Unsolicited Advice to Newbie Runners (From a Newbie Runner Herself)

In the last week, I’ve had a few people openly declare to me their intent to start a running regimen or to tackle the marathon next year…and to them I say kudos!!

Here’s a few things I wish I knew about running before I started running.

1. It’s going to be uncomfortable for awhile, but just keep going. Especially if you’ve been sedentary, get ready to feel tired, hungry, cranky, and sore…at least for the first month or so. Push through it…the rewards of your hard work are worth it. Don’t discount the power of icing, long baths, massage therapy, nutrition/hydration, or good ole R&R.

2. Plan for rest days and plan to do your best. Sometimes life gets in the way of your training. It will happen. It’s best to realize it and to recover from it quickly, rather than forever dwell on it and then never get back into your routine. Put together a feasible schedule so that you can plan the rest of your commitments around your training. Remember, your training is YOU-time. Make it non-negotiable. 3 days a week to start is good; 4 days a week to start is optimal.

3. Get some decent running shoes. They don’t have to be top-of-the-line and expensive but they should be actual running shoes. Running in shoes that aren’t meant to support your feet over a few miles can be painful and harmful. Zappos has some great shoes and they’ll ship them to your door!

4. Start with short races before tackling the big 26.2. A shorter race will allow you to get into the groove of racing (a.k.a. get the newbie mistakes out of the way). I initially had no interest in running a marathon. I just wanted to run a 5K, so I signed up for the LA Big5K 2011. I caught the racing bug and then on the same weekend one year later I ran the LA Marathon 2012. Funny how that works out!

5. Track/journal your progress. You can start a blog or use an app like RunKeeper.com to do this. I always find myself jittery before a major race. It helps to go back through my progress and to see how far I’ve come and to know that I’ve given myself ample time to prepare.

6. Be accountable to someone other than yourself. It can be your significant other, fitness friend, or a charity team. Just make sure you’re accountable to someone else so that you can’t (or rather, won’t!) slack on your commitment. Someone who earnestly takes an interest in your health and interests will do what they can to eliminate temptations in your life so that you can be the best version of YOU.

Would you add any other tips to this list?

Spring Cleaning: Paleo Diet and My Brand New Training Schedule

My last race left me a bit frustrated with how I’ve been trying to shove everything into my schedule…balancing school, freelancing, internship, and personal relationships left very little time for training the last few months, and I’m fed up! I’ve gained a bit of weight (SUPER SADFACE) and frankly, that’s not okay. I’m feeling less energetic and pretty snappy at everyone. They were right…no running makes me cranky and moody.

Yesterday I vented my frustration to my boyfriend. He kindly listened (like he always does) and helped me balance my schedule for the upcoming month. I was able to squeeze in my new training schedule and balance my design work with school hours appropriately. Here’s hoping I don’t end up derailing myself in the first week! I have a tendency to create schedules and then immediately break them.

I’ve included about 15 hours of design work (enough for me to survive), 4 days of school, 2 days of internship, and four days of training. I haven’t actually drilled down as far as to plan out my workouts quite yet…first step is to slate the time for them. For running, I plan on running slow on one day, fast on another, and long on the third. For my swim/run workout, the run and the swim will be rather short (probably 5K run + 1mile swim). On my solo swimming day, I plan on swimming long (1 mile or more). On my bike/run day I will bike for 10 miles + run 5K. For my second bike/run day I will bike for 15 miles + run 10K. As I get stronger and work up my endurance I will incrementally increase all of my distances until I reach my race distance goals.

This morning as Shant and I were eating breakfast, I brought up the idea of trying the Paleo diet together. A few friends on Twitter and Facebook are currently paleo so I figured that it was worth a try. The Paleo diet is more of a lifestyle than it is a diet…the idea is to eat more like our ancestors then our modern-day diseased fellow man. Can it be that hard to eat like a caveman? It all seems pretty reasonable — eat nuts, fruits, vegetables, and meats (including eggs). I went pescatarian in 2005 — meaning that the only meat I eat is fish. From time to time I still crave chicken but none have passed my lips since then. This seems like a great next step since I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go completely vegan.

This method of eating will give me some boundaries and keep me away from things like packaged foods, fast foods, and candy…all things I have in my possession right now. So far from my research, it seems like everyone has their own perspective and take on it (selected fasting, reintroduction of foods, etc.) but I am tailoring my consumption patterns for my lifestyle and training. Since Shant had been wanting to get healthier (and so have I), I figured that it would be easier if we tag-teamed and tried it for 30 days together, as some sort of challenge. We agreed to try it together, did some research, and went shopping! I spent about $80 at Costco and got the following items:

$6 – Medjool dates (3 lbs)
$5 – Raisins (5 lbs)
$10 – Almonds (3 lbs)
$7 – Oranges
$3 – Bananas
$7 – Red Potatoes (okay for endurance athletes!) (10 lbs)
$20 – Salmon (8 ct)
$15 – Cod (8 ct)
$7 – Eggs (60 ct)
$2 – Salad mix (3 lbs)

I also find that if I don’t plan my meals (similar to my training schedule) I go completely off kilter, so here’s the plan:

Breakfast: Scrambled egg whites and red potatoes
Lunch: Salad mix + Albacore (optional, since it’s canned and I don’t know how much I actually have)
Snacks: Oranges, bananas, almonds, raisins, medjool dates
Dinner: Broiled fish and veggies. Add red potatoes if it’s a training day.
……..and repeat until I run out of food!

Not quite sure how long the food will last me. Also not sure what to do about all the food I bought last week (25 ct. of croissants, Ezeikiel bread, 18 ct yogurt, frosted mini wheats, 12-pack of ramen) but I am sure they will manage in my fridge/pantry. So far I’ve tried to stick to this for lunch (no picture, but all I had was a chicken cesar salad without the chicken, without the cesar, without the croutons, and without the parmesan…so essentially all I had was tomatoes and lettuce!) and dinner — sauteed red bell pepper and onion with basil and oregano crusted salmon. So far so good!

Let’s see how long I can keep this up for. To keep ourselves accountable to each other, Shant and I have agreed to food-blog everything that passes our lips for the next 30 days! You can check it out at http://paleocouple.tumblr.com. So far I’m the only one that’s posted my meal, since he’s preparing all of this food for the week right now.

For this new meal plan, my goal is to make this a permanent habit. I started off my now-running habit as a 21-day challenge one year ago, and it stuck pretty well. Will this finally be the year where I stop battling the same 10 pounds over and over again? Will I finally get my eating habits on track? I finally feel like this is a challenge I can survive and that I’m in control again. Hooray!

Q+A: Getting Started With Your Very First 5K

Someone I know is looking to get into her very first 5K. As a matter of fact, a number of people I know are looking to get into their very first 5K! (Something’s in the air for sure…) So, in an effort to help get them across the finish line, I wanted to put together a blog post to help them get started. I’m still in the process of getting my ACE Personal Trainer certification so I advise you to customize this plan for yourself. These are the things I found helpful for me.

Tips to get started

1. Congratulations on making the decision to do it! 5Ks are really fun because they are very manageable distances to train and race.

2. Get the garb. If you’re going to make this stick, you might as well spend (just a little bit of) money to keep you interested in your pursuit. A few things I recommend to get started:

  • A decent pair of running shoes. I recommend Rykas for women if you are starting out. They are super comfortable and very affordable.
  • Some technical tees or tank tops. Get something that suits your style. If you want something bright and flashy, I say go for it!
  • Invest in some running socks. Check out the selection at Target. They will keep your feet drier than cotton socks and will help protect against blisters.
  • Sunscreen is a great investment if you plan on running during the morning hours or during the daytime.
  • Get some protein powder (for pre/post run recovery). I love Muscle Milk’s dark chocolate! Very yummy.

3. Set aside the time. Depending on how fast you hustle, you may be able to complete each workout in half an hour or forty five minutes. No worries about speed at this point….but give yourself plenty of cushion in your schedule. I always find that it takes an hour to convince myself to go run, actually run a few miles, come back to shower and change. Make sure you slot this YOU time in your schedule and keep it non-negotiable. (Hey, your goals are non-negotiable!)

4. Push yourself, but don’t push too hard. Especially if you’ve been sedentary up until now, don’t overload your schedule with training. You’ll get tired, sore, or worse — injured or burned out. Training is about recovery as much as it is about exercising. It is in the recovery that your muscles repair themselves and get even stronger, as to prepare for the next time your body overloads itself. Give yourself enough time to recover before pushing too hard the next time.

5. Reward your accomplishments. Racing the 5K is a pretty sweet reward (and so is the finisher’s medal or beer, depending on your race), but make sure to give yourself little treats along the way. Did you just stick to your training plan this week? Treat yourself to a glass of wine or some new running accessories. Did you PR (short for ‘beat your personal record’) on your long run of the week? Get some froyo. Reward yourself and actually follow through. You deserve it.

Your Training Plan

As for recommending a training plan…they are usually very specific to the person and their fitness level. However, here is one that I’ve assembled for sedentary first timers — meaning, they’ve never actually put in any significant and/or regular miles. It’s a loose guideline but it’s meant to be customized to your fitness level and schedule. Also, these are things I’ve found that worked for me, so I’m hoping they will work for you too.

1. Set aside 3-4 days a week to train to start. Give yourself a day in between each run to give yourself time to recover.

Day One: Stretch + Run short + Stretch (5K goal = 2 miles)
Day Two: Stretch + Run long + Stretch. (5K goal = 4.5 miles)
Day Three: Stretch + Run fast + Stretch. (5K goal = pacing)
Day Four: Optional – Stretch + Run for 30 minutes + Stretch. (5K goal = pacing)

2. A word on pacing: running isn’t about being out of breath all of the time. It’s about knowing when to push harder and when to back off. A good method to start is walk one mile, run one mile. That gives you enough distance to mentally and physically prepare (warm up) before you start running. Running for one mile at your best effort (even if you can’t make it the full mile) will help you get your lungs and muscles adjusted to the effort. Walk to recover and then repeat. If the one/one mile strategy is too difficult, try one/one blocks (assuming you are running city streets). I did this when I first started because the distances are very predictable — I would one run block, cross the road safely, and then walk the next, and then repeat. The start/stop method can be annoying for people who like to keep the momentum going, but for a 5K race (which is a really fast race) this method will help you strengthen your fine twitch muscles (required for sprinting, dashing, quick turns, and the like).

3. Breathe! It’s important to breathe properly while running and this can be the hardest part for your body to learn. When I first started running it felt like my chest was stabbing me in the lungs…not very fun! The reason why you may also feel this way is because of the lack of oxygen exchange in your diaphragm due to improper breathing. As you run, keep a consistent rhythm — breathe in for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds. The longer the breath the easier it is to go the distance. The shorter the breath, the more energy you burn (for breathing, not for running!). You may want to exercise this skill during your short run or your optional 30-minute run before implementing it on a long run or fast run.

4. After each workout, drink 6-8oz of your protein shake. Do this within the first 30 minutes of finishing. It is during this time that your muscles need the additional protein to begin the repair process! (It will also keep you full until your next meal…an added bonus!)

5. Watch what you eat. Nutrition is key. You want to fuel your muscles with whole, healthy foods. Exercise helps accelerate waste removal (read: DETOX) so as you start shedding the pounds and crap you’ve been loading into your body, begin replenishing it with the great food you deserve. Your body is a temple so treat it that way: only offer it foods that would be fitting for a god (or goddess!).

6. Cross training is a good idea, but obviously can be taxing on your schedule. Fit it in if you can. I recommend yoga since it will help you stretch out any tension in your legs and back. Make sure to stretch to your comfort zone…don’t overdo it and try to mimic someone who has been training in yoga for years and may have flexibility that you lack.

7. Track your progress. Use an app like RunKeeper to log your runs. You can use the phone or web app to do this. The data will help you make decisions about routes and speeds that work best for you.

Good Stretching Technique

So there is tons of advice on how to stretch and when to stretch. From my personal experience, it is best to stretch both pre and post workout. When stretching before a workout, don’t overdo it or you will end up pulling something. The point of pre-run stretches is to prevent injury, increase your flexibility, and loosen up your muscles before taxing them on a run. It is best to hold these stretches for 10 seconds max to give you additional range of motion and to warm up the muscles.

Dedicate post-run stretches for deeper work. This is where you go beyond your initial 10 second hold. Do a series of two to three  10-20 second holds to help loosen the muscles and work out any tension. Again, your post-run stretches should be deeper than your pre-run stretches.

The video is a bit long but it’s pretty comprehensive. Feel free to skip to just the stretching portions of the video.

Final Words

And, for those beginners who feel intimidated by the distance, or perhaps reluctant because of the road they have ahead of them, here’s a nice autobiographical video to check out. It’s by fellow runner-blogger Ben Does Life.

Race Recap: The 2012 LA Marathon

I survived…but man oh man I am definitely feeling the pain of undertraining.

The course was great. It was the best foot tour of LA I’ve ever taken. What got me most excited about this race was that I’ve been to every part of the city, but I’ve yet to actually go through it in one trip. Well, yesterday I did!

Race weekend started with a 2-hour massage and grabbing a ton of last minute supplies. I decided to put together an LA Marathon survival kit for my teammates. It included some baggies, Biofreeze, cough drops, Emergen-C, a rain poncho, gel blasts, anti-cramping gel, and blister bandages. After the races I’ve ran, I figured that it was time to aggregate all of my hard-earned lessons into one small resealable bag. The forecast predicted rain and I wanted my runners and walkers to stay happy and healthy!

We carbo-loaded at the charity director of operations house. Lots of pasta and food was there for the taking and everyone looked really nervous and excited. We all got our goody bags, which included our fundraising incentives. I’ve never been more excited to earn an iPod shuffle! I also got a running water bottle, a team t-shirt, and a few other goodies. So excited to put all of it to good use. It was great to finally see the entire team under one roof. Most of the time, when I hosted group runs, only a few would turn out…and the few would always shuffle around, so I never did get a chance to see everyone at the same time. It was nice to see their personal transformations and to share this experience with them. It was only last summer when they handed me their registrations rather reluctantly. Now they were all ready to tackle the big 26.2!! I’ve never been more proud to say that the team raised almost $6,000 as of today.

As for the race…I can remember a few important parts — like the hill between mile 4-5 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (which also took a grand stance during the LA Triathlon last year), running through Thai Town (memories of all my childhood grocery shopping), Hollywood + Vine (right outside the Dress for Success offices), West Hollywood (loved the cheerleaders!), and then the never ending road of San Vicente. And the ripples in the Pacific Ocean. Oh, the ripples! The course support was fantastic. Every aid station was well stocked. All of the volunteers were incredibly helpful. Every inch of the LA Marathon was covered with supporters cheering their hearts out. It was definitely one of the best races I have ever ran….nothing like the Rock n Roll Las Vegas. I would definitely consider running this again next year!

What I can remember feeling is the heaviness in my legs setting in around mile 20 or so. I definitely hit the proverbial wall by mile 22. Mile 22, 23, 24, 25 seemed to drag on forever and ever and ever. It was never ending until I hit 26, got a glimpse of the beach and the Santa Monica Pier, and made it across the finish line!

It was a great experience running with a charity. Not only do I finally get to cross something off my bucket list but now I’d like to put together a plan so that next year we are even more successful. Hey, maybe this time I can stick to my own training plan!

Merry Christmas To You! Get 20% Discount On Any Running Shoes TODAY #runchat

Hey everyone! I just finished my Christmas shopping, and aside from some obligatory boxes of chocolate I’ve stuck with a theme this year…obviously health and wellness! Although I can’t quite disclose what I got everyone just yet — that’s for later tonight when we open gifts! — I got myself a neat little something too.

Overall this year I spent $65 on myself — $45 of it was a donation to Children International to provide my sponsored kids with Christmas gifts and birthday gifts, and the other $20 I spent on a new weight set. WAHOO! As of now I’ve been using the same 7 lb. barbells for a few years now and I finally wanted to to kick up my weight training a notch.

Anyways, this year, you should definitely treat yourself to a gift of health and wellness too. To get you started, I’ve been able to score a sweet discount for all of my readers: 20% off up to 3 pairs of running shoes at your local Big 5! (The discount is only good for today, so act fast.) Treat yourself big this year and get in shape. Your body, heart, and mind will thank you. Oh, and if you want to spend more than $100, you can also get 20% off your entire purchase.

Happy holidays!

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The $2.32 Power Dinner

It might seem a bit impossible to eat well on a budget, but more and more I am discovering that it is cheaper and easier to eat healthy at home.

I ran a couple of miles after work and then wrapped up the evening with a weight training set. After I finished I was pretty hungry and debated whether or not to eat out or cook dinner at home. I’m glad I decided to cook instead! In an effort to save money and eat healthier, I think choosing the latter was a better decision.

What I had tonight was delicious! Broiled salmon, cooked kale, and a baked potato. I had a few ingredients at home already: olive oil, salt, pepper, butter, sour cream, oregano.

Thawed the salmon in the microwave and then dressed it with olive oil, cracked salt, cracked pepper, and crushed oregano. Tossed it in the oven over the BROIL setting to cook for about 5-7 minutes. Pre-cooked the potato in the microwave, wrapped it in foil, and then baked it while the salmon was cooking. I tossed three handfuls of kale in olive oil over low heat and cracked some salt over it. Dinner was ready in about 10-15 minutes and cost me less than a cup of coffee!

  • $3.99 bag of 20 potatoes = $0.20/potato
  • $10.29 bag of 6 salmon fillets = $1.72/fillet
  • $1.99 bag of kale = $0.40 for a 1/5 serving

What did you have for dinner? How much did it cost you? Was it healthy?


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Motivation Monday: Getting Excited About What's Next

Change is pretty hard to face.

I spent the weekend pouring over my personal training books. A lot of it was technical and scientific, and the material is admittedly more difficult than I had anticipated. However, the single thing that kept me motivated was the light at the end of the tunnel.

The prospect of being able to help other people achieve their fitness and weight loss goals excites me. I want to be a part of that journey. I want to help other people change their lives and become the people they truly are on the inside. I don’t want people to be trapped inside of a body that they don’t feel represents who they are.

There’s a lot of work that goes into changing your lifestyle. You’ll have to admit that what you’re doing isn’t working. That one’s for sure. But, not only do you have to plan and actualize steps you’ll take to achieve your goals but you’ll also have to visualize what success looks like for you. That will be different for everybody. Some will want to finally fit in their skinny jeans again. Some will want to be able to party on the beach without feeling self conscious. Others will want to cross the finish line at a marathon or triathlon. Whatever it is, I hope that the work I’m putting in now will enable others to achieve those goals!

The 23.5 Hour Challenge

I came across this awesome video my friend posted on Facebook called 23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health?

If you have eight minutes to spare, it might be the best thing you could ever watch for your health. It’s something that seems pretty obvious, but coming from a doctor who 1) didn’t have to give you this information and 2) presenting it to you with factual numbers it’s difficult to argue against the benefits of even moderate exercise.

I personally hate it when my friends and family tell me that they’re too busy to make time for themselves. It’s exercise. It’s not a chore. It’s something your body was built to do. By fighting nature you’re just creating an uphill battle for yourselves. You spend eight or so hours a day sleeping, and most of the time, you’re really just sitting and spinning your wheels anyways. Would thirty minutes a day really make or break your career or your family time? I would argue that it would probably increase the quality of time spent at work or with your family. I mean, if you can’t spare half an hour for yourself, what you’re really telling me is that you can’t take the basic steps to take care of your own personal business…which then leads me to believe that you can’t really take care of anyone else’s business — work or personal — since you are clearly unable to manage your time. (Harsh, but true.)

Is half an hour still too difficult for you? What’d you think of the video?

Motivation Monday: If You Want It, Get It

I’m a firm believer that you have to want change in your life in order to achieve it.

If you’re training for a new job or a marathon, you have to want to do it enough. Otherwise, you’ll never go through with it. Let’s take an example of Ben. He was overweight (like I was). He became unhappy with his life (much in the same way I did). Then, one day, he woke up and decided to do something about it. (We’re more alike than we think.)

Check out his journey and tell me that it doesn’t make you want to get up and run a 5K around your neighborhood right now.


A Good Day of Training Deserves A Blog Post

After feeling like things were on the rocks for awhile with my training (and life, in general), I decided to make the most of my Saturday and celebrate the Ironman Championships the only way I knew how — by swimming, biking, and running.

The day started off with a Team Dress for Success run through Griffith Park. We had set the course for 9 miles and I think some of us achieved it…other people — like me — didn’t quite wrap the 9 miles but still put forth our best effort. It was really nice seeing my teammates again after being away for so long. I always wish I had pictures of us but alas I never quite remember to snap some while we’re together. Maybe next week! Anyways, one of the women has been training hard since day one on running. She had previously completed the Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, and was looking for another challenge. I can’t tell what’s more challenging — walking 20 miles a day for three days, or running 26.2 in one go. I was so happy to see her climbing the hills of Griffith Park with no issues. She had recently gone through quite a bit of family issues — a lot of deaths in her family these last few months, but after finishing the 9 miles her smile could light a room!

What I love most about the running trail at Griffith Park are the little signs along the way. They are remnants of other training groups and motivational coaches. There’s a sign that tells you when you’re one mile away from the finish, and then a very silly smiley face reserved for the finish.

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After the run, I headed home to pick up my iPod and settle in for a quick protein shake. I then headed to the gym near my boyfriend’s house and go to work. This was my first time biking at this 24 Hour Fitness but they had these really neat spinning machines that actually would set intervals and guide resistance and CPM for you while calculating mileage. It was really neat — different from the other stationary bikes I’ve used in the past — and was really fun. I’m hoping to be able to get a lot more miles in with this bike in the near future. I spent about an hour on it and the meter read 21 miles, so all in all it wasn’t bad. Unfortunately that’ll never be a distance I’ll be able to achieve on a road bike while training since I’ll have to deal with things like flat tires, traffic, and potholes. Eventually I’ll have to get back on my bike soon.

Then came the swim. Yes I took things in reverse — like the reverse triathlon I completed a few months ago — but I really wanted to relax into my swim. I have a tendency to tense up and get nervous in the water, even at 4 or 5 feet, but today I took it stroke by stroke. I swam for distance and not for time. Since it had been a very long while since I was in the water I wanted to take an easy day, so most of it was backstroke. About 2/3 of the way for each lane I’d switch over and practice getting my head in the water and alternating my stroke. I have to work on my breathing before I can work on technique. Most importantly I need to spend more time in the water.

I was famished by the time I had finished my workout. It was nearing 3pm by the time I stepped into the sauna to relax. I grabbed a lentil wrap and some sushi at the local Trader Joe’s and have been relaxing ever since! I’m glad to be back in the swing of things with my triathlon training. For awhile there I hadn’t done any biking or swimming, but I’m glad that my abilities are still there. (I guess they never quite go away, do they?) However, I think I feel more confident about the training season ahead now that I know I will have the time to devote to training.

How did you spend the weekend? Did you get any good training in?