Good Life 5k race recap and why getting injured may have been one of the best things that could have happened to me…

 

17 weeks. 119 days. That’s how long I went without toeing the line of a single race. Anyone who knows me as a runner – knows that’s a darn long time. I can still remember the twinge that took me over the edge. The moment I knew something was wrong. January 11th. I was finishing up the cool down of an otherwise good pre-dawn treadmill workout. I had decided to bring it inside due to the dark and cold temps. Out of no where, I felt a sudden pain behind my right knee. I tried to run through it as many of us mistakenly do. But this pain was too much. I shook it off – no worries I thought – I was done with the workout and it’d probably go away later. I finished up my morning routine – but the pain continued to linger.

Flash forward 3 weeks. This had been the longest I had been down and out and to be honest, it was depressing. I had a sprained hamstring and, per my MD, very weak hips and a somewhat severe case of pelvic tilt. A video gait analysis confirmed everything the MD said and then some. I run funny (which I know) and had been getting away with it for years. But it finally caught up with me.

I cried. I cried a lot. And I got even more depressed. I watched countless running friends prep for, race and PR big races while I could barely run a mile without pain. I was jealous. I had to block running posts and updates from my news feed. It was that bad. I had a lot of pity parties. Why me? You see – the last year and a half – I’ve struggled to stay healthy. I get to about the 2 week out point from a big goal race – and I get injured. I made every excuse in the book prior to those races. But now – I didn’t have a goal race. I had to face this thing once and for all. I could not continue this cycle.

After a couple rude awakening talks with my mom and boyfriend (who both deserve a gold medal for putting up with me during that time) I woke up one day and asked myself would it be so bad if I couldn’t race again. No, it wouldn’t. I realized that both running and racing had started to feel like something I had to do rather than wanted to do. And in that moment I knew that I had burned myself out. I actually had started to dread racing. I hated workouts. I despised long runs.

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Strength training has made a big difference

This injury allowed me to reevaluate what I was doing. It was time to work on why I felt inclined to push myself the way I have for the last few years. And it was time to re-develop my love for running while knowing that it does not define who I am. That I run because I get to. That when I’m healthy, I’m actually kind of good at it. And because I love it–the way it makes me feel alive, provides me with a break from stress (and shouldn’t add stress) and because I love the community. This injury would not break me. And even if I couldn’t race again – I needed to fall back in love with running.

So I started slow. I went to see an AWESOME physical therapist twice a week for 10 weeks who just gets it (have an issue? go see Bethany Ure at NovaCare in Park Ridge!). She didn’t tell me to stop running once – but she gave me parameters. I slowly started to creep up my mileage. Once I could run without pain for a couple of weeks, I decided to give back to the community and started pacing runners in the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) spring training program. I stopped looking at my watch for paces and times. That and getting back to some of the basics (new shoes, extra strength training and a real focus on post-run recovery) resulted in a re-found joy in running and the process.

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Following my first pain-free run

About 2 months after the injury, I felt like I was ready to test the waters again. I started doing some light workouts and started working with my coach, Dan Walters (DWRunning) again. At the start of the year I had set some big goals. We reevaluated those and have set our sites on a late spring/early summer 1/2 marathon and a full marathon in the fall. This will be the first year in a while I will only run 1 marathon. And I’m quite happy with that. The new primary goal – find joy in the process and stay injury free. I could already tell that my head was in a better place as I actually started to look forward to workouts and long runs again.

 

Once I had successfully completed a couple of speed workouts with no lingering pain – and actually feeling stronger than ever – I decided it was time to sign up for a race. I was nervous. What if I embarrass myself? What will people say if I’m super slow? “What if, Allison?” Dan asked. “It’s your race. Run your race.”

He’s right (as he usually is). It’s my race and it doesn’t matter what anyone else runs, says or does. If I show up, put in my best effort and finish strong – there is nothing to be upset about. If I let my nerves get to me, focus on others, and run poorly – then I only have myself to blame. I decided on the Good Life 5k a local race that I’ve always wanted to do and one that brings a lot of the Chicago running community out to race.

The day before the race I decided to run with the CES folks for their 12-mile training run. Not my best pre-race decision. But this wasn’t my goal race either. Rather it was a race to get me over my fear of racing. To remind me this was something I love to do. I spent the day before pretty relaxed. Made dinner at home and tried to go to bed early.

I slept pretty soundly and woke before my alarm. I got up and made my typical pre-race meal before heading to Oak Park with my boyfriend for the race. It was a perfect day. A bit chilly but by the time of the race it was in the upper 50s, sunny and clear. I did my warm up – 2 easy miles and a couple of 100m strides and walked around. I ran into a few people I knew and said hello. I was beyond nervous though. My hands were shaking and my stomach was all over the place. I texted my coach who encouraged me to embrace the nerves. Use them to my advantage. I took a deep breath, kissed my boyfriend and found my way to the starting line.

Unlike most races – this one was separated by gender. The woman’s race first followed by the men an hour later. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this but as it turns out – it was great for this race since the streets are pretty narrow and it allowed the pack to thin out relatively quickly.

Even though my coach suggested lining up farther back than I was usually do, a few running friends coaxed me into the front starting area. This could have spelled disaster for me as it was a very competitive group that showed up to race that day. I recalled my race plan – to go out smooth and controlled but not guns-a-blazing – and for once I listened. The gun went off and I settled quickly in to a slightly too fast pace – but one that felt good in the moment.

The Good Life Race
Crossing the finish line – trying not to collapse

The race itself is a blur – as it often is when I run 5ks (or any race for that matter). I made it through the first mile in about 6 minutes and change. I knew I needed to slow my roll as this was not a pace I had seen myself run in months. I settled into a more reasonable (but far from comfortable) 6:20 pace and started to employ my coach’s recommended strategy of picking runners to catch to take my mind off of the pain. A girl about 100m in front of me became the target. And I passed her at about the 2 mi mark. But after her, there was no one for a while. I tried to just push forward but it felt like the wheels might come off. And then a running friend who was spectating saw me and started cheering me on (thanks Dave!). He told me to pick up my feet and just keep going. Sounds pretty obvious – but in that moment it gave me something to focus on and that is exactly what I did.

That last 1/2 mile I clocked a sub 6 minute pace. I crossed the finish line and almost collapsed. I had tried not to set a time goal for this race. But deep down I knew I wanted to break the 20 minute mark. And I did. 19:40. Good enough for 15th female and 4th in my age group. Not my best but far from my worst. I was happy. But more importantly I was over my fear of racing and I had had fun!

Over celebratory omelets, pancakes and coffee, I reviewed the race with my boyfriend and realized the fire had been lit. I wanted more. But mostly – I want to feel like I did crossing that finish line. Strong. Fast. Joyful. 18077278_10100822044343378_7375491155167137691_o

So I’m ready for what’s next. And I’ve learned so many lessons. To never take this sport for granted. To take time for the little things because they really do make a difference. To listen to my body when it needs a break. To always run with joy in my heart. And that I am lucky – I get to run. I don’t have to – I get to (thank you Stephanie Bruce for sharing your inspiring story – which I just so happened to hear the day before my race!).

And special thanks to my love, Andrew — your support and motivation through all this has truly helped me more than you know. I couldn’t have gotten through this without you and I am so lucky to have you in my life.

Race Day Nutrition: Practice Makes PRs!

With fall racing season around the corner — and many of you prepping for marathons — and my longest run of the season planned for this weekend, I thought what better time to revisit what to practice from a nutrition standpoint for race day. Just as you practice for the race with long runs, you should also be practicing what you’ll eat come the big day. Whether it’s your first marathon or tenth, you are likely striving to achieve a new personal record (PR as it’s commonly called in the runner community) and in order to do that, you need to practice.

breakfastPre-Race: at least two hours before your event, consume a meal rich in easy-to-tolerate carbohydrates – about 0.5-1g carbohydrate/pound body weight. For someone 120-150 lbs, this equates to about 90-115 grams of carbohydrate or about 360-460 calories from carbohydrates and around 400-600 calories overall. You want easy to tolerate carbs so that you won’t experience stomach upset around miles 2-3 (this is not the day to go high fiber in your breakfast cereal) and these carbs are meant to top off your glycogen stores (or the primary fuel we rely on for exercise) for the race – which can only happen with carbohydrates.   The goal of your pre-competition mean is something that prevents hunger during the race, stabilizes your blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels and adequately hydrates you. A little bit of protein and fat are good to help you maintain blood sugar levels and to prevent hunger pangs mid-race—but these shouldn’t be the sole focus of your meal. Below are a couple of good options, all of which you can obtain at your local Mariano’s. Make sure to include about 1½ -2 cups fluid with this meal as well to ensure adequate hydration pre-race. Water is fine – but a sports drink would also be a good option.

1 medium bagel + 2 Tbsp peanut butter + 1 medium sliced banana
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Medium, wheat bagel (Natural Ovens, 85g) 230 40 3 10
Roundy’s Organic Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp) 210 7 17 7
Banana (1 medium/126g) 112 29 0 1
Roundy’s Organic Honey  (1 tsp) 20 6 0 0
TOTAL 572 82 20 18
1 cup cereal + ½ cup milk + ½ cup blueberries + 6-8 oz orange juice
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Frosted Mini Wheats Cereal ( 1 1/2 cup) 315 68 2 8
Roundy’s Organic Skim milk (1/2 cup) 45 7 0 5
Blueberries (1/2 cup) 42 11 0 1
Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice (8 fl oz, available in the produce section) 110 27 0 2
TOTAL 512 113 2 16
½ cup oatmeal + 1 Tbsp sliced almonds + ¼ cup dried fruit (like raisins) + 1-2 tsp honey + 1 cup apple juice
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Quick Oats (2/3 cup instant, plain, prepared with water) 205 37 4 7
Roundy’s Sliced Almonds (2 Tbsp) 67 2 6 2
Raisins (2 Tbsp, unpacked) 54 14 0 1
Roundy’s Organic Honey ( 2 tsp) 40 12 0 0
Roundy’s Apple Juice (8 fl oz) 120 30 0 0
TOTAL 486 95 10 10
Nutrition information from items obtained at Mariano’s Bucktown store.

gelsDuring the Race: Hydrate smart – you don’t want to overdo it but you also don’t want to get dehydrated. I like to alternate between water and whatever sports drink the race offers every 2-3 miles. I don’t gulp it but rather take small sips and usually don’t end up drinking the entire cup. You want to take in about 8-12 oz/hour of fluid – about ½ of which is sports drink. After about 45 minutes, I recommend taking additional fuel such as gels or chews. You might not feel like you need this additional nutrition yet – but by taking in extra calories and electrolytes sooner than you feel like you have to, you are less likely to deplete your stores. Make sure to chase these with water (NOT sports drink) to ensure adequate absorption and to prevent stomach distress. Why isn’t a sports drink enough to maintain your energy during these longer runs? The gels/chews provide additional calories (more than you would get from just sipping on a sports drink throughout the race) plus an added boost of electrolytes (the most important of which are sodium and potassium). When we sweat, we not only lose water, but we lose important micronutrients called electrolytes. Electrolytes are important for fluid balance, muscle contraction and neural activity. When we get dehydrated or over-hydrate, we throw our electrolytes out of whack – which can negatively impact our race day performance and may be one of the main reasons people DNF (another acronym commonly used by runners, it means: did not finish).

To prevent fatigue, experts recommend 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour. So what does that look like? Here’s what I do: I try to take in about 12 oz fluid each hour – half of which is sports drink. I also take 2 energy chews every 45 minutes. This equates to about 115 calories, 30 g carbohydrate per hour. This is what works for me and what I have practiced. What works for you might be different – so make sure to figure that out now and NOT on race day. Here are how all the different gels, chews and beverages stack up. You might even try some more natural nutrition sources during the race – like raisins or applesauce. Just note – these aren’t going to have the same amount of sodium as something that has been formulated for endurance athletes – but I’ve known runners who have used a combination of these and all have had success. Again – it’s about what works for you.

Item Calories Carbs (g) Sodium (g) Potassium (g)
8 oz sports drink (like Gatorade) 55 14 95 37
6 Gatorade energy chews (1 package) 100 24 90 30
1 PowerGel 110 27 200 20
1, 1-oz package Roundy’s Raisins 90 22 5 220
1 (90g) Roundy’s Fruit Pouch (like applesauce) 40 10 10 65
Powerbar 240 47 200 105
Nutrition information from items obtained at Mariano’s Bucktown store.

chocolate milkPost-Race Recovery: the most important thing to remember post-race is to rehydrate and restore. This can be as simple as a sports drink and an apple or banana. If food sounds like the last thing that would appeal to you – try a smoothie or some toast. The sooner you refuel the better you’ll feel (I promise). After such a long bought of exercise, your body is in negative energy balance. In order to prevent further muscle breakdown, you need to further replace the glycogen lost as well as protein. Studies have shown that consuming protein within an hour post-workout can help enhance the muscle recover process. You want to aim for 1 gram of protein for every 3-4 grams of carbohydrate consumed, or about 35-50 g carb and 10-20 g pro in the first 2 hours post exercise. If you have no appetite, try small, frequent snacks every 15-30 min, such as:

Chocolate Milk
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Organic Milk (Nonfat/Skim, 1 1/2 cup) 125 18 0 12
Roundy’s Chocolate Syrup (2 Tbsp) 100 24 0 1
TOTAL 225 42 0 13
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt (1 container, 150g) 100 14 0 12
Blueberries (1/2 cup) 42 11 0 1
Roundy’s Granola (1/2 cup) 200 33 6 5
TOTAL 342 58 6 18
PB&J
Item Calories Carbs (g) Fat (g) Pro (g)
Roundy’s Wheat Bread (2 slices) 200 36 2 6
Roundy’s Organic Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp) 210 7 17 7
Roundy’s Strawberry Jam (1 Tbsp) 50 13 0 0
TOTAL 460 56 19 13
Nutrition information from items obtained at Mariano’s Bucktown store.

So what’s the bottom line?

  • Never try anything new on race day
  • What works for you may not work for others
  • Treat your long runs as an opportunity to try something new
  • Pre-race – focus on carbs/hydration
  • During – hydrate and adequate fuel
  • Post-race – recover with protein AND carbohydrates
  • Don’t take it your nutrition too seriously! Food is meant to be enjoyed!

(this post originally appeared on the Chicago Hyatt’s blog in advance of the 2014 Chicago marathon)

Fuel up! Nutrition for Pre- and Post-Workout Success

As a dietitian and a runner, I’m often asked what I eat, particularly pre- and post-workout. For me, it all depends on the workout. If it’s after work and before dinner, I know I’ll need something to tide me over so that I’m not spending the whole workout thinking about what’s for dinner. If it’s the rare moment I wake early for a 5:30 am workout, typically I go on empty. All in all, I think it depends on you, how you feel and what your goals are. Post workout, I do try to eat a balanced meal that includes lean protein, healthy fat and complex carbs as soon as possible. Why? Research shows it’s beneficial for recovery and rebuilding muscle. Here are some tips and meal/snack suggestions for pre- and post-workout nutrition to help maximize your exercise and performance.

Pre-workout

  • Fitting in a quick workout (<30-45 minutes)? Depending on when you last ate, you might be OK going on empty.
  • Stomach growling and you’ve got a date at the gym in about an hour? Stick to a carb-centric snack that’s around 100-200 calories, such as:
    • A granola bar
    • Small bowl of cereal with fat-free milk
    • A handful of pretzels or whole grain crackers and string cheese
    • A slice of toast or medium apple with a heaping teaspoon of your favorite nut-butter.
  • Intense workout planned and you just woke up? The easiest thing for me to eat, even when I’m not hungry, is a large banana. It provides me enough fuel for a relatively intense run. But if I am planning on running for more than 90 minutes, I usually pair the banana with a small bowl of cereal, otherwise I am bound to run out of energy before the run is finished.

Eating too much before you exercise can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish, or worse, with a case of gastrointestinal distress, while eating too little may not give you the energy you need to sustain your workout.Here’s a general guideline for timing your meals before workouts:

  • Large meals – Eat these at least three to four hours before exercising.
  • Small meals – Eat these two to three hours before exercising.
  • Small snacks – Eat these an hour before exercising.

Post-workout chocolate milk

After your workout it’s important to help your muscles recover by replacing their glycogen stores. How? Eat a meal, if possible, that contains both protein and carbohydrates within two hours of your exercise session. If you aren’t hungry after your workout, try a drink that contains some protein and carbohydrates – like chocolate milk. Why? One reason post-workout chocolate milk is beneficial is because of its protein content. Every cup contains between 8 and 11 grams of protein. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, when taken immediately after exercise, milk-based proteins promote greater muscle protein synthesis than soy-based proteins. For more science behind chocolate milk, visit: http://www.gotchocolatemilk.com/science.

Other good post-workout food choices include:

  • Yogurt topped with chopped fruit and slivered almonds
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • String cheese and crackers
  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • A regular meal with a lean meat or vegetarian protein source, complex carbohydrate (like whole wheat pasta or brown rice), and veggies

Don’t forget to hydrate!

One of the worst experiences I’ve had running has been a consequence of being dehydrated. No matter how long your workout, you need adequate fluids before, during and after to prevent dehydration. Here’s what the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:

  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water during the two to three hours before your workout.
  • Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (0.12 to 0.23 liters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. You may need more the larger your body is or the warmer the weather is.
  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.

Stick with water–unless your workout is over an hour. Then you might benefit from a sports drink to help maintain your body’s electrolyte balance. I typically switch between water and a sports drink during long runs because I’ve found that if I stick to just the sports drink, I tend to get an upset stomach.

Bottom line

Everyone’s different when it comes to eating and exercise. Pay attention to your body and your overall goal. Are you trying to lose weight? Then keep calories in check and make sure you are burning more than you are taking in. Trying to maximize your workouts? Make sure you are adequately fueled pre- and post-workout. And either way, don’t over-compensate post-workout with extra helpings – it can be tempting – but can also sabotage your efforts. Happy exercising and eating!