Monday, March 30, 2015

Tuesdays on the Run: My Dream Race

One of my fave races:
Griffith Park Trail Marathon
As a function of my job, it's important that I "sample" various races. I absolutely have to run the local races because those are the races the majority of my clients will be running. I also need to venture beyond San Diego and see what else is out there, you know, for my job. :) But I also run races just for fun. Really, all races are fun, but there are some that stand out more than others. It would be awesome if I could take all the wonderful-ness of all my favorite races and combine them into my ideal all-time dream race. Imagine the possibilities. Don't mind if I do!

Thanks for reading and if you're here from the Tuesdays on the Run link up hosted by My No-Guilt Life, MCM Mama Runs and Run the Great Wide Somewhere, welcome!

First, I would have to think about the things at races that I don't like. I don't like crowded expos. I just don't. Sure I like to look at stuff and make an impulse buy or two, but after a while all expos look the same. They don't really seem special or stand out when the same vendors are at all of them. I guess this is a problem for the person that runs a lot of races. I also get a bit overwhelmed at these big expos, but that's my own problem. I understand there are tons of folks that love expos and would be sad without one. Therefore, my dream race would have the option of skipping the expo entirely and either have my race bib sent to me or pick it up race morning. You can go to the expo if that's your thing or you can skip it if it's not. More and more races are having this as an option and I'm liking it!

San Diego Half Marathon awesome loop course
I have to say I'm not a huge fan of point-to-point races. Sure, there are some that I love (NYC Marathon, I'm looking at you) but there are others I did not enjoy because the process of getting either to the race start or back from the finish or whatever the configuration is, was annoying. Worrying about getting a shuttle on time, getting a seat, getting on the right shuttle, etc. Plus you usually have to get up earlier to grab the shuttle, so your nutrition is off. All of it is needless stress for the already stressed out runner. Sure, we could not sign up for a point-to-point race. Well, since this is my dream race, I'm having an out-and-back course. But! But, I would not have any super long stretches where you're running in one direction and seeing the other runners coming back on the other side. I hate wondering where the damn turnaround is. If I needed to do that, it would only be for a mile :) Better yet, I'd do a pretty amazing loop course. And I would make sure that the views were just spectacular. Yes, I know not every race can be beautiful, but there are some races that don't even try. Running down a suburban city street for 10 miles straight is not beautiful. Give me a view of something great, whether it's a scenic skyline, a city park or a great neighborhood, and you'll have me forever.

Since we're having an out-and-back course, we're going to have the best damn parking in the world. For example, at the Griffith Park Trail Marathon this past weekend, the parking was literally steps away from the start/finish. So no need for gear check and you don't have to jump through hoops to get to your car at the end of the race when you're tired and all you want to do is go home. And parking for a race should ALWAYS be free. Also, getting through the finish line should be easy too. This would be a function of the race size and the area where the start/finish is. It should be large enough that there are no bottle necks as you're trying to get through the finish area. But it shouldn't be so large that you hear crickets as you cross the line.

Onto the runners themselves. I really love small races. Well, let me rephrase that. I love races that are small enough where you can actually run without tripping over someone but big enough so that you're never actually alone on the course. You can chat with someone if you want, or target someone to pass, but you will never have to weave in and out of runners. I think the size of the field should depend on the size of the trail/road you have to run on. The more narrow the route, the less runners you should have.

From the 2014
Marine Corps Marathon
So, while I may want fewer runners out there, I want thousands of spectators out there. Really. Thousands. It makes a huge difference, as I talked about last week. Having spectators cheer for you, carry clever signs, tell you you're awesome throughout a race is the shit. Without spectators, it's a lonely place out there! Especially if you're struggling. At my race, there could be a spectator-runner match up where every runner has a spectator just for them (this is important if you've traveled to a race and don't have anyone there to cheer for you). This spectator makes signs for you, moves around the route to be sure they see you more than once and are at the finish to scream for you as you cross the line. This would be kind of like signing up for a pace group, only you're signing up for a spectator group.

Free race pic from
Revel Canyon City HM
Next would be pictures. We all love race photos but we don't love to pay the crazy prices for them. Twenty bucks for a 4 x 6 is not my idea of a deal. A lot of races are now offering their photos to runners for free. They may not be the best quality or they may have the race logo on them, but that's ok. Most photos are just going online someplace anyway; they don't have to be top notch quality. And it's fine if the race logo is on there too. In fact, that's great because it reminds you what race it's from. I know the price of the photos goes towards paying the photographers. I'm not saying they shouldn't be paid. Maybe less photogs or offer one pic free. Hey, it's my dream race. Photos will be free!

Onto food. The aid stations need to have real food. Fruit, pretzels, chips, potatoes, you name it. I usually run with real food (pretzels) in addition to energy chews (Honey Stingers), so having real food at aid stations is really appealing to me. At most trail races I do, the aid stations have real food and I've just become accustomed to it. Yes, I'm an aid station snob. I realize this is expensive but local businesses can donate food, the aid station volunteers can coordinate what they bring (this is how trail races do it) or it can be rolled into the price of the race. Runners rely on aid stations and having fully stocked stations will ensure the runners get all they need to have the most success during the race. The food at the end of the race should be pretty rocking too. As I discussed a few weeks ago, post-race food is an art. Fruit, water, coconut water, hummus and veggies, etc. have all made appearances at some of the races I've done, much to my appreciation. A lot of runners run for the food so we might as well have a good spread at the end. Lots of pumpkin bread, fruit, coconut water and sandwiches at my dream race! Oh, and let's not forget the finest craft brews! You've earned one!

Awesome belt buckle from
Griffith Park Trail Marathon
Last but not least: the swag. One race that gave out the best swag was the now-defunct Frederick Marathon in Frederick, Maryland. The first year I did it, they gave you an official tech race shirt, a hat, your medal and also a cotton finishers tee. The next time I did it, they didn't have that stuff (it does get expensive) but that's why you keep a race small! I would make sure the shirts are gender specific, and yummy. No woman wants to wear a man's running shirt. And I'm sorry, unisex shirts are not flattering for women. They need to be soft and designed in a way that would persuade the runners to actually wear them again. Medals are getting more and more elaborate, so I'm not sure I'd even have one. Or I'd have something else entirely. I love races that do the belt buckle thing, pint glasses, hats, bottle openers, wine glasses and bottles of wine (some Napa Valley races do this!) and other unconventional things.

If you could design your own dream race, what would it have? What do you look forward to the most at the races you do?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tuesdays on the Run: Favorite Race Signs

I remember running races where the best thing to look forward to was the banana they handed to you as you crossed the finish line. Now there are medals and beers, cold towels and Tiffany necklaces. So much good stuff! I also remember running races where you were lucky to pass by onlookers that didn't look at you like you were crazy, wondering what you were running from. Now spectators are just as much part of the race as the post-race goodies, finishers medals and overall race atmosphere. But being a spectator comes with great responsibility. Not only are you expected to cheer and shout, wave a cow bell maniacally and wear a crazy costume, you are now expected to hold an incredibly clever and witty sign. These signs are staples of races. They help give us runners a focus, something to laugh, cry, punch or high five during our race. In fact, a well-placed spectator sign can make all the difference when legs are screaming and spirits are low. Here, I describe my most favorite sign I held as a spectator for a race. Thanks for reading and if you're here from the Tuesdays on the Run link up hosted by My No-Guilt Life, MCM Mama Runs and Run the Great Wide Somewhere, welcome!
The above picture was taken at the 2009 Washington National Marathon and Half Marathon (now known as the Rock n Roll DC Marathon and Half). I coached a group for the race and it was the first half or full marathon for most of them. Needless to say, everyone was extremely excited and nervous about the race. Since I rarely run the races for which I coach a group (so I can see everyone at the finish), I planted myself at the finish line once everyone got on their way. Though, this time I had the biggest, brightest, most ridiculous balloon I could find. I wanted to make sure everyone saw me from 4 miles away. The best part was when we were looking at everyone's official finish line photos after the race, you could see my big-ass balloon bobbing in the distance. 
In addition to this big-ass balloon was The Sign. During our training, we ran along the Rock Creek Trail, which spans from Maryland into Washington, DC. We started at Lake Needwood in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the north end of the trail. We ran out and back each week for our long run. As you come back into Lake Needwood on the trail, about a quarter-mile from the finish of the trail, there is a sign with an arrow indicating a curve in the trail that's hidden due to the trees. This sign served as the carrot dangling in front of us, guiding us back to the finish. Imagine, after a long 11.75 or 19.75 mile run, seeing this sign and knowing you're *thisclose* to being done. Well, the husband of one of our runners made a replica of the sign and I planted myself a quarter of a mile from the finish line of the race. My balloon and I, and that sign, were the beacons that guided our runners to victory :) 
As a runner, I love seeing the spectator signs. Not only are most of them hilarious, reading them passes the time really nicely. I saw my all-time favorite at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014. It said, "If marathons were easy, they'd be called your mother." How awesome is that? I had never seen it before but apparently it's pretty popular. Yeah, I love the motivational signs as well, but it's the humor that really does it for me. But fear works too. During the Carlsbad Marathon in January, I was running along and saw a woman holding a sign with a drawing of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad that read, "Jesse says 'Run, Bitch!'" If you've seen the show, you know that's how Jesse talks. Anyway, I laughed and acknowledged the woman for her sign (I love Jesse Pinkman). She got really excited and screamed at me to RUN, BITCH! It kind of scared me, so I sped up and ran away as fast as I could. Well, this was right before the turn around for one section of the race, so I ended up passing her again. She recognized me and screamed at me again to RUN BITCH as I ran by. That woman scared me! But it was a effective. I ran like a bitch after seeing her! (This is not a pic of the sign I saw but one just like it from Pinterest). 
What's the best sign you've seen in a race? Which do you prefer, funny, inspirational, tough love? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesdays on the Run: What's with the weight gain?

If you think training for a long-distance race is a great way to lose weight, you'd be right. For the most part. Even with the hours of running, the hundreds of miles and all that hard work, a lot of people have a hard time maintaining their weight even when they're running long every week, myself included. When I first started marathon running, I gained weight too. It kind of sucks but once you figure out what may be causing the weight gain, you can prevent it from happening. There can be a number of reasons why and below you'll see the most common. If you're here from the Tuesdays on the Run link up hosted by My No-Guilt LifeMCM Mama Runs and Run the Great Wide Somewhere, welcome!

Eating more calories than you need. I would say this is the most common reason why you gain weight while training. Many runners "reward" their hard, long efforts with a huge meal because they think they've burned a butt load of calories (that's a scientific term, I might add). Generally speaking, you burn about 100 calories per mile you run. Some people burn more, some less, so this is a general estimate. If you run 10 miles, you burn roughly 1000 calories. That's great, right?? Well, you also probably drank 16oz of sports drink, maybe more. Depending on the sports drink, that could be 200 calories. So now we're down to 800 calories burned. Over the 10 miles, you may have had a gel or some chews. One gel is usually around 100 calories. So we're looking at about 700 calories burned. That's not bad, but when you and your running buddies hit up the breakfast joint after your run, chances are high you're taking in more than that with your eggs, bacon, toast and coffee with cream. Heck, sometimes just a smoothie alone can be well over 500 calories. I'm not saying you shouldn't eat after your runs. I would never say that. What I'm saying is you probably don't need to (and shouldn't) eat as much as you think you need after your runs. It's better to have something small that's mostly easily digestable carbs (like fruit) and a small amount of protein (something like a serving of nut butter, which is 2 tbs) right after your run. Then an hour or two later, you can have a larger meal, but again, you don't need a monstrous amount of food. The best thing to do is opt for nutritionally dense foods - things that are high on nutrition and low on the bad stuff. I know this isn't all that fun. If you really want to have that pizza or other not-so-good choice, that's ok as long as the majority of what you eat is good food. The best thing you can do is determine what your calorie needs are, along with the specific amounts of carbs, protein and fat you need to fuel your workouts, recover from those workouts and maintain, or even lose weight, along the way.

You store more glycogen. Part of long distance training involves training your body to use various sources of fuels more efficiently. As you move along in your training, your body gets better at storing glycogen. Before you started running longer distances, you didn't really do many activities that depleted your glycogen stores. With runs that are over 90 minutes, you're using up much of your glycogen. And over time, your body has gotten better at replacing that glycogen store. But keep in mind, when you store glycogen, your body stores water along with it. This can add numbers to the scale, which is most often seen during the taper period before your race. Less training and more carbs can lead to a little weight gain. But that's a good thing and will most likely be gone once the race is over.

Mistaking thirst for hunger. Many of us have a hard time keeping up with our hydration needs. Add hundreds of miles, some of them intense, and you may be constantly in the dehydrated zone. Unfortunately, our mind can play tricks on us and tell us we're hungry when we're actually thirsty. Staying on top of your hydration, all day, everyday, can help prevent this from happening. The Institute of Medicine recommends the average male take in 3.7 liters of fluid a day and women take in 2.7 liters of fluid a day. This is for the average male or female, mind you. Long distance runners will need to up these amounts based on their specific needs. You can use your urine color as a guide: your urine should be light yellow by lunch time and stay that way for the rest of the day.

Building muscle. I'm sure you've heard the saying that muscle weighs more than fat. As you get into your training, you are building muscle with every run. You probably have noticed more tone to your legs and even your abdominals. If you've added strength training, hill runs or other cross training activities, there's no doubt you're building muscle. This is a case where the number rising on the scale isn't a bad thing and you should pay more attention to how your clothes feel.

What's helped me the most in preventing weight gain, and even losing weight, while long distance training is keeping a food log. It can get tedious and be a pain in the butt at times, but it's the best way to know how many calories you're eating vs. how many you're burning. You can also keep track of your macronutrient intake (carbs, fat, protein) as well as key micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. There are hundreds of food logs out there. I like MyFitnessPal as a food log because its database is awesome and a lot of what you eat is probably already entered, saving you time. You can also scan your foods and have the data entered that way. MyFitnessPal is also great because it can link to many tracking tools such as FitBit and others. Keeping track of what I was eating on NON running days really helped keep things in check.

Before you go fiddling with your calorie intake, first you'll need to know your basal metabolic rate, which tells you how many calories you need to take in just to be alive. Sometimes not even eating this amount can cause weight gain because your body thinks it's starving and won't burn as many calories throughout the day so it can conserve energy. So you need to eat at least as many calories indicated by your BMR. But for distance runners (any athlete, really), it goes beyond the BMR. You need to determine what your calorie needs are to maintain your weight at your current activity level. From there, you can try to create a deficit to lose weight, if that's your goal. It gets confusing and a lot of online calculators can vary in their accuracy. I'm always available to help you determine what your calorie needs are and how you can create a calorie deficit without missing out on the nutrients you need to fuel your workouts. So, to wrap things up, here are the things you can do to help keep the pounds off as the miles go up:

  1. Track your food intake. This is the best way to see what you're eating, track your calorie intake and create a deficit if necessary.
  2. Don't reward yourself with food. Buy new gear, get a massage, whatever. Don't reward yourself with crappy food all the time.
  3. Stay hydrated as much as possible.
  4. Don't go too long in between meals so that you don't overeat when you do eat and you can keep your metabolism firing for longer periods of time. 
  5. Don't be a slave to the scale. Go by how you feel and how your clothes feel. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday on the Run: Favorite Post-race Foods!

Bagels, bananas, chocolate milk, beer, pizza...these are some of the items you'll see in the post-race food area once you've crossed the finish line. A lot of times these foods are really dependent on the sponsors of the race and what organizers can get on the cheap. Some items are great, some not-so-great. In my race dreamland, here are the things I would love to eat after a race. Thankfully, many races have these items now and I am truly grateful. There is nothing like going all out in a race and having your favorites at the end. If you're here from the Tuesdays on the Run link up hosted by My No-Guilt Life, MCM Mama Runs and Run the Great Wide Somewhere, welcome!

Coconut Water. Coconut water is definitely an acquired taste. I don't actually love it, but I do love what it does for my body. Coconut water is a great blend of sugar (though less than what you'll find in sports drinks) and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium. It helps hydrate you and balance your electrolytes. This can help prevent post-race soreness. I'm not a huge fan of the coconut drinks with added things, such as protein. That's a little more processing than I'd like. Give me just the good, old fashioned coconut water and I'm happy.

Fruit. Fruit is a great post-race food because it's a great source of easily digestible carbs to help replace what you just used to power your race. Fruits are also high in antioxidants which can help with inflammation and help speed your recovery. My favorites are bananas, oranges and watermelon but I also love berries. I'm not a huge fan of apples or pears because they're a little hard on my stomach after a race. But fruit is light, juicy and cold, so it's really refreshing after a race.

Hummus and Tomatoes. I know this sounds odd. It is odd. But a few years ago friends and I did the Zooma Annapolis race and one of the items they had was a little single-serve hummus with cherry tomatoes. It was a horribly hot and humid day and for some reason that hummus and tomatoes really hit the spot. Just the right amount of carbs and protein plus it was cold and refreshing.

Pumpkin Bread. Ok, this one is a little specific to the race we just did over the weekend. We did the Phoenix Marathon and it was my job to make sure everyone finished! It was a tough race for one of my friends and we were out there a little longer than I expected. Needless to say, I was starving at the end. At the end of the race, there was a local bakery called Kneaders with breads and muffins. Their pumpkin bread was to die for. It was light and delicious and not super dense, so it didn't sit like a rock in my stomach. After scarfing down several pieces, I had to leave the table or I would have eaten the entire loaf of bread. But after a few minutes, I needed more. I went back to the table just in time as they were giving away entire loaves of pumpkin bread. It was my lucky day as I was able to snag one right before they ran out! YUM! My kids and I have since eaten almost the entire loaf as a snack. In one morning. Oh well. I have to see if they can ship me more!

Sandwiches. After the Noble Canyon 50K, they had subs for all the finishers. They did this after the Griffith Park Trail Marathon as well since Whole Foods was a sponsor. There were cold cut sandwiches as well as veggie sandwiches. Honestly, there's something really comforting about eating a big sub after a long, hard effort. The bread and veggies are really yummy and exactly what I feel like eating.

After I'm home from a race and my hunger fully sets in, I'm a little less discriminating with my food choices. The longer the race, the larger my appetite. Lately, my later-post-race food cravings have been noodle-related. I love diving into a huge bowl of some noodle concoction such as Lo Mein, Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles, whatever. The saltier and noodlier the better :)

What are some foods you LOVE after a race? Do you like the traditional bagels and bananas or are there more unusual items that you're craving post-race? What about later in the day? What do you crave the most?