Friday, February 21, 2014

Illness and the Marathon Training Schedule

The things that make a man restless often define him and describe what he cherishes as his best in life and how much worthy he is for the trust & the respect of the rest.
-Anuj Somany

This week I had to take an unexpected break in my training schedule.  I was hit with a fever and  when I went to work out I felt weak and like I had no energy.  On the days I was able to get a workout in, I had to cut back to at least 50% of what I had planned.  It sucked.

Illness can put a halt to even the most dedicated runner's training plan.  Especially in the midst of marathon training it can be difficult to allow yourself to take time off, but this is exactly what your body needs most.  It's important to hold back on training until you're illness is gone.  Take some time to catch up on Netflix...

I decided to start House of Cards while I was sick 

Once you are feeling better there are several things you should think about before returning to your regular training schedule.
  • How long were you out for?  The longer you were sick the longer it's going to take you to get back into your normal routine.  Have patience through your first few runs, and don't let yourself get down even if you're not 100% even when you're feeling much better.  It may feel like you're starting back at square 1, but you will progress much faster if you give yourself time to recover.
  • What was your nutrition like while you were sick?  Were you able to eat? If you weren't able to keep food down or if you weren't eating your normal diet it may take even longer to return to normal training.  Focus on getting your diet back on track and your training will likely follow.
  • Were you able to move while you were sick or were you stuck in bed?  If you were bedridden it is likely you will have some residual sore and stiff muscles.  Make sure to stretch and warm up before your runs.  If you continued to work while you were sick it may take a few extra days to fully recover, and may require more time off from training.
When you are well enough to return to training you will have to modify your training schedule to account for the time you took off, and to keep yourself from getting sick again.  Long runs and higher tempo runs can weaken the immune system, which can send you into a relapse if you've recently been ill.  Here are some recommendations from Runner's World for modifying your schedule depending on how far your race date is:

  • Six weeks out from race day: During your first week back, run/walk half the distance of your scheduled weekday runs.  A 3-5:1 minute run/walk ratio is recommended- do what feels best for you.  Reduce your long run by one to two miles. During the second week back, increase your weekday runs to 75 percent of what you planned, add a few strides after a couple of runs, and do your long run as scheduled. Skip speedwork during those first two weeks, then resume training as normal.
  • Four weeks out: During your first week back, run/walk your workouts as described above. Complete a final long run of no more than 17 to 18 miles three weeks out.  Follow the taper schedule you had originally planned, if this means you missed out on one of your crucial long runs just plan on skipping it rather than trying to make it up close to race day.  Set realistic expectations for your race day.  Many people end up running the best race of their life shortly after an illness, but be prepared to not perform as well as you had planned.
  • Two weeks out: Running a race can put a lot of stress on the body, which can makes the body highly susceptible to relapse. That said, you can run, but your goal now is simply to finish. For the two weeks leading up to your event, run easy and reduce the longest run of your taper to 70 percent of the distance.
You'll be back to running like a healthy puppy in no time!

In order to keep yourself healthy make sure you're sleeping enough, eating healthy fats (like almonds), staying away from processed sugars, and getting enough fruits and vegetables.  Happy running!

Question: What's your favorite sick day activity?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Giving Almond Joy a Whole New Meaning

The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his or her patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.
-Thomas Edison

I'm reading a great book called The China Study right now.  The book was written by a PhD who has devoted his life and research to exploring the effects of diet on overall health and longevity.  He breaks the book down into various conditions, such as heart health and diabetes, and what his research has shown with regards to the ability of diet to either improve or worsen such conditions.  The Mediterranean diet, a diet that mimics the traditional eating patterns of Greece, Spain, and Southern Italy and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats, has become popular in recent years due to possible links to improved heart health.

Given the rising popularity of the Mediterranean diet, almonds have become a common snack.  However oftentimes people aren't sure how often or how much they should be consuming almonds given the high calorie and fat content, which has led people to question whether or not almonds are a healthy snack.  

Typical Nutrient Breakdown for 1 Serving of Almonds
One serving of almonds is about 20-24 almonds and usually contains 150-170 calories.  Over 50% of the energy in an almond is fat, but the majority of this is monounsaturated fat otherwise known as "healthy fats."  Diets that are higher in monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats have been linked to improved heart health due to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.  Almonds also contain phytosterols, a plant compound that helps prevent absorption of dietary cholesterol.  Studies have also shown decreased inflammation and oxidative stress when diets include almonds.  

Almonds are also a great plant source of protein providing 6 g of protein per serving.  This not only helps with the cholesterol lowering effects of almonds, but also makes them a great protein source for vegetarians!  Almonds also provide one of the highest sources of dietary fiber among nuts.  Fiber provides many health benefits including lowered cholesterol, improved GI health, and increased satiety (aka feeling less hungry).  

Since almonds pack such a high amount of energy in such a small serving size and given the American tendency to overdo our portion sizes many worry that increased almond consumption will lead to weight gain and even obesity.  However, studies have shown diets that emphasized consumption of nuts are not associated with increases in body weight, body mass index, or waist circumference.  Even if consumed in high amounts almonds are a way healthier snack than potato chips.  However, it is still important to keep proper portion sizes in mind when snacking on almonds in order to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Keep in mind the above images when considering your portion size for almonds- each one is approximately 160 calories.  Try packing a container (like the small baby food jar) with your serving size of almonds for the day instead of eating straight from the bag.  Want to incorporate almonds into your diet, but don't think they will fill you as a snack?  Here are some ideas for adding them to your meals without packing on the pounds?
  • Use almonds as topping on your morning oatmeal
  • Use almonds as topping on yogurt and berries for a delicious breakfast or healthy dessert
  • Make a healthy trailmix for the week and portion ahead of time
  • Add almonds to your salad
  • Try this recipe for muesli from Nutrition Stripped as a healthy cereal or topping

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why I Run for LiveStrong

Pain is temporary.  It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.  If I quit, however, it lasts forever.
-Lance Armstrong, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

Recently I posted an article written by a father who lost his daughter to cancer about why he continued to wear his LiveStrong bracelet even after the controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong.  LiveStrong means something different to everyone.  For some it now represents the lies and dishonesty due to Lance Armstrong's behavior.  For this man, and myself, it has a much deeper meaning,  
The cause of fighting cancer. The yellow bracelet to me transcends the original concept of support for the LAF and is a show of strength and solidarity to all those who are battling cancer or any adversity for that matter. It is a statement that we all want the same goal, a cure for cancer. I wear it because I have been inspired through a journey by a little girl who became more than my daughter, she became my hero.

In my first post I talked about how Lance Armstrong inspired me by starting the LiveStrong organization.   These days it is nearly impossible to live without being touched by cancer in some way or another.  While science has made great strides towards finding a cure the effects of cancer are still devastating.  Not only does it take lives far too soon, but it leaves a path of wreckage in the lives of those that are touched by the effects of cancer.

"Stay strong."  These words are repeated day in and day out to cancer patients.  Up until my freshman year of college I saw cancer as a disease of older generations.  It was sad, they were in pain, and even still it was not their time.  However, for the most part, the people I knew with cancer had lived full and happy lives and that gave me a sense of relief.  Then my freshman year, the most beautiful, happy, and lively 4 year old boy, my good friend's son, was diagnosed with brain cancer.  "Stay strong," I would tell him often.  "He's a fighter," nurses, doctors, and visitors would tell us.

This was a little boy who had yet to do anything but love and be loved, and yet he was dying before our eyes.  His tumor was aggressive, and the only thing we could do was try to make him comfortable for his remaining months.  I struggled as I watched my friend not only deal with the illness of his son, but also the medical bills as they built up.  It was during this time that I saw the true devastation cancer can cause.

Cancer takes away control.  The very cause of cancer is uncontrolled cell growth, but it is more than just the science.  Everything changes in an instant.  Parents are forced to imagine a life without their baby, and children are forced to imagine a life without their parents.  Patients, no matter what age, are forced to relinquish control of their lives to their caregivers and doctors.  Twenty-somethings, an age where people are usually discovering themselves as individuals and making their plans for the future, are forced to put these plans on hold and move in with parents.  Parents are forced to rely on their children to take care of them and make difficult decisions regarding their care, possibly care for their other children as well.

Often when I would repeat the words "stay strong" I wondered who I was actually telling to be strong.   Some days I was angry at myself for putting so much pressure on a little boy because I could tell how much he wanted to be strong for us, and that wasn't fair.  This was my first exposure into the isolation cancer causes.  I'm a far better listener than I am a talker, and I didn't know how to express what I was going through with anyone.  It was during this time I got into running.  Lance Armstrong's quote above talks about pain not lasting forever.  While the physical pain of cancer eventually subsides, I don't think the psychological pains always go away.  During those long months running helped me clear my head, but in the months that followed the passing of my friend's son it helped me to stay strong.

When I ran I quite literally felt him with me.  Sometimes I imagined the life he would have had if he had the opportunity to grow up.  Sometimes I thought about what he would say to me if I could talk to him now.  Sometimes I just listened to my music so loud until I couldn't think anymore.  Later I came across a story about a cancer survivor in my hometown.  While training for the Baltimore marathon he suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  He was in law school at the time and was forced to put his life on hold while he dealt with cancer.  Not only did he go on to run the marathon after brain surgery, but he also finished law school.  He even ran the Baltimore half marathon while undergoing chemotherapy, and convinced his doctor to run with him.  However, eventually the cancer came back and he passed away.  After seeing his story I was determined to run a half marathon, and while I trained I constantly thought about those in my life that have been touched by cancer.

For my second half marathon I wanted to raise awareness and money for cancer.  Livestrong is an organization that is not only searching for a cure, but searching for a way to make the present situation the best it can possibly be.  Livestrong works to eliminate the loss of control and isolation cancer patients and their families go through.  Livestrong provides support groups, rides to patients, education, research, financial support...whatever it can to make today better.

So I run for Livestrong.  I run for Jamal.  I run for my family.  I run for children without parents.  I run for parents that said goodbye to their children too soon.  I run for doctors and nurses working their hardest to serve their patients.  I run for the patients that have had to make sacrifices and changes to see a tomorrow.  And I run for me.        

Thursday, February 13, 2014

10 Worst Things About Being A Runner- And Why They're Actually Totally Awesome

"That's the thing about running; your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success.  They are the moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is."
-Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher after the 2011 Boston Marathon
We've been hit by yet another snow storm.  Oh. yay.  I have seen more snow in the last month than my entire childhood combined and am starting to develop some serious SAD (seasonal affect disorder).  So I've put together a list of the 10 worst things about running and why they're actually awesome to give you all a laugh if you're in need of one like I am.

1. Laundry: Running outfit, work outfit, going out outfit, cross training outfit, will accumulate so much laundry you will be on first name basis with everyone at the laundromat.

Why it's actually awesome... Three words. Race Day Shirts.  You will accumulate so many running shirts that you will be able to go for weeks without actually doing all the laundry you've stocked up and still be able to run in a clean t-shirt; just make sure you stock up on sports bras.

Just a few from my collection

2. You will be hungry.  All. The. Time.  As you build up your mileage, your appetite will seem to expand exponentially and you will wonder "what am I going to eat next" as you stuff your face with your post run bagel.  Most days as you pack your lunch you will look at your veggie chili, yogurts, apple, and almonds and wonder if that's enough food to make it through the day.

Why it's actually awesome... You may be hungry but you can eat and eat and you [probably]* won't gain weight.  You may go broke in Whole Foods, but you will also be able to eat Shake Shack guilt free.

*Disclaimer: You won't be able to eat whatever you want whenever you want (notice I said Whole Foods).  Unfortunately.  But you can still indulge more than others.

3.  You will develop an obsession with nutrient profiles you never thought possible.  Especially race week you will obsessively monitor the fiber content of foods, check and recheck how much protein you're getting, wonder if your refuel drink really does have the best ratio of carbs to protein, and carry around gallons of water to stay hydrated.  Then again this may be because I'm a nutritionist, but the fiber issue especially is a big one in the running community.

Why it's actually awesome... You can still eat shake shack (or whatever your guilty pleasure is) totally guilt free after the race.  

4. Bye bye social life. Soon enough last call at the bar will be replaced by 6 am runs so that you can get your mileage in for the week.  You will swap happy hours after work for a 6 mile run through the park.  You'll go to bed early so you can wake up in time to book a bike at your local spin class so you can get your cross training in.

Why it's actually awesome... Running friends are actually the best friends.  And the biggest partiers.  You might not make it to every happy hour, but you can dress in a ridiculous costume, run 10 miles, and drink guilt free among your new best friends.  And if you are one of those people that can stay out until 4 am doing tequila shots and then wake up for your long run you will forever have the reputation as a total badass.

Still have a bump from this one.
5. Bruises and Cuts You're not really a runner until you have the battle scars to show it.  Whether it be a fall while running through the woods or you were pushed down by an overanxious runner at the starting gates, your day will come.

Why it's actually awesome... Once again, you'll look like a total badass.  Or idiot...

6. You will be forced to become a morning person.  Races usually start around 7 or 8 am, meaning you need to be there by 6:30 or 7:30 am, factor in the time it takes to get there and don't forget you need to fuel yourself before your do the math.  Plus in the summertime when it's 90 degrees by 6 am you're going to want to get it done early.  Trust me.

Why it's actually awesome... Who doesn't love a good sunrise?  Or running on the Brooklyn Bridge sans tourists?

7. Your feet.  You will have the worst looking feet.  I will spare you the pictures of calloused feet, but it's not pretty.

Why it's actually awesome... Best excuse ever for a pedicure.  Those feet work hard- take care of them.

8. No matter how much you hate them, you will use a porta potty at some point.  And you will probably have to wait in line, bladder exploding, to do it.  Given your newfound obsession with hydration you will have to pee more than ever before.  You will start picking your races based off the reviews of the porta potty situation or shamelessly pee on the side of the race course to keep from waiting in line.

Why it's actually awesome... Who doesn't love a good pee story?

9. You will spend more money on running shoes than rent.  Ok hopefully not rent...especially if you're a New Yorker...but you'd be surprised how quickly you can burn out a pair of running shoes when training.  And if you're a really serious runner you will only run in your running shoes which means you will need another pair for cross training, spinning, and daily wear.  That's a lot of shoes.

Why it's actually awesome... It's an excuse to go shoe shopping.  And they're so pretty...look at the colors! 

10. You'll become so obsessed with running almost all of your pictures on facebook will be related to a running event, you will have an entire blog devoted to running, and people will probably think you're crazy.

Why it's actually awesome... Haven't you figured out running is the best yet?  Stay in shape while having endless excuses to treat yourself, travel, and meet new people--where are the negatives really???

Question: How many miles are you running this week?


Friday, February 7, 2014

Does Better Form Mean Faster Running?

“I love running. I’m not into marathons, but I am into avoiding problems at an accelerated rate.
― Jarod Kintz

In addition to hearing the wonder and inspiring Matt Long speak Wednesday evening, I also learned a great deal about proper running, biking, and swimming form.  

One of the most debated topics in running is whether or not a heel strike (landing on the heel of your forward moving foot as opposed to the middle or ball of your foot) is bad.  According to the experts that spoke Wednesday this shouldn't be the focus of running form.  Running is one of the most natural things we can do and everyone has their own innate running form.  

Instead the experts recommend that you pay attention to two factors to improve your speed; stride rate and stride length.

Stride Rate: otherwise known as stride cadence; basically how many steps you take in a minute; the optimal running cadence is 90 steps per minute.  Try periodically timing yourself for a minute during your runs and counting your cadence (if it's too hard to count both feet try counting each time the left foot hits and then multiply by 2).

Stride Length: More important than focusing on what part of your foot is striking, you should focus on where your foot is striking.  One of the most common problems among runners that are developing problems from heel striking is the fact you're actually over-striding.  Ideally you want your foot to land as close to right underneath your body as possible.  When you overstride, like the first runner in the picture below, you experience a force when your foot hits the ground that pushes you upward and backwards.  This slows the runner down.  The second runner also experiences a force but does not experience the push backwards like the first runner. 

Another important concept each of the speakers talked about what training with purpose.  Every speaker, no matter which sport they coached, talked about the importance of having a specific training goal in mind everytime you go to workout.  One of the speakers said the first thing he teaches all of his clients is how to be "uncomfortably comfortable."  Basically what this means is you need to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable because once you are feeling comfortable with your running, you are no longer making improvements.  This doesn't mean pain.  This means picking something in each of your workouts--whether it be speed, form, drills, distance--that you want to improve (and therefore change) during your workouts.  Below are some running drills listed with what they are designed to work.  You can start incorporating these into your workouts or during your warmups for your runs.  My apologies again for no pictures :( feel free to email or comment with questions!  Important strength training moves for runners to come soon!

Butt Kicks: Engages hamstrings and improves running cadence

High Knees: Focuses on glutes and hamstring POWER (speed + strength); improves the efficiency of your speed

Grapevines: loosens hip flexors and glutes; increases hip, leg, and gluteal mobility, improves lateral (sideways) strength 

Hamstring Extensions (kick your leg straight in front and touch with the opposite hand; try to avoid bending your spine {spinal flexion} as much as possible): increases mobility of hamstrings and glutes; enhances forward hip extension necessary for speed

Backwards Running: Strengthens glutes and upper hamstrings; engages the core (abdominals and lower back)

Question: What is your training goal for today's workout?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Train For Life

"Let no man's ghost ever come back to say his training let him down."
-Firefighter's Saying

Matt Long finishing the NYC Marathon in 7 hours 21 minutes
after being told he had a 1% chance of surviving his accident
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a multisport education presentation for triathletes.  The night ended with a speech from Matt Long.  Matt was a firefighter for 17 years, and one of many firefighters there on 9/11.  After 9/11 he noticed he wasn't happy anymore.  He was no longer excited to go to work in the morning, he let himself go, and was 30 pounds overweight.  However, he was convinced by a friend to train for a Team in Training triathlon.  Before he knew it he was hooked on racing.  One of 9 children he stated he had a very competitive nature that came from family dinners growing up.  Motivated by a competition between the NYFD and NYPD he went on to compete in the NYC Marathon, and finished a Boston qualifier (for those of you not into marathons this is a very big deal and requires a sub 7:30/mile pace for the ENTIRE 26.2 miles).

In December of that same year Matt was riding his bike to work due to a transit strike.  He was hit by a bus making an illegal turn and sucked under the bus.  He was in a coma for almost a month, stayed in the hospital for 5 months, and underwent over 40 operations.  While the doctors never told him he would never walk again, the unlikeliness that he would ever regain normal function was the topic of several conversations with his doctors.  

However, he went on not only to do the NYC Marathon again, but another Ironman.  He ran the NYC Marathon as an Achilles participant.  Achilles is a running group in NYC that enables people with all types of disabilities to run through the use of running buddies.  In the picture above you can see his two running buddies planted on either side of him.  Although Matt and the other Achilles participants started the marathon course 3 hours before the other racers his major concern was being knocked over once the other runners caught up to him, and his 2 friends, also Boston Qualifiers, ran side by side for the entire 7 hours 21 minutes it took to complete the course. 

Once the competitive athlete he admitted the psychological pains took a greater toll on him than the physical injuries.  While running with the Achilles team he kept asking his friend if he was in last place.  His friend refused to answer the question each time telling him to keep moving forward, "as long as you're moving forward you're closer to the finish line and your goal" his friend would reply.  However after a man with no legs passed him his friend finally replied "yeah you're in last place.  Keep moving forward, as long as you're moving forward you're closer to the finish line and your goal"  And with that Matt finally realized he was no longer competing with other athletes.  He was in it for himself and his own goal.  He jokingly told us he passed another Achilles participant at mile 16 yelling "you went out too fast buddy!"  Not only did he finish the NYC marathon, but he also went on to finish another Ironman.  The Ironman course has a 17 hour time limit.  Matt finished in 16 hours 58 minutes.

The title for this post as well as the quote above both came from Matt's life as a firefighter.  Training for a firefighter has very real consequences when it comes to life and death.  Train for Life was the written on a sign Matt passed every day as a firefighter.  However, he said he thought of the sign throughout the NYC Marathon.  While a firefighter he trained with the purpose of one day saving a life, but it was his discovery of his love for fitness that saved him during his depression after 9/11.  While the doctors can't say for sure what saved him during his accident I feel it is likely his athleticism played some type of role.  And his continued determination to compete in races helped pull him from his depression again after his accident.

His story reminded me of a blog post a woman wrote about what she wanted her daughter to gain from fitness.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the fastest, or working out because you want to look good in a bathing suit.  However, at some point you have to look deeper into what your training means to you.  Matt can longer train to be the fastest or to beat the other firefighters and police officers.  He trains to finish and prove to himself that he is stronger than his obstacles.  You can learn more about his story in his book, The Long Run.  I hope each of you will be inspired by his story and either set your fitness goals or be reenergized towards reaching your current goals.

Question: What are your current training goals?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Training in the Polar Vortex

"If it doesn't make the world a better place, don't do it."
-Kid President

Four years in Miami made me into the biggest baby when it comes to cold weather. I have a huge fear of being cold, which is why this morning, after stalling for over an hour, I bundled up in running pants, sweatshirt, gloves, and hat only to run past 3 men running in shorts during the course of my 9 mile run. The Miamian in me forgot just how warm 41 degrees actually is. 

After our second round of the polar vortex anything above freezing is more than welcome in my book. Given the cold, and oftentimes icy conditions, I've had to resort to the treadmill a lot. My last 5 runs were on the treadmill :( but I was happy to take advantage of the warmer temps today for a 9 mile run. 

There was still a great deal of snow and ice in the woods where I run that slowed me down but overall I was happy with my 9:03 pace. 

                                                      Gotta love country living!

So far I've kept up well with my training plan with just a few modifications to change runs given the weather. Here is a quick strength circuit for anyone that's looking for ideas for training during cold days!

Strength Training Circuit:
Set a timer (gymboss is a free app that works great for this) for 10 rounds. Beginners start with 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off, work your way up to 50 seconds on and 10 off. 

Move 1: Squat jump-- if the jump is too much cardio squat without the jump, trying using a weight or medicine ball if you have access

Move 2: Lunge with rotation (use a weight or medicine ball if you have access)--rotate towards the direction of the front leg

Move 3: Mountain climbers-- for maximum benefit make sure your shoulders are directly over your wrists

Move 4: Plank

Move 5: Burpees

Move 6: Tricep dips

Move 7: High Knees

Move 8: Push-ups (modify if needed- either elevated on knees)

Move 9: Frog jumps- start as low as possible to the ground and then jump as high as possible

Move 10: Side plank (alternate half way through)

**Repeat 2-4 times 

*I wanted to include pictures but did not have time to get anyone to take them- email or comment with questions. 

Thank you so much to those of you that have already donated to my Team LiveStrong fundraising goal!!  
Donations of any amount are very much appreciated

Question: What can you do today that will make the world more awesome?