HELLO 2014!

Just a little over 24 hours until the New Year! All in all, 2013 was great for me, but I’m looking forward to 2014 now! In terms of running, this will probably be my biggest year yet. I’m ACTUALLY going to run a marathon. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a little kid. I’ve always known that I was going to run one someday, but it’s hard to comprehend that I’m actually going to do it in less than five months!

With a new year right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get back into the swing of training. I took some time off after my last half marathon (Nov 30th) so that I could get a physical and mental break from running. After a long training cycle, I believe it’s good to take a little time to recover and get motivated again.

Anyways, I took the last month pretty easy – not completely off, but I cut back my mileage by about half and added in some cross-training. I’m finally feeling eager to get back to a normal routine of running and get in shape for my next race.

A few New Years jokes to make you smile

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ClipLight continued…

Remember that ClipLight that I wrote about a few posts back? Well, it lasted all of about two runs. Actually, not even. I’ve been going running in the town over from me in this little neighborhood lately. I get out of work too late and it’s dark by the time I would finish with my run if I came straight home. My road can get kind of busy, so this little neighborhood is perfect. It can get a little tedious because I have to keep doing this 15-minute loop, but it’s better than not running at all.

Anyways, I clipped my light onto the bottom of my shirt and a few minutes into the run I decided to turn it on because it was getting a little dark. And…. Yep, it’s not there. Lovely. I did the loop again hoping that I would be able to spot it, but not very hopeful since it was already getting dark.

Then as I was finishing up my run, I spotted something glowing on the other side of the road. Almost laughing, I crossed to find my light slightly buried in the slushy snow! A car must have run over it perfectly to turn it on. The part that clips onto my shirt unfortunately broke, but my dad thinks he can fix it somehow. I’ll let you know how that goes!

I think the jacket I wore yesterday might not have been thick enough for the clip to hold on to. If it does get fixed, then I’ll make sure to fold my clothing a little at the ends to make sure it’s a tight fit and I don’t lose it again.

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Happy New Years everyone! I hope it’s a great one!

Are you looking forward to 2014? Anything in particular?

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A Few of My Favorite Runners

I love following elite cross-country and track and field. The unbelievable things that these athletes do are pretty inspiring. One of my favorite things to do before a competition is to watch a video of the perfect race. It gets me in the zone. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite elite runners.

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Of course the legendary Steve Prefontaine has to be included in this list. He was a confident and slightly cocky runner from Oregon – a rare front-runner that knew the way he raced best and wouldn’t change himself for anyone. My favorite quote by him is, “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.” That’s basically what running is. It’s mostly a mental battle with yourself to see how much you are willing to suffer for a win. You can settle and run a sub-par race, or you can push yourself to the edge and accomplish something amazing. Pre was kind of the epitome of “mentally strong.” He once ran a race with stitches in his foot… and WON!

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If you haven’t seen the movie “Without Limits” and are kind of a running nerd like me, then I highly suggest it. The movie is about Pre’s running career – probably one of my favorite movies. It was always a team dinner favorite in high school.

Mary Cain

I think this young athlete is a favorite of everyone’s after her past year.

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Here is a handful of her accomplishments:

  • Youngest American athlete to ever represent the US in a World Championships meet
  • High school record in the indoor 2 mile, indoor 1500m, indoor 3000m, indoor mile, outdoor 800m, outdoor 1500m
  • Placed 13th in the 1500m at the 2013 World Championships
  • 2013 US indoor mile champion
  • 2011 USA Junior 1500m runner-up and 2012 USA Junior 1500m champion

Her unbelievable performances have made the running world pretty excited. It seems that any race she runs, she excels at. She makes breaking records look easy. Mary has decided to not compete collegiately, but instead turn pro and run with the Oregon Project (while pursuing a college degree). I’m so excited to see what else she does. Here is one of her pretty exciting races. After a sluggish start to the race, the last few laps turn into a sprinting frenzy (Mary’s specialty). Enjoy!

Lukas Verzbicas

Lukas is probably best known for breaking the 4-minute mile barrier as a high schooler – only the  5th person to do so. He also won Footlocker two years in a row and NXN his senior year. Lukas set national records for the high school outdoor 2-mile and indoor 5k.

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What many people don’t know is that Lukas is a triathlete. He originally signed up to go to the University of Oregon. However, after after winning the Junior World Championship Triathlon in 2011 and not finding a good fit with the University, Lukas decided to turn pro as a triathlete.

He went on to win a few races, but soon after suffered a near-fatal injury when he crashed on his bike in 2012. He had a broken spine, collapsed lung, and broken clavicle. After surgery his left leg was paralyzed, but has since come back to not just walk, but race again. He is still recovering, but has since won the Oceanside Turkey Trot this past Novemeber.

Lukas’ strength and determination is probably what makes me admire him the most. Even when his doctors were saying that he would probably never walk again, Lukas never gave up.  I also think his running form is the prettiest gait I’ve ever seen. He makes it look so effortless.

Kara Goucher

The long distance runner from Colorado University won a bronze medal in the 10k at the 2007 World Championships. She now specializes in the marathon and I’ve seen her running the Boston Marathon quite a few times now!

What makes her even more of an inspiration to me is that she had compartment syndrome when she was younger, just like me! When I was training again after my surgery I would keep reminding myself that Kara had the same injury and is now doing just fine. Actually, more than just fine. She has since made 2 Olympic teams.

It’s a tradition for my family to go watch the Boston Marathon every year. I get so excited when I see Kara representing the US. Here are a few photos we got of her from the race in 2011.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson

1984 was the first year that women were allowed to compete in the marathon in the Olympics. That year the Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Joanie was not even on anyone’s radar before the race as she had arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks before. Shortly after the start, she took the lead and gapped the field. They never caught her and she became the first woman to ever win the marathon in the Olympics. The fact that it was held in the US made the victory even sweeter.

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Although she accomplished this before my time, I still love watching the video of her coming into the stadium for her victory lap. Joanie, full of joy, takes off her baseball cap and waves it around like a true champion. Here is a highlights video of the race

It’s been so much fun to watch her keep racing. In 2008, my family and I saw the women’s Olympic Trials in Boston. It was so much fun to watch the crowd cheer for her. They had almost more love for her than they did for the leaders!

Who are your favorite runners? Why?

It’s Official!

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I’m going to run a MARATHON!!!!! My sister registered me for the Maine Coast Marathon as one of my Christmas presents. Thank you so much, Justine! May 11th, here I come! Officially 19.5 weeks away. Slightly scary, but mostly exciting.

A Little About the Race

The race starts at Kennebunk High school and finishes at the Harold Alfond Forum at UNE in Biddeford. The course is a USATF-certified course and can therefore be used as a Boston Qualifier. The race website makes it very clear that the course is NOT flat. I’m guessing that there are some people who assume that it is because the race is on the coast. However, the finishing times do say that it is fast. Below is a course elevation map.

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From a glance, I can tell that I’ll have to be very careful the first 6-ish miles because it’s all slightly downhill. Also, the last 5-ish miles are slightly uphill, so I’ll have to be conservative as to not die at the end. Overall, the course is not hilly, but it is not flat either. Since I run in Vermont, I feel kind of silly not calling it flat, but I know better from my past half marathons. What looks like an insignificant “bump” can be excruciating depending on where it is on the course. I can only imagine how that translates to a full marathon.

There is a limit of only 750 runners, as they wanted the marathon “to exceed your expectations in terms of quality.” Over the 26.2-mile course, there are 15 aid stations. All have water and Gatorade, while 7 of them will have real food. They haven’t specified yet what the food is, but last year there were oreos and watermelon. Strollers and dogs are not allowed, while mp3’s are discouraged. Most importantly, everyone will receive finishers’ medals and a long sleeve tech shirt.

All in all, I think it will be a very good race for my first marathon. It’s not too hilly, not crowded, and sounds like a very beautiful course. I’m so excited!!!!

Other Running Christmas Gifts

SPIbelt – my parents got me this lightweight belt that I can wear on my runs. It easily zips in any essentials like a phone or some cash that I might want to bring with me. I don’t normally bring much with me on my runs besides my room key and school ID when I’m at school. However, on longer runs, I like to bring my phone or a power bar. I joke that the SPIbelt is a “cool fanny pack” as it is much smaller than most packs and can easily be hidden as most shirts cover it. I originally bought my mom one for Mother’s Day, but I keep borrowing hers. Sorry! I think she finally decided that I needed my own.

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ClipLight – my parents also got me this little clip-on light that I can attach to my shirt or something when I’m out on my runs. I’m not a huge fan of running when it’s dark, but sometimes I do find myself out there as the sun is setting. The light can blink or just stay on. I just have to remember not to leave it on my clothes so that it won’t go in my laundry!

 

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Did you get any running-themed presents for the holidays? What’s your favorite? 

Happy Holidays!

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Samson says Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday – whatever you may be celebrating. I’m enjoying spending time with my wonderful family. I love when everyone is home.

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Rudy (my sister and brother-in-law’s dog) says Happy Holidays as well!

An added bonus to this year’s Christmas is that we have power! Two hours after my last post it went out for 40+ hours. I feel like I kind of brought that on by writing about the ice storm. Anyways, it just came back a few hours ago. Yippeeeee!!!!! 

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It’s time for our close-ups!

Running in an Icy Wonderland

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the view from my driveway

What was looking like the perfect Christmas in Vermont took a nasty turn for the worse this weekend. The temperature rose and all the nice fluffy snow started to melt. Since Friday we’ve been getting freezing rain… just perfect. My driveway is officially a bumpy ice skating rink.

I wrote a winter running guide, but how do you run outside when everything has a ½ inch sheet of ice covering it?

1.     Traction

There are plenty of ways to make your running shoes more suitable for icy conditions – Yaktrax, Microspikes, and Bugrip to name a few. Some people will even drill screws into the bottom of their shoes.

I’ve got a pair of Yaktrax that I use in icy conditions. It’s a rubber device that stretches around the bottom of your shoe with steel coils and provides a much better grip than normal shoes do. It comes in plenty of different sizes to fit everyone.

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I started out pretty cautious, but soon realized the Yaktrax were doing a fine job and could run at my normal pace. The ones I have mainly have the metal bits towards the middle of the shoe. Since I’m mostly a heel striker I tried to land more on my midfoot (especially on the downhills) to try and get the best traction possible. This made me feel a little awkward, though. It could have been fine without me doing this, but I wasn’t going to take a chance! To anyone that saw me running the past few days, I don’t always look so strange!

2.     Pick the safest route

The roads were pretty deserted today, as winter travel was highly discouraged due to the weather. This made it possible for me to run more in the middle of the road where there was less ice. The shoulders, at times, were pretty coated.

When doing this you have to be very cautious and aware of any oncoming traffic. If there is a blind corner or blind hill coming up then you should be on the shoulder. Plus, if it’s windy out this can make it hard to hear any oncoming traffic. I felt comfortable doing this today since there were hardly any cars and it was not particularly windy.

3.     Avoid Dirt Roads

This might not apply to many people, but my town has plenty of dirt roads that are great for running. There is less pounding and less traffic, which makes it a runner’s paradise.

However, this is not so true in the winter. Any snow that comes down packs onto the dirt more easily than it does to pavement. The layers keep building up and building up until it gets pretty icy. Add some freezing rain and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.

4.     Warm Stove

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My shoes and clothes were thoroughly soaked after my run yesterday. Luckily, I have a wood stove to dry them out and make them nice and toasty for my run the next day. A heater will work fine as well, though.

Here are some photos from the trails in back of my house. Photo credits to my mom!

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Does anyone else run when it’s icy out? What are your tricks for dealing with it?

The Biggest Loser

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I have a confession to make…. I absolutely LOVE the Biggest Loser. I feel so inspired by all of the different contestants and the amazing feats that they do. Every time I finish with a show I leave feeling inspired and motivated.

Almost anyone that is in the healthcare (specifically fitness) industry has a strong opinion about the show. It seems that people either love it or hate it.

Criticism #1 – Unrealistic

Most of the criticism over the show is that it gives the public an unrealistic expectation about weight loss. Some weeks there are contestants that lose a huge number on the scale, but are still unhappy with their accomplishment. I agree. It can be strange to see someone lose seven pounds and stand up there frowning. After all, that is 24,500 Calories burned! For any person trying to lose weight on their own, this would be an enormous accomplishment.

It is important to remember that the contestants on the show have a single goal to lose weight and become healthier. They are not trying to balance a job or family while on the ranch. There are hardly any distractions. Plus, whenever the contestants go home for a week or go on vacation, we see less weight loss. The ranch is completely set up for weight loss. There are amazing trainers, an awesome gym, a pool, trails and roads to run on outside, the right type of food in the house, other contestants to motivate and compete with, and a scale that holds them accountable each and every week.

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The gym at The Biggest Loser

THIS is the reality of the show and anyone that watches it should realize this. Probably every couple of episodes someone on the show makes a comment about how amazing it is how much weight the contestants are losing and that these results would be near impossible to replicate at home. People trying to lose weight on their own need to keep this in mind.

Criticism #2 – Too Hollywood

The recommended weight loss for the majority of people is about 2 pounds/week. However, the contestants on the show lose way more than that. This is done in order to make good TV. The weight loss is set up like a competition with challenges, voting, and lots of drama going on. It makes for one exciting hour! If a show featured only 2 lbs/week, no competition, and no drama, then I doubt it would even make it onto the TV in the first place.

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Contestants competing in a challenge that involved LOTS and LOTS of mud!

I think it’s a really good thing that The Biggest Loser is reaching people through TV because this is their target audience. Many of the people watching the show are being inactive sitting in front of the television, so this is the audience that the show needs to reach.

Criticism #3 – Unsustainable

Another criticism of the show is that the contestants can’t sustain it long term. I’ll start off by saying that the research for this is very very difficult to obtain. How do you define successful weight management? Staying at goal weight or only gaining ____ amount of weight back? Staying in the healthy weight range? Although it is nearly impossible to figure out how successful the contestants on The Biggest Loser are in comparison to other dieters, I did find some interesting research.

Cris 4 Cris did an awesome blog entry where she researched this. She looked at past contestants before season 8 as she wanted to only analyze people on the “maintenance” phase for a minimum of two years. She found that, “of 53 contestants, only two (Ryan Benson and Erik Chopin) had gained over 50 pounds back. 11 contestants had gained between 25 and 50 pounds back; however, one of those contestants, Amy Wolff, had just had a baby, so does she really count? The remaining 40 contestants had either lost, maintained, or gained less than 25 pounds back. So this gives BL a 75% success rate of full weight loss maintenance.” Even if this percentage is off by quite a bit, this still gives the Biggest Loser a pretty big success rate. Another drawback is it only looks at the first 7 seasons and therefore only includes contestants between 2-5 years post-Biggest Loser because the show has only been around for so long.

Of course the success rate is not 100%.  Just like people recovering from addictions have relapses and aren’t always successful, the same is true for weight loss. Drugs aren’t the addictions, though, food is. Unfortunately for them, they can’t just avoid their addictions all the time. We need food in order to survive; and these people, therefore, have to face this challenge day in and day out. A 100% success rate would be amazing, but it is just not feasible.

My favorite Contestant

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before and after

I haven’t watched all of the seasons, but I’ve probably watched about five or six. Out of all the episodes there is one contestant that is still my favorite – Tara Costa. She came onto the show at 297 pounds – well over 100 pounds overweight. She was previously a model, but came onto the show completely disheartened. 7 seasons later, Tara still holds the record for the highest number of challenges won on the show. She’s a beast!

After the show, Tara went on to run the Ironman triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

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Tara finishing the Ironman!!!!!

If you ever need a little motivation I would suggest watching the 12th episode in season 7. All of the other competitors know that Tara is a huge threat and take any opportunity to stop her from winning. In the first part of the challenge, Tara is heavily disadvantaged and she becomes very annoyed at the other contestants. However, Tara comes back to CRUSH the rest of the challenge.

My Opinion

All in all, I think the service that The Biggest Loser does for the public by motivating people to get healthy is pretty incredible. Even if the show only inspires 100 people to get healthy, then I think it would be worth it – and I know it’s inspired way more than that! After all, it’s definitely inspired me! I’m lucky enough to have never struggled with being overweight, but the show still motivates me to eat healthier or just get out for my run instead of watching TV on the couch.

Bottom line: There is a health crisis that is occurring in America and other countries that is caused by obesity. I’m glad that the Biggest Loser is taking action.

What do you think about the Biggest Loser? Love it? Hate it? Do you like to watch it? 

The Wall and Carbo-loading

The marathoner’s worst enemy is not the runner ahead of them or even the upcoming hill – it’s the dreaded wall. We’ve all heard of it. It’s every runner’s nightmare. The wall is that feeling of being so completely out of gas that you can’t take another step. Some literally describe it as if there was a wall stopping them from forward movement – hence, the name. 

In scientific terms, the wall is when muscle glycogen stores become too low. Think of muscle glycogen as easily accessible energy. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver, blood, and muscle. The carbohydrates in muscles are easily used and readily available since they’re so close to what is using energy (our muscles).

The Low Down on Carbs

In recent years, carbs have gotten a bad rap. With the media constantly advertising no-carb/low-carb diets, it’s no wonder many people believe that carbohydrates are bad for us. However, they actually play a vital role in our health. According to the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), about 45-65% of our calories should come from carbohydrates. Below are a few roles that carbohydrates play in our everyday lives.

Carbs;

  • Are the body’s main source of energy
  • Can be easily used for energy
  • Have a 2 x faster energy transfer in comparison to fats or proteins
  • Are needed for the central nervous system to function properly
  • Are good for intestinal health (some types of carbs are fiber)

Probably the most important role that carbohydrates play is that they are needed for our brain. Although it only needs a small amount, carbohydrates are vital for the brain to function properly.

How to Prevent Hitting the Wall

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Many people refer to hitting the wall during a marathon as being unavoidable, but is it really? How do ultramarathoners and Ironman athletes manage to race for 24 hours, sometimes even longer?

Carbo-loading

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When most people think of carbo-loading they imagine a gargantuan feast of pasta and bread on the eve of race day. However, this might not be the best idea in order to have your optimal race.

There are two typical ways to carbo-load – by gorging or nibbling. Gorging (supercompensation) involves eating a large amount of carbohydrates in a very short amount of time. Nibbling (moderate compensation) is when someone has smaller and more frequent snacks of carbohydrates. Both methods get the job done by filling up the muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrates. However, gorging can sometimes cause stomach problems because the body is not used to it. Because of this reason, I would suggest using the moderate compensation or nibbling plan. Below are the steps;

  • Gradually reduce training over 6 days
  • Start with a mixed diet of 50-60% carbohydrates
  • Increase the diet to contain 70-80% of its calories from carbohydrates

A Common Mistake

Many people try to consume more calories in order to carbo-load. However, this will only result in extra weight that has to be carried around on race day. The goal of carbo-loading is not to bulk up on food, but to fill the muscle glycogen stores. Any extra calories will just be converted into fat. Even most of the skinniest elite marathoners have enough fat reserves to be able to run multiple marathons.

 Try to stick to the same amount of calories that you typically eat on race day. Just change the percentage of carbohydrates in your diet.

Do you carbo-load for your races? How do you do it?