Mar 27, 2011

The Conundrum of a Nerdy Runner

Below is an elevation graph of the infamous Mountain Goat Run that takes place the first weekend in May in my hometown(ish) of Syracuse, NY. I did this run back in 2009 and I loved every awful second of those hills. I wanted to do it last year but I had class that weekend and I couldn't. I tried comforting myself in the fact that it turned out to be an absurdly hot day and I probably would have melted or spontaneously combusted anyway. 

Mountain Goat Run 10 Miler
Finished 2009 in 1:21:00 (8:08 min/mile)

Post Mountain Goat Run 2009.
Note: this is my sarcastic "I feel great" smile.

Well, it's that time of year. The race is right around the corner and... I have class again. I am scheduled to be on clinical in the midst of my second to last weekend on a med-surg floor with a challenging instructor. I do have the option of missing clinical and making it up at a later date but that's not my style. I like to get things done and over with; a lot like I handle my hills. I want to walk off my last med-surg clinical day with my fellow classmates thinking (perhaps shouting) WOO-HOO that is D-O-N-E!! 

At the same time I want to get this race in my line up and under my belt this year. This is supposed to be the year of the BQ for me and races like this help me get my running self stronger and mentally prepared. 

There are numerous pros and cons to each side of this decision which doesn't help me at all. I know there's plenty of other races I could do and I also know that I could just make the missed day of clinical up but I am awful at making decisions. Most mornings it takes me a solid 10 minutes to pick a running outfit because I just can't choose (sad, I know). I even have another 10 mile race lined up for June 18th in Baltimore... but it's just not THE Mountain Goat. 

A good nurse knows how to prioritize. So, I've put my running/school dilemma into an NCLEX (nursing boards exam) style question to try and put things in perspective.

A runner and fellow nursing student is complaining of having to choose between missing a clinical morning (to be made up at a later date) so she can participate in a local race or missing the race to stay on schedule at school. When she begins to contemplate the decision she becomes anxious, diaphoretic, tachycardic, and hypertensive. The good nursing student knows that she should advise the runner to:

A) Put school first, go to clinical, suck it up, and pick another race.  
B) Make up the clinical at a later date and race her heart out; returning to school for lecture after the race. 
C) Skip clinical and the race and take the whole morning to herself as she obviously has anxiety issues.
D) Call her physician. 

The problem is that these damn questions always have two good answers.  I guess I'll have to think it out over some hill repeats. I think if I wasn't such a dedicated student nerd, this wouldn't be such an issue.
Suggestions?!? What would you do? 

Mar 16, 2011

Don't think. Just run.

Today I went out for an easy 6 miles on my favorite trail. I finally learned how to use some of the settings on my Garmin other than stop and start... which happen to be the same button. It's about time considering I've owned it for a few years now. As I've mentioned before I've never really been interested in the nitty gritty of pacing or splits. Well, now I'm obsessed with them.  I've always just taken my average pace time for what it is and never looked to deep into it. I figure that since I'm trying to teach myself to slow down on the easy runs and actually "pace myself" I should delve a little deeper into the mystery that is my average pace. 

My primary goal for this run was to go out 3 and come back 3 in a comfortably easy and steady pace. This was another run sans ipod and I was really interested to see how my splits came out. I was wondering how my average pace compared to how I started out a run and how I finished. Do I start out fast and slow down? Do I jump all around through the miles? I honestly had no idea.

Check out these splits...

Notice how the last two seem... well, off? That's because I was actually trying to hold an 8:45 min/mile during the last two miles. The first mile I noted clocked in at 8:45 and the next at 17:30. I thought about the time as my Garmin chirped to alert me of moving on to the next mile. I did some quick math and figured out I held the same pace for the second mile that I did the first. Neat. I didn't even try to do that. I was just running. The same happened for the third and fourth mile. The only effort I was making at pace was to keep it steady. I didn't know exactly what I was doing I was just trying to stay comfortable and in my happy place. 

Well at the start of mile 4 I started thinking I was cool. I thought how great would this be if I could do the next two miles in a 8:45 just like the first 4?! I could then shout from the rooftops that I might know what I'm doing.  

Then I started to do more math. Evidently math and running don't mix. I overshot my goal time for mile 5 by a full minute because of my inability to add 45 + 8. I slowed down for too long before I realized that it doesn't equal 54. On the last mile I underestimated how much time I had left and started to sprint at the end. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Ironic that the two balanced each other out to make an 8:45.

So with the combination of this post and the last ... Long story short.. Don't think. Just run. 

Next up my adventures in speed work; because how much more can I really talk about the easy run?

Mar 10, 2011

Pacing 101: Triumphs

All the stars were aligned in my favor last Sunday morning. Sunday happened to mark one week after I talked about my pacing struggles and set out on an experiment of sorts. 

I spent all week running with no music and trying to feel out my pace. I didn't talk to myself per say but during my long run on Thursday I got bored around mile 6 and sang the alphabet. Apparently I was doing okay because I made it all the way to Z... twice. My average heart rate for that run ended up being 157 at an average 8:47 min/mile pace.  This was great! I felt fantastic after the run and successfully avoided the remnants of the former monster puddles. It's still a little faster than I would have liked but my heart rate indicates that I was indeed running in a sweet spot. 

Overall this was an incredible learning experience. I've re-discovered how invigorating it can be to run without music. I've got a lot on my brain lately and the last thing I need is foul mouthed ignorant rappers to fill my head with nonsense. I'm much more aware of myself and my surroundings. I've found myself actually craving a run more so than normal because I just need to shake my thoughts out. The idea of listening to music doesn't even cross my mind. That being said I did start to get bored on my last long run around mile six as I previously mentioned. I ran out of things to sort through. I think I'll be saving the music for those rough or long workouts to provide a little extra ounce of motivation. For now, consider me a convert to the non ipod wearing runner. 

So, about that run last Sunday. This was hands down one of the top five runs of my entire running life. My mileage had gotten switched around because I was a little extra sore in my calves/achilles the day after my long run that week so I took the day off from running to be cautious. I now had to move an easy 4 mile run to the weekend. Most people would find this to be no big deal. However, most people don't have school on weekends. I have clinical and class from 7AM to 6PM every other weekend and this happened to be one of those weekends. I try to schedule my runs so that I don't have to do them on school weekends because I've got a lot of paperwork to do and there isn't adequate (any) lighting on my usual route at the time I would have to get up in the morning or get home at night. I've resorted to stopping at the gym a handful of times before but that is like pulling teeth for me. I will run outside in a hail storm before I pick the treadmill and I run best first thing in the morning as opposed to after 11 hours of school. 

I picked up a head lamp on Friday at the local Fleet Fleet (LOVE them) in preparation for an early morning run over the weekend. I've tried running this route in the dark once before but I came inches from stepping on a frozen dead cat (sorry for the visual) and I vowed to never do that again. 

Sunday morning I set my alarm for 04:20 AM. This would give me enough time to fumble around, eat a banana, run 4 miles, get ready, and be on the hospital floor by 06:55. I knew it was going to be raining and had mentally prepared for that. I also prayed that my new head lamp would hold up in the rain because I hadn't packed a hat. I checked the weather to get an idea of the temperature and it said it was 45 degrees.  I felt way overdressed in tights, and neon yellow long sleeve, my black running vest, and gloves but something also felt right about it. I normally opt for underdressing because I overheat easily and then shut down but I guess I figured I would be okay with the rain. Turns out I was right. 

I stepped out the door and clicked on my headlamp. This thing is beastly bright. I highly recommend the Petzl Tikka Plus 2 to anyone who might be in the market.

I never once glanced at my watch the whole run. I just ran. I wasn't trying to keep a certain pace despite the fact I should have been, I was just out there to be out there. I knew where my turn around spot was since I know this route for 10 miles out and back like the back of my hand. 

There is something incredibly peaceful about running in the rain and this time was no exception. It didn't feel like work, it didn't suck, I didn't care about my time, and I wasn't over analyzing every step and every breath. The results....

Average pace 8:56 min/mi

Average heart rate 155bpm

Perfect would be an understatement. It was the exact type of run that I'd been chasing all week and it just came to me on rainy Sunday morning before dawn without even trying. I had just reached the driveway of my parent's house when my mom was pulling out of the garage. She mentioned she was surprised I had headed out in the rain and all I could reply with was something to the affect of "it was amazing".  I normally would have said to a comment like that "have we met?" or "really mom?!" I was just feeling fantastic. I jumped in the shower and was overcome with emotion. I guess I really needed that. 

I know I've only been actively working on my pacing for a week at this point but this is what it's all about. Run for the love of it... and everything else just falls into place. 

Mar 8, 2011

Would you like some yogurt with that sugar?

Proper nutrition goes hand in hand with being the best runner you can be. Food is fuel in the runner's handbook and filling your tank with the right type of fuel is essential to running (and being) well. Yogurt has been a faithful morning snack of mine for quite some time. I'm always on the look out for new brands and flavors that I might enjoy.

When I first started losing weight I was eating the Dannon Light & Fits. They had lots of flavors and were pretty low in calories.  At some point in my journey I made the decision to omit artificial sweeteners from my diet. They are terrible for you to say the very least. I'm convinced they make me crave sugar and sweets ten times more after I've consumed them.  Your body isn't dumb and it knows when you aren't giving it what it wants. Also, it takes like sh*t. So, if I'm going to have a soda (which happens about once every 2 years); I'm going to have the real deal. I don't drink G2 (nasty) and I won't even chew sugar-free gum. Aspartame and sucralose are products of the devil if you ask me.

This brings me to the hunt I've been on to find the perfect yogurt. After coming to my conclusion about artificial sweeteners I've had a hard time finding a low fat, low calorie yogurt that didn't contain any of that junk. I've bounced back and forth between a few different yogurts until recently.

The newest nutritional trend seems to be Greek yogurt. It's flying off the shelves at our local Wegmans and companies like Yoplait and Dannon are even beginning to sell it.  Greek yogurt has been on my radar for a while now. It's been in health and fitness magazines for the last couple of years touting the great benefits of the extra protein per serving. Some Greek yogurt brands have almost triple the amount of protein found in your typical low fat yogurt. It didn't become my new yogurt of choice until a few months ago. It took a while for me to get used to Greek yogurt. If you've never had it before it's very different. It's thick and creamy and has kind of a tang after bite, for lack of better description. It can also be expensive, usually around $1.49 for a 6oz serving.

A daily serving of yogurt is a great way to get some calcium and probiotics in. It's an easy and convenient snack. What it also has is sugar. TONS of sugar. Have you ever checked out the nutrition facts on your yogurt? Chances are that even if you are eating the junk with artificial sweeteners in it there is still more sugar in your yogurt than there are in my Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches (15g).

I always kind of knew about the yogurt/sugar situation but looked the other way since I felt like I'd rather have it than not. I also felt that since I'm running what harm could it really do? Essentially it is a junk food in disguise. Right now I'm trying to stay as lean and healthy as possible to be in my best running condition and I've since switched over to plain non-fat Greek yogurt. It only has 4.5 grams of sugar and 60 calories with 10 grams of protein per 8 oz serving (note: traditional yogurt portions sold in stores are 6 oz). You can have a full cup for 120 calories and 9 grams of sugar. However, I'll admit I have to practically choke it down even when I dress it up with granola and fresh fruit. Plain yogurt is just that; plain. 

Let me share with you a new discovery I have made that has changed my yogurt eating life for the better. Smucker's low sugar jelly (with no artificial sweeteners). It only has 25 calories and 5 grams of sugar per tablespoon. If you mix this with your plain Greek yogurt you will be pleasantly surprised. A single teaspoon is enough to add some serious flavor to your plain Greek yogurt without adding all of the calories and sugar. I highly recommend the Fage brand Greek yogurt with the Smucker's low sugar strawberry flavored jelly (grape is good too!). It's super creamy and almost sinful when you add the jelly. The best part is you can buy it in bulk and save some money while saving some inches on your waist line. Give it a try and let me know what you think. 

I've also got a couple AMAZING smoothie recipes I've created using the plain Greek yogurt. Coming soon :)