Thursday, May 31, 2012

No carb left behind?

Marathon countdown: T-3 days. Therefore, I must be consuming an inordinate amount of carbohydrates. Marathoning and carbs go together like peanut butter and jelly. Every runner knows that. Duh! 
And a No Carb Left Behind Diet (sure, it's a thing) needn't even involve a journey to Italy, like it did for Julia Roberts (go watch, or better yet read Eat Pray Love if this is concept new to you). No shortage of carbs in SoCal.

Okay, so we have established that carb-loading (defined as stuffing one's face with carbohydrates to increase glycogen stores in the days preceding endurance athletic events) is legit and must be done...and since it's so much fun, I wonder how many of us ever stop and wonder why we really do it. 

Yeah, that's my lover. Glucose.
For one, research does not conclusively show that there is a significant improvement in performance for runners, especially women, though it's generally accepted to be beneficial. (Plus, I'll just ignore the studies that tell me I don't absolutely need to do it.)

Secondly, most people supposedly do it wrong anyway - as in, not eating the right foods in the right amounts. For many runners (don't worry, I'm not naming names), the concept seems to mean "food-loading", thus eating everything in sight. Hey, I don't judge. But while fries, cookies, doughnuts and really creamy pasta dishes are based on carbohydrate sources, the extra fat is unlikely to deposit itself into muscle stores. 

Supposedly, the average runner tends to pack in less carbohydrates than would be needed for measurable performance improvements. However, in my book, there is only so much one can eat without running into GI issues (and thus, port-a-potties) or feeling sluggish from excess water weight and calories. So that's where a bit of thinking before food-shoveling comes in. 

[For the record, according to the ACSM, female runners should be loading with 8-10g of carbohydrates per kg body weight. Stick with me for a moment here. That's about 3.5-4.5g per pound you weigh -> 520g for a 130lb person -> lots of food, a little over 10 (normal, not Starbucks) bagels worth of carbohydrates.] 

Mmmmmm, bagels.
In any case, I definitely think there is a psychological element to carbohydrate loading, one that trumps whatever science says about the subject. It's comforting and oh-so-fun. To have a valid excuse, even a mandate to eat lots of carbohydrates...well,  that's pretty great. In fact, 26.2 miles worth of awesome.

Bring on the bagels, bananas, brown rice, coconut water and sweet potatoes ('cause that's just how I roll). 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's Taper Time

Running is not easy. In fact, it can be pretty darn hard, depending on what you want it to be. But arguably, at least for me, it's generally much harder not to run. Not just because my shoelaces are pretty and blue and I have a tutu to match them. I have urges to get out there and I'm not a fan of self-control when it comes to this sort of thing.

Nevertheless, I'm cutting back. I'm not injured, the weather is perfect and I want to run. All the time. Perhaps more so than when I have no reason not to. That's the lure of the forbidden miles fruit. But given it's T-9 days to my next marathon, I am embracing taper time: the calm before the storm, if you will, a chance for the body to recover from training and get it together for race day.

Yeah, right.
I'm obviously still running some, just much less. There is not much science to the madness in my world and I'm always experimenting with a new taper schedule. In fact, I have tapered somewhat differently for all of my 10 previous marathons. Some involved no cutting back, while one involved a month-long taper and I still showed up with an un-healed broken toe on race day (not pretty but hey, I finished).

Learning from past mistakes and incorporating what has worked, I started cutting back 2 weeks before marathon day, i.e. this past weekend. I ran 10 miles (race pace) on Saturday and did cross training both days of the weekend - core (I love my Bosu ball), elliptical (with the right resistance, it's legit!), spin bike and a fair bit of retail therapy. Oh, and a pretty mellow 5-mile hike which was really fun.

This week, I am running every other day. Less miles, but with a little kick so I get some energy out of my system. I am still sticking to my negative splits - or more accurately, running each mile a little faster than the previous one, so I end up with the first mile as the slowest and the last as the fastest. I adopted this a few months back and absolutely love training this way. It leaves you feeling energetic towards the end of the run, feeling fabulous and yet pretty accomplished.
Overall, I will end up with 25 miles for this week. Not counting the miles I've walked around Memorial Day Clearance Sales.

Race day week (next week, yay!) will be super mellow and yet full of excitement. I've been looking forward to this marathon for a long, long time. (My registration was actually a Christmas gift. I have such thoughtful family members.) I will spend more time walking, doing yoga and perhaps on the elliptical....with 5 miles Tuesday, 3 miles Thursday and a shakeout 1-2 miles on Saturday.

And when it's all said and done, you will probably find me in this section of Whole Foods in Venice:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fun is where it's at

You know those people who are somehow always in a good mood? And you just cannot fathom them ever getting angry or upset about anything? No, I am not one of those people. I have moods and they definitely I find these consistently high-spirited people incredibly inspiring.

There is this runner I know, let's call him J.  He trains with the LA Roadrunners, the club that I am a pace leader for (between September and March, training for the LA Marathon). Granted, I'm 7 pace groups behind his, because, well, this guy is fast. And not only does he make speedy running look easy, I have never seen him without a smile on his face...running or otherwise.

Runner specimen: not having fun
His 6-7 minute miles resemble effortless floating/flying that screams fun and enjoyment and makes me think hey, I want to look like that when I have been holding that pace...for 20 miles! (Not the sweaty definitely-not-smiling mess I can become) It's fascinating and enviable. That's the stuff you can't teach and can't really learn. You, I guess.

Don't get me wrong, I obviously love to run and genuinely have fun doing it. But I am clearly missing something because I don't smile like that all the time.

When race day came in March, I expected J to knock out a sub-3hour marathon, which he was more than capable of. Or even a 2:45 finish, especially if he made a true effort. But that may have resulted in an occasional frown.

Me & my pace balloon. I'm not smiling,
but my yelling is making someone smile.
It was motivational, I swear! 
Since I paced a 4:35 marathon (also the most fun I've had during a marathon thanks to an awesome group of people), I figured this guy would be napping at home by the time I crossed the finish. Or maybe still running, but smiling somewhere 20 miles away. Either way, what I did not expect is a 7hr28min finish time.

So what happened? At 20k, he was on track for that sub-3 marathon. At 21 miles, he stopped and rested for a few hours, then did the rest. No male ego getting in the way, no time target worth fussing about and potentially risking injury for.

He says he had a great time and that running 26.2 miles is fun. I clearly agree, or else I would not be running my 11th marathon in 2 weeks.

The question it fun in retrospect or are you truly enjoying yourself while you're actually doing it?

What J seems to be doing is running for the sheer joy of running, not for a pace, time, bragging rights or competition. It's a step above it all, where you value your enjoyment more than all those other things (or Virtual Buddies) that can come to define your running experience.

Life is short...and I'm not sure if they have Garmins in heaven?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mmm, bars...!

I often ponder how well, or how long, I could survive on granola/energy/protein bars. Clearly, I have deeply philosophical thoughts....that may be a bit un-future-dietitian-like of me.
Oh well.

Sure, there are a lot of glorified candy bars out there, but there is also a lot of legit stuff, made of actual foods tthat your grandparents would recognize - take Larabars, for instance.

My favorite flavor, Cherry Pie contains: dates, almonds and unsweetened cherries. Not too shabby. Mind you, it makes a really filling snack and works like magic before or during longish, chilled-out trail runs. It's easy to chew (so important when you're 20 miles in...) and beats energy gels both nutritionally and in terms of the "real-food" factor.

Nutrition: 200Cal, 8g fat / 30g carb / 5g protein and lots of vitamins/minerals.

Now...the ingredient label of my latest semi-probematic addiction, the Nutz over Chocolate LunaBar is less grandma-friendly. But it is non-GMO, vegan-friendly, mostly organic, fortified with a bunch of vitamins and minerals...and full of sugary goodness. It's made by the CLIF bar guys and the website does a good job at explaining what the ingredients are to those who care to know. And it's definitely not too sketchy.
I can have these at any time of the day but I really like them as a pre-morning-run breakfast (supplemented with an orange if I plan on going longer than 10 miles) and sometimes as a post-run treat, especially after speedier/shorter (5-8 mile) runs.

Nutrition: 180Cal, 6g fat / 25g carb /  9g protein, fortified with lots of vitamins & minerals.

I do like my CLIF bars, too, in case you were wondering...and while I have had them as pre-run fuel many times, I prefer them post-run. They tend to get me a little too jittery before a run, I am guessing due to the enormous amount of sugar in them (more than twice that of a Luna Bar).

Here's why. There's been tons of research to suggest that a 4:1 ratio of carbs and protein (i.e. 4x as many grams of carb vs protein) is optimal for muscle recovery for endurance athletes.

My favorite flavor, Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch nails that ratio.

Nutrition: 240Cal, 7g fat / 40g carb / 10g protein, also fortified with lots of vitamins & minerals.

However, depending on the run, 40g carbs (with 21g sugar) might just be a bit too much and I have to hold myself back from inhaling the whole thing at once. After a marathon though...bring it on.

Oh, and...

While I am not trying to pull of a "Supersize Me"-esque adventure, this was my lunch today.
No time to make real food + need to eat while driving + so hungry + "mmm, chocolate" = this.
 It was delicious, thanks for asking. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Running with my eyes wide open

I love the ability of music to get me into the zone and "get lost" in my run. Okay, sometimes I do literally get lost...but let's not get into that right now. Let's also not talk about how I have actually missed a 10k race before because I -smartly, trying to get more miles in- chose to run from home to the start line...only to get very lost in the process.

Aaanyway, I was reminded on Sunday of how amazing it is to open up to the world when you run. Not just because you notice a whole lot of stuff you might otherwise speed on by, but also because there are so many opportunities to interact with other runners.

My message to all the guys...
 being passed by female runners
One interaction is passing slower runners...or smiling at how some obviously pick up the pace when approached from behind. Oh, apparently many guys don't like being passed by girls - especially girls in pink. Again, another story.

Ok, back to my Sunday. I was on the last mile of my 10 miler for the day and was cruising at a moderate pace...when this lady with a very bouncy stride passed swiftly by. Ok, I was a little annoyed...but she didn't carry a water bottle, nor a Garmin so clearly she must not have been out for more than a few miles...meaning it's okay that she was faster. So I didn't really care much and kept running along. Until, a few minutes later, I caught up to her. Maybe I speeded up a tiny bit or she slowed down. Or both.
Either way, I was about to pass her this time. As I came up next to her she glanced over and said  "It's okay, I don't mind if you pass me". Well, lady, it's not like I was going to ask, but good to know.

I smiled and somehow we started chatting, all the while we both kept picking up the pace. We ran together for about a mile, carrying on a very random but interesting conversation about races, triathlons and local clubs. And you know what? That last mile was my fastest and most fun mile of the day.

I rarely start random conversations with other runners while I'm in the midst of it all...but maybe I'm really missing out - in more ways than one. Perhaps it's okay to talk to strangers, after all. ;)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Busting out some new tunes

I admire people who never listen to music while running. It's amazing how relaxing the experience can be without musical distractions. However, though there are certainly times I crave to bust out a run without it, my Shuffle has been faithful company on short and long runs alike. 

Some special magic happens at the birth of a new playlist. It's much like getting a new and exciting toy as a want to immediately go play with it. Well, at least I can hardly contain myself. Or maybe that's just me...

Less runner friendly...
Remember these?
So thankful for new technology...
My new playlist? There's no real science behind specific, pace-targeted beats-per-minute to drive my selection of songs. I had my fling with but it just didn't work for me. I'm still not sure how Coldplay's "Yellow" is best for a 7:36 min/mile, while the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" is best for a 12:00min/mile. My brain-leg connection must just be out of whack.

t don't necessarily listen to songs in a strict order, because I like the unpredictability of mixing things up a little. Like when "Walking on Sunshine" comes on when you're running through a torrential downpour (as was the case during the monsoon otherwise knows as the 2011 LA Marathon).

On that note, I wanted to share my most recent bucket of fun running songs. It's a mix of old tunes and a handful of new songs that make me smile. It's one of my most energetic mixes so far and I've been super happy with it. It's random. Perhaps even quirky. But it's fun. It's made for running ;)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Run to a new beat

What will this run bring...?
This week has been mildly painful and frustrating for me in terms of running. My calves and I have not been on friendly terms and it definitely showed. I even cheated on my running shoes with a spin bike for a bit of "cross-training". Okay, that's something I should do more of, anyway, but being stuck in a relatively small space with smelly men can hardly compete with running free by the beach. (Unlike much of LA, the gym in my apartment building is not the place for celeb spotting)

So, when I got up this morning, with thoughts of calf compression sleeves, BioFreeze, which feels much like an ice-bath (aka heaven!), I decided to dedicate today's run to re-discovering the fun in my run.

Sometimes I feel like my Garmin steals the spotlight. Actually, that's 99% of the time. I run to beat my Virtual Buddy, which is pretty sad if you think about it. Don't get me wrong, I still (generally) have a blast in the process, but I'm hardly paying attention to myself.

Since I obviously couldn't go cold turkey (have to make sure I run a round number of miles of course), the Garmin took its usual place on my left wrist. But, tricky me, I hid the pace bit so it wouldn't be staring back at me every time I took a peek.

After a gourmet breakfast of CLIF bar and coffee, Shot Bloks in hand, I was out the door. (My dear friend, the stick, was standing by, waiting for my return)

Turns out, it was smart to take a day or two away from running. I felt pretty good and cruised to LAX and back (so glamorous...but I love running under planes landing and taking off. Next time I'll bring a camera). I stopped to stretch a few times, which was much needed...especially after some climbing action, but overall, I ran happy.
My not-so-tricky Garmin display

Did I check my pace? Oh heck yes. Turns out, my eyes naturally go there, no matter what I do. But it's okay, I had some fantastic new music on my Shuffle, which kept me pretty distracted and relaxed. On that note...I will have to share my killer playlist soon.

And yes, I ran exactly 10 miles.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Strokes of random brilliance

Don't you love those moments when you feel like the world makes sense and you've got it all figured out? No, those moments don't often happen to me. But sometimes I do come up with some brilliant(?) thoughts worthy of sharing, or ponder the ways of the world to make running lots of miles more fun.

For example...

I know quality trumps quantity...or at least it should. Theoretically. So, I should make the miles I run count, not just run miles and count them. Clearly. But I do get a sense of joy from entering digits into that running log of mine and exercising some math skills in adding them up.

Does quantity convey a sense of accomplishment better than quality?
Or is it just more fun and tangible to measure things by the numbers?

While we're on this topic...I also have a thing for round numbers.
I'll never finish a run at, say, 9.67 miles - sorry [insert complaining body part] but you will just have to stick it out for another 0.33 miles. It has to really be debilitating pain to stop my round-numbered-mile conquest.
If I was doing the whole listening to my body thing, which I always tell other people to do...I would be content having run what I have and calling it a day.

Listening to one's own advice is obviously overrated.

And inevitably, numbers grow to define a runner. Say you just completed a marathon (yes, I actually consider 26.2 a round number of miles). You tell people, because obviously you're super proud. It won't be long until someone asks what your time was. Even if it's a non-runner with no appreciation for how long 26.2 miles can be. And all of a sudden, how fast you ran starts to define the experience...or maybe, at least on some level, it always has?

Running really breeds a love for numbers, doesn't it?!