A Little Life

Some nonfiction, for a change.

Laughter is the Best Medicine — (Cody and Sidney, at their best)

In the Face of Danger — (Final Peace Corps experience)

Under the Magnolia’s Gaze — (NOT my best writing, but an important life lesson memory for me)

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Love the Hills

hill_369500-woman-runningI’ve reached the point in my training plan where a 10-mile run feels more exhilarating than painful. For me, that shift happens when I begin to love the hills.

My dad, who was a marathon runner, once told me races are won and lost on the hills. I think he was right. The hills require dedicated training, determination and courage. If you have to slow way down, or worse, walk up the hills, your overall race time will be thrown off exponentially.

When I was running up a particularly gruesome climb today, I was thinking about how strong it made me feel, how in control I felt. Don’t get me wrong; my heart was hammering in my chest and my hip flexors were screaming.  But that hill used to shut me down, weeks ago. I used to have to walk midway up. Now when I crest its peak, I feel a wild sense of accomplishment. I feel powerful. I feel alive.

And when you think about it, running up hills makes a pretty accurate metaphor for living life to its fullest. I would have never felt that power, that strength I enjoyed today if I’d remained the treadmill runner I was up until a few years ago. Sure I got a good enough work-out on the treadmill. At least I thought so, with nothing to compare it to. Now I know I don’t want good enough.

Everyday life can feel like a walk on a treadmill. Repetitive motions. Existing within your comfort zone. Good enough.

Running outdoors on hilly terrain comes with risks you don’t encounter on a treadmill. The pavement can be uneven; you have to share the road with cars that don’t always see you. The weather can be extreme. Injuries are a constant possibility. But the rewards are huge.

Getting off the treadmill of life is risky too. Taking on new challenges, changing jobs, exploring what makes you truly happy — all of that comes with risks and can lead to injuries, to yourself and to the others. Scary stuff, sometimes.

But I know one thing: Running hills gets my heart rate up like nothing I’ve ever done on the treadmill. Despite the risks involved, there’s no going back for me. I love running those hills too much.

[If you’re interested in reading my hill training strategies, please click HERE!]
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If You Are a Runner

running-is-hard-to-explainJust finished a 6 mile tempo run. Yes it hurt. Now, I feel invigorated. Happy running, all!


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Instead of Speaking, Sometimes I Just Write

A special friend asked recently about my writing. Here’s a short selection, for him…:

Short Stories:

Playful Poems:

Art: http://nickidzigns.daportfolio.com/gallery/145328


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To Run or Not to Run…

woman-running-on-roadIt’s true that running never gets easier, you just get better. But it’s also true that running can get harder on any given day of your training schedule. My last two runs are proof of that.

Many factors positively or negatively impact performance during a run. Training is all about stacking the deck in our favor: we try to eat nutritious, whole foods, stay hydrated, get a full night’s sleep, buy the right shoes and clothing, etc. But life throws obstacles at us and every runner has to decide whether to dodge the shrapnel or take a hit in order to stay on schedule.

At mid-week I’d planned to do a 6-mile tempo run on Wednesday, cross-train on Thursday, rest on Friday and do my long run — 8 miles — on Saturday. But life started hurtling obstacles on Tuesday afternoon.

I had a fender-bender accident on my way home from work on Tuesday. It was my fault; I was attempting to make a left-hand turn out of a parking lot, inching across a lane of traffic. A car actually hit me, driven by a woman who could not have been driving defensively. There’s no way she couldn’t have seen me, had she been looking out her windshield. But that’s neither here nor there. If I hadn’t been in her lane, she wouldn’t have hit me at all. My bad.

It was stressful, to say the least. My car was munched, I got a traffic ticket, and the other driver wouldn’t stop yelling at me. I’d missed lunch that day and the accident report took a long time to complete, so I missed my mid-afternoon “meal” too. I didn’t sip water all day long. Camel. Gah!

I slept badly that night and was up early Wednesday morning in order to fit a 6-mile run in before work. It was no shock that my run sucked. My body felt sluggish; I needed to walk a lot. My overall pace was just plain sad. But, I completed the workout.

Fast-forward to Friday. It was another busy day at work and again, I worked right through the lunch hour. I left a few minutes early to check my daughter out of school because we had back-to-back eye doctor appointments. The appt. ran long, and we got back to our neighborhood right at the dinner hour. We dashed into the grocery store to pick up something to eat. Coming out, the car wouldn’t start. Turning the key resulted in nothing but silence. Battery was completely dead. Long story short, I was outdoors in 97 degree weather dealing with it for an hour and a half, got nice and dehydrated, and didn’t eat dinner before 8 p.m.

I decided to postpone my Saturday run.

It’s a delicate balance when you’re training for a race, deciding when to stick to the schedule and run through any “issues” you may be having, verses when to know it’s best to deviate, give yourself the time you need to perform to the best of your ability.

One day later, on Sunday, I did my long run. It was still tough, but I know I got through it better than I would have if I’d run Saturday after the dehydration and lack of adequate calories from the day before.

You can’t always put off a run. And let’s face it, life could throw an obstacle at you the day before race day. You have to be ready for anything. But sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is take a day off, or run less miles with less intensity than you’d planned, in order to perform better and preserve the mental balance you must maintain through your training.

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Mind Over Body


I’m into the 4th week of training and the time has come to focus on strengthening my mind. A shift in how I think during my runs is necessary and important, as my weekly mileage climbs.

Up until now, I’ve allowed myself to walk when I’m winded or when a hill becomes particularly challenging. Listening to my body continues to be paramount in building endurance, so I don’t injure myself. But here’s what happens: As my body gets stronger, my mind still signals me to slow down, walk a little, catch my breath. And the second I hear that thought, Psst, this is hard. Let’s walk! — my legs turn to cement blocks and my lungs catch fire and before I know what’s happened, I can’t keep going.

There’s a great runner’s inspirational quote that goes something like this: “Running never gets easier, I just get better.” So true!

From past training seasons, I know something else that’s true. If you discipline your mind and keep an active dialogue with yourself during every run (read *cheer yourself on* or *be your own drill sergeant*) , you will not have to walk because your body is actually strong enough to continue running. And only when you tune out those weak thoughts will you realize just how strong you are.

I’ve also got to apply the same principle of mind control when I’m choosing the foods I eat throughout the day. But that’s for another post. 🙂

I’d love to know, how do you quiet that inner voice that begs you to slow down or walk?


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Daily Training Goals

Inspirational-QuoteIt’s the end of my second week of training, and I’m feeling stronger than I usually do at this stage in the game. Maybe that’s because of cellular memory, and my muscles and cardiovascular system simply remember how to perform under the stress of long distance running? Or maybe it’s because I’m starting out this season about 8 lbs lighter than in previous seasons? Or perhaps my newly adopted vegan diet is optimal for my body, for this type of exercise? All good topics to explore, but not what I want to talk about today.

Today I want to share how I set training goals each time I head out for a run.

Every training run serves a purpose. For example, the ultimate objective of today’s Long Run was to build endurance. Like I said, it’s only Week Two so my long run distance was only 6 miles. Every week I’ll add about 10%, or 1-1.5 miles, to my long runs until I’m completing one 10-11 mile run per week. So the objective today was to build endurance, and the goal was to complete 6 miles. But running is a mental sport, and your body can do more than your mind thinks it can. For this reason, I always break it down further, when I’m setting my daily training goals.

My Long Run course today was hilly. So I set two goal levels for the day:

  • Level 1 — Complete 6 miles, with walking intervals on the hills.
  • Level 2 — Complete 6 miles, without stopping.

My Level 1 goal is always what my mind thinks I can do. I determine what I expect to be able to complete, based on performance at that point in the training schedule. No matter how hard it is or how tired my legs feel, I pledge to achieve no less that my Level 1 goal. Of course, I listen to my body and don’t push through injury, etc. But if I have to run with my heart when my legs give out, I am determined to do so in order to reach my Level 1 goal.

I set the Level 2 goal higher. Level 2 is for my bad-ass days. For days when my body feels unstoppable. For days when I slip into machine mode, legs like pistons, lungs and heart in sync, strong. These are the days when I want to keep going, shatter my own training records. But it’s important to stick to a training schedule because the extra effort spent in a moment of bad-assness will come back and kick that bad ass of mine later in the week. So, I set a Level 2 goal for days when I feel able to reach past what I believe I’m capable of, but the goal allows me to do it in a controlled way.

Every day I run, whether it’s a tempo run, track repeats, or a long run, I set two levels of training goals.

Today, I’m happy to share that I hit my Level 2 goal of completing 6 miles without stopping, without walking up the hills, in total bad-ass fashion. Whoot!

What about you? Do you have strategies like setting goals each time you go for a run? 

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Post-run Foods for Vegans

Half Marathon TrainingI just finished a 5-mile modified tempo run. It took me about 55 minutes — as I’m still incorporating walking intervals into my runs. My rule-of-thumb is any run over 45 minutes requires a post-run “meal.”

The post-run meal should replenish nutrients depleted during the intense workout, not fill you up like lunch or dinner. Shoot for a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. And it’s important to eat the meal 20-30 minutes after the run, for maximum refueling and recovery benefits.

Many of the oft-mentioned post-workout food options are derived from animals: Greek yogurt, grilled chicken breast, chocolate milk, boiled eggs. But what about vegan options?

Here are some of my favorite plant-based foods for post-run refueling:

  • 1/2 apple with 1 TBSP peanut butter
  • Homemade hummus (3 TBSP), with carrot and celery sticks
  • Chocolate almond milk (8-10 oz)
  • Fruit smoothie made with almond milk (10 oz)
  • Fruit (1 banana, peach, handful of cherries, orange, etc.)
  • Oatmeal (prepared w/ almond milk, preferably overnight in the fridge. Recipe HERE)

What do you prefer to eat after a grueling run?

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Run, Walk, Repeat

Interval Training and Improving VO2 Max

Track-Runner-633x421I hit the track on Wednesday for my first round of track repeats this training season. Track repeats are one way to increase your VO2 max, which is imperative when training for an endurance event like a half-marathon. VO2 max, or maximum oxygen uptake, refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. The more efficiently your body uses oxygen, the more energy your muscles are able to produce.

The first time I trained for a half-marathon, I didn’t know anything about VO2 max. When I introduced track repeats into my training plan the second time around, my finish time was much better. The third time I trained, I really started to “get it,” to understand how to use workouts like track repeats and hill intervals to improve VO2 max, and how that directly influences performance on race day.

My track repeat workout on Wednesday, with my split times, went like this:

  • Warm-up — 15 minutes brisk walk, light jog
  • 1 x 400m — 2:00 ; 200m recovery walk
  • 4 x 400m — 2:05 – 2:15 ; with 200m recovery intervals
  • 2 x 400m — 2:17, 2:19 ; with 200m recovery intervals
  • 1 x 400m — 2:20
  • Cool down — 15 minutes light jog, walk

All in all, not too bad for the first time out. My normal training splits for the 400 are right around 2:00. It’s just too early in my season to sustain that pace for the entire workout. But I’ll get stronger. Every run, I get stronger.

Here are three good articles about the physiology behind VO2 max and training tips to boost performance:

What’s your favorite interval training workout?

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Day 1, Again

20111202-053427It’s training Day 1, again. Right now the official countdown clock to AthHalf 2013 says 103:21:30. That’s roughly 15 weeks away. October 20 will come quickly.

I hit the pavement this morning for a 4 mile run. I won’t lie; it wasn’t an easy one. Even once I’d warmed up, I had to slow down for short walking intervals so my heart wouldn’t rip out of my chest.

It’s always tough starting up after an off-season. The endurance just isn’t there. My mind says, Come on! (I won’t write what my body says in response. Trying to keep things rated E here.)

It’s important to listen to your body when you begin a strenuous training program. Pushing yourself too hard too early results in mental anguish and physical injuries. I’ve built walking intervals into the runs of the first three weeks of my program. Three weeks is about the length of time it usually takes me to strengthen my cardiovascular system to the point that I can consistently sustain a short tempo pace without needing to walk. Until then, I must be patient with myself. (Hear that, Mind?)

Looking forward to this training season. It’s going to be interesting to see how the vegan regiment I adopted in February works for me as I train. Even though this is the fourth half-marathon I’ve prepared for, it still feels like a new adventure. Here I go….!

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