It was a dark and stormy morning on race day for the Hyannis Marathon…. but I’m getting ahead of myself because the story really begins several days before when norovirus swept through my family. Thursday morning it hit me and I was unable to do much for several days (you could call this an extreme and enforced taper). I was able to keep my hydration and electrolyte levels okay but it really took a toll on me. By Saturday morning I was beginning to feel more like myself. Meanwhile, there were questions about whether the race would go on. New England was supposed to be hit with another storm and no one could tell just how bad it would be. We got word Saturday afternoon that the race was a go and I had already begun my carbohydrate loading regime so I was well on my way.

I saw this bald eagle on Saturday morning. Surely a good sign that I should go ahead with the race on Sunday!

Sunday morning was cold and rainy, but I still felt very positive. I had totally weaned myself off of caffeine over the previous weeks and that cup of coffee with breakfast was amazing. I had a big bowl of oatmeal cooked with apples and milk (with more milk on top) and felt full and satisfied. To ensure I started out fully hydrated, I also had a large mug of tea and more water. My strategy is to get plenty of fluids first thing, but stop taking them in 2 hours prior to race start. I had all of my race day fuel with me: sports beans with added caffeine, salted dates, and water to carry with me so I didn’t need to solely rely on the aid stations. I also packed up my recovery foods: dried cherries, chocolate milk, plus a liter of chocolate coconut water I picked up on a whim the day before and thought it might be tastier than plain water for the ride home. I was also planning on grabbing some more food for the car ride from a local restaurant and knew I’d also eat some dinner when I finally got home.

A wet start to the race.

So this brings us back to the cold and rainy start of the race. The first half was actually great for me. Considering the fact that I had just been sick, I felt great. It wasn’t too cold (low 40′s) so the wet didn’t feel too bad and my new raincoat kept out the wind. By about mile 14 the temperature started to drop and the rain was falling a little harder. In a few more miles, I was closer to the water and the wind was unrelenting. After many hours of rainfall, the puddles were so big there was no way around some of them. The course was not closed to traffic and several cars made it their mission to splash the already soaked runners. This was no place for the faint of heart! I came upon another runner at about mile 19 who was not doing well with the cold. With a mutual understanding, we teamed up and encouraged each other on to the finish.

It was slow going (and did I mention cold?) and I couldn’t feel my hands, feet or legs for the last several miles. The volunteers out on the course were unbelievable and I don’t know if they will ever know just how much it helps to see a friendly smiling face every so often; I made a mental note to volunteer for a race sometime soon. The sweetest part was to come around the final bend and into the finish chute to see my husband and three boys standing there cheering me on.

The final result? I was very happy with my nutrition for this race. Tapering off of caffeine went well, the carbohydrate loading the day before (although difficult) went well. I had no GI issues during the race and felt alert and well fueled. The only problem I had was towards the end when my hands and mouth were so cold they didn’t work very well getting the food into my mouth and chewing; baggies are tricky with frozen fingers! Having just been sick and dealing with the elements did not make the most ideal conditions for my first marathon, but I’m sure next time (yes there will be a next time believe it or not) will go much better!

For Love and Chocolate

Happy Valentines Day! Many of you are probably celebrating with chocolates. Lots of people (jokingly) tell me that they eat chocolate because it’s a “health food”, but what’s the real deal? Is chocolate good for us?

Chocolate gets its healthy reputation from the antioxidants and polyphenols that it contains. These compounds help to reduce blood pressure and inflammation. People with high blood levels of these compounds have been shown to have lower risk of heart disease, some cancers, asthma and type 2 diabetes. Because of the high antioxidant and flavanol content in cocoa powder, some people are even making a push to recognize cocoa beans as a “super fruit”.  Well, super fruit or not, it is easy for all of us to reap the benefits of cocoa.

The first and biggest distinction is, that you should go for a good quality dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa. If you are more partial to milk chocolate and white chocolate, I’m sorry to tell you that they don’t contain the same active compounds as dark chocolate or straight up cocoa powder.

How much chocolate does it take to get all of the benefits? Moderation is key, just about 1 ounce of dark chocolate per day is all it takes.  You can also add a scoop of cocoa powder to your post workout smoothie for a deep chocolate flavor.

Enjoy your chocolate – in moderation of course!