Third Time’s the Charm

After my first (difficult) marathon a year ago and my latest marathon running tragedy last fall, I’m happy to report that last month I completed the Clarence DeMar Marathon with a smile on my face. After the first two, I had wondered if the running universe was trying to tell me something (maybe the marathon distance is not for me?) but before I gave up on this distance, I gave it one more go and I’m glad I did.

The Clarence DeMar Marathon is named after the famed 7 time winner of the Boston Marathon. Also known as Mr. DeMarathon, he was the oldest person to ever win Boston at the age of 41 – and people made a big deal about Meb Keflezighi being 39! It is a very small race with just under 400 finishers, and it has a very small town feel. The volunteers couldn’t possibly be any nicer, and the crowd support (while minimal) was enthusiastic. The biggest perk for me was the availability of shower facilities on the Keene State Campus at the finish line. My family came with me for the day to cheer me on. Since the race is so small and the course is open to traffic, they were able to see me at 5 different spots which was fun.

Overall I am happy with how I ran the race. Based on my training times and most recent half marathon, I had set expectations for myself that were quite lofty. Adding those thoughts to a course that is an overall downhill profile, encouraged me to go out too fast which came back to bite me in the end. Considering that my time of 4:13:21 is over an hour better than my first marathon, I am quite happy. It was a great learning experience which will definitely help me for the next race.

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Run Long and Taper On!

I can’t believe how quickly the summer flew by this year! Here we are in the throes of September. The kids are back in school, and everyone’s back to their regularly scheduled programing. After a wonderful summer training for marathon attempt #3, I have entered The Taper!

For athletes who utilize a taper period, this is when ‘the hay is in the barn’. All of your hard work is done, and now is the time to let your body heal, rest, and replenish itself before the big event. My coach has scheduled a 2 week taper for me and boy does it make me nervous! I’m anxiously wondering if it is long enough, or should she have given me 3 weeks? At the same time, as I’ve been logging fewer and fewer miles since my last long run, I find myself wondering – Am I doing enough? These are the mental games we play with ourselves as anxiety over the big event starts to creep in. To keep nerves at bay, I try to focus on all of the things I can control, and look back at my training log to see how much I’ve improved.

The things I can control are simple. Follow the plan, get lots of rest, and eat quality fuel. I am sticking to the taper and not following the impulse to do any more than I am supposed to do. I’m making sure to get to bed at a reasonable time each night, and spending quality time with my foam roller every evening. Then there is the fuel…. During the taper, what you eat is just as important as what you have been eating throughout your training period. Eating most of the same foods, just being a little more careful about some things along the way.

The first week or so, be mainly aware of your protein intake. This is not to say you need to suddenly start eating tons of protein, just make sure you are getting enough to assist your body in rebuilding and repairing all of the muscle that has been damaged during training. For each meal and snack, make sure you have a serving of quality protein (legumes, eggs, milk, cottage cheese, fish, chicken, etc). At the tail end of the taper, as you are approaching race day, make sure you are a little more focused on your carbohydrate intake, and a little less fat and protein. This will help to keep your total calories in check and keep you from storing added fat. Once again, choose quality as well as quantity for your carbohydrates; fruit smoothies and dried fruit, large salads, whole grain breads and cereals. This will give your body ample opportunity to store those carbohydrates as glycogen; otherwise known as fuel for your muscles!

The last step, if you choose, is carbohydrate loading the day before. I have written about carb loading before, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Even for athletes who choose not to follow a carbohydrate loading plan, one of the big things to think about will be easily digestible lower fiber options the day before an event. You don’t want to spend too much time on race day in the porta-potties!

Ten days from now I will toe the line at the Clarence DeMar Marathon. Looking back over my training log, I see a lot of improvement to be proud of. My half marathon PR dropped about 4:30, and my mile time went from 7:28 in May, to 7:05 just a few weeks ago. I have no idea what September 28th will bring, but I can safely say I have done all I can. Now all I can do, is follow my own advice for a successful taper!

The 'keep calm' slogan has gotten a little overused, but when it comes to the taper, it's an important thing to remember!

Dealing with ‘Runger’

Summer has been slipping through my fingers once again. Between the varied and busy schedule of my 3 boys (camps and travel), multiple friends and family visiting us on the Cape, and my marathon training ramping up, life is hectic. I know that I am not alone in this experience no matter what time of year it is. Life is busy which can lead to some things falling by the wayside. For me, it has been a slowdown of my blogging, for many others it can mean giving up on their good food intentions.

For those of you who are currently in the throes of training for fall marathons, you know what I mean when I talk about the hunger that can develop amidst high mileage weeks. If you haven’t been carefully fueling your body, some days it will feel like there is nothing that can fill you up! Rather than have this moment surprise you, prevent it from happening in the first place with some carefully placed snacks.

Many people have a hard time increasing the amount of food they consume at regular meals without feeling overfull and uncomfortable. Adding some smart snacks between regular meals can be a very helpful strategy. This will keep you adequately fueled, and prevent the hungry horrors from attacking when you least suspect. Lately, I’ve been enjoying a snack of a whole wheat english muffin topped with cottage cheese and roasted red pepper spread. It is a warm, cool, crunchy, and savory combination that is filling and satisfying. The combination of protein, carbohydrates and fiber will help your body recover from training, rebuild and repair muscle fibers, and keep you full until your next meal. If you prefer a little sweetness, swap out the roasted red pepper spread for your favorite jam; a delicious combination either way!

I am a little more than 6 weeks away from the Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene, NH, and training is going well. I wrote about the Johnny Kelley Half in May, but since then I’ve run a few more races, happily both were also PR’s! The Wellfleet 5 Mile Road Race was (as always) hot and hilly, and all 3 of my boys took part in the kids fun run. Just last weekend I toed the line at the Triple Threat Half Marathon in Rockport, MA. This race is quite hilly, and could have been hot, but the weather cooperated to remain overcast for most of the day. I was pleasantly shocked to finish with a new PR of 1:53:09, I guess all of my training is really paying off!

A Calorie is a Calorie… or is it?

It has become a common refrain, ‘calories in, calories out’, meaning that the way to weight loss is a clear cut equation. Of course it is undeniably true, that to lose weight you need to burn more than you consume. However more and more research is pointing to what frustrated people everywhere already know; a calorie does not always exactly equal a calorie. How could this possibly be? If you’ve ever looked into weight loss at all, you’ve probably heard and read that to lose a pound a week you need to cut back by 500 calories per day (or 3,500 calories a week). Instinctually you may have realized that this isn’t always exact, as you dutifully cut back, and the weight either came off slower (or on occasion quicker) than the calculation would have predicted. You may blame it on your own shortcomings or just decide that losing weight isn’t worth the effort.

A little over a year ago, I heard a talk by Dr. Steven Heymsfield, about how the 3500 calorie rule is obsolete. He has done some interesting work in the field of weight loss and obesity (read “Can a weight loss of one pound a week be achieved with a 3500-kcal deficit? Commentary on a commonly accepted rule“). A lot of what he said really resonated with me, and what I have seen from people struggling to lose weight. There have also been quite a few studies in recent years, showing that weight loss will vary from person to person, (even when being fed identical weight loss diets) and also vary for an individual when consuming different foods (even when those foods have the same calories and macronutrients). Here is a condensed version of what to keep in mind when losing weight.

  • The 3500 calorie “rule” was created based upon some small studies, mostly done on men, and during a time when measurements were not nearly as accurate as they can be done today. The majority of weight loss does not correlate to the early studies upon which this number is based.
  • There are many factors that play into how our bodies metabolize, and either use or store the fuel we consume. Hormones play a very large part in this fuel usage and storage, and our feelings of hunger, and satiety. This is why weight gain can be the result of thyroid issues, as well as an imbalance of estrogen and testosterone or stress due to higher cortisol levels.
  • Each person has a different metabolic rate based upon their body makeup (fat mass versus lean tissue), height, weight, activity level, and age. Getting an accurate metabolic rate is something that isn’t easily calculated without being metabolically tested. This will also change over time as someone is losing weight.

So what on earth can we do? Does this mean we are all doomed and should simply give up? No, of course not. The answer lies in a resetting expectations. Don’t expect that you will be able to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain date just because you have done the math. Very often we set our expectations too high, and feel discouraged when we don’t meet or exceed those unrealistic goals. Resetting goals (and our overall mindset) will go a long way towards ensuring success on the road to weight loss, and overall better health.

View dietary changes as lifestyle changes that you are willing to stick with for the long term. Chances are, if you are currently overweight it didn’t happen overnight, expect that it will take some time to dial things back in the other direction. There may be “diet solutions” that deliver large weight loss in a short amount of time, but if you don’t want to follow that restrictive diet for the rest of your life, you’ll just end up back where you started.

It may not be as sexy and flashy as the diet fads, but reducing overall intake, consuming lean proteins, and plenty of vegetables and fruits, and engaging in plenty of activity, is still the best way to go!