Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chasing Dreams: A Shiny New 5k PR

I'm going to jump out of order in my weekend recap to tell you about the highlight of my weekend:

Lose Your Shoes and the Shoes Off Your Back 5k
Paaaaaaain face. Photos By Karstan Brown

Setting a new 5k PR!! (19:50)

Now I realize for some people this may be no big deal,  but for me it is. You see, my previous 5k PR of 20:31 has stood for a solid 8.5 years (since Aug 2004). It's been a long journey for me to get back to the point of even coming near setting a 5k PR. You see, shortly after setting my previous PR in 2004, I became burnt out. I hated running and didn't see the point of it. Once that passed, I wanted to get fast again yet didn't quite know how to get there. I knew I had it in me to eventually get back to the point I had been in high school, but it has taken many years of trials and failures and in the process I've learned a lot about myself as an athlete.

The sub-20 5k has always been elusive to me, a goal far off in the distance that I never could let go of. To be honest, something that I coveted for many years as a threshold or gateway to being considered "fast." I never let go of my dream of one day breaking that barrier, yet I find it to be interesting that the very journey that lead me to it has also caused it to lose value. Yes, I run to push my limits and see how far I can go, but I now know I'm not defined as a person or runner by my times, placement or PR's. I now run because I love to do so, not because I'm out to win a prize or win the affection or attention of others.

During this race I felt a strength that I've never experienced before. I felt smooth, steady in stride, aggressive in my race strategy and willing to put myself out there and risk failure. After 3-4 easy weeks of running, all of my hard work was coming to the surface. I went through the first mile in 6:13 and it felt perfect. In the 2nd mile I sought to chase down the people in front of me, and I did. When I went through the 2nd mile b/w 6:10-6:18 and wasn't dying, that's when I knew I was in for a great day. I love that moment in a race when you know you're on your way to doing something epic!
The last quarter of a mile was an uphill slope and I definitely struggled! But I kept my eye on the clock so as to not let that sub-20 slip through my fingers. What a race! After finishing, I immediately hugged the hubby and congratulated the other girls I had been racing against as we all had a great day. Then we caught our breath and headed off to cool-down.

Post-race feelin' pretty good! Photo By Karstan Brown
Whatever your goals or dreams are, I encourage you to stick with them!! Focus on the journey and not so much the outcome and don't forget to be patient!

This distance may be off but the time doesn't lie!!

1st through 4th females (R to L). We all had a great time!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Weekend Adventures: Running the Full Spectrum

I have a major case of the Monday's.

After reading this, you'll probably understand why. While it was another amazing weekend full of some fun things, I can't blame my body for being exhausted! Since everything was pretty neat in itself, I'll be writing a separate post for each. But here's a quick overview of my weekend running adventures:

While in Winchester for a dentist appointment for the hubby, I had the opportunity to have my VO2 max tested by one of his old professors. It's a neat experience but tough!!

The next morning (Saturday) we ran a 5k in the area (Front Royal, VA) where I FINALLY set a new 5k PR. My old PR has remained untouched for about 8.5 years, so that's a big deal for me!!

On Sunday, we hit up the Appalachian Trail for a quality (hilly) long run. I climbed 5400 ft in 20 miles, a new "personal record" in itself. Not bad for someone who has notoriously avoided any sort of elevation in the past!

After traveling Friday and Saturday follwed by Sunday's long run, we made our way to church and the weekend was over. Usually I take time on the weekend to grocery shop and do food prep, but this weekend I wasn't able to. That means this week of eating may involve clearing out the freezer... Not always a bad thing :)

In the mean time, I have this soup recipe for you:

Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Curry Soup

4 cups butternut squash (~1 butternut squash), diced small
4 cups sweet potato (~3 medium potatoes), diced small
1 cup leeks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp coconut oil

4 cups vegetable broth
1 can (13.5oz) light coconut milk
2 squares of golden curry mix

In a large soup pot, saute leeks and garlic over medium heat w/ coconut oil for 2-3 minutes. Add diced sweet potato and squash and saute another 2-3 minutes. Add 2 cups vegetable broth and 1 can light coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes and squash have softened. Add the curry squares and stir until completely mixed. At this point, you can use a food processor or immersion blender to puree the soup, or you can enjoy it as it is.

Pairs well with some rice or foccacia bread !


Friday, February 22, 2013

Real Eats: Fueling Yourself for Fitness & Health- February

As per usual, February is flying by! I've had this post waiting for the right time for a while now, but life's been so busy I wasn't sure where to fit it in. Without further ado, I have some more fun Chang-approved recipes for you all to try.

In January I revamped my diet to include more fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrate and was trying out a lot of new vegan dishes. Training wise, I'm still putting in a lot of running miles and lifting weights about 2 times per week with emphasis on strengthening some weak areas (glutes, IT band) for injury prevention and rebuilding my upper body strength. Now that I've been back in the weight room for a good 8-10 weeks I can really feel the positive effects on my running, and especially during last Saturday's Blacksburg Classic! The latest addition to my fitness routine has been yoga, which I hope will aid in loosening up my hips and provide general leg and core strengthening.

I'm finally feeling settled into my new job (started mid-November) and am extremely lucky to work a flexible schedule so long as I get in my 40 hrs/week. This really goes a long way in helping me fit in my workouts!! 

Ok, one to the eats! Here are a few of my favorite recipes from this past month:

Kale Salad w/ Edamame, Chickpeas and Craisins 

(This has been my lunch staple)

Roasted Apple, Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Pizza

The crust recipe provided for this pizza is the best I've tasted/made to date.

Hearty Miso Udon Soup
(RealFoodForFuel original recipe)

Black Bean Soup w/ Avocado Toast

Not the best pic but a great black bean soup recipe!

Whole Wheat Carrot Cake Muffins

(vegan) From Fannetastic Foods

Kale & Black Bean Burritos

Exclude the feta to make vegan

Pita Fruit Pizza

Whole wheat pita (or naan bread) topped w/ hazelnut cream cheese (from panera) and fresh fruit.

Finally, during a quick trip to Winchester, we had the opportunity to eat at our favorite restaurant in the area, Winchester Thai. This is what we choose:
Spring roll appetizer w/ peanut sauce
Tofu Veggie Soup & Vegetarian Green Curry w/ Rice.
Yay for date night!
Up next I will be recapping the weekend... including a VO2 max test, 5k race and (hopefully) a long trail run!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Race Report: Blacksburg Classic 10 Mile

I've been looking forward to this race, the Blacksburg Classic, ever since we moved back to Blacksburg last September. It is probably the largest local running event held each year, with this year's turnout being close to 400 runners (both 5k and 10 mile). This year was particularly nice because it served as a great reunion with some running friends we haven't seen in a while. Case and point:

Pre-race with Edie, who's one heck of a triathlete and runner!!
Having come fresh off a 50k, I knew to keep my expectations low. That being said, I knew I also run at my best with the pressure off and taking this past week very easy would certainly help. I decided to go out in a conservative effort and just take each mile as they come. 

The start is a little stressful (at least for me) because the 10 mile and 5k runners start and run the first 3 miles together. It's hard to know who's in what race and I knew it would be very easy to get swept up in a too fast pace early on. Learning from last week, I kept close eye on my Garmin in the first 3 miles, ignored the movement of runners around me and made sure I was breathing relatively easy. 10 miles is still a long ways and I didn't need to be going out at 5k effort.

2.5 miles into the race
Picture courtesy of Aaron Bradner
Finish of the first "loop" 
About 2 miles in I strategically took a gel, knowing I could use the extra surge of energy later in the race. It definitely helped too. After about 4 miles, I began to let my legs go the pace they wanted to and immediately dropped into the upper 6's. I was surprised... many of my more recent 5k's have been around 6:50 pace, yet today at that pace I felt strong. The middle miles were my strongest: 33:58 for 5 miles! After the 5 mile mark, I slowly began to pick off other racers and counting down the miles to go. Around mile 7 we reached a turnaround point and began working our way back to the finish. Though I had run very strong up until that point, I knew the hardest part was to come. Miles 8-9 were rolling hills and honestly, felt more uphill than anything else! We were also facing a headwind for about a mile and it felt much colder. 

Pictured here at the top of the hardest hill, about 1 mile left to go!
Picture courtesy of Wyatt L.
After making it up what I considered to be the "final" hill, I turned up the pace in hopes of a strong finish. I knew I still had energy left in the bank and definitely wasn't falling apart (unlike the previous week, ha!) I turned a corner and my husband was standing there waiting for me and cheering loudly. No matter how tired he is at the end of a race he always runs back and cheers for me, which is pretty awesome! The last half mile had an uphill stretch and I was really starting to struggle, but having him there really gave me the boost I needed! I knew I had a good time in the bag and wanted to back off, but I didn't and pushed forward. I ended up finishing in 1:10:35... a new 10 mile PR by about 20 seconds!

Finishing up
Here's what my Garmin had to say:

Funny how the computer uploaded data shown above varies from the watch display data (10.14 miles in 1:10:35), which also varies from mapmyrun (10.25 miles), which of course varies from the advertised distance of 10 miles. This is my first road race wearing the Garmin so I really don't know how to handle it... definitely information overload!

My "ultimate" goal going into this race was to potentially break 70 minutes for the 10 mile. I knew it was possible given some of my recent workouts if I had a good day and was feeling rested enough. Though I fell short of that, I am extremely happy with this race! Except for two slower miles (7:18, 7:14), 8 miles were below 7 minute pace and at my typical 5k pace. It's good to know that my training is paying off!!

Anyways, the hubby also ran stellar as usual. He crushed the 2nd half of the course to finish 2nd male overall with a new (sub-60) 10 mile PR as well! 

Post race was fun catching up with a lot of locals. Well, it was tough at first because my fingers were in agony and burning from the cold. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to get them to warm up. We ate some food, went for a short cool-down and then relaxed. 

Hanging out post-race with some of the fastest ladies I know.
I'm happy this race went well for both the hubby and I. We joke about it being our "homecoming" celebration as it's really been the largest gathering of locals we've seen since we first moved back. While I am still in recovery mode from my 50k, I am eagerly looking forward to resuming my full training here soon!!

Race gear :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Food Focus Friday: Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes ... Not to be confused or compared with their counterpart, the white potato, these spuds pack a powerful punch! While I won't be going into the details of the difference between white and sweet potatoes (I'll save that for another post), sweet potatoes are often listed as an athlete "superfood." Let's see why!!

Nutrition Facts: 1 medium sweet potato
103 kcal
0g fat
2g protein
24g carbohydrate (4g fiber)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Eating for Heart Health

Happy Valentines Day from Real Food For Fuel!!

Today I had the pleasure of working a small health fair and talking with individuals on the best foods to eat for heart health. 

Anyways, just wanted to pop in and share with you the handout I made:

I will try to figure out how to make this into a downloadable PDF. If you know how, please tell me!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Focusing On Recovery & Tart Cherry Juice

It's been three days since Holiday Lake and to be honest, I feel pretty great!

I opted to run the day after (twice actually) for some active recovery. I find getting my legs moving the day after to be more helpful than taking off. Jordan and I ran a very easy 5 miles around town. It was slow and I walked when I felt like it. This run hurt a lot, but about an hour later I was feeling really energized. I logged my miles and took a peek at my weekly mileage, noticing that I once again fell just shy of 60 miles for the week. Last year I broke the 50 mile barrier and it's been a goal of mine since then to break into the 60's. So I did what any other sane runner would do the day after a 50k... I sucked it up went running again! The nice weather certainly provided some good motivation, and this second run of 4 miles actually felt MUCH better. I just enjoyed the surroundings and was not worried about pace.

Monday I took off (and worked 10 hrs straight... fun stuff)

Tuesday I ran 3 miles easy.

Otherwise, here's a look into how I've been recovering:

Ice baths: Though I hate them, they've been a critical element to my recovery over the past year. I know, doesn't that sound awful? It really is... I hate them, but I do it anyways because I find they're really effective. I say, to each their own. But trust me, I would not be torturing myself with cold water if it weren't helping me and keeping me injury free.

Foam rolling and stretching: Because naturally my muscles are still very tight and sore!

Nutrition: My goal post-race was to get right back on track immediately after the race. I took Saturday to eat whatever I wanted, then Sunday went right back to the norm. One critical nutritional element in my recovery has been a tart cherry smoothie:

Tart Cherry Recovery Smoothie


8oz soy or almond milk (the more vanilla the better!)
1/2 frozen banana
2 tbsp tart cherry concentrate
1 serving choice of protein powder
1/4 c. frozen cherries


Blend until smooth. If you're really ambitious, I dare you to add a handful of spinach!!

Why cherries? 

Increasing evidence is showing that tart cherries with their high antioxidant content may play a role in reduction of inflammation post-exercise and reduce recovery time. Other fruits with high antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effects include: raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Fruit for the win!!

So there you have it. You don't need a magical supplement or protein powder to aid your muscles in faster recovery. Instead, choose to incorporate more tart cherries into your diet before and after a big race or workout. Enjoy a refreshing post-workout smoothie that provides a healthy dose of simple carbohydrate to refuel your glycogen stores quickly and some protein to rebuild muscle.

On another note, my new trail shoes happened to come in yesterday and just so happen to conveniently match my Holiday Lake finisher's shirt! Guess that means it's time to get to work. Next goal: zeroing in on more trail running and learning how to conquer the climbs!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Race Report: Holiday Lake 50k

One reason I admire marathons and ultras is their unique ability to elicit both feelings of euphoria and that of deep suffering and despair within the same race, and sometimes within a very short time frame. I’ll be honest and say I’m somewhat disappointed with certain aspects of my race and very happy with others. Sometimes the best of plans don't come to fruition and you don't realize the mistakes you made until after the fact. Either way, I went out there and gave it my best, had a great time (for the most part) and learned a few valuable lessons along the way.

Running gear
Lesson #1 - Don't stray from your nutritional game plan. 

I usually have oatmeal and PB-banana before races and it works well. Two days before the race Jordan told me he wanted Panera bagels to bring. Not a bad idea - definitely more convenient and I often eat a PB-banana sandwich before workouts so shouldn't be an issue. It was. I ate later than planned and it sat heavier on the stomach than expected, plus it didn't get my bowels "moving" as I needed. I paid for it later in the race. Other things also went awry with my nutrition plan (see below).

French press coffee was a definite winner!
Lesson #2: Caffeine + Adrenaline + Being really excited can be a deadly combination.

There's no doubt I went out too fast. Part of this was race strategy: I definitely didn't want to be in a crowd for the dark single track during the first 4 miles of the race and I wanted to "stay in the game" for the ladies race. The other part, well, was a combination of stubbornness and lack of foresight. I probably would have been ok had I backed off at the first aid station, but instead I pushed forward. Chances are, if you're thinking during the early stages of a long race "this pace could either lead be epic or is suicidal," you're probably running too fast. I learned at last year's Richmond marathon that great races come from running fast AT THE END. The saying "old habits die hard" definitely applies here.

A friend asked me around mile 8-9 if we were running too fast and I said "I don't really know." Then a fellow VT runner (whom I shouldn't have been running with in the first place) chimed in "we're on pace for a 4:15" (i.e. faster than the female course record). What I know about my (more rational) self is that I need to run at an uncomfortably slow pace in the early miles. However, it took me until mile 13 to really back off and by then the damage was done. I switched into coasting mode and hoped my nutrition would carry me through, which brings me to my next lesson...

Lesson #3: Learn how to hold onto things.

Around mile 10 I dropped two shot bloks. Not a big deal. In fact, I even stopped to get one off the ground and then ate it. Yummy hard shot blok + a little added crunch ha! At the turn around though, I failed to pick up my small flask with extra fluids/electrolytes. Then later I made a bathroom pitt-stop and accidentally left a gel and my electrolyte tabs behind. Those were definitely essentials to my nutrition plan that I needed. I tried to compensate with some PBJ at the rest stations, but those weren't cutting it for me. The caffeine from a few sips of Mtn Dew was nice, but definitely not as helpful as my caffeinated gel would have been.

Lesson #4: Push fluids & electrolytes (even on cold days)

Early in the race, my handbottle lid was frosty and frozen and pushing fluids was the last thing on my mind. I drank well early in the race and refilled by bottle earlier than originally planned, but it was not enough. During the more technical and high traffic single track section of the race (~6 miles long), I barely touched my hand bottle. Running was hard enough. When things started to go downhill, I didn't compensate by drinking more which was also a big mistake. It was much warmer in the later stages of the race and I suffered significant cramping. Even a day later, I am still feeling the effects of dehydration. After the race, Jordan said he drank through 4-5 hand bottles. I think I drank about 1.5, plus a few sips at two aid stations.

My fueling plan.. except I forgot to pick up the flask &
never opened the 2nd package of shot blocks...
Lesson #5: Know you're never safe (and that things could be worse).

In the final 8 miles, I fell from 3rd place to 8th. Two familiar faces passed me and said "run with me." I tried, but I should have dug deeper. One girl, Kaylyn, was hurting just as much yet went on to place 4th female. Another friend, Rob, tried his best to get me to stick with him in the final mile but I was "too dead" to care. That cost me 7th. In the midst of bonking, I felt miserable and at certain points, wanted to lay down and never get up. I'd look behind me and see no one, think I was "safe" and kept running. Like clockwork though, another racer would magically appear and pass by. I pushed forward with hopes of a strong(ish) finish. I was at least running and not walking, which is better than some previous races. By the way, bonking during a 50k is far worse than a marathon. In this case, I suffered for 13 miles instead of the usual 6-8 during a marathon.

Thanks to Rob for the encouragement late in the race
(also pictured is the girl I should have beat had I stuck with him)
My look of disgust "I really hate everything right now."

Final stretch.

The overall result? An 8th place finish (for females) and overall time of 4:47 and some change. I missed my PR by about two minutes and still managed a top 10 finish. I am happy, but not content. It's hard knowing you could have (and should have) done better. But, as my wise husband pointed out: I guess it's good to know that I can still have a decent race result on even a bad day.
The entire VT Ultra Team raced well!

Lesson #6: The real reward is in the journey.

Much like last year's Rock n' Roll USA Marathon, this race left me doubting a lot about my training and fitness level and even self-worth. Am I training as hard as I should? Have I improved at all in the past year? Is it really worth all the effort? Do I really want to put myself through this again?

The answer is YES.

I have worked very hard: A "bad" race can't erase this. I am much fitter than I was last year: failure to perform up to my expectations does not deny this. As for the last two questions? The day I answer no will be the day I quit racing. Until then, I'll keep pressing on! The past few months have been very rewarding as I have stepped outside my comfort zone in many ways. Bad races are inevitable. I truly think it comes with the territory of endurance racing and also with putting yourself out there.

Someone once told me I would never be a good distance runner. "You are not built for it," they said, "you are setting yourself up for failure." Know that I am a pretty stubborn person and those words have resounded in my head for many years as I have worked to prove them wrong. If you truly love what you do, with the right drive, encouragement, coaching and training, know that you CAN do anything.  I am thankful to all who have supported me in my running and the countless words of encouragement: my family, TriAdventure, VT Ultra, and friends. To Dr. Horton: Thank you for the honor of a #4 seeding and for believing in me. To say at the finish, despite my failure to follow through "I know that you had it in you and will do well this year" means the world to me. Thank you!

Of course, I must give a shout out to my wonderful husband! Back in the days when I hated running even a 10 miler, he was there to push me through it. His enthusiasm for running inevitably rubbed off on me and I am forever blessed for his encouragement on my best (and worst) days and for sharing with me in the journey.

Us in our top ten finishers attire. Changs for the win!
Speaking of journys... we officially bit the bullet and are committed to the rest of the Beast (Jordan) and LUS (Me) ultra series for 2013... Which means, more fun times to come!

For a more detailed race report, also check out our "couples" blog at Chang's Ultra Adventures 

Full race results.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Carb Loading & Pre-Race Thoughts...

My first of three 50k's this spring is now a little more than 36 hours away!! When it comes to race week, it can sometimes be easy to let go nutritionally and focus on carbs, carbs carbs. While carb-loading is definitely important, its crucial to fill up on healthy, complex carbs versus the sweet and sugary stuff! I thought I'd share a little bit about what I've been eating this week to prepare for Saturday's race. While some people may wait until the day or two before to carb-load, I tend to gradually increase my carbs by adding a few carb-rich foods into my diet each day:

Oatmeal w/ PB, Banana & Chia Seeds
(also my normal race-day breakfast)

Savory Stuffed Sweet Potato
(My lunch this week)

(I enjoyed these for National Pancake Day on Tues, Feb 5th)

Tofu Stir Fry

You can't see the rice but it's down there!
Cherry Dark Chocolate Smoothies
(Tart cherries are to jumpstart my recovery - more on this next week!)

Pre-Race Thoughts:

Oh, what to say? For Horton races, your number serves roughly as your"seeding" and I'm honored to be "on the radar" this year. With that comes pressure to perform, but I'm reminding myself of the importance of running my own race and not getting caught up in placement. According to Dr. Horton, conditions will be "perfect" so I'm expecting some pretty fast times out of the ladies' race. Looking at the entrants list, the girls competition is pretty stacked and it'll be an awesome experience racing against some familiar faces and with some friendly competition regardless of my personal outcome. 

Last year I went into the race with little expectation and finished 8th overall. This year I'd very much love to repeat a top ten finish, but I have a great respect for these longer races and understand that anything could happen! I don't really have a "race plan" other than what I'm going to eat nutritionally. I just hope to run strong, have fun, stay present in the race and push myself to new limits. I hope you will check back Sat or Sun to see how I do!!

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