Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Race Day Do Overs

Have you ever run a race and wished you could have a do-over? I think all runners have those wishes every now and then, which is why we often run the same races over and over! And if we want a race day do-over, we often want a training do-over as well. Perhaps this is why it's the topic for this week's Tuesday on the Run blog link up, hosted by My No-Guilt LifeMCM Mama Runs and Marcia's Healthy Slice. When you're done reading here, go check them out!

I have to say that I would love a race day do-over for my big race of this year, the Cuyamaca 100K. But it isn't necessarily because I want to change my training or I did something wrong. In fact, I think my training went as well as it could, under the circumstances. If you read my race recap, you know that I've been dealing with some health issues. And those health issues really prevented me from running the way I would like. I mean, I got as many miles and training races in as I could but I wish I could have run all of them feeling good and not feeling the way that I did most of the time. I wish I could have run the race feeling good as well (well, as good as one does when running 63 miles at a time). But I think I had the best result I could have asked for: I finished. That's what counts. Does all of this mean I want to run the race again? Not really. I have my eyes on a bigger prize and hopefully I won't need to run this race again to achieve it :)

As for races where I clearly messed up? Yeah, I have those too. When I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon 800 years ago, I was fairly new to marathoning. This was marathon #3 for me and I just still didn't know what would work for me nutritionally. After I had my first baby, my body did not metabolize sugar very efficiently and I had major stomach issues while on the run. This was my second marathon after having my son and I just didn't know what would work for me. I didn't spend enough time on any one product to know what worked (I did learn the hard way what didn't work). Needless to say, I spent the entire 26.2 miles running through the parks of Disney World to find the nearest bathroom. It was not pretty. Thankfully that hasn't happened since then, though I am still plagued with issues from time to time. But not sure I'd want a do-over of WDW Marathon. Maybe if I went with a big group of friends and we did the Dopey Challenge. Gotta make it worth the trip :)

Do you have a race and/or training do-over? What would you do differently?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fool-proof pumpkin purée in 10 easy steps!

Now that pumpkin season is in full swing, you may be wondering what to do with all those pumpkins. Have you ever made your own pumpkin purée? It's actually really easy. If you've made any type of squash before, you can make fresh pumpkin purée too. Any pumpkin will do as most of us carve the big pumpkins for Halloween, the baby ones are left to sit and rot. Instead of letting them rot, cut them open and roast those babies!

You know I love me some pumpkin. It is one of those "superfoods" no one eats unless it's in pie form or processed syrup added to coffee. But the real stuff is loaded with so many vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants and cholesterol-busting phytosterols, it's a shame to let all that clean goodness rot on your front porch. Just think of all that vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, beta-carotene and protein going to waste! And your pies, muffins, hummus, pudding, etc., will taste SO much better with the real thing vs. canned purée (even organic canned pumpkin). In fact, I added some to my chili recipe for this evening. If it's a hit, I'll be sure to post!

Here's a fool-proof way to purée your pumpkin in 10 easy steps!

1. Preheat your oven to 350.

2. Start with a pumpkin of any size, though the smaller the pumpkin, the easier to manage. However, size is important if you need a ton of puréed pumpkin ;)

3. Cut off the tops of your pumpkins. Then cut in half, revealing those little nutritional powerhouses (aka, pumpkin seeds). As you can see, all you need is a good, sharp knife. No special tools required to saw through the pumpkin.

4. Scoop out the seeds and the stringy pulp and place in a bowl. You can roast the seeds later.

5. Cut the scooped-out pumpkin into quarters and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

6. Bake for about 45-60 minutes depending on the size and amount of your pumpkin. The pumpkin should be fork-tender when done.

7. Once the pumpkin pieces are cooled, scrape the pumpkin meat from the skin and place in either a high-speed blender or the bowl of a food processor.

8. Depending on the water content of your pumpkin, you may not need to add any water to the blender/food processor before blending. I did not need to, however, you may want to have some filtered water at the ready while you're blending your pumpkin. If you need to, add about 1 tbs of water at a time while blending to get the purée consistency you'd like.

9. If you're not using up all of your purée immediately, you can store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for about a week.

10. If you have some puree you know you're not going to use right away, you can freeze it. Place the puree in a freezer bag. Smush it down, letting out some of the air, when sealing it. It can be stored in the freezer for about 3 months.

Have you ever made your own pumpkin purée? What's your favorite way to use pumpkin?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Strength All Runners Should Do - Squats

Strength training is one of the most important non-running aspects of training that can help you become a better runner. It not only builds muscle strength and muscle mass, but it also protects your musco-skeletal system from injury. Add running-specific strength training exercises to your running routine and you’ll become a stronger, faster, more complete runner for it. Over the course of the next several weeks, I'll present several basic strength moves every runner should be doing. Most will be body-weight resistance moves that can be done anywhere, with little-to-no equipment. Always start with the basic move, without added weight and master it before moving onto a more challenging move.

Here's the most important move you can add to your training: THE SQUAT

Squats are something we do every day. Every time you sit down in a chair, on the couch or on the toilet, you're performing a squat. It is the most functional and most used of all strength training exercises, yet most people end up squatting either incorrectly or inefficiently. Here's a run-down of how you should squat.

Stand with your feet hip distance apart with your toes facing forward. You should pay attention to the alignment of the spine. Ears should be over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees.

Sit back like you are sitting in a chair behind you without allowing your knees to drift in front of your toes. Basically, the first things to move should be your hips moving back towards that imaginary chair. Once your hips start moving back and your torso hinges forward, then your knees begin to bend. This helps prevent your knees from bending too far forward, placing pressure on the joints. This is also overuses the quads and underuses the glutes and hamstrings, contributing to muscle imbalances. Be careful not to arch your back. As you squat down, your weight should be in your heels, not in your toes. This will help engage your hamstrings and glutes and not overwork your quads. 

Sit back until you feel your glutes, quads and hamstrings engage (about a 90 degree angle in your knees or more depending on the range of motion of your hips and knees) and come back up to standing, fully extending the hips open (starting position). Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions as part of your regular strength training routine, adding weight when this becomes easy.

A variation I often give to my runners is a squat with an overhead reach. I get a lot of runners often complaining of soreness in the upper back after an especially hard or long run. This is actually fairly common for runners. It is related to a number of things, one being our posture. When we get tired, we tend to one of two things: slouch (collapsing at the core and jutting the head out) or hyperextend the back (arching the back and jutting the head out). Either way, this puts a lot of pressure on the back and neck. It's important to strengthen the muscles of the upper back: the lower and mid trapezius muscles and the rhomboid muscles, along the spine at the base of the neck. Strengthening the entire core (both the front and the back) will also help keep our posture upright as we get tired. Here's a squat variation to help combat this upper back weakness:

Begin with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointed ahead. Keeping your weight in your heels, and sit back into your deep squat, as described above. Make sure your knees do not go beyond your toes. Holding your squat, raise both of your arms overhead. Make sure you’re not arching your back as you raise arms overhead. You also don't want to jut your head forward but keep your ears in line with your arms. Return to standing while lowering your arms to your sides. That's one rep. Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps as part of your regular strength-training routine. When this move is mastered, you can add some dumbbells for added resistance.

Other squatting variations include split squats, sumo squats, single-leg squats and so many more. Be sure you've mastered the initial squat before adding weight or going to single leg. 

What's your favorite way to squat?

I'm linking up with Susie from the Suzlyfe, Lora Marie from Crazy Running Girl, Debbie from Coach Debbie Runs and Rachel from Running on Happy for the Coaches' Corner blog link up. Check these awesome ladies when you're done here!

Monday, October 17, 2016

2016 Cuymaca 100K Race Recap

I am proud to be able to say that I finished the Cuyamaca 100K on October 1st. It was by far the hardest race I've ever run and not only because it was the longest. The course is tough, I had some equipment issues and both my body and spirits took a nosedive along the way. But we finished and that's the important thing!!

We've basically been training for this race most of the year. We registered back in March. In fact, I was in Long Beach with my son the day registration opened and my husband had to register for me so I wouldn't lose my spot. So, we knew about this race for 6 months and most of my focus went into training for it. Upping the miles, upping the strength and balance work and devoting everything I had for this race. Because, in deciding to run this race, we basically decided to do the San Diego Slam. The Slam consists of the 4 major mountain ultras in San Diego County: Noble Canyon 50K, Cuyamaca 100K, PCT 50 Mile and the San Diego 100 Mile. We are half-way through and here's hoping we'll complete it next year!

Pretty soon after we registered for Cuyamaca, I started having some weird health issues. Because of training, work, kids, etc., I didn't really take the time I needed to have things checked out until it was time for my annual check up in July. I found out the symptoms I've been having were related to my pregnancy with my twins. It is a long story but I went through a lot to have those girls as my body does not love being pregnant. I have no problem getting pregnant but staying pregnant has always been an issue. I thought I was done with this crap when they were born healthy in 2011 but apparently not. The sutures that were sewn into my uterus and cervix to keep the babies inside of me were eroding the tissues and ripping apart. They should have been taken out when the girls were born but we were told we didn't need to. My body started to basically deteriorate internally and running these long distances was making it worse. I buried my head in the sand a little because I was just so freaking mad that we didn't have this taken care of 5 years ago. I was worried about losing time off work, worried about how I was going to take care of my kids and, if I'm being completely honest, worried about whether or not I'd get to run this race. So I put it off a little and when I realized I was being stupid, that I could make everything a thousand times worse by not having it taken care of, I saw the doctor and scheduled the surgery. And when I found out it would be AFTER my race, I was secretly relieved but also terrified that I still wouldn't be able to physically handle the race.

Well, somehow, I managed to get to race day. That whole week leading up to the race was incredibly busy, which was actually helpful in that I didn't have time to obsess over it. Before I knew it, it was Friday night and I was in the car with Vanessa, heading to Pine Valley. We got there fairly quickly, checked into the hotel and headed to our beloved Calvin's for a burger and fries. Then it was time for sleep as we had an early wake up call!

Race morning began at 4:15am and I actually slept fairly well the night before! Feeling a little jittery, we both got ready and headed to Camp Cuyamaca, where the race starts and finishes. We were in good spirits, albeit a little nervous. But when we got there, we checked in, saw several friends and just waited until it was go-time!

Race start and all the gear: Headsweats hat, InknBurn outfit,
Orange Mud pack, Altra Running Olympus shoes and Dirty Girl Gaiters

The race is run in 3 loops through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, only slightly leaving the park boundaries in loop 3. Loop 1 is the toughest in terms of mileage (it's 32.3 miles) and climbing (you climb Cuyamaca Peak which is at 6500 feet elevation). In addition to all of that, there were sections of trail that were less trail and more boulders. I have never run through a more technically rocky trail in my life. But all things considered, I would say this was the best loop for us. We were happy and singing as usual, enjoying the scenery and letting it soak in that we were actually finally running the race we'd been focusing on for so long. At the second aid station, I was yelled at a little by a friend who was volunteering. I wasn't hydrating enough and he made me promise I'd drink my entire hydration reservoir by the next aid station (which was in 9 miles). I agreed and on we went. In those 9 miles, we climbed Cuyamaca Peak and I have to say, I felt pretty good at this point. I was happy and feeling that we were on track for a good finish. But in my zest for finishing my hydration pack (which I did), I bit a hole in the mouthpiece of the tube. My fluids were leaking all over me and I was soaking wet. This would become an issue later in the race, for sure.

Finally, we finished the first loop. We were so happy to be done with that beast. We were halfway through the race and ready to take on Loop 2. We filled up, ate up and headed out.

All smiles after Loop 1

We knew Loop 2 would be challenging as it was now the hottest time of the day and while it was the shortest of the 3 loops (12.6 miles) there would still be some climbing. This all slowed us down some and by the time we finished Loop 2, we were both pretty down in the dumps. My health issues started to rear their ugly head and I felt awful. Vanessa was also having an off day and we just wanted to be done. We got to the loop exchange aid station where we met up with our friend Smitha, who was running the last loop with us. At this time, I filled up, ate some of the hot veggie soup with noodles and changed into some dry clothes (remember, leaking hydration tube). I was starting to get very worried that we weren't going to make the cutoff. After rushing through the aid station, we headed out for Loop 3.

By the time we started Loop 3, it was dark. Headlamps were on and we were pushing through the fear of critters in the dark to get through the 18.3 miles that were ahead for us. But once that sun went down, I was freezing. Even though I changed into dry clothes, my hydration tube was still leaking and I was soaking wet again. Not a good thing when the sun goes down. The winds picked up and that temperature dropped and I was a goner. I had a jacket but in my rush in getting out of the aid station, I forgot my gloves in my drop bag. Thankfully Vanessa lent me her gloves and she used her arm warmers (THANK YOU, sister). After what seemed like an eternity, we got to the first aid station. More hot vegetable soup and noodles and then off we went. We basically just went into survival mode. Smitha led with her bright lights, Vanessa was in the middle and I was in the back. All I needed to do was focus on Smitha's Orange Mud pack as it was lit by Vanessa's light. It was my beacon! We were the Little Engine That Could. We just chugged along, said very little and kept moving as quickly as we could. Aside from my health issues, my feet were burning with blisters. Every step of that very rocky trail sent burning sensations up my legs. I was miserable. We got to the last aid station and learned there was only one person left behind us. There were people still dropping from the race after getting this far. It took everything I had to not be one of them.

The last 6 miles from the last aid station to the finish felt like a marathon. I was shaking with cold, my feet were like stumps and I just couldn't visualize the finish line ever appearing. At mile 58 my Garmin died and that made it really difficult to mentally deal with the end of the race. Not knowing how much we had left was excruciating. Some time after that, the last person passed us (seemingly skipping along, light as air). We were running with another runner, Jeff, who was also in the same mental and physical toilet as we were. He did not finish last year and he was giving it his all to finish this year. Shortly after the last person passed us, the race sweepers joined us. They were happy and positive and kept the conversation going (granted, I can't remember what we talked about). I was audibly shivering to death and one of the sweepers gave me his extra gloves and jacket. Man, did he save me. But then my headlamp died. I had an extra one in my pack but I didn't have the energy to get it. Thankfully the sweeper turned his head so his headlamp was in my line of vision. He saved me yet again.

Finally we saw the "final mile" sign. We hunkered down and somehow got through what felt like the longest mile of my life. And there is was: the finish. Vanessa and I linked arms and we finished side by side, just how we have been through all of our training. I was too cold to cry or laugh or even soak anything in. We were last and they presented us with a bottle of champagne and hat. We gave Jeff the champagne since he didn't finish last year. After some pics, I was brought inside the camp to sit by the fire and warm up while Vanessa and Smitha got the car. The volunteers in there gave me some food, gave me blankets and jackets to help warm me and just really lifted my spirits. It finally sunk in that I was done and, if all goes as planned, I'll never have to do this race again!! Man, I hope so.

Finished! I barely remember taking this picture!

The fire that brought me back to life!

All hideousness aside, this was an extremely well-organized race. The course was extremely well marked, the aid stations were well stocked with every food item you could want (I now only want to run with Fritos, pickles and vegetable soup with noodles) and amazing volunteers that were supportive and motivating. The medals are great and we also received a long-sleeved shirt, hat and arm warmers for our race swag. If it wasn't such a tough course, I'd immediately say I'd do it again :)

Thank you for hanging and getting through this 100K of a recap. Thank you for being along for the ride. Thank you to Vanessa for always being by my side and going through this crazy stuff with me, Smitha for guiding us home, to the race organizers and volunteers (especially those sweepers) and to all my friends and family for your support in getting me to that finish line.

So that's a wrap on 2016 goals. I have no other races lined up for the year and the only thing on my training plan is to recover from surgery (it was this past Monday, 10/10). Now that I've come out of the week-long anesthesia fog and the majority of the pain, I can focus on getting better. Still dealing with some pain and discomfort but I think I'll be out and about soon. Maybe not running but at least moving forward :)

What do you have left for 2016? Remaining goals for 2016 are the topic of this week's Tuesday on the Run blog link up, hosted by My No-Guilt Life, MCM Mama Runs and Marcia's Healthy Slice. When you're done reading here, go check them out!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dealing with Post-Race Blues

This past weekend was my big goal race for 2016: the Cuyamaca 100K. It was a beast of a race but I finished and I'm happy with that. I'll have a race recap soon, but I first wanted to talk about something many runners experience: the post-race blues. This is when you run your big race and afterward you feel sort of depressed and lost. If you think about it, it makes sense. You spend all this time and energy on this big event for weeks and months. You literally spend hours and hours planning, running, maybe traveling to get there, agonizing over details. Then it arrives. You run. Maybe you finish well and reach whatever goal you may have for the race, maybe you don't. Not reaching your goals can be devastating. And even if you do reach your goals, you may still feel let down at the end because the focus of your time and energy is over. You're left feeling, "well, now what?"

Before I continue, I'm linking up with the Friday Five link up hosted by Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What and Mar at Mar on the Run. Be sure to check them out when you're done reading here!

I have to admit, I only sort of have the blues. I am happy that I have a bit of a break from running but I do feel a little aimless as I don't really know what I'm doing for the foreseeable future. I have some health stuff I need to take care of so that is my top priority right now and I won't be able to run for some time. But once I'm recovered, I'm just going to see what happens. So, in the meantime, here's how I like to deal with the post-race blues:

1. Revel in the recovery. You worked hard for this. You busted your butt every single week for months to get to your race. Early mornings. Late nights. Dedication is exhausting. Take the time you need to rest up and recover from your race. There are differing theories on how much time you need to recover but a good rule of thumb is at least a few days to a couple of weeks off after your run, depending on the distance you ran, how hard you raced and how you feel. You can run/walk or just walk in that time but I wouldn't do any real training. The time immediately following a tough race effort is prime time for getting hurt if you don't take the time to rest and recover. You've earned it, now enjoy it.

2. Try something new. If you are taking a little break from running, this is a great time to try something new or re-ignite your love for something else. Cross training is also a great way to recover because you are moving your body in a different way than when running. You are also taking a break from the impact your body endures when pounding the pavement. Your body will thank you for giving it a chance to move in different ways. I can't wait to get back on my yoga mat!

3. Volunteer and/or spectate a race. Since I know I'll be taking a break from running for a bit, that doesn't mean I need to take a break from races. I plan on volunteering and spectating during this time. It's a great way to be a part of the community as well as remind me why I love this sport.

4. Spend time with running friends doing non-running things. Who says you can only see your running buddies on the run? Go out for coffee or lunch. Maybe see a movie. All the things you love to chat about while on the run are just as funny and wonderful when chatting over coffee.

5. Sign up for another race. If you're feeling aimless and like there is nothing to look forward to, maybe start looking for other races. Just be sure you give yourself enough time to recover from your last race and enough time to prepare for the new race. This is helpful if your race didn't go the way you were hoping it would. When in doubt, consult a coach for advice on training. I happen to know a good one :)

Do you get the post-race blues? How do you deal with the let-down after a race?