Thursday, October 31, 2013

Time To Celebrate!

It's been a looooooong season. For realz people! I haven't stop with consistent training/running in over a year, because after the Richmond Marathon last fall I just kept on building. To date I've counted 15 runs of 20+ miles in my training log for 2013... that's a lot and doesn't even include those weekends I did back to back long runs.

This season has seen a lot of growth, a lot of happy days and a fair share of setbacks, obstacles, and days where I'm reminded that I can't do it alone. I can't help but feel as if God is slowly molding me into a more mature adult and athlete, teaching me to rely on Him and that all things are possible with persistence, hard work and a lot support and prayers!


The past 6 months have been building towards one race: the Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) 50 Miler. Yup, FIFTY miles! On countless occasions I've questioned why I would sign up for such a distance, especially one with the word "masochist" in the title. But it all boils down to stepping outside my comfort zone, experiencing new things, pushing myself as an athlete and celebrating the gift of having a healthy, able body. As race day approaches, I'm happy to report the decision feels right.

I am thankful to have made it through the training process unscathed: no side-lining injuries, no burnout, no quitting and deciding trail running isn't for me. I am thankful the lessons I've learned, the quality time I've spent with the hubby out on the trails and the countless friends I've made along the way.

That being said, I'm looking forward to Saturday being a long celebratory run through the beauty that is the Blue Ridge Mountains. A celebration of the countless hours of hard work and training, of those who have graciously supported me in this journey (hubby, dad, coach and countless friends), of the awesome trail running community that I've come to know and finally a celebration of the fact that the body can accomplish SO much more than we think it can! One other big thing I'm looking forward to: witnessing the sunrise over the mountains and relishing in the fact that each day is new and an opportunity to do something great.


I have one main goal for this race: finish within the time limit with a big 'ol smile on my face (though tears of joy might suffice too :) Anything above and beyond will be icing on the cake... and you better believe I will be enjoying some cake (german chocolate please) after this race!

FB friends: If you're interested in following along on Saturday, my crew will hopefully be posting a few updates throughout the day (cell service pending). Otherwise, have a great weekend and see you on the flip side!!

Let's Do This!!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekend Adventures: Taper Time!

This past weekend was quite jam packed, full of family, friends, good food and beautiful fall weather here in southwest Virginia. While I love my long runs, I am thankful for it being a laid back taper weekend that allowed a little extra time for mischievous behavior ;)

Friday evening my mom and grandma arrived for the Tech game against Duke (no comment... but I'm glad I opted to not go!) Saturday I picked up the last of our summer farm share, we enjoyed some more of these awesome pancakes, went on a random house hunting adventure and I had an amazingly awesome but short run while they were at the game.

Sunday featured breakfast at Gillies with my BFF's that were also in town, some laid back hangout time, a quick trip to the pumpkin patch with another BFF and then the weekend was topped off by a great-as-always church service (and more yummy food!) with NLCF. Somewhere in there I received a special pre-race package from Colorado (thanks Chrissy!!) and we bought plane tickets for a trip in January that I'm VERY excited about... more details to come on that soon!

Scenes from the weekend. Are my mom and grandma not the cutest ever in those hats?!
The extra downtime to enjoy with friends and family was just what I needed to rest, reflect and rejuvenate before the final prep for this next weekend. While a good run will leaving me floating on air for days, this weekend has left my heart full to the brim with love and happiness ... I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful family and friends, all while living in a place I love!

And while I was here holding down the fort, the hubby was off road-tripping and crewing these two awesome guys as they successfully completed their first ultra this past weekend! Congrats Steve and Robbie!!! Way to get it done!


Only four days to go now before my big race and I'm feeling relaxed and generally quite excited! This week will feature a lot of lazy couch time, snacking on carbs, finalization of weekend logistics and prepping mentally and physically for the loooooong day to come on Saturday. I'm looking forward to getting through Thursday when my dad arrives(!!) and it's Halloween. Until then, I'll be using my extra time getting things set at work and cooking off the 3 weeks worth of farm share we have sitting in our fridge (womp).


Thursday, October 24, 2013

RD 2 Be: Grad School & Applying for Internships

Grad school was sort of accidental for me. To make a long story short, I participated in an undergraduate research program the summer after my junior year and my advisor convinced me to stay on board, continue the research and work towards my master's. That summer I learned about an awesome dual-enrollment type program where I could start my master's degree my senior year (which was really my 5th year anyways). Since I was already a year behind, this was a great way for me to use that 5th year wisely and "catch up." So I filled out the paper work (skipped the GRE's!) and was enrolled 2 days before the start of the fall semester in 2009.

Graduate School


My graduate research initially involved genetic testing and mice... and when the novelty of it wore off I realized I was not at all crazy about it. The project was also going no where and I knew pretty quickly it would take more than 2 years to get sufficient data to complete my project. So, two months into my master's program, with the advice of some professors and mentors, I followed my gut and ditched the project and switched advisors completely. It's not something I would recommend, but it came down to me being miserable for 2 years or following my passion and researching something I actually enjoyed.

My actual master's degree is in Human Nutrition Foods and Exercise with a concentration in Nutrition Education and Behavior. My new research project involved administering a survey called the School Health Index (SHI) and correlating those scores to actual health behaviors among youth in schools K-12 throughout Southwest Virginia. Much of my time was spent traveling to these schools, administering the surveys to students, collecting data for the SHI followed by data entry. Once all the data was analyzed, the schools received feedback regarding their scores and education/tips for improving their overall health environment.

Finishing my didactic coursework in dietetics while completing courses for my master's degree did not turn out to be much of an issue. In my 6th year, as a full time graduate student, I had the opportunity to serve as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) for the senior level Medical Nutrition Therapy course, which I absolutely loved and really helped me to solidify my clinical nutrition skills! I am thankful for that opportunity!

Just prior to the fall of 2010, I was feeling a bit weary of school and decided to finish my master's early so that I could spent the next spring at home with my family. I was set to be married in the summer of 2011 and wanted to have some quality family time before moving out for good. That decision meant me taking 18 credits (full load) in the fall of 2010, on top of serving as a GTA, finishing my thesis defense and applying for dietetic internships. In all of my years of undergrad I had never taken a full course-load, so I really don't know what I was thinking! That semester I ditched triathlons (too time consuming) and picked up running again (great stress reliever) but nonetheless I was working almost non-stop and I lost a ton of hair from the stress! I guess I was pretty motivated, because in the end I achieved my goal and defended my thesis just prior to the end of the semester!

Scenes from my last semester at Tech.

As a dietitian, I highly recommend a master's degree. It's currently not required, but I'm hearing that it may be in the coming years in order to get an internship. The skills and leadership experience that I attained from completing my master's has paid off in the workplace, both with a higher salary and the ability to adapt to certain situations. It's certainly an individual choice whether you do it before or after the internship, but a master's degree pre-internship will definitely make you more competitive and is one less thing to do after!

-----

Applying For Internships


In the spring of 2011 I moved back home and as I wished, got to spend quality time with my family. My dad and I trained for my 2nd marathon, the Nashville Rock n' Roll Marathon (April 2011), which initiated my return to long distance running! Meanwhile mom, grandma and I worked on wedding planning. Living at home again was tough but well worth it! But let's not forget about those DI's!

Since I don't have pictures of applying to internships, here's some scenes from the Nashville Marathon.
Prior to graduation, I attended a series of workshops through our program aimed towards preparing seniors to apply for internships. The workshops focused on resume building, interviewing skills, personal statements and how to navigate the matching system and general tips on identifying the best DI program for you. I am SO very thankful for these workshops, which I hear is now a mandatory but pass-fail type class for seniors at Tech. Regardless of what resources you have available as a dietetics student, don't go through this process alone! Review your resume and personal statement with several trustworthy individuals or career services and take whatever constructive feedback you can get!

As for my personal application experience, I had limited choices due to the fact that I was getting married and moving to a specific place. I could opt to do a distance internship, where you set up your own rotations in your location of choice, but I honestly was a bit too lazy to put the work into identifying preceptors and the program was WAY too expensive. I settled on applying to one program: the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Internship based out of Falls Church, VA. By choosing one program only, I was able to focus all my energy on adapting my application specifically to it. DICAS is a complicated system and choosing one program simplified everything! I wasn't able to attend the open house (something I highly recommend) so I made a special trip to Northern VA to meet with the director and decide once and for all if the program would work for me. Turns out it was a great fit and I stuck with my decision to apply to it only. With a Master's degree, I took my chances in getting in and turns out it worked out just fine: I was accepted in May of 2011, married in July and the program started that August.

Students: I hope reading about my experience was helpful for you! If you have questions about the process or getting a master's degree, don't hesitate to email. Next I will write about the actual internship experience!



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Recipe: Cranberry Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes


Raise you hand if you like pancakes on the weekend (or after a long run...)

Hint: my hand is definitely raised!

After wrapping up my last long training run of the season this past Saturday (major sad face), we thought it necessary to celebrate appropriately with some delicious pancakes. Of course, said pancakes had to have chocolate chips. I love chocolate and, to be honest, I would just eat chocolate after all my runs if I thought it was an ideal recovery food. Dark chocolate does have antioxidants, which aid in recovery, right? :P


In all seriousness, one thing I love about a "runner's diet" is there's always some wiggle room to indulge. All foods can fit into a healthy diet when moderation is considered, pancakes and chocolate included.

Since our run took the majority of the day, our pancakes were pushed off until the next morning. What's better than a chilly fall Sunday morning with nothing to do, sleeping in and then enjoying a stack of pancakes with warm coffee? Not much!

Cranberry Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes


Ingredients


3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp pumpkin spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 ripe banana, mashed
1-1/3 c. vanilla soy milk or 1% milk
1/2 c. canned pure pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 c. each dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries, or to taste :)
Optional: 1/2 cup pecans


Directions


Mix your dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Combine your wet ingredients into your dry and stir just until mixed. At this point you can fold in the chocolate chips and dried cranberries, or you can choose to sprinkle them onto each pancake separately. Pour 1/4 c. batter per pancake over a griddle and cook at medium-high heat. Healthier topping suggestions include almond butter or vanilla greek yogurt. These fall more into the "indulgent" category and really don't need much extra to be delicious!



Makes 10-12 pancakes, depending on how big you like them!

Recipe adapted from Meal Makeover Moms


Monday, October 21, 2013

Fueling Strategies for Endurance Athletes



Yesterday I wrapped up my last long training run for my upcoming 50 miler! I can't believe how fast the last 6 months have flown by, it's been quite a journey and fun experience. My run was on the later half of the Mountain Masochist course and the perfect opportunity to nail down and practice my race day nutrition strategy. Needless to say I've learned a lot about fueling during extended workouts this season and I've experienced it all: I've bonked, over-fueled to the point of GI distress, run through extreme cramping, run out of water, run out of food and tried new sources of fuel. Though it's been a process of trial and error and I've had my share of obstacles along the way, it has paid off by more intimately coming to know what works best for my body. More so, I've learned that fueling is not a perfect science, it takes practice and a willingness to be flexible in order to optimally adapt to real-time conditions and obstacles. And after watching the Kona Ironman, I realized that even the Pro's have days where they struggle with their nutrition. It's comes with the territory that is endurance racing.

That being said, here are a few things I've learned along the way:


  1. Eat and drink early and don't stop, even if you're within 30-60 minutes of the finish line and "think" you can make it in just fine.
  2. To prevent GI distress, eat the least amount of calories you need to optimally sustain your efforts hour after hour. It's easier to compensate by eating more than it is to reverse over-doing it. 
  3. Similarly, don't forget to take the conditions into account and adjust your fueling appropriately: climbing, heat and humidity can slow the body's ability to digest the calories you do consume.
  4. For extended events/training sessions especially: stick to complex carbohydrates, avoid fructose (refined, not from fruit), sucrose and glucose. You're looking for long-term energy not a short-term boost.
  5. The being said, the body doesn't have a gas tank, you have to feed the fire gradually. If you tend to lose track of time (like me), setting a timer on your watch to go off every 15-20 minutes as a reminder to eat/drink can be beneficial.
  6. It can be beneficial to carry a flask of concentrated calories and plain water separately. That way it's much easier to adjust your caloric intake without having to over drink and flavored water definitely gets old after a while.
  7. Don't overemphasize sodium (especially via salt tabs), the other electrolyte minerals (potassium, magnesium, chloride...) matter too. Again, take conditions and your personal sweat rate into account and adjust accordingly.
  8. Trust your body's natural compensatory processes and don't over fuel (regarding calories, fluids and electrolytes)-- this is important to remember both prior to events (carb-loading) and during!
  9. Along those same lines- listen to your body's cravings and utilize those aid stations! Don't go overboard feasting on sweets, but sometimes flat soda, chocolate or salty chips can be beneficial if that's what your body is able to tolerate best at the time.
  10. Practice, practice, practice! And come race day, be flexible and prepared! Have a plan for navigating obstacles, listen to your body's cues and cravings and adjust your nutritional strategy as needed. 
It's peak fall season in the Blue Ridge Mtns!
These guidelines are based on both my nutritional expertise and experience as an endurance athlete. Ultimately it's up to you to decide what nutritional strategy works best for your body during training and racing because everyone is different. Also, while these are geared towards longer running races they could also be applied to other endurance sports.

Last but not least, be sure to check out this awesome write-up about about the Virginia Tech Ultra-Marathon Team and Hydration!

MMTR 2 weeks and counting!

Here's to fueling and running (mostly) happy!



Friday, October 18, 2013

Recipe: Apple-Almond Snack Wrap


For my monthly Chef Center Stage at work, I love featuring seasonal produce. This month was all about apples and pumpkins and the residents enjoyed Apple-Almond Snack Wraps (recipe below) and Pumpkin Spice Lattes (because Lord knows they love their coffee!). While I demonstrated the making of homemade almond butter and assembly of the wraps, we discussed the benefits of the apples and transformation process of blending the almonds.



Did you know?


The typical sized apple contains 80 calories, 0g sodium and 4g fiber.

There are over 7,000 different varieties of apples? Some of the more commonly known varieties include: Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Fuji, Braeburn and Pink Lady.

Some apple varieties are better for eating while others are best for baking. McIntosh and Granny Smith tend to form the best combination for apple pies, but skip the red delicious! Honeycrisp and Gala are best for eating.

Uses for apples include: dried apple snacks, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, apple butter, apple chutney, hard cider, pies and pastries.

"An apple a day" can contribute to:

  • Improved brain health and diminished symptoms of Alzheimer's disease
  • Cleaner and whiter teeth
  • Decreased cholesterol, overall heart health
  • Lower risk of respiratory disease, colon or prostate cancer


Ingredients


1 mini flour tortilla
1 tbsp almond butter
1/4 apple, sliced thin
A drizzle of honey (optional)
A sprinkle of granola (optional)

Directions


For the almond butter, you can by the store brand or try making your own at home with this recipe! Spread your wrap with the almond butter then assemble with remaining ingredients. These are especially tasty heated Panini still on the stove or in the oven. Eat right away or pack to go, and don't forget to eat the rest of your apple!


I personally love these pre-run as an alternative to PB-banana toast, but it also makes for a great mid-morning snack or as a snack while traveling. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Recipe: Butternut Squash Curried Chili

You know fall is officially here when the leaves start to change those beautiful shades of orange and maroon! Really, fall is in full force and absolutely the BEST season here in Blacksburg. There's just something magical about the mountain fall air.

Need some inspiration?


Fall makes me excited all things squash and pumpkin and comforting warm soups! Oh, and beautiful trail runs through the mountains!

Yes, this is real! It was taken by my husband about a week ago here in SW VA.
A few weeks back we received our first butternut squash through our farm share (which runs up until November) and I quickly put it to good use in making soup. I was in the mood for chili but something a little thai infused, thus I experimented and pulled together this fall-inspired curried chili. It's pretty quick to throw together and would be great served over brown rice or quinoa.


Ingredients

2 tsp coconut oil (or 1 tbsp olive oil)
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium butternut squash, diced into 1" cubes
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled & diced into 1" cubes
1 can black beans
1 can red kidney beans
2 red peppers, diced
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can coconut milk
2 cups water
4 cubes curry mix

Directions

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and add your garlic and onion. Saute for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Add your butternut squash and sweet potatoes and saute another few minutes. Add your remaining ingredients and simmer 20 minutes until the potatoes and squash are cooked through.

What do you love most about fall?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Report: Baltimore Half Marathon

A little spontaneity is good for the heart.

At least that's what I was thinking in the early miles of this race as I was smiling ear to ear and loving every step. Given that I had arrived at the starting line skipping and dancing around, it was a good day! But getting there was a bit of a different story.


There seems to never be a dull moment in our household. Since the hubby's 100-mile goal race was cancelled (thank you government shutdown!), he has been eagerly on the hunt for a rebound race. Last Tuesday he declared that he'd be running the New River Trail 50k and that I should also do it. The race had previously be on my schedule but I decided to nix it a few weeks ago. I wasn't changing my mind and made that clear. He's perfected his pouty face, but I wasn't giving in and he didn't want to do it without me.

The next morning I received a phone call from him declaring that he wanted to run the Baltimore Marathon instead (say what?!). I was more than fine with him racing, but I personally wasn't too keen on the long car trip and wanted to stay home. It was his turn to put his foot down and like it or not he was determined to drag me along for the ride. Friday evening we made it to the expo and he registered... by this point the long drive was over and I was coming around. The buzz of excitement around me made left me a bit jealous, as did the super cool t-shirts. As we were about leave, I stopped dead in my tracks sheepishly declaring "Umm, I want to run too... can I register?" (I'm a punk some days, I know it!)

What I had not previously realized is that there was a half marathon option... and I was oh so conveniently scheduled for a roughly 12-13 mile run anyway. Ok, signing up would be the more costly option of getting it done, but a long run with crowd support? Sounds good to me! So I registered and picked up my shirt with a smile and we made our way to our destination for the evening.




Pre-race we hung around the starting line, sitting against a random wall at Camden Yards enjoying the music and crowds. With no expectations regarding performance, it was SO nice to feel that relaxed pre-race. The marathon went off at 8am and I had almost 2 hours to kill before my start. My brother and sister-in-law and I made our way to the halfway point (also my starting line) to cheer on the hubby. I really enjoyed the spirit of cheering on the other racers though I did not enjoy standing in line for the port-o-potty (who does!). The hubby flew by on pace for a great race and a few minutes later I started. The timing of it all worked out perfectly!

Mile 9 of the Marathon
My long run was suppose to be a negative split so I started the race conservative, carefree and relaxed.... a lot of people were passing me in the early miles but I was determined to not get carried away by it all. Taking it easy gave me the opportunity to look around and enjoy the sights and scenes around me! A lot of people where dressed up in costumes and the crowd support was stellar. Of course there were a lot of fun signs and my two favorite were "Smile if you peed yourself a little" (lol) and "Keep running. You're working harder than all of Congress!" (ha!)

Around halfway I picked up the pace with the goal of finishing with a negative split. Most of the later miles were great, some were rough, but regardless I passed a lot of people which is always fun! In the last mile a guy that must've been close to 7 feet tall pulled up next to me and said "stay with me through the finish!" I tried, but I was also taking about three steps to match his one (poor excuse I know). I finished strong, but with some energy left in the bank, collected A LOT of post-race goodies (I paid a lot of money for those!) and then made my way to find my better half. He rocked his marathon, finishing with a new PR and 13th overall! This was more about him than me and I'm glad he was able to find some justification for months of hard work after his goal race was cancelled.

Life is good in the kids zone!
I do think racing "just for the fun of it" is good to do from time to time, even if it's not an all out effort or for workout purposes. Days like these remind me of the joy running brings into my life and how that shared joy unites so many people in the form of running communities and long lasting friendships (or marriages!) :D

Seize the day!

Have you ever jumped spontaneously into a race last minute? How did it turn out?


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Eat Like a Triathlete

Ever wonder what it's like to eat like a triathlete? Three sports in one means you can eat whatever you want, right? Ironman Kona was yesterday, and when you think about the Ironman you think about the hours and hours of hard work these athletes have put towards achieving their goals. I however, tend to think about the thousands among thousands of calories that these athletes consume each week to support their lifestyle and optimize performance and recovery. Eating enough is crucial to maintaining an appropriate weight and ensuring adequate energy to support the training, but what goes into those calories can often determine the ultimate success of the athlete.

The November issue of Triathlete Magazine features this article highlighting the nutritional approaches of five different triathletes and dietitians and of course I just HAD to share!

Click to access full article: PDF sourced from Toronutrition.com

Thank you Triathlete Magazine for a little RD love!

Other than the fact that a little photography magic can make healthy food look amazing, here are a few of the main takeaway points:

  1. Training keep you busy? Crock Pot meals can be a useful tool to make sure you have a healthy meal ready at the end of those long training sessions.
  2. A little planning goes a long way! Brainstorm ahead of time your meals and fuels of choice for the week. Grab and go on the fly usually results in less than stellar nutritional choices, not to mention more stress.
  3. Planned leftovers can help keep portions in check and work to streamline efforts in the kitchen!
  4. Focus on eating a variety of whole foods from different food groups. Balance is key. Choose to snack on nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains over processed 'energy bars' and convenience foods.
  5. Quality over quantity. Good nutrition is less about nutrition and more about choosing quality fuels to meet the high demands of training. Making wise choices from each food group, balancing calories and nutrient timing are simple nutritional strategies to reach peak performance. 
  6. Race specific: It may be a good idea to limit fiber in the days leading up to races. Too much fiber can keep things from moving along as they should!
Check out this article to learn more about what Mirinda Carfrae, the 2013 Women's Ironman World Champion, eats in the days leading up to an Ironman!
Picture from Ironman.com

What's the biggest takeaway I found from this article?


Everyone's fueling needs and ideal approach to meeting them is different. Just because one athlete is successful following a certain nutrition plan doesn't mean it will work for you. It's important to identify your specific needs and rely on reputable resources to find the best approach to optimize fueling (a dietitian can help!)...and don't forget to practice, practice, practice during training!

Friday, October 11, 2013

"A Life Without Limits"

I'm not a big reader. Honestly, I shy away from books at all costs. The extent of my "reading" is to occasionally flip quickly through magazines, observe the pictures before quickly tossing them aside. Me and books just don't get along. But as I was driving home to Virginia Beach back in early August, something in the back of my mind told me to pick up this book:


I'm getting better at listening to my intuition, so without hesitation I found the closest B&N and just bought it. Less than 24 hours, the book was finished...I was quite captivated! With the Ironman World Championship in Kona coming up this weekend, I broke this book back out and figured it's perfect timing to finally share my thoughts.

Book Review

Chrissie Wellington is four time Itonman World Champion (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011), however, she's so much more than a decorated athlete. In her book, she quickly captured my intrigue with her sense of adventure, vibrance, confidence and maturity. Her enthusiasm is such that you can literally feel her smiling through the text as you read it! It's easy to get wrapped up in the adrenaline of her epic adventures and she quickly establishes herself as someone who refuses to settle for the status quo! Even so, she makes herself vulnerable to the reader through her stark honesty regarding her struggles to fit in with others, in battling an eating disorder, with establishing herself as a pro-triathlete and with her clumsiness. No one ever said success comes easy and she makes this very clear to the reader by sharing how she has grown from both her successes and failures.


More than anything, the book is laced with valuable life lessons and take-aways for the reader. From honoring and respecting your body to choosing your battles wisely when it comes to willpower, discipline and where you invest your greatest energy, Chrissie imparts invaluable wisdom from her journeys in becoming a World Champion athlete. These pieces of advice are beneficial for everyone from the recreational exerciser to the ambitious age group athlete. Here are a few of my favorite nuggets of wisdom as I like to call them:


"Hard work and an open mind--it's the only way to realize the potential that is inside every one of us."

On limits: "It's up to each and every one of us to turn 'I can't' into 'I can'...The brain is constantly trying to superimpose limits on what it thinks we can achieve. We should constantly question it, fight it...The key is not to be afraid of failing."

On weakness: "We all have weaknesses...Acknowledging those weaknesses is vital to our development. Some are real and can be overcome, but some are not so much weaknesses as imperfections- it is our perception that makes them so... Pick your battles, accept yourself for who you are."

On recovery: "I would go so far as to describe recovery as the 4th discipline of a triathlete... It's the periods between (workouts), during which your body adapts and regenerates."

On injuries: "Only after my arm had been reset did I do what I should have done from the outset- relax and realize that this injury was actually an opportunity to vary my training. Think about what you can do, rather than worry about what you can't."

On nutrition: "I am amazed at how many people neglect this part of their training and fail to fuel their body with what they need in order to function effectively. The basic principals are these: keep it simple, eat natural foods as much as possible, balance input with output and have everything in moderation."

On pressure: "The trick is to understand which pressures are necessary and which ones are dangerous decoys, the ones that suck the life out of you for no reward."


What I love most about this book is that it's clear that Chrissie's career and success are build upon a foundation of sincere desire for adventure, yearning for freedom and most importantly, a love for the sport. Even more so, Chrissie uses that platform of success to make a difference in the world, which was truly her ultimate goal from the beginning. Role models don't come better than that. Thanks Chrissie for being such a great ambassador for female athletes!

Final Thoughts:

Do what you love and love what you do.
Be persistent in your goals.
Dream big.
Believe in yourself.
Give back to others.

"Seize every opportunity you have, embrace every experience. Make a mark, for all the right reasons."

"Never, ever give up... and smile!!"
-Chrissie

Feeling inspired yet? If you're down for watching, don't forget tomorrow is the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona. Either way, I hope you do something great with your weekend!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Athlete Spotlight! Chrissy Esposito

It's been my goal for a while now to start featuring athletes here on this blog, about their personal athletic endeavors and how nutrition has played a key role in their success. Everyone's experience is unique and I feel there is SO much we can learn from others! I'm finally taking the plunge and featuring one of my favorite athletes and recent first-time ironman finisher, Chrissy Esposito.

I first met Chrissy through the Virginia Tech Triathlon Team. Though our time together only briefly overlapped, I've always been impressed by her enthusiasm, drive and how she is ALWAYS smiling! She's been a triathlete for 4+ years and a runner just about her entire life and her accolades include placing 3rd overall in her first iron-distance triathlon this past January and qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She recently made a big move from the East Coast to Colorado to chase her dreams and enjoy the beauty of the Rockies.


1. Tell us a little about yourself, what drives you athletically and as a person? 
My sport of choice is without a doubt running…I could run trails for hours everyday and be perfectly happy with life. I don’t know what fuels my desire to be active and take on triathlons, cycling, and running. My passion and love for these activities is completely unexplainable, or maybe I just haven’t discovered the right words to express how they make me feel. Either way, I do it because it makes my heart feel good!

2. What made you decide to tackle the ironman distance in January 2013?
I had wanted to complete an Ironman since I was little and saw the Kona Ironman on TV. Though I didn’t know much about triathlons at the time and had only been a runner growing up, I knew that an Ironman was a challenge that I wanted to take on. While watching the Summer Olympics in 2012, I had a burst of inspiration to make my attempt at the Iron-distanced event. I don’t think there is ever a perfect time to do an Ironman, but I saw a window of opportunity that late July night and signed up for the Bone Island Ironman which was to take place 5-1/2 months later.

3. Tell us about your race, the experience, how it went and your thoughts afterwards?
I tend to smile a lot when I'm in pain... for some reason it has always been my go-to when I'm hurting. Looking back on the Ironman I remember just constantly smiling, earning the nickname "Smiling Hokie" from the spectators and volunteers. Part of it was probably because I actually was in pain, but overall I just has a lingering feeling of pure happiness that stuck with me the entire race. It had been my childhood dream to cross the finish line of an ironman and I couldn't help but smile when thinking that I was on the verge of making that dream come true.

In my opinion, the Ironman is an extremely mental race, which is why in the months leading up to the race start, I prepared by constantly reminding myself that I was doing it to have fun and for the genuine enjoyment of the event. My mental toughness was certainly tested at mile 20 of the run... it was dark, I was exhausted and with most spectators at the finish line, I was pretty much alone to shuffle through the streets of Key West. Those last 6.2 miles were unforgiving, but giving up and walking were options I wouldn't give myself. I finally made it to the finish after 12 hours, 22 minutes and the satisfaction and joy I felt crossing that line is unexplainable!



4. Tell me a little about your training and how you specifically fueled for your longer workouts.
My Ironman training was simple: I did whatever felt right for my body, relied on my previous triathlon experience and also on the ample advice from my friends who had previous completed iron-distance events. Each week I had certain workouts that I wanted to accomplish but how and when I did them depended completed on how I was feeling, school, work and my race schedule. I not only wanted my race to be an enjoyable experience, but I wanted the months leading up to race day to be pleasant; something I wanted to do not something I "had to do." 

During the height of Ironman training I actually became vegetarian. I enjoyed the change, expansion of food options and it kept me on my toes in terms of getting in sufficient amounts of protein! During my training I made sure to experiment with eating all sorts of foods because I have been known to have stomach issues in longer races. I started eating right before and during workouts/long runs and pretty soon I was able to eat solid foods during training with little to no issues (improvement!)

5. Do you see another Ironman distance event in your future? What other athletic goals are currently on your radar? 
Of course! At some point I definitely want to take on another Ironman, but for right now I’m taking a break from the triathlon world and focusing on running, cycling and other new activities. My next planned event is the Boston Marathon in April 2014, but as of right now I’m just doing a lot of base training and laying low from the racing scene.

6. What’s the toughest obstacle you had to overcome in order to reach your goals?
I’m currently sidelined with an injury that has left me run-less for the past 2.5 months. Years of not stretching and my infamous inflexibility finally came back to bite me in the butt…literally. A case of some dead gluts and pissed off hamstrings has forced me to close the door on running for a while, which is tough because this is the longest I’ve gone without it since I was 7 years old. Instead of dwelling on what I cannot do, I’ve been focusing on what I can, and right now that is cycling. I’ve been exploring the wonderful world of cycling and Colorado is definitely a hot spot for the sport (I’ve met so many awesome cyclists out here!) I never thought I’d be biking 5-6 days a week and riding at 5 am before work but I guess adding some change and variety to life can be a good thing. I still have a few weeks before I “might” be able to run again, but until that time comes I’ll be rolling on the road each morning watching the sunrise reflect off the Rocky Mountains.

7. How do you fuel on a day-to-day basis to optimize your training? 
Since many of my days start at 4-5am I have started a new and wonderful addiction, COFFEE! Other than that I eat a pretty “economical savvy” diet… meaning I’m eating on a budget. Though I’m not a Veg (vegetarian) anymore I still have a pretty meatless diet and my daily fuel consists of: eggs, beans, lots and lots of fruit, sweet potatoes, and of course chocolate milk (for recovery and deliciousness purposes!)


8. How has living in Colorado, known as one of the active and healthiest states in the US, changed your perspective towards training, nutrition or health in general?
One great thing that I’d like to note about Colorado is that the drivers here are extremely patient and not aggressive towards cyclists. I've spent a lot of time on the roads with Mr. Fishy (my bike) and quickly noticed that cars actually/ willingly share the road with cyclists. Other than that, my big move out west has certainly encouraged my desire to try new things, mostly because there is such a plethora of people to do new activities with and because I just like adding variety to my active lifestyle.  Currently I’m looking into getting involved with cyclocross, ultra running, and maybe some cross-country skiing? I guess we’ll just wait and see!

9. Can you share a favorite recipe?
Chrissy shared with me this delicious looking Sweet Potato Quinoa... original recipe is courtesy of another amazing triathlete and soon-to-be dietitian Speedy Edie!!

10. Any other thoughts, tips or words of wisdom?


Thanks Chrissy for being my first interviewee and being an inspiration to so many! Keep smiling!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Perspective

Our church recently had it's fall retreat and the main topic of conversation was perspective. In this little life we live, our perspective is sometimes pretty limited, often skewed, while God's perspective reigns.


Two days later during a trail run, I continued to process our conversations on 'perspective' and what it means to me. Naturally, I think of many things in terms of running. During this run I was particularly tired and had a choice to stay on the flat main trail or tackle one of the many trails up the mountain. I wanted badly to stay in my comfort zone, but decided otherwise and struggled my way up the mountain. My reward? A lovely, fast and fun downhill to the finish.

I cannot not help but to think how trail running is comparable to life and the challenges it can present. Somedays we may feel like we're flying downhill in sync with every rock and root, while others we may be tackling a steep climb, barely making forward progress and using every ounce of energy we have to keep from sliding backwards. Or, if you're like me this past weekend, sometimes you trip and fall flat on your face! Yet the run must go on, so you get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving. Embarrassed, hurting and bruised? Perhaps. Stronger for continuing? Definitely. 


When I was disappointed in barely missing out on the Boston Marathon, my sweet mother-in-law shared with me the following thought:

"Life IS a bed of roses- and roses have thorns. I know you're suppose to say life is not a bed of roses, but I think enjoying the roses and accepting the thorns in life makes a lot of sense." -Mama Chang

Accept the thorns and just keep moving...
Even when you're waist deep in them!
Life presents its share of challenges, as does training for any sport. Climbing "mountains" only serves to make you stronger... and sometimes a necessary evil to gain a better view of the big picture. How we choose to approach those mountains is all a matter of perspective. One thing I was reminded of this past weekend as I was stumbling (note: not running) up a mountain: When your legs give out, rely on your heart... and don't forget to look up! If faith can move mountains, I'm pretty sure it can help you move over mountains too :)


This week is all about perspective and it's also the week of the Ironman World Championship in Kona! In honor of both, I'll be sharing the perspective of two awesome athletes, both whom happen to go by the name of Chrissy(ie) and love to smile! Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Recipe: Cream of Tomato Soup

Tomato season runs through October and is quickly coming to an end. Though we still have plenty tomatoes left on the vine, they're looking a little rough and no longer the "pretty" sandwich type. But, one thing that excites me most about arrival of fall is return of hearty soups! As the temperatures drop, nothing tastes better after a chilly long run. 

Enjoying the first signs of fall and plenty of time with nature!
Speaking of long runs, yesterday I enjoyed a 24 mile run-hike through the mountains of Catawba valley here in Southwest Virginia. The Grindstone 100, which I mentioned my husband was suppose to run this weekend, ended up being "postponed" last minute due to the government shutdown! I am totally feeling for those athletes that trained long and hard for such an event, only to be disappointed last minute due to unforeseen circumstances. Best case scenario, pending the government "restarts," the race will take place next weekend, and worst case it will be cancelled all together. So instead of the race, we ventured out into the mountains for what was my longest training run to date!


Recently I opted to I dust off one of my favorite recipe books, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, to recreate my favorite tomato soup in a slightly healthier, vegan form. I utilized 2 lbs of tomatoes from our personal garden and 2 lbs from our farmshare. Soup is the perfect option if you're a klutz like me, as I managed to drop my bag of tomatoes 3 times within 5 minutes of picking up from our farm vendor! Womp. They were no longer pretty salad or sandwich type tomatoes, but nonetheless, still delicious and perfect for this recipe! Make it a meal by pairing with grilled cheese or a healthy salad.

Ingredients


1 tbsp olive oil (or coconut oil if you prefer)
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
4 lbs ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pkg silken tofu, pureed
2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Directions


Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over med-high heat. Add your carrots and onions and sauté about 10 minutes until tender. Add the garlic and cook another 1 minute. Next, add your tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, vegetable both and pepper. Still well and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree your tofu and nutritional yeast in a blender or food processor. Stir into your soup when it's near completion. This can be enjoyed as is (chunky version) or transferred to a blender and pureed (smooth version). Garnish with fresh basil leaves as desired.



What will you do with the last of your tomatoes?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Food for Fuel: Plant-Powered Nutrition

I don't talk much about my work, but I'm really quite excited by a new monthly lecture series I will be giving called "Food for Fuel." In case you didn't know, I'm a long term care dietitian that works with everyone from independent living residents in the retirement community to nursing home residents. It's all about quality of life but also making healthy choices that lend towards better management and prevention of chronic diseases. Anyway, today I kicked off the series with my favorite topic: a discussion of the emphasis of plant-based foods in the diet and the health benefits that come from one.

So fun!
Basically, the series will involve giving a 30-45 minute presentation about various nutrition and wellness topics, followed by me playing "chef" via a cooking demo.  Iron chef retirement edition anyone?! :)

The set-up for today's cooking demo of Asian Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing

Explaining the ingredients...

So, anyway, let's talk shortly about plant-powered nutrition...

What does it mean to eat plant-based?


"Plant based" is a general term to describe an eating plan that is based upon whole and natural plant-based foods rather than foods that are processed or animal-based foods.

Emphasis is on fruits, vegetables, unprocessed whole grains, legumes, beans and plant-based proteins. A plant-based diet does not strictly exclude animal-products, but the emphasis remains on plants.

What are some of the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet?


Research has shown that a plant-based diet can impart the following benefits if followed on a consistent basis:
  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Less inflammation 
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased body weight and BMI
  • Decreased risk of death from chronic diseases such as heart disease
  • Improved insulin sensitivity & better blood sugar control in patients with diabetes
Also:

People who eat the most fruits and vegetables have a 20% reduced risk of heart disease and a 27% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, especially stroke.

Further research shows that each 10-gram increase in daily fiber from sources such as whole grains is associated with a 27% decreased risk of dying from heart disease.

What types of plant-based diets exist?

Primary Plant Based: Plants are the main focus but there is no strict exclusion of any animal products.

Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: Excludes meat but includes dairy and eggs.

Lacto-Vegetarian: Excludes meat and eggs but includes dairy products.

Vegan: Strict exclusion of all animal-based products, including meat, dairy and eggs.

How do I get started? What will I eat?


Most people fear what they will give have to give up in following a plant-based diet rather than focus on what they can gain. That being said, there are many meat and dairy alternatives on the market that can ease the transition to a plant-based diet:

Dairy Alternatives:
Soy-based cheeses (bricks, slices, or shredded)
Soy-based yogurts
Soy, rice or almond milk

Meat Alternatives:
Tofu (silken, firm, or extra-firm)
Tempeh (fermented soy)
Seitan (wheat protein)
Edamame (soy bean)
Nuts & Seeds
Beans & Legumes

Protein-Rich Grains
Quinoa
Barley
Rice
Whole grain bread

Also, check out this great article for some of the top vegan-vegetarian protein sources!

My biggest tip for making the transition? Focus on adding plants into your diet rather than on removing animal-products. Experiment with vegetarian and vegan dishes throughout the week. Choose to go meat-free for one meal per day or one day per week and see where that takes you!

Honoring "Meatless Mondays" is one great way to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet. Check out their website for a lot of great recipe inspiration: meatlessmondays.com

Cooking Demo: Asian Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing
Recipe From Once Upon a Chef


Final Thought

Whether you choose to eat a plant-based diet or not, be kind and open to change. Be curious. Stop striving for perfection and instead focus on improvement!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Recipe: Cashew Almond Butter

It's been a good week and there's a lot of excitement in our household... I'll tell you why shortly!

But first, a few scenes from the week...


Last Wednesday was my first night run of the fall. I joined the VT Ultra Running Team for a 75 minute jaunt through the woods around 7:30pm, it was pitch black by the time we reached the top of the first climb. It was a blast and quite honestly, perfect therapy after hearing my bad news regarding Boston. This past spring I was terrified of night running but the group makes it fun, and it turns out these mountains are a whole lot easier to climb when you can't see them!


Friday afternoon I enjoyed a 20 mile ride through the valley. It was a gorgeous afternoon for it and this is just one of the many picturesque views along the route. I love where I live, I love being back on my bike and I love the fall air!



The weekend featured back-to-back long runs, Saturday was on road and Sunday on trail. I tried out these Injinji socks for the first time and loved them. Cozy, comfy and kept my feet dry!



Also, did you know this past Sunday was National Coffee Day?! Laying on the deck, stretching and sipping on pumpkin flavored coffee was the perfect recovery from my morning run. 

Okay, now for the news... the hubby is running 100 miles this weekend! We'll be venturing up to Staunton, VA where he'll take place in the 6th running of the Grindstone 100 (though, this is currently pending based on the outcome of the government shutdown). It starts 6pm Friday and I'll be crewing alongside 8 other friends, which means I might actually (hopefully) get some sleep through the night. I plan on running a portion of the final 50 miles with him, which will be good training for me as well. I'm pretty excited for him and to see a few other fellas from the VT Ultra Team dominate the race. They've been training hard!

Finally, without further ado:

I've been making my own almond butter for months now and quite simply it rocks! Much cheaper and more delicious than store bought, and you can flavor it however you want. I love Kroger's cinnamon roasted almonds so they're always central in my recipe. All you need is a food processor or high quality blender!


Ingredients:


1 lb bag cinnamon roasted almonds

1 lb bag cashews

1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

Directions:


Place ingredients in food processor and process for up to 5 minutes until smooth. If possible, drizzle the olive oil while the processor is running. Viola!


Better be prepared to eat some when you make this! It's best warm right after processing.


Enjoy!

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