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!


Race Report – 2014 Johnny Kelley Half Marathon

Here is a positive race report from last weekend’s Johnny Kelley Half Marathon in Hyannis. Until recently I had not been expecting to do too well. I felt that I didn’t have enough training after my layoff to even approach my best half marathon time, let alone surpass it. Recently however, my hopes had shifted towards the positive, after I had a nice showing in my first ever road 5K. My son and I ran the Women Run with Strivers 5K on Mother’s Day; my time was a startling (to me) 24:58.

With Sam on Mother's Day

Race day dawned with absolutely perfect weather for a half; partly cloudy and temperatures in the mid to upper 50’s. Once again I rose early enough to have a good sized breakfast and hydrate well before heading to Hyannis. This year I was not going alone, a friend from home was also signed up for the half, and my oldest son was signed up for the 5K that runs just prior to the half.

Sam at the finish

Having something else to focus on while waiting for my own event, kept the pre-race jitters to a minimum. After picking up our numbers and using the restrooms once, we headed over to the start of the 5K, and saw my son off on his way. I started my stopwatch to keep an eye on the time and make sure we could get to the finish in time to see him cross. By the time we went to the car to drop off extra clothes, and got in line for the porta-potties, I started to get nervous that we wouldn’t make it to the end of the line before he came across the finish. Thankfully, the nice people behind us “saved” our spots momentarily, so that we could watch the finish and still take care of business before we needed to be at the start.

Our timing worked out perfectly in the end. We got over to the start with enough time to spare, but not so much that we had to wait for too long. One big benefit of smaller races, is that they don’t require long periods of time waiting in corrals for the start. It was at that moment that I realized that we didn’t warm up! Oh well, the first mile would have to stand in for the warmup, and we were off!

I have to say that it was one of the more uneventful races I’ve done, in a good way. My pace was steady and I even managed a negative split in the end. After about mile 8, I lost interest in consuming any fuel (I had brought my latest trial food, fig newtons). I felt that this wasn’t really a problem however, since I knew that between my breakfast and what I had already consumed, I would be fine with less than an hour left. By the time I reached mile 12, I was still feeling good, I had maintained a good but challenging pace throughout, and now was the time to see if I could push it just a little more. So it was, that mile 13 was my fastest, at 8:29! My official time – 1:55:41, a PR of almost 2 minutes! My friend Tasha also had a good showing with a nice strong kick at the finish!

Tasha, celebrating the finish

Overall, it was a great day of running for everyone! I’m now very excited to continue my training through the summer, as I prepare for a fall marathon. I’ve hired a coach to write up a personalized plan, and I’m hoping that the third time is the charm after marathons one and two!