It cost him 25 cents. When the cashier sold him the fish she asked what the fish’s name was. Sam stood on tip toe as he slid his nickels and pennies and one dime to her, and declared decidedly that the fish’s name was K.C. “Casey?” she asked. No, K – C! he responded.

So K.C. joined the family. Sam sang to his fish. The fish wiggled. Sam told stories to the fish. The fish wiggled. Sam showed the fish pictures in his books. The fish wiggled. The fish didn’t do much, but it sure was good at wiggling. Sam loved it (that’s because he wasn’t the one who had to change the smelly fish bowl).

One morning I passed by the fish bowl and found him belly-up. It was bound to happen. Goldfish just never have been lucky with me, which is purely unintentional. I harbor no malice toward goldfish. (I think, perhaps, the water was too cold when I refilled the bowl after changing it the night before.) But why couldn’t it have happened when the affection Sam felt had worn off a little?

When Sam came in, I told him as gently as I could that K.C. had died. He didn’t get it. It was Sam’s first encounter with death, and I was having a tough time explaining the finality of K.C.’s position without making it seem so…. final. I was pleased that Sam was taking it so well, until he asked if he could feed K.C. and make him wiggle. No, I said, we need to take him out and bury him (I certainly didn’t dare flush Sam’s friend down the toilet), and maybe today we could get a new fish.

That’s when it hit him. His eyes got wide, his lips tightened, and his little face paused before crumpling before my eyes. His little body collapsed into my arms as he began to weep. I never knew so young a child could feel so deeply the pain and sorrow my little Sam was feeling. We sat on the couch for nearly two hours while he sobbed and questioned and sobbed some more. I tried to comfort him. I held him close. I rocked him and talked to him. His cries quieted into little bursts, then little whimpers, then little uneven breaths, and finally he fell asleep. He had worn himself out crying over a 25 cent fish.

I remember thinking what an insignificant thing that fish was, really, in the grand scheme of things. I remember thinking that maybe – just maybe – Sam was overreacting. But it broke my heart to see him hurting so much. And I wept along with him – not for the loss of his fish, but for the pain he felt. If he only knew what I knew. If he only could see the big picture….

And then I remembered Lazarus. Christ sorrowed with Lazarus’ sisters at the news of his death. Yet he knew the big picture. He knew Lazarus would live again. And – better yet – he knew that someday Lazarus (and everyone else) would live forever. Yet Christ comforted those who sorrowed and helped them through their pain. And, yes, he brought Lazarus back to mortality. And because of Christ, someday we will all be brought to immortality. Christ knows the big picture. He knows also our pain. He is the great physician and he will heal our sorrows, if we let him. He may not bring back the dead fish, but he can heal the wounded heart. He will hold us, and lead us through the grief.

A 25 cent fish and a 3 year old boy opened wider my understanding of the love Christ has for us. Now that’s a great fish story.

On Cross-Training

(I wrote this for Bella Rosa Bikes in February)

“Sheesh, if I had could just have that kind of energy!” I said to myself, watching my kids playing on the sledding hill. Up and down they went, thrilled and sparkling. I dragged a sled up to join them, forcing a fake smile while panting. What is going on? I thought to myself. I run marathons, for goodness sake! My kids, ages 2 to 10, are whipping past me like I’m a couch potato! Maybe I’m just tired from this morning’s run…?

Or maybe my kids are in better overall shape. That thought made me pause and consider, seriously consider, my training plan. I love to run. Runner’s high generally comes pretty easy. Mile after mile, year after year, it’s been the same thing – one foot in front of another, the euphoria of pushing myself a little or a lot, the satisfaction of logging another training run. My body knows how to keep its pace, how to keep those feet going, and how to send one leg up and one leg back. Stuck in an compulsive Runner’s Rut, I can run…but that’s about it – and not all that amazingly well, either.

Speaking of kids, ever watch kids playing on a playground? They’re working their arms, abs and legs on the swings. They’re getting cardio in their games of tag or races. They stretch and strengthen their core, back, shoulders, and arms on monkey bars. They twist and turn and stop and go, they jump and run and slide and swing. They aren’t plodding mile after mile. Granted, they aren’t necessarily building the endurance of long-distance running. But overall conditioning? They’ve got me beat. Not that we’re competing, but something shows on the sledding hill. My kids could out-play me any day. Why?

Because while they’ve been playing, they’ve essentially been cross-training.

The idea of cross-training has always made me feel a little uncomfortable. The hard part for athletes who focus on one sport (like me!) is that you begin to think, “I HAVE to run (or bike, or swim, or lift) EVERY work-out; I can’t miss that day, it’ll ruin me!” This is me talking. Did I mention I’m a compulsive runner? Well, perhaps it’s time to change that way of thinking and stop thinking of cross-training as missing a workout. Cross-training is NOT giving it up; it truly is training. Letting normal-workout muscles rest and recover gives those particular muscles the opportunity to be stronger for the next tough workout. Cross-training kills two birds with one stone by giving fatigued muscles the chance to rest and re-build while simultaneously developing other areas of our total fitness.

Although I’m pushing cross-training, I hope you understand that I don’t expect anyone to give up a favorite activity, be it swimming, cycling, running, pilates, yoga, or whatever. But I do think that by varying a stagnant routine somewhat, we’ll all find ourselves more well-rounded – figuratively speaking, of course.

Benefits of cross-training are obvious. Let me tell some of the “Whys” and present some ideas of “How”, and perhaps in the process I will at least convince myself to cross-train more consistently.

Here’s the Why:

1. Injury: you reduce the risk of injury by giving those oft-used muscles a break. Over-use injuries are frustrating and can ruin a whole training schedule, and even take you out for the season. Such injuries are a nuisance that can be easily avoided. Repetitive-use injuries happen in cycling, running, swimming, rowing, skiing, etc. So don’t repetitively use those muscles all the time. Give them a break.

2. Muscles -The More the Merrier: Cross-training gives your body a chance to build other muscles. Our bodies become extremely efficient after repeating the same movements - at putting that one foot in front of the other mile after mile, and becoming so fine-tuned to that one activity that it becomes not much of a physical challenge anymore. Our muscles get used to the repetitive motion, and what once was tough becomes a walk in the park. Mix it up, and suddenly we’re building new muscles, toning new areas, burning more calories, and reaching new milestones. Translate that all back into your favorite sport and you find you’re performing the preferred sport better, not worse, when you cross-train smartly. Don’t forget the added benefit that more muscles means a leaner body burning more fuel and at a faster rate. Goodbye, fat and flab!

3. Boredom: This is a tough one because I don’t really get bored running, and I know cyclists who don’t get bored cycling, swimmers who don’t get bored swimming…you get the idea. Like them, I like the predictability of the same thing each day. I like to know my run will be on a certain course and will take a certain time. During my schooling I could run between breaks and be back for an afternoon class; when I worked I’d run through my lunch break, knowing my time and mileage would be consistent. Nowadays, I can plan to be back before the kids wake up. Or if I’m on the treadmill when my kids are awake, I can run through two episodes of Dora the Explorer and call it good. I like that.

Granted, sometimes it does get a bit redundant. It’s not always as exciting as it could be. But when I break it up a bit and get out on my bike or ride my rollers (also through two episodes of Dora) instead of running, I get off afterwards thinking, “That was great! That was invigorating!” And I smile. I don’t always smile when I step off my treadmill. Yep, it does feel good to do something else. It breaks up the monotony. And honestly, when I know I’m going to be swimming the next morning, I go to bed with a smile. I can anticipate how my back and arms will stretch and move. Even the thought just feels good.

4. Options: I hurt my ankle last week. I was playing “I’m a way-cool snowboarder in the Olympics doing tricks off the 2nd-story deck into the snow below.” It was my kids’ idea. Really. No, we didn’t wear snowboards but we pretended. And it was a lot of fun. But I landed wrong one time and BAM, I could just see my whole marathon training schedule fly out the window… Thankfully with some loving tender care (R.I.C.E.) and Ibuprofen, I’m not out for more than a few days. But in any case, it was comforting to know I had other options and could still train. My bike and the swimming pool will see me through my bruised and battered ankle. Actually, I suffered a real life, honest to goodness over-use injury two years ago when training for a marathon, and that’s when I first got my bike and my rollers. I trained for two months on my bike for a marathon, then after only two more weeks of running, ran the race. And did just fine.

And the how:

If you are worried that cross-training will ruin your training schedule, make a new schedule. Pencil in just one or two different activities, and feel free to put them on your normally light training days, or even on mid-week rest days. Having the schedule in front of you will convince you that you are still really doing your favorite activity. You haven’t given it up. Just make sure days that are designated for your favored sport are satisfyingly hard workouts so you don’t mind doing other things on other days. I count swimming as a rest day (the way I swim, I might as well be sleeping). Or combine activities – go ahead and pencil in a Brick (bike then run) on one of your harder days. See how you feel and if you like it, do it again the next week. Or switch out an easy run (if you mostly bike) for an easy ride (if you mostly run) – and vice versa.

With all this cardio talk, don’t forget other areas, especially core. Finding time for core work might not be as hard as you think. If you’re time is limited, try reducing your cardio workout just fifteen minutes. Use that time to get in some good core-strengthening exercises. A strong powerhouse will translate to strong limbs. It is definitely NOT wasting time to focus on that waist (and everything around it). Core workouts can be done at different times of the day, too. If you have even a small window of time, go ahead and do what you can – you don’t even have to dress down.

Strength-training has got to be my weakest area. I did a fabulous strength-training program for all of two weeks last year before I quit. I just missed running too much. But I have since realized that doing one type of exercise doesn’t mean I can’t do the other. They are not mutually exclusive. Again, scheduling it in, even just two days a week, can positively affect your entire fitness in huge ways. “But I don’t want to give up running (or whatever sport you’re focused on) for two days a week!” So don’t give it up. Work it in as a supplement, not a replacement activity. Again, you can use a scheduled rest day, or reduce a normal workout by 15 minutes (or more), to work on different areas. Note that “rest day” doesn’t have to mean “no exercising day.” It simply means to give your body a break from that normal workout, let those over-worked muscles rest, and give other parts of your body a chance to shine.

Now a word about rest days. Usually a day or two during the week can be dedicated to recovery while still allowing for training in different areas, i.e., cross-training. But I would strongly suggest taking one full day in seven as a complete rest day. Certainly it lets you relax and focus on other things for a while, but it also combats burnout – both mental and physical. Knowing that I’ve got a scheduled real rest day ahead keeps me motivated during the other days to get up and get going. I’m less likely to short-change my hard workouts when I realize I’ve got a break coming up.

Here’s a final analogy to support the idea of cross-training: Let’s talk food. I eat oatmeal every day. I really like it. It fills up the corners of my stomach like nothing else, leaving me feeling satisfied. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day – almost. But think of the ramifications if I only ate oatmeal. I’d definitely not get the well-rounded nutrition I need. And even though I like the predictability, I think I’d get bored. My body would not perform to its best. Even other areas of my life would begin to suffer. Nice as oatmeal is, there are lots of other foods I like, too. Likewise, nice as one sport is, there are lots of other sports I like, too. Really, there is an entire buffet of different activities out there for us to choose from. It doesn’t mean foregoing the favored oatmeal (or running, or whatever sport) to add variety to my menu. Cross-training gives me a chance to try other things and develop different tastes. It makes for a healthier, stronger, faster, leaner and happier me.

Smart cross-training can turn the work of a work-out into the play of a playground. There are plenty of whys and ways to condition our bodies for optimal performance. So if I follow my own advice, I expect I’ll be swinging and climbing and chasing without breaking a sweat just like my kids in no time! And maybe this time next year, I’ll be racing up and down that sled hill just like them - with a smile instead of a grimace and a laugh instead of a moan. Play hard, play smart, and have fun. Happy cross-training, everyone.

Does this training make me look fat?

I have to address something that has been weighing heavily on me lately. Literally. Pounds. Like eight of them.

This happens every time, yet it still catches me by surprise. Training is going great. I'm on track for an upcoming race, mileage is on the up and intensity is increasing. Actually everything is on the up and increasing. Including my weight. Talk about frustrating! This marathon, or that triathlon, or any heightened training is making me bigger. And, really, who wants to get bigger?

The guy at the sports store, that's who. I chatted with him at the check-out today. He was selling me jogger's mace (there's a creepy new dog on my route) and gel fuel for my long run tomorrow. He can't run, he said, it makes him lose weight and he wants to bulk up. I nodded in a show of sympathy, while inwardly I was cursing him. How dare he lose weight running while I'm in the gaining phase of my training?

Like most women and most runners, being lean is desirable, and for many women weight gain is not just frustrating, but sometimes almost devastating. Running should be a means to the lean, right? So what gives?

Thankfully this has happened to me enough times that I recognize the pattern and know not to panic. Research shows me, too, that I am not alone. An increase in training may correlate with an increase in weight, and it is not necessarily all bad. One blogger asked, "Does this marathon make me look fat?" I had to smile. I know that question.

And I know at least part of the answer.

First, the bad news. Some of those extra pounds may be avoidable as bad weight gain. The extra miles you are putting in translate to at least two things: extra hunger and extra justification to eat. You did an extra hard work-out, so you feel you "deserve" that extra food. Or you just keep eating all the time because you need the fuel for upcoming workouts. Maybe you fuel before and after shorter distances (5 mile run or so) because you think you need to. (You don't. You really don't need to start the fueling until an hour or so into your workout, and then only about 100-200 calories at a time every hour or as needed.) The problem arises when you don't understand the value of food and exercise. If you want to gain weight, put more fuel (calories) in than you burn. To lose weight, you have to burn more than you consume (true, it can get a little more complicated when you consider metabolism or underlying health conditions, but we're keeping things simple for now).

To put the calories-in/calories-out into perspective, a typical cookie or piece of bread contains about 100-150 calories. A typical running mile burns about 100 calories. One or even two miles per cookie!? And, to make things even more unfair, you have to burn about 3500 calories to melt one pound off your body. Running a marathon will burn about 2600 calories, not even one pound (true, you burn at a higher rate for the rest of the day - we'll just call those bonus calories). See, I told you it was bad news.

But I get sooo hungry! you say. Two ways I have found to deal with the crazy hunger cravings after working out (especially after swimming - that makes me famished!) is to immediately get some good quality protein in my body. Maybe replenishing my broken-down muscles satisfies them enough to keep them from screaming for food later on. I don't know, but it works for me. Also, hydrate. Many people mistake thirst for hunger

and end up eating when, in fact, they just need to drink more and eat less. Try it - take a good long drink and see if that takes the edge off the hunger. You'll be more likely to make healthy, thoughtful food choices if you're not feeling a hunger frenzy!

Now alternatively, weight gain might also be good news. You're muscles are developing, and they are strong, dense, and heavy. Heavier than fat. A heavier you might also be a leaner you. That's okay. In fact, long, lean endurance muscle is great! (sorry, sports store guy, I have no desire to bulk up - no heavy weight-lifting for me!).

Also, with more muscle, you are probably storing more water. Water is not a big deal. Weight can fluctuate about 2-4 lbs from morning to night just because of water weight. With proper hydration, meaning balanced electrolyte drinks, you won't bloat up from retaining water.

Finally, as your body adapts to the fuel needs for long training, it learns to store glycogen for easy access during times of physical exertion. More readily available fuel is more good news, even if the scale creeps up in response.

Interestingly, for me and others I've read about, rapid weight loss occurs during the two weeks following a long, hard race. After my first marathon, I lost 8 lbs. in tw

o weeks, much of it water. Over time, as you adjust to the rigors of an active lifestyle, the high fluctuation between weight gain and weight loss steadies itself and you find yourself in the slower, healthy weight loss camp, or in the maintenance camp, depending on your calories consumed and calories burned.

Probably the best way to handle weight gain/loss is to keep both a training log and a food journal. Shortly after my second baby, I tried the Weight Watchers approach to losing weight. My doctor at the Mayo Clinic told me it was the best, most tried-and-true, lifestyle-altering way to lose and keep off unwanted pounds. So I wrote down everything, even a bite or a nibble, and about how many calories I was consuming. It was astonishing. I had not been correct when I had thought I was a healthy and small eater! Is that bite of cookie here, there, and a little later (until you've nibbled it away to nothing) worth another mile? If it is, then enjoy. If your goal is to lose weight, then you might want to think again.

One of the most valuable things, however, when I was combatting baby weight, was realizing that you cannot be healthy and lose weight if you under eat. There comes a point where your body will rebel and plateau, and eve

n begin to shut down if you are burning too much more than you are consuming. Following the first week or two of rapid weight loss when you begin a diet, one to two pounds a week is a healthy, steady weight loss. Make sure you are consuming enough healthy calories to keep your body functioning. There are lots of calculators online to help you figure out your caloric requirements. Do not starve yourself, though! Just keep your food intake under control.

Go ahead and fuel properly for your level of activity. Unless you're training like an Olympic athlete, though, you really don't need to eat like one. Our bodies are incredible machines that adapt to the stresses we put on it, including storing and accessing fuel.

So again, the bad news: if you eat more than you need it's going to show. Even during intense periods of training. Sometimes the weight gain is simply from thinking you can get away w

ith eating everything. You can't. Sorry. That is the "I live to eat" approach. But the good news: you are feeding an active machine, building muscle and storing for future workouts. Some weight gain can be beneficial and can be expected. That is the "I eat to live" approach. Just eat within reason and enjoy having a strong, healthy body.

P.s. (I have to admit, I run so I can eat cookies. Cookies are my fuel of choice). :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I was a runner two days ago...

I have been so good about following my training schedule - the Advanced I Marathon Training Schedule from I run and run and swim and run and bike and long-run (Saturdays have been around 20 miles, lately) and then rest on Sundays. I LOVE Sundays. There's a reason for going hard, and a reason for Sundays. God knew we all could use a day off our regular activities.
I took a bit of a rest yesterday because I'd been up with a sick daughter all night on Thursday. I just did some core work and called it good. Today is my scheduled long-run so I thought it'd be fine to rest up for today anyway. Ha! Didn't sleep at all last night because I was up all night with a sick ME! Coughing, sore throat, runny eyes, achey body. Sure, I could drag my body out and force a few miles out of it, but that would be doing more harm than good. So, VERY reluctantly, I am taking yet another rest day. Tomorrow is Sunday. No running. I hope I can stand the mental frustration going on here. So my back-pocket plan is to take my long run early on Monday. And I do mean early. I have to be home before the kids wake up to get them off to school.
I feel like I used to be a runner and that it was a long time ago. Two whole days ago. With one more day to go until I turn into a runner again. If I'm not still so sick, that is. One month to go until Marathon #5. May my training revive itself on Monday! (Or - please, please, please let my kids and me get better and let the weather be good and let me get enough sleep!)

Family Night (or, how to change toilet paper)

Every Monday evening we have Family Night, complete with lesson, activity, and treat. Usually its a thoughtful, spiritual lesson and a fun game or activity, followed by popcorn or an ice cream cone or something. Deep thoughts and good times, right?
Well, this Monday I think the lesson will be How and When to Change the Toilet Paper Roll. Activity: hands-on practice changing the Toilet Paper Roll. Treat: How about some large marshmallows on toothpicks?
Yeah, I'm all about teaching the kids life-lessons to help them get ahead and succeed.

On Housekeeping

When my girls (ages 2 and 5) make their beds, I reward them. When my boys (ages 8 and 10) DON'T make their beds, I will often charge them a housekeeping fee and make it myself. Unfair? Naw, just the pitfalls of growing up.

Eggplant, Tomato, Basil Pasta

1 large Eggplant, peeled if desired, cubed
10 +- tomatoes (whatever floats your boat!), Cubed/diced.
1 onion, chopped AND/OR 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 Cup. fresh basil, finely cut OR 2 +- Tbs. dried basil (To taste, basically)
2 + tbs. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
8 oz. (Fresh, if possible!) Mozzarella, cubed
8 oz. Cooked pasta, drained (boiled in salted water) (Cavatappi works great with this)

Soak Eggplant cubes in large bowl of heavily salted water for about 1/2 hour (if there's any bitterness in the eggplant, the brine water will take it out). Rinse well in cold water, drain well.
In a large pot or pan (I use my wok), cook eggplant, tomatoes, onions/garlic in olive oil until everything is tender and saucy (a good 1/2 hour), stirring occasionally. Stir in basil, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Reserve 2 cups sauce. Toss the rest with the cooked pasta. Serve mixed pasta in pasta bowl, add additional sauce as desired, and top with mozzarella cubes.

Sweet Potato soup

On the subject of soups (and using up produce from Bountiful Baskets), here's one I actually did try and LOVE.

5-6 Sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, diced
6 cups chicken broth
1 generous Tbs. brown sugar
dash nutmeg
1 cup cream (opt, but recommended) (or you can use Evap. milk, or milk)

In a medium pot, boil all potatoes and onions in chicken broth until very tender. Use a stick blender to puree, or work in batches in an upright blender to puree, then return to pot (careful - hot liquids explode out the blender if there's too much in the blender - personal experience).
Stir in brown sugar and nutmeg. Add cream or milk if desired (you can completely omit the milk and substitute with more chicken broth for a healthier soup). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add more broth for a thinner soup.

This soup would be delicious seasoned with curry, ginger and coconut milk instead of nutmeg and cream. Yum. You can substitute the sweet potatoes and potatoes and use cooked squash instead for a nice squash bisque. Isn't soup wonderful?

Today's Special.
Cream of Asparagus soup:
1 lb. asparagus
1 small or 1/2 large onion
4+ cups chicken stock
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup) - or more to taste

Chop asparagus, set aside heads for later, discard woody ends.
saute some one small or 1/2 large onion until very tender
4 cups chicken stock (bouillon),
chopped asparagus (about 1 lb.)
Boil for 25 minutes, then puree in blender (or if your stick blender works, use that),
Return to pot, add 1/2 stick butter, and more stock to desired consistency.
Add asparagus heads at end.

Okay, so I haven't actually made it yet, but I thought it looked good. We've been eating a LOT of asparagus lately (thank you, Bountiful Baskets) and I'm always looking for new ways to prepare it.