Worth the Run

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On Sunday, I cranked out the best run I’d had in a long time. I ran a 7-miler in 58 minutes, which is a very strong, hard run for me. Ironically, despite my fast pace, the run seemed much easier than the runs I’d had in the previous weeks. It’s really strange how little (and big) things can affect my runs. This time, I think my time and amazing exertion are to due to two factors: sleep and weather.

For the last 3 weeks, I have had an incredibly difficult time staying asleep. No matter what time I go to bed – whether its 9 PM or 1 AM, I’ve only been able to sleep 4-6 hours a night. For those with insomnia or newborns, this may seem like a gift. But for a full-time professional, wife and mother of two, runner, and traveler, 4-6 hours is not enough to sustain all of my responsibilities with a smile.

On Saturday night, I managed to get a full 7 hours of sleep, despite staying out later than normal. That extra 1-2 hours made all the difference in the world for my mood and for my run. I woke up feeling refreshed and completely awake. This brief reprieve in sleep deprivation caused me to be extra enthusiastic about my typical Sunday morning run.

In addition to sleep, the weather played a significant role in the success of my run. It just happened to be perfect weather for a Fall run – 48 degrees and sunny. Just crisp enough to clean the air, but not too cold to make your lungs hurt after exertion. It’s the kind of weather that tricks you into thinking it’s cold enough to wear a running jacket, but then after your first mile, you are kicking yourself for wearing it.

I know my sleep issues are far from being over, just like I know that snowy and cold winter weather are merely days away. But it’s days like Sunday, where my run seems effortless, that make running on any given day worth it.

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!

Trots to Chafing: How to Cope with Running Ailments

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Repetitive strenuous exercise can cause our bodies to retaliate in very unladylike ways. It’s true that strenuous exercise, including running, may lead to injury, but it can also cause a host of other minor health issues, that can sometimes stop you dead in your tracks. Here are just a few of the little problems runners face and how to prevent them.

Runner’s Trots: This is something that many runners experience at some point in time; however, you may never hear about it in regular conversations, especially among women. Why? Because it has to do with something that no one likes to discuss (except for mothers of newborns), diarrhea! Runner’s trots is essentially the uncontrollable urge (and then proceeding to do so) to go “number 2”. Yes, I admit, this happens to the best of runners, but there are a few ways to decrease your chances of developing this bowel spasm. Make sure you are well-hydrated before a long run, because dehydration has been known to irritate the problem. Also, if you’re prone to the trots, avoid heavy meals, fibrous foods, fruit, caffeine, sugary foods, and dairy before your run. They can all irritate the GI track and leave you searching for a port-o-potty mid-run.

Side Stitches: That sharp pain you feel in your abdominal area, just under your ribs, is the unmistakable side stitch! Although most often experienced in novice runners, even seasoned runners get stitches every now and again. According to Runner’s World, side stitches are typically caused by cramping of the diaphragm. To stop the stitch, you can either walk until the pain goes away or press your fingers into the stitch, then inhale/exhale forcefully, while continuing to run. I have done this MANY times and, more often than not, it works! To avoid stitches, remember to breath deeply from your stomach during your run and avoid heavy drinking/eating 30 minutes prior to your run.

Blisters: I’ve had my share of blisters over the years and they always seem to pop up (no pun intended) when I least expect them. Blisters are essentially trapped water in between your skin, caused by the friction of your feet rubbing against your socks/shoes. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that they can be painful, but they are not a reason to stop running. For most blisters, you can cover them with a large band-aid, blister plaster, moleskin, or even surgical tape. Also, this would be a good time to check your socks and shoes to see if it’s time for a new pair.

Chafing: Chafing, when the skin becomes red and irritated, happens when our clothes don’t fit properly, causing the clothes to rub the skin over and over – and not in a good way. Sweat can further irritate the area. Chafing most often happens around the bra-line area, inner thighs, and underarms. To prevent this, make sure you wear clean, properly fitted clothes (not too loose, not too tight), preferably of the dryfit kind. If you do experience chafing (and you will know when it starts to burn in the shower!), rub a small amount of petroleum jelly or other anti-chafe product on the irritated skin.

Black Toenails: These are the result of bruising and a blood blister forming under the toenail, typically caused by the toes forcefully and repeatedly being pushed up against your running shoes. Your toes may do this for many reasons – your shoes may be too tight, your nails may be too long, the seams of your socks may be irritating you toes, etc. If you do notice your toe becoming black, immediately assess you shoe/sock situation. You may actually have to move up a size in shoe to accommodate this new, but temporary ailment. As for treatment, black toenails look ugly but they don’t always hurt. Many times it will naturally fade or the nail will fall off on it’s own and grow back. However, if your blood blister does become sensitive or appears to be getting worse, check with a doctor who will likely drain the blister for you.

Urinary Incontinence: Although I never really suffered from consistent UI (except for a brief time while running during my pregnancy), I know it is a common problem among female runners. UI is usually caused by a weak pelvic floor and can cause you to leak urine while running. To help prevent UI, you can strengthen your pelvic floor by doing Kegel exercises (that’s right, they are not just for the bedroom!). It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeinated drinks before running and to go to the bathroom right before you leave the house.

No runner is immune to these health issues, just like no runner is immune to injury. The key is to prevent these sidelining mishaps before they start.

Happy and Healthy 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!

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!

Toning Shoes: Too Good To Be True?

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About a month ago, I received the New Balance rock&tone shoes in the mail. They are part of the new era of “toning” shoes with heavily padded, rounded soles. The shoes were a freebie from the Fitbloggin conference back in March. I did end up wearing them 2-3 times – out for walks and around the house. Each time I wore them I felt sore a few hours to a day later. I just assumed this meant they were working. Well, that may not be the case.

Makers of toning shoes claim that the shoes burn extra calories, tone muscle, and/or reduce joint pain – and they have the research to back it up, so they say. However, when a research team from the University of Wisconsin delved deeper into the claims, they found that much of the “evidence” is based on research that was not peer-reviewed. This means the studies have not been opened up to scrutiny by other researchers in a similar field. Any research worth it’s own salt will make it through the peer-review process, and most of the studies that do end up in scholarly research publications. Those that don’t make it through the review process, either because they were rejected or because they were never submitted in the first place, can still be published independently, usually for marketing purposes.

With the huge craze in toning shoes, the American Council on Exercise commissioned their own study to see how the claims would hold up. In the study, UW researchers had 12 physically active women perform 12, 5 minute exercises on a treadmill. The women wore a number of training shoes and regular running shoes and were monitored for oxygen consumption, calories burned, heart rate, and rate of perceived exertion. In a separate group of women, researchers also monitored six of their muscles: calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, back, and abs, while they performed the same treadmill exercises using the same types of shoes as the first group.

And the result? Researchers found no difference between the toning shoes and regular running shoes. In other words, the toning shoes don’t do anything differently than your normal running shoes. But why did I feel sore after I wore them every time? Researchers believe that many people feel this soreness after wearing toning shoes because the unstable shoe forces us to use muscles we don’t normally use to balance. However, they also say that with any new abnormal shoe, you will feel this same soreness, but this doesn’t translate into toning. The soreness will go away once your legs/body become use to the shoe.

What do I think?

Obviously, the study did not include the New Balance shoe specifically, but this research still makes me skeptical about the worth of toning shoes. When you really think about it, if a person is sedentary – doing very little day-to-day exercise –  but then starts and maintains a walking routine with toning shoes, they are bound to see toning results and lose weight. This is misleading because these health results are probably NOT because of the shoe, but for the simple reason that they are now exercising. I’m guessing physically active adults won’t see enhanced results just because of the shoes.

Overall, toning shoes sound like another “quick fix” way to lose weight and add tone, that may leave many users disappointed. But, if believing in the power of toning shoes is the only way to make you exercise, then believe away. If it gets you off the couch and moving, that’s always a good thing.

Eat, Drink, And Run

A woman at my office is a marathon runner and a triathlete. She often talks about the energy bars and gels she eats during her workouts and her races. This got me thinking about my eating habits while running.

I’m torn on this issue. As a personal trainer, it is part of my job to address the nutritional needs of clients and/or people I administer advice to. Yet, as a runner, I know what my body needs and doesn’t need. I have never been the type of runner who needs to eat before a run or even during a run. The thought of eating during a run actually makes me a little nauseous – anyone else? I think my no eating while running mindset is spurred by the idea that I’m not really a competitive runner anymore. Although I still run 5K’s and 10K’s, I still don’t feel the need to eat during the runs.

Putting my personal trainer hat back on – here’s my take on eating and running. Obviously, if you’re a competitive runner, eating for performance is key. But for new or noncompetitive runners, there are just a few basic eat and run principles to consider:

Principles of Eating and Running

Before Your Run:  If you’re a morning runner, who’s out the door before breakfast, you may want to grab a little nourishment before you’re workout. Don’t eat too much or you’ll risk cramping or even nausea. Have a 100-150 calorie snack that has some form of carbohydrates, such as a ½ cup of oatmeal, a small banana, or half a power bar. Drinking a few ounces of water prior to running is also a good idea. Resist gulping or else you may feel waterlogged even before you start your run. For afternoon or evening runners, avoid eating a heavy meal prior to running. Schedule your run in between lunch and dinner, or 1-2 hours after dinner. Remember, there are plenty of runners who CAN run on an empty stomach with no problem (yours truly included), but eating a little something beforehand is also fine.

During Your Run – The rule of thumb is – runners really do not need to eat during a run unless they run 60 minutes or more. Our bodies have stored glycogen (our energy source) that can help us through the sub-hour runs. If you plan a run that is 1+ hours, take an energy gel or a small box of raisins for refueling along the way. For long runs, staying hydrated is also key so remember to drink your water – at least a few sips every 15 minutes!

After Your Run – After a long/hard run, aim to eat within 30-45 minutes of ending your workout. This will help prevent your blood sugar levels from dipping too low. Aim for 200-400 calories that includes protein and carbs. My post-run snacks are often Greek yogurt, protein bar, peanut butter, Kashi cereal, etc., Also, drink plenty of water after your run and throughout the day to rehydrate!

Eat, drink, and run well.