Monday, January 31, 2011

Yea for Me!

I am happy to announce that yesterday's run was SO much better than Friday's run. I got out and even within the first 5 minutes, I could tell it was going to be a pretty good one. The weather, while not super warm or sunny, was at least dry and it was temperate enough that I could have left my gloves at home (my fingers are usually the first thing to start complaining when I get chilled). My stride was feeling good, I was loose and I didn't feel like every step I took was an exercise in torture.

In fact, yesterday, I ran all the way up one of the hills in my neighborhood without stopping. It's not the worst hill in the neighborhood, and it's certainly not the length or steepness of the horrible one that my sis-in-law has to deal with, but its one of the ones I have to navigate no matter what if I want get anyway in our neighborhood.

That being said, I will confess that I did stop and walk for about 30 seconds once I reached the top of the hill, and my form in getting there would have Steve Prefontaine absolutely cringing in embarrassment, but no matter what, I was super excited to have made it to the top. I only wish every run could be this good!

Yesterday's Run
Miles: 6.22
Time: 1:15
Pace: 5.0 mph
Street Run

Saturday, January 29, 2011

No, really I AM!!!

Saw this on Café Press this morning and had to laugh...

Friday, January 28, 2011

A little off my game...

Well, Heather and I had been looking forward to getting together for our run all week long. I shifted my long run to earlier in the week so that it wouldn't impact my run today... we had it all planned out. Heather arrived this morning and although the weather wasn't great, at least it was not raining, so we set out.

About a mile into our run I was really not feeling it... I just felt like every step I took was a struggle. Finally, about 3/4 of a mile later I had to bail on Heather. We walked about another 1/4 mile to get back to my house and that was it. It was definitely an off day for me. I felt so bad for Heather coming over only to not be able to get a full run in.

I should have known it wasn't going to be a great day... I woke up this morning feeling really bloated... even in my legs and feet, which is something that rarely happens to me, but at the time, I didn't think it would necessarily affect my run. Of course, what I forgot until well after Heather left is that I also had a lousy night of sleep last night... I got about 3 hours of really restless sleep and if I had remembered this, I might have been tempted to call Heather and tell her to save the trip... but since I forgot that little (but probably very important) piece of information while getting ready this morning, she showed up and we set out.

Over time I am better able to tell when the fatigue I'm feeling is mental and it's something that I need to just push through, but occasionally, the fatigue really is a physical thing... and I think it's at this point that's it's best to listen to what you're body is telling you and pull back for the day... the road will always be there tomorrow. So, Heather and I have postponed our run until next week... I will do everything I can to make sure there's not a repeat performance of today!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Really? Are you serious?

I was reading through some back articles from John “The Penguin” Bingham this morning and I was struck by how often he talks of his foray into running at the age of 43 as “fun.” And then every time I would read this (pretty frequently) in one of his posts, I would think to myself, really? You genuinely find pounding pavement for miles on end with your heart beating wildly, your leg muscles burning as you climb hills, and your lungs burning as you gasp for air “fun?” Obviously John Bingham and I have very different definitions of this seemingly innocuous little three-letter word…  So it got me to thinking about what it really means for running to be “fun.” Usually, I will even go so far as to decry the hypocrisy of the “fun run.” Clearly this is a misnomer… especially when it involves any distance longer than, say, 5K at the absolute most.

To come to a mutually acceptable definition, let’s start out by establishing here and now that the fun of running is not (nor will it ever be, in my mind) the same kind of fun as, say, going to Six Flags and hopping on a roller coaster (Ignoring for the moment that there are some experience-deprived people out there who actually don’t like roller coasters at all). It’s not the same kind of fun as going to Hawaii for a week’s vacation or watching your favorite sports team win the big game. These, to my way of thinking, are what I would term fun, in the classical sense of the word. No, running (or really any kind of sport that requires more than a modicum of physical exertion – hopefully this will nix the questions about chess as a sport for the purposes of this discussion) is not fun in this classical sense of the word. That being said, if John Bingham, or anyone else for that matter, can change my mind about this perspective I’m open to the arguments…. 

Who knows, maybe I’m just not in touch with the Zen nature of running yet. I rarely, if ever, get into the soothing rhythm of a run enough to find it a freeing experience… and I must admit that it makes me feel more than a little inadequate when people talk about the Zen of running, or using their daily runs in order to clear their heads and work out solutions to tough problems in their minds. I don’t ever achieve this place of meditation during a run and when I see someone, anyone, writing or talking about this I look at them wistfully and wonder what it is that they’ve got that I’m missing… like it’s some kind of missing piece of genetic material or something… and maybe I was never really meant to be a runner because I can’t achieve this level of running nirvana.

Fortunately, I’m not willing to admit defeat quite so easily. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not physically designed to be an elite level runner, so maybe this is on that same order – only this is the mental side of the genetic equation. But actually what I suspect is that we might need a whole new word coined for the fun that is derived from running… so that people like me can get out there and run without feeling like they’re missing out on something merely because they’re not achieving the same kind of high they would as if they jumped on the Matterhorn at Disneyland (bad example, I know, but bear with me here…).

So let’s talk, instead about the kind of fun that I have as a runner. This is a fun that is much less readily apparent than the amusement park thrill ride. This is a kind of fun that has to be actively sought out and recognized for what it is. You work for this fun, it’s not handed to you (is having to work for your fun, actually fun or is this oxymoronic? Maybe... I’ll have to do some more thinking on this.) The fun of running is the fun that comes with the acknowledgment of achievement… when you run your first mile, your first 5K, your first marathon. It is the joy you feel when you get to the top of the hill and despite the lactic acid pain in your legs, you turn around and realize you’ve made it to the top without stopping (go, go Heather!) - whereas last month, you had to take a breather or at least walk the last part of that hill. 

Maybe the fun comes from the new community of friends and acquaintances you develop who share your common interest. They know what it means to face a lonely day of running in the rain and the cold. You can share the common insights about things like moisture wicking fabrics and the breaking in of a new pair of shoes… or the love/hate relationship we have with Lycra. You can reflect back and laugh together at your race time that was horrendously ruined because of the mile-long train that had to cross in front of you during the last race. Or you can sit together at the end of a race, talking over the high and low points while enjoying the spoils of pasta and beer. But still this isn’t exactly fun you have while running.

Or maybe the fun comes from the enjoyment of getting out and seeing the changes, however subtle, that come each day to the environment around you as you run your regular route. Seeing the leaves on the trees change colors in the fall, or seeing the first signs of daffodils in peoples’ yards in the spring… or even other changes that happen…  I must admit that I derive a strange sort of pleasure from seeing when the city comes around and fills a pothole that I’ve been navigating around for months and months. 

My enjoyment also comes from the changes I see and feel in my body… the weight loss, the muscle gain, the strides in my cardiovascular improvement, not to mention the more subtle changes that are only evident when I look back over the past few months or even years, such as no more knee pain when I climb stairs and no more gasping for breath when I get to the top of said stairs. But again, I really wouldn’t call all these things the fun of the actual activity of running. Yes, I do appreciate the way my body moves better, but again, this isn’t really fun per se.

John Bingham talks about our body’s inherent drive to move and to run… witness little kids running all over the place just because they can and because they enjoy it. Still, I don’t tend to think of something as fun just because it’s instinctive… running from the mastodon that wanted to eat us for lunch or the tsunami that rolls in on the shore is not fun merely because our survival instinct inherently tells us to run! 

Does this all make me too “goal” oriented and all about the end result, not the journey? Maybe… is that going to stop me from stepping out to take the journey in the first place? Absolutely not. I guess all of this is leading me to think that we need a new term to describe the kind of joy we derive from incorporating this activity into our lives that might not be fun in and of itself, but the sum of its parts does lead to a sense of enjoyment, accomplishment and fulfillment.

Now, if we only had a word for this sensation that wasn’t used interchangeably with the one we use when referring to mouse ears, relaxing on white sand beaches, or eating burgers and Cajun fries at the local “Five Guys!” As I said before, John Bingham, I’m open here... any suggestions?

Today's Run
Miles: 6.16
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Treadmill  Run

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The inmates, er, I mean cats, are taking over the asylum!

My DH ordered me a Road ID for Christmas, which I had been wanting. It just makes sense, in case I ever need emergency assistance when I'm running without a partner (or running with someone who might not know all of my personal particulars). Anyway, that's not the point of today's story.

I had place the Road ID on the kitchen table so that I could take it downstairs to the garage where I keep the rest of my outdoor running gear (gloves, hat, iPod armband, etc.) whenever I happened to be headed in that general direction. I do this with a lot of stuff... groceries to go in the food pantry, items going to Goodwill, rags that have been laundered and folded and now need to be put away... you get the idea.

Anyway, I was headed down to the treadmill (also in the garage) to do this morning's workout (why I chose to do 8 miles on the treadmill this morning is a whole other story that I won't get into right now... maybe someday). I went to grab my Road ID off the table and low & behold... it's not there! Well, having four cats in the house, one of which I swear thinks he's part squirrel, it's not hard to figure out what probably happened to it. The bigger issue is finding the stupid thing once the inmate (aka cats) had run off with it.

 It's not the first time that they have run off with something. I have dropped socks on the floor on the way to the laundry room, only to have them disappear and then re-appear in a different part of the house several days later. We are missing about half a dozen little stuffed animal cat toys which are too big to fit under the stove or fridge and for which I have checked under the couches and the bed. Anyway, you can see how my mind might start to race and panic would set in when something that is as vital as my Road ID comes up missing. I started looking around for it and of course it wasn't to be found actually near the kitchen table, like the cats had just batted it off and then left it alone. No, that would be too easy for my cats! I start thinking about having to tell my DH when he gets home from work how we're going to have to order me a new ID, even though I've had this one for less than two weeks, how the squirrels (aka cats) have once again run off with and stashed another one of their conquests. This is getting old.

Okay, time to pull it together and start looking a little more intensely for the ID. I guess, I should mention here that my Road ID is pink and many of their other toys, just though mere coincidence, also happen to be pink, so I'm sure it was no huge stretch for them to assume this was just another toy to add to their collection. You will be happy to know that I did finally find it... it had been carried downstairs and stashed between a stereo speaker and the wall. Fortunately, the color helped it to jump out at me against the cherry wood color of the floor...

Well, the Road ID finally made it down to be place securely (aka a place the cats can't get to) with my other running gear... and I have learned my lesson.... all items placed on the kitchen table should either be a) heavily monitored or b) willing to be surrendered to the inmates that seem to run this place.

Yesterday's Run
Miles: 8.04 (new personal distance record)
Time: 1:41
Pace: 4.8 mph
Treadmill Workout

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yea for Boudreax's!!!

While I was writing about body parts chaffing the other day, I started thinking about my secret weapon in the war against the rashes that develop when you forget to put on your Lycra-infused exercise clothing or don’t bother with the petroleum jelly or Glide stick for those ‘sensitive’ areas.

Okay, I confess, this really isn’t my own personal secret, but it is the recommendation of my running buddy/sister-in-law, Heather, who has been doing this longer than I have.

The answer - as embarrassing or just plain strange as it might seem on the surface – diaper rash cream. More specifically, Boudreax’s Butt Paste. Now, this is a diaper rash cream I had never heard of before (it’s certainly not one of the more widely known varieties and, given that I don’t have any kids, my opportunities for experimenting with diaper rash remedies has been limited) but it is a wonder treatment for all kinds of rashes, but the ones experiences most often by runners are heat rashes from places rubbing together that were never meant to rub together… especially for those of us who don’t weigh in at ninety-five pounds. 

I’m not sure what the magical ingredients are in Boudreax’s that make it so wonderful… it’s basically zinc and balsam… so maybe it’s the ratio of the ingredients… or maybe it’s some kind of magical fairy dust… I really don’t care. I just know that this stuff works. If I get heat rash, I put a dab of Boudreax’s on my rash right after my morning shower and usually by that evening the rash is either dissipated or at the very least, significantly reduced. And the bonus (like you really need one when it comes to reliably getting rid of heat rash)… it even smells kind of… nice. Now, I’m not saying that I’d go voting it in as the next scent for an aerosol air freshener, but it’s certainly not offensive and even better, people won’t go around sniffing you and thinking you smell like a baby with diaper rash!

Okay, now that I’ve shared my secret and given my unsolicited plug for the day, you can all go back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Today's Run
Miles: 6.22
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Part Street/Part Treadmill

Friday, January 21, 2011

My very first sports-related (kind of) injury

I haven't this little piece of info to everyone yet... I'm running with a torn labrum... fortunately, it's not the hip labrum, like my sis-in-law is suffering under... so sorry to hear you can't do the 17 miler, Heather!

In a nutshell, the labrum is a piece of cartilage that is formed like a cup and helps to hold the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) in place. It's tissue that is not very well vascularized (not a lot of blood vessels), therefore healing can be a very slow (aka frustrating) process.

Anyway, I fell during a race on Thanksgiving day, landed with an outstretched right arm (naturally, since I'm right handed) and apparently, landed with enough force that it jammed the ball of the humerus into the shoulder socket and caused a tear. Ow!

Because the pain was not going away after well over a week, I scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who immediately sent me in for an MRI to see exactly what was going on. The orthopedic surgeon has diagnosed me with a torn labrum and some bursitis. He then sent me to physical therapy to see how much healing could take place before he/we will consider more invasive options, i.e. surgery.

Yesterday was my fourth physical therapy session and I must confess, I'm trying to do my exercises regularly, but I'm just not feeling like there's really much improvement in the condition. There's a sharp pain deep in the shoulder that seems to get worse when I reach behind my back or across my body. It's been almost two months since my injury occurred and it's starting to worry me a bit that things just don't seem to be healing. I'll try to keep everyone apprised of my progress.

In the meantime, fortunately, there are a few bright spots in this whole adventure:
  1. I had my first MRI... most people are probably thinking "this woman is crazy!" But, seriously, I'm not really claustrophobic, and they braced my shoulder with lots of big pieces of foam. It might be the best my shoulder has felt since the accident! Plus, the tunnel of the MRI was nice and warm and cozy. I was just about on the verge of sleep while in there. It was pretty relaxing for me. (OK, a side note here - my dad, as a medical physicist, used to do installations and calibrations on MRI's... so I kind of knew what to expect... it's not a medical machine that was outside of my realm of experiences even though I'd never actually had one myself.)
  2. My friends, family, and even my health care providers have been incredibly supportive of me and have encouraged my continued running. My orthodpedic surgeon was even a little surprised, but very pleased when I told him that I was still running despite it causing a bit of discomfort in my shoulder (that was initially, the pain has subsided enough from the initial inflammation stage that it really doesn't bother my shoulder to run any longer... at least not too much!)
  3. Physical therapy has been a good experience for me. My therapist is a pretty cool guy who also happens to run, so we can talk about different races that we've each run. He is great about taking all of my issues and concerns seriously and doesn't make me feel like my injury is a little insignificant thing (which, let's be honest, in the grand scheme of all things that could have possibly happened to me, really this is pretty minor). Finally, he has a cool collection of funky Hawaiian shirts... it's always a surprise to see what he'll be wearing each time I go in for therapy.

Of course, all of this is not to make light of my situation, but I really do try to make a concerted effort to adopt a glass half-full mentality. This kind of thinking doesn't necessarily come naturally to me, but in the long run, I think it's much more productive and mentally healthy for me. And after all, health, not just physical, but also mental health is the reason I started running (and keep running) in the first place.

Yesterday's Run
Miles: 7.31 (new personal distance record)
Time: 1:30
Pace: 4.9 mph
Treadmill Workout

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yep, I am a fair weather runner...

Okay, if you read the title of this entry, you might be wondering how I could let you down... after all I've set myself up as this gal who runs and perseveres despite a few obstacles thrown in my path. Well, Chubby Runner fans, never fear, I won't lead you astray now. Rest assured, the title isn't really what you might be imagining. Let me clarify - see, it's not that I don't run when it's cold or raining (or hot or snowing or whatever), it's just that, well, when the weather outside isn't peachy-keen, I'll usually stay inside and opt to do my run on the treadmill... After all, I'm the proud owner of a treadmill, so why not use it, right?

In the fairy-tale land that is the daily goo of my brain this is all well and good, I can just treadmill away blissfully ignorant of Mother Nature. But, alas, in the cruel, cruel world of 5K's, 10K's, half & whole marathons, you are not given the option of running them on treadmills (granted, running 13 or worse, 26 miles on a treadmill might be a whole new form of torture unto itself, but you get my drift), so for this reason AND because my ever-so-persistent sister-in-law, Heather, convinced me to join her on a run (and since we both can't fit on the treadmill) I ended up hitting the pavement in today's less than perfect conditions.

We headed over to the trail this morning to get in our miles. The trail we like to run is marked and paved and it also parallels a creek. During nice weather the running water is very enjoyable to run alongside - the brook babbles along, you run in and out of the shade of the trees that line the path, there's a couple of cute wooden footbridges to cross, the birds fly, the bunnies scamper along, there's even an absolutely gorgeous view of Mt. Hood from the trail... pretty idyllic, huh? 
Only the addition of Snow White and seven little chubby guys with white beards and funny hats are required to meet my expectations for the perfect running environment. Anyway, you get the picture...

Well, let me tell you, today was not that kind of day! Today it rained almost the entire time we were out and the trail was thoroughly water-logged. It has been raining for days around here which has forced all of the creeks and rivers up out of their banks. The creek that parallels the running path is no exception - this normally mild little river is currently completely up out of its banks... so far so that in many places you can't even tell where the creek banks are supposed to be. This is great for the ducks... and for a dog who we saw swimming in a lake where there should have been a river... but it's not so great for the running trail, which according to my SIL was partially flooded over the weekend. Fortunately, today the water had receded enough that the trail wasn't completely flooded, but what was left was many deep puddles along with lots of mud and water-clogged fields along the way.

Yes, there really is supposed to be an actual creek with actual banks where this dog is swimming!

For our run, we managed to go the entire length of the trail and back... just a smidge over 6 miles... so we at least met our mileage goal for the day. But when we were finished out feet were water and mud soaked, we were wet clear through to the skin and I felt like I was running while carrying about an extra 10 pounds of weight due to all the water-logged clothes and completely drenched hair. Still, even with all my complaining, we actually had a really good time today... and I might even be tempted to do it again... after all, I do have to train for those runs that aren't run on treadmills...
It's hard to see, but there are ducks swimming among these tree seedlings... NO there's not supposed to be water here!

Heather took some of pictures of us out on the trail. We got to see ducks swimming in a spot where there is no creek (at least not usually), I was my SIL's hero of the day and shooed a snake off the trail for her (it was just a little 2' ribbon snake - even I'M not brave enough to confront something too much bigger), and we saw lots of dogs out with their humans thoroughly enjoying the wet and mud... and on top of all of that, I feel personally pretty accomplished for having completed my daily run without stepping foot on my treadmill, despite the less than perfect weather... Yea Heather and Yea Me!!!
Me coaxing the snake off the trail... you can see the trail wasn't completely flood-free!

Today's Run
Miles: 6+ little bit
Time: 1:16
Pace: 4.8 mph
Paved Trail Run

Monday, January 17, 2011

More Thoughts on Green Smoothies

Well, I realized that I hadn't covered everything I wanted to about Green Smoothies in the last post. So, here are a few more little snippets of information that I have gained from both reading and personal experience.

Even though fresh fruits and veggies are always preferable, this time of year sometimes the produce (especially the berries) are either scarce or scary… take your pick. I really don’t care for pale strawberries and finding things like blueberries or raspberries this time of year can sometimes be difficult. When this happens it is okay to use frozen fruit… it is second best to fresh with canned being a distant, distant third option (and then ONLY when the fruit is canned in water NOT syrup!) Still, with a little planning you should be able to stay away from canned fruits. Grocery stores usually have all the different kinds of berries in their freezer case. Unfortunately, they can be a little expensive. What I have found works best this time of year is to load up on frozen berries at Costco. They have huge bags of strawberries as well as mixed berries. They also have the smoothie blend of fruits and yogurt, but I prefer to add my own this way I control how much yogurt I add and the ratio of the different fruits.

Organic produce is preferable whenever possible. Although the jury is officially still out on this, many studies have been done that suggest that organic produce is significantly higher in the nutrients we are trying to get from our fruits and veggies (and that is, after all, part of the reason we’re doing this, isn’t it – to get all of our vitamins and nutrients in a more natural and tasty way?). Some research out there suggests that organic produce can have as much as 1000% (yes one thousand%) more of some nutrients than its non-organic counterpart. While I might balk at the suggestion of 1000% more, I would tend to believe that the organic produce has to have more nutrients by the fact that the soil hasn’t been stripped of all the nutrients that will eventually make their way into the plants.

Mix up your greens… don’t put the exact same greens in your smoothies day after day after day. The greens have trace amounts of toxins in them (think of how houseplants can be poisonous to your pets) that will build up over time if you just keep using the same green all the time. There are enough options out there that it shouldn’t be too hard to mix them up… and you can mix them up even within a family of greens… for instance, there are several varieties of kale… which can all count as different greens.

Experiment with your greens, it really depends on your personal preferences! One of our friends who introduced us to green smoothies just loves dandelion or arugula in her smoothies. For me, both of these greens are way too bitter. Similarly, I love collards in my smoothies, whereas my sister-in-law doesn’t care for them in her smoothies at all. It’s really a very personal thing.

As I mentioned, ground flax seed is an easy add to your smoothie for Omega-3… just know that when your smoothie sits overnight (as mine usually does), it will thicken significantly due to the addition of the flax. There is something about flax seed that acts as a binding/thickening agent. As far as I know, there’s nothing wrong with this and it is definitely okay to add more water to your smoothie to loosen it up… I just think of it as one more way to meet your daily water intake requirements! :)

Just the other day I put some dried cranberries in our smoothie to see what they would be like… I really liked the addition, but keep in mind that any dried fruits are going to have a much higher concentration of sugars. This is not a good choice for those of you trying to control their sugar/carb intake.

I really like pineapple in smoothies, but I really hate cleaning fresh pineapples. I have found a couple of ways around this little stumbling block. The first is to go to the cut fruit section of the grocery store’s produce department. They will usually have fresh cut pineapple there. The other  thing I stumbled across is bags frozen pineapple at Trader Joe’s… this might be even more convenient than the produce section because I don’t have to worry about using it all up before it gets yucky looking in the fridge.

Also, I have come across fresh, sliced mango at Costco. This is a nice way to purchase mango, ‘cause they can be a bit of a pain to slice up due to the giant pit in them… I might be revealing something about my cooking skills here (or lack thereof), but whenever I try to slice fresh mango myself, I usually end up mutilating it… fortunately, this is fine for the purposes of smoothie, I just prefer to not deal with the skin & pit when possible, if that makes me seem lazy... well... what can I say?

If you have a high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, you probably already know that you can throw apples in core and all. However, from some painful experimentation of our part, I can recommend you NOT put orange peels in your smoothie (although a little orange can be a tasty addition) or any of the thicker fruit peels (banana, mango, grapefruit). Also, seeds are okay (think apples or oranges), but pits are not (cherries, peaches, mangoes)… again, those of you with high-speed blenders probably already know this… and I was just a little slow on the up-take. As for slower, more traditional blenders, yes you can use them, but I’m not sure if the results will be quite as smooth as with a high-speed blender. To be honest, we’ve had our Vita-mix since before we started this process, so I’ve never tried it in a traditional kitchen blender… maybe someone else can chime in here…

Also, if you’ve never done this before, don’t get too worked up over exact proportions or which fruits and greens to use. As I said, a lot of it is a personal preference and you’ll just learn over time what works for you and your family. Also, like anything you prepare for the first few times, there is a learning curve. My first few smoothies took me about 20 minutes to put together and left a mess all over everything in the kitchen (I even forgot to put the lid back on my blender a couple of times and ended up with smoothie on the ceiling… Yikes!). Now, it takes me about 5 minutes to put one together and I end up with almost zero mess aside from the equipment needed to actually make the smoothie. Give it a little time and you will get into the rhythm of making them.

Consistency will yield the best returns… Like anything that involves your health, a consistent, steady approach is what will give you the most noticeable results. Yes, you will benefit from green smoothies, even if you only partake of them from time to time, but I think that my DH and I are feeling significantly better by drinking green smoothie each day… and I have used the smoothies as part of my own weight loss plan… to the tune of now over 60 lbs!

Once again, happy smoothie-ing to you all. Let me know how it goes.

Yesterday's Run
Miles: 6.17
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Treadmill Workout

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Two-Fisted Drinking Habit

It occurred to me while I was wandering around the kitchen this morning that, as much as I hate to admit it, I am quite often a two-fisted drinker… Now, before you go getting all concerned and making plans for my intervention, let me clarify… in the mornings quite frequently you'll find me carrying around my mug of coffee in one hand while in the other hand I will be chugging a tall glass of green smoothie.

"Green smoothie?" You ask. Yep, smoothie that because of its mix of ingredients that, when blended together can be so visually unappealing, that if I personally didn’t know what went into one, I’d be reluctant to drink it! So, what is a green smoothie? Well, it is a fruit smoothie with a kick – these smoothies have a nice dose of dark, leafy greens in them which give them their color and also their name.

As most of us know, as Americans our diets can be woefully low on precisely those foods which are supposed to be eaten in the highest volumes – namely fruits and vegetables. It’s believed that less than one-fourth of all Americans eat the minimum five servings of fruits and veggies a day and let’s not forget this is the recommended minimum. We are actually to get up to NINE servings a day… and while the smoothies don’t completely make up for the lack of fruits and veggies in a person's diet, they can certainly go a long way toward alleviating the deficit.

My DH and I were originally introduced to green smoothies a couple of years ago by some friends of ours who had started imbibing them as a recommendation from their doctor. The wife had developed type 2 diabetes along with heart disease. She was told to lose weight and start eating healthier – with green smoothies as a means to aid them on their journey. Well, if truth be told, initially my DH was much more enthusiastic about the idea at the time than I was… have I mentioned that these drinks are visually unappealing? Our friends were toting around these big mason jars of green stuff which they were drinking at every given opportunity... Ewww! Fortunately, with a little persistence from my DH and additional information from our friends, I eventually warmed to the idea and am proud to say that we have had green smoothies as a part of our diet now for about a year and a half.

What a green smoothie consists of is essentially a 60/40 (approximate ratio) mix of fruits and leafy greens which are put in to the high speed blender (Vita-Mix or similar) until pulverized into a liquid form. This makes the greens (and fruits) easier to absorb and less harsh on your stomach than say, the greens you would eat in a salad. Sounds kind of like juicing, huh? Well, sort of, but it’s even better because with the smoothie you get all the nutritional benefits from the fruits and leafy greens while still leaving all the dietary fiber intact as well. 

Fruit smoothies are further (and better) explained in a book called Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko. In her book she outlines all the benefits of green smoothies and explains why even those of us who might be eating lots of vegetables, are still probably not getting enough dark green leafy vegetables in our diets. She would even go so far as to suggest that leafy greens should be in a whole new category of vegetable since they are the plant itself, not the product of the plant (such as a tomato or peas or beans). She also has some suggestions on what you can put in your smoothies, but there really isn’t a specific recipe; it’s mostly just adhering to the 60/40 fruit/leafy greens ratio (you could use more leafy greens, but it is definitely an acquired taste) and trying to drink around one quart (32 oz) of smoothie a day.

If you want specific recipes, try typing “Green Smoothie” into Google and you’ll come up w/ a bunch of recipes. But here are a few general guidelines that we have adapted from Boutenko's book: use banana to add sweetness and creaminess and apples to add thickness. Add about a 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax seed too. You won’t taste it and it will add Omega-3 to your smoothie. Finally, with the recommendation of my DH’s doctor we have begun to add a serving of Activia yogurt to our smoothie as well for the probiotics and acidophilus present in the yogurt.

Here are some of the fruits we use in addition to bananas & apples are: 
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Berries (all kinds)
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Cherries (but they're kind of a pain to pit)
We don’t tend to like melon or pears in ours, but that’s just a personal preference. The leafy greens we tend to prefer are:
  • Spinach
  •  Collards
  • Kale (any kind)
  • Chard (any kind)
Sometimes I add just a little romaine to make up some of the leafy greens if I have it to use up, but too much of it and your smoothie tastes a bit like Caesar salad! You’re not supposed to put any greens in lighter in color than romaine (i.e. No butter lettuce, leaf lettuce, iceberg, etc.). You can also add edible weeds such as dandelions… you just have to make sure that they come from a known source (aka lawn) where there have been no pesticides or herbicides added!
The smoothie on the left has strawberries & spinach in it, the smoothie on the right has mixed berries (blue, black & raspberries) and purple kale... this will give you an idea of what they can look like.
Generally, I make around a quart at a time w/ a recipe such as the one below, but it varies a little bit from day to day. I’ve noted which items are always in our smoothies. The rest varies according to my mood and what we have on hand.

·         1 apple (always)
·         1/2 banana (always)
·         1+ Cup Berries
·         5 - 6 Prunes (for digestion)
·         1.5  - 2 Cups Water (always)
·         2 T Ground Flax Seed (always)
·         1 Pkt Stevia (for sweetness - optional - they're usually pretty sweet w/out it)
·         1-2 cups  leafy greens

As you can see from the above list, this quart of smoothie has at least five servings of fruits and veggies in it! As far as consuming it goes, you can drink it whenever you want. Lately, for convenience (since I don’t like making smoothie as soon as I get up), I’ve been making ours up before we go to bed the night before and I just put it in the fridge... that way it's ready to go as part of breakfast in the morning. However, don’t store the smoothie for more than 3 days as the nutrients will start to break down.

I guess I should add one final caution about the smoothies. These are NOT the brightly colored cheerful looking smoothies that you will get a Jamba Juice or the like. You have to keep in mind that these smoothies have greens in them… and when you combine the greens of the vegetables with the reds of berries you will get a putrid brownish colored smoothie. I have heard people on the web complain how they can’t get past the appearance of the green smoothie… I did mention that they’re visually unappealing, didn’t I? And others have found ways to get around the unsightly nature of the smoothie by putting it in an opaque glass or even stainless water bottle. Whatever your means of getting past the ugliness of this smoothie, I can say it’s well worth the effort. These can be incredibly tasty smoothies that will contribute in a big way to your overall nutritional intake and sense of well being.

Here’s hoping to see a bunch more people taking part in my morning ritual of two-fisted drinking... happy smoothie-ing!

Today's Run
Miles: 7.02 (new personal distance record)
Time: 1:30
Pace: 4.7 mph
Treadmill Workout

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coach Scruggs

I know that most of us that run primarily for reasons of health and fitness don't usually enlist the services of coaches... even if, ideally, we'd have one to push us that extra little bit, this is a luxury most of us can't afford.

It is for this reason that I feel extremely lucky to have a personal coach who oversees many of my daily workouts. I'd like to introduce you all to Coach Scruggs...

Our cat, Scruggs is one of four cats that my DH and I have... yes, we are a little crazy... but she is the only one that has taken it upon herself to supervise most of my indoor workouts. Our treadmill is in the garage and on days that I opt to do a treadmill run or a hill-climbing routine, the other cats will come and go throughout the time that I am down there, but she is the only one who will come and perch herself on one of the tables or stools in our garage and monitor my progress. If I have to get off the treadmill for any reason during my workout (such as a potty break or to grab the towel I forgot before I started), she will start meowing at me as if to say "Get back on there! You are NOT done yet!" and remarkably, she'll usually stay perched on her stool until I come back into the garage to get back on the treadmill to finish.

It is only after I am done with my workout for the day and am still standing on the treadmill putting away my earphones or stretching or just trying to catch my breath for a minute that she will make her way over actually ON to the treadmill herself (the belt is stopped by this point) and will start talking to me again, meowing away, telling me how my overall workout was for the day, what she thought my form looked like and if I stopped and walked too many times during the course of the hour+ that it takes me to get through my routine. This is pretty funny that she has appointed herself my personal coach... and although she might not always get the results out of me that maybe she (or I) would like, it's always nice to know she's in my corner cheering me on. It gives me something to look forward to at the end of what can some days be a pretty monotonous workout.

And the best part about having a cat as a personal coach??? She's very affordable! Usually all she needs after she gives me her personal feedback for the day is a bit of scratching behind the ears. Or maybe a kitty treat or two. All in all, I'd say that's a pretty good deal for such consistent support!

Today's Run
Miles: 6.15
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Treadmill Workout

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I love my Injinji's

For all of you that are going, “huh???” don’t worry… I had the exact same reaction not too long ago… “What the heck are Injinji’s???” Well, I’m not sure how many people are old enough to remember the toe socks of the 70’s that had multiple colored toe and were usually striped… if you know what I’m talking about, you’re getting closer to Injinji’s. Injinji toe socks are socks that were originally designed to be used in conjunction with Vibram running shoes which are shoes meant to simulate barefoot running without the need to freeze your little piggies off or develop callouses the thickness of elephant hide.  They are socks that are designed for running, using moisture wicking fabric, but they have individual toes – so each foot has its very own sock.

Now, many people in the traditional running community, as well as other sports have picked up on wearing these funky looking socks (They now even make them toeless – think fingerless gloves for your feet – for yoga!). Injinji’s separate your toes which might not seem like a real big deal… and really, on the grand scale it might not be. But for me, I really like the fact that each of my toes has its own little nest of comfort. I know my sister-in-law really likes them because she often will get blisters that come up between her toes and Injinji's help reduce the incidence of that happening. I think they keep my toes warmer. I put a pair on under a pair of regular running socks for the 5K on New Year’s Day and didn’t have any problems at all with my feet getting cold, despite temps in the upper 20’s (think glove liners for your feet!).  Supposedly, they are supposed to provide your foot and toes with better control and therefore better support and balance – thus leading to overall better performance. I’m not to a level of performance where I think I would really notice a difference in this area, I just know that I really like them and they make my feet happy! I was also reading that they are supposed to help reduce the occurrence of foot or toe fungus because they provide a protective layer around each toe and reduce friction and stresses that encourage the growth of fungus… so that in and of itself might be reason enough in my book to love my Injinji’s!

I was a little worried about wearing these when I first learned about them. To be brutally honest, I have toes (and feet) that will NEVER be considered for a foot modeling job. My feet are wide and my toes are the fattest toes I have ever seen in my life… they’ve been that way since birth… one of my friends in elementary school told me my big toe was fatter than a carrot! On top of this, my little toe is all curled and crooked… I was concerned that my toes might not even be able to get into a pair of Injinji’s. Yes, I do have to concentrate a little harder when putting these on… but I like to think of it as a good thing… each toe gets a little personal attention from me as I lovingly cocoon it in friction-reducing moisture-wicking fabric.

Do they feel strange on your feet? Well, maybe a little at first. But honestly, I don’t notice the strangeness of them while I’m out running in them. I was a little worried at first that I might be so obsessed over the feel of the socks between my toes that I wouldn’t be able to focus on the more important aspects of my run (like actually running!)… but that’s just not the case. You forget about the odd sensations and just know that your feet feel pretty darn good while wearing them.

Alas, these little guys aren’t cheap. Granted, they’re not the price of a pair of good running shoes… but for someone who usually likes to buy her socks in bulk at Costco or Target, laying out between $12 and $20 for a pair caused a bit of sticker shock. Thankfully, I have a wonderful cousin who outfitted me with some for Christmas… thanks Lea, great gift! In the end, do I think these socks are worth the additional expenditure… I would say it depends… if you are just starting out and are still trying to decide if you will be a runner long-term, then I would say just go for the basic running socks with breathable mesh and arch support. However, if you know that you are into running for the long haul, buying yourself a pair of two on Injinji’s that will get lovingly worn until they’re holey, thread-bare, and your toes are peeking out the ends, then I would say they are definitely worth the investment. 

Okay, I will begrudgingly admit these socks might not be for everyone. My guess is that there will be those people who can’t get past the strangeness of having a layer of fabric surrounding each toe and, at least the pairs I own, don’t have super duper arch support… but usually I wear mine with another pair of socks anyway (they do make them in multiple levels of thickness for those of you who like to wear a liner sock… or not) that does have arch support.  And like I said, they are a bit pricey if you are on a budget, so some people might not think they are worth the expense. But personally, I hope Injinji’s stay around for a long time to come… they make my feet… and by extension me just a little bit happier runner… and that’s always a good thing!
Today's Run
Miles: 6.36 (personal distance record)
Time: 1:15
Pace: 5.1 mph
Street Run

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My truce with Lycra, the wonder (?!?) fiber

I was thinking about this when I was getting dressed for my run this morning... I have this uneasy truce with Lycra... There are a few instances where it is truly a 'wonder' fiber, such as in my bras, a little in denim to make my jeans extra comfy, and in other miscellaneous things like gloves and socks to keep them from sagging. But mostly, Lycra, when worn in things such as leggings, swimsuits, and workout gear (for those of us who aren't a size 5 or under) can be incredibly unflattering... even to the point of actually accentuating all those features we would normally like to keep discreetly under wraps (go to the Lycra website and you'll notice a distinct lack of unsightly bumps and bulges on any of their models... coincidence? I sincerely doubt it).

Alas, when you are a runner (or take part in any kind of sport with a bit of bounce to it), Lycra in the workout gear is a necessary evil... and this is where Lycra and I have drawn our uneasy truce, with lengthy terms and conditions agreed upon that, I'm sure, would make the Camp David Peace Accords pale by comparison. But since I dawn workout gear almost every day of my life I have learned to deal with, or just ignore the fact that it doesn't show off my body to its best. And still, that extra bit of hold and oomph that Lycra provides in my running pants is something I wouldn't want to do without anymore.

I came to this realization several years ago when I finally got off my butt committed myself to some kind of daily workout... even though at the time I wasn't fit to the point of being able to run. On one of my very first days I was doing an exercise video. The fitness trainer was having everyone do a series of jumping jacks. I started to do my first jumping jack and when my feet landed back on the ground, it was followed by a giant SLAP noise. Well, I was startled. I knew that I hadn't just clapped my hands and there wasn't anyone else in the room. It was then that I realized, much to my absolute horror and embarrassment that it was actually my belly slapping against itself... even though I was by myself, I was positively MORTIFIED and knew that I needed to find a way to put the kibosh on that horrible noise once and for all... enter the Lycra-infused workout attire. Of course, I already owned sports bras... but the addition of sports leggings/pants seemed like a wise investment, to contain and restrain all of the lower parts of me that weren't being held at bay by taut skin and well-developed musculature.

Here I am much further down the road to health and weight loss and I understand the need for Lycra in my life a little more. I still don't necessarily love it for its aesthetic, body conforming qualities, but I do appreciate the more practical aspects of it. And as I am now learning, as I get even deeper into running, there are actually a few benefits of the wonder fiber as well...

What some people may not realize is that many pieces of sports clothing have even more Lycra in them than normal street clothing or even swimsuits. Often these garments are labeled with the term "compression" (pants, tights, shirts) and actually constrain the different parts of your body with an even firmer grip. Compression clothing can have added benefits for some people, such as helping with blood flow (think similar to old-man support socks) and providing additional support to muscles, tendons and other soft tissues... which may help to reduce fatigue or the chance of sports-related injuries and may also improve recovery time after a workout.

For me, a pair of running pants (or shorts) with extra Lycra also helps reduce the amount of skin that has the opportunity to touch other skin and thus reduces the chances of incredibly uncomfortable chaffing/rash and of course, even though there is less of me than there used to be, I still never want to hear that awful slapping noise during ANY part of my workout and the Lycra provides me the confidence that this won't happen.

So, as you can see, I really do have a love/hate relationship with this incredible invention of modern science. Maybe someday I will be thin enough and fit enough that dawning a pair of running pants won't seem like setting up my own little personal demilitarized zone, but since I'm not sure when that day will ever come, I will continue on as I am and know that despite all my apprehensions, this little bit of wonder fiber really is, ultimately, there for my benefit... at least that's what I'll keep telling myself for now.
Today's Run
Miles: 6.1
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Street Run

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Training Plan 2011

With the start of the new year, I have a new training plan that I intend to follow... okay, maybe not to the exact minute, but I need to start thinking about reaching a goal I have set for myself. Along with my sister-in-law, I have signed up to run the Hippie Chick Half Marathon in May. I have never run this distance before in my life. In fact, the longest I have ever run is a 10K, or 6.2 miles. So, the thought of running 13.1 miles is more than a little overwhelming to me.

To keep me on track, I have set up a plan for myself which will loosely follow a plan laid out by Jeff Galloway. For those of you who might not be familiar with Jeff, he is a runner himself who has devised multiple week training schedules that will allow almost anyone to go from a sedentary lifestyle to being able to run. Jeff advocates a run/walk ratio that gradually increases the amount of running over a period of weeks. He has developed a slightly slower (16 weeks as compared to 9) version of  sedentary to 5K running program that starts slowly and builds gradually, using his run/walk intervals. This schedule is how I returned to running a couple of years ago after being away from it for over fifteen years.

Not ready to tackle the C25K? Well, Jeff even has a plan to prepare you to get ready to run by getting you comfortable with walking first. Developing cardio-vascular strength as well as some muscle strength are important first steps if you've been away from any kind of exercise for a while... believe me, I know!

In the past I haven't ever really felt the need to have a specific "plan" for my running. I've always just gone out and run, figuring that once I was to a certain point of endurance, then I could enter a 5K or even a 10K. But earlier this fall, I began to realize the shortcomings of this mind-set. Yes, I was running about 5 miles every other day, but it didn't seem like I was really seeing too much improvement in my speed... at least not like I thought I would. I figured that if I continued to add time to my workout that the speed would follow. And while this is true to a point, I still felt like I needed a little more of a kick in the butt. Anyway, I have started following Jeff's run/walk program, which he advocates even for more seasoned runners and have been surprised to find that my speed is actually picking up.

Ironically, now that I have started working on my speed, I need to start focusing on my time and endurance again in order to prep for this upcoming half. Okay, yeah, ideally I would continue to work to improve my time as I improved my speed, but that might be asking my oxygen-deprived brain (not to mention body) to do too many things at once. It might be like rubbing your head and patting your belly... sounds pretty basic but we all know it is much more difficult in practice. For now, I think I'll just content myself with just getting through the distance... at least with a plan in place I feel like I might be able to get my arms around that much... at least I hope so!
Today's Run
Miles: 6.12
Time: 1:15
Pace: 4.9 mph
Treadmill Workout

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This morning was the inaugural Twenty11 Resolution Run. In an effort to get 2011 off on the right foot... pun intended... My DH and I signed up for this 5K run. For the last few weeks its been raining cats and dogs around here, so I was mentally preparing for a wet run. Instead, over the last couple of days it has dried up and the temperature has dropped... not drastically, but enough! The thermometer read 31º when the race started at 10am this morning. That wouldn't be too bad, except for the pretty strong winds from the north which were creating a wind-chill that felt MUCH MUCH colder!

Anyway, we bundled up and headed out... met my brother and my dear, dear running buddy, who just happens to also be my sister-in-law downtown at the start of the race.

My personal goal for the day? Come in under 36 minutes (around a 12 minute mile). I've been training at a slightly faster pace than that, but you never know how things will go once you're out on the street with everyone else!

Well, I was going along pretty good. I was clocking my miles thanks to the Soleus 10K watch my DH got me for Christmas. My first mile came in at around 10:30. Wow! Fast (at least for me!)!!! I slowed down a bit after that 'cause I knew I couldn't maintain that pace the whole way. But at the half-way mark I was at 15:30, and feeling relatively good... then it happened... TRAIN!!! Ugh!

Yes, there were train tracks right in the middle of the course... and of all the times for a VERY long train to come through... I could see the gates coming down... I could see the beginning of the train in the distance and I knew there was no way I was going to beat it. Oh well, at least I wasn't alone. A bunch of us shuffled around trying to keep warm and not let our legs get too cool while waiting for a long and slow train to pass. Finally it did and we were all able to go on our way again. Unfortunately, this did not help my personal goal. My official clocked time came in somewhere a little over 43:00. I will post my official time here when they are available.

My unofficial time, according to my own timekeeping? Around 33:30... giving me around a 10:45 pace. Yea, Me!
Anyway, this is wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2011... let's all get up and  get moving!