Monday, September 29, 2014

Fueling Strategies for Endurance Athletes, Take 2 !

Last year I training for the Mtn Masochist 50 miler and learned a lot about fueling extreme long-runs in the process. This year has been a different type of training, but similar from a fueling standpoint. While building upon my fueling lessons from last year, I've learned a few new key strategies along the way. This year, I put a fueling plan in writing early in the season and have been tweaking it with each long training session. I have heard that the ironman can be a beast to fuel for and want to be as well-versed on my strategy as possible come race day.

About a month ago, I logged my longest ride for the year and kicked off some peak ironman training by participating in the Burke's Garden Century road ride. It was a LONG day on the saddle, 101 miles and just shy of 6 hrs, and the perfect opportunity to truly put my fueling plan to the test for such an extended time. Since then, I've successfully fueled a half-ironman distance triathlon and another long ride of 95 miles. I've learned a lot this season in terms of my personal fueling strategy and have been keeping careful notes. I've also learned a lot about the "little things" that can contribute to successful execution of fueling on race day. In doing so, I am more able to make concrete and productive changes with each challenging training season, and better understand how my body reacts to different fuel sources, at different levels of effort and in different weather conditions. Below are a few of the lessons I've learned this year.

  1. Fuel up prior! Start off on the right foot by topping off glycogen stores with a quality dinner/breakfast the night prior/morning of your long training session or race. Know what and how much works best for YOU. Not your best friend or training buddy, YOU. 

  2. "Train your gut" just as you train your muscles. The gut is highly adaptable, so one can train it to successfully tolerate more calories during intense exercise with plentiful practice.

  3. Concentrated fluid calories have their benefits. Fluid calories are easier for the GI tract to digest, which is particularly important when you're working hard and your body is sending its blood supplies to your legs, not your stomach. Fluid calories also means quality fuel + hydration in one swig. Win! 

  4. Fuel early and consistently. Set reminders if necessary. I have my GPS to ring out splits at a specific mileage interval as a reminder to fuel up every 15-20 minutes, rather than a big chunk of calories at the end of each hour.

  5. Varying flavors and textures are important to prevent flavor fatigue. Try to mix in at least one solid fuel source (granola bar, etc), something salty, a piece of fruit (I like bananas) to compliment fluid calories or gels. 

  6. Salt tabs are convenient for electrolyte replacement, but there are other resources available too! I've moved away from salt tabs (I used endurolytes) mainly because they were too difficult to keep track of and execute, and more often I forgot to take them leading to cramping. I now find ways to incorporate salt more naturally into the fuel I am already consuming: Pickle juice, mustard, miso or chicken broth are all great and aid in achieving #5. For ultramarathons, aid stations often have pretzels, chips and salted potatoes for sodium replacement.

  7. Don't forget protein! While carbohydrates are still your main fuel source, for prolonged exercise >2 hours duration the body begins to utilize protein to fulfill some of its energy needs. Without incorporating some protein into fueling these longer efforts, the body begins to breakdown lean muscle mass (nooo!!) resulting in increased fatigue and impaired protein.

  8. Medicate appropriately. NSAID's may be beneficial in pain relief for multi-hour races, but they also increase your risk of GI distress, particularly upper GI issues. And mixing NSAIDs with energy drinks (or or excessive caffeinated products) is a big no no!

  9. Convenience and simplicity are key in execution. This applies to both your fuel sources and how you choose to carry them. Too many different pieces to fit together and something will be forgotten or dropped. It's hard to remember all those little details when your brain is in racing mode, so aim to simplify!!! 

  10. Above all things, listen to your body! Following your "plan" to a T while ignoring signs from your body that something is off is not a great plan after all. The more you listen to subtle cues, the more easily you will be able to successfully adjust your overall fueling plan or make changes on the fly to find success. Have a back up plan for how you plan to react to challenges.

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 multi-sport races they could also be applied to other endurance sports.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Recipe: "Boston Bound" Breakfast Burritos

It's funny how things change.

When I first made these burritos with my mother-in-law last weekend, my husband was quick to declare "I don't like burritos." That's ok. I was not offended... that just meant more for me  :)

A few days later, he was late for a run, hungry, and desperate for something quick to grab. Like a good wife, I opened the freezer and pulled out two of these burritos. Burrito fan or not, it was his best option at the time and he grabbed it before rushing out the door. A few hours later, he was exclaiming just how much he loved the burritos. Can I say "I told you so" ?

On a very different note, a year ago after a week of anxiety and waiting, I received a dreaded rejection email from the organizers of the Boston Marathon. Needless to say, I was majorly bummed.

This year has been a little different. I re-qualified back in March at the Shamrock Marathon and then quickly moved on. It's been a season of focusing on other things, new and different athletic goals with little thought put towards that next marathon. When the time finally came for me to register for Boston, I whipped out my credit card, filled out the form and since then have had little time to perseverate on when I might receive notification or whether or not I would get in. Long before I filled out that application, I was at peace with the outcome, whether the cards fell in my favor or not. And so I told myself, if Boston 2015 didn't work out for me, I would be okay and move on to pursue other athletic goals and Boston would be there again the next year. Perspective is everything.

Long story short, and if you haven't already guessed by the title of this post, I am happy to report that two days ago I received the following email:

FINALLY, after a long road of chasing that qualification standard, come spring 2015 I will be running the Boston Marathon!!!! I am excited... maybe not so much about the marathon training through the winter part... but pumped to finally have the opportunity to toe the line and experience all that running Boston has to offer. Better yet, I am excited to be joined by my lovely husband, who also received official entry, and my parents and sister, who will be cheering for us from the sidelines.

That being said, I am packing up that sentiment and setting it neatly aside for a few months from now. After Beach 2 Battleship and after enjoying a quality off-season, then I will refocus my thoughts and energy on Boston. One goal at time and I still have plenty of work ahead of me right now. I've waited on Boston, so now Boston will just have to wait on me!

So what does this all have to do with burritos? Not much really ... but the name "Boston Bound Breakfast Burritos" certainly has a nice ring to it :) I have to say though, these burritos are warm and gooey and would make for a great recovery snack, especially after a chilly long run!! They are easy to batch cook, freeze, and then pull out when you're in need of quick meal. And what busy athlete doesn't like the sound of a quick, healthy, delicious meal?

Ingredients (per burrito)

1 Whole wheat tortilla wrap
1/4 c. Sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 c. Salsa (I prefer Newman's Own Black Bean & Corn salsa)
1 Scrambled Egg... or 1/5th pkg Firm Tofu, scrambled


Preheat your oven to 400 F. Meanwhile, warm a pan over medium heat and prepare with cooking spray. Add your eggs (or tofu) and scramble. I used 1 egg per wrap or 1/5th package tofu per wrap. Lay out each of your tortillas on foil or parchment paper. Once cooked, add your eggs/tofu to each wrap. Top with approximately cheese & salsa. Fold each and wrap tightly in your foil/parchment paper. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown and the cheese melts. I like to unwrap and place back into the oven and broil for ~1 minute for the final step. Allow the wraps to cool before consuming. If you plan to save a few, allow them to cool thoroughly, wrap in foil (if not already) and place in the freezer. These make for a great grab n' go breakfast (lunch, dinner or snack)! Reheat frozen burritos for 1.5 - 2 minutes before consuming.

Happy Friday, Happy Training & Happy Fueling!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Caution: Ironchick in Training

I saw this t-shirt design while browsing the web (you can buy it here) and the sentiment feels appropriate. This is coming from the girl who took (count it!) THREE naps yesterday after logging my longest training sessions of the season on Friday/Saturday:

Friday night: 3600 yrds swimming (1hr 10min)
Saturday: 95 mile ride + 4.75 mile run (6 hrs 40min)

Let's do some math: that's just shy of 8hrs of training in approximately 24 hrs. And I am wondering why I can't keep my eyes open?

For the next 3 weeks, this will be my world. For the past year, I've been wondering what "ironman training" truly feels like. What do the workouts look like? How will it feel? And the best question: What in the world will I EAT?

YES, totally true. Healthy(ish) food and chocolate preferred =)
While the training and workouts seem pretty straight forward on paper, in reality, it's not. As I learned this weekend while zig-zagging my way through the beautiful countryside, getting from point A to B is not always a linear process. There will be ups and downs, patches of rough road and tons of other obstacles along the way (like getting stung by hornets or chased by dogs, as also happened during my long ride). Success realistically involves rolling with the hills, using any downhill momentum to your advantage, toughing out the harder stretches, having a sense of humor and realizing it's all a part of the package deal and adventure that is reaching the finish line successfully.

36 days and counting until race day.
21 days of "peak" ironman training ahead.

Time to find out what this "ironman training" is all about!

Happy Monday!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Mantra: Love EVERY Single Part of YOUR Body

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for quite a while now and this weekend I finally took the time to insert some final thoughts. Body image is a big topic in today's world, and can be a tough area to navigate no matter your size, shape, fitness level or gender. 

A while back, I ran across this picture online of a street display in Toronto created to raise awareness of how the unrealistic images we see in media and advertising can affect the self-esteem of girls and women. Created by NEDIC - National Eating Disorder Information Centre of Canada, the display reads:

"For years, body image among girls and women has taken a hit from the beauty industry's ubiquitous message that 'skinny is hot' and any other look is 'not'. Now is your chance to send the beauty industry a message. If you think it's time fashion editors and lifestyle advertisers broadened their definition of beauty and inspired us with a range of different shapes and sizes, ditch one or all or your women's magazines through the slot on the other side of this transit shelter." 

What do you think? I agree that magazines (or the media in general) often contributes to struggles with self-esteem & weight. We are each uniquely made and, so why seek to recreating ourselves to attain the look of cover models? Instead, why not seek to be the BEST version of our own self?

As a young women, I am not far removed from college and high school and remember well the struggles I faced in the development of a positive body image and general self-esteem along the way. However, this is not a challenge just reserved for younger individuals, or females. We live in a world that is very "image" focused, and body talk is an every day occurrence in our society, no matter the age OR gender. We are often our own self-critic when it comes to this subject, yet I do think much of the struggle is perpetuated by a society that flaunts "skinny" as "powerful" or "beautiful," worships muscles and lean physiques and generally places a large emphasis on appearance. We are constantly bombarded by messages of "weight loss rules and tips," "how to be bikini ready by summer" or "how to detox from head to toe." With the rising popularity of social media outlets, it's becoming harder to avoid such messages and even more difficult to distinguish myth vs. fact when it comes to body appearance or what's considered "healthy" and "normal." It's overwhelming how much of the content on my pinterest feed now contains these types of messages:

I don't know about you, but I have enough on my plate and prefer to keep things simple:

Okay, it's easy to say "love your body" and be your own best friend when it comes to positive body image self-talk... but realistically, what does that truly look like? I think the journey is individual and lifelong, but it starts with loving and appreciating your body for what it is TODAY. Not tomorrow, not after losing 5 pounds, investing a few months into lifting at the gym or after buying a new wardrobe. TODAY!

Even those smelly athletic feet of mine. It's important to love those too.
For me personally, one of the biggest steps in loving my own body a little more was to put away the scale. We own a scale, and it sits in the closet, more often than not covered by a pile of dirty clothes. Every once in a while I'll pull it out and weight myself, but that has become less and less frequent. AS a result, my confidence in training, racing, or in day-to-day life has been removed from whether or not I'm at my self-determined "ideal weight." I recently had a long conversation with a fellow athlete-dietitian who has taken a similar approach. Sure, from a weight loss perspective the scale can provide beneficial objective feedback, but from a body-image standpoint, it only seems to fuel a cultural affixation on numbers rather than health.

Of course, what we eat is closely tied into this subject as well. Food sometimes equals stress because we worry about the consequences it might have on our appearance. That has always been part of the reasoning behind my blog title and motto: real food for fuel. Food is meant to be fuel and not the enemy. We are meant to nourish our body with nutrients rather than deprive ourselves of calories. Lately, I have found that since emphasis has been removed from weight, so has my concern with always eating "optimally" or healthy. To quote Julia Child: 

"Everything in moderation... including moderation."

Keep in mind that this is just my take on the issue, with the focus being on battling the messages we hear and see in the media and finding a more sustainable and healthy focus. I am not trying to say that a goal of weight loss is a bad thing. It's totally possible to love your body and strive for improvement at the same time. 

Just don't forget to love it above all things =D

Friday, September 12, 2014

Race Report: Patriot's Half Ironman

[Endurance: "the act of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way." Synonyms: tolerance, sufferance, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation]

If this past month has taught me anything, it has been the true meaning of endurance: Fortitude when life throws a few too many challenges my direction once. Picking myself back up time and time again and choosing to continue to press forward. Battling negativity, exhaustion, tears, the desire to quit, and in the process, tapping into strength reserves I never knew I had. Going into this past weekend, I really had no time to for my typical pre-race nerves. I was too busy battling the compounding stressors that had been beating me down emotionally and mentally to the point of shear exhaustion.

Yet somehow, when I found myself standing on the starting line of the Patriot's Half this past Saturday, I was calm, relaxed and smiling. While the 6 hr drive to get to the race site was not the most desirable, a big part of me knew it would be beneficial to get out of town. I napped almost the entire drive, trying to not think about the inevitable challenge weather would present with highs predicted about 95 for race day, or how mentally tired I was, or how a big part of me wished this race would just go away. Deep down I know I was excited and wanted to race, otherwise I would have just stayed home.

I considered getting to the starting line a major victory... and what happened afterward didn't really seem to matter anymore.  Faith is the belief in things unseen, and despite struggling mentally and emotionally in many workouts building into this race, I had faith in my training and knew things would somehow work out just fine (One of the many perks of having a coach :)

Trying on my race belt.
As I set up my transition area, I took time to reflect on being thankful for the opportunity to race, regardless of the circumstances leading up to it. I reminded myself (time and time again) that I don't have to feel perfectly prepared or have a "perfect" race. This was not an "A" race for me, but instead, a stepping stone towards bigger things, higher priorities. "Patience, pacing, fueling, have fun." Those were coach's instructions, and the true goals of the day.

It was a beautiful morning!
Some pre-race chit chat with my neighbor, Sarah, who happened to be working the race.

I walked into the water of the James River just a few minutes prior to the race start and scanned the horizon to check out the position of the various buoys. At that point, I realized I had no clue which way we were actually swimming and turned to ask a fellow racer about the swim course. Lol. I'm glad I did, as it had definitely changed from previous years.

The thought of completing a half ironman, even with plenty of training under my belt, was a bit overwhelming. Training in each of the three disciplines, no problem. Piecing them all together successfully is another story! I am thankful I chose to prioritize my mental an physical energy by not worrying about the swim. It was definitely a challenge with the choppy water and strong current, and I worked hard, but I also took a few moments throughout to enjoy the coolness of the water and the view of the sun reflecting over the water and shoreline. I took a lot of mental snapshots while focusing on my quick strokes, swimming straight for each buoy and staying near the packs of racers. Before I knew it, I had made the final turn home and was running out of the water. First leg of the race, complete!

After a quick(ish) transition, I hopped on the bike, took a deep breath and reminded myself to stay relaxed as I settled into covering the 58 miles of open road that was ahead of me.

It's easy to get caught up in a web of negativity focusing on areas of weakness or the many things that could potentially go "wrong." I've been there many times before. One of my major victories in this race was my ability to set aside those insecurities and focus on my strengths. This season, I have continually tweaked my fueling strategy so as to optimize energy and hydration levels, adequately replenish sodium to prevent cramping, and appropriately time intakes to prevent GI issues. It's been a fun, personal "science" experiment for me. I knew with the conditions, fueling appropriately could make a huge difference, and I focused on careful execution of my nutrition plan. Fueling consistently on the bike was key, as I knew this would be critical in setting myself up for a successful run.

Finishing up the bike.
It's amazing how when you find your "zone," the miles just fly by. I remember a few patches of really bumpy road, pretending I was riding a roller coaster one of the few down hills, and spending a fair amount of time in deep thought. As I approached the last few miles, I took time to stretch out my legs and get in some last minute fuel. I definitely would have been happy to have been done with this race after the bike leg, and I'm positive I was not the only racer to feel that way... It was going to be a HOT run.

First mile of the run. I ran in my new(ish) Hoka road shoes, which I LOVE!
I made my transition quick and hit the road for the final leg of the race. My legs felt great from the get-go and I was cautiously hitting the breaks during the first 2-3 miles. I passed another female racer around mile two and she told me there were potentially 6-7 other females ahead of me. Since I had seen very few females throughout the entire duration of the bike, I really had no clue as to my overall placing (nor did I really care at that point... I just wanted to finish).

After mile 4, it became a game of survival and consistent movement. My body was feeling the heat and my pace slowed, but I focused on being (mostly) positive, making forward progress and staying hydrated. I picked off racers one by one which definitely helped the miles to pass a little more quickly. For a while, all I thought about was taking a nap or lying in a pool of ice water...and one point, I became overwhelmed by the difficulty and distance remaining and spent about 5 seconds sobbing before nixing it and pulling myself together. Yep. That's long distance racing at its best! Aid stations were definitely key in this run and I used every single one, whether to drink, pour water over my head or grab a wet rag. The aid station volunteers were stellar and I can't thank them enough!!

Blowing kisses to my support crew-Dad & Hubby- at mile 7 
When one chooses to tackle these longer distance races, it's important to know why. I've had more than enough time spent over the past month thinking about these things. What fuels me? Why endure the pain, the fatigue and the stress that training and racing can inevitably present? Why get out of bed extra early, to jump in a pool of cold water (I hate cold water!), when I know I have a long day of work ahead?

I can't really answer those questions. All I know is for some strange reason, I am compelled to stand on the starting line of this upcoming ironman, which is now only 46 days away. Of all the obstacles I've encountered in training, of all the excuses and reasons I've come up with to not do it, none have held weight. Even on the days I've spent in tears from being worn down mentally, physically and emotionally and wanting to quit, I could not find the courage to walk away. A huge lesson I have learned in the process: when it comes to pushing limits and stepping outside ones' comfort zone, things have the potential to get messy. And that's where real life lessons are found. Setbacks and failure happen...and that's ok, because they are an impetus for growth. If things always went perfectly according to plan, would they be as rewarding? Probably not.

Approaching the finish...FINALLY :)
5 hours, 43 minutes is what it took me to finish the Patriot's Half. Technically, not even a "PR," and a far cry from my original time goal for the distance, but still a race that I am very proud of. Not because I took home the honors of 5th place overall female, 1st place female age 25-29, 3rd fastest female run split. All are great stats and great indicators that months of hard work and dedication to training are paying off. Yet, when I think back on this race, it's not the objective measures of success that come to mind. Rather, I am relishing in the many other victories that were found in the process of getting to the starting (and finish) line and the people who have supported me along the way. I have a wonderful support crew and am beyond blessed.

This past week, I have been living in a world of post-race bliss. It's a wonderful feeling! While covering the 70.3 distance was a vital stepping stone in my training towards the REAL deal, the take away lessons from this race have helped me to put the challenges and obstacles of this season in perspective and to boost my confidence for what's to come. Now that this race is behind me, I am confident that one way or another, on October 25th, I will find myself at the finish line of the Beach 2 Battleship Full. Not because I am "tough" or "fierce" as people have said, or because I am hard headed and stubborn, or for some odd reason think workouts that call for "100 miles of riding followed by 40 minutes of running" sound intriguing, fun and wonderful. Likely because, while I know many challenges still lie ahead of me, I now have confidence and faith in my ability to overcome them. I am grateful for the opportunity to toe the starting line, and at peace with whatever my race day outcome may be.

Running, biking, swimming... most days I love each for unique reasons, and some days I grumble each step of the way. Deep down, I know that health and fitness is a precious gift not to be taken for granted, and that days of struggle make the days of elation and joy that much better. Appreciation, passion, determination... FAITH... refusing to settle for the status quo. That is what comes to mind when the going gets tough and I make a conscious choice to press on. And being stubborn. Yep, that too :)

Thanks for reading!

"When things are tough, you get tougher"
 ~ Chrissie Wellington

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