Don’t forget to stretch!

As my mileage is steadily increasing in preparation for the marathon I need to remember to practice what I preach – that is to stretch.

I’m running more days of the week and I’m out there longer. I’ve also added interval training back into the routine to maximize my muscle capacity. What I realized that I need to pay more attention is my flexibility and more specifically, my hamstrings. I didn’t come up with this on my own – my body told me and it decided to tell me halfway through my Tuesday night run. You’re body has this amazing ability to get your attention and if you ignore it, it will only scream louder until you listen. So, my hamstrings are pretty sore and my calves are a little tight too now that I think about it.

The best way to gain the most from your stretching is actually after your workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Yes, I know – you need to stretch before you workout but that’s more of a warm up and doesn’t do much for your overall flexibility.

You need to focus on your major muscle groups for the most part. Your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings are all importing but don’t forget about your back – those are core muscles there too! Most of know the basic stretches: lean against a wall with your feet flat give you a pretty good calf stretch, touching your toes is good for hamstrings, and holding your ankle behind you really gets the front of your thigh (Quad). However, to get the maximum benefit, make sure you’re holding the stretch for at least 30-40 seconds and two times each alternating sides. Anything less than that is not going to give you the flexibility needed to keep injury and soreness at bay.

Happy Training!

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A re-committment to goals

OK, so if you’re anything like me you probably slacked off a little bit on your fitness goals during the summer. It was hot, it was humid, vacation got in the way, we had parties to go to, etc. But we had fun, enjoyed ourselves, and experienced summer!

Now that summer has unofficially ended and we’re getting back into the routine of school and work, the weather will be cooling off so it’s the perfect time to recommit to our fitness goals.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been less that loyal to yourself – just restate what you want. Write it down if you have to, tell a buddy and hold yourself accountable. During the next few weeks work toward that goal a little bit at a time and you’ll get there!

My personal goal is to run my 2nd marathon this year and I have about 10 weeks left to accomplish it. I’ve been running, but my mileage is not where it needs to be and I’ve been “treating” myself to boardwalk food. BUT I will begin adding miles each week to build up to where I need to be so I’m prepared for the big 26.2 in November…a little bit at a time. Starting now.

What’s your goal? How will you accomplish it?

Counting calories when you’re training…or when you’re not!

Counting calories is something almost all of us have done at one point in our lives. Some of us ball park the number of calories we take in and have “cheat days”. Some of us count and document everything that goes in our mouths. Well, almost. Regardless of how far you take your calorie counting, don’t forget to deduct for what you’re burning during exercising!

All of us have a standard calorie intake to maintain our body weight and fuel our activities. The 2000 calorie diet is an average – not necessarily what your own body needs. When we eat more than what we burn, we’ll gain weight. Input=output. Period.

There is a cute little chef that I like – Candice Kumai (http://www.candicekumai.com/). She describes the best way to determine your calorie intake is to figure out what your ideal body weight should be, add a 0 on the end of that number, and that’s how many net calories you should be taking in daily. Very simple formula…and good for you easy recipes too!

But don’t forget about the calories you burn while running, walking, biking, swimming, or whatever you’re doing. Runner’s World has a quick and easy formula:
-running: multiply .75 times your weight and that’s how many calories you burned for each mile
-walking: multiply .53 times you weight for each mile

So, if someone where to have an ideal weight of 125 pounds, the daily caloric intake would be 1,250. If they were to maintain that body weight and ran 2 miles they burned an extra 188 calories.

I know it requires a little bit of effort on our part – counting the calories, reading the labels on food we eat, and a little bit of math – but after a week of so we get the idea and can guesstimate these things on our way to a healthier body.

External Motivation

Need a little push actually committing to your exercise goals? If you’re struggling to find the drive from inside then try looking around you for motivation. Is your family a source of motivation? Can your spouse or children create a sense of drive in you or maybe even a cause that you feel strongly about or a charity that you believe in? What about a favorite picture of you…

The point is that we all loose drive at one point or another and we need a little push from the outside that we can’t seem to muster in our own minds and hearts. And it doesn’t all have to come from one place! In reality it’s probably more of a mixture of internal drive and external forces that push us to get up off the couch and go to the gym or go for a walk or run a marathon.

A perfect example that I can relate to happened to me this past weekend. I was about to begin the first leg of a triathlon and was really nervous because I hadn’t trained as much as I wanted to because my vacation was a little over a week prior. I was not prepared. I knew it but it hadn’t really sunk in until they called for my age group to enter the water. My motivation…I was there for myself for many reasons but only I have to answer to me. Easy to excuse myself, right? I was also there as part of a charity team called Ryan’s Quest (www.ryansquest.org) – a wonderful organization dedicated to fighting Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Not so easy to excuse yourself now because you’re there for a higher purpose.

So make your next run count for more than just great health. You’ll reap more than the physical benefits and have a greater positive impact.

Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

Are you still exercising outside or has the hot July weather chased you indoors to the gym? Or has summer vacation taken over your fitness goals altogether? Regardless of your current physical output level at the moment we need to stay hydrated.

Drinking water is of course the easiest way to make sure our hydration levels remain adequate…but it’s not the only way. caffeine and sugar tend to offset our efforts and a lot of sports replacement drinks have unnecessary levels in them.

One way we can help our bodies maintain proper fluid levels is to eat certain foods in addition to our water intake.

– We know watermelon is good for this. It is named “WATERmelon” because it’s over 90% water. It also has good-for-you sugar that helps stabilize your blood sugar
Cucumbers also have a high water content and are a nice cool summer snack
Celery is another vegetable containing a lot of water – not the most flavorful in my opinion but with a schmear of low-fat peanut butter or other nut butter it packs a satisfying protein & hydration snack
Bananas & Kiwis don’t have a high water content but they contain the potassium that’s necessary to help your muscles keep in the water they need to keep you hydrated

Breakfast – it really is the most important meal

I know we’ve all heard this before and there are many reasons why this is so true. Breakfast sets the stage for the rest of the day and gives your body the nutrients to get going after a night of not taking in any calories. So why to so many people skip it? That’s a good question that I’ve heard several variations of basically two reasons: not enough time and I don’t like to eat breakfast.

If time is your issue and reason for not eating breakfast than you have some options. I pack my breakfast every day just as I pack my lunch and snacks. This way I don’t have to spend time eating it before I leave for work but I have it ready for the whole 5 minutes that I get to eat it. What do I pack? Something different every day to keep it interesting: oatmeal, cereal, english muffin, or the occasional whole wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese. It’s easy to pack it yourself too because you can control your portion size. Invest in decent Tupperware containers that you can easily pack. Sometimes I’ll make 2-3 servings of oatmeal ahead of time and put different fruit in it each day. Notice I named all carbs for my breakfast? Carbs give you more stable energy that can get you through a few busy morning hours. Also try to avoid the sugar – package oatmeal and many cereals have a higher content than you think. Read the labels.

If you simple don’t like breakfast then try something lighter, such as a shake or piece of fruit. Shakes you can even make at home ahead of time and have single servings in the freezer. You can mix in yogurt, soy or almond milk, or regular milk. The fruit – regardless of the format – gives you a boost in fiber. Another option is a V8 type drink – had plenty of fruits & veggies but watch out for too much sugar here as well.

So, eat your breakfast. It’s good for you and helps set you straight for the rest of the day!

Pasta does not make you fat!

I repeat – Pasta does not make you fat!

What puts on the pounds is how much we eat and what we put on our pasta. The full plate of fettuccine alfredo..although yummy…is not the most healthy way to make pasta. The USDA recommends we eat 6-11 servings of whole grains per day. This includes pasta and it’s good for you. It fills you up, gives your body time-released energy, and is usually enriched with folic acid which is known to support a healthy heart and prevent birth defects. Runners eat it before races because of the steady energy it provides.

There is also the whole wheat variety which is widely available now. This kind has more fiber in it than regular pasta but not everyone likes the stronger ‘wheaty’ taste and it’s double or triple the price. Sometimes, I’ll mix it in with regular pasta to get the best of both worlds!

And back to the serving sizes…one serving size is roughly 1/2 cup of cooked pasta. That’s it. I don’t know about you but I’m still hungry after that 🙂 BUT, remember we get 6-11 servings of whole grains spread throughout the day and we don’t need to eat them all in one sitting. So, if you have 1 cup of cooked pasta (equaling 2 whole grain servings) you get 4-8 servings left…plenty of room for cereal in the morning! Still hungry thinking about only 1 cup of pasta? Add 2 servings a veggies &/or a serving of protein (chicken, shrimp), drizzle a little bit of antioxidant rich Extra Virgin Olive Oil and you have a pretty satisfying and healthy meal that’s not heavy on the carbs or calories.

Try it this week and let me know how creative you can make your healthy pasta dishes!

Buddy Power

I think we’ve all heard somewhere along the way that working out with a partner increases the chance that you will stick with workout on days when you’re not feeling up the challenge. The is 100% true! When you have someone or a group that you regularly run, workout, bike, or walk with, you are less likely to miss a sweat session. They don’t even have to be with you during your workout…they can be a virtual buddy or someone to ‘check in’ with.

I mentioned before that I have a running group and we will do a few miles after work once a week just about every week. We only miss for extenuating circumstances because we know not only do we get a good workout in for ourselves, we motivate each other to keep going. On the weekends or other evenings when we’re not running together, we always check in with each other to see how we’re progressing. One person is in training for a Marathon, another is working toward 5K’s, and another is just there to keep in shape. Regardless of our individual goals, the group mentality is extremely positive and motivating.

I think…wait – I know there would have been a few nights or early Saturday mornings that I would have never made it out to the park had it not been for a running buddy. There is power in numbers and the buddy system is a powerful tool to keep me and the rest of my group motivated.

Do you use the buddy system? How does it motivate you?

Strong Mind – Strong Breath

I have to admit it…it was a tough run out there tonight. Our normal Tuesday night 5 miler wasn’t as crowded. A handful of ‘regulars’ back out tonight and I don’t believe it was because they were coming off of a holiday weekend either. We were three ladies strong but we even had our tough spots.

The hot, humid, dead air tonight was more reminiscent of July and August rather than May so our bodies aren’t quite used to it. We haven’t built up that tolerance yet and the Canal path kicked our butts. But we pushed on despite the obstacles nature threw at us and finished our run. We finished it because of one main factor. No it’s not our training or just because it’s Tuesday night routine or because of a race plan that we’ve held ourselves to…all of those things absolutely help you stay on track. But it’s because of a strong mind that you can overcome the discomfort that running sometimes brings.

When you’re getting to the point when you’re in the middle of your workout (whatever it is) and you think that you can’t go any further or you’re struggling to finish, you need to reach inside – beyond any physical capabilities you may have – and mentally tell yourself to keep going.

Some runners have mantras. My coach always said “loose lips, loose legs”. I’ve heard some other pretty good ones over the years too. I personally focus inward and concentrate on my breathing. This has always had the biggest positive effect on me because I am able to block out all other external factors when I focus on my breathing…in through the nose and out through the mouth, nice and steady. It’s amazing how when I get my breathing under control I can calm the rest of me down, focus on my form that may have gone out of whack due to fatigue, ignore what everyone else is doing around me, and even ignore mother nature (to the best extent possible). Calming your mind and focusing on your breathing also allows your body to get the oxygen to where it needs it most. Some of us forget to breath when we’re exercising! They we get tight and crampy and then we get cranky and sometimes stop.

My mind and my breathing got me through my workout tonight and allowed me to finish the 5 miles I set out to do. Strong mind & Strong Breath.

Race Review – Sesame Classic

The Sesame Classic was held this past Sunday in Levittown, Pa. You had your choice of a 5K run or 1 mile walk and it was a typical Sunday morning local 5K with good water stations and post race munchies. The on site registration was very unorganized but a pre-registered person didn’t seem to have any wait time. Since I was not pre-registered, I had to wait and there was no T-Shirt for me 🙂 It was definitely a family event with a DJ, a visit from Elmo & Cookie Monster, and a kids race that rewarded future track stars with medals upon completion of a about a 25 meter dash. The local fire departments were there with the trucks kicking off the race with their sirens.

The 5K course was laid out to loop around the high school grounds. This was a move from previous years in which you started and finished at Sesame Place. It was fast and mostly flat…one small incline that you had to do twice. Everything was laid out nicely and the roads blocked off where appropriate. It was good enough that I got a PR (Personal Record) as did my running companion…albeit they were PR’s for our more recent running resumes as opposed to our younger days.

On of the nice things about this race is that it’s mainly sponsored by Sesame Place in Langhorne and your bib number gains you one free admission to the part. Only downside of that is that it needs to be used by the end of May, which only really gives you Memorial Day weekend to make it over there.

Overall I give it 3 out of 5 stars – good local race that’s fun for the family but I would strongly advise pre-registering