Back In the Game and training for a half-marathon PR

 

It’s been forever since I’ve trained for a half-marathon. So long in fact that this past week found me searching out advice on the best approach to training for a goal time come October 8. The chips are down and I’m back in training mode and ready to run. This is sure to be different from what I’ve become used as I’m now focusing on shorter tempo runs and speed work minus the famed long runs. Although, I’ll still be doing a bit of the long runs, only not as much, as I have another race–my yearly charity run–that same month. Double Yikes! I have never ran a half and full marathon in the same month before. Even so, my goal is centered on the half and so training is geared towards increasing speed and performance for 13.2 miles.

It’s incredible how quickly the year is flying by. My plea remains, “Why the rush?” I’m only just beginning to embrace Summer and all that it means. Never mind the temperate weather patterns we’ve been experiencing. I’d love to hang out here a bit in the sun, kicking the waves and dallying in the sand under the blue skies. Alas, that seems but a fleeting reality, which I’ll have to grab before it is but a distant memory. Pretty soon it’ll be August and then we’ll start counting down the weeks to race day. For now, I’ll hunker down in training and try to catch some waves on the weekend as much as I can–after training of course. Here’s a quick look at what my half-marathon training will look like:

  • Mon – 3 easy miles and cross training (body pump gym class)
  • Tues – 5 mile tempo run (increasing by 1 mile weekly)
  • Wed – 5.5 miles speed work (intervals or hills)
  • Thur – 6-8 miles (half-marathon pace on weeks where tempo run is on Sat otherwise off day)
  • Fri – cross training (cycling/yoga/rowing/abs workout/weights)
  • Sat – 10 mile tempo run (increasing every other week to accommodate for marathon training at marathon pace)
  • Sun – rest day
Naturally, a lot of this running is being done during late evenings on account of work as well as to escape the summer heat. It’s simply a bonus that I happen to enjoy night runs. Additionally, I have the added challenge of fitting in my cross fit training into this tight schedule. Since I’m fully committed to each of these projects, it’ll be interesting to see them all meld together into a perfect training plan that produces the results I’m striving for. I’ll admit my energy and anxiety levels are doing battle for prominence but this is my plan and I’m sticking to it.
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The Running Life: Finding balance and loving what you do

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Juggling running, exercise, work, family, volunteer commitments and a social life can be challenging at best. Oftentimes, it can be downright difficult, though there are the few times one is able to soar, until challenge sets in and things progress to the difficult stage; on and on it goes, becoming a cyclical norm that you soon get accustomed to. Difficult much? Yes, Impossible? No. It becomes the goal of the challenged to strike a precarious balance so as to maximize the benefit of all.

Indeed, it doesn’t require any specific skill per se, but ideally a set of character traits and a passion or love for what you do that motivates the heck out of you. The average Joe seeks a purpose in life and has a desire to be happy. Uncovering his purpose and actively working/ walking it out sets him on a path to happiness and success. It is no different for the runner. He or she is able to enjoy the gift of running when other areas of life are in sync. Running may even be seen as the glue that holds it all together – the stress release factor to make sure that everything runs smoothly. However it may be looked upon, it is necessary to apply it in concord with life’s other goals. For example, for those with immediate families running is treated as a family affair. It is encouraged, supported and advocated among family members to ensure that the runner has support to successfully pursue it. As such, it becomes a daily routine of sorts, this ensures it has its place in the runner’s life and maximizes his or her chances of success. Also, it is viewed as much more than a sport, more as a lifestyle with healing and health benefits.

Many successful runners who are not pros pursue running as a passion and tend to build a support network around it. For my part, I find it easier to perform in other areas of my life with running and/or exercise as part of my daily schedule. A typical day either beginning or ending with running will generally flow between family, work and some type of social engagement. Of course I credit the healthy flow among my various roles to running and exercise. I’d be lying if I say I didn’t believe it centers me; but more than that, it gives me an outlet to express so many emotions (negative and positive) as well as provides a basis for my faith and personal growth.

The key on living a successful life, and that may mean different things for different people, remains pretty much constant across the spectrum: find a happy medium. In this your “happy place” you will be able to treat with the challenges of life and be able to channel any resulting negative energy into creating something good. You better believe it, fit and healthy has a lot to do with happy.

Why Carbs are good for your Running

Source: active.com

Source: active.com

You’ve probably heard it enough – lose the carbs, lose the weight – that you’re thinking carbohydrates is your worst enemy. Most diets and diet-fads alike support the theory that carbs contribute to weight gain when in truth it is calories and consuming more than you burn that does that. On the other hand, carbohydrates are necessary for the proper functioning of your body. In fact, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45% to 60% of your daily calories. So, if you get 2,000 calories a day, between 900 to 1,300 should be from carbohydrates (The Mayo Clinic).

The Power to Choose (Wisely)
The problem is that not all carbs are created equal and so, it comes down to choosing your carbs wisely. Generally, nutritionists agree with choices that include whole grains and fruits and vegetables while watching your intake of naturally occurring sugar, and restricting foods with refined gains and added sugars. Particularly for the runner though, a diet rich in carbohydrates can help maximize training and performance; emphasis should be on the kind of carbs chosen, such as whole grains, beans, fresh fruit, milk and vegetables. The benefits of whole grain to your general health and wellbeing will be the subject of a later post, but suffice to say for now, your quality of life depends on it.

Power for the Run
Carbs are the brain’s main source of energy and the body’s preferred fuel source says dietician and strength coach Marie Spano R.D., C.S.C.S. It is the primary source for producing energy for all exercise including both long distance and resistance training. It follows that if you cut carbs, your energy will drop. Spano advises that decreasing the levels of your body’s stored carbohydrates will decrease your ability to produce force and power; we know the result of that.

A Running Times article on Runners World titled “Fueling the Runner: Carbohydrates –Battling a Bad Rep” by Jackie Dikos, R.D. and 2:45 marathoner, highlight a key issue that unsuspecting runners fall prey to – fatigue. She stipulates that further investigation of such a complaint may reflect a diet lacking in carbohydrates the cause of fatigue either purposely done, as part of low carb diet, or with the runner totally in the dark as to the amount of carbs needed to perform efficiently. As already stated, our bodies prefer carbohydrates as the main fuel source when we run. But did you know that if it is not present, the body will convert fat and protein into carbs for energy. According to Dikos, this is a very inefficient form of energy for an endurance athlete. When you don’t eat enough carbohydrates and continue training, your body snowballs into a state of mental and physical fatigue.

We Determine Carbs
We see then that carbohydrates are thus fuel for runners. For running efficiently and effectively we therefore need to throw away all our misgivings, all the misinformation and misrepresentation about carbs that we’ve sucked up for so long. No low-carb or no-carb diet can do the trick of making us the runners we wish to be, our responsibility is to make healthy food choices. Balance, variety and moderation should be our watchwords.

Dress for Success in Confident, Goal-getter Running Gear this Year

exerciseDuly noted, our goals remain the one thing that stands between us and us being persons of our word.  It is not enough that we’ve made a list, written it down and stuck it somewhere; it remains our greatest challenge to realize those plans of ours.  How do we remain fitted in the zeal, confidence and enthusiasm, that surely had us in its grip on the onset of planning, during the succeeding months of reality which can oftentimes be brutally harsh and unyielding.  I posit that there are a few key ingredients to realizing a successful 2015.  While a big part of success in any area of life depends on planning and execution, another just as or some may argue even more important part, depends on our attitude and perspective.  In running and exercise, attitude really is everything.  It is the one thing that will keep you going when everything else and everyone says you can’t.  The course of history has been changed on the account of its movers’ and shakers’ attitudes.  Your health and lifes’ ambitions are no different nor are they any less important in terms of their ability to change your world and thus impact the larger world.

Dress for success with:

  • Preparedness; there is no goal killer like having a plan without preparation.  By definition it is what planning entails and so it is super important to not only dress the part but be mentally, physically and emotionally ready and able to carry out your plan.  If you’ve decided to join a gym for example, then getting gym oriented and learning about the services, classes, equipment etc. that are available will put you in a better position to plan your activities and time around what you decide to do thus affording you the opportunity to maximise your participation and the benefits which can be derived.  Talk with a personal trainer, an instructor or even sign up for a trial to see if it’s a good fit.  If it’s running, then start of with small goals and even a running group, get a couple of books and read up on beginning running techniques or even watch a couple of videos.
  • Confidence; a big part in carrying out any physical goal is how we perceive ourselves.  We are sometimes our worst critic, while this is not always bad, it is our worst attribute when directed at our perceived flaws and shortcomings.  It is important to be able to face yourself – take a long, hard look in the mirror – and like what you see.  It is because you love yourself, you want better for you. Don’t chaff at that.  Meet your eyes and tell yourself what you are going to achieve together..yes it’s a mind and body effort, one you must continually be engaged in encouraging and uplifting.  While it is important to get this affirmation from others as well,  it would mean nothing if you didn’t believe it first.
  • Passion; I’m sure you’ve heard it said that if you like something it’s easier done.  Discovering your passion, something you really enjoy, is a key part to realizing your potential and being successful.. whether it’s running, a cardio class, yoga, swimming, whatever you decide to love -sometimes it has to be a decision- do with passion, enthusiasm, commitment and diligences, you will reap the benefit.
  • Focus and Wisdom; it is better to stick with what you know and apply yourself to perfecting it than to be divided among competing interests where you can’t get anything right.  Let’s say for example co-ordination is a challenge, then skip the dance class for a spin or yoga class.  That being said, there’s nothing wrong with challenging yourself to try different things and acquiring different skills, on the contrary, more power to you.  In all things apply wisdom so you never end up biting off more than you can chew.

A Happy, Successful and Goal-Achieving new year is up to you.  Have so much fun!

At the Heart of Running

The Heart

At the heart of running is a fragile yet strong, complex, judicious, and vital organ upon which our entire being depends. The human heart is as critical to life as air and it goes with little saying how dependent we all are on its proper functioning to live enjoyable lives. Yet it could be, that it is the least appreciated and understood of all our body organs in-so-far as how it works, how we should care for it, and even maximize its efficiency.

The Heart: How it Works

Your heart is an amazing organ. It continuously pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to sustain life. This fist-sized powerhouse beats (expands and contracts) 100,000 times per day, pumping five or six quarts of blood each minute, or about 2,000 gallons per day.

According to an article written on – How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart – on Active.com, Over time, with chronic cardio training, our resting heart rate drops because each beat delivers a bigger burst of blood, and fewer beats are needed.  This takes work off your heart and is why cardio exercise is recommended for heart health. However, cardiovascular exercise can also produce stress. If we get into over-training, we may hit a point where we are drowning in cortisol.  This eventually leads to immune-suppression and fat gain around the abdomen and face.  People who spend a significant part of their day in stress, who have poor digestion or other sources of physiological stress, should not further their stress levels by over-training.  It’s recommended that one should always think of their goals, moderate exercise if necessary, and work to reduce stress level.

As a runner, I have a deep appreciation for the role my heart plays in assisting my natural ability.  But even so, there are times I can take its steady beat for granted and cause it unease and unrest.  In this I know I am not alone.  There have been much debate and discussion about the dangers and or benefits of running, more so long distance running, on the heart.  Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist who specializes in heart disease in athletes, says most élite athletes have hearts that are enlarged by exercise.  Scary right. I’ll step out on a limb here and say that our lack of education on the issue is even scarier.  Doctors, researchers and various writers on the issue seem to believe that there is no one-size-fits-all.  There are runners who’ve run 50+ years without any incidents and then there have been the 1/ 50,000 who have met with disastrous results. For example, a recent study showed that while regular exercise does indeed benefit the heart, some experienced marathoners past the age of 50 had significant calcium deposits in their arteries, thus increasing their likelihood of suffering a heart attack.

imageCaring for The Heart

Our hearts are so complex, there remain many unknowns but what is known is that family history and dietary habits play as critical a role–if not a greater role–in heart health than exercise. This puts your own risk factors high up there on the things to look after when deciding to pursue an active lifestyle. Consider the gene factor, do you have a predisposition? Is there anything in your medical history that could contribute to an onset of any heart issue? These are just two of the many questions that you should consider.
It’s worth the time, effort and money to invest in seeing a doctor about your exercise and or running plans and have a complete check up done, which should include an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)) which is able to measure the electrical activity of the heart and in most cases would show up any abnormal activity. As with most things, this is not fool-proof and a lot is left up to you the runner to ascertain your body limits. Learn to read and listen to your body; know when it’s calling out for rest and when it needs a work out and provide it with a proper diet and nutrition thereby maximizing your chances of being an effective runner while minimizing your risks of injury or even death. The thing is, even with all the advances in technology, knowledge and medicine, no test is infallible, it’s a matter of assessing your odds and going with your gut to pursue something you love. Your chance of dying in a marathon is far slimmer than that of a car accident. That is to say, risks are inherent in everyday life, at every turn and in all impracticality, it is the risky stuff that challenges us, causes us to dare to dream and extend ourselves beyond our human limitations. The joy comes when we discover the hidden potential within and a strong and healthy heart to boot.

Cross Training for Runners

Recently there has been a surge in the idea that Cross Training can benefit runners, increasing strength, endurance and building muscle. It is suggested that Cross Training can be supplemental to running, providing variety while strengthening and building muscles that normally atrophy with overuse and helping with speed and endurance to make you run longer, faster and better.

According to Dr. Vonda Wright, in her power play video above, what one needs to be a great racer goes beyond good sneakers and great nutrition. She claims, that what makes one a great racer is metabolic efficiency, balanced muscles and total body fitness. I believe she’s right on target with her attempt to get us to question and stretch ourselves.

There exist a ton of information on the best exercises to optimize your running potential, so much so, that it can be difficult to decide where your best results lie. Most trainers and runners agree that exercises, which target core areas and strengthen those that you use for running, which would pretty much mean your total body, are the ones you need to focus on. Some are: Swimming, Biking, Gym Workouts to include core work such as planks and squats; Yoga and Pilates are great for this, and Light Weights. Biking is great for strength training and targets your quads, gluts and legs without the impact of pavement pounding. Swimming is no impact and great for upper body and shoulder strengthening. It helps with stability and control and helps you stay in line when running because it builds core strength. Also, as with biking, runner’s knee and other susceptible injuries are a misnomer. Finally, there is so much to do at the gym..where to begin? Kettle bells! I love the feel and result. They have the advantage of giving your muscles and gluts a good workout-great butt booster girls-but lower the risk of injuries associated with heavier weights. Kettle bells can be included in a circuit workout that may include butt kicks, burpees, jumping jacks, planks and high knees. Remember the idea here is to be lean and fit so the focus should be on less weights and more reps. This will keep you in good stead, strengthening those muscles that will help you to be a more efficient and effective runner.

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Happy Cross Training guys.

Video

Running In Sochi

The Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics is on! And it’s buzzing. From Track Speed Skating to Moguls and Freestyle Skiing and any and everywhere in between, the games provide something for everyone. Spanning some 90 years with its first official game in 1924, its been hosted more or less every four years like its summer counterpart, and have graduated from its early history of Scandinavian domination, its predecessor The Nordic Games, to include countries as far north as Canada and as far south as New Zealand and Australia. It also includes countries from South America and the Caribbean.

imageThis year the games of The XXII Olympiad boast a field of events that tests athletes endurance, skill, precision and speed on the ice.  To my way of thinking, many of these “snow/ice sports” share something in common with running, the big difference being  that they’re performed on ice. Take the Biathlon, Speed Skating, Short Track and Cross-Country, these are all sports with a running component with the adage of skates and skis as it would be impossible to run on ice without them. I recently watched a video of learning to cross-country ski and it was telling to see how one literally has to learn to run (diagonal stride) with skis on, only adding poles as you become more proficient. Since running is all about speed and endurance, I relate on a less icy level.

However, my favorite to watch at the Winter Games has always been Figure Skating. This year Russia’s own 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, the youngest recipient of a gold medal for Team Russia, is a treat to watch.  Yulia LipnitskayIn the women short program on Monday, she put on one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen in figure skating and could well be the star of the show. I suspect an upset is imminent as former predictions for the popular Women’s Figure Skating event did not include her among USA, Japan, South Korea and Italy favorites. It’s the event to watch Feb 19 & 20.

What is super cool is that these games show us that while winter could be cold, harsh and unsettling to a lot of us, we’d do better to accept it for what it is, and what it brings and too, for all the sporty running things we can get up to.  If over 2000 athletes can do it then so can we. Winter Olympics 2014, we ❤️ you!

The Miami (Famous) Marathon

I review this race with mixed feelings; excitement, disappointment, heart and some regret, but with a pretty cool medal! 

IMG_4193I think I have a lot to learn about races, expectations, course differences, weather inhibitions and a host of other tiny seemingly unimportant details that are in reality super important, so don’t judge me too harshly as I already did. Plus, this was just my second marathon.

In all fairness the race wasn’t bad, but it was long, hard on my foot and quite warm.  I’m careful not to say hot, as I had feared it would be much hotter than it actually was.  Somehow it was 78 degrees and not breathing fire and gosh, was I ever so thankful.  Heat aside, I had major shoe issues with my right foot.  You would think the injury right? Wrong.  I made sure to wrap my ankle, wore my ankle sleeve and heel inserts to take care of my still-recovering injury but went and added insult to injury by running in a pair of sneakers I had never run a full marathon in.  After mile 13, every right step felt like I was stepping on a sharp object, by mile 18 I was super ready to remove said sneaker and run bare-footed.  I held off only because I didn’t want to spend time, better spent running, taking my shoe off.  I shouldn’t have minded that, as I pretty much ended up walking when it became near impossible to run the last few miles and I had to run-walk to the finish line.  My bad, my fault.  As with New York, I had such high hopes for this marathon as it was so scenic and a new course too; I should have been in my element and ace it. On the other hand, I have a pet peeve with running prolonged stretches without variation.  This race had quite a few of those, which of course was made worse by my shoe aggravation and the heat.  Nevertheless, help came in the outpouring of love and support from those cheering on along the route and those who handed out fruit, power bars, wet rags, ices and had their personal spray stations going on, these are the people who make my run possible and worthwhile.  It’s the essence of running that I’ll always appreciate and love; people coming together in recognition and support of and to encourage those who step out and take a chance at something great.  Then there was the brief but timely, just-like-God, shower, which couldn’t hurt and cooled things down some.  We, on mile 21, were thankful.  But if I was feeling sorry for myself, it all ran away, when I got within the last 100 meters and had the opportunity to help a fellow runner complete his last steps to the finish to claim his medal and me mine.

I promise you, not a day goes by that I don’t learn something and as it turns out there were a lot of lessons learnt that day. Lessons that I’ll take with me on my next race, The Rock and Roll DC Marathon, next month. You see my eye is still on the prize: Boston 2015.

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Tools for the Skeptic Runner: Beginner Tips

One of your New Year goals may have been to start exercising or running; to lose weight, be fit or just because. Well, it’s been twenty-two days and counting already: Where’d the time go? I’m so not ready for this. I still haven’t found the time! I’ll start next month. These may be some excuses that’s been running around in your head while your feet have been going nowhere fast. Well I’m here to remind you. I’m a big believer in a person keeping their word. The way I see it, when it’s all’s said and done, that’s all you have left and it defines you.

So I found this video on YouTube and it’s really great for those starting out, wanting to start or even if you’re still in the debating-which-form-of-exercise zone. The key is really just starting, putting aside all reservations, making time in your busy schedule-just as you would make time to do any of the other very important things on there – cause really, you have to want it badly enough, and putting one foot in front of the other and stepping up and out. You look at others who are fit and you admire that, you want what they have, then you have to be willing to do the work.

First off, you have to commit to it, do whatever is necessary to get what you want; go to bed early to be well rested so you feel good. Get out there – if you can’t make running to start, then walk. You walk until you can run, never mind others and what they’re doing. This is about you and your don’t-give-up mentality because you want to look better and feel better. Like I always say, running is no easy feat sure but it’s not just for talented runners, who by the way, have the same natural ability you have, they’ve just cultivated it more and so it’s only natural and fair that they reap the benefits..they did the work. No BS excuses. They had a goal and saw it through. Now how about you?

Video

The Joy of Trail Running

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Running is a sport that’s hard to love. It could be because it requires so much of one’s energy among other emotions that there’s hardly room left for anything else. Most runners run either because they’re good at it, are very competitive, like the physical & psychological results of running or a combination of the above. Very few, I believe, will admit to loving the constant pounding of heart, feet and muscle to the insistent beat of their personal-health-aspiration-drum.

imageQuite frankly, after my teenage years and before I discovered trail running, I saw running as strictly a competitive sport and would hardly consider it something I did for fun. The trails changed all that. There among nature, I discovered my inner ying that responded to the call of the wild with a resounding yes that echoes wherever trails are found. I want to discover, explore and enjoy them all. Within those trails I am able to step outside of myself and see the beauty of God’s creation as He intended it and it’s a wonder to behold. I don’t know why I respond this way, what it is within me that unfurls at the sight, sounds and smell of nature blossoming in my midst..I just know that I do and that to be given the opportunity to experience it is a precious gift I treasure. Upon my return to the track and roads there’s really no comparison. Time stands still among the quiet chatter of birds and insects; the cackle of leaves underfoot is background music to the sighting of a unique flower or plant as the fresh air pleasantly tickles my nostrils, and my senses are thoroughly assaulted by the explosion of color as the seasons change. And If per chance I encounter one of my wild friends, it’s always with a gaze of awe as I humbly submit to their authority in this world of theirs..where I am but a guest..a world seemingly untouched, unspoiled by the passage of time and those who are fortunate to enter in.

I try to get to the trails as often as I can, which is not often enough in my mind. Thank goodness New York offers lots of opportunities to the desirous trail runner, as there are lots of parks surrounding the city that one can get lost in. Venture a little further upstate or head out to the Catskills and it’s trail heaven out there and great for hiking too. What I have not been so fortunate to find are running events that involve the trails, I guess it’s harder to organize those, but be that as it may, there are always opportunities for those so inclined; my eyes and ears are open to new trail experiences this year.

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