Monday, May 25, 2015

Are You Fed Up?

You really should be fed up with the obesity epidemic that is gripping North America. You really should be fed up with the way our elected government officials, both liberal and conservative, are bowing down to the big food companies and hiding the true dangers of excess sugar intake.

There is big money in processed foods, especially the fast food and soda pop industries, and the documentary Fed Up exposes the big, sugar coated, cover up. I highly recommend watching it, but be prepared to be challenged and outrage by what you see.

I'm not ready to give up sugar in all of its forms, but soda pop is definitely one I do not miss -- I gave it up over a year ago, and will not ever go back on that wagon. I am willing to make the bold statement that sugary drinks, including fruit juice, are the largest contributors to the obesity epidemic in North America. Yes, even 100% fruit juice is a contributing factor.

Of course we should not confuse whole fruit with fruit juice -- whole fruit is actually a form of sugar we should be trying to eat more of, since our bodies can handle the sugar and fiber together. It's when we remove the fiber, and process the sugars that our bodies can't handle the onslaught of sweetness -- it doesn't matter if it's High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), granulated sugar, raw sugar, or fruit juice.

The one point from this documentary that really resonated with me is the fact that big food has prevented the FDA from requiring food labels to list sugar content in the form of a percentage. All foods list the total grams of sugar per serving, but you will not find what percent of the recommended daily allowance that makes up. If most of us were to actually pay attention to those numbers, I think we would probably put a lot of the foods back on the shelves and not in our carts.

Most organizations that are genuinely interested in health recommend that a maximum of 10% of your daily caloric intake come from sugar. That means that for an adult male with a recommendation of a 2000 calorie diet, the maximum intake from sugar per day should be 200 calories, or 50 grams. To find the percentage, just look at the food label and muliply the grams of sugar by 2, and that is the percentage.
For example, the imitation maple syrup (that I'm ashamed to admit lives in our pantry) has 44 grams of sugar in a 1/4 cup serving; which means one serving contains 88% of your recommended daily allotment of sugar. A 12-oz. can of Pepsi has 41 grams of sugar, or 82% of your RDA. So a small amount of syrup at breakfast and one can of pop at lunch puts you at 170% of your daily allowance. Incidentally the real maple syrup has 50 grams of sugar per 1/4 cup serving, but at least it's not HFCS, right?

Throw in everything else in a typical American diet that has sugar added to it, and it's not hard to see how easily our diets end up containing 300-400% of the sugar we should be ingesting. It made me go through my pantry with a Sharpie and convert all the sugar content into percentage, just so I have a better idea of how much I'm eating.

Now, I'm not ready to give up the 3 teaspoons of raw sugar I have in my coffee every morning, but I am willing to look at how much I take in throughout the day, and continue cutting back if needed. There are 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon, so that puts me at 12% of my allotted intake right at the start of the day, but if I can keep the rest of the day under control, I'm fine with that.

ARE YOU FED UP? Watch the documentary, and make changes in your own life.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Two Weeks of Faster Running, But Why?

In the few weeks since running the Volcano Half, I have been able to put together a nice string of training runs, with personal records (PR’s) set on several occasions within that time-frame, at distances ranging from 4 to 9+ miles. So why the sudden onslaught of faster runs? I wish I had a definite answer to that question, but all I have is theories…

After finishing the half marathon, I set two goals for my next race of that distance: finish faster, and finish stronger. In my research of how to accomplish these two goals, the common suggestion for both was strength training. I had been doing push-ups and sit-ups fairly regularly, but that was the extent of my strength workout. You would think that running would strengthen leg muscles on its own, but the consensus opinion is that running simply isn’t enough – so I had to come up with ways to better strengthen my legs and my core, and joining a gym or CrossFit group was not an option.

I came up with the following routine utilizing body-weight or light free weights, repeating 3 times:

  • Calf raises on a piece of 2x4 (eventually with added free weights)
  • Bicep curls, with free weights
  • Normal slow crunches and/or bicycle crunches
  • Bodyweight squats, with added free weights
  • Push-ups (alternating triceps push-ups)
  • Lunges, with free weights
  • Triceps curls, with free weights
  • Torso twists, with free weights
  • Forearm curls
  • Planks

I have not yet found time to do this more than once or twice a week, but I think it’s already helping my running times. I know from past weight-lifting experience that strength training can help endurance as well as actual strength, so I’m hopeful that I will be able to perform better at my next half at the end of August.

An additional benefit to the added strength training has been stronger muscles and tendons in my feet – which means greatly reduced arch pain, even with the faster pace. This factor alone is sure to shave a few seconds per mile off my run time. If I can make it through 9.5 miles with zero pain in my foot, then I can go all out at the end without feeling the need to nurse my stride.

While researching ways to improve running times, I also found considerable support for not stretching at all before a run, but instead warming up with a 5 to 10 minute walk, which is something I do anyway. I had been stretching both before and after my runs, but read that stretching cold could actually put extra strain on the muscles and lead to injury. So, the other change I made was eliminating pre-run stretching – now it’s just a warm-up walk, and stretches after the run.

The other option is that all the training I’ve been doing the past few months is contributing to a faster pace, but as stated above, running on its own isn’t a reliable way to strengthen leg muscles, so I really don’t think this is the case.

At this point these two tweaks seem to be making a difference, so I plan to continue in the foreseeable future. 

What strength training exercises do you regularly do? If you run, what have you done to help you run faster?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Product Review: Nathan QuickShot Plus Insulated Flask

Staying hydrated is a vitally important task for anyone engaging in prolonged physical exercise. With most organized road races, there are hydration stations set up periodically throughout the course, so it's easy get your water or sports drink fix. But with longer training runs, or shorter runs on hot days, staying hydrated means carrying water with you, or planting water bottles along your route.

Hiding water bottles ahead of time is not an option with the route I typically run, so I decided to give the Nathan QuickShot Plus Insulated Flask (pictured above) a try, since I like the idea of being able to strap it to my hand instead of physically holding the bottle. One nice feature about this strap is the hole at the top which allows your thumb to fit through -- it really makes it easy to strap to your hand and forget about (almost). 

The reflective, insulated bottle holds 8-oz. of water, and the small zippered pouch is large enough for about two energy packs, Kleenex, and a few pieces of ID -- there's even a tighter fitting netting pocket that holds credit cards, etc. There is velcro at the bottom of the strap that allows for adjustment, so it will fit different sized hands. 

I do find that I need to move the bottle from my right hand to my left hand after about 5-miles to change things up, but after about a minute I usually switch it back -- and repeat every few miles after that. Some people may never be able to get used to it, so before you purchase one, you may want to try carrying a similarly sized item in your hand during a run and see if you resist the urge to throw it into the weeds.

After a month of extensive use, including two 13.1 mile runs, I can find no faults with the product itself -- it does everything as advertised. It doesn't leak, the zipper pouch is easy to access on the move, and it's easy to get the right fit on your hand. The only real question is whether or not 8-oz. of water is enough for your individual needs.

On my initial 13.1 mile run using this product, temperatures were quite cool, with a pretty good downpour of rain midway through; so the capacity was more than adequate. It was also up to task for the 8.5 mile run I did in warmer weather a week before the Volcano Half -- and in both of those cases I downed a single Honey Stinger packet midway through the run. 

On the day of the actual Volcano Half, temps started to climb into the upper-60's with full sunshine, by halfway through the race; and I definitely had to rely on the hydration stations on the course -- I would have needed to rely on them even more if I had decided to take two of the Honey Stinger packets during the race, as each packet needs to be ingested with a few decent gulps of water. 

I would recommend an alternative source of hydration if doing longer training runs during warm weather conditions, or for any hydration-supported road races longer than 13.1 miles. Other than those exceptions, I am very happy with my QuickShot Plus, and would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Journey, Captured In One Image

I'm not proud of this photo. I really wish I would have seen the camera so I could have smiled. But I feel this photo accurately sums up my journey to this point, in all of its brutal honesty; so I will post it anyway.

This is what sheer willpower, grit, and determination look like. It isn't pretty. It isn't glamorous. But it is who I am.

12.5 miles into a 13.1 mile race, on an uphill grade, fighting off leg cramps and nausea. Despite the pain I was feeling at that moment, there's nothing that could have stopped me from reaching the finish line. Looking back from the other side, it was all worth it!

As I post here and on social media, I hope that those reading realize that I post not to boast or brag about anything that I have done (this photo should be sufficient evidence of that), but that I post to create a public journal of my progress; and hopefully show that if I can do this, anyone can do it! The journey isn't always going to be easy and fun, but I can guarantee that there will be satisfaction as you reach your goals.

I make no claims that I am somehow doing something extraordinary on my own, but daily ask God to give me strength to continue down this difficult path of healthy living. He has blessed me with resilience which has allowed me to stay the course through pain and bad weather, and for that He deserves all the glory, not me! I'm just a slow runner who has managed to shed a few pounds... and build up enough endurance to complete a half marathon -- there's nothing boast-worthy about in that.

[Edit: I was just looking over the final results, and they list my average pace at 9:33.8 per mile -- no wonder I was exhausted! My previous PR at 13.1 was 9:50 pace! With a total time of 2:07:57, that puts the volcano course at 13.38 miles longAfter alerting race officials to the error, they have since recalculated, and my pace was what I had originally figured: 9:46 per mile (still a PR).]

By the way, this photo was taken by GCC Photography, the official photographer for many Run With Paula events.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

2015 Volcano Half Marathon... I did it!

I have finished my second official race, The Volcano Half Marathon!

And here's my second official race photo... no finish line shot, unless the race organizers got one. I was sore, tired, hungry, and thirsty; but glad to be on the other side of that finish line! 

Edit: Race results are now in, and I did indeed set a PR for this distance! My final time was 2:07:57, and they have my pace at 9:33.8 per mile -- no wonder I was exhausted! My previous PR at 13.1 was 9:50 pace! That puts the volcano course at 13.38 miles long After alerting race officials to the error, they have since recalculated, and my pace was what I had originally figured: 9:46 per mile (still a PR).

I don't have official race results yet, but based on my RunKeeper app, I should have set a PR (by about 3 seconds per mile). While my overall pace was better, I think the change in routine and crazy early wake-up helped contribute to approaching the dreaded "wall" once again. I also may have pushed it too hard on mile 11, as that was my best mile of the entire run -- which led to me fighting off leg cramps and the feeling that I was going to toss my bananas on mile 13 -- which ended up being my slowest mile of the run.

The course was gorgeous, meandering through Oregon farmland, and there were spots where I felt like raising my arms and letting out a "woo-hoo!" roughly half way through -- but the last mile was hell.

But I got 'er done, so I won't complain too much. 

I'm pretty sure I'll do another one, possibly at the end of the summer... but I'll wait and see how I feel on Monday before I sign up for it. Monday edit: Signed up. :-)

All day long... barely!