Saturday, December 8, 2012

I Hate the Cowbell...and Other Race Annoyances

Most of my friends (and their children) know that I hate unnecessary noise.  High-pitched screaming, banging, noisy children's toys, etc.  In fact, my good friend's kids know that when I come over, "Aunt Michele doesn't like noisy things."

At the very top of my annoyance list is the cowbell...I loathe the cowbell at races.  Loathe. Why can't people just cheer?  Why do you need to clang around some annoying piece of metal?  Clapping and cheering really is sufficient.

I recently saw the cowbell as the #1 recommended item on a holiday gift list from a running website.  May Santa Clause give huge lumps of coal to anyone who gets me a cowbell for Christmas...

The annoying cowbell...
So it got me thinking:  What else annoys me when it comes to races?  Here's my top 10 list:
  1. The cowbell.  I think we've established that. 
  2. The plastic hand clapper things that you shake back and forth and they make a clacking/clapping sounds.  Again, just use your own hands!  
  3. Spectators who wait in line for the porta-potties with the athletes.  I know that spectating is a difficult task and that you're going to have to use the potty at some point, especially during a long event; but, please - yield to the athletes!  
  4. Men's cut t-shirts for women.  In this day and age of racing, there really is no excuse for races not to offer a women's-cut t-shirt.  I have too many nightgown/race t-shirts.  
  5. Gatorade.  Yuck.  It's too sugary and not as beneficial as people think.  There are way better sports drinks out there now, e.g., Ironman Perform.   
  6. Bad post-race food that consists only of pizza and oranges.  Obviously people are doing athletic events because they want to be healthy.  While pizza can taste good after a long grueling race, there needs to be more options, including healthy, satisfying options for vegetarians/vegans other than oranges.    
  7. Having to run around the finish line before you get to cross it.  I've done several races where you are tortured with having to run past the finish line and continue on for quite a ways before you actually get to come back and cross the finish line.  
  8. People who rack their bike facing the wrong direction in transition.  Never fails, someone always hangs their bike the wrong directing on the rack.  Read the race instructions.  Ask an official hanging out in transition.  It's not hard.  
  9. Running out of water at the aid stations.  This happened once during an Army 10-miler on a very hot day.  At one of the last aid stations they ran out of water with about 1/2 of the runners still out there.  I was appalled.  Seriously - you're the Army...aren't you supposed to be able to plan for major events?
  10. People who don't shut-up during the National Anthem.  This really should be #1 on my list.  Show some respect and shut your trap during the National Anthem.  Be grateful that you live in a country where you have the privilege of being able to race...  
That's my list...

What's on your race annoyance list? 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The 2012 A-Z Holiday Gift Guide...

Last year I published my Top 20 Holiday Gift Guide.  This year I decided to one-up that and give you my A-Z Holiday Gift Guide for the athlete in your or in your family.  Some of these are repeats from last year, but that must mean I really love them!  Here we go:  

A:  Adamo ISM road seat.  Treat your bum this Christmas to this salmon-shaped bike seat for your triathlon bike (or the Podium ISM seat for road bikes).  I've had this on my tri-bike for 2 years and although it took some getting used to, there's no turning back to regular seats once you do.  It effectively relieves perineal pressure for both men and women.  

B:  Bubba Brand insulated water bottle.  I'm extremely picky about my water bottles, so I was thrilled to find this.  I just bought the 24 oz Envy tumbler, which comes with a straw - perfect for driving so I don't have to tip the bottle.  The bottles are insulated for warm or cold beverages, BPA-free, and dishwasher safe.  

C:  Coffee maker (individual size) for traveling.  For those of us who don't typically make a full pot of coffee, the individual coffee pot makers are wonderful.  For travel, the mini individual coffee makers are ideal.  Hamilton Beach's the Scoop coffee maker is stainless steel, small for travel, and makes a 14-oz or 8-oz cup of coffee.  Best of all, you don't have to use the K-cups (which is better for the environment).  The Scoop comes with two scoop filters that lets you measure your own ground coffee perfectly.  

DDigital helmet camera from GoPro.  So this is on my ultimate wish list...The GoPro Hero3 helmet cam bike pack.  Don't ask me why...I just think it'd be fun! Take stunning video and pics of your bike rides with this camera mounted to your helmet.  Let the YouTube videos rip!  

E:  Exercise ball and bands.  Going to the gym can be expensive and difficult, so why not bring the gym to you?  Exercise balls and bands from Gaiam are a great way to work your core and get a good resistance workout from home for only the fraction of the price of a gym membership.  

F:  Fruit of the Earth Vitamin E Skincare Cream.  My grandpa started buying this cream for me years ago and I didn't learn until some years later that it's actually not tested on animals.  Good job, Papa!  This cream works wonders on dry, chapped winter skin and I use it all the time, especially on my hands.    

G:  Garmin 910xt.  Of course this makes the list.  I have the Garmin 310xt and although I love it, shiny new technology is always tempting.  The 910xt is less bulky and more streamlined.  Best of all, the 910xt is the first Garmin to provide swim stroke count and pool more counting in the pool!  (I just hope it doesn't require me to do flip turns!)...  

Garmin 910xt
H:  Handkerchiefs or bandanas.  Yes, you heard me.  These are one of the most practical things you can have, yet few people nowadays do.  I have a ton of handkerchiefs and bandanas that I use when I travel:  for napkins, to wipe off airline trays, clean up messes, tie my hair back, wipe off sweat or keep it out of your eyes, provide padding for breakable items...the list goes on and on.  Try some colorful handkerchiefs or bandanas for stocking stuffers this year. Bandanagram has customizable bandanas/handkerchiefs, including ones for triathlons and marathons.  Or you can go with the good ol' fashioned farmers handkerchief like I have.  

I:  iTunes gift card. May sound lame, but every athlete has their workout playlist(s) and if you're like me, your music is very mood-specific.  So new tunes are always a necessity to keep your workout mojo in the groove.  I could never have enough iTunes gift cards!   

J:  Jaybird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones.  I got these for my birthday this year and they're fantastic.  Great sound quality and they stay put when you're running.  Plus, the bluetooth feature lets you talk on the phone if you get a call while running.  The headphones also come with various pieces and hooks for the perfect fit.  

K:  Kettlebells.  These nifty little training devices have gained a lot of popularity lately and with good reason:  they offer an effective cardio workout with strength, balance, and flexibility.  The advantage over dumbbells or other weights is that the kettlebell contains a handle that allows you to control its center of gravity and gives you more variety of exercises.  Livestrong has a good article on selecting kettlebell weights and the top kettlebell exercises for athletes.  

L:  Luggage accessories.  Most athletes travel to a lot of races.  Luggage accessories can make the chaos of travel more bearable.  Try a digital luggage scale to avoid extra airline fees for heavy baggage (if you're an over-packer like me!).  Or how about a bike chain luggage tag for the cyclist or triathlete, or some personalized luggage tags.    

M:  Massage therapy.  While it's nice to get a professional massage and, in fact, often necessary for athletes. sometimes it's nice to have some massage therapy in your own home.  To relieve muscle tightness and increase circulation, try a foam roller for massage before or after a workout.   You can also try a massage roller stick.  I'm a big believer in both of these and have been able to work out a lot of knots by using the foam roller.  

N:  Noise canceling headphones.  Again, ideal for any traveler (especially if you need to get some sleep on a noisy plane). provides a good review and comparison of noise canceling headphones.  

O:  One More Mile t-shirt and hats.  These were a favorite of mine last year and they're a repeat this year.  It's nice to add a little giggle to your runs...

One of my favorite One More Mile shirts that my mom got for me last year...

P:  Protein powders.  This isn't a sexy Christmas gift, but it's a necessary one for athletes for any time of the year.  Here are some of my favorites (all vegan of course):  Garden of Life Raw Protein.  I think this is the best protein powder out there.  It's raw, contains sprouted protein, has probiotics and enzymes, is dairy and soy-free, has a neutral flavor, and has 17 grams of protein.  I mix this in my complex smoothies that contain a lot of ingredients.  Nutribiotic Plain Rice Protein (with 12 grams of protein) and Plant Fusion unflavored protein (22 grams of protein) are both great for shaking up in some vanilla soy, almond, or rice milk for a quick smoothie.  

Q:  Quilt made out of race t-shirts.  Quirky but cool.  If you have a closet full of race t-shirts that you don't wear, why not turn them into a t-shirt quilt to memorialize all those races? 

R:  Rescue Chocolate.  What's better than chocolate?  Saving a life while eating your chocolate!  100% of the proceeds from Rescue Chocolate go to animal rescue organizations across the country.  And this chocolate is delicious.  Makes a great stocking stuffer (just don't hang it above a roaring fireplace!).  

S:  Smoothie shaker by Blender Bottle. This is a must have for on-the-go or making a quick smoothie at home with milk/water and your favorite protein powder.  The patented wire wisk moves freely through the bottle as you shake it to blend your drink.  I have the Classic Mini and love it! 

T:  Transition towel.  Why use your ratty old beach towels in transition?  I found these fun transition towels (in small and large) with various designs and sayings. There's also one with a race day that's multi-tasking!  
Triathlon towel with the race day checklist...

U:  Under Armour ColdGear Fitted Long Sleeve Mock running shirt.  I received one of these last year for Christmas and love it!  I like that it's fitted and not bulky.  Plus it keeps you really warm.  Also available in men's.  

V:  Vega Sport products.  Developed by vegan Ironman triathlete, Brendan Brazier, even the non-vegans among us will love these.  My favorite recommendations are:  Pre-Workout Energizer (light, delicious, and contains ingredients like green tea and yerba mate to get you amped up for a workout); Electrolyte Hydrator (free from sugar, artificial sweeteners, and calories.  It just contains awesome electrolytes and minerals); Endurance Bar (I ate these during Ironman and they were great on my stomach!); Endurance Gel (I'm not a gel fan, but these are great.  Free from high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin, so it's not sugary); and Protein Bar (I live on these things. They are delicious and have 15 grams of protein).   

W:  Watch - the Timex Ironman 30-lap watch.  I've had this watch for years and I love it.  It's a great watch for the weekend, swimming, or if you just want to get away from your GPS technology for awhile.  It's comfortable and easy to read and use.  

X:  Xmas triathlon lights.  I found these at a race expo one year and thought they were adorable!  String lights with running shoes, swim goggles, and bike wheels.  Great for Christmas decorations or a party.  

Triathlon cute!
Y:  Yoga for Athletes DVD. I've owned this DVD for several years (and don't use it as much as I should).  It's  not your typical yoga video.  It provides yoga exercises for 16 different sports and different muscle groups within those sports.  You can choose workouts from 20-60 minutes or combine different muscle group workouts.  Great for beginners and experienced yogis alike.  

Z:  Zensah High Compression Shorts.  I've already recommended Zensah compression leg and arm sleeves.  Well I love all things Zensah, and the high compression shorts are no exception.  I wore these for the run portion of Ironman last year and loved them.  They don't ride up and provide all the benefits of compression to your upper legs.  

There you have it!  I hope Santa brings you everything on your list; but, regardless, the best gifts of all this season are those of health, happiness, friends, and family.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What's in Your Backyard?? Discovering A New Running Trail After 15 Years...

I've lived in the D.C. area for 15 years now...and sadly, I haven't taken advantage of nearly half of all the amazing things there are to do here.  There are so many historical sites, museums, plays, shops, etc. that I've never been to.  And, as I discovered today, some amazing trails only 15 minutes from my house....

Sign for Potomac Heritage trail and other trails..
A friend of mine recently told me about the Potomac Heritage Trail ("PHT"), which runs from Roosevelt Island and goes 10 miles north along the Potomac River...

View of Potomac River from PHT...
I invited a friend along for an inaugural trail run on the PHT on a cold Sunday afternoon.  It took about 15 minutes from my house to Roosevelt Island, where the trail head sign (which I've never noticed in all my times to Roosevelt Island) is right by the parking lot.  We started out along the trail, going under the bike path bridge and the Key Bridge into Arlington.  A little bit of the trail runs alongside Spout Run Parkway, but then soon, you're away from the traffic and alongside the river, with beautiful views of rock walls and waterfalls...

Normally I'd have to drive out to Shenandoah for views like this...
Beautiful little waterfall along the trail...

It was instant euphoria.  In fact, at one point, I actually had to yell out how amazing this was...I was so excited to find this hidden gem so close to my house...It only took me 15 years!!

The trail is a mix of easy portions, more technical areas with some roots and rocks, and then some straight up bouldering which slows you down a bit.  But that's the beauty of trail running:  It's not really about the speed.  In my newby trailrunner view, it's about: (a) getting a change of scenery; (b) having a lower-impact run; (c) enjoying the views; (d) meditating (yes, it's a meditative act because you have to focus so much on every single step lest you want to biff it); and (e) staying vertical!

I'm hooked...I'm in love...

The trail continues up to Potomac Overlook Park, which as it turns out, we'd actually run on a couple of weeks ago when we went to the Overlook Park.  But I had no idea that if you cross the rocks in the water, you pick up the PHT and continue north along the river to the Chain Bridge...We decided for today to turn around, which was about 2.8 miles from the starting point....

Me at the turn-around point for today's run...if we'd gone across the rocks on the right, we could continue north on the PHT...
The run back was even more spectacular because you eventually get to enjoy gorgeous views of D.C. and the monuments.  Now maybe some avid trail folks would find that almost blasphemous - mixing the city with nature.  But I think it's pretty amazing that I can be secluded in these beautiful, spiritual woods, and yet see the architecture of our Nation's capital for part of the run.

View of Key Bridge and Washington Monument from the PHT...
We finished the run at about 5.8 miles and I felt great.  This is one of the beauties of trail running...We went at a nice pace, Goldie Locks style - not too fast, not too slow, but just right - and had the low-impact benefits of the trail mixed with some bouldering/hiking.  This was my longest run in quite awhile - 1:10 - and I felt better than I've felt after some of my street runs of less than half the time.

Although I've found a new love and a new place to enjoy, I'm kicking myself a bit for not finding it sooner.  I think one of the reasons I've delayed getting into trail running is that it's a bit more effort to drive somewhere to a trail.  I'm normally pressed for time and just like to go out my front door and run the neighborhood.  But knowing that this is so close has awakened a new curiosity in me....What else is in my backyard that I've been missing out on?  I don't know, but I'm going to start finding out....

View heading south down the PHT...
What's in your backyard that you may be missing out on? 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Great Program for Switching to a Plant-Based Diet

I know a couple of you out there have been trying or wanting to switch over to a plant-based diet.  Well here's your chance to get a jump on your fitness for the new year with a plant-based diet.  If you can do one thing for yourself and for me (because I want to see you healthier), pay attention to this and sign up for what I'm recommending...

As I mentioned in Part 2 of my series on why I became a vegan, Brenda Brazier (vegan Ironman) and his Thrive series of books played a big role in my decision to go from vegetarian to vegan.  I've read his Thrive nutrition and fitness books and been meaning to check out his Zon fitness videos (which I hope to do and write about later).  Although some of his Thrive recipes can be a bit involved, a lot of them are easy and delicious.  He doesn't rely on soy-based protein (which I'm not a fan of either) and he focuses on combinations of plant-based foods that optimize the foods' nutritional value and your physical performance.

As much as I love the Thrive books, I love even more Brazier's Vega Sport line...and I'm not just saying that because I'm a vegan.  Even happy omnivores that I know love this line.  The protein bars are addictive.  The endurance bars I ate during Ironman Arizona.  The pre-workout energizer is delicious.  I even like the endurance gel and I'm not usually a gel fan, but this one isn't sugary and doesn't make me want to gag.  And his Vega Sport protein powders are good as well.  (Some of Brazier's other plant-based protein powders in his other lines are too "planty" for me).

So as I've followed Brazier and his work, I was thrilled this morning to see that he's launching a new program in January 2013:  Thrive Forward.  If you have been wanting to switch to a plant-based diet, this will be the program you want to try.

The Thrive Forward program is designed to provide you a free personalized on-line guide to help you transform your health through a plant-based diet.  The program will customize wellness topics just for you according to what you're interested in:  energy, body composition (I like how he doesn't say "weight loss"), stress, libido (oh yeah!), mood, or how to eat more sustainably.

Although the program doesn't start until January 2013, you can get a free preview right now!  Go to the Thrive Forward link, watch the video, and sign up for your free e-book preview.  Even this free e-book preview is packed with great information like:  

  • smoothie recipes; 
  • what foods to buy in organic form; 
  • staple foods you need and where they fall on the nutritional pyramid (and not the lobbyist-back nutritional pyramid from USDA!); 
  • where you can get good carbs; 
  • awesome suggestions for protein sources (like what legumes, seeds, nuts, and pseudograins to eat); 
  • 5 ways to boost your energy; and
  • 5-day nutritional and wellness self-assessment journal so you have a baseline and know the areas where you need to improve.  
This is all contained in the free e-book.  Imagine what's going to come with the full program in 2013!  

I have to say that I don't get any benefit from recommending this.  Brenda Brazier doesn't even know who the hell I am.  I'm recommending this because I've followed him for years, I love what he's done, I've read his other books, and I use his products.  So I believe that this Thrive Forward program will be a good starting block for beginning plant-based folks, for old-timers like me, and even for folks who just want to step-up their nutritional fitness...

Please, please check this out and let me know what you think....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Conquer Yourself...

I came across this great quote today by Buddha:

"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.  Then the victory is yours.  It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell."

Man that dude was onto something....

Your biggest battle will always be with yourself...

If you're trying to accomplish a goal - be it a 5k, marathon, or Ironman - you have to quell the doubting Thomas in you that will crop up from time to time...  

If you're battling cancer, you have to draw on the strength that lies in areas of your soul deeper than you know existed...

If you're trying to get over the loss of a loved one, you have open your heart and your mind to the possibility that the person will live on forever - somewhere, somehow - be it in you, around you, or above you.... 

You are your biggest fan, your biggest critic, your biggest supporter, and your biggest doubter.  The times that you have succeeded are because you have conquered the part of you that wanted to surrender.  

And even when you haven't succeeded as you wanted, you may actually have won a bigger battle with yourself that you thought.  Cancer patients on their deathbeds often are more at peace than those of us who have a million breaths left in us.  Although they may have lost the battle for their lives, they won the war of finding themselves.  

Athletes who crawl across a finish line or who don't finish at all because their body has given out, may have lost the race...but they won the war in terms of tapping into a part of themselves they never knew existed.  

Sometimes the biggest victories in the war for finding yourself come at the expense of what you see as a lost battle...

Can you think of a time when you've been able to conquer yourself? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are You a Good Sport?

"Sportsmanship for me is when a guy walks off the court and you really can't tell whether he won or lost, when he carries himself with pride either way." - Jim Courier (tennis player)

I'm historically NOT a good sportsman...In fact, when I played tennis in high school, I was like a female John McEnroe:  throwing my tennis racket, cussing, pitching a fit.  I'd like to say that I've mellowed, but...not so much!  I am so frustrated when things don't go my way, especially when it comes to sports or academics. 

My mom used to tell the story that when I was very young - maybe first grade - she came home from work to find me sitting at the dining room table writing furiously.  She asked what I was doing.  I looked up at her, pushed my glasses up on my nose, and said that I missed a word on the spelling test. So I was writing that word 500 times.  My mom asked if the teacher made me do that.  I said "no...I missed this word on my spelling test and so I'm never going to spell it wrong again."  I'd self-imposed my own punishment for misspelling one word.  

Where did I learn that?  Who knows.  My parents certainly didn't do anything to reinforce that behavior in me because they could not have been more supportive of me.  As long as I tried my best, that's all they wanted. 

In case you're saying to yourself "oh surely she's not that bad now" - here's a true story:  My manager at work is a big baseball fan, as am I (a die-hard Cubs fan for some sadistic reason).  I was talking to her one day after a Nats/Cubs game and she was telling me how she was listening to the radio broadcast.  She said that she was laughing at "some woman" who she could hear "yelling" at the Cubs (and specifically at Carlos Zambrano, the pitcher) and cussin' them out.  As she rehashed some of the things this woman was saying, my jaw dropped...Um, that would have been me.  I was the woman yelling at the top of her lungs under the radio broadcast booth at the incompetent Cubs pitcher...I'm so proud... 

So I have no idea - nor do I have enough money to spend in psychiatric bills - to figure out why I'm a bad sport.  One thing I do know is that it's not genetic.  As my mom used to explain, although my brother (who is almost 11 years younger than me) and I are very close, we are completely different.  She used to say that while I'd obsess about the one word I got wrong, my brother would throw a party for the one word he got right...Who knows why...

I'd like to say that over the years I've mellowed and am a better sport.  Well, not so much.  I think some of those behaviors or mentalities may be more engrained in us than we think. Truth be told, although I may have mellowed, it's all relative.  Maybe I've mellowed compared to how I used be, but not compared to how most people are.  I hate losing, I hate when I don't do as well as I should, I hate screwing up...and there's no explicable reason for it. 

So Jim Courier - I commend you and I wish I could embody your definition of sportsmanship.  But alas, I'm more like John McEnroe and probably will always be that way.  Call me passionate, call me fiery, call me unbalanced...go ahead and call me a bad sport.  I've been called worse...

Are you a good sportsman? Why do you think you're the way you are? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eating My Words...

"Signing off"...that was my last blog post.  I'd decided a few days ago that I didn't think the blog was "working" (for various reasons) and that I was going to stop.  So I posted that I was signing off and told my Facebook followers that I was going to take the page down.  I thought, at the time, that it was the right thing to do...

Well, thanks to many of you who emailed or posted on Facebook, I pulled my head out of my ass...

I'm still going to take a break from posting blogs for awhile because I need undergo a massive re-organization of my life...But I will be back and with a vengeance that'll put the Terminator to shame...

So in the meantime and to keep the blog "hot," I'm going to post motivational quotes each day...

In honor of election day, here's a good one from Winston Churchill:

"Healthy citizens are the greatest assets any country can have."

So today, get out and exercise your body and your right to vote!

Thanks again for your continued support and love...YOU are the reason I do this and commit not to quit!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5 Workout Lessons I've Learned From My Dog

Six weeks ago I adopted my new little buddy - a 6-year-old pit mix, Addie.

Addie on a hike in Shenandoah Valley...

I've always known that you can learn a lot from dogs, but I never thought about how much we can learn from dogs about working out.  Here are some things I've learned from Addie:  

1.  Always start out slow, with a plan:  When I first started running with Addie, I stupidly thought "she's a dog, she can just run."  Not true.  Dogs, like humans, need to work up slowly.  They have to condition their hearts, lungs, muscles, and paws to the activity level.  Both dogs and humans need to make sure that their healthy enough to work out.  Then, both the dogs and the humans need to ease into the workout -- a concept that a lot of athletes ignore.  

Because I'm still coping with some muscular issues around my knee, I've made sure to ease back into running and increase my mileage slowly.  But some days, I want to say screw it and just go run.  Fortunately, Addie serves as a reminder to hold back.  Since I don't have a training plan right now, I'm sticking with the usual "10% rule" for increasing my running time.  But for Addie, she actually has a training plan I found online called Pooch to 5k, which is based on time and starts with run/walk.  So although Addie's 5k training program is different from mine, we're on about the same track, which keeps me from wanting to do too much too fast for my training.    

2.  Take water:  Usually, if I'm running under an hour, I don't take anything to drink unless it's a particularly hot or humid day.  Dogs, however, especially pitbull types like Addie or other snubnose dogs, will need water more than humans.  So even when Addie goes for 20-minute run, I take water.  Honestly, it doesn't hurt to take water for yourself, even on your shorter runs because chances are you're slightly dehydrated.  Unless you're super vigilant and drink the recommended eight 8-oz glasses of water a day, you're most likely dehydrated, especially if you're running first thing in the morning.  So take a small Fuel Belt for you and the dog.  

3.  Enjoy your surroundings:  Leave the headphones at home.  The outside world has so many sights and sounds that can occupy your attention when you're running outside.  Just watch a dog when she's outside...Every time Addie is outside, it's like she's in her own little bubble with amazing new wonders at every tree and corner.  The world is hers to explore.  So whether you're running in the city or the country, let your surroundings be your entertainment.  By really focusing on every site, sound, and smell that your senses can absorb, it can be even more meditative than listening to music. 

4.  Streeetch in the morning:  I now understand where the yoga term "downward dog" comes from.  Every single morning, the first thing Addie does before she takes more than two steps is stretch.  She starts with downward dog (with her head down and butt up in the air), then does a vinyasa flow move into a cobra-style pose with her butt down, back arched, and head up.  Just watching her you can see how she absorbs every stretch of every muscle and lets the energy start flowing through her body.  What a restorative way to start the day!!  If you want a great, gentle stretching routine to warm up your body in the morning, try this Good Morning Yoga Sequence from Mind Body Green, which takes only 10-15 minutes and is a wonderful way to start your day.  

5.  Take naps:  This is simple:  dogs sleep when they're tired.  Addie especially likes a nap after her runs.  For humans it should be simple too:  If you're tired, take a nap.  WebMD explains that a 20-minute power nap will help restore your alertness and motor skills.  And if you can snuggle up with your dog for that nap...even better!!  

Do you work out with your pet?  If so, what lessons have you learned?          


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate: A Sweet Way to Recover

Here's a quick recovery and nutrition tip:

My physical therapist recently turned me onto tart cherry juice concentrate.

What is it? 

Two tablespoons of tart cherry juice concentrate contains about 60 cherries...badda bing!

What does it do?

  • contains powerful phytonutrients called anthocyanins - a fancy word for powerful little nutrients that are believed to help fight inflammation and reduce uric acid levels.  
  • rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, which can help fight harmful oxidants in the body
  • high levels of melatonin, which helps promote healthy sleep cycles
How and when do you drink it? 

I bought the brand Dynamic Health, which is certified organic tart cherry juice concentrate.

I love putting 2 TBS of this in club soda after a run.  It's refreshing and delicious...In fact, sometimes I have 2 glasses because it really hits the spot!!  You could also mix it in a smoothie or even pour it over ice cream!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

THE RACE: Improving Your Breath For The Run And Beyond...

* This is for Sarah & Tammy...keep breathin...

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” –Hilary Cooper

I've always loved this quote; but, as wonderful as it is for a life mantra, it actually doesn't work that well for a running mantra.  A great run really shouldn't take your breath away, right?  Ideally, you want as much air as you can get!  Yet breathing is an oft overlooked part of running.  We work so hard to train our legs, our core, and our heart, but very few of us train our lungs and diaphragm to help with our breathing.   

Breathing 101:    

It's simple:  our bodies need oxygen.  When you're exercising or performing any strenuous activity, your muscles need more oxygen than when you're sedentary. Run up a hill, you start to breath harder because your muscles start working harder.  Run faster, same thing.  The more oxygen you're able to efficiently deliver to your muscles, the better and longer those muscles will be able to perform. 

Chest vs. Belly:  

While you're sitting there reading this, or next time you're out for a run, pay attention to your breathing.  Do you breath from your chest, or from your belly? Most of us are "chest-breathers," meaning that if you put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly, you would see the hand on your chest moving more than the hand on your belly.  Go out for a run, work up to a fast pace, then stop and do this.  Pay attention to which hand moves.  If you're a "belly breather," (or a "diaphragmatic breather") the hand on your belly should move while the hand on your chest stays still.  

Belly breathing is better.  Why?  You can move more oxygen through your body with belly breathing rather than chest breathing.  According to, "[t]he upper 10 percent of your lungs transport around 6 mL of oxygen per minute while the lower 10 percent can transport around 40 mL per minute . . . ." When you're chest breathing, you're using only this upper 10 percent and taking short, shallow breaths.  With belly breathing, however, you're using that lower portion of your lungs that can transport more oxygen, while taking  longer deeper breaths to pull in more oxygen.    

Chest breathing is often associated with stress.  If you're chest breathing while running, your shoulders go up every time you breathe in, which causes tension and wasted energy.  When you're working on endurance, every little bit of energy you can conserve helps.   In addition, Livestrong explains that "[c]hronic stress eventually restricts the connective and muscular tissue in the chest, subsequently decreasing your chest's range-of-motion.  If your chest does not expand adequately, the amount of oxygen delivered to your tissues drops, negatively impacting your health."  Belly breathing, on the other hand, increases the amount of oxygen going to your heart and body, relaxes your body, and lowers your heart rate.   

Learning to Belly Breathe:  

Breathing usually is a very unconscious process.  But to improve your running endurance, you might want to start consciously thinking about your breathing. To do that, you'll want to practice standing still first. 

Stand with your feel shoulder-width apart.  Place your hand just below your ribs and inhale through your nose for three seconds, expanding your abdomen.  Hold for three seconds without exhaling any air.  Then take a second breath in for three seconds and feel your abdomen expand further.  Then exhale through your mouth and pull your your abdomen toward your back.  Practice this a few times to get the hang of it.  

Now for the run...The important thing to remember here is that it's better to breathe through your mouth when you're running.  Normally, we breathe through our nose, but for running it's better to breathe through your mouth to get more oxygen and release more carbon dioxide.  Plus, with your mouth slightly open (kind of like a dead fish) your face will be more relaxed.  

Start with a very slow jog.  Inhale for three seconds through your mouth, pushing your abdominal muscles out.  Hold it for three seconds (this is where it's important to be doing a very slow jog).  This gives the air a chance to move through the lungs.  Then push the breath out for five seconds by pushing your abdominal muscles in.  Obviously, this isn't a breathing pattern you can maintain once you start increasing the pace. So practice at this slow pace until the breathing becomes second-nature.  

Get in a Rhythm:  

Once the belly breathing becomes more natural, you can work on increasing your pace and coordinating the breath with your natural running rhythm.  Every runner has (or should have) a certain breathing rhythm when he or she runs. Check what your normal breathing pattern is (without worrying about belly breathing for a minute) by counting the number of steps it takes you to breathe in and the number it takes to breathe out when you're running.  Also pay attention to whether you strike with your left or right foot when you breathe in or out. Now try to develop a footfall/belly breathing pattern.  Start with a 2-2 pattern, where you breathe in on left-right, breathe out left-right (or vice-versa), making sure you're using your good belly breathing technique.  Then, as your belly breathing technique becomes more natural, try to increase to a 3-3 or 4-4 pattern.    

Additional Tips:  

The best rule of thumb to know if your breathing is under control is the "talk test."  Can you have a conversation when you're running?  If not, slow it down to a conversational pace.  

Also, Runners World has three great Pilates recommendations to help you improve your breathing, strengthen your diaphragm, and stretch your chest muscle.  Give them a try! 

This his how Addie practices belly breathing...

Breathing Beyond the Run

Don't leave your belly breathing behind when you take off your running shoes! The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing go well beyond the run and into the rest of your life.  Did you know that babies are natural belly breathers?  (Babies do so many things right!).  What makes us stop doing that natural form of breathing? One answer:  stress!  When you're stressed, you tend to chest breathe with very short, shallow breaths, which creates - you guessed it - more stress on your system. reports that nearly 50% of all adults have predominantly chest breathing when at rest.  According to NormalBreathing, chest breathing causes fundamental health issues that promote chronic disease, result in low oxygen levels, and cause lymphatic stagnation.  Belly breathing, however, creates superior oxygenation, massages the lymphatic system, and moves wastes from the vital organs that are just under the diaphragm (kidneys, liver, pancreas, etc.). 

So don't leave your belly breathing behind when you finish your run.  You have to keep training your diaphragm even when you're not running.  Lie or sit in a nice, quiet, comfortable place and practice your belly breathing (through your nose this time.  You can breathe through your nose when you're at rest).  Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest and focus on expanding your abdomen to make your bottom hand move while your top hand stays still.  You can also lie on your back with 2-3 medium-sized books on your stomach and focus on raising the books about one inch when you inhale.  Practice this morning and night. Keep your breath smooth and don't strain.  To relax even further, make your exhale twice as long as your inhale.  Then, who knows...maybe your next step will be meditation!!  

If you can train yourself to belly breathe, both on and off the run, you'll be in for having a lot more moments in life that can take your breath away....

Are you a chest or belly breather?  Do you work on your breathing techniques?  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

PIT STOP: I'm Still Here...5 Quick Randoms...

Hey all...Just a quick note to say 5 quick things:

  1. I hope y'all are at or nearing the end of your racing seasons and that you had an awesome year!  Use this cooler weather to start ratcheting back and entering the off-season - which doesn't mean to be sedentary! 
  2. I've been pretty silent lately because I'm still trying to get my feet under me.  Haven't quite had the motivation to sit and write blogs, even though I feel I "should."  What this time has taught is that every time I say I "should," I probably need to be re-thinking my priorities.   There are lots of things on a consistent basis that we do because we think we "should" and it ends up adding a lot of stress.  We either need to eliminate the "should" in our life, or change our mentality about what we think we "should" do and try to make it something we "want" to do.  
  3. I recently adopted a new dog!  And what a difference she's made.  Her name is Addie and she's a 6-year-old pit mix.  I adopted her from the Stafford County Animal Shelter, which has to euthanize for space.  So she was 6th on the "all dogs go to Heaven" list.  But I saved her and, in the process, gave some breathing room to other poor souls on the list.  October is adopt a shelter pet month, so if you've been thinking about it, there's no better time! And what a great way to do something great for another living being, in addition to adding some love and laughs to your household!  I've also created a Facebook page for Addie and will soon have a blog for her to spread information about how wonderful and misunderstood pitbulls are, and provide other dog-friendly advice/education.  Stay tuned for her blog, but her Facebook page (where she already has 1/2 as many friends as I do!) is
  4. I've been doing physical therapy for my knee issues that started earlier this year.  I think it's helping and would probably help more if I actually did the exercises every day like I'm supposed to!  But I did a 5k last weekend and it was my 2nd best 5k time ever, so hopefully that's a good sign!  One of the blogs I do want to do is about the exercises I've been using, so stayed tuned for this as well...
  5. A friend of mine completed the Grindstone 100-mile trail run this weekend (which was actually 102 miles!).  It took her 36.5 hours, over 2 nites, through some very grueling terrain.  I don't know how she did it!  In my mind, she's a true champion.  One definition of "champion" is a fighter or warrior.  She's also a Goddess - one who's admired and idolized and is a symbol of grace and beauty.  It's made me think about what goals I want to set to show off my Warrior Goddess.  Now that the race season is winding down, it's the perfect time to start thinking about your goals for next year so that you can plan your off-season accordingly.  
That's all for now...hopefully I'll be back soon...In the meantime, here are some questions and a picture of Addie: 

Addie is a 61-lb lap dog and total goofball...I'm so lucky to have found her!
1.  How was your race season?  What was your best race and why? 
2.  In what ways do you "should" yourself into doing things?  Are there "shoulds" that you could either eliminate or try to change to "wants?"
3.  Have you ever adopted a shelter pet?  Share pics if you have them!
4.  Have you suffered any injuries this season?  Have you recovered from them and, if so, how?
5.  What goals have you accomplished or can you set for yourself for next year to show your Warrior Goddess or Warrior God qualities? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

THE RACE: What the "Runner's High" Could Say About Our Pre-disposition to Run

I'm very proud to say that I've never done any illegal drugs...The only mind-altering substance I've put into my system is alcohol, and that's even pretty infrequent nowadays.  So yes, for me, there were no crazy stoner college days (well, there were crazy days, but not drug-related), no experimentation, no late-night snack cravings (well, at least no drug-induced snack cravings).  

So maybe that's why I have yet to ever experience - in my 14 years of running - that much talked about "runner's high."  My body just doesn't know how to actually "get high."  For me, it's elusive...For scientists it's also a fairly elusive concept...

What is the "runner's high?"

On a basic level, it's believed that endorphins released during exercise are responsible for elevated moods.  But until 2008, there was no science to back up that hypothesis.

The 2008 German study.  

In 2008, German researchers conducted a brain imaging study that actually showed, for the first time, the increase of endorphins in certain areas of the runner's brain during a two-hour jogging session.  They used positron emission tomography ("PET") to scan the brains of ten runners before and after their running session.

The result:  verification of the body's production of its own opioids (endorphins) during long-distance running.  To measure the endorphin release, the researchers used a radioactive substance that normally binds with the brain's opiate receptors; however, that substance will not bind with those receptors if endorphins are present to compete and bind to the receptors instead.  The study showed that during the two-hour run, there was significantly less binding of the radioactive substance, which meant that endorphins were being released to bind with those receptors instead.

The affected regions of the brain were the prefrontal and limbic regions, which play a key role in emotional processing.  The runners also reported increased happiness and euphoria as a result of the run.  Researchers found that the more intensely the high was experienced, the more the endorphins were being released (i.e., the less the radioactive substance was binding with the opiate receptors).

Three lessons from the research.

There are three important lessons to take from this:

  1. Endorphins released during long-distance running could function as a "pain-killer" for your body.  Scientists know that endorphins help with the body's pain suppression by influencing the way the body processes pain; however, more research is needed to corroborate this precise connection.  But this could help explain why so many runners can just tough it out through pain during a run.   
  2. The results also are relevant for those who suffer from chronic pain because of the body's release of its own opiates to suppress pain. 
  3. There could be a relation between genetic disposition and opiate receptor distribution in the brain.  As one of the German researchers stated, it's possible that "we ran because our genes wanted us to do so."  
It's this last possibility that actually intrigues me the most.  Think about that:  our genes may be telling us to run.  If you haven't read Born to Run by Chris McDougall, you must do so immediately.  Never has a book so fueled my deep-seeded desire not only to run, but to do so in the more natural state/form that our bodies were designed to perform.  (I'll set aside the whole mid-foot vs. heel-strike debate for now, but let's just say I'm an advocate of the mid-foot strike).  To oversimplify the theme of McDougall's book:  our bodies were made to run.  He talks in several places about our ancestral running roots and how, in the beginning, we ran for survival:
“Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love-everything we sentimentally call our 'passions' and 'desires'-it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run.”    
When you think about that - the fact that our bodies are designed to run and that we've done so from Day #1 in the human timeline - the role of genetics in running seems so common-sense, and particularly in the endorphin-induced "runner's high."  

The "addiction" of running.

To take this to a bit of an extreme, we've all heard that genetics may play a role in addictions.  Some studies even conclude that as much as 50-60% of addiction is due to genetics.  Of course, other factors such as stress, environment, lifestyle, etc. also play a significant role, so genetics are not, by any means, determinative.  But focusing on the genetic aspect for just a moment, it's not a huge leap to conclude that not only are we genetically predisposed to be able to run, but also, in at least some small part, potentially predisposed to experience the endorphin-induced "high" we can get from running.

Does that mean everyone can run, that every runner experiences the "runner's high," or that every runner is "addicted" (in the strictest sense) to running?  Absolutely not.  Just because my parents may or may not have been runners or athletes, doesn't determine 100% whether I'm going to be a good runner or athlete.  The training, environment, personality type, etc., are all factors.  But my ancestral pre-disposition to be influenced by the soothing feelings created by an endorphin release quite possibly is a factor in my enjoyment of running and, thus, in my ability to run better or worse.

To be sure, some people can be addicted to running, cycling, or other intense activities in ways that are similar to other addictions.  The soothing feeling some people get from opiates or morphine, is the same as the soothing feeling a runner gets from the endorphin release.  Thus, some people can become literally addicted to exercise.  They experience the "high" from intense exercise and gradually come to rely on that high to create pleasure, much in the same way an alcoholic could come to rely on having drinks to ease their pain.  Afterall, don't we all, to some extent, use exercise as an escape from our problems - to experience a period of time where we can feel that euphoria that lifts us away from the other stressors in our lives?

Well, there's a point where that's certainly healthy - otherwise, doctors wouldn't recommend exercise as a way to relieve stress and lead a healthier life.  But there's also a point where it can become unhealthy if the runner or athlete takes it to an extreme. Individuals who are addicted to intense exercise come to depend on it in unhealthy ways.  They experience the short-lived euphoria from exercise, and then come to need that euphoria more and more frequently, leading them to exercise more intensely or often.  They may even start to slip away from family and friends.  At that point, the person needs help just as any addict would.

The Bottom Line...

Not everyone experiences the "runner's high" to the same extent and some people may not even experience it all.  Certainly I usually feel much better after a workout because of my elevated endorphin levels.  But I've never had that "out-of-body experience" that some people have when they run.  And there could be a lot of factors, including genetics, that explain that.  Likewise, while it's possible that we humans literally are "born to run," we're not all made to run at the same level.  Our training, personalities, lifestyle, and other factors all influence our running abilities.  By the same token, all of those factors can influence whether we can maintain our exercise habits in a healthy manner, or take them to an extreme unhealthy level.  Bottom line:  try to observe how you feel before and after exercise, and make sure your exercise habits continue to take you down a healthy path where exercise is only one of many ways that you can experience natural euphoria in your life.

Have you experienced the "runner's high?"  Have there been times (that you're willing to admit) where you may have taken your exercise to an unhealthy level?