Strong Abs, Better Running

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Some people hate doing abdominal workouts – I love them! To me, ab workouts are almost as addicting as running. Although many of you may be shocked at my love for belly burn, as a runner, this view is not uncommon.

Strong abdominals go hand-in-hand with strong running. Abdominal muscles support the torso and stabilize the pelvis while you run. Runners with weak abs tend to tire quickly. Also, they tend to have a less stable pelvis which can lead to lower back pain and hamstring injuries. Runners with strong abs tend to have better posture, a more stable gait, and have fewer lower back problems. Furthermore, the stronger your abs are and the more they can endure, the better you will run.

On the flipside, running also help strengthen and flatten your abs. Think about it, have you ever seen an experienced runner with a large midsection? Running burns more calories/fat, including that which is stored in the belly. Plus, to keep our balance while running, our ab muscles must stay contracted – in a constant state of flexing.

However, don’t rely on running alone for flat abs. Women Fitness reports that running works your hip flexors and your lower back more than your abs. If you don’t stretch these areas, you could develop an imbalance known as excessive anterior pelvic tilt – a fancy way of saying runner’s pouch, which makes your stomach protrude and look much bigger than it is.

Obviously, not all runners will have six-pack abs. Besides, it is harder for women to achieve the six-pack goal than men because we have more body fat. Still, female runners who strengthen their abs (and hence, their core) can expect to see improvement in running, not to mention a tighter tummy.

No need to rely on crunches alone for your ab routine. Try to incorporate a mix of ab exercises that work all abdominals – obliques, upper, lower, etc. For a great ab workout sans the typical crunch, try Shape magazine’s 4-Week Ab Makeover, a workout that utilizes pilates to build ab muscles.

Even if you’ve hated ab workouts in the past, I encourage you to give them another try, especially if you’re a runner. You may not love them at first, but when you start seeing results – look out!

Happy Running!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Carb-Loading for Runners


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When I was training for my first Half Marathon, I remember loading up on pasta, bagels, and breads a few days before the race. I ended up gaining a few pounds and looking awfully chubby and pasty – so NOT how a distance runner should look! But this practice of carb-loading before my race helped me run 2+ hours and still have energy to burn in the after party.

What is carb-loading?

Runners and endurance athletes have embraced the practice of carb-loading for years. Carb-loading involves maximizing your intake of carbohydrates in order to sustain long-term, intense physical activity, such as a triathlon, marathon, or century ride. But…

Why do we need all of those carbs?

Good question! High-intensity sports, like marathon running, take a significant amount of energy to perform. The energy that we need comes from the food we eat in the form of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Our bodies need all three of these nutrients, but carbs (which our bodies turn into sugar) are our body’s main source of energy and what sustains us the longest during exercise. Hence, carb-loading may help you maximize energy storage and boost your athletic performance.

When should I load up on carbs?

Before you start jumping for joy thinking you can eat every carb under the sun, STOP and read this. Carb-loading isn’t necessary for recreational sports or activities, or even running a 10K! For runners, carb-loading is usually recommended a few days to several hours before a run that will last 90 minutes or more.

How do I carb-load my diet before a big race?

Mayo Clinic explains that traditional carb-loading is done in a two-step process the week before a high-endurance activity.

STEP 1: A week before your event, reduce your carb intake to 50 to 55 percent of your total calories. Keep in mind, 1g of carb equals 4 calories. Therefore, in a 2,000 calorie/day diet, you’ll want to eat no more than 275g of carbs per day. During this time, increase your protein and fat intake to compensate for the calories lost in reducing your carbs. Continue training as normal in order to deplete your carb stores and get your body ready for the Step 2 – carb-loading!

STEP 2: Three to four days before your event, increase your carb intake to 70 percent of your total calories, or 4.5g of carbs per pound of body weight (your weight in pounds x 4.5 = number of grams of carbs). Decrease your intake of fatty foods and scale back on training to save your carb/energy stores for the big day.

What carbs should I eat?

Back in the day, all carbohydrates were given the same importance. Endurance athletes would stock up on any and every carb they could find before a big race or sporting event. Now, after years of research, we know that not all carbs are created equal.

According to Runner’s World, before a long race, you want to take in carbs such as whole grains and fruits. These will give you slow-burning energy and help you avoid rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. During your long training runs or your actual race, you’ll want fast-acting carbs that will convert immediately into glucose/sugar energy. Here’s where bagels, sports gels and drinks, and even candy come in handy.

What about carb intake after my event?

As I’ve mentioned before, remember to eat within an hour of your event to replenish your energy stores. You’ll want to eat a mix of carbs and protein, ie. whole wheat bagels/bread, bananas, protein bar, etc. Keep in mind, you’ll want to reduce your post-event carb intake back to normal levels, about 50-60 percent of your calorie intake.

What are the risks of carb-loading?

1) Weight Gain: On this plan and many carb-loading plans, runners/athletes will gain weight, maybe 2-3 pounds – just as I did. But don’t worry, it’s just water weight and will easily be lost during your high-intensity workout, as long as you don’t continue carb-loading post-race!

2) Digestion Issues: Limit the high-fiber carbs 1-2 days before your event to reduce gas, cramping, and overall digestive discomfort.

3) Blood Sugar Changes: Carb-loading can rapidly change your blood sugar levels. If you’ve had problems with your blood sugar in the past, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before indulging in the carbs.

Now, go forth and be smart about your carbs!

Happy running everyone!

What the Fartlek? How to Run Faster

Fast runner

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With a few months of running under your belt, you may be looking for a way to improve your speed, which is a combination of strength and endurance. To do this, Runner’s World recommends the following three workouts that have been proven to help runners increase endurance and strength, not to mention overall speed. They can be done throughout your normal running week and can be tailored to fit any running level.

LONG RUNS: You may have heard experienced runners talk about their “long runs” for the week. This is the day that runners run their most mileage. Long runs are different for each runner based on how seasoned they are. If you typically run 3-4 miles a day, your long run may be 6-8 miles. For others who only run a couple miles a day, a long run may be considered 4 miles. No matter now many miles you log in your long run, these once-a-week long runs can help you build major endurance. Please note – when adding more mileage to your weekly runs, keep in mind the 10% rule of running – a runner should add no more than 10% mileage to his/her weekly workouts. So if you normally run 10 miles total in a week, you would run 11 miles the next, etc.

HILLS: Many runners hate hills because they slow us down. Others are scared of hills because they can be very challenging to tackle. But, if you practice on hills you can learn to approach them the right way, which may help you overcome your anxiety. Aside from preparing you to run future hills, running hills can help improve your overall strength and endurance. Believe me, after running a few hills, running on a non-graded surface will make it seem like you’re flying! So, how do you approach a hill? For any hill, you want to avoid being completely upright and rigid in your approach. Instead, you’ll want to lean forward slightly, about 5 inches or so. As for pace, for small to medium hills, increase your speed slightly as you run up and over the hill. Use the downhill run for your recovery. For large hills, cut back on your pace a little – you’ll need to reserve your energy just to reach the top! Try adding a few small hills into your workouts each week. No hills near you? Run the stairs at a local park or school football field.

FARTLEK: Fartlek is a strange-sounding word that’s hard to say without laughing. But the word simply means “speed play” in Swedish. The premise behind a Fartlek workout is to build strength and endurance by alternating a slower, more comfortable pace with a faster, more challenging speed for a set amount of time. It may sound complicated, but all you really need to do is alternate running at your normal pace with a 1-2 minute faster run, and then repeat. The faster run should not be an all-our sprint, but rather 10-25 percent faster than your typical pace. After your fast interval, use your comfortable pace as a recovery period until you’re ready to start your next fast run. Your fast run can range from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, or whatever you’re comfortable with. You don’t need to time yourself either. I do Fartlek runs once a week using trees/mailboxes as my interval markers.

Even if you’re not looking to take your performance beyond your current level, long runs, hills, and Fartleks can add variety to your weekly routines and help keep your runs fun and fresh!

Happy Running!

Runner’s Rut: Strategies To Keep Running Fresh and Fun

Female runner

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Runner’s rut – we all go through it at some point. The dreaded rut means different things to different runners. For many, runner’s rut signifies that they’ve reached a training or performance plateau. After months of running, they just can’t seem to get over the hump and improve. But for me, runner’s rut means that running loses its luster and seems more like a chore than a treat.

Gasp! Yes, that’s right. Although I love running, I have to admit that running can get monotonous. Think about it, who wouldn’t get bored doing the same workout every day? And I don’t just mean running on the treadmill – that’s a whole other boredom story that I’ll save for another time.

If you’ve ever experienced runner’s rut, rest assured that there are some easy ways to snap out of it. To break through this monotony and keep running fun and fresh, you just need to change it up a bit. Try the following strategies – one is bound to stick and help you find your runner’s high again.

Run with a Friend – Even if you’re typically a lone wolf runner like me, running with partner or in a group can motivate us to push a little harder or even help us see running from a different perspective. At the very least, having someone to talk to helps the time go by faster!

Try a Different Route – Sometimes, all you need is a change in scenery to breath life back into your running routine. If you always run on the road, try a trail. If you always run in the city, try running along the lakeshore, etc.

Change Your Routine – We all get comfortable with our running routine. Heck, I ran the same 5 miles every day for months! Even if you can’t add more miles to your workout, try interval runs or speed training to add some pizzazz to your workout.

Get Some New Tunes – If you know exactly what song you will end up on when you hit mile 3, it’s time to change your tunes!

Set a Goal – It’s easy to get motivated when you have something to look forward to, like a goal of breaking your 5-mile record or running a local 10K. Better yet, run for a cause and channel your extra motivation to help others!

Sport a New Outfit – OK, I just had to throw that in there. It may be pathetic, but I am motivated by cute running clothes. If I have on a new running shirt or shorts, somehow I feel stronger and sexier. What can I say, I am a runner, but I’m also a girl!

Take a Break – Give running a rest for a week and try something new. Go for a walk, try swimming, or organize a hike. Then, after a week, go back to running, hopefully feeling fully recharged!

How do you break through a running or workout rut?

Happy running everyone!

The Golden Hour of Running

Morning Runner

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“I run in the morning, before my brain tells me not to.” – anonymous

I am a morning person and, therefore, running comes easier to me in the morning. I want to clarify that I’m not one of those extra happy people in the morning, who just can’t wait to say hello to the world. I’ve actually been a cranky morning person my whole life – just ask my parents. And, like most people, I do find it hard to get out of bed on some mornings. But if there’s one thing that makes me happy, or at least not grumpy, in the morning, it’s knowing that my morning run is just minutes away. I’m not saying that running in the morning is right for everyone, but it works for me – for a number of reasons:

Fewer Distractions – I get up very early, sometimes before sunrise, just so I can make it out and back before my children and husband wake up. This is my “golden hour”. I find that I’m less distracted with family and house things in the morning, which means I’m more likely to stick to my running schedule. Getting my run out of the way first thing in the AM also means I’m less likely to talk myself out of running or make an excuse not to run.

Less Noise – If I can get out the door by 6:15 AM, this usually means I’m rewarded with a near barren road – with few cars and even fewer people. I also tend to avoid the noisy construction or lawn maintenance workers early in the morning, which means more peace and quiet – just what I want on my run!

Feel energized – Running in the morning makes me feel empowered for the rest of the day. It really produces a natural energy, a natural motivation, and even a natural mood booster. When I run in the morning, I feel like I can accomplish anything.

No matter what time of day you run, the key to make it convenient so that you’re more likely to stick with your workouts.

When is your “golden hour” for running or working out?

Happy running!

Yoga for Runners

yoga tree pose

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Although running is my main source of cardiovascular exercise, I also try to cross-train by practicing yoga one day a week. A runner cross training with yoga might sound like an odd practice, but the two exercises are actually quite complementary. But before I discuss the benefits of yoga for runners, let me first explain the benefits and challenges of running.

Benefits of Running – Running is an awesome exercise for weight loss because it burns major calories. It also provides the cardio exercise that your heart needs to stay healthy. Running also is considered a weight-bearing exercise, building muscles in your legs, glutes, arms, and back. Not to mention, running is very inexpensive, all you need is a pair of good running shoes and a path or street.

Challenges of Running– The downside to this is that running works the same muscle groups each time you run. So, unless you cross train, you don’t get much of a workout for these “off” muscles. This constant pounding with no change in exercise strategy may also make you more prone to injuries.

That is where yoga comes in.

Benefits of Yoga for Runners

  • Learn Better Breathing – Both exercises depend on very smooth and controlled breathing. Runners who can improve their VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen they consume during exercise) can ultimately improve their running performance. Yoga, when practiced correctly, also can help you increase your VO2 levels. So, if you’re still trying to find your breathing rhythm for running, yoga may help you find it. Likewise, if you’ve mastered breathing for running, then it should be an easy jump for you to adapt to yoga breathing.
  • Builds Your Core – Yoga is great for strengthening a runner’s core, the body’s foundation for all movement. Runners with a strong core, including abs and lower back, tend to run faster and harder than those with a weak core.
  • Works Opposite Muscles – According to Yoga Journal, a typical runner experiences too much pounding, tightening, and shortening of the muscles and not enough restorative, elongating, and loosening work. Without opposing movements, the body will compensate to avoid injury by working around the instability. Compensation puts stress on muscles, joints, and the entire skeletal system, and may eventually lead to injuries. Yoga strengthens your intrinsic muscle groups that support and strengthen the body’s skeletal system. It also provides a nice counter balance to a runner’s one-dimensional workouts.
  • Improves Flexibility – Most runners would agree that you don’t have to be flexible to be a good runner, but being flexible does not hurt running efforts, and it may even help. Runners who are flexible are often less prone to injury, recover more quickly from runs, and see improvements in overall strength and endurance. Yoga can be used to work opposite muscles groups but it can also increase  a runner’s flexibility, especially in the hips.
  • Provides a Break – When you’ve been running as long as I have, you can easily get burned out and even a little bored with running if you don’t change it up every so often.  As with any cross training activity, yoga gives you a physical and mental vacation from running and may give you the energy boost you need to continue with your running workout each week.

Namaste and Happy Running!

My Fitbloggin Goal

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As most of you know by now, I’m signed up for Fitbloggin ’11 in Baltimore. Yeah – can’t wait to see my Healthy Living Summit friends again like Fervent FoodieA Girl and Her Mutt, and so many more!

Two awesome girls, Jen and Mandy, came up with an awesome idea – called Fit 4 Fitbloggin – to encourage Fitbloggin attendees to reach their fitness goals before the conference. That’s great motivation, don’t  you think?

Although I don’t need to lose weight or “get in shape”, that doesn’t mean I can’t have a goal. My goal for Fitbloggin is to add more yoga and strength training to my weekly workouts in order to gain more flexibility, muscle, and definition. I know it doesn’t sound like a very lofty or concrete goal. However, for a girl who’s been running for over 20 years – pounding the pavement 5-6 times a week –  adding weights and/or yoga to my routine on a regular basis would be a major accomplishment – not to mention a major benefit for my body.

For all Fitbloggin attendees, I hope you will join the rest of the Fit 4 Fitbloggin crew and tell us about your fitness goals! Seriously, by sharing your goal with 200 of your closest fitbloggin friends you are bound to improve something about your health and life!

A Runner Is Born…

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As some of you know, I’ve been a runner for more than 20 years. For someone who is only in her 30s, that’s a pretty long time to be a runner. Colleagues, friends, family members, and even bloggers have asked me why and how I started running. Good question. Every runner has a story about how and why he/she started running – and this, my friends, is mine….

When I was a Freshman in high school, I played on the girls fast-pitch softball team. I was a pitcher, and a pretty good one too. At the beginning of the season, I was told that I would be moved up to varsity by the end of the year. At that point, I decided softball would be my life. Little did I know that my dream of becoming a major league women’s softball star would become derailed just as quickly as I could throw a pitch.

“You can swim…or you can run”

A few weeks after the start of the season, my throat began to hurt and I started running a high fever. My throat began to swell, so much that it was hard to swallow, and sometimes, even breath. I was extremely tired and felt weak all over. After a trip to the doctor, I learned that I had mononucleosis, the kissing disease, as it was so lovingly called in my school (I swear I contracted it from the softball water bottles!) I was told by the doctor that I could not play softball or any contact sports for the rest of the year because of the risk they posed to my enlarged spleen. Fearing I would gain weight and be out of shape for next softball season, I asked the doctor what I could do to stay in shape. He replied, “You can swim…or you can run.”

When Life Hands You Lemons…

Not being much of a swimmer, I contemplated running. I never really gave it much thought before that day. However, I always ran faster and farther than the other girls on my softball team during our mile warm-up lap around the school. In the next few days, I was approached by the girls’ track coach, who just happened to be the former coach of the national women’s cross country team. He had heard about my softball situation and suggested I join the track team (apparently, he had seen me run during softball practice). So, running it was.

Just like softball a few months before, running quickly became my life. For four years, I ran on the track and cross country teams. During this time, I learned a great deal about running. My coach and the seasoned runners on the team taught me about warm ups, cool downs, running form, pacing, interval running, proper stretching….and about racing.

Convincing Myself…

Despite this new-found love for running, I didn’t call myself a runner nor did I think I was any good at it. Although others may have seen me as a runner, I was constantly trying to prove (to myself) that I was a runner. Throughout college, I did strenuous running drills, because I thought that’s what real runners did. I entered road races, because I thought that’s what real runners did. I didn’t win the races, but often finished in the middle of the pack or even at the end. Yet somehow, just being involved in racing made me qualify as a runner, or so I thought.

On Being a Runner…

Fast-forward 20 years. After many years of running and many races under my belt, I now know that it’s not winning or even racing that makes you a runner. It’s about the commitment to running and the enjoyment and benefit you receive from running. But most of all, it’s about the desire to run.

If I were asked today, how do you know you’re a runner? I would reply – You will know when you’re a runner because you will run even when there is no race, no finish line, and no fans.

Yes, I am definitely a runner.

As I said, everyone has a story about how he/she starting running, biking, doing yoga, etc. So, what’s your story?

A Swim, Bike, Run Weekend

My husband Scott did the Olympic distance Chicago Triathlon this morning. But before I get to that, let me rewind a bit. We headed downtown early yesterday to check into the hotel and check out the Tri-expo. I headed straight to the Larabar booth to pick up a bunch of swag…

I love these bars and they came in so handy today while waiting for Scott to finish. The kids and I didn’t get to eat lunch so it was Larabar to the rescue! After the expo we walked around for a bit in downtown Chicago. I had heard the Eiffel Tower was making an appearance at Macy’s on State so I just had to stop in to see it for myself…

The girls at the Lancome counter probably thought I was crazy – or at least a tourist. I am neither, thank you.

After dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy, we attempted to go to bed at a reasonable hour, considering Scott needed to be up at 3:45 AM in order to get his bike to the transition area. But on our way back to the hotel, we heard the familiar sounds of Chicago’s Summer Dance Festival – Puerto Rican salsa music, definitely one of our favorites. Since the festival was literally right across the street from our hotel, we decided to stop for a few minutes – it was a beautiful night to listen and dance to music under the stars!! On nights like those, I really miss living in the city.

We ended up not falling asleep until after midnight, then both woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep. Ugh!!!. Not fun for either of us.

In spite of our unintended lack of sleep, Scott was out the door on time. I even managed to get the kids up, ready, and out the door in time to see Scott shove off for the swimming portion which started promptly at 7:52 AM. The rest of the morning was spent walking around the race area and tracking Scott on his bike and run portions. Runkeeper is very cool in the iPhone – when it works – and really helped me pinpoint Scott in the last 20-30 minutes of the race. Toward the last stretch, I was able to see exactly where he was on the course. So, when he came into view, Mr. C and I ran out to jog with him for a minute – Mr. C was so excited to run with his Dad! I was so happy and proud of Scott that I almost cried!

It really amazes me that Scott trained for the last 6-7 months and accomplished a full swim, bike, and run – something I have no interest in doing at this point in my life. He and the other triathletes are truly inspirational. They trained so hard and you could see the deep emotion in their faces as they ran along the last stretch of the race – excitement, exhaustion, determination, pride – you name it, every emotion was there. Scott ended up finishing in about 3.5 hours – that is amazing to me, especially considering it’s his first race AND he was racing in 90+ temperatures! I’m actually surprised we didn’t see more runners pass out from the heat, but I’ll consider that a blessing. By the way, if you want to know how many calories he burned for his 3.5 hour workout – that magic number would be 3,500 calories! Yes, he definitely deserved that huge piece of chocolate cake tonight.

Congratulations to Scott and Ryan (Scott’s brother who also raced) for a fantastic triathlon today! Just let me know when we’re headed to St. Croix for the next one! 🙂

Headed to the Chicago Triathlon

This morning, I went out for a fast 5-mile run, which was fantastic! It’s been really cool the last few mornings – around 60 degrees with no humidity. Yeah, Fall is coming! About halfway through my run, I noticed one of those speed monitors sitting in the road up ahead. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen one while running, but it’s the first time I saw one and had my iPhone with me to take a photo! As you can see, I was running approx. 7 miles per hour, which is roughly 8.5 minute miles – not bad!

On another note, I want to send a huge thank you to Life After Bagels – I was the winner of her Terra Chips giveaway! Yesterday, I came home from work to find a big box waiting for me. Ooooh, who says good things come in small packages 🙂 I tore open the box to find 4 large bags of Terra chips…

As well as chip clips – always handy -, a recipe book, and a martini serving bowl for the chips – how clever!

Terra chips are super yummy and they DO really taste like veggies. The sweet potato ones are my favorite but I’m dying to try the Mexican and the Mediterranean flavors.

I may be out of pocket on Saturday and at least part of Sunday. Scott is doing the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday so we’re heading downtown tomorrow to check into our hotel and do “race stuff”. I might be doing some live tweeting from the event on Sunday -so stay tuned!

FYI – if you’re wondering why I’m not doing the triathlon, it’s because I do not swim or bike – I run and that is what I do best. But I give HUGE amounts of credit for people who can do all three back to back! Good luck to all of the Chicago Triathletes!