Dealing with ITBS and RWI

I’ve been found guilty of a RWI, but I can’t imagine I’m the only one. That’s right: I’ve been “Running While Injured”.  :/

For over a month now, I’ve been dealing with some knee pain, but the pain isn’t always there. When I wake up, it’s fine. When I walk, it’s fine. When I bike, it’s fine. When I run, it’s not fine. So have I not run since I first felt the injury? I wish I could tell you that I’m always disciplined enough to back off of running completely when I’m dealing with an injury, but in this case, that was not the case.

I wasn’t running every day with this injury, but I definitely wanted to find out what it was, if I was going to be sidelined for a while, and how I needed to manage my recovery. After the first couple of times, the knee pain would set in after 5 miles or so of running and would render my last 2-3 miles a slower, wobbly experience of the poorest running mechanics I could unintentionally muster. So many things to address here…First, I learned that it wasn’t inflammation or bursitis as I thought it could be. It was a condition that I hadn’t dealt with since my sophomore year in high school: Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS). ITBS isn’t a fun condition to be sidelined with, but it’s also one of the best injuries to face as it is not that difficult to fix. Continuing to run while dealing with ITBS, however, is not one of the ways to fix this issue which brings me to my next “thing to address” and the main topic of this post: Running while injured.

rwi5Image: Athletico.com

There are some injuries that just don’t let you run and there are some injuries that, depending on the severity, may still allow you to run, but prevent you from continuing to train. If you are dealing with plantar fasciitis, bursitis, or ITBS, you might still be able to log some miles, but I doubt you would feel that the quality of these miles match what you were achieving before the onset of the injury. So if you are logging miles, but not able to mix up your training or increase the intensity at times, are you still training? What’s worse, those miles you are logging might be worsening your condition. I was en route to this being my situation.

rwi3 rwi4

I have run about 6 times or so since a run mid-November when the pain from ITBS caused me to have to walk some of my miles just to get home. One of those runs, a 6.5 miler, was done on snow-covered trails and the blanket of snow provided a layer of soft ground that prevented an ITB flare-up. I had read about the impact of running being a cause for flare-ups in addition to running downhill, but this was the first time I was able to get in a run on soft enough ground where I didn’t feel any pain; regular, non-snowy trails still resulted in flare-ups. So when I arrived in New Jersey, I decided to test out the IT band on a route that had as much grass as possible. I managed to get in 5 miles before the flare-up occurred, but I needed to get home so I slowed down to 8 minutes for the remaining 2 miles to get home without too much regret. I haven’t run since, but have biked and continued my stretching routines and I’ll probably head out and test it again sometime next week.

rwi2 The New Jersey 7-mile run allowed me to feel mentally better than I have in a while, but that massage stick was my best friend for the next two days.

But what caused this ITBS problem to begin with? My educated guess: repetitive speed training. Was this intentional? Not at all. In retrospect, being in a Masters Degree in Nutrition program seemed to have messed with my approach to training and certainly the time I have for runs so I was treating every day as a speed day just to fit in 10 or 15 mile runs. Not good, I know, as this and not stretching after these repetitive training runs is what I firmly believe has led to my current bout of ITBS.

But here’s the good news: I drove to the local track today and logged 3 miles in 21 minutes without any pain. I guess my active recovery training over the past few weeks as been helping.

Regarding Recovery

Proper active recovery is key when it comes to fixing ITBS issues and helping you get out on the road or trails sooner rather than later. See, with a running injury, sometimes complete rest is not the best way to recover. Recovery, in a way, is its own training. There are certain activities and stretches to be done, certain activities to avoid, and even proper nutrition that can help with recovery depending on the injury. (For stretches that I used, see the video at the end of this post.)

In my case with ITBS…

Activities to include:

  • Certain stretches such as stretching my hips–tight and weak hips can result in ITBS.
  • Exercises such as isometrics.
  • I’ve also included biking to avoid losing too much fitness and to continue some general healthy cardiovascular exercise as well.
  • Strength training and squats to strengthen muscles that may have been too tight or weak, leading to my IT band issue.

Activities to avoid :

  • Running too soon; before really giving your stretches and exercises time to work may be defined as “too soon”
  • Certain types of running; I can forget about speed training and hill repeats until I’m recovered.

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Dealing with ITBS at the end the year has been kind of a blessing. I’ve been forced to pay more attention to my body and stretching which is ever-important and probably the only thing I preach, but practice poorly. Well, my Running 2017 NY Resolution is just that: to pay attention to stretching before and after my runs.

ITBS has also allowed me to use the winter break to relax and fully recover, mentally and physically, from the year. I’ve been planning my 2017 racing schedule and I’m taking my recovery seriously so that I can return healthy and ready to hit the trails and roads for marathon and ultramarathon training. Current races that I’m looking at for 2017 will be a blog post coming soon so check back for that!

Happy Running and Happy New Year!

I hope 2016 was good to all of you and I hope 2017 will only be better!

This video below is what I used to figure out what stretches I need to be doing. Thanks Physical Therapy!

 

 

Run Less to Run Faster

You read that title right. Running while in graduate school has been quite eye-opening this summer, but I learned something important that I only had an inkling about prior to this summer: it is possible to run less yet still run faster (in my opinion and experience).

The nutrition program at National University of Natural Medicine where Val and I now both go to school has been incredible on all levels. Meeting new people was and always is wonderful. Learning about nutrition and whole foods as medicine has been great. Getting into the community and visiting local farms was a new and rewarding experience that occurred weekly.  But the busy-ness that comes with school eventually caught up with me and began to affect my running. At the beginning of the program, I had no choice but to keep up with my training. I was scheduled to run The Oregon Marathon 2 weeks into the summer term and so I was still fitting in short speed workouts during week 1 of school and a few workouts during week 2 as well.With only 7 weeks of training after 2 months off from running due to a glass-puncture in my foot, I still managed to run a 3:01 best time at that marathon on July 16th and secured a second Boston Qualifying time. I was thrilled and excited to see what this heightened fitness would lead to this summer, but after the next week of just a few light runs to keep my legs moving yet still allow me to continue recovering, graduate school was definitely in full-swing and my hopes at achieving running goals diminished.

With my energy and ability to train every day newly diminished, I needed to make adjustments to my goals for the summer and fall. I had to reevaluate my desire to run an ultramarathon in August or even September–I just didn’t have the time for the required training–and if I was going to set any shorter distance goals, I had to make the most out of the times when I was actually able to get out for a run . The biggest change to my training was that I was (and am continuing) only running about 3 days (sometimes 4) a week. It wasn’t that that’s all I wanted to do; it was all I had time for. When I realized this, I didn’t want to waste a single one of those runs. I ran some 10 milers and one 15 miler, but I did a lot of shorter distance training runs which were run at quicker paces than I was used to running even on a speed day. I quickly found myself running 7 miles at 6:30 pace without much effort. I had a couple track workouts where I recorded the fastest workout splits of the year that included: back-to-back mile times of 5:18 and 5:19, 400m at 68s, and a 200m sprint at 28 seconds on a wet surface. All of these timed intervals, as well as all of the track workouts I do, were run as part of a workout and not as a solo time trial so I’m never running them more than 90% of my current ability. But it was the result of running a few 6-8 mile runs and hitting a 5:50-5:55/mile pace for a couple miles without intending to do so or feeling like I was putting in that much effort that I knew I had to focus on 5ks to half-marathons this fall.

A possible running week for me looked like this:

Monday – zip.

Tuesday – 8-10 mile run; moderate pacing

Wednesday – zilch.

Thursday – 5-7 miles; intense pacing

Friday – nada.  (or maybe a 4 mile run; easy pacing)

Saturday- 7-10 mile run; combination of moderate and intense pacing

Sunday – 90 minutes of pick-up soccer; moderate activity

There were some inclines and declines and those runs and occasionally I would swap out a moderate run with a track day or if I was lucky I got to run 4 days in a week instead of 3, but I never stressed about it. Why? Because I was getting faster without trying to and all I could do was scratch my head and wonder how this happened. Did I gain a bonus fitness level from the marathon back in early July? Did graduate school somehow give my energy levels a boost? No. None of that. Rather, I attribute my noticeable bump in fitness to more rest. 

Let’s be clear: by  “more rest” I do not mean more sleep, although that wouldn’t be a bad thing; the benefits of increased rest and sleep are well known and supported. Rather, I simply mean that my body was allowed to rest and better recover from linear running more this summer than I can ever recall in recent years of running/training 5-7 days a week. I suppose you could say that graduate school has been a bit of a Catch 22: I get less sleep due to being so busy, but being so busy has been forcing me to take more rest days from running.

Resting and super delicious and healthy Made in Nature snacks? Most definitely part of my summer.

min2 I cross-trained with soccer a lot this summer and still consider this a rest from the demands of road running.

In August, I ran the first ever 5k at the Portland Meadows horse track on a hot August morning and clocked a 19:48 on a sand course which made this 5k one of the most difficult 5k experiences I’ve ever had.

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I also raced a 5k this past weekend and I ran my fastest time of roughly 17:03. The best part: it was in the rain, on wet pavement, I started about 3-5 seconds behind the line (no separate time for gun time and chip time as there were no chips), and I ran well in the lead for the entire race. I know my body can go 16:45 with better conditions and am hoping to achieve that this fall as well as achieve a half-marathon PR. With the support of great people and teams such as La Vida Veggie, Nii Foods, and possibly others, I’m hoping for a great fall running season.

I wanted to end with what I think a possible week could be or should be if you were to try and alter your weekly routine to include more rest days. Here’s just one possible scenario and it should certainly be modified depending on your experience, goals, and fitness:

Monday- Rest

Tuesday – 10-12 miles (medium distance run; final couple miles or 15 minutes at a slightly faster pace; include some hills on the route if possible)

Wednesday- Rest

Thursday – 5-8 miles (shorter distance run; a few of these miles–middle to end miles–should be around or slightly slower than half-marathon race pace) OR Track day- intervals can include 1 mile repeats, 800m repeats, 400m repeats, or a combination of these and other speedier short distances)

Friday

Saturday- Long run (relative to your goals and fitness; easy to moderate pace); e.g. 15-20 miles

Sunday – Rest

If you’d like help with your own running goals such as running a faster time, running your first race of any distance, or any other goal, I would be honored to have you reach out to me so we can discuss! Comment below or email Wilfredoben@gmail.com so we can connect.

Happy Running!

 

 

 

Run Your Goal Race with Only 3-4 Days of Training a Week

I never studied exercise science. I’m neither a sports therapist nor a physical trainer. I am not a doctor of any kind nor an elite athlete or one who’s been in the game forever. What I am, though, is very confident that you can run your goal distance even if you just have time for 3-4 days of activity a week.

TAKE NOTE: You should only take this post to heart if you really only have 3-4 days of which you can dedicate some time to training. If you have the ability to train and be active for 4, 5, or 6 days a week, then, if you plan well and train smart, that may help you in your goal of finishing your goal race.

I am not speaking from experience. I generally run 6 days a week and I love every second I’m out there, but I want to keep stressing that I firmly believe what I’m saying. The catch, though, is that you can’t get away with just any 3-4 training runs or workouts that you want AND this opinion of mine may not be applied to distances of certain ultramarathons such as the 100k or 100 miler. Additionally, it may not get you to reach your goal time or PR. But…I believe…you will be able to cross the finish line.

Many people I know think I’m either crazy or that I have some sort of super power to be able to train and run marathons and ultramarathons. Let me put these beliefs to rest. I do not have super powers and neither do any of the marathoners and ultramarathoners that I know or have run with. Some may be crazy, though (I’m looking at you Marathon Maniacs). So how do we do it? Simple: Discipline. It takes a disciplined person to cross the finish line of any race so it’s not like only ultrarunners have a special claim on a unique form of discipline. Those who run or do any kind of exercise regularly and sometimes vigorously are disciplined in what they eat, when they train, how much they train, what social luxuries they may need to give up, how much sleep they might have to sacrifice or how much more sleep they have to get (we can never win when it comes to the Zzz’s).

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It’s not fancy and I can’t trade it or sell it or anything. But this is the most special medal I own because of how much I put my heart into what it took to cross the finish line in this 50 mile race–my first ultramarathon. You don’t have to run an ultra, but I know you can cross whatever line it is you have your eyes on.

I actually think it’s for some of these reasons why those who say things like, “Wow, you’re crazy,” or “Oh, my gosh! I could never do anything like that! I can’t even jog a mile!” You’re wrong, my friend. If you wanted to, you can indeed jog a mile and you can also run a 5k, half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon just like I and others can. What is stopping you (and this may not apply to everyone) are the limitations you are creating for yourself. It doesn’t help to think that you can’t do something because it makes it more likely that you will stop yourself from trying or if you do try, you may stop or give up before you’ve really given it your all. When it comes to running, I think people’s time comes into play. Time is precious. I understand and I agree. I (like everyone who works and volunteers and has hobbies and loved ones and animal companions to spend time with) wish there were more hours in the day. But to cross that finish line, you don’t need to dedicate as many days to running as you may think.  You can take that 5-7 days of running a week–or what you think is required to complete your goal race–that is preventing you from taking the next step and turn it into 3-4 days of training.

What takes place during those 3-4 days?

  1. A medium-distance run. This varies depending on your goal race. Want to run a half marathon? Your m/d run may be 6 or 7 miles. Want to run a marathon or 50k? This run be between 9-13 miles (maybe up to 15).
  2. A long run. The long run also varies and is run at a slower pace than your goal pace (about 60-90 seconds slower is generally what I’ve come across). For the half marathon, your long run may be 9-10 miles. For the marathon and 50k, your long run will likely be between 14-20 miles (perhaps up to 24 or 25 for the 50k distance).
  3. A light run. Your light run can be something to just wake you up in the morning or just a nice evening pre- or post-dinner run or jog. If you’re goal race is the half marathon, a light run may be 3-5 miles and if you’re eyeing the marathon or 50k then your light run may be an easy 5-7 miler. I included the light run after the long run because some runners like to take a recovery run the day after they logged the long run, although this doesn’t have to be the case for you.
  4. A cross-training* day. This is a day to do something other than running, but the activity is still rigorous enough to make you work up a bit of a sweat and should be at least 45 minutes to 1 hour in duration (likely not exactly continuous). Cross-training can take the form of cycling, mountain biking, swimming, playing recreational sports, rock-climbing, hiking, Stand up paddle boarding (SUP), etc.

*I purposely didn’t include strength-training in this list because I think runners should be strength-training at least twice a week. A strong core, back, glutes, and legs are all important for running and staying healthy while doing it. There are many workouts you can find online through a quick Google search for something like “strength training for running” that will likely give you some great ideas or specific workouts to incorporate into your training regimen.

tes2 How do you get to where you want to be? One step at a time. 

So that’s it…3-4 days of training. I included 4, but the light run may need to be sacrificed if you really only have 3 days where you can dedicate time to training. Further explanation is needed, however: You need to build up to the long run. If your goal race is the marathon, then your first week of training might not involve a long run of 15 miles no matter how slow you run it. Your initial long run may only be 5 or 6 miles and may not even take place until after a couple weeks of running. Your medium-distance run, then, may only be 3 miles. Hopefully you get the idea…I just wanted to give you a gist of what it will look like when you are in a good place in your training. I still maintain that you can train 3-4 days a week even early on in your training to get you to accomplish your goal.

Something else: If you are shooting for a goal race and are adding a time-goal component that involves some speedwork, then the rough 3-4 day overview I presented will need to be altered to include training that will improve speed; this can be added into the 3-4 workouts or an additional day can be added if you are willing to manipulate your schedule to fit in some time on a 4th or 5th day for speed-specific training.

REMINDER: You should only apply this restricted 3-4 day training if you really only have 3-4 days of which you can dedicate time to train. If you have the ability to train and be active for more days each week or some weeks (not necessarily more days of running), then that may help you even more to achieve your goal of finishing your goal race.

Questions (especially about the 5k or 10k which I did not specifically mention)? I’d love to hear them! 

Happy Running!

Running Motivation: A Q&A with Ryan Good about taking on new running endeavors

I think it’s safe to say that we are still just beginning 2016. Let’s face it: We’re not really in 2016 until we all stop accidentally writing “2015” or “15” at the end of Today’s Date. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true, but you get what I mean. I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am one to set goals for the new year. One could say that this is just a matter of semantics and they may be right; all I know is that goals work for me. Resolutions generally do not.

One of my many goals for this year is to run my most challenging ultramarathon yet, but this it isn’t necessarily a difficult task to find a race more challenging than anything I’ve done as none of the four ultras I’ve completed this year have been very technical or involved any significant elevation gain. The race that checks this box off could end up being a 100 miler or a 24 hour timed run, or it could be a challenging 50 miler or 100k; whatever the distance, it will be great. And I will be prepared. Part of that preparation is actually one of my other goals for this year which is to take advantage of the trails surrounding me here in Portland, Oregon.

                  Some of the consquences of trailrunning. It’s not trail running if you don’t get dirty.

Back in New Jersey, I had to drive at least an hour to find a decent trail, and here I am surrounded by them, and I’ve only taken advantage a few times. No more of this! I love the roads and I will run on them a lot as I train for a personal best in the marathon (Eugene Marathon), but I will be incorporating trails into my training and focusing my energy on trails after the marathon in May.

But I’m not the only one with goals. You all have goals too I’m sure and since you’re on this sight, perhaps they are running, food, or health-related. If they are to exercise or run more or to just get started, I encourage you to consider trail running. Committing to trail running may not be as easy lacing up the shoes and running right from your porch (though it could), but you’ll likely find the extra energy to get to the trails worth it. Running with nature under your feet, by your side, and sometimes right in your face can, for many people, have much more to offer than running on the concrete of an urban jungle or the pavement of suburbia.

 

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Speaking of goals, running, trails, and ultras, I recently learned of a local Portland resident, Ryan Good, who completed his first ultramarathon, Deception Pass 50k, just this past December 2015. I reached out to Ryan to ask him some questions I had regarding his motivation, training, and experience. Fair warning, though: His fantastic responses and enthusiasm may result in you getting on Ultrasignup.com and looking for a race.

Enjoy the Q&A!

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 Q- What was the longest distance you raced before the 50k?

A marathon, but not for a long time. Back in the 90’s I raced a lot and ran some marathons. Unfortunately, I drifted away from running consistently and seriously, for a number of reasons—injuries, career, parenting, other sports, etc. It was only last fall, when I decided to do the 50k that I started training consistently again. It wasn’t exactly off the couch—I’d been hiking, doing ultra-distance cycling, and running occasionally—but then again, it was almost off the couch, and my biggest fear was getting injured and having to bail. So I took it very easy in training and didn’t do any racing. I did run a trail half-marathon and a trail marathon as part of my training, but I didn’t race them.

Q- What made you sign up for your first ultramarathon?

I’ve wanted to run an ultra since I first heard of them which was so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was. And, years ago, I used to run with some “old guys” (they were about the age I am now, haha!) who were ultrarunners. They were just amazing athletes as well as being really quirky and fun to be around and to run with. It was a completely different experience from hanging out with the more serious roadies. I’m still close to a few of those guys today. That was part of it. Also, and probably more importantly, I’ve always been attracted to extreme endurance pursuits, to huge challenges. I’ve done a lot of backpacking, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ultra-distance cycling, etc. and have always really enjoyed those events—at least in the way that one enjoys extended suffering. There’s a clarity, a purity, a stripping away of excess that I can only find when I push my body and mind as hard as I can. Also, I’m not fast by any means, but I can go and go and go for a really long time. I guess I’m just stubborn, basically.

Q- Why did you choose the 50k (31.068 miles) as your first ultra and is there any reason why you chose Deception Pass 50k as your first experience?

I chose 50k because it seemed like a distance that I could probably tackle, but was longer than anything I’d done before, so it was still enough of a challenge to motivate me. I’d done a marathon before so I knew I could do one again, and I wanted a scary challenge, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a 50 miler yet. A 50k seemed like a natural choice. I chose Deception Pass for a couple of reasons. On the practical side, it fit my timeline: I had a 16 week training plan. So I got on Ultrasignup.com to look for 50ks that were roughly 16 weeks out, and there it was: just 16 weeks and two days away. On a more personal side, I have spent a lot of time in that area (Deception Pass, Washington) over the years—bicycling, hiking, kayaking, camping—and it is one of my favorite places in the world. It seemed appropriate that I should fulfill this long-time goal in a place that so resonates with my spirit.

Q- How did you handle the training involved (e.g. nutrition, sleep, the added distance, etc.)?

This whole process has been really interesting, for a number of reasons. I have to remind myself that I’m older, for one thing. I was in my mid-twenties last time I was running seriously, and now, at 44, I constantly find myself being surprised at how differently my body responds to training: weight comes off slower; it takes longer to recover; I need way more sleep; etc. Another thing that made it an interesting learning experience is that I became vegan at the same time I started my training program, so I learned a lot about nutrition. I still have a lot to learn, and I still need to work on it. Running, at least running seriously, is, in my mind at least, less a sport than a lifestyle. I often say, only half-jokingly, that if all it took to be a good runner was to run a lot, I’d be a great runner! Because I love to run, and have no problem making time for running. But I fall short in areas more related to lifestyle: dialing my nutrition, not sleeping enough, not stretching enough, not strength training as much as I should, drinking a little too much, etc. Those are things I’m really working on now. They say in ultrarunning, you’ve got about 7 or 8 years of consistent improvement before you peak. Maybe that’s 8, or 10, or maybe 6, I don’t know exactly. But I do know that I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and I want to really commit to this thing and see how good I can get. Not in a competitive sense except against myself and against that little voice that always tells me to “just back off,” or “sleep in this once,” or “just have another beer,” but just to see what I can do. Watch out midpackers…I’m coming for you! Seriously though, it may sound silly, but getting back to serious (or at least consistent) running has been amazing for me. It’s given me a sense of purpose, focus, and excitement that I was missing before. I’m not saying life wasn’t good—it was—but I didn’t really have any goals that I was focusing on, and now I do. And that’s good for me. So all the changes I’ve had to make have been for the better, and that makes them easier to handle.

Q- Did you train solely on trails, mostly on trails or a combination of trails and road?

I did about half and half. Or maybe 60 roads/40 trails. I wish I could do all of my training on trails, but it’s just not practical living in the city. Also, I am one of those car-free types, who chooses to get around by bike and public transit (for a lot of the same reasons I’m vegan, but that’s a whole other story!), so getting to trailheads takes some planning. But I take the bus or MAX (Portland shuttle transit) to different Forest Park trailheads, and/or run to them on longer runs. I’ll tell you—I’ve gotten very, very familiar with Wildwood Trail (a trail in Forest Park)!

Q- After the long training, the post-race soreness, the somewhat limited socializing, will you run another ultramarathon? Why? What distance do you have in mind?

Oh, absolutely. The ultrarunning lifestyle definitely takes some adjusting to, and I’ve definitely made some sacrifices, but overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I feel way better both physically (despite the soreness!) and mentally. And, as I said earlier, I’m really looking forward to seeing how much I can do, how much I can improve. I’m doing another 50k soon, but my real goal right now is the S.O.B. (Siskiyou Out and Back) 50 Mile in July—I’m already signed up.

Q- Anything else you’d like to add?

I have a few things to add, and they might sound cliché- but I don’t care because they are absolutely true.

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First, there is no way I could have done this without my wife. Man, I think she had to work harder than I did! I mean, all I had to do was run, right? She stepped up with all the extra cooking (learning to cook vegan at the same time, no less!); laundry (lots and lots of laundry, as any runner knows!); massaging my feet and legs; not minding that I was basically an absentee husband every weekend because I was gone running all the time, or sleeping when I was home; listening to me drone on endlessly about training strategies, nutrition, shoes, etc.; encouraging me when I was down or had doubts. Really, she deserves as much or more credit than I do. Ultra-spouses are the unsung heroes of the sport- it’s like being a race volunteer 24/7, and not even getting a t-shirt! So seriously, runners- thank your partners.

Second (and I really mean this): If I can do it, anyone can. I am as Average Joe as you can get. I’m not athletically gifted at all, unless you count being healthy enough to run, but that’s it. However, Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” and I really believe that. I was only able to do this because I kept putting one foot in front of the other, which you—yes you, reading this!—can do just as well as I can.

Lastly, running, to me, is an act of gratitude, in so many ways. How can I not feel thankful? At some point during almost every run I think of how fortunate I am that I’m healthy enough to run for hours on end; that I have the time to do it; the money to buy shoes, gear, and pay race fees; time and money to travel to races; beautiful places to run; and supportive people around me. And mostly, I’m thankful that I can experience the purity and simplicity of moving slowly through this beautiful world under my own power—to me, that is the essence of running.

A Break from the Solo Run

I’ve been doing pretty great about keeping up with my running and training since I’ve been back in New Jersey. Val and I are here visiting family and friends for the holidays so I wasn’t sure how much I’d find the energy to get out for all the runs I’ve wanted to when time is so limited before we leave. Luckily, it hasn’t been an issue. I’ve hit the track twice. I put in a 10 mile tempo run with a negative split (finishing the second half of the run faster than the first half). And I ran a 16 miler with Val’s uncle which I’ll get into shortly.

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It’s been great spending quality time with those we’ve deeply missed.

Saturday night was when the left image was taken and of course they decided to order in from a new Thai restaurant on Main St. in Metuchen. What made it even worse was that the host said they could cook several enticing dishes without fish sauce making them completely vegan. Knowing we’d be eating dinner rather late (7:30-8pm) and that I had to be up early for a long run, I opted for white rice instead. White rice?! Not brown rice? Nope. I knew white rice would be easier to digest and I knew my body could use that energy much more readily in the morning.

friends3  So white rice was my carb-intake and Olivias vegan coconut macaroons provided the fat. 🙂 Wonderfully delectable, Olivia!

I called it a night while Val went out with friends after dinner and tea…and more wine. I enjoyed a nice dinner, stories, and laughs with family and friends and I knew I shouldn’t be tiring my body out even more and then asking it to run 20 miles without proper sleep so I know I made the right call for my overall well-being. I got right into bed and about 6 hours later I was up for a run.

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Up at dawn and felt great! If I wasn’t feeling it, the last thing I’d do is grab my phone for a quick pic, so you know I’m not lying!

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I wasn’t running this run solo, though, which is how I’ve run all of my long runs for well over a year. In fact, I’d say 99% of my runs have been solo runs. It’s not that people don’t like me…I just don’t like them! Kidding!!! I think I’m just training so often which makes things a bit easier when I only have to rely on me. But this run, what I thought was going to be at least 20 miles, was going to be a dual effort with Val’s uncle, Tim. Tim is set to run the Watchung 50k on 1/9/2016, his first ultramarathon, and wanted me to join him for a long run. He forgot he had to meet someone in Connecticut by a certain time so our 20+ mile run was altered to a 16 mile out and back route that to us to the top of Washington Rock before we turned around.

What was so great about this run was how FAST it went. I don’t mean that we took the run fast, because while we went faster than we would have if we had run 25 miles or so, we didn’t run at a pace thatprevented us from conversing. What I mean by “fast” is that the 2+ hours flew by thanks to the great conversations we had throughout the run. We talked about family, work, our fitness goals for next year and everything in between. Before I knew it, we were approaching the point that would bring us to a 1 mile ascent up to Washington Rock and present us with a beautiful miles-long view of New Jersey before us. Too bad the iPhone 4 he brought with us couldn’t capture any pictures that would do any justice to the beautiful view we had.

It was a very welcome break from the solo run that I usually run and I’m glad I had the accountability there as well. Had I not have had plans to run this long run with Tim, I likely would not have wanted to run more than 10 miles in the 30 degrees we ran in. Heck, I probably would have just woken up to coffee and Val’s mom making us breakfast and there would have went my hopes for a long run.

Moral of the story: It may help to break away from the solo run every now and then. The runs go by quicker when you’re with someone. One of you is likely to have a stronger run (Tim thanked me for pushing him especially up the 1 mile hill and during the last few miles when I like to finish strong). And lastly, the accountability  that comes with planning to meet up with a running partner or group really helps on the days when the weather is just downright crummy. I wrote a post not too long ago about this last benefit as one of the ways to help one stick to their fitness goals so feel free to check it out if this aspect interests you.

 

12 In the beginning of our run we were greet by 4 deer and with a mile and a half left, 4 wild turkeys graces us with their presence. Funny enough, 4 turkeys also decided to cause Val’s family’s dog to bark incessantly while we were having breakfast. Maybe we should have just played this lucky number and perhaps won it big that night. “And tonight’s Pick-6 lottery winning numbers are: 4. That’s it!” Ha! I wish.

4 We kept it real classy for our coconut waters after our run. I have no idea why Tim grabbed wine glasses for our postrun hydration beverage, but I wasn’t upset that he did.

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All hydrated with water and coconut water meant that I could enjoy several cups of my favorite morning delight. If we were keeping it classy with the coconut water wine glasses, then we kept it real fancy with the espresso machine.

 

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Val’s aunt knew the way to our hearts. Kasha (buckwheat), shitake mushrooms, and avocado was on the menu for the morning. Then they opened the bag of everything bagels and my heart beat 5x faster. Then I saw peanut butter and my heart beat 10x faster than that. 

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Did you get a good look at that breakfast meal? I’m salivating just staring at that food! Plant-based and incredibly delicious…and nutritious.

Well, that’s that. Are you a solo runner? Do you ever divert from being the lone runner you’re used to? If so, what is that experience usually like for you?

Happy Running!

 

This Rain Isn’t Getting Me Down (+Oat Balls Recipe)

Note: This blog post has been slightly updated since its original posting in December 2015.

I have been LOVING 5k race training for the past 3 weeks or so. I know I briefly talked about that in my last blog post, but I just can’t get over how much fun it has been to include more speedwork and  shorter distances into my regimen. A runner I know just recently talked to me about how much harder it is for her to work on speed than it is to work on endurance. I totally get where she’s coming from.

When I’m training for a marathon or ultramarathon, I am not worried about my back-to-back long runs; there is nothing really too discomforting about them. Sure, I get tired at some point and want to stop because I’ve been running for 3+ hours for the second day in  a row, but I’m not gasping for air in desperation. When I’m running long distances in training for marathon or ultramarathon distances, it’s at an aerobic pace (I’m getting enough oxygen to my muscles) so lactic acid is not really being produced or is not produced at the rate of it building up and slowing me down. But when I’m doing speedwork or training for shorter distance runs, most of my runs (weekend “long” run not included) and all of my track sessions involve lactic acid building up and breathing becoming not as easy as it was. Simply put: I totally understand why incorporating actual speed work (not just running fast) isn’t on people’s favorite-things-to-do list. But I love it anyway. And I think I love it and appreciate that feel-good burning sensation in my legs because I’m seeing improvement. When I’m on the track and running hill repeats, I feel so much stronger than I was when I was ultra or marathon-training just a few months ago.

Part of why I think my speed is improving is that I really took to heart something that I read recently and I’ll recall the phrasing to the best of my ability:

Runners often limit their improvement and running potential because they tend to run their slow runs too fast and their fast runs too slow.

It didn’t take me long to realize that that statement can explain so much of my previous training. In my previous periods of training, I’ve completed track workouts and fast workouts without feeling the exhaustion I used to feel when I was running track back in high school. In high school, I would feel like I was DYING after each repeat of an interval session, yet when the coach said to get back on the line, we all did it and managed another 200 or 400 or 800 meter repeat no matter how “dead” we were. And we got faster. I’ve been thinking about that quote and my track experiences during all of my workouts lately and using them to guide me and I’ve seen the results in my training.

This showed me that no matter how long I’ve been running or how much I love it and think I know about the sport, there is and will always  be so much room for learning and improvement. And that improvement was going to take hard work and minimal excuses. One excuse I learned quickly that I had to eliminate from my bag of excuses: rain.

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I knew that when Betsy’s Best Bar None agreed to sponsor a mid-fall race that I’d be looking at most of my running taking place in the rain. Heck, just moving to Portland meant that most of my running was going to be taking place in the rain. I’ve had to really get back into the mindset that I had as a kid or even when running track: running in the rain can be enjoyable. What may prevent it from being so, though, is the back-and-forth questioning and self-induced stress about getting wet that takes place in our head. In my opinion, it’s easier on you and better for you also to just throw on a water-resistant layer,  lace up, and go.

Recently, it’s been quite the rainy weather here in the Pacific Northwest, but I can’t just not run and I dislike running on treadmills. After a dentist appointment the other day I met with Betsy from Betsy’s Best at a track to pick up the new shirt. I’ll wrap up this post with the following pictures and captions.

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It’s quite an improvement from their previous design. The images of their bars and natural ingredients definitely make the shirt stand out more.

 

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I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m definitely smilng strangely here. This is maybe 20 minutes after some restorative dental work and I’m all numbed up from my right cheek to the middle of my lip, including the right side of my tongue, but I could not be stopped from getting in a quick workout. 

Holy Oat Balls!

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The ingredients:

1 1/3 cup rolled oats, 1/3 cup chickpeas, 2 tbsp peanut butter, tbsp nondairy yogurt, your preferred amount of mini chocolate chips, tbsp of chia seeds, 1/2 tbsp cacao powder, dash of cinnamon, and about 1/4 cup of nondairy milk.
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Blend chickpeas, nondairy yogurt, nondairy milk, and peanut butter until somewhat smooth. Mix with remaining ingredients. Form oat balls with mix. Place on nonstick baking pan. Bake at 350 for about 10-15 minutes.

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Enjoy!

Why did I make these and use these ingredients? The protein from the chickpeas, oats, peanut butter, chia seeds, cacao powder, and even some from the nondairy yogurt and milk that you choose, makes for a great way to recover from a hard workout! The low glycemic indices of these ingredients/foods makes these great for long-term energy so you can enjoy a couple as your breakfast (great with nondairy milk or coffee) to fuel you for your later-morning or afternoon run.

What is your favorite food for fueling and recovering? Have you ever tried making your own oat bars or “energy” bars before? What’d you use and why? Do you avoid running in the rain? Do you love it or at least tolerate it for the sake of meeting/maintaining your fitness goals? Let’s talk!

 

Weekend of Running and Food

This weekend flew by, but it went really really well so it wasn’t such a bad thing. It was a very intense weekend for my running and my body, yet I feel so rested. I guess I’m doing a great thing and keeping well in my life…achieving wellness and all that. With happy food and great running, I’m not surprised I feel so good after this weekend!

For starters, my running has been coming along quite nicely. Since I got the nod from Betsy’s Best Bar None! that they’ll sponsor the Foot Traffic Holiday 5k here in Portland (I decided I didn’t have enough time to properly train for a desired finish at the half marathon distance), I’ve been putting in the necessary training to get and improve the speed in my legs after what was about 3 weeks of running as if I was going into my downtime of running; I was maybe getting out every other day and the mileage and pacing wasn’t really a concern to me. But on Friday I got to see that 3 weeks of focused training has been paying off. I ran 400 and 200 repeats on Duniway Track near downtown Portland and ran splits that I haven’t seen in years. Long-distance training takes the speed out of your legs so I’ve never had to worry too much about my 400m time, but that changes when running the 5k distance. Knowing that my speed is improving is a huge motivator and confidence booster heading into the final week before the race.

Betsy’s Best has been a great partner. They’re really wonderful people at B3N!

Saturday’s run was a slower 11 miles. I wanted to stay at a moderate pace that I can run for a very long time. They say you should run slow to run fast. They also say you should run faster for a longer distance to run fast at the shorter distance, so I’ve been mixing the two philosophies into my training. Also…I ran with headphones in which I never do anymore, but was feeling some mellow music to help with my slower pace.

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The view from near Pittock Mansion in Portland is stunning, but difficult to capture with an iPhone camera on a very cloudy and wet day. The hill on the right is just one of many on this route I ran. I had to do a couple repeat climbs and descents on each one. The burn from the constant climbing felt oh so good!

And today’s (Sunday) tempo run was switched with a run that I can ownly describe as, “Run a very quick training pace for 4 miles to build up the lactic acid and then fight through that lactic acid for the remaining 4 miles.” I guess that’s kind of like a lactate threshold run, but not exactly. Similar purpose though. The idea was, as explained, to simulate the lactate acid build-up that will occur in the 5k, but to get my body and mind used to fighting through the burning sensation until I cross that finish line. If you are used to stopping when the pain starts to set in or if you don’t run long or fast enough to where that sensation starts to occur, just imagine the PR (personal record/best) you can set if you did include some  workouts that lead to this feeling into your training!

So that was the running…This weekend was also a good one for food.

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I decided to make oat bars Saturday morning. I didn’t run my long run in the morning and instead used these oat bars to fuel me for an afternoon run. They digested so well and were so delicious. Val agreed so I’ve included the recipe at the end of this post.

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When you are prepping acorn squash for the oven and a heart appears, you know they’re going to be good…and you know you have to snap a pic!

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Chia seed pudding!!! Superfood is right. Chia seeds are one of the best ways to get protein for all persons, but especially as a plant-based/vegan eater. Just 3 tablespoons of chia seeds is already 7 grams of protein. Plus,  chia seeds are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.

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When the Portland Timbers are playing in the MLS Cup final and you get an invite from friends you haven’t seen in months, you bring a dish. But you don’t bring just any dish. You bring a dish with food on it. I just laughed at that one…womp womp. No, but really. We got a text invite to head over to friends and watch the Timbers play and I knew it was about time to make the chocolate poundcake I’ve been wanting to make. This wasn’t from scratch so I won’t post the recipe, but it was dairy-free, gluten free, soy free, and tasty-full, so I’m sharing with you. Well, I’m sharing the pics. If I could share the cake I would but Val and I did quite a number on it by ourselves! Yep. We love our desserts.

Well that’s all folks! How was your weekend? What are your fitness goals and how are you coming along in reaching or maintaining them?  I’d love to hear what you are all up to!

Happy Running!

Pumpkin & Chickpea Chocolate Chip Oat Bars

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1 cup rolled oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup pumpkin purée
3/4 cup chickpeas
1 1/2 tablespoon mini chocolate chips (Enjoy Life Foods)
1/2 tablespoon fig jam
1 Teaspoon of chia seeds
1 Teaspoon of maple syrup
Splash of cashew milk


Blend everything but the oats and chocolate chips. Pour (or spoon out) the mixture into the bowl of oats and chocolate chips. Mix together and form into oat bar forms or oat balls. Bake* at 375 for about 12 minutes then let cool for a couple minutes and enjoy.

*You could also totally eat these raw. Nix the baking and let them sit in the fridge to keep their form and enjoy at least after an hour (probably) has passed.

Chia Seed Pudding

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Chia seeds & nondairy milk (I used cashew this time around)

Pour chia seeds in a bowl. Pour nondairy milk so that milk is just a bit over the chia seeds. Let soak for a few hours or overnight. Thoroughly enjoy when chia seeds have become soaked and gelatinous. 

Top with banana slices, cinnamon, cacao nibs, berries, or whatever else you think would make this super healthy and delicious food an even healthier and delicious food!

Dealing with a Running Slump

Runners have different names for it, but whether it’s called a rut, slumpdowntime (kudos to you for choosing a less pessimistic word), or anything else, it’s just as frustrating to experience.

Typically, regarding my running, I calm things down from December to February mainly to rest my legs in prepartion for another 8-9 months of long-distance running and training. I won’t stop running altogether, but my running does not look like how it does when I’m training. Intead of running 6 days a week, I’ll maybe run every other day. Instead of 50-80 miles a week, my weekly mileage will hover around 30 miles. I still include speedwork and a shortened version of a long run each week, but this downtime of less stress on my legs really does allow them to refresh for the spring.

I’ll be honest and say that I have no idea what to call my running lately. I’ve been quick to say that I’m in a slump that I’ve been experiencing since two consecutive 5k PR’s in the two weekends following the Portland Marathon. Since my last race on October 18th, I’ve been unintentionally lowering my weekly mileage and days per week that I’m running. I call it a slump, but it’s really more like a “downtime” that I didn’t plan to start this early and don’t necessarily want to continue. I noticed my running start to dwindle about a week after it started, but there was nothing I could do. This slump correlated with me getting much busier with my evening classes and a few other commitments I had to focus on so I just had to figure out how to accept it.

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At the end of October, I gave a presentation on Vegan Nutrition for Athletes at a potluck event of NW Veg, the same organization that coordinates Portland VegFest. That week was the first week after my second 5k race post-marathon and was also the beginning of my slump. I guess I just knew where my priorities were that week and this talk and my class took up most of my time.

Running less hasn’t been all bad though. Val and I got two new housemates a couple weeks ago and less running = more time to spend with my two new best friends: Nila and Jordan!

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It hasn’t just been our cats that I’ve been happy to devote more time to; I’ve also been able to devote more time to friends and eating delicious food without having to be concerned that it would affect the next day’s run.

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Hanging out, drinking wine, and playing Clue until late at night didn’t phase me as I didn’t have to worry about waking up early to get in a long training run.

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Brunch with friends is also something Val and I were able to participate in on a Sunday morning when I usually would be running for at least 2 hours. 

Now..the food.

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I have flaws just like everyone else. One of mine: late-night eating. If I’m awake and bored, I’m eating. I devoured this half-pizza around 9 at night! Val just had to be me leftovers from a dinner she was at….

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Had I needed to run after the brunch, I likely wouldn’t have been able to fit in this apple pecan cobbler that a friend made. Good thing I didn’t have to train that Sunday! 

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For the past 4 Mondays, I shadowed Kerri Zemko, RN, Nutrition Educator while she taught a whole foods plant-based nutrition class in her condo. Because of this, my running on Mondays needed to be minimized to at most 3-5 miles so I had time to shower and get to the class. Every single class made it worth running shorter distances or skipping the run altogether. The pictures above are from a potluck we had at the last class which was a ton of fun and I got some great recipes from individuals who really dove into this class and have been putting their whole heart into eating healthier. It was such an experience for me to see what I can do as a nutritionist if everything works out with my application to NCNM.

And lastly: Portland VegFest

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I’ve been helping to organize the Fitness Stage area for the weekend. We’ve been busy getting presenters and setting up times and thinking of ideas for a panel. I had a few other tasks for VegFest which certainly added up with everything else to demand more time from me than usual. Even if I was given the option to have been running more over helping out with VegFest, there is no way I would agree to that arragement. I’ll be demoing dynamic exercises for running on the fitness stage; speaking on a panel on the fitness stage; representing No Meat Athlete at their booth; and hearing and meeting amazIng speakers such as Dr. Michael Klaper and Matt Ruscigno. Click here for how to get tickets!

There’s only one thing that I think I could do to help me get out of this early downtime-slump thing I’m in and that’s to register for a race. With the holiday season coming up, and two cats to care for now, extra spending that hasn’t been planned for is currently minimized so I’ll just have to accept that the yearly downtime has indeed decided to re-enter my life about a month and a half early. And that’s okay! It just means more time to play with these guys!

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So that’s how I’ve been dealing with my downtime-slump-thing. While I certainly do wish I was running more and not losing any of my fitness from the marathon and two 5k pr’s, I know that my time is being put to things that are much better for my mental and physical health. This period of less running will allow me to recharge my batteries and give me more time to focus on my studies, blogging, and other activities that I can volunteer my time toward. That’s what nearly every downtime from running can do for each of us; it just takes a different mindset. I know it’s not easy to switch to that mindset, but if you do, I’m sure, especially when you are out of the running break and back to training, you will look back at your running “slump” and be thankful that you made good use of that extra time.

Do you deal with running slumps often? How do you deal with them? How do you get out of one or do you let it run its course? Let’s talk in the comments!

Marathon Reminiscing

I’m chasing it again. What exactly am I chasing? That’ll be the elusive Boston (Marathon) Qualifying time or simply BQ as marathoners more commonly refer to it as. It’s not an easy time to attain and sure, there are thousands of runners of who can easily obtain a BQ time in their age group, but on the grand scale, that’s such a tiny percent of all runners who attempt the endeavor. Next month’s Portland Marathon will be my fourth marathon and my third real attempt at chasing a BQ time.

Previous marathons

Philadelphia Marathon

2012 was a great year for my running. That summer, I completed my first triathlon and was so ecstatic about this and my fitness that I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon just a few days later. Training for this marathon was a heck of an experience. As I briefly mentioned in a previous post, I read everything I could read to help me train for this marathon. I wasn’t just trying to complete it. I was going to destroy it. And by destroy it, I mean still be beat by hundreds of runners, but at least get a BQ time.

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It was a lofty goal, so I had lofty training expectations. Too lofty. At one point I ran an entire 20 mile training run averaging 7:10 a mile. My slightly wiser self knows that that is way too intense for a training run when my goal average pace was 7:05 or slightly lower. This was also the marathon where I thought by running with a waistpack of at least a few hundred calories I would eat while running would work for me. While I didn’t bonk from glycogen depletion, I did start to feel cramping from dehydration begin around mile 22 which drastically slowed me down to about 8:45 secs/mile for the last couple of miles. I ran a 3:13 and change and while it was nowhere near the 3:05 I needed to qualify for Boston, it fueled a fire in me.

New Jersey Marathon

I went after a BQ time again in April 2014 at the NJ Marathon which took place, of course, at the shore. It was a brutally cold and icy winter of training which led me to nix way too many training runs. Who wants to train in 12 degrees on icy roads and sidewalks? I sure didn’t. I had several great training runs when the weather warmed up a bit, but they weren’t enough. The result of this training was a 3:17 time after 6:50 miles turned into 9 minute miles for the last several miles. I simply ran out of gas as a result of inconsistent training.

Philadelphia Marathon

I ran Philly again in November 2014, but as I was just beginning my first full time job my training was practically nonexistent. I went into this marathon not worrying at all about the end time. I ran with Val’s uncle for almost the entire time and thoroughly appreciated just having the health and fitness to run 26.2 miles. 

Present day

Fast forward to today where I’m currently training for the Portland Marathon. I’ve only heard great things about this marathon so I’m very excited for October 4th to come around. I’m also semi-nervous because as I mentioned, I’ll be chasing a BQ again.

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I’m at this track at least once a week for various workouts. I love mile repeats on the track! But really..I do.

What’s great is that I started marathon training with my base fitness already built. Thanks to training for and completing a 12 hour ultra (got in just over 64 miles) back in late July, my fitness is where it needs to be for a marathon. So since early August, all I’ve been trying to do is get speed into my legs and it’s been going very well. Some of these runs have consisted of 20 milers with the last several miles nearing goal pace, tempo runs, mile repeats, and track workouts such as today’s 10 x 200 meters.

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I will be racing in these Asics Gel – DS Racer 10 speed demons on race day! And I’ve been eating a lot of these kind of meals to help me recover from hard runs (nondairy yogurt with added protein, chia seeds, and banana(s)..Great for recovery! Oatmeal is also a popular go-to lately with similar fixin’s. 

Overall, I’m very satisfied with where my training is right now. I completed my last long run this past weekend which I actually broke up into two back-to-back 20 mile runs. I’m recovering well and feel strong so I will keep my half marathon time trial on the schedule for this Saturday which will be three weeks before marathon weekend. It will be a great fitness test and also a good confidence booster as I near 1.5 – 2 weeks of tapering (the period before competition performance where, generally, volume is reduced, but intensity remains) before the race. I’ll keep you updated as to how things are coming along in another week or so. I know you’ll all be dyingg to know!

Using Fat as Fuel

Lately, the hungrier I am in the morning, the more ready I am to get out for my run. Does that sound crazy? You didn’t misread it. I’ll reiterate: my morning hunger pangs are now a signal, not to take out the pot and milk for some oatmeal, but to lace up my shoes for a run. The reason for this is that I have been enhancing my body’s ability to utilize fat to fuel my running instead of glycogen (Note: Glycogen is stored glucose and glucose is produced from carbohydrates. All three are different, but they are often used somewhat interchangeably. In this post, I may use all three terms.).

Not my picture. Not positive on the accuracy, but you get the idea!

Why am I running when hungry or rather, why am I running before eating anything? Allow me to share…

There are two sources that runners tap into for running: fats and glycogen (built up from the macronutrient carbohydrates). Throughout the large majority of my years running, I have been using glycogen as the source to get me through my runs. When I was a sprinter in high school, I had no choice; the body doesn’t have the ability to burn fat for such high-intensity efforts so it will always be using glycogen as fuel in these cases. When I transitioned to 5k and 10k running, I also was using glycogen as fuel although this is when I could have began to train my body to use fat as fuel had I even known the body had two options.

Since I thought carbs were the only nutrient that what gave the body so much energy to use, I was an easy target for GU products. It didn’t take too long for me to get used to the texture of the energy gel so before long, I was buying GU gels quite regularly. I couldn’t even tell you that I needed the extra boost or if I even consciously thought about needing the energy. I really think I just had no idea that I could be using already stored up glycogen or fat to get through my 5-6 mile runs. But of course, if you give a body sugar, it will crave more sugar. And when gel companies put flavors such as Peanut Butter, Chocolate Outrage, Espresso Love, Strawberry Banana, and Vanilla on the shelves, it’s too tempting to feed the habit..at least for me.

For all the reading I did in preparation for my first marathon, I’m surprised and disappointed I didn’t read about fat as fuel. I mean, I consumed articles and YouTube videos daily so I could nail a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time in my first marathon (didn’t happen). I trained like an animal. I ate like an animal. And I wanted to run and eat like an animal, at least a small one. Given that I had just just read Eat & Run and started practicing Scott Jurek’s advice of learning to eat while running, I thought I had unlocked the key to avoiding “the wall” which is caused by bonking, which is in turn caused by a depletion of glycogen that causes to body to slowly shut down or in computer terms, to hibernate.

I’m not a medical professional or a scientist, but from reading a lot of material out there, I can confidently state that the body has enough glycogen (stored up glucose) to fuel a runner for about 2 hours of activity give or take 30 minutes depending on the individual’s health and diet and the intensity level of the run. For the marathon, I knew this meant feeling depleted of energy around mile 18 so I thought I could avoid bonking run by running with an Amphipod waist pack filled with high glycemic, sugary foods such as orange slices, pretzels, dates, and even a Clif bar that I would consume at designated times. Was I right? I suppose, although I was nowhere near goal pace. I didn’t bonk. Instead, around mile 22 I started to feel the beginning calf twinges of possible cramping because I was not hydrating properly. For all of this work though, I could have been using fat as fuel and not worry about trying to run 7 minute miles with nearly 5 pounds bouncing around my waist.

The straw that really broke the camel’s back though occurred this past July at my ultra. The race was a 12 hour run around a nearly 11 mile loop course which I had a blast running. This isn’t a race review so I’ll spare you the details. What I will tell you though is what I relied on for energy: energy gels (wayyy too many of them), banana quarters, and Pringles for sodium (this was the first time I’ve had Pringles potato chips in well over 5 years and boy oh boy did I down those chips–You know how it is: Once you pop…). Back to those gels, though. I must have had at least 10 gels that I can remember. These high sugar gels and other sugary foods I snacked on occasionally, did not bode well for my stomach after the race. I had the worst GI issues I’ve ever experienced in my life and I blacked out on the ride back, likely from a serious crashing of my system which the high sugar overload certainly didn’t help.

Since that day, I decided to start training my body to better utilize fat as fuel. How? By doing just what I described in the beginning of this post. And by slightly increasing the fat in my diet (No..not a low-carb, high-fat diet. I practically live on potatoes and bananas for crying out loud!). By running all of my runs, especially the long and/or aerobic ones, in the morning before eating anything, my body is forced to tap into fats to keep it going. When training for July’s ultra, I would take in a gel after 90 minutes of running like clockwork. Now, I can run 2 1/2 hours – 3 hours without taking in any food, solely water with an electrolyte tablet. Even for my track workouts, I know I have enough glycogen to get me through the workout without the need of any gels. I know this ability is going to greatly help me during future ultramarathons and I’m quite certain, and hopeful, that it will assist me in next month’s marathon as well.

Wrap-up note: When you rely on sugar, your body wants it more. And more. And more. For long-distance running, the evidence shows this just isn’t the best way to fuel. There are so many more calories from fat available for endurance runners and athletes so why not tap into them? This is what I am trying out now. I’ll let you know in October post-marathon how I fared from using this method.

How do you fuel? Carbs or fats? What types of foods? Let’s talk in the comments!

Some YouTube videos that discuss fat as fuel:

Some helpful references:

http://www.runnersworld.com/sweat-science/adapting-to-burn-fat-as-fuel

http://www.nomeatathlete.com/burning-fat-for-fuel/