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Energy Bars and Exercise

What do energy bars have to do with exercise? The companies that make energy bars or gels want us to eat them early and often. The GU recommendation is 15 minutes before exercise and every 45 minutes after starting exercise. Hm. Sounds like a bit too much GU for me! The endurance nutrition companies have the main point right: you have to take care of your nutrition while working out over long periods of time. For me, this idea morphs into needing to be prepared before I do a long run. I can’t go running unless I have Nutrition! [with a superhero stance] Having Nutrition! requires Preparation![finger goes up in the air like the Statue of Liberty] which is the problem I want to address here. Figuring out the best way to prepare for long run nutrition.

First I tried to buy Preparation!: I tried Hammer Endurance products, Gatorade powder, and of course GU. At the purchase of all these products I was super stocked because I thought they would be the answer to my feeling of not being ready for my long runs. If I have these instant energy solutions, surely going on a long run will be easier! But the elation quickly died off. I bought massive amounts of Perpetuem (caffè latte flavor!) and threw half of it away after it sat unused for two years. GU has been my most used purchased product, but eating GU every weekend during long runs doesn’t match my idea of a balanced diet. With all the free GU I added to my collection at races and my limited use of GU during long runs, I have double the amount I bought originally (though different flavors).  Short story: My attempts to buy Preparation! were not long-term solutions.

Last year I tried fueling with sandwiches and other “normal” food. This matched my idea of a balanced diet better than GU, but still didn’t give me Preparation! I had to make more sandwiches every time I wanted to go on a run.  At least the products I bought lasted longer than one day. The effort put into making food for each long run was a little too much for me to incorporate the practice as a permanent solution.

My story finally comes to energy bars. I recently came across an energy bar recipe that may be my Preparation! Now finding an energy bar recipe is not unusual; I had discovered some delicious sounding energy bar recipes  at Vegetarian Runner last year when I was training for the 20in24. But I never made them. Though I think of myself as a cook and as someone familiar with foreign ingredients, some bars at the website contained ingredients that were just a little too foreign. The Spicy Carob Banana Energy Bars call for sprouted buckwheat and salba… hmm, that doesn’t sound like something I can pick up in bulk at Nuts to You.

And then I discovered this recipe: The Ultimate DIY Running Bar.
And I went out to Nuts to You and bought all the ingredients.
And went home and made energy bars.
As the bars were cooling I thought “huh, when am I planning on using these??”
I did not plan to go on a long run any time soon. But with energy bars in hand, I was ready. And you know what I did? I went on a long run that Saturday, energy bar in Ziplock bag in pocket!

What I really like about the Ultimate DIY Running Bar is that it reminds me of an oatmeal bar that I used to cook up for breakfasts on the go but more energy packed. It’s my perfect mini-meal. I’ve been using this bar as a pre-morning-workout-breakfast because I need real breakfast when I get back from the workout. It’s also the mini-meal I was missing between a day of work and an evening of Ultimate. Dinner would be too heavy before playing but lunch was not enough to hold me over until the end of the game barbecue. Boom! Energy bar=perfect mini meal!

The moral is that preparation itself can be a motivator of activity. Being prepared gives you one less reason to not do something. Blogs and articles always say things like ‘Lay out your running clothes and you will make it out the door for an early run’. Well I haven’t really listened until now. And I probably still will not lay out my running clothes. But I like these energy bars. Making them has helped get me out the door for morning workouts and for long runs.

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Pacing at the Philadelphia Marathon 2011

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I ran the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday. I love running. I was sore on Monday and am still sore today, but I like the soreness too!

Because of my twisted ankle and poor build up to the race, I was aiming to finish in 5 hours. Two things made me feel confident that I could finish faster than my slowest marathon (5:15): the weather was better (around 55 degrees vs a humid 85 degrees) and I felt in better shape. My goal was to start really slowly (about 12 min/mile), to avoid dodging around people, and enjoy. All things were accomplished!

I started off at an easy 11:21 min/mile pace. A stop at what felt like the slowest porta-potty line took 10 minutes. I finished the half marathon at 2:38 with an average 12:03 min/mile pace. I sped up a little with some restraint. I was very aware of taking walking breaks and not going too fast. I got tired between mile 17 and 18, but regained my energy. My feet started hurting at mile 23, but after a mile the pain lessened. I was able to pick up the pace in the last mile and finishing chute. I finished in 4:58:16! Overall average of 11:23 min/mile. About a 2:20 second half which was a 10:41 min/mile pace. Negative split baby! And no crashing!

I was very conscious throughout the race of pitfalls I experienced in previous races. I crashed in the 2009 and in 2010 Philadelphia Marathons. In 2009, I dodged around people on the Columbus Boulevard section (around mile 3) and I sped up too much between mile 13 and 17. In 2010, I dodged around people along Chestnut Street (mile 6). This year I was extra-sure to not dodge around anyone. It’s so easy to let other people’s pace dictate yours and speed up. It’s easy to speed up a little to get into the next open spot in the crowd. Those actions take more energy than they are worth.

In 2010 I think I had energy intake problems. I started losing energy before mile 17. I had stomach issues at mile 18. I wasn’t able to regain energy during the last miles. Some thoughts that have prevented proper energy intake include “It’s early, I don’t need a gel yet” and “There’s only three miles left, a gel won’t kick in before that time”. This year I made sure to have gels often enough. I also had a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast instead of my previously favored toast and eggs. More carbs in my stomach from which to draw energy!

My take home message about this race was the importance of pacing. It’s dangerous every time you slip into an energy-consuming stride unless you are in the last few miles.

And here were some of the awesome things that happened along the way:

  • My boyfriend ran with me between mile 6 and 13
  • My parents cheered for me at mile 7 and 17
  • I finished before one girl who kept leap frogging me in the second half of the race.
  • I ran with a woman dressed as Rocky at mile 6. She got ahead of me because of the epic porta-potty break, but I caught up and passed her around mile 21.
  • My favorite sign was “Keep going, don’t Occupy Arch Street!”
  • In South Philly there were guys with a sign “You yell Philly, we drink beer!” Of course I had to yell “Philly!” to which one responded “You’re killin’ me!”
  • Around mile 10 or 11 a group who has been there the last two years were people dancing in costumes giving out high fives. One was dressed as a Hungry Hungry Hippo!
  • There were lots of tutus and a few capes.
  • I saw two completely barefoot runners, and tons of people with Vibram Five Fingers.
  • I had some beer both times I passed the Beer Stop in Manayunk

I can’t wait for next year!

Nutrition

I don’t know how to start this post. I think about nutrition a lot, but I don’t have a story to tell about my habits. There are things that I do, but how can I recommend them to others? My decisions are based on life experiences plus a slightly obsessive tendency to read the nutrition advice in all magazines I open, more recently the Health section of the New York Times online, and various food-related books. That doesn’t mean what I do is right for anyone else. But I guess I have two main points to say, in case you didn’t get the memo yet. 1) Eat less processed food for a more healthful diet. 2) Being vegetarian is probably good for the world, so any reduction in your personal meat consumption is a step in the right direction.

I was a vegetarian for two and a half years, until I started training for the Philly Marathon. I wasn’t the *best* vegetarian; I changed my habits for environmental reasons and I never stopped liking meat. My biggest weakness was chicken wings, and when drunk would occasionally buy wings. In August I went on vacation with my family and was camping, and it was easier with the camping-cooking set-up to eat meat, so I took a vacation from vegetarianism. When I came back, for about a month I verged between going back to vegetarianism and officially eating meat again. I think one day I came back from a run, and really wanted meat, and decided satisfying my hunger was important. Now I am trying to eat mostly vegetarian. I tend to not cook meat and get it when I go out.

Here is the environmental insert: Meat takes ten times as much plant calories to produce the calories you actually consume. In a world where farming space is limited and people are multiplying, it makes more sense to eat plants directly than animals that eats those same plants. That isn’t the only aspect of the complex problems with farming, shipping food, and making sure the world is fed, but if you just look at the basic problem, more people can be fed off the limited farm land if all the land produced plants that were directly consumed by people. So please, consider cutting back your consumption of meat. Even a few meals a week that you eat vegetarian can make a difference. (Although if you are replacing meat with highly processed soy products that have the texture of meat, that switch may not make a difference from the energy perspective).

I think I eat pretty damn healthy. I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, I tend to eat whole grain things over processed grains, I cook a lot of my food, I have reduced my consumption of sugared deserts, and I think I use less salt than other people when cooking. With that said, I also like beer a lot and I like being full.

So I’m not perfect, darn.

I recently got “Food Rules” by Michael Pollan, and I think these 64 rules are a good summary of my basic beliefs about foods. Other books I really valued reading were “The End of Overeating” by David Kessler and “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman, which is half cookbook, half compilation of food related info. I think one of the more interesting perspectives these books provide is that the food we eat today is driven by what the government promotes and subsidizes, which is driven by companies who want to make money, not by people who know about health.

Categories: nutrition

Important things?

Life is full. I took this test called “Strengths Finder 2.0” (which I recommend if you want to invest about $12), and apparently one thing I am good at is achievement. When talking to some co-workers about the applicability of the test (i.e. is it the sort of thing like a horoscope where all the “strengths can basically fit everyone, which is not true), it was pointed out that my desire to accomplish many things in a limited time may be an expression of my achievement strength. So when I have no downtime, it’s because I am trying to do too much, and not everyone does what I do when they plan a day or a weekend. Take this weekend: Spring league women’s finals, possibly a Lady Death Strike throwing practice, roller skating birthday party, Broad Street Run, Mixed spring league game, watch portion of summer league co-captains mixed spring league game, and finally go to a beer festival/goat race at Slyfox brewery. Thank goodness I’m not also trying to be the driver to said goat race! It’s a good weekend in terms of activity goals, but not very much down time. I need to eventually cut stuff out, but what?

And on top of that, I need to eat less. Had a few moments recently when I realized my stomach/hunger sometimes dominates my life, and that I really want to lose some weight. How to fit that in when I schedule out every waking moment, I do not know.

In sum, I need to focus on the most important things. First I need to decide what they are.

Categories: nutrition, recovery, training

An unsatisfactory weight

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I went rock climbing today which was awesome. I used to rock climb a lot when I was younger, and I love it. My arms feel great now.

But on that wall, I realized how much better I’d be if I were 10 lbs lighter. My muscles would pack so much more punch when trying to muscle my way to a good handhold.

I told my friend I needed to lose weight, and she said “Wait, don’t you run?”

I am the perfect example that the quantity of what you eat is a more important factor in determining your weight than your activity level. I lost a few pounds while training for the marathon, but nothing significant. I also eat really healthy!

What I’m saying is it is really easy to eat at a pace that equals out the extra exercise you do.

I probably have less fat and more muscle than when I started my fitness kick, but that isn’t visible on the scale.

Categories: nutrition

The new weight lifting plan for women

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The heading is a book title which I recently purchased based on two recommendations from friends. I got the package yesterday and immediately read through the most important parts of the entire book. I like the idea behind the book, and I like the exercises described in the end section, but I disagree with some of the details. The basic premise of the book is that society spreads the false idea that women should lift differently than men, when in reality men and women’s muscles are built the same way, though women’s muscles develop differently through puberty and women tend to have stronger endurance types of muscle fiber naturally. I disagree with a lot of the diet details, and I disagree with the author, Lou Schuler’s opinion of endurance exercise.

In response all the nutrition and diet advice I’ve read, I am trying to format a post about my take on nutrition, because I think I eat healthfully, but it’s a hard topic to condense and cover. What I especially disagree with in this book is the structure of the argument against restrictive dieting and the phrase “Eat less and exercise more” as a plan for weight loss. I agree that extreme restriction of food is a horrible idea for maintaining weight loss and for health, however the author takes the phrase “eat less and exercise more” to signify only diets that restrict food intake too much. I think the sentiment behind this simplified statement for weight loss is that most people eat far more than they need (500 calories average more per day than people ate in 1980 according to Michael Pollan), and in order to be more healthy one must stop over-eating while at the same time become more active. Once you are active, your diet needs may change and you may require more food than when you started your fitness kick, but that doesn’t mean you can over-eat. “Eat less and exercise more” is an easy to remember catch phrase to remind us that our lifestyles currently encourage us to do nothing all day and to eat everything in sight. It means “eat what your body needs and get off your ass”. Take the catch phrase in context please!

My second gripe with the book is the author’s statement that endurance exercise does the opposite to your muscles than what lifting does, and therefore a lifting plan shouldn’t be combined with training for a marathon because endurance training makes your muscles smaller and more efficient while weight training makes your muscles larger and stronger. I obviously am a fan of endurance exercise, and thus do not want to strength train at the expense of doing endurance activities. I agree with my friend Heather’s statement that endurance training only improves performance in endurance events, but that’s exactly why I want to do endurance and muscle-strengthening activities in combination. I don’t want to lose my ability to sprint because I am training to run for hours at a time, and I believe that maintaining and improving my muscle strength will help my endurance performance. Thus, strength training and endurance activities can complement each other. With that said, I do believe that people can be fit without going to the endurance extremes that I do. So maybe the books advice is perfect for you, but just don’t let the guys statement stop you from doing endurance activities.

On the same vein, at one point Lou says that people didn’t evolve to run long distances, they evolved to walk long distances. Please, read “Born to Run”. I think this statement by Lou is one (of many) facts that he didn’t support fully, and he just used it to tell people that lifting and sprinting is the most important form of exercise. Make the decision for yourself, my friend. Know that authors all have their own agendas, and if it doesn’t match with what you are going for in life, that doesn’t mean you are wrong.

With all that said, I do like the exercises detailed in the lifting plan. Lou and Alwyn (the guy who designed the 6 month training plan) use moves that involve the whole body, and following their plan will certainly improve your fitness. My plan is to try their workouts twice a week (3 times if I am REALLY good) and see where that takes me.  What’s most important to me is finding lifting activities besides push-ups that I can use in a long-term plan to compliment my endurance training. I want to be stronger and run further (I want everything!).

Categories: marathon, nutrition, training

I’m not supposed to exercise!!

November 24, 2009 3 comments

I don’t like being told by a website that I should still be resting today. Even though it’s probably right. Today after work I was thinking of walking home. Saves a token, plus I got out earlier than I have been (I was trying to build comp time… no point this week because of Thanksgiving), so I felt weird being free at 5pm. I listened to the website advice and took the trolley. It’s only a three mile walk, practically nothing. Maybe after my next marathon I will be more rebellious. Right now I think it’s wise to listen to Hal, he has run many more marathons than me.

Today I am less sore than yesterday, which is a surprise. I associate the second day after a hard workout with more soreness if day one involved doing nothing. Today all I did was walk around the office, and I might go grocery shopping (don’t ask how sad my fridge looks). My left knee is more prone to hyperextension than it should be (but that is mostly from before, just slightly worse now that my muscles are more tired), and my quads still don’t like stairs. But other than that, I feel fine. Fine and anxious to do something.

I can’t even bike to work tomorrow. Another day of rest is due. Biking is practically nothing…

Just a note about race day nutrition: for breakfast I  had two eggs, toast, and strawberries. I woke up at 4:30am and finished eating before 5. Consumed 3 Gu’s (mile 10, 15, and 19ish), drank a good amount of Gatorade and water. Didn’t feel hungry except before getting Gu 3. Didn’t feel the least bit sick while running until the end when I started to sprint too fast, but that was just temporary. Post race was chicken broth, frozen apple juice, more Gatorade, a banana, and peanuts. Then the pizza and beer and water at my house.

My dad asked if I was consuming tons yesterday (Monday) to make up for the lost calories. The race took about 3000 calories. I did eat more, but it was partly out of boredom because my legs prevented me from leaving the house, and partly because I felt obligated to eat. Not that I didn’t enjoy eating every bite =) Thai food for supper, yumm!

Final note: Not being able to exercise is giving me cabin fever. I can’t stop thinking about the new training plan, and about races I might run. I need to remember that winter is the off-season of life. I don’t think I had a free weekend last summer. Can’t go scheduling races when I might want to play Ultimate!!