High Desert Hopes

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Image description: A tray of ten beer samples on a wood table next to tortilla chips.

Bend Half Marathon weekend is upon me! I look forward to a road trip with my running buddy and some new scenery. Destination races are always exciting and provoke some anxiety. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different foods, being away from the comfort and supplies of home… Nevertheless, I always make great memories racing somewhere else, and celebrating post-race with food and drink as a tourist is quite appealing!

When I am packing for a race, I almost always over pack. In the case of a road trip, I think this approach can’t hurt. I like to bring at least a spare set of running clothes, including socks and bra, for race day. I also make sure to bring a few different options for weather, including a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, warmer layer, and did I say spare socks? Because I am nearly legally blind without my glasses or contacts, I make sure to bring extra contacts. Finally, when I am going to run a specific race for the first time, I pack along my own fuel. This necessitates bringing a hydration pack, belt, or some other type of carrier to store items for the run. If you are doing this in the future, make sure you’ve practiced running with that pack/belt/carrier. I think the discomfort of adjusting an ill-fitting fuel belt is far more infuriating than dealing with a food blister. Honestly.

Every race brings with it a different intention. This time around, I am going for the experience and to enjoy running in new surroundings. Between factoring in altitude and my more relaxed training schedule (running several times a week, but a bit less aggressive with sequenced long runs), I am taking a no-pressure approach to the Bend event. I approached Wenatchee similarly this time last year, and I felt like I got a good pay-off. I was able to enjoy my two hours of running without worrying about setting a personal best. I am hoping for a similar experience this time around.

As with any long distance run, staying up and moving both before and after is a gift for the muscles. I plan to get plenty of walking in on Saturday, and plenty of walking in on Sunday after the race. Much of the stiffness and soreness felt after a half marathon may be proactively mitigated by keeping plenty of blood and oxygen cycling through the body. I find that destination races invite this recovery quite naturally, as there is typically much to see and do after the racing events of the morning conclude.

More than anything, I look forward to sharing this time with my running buddy and best friend. There is no richer bonding experience than sweating, agonizing, and achieving together. Off to the high desert!

evolving rituals

I enjoyed an interesting conversation with my running buddy this morning, as we tackled our pre-dawn daily miles before heading into the office. We were talking about all of the rituals and rules that we used to observe, steadfastly, closer to the beginning of our respective running practices. Many of those tendencies, we realized, disappeared over the years as we have grown into a much more frequent running practice. For example, we are both much more comfortable heading into a half marathon without fueling in the middle, whereas I can remember a time that I felt obligated to swallow some type of energy goop every hour on the hour. Our bodies are the machines we know most intimately, like a car that one owns for several years… we begin to gain confidence in discerning the creaks, the rattles, the warning lights, and all of the quirks that accompany our daily commute.

This conversation got me thinking about the flip-side, the rituals related to running that I have adopted over the last year. Here are a few things I do now that I was not doing when I started my distance running journey:

Coffee. When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to sing a round about coffee (“C-O-F-F-E-E, coffee is not for me! It’s a drink some people wake up with, that it makes one nervous is no myth…”). Sorry camper of the past, but coffee is a drink I not only wake up with, it’s a drink I unabashedly consume before my morning runs. Caffeine is a common choice among runners, and consumed a variety of ways (for example, you can purchase fuel gels with caffeine added to them), but I prefer a cup of the good warm stuff. I also find that a cup of coffee before an early morning run (especially in fall and winter) keeps my core warm in cold weather.

Recovery walks. We’ve all felt the temptation to take up permanent residence on the couch after a long run, especially one that leaves muscles stiff and achy. I have learned, however, that heading for a sedentary recovery means enduring more days of soreness (the exception here is resting because of an injury… if you are injured, please rest, ice, elevate). I am a big fan of walking as a supportive exercise for running. I try to walk intentionally nearly every day, but on days when I do a particularly strenuous run, it is especially important to keep the blood circulating oxygen to tissue. A brisk walk for 1-3 miles really helps me to stave off stiffness after a run, and it is preferable to taking even one dose of NSAIDs, which can aggravate stomach issues.

Simple and nourishing food. Running uses up calories and hydration. One of two things typically happens after a run… I am either without any appetite, or I am ravenous. I tend to lose my appetite after a really hard and fast run, no matter the distance. I believe this is, in part, because of the fight or flight response. Ever get that precursor-to-diarrhea stomach cramp feeling after a run? It is all part of the same nervous system response. I have learned that it is really important to make a good effort to both eat a nourishing snack and replenish water after any run, even if I don’t feel like eating. A few things that tend to go down easy for me include hard-boiled eggs, banana with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. I will often leave myself at least 16 ounces of water, either in the car or by the front door, to drink down immediately following my run. Of course there are exceptions to this, and they usually occur on a race day when there’s a trough full of Costco muffins or a doughnut stop with friends on the way home… but I try to stick to my nourishing foods as part of my regular routine.

Layers. I really like to feel warm when I run. I used to wear minimal gear and clothing, but now I will wear a running backpack to store gloves or a top layer on cold days. The extra gear is worth it to me. Personally, if I don’t have to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes of my run cursing how terrible the cold air feels against me, I get into the groove a lot faster. Two years ago, I rarely wore hats, vests, or gloves. Now I keep them ready to go and consider them to be essential fall and winter (and sometimes spring) running accessories.

New rituals, old rituals, some based in common sense, some in superstition. We all have them! The important thing is that you are equipping yourself to be successful and enjoy a long and flourishing running practice. I am looking forward to running for enough years that I end up contradicting my own advice several times over.

Happy trails!

in the kitchen

I am taking advantage of my stint as a solo parent by experimenting with cooking and food prep. I have two intentions for my cooking during these few weeks. First, I want to use whole ingredients as much as possible, meaning few things out of packages or boxes. Second, I want to eliminate meat as much as I can get away with. To clarify, I am happily an omnivore, but I am increasingly weary of “ethical meat” and I know that there are a lot of loopholes manufacturers can follow in order to get certain certifications on products. Fortunately, this is a great time of year for produce, and I have been able to add a lot of great vegetables in to my repertoire. The star of the week so far has been the garnet yam. My trick with yams is to bake them in their own skin (brushed lightly with olive oil) at the beginning of the week, after which I score their skin and put them away in the fridge. This way, throughout the week, I have tender roasted yam, easy to peel and ready to eat. I find that ingredients like yam offer a nice filler where meat would usually be used. Mashed yam, for example, can be used as a type of glue for veggie patties, enchiladas, and other types of recipes.

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Yesterday, I used a yam to make some stuffed peppers. I stuffed two bell peppers (four halves) with a mixture of cooked yam and quinoa, seasoned to my liking. Before baking, I topped all of the stuffed peppers with a nice layer of chèvre. After around 30 minutes in a 350 oven, they were cooked to perfection. I am a big fan of the flavor combination… and the quinoa along with the vegetables and cheese is quite filling and energizing.

Happy Cooking, and Happy Trails!

longer runs

We are midway through May. I did not sign up for any races this month, and I decided to focus on maintaining a good running practice in advance of June, when I will begin my official marathon training schedule. One of the goals I set for this time of the year (late spring) was to become comfortable running distances slightly longer than the half marathon. When training for consecutive half marathons, it is natural that the 13.1 mile distance becomes the absolute limit for length… at least the way I train for a half. When approaching life after the half marathon, I had two goals in mind:

  1. Run 14, 15, or 16 miles with comfort
  2. Maintain a steady pace throughout the distance

Yesterday, I went on a solo run for 16 miles. I did my usual out-and-back trail run, which involves mixed surfaces (some cement, some pea gravel, and some dirt), rolling hills, and a few steeper hills and switchbacks during the middle portion. I was really pleased to finish up in 2:38, an average mile time of 9:53, with a negative split. I think the best part of the run, however, was that I still had energy after I was done. I could have run a few more miles, at the same pace, which is a great feeling when looking down the path at marathon training.

I am glad yesterday’s run went well, because I will be a single parent for the next few weeks while my partner is at his Ph.D. residency. This means that I will be completing shorter, more frequent runs (probably during my lunch hour), with a little less flexibility to go for long runs. I am fortunate, however, to have my family pitching in and helping me out (it takes a village, and I am very grateful for my village). I hope to complete at least one more long run this month.

Last but not least, I have to recommend a new fuel that I was encouraged to try by my local running store. Skratch Labs fruit drops are awesome, and you should check them out. They are tart, chewy, and easy on the stomach. I also like that they do not contain caffeine (although caffeine helps me initially, I have observed that it can actually lead to a crash and intestinal cramping later in the run).

home cooking

It is definitely January. The term has started up at the university where I work, and I find myself keeping occupied with supporting my students and the case management required by that task. My doctoral studies resume tomorrow, the last semester before I take comprehensive exams, the penultimate semester before I begin dissertating… there is a light at the end of that tunnel! I am doing my best to keep up my running streak, so far, so good. On Saturday, I enjoyed an 8-mile run. Trying to keep my long runs in good shape for my upcoming half marathon in mid-February. This weekend, I will run the same 10K I did last year, with the hopes of a much-improved time. Since I am working around a bunch of students, and then picking up my kiddo from preschool every day, I continue to wash my hands frequently, get plenty of sleep at night, and eat nourishing foods (stay away, germs!).

Speaking of foods, we are two weeks in to an interesting challenge at my house, which is to not eat “out” at all this month (this includes restaurants, take-out, coffee stand items, drive-thrus). My partner and I both work full time, and that can make meal preparation every evening appear daunting. Last month, we realized that we had come to depend on food prepared by others as a mainstay of our diets. I worried about the impact on our finances and on our nutrition, and we agreed to try something different for the month of January. So far, I love the change of pace. Grocery shopping immediately became more exciting, as we stocked our kitchen with more produce, meats, eggs, and other ingredients. Meals have been much more satisfying and healthy; leftovers are being consumed. We are tossing less food because we are using it up to cook. Our compost and garbage output has gone down tremendously. Surprisingly, we are eating very few boxed or frozen food items.

Here are some go-to strategies that I have found really help:

-Bake a bunch of yams (my favorite) or potatoes and use those throughout the week in meals

-Scrambles (various ingredients cooked omelet style with eggs) are a great way to use up odds and ends in the produce drawer

-A crock pot is pretty much an error-proof way to make a tender and fragrant stew

-Chopping vegetables on Sunday night and storing them in Tupperware really does make it easy to throw together a “to-go” salad for lunch throughout the week

-You can make amazing pizza dough in the bread machine

Anyway, all of these are no-brainers, but sometimes we have to reset our habits before we can remember or realize the resources at our disposal. We are spending way less money to eat better food and feel more satisfied. I am sure, come next month, we will eat out again occasionally. But the break from restaurant food has been really good for us, and also fun for my daughter, who loves to help with the cooking.

Weekend Update

I am now just about a month away from the Whidbey Island Half Marathon (!!). On Saturday, I ran a St. Paddy’s themed 8K. I was really proud of myself for running the entire 5 miles at a 9:40 min/mile pace (I’ve been sticking right around 10 min/mile for my mid-to-long runs). Per tradition, I ran in both my green wig and tutu. I do not usually dress up for races, but when I do, I go all out. It was so nice to run with friends. One is relatively new to running, and another is coming back after a year of recovering from injury. What enormous feats to celebrate!

green

Yesterday, which ended up being a record-breaking day of rain (which means really, really wet and soggy in the Pacific Northwest), was also a pretty epic long run. I broke into the double digits and ran 10 miles! It was my first 10 mile run of 2015. Aside from the fact that my socks got wet pretty early on (there were puddles… everywhere), I did get far enough on the trail to hit some deep woods and gnarly switchbacks. The result of the hills and slippery trails (which I tackled cautiously to avoid injury) was that my average mile time was a bit slower. However, I was really satisfied with the distance and enduring the elements. I came home, got in warm dry clothes, and basically lounged around the whole rest of the day. I did manage to bake some homemade bread… got to keep up those carbohydrates, right?

trail

I am going to do a short recovery run this evening, and then I am mostly cross-training for the week, with the exception of my mid-length run on Wednesday. This weekend, I will not be able to squeeze in a very long run, so I hope to do a hilly or speedier shorter run instead. Then, the following weekends I will be back at the longer runs until I start tapering, shortly after Easter.

Sunday Runday

Today is Sunday–usually a long run day for me, but because I was awake until almost 1 AM (too late for me) last night, I treated myself to a 5K tempo run on the trails instead. We returned home from Texas last night, and while it was a very fun trip, I sure was overjoyed by the smell of fresh Pacific Northwest woodsy air this morning. Though I did not run in San Antonio, I got a lot of exercise walking several miles each day, most of them with my 3.5 year old on my back. We traveled south mainly because I was presenting a paper I authored on my research-in-progress at an education conference. I was a bit nervous about the presentation, but it went really well. I received some encouraging feedback from other folks who are experts on the social dimensions of math preparedness. I ate some really good Tex Mex, but I was happy that I stayed active on the trip, did not eat junky food, and returned home feeling healthy and well.

This week, I plunge back into the routine of training for the upcoming half. My goal this weekend is to run 7 miles on my long run. I will keep increasing the mileage by one mile each weekend, with a few weeks of repeated mileage, until I hit my tapering time (around the first week of April). Training for a half marathon is my absolute favorite. I just love the process and, ultimately, the distance of the race. Now that I have my trip out of the way, I can make the most out of the next two months.

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Vacation Fitness

My Philosophy on Food

Moderation in all things, especially moderation

It is better to rise from life as from a banquet—neither thirsty nor drunken

I don’t believe in Diets, although I think it is a wonderful idea to eat a good diet. It seems that about a few years ago, my social media started to take off with friends and acquaintances dabbling from everything to paleo diets to sugar fasts to Whole30. The fads have never pulled me in, though in the last year, I’ve paid attention to my body as a runner and learned a lot about eating well. I’ve constantly heard cleanses, fad diets, elimination challenges, et cetera described as “resets” for the metabolism. I have come to appreciate that my body is a capable machine that requires no reset. It requires sustainable and predicable maintenance and care. This begins with both eating and exercising for wellness and enjoyment.

I do not subscribe to any rules. I know my likes and dislikes. I also challenge myself to eat things that I know contain solid nutritional value. For example, I made myself scrambled eggs on Sunday after my long run. I am generally not a fan of eggs. But I spent the time preparing them in a way that smelled and tasted good to me (lots of black pepper, and a heap of cheddar cheese). I consume alcohol sparingly. I know that eating a lot of greasy food will make for a funny stomach during the next day’s run, so I find that I am eating less pizza and fried food these days. I abstain, for the most part, from red meat and pork. Consequently, I eat a lot of beans and nuts to get protein. Hummus is my favorite condiment and I put it on almost everything. I pack myself a morning snack (I am a huge proponent of Second Breakfast) and a lunch for work most every day (except for Wednesdays, when I walk to the local co-op and get a salad plate). Taking food with me to work ensures that I get a sufficiently filling lunch and it is also saving me a lot of money.

I can only speak personally, since I know we are all passionate about what works for us as individuals. If I restricted myself from a broad spectrum of food choices, I would not be well. I simply could not survive in a month dictated by “good days” and “cheat days.” Goat cheese, hummus, dark chocolate, and pinot noir are some of my favorite (and definitely not guilty) pleasures. When I cast aside the fad diets, the trendy advice, the media messages on how women should eat… I am left with the simple reality of knowing my mind and my body and observing the conversion of input-to-output. I understand what settles well and provides optimal food. I satisfy hunger and thirst. I feel energized before exercising, and I sleep well at night.

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July, July

My blogging time has been a bit sparse thanks to a monster of a literature review, but I am happy to report that I am running regularly and feeling energetic and strong. My goal is to run 50 miles this month, and I’ve already accomplished 12. I am also using this month as an experiment in eating whole and unprocessed foods as much as possible. I ditched bagels for muesli with almond milk and cranberries, pizza for roasted vegetables, meat, quinoa salads, and crackers for fresh fruit. I will admit, the first day or so without junk food was tough. But I am really feeling good now! Much more energized and just the change in what I am eating for breakfast makes a HUGE difference in my morning. I used to feel like I had low blood sugar by about 10:00, but the power porridge I am making keeps me satisfied until noon. Of course, I still indulge in my two favorite health foods… dark chocolate and Pinot Noir.

Off to run by the water this sunny evening. Looking forward to another great week.

18 is a lucky number

I finished week 14 with an 18 mile run, mostly trails, with a friend that is keeping me company for the upcoming marathon. I sit here writing this in disbelief. First, if you would have told me last year that I would run 13 miles without stopping, I would have laughed in your face. If you would have told me I would one day run 18 miles for no medal, I would have walked away. Second, 18 miles was nothing like 16 miles. It wasn’t painful and it wasn’t boring–it was really fun. I enjoyed it immensely! I am sure it was because I had another person with me, but I had that wonderful runner’s high again and again for the first time in awhile. I took the time to stretch and apply both heat and ice therapy to sore spots yesterday, and today I feel really strong. I do not have sharp aches and pains anywhere. The only complaint is some chafing I experienced at the neckline of my sports bra, where I neglectfully forgot to apply body glide (I almost always miss a spot!).

I feel nervous about the marathon, but also prepared. I know that I will need to eat GU about every 5-6 miles. I know hydrating is very important. I know to stop and walk it out or stretch before I get really tired or sore. I can anticipate that I will encounter some walls… but my favorite saying of late is that walls are only as big as you make them.

This upcoming long run will be my last. And I have decided to make it a 20-mile run, even though my book recommends two 18-mile runs. Mentally, I need the experience of hitting 20 before going into this race. During the last long run, I will wear the clothes, down to the bra and socks I plan to wear for the marathon. The fuel belt packed with the exact fuel I will consume. I will load my iPod with the music I will listen to on the marathon, if I decide to listen to some music for some of the miles.

After the last long run, tapering begins. The goal for September is to sleep well, hydrate conscientiously, and eat good complex and rich carbohydrates. This is a time for turning inward, believing in myself, and nourishing my body as the instrument that will accomplish this goal.

I hope everybody is getting in a good run or two this long weekend!