Thursday, June 28, 2012

Becoming a Registered Dietitian, New Goals and Moving Forward

Today was a big day for me! After a long 7 year journey I officially became a REGISTERED DIETITIAN! That's right, I'm a RD! I guess I was feeling a little ambitious after my 50k last weekend, because I spontaneously moved up my exam date 2 weeks and decided to just get it out of the way.

Here's a photo collage of milestones in my 7 year educational journey:

Yea- that's a lot of paper I've collected along the way.

While I've been studying on and off the past few weeks, I spent about 40 hours these last 3 days to prepare. Don't ask me where I found that kind of focus- even my husband was wondering what got into me! Needless to say, I'm feeling bit exhausted right now.

There it is-photo evidence!
Now that it's behind me, it's time to move onward and upward!

So then, what's next?!

Well...there's getting a job. I have not submitted any applications yet but I'm getting there!

More importantly, this week I finally signed up for my next marathon:
I've heard great things about this race, so now it's time to see what America's Friendliest Marathon is all about. I convinced my sister to sign up for the half and my dad the 8k (he's running the Philly marathon the next weekend) so it should be a great family event! This time around I've chosen a different training approach that will be both physically and mentally challenging. Though I have some definite time goals (i.e. Boston Qualify), my main goal is to push myself mentally in ways I have not done in the past and see where that takes me. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out and will definitely be blogging about some of my experiences along the way.

Along with that, I plan to continue seeking out opportunities to gain experience as a sports dietitian. In two years I am eligible to become a CSSD (Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) and I plan on doing just that.

Also- for July- I've decided to try a vegan diet for a month. Jordan and I have talked about trying it for the past year and, since I have no major races in the near future, I decided now's the time test it out. I'm not doing it for any specific reason - I am simply curious to know what following a vegan lifestyle is like and the challenges that people, especially athletes, encounter in doing so. Coincidentally, Saturday, June 30th is Vegan Pizza Day... check back in a few days for a new post on how I plan to celebrate!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eastern Divide 50k

I love the mountains... In fact, I adore the mountains... but I generally don't love to run UP them. Today at the Eastern Divide 50k I conquered the mountains for the first time...
Eastern Divide 50k elevation profile (click to enlarge)

This is the first year for the race, and when I first heard about it, I knew I HAD to run it. Located just outside of Blacksburg, it was on my "home" turf and it was also in part put on by TriAdventure, the team I used to coach for! However, having been living in Virginia Beach for the past 2 months, training on hills for this race just did not happen. I knew it was going to be a challenging day.

I'm happy to say that everything went according to plan and I raced strong given the course and the warm temperatures. My nutrition plan worked out perfectly and I know it contributed to optimizing my performance. The start of the race was at the Cascades, popularly known for the amazing waterfall about 2 miles up the trail. Luckily I've hiked to this waterfall many times before as I only saw it for a mere 2 seconds today:

Me, Kenya and the Cascades waterfall (2010)
But first, I regress, let me start from the beginning:

Pre-race...On the right: TriAdventure had 5 ladies complete the 50k and Anne Thompson, coach, was also the race director!

I picked up a new TriAdventure jersey the night before the race and can say I was so proud to represent the team during the race. Many of the volunteers which are the lifeblood of any event were part of the TriAdventure community, and sharing the experience of completing this race with Kim, Teresa, Rachel and Chitra was motivating and made the race extra special! Race morning everything went smoothly getting to the race start and I was pretty relaxed. I did warm-up for about a mile prior to the start knowing my legs would need some blood flowing prior to climbing. We wished each other luck and anxiously waiting for the start.

I started out relaxed and in third place, but quickly lost track of the first two girls. I was able to make it to the waterfall (2 miles) before I walked for the first time. After that point I walked much more than I had planned or care to admit.  Then again, I was towards the front of the pack and most people around me were also walking, so I don't really feel too bad. I knew I was losing precious ground on the first two runners, but chose to conserve my energy for later in the race. By the first aid station I was the 5th place female but not by much. I didn't need anything so I kept slogging along up the hill. In all, it took me 54 minutes of climbing to summit the mountain (~ 5.5 miles).

The next section was somewhat technical but mostly downhill. I really picked up the pace, moved back up to the 3rd female position and started chasing down some guys! I struggled some with the sun shining in and out of the trees as it made it difficult to see the trail and I was afraid I was going to twist my ankle. Miles 8 though 16 featured a beautiful section of fire road along the ridge of the mountain. I am really proud of this section because I chose to focus on my strengths by pushing the pace knowing that the flat(ter) sections would make my race. I knew I would likely spend the rest of the race chasing the 2nd place girl as I could sense she was far ahead, so I kept pushing. Never, ever give up! It was still early in the race and I knew anything could happen.

The next challenge was a 1.6 mile climb up to aid station 4 (mile 18). Again, I slogged my way up the mountain. I was motivated though because I knew my dad was waiting at the top! Hooray for dad! He met me at the aid station and I was never so happy to have him by my side. Aid station 4 featured the drop bags so I refilled my bottle and grabbed more fuel. One volunteer was so nice and squeezed a wet cloth over me as I worked. Volunteers are AWESOME!

It was 4.2 miles to aid station 5, and while I thought I ran decently fast during this section, we really only averaged 10 min pace. It was one of the easier sections of the race, but I was starting to feel the mileage and my right calf started to seize up on me a bit despite my pushing the fluids and electrolytes. After aid station 5 (mile 22) we entered the forest trails surrounding Mountain Lake. I have never run these trails before so I did not know what to expect (at this point I'm glad I did not as it was the most challenging section for me). I felt good early on and left dad behind, but that did not last long. At the start of the rolling hills I began to struggle big time. I was glad dad had my back because I was feeling lightheaded and he kept me moving forward. The heat was taking its toll, so I just focused on one mile at a time. One point featured a very steep, technical climb which ended in a sunny meadow with really high grass. It reminded me of crewing Jordan at Mountain Masochist and Hellgate in the past and I finally (truly) understood how he feels during these races. After what felt like forever, I FINALLY reached aid station 6 and to be honest, was quite grumpy! This was my least favorite section for certain... 4 miles to go...

After aid station 6 was another climb through the sunny meadow. At the top we re-entered the forest and I dreaded the sight of it. Luckily, I caught a second wind and was more than ready to get the race over with! I left dad behind on a technical downhill (a strong point of mine thanks to many years of crewing Jordan at ultras) but I knew he was ok with that. He ran back to the finish while I did the final two mile loop. With a 1 mile to go I was feeling great again and a wave of emotion swept over me - I  was overjoyed yet found myself choking up a bit. These races are mentally, physically and emotionally draining! I approached the finish line strong, proud and more than happy with my performance:

"Finally this thing is over!"
My final finishing time was 5:12, 3rd place female and 18th overall in a field of 200. Hill running is not my strong point and training for this on the flatlands of Virginia Beach certainly did not help. The lung capacity to go faster was there but my legs just didn't have the strength to push the hills any harder. In the past, this sort of course would have broken me mentally pretty early, yet I focused on my strengths and persevered over the terrain - a definite sign I have matured as a runner! Better yet, I even had some fun in the process!

Special thanks to Anne Thompson- for all of her hard work in directing the race and for encouraging me to do this when I wasn't sure about it. To my dad, who has been such a huge help all weekend and pushed me through the roughest portion of my race! To my husband- though he could not be there I know he was cheering me on from afar! And finally- to the many, many volunteers that worked tirelessly through the day- thank you for all that you did!
L to R: with Heather (former VT Tri teammate and today's 1st place female); with Dad; with Anne
Finally, I leave you one final picture. Blacksburg, SW VA mountains and friends, I will miss you dearly!!!

Nutrition: Expresso hammer gels x 3, cherry shot bloks x 2pkg, beet juice, 4 hand bottles h20 +nuun, endurolytes
Weather: 60-75 degrees, 50-90% humidity

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Planning Ahead: Race Day Nutrition

Race day is just around the corner! Two days until my next ultra: the Eastern Divide 50k located near Blacksburg, VA and I'm getting pretty pumped! Yesterday I took some time to gather up all my gear and came to a realization: I think A LOT about food. (Though given that I've studied nutrition for 7 years now, I feel like that's pretty normal!) I've been planning ahead for this race but one thing I've been tweaking for quite a while now is how I will specifically fuel myself to get through 5+ hours of running. Running 30 miles through the mountains is not going to be easy and I'd be kidding myself to think it will be the same as running on the coastal flatlands.

Since I'll be burning upwards of 3,000 calories during this race, I'm going to need a lot of fuel to get me to the finish line. Overall my goal is to take in roughly 200 kcal/hour or about 1000 calories total. It will be difficult, especially with the heat, but I know I'll need the energy later in the race. (On a side note, check out this interesting article on training the gut for optimal nutrition with minimal GI distress during endurance competitions...that's next on my list of things to work on)

Anyway, here's a look at what I'll be utilizing nutrition-wise this weekend:
Kenya modeling my race fuel. Yes she's adorable and yes I may have had too much extra time yesterday to drag all this stuff outside.
Tapering will do that to you :)
This past year I've really invested a lot of time and energy in to tweaking my race day nutrition. In the past I took the "nutrition of the fly" approach and it lead to unpredictable results. Some races went well, and others not so well. And while I don't have my nutrition down to a science quite yet, I've learned a lot about what works well for me and have been practicing. I've started to implement some evidence-based nutritional strategies (i.e. beet juice and caffeine for performance enhancement and tart cherry juice for recovery) to hopefully boost my success come race day. Long runs or long workouts in general are a great time to simulate race day nutrition and making necessary adjustments. Everything pictured below has been thoroughly tested through a number of trials. So now you're probably thinking, what are my plans for all these items?! Here's a quick overview:

  • Race morning breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries, chia seeds and egg whites (2hrs prior)
  • Pre-race: Beet juice and an expresso gel (15-30 min prior)
  • During the race: Alternating cliff shot bloks and expresso gels (my favorite flavor!); nuun for hydration/electrolytes, a banana, a stinger waffle (because I'll want something solid and they taste amazing) and probably some more beet juice around mid-race. Aiming for 200 kcal/hour.
  • Post-race: Smoothie made with tart cherry juice, banana and chocolate protein powder (not pictured)

I've used all of these amazing foods to fuel some stellar long runs and now I can't wait to see it in action for the real deal. I don't expect my fueling strategy to be perfect, but it has certainly come a long ways. The race will be challenging as I have been training on zero elevation, but I've been looking forward to racing on my "home" turf for quite a while now! It's go time... see you soon Blacksburg!

**Please note that I am not paid or compensated in any way to promote specific products. I am simply sharing my personal preferences. At the same time, everyone's race day nutrition is different and specific and please don't assume what works well for me will automatically work well for you! Always practice your nutrition in practice- nothing new on race day!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

Clockwise from top left: Holiday Lake 50k 2009 (first ultra); Rock n' Roll USA Marathon 2012; flashbacks from running as a youth; Shamrock Marathon 2007 (first marathon); wedding day July 2011; Rock n' Roll Half Marathon VA Beach 2004
My dad is a pretty special guy and there's no doubt I'm a blessed girl. He started running in his mid-40's and now almost 20 years later is still going strong. They say one of the best ways to raise healthy children is to serve as a positive role model, and that's exactly what my dad has done for me! At the age of 10 he encouraged me to run along with him. He took me to countless track and cross country meets around the state and across the county. He came to every practice, pushed me to run my hardest, encouraged me to take it easy when I was over doing it and showed me how to run with a passion. I ran my first marathon and ultra marathon with my dad, and I'm excited to have him there to crew me next weekend at my 50k.

I have the best father that a daughter could ask for. Thank you Dad, for the countless years of support you have given me, for believing in me dreams and being right there beside me to experience them. I love you!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Go Green: Plant-Powered Elites

There is no doubt that a growing trend is to see more and more vegan or vegetarian athletes. Two recent articles from famous endurance athletes Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner, and Lance Armstrong, elite cyclist and more recently elite triathlete, serve as inspiration for today's post. What's it like to follow a plant-based diet as an endurance athlete? Why do it, and is it nutritionally sufficient? These are some of the questions I'll try to address in some upcoming posts.

Scott Jurek, famous ultra-marathon

Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek made me super proud through two statements in his recent Runner's World article, "Eat Vegan and Run." First, he makes the connection between diet quality and physical performance: 

"I didn't run harder. I had been right: I couldn't run harder. But I could eat smarter. I could live smarter. I knew I could keep going when others stopped. I knew I had good legs and good lungs. I wasn't just a runner now; I was a racer. And I was a mindful eater." 

Second, thanks to Jurek for the shout out to my professional organization, the Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics, and touching on the nutritional adequacy of vegan/vegetarian diets: 

"I also learned that even the conservative Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of dietary professionals in the world, has stated: 'Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including ...pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.' Those last two words were music to my almost-vegetarian ultrarunner's ears. As long as I ate a varied whole-foods diet with adequate caloric intake, I would get enough complete protein" 
Lance Armstrong, who has recently returned to his
triathlon roots with recent victories at Ironman
70.3 Florida and Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.

Lance Armstrong

As previously mentioned, Lance Armstrong has also adopted a 'mostly vegan' diet. That is, he is eating vegan two meals a day: breakfast and lunch. In a recent Huffington Post Interview, Armstrong touted the energy benefits of his recent dietary changes:

"My energy level has never been this consistent, and not just consistent, but high...The other thing -- I expected to get rid of that dip, but I didn’t expect the mental side of it, and the sharpness and the focus that I’ve noticed." 

Armstrong is following what is called the Engine 2 Diet, something I had not heard of until recently. It's a "plant-powered" eating plan based on a diet of whole foods, including whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. (Update: looks like doping-allegations were brought against Armstrong today...impeccable timing on my part!)

So why are some top athletes following a plant-based lifestyle? In my next post I'll address the benefits of adopting a plant-based, whole foods approach to fueling your life and your workouts!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gardening for Dummies: Homegrown Sprouts

My husband has an obsession with plants, so this past spring I convinced him to use his green thumb to grow me some food! We planted strawberries and lettuce, and since then the strawberry plant has blossomed with one single tiny strawberry and the lettuce was accidentally left behind when we moved. FAIL.

Then someone gifted us with a sprouting kit. Random, I know, but if you like sprouts this little contraption is awesome!

Jordan staring at his new toy.
There are three different shelves to hold seedlings.

Gardening for dummies: I say this because the process of growing these sprouts was easy, convenient and takes up very little space. Once you have the kit, simply sprinkle the seeds in each of the different compartments, add 2 cups of water and watch'em grow in a matter of DAYS. We used three different sprouting seeds- from top to bottom we have: alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts and mung bean sprouts. Don't go crazy pouring in the seeds. It took a mere 2 tsp per shelf and the beans quadruple in size. Here's my attempt at a picture progression:

         Day 1- Just seedlings                                     Day 2- Starting to sprout                              Day 4- They explode!

Sorry I was out of town for day 3 and when I came back and the contraption was literally bursting at the seams! Don't they just look beautiful?!

Picture credits belong to my husband. 
He's also obsessed with our camera =)

Benefits of sprouting: Sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals, enzymes and alkalizing in pH to the body. You can generate sprouts from nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and other plants...the skies the limit! Want to invest in your own sprouting kit? These products are most highly recommended:

If you'd rather go the DIY (do it yourself) route, here's an awesome video to get you started. This is also a great project for kids!

Sprouting is an easy, fun way to add some homegrown veggies to your diet. Simply sprinkle, water, and in days you have a fresh, homegrown topping for salads, sandwiches, burgers, shakes, rice bowls, etc. Do you like sprouts? If so, which kinds??

Thursday, June 7, 2012

National Running Day: Proving to Myself I Can Do It

Yesterday was National Running Day! What a wonderful holiday! I'm not sure if it's new this year but I sure enjoyed the motivational aspects of it all. I took the time to even make my own "why I run badge." This week I was due to log one more uber long run before my upcoming 50k, and since my weekends have been spent working races I decided this random wednesday holiday would be a good excuse the perfect motivation to get out and JUST DO IT. To be honest, I've been dragging my feet for the last 10 days. The combination of increasing my mileage, the heat and some lingering hip/glute-mead issues left me dead motivation-wise last week and as a result I managed a total of 14 sluggish miles! That's the lowest I've logged since probably August of last year, but I'm ok with that because my body really needed the rest.

Going into this run I had my share of doubts due to last week's feelings of general fatigue, etc. Plus, running any long distance (especially over 15 miles) never seems to get any easier! I have always said and will continue to do so: RESPECT the distance. I knew I needed a support system to get me through this last long run, so I enlisted the help of my two favorite men: my husband and dad. Jordan ran the first 12 miles with me, then I did a few on my own before finishing up with 6 quick miles with dad. In total I was able to log 21.5 miles! My goal was 22, but after dad dragged me through an 8:00 min mile at mile 20-21, it was all I could do to stumble through a 0.5 mile cool-down.

No pic from yesterday but here's me, dad and Jordan 
displaying our awards after a recent 10k in Suffolk, VA
Overall the run went much better than expected. Cooler temperatures certainly helped, but I have to attribute my long-run success to my wonderful support system. Jordan pulled me through the first 12 at a very steady pace and we even had to back off the pace a few times. Picking up dad at mile 15 was wonderful, but he had fresh legs and I did not. It's priceless though to have someone there to push you through those final rough miles when you'd rather just slug your way home! The biggest challenge of the day, however, was pushing past my progressively worsening hip tightness. Part of me wonders if I should have called it quits at mile 12 for the sake of being smart, but I am quite stubborn and continued to push forward. I knew this was my last opportunity for  a long run before my upcoming Eastern Divide 50k (June 23rd) and I was determined to get it done!

As a nice reward? I scored this awesome long-sleeve technical shirt from the local triathlon shop that was holding a Rock n' Roll Half Marathon Kickoff/ Running Day party. I tried to win a free entry into the race but no such luck there. Thanks for reading, and I promise some more posts soon!

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