About Me

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I'm a 24-year-old student scientist, budget gourmet, novice cyclist, long-distance girlfriend, and avid amateur runner. I always said I couldn't have a blog because I didn't have anything worth blogging about. Turns out, I may have been wrong...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pack Mentality

Greetings, blog folk!

On a whim, I decided to start today's post with a non-running, non-food, blog-atypical (but certainly not Laura-atypical) digression. 

Jon Stewart (whose show incidentally airs at 8:00pm West Coast time in HD but 11:00pm in regular-D - so weird), interviewed journalist Ethan Watters last week who was promoting his new book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.

Crazy Like Us has a blog, too...

Watters argues that America "exports" its concepts of mental health and mental illness to other cultures in order to sell psychopharmaceuticals (Prozac, Ritalin, Clozapine) to wider markets. These cultures traditionally view what we call "disordered" manifestations of psychological experience as being on a tail of the "normal" spectrum of behavior.  In his interview, Watters gave the example that traditional Japanese culture believes that deep sadness is a spiritual state, rather than a pathology like depression.  But, especially as the economy fumbles, drug companies are wielding increasing global influence as they expose the world to our framework for mental illness, thereby practically spreading disease. 

For me, this interview raised a few red flags, not because I don't "believe" in the phenomenon he describes, but because of the way he frames it.
  1. To be a little bit picky, I kind of object to the use of the term "psyche," which is as anachronistic and unscientific as a frontal lobotomy, and automatically discredits the author and editors in my view.  Yes, he's a journalist, not a psychiatrist, and wants a catchy title, but, if he's done thorough research, he should know better.  
  2. The spread of cultural concepts of mental health is nothing new.  Mental illness as we recognize it did not exist in America until about a century and a half ago, not because people weren't depressed, psychotic, or anxious, but because we didn't have the terminology to describe clusters of symptoms holistically.  Moreover, nobody is shocked by "awareness" movements to promote support for different developmental and psychiatric illnesses, nor do they worry about the dramatic increases in diagnosis that correlate with these movements.  Without proper resources and attention, mental illness can go underdiagnosed and untreated.  And, yes, the pharmaceutical industry profits when there are more patients to treat.  Is it ethically more reprehensible that this same pattern is unfolding overseas?
  3. How is "spreading mental illness for profit" any different than spreading any other kind of cultural value for profit?  That's what underlies all of marketing.  People will pay a lot of money for stuff that has a very low intrinsic value, but a high cultural value - Google "commodity fetishism."  Is the difference that it's causing people to put substances into their bodies that can alter their chemistry or impact their health?  What about the mass globalization of fast food - certainly consuming unprecedented levels of fat, cholesterol, and preservatives can alter body chemistry and impact health.
When the book arrives at the local public library, I'll be the first at the circulation desk, but I'll definitely approach it with skepticism (sorry, Mr. Watters).   

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Insight?  What books have you read/heard about recently that made you stop and think?

Mail call!  My week was unusually eventful in the mailbox department.

Correspondence of interest includes:
  • Member periodicals from the American Psychological Association.
  • Bicycling Magazine!  I have been sporadically receiving unsolicited issues since purchasing my bicycle six months ago... I'm particularly excited to read the articles for beginners and cyclists on a budget.
  • Bills.  Which are less exciting.
  • Tax forms.  Again, meh.
  • And, in a perfect little box, theraputic ice packs from my wonderful other half!!
After his move to school last fall, these were just laying in the basement of my Boyfriend's parents' house.  So, his mom graciously packed them up and shipped them my way!

I love these ice packs and used them religiously in DC while treating patellar tendonitis.  
They stay super cold forever, and, although they're actually designed to fit an ankle, I found that, pulled up higher, they cradle my knees nicely.

Although I still ice after every run (and most evenings), I'm very pleased to announce that my knee is feeling much better, even after a fairly rigorous training week!

Since my last few solo long runs went less than according to plan, I was hoping that bringing along a running buddy would help me finish the next one strongly.  On Sunday, Renata and I headed out into the gloom and mist for an 11-miler.  Because of the rain, I decided not to risk bringing along my camera.  We started the route with some trepidation; if we completed the entire distance, it would be the longest either she or I had successfully run in months!

We wove our way down bike trails to the Arboretum, which sports a mostly-paved, rolling path through lush greenery and stately trees along a winding creek.  As we rounded the lake at the farthest point of the trail, we came upon some very creative facilities...

Of course, we had to take a pit stop at such a fun structure.  (Photo courtesy of the interwebs.)

At some point, we made a wrong turn while exiting the Arboretum, and, although we eventually found our way back to the route, we had accidentally added a quarter of a mile to our distance!  We strided it out towards the "finish line," a stop sign two blocks from my apartment, proud of ourselves for our 11.25 miles at an 9:11/mi average split and feeling much more optimistic about the upcoming half-marathon.

Renata and I collapsed - ahem - stretching on the carpet post-11-miler.

Monday was a cross-training day, which meant yoga OnDemand!

Mountain pose.

I picked a 45-minute "yoga fitness fusion" video that combined traditional yoga poses with body-weight strength moves.  In my experience, the level of rigor of exercise OD videos is highly variable.  To my surprise and delight, this one was hard!

For the next two days, my abs were pretty sore, but I really felt the burn in my glutes! 

Tuesday, I mapped a new 3 mile route in the neighborhood, which provided some change of scenery.  I ran it at around an 8min split.

Wednesday was a rest day.  Thursday, I meant to do a tempo run, but didn't get out the door early enough, so I did the 25-minute "less is more" yoga OD video, which I liked as much the second time as I did when I tried it a few weeks ago.  I could really feel my abs the next day!

Friday morning, I knew I had to hit that tempo run or I wouldn't have enough days left to complete all of my training runs this week.  My goal was to run 4 miles at a 7:30 average split, something I had never done before, and hopefully to keep that pace steady across the entire run.  Because it was dry outside, I strapped my camera to my wrist, laced up my sneaks, and blasted out the door! 

I tried to take some mid-run photos... they're not quite in focus :)  

This bike tunnel is right behind my apartment and basically convinced me to move there.

A bunch of fluffers out for a morning sniff!

Well, I hit the halfway mark in less than 14 minutes, meaning I had run two miles at a sub 7-minute pace.  I had never ever run that distance at that speed before.  So, I was sort of impressed by this feat, but also knew that there was no way I could keep up the pace for another two miles.  My steady pace plan out the window, I finished the four miles in 29:27, a 7:21/mi average split!  Still pretty good, but next time I'll be more conscious about starting at a maintainable pace - no more mid-run burnout!

Saturday, I worked through the afternoon, and arrived home with only an hour of daylight in which to fit my "easy" 3-miler.  So, I bounced right out there with my trusty Cannon PowerShot to begin what quickly became a  "Sunset Appreciation 3-Miler!"

The run was very relaxing, the sky simply ridiculous, and, including photo op stops, I finished the route in around 27:30. 

Last weekend, I cooked up a batch of 7-grain hot cereal and stored it for pre-run fueling.  Before my Thursday and Saturday workouts, I mixed it up with naners, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and a splash of skim milk.

Other mornings, I crafted some English muffin masterpieces:  Baneeners and a sprinkle of brown sugar, popped in the toaster oven until carmelized!

On cross-train or rest days, as well as after my runs, I stuck with my standard egg whites, and of course vanilla nut coffee every day.

This past week was definitely "pork week" in my kitchen, since lunch and dinners were both pork dishes!  Yes, extra value packs of pork sirloin were on supersale at Safeway.

Lunches this week were awesomeThai curry pork stir fry with brown rice, green beans, and Chinese eggplant!

  • 1 bottle Thai curry simmer sauce
  • 3/4 lb. pork sirloin, cubed
  • 1 Chinese eggplant, cubed
  • Big handful of green beans!
  • 1.5 cups brown rice, pre-cooked

 In large skillet, bring sauce to a boil.  Add pork, cook ~5 minutes or until half-done.  Add vegetables, simmer ~10 minutes until pork is cooked through.  Serve over rice.  Enjoy!  Makes 3 servings.

I made one batch with green curry simmer sauce, and another with red curry so I could alternate my lunches!

Dinners were smoky tomato pork loin with brown rice and roasted veggies.

Smoky Tomato Pork Loin
  • 2 lb pork sirloin steaks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1 16-oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pre-cooked brown rice
In a large pot, over hot olive oil, brown pork on both sides, set aside.  In same pot, briefly sautee garlic, oregano, and cumin.  Add tomatoes, sugar, S & P, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, add pork, covering completely in sauce, and simmer ~35 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness.  Remove pork, bring sauce back to boil, and reduce by half.  Pour sauce over rice and pork.  Enjoy!  Makes 6 servings.

Roasted Veggies
  • A ton of vegetables (here, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and crimini mushrooms)
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • Lots of freshly ground pepper
  • Sprinkle of kosher salt
Toss veggies with oil and seasonings, coating well.  Roast at 400F for ~40 minutes until browned evenly on the outsides, stirring every ~15 minutes.  These are soooo tasty!  Enjoy!  Pictured, 6 servings.

For desserts this week, I had nonfat yogurts, frozen for about an hour until solid on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Realllly tasty treat!

Starting with my not-so-steady tempo run, Friday continued to be quite the roller-coaster of a day.  In the afternoon, I was exceedingly lucky to attend a dialogue-style presentation on emotion and behavior by none other than (in)famous psychologist Paul Ekman.  Before the talk, there were free snacks, which, for me, included three cookies, two strawberries, a few blueberries, and a bunch of grapesThen, I sat down for an intellectually exhilarating lunch with the speaker (and twenty other students - details).  I helped myself to yet another cookie, three potato chips, salad greens, and a very small apple, avocado, goat cheese, and cranberry chutney sandwich on thickly-sliced whole-grain bread.

Cell phone shot.

That evening, grad school friend Mark hosted a game night at his apartment, which included Taboo, Pictionary Man, and "Celebrities."  Much laughter and good times ensued.

Mark "buzzing" Maria in Taboo.

Pictionary Man!

Edibles included tofu sushi pocket things, corn chips and salsa, amazing veggie pizza on whole wheat crust, and fabulous fudgy homemade brownies.  I enjoyed several helpings of each of these.

I also savored two Pyramid Apricot Ales.

While hanging out with my cohort, a group of enormously diverse, generous, and dedicated graduate students, I was struck by the camaraderie in the air.  In Pictionary Man, as well as in our academic pursuits, there's a real sense of, "We're all in this together."  I started to think about how important it is to have other people by your side to undertake challenges with you. 

Take running.  Please!  Kidding, kidding.  But seriously, folks, one of the first things I learned about running is that a run is a lot easier, and a challenging goal a lot more attainable, when you have running buddies!  As I've mentioned before, I never could have completed my first half-marathon without my "team," consisting of then-roommate Sara, then-coworker Lauren, and myself.  They were there to motivate me when I felt like slacking, and they shared my excitement and anxieties about the challenge ahead.  

When I moved cross-country, all by my lonesome in a brand new town, one of the first things I did was sign up with a training group at my local running store.  It was great to have people to talk with on my long runs, and, because we ran at a similar pace, I was able to forge friendships with two other members, Kevin and Amanda.  Eventually, we began to meet up outside of the training group for weekday morning runs.  It was really nice to feel part of a running community again.
Unfortunately, since school began (and the training group ended), I've fallen out of touch with these two runners.  But, upon reflecting on the importance of the running community, I'm determined to reestablish these connections.

The newest and coolest additions to my running community are two of my cohort members!   Both Jin and Emily H have been training to run their own first half-marathons - and we'll all be at the starting line a week from tomorrow!!  I'm so thrilled for both of them, especially since, even before running this race, they're already talking about the next races they want to run!  Way to go, guys, I am so impressed!

I also greatly appreciate having found - finally! - a reliable, interesting, strong and steady running buddy in Renata, who is both my co-worker and Emily H's roommate.  We've only been on two runs together, but we're already planning future routes!  Not to get ahead of myself, but I think this might be the start of a beautiful relationship :)

In the buddy system of life, I'm partnered up with my Boyfriend - and we make a formidable team.  In grad school, I have my cohort to cheer me on.  But, in my sport of choice, I have something a little different - I run with a pack

Wolves come in packs!  My favorite is the black one at the bottom who is howling.  
And the grey one over his right shoulder who is like, "Yeesh, you howl really loud."
On a side note, a Google Image search for "wolf pack" yielded almost as many pictures of Taylor Lautner as it did actual wolves.  Shudder.

Runners definitely have a pack mentality, and this is never clearer than during a race!  There's a natural order that arises from the chaos of the starting gate - in no time, you're in sync with the runners around you, a dynamic system working towards a unified goal.  You find yourself part of a living river, legs and breath rhythmic, flowing down the racecourse.  Yes, it's a competition as well, but the communal energy during a race is truly palpable.

My frst race: The 2009 No Rail on the Trail 10K.  Lower right corner, elbow with pink and purple sleeve = me!

Starting line of the 2009 Davis Turkey Trot 10k

The 2009 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon - a sea of runners.

Thinking about what it felt like to run in a pack of hundreds or thousands of fellow runners in these races makes me wiggle with excitement for next weekend's half-marathon!  No matter how hard it has been to train, or how long 13.1 miles may seem, I'll be able to go with the flow and enjoy the run when my community, my pack, runs with me!

On the docket for the coming week:
  • Sunday, a 12-miler with new packmate Renata.
  • Taper week!  Two three-mile easy runs only.
  • Yoga, most definitely.
  • Taking my bicycle into the shop for a tune-up and investigation into a certain component upgrade... More details to follow!
  • My first fillings :'(  I'm honestly pretty scared...
  • Lunches: Some kind of quiche?
  • Dinners: Something fun from Trader Joe's?  Recipes TBD, but deliciousness guaranteed!

Today's Question: What do you look forward to the most about a race?  Conversely, what makes you the most nervous about a race, and how do you overcome those nerves?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eat to Live, Fuel to Run

Good Wedneday to everyone!  Finally, a sunny day in beautiful Northern California!

Same view as this picture, but much happier :)

Not too long ago, I lived to eat.  Every day, food was an event.  Marathon eating sessions with multiple courses and humongous portions were a mainstay.  As my erstwhile roommate Sara's brother DJ once commented, when it was meal time, my friends and I "did food." When I got the urge to eat something, which usually had nothing to do with actual hunger, I was a force to be reckoned with -  highly motivated to obtain what I was craving and put it in my body as quickly as possible.

Eating was so rewarding (I'm talking ventral striatum-style dopamine let-down, for all you neuroscientists out there) that I just kept eating because I didn't want that wonderful feeling to end.  But the high was usually followed closely by remorse and sluggishness, and periods of increased eating inevitably led to more snugly-fitting clothing.  Emotionally and physically, this behavior pattern was decidedly unhealthy.

I'd tried diets - Atkins, Weight Watchers, Special K, you name it - which almost always meant deprivation, having specific rules about what was not permissible to eat.  But, when something is forbidden, it has this funny way of becoming that much more salient.  It's like if I told you, "Do not, under any circumstances, think about polar bears."  Let me guess: you just thought about a big, white bear.  So, all too often on diets, I found myself eating contraband.  Once I ate one of those "bad" foods, mentally, that whole day of dieting was shot, and eventually I just reverted to my regular eating ways.  

For brief periods, I also engaged in calorie counting.  With calorie counting, if you have that burrito, muffin, pina colada, and/or cheeseburger, you still have to hold yourself accountable - you have to count those calories.  So, keeping these records taught me more about the nutritional content of different foods, and helped me figure out what healthier choices might be.  However, at the end of every single day that I restricted my intake to my goal calorie limit, I had so little energy that I could not get off the couch, even to do something fun, let alone go to the gym. 

Leave it to running to change my perspective on and my approach to food.  If I was exhausted and famished from restricting my diet, or bloated and comatose from overindulging, there was no way I could complete the day's training run.  Because I was committed to my running, I needed to start eating like an athlete!

And, like a good little scientist, I did my research.  I read literature on why to eat what foods and when in order to run your best.  When I applied these principles to my actual eating, incredibly, it worked!  I felt more energized before a run, happier after a run, and stronger during runs than I knew was possible!

Food became linked to the experience of running, and linked positively rather than negatively.  Instead of thinking, "I can't eat Food X," and "Food Y is bad for me," I started thinking about how "I need to eat Food A," and "Food B is good for me."  For the first time, food wasn't just for eating - it was fuel! 

Too often, I've seen new runners make cardinal nutrition mistakes (which may stem from their own history of engaging in "diet-think").  How you fuel before, during, and after a run can make a huge difference for your running performance and enjoyment!  Here are some basic guidelines of fueling for running, combined with examples of what I eat to fuel.

All day, every day... Drink up!

Hydration is fundamental for athletes.  Our bodies are mostly water, and, during exercise, water keeps us cool and flushes the waste and toxins produced by our muscles.  If you are dehydrated before a run, your performance and mood with both suffer.  After a run, it's important to replace the water you've sweated out - and runners sweat - for every pound you lose on a run, you should drink 8 fl. oz. of good ol' H2O.

I carry a bottle of water with me all day that I refill constantly.  I'm so used to being properly hydrated that if I go even an hour without a sip, I feel parched.  Perhaps it's psychological, but at least I know I'm staying hydrated.

As you sweat during a run, you lose not only water but also electrolytes, substances like sodium, calcium, and potassium.  Quite literally, electrolytes conduct electricity, and nerves use electrical signals to communicate with each other and control your muscles.  Severe electrolyte deficiency is a very dangerous condition to which endurance athletes are particularly susceptible.  Below, I talk about options for electrolyte replacement during workouts.

Before the run...  Slow carbs, some fast carbs, and a little protein!

Whole grains, which have complex carbohydrates that are processed more slowly in digestion, provide a steady source of energy for the run.  Before longer runs (5-13 miles) I often fuel up with multi-grain hot cereal, which is also an awesome source of both fiber and protein!

Simple carbs are burnt off during activity very quickly, giving your muscles a "burst of energy," but they also are stored more readily as fat if not immediately metabolized.  I'll top hot cereal with fresh and dried fruit, and a little brown sugar, as well as some cinnamon for flavorFinally, nuts (walnuts here) provide protein and some monosaturated "good fats," which keep you full and round out the nutritional content of a meal.

Or, I'll fuel with a toasted multi-grain English muffin - these are a favorite especially before shorter runs (3-5 miles) because they're a little lighter than oatmeal.  I'll put anything on them, from bananas and PB (fast carbs and protein) to cottage cheese and tomatoes (protein and fast carbs!).  Yummm!


Also, a moderate dose of caffeine can jump-start the brain for those early-morning treks, and it turns out a little coffee can also give your legs an added jolt!  I drink one (large) mug before heading out, as well as plenty of water.

Yes, my coffee maker matches my toaster oven, thanks for asking.

Importantly, if you are a morning runner like moi, you may not have much time to wait between fueling and hitting the pavement.  So, I keep my pre-run cuisine as tummy-friendly as possible.

During the run... Fast carbs, electrolytes, and H-to-the-O!

As a rule of thumb (unless you are running in extreme heat), it probably isn't necessary to fuel or hydrate during a training run until you are running for ninety minutes or longer.  When it is time for that long-long run, there are a lot of choices for mid-run food and bev.

You see distance runners making a big deal out of supplement gels or "Gu's" - ripping open a plasticky packet with your teeth and shooting back a glob of viscous, artificially-flavored slime mid-stride is practically a runner's rite of passage.  But, there are many different gooey and non-gooey options for mid-run carbohydrate and electrolyte replenishment.

Brands like Clif and Gatorade make gummy chews (e.g. Shot Bloks), jelly beans (e.g. Sport Beans), or other candy-like supplements that might trick you into thinking you're eating a delicious treat - but you're really replacing the energy and nutrients that you've burned off and sweated out.

Some energy bars like my favorite PB-flavored PowerBar are designed to help you sustain a tough workout - but, I personally find them a bit too hard to chew on the go and prefer them as a pre-run snack.

Endurolytes by Hammer (above, left over from a recent race goody bag) are tablets that you can swallow to help replace electrolytes, but they don't contain carbs.

Mid-run hydration can be tricky, but, unless your long run routes are serendipitously peppered with water fountains, you will need to bring along some liquid.

It's not uncommon for a runner to stash water bottles at strategic points along a route, diving in and out of shrubbery to retrieve them every few miles.  Renata employed this very tactic on our 11-miler this past Sunday, which I found to be amusing but also ingenious.  Then - no littering! - she had to carry the empty bottles with her until we ran past a trash bin.

Many runners own hydration belts and can carry small water bottles around the waist for easy access and stowage.  Tristan, who ran the Healdsburg Half with me, swears by hers.

I, on the other hand, am of the minority that wears a CamelBak on long runs.  I find the drinking tube to be the most efficient way to get liquid into my mouth (way less spillage than water bottles), and personally prefer to have something heavy strapped to my shoulders than riding on my hips during a run.  I fill mine with slightly diluted Fruit Punch Gatorade for electrolytes, carbs, and flavor :)

I started training with my "visible"-colored CamelBak for the Pittsburgh Half.

Now it lives in my fridge full of Gatorade, ready for my next long run.  Never mind the whipped cream, it's a long story.

Importantly while running, know thyself.  As you train for a race, pay attention to your body's needs during your long runs.  When you feel yourself become excessively overheated or thirsty, you might consider bringing hydration along.  If you start to feel your blood sugar drop after five or six miles, that's when you need to take a supplement - and then another one five or six miles later at most!
After the run... Protein, water, and some carbs!

Right after you finish a workout, it turns out that you have a very short window of time in which your muscles will maximally absorb nutrients.  Within twenty or thirty minutes of finishing a run, particularly a hard run, you need to ingest food that is high in protein and contains some simple carbohydrates.  That way, your muscles will recover more efficiently and be optimally fresh for your next run.  In other words, fueling properly directly after a run can help you avoid future feelings of "lead legs." 

There are nutritional supplements specifically designed for post-workout consumption, such as drink mixes by Muscle Milk or PowerBar.  These formulas are purportedly optimally formulated for absorption (they are highly soluble and have the proper "balance" of nutrients), but, in actuality, real food can serve your recovery just as well (although it is admittedly less handy).

Nonfat milk is a great recovery drink.  Fruit combined with a source of protein like cottage cheese or yogurt is also excellent.  In fact, this combination, sometimes topped with some crunch like Kashi cereal, is a favorite post-run snack of mine.

If you are recovering from a long run, still eat recovery food immediately after finishing (and stretching).  But, your body will plow through that snack rapidly, so it's imperative to eat a real meal no longer than an hour and a half after your snack.  Remember, if you ran 10 miles, you just burned around 1,000 calories!  So, it's important to replace that energy in your body.  These meals should also be high in lean protein and contain complex carbohydrates (veggies, whole grains, etc.).  Because I'm usually verrrry hungry at this point, I go for a nice, big deli sandwich on wheat, or even some frozen pizza with chicken.

Although the rule about post-workout recovery fueling is probably uncommonly known, my Boyfriend, who is very experienced in fitness, has been telling me about it for years. Once I tried it, I was amazed.  The day after a particularly tough run, I could really feel the difference in my endurance and speed.  No more lead legs!

OK, as I've described it, this fueling thing seems a little complicated.  As a runner, it is necessary to be extra mindful of what you're eating and when you're eating it.  As Jin exclaimed after class on Monday, "It's like you need to plan your whole eating schedule around running!"  That might be only a bit of a hyperbole, but fueling for running is worth it. 

Starting a run hungry is always a bad idea.  If you get hungry in the middle of a short run, you probably didn't fuel sufficiently.  It might take some trial and error, but it's important to figure out pre-run fuel that works for your stomach.  Long runs will be much more manageable if you bring along liquid and some kind of supplement.  And your training plan will be much more effective if you give your muscles what they need to recover. 

You've been working too hard towards your running goal - be it a particular race or just general fitness - to let improper fueling get in the way.  Instead, done thoughtfully, what you eat can help your running!

Of course, I still love food and believe that eating a delicious dish is one of the greatest pleasures in life.  For instance, I spend all of one week thinking about what I'll make for dinner the next.  But, I think about it in terms of combining flavor with proper fuel.  And I've learned to say "no" to food when it may not be a good fuel choice, and "yes, please!" to foods that would!

Thanks, guys, for reading, and I'm very curious about your opinions on the above information and fueling in general.

Today's question:  How do you fuel?  What do you eat before a workout?  Do you carry water on your runs?  What supplements have you tried, and what did you think of them?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Need for Speed

First, I want to say thank you so much to everyone for their reactions to my last post.  You've helped a ton already, and, with your continued input, I'm excited for this blog to grow even more.

This week in beautiful Northern California it rained for five straight days.  I don't mean cute little drizzles.  No, this was umbrella-destroying, hair-soaking, tree-shredding, tunnel-flooding Rain with a capital R.

At about 3pm it's so dreary out that it looks like dusk...

But... at least I had plenty of opportunities to wear my rain boots!

Also, since biking around town (my usual mode of local transportation) was not an option, I could bring my longer London Fog raincoat out of retirement.

  "Oh, Mister Sun, Sun, Mister Golden Sun, please shine down on me!"

So, I've been largely relegated to the treadmill this week.  Treadmills aren't the worst thing in the world - they can actually be helpful with certain types of runs (I'll explain momentarily) - but for a distance longer than four or five miles, I really don't have the attention span.


On Monday I went to the university gym for the very first time and re-attempted the 10 miler on a treadmill next to Jin, who is training for her first half-marathon!  I varied the pace every mile or so, and kept the incline at 1% (to better simulate outside running).  Well, I made it 8 whole miles on a treadmill before the knee started to feel a little iffy and I decided to stop.  Not bad for a treadmill run!  All the TVs and people-watching made the run a little less monotonous, plus having a treadmill buddy helped :)

Tuesday and Wednesday were rest and ice days.  I wanted to do some yoga, but I ended up working two 12-hour days, and when I got home I had energy only for dinner and bed.

In a fit of optimism, I decided to wear my cold-weather (outdoor!) running duds to go to my dentist appointment Thursday morning because the rain seemed to have let up.  I had the idea that, once I got home, I could just hop out the door and head out on my route.  

These blue stripey tights are my favorite new piece of running apparel!  Compression top ($20) and warm tights ($30) are both C2 by Champion from Target - cold-weather gear for a grad student's budget :)

Unfortunately, the second I got home the deluge began again.  So, it was back to the treadmill for interval work for me!

I credit speed intervals (repetitions of 400 meter sprints with walking or jogging in between) with most of the improvement in race pace that I have made in the past six months.  Whereas distance running usually engages only slow-twitch muscle fibers, speed intervals teach your muscles to activate the fast-twitch fibers as well, giving your legs an added source of power.

While training for the Healdsburg Half-Marathon, I integrated one day of speedwork into my training every other week.  I started out running 4 x 400m in 1:30 each (6min/mi pace divided by 4) with 1:30 walking in between and 1 mile each warm up and cool down.  After the third or fourth interval, I usually started to get pretty uncomfortable (notably dry-heaving on a few occasions - sorry for the gross imagery).  By the end of my training, I was doing 8 x 400m in 1:30 with energy to spare!  And, I had shaved a minute off of my average half-marathon split time!! 

The (maybe only) cool thing about treadmills is that, when you're trying to run at a specific pace, the treadmill will force you to stay there.  For speed intervals, this feature is particularly effective.  When on your fast intervals, the treadmill will keep your pace up; when on "rest," the treadmill will keep you at a steady but slower pace when you are exhausted (stay strong - no slacking!).  Thursday I did 6 x 400m at 9.2mph, a 6:30/mi pace, with 9:30/mi 400m jogs in between, plus 1 mile warm up run and a cool down walk.

The treadmill in my apartment complex's mini-gym doesn't have certain features that fancier real-gym versions have.  For instance, it only reports distance to tenths of a mile, as opposed to hundredths.  So, it's hard to judge when I've reached 0.25 miles (that's roughly 400 meters).  Also, it doesn't convert the mph that you set into min/mi, so I was doing some long division in my head mid-run Thursday morning.  Today I found this nifty treadmill pace conversion chart on the interwebs, so I can look up my goal pace before hitting the 'mill next time.  Not sure how the "equivalent paces by incline" calculation works, but I dig it!

Friday I didn't delude myself and immediately headed for the treadmill in the morning.  I had decided that, in order to make the most of my shortened running week, I was going to do a second type of speedwork - a tempo run.

It's 'mill time!  (Also, pasty legs!  Can't wait for summer...)

Essentially, "tempo run" means that you run for an extended distance near peak sustainable speed.  It's also often good to run "negative split" tempo runs, where you increase your pace every mile or so (so, speeding up rather than slowing down when you start to fatigue).  Incorporated into your training over time, these workouts will raise your anaerobic threshold so that your muscles metabolize oxygen longer into a run (rather than switching to glucose metabolism) and better process waste.  This means you'll be able to run faster for longer and without cramping.  Sounds pretty great, right?

But tempo runs can be grueling.  After Friday's tempo run, I was quite the sweat-monster.  I started with a 7-minute warm up walk (attempting to prevent further irritation of my IT band at the knee).  Then, I followed this tempo progression:
  • Mile 0-0.5 - 8:00/mi pace, 1% grade
  • Mile 0.5-1 - 7:54/mi pace, 1% grade
  • Mile 1-1.5 - 7:54/mi pace, 2% grade
  • Mile 1.5-2 - 7:48/mi pace, 1% grade
  • Mile 2-2.5 - 7:48/mi pace, 2% grade
  • Mile 2.5-2.9 - 8:00/mi pace, 1% grade
  • Mile 2.9-3.0 - 6:40/mi pace, 1% grade ("strides")
Once again, the treadmill had come in handy for speed training!  After a cool down walk, I stretched (especially my IT bands) and iced.  I also had to scuttle hurriedly through the parking lot back to my apartment - the rain and wind had really picked up. 

To my delight, I woke up this morning to bright sunshine and blue sky - and couldn't wait to get outside!  I grabbed my camera (per childhood best friend and professional photographer Elizabeth's request) and headed out on an "easy" 3 mile run through the bike paths in my neighborhood.  The first thing I saw when I stepped outside was evidence of the havoc the rain storms had wreaked the night before.

But, in general, the run was completely gorgeous and it was amazing to be outside soaking in some vitamin D again.  [Side note: I don't really understand how sunshine could give you vitamin D - does anybody know how that works?] Including stopping to snap some pictures, I stayed around an 8:11/mi average split.

I love my running/biking paths and am pumped to go for an 11-miler on them tomorrow.

Even though my some of my usual activities were disrupted by the weather, my food plan for the week went off without a hitch!

Breakfasts were vanilla nut coffee and egg whites.  I always buy cartons of just egg whites and pour 1/3-1/2 cup in a microwave-safe bowl, then nuke it for 1.5 minutes.  Near-instant protein blast breakfast!

Lunches this week were curried sweet potato, cauliflower, and chicken.

  •  1 head yellow cauliflower florets
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, sliced
  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pre-cooked
  • 2 single cups (with aluminum the pull-lids) of nonfat plain yogurt
  • a lot of curry powder
  • cumin
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • salt and pepper
Mix yogurt and spices.  Pour half into a bowl, set aside.  Toss other half with veggies, spread in a greased dish.  Roast at 400 for 20-30 minutes.  Top chicken breasts with 2 tbsp reserved sauce and 1/6th of the veggies.  Microwave until hot.  Enjoy!
If you work or go to school with me, you're probably quite familiar with my lunchbox :)  I pack lunch and snacks in it every day - it's a real money- and calorie-saver.  Carry-on snacks this week included (as usual) 2% mozzarella cheese sticks, nonfat yogurts, Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate Bars, and granny smith apples.

Dinners this week were mostly glorious spinach, baked honey sesame tofu, clover sprouts, steamed beets, cherry tomato, dried fruit, mixed nut, and balsamic salads.

But, on Thursday night, having ratcheted up my calorie burn with the morning's interval training, I was famished by dinner time and craving something hearty.  So, along with a side-salad with tofu, I threw together baked cherry tomato pasta for one.

  • 2 oz. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • generous sprinkle of dried oregano
  •  1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 2% mozzarella cheese stick, shredded
  • 1 tbsp sprinkle Parmesan cheese

Mix everything but the cheese and pasta together, let sit for 10 minutes while you cook the pasta.  Toss tomato mixture with pasta, add to small baking dish.  Toss half the mozzarella in with the pasta; top with the other half and the Parmesan.  Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.  Broil for 1 minute.  Enjoy!

Look at the steam rising off that beautiful roasted cherry tomato!  Mmmm, so savory, tangy, and sweet!

Desserts have been multiple bowls of either Kashi GoLean Crunch, Special K Protein Plus, or Special K Chocolatey Delight.

On Saturday afternoon, in celebration of the sunlight, I met Jin and Shannon at the local Farmer's Market for lunch.

We all ate Indian Naan wraps - I had baked tofu with various chutneys, Shannon had aloo gobi, and Jin had paneer.

Then we walked downtown for coffee and tea

Hmm that clock is definitely incorrect.

On our walk, we passed one of the town's many impressively lush and surprisingly located fruit trees.

It was so nice to be outside on a beautiful day - and unbelievable that it is still January!  The rain is supposed to rear it's ugly head again next week, but hopefully it will hold off tomorrow for my next long run...

On the docket for the coming week:
  • Sunday - 11 miler with Renata through the Arboretum!  Will definitely bring the camera on this one.
  • A 5-mile tempo run.
  • Two 3-4 mile "easy" runs.
  • Lots of stretching, especially paying attention to my IT bands - no more knee pain please!
  • Crossing off lots of items on my lengthy to-do list.
  • Evening yoga to decompress.
  • Lunches - Something with chicken TBD.  Maybe red curry or stir-fry...  Red curry and green curry pork with green beans and Chinese eggplant!  (Bulk pork was on sale this week @ $1.69/lb.)
  • Dinners - Roasted veggies (brussels sprouts, carrots, mushrooms) and modified tomato pork chops.

Today's question:  How does the weather impact your life? Does your mood change with the seasons?  Are you less productive when it is unfavorable outside - or is it harder to concentrate when you'd rather be playing in the sunshine?