Unfinished Business: 2016 California International Marathon Recap

To recap this race, I have to take you back a few months. Back to the completion of my 12th marathon (Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN) – which I unfortunately didn’t recap (likely because I wanted to forget the experience as soon as it was over). That day was one of the hottest, most miserable races of my life (second only to 2012 Boston). Following that race I was disappointed. Disappointed that I had had an amazing training block and the only thing stopping me from getting that PR was the weather. I was crushed and the first thing I did following the race was turn my focus to the next one. Unfortunately, as can be expected, going head first from one training block into another block without taking any rest, and then being thrown a bunch of life curve balls – well it didn’t exactly lead to ideal conditions to PR less than 6 months later.

Reality Bites

I don’t want to make excuses. God knows I have them for this race. The bottom line – and it’s hard to face – is I could have worked harder, trained better, been more disciplined. But sometimes life gets in the way and we have to take a deep breath and slow down.

I spent the summer attending four weddings (and unfortunately, like the movie, a funeral), traveling, moving across town and starting a new job. And attempting to fit running in when I could. By the time October rolled around I was burned out. Like really burned out. So bad that the one thing I could count on to bring me joy, help me destress and work out any problems no longer brought that. It became a burden. Another thing on my to-do list. And I grew to wonder if I’d ever find that joy again.

Burn Out

I began to dread every workout and long run and found even easy days felt like a hassle. I started to count down the days until race day. I just wanted a break. I didn’t know how to shake my mood – just that I had to keep pushing forward.

Once I started my new job and got into more of a regular day-to-day routine, the joy of running slowly creeped back. It was gradual. But day after day, minute by minute, I started to enjoy running again. Some of it I can attribute to the cooler temps of fall. And some was inspired by watching my teammates crush the Chicago Marathon. A lot was watching my coach nail his marathon debut. But ultimately, what helped the most, was changing my attitude. I would do the best I could do in each run. It might not always feel good – but I would give it my best and I would be realistic going into this marathon. Unfortunately with less than a month to go, it was too late to hope that my fitness would catch up.

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The final long run

Two weekends before the marathon, I did my last long hard effort at Busse Woods. A slightly rolling trail in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It went about as good as it could go for me. 15 miles at marathon effort with a long warm up and cool down for a total of 20 miles for the day. I felt great – maybe this could go well. I treated myself to a mani/pedi and enjoyed a rest day. Two days later I woke up early for an easy 6-mile run. I was actually looking forward to it and really liked my changing attitude. Unfortunately, less than 2 miles into the run, shooting pain from my hip down to my foot caused me to cut the run short and walk home in excruciating pain (and tears). I contacted my sports chiropractor who graciously fit me in. After 30 minutes with him, I felt better – but nowhere near able to run a mile let alone 26.2 in less than two weeks. I was crushed. I talked to Dan, my coach, and he reminded me the power of the mind. Staying positive and doing everything I can to rehab my back/butt issue, was the only way I was going to get to that finish line.

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At the finish line of the Turkey Trot with my Uber Fan

 

Thanksgiving came and went and thanks to a very supportive boyfriend and his family, I hobbled my way through a Turkey trot and a couple treadmill runs. Gradually the pain started to subside and I was able to get my last week of workouts and easy runs in. I actually felt good and even nailed my last tempo run prior to the race.

Race Weekend

Heading into race weekend, I was full of nervous excitement. I enjoyed my shakeout run with my uber fan (boyfriend) followed by a quick stop at the expo and team lunch. We went back to the hotel after lunch and really enjoyed the rest of our lazy Saturday in California. Our team dinner came with more words of encouragement from our fearless leader and an early bed time.

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Pre-Race at the Expo

I awoke race day rested. For once. Typically sleep is hard to come by the night before any race – but especially a marathon. I was thrilled. I showered, at my pre-race meal and was off to the bus with my team. We enjoyed the quiet bus ride to the start. The race is a point to point race – from Folsom, CA to downtown Sacramento. We made our way to the port-o-potties. Let me tell you – these race directors are clearly runners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in one place before.

 

We started our dynamic warm ups and tried to stay warm. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running – upper 30s to low 40s at the start and anticipated mid to upper 50s at the finish with barely a cloud in the sky. I decided I should use the bathroom one more time and realized I might not have enough time. Thankfully I did but had to sprint to the bag check – which was the likes of a mosh pit – then up to the front of the start line.

Let’s Do This! #TeamNoHeadLamp

I planned to start right behind the 3 hour group and attempt to negative split – go out in the 6:55-7 min/mile range then try to cut that down at the half mark. The anthem was sung, I lost my throw away shirt and we were off. The whole first 6 miles feels like a blur. I felt beyond amazing. My legs felt strong and I was keeping the pace in the easy range – well at least for the 2 miles. Then miles 3 and 4 I dropped closer to 6:40. I knew I couldn’t maintain that and slowed my roll. 5-10 continued in the 6:55-7min range and I was feeling great. I saw my coach and uber fan and smiled away.

Somewhere in between miles 4 and 6 I noticed a blind runner with a couple guides running about my pace. They were engaged in a pretty entertaining conversation so I latched on to them to take my mind off the race a bit. As we jogged along, I laughed along with their jokes and was inspired by this runner and his guide. Come to find out the guide was Scott Jurek! Pretty cool to say I ran about 10 miles with the Eat & Run author.

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Around mile 17

Half Way Still Means Another Half To Go

 

As I neared the half way point, one thing that started to catch up with me were the rolling hills. Going into the race, we knew it would be net downhill and a fast course – but that there would be a few hills. Well that was no joke. While the uphills weren’t too steep, the downhills started to just destroy my quads. And my legs started to feel it. I started to get into my head after mile 15 and it was all I could do to get through each mile. I had to break up the race into 2 mile increments. It’s amazing the mind games you play with yourself during a marathon. At 18, my butt/back started to remind me of the pain I was in a couple weeks prior. I really struggled through 22. At one point trying to cover up my watch – and even considering taking it off and giving it to my coach. Just before mile 20, I saw my uber fan and this time instead of a big smile, I told him ‘no pictures allowed’ and did my best not to cry.

As we made our way into the city, I realized – regardless of the time – I would finish this race. I would be ok. I started to recall the pre-race motivational text our fearless leader and coach shared with us – something about how Rob Krar runs his ultras without a headlamp — ensuring he finishes before dark. There was no turning back. If Rob Krar can run without a headlamp, I would finish this race. I didn’t need a headlamp. And I would finish with a reasonable time AND without stopping. I started to feel strong again and pick up the pace. I started to pick people to pass – and I did. I turned the corner and saw the finish line, my uber fan waiting for me, and I sprint to the finish – and almost collapsed in the arms of the volunteers handing out medals. I was so happy to be done running. I embraced my boyfriend (uber fan) and we made our way to the bag check. At this point, my legs felt like complete crap. I couldn’t control the muscle spasms and had to sit down. I started to cry as my boyfriend handed me my bag. His first time watching one of my marathons – I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am and was in that moment to have him with me. His support – and encouragement – all those early mornings and moments when I know I was a lot to handle – well he deserves a gold medal. Needless to say – we both enjoyed that post race beer and celebration of a tough couple of months leading up to this race.

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Finish line smiles (and free beers!)

Gratitude

 

While it wasn’t my best race — it was so hard fought and one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m fired up for 2017. I left a lot of unfinished business out there on the roads this year. And now that my life is in a great place, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. But first – I’m taking a couple weeks off – enjoying some R&R – so I can start the New Year fresh and in the right mindset.

It’s amazing what the human body is capable of. Special thanks to all the support, well wishes and encouragement I received from friends, family, my coach/teammates at DWRunning and especially my uber (and super) fans. You are what helped me get to that finish line with a smile on my face. Here’s to a New Year with new goals, dreams and aspirations!

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Practice Makes PRs: bRUNch Recap and Recipes

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Post fun run — fueling up!

Yesterday I hosted a great group of runners for a fun run with DWRunning followed by brunch that included a bunch of my favorite pre-, post- and during workout fuel options. Since I didn’t have copies of every recipe for individuals to take home, I wanted to include them all here for easy access. I’ve also included a couple of anecdotes as well as to why they work for me and my rationale for why they make great runner fuel. The biggest take away from yesterday? Runners like to eat, are hungry for nutrition knowledge and this type of event is a ton of fun for me to offer because it combines 2 things I’m very passionate about – running and food – and especially feeding others! Hope all that attended enjoyed (and learned a little something too!) and be on the lookout for future events like this in the next few months!

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Discussing the ins and outs of race day nutrition

 

Energy Bites: great for pre- or immediately post run. I’ve even known a few people to freeze and take along on longer workouts for mid-run fuel.

Raspberry Oat Scones: easy to make breakfast on the go or mid afternoon snack option. I used gluten free flour. From the Racing Weight cookbook.

Kodiak Cakes Pancakes (go for the protein cakes if planning to eat post workout): followed the instructions but used unsweetened almond milk instead of water to give added flavor, vitamins and minerals.

Overnight Oats: a favorite post run meal or pre-long run/workout fuel (just make sure you allow enough time to digest). Also great grab and go option.

Egg Frittata for a Crowd:

Veggie (serves 6-8)

1 zucchini, diced

1 summer squash, diced

1/2 a large sweet onion

1 medium red pepper, diced

1-2 cups mushrooms or other desired veggies

12 eggs

2 cups cheese (Italian mix or mozzarella/parmesan blend), finely shredded

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat cook veggies in about 1 Tbsp olive oil until tender.
  3. Coat 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Add cooked veggies to pan and let cool.
  4. Whisk eggs in medium mixing bowl. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Add cheese and mix to combine.
  5. Pour over slightly cooled veggies and make sure evenly distributed. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are set and slightly brown on top.
  6. Remove from oven and let sit for 2-3 min to cool slightly then cut into squares and serve.

‘BLT’ (serves 6-8)

1-2 cups baby spinach

2 roma tomatoes, sliced

1 lb bacon, cooked and chopped

12 eggs

2 cups cheese (cheddar), finely shredded

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cook bacon to likeness. Let cool and pat dry. Chop into bite size pieces.
  3. Coat 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Add spinach. Top with sliced tomatoes and bacon.
  4. Whisk eggs in medium mixing bowl. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Add cheese and mix to combine.
  5. Pour over slightly spinach/tomato/bacon mixture and make sure evenly distributed. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are set and slightly brown on top.
  6. Remove from oven and let sit for 2-3 min to cool slightly then cut into squares and serve.

Toast station:

Top a whole grain bread with a variety of toppings. My favorite go-to bread brands are Angelic and Ezekial (usually found in the freezer section – both brands can be found at Mariano’s). Toast is great for snacks or pre/post workout. Toppings included a variety of nut butters, avocado, chia and hemp seeds. My goal for every snack or meal: complex carb (bread), healthy fat (avocado, chia, hemp, nut butter) and protein source (nut butters).

Yogurt Parfait Bar:

Look for brands of yogurt with very little added sugar (or just get plain and sweeten yourself with honey or agave). My favorite is Siggi’s plain or vanilla. I use it in everything! Top with low sugar granolas (two brands I’m loving right now are Viki’s and Milk and Honey). Other mix ins: fresh fruit, flaked coconut (look for unsweetened), a small portion of chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and chia or hemp seeds.

Smoothie Station:

I love smoothies because often after hard workouts, I have very little appetite yet I know the importance of getting quality fuel asap in an effort to speed up recovery. So I have turned to smoothies. I add a scoop of protein powder (more on those in a future post) to a big handful of spinach, about 1/2 cup frozen fruit and coconut water or almond milk and blend. If it’s going to be a meal replacement, I’ll also add chia, nut butter and/or oats. It’s an easy way to get calories in when I don’t feel like eating and a refreshing post-run option to boot. Here’s a helpful handout I made for Mariano’s on smoothies to help guide you on how to make a better one.

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Looking like I’m reading to the class with Coach Dan from DWRunning in the background

Are you interested in attending a future event like this or maybe even a more tailored, one on one session with me? Be sure to like my Facebook page to stay in the know of all my upcoming events and/or shoot me a line here to inquire about additional services that I offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shamrock Shuffle 8K – Trust the Process to Realize what you are Truly Capable of

This is a delayed post. Life has gotten in the way of being able to post more frequently. But since this race was one of the highlights of my running life – I have to recap it the best I can. I hand wrote this a couple days after the race and revisiting it has reminded me how far I’ve come – both emotionally and physically – with my running.

Before the Race

The week leading up to the race I had a nervous energy similar to what I experience before marathons. Knowing that this was my big goal race for winter I wanted to do well. I not only wanted to do well, but I wanted to make heads turn. I wanted to show people how hard I worked for this and that I wasn’t just a weekend runner anymore. So I took that week very seriously. I slept at least 8 hours each night. I ate very clean. I eliminated alcohol of all kinds (a cold beer with friends after a tough day is one of my biggest vices) and I attempted to calm the nerves by throwing myself into work, cooking, and running the remaining training runs I had on my schedule. The day before the race I even turned down plans with friends for a very low key, off my feet day. Remember – this is an 8k – why was I so nervous about this? Because short distances (less than a 10 mi race) have never been a strength of mine. And this was all I had been focused on since January. I didn’t want to let myself down or my coach and I knew I was as ready as I could be.

During the week I touched base with my coach, Dan Walters, who believed I was capable of breaking the 30 min mark. My 8k PR was just under 32 minutes. I thought he was crazy. Although I knew I was capable of a new PR – I wasn’t so sure about the 30 min mark. It was ambitious – but he believed in me – so I believed in him and trusted his guidance. All I knew was I’d do my very best to cross that finish line as fast as I possibly could. It was going to hurt. Dan sent us a link to view a scene between a boxer and his coach prior to the race. In it the coach screams at the boxer – motivating him to fight one more round. He tells him – this is going to hurt – but who the heck cares – we are firemen. That was how this 8k would feel and I had to mentally accept that and move past the pain at miles 3 and 4 and just push as hard and as fast as I possibly could. That mantra ‘we are firemen’ played over and over in my head during the last 2 miles of the race.

The Race

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Pre-race superstition – race day outfit ready to go the night before

I woke up before my alarm and was surprisingly calm. I had slept really well and was ready to go in a matter of minutes. I made my usual pre-race breakfast (oatmeal, banana and a scoop of almond butter), grabbed my coffee and made my way to the bus to commute down to the area we’d planned to meet before the start. As it got closer to the start, the nerves really started to set in. I just wanted to get this thing done. We did our shakeout as a team and as per usual I jogged a bit faster than I probably should have but it was only a couple miles. We changed into our racing gear and made our way to the start line. After a couple more strides to shake out the legs, we battled crowds to get into the corral about 15 minutes before the start. Once in the corral I saw so many from the Chicago running community that I knew — I was somewhat distracted from my nerves while saying hi to everyone. I was surrounded by my running family and this was our day. It was going to be great and awful all at the same time. I really reflected on how much had changed in the last 3 years and how much I absolutely love this city and these people. I was ready.

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Digging deep and passing people up Mt. Roosevelt

After the gun went off I wish I could say I remember every detail – but to be honest, I don’t. It was a blur. I settled into about a 6:05 pace for the first mile. I passed a few people and felt strong and controlled. I ran with a couple other folks that Dan coaches that were also looking to break the 30 min mark. As we approached the 5k mark, the 6:05 pace really started to set in. I hit the 5k at exactly 19 minutes – only 15 seconds off my PR – I started to wonder if I should back off a bit. The fatigue started to hit my legs. They burned. My lungs burned. Everything in my body told me slow down. And then I remembered ‘we are firemen’ and I shut down the negative thinking, listened to the crowds and surged forward.

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Finish line pic – Colleen right in front of me!

I hit the 4 mile mark and reminded myself that in 6 minutes this would all be over and I was going to be very close to hitting 30 minutes. I dug deep and started picking people to catch. I’ve tried this in other races and it doesn’t always work. But today, it did. Not only did I start catching and passing individuals but I did so on Mt. Roosevelt – where in the past – I’ve all but walked up the hill (during the marathon). As I passed 2 females up the hill and turned onto the home stretch I could see the finish line. I kicked it into high gear. Never have I felt so strong at the finish of a race. I gave those last few meters all I could — attempting to catch my teammate Colleen who I have raced with a couple times and am always just seconds behind. I closed the gap significantly – finishing just 3 seconds behind her and with a brand new big PR – 30:37! It wasn’t 30 minutes – but with the wind at mile 3 I couldn’t be happier with this time. As I started to walk through the finish area I ran into my coach (who also raced that day) and practically collapsed in his arms. I was spent – I had given it everything I had. He congratulated me on a job well done, we ran into some more Chicago running friends and we all walked together back to grab our gear and head home to freshen up before celebrating our success that afternoon.

After the Race

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With one of my favorite running buddies – Jolice!

Following the race celebrations I went through a period of mild depression. I’m not sure why – but my theory is the huge build up for one event and then it comes and goes – and even though I did well – can result in a, ‘well now what’ feeling. What helped me through it? Focusing on finding my joy in running and identifying and changing my mindset for the next goal. Grandma’s marathon in June. A distance I’m much more comfortable with. After a few days, my mood improved and I started to feel reinvigorated and super focused on the long term goal.

This race and new PR could not be possible without Dan and the DWRunning team. His and their encouragement and motivation helped me realize what I’m truly capable of. He has taught me to trust the process. To take each week as it comes and each workout as it is. To identify what it is I want and to go after it. It’s not easy. It comes with sacrifices. But if you work hard you will reap the rewards of your training.

 

Berlin Marathon Recap: Jet Lag, Pretzels and Beer

Just over a week ago I ventured off to Germany for a week-long vacation that kicked off with the Berlin marathon. This was not my first time running in a foreign country but the first time where I crossed an ocean and would need to adjust to the time change in < 2 days as well as navigate a city I’ve only been to once before when I was 16. I was nervous, excited and most of all – scared – scared I would have a horrible race due to multiple factors working against me in the months leading up to this race.

In the week leading up to the race my workouts could not have gone better. I started to adjust my mindset about the marathon and began to get a lot more positive. Given that I also planned to run Chicago two weeks after Berlin, I set out to run a respectable time of 3:05-3:10 – a long ‘training run’ in prep for Chicago. This would not be a PR race (although for many it’s a PR course due to its flat, net downhill course). I would enjoy the sights and just take it easy for the majority of the race – and attempt to kick it into high gear for the last 1/2. Boy was I in for a surprise.

Despite just wanting to sleep, I got my bib!
Despite just wanting to sleep, I got my bib!

I arrived in Berlin on Friday morning after a night of travel with my ‘superfans’ (mother who has been at all 10 of my marathons and my brother for who this would be his first time spectating a major marathon) exhausted but also excited to finally be back in Berlin. We dropped off our luggage at the hotel and set out for some lunch and then made our way to the expo. After getting lost near the finish line, we finally made it to the expo where we fought massive crowds to get my bib and some souvenirs. Once that hassle was out-of-the-way, we enjoyed our first pretzel and beer. Now normally, I would not drink much – if at all – the week prior to the marathon. But seeing all the other runners partaking, it was hard to resist. Beer is a source of carbs after all…

After we checked in that afternoon we set off for a very authentic german dinner (and more pretzels). I skipped the fried, covered in gravy options for a piece of fish and potatoes. Not what I really wanted but I could have my fill of all the german delicacies after the race. For now, I would rein it in. An early bed time followed. I don’t think any of us made it past 9pm.

As seen on my shakeout run
As seen on my shakeout run

Saturday I woke for my shakeout at 4:30am. I knew that this was too early, so I reviewed my race day materials until a more respectable time (and when the sun finally rose) and ventured out for a 3 mi shakeout. I took many pics along the way and really enjoyed just moving my legs again. After my run we did a bus tour of the city followed by lunch and then the 4:30am wake up hit me. I said goodbye to my superfans and returned to the hotel for a 2 hour nap. It was exactly what I needed.

After my nap we grabbed dinner at a cute little Italian restaurant on the same block as our hotel. Following dinner, my superfans talked me into a night-cap at a pub near our hotel. I was hesitant but my mom noted that prior to Boston, I had one beer in the hotel lobby before I went to bed. So I joined them. This may have been mistake number one (although it was delicious).

Pre-race beer with my superfan
Pre-race beer with my superfan

I slept soundly that night – which never happens prior to race day – and for which I was grateful. I ate my typical pre-marathon breakfast – bagel with nut butter and sliced banana and Nuun (all but the banana were brought from home). My stomach felt a little off but I just assumed it was nerves. I walked to the start, mom by my side, and once we got to the start area I said goodbye and we confirmed our plans for meeting up post race.

The pre-race area was very confusing for me and resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety. First — I couldn’t find my tent to check my gear. Once I did check my gear I couldn’t find a port-o-potty. Once I found that, I questioned whether I really had enough time. The line was quite long and moved very slowly. I made it through and had to jog to my corral. Once safely in my corral, I started my warm up stretches and looked around to see if I could find any of my fellow Fleet Feet/CES teammates that I knew were also in the same corral. All of a sudden I heard my name and saw my teammate Colin. We were between a barrier so couldn’t start together – but planned to meet up once we got past the first kilometer. I also noticed that I was one of the only females in this corral. A bit intimidating.

Early in the race - wondering where the other women are
Early in the race – wondering where the other women are

The start came and went and we were off. I settled in to what I knew was too fast of a pace. Looking at my watch I saw 6:30. ‘Control it, Allison’ I thought. But it felt so easy. And the energy from the crowd surrounding me just pushed me forward. My splits for the first 10k ranged between a 6:30 and 6:45 min/mi pace.

Somewhere around the 10k I ran into my teammate Colin. He asked me my goal and I his. We both took another glance at our watches. “I’m going too fast,” I said. He agreed and said even for his 2:55 goal, he too was going too fast. We should slow down. We ran that pace about another mile and then I decided to slow my role. Finally. Settling into a more attainable/realistic pace of 6:50-55 min/mi.

At some point I was engulfed by the 3 hour pace group. I literally had to slow down and let them pass just so I could have enough personal space. It was about this time I also had one of the worst water stop experiences ever. I often joke that water stations are ‘full contact’ in big races – but this was like nothing I had ever seen. I literally was pushed and kicked as runners made their way over to the water station. One push too many and I opted to push back. No one apologizes – even in a foreign language – just a lot of grunting and hitting. Not ideal.

Eye on the finish line
Eye on the finish line

I hit the half mark at almost an even 1:29. Better than I had run in Boston. Was it possible I could break 3? Should I go for it. Not even 2 miles later I quickly decided no. I did not taper for this race and my legs were starting to feel the last weeks workouts and the jet lag. I saw my superfans around this time – which was a serious motivational boost as my legs started to go ka-put. I was paying for that first 10k. I aimed to just keep the pace under 7min/mi for the rest of the race.

With about 5k to go, I was in a full on battle with my thoughts. I knew I’d finish, and that the time would be good, but I was starting to consider walking. I wanted to stop so bad. I saw my superfans again – cheering and screaming with huge smiles on my face. I could do this – just 2k to go! That’s when the hurried bathroom stop hit me. I needed to go. Do I dare stop when I’m this close to the 3 hour mark? I ran through it – but that definitely showed in my last mile – being my slowest of the entire marathon.

So happy to be done!
So happy to be done!

Running under the Brandenburg gate and to the finish line was dream like. I finished with a time of 3:02:21 – almost a minute faster than my time at Chicago  in 2014 and my second fastest marathon ever. I was also the 98th female and 6th American woman to finish. That in and of itself is a pretty cool stat. And I felt good – legs were tired but not destroyed as they had been post-Boston. I grabbed a medal and immediately found the port-o-potty. I have never been so happy to see one – with no line – in my life. As I made my way to gear check, I recalled the mention that there were showers at the finish line area. I opted to check it out knowing my fans would want to hangout and enjoy the after party and despite being hot at the finish – the temp was hovering around 60. I thought this was a nice feature – a shower at the finish. While not high-tech by any means it was just what I needed – minus the number of men who clearly could not decipher between the male and female symbol on the door who got an eyeful.

Enjoying a celebratory beer and curry wurst near the finish
Enjoying a celebratory beer and curry wurst near the finish

Feeling refreshed, I headed over to the family meetup area. There were my fans happy as ever to see me and I them. Glad to be done with it all, we ventured over to the finish area to enjoy a celebratory beer and lunch. I opted for the curry wurst – a street food I had been told I needed to try. It was great. Once we had our fill of post marathon celebration, we headed back to the hotel and out for the night which included my first full litre of beer at Berlin’s Oktoberfest and a pork knuckle for dinner the size of my face. It was a good day and I was happy.

Special thanks to Dan Walters for his great coaching and encouragement and of course my mom and brother for making the trip to Berlin to cheer me on. I could not have done it without you!

Now… to do it all again this Sunday in Chicago…

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!

A Word of Thanks and Chicago Marathon Recap: Practice Makes PRs

Before I recap this race, I wanted to send out a few words of thanks:

As I reflect on my recent marathon experience, I can’t help but feel overcome with a great sense of gratitude and support. Having started training with Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) about a year and a half ago – I never imagined the times that I have been throwing down this fall would actually be a reality. I joined to meet people, being new to the city, and it truly has changed my life.

This marathon will also go down as the season of superstars – at least in my eyes. Yes, I had the opportunity to pace a ½ marathon with a female Olympic contender (Lauren Fleshman), sit on a panel of experts with Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor, speak on the main stage at the expo and even get interviewed on 670 AM about what to do post-race. And while all those experiences were ones I’ll never forget, it was pacing a pack of amazing people all summer long that really, truly has changed my outlook on running.

The Great 8s after our last long run of the season
The Great 8s after our last long run of the season

While racing for me is a constant internal struggle with ‘can I do better?’ and pushing myself to be the best runner I can be, pacing provides me the opportunity to help others meet their goals and gives me a sense of reward that a new PR could never provide. I am so fortunate that CES has afforded me this opportunity. To the ‘Great 8s,’ you have no idea the courage and strength you all have and your positive energy and support of one another really helped fuel my run on October 12th. Running with you all this summer has been a complete pleasure. We toughed it out – through down pours, the heat, and some injuries – we overcame with smiles on our faces. We laughed, some of us cried, and we triumphed.

Great 8s, this race is dedicated to you – thank you for being an awesome group to have the chance to lead all summer long. And to CES and the rest of the Chicago running community – for showing the world what a top-notch city we are.

Now – the race report:

When I woke up the morning of the race, I wasn’t feeling great. Something felt off. Without jumping into details, let’s just say Paula Radcliffe’s 2002 Chicago Marathon started in a very similar way. I thought, “if this is the worst thing that happens today, I’ll be ok.” Lucky enough for me, it was.

Pre-Race at the CES Race Day Resort
Pre-Race at the CES Race Day Resort

I considered a cab to the start but then opted to take the El to share in the experience with other Chicago runners. With my super fan (thanks, Mom) next to me, we made our way to the CES Race Day Resort – something I’m so grateful for as it offers a warm place to change, food, post-race massage and a meeting place for friends/family. We could feel the nervous and excited energy the minute we walked in. I finished my ritual pre-race breakfast (peanut butter, bagel and a banana) and applied my pace tattoos – one arm with a 3:10 and the other with a 3:05 goal times. 3:10 was what I was claiming was realistic, 3:05 was my stretch goal. I felt confident I could reach 3:10 – but 3:05 was only if everything came together, or so I thought.

As I made my way over to the start with some of the Great 8s, I started to get really excited – maybe too much – I now had to pee and those port-o-pot lines are not fun. It was 20 minutes to the start. I decided to test my luck and ended up listening to the national anthem in line. I finally got to the start of the line as they announced the corrals were closing. I just made it and had to sprint to the corral to find the pacer that I would intend to run with for the rest of the race.

Smiling away at about mile 6-7
Smiling away at about mile 6-7

I opted to go with 3:05 – ignoring advice that I start out conservative and then speed up on the 2nd half. Well I stayed with that group for all of a minute. Soon I was closer to the 3:00 pace group than the 3:05. I felt good. I looked at my watch and noticed the first 5 miles were done at about a 6:45 – 6:50 min/mi pace. What?!? I knew I could do that for a ½ but not a full. No way? Or maybe I could? I felt strong – not like this pace was a struggle. I maintained that pace for the next 15 miles. When I hit the half way mark and just under 1:30, I met up with some friends from CES/Fleet Feet’s Racing Team. It was so nice to see some familiar faces. By the time I hit 20, my legs felt ka-put. But I told them to shut up and kept pushing through. Endurance wise I knew I was there – just needed the legs to back me up. I dropped to about a 7-7:15 min/mi pace for the last 6 – but still felt strong – even on the dreaded incline during the last ½ mile.

As I crossed the finish line at 3:03:36, I raised my hands in the air and could not control my emotions. I started to cry. Having beat my ‘stretch goal’ I could not be more ecstatic. From the days when I couldn’t even break the 12 minute mark in a mile in gym class, I am reminded of how far I’ve come – and it’s very much in part to CES and the Fleet Feet Racing Team. I owe this PR to you and truly believe in the process. In the various presentations I’ve given this summer, I’ve consistently said – practice makes PRs. All those speed workouts, tempo runs, long runs and shorter races have led to this and I can not thank you enough for the constant encouragement and support.

Post race smiles (and beers)!
Post race smiles (and beers)!

So now, it’s on to the next challenge – a 50k in December followed by the Boston marathon in April. And maybe – just maybe – a sub 3 hour marathon is in sight. For now – I’m enjoying some relaxed runs and much-needed R&R.

Special thanks to friends and family who came out to support – whether in person or virtually – your well wishes and kind words are what continues to fuel me.