Saturday, December 11, 2010

Training During the Holidays

How do you find the time and motivation to train during the holidays? You know what I for gifts, wrapping gifts, making cookies, decorating trees, planning get togethers with family and friends. The list goes on and on!

It's the off season and coupled with that there's always a plethora of baked goods and snacks galore at work, home, etc. It's so easy to gain a few pounds unless you're committed to training and eating smart throughout the debauchery that so often characterizes the holiday season.

It's more difficult to plan workouts during this time of the year but it's important to still set goals.  You can set goals yet still remain flexible.  For example if it snows too much to run on your scheduled day try running inside instead of doing a core workout so that you're still getting some activity.  Another good option is to do double or triple workouts on the days when you have plenty of time.  Then if you miss a workout or two you're still in good shape.

Don't be discouraged.  Many of us with work and families struggle at this time of the year to stay in shape. With the short days, cold and snowy weather and the holidays it can be overwhelming trying to get out there. Stay committed and you'll get through it. Oh yes and don't forget the more cookies you eat, the more miles you need to run!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stomp the Grapes 1/2 Marathon Report

I was very excited to run the Stomp the Grapes Half Marathon this year with my boyfriend and friends. It sounded like the perfect fall race...start at Maize Valley Winery (a cutle little winery in Hartville) and end with a killer after party with free wine and food. What's not to love about that? Unfortunately it wasn't as great of an experience as I had hoped it would be. My boyfriend and friends will most definitely agree.

The start wasn't all that bad. We got there and could tell it was a good turn out of people as we had to park out a little ways from the winery in a field. No biggie...except that it was very cold out. A blustery 30 degree November day with winds. So we got there, got our numbers and goodies and bolted back to the car to get ready. Fortunately we had brought extra hats, warmer clothes, etc as we needed them.

The race started out pretty fun as I had decided to just fun run it with friends. So the first mile was a very slow-going and fun mile of running close to my friends. My sweetie Steve had decided to go for the PR that day so he was way ahead.

The next 4 miles or so were pretty mellow. Running at about an 8:30 pace with friends and then around mile 6 it was time to venture out solo and the race continued to get more difficult with hills, winds, cold, and I just wasn't really feeling it out there running on my own - especially since I had been in the hospital and off training two weeks before. But I gutted it out and finished in just over 2 hours. Not a great performance but another 1/2 marathon in the books.

After the race is where I have most of my issues with the race setup. You see the start and finish were in different spots. Runners were to finish and get on a bus to head back to the winery. So at the finish only water was available - no food. And it was bitter cold.  Some runners had to wait a full hour outside in the cold to return to the winery. Not cool. Plus when you get back to the winery you have to go outside in the cold again to get food and drinks and/or watch the awards. The best part of after the race was hanging out with my sweetie and getting warm.

So in sum, the race itself could be improved by better logistics and planning - either moving the finish to where the start was or having the finish better equipped with food, mylar blankets, etc. This would have made a big difference.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cross-train Workouts for Increased Results & Better Health

Human beings are creatures of habit. We thrive on routine. We find something we like such as running, cycling, swimming or yoga and we stick with it.  For a number of years all I did was run. I ran 5-7 days a week and did nothing else. I was frequently injured and never really sculpted my abs or arms. Sure I was skinny but was I healthy? Probably not.

Today I still run more than anything but I train for multi-sport events and also make sure to integrate core workouts including vinyassa yoga, pilates, kettlebell and weights into my weekly routine.  When life gets crazy I can always squeeze in a quick 30-60 min core workout at home or a quick run.  So can you.  Since I have become a multi-sport athlete I have noticed a couple of things improve. First, I am injured far less than when I was running alone. Second, my body composition has changed such that I have more muscle mass and definition. And lastly, I just feel better. I don't have the burn-out that I used to feel with focusing on running alone.

I encourage you to cross-train to enjoy the same benefits I have realized. I promise you will not lose effectiveness at your sport of choice but rather increase your overall fitness level and sport of choice as well! You can start this week by adding one different work-out to your routine. Do that once a week and you'll be on your way to a better, healthier you!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Triathlon Training in the "Off" Season

With the arrival of winter looming for those of us in the northern states and countries we are faced with the reality that triathlon season (and to some degree running season) is shut down for the winter and some of the spring. What is a triathlete to do during the "off" season to maintain or even increase their fitness when they are relegated to the indoors?

Even if races are not on the agenda until next season, I think it is still critical to set goals for ourselves and have a plan we can work from. From everything I have learned, the "off" season should be less intense than racing season, which makes sense. Our bodies need time to rebuild. Yet we still need to train and schedule in key workouts to maintain or increase our fitness levels.

Below is my plan for keeping my tri fitness up during this "off season". Feel free to use my plan as a model or to create your own customized plan for success in the next racing season.

My Overall Goal: To start off the running season in March with a strong impact and to enter triathlon season (May-Sept) rejuvinated and ready to work hard to win.

Sport Specific Goals: 

Swim: swimming efficiently requires a lot of technique. I plan to use this winter to work on technique for different strokes, work on speed and work on distance. My goal is to swim twice a week at least with one workout dedicated to technique and speed and the other a freestyle distance swim aimed at keeping my endurance up to at least 1.2 miles of swimming per session for a total of at least 2-3 miles of swimming per week.

Bike: biking is my weakest sport but I have fallen in love with it. I know I will have to work hard to maintain a good base for the spring biking season. I plan to ride the bike at least three times a week with a combination of spinning classes for speed and technique and using a trainer to log some miles on my racing bike. My goal is to get in at least 40-50 miles on the bike each week.

Run: because running is my sport du jour I will always pay a lot of attention to developing this sport. My plan for the winter is to focus on key running workouts that will have a quick payoff in the spring. My goal is to run three to four days a week and use the following key workouts: a speed day that can be done on treadmill or track as repeats (faster than 5k race pace); a tempo day that focuses in on a 5 to 10k race pace; a longer run day to keep the base mileage up to at least 8-10 miles all winter (I try as much as possible to do these outside when weather permits. The goal is not speed); and finally if I do a fourth run it is a freestyle run or recovery run after a hard day. My goal mileage for the "off" season is 20-30 miles per week.

Core: because core is so important to a triathlete's performance, I am committed to doing core workouts at least twice a week for an hour each. These workouts for me consist of pilates, hot yoga, kettlebell and weight training. The added benefit of core is strength and better body composition. 

Rest: I will rest at least one day a week from all activity - sometimes maybe even two!

So there you have "off-season" plan. I wish all of you a happy and healthy "off" season. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Run a Marathon or 1/2 Marathon

There are many reasons to run in general. I could list at least a hundred reasons and benefits from the top of my head right now. That's not the point of this post. The point of this post is to explain why you should consider running a half or full marathon. These longer distances pose different challenges and benefits that will allow you to develop as a distance runner in ways you cannot at shorter distances such as 5 or 10k.

1) The accomplishment:  Probably the best feeling of my life was finishing a marathon. It is an emotional experience and accomplishment like no other.

2) The healthy lifestyle: It's hard to be a marathoner or 1/2 marathoner and not be conscious of how you take care of yourself. Most distance runners are healthy people. It is good for you physically (heart, lungs, better immune system) and emotionally.

3) Fight stress: Ever had a bad day and went out for a run after? It's like medicine. As your feet hit the ground you can literally feel your stress leaving your body. Sometimes you'll experience what people call the "runner's high". It's a great feeling being out there and letting go.

4) Time for yourself: We're always so busy with work and family and sometimes we forget to take time for ourselves. Running can be that time for you. Your hour a day to connect with your body and mind and do something for you.

5) Build yourself up: As you run longer distances and finish races that include 1/2 and full marathons, you will feel the confidence to keep going - both in your running and in other things in your life. Running builds you up and gives you courage and self-esteem.

6) Weight loss or maintenance: For those looking to lose weight or even just maintain a healthy weight, running long distance is a great way to accomplish that. You can also enjoy eating a balanced diet and splurging on things you love knowing that you have that "long run" coming up.

7) Enjoy the outdoors: Distance running is a sport meant to be enjoyed outdoors. As you're planning your longer runs you can explore new places and you can travel to races all over the world and experience new things and scenery. You can even just discover things you don't notice while in a car.

8) Add structure to your life: Many people ask me how I am able to work, take care of my daughter and train so diligently. The answer is scheduling. An endurance athlete has to plan things. When you train for long distance races, you will become better at scheduling in your key workouts. Remember to focus every week on one day of speed (faster than goal race pace), one day of long, slow distance and one day of tempo (race pace) in addition to your everyday mileage.

9) Enjoy the Experience: As a runner you will meet new people, see new places, compete with yourself in new races, rerun old races, create experiences that you may otherwise not have. Most of my closest friends today are runners. They know how to work hard and play hard and enjoy the experience.

10) Charity: Although not a primary motivator for all, it is certainly respectable to run a long distance race such as a marathon for charity or in memory of someone you love, lost or respect. There are many teams that will train people to participate in events. Some of those teams include Livestrong, Team in Training, etc.

Whatever your motivation, I strongly encourage you to get out there and train and race. Run a 1/2 marathon or a marathon. You can do it and you will be able to look back and remember how good you felt about yourself!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall Running Know-How

It's that time of the year again in Northeast Ohio. We call it fall. It's a time of beautiful colors, crisp and cooler air, shorter days and tasty treats. However it is also a time of more potential hazards for those of us who are active.

Please be careful and comfortable out there by following these fall running suggestions:

• Be aware of the time. If you run after work then you've noticed the days grow shorter. Running in the dusk or dark can be dangerous so make sure you have reflective clothing and/or a headlamp with you to make sure you're visible to cars, cyclists and others.

• Monitor the weather. If you are running in the rain you should be alert to your surroundings as the wet fall leaves have a tendency to be slippery.

• Dress appropriately. Fall is a weird time for weather. Some days have warm mornings or evenings and others are very cold. Go outside before you run and feel the temperature so you can dress for the actual conditions. Remember you can always remove an extra layer.

• Invest in running gloves and a colder weather hat or headband to keep your hands and ears warm on those chilly fall days. Another great item to consider is a vest to keep your core warm on colder days.

• Although the temperatures are cooler you still need to be hydrated - especially on longer runs. Make sure you are drinking water and sports drinks and fueling as needed for your specific runs.

Follow these suggestions and you should have an enjoyable fall season of running. Now go get out there!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Akron RoadRunner 1/2 Marathon Race Report

First, let me just say what a fantastic job the city of Akron does with the RoadRunner Marathon! It is a very well-organized race! Kudos to the race director, sponsor, volunteers, the locals who come out to cheer the runners on and all the runners who show up on race day! It is a fun and challenging event with a half marathon and marathon course that draws the best local runners around to run solo or as a 5-person relay team.

I ran the half marathon again for the second consecutive year.  I had the joy of running it with my sweetheart Steve this year. He made it a very special weekend for me. Thanks babe.

Friday I hit the expo with a friend at lunch. We had fun looking at all the running goodies and goofing off. I went again after work with my guy because he needed to get some calve sleeves.  After that we met up with friends for dinner at Crave. After dinner we made the trek back to Youngstown and turned in around 10:30...only to be up at 4:30. Oh yes, the life of a runner - we keep some interesting hours! But once you hit the start line it is all worth the sacrifice and extra effort!

On race morning we headed to downtown Akron. Fortunately for us my office is nearby so we got ready there and jogged down to the start a few blocks away. It was so exciting getting lined up with all the other runners and the energy was good as we listened to the national anthem and waited for our cue to run.

The start of the race was fast for me as usual. I tend to run my first mile or two fast (sometimes too fast)!  I guess this is the sprinter in me since I was a track runner years ago. It was a lot of fun running over the newly paved Y-Bridge and my guy was close to me the first mile so that was cool. He would of course get ahead of me soon after with those fast legs!

My goal for the race was 1:40 or better but I didn't quite make it. I had a pretty good first half except that I had to stop and use the bathroom around mile 4 or 5 so that set me back a few minutes. After mile seven I kindof bonked. I'm not sure why. I just wasn't feeling it so I know I slowed down for a little while only to pick back up around mile nine. Mile 11.5 to the finish is intense with a nice 5% hill grade. Oh yah, feels good on the already tired legs. I am just happy I didn't stop and walk any of it as many people were and I don't blame them!  I had a good kick at the end and did my best to sprint into the stadium to my finish time of 1:46:34 (the 1:47+ you see in pic was the clock time not chip time).

My guy almost hit his PR. He ran a 1:34 so he had to wait for me for a little bit. It was so great hugging him after the race and having our picture taken together. My bestie ran a :30 PR to finish around 1:58. I am glad they both did well and I am okay with my time although it was not a PR.

After we ate some food and got our medals, we headed back to my office to get cleaned up and relax for a little while. I think we were all exhausted and ready for a nap!  It was a great day and we all had fun "running the bird"! Looking forward to running it again in 2011 - hopefully with a better time!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Portage Lakes Triathlon Was a Success!

Well I made it through my second official triathlon successfuly! And it was so much fun! I absolutely love everything about this sport! My performance was much better than at Milton Man. I finished in 1:30:14, a time worthy of third in my age group. Not bad for a newbie I suppose!

The race was well organized and well attended. I enjoyed the course. My only complaint is that the water was chilly to swim in...but on September 19 in Akron, Ohio that is to be expected. Next year I will likely wear a wetsuit to this race!

I arrived at Portage Lakes State Park about an hour early and had plenty of time to pick up my packet, timing chip and set up my bike and transition kits.

I actually felt surprisingly calm considering it was race day --and a triathlon race at that. I'm sure my boyfriend had something to do with that as he was very helpful in getting me ready and keeping me relaxed.

As I said, the water was cold but when the race started I soon forgot about the temperature and tried to focus on finishing the 1/2 mile swim. There were a lot of people and so I wanted to pay close attention so I didn't get kicked. My time was a couple of minutes slower than at Milton Man. I finished in 18+ minutes whereas at Milton Man I was around 16:30. Some people said that the swim course at Portage Lakes is longer than it should be so that could explain my lackluster time on the swim.

The first transition went pretty smooth as I ran to get to my bike. I could have been a little faster and hope to improve on these transitions as I gain more experience racing next season.  The bike portion of the race was only 12 miles but it was a challenging, hilly course! I was happy with my 42-minute time considering and really had fun getting the bike up to speeds of almost 40mph on some of the downhills!

The second transition I was slow and lazy. I sat down and took a few minutes getting ready for the run, which was inefficient.  But once I got going...I got going! I had a blast on the 5k run! Because running is my main sport, I usually feel really good here even after the bike. My first mile was 7:04! Finished in 23:27 so not my best effort but I was okay with it.  I felt great at the end and had a nice sprint going on so I think I could have kept going for a while!

After the race I felt good. I had some food and water and was really looking forward to that hot shower so I could get the lake smell off of me! It was a great race and I will do it again next year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nutrition Advice for Athletes

If you're a veteran endurance athlete then you are most likely aware of how important nutrition is to overall health as well as peak performance in your athletics. Still we can all use a refresher!

For those of you who are new to running, triathlons or other endurance sports, read up!

1. Eat or drink protein at every meal - you'll be more full and the extra protein will help replenish your muscles after a long workout.

2. Choose whole grains - It's better for your overall health and also the whole grains take longer to digest so your body absorbs more nutrients contributing to more energy for your workouts.

3. Choose foods with the least amount of ingredients (whole foods are always healthier than precooked or prepackaged meals).

4. Eat lean meats (lots of seafood for the high amount of Omega-3's, chicken, turkey, lean beef).

5. Avoid cereals packed with excess sugar. Instead try healthier options like Kashi and Nature's Path.

6. Lots of fruits and veggies! At least 5-6 servings a day (mixed variety is best).

7. For sessions longer than 60 minutes - refuel with gatorade or energy gels such as GU or Cliff Shots as needed. After the workout, eat some healthy carbs (for example: carrots, an apple, a banana, G2, wheat toast with nutella) within 30 minutes of the session for maximum recovery). You also will want to have some protein to recover from tougher workouts. Chocolate milk is an ideal recovery drink since it has both protein and carbs!

8. Drink lots of water! On longer runs exceeding 10 or 12 miles it is ideal to bring along at least a small bottle.

9. Avoid fried foods or new foods before races and key workouts as you risk poor performance due to GI issues.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yoga for Endurance Athletes

I used to think yoga was pointless. It's easy, girly, and boring...right? Wrong! Yoga is much more difficult than some people think! And the the benefits received from yoga extend well beyond physical benefits.

I have been doing pilates training for a while now, focusing on stengthening my core so that I can become a stronger, faster runner and triathlete. And while there are some shared poses in pilates and yoga they are not alike. I didn't realize how much yoga could challenge me and relieve me of my aches and pains. I now respect yoga. It is a terrific way of helping our bodies strengthen and lengthen muscles and to relax and relieve mental and physical tension that we inflict on ourselves as endurance athletes. 

Many athletes swear by yoga for preventing injuries (especially runners). There are numerous poses and variations that you can try to strengthen and relieve your hips, hamstrings, thighs, calves and knees. Don't be afraid to go to a yoga class in your gym or a nearby yoga studio. There will be people at all levels there. You can also do yoga in the comfort of your home by watching a DVD or online video (there are many free videos online at YouTube).

I am going to list the poses that I use in my own practice below. I am not going to provide lengthy explanations or images but you can easily look these up online and may already be familiar with some of the popular poses.

Best for stretching out muscles:
  • Downward Dog
  • Triangle
  • Pigeon Pose (and double pigeon)
  • Frog
  • Bound Angle
  • Half Lord of the Fish Twist
  • Wall Dog
  • Child's Pose
Best for stengthening muscles:
  • Warrior I
  • Tree
  • Chair Pose
  • Runners Lunge
  • Crescent Lunge and Crescent with Prayer Twist
There are many other poses you can try. The point is to do it. Most endurance athletes should practice yoga at least once each week for an hour. You can fit that into your schedule wherever or however it makes sense (an hour class or 10 minutes a day after your workouts). You will become a more relaxed, balanced athlete from applying yoga to your training. And if you're not an endurance athlete, you still will benefit your mind and body by practicing yoga. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flexible Training

No matter what kind of event or goal you're training for, it is important to remain flexible. Not every run or workout goes as planned. A number of things can have an impact on your plans: weather, work, unexpected conflicts or most importantly your own body's alarm! Sometimes you get out there and just feel like something is off. That's okay. We all have these days. Learning to accept them for what they are and moving on is important to our well-being.

Case in point, this evening I went trail running at West Branch (mountain bike trails) with my best friend Chrissy and her awesome dog Dash. We had a great night but our workout didn't go quite as we had planned. Both of us had some aches and pains, Dash was more wild than usual and we ended up cutting our run a little short because of it. I had already done 16 miles on my road bike this morning as well as 30 minutes of core so I figured a 5k trail run was enough. It was. We listened to our bodies, which is an important thing for endurance athletes. Not listening can lead to overtraining and ultimately injuries, which none of us wants to deal with.

So if you have an off day in your training, just accept it as that and you'll be back to good in a day or two or else soon. Listen to your body's inner alarm and don't push yourself to the point of injury. Being flexible in your training may help you to avoid injuries and burn-out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where Are You Going?

As summer comes to a close and fall gently knocks at your doorstep, have you asked yourself where you are going?

Maybe you're getting ready for a fall marathon or marathons or your last outdoor triathlon of the season...and that's awesome! But what comes next? What's your plan for the fall and winter? Do you hibernate? Or will you adapt your training to the changing weather conditions and push on racing through the cold, snowy days and forging through to the spring sprints or marathons?

This will be my second year of serious year-round training. No longer do I "take it easy in the winter". Not that there is anything wrong with that approach, it's just that for me I have no desire to stop or lose endurance, which we all know takes time to build.

So I'm curious. Where are you going? What is your plan for the colder months? How will you stay in shape and if you're an endurance athlete, how will you maintain your fitness especially through the laborious months of Jan-March?