Flexibility in the Winter

We all know that we’re supposed to stretch. We have good intentions but maybe we’re not sure what to do or how to do it. Is it before I exercise or after? How long should I do it for? And our work out is done and over and we’re off to the next thing on the list. I know, I’m guilty of it to. But we need to remember that flexibility is a key part of our fitness health so we should make a concise effort to do it. The cold winter is especially a good time to focus on this because our muscles are colder and need a little more help warming up, plus it’s good exercise that we can easily do inside and in front of the TV.

So how do I increase my flexibility? I stretch before and after I exercise and I do it differently because they serve two different goals.

Before I exercise I prefer to do a more active stretch. The goal here is to warm your muscles in preparation for your workout. This could be jumping jax which raise your heart rate and stretches your extremities. You can do some pick ups (short sprints), or lunges.

After I exercise I do a more traditional stretch routine. The goal here is to stretch your muscles to gain flexibility because your body is already warmed up and loose. I make sure I cover the major muscle groups, especially my legs, and focus on my quads and hamstrings. In order to get the maximum benefit, I hold each stretch for AT LEAST 40 seconds and repeat the stretches on each side 2-3 times.

What do you do to increase your flexibility?

The Right Gear for Fall

The cold weather is coming. We can already feel it. It’s not at the point that it stings our chest yet, but it’s difficult to know what to wear if we’re exercising outside of the controlled confines of the gym. Dressing appropriately during this fall season can be challenging because you just don’t know what Mother Nature will throw at you, but with the right gear we can make our workouts more comfortable and maybe make it easier to get in that extra mile.

There are all kinds of material out there now – heat gear, cold gear, etc. So what do you choose? Pick what’s appropriate for the weather but know that you’ll get warmer when you start exercising. This is the reason I dress in layers. If it’s a short run, I may just go with long sleeves because I know I won’t be out there too long. If I’m going to do more than 5 miles, I wear a short and a long sleeve top. This way when I warm up I can take the top laver off and then put it back on when I’m finished so you don’t get the chills as you start to cool down. For bottoms, you can’t really do the layering trick. So if you’re undecided, go with capris. They keep your larger leg muscles warm but still give you some breathing room.

What about rain? This one is tough because the air may not be as cold but it’s damp. I will put a hat on to keep the rain off my face for starters. You also want to have layers on here too, but don’t overdress just because it’s raining. Dress for the air temperature and make sure your top layer is wet resistant but not suffocating. You can always take it off and tie it around your waist.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions for fall exercise gear? If so please share them! Happy Training!

Stay healthy!

Cold, flu, and allergies – oh my! It’s that time of year and you can see it around you already. People are sniffling, coughing, sneezing all over. Being healthy and exercising is supposed to make you less likely to contract all these ills, right? Well, not necessarily.

Exercising regularly definitely makes us healthier individuals overall and therefore gives us more protection against diseases and other common sicknesses. Then why do many of us in training always get sick this time of year? I found the answer surprising but it made perfect sense.

Runner’s World published and article last year (about 2 weeks late in my circumstance) that hit the nail on the head. It stated that long distance runners – and other endurance athletes – were more susceptible to getting the cold or the flu after a long run. The reason was because the longer runs depleted the body of nutrients and made it more vulnerable to germs in the few days immediately following the run. The body was tired and less capable of fighting off infection and therefore these runners got sick.

My plan? With 8 weeks to go until my marathon and my ever-increasing distance training I’ve been more diligent about what I touch around me and washing my hands more. I’m taking my multivitamin and also started Echinacea which is said to support immune health. I’m also going to bed earlier, especially the few days after a long run.

Hopefully these preventive measures I’m taking now will prevent a repeat of the 3 week chest cold that I had trouble shaking from last year. Happy & Healthy Training!

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!

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?

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!

Twas the night before Broad Street

My quick checklist before I hit the sack early… I’m all set for tomorrow. I think.

– I have my breakfast prepped and ready to go – cereal and my usual coffee (only 1 cup though)
– My clothing and gear are laid out and ready to go
– My watch & iPod are fully charged and in my race bag
– My race pad is packed & I have extra pins
– My bib # is pinned on my shirt
– I’ve eaten my carbs over the last 2 days & am properly hydrated
– My GU (pure sugar in little pouches for energy) is in my racebelt which I plan to have around mile 7
– I have extra water and a banana in case I need something in my stomach before or after the race

I think that’s everything! It’s funny how preparing for a large race has all these things you have to consider on top of your training. While every race takes proper preparing and planning, anything over 5 miles can add an extra set of complexities to it. You need some fuel during your run because you will deplete your body’s stores as you progress through each mile. Ideally the race director will have strategically placed water stations for you so you don’t have to worry about it on your own. Hence the GU referenced above. There are other things you can use – some runners use jelly beans, some use gummies. These are the kind of candy you find in the supermarket but ones geared toward giving you a quick boost during exercise. For even longer runs I’ll sometimes pack an Advil in my belt 🙂

The Broad Street 10 Miler should be interesting tomorrow. I’m excited since I haven’t been a part of this particular race yet. Now I just hope it doesn’t raid…there’s not much you can do to prepare for that!

Preparing for Broad Street 2012

The Blue Cross Broad Street Run of 2012 is this Sunday in Philadelphia and I am a first-timer for this 10 mile run from one end of the city to the other. While I’m excited and I feel mostly prepared for this race I think I might be taking it lighter than I should be. I’m thinking that if I can conquer a full marathon I should be OK, right?

Actually they are very different races and I’m not going to compare them with each other. I think what makes this one interesting is that it’s not your weekend warrior 5K but it’s not a half marathon either so you have to apply a different strategy. Mine is to finish!

In all seriousness, I have trained for this race. I’ve put in my intended mileage, my speed workouts at the track after the kid’s practice, and my strength training at the gym. I’ve run this distance before, although never in a race. I know that an area I need to work on is my flexibility and that is an ongoing challenge for me. Note to self – stretch after posting. Another task that I need to get better at is drinking enough water.

What I’m really worried about is the weather. There have been close to record-breaking temperatures the last two years that I’m aware of. I don’t mind running in the heat but it’s the humidity that gets me. And it’s not something you can really train for. You can acclimatize yourself if the weather is consistent, but early May is anything but consistent.

So, I will run this fast and flat course as best I can on Sunday morning. I will finish. I will PR (Personal Record) because that’s what you can say when you do a race for the first time :-). I will add another awesome race to my running resume. I will also update my playlist so that I can strategically place songs when I know I’ll hit the wall.

How about you? Are you running Broad Street on Sunday? http://www.broadstreetrun.com/
Happy Training!