Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Debbie's Story

My story starts out as any tomboy story would. I spent all the growing up years playing sports as much as possible and trying to get out of brushing my hair or wearing a dress. That athletic drive led me somehow into running cross country as a sophomore in high school and from that point on I only competed as a distance runner through high school and then in college. I had definitely defined a part of myself as being a runner.

Sometimes, though, life throws out a trial that forces one to look a little deeper into oneself in order to deepen their self definition. That trial started out as a car accident in March of 1998. A typical case of walking away from the crash sight having no idea what was about to REALLY hit me. For the next 2 years, I struggled with back pain. I tried to deal with it by reducing running volume and doing some chiropractic care. The reality was that for 18 months it just wouldn’t go away and evolved into back/butt/and leg pain. At times, it hurt a lot. I couldn’t raise my right leg up off the floor more than a couple inches or sit, or tie my shoe and I definitely couldn’t run consistently. Then, being stubbornly prideful, in a lot of pain and refusing not “to be runner,” I ran a 5k when I was 7 months pregnant. That stupid decision sent me straight to the floor for the next 5 months. I couldn’t walk easily, or sit, or sleep or do much of anything but feel the intense pain 24 hours a day from the waist down. I cried everyday for those 5 months.

So there I was at the age of 29, lying on the floor trying to take care of 3 boys the age of 4, 9 months and newborn. My 9 month old was adopted as an infant, by the way, in case that math didn’t quite add in your brain. And while my husband and I had added to our family, part of my identity had been taken away. My life’s pendulum had swung the opposite way from being an elite distance runner to being an out of shape, depressed and undirected person. Where had “I” gone for the last 2 years? It was at this desperate point that I was forced to more earnestly to discover who I was and where I was going with my life. “There is no way that I was sent to earth to try and raise a family while lying on the floor living in pain and crying everyday!” And you know, it is really interesting what happens when you become filled with a personal vision of the next phase of your life.

I started to look for a different way to heal my pain inside and out. That was not all roses though. During the worst doctors appointment of my life I had a condescending surgeon tell me, after looking at my MRI, that I was without hope of running again and the best I could hope for was to take up walking. He patronized me for wanting more than that and then scooted me out of his office while still giggling under his breathe like I was crazy to think there was any other way to get better. Talk about fuel for the fire!! I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt from that point on that I was looking for the right people and tools to help me through the healing process. I finally knew that I wasn’t looking for a cure. My whole paradigm shifted and my journey towards real healing began.

It took a year of rehab and then another 10 months in order to be ready to run a marathon. I had never even run one before the car accident, but now it was my way of expressing to the whole world that miracles happen and dreams do come true. It wasn’t fast and I haven’t run one since, but rehabbing from a 2 year long battle with my back and getting ready for it helped me to understand more deeply what other people suffer. I had suffered on every level of body, mind and spirit and definitely learned what it felt like to not be in elite shape. I had to fight for those first steps of running again. It was only 5 or 10 minutes at a time, but I was so happy, I cried every time I ran for several months. I was very grateful to be able to exercise again.

Even though I was swimming as part of my rehab process, it was completely unexpected that I would fall into the sport of triathlon and end up racing at an elite level again at the age of 32. I carried my lessons with me though and I am a better athlete because of it. And now, at the age of 38, I let those competitive seasons ebb and flow based on the other areas of my life. At the end of the day, I now know that I am a women, wife, mother, sister and friend who adores the daily ritual of pursuing an athletic goal. I AM NOT A TRIATHLETE OR A RUNNER. As Eckhart Tolle would say, I learned that “I AM”…and giving myself to my family and friends is really what makes my life the most meaningful.

Monday, November 10, 2008


By Rhielle

A lot of runners that I talk to tell me that when they get done with a long or hard workout, they feel depleted and just want to sit on the couch and watch TV or sleep all day. Other people talk about how it is so hard to find energy to complete the training set out on the training schedule for the week following an especially long run. There are a few reasons for this struggle. Most of it comes from a lack of nutrients during and after the exercise.

During the run, your body needs to intake four key elements: water, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and protein. The duration and intensity of the run will dictate the amount of each of these three things you need to take. We talked last week about taking electrolytes and including them in your running diet so I won't go over that again.

Water is one of the most important elements. If you get dehydrated, you put your body at risk of huge core temperature swings causing problems that range from hypothermia to heat stroke. In order to determine how much water one must take, each runner must determine his/her own sweat rate. The best way to do this is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. You will have to weight yourself undressed though on both occasions so your sweat on the clothes doesn't mess up the second reading. The difference in weight is the amount of water you should have been drinking for optimum performance. So for every pound you lose, that requires 16 oz of water to replace it. Once you lose 2% of your body weight in water (2.4 lbs for a 120 person), your performance will suffer and it will take much longer to recover. Drinking water is something that you must train with. The body can adapt to running with stuff in your tummy as long as you practice it before hand. If you don't, you risk throwing up, dehydration, and poor performance.

Carbohydrates are that thing that people think of as the highest form of evil. However, if you don't have any carbohydrate to burn, the percentage of fat you burn during your run will be reduced. (Isn't burning fat one of the goals in all of this?!) The reason for that is that unlike fat, carbohydrate is a rich energy form that doesn't take a lot of energy to access and burn. So your body will use carbs in conjunction with fat, for energy during the run. The liver and muscles stores about 2 hours worth of carbs so once you run out of that your body will use the next easiest thing to burn, protein. To prevent burning protein(and losing muscle) during a run, you must supply your body with enough quick access carbohydrates. Most people ingest about 50-75 grams grams of carbs every hour following the first hour. That means one gel every 20-30 minutes. Taking gels also helps you drink water because you need something to wash that stickiness out of the mouth. Not to mention that you have to drink water with it so it can be digested without making you sick.

Finally, protein, the number one culprit of the post workout drag. As mentioned above, you must ingest carbs to prevent burning protein. You can also ingest protein, but you typically only want to do this in events lasting more than 2.5-3 hours. All you triathletes, marathoners, century riders, this stuff is for you! I know that eating a hamburger while exercising doesn't sound too appealing so thanks to nutrition companies, like hammer nutrition and first endurance, there are other ways. Usually, you drink it in powder-mixed-with-water format. Protein is also the essential element to post-workout recovery. The explanation for why is a bit long so bear with me.

Exercise is catabolic. That means it breaks tissues down. When you exercise, you break the muscles down and they come back stronger the next time, right? Almost. Your muscles come back stronger only if you have given them the building blocks to do that. Muscles are made out of protein which is why it is essential to take protein after a long run. Also, absorbtion rate of protein will rapidly decrease just 30 min. after you finish exercise. So make sure that you are getting your recovery drink, smoothie, or other source of protein down the gullet within one half-hour after your workout is over. For those of you who are exercising for more than 2.5-3 hours, start taking the protein during exercise with the other three elements: water, electrolytes, and carbs. I recommend Hammer's Perpetuem, it works well for almost everyone that I talk to.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How to Protect Yourself From the Pain


I was recently talking to a colleague of mine who told me that she uses mantras to protect her mind from its natural responses. For example when someone cuts her off while she is driving, she uses the mantra, "Assume Good Intentions." I have used mantras for years to help myself through my running. When I am coaching, I always give my students little phrases to use that run through their minds while they are running. Using mantras is a great way to protect your mind from the pain, the monotony, or other distractions that make you wish you were at home with a bowl of ice cream. Using the rhythm of your feet hitting the pavement makes the sayings very sing songy, making them easy to repeat over and over and over...

For example, this morning on my run, there is a long stretch of road, about a half a mile long, that is a false flat (slightly uphill even though it doesn't look that way). I run this road about three times a week and every time, it is just as hard as the first time I ran it. This is a perfect situation to use a mantra. This should get your head to stop thinking, "I hate this road, it is so hard to get through," and get your mind to start thinking, "this is fun and doable and I am amazing because I am doing it!" One thing that I like to do is count to ten in the same rhythm that my feet are hitting the ground. This is very mindless and you don't really have to concentrate on it. That is exactly why it works so well. It does the trick because you can't really think about two things at once. Another trick that I use is I say, "Light feet, Step down, Run, Run, Fast." This phrase helps me concentrate on my form as well as get my mind off of the hard part. Typically, when I am near the end of a run and I am getting tired, my body feels very heavy. By reminding myself that my feet can hit the pavement lightly and quickly, I am able to run faster and lighter while improving my form. It usually doesn't take long to snap out of the heavy feeling and pick up the momentum again.

When you are on a course that you know well, sometimes it is a good idea to break the course into sections. Even a long road, like the one mentioned above, feels much more accomplishable when broken into sections (I have it broken into five of them). bUsing landmarks that you can see easily is one way to approach this. For example, if you have a five mile run around the neighborhood you can split it up into smaller sections that are all approximately the same length. I would start with a warm up section where you go whatever pace you want to go untill you reach the entrance to the ____. Then you have a pick it up section that is complete once you pass the ____. Next, you come to the ____. Almost there with the ____ section that passes by the ____. Finish off the run with the cool down section that starts when you pass the _____. Overall, accomplishing short, mentally appeasing goals can make a run feel shorter and easier.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Electrolytes-Use Them and Abuse Them!


Electrolytes: what are they, how do you take them, how much do you take? People throw around all kinds of nutritional information that can be confusing and even contradictory. How does one decipher the code and figure out what is really best for your body when you are working out? The best way is practice. If you find something that works, practice with it. But finding out what to practice with, on the other hand, can be hard and confusing. So today we will talk about what electrolytes are and how to use them to your benefit.

An electrolyte is simply a chemical used by your body to conduct the electrical impulses that your body uses to function. Think back to Biology 101, you may remember that your body uses electricity to send signals across your nerves and your nerves make your muscles work. Some electrolytes you can watch for are: sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and a few others. Having a balance of electrolytes in your body will help prevent cramping as well as dehydration. The three ways that people take electrolytes are through gels, through pills, and mixed into their water.

Taking Es through a Gel: If you look on the back of any energy gel, you will see a list of electrolytes that it has in it. Next to that, it will say how much of that particular one is in the gel. The dosage of Electrolytes in gels is very small compared to other sources. However, if you are not running in heat and are a very light sweater, this may be sufficient for you. Check out E-Gel for a good example of electrolytes in gel form.

Taking Es in Pill Form: A few nutrition brands make electrolyte pills. Depending on the brand you get, the kinds of electrolytes and dosage will vary. If you cramp up easily, this may be the best way to go. You can take up to four or six pills/hour (depending on temp and sweat rate). Check out Hammer Nutrition's Endurolytes for a good example of electrolytes in pill form.

Taking Es in Drink Form: Many people think of this as Gatorade. That is right, Gatorade is the original electrolyte drink. However, you may as well just make some koolaid and throw in some salt. There are better ways and this is likely the easiest way to take electrolytes because you can balance your hydration while you are taking them. There are many products that you can get that are pure electrolytes. After depositing this into your water, you have a personally mixed hydration concoction. Check out Nuun or Elete for good examples of drink based electrolytes.

Determining the dosage of electrolytes is the tricky part. When I tell people about electrolytes, I usually tell them, "I have never met anyone who has ended up in trouble because they had too many electrolytes. You usually just sweat the extra out. However, if you don't have enough, you can become hyponatraemic (water poisoned) or get muscle cramps. So use them and abuse them!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Perfect Running Shoe- Do's and Don'ts

By: Rhielle

When shopping for the perfect running shoe, it is easy to get caught up in "overpronation," "underpronation," "neutral," "cushion," "lightweight," "stability," and all the other jargon that is associated with running shoes. It can all become very confusing very quickly. I have compiled a list of the essential dos and don'ts that every shoe buyer should know.

  • Buy your shoes with enough room at the end that you can bend over and push on the end of the shoe without pushing on your toe. For most women, this is a full size bigger than your normal size.
  • Buy your shoes like you buy your slippers. They shouldn't rub, bind, fold, twist or anything else uncomfortable. If you can feel it now you will feel it later because running shoes don't break in.
  • Buy your shoes so they fit snug in the heel, snug in the arch(this may require some arch support), and roomy in the forefoot.
  • Buy your shoes only after your gait has been analyzed. Each runner has a specific gait and a running shoe fitter will be able to help you determine which shoes are best for you based on your personal and unique gait.
  • Buy your shoes from a store with a good exchange policy. Time and time again, a shoe will feel good in the store but after 20 min of running, the feel good is all gone. Make sure the store will allow you to exchange the shoe for something different if it doesn't feel good after your first run.
  • Don't buy your shoes based on color.
  • Don't buy your shoes based on price.
  • Never buy the shoe that your best friend wears. He/She doesn't know how the shoe will perform for you and it could cause an injury.
  • Don't buy your running shoes from Foot Locker, Famous Footwear, or other Big Box Chain Stores. Their sales people are not trained to custom fit a shoe.
  • Don't buy a shoe just because the it is labeled as running. Not all shoes are equal. Many shoes that are labeled running are NOT designed to be run in everyday. Many of them are designed just for the person who wants an athletic looking shoe who likes to run as they participate in all sports. They usually weigh more, are lower quality in construction, don't fit as well and absorb less impact.
Because buying running shoes can make or break your running experience, it is important to find the right shoe for you. Don't be afraid to run on the shoe in the store or outside on the sidewalk in front of the store. Pick out the shoe that fits your needs the best. Remember, if your feet hurt, you won't want to run on them. So make a little investment and spend $100 on some good shoes. It is the best $100 you will spend on your feet.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Building a Base

By: Rhielle

'Tis the season for building a base. A lot of runners ask me what I am training for right now and normally I tell them, "Nothing, the winter is my time to rebuild my base." Building a base is designed to give your body the muscle strength and impact training needed to run harder, faster, longer, stronger throughout the racing season. Typically, runners will increase the number of times they run per week, and at the same time decrease the mileage that they run during each run. For example, during racing season, you may run 3x/week and do 6 miles/run for a total of 18 miles/week. During base training, you would start out running 5x/week doing only 3-4 mile runs. Then gradually increase the mileage of each run (5x/week but 4-5 miles/run, then 5-6 miles/run, etc) to build a strong foundation for speed and hill workouts done during the racing season.

Base training is really important because it allows the body to rest from the fatigue that comes with speed workouts and racing. At the same time you are being very productive in preparation for the coming season. Base Training also sets the stage for how many injuries an athlete will be prone to during the fast season. Just as with architecture, the stronger your foundation is, the better the house will stay standing when the pressure increases.

The key is to start with very low mileage and NEVER increase you mileage more than 10% over the previous week. This will help to insure you don't get injured during base training. Then, after about 6-8 weeks of low key easy running, you are ready to start running more tempo and speed workouts again. You don't want to leave that out of your training for too long if you want to keep getting better each year.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Treadmill Training


I went for a run this morning at 7:00 am and I realized that glove and long sleeve season is
coming into full swing. In talking with a lot of runners (I teach a running class), I have noticed that the biggest concern about running in the winter is the cold. If you want to stay outside, the better way to do it, investing in some good winter running clothes is a must. I like to use layers because as you warm up during the run, which you will, you can unzip or peel off unwanted layers and still stay warm. If you don't care to stay outside, the logical place to go is inside-to a treadmill. My tip for the week relates to this winter treadmill training.

Tip #1: If you want to train on a treadmill, but you plan to do events that are outside on the pavement, you must increase the incline of the treadmill 1-2%. This will insure that you make up for the work that the treadmill does for you by moving your feet while they are underneath you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008